Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day names

Memorial Day names © Dave Granlund,,Memorial Day, sacrifice, heros, freedom, valor, killed, honor, military, liberty, duty, patriots, liberty, heroic, justice, courage, police, law enforcement, fire personel, firemen, gallantry

Petro Plutocracy

Posted: 05/08/2012 8:34 am

Last week, the world got a preview of America's new post Citizens United petro plutocracy with the oil lords flexing their political muscles like oil soaked body builders pumped up on a steroid drip of campaign dollars. It was all about fracking. The petro tycoons first orchestrated the forced resignation of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) top frack patch enforcer, then adeptly forced the same cowed agency to stall its release of a damaging scientific study on fracking and finally strong armed the Interior Department to open America's public lands to gas companies without prior disclosure of their frack chemicals.

On Monday, the oil industry showcased its political muscle by forcing the resignation of EPA's popular environmental enforcement chief for the Gulf region, Dr. Al Armendariz. Dr. Al was beloved by environmentalists, civic leaders, and poor and minority communities across five states for his willingness to strictly enforce environmental rules regardless of the lawbreakers' political clout. But Armendariz's courage won him powerful enemies as well. He was steadfastly undeterred by relentless pressure from polluters and their allies including political intrigue, hamstringing budget cuts, and even death threats directed at him and his family. But this week, the world's most powerful cartel -- an international syndicate feared even by the Obama Administration -- finally brought Dr. Armendariz down. Armendariz's mistake was promising to enforce the law against Big Oil in the shale gas fields.

Several weeks ago, a two-year old-videotape surfaced showing Dr. Armendariz addressing a group of frightened and skeptical businessmen, civil leaders and property owners in Dish, Texas, a gas patch town familiar with government's anemic enforcement record against the oil barons. Dish's citizenry were terrified that reckless, dangerous and illegal practices by shale-gas fracking companies might jeopardize their community's property values, water supplies, jobs, local businesses and human health. Dish's Mayor, Calvin Tillman, who attended the meeting, had already moved his home away from the frack fields due to the daily nosebleeds afflicting his children ever since fracking operations commenced. Armenderiz assured Dish's shaken citizens that the EPA would enforce the law strictly in order to quickly bring industry outlaws into line.

This was too much for Congress' "law and order" Republicans who apparently believe that oil companies, and shale fracking in particular, should be above the law. Lead by U.S. Senator, James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Big Petroleum's sock-puppet-in-chief, Congressional Republicans forced Armenderiz's dismissal. (As a private citizen, Dr. Al is no longer entitled to FBI protection and has had to appeal to the Dallas police for protection against continuing assassination threats.) Instead of the deterrence, for which Dr. Al had hoped, the episode sent an altogether different public message; government enforcers can lose their jobs by suggesting that the oil companies ought to obey America's laws. 

The Republicans complained that Armenderiz, by way of reassuring Dish's frightened and skeptical townsfolk, referenced, as a metaphor, the ancient Roman practices of roadside crucifixion and burning villages to deter violators. Attorneys are familiar with such historical touchstones which are routinely invoked by law professors and "tough on crime" prosecutors to illustrate the concept of deterrence. If Armedariz had been speaking about any other crime than pollution from fracking, and any type of alleged criminal other than certain oil frackers, the same republican lawmakers would have applauded his muscular commitment to merciless rigor.

From its inception, hydrofracking has been an outlaw enterprise.
The industry was born in a provision drafted in secret by oilman Dick Cheney's clandestine energy task force specifically exempting it from the Safe Drinking Water Act, a shale fracking method devised and patented by Cheney's former company Halliburton. 
The Vice President's henchmen then rammed the exemption though a supplicant post 9/11 Congress. Rough and tumble competition among fracking companies have turned the frack fields from North Dakota to Pennsylvania into modern Dodge Cities. Regulatory capture has given some of the industry's worst actors de facto immunity from their criminal behavior.

In states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia, the fracking industry has flourished through habitual law breaking, including
  • illegal dumping of horrendous toxins into public sewage treatment plants utterly unequipped to treat those poisons,
  • using substandard casing protocols that regularly contaminate people's groundwater with carcinogenic benzene and explosive methane,  and
  • illegally filling streams to build roads, pipelines and drill pads.

These species of habitual lawbreakers require the protection of crooked politicians and captive agencies to insulate criminal companies from the consequences of their illegal behavior.

Oil companies are experts at using campaign contributions to purchase this class of government cooperation.

In another demonstration of its impressive power, two days after Dr. Al's resignation, the frack industry won another political battle -- forcing cowed Interior Department officials to allow gas companies to frack on our federal public lands without first disclosing the constituents of the lethal fracking fluid, they intend to inject into our purple mountains' majesty and amber waves of grain.

