Saturday, September 03, 2011

Reconciling conservative "logic" is like pulling teeth

By Zandar

A pretty depressing story from just across the river from me in Cincy: a 24-year old man is dead because without health insurance he couldn't afford antibiotics for an infected tooth.

A 24-year-old Cincinnati father died from a tooth infection this week because he couldn't afford his medication, offering a sobering reminder of the importance of oral health and the number of people without access to dental or health care.

According to NBC affiliate WLWT, Kyle Willis' wisdom tooth started hurting two weeks ago. When dentists told him it needed to be pulled, he decided to forgo the procedure, because he was unemployed and had no health insurance.

Hundreds of people lined up overnight to receive free dental service. Woodstock First Baptist Church teamed with Georgia Mission of Mercy  to begin a two-day FREE, dental clinic for low- or no-income adults who cannot pay for dental care.
The line at a free dental clinic in Georgia last month
When his face started swelling and his head began to ache, Willis went to the emergency room, where he received prescriptions for antibiotics and pain medications. Willis couldn't afford both, so he chose the pain medications.

The tooth infection spread, causing his brain to swell. He died Tuesday

And yet that's the reality of the country we live in. America is the richest, most advanced, most powerful country ever according to conservatives, and if you don't agree you hate America. But at the same time, conservatives scream bloody murder that there's no way Americans can afford to help the least among us, because programs to do so immorally traps the nation's poor in unending poverty, where they are a drain on the "job creators."

Conservatives say only America can lead the world from a moral and military standpoint, American exceptionalism is our manifest destiny on the global stage. And then they turn around and warn that we are a bankrupt, destitute, third-world socialist hellhole where the "misguided efforts" to "bribe" the weakest among us with government assistance is the only way a Democrat could ever get elected.

God wants Republicans in power, they say. When a Democrat is elected, God hasn't failed, but the people have been fooled by the evil socialist liberals. America would be a shining utopia, and example to peoples across the planet, if we just got over our baser instincts to help the poor and simply left them to their own fate.

If that's confusing you, congratulations. You have a conscience and are capable of both complex logic and compassion. It also means you're probably not a Republican. Here's the worst, most tragic part of Willis' death:

"People want to believe there's a safety net that catches all of these people, and there isn't," said Dr. Glenn Stream, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians. He noted that it is often young men who are the most likely to lack health coverage.

Dr. Jim Jirjis, director of general internal medicine at Vanderbilt University, said people, like Willis, without access to care often die of conditions that were much more common decades ago.

"He [Willis] might as well have been living in 1927," Jirjis said. "All of the advances we've made in medicine today and are proud of, for people who don't have coverage, you might as well never have developed those."

There are a number of free dental clinics in operation around the country, where dentists volunteer to provide care to those without health insurance. But even if Willis had access to a free dental clinic, Stream said he still may not have been able to get the care he needed for his infection. "The wait is often months at these clinics, and this young man died within two weeks of his problem," Stream said. 

According to the article one in three Americans forgo dental checkups because they can't afford them. Even if you have dental insurance, you have to take time off from work to go to the dentist, and the combination of the expense and lost work time puts even simple dental care out of reach for some 100 million Americans.

And yet the richest country on Earth can't afford to help its own poor. There's something deeply wrong with that. Trying to reconcile that "logic" that we're the best country ever and flat broke is not only quixotic to an extreme, but deadly as well.


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Friday, September 02, 2011

To the White House: Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice - you can't get fooled again.

Day after day,
Alone on a hill,
The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still
But nobody wants to know him,
They can see that he's just a fool,
And he never gives an answer
But the Fool on the Hill
The Beatles, 1966

When I went to the voting booth on November 4, 2008, I (and everybody else) knew there was no way that Barack Obama would be able to live up to all the hype and promise the media, the country and his own campaign had cast upon him during the electoral season. While I had much trepidation in voting for Obama, I was never going to vote for any Republican (more so with Lizzie Borden sitting a heartbeat away). I pulled the mechanical lever (NY still had the old machines) and actually thought that despite the over-hype and he potential let downs - Obama was someone that would bring about some change and some semblance of progressive principles to governing.

In 2000, when Bush was appointed king by Sandra Day O'Connor, we all knew what we were getting - an inarticulate, brainless simpleton who would pick up a lot of brush and carry out the orders of his billionaire check-writers and born-again disciples. In 2008, I thought as I cast that ballot that we were at least potentially getting rid of 8 years of Republican idiocracy and the enormous amount of destruction the Bush-Cheney reign of terror wreaked upon the planet.

I could not have been more wrong.

By the fact this country did not elect a Republican in 2008 - we should all just lay back and heave a big sigh of relief that no right-wing damage was not imposed on the country for the past 3 years. Stuff like:
Extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Keeping Guantanamo open. Backing down on the debt deal. Gutting environmental legislation. Pulling the public option off the table before it even got there. Putting Social Security and Medicare on the table. Failing to prosecute Wall Street crooks. Failing to prosecute war criminals. Failing to repeal telecom immunity. Expanding the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and adding Libya. Giving up on green jobs and high-speed rail. Approving more oil pipelines and offshore drilling. Slashing the safety net. And letting the Republicans completely control the narrative despite their minority status and deep distrust among the populace.
Was I dreaming or did none of that happen?

