Saturday, April 30, 2011

No, You're Probably Not Middle Class

This doesn't excuse the repugs and Villagers who insist on claiming poverty status for people earning double the median income, but it does explain why economic arguments that fail to define "rich" and "poor" with actual amounts of money fall on deaf ears.

Kevin Drum:

Everyone thinks they're middle class. This isn't a big surprise: the word "rich" has specific connotations (servants, mansions on the Gold Coast, 200-foot yachts, etc.) and even someone making $200-300 thousand a year probably doesn't have any of that stuff. What's more, most people in that income range were likely raised middle class, so culturally they still think of themselves that way even if their incomes give them a pretty comfortable lifestyle.

But Catherine Rampell notes something more interesting today. Researchers surveyed 1,100 households in Buenos Aires and asked them a purely objective question: what decile do you think your income puts you in? The bottom decile means you're part of the poorest 10%, the fifth decile means you're right in the middle, and the tenth decile means you're part of the richest 10%. Here's how things shook out:

Click here for chart.

Fascinating! The very poorest thought they were actually in the fourth decile — just barely below average. The very richest thought they were in the sixth decile — just barely above average.

If the same thing is true here — and I wouldn't be surprised if it were — it could go a long way toward explaining the political dynamics of taxation and economic policy in the United States. After all, if the poor don't really know they're poor, they're never going to mount much of a fight for more egalitarian public policies. And if the well-off don't know they're well off, they're going to strongly resist more egalitarian public policies. The result can be startling increases in income inequality without anyone really knowing it's happening or caring very much about it.
And how very convenient for the plutocrats that people earning less than the median income - $50,000 - reject programs that help them because they don't consider themselves "poor."

Remember: if the plutocrats and repugs like it, it helps rich people and hurts you.

Voter Identification = Voter Suppression

Kentucky's voter ID law actually predates the last decade of repug attempts to prevent Democratic voters from voting, but that doesn't make it acceptable. I am seriously considering refusing to show ID at the primary election May 17 and daring them to try to prevent me from voting.

Challenging the state's voter ID law would keep me out of trouble all summer.

Zandar:

How bad is Florida's new voter identification suppression bill? This bad. Kay at Balloon Juice:

When I reached this section of the linked article, I went to the text of the bill because I honestly did not believe it (pdf):

A new provision added last night would now require voters whose legitimacy is challenged by poll watchers to cast provisional ballots with no opportunity at the polls to defend themselves and cast a regular ballot.
Yup. It’s in there.

The clerk or inspector shall immediately deliver to the challenged person a copy of the oath of the person entering the challenge, and the challenged voter shall be allowed to cast a provisional ballot.

Alternatively, a challenge in accordance with this section may be filed in advance with the supervisor of elections no sooner than 30 days before an election. The supervisor shall promptly provide the election board in the challenged voter’s precinct with a copy of the oath of the person entering the challenge. The challenged voter shall be allowed to cast a provisional ballot.
A simple sworn statement that the voter is not eligible is enough to force any voter to accept a second-class ballot. Wow.
And as Kay points out, the determination cannot be challenged by the voter themselves. As a matter of fact, the elections board can basically pre-challenge anyone up to 30 days before the election and force those voters to take a provisional ballot. Do not pass Go. Go straight to second-class voter status. Florida Republicans are basically going to lock in the right to disenfranchise any voter they choose to with a simple sworn statement that your right to vote is in question. That is all it takes to remove your right to vote in Florida if this bill passes...and it will.

Count on it. Adam Serwer has a smart discussion on the history of voter identification as voter suppression.

The unfounded rumors regarding the president's citizenship that lead to demands for his papers, and the Arizona-style immigration laws that would force Latino Americans to retain theirs at all times, reflect a creeping suspicion among some whites, at a time of job loss and austerity, that non-whites are gaining at their expense in a zero-sum battle for political power and resources. Hardcore birthers, (as opposed to those who have simply been misled by sources they trust) can't be sated because they believe Obama has no such claim. Likewise, for many Arizona-style immigration laws are an attempt to restrict access to American abundance to those who are "truly deserving," but their effect on those who genuinely are American citizens but are not white is minimized because their claim is believed to be weaker anyway. This is deeply frustrating because of how a sensible immigration policy could lead to mutual gain both for Americans and immigrants, but that realization has yet to take hold. As a country, we are increasingly demanding that non-whites literally prove that they "belong here," that they have a legitimate claim to American prosperity.
This thread runs throughout history. When America wants to restrict opportunity and remind minorities to stay in their place, it asks for their papers.

It's been done before, and Republican-controlled states are simply taking it into the 21st century with the straw man of "voter identification".

When Freakazoids Attack DINOs, How to Vote?

I hate it when cowardly DINOs earn my vote by default because they are adamantly opposed by vicious motherfuckers I hate.

You'd think that in primaries at least, you could vote for the non-DINO Democratic candidate with a clear conscience. But no.

Media Czech:

The Kentucky Right to Life Association recently published their endorsements for the upcoming Kentucky primaries. KRLA is the group that explains on their website how having an abortion will give you breast cancer. That is, if it doesn't kill you. Either way, it's much more dangerous than actually giving birth. So they're all about scientifically accurate information and not dishonest scare tactics, thus any of the candidates would be proud to have their endorsement.

Like Democrat Steve Hamrick, running for State Treasurer. Yes, it appears that Hamrick and the KRLA have thrown a wrench into my "Anyone But Hollenbach" strategy. I called the good folks at KRLA today to ask how Hamrick filled out their survey, and they informed me that he gave the "pro-life" response on every question, and is "a very nice man". If you haven't checked out their survey, that means that Hamrick wants to criminalize abortion at the federal level, even in cases of rape and incest, is against the morning after pill, and lots of other repugnant stuff.

Now it's true that Hamrick is running for treasurer and fortunately would have zero say in any policy relating to abortion or birth control, but could you really cast a vote for someone like this? Or give him a stepping stone to a future higher office? No, I'll be skipping this race in May.

Of note is that not only did Todd Hollenbach not turn in responses, neither did KC Crosbie. Crosbie was actually the only Republican candidate on the ballot this year to not do so, neither did she turn in one to Frank Simon.

SNIP

Also of note, there was only one candidate that received a "VOTE AGAINST THIS MAN" warning: Jack Conway.

Jack Conway (D) - MUST BE DEFEATED, no response to KRLA PAC survey or National Right to Life PAC survey; strong pro-abortion position, said on “Straight Talk” (August 24, 2001) with John Yarmuth that his position on abortion is like Bill Clinton’s. The Rothenburg Report (March 8, 2002) said “Conway aligns himself with the Clinton approach to abortion.” (Bill Clinton vetoed the ban on partial birth abortion twice and issued five pro-abortion executive orders immediately after taking office.) Speaking to students at Manual High School , Louisville (February 22, 2002) Con-way said he was “pro-choice” and added “All right, if you got up and shaved your face this morning, sit down and shut up, cause this is not your issue. That’s the way I feel about it.”
Meanwhile, Governor Cowardly and his sidekick, Mayor Corruption-for-Life, are cruising to re-nomination without opposition and with likely general-election opposition crashing and burning.

"I do have a problem with unwarranted taxpayer subsidies" to oil companies

This one has our unqualified support, Mr. President. And if you don't mind a suggestion - offer to let them keep their subsidies. If all of their executives submit to weekly drug testing.



Full transcript here.

Three Cups of Teabagging Propaganda

I had an advantage over most people who read Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea: because it was given to me by a conservatard freakazoid parasite family member, I approached it with substantial skepticism.

I can't claim to have suspected any of the facts that have turned up to smash Mortenson's too-good-to-be true fantasy; what turned me off was the conservatard canard that private charity accomplishes more than concerted government action.

I didn't doubt the book was true; I deplored its implication that government action is unnecessary at best, and counter-productive at worst.

Even more repug propanganda-ish, the book never addressed the role of the U.S. invasion - and war in general - as a primary cause of the lack of schools Mortenson claimed to have addressed.

The only other thing that struck me as strange was the apparent disconnect between Morteson's personal life and his charitable work - not the typical neglect-one-to-fulfill-the-other, but rather how his description of his family life - his disorganization and narcissism - contradicted his uber-altruistic behavior as Super Charity Guy.

