Friday, May 07, 2010

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) First up, the obvious story. The process going forward, as I understand it, is that Brown and the Labourites will have first crack at forming a coalition government. It should happen. The LibDems (funny how that's not a perjorative in England...) garnered 54 seats, which was a disappointing showing given the heat Nick Clegg had generated. LibDems lost 5 seats, but that would put Labour over 300 members. The magic number is 326. Of the remaining 37 seats, a large chunk are owned by small regional parties with social democratic ties (e.g. more likely to side with Labour, but...). Politics is the art of the possible and it's possible they will wait for either a coalition offer from the Conservatives, or to let the Conservatives rule as a minority party.
And then things become interesting. The first major bill that gets defeated (say, a budget that calls for spending cuts on healthcare or some such), and a vote of "No Confidence" can be requested. Should that pass, the UK gets thrown back into the election cycle.
So basically, the fate of Great Britain rests in the hands of three political parties: Sinn Fein, Plaid Cymru, and the Scottish National Party. SNP tends to lean left, and so should support Brown. That would bring Labour one vote away from a majority (assuming LibDems and Democratic Unionist, Social Democratic & Labour, and Green Parties go as a bloc and on form).
And then things become REALLY interesting! Of the remaining parties with seats, Sinn Fein and Plaid Cymru, only PC has made noise about who they'd support: the Conservatives. However, one of the issues that divides them from Labour is the administration of a policy of establishing block grants to the various states in the UK and letting them distribute them, something PC has said is unworkable.
But it's a Conservative policy. Indeed, it's the backbone of Conservative policy. But, PC has traditionally been the opposition of Labour in the Welsh parliament (now Assembly)
Which brings us to Sinn Fein. Nominally a Socialist party, they are focused on uniting Northern and the Republic of Ireland into one nation. Obviously, both coalitions would offer them progress on that front in exchange for their support, but like PC, there's no guarantee this would be a bloc move.
Even at that, even allowing that Labour somehow wrestles eight other parties to the table intact, it still has the problem of sitting on top of a pile of cats while fending off a formidably large opponent in the Conservatives.
Eeesh. And we thought the 2000 election in Florida was a mess!
2) And Joe McCarthy rubs his hands gleefully and laughs. I'm not for giving an American citizen a free pass for associating with known terorrists, no no, that's not my issue. My issue is the definition of "terrorist" is not subject to law, but to commissions and committees.
4) A typo? The nation nearly came to a standstill yesterday over a TYPO????? A trillion dollars was lost over a misspelling????? What does it say about our economic system that so much money can be lost in the blink of an eye, and yet no one dies immediately, and no guns are fired? A typo? Really?
5) Will baseball pull the 2011 All Star Game out of Phoenix? I think they should. Nevermind the uproar in the city when Johann Santana or Alex Rodriguez is forced to produce a driver's license or a passport, Arizona has a history like that of South Africa: they only move on something when there's a legitimate threat to their prestige and economy. So let's give it to them.
6) And democracy dies yet another small death.
7) There are few nations less deserving of American contempt than England, and yet...
8) Racism, sadly, is not just an American thing. That's still no excuse, Teabaggers.
9) The best restaurants to be in during the coming zombie apocalypse.
10) The ickiest story of the week. I'm not sure if it disturbs me more because some guy got upset about his junk or because your junk will be visible to hundreds of people.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Whorled Around Us

