July 5, 2010

It rarely fails to amaze me how, despite the nation's checkered history when it comes to race, African Americans are, for the most part, ready to forgive, even if we collectively won't forget.

I was on my way downtown for dinner on Independence Day last year, hop-scotching from one mode of public transit to another, when I landed on the Green Line around sundown -- right about the time people began heading to the traditional Independence Day concert/fireworks show down at the Mall. the train was gradually getting more crowded, about equally divided among black and white -- somewhat unusual for that stretch of the Metro and that time of the evening.

I noticed a few mixed-race couples, including a young brother with dreads.  He sat next to what I surmised was his white girlfriend, a pretty brunette. they'd chat, she'd smile, they'd chat some more.

at one stop, a tall white dude got on with what by my observation was his African American love interest: a tall, striking young woman with loose curls, mod glasses and a big bright smile.  eavesdropping on their conversation, I couldn't tell if they had been dating long, but they seemed to have an easy rapoire that reminded me of the way it was back when The X was The Scribe, and we were still dating. and neither of us was angry. and we both were still optimistic.

but what captured my attention most on this Metro ride was a young black family seated across the aisle.

she was a thirtyish, heavy-set woman in denim shorts and T-shirt, neatly coiffed, processed hair.  her roughneck-looking boyfriend -- squat and powerfully built, bearded, black shorts, black shirt, baseball brim pulled low over dark sunglasses even though the sun had nearly set -- and what I concluded was their young daughter, a toddler about age two.  she was a gorgeous kid: well-groomed, with smooth brown skin, clear ebony eyes and shiny tight braids fastened with multi-colored barretes.

they didn't appear to be of great means, and I couldn't tell if the man and woman were married.

but what caught my eye was their clothes, and how... well, ... patriotic they were.

Mom was wearing a T-shirt with a red, white and blue, star-spangled flag motif. and her daughter was similarly decked out in denim shorts and a T-shirt that said, "I'm an American Cutie." Judging from the time and direction of travel -- south, at sunset on the Green Line, which stops at the National Mall -- it wouldn't have surprised me if they were headed to watch the Independence Day fireworks.

it's always struck me as -- amazing isn't quite the right word, and interesting is a little too flat; I guess fascinating will have to do -- when I realize how proud we black people are of our country, its checkered past notwithstanding.

I mean, even after that whole slavery and Civil War thing, relatively few of us turned our backs on our nation, despite 400 good reasons to do so.  Then there was Jim Crow and segregation; Martin and Malcolm and Medger; Cheney, Schwerner, Goodwin; Reagan, Rehnquist and now Roberts.  Through it all, somehow, African Americans at large have not collectively held a grudge against the nation that oppressed us, a resentment that could have lead us -- and our nation -- to an even darker place.

for some reason, we believed in the promise of America, despite, as Martin once put it, having received a bad check marked "insufficient funds."  More than once, it turns out.

even though we're more likely to die at a younger age here than our white counterparts, are paid less, can't get the same level of health care, have lower test scores and poorer schools, are more likely to live in poverty, have higher stress levels, aren't playing on a level field, dont have ... well, you get my drift.

after all that, we still love this place.

then again, we also still love Michael Jackson. and OJ Simpson.


at the Independence Day parade that afternoon with Sweetie, my 11-year-old daughter, and Bucky, her 7-year-old brother, I saw an older brother in a cowboy hat, sporting not one but two American flags in the crown. Every fourth or fifth black person sported the flag on a T-shirt. others were cooling themselves with flag fans. even on workaday afternoons, it's becoming less rare for a brother to sport a flag pin in his lapel.

good enough for Barack, the sentiment appears, good enough for me.

a few weeks ago, I was listening to This American Life when one of the segments began retelling the story of Brandon Darby, a white dude who fancied himself a leftist radical, and began working outside the system to help poor, disenfranchised black people in New Orleans. after yielding results, he took his work to the next level, and tried to stir insurrection among the people, urging tem to help in the violent overthrow of the US government.  or at least snitch.

one would think that post-Katrina New Orleans would be fertile ground for anti-government fomenting. no such luck for the protagonist.

one by one, Darby struck out, according to the story. people who had every incentive to turn against a government that had all but forgotten them after an apocalyptic, once-in-a-generation event, refused to take up arms against said government -- and not just out of fear of losing their lives or ending up in prison.

What's odd, Darby said, is that the black people he failed to recruit "didn't see America as evil or in need of overthrow. some of them said, 'man, I got a brother in the Army. I can't do that.' some of them said, 'dude, you're out your mind. I love my country.' "

that, it seemed, was the overwhelming sentiment: the country that fucked us over so much and so often is still ours, kind of like Michael Jackson, who obviously had is own problems with being black -- and the means to try and change it. Like Jackson, America belongs to us, even if it doesn't always act like it.

