Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Last Call

When Republicans rallied people at town hall meetings to stop Obama and the Democrats from having "Obamacare destroy Medicare" the people were called patriots, and the Tea Party noble Americans taking back their country.

When people rally against the Republicans for actually trying to destroy Medicare and replacing it with a health care coupon program, the people of course are nothing more than brutish populist thugs.  Ironically it's Taliban Dan Webster, the man who took down Alan Grayson, who's getting the town hall treatment.

A town hall meeting held in Orlando by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster degenerated into bedlam Tuesday, with members of the crowd shouting down the freshman Republican congressman and yelling at one another.

It was the last of a series of town hall meetings Webster has hosted during Congress' spring recess, which ends Monday. While the others were civil and largely uneventful, the 300 people at Tuesday's meeting were so raucous they were scolded by a police officer to act "like grown people."

Webster tried to go over a series of charts showing growing levels of federal spending and debt, and the reason he supports the federal budget plan put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. But he was interrupted at every turn by shouts from his critics, including members of progressive groups such as Moveon.org and Organize Now.

Boos and shouts of "liar" were mixed with angry accusations that Ryan's plan to change Medicare would leave those now under 55 without health insurance in their retirement, calls to eliminate the tax cuts first put in place by former President Bush and the need to raise corporate taxes rather than cut entitlement programs.

The people in that audience have families and a lot of problems.  And they know of many more who are worse off.  Maybe it's $4 a gallon gas and the fact they haven't had a raise in three years.  Maybe it's that they know a good person from church who's been laid off after working for 20 years at the office, been out of work now over 10 months and can't find anything close to the job they had that will pay for their kids at college, and the church is helping them now (and they avoid eye contact with everyone else.)  Maybe it's the sister who admitted last month she and her husband are now on food stamps and have been since last June, and they were too mortified to show up at Easter dinner this year.

There's a lot of real anger out there, tea party or not.  But here's the difference between now and the town halls of 2009:

Others in the crowd began yelling at Webster's critics to quiet down, at one point with the chant "Let him talk!" But the meeting frequently devolved into multiple arguments — some of them heated — between members of audience.

When one man who said he was a veteran yelled that he wanted to know why Webster was cutting Medicare and veterans' benefits, his answer came from the audience instead.

"We can't afford it, you moron!" a red-faced man screamed.

And the Republican plan to have us fight each other rather than the band together and fight them is working better than even the GOP and the corporate masters who control them could have ever hoped.  Keep that in mind when the Republicans attack the people at the town hall meetings as thugs and worse.

  As Digby points out, it wasn't progressives who changed the rules.

Why The Birthers Will Never Go Away

Via Pam's House Blend,  watch and listen as Mike Signorile spends a good six minutes here calmly explaining the facts about Obama's birth certificate to a caller in Alabama on his radio show.  It's about as informative as it gets on why it Birtherism has nothing to do with where Obama was born and everything to do with millions of people trying to justify away the fact they live in a country where the President is an African-American.

Here's the cold, hard facts about Birthers, guys.  The caller never admits that Obama may actually be an American citizen.  He doesn't want to.  That would mean he admits that America has a black President.  This guy and millions like him refuse to do this.  They don't want to believe that Obama is their President of their country.  Birtherism is just the asterisk next to the 2008 Presidential election.  He doesn't really count.  If he doesn't really count, then America has never had a black President and everything is fine.

But if they admit it, it's not.  It means America has a black President.  It means that guys like Winston here live in an America where a black guy is President.  And this is not the America that Winston wants to live in.  It means that it's an America where dudes like Winston are the minority.

And that scares the ever-loving crap out of him.  Birtherism is just the mass delusion that America doesn't have a black President named Barack Hussein Obama, pure and simple.  It helps them cope with America in 2011.  It will never go away, certainly not as long as Obama is President.

Let me lay it on the table.  It's about race.  It always has been.  The sooner people realize this, the sooner we can fight it.  The sooner the Village realizes this, they sooner they can help fight it.  The sooner we all get this, the sooner we can tell people that this behavior isn't acceptable.

So yes, instead of complaining about the Birthers, try to understand the message they are hoping to hear about Obama.

Then do something about it.

Orange Julius Gets Oiled Up

House Speaker John Boehner had a little problem today explaining to the American people why gas prices are all Obama's fault when Republicans are insisting that oil companies get billions in taxpayer subsidies.

President Obama knows all too well what it's like to feel the wrath of rankling his base by embracing compromise with Republicans on one of their ideological positions. That's why he didn't hesitate when House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) appeared to open the door -- just a crack -- to the idea of ending payments to oil companies in an interview with ABC News released Monday afternoon. 

Indeed, Orange Julius said the following when asked about ending oil company subsidies yesterday:

"It's certainly something we should be looking at.  We're in a time when the federal government's short on revenues. They ought to be paying their fair share."

Needless to say,  Obama is calling him on that, and it's been a disaster for the House Republicans all day.  How bad is it?  They're now trying to pass off ending taxpayer subsidies to oil companies as a "tax increase" that will get passed along 100% to consumers.

