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“State Of Disaster”: How Many Natural Disasters Will It Take For The Lone Star State To Wake Up To The Disaster Of Its Elected Officials?

As extreme weather marked by tornadoes and flooding continues to sweep across Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott has requested – and President Obama has granted – federal help.

I don’t begrudge Texas billions of dollars in disaster relief. After all, we’re all part of America. When some of us are in need, we all have a duty to respond.

But the flow of federal money poses a bit of awkwardness for the Lone Star State.

After all, just over a month ago hundreds of Texans decided that a pending Navy Seal/Green Beret joint training exercise was really an excuse to take over the state and impose martial law. And they claimed the Federal Emergency Management Agency was erecting prison camps, readying Walmart stores as processing centers for political prisoners.

There are nut cases everywhere, but Texas’s governor, Greg Abbott added to that particular outpouring of paranoia by ordering the Texas State Guard to monitor the military exercise. “It is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed upon,” he said. In other words, he’d protect Texans from this federal plot.

Now, Abbott wants federal money. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency is gearing up for a major role in the cleanup – including places like Bastrop, Texas, where the Bastrop State Park dam failed – and where, just five weeks ago, a U.S. Army colonel trying to explain the pending military exercise was shouted down by hundreds of self-described patriots shouting “liar!”

Texans dislike the federal government even more than most other Americans do. According to a February poll conducted by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune, only 23 percent of Texans view the federal government favorably, while 57 percent view it unfavorably, including more than a third who hold a “very unfavorable” view.

Texas dislikes the federal government so much that eight of its congressional representatives, along with Senator Ted Cruz, opposed disaster relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy – adding to the awkwardness of their lobbying for the federal relief now heading Texas’s way.

Yet even before the current floods, Texas had received more disaster relief than any other state, according to a study by the Center for American Progress. That’s not simply because the state is so large. It’s also because Texas is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather – tornadoes on the plains, hurricanes in the Gulf, flooding across its middle and south.

Given this, you might also think Texas would take climate change especially seriously. But here again, there’s cognitive dissonance between what the state needs and how its officials act.

Among Texas’s infamous climate-change deniers is Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, who dismissed last year’s report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as “more political than scientific,“ and the White House report on the urgency of addressing climate change as designed “to frighten Americans.”
Smith is still at it. His committee just slashed by more than 20 percent NASA’s spending on Earth science, which includes climate change.

It’s of course possible that Texas’s current record rainfalls – the National Weather Service reports that the downpour in May alone was enough to put the entire state under eight inches of water  – has  nothing to do with the kind of extreme weather we’re witnessing elsewhere in the nation, such as the West’s current drought, the North’s record winter snowfall, and flooding elsewhere.

But you’d have to be nuts not to be at least curious about such a connection, and its relationship to the carbon dioxide humans have been spewing into the atmosphere.

Consider also the consequences for the public’s health. Several deaths in Texas have been linked to the extreme weather. Many Texans have been injured by it, directly or indirectly. Poor residents are in particular peril because they live in areas prone to flooding or in flimsy houses and trailers that can be washed or blown away.

What’s Texas’s response?  Texas officials continue to turn down federal funds to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, thereby denying insurance to more than 1 million people and preventing the state from receiving an estimated $100 billion in federal cash over the next decade.

I don’t want to pick on Texas. Its officials are not alone in hating the federal government, denying climate change, and refusing to insure its poor.

And I certainly don’t want to suggest all Texans are implicated. Obviously, many thoughtful and reasonable people reside there.

Yet Texans have elected people who seem not to have a clue. Indeed, Texas has done more in recent years to institutionalize irrationality than almost anywhere else in America – thereby imposing a huge burden on its citizens.

How many natural disasters will it take for the Lone Star State to wake up to the disaster of its elected officials?

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, May 31, 2015

June 1, 2015 Posted by | Greg Abbott, Natural Disasters, Texas | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Growing Fissure Within The Tea Party Movement”: Tea Party Nativists Seething Over Obama’s Immigration Reform Action

Even before President Obama entered the East Room of the White House to give his speech outlining a series of executive actions on immigration reform, some, though not all, national Tea Party factions were whipping up their followers into a nativist frenzy.

“This is by far the most serious communication I have ever sent,” wrote Steve Eichler, executive director of the 1776 Tea Party (aka TeaParty.org), in an email to supporters.  “Everything is at stake. Illegals will bankrupt our social, economic and financial systems. Terrorists will just blow it all to pieces. They’ll all be in our backyards in a matter of weeks, even days, if we don’t step up and demand action,” he warned.

