Sunday, August 30, 2015

(Artificial Unintelligence)  NC a Leader in Progressive Policies? Ask Duke  (Bucking the Market? Socialism for the Rich)  KKK's Rule of National Park Service Continues?  (Bush FEMA Treachery Pays!)

NC is a real leader in important matters today. Cutting taxes and unmercifully slashing the funding of state universities and public education institutions.

Those outstanding legislators in the NC General Assembly raised taxes on citizens at the bottom of the wealth pyramid by passing lots of regressive taxes, and largely abolished those on corporations and other wealthy citizens.

And the deficit is cured!

On the backs of poor people (who now get almost no social services (or quality education) any more from their state government to which they have faithfully paid taxes for many years (let alone Medicaid)).

The governor, you know, used to be on Duke's payroll.

Some say he still is.

Kansas does not stand alone.

Back east in North Carolina, researchers and engineers at UNC-Charlotte are scrambling to figure out a way to properly deal with 264 billion pounds — that’s 264,000,000,000 pounds, for clarity — of highly toxic coal ash which has accumulated in the state, all of which belongs to Duke Energy. The ash is currently being stored in 32 large holes in the ground, but these holes were constructed without liners, which means the poisons from this terribly bounty — chromium and arsenic top the list — are finding their way into the water table.

Maybe they can move it to safer, lined storage basins. Maybe they can utilize other chemicals to stop the threat of the current chemicals. The situation has become a political and industry football in North Carolina, and while the lawmakers butt heads with the business magnates, while the researchers and engineers labor to find a fix, the water around those 264 billion pounds of awful gets dirtier, and dirtier, and dirtier.

Despite all this, some 15 states are currently petitioning in Federal court to thwart President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which seeks to cut carbon emissions from power plants within the next 15 years. These states include West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

. . . The leadership in those states dismiss the hard reality of climate change, and likely won’t believe in it until the rain turns to ashes and the seas swallow the coasts … and perhaps, not even then. Greed dies hard, even when the rivers have turned to soot and the tap water catches fire.

All this, along with all the other spills and explosions, the ravages of fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline with its gruesome tar sands oil augurs toward an irrefutable truth: We are killing ourselves with coal, with chemicals, with carelessness and with greed. The people behind all this don’t care, and won’t care until they are made to. Navajo Nation activists literally chased a sitting US senator down the road and off their lands in an attempt to force the issue.

What will you do?

Artificial Unintelligence

By Paul Krugman, "The New York Times"
29 August 15
n the early stages of the Lesser Depression, those of us who knew a bit about the macroeconomic debates of the 1930s, and realized how relevant the hard-won insights of Keynes and Hicks were to the post-financial crisis world, often felt a sense of despair. Everywhere you looked, people who imagined themselves sophisticated and possessed of deep understanding were resurrecting 75-year-old fallacies and presenting them as deep insights.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, and I at least no longer feel the same sense of despair. Instead, I feel an even deeper sense of despair — because people are still rolling out those same fallacies, even though in the interim those of us who remembered and understood Keynes/Hicks have been right about most things, and those lecturing us have been wrong about everything.

So here’s William Cohan in the "Times," declaring that the Fed should “show some spine” and raise rates even though there is no sign of accelerating inflation. His reasoning:


From WhoWhatWhy:

Financial Markets are Not Free – They’re One of the Last Bastions of Socialism

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, “you can’t buck the market.” But, as "The Guardian" points out, that’s exactly what the world’s financial policymakers are doing with zeroed-out interest rates, quantitative easing, and through policies that mitigate much-needed corrections to market bubbles. But they are quickly running out of options and, therefore, Maggie’s Iron Law of the Market may be enforced regardless of their market-friendly approach.

Reconstruction and the National Park Service

[ 25 ] August 28, 2015 |
Ku Klux Klan member, Tennessee, 1868

This is a good piece summarizing the one area of U.S. history that the National Park Service has done a terrible job commemorating, which is, not surprisingly, Reconstruction.
The NPS does a really commendable job of remembering the American past, especially given its increasingly limited resources spread out over increasing numbers of parks. But Reconstruction is a major gap. The first reason is obvious – that for so long the popular historical interpretation of the period was one most popularly told in "Birth of a Nation."

