Thursday 30 April 2009

"We must be pure, like Reagan!"

These days Republicans are hollering that their party cannot prevail until they toss out maverick folks like Specter and McCain and get back to the “purity” of the Reagan philosophy. Their notion is that Reagan represents some “pure” philosophical ideal, which his successors betrayed.

Unfortunately, that’s hogwash.

People forget that Reagan was Chief Big Tent, holding the teepee door open for a lot of people who disagreed with each other, and even with Reagan, on a lot of big issues. A number of people have remarked that the three main groups in the Reagan coalition – cultural conservatives obsessed with abortion, fiscal conservatives obsessed with tax cuts, and neocons obsessed with the Soviets – would be three different political parties, if this was Europe rather than America. Reagan got those three groups to support each others’ programs, and built a formidable coalition. Phyllis Schafly learned to campaign for tax cuts and bash the Soviets; fiscal conservatives like Bush 41 learned to sing the anti-abortion sheet music. People still question Reagan’s intellect, but seriously – give the man credit for even envisioning the prospect of these three groups of very pigheaded people, working together, when they had never really coordinated together before. Wow.

But then Reagan went further. He persuaded southern Democrats to go over the wall – some of them even switched parties, they liked Reagan’s vision of the GOP so much. He reached out to centrists from both parties. Conservative Democrats helped pass his Reaganomics program and his tax cuts in the house, defying Tip O’Neill. And the eternal nemesis of Republicans, labor unions! Even after Reagan conducted an undeclared war on labor unions, starting with the PATCO crisis, he still wangled an endorsement from the Teamsters in 1984, and got almost half the vote from union households. Only a leader like Reagan could have created the “Reagan Democrat” phenomenon.

Reagan built coalitions out of disparate groups who were indifferent or downright hostile to each other. Purists they weren’t. Beneath their messianic rhetoric, they were some pretty smart, pragmatic politicians.

Reagan’s successors did the opposite: they actually were purists, and drove people away.

The new Republicans of the Gingrich/DeLay/Rove generation have done incrediblly stupid things to chase people out of the party, things that often had nothing to do with their policies, their performance, and their ethical outrages. They did all they could to use legislative and regulatory tools to attack anyone connected withDemocratic power: this explains the K Street project, the effort to crush Democratic lobbyists, their holy war against big-donor trial lawyers, and their war of attrition against unions. They put thousands of blacks in prison by launching the War On Drugs and supporting discriminatory laws such as the crack cocaine statutes. They tried to criminalize the entire Hispanic population of the country, and even condemned McCain for taking a moderate stance on immigrants. A huge part of their 2004 campaign was a war on gays; one of their major 2008 candidates wanted to put HIV and AIDS patients in concentration camps. They turned their back on women, with respect to abortion, education, economics and a dozen other issues. They attacked centrist Democrats like Clinton, and even centrist Republicans like Chafee, Specter, Collins, Jeffords and Snowe. They attacked military veterans like Murtha and Kerry who made the terrible mistake of questioning Bush’s crimes and follies. Anybody who even questions Bush hates our troops – they’re traitors!! And then in 2008 they even condemned Bush and McCain – their stand-bearers for the last three elections – for betraying the “purity” of the Reagan ideal.

It is difficult to find, in modern history, political groups who were so arrogant in their power that they declared Robespierre-like holy wars against anyone suspected of political “impurity”, including their own allies in the "revolution". The only people I can think of, in that regard, are the hardline textbook Marxists under Mao, the KGB and the Khmer Rouge, and the medieval Islamic extremists in Iran and in the Taleban. The difference being, those groups never really had to worry about voters. The Republicans do.

So after Reagan spent all that effort in attracting cultural and fiscal activists, and foreign-policy hardliners, and centrists, and conservative Democrats, and union families, all under one big Republican tent.....The new Republicans, claiming to be the philosophical heirs of Reagan, waged war on all Democrats, lawyers, unions, blacks, Hispanics, gays, women, centrists from both parties, veterans, political leaders like Bush and McCain...everybody who wasn’t pure enough for them. Reagan kept the Republicans on board and attracted Democratic voters and leaders; the new Republicans are driving away not only all the Democrats but the moderate half of their own party.

Such are the fruits of arrogance. These clowns think they’re fulfilling Reagan’s legacy, when in fact they are destroying it.

Best quote of the day

From our friends at Rising Hegemon:

Republicans are now so conservative that they are canceling speeches from the Republican Governor of Utah for being too "moderate". U-fucking-Tah! Where McCain got 66% of the vote in 2008.

Wednesday 29 April 2009

Inhofe and the "backlash" backfire

The Republicans have been labouring with might and main, trying to whip up a popular backlash against Obama. They’re like Wile E. Coyote with a box of wet matches, trying to get a fire lit.

Obama’s a socialist, he’s going to ration health care so people die, Ayers, Wright, Rezko, he had the nerve to tell the truth about the torture, his bills are all pork, he’s going to take our guns, he bungled the pirate crisis and the flu crisis, Sebelius wants an abortion clinic on every corner, it’s time to secede, the revolution is coming, go get your guns, yada yada yada. The people are angry!!

The American people are indeed mad, but not at Obama: his personal popularity rating is in the 80s, while the Republicans who are trying to cause all the trouble have poll numbers on a par with al-Qa’ida, Cheney’s approval score is at 18, and Bush’s popularity since January dropped five points, from 31 to 26!

The Republicans spent months and millions of dollars setting up a “spontaneous” “grassroots” we-hate-Obama tea party, which fizzled. They’re planning another “revolution” on the Fourth of July, which will also fizzle.

But Jim Inhofe is trying to light the fuse again. He is actually arguing that Specter’s party switch is going to cause a popular backlash that is going to launch another revolution like 1994, and sweep the Republicans back into power! Now the revolution is really coming! This “this is it” is it!

As though anybody outside Pennsylvania even knew who Specter was, a week ago. Lots of people were probably asking "wasn't he just convicted of murder? Oh, that was Phil Spector? Who's this other guy, and why should I be mad that he's a Democrat??"

Senator Inhofe, stop peddling hate and revolution, and start peddling leadership. Until then, we’re just not buying. We already had the revolution on election day, and your team came up on the short end.

Michelle Bachmann blames Depression on FDR's "Hoot Smalley"

Okay, I love a good "dumb Republican" joke, but it's not often that the clowns make me spew soda all over my computer. So now that I have paper-toweled my screen, I will post this with a big hat tip to TPM:

Bachmann took to the House floor and paid tribute to the economic policies of Calvin Coolidge and the "Roaring 20s" (the era that ended with a massive monetary contraction and the Great Depression). One particular line really does stand out, though -- saying Franklin Roosevelt turned a recession into a depression through the "Hoot-Smalley" tariffs. Here's what really happened: When Franklin Roosevelt took office, unemployment was already about 25%. And the tariff referred to here was actually the Smoot-Hawley bill, co-authored by Republicans Sen. Reed Smoot of Utah and Rep. Willis Hawley of Oregon, and signed into law by President Herbert Hoover.

Additional information on what really happened, here in the real world, is at

The original TPM link at the top includes Bachmann's audio. I wonder if it was recorded it Dobly?

Did the Republicans cause the swine flu crisis?

First, let’s look at the GOP response to the swine flu crisis.

They claimed that our Democratic President was trying to exploit the crisis to shove Kathy Sebelius through as HHS Secretary; as a result of the GOP obstruction, both Sebelius’ job and the 14 below hers were empty when the crisis hit.

They insinuated that Democrats cause the flu, because the last outbreak occurred under Carter (by the way, it was Ford).

In Texas they screamed at our Democratic President for federal aid for the crisis, right after denouncing the Democrats for their policies on federal spending and hinting at secession.

They claimed the crisis was caused by thos pesky illegal immigrants that the Democrats let into the country (ignoring the fact that it was Bush who turned Homeland Security into an organizational mess).

And of course they screamed that Democratic federal programs to protect us from pandemics are “porkulus”, and cut it from the budget. The GOP’s response on that issue has been particularly clumsy. Senator Collins bragged about cutting the money on her website, and then hastily erased it. Michael Steele babbled an admission that the GOP cut the pandemic money because they failed to foresee potential crises the way the Democrats did (which exactly is what national leaders are supposed to do): "Did we know this at the time of the vote?....Don't come back and make this link six months after the fact [Mikey, it was just in February, where ya been?]... we don't know what tomorrow holds.....I'm not going to sit here and accept that connection." In other words, they don’t believe in being prepared.

So the Obama answer to the crisis was to, ya know, deal with the crisis. The GOP response to the crisis was to attack the current Democratic president, a former Democratic president, Democrats in general, Democratic spending, and Democratic policies, to include policies which were specifically designed to address the crisis.

As always, the Republican answer to every crisis is...attack Democrats.

