Friday Reads: The Overlords are winning

&"Good Morning!

The combination of low voting patterns and big money in politics is finally coming to an ugly fruition.  The plan was all laid out in the Powell memo of 1971.  Its leaking to Jack Anderson will probably be remembered as one of the last acts of a press free of uber-corporate ownership and manipulation. It was also the beginning of the framework that ultimately led to the Citizen’s United case 5 years ago establishing a freedom of speech right for corporations best encapsulated by Mitt Romney’s famous gaffe in Iowa of “Corporations are people, my friend”.

Though Powell’s memo was not the sole influence, the Chamber and corporate activists took his advice to heart and began building a powerful array of institutions designed to shift public attitudes and beliefs over the course of years and decades. The memo influenced or inspired the creation of the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Accuracy in Academe, and other powerful organizations. Their long-term focus began paying off handsomely in the 1980s, in coordination with the Reagan Administration’s “hands-off business” philosophy.

Most notable about these institutions was their focus on education, shifting values, and movement-building — a focus we share, though often with sharply contrasting goals.*  (See our endnote for more on this.)

So did Powell’s political views influence his judicial decisions? The evidence is mixed. Powell did embrace expansion of corporate privilege and wrote the majority opinion in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, a 1978 decision that effectively invented a First Amendment “right” for corporations to influence ballot questions. On social issues, he was a moderate, whose votes often surprised his backers.

The combination of the Southern Strategy, the business interests behind the Powell Memo, and the insipid and wrongly labelled “Moral Majority” has created an unholy trinity of neoconfederates,  billionaire plutocrats, and christianist extremists that now drive the Republican Party.   We now have a SCOTUS and majority in Congress set to undo many of the advances of the late 20th century.  A lot of this came from the mind of Nixon and his cronies.

… Democrats were expanding rights while the Republicans wanted to narrow them or keep them restrictive.

This realignment did not exactly start with Nixon or end with him. Barry Goldwater had voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act (although he had supported other civil rights bills), but the GOP in general then was unencumbered by a Southern constituency and its leadership often favored civil rights.

After Nixon, though, there was no turning back. In 1980, Ronald Reagan — ever the innocent — went to Mississippi and the Neshoba County Fair to tastelessly proclaim his belief in “states’ rights.” Nearby, three civil rights worked had been killed just 16 years earlier, protesting one of those bogus rights — the right to segregate the races. Reagan never acknowledged any appeal to racism. Racists took it as a wink anyway.

At one time, a good many African-Americans voted Republican — the party of Lincoln, after all. Jackie Robinson initially supported Nixon , as did Joe Louis. The former heavyweight champion had even supported a Republican in the 1946 congressional campaign against Rep. Helen Gahagan Douglas, a liberal civil rights advocate, whose California district was substantially black. As late as the 1970s, there were African-American enclaves in Maryland that voted Republican.

The damage Nixon did to his own party, not to mention the rights of African-Americans and the cause of racial comity, has lasted long after the stench of Watergate has dispersed. It not only persuaded blacks that the Republican Party was inhospitable to them, but it in effect welcomed racists to the GOP fold. Dixiecrats moved smartly to the right.

Excuse me for extrapolating, but segregationists are not merit scholarship winners. Racism is dumb, and so are racists. The Democratic Party showed racists the door.

The GOP welcomed them and, of course, their fellow travelers — creationists, gun nuts, anti-abortion zealots, immigrant haters of all sorts and homophobes. Increasingly, the Republican Party has come to be defined by what it opposes and not what it proposes. Its abiding enemy is modernity.

The first death knell of democracy was probably the undoing of the Fairness Doctrine followed closely by the demonization of labor via the busting of the Air sipaphotosthree072008-SIPAUSA.30068566000008.sm-aTraffic Controller’s Union.  There are a lot of reasons why the FCC should try to bring it back.  The primary one I can think of is the disservice the Fox Propaganda network does to the country in terms of Science and truth.  There was some paranoia in the right wing last year that the FCC was thinking about a Fairness Doctrine 2.0.

Under the controversial doctrine, which the FCC abandoned in 1987 and formally took off the books in 2011, the agency required radio and TV stations to air opposing views on controversial issues.

Pai expressed alarm that the FCC could soon start questioning why Fox spends so much time covering the attacks in Benghazi, or why NBC has focused on the controversy over lane closures in New Jersey.

House Republicans made a similar accusation in December, claiming the FCC was working on a “Fairness Doctrine 2.0.”

“Given the widespread calls for the commission to respect the First Amendment and stay out of the editorial decisions of reporters and broadcasters, we were shocked to see that the FCC is putting itself back in the business of attempting to control the political speech of journalists,” Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote in a letter to the FCC.

 “It is wrong, it is unconstitutional, and we urge you to put a stop to this most recent attempt to engage the FCC as the ‘news police.’

The controversy stems from a study the agency plans to conduct on “critical information needs.” The FCC is required by law to study ways to eliminate barriers to entry for small media businesses.

Among other things, the agency plans to ask TV journalists about their “news philosophy” and “the process by which stories are selected.” The study will gather data on “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.” The FCC also wants to examine how local TV stations cover “critical information” such as “economic opportunities” and the “environment”.

image13There have been many more instances of cases sent to the Supreme Court and end runs by states around civil rights and liberties like the christianists’ obsession with ending a woman’s right to an abortion without exception in the first two trimesters.  We’re beginning to see some of the final steps in the plan this year.  We’ve watched the court gut the Voting Rights Act.  Are they now set to gut the major provisions of the Fair Housing Act?

A sharply divided US Supreme Court on Wednesday took up a challenge to the Fair Housing Act (FHA) in an action that liberal critics say could gut the major civil rights provision.

At issue in a case from Dallas, Texas, is whether the housing law authorizes lawsuits over racially neutral measures that nonetheless disproportionately impact minority residents.

Liberals support the so-called disparate impact theory of civil rights enforcement, while conservatives warn that such an approach could lead to racial quotas in housing and other areas.

The case has attracted significant attention, with friend-of-the-court briefs filed by various civil rights groups, 17 states, and 20 cities and counties. On the other side, briefs have been filed by a number of conservative groups and business associations, including insurance companies, banks, finance companies, and home builders.

The FHA prohibits anyone from refusing to sell, rent, or otherwise make unavailable a house or apartment to a person because of their race, religion, or national origin. There is no dispute about this aspect of the law.

After the FHA was enacted in 1968, federal courts and agencies began embracing a broader interpretation of the law’s scope, concluding that, in addition to barring intentional discrimination, the statute also authorizes lawsuits when housing decisions disproportionately harm minority groups.

The case before the high court involves a lawsuit challenging decisions by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs in awarding tax credits for low-income housing in Dallas. The Housing Department sought to provide new affordable housing in areas where existing housing was blighted or nonexistent. It sought to do so under race-neutral criteria.

Despite that goal, not everyone was satisfied with the agency’s performance. A Dallas-based group seeking to foster racial integration, the Inclusive Communities Project, sued the Housing Department because it said the agency had failed to provide adequate opportunities for low-income housing in Dallas’ more affluent suburbs.

Also percolating its way through Congress is a ban on all abortions after 20 weeks based on the nonscientific nonsense that the nervous system of a fetus is developed enough at that point to experience pain.  It is not.   It’s the usual, sneaky, lying way that religionists use to confuse the easily confused. A controversial provision caused the bill to be tabled.  Republican Congresswomen were upset by a redefinition of rape tucked away in the bill that sought to ensure that only narrowly approved definitions of “rape” would be treated differently. 

It’s one thing to campaign on stopping abortion—it has been a largely successful GOP plank since Roe v. Wade, and one that helped create a juggernaut connection between evangelical Christians and the Republican Party. (Yes, there have been occasional hiccups.) But it’s a different and more complicated matter to actually institute sweeping restrictions successfully.

