Saturday, March 12, 2011

The other high cost of energy

By Capt. Fogg

"Your Mr. Obama doesn't like nuclear power"

said R___. It was back in '08 during the "drill baby drill," cheap energy at any cost nonsense. He's an engineer, like many of my friends and acquaintances and you would think he'd share a concern with proper design and planning of nuclear facilities but then, as now, if Obama is for it, the Republicans area against it.

Then there was J___, an ex military man with several graduate degrees who told me in robotic tones that "we don't need any more government regulation" when I mentioned that a bit of responsible enforcement of the rules might have prevented the inevitable Gulf blow out disaster.

It really is like arguing with robots, because humans can, at least in theory, learn from experience. Robots need programming and repeat what they are programmed to repeat. It's not quite exclusively American, of course and R___ is Swiss after all. The overall safety of nuclear power is a question subject to debate, preferably between those with a great deal of technical expertise and not unduly influenced by those with a great deal of financial interest in building them. There will always be a danger, of course and there will always be an increasing need for energy pace the neo-Luddites and those who think we can feed and house the world's population using pre-industrial revolution technology, but building a nuclear plan on a coastline and in an earthquake zone seems to this layman a triumph of short sighted greed.

I read with horror this morning of a radiation leak and explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi plant resulting from the emergency backup power system being installed where it could -- and did - flood. Of course the plant is located so as to put a great many people in a danger zone and they've had to be evacuated. Odds are that the current plan to flood the reactor with sea water will succeed, and so far the leak is small, or so they say, but it's not really the kind of risk most people would subject themselves to voluntarily. People other than my Republican friends, that is.

I'm concerned enough that I live just down the coast of Florida from a nuclear facility. I'm part of a group organized to provide emergency communications should all else fail and an 'incident' occur and we have regular drills that are based on frightening scenarios. I'd rather they hadn't built it on the coast and within yards of the sea. Tsunamis aren't common here, but hardly impossible and hurricanes with storm surges happen all too often, but the convenience of having a large labor supply, saving money and cutting corners made the site attractive -- and of course we don't need no more Gummint regulation, do we?

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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The Japan Syndrome

I am not a fan of nuclear power. I understand the need for it and I understand why it is necessary. But I also understand the risks of having to have to depend on nuclear energy. New York City and over 20,000,000 people sit 50 miles away from Indian Point, a nuclear plant that has had many problems.

One would also think the Japanese would understand the nightmare of an uncontrolled nuclear power release.

The 8.9 magnitude Sendai Earthquake of March 11 is the 5th strongest quake in recorded history. The stronger quakes are as follows:
  1. Chile - 5/22/1960   9.5 magnitude
  2. Alaska - 3/27/1964    9.2 magnitude
  3. Indonesia - 12/26/2004   9.1 magnitude
  4. Russia - 11/4/1952   9.0 magnitude
Japan is located in one of the most seismically active areas of the planet. The Great Tokyo quake of 1923 killed almost 150,000 people and leveled the city of Yokohama. In 1996, Kobe was the center of another power quake that killed 6,500. Neither of those quakes release energy to cause a major tsunami, and neither of those quakes caused an explosion at a nuclear power plant.

Japan is highly dependent on nuclear energy.  The Fukushima power plant sits on the Pacific Ocean, relatively close (in nuclear terms - any reactor is probably too close to earthquake faults) to the epicenter (which was 80 miles off the coast of Japan) of the Sendai quake.  The force of this quake cause the Fukushima plant to suffer severe damage and explode. The potential of a core meltdown at Fukushima is very real.  Core meltdowns are - to say the least - not good things.  They are not good on Star Trek, and they are definitely not good in the non-Gene Roddenberry real world.  25 years ago Europe woke up to the effects of a core meltdown - and it was devastating.

The worst nuclear disaster in history was the Chernobyl meltdown in Ukraine on April 26, 1986. The explosion at the #4 reactor released a toxic cloud that covered much of Eastern Europe. A zone around the plant in Ukraine has been rendered uninhabitable.  Food and livestock had to be destroyed.  Cancer deaths have increased. The US is not immune to a potential nuclear nightmare. Not as environmentally damaging, but perhaps equally as bad from a public relations angle was the Three Mile Island disaster in Pennsylvania on March 28, 1979. TMI released minimal radiation, and brought to the forefront a much needed discussion about nuclear safety. In a stroke of marketing luck - the film The China Syndrome opened 12 days prior to the accident at TMI. In the film, a physicist says that the China Syndrome (which refers to a core meltdown) would render "an area the size of Pennsylvania" permanently uninhabitable.

The term 'China Syndrome' was coined by Dr. Richard Lapp in 1971.  It refers to the most severe meltdown a nuclear reactor could achieve. A reactor would reach its highest level of 'supercriticality' for a sustained period of time, resulting in the melting of its support inginfrastructure. The core (consisting of uranium) could then reach temperatures in excess of 2000°C. These temperatures would melt all materials around it, and theoretically the reactor would sink due to gravity, effectively boring a hole through the reactor compartment's floor - heading straight for China. (of course there is no way the molten core would ever get to China or Japan).

One would think that between the Gulf of Mexico disaster, the political turmoil in the Middle East and now the potential of another meltdown at the Fukushima plant the world would really get serious about alternative energy - no matter the cost.  Then again this is the human race - controlled by the likes of Exxon and the Koch brothers who are much more concerned about profits that preservation.

