Friday, August 29, 2014

Vlad's Lament: The Embarrassment of Imperial Dreaming

The Apology

MeanMesa has never been much of a poet [Shakespeare is, no doubt, breathing a sigh of relief.], but this futile effort is sent with best wishes to our blog's visitors in Ukraine. The hope here at Short Current Essay's Galactic HeadQuarters is that this wisp of a broken poem might lift the spirits of those facing the Russians so bravely.

Naturally, there is also the secret hope that it will really piss off someone in the Kremlin.

Please remember that Ukraine has friends -- lots more and lots bigger than the Russians have.

Do we mean Vlad the Impaler?  No, of course, not.

Vlad the Impaler

We mean this guy.

Vlad the Cowboy [image]

Vlad's Lament

Just sit pat. Be strong. "We'll win in the end"
We'll be fabulous - like a run away train.
Who cares who this sleezy scam will offend?
We'll liberate Crimea - absorb all of Ukraine!

Now dozens of my fidgeting billionaires
are all in a cluster, their hankies a'wringin',
their billionaire faces all drawn in despair,
their frantic bankers are howlin' not singin'.

A couple of sanctions made them complain.
But I've always had that stubborn flirtation
to reestablish every drab tooth aching pain 
of old Joe Stalin's Soviet Imperial fixation.

We were going to shut off Ukraine's gas
so they'd know for sure just who's boss,
but bogging down in Merkel's EU impasse
has left GAZPROM stuck in the sauce.

I've got gads of guns, tanks and Russian boys
plus hundreds of crazy, useful drunks in Donetsk,
bristling with jet liner shooting down toys,
while all built to impress, now only grotesque.

I don't like gays or singin' hot babes galore
or oil tycoons who are roaming too loose,
but even more than all that, I mostly abhor
my Kiev puppet runnin' back home to roost.

Old West Rootin' Tootin' and Six Gun Shootin'!
I'm svelte and gloriously macho, not simply chesty.
Pet my horse. Stand in my light. I'm Vladimir Putin!
In fact, in my mind I'm practically Prince Nevsky!

Maybe you could just give him Chernobyl.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Thanksgiving's Coming - So, Impeach Obama, Right?

The traditional recipe: Stewed FOX [image source]
Summer's Almost Gone
Get ready for the family...

Of course, there is the natural aura of dreadful anticipation surrounding the inevitable spat which will suddenly lurching itself onto the Thanksgiving table. Weird Uncle Billy, still recovering from the night before at the American Legion beer hall, will inevitably latch onto some otherwise innocent, casual remark from someone at the table, interpreting it as a open opportunity to begin another repetition one of his already road weary FOX "news" lectures on the outrage and danger of Obama Care, the IRS or Benghazi.


Although Uncle Billy, all juiced up with what he heard on his car radio during the trip to Thanksgiving dinner, has been convinced that his opinions ["everybody knows..."] are either "those of a clear majority" or some sort of evidence of his "long suffering patriotism," he is actually nothing more than a loud mouthed outlier. He's been fed hourly doses of twisted facts for years, and -- sometime around 1994 -- he quietly began believing them.

Well, turn that frown upside down! You are not alone! Here's a little audio comedy which will help lift your spirits. Listening to this will strengthen your resolve to make another try at the suggestion which follows in this post, that is, caringly ushering Uncle Billy back to reality.

The Uncle Bill story may seem like fantasy to some of us, but to others, it represents an relentlessly unpleasant and frustrating recurring nightmare. Further, "Uncle Bill" might be an actual uncle, but his equivalent could also manifest as all sorts of other people we encounter in our daily lives -- someone at the office, a blow hard neighbor or someone in a check out line. MeanMesa, wearing an old Obama-Biden tee shirt from the 2008 election campaign, was accosted by a butcher at the neighborhood farmer's market grocery.

If you're not intimidated by these over zealous mouth breathers, you'll need to get ready for those unavoidable moments when they decide to tell you "how it is." This post will set you up with what you'll need.

Beefing Up Reality's Voice

Let's make the reactionaries defend their talking points

When we face facts, as opposed to stumbling around mindlessly inebriated by "non-news" television, we must acknowledge that perhaps as many as 30 % of US voters continue to consider the right wing's artificial think tank media stream more or less credible. The oligarchs' plan unquestionably incorporated this aspect of "non-symmetric" propaganda promotion in their larger scheme to permanently divide the country's electorate.

One of the most common forms of these irritating attacks may not even focus on any particular topic, but rather be blindly driven by what is called "Obama-phobia." In these cases there is little likelihood that the conversation will get far beyond raw right wing racism with a few of the "easier to recall" wing nut talking points interposed here and there. These, generally, have some tenuous, talking point connection to three areas of government policy.

1. The Federal Deficit
2. Federal Spending and Stimulus
3. Unemployment and Job Creation

These seem to be the primary subjects which the right wingers have heard the most frequently repeated complaints about from their media outlets. The frenetic Benghazi, IRS and Obama Care scandals ignominiously "died on the vine" public opinion-wise before garnering any political traction -- primarily because they were each too complicated for the GOP's educationally challenged base to handle in one of their abnormal, breathless "spontaneous conversations."

What's the point?

Because these deceptive "media lines" have been roaming around our country's "free press" -- unhampered by any contradictory, factual reality -- long enough to foment this current synthetic political meme, MeanMesa is anxious to do what's possible to equip visitors with information they need to set things straight. So, let's get to work.

A Few Convenient "FOX Fact Un-Twisters"
Excerpt Courtesy of Daily KOS

MeanMesa ran across the Daily KOS article with these great graphic charts which happen to directly address the three areas of right wing propaganda mentioned above. To start, we need to take a close look at the data they present. This article is excerpted here, but the original is worth reading. Enjoy. [All links from the original article remain enabled.]

