Saturday, September 17, 2011

Privatizing disaster

By Capt. Fogg

I suspected there must be something afoot when talk at the Tea table began about killing FEMA. I'm more than suspicious now. It seems our former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who according to The Maritime Executive, is announcing a 'strategic partnership' with O’Brien’s Response Management, a wholly owned subsidiary of SEACOR Holdings Inc. Bush's company, Old Rhodes Holdings now looks forward to
"helping a broader array of organizations and communities become more resilient through preparation, response, communication and recovery”

says Bush, whom Floridians will remember was the governor through the disastrous hurricanes of 2004 and 2005. How they will remember him is hard to tell and probably depends on whose house and car and boat and livelihood was demolished and how long it was before he got any significant help. As I recall, my neighbors and I felt pretty much on our own, despite Bush's alleged leadership, although FEMA certainly was here with food, water and some generators.

I played a small part in delivering food to those who had no means of getting to a FEMA distribution center -- and there are many such people here -- and also used my amateur radio license to good effect, facilitating communications between Red Cross shelters and government agencies until commercial communications and electric power were restored. The interface between need and help was public and public spirited. It was not corporate, it was neighbor to neighbor working through non profit organizations. It was restaurants sending food to police and firefighters, carpenters and roofers and others helping those who needed it.

The only time we heard from Governor Jeb and his brother, the Commander Guy was when they showed up at Red Cross headquarters for a photo op, disrupting operations for half a day, and when they posed for the cameras handing out a bag of ice for a few minutes before escaping into an air conditioned limo and the Presidential helicopter to fly off to a party in Miami Beach while we sweltered in the dark for weeks and weeks.
"Governor Bush has unparalleled experience in crisis management, as he helped guide Florida through some of the most significant natural disasters in its history"

said Charles Fabrikant, executive chairman of SEACOR Holdings. Unparalleled, of course isn't quite the same as unequaled.

Jeb is a Bush, however and the "strategic partnership" may be about a further strategy than to provide "emergency planning, disaster response, preparedness consulting, crisis communications and regulatory compliance services to corporations and governments" which is what O’Brien’s Response Management, the SEACOR subsidiary in question does. O'Brien's has been picking up people like former Coast Guard Captain Ed Stanton, who was the Incident Commander during hurricane Katrina and the recent BP oil spill. It's funny how oil and the Bush family float to the top. O'Brien Oil Pollution Service being part of the O'Brien family.

So do we have the same people who were so heavily criticized for mishandling that Gulf oil spill soon to be handling more disasters for profit while FEMA goes the way of Social Security and Medicare and the FAA and all those agencies being overwhelmed by the tidal wave of tea?

I don't mean to say that FEMA has always been what it should be or done as well as it should have done, but FEMA sits at the end of a chain of responsibility that leads to the
American public while SEACOR is ultimately responsible to its owners -- and like the former Blackwater owners, they're quite able to ignore questions as to what they did and how much they made by doing it by saying "sorry, we're a private corporation."

I do mean to be suspicious however and I'm aware that evidence of collusion and corruption and various acts of grift, graft and flim-flam are too easily dismissed as "conspiracy theories." Our history is basically a series of conspiracies conveniently mislabeled and when I hear the words, oil, Bush, and disaster used in close conjunction, and when I hear about efforts to privatize yet another not-for-profit health and safety organization, I'm more than suspicious.

People like me, who belong to well organized volunteer groups like ARES, American Red Cross, SATERN and many, many others are used to working with government agencies, not that there isn't some friction on occasion, but the prospect of mercenaries who take orders from corporate CEO's who profit from disaster aid and are motivated to control and monopolize the process, rationing help to maximize private gain, isn't a welcome one. In fact it's infuriating to think about being told what to say and do, where we can go and where we can't go by black uniformed privateers protecting turf and profit and it would tempt me to ignore them and work around them if possible the next time a storm rages ashore and Florida goes dark.

Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Government injections

By Capt. Fogg

There must be some way out of here
Said the joker to the thief
There's too much confusion
I can't get no relief


So Michelle Bachmann claims some young girl suddenly got all retarded like, after her "Government injection" of Guardasil. That's not too surprising. I know someone who got loaded on Private Reserve Brandy and voted for Bush, but one thing always follows another and that's enough proof of causation for a desperate liar speaking to the profoundly ignorant and superstitious primitives who listen to people such as she; people who see the rage of gods in every storm, lightning bolt and tectonic movement, who are terrified of mysterious rays and forces and 'toxins' and couldn't pass a 5th grade science exam.

"Government Injections" eliminated smallpox, you know, and would have done the same for Polio and other diseases if we didn't have that other pandemic in America -- ignorance. Perhaps the absence of Government fluorides in our local Republican drinking water would explain all the brown and missing teeth I see at Tea Party rallies and I don't think it has anything to do with too much Lipton's.

