Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New FB Meme Goes Viral - Be afraid! Be very afraid!

I'm sure you've seen it by now. It's all over Facebook like a rash on the ass of the Intertubes. Facebook is tracking your every move, even when you're logged out!

Um, in a word, no. It's just another bogus FB scare. No, FB cannot see every site you visit, even when you're offline. It doesn't work that way. Even if it did, with 750,000,000 users, how the heck could they possibly even view such data, even if they were collecting it, which they're not, and why would they care what any given individual was doing?

They can't, they aren't and they don't. Yes, they track trends, as does everyone. Yes, FB does use tracking cookies, as do the majority of sites you visit. Yes, tracking cookies present some real privacy concerns. But this latest scare stems from a basic misunderstanding of what cookies are and how they work. One thing they don't and can't do is phone home with a log of your activity when you visit an unrelated site.

I'm a big online privacy guy. I'm not fond of tracking cookies. But FB isn't doing anything most everyone else is and they're not doing anything like what's been described. These hububs are often a product of hype from professional privacy advocates who have a vested interest in scaring the poop out of people. There's no way for the average user to know what threats are real and what are hype. The worst part of these scares is they tend to foster a boy who cried wolf reaction after a while, which makes it harder to get people to take the real threats seriously.

Facebook is very clear about privacy. From the Help Center...

We do not share or sell the information we see when you visit a website with a Facebook social plugin to third parties and we do not use it to deliver ads to you. In addition, we will delete the data (i.e. data we receive when you see social plugins) associated with users in 90 days.
Were they violating their own privacy policy you can be damn sure they'd be ass deep in lawsuits, and for good reason. But paranoia runs deep. So deep Facebook felt the need to issue an official response...
“Facebook does not track users across the web,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “Instead, we use cookies on social plugins to personalize content (e.g. Show you what your friends liked), to help maintain and improve what we do (e.g. Measure click-through rate), or for safety and security (e.g. Keeping underage kids from trying to signup with a different age). No information we receive when you see a social plugins is used to target ads, we delete or anonymize this information within 90 days, and we never sell your information.

Specific to logged out cookies, they are used for safety and protection, including identifying spammers and phishers, detecting when somebody unauthorized is trying to access your account, helping you get back into your account if you get hacked, disabling registration for a under-age users who try to re-register with a different birthdate, powering account security features such as 2nd factor login approvals and notification, and identifying shared computers to discourage the use of ‘keep me logged in’.”
Even so, FB isn't taking any chances. They've now changed their offline tracking cookie behavior to eliminate any cause for paranoia...

I’m an engineer who works on these systems. I want to make it clear that there was no security or privacy breachFacebook did not store or use any information it should not have. Like every site on the internet that personalizes content and tries to provide a secure experience for users, we place cookies on the computer of the user. Three of these cookies on some users’ computers included unique identifiers when the user had logged out of Facebook. However, we did not store these identifiers for logged out users. Therefore, we could not have used this information for tracking or any other purpose. In addition, we fixed the cookies so that they won’t include unique information in the future when people log out.

As the Hitchhiker's Guide says on the cover in big friendly letters, don't panic. Instead, use a little common sense. Don't spread the latest dire warning of Bad Behavior by Them to everyone you know. If you're not a skilled network engineer, the odds are approximately eleventy bazillion to 1 against you discovering some new threat. You don't need to butter the latest scare story across the entire digital universe. Resist the temptation. Instead, wait for the facts. If it's a real threat, real warnings will come from really qualified people and groups backed up by real data.

Be responsible, folks. Don't spread FUD, especially when there's no way for you to know if the threat is real or not.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Climate Denier Boobs - A deepening desire... to be STUPID & Stubborn

The scientific world, and the rest of the world not infested by ignorant racist tea bagging buffoons, long ago reached consensus on global warming. It's happening and humans are a major cause. But in the US the anti-science, anti-knowledge, anti-everything tea bagging imbeciles that drive today's GOP see it differently from every other sentient creature anywhere.

To these proud standard bearers for the Créme de la Dumb, it's all just a liberal plot. It's a scam, a fraud, a sham! It's greedy scientists out to bilk those poor oil companies out of millions so they can fund their lavish secret lab celebrity lifestyles. Yes, they really are THAT effing stupid. From the AP...

Tucked between treatises on algae and prehistoric turquoise beads, the study on page 460 of a long-ago issue of the U.S. journal Science drew little attention.

But the headline on the 1975 report was bold: “Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” And this article that coined the term may have marked the last time a mention of “global warming” didn’t set off an instant outcry of angry denial.
Columbia University geoscientist Wally Broecker calculated how much carbon dioxide would accumulate in the atmosphere in the coming 35 years, and how temperatures consequently would rise. His numbers have proven almost dead-on correct. Meanwhile, other powerful evidence poured in over those decades, showing the “greenhouse effect” is real and is happening. And yet resistance to the idea among many in the U.S. appears to have hardened.

What’s going on?

“The desire to disbelieve deepens as the scale of the threat grows,” concludes economist-ethicist Clive Hamilton.

He and others who track what they call “denialism” find that its nature is changing in America, last redoubt of climate naysayers. It has taken on a more partisan, ideological tone.
“The opposition by the Republicans has gotten stronger and stronger."
The basic physics of anthropogenic — manmade — global warming has been clear for more than a century, since researchers proved that carbon dioxide traps heat. Others later showed CO2 was building up in the atmosphere from the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels. Weather stations then filled in the rest: Temperatures were rising.
By 1988, NASA climatologist James Hansen could appear before a U.S. Senate committee and warn that global warming had begun, a dramatic announcement later confirmed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a new, U.N.-sponsored network of hundreds of international scientists.
But when Hansen was called back to testify in 1989, the White House of President George H.W. Bush edited this government scientist’s remarks to water down his conclusions, and Hansen declined to appear.
“I’m not really surprised at the political reaction,” the Swedish climatologist told The Associated Press. “I am surprised at the way some of the scientific findings have been rejected in an unscientific manner.”
In fact, a document emerged years later showing that the (oil and coal) industry coalition’s own scientific team had quietly advised it that the basic science of global warming was indisputable.
by 2000, the CO2 built up in the atmosphere to 369 parts per million — just 4 ppm less than Broecker predicted — compared with 280 ppm before the industrial revolution.
Global temperatures rose as well, by 0.6 degrees C (1.1 degrees F) in the 20th century. And the mercury just kept rising. The decade 2000-2009 was the warmest on record, and 2010 and 2005 were the warmest years on record.

Satellite and other monitoring, meanwhile, found nights were warming faster than days, and winters more than summers, and the upper atmosphere was cooling while the lower atmosphere warmed — all clear signals greenhouse warming was at work, not some other factor.
In the face of years of scientific findings and growing impacts, the doubters persist. They ignore long-term trends and seize on insignificant year-to-year blips in data to claim all is well. They focus on minor mistakes in thousands of pages of peer-reviewed studies to claim all is wrong. And they carom from one explanation to another for today’s warming Earth: jet contrails, sunspots, cosmic rays, natural cycles.

