Friday, February 25, 2011

Been Trying For Days to Think of a Coherent Argument In Defense of Unions, But the Best I Got Is "Damn You To Hell, Koch Brothers"

The recent fight in Wisconsin (and now other GOP-held states) over Governor Walker's attempt to break the public unions by restricting their rights and basically eliminating unions' right to collectively bargain deserves a ton of commentary, but I can't necessarily come up with anything refined like an essay on the issues.  It's mostly sheer rage at the gall of the Republicans that they are so blatant about going after workers' unions during a jobless economic recession.

So here instead are some links:

Huffington Post article about how union members REALLY ARE NOT THAT OVERPAID.

A reporter faking he was "David Koch", one of the deepest pockets among the GOP financial backers, was able to bluff his way past staffers to get a one-on-one with Governor Walker, who amiably chatted about how he was gonna bust the unions and provide a role model for other GOP governors to do the same.  Jokes about using violence, and a serious discussion on hiring people to infiltrate the protesters to incite violence were part of the discussion

That Walker was planning to trick the absent Democratic senators back to the state under the pretense of negotiation... and then force a quorum to allow the legislature to push through his anti-union bill... means that if those Democrats had any goddamn brain cells in them they'd best wait on returning until Walker can get recalled out of office.  Unfortunately, that's gonna take a year at least...

A review of Walker's planned budget is being labeled a "Bait and Switch".  Meaning it's gonna screw honest people the hardest.

The fact that a guy claiming to be a deep-pocket financial backer can get a direct call to the governor, while ordinary citizens and the press get nothing but static, highlights the serious problem of access that the wealthy have to our politicians.

And the legal and ethical ramifications of what Walker said are floating about the intertubes.

One other thing: Unions don't kill state budgets.  Weak housing markets (and I can attest to that here in "right to work" non-union Florida with its' collapsed home ownership/property development market) do.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Moderated Thread At 1:10 PM

I figure if I wanna increase more traffic I need to host more Open Threads.


The blog's not set up for Open Thread.  You will need ID.

It's yours.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Damage Done: Rick Scott Kills The Rail

I'll get straight to the facts: Rick "WHAT PART OF MEDICARE FRAUD DID YOU VOTERS OVERLOOK" Scott killed the $2.4 billion high speed rail project that was set to build between Tampa and Orlando.

How big a deal is this?

This was what was called "shovel-ready": A project that had been in the planning stages long enough that the federal and state governments had set aside land to begin installing the rails.  The recent roadwork done to I-4 (the interstate connecting Tampa and Orlando) had space set aside for the trains.  It was ready to go.  All they needed was to start the bidding between private contractors to start construction.

And Scott killed it.

The high speed rail is part of Obama's push to upgrade our nation's aging infrastructure.  We haven't had new rail lines installed in ages, decades, and the old rails use old engine technology.  The newer systems are faster, cleaner, updated.  Nearly every industrialized nation uses rail, and all of them are upgrading to the high-speed rails.  Except here in the United States, where the teabagger reactionaries of the Far Right view high-speed rail as a government boondoggle of wasteful spending.  Regardless of the fact the rail projects have been paid for (via creative accounting and shuffling of stimulus funding).

So Scott, who caters to the teabagger crowd, killed it.  Because anything Obama wants the teabaggers hate, so Scott killed it.

Scott's reasoning was that the train project would suffer cost overruns.  Not true: the contract bids with the private companies insisted up front that the public will not pay for the overruns (meaning the company who gets the bid has to eat it if overruns do happen).

Scott even got it into his head that the money for the rail is now Florida's to control, and had asked the federal agency issuing the funds to see about spending the money on more roads in Florida.  And this is where he's really screwing up, because he either didn't know or didn't care to know: The money was earmarked (yes, that word) for the high-speed rail ONLY.  That if the state's governor rejected the money for the rail construction, the money gets pulled back into the federal pool and gets shipped off to another state that WILL take that money for their high speed rail plans.

Personally, I didn't care one way or another that we were getting a high speed rail between Orlando and Tampa.  I'm not in construction so the job growth potential didn't directly affect me.  I would prefer getting funding to create a light rail train system within the Tampa Bay metro to connect all major points between Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.  But I understood the value the high speed rail would have for our state's tourism.  Connecting Orlando (AKA Mickeytown) and their theme park meccas of Disney, Universal, Sea World and others to the Tampa Bay metro with sports teams and some of the best beaches on the planet made tons of sense to boost our tourism trade.  This is Florida.  Tourism is our Number Two industry (illegal drug trafficking is sadly Number One).  And there was evidence from existing high speed rails that tourism gets boosted by 20 percent.

So Scott said NO to the high speed rail money, and now it's getting sent to other states.  Other states with massive unemployment who will take that money in a heartbeat to hire more construction workers and generate more jobs and improve their states economies.  States that can boost their own tourism and travel businesses while Florida suffers with traffic jams and car pileups on I-4.

