Friday, October 30, 2009

Ask Your Doctor If Hiatus Is Right For You, v 2.0

How interesting that I first asked this question almost exactly two years ago. In the past two years I’ve learned a lot about this blogging thing, including that my original assessment was 100% correct: it is both cathartic and addictive. It can also be a huge time-waster.

So the time has come to set some boundaries. Mine is a temporary one: I’m about to embark on a creative project that will leave my time for blogging extremely limited. My project will take up most of my creative energies during November, so I hope you will indulge me the occasional cat photos, garden blogging and only sporadic rants. Hopefully I will be channeling my energies in a different direction, at least for the next several weeks. I should be back sometime in December, God willing and the creek don’t rise.

There are plenty of blogs out there so I don’t need to tell anyone where to go to scratch that liberal itch, but over the years I have come across some amazing unsung peeps whom I encourage you to check out:

Bouphonia; be sure to stop by on Friday for a weekly dose of Friday Hope Blogging. It’s the best way to end the week that I can think of.

Interested Citizen is a Nashville blogger, like me. I always see a story I hadn’t seen before over there.

Southern Female Lawyer offers some killer recipes as well as some kick-ass commentary.

John Shuck is pastor of First Presbyterian Church (PC-USA) of Elizabethton, TN. He’s a social justice warrior with a mission for GLBT equality. Lots of good stuff over there.

The Impolitic--that’s Libby Spencer and Cpt. Fogg. Two great bloggers, one from Detroit and one from Florida.

See y’all on the other side!

Love & Peace,

Southern Beale

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nashville Gets Secular

Welcome Crooks & Liars!

An update on this post is here and offers audio clips of local reaction to the billboard.


Christian fundamentalists looking for signs of the apocalypse might want to head to my part of town next week to see this new billboard:
Secular Life, a Nashville-area social network for atheists, agnostics, seculars and other nonbelievers, will unveil a new electronic billboard at 4102 Hillsboro Circle in Green Hills on Sunday.

It's aimed at the so-called Nones — the growing number of people with no religious affiliation.

The billboard, which coincidentally launches on All Saints Day, reads "Not religious? You are not alone,'' along with a phone number and Web site for Secular Life.

Now, this wouldn’t be newsworthy in a city like New York or Los Angeles. But here in Nashville, where religion is crammed down your throat at every turn--including on numerous billboards scattered all over town--a billboard advertising atheism and secularism is definitely an anomaly.

As a sidebar to this story, I am very familiar with this particular electronic billboard; when it first appeared (in place of an old-fashioned non-electronic kind) it raised a huge outcry among neighborhood folks who don’t like the increasing prevalence of these electronic thingamajigs. They are quite controversial irrespective of their advertising content, mainly because they are too bright, too loud, and too obnoxious for anyplace not Times Square (blogger S-Town Mike has given a lot of coverage to the issue.)

This one shows us the weather report and sports headlines in addition to advertisements. Personally, if I want to know the weather forecast I'm not looking at a freaking billboard. Thank you for turning what is a quiet retail/residential area into something that resembles downtown Tokyo. How sensitive to the neighborhood. Not.

This particular one, as I recall, doesn’t meet the existing code for where electronic billboards can be located. It was snuck in under the dead of night under the outdoor advertising industry’s favorite “let’s do what we want now and deal with the consequences later” ploy. Outdoor advertising companies like Lamar are huge bullies, in my opinion.

As I recall, Councilman Sean McGuire was supposedly working to get it removed, though that was a few months ago and I never heard any more about it.

Anyway, I’ve digressed far from the main topic. But it's interesting that a message advertising secularism has been placed on an electronic billboard supposedly destined for removal (though who knows ...).

So come on down and check it out while it's still there.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Told Ya So

Nobody could have anticipated this:
In a bid to generate excitement in a struggling condo market, developers of the luxury Terrazzo building in the Gulch plan to offer one-fourth of the building via auction at steep discounts next month — a move that critics say will hurt existing owners.

"This is horrible,'' said Betsy McInnes, who is listed as an owner of a $373,000 one-bedroom Terrazzo unit with her daughter, Waller McInnes. The daughter rents out the Terrazzo condo to a tenant and is trying to sell it.

The mother said her 28-year-old daughter owns three properties and has three mortgages.

McInnes said she's afraid the Nov. 21 auction will drive prices lower and further hurt values for people who have already invested a lot. "This is pretty depressing,'' the mother said Tuesday.

But developers of the Terrazzo insist the auction will help condominium sales recover and prove beneficial in the long run.

Really? How do you figure that? If I bought a $375,000 condo in a building where similar units are now going for half that amount, I’d be very ticked off.

Sadly, I predicted this nearly two years ago. If only someone had listened. In February 2008 I wrote:

Just give it a few weeks. I have no doubt we are headed for a massive real estate bust, with all of those fancy downtown condos the first to go belly up.

Yes, they overbuilt. Yes, there’s too much inventory--or rather, too much of the same inventory. How many $200,000-$1 million units do we need downtown? Who’s supposed to buy these things, anyway? You can still get a nice house in Nashville for that kind of money, you know.

Plus, Nashville has no “downtown living” infrastructure. There are no grocery stores, dry cleaners and parks downtown. Public transportation in Nashville is notoriously crappy. This isn’t Chicago or Manhattan. You can sleep and work downtown and eat in a restaurant and go to a hockey game, but for everything else you’re going to need a car to schlep to another part of town. Downtown “living” is something of a misnomer.

I’ve never understood the massive building frenzy that has resulted in Viridian, Velocity, Encore and Icon, not to mention Terrazzo, Exchange, Phoenix, Westin and the Signature Tower. I don’t understand why there wasn’t some kind of plan for more diversity of housing options, a wider variety of price points to appeal to a wider variety of buyers. Nashville has a critical housing shortage--but not in these high price ranges.

So, have we learned our lesson? I don’t think so. WTVF’s Jeff Tang just interviewed Terrazzo developer Bill Barkley. Said Barkley:

"Other cities have an overbuilt condominium market of thousands of units. In Nashville there are only 600 and something units in this downtown area. That’s not an overbuilt, that’s an undersold situation."

Ah, it’s always good news when you’re the developer (or the trade association president). That “600-some units available” figure sounds awfully optimistic, especially when you remember what's happening down the street:

Velocity celebrated its finishing touches and opened Monday with 263 units, about a block from the Terrazzo. Seventeen of those units have been sold, according to records with the Davidson County Register of Deeds.

Oh, ouch. And I’d love to know what “this downtown area” means. If it means "The Gulch," then they're screwed. It certainly doesn’t include all of the condos and townhomes available in the West End Avenue area, where single family homes have been torn down for condos like nobody’s business.

I’m sorry for Mr. Barkley and everyone else who lost their shirts during the “clap louder!” Overweening Oughts. The past decade has been marked by wretched excess, no more so than in the real estate market, yet when a few of us raised our hands and asked if such overkill was warranted, we were called Debbie Downers and Negative Nellies. We were called people who Wanted America to Fail.

Sigh. So, here we are.

You know, it’s quite a feat for a city to be overrun with luxury condos no one wants to buy, and an estimated 2,200 homeless people needing a place to live. If only we could somehow put these two together.

We should be so proud!

(h/t, Pith.)

Tell Us How You REALLY Feel

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sends the California legislature a memo:

Schwarzenegger's people deny the hidden F-bomb was intentional.

Okie dokie.


If ever I had a WTF moment, this would be it:
KABUL, Afghanistan — Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.

The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.’s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai’s home.

The financial ties and close working relationship between the intelligence agency and Mr. Karzai raise significant questions about America’s war strategy, which is currently under review at the White House.


I’ve been mulling an Afghanistan post for a while now; I’ve held back simply because I don’t know that I possibly have to add to the conversation. But this news makes me think ... WTF???!!!

I have no fucking clue what we are doing in Afghanistan. Controlling the poppy trade? I mean, other than what you can glean from looking at a map: Oh lookie, there's Iraq on one side, Afghanistan on the other, and wooopsie isn't that Iran caught in the middle? But other than that, what the hell are we doing in Afghanistan??!

So our CIA has been paying the brother of the president of Afghanistan to do dirty deeds. And the president of Afghanistan is a man regarded as a U.S. puppet, whose re-election is questioned by the people because of widespread fraud. I’m so shocked.

No, I haven’t forgotten 9/11. Remind me, how many Afghanis were on those planes that crashed into the twin towers?