“Ninety-eight percent of the world’s climate scientists say it’s for real, and yet you still have deniers,” observed former U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, a New York Republican who chaired the House’s science committee.
In an interview, he said he found a “transformation” from the 1990s and its industry-financed campaign, to an America where climate denial “has now become a marker of cultural identity in the ‘angry’ parts of the United States.”

“Climate denial has been incorporated in the broader movement of right-wing populism,” he said, a movement that has “a visceral loathing of environmentalism.”

An in-depth study of a decade of Gallup polling finds statistical backing for that analysis.
Even Wally Broecker’s jest — that deniers could blame God — may not be an option for long.
Last May the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, arm of an institution that once persecuted Galileo for his scientific findings, pronounced on manmade global warming: It’s happening.
It's time for the US to stop allowing the biggest idiots to run the show. Let them wear their tin foil hats and spout absurd nonsense. Let them believe whatever asinine fantasy bullshit they wish. Just don't let them drive the damn bus. Global warming is real, it's really happening and we really need to do something about it, period, end of story, move the bleep on, and everyone, everyone in the world agrees, except rightarded tea bagging ignorant Republidolts. We don't have the time to coddle the half witted ignorant stupid assholes any more. Get with the program or get the bleep out of the way. Reality is coming through and it ain't gonna pause for your stupidity.

The Hy-Brazil is sinking scene from Erik the Viking wasn't specifically about global warming denial, but it easily could have been...

Romney Bashes His Own Alma Mater - Stupid Things For Stupid People

 Mitt Romney and his magic underwear have learned a thing or two about public speaking. Specifically, Mitt demonstrates the maxim that one should always speak to one's audience. If one's audience is stupid, like the tea bagging idiots that comprise GOP primary voters, say stupid s**t. They'll love it! Case in point...

Romney likes to make fun of Obama by taking shots at Harvard. A standard line in his stump speech slams Obama for taking advice from the “Harvard faculty lounge.”

That would be the same Harvard from which Mitt got 2 degrees, 1 more than Obama. The same Harvard attended by 3 of his kids.

"But wait," the wingnuts whine, "No fair! That's not the same as taking advice from the “Harvard faculty lounge!"

In point of fact 5 of Romney's senior advisers are Harvard grads and 3 of them are Harvard faculty. Meghan O’Sullivan, who advises Romney of foreign policy, teaches international affairs at Harvard. Romney economic advisor Greg Mankiw is a high profile professor of economics at Harvard. William Martel, now a professor at Tufts University, is a Harvard post doctoral fellow. The Boston Globe points out...
Not only is Harvard a major player in Massachusetts, the state Romney led for four years as governor, but it also is the school from which he received the business and law degrees that helped propel him toward his highly lucrative venture capital career.
But Romney’s Harvard connection does not end with his own resume.
Like him, sons Tagg, Matt, and Josh all went to Brigham Young University as undergraduates. Then they also followed in their father’s footsteps by attending Harvard Business School.
Furthermore, a large number of the advisers who help Romney speak about foreign policy - the subject of his speech yesterday - are also Harvard alums or teachers.

Among them are former Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey (Harvard undergrad), Meghan O’Sullivan (Kennedy School teacher), William Martel (Harvard post-doctoral fellow), and Dan Senor (Harvard Business School graduate).
This is to hypocrisy what black holes are to gravity. So, why does Romney keep using this obviously bogus attack? He knows the tea bagging ignorant morans who eat up this asinine ad hominem, aka GOP primary voters, are far too effing stupid to realize the stunning hypocrisy. Those few who can see the hypocrisy don't care as long as it belittles the black Kenyan socialist guy.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Gibson Redux - As Their Lies Unravel Gibson Pleads Case To Court of Lower Wingnuttia

1960 Les Paul Standard
Note: The last time I wrote about this story I was accused of being a Gibson hater. Apparently the denizens of Lower Wingnuttia think me some kind of secret sleeper cell Fender sympathizer. Not true! I have nothing against Fenders, but I've never owned one.

I'm a Gibson guy from way back. I've had several Gibsons over the years, all made by hand by the family owned legendary Gibson of Kalamazoo, not today's mass produced South American giant corporate conglomerate owned Gibson of Nashville. My first decent acoustic guitar was a J-50. Had a 335, then a Super 400. I even owned a '59 tobacco sunbrust Les Paul Standard much like the '60 Standard pictured above.

So, take your silly charges of Gibson prejudice back to the confines of the Lower Winguttia hall of stupid shit ignorant tea baggers believe, where you won't be forced to endure the ringing laughter of the upright walkers. Now, here's more on the story...

Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz is stirring up more faux outrage in the tea bagger/wingnut branch of the GOP. A while back we wrote about Gibson using the wingnutosphere to broadcast claims that Homeland Security (be afraid!) was conducting raids with heavily armed jack-booted thugs for absolutely no good reason except to harass the upright, honest bosses at Gibson. Ahem. Laura Clawson at DailyKos has more on the story...
The wild claims to martyrdom coming from Gibson Guitar CEO Henry Juszkiewicz are being challenged by an unusual coalition of environmental groups, U.S. hardwood industry groups and unions. On a Tuesday conference call and elsewhere, they have made a number of key rebuttals to Juszkiewicz's claims.
One of the key claims by Juszkiewicz is Gibson was specifically targeted for some unspecified political reason. Twice, no less! He's also claimed that enforcement efforts are really just an organized plot by the Obama administration to drive jobs out of the good old USA! Yes, sadly, there are people stupid enough and gullible enough to believe such absurd happy horse poo.

You'll no doubt be surprised to learn that these claims are every bit as absurd as they sound to any sane, reasonable person in possession of 2 brain cells to rub together. In fact, an affadavit filed by the Environmental Investigation Agency shows that at the time government investigators intercepted a suspicious shipment of hardwood and initiated an investigation, they had no idea Gibson was in any way involved or that there was any connection to an earlier case.
The affidavit indicates that the government did not realize that Gibson was the recipient of the ebony shipment in question when it was first held in Dallas due to irregular paperwork and suspicion of a Lacey Act violation; only upon investigation they found the parties in this shipment to be the same as those involved in the Madagascar ebony case already in process.
EAI spokesperson Andrea Johnson explained that while the 2009 case against Gibson centered on illegally acquired ebony from India and the latest case involved the illegal import of ebony from Malaysia, in both cases the importer was the same company. Gibson continued to buy from this company even though they knew full well they were under investigation for making illegal purchases from the company.

As to Juszkiewicz's bizarro universe claim of a conspiracy to eliminate US jobs, Jameson French, CEO of Northland Forest Products and the former chairman of the Hardwood Federation, told The Hill...
"...illegal loggers evade environmental and trade laws and sell their products more cheaply than law-abiding companies can.

