Friday, March 04, 2011

A World On Koch

Their name is the Koch brothers, pronounced "Coke." And so there are endless puns to make about them, as on the sign above, taken by this Kos diarist at a unity with unions rally in Harrisburg, PA.

The Koch brothers--fossil fuel billionaires-- have emerged from the shadows as major funders behind two of the master narratives in U.S. politics and policy: that the Climate Crisis is a fraud, and that America can't afford effective government.

Though they remain the puppetmasters, their covert operations aren't totally secret. Their war on Obama was exposed in the New Yorker, their emergence at the heart of Republican politics in the LA Times, the attempts of Common Cause to "uncloak the Kochs" were reported, their specific puppet-mastering in Wisconsin is exposed in Salon, and Think Progress collected evidence of their demanding and living off government subsidies and bailouts while corrupting government and subverting environmental regulation.

And all the while that the Koch brothers fund Climate Crisis deniers, their industries are--surprise surprise--major carbon polluters.

All the money they pour into candidates, officeholders, front organizations, etc. has had a mighty influence in shifting the political dialogue to their terms. They've managed to convince just about everyone to talk about government debt and deficits, and then about cuts that penalize the poor and the middle class, while continuing to prevent huge corporations and the uber-rich from paying fair taxes, and continuing huge subsidies to fossil fuel giants--as the GOPer House did this week, in continuing federal subsidies to the oil industry, which has made a trillion dollars in profits in the past decade.

All this despite repeated exposure of the facts about government deficits, and the overwhelming support among Americans for taxing the obscenely wealthy. This is the power of money without conscience, of narrow business-interest greed without consciousness, and of cowardice in pricey suits by their minions. What the Kochs are doing to the future of the Climate Crisis world is pretty obvious, but what they are doing specifically to America is also to deeply wound our ability to respond to even the effects of the Climate Crisis.

Some may want to buy the world a Coke. But these Kochs are buying the destruction of the world by what they're selling. And as long as we buy that, we're buying in to what they are doing.

Being President While Black

It's been clear for some time that major elements of the Rabid Right and the Republican's Tea Party base have been angry about Barack Obama being President of the United States while black. Racism and its twin evil of xenophobia have been at the heart of the ugliness and nastiness they embrace, now joined in that by mainstream Republicans (or half of them, by a recent poll--that's the number that question whether Obama was born in America) and their national leaders, suddenly including Mike Huckabee.

(By the way, may I point out that one of the major presidential candidates in 2008 was in fact not born in the United States. His name is John McCain.)

While out huckstering for his book and feeding speculation he might run for Prez again--just enough to keep the interest and income flowing, but not enough to tease Fox News into dumping him as an "analyst," Huckabee went on a bizarre radio rant about how Obama's boyhood "in Kenya" influenced his unAmerican worldview, especially his Mau-Mau influenced view of the British. (The British?)

When this elaborate if borderline Becktian analysis proved his excuse of having "misspoke" was a foolish lie, Huckabee still didn't hushabye but kept hammering at Obama for his non-normal American youth (even if he had to admit it wasn't in Kenya.) All this is wearily familiar, but what's noteworthy is at least some of the response.

This time around there was response that wasn't guarded, or even limited to ridicule. It didn't pretend to take his assertions seriously, or speculate on what it meant in terms of Obama's acceptability. A lot of response (such as from Joe Klein at Time) was straight-out: this is racism. This--not Obama's upbringing--is unAmerican.

Maybe it's not shocking that the MSNBC yakkers took this on, but it was their directness in identifying its cause and its shamefulness that I found interesting. Lawrence O'Donnell, for example.

But the bellwhether response may have come from Chris Matthews on Thursday. Back in the 2008 campaign and possibly after, Matthews wasn't above questioning whether Obama was "one of us." He was among those grousing about Obama being from some non-heartland edge of America called Hawaii.

But on Thursday he was forceful in his denunciation of Huckabee and his ilk, both on television and in print. His rant concluded: "And what is this right wing goon squad doing? They keep talking about his father? His grandfather? What about his grandfather that fought under Patton in World War II? What are these people looking for -- some evidence that he's black? Is that it?