I gave up on Obama when he caved on the Bush tax cuts last December. After that I thought he would go from being some minor spark of change to a benign and hapless speech giver that would at least prevent a total Republican steam roller.

Yesterday between the speech-gate and smog-gate, I guess I was wrong there too.

This President is a nothing more than Richard Lugar or Chuck Hagel or John Warner - a somewhat moderate 80's Republican.  He is no progressive and I don't think he is much of Democrat.  In fact I don't think of much of Obama at all anymore.

In the back of my mind I have been trying to justify sticking with him, but the complete collapse on something as little as a speech date - and then a total cave-in to the GOP on the EPA rules - that is it for me.

He's gone from being benign to actually enhancing the rightwing talking point machine. He is Rush's biggest wet dream. I never thought a Democrat could cause so much damage to the very people who backed him -  he is actually setting back progressive principles decades. I truly never thought I'd get to this point and I can no longer kid myself.

People can bash me all they want for harshly criticizing a Democratic President.  The Democratic party can call me all they want for money - not one nickel for any candidate that does not speak out against the President's current policies.  The Barack Obama party doesn't need me or any other individuals for that matter - the endless Citizens United money stream coming from corporate America should be more than enough to pay for his 2012 campaign.

People can say I am ensuring a GOP victory in 2012.  It's not me - it's the rest of this deranged country that falls for the lies of the GOP.  I wouldn't vote for any of the current crop of Aristocracy running for the Republican nomination.  If we end up with a President Perry - who in my mind is now the man (or prune face) to beat for the GOP nomination - then this country gets exactly what it deserves - another Texan who is George W. Bush, Father Coughlin and Josef Stalin wrapped into one big closet case. I guess we really do need a Republican to lead us completely off the cliff to finally wake the fuck up. Apparently reason, logic and presenting the facts don't work in a world competing with Justin Bieber's car accident or J-Lo's divorce.

And as President Perry (or Bachmann) is sworn in on January 20, 2013, many of the billionaires who funded the election of either of these modern-day brown shirts will be flying on their secret rocket to Mars or Krypton or Vulcan.

I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — You can't get fooled again.  This country is the Fool on the Hill

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On not having a choice: The ignorant fundamentalism of the Republican Party

Guest post by Infidel753

Ed. note: I'm pleased to present a new guest blogger at The Reaction, Infidel753 (not his real name) of the excellent blog of the same name. I've been a fan of his for some time now, and it's a pleasure to welcome him, and to be able to provide another platform for his writing. If you're not familiar with his blog, I encourage you to check it out, which offers astute political analysis, as you'll see in this post, and some great link round-ups. His bio is below. -- MJWS.


Infidel753 was born in New York state, grew up in California and now lives in Oregon. His area of academic specialization was the Middle East. He is a life-long atheist and long-time liberal with a special interest in social issues and technology.

It would be nice if, someday, there were once again two parties I could consider voting for.

I know of people who think in terms of weighing the relative merits of the Democrats and Republicans to decide which is better, as if it were still the 1970s. I don't have the option of thinking that way, not now.

As I've pointed out many times, what we have in this country right now is a Christian Right party and a secular party. The Republican party is now mostly in the hands of people who think America was founded as a "Christian nation," who reject separation of church and state, who want to make abortion a crime again, who view homosexuality and pretty much any unconventional way of life as a sinful aberration to be driven back underground if not outright banned. People who reject science, not only in the obvious sense of rejecting the most solidly-established fact in all of science (evolution) -- but in the broader sense of being impervious to empirical evidence, on issues from global warming to Keynesian economics to the effects of abstinence-only sex "education", when it conflicts with their gut feelings and preconceived notions.

In their version of America, I would be a second-class citizen on at least two grounds. In their version of America, science would shrivel from official harassment and lack of funding every time it ran up against one of the random taboos embraced by ignorant fundamentalism. In their version of America, everyone who didn't aspire to live according to the conventional family-values model* would be pushed back into hiding or into the disguise of superficial conformity; either way, into hypocrisy and silent misery.

This means that I don't have a choice. The Republicans are simply not an option for me. As it happens, the Democrats are also a lot closer to my own views on all the fiscal/economic stuff, but even if that weren't the case -- even if it were the Republicans who favored humane and reality-based economics while the Democrats touted laissez-faire Randroid insanities -- it would make no difference. The Republicans still would not be an option, not as long as they remained under the sway of de facto theocrats. Because if their version of America ever became reality, it wouldn't be my country any more. It wouldn't want me.

And, again: Can we afford to let someone who believes God-knows- what about Armageddon and the "End Times" become President and get control of 10,000 nuclear weapons? Think about it.

(An excellent source on what the right wing in the U.S. has become is Right Wing Watch.)

