Thursday Reads

Good Morning!! I’m going to start out with some interesting poll results that came out yesterday.

According to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, a lot of ordinary Republicans are unhappy with their GOP representatives in Washington, DC. From the WaPo:

While Republicans in Congress have remained united in their opposition to any tax increases, the poll finds GOP majorities favoring some of the specific changes advocated by the president, including higher income tax rates for the wealthiest Americans.

There is also broad dissatisfaction with Obama’s unwillingness to reach across the aisle: Nearly six in 10 of those polled say the president has not been open enough to compromise. Among independents, 79 percent say Republicans aren’t willing enough to make a deal, while 62 percent say the same of Obama.

Republicans may also be losing the war of perception about who stands with whom in the debates over the deficit and the economy. A majority view the president as more committed to protecting the interests of the middle class and small businesses, while large majorities see Republicans as defending the economic interests of big corporations and Wall Street financial institutions.

ABC’s The Note reports that based on the same poll,

Against a backdrop of broad concern about the impact of default, 80 percent of Americans in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll say they’re dissatisfied or even angry with the way the federal government is working, up 11 points in a single month. It last was this high in 1992, during the economic downturn that cost the first President Bush a second term.

The times today are nearly as tough: The ABC News Frustration Index has risen to 72 on its scale of 0 to 100, its highest since just before the 2010 midterm elections and well into the political danger zone. The index combines dissatisfaction with the government, anti-incumbent sentiment and ratings of the president and the economy alike.

But unlike 1992 – or 2010 – the opposition party’s taking even more heat than the president. While President Obama for the first time has fallen under 40 percent approval for handling the economy, the Republicans in Congress do even worse, 28 percent approval. On handling the deficit, it’s a weak 38 percent approval for Obama, but a weaker 27 percent for the GOP. And on handling taxes, Obama has 45 percent approval, the GOP, 31 percent.

It’s good to know that some Americans are getting angry. I wish they’d get out the pitchforks and make some noise about it in the streets.

A couple of GOP governors are dropping in the polls too. Media star Chris Christie is turning off his NJ constituents.

Gov. Chris Christie’s popularity has declined significantly over the first half of 2011 and he would have a very difficult time winning reelection if voters in New Jersey went to the polls today, according to a survey by Public Policy Polling.

While Republican activists outside New Jersey want Christie to seek the party’s 2012 presidential nomination, only 43 percent of Garden State voters approve of the job the governor is doing to 53 percent who disapprove.

The figures represent a 13 point decline from when Public Policy Polling last surveyed voters in January, when Christie’s standing was 48 percent approval and 45 percent disapproval.

Christie’s numbers are steady with Republicans but independents have really turned on him, going from approving by a 55 percent to 39 percent margin to disapproving by a 54 percent to 40 percent margin. And his crossover popularity with Democrats is on the decline as well. Where 23 percent approved of him in January, now only 16 percent do.

Christie has been making huge cuts in government services. I guess austerity isn’t as popular with the grass roots as it is with the power elites.

Gov. John Kasich of Ohio is even more unpopular than Christie.

The latest poll released Wednesday by Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University showed that only 35 percent of registered voters approve of the job the Republican governor has done in his first six months. Exactly half say they disapprove, up 1 percentage point since May, with the remainder undecided.

“Even after the state budget has been approved as he promised without raising taxes, and even though the Quinnipiac University poll finds that 63 percent say they favor such an approach, Gov. Kasich’s name remains mud in the eyes of the Ohio electorate,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

The same poll shows that even some of those who approve of the governor’s performance are prepared to reject his signature law restricting the collective bargaining power of government employees at the ballot on Nov. 8. Fifty-six percent of voters say it should be repealed, up 2 percentage points since May.

Republicans always overreach, don’t they? It looks like the 2010 win may have been just a flash in the pan.

Michele Bachmann is surging in the polls against Mitt Romney.

The Minnesota congresswoman returned to Iowa early Wednesday morning as polls show her gaining ground nationally as a top alternative to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the early front-runner for the GOP nomination. Since formally entering the race last month, she has eclipsed other Republicans in the field, including fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty, who has been actively campaigning all year.

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll offered a statistical glimpse at their diverging fortunes. In the poll, 16% of the registered Republicans picked Ms. Bachmann as their top choice, putting her second behind Mr. Romney, who remains the first choice of 30% of the Republicans polled. In the same survey, 2% of registered Republicans chose the former Minnesota governor as their top pick, down from 6% in April.

Meanwhile, Bachmann is still being hassled about her migraine headaches. Karl Rove is calling for her to release her medical records. Boy those Republican power brokers are really scared of Bachmann, aren’t they?

A doctor who has examined Bachmann says the headaches aren’t a big deal.

