December 13, 2010

Green Strategy Now

In the wake of the midterm elections, now that Republicans have control of the House of Representatives and will summarily go forward crushing any initiatives towards keeping the air and water clean in America, reducing our country’s global impact on climate change overall, and squashing any potential for renewable energy, smart grid technology, and domestic energy production – all in favor of lining the pockets of their friends in the oil and gas industries by forcing us to import more oil from abroad and bomb the hell out of anyone who opposes us – environmental activism groups are ever eager to win the ground war for the minds and sensibilities of voters.

The new strategy involves taking the truth to the streets, and making sure that the American public, which seems to be woefully undereducated and ignorant of climate, science, and environmental issues, gets an opportunity to hear the truth instead of the political talking points from industry that is all too ready to whine that any improvement in the condition of our planet will come at the cost of jobs or taxes.

Following the defeat, and faced with an immediate deadline for averting global catastrophe, greens big and small are going more local and becoming more confrontational. But there is wide variation in what that means.

Greenpeace, which had lobbied to improve the proposed bills but did not support them, is refocusing on local actions and alliance building, particularly against coal mining and burning. The fight against coal is one recent bright spot in the environmental struggle. For several years the Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network, numerous local outfits and, more recently, Greenpeace have waged a grassroots campaign using mass protest and direct action like mountaintop occupations, as well as financial and political pressure, and so far have prevented the construction of 130 proposed new coal plants [see “Cracking Big Coal,” Robert S. Eshelman, May 3]. Direct action against coal directly cuts emissions, and in so doing it supports the various regional cap-and-trade structures like RGGI in the Northeast and the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), Davies points out. “Those mechanisms only work if there are some real emissions reductions,” he explains.

The Sierra Club, under the leadership of its new director, Michael Brune (who had headed the more radical Rainforest Action Network), is also redoubling its efforts against coal. The Club, which had supported Waxman-Markey and its EPA gutting before Brune took over, now considers protecting the EPA one of the “bright lines” that must not be crossed. Brune says, “Our top priority is our Beyond Coal campaign, to clean up and close down coal plants and replace them with clean energy.” Other priorities include building a movement by connecting with local activists, linking these antipollution and antimining fights to global climate issues, and working with the nascent clean-energy industry to help it become more organized and vocal.

This is important because when it comes to politics the clean-energy industry is bizarrely passive. While coal and oil buy influence, manipulate the public discourse (routinely lying in the process) and demand massive government subsidies, the wind and solar companies sit by politely.

The truth of the matter is that the environmental movement and green energy industry will need to take a much bigger stand and speak with a much louder – and hopefully collective – voice in the halls of government. The old fossil fuel industry has no intention of quieting down and giving them a room at the table, and in the absence of their voice, none of us win.

[ Green Strategy Now ]
Source: The Nation

November 29, 2010

Motor Trend Lays the Smackdown on Rush Limbaugh

So Motor Trend Magazine voted the 2011 Chevy Volt as car of the year. That’s not a huge surprise, considering the innovative technology that’s gone into the vehicle and has helped bring it to fruition over it’s long long development cycle. The car is, in many ways, another hybrid on the market, which Chevy won’t shy away from, but the fact of the matter is that this hybrid is electric first and gas second; charges really quickly for an electric vehicle, and lays the groundwork for more and better hybrid technologies in the coming years. All that and it gets amazing mileage, doesn’t emit any greenhouse gases as long as you’re driving all-electric, is low-emissions when you use gas, and it great for the environment.

Who wouldn’t like that?

Oh wait, Republicans and conservatives. If it doesn’t destroy the planet, dirty our air and water, and leave behind a barren wasteland for our children to deal with while they line their pockets with our money, they’re not interested.

And who speaks for them? Of course – Rush Limbaugh – regardless of whether conservatives like to think he speaks for them, he does, and he called out the Chevy Volt with a shotgun barrage of half-truths and outright falsehoods that to any half-trained or skeptical ear would prove that he’s never even SEEN the vehicle, much less driven one or bothered to educate himself on its operation, design, and build process. But hey – the far right has never let a little thing like education get in the way of their pontificating.

So what does Motor Trend do? Respond in glorious fashion, making sure that Rush knows exactly where he stands, and that the public knows what the truth about the Volt really is. They pick Limbaugh apart piece by piece in a glorious open letter to him that includes this gem:

Just remember: driving and Oxycontin don’t mix.

I really hope they don’t make him apologize for that – that’s absolutely brilliant.

Here’s some of the meat of the article’s opener, for good measure:

You said, “Folks, of all the cars, no offense, General Motors, please, but of all the cars in the world, the Chevrolet Volt is the Car of the Year? Motor Trend magazine, that’s the end of them. How in the world do they have any credibility? Not one has been sold. The Volt is the Car of the Year.”

So, Mr. Limbaugh; you didn’t enjoy your drive of our 2011 Car of the Year, the Chevrolet Volt? Assuming you’ve been anywhere near the biggest automotive technological breakthrough since … I don’t know, maybe the self-starter, could you even find your way to the front seat? Or are you happy attacking a car that you’ve never even seen in person?

