Friday, April 09, 2021

Appomattox Surrender Day 2021

Every April 9th ought to be a national holiday in the United States.

This is the day Robert E. Lee surrendered the main armed force of the Confederacy to U.S. Grant's Union Army.

While the Civil War itself would continue on a few more weeks, for all intents the southern slaveowner insurrection attempting to keep slavery in the United States was over. The Thirteenth Amendment had just gotten passed in Congress and the antebellum world the Confederacy struggled to continue would be no more.

So to all of the Lost Causers/White Supremacists/"Slavery Wasn't All Bad" Far Right apologists:






Seriously though, we need to make Appomattox Surrender Day a national holiday, during which we all point at anybody still gleeful about the Confederacy and laugh and laugh and laugh. It'll be like Guy Fawkes Day, but with more humiliating putdowns towards the segregationist assholes.

Thank you.


Tuesday, April 06, 2021

It's the Stuff That's Legal That Should Worry You

Who can forget the time Bo Pilgrim, the East Texas chicken magnate, walked onto the floor of the senate during a special session in 1989 and started handing out checks for ten thousand dollars - payee blank - to any senator who would take one? Seven took the money, but five gave it back when the story broke. Still, it was technically legal. That's Texas ethics for you. The real scandal isn't what's illegal: it's what's legal.

-- Molly Ivins, Nothin' But Good Times Ahead (p. 205)

You should probably read David A Graham's article in full (behind the paywall) at the Atlantic, but here's the highlights:

If these scandals seem to demand an explanation for how a member of Congress, entrusted to hold power in Washington, could behave in such a way, the reality may be the opposite: Only a member of Congress could behave like this and get away with it. Whether Gaetz’s alleged behavior rose to the criminal is yet to be seen, but if true, it would have gotten him fired long ago in any conventional gig. Congress is no normal gig, though. It is, almost by design, a hostile workplace...

Previously, while serving in the Florida House of Representatives, Gaetz was “part of a group of young male lawmakers who created a ‘game’ to score their female sexual conquests, which granted ‘points’ for various targets such as interns, staffers or other female colleagues in the state House,” according to ABC.

His behavior didn’t improve when he got to Washington in 2017. According to CNN, staff in then–House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office had “a discussion with Gaetz about acting professionally while in Congress.” Gaetz also screamed at then-Representative Cedric Richmond during a June 2020 hearing.

One might hope that “acting professionally” would be the bare minimum for a U.S. representative, especially one who had already served in a state legislature—and whose father was once president of the Florida Senate. But Congress has often been the site of abhorrent behavior, and state legislatures are even worse. Gaetz was a product of his milieu.

Congress has none of the measures in place that other workplaces do to deal with bad behavior. There’s no HR department, so when members misbehave, there’s no one to handle it. In theory, the House and Senate ethics committees can investigate and punish members, but in practice they are reluctant to punish their colleagues, and anyway, there are few real punishments short of expulsion. Nor are there bosses. The Ryan staff meeting may seem like a weak response, but the speaker has little real control, either...

I don't think Graham covered it in his article, but it should be worth noting that Congress managed a slush fund to pay of sexual harassment claims whenever they came up. It was fucking baked into the system, people. They only changed the rules on that to make the congresscritters pay out of pocket once the news leaked in 2017.

But Graham does note, much like others in the Beltway media have pondered, that Congress does not have a means to discipline reckless and abusive and misbehaving members. The ethics committees in both houses are toothless, and the Speaker's powers to punish wayward members (and reward the better behaved ones) were taken away by "reforms" in the 1990s. One of Newt Gingrich's lasting legacies of his Far Right takeover of the Republican House leadership in 1994 has been the near-constant lapses of ethical behavior by even the deepest backbencher, all because he emboldened the fringe caucuses to worse and worse behavior.

One thing the Graham hints at, but doesn't go into great length about, is how Congress intentionally writes into a lot of their regulatory laws for other businesses and industries ways to exempt themselves from such ethical oversight or regulation. Hiring practices, healthcare coverage, benefits, transparency requirements, safety regs, what have you: Congress - regardless of who's in charge, which should shame the Democratic leadership but doesn't - doesn't want to be held accountable like the rest of us lowly plebeians.

So from that foundation, you can see how someone like Gaetz - like a lot of elected officials who keep getting caught in both sexual and financial scandal year after year - could even thrive in such a work environment while his bad behavior goes public.

