Saturday, May 21, 2011

The End is Near

According to a well-funded radio preacher, the world ends today beginning at 6 p.m. Pacific.  When it doesn't end this poor 89 year old guy will be humiliated, left to disconsolately count his more than $70 million bilked from his willing victims.

Some people mock the idea that he could figure out the Biblical prophesy for the end of the world with such mathematical precision, or that there is such a hidden code. But it all begins with the idea that the Bible--whatever its translation--is the revealed word of God.  It's not.  It may be inspired, as many texts are.  But it's a book--a selective anthology, very selectively interpreted, mostly for ideological, political and yes--very worldly reasons: money and power.

But while some fear this predicted apocalypse and some mock it, a real apocalyptic drama is being played across America--and no, for once I don't mean the Climate Crisis.  Which is the likely apocalypse that circuses like today's are psychological displacements from.   But that's a topic for another day.

Today's topic is the drama that I find frightening--the so far successful and obviously coordinated efforts by GOPer legislatures and governors to disenfranchise American voters.  In the guise of fighting nonexistent voter fraud, new and complex conditions are being placed on voting that will discourage and disenfranchise literally millions of voters, enough to change the outcomes in states like Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin.  The targets are minorities and young voters--most likely to vote Democratic-- but the victims also include older voters.

Think about it.  People who have voted all their lives--for 40 or 50 years-- will have their right to vote taken away.  Transfer that horror to people who have not yet voted.  In Ohio the law is expected to disenfranchise almost a million voters.  In Wisconsin, some 20% of the electorate. Millions of Americans become helpless.  To change what you don't like and support what you do like is the fundamental right that defines the American--however illusory and limited that right is, it is at worst the last fantasy, or the last hope. 

The right to vote is as sacred as America gets.  But so far not a lot of national leaders seem all that upset about it.  But what's going on in the states is where the GOPer version of a slow motion coup is happening, by elected officials using authoritarian means, installing totalitarian governments.  Labor understands this--as AFL-CIO prez Trumka said on Friday--because that's where anti-union laws are being enacted as part of this coup.  But does anyone else?

It used to be--in the America I grew up learning about and believing in--that there was a bulwark against such excesses--the courts, especially the Supreme Court, defender of the Constitution.  But I don't hear anyone expressing outrage and demanding that the Court put a stop to these anti-American efforts.

Maybe because they don't believe the Court will.  In the comments to this post lauding the recall elections likely to be scheduled this summer in Wisconsin (though with the new voting law, how many voters for recall will find they aren't permitted to vote?),  it's noted that the Supreme Court decided 6-3 to uphold Indiana's requirement for a government-issued photo ID card in order to vote.  The dissent by Stephen Breyer in Crawford v. Marion County was that such a requirement amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax. Though the Court's membership has changed since then, its apparent ideological distribution hasn't.

It is this kind of impression--that fundamental rights are being attacked with future consequences for all political rights, but no one much notices, no one much cares, no one is outraged, and nobody sees the Supreme Court as the defender of those rights, of essentially what the American system is--that I smell the whiff of decay, and sense the end is near.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"To high speed change no adjustment is possible.  We become spectators only and must escape into understanding."

Marshall McLuhan

GOPer Madness

When President Obama labelled the Paul Ryan plan as "ending Medicare as we know it," the reaction among voters was fierce.  So right now, Congressional GOPers are so unpopular that if the election were this November, they might all lose.  Meanwhile, GOPer presidential candidates are either inaudible (and certainly inaudible on the Ryan plan) or celebrated for clownishness.  Barack Obama was always lucky about his GOPer opponents, and right now he couldn't be luckier.

Right now Medicare is a noose around GOPer prospects.  While some slowly try to back away from it, while getting very angry at fellow GOPers who criticize it, others are doubling down. One GOPer Rep got so testy at a town meeting that he snapped back at a constituent: "I will take my hands off Medicare and when there is no Medicare I will come see you sir."

Meanwhile, more is coming out about just how bad the proposal is--not just for future seniors, but for today's.  

All of this suggests GOPers would be toast in November. The only problem is that the elections aren't this November.  They are a year and a half away.  The economy, unemployment, various foreign hotspots are all wild cards that could play into the outcomes at any time.  The GOPer field looks predictable: Michelle Bachmanniac will jump in, destroy Tim Palenta in Iowa, Romneycare cleans up in New Hampshire, and somebody gets in late because even the GOPer electorate is sullen about their choices, especially if by then the President looks a lot more vulnerable than he does now. 

The only surprise so far is Sarah Palin, who was quiet for so long.  Then Tina Fay did her Palin on Saturday Night Live, then Palin went on Fox and did a bad version of Tina Fay's act.  "Sarah Palin" has become such an icon that the actual Sarah Palin is a poor imitation.