Oh, and to cap this whole thing?  Scott made his decision on his own: he did not discuss the matter with legislature leaders, he did not consult the state's Transportation office, he did not set up a committee or open hearing on the matter, he did not wait for a current committee to report their findings (things he promised to do during the election, by the by).  Scott basically did this by imperial decree.

How big a deal is this?

Almost the entire state exploded in rage when word got out.  The media, already skeptical of Scott's performance his first month in office, dumped on his decision with no one defending him. (If Scott has any defenders in the media, I've yet to find it.  Then again, I don't read Weekly Standard or National Review much)

Worse for Scott, his fellow Republicans at the state legislature and federal Congressional level are openly rebelling against his move.  Normally the party would back the governor to avoid public rifts that could weaken the party's hold.  Not happening this time.  Republicans along the I-4 corridor - viewed by political hacks as a key Republican voting bloc - are reaching out to the Transportation Department to convince them to hold onto the money and wait for someone to smack some goddamn sense in Scott's bald noggin (already California and New York are asking after the $2.4 billion.  Gee, thanks Scott).  How this affects Scott's interaction with the state legislature is still open for debate, but he's got to be losing friends by the hour in Tall Hassle...

To the 2.5 million Floridians who voted Rick "I JUST KILLED JOBS" Scott to run our state.  Next time you're stuck in five hours of traffic on sixty miles of highway between Tampa and Orlando, turn your A/C off and roll the windows up and SUFFER.  And wonder why all the tourists are flocking to where they have high speed rail.  And wonder why our state's economy is still floundering at 12 percent unemployment (or worse).

P.S.  Anyone else notice how having a "CEO as President/Governor" doesn't REALLY work too well?  A CEO or head of a company may work well in a corporate setting where decisions have to be made top-down and things are viewed as "Zero Sum".  But the public sector (government and non-profits) operate toward different objectives and require more collective action.  Worse still, the CEOs who DO tend to run for office?  Not exactly the "Best of the Best" when it comes to business leadership...

P.S.S. To all fellow Floridians.  This might be of interest: Awake the State.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Remember Shirley Sherrod, whose NAACP speech got edited by Breitbart to make her appear as a reverse-racist?

She finally filed a lawsuit on his sorry ass.

Prepare to watch as Brietbart tries to twist himself in every direction to make himself the victim of all this.  He'll have help, obviously, as his Far Right mongers have to worry that a successful suit against their waves of lie after lie the last twenty years will bring an end to their money-making Machine of Fear.

Breitbart Delendus Est.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Proof Why Rick Scott Is Gonna Be A Terrible Governor

It's not the damage he's going to do to Florida's schools.  Kinda knew that he was going to destroy public education from Day One.

It's not the damage he's going to do to Florida's environment.  A fragile ecosystem like ours - the threat of drought, water toxicity, etc - was never the concern of conservatives obsessed with land development even in a market incapable of selling new (or even existing) properties.

It's not the damage he's going to do to Florida's social net - the cuts to public employee jobs, killing off service departments, forcibly privatizing services that will actually be MORE EXPENSIVE - in order to justify massive tax cuts to corporations that take everything from the state and GIVE NOTHING BACK.

No.  The proof that Rick Scott is going to be a terrible Governor is how he's ruining the lives in OTHER STATES by seeking to kill a proposed law that would regulate pharmacies by tracking prescription drugs.

Why is this a big deal?

Something called "pill mills".  Thanks to the law, any "pharmacy" in this state can open up to sell medications - pain-killers like Oxycodone - that are perfectly legal but have to be regulated as they are narcotic and deadly when overdosed.  These pill mills create a system where people can come in "claiming" they need pain-killers, get a "doctor" to sign off on a high dosage, and buy them by the hundreds.  The people can then travel to other states that tightly regulate pain-killers and sell the pills on a street corner.  It's hard to arrest a pain-killer seller as the pills ARE legal (you have to prove intent, usually if the dealer is packing tons of the pills).

Florida is currently the nation's primary source of "pill mills".  Thanks to one thing: we currently have no means of tracking prescriptions.  A law passed in 2009 but not yet implemented would do that.  Scott and his pro-business buddies in the State Lege want to kill that law before it even starts, citing it as an "Orwellian" step over our state's medical records.

The problem with allowing these "pill mills" to continue operating is obvious: those pain-killers can be lethal.   There's reportedly seven deaths A DAY in Florida alone.  People get addicted to them pretty quickly too.  And because of their legality (under regulation), pain-killers are easier to get than cocaine and heroin (and maybe even meth).