June 29, 2010

"...and I say,'Thank God.' "

The thing that most frustrates me about the theater that is Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justices -- beyond the fact that choosing the newest judge-for-life member of perhaps the government's most influential branch has been reduced to theater in the first place -- is that, like a bad action movie or weepy drama, it doesn't reflect real life. 

For openers, the selection panel is all white -- a glaring fact that has caused murder trials to be overturned, yet no one mentions when it convenes to pick a judge.  

Then there's the setting: a boring, overstuffed hearing room packed with reporters, aides and TV cameras.  And hour upon hour of stultifying monologues from posturing senators.  In my opinion, the real mental feat is how a nominee can sit there in front of the cameras as the hours grind by, listening to inane blather and pointless questions, and look interested.  Or at least not nod off.  That, to me, is an Oscar-winning performance. 

My biggest beef, however, is the hypocrisy.  

Practically all senators, and Republicans in particular, decry "activist" judges, unless of course the judge is activist against the people or institutions you don't like.   One man's Thurgood Marshall -- a brilliant jurist who smashed more than one racial barrier in his lifetime -- is another man's John Roberts, a pro-business justice interested in smashing a different type of barrier: the one that stands between you and our corporate overlords

During Elena Kagan's nomination hearing yesterday, she wasn't the only one under scrutiny.  And that really pissed me off. 

Take it away, Dana Milbank.  Make it plain

June 14, 2010

My fellow Americans...

Good evening.  I'm here tonight in the Oval Office to speak to you about the oil disaster that is unfolding off the coast of Louisiana and along the coast of the Gulf Of Mexico.

As you know, just over two months ago a massive, deadly explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, a technologically advanced offshore oil drilling rig and unleashed an unprecedented undersea oil leak that has yet to be fully contained.  That leak has caused the largest environmental catastrophe in our nation's history.

Since the explosion, I have continuously monitored the situation. Within 48 hours, my administration has mobilized the largest response to an environmental disaster of this kind in the history of our country.  Along with thousands of troops, oil cleanup specialists and environmental engineers, the best scientists in our government -- including NASA engineers government environmentalists and oceanographers -- have been working nonstop with the petroleum industry's top experts to stop the leak at its source. Thousands of sound, practical ideas to shut down the well and mitigate the environmental damage has been considered, regardless of its source.

Yet the extraordinary scope of an oil leak a mile below the ocean's surface has defied a quick, easy solution, and the oil has continued to flow for 49 days, threatening our coastline and damaging the region's economy.  While I'm confident the well will be sealed, it will take time. Exactly how long, however, is difficult to predict.

Nevertheless, if the deep-sea leak were somehow halted immediately, we would still face the challenge of cleaning up crude oil from sensitive wetlands and beaches, rescuing endangered wildlife and assessing the long-term damage to our ocean.  It's clear our nation will be dealing with this disaster for the foreseeable future, and will test our ability to rebuild the fragile natural environment that is the lynchpin for the region's survival.

As your president, I pledge to you tonight to hold British Petroleum accountable for this disaster.  Let me be clear: they caused it, they are liable for it and they owe nothing less than their best effort.  I will make sure they collect every drop of oil that is spilled, and I will work with Congress to make sure that Gulf Coast residents are made whole. No corners will be cut in cleaning up this mess.

I also have ordered BP to set up a billion-dollar escrow account for those whose livelihoods are affected by this disaster.  If BP balks, the government will do it for them.

I will also pledge to deploy every federal resource at my disposal to the areas of the disaster to set up protective barriers against the oil, clean up oil that has already reached the shore and monitor the health of residents exposed to the crude oil.  At this hour, teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Department of Energy and the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Agency -- are in the Gulf of Mexico working to guard our shores from the oil slick and protect the health and welfare of residents of those communities affected by the disaster.

I have also directed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to overhaul the Mineral Management Service, the government agency responsible for oversight of oil companies like BP.  Because lax oversight has contributed to this tragedy, Secretary Salazar has my authority to conduct a full-scale audit and clean house where necessary, permanently ending the decades-long cozy relationship between regulators and the oil and gas industry.

And I will work with leaders in Congress to make sure it never happens again.  I am calling for leaders on Capitol Hill for stronger regulatory laws of the oil and gas industries, and to increase funding for oversight agencies like the MMS, removing the temptation to enter the revolving door between the government and the private sector.

But I also come before you tonight to discuss another national challenge.

The Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded April 29 was just one of dozens of high-tech offshore drilling vessels that international oil conglomerates have stationed inside our territorial boundaries.  Some are operating at staggering depths, up to two miles below the ocean's surface, twice as deep as the Deepwater Horizon.  They are doing so for one reason: to profit from the insatiable global thirst for oil.