A letter dated Wednesday from a congressional doctor whose office has examined Republican Michele Bachmann described the presidential candidate’s migraines as occurring “infrequently” and controlled by prescription medication.

Bachmann’s campaign distributed the letter from Dr. Brian Monahan, the attending physician in Congress. Bachmann has been evaluated by that office during her three terms in Washington.

Former NH Senator Judd Gregg thinks the Republicans in the House will push the debt limit battle to the brink. In fact, he thinks it will take Social Security checks not going out to get them to agree to raising the debt ceiling.

“My gut tells me that we’ll need a weekend of drama — maybe a weekend of the government not paying its bills — politicians need drama to make something happen. As soon as social security checks don’t go out, the politics will change. I suspect it’ll take artificial drama to get closure past the House.”

“Boehner understands that a shutdown is bad for his caucus and that there’s something viable short of a shutdown but right now… it’s a 50-50 chance that we go into a few days of disruption.”

Gregg said lawmakers don’t really care about the nation’s credit rating:

“Policy-makers only worry about a ratings downgrade at the margins. They don’t really care. The ratings agencies put themselves in a corner that’s foolish. I’ve always found them to be incredibly naive about the political process. To be so definitive is foolish.”

“For the ratings agencies to make this drop-dead date, it’s stupid and naive because we’ll straighten it out, but our process doesn’t allow it to do it overnight.”

Gregg says all this will means the Republicans get most of the blame for the mess. They didn’t learn anything from what happened to Gingrich, did they?

Gregg is probably right about the gang of six plan, since that is basically what the Republicans already rejected. And Brian Beutler reports that they are rejecting it again.

As time goes on, and conservative interest groups and members of Congress rip into it, support among Republicans for the Gang of Six plan to reduce deficits will begin to wane. In fact, that’s already happening.

In a publicly released memo meant to undermine support for the Gang of Six plan in its current form, House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) laments, “it increases revenues while failing to seriously address exploding federal spending on health care, which is the primary driver of our debt. There are also serious concerns that the proposal’s substance on spending falls far short of what is needed to achieve the savings it claims.”

And check this out from Politico:

A few wealthy donors have called Cantor to tell him they wouldn’t mind if their taxes are raised. During two closed meetings this week — one with vote-counting lawmakers, and another with the entire conference — Cantor told colleagues that some well-heeled givers have told them they’re willing to pay more taxes. Cantor, according to an aide, has responded that House Republicans aren’t standing up for the wealthy, but rather for the middle class, who want to see their taxes stay low.

Yeah sure, Eric. You’re standing up for the middle class. ROFLOL!

With unemployment so high, all we need is more impediments to getting hired. According to the NYT, even obscure blog comments could come into play as companies evaluate job candidates.

A year-old start-up, Social Intelligence, scrapes the Internet for everything prospective employees may have said or done online in the past seven years.

Then it assembles a dossier with examples of professional honors and charitable work, along with negative information that meets specific criteria: online evidence of racist remarks; references to drugs; sexually explicit photos, text messages or videos; flagrant displays of weapons or bombs and clearly identifiable violent activity.

[….]

Less than a third of the data surfaced by Mr. Drucker’s firm comes from such major social platforms as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. He said much of the negative information about job candidates comes from deep Web searches that find comments on blogs and posts on smaller social sites, like Tumblr, the blogging site, as well as Yahoo user groups, e-commerce sites, bulletin boards and even Craigslist.

….it is photos and videos that seem to get most people in trouble. “Sexually explicit photos and videos are beyond comprehension,” Mr. Drucker said. “We also see flagrant displays of weapons. And we see a lot of illegal activity. Lots and lots of pictures of drug use.”

I’ll end with this nightmarish story from the LA Times: Witness tells of horror as 3 swept over Vernal Fall in Yosemite

Bibee, a 28-year-old carpenter who grew up in Angels Camp, northwest of the park, had brought Amanda Lee, a visitor from Missouri, to the top of Vernal Fall on Tuesday — her first visit to Yosemite, but the latest of many for him.

They were standing behind a metal barricade, peering at the cascade….Bibee saw a man cross over the barricade. He was leaning over the 317-foot waterfall, holding a young girl, who was screaming in terror. People begged them to get back. “I’m yelling at him, ‘You SOB, get over here!'” Bibee said. Eventually, the two returned to safety.

But then Bibee noticed that three other people had also crossed over, and were “taking pictures and being stupid.”

The three people, members of a church group, fell into the water and went over the falls. All are presumed dead. Why would people go past a barricade and warning signs to stand on the edge of a raging waterfall? But it’s not the first time. The article says twelve people have gone over the falls previously–all were killed.

That’s it for me. What are you reading and blogging about today?


Friday Morning Reads: Postcards from My Family On Earth Day

Good Morning!

