Tag Archives: crisis

WBEN, Riding the Nativist Derp Train to Fraudville

17 Jul

It used to be that references to undocumented immigrants as “invaders” were reserved for the outermost fringes of the body politic. 

Stormfront. Short wave. Nazi/Racist/Neo-Confederate bulletin boards. Infowars.

Now, because of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, the right-wing freakout over “illegal” “invaders” has become commonplace. Neo-Nazi hate-speech is now mainstreamed. 

Add to that the spectacle of underemployed, underinformed, angry white folk, (whose immigrant ancestors came from somewhere), who have nothing better to do all day than to turn parts of the American desert into little clones of Afghanistan – complete with weapons and extralegal checkpoints

Not to put too fine a point on it all, but what’s going on along the US-Mexican border is unprecedented – youngsters are crossing into the US en masse and rather than running from Border Patrol in order to get further into the US, they are surrendering immediately upon arrival, just like the Cubans do under our unusually generous “dry foot” policy

(Hint: Just tell the wingnuts that these kids are from Cuba, and maybe they’ll treat them as human beings.)

Unsophisticated, poor families in places like Guatemala and Honduras – economically awful, socially violent, and politically dysfunctional places – are being tricked by human trafficking cartels to pay to send their kids to the US, where, they’re told, the kids will be able to claim asylum and stay forever.  Of course, there’s no federal “DREAM” Act, but a 2008 law requires the government to grant any kid from a non-border country an asylum hearing

These children and their families are being taken advantage of by con artists. They are the tired, the poor – the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  Tempest-tost wretched refuse, these children and their families are naive victims. Yet when they come here, our nativist right wing freaks out. Peak temper tantrum, hurling hateful invective not only at these Central American tweens, but at Obama, the liberals, and everyone else who doesn’t slap a Gadsen flag on their bumper and an eagle on their timeline. 

It is a humanitarian crisis because these children come with nothing – have nothing – and because ours is a country of laws, we are not empowered simply to shove them back on a bus across the Mexico border. We have due process.  We have laws. We have to detain them – humanely – while we process them all. That is how a 1st world country works, and that is what the law requires. 

It’s gotten to the point where any school bus filled with brown people is suspect. An Arizona state legislator running for Congress stoked the confrontation, and hatefully declared that food and shelter for a bus-full of brown-skinned children isn’t compassionate, but an “abrogation of the rule of law“. 

As it turns out, it wasn’t a bus-full of undocumented migrants, but a bus-full of Arizonan kids on their way to YMCA camp. Seriously

While the wingnuts with all that extra time on their hands accost kids on their way to the Y, other kids are dying. The border patrol is a law enforcement agency – not a refugee non-profit. The government is unprepared to deal with something like this, because of its massive scale and the unprecedented nature of what’s going on. Washington alternates between grandstanding and dithering

By treating these kids as “invaders” and an “army”, you dehumanize them as well as any World War II-era cartoon of a bespectacled, slanty-eyed Tojo. By focusing on blaming Obama rather than trying to solve a legal and humanitarian crisis, the right wing contributes not only to the further erosion of whatever was left of its Latino support, but exposes itself for the craven practitioner of racialist, nativist politics that it’s become in recent years. 

At the local forefront of this racial animus is hate radio WBEN, led by right-wing kook and operations director Tim Wenger. 

Sometime on Tuesday, this appeared at WBEN’s scat-strewn Facebook page: 

First of all, it links to “Gateway Pundit”, who is widely regarded by anyone with a brain to be one of the stupidest people in the right-wing blogosphere. Not just wrong – stupid.  Here, he links to something called “Mad World News”, which I’ve never heard of, and which certainly doesn’t seem like a completely credible source. 

Because it’s not.

I won’t link to either one, but if you go to “Mad World News”, it seems that some nosy hausfrau encountered a busload of brown-skinned people getting off a school bus at a Wal-Mart in rural North Carolina. She tried to communicate with them, but these durn Messikinz didn’t speak any English. So, she simply leaped to the conclusion that, because one of them had managed to communicate with her that they were recent arrivals to America, they must be “illegals”. Not only that, but our brave Mexican-whisperers concluded that this busload of “invaders” was paying for its Wal-Mart goodies with “EBT cards”; welfare handouts. 

Except not a word of it was true, and the tea party says so

OK, OK – yes, a busload of foreign migrant farm laborers did show up at a Wal-Mart in North Carolina, but they weren’t “illegals”, but legal guest-worker migrant farmworkers; people who had valid visas to enter the US and perform all the horrible manual farm labor that you consider to be beneath you

They weren’t paying with welfare cards. Their wages are paid to rechargeable debit cards, which they used to buy items for themselves at Wal-Mart in rural North Carolina. 