But this open white supremacy was always challenged by African-Americans and in recent decades the popular memory has shifted. Except among conservative white people, which still means memory of the period is extremely charged. The NPS is moving toward some new sites that would remember the brief, aborted attempt to create something like a racial democracy in the post-Civil War period. What has to happen now that did not happen in 2003 when the last time an effort to create a Reconstruction site took place is to not allow the Confederate heritage organizations to have a seat at the table. This is the equivalent of allowing Neo-Nazi organizations to have a role in deciding on official historical remembrance of the Holocaust.

I do believe we will see, at the very least, Obama simply name a Reconstruction-era National Monument before he leaves office. A congressional bill would be preferable because it would show that there is a broader understanding of what Reconstruction is really about but given the rise of radical white supremacist Republicanism in the last decade, this feels unlikely to me. Moreover, I am concerned that the NPS is still bringing representatives of the Sons of Confederate Veterans into meetings. Why? They should be excluded entirely. They are never going to agree and don’t have a legitimate viewpoint to begin with.

From WhoWhatWhy:

Is the US Ready for an Endless War Against the Islamic State?

"Foreign Policy" examines the growing gap between the realities on the ground in Syria and Iraq, and the grand plans of policymakers in Washington. The gap was laid bare this week when it was revealed that intelligence reports may have been dressed-up to make it look like US efforts against the Islamic State were having a greater impact than the evidence suggests. It is starting to look like Uncle Sam is on an all too familiar slippery slope.

INVESTIGATION - The Last Word on Katrina:  Treachery at Bush’s FEMA Pays Handsomely

How the Botchees Made Out Like Bandits

Hurricane Katrina left massive devastation and FEMA’s response was highly criticized — but about the other parties involved? Photo Credit: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / Wikimedia
(Click on photo to enlarge.) Hurricane Katrina left massive devastation and FEMA’s response was highly criticized — but about the other parties involved? Photo Credit: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / Wikimedia
Michael Brown, the disgraced head of FEMA during Hurricane Katrina
The real story of how and why this hopelessly unqualified individual was placed in this sensitive post
A web of self-interest, undergirded by a philosophical contempt for government and the governed.


The Anti-Government Folks Cash in on Government

If being ostensibly “anti-government” while playing a leading role in government is tricky, it all pays off on the back end. Nobody knows that better than Allbaugh, whom Newsweek described as having “the hide of a rhino” when it comes to criticism of conflicts of interest.

Once he left FEMA, he moved quickly to make up for years of privation in the public sector, forming the Allbaugh Company with his wife, Diane, an attorney. She had begun laying the groundwork from the moment they arrived in Washington, DC, repeating a pattern she’d established in Texas. In the summer of 1996, just a year after moving to the Lone Star State, Diane had signed on as a lobbyist with a number of large corporate clients — mostly energy firms, with pressing business before the state — while her husband held a highly visible position as the governor’s top aide.

When the newspapers reported the story, Governor Bush’s office hastened to announce new rules, and Diane declared an end to her lobbying career. However, she was soon ensconced in a ‘non-lobbying’ position with a law firm, representing some of the very same companies.

Why spend resources to prevent disasters, when there’s so much more money to be made cleaning up after them?
Now, in Washington, she jumped into the K Street fray, becoming “of counsel” to Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, which Fortune magazine described at the time as the country’s most powerful lobbying firm.

The shop’s founder, Haley Barbour stayed involved with the firm while playing a key role in the privatization of government services, as chairman of the Republican National Committee during Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” revolution. Then he served as chairman of Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign advisory committee.

He left the company in 2003, became governor of Mississippi, and ended up on television talking about how his citizens were suffering from Katrina.

No one thought to point out how the Allbaugh-Brown-Barbour model of disaster management had set the stage for the calamity. A cynic might formulate that model like this: Why spend resources to prevent disasters, when there’s so much more money to be made cleaning up after them?

Shaw Group: $100 Million x 2 out of Katrina

Consider the Shaw Group, a Baton Rouge engineering and construction firm. On August 15, 2005, with hurricane season getting under way, Allbaugh became a lobbyist for Shaw, which had already begun advertising for workers to staff its rebuilding projects — even before Katrina struck.