In the long run, of course, they won't win. Fundamentalists are a shrinking minority in the US, while the number of non-religious people is growing rapidly. Even if the Republicans did gain enough power to implement a lot of the Christian Right agenda, it wouldn't last forever. But it might well last for a long time. Religious fanatics are a minority in Iran, but they've been in power for 32 years now.

Eventually -- whether it takes one year or twenty -- people like Romney and Christie will win out within the Republican party and it will return to being a party one merely disagrees with on most things, as opposed to being dangerously crazy. Until that happens, it is not an option.

[*It occurred to me some time ago that this is one key difference between primitive and modern societies. In a primitive society, there is one standard way of life to which everyone is expected to conform. A modern society accepts a multiplicity of possible ways of life as being equally legitimate.] 

(Cross-posted from Infidel753.)

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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Smartest Republican of the Day: Chuck Hagel

I've always liked Chuck Hagel -- at least as much as I can like any Republican. Consider his typically sober assessments of the Iraq War, for example, and his disdain for ideological extremism, the currency of today's GOP.

Here's some of what I wrote about him back in September 2007 after he announced he wouldn't be running for president:

Of course, Hagel no doubt saw the writing on the wall. There is simply no future for him in Republican presidential politics -- not now, perhaps not in his lifetime. He could have held on to his safe Senate seat -- an alluring proposition, one imagines -- but for what, to what end? Just to be there, just to be a senator? And as a Republican, for a party that seems to have no room for someone like him in its increasingly narrow and fundamentalist tent? To be sure, Hagel is a solid conservative Republican on many issues that matter to Republicans -- on taxes, for example, but also on social conservative "values" issues that mean so much to the Republican base. But on Iraq, on the issue that has so divided Republicans, and the country, he want his own way, a realist, refusing to follow the president and the warmongers and the madmen in his party, so much of his party, further into what he knew, like so many others, to be a quagmire, a worsening one, one from which there would be no easy remove, one that was proving to be ever more catastrophic, both in and of itself and for his party and his country.

On Iraq, he proved to be a maverick, a critic, an independent-minded Republican -- and Republicans dislike such rebels, not to mention independent thought, particularly so now, in a time of war, of trumped-up war, endless war. You're either with them or against them, to rephrase Bush, and he was against them, forcefully so, and with integrity, credibility.

And where did that get him? He was basically excommunicated, dismissed by a party, his party, that was become ever more extreme.

Well, he's still not pulling any punches, and one of his targets continues to be the Republican Party:

Former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel (NE) can't muster any praise for his Republican colleagues' behavior in Congress over the past few months. In an interview with the Financial Times, Hagel blasted GOP leadership for their "irresponsible actions" during the debt ceiling debacle, noting that "I think about some of the presidents we've had on my side of the aisle -- Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr., go right through them, Eisenhower -- they would be stunned."

"Disgusted" with the debt ceiling negotiations, Hagel called it "an astounding lack of responsible leadership by many in the Republican party, and I say that as a Republican." "Does anyone not believe what's happened here the last couple weeks in the market was not a complete, direct result of the lack of confidence that came out of that folly, that embarrassment?" he asked...

Asked about Tea Party influence, Hagel said the Republican party is too captive to a movement that is "very ideological" and "very narrow." "I've never seen so much intolerance as I've seen today," he said. Later surveying the GOP 2012 field, Hagel said the party may need to rebuild, agreeing that Republicans are now "too far to the right."

So far, in fact, that even Reagan wouldn't be deemed conservative enough, extreme enough, and the White Bolsheviks who control the party would probably try to push him aside were it not for his reputation, just as they have tried to purge so many from their ranks, often successfully.

Maybe it's a good thing Hagel retired from the Senate. Otherwise he'd be viciously attacked for saying this, and for his various "incorrect," "heretical" positions generally. The attacks may still come, to the extent anyone on the right is still paying attention to him, but at least they can't take his seat from him.

Chuck Hagel may still call himself a Republican, but the Republican Party these days has no use for the likes of Chuck Hagel. He's just too sensible and thoughtful a man.

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Sarah Palin backs out of Iowa Tea Party event, media succumb to denial and disbelief -- and then, all was right with the world again, big sigh of relief, praise Jesus

Oh no, Sarah Palin may not show up for that Tea Party rally in Iowa on Saturday! Whatever shall we do?

Ms. Palin is known for last-minute schedule changes that whipsaw supporters and media across the country. But the latest decision is puzzling. Ms. Palin's speech at the rally was viewed as her most high-profile appearance of the summer, fueling speculation she was indeed plotting to run for the Republican presidential nomination.

Newsflash for the media and her fans: She's fucking around. And fucking with you. She's not running. She just wants the attention, and cash that comes with it.

It doesn't matter that she'll be at a separate event in Iowa on Friday, and then at an event on Monday in New Hampshire. She's still just tantalizing you -- er, us -- with the prospect of a run. And you -- and many of us -- keep getting sucked in.

She's already got her pony in the race: Rick Perry. She'll throw her weight behind him, eventually, and that will be that.

Until she craves the spotlight once more, or needs more money, and heads out on the road to suck the wind out of the Republican field.