Which is why I am compelled to point out that the epidemic began at a contaminated, poorly-monitored farm run by Smithfield Foods, a firm whose long history of environmental and labor violations was abetted by...the Bush administration. Bush’s efforts to gut the USDA, the FDA, and the EPA (and probably the NLRB too) played a pivotal role in making all this happen.

Mmm, yeah, we're going to hear more about this. And it ain't going to help the GOP.

Is Michael Steele about to be fired as RNC chair?

Steele has been a disaster from the git-go.

During his brief tenure as RNC chair, Steele just sat there, dazed, and watched the fiascos with Franken and Tedisco and now Specter, the embarrassments of established party players like Jindal and the incredible Palin family, the grand-mal seizures of cluelessness by new party loons like Beck and Bachmann, foolish attacks on Obama in the pirate crisis and on a hundred other issues, the whole party getting busted for impeding the response to the swine flu crisis (by impeding the confirmation of HHS officials and the appropriation of money to fight epidemics) as well as exploiting it, many legislative losses on Capitol Hill, being outsmarted by Obama on the budget and on health care, the embarrasssments on the torture issue, the exposure of many of the party's private-sector allies as arch-criminals, many embarrassments involving true party leader Rush Limbaugh, the tea party nonsense which had no effect whatsoever on Obama's God-like polling numbers, the GOP's drop in affiliation down to 21 percent of the electorate, incessant reports of disarray and civil war within the party, chaos within the RNC, and many gaffes by Steele himself. So far, as the new captain of the ship, Steele has made the captain of the Titanic look like Ferdinand freakin' Magellan.

As we know, Republicans never accept blame for their own crimes and follies. Usually they just try to blame the Democrats for everything, but that won't work this time. In such a situation, their classic Plan B is to find a scapegoat. Happily for them, they have the perfect victim, the black guy, Steele.

Republican hardliners are demanding a special party meeting on May 20, to discuss "good governance". Among other things, the hardliners will introduce a motion to strip Steele of one of his key powers, the power to spend party money. At the same meeting they plan to discuss other resolution language, including a text condemning the entire Democratic party as a bunch of socialists -- to give you an idea of the kind of cuckoo-birds who are launching this effort.

When they hold this meeting, could Steele be overthrown, or forced (or double-dog-dared) into resigning? That would be a catastrophic embarrassment for the party -- to admit, this early, that their choice for party leader was so awful. Which reflects on their ability to choose national-level candidates, as evinced by their insistence, for example, on saddling the country with the horrifying prospect of Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the Oval Office -- and the Situation Room.

An ally of Steele -- and amazingly he still has them -- screamed that Steele's enemies are trying to "neuter" the new chairman. Well, um, yeah, that's exactly what it is.

Snowe says she wants to fix the GOP: No no no no no!

Senator Snowe, in your Times editorial you said you wanted to fix the GOP rather than leaving it. Sorry, Senator, but the GOP leaders are like addicts, who can't quit because they can't admit they have a problem. It can't be fixed.

The GOP is a car you really liked to drive, for years and years, but now it's a wreck, it can't go anywhere, and it's time to take it to the car-crushing machine and trade up to the new model. The Democrats.

The Republican party is deeply, deeply ill and splitting apart, like the Democrats in the 1970s when the entire southern wing of the party, enraged by Johnson and civil rights, defected to the GOP. That war was dominated by the same southern loons who are now destroying the GOP. The current Republican civil war is dominated by folks like the Club For Growth who openly advocate expelling moderates like you out of the party: moderates are a potential life-saver for the party, but the loons see the moderate wing of the party as a tumor on the body politic, something dangerous which must be cut out. They keep targeting "RINO's" like you and Voinovich and Chafee for either political pressure, or outright defeat in a primary challenge; they openly threatened Specter, which was stupid since he survived cancer and isn't afraid of anybody. A number of hardliners said flat-out that they want you, specifically, out of the party. They prefer to support people like Michelle Bachmann and Michael Steele.

They're just not that into you. But we are!

They've been pulling in the opposite direction from you in almost every area: you want moderate policies, they want extremism; you want sensible budgets, they want titanic deficits. You are supposed to be a leader of the party, and your voice is only heard when you go over the wall and join the Democrats. But then you hop right back over the wall again. Join the Dems and your wall-hopping days are finally over!

If you become the 60th Democratic Senator, you have incredible power to make or break legislation, the dream of every Senator. If you switch before Collins does (a realistic prospect, these days), you get to be #60, which has much more clout that #61. If you switch before the Senate reorganizes this summer, you get better committee seats. If you switch now, you also make the Minnesota fight irrelevant, saving both parties a costly court fight, and you make Franken a friend for life. The Republican enemies you make will be laughably outnumbered by the Democrats who will come to your aid: if Obama promised to campaign for Specter, #59, he'll definitely do it for #60. In quitting you lose nothing but the now-toxic "Republican" tag, and you can still champion all you favorite causes, especially working with fellow moderate Obama.

The Republicans won't learn their lesson until they are completely crushed. Your departure will begin that process.

As the Bible says in Numbers 32:

And the LORD's anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of the LORD, was consumed.

The Republicans need to spend many years in the desert, until the Nazis who destroyed this country are finally cycled out of the party system. But you shouldn't be out there in the desert with them -- you're too good to waste.

Come to the Blue Team, and bring your friend Susan!

Prediction: Obama will expand cost-cutter plan in one month

Not long ago, Obama asked his departments to quickly find $100 million in spending cuts. Everyone tittered. But it isn't a joke. In about a month, Obama is likely to announce a major initiative of some kind, with the aim of cutting spending and setting up a much smaller budget for next year.

Let's look at the politics. Obama's personal popularity is up to 81 percent, which is just God-like. Once Obama passes health care this summer, his reelection is probably a done deal. The only avenue the Republicans have, for counterattacking, is hollering for three years about government spending.

When Obama was working on this year's two massive budget bills, he also disclosed that his aim is to drastically cut the deficit in his first term. This is a work of political genius: you pass a gigantic budget right off the bat, trim down the size of the next three budgets, and then during the 2012 campaign take credit as the guy who cut the deficit -- just by frontloading his spending programs. This is right out of Machiavelli: dole out the bad news as soon as you take office, all at once, and thereafter you pass out the goodies bit after bit after bit, to keep up your popularity.

However the Republicans are going to force his hand a bit. They already started the big-spender meme with the tea parties, which was silly because tea protests are all aboout high taxes and Obama just cut their taxes. But the Republicans plan to come back with more tea-party nonsense on the Fourth of July, to reinforce the big-spender theme against Obama. And then keep up with that attack until the end of the year, to include the health care battle this summer.

So to preempt that, Obama is likely to come out, perhaps around June 1, with a major initiative to lay out the framework for next year's budget, on a much smaller frame than this year's. And keep hammering that theme all year.

You heard it here first!

Tuesday 28 April 2009

Specter defects; is Snowe next?

As I predicted months ago, Specter has gone over the wall.

No party has screwed up so badly that it dropped down below the filibuster line, since the Republicans did it right after Watergate. And for the Republicans, the worst part is that it was their own deliberate, pigheaded stupidity that caused this disaster. Specter got tired of his former party’s excessive partisanship and obstructionism. The lunatic wing of the party declared war on him because he dared to vote on Obama’s side on a key piece of legislation, and they were waging a primary challenge against him – that was his reward for serving the GOP since 1966, forty-three years. They insisted on crapping all over Specter just as they did with Jeffords, and now they’re shocked! Shocked! That it happened again.

RNC chair Michael Steele is already screeching threats of retribution (Specter was faithfully serving the Republican party when Steele was in the third grade, Palin was in diapers, and Jindal wasn’t even born). Senator DeMint completely lost his mind, hollering that the switch is great because Republicans are "seeing across the country that the biggest tent of all is the Tent of Freedom." Swear to God.

I can see why they’re going nuts. This helps nail down the PA Senate seat for the Dems, freeing up Democratic campaign money for other races – like Reid’s. Until the Republicans let Franken into the Senate, the committees can’t reorganize, and in the meantime Specter is still occupying Republican committee seats, while voting with the Dems – ouch!

And worst of all, the switch increases the odds that another will follow: Republican Senator Olympia Slowe says that – for now – she’s sticking with the GOP, but she openly admitted that the GOP never learned their lesson after their sledgehammer tactics impelled Jim Jeffords to quit the party in disgust; she said the party has abandoned its principles, and that the party doesn’t tolerate moderates. She’s a moderate. If she switches now, she has a better chance at high-value committee assignments. And she would lose nothing by switching: she won her last race 3-1 and her state is becoming bluer every year.

61-39 by the end of the year?

Susan Collins could switch too -- she's in the same blue state as Snowe, and the Heinrich Himmler wing of the GOP hates her for her moderate voting. Switching parties could be the perfect way for her to atone for obstructing the pandemic program funding (she bragged about that on her website, and then hastily erased it).