Last time you ranted about the Volt, you got confused about the “range,” and said on the air that the car could be driven no more than 40 miles at a time, period. At least you stayed away from that issue this time, but you continue to attack it as the car only a tree hugging, Obama-supporting Government Motors customer would want. As radio loudmouths like you would note, none of those potential customers were to be found after November 2.

Back to us for a moment, our credibility, Mr. Limbaugh, comes from actually driving and testing the car, and understanding its advanced technology. It comes from driving and testing virtually every new car sold, and from doing this once a year with all the all-new or significantly improved models all at the same time. We test, make judgments and write about things we understand.

Absolutely glorious.

[ Rush to Judgement ]
Source: Motor Week Blog

September 20, 2010

The Obama Achievements Center

I know I ranted about this at length in my post, That “Change” is Working Out Great for Me, Thanks for Asking! but I wanted to drive it home a little more because memories fade so quickly and people forget exactly how far America has come in the few short months since Obama took office, and how quickly this American ship has managed to right itself and set a course for prosperity. Are we there yet? No. Is Obama perfect? Not at all – but has he accomplished a lot? Is he trying? Is he a hell of a lot better than who we had before – both in the White House and his cronies in Congress? Absolutely on all counts.

That’s why I’m really thrilled to point out the existence of the Obama Achievements Center, a great resource for people who want quick ammo to rebut the claims of history-rewriting conservatives who think that Obama hasn’t done anything, or at least hasn’t done anything good, and are basking in this kind of false reality where America has become a worse place since he took office. Quite the contrary, to fact. Here’s what the site’s builders have to say:

This site is the preview version of our new Obama Achievements Center. It’s a work in progress and a labor of love — for our country.
We’re building a crowd-sourced compilation of the achievements of the Obama administration, with documentation for each achievement linked to it. It
In today’s frenzied media zones, far too much time has been spent putting the spotlight on complaints while significant achievements are either ignored, not reported, or minimized.

The Achievements

Determined to change the media narrative to finally include the good works of this administration, a group of Twitter users got together under Shoq’s leadership and compiled a list of the achievements and promises of the Obama administration, with documented links to every item. It will be updated on an ongoing basis, as this President accumulates more successes and lasting reforms.
Defining what an achievement is in any administration, is itself an interesting issue. We decided that we would define it broadly to include executive orders,important legislation, and significant initiatives or outcomes of any kind, both foreign and domestic. We worked hard to screen out minor or subjective items whenever we had agreement on them. As anyone can see from this very impressive list, they weren’t needed.

Isn’t it beautiful? This is worth a bookmark, people, and includes everything I mentioned in my last post and then some. Best of all, it’s organized by topic and category, so if you have a favorite cause of topic, you can zoom right to it.

[ The Obama Achievements Center ]

August 23, 2010

Rebutting Climate Science Disinformer Talking Points in a Single Line

This one’s well worth reading, especially if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to defend the place of science as a primary motivator of decision making in public life. All too often we wind up hearing about people who drag out ancient, disproven, or unproven statements about climate science to try and claim that global climate change isn’t happening, or if it is happening that it’s somehow natural and has nothing to do with human activity on Earth.

Of course, anyone with any sense who’s been following actual research on the matter (see Real Climate) will know otherwise, but this piece over at Climate Progress has a series of fantastic one-liners to rebut these kinds of lies and half-truths instantly:

Progressives should know the most commonly used arguments by the disinformers and doubters — and how to answer them. You should know as much of the science behind those rebuttals as possible, and a great place to start is SkepticalScience.com.

BUT most of the time your best response is to give the pithiest response possible, and then refer people to a specific website that has a more detailed scientific explanation with links to the original science. That’s because usually those you are talking to are rarely in a position to adjudicate scientific arguments. Indeed, they would probably tune out. Also, unless you know the science cold, you are as likely as not to make a misstatement.

Physicist John Cook has done us a great service by posting good one-line responses, which I repost with links below. For instance, if somebody raises the standard talking point that the climate has changed before, you can say, “Climate reacts to whatever forces it to change at the time, which now is dominated by humans.”

Fantastic. There are dozens of these too – I almost wish they could be printed out on a small card and given to people who, you know, live in fact-based reality. They’re glorious.

[ Rebutting Climate Science Disinformer Talking Points in a Single Line ]
Source: Climate Progress

August 9, 2010

That “Change” is Working Out Great for Me, Thanks for Asking!

I’ve never been a fan of bumper sticker politics: I find it overall relatively crude and demeaning not only to everyone involved (both the person idiotic enough to put something like “Miss Him Yet?” on their car and the person who has to see it while they’re headed to work or home from it) but there’s been one little trend of short-memory and revisionist history among conservatives and Republicans that I feel compelled to note.