But hey, we're a country (and I use the term loosely) not only infested with idiots and idiocy, but one where there's a good chance someone stupider and with even less integrity than Mark Bachmann's smokescreen wife may slither into high office like one of those young snakes that wriggle under my patio doors.

Speaking of things that creep and crawl, take my Congressworm, Tom 'Looneytunes' Rooney -- please. Tom who keeps showing up on my Facebook page to remind me that Government is not only impotent but incompetent and also tyrannical -- and all without explaining how those things aren't sort of mutually exclusive and more importantly, since he's part of it, why the hell he isn't as much to blame as anyone else who's part of it. Really, I'd be pleased if he'd just follow that other anti-government, moose-eating grifter and simply fly over the cuckoo's nest and drive around the country in a bus and get rich, like some inverted and less lysergic Ken Kesey.

But no, polluted air isn't bad for you, polluted water can't hurt you, unless it has government fluoride in it and besides Florida Governor Rick Scott says we can't afford it because disease and degradation are good for business and bad for 'jobs.' But condoms don't prevent disease or pregnancy, says the gospel of Tea and vaccinations are a genocidal hoax and freedom from disease and unwanted pregnancy will promote teen promiscuity and the gay agenda and we don't need no government health insurance because when we get leukemia or Alzheimers we can go to the emergency room and the taxpayers will pick up the bill and if you can't understand that you're just a libtard elitist and part of the problem.

(Cross posted from Human voices)

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The extraordinary bravery of Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer

Many will have seen the story of Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer, who was presented with the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award, by President Barack Obama.

Meyer charged five times in a Humvee into heavy enemy fire in an action in Afghanistan to rescue comrades who came under attack by Taliban insurgents.

According to a Washington Post story:
Meyer's courage during the six-hour ambush and firefight saved the lives of 36 people, both Americans and Afghans. He killed at least eight Taliban insurgents. Firing from the front turret on top of the Humvee driven by a fellow Marine, he provided cover for his team, allowing many to escape likely death.

He was defying orders from his commanders, who told him to stay back. The "kill zone," they said, was too dangerous. But the young corporal, just 21 years old at the time, knew his friends were trapped on the early morning of September 2009.

When I read this I was reminded of a movie I was once saw called "We Were Soldiers." It's based on a true account of the early days of American involvement in Vietnam, specifically about the Battle of Ia Drang in 1965. What made the battle important was that it was the first major engagement between the United States Army and North Vietnamese Army regulars.

Casualties on both sides were horrific and, according to the narrative, the battle was a moment in the war when U.S. decision makers might have realized they were in no small skirmish but rather in a conflict they were unlikely to win.

All of this is prelude to a comment near the end of the film by one of the main characters, commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Harold "Hal" Moore (played by Mel Gibson, of all people).

Although expressed far more eloquently, the point of Moore's closing comments were that, whatever the politics of a given war, at a certain point in time soldiers fight primarily to stay alive and to keep their friends alive.

What I found most compelling about Dakota Meyer was that he has had difficulty coping with the fact that, though he saved so many, four Americans died in the ambush, four comrades. He has said that he struggles with the national attention, for being recognized for the worst day of his life.

Surely most of us cannot possibly imagine what it must be like to be in such a situation or what it takes to respond in the way that Dakota Meyer did.

And as if we needed any more proof of the character of this remarkable young man, he requested that memorial services for those who died on that day be held in their hometowns at the same time he received the medal of honor.

A fascinating postscript to the story is that Meyer is now 23 years old, out of the military and working construction in his home state of Kentucky. Apparently, when the White House was arranging the phone call from the president to inform Meyer that the medal had been approved, he worried about whether he could take the call while on the job, so they arranged for the president to call during Meyer's lunch hour.

Extraordinary bravery followed by a return to everyday life, for those lucky enough to come home.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann Ghost.)

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

A post about Barry Manilow, Ron Paul, and libertarian hypocrisy

If, like me, you think Barry Manilow is really, truly, and utterly terrible, or, in a word, sucks, you probably don't know much about his politics. I mean, how would you? You probably don't pay him much attention at all. And understandably so.

Well, it seems that Manilow is actually a huge Ron Paul supporter:

Grammy award-winning musician Barry Manilow told The Daily Caller that he agrees with "just about everything" 2012 Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul says, calling him a "solid" contender for the highest office in the land.

"I like him. I like what he says, I do. I like what he says. I think he's solid," said Manilow, who confirmed to TheDC in an interview at the Capitol on Thursday that he contributed to Paul's last campaign for president.

"I agree with just about everything he says. What can I tell you?" Manilow added.

It's possible, of course, that Manilow doesn't know what the hell he's talking about, that he's not aware of "everything" Paul says.

But let's take him at his word. That makes Manilow an extremist right-wing libertarian, particularly with respect to economic matters.

It also makes him a radical non-interventionist in foreign policy, which is somewhat more defensible, as well as a defender of more or less unimpeded civil liberties, which is quite admirable. (Indeed, Paul can sometimes appear to be something of a liberal, of a sort.)

