Monday, May 31, 2010

Another Republican Double Standard

It's politics. The Democrats and the Republicans both do it. It's politics!

Bill Clinton, on behalf of the White House Chief of Staff, offered Joe Sestak an unpaid position. According to a memorandum from the White House Counsel, President Clinton raised with Congressman Sestak "options of service on a Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board. Congressman Sestak declined the suggested alternatives, remaining committed to his Senate candidacy." The memorandum claims there was no impropriety.
We found that, as the Congressman has publicly and accurately stated, options for Executive Branch service were raised with him. Efforts were made in June and July of 2009 to determine whether Congressman Sestak would be interested in service on a Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board, which would avoid a divisive Senate primary, allow him to retain his seat in the House, and provide him with an opportunity for additional service to the public in a high-level advisory capacity for which he was highly qualified. The advisory positions discussed with Congressman Sestak, while important to the work of the Administration, would have been uncompensated.

It has been suggested that discussions of alternatives to the Senate campaign were improperly raised with the Congressman. There was no such impropriety. The Democratic Party leadership had a legitimate interest in averting a divisive primary fight and a similarly legitimate concern about the Congressman vacating his seat in the House. By virtue of his career in public service, including distinguished military service, Congressman Sestak was viewed to be highly qualified to hold a range of advisory positions in which he could, while holding his House seat, have additional responsibilities of considerable potential interest to him and value to the Executive Branch.
The Republicans and right wing pundits have jumped on this event to suggest several scenarios. They have claimed that President Obama hasn't fulfilled his promise of "transparency" and this just reflects a "politics as usual" administration. There are allegations that this "could be President Barack Obama's Watergate scandal." Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), even went so far as to say that, “This is punishable by prison. It is a felony, and this is exactly what President Obama campaigned against."

Watch a Fox discussion about the legality behind the Sestak offer.

Bill Crystal claims that this is "not politics as usual." As usual, Bill Crystal is wrong!

The Obama Administration White House Counsel notes that this happens all the time.
There have been numerous, reported instances in the past when prior Administrations — both Democratic and Republican, and motivated by the same goals — discussed alternative paths to service for qualified individuals also considering campaigns for public office. Such discussions are fully consistent with the relevant law and ethical requirements.
There have been several times when Republican administrations have asked candidates to drop out of a race. President Ronald Reagan, Vice President Dick Cheney and even Karl Rove have pursued this course of action.

In 1981, AP had the following story. President Ronald Reagan offered a job to Senator Hayakawa in order to "clear the field" for his daughter, Maureen to seek the Republican nomination for Senate.
Sen. S.I. Hayakawa on Wednesday spurned a Reagan administration suggestion that if he drops out of the crowded Republican Senate primary race in California, President Reagan would find him a job."
Hayakawa, who was seeking a second term at the time, was being urged by GOP officials to withdraw from the 1982 primary, a race that included, among others, Reps. Barry Goldwater Jr. & Bob Dornan, San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson, and First Daughter Maureen Reagan. The last thing the White House wanted was a split-conservative field that would end in the nomination of Rep. Pete McCloskey, a longtime anathema to the Right.

Hayakawa ultimately decided not to run for re-election. Wilson won the primary and was elected in November.arl Rove
In an April 19, 2001 Minneapolis Star Tribune article. Both Vice President Dick Cheney and Karl Rove urged Minnesota House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty not to challenge St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman for the 2002 Republican nomination for U.S. Senate seat .
Minnesota House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty said Wednesday that he won't run for the U.S. Senate in 2002, but only because Vice President Dick Cheney called him on his cell phone earlier in the morning and urged him not to challenge St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman for the Republican nomination.

Pawlenty's dramatic last-minute decision is the latest development in an extraordinary intervention by the White House and President Bush on behalf of Coleman, who was chairman of the Bush presidential campaign in the state.

The White House's intense interest in the race is a reflection of the 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.

It may also signal a keen interest by Bush for Republicans to win the seat held by Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., who has been among the president's most severe critics.

On Tuesday night, White House political strategist Karl Rove called Pawlenty and urged him not to run. Pawlenty said he was still intending to begin an exploratory candidacy after the Rove call.

But the request from Cheney, which came as Pawlenty was returning from a dentist's office with his daughters, was impossible to resist.

"On behalf of the president and the vice president of the United States, [Cheney] asked that I not go forward. . . . For the good of the party, for the good of the effort [against Wellstone] I agreed not to pursue an exploratory campaign," Pawlenty said at a news conference.
At the White House, a spokesman for Bush confirmed that Cheney made the call, but he declined to elaborate.
Not only does Bill Crystal have a selective memory but so does Liz Cheney and Karl Rove.

Is Karl Rove guilty of 18 U.S.C. 595? Rove et al. are at least guilty of a Republican double standard.

The False Security of Bottled Water

Did you ever wonder about the quality of your plastic bottled water?
"Scientists at Montreal's C-crest Laboratories found that certain popular brands (which they refused to name) had "surprisingly high" counts of heterotrophic bacteria.

If the trace pharmaceuticals and the spectre of a near-indestructible gyre of swirling plastic the size of Texas weren't enough to scare you off bottled water, then try this: Canadian researchers have discovered that some bottled brands contain more bacteria than water that comes out of the tap.