There’s a very nefarious trend among our punditry to confuse the Taliban with Al Qaeda, and while no one would pretend the Taliban is an example of democracy, there are plenty of oppressive regimes out there in the world which America has chosen to do business with. It was so cute how a few years ago it was politically correct to say Afghanistan was the "right" war, hell I even said it, but now I'm just wondering... WTF?

Yes, Afghanistan is a cesspool of human rights abuses. I’ve seen those pictures of women being executed for no reason other than wanting to get an education or defying their husbands.

But is a military occupation the answer? It seems to me if ever there was a place where exercises in nation-building--schools, infrastructure, development--would yield positive results for everyone, Afghanistan is it. This is a country that every superpower has tried to occupy in the past century. I think the Afghanis are a little tired of it. So now our presence in there is fueling an insurgency. Who is surprised? And just what, exactly, are we accomplishing?

How much money have we squandered over there? What has our CIA done, in the name of U.S. citizens, that we don’t know about?

I do not like it. No I do not.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

When Conservatives Come Between Me & My Doctor

I guess we women should be used to crap like this by now:
Approximately 40 House Democrats are prepared to block healthcare reform legislation from coming to the floor should the bill include federal subsidies for abortions, said Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) Friday.

Abortion has been the elephant in the room on the healthcare debate: the Right has been desperate to trot out its most favorite wedge issue; knowing this, the Left won’t touch the topic with a 10-foot pole. But it was inevitable that abortion would come up as part of the debate over the public option, so here ya go, folks.

Let the games begin!

Nothing demonstrates women’s inequality better than the use of abortion as a wedge issue to derail healthcare reform. The reality is, abortion is legal; most private insurance policies cover the procedure to some degree, just as they would cover any medical procedure involving lady parts. And it’s ludicrous to think a public health insurance option shouldn’t cover the same medical procedures as any private health insurance policy. We’re talking about insurance here, people; insurance is not healthcare, as I’ve said ad nauseum.

And trying to equate a public health insurance plan that covers abortion as anything close to “government funded abortions” is wildly off the mark and incredibly dishonest, preying on people’s ignorance and their fear. Insurance is not healthcare! Oh wait, I already said that.

I don’t get why this is so hard for people to understand or even controversial. Even more ironic is that it’s usually the same people harping about how “Obamacare will put a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor” who are trying to insert themselves between me and my doctor.

You don’t see me sticking my nose into their healthcare decisions, do you?

But this just highlights the vast inequality between men’s and women’s healthcare. I love it when pharmacists with a “conscience” think it’s okay to deny women birth control pills but have no qualms about filling Cialis and Viagra prescriptions for men.

Here’s a news flash: private health insurance is a discriminatory system! Insurance companies routinely treat women differently from men; “gender rating” (charging same-aged women and men different premiums for the same coverage), is widespread.

The National Women’s Law Center first looked at the issue in 2008; one year later, they’ve found little has changed:

• Gender rating remains rampant in the individual health insurance market and among bestselling health plans. NWLC examined the best-selling plans (generally the top 10) in each state capital and found that 95% practice gender rating, compared to 93% of such plans in 2008.

• Using the same random sampling methods as in 2008, NWLC found even more egregious examples of gender rating among 25-year-olds in 2009. At this age, women are charged up to 84% more than men for individual health plans that exclude maternity coverage.

• Despite the bleak landscape, two states made improvements since the Center issued its Nowhere to Turn report in 2008. In April 2009, Arkansas passed a law expressly prohibiting health insurance companies from using a woman’s status as a domestic violence survivor to deny coverage, and in October 2009, California became the eleventh state to ban gender rating in the individual health insurance market.

• New research revealed that, in most states, it is common for a female non-smoker to be charged more than a male smoker in the individual insurance market simply because she is a woman. [...]

• Maternity coverage remains largely unavailable in the individual market, with virtually no improvement in access. In 2009, 13% of the health plans available to a 30-year-old woman across the country provide maternity coverage, compared to 12% in 2008.

It seems some people are so accustomed to this kind of inequality that they think it's okay (and it takes folks like Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow to point out the obvious to troglodytes like Republican Sen. John Kyl.)

So now we have an interesting case where we have an unfair private insurance system that penalizes women because of their gender, charging them more for no reason and not covering certain services. And a group of conservatives want to build that same inequality into the public insurance system by having just some procedures covered for women, whereas all procedures will be covered for men.

Umm, no. The main point of the public option is to rein in the unfair and abusive practices of the private insurance industry (NOTE: On reflection that was a huge brain fart. The main point of the public option is to lower costs. But reigning in abusive insurance industry practices would be a nice ancillary effect.) You just can’t do that if your corrective element is going to be just as unfair and abusive and discriminatory.

The reality is, no one involved in this debate gives a crap about abortion or gender discrimination. They’re trying to kill healthcare reform. They’re using their favorite wedge issue to do it, and conservative Democrats are playing along.

Monday, October 26, 2009

That Touch of Merde

Our $700 million military base “embassy” in Baghdad still has a few problems, and we don’t just mean a leaky roof:
But according to a report issued last week by the State Department’s inspector general, the complex is a monument to shoddy work and incompetent oversight. Walls and walkways are cracking, sewage gas flows back into residences, wiring is substandard, fire protection systems are faulty and other safety provisions are not up to contract specifications.

The report says that construction “was significantly deficient in multiple areas” and may not meet safety codes. It called on the State Department to seek $132 million in damages from the main construction company, First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting, which received $470 million for work on the embassy.


The 57-page report details problems with water, wiring, design, automation, sewage, walls, ceilings, power generators, emergency safe areas and structural reinforcement to protect the embassy from earthquakes. It says that First Kuwaiti charged for $33 million worth of design services that were either incomplete or undocumented. Executives at First Kuwaiti did not respond to a request for comment.

Awkward! If First Kuwaiti GT&C doesn’t ring a bell, let me dig into the memory hole for you:

First Kuwaiti, as well as other Middle Eastern companies under U.S. contracts in Iraq, has been accused repeatedly of pressuring its workers to take jobs in war-torn Iraq against their wishes . Once there, those workers are said to have often endured pay of just dollars a day, lousy food, bad medical care, crammed housing and 12-hour work days, seven days a week. Some who have witnessed such brutal conditions liken it to modern-day slavery.

First Kuwaiti's general manager, Wadih al-Absi, calls such accusations lies. But the accusations come from workers in Nepal, the Philippines, former Halliburton supervisors and even those well acquainted with the company's upper management. None of these people know each other, but they have the same complaints of poor treatment and labor trafficking.


The contract for the U.S. embassy "was political," said one competitor. Why political? Because Kuwait was the only country bordering Iraq that was willing to allow the staging of land troops for the 2003 invasion, whisper other disgruntled contractors. The State Department intervened before on behalf of other Kuwaiti firms. After the invasion, the U.S. ambassador to Kuwait, Richard Jones, pressured Halliburton to buy overpriced fuel from the unknown Kuwaiti firm Altanmia Commercial Marketing Company, according to official documents. That fuel, intended for domestic use in Iraq, resulted in ongoing disputes about overcharges of possibly several hundred million dollars. Jones then returned to Washington to serve as the senior adviser and coordinator for Iraq at the State Department. He was in that position when First Kuwaiti was awarded the embassy contract.

I wrote about First Kuwaiti GT&C here, when the Bush Administration waived a law requiring open and competitive bidding to award the embassy contract to the firm. This is after it rejected a North Carolina firm, of course.

I wrote about it again when a criminal investigation into labor trafficking began.

It’s that touch of merde, Baghdad style. We basically gave the contract to a Kuwaiti firm in exchange for them letting us use their country to stage our war. And then they rip us off and use foreign slave labor to build our embassy. There’s so much irony swirling around this story I can’t stand it.

If there’s a more perfect metaphor for our entire Iraq misadventure I’d love to see it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Newsom's Mill, Tennessee

Today was one of those perfect fall days we've seen so few of in Tennessee lately: sunny, crisp and fresh, with fall colors just starting to burst. It was Sunday to boot, which meant Mr. Beale and I spent a few hours driving around the countryside outside of Nashville, just to enjoy the day. It was pure heaven.

