Friday, August 28, 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

HEALTHCARE - And the People Say....

"New AARP Poll: 86 Percent Say Insurance Should be Available to All" by mcjoan, Daily KOS


A new poll [pdf] from AARP, National Journal and Penn, Schoen & Berland shows strong support for universal health coverage--86 percent, including 93% of Democrats, 87% of Independents, and 78% of Republicans. Large majorities also reject paying more in either insurance premiums (74%) or taxes (64%) to expand access to care.

HEALTHCARE - Conservatives, We Don't Need Them

"UPDATED: Progressives Are Raising the Temperature on Healthcare Reform, and it Seems to Be Working" by Meg White, BuzzFlash


It's becoming increasingly clear that conservatives aren't worth bargaining with.

One need look no further than the recent tele-town hall with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), where she said that the solution to the healthcare crisis is to pray to God that poor people don't get healthcare coverage. Working with that would be like trying to pass the Clean Air Act among a coalition of people asking their god to rain down sulfur from heaven. The conversation isn't even worth considering, much less attempting.

And the "person" is a Christian? The poor should not get healthcare?! So much for being a Good Samaritan or "love thy neighbor."

ECONOMY - Jobs Coming to the USA

"Favorable Political Winds Blow E.U. Turbine Producers to the U.S." by SPECIAL TO E&E of ClimateWire, New York Times

Excerpt, 3-page article

It was a scene familiar to many a Western labor activist: manufacturing workers in a developed country protesting in vain the outsourcing of their jobs overseas. Earlier this month, workers barricaded themselves in Vestas Wind Systems' wind turbine blade factory on Britain's Isle of Wight to try to convince the company not to shut down the plant, dismiss 425 workers and move production to another country.

The only unusual part of the story was that the outsourcing location was not a Third World country. The blade manufacturing jobs were headed toward the United States. The global wind power industry sees it as its most lucrative future market.

After an early lead in wind power generation, the United States was completely overtaken by Europe in the 1980s and 1990s, when countries such as Denmark, Germany and Spain subsidized the industry and helped it survive some very lean years. Now, those investments have paid off. Denmark's Vestas, which started making turbines in 1979 and has since increased its efficiency by 100 times, is now the world's largest producer of wind turbines.

Spain's Gamesa and Germany's Siemens are also big players in the industry. But the pace of onshore turbine installation in northern Europe has tapered off lately and the offshore sector is still in its infancy, plagued by technical and financial difficulties, so companies like Vestas are looking for continued growth elsewhere. With the Obama administration promising big investments in green energy, wind turbine producers see the United States as the key to the industry's future.

"The worst decision you can ever take as a CEO is to lay off people," said Ditlev Engel, Vestas' CEO, in an interview broadcast on BBC. "However, we have been producing turbines in northern Europe and shipping them all over the world. We are now ramping up all over the world to make the products there, and therefore, unfortunately, we cannot see how the market here close by can justify maintaining the present production. We are certain our U.S. initiatives will benefit Vestas for years to come. This is the best long-term view we've had on the U.S. market."

Vestas is rapidly expanding its production base in the United States, where it says it has created more than 1,200 skilled jobs. The company expects that number to climb to more than 4,000 by the end of 2010, if President Obama's Recovery and Reinvestment Plan is carried out. Vestas believes that the Obama-led push to more renewables will stimulate demand and re-establish the United States as the world's largest market for wind turbines. It hopes Congress will pass a national renewable energy standard that will stabilize the U.S. market in the long run.

ENVIRONMENT - Exxon's Cookbook

"Exxon Works Up New Recipe for Frying the Planet" by Eric Pooley, Bloomberg

Exxon Mobil Corp. is trying to put one over on you.

The world’s biggest publicly traded oil company wants you to believe that it actually supports the fight against global warming. But its tactics, which have been unfolding on opposite sides of the globe, are just another recipe for cooking the planet in three easy steps.

Exxon’s old formula wasn’t working anymore. The oil giant used to bankroll scientists who claimed all that stuff about starving polar bears and melting ice caps was just mumbo jumbo. In a 1998 memo, the American Petroleum Institute -- the industry group in which Exxon has long been dominant -- said it would achieve “victory” when doubts about climate science become “part of the ‘conventional wisdom.’” That helped create a noisy minority of skeptics, but it won’t block climate legislation forever.

So now Exxon is playing a more subtle game. It runs plenty of ads featuring people in lab coats talking about clean energy. It spent $15 million on Washington lobbyists in the first half of this year -- more than all the solar and wind companies combined. And it has created its new three-step program, which is based on bad economics instead of shady science.

Step One: Gin up some frightening numbers, and use scare tactics and lobbying muscle to kill the Obama administration’s proposed mandatory cap on carbon emissions.


As the U.S. Senate begins work on the climate-change bill, which squeaked through the House of Representatives in June, Exxon is among those denouncing the plan to cap emissions as a stealth tax that would destroy jobs and drive up energy costs. How does the oil producer know this? Because think tanks funded by Exxon and others say so.

The company announced last year that it had stopped giving money to global-warming skeptics who “divert attention” from the need for clean energy.

Instead, it supports groups such as the American Council for Capital Formation and the National Center for Policy Analysis, which issue industry-friendly research. One study released in May by the Heritage Foundation, which received at least $50,000 from Exxon last year, claims that by putting a price on carbon, the measure will kill millions of jobs and send gasoline soaring.

The study has been criticized for making wildly pessimistic economic assumptions -- no energy efficiency gains, no increased use of renewables -- and for ignoring the bill’s many cost containment provisions. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that middle-class households would pay only $175 a year more in 2020 because of the legislation.

Doomsday Study

But let’s look closer. This doomsday study claims the measure would drive gasoline prices to $4 a gallon -- in 2035! If we don’t develop alternative energy, which is the whole point of climate legislation, a gallon of gas will cost a lot more than that in 25 years. The price of inaction is far higher than the cost of acting now, though that’s not a discussion Exxon wants to have.

Step Two: Organize demonstrations. On Aug. 18, about 3,500 people rallied in Houston against the bill -- the first of some 20 such “Energy Citizen” events sponsored by API and other industry groups. The participants were energy industry workers, many of whom wore T-shirts saying, “I’ll Pass on $4 Gas.”

How did they come to be there? A leaked memo from API president Jack Gerard asked the group’s member companies to send employees to the rallies to “focus our message” against “Waxman-Markey-like legislation, tax increases, and (energy) access limitations.” He also asked them to keep it quiet.

Legislative Caricature

Royal Dutch Shell and BP refused to participate in the events because they support cap and trade, but Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Anadarko Petroleum are involved, along with more than 60 other businesses and associations. Exxon advised its workers that attendance was “at their own discretion and not required,” spokesman Rob Young told me, while saying that Exxon “opposes this deeply flawed legislation” and agrees with the rally’s job-killer message. How could it not? It helped pay for studies that “prove” the point.

Step 3: Offer a seemingly sensible alternative policy. Having caricatured the legislation, Exxon then offers a compromise. That’s what it did in Australia earlier this month, after the legislature shot down Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s climate proposal. Last week the chairman of Exxon’s Australian unit, John Dashwood, called for replacing cap and trade with a carbon tax. Echoing a January 2009 speech against cap and trade by Chief Executive Rex Tillerson, Dashwood said the carbon tax “is more transparent to consumers, will achieve greater environmental benefits and is more difficult to manipulate than a cap-and-trade program.”

Tax Without Change

Let’s get this straight. Exxon is demonstrating against a climate bill in the U.S. because it is supposedly a hidden tax, and on the other side of the globe it is lobbying for a tax. This may seem contradictory, but it’s not. I believe the company simply recognizes what so many others have missed in the debate over the tax versus the cap: The cap requires economy-wide emissions reductions, and the tax doesn’t.

Exxon doesn’t want to do business in a world where cuts in carbon dioxide are mandatory. It would prefer to pay a modest tax and keep on polluting.

A tax wouldn’t guarantee any carbon reductions, let alone bring about the steep cuts needed to stave off the worst climate changes. By calling for a small tax instead of a mandatory cap, that’s exactly the kind of solution Exxon is proposing.

HEALTHCARE - Truth-Be-Known Chart

(click for larger image)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

POLITICS - Lesson On Being Ethical Advertisers

"Attack on Obama riles Beck's advertisers" by DAVID BAUDER (AP), Kansas City Star


Glenn Beck returns to Fox News Channel on Monday after a vacation with fewer companies willing to advertise on his show than when he left, part of the fallout from calling President Barack Obama a racist.

A total of 33 Fox advertisers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., CVS Caremark, Clorox and Sprint, directed that their commercials not air on Beck's show, according to the companies and, a group that promotes political action among blacks and launched a campaign to get advertisers to abandon him. That's more than a dozen more than were identified a week ago.