Scientists at Montreal's C-crest Laboratories found that certain popular brands (which they refused to name) had "surprisingly high" counts of heterotrophic bacteria (meaning they need an organic source of carbon to flourish).

Even though they didn't find any serious pathogens, more than 70 percent of the well-known brands actually failed the standards for heterotrophic bacteria set by the NGO United States Pharmacopeia. According to them, bacteria per millilitre in drinking water should not exceed 500 colony forming units (cfu) - and compared to the sampled tap water average of 170 cfu per millilitre, some of the brands tested had a whopping 70,000 cfu per millilitre.

"Heterotrophic bacteria counts in some of the bottles were found to be in revolting figures of (100) times more than the permitted limit," said Sonish Azam, a researcher on the study, in a news release.

So while these findings would not pose a serious threat to healthy adults - pregnant women, young children and the elderly would need to watch out.

From the Montreal Gazette:

According to Azam, Health Canada hasn't set an allowable limit for heterotrophic bacteria in bottled water, and neither has the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

[..] Health Canada points out that bottled water is already regulated under the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations.

"Under these regulations, bottled water is required to be free of disease-causing organisms. Like most foods, bottled water may contain naturally occurring bacteria which typically have little or no health significance," it said in a statement.

Stricter safety regulations needed.

The researchers emphasize that the point was not to single out any brand, but to bring about stricter safety regulations on bottled water sold in Canada.

"Bottled water is not expected to be free from micro-organisms but the (colony forming unit count) observed in this study is surprisingly very high," Azam explained. "Therefore, it is strongly recommended to establish a limit for the heterotrophic bacteria count as well as to identify the nature of micro-organisms present in the bottled water."

Let's hope that happens soon. In the meantime, it's yet another reason to eschew the bottle and find some alternatives.

According to Planet Green, "the bottled water industry is a wasteful beast. So good luck ditching the bottle, and may the faucet be with you."

A Potential Solution for the Leaking Oil in the Gulf

Workers on the Arabian Gulf overlook a supertanker owned by Saudi Aramco, the oil company that used a suck-and-salvage American technology to recover 85 percent of its previously unreported spill in 1993 and '94.
Nick Pozzi, who was an engineer with Saudi Aramco in the Middle East, says that there is a solution to cleaning up the spilled oil from the Gulf of Mexico. Pozzi is saying that an accident in the Middle East in 1993 generated a spill far larger than anything the Gulf spill.
According to Pozzi, that mishap, kept under wraps for close to two decades and first reported by Esquire, dumped nearly 800 million gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf, which would make it more than 70 times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill.

But remarkably, by employing a fleet of empty supertankers to suck crude off the water's surface, Pozzi's team was not only able to clean up the spill, but also salvage 85 percent of the oil, he says.

"We took [the oil] out of the water so it would save the environment off the Arabian Gulf, and then we put it into tanks until we could figure out how to clean it," he told AOL News.

While BP, the oil giant at the center of the recent accident, works to stanch the leak from the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig, Pozzi insists the company should be following his lead.
What's the problem? BP oil executives are ignoring this remedy.

WATCH [particularly at 2:00]:

The Gulf oil spill presents the problem of stopping the spill as well as cleaning up the mess. BP hasn't been able to find any solutions. It is time for a change and to learn from prior spills!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Unprecedented? Hardly!

Watch a compilation prepared by ThinkProgress:

On Thursday, May 27, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) responded to the myth that this catastrophe was unprecedented and thus unforeseeable:

Every time we have a catastrophic event like this involving British Petroleum or other parts of the oil and gas industry, we’re told that this is an unpredictable cascade of unforeseeable errors, that this is unprecedented, that nobody could have foreseen this. This is sort of like the bankers on Wall Street. Nobody could have foreseen the risks that they engineered themselves, so nobody’s responsible. I don’t believe this was some “black swan” or “perfect storm” event. There wasn’t something that could not have been foreseen. And I don’t think this is something you can promise will never happen again.
Always remember that BP is working for its own self interest, and not for you.

Right Wing pundits who dismissed spill, now blame Obama

Conservative pundits initially tried to minimize the amount of damage from the the Deepwater Horizon oil platform explosion on April 20, 2010, comparing it to "natural seepage" from the ocean floor.

Now that oil has infiltrated the Louisiana wetlands, those same conservative pundits that initially believed the spill would turn out to be "no big deal" have (falsely) blamed President Obama for not reacting to the disaster sooner. WATCH:

Inconceivable or Forseeable

In 1979, the IXTOC I was an exploratory oil well in the Bay of Campeche of the Gulf of Mexico that suffered a blowout. The 1979 blowout resulted in the second largest oil spill and the largest accidental spill in history. The largest was the Gulf War oil spill during the first Gulf War.

That is until now.

The BP blow out in the Gulf of Mexico is eerily similar.
- Like the Deepwater Horizon spill, the Ixtoc I spill on June 3, 1979, involved the failure of a blowout-preventer device, a kind of emergency shutoff valve. In both cases, metal domes put over the well failed to stop the leak.
- And as they did in Mexico, BP crews are trying to stop the spill by drilling reliever wells horizontally through the seafloor, a technique that could take months.

- Pemex and a series of U.S. contractors struggled for months to stop the leak. One company managed to close the well casing, but the oil broke through below the seal and caused another blowout. Another contractor built a dome for the well that it called the Sombrero, Spanish for hat, but oil continued to seep from cracks in the sea floor.