Admittedly, the Right’s attention span has always been short, and their capacity to revise history to make themselves look glowing (see Ronald Reagan) has always been remarkable, but President Obama has been in office for 18 months and not only are conservatives trying to pretend that he’s not still busy cleaning up the messes of the past 8 years (“hurr when will you stop blaming the last guy for what’s happening now, hrurr”) but also conveniently shaping today’s issues in short-term language (instead of properly pointing at the near 30-year history of American conservatism as responsible for the deregulation of our financial industries, energy industries, and transportation industries to the point where they’re only accountable to their shareholders and the desires of their executives to line their pockets – at the expense of the American people.)

Bumper stickers like “How’s that change working out for you” and “Miss him yet?” have been appearing on the cars of the angry, who want you and I to believe that the world may as well have ended 18 months ago and now we’re all picking through the smoldering ashes of our civilization. To those questions, I have two very simple answers:

* That change is working out great for me, thanks for asking!
* No, I don’t miss him at all – in fact, I’m happily on my way to forgetting he ever existed.

Starting at the very bottom, I’m particularly glad that I have a President who, while he isn’t perfect, is leaps and bounds more perfect than the last guy, and a President who I don’t have to worry will lock me up and waterboard me if I disagree with him and don’t march in lock step behind. Now I have a President who, as a matter of policy, doesn’t strip American citizens of their rights and due process just so they can be thrown in a dark cell until the powers that be can think of what do to with them. Again – our current Administration isn’t perfect on this point, but at least they’re willing to listen to suggestions and open to changing course – the last Administration would have simply called you “un-American,” “un-patriotic,” and thrown you in a cell just for speaking your mind.

The last Administration listened in on the phone calls of American citizens without a warrant, and the last Administration locked up American citizens for no reason. The last Administration was responsible for the Patriot Act, which while it hasn’t been repealed, has been used with significantly more caution and judgment than it had been in the past. The last Administration was obsessed with the State Secrets Act and shutting down human rights lawsuits just by invoking it.

So no, I don’t “miss him yet” at all, and that “change” has been a huge breath of fresh air.

Let’s move on to some more tangible examples though:

Would Mad King George have appointed two women to the Supreme Court? Likely not.

Would McCain have signed the Lucy Ledbetter Act, mandating equal pay for equal work? Never.

Would Bush Jr. have committed to drawing down troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, even if those plans are slow to take shape? Never – they would have said even talking about leaving would have emboldened our “enemy.”

Would the Little Bush or McCain ever strive to provide health insurance to millions of uninsured Americans, pass a Patient’s Bill of Rights, put Medicare on sound financial footing, and cut near a trillion dollars from the budget defecit over the next 10 years by reforming the way Americans get and spend on health care? It would have been a laughable proposition.

Would McCain or Palin have signed an executive order mandating that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” be repealed? Wouldn’t have even crossed their minds.

Would Bush Jr. ever thought to close Guantanamo, much less actually try? Never.

Would a Republican president ever have sought to re-vitalize the Civil Rights wing of the Department of Justice, ousting political appointments that sought only to minimize the amount of work the agency did by throwing out legitimate cases and complaints and marginalizing career lawyers who have fought for equal rights their entire lives? Nope.

Would McCain or Palin have fought to restore science and scientific analysis to its rightful place in American discourse, especially on such important topics as climate change, space science, and medicine? Never.

Would McCain or Bush Jr. be on nearly as solid terms with our allies as Obama is, and managed to completely turn around our antagonistic relationship with Russia the way he has? Never – we would have seen more bluster and saber rattling, and likely be in the middle of another war with another faceless enemy designed to make us afraid by now had we voted differently.

Would McCain ever have gleefully signed ethics reform into law that would ensure there were strong rules to make sure the the field day that Republicans had during their majority time in office prior to 2008 (remember the cascade of ethics and sex scandals coming out of Congress back then? Oh how soon the right wing forgets…) never happen again? Not a chance.

Would Bush Jr. ever have given woefully needed money to the American auto industry – even if it was unpopular – and then been able to stand behind them as, as happened last week, they all post revenue gains and profits as opposed to the record losses and debts they had over a year ago?

The economic downturn was in full swing when President Obama was elected, as were both wars and all of their issues – so blaming President Obama is only ad accurate as you can blame someone for not cleaning up someone else’s mess fast enough. Someone recently pointed to a story about the vast majority (something like 96%) of money slated for reconstruction in Iraq being unaccounted for, and snarkily commented about whether or not this was something that people would just blame President Bush for – to which I responded that yes, it is – it’s only the right that seeks to unload accountability for their own actions and leadership decisions onto the people that follow them. President Obama has accountability to cleaning up that mess, but he has no accountability for having made the mess in the first place.

To that end though, would Bush Jr. or McCain ever have pushed through legislation designed to stimulate the economy, fund thousands of new infrastructure projects, put hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work, and, with time, eventually turn the job decline into a slow but steady job incline? Not at all – there would have been some tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans (like the Bush tax cuts being debated now in Congress – you remember, the ones that did nothing to stimulate the economy or create new jobs?) and the Republicans would have resorted to their old stand-by, that people who are unemployed somehow “want to be jobless” or “deserve it.”