That type of feverish nativism is no surprise coming from Eichler, who is also the executive director of the anti-immigrant vigilante group, the Minuteman Project. His email went on to predict “open rebellion” and “chaos” if Republicans don’t withhold funding for Obama’s executive order.

Echoing Eichler’s terror hysteria was one of the activists who helped shape the early Tea Party movement. Eric Odom, who now works for the Patriot Action Network, a Tea Party faction, also put forward the notion that executive action on immigration would somehow lead to terrorists destroying America.

What makes it so dangerous is that Obama’s announcement says to all of our enemies that now is the time to invade our nation’s borders. We’re no longer talking about innocent women and children riding trains to our borders then crossing with the hopes of gaining access to our welfare system. We’re talking about ISIS and other evil groups who want to embed individuals here with the plan of doing harm.Essentially, our President just made a proclamation that puts American lives, and the security of our nation, directly at risk. Obama said to the world that if they can get across our borders, we will not send them home. We will not enforce our immigration laws.

Grassfire, parent outfit of the Patriot Action Network, added “With his amnesty announcement in just a few hours, Obama will unilaterally defy the will of the people and Congress –becoming a threat to liberty.”

Judson Phillips of Tea Party Nation went even further in denouncing President Obama, arguing that the immigration actions were part of a diabolical plot. In a prebuttal to Obama’s speech, Phillips told Tea Party Nation members, “Today, Barack Obama is going to announce his long-cherished goal of destroying America.”

Phillips, a birther racist and advocate of limiting voting to property owners, isn’t new to nativist extremism. In 2011, his group mourned the falling birth rate of native-born Americans, and warned that “American culture” will soon perish since the “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) population is headed for extinction.”

Eichler, Odom, and Phillips weren’t the only Tea Partiers to adopt an inflammatory pose. Echoing their sentiments was Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a favorite among Tea Party nativists, who warned portentously that President Obama’s executive actions and general “lawlessness” on immigration could lead to “ethnic cleansing.”

Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX) also joined the fray, contending that President Obama’s immigration executive order is “declaring war on the American people and our democracy.”

“This is truly an emergency. There’s not a moment to lose,” wrote Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin to her group’s members last Wednesday. While other Tea Party groups are busy inflaming nativism sentiment, the Tea Party Patriots are crafting a plan to scuttle any immigration reforms.

Having already primed their members with the October release of the gruesome anti-immigrant video, The Border States of America, Tea Party Patriots are focused now on organizing opposition.

As a first step, they plan to “melt the phones to stop amnesty” by having their members contact Congress en masse to register opposition. The next step is to flood congressional offices with protesters. According to Martin, the group “must deploy our thousands of local affiliates to congressional offices all across the country, demanding that they cut off all funding from this order immediately.” But the Tea Party Patriots do not have the “thousands of local affiliates” as Martin claims; instead they have around 300 remaining active local groups.

They plan to deploy those remaining local groups, however, to pressure the new Congress to defund anything relating to immigration reform. Kevin Broughton, a spokesperson for Tea Party Patriots, noted, “We expect [the new GOP majority] to use the power of the purse to defund amnesty, especially those—and there were many—who ran against it.”

The group is also canvassing its membership base to gauge possible attendance for a noon rally on December 3 in Washington D.C. called by the founder of the House Tea Party Caucus, retiring congresswoman Michele Bachmann. The decision to possibly join Rep. Bachmann’s rally came after she declared on Wednesday that executive action on immigration will lead to a flood of “illiterate” voters.

Previous Tea Party Patriots anti-immigration rallies in Washington D.C., such as the muddled Immigration/IRS rally on June 19, 2013 on Capitol Hill have not been well attended, so larger attendance at a December rally would be an indicator of some success for efforts to promote nativism without one of the largest Tea Party factions.

Not all national Tea Party factions are in agreement with the Tea Party Patriots’ plan. Obama’s move on immigration has uncovered a growing fissure within the Tea Party movement over the centrality of nativism. Curiously, while Tea Party Patriots, Patriot Action Network, and the 1776 Tea Party were rushing to sound more and more xenophobic  (and fundraising off the issue), some Tea Party factions tried to dance around the immigration issue, while others stayed conspicuously silent.