I guess the Koch boys do live in a Gene Roddenberry world and have their escape pods all ready to shoot them to Romulus or Klingon.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Earthquake, tsunami lead to mass destruction in Japan

The reports coming out of Japan today have been simply awful. (And we can expect more such events as a result of climate change.) Here's the NYT:

TOKYO — Rescuers struggled to reach survivors on Saturday morning as Japan reeled after an earthquake and tsunami struck in deadly tandem. An 8.9-magnitude earthquake, the strongest ever recorded in Japan, set off a devastating tsunami that sent walls of water washing over coastal cities in the north. Concerns mounted over possible radiation leaks from two nuclear plants near the earthquake zone.

The death toll was in the hundreds, but Japanese media quoted government officials as saying that it would almost certainly rise to more than 1,000. About 200 to 300 bodies were found along the water line in Sendai, a port city in the northeastern part of the country and the closest major city to the epicenter.

Thousands of homes were destroyed, many roads were impassible, trains and buses were not running and power and cellphones remained down in the region. Japanese officials on Saturday issued broad evacuation orders for people living in the vicinity of two separate nuclear power plants that had experienced breakdowns in their cooling systems as a result of the earthquake, and warned that small amounts of radiation could leak from both plants. 

It could have been much worse, but Japan was well-prepared for such an event:

While the loss of life and property may yet be considerable, many lives were certainly saved by Japan’s extensive disaster preparedness and strict construction codes. Japan's economy was spared a more devastating blow because the earthquake hit far from its industrial heartland. 

For more on Japan's building codes, see here:

Hidden inside the skeletons of high-rise towers, extra steel bracing, giant rubber pads and embedded hydraulic shock absorbers make modern Japanese buildings among the sturdiest in the world during a major earthquake. And all along the Japanese coast, tsunami warning signs, towering seawalls and well-marked escape routes offer some protection from walls of water.

These precautions, along with earthquake and tsunami drills that are routine for every Japanese citizen, show why Japan is the best-prepared country in the world for the twin disasters of earthquake and tsunami — practices that undoubtedly saved lives, though the final death toll is unknown.

Yes, that's what government can do.

For more on the situation with the two nuclear plants, see here:

Japanese officials issued broad evacuation orders on Saturday for people living near two nuclear power plants whose cooling systems broke down as a result of the earthquake. The officials warned that small amounts of radioactive material were likely to leak from the plants. 

For more on the disaster and its aftermath, see also the BBC, which has extensive coverage. Here's some video from Aljazeera:

And from Russia Today:

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A budget stalemate and the hubris of freshman Tea Partiers

It may have been obvious during the 2010 midterm campaign that the Tea Partiers were delusional, but nobody quite grasped the depth of their derangement until they rewrote a budget proposal last month that nearly doubled the amount of spending cuts originally sought by Republicans in the House, then spent the next two weeks calling on Democrats – without a hint of irony – to get serious about the nation's fiscal disorder. 

After an entire campaign dedicated to making promises about deflating the ballooning size of government, reining in Washington's excessive spending habits, and reducing the dangerously high annual deficit, the House Tea Party members put their money where their mouth was, so to speak. Except they didn't. 

While The Washington Post reported that the proposed $61 billion in spending cuts, if enacted into law, would represent "the largest rescission of federal funds since the conclusion of World War II," the proposal's effect on the deficit is akin to trying to drain the Atlantic by sticking a Slurpee straw into the Potomac. 

From a recent USA Today editorial: 

The $61 billion in spending cuts being sought by House Republicans, and being fiercely resisted by Democrats, represent just 3.7% of this year's deficit and 1.6% of total federal spending. That's not to say there shouldn't be cuts. You have to start somewhere to change attitudes. But any genuine effort to deal with the nation's exploding debt involves tackling benefit programs, reining in defense and security spending, and raising more tax revenue. 

Not only does the proposal fail the long-term litmus test by ignoring Social Security, Medicare, and defense funding – the cash-cow trifecta of federal outlays it also fails to deliver even a short-term fix.

Run down the line of programs slated for defunding or underfunding and the same scenario emerges: these cuts, other than earning the nod from a handful of anti-ObamaCare, anti-government constituents, achieve almost nothing. (Eliminating funding for both Planned Parenthood and public broadcasting amounts to $790 million in savings, which, when translated into a percentage of the $3.7 trillion federal budget, represents a savings of two millionths of one percent.)

Beyond the dwarfish reach of the proposal, the $61 billion in cuts also happens to be an impossible request in a legislative branch that is only half-controlled by Republicans. 

No Democrat could survive the liberal revolt if they joined Republicans and voted to eliminate funding for health-care reform, Planned Parenthood, and public broadcasting; if they agreed to gut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and eliminate the agency's role as an emissions regulator; or if they capitulated to Tea Party demands and ignored addressing the growing costs of entitlements and defense, which, combined, account for more than 60 percent of federal spending.

This is where the insanity is best showcased. The Democratic Party's vehement opposition to the bill was not classified or privileged information. Majority Leader Harry Reid came right out and called the bill "draconian" – essentially declaring it dead-on-arrival in the Senate after passing in the House along party lines. President Obama didn't even wait for House Republicans to approve the measure before threatening to veto the bill. To assume that the proposal had any chance of becoming law is to acknowledge that the Tea Party is indeed crazy.

But that isn't how politics works. Normally, they'd have used the proposed $61 billion in budget cuts as a benchmark. After a few days of railing Democrats in front of the cameras as tax-and-spend liberals, socialists, and clueless bleeding hearts, the Republican leadership would take over and start negotiating. That's the usual procedure. Announce your ideology-driven initiative, pressure the other party into joining the debate, then actually have a debate. After sanding off the sharp edges and eliminating the parts that both parties know will doom the bill to failure, lawmakers can then work out the finer details, the phrasing, the timeline for implementation, and then, eventually, pass a revised, responsible, and balanced piece of bipartisan legislation. 