Katha Pollitt at The Nation:

The Greg Mortenson scandal is still unfolding, but here’s one lesson we can already learn from it: if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

SNIP

How did Mortenson enchant so many, including knowledgeable people like Nick Kristof, who wrote an anguished column asking people to withhold judgment for now? As a string of much-praised fake memoirs can attest—to say nothing of Bernie Madoff’s meteoric career—people don’t look closely at stories that tell them what they want to hear. Americans love to be inspired by heroic lone individuals who provide simple solutions to complicated problems—especially when the individuals are American and famous, the solutions are cheap and the problems are far away. (Kristof is particularly fond of this narrative.) Mortenson took an urgent cause—girls’ education—tied it to the prevention of “terrorism,” offered himself as the bashful red-tape-scorning great white savior and, before you knew it, the US Army was making his books mandatory reading for soldiers being sent to Afghanistan. He may have collected pennies for “peace,” but Mortenson played right into one of the Bush administration’s worst ideas—the militarization of humanitarian aid.

SNIP

We’ve gotten used to a certain kind of NGO fairy tale, as depicted in the children’s book Beatrice’s Goat, much admired by Kristof: Heifer International gives a family a farm animal, and in a dozen years, the profits send a daughter to college. Kiva lends a Bolivian peasant a few hundred high-interest dollars to buy a bale of used clothes, and soon she owns her own store. Faced with the chance to transform a life, we forget that poor people rarely need just one small thing, that they are embedded in immensely complex and oppressive social worlds.

The real tragedy of the Mortenson news is that it may make Americans not more knowledgeable but more cynical. “Why can’t there be at least one morally correct person in the world?” asked one YouTube poster on the 60 Minutes segment. “Just one person who can selflessly do the right thing, change the world for the better, and not be a jerk about it?” Poignant question, but the answer is: there are lots of such people. Afghanistan and Pakistan have many honest, energetic and creative aid workers, including many locals—they just don’t get the celebrity media treatment or the celebrity-sized budgets. The Afghan Women’s Fund, run by the Afghan expatriate Fahima Vorgetts, builds and supports schools, runs literacy classes and income-generating projects for women, digs wells in parched villages and much more—on around $120,000 a year. Think what it could do with just one of CAI’s wasted millions! Lauryn Oates, of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (cw4wafghan.ca), told me the real Afghan education problem isn’t bricks and mortar; it’s finding qualified teachers—especially women. “The majority have no postsecondary education at all, or maybe didn’t even finish high school. We have high school math teachers who don’t know long division.” Besides doing other important projects, such as running literacy classes in places where there is zero literacy, her group has trained more than 1,800 already working teachers since 2008. Its annual budget? Around $800,000.

Upgrading teachers, providing textbooks and science labs, persuading parents to let their daughters go to high school—it may not be as exciting as building a school with a white star on it and an inspiring salvation myth behind it. But it’s what works.

SNIP

“I am heartbroken over the scandal,” Vorgetts e-mailed me from Afghanistan. “Not because he lied but because he jeopardized our work.” (Donate to Afghan Women’s Fund at WAW/AWF c/o Mary Ellen Bobb, 978 Yachtsman Way, Annapolis, MD 21403.)
There's a reason scandals like this never erupt in the Peace Corps.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Look in the Mirror, Smug Welfare-Haters

This is exactly what the Koch brothers and all the other billionaires want: the poor and the scared-to-become-poor fighting each other instead of joining forces to fight their real enemy.

No, all you middle-class office drones, you are not in any way superior to people who - as a result of having been less fortunate in life's big gamble than you - must accept help from their fellow citizens in order to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

Bon the Geek at Zandar's place:

Normally, I am against drug testing, but this is an exception to my rule. Drug testing to work at a hobby store or file papers? Stupid. Drug testing before allowing someone to sit on their privileged ass while I work for a living? I dig it big time. The thing that makes it fair and effective is it gives the people who are addicted a chance. What they do with it is up to them, but the working poor are given the ability to decide which is more important to them. It's this sort of tough love that will reach the people who put forth the effort while denying benefits to those who do not. I realize addiction is a disease, but I also see the stupidity in our welfare system supplying the drug dealers that victimize the poor. Something has gotta give, and in this case it has to start with the people funding the problem. It's not ideal, but nothing about this situation is ideal. Meth is ravaging our country like a cancer, and this is a way to cut the abuse of financial aid and hit the manufacturers in the wallet where it hurts the most.
In direct response, I commented (slightly edited for clarity):

Nope. A "less sophisticated test" is one far more likely to produce false-positives. One false-positive and Mom's off TANF and food stamps and thrown in jail. Even if she is taking drugs, are you going to take her kids in and raise them for the three or four years that is the average time for permanent drug rehab (including the standard two or three lapses)?

Any testing of recipients of government benefits is constitutional only if it tests ALL recipients of government benefits, including us middle-class takers of the homeownership deduction, upper middle-class takers of the charitable deduction, wealthy takers of investment deductions, corporate takers of subsidies for fossil fuels, agriculture, finance or anything else, and oh yeah - religious takers of the tax exemption.

Drug test all of THEM every year on April 15, THEN we'll talk about the disabled people and single parents "sitting on their privileged asses" while we work at our middle-class office jobs.
Now that I've had time to stew and get really pissed off, I'll add this:

The only "abuse of financial aid" that is going on this country is the theft of 10 million jobs by corporate outsourcers,

and the theft of trillions of dollars EVERY YEAR in taxes by giant corporations like GE,

and the theft of trillions of dollars more by Wall Street which demanded the trillions as a reward for its having destroyed the global economy,

not to mention the petty theft of just hundreds of billions of dollars by oil companies taking taxpayer subsidies despite earning billions in profit every fucking quarter,

and by agricultural giants like ADM taking taxpayer subsidies despite destroying the planet's food-growing capacity with genetic modifications, poisons and monoculture,

and by the military-industrial complex taking taxpayers' money to build grossly overpriced fantasy toys that don't work at best and kill soldiers at worst,

and by every parasite of the rich who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.

If you add up every cent paid out in family support, food stamps, unemployment compensation, housing subsidies and every other kind of help for those not born white, male and middle-class, you wouldn't even come close to the total amount of cash shat out and flushed by the REAL parasites of this nation.

But you've got your underpaid, insecure "job," where they use the 20 million unemployed outside as a threat to keep you doing the work four people used to do, for less pay and shrinking "benefits;"

and your house with the underwater mortgage on which you are still making payments to the Wall Street criminals to whom you should just say fuck you come and get it,

and your kids going to community college at night after working all day at McDonald's not knowing that's the most they're ever going to get paid in their lives ....

But you're not one of THEM, the welfare-taking, drug-addicted THEM, no no certainly not.

Not yet.

Stand in Solidarity With Ellen Lewin; Say It With Me Now: FUCK YOU, REPUBLICANS

Civility just ain't gonna cut it. @PZ Myers:

Ellen Lewin is a professor in the anthropology department at the University of Iowa. Like all of us, she is constantly dunned with email announcing this, that, and the other thing at our universities, and sometimes we get email that makes our blood boil. In this case, she got mail from the College Republicans, announcing a "coming out" party (like Republicans in the midwest are a closeted and oppressed minority…) that featured some hagiographic movie about George W. Bush (that ignorant ass), an "animal rights barbecue" and other such joyful shenanigans to celebrate the party of morons and thugs and self-destructive ideologues.

Ellen Lewin had enough. Ellen Lewin got angry. Ellen Lewin fired off a one-sentence reply.

FUCK YOU, REPUBLICANS.

I think I'm in love with Ellen Lewin.

She later apologized for losing her temper — and I can sympathize with that, too — but I hope she never backs down in her righteous contemptuous opinion of the Republican party. I share it. I think her response was relatively mild.

Now, of course, the right-wingers are outraged. How dare she disagree loudly with an entire party of mouth-breathing, sanctimonious idiots? Read the Free Republic for examples of their response; the first comment sarcastically complains that "Liberals are SO CLASSY!!", and then the rest, with no sense of irony, posts a picture of her and proceeds to call her a "pervert", a "lesbian", a "cow", a "demonic lesbian demon", a "bitter, old, ugly, lesbian with a hairy lip", and suggests that she has sex with dogs.

And more! Those delicate little flowers, the College Republicans, are so hurt by her unkind words that they are filing an official complaint.

