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Mon May 05, 2014 at 02:03 PM PDT

Go get 'em Virginia

by BlueDuPage

Virginia Conlon is one of 3 Democratic candidates running in tomorrow's primary election for NC-13, a seat currently held by Republican George Holding, a former U.S Attorney who achieved notoriety as the prosecutor of John Edwards.

Virginia sent me a Tweet with a link to the video above. I don't know much about her or opponents, not having followed the race. She appears to be pretty much unfunded, running a campaign on a shoestring and she doesn't have any real prospect of winning.

But after watching Virginia's self-made video I rather like her. Candidates with resources all serve us up the same slick Pablum, with staged shots of children and puppies and flags and parades. Virginia's video is real. Just Virginia speaking to voters. You have to admire a citizen who will take the time to get out there and fight this way. We need a House full of them.

So good luck, Virginia! And here's more video:

Discuss

Sun May 04, 2014 at 03:47 PM PDT

Little Town vs. Big Oil

by BlueDuPage

I grew up in the tiny hamlet of Apalachin, in Tioga County in Upstate New York. I could ride my bicycle up Pennsylvania Avenue to cross the border and the Finger Lakes were just a short drive north and a frequent destination for family picnics in the summer months. Our house was on a hillside overlooking the Susquehanna river, seen in the image below.

Apalachin's only claim to fame is the notorious meeting of about 100 Mafia leaders that took place there in 1957, before I was born, at the home of Joseph "Joe the Barber" Barbara. The meeting, held for the purpose of dividing up the criminal enterprises controlled by recently murdered boss Albert Anastasia, was busted up by the New York State Police and resulted in a number of arrests. There's a depiction of the Apalachin bust at the beginning of the Billy Crystal & Robert De Niro movie "Analyze This".

Life carried me away from Apalachin over 35 years ago, first to Texas and later to Illinois where I am today, and I haven't ever been back. But I still feel a powerful, visceral connection to this beautiful spot in the world. It was an idyllic place for a boy to grow up. I wandered the hills near my home winter and summer, fished in the Susquehanna and in nearby ponds, never catching much, and searched for crawfish in the creeks. I camped with the Boy Scouts with the woods even when the snow was deep on the ground, picked wild raspberries in the summer and apples and wintergreen in autumn. There was  a dairy farm across the street from our house and the air was often fragrant with newly laid manure. We played hide and seek amidst the farmer's corn crop or in fields of tall dewy mikweed when there was no corn. Those same fields, on gently rising hills, were our sled & toboggan run in the wintertime. We could travel nearly a mile down hill but had to take care not to get tangled in the farmer's barbed wire at the bottom.  It was beautiful country and I knew it intimately and loved it deeply.

About 40 miles north of Apalachin, in adjacent Tompkins County, near Ithaca at the foot of scenic but frigid Cayuga lake, is another small town, Dryden,  that I remember visiting as a boy. Surrounded by the same beautiful countryside, Dryden is an old town first settled at the end of the 18th century. The town was named for the 17th Century English poet and playwright, John Dryden, translator of Virgil and of Plutarch's Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans.

Dryden has been in the news of late because of a fight between the fracking industry and town residents who wanted desperately to protect the land they love from the ravages of drilling.

Dryden sits atop the Marcellus Shale, a sedimentary rock formation that spans much of southern New York State (including my beloved Apalachin) and northern Pennsylvania.

Trapped within the shale rock is the largest source of natural gas in the United States. Getting that gas out for use as a source of energy has been made possible by the technique of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking". Fracking involves drilling into the shale formation and injecting fracking fluids under pressure in to the rock to break it up and release the trapped gas.

Fracking has the potential of being quite lucrative for the energy companies involved, and to some degree to the landowners as well. And it is being touted as the best means for making our country energy-independent. But fracking is also fraught with hazards. Fracking uses vast quantities of fresh water at a time when we have serious concerns about maintaining sufficient supplies for human populations. And the fluids used in fracking contain toxic substances that have the potential to contaminate our groundwater. The exact composition of fracking fluids are generally kept secret from the public. Fracking mars the landscape, disrupts communities with intinerant workers & heavy traffic, and has been linked to frequent earthquakes in areas where quakes have been rare events.

