Saturday, April 30, 2011


When tornadoes tore through the southeast a few weeks ago, one meteorologist interviewed by news media talked about how unusually big and strong the outbreak was.  There was even a case of three twisters circling each other in a cluster.  But the good news, he said, was that this was so unusual that we didn't have to worry about another outbreak this year.

Then came the tornadoes this week that hit Alabama and Georgia, went into Tennesseee and even Virginia, leaving unprecedented destruction and killing upwards of 300 people.  "Some of the killer tornadoes that ripped across the South may have been among the largest and most powerful ever recorded, experts suggested," said a Reuters report.

"We have never experienced such a major weather event in our history," said the Tennessee Valley Authority in an official statement. "Hundreds of thousands of consumers are without power because of damage to power lines and other equipment…."  Power was cut to a nuclear power plant in Alabama, but emergency systems reportedly worked well enough for a controlled shutdown.

President Obama visited the hardest hit city of Tuscaloosa.  He promised the federal government would do everything possible to help people there.  This is clearly a time when everyone wants the government's help--even Texas governor Rick Perry, who has more than once threatened to secede because of his hostility to the federal government, was whining that the President was helping Alabama but not Texas, which is hard-hit from massive fires.

But the congressional budget cut funds for FEMA and specifically for emergency capabilities.  Moreover, the hostility to infrastructure projects in the guise of budget-balancing in the states as well as in the GOPer House, means that municipalities are not prepared for disasters which will inevitably result from the growing changes that make up the Climate Crisis--and the power of these tornadoes could well be such a result.  Specifically the recent flooding in Missouri revealed the inadequate levies there.  As climate studies like this one (with data from 2010) indicate, the weather-related and climate-related disasters of this spring are historically unusual, but they may well prefigure the "new normal."  Even USA Today notes the likelihood of this due to the Climate Crisis.

Now in the next days and weeks, the country faces record flooding in the midwest, including from the Mississippi River.  This tumultuous spring follows a winter of such extreme weather that the U.S. economy was strongly affected--the drop in growth is attributed largely to winter weather, and to higher commodity prices, some of which result from bad weather elsewhere in the world as well.  This, too, is likely to become the new normal.

I don't think the current political wallowing in angry fantasy and denial is unrelated to both climate news and the obvious facts of the weather and climate-related catastrophes--storms, floods, droughts, fires.  That's probably a starting point for another installment in my Climate Inside series.  But for now these disasters--coupled with the furor over the GOPer attempt to destroy Medicare--may be sobering enough for people to be able to hear what President Obama has been saying about government as the way we take care of one another beyond our personal reach.  Then maybe they'll begin to hear his insistent application of this principle to the future.

Friday, April 29, 2011

An Offer (Yes) We Can Refuse

The cable news bobbleheads are trying to find a way to describe Donald Trump's speech in Las Vegas, in which his foreign policy is apparently to tell China to fuck off and to take Iraq and Libya's oil.  Bob Shrum likened it to Howard Beale in Network.  Exactly wrong.  Beale was the voice of the powerless.  Trump thinks he's powerful.  He's talking like a movie version of a Mob boss.  That he's talking that way in Vegas is exactly the point.

And why shouldn't the President be a Mob boss?  Don't we got the biggest guns?

Trump like all demagogic GOPers appeals to the truly fearful among the powerless, and the always resentful among the powerful who are never satisfied with what they've got until they've got it all.  What they have in common is an infantile heart.  They don't have the maturity to deal with complexity.  A lot of them don't care about anyone other than themselves, although this is more likely to be the infantile attitude of the powerful than the powerless pitiful tea party grunts.     

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Birther of a Nation

Wednesday following President Obama's brief statement and the release of the long-form birth certificate was an extraordinary day for television news.  It seemed to unleash pent-up frustration and anger among television journalists who had been covering the birther story with the sort of veneer of objectivity that has proven both saving grace and, when exploited, a dangerous weakness (specifically in the outrageously scurrilous attacks on John Kerry's Vietnam experiences in the 2004 campaign that has since given us the term "swiftboating.")

I noted the anger first among black journalists, but it was widespread beyond any category.  Andrea Mitchell and Chuck Todd were among the first to respond after President Obama's statement, characterizing Donald Trump's innuendos and charges as racist.  That turned out to be just the beginning.

Before the end of the day, Chris Matthews grilled some birther politicians so relentlessly that one was struck utterly speechless.  Lawrence O'Donnell eviscerated the Orly lady and ended the interview abruptly when she refused to respond directly on the matter of the birth certificate.  O'Donnell had earlier directly called out the entertainment division of his own network, NBC, to immediately announce what Trump's commitments were to the network, because they already know whether he is going to be in position to actually run for President.  On CNN, historian Douglas Brinkley called on NBC to dump Trump or face a consumer boycott.  I've seen reference to Bob Shieffer on CBS grilling Trump and accusing him of racism.  Rachel Maddow called out members of the media for treating the birther charges as if they had some reasonable basis, specifically focusing on Ed Henry, the winger White House reporter for CNN.

