The Real Cost Of Fossil Fuels.

The chemical spill in West Virginia that polluted the drinking water of more than 300,000 people should remind everyone of the real cost of fossil fuels. As you know, conservatives are fond of saying that subsidies for research and the expansion of alternative energy are unfair; that they disguise the true cost of solar, wind and other forms of clean, renewable energy. Of course, they never mention the massive direct subsidies our government gives to the coal, oil and gas industries (estimated at $14 billion to $51 billion per year) or the indirect subsidies (the cost of damage to our environment; the cost of health problems that result from breathing polluted air and drinking polluted water; the cost of clean ups of spills; the cost of regulation).

If all of the indirect costs were added, the total subsidies for the fossil fuel industries are almost incalcuable and they’re certain to grow as we deal with the damages caused by climate change.

By comparison, the indirect costs of renewable energy are almost negligible. Wind generators require materials for manufacture and fossil fuels to transport them to their eventual sites. They also reportedly cause the deaths of some birds. But those deaths are dwarfed by the number of birds killed and endangered by oil spills and from drinking chemical pollutants. Solar panels also require manufacture and transportation. But that’s it.

Once in operation, neither add CO2 to the atmosphere. Neither can cause toxic spills. Wind and solar generation is decentralized so there’s less chance of widespread power outages. Both eliminate the need for daily trainloads of fuels. They require no pipelines. There is no need to remove entire mountaintops. No need to pump toxic chemicals into the earth in order to extract wind or sun. And there is no need for waste disposal. When the wind generators and solar panels become obsolete, most of their materials can be recycled.

Best of all, they create jobs in the US, and they would create a lot more if Congress would provide manufacturers with the incentives and protections needed to fend off state-sponsored manufacturers in China. They also reduce the need for fossil fuels, which should make our reserves of oil and gas last well into the future.

So why do Congressional Republicans continue to rubber stamp subsidies for oil, gas and coal while denying much smaller subsidies for alternative energy? The answer, as always, is money.

The majority of fossil fuels are extracted from red states, such as Alaska, Louisiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming. Most refineries are also located in red states – Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. Oil, gas and coal companies have very deep pockets from decades of favored political status and profiteering. They have one of the largest lobbying groups in Washington. The companies and their billionaire owners are willing to spend whatever it takes to retain their monopolies. Moreover, the Citizens United ruling by the conservative-dominated Supreme Court made it possible for corporations to offer large donations to political campaigns. And politicians are more than willing to accept them.

The Politics Of Division And Deception.

For many years, the GOP has used so-called “social” issues, such as proposed anti-abortion legislation and “sanctity of marriage” laws to divide the voting populace and fire up their base. The Democratic Party has focused on issues like social safety nets, minimum wages and availability of health care. And the debate has left our government largely paralyzed.

In some ways, arguing about the issues that divide the rank and file of the two political parties is akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s not that the issues aren’t important. But compared to other issues, they are mere distractions…the political equivalent of a con artist bumping your shoulder while picking your pocket.

The con artists are working for large, multinational corporations and the very wealthy. In order to grow and thrive, these companies need two things: A plentiful supply of natural resources and cheap labor. Over the course of history, those needs have led the wealthy to finance exploration, nations to build wide-ranging empires, and corporations to destroy collective bargaining movements.

Following World War II, the desire for access to oil, rubber, timber, tin and other resources led the British, the US and the Soviet Union to attempt to divide much of the world culminating in the Cold War. The desire to acquire resources led us into conflicts in the Caribbean, Central America, South America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. It was the cause of the Spanish-American War, the war with Japan, the war in Vietnam, and the war in Iraq. It led our CIA to orchestrate the overthrow of elected leaders in Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Nicaragua and elsewhere.

Similarly, the need for cheap labor led mining companies to create company stores and to build entire towns designed to trap workers into becoming hopelessly obligated to the owners. It caused companies to hire thugs to brutally beat striking workers. It led to shooting wars between corporate interests and labor unions. More recently, it led corporations to move factories to Southern “right-to-work” states then on to Mexico to China to India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The executives behind these actions aren’t evil. They’re just doing business. They claim that it’s not their responsibility to worry about social or environmental problems. They believe that their only responsibility is to increase the return on investment for shareholders by decreasing costs and increasing productivity. To them, picturesque mountains merely cover the precious minerals they covet. Pristine forests are merely the lumber needed for construction. Impoverished people in distant lands are simply motivated laborers.

And so it goes.