Republicans have sought for years to ban abortions after 20 weeks. (Molly Redden has a definitive history.) The House GOP has been trying directly for the last few years, but each attempt has come to nought. Besides, even a successful House bill would have run into the Democratic Senate. But with a newly enormous majority in the House and a newly minted majority in the Senate, Republicans finally had a chance to get a bill to the president. While Obama would surely reject it, it would be a powerful political gesture and please the party’s pro-life allies. Even better, they had the opportunity to schedule the vote to coincide with the March for Life in Washington on Thursday.

They almost made it, but then the GOP coalition fell apart—not on wavering opposition to abortion overall, but on the technicalities. Like many such proposals, the bill would have allowed for exceptions in a few limited cases, such as rape. This bill made rape an exception, but only if a woman reported it to law enforcement. As Ed O’Keefe reports, that set off alarms for a bloc of female Republican lawmakers. They worried that the rape-reporting restriction was too strict, and that the bill would alienate young voters and women from the party. And so Wednesday evening, GOP leaders abruptly yanked the bill. Instead, the House passed a less restrictive bill Thursday, permanently banning federal money from going to pay for abortions. A ban already exists, but it has to be renewed every year.

The vise in which the party finds itself is easy to understand but hard to loosen. On the one hand, the party’s religious base has worked hard for Republicans and expects to see results, and most elected officeholders are personally pro-life. (Pulling the bill when thousands of the most fervent pro-lifers are in Washington must be an especially bitter pill for leaders.) But everyone knows the GOP faces a demographic time bomb, since its voters are older and whiter and more pro-life than the general population, so it’s risky to do anything that might make it harder to win them over.

North Carolina’s Renee Ellmers, one of the prominent dissenters in this case and now a target for grassroots conservative fury, is no swing-district moderate. She won reelection in November by defeating American Idol also-ran Clay Aiken by a whopping 18 points. Ellmers removed her name as a sponsor, then said she would vote for the bill—but still requested that no vote be held until concerns could be addressed.

It’s a surprising and little-known fact that opinions about abortion have barely budged in the American public in the 42 years since Roe. As Karlyn Bowman and Jennifer Marsico wrote for The Atlantic, despite years of heated debate, a slight majority of Americans still consistently back legal abortion, even as they personally oppose it. The GOP has found great success at enacting restrictions in states it dominates.

Indeed, it seems that Republican men want certain exemptions to the act of “rape”.   It’s amazing to see that Republican women rebelled at the idea of “legitimate rape”.

In sum, some Republican women basically shamed the House into dropping the vote for the bill, mostly because they’re worried it’s going to kick off another “legitimate rape” debacle as male Republicans go on cable TV to brag about the bill and are asked to explain why they only allow for rape exceptions if the victims have reported to the police.

What’s really amazing about this story is that Rep. Renee Ellmers and other female Republicans were pretty much guaranteed to support the bill if the male Republicans allowed for what is really a minor tweak in the language, allowing the rape exception to cover all rape victims, not just the minority that file police reports. After all, this bill is just a symbolic gesture, a wet kiss to the Bible-thumpers amassing on the Hill today for the annual rite of lady-hating sex phobia known as the March for Life. Obama was going to veto it anyway. They had nothing to lose by expanding the definition of “rape” to mean any time a man forces sex on a woman. In fact, they should have welcomed the change, because the original language would have meant reporters asking male Republicans why they require women to file police reports to be believed, which in turn means someone was bound to start talking about “legitimate rape”. Ellmers is hardly some kind of political genius. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where this was headed.

So I’m forced to conclude the reason that so many male Republicans were unwilling to concede this teeny weeny issue is that it was really important to them to pass a bill that formally suggests that women frequently lie about being raped and should be assumed to be lying until a man, in this case a police officer, blesses her account of what happened.

It would be easy to see all of this as the last vestiges of old, white male privilege.  Afterall, the news is full of things like this: “A Shocking Number of Americans Under 30 Have No Religion — This Country Is Going to Change.”  Again, I keep hoping that we’ll be able to dance on the graves of the Koch Brothers, Pat Robertson, Antonin Scalia, Phyliss Schafly and the like and that it will all go away. Still, it took like 40 years for them to undo so many things.  It seems like it will take longer than that to put it all back together again and actually make progress.

And as the Keystone Pipeline Boondoggle snakes its way through this very corrupt Congress, we get news of two pipeline disasters.  The first one is in Montana. 

Walter-Cronkite-Earth-Week-poster-web

A second large oil spill into Montana’s Yellowstone River in less than four years is reviving questions about oversight of the nation’s aging pipeline network.

Investigators and company officials on Wednesday were trying to determine the cause of the 40,000-gallon spill that contaminated downstream water supplies in the city of Glendive.

Sen. Jon Tester said Saturday’s spill from the decades-old Poplar Pipeline was avoidable, but “we just didn’t have the folks on the ground” to prevent it.

The Montana Democrat told The Associated Press more frequent inspections by regulators are needed, and older pipelines should face stricter safety standards.

“We need to take a look at some of these pipelines that have been in the ground for half a century and say, ‘Are they still doing a good job?'” Tester said.

The latest spill comes as Republicans and some Democrats, including Tester, want the Obama administration to approve TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf.

Keystone would cross the Yellowstone roughly 20 miles upstream of the Poplar Pipeline spill.

The second is in North Dakota where three million gallons of fracking brine spilled.

Almost 3 million gallons of saltwater drilling waste spilled from a North Dakota pipeline earlier this month, a spill that’s now being called the state’s largest since the North Dakota oil boom began.

The brine, which leaked from a ruptured pipeline about 15 miles from the city of Williston, has affected two creeks, but it doesn’t currently pose a threat to drinking water or public health. The pipeline’s operator — Summit Midstream Partners — discovered the spill on Jan. 6, but officials didn’t find out about the true size of the spill until this week.

The pipeline company has been trying to clean up the spill by vacuuming water from the creek, but in doing so, they’re also capturing a lot of fresh water.

“The problem is that … the creekbed is kinda being replenished with water so we extract, it fills; we extract, it fills,” John Morgan, a spokesman for Summit Midstream told the Grand Forks-Herald.

North Dakota Department of Health Environmental Health Section Chief Dave Glatt said he hasn’t seen any impacts to wildlife yet, but officials won’t likely know the full impact until all the ice melts. Officials have discovered chloride concentrations in Blacktail Creek as high as 92,000 milligrams per liter — far higher than normal concentrations of about 10 to 20 milligrams per liter.

“That has the ability to kill aquatic life and so we’ll want to see if the aquatic life was able to get out of the way, and if they weren’t, how badly they were impacted,” Glatt said.

Greed, religious extremism, and bigotry!  Say hello to SCOTUS and the new Congress!

I find all of this very, very depressing. What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Friday Reads

newstand Good Morning!

There appear to be a few interesting headlines up this morning for a good change.  Some of them actually involve stories that we’ve followed here for some time.  I have a few things involving the Gulf Coast, Oil Spills, and Coastal Restoration.  The breaking news is that Halliburton is going to plead guilty in the Gulf Gusher case.

Oilfield services giant Halliburton has agreed to plead guilty to destroying evidence in connection with the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, the Justice Department (DOJ) announced Thursday evening.Halliburton was the cement contractor on BP’s ill-fated Macondo well that blew out in April of 2010. The blowout and explosion of Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and ultimately dumped several million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.Halliburton has agreed to pay the “maximum-available statutory fine,” will be subject to three years of probation and continue cooperating with the federal government’s ongoing criminal probe, DOJ said in a summary of the case.