Would Bush ever have had the gravitas or political will to push through a massive financial system reform bill into law that not only forces more accountability in the financial sector but also establishes a new government agency that the public can turn to for their own protection against those massive Wall Street entities? Never. Would McCain? Hardly – he may have handed over some more money to them, but never have fought on our behalf.

So when you ask me if that “change” is working out for me, I’m more than happy to say yes.

When you ask me if I “miss him yet,” I can answer with a smile and say “miss who?”

Because overall, there’s plenty of work left to be done, and we’re not out of the woods, and everything isn’t perfect, but I’m more hopeful now than I ever have been, and I’m confident that America is moving in the right direction under a leader who at least considers the best interests of the people and the nation over their own personal whim or delusional personal “calling.”

Yup, that change is working out for me just fine, thanks. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

June 28, 2010

Obama Making BP Pay Is Good Government, and That’s Why Republicans Are Freaking Out

I really couldn’t agree more with this post. I actually heard someone on the radio expecting sympathy from a Republican candidate for office, claiming that somehow the oil spill in the gulf is the fault of the EPA and President Obama – clearly a Tea Partier with more opinions than facts – who got shut down by their so-called friend.

Even Republicans who aren’t necessarily on the far right will tell you that making BP pay for the spill in the gulf is exactly what America should be doing – because the alternative, making the taxpayer pay for the damage, is unacceptable on any front. However, even with Republicans like Joe Barton groveling to BP and unintentionally exposing the Republican pro-business and anti-American platform, none of them want to be on the record stating that they’d rather oil spill into the gulf for decades, putting Americans out of work, food supplies and health at risk, and let the oil industry off with a slap on the wrist and force the American taxpayer to foot the bill (or more likely just go into debt via deficit spending.)

What President Obama is doing here – by forcing BP to get in there and clean up their own mess, even if it’s messy and takes a long time and costs BP a lot of money – is the right thing to do. We can debate whether everyone jumped on the problem fast enough (and I think that’s a good debate to have, not necessarily in a finger-pointing way, but definitely in a “do we really want this risk in our energy profile, what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again” kind of way) till we’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t stop the oil from gushing and it won’t pay back the people whose lives and livelihoods have been lost because of the spill.

And the fact that President Obama is doing what’s right for the situation is what terrifies Republicans so much – he’s managing this crisis the best way any American President possibly could – and while that doesn’t mean that he or anyone else can just slip underwater and plug up the leak, he is taking BP to task for their mistakes, dedicating resources to the cleanup effort (no matter how much Bobby Jindall whines) and he’s riding BP every day until they get this taken care of and start paying claims to the people who need the money.

Last week, the nation witnessed an act of good governance when the Obama administration put the full-court press on oil giant BP to set aside $20 billion in assets to compensate the thousands of Americans whose livelihoods — and in some cases, lives — are being devastated by the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. It was an example of exactly what government is supposed to do; whatever it can, within the limits of the law, to protect its citizens’ interests.

Team Obama was shrewd to get a fund set up now, with the nation’s outrage focused on the calamity, rather than allow the company’s army of lawyers to drag a settlement through the courts for years. The agreement, entered into voluntarily by BP, ensures that the firm can’t escape legal judgments by paying out all of its current profits as shareholder dividends and then claiming insolvency.

The fund is about the equivalent of a year of BP’s profits — the Associated Press called the sum “a drop in a very large bucket” for the company, and reported that BP could raise the cash “without batting an eye.” It will be administered by an independent third party — the same administrator who handled billions of dollars worth of claims stemming from the attacks of 9/11. And President Obama secured it using little more than his bully pulpit and the pressure it allowed him to put on BP execs.

But here’s the clincher that I think is an essential piece:

The fact that applying pressure to a corporation whose risky cost-cutting resulted in what may prove to be the worst man-made disaster in history is seen as an act of government overreach says a lot about how deep down the rabbit hole of corporate propaganda we’ve gone since the Reagan/Thatcher “revolution.” Whereas at one time analysts warned of governments nationalizing firms or distorting the market with rigid price controls, we’ve now come to a point where a strongly worded letter or a few harsh words are enough to elicit mainstream hand-wringing on behalf of delicate multinational corporations like BP.

Exactly. Joshua Holland takes more than just the Republicans to task over this, he also rides the media that’s in their pockets for coming to the defense of the company and opposing any strong language or talk by the Obama Administration. While it’s likely that those elements of the media are simply in the pockets of the oil industry, it’s also likely that their fear that the President is doing the right thing and looking good in the process that makes them whine so much.

Frankly, if any President had done anything differently, there would be the same questions about the beginning, but if President Obama had laid off of BP and allowed them to voluntarily pay claims that they felt were appropriate (like the insurance industry post-Katrina; thanks to George W. Bush) there would be outcry about the people of the Gulf region being not just out of work but with no way to recover their lost income and livelihoods, which would quickly dovetail into the Republican’s head-in-the-sand complaints about job growth (as in, they admit it’s a problem, but have no ideas to do anything about it and nothing to say aside from “The President should do more about jobs.”)