While we argue over the debt ceiling, corporations and billionaires quietly park their profits in off-shore tax havens then lobby for a tax “holiday” that will allow them to bring the money home at greatly reduced tax rates. While we argue over extending unemployment benefits, corporations lobby for more subsidies and government giveaways. While we argue over food stamps, corporate agribusinesses pocket billions in taxpayer funds. While we argue over Social Security retirement benefits, too-big-to-fail financial institutions steal trillions from 401ks, IRAs, pension funds and foreclosed homes. At the same time, all of these corporations continue to lobby for reduced government regulation and oversight.

It is because of our inattention that a mere 85 individuals now own as much wealth as half of the world’s population…the equivalent of the populations of China, India, the United States, Indonesia and Brazil combined. It’s why unemployment has grown and why most salaries have not. It’s why a few corporations now control most of our food supply. It’s why those same corporations are able to poison the food supply in search of ever larger profits. It’s why the incidence of chronic disease has skyrocketed despite government-funded technology and research that give us the ability to end it. It’s why our climate is rapidly changing while we continue to subsidize the companies responsible for changing it.

As long as we focus on the distractions instead of the actions, things will only get worse.

Congress Versus The American People.

Politicians, especially Republicans, are fond of saying that they have faith that the American people will always do the right thing. Hmmm…that raises a number of questions.

If politicians believe the American people are so smart, why don’t they do what the people want them to? Why have they refused to vote for universal background checks on all gun purchases when more than 90 percent of Americans demand them? Why has the House refused to support bills that would create the jobs Americans want? Why has the House delayed action on immigration reform supported by more than 70 percent of Americans? Why has the House refused to vote for equal pay for women? Why has it refused to raise the minimum wage? Why do Republicans refuse to vote for gay marriage? Why do they refuse to decriminalize marijuana? Why have they failed to vote for tax reform and equal enforcement?

Why do more than 80 percent of Americans despise Congress?

At least we have an answer for one of those questions.

Senatorial Amnesia?

It is well-known that there were more filibusters during Obama’s first term than in the entire previous history of the Senate, forcing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to resort to the extraordinary measure of changing Senate rules. As a result of the GOP obstruction of presidential appointments, federal judicial offices are grossly understaffed and overworked.

Yet GOP senators Marco Rubio and Richard Burr recently blocked two more judicial nominations. What’s shocking and somewhat amusing about their GOP-stopping moves is that both of the nominees were recommended to President Obama by the very same GOP senators who blocked them!

Come again?

You read that correctly. Senators Marco Rubio and Richard Burr each recommended a judge then took the extraordinary step of “blue slipping” the candidates after President Obama nominated them. One of the nominees, William Thomas, would have become the first openly gay black man to serve as a federal judge. He had been awaiting confirmation since late 2012 until the president finally withdrew the nomination.

That, of course, raises a few questions. Did Rubio not know that Thomas was gay when he recommended him to the White House? What possible impact could Thomas’ sexual orientation have on his ability to perform as a competent judge?

And what of Burr’s recommendation? He refuses to say why he blocked Jennifer May-Parker. Did he learn of something that would disqualify her as a federal judge? Did he contract amnesia or dementia forgetting that he had made the recommendation? Did he nominate her only because he secretly disliked her and wanted to torture her by leaving her nomination twisting in the wind? Or is he blocking her nomination simply as the result of his Teapublican anti-Obama fever?

These are all fair questions.

Whatever the answers, such behavior is worse than bad politics. It’s outright nincompoopery! And now Rubio expects us to take him seriously as a potential presidential nominee? More important, given the behavior of the GOP for the past decade, why would voters take any of their candidates seriously?

Another Perspective On The Racist Frat Party At ASU.

The weekend before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the clueless frat rats at the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Arizona State University decided the best way to celebrate was with a “blackoutformlk” party. Those who attended the all white party wore basketball jerseys, hip hop clothing, some reportedly even wore black face make-up. They also drank alcoholic drinks out of hollowed-out watermelons and flashed gang signs while posing for the camera.

Understandably, local civil rights leaders were outraged and threaten to boycott all ASU athletic events. They want those involved expelled from the university and the fraternity banned from operating on campus. (The fraternity had already lost its house on campus after a fight in 2012 when up to 20 white frat boys brutally beat an African-American member of a rival fraternity.) ASU officials say the matter is “under investigation.”

Obviously, the party says volumes about the fraternity. But it says even more about the members’ families.

After all, people aren’t born racist. Racism is learned behavior. Most of these boys likely come from relatively well-to-do families in Arizona. You know, the only state that refused to celebrate MLK Day; the state that decided to honor King only after it had lost tens of millions of dollars from boycotts; the same state that passed the blatantly racist SB1070 anti-immigrant bill; the state with only one African-American legislator; one of the red states dominated by the Tea Party which has held numerous anti-Obama rallies complete with Confederate flags.