Three Charts 
to Email to Your Right-Wing Brother-In-Law -- Update

Friday, August 8, 2014
Dave Johnson

Dave is a Fellow at Campaign for America's Future and a Senior Fellow at Renew California

Problem: Your right-wing brother-in-law is plugged into the FOX-Limbaugh lie machine, and keeps sending you emails about "Obama spending" and "Obama deficits" and how the "stimulus" just made things worse.

Solution: Here are three "reality-based" charts to send to him. These charts show what actually happened.


Government spending increased dramatically under President Bush. It has not increased much under President Obama. This is just a fact.


Note that this chart starts with Clinton's last budget year for comparison.

The numbers in these two charts come from Budget of the United States Government: Historical Tables Fiscal Year 2015. They are just the amounts that the government spent and borrowed, period, Anyone can go look them up. People who claim that Obama "tripled the deficit" or increased it or anything of the sort are either misled or are trying to mislead. President Obama inherited a budget deficit of $1.4 trillion from President Bush's last budget year and annual budget deficits have gone down dramatically since.

The Stimulus and Jobs

In this chart, the RED lines on the left side – the ones that keep doing DOWN – show what happened to jobs under the policies of Bush and the Republicans. We were losing lots and lots of jobs every month, and it was getting worse and worse. The BLUE lines – the ones that just go UP – show what happened to jobs when the stimulus was in effect. We stopped losing jobs and started gaining jobs, and it was getting better and better.

The leveling off on the right side of the chart shows what happened as the stimulus started to wind down: job creation leveled off at too low a level.

It looks a lot like the stimulus reversed what was going on before the stimulus. We have gone from losing around 850,000 jobs a month to gaining over 200,000 jobs a month.


More False Things

These are just three of the false things that everyone "knows" because places like Fox News repeat them over and over and over. Some others are (click through): Obama bailed out the banks, businesses will hire if they get tax cuts, health care reform cost $1 trillion, Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme or is "going broke", tax cuts grow the economy, government spending "takes money out of the economy."

Actually This Reduced Spending And Lower Deficit Have Hurt The Economy

Government spending is literally, by definition, the things that government does to make our lives better. People have been tricked into thinking that government spending is somehow bad. The billionaires and giant corporations spread this nonsense around because they are greedy and just want their taxes lower. The top income tax rate used to be more than 90 percent and the top corporate tax rate used to be more than 50 percent. That was back when we built this country's great infrastructure, had good schools and defended the world against the Soviet Union. We also had higher economic growth and a growing middle class.

Government spending does not "take money out of the economy." In fact it puts money into the economy, creates jobs and lays the foundation for future prosperity. The decline in government spending shown in the charts above is the reason that the economy remains sluggish and jobs are still hard to get. Just look at that chart showing what the stimulus spending did for the job situation. But since the stimulus ended, Republicans have obstructed every effort to continue to use our government to help our economy.

Putting the Plan Into Action

Uncle Billy don' kere whut yew lyin' libruls is sayin'

Now, clearly, rattling off volumes of figures to one of these already gravely confused "propaganda victims" will probably not be all that effective. After all, they are accustomed to "absorbing" think tank talking points which have been "pre-digested" into such a state as to be pablum an infant could swallow without choking. Still, somewhere down in that mindless, hate filled "fellow citizen" there remains a potentially functional human.

This suggests that if we could just hand him something tangible that he might take home to "look at later," there is the possibility that he might consider some of the facts. Try to think of it as leaving an AA pamphlet on the coffee table of a still drunk alcoholic.

Some years ago MeanMesa prepared this "business card sized" graphic concerning the increases to the national debt occurring under various Presidents. It was handy because it could be reproduced on a computer printer, cut up with scissors and handed to these mouthy throwbacks.

At the time it directly contradicted reactionary "fact twisted" accounts of how bad Bill Clinton had been as President.

At first these were prepared individually, but after the idea caught on a little, all sorts of folks wanted a few that they, too, could hand out to argumentative Republicans. To provide these, the individual card image was "ganged" into an 8 1/2" by 11" format for "mass" printing.

Cutting these sheets into individual "business cards" took a few minutes, but the results were fantastic!

To get started you'll need to purchase a ream of card stock. This contains 500 sheets of printer compatible card stock, so you'll have plenty to make a few cards containing all sorts of different "messages." The card stock here at Galactic HeadQuarters is 110 pound, and cost around $8. The 500 sheet ream has lasted for years -- through a couple of Presidential elections and a few other things.

MeanMesa has ganged the charts from Daily KOS in the same manner, converted them into blogger friendly ".jpegs," and posted them here on the blog for your convenience.

You can copy them as you read this post, paste them onto your "drawing" part of your office program and print away. You may need to adjust the size to make sure it is going to print a nice spread on a full sheet of card stock.

So, get out your scissors, stay inside the lines and get to it!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

US Climate Change Policy: Domestic and Foreign

The Planet's Dark Horizon
Don't bother to pack a calendar
for your escape to the mountains.

In the darkest days of the Cold War's "Mutually Assured Destruction," most residents of any of the "bombing target" countries would stoically offer up an over simplified prognosis of what such a thermo-nuclear war would leave in its wake. "It would be the end of the world."

This was never the case, although it would certainly be the end of any world recently known to humans. Fatal casualties from a full on nuclear exchange might, over time, would have ranged close to the billion plus mark, modern technology and economic structures would be vaporized and civil society would become a thing of the past around the globe, but humans would continue to exist in what inhabitable regions the planet continued to offer, and things might slowly begin to return to where they had been in the pre-war days.

This introduction to the post might, at first, appear a "little overly dramatic," but it sets the stage for the kinds of questions we should be considering with respect to the climate catastrophe presently bearing down on us.

Matters really have grown precarious indeed. What approaches will herald neither the end of the world nor the complete decimation of humanity. It's not THAT kind of fictional, cinematic "dark horizon," although as we endure its more or less permanent arrival, we might gradually become less convinced.