French said he is “flabbergasted by the misinformation that’s been put out there” by Gibson. In particular, he said that rather than costing jobs, the Lacey Act has “saved a lot of American jobs” by protecting American wood companies from illegal competition.
Also on Tuesday's conference call was Mark Barford, executive director of the National Hardwood Lumber Association. Again, from DailyKos...
Mark Barford, the executive director of the National Hardwood Lumber Association said bluntly that the Lacey Act "is our jobs act ... we need the protections of the Lacey Act, we need a fair playing field." There is a significant economic effect: Illegal logging can cost the U.S. $1 billion per year.
Gibson already faces stiff civil penalties in the 2009 case with criminal charges to be filed soon. The latest potential violation is still under investigation with criminal charges expected. It's no wonder Juszkiewicz would prefer to take his case to the tea bagger wingnutosphere. He obviously can't make a case in court. Besides, mega-corporate CEO types like Juszkiewicz know those ignorant knee jerk tea baggers are stupid enough to believe anything, as long as it's anti-Obama.

Yes, tea baggers, that's what they really think of you when they think of you at all. Welcome to reality. Enjoy your visit, no matter how brief.

Friday, September 23, 2011

AGAIN!? GOP Tea Baggers To Shut Down Government AGAIN!

Here we go again... The Tea Bagger/GOPhools in the House are yet again threatening to shut down the federal government in a fit of ideological pique, this just months after the last time these immature idiots held the government hostage to their brand of loonytoonian tea bagger ideology.

Just how stupid are they? They got their asses handed to them the last time they held the government hostage. Polls showed the public specifically blamed the House GOPers for the dysfunction in Washington. Even their own pollsters have been telling them they're not just abdicating their sworn duty to govern, they're committing political suicide...

In a memo circulated widely on Capitol Hill, GOP pollster Bill McInturff warned that the debt-limit debate had “shattered confidence in our political system and everyone involved.” Voters lost faith in the ability of both President Obama and congressional Republicans to “make the right decisions about the economy,” the memo said. But congressional Republicans had taken the bigger hit, it added, with 81 percent of those surveyed saying they had little or no confidence in the judgment of the GOP.

Veteran political analyst Charlie Cook, editor and publisher of the Cook Political Report, said if lawmakers continue down this path, the 2012 election could bring “the biggest, broadest anti-incumbent year of post-war history,” with voters indiscriminately tossing out lawmakers in both parties, pulling the lever “against anybody’s name they recognize.”

“The debt ceiling debacle is almost a horrible metaphor: It’s as if a bomb went off at 800 Pennsylvania Avenue and sent shrapnel flying in every direction,” Cook said. “I don’t know what these guys think they’re doing, but it looks like they’re committing political suicide.”
By their own numbers, EIGHTY-ONE PERCENT of Americans have no faith in the GOP tea baggers in the House. It just doesn't get much worse than that. In the meantime a bi-partisan group of 4 governors, 2 Democrats and 2 Republicans, including tea party darling Chris Christie, from states ravaged by Hurricane Irene - issued a joint statement chastising House Republicans for playing politics with disaster relief...

“Our states have been hit hard by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. While the flood waters have receded and the storms are passed, the damage to communities, businesses and infrastructure remains significant. Billions of dollars in loss and destruction pose a serious threat not only to local and regional economies, but to the nation’s economic recovery. . . . Federal assistance for the victims of storms and floods should be beyond politics. Within 10 days of Hurricane Katrina, Congress passed and the President signed over $60 billion in aid for the Gulf Coast. It’s been 28 days since Irene and Lee started battering our states. We urge this Congress to move swiftly to ensure that disaster aid through FEMA and other federal programs is sufficient to start rebuilding now.”
Not only are these tea bagging stupid assholes once again holding the entire federal government hostage, demanding drastic cuts to popular, successful and completely unrelated programs, the funding they did approve is woefully inadequate. FEMA is out of money. They need at least $6.9 billion just to meet current disaster relief needs. The GOP house bill, soundly rejected by a bi-partisan Senate, provided only $3.65 billion. 'Cause, you know, in this year of record disasters we don't really need disaster relief and besides, there won't be any more disasters ever, so why bother?

To put into perspective just how insanely stupid the latest tea bagger temper tantrum really is, keep this in mind: The emergency funding, even at the $6.9 billion level, amounts to less than 0.04 percent - 4 one hundredths of 1 percent - of the $1.043 trillion federal discretionary budget for next year. The tea baggers in the House are pitching a fit over an infinitesimally tiny amount of desperately needed emergency spending.

Meanwhile the "adults" in the GOP are mystified by this new, unexpected childish behavior from their pet tea baggers. This wasn't supposed to happen. This was an easy procedural vote. They can't understand how they've lost control. All they did was pander to a group of ignorant, stupid racist whiny ass tea baggers and then give them the power to control the entire party by means of political terrorism. Gee, how could that possibly have gone wrong?

Yes, how could anyone have foreseen a problem with ceding power to the same strident idiots who cheer executions, cheer letting the sick die and boo active duty Army Special Forces troops serving in Afghanistan? Let's hope Charlie Cook is right. Let's hope voters toss out these idiots en masse. We have enough real problems to deal with without having to continually stop and try to placate the red faced screaming 2 year olds that make up too much of the GOP these days.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The GOP War on Voting

This is one of those issues that really pisses me off. I don't want to hear one touchy-feely damn word about "think positive" or "visualize" or any other New Age Pollyanna happy horse shit. Keep that "Don't Worry, Be happy" meme for your personal life, where it might actually have a positive benefit. The reality is that in the entirety of human history examples are rare, bordering on non existent, where anything other than anger drove progress and change. Righteous anger is what's called for here.

Rolling Stone magazine continues to solidify their place as one of the best sources for political news with another blockbuster article, this time about the GOP war on voting. Ari Berman reports...
As the nation gears up for the 2012 presidential election, Republican officials have launched an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008. Just as Dixiecrats once used poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators has passed a series of seemingly disconnected measures that could prevent millions of students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots.
Republicans have long tried to drive Democratic voters away from the polls. "I don't want everybody to vote," the influential conservative activist Paul Weyrich told a gathering of evangelical leaders in 1980. "As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." But since the 2010 election, thanks to a conservative advocacy group founded by Weyrich, the GOP's effort to disrupt voting rights has been more widespread and effective than ever. In a systematic campaign orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council – and funded in part by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who bankrolled the Tea Party – 38 states introduced legislation this year designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process.
Taken together, such measures could significantly dampen the Democratic turnout next year – perhaps enough to shift the outcome in favor of the GOP.
A major probe by the (Bush) Justice Department between 2002 and 2007 failed to prosecute a single person for going to the polls and impersonating an eligible voter, which the anti-fraud laws are supposedly designed to stop. Out of the 300 million votes cast in that period, federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud – and many of the cases involved immigrants and former felons who were simply unaware of their ineligibility. A much-hyped investigation in Wisconsin, meanwhile, led to the prosecution of only .0007 percent of the local electorate for alleged voter fraud. "Our democracy is under siege from an enemy so small it could be hiding anywhere," joked Stephen Colbert.
Since January, six states have introduced legislation to impose new restrictions on voter registration drives run by groups like Rock the Vote and the League of Women Voters.
Next year, early voting will be cut from 14 to eight days in Florida and from 35 to 11 days in Ohio, with limited hours on weekends. In addition, both states banned voting on the Sunday before the election – a day when black churches historically mobilize their constituents. Once again, there appears to be nothing to justify the changes other than pure politics.
In April 2008, the Supreme Court upheld a photo-ID law in Indiana, even though state GOP officials couldn't provide a single instance of a voter committing the type of fraud the new ID law was supposed to stop.
In Texas, under "emergency" legislation passed by the GOP-dominated legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Perry, a concealed-weapon permit is considered an acceptable ID but a student ID is not. Republicans in Wisconsin, meanwhile, mandated that students can only vote if their IDs include a current address, birth date, signature and two-year expiration date – requirements that no college or university ID in the state currently meets. As a result, 242,000 students in Wisconsin may lack the documentation required to vote next year. "
Seriously, this is one of those times where "must read" isn't hyperbole. Go read the entire article. If it doesn't piss you off, you don't believe in democracy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