Yes, that state!

One has to wonder exactly what these frat boys learned at home and from watching the public debates over our nation’s first black president. One wonders how many of their parents watched Fox News Channel and listened to Rush Limbaugh with the kids. One wonders how many vicious letters to the editor they have read; how many racist comments they have heard at school and at sporting events; how many news reports and “reality” TV shows they’ve seen that focused on black crimes while ignoring white crimes; how many rap songs they’ve heard that glorify violence.

The leaders of ASU have their work cut out for them. Not only must they find an appropriate way to deal with the fraternity and educate their students. They need to find a way to turn this into a teachable moment for the rest of the state’s population.

UPDATE: The TKE fraternity has been expelled from campus. Futher actions against individuals are under consideration.

The Symbology Of Politics.

You can tell a lot about people from the symbols they choose to attach to their bodies, their cars and their homes. In the Sixties, a generation wore long hair and tie-died clothing as the symbols of revolution. In the Eighties, Yuppies (Young Upwardly Mobile Professionals) turned to pricey brand labels and t-shirts from vacation spots intended to show their status and wealth. Today, those symbols have been replaced with symbols that establish our class status, religious beliefs and political leanings.

For example, anyone displaying the Gadsden (Don’t Tread On Me) flag is likely to belong to the Tea Party. A Stars and Stripes decal on a car almost always indicates a conservative. How angry the driver is may be indicated by an NRA insignia or a leftover “W” or Romney campaign sticker. A somewhat more subtle conservative indicator is the fish or cross symbolizing Christianity. An Obama, Hillary or Elizabeth Warren sticker indicates a Democrat. A rainbow or a = indicates a GLBT supporter. And a peace sign or “Coexist” almost always indicates a liberal.

“What do moderates display?” you may ask. The obvious answer is, “It really doesn’t matter, because they essentially no longer exist.”

So what brought us to the point where ordinary people feel it necessary to display their political or religious beliefs? After all, weren’t we all told by our parents that there are two things never to be discussed with strangers? Those are, of course, religion and politics. Obviously, we’ve transcended that advice out of, what I believe, is a sense of tribalism. The same sort of tribalism that causes someone to wear their school colors, the logo of their favorite NFL team, the branch of military in which they served, even the insignia of their military unity.

I would also suggest that the display of some symbols indicates a sense of superiority. What other purpose does it serve to display a bumper sticker warning others that the driver is subject to sudden rapture? Do you really believe that the rest of us are grateful for the warning? No, you want to tell us that you’re better than us. In other words, I contend that it’s a sign of self-righteousness. The kind of self-righteousness that Pope Francis addressed when stating that one doesn’t have to be Catholic or Christian to be redeemed; that one’s unselfish deeds is enough. If that’s true, and I believe it is, there should be no reason to show your religious beliefs.

And what is the purpose of displaying a decal of the flag of the United States? Are we to believe that its bearers are more patriotic than those who don’t? It certainly can’t be a mere label. We already know that there’s a good chance that they’re American because that’s where they live! I suspect that, like the religious symbols, the flag is displayed in order to assign a sense of self-importance. To me it attempts to say, “Because of my (conservative) political beliefs, I’m a true patriot and you’re not.”

In my opinion, we would all be better off if we threw away the partisan symbols and replaced them with a symbol of the Earth. That would indicate that we believe in true equality for all people; that we share a reverance for each other and the place where we live; that we have compassion for all sentient beings and we’re committed to protecting them.

Now that’s a sentiment I’d be happy to display!

The Slavery We Ignore.

Despite the emancipation of African-American slaves, slavery in the US is not over. Not by a long shot.

Today’s slaves are African-Americans, Caucasions, Asians, Latinos…even children. And instead of working on plantations, they work in hotels, bedrooms and massage parlors. I’m referring, of course, to the sex trade in which thousands of people…mostly women…are held against their will for the financial benefit of their “owners.”

Most of these people were captured from street corners and malls. They were enticed by on-line predators. They were lured into the “modeling” business with the promise of fame and money. They were neglected children who were sweet-talked then brutalized until they submitted to their pimps. They were hopeful immigrants who were promised transportation and green cards then held against their will until they pay off their captors’ investments. Of course, they never can. As soon as they come close, they are sold or traded to other pimps. They are held captive in cubicles in the basements of massage parlors and illegal brothels. Many are moved from city to city to prevent them from getting too close to their customers and establishing contacts that may help free them. Their services are advertised for sale in newspaper classifieds and on the Internet.