- In August 1979, balls of sticky tar began washing up on the hotel beaches of South Padre Island in Texas. Crews scraped them up with construction equipment and giant vacuum cleaners, and the Coast Guard stretched a net across the Port Mansfield inlet to catch submerged tar balls.

- Pemex began drilling two horizontal relief wells soon after the spill in June 1979, but they did not reach the Ixtoc I well until November, five months later. The crews used the relief wells to pump mud and steel balls into the gusher, finally capping the leak on March 25, 1980.

- BP, which owns the well in the Deepwater Horizon spill, began drilling its own relief wells on May 2 and May 16, respectively. They will take about three months to complete, the company says.
Despite these similarities, BP officials are claiming that the apocalyptic failure of its deepwater exploratory rig was unforeseeable, unprecedented and inconceivable.

Climate Progress notes that the I don’t think anybody” excuse has been used before.

I don’t think anybody foresaw the circumstance that we’re faced with now.” — BP spokesman Steve Rinehart [AP 5/2/10]

I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile.” — Condoleezza Rice [CNN, 5/16/02]

“The sort of occurrence that we’ve seen on the Deepwater Horizon is clearly unprecedented.” — BP spokesman David Nicholas [AP 4/30/10]

I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm. But these levees got breached. And as a result, much of New Orleans is flooded. And now we are having to deal with it and will.” — President George W. Bush [GMA, 9/1/05]

BP did not build containment devices before disaster because it “seemed inconceivable” the blowout preventer would fail. — BP spokesman Steve Rinehart [AP 5/2/10]

I don’t think anybody anticipated the level of violence that we’ve encountered. I guess the other area that I look at, in terms of an area where I think we were faced with difficulties we didn’t anticipate was the devastation that 30 years of Saddam’s rule had wrought, if you will, on the psychology of the Iraqi people.” — Vice President Dick Cheney, 6/19/06.

However, there is evidence that this event was very foreseeable.
Failure of blowout preventers.

There is evidence that the failure of underwater blowout preventers on oil rigs is common.
A 1999 report commissioned by the federal agency that oversees offshore drilling suggests failures of underwater blowout preventers designed to stop oil spills like the massive one threatening the Gulf Coast were far from unknown, the chairwoman of a key Senate panel.

Citing a Minerals Management Service
report, Sen. Maria Cantwell , D- Wash. , said there were 117 failures of blowout preventers during a two-year period in the late 1990s on the outer continental shelf of the United States .

The unclassified version of the 1999 report said the failures involved 83 wells drilled by 26 rigs in depths from 1,300 feet to 6,560 feet.

A similar report released by the agency in 1997 found that between 1992 and 1996 there were 138 failures of blowout preventers on underwater wells being drilled off Brazil , Norway , Italy and Albania .

Blowout preventers, which can weigh up to 500,000 pounds and stand 50 feet tall, are bolted on the top of a wellhead on the seafloor and in an emergency can cut off the flow of oil to prevent a gusher. The blowout preventers can be activated by throwing a switch on the drilling rig. They are also supposed to activate automatically in the event of a major problem or, in some cases, can be activated by acoustic sound waves produced from a ship on the surface.

No one is sure what caused the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon off the coast of Louisiana to burst into flames on April 20 and sink two days later into the Gulf. The accident left 11 workers missing and presumed dead and 17 others injured. The blowout preventer apparently failed to cap the well, allowing an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil to escape daily.

The cause of the explosion and fire is under investigation, and efforts to activate the blowout preventer 5,000 feet below the surface have, so far, been unsuccessful.

Climate Progress has a list of the forseeability factors.

Failures of blowout preventers and actual blowouts are common. Between 1992 and 1998 there were 319 failures of blowout preventers found in US offshore drilling, an average of 45 a year. [MMS, 1999] Between 1992 and 2006 there were at least 39 blowouts off the US coastline, 38 of them in the Gulf of Mexico. [MMS, 7/07] From 2007 to 2009 there were 19 blowouts, all in the Gulf of Mexico. [MMS]

The largest accidental oil spill in history was a Gulf of Mexico exploratory rig blowout. On June 3, 1979, the exploratory well IXTOC I blew out and ignited, burning down the platform. Divers later activated the blowout preventer to no avail.The well continued to spill oil at a rate of 10,000 to 30,000 barrels per day until it was finally capped on March 23, 1980. [NOAA]

A major deepwater blowout followed by a two-month spill occurred in 2009. In “one of Australia’s worst oil disasters,” a PTTEP oil rig blew out in the Montara oil field on August 21, 2009. Efforts to control the leaking rig set it on fire on November 1st, two days before the leak was finally plugged. Official estimates of the leak rate were five times higher than those of the oil company. [Wikipedia]

A ’spill of national significance’ exercise in 2002 concerned a major rig blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. Adm. Thad Allen led a “spill of national significance” exercise in 2002 that dealt with the scenario of an oil rig exploding off the coast of Louisiana, with an “uncontrollable discharge” of oil that lasted for a month. These training exercises take place every three years as mandated by the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, the most recent of which occurred in March, 2010.

Rachel Maddow shows how the BP disaster is very similar to previous events. WATCH:

In an appearance on "Face The Nation," Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of a House energy committee investigating the oil spill, put into context BP's response to the Gulf disaster.
"I think they were either lying or incompetent. But either way,the consequences for the Gulf of Mexico are catastrophic."