While it's unclear what effect, if any, this will ultimately have on Fox and Beck, it is already making advertisers skittish about hawking their wares within the most opinionated cable TV shows.

The Clorox Co., a former Beck advertiser, now says that "we do not want to be associated with inflammatory speech used by either liberal or conservative talk show hosts." The maker of bleach and household cleaners said in a statement that it has decided not to advertise on political talk shows.

The shows present a dilemma for advertisers, who usually like a "safe" environment for their messages. The Olbermanns, Hannitys, O'Reillys, Maddows and Becks of the TV world are more likely to say something that will anger a viewer, who might take it out on sponsors.

They also host the most-watched programs on their networks.

"This is a good illustration of that conundrum," said Rich Hallabran, spokesman for UPS Stores, which he said has temporarily halted buying ads on Fox News Channel as a whole.

Beck can bring the eyeballs. With the health care debate raising political temperatures, his show had its biggest week ever right before his vacation, averaging 2.4 million viewers each day, according to Nielsen Media Research.

He was actually on another Fox show July 28 when he referred to Obama as a racist with "a deep-seated hatred for white people." The network immediately distanced itself from Beck's statement, but Beck didn't. He used his radio show the next day to explain why he believed that. He would not comment for this article, spokesman Matthew Hiltzik said. quickly targeted companies whose ads had appeared during Beck's show, telling them what he had said and seeking a commitment to drop him. The goal is to make Beck a liability, said James Rucker, the organization's executive director.

"They have a toxic asset," Rucker said. "They can either clean it up or get rid of it."

It's not immediately clear how many of the companies actually knew they were advertising on Beck's show. Sometimes commercial time is chosen for a specific show, but often it is bought on a rotation basis, meaning the network sprinkles the ads throughout the day on its own schedule. Sometimes ads appear by mistake; Best Buy said it bought commercial time for earlier in the day, and one of its ads unexpectedly appeared in Beck's show.

One company, CVS Caremark, said it advertises on Fox but hadn't said anything about Beck. Now it has told its advertising agency to inform Fox that it wanted no commercials on Beck.

"We support vigorous debate, especially around policy issues that affect millions of Americans, but we expect it to be informed, inclusive and respectful," said spokeswoman Carolyn Castel.

Note, "The Olbermanns, Hannitys, O'Reillys, Maddows and Becks of the TV world are more likely to say something that will anger a viewer, who might take it out on sponsors." This includes both liberal and conservative talk-shows, so it's NOT a one-sided issue for advertisers.


"Baucus: 'I Want a Public Option'" by Montanamaven, Fire Dog Lake


U.S. Senator Max Baucus has finally broken his silence regarding his personal position on including a public option in health care reform legislation. Last Monday night (8/17), in an unprecedented conference call to Montana Democratic central committee chairs, the powerful leader of the Senate Finance Committee told his strongest supporters that he supported a public option.

While discussing the obstacles to getting a public option through the Senate, he assured his forty listeners, "I want a public option too!"

The conference call was groundbreaking in that none of the recipients could ever remember this kind of call ever happening before. The teleconference was set up seemingly in reaction to rising discontent among the local Democratic leaders with the Senator's failure to take a clear position on the issue.

The discussion, which became contentious and rancorous at times, also touched upon the wisdom of creating insurance cooperatives as an alternative to a public option. When several of the county chairs objected, commenting that they did not trust the health insurance companies to police themselves and limit their outrageous corporate profits, Baucus commented, "Neither do I."

In the aftermath of the teleconference, a coalition of eighteen Montana counties in the Senator's home state decided to move forward with their plan to issue a Unified Statement accompanied by a joint press release. The statement sends a loud and clear message to their Senator: Any health care reform package coming out of his Senate Finance Committee must contain, at a minimum, a provision for a strong public option.

The action is a show of unity not previously seen in Montana political history. The statement asserts, "Here in Montana, the need for real health care reform could not be greater. Families, small business, and small ranches and farms are suffering and being crushed by the rising cost of health care. Thousands of Montanans are uninsured, and many more are losing their homes, businesses and ranches due to exorbitant medical bills."

Calling themselves the Coalition of the United Montana Democratic Central Committees, the group's statement announces it has "established a position in support of a strong public option as an essential element in health care reform." In specifying the necessary components needed for such a public option, they list:

• National Coverage
• Availability to all Americans
• Portability, which includes maintaining coverage even if one loses his or her job
• No exclusions for preexisting conditions, denial of coverage if one gets ill, or develops catastrophic costs
• Publicly run and administered with full transparency and accountability to congress
• No triggers

Christina Quijano, a Billings physician, is Chair of the Carbon County Democratic Central Committee. Carbon County is located in south-central Montana not far from Yellowstone National Park. Speaking for the Coalition, she pointed out, "For this number of counties from all across Montana to join together sends a strong signal to our representatives in Washington that their constituents here in Big Sky Country are unified and stand firm in their insistence that a public option be included in any health care reform bill."

Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont) has said he would not vote against a public option, while Montana’s sole US representative, Denny Rehberg (R-Mont) remains opposed to such a measure.

Max Baucus, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has emerged as a key player in the ongoing health care reform deliberations and, until now, has remained quiet about his personal view. In the final portion of the Coalition's Unified Statement, Quijano emphasizes Senator Baucus’ significant role in this piece of legislation: "We are counting on Senator Baucus to use his influence and leadership to create the most meaningful legacy of our times, real health care reform. 'Max, Montana's Senator', please don't let Montana down!"

Among the other counties in the Coalition is Missoula County, where Baucus got his start in politics as a State Representative. Also joining Carbon and Missoula Counties in adopting the Unified Statement are Beaverhead County, Dawson County, Fergus County, Golden Valley County, Hill County, Jefferson County, Lake County, Madison
County, Meagher County, Ravalli County, Richland County, Roosevelt County, Rosebud County, Sheridan County, Sweet Grass County, and Teton County.

POLITICS - More GOP Hypocrisy

"GOP Supports Government-Run Health Care Through Earmarks" by Peregrin Wood, Irregular Times

Republican politicians in Congress are shrieking in high tones about how government involvement in health care would ruin the US of A, because it’s socialist, and would create rationing, and death panels, and might create a distance between patients and their doctors. I love that last one – the idea that patients and doctors now have a close working relationship that is sustained by the private, insurance-based health care system. Where do these people live, that they could think such a thing?

The truth is, though, that many of these same congressional Republicans actually support government involvement in health care. That’s not just an assertion, or a matter of opinion. They are on the record supporting government involvement in health care, in the form of earmark spending for pet pork health care projects in their home districts.

These earmarks support government involvement in health care in two ways. First, they establish government subsidies for private health care organizations, as is the case with the earmark this year from New Jersey Republican Frank LoBiondo. Second, some of these Republican earmarks actually go to support government-run health care systems.

That’s the case with Spencer Bachus, a U.S. Representative from Alabama. In July, Representative Bachus inserted an earmark into appropriations legislation in order to funnel federal government money to a medical center in Tuscaloosa. That medical center is run by DCH Health System, an organization that describes itself as a “government subdivision that operates a community-owned healthcare system”. The DCH Health System is a government program, supported by government money, not just through earmarks of the sort provided by Congressman Bachus, but directly through taxes as well.

How can Republicans politicians oppose government involvement in health care when they come asking, year after year, for government handouts for health care projects in their home districts? The answer is simple: They’re betting that their their constituents will not pay attention, and that corporate journalists will continue to ignore the issue. That’s a fairly sure bet.

HEALTHCARE - NO! to Competition

"Competition Lacking Among Private Health Insurers" AP

As Debate Rages Over Public Health Plan, Private Insurers Seem To Be Quashing Competition

One of the most widely accepted arguments against a government medical plan for the middle class is that it would quash competition _ just what private insurers seem to be doing themselves in many parts of the U.S.

Several studies show that in lots of places, one or two companies dominate the market. Critics say monopolistic conditions drive up premiums paid by employers and individuals.

For Democrats, the answer is a public plan that would compete with private insurers. Republicans see that as a government power grab. President Barack Obama looks to be trapped in the middle of an argument that could sink his effort to overhaul the health care system.

Even lawmakers opposed to a government plan have problems with the growing clout of the big private companies.

"There is a serious problem with the lack of competition among insurers," said Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, one of the highest-cost states. "The impact on the consumer is significant."

Wellpoint Inc. accounted for 71 percent of the Maine market, while runner-up Aetna had a 12 percent share, according to a 2008 report by the American Medical Association.

Proponents of a government plan say it could restore a competitive balance and lead to lower costs. For one thing, it wouldn't have to turn a profit.

A study by the Urban Institute public policy center estimated that a public plan could save taxpayers from $224 billion to $400 billion over 10 years by lowering the cost of proposed subsidies for the uninsured, while preserving private coverage for most people.