SNIP

It wasn't civil or respectful (although turning a brief outburst into a case of harassment and a "string of emails" is a bit much). But you know what? I approve of incivility and disrespect towards organizations that deserve it, and the Republican party is currently the party of know-nothings, hypocrites, liars, and greed — it's the stagnant, festering slime towards which all the worst elements of society now gravitate. The problem isn't college professors snarling at them, it's that the party itself encourages short-sightedness, idiocy, and hatefulness. So, until the grown-ups wake up and clean out the bigotry and ignorance from their own house, I think it's only fair for us to air our vigorous disgust with them.

I stand in solidarity with Ellen Lewin.

FUCK YOU, REPUBLICANS.
All together now: FUCK YOU, REPUBLICANS

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Vicious Racism and Nothing But

And don't you let anybody tell you any different.



karoli at Crooks and Liars:

I want you to hear Baratunde Thurston's heartfelt messag to Donald Trump and the media who enabled him. Be forewarned, it's NSFW in places. While it will likely have no effect on those who most need to hear the message, it had a profound impact on me, and I think it will have one on you, too.

In his intro he writes this:

I then thought of this fetid, smug, hate-filled, wealthy white man taking credit for the release and yet still not being satisfied. It does not matter how long we’ve been in these United States. We will never be American.
I was especially moved by his direct message to Donald Trump, a man who "was given everything" and lives the life he does with the freedom to do what he did because he was given everything.

I don't want to hear about The Apprentice. I don't want to hear about your new cologne. I don't want to hear about the new tower you're building in whatever f--king town.

That cologne smells of racism. That tower is built on the blood of disrespected slaves and freedom fighters. And that show is merely a showcase for the dishonor you have brought on anyone who would call themselves an American.
Read the whole thing.

Keith!

Yes, I will be watching Keith - NOT Lawrence - at 8 p.m on Current, and switching back to MSNBC to watch Rachel at 9 p.m.

The NYT:

Keith Olbermann formally announced the start date and the name for his new program on Current TV Tuesday – and it sounds a lot like the old program on MSNBC.

At least the title and the location on the prime-time schedule do. In a presentation on his Web site, FOK News Channel, Mr. Olbermann declared, with some fanfare, that the new show will be called “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” just as his previous show on MSNBC was, and it will begin on June 20 at his old time of 8 p.m. eastern.
If expropriating the title was not enough of a tweak to his former employers at MSNBC, in the video of his announcement on the Web site (FOK stands for “Friends of Keith” but is also an obvious play on his old rivalry with the Fox News Channel,) Mr. Olbermann also declared that this show, which he several times labeled a “newscast,” will be a place where “journalistic integrity and analytical honesty would never be compromised by corporate synergy.”

An MSNBC spokesman said the network would not comment on Mr. Olbermann’s decision to import the “Countdown” title.

Mr. Olbermann was once suspended by MSNBC for making contributions to Democratic candidates, and found himself embroiled in a corporate stand-off between the then-owners of MSNBC, the General Electric Company, and the owner of the Fox News Channel, News Corporation. Executives on both sides sought to tamp down the often vitriolic commentary back and forth between Mr. Olbermann and the Fox News host, Bill O’Reilly.

In his announcement, Mr. Olbermann also all but disdained the notion of journalistic balance, saying that on his new show “no one would proclaim the ultimate dishonesty that balancing a lie for every truth was somehow fair.”
Current TV has a much lower audience base that MSNBC. The channel averages fewer than 25,000 viewers in prime time; at MSNBC Mr. Olbermann often commanded audiences exceeding 1 million.

The channel’s executives have called Mr. Olbermann the best investment they have ever made. (His salary has not been disclosed, but he was granted an equity stake in Current, along with a management role.)

Mr. Olbermann emphasized how central he will be to the future of the channel, noting that the new “Countdown” will be shown three times a night, at 8, 11 and 2 a.m. Eastern Time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Ingratitude of Spoiled Corporations

One of the most frustrating aspects of liberal politics is repeatedly rescuing conservatives and corporatists from the consequences of their own greed and selfishness, only to have them turn on their rescuer like rabid ferrets and start making the same stupid, self-destructive mistakes all over again.

Alison Kilkenny at The Nation:

One of the more interesting battles being waged right now is between labor and Boeing, the aerospace and defense corporation. The National Labor Relations Board accuses the company of illegally retaliating against its largest union when it decided in 2009 to put a second 787 Dreamliner assembly line in a nonunion plant in South Carolina.

Originally, Boeing intended to construct the Dreamliner in Washington, but only if the state approved a twenty-year, $3.2 billion package of tax credits. Officials ultimately conceded, but Boeing took its toys and went to play elsewhere anyway when South Carolina lured it across state lines with the promise of a whopping $900 million subsidy package aka taxpayer dollars, and a non-union plant to set up shop in.

Boeing also happens to be one of the shining examples of government-subsidized businesses that pay meager amounts of state and local taxes. In 2010, Boeing received a net tax refund of $137 million from state and local governments despite earning more than $4 billion in pretax profits.

The company has always defended these kinds of practices by claiming it’s a great jobs generator. Of course, one need only glance at South Carolina’s jobless statistics, which are well above the national average, to see that claim stands on shaky legs. In a state that provides some of the least generous jobless benefits in the union, it’s difficult to see just how shelling out massive subsidies to an anti-union company like Boeing provides for a majority of South Carolinians.

Endless mini-bailouts that the state calls “subsidies”—some of them deemed illegal—and harsh austerity measures won’t pay off for citizens, or corporations, in the long run. South Carolina legislators plan to cut $700 million from the state budget by hacking away at Medicare and education programs. Meanwhile, the detrimental ripple effects of education cuts are likely to far outweigh any temporary benefits the state might have gained from luring Boeing into its borders. Citizens will obviously suffer, but so too will business. For example, Boeing isn’t going to be super-eager to hire the products of a failing South Carolinian educational system to work in its plants.

Conservatives constantly exalt the glories of the free market, except there’s nothing free about taxpayers subsidizing the anti-union behavior of companies like Boeing. This kind of corporate welfare system is rigged to force citizens to bankroll their own destruction. If every company followed the Boeing model, there would be no unions, no collective bargaining and no assurance for the majority of poor workers that they can have any protection from their corporate overlords.

Quite simply, Boeing wouldn’t be able to prosper without the state, and by default, its taxpayers. It’s time they show a little respect for the people assisting the company’s copious growth.

Seems like peacetime to them .....

Of course Romney thinks it's peacetime. None of his five strapping, healthy sons is doing the fighting or risking jack shit for his country, so for Mittens it really is peacetime.

As it is for all the repugs. Not a single one of them under the age of 70 fought for this country or has an immediate family member fighting in Smirky/Darth's Wars to Compensate for Our Tiny Pathetic Excuses for a Penis.

Before we move on from this little flap, I was curious to see how (and whether) the media picked up on this. The DNC pushed the story yesterday afternoon, and Vote Vets released a rather scathing response.

Would it be enough to get political reporters' attention? Not really; major media outlets generally didn't care. If Google News and Nexis are accurate this morning, Reuters ran an article, but the AP ignored the story. Politico had a short piece, but the major dailies -- WaPo, NYT, WSJ, LAT, USAT -- didn't mention it in their print editions. I couldn't find any mentions in broadcast media at all.

I'm curious -- if an inexperienced Democratic candidate with no background in foreign policy or military affairs described a time of multiple wars as "peacetime," would he or she ever live it down? Or would it be seen as evidence that Dems lack credibility on international affairs?
Yes, they are Obama's wars now, and are likely to be so for quite some time. I don't think Obama needs to compensate for any physical, emotional or psychological shortcoming. I don't even think he's vulnerable to the "dems are anti-war cowards" canard.

But I do think he's a member in good standing of the East Coast elite, who hesitates to do anything that upsets his good friends on Wall Street and in the military-industrial complex.

And that makes him far more like Romney than I care to think about.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rescue the "Lost Cause" of Job Creation

Two years One year ago, Steve Benen almost single-handedly saved health care reform after the apparently-devastating election of Scott Brown by telling the House to forget making changes to the bill the Senate had already passed, thus avoiding a filibuster in the Senate. Steve's Just. Pass. The. Damn. Bill. movement caught fire and got the bill passed.

Now Steve is pushing another apparently lost cause - job creation. As a paid-up-member of the liberal blogosphere and a certified Benen fan - not to mention Gene Robinson fan - I strongly encourage everyone to take up the banner again to demand Congress create jobs - repug house majority be damned.

STILL STUCK IN THE WRONG CONVERSATION....