We headed out to Newsom’s Mill, along the Harpeth River. The mill itself, built in 1862, still stands. And this is for Aunt B, who has been collecting ghost stories lately: the place gave off major “Blair Witch Project” vibes for me. Maybe it’s because decrepit old stone ruins in the middle of the forest are creepy by their very nature. But then I read the interpretive signs (no easy feat as they are riddled with bullet holes--yes, we Tennesseans will shoot at anything), where I learned that a skeleton was once found on the property with a pitchfork through it.

I don't know any more about the victim but I’d say it’s a good bet they are haunting the place these days, and you won't catch me walking around out there after dark. And I think Aunt B has another ghost story to track down.

Why We Fought A Revolution

Britain’s Lord Griffiths, who happens to be vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs International, offers us a reminder:
Public must learn to 'tolerate the inequality' of bonuses, says Goldman Sachs vice-chairman

Bankers' soaring pay is an investment in the economy, Lord Griffiths tells public meeting on City morality

One of the City's leading figures has suggested that inequality created by bankers' huge salaries is a price worth paying for greater prosperity.

In remarks that will fuel the row around excessive pay, Lord Griffiths, vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs International and a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, said banks should not be ashamed of rewarding their staff.

Speaking to an audience at St Paul's Cathedral in London about morality in the marketplace last night, Griffiths said the British public should "tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity for all".

He added that he knew what inequality felt like after spending his childhood in a mining town in Wales. Both his grandfathers were miners who had to retire from work through injury.


Griffiths said that many banks would relocate abroad if the government cracked down on bonus culture. "If we said we're not going to have as big bonuses or the same bonuses as last year, I think then you'd find that lots of City firms could easily hive off their operations to Switzerland or the far east," he said.

Goldman Sachs is currently on track to pay the biggest ever bonuses to its 31,700 employees after raking in profits at a rate of $35m (£21m) a day.

The idea that greed is good because somehow one person’s obscene pay will eventually benefit the masses is one made often by free market conservatives and tea party protesters here in the States. The irony that this is the same exploitive attitude found among British lords should be lost on no one.

Furthermore, the argument that people should just tolerate inequality because if they don’t, the bankers will take their toys and move to Switzerland is at best elitist and patronizing; at worst, it's economic blackmail.

Does anyone really think Goldman Sachs will abandon the London market to its competitors? Does anyone else really think that the inequality created by bankers' huge salaries will create prosperity for anyone other than that same privileged group?

It seems to me we fought a revolution over this kind of exploitation, the attitude that “you little people are here to serve us aristocratic foks.” The economic exploitation of colonies is a theme which runs deep through British colonial history, and one often hears the argument that this is what led to the fall of the British empire. How ironic these arguments are now parroted by America's free-market conservatives, our own home-grown brand of elites who confuse greed with patriotism.

I don’t mean to dump on our British cousins. Here's an idea from Lord Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority:

Lord Turner, who was also present at the meeting, called once again for a global tax on financial transactions. He said that such a so-called "Tobin tax" could redistribute bank profits to help fight world poverty and climate change.

See, they aren't all bad.

I don't see the argument that people must tolerate inequality for their own good as resonating anywhere in the world. The mere fact that such gross inequality exists pretty much negates your argument. If a group of bankers raking in mega-millions helped the rest of us, then we wouldn't all be in such dire straights right now, would we?

If the idea that tax cuts spurred the economy and allowed wealth to rain down like pennies from heaven on the rest of us, we'd all have benefitted from the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 and poverty would not be at an 11-year high.

Face it, there are no free market fairies, and nothing trickles down on the people except misery. Telling people to shut up and let bankers have their giant bonuses because it's good for Britain (or America) is not a winning argument.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Let's Hear It For The AHIP Singers

Billionaires For Wealthcare, those brave activist souls with some pretty good singing pipes, literally let their voices be heard at a recent AHIP meeting. Watch it:


China Does Climate Change Turnabout

Conventional wisdom holds that China, now the world’s largest contributor of greenhouse gases, is also the biggest foot-dragger on climate change, refusing to place a cap on its greenhouse gas emmissions. (In fact, it seems this is a popular talking point among anti climate-change legislation folks.)

That seems to be changing, according to today’s Washington Post:
Yet, in visible and less visible ways, China has begun to address its emissions problem. The steps are driven in part by the parochial concern that climate change could worsen the flooding that plagues the country's low-lying coastal regions, including Shanghai, and cause water shortages in western areas as glaciers in the Himalayas melt away.

But China has also begun to see energy efficiency and renewable energy as ingredients for the type of modern economy it wants to build, in part because it would make the nation's energy sources more secure.

"We think this is a new business for us, not a burden," said Gan Zhongxue, who left a job as a top U.S. scientist for the giant ABB Group to head up research and development at ENN, the Langfang company that made its fortune as the dominant natural gas distributor in 80 Chinese cities.

This makes sense, and is the argument we tree-hugging liberals have been making in the U.S. for years. It’s just good business. God hasn’t made dinosaurs in a few million years; oil is finite. We’re running out, the world is going to need a new energy source, so why not be leaders of the new energy economy instead of holding on to the past?

According to the Post, China’s government has taken steps to address climate change that put the American government to shame:

Still, China has taken significant steps in the past five years. It removed subsidies for motor fuel, which now costs more than it does in the United States; its fuel-efficiency standard for new urban vehicles is 36.7 miles per gallon, a level the United States will not reach for seven years. It has set high efficiency standards for new coal plants; the United States has none. It has set new energy-efficiency standards for buildings. It has targeted its 1,000 top emitters of greenhouse gases to boost energy efficiency by 20 percent. And it has shut down many older, inefficient industrial boilers and power plants.


Smaller details are getting attention, too. Xie said forcing supermarkets to charge for plastic bags reduced the use of the bags by two-thirds, saving the equivalent of about 30,000 barrels of oil a day.

Last week, the Paris-based International Energy Agency said the efforts are starting to pay off. The agency lowered its estimate of future Chinese greenhouse gas emissions.

This should set off alarm bells here in the States: if a behemoth like China is transitioning its economy toward a green future, we’d better scramble to catch up or we will be left behind.

Make no mistake, China has a long way to go. I suffer no delusions in that regard. But we can no longer hide our head in the sand and justify our own polluting ways by saying “China’s worse!”

Friday, October 23, 2009

Drowning In The Bathtub

I’m old enough to remember $700 toilet seats at the Pentagon and Reagan-era calls to “cut government waste.” In fact, “cutting government waste” has become such a part of the American lexicon that no budget conversation, from the county dog catcher’s office to the massive federal budget, can take place without hearing the “government waste” mantra repeated ad nauseum.

That’s all very well and good but after nearly 30 years of hearing that canard, and with an economic downturn cutting revenue at all levels of government, we’re seeing the effects of those shorn-to-the-bone government budgets. It’s pouring out there, a deluge, and no one has a rainy day fund.

I won’t even bring up the sorry State of California, where the budget crisis is its own weird brand of wackadoodle. The people keep voting for all sorts of unfunded programs (like a $3 billion bond for stem cell research) while also voting to restrict taxation. Grow up already, people. Sooner or later you’re going to have to start paying for this stuff.

And that’s my message to people here in Tennessee (and everywhere else). After years of “cutting the fat” we’ve started cutting some pretty alarming stuff. On the local level, my 2009 Davidson County property tax statement came with this aviso:
“Due to budget restraints, we will not be mailing a courtesy reminder as we have in the past in the month of February. This will be the only statement you will receive for the 2009 tax year.”

Really? That’s the “fat” we’re trimming from the budget--sending a second property tax bill? This is on top of Metro Public Works cutting their mowing program this summer. And let me say, trying to cross Granny White Pike at Gale Lane has been a dangerous proposition when the grass is knee-high.

Even more alarmingly, Putnam County, TN, is in such dire straights it has considered doing away with county primary elections:

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Putnam County is looking at the prospect of eliminating primary elections in hopes of saving $60,000.

On Monday night, the county commission voted 14 to 9 to ask the county parties to forgo primary elections and select candidates through private caucuses.

Primary elections are historically low-turnout, but nonetheless canceling an election for fiscal reasons sets off alarm bells with me. You tea party folks yammering about your loss of freedoms might want to consider what it means to cancel an election because the county doesn’t have the funds to stage it.

Then again, will our moribund electorate even notice?

It’s only a matter of time before this fiscal starvation starts costing people in other ways. Up in Michigan, the state budget situation is so sorry, they’ve had to stop safety inspections of school buses:

"It's not a good thing, but it's a budget reality," LeBlanc said. "I'm not sure there are viable alternatives."