Meanwhile, congressional GOPers continue their attempted terrorism over the debt ceiling.  While the White House and others try to impress on everyone how serious it is for the U.S. to default, even briefly, and columnist Dionne insists the GOPer hostage threat is fake, a lot of what passes for establishment GOPers extend their denial habit to insisting deadbeat America won't be so bad.   Is this yet another hapless political suicide act, or a desperate attempt to force a crisis and try to blame the Dems?  Too bad it's American children who as usual will wind up paying the price.  Even when they're old.

 Updates: This one minute video on why raising the debt ceiling is absolutely necessary.  This piece: "How Republicans Are Convincing Themselves That A Debt Default Wouldn’t Be So Bad — And Why They’re Wrong" with specifics.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"I'm not a meteorologist. All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring. If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer we'd listen to them."

Jon Huntsman, prospective GOP candidate for President

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Denier Equals Birther

Only time will tell, but every once in awhile it's possible to sense a pivot point, and Monday may turn out to be one.  It may have signalled the turn, if not the end, of the media treating the "debate" over the reality of the Climate Crisis as unsettled.

This has long frustrated those who see the reality of the Climate Crisis as long settled, and as requiring action.  Why did the news media insist on treating as credible the rantings of the deniers, the same folks who deny the science of evolution, promoted and financed by the same interests who once insisted that tobacco is good for you?

On Monday, the Washington Post carried an editorial  titled Climate change denial becoming harder to justify, which cited the recent statement by the relatively conservative (in the old sense)  National Academy of Sciences that declared the Climate Crisis a settled matter requiring immediate action.  "Climate-change deniers, in other words, are willfully ignorant, lost in wishful thinking, cynical or some combination of the three. And their recalcitrance is dangerous, the report makes clear, because the longer the nation waits to respond to climate change, the more catastrophic the planetary damage is likely to be — and the more drastic the needed response."

This is significant partly because the Washington Post has routinely carried columns, op-ed pieces and stories that in fact took the deniers' claims seriously, and in the analysis of climate scientists, did so based on deceptions and bad science. 

But it was not the most important editorial of the day.  For the Washington Post is a favorite Rabid Right whipping boy for being a liberal elite newspapers, even though it has been more conservative than not for decades.  It was instead the editorial in America's Newspaper, USA Today.

That editorial partly resulted from some real journalism that USA Today did.  They showed that a key study that Climate Crisis deniers often cited was based not on research but on plagiarism--that, in essence, it wasn't science but a political screed.  As one result, the journal that published this supporting study has withdrawn it.  (It's true however that USA Today was mostly confirming what climate blogs had previously exposed.)

But the study in questions wasn't about the science of global heating itself--it purported to show that climate scientists colluded in their studies, and therefore questioned whether their conclusions were valid--and whether the Climate Crisis is real.  This has been an often repeated refrain since 2008, when the federally funded study first appeared.   The statistical researchauthor was from George Mason University--which was recently described as being virtually owned by one of the deniers' financers, Charles Koch.  His work has been evaluated by a Carnegie Mellon expert as having faulty data and being more of an opinion piece.  This is only the latest refutation of claims against climate scientists.  None of the major allegations have been upheld.   

The USA Today editorial cites both this scandal and the National Science Academy report in asserting that climate change is "a threat that too many members of Congress, most of them Republicans, have decided to manage by denying the science. That head-in-the-sand approach avoids messy discussions of higher energy prices, but it just got harder to justify."

That sounds like the Post's language, but USA Today took it a step further, referring to the scandal and the report: "Taken together, these developments ought to leave the deniers in the same position as the "birthers," who continue to challenge President Obama's American citizenship — a vocal minority that refuses to accept overwhelming evidence."

The USA Today editorial is the official voice of the newspaper, though it "balances" it with an "opposing view."  But if that formula takes hold--that denier=birther--then the change in perception may be quite sweeping.

 Even though I was a battered party to the debate over smoking in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I can't pinpoint the moment when the social consensus shifted decisively.  But today there's really no one who credibly asserts that the scientists who have claimed for decades that tobacco is a killer are wrongly colluding, and just wrong on the facts.  And there are none who effectively oppose efforts to banish smoking from public places.

We may not reach that moment in regard to the Climate Crisis. Even if such a moment is at hand, it may be too late to save civilization, though our responsibility would still be to try. But acknowledging the reality of the Climate Crisis can at least allow preparations to be made to deal with its coming effects, while we try to save the future. Those efforts can bring new meaning to our society and culture.  This may turn out to have been a meaningful step in that direction.   