Neither side will be fully satisfied, but the problem is addressed. That's the nature of the legislative beast. It's the beauty of democracy. And yes, it's a dirty business. Unless you actually are the messiah, as some apparently hoped of the president during his campaign three years ago, you don't escape the Capitol Hill negotiation mill without a few scars. President Obama learned this lesson with both health-care reform and tax cuts. Unlike Obama's case, however, the learning curve for the Tea Party will be sharp, painful, and fruitless. 

Perhaps the freshman lawmakers, lacking any hands-on experience with the process, thought it would turn out differently, that their bill would somehow survive the Senate, and that Obama might... I don't know, maybe faceplant from a dopamine overdose after laughing himself to death. If the bill were positioned on his desk at just the right angle, and if the pen in his ear made a mark on the signature line of the bill that the Supreme Court ruled was close enough to the left-handed president's chicken-scratch handwriting that it constituted a deliberate signature, then maybe it would be enacted into law. There's no other possible explanation for the Tea Party's ignorance in thinking that their proposals, unchanged, would go anywhere outside of the GOP-dominated House. 

The most appalling part of this Twilight Zone episode is that Republicans had two and a half weeks to work with Democrats on revising the most offensive portions of the bill, and instead of actually negotiating – the usual give-and-take of any bargaining process – Republicans used that time to bicker, accuse Democrats of obstruction, point fingers at the president for not solving everyone's problems, and generally abandon their roles as nationally elected leaders.

When the bill failed in the Senate, this was one response to the Democratic Party's refusal to accept the budget cuts: 

Paying lip service to the threat caused by the deficit is not a substitute for responsible leadership.

Those words came not from the fiery gut of a radical freshman Tea Partier. They came from the 25-year veteran lawmaker and current minority leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell. 

Of course, Democrats were no better. As a means of "compromise," they proposed cutting $6.5 billion, a figure that was so shallow Republicans didn't even bother wasting their breath to scoff at it. But one can't really fault Democrats for not initiating a deal. Cutting social programs wasn't their idea, for one. For two, assuming the stereotypes of the two parties are correct, Democrats wouldn't have proposed any sort of compromise whatsoever. They'd have countered the GOP's budget cut proposal with tax hikes. 

So, here we are nearly halfway through the fiscal year, staring once again down the barrel of a government shutdown, and despite having two months to figure out what is and isn't possible when it comes to reducing spending, our leaders are proving incapable of even beginning a real debate about effective but economically responsible budget cuts. 

We're back at square one, as they say, and it seems our national leaders are playing hopscotch in the quicksand.

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.) 

Credits: Image 1, Image 2

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Fuck you, Peter King, you bigoted piece of anti-Muslim shit

Too strong? Maybe. I'm sorry if I've injured your delicate sensibilities. (No, not really.) But King* deserves no less for what he's doing.

This former IRA enthusiast -- an avid supporter of terrorism and of a group that had an awful lot of American support even as it targeted a close American friend and was called a terrorist group by the U.S. government -- has ramped up his hatred of Muslims and is holding hearings on Capitol Hill on the supposed Muslim threat to America. (Both Stewart and Colbert had good bits on this last night.)

King is a loathsome little bigot who has stacked the deck not with experts, not with people who actually know something about Islam, the Muslim-American community (which of course shouldn't be treated as monolithic), and terrorism (including the far greater threat, right-wing domestic terrorism) but, predictably enough, with, if I may borrow the term, dittoheads, those who share his bigotry, his view that the Muslim community is festering with terrorists (not good Irish ones targeting Britain, but bad Muslim ones targeting America).

But he wasn't able to silence his own critics, including Rep. Keith Ellison, who delivered an emotional rebuttal to King's efforts:

The first Muslim elected to Congress broke into tears Thursday as he delivered his opening remarks at a hearing on radicalization in the Muslim American community.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) became heavily emotional as he spoke about a 23-year-old New York Police Department cadet and paramedic named Mohammed Salman Hamdani.

Hamdani, a Muslim, was killed attempting to save people from the collapsing World Trade Center buildings on Sept. 11, 2001, following the terrorist attacks, Ellison said.

Here's some of what Ellison said, with the video below:

Let me close with a story, but remember that it's only one of many American stories that could be told. Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a 23-year-old paramedic, a New York City police cadet and a Muslim American. He was one of those brave first responders who tragically lost their lives in the 9/11 terrorist attacks almost a decade ago. As The New York Times eulogized, "He wanted to be seen as an all-American kid."


Mr. Hamdani bravely sacrificed his life to try and help others on 9/11. After the tragedy some people tried to smear his character solely because of his Islamic faith. Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was in league with the attackers only because he was Muslim. It was only when his remains were identified that these lies were fully exposed. Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans. His life should not be defined as a member of an ethnic group or a member of a religion, but as an American who gave everything for his fellow citizens.

* As I've stressed before, no, not that Peter King, that Peter King -- who seems to call himelf "Pete," perhaps to distinguish himself from the more famous other Peter King. Obviously.

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The good from Wisconsin

The Republican assault on Wisconsin's public-sector unions is by no means a good thing, but there is actually some very positive news to report:

First, Republicans may very well have committed political suicide.

Second, the public is strongly behind the unions (and organized labor generally), and supportive of the right to bargain collectively, and against Gov. Walker and the Republicans.

Third, with a recall effort underway, a new poll shows solid majorities of voters against two Republican state senators, and the results of the poll, conducted before last night's vote, may actually understate the opposition.

Fourth, liberal-progressive groups are reporting huge fundraising boosts, particularly since last night's vote.