I know it's a lost cause. The debate has already spiraled in a ridiculous direction; Dems didn't put up much of a fight; and it's not coming back anytime soon.

But when I see sensible people trying to shine a light on reality, I feel compelled to endorse it. Take Eugene Robinson's latest column, for example, which dares to note that jobs should matter more than deficits right now.

What is it about the word "jobs" that our nation's leaders fail to understand? How has the most painful economic crisis in decades somehow escaped their notice? Why do they ignore the issues that Americans care most desperately about?

Listening to the debate in Washington, you'd think the nation was absorbed by the compelling saga of deficit reduction. You'd get the impression that in households across America, parents put their children to bed and then stay up half the night sifting through piles of think-tank reports on the kitchen table, trying to calculate whether there will be enough in the Social Security trust fund to pay benefits beyond 2037.

And you'd be wrong. Those parents are looking at a pile of bills on the kitchen table, trying to decide which ones have to be paid now and which can slide. The question isn't how to manage health care or retirement costs two decades from now. It's how the family can make it to the end of the month. [...]

Depressed housing prices, an epidemic of foreclosures, 8 million lost jobs -- that's the reality that Americans face every day. Politicians had better start facing it, too.
But they won't. President Obama, Robinson notes, at least "perceive this disconnect" between what people want/need and what their elected representatives are prioritizing. That's true. But the president doesn't intend to invest a lot of time and energy in promoting a jobs agenda that can't pass, and which much of the country won't like as soon as someone tells them it involves "more government spending."

Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, are willing to deliberately make unemployment worse -- remember, "So be it"? -- and focus on taking as much money out of the economy as possible, as quickly as possible.

Still, the larger debate between "cut a little" and "cut a lot" is so far from a sensible approach to reality, it's almost refreshing to see columns like Eugene Robinson's. It won't help -- voters' choices were a little too misguided six months ago -- but his reminder deserves to be read anyway.
Cynic that I am, I wouldn't be so quick to give up. Your Democratic neighbors are standing up at town halls and demanding their repub representatives renounce plans to kill Medicare - why not join them in demanding another job-creating stimulus?

No, it probably won't work. But if you don't stand up and say something, it definitely won't work.

Economic Desperation Erases Opposition to Industrial Hemp

For Kentucky's first two centuries, its number one crop was hemp. A renewable source of livestock feed, plus material for paper, rope, cloth, cosmetics and dozens of other products, hemp is a Kentucky native - a weed growing wild and needing virtually no maintenance.

If you could grow just one crop on which to support yourself, you'd have to choose industrial help.

If only it were still legal.

From the Herald:

Most candidates for agriculture commissioner have come out in favor of allowing Kentucky farmers to grow industrial hemp as an alternative crop, despite reservations from law enforcement that it could be used to camouflage illegal marijuana crops.

Only one candidate, Democrat John Lackey, said during a televised debate Monday that he is opposed to growing industrial hemp because it could complicate the jobs of law enforcement agencies that use pilots and spotters to search for marijuana fields from the air.

“It seems to me that if you want to continue to make marijuana illegal, there is absolutely no way that we can legalize hemp, because you just can’t pick it out from a helicopter,” said Lackey, a farmer and former state senator from Richmond.

Two Republican candidates, James Comer, a state lawmaker from Tompkinsville, and Rob Rothenburger, a judge-executive from Shelbyville, haven’t shied away from the issue, suggesting hemp could be a viable alternative crop in a post-tobacco farming economy in Kentucky.

Most Kentucky politicians have traditionally considered industrial hemp politically radioactive because of fears that voters might somehow leap to the false conclusion that they’re also pro-marijuana.

Industrial hemp, a cousin to marijuana, is used to make textiles, paper, lotion, cosmetics and other products. Though it contains trace amounts of the mind-altering chemical tetrahydrocannabinol that makes marijuana intoxicating, it remains illegal in the U.S.
As someone who, as a teenager, was stupid enough to try to get high smoking the hemp that still grows wild in fence rows everywhere in Kentucky, let me assure you that hemp is a "cousin" to pot the way Mars is a "neighbor" of Earth's.

Industrial hemp would, not to put too fine a point on it, vault Kentucky into place as the wealthiest state in the nation.

Hemp would make not just tobacco, corn and soybeans irrelevant, but make coal an economic asterisk.

Hemp is the elusive economic silver bullet. It's a political no-brainer. So much so, that it's also a simple litmus test for candidates. Those who support industrial hemp deserve your further consideration. Those who don't are morons.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Budget-Balancing Plan Everyone is Ignoring

Yes, it's Rachel Maddow Day here at Blue in the Bluegrass - you got a problem with that?

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

No one will ever feel this way about a Kindle

This is why nothing will ever take the place of books:

"Late in the afternoon, a man sat down and started unwrapping a book from a big plastic sack, informing me he had a really, really old book and he thought it might be worth some money," he said. "I kinda start, oh boy, I've heard this before."

Then he produced a tattered, partial copy of the 500-year-old Nuremberg Chronicle.

The German language edition printed by Anton Koberger and published in 1493 is a world history beginning in biblical times. It's considered to be one of the earliest and most lavishly illustrated books produced after Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press and revolutionized publishing.

"I was just absolutely astounded. I was flabbergasted, particularly here in the interior West," Sanders said. "We might see a lot of rare Mormon books and other treasures, but you don't expect to see a five centuries old book, you don't expect to see one of the oldest printed books in the world pop up in Sandy, Utah."

SNIP

"The rarity of the book has almost nothing to do with its value," he said. "If you're collecting monuments of printing history, monuments of human history, if you're collecting achievements of the human spirit through the printed word, this is one of the foundation books ... Every book collector wants a copy of that book or at least some pages from it."

"Fascist Tyranny in America" is an Understatement

Just watch the whole fucking thing. Then scream. Then vomit. Then cry.

Then get mad. Then get moving. Have you talked to your Democratic neighbors today?

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Last "Liberal" Defender of the "Good War" Bails Out

Yes, Mr. President: If you've lost Howard Dean, you've lost the country.

Firedoglake:

Back in 2004, when Howard Dean was running for President on an antiwar platform, while he railed against the war in Iraq he didn’t have a whole lot to say about the one in Afghanistan. That was the “good war” at that time. As recently as September 2009, Dean was solidly behind Afghanistan and even President Obama’s escalation there:

I think this is different than Iraq. I think there are people who mean the United States harm over there… I was very pleased to say the — hear the president a few months ago say, “Look, we can’t win this war militarily.” He gets what we have to do here. And it is true that American public opinion is not supportive of the war effort anymore. I think this does have something to do with security to the United States. I do believe it has something to do with the role of women in these kinds of societies. I think we ought to be supportive of the role of women and their ability to get an education and things like that. I don’t think that’s the only reason we’re there. But I’m supportive of the president, and I’m going to continue to be supportive of the president on Afghanistan.
That has ended. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Dean says it’s time to get out:

In a weekend interview with The Daily Beast, Dean said he’s had a change of heart when it comes to the war he has often defended. “I actually supported the president when he sent extra troops to Afghanistan,” Dean said. “But I’ve come to believe that’s not a winnable war.”

Dean attributes his newly-held opposition to a crisis of faith in Afghan President Hamid Karzai—and in the war’s humanitarian value.

“I supported (ramping up troop presence) because I was concerned with what would happen to the women in the country” if the Taliban took control, Dean said. “But I recently read about Karzai saying some very sexist, terrible things, and it’s become obvious that there’s not a whole lot of difference between the two sides.”

He continued: “As much as I feel terrible about what’s happening to the women there, Karzai has shown he can’t be trusted any more than the Taliban to help them.”
The notion of occupying Afghanistan for the sake of women’s rights was always spurious. Women’s rights are not traditionally respected in war zones. Not even the Obama Administration is making this argument anymore.

But I guess that was kind of the last justification Dean had for the policy, and with that done, he’s turned completely away. He added, “The Vietnam War showed us we shouldn’t prop up corrupt governments, and that’s what we’ve got in Afghanistan.”

There was always going to be a tipping point where the Administration would lose their own party on Afghanistan. This has been building for some time. Dean is a good model for this. He supported the President on Afghanistan for the first couple years. Heck, he still supports the President on Libya. But there’s a recognition from Dean that Afghanistan doesn’t help the United States reach any goals, whether on national security or humanitarian grounds.
Yes, there's going to be a big political price for saying fuckit, we're outta here. But that political price - not to mention the actual cash price of billions of dollars, the budgetary loss price and the human price of, you know, dead people - gets bigger every day we delay.

