January 26, 2010

Check out Not So Humble at AlterNet!

Alternet is clearly one of my most valued news sources, one that ripe with intelligent commentary, talented writers, and breaking stories and perspective from news agencies and sources around the Web.

That’s one reason I’m thrilled to be a part of the AlterNet community, and am hosting Not So Humble @ AlterNet, a special edition of Not So Humble that updates every monday along with the main blog here – just over at AlterNet to supplement their exceptional political coverage.

If you love Not So Humble and love the political commentary and stories that I link here, head over to Not So Humble @ Alternet – a kind of Not So Humble extra edition, and let me know what you think there!

[ Not So Humble @ AlterNet ]
Source: AlterNet

Conservatives Made the GOP Toxic and Now They’re Killing the Democratic Party

Joshua Holland, writing for AlterNet, strikes gold again with another dissection of how the right-wing has gone from devouring itself to devouring everyone around it. Back in early 2008 and 2009 we were collectively appalled at the way the right-wing was destroying itself, and the battle that was raging within – the fiscal conservatives and the social conservatives and the wingnuts on the fringe, and how they were all competing for control over the direction of the party. Well guess who won: the wing-nuts on the fringe – mostly by allying themselves with the social conservatives. Fiscal conservatives, who allow themselves to be blinded by any mention of “smaller government,” follow right along in the scorched-earth policies of the far-right, and help get them elected.

But that battle is over – it’s clear that the wingnuts and the teabaggers are in control of the GOP, and they won’t stop until they’re back on top and ready to shove another mouthful of neocon-style political soup right down our throats along with the water they’ll board us with. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the Democrats who are letting this happen, and get them back in line, and that’s what Holland does.

I always say that generalized griping about “the Democrats” is a waste of time. It seems to me that there are around 10 Democratic senators and maybe 50 members of the House who are far to the right of “moderate” by any stretch of the imagination. They are conservatives, and they’ve obstructed their own party’s moderately progressive proposals — the very same proposals they ran and won on — at every turn, right from the beginning.

Let me be clear before continuing: there’s buckets of blame to go around, and it would be oversimplifying to suggest that it’s all on the conservadems. But I think they deserve the most responsibility for the Democrats’ inability to pass the key pieces of “change” they promised.

Holland is doing the right thing here – it’s one thing to whine and complain about “Democrats” and claim they’re “just like the other folks,” and so on – that’s too easy, and doesn’t address the real obstacles to change. Holland calls them out by name:

The Nelson Twins, Evan Bayh, Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu, Kent Conrad, Claire McCaskill, Jim Webb and Blanche Lincoln in the Senate, and all but 4 or 5 of the Blue Dogs in the House have been horror shows, and the entire party has had to appease them by watering down its proposals at every turn, demoralizing the Democratic base in the process and leading of course to Scott Brown and the possible — perhaps probable — end of the road for health-care reform.

Max Baucus dragged out the process for months in his committee while entertaining all kinds of Republican amendments and flirting with pathetic futility with Olympia Snowe’s vote. Reps like Joe Baca and Jim Marshall held pressers to spew forth Fox News-worthy talking points against “socialized medicine.” Joe Lieberman not only went on Fox news to oppose anything even vaguely progressive, he also repeatedly, almost comically pulled the ball out from under Harry Reid’s foot every time Reid thought he was going to finally kick that field-goal.

And they are wholly responsible for the Dems’ almost unbelievable inability to overn with huge majorities in both chambers of Congress — they are why real Democrats (actual moderates included) remain in the minority. Do the math — 59 minus 10 equals 49, a Senate minority.

Their opposition would be wise to start raising money now – there’s no way these folks will get re-elected. The real hope for America rests with populist, progressive candidates who can intelligently sell their message to the American people, without waffling over whether they’re conservative enough to keep their jobs or progressive enough to keep their titles.