"Right now, there's no incentive for insurers or big hospital groups to negotiate with each other, because they can pass higher payments on through premiums," said economist Linda Blumberg, co-author of the report. "A public plan would have the leverage to set lower payment rates and get providers to participate at those rates."

"The private plans would come back to the providers and say, 'If you don't negotiate with me, you're going to be left with only the public plan.'" Blumberg continued. "Suddenly, you have a very strong economic incentive for them to negotiate."

Insurers contend their industry is extremely competitive, and a public plan is unnecessary. About 1,300 carriers operate across the country, although many only have a small share of the market in their states.

"You can have a very competitive market and still have companies with a high market share," said Alissa Fox, a top Washington lobbyist for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

Fox points to the federal employee health program, which also covers members of Congress. It offers a total of more than 260 options and 10 nationwide plans. Despite all the choices, about 60 percent of federal workers pick a Blue Cross plan.

"Insurers need to be of a significant size to best serve their customers and make sure that people get the best value," Fox said.

Nonetheless, lawmakers are concerned. Big insurers are getting bigger. Small businesses in particular have fewer and fewer options for getting coverage.

Congressional investigators this year looked at insurers catering to small employers around the country. The Government Accountability Office found that the median _or midpoint _ market share of largest carrier increased to 47 percent in 2008 from 33 percent in 2002.

There's widespread recognition among lawmakers that a health care overhaul should foster more competition among insurers. The debate is over how far to go.

The basic framework lawmakers are looking at would encourage competition, even without a government plan. It calls for setting up a big insurance purchasing pool called an exchange. It would be open, at least initially, to individuals and small businesses. The government would offer subsidies to make premiums more affordable.

Consumers would find it much easier to shop for a plan through the exchange. Forone thing, they would be able to readily compare benefits and premiums in different plans. Also, participating insurers would have to take all applicants and not charge higher premiums to those in poor health.

Offering the option of a public plan would supercharge the competition, supporters say.

Blumberg envisions a plan that pays medical providers more than Medicare, but less than private insurance. Her study estimated it could grow to 47 million members, leaving 161 million with private insurance. Even so, that would make the new public plan one of the largest insurers in the country, rivaling Medicare, Medicaid and big private companies such as Wellpoint and UnitedHealthcare.

It's a scenario that gives pause even to traditional adversaries of the insurance companies.

"The fear and concern is that the public plan could become the market-dominant plan," said Dr. James Rohack, president of the American Medical Association. "When you've got the federal government involved, it can infuse money into a plan to keep it solvent even if the premiums are lower than its actual costs."

Snowe, among the few Republican senators still trying to come up with a bipartisan compromise, wants to hold back on creating a public plan for now and give insurers one last chance to show if they can keep costs in check.

That's doesn't go far enough for liberals, who are loath to give the insurance industry tens of millions of new customers supported by taxpayer subsidies.

"It would give the industry a windfall without any countervailing force to require them to lower their costs," said Richard Kirsch, national campaign manager for the advocacy group Health Care for America Now. "The insurance companies could continue to jack up premiums while getting a whole new market."

This is the REAL reason behind opposition to healthcare reform.

Friday, August 21, 2009

POLITICS - GOP No Longer "National" Party

From: alt.politics.usa by Harry Hope 8/20/2009

The problem is that the GOP is no longer a truly national party in its geographical composition or its ideological breadth.

Throughout U.S. history, our two major political parties have usually contained multitudes and contradicted themselves accordingly.

For much of the 20th century, the Democrats were the party of the white South, the immigrant north and labor unions.

The Republicans were the party of Wall Street bankers, Main Street merchants, professionals and Sun Belt cowboys.

But today's Palinoidal Republicans have lost most of the professionals, much of Wall Street and an increasing chunk of suburbia.

What they can claim is the allegiance of the white South and the almost entirely white, non-urban parts of the Mountain West.

Of the 40 Republican members of the Senate, fully half -- 20 -- come from the old Confederacy, the Civil War border states where slavery was legal or Oklahoma, which politically is an extension of Texas without Texas's racial minorities.

Ten others come from the Mountain West.

The rest of the nation -- that is, of course, most of the nation -- has become an ever-smaller share of Republican ranks.

All parties are home to distinct subcultures with distinct beliefs.

What's different about today's GOP is that increasingly, it is home to just one, and a whole sector of the media -- Fox News, talk radio -- makes its money by emphasizing this subculture's sense of separateness, grievance and alarm, and by creating its own set of "facts."

Asked in late July whether they believed Barack Obama was born in the United States, 93 percent of Democrats and 83 percent of independents said yes, but just 42 percent of Republicans agreed.

Behind those numbers, 93 percent, 90 percent and 87 percent of Northeasterners, Midwesterners and Westerners, respectively, said yes, but just 47 percent of Southerners said they believed the president was born in this country.

Obama, the Republican base is saying, personifies an America that is increasingly alien to them.

It's multiracial, as they are not.

It puts Sonia Sotomayor, who sure doesn't come from their America, on the Supreme Court.

Increasingly, the Republicans have descended into white identity politics.

Republican ideology has shrunk alongside its geography and demographics.

Where once its view of the role of government ran the gamut from Rockefeller activism to Goldwater libertarianism, today the party largely adheres to the religiosity and the anti-statism of the white South.

(In its ideological uniformity, today's GOP looks -- O, the irony -- more like a classic European party than an American one.)

In short, the Republican Party with which Democrats could make deals no longer exists.

The GOP is too narrow; the gap between the parties, too wide.

Our politics are not those of the mid-20th century, when bipartisanship was fairly common.

If anything, they're more like those of the mid-19th century, before the Civil War, when North and South combined only to make a house divided against itself -- a conflict resolved not by compromise, but, as Lincoln predicted, by a nation then half-slave and half-free becoming "all one thing or all the other."

Lincoln's prophecy still holds.

Our current conflicts may be resolved only as the South becomes traditionally less Southern and more diverse -- home to more Northern transplants and immigrants.

That process was already at work in the 2008 elections, when Obama carried Virginia, North Carolina and Florida on the strength of those demographic shifts. As that process continues -- perhaps only as it continues -- the course of reform in America may run more smoothly.

ENVIRONMENT - Update, Global Warming

"In hot water: World sets ocean temperature record" by SETH BORENSTEIN (AP), San Francisco Chronicle

Steve Kramer spent an hour and a half swimming in the ocean Sunday — in Maine. The water temperature was 72 degrees — more like Ocean City, Md., this time of year. And Ocean City's water temp hit 88 degrees this week, toasty even by Miami Beach standards.

Kramer, 26, who lives in the seaside town of Scarborough, said it was the first time he's ever swam so long in Maine's coastal waters. "Usually, you're in five minutes and you're out," he said.

It's not just the ocean off the Northeast coast that is super-warm this summer. July was the hottest the world's oceans have been in almost 130 years of record-keeping.

The average water temperature worldwide was 62.6 degrees, according to the National Climatic Data Center, the branch of the U.S. government that keeps world weather records. That was 1.1 degree higher than the 20th century average, and beat the previous high set in 1998 by a couple hundredths of a degree. The coolest recorded ocean temperature was 59.3 degrees in December 1909.

Meteorologists said there's a combination of forces at work this year: A natural El Nino system just getting started on top of worsening man-made global warming, and a dash of random weather variations. The resulting ocean heat is already harming threatened coral reefs. It could also hasten the melting of Arctic sea ice and help hurricanes strengthen.

The Gulf of Mexico, where warm water fuels hurricanes, has temperatures dancing around 90. Most of the water in the Northern Hemisphere has been considerably warmer than normal. The Mediterranean is about three degrees warmer than normal. Higher temperatures rule in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The heat is most noticeable near the Arctic, where water temperatures are as much as 10 degrees above average. The tongues of warm water could help melt sea ice from below and even cause thawing of ice sheets on Greenland, said Waleed Abdalati, director of the Earth Science and Observation Center at the University of Colorado.

Breaking heat records in water is more ominous as a sign of global warming than breaking temperature marks on land, because water takes longer to heat up and does not cool off as easily as land.

"This warm water we're seeing doesn't just disappear next year; it'll be around for a long time," said climate scientist Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria in British Columbia. It takes five times more energy to warm water than land.

The warmer water "affects weather on the land," Weaver said. "This is another yet really important indicator of the change that's occurring."

Georgia Institute of Technology atmospheric science professor Judith Curry said water is warming in more places than usual, something that has not been seen in more than 50 years.

Add to that an unusual weather pattern this summer where the warmest temperatures seem to be just over oceans, while slightly cooler air is concentrated over land, said Deke Arndt, head of climate monitoring at the climate data center.

The pattern is so unusual that he suggested meteorologists may want to study that pattern to see what's behind it.

The effects of that warm water are already being seen in coral reefs, said C. Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's coral reef watch. Long-term excessive heat bleaches colorful coral reefs white and sometimes kills them.