It's easy in the confusion of the oil spill and the concerns of the environmental impact to lose sight of something even more distressing, that this tragedy only serves to highlight.
We live in a toxic soup. Every morning we wake up in our beds, the "fresh" scent of fabric softner on our sheets fills our nostrils. The coffeemaker finishes perking, and the scent of "fresh" coffee wafts thru the house. We get up.
We go to the loo, and the deodorizer masks any smells that might linger from the night before: the mildew in the shower, the bit of waste that didn't flush, the mold under the rim of the bowl. We brush our teeth with toothpaste manufactured from things that would seem unlikely to clean our teeth. Indeed, we end up bleaching those to rid ourselves of the caffeine and tobacco stains.
We step out of the shower, "freshly" bathed with lovely little oils and soaps that leave our skin feeling soft and supple and smelling wonderful. Maybe we slap on a little deodorant to make our pits smell "fresh". We step out into the "freshly" painted bedroom and inhale the vague scent of paint, also know as volatile organic compounds. Nothing like the scent of "fresh" paint, is there?
We walk out to the car or the bus or the subway. We breathe in the fumes of cadmium from passing vehicles, the asbestos brake dust of an old ambulance, the metal shavings of the train wheels grinding down the tracks. We get to the office and sit in our plastic-and-fabric chair, raising a cloud of dust. We turn on the computer and the fan kicks up molecules of whatever heavy metal du jour Dell or Apple or HP saw fit to put into the manufacturing process.
And we do all this, and much much more, without giving it a second thought.
I suppose this issue has taken on new meaning for me since September 11. Altho I was never really exposed to any of the airborne crap of that day and the subsequent weeks before the fires and smoke were doused, there were one or two days when the wind shifted onshore and the smell and fumes drifted up my way.
I remember specifically September 17. I was walking with a co-worker and was instantly struck by the acrid smell of the air. When I was a kid, I grew up across the river from a fat-rending plant and the smell was nearly identical, and as eye-watering and oily and noxious as I remembered it.
Ever since that event I've battled seasonal allergies, something I never had before those attacks. Causitive? Maybe. Or maybe it was just irritating enough to trigger a dormant condition. I can't know for sure.
It strikes me odd what we humans will do to ourselves. We'll bathe in poisons, inhale carcinogens, ingest chemicals that would grow our breasts or kill us in sufficient quantities. That, we can't unite on to fight and assess responsibility and punish the culprits for.
An oil spill? Yea, that we can get our knickers twisted over.
Liberalism and libertarianism, the correct kind of libertarianism, go hand in hand. Liberals fight for the individual right to be safe and secure in their environment. Nanny state? Perhaps, but that same protection allows the individual to flourish, to use his mind and his talents to the best of his ability on a fair and level playing field. Liberalism allows libertarianism to exist.
Is it nannystatism to insist that everyone has a vote and that every vote matters? No, but it is liberalism. Is it nannystatism to see a large chunk of our population dying unnecessarily and trying to do something about it? No, but it is liberalism.
You see, the core of libertarianism is the freedom of the individual to behave as he wishes, but that implies the individual can survive to use that freedom. Libertarianism as preached by the teabaggers is strangely silent on this point.
Lately, this form of "glib"bertarianism has gotten its feathers ruffled over some health news: the possible regulation of salt and sugar content in our foods. How dare they (the government) tell us what to put into our bodies?
Leaving the whole illicit drug issue aside, why wouldn't the government do this? Indeed, why shouldn't it? If the government's job, even by the definition of the teabagged is to protect the people of this nation from "enemies foreign and domestic" and the enemy is defined not by bullets and bombs but also by chemicals and diseases, is it not in the national security interest for the government now to protect the health of its citizenry?
No one is taking the chemical soup that these jackasses wish to bathe in away from them. They're making that soup optional. In other words, is it not an infringement of my rights as a consumer to not have to make my health optional? And yet, that infringement by the so-called "free market" is wordlessly allowed to pass while even the slightest hint that the government might be concerned about it raises a hue and cry from the Bachmann-Turned-Over-drive that the din practically has a decibel level.
Let's turn the free market argument around, the one that always get lobbed at us: if you want chemical free stuff, buy it, and someone will make it.
Yea, but here's the thing: the government subsidizes the research that pays for the development of those chemicals, which means the price of the frankenfood is lower than it should be in a free market.
So, given that, why not give real food a price ceiling, and as in a restaurant, if you want MSG on your hamburger, by all means, you can have it, but you'll pay a dollar extra for it.
Or, you could just go buy a shaker of the stuff and put it on yourself. Meanwhile, the rest of us will have reduced odds of cancer and better odds of bankrupting Social Security.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Between A Rock And A Hard Case