Last year, the top five most profitable companies in the world were oil and gas corporations: Exxon Mobil, Shell Oil, and Chevron, as well as BP, are among them.  

Each day, our nation alone consumes nearly a quarter of the oil produced in the world.  Yet US drivers pay, on average, the lowest per-gallon cost for fuel among all developed nations.  Our adversaries have used our national oil addiction to their advantage, threatening our security and triggering economic instability.  I am old enough to remember both the Arab oil embargo as well as gas that sold for less than 50 cents a gallon, but I also know that every American president since Richard Nixon -- Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal -- has vowed to end our oil dependence. 

Yet despite our best efforts and honest intentions, US oil consumption is at a record level. To satisfy that demand, companies like BP develop technology to tap into increasingly remote, risky oil fields, on land as well as the sea floor.  They can continue to reap staggering profits by satisfying our unending demand for cheap fuels, with our increasingly fragile environment at stake.  

We do not have to look very far to see the tragic results when such risks go wrong. Beaches become scarred with oil.  Wildlife and wetlands suffocate, coated with raw crude oil.  Fisherman, idled by contaminated fishing grounds, are unable to earn a living and feed their families.  

Yet this national tragedy presents us with an extraordinary opportunity.

The irresponsible actions of an oil giant have led to a defining moment, one in which we can decisively kick an oil addition that keeps us beholden to others to meet our needs. The searing images we've seen in the last month -- a deadly oil rig explosion, crude oil billowing unchecked from a ruptured undersea pipeline, miles-wide oil slicks laying waste to our pristine coastal wetlands -- must be the catalysts for us to pivot from an archaic energy model rooted in the 19th century into one based on clean, sustainable energy that will give us true energy independence and ensure that another oil disaster can never happen again.

I call upon those of us who want to be true leaders to take bold steps toward a stronger future by doing three things:  Support a graduated gasoline tax, with the tax applying to oil and gas consumers based on need and ability to pay;  advance a widespread review of our nation's mass transit efficiency and draft plans for an overhaul, and support my plans to accelerate the widespread manufacture of hybrid and electric cars.

Decisively breaking our dependence on oil will be difficult.  Anyone who has had to break a destructive habit -- including me, a former smoker -- can tell you the desire to change by itself is not enough.

Moving away from petroleum toward our destiny as a clean-energy leader will demand political courage and individual self-sacrifice.  It will require national determination and discipline.  It will tax our patience and test our wisdom, knowing that dramatic change will not happen overnight.

But courage, self-sacrifice, determination, patience and wisdom are part of the very fabric of our nation.

The founding founders risked certain death to reject imperialist rule and create a democratic state that remains the envy of the world.  A generation of determined young men stormed the beaches of Normandy to defeat a brutal totalitarian regime bent on global domination.  The best minds of our nation pioneered space travel, pushing the boundaries of technology past the fear of the unknown.

Our time is now.  We can not afford hesitate.  As your president, I will do everything I can to lead this nation through uncertainty and difficult times to embrace our destiny as a clean-energy leader.

If we do this -- if we show the world how we used a large-scale challenge to transform ourselves yet again -- the rewards will resonate for generations to come.  Our economy will be secure, invulnerable to threats in the world oil supply.  Our nation will take a decisive step away from global warming -- caused by the consumption of fossil fuels -- towards a restoration that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren can rely on.  We will start on a path that the rest of the world is sure to follow.

And history will define this time not as one in which a careless, deadly oil disaster ruined a portion of our country, but one in which our country rallied around an oil disaster and changed the world. Again.

May God bless you, and God bless America.  Goodnight.

