Putting the World at Risk

smog

 

The biggest loser in last Tuesday’s election was the environment. You can bet the new Republican majority will jump at the chance to unleash Old King Coal upon America.

I just received an email from the Union of Concerned Scientists sounding the alarm over this dangerous turn of events.

The organization noted that:

  • There are multiple bills on the floor of Congress to strip the EPA of its regulatory power and slash the agency’s budget.
  • And politicians who will make it their mission to stall progress on global warming will control both houses of Congress come January.

I expect President Obama to veto the most extreme legislation, but with the kind of money and muscle backing the anti-environment movement, he cannot hope to hold the line alone.

The powers behind the crusade for coal are baring their fangs.

Senate opponents of an EPA rule designed to reduce carbon pollution from power plants are calling for an “investigation” of the Union of Concerned Scientists for supporting the EPA. And a front group ran full-page ads in USA Today comparing the scientists behind the rule to terrorists and anarchists.

With this kind of opposition, it looks as if any chance of a carbon tax on coal fired plants has vanished for the foreseeable future.

Global warming will remain unaddressed as the tides creep into the streets and homes along Miami Beach, the polar ice cap melts away and the world’s beaches gradually succumb to inexorably rising sea levels.

And there’s a more immediate threat – deadly smog.

While the Chinese are desperately trying to alleviate the poisonous pollution that has citizens of Shanghai wearing masks (photo above), Americans are moving in the opposite direction. It’s going to be drill, baby, drill and burn baby burn (coal and oil of course) – at least as long as the Republicans remain in power.

The anti-environment revolt in America raises troubling questions.

Americans share the environment with the rest of the world, and I question their right to endanger everybody else.

I lived in Northern Ontario in the late Fifties, and I recall the devastating poison that acid rain introduced in Canadian lakes and rivers. Now, Canada faces a new threat from American greed and fecklessness.

Not only Canada of course. America has neighbors to the south as well as the north. Central and South America – and the islands of the Caribbean – are at risk.

Indeed, the risk is worldwide. Air and water currents move all over the globe.

To make matters worse, America’s coal producers are not only planning an American revivial but also preparing to exploit developing markets in Asia.

I see this kind of assault on the environment as an act of aggression against the rest of the world. And I wonder: Will other nations meekly accept it? Or will they have the guts to challenge America’s blatant disregard for the health and well being of all mankind?

Click for the dangers of coal burning.

Click for acid rain and Canada.

Click for more on the threat of coal.

 

Yes They Will!

congress

Sandra doesn’t believe the Republicans would really repeal Obamacare. How could they, she asks rhetorically, with so many Americans already benefiting from it?

But I’m sure the new Republican Congress will pass legislation to kill the health care law.

They are committed to the repeal of Obamacare. The House voted for repeal more than 50 times while the Democrats controlled the Senate. Now that the Republicans have won the Senate, it’s a sure bet they will have another go at repeal.

I’m also betting they will get help from the Supreme Court, which is set to strike down a key component of the law – federal subsidies in the 36 states that did not set up their own health care exchanges.

The resulting chaos would provide even more of an excuse to scrap the law.

Of course, President Obama will veto the repeal legislation. Will there be enough votes in Congress to override the President’s veto?

Probably not.

But the Republicans will be able to go to their base in 2016 and report that they kept their promise to repeal the law. They will urge voters to put a Republican in the White House so they can finish the job.

That’s not the only blockbuster you can expect from the new Congress. There will be drama a-plenty.

President Obama will be honor-bound to take some kind of executive action on behalf of America’s 12 million undocumented immigrants. That’s what he has promised to do, and I’m confident he will keep his promise

Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have made it clear that if the President does that, they will impeach him.

I don’t think the Republicans have the votes in the Senate to get actual impeachment, but they will be able to stage a scandalous “trial”  with lots of opportunities to drag the President’s legacy through the mud. And that won’t be the only anti-Obama theater.

The President will be the target of an avalanche of  hearings.

Senator Ted Cruz, for example, has vowed to hold more hearings on Benghazi, the IRS and a slew of other hot-button topics.

