Friday, August 05, 2011

How Hot Was It?

From NOAA: "How hot was the month of July in 2011? So hot that just by plotting the location of each daily heat record that was broken, a nearly complete image of the contiguous United States is visible. Almost 9,000 daily records were broken or tied last month, including 2,755 highest maximum temperatures and 6,171 highest minimum temperatures (i.e., nighttime records). It should be noted that the tally of records collected so far is not complete – more are expected to come in as station data from across the U.S. is mailed to the National Climatic Data Center. The statistics reported here only include weather stations with real-time electronic reporting, which accounts for about two-thirds of the locations. Final numbers should be available later in August.

This image plots how many times a heat record was broken or tied in a given location. Some cities reached daily high temperatures 19 out of the 31 days in the month. The largest concentration of these records occur in the southern Plains, Midwest, and Northeast U.S., which were gripped by a series of heat waves pushing heat indices well into the 100’s (Fahrenheit) for many days at a time."

Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

“Madness in individuals is something rare—but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs it is the rule.”


The Shadow

One quickly emerging element following the debt ceiling debate and the resulting GOPer triumphalism--which always ends up screeching in obvious hatred--is the flat-out recognition of the worst GOPer extremism become mainstream, especially in its attitude toward the President of the United States.

This piece in salon and especially the accompanying video from Hardball is remarkably forthright in stating what's been going on consistently: the very personal attacks on President Obama, reflecting the furious response to his election.  Lies are not exactly rare in partisan politics, but the virulence of these lies--even more vicious than they were when applied to Bill Clinton or John Kerry--has been and continues to be more extreme.

The extra anger--reflecting the extra fear--is not that hard to trace: it's racism.   The recent braying loosening of the tongue by a GOPer member of Congress who likened President Obama to a tar baby is just the most recent in a long line of just the obvious tells of a pervasive attitude among GOPer officeholders and both their big money and TPer supporters.  Wrote a staff writer for the Christian Science Monitor: "The specter of two national Republican figures apologizing for calling President Obama, the first African-American president, alternately a "tar baby" and "boy" gave new fuel to speculation on the left that, underneath much of the criticism of the president and his policies, lurks the shadow of racism."

The piece concludes: Nevertheless, to some critics, the gaffes are illuminating bits of evidence to underscore what many believe is an essentially racist view of Obama by some in America's conservative circles.

Given that language is the primary purveyor of our deepest thoughts, as well as the fact that language use is often unconscious, "even a slip of the tongue can reflect the kind of prevalence of racism that still exists within our culture," says Shawn Parry-Giles, director of the Center for Political Communication and Civic Leadership at the University of Maryland in College Park. "Progressives would say it's part of a larger conspiracy to target voters to use Obama's race as a means to help defeat him."

I don't think this racist dog whistle stuff is even always unconscious.  It's deliberate.  You say it, it gets covered.  You "apologize," and it gets repeated again. 

But such forthright analysis is rare.  How else excuse a media environment that could not make this consistently obvious, so that the rhetoric and actions of GOPer members of Congress--the very people who gave G.W. Bush his blank check--could get away with attacking President Obama for their deficit:

 "By any rational accounting, Bush and the GOP Congress that gave him everything he wanted from 2001 to 2007 should be held responsible for the entire $10.6 trillion national debt -- along with the $1.3 trillion yearly deficit they handed to Obama, as well as the Wall Street crisis and bank bailouts.

It's that simple: With no Bush income tax cuts, no unfunded Medicare drug benefit, and no off-budget Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the U.S. balance sheet would have been in fine shape for his successor. Then government investment needed to rescue the economy from the doldrums wouldn't have seemed so alarming."

More Hostages

It's part pivot to jobs, part a delayed response to the GOPer created debt ceiling crisis: President Obama came out strongly in criticizing Congress for not funding the FAA, outlining the consequences, including thousands of furloughed workers, tens of thousands of idled workers on airport projects, and $1 billion in lost revenues just by Labor Day (when Congress is due back.) 

But it was other Democrats who said what some felt they could not say during delicate negotiations with the nation's economy at stake during the debt ceiling nonsense.  Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told reporters Wednesday. "... they are holding these aviation workers hostage until they get everything they want."
What GOPers are specifically demanding is to make unionizing harder.  They've gone about it in even a more cynical way than usual.  But Democrats are expressing frustration that goes beyond this debate, including back to the debt ceiling debacle.   For as Senate Leader Harry Reid said,  "The way we have America going today there is no penalty for outrageous conduct."

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Ghost of the Mountains

A story about the fabulous snow leopard that has some good news: there may be more of them,  a "healthier population," than previously believed.