Behind the scenes, GOP leaders scrambled to flat-out deny any chance of the House Republicans supporting an effort to end tax subsidies on big oil. Oil companies would simply pass the tax increase on to consumers, and that's exactly what the government shouldn't do right now with gas prices skyrocketing, one senior House GOP leadership aide told TPM in an e-mail.

"There is no current plan to raise taxes on production when it is clear that those increases in cost will be passed on directly to American families," he said. 

Hey guys?  We're already paying oil companies taxpayer money here.  If we stop doing that, isn't that a spending cut?   Isn't that cutting federal spending?  Isn't that what you guys are all about?

Now they are saying cutting these "tax expenditures" are really a tax increase because the greedy oil companies will then charge the American people for every dime they aren't getting in taxpayer freebies.  This is your argument for reducing regulation on oil giants and stopping special interests' control of the GOP?  That if you dare to stand up for the American taxpayer against the oil giants, that you have zero power to stop them from making the American family suffer at the gas pump?

That's your best argument?

By all means, keep that up, guys.  Dems smell blood here and need to press this for all it is worth.  Republicans are admitting they are powerless to stop the oil companies from screwing the American family over at the pump.  Powerless.

Think about that.

It's The Simple Things In Life

Today's public service message is about passwords.  It's easy to become lazy with technology.  I hear people every day say they are not worried about security.  Passwords take too long, and they don't have anything on their computer anyway, right?  What some fail to see is that it isn't what they would do, but what others might do.  Today's Sucker Of The Day Award goes to a man who woke up to angry cops and accusations of downloading child porn.  I'll skim past the terrible policing here and get to the point: a new wireless router had been difficult, so the unsuspecting man just left it unsecured.  Somebody noticed and used that connection to download child porn, and led to the uncomfortable discussion with law enforcement. His guilt or innocence is irrelevant to my point, which is how easily  exploitable the uneducated are when it comes to computer security.  The myth that antivirus companies sell is that your computer can be locked up tight, where a super hacker ninja pirate genius can work all day to get to your hotmail and never get a foot in the door.  The reality is it just take a doofus who doesn't understand how basic security works to fall prey to criminals and put themselves and everyone in their address book on the criminal radar. Your personal and professional information is only as safe as the dumbest or most computer illiterate person you know.  Think about that for a minute.

Data services on mobile phones are common now, the exception that became the rule.  Tethering cell phones to provide convenient and portable Internet access to laptops is on the rise, which means a double-whammy score for those who know to look.  You can bet this will be a growing problem while  we are move into the still-blooming Internet age, and life without Facebook and Google quickly becomes unimaginable.  This is a goldmine of data from which criminals can discover where you live, where you work, your agenda, and for those who check the "remember me" box, even your bank and credit card info.  No antivirus or security software can replace good old common sense (like using a good password or even a lame one) because it doesn't take a genius or ninja to walk in through an open door.  As we put more and more of ourselves online and on thumb drives, this is a problem with some hefty consequences.  This message was brought to you by the letters B and Z.

Nintendo Needs A 1-Up

Nintendo is the subject of two different BBC articles.  One pointing out that they are releasing a second Wii console, the other that they have a 66% profit slump.  There is excited speculation about what the new console will bring (sneak peek at E3 in LA).  Some are forecasting more revolutionary technology, others say it will just be a refined and updated Wii.  I'm with the latter crowd.  I am a Nintendo fan and was thrilled to see the original Wii give them a much-needed boost.  But with the profit slump, it makes sense that Windows Syndrome has struck again, and we will have a nice but far from revolutionary release.  They took a brilliant step with motion-based gaming, but they have just started to explore the possibilities that came with that step.  I hope they don't fizzle now.

The Search For Terrestrial Cash

The latest victim of the austerity hysteria in Washington?  The SETI program, no longer scanning the skies for galactic neighbors.

A collection of sophisticated radio telescopes in California that scan the heavens for extraterrestrial signals has suspended operations because of lack of funding, a spokeswoman said Monday.

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute operates the Allen Telescope Array, the field of dish-like scopes some 300 miles north of San Francisco. The telescopes are a joint effort of SETI and University of California-Berkeley's Radio Astronomy Lab and have been funded largely by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who donated more than $25 million to the project.

A state budget crisis and reduced federal dollars have choked the project of funding, said Karen Randall, SETI's director of special projects. SETI put the Allen Telescope Array on hold a week ago -- a situation publicly revealed by Franck Marchis, a principal investigator for SETI who doesn't work on the affected project, on his blog.

SETI CEO Tom Pierson sent an April 22 letter to donors saying the telescope array had been put into "hibernation," Randall said. Pierson's letter stated in part, "Starting this week, the equipment is unavailable for normal observations and is being maintained in a safe state by a significantly reduced staff."

The Allen Telescope Array will resume operations by 2013, when SETI's new round of funding goes into effect, Randall said. The funding will cover the project until 2018, she said. In the meantime, SETI is searching for quick cash.