We are dealing with a new breed of elected official since the 1990s: One that knows full well the game is rigged to your benefit as long as you remain shameless and vulgar. The ones who resign out of shame and duty are actually more honorable than the bastards who stay in office right up until their Guilty verdicts in a court of law. And by then, of course, it's all too late.

If we want to get rid of the Gaetzs who clog up our elective offices from both the state and federal levels, the majority of voters need to pay attention to the unethical (even legal) stuff they do and vote them out (IMHO, that means voting out the corrupted GOP). Confirm the ones we're hiring in will get serious about reforms to give their ethics committees more power to enforce. Hold them to the same legal standards the laws hold us. Balance the scales.

Otherwise, everything illegal for us remains legal for them. God DAMN them.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Piney Point

The alert on this went out last night. In short: Oh Crap. (via Zachary T. Sampson and Josh Fiallo at Tampa Bay Times (paywalled)):

Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in Manatee County on Saturday as officials fear an “imminent” collapse at the old Piney Point phosphate plant could release a rush of polluted water into the surrounding area — and then into Tampa Bay itself.

The situation grew more dire as crews attempted to shore up a breach in a wall around a 480-million gallon wastewater reservoir that has been leaking for days. They used front-end loaders, excavators and dump trucks to pile dirt over the breach.

But at 10:30 a.m. Saturday the on-site engineers “deemed the situation to be escalating,” said Manatee County Public Safety Director Jacob Saur. One containment wall shifted to the side, he said, signaling a structural collapse could happen at any time.

An “immense amount of water” could rush out in a sheet within seconds or minutes if berms at the site crack wide open, said acting county administrator Scott Hopes...

The governor’s emergency order also includes Hillsborough and Pinellas counties due to their proximity to “an imminent hazard.” The DeSantis administration began sending pumps, cranes and other heavy equipment, Hopes said, because the county might need those tools in the event of a collapse...

If you look at Google Maps, you'll notice Piney Point is right along the southern coast of Tampa Bay. The potential spillage of toxic waste into that bay can cause a wide range of environmental disasters ranging from contaminated drinking water to possibly triggering deadly algae growth commonly known as Red Tide. Our local sea life and ecosystems are in grave danger.

If you also look at Google Maps, you might want to trace the route along State Road 60 between Brandon, FL through southern Polk County towards Lake Wales. You might notice all these oddly-shaped blue rectangles and patterns dotting the landscape. Those are all the places where the local phosphate mining industry has carved out huge pits to get at the phosphate in the Florida sediment. You might think that once they filtered out the phosphate that the mining companies would put that dirt back... but whatever is left from the process is too toxic to put back into the ground.

If you drive along SR 60 along that route, especially between Mulberry to Bartow, you'll notice these mountain-sized dirt piles along either side of the highway. I remember seeing one of these mountains years ago, maybe back when I was eight or nine years old on a field trip with my church. More than forty years later, I'm counting four of them now every time I drive to work (and so many more of them apparently further down towards Hardee County).

Piney Point seems to be a slightly different type of dumping ground, for what seems to be the toxic wastewater or chemicals left after the processing treatments for phosphate mining is done. It seems to be odd that the companies dump this mess in parts of Florida within close proximity to valued and precious ecosystems where a lot of Florida residents reside.

Then again, so much of central Florida has been overdeveloped - is still overdeveloping, with half the wetlands around here turning into shopping malls and luxury apartments - that I'd argue far too many people live on top of or next to likely Superfund sites

How the hell is Piney Point turning into a crisis point now?

Because we're decades into Republican leadership that has valued business, development, and resource mining over the livelihood and safety of the citizenry. Because even after a supermajority of Floridians pressed for a land and water conservation amendment back in 2014, our state legislature has failed to keep up with funding those efforts. Because we're living in a world where "OSHA compliance" is a 4-letter-word to our corporations. These dumping sites have been ticking time bombs for decades now and our ability to contain these places have rusted out or eroded away.

Republicans have been mismanaging this state ever since the Jeb Bush era. We've seen it with the toxic algae polluting Lake Okeechobee during Rick Scott's tenure (and still hasn't been cleaned up). Piney Point is yet another toxic bill coming due, and our Gulf Coast is going to pay the price for this failure of leadership.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

The Republican Dilemma: Adapt or Die

(Update 4/6/21: Thanks again to Batocchio for including this article in Crooks&Liars Mike's Blog Round-Up! Please check out the site, and support your local library during #NationalLibraryWeek ) 

I may have blogged once or twice before about the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Especially in regards to a Republican Party that no longer respected the American Republic.

