Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bredesen: "A National Wake-Up Call"

Gov. Bredesen is touring the TVA ash spill site as I write. Some pertinent Tweets:
• TN Gov. Bredesen I guess this an epiphany for tva and the that some things have got to change

• BREAKING: Gov. Bredesen says days of TVA's self regulation are over. Calls TVA disaster a national wake up call

• BREAKING: Gov. Bredesen calls for review of state environmental regulations top to bottom following TVA coal ash spill.

This is all exactly what I've been waiting to hear. None of this nonsense from Lamar “no wind power” Alexander whose statement (“TVA should clean up this mess and clean it up quickly, and do everything possible to make sure it never happens again.”) was just this side of lame.

TVA is going to fix it, Senator Alexander. But it's up to us to make sure this never happens again.

And Gov. Bredesen is right, this is a national wake-up call. Half of our electricity is generated by burning coal. Do you know where the coal waste in your community is stored? Do you know how it's treated? Do you know if it's radioactive?

You should.

My New Year’s Eve Burn List

Hey, John Bolton! You’re on it.

Here’s why:
Yesterday, on Fox’s Hannity and Colmes, Iran war hawk John Bolton said that Israel’s recent bombing campaign in Gaza is all the more reason for the United States to bomb Iran now. “So while our focus obviously is on Gaza right now, this could turn out to be a much larger conflict,” he said, adding that “we’re looking at potentially a multi-front war here.”

Not only does Bolton say now is the perfect time to bomb Iran, but he says

I think in many Arab states in the region ... they’d be doing the equivalent of popping champagne corks because the Arab states don’t want Iran with nuclear weapons any more than Israel does.

Champagne corks, peeps! It’s the 2008 version of chocolates and roses.

Here are some other folks on my New Years Eve Burn List:

• Tim Russert. Please, enough with the endless eulogizing. Let the poor man rest in peace already. Enough.

• William Kristol. The man has been wrong about absolutely everything, since forever. Why does anyone bother with him anymore?

• Joe Scarborough. On “Morning Joe” today, discussing the issue of Obama and race with John Ridley, I heard the following exchange:

Ridley: But you can also look at all of these people who were at these rallies saying “kill him.” I mean, there were people yelling, “Kill him, he’s a terrorist.”

Joe S: Come on, John!

Ridley: Did that not happen, did that not happen Joseph Scarborough?

Joe S: Come on. I guarantee you Barack Obama had no more people yelling “kill him” at a rally as I do every time I walk through a Democratic rally. Shouting at me. Come on! That’s such a cop out. You’re out of line.

Talk about your cop-outs. How many Democratic rallies do you attend, JoeScar? I’ve never seen you at one, but then I don’t imagine you make it to Tennessee too often. But I will say this: at all of the crazy, wild, liberal-orgy anti-war rallies I’ve attended, Democratic and otherwise, I have yet to hear anyone yell “kill him” at anyone. “Impeach him,” yes. “Arrest him for war crimes,” yes. “Kill him”? No.

So stuff it, JoeScar.

• Michael O'Hanlon and Ken Pollack. The Brookings Institute’s resident war hawks have also been wrong about everything, since forever. So no, I don’t want to see either of these clowns at the State Department or anywhere else that places them within striking distance of our foreign policy.

I’m just getting warmed up. Whose Who's on your Burn List? (That's what I get for doing this on one cup of coffee.)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pandora’s Ashtray


Last night WSMV reported the state is testing soil for radioactivity.

Several reports have also cited a 2007 Scientific American article stating coal fly ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste.

That’s what Kingston, TN has become. While TVA has yet to tell residents what is in the ash quickly blanketing the landscape, the Institute of Southern Studies has done what government officials and the media would not: a little poking around on the internet:
It turns out that the potential health risks from the spilled ash are clearly considerable. The top reported pollutant in the ash by volume is barium, which when ingested in drinking water can cause acute gastrointestinal disturbances and muscle weakness as well as kidney damage over time. Vanadium, another main ingredient in the ash, has been linked to respiratory problems, birth defects, and kidney and liver damage.

The coal ash also contains high levels of known human carcinogens including arsenic, chromium, mercury, nickel and polycyclic aromatic compounds, as well as suspected carcinogens such as lead and cobalt. Mercury and lead are also nervous system toxicants that can cause developmental problems, and a number of the chemicals in the ash have been linked to reproductive problems.

Here’s the breakdown:

Why aren’t we hearing this information from TVA officials? Why are they still saying the water is safe to drink? If they are worried about holding the liability bag, I don’t see how keeping quiet helps their cause.

And to all of the “free market” conservatives out there, I have a question: if you’re in favor of tort reform, which limits damages awarded to those injured in an environmental disaster such as this one, and you’re also in favor of fewer regulations over industries like utilities and coal-fired power plants, then what exactly is the incentive for a power-generating utility to dispose of their waste in a safe manner that doesn’t threaten the surrounding community? How exactly is the free hand of the market supposed to work if they’re never responsible for anything?

Don’t Breathe The Air, Either

A half hour ago this popped up on Twitter’s coal ash thread:
TVA sez toxin levels in H2O are now back down to what TDEC consistently finds in their well water samplings ("acceptable levels")

Given that the EPA has said folks using well water would be advised not to, I wouldn’t be listening to TVA right now, people. But that's just me.

And while you’re at it, try not to breathe the air, either. Ash spill live-blogger LifeOnSwanPond reports:

The Ash is drying... and it's not all wet anymore.  Still no answers to the exact content of the ash....

This is a HUGE concern.  Large amounts of dry ash & even a calm breeze moves these lightweight particles around.  They settle on everything.  We are breathing them.

Yes you are. And I would say, don’t. If you can help it, don’t.

It goes without saying that this stuff is toxic. Even if they tell you it’s safe, it’s not. Remember the lessons of 9/11:

Within days of the World Trade Center collapse, someone ordered Environmental Protection Agency administrators to tell New Yorkers the air was safe. Reopen Wall Street, and bring back its thousands of workers. Reopen Stuyvesant High School, which Orkin's son attended. Ignore Brooklyn, where residents like her vacuumed inches-deep white ash from their windowsills. No matter that private tests showed the air remained full of lead, asbestos, mercury, benzene. No matter that, according to documents forced out of the EPA by a Freedom of Information request, the agency's own tests agreed that the air in Lower Manhattan—who wanted to bother with Brooklyn?—wasn't fit to breathe.

Even without testing, anyone could see the billowing cloud of debris released when the 110-story twin towers came crashing down. Dust from the Trade Center hung in the air for weeks. Putrid fires burned for three months.

"Any half-wit knew it was hell after 9-11," Orkin says. She has been pressing the EPA to test for and clean up toxic dust in her Brooklyn Heights neighborhood, across the East River from ground zero and smack in the plume's path. After tests revealed high levels of asbestos in her home, she paid thousands of dollars for a full abatement, which included ripping up the carpets. Her World Trade Center Environmental Organization website,, is devoted to the 9-11 fallout and replete with aerial photos and satellite images of the plume.

I’d say we’re looking at a similar situation. Given that the TVA’s own admitted first priority was clearing the railroad tracks “because that's how they get the coal into the plant,” I’d say the health and well-being of a few local residents is not exactly high on their radar right now.

But what do I know.

This just popped up on Twitter’s coal ash thread:

TVA says they want to hydro mulch the coal waste from helicopters (planting grass seed) to prevent airborne particulates.

This tells me TVA is concerned about the ash too, even though they won’t say so openly, and won’t tell anyone what's in it. But make no mistake, the stuff is toxic and should not be breathed. Keep it out of your home, if at all possible. Stay indoors if you must stay in the area.

At least, that’s what I would do, if it were me.

Not So Funny Now, Is It?

Remember the “anonymous e-mail” attacking TNDP wannabe-chair Chip Forrester for attending a meeting about female circumcision back in 1999? This was discussed ad nauseum on Nashville political blogs in early December. The e-mail sent to Tennessee Democrats asked:
"Debating 'female circumcision'? Really?" The header asks: "Is this the guy we want as party chair?"

to which Pith In The Wind blogger Jeff Woods asked:

Still wondering why the Democrats lost the legislature?