**UPDATE** -- Great piece from Ryan Grim on two other factors in Specter's decision:
1. Hillary's decision to campaign hard in Pennsylvania in 2008, which helped stampede huge numbers of Pennsyvanians from the Republican party to the Democrats, leaving the shrunken GOP (and its 2010 primary) in the control of fascists who hate Specter.
2. Specter's fury that the GOP rightwing's effort to destroy moderate GOP Senator Lincoln Chafee ultimately deprived Specter of his chance to chair the Judiciary Committee and help the GOP put judges on the bench. The group which helped destroy Chafee was founded by the same rightwing whackjob who decided to oppose Specter in the PA primary.

You're all wrong about the torture issue

I was going to steer clear of the torture issue, but then I decided I had to weigh in, because you folks out there are getting both the facts and the significance dead wrong. Not one of you has the whole story right.

First the facts.

The facts about the torture are beyond dispute, and can be established using almost entirely Republican sources. Bush officials admitted we waterboarded people. Waterboarding is torture. The US code, the military code, the international agreements we've ratified, all with the approval of Republican administrations, all condemn torture. We punished agents of other governments for doing this stuff. Germany and Japan both. The Bush administration lawyers who recommended this action were so over the line that even senior Bush officials have said they should be disbarred. Former POW John McCain, the most recent standard-bearer of the Republican party, admitted that what Bush did was dead wrong, and in violation of the Geneva accords. Likewise the administration of Ronald Reagan – by no means an appeaser of terrorists (until 1986 anyway) -- caught four Texas cops waterboarding, and sent all four to prison.

Bush administration documents and testimony show that this was undertaken as the result of a deliberate, premeditated governmental policy. Bush himself said over and over that no one, not even Congress, was going to stop him from doing what he thought was right on national security issues, even if it was clearly illegal. And he kept that promise. Bush rejected accountability for the people who perpetrated these crimes on his behalf. To escape accountability, the Bush gang lied about their actions, and destroyed videotapes and other evidence, which was flagrantly illegal.

Bush’s FBI guys admitted that the torture policy did not prevent any attacks -- Cheney lied about that. All that crap about preventing an attack in LA -- that was a lie too. A senior CIA official under Bush said the same. There was no real urgency to justify the torture policy -- 180 torture sessions over a month shows there was no 24-style ticking bomb to worry about. The Bush gang also lied when they said it was the waterboarding that got the good data from Abu Zubaida.

According to Bush officials at the Pentagon, one army soldier who was ordered to take part in torture sessions refused, was punished for being too “sympathetic”, and committed suicide. The army destroyed the evidence, including the girl’s suicide note.

Bush officials at the Pentagon admitted that, in all, about 100 people died in our custody; at least one third were confirmed or suspected homicides. Beaten as a direct result of presidential policy. No due process, no nothing. And those are just the ones we know about: who knows what else the Bush gang lied about, or concealed?

Almost all of this came from Bush administration officials, and we’ve known about it since the investigations began almost six years ago. Scarborough is screeching that the Post reporter who wrote about the torture memos this year is responsible if we ever get hit with a 911 attack again, which is crap: neither Obama nor the Post girl revealed any “secrets” that we didn’t already know. And it’s funny how the Republicans didn’t throw this hissy fit about protecting our secrets when the Bush gang illegally leaked classified documents in an effort to destroy Valerie Plame’s career, in retaliation against her husband, who told the truth about...Iraq.

So that’s Republican logic for you. A Republican torturing and killing people illegally is okay, and a Republican releasing documents for political purposes to cover up crimes and lies is okay, but a Democrat releasing documents to expose crimes and lies is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Can you imagine if a Democrat committed these crimes? They impeached Clinton over a blow job – what if Clinton had tortured people and lied about it? They launched a 300,000-man tax riot against Obama who had just lowered their taxes – what if the skeery black guy had tortured people?

And second, the significance.

You would think that after the first detainee was beaten to death, or the second, or the tenth, or the twentieth, all without revealing anything of value, perhaps they would call a halt and say “hmm, maybe we shouldn’t be doing this.” But they had a desperate need to beat these guys up. A senior Bush official admitted that the urgency with respect to the torture had nothing to do with imminent attacks. It was all about Bush's need to "prove" his lies about Saddam being linked to 911 and nuclear weapons, in time for the 2002 midterm elections. As we know, the GOP was down 49 to 51 in the Senate and was desperate to get the Senate back. They failed to beat any Iraq lies out of their prisoners, so they just made the lies up, and this helped them to take back the Senate, by picking up two Senate seats.

The Bush gang wanted to win an election dishonestly; and they beat innocent people, sometimes to death, hoping someone could be coerced to lie about Iraq.

This is the same bunch of criminals who sent goon squads down to Florida less than two years earlier, in late 2000, to threaten the election officials who were counting the votes, to frighten them into stopping the vote count. Meanwhile their political masters went out into the streets of America, the citadel of democracy, to scream, day after day, “DON’T COUNT THE VOTES!” So they broke the law to steal two consecutive elections, and then broke the law again to win in 2004 by illegally disenfranchising Democratic voters in Ohio.

The lesson here is not about torture, or the Geneva Convention, or the U.S. Code, or imminent terror attacks. The lesson here is that the GOP has become a gang of thugs who were willing to commit any crime, up to and including murder, to steal the 2002 election. Not even a presidential election – a midterm!

This makes all of the other Republican scumbag tactics easier to understand: people who don’t flinch at beatings and murder would have no problem spending millions of dollars smearing John Kerry as a traitor, for example, or launching other Atwater-style attacks.

This reminds me of a scene from one of my favourite movies, The Godfather. Michael Corleone is talking to his girlfriend, Kay, defending his decision to take over his father’s crime business. He says his father is like any other powerful man – a senator, a governor. Kay says he’s being naive – senators and governors don’t have people killed. Michael says “Who’s being naive, Kay?”

The same issue also came up when the Post was investigating Watergate during the 1972 election. Woodward and Bernstein discovered the truly vile and illegal things the GOP did to try to steal that election, with guys like Colson and Liddy talking openly about murders and bombings on behalf of a sitting president. So the two reporters, possibly thinking about the assassination attempt that took George Wallace out of the race that summer, asked each other whether the Republicans were capable of “the ultimate dirty trick” – murder on behalf of a Republican president, to win an election.

I think we have our answer.

And now who stands between the Republicans and an attempt to retake the Oval Office? The black guy in the White House.

Meanwhile GOP loons like Michelle Bachman are howling about secession and armed revolution, whipping up hate against That Man. The number of U.S. hate groups is skyrocketing – around a thousand of them now -- openly advocating “lone wolves” taking matters into their own hands., with a particular emphasis on Obama’s skin color.

Whatever they’re paying those Secret Service guys, it isn’t enough.

Do you realize that if the Justice Department used the RICO criminal racketeering act against the Republican party, they could put half the Bush administration in jail?

Obama won’t. But he could if he wanted. If we hold the Republicans to the same standard which they themselves tried to impose on Clinton, they would all be in prison orange.

GUEST COLUMNIST: The New Face of Republicanism

I am handing over the soap box, temporarily, to guest reporter Angel of Mercy:

Has it occurred to anyone else out there that the vast, immutable forces of fate and Karma are conspiring to make the radical right appear even more preposterously irrational than usual? It's scary.

Back when President Barack Obama was trying to get his stimulus package up to escape velocity, Republicans who had executed a 180ยบ turn from the profligacy of the Cheney/Bush years were loudly bemoaning irresponsible Democratic big government spending. Piyush "Bobby" Jindal, almost the only person of color in that entire misbegotten party, roundly denounced the $140 million slated for "volcano monitoring" back in January...and then Mt. Redoubt, located in Sarah-cuda Palin's Alaska [">] belched smoke, fire and molten lava about nine different times just one month later.

Maybe you also remember that GOP Senators Susan Collins and Arlen Specter, spurred on by a mocking Turdblossom Rove, stripped $900 million from that very same bill for "pandemic flu preparedness." And now we have our Southern neighbor, Mexico, under virtual lock-down quarantine [,8599,1894063,00.html">] this past weekend from a terrifying outbreak of Swine Flu.

This is incredible to me.

We all knew they were playing politics with these objections and their howls of "porkulus," which isn't even a word! It's what they always do...but to have their insidious game exposed so dramatically and so quickly makes me think that God is maybe a trifle fed up with their frivolous and frequent invoking of Her name for their own selfish ends. I would purely love to believe that's true...

It doesn't just stop there, either. Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security released a report entitled "Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment" warning of the inherent dangers of closet Klansmen, neo-Nazi white supremacists and heavily armed militia groups capitalizing upon the recession and the election of the nation's first Black president to recruit members. This is the hardcore bigot base, never entirely sane at the best of times, kept at a full rolling boil by a steady stream of hysterical rhetoric from AM Hate Radio and Faux News spokesliars.

Of course, there was the expected foaming chorus of outraged denials and accusations of victimization and media bias from Republican pundits...but merely days earlier, Richard Poplawski, your basic lowdown rightwing mutant, had ["] killed three policemen in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, believing that the new president was going to take his guns away.