But a mere recitation of some of these responses doesn't do justice to the disgust and anger they expressed, nor to their vocabulary.  Trump in particular was called out for race-baiting, called a racist enabler, a clown, a disgrace. (He continued this later Wednesday, when he raised more questions about President Obama's education, which I think was the bridge too far for a lot of black journalists in particular.)  Matthews referred to all the GOPers who joined the birthers or hinted that they might have a point as having checked into a roach motel, and that all were now sullied and indicted.

I don't know that I've heard such direct talk or seen such emotion before.  It's clear already that as President Obama predicted, there are still some who will not let even this additional evidence concerning his birthplace convince them.  But it's also clear that as least as long as Trump is a possible candidate or other candidates and officeholders continue to push the birther theme, there are a lot of voices in the media that are going to keep calling them out for what they are, and what this represents.


In releasing his long form birth certificate, President Obama ended his remarks with this:

"We live in a serious time right now and we have the potential to deal with the issues that we confront in a way that will make our kids and our grandkids and our great grandkids proud. And I have every confidence that America in the 21st century is going to be able to come out on top just like we always have. But we’re going to have to get serious to do it.

I know that there’s going to be a segment of people for which, no matter what we put out, this issue will not be put to rest. But I’m speaking to the vast majority of the American people, as well as to the press. We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We’ve got better stuff to do. I’ve got better stuff to do. We’ve got big problems to solve. And I’m confident we can solve them, but we’re going to have to focus on them -- not on this."

Earlier in his remarks, he referenced the House budget and his speech on his budget priorities, and the urgency of coming to agreements.  But the news coverage, he said, was primarily about the birther issue.  This is why he decided to confront it.

But the President deserves more credit for that speech (detailed beginning here) and for its influence.  The current problems GOPers are having defending the Ryan budget are on two issues that President Obama highlighted in his speech: more tax cuts for the rich and--as he was the first to say--"ending Medicare as we know it."

These are the issues GOPer congresspeople are hearing about in their town halls back in their districts.  In fact, the news kept playing a clip of a woman who was essentially reciting lines from this speech and from the President's own town hall meetings when she said it is easy to balance the budget on the backs of the poor, the helpless and the young who have no lobbyists in Washington.

When Worlds Collide

The Republicans' furious activities of the past two years, accelerating since their November victories, have brought together the more extreme elements of the Big Money GOPers with the most extreme and ideological Tea Party Rabid Righters.  The Big Money GOPers carefully nurtured and fed the fire-breathing tpartiers, and got them elected.  The tea wild partiers repay that patronage, especially on the state level, with the kind of extreme privatization, more money to those with the most money already while busting the system so that Democrats are at deeper disadvantage in future elections. All of this serves the Big Money GOPers' long-term interests, as well as their always short-term bank accounts.

In Washington so far it's been more noise than substance, but this smoke and mirrors deficit hawking, and extreme stuff like the Ryan budget, moves the whole playing field to the right, so that works for the Big Money GOPers.  Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of their new fire-breathers actually believe this Rabid Right revolution stuff.

These two very different groups, the globeshattering billionaires and the local yokels, have managed a match made in hell pretty well so far.  But now these worlds seem to be on a collision course, and if these worlds collide in the next few weeks on one crucial issue, the economic future could suddenly be catastrophic.

Right now Wall Street is already getting a bit nervous about the congressional GOPers posturing on refusing to raise the U.S. debt ceiling.  According to reports, the billionaires and their multimillionaire minions are working these folks behind the scenes to basically convince them not to do this, to raise the ceiling as usual and as quickly as possible, and a few GOPer political consultants are saying it out loud.

Moreover they are warning that the tea wild partiers in the House can't even do the brinksmanship thing like they did on the budget.  The debt ceiling has to be raised by early July, but some are saying that Congress has to do it by early June or the international shit is going to hit the fan, big, big, big time.  That's apparently not good for Big Money GOPers and their really

The debt ceiling merely allows the U.S. to pay its past debts, like the billions Bush spent on invading and occupying Iraq, giving out millions in tax breaks to billionaires, and giving billions in federal money to health insurance companies for senior prescription coverage without adding revenue to offset it.   Without raising the debt ceiling, the U.S. becomes the biggest deadbeat in history and the global financial dominoes could come tumbling down.  Some warn that it's not like shutting down the government for a day or two to make a point either--once the world loses faith in America as a credit-worthy stable safe haven that no political nonsense can shake, it's pretty much over.  The tea wild partiers can do in a few weeks what no enemy could do in war, and what no terrorists could dream of accomplishing.