"Once you've taken your seat on the train, and it's pulled away from the station, you're going where the train's going."

The United States will, most likely, still be one of the planet's largest economies when climate change begins to patiently unravel things. As such, the country will be confronted continually with policy decisions as the catastrophic conditions approach and even more direly once their inevitable consequences materialize all around us -- and, by the way, materialize here, too.

Darn. Things were going along so well. [image source]
Speculating about this country's state and international standing when the climate crisis finally begins to ebb away in a few decades is a task for a significantly higher pay grade than MeanMesa's. However, all along the way the US will still face the daunting challenge of formulating policy to establish our national direction, that is, policy in both the domestic sense and the international sense.

There have been some "not so reassuring" political mumblings about what policies might be, but in almost every case when the political risk of actually verbalizing such foresight has been taken, the climate change consequences to which it is addressed seem both woefully under stated and woefully optimistic. This is clearly a case of "We are going to enter thisDo we want to take it the hard way or the easy way?"

The hard way amounts to continuing with our present political paralysis, drenched in denial, contention regarding facts or, ironically, our growing "artificial certainty" that the situation is hopeless.

On the other hand if there is, actually, an "easy way," it will, reasonably, have to be based on a far more objective analysis of our assets, capabilities and deficiencies -- especially with respect to mitigating the rather frightening, likely consequences we will unavoidably be facing. Even if the "easy" solutions are pursued diligently, living through them will probably still not seem to be particularly "easy."

So, let's take a speculative look at what the future apparently hold for us.

The "Fly in the Ointment"
We might not normally choose to confront this as an oligarchy, but...

MeanMesa's tired old eyes see what coming as basically two grave threats -- grave not in the sense that they might possibly be terminally grave should they materialize, but rather grave in the sense that they are, currently, materializing. While this "first nip of the wringer" is, admittedly, none too pleasant, we will all most likely look back at 2014 as being in "the good old days."

This post is not any sort of overly dramatic polemic about the "dark horizon," but we need to spend just a little time on that depressing subject to make the remainder a little more coherent. In any event there is no shortage whatsoever of "doom and gloom" purveyors dedicating every breathless, frantic word to an endless nightmare of cheaply crafted hyperbole so there's little to be gained by MeanMesa joining in with that dismal chorus.

The two "grave threats" are, as is historically usually the case, made more grave by their simultaneity. The first is the gradual planet wide collapse into oligarchy, and the second is the now inevitable chaos and mayhem which will unavoidably accompany the climate change catastrophe as its severity begins to suddenly increase exponentially in the next few decades. The "nastiness" of the two derives from the fact that they are "reciprocal feeders."

As Scylla, the oligarchs' chances of actually taking over entirely have really only been made possibly feasible in an environment of world wide, violent, chaotic desperation. As Charybdis the crushing effects of climate change might have been mitigated significantly if the oligarchs had not stubbornly refused to free up the resources now stranded in their dynastic fantasies to combat it. The resulting brutalized politics driven by craven greed and stoic hopelessness haven't helped all that much, either.

Flitting about between these two classical harpies is a third difficulty. While the two "big ones" mentioned above are already in the delivery truck with our name on the label, the arrival date for this third one remains somewhat uncertain. It may occur before the climate collapses or afterward or not at all. It is, however, important that we include it in our predictive calculation.

What it it? The odds seem to be increasing steadily that the United States is going to have another civil war.

The oligarchs had no choice but to purchase the media and institute a steady propaganda campaign aimed at permanently dividing the American population. The think tanks were set into motion decades ago, patiently supported by billions of dollars worth of oligarchic cash and driven toward this inevitably bloody aim by the unrelenting raw ambition of the likes of the Addelsons, Kochs, Simpsons and others.

Should the civil war begin before the climate collapse, the billionaires will handily present themselves as the only remaining power great enough to restore calm. If the civil war begins amid the chaotic mayhem after the consequences of climate change have reduced the populous to a state of frantic, mindless survivalism, the oligarchs' task will only be made easier. The outcome in either scenario has a common thread.

The resources to resolve or mitigate the climate collapse will belong to the oligarchs. They will be the engine of the grisly Malthusian Correction described in the paper.

At this point, if anyone is speculating that MeanMesa has too recently read through that old post "Managing Global Warming Solutions," he would be right. [Link to the post here.] MeanMesa could not possibly imagine a happier future moment than the one when the contents of that paper could be comfortably discharged as an inaccuracy or exaggeration, but its predictions loom larger now than ever.

This post deals with the prospect of the United States either rolling dumb struck into the craw of the calamity or possibly mitigating some the consequences or even actually solving some part of the upcoming catastrophe. After all, we used to claim to be doing such things rather routinely. Further, if this is what can be the anticipated future in the relatively stable United States, the almost inevitable likelihood of something similar -- or worse -- can be expected just about every where else.

The Very Tricky Job of Improving Things
Know when to hold 'em,
know when to fold 'em, 
and know when to just walk away.

It is quite sensible to peer ahead in the years of climactic consequences approaching us. The precise details of the consequences remain indeterminate at the moment, but formulating a general collection of highlights likely to accompany the crisis is hardly rocket science. Having in hand a rough statement of policy as these begin to emerge is, in fact, quite sensible.

The questions are easy enough.

How will the United States respond to catastrophic climate induced disasters around the world -- in fact, when will the US respond at all? In the cases when no response is the course dictated by policy, what will be the social and political ramifications domestically? It may be a good time to consider an historical example of a US response in such a situation which worked out well.

As recently as a few decades ago the United States Congress would actually authorize major expenditures to address disasters unfolding internationally. For visitors too young to recall such programs, take a look at this excerpt from a article titled "Food for Peace." [Read the entire article  here.]

In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed what was then known as the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act, or Public Law 480. In 1961, the law got another name when President Kennedy expanded the program and renamed it "Food for Peace."