In between muck-raking hearings, the Republicans could pass laws reversing abortion rights (and banning some kinds of birth control), blocking same-sex marriage, encouraging gun ownership, promoting oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and national parks, approving the XL pipeline, and so on, as they pander to their base ahead of the next round of elections.

They might also stage  blockades to extort budget cuts, with the cuts coming entirely from social services. Even Social Security and Medicare are in danger. And they are likely to pour more billions into “national defense” as they urge more military action around the globe.

Or they might decide to hold off on such substantive stuff as long as the President remains a Democrat. They might decide to wait until the threat of his veto pen is gone.

But, either way, don’t kid yourself that real-life issues like equal pay, tax and immigration reform or the minimum wage will be addressed. And don’t look for stimulus spending to boost job growth and repair America’s crumbling roads and bridges.

The talk you’re hearing about “working together” and “compromise” is just hot air.

The Republicans can’t even “work together” with each other. The Tea Party caucus is as strong as ever, and you know how they feel about compromise.

Click for the facts on Obamacare.

Click for Boehner’s warning.

Click for more on the budget.

 

How Dumb Can America Get?

 

Jody Hice wearing camo, holding rifle

Obviously, there is no such thing as a collective American intelligence, and obviously the 300 million-plus individuals in America have widely varying IQs, but you would be amazed to learn just how dumb some Americans are. Not residents of a home for special-needs individuals but “ordinary” people who have jobs and families and voter registration cards.

Take the voters in Georgia’s 10th Congressional District. They used to be represented by a Congressman named Paul Broun, who famously declared that:

Evolution and embryology and the big bang theory are lies from the pit of Hell.

So what did they do after Congressman Broun quit to run for the Senate? They elected Jody Hice (above), who came up with this one:

A woman should enter politics only “within the authority of her husband.”

Hice, who is a preacher and radio talk show host, also opines that Muslim-Americans are not protected by the First Amendment because Islam is not a true religion. As you might expect, he is ardently pro-gun and adamantly anti-gay.

You might expect this kind of talk from a politician in some rural Georgia region, but Hice’s district is just east of Atlanta, which I used to consider a sophisticated, modern city. And the Democrat he defeated is an attorney from the college town of Athens. This election was no backwoods brawl.

Hice is not alone among the new Republicans emerging from the midterm sweep. The people who will now have America’s future in their hands include a large cast of bizarre characters.

Iowa’s new senator, Joni Ernst, for example, who ran TV ads showing her castrating hogs. She is a believer in the New World Order’s black helicopters and underground detention camps. (yes, that conspiracy theory still lives.)

And that new congressman from North Carolina, Mark Walker, who recommended “we go laser or blitz” Mexico to keep those illegal aliens from crossing the American border.

The list goes on and on.

So what’s happening?

This is 2014 after all, and this is America, the world’s leading democracy, top economy and number one superpower. How do people like these take over the government of such a country in this day and age?

I think it’s because a lot of Americans are not just uninformed but misinformed. This country has a truly pitiful education system. (The high school student bagging my groceries at Publix last night told me he wants to go to that country next to Switzerland – England.)

The powers that be deliberately hide the truth and spread lies (as those Wikileaks emails demonstrated). And powerful special interests invest huge amounts of money in propaganda professionally designed to brainwash the public.

It’s a combination that breeds crazy conspiracy theories as a confused populace plan for the Apocalypse, join militias, share nutty suspicions with nutty talk show hosts, send money to religious quacks, rip pages out of school text books, warn each other about the dictator in the White House who is coming for their guns,  and bar their doors against gays, abortionists, Muslims and illegal aliens from non-white countries.

Not all Americans are that crazy, of course. Not even the majority. But enough to elect a Congress that grows ever more dangerously dumb.

Click for more on dumb politicians.

Click for Ernst and the black helicopters.

 

The Obama Deniers

distance

 

You knew they were going to get clobbered. And you probably felt in your heart of hearts that they deserved it. Those Obama deniers. They thought they could get elected by “distancing” themselves from the President. They were wrong.

They’re the kind of Democrats who ruined his first term. The Democrats who dragged their feet on health care reform and other key components of his progressive agenda. They were worried that the folks back home in those red states weren’t ready for a new America. I call them Democrats in Name Only.