Fifth, according to Politico, "AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is anointing [Gov. Walker] the 'Mobilizer of the Year' for galvanizing union members and supporters into action," a development that bodes well for the elections next year, both for Obama and for Democrats across the country, including in labor-heavy rust belt states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, West Virginia, and, of course, Wisconsin.

Sixth, Republicans may have broken the law in passing the bill, meaning legal challenges and more trouble for those troubled Republicans.

Remember what I said about political suicide?

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Americans don't like Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin's unfavorable rating is off the charts.

The former Alaska governor's numbers are astonishingly upside-down, according to a new Bloomberg poll showing a 32 percentage point spread between those who have an unfavorable rating of Palin and those who view her favorably.

Of the 60 percent in the poll who have an unfavorable opinion of Palin, more than half of them – 38 percent among the whole survey – said they have a "very" unfavorable view of Palin.

We're a long way from being rid of her, what with Fox News and her rabid fans, but it's pretty clear she's done as a credible national figure, let alone as a viable national candidate.

And, yes, some of us saw this coming. It was only just a matter of time before her supernova collapsed into a black hole of self-delusional, albeit still self-glorifying, derangement.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Craziest Republican of the Day: Rand Paul

So what are Republicans doing after that "shellacking" of the Democrats in last November's midterms?

Well, they watched lamely while the lame-duck Congress did some amazing things (passing New START, repealing DADT), and while President Obama's popularity rose steadily, they voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, purely a symbolic vote in the House that was widely ignored or ridiculed, and now they're just failing about in search of something, anything to hang their extremist right-wing hats on.

And that doesn't even include committing political suicide in Wisconsin as they watch their popularity plummet over their assault on labor (and on working people everywhere), not to mention throwing up what is, so far, a fantastically lame 2012 presidential field.

Oh, and they're complaining about toilets. Yes, toilets:

Senator Rand Paul's toilets don't work, and he blames the Department of Energy.

At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Thursday, Mr. Paul lambasted Kathleen Hogan, deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency at the Energy Department, telling her that the department's "hypocrisy" and "busybody nature" has "restricted choices" for consumers rather than made life better for them.

"You don't care about the consumer really," Mr. Paul said. "Frankly, my toilets don't work in my house, and I blame you."

Boo-freakin'-hoo. Consumers have more than enough choice and the concern here is the environment, which under Republican rule would simply be exploited to the very last drop of all remaining natural resources. What is wrong with trying to conserve water, with using technology to make our use of natural resources somewhat more efficient, more responsible and sustainable? Please. It's just a low-flush toilet, not some high-tech gizmo, and they work pretty damn well.

Not that Paul gives a shit. He just wants to freedom to rape the environment with as much recklessness as he desires.

But this isn't isolated Republican craziness. The entire GOP is anti-environment -- oh, sure, they'll go out into nature, but only to drill for oil and kill defenceless animals -- just as it is anti-science. Indeed:

The hearing was called not to examine toilet policy, but to consider two proposed bills, one that would update energy efficiency standards for appliances and a second that would repeal a measure passed in 2007 to phase in new efficiency standards for light bulbs beginning next year.

The new standards would make the current form of 100-watt incandescent bulbs obsolete. Those bulbs have long been known to be particularly inefficient, emitting far more heat than light.

Conservatives have taken up the cause of the incandescent light bulb, saying the government is trying to dictate to Americans what kind of light bulbs they can use in their homes.

This is also incredibly stupid. Again, it's not about consumer choice, let alone about freedom, it's about being responsible environmental stewards. And it's also about innovation, about technological progress, about jobs. There will continue to be more than enough choice; indeed, innovation will open up more choice than ever. Besides, how much choice will there be when there's no fresh water left, or when there's so little that we'll need to ration it?

And, seriously, defending inefficient (and dangerous) light bulbs? Is that really the great Republican issue of the day? I get that they're trying desperately to frame this anti-environmentalism as pro-freedom (and anti-government), but no one outside of their base really buys their "nanny state" fearmongering and all they're doing, as they flail about like this, is coming across as incredibly ignorant and remarkably crazy.

Which of course they are. Just add this to the list.

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Wisconsin Republicans vote to take collective bargaining rights away from public-sector unions

How did they do it? Well, by cheating, in a way. Or perhaps by committing political suicide. I'll let Ezra Klein explain:

Here's what just happened in Wisconsin: The rules of the state's Senate require a quorum for any measures that spend money. That's how the absence of the Senate's Democrats could stymie Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget law -- it spent money, and thus it needed a quorum.

But in a surprise move earlier today, Wisconsin's Senate Republicans rewrote the bill and left out all the parts that spent money. Then they quickly convened and passed the new law, which included the provisions stripping most public-employee unions of their collective bargaining rights but excluding everything in the law that spent money.

What happens next? Expect the protests over the next few days to be ferocious. But unless a judge rules the move illegal -- and I don't know how to judge the likelihood of that -- Walker's proposed law will go forward. The question is whether Walker and the Republicans who voted for it will do the same.

Polls in Wisconsin clearly showed that Republicans had failed to persuade the public of their cause. Walker's numbers dropped, while Democrats and unions found themselves suddenly flush with volunteers, money and favorable media coverage. And they plan to take advantage of it: Eight Wisconsin Republicans have served for long enough to be vulnerable to a recall election next year, and Democrats have already begun gathering signatures. Now their efforts will accelerate.

As indeed they should. But will Democrats succeed?

I really do think Republicans overreached here. They thought it would be easy to take down the public-sector unions, to deprive them of their very essence (the right to bargain collectively on behalf of their members, who on their own would never have such strength and who, as we know from pre-union days, would be abused in one way or another by their employers) -- perhaps just to stick it to them, perhaps as an opening shot against organized labor generally, perhaps to weaken the Democratic Party. But the grand right-wing conspiracy was exposed, backed by the Koch brothers and pushed by Republican business and other anti-government interests, and also by a popular governor who apparently without knowing it put his political career on the line.