Bleaching has started to crop up in the Florida Keys, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands — much earlier than usual. Typically, bleaching occurs after weeks or months of prolonged high water temperatures. That usually means September or October in the Caribbean, said Eakin. He found bleaching in Guam Wednesday. It's too early to know if the coral will recover or die. Experts are "bracing for another bad year," he said.

The problems caused by the El Nino pattern are likely to get worse, the scientists say.

An El Nino occurs when part of the central Pacific warms up, which in turn changes weather patterns worldwide for many months. El Nino and its cooling flip side, La Nina, happen every few years.

During an El Nino, temperatures on water and land tend to rise in many places, leading to an increase in the overall global average temperature. An El Nino has other effects, too, including dampening Atlantic hurricane formation and increasing rainfall and mudslides in Southern California.

Warm water is a required fuel for hurricanes. What's happening in the oceans "will add extra juice to the hurricanes," Curry said.

Hurricane activity has been quiet for much of the summer, but that may change soon, she said. Hurricane Bill quickly became a major storm and the National Hurricane Center warned that warm waters are along the path of the hurricane for the next few days.

Hurricanes need specific air conditions, so warmer water alone does not necessarily mean more or bigger storms, said James Franklin, chief hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

HEALTHCARE - GOP and the Art of the Lie

"New Poll: 77 Percent Support 'Choice' Of Public Option" by Sam Stein, Huffington Post

More than three out of every four Americans feel it is important to have a "choice" between a government-run health care insurance option and private coverage, according to a public opinion poll released on Thursday.

A new study by SurveyUSA puts support for a public option at a robust 77 percent, one percentage point higher than where it stood in June.

But the numbers tell another story, as well.

Earlier in the week, after pollsters for NBC dropped the word "choice" from their question on a public option, they found that only 43 percent of the public were in favor of "creating a public health care plan administered by the federal government that would compete directly with private health insurance companies."

Opponents of the president's agenda jumped on the findings as evidence that backing for the public option was dropping. Proponents responded by arguing that NBC's tinkering with the language of the question (which it had also done in its July survey) had contributed to the drop in favorability for a public plan.

SurveyUSA's poll, which was commissioned by the progressive group, a proponent of the public plan, gives credence to those critiques. While arguments about what type of language best describe the public option persist --"choice" is considered a trigger word that everyone naturally supports -- it seems clear that the framing of the provision goes a long way toward determining its popularity.

In asking its question SurveyUSA used the same exact words that NBC/Wall Street Journal had used when conducting its June 2009 survey. That one that found 76 percent approval for the public option: "In any health care proposal, how important do you feel it is to give people a choice of both a public plan administered by the federal government and a private plan for their health insurance--extremely important, quite important, not that important, or not at all important?"

To ensure that its respondent pool was composed of people from similar demographics and political mindsets, SurveyUSA asked respondents a question pulled directly from NBC's August survey. The results were nearly identical.

Read a description of the president's health care plan, 51 percent of Survey USA respondents said they "favored" the approach, while 43 percent opposed it. In the NBC poll, 53 percent of respondents said they favored the president's plan, 43 percent said they opposed it.

(bold emphisis mine)

See.... It is an art, lying that is. Just drop one itsie-bitsie word. A word that would remind poll-takers that this issue is about a choice and NOT a mandate.

POLITICS - Where the GOP Got Their Directive

"The rank and file are usually much more primitive than we imagine. Propaganda must always therefore be essentially simple and repetitious. In the long run only he will achieve basic results in influencing public opinion who is able to reduce problems to the simplest terms and who has the courage to keep forever repeating them in this simplified form despite the objections of intellectuals."

Joseph Goebbels, Propaganda Minister, Third Reich

Thursday, August 20, 2009

POLITICS - Truth Be Said, GOP Crybaby

"No More Coddling the GOP Baby!" by Deep Brain Diarist, TPM

Ever tried to dress a two year old who does NOT want to get dressed? They have this way of going "boneless" -- sagging and drooping to the floor on limp-noodle legs, becoming dead weight, making themselves more difficult to lift. And when you try to put their pants on, they kick their little legs and squirm. And the same child who, moments ago, was attempting to climb the bookshelf like a rugged mountaineer now finds it impossible to sit up long enough for you to get his limp little arms through his shirt sleeves.

That is precisely what the Republicans in Congress have been doing on the issue of Health Care Reform.

A time comes when a responsible parent needs to be firm with a reluctant toddler. If it's cold outside, it would be a HORRIBLE parent who gave in to the naughty baby and took him outside in just a diaper. A good parent will be firm and strict and do whatever it takes to make sure little Jimmy or Susie is properly dressed for the elements.

So should it be for Health Care Reform.

The Democratic majorities in Congress and their Democratic president have apparently decided they have had quite enough with the spoiled rotten little GOP baby.

Knowing that what is REALLY needed is a single-payer system that will cover everyone, but understanding that there is no way they could ever get the baby to hold still for that, they tried to appease the child by playing with him as they tried to get him to accept a public option, which everyone agrees will force insurance companies to compete, therefore lowering costs for everyone.

"NO! NO WIKE PUBWICK OPTION!" the baby screamed! "SOCIAWIST!!!"

Ever the patient grownup, the Democrats said, "OK, how about health insurance co-ops? It would be at least better than nothing..."


Exasperated, the grownups asked, "Well then, what DO you want?"

"STATUS QUO!" At which point the GOP baby grabbed a butter knife and started crawling towards the nearest electrical outlet.


The good parent takes the knife from the baby's little fist. They hold on tightly as the baby kicks and screams about "Deff Panohs" and "Iwweguh Immagwants" and "Gubbahmint Takeovah". They're going to put the little baby's clothes on, like it or not. They've decided, like grownups, although it is nice to CONSIDER a baby's feelings when planning its care, sometimes a baby -- BEING a baby -- is not capable of making responsible decisions for itself.

That's why they've decided to do what needs to be done. They're going to ignore the kicking and screaming and crying and diaper-messing of the naughty, naughty GOP baby. They're going to employ the mandate they got in the last election and push through health care reform with their current majorities.

A squalling, crying baby doesn't always know what is best for it. In the past, the GOP has squirmed and figitted and fussed while being fed Social Security, Medicare, MedicAid and Civil Rights legislation -- all of which it opposed vehemently when first proposed. It eventually got used to it, and the nation is better for it.

So shall it be this time.

We might have to put up with a grumpy little baby for awhile... but the end result will be worth it.

And it's about time!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

AMERICA - Are We Going NUTS?

"America the delusional" by Tim Rutten, L.A. Times

'Birthers.' Guns at presidential rallies. The tenor of our discourse is mutating into irrational hysteria.

Several weeks in rural Ireland may have softened the emotional carapace required for any extended immersion in American politics these days, but it's hard not to be taken aback by the televised images of people opposed to healthcare reform carrying guns to rallies at which President Obama is speaking.

At least a dozen people openly displaying everything from an AR-15 assault rifle to 9-millimeter Beretta sidearms were in the crowd outside the hall where Obama spoke in Arizona on Monday. The state is one of those that have a so-called open-carry law, which allows people into public places with loaded weapons. Their appearance at recent rallies is supposed to signal their implacable opposition to the "tyranny" of healthcare reform.

In Hagerstown, Md., last week, a man appeared at a town hall meeting hosted by Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) with a sign that read "Death to Obama" and "Death to Michelle and her two stupid kids."

Something has shifted since Obama's election. Along with the now mindlessly normative red state/blue state polarization and autonomic politicization of even the most trivial incident, there's a kind of hysteria that seems to be creeping in from the fringes -- a new tenor to our disagreements and a startling attenuation of reason.

For people in my end of journalism, barely two hours now pass without the arrival of one or more e-mails -- or e-mailed "investigative" articles -- from people who continue to insist that Obama is not a native-born American citizen. Despite the fact that the governor and chief medical officer of his home state, Hawaii, have confirmed as recently as late last month that public records confirm the president was born there, the so-called birthers continue to assert that he's actually a Kenyan, or an Indonesian or even a Canadian.

Some of these characters pirouette off that delusion into charges that Obama secretly is a Muslim, that his educational record is fabricated (tell that one to his classmates) or that he covertly belongs to an underground Marxist party that lurks somewhere in south Chicago and has long been planning a socialist coup. One awaits the inevitable revelation that his "real parents" were among the space aliens everyone knows the government keeps hidden in Area 51.

It would be convenient to dismiss all this as the undercurrent of paranoid style that is a constant in American politics, but hysterical fantasies of Obama's purported illegitimacy and secret malevolence continue to bleed into the mainstream media as well. Lou Dobbs, CNN's house demagogue, has flirted with the birther fringe, even though his colleagues' reporting has utterly discredited the allegations. Meanwhile, over on Fox News, Glenn Beck, this season's Howard Beale wannabe, has denounced Obama as "a racist" who is acting out of "a deep-seated hatred of white people or the white culture."