Faced with an onslaught of fracking companies using high-pressure tactics to obtain rights to drill and fearing the adverse consequences of fracking, many communities, including Dryden, have voted to institute bans on fracking. After instituting its ban, Dryden was sued by a fracking company, Anschutz Exploration Corporation, in an attempt to overturn it. The town won the first two rounds of litigation and is now in the midst of a third, supported by the environmental law NGO EarthJustice.

EarthJustice produced this beautiful mini-documentary about the town's struggle. It touched me, because of my personal connection to this place, and enrages me because of the ruthlessness of these energy companies, who are often abetted by corrupt government officials. I hope you'll take a few minutes to watch it. Hopefully, Dryden and other small communities like it will prevail in their struggle. I am pessimistic, however, because the forces arrayed against them are strong and the amounts of money involved are large.

 

Discuss
I want to apologize on behalf of Illinois for afflicting the nation with John Shimkus. He doesn't represent most of us here, although he seems to be pretty popular with residents of his rural Illinois' 15th District and with polluters who want to poison our air and water without consequence.

A religious man, Representative Shimkus starts most days by Tweeting out a bit of scripture, and then proceeding to do the Lord's work from his seat on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and its Sub-Committee on Environment and the Economy which he chairs.

All that scripture reading has certainly helped Shimkus to more effectively carry out his his party's number 1 priority: burning every last gram of extractable fossil fuels and damn the consequences to the environment and the future of humanity. You may remember this priceless moment from a Committee meeting in 2009 when Shimkus quoted Genesis to dismiss the threat of global warming:

Lovely. A "theological debate" about global warming? We have no future.

I'm fairly certain, of course, that it is not just theology that informs Representative Shimkus' positions on environmental issues. Call me cynical, but I'd venture to guess that $987,613 in contributions from oil and coal companies might be influencing his understanding of the future of our planet. Sometimes it takes a little cash to grease the theological wheels.

 

So what is Shimkus up to these days? No good I'm afraid.

Molly Redden at Mother Jones reported today that House Republicans on Shimkus' Sub-committee are drafting a nightmare tentatively entitled the Chemicals in Commerce Act designed to aid frackers and other environmental polluters. Temporarily suspending their reverence for states rights, Republicans seek to block states and municipalities from regulating toxic chemicals if the EPA has acted on them under the guise of 'strengthening' the EPA, but knowing that the Toxic Substances Control Act, under which the EPA can regulate chemicals, has standards that make it an ineffective tool for regulating even lethal asbestos.

The point of this seems to be that most regulation of potentially toxic fracking chemicals takes place presently at state and local levels. Referring to such regulation to the EPA will certainly weaken it and give the Republicans in Congress further avenues to weaken it. The Sierra Club reports that at least 20 states have adopted or proposed requirements for fracking chemical disclosure, and this bill, if it became law, would nip those efforts in the bud.

Elliott Negin of the Union of Concerned Scientists writes that Shimkus should have titled the bill the "More Toxic Chemicals in Commerce Act":

"Throughout the draft, the bill gives greater weight to reducing the burdens on industry than to protecting the public and the environment," Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, explained in a March 5 letter to House members. "When chemical interests may face additional requirements, the bill gives them so many ways to evade or challenge them, that it reduces the Environmental Protection Agency's already insufficient authority to regulate toxic chemicals."

Rosenberg's letter pointed out other glaring problems with Shimkus' draft, including the fact that while it acknowledges that certain populations -- namely infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people who live near chemical plants -- may be more vulnerable to chemical exposure, it doesn't require the EPA to do anything to protect them. In addition, Rosenberg said, the bill would allow Congress and the courts to ignore the recommendations of government and independent scientists.

Environmental groups seem to be applying a lot of pressure aimed at killing this in Committee but no doubt Shimkus' theological analysis will prevail and this nasty piece of work will make it to the House floor as yet another installment in House Republicans' "Jobs Plan".

Bills like this seem more frightening these days as we face the prospect of bicameral Republican control, with a President in office who is not unfriendly to fracking interests.

 

Discuss

Wed Apr 30, 2014 at 08:06 PM PDT

Stacks of Bills

by BlueDuPage

Having abandoned any thought of passing any substantial legislation before the mid-term elections, House Republican leadership has to find activities to keep the kids amused during their grueling calendar of 113 work days. Today, the gang took to Twitter to whine about the #StacksOfBills passed by the House and awaiting action in the Senate. You know, the jobs bills.

