Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Reading

Goodbye To All That — Mike Lofgren, a former GOP staffer looks how his party has become a cult.

Barbara Stanwyck: “We’re both rotten!”

Fred MacMurray: “Yeah – only you’re a little more rotten.” -“Double Indemnity” (1944)

Those lines of dialogue from a classic film noir sum up the state of the two political parties in contemporary America. Both parties are rotten – how could they not be, given the complete infestation of the political system by corporate money on a scale that now requires a presidential candidate to raise upwards of a billion dollars to be competitive in the general election? Both parties are captives to corporate loot. The main reason the Democrats’ health care bill will be a budget buster once it fully phases in is the Democrats’ rank capitulation to corporate interests – no single-payer system, in order to mollify the insurers; and no negotiation of drug prices, a craven surrender to Big Pharma.

But both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP.

To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.

It was this cast of characters and the pernicious ideas they represent that impelled me to end a nearly 30-year career as a professional staff member on Capitol Hill. A couple of months ago, I retired; but I could see as early as last November that the Republican Party would use the debt limit vote, an otherwise routine legislative procedure that has been used 87 times since the end of World War II, in order to concoct an entirely artificial fiscal crisis. Then, they would use that fiscal crisis to get what they wanted, by literally holding the US and global economies as hostages.

I urge you to read the essay in its entirety. Mr. Lofgren’s analysis of the GOP’s efforts to delegitimize basic tenets of our society, ostracize whole segments of society, and encode religious structure into our laws is well worth taking to heart as well as scaring the crap out of anyone who isn’t already over on the dark side.

More below the fold.

On The Rocks — Miami’s port project could be a disaster for the coral reef and shoreline ecosystem.

As Miami prepares to dredge its port to accommodate supersize freighters, environmentalists are making a last-ditch effort to protect threatened coral reefs and acres of sea grass that they say would be destroyed by the expansion.

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection is on the verge of granting a final permit to the Army Corps of Engineers, which will be free to conduct 600 days of blasting to widen and deepen the channel for the port of Miami, across from the southern part of Miami Beach.

“It won’t fare well for us, the bay, the coral reefs, the fish stocks and the sea grass,” said Laura Reynolds, the executive director of the Tropical Audubon Society.

“You can bring this all back to the economy,” Ms. Reynolds said. “People come here to fish, boat, sail, snorkel and dive and go to the beach.”

Florida has seen steep declines in coral in the last 25 years, and last year’s cold snap devastated the reefs closest to shore. Some of those lost 70 percent to 75 percent of their coral, said Diego Lirman, a University of Miami scientist who was part of a team that conducted a survey of the coral last year and published its findings in August.

Environmentalists also question whether the potential harm to Biscayne Bay, with its pristine waters and sea life, is too high a price for a port expansion that may not bring the economic windfall that is expected.

Shipping consultants say the port of Miami is in fierce competition with other Eastern ports — including Port Everglades, just an hour away in Fort Lauderdale — to receive the superfreighters that will sail through the Panama Canal in 2014 once it has been widened. South Florida, because of its location, is not likely to become a hub compared with cities farther north, like Savannah and Charleston, experts say.

“The prospect of Miami becoming a big hub, this is not going to happen,” said Asaf Ashar, a ports and shipping consultant. “Miami is the end of the peninsula. It’s difficult to get into it.”

But with ports around the country moving forward with dredging plans, cities do not want to be left behind. In Miami, the actual dredging is expected to begin next year.

State environmental officials said there were plans to mitigate the damage to coral, sea grass and the bay, some of which is part of a state preserve. About seven acres of coral is expected to be directly affected by the blasts, and the Army Corps of Engineers will be required to transplant much of it to a trough between two reefs.

All stony coral larger than about 4 inches will be chiseled out and moved to the trough. All soft coral greater than about 10 inches will also be transplanted. Elkhorn and staghorn coral, which are categorized as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, may be sent to a coral nursery, according to the plan.

At the same time, nearly eight acres of sea grass will be damaged during the expansion. To make up for that, the corps will seed 25 acres in a large underwater hole a bit farther north.

Exploding Heads — Carl Hiaasen has some questions for the former vice president as he hawks his book.

(The following is a list of questions that Mr. Cheney might answer partially, with varying degrees of deception, or not at all.)

1. In your memoir, you seem resentful toward Colin Powell. Is this because he was an actual soldier with leadership experience in the first Gulf War and possibly he knew what he was talking about, whereas you never put on a uniform in your life and had no freaking clue?

2. Would you be willing to go on the Jay Leno show and let yourself be waterboarded if you thought it would sell more books? What if Condoleezza agreed to get in the tank, too?

3. Why do you suppose nobody else in the Bush administration wanted to spontaneously bomb Syria except you? At that point, did any of your close friends or family members suggest an extended vacation? A brain scan?

4. During all those White House meetings about Iraq, did anybody ever mention what would happen to our nation’s economy if a war was launched at the same time taxes were being slashed? If so, how many seconds did it take you to change the subject?

5. Did you have trouble keeping a straight face when you kept insisting that Saddam Hussein had an “established relationship with al Qaeda?” Was it satisfying to know that many Americans were misled into believing that Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks?

6. Any thoughts on those non-existent weapons of mass destruction?

7. Why did you keep ranting about WMDs years after the CIA and the military had given up looking? Was this a period when your medication was being adjusted, or were you just spuriously trying to justify the U.S. invasion?

8. Speaking of which, remember when you went on TV and predicted that American troops would be “greeted as liberators”? Is it possible you were drunk at the time?

9. And, oh yeah, remember when you declared that the Iraqi insurgency was in its “last throes?” Way back in 2005? Of all the dumb things to come out of your mouth, where does that whopper rank?

10. Does the number 4,465 hold any special meaning? Would you be surprised to learn that’s how many American troops have been killed in Iraq since the occupation? Just out of curiosity, have you taken a stroll through Arlington National Cemetery lately?

11. Finally, Mr. Vice President, when is the last time you were right about anything?

Doonesbury — Bachmann vs. Palin.