The only sure thing in all this is that Palin will never have the dignity and grace to step aside. It's just not in her.

Oh... wait. She's back! Thank whatever "God" you want. Let the fucking continue!

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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Worst Democrat of the Day: Andre Carson

I appreciate the anti-Teabagger sentiment, but this sort of unfounded hyperbole only hurts the cause:

A top lawmaker in the Congressional Black Caucus says tea partiers on Capitol Hill would like to see African-Americans hanging from trees and accuses the movement of wishing for a return to the Jim Crow era.

Rep. Andre Carson, a Democrat from Indiana who serves as the CBC's chief vote counter, said at a CBC event in Miami that some in Congress would "love to see us as second-class citizens" and "some of them in Congress right now of this tea party movement would love to see you and me... hanging on a tree."

Carson also said the tea party is stopping change in Congress, likening it to "the effort that we're seeing of Jim Crow."

This is certainly a good deal of racism in the Tea Party (for example, this) and perhaps a tiny, tiny minority hate blacks in a Mississippi Burning sort of way, but... seriously.

This just makes Carson -- not to mention the entire CBC, if not Democrats and all of us who loathe the Tea Party -- look bad. It undermines their, and our, credibility. It's like when conservatives call Obama a fascist, or like when the Nazi label gets thrown around. Except that this isn't a label that obviously doesn't apply but an unsubstantiated accusation of homicidal, if not genocidal, intent.

It's not just a statement that there's racism in the Tea Party, which would have been fine (and correct), but that the Tea Party generally, including its GOP members in Congress, wants to lynch blacks. Unless you can back that up, you shouldn't make such an accusation.

There are many good reasons to criticize the Tea Party. There's no need to make anything up, and certainly not like this.

Thanks, Andre Carson. Thanks for undermining our efforts.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Once upon a time, Rick Perry loved HillaryCare

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is the Republican presidential frontrunner and seems to have broad support among the party's hyper-conservative base. The nomination may very well be his to lose.

But... is he good enough for the ideological puritans -- the (White) Bolsheviks, if you will -- who determine who's in and who's out, acting not just as gatekeepers but as internal purgers and purifiers?

Ah, that's the question.

There's no doubt that Perry is a crazy extremist. That's how he made it to frontrunner status so quickly. Not even Michele "hurricanes are a message from God" Bachmann can keep up with him.

But Perry's closet has its skeletons. For example, if we just go over some well-known facts, he used to be a Democrat -- a Texas Democrat, sure, so more or less a Republican, but still, he was a Democrat until 1989. He supported Al Gore in '88 and chaired Gore's campaign in Texas. He has voted for tax increases.

Now, all this he can write off as pre-conversion sinning, just the sort of lascivious, arousing thing that appeals to Christian fundamentalists, that is, to his base. It's a convenient narrative that may not only not hurt him but that that may actually help a great deal. He was on the other side. He lived in sin. He knew evil. Now he's on the right path. You know the bullshit.

But what about his support for "HillaryCare" in 1993, several years after his conversion? As he wrote to the then-First Lady, as Texas agriculture commissioner:

I think your efforts in trying to reform the nation's health care system are most commendable.

Is that a gun smoking? Huh.

Maybe this won't hurt him either, or at least not much. He is, after all, a rabid opponent of "ObamaCare" and has attacked Romney for instituting similar health-care reform in Massachusetts. Maybe his enthusiastic base, along with other sympathetic Republicans, will continue to hype his candidacy and propel him over the top. It would require making an exception -- other Republicans have been purged for much less, after all -- but he's on top of the party right now and might just be immune to any such challenge to his ideological bona fides.

But still... actively supporting Hillary's health-care reform efforts? If you're a Republican, it's bad enough even to be civil to the Clintons. But backing a key plank of their "socialist" agenda as well? You might as well be a card-carrying Stalinist.

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Why We Are In For More Trouble Before We Get Less

By Carl
It's because of asshats like this:
[John] Taylor is the chairman and CEO of FX Concepts, a hedge fund that specializes in currency speculation. It's the largest hedge fund of its kind worldwide, which is why Taylor is held partly responsible for the crash of the euro. Critics accuse Taylor and others like him of having exacerbated the government crisis in Greece and accelerated the collapse in Ireland.

People like Taylor are "like a pack of wolves" that seeks to tear entire countries to pieces, said Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg. For that reason, they should be fought "without mercy," French President Nicolas Sarkozy raged. Andrew Cuomo, the former attorney general and current governor of New York, once likened short-sellers to "looters after a hurricane."

The German tabloid newspaper Bild sharply criticized Taylor on its website, writing: "This man is betting against the euro." If that is what he is doing, he is certainly successful. While Greece is threatened with bankruptcy, Taylor is listed among the world's 25 highest-paid hedge fund managers.

Markets serve a purpose. They do whittle the fat out of inefficiencies. If a firm spends more than it should, for example, the markets respond by bidding the price of the stock down, based on the theory that lower earnings means lower value in the future. This is not a bad thing. It's in many ways a healthy measure of company's health.