June 8, 2010

America's Finest News Source

Massive Flow Of Bullshit Continues To Gush From BP Headquarters

JUNE 7, 2010 | ISSUE 46•23
LONDON—As the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico entered its eighth week Wednesday, fears continued to grow that the massive flow of bullshit still gushing from the headquarters of oil giant BP could prove catastrophic if nothing is done to contain it.
The toxic bullshit, which began to spew from the mouths of BP executives shortly after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in April, has completely devastated the Gulf region, delaying cleanup efforts, affecting thousands of jobs, and endangering the lives of all nearby wildlife.
"Everything we can see at the moment suggests that the overall environmental impact of this will be very, very modest," said BP CEO Tony Hayward, letting loose a colossal stream of undiluted bullshit. "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean, and the volume of oil we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total volume of water."
Enlarge ImageHayward's comments fueled fears that the spouting of overwhelmingly thick and slimy bullshit may never subside.
According to sources, the sheer quantity of bullshit pouring out of Hayward is unprecedented, and it has thoroughly drenched the coastlines of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, with no end in sight.
Though no one knows exactly how much of the dangerous bullshit is currently gushing from BP headquarters, estimates put the number at somewhere between 25,000 and 70,000 words a day.
"We're looking at a truly staggering load of shit here," said Rebecca Palmer, an environmental scientist at the University of Georgia, who claimed that only BP has the ability to stem the flow of bullshit and plug it at its source. "And this is just the beginning—we're only seeing the surface-level bullshit. It could be years before we sift through it all and figure out just how deep this bullshit goes."
Congressional hearings aimed at stopping the bullshit have thus far failed to do so, with officials from BP and its contractors Halliburton and Transocean only adding to the powerful torrents of bullshit by blaming one another for the accident.
Along with the region's wildlife and fragile ecosystem, countless livelihoods have been jeopardized by BP's unchecked flow of corporate shit. Those who depend on fishing or tourism for their income are already feeling the noxious effects of the bullshit firsthand, as out-of-control platitudes begin to reach land and seep ashore.
Enlarge ImageDense streams of shit are expected to continue spreading throughout the region and the entire United States.
"This bullshit, it's everywhere," said Louisiana fisherman Doug LaRoux, who lost his house to a tide of government bullshit following Hurricane Katrina. "It reeks. Big buckets of disgusting shit are oozing everywhere you look and I don't know if it's ever going to stop. I feel helpless"
Added LaRoux, "I never thought I'd be the victim of so much bullshit."
Observers have noted that after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, corporate bullshit gushed up like a geyser for two decades and didn't wane until the oil company had bullshit its way through an exhaustive process of court appeals that ultimately reduced payouts to victims by 90 percent.
Despite Hayward's denials that BP is at fault for the environmental disaster and his concern that it will result in "illegitimate" American lawsuits, the embattled CEO has still managed to trickle out a few last drips of bullshit sympathy for Gulf Coast residents.
"I'm as devastated as you are by this," Hayward said after a meeting with cleanup crews on Louisiana's Fourchon Beach. "We will clean every last drop up and we will remediate all of the environmental damage."
"There's no one that wants this thing over with more than I do," he added a week later, just absolutely defying belief with the thickest, most dangerous bullshit yet. "I'd like my life back."
Millions of Americans reported feeling ill and disoriented upon contact with that particularly vile plume of bullshit.
Many environmentalists, including Palmer, have called for a boycott of BP until the bullshit stops or is at least under control, but they emphasize that in the long term, Americans will have to change their habits if they wish to avoid future catastrophes.
"We must all work together if we're going to cure our nation of this addiction," Palmer said. "The sad fact is, the United States has been running on bullshit for decades."

June 7, 2010

"Shell has so much to be proud of."

Stumbled upon this video while idly surfing the Web looking for some explainer material on ultra-deepwater oil drilling technology.  Then I found and grabbed the above graphic of the aforementioned Royal Dutch Shell Oil Perdido Spar -- a mammoth rig that should scare the bejeezus out of anyone who thinks the Deepwater Horizon-Gulf of Mexico oil disaster is a one-and-done tragedy.

Not only is this bad boy set to become the deepest of the ultra-deepwater drilling platform, but it will spawn a jaw-dropping 22(!) remotely-operated oil wells, spread out like ants at a picnic (or potential cluster bombs) on the sea floor, at depths no human body - or most manned submarines - can withstand.

And it's not the only one out there.

At this point, I have to admit that, with three sisters who are scientists (and as a secret techno-freak), I'm awed by the engineering smarts and design capability it took to even create such a colossus, much less transport it and figure out exactly where to station it, how to drill wells remotely and pump the oil up from the crushing pressure at the bottom of the sea.

Nevertheless, watching the video -- certainly produced well before the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe -- is like seeing the unleashing of a technological genie that will never be rebottled.  The mind reels: if Deepwater Horizon created such an unholy mess in "only" 5,000 feet of water, creating unseen, likely irreversible damage to the water column, fouling wetlands and scarring an entire region, what the hell are we supposed to do if something goes haywire more than two miles down?

Not to mention there are some big jaw-breaking nuggets of irony in the video.  See if you can identify them all; here's a hint for the first one.

First prize is this and a case of Dawn dishwashing liquid; runner-ups get 1,000 feet of used containment booms.  All entrants will receive a bag full of fresh tarballs plucked from a Florida beach.

June 4, 2010

Who's your daddy?

Republicans, libertarians and at least one has-been actor from "Northen Exposure" have long complained about the "nanny state," the notion that federal regulations and/or laws designed to prevent harm to the general public has made the nation dependent and restricted our freedoms, whatever that means.

Now comes the BP disaster and accompanying undersea oil volcano in the Gulf Coast.