All of this is a crime…a despicable, horrible crime. Yet an even worse crime is that many people actually know about this slavery but, because it’s centered on prostitution, few people seem to care. They either condemn everyone involved…pimps, “johns” and victims alike…or they hold to the belief that all prostitution is a victimless crime. Public officials say that this form of slavery is difficult to prosecute. In reality, many in law enforcement and city governments actually participate in the crime, either as customers or as the recipients of bribes. Customers claim not to know about the circumstances of the women. They want to believe that all of the women serve willingly, and undoubtedly many do. But far too many are victimized over and over and over again.

Often the victims have been subjugated and victimized for so long they remember little else. They need help and support in order to survive even after they’re freed. And they’re often much too frightened to testify against their abusers.

But the situation is not hopeless. All that’s required for it to change is for the public to demand change and elect government officials who are determined to act. It would help if the more puritanical among us would recognize that prostitution has been around since the beginning of time and that it’s not going away. Indeed, there are women who see the sex trade as a way to improve their financial futures. And there are a seemingly endless number of customers. Legalizing prostitution would take the profit out of illegal prostitution. It would allow governments to regulate, license and control it in an open, transparent and safe manner. It would turn the women into business entrepreneurs instead of victims. More important, it would eliminate the pimps and “owners.”

Ask yourself which is preferrable? An open and controlled sex trade? Or the continuation of slavery and the victimization of women and children?

An Irresponsible Corporation’s Last Resort.

Last Friday, it was announced that the company responsible for the chemical spill in West Virginia, Freedom Industries Inc., had filed for bankruptcy protection and is in the process of selling its assets to a newly created corporation headed by (you guessed it) the former CEO of Freedom Industries. What better way for a group of uncaring, money-grubbing individuals to maintain their incomes while avoiding the consequences of their actions? Or should it be inactions? After all, the chemical tank that leaked hadn’t been inspected in decades.

Not surprisingly, the company claims that the leak is not its fault. It claims that “an unidentified object pierced the affected tank” allowing the toxic, but largely unregulated chemical to flow into the river just upstream from the City of Charlotte’s water supply; a chemical that, if ingested, causes severe diahhrea and vomiting; a chemical that, in the words of West Virginia officials, is only good for “flushing.”

By filing for bankruptcy, the company owners are hoping to protect their assets while avoiding any lawsuits from those affected by the spill and fines from the Environmental Protection Agency. To be held accountable, courts will have to find that the former owners of Freedom Industries were guilty of negligence or malfeasance (difficult charges to prove). If not, the company owners will be able to go right back to doing what they were doing…soaking up large sums of money and sticking the public with any clean-up costs.

And that’s not all.

In its bankruptcy filing, Freedom Industries admits that it owes the IRS $2.4 million in back taxes. One assumes that sum is in jeopardy if the bankruptcy court allows the owners to abscond with the company assets while avoiding any and all liabilities. If nothing else, the corporation will likely be able to diminish its tax liabilities through a variety of tax write-offs. And don’t think for a moment that this situation is unique. This has become a common strategy for corporations facing lawsuits for irresponsible activities. Indeed, the advantage of incorporating a business is to create a “corporate veil” that the owners can hide behind if and when things go bad. The belief is that, without the corporate veil, no one would take the risk of starting a business…a belief that I don’t share.

It’s this very protection that belies the conservative fantasy that corporations are people. Yes, they are owned by people and they are run by people. But articles of incorporation give owners an opportunity to simply walk away from problems when they outweigh profits. Individuals and sole proprietorships have no such protections. And, as the result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, owners and managers of corporations now have more influence than ever before. They can contribute to political campaigns both as individuals and as corporate officers. Given this disproportionate influence, we are likely to see many more corporations like Freedom Industries.

That’s unlikely to generate any complaints from conservatives.

Conservative idealogues may insist on personal responsibility for individuals…especially those who ar impoverished. But they have no such demands for corporations. After all, they view corporations as “job creators” and they despise government agencies responsible for regulating corporations. Moreover, most corporate political contributions will benefit conservative candidates. Conservatives wouldn’t want to give up those.

Why Teapublicans Are Wrong About Government.

After all of the GOP talk of “freeing businesses from government regulation” and “shrinking government down to a size small enough to fit in a bathtub,” it’s time to force a dose of reality down their loudmouth throats. No matter how much they rant about the “evils” of government, we need government to do a variety of things the private sector can’t or won’t.

We need government funding and oversight to build and maintain infrastructure – roads, highways, airports, seaports, and more. We need government to protect our borders; to control our monetary system; to negotiate treaties. And, although we live in a nation built on capitalism, government has always been needed to prevent private businesses from taking advantage of our citizens. Whenever new industries are created by business, government eventually has to regulate them in order to keep them from running amok.