So can Obama and the Dems make a deal with Banal and the GOPers, and will the tea wild partiers let that happen?  The key question may be: can the Big Money GOPers control the tea wild partiers they got elected?  If they can't, it may be time to shop for another planet.  They may be able to afford one, but I don't think there's one ready to move into.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Is Dictatorship Unconstitutional?

Rachel Maddow has been doing a series of stories on the truly alarming authoritarian moves being made by GOPer governors and legislatures in a number of U.S. states.  They include laws to deny unions the right to organize, laws that create barriers to registering to vote, laws that substitute appointed dictators for local elected officials in municipalities deemed troubled,  as well as laws essentially voiding Roe v. Wade, imposing new and otherwise extra-legal conditions on whether a presidential candidate's name can appear on a state's ballot, etc.

While she has also emphasized the political response to these efforts, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop: the courts.  Surely many of these efforts violate law.  Surely some of them are unconstitutional.  Surely the third branch of government is our ultimate protection.

But mostly that shoe has not dropped.  There is a challenge to Wisconsin's union-killing law, based however on violation of the state constitution not in terms of its content but in the process the legislature used to pass it.  Yesterday, Maddow reported a court challenge in Michigan to that state's Emergency Financial Manager law, and its use in overriding elected officials in the predominantly black city of Benton Harbor, and in the intended closing of a Detroit school that is a one-of-a-kind educator for pregnant women and new mothers who are predominantly black (and who almost always go on to college.)  This law empowers one state government-appointed person with essentially dictatorial powers.

The suit is citing Michigan law and one aspect of the U.S. Constitution, though only a section of the first amendment that allows the federal government to stop any state from violating legal contracts, such as those negotiated in collective bargaining.  

Which leaves me still wondering--where are the court cases?  Maybe they are still being developed.  Maybe people are reluctant to bring them.  It's acknowledged that women's groups aren't challenging state laws that restrict the right to choose because they fear that when those cases get to the Supreme Court, the current Court will rule against them and void Roe v. Wade entirely.  Could that be a fear in these other issues?

Or is it that the Constitution doesn't offer protections against such laws.  That states can constitutionally make demands on registration so that the right to vote is restricted,  as long as it doesn't involve a poll tax?  That states can essentially change the qualifications for federal office by restricting the ability to get votes for that office in that state? That states can allow child labor? That dictatorships are not unconstitutional, as long as it isn't at the federal level?  

I really would like an answer to these questions...

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"It has taken four thousand years of struggle to 'lift' man 'above' nature. In the course of that struggle language and thought and behavior in the West have lapsed into a too-simple framework of discontinuity and opposition: spirit and body, mind and matter, earth and heaven, man and nature, good and evil. It is not an insoluble dilemma, but it is far more dangerous than we permit ourselves to know."

Paul Shepard

He's My President

Go back to those hopey-changy days and you'll hear Barack Obama warn us that he's not perfect and that he will make mistakes. His administration has been a specific and serious disappointment to me here and there, and expressions of disappointments--like that song that interrupted him at a San Francisco fundraising dinner--are valid.  But just as a president might be worn down by the day to day disappointments, so can those of us viewing that President.  Sometimes we need a reminder.

I got mine when I caught just a bit of a PBS program that I believe was basically about Air Force One.  It involved several Presidents, but it showed part of a speech President Obama was making.  For a moment it focused on a face in the crowd--a black boy of maybe 10 years old.  President Obama was coming to the end of his speech, repeating words he's said many times before--about how if people can change a room they can change a neighborhood (or however it goes) until he ends by saying they can change the world.  The boy was rapt, and by the time President Obama got to saying this, he was saying it right along with him.  He knew it, in every sense, by heart.

When I was young--though not quite that young--I had a President I believed in, whose words I could recite.  Now I have another.  I believe in President Obama as I believed in President Kennedy.  I could offer good reasons, but it was this fact I wanted to hold--that once again in my life, and possibly for the last time, I had a President again.

And now I want to savor it for as long as it lasts.  It's no longer fashionable to feel this about President Obama.  But this feeling is informed by reality.  By objective criteria, his presidency is historic and successful in historic proportion.  He is withstanding--and working within--a wave of barely acknowledged racism, that threatens us all.  The media hardly knows how to behave, and nobody quite knows how to respond.  But we are all affected by it.

The black man in the blue suit amidst a sea of white sofas--that says a lot.