[ Conservatives Made the GOP Toxic and Now They’re Killing the Democratic Party ]
Source: AlterNet

Supreme Court Hands Over Democracy to Corporations

Most news agencies are abuzz over this news already, but it bears repeating – while some on the right is busy claiming that this is a “victory for free speech,” by which they mean a victory for their deep-pocketed special interests, a large swath of the left and the right are already considering new legislation to keep this Supreme Court ruling from becoming effective in time for the 2010 election cycle.

The gist of the ruling, which goes drastically against previous court precedent, essentially states that corporations can spend money from their own coffers to support or detract any political candidate or cause they choose. The point is that it effectively drives forward the notion of “corporate personhood,” where corporations have the same rights as individuals without the responsibilities.

Joshua Holland has a few words to say about corporate personhood, and how important it is that we put a nail in its coffin once and for all – every couple of years the idea pops up to terorrize our political system, and just when you think you have it in check, the companies who would benefit most from being able to spend their own millions on a crusade to sway the American vote bring it back up again. I’m not a fan of the term “judicial activism,” because it’s all too often used against any court that rules in favor of someone that one part or another doesn’t like, but it may be justified in this case:

In addition to the idea in [Buckley v Valeo] that “money equals speech,” we’ve been saddled with the Orwellian concept of “corporate personhood.”

“Corporate personhood” gives corporations — entirely artificial entities created by the state — the same individual rights that the framers fought and died to secure for flesh-and-blood citizens (or at least for white male property holders, but you get the idea). The doctrine started in England reasonably enough; it was only by considering corporations “persons” that they could be taken to court and sued. But during the 19th century, the Robber Barons and a few corrupt jurists deep in their pockets took the concept to a whole new level. After the Civil War, while many of those same interests were fighting to keep African-Americans from being enfranchised, the doctrine took on new weight — the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment was extended to corporations, and Thomas Jefferson slowly rolled over in his grave. The trend of granting more and more rights to corporations continues today.

As long as these ideas are embedded in our legal system, talk of cleaning up government — of campaign finance and lobby reform — are just that: talk. On these fundamental issues of democratic participation, incremental reform is a road leading nowhere.

Which is why we need bold, populist ideas for real structural reform. I say let’s rip a page from Karl Rove’s Scorched-Earth Politics for Dummies and offer a progressive constitutional amendment that would end this madness once and for all.

That could be as simple as a one-line amendment that rolls back Buckley by explicitly stating that regulating the amount of money donated to campaigns or setting limits on what candidates spend on advertising isn’t the same as putting limits on political speech.

But I think something even bolder is in order. I think it’s time for a Defense of Human Citizenship Amendment — language that would strip the “personhood” from corporations and give reformers a fighting chance to establish a true democracy in the United States.

I’m on board, Holland.

[ Really Simple: We Need to Get Rid of the Perverse Notion of Corporate Personhood ]
Source: AlterNet

But Holland isn’t the only person who’s appalled at the ruling. Here’s some stronger language:

Indeed, in a momentous 5 to 4 decision the New York Times called a “doctrinal earthquake,” the U.S. Supreme Court handed down an unprecedented ruling today that gives new significance to the phrase “corporate personhood.” In it, the Roberts court overturned the federal ban on corporate contributions to political campaigns, ruling that forbidding corporations from spending money to support or undermine political candidates amounts to censorship. Corporations, the court ruled, should enjoy the same First Amendment rights as individuals.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the Supreme Court rejects “the argument that political speech of corporations or other associations should be treated differently under the First Amendment simply because such associations are not ‘natural persons.'”

In other words, as Stephen Colbert put it last year, “Corporations are people too.”

On a conference call with reporters following the decision, critics could not overemphasize the enormity of the ruling, whose implications will be visible as early as the upcoming midterm elections. Bob Edgar, head of the watchdog group Common Cause, called it “the Superbowl of really bad decisions.” Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign called it an “immoral decision” that will make an already untenable mix of money and politics even worse.

“This is the most radical and destructive campaign finance decision in the history of the Supreme Court,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21. “With a stroke of the pen, five justices wiped out a century of American history devoted to preventing corporate corruption of our democracy.”