For example, before Ralph Nader and his book, Unsafe At Any Speed, American automakers paid little attention to safety. There were no seat belts, no air bags, no crumple zones, no crash tests…no safety standards at all.

Before the Food & Drug Administration, there was no labeling of ingredients for packaged foods ; no bans or warnings for ingredients known to cause harm. Before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), large corporations felt free to dump toxic chemicals in our streams and in our drinking water. Before the EPA, large corporations spewed tons of toxins into the air we breathe. Before the Securities Exchange Commission, financial institutions could engage in insider trading and sell any junk securities people could be bamboozled into buying. Before the Mine Safety Act, most miners died from tunnel collapses and black lung disease. Before the US Department of Agriculture and the US Forest Service, lumber companies felt free to clear cut our forests destroying critical habitat for many species and mortgaging our future. Before the Department of Labor, businesses thrived on child and slave labor.

Do you really want to go back to the days of allowing corporations to regulate themselves?

Would you buy meat for your family that had not been inspected? Would you drink water that hadn’t been tested for bacteria and other contaminents? Would you give your child pharamceuticals that were untested? Would you strap your child into a car that had not passed basic safety tests? Would you place your life savings in a bank that did not insure your deposits?

We already know what happens when you replace government functions with private companies. We have abundant evidence that contracting with corporations to operate prisons costs more than publicly-operated prisons. Private prisons have also proven to be less secure. We also know that, on the whole, students in private schools perform no better, and often worse, than those in public schools.

Contrary to President Reagan, government isn’t the problem. Often it’s the solution. Instead of trying to reduce government to some arbitrary size, we should be trying to improve it. Apparently, Teapublicans have never considered that.

Beheading More Right Wing Lies.

According to the right wing blog, Freedom Outpost, “more than 68,105 new medical codes are being added due to the Obamacare monstrosity.” The blog claims that the codes are intended to “link us to the international system created by the World Health Organization (WHO). It goes on to state, “One thing is for sure. This coding is directly related and tied to creating their ‘International One World Government.’ While the WHO pretends to be for helping people, they create codes for ‘Legal Execution’ by beheading.”

You read that right. The author is claiming that Obamacare will result in the legal beheadings of patients! Presumably the claim was spawned by Sarah Palin’s “Death Panels.”

Of course, once Freedom Outpost sent this claim into the blogosphere, it was picked up and repeated by most other right wing blogs. It was passed from one Tea Party Parasite …er, Patriot… to another until it became so prevalent that had to debunk it with a “Pants on Fire” rating.

Obviously, the only ones who have lost their heads are Teapublicans afflicted with what some have called Obama Derangement Disorder.

This lunacy is not new. There have been other wild accusations such as the claim that Obama created a program that allows school children to earn higher grades by studying Islam; that a hidden provision in the health care law taxes sporting goods as medical devices; that Obamacare will provide insurance to illegal immigrants; that Muslims are exempted from the health care mandate; that the Obama administration plans to take away our guns as part of a UN treaty; that the Obama campaign offered citizens cell phones in exchange for votes; that Obamacare includes a 3.8 percent sales tax on all real estate transactions; that President Obama doubled the national debt; that Michelle Obama said “all this for a damn flag” during a 9/11 memorial; that President Obama banned prayer in the military academies; that President Obama demanded all military headstones with crosses be replaced. There have been hundreds more.

All of these have been awarded the “Pants on Fire” rating by

Although draws no conclusions as to why so many of these preposterous claims have dogged President Obama, I’ll state the obvious: racism. Why else would conservatives question the president’s birthplace? Why else would they claim he is a radical Muslim? Why else would there be a six-fold increase in racist hate groups during his presidency?

Yes, I know, right wingers are quick to deny prejudice (most claim to have black friends) and they try to turn the tables by accusing those who call attention to their lunacy of “playing the race card.” Still, the racism of these “patriots” is both obvious and undeniable. Virtually every Tea Party rally has included racist chants, blatantly racist depictions of President Obama, and an abundance of Confederate flags. And it’s not just the far right wing wackos who have displayed their racism. So-called “mainstream” Republicans have piled on.

I believe that no matter how much they deny it, conservatives – they of family “values” and supposedly strong religious beliefs – simply were not ready for a black president. Most can accept black athletes, black entertainers and black co-workers. But black neighbors? Or (gasp) a black president? A black man who has real power?

Of course, these conservatives continue to say they’re not racists. They’re just passionate about freedom and patriotism.