To their credit, the people of Wisconsin rallied in support not just of their public-sector unions but of labor unions, and labor, generally. Republican legislators look bad, Walker himself looks especially bad, and all over the country Republicans who expressed their support for this assault and who are linked to the Koch brothers are implicated in what has become a deeply unpopular move.

The Republicans may have acted within the law by removing the money parts from what was a budget bill -- as if that makes any sense -- but their motives are clear and I suspect the people of Wisconsin will hold them accountable.

When those Democrats fled the state to prevent the state Senate from having a quorum, who knew where all this would lead? As people came to understand what the issue was all about, and just what these Democrats opposed, it didn't take long for the Republicans, both in Wisconsin and elsewhere, to expose themselves for what they are, which is the enemy of working people everywhere, the party of the plutocrats, the party of the Koch brothers.

Republicans traditionally hype the supposed "culture wars" to divert the attention of the non-wealthy away from economic issues and their pro-business, plutocratic ways, scaring low-information voters into their corner, whether it's civil rights or terrorism or any other "threat" to America. They're still doing that -- just look at what IRA-backer Peter King is doing -- and they've been successful doing it, but this time they seem to have awakened a self-awareness in the electorate that will not easily be denied.

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Wisconsin Has The Sickly Stench of Dairy Air

By Carl
On the one hand, I'm kind of glad the Republicans were dopey enough to decouple this provision from the overall budget bill and force an up or down vote on it. Now we know precisely who to put up against the wall and shoot.
Electorally speaking, of course.
On the other hand, the foul stench of cowward-shit permeates the air over Wisconsin like the stench of stale vomit after a Packers' game.
By the way, FreeSpeechTV has a live feed of the crowded capitol building in Madison. While you're there, throw them a buck or two in thanks.
Here's what I recommend the activists in Wisconsin do: there's no point in picketing Walker's office. Or his house. Or the Koch Brothers.
What needs to be done is to disrupt smaller-yet-important donors to the Republicans in the legislature: set up picket lines in front of the banks and corporations, find the houses of the managers of those firms and start disrupting their private lives. Make it hell to get to the car or the garage or the dry cleaner. Follow them around, bullhorns loud and proud and ready. Make their neighbors hate them.
Unions fought hard for the things we workers take for granted, like an eight hour work day and a five day work week. Let's not take them for granted anymore.
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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David Broder (1929-2011)

Now is not the time to rehash all the old points about David Broder's inside-the-Beltway centrist hackery. The so-called "dean of the Washington press corps" died yesterday at the age of 81. And that's sad no matter what you thought of him.

I've written numerous posts on Broder, all of them extensively critical. For example:

-- "The bungling of Broder" (April 2007);
-- "David Broder, idiotic dramatist" (April 2008); 
-- "David Broder calls for 'showdown' with Iran" (November 2010).

Needless to say, I didn't much care for his work, whether it was his column in The Washington Post or his many appearances on the Washington talk-show circuit, particularly Meet the Press. (See also Creature's posts, "Apples and oranges" (August 2008), "It takes a village to cover up crimes" (September 2009), and "Not a pox on both houses (April 2010).)

Still, he was by all accounts, or at least by the accounts of other Beltway insiders, a hugely well-respected and indeed towering figure, an excellent reporter and political correspondent, and a good and decent man. And he obviously, in terms of his work, he had his finger on the pulse of something. I rarely found him convincing, but he was clearly an extremely important commentator and pundit.

On this, I agree with my friend Steve Benen:

Regular readers know that I was often critical of Broder's columns, but my critiques were driven in part by high expectations -- the man was a giant of political journalism.

And even when I disagreed with his analysis, it was impossible not to respect his tenacity and his decency.

Best wishes go out to his family and friends.

Even to those of us who didn't know him at all, and, yes, even to those of us who were deeply critical of his work, his death is a huge loss.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Betsy Ross made me do it!

Former House Speaker and hypocritical adulterer Newt Gingrich is testing the waters for a presidential run as the Republican nominee in 2012 (well, testing the sewage of the GOP). Knowing full well his three marriages and infidelity would become an issue during the primary season (potentially against such hypocritical luminaries as moronic Putin-neighbor Sarah Palin, geographically challenged squirrel-eater Mike Huckabee, and health-care mandate-lover Mitt Romney), Gingrich decided to bring the issue to the forefront himself to dispose of it like a pamper filled with David Vitter kaka.

Gingrich went on -- of all places -- hypocritical misogynist ("feminism makes women kill their children") and nuke-Foggy Bottom encourager Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network (talk about an oxymoron).

Newt said that the flag, apple pie, baseball, and patriotism all forced him to cheat on wife #1 AND wife #2. In other words (with all due respect to Flip Wilson), that harlot, wench, and flag-nympho Betsy Ross made him do it.

You cannot make up this stuff. While Qaddafi bombs his own people in Libya, Gingrich drops this shit all over America. Yes, it is quite humorous, but it really isn't all that funny.

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In wake of Ron Schiller "scandal," NPR CEO Vivian Schiller resigns

As reported by NPR itself:

Vivian Schiller, NPR's CEO and president since January 2009, left that job today in the wake of the second high-profile controversy to hit the organization in the past six months.

Dave Edwards, chairman of NPR's board, said directors came to the conclusion that the controversies under Schiller's watch had become such a distraction that she could no longer effectively lead the organization. She had told the directors that they should take the action they felt was appropriate, and Edwards said the board decided it would be best for her to depart.

