Friday, August 19, 2011

This is Government

One of the many pleasures of Congress not being in session is that CSPAN gets to feature some interesting people those of us outside the Beltway might not otherwise see.  I caught part of this presentation by Craig Fugate, who President Obama appointed to head  FEMA.  He previously worked for Republican governor Crist of Florida.  He is one impressive guy.

In this year of nine disasters costing over a billion dollars in damage each, and certainly as we look to the immediate Climate Crisis future, the role of emergency management, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is going to be very important.  If Fugage can truly transform FEMA in the way he describes, it's a godsend, not just for now but for that future (assuming somebody like ol' Heckava Job doesn't get the job.)

Fugate is updating the agency, not only in terms of technology and streamlining bureaucracy, but in attitude.  In an article about him from about a year ago, he said: "We need to change this methodology that the public are victims, and realize they're survivors and that they oftentimes will contribute to greater success if we incorporate them into the plans and remember who we're working for," he said. "We're working for survivors."

Since this statement, the Joplin tornado happened, and Fugate was there immediately.  What he found was that a quite recently developed emergency plan created locally was working smoothly.  It not only coordinated local resources but allowed for improvisations.  Knowing that people were relying almost entirely on cell phones they were carrying--but that their chargers might well have been lost along with their homes--a local casino raided its lost and found cache of rechargers and donated them to the Red Cross.

As Fugate recognizes and asserts, most rescues in the first hours after disaster are by neighbors looking out for their neighbors.  Some may call this the Golden Rule ethic, but I prefer to describe it with the common phrase, "you'd do the same for me."  It is one of the most important bases for all human society. Emergency management must recognize it and liberate it, must coordinate and manage it.

Fugate has instituted other reforms that sound like common sense, like making sure that resources for infants and old people are in the mix in every batch of emergency supplies.  But it took an incisive intelligence, skilled in the vocabulary of business as well as government bureauracy to make the case and get it done.  This guy is a real bright spot, and rekindles my hopes for this difficult future we're embarking on.

This, by the way, is government.  This is what government is about, and government also attracts people with the commitment and smarts of Fugate.   

GOPer Racism Roundup

GOPer pols are so overtly racist so much of the time that noting each instance is beyond a poor unpaid blogger's resources or patience.  But Senator Tom Coburn at a town hall on Thursday made a number of outrageous and near-crazed comments, including a classic of GOPer racism that appeals to their racist base with a characteristic line of argument: blacks like Obama get all the benefit from "dependency" on government programs.

This is a dog-whistle reminder that the black President must be channeling government billions to fellow blacks, which is the usually unstated substructure of the "anti-government" argument.  (I'm sure the White House didn't fail to notice that this emerged the same day as stories and statements saying that Obama hasn't done enough for black Americans, who are twice as likely to be unemployed as the population in general.)

 It's also behind the frequent charges that Obama is not up to the job, which more than implies that he got ahead not because of intelligence or hard work but because of Affirmative Action. 

But while we're at, in case you missed them here are a couple of other recent GOPer racism examples:  a GOPer member of Congress who referred to President Obama as a "tar baby," and a commentator referring to him as "boy" (although Pat Buchanan's analogy was unfortunate, it could well have been just insensitive to the language he was using.)  All of these are followed by apologies and offstage winks.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

Keep true to the dreams of thy youth.
Friedrich Schiller

photo: meteor shower from above by NASA astronaut Ron Garan from the International Space Station.

The Billion Dollar Disaster

Well, there wasn't just one Billion Dollar Disaster in America this year.  There were nine.

Nine weather-related disasters causing at least a billion dollars in damage, which ties the 30 year record established in 2008.  But with hurricane season and the first part of winter to go.

There were two billion dollar floods, five billion dollar tornadoes and a billion dollar blizzard.  And assorted thunderstorms tacked on another $20 billion, double the normal.  And we're just heading into the traditional thunderstorm season in the East. 

GOPer Gawk: Thursday Edition

Government spending--baaaad.  Federal government spending--oooooh so very baaaaddddd.  Why hell, everybody knows that, right Cowboy Rick?

Cowboy Rick is runnin for president because he knows how to create jobs.  Just look at all the jobs he created as governor in Texas.  Well, not too closely.  The unemployment rate there is higher than any of the neighboring states.  And it turns out that   Texas lost 178,000 private sector jobs between 2007 and 2010.  But it gained 125,000 public sector jobs.  That's primarily GOVERNMENT JOBS.  It's a mirror image of our current jobs situation nationally in that regard, for the private sector is creating jobs, but government is shedding jobs even faster, which largely accounts for the weak job creation numbers last month, for example.