As if having an interest in a human rights issue like female circumcision somehow precludes one from running the TNDP?

When the story broke a conservative even commented at Pith:

If this is the best Forrester can do, we Republicans should pray he become Democrat Party chair. Let's hold "salon" sessions to discuss the latest topic from Oprah while real Tennesseans are fighting to pay their mortgages. I'm sure there was plenty of arugula and white wine spritzers on those potluck tables.

Ha ha that’s so funny coming from the party peddling in racism these days.

Anyhoo, those scoffers might be interested in reading this WaPo article about widespread female circumcision in Kurdish Iraq:

Sheelan Anwar Omer, a shy 7-year-old Kurdish girl, bounded into her neighbor's house with an ear-to-ear smile, looking for the party her mother had promised.

There was no celebration. Instead, a local woman quickly locked a rusty red door behind Sheelan, who looked bewildered when her mother ordered the girl to remove her underpants. Sheelan began to whimper, then tremble, while the women pushed apart her legs and a midwife raised a stainless-steel razor blade in the air. "I do this in the name of Allah!" she intoned.

As the midwife sliced off part of Sheelan's genitals, the girl let out a high-pitched wail heard throughout the neighborhood. As she carried the sobbing child back home, Sheelan's mother smiled with pride.

"This is the practice of the Kurdish people for as long as anyone can remember," said the mother, Aisha Hameed, 30, a housewife in this ethnically mixed town about 100 miles north of Baghdad. "We don't know why we do it, but we will never stop because Islam and our elders require it."

Ow. While reading that I reflexively crossed my legs.

Now keep in mind that Nashville has the largest population of immigrant Kurds in the United States, estimated at some 12,000.

I don’t know if female circumcision is practiced by Kurds in America but it’s reasonable to expect that it is at least an issue, especially for new immigrants, and one which should be discussed by legislators and political folks in their new home. It's kinda ironic that Tennessee Republicans would find this an issue of controversy, I guess because it concerns women's naughty parts and all. I'm glad that at least one political party here is interested in learning about issues affecting immigrant women in our city. Figures it's not the GOP.

(h/t, Atrios.)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Arsenic In Old Wells

It’s official: don’t drink the water if you live near the Kingston, TN coal ash spill:
KINGSTON - Some water samples near a massive spill of coal ash are showing high levels of arsenic, and state and federal officials today cautioned residents who use private wells or springs to stop drinking the water.

Also today, TVA's inspector general said he is investigating the fly-ash spill at the Kingston steam plant, as well as the agency's response, and Gov. Phil Bredesen weighed in today as well.

Samples taken near the spill slightly exceed drinking water standards for toxic substances, and arsenic in one sample was higher than the maximum level allowed for drinking water, according to a news release from TVA, the Environmental Protection Agency and other officials.

TVA spokesman Jim Allen said there are four private drinking water wells in the area affected by the spill and the agency should have tests from them this week.

This after TVA initially said water was safe to drink. Then “officials” -- not sure if that would be local, state or federal -- suggested folks boil their water first. As if this were bacterial pollution.

If only it were that easy.

Currently “officials” are saying the municipal water supply is safe. If it were me, I wouldn’t be using it for anything other than flushing the toilet.

Who Is Amy Broadhurst?

She’s the one leading Big Coal’s blogger brigade:
You can get into the debate. If you are interested in becoming an active member of ABEC’s Blogger Brigade just send me an e-mail to and let me know you’re interested. One of our team members will give you a call and walk you through the process. It’s really easy – and for those of you who don’t already Blog, it is fun! You can join the online debate that’s already going on and you and others can remain anonymous (if you want to) at the same time! We’ll even set up a little competition to see how many Blog entries each person can make.

Oooh sign me up!

I guess it’s not enough to spend millions of dollars a day on public relations and lobbying:

We estimate that the coal and oil industries spent an astounding $427.2 million over the first six months of 2008 to influence public opinion and public policy.

Seems like that money could have gone to a better use, like maybe figuring out a better to dispose of dirty coal ash.

Amy is driving the Big Coal propaganda machine because it's her job, and also, as she writes:

All the visibility we’ve had this year has made the American public more receptive to clean coal. Read how our recent survey shows record levels of support for American coal.

Public support translates into regulatory success. Thanks to your help, a new clean coal plant bringing affordable electricity to consumers is going online in Arkansas.

Thank you, Amy Broadhurst! Here are some pictures that didn’t make it onto her Fickr photostream:

Blog that, beeyatch.

(h/t, Wonk Room)

The Most Trusted Name In News?


CNN's transcript page now shows they covered the story once on Dec. 28. The incident took place on Dec. 22.

Thanks to a commenter for alerting me. And thanks CNN. I think America's Liver® deserves better than that.

When I say CNN’s coverage of the Tennessee ash sludge spill has been dismal, here’s what I’m talking about. I perused their transcripts and noted how many times they covered the story:

Sunday, Dec. 28: zero
Saturday, Dec. 27: zero
Friday, Dec. 26: twice
Thursday, Dec. 25: zero
Wednesday, Dec. 24.: zero
Tuesday, Dec. 23: zero
Monday, Dec. 22: zero

Meanwhile, on Saturday the Santa shooting rampage in Covina, CA was covered five times, and then seven times on Friday. Yes I know, if it bleeds, it leads. Still, this is a bigger environmental disaster than the ExxonValdez--1 billion gallons of toxic sludge vs 11 million gallons from an oil tanker. You’d think that would register as more than a blip on CNN’s radar.

I know it sucks that this happened right before Christmas but I don’t recall CNN skimping on its coverage of the Indonesian tsunami, which occurred Dec. 26, 2004. Or Hurricane Katrina, which happened right before Labor Day.

Oh, I know, I know. If it bleeds it leads! Silly me.

I think I’ve figured out what the problem is. Here’s an excerpt from one of Friday’s two stories. The reporter is weekend anchor T.J. Holmes:
HOLMES: Yes. Just whatever you want to call it, it's nasty stuff. The TVA says clearing the railroad tracks is the priority because that's how they get the coal into the plant.

Ummm ... the priority is to get more coal into the plant? Really? Holmes didn’t think that was a little ... odd? Ooooo-kay ....

Here’s the interview with Holly Schean, whose home was destroyed in the sludge spill:

HOLLY SCHEAN, SLUDGE VICTIM: I don't have a home anymore. It was moved 40 feet into the road. Everything in my home was destroyed. It's gone -- all of my clothing, but son's stuff. Three and a half years of renovations that my father has done on this house is completely gone. There's nothing left. 

HOLMES: Ms. Schean, that is horrible to hear, certainly right now around the holiday time. 

How did you get warning? I guess this is not really some rushing stuff, not so much fast moving that you can't get a warning and get out of there. But I guess, how did it go that you knew something was up and that you needed to get out of there?
Now, how did he know this was “not really some rushing stuff”? I think Mr. Holmes was operating on some assumptions. Maybe he was confused by the word “sludge.”

But back to our transcript:
SCHEAN: Well, I actually wasn't in the home. My father was the only one home at the time. 

I received a call a few minutes after the dike broke from my son's football team mom asking me if we were OK. I had no idea what was going on. It's been -- she informed me that there was one man trapped in a house. She didn't know the address. I then called dispatch, and that's when they informed me that it was my father that was trapped.

So Schean’s father was trapped inside their house by the sludge spill, which T.J. Holmes assumed was such slow moving gook that people could receive ample warning in order to escape.

I don't think Mr. Holmes has ever been in a mudslide.

I think I know what the problem is here. I think T.J. Holmes, and by extension CNN, simply doesn't get it. I don’t think they understand the magnitude of what happened, the longterm environmental effects, or the fact that dozens of sites around the country are equally at risk.

Maybe they just don’t know any better.

Then again, maybe I’m being naive. There could be another reason. There could be a reason that all three of CNN’s presidential debates were sponsored by the coal lobby yet not one question about global warming was asked at any of them.

Maybe there’s another reason John Roberts touted "making gas from coal” and Ali Velshi pushed "very, very clean coal.”