Holland then goes into why putting the squeeze on BP was the right thing to do, especially by looking back at the way Exxon managed to slither its way out of paying the appropriate damages for the spill they caused with the Exxon Valdez. It’s a good historical story for an America with very short memories. He concludes:

As it stands, getting BP to set aside a year’s profits to pay for some of the damage the firm has done in the Gulf of Mexico, using nothing more expansive than the power of persuasion, is simply good governance in action. People died, many others’ livelihoods have been ruined, and a foreign corporation that has no legal obligation to pay more than $75 million in damages will do so nonetheless.

Only someone deeply steeped in an almost religious reverence for some mythically pure “free market” could see it any other way.

[ Obama Making BP Pay Is Good Government, and That’s Why Republicans and The Corporate Media Are Freaking Out ]
Source: AlterNet

June 21, 2010

The GOP Grovels to BP

There’s been more than enough media coverage of Joe Barton begging BP CEO Tony Hayward for the escrow fund that the White House asked BP to set up in order to pay claims and damages for the oil spill in the gulf to the families and businesses that have and will be affected by the magnitude of the catasrophe.

Normally I wouldn’t pile on, but it’s worth pointing out a couple of things:

First, even his own colleagues have told him to step down or resign (from ThinkProgress):

arlier this morning, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) called the $20 billion escrow fund BP agreed to set up yesterday to pay for oil spill damages a “slush fund” resulting from a “shakedown” by the White House. Though many conservatives agree with Barton, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) refused to endorse Barton’s position. Now, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) has called for Barton to step down as the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee because of his comments.

Even other Republicans are steering clear of this one, and they’re not stupid – they’re doing so for a reason.

This brings me to the second point: this isn’t a gaffe or just the blind, out of touch commentary of one politician – this is a peek behind the veil at the GOP’s internal policies and principles. They claim to be against government intervention in the markets, but only when it doesn’t benefit their friends. More importantly though, in this case, the GOP has the apologize and fight for their friends – the people with the money who put them in office.

The oil industry likely elected Barton, and he has no desire to be on record as one of the congressmen that dared to hold BP accountable for the massive oil spill still gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, or accountable for the lives and livelihoods of the 11 people who died on the Deepwater Horizon, or the thousands of people in the Gulf States whose lives will be forever changed because of this.

So in this case, “accountability” is “government intrusion into the markets.” Follow? Put bluntly, the GOP simply doesn’t want to hold BP accountable because the oil industry is their friend – the same reason they have no desire to hold the energy (and specifically the oil) industry accountable for climate change, or press forward on rules that would decrease our dependency on fossil fuels entirely, even if the same old energy companies were the ones to lead the way into a sustainable energy future.

What perplexes me the most is that Barton is speaking as though he’s not a representative of the people – he’s behaving like he’s a representative of the oil industry on the inside, apologizing for the behavior of the people he’s supposed to be defending. The industry/regulator relationship is designed to be professionally and collegiately adversarial for a reason – because it’s clear that left unchecked, industry will roll over people, safety, society, and the world we live in so they can report profits to their shareholders, without regard for the people.

Congress and the regulatory system is supposed to be the people’s seat at the table – but when people like Barton (and by proxy, his friends in the Republican Party) sit in that seat, they’re perfectly content to count the pile of money in front of them and keep their mouths shut – even after something goes wrong and they need to be held accountable.

June 7, 2010

Virginia AG and Tea Party Favorite Sues Scientist for Studying Climate Change

Ever the strident right-wing apologist and bootlicker of corporate and energy interests, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli hauled off and sued a scientist for doing his job – just because he doesn’t like what his job is. Lacking evidence of any kind, Ciccinelli is ready to bring a nearly entirely fabricated story to trial in order to squash real scientific debate and study into global climate change as a knee-jerk reaction to some perceived fraud on his part, in the most flimsy, clearly “I’m doing this to quiet you” kind of way. Here’s the full scoop:

Virginia’s recently elected attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, has his hand in just about every divisive issue of the day. He is leading his own charge against the constitutionality of the health care bill, he is suing the Environmental Protection Agency to block it from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and he is tussling with state universities over whether they can bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.

But the local fight with potentially the broadest reach is the one Cuccinelli has picked against a single scholar — Penn State climatologist Michael Mann.

Mann is the author of what’s known in climate research circles as the “hockey stick graph” that charted rapidly rising temperatures in the 20th century. He came to wider attention last November as one of the researchers at the heart of the “climategate” e-mail controversy.

Critics accused Mann and other scientists of manipulating data to portray a climate threat that doesn’t really exist. Their research, though, has since been cleared by Penn State, as well as the University of East Anglia, from which the disputed e-mails were originally stolen.