They weren’t on a government bus, but were instead being transported by their employer to the Wal-Mart for a shopping trip. 

But, you know, brown people on a bus using plastic at a Wal-Mart. Because right wingers instinctively think the worst of everyone and everything, these had to be (what else?) “illegal” “invaders” spending welfare EBT cards thanks to Obama inviting them to the US. 

So long as the tea party remains “diligent” when they really mean “vigilant”, we’ll all be a little safer and don’t forget your gun. 

Now, despite that this is completely untrue, having been factually debunked by WBEN’s own partisan allies, this radio station continues to perpetrate this fraud on Buffalo and its listenership by refusing to delete or update the post to point out that it’s a lie. Rather than be “accurate” as a putative “news” entity, WBEN sides instead with the people who would “go to war” against these kids

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, that story about n0bummer giving some of these kids a resort experience in Weslaco Texas is also completely false

In the meantime, the administration and Democrats will try to find a humane and legal solution to this problem while the Republicans continue to antagonize Latino voters and Millenials.  In the meantime, sane and rational people will call out wildly horrible local hate radio for the embarrassment it is. 

Not every problem is one that needs to be solved with hatred and guns. 

(Crossposted to Little Green Footballs)

Failed Experiment Fails

14 Dec

Are you wondering what’s going on with fiscal cliff negotiations? I mean, most mass media talk about it as a scary horrible thing that Washington is having trouble negotiating because Obama might be socialist and the Republicans are protecting taxpayers. Whatever. 

So, read Krugman, who notes that there’s no debt crisis – borrowing costs are at historic lows – there is a political crisis

a word about the current state of budget “negotiations.”

Why the scare quotes? Because these aren’t normal negotiations in which each side presents specific proposals, and horse-trading proceeds until the two sides converge. By all accounts, Republicans have, so far, offered almost no specifics. They claim that they’re willing to raise $800 billion in revenue by closing loopholes, but they refuse to specify which loopholes they would close; they are demanding large cuts in spending, but the specific cuts they have been willing to lay out wouldn’t come close to delivering the savings they demand.

It’s a very peculiar situation. In effect, Republicans are saying to President Obama, “Come up with something that will make us happy.” He is, understandably, not willing to play that game. And so the talks are stuck.

Why won’t the Republicans get specific? Because they don’t know how. The truth is that, when it comes to spending, they’ve been faking it all along — not just in this election, but for decades. Which brings me to the nature of the current G.O.P. crisis.

Since the 1970s, the Republican Party has fallen increasingly under the influence of radical ideologues, whose goal is nothing less than the elimination of the welfare state — that is, the whole legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society. From the beginning, however, these ideologues have had a big problem: The programs they want to kill are very popular. Americans may nod their heads when you attack big government in the abstract, but they strongly support Social Security, Medicare, and even Medicaid. So what’s a radical to do?

Reminiscent of something? Maybe the Romney campaign? The Republican Party is about to become post-supply-side, and less hung up on social issues, or it will wither away. For years it has relied on the idea that it can rely on scaring easily frightened white people, and win elections. Not so much anymore. 

One is “starve the beast,” the idea of using tax cuts to reduce government revenue, then using the resulting lack of funds to force cuts in popular social programs. Whenever you see some Republican politician piously denouncing federal red ink, always remember that, for decades, the G.O.P. has seen budget deficits as a feature, not a bug.

Arguably more important in conservative thinking, however, was the notion that the G.O.P. could exploit other sources of strength — white resentment, working-class dislike of social change, tough talk on national security — to build overwhelming political dominance, at which point the dismantling of the welfare state could proceed freely. Just eight years ago, Grover Norquist, the antitax activist, looked forward cheerfully to the days when Democrats would be politically neutered: “Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they’ve been fixed, then they are happy and sedate.”

But it didn’t work out that way. Democrats didn’t roll over, and the things for which Democrats stand for have suddenly become more popular while the Republicans have completely run out of not only specifics, but any kind of ideas at all. The Romney campaign was set up to basically point to Obama and say, “f*ck this guy”. That’s not a winning strategy. 

And look at where we are now in terms of the welfare state: far from killing it, Republicans now have to watch as Mr. Obama implements the biggest expansion of social insurance since the creation of Medicare.

So Republicans have suffered more than an election defeat, they’ve seen the collapse of a decades-long project. And with their grandiose goals now out of reach, they literally have no idea what they want — hence their inability to make specific demands.