Somehow all of this anxious animosity has become the background noise crowding out nearly all substantive and realistic discussion of the critical issues surrounding healthcare reform. This is one of the most complex and consequential initiatives of our time, over which even the most serious-minded people of goodwill are bound to have real differences. The stakes are immense, and the discussion, insofar as the reality of partisan politics permits, ought to reflect that.

Instead, we have Rush Limbaugh darkly informing his listeners that Obama's real intention is to impose "government control of life and death." (Limbaugh, of course, never had to worry about whether his prescription drug plan covered Vicodin or OxyContin, or whether his health insurer would pay for rehab.)

A commentator on one of the major conservative political websites told his readers Tuesday that the plan the president and congressional Democrats are proposing will require mandatory nutritional counseling for obese Americans. According to this person, "Obama-care" would send those who disregard the advice to "re-education" camps.

You can't make this stuff up -- but lots of people are, and they're being encouraged to do so by those in the Republican Party who think that defeat of the president's healthcare reform initiative at any cost is the GOP's only hope of substantial recovery in the midterms.

They might be careful what they wish for, because if our national political conversation becomes simply a continuation of talk radio by other means, dominated by people who bring guns to political rallies, who believe that the president of the United States is an alien who wants to euthanize the elderly and imprison the overweight, it won't matter which party is in power. The country will be as ungovernable as it is deluded.

In my opinion, many Americans are letting the general fear of our economy and their personal financial situation rule their lives. Letting fear rule your life WILL kill you eventually.

SUPREME COURT - For the "Believe It or Not" Files

In alt.politics.usa 8/18/2009:

Aug 17th, 2009

Scalia says there’s nothing unconstitutional about executing the innocent

By Ian Millhiser

Almost two decades ago, Troy Anthony Davis was convicted of murder and sentenced to die.

Since then, seven of the witnesses against him have recanted their testimony, and some have even implicated Sylvester “Redd” Coles, a witness who testified that Davis was the shooter.

In light of the very real evidence that Davis could be innocent of the crime that placed him on death row, the Supreme Court today invoked a rarely used procedure giving Davis an opportunity to challenge his conviction.

Joined by Justice Clarence Thomas in dissent, however, Justice Antonin Scalia criticized his colleagues for thinking that mere innocence is grounds to overturn a conviction:

This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is “actually” innocent.

Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged “actual innocence” is constitutionally cognizable.

So in Justice Scalia’s world, the law has no problem with sending an innocent man to die.

One wonders why we even bother to have a Constitution.

Wanna put the straitjacket under or over this animal's robe?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

HEALTHCARE - Right-Wing Propaganda Machine

"The Swiss Menace" by PAUL KRUGMAN, New York Times

It was the blooper heard round the world. In an editorial denouncing Democratic health reform plans, Investor’s Business Daily tried to frighten its readers by declaring that in Britain, where the government runs health care, the handicapped physicist Stephen Hawking “wouldn’t have a chance,” because the National Health Service would consider his life “essentially worthless.”

Professor Hawking, who was born in Britain, has lived there all his life, and has been well cared for by the National Health Service, was not amused.

Besides being vile and stupid, however, the editorial was beside the point. Investor’s Business Daily would like you to believe that Obamacare would turn America into Britain — or, rather, a dystopian fantasy version of Britain. The screamers on talk radio and Fox News would have you believe that the plan is to turn America into the Soviet Union. But the truth is that the plans on the table would, roughly speaking, turn America into Switzerland — which may be occupied by lederhosen-wearing holey-cheese eaters, but wasn’t a socialist hellhole the last time I looked.

Let’s talk about health care around the advanced world.

Every wealthy country other than the United States guarantees essential care to all its citizens. There are, however, wide variations in the specifics, with three main approaches taken.

In Britain, the government itself runs the hospitals and employs the doctors. We’ve all heard scare stories about how that works in practice; these stories are false. Like every system, the National Health Service has problems, but over all it appears to provide quite good care while spending only about 40 percent as much per person as we do. By the way, our own Veterans Health Administration, which is run somewhat like the British health service, also manages to combine quality care with low costs.

The second route to universal coverage leaves the actual delivery of health care in private hands, but the government pays most of the bills. That’s how Canada and, in a more complex fashion, France do it. It’s also a system familiar to most Americans, since even those of us not yet on Medicare have parents and relatives who are.

Again, you hear a lot of horror stories about such systems, most of them false. French health care is excellent. Canadians with chronic conditions are more satisfied with their system than their U.S. counterparts. And Medicare is highly popular, as evidenced by the tendency of town-hall protesters to demand that the government keep its hands off the program.

Finally, the third route to universal coverage relies on private insurance companies, using a combination of regulation and subsidies to ensure that everyone is covered. Switzerland offers the clearest example: everyone is required to buy insurance, insurers can’t discriminate based on medical history or pre-existing conditions, and lower-income citizens get government help in paying for their policies.

In this country, the Massachusetts health reform more or less follows the Swiss model; costs are running higher than expected, but the reform has greatly reduced the number of uninsured. And the most common form of health insurance in America, employment-based coverage, actually has some “Swiss” aspects: to avoid making benefits taxable, employers have to follow rules that effectively rule out discrimination based on medical history and subsidize care for lower-wage workers.

So where does Obamacare fit into all this? Basically, it’s a plan to Swissify America, using regulation and subsidies to ensure universal coverage.

If we were starting from scratch we probably wouldn’t have chosen this route. True “socialized medicine” would undoubtedly cost less, and a straightforward extension of Medicare-type coverage to all Americans would probably be cheaper than a Swiss-style system. That’s why I and others believe that a true public option competing with private insurers is extremely important: otherwise, rising costs could all too easily undermine the whole effort.

But a Swiss-style system of universal coverage would be a vast improvement on what we have now. And we already know that such systems work.

So we can do this. At this point, all that stands in the way of universal health care in America are the greed of the medical-industrial complex, the lies of the right-wing propaganda machine, and the gullibility of voters who believe those lies.

(bold emphasis mine)

Need I say, the "blooper" just shows how dumb these people are. Now lets hope the majority of the American people are smarter than they are.

Monday, August 17, 2009

HEALTHCARE - Letter to the Editor

"GOP call didn’t fool regular folk" BlueRidgeNow 8/16/2009

To The Editor: Today I received a phone call from something called the “Americans for Prosperity” read by Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory about “keeping the government’s hands off my health care.”

Do these Republican elitists think regular folks are so easily fooled? On behalf of their pals in the health care/insurance industry they try to scare people that health care reform will “put the government between you and your doctor.”

Well, guess what? That position between me and my doctor? Already taken! Yup, big insurance/managed health care industry is already between me and my doctor. They charge out the wazoo, then when you are sick out come all the “Gotchas!”

They have no problem denying procedures that my doctor deems important. “Prosperity?” Only for McCrory’s big business buddies who only care about their bottom line, not my health.

The real tipoff with these guys is Medicare. For all the ballyhooing I hear from Republicans I would think droves of them would stand right up and decline to participate in that program.

Heck, there are conscientious objectors to war, where are the conscientious objectors to taking Medicare? Oh, I forgot, they’d like to turn Medicare over to their “prosperous” buddies too!

Landen Gailey


Bold emphsis, mine
At least Landen sees the truth.

POLITICS - GOP Disdaining Science As "Elitist"

"Why scientists are seldom Republicans" by Robyn E. Blumner, St. Petersburg Times

Have you ever wondered what the world would be like without scientists? Ask the Republican Party. It lives in such a world. Republicans have been so successful in driving out of their party anyone who endeavors in scientific inquiry that pretty soon there won't be anyone left who can distinguish a periodic table from a kitchen table.

It is no wonder the Republican throngs showing up to disrupt town hall meetings on health care reform are so gullible, willing to believe absurd claims like the coming of "death panels." Their party is nearly devoid of neuroscientists, astrophysicists, marine biologists or any other scientific professional who would insist on intellectual rigor, objective evidence and sound reasoning as the basis for public policy development. The people left don't have that kind of discipline and don't expect it from their leaders. They are willing to believe anything some right-wing demagogue with a cable show or pulpit tells them, no matter how outlandish.

Since the Sonia Sotomayor nomination we've been hearing about the GOP's Hispanic deficit. Only 26 percent of Latino registered voters now say they identify with or lean toward the Republican Party. But that's a full house compared with scientists. Only 12 percent of scientists in a poll issued last month by the Pew Research Center say they are Republican or lean toward the GOP, while fully 81 percent of scientists say they are Democrats or lean Democratic.

We shouldn't be surprised that people who are open to evidence-based thinking have abandoned the Republican Party. The GOP has proudly adopted the mantle of the "Terri Schiavo, global warming shwarming" party with the Bush administration helping cement the image by persistently subverting science to serve a religious agenda or corporate greed.