GOP Takes Voter Suppression To New Lows

Uber blogger Digby, aka Heather Digby Parton, has a must read review and analysis of the history of GOP voter suppression. It used to be voter suppression, invariably race based, was the hallmark of Southern conservative Democrats. But there are no more Southern conservative Democrats. Today, it's the GOP that hoists the banner of racism in the ongoing struggle against democracy. The GOP promises to take voter suppression to a new level in 2012. From denying individual voting rights to rigging the electoral college system, they've got their filthy hands in every pie of anti-democratic slime imaginable...

Voter intimidation and vote suppression had long been a part of Democratic politics in the South, in places where African-Americans had been granted an illusory right to vote. But as the South made its dramatic shift to the Republican Party in the wake of the Civil Rights Act, and as African-American voters in the North then shifted to the Democrats, the Republicans began to dominate the process and thus began the decades-long GOP project to suppress the vote. Along the way it has developed into a full-blown operation to undermine democracy in general, at whatever choke points are available. 
It shouldn't have come as any surprise that the historic election of the first black president, thanks in part to an influx of new voters, would revive the panic Republicans had felt at the prospect of Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition successfully mobilising Democratic voters more than 20 years before. And as before, it resulted in an energised effort to subvert democracy.

Rolling Stone contributor Ari Berman has documented an assault on voting rights since the 2008 elction that makes the previous eight years look like child's play. Since then, 38 states have introduced legislation designed to make voting more difficult, if not impossible, for American citizens. Berman documents efforts across the country to impede registration, cut short early voting, repeal same-day registration, and more.
Make no mistake, the GOP is an organized bunch of racist, power mad pricks desperate to win by any means possible, foul or fair, but mostly foul. To paraphrase uber idiot RickPerry, ..."it's close to treason," if by "close" one means exactly like.

Créme de la Dumb - "South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum"

It's impossible to understate just how intensely effing stupid and bat shit crazy South Carolina as a whole really is. The latest highly respected Winthrop Poll highlights some of the rock hard, super dense, singularity-type stupid and wild-eyed ignorant goober tea bagging bat shittery all too common in the Palmetto state...
Among Republicans/Republican leaners, 67.8% said they did not consider themselves members of the Tea Party movement, but 74.4% of the same group said they generally agree with the Tea Party’s principles.
Among Republicans/Republican leaners, 74.7% feel the term “socialist” describes President Obama very well or well.
Among Republicans/Republican leaners, 36% continue to believe the president was either probably, or definitely, born in another country. Even though a long-form birth certificate for the president was produced between the Winthrop April 2011 Poll and now—showing he was born in Hawaii—just 5.2% fewer respondents now believe Obama was born outside the country than those back in April (36% now vs. 41.2 % in April).
But when the same group was asked if the Obama Administration has been more or less effective than the George W. Bush Administration at combating terrorism, 42.3% said they felt it has been either somewhat less effective or much less effective than the Bush Administration.
So, they're mostly not tea baggers, they just mostly support tea baggers, they haven't a clue as to what the word "socialist" might mean, a sizable bunch are birther boob imbeciles, and Obama, who killed bin Laden when Bush failed and stopped several major terror plots as opposed to Bush failing to take any action to protect us against 9/11, is weak on terrorism compared to Bush?

Teh stupid! It hurts!

A Little Good News For A Change - Warren Leads Brown in MA Senate Race

Good news! A new PPP poll shows Elizabeth Warren is now leading vapid male model and tea bagger panderer Scott Brown in the MA Senate race...
Elizabeth Warren has had an incredibly successful launch to her Senate campaign and actually leads Scott Brown now by a 46-44 margin, erasing what was a 15 point deficit the last time we polled the state in early June.
The surprising movement toward Warren has a lot to do with her but it also has a lot to do with Scott Brown.  We now find a slight plurality of voters in the state disapproving of him- 45%, compared to only 44% approving.  We have seen a steady decline in Brown's numbers over the last 9 months.  In early December his approval was a +24 spread at 53/29.  By June it had declined to a +12 spread at a 48/36.  And now it's continued that fall to its current place.
While Warren's lead may reflect a bounce from her high profile candidacy announcement, the poll shows Scott Brown's numbers continuing to slide while Warren's number continue to rise. Look for Wall Street to start throwing huge piles of cash at Brown to fend off the challenge from reform advocate Warren.

Texas, Stupid Texas - We Hate Perry, But Better Him Than The Black Guy

Jeez, I hate it when these Texas, stupid Texas stories pop, which is pretty much every story about Texas these days. It's just plain embarrassing. There are so many not at all stupid Texans, especially here in Austin, our little island of blue sanity in a sea of red bat shittery. Apparently the not stupid Texans are a minority.

With Bastrop still smoldering after Perry and his GOPhool pals slashed funding for fighting wildfires comes a new PPP poll that shows that while most Texans disapprove of the job Rick Perry is doing as gov, they'd still vote for him for prez. Just what we need is another idiot governor of Texas in the White House. Hey, what could possibly go wrong?

Key findings, from the PPP poll...
Rick Perry has an under water approval rating in Texas... but at least he is leading Obama
45% of Texas voters approve of the job Perry is doing to 48% who disapprove.  Those aren't good numbers
Perry leads Obama in a head to head 51-44.
Perry polls the best of any of the Republicans in Texas
Obama's approval rating in Texas is only 40% with 55% of voters disapproving of him. Most notable is that only 2% of Republicans give him good marks to 95% unhappy with his job performance
Beyond Perry's poor approval numbers Romney's favorability is a net -17 (32/49), Paul's is -25 (29/54), Gingrich's is -27 (29/56), and Bachmann's is -28 (27/55). With Obama's approval numbers what they are he should probably be trailing the entire Republican field by double digits. But he's not because of the unpopularity of the GOP candidates themselves.
So, all but 2% of Texas Republidolts hate Obama? Wow. That's a stunning number. Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.

Perry's numbers aren't great. As PPP points out, McCain won Texas by 12 points. The bottom line is Texans don't much like Rick Perry. But they really don't like the rest of the Field of Fools GOP candidates. But hey, anyone is better than that Kenyan Muslim socialist black guy.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Deadbeat Dad Joe Walsh, Tea Bagging R-IL, Spanked By Court

The Chicago Sun-Times  reports on the spanking by a family court judge of Tea Party freshman Congressman lying tea bagger "family values" hypocrite Joe Walsh, who seems to be more than $100,000 behind in child support...
A Chicago judge issued a preliminary ruling Wednesday against U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) in his child-support dispute with his ex-wife, ordering the Tea Party favorite to explain why he appears to be $100,000 behind in child-support payments.