I guess the free hand of the market is supposed to protect Michigan kids on their way to school from now on.

Could this happen in Tennessee? We’ve already dumped another 84,000 people from TennCare. Now the state legislature says it will permanently slash $1 billion from Tennessee’s state budget. The reason is lower revenue, but the Republican legislature thinks this is a good way to operate state government:

“I really think you need to expect and can treat these $1 billion to $1.1 billion in base reductions ... as permanent,” said Jim White, executive director of the legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee, told House leaders on Thursday. “State government is going to be smaller and different after we complete this budget year.”

Well, that’s a great talking point and it sure looks good in the press release, but how does that look in practice? Not so good, it seems:

After more than two hours of grim assessments Thursday, House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, had enough. He predicted the state’s Rainy Day Fund, once at $750 million and projected to fall to $323 million in 2010-11, “is probably going to go down to zero.”

He called the removal of some TennCare recipients “heartbreaking” and said lawmakers are to blame. He also urged colleagues to look at a tax increase.

“No one has got the backbone or the guts to talk about revenue enhancement,” Rep. Naifeh complained. “That’s what we need to at least explore.”

Nope, no one has the guts or backbone, not the Republicans and not the Democrats. But it’s pretty irresponsible to view your “rainy day fund” as budgetary fat.

People are so disconnected from the services that government provides that no one notices the hypocrisy of fiscal conservatives calling for ballot initiatives over stuff like English Only and do we need a new convention center. You know, that's all very well and good but it costs money to open up the polling places and count all of those votes. Who’s gonna pay for it?

Conventional wisdom holds that tax increases during a recession are a sure way to prolong the misery. Maybe now isn't the time, but eventually we're going to have to repeal those Bush tax cuts which helped no one but the super wealthy. Didn't see any of that trickle down over the past eight years, either.

Yesterday I heard Thom Hartmann advocate a 50% tax on people making $3 million+. Rather than hurt “small businesses,” he said, it would actually grow the middle class because business owners would funnel their profits back into their businesses instead of taking home big salaries to be spent on European vacations and yachts.

Here's a handy-dandy chart of Top U.S. Federal marginal income tax rate from 1913 to 2009:

Our tax rates are among the lowest they've been in the past 100 years. Are people better off? No. Has the "Laffer Curve" fulfilled its promise of increasing revenue? No it has not. Instead we're cutting safety inspections of school buses, using up our rainy day funds, and talking about cancelling elections because governments can't afford them.

It's time for someone to be a grown up and talk about what it means to operate a state budget without a safety net.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dear Lamar: Thank You For Playing!

ThinkProgress pokes some fun at Sean Hannity, Lamar Alexander and the whole “enemies list” meme. Watch it:

ThinkProgress concludes, noting:
The irony is rich, of course. In attempting to debunk Anita Dunn’s argument about Fox News, Sean Hannity has instead validated it — proving just how effective Fox News can serve as the “communications arm of the Republican Party.”

Thanks for playing along!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lamar Alexander Listing To The Right

[UPDATE]: Pith has video of Lamar's floor rant.


What is it with Tennessee Senators making bizarro comparisons? Yesterday Sen. Corker compared the American Medical Assn. to a prostitute.

Today Sen. Alexander compares President Obama to Richard Nixon:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top Republican invoked the memory of the scandal-marred Nixon administration on Wednesday to urge U.S. President Barack Obama to "back up" and not "start an enemies list."

Senator Lamar Alexander told Reuters he has begun to see the Obama White House adopting an attitude similar to that of the Richard Nixon White House four decades ago, that "everybody is against us and we are going to get them."

Gee, you don’t say. Excuse me, but you kept your yap shut when the Bush Administration created its own de facto enemies list by politicizing the Dept. of Justice, outting a CIA agent because her husband called bullshit on pre-war lies about Saddam Hussein, and even engaged in its own long-running feud with the New York Times. Don’t recall you clutching your pearls about an “us vs. them” attitude back then, Senator.

Of course, he’s just reciting a Karl Rove talking point from three days ago. Which makes so much sense. The “enemies list” is one of those silly political mudballs one side throws at the other when they’ve got nothing better handy. It conjures up negative historical connotations (Nixon! Hoover! McCarthy! Bad!), negative social connotations (they must be paranoid! And a narcissist!) and emotional fears (A list! That means conspiracy!). It's also a great distraction from more pressing business--in this case like, oh, how the Republican Party is bleeding voters at the seams.

During the last presidential campaign the Clintons supposedly had one. So did, incidentally, the Obama campaign. Everyone from Michael Moore to Markos Moulitsas supposedly made George W. Bush’s list. Bill O’Reilly said his was real, and he threatened to post it on the internet.

There’s more:

Alexander made the comments at the Reuters Washington Summit, a series of interviews with key Washington figures, in advance of a speech that he plans to give later in the day on the same topic on the Senate floor.
Seriously? You’re going to devote a floor speech to a point Karl Rove made on Fox News Sunday?

All in defense of Fox News?

You know, not too long ago when the Republican base was frothy-mouthed about birth certificates and death panels and tea party “patriots” hung Democratic Congressmen in effigy, a few of us went to Sen. Alexander’s office in Nashville and asked why he was remaining silent. As a member of the Republican leadership, an elder statesman of the Republican Party, we viewed him as someone with the gravitas needed to influence his colleagues and urge everyone to dial back the rhetoric.

But now we know why he kept silent. He has no interest in being the measured voice of reason. That’s not how he rolls these days. He’s cast his lot with the wackadoodle wing of the Republican Party, proving his conservative bonafides by spreading nonsense about an “enemies list” right alongside Karl Rove.

Nice work, Senator.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Climate Change Astroturf Group To Hold Nashville Forum

Yesterday I blogged about the Consumer Energy Alliance, an astroturf organization connected to the oil industry-funded Institute for Energy Research.

Today I was forwarded an invite to a forum they’re hosting next Wednesday at the downtown Sheraton (as always, click on the pic to make it larger):

The CEA promises an “in depth discussion” on the impact of pending Federal climate change legislation. Since the CEA aren’t exactly honest brokers, presenting themselves as some kind of consumer organization when in fact they are part of the oil industry lobby, I think it’s safe to say they plan to spread a lot of half truths and misinformation.

Just a guess. I could be wrong!

They’ve been extremely aggressive in trying to get folks to attend this meeting, making lots of phone calls and personal visits to drum up attendance. In particular I hear they want public officials to attend, even (I hear) inviting Mayor Dean. So I thought we should all know what we're getting into.

Their featured speaker is Tom Mullikin, whom they list as a “nationally recognized environmental attorney” and indeed his bio is impressive. What it doesn’t say is that Mr. Mullikin has made a name for himself speaking at Chamber of Commerce events around the country and spreading misinformation about climate change in the process.

To wit:
”I just try to lay out the facts.”

Those were the words of Tom Mullikin (lawyer and nationally known speaker) at a talk he gave sponsored by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce to a “crowded hall full of business and political leaders from across the state,” as printed in the Wichita Eagle. Mr. Mullikin went on to talk about how local efforts to curb the effects of coal plants on the environment are useless, listing “facts” about how man-made emissions only comprise 5.5 percent of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and that “Kansas homes, factories, cars, livestock and power plants… contribute just 0.013 percent of all greenhouse gases floating in the world’s atmosphere.”

This is not the first time I’ve heard these statements about percentages, and they are irrelevant. It is not the overall percentage of greenhouse gases represented by human activity that matters – what matters is how much the overall amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increases, and 5.5% is a significant amount. Just think of blood alcohol levels, or a glass of water filled to the brim – one more drop will make it overflow.

The other glaring piece of misinformation provided by Mullikin is the idea that changes and efforts on a local scale to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is futile. This notion is not only totally incorrect, it is irresponsible, and Mr. Mullikin should be ashamed for touting such nonsense.
According to this writer, Mullikin even claims that because China is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, there’s no point in Americans trying to reduce their carbon emissions. Which is the most twisted piece of logic I’ve ever heard.

Anyway, I suspect the CEA is hosting these events with the help of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (the Nashville Chamber, which is separate from the U.S. Chamber, knew nothing about it). Call it a gut instinct.

The Chamber is a little red-faced these days when it comes to the climate change issue. There was yesterday's faux-press conference prank, and there have been a steady stream of businesses and utilities dumping their membership over the Chamber's opposition to federal climate change legislation (Mohawk Paper joined the mass exodus today.)