Even currency speculation, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, necessarily. There's nothing wrong with profiting off a country's inability to rein in a fiscal problem. They are, after all, supposed to be run by knowledgable people.

Where it gets ugly, both on the private and public side of the equation, is when the speculators can control the game.

Ideally, markets are supposed to operate in a vacuum: everyone has equal and perfect knowledge of the future. This is why the SEC exists, along with any number of industry-standard self-regulators. They're supposed to keep the game honest, because everyone is supposed to have a fair roll of the dice.

In practice, as we've seen, things don't work that way. Investment bankers become politicians and more and more often, politicians become investment bankers. This means not only is information imperfect, it's gamed and massaged to benefit those in the know over those out of the loop.

Speculators are the worst. Not only will they game the information, they'll interpret every single development like it's a Talmudic passage.

Think of the birthers and the Obama flap, and now add trillions of dollars to the mix, and you'll see how dangerous this game can be.

But hey, the rules are the rules, and these idiots think they're playing by them!

"The big problem is that in some cases these politicians are looking for the easy way out and want to blame somebody else and say speculators are taking Europe apart, taking the euro down and ruining the prosperity of our country," he says, characterizing such charges against hedge fund managers as "nonsense." "My capital isn't the capital of the Rothschilds," he says, insisting that he is working with the "capital of the people," and that his goal is to protect and increase this capital. Taylor points out that no one from any of the German pension funds that invest their money with him has ever called him on the phone to tell him not to bet against the euro.

Don't blame him because politicians have to scramble to fix the problem! After all, it's only people's lives, fortunes and sacred honor involved!

(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Right-wing libertarians attack the National Weather Service, prove utter idiocy of libertarianism

Distributorcap wrote about this yesterday, and I encourage you to check out his excellent post. I just couldn't resist adding my take.


The libertarian project, very much at the core of today's movement conservatism and Tea Party-dominated Republican Party, as much as (if not more than) theocratism, is essentially to dismantle as much of government as possible. Indeed, were libertarians to get their way, it's not clear what would be left. Maybe just enough of a police state to protect property, specifically the property of the wealthy. They may bill themselves as advocates of freedom, but what libertarians really are is advocates of the Hobbesian state of nature, of a state without much of a state, a state more about power than freedom.

Take, for example, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a libertarian think tank funded by the Koch brothers and the usual suspects from the world of Big Business and right-wing foundations, an organization dedicated to global warming denialism, the deregulation of everything (that is, anything corporate so that business can do as it likes), and the destruction of government. Just how extreme is it? It thinks the National Weather Service (NWS), including the National Hurricane Center, is unnecessary:

As Hurricane Irene bears down on the East Coast, news stations bombard our televisions with constant updates from the National Hurricane Center.

While Americans ought to prepare for the coming storm, federal dollars need not subsidize their preparations. Although it might sound outrageous, the truth is that the National Hurricane Center and its parent agency, the National Weather Service, are relics from America's past that have actually outlived their usefulness.

Its argument is basically three-fold:

1) Business, such as the insurance industry, has an interest in weather and would therefore do the NWS's job. (As it is, the NWS is just "corporate welfare.") Indeed, private weather services, such as AccuWeather, do a better job than the NWS.

2) The NWS costs $1 billion. At a time of huge deficits and necessary fiscal restraint, that's way too much. It should be cut.

3) The NWS makes mistakes.

Four idiotic components of an idiotic argument. Here, I'll let Steve M. explain:

You know why AccuWeather and the Weather Channel stay in business? Because they take the basic weather data that the National Weather Service provides and they refine it. They are provided raw meteorological data provided at the public domain level by, you guessed it, that barbarous and outdated relic known as the NWS. Otherwise, we need to abolish the NWS because they're not 100%, and the Magic Of Liberty Free Market power will make forecasts more accurate... if you are willing to pay for them. The weather service providers take a public service and make it better. If anyone's guilty of corporate welfare here, it's AccuWeather and the Weather Channel, who take the free data provided and then make money off of it.

That of course is not mentioned in this idiotic tirade where meteorologists are added to the list of government evil that must be drowned in Grover Norquist's Bathtub Of Liberty. Because the NWS doesn't have enough funding, they are dangerous and should be eliminated so that, why exactly? We live in a world where weather forecasts are only available to those who can afford it? As global climate change makes weather patterns more erratic and dangerous, are these morons really saying that we need to cut the NWS and privatize all weather prediction, so that the rich survive and the ignorant poor are literally washed away?

Generally, $1 billion a year is a drop in the budgetary bucket and a small price to pay for a valuable service like the NWS -- a service for the common good, for the general welfare, not merely for rich corporations, a service that feeds our understanding of the weather in a way that no private service could.

Does it make mistakes? Of course. The NWS is very much about forecasting -- say, about predicting where a hurricane will go. That's hardly a perfect science. You can't predict with absolute accuracy the course of a hurricane. But at least it tries, and at least it does so without a corporate agenda, and it seems to me it does a remarkably good job.

But no matter. The CEI has its extremist libertarian agenda, just as the Tea Party does, just as so much of the GOP does. And, you'll note, this piece appeared at... Fox News.