Later that week, AP reporters documented how the frack industry was using its clout to escape, not just the laws of government, but of science.  On Thursday, AP's investigators forced the U.S. EPA to admit that it had withheld -- for nearly a month -- a devastating study showing groundwater contamination linked to fracking from oil and gas wells in Pavillion, Wyoming. At the command of Wyoming's republican Governor Matt Mead -- an indentured servant to the fracking industry -- the EPA delayed issuing the report. Mead then ordered state officials to "take a hard line" on the industry's behalf. A team of tobacco scientists and biostitutes at Wyoming's Department of Environmental Quality next dutifully used the delay to gin up critical questions meant to debunk EPA's science to help soften the blow from the federal study that sent shock waves through the oil and gas industry.

Law-abiding gas patch residents like the citizens of Dish, Texas understand something that Congressional Republicans apparently don't -- environmental crime is real crime with real victims. Pollution doesn't just attack water and wildlife and put fishermen out of work. It harms human health, private property and often takes human life.
Oil pollution damages the brains of little children and kills both young people and adults. Emissions from burning oil and coal kills tens of thousands Americans annually from cancer and respiratory illnesses, and impose half a trillion dollars in health care damage.
Oil and coal's other costs include global warming, acid rain, mercury contamination and ocean acidification.
The carbon cronies have demonstrated an uncanny talent for writing loopholes and exemptions into health, safety and environmental laws to escape the consequences of damaging private property, public health, the shared commons and the welfare of the American people.

When their lobbying and drafting tricks fail to give oil titans full protection, compliant enforcement and regulatory officials dull the sting of noncompliance. It's no wonder that frightened gas field communities seek assurance that government regulators will enforce the anemic laws that still exist to protect them. In the southern gulf states, Armendariz was respected by coastal communities as one of the few public officials who had not been corrupted by Big Oil. In that sense, Armendariz is an American hero in the mold of Eliott Ness, Pat Garrett, Wyatt Earp and Thomas Dewey. 

Unfortunately, most of our political leaders lack Dr. Al's courage and integrity. Instead of protecting America's citizenry from oil industry atrocities, Senator Inhofe and the republicans see their job as protecting oil company brigands from the law and its enforcers.

Inhofe's reasoning is not obscure, the oil and gas industry pumps hundreds of millions of dollars annually into elections and lobbying to purchase friends like Senator Inhofe. Big Oil is now the richest industry in history.  Last year, Exxon contributed $54 million to the political process. The gravities of this lucre are irresistible to politicians of a certain stripe.

Exxon's record quarterly profits of $104 million per day will allow that company to dramatically increase its political investments. More importantly, the Supreme Court's Citizens United case removes all the past restrictions that once deterred Big Oil from employing these enormous profits to completely dominate America's political system. 

As a result of that court ruling, the oil barons will pick the winners and losers in America's upcoming elections at every level -- in secret if they desire.

The industry is already poised to flood America's political landscapes with hundreds of millions of dollars in newly legalized bribery. In addition to their generous contribution to the Tea Party, CATO Institute and other oil industry front groups, and oil tycoons Charles and David Koch, on Feb. 3 pledged an extra $60 million of their private money for direct campaign donations to ensure that their oil friendly candidate wins the presidential election in November.

Chevron, Exxon, the American Petroleum Institute and other oil moguls will match the Koch brothers' largesse many times over. The oil barons must find great comfort in historic data assembled by the Center for Responsive Politics demonstrating that, in 94% of American elections, the candidate with the most money wins. It was the underlying idealism of our successful experiment with self-government that made America an exemplary nation and the template for the world's democracies. If American democracy is to survive, we clearly need to restore integrity and representative democracy to our electoral process and get control of an industry that is using its enormous financial power to enrich itself, destroy the planet and undermine everything we value. Last week's events are merely a foreshadowing of the devolution that is inexorably propelling us toward a corrupt venal and petro kleptocracy.

We're Still at War: A Memorial Day Reminder

While America remembers veterans on Memorial Day, soldiers are still on the front lines overseas.
A day to remember those who have lost their lives in service to the United States, Memorial Day focuses on the past of the US military. With drones fighting covert wars and soldiers still in Afghanistan, it is important to remember that Americans are still on the front lines. In fact, the Afghan war is moving in on year 12 and the military is still "settling down."
Every weekday, since June 2009, Mother Jones has posted photos of the US military on the front lines, in training, or back home. From soldiers to sailors, airmen to Marines, this slideshow is a small collection of images we've posted in 2012. These photos are a reminder, as we celebrate Memorial Day, that a war is still being fought.

