Wednesday, September 03, 2014

PA and 'Burgh Update

It's true I haven't been back to Pennsylvania for awhile, but I do like to keep up with developments.

For instance, as our Pennsylvania correspondent informs us,  the race for governor is shaping up to be a blowout, with the Republican incumbent Tom Corbett (that's apparently him, above right) behind by 30 points in the latest polls to the Democrat, a man named Wolf (I think that's him on the left.)

Perhaps in an effort to cut into that immense deficit in the polls, Corbett recently relented and agreed to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

I've also noted that my old home town of Pittsburgh was twice honored on the same day: named (once again) the Most Livable City in the continental US, AND Pittsburgh drivers were named The Worst of all in smaller US cities.  Great to see it's the same old 'burgh.

But there is one new wrinkle.  Back when I lived there and the new Pittsburgh International Airport opened, it was the innovative pride of the industry, and most airports built since then were modeled on it.  The hub of USAir, it was a bustling place with prosperous shops.  Now it's nobody's hub, with shuttered gates and closed shops.  But it's finding a new source of income, an innovation which could also spread: it's going to be fracked.  What a fracking shame.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Money Doesn't Talk, It Swears

Sometimes a cartoon can say what a thousand jargon-filled technical arguments cannot.  In the New Yorker, two members of Congress (it would seem), with one asking, "How much speech did you take in last month?"  And so the utter absurdity of equating campaign money with speech (the basis of the Supreme Court's striking down various campaign spending limits) is utterly exposed.

Today the Washington Post exposes another fact summarized this time in the line of a now old song: "Money doesn't talk, it swears."  Big money donors are getting unprecedented "access" to officeholders, which is a wink and a nod way of saying large-scale bribery.  Now in the stretch run of the 2014 elections, the latest SC permissions have led to even greater amounts that the very rich spend on buying their politicians and the government they want, as the Post writes:

Together, 310 donors gave a combined $11.6 million more by this summer than would have been allowed before the ruling. Their contributions favored Republican candidates and committees over Democratic ones by 2 to 1.

In a number of articles on his site (such as this one) Bill Moyers has been chronicling the spending and the effects of "access," or "influence."  Although outnumbered, Dems have their billionaires too, but as a contributor to Moyers site finds, the big money corrupts the liberal side too.

 As immense wealth is concentrated in fewer hands, these super-rich support their own interests at the expense of the many, especially those at the bottom.  So it's not terribly surprising that Mitch McConnell was "caught" on tape promising billionaires that he will keep voting against increases in the minimum wage.

The situation is so widespread that activists are turning to ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage, although ballot initiatives themselves are most often a plaything of the wealthy.

Washington politicians are increasingly millionaires themselves, and their billionaire connections insure lucrative "fees" and cushy positions after their "service."  Money in politics doesn't talk, it swears.  More specifically it says: fuck you.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

More Than Mourning

This is the 100th anniversary of the last known passenger pigeon.  That's her--Martha--who died in 1914.  It seems remote in history, but today in San Francisco a woman saw her first major league baseball game--she is nearly 108.  On her first day of school there were still passenger pigeons.

 The extinction of a species is in some ways a technical matter.  There are other pigeon species that probably share genes with the passenger pigeon.  But each species extinction lessens the genetic diversity that keep populations healthy, and these losses eventually lead to the disappearance of what we non-scientists would describe as types of animal or plant life.  Not just one kind of tiger, but tigers, something that's in the cards as effects of the climate crisis combine with the other human-causes of lethal poisons, industrial hunting and destroyed habitat and range.
Martha was a harbinger of a century of extinction that rivals any period in Terran history.  That we mourn these extinctions and have made the passenger pigeon their icon is (as Elizabeth Kolbert notes) relatively new outside of indigenous cultures, and laudable.  That scientists are trying to figure out how to revive Martha's breed is in itself interesting but suggests our all too prevalent techno-fix response, which demonstrates our ignorance as well as our feeling.  Far better would be to do the hard work of cleaning up our chemical act, and restoring habitat and range for existing species.

Because extinctions in the 21st century may well make the 20th look innocent.  All primates are threatened, a lot of large animals and a large number of bird species: some 1300 may go extinct, according to this National Geographic article, including the one pictured below, an African fish eagle.