Suddenly, conservatives -- and some Democrats -- are howling for a Daddy State.  Why, they cry, hasn't President No-Drama Obama, hasn't shown much passion or emotion since the Deepwater Horizon explosion triggered an undersea volcano more than a month ago.  He needs to be more angry, they shout.  How come he hasn't felt Louisiana's pain?  Where's his aggressive federal response?  And how come he hasn't fixed this already?? It's been more than a month!!

In other words, why hasn't Dad made everything right??

Well, here's why.

Joanie, take it on home.

Known unknowns

There have been a lot of hypocrasies, overblown claims and outright lies that have been thrown around ever since the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig blew up, sending eleven men to their deaths and unleashing an undersea gusher that continues to set records as the worst oil disaster in US history -- and continues to contend for perhaps the worst environmental calamity the world has seen.

One thing that has been constantly gnawing at the back of my noggin, however, is the fact that the Deepwater Horizon rig that was drilling a mile down into the ocean -- and the corner-cutting by a gazillion-dollar oil behemoth looking for even greater profits from our insatiable thirst for oil -- isn't a unique situation, by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, there are even higher-risk drilling ventures occurring right now, at depths that boggle the mind.

Consider this snippet from an article published last month in Offshore, an oil trade publication:

As recently as 2007, ultra deepwater drilling rig availability was a constraint, with fleet utilization steady at 100%, and day rates soaring above $600,000 for high-specification drilling units. Even today, deepwater rigs are fully contracted before they leave the shipyard, many even before their keels are laid. A quick census as of January 2010 identifies 41 deepwater floaters with capabilities between 4,500 ft (1,372 m) and 7,500 ft (2,286 m) of water, 42 ultra deepwater units with capabilities between 7,500 ft and 12,000 ft (3,658 m) of water, and nine in the shipyard. Of the ultra deepwater bracket, four rigs are rated to 12,000 ft of water, as are two of the nine rigs still under construction.


* Oil companies are so eager to drill in unprecedented depths -- environmental risks be damned -- that every last one of the massive, super-sized deepwater drilling rigs that currently exist in the world are in use right now.
* Energy companies and drilling contractors will pay more than half a million dollars a day to use them
* Shipyards that make the ginormous rigs have buyers lined up in advance.
* As of January 2010, nearly four dozen rigs that can drill deeper than the Deepwater Horizon -- including four (with nine more under construction) that can go up to two and a half miles down, and a handful that can go twice as deep as that -- are out there in some ocean, grinding away for cheap fuel that helps us contribute to the destruction of the planet's atmosphere.

Given the, shall we say, slipshod federal oversight of BP, it's a safe bet that we collectively have no idea whether the corporations are operating them safely, not to mention whether their fail-safe technology is up to snuff -- or if they can handle a catastrophic accident any better than BP's back-of-the-envelope attempts so far.

Rachel Maddow, whose program has done the best job I've seen of putting this disaster into context, has consistently pointed out that the race to get to oil at previously unprecedented depths has all but ignored the ability to get the oil safely and responsibly.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: if there ever was a moment to shift gears, literally, from fossil fuels to green energy, now is that moment.  Eugene and I both hope President Obama doesn't let this crisis go to waste.

May 26, 2010

The enemy is who, again?

Former Maine Senator William Cohen, a moderate Republican, once said, "Government is the enemy -- until you need a friend.

Therefore, it shouldn't be surprising that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is busily proving Cohen's theory.  Jindal, a 37-year-old governor and former rising Republican star, has been all over TV lately for complaining that the government he wants to downsize hasn't done enough to protect his state from the undersea oil volcano that's still spewing crude into the Gulf of Mexico.

Once mentioned as a presidential hopeful -- that is, until his incredibly wooden opposition response to President Obama's joint address to Congress last year sent his political stock crashing -- Jindal has become a real boy, if you will, in the days since British Petroleum's offshore drilling rig exploded, killing 11 and sending seemingly unstoppable waves of crude oil to his state's fragile shoreline.  

As the disaster drags on, Jindal has done yeoman's work before the cameras, criticizing the Obama Administration along with BP for a so-far lackluster response to a disaster that has no end in sight.  Though it's a crass, cynical prediction at this point, some are predicting that Jindal's new visibility and take-charge demeanor could resurrect Jindal's national ambitions, giving him the image of a fighter sticking up for the little guy and a defender of a fragile environment. 

Unless you look too closely at his recent past. 

Last year, from his Republican response to Obama's speech, came this gem: 

“… we need urgent action to keep energy prices down” including “increase[d] drilling for oil and gas here at home.”  He also believes that “Democratic leaders in Washington – they place their hope in federal government.  We [the Republicans] place our hope in you, the American people. …. We oppose the National Democratic view that says the way to strengthen our country is to increase dependence on government.”


Then there's this tasty slice of irony from an interview with Fox News in 2008: 

And FiveThirtyEight, a political web site, notes that during negotiations on the climate bill, Bobby J. penned a letter to the Department of the Interior practically begging for more oil wells off the Louisiana coast.