Maybe it has something to do with those "great ads” on CNN and

I dunno. What do you think?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Follow The Coal Money

Back in August, Appalachian Voices launched, tracking Big Coal’s contributions to members of Congress. I was not surprised to see Senators Mitch McConnell, James Inhofe and John D. Rockefeller listed as the top three recipients of campaign contributions from Big Coal. Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia are all big coal producers; Inhofe is also a vocal global warming denier.

Both of Tennessee’s Senators received coal money, but neither received an eyebrow-raising amount. According to FollowTheCoalMoney,
Lamar Alexander Received $31,500 in coal contributions during the 110th congress. $29,500 of those dollars were from industry PACS.

Bob Corker Received $12,000 in coal contributions during the 110th congress. $11,500 of those dollars were from industry PACS.

Tennessee is no longer considered a major coal-producing state, though we certainly use enough of it: SourceWatch says Tennessee ranks 14th in the country in coal-energy production.

Over in the House, however, it’s a different story. Bart Gordon, D-06, received the largest amount of Big Coal contributions in the 110th Congress of any Tennessee represenative--$55,500 worth, to be exact.

Zach Wamp was a distant second, at $17,800. David Davis was third, at $7,550. Marsha Blackburn received a paltry $3,500 and Jim Cooper just $1,000.


Rep. Gordon, why are you taking more money from the coal lobby than both of our U.S. Senators -- combined?

Does this DOE contract awarded to Tennessee Tech have something to do with it?

It’s all very puzzling.

Since 2000, Alexander has received $71,500 from the coal lobby. Certainly not peanuts, but less than half what Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell took in this campaign year alone.

So now that we know neither of our Senators are bought and paid for by Big Coal, maybe we can ask them to take some action to ensure the state’s other coal-fired power plants are handling their coal ash waste safely, and maybe we could urge them to look for cleaner, safer alternatives for our power generation needs.

Just a thought.

Memory Hole, Clean Coal Division

Ah, remember when coal was clean, and CNN didn’t waste an opportunity to tell us so?

Good times, good times:
Coal Industry Sponsors CNN, CNN Praises Coal

CNN senior business correspondent Ali Velshi has been promoting coal-to-liquids technology and praising “clean coal, 99 percent clean” for an entire month. On Tuesday, CNN held a no-holds-barred coalfest, promoting coal-to-liquids and coal gasification technologies, calling coal “seductive,” and criticizing “blogs” who “go nuts” and “environmentalists” who “want to get rid of coal.”

What’s motivating CNN to closely mirror coal-industry talking points?

One hopes it has nothing to do with this:

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity is a $45 million front group for over 40 companies in the coal industry.

CNN’s response to the coal story has been anemic, at best. Two days after the disaster there was no coverage whatsoever, then links to local coverage.

I’d say it’s long past time for CNN to airdrop Ali Velshi at ground zero to remind us how clean coal really is.

After The Deluge, v.2

Let the cleanup coverup begin!

Building on my earlier post on this, police detain environmental activists at coal ash spill site:
KINGSTON (WATE) -- Two environmental activists were detained by TVA police Friday as the utility stepped up security around the site of the ash spill at the Kingston Fossil Plant.

"All we are doing was taking pictures," David Cooper, with the non-profit environmental group United Mountain Defense, told 6 News.

Cooper and another activist, Matt Landon, say that's when TVA officials confronted them.

"There was a little pull-off on the road and we pulled over and we were immediately accosted  and told they would be arrested," Cooper said.

The two men say they were then detained by police on Swan Pond Circle. A portion of that road is now blocked off by an increased presence from TVA police.

Just two days ago, 6 News was able to visit that same spot as passers-by stopped to take a look at the spill.

Yes, TVA has its own police force. That's to be expected, when you're a public utility that operates nuclear plants and whatnot. Anyway, United Mountain Defense is the group which posted this amazing video footage on YouTube; don't know if these are the same guys who were detained or not. If you want to see the ash spill site first hand, don’t tune in to CNN. Watch this instead:

Lots more information on the spill at Twitter here (h/t, Newscoma.)

View Of A Toxic Ash Spill

Or not:
We tried to drive back to the spill site but TVA became irate when we pulled off the road and tried to take some pictures - Matt and I were detained for almost an hour at a check point yesterday - TVA personnel appear to be under great strain, which is understandable but IMO they over-reacted. All we were doing was taking photos. This is a similar situation to what happened in Martin County - they block the roads for "public safety." Even the media is having trouble getting access now.

And because CNN and NPR and the rest waited several DAYS to cover the story, they won't be getting any kind of decent information now.

Way to go, corporate media. No wonder people have been turning to blogs. You suck.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Not The First, Won’t Be The Last


Sludge spill now estimated at 1 billion gallons. For perspective, the ExxonValdez spill was a mere 11 million gallons.
News flash: This was not the first time a coal ash pond flooded. Nor will it be the last.

The East Tennessee coal ash disaster should be ringing alarm bells from coast to coast. Just as Three Mile Island put the kabosh on nuclear power in this country, the Kingston sludge spill should serve as a warning to everyone who uses electricity.

All coal fired plants produce waste ash. All of them must dispose of this ash in some way. The Bush Administration has been dismantling all sorts of environmental regulations at the behest of Big Coal and Big Oil. At the same time, new coal-fired power plants are in the works for Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana, proposed--and battled--in Ely, Nevada, north of Las Vegas (coincidentally the location of a proposed new transmission line), and is being debated in the Pacific Northwest. And that's just off the top of my head.

According to the American Coal Foundation, half of all electricity produced in this country comes from coal. If you use electricity, then chances are very good you use coal.

That’s a lot of coal ash. Anyone wonder how that’s disposed of? I have to admit, until this incident in East Tennessee, I never gave it all that much thought. But now we must.

It urge everyone to contact their local representatives and ask them to do everything in their power to ensure there is sufficient oversight, regulation and enforcement of their local power plants so this doesn’t happen in your region. And we must be working on clean energy technologies to make sure we can phase out coal-fired power plants and replace them with cleaner, less dangerous fuel sources. Ask your local utility if they offer green power alternatives; the Nashville Electric Service’s Green Power Switch program allows customers to buy blocks of Green Power; Mr. Beale and I have bought 10 green power blocks each month for the past year. If your local utility doesn’t offer such a program, ask them to.

And if seeing the destruction in East Tennessee hasn’t convinced you that coal is crap, not king, then here’s a movie that may convince you.

No One Could Have Anticipated...

... the breach of a dredge cell storage area that was “55 feet above the water level in the nearby ash pond.”

No one could anticipate the eventual breach of a dike that was shut down for repairs in 2003, then reopened three years ago. Says TVA manager Missy Hedgecoth:
"we were so well within what our stability analysis had shown (that) in our wildest dreams we couldn't have expected anything like this."

Not in your wildest dreams, Missy? Really?

Let the coverup begin.

We still don’t know the exact magnitude of the toxic sludge spill in East Tennessee. According to The Tennessean, TVA’s figures on the amount of sludge which spilled has shifted three times since Monday. Why is this? Shouldn’t TVA have known how full their ash pond was, considering it was “nearing the end of its design life”?

Meanwhile, dead fish litter yards and communities downstream. And hey, someone might want to make a video of that because TVA spokesman Gil Francis told the New York Times that "the T.V.A.’s environmental team had not encountered any dead fish.” Really? That’s amazing.

Here’s one for you:

Hey, here's another one:

And then there’s the lack of information given to residents. This is appalling:

On Swan Pond Road, home to the residences nearest the plant, a group of environmental advocates went door to door telling residents that boiling their water, as officials had suggested, would not remove heavy metals.

I can’t believe anyone would tell you it’s OK to drink this water if you boil it. This is not a sewage spill. This is toxic chemicals. You don’t boil away toxic chemicals like you do bacteria.

Finally, I don’t want to give undo credence to anonymous comments posted on news blogs, but this one from commenter “survivor5566,” a self-described retired TVA employee who worked in the section that inspected ash dikes, deserves some consideration:

From past experience I will tell you it was probably not the Fault of the coal yard local supervision. After hearing the people living near the dikes and saying that the gray material seeping through tells me TVA was well aware that a collapse was emanate [sic]. More than likely the local coal yard supervision had tried to convince TVA corporate that there was a real need of immediate attention.