Monday, May 16, 2011

Memphis Information

"And finally, with the right education, both at home and at school, you can learn how to be a better human being. For when you read a great story or you learn about an important moment in history, it helps you imagine what it would be like to walk in somebody else’s shoes, to know their struggles. The success of our economy will depend on your skills, but the success of our community will depend on your ability to follow the Golden Rule -- to treat others as you would like to be treated.

We’ve seen how important this is even in the past few weeks, as communities here in Memphis and all across the South have come together to deal with floodwaters, and to help each other in the aftermath of terrible tornadoes.

All of these qualities -- empathy, discipline, the capacity to solve problems, the capacity to think critically -- these skills don’t just change how the world sees us. They change how we see ourselves. They allow each of us to seek out new horizons and new opportunities with confidence -- with the knowledge that we’re ready; that we can face obstacles and challenges and unexpected setbacks. That’s the power of your education. That’s the power of the diploma that you receive today."

President Obama
commencement address
Booker T. Washington High School
Memphis TN  
More photos here, and this school's remarkable story.

Big Deal

This is too good to overlook.  After the Rabid Right GOPers took the country to the brink of a costly government shutdown to get their vaunted budget cuts, they cut a deal that purported to save $39 billion that otherwise would have been added to the deficit and debt.  Shortly thereafter, the actual amount of the cuts and savings began to dwindle.  Now the Congressional Budget Office has done the post mortem.  So how much did all that sturmy angst save?

Nothing.  Nada.  In fact, it spends an additional $3 billion:

It turns out the six-month spending bill Congress passed in March increased discretionary outlays through the remainder of the fiscal year by a bit over $3 billion. In other words, total direct spending will be higher by the end of September than if Congress had just set spending on autopilot for the remainder of the fiscal year back in April.

It isn't that programs weren't cut--programs primarily benefiting the poor, the sick and the middle class were cut.  But defense spending increased, and some defense spending on already allocated funds was shifted into high gear, perhaps because of the threat of a government shutdown, or the threat of cuts.

Now these same GOPer buffoons are holding the United States hostage to their demands for more cuts.  This doesn't exactly inspire confidence, if that were even possible.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

After a Disenchanting April, A Dismaying May

Highest Mississippi on record forces opening of the Morganza Spillway for the first time in 40 years.

Apart from more stormy weather, May has brought floods to several parts of the U.S., notably the Midwest and now the South, sweeping across farmland and into towns and cities.  Currently the Mississippi is "rising to heights never seen before" in Mississippi and Louisiana.  It is now testing the Old River Control Structure, probably the most important river control project most of us have never heard of.  If weeks of raging Mississippi water cause this structure to fail, it "would be a severe blow to America's economy, interrupting a huge portion of our imports and exports that ship along the Mississippi River," writes Dr. Jeff Masters. "Closure of the Mississippi to shipping would cost $295 million per day, said Gary LaGrange, executive director of the Port of New Orleans, during a news conference Thursday. The structure will receive its most severe test in its history in the coming two weeks, as the Mississippi River's greatest flood on record crests at a level never before seen."

Masters wrote on Saturday that the Structure should hold, but it will get an unprecedented test over several weeks. He added that "the Old River Control Structure is currently passing 624,000 cubic feet per second of water, which is 1% beyond what is intended in a maximum "Project Flood." The flow rate of the Mississippi at New Orleans is at 100% of the maximum Project Flood. These are dangerous flow rates, and makes it likely that the Army Corps will open the Morganza Spillway in the next few days to take pressure off of the Old River Control Structure and New Orleans levees. Neither can be allowed to fail."

But the ink was barely dry on that post before the Morganza Spillway was in fact opened:  "Water from the inflated Mississippi River gushed through a floodgate Saturday for the first time in nearly four decades and headed toward thousands of homes and farmland in the Cajun countryside, threatening to slowly submerge the land up to 25 feet deep.
As the gate was raised, the river poured out like a waterfall, at times spraying 6 feet into the air. Fish jumped or were hurled through the white froth and within 30 minutes, 100 acres of what was dry land was under about a foot of water."

Apart from easing pressure on the Old River Control Structure and the Spillway itself, this was to divert flood waters from Baton Rouge and New Orleans. "Shifting the water away from the cities is designed to ease the strain on levees and thwart flooding that could be worse than Hurricane Katrina."

The Mississippi is not the only river or body of water that is flooding towns and farmland.The May floods are partly a consequence of the heavy winter snows and the April storms upriver.   For different parts of the U.S., April had it all: record heat, record drought (resulting in record fires), record winds, record rains and snows.  Right now it's the rains and snows that are fueling this dismaying May.