In the midterms, the DINOs looked at President Obama’s approval rating and shunned him. Their craven strategy backfired.

In Kentucky, Allison Lundergan Grimes wouldn’t even say whether she voted for President Obama. Mitch McConnell whupped her soundly. So much for the Democratic strategists who were predicting the Turtle’s demise.

In Georgia, Michelle Nunn also refused to admit she voted for the President. She denounced his policies and even tried to link herself to the Bush patriarch, George the First.

The deniers included Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska and Natalie Tennant of West Virginia.

North Carolina’s Kay Hagan wouldn’t appear publicly with Obama. Neither would Colorado’s Mark Udall.

Losers all.

By abandoning President Obama, they lost his ability to get out the vote. And in a country as polarized as America is today, getting out the vote is what counts.

Yahoo’s Matt Bai observes in an article explaining why so much of the Democratic base didn’t vote:

The biggest reason for the disappearance of the new Democratic map is that the Obama surge never actually belonged to Democrats in the first place. It belonged to Obama — to his celebrity and his ironic detachment and his inspiring story.

And Peniel E. Joseph writes in The Root:

Rather than join forces and extol the president’s leadership on domestic issues, especially with regard to unemployment, health care and the environment, Democrats abandoned the president and, in the process, allowed Republicans to successfully shape this year’s message.

Those Democratic candidates didn’t count on voters’ loyalty because they aren’t loyal themselves. And a lot of us are loyal to Barack Obama. The latest approval rating I saw is about 40 percent. That’s not great but it’s a far cry from “dismal,” despite what the pundits  say. It’s a solid chunk of this country’s divided electorate. You should see what “dismal” ratings the Republicans get!

The Republicans won because they stuck to their guns. They had the guts to stand up for the ideals their supporters believe in. Yes, I know, you and I think those ideals are bizarre, even dangerous, but that’s what the Republican base believe in their hearts and souls.

Did the Democratic candidates proudly proclaim their allegiance to the ideals you and I hold dear? Well, some did but many didn’t. They declined to have the President stump for them. They criticized his policies. They slithered farther and farther to the right.

The ones that did that got whupped. And I say good riddance.

Click for Matt Bai’s article.

Click for Joseph’s article.

 

“The South” Rises Again

Then-Florida governor Charlie Crist embraces President Obama at a 2009 event. (Joe Raedle, Getty Images)

White Americans closed ranks in the midterm elections and put Hope and Change on hold for at least two more years. All the talk about changing demographics turning states like Georgia and Mississippi “blue” turned out to be just talk after all.

The much-ballyhooed Hispanic wave failed to wash away the legacy of generations. And it wasn’t because Hispanics did not vote. It wasn’t because black Americans did not vote.

The turnout among ethnic minorities was unexpectedly strong. But the American electorate is still more than 60 percent white. And that’s the whole story.

As the results came in last night, it was clear that hope for comprehensive immigration reform was slipping away, that voter suppression and other civil rights abuses would continue unchecked, that the cavalier disregard for women’s rights would be unabated, that students’ loans would be ever more unaffordable, that tradition and mythology would obscure science and enlightenment, that bigotry and religious quackery would triumph over compassion and justice …

Many of the seats being decided in the midterm elections were in the South, West and Midwest, and voters in those states showed their true colors. Not all voters of course. Many of the contests were decided by a razor-thin margin. But enough. Down went Allison Lundergan Grimes. Down went Michelle Nunn. Down went Wendy Davis…

And in Florida, where Sandra and I live, down went Charlie Crist (above, left, with President Obama).

It was North Florida that did Crist in. The Panhandle, which is spiritually part of Alabama, and the Jacksonville area, whose heart belongs to Georgia.  In those mostly rural regions, the vote was almost 100 percent for Rick Scott (above, right).

Yes Rick Scott, who paid a historically huge fine for Medicare fraud! That Rick Scott. The stand-your-ground Rick Scott. The Florida governor who slashed education and social services spending with utter disregard for the suffering and lasting damage his policies would cause.