As If the Galts Could Survive A Day on Their Own in the Real World

Leave? Are you kidding? Where else on this planet could they find a government that taxes them so lightly while subsidizing them so heavily, protecting them so securely and generally treating them so kindly while providing all the modern conveniences so cheaply?

Zandar:

For years now conservatives have been railing against New England and mid-Atlantic states with separate tax brackets for millionaires, saying these higher tax rates simply chase the rich away from those states, reduce revenues and cause budget shortfalls. It's the main argument conservatives warn for why we can never, ever raise taxes on the rich ever at the federal level, or they'll just leave the country altogether...despite the fact the marginal tax rate on the richest individuals has been at historic lows for a decade now and as a result, our national debt has skyrocketed. The last time taxes were this low? Right before the Great Depression...and the Ryan Unicorn Plan wants to return to that 25% pre-Depression rate.

But hey, it turns out that whole "the rich have left those states in droves!" argument? Complete hogwash.

The study, by sociologists Cristobal Young at Stanford and Charles Varner at Princeton, studied the migration patterns of New Jersey’s millionaires before and after 2004, when the state imposed a “millionaire’s tax” that raised rates on those earning $500,000 or more to 8.97% from 6.37%.

The study found that the overall population of millionaires increased during the tax period. Some millionaires moved out, of course. But they were more than offset by the creation of new millionaires.

The study dug deeper to figure out whether the millionaires who were moving out did so because of the tax. As a control group, they used New Jersey residents who earned $200,000 to $500,000–in other words, high-earners who weren’t subject to the tax. They found that the rate of out-migration among millionaires was in line with and rate of out-migration of submillionaires. The tax rate, they concluded, had no measurable impact.

“This suggests that the policy effect is close to zero,” the study says.

SNIP

“In summary, the new tax did not appreciably increase out-migration,” the study concluded.
Gosh, you mean that doing what Clinton did at the national level to balance the budget didn't cause a massive outflux of America's precious millionaires? That the country only got in real trouble when Bush and the Republicans cut the top tax rate and piled on trillion dollar wars that last nine years or more?

It's like mathematics works or something. Go figure.

Can we raise taxes on the people who have seen their incomes quadruple since the start of the millennium, please?
I propose an experiment. Let's see just what combination of high taxes, no subsidies, no tax breaks and no special treatment of any kind it takes to make the parasites of the rich finally haul their liposuctioned asses offshore.

During the Eisenhower administration, a 90 percent marginal tax rate and a lifestyle not much different from the middle class wasn't enough to chase the rich away, so we're going to have to start with at least 95 percent marginal tax rates, plus a 100 percent surtax on all luxury goods.

You wanted a class war, you got a class war.

Transferring Every Wall Street Motherfucker to Guantanamo Won't Be Enough

As satisfying as this is ....

It’s unquestionably true that there have been virtually no major prosecutions stemming from the financial crisis. But yesterday we found the exception that proves the rule.

The majority owner of what had been one of the nation’s largest mortgage companies was convicted Tuesday on all 14 counts in a $3 billion fraud case that officials have called one of the most significant prosecutions to arise from the nation’s financial crisis.

Prosecutors said the defendant, Lee Farkas, led a fraud scheme of staggering proportions as chairman of the Florida-based company, Taylor Bean & Whitaker. The fraud not only caused the company’s 2009 collapse and the loss of jobs for its 2,000 workers, but also contributed to the collapse of Alabama-based Colonial Bank, the sixth-largest bank failure in United States history.
This was a nearly $3 billion scheme, and it perhaps puts the fraud at the heart of the financial crisis in even more perspective. Taylor Bean & Whitaker overdrew on its main account at Colonial Bank back in 2002. Colonial executives would fill the gap in the Taylor Bean account to avoid overdraft fees. When the cost of this became unbearable, Taylor Bean came up with an idea, with the full knowledge of some Colonial executives. They would cover the cost by selling Colonial mortgage pools – many of which had already been sold to other investors. Colonial put these worthless, fake mortgages on their balance sheet and Taylor Bean kept selling them.

But that was only one of the schemes.

SNIP

Two things are notable here. First, the series of fraudulent activities matches up with the notion that fraud was rampant throughout the financial industry during the bubble years. From the originators who sold the mortgages to the big banks who packaged them to the investors who bought them, everyone was in on the take. Second, the way in which Farkas was brought to justice is a model for how this could be done at practically every company on Wall Street. They went after the midlevel executives first, had them plea bargain to ensnare the bigger fish, and built their case. The notion that these cases are somehow impossible to perform is proven wrong by the Lee Farkas conviction.

Maybe the other cases aren’t so clear cut, critics would say. Without rigorous investigation, we won’t know that answer.
... locking up all of them, burning Wall Street to the ground and salting the earth will not begin to solve a problem that originates hundreds of miles to the south.

Because the real crime is not what's illegal; it's what's legal.

If you haven't read Matt Taibbi's Griftopia, let me recommend it with a warning: Taibbi minces no words in describing how and why the finance industry is destroying the nation.

He concludes:

... the country increasingly is forgetting that any of this took place. The ability of its citizens to lose focus so quickly and to be distracted by everything from Lebronomania to the immigration debate is part of what makes America so ripe for this particular type of corporate crime. We have voters who don't pay attention, a news media that either ignores key subjects or willfully misunderstands them, and a regulatory environment that bends easily to lobbying and campaign financing efforts. And we've got a superpower's worth of accumulated wealth that is still there for the taking. You put all that together, and what you get is a thieves' paradise - a Griftopia.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

They may not be be Earthrise, but they're well worth the cost and your time nonetheless.

via TPM:

In honor of Earth Day, NASA has compiled some of their most beautiful and captivating images of the third planet from the sun.
See them here.

Missing the Obvious Answer

Here's an idea: stop killing your brain cells with stupid superstitions. Amazing how much easier it is to make ethical decisions based on reason and humanity once you abandon superstition.

Steve Benen:

THEOLOGICAL RIGOR.... The New York Times' David Brooks saw "The Book of Mormon" on Broadway, and like nearly everyone else who's seen the musical, seemed to really enjoy it. The columnist notes that the central theme of the production is that "many religious stories are silly," and "many religious doctrines are rigid and out of touch," but "religion itself can do enormous good as long as people take religious teaching metaphorically and not literally" and people "practice their faiths open-mindedly and are tolerant of different beliefs."

Brooks said he reflected on the musical afterwards, and came to believe "its theme is not quite true."

ague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn't actually last. The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice and definite in their convictions about what is True and False.

That's because people are not gods. No matter how special some individuals may think they are, they don't have the ability to understand the world on their own, establish rules of good conduct on their own, impose the highest standards of conduct on their own, or avoid the temptations of laziness on their own.

The religions that thrive have exactly what "The Book of Mormon" ridicules: communal theologies, doctrines and codes of conduct rooted in claims of absolute truth.
At this point, Brooks lists a series of benefits of "rigorous theology." It "provides believers with a map of reality," it "helps people avoid mindless conformity," it "delves into mysteries in ways that are beyond most of us," it builds "character," etc.

Brooks disapproves of "a no-sharp-edges view of religion that is all creative metaphors and no harsh judgments."

There's probably no credible way to address this with the depth it deserves in a blog post, late on a Friday afternoon (on Good Friday, no less), but for the sake of conversation, I think Brooks' view on theological rigor is overly narrow. Indeed, at times, it borders on insulting.

To make a book-length story short, my gut-level response to Brooks is that he's looking at one side of a complex coin. He sees theological rigor as a phenomenon that inspires adherents to "perform heroic acts," but chooses to ignore the same dynamic that inspires followers to commit horrific and inhumane acts in their deity's name.

Indeed, the column does not make so much as a passing reference to the role of faith and strict religious believers in hatred, discrimination, "honor" killings, wars, and even genocide. The notion that a belief system that provides adherents with "a map of reality" can also lead to the Crusades, the Inquisition, and witch trials never seems to enter Brooks' mind.

The point of Brooks' argument seems to be that he has no use for mamby-pamby faiths that focus on quaint niceties like unity and common decency. Give the columnist that old time religion, thank you very much. After all, those who can offer "absolute truth" are more likely to "thrive." (Someone should remind me of the last time they heard about Unitarians or Humanists who were driven to commit horrific crimes against humanity because of their belief system.)