The controversies in recent months that led to Schiller's departure have given NPR's critics opportunities to accuse it of liberal bias and to push for elimination of any federal funding for public broadcasting:

— Tuesday, a videotape surfaced of then-NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller (no relation) slamming conservatives and questioning whether NPR needs federal funding. His comments were secretly recorded by men posing as members of a Muslim organization (they were working with political activist James O'Keefe on a "sting").

— Last fall, NPR dismissed news analyst Juan Williams after he said on Fox News Channel (where he was also a paid contributor) that he gets nervous when he sees people in "Muslim garb" on an airplane. Williams went on to say it's wrong to profile or sterotype anyone based on their appearance, but NPR said it was the latest in a series of comments he had made that violated NPR's standards. The handling of his dismissal and the controversy surrounding it ultimately led to the resignation of NPR's top news executive at the time, Ellen Weiss.

I was deeply critical yesterday of NPR's handling of the Ron Schiller "scandal" -- in quotation marks because it really wasn't much of a scandal. Schiller spoke openly, perhaps a bit too openly, got snagged in a right-wing sting, and the organization, embarrassed and terrified of being seen as politically partisan, responded with utter cowardice, pushing Schiller out the door, calling what he said "appalling," without any consideration of context or accuracy, and giving NPR critics on the right a high-profile victory, all while feeding the double standard that treats liberals differently than conservatives. Because, really, you think anyone at Fox News would be forced out for saying such things? They do all the time, and to applause and encouragement.

And yet today it was the other Schiller's turn -- no, there's no relation -- to take the heat. Again, I was deeply critical of Vivian self-flaggellating response to Ron's remarks, but how is it that these two "controversies" were enough to bring her down? Firing Juan Williams for saying stupid and bigoted things about Muslims (admitting, that is, that he's a bigot, or at least that he views Muslims differently than others and sees them, without regard for nuance, as possible terrorists)? And then pushing Ron out the door for saying irresponsible things, at worst (particularly with respect to corporate policy on federal funding), to prospective donors?

That's it?

I don't really know enough about Vivian's performance as CEO to say whether she should or should not be in the position, but NPR itself acknowledges that she was fired largely because of these two "controversies," and I just don't seem as amounting to all that much. Fire her for poor leadership, fine, if in fact her leadership has been poor, but for this?

Again, it's a double standard, a self-imposed one, perhaps, but one that reflects broadly how conservatives, in the media and elsewhere, are treated differently.

Another way of putting that is that conservatives are generally held to lower standards (and hold themselves to lower standards) than liberals. I certainly don't think there's anything wrong with liberals maintaining high standards for themselves, but at some point the difference is just too much, not least when the standards aren't self-imposed but rather imposed by the "culture," and particularly by a media establishment that all too often gives conservatives a free pass for offences much worse than anything Schiller said. (Again, just watch Fox News. How many such offences are you likely to encounter on any given day? Could you even count all the examples of partisanship, all the expressions of bigotry?)

It may be tempting to views the events the past couple of days as inside-NPR matters. But they aren't just that. Instead, they're reflections of a broader and deeper problem facing liberals in the media, in politics, in business, anywhere, indeed, of the problem facing anyone who isn't on the right and therefore who isn't given that free pass. In dealing with Ron Schiller, NPR acted with cowardice. It acted pathetically. And in forcing Vivian Schiller out, it only made the problem that much worse, and that much more apparent, feeding NPR's own rabid critics on the right with yet more evidence that it, and we, can be pushed around. Once more, we see that it is the right that drives the narrative, along with a willing media establishment, and that the left caves without much of a fight.


As for Juan Williams, the fact that he's now accusing NPR of racism over his firing shows just how utterly self-serving he is, and always has been. He's a terrible pundit (who's found the perfect home at Fox News, where he can play the loser on the left), and NPR was right to rid itself of him, even if it should have fired him for general incompetence, not for those specific anti-Muslim remarks.


For a defence of Ron Schiller, see Slate's Jack Shafer, who notes that Schiller was just acting like a good fundraiser. I defend him on different grounds. What he said really wasn't all that controversial. Partisan, yes, but not wrong.


It's such a huge controversy, apparently, that Schiller won't be joining the Aspen Institute as planned. Ridiculous.

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Hope's last chance?

Guest post by Ali Ezzatyar 

Ali Ezzatyar is a journalist and American attorney practising in Paris, France.

Ed. note: This is Ali's fourth guest post at The Reaction. Last month, he wrote on dictatorship in Tunisia and Egypt and on the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East. In January 2010, he co-wrote a post on Iran with Bryan Tollin. On the situation in Egypt, he was recently quoted by Robert Fisk at The Independent. -- MJWS)


Comparisons to Ceausescu, while initially pessimistic, could turn out to be understated. Qaddafi is digging in and Libya is moving closer to what may be a prolonged and bloody struggle for the country's future. The international community and the United States in particular continue to wonder what role they should play in helping the good guys win.

Surely, it would have been difficult for any U.S. president in 2011 to seriously consider intervention in Libya. But on the eve of his election, one would have thought that Barack Obama was the exception. Promising a break from the past with the Muslim world, the usual suspicion and presumption of ill-intent that followed a U.S. president to the Middle East was tabled in Obama's case. But a combination of unfulfilled promises has relegated him to a class of leaders who must tread with extreme caution in Libya; still, he continues to have a rare opportunity that he should exploit.

He came to power partially on the perception that his unique persona and experience, and the policies and goodwill that would emanate therefrom, could reverse the Bush-era suspicion harnessed towards America almost everywhere in the world. Obama's domestic and international behavior on most everything Middle East, though, has been a disappointment.