But essentially Manilow is a rich guy and Paul's agenda is all about advancing the interests of rich guys, particularly with its opposition to taxation and its rejection of much of what the federal government does.

And yet, Manilow was in Washington not to stump for Paul but to lobby for federal support -- gasp! -- for something close to his heart:

Manilow was on Capitol Hill speaking at a briefing on atrial fibrillation or AFib, a heart disease that affects over 2.5 million Americans. Manilow, who has fought the disease for over 15 years, encouraged lawmakers to support H.R. 295, a bill that would advance AFib research and education in part by "encouraging education programs that promote collaboration among the Federal health agencies and that increase public and clinician awareness of atrial fibrillation, including risk assessment, screening, treatment, and appropriate clinical management."

If Manilow really believes in Ron Paul, in "everything" Paul is about, isn't this all rather hypocritical? I mean, what roles should the federal government play in health care? Shouldn't this disease just be left to the "free" market to sort out, with those who suffer from it left to the mercy of the insurance industry and a health-care industry that often seems to care more about maximizing profits than curing patients?

What would Paul say? Would he tell his Grammy-winning admire to shove it?

Or is it okay to be so hypocritical, so ideologically inconsistent, when it's about you? Fuck the poor, or anyone else you don't give a shit about. But, oh, if you need that government money, that's different. Is that how it works? You know, like how all those teabaggers hate entitlement programs until they realize that they get those Social Security cheques too.

Fucking hypocrites. Fucking Manilow.

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Who Cares?

By Carl
So Sarah Palin was a typical 70s chick: smoked dope, snorted coke, slept with, well, whomever she slept with, got knocked up and eloped with the man she's barely married to. Who cares?
Well, no one should, I suppose.
Except she was just a few million votes from being VP of the country. And while, again, none of this matters to us, there is an observation to be made here.
We choose our leaders-- not just political, but role models, celebrities, and captains of industry-- with all the discretion and care that a vending machine displays in choosing quarters. And then we expect them to live up to some baseline norm of behavior.
The very act of pursuing fame, influence and power is the very act of a madman, so someone who actively pursues it ought to keep in mind their feet are clay, too. So are the legs, hands, torso, head...hell, they're human and they ought to remember that and show a little humility, instead of preaching inhuman behaviors like abstinence, fidelity, or thrift.
Humans are animals, first and foremost. That Sarah Palin slept with a basketball player in college only highlights this fact.
That she would get upset about it now only highlights her shame. For you see, it's not the act that created the regret, it's that someone found out about it.
And there's the rub: for some reason, humans with all the brainpower in the world and all the records of history, personal and world, somehow miss the lessons of their lives.
We're human. Nothing more, nothing less. If you believe in God, S/He forgives us for this. If you do not, then standing at (or near) the top of the tree of evolution ought to serve as a reminder it's that much farther to fall.
Note this is not an excuse for hedonism or indulgence. We are still human and we ought to be trying to better ourselves. The one thing a celebrity like Palin ought to be doing is not lecturing us to be perfect beings. She ought to be reminding us that we do sometimes fail, and ecnouraging, not lecturing, us to try again.
And one thing we owe ourselves is to choose better leaders. People who acknowledge our imperfections. People who demand more of themselves, but don't impose their values on us, expecting us to live up to some standard even they can't.
The key to life is to set goals for yourself that exceed your current expectations. The way to fail is to force goals that are unrealistic.
You know what that implies? Plato said it best: "γνῶθι σεαυτόν"
"Know thyself."
We live in a society where that's frowned upon, where the very act of learning about who you are is considered ooniegoonie psychobabble, and unproductive in a society where time is money and money is everything. And yet, not a day, NOT A DAY, goes by where examples of people who DON'T know themselves act out in irreparably embarassing fashion, harming themselves and worse, the people around them.
And we smirk, content in the knowledge that, hey, that wasn't me that ripped a ten-year old child a new one in voicemail or got caught with a hooker in a dark alley.
Even though it could have been. Even though we ourselves, but for the grace of God, would be someone else's juicy gossip tidbit.
Really. You have something in your life that would be someone else's "Ooooooooooooh". Maybe you like fetish porn. Maybe you smoke dope. Maybe you drink to excess on occasion and get naked in a bar. Maybe you pick your nose and eat it. Maybe you peek over in the next urinal to compare size.
Oh, wait, those are mine...
But you get my drift. No one lives a life so incomplete that they don't indulge their inner demons every so often.
Not even Sarah Palin. And the shame is on us for letting her think she does. And for letting her get any influence over us, whatsoever.  
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Reality vs. Orthodoxy

By Mustang Bobby

At the debate on CNN the other night, Rep. Michele Bachmann went off on Gov. Rick Perry for his executive order to vaccinate pre-teen girls in Texas with the HPV vaccine.  Not only was it a form of "government injection", she later told the Today how that the vaccine caused "mental retardation," telling a story that a woman had told her tearfully about what had happened to her daughter after getting the vaccine.  Despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence to back up her claim, she went unchallenged, and presumably a lot of people believe her because, well, she said it.

