As (largely untrue) reports fly through the blogosphere and interwebs about reports of movement between the Congressional political blocs on various aspects of the impending ‘fiscal cliff’ crisis, the man at the center of it all, Grover Norquist is certainly having his moments in the spotlight.
Steve Inskeep of NPR gave Norquist air time this morning to prattle on about how it really isn’t true that Republicans are lining up to jump ship and break their pledges not to raise taxes. He likened talk of accepting tax increases in exchange for spending cuts by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to believing in a pink unicorn. Money quote:
It’s like imagining a “pink unicorn,” Norquist said. “If you had a pink unicorn, how many dollars in taxes would you raise to trade for the pink unicorn? Since pink unicorns do not exist in the real world, it’s never occurred to me to worry about the senator from South Carolina. He’s not going to vote for a deal because the kind of 10-1 ratio deal he’s talking about with real, iron-clad spending cuts is never going to happen.”
Norquist’s finances are the subject of an investigative piece at the Nation.com. Reporter Lee Fang dug through all the financial reports (2010 was the most recent year available) and discovered that the little guys’ tax advocate is actually mostly funded by two billionaire backed groups.
The Center to Protect Patients Rights ($4,189,000, mostly the Koch brothers) and Crossroads GPS ($4,000,000, Karl Rove’s group) contributed 66% of Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform budget in that year. Money (pun intended) quote:
Grover Norquist’s iron grip over much of the Republican Party is somewhat puzzling. Why should Senators and other lawmakers listen to a guy caught laundering money for Jack Abramoff?
But consider Norquist’s tax pledge and political power another way: that he’s just a proxy for the powerful interest groups that finance him. In the nineties, it was big tobacco that used Norquist’s tax pledge as a cover to lobby lawmakers against cigarette taxes (Norquist still uses an e-mail system donated to him by Altria to send out Tea Party action alerts against tobacco taxes). Now, big PhRMA and other industry groups provide grants to Norquist while his foundation endorses other giveaways, like protectionist support against importing cheaper drugs from Canada and the classification of tax subsidies to refineries as “tax cuts” that must not be cut.
Over at the Washington Post, reliably liberal Ezra Klein has an article up postulating a contrarian viewpoint on Norquist’s moment in the spotlight:
Amidst the liberal glee over the demise of Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, it’s worth being clear about something: Norquist is winning. Big time. It’s this moment, the death of his pledge’s mostly unblemished record, that he’s been working toward all these years.
Don’t take Norquist’s pledge at face value. It’s an absurdity. From a budgetary standpoint, it’s an obscenity. And everyone — Norquist included, because he is very, very smart — knew it would eventually fall. It’s how it falls that matters. And right now, it’s falling exactly according to plan.
For decades now, Norquist has asked lawmakers to pledge to oppose any and all taxes. That’s a ridiculous pledge. Ronald Reagan, a president Norquist considers such a conservative inspiration that he’s embarked on a quest to name every airport and park bench in the country after him, raised taxes time and time again.
I think Klein’s wrong. Norquist might not be as saavy as people think. If the issue of taxes becomes an issue of patriotism, a stance now gaining favor as massive defense cuts triggered by sequestration are a possibility, then I interpret that as a sign the pendulum has finally begun to swing back towards sanity on this issue.
I know this will shock many of my readers, but I’m going to offer up Steve Breen’s editorial cartoon in today’s UT-SD as evidence. Norquist is depicted facing an earnest Uncle Sam, who’s asking him to sign a pledge that says “I promise to stop acting like a big, pigheaded bully.” (We’ll conveniently ignore the rest of the content surrounding the cartoon for the moment.)
Like the headline says, “A ray of hope”.
Another GOP-Style ‘Reform’: Renewable Energy Programs Coming Under Attack
October, 2012 was, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the 332nd month in a row with above average temperatures world-wide. Recorded temperatures across land and ocean surfaces during October were 1.13 degrees higher than the 20thCentury average. Put another way, if you are 27 years of age or younger, you have never lived through a month that was colder than normal.
October, 2012 was also the month when the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) joined forces with the Heartland Institute(remember their billboard campaign featuring a photo of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski asking the question, “I still believe in global warming, do you?) to encourage state lawmakers around the country to introduce its handy-dandy prepackaged legislation called the Electricity Freedom Act.
This latest bit of ‘reform’ coming from the right side of the aisle seeks to roll-back or eliminate renewable electricity standards already in place in 29 states. These standards require utilities to generate a certain percentage of power from renewable sources, usually phased in over several years.
Proponents say these policies lead to cleaner air, economic development, and a more resilient electrical grid. Opponents say renewable energy standards hurt consumers by driving up rates.
The ALEC sponsored legislation bill says that wind and solar power are expensive and unreliable, and that mandating the use of renewables threatens electric grid reliability and will increase the cost of doing business through rate increases or higher taxes. Supporters claim that the debate about renewable energy is really about ‘politically preferred choices of electricity generation’ and standards requiring a mixed portfolio of sources ‘limit choices’.
Once you understand that this proposal was written by an ALEC task force funded and comprised of representatives from major oil, gas and power companies, including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Koch, and Shell, then you get to the heart of the matter.
Leaded gasoline was undoubtedly cheaper than the blends we use these days. Leaving your trash in somebody else’s dumpster is certainly less expensive that paying for your own pickup. And this so-called “freedom” legislation is nothing more than a proposal to pad the profits of the dirty energy industry.