Earlier this week, the U.S. Chamber was busted for hyper-inflating their membership. They seem now to concede that they represent 300,000, not 3 million, businesses, though no one seems to have let the Consumer Energy Alliance know: their bio for board member Bill Kovics, the U.S. Chamber's VP of Energy, Technology & Regulatory affairs, still lists the higher membership number.

Anyway, it’s all very interesting and a little bit sleazy to me. You have an industry group pretending to be a consumer group holding a forum to spread misinformation about federal climate change legislation. They've been aggressive in trying to get public officials to attend, and I just want to say that if Mayor Dean or other public officials attend an anti-climate change event it would be a little embarassing, seeing as how Tennessee is trying to fashion itself as a regional leader in clean energy.

So, just a heads up, foks. But there IS a free lunch. I wonder if we can get some of downtown's homeless through the door? I'd hate to see all that food go to waste.

U.S. Chamber Of Commerce Gets Punked

Hey, Koch Industries! We libs can lie about who we are in front of the media, too! Except when we do it, we have way more panache:
Will the real U.S. Chamber of Commerce please stand up?

Environmental activists held a hoax press conference Monday morning, pretending to be the business group -- and pretending to announce that the chamber was dropping its opposition to climate-change legislation now in Congress.

The event, complete with fake handouts on chamber letterhead, at least a couple of fake reporters, and a podium adorned with the chamber logo, broke up when a spokesman from the real chamber burst in.

Oh, noes! Who are these merry pranksters? Why the Yes Men, of course. They’ve punked all sorts of high-falutin’ folks, like the World Trade Organization, Dow Chemical, GO-EXPO, and more.

But Monday’s prank nearly errupted in fisticuffs as someone with the real Chamber of Commerce showed up to confront the imposters. But when reporters asked him the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's position on climate change, and if they believed it did not exist, he dodged the questions.

Watch the video:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Consumer Energy Alliance: Another Astroturf Front Group

Via Kleinheider we learn of yet another fake “grassroots” organization targeting climate change legislation. This one calls itself the Consumer Energy Alliance and it is now running TV ads in Tennessee telling us scary things about low carbon fuel standards.

I asked the Great Gazoogle to tell me more about the Consumer Energy Alliance and it told me the only “consumers” allied with this professional astroturfing outfit are those duped into believing it’s not a cleverly disguised bunch of K-Street lobbyists for the oil industry.

But I did my own research. I followed the linky-links from the Consumer Energy Alliance’s website. The LCFS campaign website is “” I looked at their contact list and got this:

I did a check on the phone number and found it is the main number for the Institute For Energy Research. Chris Tucker, the press contact for SecureOurFuels (and Consumer Energy Alliance, as his e-mail address indicates), is also listed as the press contact for the IER.

And who is the IER? The IER board consists of the usual petroleum/energy industry suspects and American Enterprise Institute scoundrels. Folks like Preston Marshall, president of oil exploration company MarOpCo (of the creepy old bazillionaire-who-married-Anna-Nicole-Smith Marshalls).

And Wayne Gable, Managing Director of Federal Affairs for Koch Industries. Ah, it always comes back to Koch Industries, doesn’t it?

Gable is also president of the Charles G. Koch Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Foundation. According to Wikipedia the Lambe Foundation funds.... you guessed it ... the Institute for Energy Research.

I have one question: what will happen when Koch Industries runs out of money?

Of course, you just need to look through the Consumer Energy Alliance’s publications list to see lots of pro-drilling titles and know these folks are fossil fuel industry shills.

Or, as Grist noted in 2006:
The Institute for Energy Research, incidentally, "articulates free-market positions that respect private property rights and promote efficient outcomes for energy consumers and producers." Its director, Robert Bradley, wrote "Global Warming Concerns Are False Alarm" and "Renewable Energy: Not Cheap, Not 'Green'." ....

So, to recap: We have the Consumer Energy Alliance running TV ads fighting a part of the climate change bill that encourages alternative energy use. The Consumer Energy Alliance is part of the Institute for Energy Research, which is a front group for the oil and gas industry.

Can we say we are surprised? Not me.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Before They Were Stars

Before the Heene family flew, Icarus-like, too close to the sun that is America’s fascination with all things bullshit, they cut a music video in which they vowed “not to be pussified”:

You just can’t make this up. Our media got punk’d by professional publicity whores who have been pitching a science-based reality show to the networks, whose last great grab for attention involved pimping their kids in a bad rap song.

CNN cut away from a presidential speech for this? Does no one over there know how to hit teh Google?

And we wonder how they got the whole “Saddam has WMD” thing so wrong.

Hindsight is 20-20, of course, and now a few columnists are even saying ”we weren’t the only ones who fell for it!” Oh no you don’t. You will not get away with that. You’re the freaking news media. It is your job not to get this shit wrong!

I'm so tired of our media sucking in this country.

And They Wonder Why We Laugh At Them

Always last to get the story, today’s Tennessean finally covers Andy Schlafly’s Conservative Bible project, two weeks after blogs first broke the news.

You know, Nashville is the home of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Sunday School Publishing Board of the National Baptist Convention, United Methodist Communications, and the Christian music and media industry. We are regarded as the “Protestant Vatican.” You’re just now covering this story?

Note to the Tennessean: this is why I no longer read your paper.

But anyway, now that my daily fishwrap has finally gotten around to it, I get to poke some fun at them.

Let’s watch Schlafly (spawn of conservative crusader Phyllis Schlafly) defend the Conservative Bible’s rewriting of Mark 10:25:
[...] the King James Version says, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Liberals have used that passage to attack the wealthy, Schlafly said. The Conservative Bible substitutes "a man who cares only for money" for rich man.

"I don't think Jesus is saying, 'Let's all be lazy so we can get to heaven.' That's not the message. And, if you translate the word rich as simply rich, some people are going to get the message that 'I am going to be lazy so I can get to heaven easier,' " said Schlafly, who graduated from Princeton University with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and computer science and from Harvard Law School as an attorney, according to his Web site.

Whoa there, buckaroo! “Translate the word rich as simply rich?” How else can you translate it?

And since when do you translate “poor” as “lazy”? That’s a giant leap right there, and it certainly tells us everything we need to know about Schlafly’s twisted world view.

I feel sorry for conservatives like Schlafly, who have recently been faced with the complete failure of their ideology. It was bound to happen: you can’t place one foot on a horse called Biblical Morality and the other on a horse called Capitalism and expect to get too far before you're flat on your ass at the inevitable fork in the road.

(How’s that for a metaphor mash-up?)

But for sheer silliness I love the Conservative Bible’s take on the whole “new wine into old wineskins” passage:

“And no man puts fresh grape juice into old bottles. The fresh juice will burst the bottles, spilling the juice and damaging the bottles. Fresh juice must be put into new bottles.”

Ha ha ha ha ha! That’s just so lame and just so wrong! Because fresh juice won’t burst bottles. Seriously, go into the kitchen and try it, right now. I'll wait. In fact, fresh juice won’t burst wineskins either, because it’s the fermentation process that leads to the bursting. Without the “wine” part you just lose the entire metaphor. When you lose the metaphor the entire thing has lost its meaning.

Which is just so perfect. This is your religion on conservatism: devoid of all meaning. What a relief. This moment has been coming for years and now that it's finally arrived I'd like to thank Andy Schlafly. For unbeknownst to him he has revealed the hypocrisy of his ideological brethren, folks like Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, Ralph Reed, Rick Scarborough and James Dobson. You know, the entire insane clown posse that is the Conservative Christian/Moral Majority movement. I don’t see what Schlafly is doing as being any different from what Dobson and the rest do on a daily basis. They rewrite the Bible every day to suit their ideology; at least Schlafly is being honest about it.

The Conservative Bible project is the inevitable result of 30 years of “Moral Majority” folks being treated as the face and voice of American Christianity. Sooner or later someone was going to notice that what right wing Christians preached wasn’t exactly what the Bible said. How absolutely perfect that it would be a computer engineer who is the son of a prominent conservative crusader, with absolutely no Biblical education save the warped theology he was raised on. How absolutely precious that he'd conclude that the problem can't possibly be his politics but his Bible.

It's all finally come crashing down. Perhaps now, finally, we can all collectively acknowledge the farce that is the religious right.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Think Of The Children

You gays wanting to get married will just have to get in line because we still have a Justice of the Peace in Louisiana who won’t perform interracial marriages. But don’t call Justice Keith Bardwell racist; he’s just thinking about the children:
”I'm not a racist. ... I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house. My main concern is for the children."