This is how things roll in politics, especially during a campaign.  Someone can say something -- usually the more outrageous or untrue the better -- and it gets legs.  We're told that President Obama raised your taxes and that inflation is out of control when in fact he's lowered taxes and inflation is nominal.  But it gets ink and pixels and therefore it becomes the orthodoxy of the GOP, and you cannot disprove dogma with something as simple as reality.

Andrew Sullivan took the article by Michael Lofgren about the Republican Party becoming a cult and tied it into his belief that the party has become a religion, complete with rituals and icon worship (vide St. Ronald Reagan).

[The current GOP] can only think in doctrines, because the alternative is living in a complicated, global, modern world they both do not understand and also despise. Taxes are therefore always bad. Government is never good. Foreign enemies must be pre-emptively attacked. Islam is not a religion. Climate change is an elite conspiracy to impoverish America. Terror suspects are terrorists. When Americans torture, it is not torture. When Christians murder, they are not Christians. And if you change your mind on any of these issues, you are a liberal, an apostate, and will be attacked.


And the zealous never compromise. They don't even listen. Think of Michele Bachmann's wide-eyed, Stepford stare as she waits for a questioner to finish before providing another pre-cooked doctrinal nugget. My fear... is that once one party becomes a church with unchangeable doctrines, and once it has supplanted respect for institutions and civility with the radical pursuit of timeless doctrines and hatred of governing institutions, then our democracy is in grave danger.

The Democrats and other reasonable, logical people are faced with the challenge of proving dogma wrong.  (Conservatives like to counter that liberalism is a cult, too, with their own orthodoxy of baby-killing, government imposition on everything, and Teh Gayz.  If so, they're doing a comparatively lousy job of evangelism.)  When Gov. Perry mangled his Galileo reference when talking about climate change, he touched on something that actually rings true: Galileo was nearly put to death for challenging the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church for stating that the earth revolved around the sun.  Science and facts have no place in religious discourse if it contradicts the dogma, and the faithful will go to great lengths -- even coming up with their own brand of "science" -- to counter the prevailing non-religious-based theories.  And the heretics -- the proponents of reality -- are in danger in the hands of the believers.

The lure of dogmatic orthodoxy is powerful and comforting.  It fits neatly onto a bumper sticker -- "God Said It.  I Believe It.  That Settles It" -- along with "No Socialism" and "Keep The Change."  You don't have to think about it, and life is uncomplicated.  But thinking about it leads away from the church; you get all sorts of impure thoughts, like raising taxes might actually help the economy and that when we say "equal protection under the law" we really mean it.

Heretics may be shunned and even executed, but they are invariably proven to be right.

(Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

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Is the electorate waking up to Rick Perry's extremism?

Maybe it's just that, with Perry front and center in the GOP at the moment, people are actually paying a bit of attention:

Americans strongly disagree with the statements Rick Perry made about Social Security in last week's Republican Presidential debate, and Barack Obama has nearly doubled his lead over Perry nationally in the span of just 3 weeks.

Only 20% of voters agree with Perry that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme to 70% who dissent from that statement. Democrats (4/87) and independents (20/69) are pretty universal in their disagreement with Perry and even Republicans (39/49) don't stand with him on this one. When it comes to the possibility of actually ending Social Security voters are even more unanimous -- 82% oppose taking that step to only 10% who would be supportive of it. If Perry ends up as the Republican nominee and Democrats can effectively convince the electorate that he does want to end Social Security it could be an extremely damaging issue for him.

In fact it appears that Perry's rhetoric on Social Security could already be causing him problems. When PPP did a national poll three weeks ago Barack Obama led Perry by only 6 points at 49-43.  Now that gap has widened to 11 points at 52-41.

Hypothetical general election polls aren't all that significant this far out, but the point is, it would be extremely difficult for Perry, should he win the GOP nomination, to win independents, not to mention those Democrats who occupy the "center" (the Joe Liebermans and Ben Nelsons of the party) and who just might be willing to vote Republican given the right candidate (assuming they dislike Obama, who has actually been a committed centrist from day one).

Perry is an extremist pretty much across the board, with immigration the notable exception, but no one really knows what Tentherism is, or pays much attention to his pro-secession neo-Confederate nationalism record, or appreciates the extent of his theocratism. His fundamentalism could scare off non-Republican voters, to be sure, and his anti-gay bigotry wouldn't go over all that well, but Social Security is different -- more immediate. Voters get that. They care about Social Security, don't think it's a Ponzi scheme, and want it protected. They certainly don't want it "reformed" (i.e., destroyed).

General election voters would ultimately recoil from Perry, I suspect, just as they would from Bachmann, and even as they might from Romney (given how he's had to play to the hard right and will have to keep doing so if he has any shot at the nomination), but we're already seeing the signs of deep-seated disapproval.