I watched a wonderful episode of American Masters on PBS called ‘John Muir in the New World’ on Wednesday night.   Actually, I’ve watched several escapist things the last few days including another PBS special on British Explorer  Col. Percy Fawcett called Searching for Z . Earlier, I had watched the Presidents series from American Experience including the one dedicated to US President Teddy Roosevelt.  What brings my attention to these three men is that they all were committed to wilderness, exploration, and conservation.  They were huge figures in their life times.  They fought a series of battles to keep the world’s geological marvels and wilderness away from men that wanted to exploit them down to the last tree and rock.  We are seriously short of fighters like this these days.

Today is Earth day 2011.

This all got me thinking about how my grandparents set off with my mother, her sister and her brother in Studebakers  to explore the nation’s new National Park System in the mid twenties.  My mother saw to it that my dad took my sister and me back to every place she’d seen as a kid and then some in the 1960s and 1970s.  I’ve seen nearly all of the National Parks now thanks to my mom and the family gypsy spirit.  I also took my daughters right back there too.   I was especially impressed by Dinosaur National Monument, Yellowstone National Park, and Mesa Verde as a kid.  My oldest daughter got taken to a lot of them initially in baby backpacks.  We’ve spent a lot of time in Rocky Mountain National Park too.  Little Miss Doctor Daughter made her first trip to Washington DC at six months. Then later, when she was older, we walked the same paths that I had walked in the 1960s and 1970s out in Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.  I seriously doubt the paths were there when my grandparents took my late mother, but I know she talked about dropping a hankie in the handkerchief pool and watching the mudpots.  I loved the paint pots.  Little Miss Doctor Daughter preferred morning glory pool and the Yellowstone Falls. We share a fascination with dinosaurs too.

The latest notch on my well worn National Park tourist belt is our  Gulf Islands National Seashore along the Gulf Coast.  I’ve seen them with and without the BP oil.  One of the hardest hit areas is near Pass a Loutre, a 66,000 acre Wetlands and bird sanctuary in Plaquemines Parish. It’s a few hours drive from my home.  There’s a bunch of National Refuges down here  including Delta National Wildlife Refuge and Breton National Wildlife Refuge.  Actually, the entire French Quarter is a National Park. I live in between it and the Chalmette Battlefield that was the site of the Battle of New Orleans.  They are both about 1 mile on either side of me.  Barataria is just to the south and is my favorite National Historical Park to hike these days.  It’s where Jean LaFitte and his pirates hung out and has some of the best swamp habitat around.  The swamp iris in bloom are a thing to behold.  I always take my friends there who’ve never seen an alligator in the wild.  Breton National Refuge is the second oldest National Refuge in the country.  It was established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1904.

If you watch the special on John Muir, you’ll see how Roosevelt and Muir were responsible for saving the Giant Redwoods of Sequoia National Park , El Capitan, and the wonders that are Yosemite National Park and Yosemite Valley.  One of their great failures was the inability to stop Woodrow Wilson and Congress from blocking human hysteria and greed–left over from San Francisco’s great fire–from building a dam in Hetch Hetchy Valley that was part of the National Park.  That controversy led to the founding of the Sierra Club and a greater realization on the part of US citizens every where that there are things in this country left to us by nature, geology, history, or whatever you want to call it that are special beyond belief and should be beyond capitalization.  My daughters are the third generation in my family to be completely awed by the power of the Great American landscape.  I only wonder what will be left to their children and grandchildren.

I know this is a weird morning post for you to read and that you were expecting a lot of newsy links.  Instead, I spent the evening scanning some postcards and photos that my grandmother and mother collected.  That side of my family just kept traveling around the US back then and most of us still do the same today.   I want to leave you with some links to think about, however before I leave you with some postcards from my late mother and her family.

Monument Valley National Park Meets the Brothers Koch

Once upon a time, my wife and I ventured in our Western travels to see Monument Valley, that place made legendary by a gazillion John Ford/John Wayne westerns as “THE ARCHETYPAL WEST,” so much so that you couldn’t film a car commercial for many years, and in some cases to this very day, without putting Monument Valley in the background.

And there was a line of cars and Winnebagos (or whatever you call five tons of steel dragging another couple tons of car, motorcycles, mountain bikes, or whatever other trailer gear makes for an enjoyable “roughing it” in the West, complete with satellite dishes and a portable generator for the bug-zapper).  It was late spring, and the crowds weren’t what they were going to be, once school let out and the station wagons were unleashed on an unsuspecting West filled with price-gouging gas stations. Gas was still at winter “local” levels.

The run into Monument Valley is famously desolate, and you can see the spires of rock towering in the distance down a straight-line road that’s a favorite of cameramen of all ages and persuasions.