The rest of the world have even worse consequences from severe and persistently severe climate, some of which we feel second hand in higher food prices as drought or severe weather damage and destroy crops.  The financial cost and human suffering of the storms, fires and now the floods in the U.S. may not lead the news yet, but they are adding up.  Even though at least one study finds that the U.S. has so far not really felt the obvious brunt of the Climate Crisis to the same extent as other parts of the world, we're getting a devastating taste, and a preview of possibilities to come, including infectious diseases and chronic debilitating health problems.     

Dr. Peter Gleick, climate and water scientist and president of the Pacific Institute, put it this way last week: "All extreme weather events are now subject to human influence. We are loading the dice and painting higher numbers on them."

But nothing says it so succinctly as this observation from the extreme summer of 2010 which holds true for the extreme spring of 2011, from the reinsurer Munich Re: "The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change." 

Sunday Sermon #2: Catholic Workers

My Catholic upbringing and schooling has equipped me to understand a good deal of the authoritarian and dogmatic, with-us-or-against-us mindset and the moral hypocrisy of the Christian Right.  And it seems that in large part, the Catholic Church has become part of the Christian Right.

But there is an element that remains, embarrassingly in some instances, of another Catholicism: the Sermon on the Mount Mother Teresa Catholics, the Pope John XXIII Catholics, the Dorothy Day Catholics.  Even the establishment Church honors (however ruefully) the heroes and martyrs who sacrificed themselves for the least among us, and even the most conservative popes will issue at least one encyclical on behalf of the world's poor.

But acts of political courage on behalf of the weak and oppressed are so rare as to be almost shocking.  But even a lapsed and former like me is impressed, and feels compelled to acknowledge this one.

 GOPer House Speaker John Banal was invited to give the commencement address at Catholic University.  Banal went to Catholic schools and is a practicing member.  Following on a letter from American Bishops expressing their concern for the effects of the GOPer budget, dozens of faculty members at Catholic U. and other universities sent Banal a letter, which read in part:

"Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress. This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policy makers. Yet, even now, you work in opposition to it.

The 2012 budget you shepherded to passage in the House of Representatives guts long-established protections for the most vulnerable members of society. It is particularly cruel to pregnant women and children, gutting Maternal and Child Health grants and slashing $500 million from the highly successful Women Infants and Children nutrition program. When they graduate from WIC at age 5, these children will face a 20% cut in food stamps. The House budget radically cuts Medicaid and effectively ends Medicare. It invokes the deficit to justify visiting such hardship upon the vulnerable, while it carves out $3 trillion in new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy."

The use of "shepherded" in the above graph is the Catholic equivalent of a dog whistle.  Added Stephen Schneck,  Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at Catholic U: "Speaker Boehner’s budget eviscerates vital programs that protect the poor, the elderly, the homeless and at-risk pregnant women and children. This is not pro-life.”

On Saturday Banal gave his largely non-political commencement address--but was also greeted by: " Katy Jamison strode toward her graduation from Catholic University on Saturday wearing the requisite black robe and mortar board — plus a neon green message to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). “Where’s the compassion, Mr. Boehner?” said the 8-by-10-inch sign pinned to her chest."

Jamison, 26, said Boehner, the keynote speaker at Catholic’s graduation and recipient of an honorary law doctorate, had cut too much in the federal budget aimed at protecting the poor. Doing so defied the Catholic church’s teachings, she said, and will hurt the people she hopes to help with her newly minted master’s degree in social work.

Shades of Dorothy Day.

Sunday Sermon #1: Holy Hypocrisy

Holier than thou (if thou is a Democrat) Mike Huckabee announced on his Fox TV show Saturday evening that he's going to keep doing his Fox TV show and, oh yeah, he's not running for President.  He humbly spoke of all the reasons that make his decision seem illogical: polls, money, family support, GOPer pols and good Christians urging him--expecting him--to run.

But though his head says to do it, his heart says no.  It's a spiritual decision, he said, the result of "a time of deep personal reflection."  People maybe won't understand why he isn't running, but "I'm a believer and follower of Jesus Christ and that relationship is far more important to me than any political office."  So apparently Jesus told him not to run, so what could he do?

But could the surprise Fox TV show guest Donald Trump been closer to the truth?   "A lot of people are very happy that he will not be running, especially other candidates," Trump said. "So, Mike, enjoy the show, you're ratings are terrific, you're making a lot of money, you're building a beautiful house in Florida. Good luck."

Or maybe Ed Rollins, Huckabee's campaign manager in 2008 and presumably would have been for 2012?  After admitting on CNN that Huckabee has put on a lot of weight, Rollins said the two had dinner recently and he told Huckabee that if he was going to run for President he would have to lose 30 pounds.  But you're fat, too, Huckabee said to Rollins.  "Yes," Rollins replied, "but I didn't write a diet book."