So how did Texas do it?  Shoot, that's easy.  The Obama Recovery Act!  You know, the one that got ol' Cowboy Rick so riled up he threatened to secede from the Union?  Then he took billions from that socialist stim to shore up and expand state and local government, and there were lots of federal jobs, too. 

But hypocrisy isn't the only gold standard for the GOPers.  A study of TPers revealed what won't be news to readers of this blog: they are primarily Rabid Right, Christian Right white good ol' GOPers with deep suspicions of non-whites, and anybody not Rabid Christian Rightists.

Just what their agenda is--the agenda of Michele Blaughman and Cowboy Rick--is reportedly  a little something called Dominionism: "Put simply, Dominionism means that Christians have a God-given right to rule all earthly institutions. Originating among some of America’s most radical theocrats, it’s long had an influence on religious-right education and political organizing".

For believers in Dominionism, rule by non-Christians is a sort of sacrilege—which explains, in part, the theological fury that has accompanied the election of our last two Democratic presidents. “Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ—to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness,” wrote George Grant, the former executive director of Coral Ridge Ministries, which has since changed its name to Truth in Action Ministries. “But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice ... It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time ... World conquest.”

In case you're confused, dominion ain't about Canada.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary it means "supreme authority" and "absolute ownership."

Recent polls indicate that TPers are about the least popular political group in America, but then, nobody is very popular right now.  It's a very volatile moment.  Cowboy Rick is counting on that.  There was a brief flurry on Wednesday about Chris Christie getting into the race, though not a serious one.  But it tells you two things about GOPerville.  First, the Bush Gang really doesn't want Cowboy Rick to win the nomination.  Second, they are afraid he might.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Emerson for the Day

“Dreams and beasts are two keys by which we are to find out the secrets of our own nature.”


photo: jaguar in Costa Rica, one of the recently released photos by Conservation International.  This jaguar is classified as near threatened.

On the Road Again

With a cloud of dust and a hearty hi-Beltway commentariat-yo mama, President Barack Obama took to the road again this week, starting in rural Minnesota and Iowa, and ending up today (Wednesday) in Illinois.

First of all, it is Escape from Debt Crisis Prison.  As E.J. Dionne correctly surmised, "Having done so, the White House now sounds liberated. Even a government shutdown would be a day in springtime compared with the economic Armageddon that default might have let loose. Obama has a margin for maneuver and action he didn’t have before."

Lest we forget, candidate Obama always said he was leading a movement.  At the crucial moment of the debt ceiling crisis, President Obama called for American voters to let Washington know they wanted a solution, and millions did.  This week he went back out there to ask them in person to help him gets a jobs agenda through Congress in September.

 Despite the grumbling from leftie pundits who work themselves into a lather by talking only to each other, he saw the opening: with members of Congress out of Washington, there was nobody else on the media stage.  Even if the commentariat is so much more interested in talking than listening, at least some of what he was saying might get through to audiences beyond the ones right in front of him.  (Although CNN had their faces analyzing what the President was saying while he was still saying it--after all, it is so much more important to promote your own personalities than to let the country see and hear their President.)

So I report to you from watching the C-Span videos of both recorded appearances on Monday, and his closing remarks at the Rural Economic Forum on Tuesday.  Some of the themes and languages had been tested in recent contexts that weren't even this well covered.  But others were fresh, and together these themes seemed remarkably polished and powerful.  America isn't broken, he said.  Government isn't broken.  Our politics are broken.  What we need now is for members of Congress particularly to put "country ahead of party."

Some of his more memorable lines were probably prepared, as when he took on the description of his healthcare package as Obamacare.  "I have no problem with folks saying 'Obama cares'," he told the crowd. "I do care."  Others were spontaneous, as when he declared, "  I make no apologies for being reasonable."

Progressives who could sit still and listen may have heard a lot they were clamoring to hear. In response to questions, he made a spirited defense of unions, and took on GOPers directly on the issue.  He declared "we're going to be monitoring voting rights all over the country while I'm President."  He defended government at every stop.  He had to start with noting that the debate too often was between those railing that government is bad and those insisting everything the government is doing is good.  "It's not either/or."  He defended education in very strong terms.