Cook County Circuit Judge Raul Vega also wanted to know why Walsh wasn’t in court Wednesday — the McHenry Republican’s ex-wife, Laura Walsh, was there — and initially said he expected him to show up for the next hearing.

In court, Walsh’s attorney, Janet Boyle, asked Vega “for what purpose” he wanted the congressman in court.

Vega gave her a puzzled look — to which Boyle responded: “Mr. Walsh is a U.S. congressman.”
“Well, he’s no different than anyone else,” the judge replied.
She says her ex-husband started making half-payments years ago and then completely stopped sending any money. He claimed he was broke, she said.

But last year, when she saw he had made a $35,000 contribution to his own congressional campaign, she became suspicious about his claims that he had no money. She had her attorney file the motion that Vega granted on Wednesday.
Rep. Walsh recently hired Boyle — his fifth lawyer in the case — after attorneys were unable to reach a settlement at a private session a few weeks ago.
Well, SURE he's different, judge nit picker. He's a white male card carrying tea bagger Republican Congressman! Rules are for the little people! DUH! WTF is wrong with you? Since when is lying and hypocrisy illegal? And what kind of name is that, anyway? Vega? Sounds a bit brown for a judge...

Ron Paul’s Campaign Manager Died of Pneumonia, Penniless and Uninsured

Ron Paul is a racist, misogynist nutball. In other news, water is wet...

The other night, during the tea bagger GOP debate, Wolf Blitzler, asked Ron "Nutball" Paul an interesting hypothetical question...
At CNN's Tea Party-indulging debate on Monday, Ron Paul, a medical doctor, faced a pointed line of questioning from Wolf Blitzer regarding the case of an uninsured young man who suddenly found himself in dire need of intensive health care.

Should the state pay his bills? Paul responded, "That's what freedom is all about: taking your own risks. This whole idea that you have to take care of everybody—"

He never quite finished that point, letting the audience's loud applause finish it for him. So Blitzer pressed on, asking if he meant that "society should just let him die," which earned a chilling round of approving hoots from the crowd. Paul would not concede that much outright, instead responding with a personal anecdote, the upshot being that in such a case, it was up to churches to care for the dying young man. So basically, yeah. He'd let him die.

As it turns out, Paul was not speaking purely in hypotheticals. Back in 2008, Kent Snyder — Paul's former campaign chairman — died of complications from pneumonia. Like the man in Blitzer's example, the 49-year-old Snyder was relatively young and seemingly healthy when the illness struck. He was also uninsured. When he died on June 26, 2008, two weeks after Paul withdrew his first bid for the presidency, his hospital costs amounted to $400,000. The bill was handed to Snyder's surviving mother, who was incapable of paying.
Who are these people? Who the fuck are these pimples on the ass of humanity and WTF is wrong with them?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Stats For Geeks...

From an image of the Internet credited to Wikipedia user Matt_Britt
I haven't been back to this blogging thing for long, but the interest in the Bastrop Complex fires stories, here, here, here and here, has driven more traffic, at some points per hour, than everything else I've posted put together. It's enough traffic that I can now provide some possibly meaningful statistics for those interested in the patterns of Internet traffic. For example...

In the past week I've had visitors from the US, Canada, Brazil, France, UK, Swtzerland, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Norway, Italy and Ireland, roughly in that order.

The breakdown by browser is...

Internet Explorer (30%)

Firefox (24%)

Safari (15%)

Chrome (11%)

Mobile (11%)

Mobile Safari (4%)

Opera (<1%)

NetFront (<1%)

UP.Browser (<1%)

The breakdown by OS is...

Windows (52%)

Macintosh (24%)

iPhone (11%)

Android (4%)

iPad (3%)

Linux (1%)

BlackBerry (<1%)

LG 1 (<1%)

Samsung (<1%)

iPod (<1%)

Looks like mobile computing really is the Next Big Thing.

Umpires show ethnic bias in ball/strike calls—unless they're feeling watched

The talk of a post racial America seems to have died down, thankfully. Don't think for a second that race doesn't matter in America.

Ars Technica reports on an interesting study published recently by American Economic Review that backs up many previous studies, this one an analysis of millions of ball/strike calls by Major League umpires. It's yet another study that suggests we all try to do the right thing, but especially when we know someone is watching. Analysis of almost 2 million ball/strike calls shows umpires tend to favor pitches from their own ethnic group in games not monitored by computer ball/strike tracking...
There's a lot of behavioral literature that indicates we tend to like people who we think belong to the same group as us, and behave favorably towards them—even though we're not aware of doing so. Another, unrelated set of research indicates that we're all prone to behaving better if we think someone's watching us
when an umpire was from the same ethnic group as the pitcher, they were more likely to call a pitch a strike, at least at a ball park that was not equipped with a QuesTec monitor. When the same analysis was performed at a QuesTec game, the probability that a pitch would be called a strike when there was matching pitcher/ump ethnicity dropped by a full percent—"more than offsetting the favoritism shown by umpires when QuesTec does not monitor them."
"A black pitcher throwing a nonterminal pitch in the early innings of poorly attended games in a non-QuesTec ballpark gains over 6 percentage points by matching [the umpire's ethnicity] (41.4 versus 35.2 percent called strikes)."
minority pitchers tend to have fewer pitches called as strikes even by umpires from the same ethnic group, and this effect is actually enhanced by QuesTec monitoring.
Perhaps more significantly, the authors also compare game statistics for matching player/ump combinations in unmonitored ballparks. Here, the numbers are very consistent. For both white and minority pitchers, winning percentages went up by about five percent. Everything else—the number of hits and runs scored against them, the walks they gave up, and the number of home runs hit—all went down (so did strikeouts, although the effect was very small).
The study also presents data which suggests pitchers and batters are aware of these subtle biases, if only subconsciously. Pitchers pitch to certain areas around the plate and batters avoid swinging at certain pitches based on where they can get the maximum statistical benefit of the bias. Interesting stuff. Baseball has always centered on the "I know that you know that I know that you know," battle between hitters and pitchers. This suggests a new dimension to the old struggle.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Latest Update On The Bastrop Complex Fire, Rick Perry's No Show

You can find our original report on the Bastrop Complex fire here and updates here and here...

Reuters reports that fire fighters are making progress on the Bastrop Complex fire, now calling it 50% contained, but it's far from over. With the return of record heat, no rain in the forecast and winds expected to pick up again Tuesday, fire fighters are hoping to make significant progress today and tomorrow. As these pictures from earlier this (Sunday) evening show, they have their work cut out for them.

(Sarah Kranz)
(Sarah Kranz)
Rick Perry's office has released $250,000 from the Texas Disaster Relief Fund to provide vouchers for a week in a hotel to those who've been burned out of their homes. Am I missing something here? So far more than 2,000 homes have been destroyed statewide,leaving more than 7,000 homeless. $250,000 for 7,000 people for a week in a hotel? Is this supposed to be a fucking joke? Where are these hotels for $35 per week per person?