Whatever the reality may be, his policy thus far in Iraq and Afghanistan is mostly seen as a continuation of an unpopular status quo. Everyone, including Israel, is complaining about his lack of coherence. On certain domestic issues that are especially important to increasingly well-connected followers abroad, he has again failed to live up to expectations. He signed an extension to the Patriot Act without reforming its most controversial portions. Just this week, he also ordered trials at Guantanamo Bay to resume, casting his promise to immediately close the prison even further into oblivion.

Miraculously, though, with the wave of unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, Obama's foreign policy credentials in the region have been partially revived. In January, American intervention directly lead to Ben-Ali fleeing Tunisia. The story is similarly positive in Egypt, as President Obama's personal conversations with Mubarak in the days leading up to his departure were historically unprecedented in the scope of their rebuke and insistence; the State Department is even rumored to have been very critical (if not threatening) in Bahrain, where the U.S. has a military base, during "consultations" on the paths forward for the king.

From what can be gauged of the region's opinion of how things have been handled thus far, the reaction is overwhelmingly positive. No burning American flags or effigies of Obama; rather, the U.S. is appearing to come out on the right side of events, without having dictated the results of a crucial, strategic Arab nation's political future.

Among disappointment and positive surprise, Libya, then, is a sort of tie-breaker. Obama needs to be the galvanizing force that ensures the world, and not just the U.S., stands on the side of Libya's people. This should include support for a U.N.- or NATO-led no-fly zone to prevent the strafing of civilians, more humanitarian aid to Libyan refugees, and strong diplomatic support for the Libyan people. But further intervention, such as tactical support for Libyan rebels, should also be considered. At this juncture in history, such intervention is unlikely to engender a negative perception, even if the rebels lose. Consider, furthermore, what all of the parties have to gain.

Through the popular, secular uprisings that are spreading through the region, al Qaeda and terrorism are being dealt a crucial blow that billions of dollars and thousands of American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan have yet to accomplish. But Obama must note that the clock is ticking and the jury is still out. Compared to the potential cost of inaction, decisiveness in Libya is simply crucial. Over the course of the next year, a partial reversal of decades of negative U.S. perception could instigate the new era of mutual respect and interest that Obama spoke about in his June 2009 speech in Cairo. That event would mean, among other things, a fundamental blow to extremists everywhere in the region and a huge boon America for decades to come.

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St. Paul, Defender of the Faith.

By Capt. Fogg

One of the things I have liked about Congressman Ron Paul is that he's often been on the side of deregulating private life and consensual behavior, but either he doesn't mean what he says or he is willing to say what he doesn't mean in order to curry favor with the Great Regulators of the Religious right.

Speaking in Iowa recently, Mr. Paul said:
"The Defense of Marriage Act was enacted in 1996 to stop Big Government in Washington from re-defining marriage and forcing its definition on the States. Like the majority of Iowans, I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman and must be protected."

That resonates in my ears as a statement of his religious persuasion and of course he was speaking to a group of religions conservatives representing denominations opposed to letting people decide for themselves about such matters. Other religions might have other ideas and indeed some do. In other words these are people quite open about forcing their definition on Americans.

I find it curious that proponents of defining marriage according to religious definitions always use the word "is" where one expects "should be," "ought to be" or "must be" and there must be a reason for it. Marriage, after all is a human institution and marriage customs vary amongst groups of humans. Perhaps "is" is a way to pretend that it's written into the fabric of the cosmos like general relativity or the uncertainty principle. It isn't.

Of course Paul couched his opposition to doing away with the Defense of Marriage act in terms of states rights and whether or not he was following in the tradition of all the other "states rights" defenses of so many other things we now see as unjust, it's a defense of something with as limited a future as our embarrassing misogyny laws of recent memory. A minority of the country oppose preventing people from marrying whom they will and I can't help but find my feeling that the history of humankind's progress toward democracy is once again being thwarted by the notion of a divine will that opposes our allegedly innate liberty.

When someone who has been so stalwart in defending the Constitution and restraining government power, promotes such peremptory views on the most personal of choices, it seems a jarring discontinuity that makes on question the man and everything else he's described as being unconstitutional. It's hard to understand why he's willing to use government power to defend a certain Faith when that is something the government is expressly forbidden to do.

Yes, I know. I've been talking a lot about religion of late, but to me, there is no other force in American affairs more intractable than the movement to force compliance to religious standards on people who have or wish to have no affiliation with those standards and prefer the right to make personal choices according to their own consciences. That ability, that kind of freedom is the beating heart of liberal democracy. If we lose that, we lose it all.

It's sad to see Congressman Paul speaking this way. I once had high hopes for him, if not as Presidential material, certainly as a voice of reason and restraint at a time when the Republican party seems increasingly controlled by anti-democratic, anti-libertarian influences. Now he seems far less of a libertarian, far more of an authoritarian and indistinguishable from any other politician grovelling before the powerful.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Cowards and conservatives: Much ridiculous ado about Ron Schiller, NPR, and James O'Keefe's latest right-wing scam

There has been much ado today -- I'm late coming to this, but I haven't been feeling well -- about NPR being caught in yet another gotcha sting by right-wing activist James O'Keefe and his ironically-named Project Veritas.

Basically, if you haven't heard the details yet, NPR executives Ron Schiller and Betsy Liley had lunch with two men posing as representatives of the so-called Muslim Education Action Center Trust, a fictitious philanthropic organization backed by the Muslim Brotherhood. The group, the two men said, wanted to give $5 million to NPR because, they said, "the Zionist coverage is quite substantial elsewhere." During the lunch, Schiller went off on Republicans and conservatives, saying, for example:

-- "The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people's personal lives and very fundamental Christian – I wouldn't even call it Christian. It's this weird evangelical kind of move."