After the levees broke, Shaw, which had not been a FEMA contractor during the Clinton years, received two separate $100 million federal clean-up contracts and saw its stock price shoot up 50 percent in a few weeks.

Nevertheless, when the DC newspaper The Hill asked about the remarkable good fortune of Allbaugh’s clients, his spokesperson, Patti Giglio, replied, “The first thing he says when he sits down with a client is, Don’t hire me if you’re looking for a government contract.’”

AshBritt Inc: $568 Million out of Katrina

Maybe that’s why AshBritt Inc. didn’t hire Allbaugh. Instead, the Florida-based environmental services firm hired Barbour Griffith — a client of Allbaugh’s wife — and was selected by the Army Corps of Engineers to help lead the Katrina clean-up effort. The contract, worth $568 million, was signed just before the hurricane hit.

It’s interesting that, back in 2002, when an ice storm hit Allbaugh’s native Kay County, Oklahoma, he arranged a conference call with county officials, who ended up choosing the Florida-based AshBritt over other firms with much lower competing bids.

(AshBritt was much in the news following Katrina, with a range of local publications raising questions about the company’s operations, its transparency, and its spectacular growth during the Bush years — all through lucrative contracts to subcontract to other firms that do most of the actual clean-up work.)

AshBritt’s president, Randal R. Perkins, said in an interview that he did not recall the 2002 conference call, and noted that his firm doesn’t deal directly with FEMA. “FEMA doesn’t contract directly, they just pay the bills,” he said. As for Allbaugh, Perkins said, “I know him, but I wouldn’t say that we are friends.”

Allbaugh “Vets” Dick Cheney

Allbaugh’s web of self-interest ranges from disasters to energy to real estate. And the self-serving links involve not just him, his wife, Brown, and Barbour but also the vice president and the president.

Haley Barbour advised the Bush-Cheney campaign on strategy in 2000 while Joe Allbaugh was campaign manager. During the transition, Allbaugh vetted Cheney’s qualifications to be vice president.

After the election, Allbaugh served on Cheney’s secret energy task force, the National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG), while his wife was “of counsel” at the Barbour firm and being paid as a “consultant” by Reliant Energy, Entergy, and Texas Utilities Co.

Diane Allbaugh said she did no lobbying. But Barbour, on behalf of an electricity-producing client, successfully pushed NEPDG to recommend that the new administration renege on a campaign promise to limit carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants. Bush, citing the task force “findings,” complied.

KBR: $61 Million Out of Katrina

The Allbaughs and Cheneys are literally so at home with each other that, on first arriving in Washington, the Allbaughs bought Cheney’s townhouse in McLean, Virginia. During the house tour, Cheney must have pointed out the revolving doors. Among Allbaugh’s biggest clients is Cheney’s former employer, Halliburton, whose Kellogg, Brown and Root subsidiary got at least $61 million worth of Katrina business.

When Allbaugh left FEMA he did not, however, restrict himself to the domestic disaster business — and it was a business. Instead, he cast a wider net into the entire Homeland Security/Defense sector, stressing his implied connections in the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon, and the White House. His departure from government, in March 2003, took place precisely as the invasion of Iraq unfolded.

Iraq: More Money to be Made

Allbaugh formed — with Barbour Griffith and numerous ex-officials of the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations — a company called New Bridge Strategies. It secured contracts in Iraq the moment hostilities commenced.

He also formed Blackwell-Fairbanks, a lobbying joint venture with Andrew Lundquist, with whom he had served on vice president Cheney’s secret energy task force.  Clients had included the aerospace giant Lockheed Martin. On required forms, Blackwell-Fairbanks would later report that it had lobbied both the offices of the president and of the vice president.

Governor Haley Barbour — who in early September 2005 dismissed criticism of FEMA’s response to Katrina as “all cooked up by the news media and a few enemies of George Bush” — declined this reporter’s interview request.

Water, Water, Everywhere–but Not a Drop to Drink

Even the most cursory examination of the process through which FEMA awarded contracts would uncover decisions that carried little public benefit. One such example might be the agency’s abrupt 2003 decision to award an exclusive contract for water supplies in emergencies.