Even with a massive hurricane slamming into the U.S., even with lives and livelihoods threatened, with people evacuated and property damaged, even with the urgent need for disaster relief, we are told that government is bad, that anything that hinders business in any way is bad.

The libertarian project is utterly idiotic. In attacking the National Weather Service, its advocates only serve to reinforce that idiocy.

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Picture of the day

Michele Bachmann is bringing her presidential campaign to Florida.  The Miami Herald posted this photo in anticipation of her arrival.

Not to imply any ulterior motives to the photographer or the photo editor of the Herald for choosing this particular shot, but... does it remind you of any notable historical figure?  (Hint: If I were Poland, I'd be nervous.)

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)


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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Powell not sold on Obama? Who cares?

ABC News is reporting that Colin Powell hasn't made up his mind yet about 2012:

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who famously crossed party lines to vote for President Obama in 2008, said today that he's not necessarily supporting the president for reelection in 2012.

"I haven't decided who I’m going to vote for," Powell said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "Just as was the case in 2008, I am going to watch the campaign unfold. In the course of my life I have voted for Democrats, I have voted for Republicans, I have changed from one four-year cycle to another.

"I've always felt it my responsibility as a citizen to take a look at the issues, examine the candidates, and pick the person that I think is best qualified for the office of the president in that year. And not just solely on the basis of party affiliation," he said.

Asked about the Republican field, Powell said there are some "interesting candidates," but no one who has "emerged into the leading position."

"So let's see if anybody else is going to join, and we've got a long way to go," he added.

Oh please. This is just Powell being Powell, pumping up his own credibility by refusing to take sides, much to the admiration of the media, which gives him a platform to opine regardless of whether he has anything to say or not. All he has to do is open his mouth and the media start drooling.

It's not that I didn't appreciate Powell's support for Obama in '08 -- of course I did -- it's that I tired long ago of his "above-the-fray" act. Is it sincere? Maybe, sort of. He's not an ideologue and, sure, he goes both ways. But it always seems to be about him, about self-aggrandizement, about making himself out to be the arbiter of American politics -- or at least enough of one to hold the media's attention.

But does it matter? Is Powell at all relevant these days?

What's more, it's just silly now, this act of his. What exactly has Obama done to turn off Powell? Obama's been just the sort of centrist Powell purports to like, a get-things-done technocrat, a fellow non-ideologue who wants so badly to remain above the partisan fray. It would seem to me that Powell would be enamored of Obama, more so certainly than the progressives Obama has more or less shunned since taking office.

Okay, fine, Powell can certainly take his time to "examine the candidates" and make up his mind, but is there really anyone on this Republican side he likes? He may find someone like Huntsman interesting, but he's way back. Maybe Romney? Maybe, but doubtful. Romney has been trying hard to portray himself as a right-wing extremist of the sort that gets Republicans frothing at the mouth -- no, maybe not as extreme as Bachmann or Perry, but he's hardly a Powell-style centrist anymore, at least judging by the campaign positions he's taking. And who else would enter the race who could secure Powell's support? Giuliani? Maybe. But, even then, he's further away from Powell than Obama is -- these days, anyway.

So, whatever. I don't really blame Powell for (not yet) endorsing Obama, and it's not like he's out there trying to influence the campaign. I just find his schtick tiresome. And the media's fawning even more so.

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The Best of Bruce Springsteen -- "The Ghost of Tom Joad," live with Tom Morello

Music on Sunday @ The Reaction

About a month ago, Richard and I wrote a post on Bruce Springsteen. Richard found a website that ranked, in its view, Springsteen's Top 10 songs, and then I offered my own Top 20 list.

The problem, looking back, is that I did it pretty much off the top of my head. I hadn't listened to The Boss in quite some time (a song here or there, but that's it), and the result was a preliminary list with some songs in the wrong place (for me), not to mention a couple of rather embarrassing omissions (e.g., "The Wrestler"). I'd like to rectify that now.

While on vacation recently, we had a car with Sirius satellite radio, and, as you may know, there's an E-Street channel -- all Springsteen all the time. We listened to it a lot, and, since then, my iPod has been all Springsteen as well. Well, almost. Let's just say I've been listening to him a lot, more so than I have in years, and it's been like reconnecting with an old flame (in a good way). I loved Springsteen in high school and then came back to him on and off over the years. This is serious now. I love him again.


Here's my Top 10:

1. The Ghost of Tom Joad
2. Streets of Philadelphia
3. My Hometown
4. Youngstown
5. The Rising
6. Secret Garden
7. The River
8. Tunnel of Love
9. Atlantic City
10. Brilliant Disguise

Of course, I reserve the right to revise this list as well. A lot depends on my mood. Is "Born in the U.S.A." a great song? Yes, but I don't always want to listen to it. Is The Ghost of Tom Joad, with the title track and the wonderful "Youngstown" his best album? Yes, maybe, often I think so. But sometimes I want the earlier stuff. Etc., etc.