But here's an alternative vision: rules of good conduct are not dependent on theological constructs, as any undergraduate Ethics 101 class should make clear. People are fully capable of imposing high standards of conduct on themselves without superstition, fantasy, or fear of divine punishment.

And more importantly, individuals need not think of themselves as gods "to understand the world on their own"; they can rely on reason and sound judgment. Intellectual rigor, evidence-based evaluations, and scientific constructs are not just another belief system -- and despite rumors of their demise, they're managing to hold on, and in some cases, "thrive."
Via @PZMyers, here's how one atheist explains what Brooks misses:

I am looking forward to reading Anthony Grayling's new book, The Good Book .... Here's a Q&A about the book that might have you itching for a copy as much as I am.

WHEN AND WHY DID YOU BECOME AN ATHEIST?
I was brought up in a non-religious family, and when I first encountered religion it simply seemed incredible, no more believable that the fairy stories and Greek myths that I had read and enjoyed as a child.

WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO WRITE THE GOOD BOOK?
Several decades ago, while studying the ethical theories and systems of the world, I saw a fundamental difference between religion-derived ethics and what I call 'humanism', that is, non-religious ethics, namely, that the former present themselves as the commands and requirements of a monarchical deity whereas the latter premises itself on efforts to understand human nature and the human condition - and whereas the former typically cut across the grain of human nature by requiring self-denial and control of control functions, the latter is more sympathetic and reasonable by far.
You are of course reading @PZMyers every day, so bookmark this new blog for daily reading.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Natural Gas Will Save Our Energy Ass! Eh, Not So Much

Here's a good rule of thumb that never, ever fails: If it's a fossil fuel, it kills people.

Susie Madrak at Crooks and Liars:

So pumping millions of gallons of carcinogenic liquid into the earth in order to get out natural gas deposits is not looking like such a sustainable energy policy. Thank God here in Pennsylvania, our new GOP Gov. Tom Corbett, an energy-industry shill, quickly moved to eliminate (or stop enforcing) the safeguards our previous Democratic administration put in place. Who cares what it might do to the drinking water in the New York-Philadelphia-New Jersey watershed? Let them drink bottled water, damn it!

Thousands of gallons of fracking fluid have spilled following an accident at a natural gas well in Pennsylvania, WNEP reports.The Chesapeake Energy well in Bradford County lost control late Tuesday night.From WNEP:

The well blew near the surface, spilling thousands and thousands of gallons of frack fluid over containment walls, through fields, personal property and farms, even where cattle continue to graze.

Francis Roupp, deputy director of the county emergency management agency, told AP that there were no injuries, and that although fluids have reached a small stream, "no adverse effects" have been reported.

Roupp suggests a cracked well casing could be the culprit behind the fracking spill, but that certain details won't be known until the situation is under control.Pennlive.com reports that seven families have been evacuated as a result of the spill.

The chemicals used in fracking fluids have been a contentious subject, as many energy companies have long guarded them as a "trade secret." A recent report released by three House Democrats says that millions of gallons of potentially hazardous chemicals and known carcinogens, such as methanol, have been injected into wells across the country by energy companies using the controversial fracking method.
Oil. Coal. Natural gas. Fossil fuel. Dead people.

Yet More Proof the Debt/Deficit Hyenas Are Lying

Even if the deficit and debt were significant enough to be of concern - which the article below proves they are not - they would still be irrelevant in light of high unemployment demanding massive government spending to create 10 million jobs.

Next time somebody starts hyperventilating about the deficit or the debt, look around, take a couple of deep sniffs, grimace and say: "I think somebody needs a diaper change."

Brian Beutler at TPM:

For the next several weeks, and likely through election season, Washington will continue to be gripped by the debate about how to reduce federal deficits and the national debt. It's a common focus of legislative preening, particularly after economic downturns, and even more particularly when Democrats control the White House.

So it's worth keeping in mind how current and projected deficits and debt stack up to their historic levels, relative to GDP. The answers will surprise you.

The following graph tracks annual deficits as percentages of GDP over the last several decades. Unsurprisingly, what you see is that they spike during economic downturns, with the most severe spike after the United States entered World War II -- a spending effort that provided the economic stimulus the country needed to finally break the back of the Great Depression.
Read the whole thing.

If It Cuts More From the Middle Class Than It HikesTaxes on the Rich, It's Not a Serious Budget

If it cuts Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid at all, it's not a Democratic budget.

And if it doesn't spend $3 trillion creating 10 million new infrastructure jobs immediately, it's absolutely not a liberal budget.

Digby:

I'm getting tired of talking about this and I'm sure you're getting tired of reading it, but it's got to be done. The "center" in this budget fight is not going to be someplace any of us on the left are going to be able to live with. Robert Reich spells it out in this piece:

I'd wager if Americans also knew two-thirds of Ryan's budget cuts come from programs serving lower and moderate-income Americans and over 70 percent of the savings fund tax cuts for the rich - meaning it's really just a giant transfer from the less advantaged to the super advantaged without much deficit reduction at all - far more would be against it.

And if people knew that the Ryan plan would channel hundreds of billions of their Medicare dollars into the pockets of private for-profit heath insurers, almost everyone would be against it.

The Republican plan shouldn't be considered one side of a great debate. It shouldn't be considered at all. Americans don't want it.

Which is why I get worried when I hear about so-called "bipartisan" groups on Capitol Hill seeking a grand compromise, such as the Senate's so-called "Gang of Six."

Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, a member of that Gang, says they're near agreement on a plan that will chart a "middle ground" between the House Republican budget and the plan outlined last week by the President.

Watch your wallets.

In my view, even the President doesn't go nearly far enough in the direction most Americans would approve. All he wants to do, essentially, is end the Bush tax windfalls for the wealthy - which were designed to be ended in 2010 in any event - and close a few loopholes.
He goes on to point out all the useless programs that could be cut and taxes that could be raised that would maintain services that human beings depend upon and still turn back this allegedly existential deficit threat --- none of which are on the table. This despite the fact that a credible budget that does all that and more is out there and being totally ignored --- a plan, by the way, that tracks with the vast majority of the American people's wishes.

Everybody says we have to "sacrifice" and have "skin in the game" but the fact is that the only skin that is likely to be stripped is the skin of ordinary working Americans.
Kevin Drum shows how you can eliminate the deficit just as quickly and efficiently - if not more so - with twice as much tax increases on the rich as spending cuts.

Sing It, Brothers and Sisters

There's almost too much protest-worthy crap out there to choose from, although you can never go wrong targeting the parasites of the rich.

So you're gonna need some songs.

Peter Rothberg at The Nation:

Dorian Lynskey's comprehensive new book, 33 Revolutions Per Minute, details the history of the protest song in America and around the world.

Defining a protest song as one that "addresses a political issue in a way which aligns itself with the underdog," Lynskey starts his story with Billie Holiday's harrowing 1939 anti-lynching ballad, "Strange Fruit," and ably takes us through the historic tunes that helped sustain and promote the civil rights, labor and anti-Vietnam war movements as well as non-American music from The Clash in Britain, Victor Jara in Chile and Fela Kuti in Nigeria.

It's a bracing and informative survey, even if you're familiar with the topic, and it sent me thinking and talking to people about all-time favorite protest songs. A quick poll of Nation staffers and friends of the magazine produced an eclectic play list.

SNIP

Seriously picking a top-ten is an impossible task, but in the interests of getting the conversation started, here are my choices. The criteria includes musical quality as well as topicality and I tried to stray some from the totally predictable. Hope you enjoy the videos!

We also want to hear from Nation readers! Use this form to tell us what you consider your all-time favorite protest song. Please include a link to a video, if you have it, but just tell us the name and artist if you don't. We'll be publishing a survey of readers' choices next week.
The article has lots of not-so-obvious choices, but I have to admit that my favorite, and the one that just thinking about makes me choke up, is this one.

If you can watch it without crying, you're a sociopath.

On Gas Prices, the Real Fraud is What's Legal

You don't need a whole task force to investigate gas prices, Mr. President, just round up all of Timmy Geithner's Wall Street buddies. They're pulling the same commodity speculation stunt that ruined millions of people in 2008.



Full transcript here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

No Alternatives to Water

Well of course the filthy rich parasites think they can escape pollution by buying bottled water, and for a little while that will work. But drinkable water is even more finite than oil, and infinitely more valuable. You think the oil wars are bad? Wait until we have to attack Canada for its water.

