The Disney Effect

It’s estimated that Great Britain’s royal wedding cost nearly $50 million and that billions of people tuned in to see the royal dress and to watch “the kiss”.  Now, I understand that every little girl grows up dreaming of becoming a princess and marrying Prince Charming.  We have Cinderella and a number of other Disney classics to thank for that.

But, seriously, do you realize what $50 million could do to help eliminate world hunger? Or how much it could help in finding a cure for disease?

What’s particularly puzzling is the fascination for everything royal in the U.S.  Why should we care about a wedding involving a family “across the pond” whose only real accomplishment is to find ways to spend the money that has been passed down for generations? After all, I thought we fought a revolution to end their influence on us.

Oh well, I suppose every little girl has a right to dream.

What the “frack” are we doing to our environment?

Not long ago, I watched Gasland, a documentary about a process called hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.  The process involves pumping a toxic mixture of more than 500 chemicals into the ground in order to fracture shale causing it release the oil and gas trapped in underground pockets.  The chemicals are then pumped back out of the wells and separated from the oil and gas.  The process is all the rage among oil and gas companies.  And it’s being hyped as a way to decrease America’s dependency on foreign oil.

Of course, there’s a catch.

You see, many of the chemicals are known carcinogens, including benzenes.  And even though a large percentage of the chemicals are “recovered,” a substantial quantity enters underground aquifers which supply drinking water for many of our citizens.  In some cases, the oil and gas companies have even dumped the “recovered” chemicals into streams and rivers.  (Hmmm, maybe that explains some of the mysterious fish kills of last summer.)

In addition, the process often results in natural gas being released into the aquifers.  (You may recall seeing videos of people actually lighting the water from their faucets on fire.) When the chemicals are pumped into the shale deposits under high pressure, they create a mishmash of toxic chemicals, pulverized shale, natural gas, oil and water flowing underground only to be pumped to the surface as drinking water for humans and animals, including the livestock we depend on for food.

To make matters worse, the extraction process requires that water must be removed from the gas wells in order for the gas to flow to the surface.  In 2008, just one company pumped 3,563,469,824 gallons of water from its wells in Las Animas County, Colorado – enough water to serve all of the families in the county for 5.46 years!

Finally, there’s evidence that the fracking process may actually result in earthquakes and tremors.But none of that seems to matter to the oil and gas companies.  After all, there are billions of dollars of oil and gas trapped in shale deposits under New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and throughout the West.  Who cares if it’s bad for the environment?  Who cares if we’re poisoning our citizens?  There’s almost nothing the EPA or the courts can do about it.  Not since good ol’ “W” and Cheney pushed through legislation to exempt the oil and gas industry from the Clean Water Act.

Now it’s the First Responders’ fault.

First it was teachers who the Teapublicans blamed for our deficit woes. Now it’s firefighters and police.

In Republican budgets from the House of Representatives to the state houses, budgets for first responders are being slashed. Worse yet, thanks to an amendment by a Florida Republican, the 9/11 first responders are now being subjected to a test of patriotism before the government will accept claims for medical conditions acquired while digging through piles of rubble in search of bodies!

Apparently, some Republicans are concerned that some of these people are terrorists!!! So before voting for a bill that would pay for the medical claims of the 9/11 first responders, they attached an amendment that requires a search into the first responders’ past to make sure they weren’t complicit in the terrorist attacks.

Seriously! You can’t make this stuff up!

Congress is actually questioning the patriotism of the people they once hailed as heroes for rushing into the Twin Towers to help others escape. The very same people who were awarded for bravery by the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress.

Who will they go after next? Grandma and Grandpa? Oh, no…they wouldn’t…would they? Well, who needs Medicare and Social Security anyway? Right?

Limited Government Redefined.

For years, Republicans have been campaigning on lower taxes and limited government.  They do seem sincere about cutting taxes – at least for corporations and the very wealthy.  But when it comes to limited government, I guess it depends on which government you’re limiting. 

When Republicans last controlled the White House, the US House of Representatives and the Senate, they limited the Environmental Protection Agency, the Dept. of Education, the Dept. of Energy and the FDA as well as limiting the regulation of the oil and gas industry, the insurance industry, the financial industry, commodities, and Medicare. 

At the same time, Republicans created the gargantuan agency of Homeland Security.  They also determined that it was the government’s role to police the interaction between a woman and her doctor, to invade the privacy of our citizens, to limit who could marry, and to suspend the laws of habeus corpus so it could detain citizens indefinitely without right to trial.

