The Beast

In an interview last week, one of the infamous Koch Brothers was lamenting the demise of civil discourse in the Republican Party. For those who do not follow politics, the Koch Brothers have used their vast fortunes made primarily from fossil fuel industries to advance conservative ideas. They have done this by funding candidates directly and through Americans for Prosperity, its action committee.

Charles Koch noted that party has disintegrated into one where false bravado, accusations and blame have replaced discussion over the relative merits of ideas. As an Independent voter, who has been both a Democrat and Republican, I concur with his assessment. The big problem with his concerns is he and his brother helped create and feed The Beast that is dragging down the party. They funded and kept alive the efforts of the Tea Party. Absent their significant help, The Beast would not have flourished like it has today.

Through the stubbornness of The Beast, there is a “my-way or the highway” attitude which is very unhealthy for the party. Yet, my main concern is the lack of collaboration is harmful to our country and planet. It would be one thing if the Tea Party was filled with an abundance of good workable ideas, yet that is not the case. I have written before that the GOP is on the wrong side of more issues than not these days and the Tea Party has an even more extreme position. This is largely due to limiting news sources and rhetoric to a very biased and spin-doctored lens, where successes outside of this view are not reported at all or painted poorly.

And, to get their way, The Beast is willing to have everything come to a screeching halt. In their view, all government is bad, so therefore the government should not do anything. That is inane as there are roles for government to play that these same people benefit from. Yes, it could be more efficient and yes, we need to guard against bureaucracy, but that is where oversight comes in. And, our country has actually been much better than others about government co-investing with the private sector to do big things that the private sector cannot do alone or whose shareholders would not allow.

The Beast has every right to raise issues and concerns offering reasonable suggestions backed by data. We do not need The Beast shouting at everyone else while beating on their chest. That serves little purpose and is a poor substitute for effective discourse. So, in this instance, I agree with Charles Koch. Yet, he helped make this mess, so he should use his money to fix it, as our country is less served by false bravado.

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.

 

Buying America for $889 Million

What you say, you did not know America was for sale? A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how the oligarchy is more empowered to buy political influence given the amount of money in politics. This investment is further facilitated by the Citizens United and McCutcheon US Supreme Court decisions which give greater reign to folks with money to fund political candidates.

On cue, the Koch Brothers, two of the wealthiest men in America whose money is traceable to the fossil fuel industry, have publicly stated a desire to invest $889 million in the 2016 Presidential race. Note the use of the term “investment” rather than “spend.” The Koch Brothers, like other members of our oligarchy, are investing in a politician to win to insure their interests are representated. The Koch Brothers are citizens, just as we are, and are entitled to invest their money, but the remaining citizens need to be asking more questions.

– Why would you spend $889 million to sway an election?

– What do you expect in return for such an investment?

– Is the fact that your money is linked to the fossil fuel industry have anything to do with your investment in the potential next President?

I mention this last question in that the industry has been in full public relations campaign mode ever since “An Inconvenient Truth” was produced to reveal the impact of climate change. The PR campaign has been hugely successful in first convincing some that climate change was a hoax. Now that it is apparent climate change is not a hoax, the line in the sand has been redrawn to say climate change is real, but the evidence that it is man-influenced is based in imperfect science.

These are public relations strategies meant to confuse the issue and allow the continued expansion or perpetuation of fossil fuel retrieval and use. It should be noted the same public relations firm that was so successful with the hoax campaign is the same one who has been telling us how safe fracking is. The lack of safety of the fracking process is increasingly becoming apparent as the evidence of water and air pollution, earthquakes and environmental degradation mount.

While I am disappointed in some of the measures taken by President Obama on fossil fuel expansion, he is at least doing something about climate change and accelerating expansion in renewable energy which is producing jobs, as well. Yet, the deference to the fossil fuel industry made by the President is not good enough for some of our wealthy citizens who benefit from the fossil fuel industry. With a faster migration away from fossil fuel needed, the Koch Brothers need a President that will do their beckoning to push off climate change actions that the rest of the world is doing. We are already ten years behind where we should be, but they want to push it further out, until it is too late and they have made their money.

These are the questions we should be asking. Since we do not pay attention and some who do will only pay attention to pseudo news sources that are speaking from the Koch playbook, we are not in a good a position in our country to fend off the wolves from our democracy. I recognize there are wolves on both sides of the political equation, but we need to be mindful of who money is being spent by and on and ask questions. Please look into the Move to Amend the constitution to not equate money with free speech and to note that corporations are not people. A link to the petition is below. http://movetoamend.nationbuilder.com/petition.

To be honest, there is very little chance that “we the people” can hold back this tide. Money is power and does buy influence, but we must at least do our best to maintain our democracy and keep our politicians honest. We can start by paying attention to real news and asking more questions.

A Non Sequitur calendar comic says it all about politics

My kids got me a Non Sequitur calendar pad last Christmas, where you peel away each date revealing a new comic scene. Today’s rendition may have been the funniest and most apropos one yet, given the approaching election.

Picture two older, heavy-set white men in suits reading newspapers while sitting in huge leatherback chairs which appear to be in a Members Only Club somewhere. One gentleman places the newspaper on his lap and says the following to the other:

“I think the two-party system is working just fine. Besides, buying a third one would be a bookkeeping nightmare.”

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