JFK set out the logic for the program saying, "Food is strength, and food is peace, and food is freedom, and food is a helping to people around the world whose good will and friendship we want."

Yet the program has always had a purpose beyond the humanitarian one. As Eisenhower said, the legislation will "lay the basis for a permanent expansion of our exports of agricultural products with lasting benefits to ourselves and people of other lands."

In other words, let's help our farmers at the same time as we help hungry people in places that might breed war and terrorism without our help.

Food for Peace was actually an outgrowth of the Marshall Plan to help rebuild war torn countries after World War II. So, in the early years, most of the food aid went to Italy, Japan, Germany, Austria, England and Finland.

Then, as those countries rebuilt and droughts, local wars and other emergencies developed in other places, the list of recipient countries changed and expanded. Recipient countries have included most of Europe, all of Africa, the Mid East, Asia, South and Central America, Mongolia and even Russia. Since 1954, 135 countries have received food through the program.

In fact, as a young man, MeanMesa watched steam locomotives pulling trains a mile long  --comprised entirely of full grain gondolas -- across the plains of SW Kansas daily, transporting US grain to the West Coast for shipment to India in the mid 1950's.

Throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, India was the largest recipient of American food aid. The level of aid was highest in the 60s when over $1.5 billion in aid helped stave off starvation in the subcontinent. In addition to providing direct aid, the Food for Peace program worked closely with Green Revolution programs that introduced new varieties of wheat and rice to the country. Today, India is close to graduating from foreign food aid altogether. [article written 2008]

Importantly, however, the article continues.

In recent years, the program has emphasized longer-term development projects that build the agricultural ability of the recipient countries. In a sense, this is an extension of the Green Revolution approach to help countries become self-sufficient for their own food.

This last part is central to understanding the decision about how much and what kind of such aid was, then, appropriate for US intervention in global trouble spots. It will be a substantially different set of parameters which will determine what will be an appropriate policy given the collapsing prognosis of sufficiency in the global future. The concept of "emergency" food aid has been quite sensible and compassionate in past conditions, but the scope of the food production damage which will almost inevitably accompany the climate change calamity approaching now fundamentally changes the metric of what's possible.

The questions directing US policy in this future will be much less influenced by the traditional American compassion and much more influenced by the various possibilities to stabilize what we may assume will be a steady descent into wide spread violence abroad. If US policy to provide food aid continues at all, it will target the inevitable threats to US interests as its first priority.

Both economic and agricultural resources will be strained with the resource drain of food assistance from the US and the traditional other sources we have seen in the past. Adding the turbulent politics -- domestic and foreign -- which will unavoidably accompany the various crises will only aggravate the issue further.

Further, the character and compassion of the US Congress has reached a depressing nadir already. The increased stress and tension of the coming catastrophe do not bode well for the prospects of any sort of "spiritual rehabilitation" into a more altruistic state. Considering the likely conditions at the kitchen tables around the country, there will not likely be any popular opinion driving the politics into anything more altruistic, either.

Getting Ready -- 
the First Step in Getting Through It
We've already seen how stupid we look when we have absolutely no plan...

MeanMesa is inclined to think that making some decisions now -- no matter how difficult -- will be a good start in planning how the US will respond in the future. We need to collectively accept the reality that US food aid [surpluses] in the near future will become quite limited and much more critically directed than ever before if it remains possible at all. We have to "pick" our projects, and no matter how cold and compassion-less it might seem now, we will be forced to "pick" assistance goals and recipients which can boost our own odds of survival, leaving the rest to their fate.

Please note here, MeanMesa  mentioned "...our own odds of survival," and did NOT mention "...our own odds for prosperity." Although the surviving oligarchs might consider this unfolding nightmare to be "a career opportunity," the rest of us would probably do well to avoid that idea.

Such a thoughtful approach will be quite difficult -- if not impossible -- to comprehend for a Congress with the ideals and vision constantly dominated by the priorities of an oligarchy. Although the current political penchant for false austerity may be frustrating and painfully uncomfortable for most Americans, the future version of such "austerity justifying" arguments in an environment of violent, desperate global crisis is what will make 2014 look like those "good old days" as mentioned earlier.

In a decade or two US international trade treaties will deal mainly with guarantees to access of foreign crop sales, while US military interventions will be directed at protecting food producing treaty partners from other "hungry folks" with an eye of those harvests, an eye on the irrigation water that made them possible or perhaps just a really bad attitude from being so hungry and thirsty that they feel like raising hell. Given the continuing collapse of the US economy, we might hope that by this time prudent budgeting may have actually begun to limit the "devil may care" approach currently taken as valid "US interests" are determined internationally. "US interests" will gradually come to deal almost exclusively with market access to food exports or the military protection of such access or for the countries providing the food.

The global location of theoretically arable lands will not change, but food will be produced new areas of the planet. The rainfall map -- indicating the climate's tendencies to provide adequate rainfall for agricultural production is shifting such locations steadily -- with the result of re-locating the "bread baskets" of the world. But it won't be a matter of simply moving food along different routes or distances to sustain US access to the market. Every complicating factor imaginable will fall into play -- politics, economics and security for starters, but "settling old grudges" will inevitably appear sooner or later.

Congress, Climate Change and the States
An opportunity for phony GOP austerity to flourish violently at home

Of course, the consequences of the climate catastrophe will not be limited to other areas of the planet. Within the borders of the United States we should expect significant migrations of populations. At the time of this post, the western regions of the US have already entered into multiple years of record drought while regions receiving more rain than usual are submerged under neglected infrastructure which was designed for a different climate decades ago.

The western agricultural producing states -- generally a collection of states from Kansas to California -- have also begun to experience the first taste of lowered production due to the changing climate. MeanMesa predicts, quite comfortably, that we should expect these conditions to steadily deteriorate further.

So, where does the "Congress" part enter the picture?