Like H.R. 1406, which helps working families by taking away their overtime pay:

Or H.R 311,  a gift to agri-business exempting them from oversight of oil storage on agricultural land (this is bound to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, just like the spill-waiting-to-happen that is the Keystone pipeline).

Or H.R. 3865, the "STOP TARGETING OF POLITICAL BELIEFS BY THE IRS ACT OF 2014", or as I like to call it, the "Stop Picking on Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers Act of 2014".

And there's H.R. 1797, the PAIN-CAPABLE UNBORN CHILD PROTECTION ACT, a ban on all abortions after 20 weeks.

Yes, American jobs ARE waiting on you Senator Reid! Stop fiddling around with things like raising the minimum wage, or extending unemployment benefits, or rebuilding our infrastructure, or [shudder] passing meaningful immigration reform. There are Post Offices to be renamed!

I too found myself with a little time on my hands this afternoon and, evil troll that I am, chose to point out that these same House Republican members are receiving #StacksOfBills from the fossil fuel industry. To do so (and this is the main point I wanted to make) I used a fantastic tool that has been developed by the fine folks at Oil Change International.

They've created this terrific database that allows you to see the contributions that a Senator or Congressman has been raking in from the fossil fuel industries. Here's Speaker Boehner's impressive haul:

I love this graphic. The database also tracks members vote of fossil-fuel-friendly bills, so you can see how funding correlates with voting.

This is a brilliant tool that, based on my impressions, is under-utilized. It is  a very impactful way of showing people how beholden our corrupt Congress is to fossil fuel interests.

And so I had a good time needling the House GOP and I think they gave up on #StacksOfBills, at least for the day.

Discuss
Midterm elections are coming up soon. Too soon. I need to educate myself about the Democratic challengers that are out there so that I can do whatever is possible to help. And what better place to start than Kansas' 1st Congressional District, home to perhaps the House Republicans' worst of the worst, Representative Tim Huelskamp.

I don't think Huelskamp is the dumbest in the Republican Caucus (Louie Gohmert?), or the silliest (Steve Stockman?), or the craziest (Michele Bachmann? Steve King?), although he is at least competitive on all fronts. What gets me about Huelskamp is his utter contempt for the gravity of his office, for the President and for any American who is not part of his extremist Christian fringe or his corporate clientele. I can think of no sitting member of Congress who it would more deeply satisfy me to see defeated.

You can get a sense of what a nasty piece of work Huelskamp is by browsing his Twitter feed. Here's a taste:

The Kansas 1st is a large rural district considered to be among America's most conservative and perhaps this schtick plays well there with the Tea Party, but I have to wonder. This is a real creep occupying a seat previously held by Bob Dole and Pat Roberts, both normal human beings.

Huelskamp play to the religious conservatives by appealing to their strong distaste for abortion and gay marriage. In office, he focuses primarily on weaken federal regulations on behalf of his corporate backers. In 2012, Think Progress correlated campaign donations from Koch Industries with representative scores on Koch-funded Americans For Prosperity's scorecard. Huelskamp was one of 40 members who received a 100% score from AFP.

Huelskamp recently made the news when the Washington Post's Fact Checker Glenn Kessler awarded him "Four Pinocchios" for claiming "there are more people uninsured today in Kansas than there were before the president's health-care plan went into effect".

Huelskamp has been agitating to replace Speaker Boehner so I'm sure there's no love lost there. Boehner would probably be tickled to see him go. So perhaps there's hope.

Enter Jim Sherow.

Jim is a Professor of History on the faculty of Kansas State University with a specialty in the agricultural history of Western Kansas. He has served as City Commission member/Mayor of Manhattan, Kansas, a city with a council-manager system. His wife, Bonnie, is also on the Kansas State history faculty, and the two run a bed and breakfast together.