Susie Madrak at Crooks and Liars:

It's fascinating to me that our elected officials have decided that the national deficit is an urgent crisis, and yet destroying our water supplies is one of those "liberal" things no one else cares about. What do they suppose they think they're going to drink when it all runs out?
The blood of anchor babies, if I had to guess.

WASHINGTON — Oil and gas companies injected hundreds of millions of gallons of hazardous or carcinogenic chemicals into wells in more than 13 states from 2005 to 2009, according to an investigation by Congressional Democrats.

The chemicals were used by companies during a drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, which involves the high-pressure injection of a mixture of water, sand and chemical additives into rock formations deep underground. The process, which is being used to tap into large reserves of natural gas around the country, opens fissures in the rock to stimulate the release of oil and gas.

Hydrofracking has attracted increased scrutiny from lawmakers and environmentalists in part because of fears that the chemicals used during the process can contaminate underground sources of drinking water.

“Questions about the safety of hydraulic fracturing persist, which are compounded by the secrecy surrounding the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids,” said the report, which was written by Representatives Henry A. Waxman of California, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Diana DeGette of Colorado.

The report, which is to be released on Monday, also faulted companies for at times “injecting fluids containing chemicals that they themselves cannot identify.”

The inquiry over hydrofracking, which was initiated by the House Energy and Commerce Committee when Mr. Waxman led it last year, also found that 14 of the nation’s most active hydraulic fracturing companies used 866 million gallons of hydraulic fracturing products — not including water. More than 650 of these products contained chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens, regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or are listed as hazardous air pollutants, the report said.

Coming Soon to Your Town

If wars are how Americans learn geography, then electing republicans is how Americans learn fascism.

And if they get away with this, it will be because it's so unimaginably anti everything this nation stands for that no one can believe it.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy



Believe it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tax Cuts Uber Alles

The budget "debate" in a nutshell, from Digby:

Let's be honest about what's happening here and deal with it directly: the owners are demanding that average people give up their security and their futures so the top 1% can pay even less in taxes --- or else. Whether it comes in the form of "tax reform" or direct spending cuts or any combination, that's the "deal" that's really on the table.
Read the whole thing.

AfPak Clusterfuck Meets War on Drugs Clusterfuck

If you thought either one could not possibly get any more self-destructive, counter-productive and just plain stupid than it already is, think again:

Charli Carpenter at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

Millions of individuals worldwide suffer from acute or chronic pain without adequate access to pain medication. The problem is particularly acute in the developing world, as Time Magazine chronicled last year:

Whether you will have access to pain treatment depends largely upon where you live. Africa, which has most of the world’s AIDS victims, is a painkiller wasteland. In India, more than a million cancer and AIDS sufferers die each year in extreme pain as cumbersome regulations and paperwork make it nearly impossible to get prescription painkillers. (India produces much of the world’s legal opium, yet nearly all of it is exported to Western pharmaceutical companies.)

The geography of pain relief is so skewed that the seven richest countries consume 84% of the world’s supply of legal opiates, according to the International Narcotics Control Board, an independent agency that enforces U.N. conventions. For the estimated 10 million people who are suffering from untreated pain, relief is often found only on the black market, or in death.
This gaping unmet need and global inequity is becoming the subject of various calls for change, by pain experts, by cancer treatment advocates, by international organizations, and by the human rights community. As Brent Foster explains in this podcast, the reasons behind the inequitable global distribution of pain medication are complex – like many intractable global social problems that get too little attention by policymakers.

However, a significant (and solvable) aspect of the problem is simply the relationship of supply to demand: the need for analgesics like morphine far outweighs the available supply. In part, this is due to the fact that such analgesics are produced from opium, the sap of the poppy. Since the same plant extract can also be used to produce heroin, a significant amount of political effort is now being expended worldwide to actually inhibit, rather than encourage, opioid production. This fuels shortages of analgesics.

Writing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Amir Attaran and Andrew Boozary suggest a seldom-mentioned way to increase supply: re-framing Afghanistan’s poppy problem as “an opportunity for global public health.” In short, the authors suggest pro-government forces abandon efforts to eradicate Afghan poppy cultivation and instead redirect them toward the production of licit opiods for analgesic pain medication.

Opium can be extracted to produce morphine at a conservative ratio of 10:1, and morphine in turn can be synthesised into other medical analgesics (eg, codeine or dihydromorphine) with little loss. As such, Afghanistan’s available poppy crop is sufficient to supply about 690 tons of morphine: enough to nearly triple the current global supply of that medicine, and to narrow substantially the analgesia gap between rich- and poor-country patients having terminal cancer or HIV/AIDS pain.

No other country comes remotely close to producing enough. As such, the ‘problem’ of Afghanistan’s opium poppy, which is now wasted on manufacturing illicit drugs, is potentially the solution for millions of suffering pain patients, who desperately need proper analgesic medicines.
Of course, increasing supply would ultimately be only one important step in resolving the global distribution problem, which is partly a result of a grossly inequitable quota system operated by the UN International Narcotics Board, as well as cultural factors.

But given the staggering human need for opiod analgesics worldwide, it is remarkable that policy discourse on Afghan poppy production has been so focused on eradication, reduction or poppy-free zones to the exclusion of regulation for the purpose of filling medical need. Foreign Policy’s recent “Think Again” piece on Afghan’s poppy crop, for example, ignores this option completely, suggesting only marginal shifts in status quo policies that treat poppies as the problem (like “focusing alternative-development efforts on more stable parts of the country” or “fund drug treatment in Afghanistan.”)

Producing licit opiods for export would link Afghanistan to the global trading system and provide a legal and lucrative pathway toward economic development. Instead, poppy crops are being literally destroyed in Afghanistan as part of the “war on drugs.”
Sometimes, a win-win-win solution is so obvious you just know it's never going to happen.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Save Kentucky's Sandhill Cranes


(Photo by David L. Roemer)

James Bruggers at the Courier:

The first chance for the public to comment to state wildlife officials on their plan to allow hunting of sandhill cranes comes on May 6, at a commission wildlife committee meeting.

Yup — Oaks Day, the day before the Kentucky Derby. It’s about as close to an official holiday in Kentucky as it comes.

Look here for the regulatory process flow chart that state wildlife officials have created and you will find other opportunities.
Yes, there is an organization working to save Kentucky's Sandhill Cranes.

The Kentucky Coalition for Sandhill Cranes is working to maintain the current level of protection for Kentucky’s sandhill cranes. Speak out for sandhills, join KCFSC now!

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) plans to allow hunting of sandhill cranes as early as 2011. The general public will have an opportunity to comment on the proposed hunting season at the May 2011 Commissioners meeting.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also hold a public comment period in July 2011, but we believe the first hunting season on Kentucky’s sandhill cranes will – for all intents and purposes – be a “done deal” by then.

The Coalition feels that Kentuckians who oppose the new hunting season should have a real voice in the process – a chance to be heard while it can still make a difference and a chance to influence the outcome.

How can you help? Contact Commissioner Gassett and your district Commissioner NOW and voice your opposition to the proposed hunt!
Click here to sign the petition.

It's Hard to Pay Down Debts When There's Less Money Coming In

I came down hard on Ezra Klein when he spouted Villager nonsense, so I want to thank him for exposing one of the biggest budget lies.

Via Digby:

Ezra Klein takes on the silly trope used by both parties that the government is like a household and has to "tighten its belt" when times are tough. You all know that's the opposite of the truth, but to most people it seems intuitive. There's no excuse for Democrats being so lazy and unimaginative that they just succumb to it however. If they were real liberals, they'd care, but since most of them aren't, they're fine with perpetuating a myth that will only result in starving the economy at times it needs it the most ...

Liberalism has taken a huge hit the last couple of years with the Democrats failing miserably to make the public understand what happened, who was responsible and how to fix it. As a result, we are obsessing about deficits when millions of people are still unemployed. It's sad.

Ezra mentions one obvious point that I can't believe nobody ever brings up when the Republicans are parroting their tired trope "we don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem" (and I want to hurl my shoes like an Egyptian.) It's quite simply, the opposite:

[W]hat’s happened over the past few years is that the deficit has increased primarily because revenues — for reasons related to both tax cuts and the financial crisis — have plummeted. People, however, have looked at the increase in the deficit and assumed it was the product primarily of new spending, as most people’s incomes don’t fluctuate very much and so big debts tend to imply big expenses.
Read the whole thing for Digby's liberal version of the "home budget" trope.