Needless to say, if you'd like to help out while the SETI program is on hiatus for, oh, two years or so, now would be a good time to drop them a couple of bucks.

If Government Works, It Must Be Destroyed

That's the Republican way.  Take for example Louisiana, Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, and the state agency that manages the insurance benefits of a quarter-million state employees and their families, the Louisiana Office of Group Benefits.

Given Republican theory on government anything, you would expect the OGB to be bleeding cash and costing Louisiana taxpayers huge amounts of red ink.  But it's not.  The office is an unqualified success.  It's so successful at managing state employees insurance needs that it's managed to gather a half a billion dollars in surplus.

And it is for this reason that Louisiana Republicans are sworn to destroy the agency.

With his state facing a $1.6 billion budget hole, Governor Bobby Jindal is pushing to privatize the agency that manages Louisiana state employees' health insurance, even though -- or perhaps, because -- it's managed to amass a half billion dollar surplus. The Jindal administration is keeping quiet on the move, while critics are blasting it as a shortsighted plan that will benefit private interests, at the expense of the state's.

Last week, just as questions about Jindal's push to privatize the state's Office of Group Benefits (OGB) were getting louder, the agency's chief executive officer, Tommy Teague, was dismissed. This despite the fact that the agency had racked up most of its sizeable reserves during Teague's tenure at the top.

The OGB, a state agency within the Office of the Governor's Division of Administration (DoA), provides health insurance, accidental benefits and life insurance to nearly 150,000 active and retired state employees and more than 100,000 of their dependents. But the bulk of the agency's work is the health insurance.

It's simple.  Jindal wants to raid the surplus, and then turn the system over to more expensive private insurers so that the quarter million state employees and their families profit insurance companies instead.  Both are currently against the law.  Jindal and Louisiana Republicans then will change the law.

A bill that will soon be debated in the Louisiana legislature contains language that appears to clear the way for the state to use money from the potential privatization of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB), the agency that manages state employees' health insurance, to help plug a budget hole.

As the Associated Press reports, the "fund sweep" bill authored by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin (D) proposes to scrape $231 million from state agencies and put it into an "Overcollections Fund," which would help cover the state's $1.6 billion budget shortfall. This kind of "sweep" is not unusual in Louisiana -- though the size of this year's proposal is.

"Nobody would have wanted it if there'd been another source of money. Rather than continue to cut health and hospitals and continue to cut higher education, then they chose this way," Fannin told the AP.

But the bill also includes language that specifically addresses OGB, which manages the health insurance of around 250,000 people. 

So instead of asking "Why does this office manage insurance so well, and how can we use it to get more Louisiana residents insurance to protect them to benefit the people of the state?"  Jindal and his Republicans instead want to sell the agency to private insurance companies, deliver more expensive care at a higher cost to taxpayers for state employee benefits, and then of course he'll complain that state employees have too good of a deal and must have their benefits cut.  The answer to that question is because it removes the profit motive from the insurance industry and instead aims to try to find the best care at the best price.  This is anathema to the Republicans.

In effect, Jindal's taking the money now and screwing over both taxpayers and state employees later.  He has no interest in expanding or showcasing the program.  He wants it gone.  The private insurers in the state want that money, they want those 250,000 people on their more expensive plans to profit their companies.  And Jindal will deliver them.

This is how Republicans view government:  offices to be raided, to be privatized, and to put people at the mercy of profit margins rather than providing them reasonable insurance costs.  To do otherwise would prove that government can help the people.

And Republicans can't have that.

The Blimp Is Back

Ron Paul will toss his hat into the ring today for Obama's current job.  Via Balloon Juice, the Esquire magazine profile of Paul's positions is interesting reading.

Ron Paul is, or seems to be, a very sweet and shockingly naïve man who wants very much to do right by America. But his uncompromising vision of freedom would destroy America, really, by turbo-charging the powerful and the rich, who have shown throughout history that they have (with a few exceptions) zero social conscience and very little concern for the country. Already they've grasped most of the wealth and property in the country. Those in the top percentile are perfectly happy to throw Americans out of work and create jobs in China or Mexico if it means more profits, which they then bank overseas to avoid paying the taxes that create the relatively uncorrupted government under which they thrive. Given the nearly unlimited freedom from regulations and taxes that Republicans like Paul dream of, they'd be completely unrestrained. Eventually the desperate peasantry would realize, as they just realized throughout the Middle East, that the system was completely gamed against them. The result would be bloody revolution.

Ain't that the truth.  Sunday I talked about Christian objectivism as the Golden Rule:  those who have the gold are morally superior and deserve to make the rules.  That's the center of Paul's philosophy, a sort of capitalist version of the Divine Right of Kings.  If you are a truly hard-working, deserving, moral person then you'll be rich.  Likewise, if you're dirt poor, you've clearly lead a life of sloth and vice.  Wealth is self-evident qualification for leadership.  The sin of greed?  Well, that's not really a sin, you see.

It's weird, but it's very appealing to the corporate types that run the world.


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