Back in January, Jim introduced himself in a guest post on the blog "Down With Tyranny": Why The Farm Bill Is Crucial For Kansas-- And For The Rest Of America. In the post, Jim called out Huelskamp for holding the Farm Bill hostage for larger cuts to the SNAP program. He spoke about the importance of food aid:

In addition to making sure farms are able to stay afloat, the farm bill is also supposed to provide nutritional support for Americans who need it the most. The food stamp program (aka SNAP, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) became part of the farm bill during President Eisenhower's administration when representatives from farming districts recognized that they needed the political support from urban areas if they were to have any chance of using taxpayer dollars to subsidize farming. Food stamps aid many more urban folks than rural and go primarily to children, the disabled, and seniors. The program hardly results in dependencyas the average adult recipient is employed and relies on food stamps for only about ten months.
And about the importance of protecting the Ogallala Aquifer:
And finally, Congress is ignoring that the pumping of the Ogallala Aquifer cannot be indefinitely sustained. Hydrologists know, and as Mr. Huelskamp is well aware, that by 2070 the aquifer in western Kansas will no longer yield its water. This aquifer was produced by melting glaciers tens of thousands of years ago, and receives hardly any recharge. So tapping this source is akin to mining and as we have seen in many areas of the U.S. such as Appalachia, mining economics are very fragile.
He's sounding like good people to me. Here's a video Jim posted on his nascent campaign website talking about "No Labels", which I'm not keen on but may play better with his conservative district.

The primary election isn't held until the first Tuesday in August in Kansas so it is early. But Sherow is sounding pretty good to me weighed against the current occupant of this seat. Hopefully we'll get to know Jim Sherow better in coming weeks.


Discuss

"President Obama is coming for your guns".

We've been hearing that cry from the paranoid right, egged on by the spooky gun industry lobbyist Wayne La Pierre and the National Rifle Association, since before the 2008 Presidential election.

6 years and multiple mass shootings later, our jack-booted Muslim dictator has still not begun the great gun round-up. But no doubt, he's coming. Yes, he's coming.

A convenient moment for the President to come and take at least one gun occurred this past Tuesday when one lone gun nut, apparently celebrating Georgia's new "Guns Everywhere" law, took to a Forsyth County, Georgia park where a Little League baseball game was taking place, pistol tucked in his waistband, taunting anyone who passed: "See my gun? Look, I got a gun and there's nothing you can do about it."  I've never approved of the administration's use of weaponized drones but I would have made an exception in this case.

And he was correct. Despite 22 calls from worried parents to 911, there was nothing Sheriff's deputies could do because he was permitted. What a horrible situation we have created where we have no recourse to take action in a situation like this. We have to wait until someone is harmed. And even then we can no longer depend on the courts to be able to mete out justice as the loathsome "stand your ground" laws proliferate, thanks again to the gun industry and right-wing lobbying groups like ALEC. So no, President Obama is not coming for the guns. Yet gun lobbyist continue to stoke the fears of the paranoid right so that lunatics buy more and more guns and are children are placed at ever increasing risk.

The parents present in this park had good reason to be distraught. Remember this nut in Plainwell, Michigan who posted video of his encounter with police officers while engaging in some kind of warped open carry demonstration walking the town streets? He graduated from simple gun nut to murderer not long after, shooting his girlfriend after an an argument and then turning the gun on himself. (His girlfriend was the daughet of one of the officers who had confronted him).

And now in the the past week we've experienced a whole army of these freaks raising arms against our public officials at the Bundy Ranch. Who wants this this kind of world? Are we going to let Wayne LaPierre and the NRA and their legion of paranoid, dim-witted, gullible followers turn our country into a battle zone in order to further enrich the gun industry? And yet still we fail to hold our legislators feet to the fire, fail to make them pay for their obeisance to the gun industry.

This fall we have another chance. And now we have reinforcements.

This week, as Wayne La Pierre delivered his latest unhinged rant to the NRA's annual meeting, the new organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, commenced its frontal attack on the NRA. Uniting Moms Demand Action and bolstered by $50 million from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Everytown showed up in Indianapolis where the NRA was meeting and held a  press conference to launch a new ad campaign and to publicize a new report, Not Your Grandparents’ NRA, highlighting that organization's extreme positions and the ruthless tactics it has used to block any reasonable gun safety legislation. Here's Everytown's new ad:

Everytown should make a difference in our fight for sane gun policy, but this fall's election is critical. It is so important that we let our Senators and Congressmen hear from us in the roll-up to the fall election and so important that we turn out to vote. A Republican majority in both houses could spell the end of hope to reverse this insanity for a long, long time.