The specific difficulties that states will begin to experience will not be structurally homogeneous. Dwindling and expanding regional populations will wreak havoc in a myriad of ways for states. Some state budgets will buckle under the burden of increasingly bad economies, while others will find their economies growing at unmanageable rates. At this point it is beginning to look like the Southeastern US will benefit most from more seasonable climates -- including rain fall -- while being battered by increasingly severe hurricanes.

In the midst of this state by state mayhem, the Congress will face the task of allocating reducing resources to competing state governments. The old Congressional "bring home the bacon" pork barrel largess might continue on its present brutally bi-partisan "winner take all" rampage for a while, but in time there will be states literally abandoned to the drought, depopulated and crying for help just to sustain whatever is left.

Of course given a little thoughtful insight into the science of the matter, Congress could, actually, do quite a lot to mitigate some of the inevitable pain, but, faced with the prospect of investing in the future of the country, the oligarchs won't have a bit of it. The current penchant for cravenly suffocating what remains of the economy after 2008 is apparently a fait accompli until the census initiates redistricting in 2020. In the intervening years, this heralds the possibility of some "real losers" with respect to states so seriously impacted that they effectively go out of business, turn off the lights and lock the doors.

Hardly a picture suggesting political stability of any kind.

The very fabric of the nation now appears to be headed for an unprecedented challenge. The crippling death grip of the oligarchs and their Republican Party ruined the nation's economy six years ago, and the same bunch now stands, salivating, at the prospect of extracting whatever is left. In better times we could have probably recovered from this given time, but in this instance, we will still be struggling under the same parasitic overlords as the climate catastrophe descends in earnest.

The United States will face that dismal dawn essentially as a Third World country.

Save what money you can. Eat a little extra when possible -- and relish it. Love your family just a little more and get ready. Whatever you do, keep voting!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Daily KOS: New Mexico Education Scandal

First, Just A Quick Note About New Mexico ALEC
Think of it as making weekly, over due, 
dentist payments...for an endless toothache.

Frequent visitors to MeanMesa are quite aware that there is "little love lost" between this blog and the New Mexico infestation of the national American Legislative Exchange Council -- ALEC. More traditional media, even those generally opposed to ALEC's state level machinations, are apparently reluctant to "really just let go" when it comes time for "clearing the air."

For example, we can consider the local "newspaper" in Albuquerque, the tragic, tattered remains of what was, at one time, apparently, an actual newspaper. The Albuquerque Journal has always remained suspiciously silent on the topic of ALEC. This shouldn't surprise anyone who has had the misfortune of accidentally picking up the rag, no doubt thinking it might be a good fit for the bottom of a parakeet cage. The Journal is famous for publishing right wing op-eds on its front page as if they were news.

Well, relax. MeanMesa isn't nearly as reluctant as the Journal to post on this topic, and, although this post is primarily about some financial shenanigans being pulled by the sold out Martinez administration, just about any time "financial shenanigans" begin to emerge from Santa Fe, it's almost a sure bet that somewhere down the line the cash will, sooner or later, begin to dance to an ALEC tune.

ALEC titles itself an "exchange" council, but that seemingly reasonable description is about as misleading as the rest of what ALEC is and what ALEC does.  NM ALEC is populated by Republicans. There might be a heavily soiled Democrat or two in the mix, but they would only be there if, as they say, "the price was right." In that case, they would fit into the crowd just swimmingly because that is precisely the reason the Republicans are there.

The ALEC Republicans are bold faced looters. The particular loot causing them to salivate so much in this case is the part of the State of New Mexico legislative education budget which is intended to pay for special education. These ALEC looters don't arrive in 1920's phaetons like Al Capone, or suddenly appear on the horizon like the Dark Age army of Gustavus Adolphus. Instead, ALEC is far more likely to meet and greet sympathetic state legislators at one of its famously lavish, fully hosted "legislative affairs conventions."

This is where the "exchange" part of the American Legislative Exchange Council is "exchanged." In some distant think tank bunker -- long before the "convention" even begins -- the oligarchs have ordered their minions to prepare "proposed legislation," that is, to prepare fully complete legislative "bills" which can be introduced effortlessly by the "sympathetic" state legislators who have become even more "sympathetic" amid all the wining and dining at the big ALEC "doin's," not to mention the theoretically unspoken promise of substantial campaign contributions.

ALEC is designed to be the "ultimate middle man." Corporations are understandably "gun shy" about visiting the Round House in the light of day, check books in hand, so ALEC handles the dirty work for them. After purchasing a nice clutch of promisingly cooperative state legislative Republicans, ALEC disappears from public sight. The "fix" is in. The anti-democracy rerouting of public funds is underway.

[MeanMesa has posted about ALEC NM before. ALEC NM - Anti-Democracy in the High Desert]

Introducing Albuquerque to 

For political junkies such as MeanMesa, Daily KOS merits an eager, daily visit. If you would like to visit the site yourself, just click on this link: You will find a truly refreshing treatment of many of the major news stories unfolding in the country. Although it presents an unabashedly liberal slant in its articles, you will enjoy both its editorial honesty and the thoughtful depth typically found in Daily KOS reporting.

MeanMesa suspects that most Americans have abandoned the alphabet networks by this time, and while this list may certainly begin with Murdoch's FOX, it now solidly includes ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and much of MSNBC. So far as the "informed electorate" goes, we're flying blind.

The excellent Daily KOS reporting which follows is presented in its entirety. While you read it, bear in mind these thoughts about ALEC and the twisted, tormented route the ALEC Republicans in the New Mexico state government seem to take as they wheedle away funds from the place where legislators thought they were putting them to somewhere else.

Think about precisely where that "somewhere else" might be on your way to the polls in November. At the moment, these pikers think that they're doing just great.

Daily KOS

WED MAY 21, 2014 AT 12:51 PM PDT

Susana Martinez' PED May Owe Districts 
Millions for Special Education

by Boogiemania

[Link to the original Daily KOS article  here.]