But Scott is indisputably white – especially his shiny scalp. So white that – as Sandra says – he looks like someone from Mars.

Crist is white, too, but he is linked to Barack Obama, and, as Obama noted in one of his books, some white people believe that the color of his skin could rub off on them. It certainly rubbed off on Charlie Crist.

Yes, America – the part of America that went to the polls this time – is not ready for Hope and Change. But hope springs eternal, and the closeness of last night’s results is reason to keep hoping.

Change will come, whether America’s voters want it or not. We can only hope America changes for the better.

Click for more on the election.

Click for Scott’s victory.

Click for more on Crist and Obama.

Click for demographic breakdown of the US electorate.

 

Watch Cable News Tonight

cartoon_voterfraud

Tonight is election night in America, and you should watch it on cable news, not on the networks. Cable will give the event its full attention, while those networks will be sure to miss half the good stuff.

I can hear you grumbling. You’ve read or heard the predictions. You think you know how the story ends.

But despite the pundits’ almost unanimous belief that Republicans will win, there’s always some suspense, and you can count on the cable channels to wring every last drop of drama out of the proceedings.

As Jim Newell writes in Salon.com today:

It’s really the only night of the year that we’d recommend watching cable news. It’s funny and it’s the best way to monitor election returns. Actually, that latter, informative aspect to the recommendation is now mostly moot with Twitter … so, OK, just watch cable news for the funny. Hell, you can even invite your friends over and have a cable news election returns party.

At least you will have had an amiable evening with driends even if the election results prove disheartening.

Newell provides a guide to the various all-news channels, so you can decide which suits your taste. (Click on the link at the bottom of this blog.)

His view is that CNN is “neutral” but with no “passion, insight or visible life,” while MSNBC will be gloomy and Fox News will be full of zest, rooting out – or making up – election fraud wherever black voters are lined up.

I don’t necessarily share Newell’s view. CNN has its biases, if you know how to spot them. And it could be Fox that’s gloomy. The polls could be wrong; they’ve been wrong in the past. Besides, even Fox must realize by now that the “voter fraud” scare has been thoroughly debunked. Nobody is going to believe that one any more.

I would also suggest you switch from channel to channel to maximize your entertainment. It won’t take much inside knowledge to spot the “spin” as you compare and contrast the various interpretations of the night’s events. You are also sure to enjoy their attempts at providing “drama” for you.

Anyway, you an be sure there will be lots to talk about tomorrow if you and your friends tune in to cable news tonight.

And however it all turns out, remember it’s just one election. There’s another one coming up in a couple of years.

The good thing about American democracy is that here are so many elections so often at so many levels of government, that none of the winners have time to implement an agenda. Before they can do too much harm,  they have to face the voters again.

Are we ready for Hillary?

Click for the Salon.com article.

 

Yes, Your Vote Matters

Political/Editorial Cartoon by Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press on Election Day Nears

Reading today’s pre-election day stories, I get so discouraged that I wonder if I wasted my time voting. The polls predict a Republican sweep, and the pundits attribute it in large part to massive last-minute spending on attack ads by Republican supporters.

Didn’t I know that money talks? Didn’t I know that people are susceptible to political ads, especially ads that smear a candidate?

I suppose I knew it but refused to accept it. I’ve been in denial.

I wanted to believe that ordinary men and women can be trusted to determine their political future. I wanted to believe in the “wisdom of the people.”

Yet, if the media are to be believed, it looks as if “the ordinary man and woman” are going to let me down. It looks as if they are going to put their lives in the hands of the worst collection of scalawags imaginable.

And they’re doing this in the face of overwhelming evidence that they will be voting for child hunger, bigotry, oppression of women and minorities, racism, religious quackery, income inequality, political cheating – all of the evils that afflict a society.

Surely, they must know by now that they’re voting against their own interests?

Apparently not. Apparently they believe what the TV hucksters tell them. Why should I bother to vote in such an environment? Why not admit defeat as so many have?

And yet, there is evidence that voting matters.  I read an article in Salon.com this morning that insists my vote could “change America for the better.”

The article meticulously examines the effect of voter turnout on government, and concludes that higher turnout leads to more humane policies.