It’s a dangerous situation. The G.O.P. is lost and rudderless, bitter and angry, but it still controls the House and, therefore, retains the ability to do a lot of harm, as it lashes out in the death throes of the conservative dream.

Our best hope is that business interests will use their influence to limit the damage. But the odds are that the next few years will be very, very ugly.

People have been predicting the Republican Party re-orientation back to a reasonable political actor for years now, but you have to reach rockbottom before you admit you have a problem and get help. Get help, people. We like good ideas. 

While you’re at it, read this set of charts from the Atlantic that show a statistical round-up of income inequality. It’ll make you angry going into the weekend. HAPPY WEEKEND. 

Happy Birthday, Romneycare!

16 Apr

Six years ago, Massachusetts’ then-Governor Mitt Romney signed the Commonwealth’s universal health insurance act into law. Try as Romney might, there is no doubt whatsoever that Obamacare directly descends from Romneycare – it is the Massachusetts plan writ large and federalized. Six years is the half-life, apparently, where a conservative path towards universal coverage becomes socialism. 

But Romneycare has resulted in an almost 100% coverage rate in Massachusetts, and though not perfect, has been dubbed a success story

Yet the 2012 model of Mitt Romney has nothing whatsoever to say about Romneycare on its sixth anniversary in the middle of a Presidential campaign. It’s his most significant and marketable achievement, and he’s painted himself into a rhetorical corner to avoid drawing attention to the similarities between Romneycare and Obamacare.  They’re almost identical. 

Romney’s argument in 2012 is that he’s proud of Romneycare, but disagrees with the notion that every state be required to follow one particular model. It’s the cowardly Republican’s disingenuous argument – when in doubt, go with state’s rights. The problem is that the crisis – really the shame – of uninsurance and underinsurance is a national one, one that requires a national response. The problems of medical bankruptcies (handled exclusively in federal courts), and of the uninsured using emergency rooms for primary care, the cost of which is then shunted onto taxpayers are national, federal issues. 

If Mr. Romney even believes these things to be problems needing solving, he should present a plan to fix them. If he wants to be true to his supposed 10th Amendment feelings, the federal government could simply mandate that states reach universal health insurance coverage, and let them each come up with their own ways to do so. 

I eagerly await President Obama to call Mr. Romney on this particular bluff. 

Well, Happy Birthday, Romneycare. Thanks for setting up the system that the federal government modified to apply to the entire country!

 

Confidence

11 Jul

If the federal government doesn’t raise the debt ceiling by August 2nd, it’s feared that the country’s inability to pay its bills and/or debts will plunge the world economy into yet another downward spiral, rivaling the 2008 meltdown. Or possibly something worse than or equal to the Great Depression.  Or perhaps it’s exactly what Dr. Paul ordered.  Consider:

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It’s too early to analyze whether the President’s strategy in “negotiating” with congressional Republicans is yet another awful example of horse-trading in the face of intransigence, or instead some tactical rope-a-dope brilliance.

But in the midst of an economic recovery that isn’t creating any jobs, I get the sense that it’s fundamentally irresponsible for any part of the federal government to further harm everyone’s already shaken confidence – in the economy, in employment, in production or consumption, in government in general. While Eric Cantor stands to personally profit from a federal default, the party to which he belongs is busy yelling about deficit and spending reduction, all of which signifies nothing in the face of President Obama’s proposal for a package that would, in ten years, reduce the deficit by $4 trillion.

Obama has, in fact, infuriated Democrats by proposing cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security entitlement benefits. The deal he’s proposed would seem to be exactly what the Republicans say they want – significant spending cuts, reformation of entitlement programs, and deficit reduction. The reason they won’t go along? The proposed rescission of the Bush/Obama tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Not for nothing that even the Republican patron saint Reagan raised taxes when necessary, and that tax rates are at historic lows yet doing absolutely nothing to move the economy along, Boehner and his minions are showing that they’re not really about spending cuts and deficit reduction. They’re all about protecting millionaires and billionaires from an incremental rise in their effective income tax rate.

Seriously – they’re willing to plunge the world economy into possible depression in order to ensure that Paris Hilton keeps a bit more of her money. And the recovery? Because the stimulus was weakened in an effort to gain Republican support that never came, it wasn’t enough to do what it should have.

David Frum explains that the Republicans have painted themselves into a corner by invoking the debt ceiling as the “no deal” option. He compares 2011 to 1990, when the Republicans raised the top marginal rate from the high 20s to the low 30s – the act that blew George H.W. Bush’s “no new taxes” lip-reading pledge out of the water.

Had House Republicans succeeded in derailing the 1990 deal, things would have bumped along as before. The deficit would have stayed big, interest rates would have stayed high, growth would probably have remained slow. Unpleasant, but not the end of the world.

