Thursday, August 26, 2010

Republicans Organize Grassroots for the Wealthy and Flirt with the 19th Century

The tea party mad hatters are threatening to take the United States back to the 19th century—but, the way things are going, these folks may be flirting with the 17th century when emperors, kings and various aristocrats forced average people into fighting for them so that the emperors, kings and various aristocrats could have a little more power and wealth for themselves and their heirs. In the Thirty Years War alone, hundreds of thousands of ordinary people died for the sake of a few hundred powerful people. It took ordinary people two or three generations just to get back to where their grandparents had been.

Timothy Egan
has a post on the growing irrationality of a large number of Republicans (but is it irrationality or simply a stubborn refusal to do some homework?):
It’s not just that 46 percent of Republicans believe the lie that Obama is a Muslim, or that 27 percent in the party doubt that the president of the United States is a citizen. But fully half of them believe falsely that the big bailout of banks and insurance companies under TARP was enacted by Obama, and not by President Bush.

Take a look at Tuesday night’s box score in the baseball game between New York and Toronto. The Yankees won, 11-5. Now look at the weather summary, showing a high of 71 for New York. The score and temperature are not subject to debate.

Yet a president’s birthday or whether he was even in the White House on the day TARP was passed are apparently open questions.

Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, who are notorious for uttering facts more by accident than by design, are only partially responsible for the current state of affairs. Certainly people like Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove manage to time their utterances to add kindling to the fire of right-wing anger. Never mind for a moment the damage news outlets not owned by billionaires like Murdoch are doing by not pointing out the outright lies. The fact is that the tea party people are being organized and some curious people are paying the bills. Here's a post from The Mahablog:
Kate Zernike writes for the New York Times that the “tea party” movement is largely being organized and funded by FreedomWorks, which isn’t really news.

FreedomWorks staffers are going around the country training the teabaggers how to be useful political tools and get out the vote for FreedomWorks candidates. It is this organizing that is behind the several upsets in recent Republican primaries, in which “tea party” candidates upset long-entrenched Republican incumbents.


FreedomWorks itself evolved from another organization, Citizens for a Sound Economy, created in 1984 by the Koch Foundation with help from Big Tobacco. Joshua Holland of AlterNet has called FreedomWorks a “Wall Street front group,”, although I think it’s probably more accurate to call it “astroturf for hire.” FreedomWorks works with a number of PR firms to manipulate public opinion for a number of right-wing special interests.

According to SourceWatch, its funders in 2007 included –
Armstrong Foundation, $20,000
Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, $80,000
Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, $100,000
Sarah Scaife Foundation, $200,000
Shelby Cullom Davis Foundation, $20,000
In other words — grassroots, my ass. What’s behind the “tea parties” are the same mega-wealthy familiy trusts that bankroll everything else that’s right wing in America.
The New Yorker has an article on a particular pair of right-wing billionaires who are behind the tea party folks, the Koch brothers:
[The Koch brothers own] virtually all of Koch Industries, a conglomerate, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, whose annual revenues are estimated to be a hundred billion dollars. ... Koch Industries owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill....

The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups.

Many Republicans, when they aren't complaining about immigrant and Muslims, continue to believe that the biggest danger to America is big government rather than big business. The Koch brothers show how unproductive that belief can be. Keep in mind that if the United States takes global warming seriously and turns to alternative energy in a major way, the oil giants will still be pumping oil and the coal giants will still be mining coal for many years to come. Switching to alternative energy is going to take time. There is still a lot of money that big coal and big oil can make, and a lot of work for those in those industries (however, very rapidly, there will also be many workers needed in alternative energy and the infrastructure projects). Rationally, the billionaires and other big investors who own coal and oil ought to know all this. Business is supposed to be rational, right? But greed and power do funny things to people. It seems people like that can never have enough. It's clear that right-wing billionaires have an itch to throw their weight around.

In the meantime, people who deal with facts are getting uneasy. I live in Northern California and I learned something new about global warming this month. All over the world, we have been seeing record heat this year. Russia, still an important breadbasket for various nations, had record heat and drought that has drastically affected its agricultural output (I know, the Republican with his head in the sand is complaining that this has nothing to do with him).