Writing about the ruling, Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy described it as “a revolution in the law,” one that has been in the works for years thanks to conservative activism.

“Today’s decision is a huge gift to corporations from a Supreme Court that has been radicalized by right-wing ideology, whose political agenda was made obvious in the Bush v. Gore case and whose very political decision today only makes things worse.”

I really don’t think it’s possible to grasp the enormity of the situation. But then, if nothing changes, I think we’ll really start to see it as soon as the election cycle heats up. If you don’t make an active effort to tune out political advertisement, you’ll be saddled with it – and you may even be surprised to find out that the company you work for or patronize is throwing several times your salary behind a political candidate you’d never support.

[ Supreme Court’s ‘Radical and Destructive’ Decision Hands Over Democracy to the Corporations ]
Source: AlterNet

Time for Obama to Fight Back

Republicans are literally cheering over their victory in Massaschusetts – they’ve taken to caling Cosmo model turned Senator Scott Brown “Number 41,” meaning they now have the votes required to filibuster any and every Democratic bill that comes to the floor of the Senate, and they’ll gleefully use the power if they feel like it.

A number of Democrats really are ready to pick up the wrong lesson from this – it’s not that their agenda is too bold, it’s not that their agenda is too radical or out of step with what people in America want, it’s that there’s a conservative minority that’s very good at message control and spin, and they’re exceptionally good at framing any debate so the populist path looks like some horrible ideal. The only thing they’re better at than this is at turning out loud, angry, ignorant people to town hall events, and yes – now to the polls.

What’s needed here isn’t for Democrats to turn and tuck tail at the possibility of losing seats, what’s needed is for strong progressive voices to stand up and speak loudly and clearly to the American people – not just in support of progressive, populist policies, but also in support of President Obama. I’m not really a “candidate before principle” person, but the cannibalization among progressives of Obama and his platform has a lot to do with all of the recent criticism he’s received. The right is capable of unifying around a candidate they may not entirely like just so they make sure they have a seat at the table – the left is already starting to forget that before Obama came to the table, they couldn’t unseat the most unpopular President in modern history – it’s time we reminded Obama of his platform and the people he represents…without tearing him down and letting the right laugh at how little we support our own leadership.

Speaking of that constructive criticism, I’m not the only one who has some – Dan Kennedy, writing for the Guardian, has some choice words for President Obama as well:

Obama’s attempts to find compromise solutions did not stop Republicans from labelling him as a radical – or their nutty tea-party allies from calling him a “socialist” and worse. And, in retrospect, that was going to happen no matter what he did. His real problem has been that, to his supporters, he looked as though he’d been sucked into the very system he was elected to reform. Thus an Obama ally like Martha Coakley, a loyal Democratic apparatchik who’d long been criticised for her reluctance to take on political corruption in Massachusetts, became the perfect foil. (Coakley is best known for prosecuting Louise Woodward, a British nanny accused of killing a baby in her care.)

For Obama, the lesson of Coakley’s defeat is that he needs to start fighting for principle the way he did during his campaign. Had he demanded and won a stimulus package big enough to restart the jobs engine, and if he’d insisted on a stronger healthcare bill and pushed for quick passage, he’d be in far better shape politically right now.

There are signs that he and other Democrats understand their dilemma. The House of Representatives may pass the Senate version of the healthcare bill intact, thus bringing the months-long process to a merciful close. Maybe then they can start explaining to the public what’s in it for them – something they have failed at pathetically for many months.

Even more promising, Obama is finally starting to go after Wall Street. Now Obama is proposing a tax to recoup some of the billions of dollars in bailout money the bankers received, and has referred to bonus payments as “obscene” at a time when many “continue to face real hardship in this recession.”

In a sense, Obama may be lucky in comparison to Clinton 16 years ago. The Republican revolution led by Newt Gingrich in 1994 snuck up on the Clinton administration. The Republican revolution symbolised by Scott Brown, on the other hand, is an early-warning signal.