 I’m not sure if you have heard this news but there is an additional leaking oil rig in the Gulf right now.  It’s spewing natural gas and has been on fire.  Forty-Seven folks were rescued from the rig about two days ago.

A fire has broken out on a rig drilling for gas in the Gulf of Mexico, 55 miles (85km) off the Louisiana coast, US officials say.

A blowout at the well on Tuesday morning forced the evacuation of 44 workers from the platform.

US Coast Guard and federal safety officials are still trying to assess the potential hazards.

The area was hit by the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded in 2010, leaking millions of gallons of oil.

Eleven oil rig workers were killed in what was the worst US offshore disaster.

The latest blowout was not of that magnitude, officials told the Associated Press news agency.

On Wednesday morning the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) said the fire was damaging the rig structure.

“As the rig fire continues, the beams supporting the derrick and rig floor have folded and have collapsed over the rig structure,” the agency said in a statement.

But after an aerial tour of the rig, no gas sheen was visible on the water surface.

One Coast Guard cutter, Pompano, is near the scene and another, Cypress, is travelling to the area.

In addition, “a third vessel equipped with fire-fighting capability and improved monitoring system is enroute,” the BSEE added.

The portable drilling rig – which operates in shallow waters of 154ft (47m) – is owned by Hercules, a contractor for the exploration and production company Walter Oil & Gas Corporation.

The BSEE said the fire broke out while workers were completing construction of a “sidetrack well”. The purpose of the sidetrack well was not immediately clear, but industry analysts say they are sometimes used if there is a problem with the main well.

The most disgusting of the headlines explains the actions of my idiot Governor Bobby Jindal who is trying to protect the oil and gas industry from local governments trying to get coastal restoration and clean up funds.  He is trying to interfere with them and trying to get the taxpayers to foot the bills.

The board that oversees the levees in the New Orleans region filed suit in state court Wednesday against about 100 leading oil and gas companies, asking that they repair damage done by the industry’s network of access roads and pipeline canals, which has contributed to the loss of thousands of acres of wetlands a year since the 1930s.

But by the end of the day, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority had overstepped its purview, and he demanded that it cancel contracts with the four law firms that had agreed to handle the case on a contingency basis.

In the suit, the flood authority asks the oil and gas companies to restore the wetlands, which once acted as essential buffers against storms. Without them, the authority said, too much pressure is placed on its levees, which were designed as protection against Mississippi River floods, not as bulwarks against the Gulf of Mexico.

Jindal, however, said the best strategy is to persuade the federal government to share more of its royalties with states to finance restoration projects.

The flood authority’s lawsuit — and Jindal’s response — mark another chapter in a state where politics and oil have been closely entwined for decades. Onshore oil production in Louisiana began in the early 20th century and peaked at 1.35 million barrels a day in 1970, according to the Energy Information Administration, providing the industry with influence.

“For nearly a century, the oil and gas industry has continuously and relentlessly traversed, dredged, drilled and extracted in coastal Louisiana,” the flood protection authority said in its lawsuit. “It reaps enormous financial gain. . . . Yet it also ravages Louisiana’s coastal landscape.”

The agency added that “an extensive network of oil and gas access and pipeline canals slashes the coastline at every angle, functioning as a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction.” It said that the canal network allowed “corrosive saltwater” to flow into interior coastal lands, “killing vegetation and carrying away mountains of soil.”

“What remains of these coastal lands is so seriously diseased that if nothing is done, it will slip into the Gulf of Mexico by the end of this century, if not sooner,” the lawsuit asserts.

I am wishing and hoping and praying that our next Fed Chair will be a woman.  Specifically, I am pulling for Janet Yellen.  You may recall that I lived blogged a speech she gave about 1 1/2 years ago for the FMA Conference in Denver where I was presenting a paper. She has a lot of fans and her reported competition is Larry Summers.

A letter circulating among U.S. Senate Democrats in support of Janet Yellen’s candidacy to succeed Ben Bernanke as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Bloomberg reports.

It was drafted by Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, and it is said to have signatures of other Democrats.

Bernanke’s term ends this year, and many expect him to retire.

Yellen, who is currently the Vice Chair of the Fed, has been long considered the favorite for the position.

But in more recent periods, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers has emerged as someone who could also take the vacated spot.

Just yesterday, Ezra Klein wrote a piece titled “Right now, Larry Summers is the front-runner for Fed Chair.

“President Obama really likes Summers,” said Klein. “And he’s surrounded by Summers’s longtime colleagues and friends.”

Earlier today, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi praised Yellen during an interview with Bloomberg’s Al Hunt.

“I think it would be great to have a woman — first woman chairman of the Fed, no question about it,” she said. “She’s extremely talented. It’s not just that she’s a woman.”

 Robert Reich put the choice a bit more succinctly on his facebook page yesterday.

Word in Washington is President Obama will nominate either Janet Yellen or Larry Summers to be the next Fed chief. It’s not quite as important a decision as a Supreme Court nomination but it’s a very big one: The Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board is the single most important economic player in the United States. So who would be best — Yellen or Summers? I know both fairly well. Janet Yellen has impeccable credentials. She’s now vice-chairman of the Fed, after having been head of the San Francisco branch of the Fed, and before that, an economics professor at Berkeley. In 2007 she was one of the very few voices sounding the alarm about the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Not incidentally, she’s also a delightful person. Those who have worked with her tell me she listens carefully to all views, and is respectful of her employees. If selected, she’d be the first woman to head the Fed.

I worked with Larry Summers in the Clinton administration, where he eventually became Treasury Secretary. Under Obama, he ran the National Economic Council. Personally, I like Larry. He’s very bright, and able to see the nub of most policy problems very quickly. But he has the tact and personality of a bull in a China shop, and he’s been notoriously wrong about a few big things. In the late 1990s, he urged Clinton to sign off on legislation killing off Glass-Steagall, and was also part of the Rubin-Greenspan cabal that rejected the arguments of Brooksley Born, then chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, for why the CFTC should regulate financial derivatives. Summers’ subsequent tenure as president of Harvard came to an end after he suggested one reason women were not well-represented in the sciences is they don’t have the mind for it. As chair of the National Economic Council under Obama, he and Tim Geithner, then Treasury Secretary, bailed out Wall Street while refusing to impose tough conditions on the banks.

Yet another person speaks out on the lack of critical and rational thought in our national conversation.  This is from Henry A. Giroux at Truthout. It’s an essay that is worth reading.

America has become amnesiac – a country in which forms of historical, political, and moral forgetting are not only willfully practiced but celebrated. The United States has degenerated into a social order that is awash in public stupidity and views critical thought as both a liability and a threat. Not only is this obvious in the presence of a celebrity culture that embraces the banal and idiotic, but also in the prevailing discourses and policies of a range of politicians and anti-public intellectuals who believe that the legacy of the Enlightenment needs to be reversed.  Politicians such as Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich along with talking heads such as Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck and Anne Coulter are not the problem, they are symptomatic of a much more disturbing assault on critical thought, if not rational thinking itself.  Under a neoliberal regime, the language of authority, power and command is divorced from ethics, social responsibility, critical analysis and social costs.

These anti-public intellectuals are part of a disimagination machine that solidifies the power of the rich and the structures of the military-industrial-surveillance-academic complex by presenting the ideologies, institutions and relations of the powerful as commonsense. [1] For instance, the historical legacies of resistance to racism, militarism, privatization and panoptical surveillance have long been forgotten and made invisible in the current assumption that Americans now live in a democratic, post-racial society. The cheerleaders for neoliberalism work hard to  normalize dominant institutions and relations of power through a vocabulary and public pedagogy that create market-driven subjects, modes of consciousness, and ways of understanding the world that promote accommodation, quietism and passivity.  Social solidarities are torn apart, furthering the retreat into orbits of the private that undermine those spaces that nurture non-commodified knowledge, values, critical exchange and civic literacy. The pedagogy of authoritarianism is alive and well in the United States, and its repression of public memory takes place not only through the screen culture and institutional apparatuses of conformity, but is also reproduced through a culture of fear and a carceral state that imprisons more people than any other country in the world.