Loving the Warrior, Hating the Wars:

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Army Green Beret Captain William Lyles III, a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, on September 11 last year

Recently, or perhaps I've just noticed it recently, there has been a change in the way we board airplanes. There has been an addition to the first groups allowed to board. There are still Our Platinum World Traveler Priority Club members, families travelling with small children, and people who need a little extra time in boarding. To these, one group has apparently been added: Active Duty Military Personnel.

At Fenway Park, long about the fourth or fifth inning of every Red Sox home game here, a member of the military in attendance is singled out, stood atop the Boston dugout, thrown across the huge screen in centerfield, and given a rousing ovation as one of the people who is fighting for our freedom. This is almost as raucous a moment as is the annoying recent tradition of singing "Sweet Caroline" in the middle of the eighth. My favorite moment this season came when everybody sang, "So good! So good! So good!" in the immediate aftermath of the Sox having blown an entire nine-run lead to the Yankees.

There are flyovers at every major sporting event. At the Super Bowl, we generally have the flyover, and the Anthem, and God Bless America. Our profane public ceremonies are now suffused with a kind of sacramental militarism.

On MSNBC, the kindly Doctor Maddow is happily agitating for Welcome Home Parades for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in our major cities, most notably New York.  Every day these days, apparently, is Memorial Day.

By its public displays, the country is gripped by an immense, endless, and apparently unpayable debt to the men and women who have fought our wars for us, and this is true no matter how popular or unpopular those wars were at the time, or have become recently. The notion of this debt stretches back in time. In his capacity as Official Historian For White People, Tom Hanks agitated for a memorial to World War II veterans because we might "forget" what they'd done as they steadily died off.

An 'Honor Flight' for WWII Vets

The Lone Star Honor Flight took 111 WWII veterans from Houston to Washington to see the war's memorial and thank them for their service

Not long before that, Tom Brokaw, the Man Who Invented World War II, began the cultish Greatest Generation phenomenon, even though, in our history, that generation is sorely taxed for the pole position by the powdered-wig set of the mid-18th Century, and by the generation that came of age in the years 1860-1865. Dozens of other books, Steven Spielberg movies, and HBO miniseries followed in Brokaw's wake. The implicit assumption was that the country that had passed the G.I. Bill had not yet "done enough" to honor the veterans of The Good War, which is why we now have an ungainly marble corral in Washington, a triumphantly Augustan plaza that is unspeakably gaudy next to the quiet majesty of the memorials to the Vietnam and Korean wars. The sins of the country that had abandoned many of the veterans of those two wars — a defeat and a bloody draw — were subconsciously expiated by the garish tribute paid 50 years later to the people who'd fought the last war America actually won. And, then, suddenly, there were two more wars, one of them unpopular and based on lies, and the other one seemingly oblique and endless. And there were The Troops. And, it seemed, for the rest of us, the twain did not meet.

It is marginally inapt to compare the two, but, as regards our cultural veneration of The Troops and our rising (and seemingly impotent) political opposition to the wars they've fought, we seem to have adapted the old right-wing formula of love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin to now read love-the-warrior-hate-the-wars. I think, in part, this is a function of us having gone to an all-volunteer military. Under the old system, despite all the loopholes and exemptions and Daddy's-got-a-pal trickeration involved in the draft, there was more political space in which to maneuver. Now, though, with all our fighting being done by people who (at least in a theoretical sense) willingly signed up to do it, the debt seems to have grown exponentially. Our methods of repayment, though, are curious, to say the least.

We let them get on planes ahead of us, with the elderly and the infirm and the toddlers, but we underfund hospital care and live quite comfortably with the notion that a lot of the functions of the military have been privatized. (Are we that long from Honor The Contractors ceremonies?) We pay tribute to them at ballgames, but send them into battle ill-prepared, and bring them home to decrepit facilities and heedless bureaucracies. We give them parades, but had to be blackjacked into giving them a "new G.I. Bill" that is but a pale shadow of the original one, which did no less than create the modern American middle class. When I first started writing politics, there was an ongoing argument of what were then called "veterans preference" programs, a vestige once again of what was done for the returning World War II vets. The fight was over whether it would be extended to include the veterans then recently returned from Vietnam.

It is Vietnam that hangs thickly over our ostentatious public displays of affection for The Troops. It is a determination to Get It Right This Time. However, there is at the heart of it a fundamental misunderstanding of what we got wrong. The returning Vietnam veteran was treated abominably. But, in fact, if you want to find the people who did the Vietnam generation the most damage, don't look to the hippies. Look to the institutions staffed and run by what the Vietnam guys used to call, contemptuously, "the Class of '45," the people who ran the VA, and the VFW posts, The Greatest Generation, who looked down on them as losers and who stiffed them on their country's obligations.