So I am going back to celebrating this man as President, and his family in the White House, and how beyond the daily news and the Beltway drama he affects us.  There are going to be photos reflecting all of that on this blog I hope quite regularly.    

Climate Inside: Outside

With the university school year coming to a close, I am becoming free to think about longer term projects instead of just the day to day reactions to the news.  Eventually this summer I plan on trying three.  One is fairly simple: to more consciously savor the presidency of Barack Obama (which perhaps I am about to explain a little more in another post.)  Second is simple to describe but will take some long time to accomplish: I've recently finished reading Kim Stanley Robinson's climate crisis in Washington trilogy for the third time, and I am more convinced than ever of its importance.  So I am going to go through it again, chapter by chapter, on this blog.

Third is a project I've been thinking about for so long (and promising from time to time) that I worry it's gone stale, but I'm going to start it here anyway.  The overarching title is "Climate Inside" and it's about the influence of our psyches on the world outside--on how we perceive it and act on those perceptions.  It's nub concerns the Climate Crisis, and it's inspiration is the question of why we are so crazy to deny its reality, and let it threaten civilization and life on earth as we know it.

So I begin Climate Inside with a post or two about the Outside.  This one is a kind of disclaimer or caveat.  By concentrating on the climate inside, I certainly don't mean all our troubles are in our own heads.  We do have a given world that can be hostile, and we do have powerful enemies (though they also have troubles in their own heads which may be causing our troubles in the world.)  But every animal must know what in its world threatens its existence.

Of those sources of harm I want to name a few "outside" threats that do major harm by manipulating us "inside."  This is a chief weapon these days.  The enemies I focus on are huge beyond easy understanding.  The first is Big Oil, or more generally the fossil fuel megaindustries, and their related and mutally dependent huge industries.  They exercise inhuman and irrational control over our economy, government at every level, media and our lives, as well as directly on the air, water, soil and ecology we absolutely depend on for life, as civilizations and humanity as we know it. They're sucking us dry and making us pay for it.

What they can't control directly with money and influence peddling, they go after by financing disinformation and psychological warfare, from all the techniques of distortion refined from the not so long ago yet still forgotten efforts of Big Tobacco to convince people that smoking is a right, that science is divided on whether smoking is harmful, that banning smoking is tantamount to a government plot to end our freedom, etc.

  Big Oil's efforts are even bigger, and have adapted to the times (so they employ not only at least one U.S. Senator and probably a lot more, with powerful tentacles apparently still controlling the Dept. of Energy, and all the scientists they turn, but cadres of vicious saps who specialize in comments on blogs and letters to the editor that muddy the waters, derail constructive discussions and turn people off on reading about what Big Oil doesn't want you to read or care about.)

Big Insurance is another major enemy outside, that gets what it wants partly through influencing and manipulating inside.  Insurance is an amazing industry these days.  Not so long ago it at least seemed like a legitimate and even a noble business.  People paid into it, and people who needed the help their insurance promised, got that help.  But Big Insurance realized that if it could restrict its business to taking in money and sharply reduce the part of it that was giving out money, it could create the perfect business: all income.  Huge amounts of money to become even Bigger.

Big Insurance has been doing that with life insurance to some degree lately but it's big success is in health insurance.  Insuring only people when they don't need medical care is apparently their goal, and they were pretty much there until the Obama health insurance reform debate resulted in an attempt to redress the balance, if not exactly to guarantee health care.  But even this is too much for Big Insurance, and so they as well continue to use the Big Tobacco techniques, and have convinced thousands if not millions of people that putting health insurance in financial reach for almost everyone, and making sure that this insurance actually pays for medical care, is a government attack on their freedom.

Between these objective enemies and the public good is the media, and some would put it--the so-called MSM, the Beltway Media--on that enemies list.  There does seem to be some combination of unintelligent and reflexive reporting, toadying and weakness, and serving corporate self-interest that distorts, devalues and ignores what's most important about what's going on.  But among the reasons we know this is: other media reporting.

That makes the psychology of others as well as of ourselves important in understanding how we are manipulated, and otherwise how we get things wrong.  So for example our social selves--so powerful these days in these whirlwinds of information and the addicting attempt to stay in the group conversation through social media, through bits that "go viral" one day and disappear totally the next.  Or the more conventional--but no less visible--effects of being part of the group we want to be part of, of not doing anything to get tossed out or ignored.  It's not just agreeing with what everybody says, but agreeing with what they talk about and how they talk about it.

President Obama spoke on a video message circulated before his town meeting at Facebook hq, asking people to participate online.  He asked that they "take time out from friending and defriending each other" to participate.  It occurs to me that this is good advice for the Beltway media.  They might take time out from friending and defriending each other, as well as their cherished powerful sources and friends, to exercise some perspective on what might really be important to report.