But what worries me is not the shrunken relevancy of the GOP, a party in which 56 percent of its members oppose funding of embryonic stem cell research, 39 percent believe humans have always existed on Earth in their present form, and in which only 30 percent say human activity is warming the planet. It is that this nation's future depends upon people who don't think that way and the Republican Party is closing the door to them.

Every hope we have to invent our way out of this economic malaise and create enough Information Age jobs to maintain a stable and prosperous middle class sits on the shoulders of people who understand and practice the scientific method. Every hope we have of advancing human understanding of the physical universe and bettering our lives in it, is tied to professionals now represented by only one of our nation's two major political parties — while the other party attempts to obstruct them.

Global warming is a prime example.

Earth is under siege by CO2 emissions to a point that the Pentagon is warning that our national security is at risk if climate change is not arrested. All Americans and politicians should be united for collective action. Yet George Bush spent essentially his entire presidency ignoring and suppressing scientific concerns.

Even today, with the effects of global warming evident, Republicans in Congress are trying to bury the cap-and-trade energy bill, the nation's first attempt (albeit not strong enough) to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Their alternative is to offer nothing.

Why are they so blind to the looming crisis? Because to embrace what scientists are saying about global warming would give political liberals a win, something the GOP leadership is not wont to do. Republicans build their political careers disdaining "elitists" with a good education, complex charts and empirical data. They see it to their political advantage to rally people to distrust science.

That means our nation is only likely to advance to meet the heady scientific challenges of the future, on health and the environment — advancements that translate directly into economic progress and rising living standards — if the Democrats remain in power with substantial majorities.

But if the nation's economic situation doesn't turn around soon, a GOP resurgence could very well come. Then scientists will once again be on the defensive against a Republican Party that left them behind in favor of the Tea Party crowd, the birthers, and the people who shout at town halls that government better keep its hands off their Medicare.

Theirs is a world without scientists, and scary doesn't begin to describe it.

This IS scary. Government by the under-educated. Worship of ideology over reality, fiction over fact.

Reminder, this is what dictatorships do when they take over education. Prime example being North Korea where EVERYONE is taught to worship the Glorious Leader and the truth of the rest of the world is hidden or suppressed.

WAR - G.I. Jane, Update

"G.I. Jane Breaks the Combat Barrier" by LIZETTE ALVAREZ, New York Times

Excerpt (3pg article)

As the convoy rumbled up the road in Iraq, Specialist Veronica Alfaro was struck by the beauty of fireflies dancing in the night. Then she heard the unmistakable pinging of tracer rounds and, in a Baghdad moment, realized the insects were illuminated bullets.

She jumped from behind the wheel of her gun truck, grabbed her medical bag and sprinted 50 yards to a stalled civilian truck. On the way, bullets kicked up dust near her feet. She pulled the badly wounded driver to the ground and got to work.

Despite her best efforts, the driver died, but her heroism that January night last year earned Specialist Alfaro a Bronze Star for valor. She had already received a combat action badge for fending off insurgents as a machine gunner.

“I did everything there,” Ms. Alfaro, 25, said of her time in Iraq. “I gunned. I drove. I ran as a truck commander. And underneath it all, I was a medic.”

Before 2001, America’s military women had rarely seen ground combat. Their jobs kept them mostly away from enemy lines, as military policy dictates.

But the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, often fought in marketplaces and alleyways, have changed that. In both countries, women have repeatedly proved their mettle in combat. The number of high-ranking women and women who command all-male units has climbed considerably along with their status in the military.

“Iraq has advanced the cause of full integration for women in the Army by leaps and bounds,” said Peter R. Mansoor, a retired Army colonel who served as executive officer to Gen. David H. Petraeus while he was the top American commander in Iraq. “They have earned the confidence and respect of male colleagues.”

Their success, widely known in the military, remains largely hidden from public view. In part, this is because their most challenging work is often the result of a quiet circumvention of military policy.

Women are barred from joining combat branches like the infantry, armor, Special Forces and most field artillery units and from doing support jobs while living with those smaller units. Women can lead some male troops into combat as officers, but they cannot serve with them in battle.

Yet, over and over, in Iraq and Afghanistan, Army commanders have resorted to bureaucratic trickery when they needed more soldiers for crucial jobs, like bomb disposal and intelligence. On paper, for instance, women have been “attached” to a combat unit rather than “assigned.”

This quiet change has not come seamlessly — and it has altered military culture on the battlefield in ways large and small. Women need separate bunks and bathrooms. They face sexual discrimination and rape, and counselors and rape kits are now common in war zones. Commanders also confront a new reality: that soldiers have sex, and some will be evacuated because they are pregnant.

Nonetheless, as soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, women have done nearly as much in battle as their male counterparts: patrolled streets with machine guns, served as gunners on vehicles, disposed of explosives, and driven trucks down bomb-ridden roads. They have proved indispensable in their ability to interact with and search Iraqi and Afghan women for weapons, a job men cannot do for cultural reasons. The Marine Corps has created revolving units — “lionesses” — dedicated to just this task.

A small number of women have even conducted raids, engaging the enemy directly in total disregard of existing policies.

Many experts, including David W. Barno, a retired lieutenant general who commanded forces in Afghanistan; Dr. Mansoor, who now teaches military history at Ohio State University; and John A. Nagl, a retired lieutenant colonel who helped write the Army’s new counterinsurgency field manual, say it is only a matter of time before regulations that have restricted women’s participation in war will be adjusted to meet the reality forged over the last eight years.

ON THE LITE SIDE - Intelligence On Display

(aka a GOP spelling lesson)

Friday, August 14, 2009

POLITICS - "Death Panel" LIE

Countdown Special Comment
Keith Olbermann

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

AMERICA - Under Siege, This is IMPORTANT

The following are excerpts from a very, very good article. I highly suggest that you read the full article, whether you agree with the primes or not.

The argument cannot be ignored if America is to remain free.

"Fascist America: Are We There Yet?" by Sara Robinson 8/6/2009

What is fascism?

The word has been bandied about by so many people so wrongly for so long that, as Paxton points out, "Everybody is somebody else's fascist." Given that, I always like to start these conversations by revisiting Paxton's essential definition of the term:

"Fascism is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which liberal democracy stands accused of producing division and decline."

Elsewhere, he refines this further as

"a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."

As Rick Perlstein documented in his two books on Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon, modern American conservatism was built on these same themes. From "Morning in America" to the Rapture-ready religious right to the white nationalism promoted by the GOP through various gradients of racist groups, it's easy to trace how American proto-fascism offered redemption from the upheavals of the 1960s by promising to restore the innocence of a traditional, white, Christian, male-dominated America. This vision has been so thoroughly embraced that the entire Republican party now openly defines itself along these lines. At this late stage, it's blatantly racist, sexist, repressed, exclusionary, and permanently addicted to the politics of fear and rage. Worse: it doesn't have a moment's shame about any of it. No apologies, to anyone. These same narrative threads have woven their way through every fascist movement in history. (Bolded sentence by me)

Paxton wrote that succeeding at the second stage "depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weakness of a liberal state, whose inadequacies condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation; and political deadlock because the Right, the heir to power but unable to continue to wield it alone, refuses to accept a growing Left as a legitimate governing partner." He further noted that Hitler and Mussolini both took power under these same circumstances: "deadlock of constitutional government (produced in part by the polarization that the fascists abetted); conservative leaders who felt threatened by the loss of their capacity to keep the population under control at a moment of massive popular mobilization; an advancing Left; and conservative leaders who refused to work with that Left and who felt unable to continue to govern against the Left without further reinforcement."

And more ominously: "The most important variables...are the conservative elites' willingness to work with the fascists (along with a reciprocal flexibility on the part of the fascist leaders) and the depth of the crisis that induces them to cooperate."

Where's the danger line? Paxton offers three quick questions that point us straight at it:

1. Are [neo- or protofascisms] becoming rooted as parties that represent major interests and feelings and wield major influence on the political scene?

2. Is the economic or constitutional system in a state of blockage apparently insoluble by existing authorities?

3. Is a rapid political mobilization threatening to escape the control of traditional elites, to the point where they would be tempted to look for tough helpers in order to stay in charge?

By my reckoning, we're three for three. That's too close. Way too close.

POLITICS - Of Ultra-Conservative GOP Fascists

"7 Ways We Can Fight Back Against the Rising Fascist Threat" by Sara Robinson, Campaign for America's Future

Excerpts (3 page article)

Writing about fascism for an American audience is always a fraught business.

Invariably, a third of the readers will dismiss the topic (and your faithful blogger's basic sanity) out of hand. Either they've got their own definition of fascism, and whatever's going on doesn't seem to fit it; or else they're firm believers in a variant of Godwin's Law, which says (with some justification) that anyone who invokes the F-word is a de facto alarmist of questionable credibility.