As sometimes happens with TVA some corporate person sitting in Chattanooga or Knoxville that may have not even known what an ash pond looked like had made the call that this dike was OK and there was no need for concern. The money it would take to repair was needed in other areas of the power production. I know this from past experience.

Read the rest of his/her story, it will make you a believer.

I’m still appalled about the national news blackout over this story. I realize the news media got lots of heart-thumping footage of that water main break in Maryland, but there’s some pretty good footage of the sludge spill, too.

This is important because, as Rolling Stone reported earlier this month, President Bush is solidifying his unpopular legacy with a host of last-minute “midnight regulations”:

In early December, the administration finalized a rule that allows the industry to dump waste from mountaintop mining into neighboring streams and valleys, a practice opposed by the governors of both Tennessee and Kentucky.

"This makes it legal to use the most harmful coal-mining technology available," says Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

A separate rule also relaxes air-pollution standards near national parks, allowing Big Coal to build plants next to some of America's most spectacular vistas — even though nine of 10 EPA regional administrators dissented from the rule or criticized it in writing.

Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned from this Kingston disaster, national parks are the perfect place to build coal-fired plants and the sludge ponds and ash pits that come with them.

The next time this happens, say in 10 years or so, and a sensitive national park is destroyed, perhaps in Texas or Arkansas, I don't want to hear some utility company manager profess her shock that “no one could have anticipated this would happen,” not even in their wildest dreams.

We've all anticipated it. You just didn't want to listen.

Friday, December 26, 2008

After The Deluge


Christian Grantham has more ....
What happens when 300 million gallons of toxic coal sludge roars through your town? About what you’d expect:
Holly Schean, a waitress whose home, which she shared with her parents, was swept off its foundation when millions of cubic yards of ash breached a retaining wall early Monday morning, said, “They’re giving their apologies, which don’t mean very much.”

The T.V.A., Ms. Schean said, has not yet declared the house uninhabitable. But, she said: “I don’t need your apologies. I need information.”

Even as the authority played down the risks, the spill reignited a debate over whether the federal government should regulate coal ash as a hazardous material. Similar ponds and mounds of ash exist at hundreds of coal plants around the nation.

The Tennessee Valley Authority has issued no warnings about the potential chemical dangers of the spill, saying there was as yet no evidence of toxic substances. “Most of that material is inert,” said Gilbert Francis Jr., a spokesman for the authority. “It does have some heavy metals within it, but it’s not toxic or anything.”

Oh, I feel so much better now. Thanks, Mr. Francis.

I would not expect the federal government to give you accurate information at this point, Ms. Schean. These are the same people who lied about the air quality at Ground Zero because it was more important that we reopen the New York Stock Exchange.

It’s no great stretch to imagine the government putting the needs of the coal industry above the health and well being of a few Appalachian communities. In fact, it’s already been done:

In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed stricter federal controls of coal ash, but backed away in the face of fierce opposition from utilities, the coal industry, and Clinton administration officials. At the time, the Edison Electric Institute, an association of power utilities, estimated that the industry would have to spend up to $5 billion in additional cleanup costs if the substance were declared hazardous. Since then, environmentalists have urged tighter federal standards, and the E.P.A. is reconsidering its decision not to classify the waste as hazardous.

Better late than never. Well, except for people like Holly Schean.

Here’s a sobering thought:

United States coal plants produce 129 million tons of postcombustion byproducts a year, the second-largest waste stream in the country, after municipal solid waste. That is enough to fill more than a million railroad coal cars, according to the National Research Council.

Another 2007 E.P.A. report said that over about a decade, 67 towns in 26 states had their groundwater contaminated by heavy metals from such dumps.

Here’s the thing. The coal ash is what’s “scrubbed” out of smokestacks at coal-fired electrical plants. It seems when burning fossil fuels one can spew this stuff into the air, causing all sorts of related environmental problems, or “scrub” it out of smokestacks, which causes related disposal problems.

Alternately, we could decide not to burn coal at all and focus our, er, energies on cleaner technologies. Just a thought.

This is not just a Tennessee problem. This is not just a Kentucky or West Virginia problem. This is happening all over the country. This affects you.

Do something about it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Clean Coal My Ass


The national news media may have a blackout on this story, but activists groups do not. Sign the petition to Gov. Bredesen to make sure nothing like this happens again.


Explain this one, please:
According to local news reports millions of yards of ashy toxic sludge broke through a dike at TVA's Kingston coal-fired plant Monday, covering hundreds of acres, knocking one home off its foundation. Coal ash can carry toxic substances that include mercury, arsenic and lead, according to a federal study.

Greenpeace is calling today for there to be a criminal investigation into the matter. “Every facility like this is supposed to have a spill contingency plan to prevent this kind of disaster,” said Rick Hind, Greenpeace Legislative
Director. “The authorities need to get to the bottom of what went wrong and hold the responsible parties accountable.”

A half a billion gallons of toxic sludge, larger than the ExxonValdez spill. It was nice of the national media to notice this ... Guess they didn’t want to lose out on all of that “clean coal” advertising money.

From the Tennessean:

The spill sent sludge into the Emory River, which flows into the Clinch; damaged 12 houses in the Swan Pond community; and littered yards with dead fish. No one was seriously injured, but three houses are probably beyond repair, officials said.

TVA and other teams continued water sampling in the Emory River and the Clinch, as well as the Tennessee a little farther downstream Tuesday. Monday's testing showed water treated through normal means would be safe to drink, and concentrations of toxic metals were below state limits to protect fish.

I’m calling BULLSHIT on that one. Good people of Roane County, do not drink that water! We’ve heard such reassurances in the wake of disaster before.

Watch the video:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bad Christmas Gifts

One Christmas, back in the dinosaur age, when Southern Beale was just a baby blogger waiting for Al Gore to invent the internet, my grandmother gave our family the strangest gift. With absolutely no irony whatsoever, she presented us with an electric inside the shell egg scrambler.

It was the kind of completely useless thing advertised on late night TV back before the days of infomercials. Back then everything was “brought to you by Ronco” and came with a free ginsu knife!

We thought it was hilarious. It certainly beat the time my grandmother gave everyone in the family neon-colored fuzzy bathrobes--without the belts, which she said she was going to sew together to turn into a rug. My grandmother was an eccentric woman, to say the least, and not given to home craft projects of this type, so it was no surprise that after she died several years later we found those belts shoved in the back of her closet. Needless to say, the robes had been consigned to a Goodwill bin years earlier.

Anyway, I was reminded of this when I saw a TV advertisement for The Snuggie, the “blanket with sleeves.” Mr. Beale and I just cracked up when we saw this ad. Mr. Beale couldn’t believe anyone would wear one of these things out in public. If you’re going to a sporting event and it’s cold outside, why not just wear a coat?

I think the burgundy-colored ones make the wearers look like priests in a strange cult. And notice, these things have no belts! My grandmother would be proud.

I’m trying to imagine who this item appeals to. I’m guessing the very elderly or someone in a wheelchair--anyone for whom standing up to put a robe or sweater on the "proper" way is a challenge.

One of the things that amuses me about the holiday season is the opportunity to see this collision of American ingenuity and consumerism. Seriously, who thought Chia Pets would ever take off? And yet they are a holiday staple.

So to the inventor of the Snuggie, the Clapper, the ThighMaster, the PerfectPatty and all of the other gizmos and gadgets that are hawked on late night TV during the holidays, my hat's off to you. It takes real talent to come up with this crazy stuff and convince us we absolutely, positively cannot live without it.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

RIP, Good Riddance, Don’t Come Back

Yet another legacy of the Bush Years is headed for the door: the dreaded news crawl:
After rolling it out on 9/11, 22 minutes after Fox, CNN is retiring the crawl to give its screen "a less cluttered look," reports the Times.

Unfortunately, the article goes on to state that the “crawl” will be replaced with the "flipper,"

which will be a line of text, usually related to whatever's on the screen. The text might "flip" over to show new information, but in a way CNN claims "doesn't give viewers a headache."

"Flipper,” eh?

You really want to call it that, CNN? Really?

Can’t wait to see what The Daily Show and Colbert Report do with that one.

Get In Line, Developers!

This is getting a little ridiculous, don’t you think?
Developers Ask U.S. for Bailout as Massive Debt Looms

With a record amount of commercial real-estate debt coming due, some of the country's biggest property developers have become the latest to go hat-in-hand to the government for assistance.