In actual fact, it was the remnants on the antiwar Left — the people who ran the G.I. coffeehouses and the like — who first took them seriously on issues like post-traumatic stress disorder and the lingering effects of Agent Orange. Those were the people who paid The Troops of that time the most basic tribute there is — taking their human problems seriously. The problem was not people shouting "babykiller" and those mythical expectorations that author Jerry Lembecke put paid to years ago.  
  • The problem was that the government abandoned them. 
  • The problem was that the community of other veterans abandoned them. And that went on for years. 
  • Ronald Reagan famously called their war "a noble cause" and then shut down all the out-patient psychiatric services that the VA finally put in place.  
  • What you did was noble, and now sleep on the sidewalk. 

Then, in the popular culture, the crazed Vietnam vet became a staple of American entertainment until sensitive vet Jon Voight went down on Jane Fonda in Coming Home and, even there, we had Bruce Dern, the living embodiment of Crazy in American motion pictures for four decades now, playing Fonda's rigid, nutball husband.
Now, for the veterans of the two wars of the past decade, we're giving them all kinds of favors and goodies and public applause, and maybe even a parade or two, overcompensating our brains out, but, ultimately, what does all the applause mean at the end of the day? We are apparently fine with two more years of vets coming home from Afghanistan, from a war that 60 percent of us say we oppose. But we support The Troops.
  • Will we become a more skeptical nation the next time a bunch of messianic fantasts concoct a war out of lies? Perhaps, but we support The Troops
  • Will we tax ourselves sufficiently to pay for what it costs to care for the people we send to one endless war and one war based on lies? Well, geez, we'll have to think about that, but we support The Troops. 

On Memorial Day, when I visit the family plots in the old cemetery in Worcester when they've planted my forebears, I always wander over to one of the older sections where lie interred the veterans of the Grand Army Of The Republic, row after row of those round, generic tablets, each of them weathered and indistinguishable now from all the others. Memorial Day, after all, is a product of their war.

Abraham Lincoln presaged it in the peroration of his magnificent Second Inaugural Address:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan-to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

After Lincoln's murder, the spirit of his remarks took hold in curious ways. On May 1, 1865, freed black slaves gathered to honor the Union prisoners who'd been buried in unmarked graves at the Charleston Race Course in South Carolina. Elsewhere, in the South, what was first known as Decoration Day became essential to the Lost Cause mythology that became so destructive to the descendants of those freedmen who'd honored the Union dead in Charleston. Supporting The Troops always has been a more complicated business than applauding at the ballpark.
I'll be back on Tuesday with the usual business, with gobshites for your dining and dancing pleasure, so consider the comments open for business until then. Have a great weekend, y'all, and if you see any vets, shake their hands and vow to be a better citizen first, so you can really help them later on.

10 Questions for Colin Powell

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell talks about the Iraq war, why longer terms in Congress aren't better, and the time he almost ran for president

What is the Taxpayer Protection Pledge?

"It has transformed American politics." -- Jonathan Alter, Newsweek
"Signing it has become de riguer for GOP candidates running for federal or statewide offices across the country." -- The Hill
"Americans for Tax Reform's Taxpayer Protection Pledge has solidified opposition to tax increases in Congress and state legislatures over the years." -- Michael Barone
“The Pledge has become something of a rallying cry in conservative circles." -- National Journal
Politicians often run for office saying they won't raise taxes, but then quickly turn their backs on the taxpayer. The idea of the Pledge is simple enough: Make them put their no-new-taxes rhetoric in writing.
In the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, candidates and incumbents solemnly bind themselves to oppose any and all tax increases. While ATR has the role of promoting and monitoring the Pledge, the Taxpayer Protection Pledge is actually made to a candidate's constituents, who are entitled to know where candidates stand before sending them to the capitol. Since the Pledge is a prerequisite for many voters, it is considered binding as long as an individual holds the office for which he or she signed the Pledge.
Since its rollout with the endorsement of President Reagan in 1986, the pledge has become de rigeur for Republicans seeking office, and is a necessity for Democrats running in Republican districts.
Today the Taxpayer Protection Pledge is offered to every candidate for state office and to all incumbents. More than 1,100 state officeholders, from state representative to governor, have signed the Pledge. Statehouse tax-and-spend interests have to contend with Pledge signers in every state.

List of Pledge Signers in the 112th Congress List of State Signers of the Pledge
List of the 2012 Election Pledge Signers Governor Pledge
U.S House Pledge State Legislator Pledge
U.S. Senate Pledge State Taxpayer Protection Pledge Q & A
Federal Taxpayer Protection Pledge Q & A