Now, this is old news. A compelling argument can be made that a paranoid Looney Tune of this caliber didn't deserve to possess anything more lethal than a water pistol. But that isn't even really the point. Last July, Jim David Adkisson [ ">] killed two and wounded six at a church in Knoxville, Tennessee, claiming that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country. At his home, police found copies of books by Michael Savage, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. A month later, Timothy Dale Johnson, another [ ">] rightwing headcase with anger management issues, shot and killed Arkansas Democratic state party chairman Bill Gwatney.

Daniel Knight Hayden, 52, [ ">] was arrested by FBI agents on April 15 who identified him as the Twitter user "CitizenQuasar." In a series of tweets beginning April 11, "Quasar" vowed to start a war against the government on the steps of the Oklahoma City Capitol building, the site of that city’s version of the 'teabagging' protests. At least they got to him before anybody died...but no reasonable person should be the least bit surprised by this result of Rupert Murdoch's propaganda empire stirring the pot non-stop.

And dip me in dirty water if another Obama-hating cop-killer didn't just crawl out of the woodwork, this one [ ">] killing two sheriff's deputies in Okaloosa County, Florida. Does anybody think now that Homeland Security was exaggerating in their report? And Obama's been in office not even quite 100 days yet...

There is no moderation on the right anymore. None. The GOP has driven its least radical elements away and left only an ugly nub and core of hate. Conservatism is now become a fright mask, as horrifying outwardly as it has always been intellectually, appealing to nought but the basest motivations of man--greed, frustration, unfocussed anger--and pitting each against the other.

Monday 27 April 2009

Another word for religious faith: gullibility

No God could give us the divine faculty of reason, and then hide himself so that we could not comprehend him unless we set reason aside in favour of faith. He would not hide behind mysteries, and miracles are the lies of men, not the word of God. By the same token, if there is a God, the cosmos would be one of his greatest works, and he definitely would want us to admire and marvel at it. But the Church acting in his name didn’t even want us to look. The Church knew Man would get smarter and ask annoying questions. So from the very beginning, the priests stressed that faith was the most important thing, that questioning the faith in any way was a crime, and that all the stuff that sounds crazy is a “mystery”. They labored to ensnare young and unformed minds. They worked desperately from the beginning to crush the merest thought about other gods and other faiths – monotheism has a strong undercurrent of cowardice in it, a stark terror that the faithful could ever be exposed to other religions and other gods. And they labored for centuries to prevent religious texts from being translated into vernacular dialects so that the common man could read God’s words for himself, without the priest’s help.

Listen to their sales pitch:

“Hello, you don’t know me, but from the minute you were born, you were condemned to spend all eternity in flames. You are responsible for the sin of Adam and for the crucifixion even though they happened long before you were born. Everyone is guilty no matter what, so we own you no matter what. But listen to everything we say with any questions, and give us money every week, and you’ll go to a really nice place when you die. You want proof? See, there ya go with the questions! It’s a mystery. Sorry, ya gotta buy the whole package: God, the devil, heaven, hell, creation, miracles....Here’s another: this bread and wine will change to human flesh and blood by magic, and then you’re going to eat it. Here’s another: this is a bone belonging to one of our greatest members – pray to it and your prayer will come true....Hey, we’re flexible people! It only took us a couple of centuries to admit that man is an animal and the earth is a satellite!”

As Christopher Hitchens pointed out in “God Is Not Great”, the notion that God is not only infallible but also the designer of everything doesn’t really hold water. The universe is a disordered mess, in our own solar system life cannot be sustained on eight of the nine planets, or on much of the earth’s surface either, and the sun is destined to explode and kill everything eventually. Ninety-eight percent of “God’s” species have died out.

Likewise his finest creation, the human body. Right after it’s born, God insists we cut off the foreskin – did he make a mistake? Did he really think things through when he added appendices, tonsils, vestigial tails, male nipples, body odor, halitosis, baldness, wrinkles, blindness, deafness, haemorrhoids, warts, a dozen baby illnesses like colic...? And I know women were supposed to be God’s afterthought, but seriously – he had to give them menstruation, PMS, menopause, and put the clitoris in completely the wrong place? A little joke on the girls? Oh, yeah, and childbirth, which speaks for itself.

Let’s take a moment to embrace the delusion of religion, here.

“God is my special, magical, invisible friend. He can do anything, but you can't see it. Of all the trillions of creatures in the world, he knows he, he loves me, and that makes me better than you. When I do something bad, he washes it away. And he will make me live forever, even after I die, although you won't see that either. He's magic!”

You see how stupid it sounds, stripped of all the mumbo jumbo? If my eight-year-old came to me with a story like that, I'd make her scrub toilets until she came to her senses.

God is the guy who told Bush to invade Iraq.God is the guy who told the Yorkshire Ripper to murder women. God is the guy who told David Koresh to kill 70 people. God told Pat Robertson, a presidential candidate who wanted his finger on the nuclear trigger, to prepare for the End of Days and the destruction of the world. God is the guy who talks to crazy people through the Tin Foil network.

Crack open your Bible, and read it as though it was a script for a play. The first three speaking characters are a supernatural being (Jehovah), a manufactured man (Adam), and...a talking snake. I mean, seriously.

Thomas Paine in “The Age of Reason” ridicules the logic of the testaments: “Having thus made an insurrection and a battle in heaven, in which none of the combatants could be either killed or wounded, put Satan in the pit, let him out again, given him a triumph over the whole creation, damned all mankind by the eating of an apple, there Christian mythologists bring the two ends of their fable together. They represent this virtuous and amiable man, Jesus Christ, to be at once both God and man, and also the son of God celestially begotten, on purpose to be sacrificed, because they say that Eve in her longing had eaten an apple.”

The silliness of Christian logic intensifies the closer you get to the linchpin of their entire reason for being, Jesus’ death and resurrection. If Christ had to die, why not disease, old age...? And if he had to die for our sins, why did he bounce right back out of the tomb two days later? Wouldn’t his sacrifice actually mean something if he actually, you know, sacrificed his life? If the cosmos is filled with inhabited worlds, does that mean Jesus had to go from world to world to world, dying in one after the other, over and over? And why is it that the people directly descended from the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Jews, are the ones who insist that Jesus didn’t magically rise from the dead and fly into heaven a month later?

Paine again, on the alleged rising of saints from their graves at the crucifixion: “It is an easy thing to tell a lie, but it is difficult to support the lie after it is told. The writer of the book of Matthew should have told us who the saints were that came to life again, and went into the city, and what became of them afterward, and who it was that saw them — for he is not hardy enough to say he saw them himself; whether they came out naked, and all in natural buff, he-saints and she-saints; or whether they came full dressed, and where they got their dresses; whether they went to their former habitations, and reclaimed their wives, their husbands, and their property, and how they were received; whether they entered ejectments for the recovery of their possessions, or brought actions of crim. con. against the rival interlopers; whether they remained on earth, and followed their former occupation of preaching or working; or whether they died again, or went back to their graves alive, and buried themselves.”

When the priests of yore wrote the Bible, they were trying to take advantage of man’s limitless ignorance, to try to explain virtually the entire known universe: the origin of the world, and birth and enumeration of the Jewish people, the laws governing daily life, the rules for food, the rules for cleanliness, the rules for sex, the rules for worshipping God, the works. But whenever science catches up to religion, religion loses: geology has shown that hell ain’t down there and that the story of creation is dead wrong; archaeology proved that man descended from apes. Fifty years of astronauts have shown that the earth revolves around the sun and that God and heaven ain’t up there; nothing but space dust, broken satellites, and Buzz Aldrin’s golf balls.

Science disproves heaven, hell, and now the soul....Advances in neuroscience are pinpointing the brain functions which correspond to what we would have called the “soul” in less enlightened times. Our individuality and personality, our loves and hates, our morals and spirituality, all correlate to brain function. Scientists have proved not only that these functions are indivisible from the chemical processes in particular parts of the brain, but that drugs can alter them. The brain processes are the physical basis for all aspects of the “soul”, and they all stop when we die, so the notion of a soul surviving the body and going on to heaven in rubbish. This is an even greater challenge to religion than evolution. This is why some theologians are taking the easy way out – rejecting the scientific results. Too much truthiness.

If the God team got all that wrong, why should we believe the other obvious nonsense like the resurrection? The concept of God is like man’s appendix: in an earlier age it might have had a purpose, but now it’s merely dangerous. And Iron Age artefact, like cannibalism, slavery, human sacrifice, torture and war.

When human logic blows holes in the theist's argument for God, the theist simply redefines the term. "No, what I really meant by 'God' is...". Some post-medieval theists even went a step further, insisting that anything that man and science cannot explain -- or explain yet -- automatically belongs to God. As though the theists are simply using "God" as a big box in which we can dump everything that we don't understand. That's like defining God as a big filing cabinet which we use to organize our own ignorance.