They're warning policymakers that thousands of office complexes, hotels, shopping centers and other commercial buildings are headed into defaults, foreclosures and bankruptcies. The reason: according to research firm Foresight Analytics LCC, $530 billion of commercial mortgages will be coming due for refinancing in the next three years -- with about $160 billion maturing in the next year. Credit, meanwhile, is practically nonexistent and cash flows from commercial property are siphoning off.

Oh noes. You are the folks who blew it up with your constant clap louder refrain and irresponsible speculation and now you want a government handout?

Dream on.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tinfoil Hat Alert

Conspiracy theorists will want to jump on board this one:
Bush Insider Who Planned To Tell All Killed In Plane Crash: Non-Profit Demands Full Federal Investigation

WASHINGTON, Dec 20, 2008 /PRNewswire-USNewswire via COMTEX/ -- Michael Connell, the Bush IT expert who has been directly implicated in the rigging of George Bush's 2000 and 2004 elections, was killed last night when his single engine plane crashed three miles short of the Akron airport. Velvet Revolution ("VR"), a non-profit that has been investigating Mr. Connell's activities for the past two years, can now reveal that a person close to Mr. Connell has recently been discussing with a VR investigator how he can tell all about his work for George Bush. Mr. Connell told a close associate that he was afraid that George Bush and Dick Cheney would "throw [him] under the bus."

A tipster close to the McCain campaign disclosed to VR in July that Mr. Connell's life was in jeopardy and that Karl Rove had threatened him and his wife, Heather. VR's attorney, Cliff Arnebeck, notified the United States Attorney General , Ohio law enforcement and the federal court about these threats and insisted that Mr. Connell be placed in protective custody. VR also told a close associate of Mr. Connell's not to fly his plane because of another tip that the plane could be sabotaged. Mr. Connell, a very experienced pilot, has had to abandon at least two flights in the past two months because of suspicious problems with his plane. On December 18, 2008, Mr. Connell flew to a small airport outside of Washington DC to meet some people. It was on his return flight the next day that he crashed.

Okay, beginning screenwriters, take note: the first rule of any thriller is to make sure your hero, who is the only one with damaging evidence against the powerful evil oppressor, is also a pilot who flies himself in small, dangerous aircraft. Because when a government cabal is out to get you, it's always wise to avoid commercial air travel and instead fly in small private aircraft that can be easily tampered with.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Time For A Living Wage

Via Oxdown at Firedoglake, an explanation of today’s middle finger to American workers that was the loan “auto bailout” measure:
The foreign nonunion auto companies located in the South have a plan to reduce wages and benefits at their factories in the United States. And to do it, they need to destroy the United Auto Workers.

Last week, Senate Republicans from some Southern states went to work trying to do just that, on the foreign car companies' behalf.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) -- representatives from states that subsidize companies such as Honda, Volkswagen, Toyota and Nissan -- first tried to force the UAW to take reductions in wages and benefits as a condition for supporting the auto industry bailout bill. When the UAW refused, those senators torpedoed the bill.


UAW President Ron Gettelfinger realized that the existence of the union was under attack, which is why he refused to give in to the Senate Republicans' demands that the UAW make further concessions. I say "further" because the union has already conceded a lot. Its 2007 contract introduced a two-tier contract to pay new hires $15 an hour (instead of $28) with no defined pension plan and dramatic cuts to their health insurance. In addition, the UAW agreed that healthcare benefits for existing retirees would be transferred from the auto companies to an independent trust. With the transferring of the healthcare costs, the labor cost gap between the Big Three and the foreign transplants will be almost eliminated by the end of the current contracts.

One reason there is the perception that UAW wages are so overinflated is that the “average” figures our media cited included retiree pensions. American auto manufacturers carry huge legacy costs, since, you know, Ford has been making cars in America a few generations longer than have Toyota and Nissan.

One would expect that foreign manufacturers would eventually carry some high pension costs, someday perhaps, unless they take some kind of proactive action. And lo and behold:

However, an internal Toyota report, leaked to the Detroit Free Press last year, reveals that the company wants to slash $300 million out of its rising labor costs by 2011. The report indicated that Toyota no longer wants to "tie [itself] so closely to the U.S. auto industry." Instead, the company intends to benchmark the prevailing manufacturing wage in the state in which a plant is located. The Free Press reported that in Kentucky, where the company is headquartered, this wage is $12.64 an hour, according to federal labor statistics, less than half Toyota's $30-an-hour wage.

If the companies, with the support of their senators, can wipe out or greatly weaken the UAW, they will be free to implement their plan.

This sounds about right.

Let’s just say the Nissan plant in Smyrna, TN., paid its workers $12.64/hour right now. That’s a good bit more than the current minimum wage--$7.25 (and you have the Democratic majority in Congress to thank for even that), and a healthy bit above the $8.87 that is a living wage for single adults in Rutherford County. But if you’re a single mom, or the sole provider in your family, it’s not enough to make ends meet.

Scott County, KY, where Toyota’s Georgetown plant is located, and where that hourly wage is said to be a probable reality, doesn’t fare much better.

So, if this does in fact happen three years from now—file this one away for the memory hole, peeps!—you have folks like Bob Corker and Mitch McConnell to thank.

I know this may come as a shock to the wingnut coalition that visits my blog, but I’m not by default an automatic union supporter. I'm not attached to the "existence of the union" if the benefits of union membership can be achieved some other way. But I am a big supporter of the working man and woman, and if that means forming unions so workers can have a collective voice at the negotiating table, that’s fine with me.

But if the ultimate legacy of the Bush Years is the destruction of the American worker’s union, so be it. All is not lost, my friends.

What we need in this country is a national Living Wage law. If workers in this country were paid a decent wage, a wage they could live on, a living wage, and that wage were the law of the land, maybe we wouldn’t need unions anymore.

Just a thought.

FGF: Holiday Edition

I love this song. Hope the embed works:

Children Go Where I Send Thee - Michael McDonald

Palin Baby Daddy Mommy Arrested

The Palin family never ceases to amuse me. Bristol Palin’s pregnancy was bad enough, but now Levi Johnston’s mom is facing drug charges:
WASILLA -- A 42-year-old Wasilla woman was arrested Thursday at her home by Alaska State Troopers with a search warrant in an undercover drug investigation. Sherry L. Johnston was charged with six felony counts of misconduct involving a controlled substance.

Johnston is the mother of Levi Johnston, the Wasilla 18-year-old who received international attention in September when Gov. Sarah Palin and her husband, Todd, announced their teenage daughter was pregnant and he was the father. Bristol Palin, 18, is due on Saturday, according to a recent interview with the governor's father, Chuck Heath.

Well, that will cast a pall over the upcoming nuptials.

Oh wait ...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Moral Majority Founder Paul Weyrich Dead

Weyrich, one of the founders of the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, and the Heritage Foundation, is dead:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Conservative activist Paul Weyrich, who coined the phrase "moral majority" and helped turn social conservatives into a powerful force in the Republican Party, died Thursday. He was 66.

Weyrich's death was announced by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think thank that he had helped to create.

Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan said Weyrich "was instrumental in the development of conservative thought" in America.

Lee Edwards, a Heritage Foundation scholar and a friend, said Weyrich had suffered from ill health in recent years and had both legs amputated.

Condolences to his family and all that other stuff.

For the rest of us, here's a Weyerich memory hole item, via Eschaton commenter Sarah B.:

Weyrich: "Now many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome -- good government. They want everybody to vote. I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.


I’ll Have What He’s Smoking, Please

Hearing Joe Scarborough and Tucker Carlson crowing about how “President Bush was right, the surge worked, everyone else was wrong” on MSNBC this morning was surreal. Everyone forgets the entire point of the surge was to “create breathing room” for political solutions.

Remember that? Remember "breathing room"?

So pay no attention to the thwarted military coup in Iraq:
BAGHDAD — Up to 35 officials in the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior ranking as high as general have been arrested over the past three days with some of them accused of quietly working to reconstitute Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, according to senior security officials in Baghdad.

