Did you know there was a blizzard last week? I’ll admit I didn’t. Never saw a peep about it across several Twitter and internet news feeds until today.
Between 28 and 60 inches of snow fell across parts of South Dakota late last week in a freakishly early snow storm, the white stuff accumulating rapidly while many of us were picking apart reports about the National Security Agency’s breaching of Tor. I was watching my feed pretty closely at the time, and never saw a thing about South Dakota’s weather.
Many if not all of South Dakota’s cattle ranchers still had herds out in summer grazing areas at the time the storm hit. The results are still being measured; somewhere between 15% and 50% of the entire South Dakota herd died in the storm, with long-term effects on the remaining herd as yet unknown.
I haven’t seen a map of the affected area, but I’ll bet these same ranchers may have been impacted by flooding earlier this year. Comprehensive maps detailing the affected area probably won’t be widely available until after Congress resolves the budget and debt ceiling disputes, restoring funding to government agencies like National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service. Fortunately less detailed maps are available, reflecting flood warnings in western South Dakota.
The worst part of this situation isn’t the lack of predictive information in advance of the storm or impact maps in the wake of the blizzard. It’s the lack of any federal assistance to ranchers devastated by this storm; state agencies struggling with the impact of the storm on their normal operations will be challenged to respond without additional aid. Was adequate advance warning possible from NOAA’s skeleton crew? Should the affected area have been declared a federal disaster? Should there be assistance for cleanup and disposal of approximately 75,000 head of cattle? Should there be agencies looking into financial aid for those ranchers most impacted? Should there be health assessments with regard to the potential spread of disease among humans and cattle alike as the storm’s damage is documented?
Of course there should be assessments and assistance. We’ve agreed as a nation these kinds of services and more are in the best interest of the public as a whole, and we’ve funded them in the past. We help our neighbors in times of trouble just as they help us — this is and has been part of our American values.
It’s too damned bad, though, that Congressional Republicans have decided hard-working farmers — folks who ordinarily might be their base — are less important than a massive temper tantrum about health care and debts they agreed to under the last three presidential terms. Compare the speed with which Congress agreed to bail out soft-handed, flabby-assed banksters back in 2008 — the same banksters who made money off shady subprime mortgages and then tanked the economy with equally shady derivatives based on the same. It took one week from the time Congress reached a tentative agreement between parties, and passage of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. If speed of Congressional response were a measure of importance, helping hard-working but distressed small business owners in the heartland clearly isn’t a benchmark of note.
Even while the Florida legislature struggles to undo the damage from the blatantly partisan changes in Florida’s voting law enacted shortly after Rick Scott’s 2010 election as governor, new evidence is emerging on improper and illegal collusion by Republicans in drawing Florida’s new legislative districts, despite a 2010 constitutional amendment preventing such actions. Here’s the latest from the Tampa Bay Times:
Florida legislative leaders appear to have authorized staff members to use private email accounts and had “brainstorming meetings” with Republican Party consultants to attempt to draw favorable political districts, despite a constitutional ban on such coordination.
Republican Sens. Andy Gardiner of Orlando and Jack Latvala of Clearwater sent emails using private email accounts to the RPOF consultants.
“What does this do to my district?” Gardiner asked in an email to Bainter after the Fair Districts coalition submitted a substitute map during the Senate’s special session on redistricting in April.
Bainter replied, “In fact very good. But I have to tell you, this map is little more than a hatchet job cutting all kinds of stuff up.”
And yet, the constitutional amendment passed in 2010 was meant to prevent exactly this kind of collusion to help one party:
This damning evidence of partisan collusion comes on the heels of even more evidence relating to the Republican bill that aimed to suppress Democratic votes by cutting early voting hours across the state in the 2012 election. It turns out that Democratic precincts also were understaffed and underequipped to the point that more than 200,000 voters gave up in frustration in November and left the long lines before voting. Unsurprisingly, this analysis showed that the problem affected Democrats more than Republicans:
In Florida, he concluded, the lost voters appeared to favor President Barack Obama. Of the 201,000 “missing” votes, 108,000 likely would have voted for Obama and 93,000 for Republican Mitt Romney, he said.
This suggests that Obama’s margin over Romney in Florida could have been roughly 15,000 votes higher than it was. Obama carried the state by 74,309 votes out of more than 8.4 million cast.