Scott's excuse that the prescription tracking is "Orwellian" flies in the face of logic.  Other medical records and other prescriptions are tracked all the time.  Considering the massive War On Drugs (with billions spent going after marijuana, one of the least deadly drugs out there), would Scott consider attempts to regulate medical marijuana usage "Orwellian" as well?  Probably not.

Here's Scott's real reason for wanting to kill this regulation:  It's a regulation.  Period.  The Far Right in this country have hate-filled obsessions, one of which is regulations (the others are taxes, Social Security, voting rights, abortion, sex ed, evolution, and freedom marches in other countries).  If there's a regulation on how a business operates, even if that regulation is there to SAVE LIVES, the Far Right wants it gone and gone yesterday.

Here's another reason: Scott's background in medical services.  Not only was he a MASSIVE MEDICARE FRAUD when he ran an HMO, he went on to establish clinics and pharmacies (like Solantic or Pharmaca) to increase his personal wealth.  He's got ties to the state's pharmaceutical industry... an industry that's profiting one way or another from having these "pill mills" stay open.  They profit: he profits.  It's that simple, and that scary.

Forty-two other states have a similar database system in place.  The state office that was supervising it had garnered private grants to begin its funding (it wasn't costing taxpayers much of anything).  There is no reason to oppose such a common-sense program that could well help Florida save millions in law enforcement costs and drug abuse treatments.

Except for one reason: Rick Scott is a greedy-ass crook.  And a terrible governor.

To the 2.5 million Floridians who voted for Scott: I hope your family members are pain-killer addicts.  It's called Karma, enjoy it.

(I know I shouldn't be mean-spirited, but how the hell else you gonna get through to the Far Right how screwed up their priorities and obsessions are?)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Good Work, Egypt. Just Remember, This Is Round One

President Mubarak of Egypt, after 30 years of authoritarian rule, stepped down from office today.  The country's leadership is pretty much been sacked by the military in a de facto coup (not by overt actions by the military, but by the fact the Egyptian army was the only branch of government still working).

This all happened on what was the 18th day of nationwide protests, following in the wake of Tunisia's popular uprising earlier in January.  The protest themselves ebbed and flowed but never abated.  After Mubarak attempted to send out pro-government thugs into the streets to intimidate both the media and the protesters into fleeing, the protests regained their focus and resolve.

The tipping point had to be last night's speech by Mubarak.  The whole world had come to believe it was going to be an official announcement he would resign.  Instead, Mubarak went into full "I'm Indispensable" Mode that dictators operate from: he insisted he wouldn't leave until September when elections were scheduled, he offered patronizing words about how he had always been so protective and faithful to Egypt, and blamed "outsider" influences on the chaos now wracking the nation.

It was, basically, the most tone-deaf speech in history (well, other than anything Jefferson Davis ever said as President of the Confederacy.  I'd name a few others, but that delves into Godwin territory...).

Mubarak clearly had no grasp of the situation outside his circle of handlers and allies.  The mobs in the streets were overwhelming in their desire to have Mubarak leave office (and even further, leave the country).  Leave as in right now.  Not in September.  Not in six months when he could pretend everything this month never happened and then never leave.  The people of Egypt by 100-to-1 (rough estimates) wanted Mubarak gone.  And he never grasped that basic reality (that link to the New Yorker article highlights how dictators ALWAYS view themselves as so indispensable to nations they forced to love them.)  It had to take a public desertion by a key ally (the head of Mubarak's political party) and most likely a ton of behind-the-scenes shouting matches by the generals to get Mubarak to concede and resign.

And so, the good news: we are bearing witness to one of those rare global moments of pure joy.  I've seen several in my lifetime: the People Power movement of the Philippines, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the balloting of a post-apartheid South Africa, the crowds at Grant Park as Obama won in 2008.  And now this.  Tunisia was the first nation in this wave of Arab uprisings, but that had all happened off-camera (almost no coverage by the West outside of the blogs and social networks).  Egypt, however, is a key Arab nation, and this had been going on for weeks.  Every news channel has a camera on this now, and the images of the joy were a thing of beauty.

Now, here's the rough news.  You guys have to rebuild the nation.

There's a reason, well three or four reasons, you Egyptians rose up in protest.  Mostly due to a bad economy.  High unemployment, high food prices, corrupt business leaders, and additional.  The unemployment crisis in Egypt is worse than the United States (!), with 20somethings struggling to find work.  Poverty is everywhere.

I don't envy whoever has to take charge of Egypt over the next few years.  (I'm thinking the Muslim Brotherhood's promise to not run any candidate for the presidency is a smart, long-term plan.  Whoever takes the job now has the thankless task of fixing everything.  All the Brotherhood has to do is sit back a few years, wait for the frustration to boil, and THEN make a power grab...).  The next President has to get the wealthy of his nation to spread the wealth downward, lessen corruption, increase job growth, lessen poverty conditions, secure more food supplies, and quite possibly guarantee the Egyptian soccer team wins the next World Cup.  Like I said, a thankless and borderline impossible job.