There's no doubt that government shares a big chunk of the blame here.  And the longer this crisis drags on, the higher the likelihood that the sludge will wash up on the steps of the White House.  Approval ratings for President Obama and his handling of this crisis are in the dumper, with the potential to sink to Bush-Katrina levels if BP doesn't plug the gusher soon.

Jindall, not to mention Palin, and other "drill baby drill" small-government Republicans, are again raising hypocrisy to an art form.  If the GOP pro-business conservatives had their way -- and they did, for eight of the last 10 years -- the current lax government oversight and cozy, old-boy relationship between the oil company and its (theoretical) regulators could be even worse.

Although it's hard to imagine how things could be worse.

Meanwhile, Rachel Maddow hits the mark again, explaining why the "experts" can't get a grip on the situation, reminding us that we've been here before and why there's no hope for optimism any time soon:

May 23, 2010

Note to Rand: this IS your honeymoon

In less than a week, Rand Paul, Tea Party darling and instant political celebrity, has become to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell what the Deepwater Horizon-Gulf oil disaster is to British Petroleum.

To me, the similarities are striking. Both Paul and the undersea oil volcano were fantastic natural discoveries that promised big yields (more mega-profits for BP; street cred for Tea Partiers who propelled Paul to Kentucky's Republican Senate nomination) despite big, easily-identified risks ("What if we have major drilling problem a mile down? What about Paul's inexperience and wacky Libertarian ideas?") that experts warned about way ahead of time.

Yet in both cases, what-could-possibly-go-wrong hubris trumped are-you-sure-this-is-smart reasoned analysis.  Sudden disaster ensued, and toxic material is now spreading unchecked across the environmental and political landscapes.

To further torture the analogy, neither BP's hapless scientists, who seem to be making it up as they go, nor McConnell -- the nation's top Republican and Kentucky's senior senator, who is obliged to back Paul -- seem to have any clue about how to plug their respective gushers and contain the irreversible damage. The relatively sudden, intense scrutiny now on him has led Paul to complain that he hasn't gotten the "honeymoon" he expected from the national media.

Dude: man up, or shut up.

It seems fitting, therefore, that, after stumbling through a manure-filled political pasture when he criticized the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Paul fell face-first into a fresh, steaming cow patty late last week when he slammed President Obama for criticizing BP.  I'll let the man speak for himself:

So many layers of insanity, so little time.

The federal government deserves its share of the blame here, but going after the president who harshed on an oil corporation whose appalling safety shortcuts cost 11 men their lives -- and unleashed what will probably end up as the nation's largest environmental disaster -- is arrogant, short-sighted, and politically tone-deaf. Not to mention just plain stupid.

Yet in my opinion, Paul could be doing the nation a huge favor by revealing his Libertarian, free-market views well ahead of the election, and in turn exposing the myth of Tea Party grassroots populism.  Those emperor-has-no-clothes revelations could be the first significant crack in the TP facade,  turning off mainstream independent voters and creating a firewall for nervous Democrats.

Indeed, if Paul's seemingly unstoppable gaffery does, as some pundits are tentatively predicting, sink his Senate campaign and the Dems pick up Kentucky -- a state that hasn't sent a Democrat to Washington in decades -- it could provide a boost to the party and create momentum that might enable them to protect their majorities in both houses of Congress.

And if you think Paul is giving McConnell Excedrin-sized headaches now, wait until the Washington punditocracy gets a good strong whiff of how he feels about pot.

May 21, 2010

Straight, no chaser

This intro to the Rachel Maddow Show is so awesome it has to stand alone -- explanatory video journalism at its finest.  Ms. Maddow, the floor is yours. 

Race to the bottom

Well, that didn't take long.

In my last post, I wondered whether any of the nuttier views of Rand Paul, Kentucky's newly-minted GOP Senate candidate, would come to the surface and resonate before this fall's general election. A day later, Paul raced from TV studio to TV studio in full damage control mode, trying to put out the fire he started -- with kerosene.

News that Paul repeatedly trashed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it didn't exempt private businesses detonated a big stink bomb in his campaign, and the stench drifted south from Kentucky to Washington, enveloping congressional Republicans hoping to prove their Tea Party bona fides.

Paul's PR disaster also created an opening for Democrats, perhaps giving them the best opportunity they've had in decades to pick up a Senate seat in deep-red Kentucky.  At least in theory.  

To me, Paul's minefield tap-dance is the clearest evidence yet of the ugly racist undercurrent in the Tea Party that made him their poster child, enabling Paul to haul in buckets of cash to trounce Trey Grayson in Tuesday's primary.  It's also yet another example of Republicans' hamfisted obliviousness on matters of race (see: Lott, Trent; Sessions, Jeff; Steele, Michael; Wilson, Joe; ... ).