See, this is exactly what I was saying yesterday when I spoke about “colorblind racism”: it’s nothing personal and everyone will get along just fine as long as everyone remembers their place!

I first heard about this on Bill Maher’s show last night. Maher was spot-on when he said it’s because Bardwell “doesn’t want any more Barack Obama’s running around.” Says Bardwell:

Bardwell said from his experience, “99 percent of the time” the interracial couple consists of a black man and white woman.


I find that rather confusing,” he said.

He said he has discussed the topic with blacks and whites, along with witnessing some interracial marriages. Bardwell said he came to the conclusion that most black society does not readily accept offspring of such relationships, and neither does white society.

Bardwell clearly has an indefensible position here. But so do a lot of other people involved in this story. For example, apparently the state attorney general knew about it and basically just told him to watch his back:

He said the state attorney general told him years ago that he would eventually get into trouble for not performing interracial marriages.

“I told him if I do, I’ll resign,” Bardwell said. “I have rights too. I’m not obligated to do that just because I’m a justice of the peace.”

I would love to know which AG it was who knew Bardwell was openly violating the law and did nothing about it. You know, that’s a form of racism, too.

(h/t Eclectic Radical)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Because What America Really Needs Is Yet Another Teachable Moment About Race!

I was pretty busy yesterday so I just caught a snippet of the uproar over how Rush Limbaugh was denied his constitutional right to be a part owner of an NFL team. I think the only thing preventing this from being a bigger story was the Balloon Boy thing and for that, at least, the Heene family has my thanks.

In fact, it was in trying to escape Balloon Boy coverage that I channel-surfed my way to MSNBC, only to see Al Sharpton and Pat Buchanan arguing about it.

Oh, geez.

Well, that kind of tells us all we need to know about how Hardball’s producers saw this story: another chance to go 10 rounds on the race debate! Pass the popcorn or maybe we should all reach for our politically correct beers? It’s another “teachable moment,” America! Cripes.

Seriously, MSNBC: just how productive can another Sharpton v. Buchanan debate on race really be?

I just caught Sharpton saying
The people that thought he was an asset began to think he was a liability. He’s trying now to make this like this is some wounding of American conservatism, he was rejected by his own partners, ultimately.

at which point the conversation was handed to Pat Buchanan who sputtered something about how it was “shabby,” “vindictive,” “petty,” and “disgusting.” With Pat Buchanan fast running out of adjectives, I switched back to Balloon Boy.

Basically I was able to glean that conservatives think this was all liberals’ fault (Red State’s take was pure comedy gold.) Aside from rolling my eyes and thinking “we get blamed for everything!, what is there really to say to an allegation like that? What did we do? Did we create an environment where Limbaugh’s racist rants are deemed inappropriate? If we did, good for us. But I never thought that was a liberal thing; I thought that was a decent people thing.

My mistake.

Despite all of the “teachable moments” our news media gives us, I’m going to agree with Adam Serwer, who pointed out yesterday that a big chunk of the right seems awfully confused about what racism is.

Writes Serwer :

On the one hand, there's the general anxiety on the right that comes from the recognition that one can't actually treat black people this way and expect there not to be social consequences. On the other, there's actual bewilderment about the very concept of racism -- conservatives understand in the abstract that racism is bad, but they seem incapable of identifying actual racist behavior. Instead, because (a) racism is bad and (b) liberals are bad (c) racism is a quality possessed by liberals. By definition, conservatives cannot be racist, because they are good, unlike liberals, and therefore nothing Rush Limbaugh says is racist. Moreover, while liberals have sometimes intimated racial motivation for conservative criticism where there isn't any, conservatives have refused to recognize when attacks on the president become attacks on black people. Calling the president "an angry black guy" is one of those times.

I do think that’s it in a nutshell. The noisy fringe of the conservative base, which tends to view everything two-dimensionally, does seem unable to identify actual racism. Take Rush’s younger brother David Limbaugh, a conservative writer and columnist for as well as the ultra-right wing website Newsmax. He called Maureen Dowd and Jimmy Carter racists because, as he wrote back in September:

I ask you: Who is more likely racist, the person who sees race every time she turns around or the person who aspires toward colorblindness?

Whaa...? So you’re saying you’re not racist, you’re just stupid?

You know, the opposite of racism is not being colorblind, especially in this day and age when “colorblind” is a nonexistent, unattainable ideal. So while you may strive all you like, you won’t get there by using “colorblind” to excuse your own racism.

In fact, what David Limbaugh and his ilk display is what's called "colorblind racism”. And no, I'm not making this up. Stephen Colbert parodied it beautifully with the bit about how he thought he might have a black friend but couldn’t be sure because he doesn’t see race. However, if anyone called him racist he’d be sure to show them a picture of himself with his black friend.

Hilarious. Those who write about colorblind racism say the “colorblind” argument has been used as a cover for a more nefarious kind of racism, the kind that says one group of people is allowed to continue to oppress another group because they have decided racism is a “thing of the past.”

This is not about race so much as power; the group that has traditionally held it is unwilling to give it up, and they don’t care what race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. that you may be. Progress! Sure, your kids can attend the same school as theirs, but let’s make sure everyone knows their roles, okay? You stay in your social and economic place with the limited opportunities parsed out to you and leave the rest of the pie for the folks who have traditionally gobbled it up.

For some reason we never seem to get to the “power” part of the race conversation. A big reason is because having Al Sharpton and Pat Buchanan offer “two sides” of the Limbaugh issue doesn’t educate anyone about anything except that our news media is dominated by a bunch of buffoons.

So, back to Rush Limbaugh. Like Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter and the rest of the right-wing gabbers, he’s spent his entire career chasing headlines by being controversial. The price for that is when you step outside your little bubble you run across business partners who don’t view controversy as a selling point. It might sell books, but controversy doesn’t sell football.

Rush just got smacked by the free hand of the market. His business partners didn’t want problems with sponsors, issues with the players and all the baggage that comes with having a controversial figure as a partner.

Sorry, dude. Don’t blame liberals, though. Maybe what Rush Limbaugh needs from this "teachable moment" is a little personal responsibility.

Hot Air


Today's tone deaf award goes to CNN's blog which has just offered Balloon Boy: The Beginning.

Shoot me now.


Octopus has more. Seems like CNN milked this for MORE than it was worth.

I can think of no better demonstration of the American news media’s general suckitude than yesterday’s wall-to-wall coverage of “balloon boy” Falcon Heene. Network and cable news alike were consumed by this latest “Timmy’s in the well” story, but no one milked this non-story for more than it was worth than CNN.

Wolf Blitzer’s coverage was typical. He interviewed “hot air balloon expert Craig Kennedy”, who quickly observed:
But, doing some rough calculations with our friends at the SuperiAire balloon port here in Albuquerque, that balloon probably contained about 2,000 cubic feet of helium, which would, at our altitudes in that Fort Collins area, give the equivalent of roughly 100 pounds of lift. 

So, I think it was a pretty good bet that this child did not actually get lifted by this balloon. So, the question is, where is he?

At which point Blitzer said something to the effect of, “oh yeah great point maybe he’s in the house or something but now walk us through this process here ....”

To which Kennedy responded a second time:

It wasn't stable in its flight, like it had a payload below it. So, for that reason, I think, fairly early on, we felt like there was no child aboard, that there was nobody on board that balloon.

And the next complete sentence out of Blitzer’s mouth was:

BLITZER: Well, let me just ask you this question. If the little boy was on the balloon, but fell out in the course of these two hours where it was simply flying around, that would have been obvious to those who came upon the balloon once it landed, isn't that right?

Gah. Then Chad Myers weighs in:

MYERS: Tom, I just -- or I just wonder, of the lift that this thing had and the size of this payload, there was never supposed to be anyone in this. I mean, this was not supposed to be even for a small adult or anything. This was not for a human flight, correct?

Oh fer crying out loud, people. Are you even listening to your own guest? Kennedy makes his point one more time, with feeling:

So, this little tiny balloon of 2,000 cubic feet with a lift of only 100 pounds, I don't see how it ever lifted a child in the first place.

Got it now? There was no child in the balloon! CNN Correspondent Tom Foreman replies:

FOREMAN: You know, and it's an interesting point you're raising here.

I want to look at this graphic for a minute. You're saying, if I understand you correctly, that, basically, the upward lift of this from the beginning was only about 100 pounds. If you had a child in here who was 50 pounds, you're already stressing the lift.