 

Discuss

Segregationist, serial plagiarist, and supporter of armed insurrection against the United States government, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has come to Chicago. To fix our schools. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Yes, thanks to those other fine guardians of our children, the Archdiocese of Chicago (salivating over the prospect of vouchers to replenish its coffers decimated by years of child sex abuse damages), and the Illinois Policy Institute (a libertarian "think tank" bent on privatizing Illinois public schools, perhaps for the personal financial benefit of its executives.).

Senator Paul spoke about the importance of school choice, the ability of parents to utilize public funds to access private schools like those operated by the Archdiocese or other not-for-profit or for-profit charter schools organizations. "School choice" is, of course, the standard Republican euphemism for destroying our national system of free public education and replacing it with chains of McSchools that, by firing experienced teachers and replacing them with lesser skilled individuals and online learning and by cutting school programs to the bare minimum, will take the money we're 'wasting' on public education and put it back where it rightly belongs...in the offshore bank accounts of the 1%.

The efforts of Senator Paul and fellow Republican 'reformers' will re-segregate our school system (a secondary motivation?) creating a two-tiered system where poor children and minorities will flounder in underfunded remnants of the public schools or low-rent charters while wealthier students thrive in private schools enriched with tax dollars.

Senator Paul's attempt to meddle in Chicago's educational system to further his political aspirations came during a week when we learned that, according to U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings, 5 of the top 10 schools in Illinois, including the top 4, are part of the Chicago Public Schools.

It was also this week that the Economic Policy Institute  released a report analyzing the impacts of privatization on low-income students in the Milwaukee Public Schools.  The full report is lengthy and I haven't yet read it in its entirety, but, in a nutshell, it illustrates how privatization is being pushed not because of any benefit to poor kids but because it lines the pockets of corporate investors. Like any other form of privatization of public assets, this is a means of extracting public funds for private benefit. It is theft. Chicagoans don't need to be reminded of what a fiasco the privatization of our parking meters was and this is no different. Republicans are aiding and abetting corporate interests in the theft of our public schools.

We need a militia of voters to to chase Rand Paul back to Kentucky and to say no to all politicians -- Republican and Democratic alike -- who want to steal our public schools. And while we're at it we need to put a load of figurative buckshot in Rahm Emmanuel's ass.

 

 

 

Discuss

Sun Apr 27, 2014 at 02:27 PM PDT

Doctors Behaving Badly

by BlueDuPage

When President Obama was re-elected in 2012, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons' (AAOS) President, John R. Tongue, M.D., released a statement congratulating the President and praising his "success in improving access to health insurance coverage and preventive care, lowering prescription drug costs and implementing consumer safeguards against insurance industry abuse during his first term".

 This is not to say that the Academy has no issues with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). AAOS, while lauding the ACA's improvements in access to care and in reigning in insurance industry abuses, has expressed concerns regarding cost-containment provisions such as the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). This is to be expected with a health reform plan that preserves the system of private insurance as ACA does. All affected industry parties -- practitioners, hospitals, medical device manufacturers, and insurance companies -- are contending to minimize impacts of the ACA to their own bottom line. But generally, the AAOS response to the ACA has been constructive.

One Tucson, Arizona orthopedic surgeon has responded to the arrival of 'Obamacare" in a decidedly less constructive manner. According to a report by Tucson TV station KVOA, Dr. David Martin is refusing to treat 'Obamacare' patients.

A Tucson woman, Julie Miller,  in need of knee arthroplasty contacted Dr. Martin's office to set up an appointment and was told that the doctor does not see patients insured through 'Obamacare'. Miller purchased a Blue Cross insurance policy through the healthcare marketplace. Dr. Martin participates in the Blue Cross network attached to Miller's plan and would be reimbursed according to the same fee schedule as any other Blue Cross patient. So there was no evident financial downside for Dr. Martin.

KVOA attempted to contact Dr. Martin for comment but he declined. An appointment scheduler in his office confirmed his refusal to treat 'Obamacare' patients.

Dr. Martin's refusal to provide care to Julie Miller and other patients like her who gained health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, despite his willingness to accept payment from Blue Cross for other patients, appears to be a petulant political protest -- a temper tantrum -- and he deserves to be publicly shamed for it. 

But perhaps Ms. Miller is better off. She will undoubtedly find a reputable surgeon more than willing to provide her with the needed care. And would you want to be treated by a physician with an attitude like Dr. Martin's? I know that I wouldn't.

 

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