He's still the frontrunner, perhaps, but, outside of Republican primary circles, way over on the right, the more people learn about Perry, the less they like him. All the Texan swagger in the world won't change that.

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Hatred in America and the future of the GOP

I know I'm not the first person to notice how mean the GOP has become ever since the Tea Party started calling the shots. Now, you may say that none of this will matter, at least electorally, because so many people are sufficiently frightened about their own future that meanness is okay with them. I just don't think so. I not only choose to believe that the majority of people want to see themselves as compassionate, but that they will become very uncomfortable with too much ugliness in politics and shrink from those who seem to encourage it.

So, what has led Steve Benen and others to point out the current unpleasantness in the GOP? Here are just a few examples from recent GOP presidential debates: 

Wolf Blitzer posed a hypothetical scenario to Ron Paul, asking about a young man who makes a good living, but decides to forgo health insurance. Then, tragedy strikes and he needs care. Paul stuck to the libertarian line. "But congressman," the moderator said, "are you saying that society should just let him die?"

And at that point, some in the audience shouted, "Yeah," and applauded. 

Even Rick Perry said afterwards that he was "taken aback" by cheers from the crowd on this one.

Speaking of Perry, his defence of his policy in Texas to provide educational opportunities for the children of illegal immigrants made him a target of a crowd that normally loved everything he had to say. It seemed for a moment that they might advance on him

What's more, note that in last week's debate, the mere observation that Perry has signed off on the executions of 234 people in Texas, more than any other governor in modern times, was enough to generate applause from a different GOP audience.

Come to think of it, Perry didn't seem overly worried about that response.

I'm just saying that the kind of red meat that these radical conservatives seem to want is, I believe, going to be too much for those all important swing voters, and, I think, the GOP establishment knows it and is worried about it.

This isn't about differences in attitude about policy. People do disagree about what we should do about the uninsured, and the death penalty, and the children of illegal immigrants. But the spitefulness, the, let's call it what it is, the hatred expressed in outbursts like the ones noted above are not only an indication of a warped sense of values, but they are held by people who most of the rest of us would rather not be near, given a choice.

We can disagree about what to do about difficult problems, but, as human beings, we should recognize the tragedy in so many of these situations and not cheer or seethe at the predicament of others.

It's not surprising that the Tea Party, as a movement, is increasingly unpopular with Americans. If we wake up soon enough we may even realize in time that this sort of vicious individualism is not who we are as a nation.

That's what I hope.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Immigration racism and vaccine conspiracies: What we learned about Michele Bachmann during and after Monday's GOP debate

It's been over for Michele Bachmann for some time. Once Rick Perry jumped into the race, there was no room for her on the right as Mitt Romney's main conservative rival. And that was that. With her poll numbers tanking, with the writing on the wall, with key staff stepping down, the dream was over.

Just last month, I could write that Bachmann was "crazy, extreme, formidable." She was on top of the world -- or at least the Republican presidential world.

She's still crazy and extreme, but now she's anything but formidable. Things can change quickly in politics.

And yet she fights on -- and, as she does so, we learn that she's even crazier and more extreme than we thought:

1) During the debate, she claimed that "[i]he immigration system in the United States worked very, very well up until the mid-1960s when liberal members of Congress changed the immigration laws." Actually, that system was deeply discriminatory, as Think Progress notes. Immigration laws passed in 1924, including the National Origins Act and the Asian Exclusion Act, established "a quota system giving preferential treatment to European immigrants," as "the practical effect of these laws was an enormous thumb on the scale encouraging white immigration." This was changed in 1965 with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, "an act which is widely credited for opening up our nation to new Americans of Asian and Central and South American descent." In other words, Bachmann was advocating an immigration system that excluded non-whites. This is also known as racism.

2) After the debate, she sent out "a fundraising appeal," as the WaPo reports, claiming that the HPV vaccine, already opposed on the right for supposedly promoting promiscuity, can lead to "mental retardation." There is good reason to call out Perry, who mandated the vaccine in Texas, for his connections to the vaccine's maker, the pharmaceutical giant Merck, but Bachmann's claim is completely unfounded, just the sort of claim you can expect from a rampant conspiracy theorist like her. Even if you're suspicious of Big Pharma (as I am), even if you think that some vaccines are unnecessary and possibly worse (as I do, though I'm hardly anti-pharma and consider most vaccines to be essential to good health), it takes a leap into the chasm of craziness to think that this particular vaccine, Gardisil, causes "mental retardation." There may be side effects, of course, as there are with all drugs, but Gardisil would appear to be safe. My conservative friend Ed Morrissey acknowledges this, and Dear Leader Rush actually said that Bachmann had jumped the shark (as if this was finally the last straw).

Like I said, she's done. But she's not going quietly, and I suspect that we can expect more of this craziness as she tries desperately to remain relevant.