But most of all he talked about jobs.  He hammered away at his proposals already before Congress, including the infrastructure bank to get construction workers on the job to rebuild America's aging and failing infrastructure.  He promised to present a bigger agenda of economic incentives to Congress when it returns in September.  And nervous progressive take note--he also promised: "I will take my case to the American people that this is the vision to move America forward."

While pundits knowingly note that President Obama is riding his bus through states he needs to win in 2012, they've failed to note that there really arent' that many votes in the places he's going.  If this was purely political, he'd be in big cities.  But this is a deliberately rural tour, not just for the pretty pictures it produces, but because his administration has consistently bet on the role of rural America in the future.

At every stop, and particularly at the Rural Economic Forum on Tuesday, President Obama talked about the convergence of small business/rural America/the Internet/ clean energy.  The Internet provides small businesses with global reach, and so a bunch of stim money went to support bringing broadband and wireless technology to rural areas, where commercial outfits don't see the profit in doing it.  Rural areas, with lower costs, are prime for small businesses.  The wide open spaces are also perfect for large scale clean energy technologies, such as windpower farms and larger solar.  It's where the "bio" for biofuels is grown, and increasingly where it is turned into fuel--not just from corn either.  Small business with agricultural components are perfect for family farms, as is sustainable and organic agriculture that can be sold via the Internet.

(And speaking of biofuels, President Obama mentioned the U.S. military initiatives I mentioned in this recent post, that were either started or supported by his administration.  It's been getting noticed elsewhere as well.)

President Obama's roadtrip comes when last week's poll numbers look grim.  But watching him out there, I wouldn't bet against him.  There are other numbers much more significantly in his favor--like his 70% support for reelection among Democrats, about 15 points higher than Bill Clinton's towards the end of his first term.  The poll numbers for GOPers are much worse, and the TPers are fading fast.  He's sounding themes that resonate.  He talks about an America that is "big and bold and generous."

It is that America that he sees here, and on Tuesday he said why: Not only do I continue to have absolute confidence in you, but you’re what gives me strength. As I was driving down those little towns in my big bus -- (laughter) -- we slowed down, and I’m standing in the front and I’m waving, I’m seeing little kids with American flags, and grandparents in their lawn chairs, and folks outside a machine shop, and passing churches and cemeteries and corner stores and farms -- I’m reminded about why I wanted to get into public service in the first place.

Sometimes there are days in Washington that will drive you crazy. But getting out of Washington and meeting all of you, and seeing how hard you’re working, how creative you are, how resourceful you are, how determined you are, that just makes me that much more determined to serve you as best I can as President of the United States."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

GOPer Gawk

The only way to view GOPer politics these days is with your mouth hanging open.  This stuff makes Barry Goldwater in 1964 look like a socialist, a real one.  But don't let the far far far far far far far far right cast of the remaining presidential candidates who are given any chance at the GOPer nomination for (gulp) President obscure what they really have in common: they are liars.  Maybe ideological liars or tactical liars or religious zealot liars or stragetic political liars.  But just about everything Boogieman, Wrongney or Cowboy Rick say of attempted significance is a lie.

Lying has been successful for GOPers, so why not?  G.W. Bush lied his way into the White House, and promptly abandoned his center-right "compassionate conservative," Climate Crisis affirming campaign statements for his centralized and militarized right wing agenda.  All those GOPers who won in 2010 on platforms of job creation haven't paid any attention to jobs, but a lot to stripping union rights, voting rights, women's right and minority rights, slashing support for education and the poor, and giving more tax breaks to their corporate and super-wealthy masters.

His first day out, Cowboy Rick tried to modify some of his most outrageous stands, but old habits die hard, and by calling the chairman of the Fed a traitor, he showed his true colors as well as getting the Bushies to show their cards.  He was immediately castigated by Karl Rove, who also desperately suggested that other candidates could still get into the GOPer race.  The Bushies aren't letting Texans bygones be gone.  Before Cowboy Rick gets to Washington, he's going to have to escape ambush by the Bush Gang first.

GOPers may seem hard to figure out, but I've got some suggestions for what their political calculations might be.  Obviously they're going after public sector unions to cut off funding for Democratic candidates, and they couldn't more obviously be going after minority voting rights because minorities vote Democratic (Scott Walker rammed through a law in Wisconsin that says voters must have drivers licences, and then he closed a bunch of places that issue drivers licenses--in minority areas.)