Monday night a crowd of worried teachers and parents converged on the APS administrative building in uptown Albuquerque. Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) Superintendent Winston Brooks had convened a special public forum to discuss the proposed APS response to a ruling that the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) violated federal law in 2011-2012 by reducing special education funding from 2009 levels. At the forum, attended by other superintendents and legislators (but notably no state employees), Brooks revealed his plan to ask Arnie Duncan to require the state to create a payment plan to reimburse all the school districts that have been meeting their obligations to special education students. (PDF of APS presentation)

The metaphorical milk has been spilled in more ways than one. On May 8, Judge O'Hair ruled that the PED's argument had no merit, and the state would lose $34.12 million dollars in federal funding, an equivalent amount to the appropriation the state should have made in that year. This is only the beginning of the story; the state has continued to fund special education at the lower levels, despite repeated warnings about losing federal education subsidies. Indeed, the loss of subsidies is non-negotiable; the law is clear that no alternative is permitted.

Federal law on Maintenance of Effort (MOE) is pretty simple (click images for full size). The state must appropriate funds for special education equal to or more than the funds spent the previous fiscal year. Local school districts must spend funds on special education equal to or more than what was spent the previous year. APS and several other districts in New Mexico have kept their side of the bargain—keeping special education funding—mostly by dipping into the general education fund. During the year in question that meant that all Albuquerque students in the system were shorted about $8.8 million (and indeed APS lost hundreds of jobs during this time).

Gutting Special Needs Education - the timeline [image source]
[Take a moment to expand this chart in a new window and take a close look. The story told here is worth knowing.]

The unacknowledged truth (hinted at during the public forum) is that Governor Martinez—and her unconfirmed Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera—dropped the ball administratively and don't want to acknowledge their mistake. Indeed, the state's response is to file a lawsuit against the government (draining away even more special education dollars in attorney's fees). The state PED started cutting special education funding in response to the recession, and the Department of Education granted a waiver for the first year, when the state was in a desperate cash crunch. In subsequent years the economy has recovered somewhat, but Governor Susana Martinez's education department has continued to fund special education at lower levels, claiming that the year for which the waiver was granted should have set a new baseline.

Superintendent Brooks' sensible and creative response to what has become a chronic problem ("darn near criminal" according to one insider at the forum; "verging on malfeasance" according to another), is to ask Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan to force the state to pay the school districts back the millions they failed to appropriate. One activist parent, Katie Stone, recommended that they incorporate language to put the New Mexico PED under a corrective action plan, which won warm applause from the crowd, and will probably be included in the draft presented to the school board tonight for approval.

The legislators present, Representative Mimi Stewart and Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto, were quick to point out that they were the ones who had inadvertently discovered what PED was doing, and how many years this problem had gone unaddressed. They assured the crowd that the legislature is now fully aware of the issue and that the most recent budget had appropriated supplemental funds to meet MOE for last year and this year but that they ultimately fell far short of the underfunding.

Whether it was malice or neglect that caused this administrative failure, the most disabled children did not suffer the consequences. It's been the top 90% of students—and particularly the top 5%—who have felt the repercussions. Gifted students, who are part of the special education program under state law, have seen more barriers to entry and less reliable service. The reason became somewhat clearer at the meeting (although the APS people would not address this directly). Federal funds for special education are earmarked for students with disabilities so they counted toward MOE expenditures, but could not be used for gifted, so the district's solution has been to provide fewer services to fewer children (which may explain Governor Martinez' claim that the state doesn't have to spend so much money because the number of special education children needing services has dropped).

Other issues that were raised at the meeting hint at a broader tangle of problems at PED that needs to be unwound. Governor Martinez wants to see most of the money "below the line," meaning that her department has discretion over the expenditure of funds. The school districts and parents were vocal about wanting the funds "above the line," and earmarked for specific programs. One of the problems with tracking the MOE expenditures has been that education spending has become steadily less transparent under Martinez' administration.

During her public comment period, Ms. Stone mentioned that the root of the education funding problem in New Mexico is the root of many other issues, including oil spills and nuclear leaks, namely that Governor Martinez has allowed employment vacancies to undermine the function of the government. Like the critically understaffed environment department, 50-75 positions in the PED go unfilled.

It's hard to see how Governor Martinez can equate the obstinate, ideological malfeasance of her education department with making educational achievement the cornerstone of her current gubernatorial campaign. Susana Martinez craves a national stage where she can trumpet her educational achievements and her conservative credentials. The special education funding fiasco is something she would like to see swept under the rug and tied up in endless appeals and arbitration until she is re-elected in November.

In trying to shortchange the most needy of our students, she ended up hurting the majority of students in the state, including the highest achieving. In trying to save money on the backs of disabled children, she is costing the state untold millions in fines and legal fees. Rather than taking responsibility for the actions of her administration, she is doubling down, going on the offensive—and still not funding special education at mandatory levels.

Tonight, the Albuquerque Board of Education will discuss the letter to Secretary Duncan and decide whether to press ahead with recovering funds for our students.

If you are an Albuquerque resident and read this story today, contact your school board member and ask them to support a repayment plan as well as a corrective action plan for PED.

If you are anywhere in New Mexico, contact your school board and ask them what their response is going to be. Contact your US Senators and Representatives to ask them to lean on Secretary Duncan. Write the press, tell your friends and let teachers know how much PED has been shortchanging them. The press has been reluctant to pick up on this story, so it's up to people who care about adequate funding for kids to make a stink.

Thu May 22, 2014 at 6:05 PM PT: Update: the final letter was approved by the board for everyone to sign and send to Arnie Duncan, including a new section regarding a corrective action plan.

Thanks to everyone who has supported this issue by spreading the word! Now we need to get our legislators to support the plan too!