The best suggestion I have to the Egyptian people is this: do not lose sight of the goal.  The goal is an open and just government.  Justice guarantees honest oversight of the economy.  Honest oversight leads to a strong economy.  A strong economy gets you jobs and food on the tables.

The task of building an open and just government is difficult.  And it is ongoing.  The United States is a perfect example.  For all our belief in American Exceptionalism, ours is still a nation in progress.  We only secured the right for women to vote less than 100 years ago.  Blacks and other minorities were discriminated into non-citizen status up until 45 years ago.  We're currently struggling through a deep recession and a jobless recovery the likes of which is hurting millions of families with a poverty rate that's been the highest in decades.

But we work at it.  Every day is a struggle for our political and legal rights.  For as much as we think we are free, we still gotta work for it all the time.  But we believe in the system, from the Constitution on down, we believe that the system works.  It's not a religious belief or a philosophical belief... it just is.  We know we can vote every two or four years for new representatives and changes in leadership, and we hope that things can get fixed.

There's this theory of a cycle of revolution: one-man ruler falls before a democratic committee, which collapses under the rule of a purist who purges all enemies by murder, which victimizes itself until a military leader seizes power, which turns into an autocratic one-man rule (and repeat).  The trick of breaking the cycle is re-imagining what you are doing.  Don't be a revolution (which decays into that cycle of violence).  Be a rebellion (which the American Revolution really was, the throwing off the oppressive yolk of what had become a foreign power so that the nation of states we were meant to be could form).

Be a rebellion, Egypt.  Rebel against the Middle Eastern mindset of kleptocratic, authoritarian rule.  Avoid the mindset of purges: a real democracy respects political opposition as long as all parties have honorable intent.

It's going to be hard work, people.  Freedom is worth it:

"Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated."
--Tom Paine, The Crisis

Good luck with your freedom, Egypt.  It will be hard work.  But it will be worth it.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

My Computer Is DEAD and Other Topics

1) My main box died this morning, and its the motherboard.  Might as well get a new computer.  This is a laptop I'm currently on but it's not built for gaming and DAMMIT I NEED MY CITY OF HEROES FIX.

2) Egypt is erupting into violence as Mubarak finally rallied enough pro-dictator people to show up with whips and bully clubs.  So far, the violence is moderately bad but can get worse.  On the good news side of things, the army seems to be siding with the pro-democracy crowds and trying to disperse the violence-bringing pro-Mubarak thugs.  And the pro-Mubarak seem to be losing...

3) I filled out unemployment extension paperwork today, hopefully means there's a Tier 5 benefits package out there.  The bad news: I'M STILL UNEMPLOYED AND CAN'T AFFORD A NEW COMPUTER.

4) So this means one thing.  Two things actually.



It's going towards a new gaming box, not drugs I swear...

5) This Onion article explains exactly how the GOP opposes Obama on... well, everything.  Even common sense things like protecting the planet from getting hit with a freaking asteroid...

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

If There's One Good Thing About Egypt's Protests

And it's something that's taken some time to comprehend, but I think this is a key fact and something the U.S. and western allies can base their hopes on:

The Egyptians that are protesting are doing so AGAINST President Mubarak and FOR open elections/government.  The one thing they ARE NOT doing is protesting for a mullah-led or theocratic government like what happened in Iran.

They've used prayer as a means of protest, sure.  It's Islam: public praying five times a day toward Mecca is a given, and it's a great way to organize and gather.  But the protesters are NOT gathering around any particular spiritual leader.  There's not a mullah or ayatollah being touted as the Next Great Savior.  They're also leaving F-CK MUBARAK graffiti everywhere, in the honored and storied tradition of ancient Roman wall artists.

The biggest concern is that, yes, the Muslim Brotherhood is the group that has the most to gain if Mubarak gets kicked out.  And the Brotherhood is fundamentalist and way against women rights.  But there are other groups in Egypt, and there is a moderate political opponent (Mohamed ElBaradei) around whom the protesters have rallied (he's a lawyer, international nuclear arms regulator with the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize on his resume). AND the Brotherhood isn't the group that will have a final say... it's actually the military, which profits from U.S. aid and will most likely push for a more moderate government once the revolution ends.

Here's hoping the Egyptian military keeps their word that they will not fire on unarmed and peaceful protesters.  Here's hoping the protesters keep the peace as they speak for their nation's reforms.  Here's hoping Egypt becomes another Turkey and not an Iran.  And here's hoping that when (not if, this isn't North Korea nor China, and the whole world is watching now) Mubarak leaves, the Egyptians' anger towards the U.S. (which has backed Mubarak all these decades in the expediency of international security) abates.