The arrests, confirmed by officials from the Ministries of the Interior and National Security as well as the prime minister’s office, included four generals. The officials also said that the arrests had come at the hand of an elite counterterrorism force that reports directly to the office of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

Pay no attention to the descent into shoe-throwing chaos, inspired by the defiant act of one journalist.

Pay no attention to the bombings in Kirkuk:

They knew that the restaurant would be packed with families, women and children - But collateral damages are to be expected - after all, it is a war. A vicious war of interests, of politics and supremacy.

The room was a shambles. On the flood was a mass of tortured humanity – those that lived.

Prams and pacifiers; ribbons and toys.

Purses thrown open with make up and perfume bottles strewn everywhere. I can see them with my mind's eye. They look much like what my daughter carries in her purse…My daughter, your daughter…anyone's daughter.

And now we hear that Iraq may need American troops in Iraq for ten years to come - To fight the insurgency.

Sure, the surge has been a, pardon the pun, “smashing” success.

Keep telling yourselves that. I realize you need to polish Bush’s legacy to clear the way for Jeb but maybe you should wait for the bombings to actually stop first. Just a thought.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pastor Problems

Apparently we liberals are up in arms over the selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at President-elect Obama’s inauguration.

Overlooked in the uproar is this info from Salon’s War Room:
This time, though, the decision to get involved with Saddleback was actually not Obama's. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, run by the House and Senate, put together the program for the swearing-in ceremony. Congress, not Obama, invited Warren (as well as scheduling a musical performance by Aretha Franklin; here's hoping she doesn't reprise the 2005 inaugural performance of John Ashcroft's "Let the Eagle Soar").

Really? Maybe I'm a skeptic, but I’m calling bullshit on that one. I find it hard to believe that if Obama objected to the pastor giving the invocation at his inauguration, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies would still have overruled him.

But what do I know. Definitely worth keeping an eye on, though.

Yes, there are lots of reasons why liberals would hate this choice for the presidential inauguration--Warren’s support of Proposition 8, his anti-choice stance, giving President Bush an “international medal of peace,” plus the whole way he set up Obama with a phony ”cone of silence” deal, etc. etc. Oh, I could go on.

I have my own reasons for not liking Warren, which have nothing to do with his position on social issues and obvious partisanship, and everything to do with what I call his "bullshit driven empire.” When religion and commerce meet, I have a problem. And this strikes me as the antithesis of what Jesus preached:

The ubiquitous “celebripastor” [...] recently announced that he and Reader’s Digest have formed a “partnership” aimed at “produc[ing] an inspirational multimedia platform called ‘The Purpose Driven Connection.’”

The Plan: According to a Reader’s Digest press release, “the organizations will pool their international resources to produce and publish this Purpose Driven platform to help people who are seeking their purpose in life and wish to interact with others on their spiritual journeys.” The goal is to “provide a suite of bundled multimedia tools: The Purpose Driven Connection, a quarterly magazine; small group study materials delivered in DVDs, workbooks and downloadable discussion guides; and a state-of-the-art Christian social networking Web site.” All for a $29 membership fee.

This isn’t Christianity, it’s merchandising, and it’s revolting.

There’s already a host of Purpose Driven crap for sale as it is. Someone overturn this money-changer’s table already.

I don't care that Rick Warren loves fetuses and hates gays, that's standard-issue with this crowd. I do think he's profiting from his soul-salvation business and that in my book is Class A hucksterism. He's a fraud and shouldn't be given the platform the Presidential inauguration provides.

Today Is Different

From Inside Iraq blogger Dulaimy, on the aftermath of the shoe incident:
Around 12:30 p.m. several vehicles loaded with Iraqi soldiers accompanying two or three buses stopped in mid of the square and tried to close it (like every day) but they couldn't.

Drivers refused to obey, saying we are tired of closed roads.

The horns of tens of cars were loud, angry drivers yelling at soldiers who picked up their rifles trying to stop the cars that refused to stop.

Shots in the air and pointing rifles to vehicles failed, the convoy had to park in another place.

They convoy wanted to park in the mid of the circle because the soldiers wanted to talk and discuss something in mid of the square… imagine.

The drivers made it and the military saw, for the first time I think, a mass anger for blocking roads.

I have seen this square almost every day during the last four years and nothing like this happened.

And there’s more

University students rallied for Zaidi in Fallujah on Wednesday, drawing the attention of U.S. forces.

Students raised their shoes and threw rocks at American soldiers, who reportedly opened fire above the crowd. Protesters said that indirect fire wounded one student, Zaid Salih. U.S. forces haven't confirmed the account.

Still more:

BAGHDAD — Iraq's parliament speaker announced his resignation Wednesday after a parliamentary session descended into chaos as lawmakers argued about whether to free a journalist who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush.

Iraq descends into chaos. No one could have anticipated that ....

Meanwhile, some of our idiot media--this one from the “liberal” NPR--calls the Iraqis “ingrates”:

WILLIAMS: But on a serious level, how many American lives have been sacrificed to the cause of liberating Iraq? How much money has been spent while they’re not spending their own profits from their oil? American money. So I just think it’s absolutely the act of an ingrate for them to behave in this way. Just unbelievable to me.

You know, we could always .... LEAVE.

Just sayin’ ....

Now That’s Mavericky!

Speaking of free money, Gov. Sarah Palin is up for a huge raise, according to a state panel. They’re recommending a whopping 20% salary increase for the Governor, from $125,000 to $150,000. Some fiscal conservative types are puzzled, however:
"I thought we just gave a raise to the governor and the commissioners," Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, said Monday in reaction to the recommendations.

That raise was in 2006, when the Legislature increased the governor's pay by 46 percent. Gov. Sarah Palin was the first to get the new pay rate. Her predecessor, Frank Murkowski, made about $86,000 a year.

Think Palin will say “thank, but no thanks” to the extra cash? Plenty of other governors do, including Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger . But I dunno, an extra 25 grand is a couple of new outfits or a few sessions with the stylist.

What say you, Sarah?

Free Money

So, yesterday the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to between zero percent and 0.25%. Wheeee. The government is giving away free money! Freeeee!!!!

This is the tenth time in 15 months Bernanke has cut interest rates.

What’s that definition of insanity again? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

From CNN:
Despite the dramatic nature of the Fed's move, some economists questioned whether it will have much effect on the economy. They said the problem for consumers and businesses right now is not the cost of borrowing, but the availability of credit and the weaker economic fundamentals.

"Lowering rates to this level is purely a psychological move made to send the message that the Fed is committed to righting the sinking economic ship," said Rich Yamarone, director of economic research at Argus Research. He noted the previous rate cuts did little to stop home and auto sales from plunging.

Uh, yeah. I don’t know who these “psychological moves” are directed at but they certainly don’t make me feel any better. When the government starts giving banks free money I start to get that panicky feeling that maybe we’re in even worse trouble than they’re telling us.

My Wingnut Friend ® writes:

When is someone going to quit focusing on avoiding a Depression and instead focus on cutting taxes, limiting government, and letting the market work so that we will have a Surge instead?

No, it’s not a parody. There really are people who have learned nothing from the past eight years.

Remember that definition of insanity?

For the record, John really is a friend of mine. Other than having completely boneheaded ideas about public policy, politics, race relations, the women’s movement, the environment, religion, and just about everything else that matters, he’s actually a very nice guy. This means we end up talking about books a lot, which is fine since we are in a writer’s group together. He’s one of the most talented fiction writers I know, and I never understood how someone so smart could at the same time be so dumb.

But he’s not alone in his ideas. There are plenty of boneheaded folks around here who seem to think if only we’d implement more tax cuts and decrease government oversight to allow the free hand of the market to run rampant make everything peachy, all would be well. It’s a core value in Wingnuttia and while it’s been proven wrong time and again, some folks just won’t let it go. I can’t blame them: it’s been the core principle of the Republican Party for over 25 years, it would be sorta embarassing for them to come back now and say they had "found a flaw” or something.

Anyway, here’s something I pulled out of the memory hole:

• In 2008, taxes would be cut from 10 percent to zero percent on the first $6,000 dollars of taxable income for individual taxpayers and the first $12,000 of taxable income for couples. Taxpayers could receive rebates of up to $600 for individuals and $1,200 for couples.  A minimum of $300 per person and $600 per couple would be available to those with at least $3,000 of earned income.  This relief would be available to everyone with adjusted gross income less than $75,000 for singles and $150,000 for married couples filing jointly.  It will be phased out for taxpayers above those income thresholds.