A close reading of the Bible and subsequent religious history shows organized religion to be, in reality, a colossal fraud aimed at generating revenue. The Torah dispenses with God’s commandments in a couple of paragraphs, but then spends endless chapters describing the massive pile of offerings which the faithful must give to the priests to support their lavish lifestyle. And it’s been that way ever since.

It was this greed which finally killed the golden goose: one greedy cleric, the Archbishop of Mainz, wanted to hog two bishoprics for their revenue, while another, the Pope, want a ton of money for Saint Peters. So the Pope gave the archbishop his bishoprics if the archbishop, in return, agreed to raise the money for his church. The archbishop hired a bunco artist named John Tetzel to raise the money, and Tetzel started the indulgence circus, complete with sales jingles to separate the suckers from their money like PT Barnum. Then Luther heard about it and the real trouble began.

Unsurprisingly, Christianity has been clinically linked to weak intellectual actuity: Mensa reported that 39 different studies correlated religious belief, and lower intelligence and education – because evangelical Christianity demands that you swallow a gigantic pack of lies. The reason they target children is obvious: no sane adult would swallow their nonsense.

If you read the Bible from the beginning, as a mere work of literature, you find immediately that the most interesting character is…Jehovah. This character is childish, cruel, capricious, jealous and emotionally insecure, constantly demanding love and attention, imposing impossible demands, and throwing appalling tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. He’s Scarlett O’Hara with a taste for mass murder.

Only people who are truly gullible could possibly stick with this “God”.

The guys who claimed to be God’s spokesmen, Moses and Aaron, said that God made a promise to his people in the Old Testament. God then allowed his people to be thrown out of the allegedly “promised land” by unbelievers, driven into exile and slavery by Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians, overrun by Romans, chased all over Europe for 2000 years, and exterminated in the millions by Hitler. The middle third of the Bible – a full third of the book – is loaded with references to Jehovah’s decision to break his word and throw the Jews out of Israel, and send them off to Babylon – and all along the way, the Israelites insist that they deserved it.

The Jews who obeyed the Torah got hosed. Pagan idolators who did everything imaginable to break God's laws, like the Romans, the Huns, the Goths, and then the feudal lords of the Middle Ages -- they got to conquer the world. A little practical joke on the "chosen people"? Like Tevye the dairyman said -- yeah, Lord, I know we're the Chosen People, but could you choose someone else for a change? And God’s people stuck with him.

The greatest empire of all, Rome, swears loyalty to your God, under Constantine. Instead of looking after his people, God allows the empire to collapse into a century of civil war and then destruction by hordes of pagans who ain’t never heard of your God. And God’s people stuck with him.
Let’s see, the Crusades. God’s self-appointed spokesmen told all Europe that God wanted the Holy Land in Christian hands, and that God would never allow you to lose if you led an army to retake it. Six or seven armies you sent there, and God abandoned you. You even led an “army” of thousands of children to their deaths. And God’s people still stuck with the Man Upstairs.

The Black Death. God sent a pestilence to destroy Europe. 50 million God-fearing Christians, a small army of priests, prayed to God for mercy, and were slaughtered anyway. And God’s people still stayed with the program.

For 50 years you had a pope in Rome and a pope in France, each insisting that he was infallible and the other was an imposter. A century later your popes indulged in such an appalling pattern of corruption and vice that the Protestant reformation was virtually inevitable. Yet again, rival churches, each claiming that only their church had the true link to the Almighty. Shortly thereafter, Spain’s inquisitors were killing in the thousands, and exterminating hundreds of thousands in the New World. And Gods people stayed with the team. Or, now, teams.

A guy named Galileo proved the Bible wrong; instead of admitting they were wrong, the men of your church threatened him with torture if he didn’t shut up. Later Darwin shot more holes in the Big Book, and explorers from Yuri Gagarin onward saw heaven firsthand, and there was no God there. And through it all, God’s people stuck to him.

God’s spokesmen claim to be the world’s moral authority. So...the Holocaust. Biggest moral issue of the last century. The world waited for the Pope to denounce the Holocaust. Nada....This was all while your priests were molesting generation after generation of altar boys and schoolchildren.

Your religious leaders were caught in one sexual peccadillo after another. Bakker, Swaggart...And you stuck with them.

Oral Roberts capped his lifelong career of lies by claiming that if the God’s People didn’t give him eight million dollars, God would kill him. The God people not only believed him, but actually gave him the money.

Your religious leaders told you abortion was murder, and if you gave money to them and to the Republican party, it would be outlawed. You gave them hundreds of millions of dollars, and they never came close to banning abortion. And now they’re planning to hornswoggle you with yet another doomed holy war against gays.

So how many times does Lucy pull away the football and watch Charlie Brown fall on his ass, before Charlie Brown gets the message?

Sunday 26 April 2009

...and WHY did the Republicans lose in 2008?

We need to remember why the GOP can never be entrusted with political power again...

1. Because they were deliberately obstructing the function of Congress since they lost control there.
2. Because of their illegal election tactics, their outright theft of Florida in 2000, their attempt to steal electoral votes in California…
3. Their endless efforts to lie to the American people and hide the facts, and silence their critics as “unpatriotic“.
4. Their smears of war veterans like Kerry, Gore, Murtha, Cleland, even McCain…
5. Their 15 years of lies and smears against the Clintons.
6. Their 30 year embrace of evangelicals.
7. Because they dragged religion into our political system.
8. Because they have done all they can to destroy moderates and centrists
9. Because we need a centrist, and the Democrats have one.
10. Because they illegally used many organs of the executive branch as political weapons to beat up their enemies with
11. Because their firing of the US attorneys for political reasons was illegal
12. Because they took away our freedom with the Patriot Act
13. The illegal wiretaps
14. The illegal prisons, the illegal detentions, the illegal torture -- some of which was directed at Americans
15. The rejection of accountability; the unconstitutional signing statements, the rejection of Congressional oversight which goes even further than Nixon did
16. Making us less safe by botching the Department of Homeland Security (and ignoring the threat from Iran)
17. Botching the Katrina response and then (as Brown later admitted) deliberately smearing Blanco because she was a female Democrat
18. Destroying our military and ignoring the needs of our veterans, all while screaming “support the troops”
19. Reviving Reaganomics and running up a 10 trillion dollar debt which raises our taxes with increased interest payments
20. Destroying our international reputation
21. Lies and denials on global warming, which even Fox and Exxon finally admitted was a problem
22. Blocking progress on health care, which costs us an extra 2000 bucks per person per year
23. Because they’re still gunning for Roe versus Wade.
24. Four years of lies about Iraq
25. Botching the Iraq invasion, disbanding the army, losing track of billions in reconstruction money, missing the estimated cost by about two trillion

...and of course Gonzalez, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Delay, Lott, Harriet Miers, Dick Armey, Gingrich, Ted Stevens, Brown at FEMA, George Allen, Rick Santorum, Cheney, Larry Craig, David Vitter, Mark Foley, Jack Abramoff, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, Sam Brownback....

Remember in 2010.

Remember in 2012.

Remember in 2016.

Election 2008 is almost over!

...and since we’re finally heading toward the finish line in the 2008 election, let’s relive the 2008 campaign in 60 seconds. Ready? Begin!