Had the vote in 2012 been as close as it was in 2000, this Republican ratfucking of voting clearly would have delivered Florida to Romney and undoubtedly was the primary reason the changes were made.
It’s little wonder then, that Rick Scott has done a complete about-face and now is trying to erase his role in suppressing Democratic votes while “championing” restoration of the same early voting days he played an instrumental role in eliminating. And his Secretary of State is joining in on the attempt to re-write history as he claims that the effort to fix the voting law Scott and Detzner’s fellow Republicans gutted is now a nonpartisan effort with only fairness in mind:
Gov. Rick Scott’s elections adviser urged legislators on Monday to return to 14 days of early voting in Florida and to add locations to avoid repeating the chaos that plagued voting in 2012.
Testifying before a House committee, Secretary of State Ken Detzner largely echoed the views of county election supervisors. They want to offer from eight to 14 days of early voting, including on the Sunday before Election Day, and at more sites, including courthouses and civic centers.
“The bottom line is, voter confidence must be restored,’’ Detzner said. “Supervisors of elections and county commissions must take it upon themselves to oversee elections through responsible leadership and administration.”
For years, elections officials and Democratic legislators have tried to increase the sites used for early voting.
Sadly, we learn from today’s New York Times that Florida’s Republicans are not alone. It turns out that Democrats waited longer to vote than Republicans in much of the country:
Several recent polls and studies suggest that long waiting times in some places depressed turnout in 2012 and that lines were longest in cities, where Democrats outnumber Republicans. In a New York Times/CBS News poll taken shortly after Election Day, 18 percent of Democrats said they waited at least a half-hour to vote, compared with 11 percent of independents and 9 percent of Republicans.
A Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysis determined that blacks and Hispanics waited nearly twice as long in line to vote on average than whites. Florida had the nation’s longest lines, at 45 minutes, followed by the District of Columbia, Maryland, South Carolina and Virginia, according to Charles Stewart III, the political science professor who conducted the analysis.
So much for the concept of free and fair elections. Despite all the blathering about preventing voter fraud, it is crystal clear that Republicans controlling state legislatures across the country put much time and effort into suppressing Democratic votes. Will voters ever wake up to this hijacking of our electoral system, or will the abuses only continue to get worse?
The economic and environmental damage resulting from the exploding fireball compromise of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform may be unprecedented, with the potential to emit the equivalent of up to four Exxon Valdez breakups per week with no good plan to stop it. There will be plenty of finger pointing among BP, Transocean and Halliburton, while it appears the bought and paid for corporatist Congress put the screws to the individual citizens and small businesses by drastically limiting their potential for economic recovery; all in the course of insuring big oil producers like BP have effectively no damage liability for such losses.
How did this happen? There are, of course, a lot of pertinent factors but, by far, the one constant theme underlying all is the mendacious corporate servitude of the Republican party, their leaders and policies. The arrogance and recklessness of BP and its oily partners gestated wildly under the Bush/Cheney administration.
Until the turn of the decade, BP had a relatively decent safety and environmental record compared to others similarly situated. Then BP merged with American oil giant Amoco and started plying the soft regulated underbelly of Republican rule in the US under oil men George Bush and Dick Cheney. Here from the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is an excellent list of BP misconduct, almost all occurring and/or whitewashed under the Bush/Cheney Administration. If you open the door, foxes eat the chickens.
But it is not just regulatory policy behind the open and notorious recklessness of BP and its ilk, it is intentional policy at the Department of Justice as well. Here is how the former Special Agent In Charge for the EPA Criminal Investigative Division, Scott West, described the DOJ coddling of BP under the Bush/Cheney Administration:
In March 2006, a major pipeline leak went undetected for days, spilling a quarter-million gallons of oil on the Alaskan tundra. The spill occurred because the pipeline operator, British Petroleum (BP), ignored its own workers warnings by neglecting critical maintenance to cut costs. The spill sparked congressional hearings and a large federal-state investigation. Despite the outcry, in a settlement announced in late October 2007, BP agreed to one misdemeanor charge carrying three-year probation and a total of only $20 million in penalties (a $12 million fine with $8 million in restitution and compensatory payments).
The settlement resulted from a sudden U.S. Justice Department August 2007 decision to wrap up the case, according to West. That precipitous shutdown meant Continue reading