© Kos Media, LLCSite content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified
“Kos” and “Daily Kos” are registered trademarks of Kos Media, LLC
[Links transferred from the original article remain enabled.]
A Final Note

Trying to influence the legislative action in the Round House can be a tricky business. A few of us may be "connected" to NM State legislators willing to stand up to this sort of business, and there are, actually, Representatives and Senators in Santa Fe who might be inclined to act in the public interest on such matters, but MeanMesa is saddened to concede that these men and women will comprise only a minority.
In a State already crippled by the crushing poverty of the 2008 Great Republican Recession resources for the legislative budget are tight amid what is now widely considered to be a "double dip" impact. However, these factors do not present an excuse for subverting lawful allocations of resources for public education.
If we can't find the money for public education, it's already past time to figure out why.
The special needs requirements are not discretionary spending. The NM plan to handle this part of the education funding has threads running to the Federal Department of Education. Eliminating this Department is one of the favorites of the drooling right wingers' "policy platforms" for "reducing the size of government and lowering taxes." [Read a sample  here.]
The budget for this part of the State's public education commitment is not to be left unattended for the ALEC GOP "schemers," although it appears that this is exactly where we are now.
While it is unlikely that the scam reported in the Daily KOS article can be stopped or even mitigated in the foreseeable future, just remember that the money which is NOT going to special needs education is still, in fact, GOING SOMEWHERE.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Role of Hope in the Politics of Democracy

Ridiculing Hope and Change

After being thoroughly looted under the autocracy,
 no one could afford much more.

MeanMesa has to suspect that the "Hope and Change" campaign motto adopted during the Obama candidacy had to be, at some point, "run by" the candidate himself. All the inevitable ridicule and sardonic squealing the motto would undoubtedly draw in the future were surely elements in the calculus employed to reach the final decision to use it.

Interestingly, the concepts of hope and change are actually so closely laced together in terms of human sentiment and behavior as to be inextricable from one another. The title of this post cites "hope" specifically, but most of the things possibly said about hope will naturally also entail the concept of "change."

The relationship between the two is intricately causal. Humans devoid of hope have no logical foundation for dreaming of change, a necessary precursor to potential action. Instead, humans devoid of hope are stranded only with the cold comfort of perpetual desperation [One form of the Latin word for "hope" is "spera." In the English word, desperation, we see the Latin origin -- de...spera...tion.]

A Quick Visit to Philadelphia, 1760

The country's founders lived in a world where democracy was considered an academic curiosity attributed primarily to the classical politics of places such as Athens and Rome. The world around them as the time of the Declaration approached was populated almost entirely by monarchies of various sorts. Worse, those monarchies -- especially the most geo-politically powerful among them -- were ossified relics already in power for centuries. In almost every case they had patiently adopted an arcane collection of, shall we say, "bad habits."

We are all familiar with the history. As the founders thought of a new model for the government they were considering, the list of "common choices" was not particularly promising. There was, of course, the "monarchy idea" which was already growing quite unpopular in the Colonies, but there were others. Theocracies, autocracies, dictatorships and good old fashioned war lords were a few.

When these men "selected" democracy, many of the moving parts of such a plan remained ill defined. Granted, there had been a good deal of writing and thinking done on the subject, but the task of formulating the "nuts and bolts" practicalities required to create an operational model was daunting.

They did pretty well.

One way to look at their solution was that they wanted the citizens of the new Republic to have a way to meet the challenges facing them based on their own plans and values, hence the "representative" part of the idea. Citizens, they assumed, would hope that changes could be made, problems solved and progress, generally, realized, and those hopes would pilot the government's actions more or less along the lines of a majority opinion in such matters.

The idea which was being rejected by these founders was the European model where policies and changes seemed to descend from the powerful in a way essentially independent of the hopes of the citizens. The European plan worked well enough until the "citizen hope" level finally grew enough to permanently challenge it.

In the United States all of this would be accomplished in the mechanism described by the Constitution. There were always plenty of "loose ends" in the system, but in the long term the Constitution's proposal turned out to be a good one. "Citizen hopes" occasionally raised hell in the Republic before they were finally sorted out in the democratic process, but centuries passed without any guillotines.

The point here is not to write another history of the United States, but, instead, to simply point out without any "hemming and hawing" whatsoever that what these men proposed was a representational democracy which would be controlled by, yes, politics.

Politics as Pandora's Box

Politics and Pandora [image source]
The mythological story of Pandora may be fascinating, but here we must consider specifically "the box" part.

Zeus gave the gods-crafted Pandora as bride to Epimetheus, along with a box with a warning label telling the couple never to open it. Epimetheus was dazzled by his bride, Pandora. Perhaps he forgot the advice of his prescient brother. Perhaps he thought they were supposed to hold the box in safe-keeping for Zeus against his return -- that it wasn't a gift, at all.

Pandora Opens the Box. 

Epimetheus insisted that his wife obey the letter of the label. Unfortunately, one day Pandora's husband left her side for a few hours. Pandora was gifted with curiosity as much as the other attributes given her by the gods. For her the box was a gift, not something to be kept in trust. What business had Zeus to tell her not to open it? Perhaps she'd listened to her brother-in-law's tales of tricking the king of the gods. Perhaps she saw nothing to fear. Maybe if she just took a quick peak.... Looking around to make sure no one was watching, she opened the box Zeus had given them just a crack. As Pandora did so, ghostly forms gushed forth from the crack. Pandora had unleashed all the evils now known to man. No longer could man loll about all day, but he would have to work and would succumb to illnesses.

At the very bottom of the container was the last thing to come out. It was something that wasn't evil. We call the good that Pandora unleashed by the name of hope.                       [Visit the site here.]

There are various "embellished" interpretations of precisely what Zeus's world wrecking, suddenly released evils were, but most versions arrive roughly at this list:  disease, despair, malice, greed, old age, death, hatred, violence, cruelty and war. The mythology's "implied" message is that before disobedient Pandora's curiosity unleashed these things, the world was a peaceful, well fed happy place.