Cuccinelli, still a skeptic, is now investigating Mann’s 1999-2005 stint at the University of Virginia using an unlikely tool — the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act. He wants to know if Mann defrauded taxpayers in search of grant money for his research, and last month he served the university with an extensive “Civil Investigative Demand” for documents.

That’s about right. And it doesn’t take too much effort to dig into Cuccinelli’s own background – and that of his boss, newly elected Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell – and find that they’re some of the farthest right of the right-wingers in office these days, so much so that McDonnell had to cover up his past as a far far right conservative, complete with outlandishly racist and sexist views, just to get elected, and Cuccinelli essentially ran unopposed so no one asked what his beliefs were until it was far too late. Both of these men were fully supportive of the whole “Confederate History Month” idea, just to give you an idea where they’re coming from.

So what does this most frivolous of frivolous suits (the kind that doesn’t just suck up taxpayer money in the defending of the frivolous case but also in the pursuit of it, since it’s the government of Virginia that’s taking up this flag) wind up doing? Nothing, in the best case, but even in the slightly worst it’s a chilling effect on other scientists who are working with their data and want to make their findings public.

Science is an ever-evolving and growing practice, changing as new data is made available. If scientists have to fear political persecution if their data changes in the future, they’ll never release studies or speak to the public again – which keeps them quiet and the public controllable by corporate interests like the ones that back men like Cuccinnelli – which is why he wants them quiet.

Frankly, I would think that he people of Virginia would – in their centrist way that’s seen fit to elect Democrats and Republicans to state offices – stand against an Attorney General that’s wasting their tax dollars to fight personal political battles that stand only to earn him favor with his preferred special interests, in spite of the good of the people of the Commonwealth. But that’s just one progressive’s opinion.

[ Virginia AG and Tea Party Favorite Sues Scientist for Studying Climate Change ]
Source: AlterNet

May 24, 2010

Who’s Afraid of Rand Paul?

A number of other blogs and sites have had a great time bashing poor Rand Paul these days, and while I’ve been sitting back and watching the whole thing happen, I can’t help but laugh and join in.

This is the same man who said – and was forced to significantly backtrack from – that not only would he have opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act – which ensured Black Americans had the unfettered right to vote and ended segregation and the policies of the Jim Crow south – but that he also had reservations about the Americans with Disabilities Act. The way he characterized his remarks implied that he would also have issues with the Lucy Ledbetter “Equal Pay for Equal Work” Act, with the right of women to vote, and just about any other Federal law that protects basic human rights in America without exemptions for private industry.

I think J Smooth said it best in this video about Rand Paul and his beliefs:

He’s absolutely and utterly correct, of course – and while he’ll stop short of saying that Rand Paul is racist, I think it goes back to another one of his videos that describes the difference between being a racist and saying or doing something that is racist. One is calling someone out on their behavior, the other is a character judgement you simply can’t make – and I think that’s Rand’s issue – he’s doing things that pave the way and open the doors to institutional racism, but is he a racist? Can’t say – all I can say is that his ideals and policies support institutional racism and he clearly prefers those policies to actual people.

What’s that? You haven’t seen the interview to which J Smooth is referring? Rachel Maddow has the lowdown on her blog, where she corrects a New York Times story on Paul and links to her own interview where Paul does some artful dodging of pointed questions:

[ New York Times gets Rand Paul wrong ]
Source: The Maddow Blog

Still, over at TruthDig, the venerable Robert Scheer – writing before the explosion of idiocy that’s been spewing from Rand Paul’s mouth like so much BP oil into the Gulf of Mexico, asks the question, “Who’s Afraid of Rand Paul?” and pointing out both sides of why we should be concerned about him – not because of the so-called rise of the Tea Partiers, because they’re willing to elect anyone who embodies their rage without checking to see whether they actually share that person’s beliefs, clearly – but because they may prove a way for fringe and extreme right-wingers to get elected. But in the long run, at least he’s not a traditional Republican, right?

Tuesday’s election results were pretty good for progressives. The retirement of that windbag chameleon Sen. Arlen Specter is long overdue, and pro-labor forces were able to push Sen. Blanche Lincoln into a runoff in Arkansas. Even the big tea party win in Kentucky has its bright side.

Count me as one lefty liberal who is not the least bit unhappy with the victory by Rand Paul in Kentucky’s Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Not because it might make it easier for some Democratic Party hack to win in the general, but rather because he seems to be a principled libertarian in the mold of his father, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and we need more of that impulse in the Congress. What’s wrong with cutting back big government that mostly exists to serve the interests of big corporations? Surely it would be better if that challenge came from populist progressives of the left, in the Bernie Sanders mold, but this is Kentucky we’re talking about.

[ Who’s Afraid of Rand Paul? ]
Source: TruthDig

Scheer tries desperately to make the best out of the election of Paul, which could very easily have been spun positively, but since he’s outed himself as anything but libertarian and more of a fringe-right corporatist when the pressure is on and only libertarian when it comes to revoking human rights by law and instead preferring the law of the market to rule not just business life but all life, I doubt even Scheer could defend him now.