But previous estimates could be the product of simple ignorance.  This research from their home range in the Himalayas adds to the scant knowledge about these majestic cats that blend into their environment so well that, according to a researcher, they can't be seen unless they want to be seen.  It's why the snow leopard is called the Ghost of the Mountain.  So a lot said about them is legend and supposition.

Except that, even though humans kill them, a snow leopard has never been known to attack a human.

"Electronic eavesdropping" led to this discovery: Evidence of two cats sitting together to eat dinner “was quite a shock to us,” Dr. McCarthy said. Beyond mating and mother-cub relationships, he said, “snow leopards are supposed to be solitary.”


With the debt ceiling crisis and resulting deal tarnishing everyone, and the weak economy making everyone nervous, President Obama's poll numbers have been falling, especially in questions involving his reelection a year and a half from now.  Nobody knows how this latest epic travesty will play out, and Obama has been unusually resilient in the polls for the economy being where it is.  You can also count on GOPers to overreach when they're feeling good.  But for the moment, it's nadir time, and I don't mean Ralph.

Before the last act however, there was this interesting article, entitled The big lie that Obama can't lead is crumbling; Prizing bravado, we’ve undervalued President Obama's brand of quiet competence.  It adds to the list we all forget of his substantial accomplishments.

Along the same lines, I came across comments by psychologist James Hillman, with a surprisingly strong endorsement of this leadership: "Obama's temperament is a tremendous virtue. At last we have somebody who is cool-headed, who tries to think things through, who can take the pressure, and who can even concede having made a mistake." 

Besides, for all the real and symbolic hair-pulling the left does, there's this research indicating that suicides and homicides go down when a Democrat is President, but go up with a GOPer.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011


After announcing that he'd signed the bill that lifted the debt ceiling, and reinterating why revenues, especially from the wealthiest taxpayers and corporations, were essential in the next round of deficit reduction, President Obama talked about jobs.

In a Rose Garden statement, the President renewed his call for Congress to pass pending legislation that will stimulate job creation, including an infrastructure bank.  He urged that middle class tax cuts be continued, and unemployment insurance be extended.  He said he would have more proposals for Congress when they return from recess.

After repeating that the manufactured crisis caused by Republicans was entirely unnecessary and itself hurt the economy, he ended his statement with this blunt assessment:

"So, we’ve seen in the past few days that Washington has the ability to focus when there’s a timer ticking down, and when there’s a looming disaster. It shouldn’t take the risk of default -– the risk of economic catastrophe -– to get folks in this town to work together and do their jobs. Because there’s already a quiet crisis going on in the lives of a lot of families, in a lot of communities, all across the country. They’re looking for work, and they have been for a while; or they’re making do with fewer hours or fewer customers; or they’re just trying to make ends meet. That ought to compel Washington to cooperate. That ought to compel Washington to compromise, and it ought to compel Washington to act. That ought to be enough to get all of us in this town to do the jobs we were sent here to do. We’ve got to do everything in our power to grow this economy and put America back to work."

You've Got A Friend

I saw James Taylor and Carole King perform together in the Boston area in the early 70s.  I don't remember where it was, except it was a small venue and I was in the balcony looking pretty directly down at the stage.  This was back before JT learned to smile.  More recently, the two toured again.  This video is from that tour.  It's not the most polished available on YouTube, but I like it because of the audience participation, and their singing is the best. (It's worth mentioning that on every live performance on YouTube, when they come to the lines "they'll kill your soul if you let them--don't you let them," the crowd cheers.)  This video starts and stops abruptly, but it also has the feel of being there, since it's evidently shot from the crowd.  Anyway, this is for Mike, who saw them on this tour.  Happy birthday, friend.

Monday, August 01, 2011

One Moment of Redemption

It was hard not to see this as a moment of redemption in an otherwise sordid situation in Washington.  Gabriel Giffords returned to the House floor for the first time since she was shot in an attempted political assassination, in order to vote for the avoid apocalypse for now deal.  It was a complete surprise, especially since the latest reporting on her condition held out not much promise that she would be up to this for a long time, if ever.  But there she was, a surprise to everyone except for a few congressional friends such as Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Nancy Pelosi.  One of those unpredictable moments of emotion that redeems in an inexplicable way.

No Deal or Bad Deal

The House has voted for the avoid apocalypse deal, the Senate is expected to do the same tomorrow.  Default has been averted until at least 2013.