"I have no confidence whatsoever in BP. I do not think they know what they are doing. .. I do not think people should really believe anything BP is saying in terms of the likelihood of anything that they are doing is going to turn out as they predicted."

"I think that without question, if the word 'criminal' should be used in terms of an environmental crime against our country, then what's going on in the Gulf of Mexico is going to qualify, yes."
If history has any relevance in this man-made disaster, the notion of a quick fix is inconceivable while further incompetence is foreseeable.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Fox News, Freedomworks and the Tea Bag Party

Here's the story of voice over artist and on-camera actor D.C. Douglas who left a critical complaint in the voice mail of FreedomWorks regarding the Tea Party. Freedomworks is a conservative lobbying firm headed by the Ex-Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey. They are a big supporter of the the Fox News sponsored tea bagging party movement. WATCH:

Of course, Fox News picked up on this and created a news story about Douglas' voice message. Douglas then produced a public service announcement (PSA) regarding what had occurred. WATCH:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lead in the Water

Via AlterNet: Is Your Faucet Making You Sick? Your drinking water may be contaminated with lead, even if you're using faucets claiming to be 'lead free.' Here's what we can do about it.

Federal Law Is not Entirely Protective

Under current federal law, the faucet that is labeled "lead free" can contain as much as four percent lead. In addition, federal law allows some small lead concentrations to leach out of your faucet and into the water you and your family drink. The typical household faucet manufactured over the last fifteen years can contain a quarter pound of lead! Older faucets manufactured before 1996 can contain double that amount. We know that a faucet containing so much lead is likely to leach lead into the drinking water used in our homes.

The existing laws rely on a standard that assumes a "small" amount of lead leaching from our faucets is safe. Since there are many ways that we can still be exposed to lead, we should be eliminating lead exposure wherever we can. Getting lead out of faucets is something we know can be done, and we cannot delay. [...]

Dangerous Levels of Lead in Our Plumbing

The EPA estimates that up to 20 percent of human lead exposure is the result of lead in our plumbing, including faucets. Public health departments in nearly every state across the nation and as well as the EPA all provide warnings on their web sites about the dangers from the lead that lurks in your plumbing.

They advise against using hot water directly from the tap for human consumption. This is because hot water causes more lead to leach out of plumbing. They also advise that you run the cold water tap for several minutes before drinking water from it. This is to help clear the water that has been collecting lead while it sits in the pipes.

No such warnings can be posted at the millions of drinking fountains located in schools across the country, where rampant violations of state and federal lead standards have been documented. [...]

Waking Up to the Dangers of Lead?

In September 2008 the EPA lowered the lead standard for air emissions based on their recognition of new medical studies demonstrating the dangers of exposure to lead at levels previously thought to be safe. These new medical studies make it clear that any exposure to lead, whether through air or water, is dangerous and demonstrate how important it is for our children's future health that we get the lead entirely out of our drinking water systems.

In 2006 California started a revolution to finally make our faucets safe by adopting a law that essentially eliminates lead from drinking water plumbing. Vermont and Maryland have already followed California's lead by passing similar laws. U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo has now introduced H.R. 5289 to get the lead out of all drinking water faucets and plumbing sold in the United States. Of course, the battle isn't won. The plumbing industry continues to resist, seeking amendments that would allow industry to bypass federal governmental regulation and continue manufacturing and selling unsafe

The U.S. Environmnetal Protection Agency (EPA) has a website with information about reducing lead in your drinking water. It confirms the methods listed above and also recommends cartridge type filtering devices. It is important that the filter is NSF certified which means there is a reduction in contaminants in the water, including lead.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Have You Heard of the "War Is Making You Poor" Act

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), has introduced a bill that "would cut the DoD's budget and use that money to make the first $35,000 each American earns tax-free."
Last week, as Congress prepared to pass yet another “emergency” spending bill to cover America’s costly operations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- to the tune of $159 billion this time around -- Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, introduced a bill that would force the Pentagon to pick up the tab out of its ample regular budget.

The War Is Making You Poor Act is elegant in its simplicity. Instead of financing these longstanding conflicts outside of the regular budgeting process, where they’re not factored into deficit projections, Grayson’s bill would make the DoD work within its means, and the money would instead be used for an across-the-board tax cut that would make the first $35,000 each American earns tax-free.

“The purpose of this bill,” wrote Grayson last week, “is to connect the dots, and to show people in a real and concrete way the cost of these endless wars.” It’s not just the costs of active shooting wars; with hundreds of bases overseas, as far as the defense budget is concerned Americans have been on a permanent wartime footing, to varying degrees, since Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. “War is a permanent feature of our societal landscape,” wrote Grayson, “so much so that no one notices it anymore.”

Bi-Partisan Co-Sponsors

The bill already has several co-sponsors, including at least two Republicans (albeit maverick GOPers Ron Paul of Texas and Walter Jones of South Carolina). But since the Pentagon would have to take money out of its regular budget -- largely from the budget for newfangled hardware -- the DoD and influential defense contractors will no doubt fight it tooth-and-nail.