But I'm comfortable with "The Ghost of Tom Joad" and "Streets of Philadelphia" in the top two spots. They're both amazing songs.

I included the video to the latter in our post last month. Now let me include a live clip of the former. It may be the best thing I've ever heard from Springsteen -- live with Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine, which did a cover of the song).

Seriously. The. Best. Ever. It's awesome. Maybe it lacks the quieter intensity of the album version, and maybe I can't really choose between the two -- again, it depends what I'm in the mood for -- but... wow. This is truly incredible.

Tom Joad came out in 1995. It lacked the instant-hit qualities of its immediate predecessors, Born in the U.S.A. (1984), Tunnel of Love (1987), Human Touch (1992), and Lucky Town (1992), not to mention the restless energy of his older classics, Born to Run (1975), Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978), and The River (1980), and the more grandiose sentiments of recent efforts like The Rising (2002) and Working on a Dream (2009). Tom Joad has more in common with Nebraska (1982) and perhaps Devils & Dust (2005) than with these other works. (All three are folk-roots albums -- it's like he needs to do one every ten years.)

If Nebraska was a response to the early Reagan years, with capitalism and cruelty ascendent, and if his more recent albums have been responses, to a great extent, to the Bush-Cheney years, with the Iraq War, the new national security state, and brutal Republican class warfare on the poor, if not on the non-rich entirely, Tom Joad was all about the other side, the dark side, the underside of the Clinton-era economic boom of the '90s, back when things seemed so bright, when there was so much optimism, between the fall of the Soviet Empire and 9/11, when it looked like technology could solve all our problems and peace and prosperity were here to stay.

There was peace and prosperity for many, no doubt, but the paradise was an illusion, a delusion. For many, it wasn't real at all. Life was still a nightmare, even if the Dow Jones was skyrocketing and American hegemony seemed at hand. The bubble swelled, profits went through the roof, and champagne flowed down the streets. We know how that ended. The bubble burst. But even at the time, there were countless millions who weren't part of it, who didn't prosper and who for any number of reasons remained on, or where kept on, the margins of a society that had no use for them, that didn't give a damn about them, or that outright hated them.

This is what Tom Joad is about -- those on the margins. Immigrants, laborers, the homeless, the destitute, the disadvantaged and disenfranchised, the helpless and the hopeless. Springsteen tells their stories, and the result is an album as moving as any in the history of American music, an album that is political, an album that is angry and rebellious, but in an understated way, not resigned to fate but also not aggressively violent, an album that is deeply humanitarian, an album that asks us to care, to be more genuinely human.

Tom Joad is strong from start to finish, but, to me, the title track and "Youngstown" stand out. Here, below, are Springsteen and Morello performing "The Ghost of Tom Joad" with The E-Street Band on the 2007-08 Magic Tour. (You can find it, along with a video, on the Magic Tour Highlights EP.)

You can watch another performance of the song here. Here's how Springsteen introduced the song, in the waning days of the George W. Bush presidency:

The roots of rock roll all the way back through Bob Dylan, through Hank Williams, through Pete Seeger, through Woody Guthrie, through Lead Belly, through the fathers of folk music, and people who were engaged in, and who wrote about, what was going on in the world around them. All of us here tonight are fortunate to be in this room. If you pick up the newspapers, you see millions of people out of work, you see a bloodfight over decent health care for our citizens, and you see people struggling to hold onto their homes. If Woody Guthrie were alive today, he'd have a lot to write about, high times on Wall Street and hard times on Main Street.

The spirit of Tom Joad, and of Springsteen's "Tom Joad" is universal, just as the struggle for justice is eternal. We are reminded of this in Canada by the recent death of Jack Layton, a man who stood for, and fought for, those on the margins, those without power, those without much of a voice, those who are so easily dismissed, and so commonly forgotten, in our hyper-capitalist, hyper-consumerist society. 

Now Tom said "Mom, wherever there's a cop beatin' a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there's a fight 'gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I'll be there
Wherever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin' hand
Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you'll see me."

Immensely powerful. With a message we all should heed -- and embrace as our own.

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Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again

Every now and then I get the itch to poison my computer with a infection by visiting Fox News.  With Hurricane Irene heading straight for New York and the warnings about the potential flooding and damage shutting down the entire city for the day, surfing for yuks at Fox News (or Red State, Michelle Malkin or any number of other deranged websites) can be a "fun" way to get rid of that rainy day feeling.

Then the dark clouds return when you read utter crap propaganda like this: Do We Really Need a National Weather Service? You truly have to read this with a barf bag handy.

Fox News, which never met a profit-over-people person or company it didn't want to tout, promote or force down the throat of its uneducated viewing audience, decided to publish - on the day Hurricane Irene wreaks havoc on 65,000,000 Americans - an editorial which basically says that having a "for-profit company (which will charge users every time they want to access their data) supply data would be a far superior way to report and analyze the weather than the government-run National Weather Service (NWS)."  You actually have to read this article to see how ridiculous, insipid, greedy and ultimately how full of doublespeak the teabag class has become in their never-ending quest to wring every dollar out of unsuspecting Americans.