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By Carl
Think about a nation whose government has abdicated all responsibility towards the people. The aristocracy, the wealthy, become more and more wealthier as the poor become poorer and more numerous. The nation is on the brink of bankruptcy, in large part because it has recently funded two unpopular and unnecessary military adventures against a people who are governed by a tyrannical regime, one they were paranoid would launch an attack at any moment against them.
Taxes on the wealthy were never lower than under the current government. So low, in fact, they were practically regressive, since the poorest 99% combined owned and earned less than the top 1%. To fund all this militarism, rather than raise taxes on their patrons, the government borrowed. Heavily. With no real way of repaying the money. Meanwhile, the wealth drained out of the national economy, along with the increasingly more dangerous climate conditions, created massive unemployment and more and more jobless and poor.
People resorted to stealing bread.
Some brave politicians suggested taxing the rich, but they were shouted down loudly by the majority party.
The titular leader was in a weakened position because of all this. He called for a crisis management team to propose budgetary recommendations to the legislature that would be non-binding, but a starting point for negotiations.
Meanwhile, the poor had limited representation in government, and in fact, were prevented from voting in many cases. A strong media campaign that masked deep support for the current system but superficially called for radical change in politics and elimination of so-called "progressive ideals" helped polarize the nation even further.
Sound familiar?
That was 1780s France.
It will happen here. History may not repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes and Santayana was spot on. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren to run for Senate from Massachusetts

Here's a bit of exciting, if not entirely unexpected, news. It seems that consumer advocate and Democrat Elizabeth Warren is going to enter the Massachusetts Senate primary to seek an opportunity to challenge Republican incumbent Scott Brown for his seat.

It's not just that I have been thoroughly charmed by Ms. Warren whenever she has happened to appear on the The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, although that is true, or that she really gets under the skin of Republicans in Washington, which is also true. No, I am excited because she is an immensely intelligent, articulate and principled voice, and she will make a top notch candidate and, I hope, really give Brown a run for his money.

In a statement release on Tuesday, Warren remarked that:

The pressures on middle-class families are getting worse than ever, but it is the big corporations that get their way in Washington. I want to change that. I will work my heart out to earn the trust of the people of Massachusetts.

Ah, be still my heart.

Warren is a Harvard Law professor who set up the new consumer protection agency last year at the request of the president only to have Republicans successfully oppose her appointment as its director.

While it is true that she has never run for public office, and that this sort of thing usually concerns me, I think she has performed admirably in the public spotlight over the last while and will likely continue to do so as a candidate.

According to The Boston Globe, other Democrats already announced include:

Setti Warren (no relation), the first-term mayor of the affluent Boston suburb of Newton; City Year youth program co-founder Alan Khazei; immigration attorney Marisa DeFranco; state Rep. Tom Conroy and Robert Massie, who unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor.

There is no guarantee that Elizabeth Warren will get the nomination, though her profile will help. And there is surely no guarantee that Brown can be beat, as he's gotten good at speaking out of both sides of his mouth, but you'd have to think Warren has a shot in this traditionally Democratic state.

This could be fun.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Republicans win NY-9

Filling the void left by Anthony Weiner, Republican Bob Turner has defeated Democrat David Weprin in the special election in New York's 9th Congressional District.

As I write, Turner is up 53-47 with about two-thirds of precincts reporting.

NY-9 is a heavily Democratic district, including parts of both Brooklyn and Queens, and Republicans will no doubt make much of this win.

But it's actually more complicated than that.

NY-9 is a Democratic district but also somewhat socially conservative given the large Catholic and Jewish presence. Yes, Weiner was able to win it fairly easily, and the Democrats should have been able to hold it post-Weiner, but Israel was a key issue during the campaign and Republicans were able to turn even sympathetic Democrats against Weprin by attacking President Obama's Israel policies, generally centrist policies that are not nearly hardline enough for many of Israel's hardcore supporters (like Ed Koch, though Joe Lieberman, a hardcore pro-Israel "Democrat," actually endorsed Weprin), including in this generally Democratic part of the world.

So is that all there was to it? No. Same-sex marriage was also an issue, with socially conservative tendencies in the district boosting Turner.

And while now is hardly a good time for Obama and the Democrats, let's not forget that Republicans actually have worse approval ratings. So while Republicans will no doubt find a great deal of pro-Republican meaning in this result, I'm not so sure it was any sort of referendum with national implications. Certainly not the way the Democratic victory in heavily Republican NY-26 was -- a reminder that Democrats, if they don't back down, can win on fiscal/economic issues by exposing Republicans as anti-Social Security, anti-Medicare extremists.

And let's not forget, too, that this special election wouldn't have happened had Anthony Weiner not been such an irresponsible idiot (or whatever you want to call him). Maybe he had to go, maybe not, but he did what he did and he put himself in a largely indefensible position politically (Republican hypocrisy notwithstanding). And so to a great extent it's his fault that this seat has gone Republican. It should, after all, still be his.


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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Even Rick Perry thinks the pro-death Tea Party is crazy

Well, okay, maybe not. He's one of them, enthusiastically, if with a bit more of a theocratic bent.