On Friday Barack Obama declared Bastrop County a federal disaster area, which will allow federal relief funds to flow. Perry, who has strongly criticized the federal government and joined in the GOP chorus of fools trying to hold FEMA funding hostage, is now begging the feds to declare the entire state a disaster area, opening the floodgate for boatloads more of those tasty, tasty federal dollars. Perry has supported calls to refuse FEMA the very funding he's now demanding. Never let it be said that Rick Perry let's a little thing like rank hypocrisy get in the way of his toadying. Whatever happens, it will take time to get emergency FEMA funds into the hands of fire victims. In the meantime the most Perry can offer victims is, "Good luck getting by for a week on $35 per person, folks."

Speaking of the federal government Rick Perry hates and has promised to make, "...as inconsequential in your lives as possible," FEMA has stepped in to fill the massive void left when Perry and the GOP gutted funding for fighting wildfires. In addition to taking over the command and coordination of fire fighting and relief efforts, FEMA is distributing fire suppression grants to local fire departments in 55 Texas counties.

Now, see, it was actually rilly, rilly klever of Perry and the GOP to gut fire fighting funds. Now we get piles and piles of those tasty federal dollars! Perry and the GOP can go back to focusing on the important stuff, like how to screw over teachers, trample on women's rights and destroy what little is left of the Texas health care system. Yee haw!

On the ground in Bastrop, the sheriff's office has released a list of 22 people ordered to evacuate who are still listed as unaccounted for. Bastrop County Sheriff Terry Pickering cautioned that the list reflected only that the whereabouts of these people are unknown. By the end of the day Saturday "several" of the people on the list had been located.
The others, Pickering said, "have not checked into a shelter. They could be on vacation. They could be with friends. If you know them, please have them contact us so we can be sure they are safe and sound."

The list of the missing has been posted at the Bastrop Convention and Exhibit Center and online here...

Bastrop County officials are asking those on the list to call 512-332-8814 or 512-332-8857.

Here is the current re-entry map for Bastrop county...

Lists of structures destroyed by the blaze can be found here...

We'll post all of these links again at the bottom of this page.

In other fire related news, Rick Perry scheduled a press conference in Bastrop yesterday to view the damage and report on progress fighting the fires. After sending out an update to reporters with a location change, Perry was a no show. A Perry staffer told confused reporters...
Reporter Hollie O’Connor was on the scene and talked to Perry staffer Allison Castle, who said, “Our intention was for him to be here. The location we had was not open yet, so we weren’t able to get all of you into that area, and so we were working with officials to find an alternate location, and I think you all got the change of plans as we were trying to solidify things, so again, due to logistical issues, we weren’t able to get him here. We didn’t want to hold y’all up.”
Perry had just returned to Austin from a California campaign swing. There was no reason given, other than "logistics," for Perry's no show. Austin is only 35 miles from Bastrop.The roads are open. Logistics?

Yeah, logistics. You know, complicated stuff. Like making sure fire fighters have the funds and equipment they need to fight long predicted wildfires. But hey, at least he got to rake in a buncha bux in California for his campaign coffers, and isn't that what's really important?

Once again, here are the links for latest information from Bastrop County...

Missing persons list...

Current reentry maps...

Lists of destroyed structures...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Perry Begs the Fed He Hates for Help

UPDATE: The latest on the Bastrop Complex fire can be found here...

Here in Central Texas, people are riled up by the spectacular failure of Rick Perry as highlighted by the woefully inadequate response to the massive wildfires. We've reported on Perry's gutting of funding for fighting wildfires. Gregory Haley has an opinion piece worth a read over at The Austinist skewering Perry for bold hypocrisy of begging for help form the very government he hates and promises to make, "...as inconsequential in your life as I can."
On the campaign trail so far, Gov. Rick Perry has been openly hostile to the federal government and the role it plays in support of American citizens and the states in which we live.
It's no surprise then for anyone following modern Republican politics that Perry is lambasting the federal government as an imposition on American freedom and commerce while simultaneously demanding disaster relief... (In May) Perry said, "I am dismayed that this administration has denied Texans the much needed assistance they deserve. It is not only the obligation of the federal government, but its responsibility under law to help its citizens in times of emergency."  Doesn't "assistance they deserve" sound an awful lot like an entitlement?
It sure does. But hypocrisy and stupidly are rarely problems for GOP candidates these days. Quite the opposite, as Perry's core of support is mostly a bunch of ignorant troo bleever morans.

NEWSFLASH... Studies Show Tea Baggers Mostly Old, White, Southern, Ignorant, Racist, Republicans

In other breaking news, water found to be wet, fire hot...

Over at the Washington Post Dan Balz reports on the findings of numerous researchers presented at the American Political Science Association’s recent annual conference in Seattle. The Big Lie about the Tea Party as a grass roots independent political movement is crumbling. With findings like these, it won't be long before the lie collapses completely. Except among tea baggers, of course.

The tea party was described as the new kid on the block of American politics, when in fact it was the extension of forces long at work in the political system.

It was described by some of its grass-roots organizers as a movement driven by principle whose members swore no allegiance to either party. That, too, has been shown to be wrong as its roots in the Republican Party have become more evident.
A tea party endorsement appears to have had no special impact on a candidate’s success in 2010. (In some high-profile Senate races, tea party support probably cost the Republicans victories.)
“People attending the tea party events that began early in the Obama administration expressed the same vehement hostility toward Obama first observed at campaign rallies for John McCain and Sarah Palin” in the fall of 2008, writes Gary Jacobson of the University of California at San Diego. (Jacobson goes on to say) “The tea party movement conferred a label and something of a self-conscious identity to a pre-existing Republican faction that already held strongly conservative views on both economic and social issues.”
(Tea Party supporters) constitutes about a fifth of the adult population, although active participants in tea party rallies are a much smaller fraction of the population than movement sympathizers. (Abramowitz estimates it at no more than 5 percent of the adult population.)

As many media polls have shown, people who are “white, married, older, less educated, higher income... from the South and more religious tend to have more favorable opinions of the tea party movement
Both Jacobson and Abramowitz also say that those who support the tea party movement show higher levels of racial resentment than do non-supporters and that they were more likely to say they disliked Obama.

So, the bottom line is tea baggers are a faux grass roots small cult of old, white, Southern, ignorant, evangelical Republican racists. Gosh, who'da thunk it?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Texas healthcare system withering under Perry, "leading the way into a downward spiral."