One last interesting item that’s worth looking at.  More than 3.700 photos of Marilyn Monroe are going on the auction block in LA.

The photos — plus negatives, slides and copyrights — are part of a collection of more than 75,000 images taken by fashion photographer Milton Greene in the 1950s and 1960s.

They will go on the block both at the auction house and online on Saturday.

By pairing the images with their copyrights, buyers will be allowed to print, sell and earn royalties off the photos.

The photographer’s son Joshua Greene said earlier this month in online journal The Huffington Post that it was “a bad business deal.”

The archive also includes photos by Greene of Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Farrah Fawcett, Jane Fonda, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.

Some of the Monroe photos depict a racy starlet against a black background, covered in a black sweater that highlights her bare skin.

Other more innocent shots show Monroe in a white coat against a white background.

Greene and Monroe met in 1953 at a photo shoot for Look magazine, when the photographer was 26.

When Greene sent her a copy of the images, Monroe responded with two dozen roses and phoned to say they were the most beautiful photos she had ever seen, according to the Profiles in History auction house.

During the next four years, until Monroe married Arthur Miller, Greene took more than 5,000 pictures of her, the auction house said on its website.

Greene worked for magazines such as Vogue, Glamour and Harper’s Bazaar during his long career.

Be sure to check out the photos.  Some of them are truly amazing.

So, that’s enough to get us started this morning.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Friday Reads: Two Years Gone and where has all the Sealife Gone?

Good Morning!

This Morning Reads will have a theme.  Two years ago the Gulf was oozing nasty, icky, oil.  Like Hurricane Katrina, it’s an event that’s changed our lives down here in ways that are hard to explain and share.  We’ve not fully recovered from either of these events.  That’s not exactly what the Oil, the seafood, or the tourist industry wants any one to tell you.  It’s not what state, local, and federal governments and agencies want you to know either.

But there it is.  There is still devastation. There are huge problems. The folks that created the problems are not being held to account.

The stories I will share are human, animal, vegetable, and mineral.  The BP Spill turned an entire ecosystem and way of living inside out.  It’s being covered up by smiling people inviting you to our Gulf Coast Cities and Beaches in ads.  It’s being hidden behind pictures of big heaping plates of staged seafood buffets.  What’s hidden behind the ads and the promos is disturbing science, economics, medicine, and social upheaval.  Here’s somethings you may want to know from our local news stations, scientists, and doctors.

From wusf News: Two Years after the BP Oil Spill: The Oil You Cannot See

On some Florida Panhandle beaches, swimmers can come off the beach with oil from the BP oil spill still on their skin — two years after that environmental disaster.

And, even after showering, the oil can still be on their skin. Only an ultraviolent light can show it.

Tampa Bay Times environmental reporter Craig Pittman says that’s because leaked oil, mixed with chemical dispersant sprayed on the spill two years ago to break it up, is pooling in some shallow waters of Panhandle beaches.

And the mixture actually accelerates absorption by human skin.  Seen under the ultraviolet light, it’s kind of creepy.

From The Nation: Investigation: Two Years After the BP Spill, A Hidden Health Crisis Festers

n August 2011 the Government Accountability Project (GAP) began its investigation of the public health threats associated with the oil spill cleanup, the results of which will be released this summer. “Over twenty-five whistleblowers in our investigation have reported the worst public health tragedies of any investigation in GAP’s thirty-five-year history,” Shanna Devine, GAP legislative campaign coordinator, told me.

Witnesses reported a host of ailments, including eye, nose and throat irritation; respiratory problems; blood in urine, vomit and rectal bleeding; seizures; nausea and violent vomiting episodes that last for hours; skin irritation, burning and lesions; short-term memory loss and confusion; liver and kidney damage; central nervous system effects and nervous system damage; hypertension; and miscarriages.

Cleanup workers reported being threatened with termination when they requested respirators, because it would “look bad in media coverage,” or they were told that respirators were not necessary because the chemical dispersant Corexit was “as safe as Dawn dishwashing soap.” Cleanup workers and residents reported being directly sprayed with Corexit, resulting in skin lesions and blurred eyesight. Many noted that when they left the Gulf, their symptoms subsided, only to recur when they returned.

According to the health departments of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, from June to September 2010, when they stopped keeping track, more than 700 people sought health services with complaints “believed to be related to exposure to pollutants from the oil spill.” But this is likely an extreme undercount, as most people did not know to report their symptoms as related to the oil spill, nor did their physicians ask. Like virtually everyone I have interviewed on the Gulf Coast over the past two years—including dozens for this article—Nicole Maurer’s doctors did not even inquire about her children’s exposure to oil or Corexit.

It will take years to determine the actual number of affected people. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), with financial support from BP, is conducting several multiyear health impact studies, which are only just getting under way. I spoke with all but one of the studies’ national and Gulf Coast directors. “People were getting misdiagnosed for sure,” says Dr. Edward Trapido, director of two NIEHS studies on women’s and children’s health and associate dean for research at the Louisiana State University School of Public Health. “Most doctors simply didn’t know what questions to ask or what to look for.” There are only two board-certified occupational physicians in Louisiana, according to Trapido, and only one also board-certified as a toxicologist: Dr. James Diaz, director of the Environmental and Occupa-tional Health Sciences Program at Louisiana State University.

Diaz calls the BP spill a toxic “gumbo of chemicals” to which the people, places and wildlife of the Gulf continue to be exposed.

From a George Washington Blog Post Crossposted at Naked Capitalism: The Gulf Ecosystem Is Being Decimated.  This is a huge list of sources covering the many problems.

 New York Times: “Gulf Dolphins Exposed to Oil Are Seriously Ill, Agency Says

MSNBC: Gulf shrimp scarce this season (and see the Herald Tribune‘s report)

Mother Jones: Eyeless shrimp are being found all over the Gulf

NYT: Oil Spill Affected Gulf Fish’s Cell Function, Study Finds

CBS:Expert: BP spill likely cause of sick Gulf fish (and see the Press Register’s report)

  Study confirms oil from Deepwater spill entered food chain

Pensacola News Journal: “Sick fish” archive

Agence France Presse: Mystery illnesses plague Louisiana oil spill crews

MSNBC: Sea turtle deaths up along Gulf, joining dolphin trend

MSNBC:Exclusive: Submarine Dive Finds Oil, Dead Sea Life at Bottom of Gulf of Mexico

AP: BP oil spill the culprit for slow death of deep-sea coral, scientists say (and see the Guardian and AFP‘s write ups)

A recent report also notes that there are flesh-eating bacteria in tar balls of BP oil washing up on Gulf beaches

And all of that lovely Corexit dispersant sprayed on water, land and air? It inhibits the ability of microbes to break down oil, and allows oil and other chemicals to be speed past the normal barriers of human skin.

Just google up the Legacy of the BP Oil Spill and feast your eyes on the eyeless shrimp,  lesions on fish, and all the dead sea mammals washing up on Gulf Cost beaches.  This is from AJ.

“The fishermen have never seen anything like this,” Dr Jim Cowan told Al Jazeera. “And in my 20 years working on red snapper, looking at somewhere between 20 and 30,000 fish, I’ve never seen anything like this either.”

Dr Cowan, with Louisiana State University’s Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences started hearing about fish with sores and lesions from fishermen in November 2010.

Cowan’s findings replicate those of others living along vast areas of the Gulf Coast that have been impacted by BP’s oil and dispersants.