The Iron Law basically states that any organization - usually political - that starts with broad support across populations will eventually end up with only an elite or specific faction of that organization in charge of it. One of the side elements of this Law is that a moment comes when that group has a choice between upholding their ideals and imploding from the consequent schism, or adapting/corrupting their ideals in order to maintain their broad support.

The modern Republican Party kind of inverts that side rule: They are corrupting themselves to uphold the oligarchs' ideals - tax cuts for the rich, racism and misogyny for everyone else - rather than adapting themselves to maintain any semblance of broad support with Americans.

We've been seeing it as they slide into Minority Party Rule, where they no longer reflect the majority views of the American voting population, yet maintain political control because they've corrupted themselves and the processes by which our political controls get voted on. A corruption of process we see through Gerrymandering at the state level to grant themselves safe Republican districts at the expense of the voters, and their actions in the past decade of pushing for stricter voting regulations to restrict voting rights rather than uphold them.

Leading up to this past month where the Republican-controlled states - lead by Georgia and Texas - are passing or planning to pass voting restrictions so severe they've pretty much brought back the Jim Crow laws from the 1880s-1960s. Consider the damage being done by Georgia (via Zack Beauchamp at Vox):

The bill, known as SB 202, gives state-level officials the authority to usurp the powers of county election boards — allowing the Republican-dominated state government to potentially disqualify voters in Democratic-leaning areas. It criminalizes the provision of food and water to voters waiting in line, in a state where lines are notoriously long in heavily nonwhite precincts. It requires ID for absentee ballots and limits the placement of ballot drop boxes...

Everybody - myself included - jumped on the most sadistic part of that bill, the part where people can get arrested and jailed for providing food and water to people waiting in long lines (lines that tend to form in Black-heavy cities/counties that have had precincts taken away to force those long lines in the first place). But that's not the scariest part, this is: The bit where the state can disqualify county-level election results in case those counties fail to vote the way the Republicans want them to (hint: never FOR the Democratic candidates). This is where the GOP can say "FUCK YOU, Democratic voters, we don't want you winning anywhere" and nullify the choices their own citizens prefer. They're telling these voters to not even bother trying.

There is nothing in the bill specifically attempting to deny the vote to Blacks or Latinos or even Asians - because even the conservative-held courts will balk at that in this day and age - but given the recent attempts by the Georgia Republicans to disenfranchise those particular communities - with reduced precincts in poor (minority) neighborhoods, for example - you can do the math. You don't expect the Republicans to denounce the rich and mostly White counties they'll be winning, do you?

These laws, these rebirths of Jim Crow 50 years after the Voting Rights Act enfranchised Americans to vote, are not protecting democracy or the republic. These laws are getting passed on a Big Lie (from the liar trump, who still can't accept the facts he lost), that there's massive voter fraud. The Republicans keep screaming that there's fraud but can never prove it, and yet they're using their own screaming lies to justify restrictions we voters do not need.

Why are Republicans lying like this? Because they can't admit to the truth that they no longer reflect the majority views of the United States. They've slid down a path of ideological purification, seeking more conservative leadership that would stick to Far Right dogma, making it harder for any leadership to shift back towards positions on issues more favorable to more Americans. The Republicans' ideology has become so calcified and broken that in 2020 they refused to establish a platform at all, running instead on their candidates' personalities (in trump's case, a Cult of Personality).

The Republicans know they are no longer in majority control of the country - and even in some of the large Red States they're holding onto with these suppression laws - and they also know that the future will not be kind to them: It's long been an open (non)secret that by 2028 the population demographics are against them. To quote from the Center for American Progress' report on voting trends:

Many analysts suggest that if current voting patterns remain the same as in recent elections, the projected rise of communities of color—Hispanics, blacks, Asians, and others—will favor Democrats as the Republican-leaning white share of the electorate shrinks...

The scenarios in this report suggest that there are paths for both parties to win the Electoral College in 2020 and beyond. For Republicans, future success is tied to mobilizing their strength among whites without college educations—a still-substantial but shrinking portion of the electorate—while attaining gains among at least some growing demographic groups. A narrow Republican reliance on noncollege-educated whites would lead, at best, to continued popular vote losses and ever smaller Electoral College wins, which would eventually peter out...