Joshua Holland, writing for AlterNet, completely dissects Rand Paul’s attempt to be libertarian and winding up father right than most Republicans, specifically with regards to his desire to let BP off the hook entirely for the oil still pouring into the Gulf of Mexico:

Rand Paul’s supporters argue that his greatest flaw is his relentless honesty. In the Wall Street Journal, James Taranto gushed that “Far from being evasive, Paul has shown himself to be both candid and principled to a fault.”

But in an Appearance on Good Morning America, Paul proved that he is just another corporate-power-loving wing-nut who believes companies can do no harm, and there’s nothing principled or libertarian about that stance.

As Matt Corley reported earlier, Paul said Obama’s promise to put his “boot heel on the throat of BP” was “un-American.” He mused that it was an example of our “blame game society,” in which “it’s always got to be someone’s fault,” and added: “maybe sometimes accidents happen.”

The context here is important. Obama was talking about forcing BP to accept full liability for its actions. Libertarians believe that we are all autonomous agents who should be free to make our own rational choices, and then we must take responsibility for the results of the decisions we make. BP has caused billions and billions in damages to others, and its liability for the mess is capped at just $75 million plus the actual costs of the clean-up (but since BP will likely be found negligent in operating the rig, those caps are not necessarily going to apply).

Along the way, the company made choices. Its managers chose to drill in 5,000 feet of water, and then cut corners in terms of safety not only on the Horizon, but as a general operating principle. They made a rational decision to drill with a blow-out preventer that had a dead battery and was effectively “useless.” And they chose not to invest a half million dollars in a back-up system that might have prevented the worst damages.

That’s right – 11 people died on that rig from a completely preventable explosion and now near immeasurable damage is being done to the ecology and economy of the Gulf of Mexico – and as rare and unusual as it is for such a thing to happen, Rand Paul wants to chalk it up to an “accident” and move on without looking into it any further or holding anyone accountable for their actions. This is the kind of behavior I would expect from a Tea Partier or a webertarian (eg, the ignorant, mom’s-basement libertarians that troll YouTube and Reddit), but not someone who actually understands and wears the label of libertarian.

Holland continues:

The people of the Gulf whose livelihoods are being destroyed by the spill had no say in those decisions. It’s what economists call a “negative externality” — effects of a private transaction on a 3rd party. True libertarians believe that government’s only role should be to keep the peace and to correct market failures when they occur. Negative externalities represent the classic market failure.

Libertarians believe the government doesn’t need to regulate — to, for example, force oil-rig operators to have redundant systems and tightly monitor their safety routines — because the market will punish those actors who make the wrong choices. BP, according to the “logic” of the free market, should now bear the full burden for the results of the choices it made. Libertarians believe that when a free individual makes choices that harm others, litigation from other private actors will result. That’s known as “private enforcement,” and true libertarians argue that it is far preferable to “public enforcement,” AKA regulation.

I have a whole chapter in my book about how ours is a political culture that embraces the idea of free markets, but only in principle. BP made those choices I mentioned above because they were the economically rational things to do — they knew that if they destroyed a large swath of the Gulf Mexico in the process, they wouldn’t end up paying for it in its entirety, so management could rationally take more risk than they would have in a real free market system.

If Rand Paul were truly a principled libertarian, he’d be out in front of Obama, demanding that BP take full responsibility for its actions because it’s the free market thing to do. Instead, he dismisses the whole notion of taking responsibility for one’s decisions with an airy statement that “accidents happen.”

That makes Rand Paul just another Republican whose first instinct is to bow down in obeisance to the corporations that he apparently believes can do no harm — they only suffer “accidents” — even while thousands of barrels of oil continue to leak into the Gulf.

That about sums it up – Paul is completely willing to shield BP from the ramifications the market will take on their actions, when in reality what he would be doing if he were remotely libertarian. But then, this psuedo-libertarian scourge goes all the way back to his father – the man that Robert Scheer was trying in vain to defend in some regard, which I wrote about at length in my column The Ronulan Menace back when he was running for President.

Will this nonsense be the end of us all or the dooming of American politics? Not likely, especially as long as people like Paul pretend that he doesn’t have another election to win come November and keep his foot firmly planted in his mouth, but even if he does win that Kentucky senate seat, he’ll be so fringe he’ll likely find his time in Washington short either by will of the poeple or his own inevitable weakness.

In the interim though, it all makes for excellent, if not facepalm-worthy, political theatre.

[ That Was Fast — Rand Paul Throws Libertarian “Principles” Out the Window ]
Source: AlterNet

May 10, 2010

This Is Deregulation

One of the apalling things about all of these things: oil rig disasters, mine disasters around the world (and specifically in the United States) and out of control companies that are claiming huge profits but not hiring workers and hosting earnings calls where they tell their shareholders how well everything is going but they’re still ramping up charges to their customers and blaming it on the economic downturn, is that when the advocate of the people steps in to set things right, there’s a good number of people who would rather their fate be held in the hands of people they have no control over and have no voice with rather than the only body they do have a voice with.