Rick Perry saying he would scuttle the new federal healthcare law if elected president. (Nati Harnik / AP / September 8, 2011)
Noam Levey has an eye opening piece in the Los Angeles Times today about the collapse of the Texas health care system in Texas under Rick Perry. Here's a few facts from the article...
"Texas just hasn't proven it can run a health system," said Dr. C. Bruce Malone III, an orthopedic surgeon and president of the historically conservative Texas Medical Assn.
More than a quarter of Texans lack health insurance, the highest rate in the nation
Those costs are passed to the insured. Insurance premiums have risen more quickly in Texas than they have nationally over the last seven years. And when compared with incomes, insurance in Texas is less affordable than in every state but Mississippi
That has taken a toll, as nearly a third of the state's children did not receive an annual physical and a teeth cleaning in 2007, placing Texas 40th in a state ranking
Perry promotes the state as a model for a private-sector healthcare solution. Low taxes and limited government, he and his allies say, lure businesses that can offer private insurance and empower working people to make their own healthcare choices.
But across Texas, health coverage — and health — are eroding even in places where jobs are plentiful.
For years, healthcare leaders here have urged elected officials to act. A 2006 task force of doctors, academic leaders and business executives warned of a "problem of epidemic proportions" that threatened "the economic vitality and health of Texas."
But Texas still has among the fewest physicians per capita in the country, according to census data.
This year, the governor and state Legislature slashed funding to train physicians to less than half of what it was a decade ago. Another initiative highlighted by Perry's office to aid community health centers was also cut.
That came atop $800 million in cuts to hospitals and other medical providers that serve poor children, pregnant women and others who rely on Medicaid.
"The question seems to be how little can we fund and still have a system," said Dr. Jane Rider, a past president of the Texas Pediatric Society. "I always thought they would wake up and see, if nothing else, they need a healthy, educated workforce.... Instead, it seems like we're leading the way into a downward spiral."
The inability to respond to wildfires long predicted isn't the only symptom of the failure of Texas government under Perry. Welcome to Rick Perry's tea bagger loonytoonian fantasy land. You'll love it! If you're rich.

Update: Fires Still Rage, Perry's Faith Based Fire Fighting A Disaster

UPDATE: The latest on the Bastrop Complex fire can be found here...

There's not much good news to add to our earlier report. Authorities now say some 1500 homes have been destroyed and more than 5,000 people have been evacuated. Anecdotal reports are coming in of fire fighters losing their own homes while fighting fires elsewhere. Some volunteer fire fighters have worked 52 hours straight with no sleep, no rest, no relief and inadequate equipment and manpower.

Encouragingly, A DC-10 tanker arrived from California, Wednesday, but it remains grounded as of now. There's no pilots qualified to fly the dangerous low level water bombing runs over populated areas. The plumbing system for dropping fire retardant also needed to be installed after arrival at Austin Bergstrom airport. No word on if or when that might be done. More than a week after this current breakout of fires, the largest now officially designated The Bastrop Complex wildfire, Texas can still only field a small fleet of helicopters and low capacity propeller driven water bombers to battle the blaze.

While the Bastrop fire is still uncontained, reports vary from 0%-30% contained, officials have reported progress on other fires, including the Stiener Ranch fire and fires near, Leander, Spicewood and Hamilton Pool Road. Officials report that these fires have largely been contained. For many home owners in Stiener Ranch, it's too little to late.

Here in Austin, 35 miles from the largest fires, Fire Department officials warned that smoke will likely affect the Austin metropolitan area for at least the next few days. Health officials say there is little long term danger to healthy individuals, but they advise people with respiratory problems or heart conditions, older people and small children to remain inside whenever possible.

Volunteers, active and retired fire fighters, turned up from around the state and around the country in response to urgent calls for more fire fighters, most of them only to be turned away by authorities. Mike Fisher, Bastrop County’s emergency management director told the Austin American-Statesman, “We may have had some of the world’s finest firefighters showing up, but if they weren’t properly qualified or trained and had no equipment, we had no choice." Holly Huffman, spokesperson for the Texas Forest Service, told a local TV reporter, “With wildland firefighting, we have to have folks trained, qualified and credentialed. We’ve got folks that are self-dispatching and coming in and maybe aren’t credentialed in wildland firefighting. That just adds to the risk of someone getting hurt, and that’s the last thing that we want.”

With access to the stricken areas still restricted and reporters kept well away from the flames, news has sometimes been frustratingly difficult to come by. Many have turned to Facebook, Twitter and other social media sources for updates. Specific calls for volunteers to move large animals and livestock quickly go viral. Official dispatches often go viral long before they can show up in the traditional press. The Facebook page for the Austin Celtic Festival has been instrumental in collating and relyaing information, passing on official reports and requests as well as personal requests, donation requests and anecdotal reports.

At this point it's crystal clear that we are witnessing not just a natural disaster, but a critical failure of government on a scale unseen before in recent Texas history. As news spreads that Texas governor and GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry presided over massive cuts in funding for fighting wildfires has spread,  mostly through blog reports, anger has risen to the level where today the Perry campaign felt the need to issue a response, claiming the funding reduction was caused by the federal government. This is what is known in technical circles as a lie, and one likely to earn Perry yet another "Pants On Fire" rating from Politifact, adding to the 7 already dogging Perry in addition to 14 statements rated as "False" and 10 more rated "Mostly False" by the award winning fact checking website. Out of the 67 Perry statements reviewed by Politifact, only 17 were rated "True" or "mostly True," a record of mendacity unmatched by any other candidate.

The fact of the matter is earlier this spring, even as wildfires already raged and more than 1 million Texas acres were burned or burning, Rick Perry slashed direct funding of local fire departments, tasked with fighting wildfires in Texas, by $23 million, from $30 million down to just $7 million, a reduction of 75%. He also slashed the budget the other major source of funding for fighting wildfires, the Texas Forest Service by $34 million, a reduction of about 1/3. Finally, he ignored $135 million is backlogged grants for local fire departments specifically earmarked for fighting wildfires. Then he called for three days of prayer for rain to put out the fires already burning. Faith based fire fighting. We can all see how that worked out.

Worse, Perry and the Texas GOP had been warned. Many times and by many experts. They were told back in 2008 and again this spring by the Texas Forest Service and every national wildfire expert to weigh in on the issue that Texas was sure to face, larger, more dangerous, more catastrophically destructive wildfires. Perhaps because these dire warnings were based on hard science and the reality of global warming - two things half witted fundamentalist moran Rick Perry doesn't believe in - they were completely ignored. Now we can see the result.

While Rick Perry is taking and will continue to take well deserved criticism, many of the reasons the response to this disaster has been so woefully inadequate predate Perry. Texans have bought into the myth of self reliant frontiersman. We believe our own press releases. And we believe in Gover Norquist's fantasy that government should be small enough to drown in a bathtub. Now we're paying the price. Perhaps this will end up producing something positive. Perhaps, in the harsh light of ashen reality, we'll reevaluate our own beliefs. Perhaps we'll find we need government, after all. Hey, it could happen...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Slash & Burn, Faith Based Fire Fighting: Rick Perry Slashed Funding For Fighting Wildfires, Called For Prayer Instead

UPDATE: There's more on this story here, including more background, latest developments, pictures and quotes...

UPDATE 2: The latest on the Bastrop Complex fire can be found here...
Martin Mars Water Bomber

What's wrong with this picture? Right now the world’s largest air tanker, the Boeing 747, and the world’s largest water bomber, the Martin Mars, are working wildfires in Mexico while helicopters and small scoops struggle to fight the Texas fires, thanks to Rick Perry gutting funding for fighting wildfires.