The Courier-Journal of Louisville, a city with its own scars from the civil rights movement, asked Paul about his views in April, and he told them on videotape.  But it didn't become an issue at all in the GOP primary -- even though the Courier-Journal refused to endorse Paul in part because of that interview (it didn't endorse Grayson, either).

That probably explains why Paul -- who vowed to "take back our government" on behalf of the Tea Party, and dared Obama, the Partier's prime obsession, to campaign in Kentucky -- had no qualms about repeating his critique of the Civil Rights Act at least twice in the last 48 hours, on NPR and on MSNBC.  As the story gained steam, news broke that Paul has held those views a long time, and hasn't been shy about making them public

By day's end Thursday, Paul had walked back his position to declare his repudiation of racial discrimination, along with his full and unequivocal support for the Civil Rights Act as written -- but not before he'd ordered up another round of stupid.  He issued a statement declaring the Act "settled law" and rejecting any suggestion he wants  to repeal it.

Whew.  That's a relief, ain't it, Mister Charlie?  

Though the ever-lingering Ghost of Jim Crow lit the fuse on this one, the Rand Paul stink bomb could obscure important points that the general population (read: white people) should think about, and give pause to any open-minded independent voters who are considering buying into the right-wing notion that government is the root of all evil. Ezra Klein raises a few of those points here, though I disagree with his conclusion that Paul deserves the BOD on suggestions he might have racist views.  Knowing how these things work, I'd be surprised if Paul, a wealthy Republican politician and a successful eye surgeon, has two black friends to rub together, much less socializes with any who aren't on his payroll.

When it comes to matters of race, unfamiliarity usually breeds contempt.

But for my money, Rachel Maddow trumps Klein with a cogent, important, intelligent, why-it-matters take on her show intro from last night -- the best big-picture explanation I've encountered all day.  I found her reporting on the intellectuals and politicians who argued in favor of discrimination during the 50s and 60s, including conservative icon William F. Buckley, to be particularly revealing.  And repulsive.

Personally, I wonder if this imbroglio will make much difference in the long run: it's happened pretty far ahead of the Kentucky general election, the state has a relatively small black population, white Kentuckians generally send white Republicans to Congress, and white Republicans typically have taxes in mind when they go to the ballot box, not the ongoing fight for racial justice.

Still, few things give white voters more discomfort than the perception that they might be pulling the lever for an overt bigot without the good sense to use code words in public -- "state's rights," anyone? -- or without the good taste to keep his views behind closed doors (see: Allen, George).

Given that, Rand Paul may pay a price for his racial hubris.  After all, if a black man with a Muslim name can win the White House, and Massachusetts can put a Republican in Ted Kennedy's old seat, then anything can happen.

May 19, 2010

Specter Deflector

According to broad swaths of the mainstream media, yesterday's Congressional primaries was about deep voter anger.

After all, Pennsylvania voters fired Arlen Specter -- the longest-serving member of the US Senate.  In Kentucky, Republicans voting to replace retiring Senator Jim Bunning, brought back Rand Paul, a hard-charging Tea Partier who wants to eliminate the Department of Education, for a second interview. And Arkansas voters sent a shot across Blanche Lincoln's bow, forcing her into a runoff to keep her Senate seat.

At the same time, Barack Obama went 0-for-4 in candidate endorsements:  putting the candy-cane arm around Specter and giving him a big thumb's-up didn't do much good against insurgent Democratic challenger Joe Sestak, a one-term congressman and former Navy admiral.  Perhaps sensing where this thing was headed, the White House purportedly tried to clear the decks for Specter last summer by promising Sestak a cushy gig in the administration -- if he bowed out of the race.

Sestak stuck to his guns, as it were, and Spector went down in flames in the Democratic primary.

That seems to mean most incumbents are in jeopardy, and the Democrats are in power, so most of the Democrats up for re-election are vulnerable, right?  And that Obama's juice is running dry, especially outside of Washington -- right?

Not so fast.

The real takeaway from the polling on what some were calling Super Senate Tuesday, seems to be that there is no real takeaway.  At least, not one you can paint with a broad brush.  There is some kernel of truth to the angry-voters-sending-a-message thing, but the big picture, to me, is a lot more nuanced.

Specter, for example, had a lot of real problems beyond a widely reported lackluster effort by the White House.  Stapling a bright blue D over the faded red R after his name didn't help him in a closed, registered-Democrats-only primary, especially after Sestak torched him by highlighting his a 40-year record as a party-line Republican who voted for the Iraq war, supported Supreme Court justices Samuel Alito and John Roberts, and backed Bush's tax cuts.