Republicans could (and in 2016, did) win the Electoral College through relying on their base of non-colleged Whites, but they needed (and still need) a mix of disgruntled voters among the non-White blocs. They pulled that off with surprising numbers from Latinos in some states (Florida, where anti-socialistic views turned enough voters away from Dems) both in 2016 and 2020.

But 2020 demonstrated enough losses from White suburbanites negating that bloc's advantage for Republicans, with little sign they're regaining those voters back for 2024 and beyond. It did not help Republicans that 2020 voter turnout among Blacks - especially in Georgia - went up thanks to the mail-in balloting during the pandemic.

Hence the push now to shut down mail-in options and ballot dropoffs and early voting and a hundred other things that help poor (minority) voters, all because Republicans don't want to make the outreach efforts to those voters to balance with their GOP base.

Republicans don't want to make that outreach because they can't. The party itself has become so beholden to their extremist factions - who are mostly rage-driven, racist, and misogynist - that any attempt to moderate the party's stances on issues would cause that base to implode. 

That side rule about the Iron Law of Oligarchy, where a political party reaches a point where it has to Adapt Or Die: The Republican Party has finally reached that moment, these anti-voting laws the big red flag showing us all they are willing to fight to the bitter end on their racist, greedy ways rather than adapt to survive the coming demographic changes.

There is some irony to this: The Republicans cannot adapt, because the party dies if they do. Thanks to the electoral reality that our elections favor a two-party majority, the Republicans can still exist despite their growing minority status.

Except they can't persist this way, either. At some point - and it's coming no matter how much the Republicans try to cheat now - the GOP will fall into minority status in enough battleground states to where no amount of gerrymandering or voter suppression can save them. More states are set to turn Democratic Blue, maybe not this 2022 or even 2024, but it's coming, and when it does they will lose their political power nationwide.

This is when it will get scary. Having talked themselves into the false belief that only Republicans should rule, they are likely to convince themselves they have nothing else left to lose and will seek ruin for us all instead...

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Further Proof Republicans Can't Understand Statutory (w/ Update)

You know, for a guy who's trying to be on hiatus, I'm not staying away from this blog all that much.

I did say I would pop back in from time to time, if the news be worthy enough of comment, and while YES there is something else I need to blog on that's a serious matter, the schadenfreude of commenting on stuff like this is too easy to pass up:

Such as yet another hypocritical Republican elected official getting investigated for sexual misconduct of a VERY scandalous nature. Per the New York Times, but I have to quote it through Yahoo! News because I'm a cheap bastard:

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., is under investigation by the Department of Justice for a sexual relationship he allegedly had with a 17-year-old girl, the New York Times reported Tuesday. 

The investigation was started in the final months of the Trump administration under then-Attorney General William Barr, the Times reported. The agency is looking into whether Gaetz, a close ally of the former president, violated federal sex trafficking laws by paying for the young woman to travel with him outside of Florida. 

Gaetz has yet to be charged with a crime. 

Earlier Tuesday, Axios reported that Gaetz, who is 38, had told associates he was considering not seeking reelection so that he could pursue a job opportunity with the staunchly conservative network Newsmax...

I dunno if jumping from Congress to a media job is going to save him, because what Gaetz did at the time - apparently two years ago when he met the young woman - violated Florida Statutes 794.05:

794.05 Unlawful sexual activity with certain minors.—

(1) A person 24 years of age or older who engages in sexual activity with a person 16 or 17 years of age commits a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084...

To be serving in the House of Representatives, you HAVE to be over 25 (Gaetz was 36 at the time this allegedly happened). The girl in question was 17 when this allegedly happened. The girl's ability to give consent doesn't apply: Statutory is statutory. Gaetz is facing a serious felony charge that would involve jail time (up to 15 years), and no media outlet is going to let him broadcast from Cell Block Six.

And somebody like Gaetz who is SUPPOSED to know the laws - federal and state and otherwise - should have known better.

But no, he did not (allegedly). He didn't even care (allegedly). Gaetz, a big bullying blowhard for the Far Right talk shows, likely thought the laws never apply to HIM (considering his history of getting out of legal jams...).

