Friday, September 30, 2005

Environmentalism for the Rich

House Republicans, concerned as ever that the Endangered Species Act is preventing rich people from making money, has just voted in an overhaul of the law that leaves no developer behind (remember when I said that everything Republicans do is designed to help big business in some way or another?).

The main change in the new act is this: If a developer wants to cut down a forest to build a strip mall, and the EPA decides that building that mall will kill off an endangered species, the government must pay that developer the money they would have made on the development. So, if you're a real-estate mogul, all you have to do is buy sensitive land, declare your intention to rape it, and the government will pay you not to do that. Sweet deal, eh? For everyone but the taxpayers and endangered plants and animals, because the government will be in a position of deciding how much money they're willing to spend to protect a habitat. When faced with the choice of protecting a snail, or paying a developer $50 million not to build something, what do you think Republicans are going to choose?

As West Virginia Representative Rick Nahall put it, the bill represents a "dangerous precedent that private individuals must be paid to comply with an environmental law. What's next? Paying citizens to wear seat belts? This bill will not improve species' ability to recover."

The twisted "bright side" to all of this is that other revisions to the bill make it almost impossible for the feds to designate an area as protected habitat, so there's little to stand in the way of building that mall in the first place. Worse, it allows the Secretary of the Interior (a political appointee) to decide the scientific criteria which will be used to determine whether a development will harm a habitat. A rival bill that would create a team of scientists to advise him was defeated.

The Republicans' justification for all of this? Well they can't just come out and say that they're pandering to their rich developer friends and campaign contributors, so they came up with this gem: they simply claim that the Endangered Species Act does nothing to protect species anyway, so we might as well gut it so someone can make some cash instead.

Republican voters (especially the ones that make $100k/year or less): Is this what you wanted? Do you know you voted for a party that cares only about millionaires and doesn't give a crap about the poor, middle class, or environment? Suckers...

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Ever Seen a Live Giant Squid?

This is the first photo of a living giant squid, a creature previously known only through the stories of sailors and the occasional dead body washing up on the beach. Observing the world's largest invertebrate in it's natural environment has been one of the "holy grails" of marine biology.

The one seen here is about 26 feet long, and attacked a normal squid set as bait at the end of a long line. The giant squid, caught on the line, then spent more than four hours trying to free itself, and lost part of a tentacle in the process. See more amazing photos here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Pennsylvania Theocracy

If you're one of those who think that Intelligent Design is a scientific theory, or one who thinks that the separation of Church and State is a fundamental part of American political philosophy, take a look at what's going on in Pennsylvania this week.

Families of several students are suing the Dover Area School board over a decision last year to teach Intelligent Design in public schools, and point out weaknesses in Darwinian Evolution. The school board, like many people who don't know real science from voodoo, insist publicly that ID is a "scientific" theory, and that it has nothing to do with religion. Apparently, "science" is now the process by which one makes up wild, untestable stories to explain what they don't know. Privately, they're talking about Creationism: Board member William Buckingham is quoted as saying, "Nearly 2000 years ago someone died on a cross for us. Shouldn't we have the courage to stand up for him?"

Two reporters who printed this quote are to testify in the trial, because Buckingham denies he said it. He would be smart to deny, of course, since he's basically saying that government should be run without separation of church and state. It doesn't occur to most religious whackos out there, but atheists and non-Christian religious whackos have the right not to live in a Christian theocracy.

America's founders, who were themselves devout in a way that few of the pretenders to religion are today, still had the wisdom to know that even their own religion can present a danger to the Freedom of Man. Today, Christians think that since they're absolutely right, and that society would be better if we all lived by their particular fairy tale, then it's okay to force their religious views on others through the force of law. It's very much like what they tried to do to the Native Americans, and we saw how that turned out.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Why They Were Still Lies

Like many of you, I get these regular e-mails from factcheck.org, and in general they're pretty helpful in examining the claims Republicans and Democrats are constantly making about each other. The latest was this one, http://www.factcheck.org/article349.html, concerning an advertisement critical of the Bush administration called "They Lied, They Died." FactCheck concludes that the quotes by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice concerning the rationale for the Iraq War were not "lies," because there's always the possibility that they believed what they were saying at the time, and therefore bad intelligence was to blame. Even if true, that conclusion misses the point in a couple of important ways.