While the democracy designed by the founders certainly didn't "unleash" such grave dilemmas as Zeus "punishments," we can see that it has done fairly well at "unleashing" quite a collection of humanity's ugliest appetites. But the last "item" to fly forth from the bottom of Pandora's box was, famously, hope.

This post is about the role played by hope in the politics of democracy.

Hope, Risk Taking and Politics

The mechanism of the interplay between hope and change usually accompanies a question of risk taking. In the "devoid of hope" sense, risk taking demands that there be "odds" which can be weighed to potentially justify taking action. Vast political ambitions have been founded on creating odds justifying such action or, in more cynical cases, "establishing the perception" of such odds.

The counter policy also holds true. When the prospect of "taking action" based on hope must be squelched, materially decreasing the odds to a more pessimistic state or, of course, decreasing the perception of the odds to such a state by an artificial manner is, predictably, the usual mechanism.

This kind of political manipulation of the electorate, MeanMesa dares to presume, is, at least, probably one of the wicked little vapors which emerged from the founders' "political box" if not, in fact, from Pandora's. In any event precisely this style of "odds manipulation" -- and especially the manipulation of the perception of the odds -- has become absolutely nothing less than a burgeoning "career opportunity" for the denizens of the oligarchic think tanks now infesting the country.

The point here is that not far below the necessity of such schemes manipulating the odds or the apparent odds lies the dynamic of the hope which drives the risk taking in the first place. In other words anyone "betting the farm" on artificially manipulating the odds arising from dreams derived from a certain kind of hope will, sooner or later, need to address the hope directly. Naturally, too much out of control hoping can throw a wrench in just about any such scheme. Most of them are, instead, counting on the political inertia to be found in lots of voters with plenty of cynical, hopeless pessimism.

Predictably, this is an the outline of the orders issued to the oligarchs' think tanks. If voters can be reduced to a hopeless, frightened, angry desperation, all sorts of political "opportunities" will emerge from the ensuing mayhem -- none of them boding well for the democracy.

Risk Taking: The Order of the Day
Americans are quite used to handling politics this way.

While things were "rolling along" in a more or less usual manner in the democracy, no one had perfect hope, that is, an impossibly high quality of hope predicating action to be undertaken with perfect odds of success. There are always risks. For example the founders themselves found the idea of adversarial conflict between counselors and prosecutors at trial to be a great way to insure dynamic legal verdicts.

Voters were faced with "taking risks" as they elected candidates to run their government, and the risks were always there. The winning candidate might have deceived his constituency during his campaign. Once elected, those in power might have abandoned their campaign principles or even the personal positions they had traditionally held. These are all risks. Every one of these decisions is weighed by a voter as the likelihood of one of these outcomes is estimated. In other words the "odds are established," then the risks are taken, and the ballot is cast.

The thread of hope runs inextricably through all of this. Political campaigns become, generously perhaps, "risk management" exercises. Fears detected in the minds of the electorate must be addressed and assuaged to make the odds of them materializing seem less likely if the candidate is elected. Likewise, a candidate's campaign must work to make the odds of realizing dreams and ambitions -- hopes -- held by the same electorate either to be greater, or at least, appear greater.

The Right Wing's Necessary War on Hope

A great deal can be garnered from an objective examination of the general theme employed in the right wing's propaganda effort, but perhaps the most chilling revelation will be the obsession with deforming hope and exploiting the consequences. Let's look a little more closely at that conclusion.

The idea that hopes [Fears can be presumed to be "hopes of avoidance."] entertained by an electorate are, at least theoretically, the "engine" driving representational government openly invites those wishing to manipulate the process to address hope itself. Should the hope of some portion of voters become somehow controllable under the assault of carefully designed propaganda, the consequential "impulses of hope" directing the government would also become conveniently controllable.

Want to be a tea bag? [image source]
In the traditional case hope is "transitive." One with hope is "hoping" for "something." Although this hardly seems to be "rocket science," it represents precisely the deceptive tactic incorporated into the right's propaganda program. While the strategy itself may be somewhat obscured by design, an over view of the issues presented in the propaganda still expose the larger, underlying purpose in a very revealing way.

It won't require looking at too many of the doggerel "protest signs" at a tea party anti-immigration rally to begin to get the picture. Those voters operating under the influence of the propaganda's maxims are, in fact "hoping" for things. For example, they probably might be hoping that the United States population demographic return to the Caucasian majority of the halcyon days of 1950.

Other sign bearers might be hoping that taxes be reduced to an unworkably low rate, that public schools cease teaching science, that the enfranchisement of certain voting blocks be truncated or that their personal Biblical priorities about abortion and gay marriage become statutory law, and so on. We are familiar with the varying "messages" of the propagandized minority.

However, considered in a larger picture all these "hopes" share at least one chilling commonality. None of them -- not a single one -- is ever likely to be realized. In most cases there is not even so much as the existential possibility hosted by the most unlikely of all possible "special conditions" imaginable which might ever develop into anything even remotely similar to the "completely corrected dream world" of their political fantasy.

The propaganda, once it is stripped of all its incendiary psychology, is merely enticing these poor sign carriers to hope for impossible things, in most cases grumbling that they "feel" that "everyone knows this is right." Once this is accomplished by the relentless application of right wing propaganda, there remains no likelihood whatsoever that any of these carefully manicured "conceptual victims" will ever take another breath of satisfaction or contentment for the remainder of their painful, hopeless lives.

It is, of course, only when they are in this precise state that the oligarchs' think tanks officially consider such a political base properly prepared to enter a voting booth.

We cannot fail to appreciate the exquisite work of psychological manipulation which has delivered these educationally challenged voters to such a widely held, grim, political eschatology -- or the apparent permanence of it. It is absolutely a "challenge well met" when a right wing American -- traditionally an impressive example of hope -- can be transformed into a grumpy, desolate nihilist.

When MeanMesa ponders a possible "path back" to some sort of functional politics, this is what springs to this tired old mind first.