Another third will pepper me with missives that are every bit as dismissive -- for exactly the opposite reason. To them, anyone who's been paying the barest amount of attention should realize that America has been a fascist state since (choose one:)
1) 9/11
2) Reagan
3) McCarthy
4) the Civil War
5) July 4, 1776.

Given this general crankiness, I probably wouldn't bother with the subject at all -- except for that final third who keep me going. From them, I've gotten a blizzard of anecdotes, questions, meditations, ideas, suggestions, manifestos and love letters (including lots of link love).

The piece sparked a lot of conversation all across Left Blogistan about what fascism is and what it ain't, and what we need to be watching for. And that kind of thoughtful discussion is exactly what I hoped for. I wanted people to start paying attention.

But we are now actively in the process of choosing, whether we're aware of it or not. There are things happening now that are setting us on a course that may prove impossible to change.

How do we turn back? A few basic principles:

First: The teabaggers must not win this one. Back in elementary school, most of us learned that when a bully learns that intimidation and threats work, he'll will keep doing more of it. In fact, the longer he goes without comeuppance, the bolder and badder he becomes, and the harder it is to make him stop. Every success teaches him something new about how to use terror for maximum effect and tempts him to push the envelope and see what else he can get away with. Do nothing, and he'll soon take over the whole playground.

And it happens like this for bullies in groups, too. Living in a fascist regime is just living in a town dominated by the Mob, a street gang, the KKK, or a corrupt sheriff.

It only takes a small handful of thugs to terrorize people into giving up their civil rights, abandoning democracy and doing what they're told, just so they can keep their jobs, windows and families intact.

The main imperative in life becomes staying off the goons' radar. All the enforcers need to do is make an horrific example out of one or two troublemakers every now and then -- and the resulting fear will keep everybody else quietly in line.

Conservatives have tried to subdue other Americans this way for centuries, so there's nothing new going on here. And this is the way they've always done it: they used race (and yes, the birthers and anti-health care rioters are, at root, all about race) and economic calamity to whip up a posse of terrified, well-armed vigilantes, and then turned them loose on society to "enforce order."

Given their colossal investment in organizing and indoctrinating the teabaggers, we'd be stupid to believe that this is all going to go away when Congress returns to Washington in September. Having had a taste of power and publicity, these newly empowered mobs are very likely to stick around town and see what else they can do to keep the muck stirred up.

Our choice now is stark: knock them back while they're still new, small and not yet entrenched; or deal with them later, when they've got some real power to fight back with, and the cost to all of us will be so much higher.

Second: Think nationally, fight locally. The conservatives are running this effort as a national campaign -- but that's not where the real fight is. The terror that fuels fascism is always intensely, intimately local in scale.

Fascist goon squads always recruit from the neighborhood -- they're built on people you know. Since that's where they start, that's where they have to be stopped.

This is why all the best tactics involve community-level action. The high-level fight in Congress and the media is already under way, and the Democratic leadership is fighting it with unusual elan. But anybody who sits this one out because they assume that the folks in D.C. have it all handled for them shouldn't be surprised when they start getting "special treatment" from longtime neighbors, or discover that they can't park their car downtown any more without having it vandalized.

That's just the next baby step up from where we are now; and in some places, it's already started to happen. Winning this means getting out there and defending our community's standards and boundaries now, while they're still there to be defended.

Third: Brush up on our nonviolent resistance -- but leave the heavy lifting and rough enforcement to the cops. It's true that the only way to stop a bully is to stand up to them. But there are ways to stand up to them that don't involve getting down to the eye-for-an-eye level.

Back home, we had a saying: "Never mudwrestle a pig. You will lose, and the pig enjoys it."

If we meet thuggery with thuggery, we will lose, because they're just plain better at it. And make no mistake: they will enjoy it. Right now, the right wing is looking -- hard -- to make the case that they're the innocent victim and the left instigated this whole thing. This quote from religious right organizer Gary Bauer is typical of the genre:

My fear, given the stakes and emotions on both sides, is that union thugs, ACORN activists and left-wing anarchists (who ransacked the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul during last year's Republican National Convention) will turn violent, and innocent people will get hurt. If that happens, the radical left will bear the responsibility for demonizing free speech.

The Nazis used this kind of victim-blaming to tremendous effect as they built up their party.

We must not -- must not -- give our proto-brownshirts any basis to make the same kind of argument. (Of course, the absence of evidence will only drive them to make up fake victims; but then we get to call them out as whining liars with a big fat persecution complex, which is always a fun way to spend a news cycle or two.)

It's about the moral high ground, people. Any choices we make must be consistent with our own values, or we betray both ourselves and the country.


HEALTHCARE - Backers of Privatizing Social Security Back Anti-Healthcare-Reform

"Group 'Warning' Elderly About Dangers Of Health Care Reform Tried To Privatize Social Security" by Greg Sargent, Who Runs GOV

Elderly people who are frightened by a conservative group’s ads warning them that health care reform could lead to their extermination at the hands of government bureaucrats might want to keep this in mind: The same group invested huge money in the push to privatize their Social Security.

The 60 Plus Association — which is running a national ad warning that health care reform would mean bureaucrats would decide whether old folks are “worth the cost” — has already gotten attention for some of its previous right wing advocacy.

But little to no attention has been paid to the group’s efforts to privatize Social Security, the effort which could arguably do the most to discredit it among the seniors that are the primary target of the group’s lurid health care scaremongering right now.

A Democrat points me to this piece from National Journal’s archives that show the 60 Plus Association spending big bucks on the Social Security privatization push as far back as 2001. The group’s president, Jim Martin, was one of an exclusive group of top level anti-Social Security right wingers that included Grover Norquist, and Martin that year bankrolled the privatization push to the tune of more than $1 million.

In 2005, when George W. Bush’s privatization push started to gather steam, the group hailed Bush and the Republican Party’s “leadership” on the issue, describing itself as a “strong proponent for personal retirement accounts.”

The talking point writes itself: Seniors, every time you hear ads “warning” you about the “dangers” of health care reform, supposedly for your own good, keep in mind that these ads were bankrolled by the same forces that spent huge money trying to protect you from your own Social Security.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

POLITICS - The Non-Existent Safety Net

"Job losses cast spotlight on stingy safety net" by Emily Kaiser, Reuters

Excerpt (3 page article)

The longest U.S. recession since World War Two is exposing gaping holes in the social safety net, putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk of falling through.

Some 6.7 million jobs have been lost since the downturn began in December 2007, and the unemployed are at the mercy of a confusing and complicated patchwork of aid programs.

Many of the programs, such as unemployment benefits, are less generous than those available in Europe or Japan, reflecting deeply rooted American beliefs about who is deserving of help and what role government ought to play.

"Our safety net was always skimpy at best and it has frayed very substantially over the last 30 to 40 years, for reasons both ideological and financial," said Alex Keyssar, a Harvard University professor who studies unemployment and poverty.

Providing a solid safety net is certainly costly, although that argument looks a bit thin when the United States is committing trillions of dollars to ensure Wall Street has a soft landing. "Where's MY bailout?" has become a common complaint heard across the country.

Yet there has been little activity inside or outside of Washington aimed at shoring up the safety net, and Keyssar and other policy experts say the system urgently needs repair.

President Barack Obama's effort to patch one of the biggest holes -- ensuring health care even for those who lose their jobs -- has met fierce opposition, suggesting the chances for broader aid reform are slim.

Government figures released on Friday showed that the unemployment rate actually dipped to 9.4 percent in July from 9.5 percent in June, although many analysts attributed that to people giving up looking for work.

The ups and downs of the business cycle mean regular recessions, and with that, spikes in joblessness. But countries differ on how far a society's responsibility runs to those who get caught in the downdraft.

In the United States, the answer has long been limited public sector support -- in terms of both the size and duration of unemployment relief -- compared with Europe and Japan.

Keyssar sees that as a reflection of centuries-old American attitudes toward hard work, self-determination and the troubling concept of the "undeserving poor," or who is deemed worthy of public assistance.

"Linked to it all is a presumption or a suspicion, particularly on the part of conservatives, that people who are unemployed aren't really involuntarily jobless and shouldn't be supported," he said.


Those undercurrents are apparent in the way the U.S. benefit system was designed. Compared with other rich countries, U.S. benefits run out far more quickly and the eligibility rules are more rigorous. Much of that was done intentionally to discourage freeloaders.

The result is a hard-to-navigate and often insufficient set of programs which can be hard to qualify for and challenging to collect. According to the U.S. Labor Department, only 36 percent of unemployed people received benefits in 2008.

Many people who exhaust their weekly benefits simply fall through the cracks, said Edward Berkowitz, a public policy professor at George Washington University in Washington who studies U.S. social welfare.