Prior to the Allbaugh-Brown reign, FEMA had handed out water contracts to a variety of companies. One of the recipients, not surprisingly, was Nestle Waters North America, easily the continent’s biggest producer, with 15 brands of bottled water and 23 bottling facilities in the U.S. and Canada.

Then, without explanation, FEMA went sole-source, picking a little-known, family-run firm called Lipsey Mountain Water. The company, based in Norcross, Georgia, had just 15 full-time employees, no production capacity, and no distribution network. Instead, it was aggressively soliciting other companies to supply its needs.

“The father and son came in and said, ‘We want you to sell us water,’” recalled Kim Jeffery, president and CEO of Nestle Waters North America. “I said, ‘Why would I do that? I have a contract with FEMA.’ He said, ‘Because we have the contract now.’”

Lipsey trumpeted a sophisticated computer system that would supposedly ensure speedy water deliveries and justify its exclusive five-year contract. But the system did not work so well during the crisis, according to some in the industry.

Joe Doss, president of the trade group for water suppliers, said his members were besieged with reports of delays in water deliveries after the hurricane, and that within one 24-hour period they voluntarily trucked in 1.5 million bottles. (And again, when Hurricane Wilma swept through Florida in late October 2005, Lipsey distribution sites turned people away without water days after the event.)

Lipsey Mountain Water may be new to the world of federal water contracts, but its principals are not new to politics.

The Gun Connection

The Lipseys are a politically connected family that gives to both political parties and owns one of the country’s largest gun wholesalers. The gun lobby is still the nation’s most powerful, as acknowledged by Dick Cheney, who addressed the National Rifle Association’s 2004 annual meeting and noted from the podium:

“I’m … delighted to see my good friend, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Joe Allbaugh. Joe is here this evening. It’s always good to have a firearm if you get into real trouble — but the next best thing is Joe Allbaugh.”

It is worth noting that the chaos in New Orleans featured home and business owners very publicly brandishing firearms–the disaster was certainly good publicity for gun makers.

In November, 2005, the Pentagon confirmed that its inspector general was investigating Lipsey in response to complaints received by Congress from truck drivers, trucking brokers, and ice producers who did much of the actual work under Lipsey’s contract. They said Lipsey had not paid their bills or even answered their phone calls. (Company president Joe Lipsey III did not respond to a list of questions that he had requested from this author following an interview request.)

Only through the painstaking unraveling of connections like these, are we likely to grasp the truth about the secret conflicts of interest that waste billions of public dollars and undermine the country’s readiness to respond to natural and man-made disasters.

Such inquiries are not welcome, of course. Instead, we put on our horse blinders. The Administration’s motto might easily be “Nothing to see here, folks, move along quickly, please.”

Indeed, when a National Public Radio interviewer posed questions about the handling of the storm to Vice Admiral Thad Allen, whom President Bush had assigned to take over the Katrina response from Michael Brown, Allen said that there was no point in dwelling on the past, and added,

"I would say that the longer the discourse continues about what might or might not have happened and the political issues surrounding that — I think at some point it starts to devalue the work of a whole lot of FEMA workers out there that are working very, very hard for the American public.”

Yet no one devalued the work of the rank and file of FEMA workers more than Joe Allbaugh, Michael Brown, and their boss, President Bush. And the discourse the administration wished to avoid was, and is, urgently needed.

Today, FEMA’s front line troops still struggle with the long-term legacy of Katrina and the task of rebuilding the agency. Meanwhile, long after the debacle he left behind, Joe Allbaugh was traveling the world, soliciting business, and even the disgraced Brown had moved into the consulting trade.

Ten years after Katrina, Allbaugh claims clients in a host of countries, and provides dozens of services, from Emergency Response Preparedness to “Navigating complex bureaucratic organizations” to Public Safety and Infrastructure. Brown is also a consultant to business, and hosts a radio show on a major Denver station, which advertises that “Ex-FEMA Director Michael Brown brings the full brunt of his sense of humor and political intelligence to bear on the issues of the day.”

As for George W. Bush — he was never seriously held to account for any of this.

Nor unseriously.

It really didn't quite rate up there with Bush looking under cocktail tables for the WMD.

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