The brief flirtation with Mike Huckabee.
Obama’s ground game expands across the country.
The implosion of Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney.
Obama’s miracle in all-white Iowa.
Hillary cries her way to victory in New Hampshire.
Racial tension in South Carolina; Bill fumes for months over being called a racist.
Obama comes from behind and gets a tie on Super Tuesday.
Jeremiah Wright’s video and Obama’s Philly speech.
Obama’s incredible fundraising.
The bitter folks clinging to their guns and Bibles.
Sniper fire in Bosnia, Senator?
Attacks on Obama regarding Ayers and Rezko.
Obama ambushing Hillary in all those caucus states.
Hillary’s RFK assassination comment.
The stampede of the superdelegates to Obama.
The DNC compromise on Florida and Michigan.
Weeks and weeks of boohooing and threats from Hillary supporters.
Bush backing Obama over McCain on talking to Iran and withdrawing from Iraq.
Obama’s world tour and his speech in Berlin.
McCain’s Paris Hilton / celebrity ploy, and Hilton’s response to the “wrinkly white haired dude”.
Obama bypasses Hillary and picks Biden.
The “elitist” nonsense.
Edwards has a little secret!
McCain and his seven houses.
The Democratic convention: Michelle, Teddy, the Clintons, and Obama rock the house.
The Palin pick: the flimsy vetting, the pregnant daughter, the moose hunting, the big speech filled with lies, the lipstick on the pit bull, the big polling bounce.
The GOP convention: lie and smear, lie and smear, lie and smear. And a hurricane. And a really dull speech from McCain.
The Palin backlash: the bridge to nowhere, the plane on eBay....
Efforts by McPalin to claim the mantle of change are laughed out of town.
The Palin-Gibson interview: let’s attack Russia! And what’s the Bush doctrine...?
McCain’s 20 lie-and-smear attack ads, and the backlash from the fact-checkers in the press.
Troopergate: promises of cooperation turn into stonewalling.
Fiorina admits McCain and Palin are both unfit for office, is pulled away from the press circuit.
McCain invents the Blackberry!
Wall Street: AIG, Lehman Brothers, crashes around the world; McCain exposed as a key supporter of the deregulation that caused it all.
McCain’s insistence that everything’s fine in the economy.
Increasing reports of GOP efforts to illegally disenfranchise voters, use smears in push polls, the usual.
McCain’s psychotic Im-in-Im-out-Im-in moment in the first debate.
The first debate – Obama holds his own on foreign policy; McCain is condescending and fudges the facts. All the post-debate polls go for Obama.
Palin and Couric – a fiasco.
The Palin debate – winking, blowing kisses, flagrantly avoiding the questions – and losing big.
McCain unilaterally gives up Michigan.
McCain openly proclaims that it’s mud season, and tees off on the Ayers issue – and turns people off.
The town hall between McCain and “That One” – another blowout win for the Dems. McCain’s negativity is a huge turnoff, and his addled plan to buy all the mortgages causes shock from left and right.
The Dow crashes again.
The Electoral College begins to unravel for McCain.
Joe the Plumber turns out to be a fake.
The GOP is caught faking a story about a big black guy knifing a girl because she’s a McCain supporter; a McCain campaign operative goes to jail.
McCain tanks one more debate.
GOP hollering about Obama’s birth certificate.
Sarah goes shopping! The little hockey mom blew $150,000 on clothes.
Sarah is found to have violated state ethics law; legislature could fine or impeach her.
The Bush administration is caught leaking information about Obama’s aunt.

Then Bang! Zoom! Obama crushed McCain by a huge margin, invading southern and western states that have barely seen Democratic candidates in decades.


So who invented the modern political campaign?

With the New York congressional race resolved, there is only one decision left – Coleman versus Franken – and the 2008 election, which began two years ago, is finally over.

So, trivia question: which two men invented the modern political campaign?

No, it ain't Rove, or Atwater or Nixon.

The first one launched a wide range of political innovations, to include building a national political party, fundraising, amassing voter lists, slogans, songs, pamphlets, posters, parades, barbecue parties, dinners, rallies, and product merchandising. Almost 200 years ago Andrew Jackson wrote the campaign blueprint which politicians are still using today – I mean, voter lists and merchandizing in 1828! He was also the first of three men to win the popular vote in three consecutive presidential elections (the other two were also Democrats, Grover Cleveland and FDR).

The second one added the use of political proselytizing in the media, radio, and film, and made a point of making alliances with special interest groups such as the military, the rich, farmers and religious leaders; he also excelled in parades, demonstrations, attacking political enemies, and appealing to the left and right simultaneously. He also aimed his proselytizing at the young. Benito Mussolini’s strategy and tactics were so admired by Hitler that Der Fuehrer had a bust of Mussolini in his office.

Rick "Secession" Perry shrieks for federal help on swine flu

What was it, nine days ago he was whining that the federal government was so oppressive that Texas should leave the Union?

And wasn't that right after Texas agreed to accept the federal stimulus money that Perry was condemning?

As we know, Republicans have been hypocritically scarfing up federal pork while simultaneously condemning it for years...

...So perhaps now is the time to tell Governor Perry:

"Have you learned you lesson, Bullwinkle? Don't bite the hand that feeds you, shitwit. Unless you want us to come in and shut down all those federal facilities in your state -- the Johnson Space Center, Fort Sam Houston, Lackland AFB, the bases at Brooks, Goodfellow, Hood, Corpus Christi, the 800 federal buildings that employ thousands of Texans, the 15 national parks in Texas...."

**UPDATE** -- And now it's time for the GOP to do some 'splainin'. It has been reported that Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano -- darling of the conservatives -- is taking the lead on the swine flu crisis. Why? Because the pus-brained Republicans have been deliberately obstructing the nomination of the Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathy Sebelius, to score cheap political points. This is despite the fact that Sebelius has done more than any Democrat in the country to reach out to Republicans. The reward she got for this effort was a hearty "FUCK YOU" from the Republicans she tried to help. So now we face a health crisis without a HHS Secretary. Because the Republicans would rather attack America's Democrats, than attack America's problems. This is why the popularity of the GOP is at a 25-year low.

Also, for those who don't believe Texas has all those parks, but refuse to do the research....

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
Amistad National Recreation Area
Big Bend National Park
Big Thicket National Preserve
Chamizal National Memorial
Fort Davis National Historic Site
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
Padre Island National Seashore
Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site
Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River the four Spanish frontier missions.

There are also recreation areas at the Amistad and Lake Meredith sites.

**UPDATE UPDATE** -- It was the Republicans who blocked the inclusion of Obama's proposal for anti-epidemic money in the stimulus package. They shrieked that it was "pork". Savor the irony.

Saturday 25 April 2009

three sources for swine flu information

The San Antonio newspaper is staying on top of the issue because they have cases there --

And this site has good links to people like the CDC and WHO --

And some bits of information on the disease itself --

Pakistan, explained

So what’s going on in Pakistan?

The Taleban are trying to widen their footprint in Pakistan, imposing their will on a wider area in northern Pakistan. The locals, even conservatives, don’t want the Taleban or their medieval ideas – they even tried to fight them, but the government wouldn’t back up the locals. The government is appeasing and negotiating with the Taleban. They have neither the will nor the strategy to fight the militants.

So people are asking: what is Zardari doing? It makes no sense.

The answer: it ain’t Zardari. And it makes perfect sense.

Pakistan is ruled not by Zardari but by the army and its intelligence arm, the ISI. Zardari tried to assert himself by disbanding the ISI’s political wing, and then sought to send the ISI chief to help India with the Mumbai attack, but the army blocked that move.

The main tool the army uses to maintain power is the national siege mentality, based on the notion that Afghanistan and India are colluding against them; Kashmir is central to this idea. This is the tool they use to control national politics and budget, and to keep their army in a frozen stalemate over on the eastern border with India – a perfect excuse not to tackle terrorists along their western border. The army and the ISI throw gasoline on the flames by sponsoring the Taleban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, to make mischief in Afghanistan and India. They allow those groups and al-Qa’ida to use the FATA area for safe havens and staging areas for attacks into India and Afghanistan, pretending that the FATA area is outside army control (which it may well be at this point). They also fan the flames through the legal system which is embracing more Shari’a, and through tolerance of fundamentalists who attack sellers of CD’s and DVD’s, and even juice bars where the young may meet.

Zardari wants to neutralize that weapon by resolving the Kashmir issue, reaching out to India and scaling back support for Kashmiri separatists. Currently India manages the rich part of Kashmir while Pakistan manages the poor part, a formula which is unlikely to change; Zardari’s predecessor, Musharraf, proposed making that permanent, with a “soft” border. But there may be limits as to how far the army will let Zardari go on the peace track.

America can assuage the siege mentality by letting the Pakistanis know they will be protected, by being careful in its dealings with India and with the Afghan Northern Alliance which is seen as pro-Indian (the Pakistanis see us as part of the India-Afghanistan alliance against them too, which is why our military presence makes them nervous). They probably want the same nuclear deal that India got, and IMF money.

With the help of the Pakistani army, the Taleban possibly can be split – separate the hardliners from the weekend hackers -- and then neutralized. Things which the Taleban might want: a voice in government, the departure of the hated Karzai. Of course what they may really want is to get in the face of the new, untested U.S. president, at least once. We would want them to stop protecting al-Qa’ida and launching attacks against our forces, girl’s schools and other targets. For the Taleban diehards, we will need the Pakistani army to cooperate on their side of the border (as well as a crackdown on heroin, which funds the Taleban) – making that happen might make it easier to talk to the non-hardliners.

Without the help of the Pakistani army, little progress is likely in Afghanistan. Things are already hard enough there. Afghanistan is the puzzle which defeated the empires of Britain and Russia. There is little tradition of strong central government, and the Kabul regime will need much more propping up than the one in Baghdad; longterm funding for their army and police will be needed. It will not be resolved in a quick U.S. surge. Add to that the fact that our NATO allies are overdue for a spanking, for their lackadaisical efforts in Afghanistan.

This is one of the many areas in which China might help. China wants a route to transport its goods from under-developed western China to the Indian Ocean; they helped build the Pakistani port of Gwadar, which India countered by building roads to facilitate transport through the Afghan ring-road system to Iran, thus bypassing Gwadar. China is also Afghanistan’s largest investor, spending a pack of money on a copper mine near Kabul. Of course China has its own interests in the area: among other things, they are not thrilled to see U.S. forces in the region (Iran, Russia and India are also nervous).

Ready to fight a world war for water?