Indeed, although many members of the FreedomWorks social network were outraged by the president’s announcement last week, the organization’s leadership chose to duck the issue. FreedomWorks completely sidestepped the topic of immigration, choosing instead to concentrate the organization’s message on tried-and-true Obama bashing.  In a pre-speech press release, FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe took a page from the GOP establishment playbook, sticking to the line about the president being an “emperor” and railing against the “expansion of executive power.”

Said Kibbe, “The president’s announcements tonight have nothing to do with immigration. This fight has to do with whether or not we are a country with laws and a separation of powers designed to protect the will of the American people from the arbitrary actions of Washington insiders.”

As other Tea Party groups have dug in for a massive fight around immigration, FreedomWorks appears fixated on getting Congress to let the Export-Import Bank expire. In fact, many in the Tea Party movement have been suspicious of FreedomWorks because of their unwillingness to wholeheartedly embrace nativism.

Unlike all the other factions, Tea Party Express hasn’t uttered a peep about the issue. That could be because the group is hoping not to call attention to the pro-immigration reform stance that Sal Russo, a Tea Party Express co-founder, expressed in an article for Roll Call last spring.

Russo’s commentary, titled “Conservatives Need to Fix the Broken U.S. Immigration System,” called for an approach remarkably similar to that proposed by the president. “We need to make the 11 million people who are here illegally obey the law, pay taxes and come out of the shadows. We have to get them right by the law in exchange for legal status, but not unbridled amnesty,” he wrote.

In the past, these disagreements have caused strains between various organizations in the network that comprises the Tea Party movement. Obama’s executive order is the first major test of these policy differences in years, and Tea Party organizations may well be held to account for their positions.

Expect the caution initially evident among Republican leadership to vanish if the Tea Party successfully mobilizes anti-immigrant sentiment. Given the vitriolic nativist tone already circulating in Tea Party circles, and the fusion of nativism with hatred of the first African-American president, the coming mobilization could make the ugly rancor and racism that erupted during the passage of Obamacare look polite. At the same time, if supporters of human rights stand strong for immigration reform and actively combat nativism, it could protect immigration reform gains for the long term and even split the Tea Party.

 

By: Devin Burghart, The National Memo, November 24, 2014

November 25, 2014 Posted by | Executive Orders, Immigration Reform, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bragging About Their Ignorance”: “I’m Not A Scientist” Is A Dangerous Cop-Out

The evidence for global climate change is overwhelming. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists, along with the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and more than 30 professional scientific research societies, agree that climate change is happening because of human actions and that it will be an increasingly serious problem if we don’t stop it. It is reasonable for politicians to debate the best way to solve this problem, but whether it is a problem should not be up for discussion anymore. However, in response to questions about climate change, political candidates, including high-profile politicians such as Senate Minority (for now) Leader Mitch McConnell, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio are frequently saying: “I’m not a scientist.”

When politicians say “I’m not a scientist,” it is an exasperating evasion. It’s a cowardly way to avoid answering basic and important policy questions. This response raises lots of other important questions about their decision-making processes. Do they have opinions on how to best maintain our nation’s highways, bridges, and tunnels—or do they not because they’re not civil engineers? Do they refuse to talk about agriculture policy on the grounds that they’re not farmers? How do they think we should be addressing the threat of ISIS? They wouldn’t know, of course; they’re not military generals.

No one would ever say these things, because they’re ridiculous. Being a policymaker in a country as large and complex as the United States requires making decisions on a variety of important subjects outside of your primary area of expertise. Voters wouldn’t tolerate this “I’m not a scientist” excuse if applied to any other discipline, yet politicians appear to be using this line successfully to distance themselves from experts crucial for solving many of our country’s most important problems.

American populist rhetoric has always had a dark side of anti-intellectualism, the belief that the common sense of the average man on the street is equal to or greater than the expert knowledge of people who spend years studying a particular question, and that has been on full display in recent years. Who can understand what those weird, other-worldly scientists are talking about, anyway? Somebody needs to “stand up to the experts.” Despite what any politician says, the overwhelming evidence supports the scientific consensus that climate change is happening because of human activity and that we should take action to stop it because it will be a significant threat—a position the U.S. military agrees with.

I actually am a scientist (a marine biologist), but you don’t need to be an expert on anything to pay attention when 97 percent of people who are experts in that subject agree that something is a problem and that we should do something about it. You don’t need to be a fully trained expert in the sciences to make decisions that involve science (which is good, because less than 4 percent of the representatives in Congress have any kind of scientific training, even broadly defined).