Still, it says something about the Tea Party that even Perry -- the guy who gets a kick executing people, who denies climate science, who calls Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, who thinks that prayer is the way to deal with disastrous drought, who sees a Biblical purpose in economic catastrophe (and human suffering), who has suggested sending troops into Mexico to wage the drug war, and who may very well be a Texas secessionist (and perhaps a neo-Confederate nationalist) -- was "taken aback" by a particularly disturbing response from Tea Party members at the GOP debate the other night:

The morning after a sometimes-rocky appearance in front of a Tea Party debate audience, Gov. Rick Perry said he was "taken aback" by cheers from some crowd members on a hypothetical question of whether a young man who decides not to buy health insurance should be refused care if he develops a life-threatening illness and be left to die.

"I was a bit taken aback by that myself," Perry told NBC News and the Miami Herald after appearing at a breakfast fundraiser in Tampa.

"We're the party of life. We ought to be coming up with ways to save lives."

Well, fine, though of course Perry is pro-death in terms of the death penalty, and, more broadly, the GOP is hardly a "party of life," unless "life" is defined strictly in terms of opposition to abortion rights.

Consider, for example, its opposition to universal health care, leaving tens of millions of people to the mercy, to the extent it has any, of the insurance industry. Or consider its views on poverty -- or on those entitlement programs, including Social Security, that help people stay afloat, if only barely.

Or its views on guns, with its ideal of a society of armed citizens on the brink of bloodthirsty violence.

Or its aggressively militaristic foreign policy, its rampant warmongering, its view that American power can be maximized through military force.

The fact is, the Republican Party would like to subject everyone to the brutality of the "free" market, including by denying even a basic safety net to those who through no fault of their own need some help, with the rest of the world reduced to serving that market.

A party of life? Please. It's nothing of the sort. Perry may have been "taken aback," but, honestly, what did he expect?

Does it surprise any of us that the Tea Party, a core component of today's Republican Party, applauds death?

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Ron Paul: liberal

Some people like to dismiss Ron Paul as a simple minded extremist loony. I don't think that's fair and not just because I'm often dismissed with the same simple mindedness by the same simple minds. Yes, I think Dr. Paul does take many things to an extreme point, but you know -- sometimes he's right and sometimes so far to the right that he comes back around the spherical universe and appears on the left.

When he was booed at last night's Tea Party "debate," he was booed as a liberal, not as the dogmatic, theory obsessed, quasi-anarchist and not-too-bright demagogue he's been portrayed as. He was booed for not bleating and re-bleating the recorded message about why "they" hate us, which, if truth ever be told, isn't for our freedom: a thing that in fact has a larger following amongst Muslims that can be allowed by the Jingoistic braying of the party for which the jackass is not the symbol -- but for the reality.

The reality is and the reality has been that not only al Qaeda but others have hated the US government for interfering in Middle East, for rightly or wrongly supporting Israel, for building military bases in places they see as sacred and for supporting oppressive governments because they were "anti-Communist" and willing to exploit their resources for our benefit.

Who else in the Republican Party is willing to step outside the passion play and challenge the formula: they hate us because we're all good and always good and so we have to hate them -- all of them, all of the time? 

This whole idea that the whole Muslim world is responsible for this and their attacking us because we’re free and prosperous, that is just not true,

he said last night. But what set the snarling beasts off their feed was: 

Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda have been explicit, and they wrote and said that we attacked because you had bases on our holy lands in Saudi Arabia, you do not give Palestinians a fair treatment.

Which quite plainly is true.

The Tea Party picture of human and natural events needs to be presented in such high contrast that any smudge of darkness on our pure white character must be erased; there are no grays or colors and one is either the favorite angel of God or Satan's most foul smelling demon. To admit that any of our sacred military endeavors was not waged in defense of our alleged "freedom" puts one on the odiforous side and so yes, the Battleship Maine was blown up by the evil, freedom hating Spanish between bouts of raping American women and God really did want us to have the continent and our conquest thereof was just like the rape of Jericho only slower. It's anathema to suggest that we were not protecting our freedom by killing millions of Vietnamese or destroying Iraq and those who think and those who know must then be devils for suggesting that anything we ever have done might ever have made anything worse for us or anyone else of God's elect.

We have to believe, as we've been told, that "liberals" would have preferred to "psychoanalyze" al Qaeda than to retaliate, that Democrats unanimously voted against the odious Patriot Act when in fact their support was (sadly) unanimous. Facts don't matter and for the Tea Party only feelings matter and the only feelings they have are greed, anger and hate. If you're not unquestionably in support of everything we do; if you don't hate enough and hate whom we tell you to; if you don't think everything we do in anger isn't ipso facto God's will, you're our natural enemy even if you're Ron Paul and even if most people think you're so far right, you're wrong.

This time Ron Paul is right and it's time to question the people who say government is always wrong when they simultaneously say it's always right.

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Monday, September 12, 2011

The Texecutioner's Song: Part I

I called the 2004 election for George W. Bush on October 8, the night of his second debate with John Kerry.