Now Republicans are pushing their limited government ideas at the state level as never before.  In Arizona, they’re trying their best to destroy public schools, take health care away from the poor and force everyone to carry guns.  In Wisconsin, they’re limiting the voices and bargaining rights of government workers.  In Vermont, the governor limited the images of laborers in the Labor Dept.  And in Michigan, the GOP-led state government has literally usurped the governance of Benton Harbor in order to give a city park to a corporate developer so the developer can turn it into a golf course for the very wealthy.

It appears that Republicans really want a government limited to enforcing their narrow-minded values and increasing benefits for corporations and the very wealthy.

Senator Kyl’s Legacy

This year, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona announced that he would not run for his seat in the Senate in 2012.  Following his announcement, the Arizona media was filled with people (Republicans, teabaggers and other conservatives) extolling Senator Kyl’s mostly forgettable accomplishments.

As the conservative mouthpiece in the Senate, Kyl was given lots of attention by the media.  And he was very good at capitalizing on it.  During the Bush administration, he became one of the administration’s most visible apologists.  And during the Obama administration, he has railed against virtually every administration initiative.

But those actions won’t serve as his lasting legacy.  Instead, he’ll be remembered for two events that took place on the Senate floor.  The first was his objections to approximately 80 appointments by President Obama.  As Senate Democrats called the names of individuals who had been appointed as judges, Kyl stood at the microphone and repeated the words “I object” for each and every one.

More recently, in arguing against the funding of Planned Parenthood, Kyl stated that abortion is “more than 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.”  Of course, he was wrong.  The actual percentage of abortions provided by Planned Parenthood represents less than 3 percent of its budget.  When confronted with this discrepency, Kyl’s office announced that his statement “wasn’t intended to be factual!”  Of course, that came as no surprise to those of us who have been following Senator Kyl for some time.  He has seldom told the truth about anything regarding Democratic proposals or Democratic-supported initiatives.

Thanks to public ridicule led by Stephen Colbert and other comedians, Senator Kyl has since amended the Congressional Record to remove the inaccurate percentage.  The Record has been changed to read, “… you go to Planned Parenthood for abortions because that’s what Planned Parenthood does.”

So now Kyl’s statement in the Congressional Record implies that abortion is the only service provided by Planned Parenthood.  Apparently Kyl really doesn’t intend for his statements to be factual.  Even when he has an opportunity to correct them.

Maybe the best way to fix the deficit is to do nothing.

While the government and the media debate the pros and cons of President Obama’s and Congressman Ryan’s competing deficit reduction plans, Ezra Klein of the Washington Post suggests another possibility.  Do nothing.

That’s right.  Do nothing to address the deficit and growing national debt!

Using a graph based on the Congressional Budget Office’s September numbers, Klein shows what will happen if Congress fails to act.  Our national budget would begin to balance itself in two years.  And despite the so-called “crises” of Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, the budget would remain balanced into the forseeable future.

Given the doom and gloom scenarios of the teabaggers and their Republican allies, how is this possible?

It’s the result of allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire at the end of their 2-year extension, implementing the program that changes the way doctor payments are handled in Medicare, and allowing the Affordable Care Act (so-called Obamacare) to be fully implemented.

That’s it!  No privatizing Social Security, no ending Medicaid and no changing Medicare to a voucher system that will likely drive up the cost of health care while dramatically adding to the insurance industry’s bottom line.  All we have to do is keep the politicians from further messing things up!  (Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if we could stop bleeding money and lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It’s estimated that those wars have already cost us as much as $3 trillion.  A number that’s increasing by the day.)

Remember this as the debate over the deficit escalates between now and the 2012 election.  The choice is likely to be between a Republican plan of pulling the safety nets out from under our most vulnerable citizens while lining the pockets of the wealthy.  Or enacting President Obama’s plan which will reduce the deficit while continuing to care for the poor, the sick and the elderly.  Or doing nothing and returning to Clinton-era tax rates.Personally, I vote for one of the last two options.  After all, unless my memory fails me, the decade of the 90s was prosperous for most everyone.  Not just the super-wealthy.

What will be the Boomers’ legacy?