First of all, no matter what, there's no doubt from this article that these guys are idiots. When U.S. troops were in possession of two-thirds of the country, Rumsfeld claimed that we hadn't found the WMDs because the area we controlled "happens not to be the area where weapons of mass destruction were dispersed. We know where they are." Cheney said, "my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators. . . ." Give me a fucking break.

Second, Bush makes the claim of Saddam Hussein's contacts with Al Queda at the time he knew full well that those "contacts" never amounted to anything. Isn't a half-truth the same as a lie?

Third, there's a little thing called the "Downing Street Memo," which is basically independent evidence that the intelligence was being manipulated to fit Bush's preconceived notions about Iraq. If there was pressure to produce intelligence that "fit the policy," then Bush and the others repeated that intelligence as the truth, then this is tantamount to lying. Judging by how completely wrong the intelligence was, it seems likely that this is exactly what happened.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Spend, But Don't Tax

There's been a lot of talk lately in the media about how hurricane Katrina "exposed" the depth of the poverty problem in America, as if nothing is real unless there's a television camera pointed at it. Everyone knows there's poverty, it's just that those above the line don't think much about those below, unless a big storm comes along and destroys what little the poor had to begin with.

But something else was truly exposed by Katrina: The complete failure of the Republican economic policy. Even without the storm, federal spending has gone up by one-third over the last four years, while revenue has gone down because of tax cuts aimed mainly at the rich (all the middle-class and poor got was a few hundred dollars in hush money, remember?). The unbelievable economic growth that was supposed to follow from the tax cuts has failed to materialize. As a result, the debt and deficit are skyrocketing, and China alone has now lent us almost a trillion dollars to help pay for it all.

Along comes Katrina to wipe out a few cities, and the pressure is really on. For Democrats and other sensible people, the solution is obvious--cancel the tax cuts for the rich, and resume funding the government at a sustainable level. It's so obvious, in fact, that it's the first idea that was floated around in the media, and the first thing Bush had to vow that he would not do.

The Republicans have a couple of ideas of their own, and they're fighting right now in congress over which way to go. One side wants to borrow more money from China, Saudi Arabia, and Japan, while the other side wants to cut programs for the poor and cancel improvements to the country's roads and infrastructure. Here are some of the proposals; for each, think about whether the cut hurts the poor or the rich:

--Delay the Medicare prescription drug benefit for one year
--Increase Medicare premiums by 20 percent and charge patients 10 percent of home care costs
--Eliminate adult-education programs for those who didn't finish high school
--Eliminate programs to fight drug trafficking
--Cancel the Moon-Mars program (hurts thousands of working people in the South)
--Cancel improvements to the interstate highway system (hurts millions of working people who commute to work every day)

And they're doing all of this to avoid taxing rich people at the same rate we did in 2000.

To all of you who call yourselves Republicans--is this what you wanted?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Favoring Big Business Over People, Again

In case you haven't noticed by now, and you're an idiot if you haven't, just about everything the Republicans do benefits big business in one way or another, usually at the expense of the rest of us. The most obvious way is through tax policy, as former President Clinton pointed out last Sunday: "If you give your tax cuts to the rich and hope everything works out all right, and poverty goes up...then that's a consequence of the decision made." But tax breaks aren't the only way they're doing it.

Let's take a short tour through the Bush legacy on the environment. His first act was to allow the construction of logging roads in the National Forests, a practice banned by the Clinton EPA to slow the growth of logging the public forests for private profit. Who gains from more logging on public land? The millions that want to enjoy pristine forest land which belongs to all, or the few companies that reap huge profits from selling what doesn't belong to them?

Then, Dick Cheney brings together a "task force" of current and former oil company executives to craft a new energy policy for the nation. No independent scientists were asked for their input. The final recommendation: Drill more oil, especially in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. Who benefits from this?