Political analysts and media critics said the town-hall debate ranked as a tie (the previous and following meetings were solid Kerry victories), but by the end of the night it didn't matter if they ever met on stage again.

"Need some wood?"
The moment I knew Bush would coast into another four-year term occurred during an exchange about tax rates on small businesses. Kerry said Bush's policy made "small businesses" out of everything and everyone. He cited a report about Bush's tax filings showing the president had an $84-dollar income from a timber company, a meager amount that nonetheless qualified Bush as a small business owner.

Bush's response sealed any lingering hope I had that he would lose.

"I own a timber company?" he asked the crowd. "That's news to me." And with a pause that should be studied by every politician wanting to master the art of public speaking, Bush added, "Need some wood?"

These exchanges went on all night and throughout the remainder of the campaign. When Kerry outlined his support for tort reform, he talked about numbers and policies: the 500,000 kids cut from after-school programs, the 365,000 kids cut from health care, the future tax bracket for those making under $200,000 a year, the $3,500 or 64 percent increase in premiums for Missourians, the percentage of medical costs associated with tort reform.

Bush was much simpler.

He pulled out one detail of Kerry's monologue and quipped, "You're now for capping punitive damages? That's odd. You should have shown up on the floor in the Senate and voted for it then."

The end.

The debate wasn't a tie. Bush secured his second term, and in the process he reminded Democrats that, in politics, facts don’t matter. Kerry's points on both tort reform and taxes were accurate and valid in the context of the issues, but nobody watching the debate could say one way or another whether health insurance premiums in Missouri rose 64 percent or 46 percent. Not only would Americans not remember such a statistic, they wouldn't care. And in all honesty, why should they?

It's for the same reason that I believe Rick Perry has the GOP nomination in the bag.

I make the prediction not merely because he surpassed all expectations by completing his sentences during his first live debate performance. It's not because he so flippantly dismissed the debate moderator's "gotcha" questions and stuck to his talking points. And it's not because he got a raucous round of applause from a crowd that apparently thought putting 234 Texans to death was commendable.

It's because he's a cowboy who embodies all the positive qualities the American people found in George W. Bush. He's passionate but not pinched. He's quick and harsh when on the attack, but he's more entertained than vengeful when launching them. He talks in the stilted, stuttering drawl of a clichéd Texan – a comfort to those who aren't Ivy League elocutionists. Mainly, he appeals to the heart.

Tom Pennington, Getty Images
Similar to how most Republicans react to politics, my prediction about Perry's primary success is based on a gut reaction.

As Roger Simon of Politico put it, those who watched Rick Perry in the primary debate "saw a guy with square shoulders and a gunslinger squint, a man who likes to drop his g's when speakin' his mind... What his answers sometimes lacked in logic was made up for in enthusiasm, and after some initial nervousness – he gripped the sides of his podium as if he were hanging onto a life raft – Perry settled down to his talking points."

Indeed he did.

When asked about climate change – specifically, if Perry could name "specific scientists or specific theories" that he found "especially compelling" – the Texas governor focused on one detail of the question, in this case a word, and crafted an answer that was palatable to essentially every American watching on TV.

"Let me tell you what I find compelling, is what we've done in the state of Texas, using our ability to regulate our clean air. We cleaned up our air in the state of Texas, more than any other state in the nation during the decade. Nitrous oxide levels, down by 57 percent. Ozone levels down by 27 percent. That's the way you need to do it, not by some scientist somewhere saying, 'Here is what we think is happening out there.' The fact of the matter is, the science is not settled on whether or not the climate change is being impacted by man to the point where we're going to put Americas economics in jeopardy."

Is any of it true?

Well, no. Texas ranks 13th on the "Toxic 20" list of most polluted states, and Houston ranks as the fifth most polluted city in the U.S. (Dallas also was in the top 10). Furthermore, climate change is only a "questionable theory" to cranks, and confirms that Perry's statement is utterly false.

But again, the facts are irrelevant.

In between his regular criticisms of "Romneycare," Perry finally fielded a question about his own "health care mandate" – a mandatory vaccination against cervical cancer for 12-year-olds.

Rather than stumbling over a defensive apology for his record, he put the question to rest by saying, "I hate cancer."

Who in America disagreed?

In mocking the intellectual over-analysis of left-wing pundits, Comedy Central's Jon Stewart explained Perry's magnetic effect with Republican voters this way: "In the presence of Republican voters, Rick Perry actuates an neuro-endocrine reaction that reroutes any analytic frontal cortex activity as a hotwave of electro-chemical impulses, stimulating their proto-reptilian limbic system."

As George Lakoff noted in The Political Mind, 98 percent of all political beliefs are unconscious. While Romney will win the battle for intellectuals who agree with his economic plan, Perry will win the war by appealing to the heart, the gut and, as Stewart's crotch grab implied, the balls.

"You don't get Rick Perry here," he said, pointing to his head. "You get him here!" 

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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