Gulf of Mexico fishermen, scientists and seafood processors have told Al Jazeera they are finding disturbing numbers of mutated shrimp, crab and fish that they believe are deformed by chemicals released during BP’s 2010 oil disaster.

Along with collapsing fisheries, signs of malignant impact on the regional ecosystem are ominous: horribly mutated shrimp, fish with oozing sores, underdeveloped blue crabs lacking claws, eyeless crabs and shrimp – and interviewees’ fingers point towards BP’s oil pollution disaster as being the cause.

This AJ article explains that “Nearly two years after BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, fishermen and scientists say things are getting worse.”

Fishermen, in particular, are seeing their way of life threatened with extinction – both from lack of an adequate legal settlement and collapsing fisheries.

One of these people, Greg Perez, an oyster fisherman in the village of Yscloskey, Louisiana, has seen a 75 per cent decrease in the amount of oysters he has been able to catch.

“Since the spill, business has been bad,” he said. “Sales and productivity are down, our state oyster grounds are gone, and we are investing personal money to rebuild oyster reefs, but so far it’s not working.”

Perez, like so many Gulf Coast commercial fisherman, has been fishing all his life. He said those who fish for crab and shrimp are “in trouble too”, and he is suing BP for property damage for destroying his oyster reefs, as well as for his business’ loss of income.

People like Perez make it possible for Louisiana to provide 40 per cent of all the seafood caught in the continental US.

But Louisiana’s seafood industry, valued at about $2.3bn, is now fighting for its life.

We actually see all this reported in the local media.  We see the pictures. We live the effects.  I completely admit to having scaled back my consumption of seafood since the spill.  It’s just not the same and I don’t trust it.  But, if you watch the ads that BP runs on TV stations around our neighboring states and listen to the deafening response by governments, you think it all just disappeared.  They keep saying everything is safe and it’s all back to normal. Well, it isn’t.  If you ask me, I think it’s just going to get worse.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Goodbye Flipper?

Rick O'Perry, right, and another dolphin trainer with Flipper

Flipper, an Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphin, was one of the biggest television stars from 1964 – 1967. There were actually 4 dolphins who played Flipper on the screen.  Most of the series was filmed behind the scenes at the Miami Seaquarium on Virginia Key in Biscayne Bay.  The success of the Flipper franchise made dolphins a lovable species around the world.  The true story of Flipper, the dolphin and the making of the television series, is told by Ric O’Barry, Flipper’s trainer, in his book Behind The Dolphin Smile.  For those of you who were born after the 1960s, you may have seen dolphins in captivity at marine parks or even had the opportunity to swim with dolphins at one of these attractions. (NOTE:  I do not support dolphins in captivity)

Due in large part to people’s exposure to Flipper or dolphins in captive environments, there has been increased interest in and concern for dolphins around the world.  Since the beginning of this year dolphins worldwide have been stranding themselves and dying in record numbers.  The reasons for these deaths are slow in coming.  Bear in mind that the numbers listed below are like the tip of an iceberg.  Only those dolphins found onshore are listed.  Those who died at sea, whose bodies were never discovered and/or recovered are not included in the mortality/stranding counts.

THE GULF STATES – GULF OF MEXICO – February, 2010 – now

When the first report of the explosion and oil leak of the Deepwater-Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico was announced,  I knew that we were about to witness one of the greatest environmental disasters in the history of the U.S.  It had the potential to outpace the Exxon-Valdez spill off the coast of Alaska – and it did.  In case you never saw the official mortality record from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, their last report from April, 2011 lists the statistics on birds, sea turtles and marine mammals impacted.

Of course, those numbers don’t tell the whole story.  They don’t include unrecovered animals, nor the impact on breeding or toxins passed on to the offspring of the survivors, nor the poisoned food sources available to the survivors.  Please don’t get me wrong.  The people living in the area are exposed to the same toxins, but they, at least, may be treated for the illnesses that result from their exposure.  And, the people aren’t living in the water, surrounded by the oil and corexit, a toxic substance used to disperse the oil.  People also can choose what they will eat, which isn’t the case for the birds, fish, turtles and marine mammals living and swimming in this toxic soup.

Since February of 2010, 693 dolphin deaths have been documented in the Gulf of Mexico.  A good compilation of the news coverage can be found at Reef Relief.

An ongoing die-off of dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico has resulted in 693 carcasses washing ashore. Scientists believe many more dolphins likely died but were never recovered. An investigation is underway to determine whether the BP oil spill is to blame. (Press-Register/Ben Raines)

Many of the dolphins in Barataria Bay, LA are sick, according to researchers.  The AL.com blog has a full story on what researchers have found through taking both blood and tissue samples.

Thirty-two dolphins caught in August in Louisiana’s heavily oiled Barataria Bay were found to suffer from a range of symptoms including anemia, low body weight, hormone deficiencies, liver disease, and lung problems.

Those symptoms are typical of mammals exposed to oil in laboratory experiments, scientists said.

According to the Gulflive.com blog, of the 30 dolphins who washed ashore since January, 2012, 24 have been calves.

“We are dealing with a very unusual mortality,” said Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport. “It is mostly calves. Generally when you see a stranding it is a variety of animals — adults, males, females, young.”

The second anniversary is approaching and the legacy of this catastrophe mostly lives on with those people, animals and plants along the Gulf Coast who survived.  This story from the one year anniversary has some amazing and heartbreaking photos: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2011/04/gulf_oil_spill_one_year_later.html   This recent story paints a more current picture of the state of the Gulf Coast.

Laurel didn’t find dead turtles on a recent stroll on her Gulfport shores, which she now calls “death beach.” But walking along she smelled something bad. After poking around in the sand, she found the nauseating source: a dead baby dolphin’s tail, decomposing and buried not more than a few inches in the sand. An out-of-work shrimper came a long and picked it up, and when he realized what it was he started to sob: “This really ruins my day…” Laurel remembers. Tourists looked at it incredulously, Laurel says, their kids screaming, ‘Mommy, it’s a dolphin’s tail!’

The attention of the rest of the country has turned to other news stories, having been  lulled into a false sense that everything has returned to normal by all of those commercials, funded by BP and the states’ tourist boards.  The bodies of the dead and dying animals tell a different story.  But dolphins, in particular, aren’t just dying along the Gulf Coast.

CAPE COD – January – February, 2012

177 dolphins have stranded themselves in Cape Cod.  Once again the cause or causes of the high number of dolphins ending up on the beaches of Cape Cod are simply guesses.  In mid-February, 11 stranded dolphins were found onshore in Wellfleet.

The remote inlet down Wellfleet’s Herring River is a place where the tides recede fast and far, and that’s left the animals mired in a grayish-brown mud one local calls “Wellfleet mayonnaise.”

News coverage of the incident details the stranding and actions taken to save the dolphins.   Sixty dolphins stranded in Cape Cod.  The full story tells that only 19 could be rescued.

A single dead dolphin calf was found in Queens, NY.

Kim Durham, the foundation’s rescue program director, tells the Daily News there were “no signs of trauma.” Researchers say an increasing number of common dolphins have been spotted in the Northeast in the winter, which may be attributable to climate change and a steady improvement in environmental cleanliness in the waters off the Rockaway peninsula.

Although no official cause for the strandings has been announced, there are some who think Naval operations in the area could be to blame.

Again, just as in the months of January and February Naval activity is taking place in the Atlantic. Even government Funded IFAW Katie Moore who has denied Naval involvement despite evidence of Naval activity can no longer deny the possibility of sound being the source of these tragic deaths along the Atlantic Coastline, “

And these deaths may not be the only ones which may be attributable to sonar type activities taking place in the oceans. 