But we have also been seeing other things. We have seen record floods in Pakistan and China. And yet, despite the record heat around the world, a very few places like the western counties of Northern California have experienced a very cool summer. Cool? Yes, and there's a reason for it. And it does not contradict the climate scientists. The interior counties to the east are experiencing long periods of record high temperatures and when the conditions are just right, the heat rising in the interior areas is allowing the marine layers to flow farther inland.

There is a reason the scientists prefer the term climate change to global warming. Most of the effects in the years to come will be rising temperatures but there will be any number of weird side effects around the world. We are seeing these things far earlier than we thought we would and it's only 2010.

Climate scientists are doing a lot of modeling trying to understand what is happening. The science is powerful but it is not exact. An example of powerful science was the development of the atomic bomb. In the beginning, no one knew exactly how much the first nuclear weapons would yield. Before the first explosion at White Sands, the scientists did their calculations and came up with a range. A few calculations suggested nothing might happen. One or two calculations suggested the Earth's atmosphere might catch on fire. The great bulk of the calculations were somewhere in between. But even the calculations near the actual power of the bomb had quite a range. It turns out the actual explosion was a little bigger than most thought it would be. We know nuclear weapons are real. Only a fool would say they're not.

Climate science is a less accurate science than physics but not by as much as one might think. Still, the calculations the climate scientists have made so far have not been entirely correct. So far, they have been underestimating the effect and speed of global warming. Some scientists are trying to get ahead of the curve and taking more seriously the possibility of worst case scenarios. For an article on the growing odds of worst case scenarios, check out this post at Early Warning on the probability distribution of various temperature scenarios.

In the Guardian, Bill McKibben has some thoughts on the record summer heat:
But this is no longer an environmental battle. As this summer demonstrates, if you're concerned about development, climate change is issue No 1 (how much development is going to go on in Pakistan, now that its bridges are all gone?). If you're concerned about war and peace, climate change is issue No 1 (when Russia stops sending grain to Egypt and Nigeria, and when wheat prices start to rise, what do you think comes next?). If you're concerned about the future, then climate change is issue No 1 – because this summer is a tiny taste of what the future is all about. So far we've barely raised the earth's temperature a degree, and that's caused all that we've seen so far. But climatologists assure us there's four or five degrees more by the century's end unless we work with incredible speed to end the fossil fuel era.

The Tea Party crowd is determined to turn the Republican Party into the American Taliban. If by Taliban we are talking about fundamentalism, xenophobia, self-righteousness, a turning away from rationalism toward authoritarianism and an inward turn toward the past, there can be no doubt the United States has a problem. The question this fall is whether enough Americans will join right-wing Republicans to form a majority or whether Americans will turn away from the kind of nonsense that has never done our nation any good.

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Friday, August 13, 2010

After 75 Years, Social Security Still Threatened by Republicans

The Democrats are celebrating the 75th anniversary of Social Security. At a time when Republicans are doing their best to kill pensions for workers, social security is more important than ever for widows, the elderly and the disabled. These are the hidden citizens of America, most of whom have worked hard all their lives. These are the people Republicans would like to forget. Democrats know better. Here's the story from The Boston Globe:
“Social security was something that my grandfather viewed as a key part of his legacy, just as universal health care is going to be a key part of President Obama’s legacy,” said [James] Roosevelt in a conference call Friday afternoon with reporters and DNC Chairman Tim Kaine.

Roosevelt and Kaine pledged to protect Social Security as a public program, especially in light of cries for privatization this election season from Republicans like Sharron Angle of Nevada and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

As far as I can tell, the primary reason Republican politicians are pushing for the privatization of social security is that they want campaign contributions from conservative stock brokers who would obviously have a piece of the action. This, of course, is not about helping the American people. This is about raw politics, power and greed. Nothing more.

I have no idea what to make of people like Sharon Angle. Here's an AP article where she's peddling Republican talking points:
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle says the nation's Social Security system needs to be privatized, and that it was done before in the South American country of Chile.