Have you talked to your Democratic neighbors today?

Spring into Summer at Kentucky State Parks

UPDATED April 17

Spring is here, and there's no better place to catch Kentucky's spectacular spring colors than at Kentucky State Parks. April and May are full of new activities and events.

Spring discounts are continuing at select Kentucky State Resort Parks during April. Guests can get lodge rooms for two consecutive nights for $99 or get a lodge room on Monday nights for $29 and $39 during April. The $99 deal for two nights is good Sunday through Thursday at these parks: Lake Cumberland, Cumberland Falls, Buckhorn Lake and Natural Bridge. The offer is good any night at: Blue Licks Battlefield, Carter Caves, Dale Hollow Lake, General Butler, Greenbo Lake, Kenlake, Lake Barkley, Pennyrile Forest, Pine Mountain and Rough River Dam.

Hidden eggs, special meals and plenty of photo opportunities will be available at Kentucky State Parks this month as the Easter Bunny makes his way across the state. Many state parks will be holding special events during Easter weekend. All 17 resort park restaurants will be serving a special Easter Buffet on April 24. The dinners will be served from noon until 8 p.m. at all 17 resort parks. The menu includes beef carved on the line, baked country ham, golden fried catfish and hushpuppies. The meal will also include fresh fruit, a cheese bar, garden vegetables, salad and desserts. Click here for a list of special events along with the park phone number. (Please note that not all events are on April 24.)

Join friends and community volunteers as they clean up Buckhorn Lake on Saturday, April 23, 2011. Registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. at Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park marina. Gloves and bags will be provided. All participants are invited to a cookout lunch, where door prizes will be awarded.

On April 28 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Red Hatters are invited to join Lake Barkley State Resort Park in celebrating the upcoming Derby. Come dressed in your finest Red Hatter’s Derby outfits and get ready to pick a winner while having a great time! At this pre-Derby celebration Red Hatter’s will enjoy lunch, tea, and an afternoon at the races. The cost for this event is $12, and reservations are required.

Glorious spring adorns the vaulted slopes of Kentucky’s Pine Mountain in a cloak of green and the lush forest enters an enchanting period of flowerings. By late April, the blooming of wildflowers is nearing its peak, and an assortment of warblers can be observed migrating through Kentucky. Now, there’s an adventurous weekend opportunity to celebrate the occurrence of both! Pine Mountain State Resort Park will host its Flowers and Feathers Weekend April 29-30.

The Kentucky Native Plant Society’s Wildflower Weekend, April 29-May 1, 2011, is a chance for botanists, gardeners and nature lovers to enjoy the hundreds of species of native plants at Natural Bridge State Resort Park.

Nolin Lake State Park, in cooperation with Friends of Nolin Lake member Carl Suk, will offer a “Spring at the Lake Wildflower Walk” on Saturday, April 30, at 9 a.m. CDT. Participants may enjoy discovering spring wildflowers such as Spring Beauty, Bluets or Quaker Ladies, Jack-in-the-Pulpit and Rue Anemone along the 1.6 mile Waterfall Trail.

Jefferson Davis State Historic Site and the Kentucky Young Writers’ Connection is co-sponsoring the 1st Arts in the Parks Summer Writing Workshop on May 7, 2011 from 1-9 p.m.

Natural Bridge State Resort Park will host Herpetology Weekend, May 6-7, providing an opportunity for guests to see and discover the mysterious world of reptiles and amphibians that reside in eastern Kentucky. This is a great weekend for children, as well as adults who are kids at heart, to visit the park and experience “herping” with biologists, ecologists, and other trained professionals.

Columbus-Belmont State Park will be hosting the first Arts in the Parks summer writing workshop on May 21, 2011. The workshop, sponsored by the Kentucky Young Writers Connection, is open to third graders through adults. It will start at 1 p.m. and last until 9 p.m. The program allows participants to explore their creative side within the natural beauty of the park. Learn how to develop a short story through the writing process from brainstorming to a well-written story. Enjoy dinner overlooking the Mississippi River. Learn the unique history of the area from interpretive guides. Mingle with Kentucky authors who are ready to answer your questions. At the end of the day, we’ll attend a storytelling event overlooking the river where the participant will have the option to present their story to the public.

The Kentucky State Parks will again offer the Family Adventure Quest – a trivia and digital photo contest for families or friends in teams of two to six people. The Family Adventure Quest presents a series of challenges that teams complete by traveling and taking photos at state parks across Kentucky. It’s a great way to explore the outdoors, have fun and learn something -- all at the same time! While some challenges will simply require a little thinking, many will require a visit to different state parks and use of a digital camera to show your team along your journey. The prize for entries that correctly answer all 25 questions is an $85 gift card good at state parks. For correctly answering 20 questions, winners can receive a $50 gift card. There is a $15 registration fee, which will get you an information packet with the questions, a backpack and a surprise gift. Registration forms are available at www.parks.ky.gov (look for the “adventure” tab) as well as photos of past year’s participants. Photos must be submitted in electronic format on a CD. The challenge ends Dec. 1, 2011.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Where Your Tax Money Really Goes

Don't file that copy of your W2 yet; you'll need those numbers to calculate your Tax Receipt.

It's a quick way to find out just how much you personally are paying for each part of the federal budget.


Have you ever wondered how much of your own tax dollars actually go to support foreign aid? To support education? Well, now you can find out – and you might be surprised.

In his State of the Union Address, President Obama promised that this year, for the first time, American taxpayers would be able to go online and see exactly how their federal tax dollars are spent.

So today, we’re announcing the first-ever federal taxpayer receipt.

Just enter a few pieces of information about your taxes, and the taxpayer receipt will give you a breakdown of how your tax dollars are spent on priorities like education, veteran’s benefits, or health care.

Click here to calculate your receipt.

A Reality-Based Budget is a People's Budget

The elephant in the room that both Democrats and Republicans are desperately ignoring and hoping you won't notice is this:

President Obama's proposed budget is far to the right of anything resembling a budget that acknowledges economic reality.

That reality demands a budget that eschews spending cuts in favor of massive deficit spending to create 10 million infrastructure jobs, returns tax rates for the rich to those of the Reagan administration, and saves hundreds of billions by ending the criminal clusterfucks in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.

And such a budget actually exists! It has been submitted as a bill on the floor of the House of Representatives, and has more than 50 cosponsors.

Katrina vanden Heuvel at The Nation:

Yet in many ways his approach continues to legitimize the inside-the-beltway consensus that spending cuts must lead the way toward achieving fiscal responsibility. Just as the Simpson-Bowles Commission proposes, for every $1 raised by closing tax loopholes on wealthy Americans, the President proposes $2 in spending cuts. Two-thirds of those cuts would come from education, health and other social programs, while only one-third comes from the military budget. While the president speaks eloquently of his vision of “shared sacrifice,” in reality it is still a budget that hits the poor and the middle-class hardest while wealthy Americans and the military are asked to sacrifice far less.

An alternative approach that deserves more attention is the “People’s Budget” offered by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). It will be introduced in the House on Thursday and it is the strongest rebuke—in the form of an amendment—to the unconscionable “Ryan Budget” for FY 2012. It’s a budget that gives the people—according to poll after poll—exactly what they want (something which shouldn’t be a rarity in a healthy, vibrant democracy).

The People’s Budget lays out what a robust progressive agenda looks like. It protects an already frayed social net and promotes a progressive tax policy that makes millionaires, billionaires, and big corporations pay their fair share. It doesn’t stop at cutting the low-hanging fruit at the Pentagon, instead it brings our troops home from two wars that cost trillions of dollars and do nothing to make the US safer, and resets and rethinks what real security means in the 21st century.

“The People’s Budget generates a government surplus by 2021 by closing tax loopholes, ending corporate giveaways to oil, gas and nuclear entities, bringing our troops home, and creating jobs that expand the American tax base,” said Representative Raúl Grijalva, co-chair of the CPC. “This is a sensible solution that listens to what the American people have said about where our budget priorities should be.”

SNIP

President Obama’s speech this week starts to move the budget debate in the right direction. But it’s up to the people and allies inside Congress to take the struggle to the next level, turning the tide on our democracy deficit which has produced—as Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz recently put it—a country “of the one percent, for the one percent, and by the one percent.”
Read the whole thing.

Have you talked to your Democratic neighbors today?