While I have little doubt that the road to decreased reliance on fossil fuels will be paved with misplaced good intentions, abject failures in technology and production and even some criminal enterprises, I also say that, for the sake of our planet and our children’s future, it’s an effort worth making.
New Mayor Makes His First Impressions
Change is in the air for San Diego.
Yesterday was Carl DeMaio’s last session with the San Diego City Council.
Mayor elect-Filner has announced inaugural festivities spread over four communities in San Diego next week, starting in La Jolla and (most significantly) ending in San Ysidro.
The actual swearing in ceremony will take place Monday morning (Dec 3rd) starting at 10am at the Balboa Park Club. (Info and directions here) The ceremony is open to the public and there will be a reception immediately following the swearing in.
The rest of the day will be taken up with parties, er, celebrations.
4:30pm – 6:30pm ~ UCSD/La Jolla Playouse, 2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla.
5:00pm – 7:00pm ~ Mira Mesa High School Media Center, 10510 Reagan Road, San Diego
6:30pm – 9:30pm ~ The Center (Hillcrest), 3909 Centre Street, San Diego
7:00pm – 9:00pm ~ Jacobs Center (Southeast), 404 Euclid Avenue, San Diego
8:00pm – 9:30pm ~ San Ysidro Multi-Cultural Center, 4345 Otay Mesa Road, San Ysidro
From MexicoPerspective.com, we learn that mayor-elect Filner took time out Monday to attend Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante’s State of the City address at the old Jai Alai Palace. It would seem that San Diego’s incoming mayor is generating excitement on both sides of the border.
They’ll Never Learn (the GOP, who else?)
From the DC-based Politico.com comes word that the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives are acting like, well, Republicans.
Despite the fact that voters have elected an unprecedented number of women (81 Representatives, 20 Senators) to Congress, the House Republican Steering Committee announced an all-male slate of committee chairs yesterday. Keep up the good work, fellas.
Moral Questions on the Highway Toward Artificial Intelligence
A terrific article in the New Yorker by Gary Marcus delves into the morality questions raised by the development of driver-less cars. Google’s prototypes for these vehicles are already street legal in California, Nevada and Florida.
Within two or three decades the difference between automated driving and human driving will be so great you may not be legally allowed to drive your own car, and even if you are allowed, it would be immoral of you to drive, because the risk of you hurting yourself or another person will be far greater than if you allowed a machine to do the work.
That moment will be significant not just because it will signal the end of one more human niche, but because it will signal the beginning of another: the era in which it will no longer be optional for machines to have ethical systems. Your car is speeding along a bridge at fifty miles per hour when errant school bus carrying forty innocent children crosses its path. Should your car swerve, possibly risking the life of its owner (you), in order to save the children, or keep going, putting all forty kids at risk? If the decision must be made in milliseconds, the computer will have to make the call.
The implications are mind boggling, and go way beyond automated driving to questions about warrior robots, artificially intelligent law enforcers and even house appliances that may be called upon to make judgment calls requiring some sort of moral framework. The easy answers, like Sci-Fi writer Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics aren’t so easy, posing even more technical, ethical and moral issues. And that’s before we even get to questions about sentient artificial intelligences. The article concludes:
“Ethical subroutines” may sound like science fiction, but once upon a time, so did self-driving cars.
Gay Conversion Therapy Group Sued for Fraud
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit yesterday contending that the New Jersey based Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) has committed acts of consumer fraud in its application of so-called gay reparative therapies. The legal action contends that promises made to re-orient patients from homosexual to heterosexual orientation were based on theories with no scientific basis and is being pursued under the state’s Consumer Fraud Act.
SPLC’s deputy legal director Christine Sun told Daily Kos, “In short, conversion therapy is nothing more than junk science that leaves people feeling ashamed of who they are, and believing they need to fix something that isn’t broken.”.
On This Day: In 1520 Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan reached the Pacific Ocean after passing through the South American strait. The strait was named after him. He was the first European to sail the Pacific from the east. In 1934 bank robber George “Baby Face” Nelson was killed by FBI agents near Barrington, IL. In 1974 Elton John and John Lennon sang a duet of “I Saw Her Standing There” at Madison Square Garden in New York. The show was John Lennon’s last stage appearance.
Eat Fresh! Today’s Farmers’ Markets: Carlsbad (Roosevelt St. btw Grand Ave. & Carlsbad Village Dr.) 1 – 5 pm, Encinitas Station (Corner of E Street & Vulcan in parking lot B) 5 – 8 pm, Mission Hills (Falcon St. btw West Washington & Ft. Stockton) 3 – 7 pm, North San Diego at Sikes Adobe Farmstead (I-15 at Via Rancho Parkway. 12655 Sunset Dr., Escondido.) 11 am – 2 pm, Ocean Beach (4900 block of Newport Ave. btw Cable & Bacon Sts.) 4 – 8 pm, San Marcos – Cal State San Marcos (333 S. Twin Oaks Valley Rd., Parking Lot B) 3 – 7 pm,Santee (10445 Mission Gorge Rd. abandoned school parking lot) 3 –7 pm, Temecula (40820 Winchester Rd. Promenade Mall, parking lot btw Macy’s & Penny’s) 9 am – 1 pm
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