Yap. Who cares if a few million Americans end up as street-people involuntarily? Just as long as "us" well-off Americans keep what's ours. We're Conservatives, we're "true" Christians, we're the GOP, we REALLY care.

POLITICS - Big Government Saved the Economy

"Averting the Worst" by PAUL KRUGMAN, New York Times

So it seems that we aren’t going to have a second Great Depression after all. What saved us? The answer, basically, is Big Government.

Just to be clear: the economic situation remains terrible, indeed worse than almost anyone thought possible not long ago. The nation has lost 6.7 million jobs since the recession began. Once you take into account the need to find employment for a growing working-age population, we’re probably around nine million jobs short of where we should be.

And the job market still hasn’t turned around — that slight dip in the measured unemployment rate last month was probably a statistical fluke. We haven’t yet reached the point at which things are actually improving; for now, all we have to celebrate are indications that things are getting worse more slowly.

For all that, however, the latest flurry of economic reports suggests that the economy has backed up several paces from the edge of the abyss.

A few months ago the possibility of falling into the abyss seemed all too real. The financial panic of late 2008 was as severe, in some ways, as the banking panic of the early 1930s, and for a while key economic indicators — world trade, world industrial production, even stock prices — were falling as fast as or faster than they did in 1929-30.

But in the 1930s the trend lines just kept heading down. This time, the plunge appears to be ending after just one terrible year.

So what saved us from a full replay of the Great Depression? The answer, almost surely, lies in the very different role played by government.

Probably the most important aspect of the government’s role in this crisis isn’t what it has done, but what it hasn’t done: unlike the private sector, the federal government hasn’t slashed spending as its income has fallen. (State and local governments are a different story.) Tax receipts are way down, but Social Security checks are still going out; Medicare is still covering hospital bills; federal employees, from judges to park rangers to soldiers, are still being paid.

All of this has helped support the economy in its time of need, in a way that didn’t happen back in 1930, when federal spending was a much smaller percentage of G.D.P. And yes, this means that budget deficits — which are a bad thing in normal times — are actually a good thing right now.

In addition to having this “automatic” stabilizing effect, the government has stepped in to rescue the financial sector. You can argue (and I would) that the bailouts of financial firms could and should have been handled better, that taxpayers have paid too much and received too little. Yet it’s possible to be dissatisfied, even angry, about the way the financial bailouts have worked while acknowledging that without these bailouts things would have been much worse.

The point is that this time, unlike in the 1930s, the government didn’t take a hands-off attitude while much of the banking system collapsed. And that’s another reason we’re not living through Great Depression II.

Last and probably least, but by no means trivial, have been the deliberate efforts of the government to pump up the economy. From the beginning, I argued that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a k a the Obama stimulus plan, was too small. Nonetheless, reasonable estimates suggest that around a million more Americans are working now than would have been employed without that plan — a number that will grow over time — and that the stimulus has played a significant role in pulling the economy out of its free fall.

All in all, then, the government has played a crucial stabilizing role in this economic crisis. Ronald Reagan was wrong: sometimes the private sector is the problem, and government is the solution.

And aren’t you glad that right now the government is being run by people who don’t hate government?

We don’t know what the economic policies of a McCain-Palin administration would have been. We do know, however, what Republicans in opposition have been saying — and it boils down to demanding that the government stop standing in the way of a possible depression.

I’m not just talking about opposition to the stimulus. Leading Republicans want to do away with automatic stabilizers, too. Back in March, John Boehner, the House minority leader, declared that since families were suffering, "it’s time for government to tighten their belts and show the American people that we ‘get’ it." Fortunately, his advice was ignored.

I’m still very worried about the economy. There’s still, I fear, a substantial chance that unemployment will remain high for a very long time. But we appear to have averted the worst: utter catastrophe no longer seems likely.

And Big Government, run by people who understand its virtues, is the reason why.

ON THE LITE SIDE - Palin Understudy

"FBI: Man gives teller ID before robbing bank" AP, via Anchorage Daily News

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A 34-year-old man is in custody after authorities say he gave a teller his account number and showed her his picture ID before robbing an Anchorage bank.

The FBI says Jarell Paul Arnold of Anchorage is being held on federal bank robbery charges.

The FBI alleges Arnold walked into an Alaska USA Federal Credit Union branch Friday and inquired about the balance on his account. The teller asked for his name, account number and ID.

Authorities say he complied, and then handed over a receipt with a note on the back that said he had a gun and demanded money.

The FBI says he got away with about $600. Authorities arrested Arnold on Monday. A message left after business hours Wednesday with Arnold's public defender, Michael Dieni, was not immediately returned.

Court records say Arnold was sentenced to 57 months in prison for bank robbery in 2004.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

ON THE 1/2 LITE SIDE - Humpty Dumpty

"Humpty Dumpty and the Ghosts" by Olivia Judson, New York Times

I couldn’t help chuckling at myself the other morning as I typed “Humpty Dumpty” into the search box of one of the big science databases. Humpty Dumpty, as anyone who remembers their nursery rhymes will recall, is an egg-shaped fellow who takes a bad fall. At which point, “All the King’s horses / and all the King’s men / Couldn’t put Humpty together again”.

But, as I discovered during my researches, Humpty Dumpty is an important personage. He has, for example, had a gene named after him. In fruit flies, mutations to the Humpty Dumpty gene produce a number of unfortunate effects, including thin egg shells. He has also lent his name to a scale that measures the severity of falls.

But neither of those is what I was looking for. I was looking for papers on the Humpty Dumpty community.

To see what this means, imagine a small pond. Let’s say that it’s home to a flourishing community of species — insects, fishes, algae, weeds, and so on. Now, suppose one of the species disappears — let’s say that humans fish out all members of one of the fish species. You want to undo this little extinction.

The obvious thing to do is to add fish of the missing species back into the pond. Which might work. But it might not. It might be that some other animal has occupied the fish’s niche, preventing the fish from moving in again.

Or it might be that the fish can only become established in the presence of, say, a certain species of insect — but that insect has long-since vanished. If this were the case, you’d have a Humpty Dumpty community: if it disintegrates, you cannot rebuild it from its parts. In other words, the ability to reconstitute the community depends on species that are no longer there.

How common is this phenomenon? It’s not clear. Humpty Dumpty effects often occur in mathematical models of ecosystems. But whether Humpty is important in nature is an open question.

Which isn’t surprising. Ecology is one of the hardest branches of biology, possibly of all science. Real ecological communities are fantastically complex — think of a rainforest, or a coral reef — and hard to dissect and understand. Experiments in the wild are difficult to control, and important variables are often hard to measure. Imagine trying to measure the impact that, say, earthworms have on oak trees: it’s damnably difficult.

Experiments in the laboratory are problematic too. Microcosm experiments — where you set up miniature worlds inhabited by just a few species of single-celled beings — quickly become massive. For instance, suppose you’re interested in the question of whether individuals of different species can live together. (This is an important question, for it bears on how ecosystems form.) To keep things simple, you decide to investigate a mere six species. You want to be thorough, so you’re going to consider all combinations, from each species living alone, to all six together.

But that’s already 63 combinations. Worse, in order to be more confident about the results, you can’t just do each one once, you need to replicate them. So you set up each combination six times. That’s 378 microcosms. Worse still, ecosystems — even small and simple ones — don’t stabilize in an afternoon. You have to wait for several months before you can be sure the system has settled into a “final” form. See what I mean? (Incidentally, I didn’t invent this experiment: it has actually been done. Those 60-plus combinations produced only eight different communities that were stable and persistent. Most of these were simple, containing only one or two species.)

Of course, Out There in Nature, there’s no such thing as a “final” form. New immigrants regularly arrive, whether we’re talking about a mangrove swamp in Florida, or the most remote islands in the Pacific. Sometimes these new arrivals fail to thrive. Sometimes they become established, perhaps driving other species extinct as they do so.

Or perhaps they have a more subtle effect: they fail to thrive and yet they drive other species extinct. Such species have been called “ghosts,”, the idea being that they have a definite, but unseen, impact on the stability of the community.

Again, ghosts have been detected in mathematical models more often than they’ve been sighted in nature. In fact, it’s not clear that they exist. The best evidence that they might be important comes from those microcosms I was mentioning. Earlier, I described only the first half of the experiment. The second half took the persistent, “final” form communities and subjected them to various invasions. In several cases, the invaders could not become established, yet the composition of the community shifted, with one of the original species going extinct.

Humpty Dumpty and the ghosts — the names are light-hearted, the theory is esoteric, but the problems they touch on are urgent. How do ecosystems form? How much impact do invaders have? What are our chances of restoring damage done by fishing or farming? We are pushing our ecosystems to the brink. If we don’t understand how they work, we can’t hope to limit the damage. And we need to try: after all, this is our home.