The generation that began with so much promise – helping to improve civil rights, volunteering for the Peace Corps, and forcing an end to the Vietnam war – is now at a crossroads.  As we reach retirement age, the Baby Boomer generation has to consider what our legacy will be.  Will we be remembered for the aforementioned accomplishments?  Or will we be remembered for unparalleled greed, selfishness and hate?

The answer depends on what we do next.

You see, I believe that Boomers have enjoyed advantages few other generations have.  Unlike our parents, Boomers have enjoyed relative peace and prosperity.  Most of our parents worked hard and scrimped to send us to college in record numbers.  Many of our parents passed along modest estates.  And, unlike our parents, we didn’t face great economic hardships until late in our careers when our retirement funds should have been nearly complete.

Our generation has enjoyed rising salaries, inexpensive food, and inexpensive energy.  Our taxes have been lower than previous generations, so we have had the opportunity to keep more of our earnings.  We have had more machines to help with our labor.  We have had more leisure time.  We have traveled more.  And we have had more options for entertainment.

The real question is, what have we accomplished as a result of all these advantages?

We have consumed a disproportionate amount of the world’s resources.  We have polluted the planet, resulting in dramatic climate change.  We have failed to address poverty and hunger in our own country, let alone around the world.  And though we contributed to the end of the Vietnam War and the Cold War, we have opened new battlefronts in the Middle East to protect our oil interests.

So now what?  As we reach retirement, will we display the greed and contempt for the poor as the Tea Party has done?  Or will we devote at least some of our retirement to charity?  Will we help end poverty in the U.S. and the world?  Will we make health care affordable for all – not just the wealthy and the connected?  Will we find ways to curb pollution?  Will we force our corporations to pay their fair share of taxes and create jobs in our own country?  Will we finally level the playing field for minorities and women?  Will we find ways to end homelessness in our own nation – find shelter for the approximately 2 million homeless children?  Will we contribute to the rebuilding of our crumbling infrastructure built at such sacrifice by our parents and grandparents?  And will we properly fund education, so our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have many of the same advantages we enjoyed?

Our generation has the education, knowledge, experience and resources to accomplish great things and to achieve a legacy comparable to “The Greatest Generation.”

But, although I’m hopeful about our generation’s legacy.  I’m not optimistic.

A Culture of Blame.

The recent standoff in Wisconsin raises some unpleasant questions about American society.  Why do we now blame union workers and their pensions for our economic troubles?  Certainly, public employees who make around $50,000/year aren’t getting rich off of taxpayer money.  And why blame foreclosed homeowners for the housing crisis?  Surely they didn’t benefit from purchasing a home for more than its current value and being forced to move.  And how can anyone logically blame the Obama Administration for an economic meltdown that occured before the President took office?

My point is that there is plenty of blame for our problems to go around starting with deregulation, two unfunded wars, unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthy and the greed of Wall Street bankers.  But why focus on blame?  Wouldn’t we all be better served by spending our time trying to find solutions to our current problems instead?

Of course, those who committed illegal acts, if any, should pay for them.  But we should let our legal system address those people.

As for our economy, our deficit can easily be reduced by rescinding tax cuts for the nation’s wealthiest Americans.  We could create high-paying jobs in the U.S. by ending tax incentives for the corporations that send jobs overseas, and by adding tariffs on goods made outside the U.S.  We could generate more revenue by lowering the tax rate on corporations while, at the same time, removing corporate tax loopholes.  We could generate revenue for our state and local governments by ending corporate welfare such as Tax Increment Financing.  We could cut costs by refusing to help the billionaire owners of professional sports franchises pay for palatial new arenas.  We could increase innovation by improving public education and providing small businesses with the same tax advantages as large corporations.

We could save businesses and individuals billions of dollars by creating Medicare for all and hiring enough regulators to eliminate fraudulent claims.  We could save billions by de-criminalizing drugs and ending the so-called “War on Drugs” which has put thousands of non-violent people in prison to learn new skills from hardened criminals.  We could save billions by using our prison system to educate and reform those who would benefit instead of merely warehousing inmates until we’re forced to release them.

We could finally end our dependence on oil by eliminating taxpayer subsidies to big oil companies and spending the same amount of money on alternative sources of energy.  Most important, we could reform our political campaigns by holding political ads to the same truth-in-advertising standards as ads for products and services.  If they don’t tell the truth, the politicians must be removed from office and new elections held as they are in Great Britain.

Of course, you could continue to assume that significant changes like these are impossible.  But if our nation continues to fall behind others in education, health care and innovation, don’t blame me.