PERU – February – April 2012

To locate possible oil and/or gas deposits, seismic surveys are conducted with the use of air guns by releasing high pressure air.  This passage from the Canadian Centre for Energy Information report was particularly interesting.

Offshore seismic surveys require government approval and must comply with strict environmental regulations, including a pre-survey environmental assessment. Programs are designed to avoid fish spawning seasons and sensitive fishery areas.  During the first half-hour of a survey, the energy level of the discharges is gradually increased so that fish and aquatic mammals have an opportunity to move out of the area.

That paragraph is telling.  The fish and other marine life are given a full half hour to “leave the area.”  Are these people serious?  Any of the marine life in area will understand the increasing sound waves are a signal to vamoose?  Maybe they should try transmitting in Morse Code, it would make as much sense.  Dolphins, like all cetaceans, use echo location to find food, navigate in their habitat and communicate with each other.  Needless to say, these high pressure sound waves can do massive damage to marine life, especially dolphins and whales.  If you are interested in more detailed information on dolphins and the use and effect of sound, check out this lesson plan:  http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/education/documents/porpoise-marsouin/harbourporpoise_lesson4_e.pdf

Of all these recent stranding episodes, the largest die-off is occurring off the coast of Peru.  Over 3000 dead dolphins have washed ashore since the incident began.  Once again, authorities and researchers are cautious about announcing the cause of the massive numbers of dead dolphins.  Some have attributed the deaths to the search for offshore oil deposits in the ocean floor.    More information, along with photos and video on this massive die- off can be found at The Watchers and at SF GateCNTV  and on the blog StrandedNoMore.

For the time being, drilling for oil is a necessary evil.  There are many downsides to onshore drilling, but drilling offshore has far greater along with potentially catastrophic problems.  This Hub Pages blog entry by Cheryl has a comprehensive discussion of offshore drilling.

It seems evident to me that we, humans, are the culprits in the deaths of these magnificent, highly intelligent animals.  Whether through releasing toxins into the environment or sending shockwaves through the ocean, we are killing them.  Why?  OIL – our endless quest to drill for more and more and more oil.  And our tax dollars continue to subsidize this industry, while these oil companies make vast amounts of profit.  Then we get to pay again, at artificially inflated prices, when we pump the resultant gasoline into our vehicles.  We are complicit, intentionally or not.  But Bill McKibben, of 350.org can say it better than I.

Whether or not the bill passes, those subsidies are worth focusing on.  After all, we’re talking at least $10 billion in freebies and, depending on what you count, possibly as much as $40 billion annually in freebie cash for an energy industry already making historic profits.


Penguin sweaters

The horrible oil spill off Tauranga in New Zealand affected vast numbers of birds, in addition to all the other catastrophes. Some of those birds are little blue penguins. Some of the birds could be cleaned off in time and have been saved.

But it’s essential to prevent the birds from trying to preen their crude oil-covered feathers before the people can bathe them. And for that, there are penguin jumpers. (Or, in the US, “sweaters.”)

little blue penguins in knitted sweaters, looking alert and important. Original photographer unknown.

I’m not sure why two self-important birds make me feel happy, but they do.

Crossposted to Acid Test


Monday Reads

Good Morning!

I’m finishing up a paper today that’s off to be published on Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS). Don’t worry!  I won’t bore you with the details but it’s basically about locating speculation bubbles like the one that happened in real estate markets in the 2000s.  There were a lot of folks that made money off of that ride although most of us little guys lost a lot.  The reason I’m bringing it up is that my first read of the day is a Paul Krugman response to Allan Greenspan’s critique of Obama’s economic policy.  I just wanted to remind you of what a mess the first part of the century has been and that many of the pots and the kettles still appear to be confused about their true nature.  I mean, the entire mess has given me a great research agenda, but at what cost?

Greenspan’s tut tuts Obama’s ability to create economic chaos in the academic journal International Finance (pdf here). While most of us are still trying to figure out what went so horribly wrong, Greenspan is trying to pin the blame on the new guys. I’m going to quote his abstract because it’s just more of the same old same old  from one of the beasts that brought us to this mess and its worth the bask in the arrogance to just remember his access to power.  Greenspan says it’s too much government regulation and Obma activism that’s hampering the recovery and that he can prove it with bad, outdated statistical methods.  This comes from the man that gave Wall Street a lot of cheap money and no regulation so they could go hog wild.  The recovery may be tepid, the stock market may be recovering, but I’ll be damned if there’s any regulation left standing upon which he can float his argument. Oh, Krugman dismisses the methods by which Greenspan infers that it’s government activism and its inherent chaos that’s created a stale recovery.  To be honest, a first year doctoral student would use better methodology and know the literature better.  That really scares me, frankly. What did he do while at the Fed?  Reread The Fountainhead?

So, here’s the bubblemeister’s blowing you know what up you know where with techniques that wouldn’t get me published in a mimeographed neighborhood newsletter let alone International Finance. Why hasn’t this man retired to an island somewhere?

The US recovery from the 2008 financial and economic crisis has been disappointingly tepid. What is most notable in sifting through the variables that might conceivably account for the lacklustre rebound in
GDP growth and the persistence of high unemployment is the unusually low level of corporate illiquid long-term fixed asset investment. As a share of corporate liquid cash flow, it is at its lowest level since 1940.

This contrasts starkly with the robust recovery in the markets for liquid corporate securities. What, then, accounts for this exceptionally elevated level of illiquidity aversion? I break down the broad potential sources, and analyse them with standard regression techniques. I infer that a minimum of half and  possibly as much as three-fourths of the effect can be explained by the shock of vastly greater uncertainties embedded in the competitive, regulatory and financial  environments faced by businesses since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, deriving from the surge in government activism. This explanation is buttressed by comparison with similar conundrums experienced during the 1930s. I conclude that the current government activism is hampering what should be a broadbased robust economic recovery, driven in significant part by the positive wealth effect of a buoyant U.S. and global stock market.

So, here’s Paul Krugman with ‘Rantings of an Ex-Maestro’.

He’s no longer the Man Who Knows; he’s the man who presided over an economy careening to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression — and who saw no evil, heard no evil, refused to do anything about subprime, insisted that derivatives made the financial system more stable, denied not only that there was a national housing bubble but that such a bubble was even possible.

If he wants to redeem himself through hard and serious reflection about how he got it so wrong, fine — and I’d be interested in listening. If he thinks he can still lecture us from his pedestal of wisdom, he’s wasting our time.

Brad Delong actually does some analysis over at his blog Grasping Reality.

I don’t see how this hangs together in any coherent fashion at all.

If businesses are unwilling to invest in illiquid capital out of the fear that government action will impair the value of their investments, businesses must also fear that government action will impair the value of their existing illiquid investments. What is the value of their existing illiquid investments? The value of their existing illiquid investments is nothing more than the stock market value of their companies–liquid stock market value is, in the last analysis, nothing more than the cash flows proceeding from the illiquid investments that companies have made that generate the profits.

A much better and more sensible explanation for the relatively high value that the stock market places on existing illiquid corporate assets and the relatively low value that companies place on illiquid investments to expand their fixed capital is precisely that capacity utilization is low–so why spend more money now building factories when doing so would be more expensive and only add to your idle capacity?

And, indeed, if you ask people running businesses what is their single most important problem, they say that it is not (as they sometimes say it is) taxes; they say that it is not (as they said it was at the start of 2000) the cost and quality of labor; it is not (as they said it was in 2004) the availability and cost of insurance; it is not (as they briefly said it was at the start of 1993) government requirements. What do they say their biggest problem is? Poor sales.

Yup, it’s pretty basic.  You gotta have customers and those customers gotta have jobs and decent paychecks.  That’s the problem right now.

Read the rest of this entry »


New Year’s Eve Reads

Good morning!