• Everyone eligible for this relief would also receive an additional $300 per child.  For example, this would mean up to $1,800 of tax relief for an eligible couple with two children.

Epic fail of additional tax cuts! We all got our “economic stimulus” checks in the mail and the economy tanked anyway. Oh noes. So let’s give even more tax cuts on top of the ones Bush implemented in 2001 and 2003, maybe that will do something! Hey I know, maybe the government could just give away free money, let’s see if that helps!

Oh, wait.

As far back as 2003 some folks were saying that tax cuts at war time were the problem, not the solution:

Economic growth, though positive, has not been sufficient to generate jobs and prevent unemployment from rising. In fact, there are now more than two million fewer private sector jobs than at the start of the current recession. Overcapacity, corporate scandals, and uncertainty have and will continue to weigh down the economy.

The tax cut plan proposed by President Bush is not the answer to these problems. Regardless of how one views the specifics of the Bush plan, there is wide agreement that its purpose is a permanent change in the tax structure and not the creation of jobs and growth in the near-term.

The permanent dividend tax cut, in particular, is not credible as a short-term stimulus. As tax reform, the dividend tax cut is misdirected in that it targets individuals rather than corporations, is overly complex, and could be, but is not, part of a revenue-neutral tax reform effort.

Passing these tax cuts will worsen the long-term budget outlook, adding to the nation’s projected chronic deficits. This fiscal deterioration will reduce the capacity of the government to finance Social Security and Medicare benefits as well as investments in schools, health, infrastructure, and basic research. Moreover, the proposed tax cuts will generate further inequalities in after-tax income.

Well, pay no attention to the Nobel Laureates, what do they know?

I’m no economics whiz-bang but it seems to me the flaw here is one that’s been not just years in the making but decades in the making. I think it’s a little crazy that we have a consumption-based economy. That might have been well and good as the country raised its standard of living and we were buying things that we also manufactured here, but right now our consumption only benefits the people of China, India, Vietnam and Mexico. On top of which, we’ve reached a point where people pretty much have everything they need.

We should have seen this coming when everyone started building bigger and bigger homes -- twice and three times as large as the ones most of us grew up in. Let’s face it, these are consumption boxes. Bigger homes mean you need to buy more stuff. But when the economy gets tight you can live very comfortably in a smaller home and make do with your old stuff. Sooner or later this was going to catch up with us.

Instead of basing our economy on how much stuff people buy which they don’t need, how about basing the economy on creating jobs? On how many people are working? People need jobs, they don’t need new flat-screen TVs made in Taiwan.

We’ve been down a bumpy road for the past five years. The stock market has been a roller coaster ride for far longer than the past three months. I wonder if the local “dumbasses” who kept insisting we are not in a recession are ever going to admit the resot of us were right, now that the National Bureau of Economic Research says the recession actually began a year ago.

I think it’s time we stopped listening to people who have always been wrong and start listening to the folks who were right for a change. Our economy is FUBAR’d and it’s not going to get any better as long as we fail to recognize that the world has changed and old tactics like lowering interest rates and tax rebates are not going to work.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Good Ol’ Shoe


No one could have anticipated:
Muntader al-Zaidi, the now-infamous shoe-hurling Iraqi journalist, has reportedly been “beaten in custody,” according to the BBC. Al-Zaidi’s brother reports that the journalist is suffering from a broken hand, broken ribs, and internal bleeding. Yesterday, TV al-Sharqiya in Iraq reported that the al-Zaidi had “signs of tortures on his thighs.” Meanwhile, thousands of Iraqis have taken to streets on Tuesday for second day to demand al-Zaidi’s release.

What's this about signs of Democracy, President Bush?


Since President Bush himself is making light of the Iraq shoe incident, why shouldn’t the rest of us?

Where was the Secret Service?’s War Room blog reports that because the press is pre-screened, security isn’t quite as vigilant for a press conference as, say, when the President is mingling with the hoi polloi. Whew.

Thank you, Salon. That question was one many of us were asking, and we sure didn’t get an answer from the MSM, who seemed more interested in downplaying the incident--no doubt taking orders from the White House on this one.

I love it when the media goes into damage control mode. “Just act like nothing’s wrong,” I can hear them say. How else to explain the President’s incredibly lame “that’s what people do in a free society” comment after the incident? Like that happens all the time here in America?

Hey, let’s ALL throw shoes at the president! Yeah, try it, I dare you. Just watch and see what happens.

And what's with all of the "if he'd thrown a shoe at Saddam he'd be dead" BS? We're all so sure this reporter is alive and well and all is forgiven right now? Last I heard, he was still in custody. This is incredibly lazy and dishonest of the media. Come on, get serious.

Watching our fawning media report on the President’s “size 10” quip like it was the most courageous thing a Commander in Chief had done since George Washington crossed the Delaware is surreal, to say the least.

MSNBC’s Contessa Brewer and the NBC reporter assigned to cover the story gushed how “back in Saddam’s day, that reporter would have received the death penalty.” Um, excuse me, when was the last time anyone in America threw a shoe at the President and lived to tell about it? Hello? And has anyone bothered to mention to either of you two idiots that the incident has sparked demonstrations of support across the Arab world?

Of course the White House wishes to act like this was No Big Deal. Heaven help us if anyone should point out the obvious: the country we “liberated” hates us for it. Ouch.

Let’s face it: the Iraq War has been President Bush’s favorite PR backdrop since he posed with a platter of fake turkey and fixin's at his "unannounced visit" with the troops in 2003. "Unannounced" being the operative word -- the Iraqis would have hurled more than old shoes at him if they'd known he was coming back then.

Bush's lame attempt to salvage something resembling a positive legacy on Iraq backfired big-time. In the meantime, the shoe incident has me in mind of a fabulous Willie Nelson moment from that most cynical of political flicks, “Wag The Dog.” Someone needs to release that old song in honor of Muthathar al Zaidi, no doubt having electrodes applied to his genitals as we speak.

Recently I was accused of being overly “angry.” Like the bumper sticker says, if you are’t pissed off, you haven’t been paying attention.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Those Aren't Chocolates And Roses


The New York Times reports:
He also called the incident a sign of democracy, saying, “That’s what people do in a free society, draw attention to themselves,” as the man’s screaming could be heard outside.

Uh ... okie dokie.

Pay no attention to the screaming protester.

Oh and I'd love to see someone try this in the U.S. The only people allowed close enough to the president for the past eight years have been loyalty-oath-signing supporters of the Republican Party.

Enough with the lies.


President Bush ducks as angry Iraqi throws shoes at him and yells, "This is a goodbye kiss, you dog!"

I guess it's safe to say that Muthathar al Zaidi will be getting a one-way ticket to Guantanamo Bay for his trouble.

Fun With Sitemeter

I love Sitemeter, it appeals to the nosy spy in me. Did you know that with Sitemeter I can not only learn what city you’re in but whether you use a Mac or a PC, or even what kind of monitor you have?

Actually, the last stuff interests me far less than what kind of search terms one uses to find me. You can learn a lot about a person from their Google fu. For instance, I have to wonder about the person who entered the search terms “book boy leaves indian reservation to attend all white school.” If you knew all that, what other information did you possibly need?

Some recent Google searches that brought people to my blog:

• “is limbaugh insane?” (This from someone in Switzerland ...) Umm .. yeah, I think so.

• “is demetria kalodimos gay?” Not sure why everyone thinks women with short hair are gay, but I believe Kalodimos just married songwriter Verlon Thompson so I’d guess no, she’s not gay.

• “heywood jablome.” I get lots of those because back in May I titled a post about KY Rep. Tim Couch’s “personal responsibility on the internet” bill, “But My Name Really IS Heywood Jablome!”

• “what does open season mean?” Okay, this query came from someone in Jackson, Mississippi. I find it hard to believe someone in Jackson MS isn’t familiar with the hunting seasons, or that “open season” on a particular type of game means it’s legal to hunt that animal. But hey, if you’re still out there and you’re still Googling, you now have your answer.