There are two operative metaphors in this situation, apart from the barely metaphorical extortion, hostage-taking, ransom, etc.  The first is Joe Biden's--it's Solomon's Choice.  Faced with the prospect of having the baby cut in two, the real mother saves its life by withdrawing her claim for its custody.  GOPers, led by their TPer masters, seemed all too willing to kill the world economy if they didn't get their way.  Democrats were not willing, and as Barney Franks notes, basic game theory tells you that the side that is willing to destroy everything usually gets to dictate terms.

So with this metaphor, President Obama and the Democrats got what seems to be not the worst deal, short of default.  It protects Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and unemployment insurance.  It cuts more towards the end of the ten year period, rather than now when large cuts would be catastrophic to the recovering economy (if that's what it's doing).  So maybe it's not as bad as it could have been. Or, another view is that it's no big deal--about as close to a clean debt ceiling bill as was possible.  

But apart from that, it seems like an ugly bad deal.  It looks bad for the country and bad politically.  Though revenue is supposedly on the table for consideration by the select committee, Speaker Banal has already announced that no GOPers will be appointed who will consider raising revenue.  Though there seems some out on the Bush tax cuts, it's not clear it's a meaningful possibility that even the top brackets will be raised, which seemed until now to be the only way out of a tanking economy.

And though this circus is over for now, there will be barely a pause before it starts up again: with the budget in September [update: this may be part of this deal, so maybe there won't be a budget fight after all] , with this committee from now until (literally) Christmas.  If it dominates with discussions of cuts and taxes, the lack of attention to the realities of the current economy, including and especially jobs, will remain unaddressed.  It's true that default or a drop in the U.S. credit rating would have hit the poor and middle class the hardest.  But there is reason to fear these cuts and this inattention will as well.  Most of all, if it cripples the future: both the resources to "win the future" and the ability to respond to the needs of the future--which aren't even in the future anymore.  They're here right now.  A significant chunk of the U.S. is in very bad drought!  Some of it is still underwater!  Meanwhile century's old water mains in Manhattan are breaking apart, bridges and roads are in disrepair--while millions are unemployed.

The truth is that cutting federal spending is directly cutting jobs--of people employed by the government or by companies with government contracts--and those cuts have a ripple effect on the economy.  It is precisely the cuts in government spending that was the direct cause of the weak GDP just reported.  It is the primary drag on economic recovery.

The other operative metaphor is The Shock Doctrine.  Of the book The Shock Doctrine, I wrote that it may have revealed "the master narrative of our time"--words that are quoted on the paperback book cover. Once again we have proof that it has been adopted as the main strategy of the Rabid Right and the Republican party in general, no longer in other countries but right here.  This is by far the most obvious, most outrageous and probably most successful example: a manufactured crisis of potentially huge proportions, extended by seemingly bizarre political maneuvers until major decisions are forced at the last possible moment to avert the imminent catastrophe that wasn't remotely necessary in the first place.

I look back on recent posts here, and see how consumed even this blog was with this invented crisis, that has gone away, leaving behind a deal that ensures even more ugliness that must be dealt with in the coming months, distracting attention from real issues and present dangers.  So in a sense I've been suckered too.  The difference is that people in Washington are employed to deal with all of that, and I am not. 

The Secret Of Life

Lots of birthdays to remember this summer, and this song is for all of us.  This rendition is quite recent, and is found on the "One Man Band" CD/DVD which I've been watching and listening to lately, prompting my YouTube searches, and resulting in this little collection.  The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time, and what better way to enjoy the passage of these few minutes than listening to a great song and a great singer.

Grim Solutions

On Sunday evening, President Obama announced a deal agreed to by congressional leaders that raises the debt ceiling until 2013, makes a trillion in cuts that don't begin to take effect until then, and mandates a process that gives Congress the responsibility for agreeing on a package of cuts and revenue by the end of the year. Good luck with that. Neither GOPer conservatives nor progressive Dems were jumping with joy immediately, so it won't be until later Monday that it becomes clear whether there are votes to pass this in time.

As for the package, the White House summary makes it sound not catastrophic, though Paul Krugman makes it seem exactly that.  Who knows.  Ditto for the politics of it all.  The lefty response has been brutal: "surrender" is the first watchword.  Only Ezra Klein so far is sanguine, with hope for Dem priorities.  I just hope that the President at least verbally nails the GOPers for extortion and exacting ransom--which are words that the NYT and WA Post used.   I'm just worn out by it all.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Afternoon with J.T.

This version of J.T.'s song, "Shower the People" comes from the 1980s or earlier.  I remember seeing him performing beside the tape machine as backup, which had to be in Washington, when this song was a hit single.

This moment may be hard to remember these days--the festivities surrounding the Inauguration of Barack Obama.  This version of "Shower the People" has less of J.T. and more of these musical guests,  and the sound isn't as good, but it's worth recalling this sweet moment.