Guns over Butter

But the War Is Making You Poor Act might have a major impact on our national dialogue regardless. It highlights in a visceral way what Americans lose by privileging money for guns over butter. “The costs of the war have been rendered invisible,” wrote Grayson. “There's no draft. Instead, we take the most vulnerable elements of our population, and give them a choice between unemployment and missile fodder. Government deficits conceal the need to pay in cash for the war.” Grayson’s measure might just shine a bright light on those “opportunity costs.”
Using a Republican Talking Point

Budgeting is all about priorities, and the bill can raise public awareness of that fact. The Right has done a remarkable job convincing the American public that tax dollars used for programs that help the middle class or the poor are dollars “taken out of your pocket,” but no such consideration is given to the trillions spent on financing our military operations.

That was apparent during the recent debate over the Affordable Care Act, when Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats and most of the media focused relentlessly on the costs of the bill, and its likely impact on future deficits. No such discussion took place when the invasion of Iraq was being debated. Grayson’s bill makes the same appeal to self-interest the conservatives have used to often devastating effect to oppose everything from Medicare to public education. It says: "We can pay for these wars, or we can make them take it out of the defense contractors’ hides and get our first $35K tax-free."

The Cost of War

There’s never been a better time to educate the public about the opportunity costs of war. Virtually every mainstream voice in this country -- from Obama to the most conservative Republican to the editorial board of the New York Times -- seems to agree that we have to address our “entitlement crisis” or face budgetary doom. It’s true that if health care spending isn’t controlled, Medicare and Medicaid face very serious long-term deficits (while Social Security does not), and Americans will continue to hear all about the costs of those programs from every talking head on cable news. But far fewer will hear the perspective of economist Robert Higgs. Noting that we’re still effectively paying interest on every conflict we’ve fought since World War I, Higgs decided to see how much of our long-term public debt had accrued from unfunded conflicts in our past. He wrote:

I added up all past deficits (minus surpluses) since 1916 (when the debt was nearly zero), prorated according to each year's ratio of narrowly defined national security spending--military, veterans, and international affairs--to total federal spending, expressing everything in dollars of constant purchasing power.

Higgs’ findings should be an integral part of the debate over any “war of choice.” The sum was equal to 91.2 percent of the national debt held by the public at the end of 2006.

Last week, Grayson gave a powerful speech laying out the rationale behind this rather bold measure. Below is a transcript of the address, delivered May 21 on the floor of the House:

Mr. Speaker. Today I introduce H.R.5353: the "War Is Making You Poor Act." The "War Is Making You Poor Act" does three things: first, it requires the administration to carry out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with only the $549 billion set forth in the president's budget for defense spending, without the additional $159 billion the president has asked for, for the sake of these so-called emergency wars, which now stretches into nine years in one case, and seven years in the other. My view is that $549 billion is enough for these wars, and whatever wars the president plans to engage in.

Secondly, it takes the money saved from the wars' separate allocation and it uses it for a very important purpose. With the economy the way it is, people in America are suffering. It takes that money -- or 90 percent of it -- and it uses it to make $35,000 of everyone's income in America tax free, and $70,000 for married couples. Let's be clear about that; let's be clear about what I said. With the money saved from the "War Is Making You Poor Act," we could give $35,000 of every American's income tax free, and $70,000 for married couples. And in addition to that, it takes the remaining money and reduces the federal deficit and the federal debt. I think those are three things, all of which need to be done, and this bill brings them all together.

Let's start with the fact that the administration has asked for $549 billion to basically keep the lights on in the Pentagon, and beyond that asked for another $159 billion for the wars. Let's see exactly how much that means. On this chart here you can see that the U.S. military spending is as much as the entire rest of the world combined. And in fact, the ones who come in second are our NATO allies in Europe, who I don't expect to be attacking us anytime soon. Beyond that, you have to go all the way down to China to get to any country that is conceivably ever going to be a military enemy and we outspend China by almost five to one.

Beyond that, we get into our allies in East Asia and Australia and you have to go all the way down to Russia, who we outspend almost 10 to one, before you get to any country that could conceivably be a military opponent. Why is this necessary? If we're going to have military spending that amounts to this much -- half of all the military spending in the world -- do we have to have on top of that another $159 billion -- on top of that base budget -- for the wars? I think not. Particularly when people in America are suffering. So I believe that the thing we have to do is take that $159 billion the president has set aside -- I'm not saying he has to stop the wars, we're not giving a cut-off date for the war. We're just saying that you need to fund it out of the base budget of $549 billion. And we take 90 percent of that money and give it back to the American people.

And I think most people would be surprised to learn that that is so much money that we've been spending in the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq that every single taxpayer in America would be able to get his first, her first, $35,000 of income completely tax-free. You won't see dollar one of tax, until you make more than that. And in fact, almost a third of Americans don't make more than that, so they will simply be excused from the federal income tax system, and all we need to do is to stop separately funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now, I've heard many complaints from the people on the other side, and some complaints from the people on our side about the federal debt and the federal deficit. Here's something concrete that you can do. If this bill passes, we'll be able to reduce the federal deficit by 1$6 billion. You don't have to take my word for it, it's been scored by the joint committee on taxation. The joint committee on taxation staff has determined that the tax cut that's needed to give every single person in America $35,000 tax-free, would cost less than the wars, and would leave after that $16 billion. Mr. Speaker, this is an idea whose time has come. It's time for the American people to see that there is no longer any need to go beyond the base, exorbitant defense budget that's presented to us by the president, not withstanding the fact that there's a war in Afghanistan and a war in Iraq. It's simply not necessary; you can see for yourself that enough is enough.... $549 billion is plenty, especially when we're using a Chinese credit card to pay for it. So I ask for your support Mr. Speaker, and I hope the chamber will consider the h.r. 5353 "War Is Making You Poor Act." Thank you.