The authors are Iain Murray and David Bier - both "experts" at the really creepy Competitive Enterprise Institute - a "think tank" organization (a la the Heritage Foundation) that unabashedly proclaims everything in government and the public sector is wasteful, useless and politicized and that everything that corporations and pure capitalism does is of course good, benevolent and noble.  [Murray is the author of Stealing You Blind: How Government Fatcats Are Getting Rich Off of You. - because corporations, now defined as persons by both Mitt Romney and the SCOTUS, are a cadre of altruistic souls].

Who knew that the government reporting of the weather was some sort of subversive plot to brainwash America into liberal zombies whereas corporate for-profit weather reporting is just so philanthropic?  There is truly no low for people like Murray and Bier.

Their insane arguments are so disingenuous and so obviously bent towards money over public good, I don't know even where to begin.  Let's start with this one.
As it stands today, the public is forced to pay more than $1 billion per year for the NWS.  With the federal deficit exceeding a trillion dollars, the NWS is easily overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. It may actually be dangerous.
The figure of $1 billion for the cost of the NWS come straight from the NWS site.  Let's say that is correct.  That means every man, woman and child pays in America about $3.23 per year to get all the weather statistics, forecasts and data that is pumped to cable news, local news, The Weather Channel and private companies like AccuWeather for free or minimal charges.  Three whole dollars per person!  Can you imagine how much is would cost every person (or news organization) if they had to "register" with a private weather stat provider and pay annual fees or per-access charges.  With recent decade of extreme weather (does anyone remember last winter in the Northeast?) and the fact that climate change (another concept I am positive the CEI would like to see disappear with the privatization of weather reporting) will continue to induce strange and excessive weather patterns - one does need to be a Wall Street wizard to see how profitable private weather reporting will become in a very short time

That $1 billion is actually cheap.  There is no doubt the revenue to those "private" companies would rake in would far exceed the $1 billion the government allocates in funds to the NWS today.  But to the teabag libertarian elitists aristocrats at places like the CEI, since everything the government does is horrible (or at least socialist), - even if it is a public service and more importantly - even if it is cheaper and probably better than what a private organization would charge and provide - the folks on the right have no qualms about saying (rather hammering home) that the NWS is just another insidious communist organization out to infiltrate America with weather queens driving Cadillacs.

Of course Murray and Bier go on to trash the government run NWS as inaccurate, inefficient and misleading with an agenda.  Their anti-government arguments are so old, boring and obvious, you would think with all the money the CEI takes in they could get a little creative in their case against the NWS.  The hate-the-NWS talking points are plagiarized straight from any Koch brother or Karl Rove playbook.

But my favorite piece of duplicitous insanity (read utter bullshit) from Murray and Bier is the following gem:
Today the NWS justifies itself on public interest grounds. It issues severe weather advisories and hijacks local radio and television stations to get the message out. It presumes that citizens do not pay attention to the weather and so it must force important, perhaps lifesaving, information upon them.
If I didn't know better, I would have thought Murray and Bier were submitting an essay for The Onion.  You know that the Laurel & Hardy of the CEI have to be comic geniuses because no one can write and actually publish lines like "force important, perhaps lifesaving information ..." without possessing the spirit of both Joseph Goebbels and Tokyo Rose.  I bet it comes as news to many people that the socialistic and now militaristic NWS actually stages some sort of bloodless broadcasting coup and forces 1000+ local stations, all cable outlets, and radio stations to jam such incredibly Marxist information as "buy water and batteries and take in the lawn furniture" down the throats of an unsuspecting public.

Of course the CEI doesn't bother call out how the incredible costs of the US Defense budget and unfunded wars paid for with the issuance of debt are what is really damaging the economic well being of this country.  But why should they - after all, most the $1 trillion spent by the military goes right to the bottom line of some of their best friends at Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrup, General Dynamics and other assorted living-on-the-government-largesse corporations.

And finally, what would be a good corporate-loving article without a line like this
The massive bloat in government should not get a pass just because it’s wrapped in good-of-the-community clothing. NWS services can and are better provided by the private sector.
Just like the banks, tobacco companies or the Ford Pinto - companies are always out to make a better product for the good of society.  The folks at the CEI truly want it to be a Jungle out there, even with the weather.

You can just hear the teabag chant "No weather for immigrants" or "Let it rain on their parade" or some other nonsense.  Let's see how much the teabaggers will like paying for their weather if the NWS was defunded.  Back in 2005, our favorite then-Senator, man-on-dog sex, bury-the-fetus, now Presidential candidate Rick Santorum proposed legislation that would have barred the NWS from publishing weather data to the public when private-sector entities, such as AccuWeather, perform the same function privately (for a fee!). Of course, Santorum neglected say that his campaign checks were being signed by Joel Meyers of AccuWeather, whereas everyone else would have had to pony up to companies like AccuWeather for information.

But why let the facts get in the way of a good excuse to make more money for the folks at the CEI, AccuWeather or the pocketbook of Rick Santorum at the expense of public information, safety or blown down trees. Besides a little rain never hurt anyone in a gated community.

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