Today we begin to say good bye to 2010 and the first decade of the millennium and century!    What a decade and what a year it has been!  I don’t know about you, but just the last five years alone have turned my life upside down. (Think Hurricane Katrina, BP Oil Tsunami, and the financial crisis that has empowered thugs like Governexorcist Jindal to enforce absolute budget austerity on Louisiana and higher education.)   Despite all that, we’re going to have an Airing of the Gratitude thread as part of the-Little-Blog-That-Could’s New Year’s Celebration.  I’ve bought my black eyed peas and cabbage.  Now, I’m making my list of things that I resolve to appreciate for the thread.  I’d like to invite you to think about yours too and join in.   A lot of my gratitude comes under the heading of my daughters, dad and sister, and my friends.  That includes you !  We’re a blogging community that was forged from some really tough political times.

Meanwhile, here are some headlines to gear you up for the coming year and decade.  May things improve for the better!!  May peace and sanity prevail!!  May every one’s health and circumstances improve tremendously!  Many, many  blessings to each and every one of you!

Are you pessimistic or optimistic about the coming year?  A CNN poll  shows a lot of people are optimistic about the the world outlook, but less so about their personal situation. Men are much more optimistic than women.  Where do you fit in?

The Senate appears to have reached its limit on perpetually trying to find 60 votes for cloture and taking every ‘threat’ of a filibuster seriously.  Brian Beutler at TPM is following the reform movement and the possible hurdles it faces.

The consensus package will aim to put an end to “secret holds” (anonymous filibuster threats) and disallow the minority from blocking debate on an issue altogether. Those two reforms are fairly straightforward. The third is a bit more complex. Udall, along with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), say there’s broad agreement on the idea to force old-school filibusters. If members want to keep debating a bill, they’ll have to actually talk. No more lazy filibusters.

But how would that actually work? In an interview Wednesday, Udall explained the ins and outs of that particular proposal.

“What we seem to have the most consensus on, is what I would call… a talking filibuster,” Udall told me. “Rather than a filibuster which is about obstruction.”

As things currently stand, the onus is on the majority to put together 60 votes to break a filibuster. Until that happens, it’s a “filibuster,” but it’s little more than a series of quorum calls, votes on procedural motions, and floor speeches. The people who oppose the underlying issue don’t have to do much of anything if they don’t want to.

Here’s how they propose to change that. Under this plan, if 41 or more senators voted against the cloture motion to end debate, “then you would go into a period of extended debate, and dilatory motions would not be allowed,” Udall explained.

As long as a member is on hand to keep talking, that period of debate continues. But if they lapse, it’s over — cloture is invoked and, eventually, the issue gets an up-or-down majority vote.

DDay at FDL has a thread up that offers a more detailed explanation.  This includes a bit on what is being called ‘continuous debate’ which sounds a lot like that Jimmy Stewart movie “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” or what every one was hoping for when Bernie Sanders started talking a few weeks ago.

After 41 Senators or more successfully maintain a filibuster by voting against cloture, they would have to hold the floor and go into a period of extended debate. Without someone filibustering holding the floor, cloture is automatically invoked, and the legislation moves to an eventual up-or-down vote, under this rule change.

This would institute the actual filibuster. The Majority Leader would have the capacity, which Harry Reid says he doesn’t have now, to force the minority to keep talking to block legislation. It becomes a test of wills at this point – whether the minority wants to hold out for days, or whether the majority wants to move to other legislation.

Here’s hoping we can fix our broken government that is driven by corporate cash and interests and railroaded by imperious Senators.  I’m not very hopeful that congress can actually fix itself, but I guess we’ll see.  I will say that I do think Tom Udall is a good man. He’s one of the people that is fighting for an improved process.

I still have Louisiana and New Orleans on my mind right now. We have a new headline in our ongoing BP Oil Gusher Saga. This is from Raw Story. It appears the company that owns the rig–Transocean–is refusing to co-operate with the federal oil spill probe. I just want to find out what went wrong so we don’t ever repeat it.  I’m sure all they are thinking about is the upcoming lawsuits.

Transocean said the U.S. Chemical Safety Board does not have jurisdiction in the probe, so it doesn’t have a right to the documents and other items it seeks. The board told The Associated Press late Wednesday that it does have jurisdiction and it has asked the Justice Department to intervene to enforce the subpoenas.

Last week, the board demanded that the testing of the failed blowout preventer stop until Transocean and Cameron International are removed from any hands-on role in the examination. It said it’s a conflict of interest. The request is pending.

Our economy is in sad shape down here and a good part of it is due to Transocean’s role in destroying livelihoods and life around the Gulf of Mexico.  Human lives aren’t the only thing still struggling from the gulf gusher.  Here’s some local news on that.

Scientists at the institute of Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport are studying why two endangered manatees died near the Gulf Coast in the past two weeks.

According to the Institute’s Executive Director Dr. Moby Solangi, cold water killed the manatees, but they should have migrated to warmer water.

Scientists are finding an unusually large number of Gulf of Mexico animals out of place since the BP oil spill began.

“It is no different than having a forest fire,” Dr. Solangi said Thursday. “The oil spill expanded, it went thousands of square miles and as their habitat shrunk, these animals moved to areas that were not affected.”

The problem, according to Dr. Solangi, is those unaffected areas were also unfamiliar to the animals.

Too many turtles, for instance, wound up in waters off the Mississippi coast, where they didn’t understand the food supply.

300 turtles died in Mississippi.

Many more were caught by fishermen.

“In the past years, we would get one or two or maybe three animals, this year we had 57,” Dr. Solangi said.

He and his staff at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies are now caring for dozens of sea turtles.

Of course, turtles in distress have to be  swimming through some pretty nasty stuff in their environment. The shores along the Gulf are still oiled. Here’s a story about 168 miles of coast in Louisiana alone.  This is from New Orleans own Times Picayune. Yes, folks, every single story I’m linking to on this is no more than a day old.  We’re still living this nightmare down here.

Louisiana’s coastline continues to be smeared with significant amounts of oil and oiled material from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, with cleanup teams struggling to remove as much as possible of the toxic material by the time migratory birds arrive at the end of February, said the program manager of the Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Teams, which are working for BP and the federal government.

There are 113 miles of Louisiana coastline under active cleanup, with another 55 miles awaiting approval to start the cleanup process, according to SCAT statistics. Teams have finished cleaning almost 72 miles to levels where oil is no longer observable or where no further treatment is necessary.

But that’s not the whole story for the state’s coastline. According to SCAT statistics, there’s another 2,846 miles of beach and wetland areas where oil was once found but is no longer observable or is not treatable.

Gary Hayward, the Newfields Environmental Planning and Compliance contractor who oversees the SCAT program, said that large area will be placed into a new “monitor and maintenance” category, once Louisiana state and local officials agree to the procedures to be used for that category.

“With rare exceptions, most of the marshes still have a bathtub ring that we have all collectively decided we aren’t going to clean any more than we already have because we’d be doing more harm to the marshes than the oil is going to be doing to them,” Hayward said.

Raise your hand  if you heard any thing about any of this on your local newspaper or the national TV stations.  We’re so out of sight and out of mind down here that some times I wonder if we’re even considered part of the country.  You do realize that a majority of water-related commerce and a majority of oil comes through our state, don’t you?

The South American country of Brazil is looking forward to incoming-President Dilma Rousseff.  The Nation has an article that spotlights the country’s first female elected head of state.  I only hope to see a day like that for our country.  I’d also like to end the Reagan legacy and get a real Democrat back in the White House.  Yes, I’m clapping for Tinkerbelle.