The White House and the Democratic Party still have time to change course. Surely Obama knows his strategy of reaching out to Republicans was an utter failure. It’s time to try something new – not necessarily a lurch to the left, but a move toward passion and populism and idealism of the sort that impressed so many millions of Americans during Obama’s historic presidential campaign, and that we’ve seen so little of since then.

Hear hear. This is the key – Obama may not need to march left-wards just to please his progressive base (although I’d be happy to see it) – what he really needs to do is get the voices that helped get him elected back up front and center stage to help sell his policies and his case to the American people as the historic agenda that it is – and the one that will reassure the American people that his path is not the last guy’s path, and his path has a light at the end of the tunnel – and regardless of what those on the right want to say, it’s not an oncoming train.

[ Time for Obama to Fight Back ]
Source: The Guardian UK

January 18, 2010

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize, Hold On

I thought Pete Seeger’s classic civil rights march would be more than appropriate for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Here’s Mavis Staples singing, along with some classic footage, lest we forget.

Paul and Silas bound in jail
Had no money for to go their bail
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Paul and Silas thought they was lost
Dungeon shook and the chains come off
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Freedom’s name is mighty sweet
And soon we’re gonna meet
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

I got my hand on the freedom plow
Won’t take nothing for my journey now
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Soozie!

Only chain that a man can stand
Is that chain o’ hand on hand
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

I’m gonna board that big greyhound
Carry the love from town to town
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Hey!

Hey!

Now only thing I did was wrong
Stayin’ in the wilderness too long
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

The only thing we did was right
Was the day we started to fight
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

One, two!
(The only thing we did was wrong)
(Staying in the wilderness too long)
(Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on)

Woah, woah!
(The only thing we did was right)
(Was the day we started to fight)
(Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on)

Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Hold on, hold on
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Ain’t been to heaven but I been told
Streets up there are paved with gold

Representative John Lewis of Georgia Speaks for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

January 11, 2010

15 Most Heinous Climate Villains

Writing for the Buffalo Beast, Michael Roddy and Ian Murphy have an excellent rundown on some of the planet’s worst enemies right now – people who would make excellent villains in an episode of Captain Planet and the Planeteers – and while I’m being a little sarcastic, these are folks who not only put their own heads in the sand to the damage they, their businesses, and their interests do to the environment and the health of the planet, they also spend tons of money to make sure that you put your head in the sand and keep it there.

What makes the story even better is that The Beast comes up with some scenarios that would be poetic justice for these folks as well. Here are a few of my favorites:

George Will, Columnist

Misdeeds: The errors Will has committed to print over the years are both more numerous and irresponsible than his bow tie collection, for which he also feels no remorse. He claimed in a February 2009 Washington Post column that “According to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.” The Center responded: “We do not know where George Will is getting his information… global sea ice levels are 1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979.”

Corporate teats: The Republican Party, a catchall for corporate polluters, his wife, rapacious swine in general, and anyone who cites Ronald Reagan to justify his massive carbon footprint.

Most egregious lie: “So the column accurately reported what the Center had reported.” Incredibly, the Post backed him up.

Comeuppance: Locked in a large freezer, strapped to a chair directly under a ten-foot icicle and made to write a column. The room’s climate is controlled by a computer program, which checks his column for scientific veracity. The temperature goes down when Will’s right and up when he’s wrong. He either freezes to death or the icicle falls and splits his head open. It’s up to him.

James Inhofe, Senator from Oklahoma

Misdeeds: Inhofe thinks that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind,” yet somehow served as the Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee from ‘03 to ‘07. Once called Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton to testify as a key witness. Believes that “scientific consensus” on climate change is a conspiracy perpetrated by greedy scientists to score grant money. Went to Copenhagen as the leader of the Climate Truth Squad, earning big laughs from overseas reporters. Lifetime recipient of Twelve Dumbest Members of Congress award.

Corporate teats: Seven figures from Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Conoco Phillips and anyone willing to pay for his “campaign expenses.”