USA Today reported yesterday that California is heading for its third yeard of drought, with conditions even worse than usual. More fires, more ruined crops, more jobs lost. Water matters.

The coming battles over oil and carbon are only the first salvos in a series of battles that could last centuries, all over resources: water, food and land to grow things on.

People have been fighting over water rights since the age of agriculture. America has had squabbles over water out west for a century; water fights break out in places like Sudan, which feeds Nile water to Egypt.

Eastern Australia’s Murray-Darling basin is drying up. The government is trying to restrict water use. The system could die outright. But in western Australia has iron ore (which China eats up) and tons of water.

Infrastructure is an issue also. Some water systems in the western U.S. are old.

There are ways to conserve water, use stormwater capture, and make manufacturing efforts more water-neutral – Coke is one of the firms giving it a go – but further down the road we will need to look at desalinization. A $300 million desal plant is going up in San Diego, with enough water for 100,000 homes. But much more research is needed because desal is resource-intensive. Costs are dropping but not enough yet: the University of Ottawa is working on a new technique that allegedly would be 6-7 times more efficient than the current systems; GE is working on it too. The process eats energy: Russia is using “co-generation”, exploiting the energy expended in nuclear power generation, to desal the water, and Australia is using co-generation to desal on wind farms. Membrane technology is also worth a look.

Another problem with desalinization is the waste it generates: it’s too hot and too salty for some ecosystems; they are working on ways to put the stuff back in the water without killing everything. Then the biggie: building some sort of viaduct/pipe grid to get the water to the people, which makes it more attractive to live near the coast (good news for China since everyone already lives on the coast there).

Another water issue: as we rely more on fish as a food supply, we’re going to need to lean on certain countries regarding overfishing and pollution.

Air is also a finite resource: not just as a place to dump carbon, but to breathe, obviously. Excessive deforestation needs to stop.

Living space: look at how much luck the Chinese had with population control. Population affects all the other resources – food, energy, water, the works.

More finite resources: food, and land to grow it on. Same methods as with energy: we conserve, we create more sources, and we provide aid where we can.

Agriculture is starting an impressive number of global economic squabbles, and that’s just about food producers selling it, not the hungry getting their hands on it.

The food problem is becoming more acute: in three years global prices almost doubled; the food issue hurts the urban poor the most, and there have been food riots in 30 countries; since it takes 6 pounds of grain to make a pound of protein, the growing Asian appetite for meat will only make things worse.

We may need to abandon some time-worn illusions about growing natural foods on family farms: more commercial agriculture will be needed to deal with investment, supply and delivery chains, marketing, regulations and innovation. Insisting that some peasant farmer grow your food on a family farm is like insisting that your DVD player be built in your neighbor’s Olde Handicrafte Shoppe. Feeding seven billion people cannot be done that way. Meanwhile the EU will need to set aside its anti-Americanism and protectionism and embrace GM foods.

Even food aid can be tricky: it can depress the local market and prices, thus discouraging production and encouraging further dependence, and it can be withheld for political reasons.

Food issues will bring pollution issues to the fore: biocides, fertilizers and water pollution; raising livestock causes the most problems.

All of these resource issues affect each other in ways we are only beginning to understand. Desalination gives us water but devours energy. Ethanol helps with the carbon issue but hurts on the food front. Carbon gives us more energy but hurts us on the air pollution issue. Water affects the food problem.

Obama moves forward on energy

USA Today reported yesterday that Obama is launching a program for offshore wind power – it could create 250,000 jobs and provide a fifth of our power in a few decades.

It is increasingly likely that wind and solar power are going to play a major role in our energy strategy.

We can think of airspace as a finite resource: there is only so much “space” into which we can put carbon, before truly disastrous things happen. In addition to conservation and getting away from fossil fuels as much as possible, there are a number of options on the table: capping emissions, taxing them, fining polluters, and so forth. On ambitious effort worth watching: Abu Dhabi is building a no-carbon city, Masdar.

Some options in the carbon battle are problematic. There are many carbon-trading plans out there, too many, and trading probably won’t solve the problem. Anything that is not statutory won’t work. And the technology for clean coal retrofitting shows promise but it is not anywhere near a stage that justifies building new coal plants. Obama has ruled out a straight carbon tax for now.

The western desert could supply the U.S. with all the electricity it needs. The LA mayor wants a project to generate 1.3 GW of solar power by 2020. China and India are exploring it too. One issue to address is cutting the cost of the silicon involved: since sand is plentiful, this sounds like a straightforward problem of chemistry and engineering.

In addition to the large-scale solar efforts to generate electricity, there are smaller efforts: solar water heaters, solar chimneys that get hot and create updrafts that circulate air, and solar water distillers (how much volume can they generate?). Some vehicles use solar panels to power air conditioning.

There are also ways to fight the sun: choosing the right building materials, designing spaces to circulate air, orienting the building the right way vis-a-vis the sun, low ratio of surface area to volume, shading, window sizes and shapes, white paint, and even computer modelling for the light and HVAC.

Wind power gives the U.S. one percent of its power; it could be 15 percent by 2020. They are using the Great Plains, but I’ll bet the Great Lakes are worth a look since they’ve got wind and population centers right there. China is building windfarms in Hebei. Germany, Ireland and Denmark are using it, and India is exploring it too.

Picking wind sites is critical: look at the the cost of land, value of energy generated, access to power lines, environmental issues, and of course the wind itself, or lack thereof. Some places like Texas have little wind in summer when electricity demand peaks; geothermal heat pumps can make air conditioning more efficient, but can the power be stored locally too? Since people usually don’t like living in windy places, a lot of the best places for wind farms are far from population centers, which bumps up the cost of power lines and substations; Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia have plenty of wind, but it’s way, way out there. Another complication is that it’s much easier to move turbine blades by water than by land, so some of those sites in the boonies are problematic. Wind power is becoming more cost-effective, and federal and state authorities offer tax breaks for using it. Some Americans are buying grid-linked turbines in the 1-10KW range to power their entire homes.

Engineers are deploying slow-water hydroelectric power in the Detroit River. A field of cylinders built on a seabed 1 km by 1.5km could power 100,000 homes. It would be cheaper than wind or solar, and won’t bother the wildlife much. Normal hydroelectric dams need to fuel but a river is needed; it is expensive and it can hurt the environment.

Twenty years ago the liberal fashion was to attack all nuclear technology. Later the conservatives were the ones worrying: more nations want nuclear technology, the technology to go from energy production to weaponry is easier to get, and countries such as Russia and China don’t seem to be serious about stopping proliferation. And then, even though it is cheap, there is the waste: Obama and Reid oppose storing waste at Yucca Mountain, but some scientists say it may be the safest way. CNN now reports that the Republicans, to cross Obama up, are calling for an energy plan that is heavy on nuclear, but nuclear plants can be incredibly expensive – 15 to 20 billion – and are notorious for cost overruns. So that isn’t really a comprehensive answer.

Geothermal hot-spot plants are worth a look. Less promising is biofuels, which take too much land and water, and save little in the way of energy or carbon. And they’re inefficient. However, we may also need to end our opposition to Brazilian cane ethanol which is more efficient than the domestic stuff. The airlines were playing around with aircraft that run on biofuels, but I don’t know how practical that is.

Are methane cars practical?

Just some stuff to think about.

More to come on energy and politics!

Friday 24 April 2009

Can the Chinese regime survive?

The Chinese Communist party

The Chinese Communist party sold itself for years as a permanent revolution against capitalist oppressors, class warfare, and the aim of devolving into a stateless utopia. The premise looked sillier and sillier as the years dragged on. Deng came along and opened the door an inch: a smidge of capitalism heavily clogged up with state-run enterprises, mild criticism of Mao, preaching socialism instead of Communism, bare-bones institutions, welcoming businessmen, and no democracy. They are trying to shift their sheet music away from communism to nationalism. But the underlying dogma of party control is the same, and it is totally useless for China in the 21st century.

But even 30 years after Mao’s death, Hu, the new leader, needs the party hardliners, who think reform has gone too far and don’t want to go further – for them it is no longer about standing up for communism, it is about retaining control.

Their only political pitch is – “in 25 years we built a $2 trillion economy, so why is anyone complaining?” To respond to this, let me refer to a long-dead theatre critic, who once wrote a scathing review that went something like this: “I have seen your play, and there are parts that are good, and there are parts that are original. But the good parts are not original, and the original parts are not good.” The modern geopolitical version would go like this: “You have an economy that is mostly state-run and very vibrant. But the vibrant part isn’t state-run, and the state-run part isn’t vibrant.” The growth is happening in spite of the party, which has no clue. They are textbook communists looking on, bewildered, as capitalist progress happens in front of them, like the family dog watching a ten-year-old doing arithmetic. They are not leading China: they are the biggest threat to China’s future, a malignant parasite.

They will preach reform and use corrupt officials and leaders of state-run enterprises as scapegoats, but that will only get them so far. If they insist on vise-tight control of the country, they must take responsibility for the things that do not work.