Your WTF Moment!

Republican video activist James O'Keefe on FoxNews, 01/26/10.  (image: FoxNews)
Republican video activist James O'Keefe on FoxNews, 01/26/10. (image: FoxNews)

John Cory shows the incongruity of too many situations.

The issue of Justice!

I guess if you live long enough you'll get to see it all.

On Thursday a federal judge gave James O'Keefe a stern talking to about his deception in entering a US Senator's office and trying to vandalize and muck about with the telephones. What could have been felony charges were reduced to misdemeanors by influential GOP lawyers previously and after the stern talking to - O'Keefe avoided trial.

Meanwhile in Georgia, a 14-year-old autistic boy with the mental function of a third-grader will face felony charges of terrorism for drawing a stick figure with a gun aimed at another stick figure with a teacher's name above it.

Sounds about right.

The issue of Money!

A guy named Rand Paul and another guy named John Stossel both agree that civil rights should not be forced upon private businesses because a free market is more effective than legislation. A free market is about freedom and freedom is about everyone having the freedom not to be free or making other people less free. Oh, both these guys think the minimum wage is a bad thing and will drive business - out of business - because paying workers a decent wage is not profitable.

Well, that makes sense.

The issue of Politics!

A CBS news crew tried to film oil hitting Louisiana shores but got stopped by BP contractors and the Coast Guard and were told BP had not given permission to be there and film. BP = British Petroleum told an American News Organization that they did not have permission to land and film on American soil. But not to worry, I read somewhere that President Obama had harsh words and a stern warning to BP to get this oil disaster taken care of - ASAP!

I guess that will teach them, eh!

The issue of Corporate Finance!

The corporations that caused the greatest financial disaster in American history have faced no criminal charges and no real changes in how they pay bonuses and perks to their executives. In fact, perks are rising. And remember that commission, looking into AIG? They said to move along now, nothing to see.

But I understand President Obama is forming a commission to look into BP about that oil disaster so that should even things out. Right? I wonder if he had to get permission from BP or Sarah Palin to do that?

I almost forgot, financial stocks rose on news of the Senate passing Financial Reform on to conference. If Wall Street likes it, how bad could it be? Like Healthcare? No.

The issue of War!

President Obama gave a commencement speech to West Point. You should read it because frankly it chilled me to the bone to hear how the wars all started, why they continue and what is ahead on the horizon - more of the same but not as much.

I don't get it.

We need a signal for distress?

How upside down is this country?

I mean, come on folks. Chris Matthews is considered a leading liberal? The guy who ranted and railed against Clinton and Gore, who fell in love with George Bush's flight suit macho package only to turn around with a thrill up his leg for Obama and now he's a liberal? The only thing liberal about Matthews is the amount of wine he pours himself on the veranda of his multi-million dollar Nantucket house.

We are literally drowning Louisiana and the Gulf Coast in oil with very little action to stop it. We got pissed at George Bush for letting New Orleans drown during Katrina and now President Obama appears reluctant to interfere with the free market of Big Oil.

This has to be your moment of: WTF, over?

We are making sure teenagers go to jail but people of privilege skate.

Corporations are god and citizens as worker bees for the greater greed.

If you want freedom, start a business. If you want civil rights, stick with your own kind. Party like it's 1951!

And be sure to thank CNN for warning us about the new Miss America with that great headline: Miss USA: Muslim Trailblazer or Hezbollah Spy?

Apparently BP hates Arizona because the free market of Big Oil hires these folks in Florida. I'm sure it has nothing to do with minimum wage or regulations or big government impeding the free market or...?

We used to hang Old Glory upside down as a signal for distress.

No need for that these days.

The only reason to hang the flag upside down is to match America.

All together now, WTF!!!!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Glenn Beck Shilling Gold

Glenn Beck has been ranting about the decline of the dollar and the coming of the "financial holocaust." After this fear mongering rant, he then advises his followers to "buy gold." In doing so he has become an accomplice to the California based company, Goldline International.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) is now targeting fear mongering shows including Beck and other right wing radio show hosts for "scaring the hell out of their customers and then using that fear to help their sponsor Goldline fleece them."

Throughout Glenn Beck's meteoric rise to become king of all right-wing media, a once-obscure Santa Monica peddler of gold coins called Goldline International has been along for the ride. The support of Beck and other radio hosts -- mainly conservatives like Mark Levin and Fred Thompson -- who spend 55 minutes creating fear of an economic collapse and then five minutes telling you why coins from a company like Goldline are the only safe haven has helped Goldline become a $500 million company.

This, for example, is what 2 million TV viewers who clicked on Beck's nightly Fox News Channel show heard on Oct. 6, 2009:

You don't have any gold, right? This is you. This is you. This is your savings. How much did you lose if you had any money in your 401k? Did you lose, let's say, I don't know, 40 percent of it? So, that's gone. Now, did you know that the dollar has lost nearly 29 percent of its value in the last seven years? Twenty-nine percent. OK, that's gone. Just gone.