When I see the pseudo-libertarian drivel “End the Fed,” where libertarians cry about how the Fed operates in secret from behind closed doors and are accountable to no one, I can’t help but wonder why those same laissez-faire free marketeers are completely fine with a corporate board deciding every aspect of their lives and being held accountable to no one (in fact, these same people weaken the government’s efforts to impose some oversight over the way these businesses operate when it influences the greater public) but refuse to allow a public body to operate without them being present. I understand that the big difference is that the Fed is a public body and should be accountable to the public, and I agree on that point, but it’s remarkable how much faith the free marketeers have in closed door capitalists in corporate boardrooms but nowhere else.

And all of that faith? Poorly placed. People in the 70s and 80s used to complain about how inefficient government was and how much bureaucracy there was – and while I think government today is more streamlined than it was (and yet still has leaps and bounds to go) it’s still pretty bogged down with red tape – but now you have the contrast of a corporate system where the high-power players and decision makers are accountable to no one, play fast and loose with the rules (and at times outright violate them), and the resulting victims are the general public, either with higher prices and costs that taxpayers have to pay out of their own pockets (which libertarians are okay with, as long as they’re not taxes – banks can bend them over with fees and then collude with one another so the so-called open market isn’t so open and that’s okay, but heaven forbid the government collect taxes for a road or school), with their jobs, homes, and livelihoods, or with the well being of their communities.

No finer examples are available of what happens when you let the foxes guard the henhouses – I mean, let businesses regulate themselves – as what’s happened in the Gulf of Mexico and in West Virginia in recent months. Mines collapsing and oil rigs burning, both costing the lives of the men and women who worked there and trusted their employers to look out for their safety.

Dave Johnson, writing for the Campaign for America’s Future, has this to say:

The terrible Gulf oil, West Virginia mining, Wall Street finance and government debt disasters all demonstrate the ongoing catastrophic and continuing results of conservative policies. Each of these is a direct consequence of letting corporate conservatives take over government and dismantle the regulatory and democratic protections that We, the People fought so hard for following the Great Depression — itself a previous demonstration of the failure of conservative policies.

How often have you had to hear that “the market” is the best way to run things? That is is “self-correcting?” That regulations are government “interference” or “meddling” in the market? That business/free markets/private sector always does things better or is more efficient than government? When you hear these you are experiencing the clash between a “one-dollar-one-vote” free market system — as we had before the Teddy Roosevelt progressive era and the Franklin Roosevelt New Deal — and “one-person-one-vote” democratic, We, the People system that brings the benefits of our economy and our country to the most people. But because of the power of money and marketing most people are hearing only one side of an ongoing argument between the wealthy few and the broad masses of working people.

For decades we have heard these pro-market, anti-government arguments repeated over and over and over and over and over and over. Big corporations have a lot of money to buy a big megaphone, so you hear that government is bad, business is good and the people ought to just keep their noses out of the marketplace and stop telling businesses how to do things. You hear that taxes are bad, “hurt the economy,” “cost jobs,” “take money out of the economy,” “just get passed through to customers anyway” and a million similar great-sounding slogans that fall down under minimal evaluation. They have been repeated over and over, until we forgot why we had fought so hard for strong government regulations and high taxes at the top.

After the disaster of Nixon the country learned about cracks in our democracy that let big money get their nose under the tent. But after Watergate we didn’t plug all of the leaks, and big money got into the tent anyway. They used their position to give themselves more power, and used that power to give themselves even more, etc. and now we have a system that is corrupted absolutely.

So with the conservative government of Reagan and then later under the all-out anti-government conservative administration of George W. Bush we have had the opportunity of seeing just what happens when these “free market” ideas are given free reign to replace democracy. Anti-government zealots were put into positions inside the government and used that power to take apart the protections that We, the People had painstakingly built.

He’s absolutely right. And this goes beyond the horrific, live-taking disasters we’ve seen recently – this comes down to your cable and telephone bill and the fact that you can’t just “take your business elsewhere” to another provider with superior service, your lack of small shops on main street but your abundance of Walmarts (which is a more complex issue, I know), and so on. When you let business regulate themselves and pretend to have the interests of anyone but their shareholders in mind, of course they’ll steamroll the public. They only thing they need the public for is money and manpower, and as long as they can get those two things, they’ll continue to abuse us mercilessly and break out the big checkbook and megaphone when the advocates of the public — government, namely progressive government — step up to try and defend us.

Johnson ends his piece on a somber note, that this “experiment in conservative ideology” has finally come home to roost, and they we’ll likely see the effects of it for a long time. I can only hope that progressive politicians and the public will work together to stem some of these systemic problems in our corporate system before they cost more lives, but when the Supreme Court goes and rules that corporations are people and give them carte blanche to write big checks to get the people who support them into office, I have a hard time believing that we’ll get too far.

[ Finance, Mine, Oil & Debt Disasters: THIS Is Deregulation ]
Source: Campaign for America’s Future