Corruption in China

The official Chinese media actually talks about political reform, but it won’t happen without a struggle. There is virtually no oversight of local governors or businesses, particularly in rural areas, although government tried to tighten the reins in 1993. The spread of corruption interferes with both public and private firms. Corruption costs perhaps 14 percent of the GDP by one estimate.

For this reason, a lot of things which are essential to fuller integration into the international economy are lacking.

The legal system is expanding the number of cases it hears, but it the system also broken and completely politicized; the chairman of their parliament said flat-out that they would never have an independent judiciary. They made some progress in cleaning things up in the 1990s but backslid at the turn of the century. The head of the judiciary, a reformer, was replaced with a party hack. In one year almost 800 judges went on trial for corruption, so you can imagine how many got away with it, and half of the decisions of provincial courts are not even enforced. The unprotected are mistreated, with arbitrary detentions, and arrests and beatings of lawyers who defend politically unpopular clients.

They made progress on commercial and administrative law, but not much.
Some say as much as an eighth of the GDP comes from counterfeit goods; there is also trouble with quality control, and efforts to deceive inspectors. Food contamination is a growing problem. There are big problems in the pharma sector, where western firms get precursors and ingredients; it may reach the point where U.S. and European drugmakers, fearing lawsuits, regulators and bad press, will begin to reject ingredients from China. Without the rule of law, problems such as product safety and intellectual property rights cannot be solved.

Next, modern (let’s not call them western) business practices: sensible corporate management, anti-trust rules, real competition, financial oversight with independent auditing. This notion would also help government itself, with sensible investment and development, avoiding overcapacity etc.

The banking sector may be an important bellwether in this regard. During the Asian financial crisis it emerged that Chinese banks had huge amounts of non-performing loans on the street, perhaps $600 billion worth, as banking and accounting rules were set aside. China began tightening controls, putting regulators through more testing. But now with a recession on, pressure is mounting to loosen the reins again and use the banks to finance the stimulus effort; China could eliminate the CBRC regulations or even the whole CBRC. That of course is exactly how the U.S. found itself in its own dilemma.

Next, consumers and investors: they need property rights so they can borrow on the collateral and stop worrying about illegal land seizures, and they need to be able to buy enough stock to have a real voice in how firms are run. It can’t all go to the party poobahs.

Next, there are issues which the government absolutely will resist: free speech, free media, free debate, freedom of association, free election, and trade unions. You could also put improvements in education in this category.

Next, there are other aspects which we have addressed elsewhere: the need for a pension system, and sound trade and environmental policies.

Ground zero for China’s corruption problems is in their state-owned enterprises (SOE’s), which make up half the national GDP. In the 1990s they tried SOE reform but millions lost their jobs so the effort was curtailed. In 1997 China loosened controls on the SOE’s and funnelled a lot of their saved money into them; a lot of Chinese lending goes to the SOE’s. This happens even though the firms have proved themselves to be inefficient, unprofitable and corrupt; the government conceals the number of SOE insolvencies. The corruption only gets worse when party members get involved the SOE’s, and when the businessmen join the party: until 1998 the army and other government organs also ran businesses with little oversight. Instead of shutting down all the SOE’s, the government has chosen to build a real economy around them rather than shut them down or reform them, possibly with the aim of aging out the SOE’s by attrition, but that could take an awfully long time.

There is a cultural component to all this: the Chinese rely on personal relationships and connections, more than laws, rules and contracts.

Unrest in China

Tiananmen wasn’t just Tiananmen. There were demonstrations in almost two hundred cities. The party got lucky: the protesters were divided, and China wasn’t as hooked into the international economy so there was less vulnerability. Also the military played ball: Deng, a war hero, had the credibility to order the troops to fire.

The Chinese people remember Tiananmen; they know the party that perpetrated it is still in power and could do it again. And the troubles are still coming. Already they have had so many labor strikes and protests that the state-run media realized it was futile to try to conceal it. The number of protests jumped from 10,000 in 1004 to 74,000 in 2004; in the mid-2000s three million a year took part in protests and almost a million a year took part in strikes. People have been predicting serious trouble for years, but economic growth helped keep trouble at bay; now, with factories closing, protests are growing. Workers are protesting in the beating heart of the Chinese economy, the Pearl River delta, the source of one third of all Chinese exports. Government offices have been trashed, policemen attacked.

The party cannot relieve the political pressure with elections, because it would kill the party; they can’t allow controlled expressions of popular sentiment, because every time they try it, there is an explosion of protest. They’re not sure what to do.

And more trouble is coming: they have 250 million internet users which government can control effectively now, but for how long? The government has banned VOA, the BBC, and anyone who gets too chesty on the Tibet issue; they just banned the New York Times also. They loosened restrictions on the internet during the Olympics, then put up the gates again. The Chinese people also have 600 million cellphones, potentially a great revolutionary tool.

[ **UPDATE** -- More signs that the government is having trouble controlling everyone's access to the internet. ]

The Chinese leaders are probably a better bunch than the generation that preceded them. The cultural revolution essentially decapitated their entire professional class, and the old-timers were generally true believers, or too terrified of Mao, or his memory, or just not very good leaders. The new bunch still has no skill at western-style politics and less familiarity than they really need regarding the people they rule, particularly in the rural parts, but they are thoughtful and pragmatic. The Chinese invented the concept of qi, the interaction of multiple forces, rather than linear cause/effect; that sort of complex problem-solving is going to be awfully handy.

They know the political dangers; they are obsessed with maintaining control. The Chinese president indicated that the party and its leaders could lose credibility and the capacity to control the situation, leading to social unrest. They cannot contemplate loosening controls on the media or banking (foreigners can buy bank stock but they can’t run the boardroom), or allowing unionization or democratization.

The problem is that they cannot see a path out of the woods – a way to let the steam out of the political kettle slowly and safely -- and are unsure how to deal with the unrest. They are, however, trying. They are studying the prospect of political reform, and sending people to Sweden and Japan to study how capitalist democracy can work in what is essentially a one-party state. They even put on a television series praising the western system of representative government, examining efforts by both Roosevelts to control capitalism, and stressing the need to seek progress through economic development and innovation rather than aggressive militaristic policy.

Time is also a factor. Economic change is slow; the leaders would need to figure out what they want to do both economically and politically, launch it pretty soon, hope they guessed right, mostly – and make it all happen before the situation on the streets takes on a life of its own. Ironically, economic prosperity may accelerate political trouble: some analysts point out that when a developing nation develops a middle class, the first thing the newly prosperous reach out for is democracy. Fareed Zakaria pointed out that essentially all countries which reach that level go that way, except Singapore and some of the oil states of the Middle East. The Chinese people will demand that their society care for basic needs – caring for the young and old, and managing people’s money and property; so far the government isn’t getting it done.

We must not be tempted by the example of the fall of the Soviet Union, which went better than anyone had a right to expect: it all could have gone much, much worse. In 1991 all Russia really had to do was swap one group of corrupt oligarchs for another. China now must build an entirely new economy, and they have no playbook to work from. They playbook they used to get here – liberalizing with more private enterprise, stock markets, foreign investment, trade, industry, seeking a balance between capitalism and socialism, encouraging people to explore capitalism but not democracy, and banking cash reserves – will not help them much, in trying to solve their current problems.

If they do survive a leap to democracy, or something like democracy, it might take the form of a mixed system with popular participation under the hierarchy of a party which would let go of some of its power. Ideally some of the hardwired patronage networks would need to be unwired, but a certain level of corruption may be what greases the skids in the right direction. In addition to the more obvious hazards of life in a democracy, the government will also have difficulty with unexpected things; for example, Chinese dictatorship made it possible for the government to invest a ton of money on education even though the payoff is a long way down the road – in a democracy the people want to see a quicker return on their investment.

Zakaria suggested that China’s rise as a world power will continue even if the political situation blows up. He pointed out that after the Bastille fell, France continued to grow economically through a comical series of republics and empires.

Rural China

Further down the road, more trouble is brewing out west, in rural China. The gap between the rich urban east and the poor rural west will become politically unsustainable. The east pulls gas and electric power out of the west, and although they talk about reaching out and spending government money out west, it never goes very far; that includes support from banks. Trade among provinces is difficult. The local rulers in the west, left to their own devices, are very corrupt, and the locals are getting very little in the way of government service. Beijing has little control out in the boonies, and may not be able to reel them in if they need to.

Rural communes have already taken the initiative and de-collectivized themselves: productivity shot up, as did innovation. Then they did the same with local factories; they had to use legal evasions because private firms were not allowed to have more than eight people, or borrow from banks. This happened most in the south; Mao didn’t build much industry down there because he expected it to be invaded. The rural areas also send people to the industrial areas to work, which relieves some rural poverty but causes problems in the cities – and now those migrant workers are out of a job, 20 million of them just in the last several months.

Coming soon: China's economic situation, and its role on the world stage