This isn't an advertisement, although it may sound like one. It's the editorial content of the show, although at some point during the hour viewers are sure to see an ad for Goldline with their "800" number prominently displayed. Meanwhile, visitors to see a big ad for Goldline, while visitors to can see testimonials from Beck for Goldline. It's hard to know sometimes where Beck -- who famously told his viewers to get behind "God, gold, and guns" -- ends and Goldline begins.

Never mind that anxiety-drenched radio listeners never got to hear the other side of the gold coin, which is that the industry is plagued by high-pressure sales tactics as well as high commissions which mean that gold -- already at a record high (although not when adjusted for inflation) -- would have to rise well beyond its current highs to see a reasonable return on their investment.

Finally, a grown-up has stepped in to try to clean up this mess -- Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York.

At this hour, Weiner is holding a news conference not only to call out Goldline as "a company that uses conservative rhetoric, high pressure sales tactics and tall tales about the future of gold to sell over priced coins that can be bought somewhere else for cheaper," but to ask regulators from the Federal Trade Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate its tactics.

Weiner's staff investigated Goldline and found that the coins it sells are not the good investment that its salesmen -- who are not licensed investment advisers -- claim that it is to consumers, because the price of gold would essentially have to double beyond its current high to begin seeing any gains. Specially, the investigators found Goldline coins selling for 90 percent above the melt value of the coin, that is, its value by weight. The largest markup seen on a coin, Weiner said, was 208 percent above the melt value.

"In the past there is always the "product" that is either the next big thing (the dot com boom) or the investment that will never go down in price (the housing market), and in the past much of the media has failed in its duty to conduct due diligence, but never before have they worked so hand in hand to cheat consumers," Weiner said in his prepared report. "Commentators like Glenn Beck who are shilling for Goldline are either the worst financial advisers around or knowingly lying to their loyal viewers."

Adds Weiner:

Goldline's high pressure sales tactics and fear mongering about big government as well as their ability to hire sales staff and spokespeople who misrepresent their roles are case studies in why entities like the SEC and FTC are necessary.

For another perspective on "How Beck and other right-wing talkers turned paranoia into a pitch for Goldline, the gold dealer one congressman says is conspiring to "cheat consumers," see a Mother Jones investigation.

Limited Liability Bailout

Via Crooks and Liars:
Senate Republicans have stalled legislation that would require oil companies to pay fully for their accidents. Listen to Senator Inhofe (R-Oil Companies) push for Big Oil's ability to make obscene profits over safety:

You gotta love how these "Oh noes! Obama wants us to be socialists!" Republicans have no problem with a multi-national oil company privatizing their profits and socializing their costs. Why aren't the protesters who scream about bailouts not screaming about this?

Obama made a statement expressing his frustration:

"I am disappointed that an effort to ensure that oil companies pay fully for disasters they cause has stalled in the United States Senate on a partisan basis. This maneuver threatens to leave taxpayers, rather than the oil companies, on the hook for future disasters like the BP oil spill. I urge the Senate Republicans to stop playing special interest politics and join in a bipartisan effort to protect taxpayers and demand accountability from the oil companies.”

Transocean Ltd . , the owner of the rig leased by BP which is currently leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico, has received $270 million in profit from insurance payouts after the disaster.

The amount, revealed during a conference call to analysts, was made because its insurance policy for Deepwater Horizon rig was greater than the value of the rig itself, the Sunday Times reports. The Times says Transocean has already received cash payment of $401 million and the rest is due in the coming weeks.

Unbelievable. Of course, that money has been turned around as part of a nice, fat $1B dividend to stockholders.
Rand Paul who just won the primary in Kentucky for the Republican Senate nomination recently spoke about the the bank bailout in an interview with Neil Cavuto.
We, as Republicans, don’t believe in bailing out failed businesses, much less about having the government [owning them]....
Rand Paul while proposing no bailout, also proposes to "cut regulations on bankers, health insurance companies and oil drillers."

If Paul doesn't support regulation but at the same time he also doesn't support bailouts, then what is his position on lifting
the liability cap on oil companies.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hoping for an 'Outside of the Box' Solution

Scientists tapped by the Obama administration to help fix the Gulf Coast oil spill.
From left to right: Richard Garwin, Tom Hunter, Alexander Slocum, Jonathan Katz and George Cooper

Via TPM: Mission Impossible: Obama Taps Crack Team Of Scientists To Do The Job BP Can't

President Obama's new plan to fix the Gulf oil spill is so crazy it just might work...

As BP's high-priced industry experts flail, the president has turned to a rag-tag band of big-think scientific renegades, and sent them on a mission to somehow MacGyver a way to stop up the leak -- before it's too late.

OK, maybe that's going a bit far. In fact, the news that Obama and his energy secretary, Steven Chu, have sent a team of leading physicists and engineers to the Gulf to work with BP offers further evidence of the administration's essentially technocratic approach to governance, and its faith in knowledge-based expertise. That might seem like common sense, but it represents a shift from the Bushies' faith in the problem-solving power of industry, and its willingness to let science take a backseat to the concerns of its religious base.