Yes! Yes! Praise the lord and pass the microphone, someone in the Situation Room finally got it. No child was on that balloon! Ever! It was scientifically UN-possible!

But Blitzer couldn’t let it go. After subjecting Kennedy to more questioning, to hearing an interview with a neighbor, etc., he breaks down:

BLITZER: And, so, just to be precise, Craig -- and you're -- you're the balloon expert for us -- if you had to make a conclusion on all of the information you have seen so far, you would conclude that there was -- the little boy was never in that balloon?

KENNEDY: I would hope that that child was not in the balloon. And I would say physically, it -- it is possible that perhaps the child made a very short flight. 

I'm certainly hoping that that's not the outcome. But seeing no hatches open that would have suggested a departure, I don't think that child was ever aboard that -- that machine.

Well, anything’s possible. Jesus could have swooped down on a white cloud and ushered young Falcon off the machine. I mean, seriously.

Blitzer and his producers at The Situation Room were given plenty warning that this was likely a hoax of a story, but with another hour and a half or so to fill and only Evander Holyfield’s reaction to President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize in the sidelines, they couldn't drop it and move along to something else. With dogged determination they stuck with their story, dammit. It was painful to watch.

Of course, the ultimate embarrassment of the entire American news media came later last night with this moment on Larry King Live:

In a later interview with CNN's "Larry King Live," Falcon said he heard his parents call for him from the garage.

When asked by his father on-air why he didn't respond, the boy replied, "You guys said we did this for the show."

Ah, “the show.” Apparently the Heenes have been featured not once but twice on the ABC reality series “Wife Swap.”

Did CNN and the rest of the news media just get pwned by some reality show publicity chasers? Oh, noes!

Or ... and here's a scary thought, did American viewers just get pwned by CNN, who blanketed their programming with wall-to-wall coverage of a non-story, then revealed it was in all likelihood a hoax later on their own cable network.

Either way, we all lose.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Word On The Climate Change Bill

Despite the astroturf rallies and forged letters from the ACCCE, climate change legislation has taken a big jump forward. Senators John Kerry and Lindsey Graham are co-sponsoring a Senate bill, and even Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has signaled support, which frankly is a bit of a surprise.

It’s actually starting to look like climate change legislation might be an easier sell than the healthcare bill, thanks to a new bipartisan support for nuclear energy. I’m personally not a fan of nuclear energy because, among other things, we have yet to figure out what to do with the waste. At its essence, the climate change issue is a waste issue. There’s no changing the laws of physics and when it comes to producing power--excuse the pun--shit happens. You can spew stuff in the air or hold it in leaky detention ponds or try to store it underground in a salt mine but you will have to deal with it eventually. And the stuff left over from nuke plants is more dangerous than anything else.

Mostly I'm worried folks seem to think we can keep storing spent nuclear fuel for a few more decades until we figure out some magic bullet to deal with it. Doesn't that sound a lot like the pollution issue which has led to our whole climate change problem?

While I personally have my doubts about the practicality and affordability of nuclear energy, if we’re going to forge ahead into a new future of electric cars and smart grids and personal jet-packs, we’re going to need more power production. So before we hand a big bailout to the utilities in the interest of arresting climate change can we at least write something into the bill that addresses the waste issue? Because I really don’t want to be having this same discussion in 40 years about what to do with all of those leaky radioactive nuclear fuel rods.

Just a thought.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Visit To Lamar's Office

Nice little lunchtime demonstration in front of Sen. Lamar Alexander's office today. I counted about 25 people there, four of them (not surprisingly) from my church. I think the progressive faith community gets a bum rap by a lot of folks on the left because when they show up at events like this they aren't carrying crosses and wearing clerical robes.

Reaction at this busy intersection was mostly positive. There were quite a few horn honks and thumbs up, a couple of thumbs down, but not as many as I had expected. One person, predictably, shouted "get a job!" There's always one asshole who has to remind us of the country's unemployment rate. I'm not being sarcastic here, either: I have yet to attend a rally or visibility event where there wasn't one person shouting "get a job!" Probably the same guy, too.

The check was delivered to Sen. Alexander's office after the demonstration was over.

Epic FAIL, Democratic Party Edition


Braisted sums it up: "Find a better candidate!" Amen.


There were a few of them yesterday.

First, there’s Ty Cobb’s loss in the Dist. 62 house race, epic because the one-vote Republican majority in the Tennessee State House just got broadened to two. I don’t live in the 62nd but anyone who has paid the slightest attention to local blogs knows that Cobb was such a hard-right conservative that in a sane world he’d run as a Republican. He even got the endorsement of Tennessee Right To Life over the Republican candidate Pat Marsh, who ultimately won. [Adding: I forgot to mention this morning that Pat Marsh, the Republican candidate, used to be a Democrat but switched parties. So this is what passes for a Republican victory in Tennessee. Go figure.]

So, what have we learned, Democrats? The TNGOP is gloating:
"During this election, Democrats consistently touted their candidate’s conservatism in an effort to appeal to voters across the district.

“Democrats tipped their hand in this election and demonstrated that their strategy to get their candidates elected is to have them run as Republicans,” continued Devaney.

Well, that’s how it appears. Is it because, as TNGOP Chair Chris Devaney claims,

“... Democrats know they have to run as Republicans because the American people are rejecting policies being pushed by liberal Democrats at the local, state and federal levels.”

because that’s how it looks. But I don’t think so. I don’t think the American people have rejected Democratic policies. I do think the American people reject running a candidate indistinguishable from the Republican, especially in a special election where folks need to be motivated to get out and vote. Ty Cobb was not that candidate.

You need to offer people a clear choice and focus on issues that people really care about, not this "values" crap that doesn't put food on the table or create one job. Why is that so hard to understand?

I will say, despite a flood of e-mails and phone calls asking me to knock on doors, work the phone bank, and volunteer my time in GOTV activities yesterday, I did not lift one finger to help elect Ty Cobb. Note to Democrats: please do not call me up and ask me to help elect a man who doesn’t believe in what are supposed to be bedrock Democratic principles.

And speaking of, fat lot of good that Tennessee Right To Life endorsement did. So can we finally stop caring about endorsements from these groups? Voters sure don’t care.

On the national level, we have the “success” of the Baucus Bill which in my view is another epic FAIL. As Eclectic Radical noted in comments last night:

Max Baucus himself deliberately chose to aim for broad bipartisanship by writing a watered down bill and failed to hit his goal.

Yes indeed. That’s because some conservative Democrats forgot the goal is healthcare reform not bipartisanship; they came up with a crap sandwich of a bill and still got just one Republican vote.

Major FAIL.

So, where do we go from here? Well, let me suggest that party people need to get off this “Democrats need to start looking and acting like Republicans” kick. Let’s support those candidates who embrace solid Democratic Party policies and see what happens.

And how does all of this jibe with my earlier comments about Rep. Jim Cooper? Well, Jim Cooper is no Ty Cobb, for one thing. But maybe if we stopped acting like Republican-light is the direction the Democratic Party needs to go, folks like Jim Cooper wouldn’t feel the need to tack to the right, either.

I dunno, just a thought.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Healthcare War Wages On

I guess I’m supposed to celebrate another hurdle cleared in the battle for healthcare reform in this country but excuse me if this whole charade just leaves me more pissed off.

I’m watching Chris Matthews on MSNBC now and his guest, Charles Blow of the New York Times, just observed:
What we’re calling bipartisanship these days is one vote, and when it comes to the floor it may get one vote, maybe more than that. But if that is what we mean by bipartisanship we’ve kind of lost good policy in good politics. By wanting to appease the people who want bipartisanship we’ve lost what we think was a good policy.

Yes and ain’t that a shame. In the quest for bipartisanship we watered down a bill to get one very shaky vote from Sen. Olympia Snowe, Republican of Maine. And she made it clear she could withdraw her support at any time:

“My vote today is my vote today. It doesn’t forecast what my vote will be tomorrow,” Snowe said.


The Maine centrist maintained in her remarks that she remains opposed to a public option in health reform, which was not included in the Finance bill but serves as a centerpiece within the health bill reported out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Well, to heck with that, then. I don’t see why we should bow and scrape and send her flowers and champagne if appeasing her is going to leave us with a crap sandwich no one wants, that won’t really accomplish what we need it to, and which she’s going to lord over us for the rest of her term in the Senate.