Texas is burning. Again. Out of control wildfires are raging across the state. As I write this, around the Austin area 1000 homes have already been destroyed. Many more are threatened. And still the fires rage out of control. Wildfires are part of living in Texas. But the number, size and destructiveness of this year's fires is unprecedented. Part of the reason is record drought. Part of the reason is stupidity. It didn't have to be this way. While nothing will give people back their homes or the lives lost, it's important to understand why this is happening and what we can do about it.

In Texas local fire departments, most of them rural volunteer units supported by bake sales and fish fries, bear the brunt of the burden for fighting wildfires. These local departments depend on direct funding from the state and funding in the form of grants from the Texas Forest Service to buy and maintain much needed equipment. Back in 2008 the Texas Forest Service warned that we were likely to see more fires, larger fires and more destructive fires as a result of long standing drought conditions afflicting much of the state. The Texas Lege responded by adding $15 million to the TFS budget for fighting wildfires.

Earlier this spring, with the drought at record proportions and more than 1 million Texas acres already ablaze, Rick Perry and the GOP dominated Texas Lege were again deciding on funding to fight wildfires. With $135 million in backlogged grant requests from local fire departments and projections of a record year for wildfires, TFS again warned of catastrophic dangers and requested an increase in funding to fight wildfires. Perry and the Lege responded by not funding the $135 million backlog and slashing $34 million dollars from the wildfire budget, about one third of the total, gutting the agency's ability to fight large, dangerous fires.

But Perry and the GOP didn't stop there. In addition to these cuts, they slashed direct funding to volunteer fire departments by 75%, from $30 million per year to just $7 million per year, leaving total funding to fight wildfires in Texas more than $200 million short of funds. Lest you think this was a case of, "Nobody could have foreseen," at the time these the cuts were approved, one million acres of Texas were burning or already reduced to ash, drought conditions were expected to worsen and fire fighters from all over the nation were warning of unprecedented disaster.

In the face of this extreme danger, Perry did take one bold action. On April 21st of this year, in the midst of record drought and with more than one million acres already ablaze, Rick Perry called for three days of prayer for rain to lessen the wildfire threat. While he refused to use emergency legislation to meet the very real fire threat, Perry did use emergency legislation to require any woman seeking an abortion in Texas to go through an invasive vaginal probe sonogram procedure and to sit through a lecture on the evils of abortion.

vaginal sonogram probe
The efforts of our volunteer fire fighters have been nothing short of Homeric. Many have worked for days on end with no backup, no sleep and inadequate manpower and equipment. But it's not nearly enough. It's particularly frustrating to note that, as we sit here and watch helplessly as our friends and neighbors lose their homes and an inadequate fleet of small scoopers and helicopters struggle to fight the blazes, right this minute across the border in Mexico and in many western states smaller than Texas, fleets of the world's largest air tankers, the 747 and DC-10, and the world's largest scooper/water bomber, the Martin Mars, are fighting wildfires. Urgent requests have gone out for heavy water bombers, but we have to wait while they come from places like North Dakota, a state with a population less than that of Austin alone. Only after more than one thousand homes had been destroyed did help arrive in the form of a DC-10 tanker from California.

DC-10 Water Tanker/Bomber
Would more or better equipment have saved houses, neighborhoods and lives? Without a doubt, though there's no way to say this house or that neighborhood would have been spared. Right now fire fighters are spread too thin to effectively fight these fires and they don't have the equipment they need. Because they don't have the manpower and equipment firefighters are  working around the clock for days on end to the point of exhaustion and they still can't fight all of the fires. They have to pick and choose which fires to fight. They're forced to ignore many, some of which, like the Steiner Ranch fire, grew into major dangers that can't be ignored, further stretching an already overwhelmed force.

It takes money to fight fires. Trucks aren't cheap. Water bombers aren't cheap. Equipment isn't cheap. Those who know best, like the professionals at the Forest Service and Austinite Chris Barron, executive director of the State Firemen's and Fire Marshals' Association and a volunteer fire fighter in South Austin, warned us of the dangers. They told us this was going to happen if we didn't provide at least nominal funding. Barron, commenting on the $135 million in backlogged funding requests, told Reuters back in April, "That alone should say that the departments out there greatly need the funding. Stuff in the fire service is not cheap."

Rick Perry and the GOP had other funding priorities. The Lege did manage to find $8.3 million - an increase of nearly 100% - to fund "crisis pregnancy centers" run by anti-abortion groups without the benefit of doctors or any other medical professionals, in part by slashing $34 million from the TFS budget. While Perry pinches pennies dire warnings have turned into terrible tragedy. Lives have been lost. The cost in property damage alone has already exceeded one billion dollars. Total costs will be astronomical.

Priorities. Back in April as TFS was fighting for funding, Perry advisor Talmadge Heflin, director of the Center for Fiscal Policy at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, told Reuters, "We understand the difficulty they have had in dealing with almost unprecedented numbers of fires this year. We also understand that in order to balance the budget, everybody needs to endure some reductions. We feel they'll be able to handle whatever's thrown at them." Perhaps Heflin and Perry would like to explain to the families of the dead and the thousands burned out of their homes that they just, "...need to endure some reductions."

Choices have consequences. It didn't have to be this way. The first step in problem solving is to identify the cause of the problem. Now that we know the cause of this problem is Rick Perry and the GOP, the solution is obvious.

Here's links to the Texas Forest Service warnings and budget requests:
The 2008 TFS warning and budget request can be found here...

The 2010 TFS warning and budget request can be found here...

UPDATE: There's more on this story here, including more background, latest developments, pictures and quotes...

Rick Perry's Free Market Paradise vs. Socialist Hellhole of Massachusetts

Dreden, Rick Perry's version of MA
Brad Reed has a great piece over at Crooks and Liars comparing Rick Perry's "Texas Miracle" to the "...decrepit urine-soaked wastelands (of MA) whose streets are overflowing with junkies and hookers living inside million-dollar public housing units." Go read it. Here's some of the fun facts...

...the free-market paradise of Texas stands at a freedom-y 8.4 percent. For contrast, the unemployment rate in my socialist hellhole of Massachusetts stands at communist-like 7.6 percent.

10 percent of Massachusetts residents live below the poverty line while 15.8 percent of Texas residents live below the poverty line

(MA) has the lowest rate of uninsured people in the country, at 5.3 percent. Texas, on the other hand, has left a whopping 27.1 percent of its population uninsured.

In (MA) 85% of eighth graders scored at or above basic in the National Assessment of Educational Progress math exam, while 52 percent scored at or above proficient. Texas' eighth graders scored 78 percent at basic, 36 percent at proficient.

83% of MA eighth graders scored at basic in reading, with 43 percent at proficient. In Texas, 73 percent of eighth graders scored at basic in reading while 27 percent scored at proficient.

Violent crime rate in MA is 432 per 100,000 people. In Texas it's 511 per 100,000 people. In MA the murder rate is 2.6 per 100,000 people. In Texas it's 5.4 per 100,000 people. The MA divorce rate is 1.8 per 1,000 people. The Texas divorce rate is 5.4 per 1,000. The teen pregnancy rate in MA is 49 per 1,000 women while in Texas it's 88 per 1,000 women.
Reed provides documentation for these facts in his post...