The writer explains that, historically, America’s rich are far more likely to vote than the poor.

And it seems to me that the acceptance of defeat is more to blame for the poor’s low turnout than lack of awareness. The oppressed know they’re being oppressed but feel it’s no use fighting the powers that be because the battle is already lost.

Those doom-and-gloom predictions add to this perception. It’s a trap that could easily rob you and me of our political franchise.

So don’t let the Jeremiahs discourage you. If you haven’t voted already, vote. It matters.

Click for the Salon.com article.

Click for gloom-and-doom prediction.

Click for Republican spending.

 

The Jeb Bush Myth

Jeb Bush, George P. Bush

 

Now that the horrors of the latest Bush presidency are fading in America’s collective memory, Republicans are warming to the idea of another Bush in the White House. I was expecting something like this but I thought the most likely member of the dynasty would be George P (above, right). Surprise! It’s Jeb, (above, left) who – as I’m sure you know – is George P’s dad.

I guess I didn’t think the bad taste left by George W’s administration would fade this fast.

I don’t know George P but I’ve met Jeb. It was before he became governor of Florida, when he was a businessman in Miami and I was managing editor of a business weekly called Miami Today.

The paper had a feature called Man of the Week (or something close), and the freelancer who produced it wasn’t available one week so I had to cover for him.

It was not a pleasant experience.

Jeb Bush was uncooperative, arrogant – even haughty. He refused to answer several innocuous questions because he thought they were too personal and he barely bothered to answer the others. It was obvious he thought the newspaper and I were not worth his valuable time.

That was just my impression though. My cousin Colin worked on one of his projects – I think it was in the Cayman Islands – and seemed to think Jeb was an OK guy.

Yes, it could have been the Cayman Islands. Jeb’s web is spread that wide. I believe his myriad money making enterprises even included housing projects for Caribbean governments. It’s impossible to confirm that, though. Jeb was (is) into too many real estate ventures for anyone to keep track of them.  I understand he and his Cuban-American partner Amando Codina built subdivisions on the fringes of the precious Everglades, for example.

There’s a widespread perception of Jeb as a regular guy – pro Hispanic and all. You know he is married to a Mexican, right?

But I wouldn’t trust the guy. I’ve read that when his brother, Neil, was mixed up in that Savings & Loan scandal back in the Eighties, Jeb emerged with an unpaid loan of nearly $5 million. I haven’t read anything about him paying it back.

And if (when?) he becomes a presidential candidate, you are sure to hear how popular he was as our governor here in Florida. But he wasn’t popular with me. As a reporter with the Tampa Tribune, I wrote many a story about his “conservative” policies – with which I personally disagreed strongly (but you know I had to be “objective”).

One I found most distasteful (and couldn’t say so)  was his push for school vouchers. It looked to me like a thinly veiled attempt to bring back school segregation, but it seemed to have a lot of support in Florida. Especially in those areas that still retain echoes of the Old South.

But you can be sure candidate Jeb will be perceived as a moderate Republican with common-sense, down-to-earth ideas, a guy who can get along with people of various ethnic backgrounds, etc., etc. An adroit politician with “the common touch.”

I suppose the name “Jeb” has something to do with the public’s image of him. But that isn’t even his name. The guy was christened John Ellis Bush, and somebody must have noticed that the initials spell Jeb. He liked the nickname so much he adopted it.

But to me, he remains John Ellis Bush, scion of one of the wealthiest families in America, a business tycoon who does what he has to – and with whomever he has to – when it comes to making a buck.

I have no doubt that a vote for this Bush would be a vote for the same help-the-rich policies we got from the other members of the family.

Click for more about Jeb Bush.

Click for the Bush family and the S&L scandal.

Click for Jeb as presidential candidate.

 

Picking on the President

U.S. President Barack Obama wipes a tear as he speaks about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown during a press briefing at the White House in Washington

 

I am at a loss to understand what Barack Obama did to deserve such widespread hostility. Get elected maybe? Get reelected?

He certainly has not accomplished all the things he set out to do. And he probably won’t. The polls predict he will have to contend with a Republican Congress during his final two years.