Most egregious lie: “You know, God’s still up there. We’re now going through a cooling spell.”

Comeuppance: Locked in an outhouse and set on fire.

Fred Singer, University of Virginia

Misdeeds: For the last 60 years, Singer’s pimped his PhD credentials to any and every industry in need of phony science. He’s slithered seamlessly from denying that smoking causes cancer to saying that DDT is harmless to “raising questions about and undercutting the ‘prevailing scientific wisdom’” of climate change. Glacier data he later attributed to his wife was denounced as “complete bullshit” by the Glacier Monitoring Service.

Corporate teats: Exxon Mobil, Shell, Sun Oil, Competitive Enterprise Institute, American Petroleum Institute and the Heartland Institute.

Most egregious lie: “55% of glaciers have gained mass in the last 30 years.”

Comeuppance: While addressing yet another denier conference in 2012, the pressure created by an undetected tumor in Singer’s brain triggers an anomalous episode of schizophasia, causing his entire speech to spew forth as an incoherent word salad. Instead of the audience stopping Singer and urging him to seek the immediate medical attention he so obviously needs, they offer him a thunderous standing ovation and an invitation to speak again next year.

There’s so much more hilarity where that came from, too.

[ THE BEAST 15 Most Heinous Climate Villains ]
Source: The Buffalo Beast

U.S. One of Two Countries Where Kids’ Educational Attainment is Lower Than Their Parents’

Now here’s a depressing indicator on the state of current affairs: American children are less likely to earn technical degrees in math, science, engineering, or other highly-educated fields than their parents were. I think there are a number of reasons why this is the case – more people are going to college overall, which is actually a good thing – but more young people are being pressed into fields that are so-called “moneymaker” fields like business and law then they are being directed to careers in science and technology. Tuition increases may also play a significant role.

Here’s the scoop:

According to a recent report, Americans aged 25–34 have attained less education than their parents’ generation.

If the data cited by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) commission report is correct, the United States and Germany are the only two nations in the world where this holds true.

Indeed, while the United States ranks second among all nations in the proportion of population aged 35-64 with a college degree, we rank tenth in the percentage of those aged 25-34 with an associate’s or high school degree.

To make matters worse, there’s been a steady decline in American students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — while places like China and India are investing heavily in the infrastructures to support premier programs in those courses of study.

Now I don’t want to turn this into a “oh no, China is gonna be better than us” kind of hysterical post – I’ll let the right-wing do that; they’re better at it than I am. I’m pointing out that there’s something here that a number of other countries see something that we’re not looking at, and it may be time that we took a better look and refocused on it.

[ U.S. One of Two Countries Where Kids’ Educational Attainment is Lower Than Their Parents’ ]
Source: AlterNet

The Airport Scanner Scam

Ah yes, the millimeter-wave scanner: also known as the wang scanner, or the full-body airport scanner that gives security professionals the ability to look directly through your clothing to make sure you’re not carrying anything dangerous that may not set off a metal detector on your person…all without having to pat you down!

Now this might sound great, don’t get me wrong, but essentially walking through a millimeter-wave scanner is the equivalent of stripping down completely naked in front of a TSA agent and handing them your clothes. The scanner supposedly doesn’t record data, and it supposedly is only used in exceptional situations, but the machine still exists and it still causes a significant security concern, both in the fact that it could be beneficial and it’s also a breach of personal privacy unlike any we’ve seen before.

That all being said though, there’s something more going on under the surface here. Someone mentioned on Twitter a while ago that there doesn’t seem to be any real motivation or momentum behind easing things – especially air travel – back to a pre 9/11 state. Part of that may have to do with the fact that clearly there are still security threats against airlines in the United States, but at the same time, anti-terror is big business these days, and I have no doubt in my mind that those businesses would cry foul if the national terror alert level dropped substantially.