They ought to be ashamed of themselves. You know what's un-American? Huckabee and Newt and the rest of this."

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Emerson for the Day

"Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and as we pass through them, they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus."

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Secret Storms

It's barely mentioned by news collections but for a lot of people, it is the most important news: extreme weather. There's been a lot of it in the U.S. this winter, and it is continuing. Tornadoes in the Midwest (including suburban St. Louis, site of the photo), flooding in Ohio and Indiana, but drought-fed fires burning thousands of acres of trees etc., not in CA as we're used to, but in Florida and along the Gulf Coast. Storms in New York, huge February snowfalls in the Middle Atlantic states, cold and sleet in Chicago, high winds on the West Coast (including here.) And it's not over, as major storms are predicted for the Midwest and the Sierra Nevada in the West. Records in individual areas and cumulatively are being set.

Such extreme weather is predicted in Climate Crisis scenarios, and the relationship was recently confirmed: "For years scientists, relying on basic physics and climate knowledge, have said global warming would likely cause extremes in temperatures and rainfall. But this is the first time researchers have been able to point to a demonstrable cause-and-effect by using the rigorous and scientifically accepted method of looking for the "fingerprints" of human-caused climate change."

Reeling in the Real

According to two big business sources, the kind that GOPers would normally like to claim and quote, the immediate cuts in the federal budget that the Republican House passed would devastate the American economy. First Goldman Sachs said these cuts would stifle growth. Now Moody's chief economist reports than the GOPer cuts would cost 700,000 jobs.

But we're still talking about faith-based economics in GOPerland, a combination of wishful thinking, no thinking, and strings being pulled by some fossil fuel billionaires. Besides, those mere numbers flash across the screen with the same importance as Charlie Sheen's latest screed, or the latest revelation from Lady Gaga. And they disappear even more quickly. Information revolution!

They get all the attention of some other recent findings: that the financial bailout, whatever else it cost, didn't cost the taxpayers very much at all and saved the world from the Greatest Depression. Or that GM going into profit so quickly in 2010 is one more piece of evidence that the Obama administration's loans to the U.S. auto companies really, really worked. Or (as noted here before) the growing evidence that the Obama Recovery Act really worked in generating jobs and investing in growth industries for the future.

What does "real" mean these days? Whatever it does or doesn't mean in our pathetic political discourse, it means real consequences for real people.


We've been watching weirdly parallel events unfolding in Libya and Wisconsin. The endgames in both are approaching. It's probably clearer in Libya now: Qaddifi is going down. But the how of it is uncertain. The Obama administration has been organizing western responses, and the U.S. and other nations are now taking a variety of actions, while positioning themselves to respond according to events. The dictator is isolated in Tripoli but heavily defended at the moment. The endgame could come from within the city, or in a more protracted attack from without.

The endgame in Wisconsin is even less clear. As demonstrations and resistance continue, the phoniness of Governor Scott Walker's rationale for precipitating this crisis are more thoroughly exposed. Though Walker is keeping himself in the center of visibility, the actual center of the crisis is the 14 Democrats from the Wisconsin Senate who are in self-imposed exile and thus denying the quorum needed to pass his budget. All of Walker's efforts are now aimed at getting just one of them to come back. He's trying to turn the public against them (that's not working) and is threatening lots of government employee layoffs which he will blame on them.

So far Walker is losing in public opinion. There are some reports that a few Wisconsin Senate Republicans are backing away from his budget bill, which strips government unions of many of their collective bargaining rights, despite the fact that the unions have already agreed to the substantive money concessions--and the really outrageous fact that there was no budget crisis in the first place until Walker cut taxes. As time goes on, many more objectionable parts of that budget bill are exposed. Tuesday is Walker's latest deadline to resolve this. Nobody seems to know how that would happen, though.

Now there's talk on both sides of recall elections. So whatever happens won't necessarily be final. President Obama, who warned at the very beginning of this that Walker's intent was union-busting, isn't saying much directly, but his statement Monday on not villifying public servants or taking away their rights had some emotion behind it. He hasn't said a whole lot about Libya either. But he's doing stuff on both fronts, looking to influence the better outcomes, the greater good. Sometimes these things come down to who can see the most moves ahead.