What does Sharon Angle know about Social Security? Does she know the history of workers in our country? How do people like Sharon Angle get nominated? She has repeatedly said things in the past few months that reveal a lack of knowledge across a wide area of subjects. So obviously, after a series of blunders, she's now being stage-managed by her Republican advisers at this point. Who's advising her? At two or three removes, I suspect sociopaths like Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich are peddling this stuff. If the word, 'sociopath,' seems strong, note that Gingrich's ex-wife quotes Gingrich's staff as saying "he's a sociopath, but he's our sociopath" (It's not the only time the word has been tied to Gingrich). Is that what people want? Republican puppets who spew all the talking points without having the foggiest idea what they're talking about?

I hate to be harsh but I recently had to read a paper by a young person who got bamboozled by a lot of nonsense being posted on the Internet. This person has no stake in the social security 'debate' and simply used the Internet for research. If one simply Googles the words, 'is social security bankrupt,' the problem quickly becomes apparent. The sky is falling crowd of Republicans has dozens of papers attempting to scare people into believing that social security will go bankrupt in 2010, 2012 or 2016. Again, I would prefer to take a more thoughtful approach, but when you read the stuff, it's just fraud, lies and nonsense.

One could argue that the Great Recession that was brought to us by George W. Bush might have been deep enough to damage Social Security. But in fact Social Security has weathered the crisis fairly well. Here's a story from the Los Angeles Times about the recently released annual report of the Social Security Trustees:
In recent years, during which conservatives have intensified their efforts to destroy one of the few U.S. government programs that actually works as intended, the report's publication has become an occasion for hand-wringing and crocodile tears over the (supposedly) parlous state of the system's finances.

This year's report, which came out Thursday, is no exception. Within minutes of its release, some analysts were claiming that it projected a "shortfall" for Social Security this year of $41 billion.


Before we get to the bogus math behind that statement — which doesn't actually appear in the report — let's look at the encouraging findings by the agency's trustees, who include the secretaries of Labor, the Treasury, and Health and Human Services.

The trustees indicated that the program has made it through the worst economic downturn in its life span essentially unscathed. In fact, by at least one measure it's fiscally stronger than a year ago: Its projected actuarial deficit over the next 75 years (a measurement required by law) is smaller now than a year ago.

When one sees crocodile tears from Republicans, be sure to look closely for the dollar signs in their eyes. They keep thinking of the hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of dollars that might flow in from those stock brokers wanting to cash in on the privatization of social security.

Now these guys won't set up those private accounts for free (why do you think they're salivating?). But they were certainly ready to charge their fees back in 2005—except that Bush wasn't able to pass social security privatization. Too bad. Think of all that money investors might have made between late 2007 and early 2009 during the worst economic slump since the Great Depression. Those are funny folks who run the Republican Party these days.

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Sunday, August 08, 2010

Republicans Are Trying to Kill Me

Sorry about the snarky title to this post. Unfortunately, it's true. I don't mean that the average everyday Republican is trying to kill me. On the other hand, many very conservative Republicans who go to the polls every election aren't paying too much attention to facts these days. Nor do these same voters recognize how few good ideas their leaders have had for many years now.

Let's begin with a fact that came close to killing me: health care is broken and has been for twenty years. Republicans leaders in Congress could care less about this simple fact. For one thing, they have too many wealthy campaign contributors who work for the insurance companies and those contributors don't want their cash cow disturbed.

So what does this have to do with me? Simple. I work as a free lance writer and editor. It's never been easy to get health insurance even in the best of times. Sometimes I have lucked out simply because sometimes I have gotten health insurance through my wife's employer. She's in a profession where it's common to change employers from time to time. For technical reasons I can no longer get health insurance from her latest employer. So I tried to apply for health insurance through a company that had a deal with the AARP. I thought it was a straightforward application. Little did I know. A few weeks after I got the application, I got a letter from the insurance company that said I had to call such and such a person. The person was a nurse working for the insurance company. She asked some detailed questions about my health history. Two weeks later I received a letter denying me health insurance because of a preexisting condition that has now existed for over 30 years. That condition has probably cost me less than $3,000 over the 30 year span and most of the money was spent on periodic blood tests. I kept thinking back on the nurse and how little regard she seemed to have for her profession. She was working for bean counters instead of people who believe in providing a good service for their clients.