• “rod blagojevich in a toga.” I don’t even want to know.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

We Apologize For Any Inconvenience

DISH Network customers in Nashville no longer have ABC/Channel 2, thanks to a dispute between DISH and station owner Young Broadcasting.

If you tune in to Channel 2 you get a clip of Michael McKenna, director of Programming for DISH Network, talking about how their contract with Young Broadcasting expired on Dec. 11 and they can no longer carry WKRN programming. The reason they didn’t come to terms prior to Dec. 11, McKenna says, is because “Young Broadcasting demanded unreasonable contract terms and an excessive rate.” We’re then urged to call WKRN General Manager Gwen Kinsey.

Apparently, Nashville isn’t the only market affected. Young Broadcasting owns 10 stations, including those in San Francisco, Albany, N.Y., and Richmond, Va.

Prior to DISH pulling the plug, I recall Young Broadcasting running ads telling us to contact DISH Network.

I honestly don’t know what the dispute is about and frankly I don’t care. When we looked at the ABC schedule, we realized we don’t watch anything on that network anyway. So we’re fine without it.

But it annoys me that a station owner and DISH Network would both lobby viewers over their contract dispute. I don’t know what Young Broadcasting’s demands are, if they are “unreasonable,” or if DISH is being unreasonable. I have enough on my plate right now as it is, I don’t want to worry about their business negotiations.

So figure it out, people. Isn’t that what we pay you to do? Make the necessary deals to carry the programming we want to see?

It’s stupid.

No Room At The Inn

How apt for this holiday season:
Sorry, We’re Booked, White House Tells Obamas

Updated | 3:12 p.m. CHICAGO—The White House has turned down a request from the family of President-elect Barack Obama to move into Blair House in early January so that his daughters can start school on Jan. 5.

The Obamas were told that Blair House, where incoming presidents usually stay in the five days before Inauguration Day, is booked in early January, a spokesperson to the Obama transition said. “We explored the idea so that the girls could start school on schedule,’ the spokesperson said. “But, there were previously scheduled events and guests that couldn’t be displaced.”

It remained unclear who on Bushes guest list outranked the incoming President.

Wow, that’s so family-friendly! Keep it classy, Bushie.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dubious Distinction


Thank you, Bob Corker!

GM to temporarily close 20 plants to slash output

General Motors Corp. said Friday it will temporarily close 20 factories across North America and make sweeping cuts to its vehicle production as it tries to adjust to dramatically weaker automobile demand.


The move affects most of GM's plants in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. During the shutdowns, employees will be temporarily laid off and can apply to receive a portion of their normal pay from the company. They can also apply for state unemployment benefits, Lee said.

ThinkProgress brings us the list du jour: "20 senators who bailed out Wall Street but refused to rescue auto workers.”

Without further ado:
Yes to TARP, No to auto

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)
Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT)
Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC)
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)
Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN)
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)
Sen. John Ensign (R-NV)
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH)
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Sen. Kay Hutchison (R-TX)
Sen. John Isakson (R-GA)
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)
Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL)
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Sen. John Thune (R-SD)

Yes to TARP, Absent for auto

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE)
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)
Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE)
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)
Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR)
Sen.Ted Stevens (R-AK)
Sen. John Sununu (R-NH)

Look at all the "R"s. Good to remember when the economy collapses further into the abyss.

And lookie here: is that both of Tennessee’s Senators voting no or else absent on the auto vote? Why, yes it is!

Sen. Corker, of course, has led the charge against the auto bailout. Sen. Alexander was recovering after surgery, but is on record for saying he’d have voted no. (For those who are interested, John Kerry was in Poland attending the climate change talks. I don't know about Biden.)

Maybe someone should tell Tennessee’s Senators that General Motors is the largest employer in Spring Hill, TN. Hmm?

Goodbye Alan Colmes

Saying goodbye to Alan Colmes on The Daily Show last night .... Hall & Oates style. Sorta FGF-ish, no?

Regardless, it was absolutely hilarious:

Banned Book of the Week

Oh, grow up, people:
The Crook County School District has temporarily removed a book from classrooms after one parent complained to the school board that the National Book Award winner was "trashy" and "inappropriate."

Written by Sherman Alexie, "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," which is based on Alexie's own experiences, follows a boy who leaves the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white school "where the only other Indian is the school mascot" according to the book jacket description.

But Hank Moss, of Prineville, read the book his son was assigned to read and raised objections to the school board earlier this week, according to the Bend Bulletin. 

Moss, reached today by The Oregonian, said the book includes "a reference about masturbation, and that it's ok and no big deal." He added that he felt it was "inappropriate."

Yeah because if there’s one thing that teenage boys know absolutely nothing about, it’s masturbation.

But the ironic part of the whole story? Wait for it ...

Alexie told the Bend Bulletin that the book "is actually a celebration of the compassion a small town of white conservatives showed ... an Indian boy, they ended up loving." He added that his autobiographical book is "about following your dreams. ... It's the story of an Indian kid dreaming of a bigger life. It's very American," he said. 

But Moss, the parent, said he does not think the book should be taught at any age. 

"I don't think it should be for anybody," he said. "I think it's trash. I don't think a 50-year-old ought to read it."

Looks like the Hank Mosses of the world would like Alexie’s book to be fiction, not an autobiography.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The REAL Secret To Fox News' Success?

Every now and then I’m forced to watch Fox News. This morning at the gym one of the six televisions was tuned to “Fox & Friends,” and I got to see Michelle Malkin make her bizarre facial contortions above the chyron:
"Culture of Corruption: Democrat Party plagued by scandals."

Um, paging Illinois Gov. George Ryan, Republican, who is still in jail! Paging Ted Stevens of Alaksa! And Duke Cunningham ... and Larry Craig ... and David Vitter .... and Tom DeLay ... and Mark Foley .... etc. etc.

This is why I hate Fox News. No legitimate news organization would promote the ridiculous idea that it’s Rod Blagojevich’s party affiliation that made him corrupt, any more than they would say belonging to the “Republic Party” made Ryan, Stevens, Vitter, Craig and the rest corrupt and sleazy.

Isn’t that what blogs are for?

Fox News does this all the time, though. Another thing I’ve noticed about Fox News is how much tabloid TV crap they air in between their partisan attacks and slanted news. There’s a lot of celebrity gossip, funny pet video clips, shark bite stories, and other sensational National Enquirer-style trash TV. It’s human interest TV with a dash of far-right ideology.

I have to wonder if this has as much to do with their appeal as anything. Though it seems counter-intuitive, cable news is a veritable wasteland for news coverage. Earlier this week I channel surfed in vain for news that wasn’t about the Big 3 auto bailout. I even tuned in to Free Speech TV, only to hear Ralph Nader talking about the unions and how they sold out their members back in the day.

Surely to God there was something else happening in the world besides the auto bailout? CNN, MSNBC and the rest just can’t seem to cover news. They take one story and repeat it ad nauseum, turning it upside down and inside out until you are thoroughly sick of it. Everything else that may be happening in the world is ignored.

I’m not sure Fox News does that, at least not to the same degree as CNN and MSNBC. At least on Fox you can find out about the Virginia toddler kept alive in the woods by puppies. If you’re into that sort of thing, of course, which I daresay the vast majority of American viewers are. How else to explain the appeal of The Today Show? Remember, too, that Bill O’Reilly got his start at Inside Edition. That’s no coincidence.

As layoffs and cutbacks are announced at NBC, NPR, CNBC and CNN, I hope the news execs take a hard look at what they’ve been doing wrong. I say it’s less any political slant their broadcast may have than it's the fact that they’ve basically programmed themselves into irrelevancy. By covering the same story as everyone else for 24 hours solid, five days a week, some of us are actually sick and tired of the topic du jour and are forced to look elsewhere for information. Hard to believe, I know, but I don’t think Americans are nearly as myopic as the average cable news executive.

I mean, honestly. If I have to go through another election season like this last one, I am shooting my television.

I frequently turn to Current TV for something different (when I can remember where on the dial it appears ....) I read more newspapers, and I surf the ’net. And sometimes I’m so thoroughly sick of news that I’ll switch to Bravo TV to watch two hours of “West Wing” re-runs just so I don’t have to hear the same crap for the fifteen gazillionth time.