One of the most stunning moments for me in Michael Moore's movie "SiCKO" comes when Tony Benn (I believe. I couldn't find the quote.) tells Moore that in America, the people are afraid of the government while in Europe, the government is terrified of the people.
The Teabaggers would be onto something if they didn't hamper the efforts of the left to make the people the most important part of the nation, but I digress. Instead, I want to talk about Greece.
You may have heard, or certainly might have been aware, that Greece is in serious financial difficulty. Greece's troubles make California look solvent. As a result, the European Union-- the bank of last resort for its members-- has agreed to lend Greece the funds necessary to bail itself out, but there's a catch: spending cuts and an austerity budget must be enacted.
Needless to say, this budget hits workers, particularly public sector workers, hard: wage freezes, tax hikes...yes, even Europeans can have their fill...and deficit cutting to comply with the terms of membership in the EU. Deficits apparently cannot be more than 3% of GDP. On that basis, technically, the United States would have been in default from 1982-1994 (with a couple of exceptions), and in 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, and 2010.
Hm, those were mostly Republican administrations.
It does make you wonder a) where our money goes, and b) how do Europeans keep their deficits in check?
Oh. Right. Taxes.  Again, I digress.
It would be an understatement to say the Greek workers are getting a little antsy about this. Three are dead in a bombing of a bank, and workers in the private sector, who understand that as goes the civil servant jobs so go their own jobs, are joining the picket lines. It appears that Greece, which had a long history of instability during the 20th Century, is poised to be upset once again.
The government fears its people, for good reason. And Greece is not the only nation that's seeing some unrest among its people: France, for all its vaunted Sarkosian conservatism, has been forced to deal with an Airbus strike. Even Britain had to deal with a 57 day strike by airline workers AND protests by Royal Post workers.
Not for wage cuts, as in Greece, but because wage increases have been proposed that are pathetic, on the order of one to two percent.
Imagine that! In America, we're told to accept wage cuts and like them. In France, they walk out over a pay raise!
What the hell is wrong with us????

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Spill The Beans

A side note, before I start the story: you never read about environmental disasters at renewable energy sources very often, but today, you can.
First, leave it to US Today to post the most relevant story to the average American: one of greed, self-interest, and panic.
Next, leave it to the New York Times to post the political implications of a natural catastrophe. This used to be the purview of the Washington Post, but they've been busy rejiggering their editorial staff to make it appears less liberal. Which is sort of like putting a wolf in wolf's clothing and then calling it a sheep.
Meanwhile, heckuva job, Brownie...again! Needless to say, the usual gang of idiots is lining up to try to distract "real Americans" from the terrible tragedy, not just environmental but economic and personal in the Gulf.
It's hard to find good news coming out of this disaster, as unmitigated and absolute a fuck-up as it is. But...
I suppose there are three bits I can hang out and call "good news".
First, suddenly "socialism" is not such a bad word. When David Vitter suggests that the state and Federal government would do a better job overseeing the protection of his state's wetlands, you're losing momentum as a Teabagger. I mean, party.
Second, if a "end-o-world" oil spill (hyperbole acknowledged) had to happen somewhere, it should happen in a high-profile, heavily populated area like the Gulf and West Florida coasts than in some backwater bay in Alaska where the impact was many dead seabirds and mammals. Let people see the mess their cars and houses create on a daily basis SOMEwhere on the planet.
Finally, if the ultimate end of this mess sees us altering energy plans, then good can come of it. In the past, I've campaigned for more renewable energy sources, improved efficiency of those resources, to the extent that I've proposed Obama offer a one billion dollar cash prize to the scientist who can make any renewable energy source-- wind, geothermal, ocean current or wave, or solar-- at BTU intensive as fossil fuels, and immediate interim steps that would see us stop oil drilling and consumption within a decade.
I don't mean switching to tar sands. I mean no more petroleum. It can be done.
At the bottom of the ocean is a supply of natural gas that is much easier to pick up, cleaner when both developed and burned, and could provide centuries of our energy needs, more than sufficient time to wean us and the entire planet off fossil fuels forever.
I speak, of course, of methane hydrates. The entire proposal would take another column to get into fully, but suffice it to say we'd dive very deep, scrape up a bunch of the stuff and bring it to the surface. On the bottom, it's a very compact solid. It would be great if we could contain it that way.
But unnecessary. Through the natural process of sublimation, we could raise the solids off the sea floor, and open up a do-it-yourself pipeline that would both process out the gases while piping it to power plants and other energy dispersal outlets.
It seems to me that we can accompish this using existing technology and have it up and running within not twenty years or ten years, but five and perhaps even sooner.
But hey, what do I know? I'm just some average Joe, right?