And when you get there, there’s the obligatory gatehouse for collecting tolls, and if you read the signs, you’ll notice that it’s “Monument Valley Tribal Park” which oughtn’t surprise you, since you’ve been on the Navajo Reservation — a chunk of land that embraces an area as large as West Virginia, and completely swallows the Hopi Reservation within it — for many miles now.

Koch brothers now at heart of GOP power

The billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch no longer sit outside Washington’s political establishment, isolated by their uncompromising conservatism. Instead, they are now at the center of Republican power, a change most evident in the new makeup of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Wichita-based Koch Industries and its employees formed the largest single oil and gas donor to members of the panel, ahead of giants like Exxon Mobil, contributing $279,500 to 22 of the committee’s 31 Republicans, and $32,000 to five Democrats.

The Koch Bros. and Corporate Welfare

For the past fifty years, through its Matador Cattle Company subsidiary, Koch Industries has been quietly milking a New Deal program that allows ranchers to use federal land basically for free. Matador, one of the ten biggest domestic cattle ranching operations, has something in the neighborhood of 300,000 acres of grazing land for its cows—two-thirds of which belong to American taxpayers, who will never see a penny of profit.

Back before there was Al Gore, there was John Muir.   Only, John Muir not only talked the talk, he climbed the mountains and studied the rocks. He also wrote all about it so that people cooped up in big cities could know the marvels of the wide-open west.  He wanted them to feel inspired and to come experience the power and overwhelming forces of nature and wilderness for themselves.  There were some bad guys back then, but think about this. Koch Industries has spent $55 million dollars trying to fight the science of climate change and seeking to undermine environmental laws. They are out to destroy our national treasures and our heritage that so many people have fought for over a century to protect.   What would John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt say about Koch Industries?

John Muir

This excerpt from a letter by John Muir was written on August 30, 1899 on the Alaskan Wilderness.

And what a glorious trip it was for you girls, flying like birds from wilderness to wilderness, the wildest and brightest of America, tasting almost every science under the sun, with fine breezy exercise, scrambles over mossy logs and rocks in the spruce forests, walks on the crystal prairies of the glaciers, on the flowery boggy tundras, in the luxuriant wild gardens of Kodiak and the islands of Bering Sea, and plashing boat rides in the piping bracing winds, all the while your eyes filled with magnificent scenery—the Alexander Archipelago with its thousand forested islands and calm mirror waters, Glacier Bay, Fairweather Mountains, Yakutat and Enchantment Bays, the St. Elias Alps and glaciers and the glorious Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet, and the Aleutian Peninsula with its flowery, ley, smoky volcanoes, the blooming banks and bracs and mountains of Unalaska, and Bering Sea with its seals and Innuits, whales and whalers, etc., etc., etc.

It is not easy to stop writing under the exhilaration of such an excursion, so much pure wildness with so much fine company. It is a pity so rare a company should have to be broken, never to be assembled again. But many, no doubt, will meet again. On your side of the continent perhaps half the number may be got together. Already I have had two trips with Merriam to the Sierra Sequoias and Coast Redwoods, during which you may be sure the H.A.E. was enjoyed over again. A few days after I got home, Captain Doran paid me a visit, most of which was spent in a hearty review of the trip. And last week Gannett came up and spent a couple of days, during which we went over all our enjoyments, science and fun, mountain ranges, glaciers, etc., discussing everything from earth sculpture to Cassiope and rhododendron gardens—from Welsh rarebit and jam and cracker feasts to Nunatak. I hope to have visits from Professor Gilbert and poet Charlie ere long, and Earlybird Ritter, and possibly I may see a whole lot more in the East this coming winter or next. Anyhow, remember me to all the Harrimans and Averells and every one of the party you chance to meet, Just to think of them!! Ridgway with wonderful bird eyes, all the birds of America in them; Funny Fisher ever flashing out wit; Perpendicular E., erect and majestic as a Thlinket totem pole Old-sea-beach G., hunting upheavals, downheavals, sideheavals, and hanging valleys, the Artists reveling in color beauty like bees in flower-beds; Ama-a-merst tripping along shore like a sprightly sandpiper, pecking kelp-bearded boulders for a meal of fossil molluscs; Genius Kincaid among his beetles and butterflies and “red tailed bumble-bees that sting awful hard”; Innuit Dall smoking and musing, flowery Trelease and Coville; and Seaweed Saunders our grand big-game Doctor, and how many more! Blessed Brewer of a thousand speeches and stories and merry ha-has, and Genial John Burroughs, who growled at and scowled at good Bering Sea and me, but never at thee. I feel pretty sure that he is now all right at his beloved Slabsides and I have a good mind to tell his whole Bering story in his own sort of good-natured, gnarly, snarly, jungle, jangle rhyme.

There! But how unconscionably long the thing is! I must stop short. Remember your penitential promises. Kill as few of your fellow beings as possible and pursue some branch of natural history at least far enough to see Nature’s harmony.

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