Nearly two years later—last month—my wife and I decided to move to a little larger rental. We decided to hire movers this time but there was still a lot of work to do. Being a writer, for example, it's natural that I have a lot of books. Boxes of books can get in the way during a move, so I rented a small storage space to store the books until after the move. Our last place has stairs and I found myself getting a bit winded after taking down a load to my car and going back up the stairs. Sometimes my left shoulder started getting sore. If I simply stopped, the shoulder pain went away. I tried to be more careful and started taking my time. I thought maybe I was beginning to show my age, but otherwise I was fine. Or so I thought. I was wrong.

At one in the morning, I finished an editing job and got ready for bed. I'm a night owl but normally I finish my jobs around midnight. But it had been a long day and I had been a bit sluggish. I got ready for bed and a bunch of acid suddenly erupted up my esophagus. I get acid reflux sometimes, though an over-the-counter medication I take usually does a good job of controlling the problem. My shoulder also started hurting a lot, particularly around the chest.

I couldn't sleep, so I went in the living room to sit in a chair, thinking that might help. It began to occur to me that maybe I had a bigger problem, that maybe more than acid reflux and a sore shoulder was going on. I didn't want to think about it. It was early Saturday morning and no place I could think of was going to be cheap. And besides, that pain I felt when I went up the stairs always went away. And I thought a glass of water and some Tums and a little patience is all I needed and I would be fine.

But after a couple of hours the chair grew uncomfortable. I went back to bed, lay there awhile, and broke out in a sweat. I threw off the blankets, sat up and finally my wife asked if something was wrong. I explained about the pain. She trusted my explanation since I usually know my body pretty well. But I wasn't being honest with myself. For one thing, I hate false alarms. For another, I couldn't even think where to go. I couldn't afford to go anywhere. I simply couldn't afford to have a problem. So I waited.

If Republicans had not stalled and played games on health care, if a few Democrats—behaving like Republicans— had not waffled for so long, I might have had insurance by now. I would be paying several thousands dollar a year for it, just like everybody else. Health care should have been passed a year ago. Insurance for preexisting conditions might have become available by this past January. Republicans literally might not have been trying to kill me on the night I had a heart attack and waited and waited because I had no insurance.

My wife finally drove me to the emergency room. Luckily, it was less than a mile away. Luckily, they have a first-rate heart clinic. Luckily, they got to me in time, pumped me with heparin and wheeled me into the heart clinic where I received a stent. I stayed in the hospital for three days. I was lucky, my new doctor thinks I'll heal, though it's not exactly going to happen in a hurry. But the bill? I don't want to even talk about the bill. It's big. I try to watch my money. I try to save. But I've never seen a bill like that. Actually, there are several bills and they haven't stopped coming.

I don't want to hear from Republicans that I'm fussing about nothing, that I just have to know how to manipulate the system. That's bullcrap. It's a full admission that health care in our nation is broken. Will the new health care program work? Maybe. It needs to be stronger than it is but Republicans and the few Democrats who behave like Republicans watered it down too much. They lied to the public too much. They are still lying to the public too much. These days Republican leaders are paid to lie. The theme of Republicans this year is that our country is failing. It's an insulting proposition, particularly given the games that have been played in the last thirty years. Think of it: they want President Obama to fail. They want our president to fail. That is tantamount to wanting our nation to fail.

I have Republican friends who are horrified by what happened to me. I have one friend who worried that an argument we had back in June might have contributed to my heart attack. I had to assure him that it didn't. But I don't know what to think. You can't keep sending jobs overseas, you can't keep buying oil from foreign companies, you can't keep letting American economic sectors run amok (think oil and coal), you can't ignore the paramount importance of developing renewable energy sources, you can't play one group off another, you can't shovel buckets of money into the hands of people who are already wealthy and expect a majority of Americans to do well. It isn't going to happen. But that's where we're headed if Republicans get back into power. They have no ideas except old ideas that have not worked.

A few days ago, I put my name on an email list to receive an application for insurance for those people with preexisting conditions. I guess I have two preexisting conditions now. Needless to say, I need the insurance. And today's Republican leaders have done nothing to assure me that they're not trying to kill me the next time I have a serious health issue.

I'll say it one last time: I know I was lucky. But I keep thinking of the ones who waited too long, the mothers and fathers, the hardworking people who had no insurance. This is not the way our country should be. We need to start moving forward again, not backwards.

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