When the confetti was still falling after her victory at the polls on October 31, Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president-elect, said, “I want to state my first commitment after the elections: to honor Brazil’s women so that today’s unprecedented result becomes a normal event and may be repeated and enlarged in companies, civil institutions and representative entities of our entire society.”

In a country where women have typically played a limited role in politics, the election of a woman to Brazil’s highest office signals a major break from the past. But Rousseff’s term will likely be marked by continuity with her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Lula, a member of the Workers’ Party (PT), is leaving office with 87 percent support in the polls. An economist, PT bureaucrat, chief of staff under Lula and former guerrilla in the anti-dictatorship movements of the 1960s and ’70s, Rousseff was handpicked by Lula to follow his lead as president. When she is sworn in on January 1, she will inherit Lula’s popular legacy and will be further empowered by the fact that her party and allied parties won a majority of seats in the Senate and Congress. Not even Lula counted on this much support.

Well, at least somewhere, women are getting their due.  I’m getting tired of living through stories where women in the U.S. watch jobs they should have go to less qualified people.  Then, they get to do all the work without the title.  What’s worse is when the boyz club in power make you participate in the charade of celebration and finding the royal heir. Like that legitimizes their malfeasance!  Here’s yet another example in a  WSJ story about Elizabeth Warren searching for a person for the job she would hold if the world weren’t so upside down.  It seems less and less about qualifications and knowledge these days and more and more about appearances and appeasing the old boyz.  Money screams!

White House adviser Elizabeth Warren and a top lieutenant are quietly asking business and consumer groups for names of people who might run the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, people familiar with the matter said.

The hunt suggests that Ms. Warren, a lightning rod for some bankers, might not be selected to lead the bureau, a centerpiece of the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul bill that passed this summer. Still, many liberal groups will push to get her in the post.

President Barack Obama’s choice could signal how he intends to deal with resurgent Republicans in Congress. The feelers to business groups serve as a reminder that any nominee would likely need support from at least seven Republicans in the Senate to win confirmation.

Among the names being discussed are Iowa’s attorney general, Tom Miller; New York state bank regulator Richard Neiman; and former Office of Thrift Supervision director Ellen Seidman.

The reality is Obama fights for nothing but Obama. I know there are other Obama appointments coming up shortly and I’m trying to get a grasp on what I want to discuss with you on the proposed replacements for Larry Summers.  Well, I know what I want to discuss but it’s more like trying to figure out how to describe what I see as the problem. As some one who rides both sides of the finance and economics line, I have some insight that many don’t have.  Finance is where you make the money and it’s really based on chimera.  I know the details and the proofs behind asset pricing models and it’s simply smoke and mirrors.  Economics is where the brains and the real insight exists. There is going to most likely be a bland, uninspired replacement for Larry Summers.  A finance person will undoubtedly win that appointment.  Hence, we will get smoke and mirrors and meaningless numbers.

Once again, it’s the vision thing.  All these appointments seem to reek of employing micromanaging corporate bureaucrats that are part of the problem.  They can crank through the data but they can’t put it into perspective.  As old President Bush used to say, no one seems to be good at the “vision thing”.  No one is crafting a  blue print that incorporates a better big picture based on what we already know.  The Great Depression and the inflationary 70s–and definitely the failures of Reagan’s voodoo economics–are full of lessons that every one seems to be ignoring.   We’re seeing the appointment of types that just muck around in the already mucked up bureaucracy decimated by Dubya Bush whose only inspiration appeared to be blowing things up like a psychopathic third grade with a bunch of firecrackers and a pond full of frogs.

Finance people have tons of numbers in search of a theory.  They crunch that data until they come up with a hypothesis that fits their storyline.   Macroeconomists have a broader sense of what the system needs to look like in order to really change things.  Economics has theory proved endlessly by empiricists.  Finance people have run amok since the 1980s and really, it’s time to end overt data mining and look to bigger principles.

This White House seems really short on values, vision, and a blueprint to carry our country forward into this new decade. We need an economic strategy that includes real job creation; not imaginary ‘saved’ jobs.  We need to unwind any thing that’s too big too fail and empower small, facile, and agile companies.  Our money needs to be concentrated on developing strategies and resources that we can nurture and renew.  (No, corn ethanol is not the answer. Making higher education more expensive and less accessible to all is not the answer either.)  We need to find a way to fulfill our promises to the weakest among us.  Current income inequality is not only immoral but it’s at levels approaching the powder keg of revolutions.  (Have you listened to a Teabot recently?)   We can no longer be railroaded by the interests of the few just because they can afford to fund political campaigns.  No government law should incent a business to leave its community in need to search out obscene profits elsewhere because government policy encourages it.  We should not accommodate any country that buggers growth from us by proffering trinkets on credit.   Vision is not a difficult thing.  Fighting for what’s right should not be a difficult thing either unless you’re in the fight with the wrong motivation.

Compromise seems to come so easy these days because there’s nothing proffered but compromise.  The original positions are badly compromised from the get-go.  Law making is based on political victory and not victory for the country.  No one is shifting real strategies due to midterm elections because there’s never been an overarching plan to begin with.  Moving pieces around a chess board is not playing chess.  Government at the highest levels has just gotten to be a muddled process with no guiding principles.   The White House is intently putting mid-level bureaucrats from corporations and the Clinton administration in charge of making tasteless sausage.  It’s just making things even more muddled and more muddled is not the type of change people want.  No bold vision could ever include the likes  Timothy Geithner, Joe Biden, or  Bill Richardson in positions that require vision.  Instead, we have people of vision–like Elizabeth Warren–hunting for acceptable seat warmers.

Meh.

I would just like to say that the last two months of being more than a file cabinet has brought a lot of intriguing things to Sky Dancing.  We have a growing number of readers and front pagers and I find that all very exciting.  So, must other parts of the blogosphere.   WonktheVote’ s excellent piece ‘What if this is as good as the Obama administration gets? ‘ made Mike’s Blog Round up at Crooks and Liars. Another surprise showed up last night from Pew Research Center and the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. This time a reference and quote come  from BostonBoomer on Julian Assange and the Wikileaks.  Here’s their story and how we fit in.

Espousing a unique mix of politics, technology, free speech and transparency, WikiLeaks has captured the attention from bloggers in a way few stories ever do. It has been a focus of social media conversation for three weeks this month alone, with a discussion that moved from one dimension to the next. After centering on political blame, the value of exposing government secrets, and the importance of a free press, the debate took on yet a new angle last week.For the week of December 20-24, more than a third (35%) of the news links on blogs were about the controversy, making it the No. 1 subject, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

“It should go without saying that I do not approve of Assange’s behavior if the allegations against him are true. Nevertheless, I still believe the allegations are very convenient for the powers that be,” declared Sky Dancing.

The Center produces something that’s called the New Media Report.  Here’s the description.

The New Media Index is a weekly report that captures the leading commentary of blogs and social media sites focused on news and compares those subjects to that of the mainstream press.

PEJ’s New Media Index is a companion to its weekly News Coverage Index. Blogs and other new media are an important part of creating today’s news information narrative and in shaping the way Americans interact with the news. The expansion of online blogs and other social media sites has allowed news-consumers and others outside the mainstream press to have more of a role in agenda setting, dissemination and interpretation. PEJ aims to find out what subjects in the national news the online sites focus on, and how that compared with the narrative in the traditional press.

In similar news,  Technorati just gave us a new badge early this morning. It’s a nice little green rectangle that says TOP 100 US POLITICS. We’re currently 95.  Not so bad for a blog that was just a file cabinet 2 months ago.

Our goals here include becoming part of the bigger conversation as well as providing more links and information to news items than we get via traditional main stream media outlets dominated by the concerns of advertisers and sources.  We complement that with our commentary and explanations and yours.    Yes.  They hear us now.

So what’s on your reading, blogging and celebration lists today?