On top of which, the whole “bipartisan” fetish is very strange, since even Republicans say Olympia Snowe’s vote doesn’t count. From the memory hole:

This morning on MSNBC I heard Tripp Baird, a “Republican strategist,” say that if there’s a “bipartisan” healthcare bill supported by Olympia Snowe, “it’s not really bipartisan.”

We’ve got a long way to go on this healthcare fight. I loved Wonkette’s headline on the Baucus Bill vote:

Our Long National Nightmare… Will Now Be Merged With Another Senate Bill, Debated On The Senate Floor, Voted On, Merged With An Also-Debated/Merged House Bill In Conference, Voted On In Both Houses…

Yeesh. There are a lot of miles to go before we can rest and I don’t like the terrain we’ve covered. The goal is not bipartisanship. The goal is healthcare reform. Please don’t forget that, people.

Dinosaurs 4 Oil

Well this was an interesting press release:
As Governor, I would call upon Mayor Bill Haslam, CEO of the nation’s largest, diesel fuel retailer, to lead the way in assisting our state in financing and building the world’s largest, fossil fuel refinery on the Haywood megasite. The need for refineries is undeniable, and ultra-liberals have used them as a wedge issue with the intent of destroying private, capital markets.

You hear that, West Tennessee? GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Joe Kirkpatrick wants to put the world’s largest oil refinery in your backyard!

Everybody panic!

The Haywood Megasite is near the Hatchie Wildlife Refuge. The best neighbor for a wildlife refuge has definitely got to be an oil refinery. Not just any refinery, of course, but the world’s largest oil refinery.

I love how right-wing Republicans think!

Here’s a little piece of information for Joe Kirkpatrick: no one wants to build more oil refineries, least of all the oil companies. Back in February I linked to a story explaining that oil refineries are only operating at 80% capacity to increase their profits. It’s why gasoline prices are still high, even though demand has dropped.

Fast forward eight months, and we find refiners are actually shutting down U.S. plants:

HOUSTON -- Excess capacity, weak demand for fuels and rising product inventories continue to squeeze margins for U.S. oil refiners.

Sunoco ( SUN - news - people ), the second-largest refiner in the country that doesn't produce its own oil, said late Tuesday that it will soon shutter its Eagle Point refinery in Westville, N.J., which has a capacity to handle 145,000 barrels of oil per day. During the second quarter, Philadelphia-based Sunoco lost $77 million in its refining business and told analysts Tuesday that the third quarter could be worse.


Industry observers believe the Sunoco shut-in is a sign of what's to come. In September, Valero ( VLO - news - people ), the largest of the independent refiners, extended the shutdown of a refinery in Aruba and cut back capacity to process heavy oil at a subsidiary in Delaware City, Del.

Among the majors that produce and refine oil, ExxonMobil ( XOM - news - people ), which operates the largest refinery in the U.S. in Baytown, Texas, (572,500 barrels per day), reported a $15 million loss in the second quarter in the so-called downstream sector of its U.S. business. ConocoPhillips ( COP - news - people ), the fifth-largest refiner in the world, reported a second-quarter loss of $52 million in its refining and marketing business due to lower refining margins and volumes. On Wednesday, ConocoPhillips said it would sell $10 billion in assets over the next two years from its exploration and production and refining and marketing segments in order to reduce debt. (See "ConocoPhillips On The Block?")

Kirkpatrick wants to build the world’s largest oil refinery at a time when those already in operation are being shuttered for lack of buisness. Brilliant!

No wonder Republicans keep destroying our economy. Their policies are purely ideological, based on partisan talking points blaming “ultra-liberals” for everything. Let's put a grown-up in charge of Tennessee's government, shall we?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Suffer The Children Redux

You know your movement has reached rock bottom when you have to protest elementary school kids:
Protesters gather outside Burlington Co. school that sang Obama praises

BURLINGTON TOWNSHIP -- About 60 people converged Monday morning on a Burlington Township elementary school that drew controversy--and nationwide attention--for a video posted on YouTube of its students singing songs praising President Barack Obama.

The protesters stood across from Bernice B. Young Elementary School, holding placards and chanting "Shame on you." The Obama song was first staged "in recognition of Black History Month" during an eight-skit program on Feb. 27 at the school, said Christopher Manno, Burlington Township's superintendent of schools.

You yelled “shame on you” at elementary school kids who sang a song for America’s first black president during Black History Month?

Are you people nuts?

Don’t answer that. You know, this shit is not going to end well. You start protesting someone’s kids, and someone’s mom or dad takes offense and then it’s just all downhill. And I honestly don’t understand someone who would attack children this way. If you have a problem with it, go protest the school board or something.

To paraphrase that old entertainment biz crack, the Tea Partiers would protest the opening of envelope if it had Obama’s name on it. Seriously, you folks need some therapy or something.

But it’s only going to get worse. I read in the New York Times this weekend that anti-choicers are going to pay “tribute” to their fallen hero James Pouillon by greeting school kids with pictures of abortions:

Anti-abortion groups are calling on protesters to stand outside schools with signs that depict abortion on Nov. 24 in 40 to 50 cities nationwide.

They love children and life so, so very much! that they are willing to traumatize your kids to save them.

Or something.

Any time I see one of these crackpots with their abortion pictures, most of which are completely fabricated, I think: how about if we all stand around with pictures of open heart surgery? Dental surgery? Nose jobs? You know, that stuff looks really icky in Technicolor, too.

Anyway, I’m not sure when it became okay on the right for kids’ schools to be the new battleground for their fringe ideas. I’m still waiting for someone with sense in the Republican Party to step up and tell these folks they’ve gone too far.

Hasn’t happened yet.

When The Need Exceeds The Means

I guess they should just beg a charity or something:
Desperation Reigns In Detroit

You may have heard by now of the crush of Detroiters who descended on Cobo Hall this week to apply for homelessness prevention assistance.  50,000 - 60,000 residents have received applications for 3,400 packages of up to $3,000 to cover utility bills and fees associated with keeping one's home or moving into a new one.

The Detroit Free Press Editorial team beat me to the Katrina metaphors, and even threw in "tsunami" for good measure to describe Detroit's economic disaster.

It’s not just Detroit. The tsunami that is our economic collapse has created a tremendous demand for assistance all around the country, even here in Nashville.

Here’s a little secret: in Nashville, we’ve been seeing signs of economic hardship for the past five years. Even before the total collapse of September 2008, a whole class of people were left out of the “Bush boom”: people who worked two and even three jobs, single mothers, people without health insurance.

The people our last president described as "uniquely American” with neither shame nor irony.

These were people that the Republicans, when they held the seat of power in Washington, did absolutely nothing to help. It took a Democratic congress in 2006 to pass an increase in the minimum wage bill for the first time in 12 years.

Here in Nashville I am involved with an organization that provides homelessness prevention assistance to the working poor. It’s a faith-based group, started in 2005 when Nashville churches first began seeing a surge of requests for financial help. Let me tell you, the past year has been hard. The number of clients seeking assistance has exploded. Donations from member congregations have held steady, but several of the foundations where non-profits traditionally apply for grant money were affected by the Bernie Madoff scandal and the decline in the stock market.

Fortunately, the government’s economic stimulus has stepped in to make up some of the shortfall. But there isn’t enough to go around. There never is, but this year is worse than ever. Imagine, 60,000 people showing up for only 3,400 assistance packages! That’s a crisis. That’s a freaking disaster. And no one is talking about it.

Our economy has been in a hole long before it was fashionable for folks in the media to talk about it. Anyone who works with the poor in their community knows this. So many of the clients helped by the group I work with are single mothers, and that's just heartbreaking. Kids thrown out of their home because mom’s hours got cut back at Dell and now she’s behind on the rent don’t tend to do well in school.

These stories can be found in cities all around the country right now. Call any non-profit or downtown area church and you will hear them. And I hope you will do that and I hope you will offer to help with your time or your money because our communities really need it.

And to you people who keep saying, “I don’t want my money going to X, Y, Z,” I have just three words: Yes, I know.

Yes, I know. That is abundantly clear. And because you “don’t want your money going to” X, Y, Z, you haven’t given it. And we have a tsunami of suffering in our communities as a result.

So either step up to the plate and give more on your own, or the government is going to have to do it with taxes, because we’ve reached a breaking point. You can't have 60,000 people show up for help and only enough funds to help 3,400 of them. That's not workable and those chicken will come home to roost.