But this time there is a hard and dangerous deadline – a deadline imposed by Republicans themselves. By deploying the debt-ceiling weapon, Republicans denied themselves the option of choosing “no deal.” Unlike 1990, this time, there must be a deal, and if Republicans cannot get a deal that their most radical members like, they will have to settle for a deal that their most radical members do not like.

This predicament creates powerful temptations for individual Republicans to defect from the party coalition in hope of gaining for themselves the kind of credit and clout that Newt Gingrich got by defecting in 1990. This time, however, defection carries a heavier price: a real risk of tumbling the country and the world into financial crisis.

Back in January, John Boehner promised it would never come to this. I believed him – and argued vigorously on television against those who predicted that the radicals would carry the day. It looks like I was wrong about that, at least that I have been until now.

Another writer at FrumForum writes:

In fact, a growing faction (and I count a few people I consider friends as members of it) somehow seems to think that a default on the debt would get the nation’s house into order on the basis that it would cut spending. It would cut spending, and cause a worldwide depression at the same time. Republicans need to do a lot more to convince voters that they can govern and a legitimate jobs plan would be a very good start.

The Republican strategy at this point appears to be “destroy the economy so Obama can’t be re-elected”. That may, in fact, happen. And maybe President Bachmann or Romney can fix the economy by further cutting taxes. But it’s doubtful.

If Boehner could get his caucus to back the proposal now before them, it would be historic and may actually help the economy in a palpable way. But the serious Republicans have let the tea party and the idiot Republicans (Bachmannites, Palinists) gain too much influence.

So, Americans wait for Washington to get serious. The world waits for us to get serious. The economy treads water while Washington dithers. The culture in Washington hasn’t changed – with Obama it’s worsened because it takes two to tango, and the Republicans have strategically sidelined themselves.

Mr. Cantor suggests that a more modest $2 trillion in deficit reduction should instead be pursued. Thinking small, this solution would give Republicans everything they want (weakening of the social safety net), with absolutely no pain being felt among the wealthiest Americans. The middle and working class are getting historically shafted in this country while both parties tiptoe around the very wealthy because of the idiotic way in which we fund elections.  When someone calls the GOP on this, they get accused of class warfare; in fact, it’s the Republicans who are engaging in class warfare on behalf of society’s haves.  Calling them out on it is called “truth”, not “class warfare”.

The country is pretty fundamentally broken. One hopes it can be fixed soon, and that serious people begin to treat serious matters seriously. One hopes that Washington can start leading with thoughtful compromise, rather than bumper sticker slogans.  One hopes that the interests of the country and her people someday trump the interests of partisanship or campaign financiers.

The Problem with Journalism? Reporters

22 Mar

presshat

In recent months, there have been thousands of polemics, articles, blog posts, panel discussions and seminars around America to discuss the future of newspapers and where we as a country will find ourselves when they eventually shed their current construct.  Well, let me add another blog post to the funeral pyre.  This will be the first in a series over the next couple of weeks as I decided to cut up what turned out to be a 10,000 word treatise into smaller chunks and gather feedback as I go along.

The other day, I was looking for the phone number of a friend who works at The Buffalo News and eventually came across his business card.  Looking at his card, a simple truth slapped me in the face.  His title?  Staff Reporter.  Well, that’s rather the problem, isn’t it?

Merriam Webster defines the word “reporter” thusly:

A person who makes a shorthand record of a speech or proceeding. A person employed by a newspaper to gather and report news.

In a world in which the means of news production is now shared amongst millions, is it the job of newspapers and the writers who work there to report on anything when it’s intended to be read in the print edition of a newspaper?  Throughout the twentieth century, newspapers were how people learned of the daily events.  They functioned as the “paper of record”, loosely defined as “if we didn’t print it, it didn’t happen”.  Well, a revolution happened while the editors were sleeping.

The problem with newspapers is that we don’t need journalists to report, we need them to investigate.  Reporting is a crowdsourced function done by millions of bloggers and TV/Radio reporters.  There is little value in waiting for The Buffalo News to show up on my doorstep 18-24 hours after something happened with a basic 5 W rundown of an event or news item.  I’ve already read it online, watched the pundits opine on it, heard talk show hosts dissect it and personally synthesized it by the time the ink is dry on the newsprint.  Much of what I get in the daily paper are reprints of AP wire stories and articles featuring content I’ve already consumed in various other medium.  What’s the added value?

I’m not breaking any new ground here, but I do think I have an idea for how newspapers shall remain relevant.

Stop reporting and start investigating.

