Ziggy got it right

One of the funniest comic strips courtesy of my favorite everyday person, Ziggy, is our hero reviewing the fancy communications material produced by his company for employees. In true Ziggy deadpan fashion, he notes, “Uh oh. The better the communication material, the worse the message.” This simple observation speaks to the heart of fancy public relations messaging that is often masked as fact with slick images and spokespeople.

I mention this as the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity (which is more aptly named Americans for Our Prosperity) are funding commercials to dissuade North Carolina General Assembly from letting an increasing renewable energy requirement on Duke Energy continue. This phase-in requirement is one of the reasons North Carolina is fourth in the country in solar energy. The other key reason of a tax credit is set to expire this year, which is also a very poor move.

Let me summarize this in base terms. The fossil fuel industry, who has benefitted from government support for years, now is wanting an even playing field in North Carolina as the price of renewable energy falls and it has shown to be a success for attracting business and creating jobs. So, we will get to see slick commercials to tell us how renewable energy is more expensive for poor people and it is unfair to the fossil fuel industry for the government to play favorites (unless the fossil fuel industry is favored).

I have seen the studies presented that show the cost of renewable energy is higher than burning coal or natural gas. First, that equation focuses on production costs and the differential is narrowing and is expected to be equal at the end of 2018. Second, those comparisons do not factor in the added health cost, environmental degradation cost, loss of evaporated water to create steam from burnt fossil fuel, long term disposal costs of coal ash, and litigation costs to handle problems like Duke faced with the coal ash spill. These costs disproportionately affect the poor who tend to live nearer these areas. That is consistent with the Pope’s message.

The commercials will be slick and emphatically sincere as the pro-fracking commercials have been with the young actress playing the earnest mother who does not realize she is being paid to embellish the truth and outright lie. Fracking is perfectly safe she says as she whispers so as not to wake the children. No, it has been proven to be not safe and it will be proven to be worse than currently believed in the future. And, coal is definitely not safe no matter how you get it, heat it or store its ashes.

So, the nicer the commercial should be a larger red flag. Our state, country and planet need us to move faster down the path of renewable energy. Don’t let slick commercials convince you otherwise.



The kids in Colorado know better than a narrow-minded school board

The story out of Jefferson County, Colorado * has gotten a lot of airplay and it should. Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald, whose column is picked up in numerous papers, had an excellent editorial. In essence, the Jefferson County Colorado school board made the decision that a whitewashed version of US history should be taught which focuses more on the positive things that happened in our country, glossing over the many trial and tribulations. The story takes a positive twist when the students from six high schools walked out of the classroom in protest to place a spotlight on the school board’s narrow-mindedness. The school board recanted saying you misunderstood the new requirement, to which Pitts notes, they understood it all to well.

This reminds me of what the Chinese government has done. They have effectively expunged the occurrence of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 that led to the deaths of many Chinese. One of the greatest pictures of the 20th century is the one of the young protestor standing in front of a tank. Yet, in Chinese textbooks and their version of the Google searches, you will not find any reference to this June 4 incident. In fact, if you do a Chinese Google on June 4, this incident will not appear. So, an underground movement calls it “May 35th.” ** What is interesting to me is I heard a Hong Kong protestor reference Tiananmen Square on the news last night.

In Texas, the school board decided several years ago to rewrite textbooks to embellish the accomplishments of conservative thought leaders and diminish the amount of material on folks like Martin Luther King. In Louisiana, the classrooms were instructed by the State Legislature and Governor Bobby Jindal to teach creationism as a science and not to teach about climate change, the greatest threat facing our planet. A student sued the state for depriving him of an education and his petition was backed by well over 100 Nobel laureates in science. In South Carolina, the state requested the College Board to eliminate bias from Advanced Placement examinations. Since these moves, including the Colorado one are backed by Americans for Prosperity, one could say their intent is to put their bias in the books, not eliminate perceived bias.

I tie the Tiananmen story together with the others as they are similar in mission, although the repression is more severe in China. We must look at history, the good, the bad and the ugly, otherwise will be destined to repeat past mistakes. Our country’s history is glorious, but it is also paved with blood, sweat and tears. While we talk about how we came together in World War II using our powerful manufacturing engines to help our allied cause, we must remember that we were almost too late and had to be drawn into the war due to bad feelings about the number of Americans who died in WWI. If the Japanese had never bombed Pearl Harbor, we may have been too late.

While we remember positively our Constitution and Bill of Rights, as we should, we need to remember that an African-American slave had no rights and was deemed 3/5 a person for purpose of giving more power to the southern states. It took almost 90 years for the slaves to be emancipated and another 100 years for them to truly gain equal rights. We should never forget the Jim Crow era and how echoes of it still exist today. We should also remember how some ministers used the bible as a weapon to keep down African-Americans, while others used the same bible to say Jesus would not approve of such maltreatment.

We should also remember that women did not have the right to vote for well over 100 years after the signing of these two important documents. The fight for women’s suffrage was truly a long uphill battle, against men who felt their power slipping away. We should remember how hard President Theodore Roosevelt fought the Robber Barons who ran the country, to get more Americans a “Square Deal” and how hard his cousin FDR fought to get more economic opportunity to Americans whose rights mattered less.  We should  not forget the “Trail of Tears” where native Americans were marched from their homeland to a safe place in the Indian Territory created after our government took their land.

America is a great country, but it is far from perfect. No country can claim perfection. If you only study the parts of history you like and are not made to think about the uglier parts, then you will lose sight of the most important part of the equation. We the people rule. We the people can protest when governance is not proper. We the people need an outlet for our voice, especially when the cost is so high to get one with elected officials.

To me, the Koch sponsored Americans for Prosperity has a disingenuous name and there is a reason they support the whitewashing of history. It should be Rich Americans for Prosperity. These wealthy Americans have used the Tea Party as their puppet and want continued power to influence their dominance. They want to go back to the Robber Baron period, as their oligarchy builds even more power. They do not want people to know that it was people like them that were on the opposite sides of Teddy’s Square Deal, FDR’s New Deal, women’s suffrage, and African-American rights. I recognize I am generalizing, but it should be noted some of the toughest parts of our history were influenced or caused by an established power of wealthy Americans,

I applaud these kids as they are clearly telling the Jefferson County school board, do not hinder our education. And, they are doing it the way our forefathers wanted it – through civil disobedient protests. Well done, kids.

* Here is a link to an article on the protests: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/9/24/colorado-walkoutconservative.html

** A link to Wikipedia which defines the event is as follows: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiananmen_Square_protests_of_1989