Still, asking one of the key inventors of the hydrogen bomb, along with an engineer who helped develop techniques for mining on Mars, counts as out-of-the-box thinking. Here's a quick rundown on the president's unlikely team:

The Old Hand: Richard Garvin

In 1951, 23-year old Richard Garwin was working at the Los Alomos nuclear laboratory,
when he was asked by Edward Teller to devise an experiment that would demonstrate the principle of "radiation implosion." Garwin's detailed sketch served as the basis for "Mike," an 80-ton device, that was detonated the following year as the world's first hydrogen bomb. "I wasn't the inventor," Garwin has said. "I was sort of the architect." In 1952, Garwin went to work for IBM -- where he remains a fellow emeritus -- on the understanding that he could spend a third of his time working with the federal government on national security issues. He's a recipient of the national medal of science, and a member of the JASON, an elite think tank that studies complex scientific problems on behalf of the U.S. government. In 1991, Garwin convened a symposium of experts to discus ways to stem oil flows from Kuwait wells, set on fire by Iraq during the Gulf War. For Garwin, now 82, could this be his last hurrah?

The Establishment Man: Tom Hunter

Tom Hunter yesterday announced his resignation as the president of Sandia National Laboratories, an outpost of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex that conducts high-level research for the National Nuclear Security Administration. He had been at Sandia since 1967, and served as president since 2005 -- a job that reportedly paid him $1.7 million a year. He has a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Wisconsin. Hunter said yesterday he had no particular plans for what he'd be doing in retirement. That may have changed.

The Maverick Genius: Alexander Slocum

Alexander Slocum, a professor of mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, teaches a world famous design and manufacturing class that culminates in a remote-controlled robot competition. He holds more than 60 patents for inventions relating to biotechnology, robotics and computer science, but his research interests also include "going faster on my snowboard, staying down longer SCUBA diving!," according to his website. A colleague told Bloomberg: "He has a lot of creative ideas. One in 10 are really brilliant ideas, but nine are dumb. You can't miss that one that is brilliant." Here's hoping genius strikes in the Gulf.

The No-Nonsense Engineer: George Cooper

George Cooper might have the most relevant experience for the mission at hand. A professor of engineering at UC Berkely, he spent much of his career in industrial research with Britain's National Physical Laboratory and now serves as Senior Petroleum Engineer at DOE's Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. But he can branch out too: According to Bloomberg, he once worked with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to adapt mining techniques for use on Mars.

The What-Am-I-Doing-Here? Guy: Jonathan Katz

Jonathan Katz, a physics professor at Washington University in St. Louis, is another member of JASON. But Katz's major research focus has been astrophysics, and in an interview today with a St. Louis paper -- conducted upon his return from a quick trip to the Gulf region -- he didn't seem confident that he had been much help with the mission. "I was honored to be invited and enjoyed the experience," said Katz. "Did I have anything much to contribute? I think I have some ideas for how to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future, but I don't have anything very specific to offer on the present problems. It is very much in the hands of the real pros." Asked if he'd be willing to go back, Katz said: "I'd be happy to, but someone's got to send me an email or a phone call."

Time is of the essence!

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Kansas Town Goes Green

There is a conservative PR campaign which promotes big business, corporate power and less government interference. Anyone who supports policies that are contrary to these policies are loudly labeled as 'liberals.' An example is the issue of global warming and living 'green.' Here's a story about a Kansas town that found truth in power.

Three years ago, the town of Greensburg, Kan., was almost totally destroyed by a tremendous tornado. Ninety percent of the population became instantly homeless. Eleven people died.

Near Main Street, there is still evidence of the devastation: Piles of brick and debris, flat empty lots filled with a dusting of snow and dirt, skeletons of trees that once made up the beautiful arbor that this town was known for.

But there is also new growth: a super-energy-efficient City Hall made from reclaimed brick and wood; an art center powered by the sun and wind; and in the distance a home modeled on a geodesic dome. They're things you wouldn't expect to find in rural conservative Kansas.

The Tornado Of May 4, 2007

The tornado of May 4, 2007, was immense — more then a mile and a half in diameter. The entire town of Greensburg is only slightly wider, just 2 miles. The twister had a perfectly formed eye, with winds sustained well over 200 miles an hour. With a force of nature that strong, nothing is left standing.

'We're Gonna Rebuild Green'

(T)he leadership of the town began to face some tough decisions.

Just days after the tornado, the town administrator Steve Hewitt, John Janssen, who was the City Council president when the tornado hit and the mayor at the time, Lonnie McCollum, all of whom had lost their homes, met near the spot where town hall used to be.

"I guess we were under the tent down by the courthouse probably, and we're sitting there going, 'You know, this is total devastation. We might as well do this right,' " Janssen says.

"We hadn't thrown the word green out there, but we were immediately talking about better building, smarter building and smarter grid — better infrastructure," Hewitt says.

"And within about 12 hours, Lonnie stood in this national TV interview, and he says, 'And by the way, we're gonna rebuild green,' " says Janssen.

'It Helped Us Heal'

But the thought of telling people to "go green" in red Kansas is something that doesn't seem possible. Green in that "save the planet" sense is thought of as a four-letter word here — associated with liberal tie-dyed tree huggers. Slowly though, many of the residents came around to the idea.

Jill and Scott Eller moved into their new home a year ago. It's sort of a geodesic dome that has been split in half to bookend a modern two-story house. It's bright and wide with a kitchen that fits their needs.

Today, they are glad about their decision to stick around and go green.

"People who've moved away, say, 'You know, I wished we'd thought about it a little more.' Because they sure miss being here, being part of this community," Scott says.

"With the green initiative, it helped us to heal. It gave us something to look forward to," Jill says.

The truth is that going 'green' isn't a liberal thing, it is just being smart.