Dems may have heard Obama backing Specter in radio ads and robo-calls, but Specter couldn't run away from his four-decade record on the right, including his association with GOP policies that made liberals the angriest in the last ten years.  Add in Specter's political death-bed conversion to the Democratic Party, and not even JFK himself, rising from the grave and stumbling down Pennsylvania Avenue to cut a pro-Specter ad, could have convinced the base on this one.

Not to mention Specter is, like, 100 years old or whatever.

In Kentucky, Rand Paul had a lot of money, a great image and was probably the truest expression of the so-called "angry voter" -- it was a GOP primary, the Republican base is sharply divided, and no Democrat has won federal office there in decades.  Given that, it perhaps is no surprise Paul soundly defeated Trey Grayson, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's hand-picked successor for Bunning.

In his victory speech, Paul vowed to "take back our government" -- though it remains unclear who took his government away, or why -- by thrashing whomever the Dems put up against him, and followed up by double-dog-daring the president to campaign in the Bluegrass State.  It will be interesting to see whether the nuttier elements of Paul's far-right message will resonate in the general election this fall.

As for Lincoln the incumbent, she won the primary relatively comfortably but couldn't scrape together the 50 percent of the vote to avoid a June runoff against fellow Democrat Bill Halter, the Arkansas lieutenant governor.  But that's largely because DC Morrison, a conserva-Dem, tripped her at the finish line: he jumped into the race and siphoned off nearly 13 percent(!) of the vote.

Yet what may go overlooked was the only straight-up, non-intramural, red-versus-blue election.  In Pennsylvania's 12th district, Democrat Mark Critz walloped Republican Tim Burns by double-digits, seizing the House seat once held by the late Jack Murtha. That win for the Dems came in a conservative-leaning district that Republicans spent a lot of money trying to take.

Coupled with generic polls that show voters still think Congress should remain in Democrats' hands, an improving economy and a slight but steady uptick in Obama's poll ratings, the win in Pennsylvania 12 should help Democrats, especially those in the White House, sleep a little easier after the Specter debacle.

May 18, 2010

Day of Reckoning

Today, we get what many are considering a preview of the upcoming fall midterm elections -- and an acid test of the strength of the Tea Party, not to mention progressive Democrats' ability to push their party further to the left.

The Washington punditry -- which I try to avoid, whenever possible -- has it that the primaries in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Arkansas and Pennsylvania all are bellwethers that can tell us whether voter discontent will help drive incumbents out of office, as well as further calcify the already rigid red-blue divide.  Watch out, they tell us, for angry hordes storming the ballot box to deliver a message about rising deficits, taxpayer bailouts and a negative referendum on the not-so-new-anymore Obama administration.

Or something.

Rachel Maddow, one of my go-to sources, validates something I've always long suspected: the Beltway punditocracy is a collective ass. Well, maybe not an ass, but certainly not thinking very broadly or creatively about this whole midterm-election thing.

Her key to understanding today's election results:  turnout.  Take it away, Rachel!

May 4, 2010

Oilpocalypse Now

President Obama's "Katrina"?

Has a nice ring to it, especially on the right. While it's easy to pin the tail on this particular donkey, the analogy seems flawed, especially when you examine some key differences.

For openers, Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster, President Bush was fully informed about the scope of the potential disaster from Katrina, and had ample warning that the worst-case scenario could happen, with accompanying, large-scale loss of life.  Second, the Bush administration cut the Army Corps of Engineers budget to maintain a flawed levee system that dates back decades.  Third, there were real people calling for help from their govenrment -- on live TV in many cases -- as the White House stumbled.

By contrast, when the oil disaster first broke, British Petroleum was slow to 'fess up about how bad things really were.  In fact, government monitors were first to sound the "uh-oh" alarm when they first realized that more than 5,000 barrels of oil was spurting from the well each day -- more than double BP's original assessment of 1,000 barrels per day.

And while we know that global warming made what would have been a relatively sane Category 2-3 hurricane in Katrina into a deadly Category 3-4 hurricane, the oil rig disaster was a man-made deal, due largely to human error and an oil giant's arrogance about its technical capabilities.

Not to mention that the White House -- probably pretty mindful of the Bush Administration's ineptitude on Katrina relief -- has kicked things into high gear, and made a high-profile presence almost immediately after the scope of the disaster became clear.

Nevertheless, this by no means is a disaster under control: oil is still pouring unchecked into the Gulf, shorelines from Louisiana to the mid-Atlantic are bracing for slicks, and the increasingly fragile environments will likely be ruined, for perhaps generations.  The disaster has the potential to wreck lives in ways not seen since 1989 -- or maybe 1979 , or 1986, or ... well, you get the idea.

The BP well disaster was not insignificant, its cause has yet to be determined and, like Katrina, the damage will likely echo across decades.  But for me, the analogy pretty much stops here.
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