After that, it was the Kyoto Treaty on global warming. Despite the pleas of a vast majority of scientists, Bush (the baseball-team owner) insists that there's no good evidence for warming, so there's no reason for the United States (by far the biggest single contributor of greenhouse gases) to enter such a treaty. Who gains from this? Is it the people of New Orleans and Texas being pounded by increasingly strong hurricanes, or the farmers facing the fact that the breadbasket is moving north as drought becomes more common, or the residents of coastal cities dealing with higher sea levels as glaciers melt? No, it's the polluters who gain, huge corporations that now don't have to spend a few dollars (out of their billions in profits) to control the emissions that are literally destroying the world for the rest of us.

Now, the EPA wants to relax the "Community Right-to-Know" rules, by which companies that handle dangerous substances have to report yearly on how many pollutants are stored and have been released. Up to now, releases of under 500 pounds in a year were okay. Now, the Republicans want a change to allow the release of 5,000 pounds without reporting it. Instead of reporting every year, the proposed change allows companies to make reports every other year. Who benefits from this? Parents who want some safeguards against greedy companies poisoning their children to save money? Nope. Once again, big business is the big winner.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Yep, Dems Can Be Too Partisan Too

I'm used to Republicans putting party loyalty ahead of the good of the country, and even common sense, but it's worth noting that at times Democrats are just as blind (though blindly doing good is still better than blindly doing evil).

Take the John Roberts nomination. Some of the biggest names in the Democratic party, including Edward Kennedy, Barbara Boxer and John Kerry, announced yesterday that they will not support him.

Honestly, I'm pretty damn liberal, but Roberts is a nominee of George W. Bush, and that simply has to be taken into account. Bush is obviously going to nominate a conservative, so if you're in the minority party you really have only one hope: That the nominee the president sends up will be a moderate, instead of a Robert Bork or Clarence Thomas. By all accounts, that's exactly what Bush did in the case of John Roberts.

Were Kennedy, Boxer, Kerry and other Dems expecting Bush to nominate Hillary Clinton or Al Sharpton? These guys need to realize that politics is often about compromise, and that Bush has made some effort by nominating a man who isn't a radical, and that's really all they can expect. If Dems can't vote for this guy, then they can't vote for ANY Republican candidate, and that makes them almost as bad as those single-minded and simple-minded whackjobs on the other side of the aisle.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Government by The People in Florida?

Here we go again. In 2002, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment by referendum mandating the building of a light-rail transportation system to connect the state's five largest cities. For the next two years, Bush and the Republican legislature declined to fund the project, until in 2004 a committee of Jeb's close friends floated a ballot measure to repeal the earlier one, and spent millions to promote it. It passed (the ignorance of Florida voters will be discussed later).

Also in that 2002 election, voters passed an initiative demanding that Florida reduce the size of classes in the public schools to the national average. Before the vote, Jeb Bush was actually caught, on tape, telling a meeting of Republican boosters, "I have some devious plans to deal with this [class-size amendment] if it passes." For the first time (three years later), the state board of education requested the funds to comply with this constitutional amendment. The price tag: $1.9 billion.

So how do you think the Republicans reacted? The first line from a September 21, 2005 Orlando Sentinel article says it all: "Florida's governor and top lawmakers, confronted with a nearly $2 billion price tag for new classrooms, vowed Tuesday to push voters to reconsider their expensive demand for smaller public school classes."

Just who the hell works for whom? When voters say they want something, isn't a governor bound by the will of the people? Apparently not.

Add to that this scare tactic from Senate President Tom Lee, who immediately released a statement to the effect that this could only be paid for through "program cuts or massive debt." He failed to mention that it could also be paid for by tax increases.

And there's the real heart of the matter. Republicans will not raise taxes for any reason. Why? Because taxes are bad for business. So the truth is that the government in Florida cannot afford to reduce class sizes because big corporations need their tax breaks. And to Bush, these tax breaks are more sacred than education and public transportation, and worst of all, more sacred than government by The People for The People.