Back to the Times report (this link may end up behind a paywall):

The three people said that the examination of Mr. Gaetz, 38, is part of a broader investigation into a political ally of his, a local official in Florida named Joel Greenberg, who was indicted last summer on an array of charges, including sex trafficking of a child and financially supporting people in exchange for sex, at least one of whom was an underage girl...

So there seems to be (allegedly) a Republican-led sex trafficking ring operating in Florida, of which Gaetz became a target of investigation involving the charges against Greenberg. There is a likelihood of other Florida-based officials being caught in the same orbit.

And that's the thing, isn't it. The hypocrisy of a Republican Party that parades around as God's chosen, screaming at everyone else for our heathen ways, even as they themselves commit sins both sacrilegious and secular. Yes, we catch Democrats in the act of treating young women in abusive and degrading ways, but they don't go around throwing stones at other glass houses, planting the Ten Commandments in our front yards while violating at least six of those Commandments behind closed doors.

The schadenfreude of watching another holier-than-thou Republican confront their sins (allegedly) would be fun to enjoy, except for the fact these Republicans are abusing their powers in office to make the rest of us suffer for their own sick amusement.

Gods help us.

(Note: And yes, I *do* watch Letterkenny for the memes.)

Update 4/2: As all sex-and-money scandals unfold, so too is this one, ensnaring a number of other Republicans and revealing just how deep the rot goes. As Betty Cracker puts it over at Balloon-Juice:

Man, this Gaetz-Greenberg scandal has everything. Snot-nosed rich boys who use their daddies’ money and connections to buy office – check. Arrogant Trump-humping douchebags who think their power enables them to act with impunity – check. Abject morons who leave a trail of literal receipts behind to incriminate themselves – check...

It's even getting worse than what Betty Cracker covers. TPM is reporting how Gaetz was constantly showing off nude photos of his sexual conquests on the floor of the U.S. House. That even then-Speaker Paul Ryan had to call Gaetz to his office to remind him about decorum and behavior in Congress. 

This is something from last year in the Orlando Weekly, for God's sake, reported in 2020 but overshadowed by the pandemic: Gaetz may be part of a gang of Florida elected officials as far back as 2013 who were "scoring points" going after women employees or co-workers at the state legislature. Jesus. The last time I heard about this type of behavior it involved a rape-gang of high schoolers.

The bad behavior has always been there. It's been his family's wealth, his political ambitions, and his white male Frat Boy (tm) Privilege that's allowed him to be this bad for so long.

And now think about all the other white male Frat Boys (tm) we know out there in their 30s and 40s who never grew up and still act like this, running around in the halls of power between Wall Street and K Street.

It's always been this bad. The same entitled assholes running around shilling fear and rage on the talking head shows while raping and pillaging behind the curtains because nobody will stop them until it's too late. When the hell are we really going to clean this shit out of the top floors?

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Blood In the Streets Across America 2021 (w/ Update)

We're still recovering from the trauma of what happened in Atlanta only for new trauma to arise in Boulder Colorado a week after that, and this weekend with mass shootings across different cities of Chicago, Virginia Beach (again), and Memphis, and...

There's a sick joke out there that you can tell Americans are recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic because we're going back to the "normality" of having mass shootings every week.

Here's the dilemma. A vast majority of Americans want basic steps of gun purchase regulations to improve the public safety. Eighty percent of Americans - crossing political and cultural divides like no other issue, even including Republican voters - want universal background checks. Yet thanks to the paranoid and corrupt practice of the gun-nut lobby (FUCK YOU, NRA), the Republican Party leadership opposes every minimal regulatory suggestion and obsesses over an absolutist position on "Shall Not Be Infringed."

To the vast majority of Republican voters who back universal background checks, do this nation and do yourselves the favor of dropping out of the Republican Party. Just quit it. Just go to the county elections office and refill your registration and check off "No Party Affiliate" instead of "Rep". You don't have to switch to "Dem," just drop out of a political party that does not give a fuck about our nation's public safety.

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP VOTING REPUBLICAN. I will keep screaming this every day the GOP refuses to take firearm safety seriously.

(Update: Not more than THREE HOURS AFTER I POSTED THIS): Ahhhh SWEET JESUS, we got an active shooter targeting park rangers at the Everglades National Park this evening! I know this is Florida but for CHRIST SAKES CAN WE STOP THE GODDAMNED SHOOTINGS!