So who wins here? James Ridgeway, writing for Mother Jones, has some ideas:

Since the alternative is being groped by airport screeners, the scanners might sound pretty good. The Transportation Security Administration has claimed that the images “are friendly enough to post in a preschool,” though the pictures themselves tell another story, and numerous organizations have opposed them as a gross invasion of privacy. Beyond privacy issues, however, are questions about whether these machines really work—and about who stands to benefit most from their use.

As I documented in my book The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11, airport security has always been compromised by corporate interests.When it comes to high-tech screening methods, the TSA has a dismal record of enriching private corporations with failed technologies, and there are signs that the latest miracle device may just bring more of the same.

Known by their opponents as “digital strip search” machines, the full-body scanners use one of two technologies—millimeter wave sensors or backscatter x-rays—to see through clothing, producing ghostly images of naked passengers. Yet critics say that these, too, are highly fallible, and are incapable of revealing explosives hidden in body cavities—an age-old method for smuggling contraband. If that’s the case, a terrorist could hide the entire bomb works within his or her body, and breeze through the virtual strip search undetected. Yesterday, the London Independent reported on “authoritative claims that officials at the [UK] Department for Transport and the Home Office have already tested the scanners and were not persuaded that they would work comprehensively against terrorist threats to aviation.” A British defense-research firm reportedly found the machines unreliable in detecting “low-density” materials like plastics, chemicals, and liquids—precisely what the underwear bomber had stuffed in his briefs.

Yet the rush toward full-body scans already seems unstoppable. They were mandated today as part of the “enhanced” screening for travelers from selected countries, and hundreds of the machines are already on order, at a cost of about $150,000 apiece. Within days of the bombing attempt, Reuters was reporting that the “greater U.S. government shift toward using the high-tech devices could create a boom for makers of security imaging products, and it has already created a speculative spike in share prices in some companies.”

Which brings us to the money shot. The body scanner is sure to get a go-ahead because of the illustrious personages hawking them. Chief among them is former DHS secretary Michael Chertoff, who now heads the Chertoff Group, which represents one of the leading manufacturers of whole-body-imaging machines, Rapiscan Systems. For days after the attack, Chertoff made the rounds on the media promoting the scanners, calling the bombing attempt “a very vivid lesson in the value of that machinery”—all without disclosing his relationship to Rapiscan.

Now we’re on to something. As soon as the attack took place, the companies behind these machines and their distributors and PR flacks took to the streets, realizing they had been essentially handed a golden egg if they could figure out how to use the opportunity well.

While the quote above singles out Chertoff – who clearly should have disclosed his conflict of interest when he was making the Sunday morning circuit – he’s by far the only politician with connections to security firms selling this technology and their lobbies, and Ridgeway has a better list pulled from the Washington Examiner.

[ The Airport Scanner Scam ]
Source: Mother Jones

January 4, 2010

The Cost of Care

the cost of care - national geographic magazine

(click the graphic for a larger version)

The National Geographic Magazine blog has this very telling infographic today detailing the cost of health care as a line between the cost of care per person and that person’s average life expectancy based on the country in which they live. The line also shows how many average doctor’s visits the person takes (on average) per year as the thickness of the line. You can clearly see that those of us in the United States spend the most on health care as any other nation on the list, is only one of two without a universal health care system, and our life expectancy doesn’t really show much for all of those dollars and the socially-reinforced lack of doctor’s office trips we take for things like preventative care.

From the NatGeo blog:

The United States spends more on medical care per person than any country, yet life expectancy is shorter than in most other developed nations and many developing ones. Lack of health insurance is a factor in life span and contributes to an estimated 45,000 deaths a year. Why the high cost? The U.S. has a fee-for-service system—paying medical providers piecemeal for appointments, surgery, and the like. That can lead to unneeded treatment that doesn’t reliably improve a patient’s health. Says Gerard Anderson, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who studies health insurance worldwide, “More care does not necessarily mean better care.” —Michelle Andrews

Sounds right to me, and by “right” I mean horrendously unacceptable.

[ The Cost of Care ]
Source: The National Geographic Magazine Blog