But they haven't written off minorities entirely.  There are fundamentalist Christian zealots in all races and nationalities, and in particular, homophobia remains to a greater extent in minority working classes.  By the way, cutting money for education, which GOPer governors are doing, has several political effects for them: corporations are called upon to take up the slack and they inject their own agendas along with their "help;" and they help keep people ignorant and out of college, which lessens the likelihood that they will choose to become Democrats.  When your strategy is lying, it's important that people not be likely to know the truth.             

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"For every poet it is always morning in the world. History is a forgotten, insomniac night; history and elemental awe are always our early beginning, because the fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world, in spite of history."

Derek Walcott

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Hope you had better luck seeing the Perseid meteor shower Saturday night/Sunday morning.  All we got was the full moon and lots of luminous clouds.  Not that I've ever seen "a hundred an hour" in any meteor shower anywhere.  But maybe someday (night)...

Big Green

This U.S. military aircraft flies on 50% biofuels

The U.S. military is huge--it's annual budget is larger than all other discretionary spending put together.  So when the U.S. military does anything, it does it big.  And when the U.S. military changes anything, it is apt to have big effects.

  As a recent Sierra Club Magazine article noted, its energy use is huge, especially petroleum: "The Department of Defense uses more petroleum (and energy) than any other organization on the planet—$13 billion to $18 billion worth a year, depending on who does the math. That accounts for more than 80 percent of the federal government's energy tab."

But there are problems, apart from expense. Petroleum is heavy and must be transported over long distances.  That a particular problem in combat zones.  Here's a fact I'll bet you didn't know: half the U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffered while guarding fuel convoys.

The majority of that fuel moreover isn't used for vehicles but for electrical power: for generators that are usually very noisy, and attract unwanted attention in the field.

So slowly but surely, the U.S. military--including the Air Force and the Navy--are going green, with lighter and quieter solar power, and with airplanes flying on biofuels and hybrid ships.

  In 2007, one out of every 24 fuel convoys in Afghanistan, and one out of 38 in Iraq, led to a military fatality, according to an Army study examining the link between casualties and energy. The 6,000 fuel convoys that year imposed such a huge cost in lives, manpower, and money that the Pentagon could no longer ignore it, Browning says. "We call them convoys, but we might as well call them targets," says James Valdes, an Army scientific adviser and designer of a prototype trash-to-energy system for combat zones. Adds Paul Skalny, director of the Army's National Automotive Center in Detroit, "This is the number that matters: For every 1 percent of fuel we don't have to burn, 6,444 fewer soldiers have to be involved in convoy operations. And those are sons and daughters and husbands and wives who get to go home to their families someday."  

In addition to mortality statistics are some grim budgetary realities. Getting fuel to combat troops in Afghanistan costs between $25 and $50 a gallon, and sometimes as much as $400. Even at the most peaceful outpost, it's never lower than $14 a gallon. Says Tom Hicks, the Navy's first deputy assistant secretary for energy (a post that didn't exist until last year): "We've realized that the best barrel of oil is the one we don't use."

So the Navy is embarked on building a "great green fleet."  These and other efforts sparked the suspicions of the Senator from Oil and consequent Climate Crisis denier, James Inhofe.  Apart from the Pentagon not having the luxury of denying reality (and so they take the Climate Crisis seriously), here's how Sierra explained the response:

 Just as President Barack Obama pushed renewables while avoiding the word "climate" in this year's State of the Union address, Mabus and other defense leaders downplay any connection between a sustainably powered military and fighting climate change. Sharon Burke, the new director of defense operational energy plans and programs—the closest thing to an energy czar that the Pentagon has ever had—used this strategy when confronted during her confirmation hearings last fall by climate-change doubter-in-chief Senator James Inhofe. Burke shrugged off his suggestion that she was making carbon reduction her priority, saying that her charge was to "improve the military's energy security" and make sure that the Pentagon factors in the true cost of energy for its equipment, purchases, and operations. But she acknowledged, "They are linked together. . . . If we do it right, that will be one of the results, cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. But that's not the role of this job."

What makes this a really significant story is the consequence of that first fact:  the U.S. military is really big.  Their growing commitment to green energy means a lot of money flowing into the clean energy economy, especially in research and development.  New biofuels, more efficient solar power transmission--the mind boggles at the possibilities.

Though it's hard to stomach, the truth is that historically, technological innovation and scientific discoveries have very, very often resulted from military funding, or the promise of it.  It goes back at least to Leonardo, and probably back a lot further than that.  So as odd as it might seem, this is one of the more hopeful stories of the year.