Monday, February 28, 2011

Random Thoughts-- Teabaggers, Frankenfood, Qaboos, Texas...


Rule of law is the basis of American exceptionalism-- why we developed into such a wonderful place... right? Or is it just another tool to keep wealth in the hands of the rich and powerful while oppressing those who want to, as Depeche Mode might say, get the balance right?

Yesterday Paul Krugman asked a cruel question that we, as a society, can't keep sweeping under the rug: why do conservatives hate (other people's) children and why does their agenda always seek to smash them down into poverty and slavery? He proposes we look at Texas for the answers.
[I]n low-tax, low-spending Texas, the kids are not all right. The high school graduation rate, at just 61.3 percent, puts Texas 43rd out of 50 in state rankings. Nationally, the state ranks fifth in child poverty; it leads in the percentage of children without health insurance. And only 78 percent of Texas children are in excellent or very good health, significantly below the national average.

But wait-- how can graduation rates be so low when Texas had that education miracle back when former President Bush was governor? Well, a couple of years into his presidency the truth about that miracle came out: Texas school administrators achieved low reported dropout rates the old-fashioned way-- they, ahem, got the numbers wrong.

It’s not a pretty picture; compassion aside, you have to wonder-- and many business people in Texas do-- how the state can prosper in the long run with a future work force blighted by childhood poverty, poor health and lack of education.

But things are about to get much worse.

A few months ago another Texas miracle went the way of that education miracle of the 1990s. For months, Gov. Rick Perry had boasted that his “tough conservative decisions” had kept the budget in surplus while allowing the state to weather the recession unscathed. But after Mr. Perry’s re-election, reality intruded-- funny how that happens-- and the state is now scrambling to close a huge budget gap. (By the way, given the current efforts to blame public-sector unions for state fiscal problems, it’s worth noting that the mess in Texas was achieved with an overwhelmingly nonunion work force.)

So how will that gap be closed? Given the already dire condition of Texas children, you might have expected the state’s leaders to focus the pain elsewhere. In particular, you might have expected high-income Texans, who pay much less in state and local taxes than the national average, to be asked to bear at least some of the burden.

But you’d be wrong. Tax increases have been ruled out of consideration; the gap will be closed solely through spending cuts. Medicaid, a program that is crucial to many of the state’s children, will take the biggest hit, with the Legislature proposing a funding cut of no less than 29 percent, including a reduction in the state’s already low payments to providers-- raising fears that doctors will start refusing to see Medicaid patients. And education will also face steep cuts, with school administrators talking about as many as 100,000 layoffs.

Decent people don't feed people they love Frankenfood. But Monsanto is making a concerted effort to make it less and less possible to even find real food. They're poisoning the country's food supply-- not out of malice just for the bottom line (making it ok; that's not one Darrell Issa is investigating).
Monsanto has long sought to control, along with other agribusiness giants, the world’s food supply. They famously created Agent Orange, rBGH (bovine growth hormone) and the so-called Terminator seeds, genetically-engineered seeds which consumers must buy over and over again because they become sterile after initial planting.

Two weeks before the FDA deregulated Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa, Dr. Don Huber, a plant pathologist and retired Purdue University professor, alerted the FDA to a possible connection between Monsanto’s herbicide and livestock infertility.

Chicken too. And Monsanto has shifted all the liability for their Frankenfoods onto farmers. "Farmers like genetically modified (GM) crops because they can plant them, spray them with herbicide and then there is very little maintenance until harvest. Farmers who plant Monsanto's GM crops probably don't realize what they bargain for when they sign the Monsanto Technology Stewardship Agreement contract. One farmer reportedly 'went crazy' when he discovered the scope of the contract because it transfers ALL liability to the farmer or grower." Worse news yet, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court’s ruling to destroy the young plants currently being grown to produce genetically modified sugar beet seeds with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready genes.

Last week increasingly irrelevant teabaggers had a convention in Phoenix that didn't get much attention. They couldn't get any big names to speak so they settled on Tim Pawlenty but he came in last in their straw poll anyway, even after saying all kinds of crazy radical nonsense-- like shut down the government for a month and take away the right of unions to bargain collectively-- that guarantees he'll never be elected to anything. Fox reports that the guy from Georgia who makes the cardboard-tasting pizza won the straw poll but fact-based media reports it was Ron Paul who won. Palin beat Pawlenty.

Most of the attendees were elderly people worried about the government getting involved with Medicare and Medicaid. The highlight was when they got a real live congressman to boo. Except it turned out to be one of them: they booed lame right-wing fanatic Joe Barton (R-TX) who tried explaining budget cuts to them.

Oman might be the next Arab state to get a dose of democracy. The ruling family-- the Al-Saids-- have been in power since 1744 and pro-democracy protesters think it's time for them to move along. Two people were killed in clashes with the police over the weekend. Sultan Qaboos bin Said is gay but his country is homophobic and you can be arrested for gay stuff; he can't though.
Hours after the violence in Sohar, Qaboos gave an order to create 50,000 jobs for citizens of the Gulf Arab state. He also ordered a monthly allowance equivalent to $390 for each registered job seeker.

The demonstrators in Oman, as with some of the protests in other parts of the region, have emphasized their loyalty to their ruler, whole voicing their dissatisfaction with his officials.

Jackie Spinner, a journalist who was in Sohar at the time of the protests, said that it was unusual for Oman to be the scene of demonstrations.

"It's a very sedate, very tranquil country," she said.

"Most of the Omanis that I've talked to have said they haven't seen anything like this in the last four decades ... they have not seen this level of anger, or any widespread demonstrations against the government, in the past 40 years."

Qaboos deposed his father in a 1970 palace coup to end the country's isolation and use its oil revenue for modernization.

He appoints the cabinet, but in 1992 introduced an advisory elected Shura Council of 84 members.

Early this morning, the NY Times was reporting that disturbances in Oman have continued to grow. I guess the people aren't watching, or at least taking seriously, the music videos extolling the grooviness of Qaboos.
Graffiti scrawled on a statue said: "The people are hungry." Another message read: "No to oppression of the people."

Nearby, sidewalks were smashed and office windows broken. Troops deployed around the town but were not intervening to disperse protesters, who pushed back four army vehicles observing the scene near the port.

"There are no jobs, there's no freedom of opinion. The people are tired and people want money. People want to end corruption," said Ali al-Mazroui, 30, who is unemployed.

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