For example, The Buffalo News demonstrated their value as an establishmnet news outlet after the crash of Flight 3407.  Not by their on-the-scene reporting in the hours immediately following the crash, but in their long tail stories that emerged in the weeks that followed.  Their investigation into the flight training of the pilots, the safety record of the airline, history of turboprop aircraft in bad weather, etc.  They took the mighty resources available to a multi-million dollar news enterprise and gave us information we would not have gotten from any other source.  The on-the-scene reporting and press conference recaps were handled by TV, radio and online outlets like ours.  Wasting ink on them in the paper was pointless.

If a newspaper isn’t going to fill its pages with wire content and daily reporting on the events of the previous day, what will it look like?  It will look a lot like it does today, just smaller and less frequently delivered.  A newspaper that comes out 3-4 times per week in a smaller format, perhaps tabloid size and features original content, features and investigative pieces.  If you’re thinking that a lot of things have to change in order to get there, you’re right.

The economics of production and distribution need to change drastically.  No longer will The Buffalo News be able to support a large news division with dozens of staff reporters.  They will need to re-size the enterprise in order to get in line with a new distribution model.  Compensation structures, advertising rates and multimedia web content are all issues that will have to be re-examined and the newspaper will need to look to their community writ large as their assignment editors.  What do the people want to know?  What do the people want to read?  What type of content will induce a person to buy a newspaper that is published thrice weekly?  No longer will editors sit in a room and decide from on high what content will grace the pages of their newspaper.  They will be forced to respond to the needs of their community, after all, we no longer need the newspaper to provide a lifeline to institutions of power, newspapers need us to make them credible in the face of those institutions.  And that shift is what defines the revolution.

Next up:  How newspapers can capitalize on the web.

New York's Freefall

30 Jul

People leaving, energy prices staggering, taxes higher than average, and it’s only now – at the doors of a crisis – that action is going to be taken. Governor Paterson estimates a $6.4 billion deficit for 2009 – 2010, and in the middle of an election year, he’s calling the state legislature back in mid-August to take a break from chicken BBQs and do some work.

Not just any work, but the kind of work that New York legislators are loath to do. They’re going to have to make extraordinarily tough choices with respect to spending and borrowing – the sorts of choices that piss of a great many of their special interest constituents.

But what I’d like our legislature to remember is that they work for all of us. Not for SEIU, not for NYSUT, not for CSEA, but for every single New Yorker. They work for you and me, and they have hitherto tended to abandoned their responsibility to the population at-large in favor of the big donors and powerful lobbies. Lax oversight and regulation of lobbying means that Joe Bruno can go to work as a lobbyist – he can’t lobby the legislature, but the governor’s door is open.

So, I don’t want to hear that such-and-such special interest is going to go ballistic over cuts that are desperately needed to fix what’s broken. I want to hear that these people who keep getting re-elected over and over again are making the hard choices and decisions that they supposedly get elected to make.

Help on the Way

10 May

Burma (Myanmar) has been led by a brutal, genocidal military junta for decades. It was hit by a massive, devastating cyclone last week and hundreds of thousands of people perished.

Now, the world is trying to send aid, but the junta is only allowing some shipments of food into the country – not the aid workers to go with it. As one would expect, this means that the government is not getting the aid to the people, and the devastation is thereby worsened artificially.

Perhaps in the meantime we can offer our aid through intermediary countries that get along better with Burma, like China or India. It’s a terrible shame that this totalitarian dictatorship, chooses political self-interest over the interest of its people – but it’s hardly surprising. That, or maybe they hired Brownie to oversee their relief situation.

You can help at:

US Campaign for Burma
UNICEF / Direct Relief International via Google Checkout
Doctors without Borders
Avaaz

City to Sue to Fund Demolitions

28 Feb

David Torke over at Fix Buffalo has the scoop. Evidently, the City of Buffalo is suing 36 lenders for the cost of demolishing homes that never make it all the way through the foreclosure process and end up vacant and derelict.

A copy of the City’s pleadings is here. Over 3,000 foreclosures took place within city limits in the last two years, as alleged in the Complaint. There are 10,000 vacant homes that need to be demolished at a cost of between $16,000 and $40,000 each.

This particular lawsuit, however, deals with 57 specific properties which the city alleges are nuisances it is dutybound to abate, and the Complaint is 90-something pages long, so each affected property is tied to each defendant lender.

Good for the city for holding someone responsible for the cost of demolition. But the raw statistics are sobering and put the lie to any talk of a renaissance.

Buffalo isn’t coming back until all of Buffalo is coming back.

And absolutely nothing has happened in the last 4 years to help Buffalo stop the bleeding.