-- On the Tea Party: "It's not just Islamaphobic, but really xenophobic, I mean basically they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-America, gun-toting. I mean, it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people."

That's about it. O'Keefe got it all on video, and now the story's flying around the Internet, with the anti-NPR ire of the right ramped up to new levels of vitriol.
Let me address the above comments first:

-- The Republican Party is indeed socially conservative and deeply theocratic. On the whole, it seeks to impose right-wing, fundamentalist Christian "values" on the country. One might object to Schiller's assertion that such evangelical fundamentalism isn't "Christian," but Schiller is right.

-- Schiller does somewhat misrepresent the Tea Party. While there are indeed racist elements in it, it is for the most part an anti-tax, anti-government, hyper-libertarian movement.

Undeniably, there are xenophobic and anti-Muslim strains in the Republican Party, significant if not dominant strains, but they are to be found more among the paleo-conservatives (and some neoconservatives), as well as within the party "establishment," not really, or at least not exclusively, among the Tea Partiers. (Rand Paul isn't really the problem here, it's more the likes of fear- and hatemongers like Pete King.) Still, the Tea Party is overwhelmingly white, pro-gun, and "middle" American. It may not be as racist as Schiller suggests, but it's certainly scary.

Okay, so what else did Schiller say?

-- "What NPR did I'm very proud of. What NPR stood for is a non-racist, non-bigoted, straightforward telling of the news. Our feeling is that if a person expresses his or her personal opinion, which anyone is entitled to do in a free society, they are compromised as a journalist. They can no longer fairly report. And the question we asked internally was, can Juan Williams, when he makes a statement like that, can he report to the Muslim population, and be believed, for example? And the answer is no. He lost all credibility and that breaks your ethics as a journalist."

I didn't necessarily think Williams should have been fired on the grounds that what he said crossed the line -- though I certainly would have supported firing him for his long record of being a shoddy pundit -- but it's not like Schiller said anything outrageous in defending NPR's decision.

-- "I think what we all believe is if we don't have Muslim voices in our schools, on the air... it's the same thing we faced as a nation when we didn't have female voices."

And? There is widespread anti-Muslim bigotry in America right now, most of it stoked and espoused by the right, and there should indeed be "Muslim voices in our schools." That doesn't mean that "our schools" should be Muslim, though conservatives are also stoking fears of a Muslim takeover and the imposition of Sharia law, just that Muslims in America are part of the American fabric.

-- NPR "would be better off in the long run without federal funding."

This was perhaps the most controversial thing he said, but only because it contradicts NPR's official position. If it's just his opinion, so what? He should have avoided talking corporate policy, and shouldn't have spoken for NPR given his dissenting view, but that's an error of judgement, nothing more.

So can we move on? Conservatives will make a big deal of this, but they were already anti-NPR, and, as far as I'm concerned, Schiller's remarks don't amount to much.

Well, let's address a few points first:

-- NPR has commented officially on the matter already:

The fraudulent organization represented in this video repeatedly pressed us to accept a $5 million check, with no strings attached, which we repeatedly refused to accept.

We are appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for.

Mr. Schiller announced last week that he is leaving NPR for another job.

In other words, NPR was not about to take the money, quickly distanced itself from Schiller's remarks (going so far as to call them appalling), and further distanced itself from Schiller, who had already announced that he was leaving NPR to take a job elsewhere.

-- I am actually somewhat appalled the NPR called Schiller's remarks appalling. Again, is what he said really so bad, so outrageous? Fox News people, including on-air personalities, say far worse all the time. NPR has different (i.e., higher) standards, obviously, but it seems to me that NPR is going too far the other way, trying to defend itself from any and all possible association with partisanship. And for what? For the small amount NPR takes in federal funding every year?

-- NPR CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation) said Schiller's remarks were "deeply distressing to reporters, editors and others who bring fairness, civility and respect for a wide variety of viewpoints to their work every day." They may have been, and may still be -- how should I know? -- but Schiller was a fundraiser and was not involved with NPR content. So it's not like it was an editor or reporter, or executive responsible for such matters, was caught saying such partisan things.

-- Schiller himself has already apologized:

While the meeting I participated in turned out to be a ruse, I made statements during the course of the meeting that are counter to NPR's values and also not reflective of my own beliefs. I offer my sincere apology to those I offended. I resigned from NPR, previously effective May 6th, to accept another job. In an effort to put this unfortunate matter behind us, NPR and I have agreed that my resignation is effective today.

Again, why this embarrassing self-flagellation? Were his remarks really "not reflective" of his "own beliefs"? So what? And whom exactly did he offend? Republicans? Tea Partiers? Anti-Muslim bigots? Why does he need to apologize to them? Perhaps he should have apologized to NPR to openly objecting to corporate policy, at least in terms of federal funding, and perhaps he should have admitted that he spoke too freely, but more than that was hardly necessary.

And yet here he is, along with NPR itself, issuing one big mea culpa while conservatives point fingers, sneer, and gloat.

Please. Does he have no self-respect? Does NPR have no self-respect? Do we liberals have no self-respect?

I'm sick and fucking tired of the double standard. Conservatives can say whatever the hell they want, going so far as to promote extremist views on every media channel they can get hold of, but liberals have to bend over backwards to apologize for even the slightest hint of bias. It's truly and utterly pathetic.

And, in this case, it's coming from a guy who was already on the way out! (And a cowardly NPR just kicked him out the door sooner.)

-- As John Cole puts it in his usual blunt way: "The latest scoop from the wingnutosphere is that some former NPR fundraiser thinks that the teahadists are nuts and that the GOP has been hijacked by crazy people. This is being spun as some grave sin, when in reality it should be met with a resounding -- 'No shit.'"

My thought exactly.

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