“ ‘I’m not a scientist’ is a cheap cop-out that is becoming all too common, not just on climate change but on issues like fracking and evolution, too. Politicians of both major political parties are trotting out the ‘I’m not a scientist’ remark to avoid stating where they stand on policy,” says Michael Halpern, the manager of strategy and innovation for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Lamar Smith (R-Texas), is also not a scientist, but that’s not stopping him from attacking National Science Foundation–funded scientific research. Smith has been publicly mocking grants to study topics that he doesn’t personally see the value in studying, proposing laws that would change peer review at the NSF to value studies with purported economic benefits, and attacking NSF officials in congressional hearings. Smith seems to be trying to look tough on government spending, and appealing to anti-intellectualism is an easy strategy. However, the total budget of the NSF is less than a quarter of 1 percent of the federal budget, and only the top 5 percent of proposals are funded. All research proposals submitted to NSF go through a rigorous system of peer review with experts in the field anonymously evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each, often with suggestions for how to improve the research in the future. Peer review is a critical part of free scientific inquiry, and the fact that an anti-intellectual politician doesn’t personally see the value in a particular study should be irrelevant to whether that study is funded.

The ranking Democrat on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee says she is baffled by Smith’s public attacks on the peer review process. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson has correctly pointed out that there is no evidence whatsoever of waste or fraud associated with the NSF grants that Smith is investigating, that Smith seems to be targeting NSF-funded projects that he thinks sound silly based on his limited understanding of their purposes, and that such unprecedented attacks from a high-ranking government official can have a chilling effect on the free scientific inquiry that has helped make the United States an economic powerhouse.

You don’t need to be a scientist to recognize that climate change is a problem, but you do need to be a scientist to appropriately participate in peer review. Politicians who get this backward, as well as those who disrupt the process of scientific research or willfully ignore the conclusions of that research, should be voted out of power.

 

By: David Shiffman, Ph.D. Student at The Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy at the University of Miami; Slate, October 22, 2014

October 27, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Politics, Science | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Cudgel For The Oil Industry”: Chevron’s Lobbyist Now Runs The Congressional Science Committee

For Chevron, the second-largest oil company in the country with $26.2 billion in annual profits, it helps to have friends in high places. With little fanfare, one of Chevron’s top lobbyists, Stephen Sayle, has become a senior staff member of the House Committee on Science, the standing congressional committee charged with “maintaining our scientific and technical leadership in the world.”

Throughout much of 2013, Sayle was the chief executive officer of Dow Lohnes Government Strategies, a lobbying firm retained by Chevron to influence Congress. For fees that total $320,000 a year, Sayle and his team lobbied on a range of energy-related issues, including implementation of EPA rules under the Clean Air Act, regulation of ozone standards, as well as “Congressional and agency oversight related to offshore oil, natural gas development and oil spills.”

Sayle’s ethics disclosure, obtained by Republic Report, shows that he was paid $500,000 by Chevron’s lobbying firm before taking his current gig atop the Science Committee.

In recent months, the House Science Committee has become a cudgel for the oil industry, issuing subpoenas and holding hearings to demonize efforts to improve the environment. Some of the work by the committee reflect the lobbying priorities of Chevron.

In December, the Science Committee, now chaired by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), held yet another hearing to try to discredit manmade global warming. In August, the committee issued the first subpoena in twenty-one years, demanding “all the raw data from a number of federally funded studies linking air pollution to disease.”

Though Chevron has gone to great lengths to advertise a lofty environmental record, the company continues to break air pollution laws while quietly backpedalling on its prior commitments to renewable energy. A Bloomberg News investigation reported that Chevron estimated that its biofuel investments would return only 5 percent in profits, a far cry from the 15 percent to which the oil giant is accustomed, and quietly moved to shelve renewable fuel units of the company. In California, Chevron is battling the newly created cap-and-trade system for carbon pollution. And in states across the country, Chevron has lobbied and provided financial support to a range of right-wing nonprofits dedicated to repealing carbon-cutting regulations, including the low-carbon fuel standard.

Earlier this year, Dow Lohnes’ lobbying practice merged with Levick, a public affairs firm.

 

By: Lee Fang, The Nation, February 21, 2014: This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org

February 23, 2014 Posted by | Big Oil, Congress, Environment | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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