But you have to concede the man tried.

Of course he has made mistakes. Haven’t you?

One of the worst blunders was his attempt to make allies of Republicans, bringing them into his Cabinet, appointing them to key positions and trusting them to do a good job. They didn’t of course. They’re Republicans.

And some of them have even had the nerve to smear him in those blackguardly tell-all books.

He tried to be fair, to see both sides of an issue, walk a mile in the other man’s shoes, etc., etc.

And this approach has drawn flak from both sides of every dispute.  From immigration and same-sex marriage to women’s rights, health care and economic policy, every issue he touches seems to turn toxic.

The left complains he doesn’t go far enough; the right insists he goes too far.

Some of the resentment is genuine; a lot is theater.

Political opponents have made a commitment to harass him in every way possible. His every act comes under fire, his every sentence is parsed for political ammunition.

House Speaker John Boehner has even gone so far as to get Congressional authority to file a lawsuit against the President. Incredibly, it targets President Obama for delaying provisions of the Affordable Care Act, the same Obamacare the Republicans have voted innumerable times to repeal.

So far, no law firm will handle the case for Boehner, but I don’t doubt he will keep trying until he finds some shyster who will.

And you know the Republicans will try to impeach him if they win the Senate and keep the House. They are not likely to have the votes to get actual impeachment. It takes a two-thirds majority in the Senate to do that. But they will certainly get approval from the House to impeach, and they will use the proceedings to smear the President in every possible way.

The venom is so intense I have to think it’s personal.

And I suspect some of it has to do with Barack Obama’s race. There are many Americans – even in the year 2014 – who resent progress by black people, especially by black men.

And that’s a shame. Americans had the chance to show the world they were better than that. And they blew it.

Click for the latest on the lawsuit.

Click for more on impeachment.

Click for more on the President’s unpopularity.

 

The Obamacare Mess

Obamacare-Down

 

Let’s face it, a lot of Americans don’t want health insurance. They want to gamble on their health. Sandra and I knew someone who wouldn’t go to the doctor even though she had Medicare. She didn’t feel sick so why would she see a doctor, she said. She wasn’t that old, and she certainly seemed strong and healthy.

She’s gone now. We miss her. A lot. We wish she had gone to see a doctor before it was too late.

A lot of people. mostly the young and robust, share this view. Why do they need health insurance? They don’t feel sick.

That’s the root cause of Obamacare’s unpopularity. For the vast health insurance program to work, everybody must pay into it. And the law makes that compulsory. A lot of young, healthy people resent it.

However, the law also provides federal subsidies for anybody who doesn’t have enough money to afford the premiums.

At least that’s what President Obama intended.

But Republicans insist that’s no what the law says. They claim federal subsidies apply only in states that have set up health insurance exchanges in accordance with the law. In states that rejected Obamacare – read that as red states – federal subsidies are illegal, the Republicans say.

And because of all the writing and rewriting that finally produced the voluminous Affordable Care Act, the wording does leave room for argument.

The health-care law says people qualify for tax credits when they buy insurance on online exchanges “established by the state.” And only 14 states have set up their own exchanges. In the other states, it’s the federal government that runs the exchanges.

The US Supreme Court is about to hear the Republicans’ arguments.

The justices are considering an appeal that would outlaw federal health care subsidies in the 36 states  that refused to set up Obamacare exchanges.

A decision is expected by Monday – the day before the midterm elections.

It’s a decision that will have massive repercussions. Writing in Bloomberg News today, Greg Stohr explains:

The tax credits have implications well beyond the 4.6 million people who receive them in those states. A high court decision against the administration would have ripple effects, undercutting other parts of the Affordable Care Act and potentially destabilizing insurance markets across the nation.

With the  millions now covered by Obamacare, you can imagine the chaos the justices would cause by striking down one of its core provisions.

According to the Bloomberg article, it would mean that more than half of the 7.3 million people who have bought Obamacare policies aren’t entitled to the subsidies they are receiving, for one thing.

What the ultra-conservative Supreme Court will do is anyone’s guess, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they sabotage the law.

Click for the Bloomberg article.