Thursday, May 27, 2010

So We Can Figure This Out But Not Renewable Energy?

Go For Launch! (Click - It's Spellbinding)


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Gulf, Obama's Presidency, JFK, The Pilgrims, And "Answerable Courage."

A few weeks ago, the right wing chatter was that the rig explosion, pipe rupture and spill in the Gulf were going to be "Obama's Katrina." It seemed far-fetched, more politically-inspired Democrat-baiting than serious criticism.

I'd like to take up the same cudgel, that this very well could be "Obama's Katrina," but as viewed from the left wing, not the right.

This is the golden moment to launch the complete transformation of our society from one almost completely reliant upon expensive, dirty, dangerous carbon-based fuels to a society that will lead the world toward a high-technology-based energy Utopia.

When the expression "American Exceptionalism" is used, it is that kind of innovation leadership that people around the world grasp. The words of John F. Kennedy's challenged the country, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard..."

Earlier in the speech, given almost 50 years ago in 1962 in Houston, Texas, Kennedy quoted a Pilgrim father: William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony, said that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.

We yearn for President Obama and other leaders of the Democratic Party - for surely the right wing is completely incapable - to stir us not only with great words, but also to act with "answerable courage."

Each and every reasonably sentient American has seen the gushing wound on the sea-floor, heard the sailors' and fishermen's cries for help, watched the sludge violate the marshes, thought of the beautiful summer days on the water that will be ruined. Who hasn't thought of their children and grandchildren and what the planet we leave behind will be?

Toss aside the paralyzing global-warming arguments. Forget that we suffer untold hundreds of thousands of premature deaths because of our burning of fossil fuels. Even reject the notion of dirty water caused by road run-off.

Now is the real, concrete moment. This is a true crossroad in history for our country, maybe for the Western World as a whole.

That Obama has not stood upon this fulcrum in time worries many of us on the left who have secretly suspected him of being a lightweight. It is worse than disappointing.

It could quite well mean his administration is doomed, that his ringing rhetoric was just that, and that we can count on more business as usual with the energy oligarchs.

What the President says - or fails to say - on Friday in New Orleans will be the bell-weather for the fall 2010 elections and define, and perhaps shorten, the Obama era.

Change we can believe in? Time to deliver, Mr. Obama.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Oil In The Gulf And The Toxic Tort Lawyer As Folk Hero

For decades now, the right wing has been ranting about "trial lawyers." The phrase is a code word for lawyers who sue large corporations on behalf of citizens, groups of citizens in class action suits, states and local governmental entities. 

The rightist radicals draw a portrait of the lawyers as little more than highly paid ambulance chasers. Is there a seamy side, a parasitic side to "trial lawyers?" Of course. Just as there is a seamy side to practically every profession from the clergy to agriculture to unions.

On the whole, however, the "trial lawyer" is the last line of defense - often the ONLY defense - against the many predatory practices of corporations. Big pharma, agribusiness, energy producers, crib makers, transportation providers, the tobacco purveyors and a dozen others truly fear the "trial lawyers," because they know they are in for trouble once a suit is filed.

One of the most capable and relentless of these tort lawyers, the appropriate term for the job, is New Orleans native Stuart Smith, long a champion against big oil, big polluters in the Gulf. Just one day after the fire and explosion on the rig, Smith was on the case.

"On Thursday, I could smell the oil and, being a toxic tort lawyer, I realized that the fact that you're smelling something means that you're inhaling something," said Smith when breezes were carrying the scent of the oil slick toward his beloved city. Smith, who has sued major oil companies before, immediately contacted toxicologists and air monitors to start doing tests that could be used as evidence. (As reported in the Washington Post.)

Smith believes that if the leak lasts another 2 months or so, the fishing beds and coastline could be ruined for generations. The devastation could cost the Gulf fishing and tourism industries tens of billions of dollars, more money than BP or any half dozen big polluters could pony up.

In 1992, Smith was the first plaintiff’s attorney to take an oil company to trial for damages caused by radioactive oilfield waste. Street v. Chevron pitted the owners of a mom-and-pop pipe yard located in rural southeastern Mississippi against a multinational oil conglomerate. Chevron had sent radioactive oilfield pipe to Street, Inc., for cleaning –  without informing the owners that the pipe contained radioactive material.

Investigators from the Mississippi state Division of Radiological Health found radiation on the Street property 500 times the natural-occurring level. The suit charged that 38 people, not only the owners and workers, but also children and other family members, had “suffered physical and psychological harm because of their exposure to low levels of radiation and that Shell and Chevron should have warned them about the ‘inherent dangers.’ ” 

The suit sought $35 million in damages. Shell settled early in the process, but Chevron vigorously defended the case during six months of trial. The oil giant ultimately settled the case for an undisclosed amount of money in what remains one of the longest-running jury trials in Mississippi history. The ruling opened the door to further suits associated with damages from oilfield radiation.

In 2001, Smith and his law partner Michael Stag successfully prosecuted the widely publicized Grefer case. The Grefers sued an Exxon contractor for contaminating their 33-acre parcel of land in Louisiana with TERM (technologically enhanced radioactive materials). After a six-week trial, a Louisiana jury returned a verdict of $1.056 billion against a contractor of ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company, in favor of Mr. Smith’s client, retired judge Joseph Grefer.

The court ordered Exxon to pay the Grefers $56 million in compensatory damages, to clean up their land, and slapped the oil giant with $1 billion in punitive damages.

The most insidious side of the Grefer case is that it appears Exxon knew about the radioactive material and did nothing to alert either the Grefers or its contractor. The court stated that from June 1986 to March 1987, “Exxon officials intentionally withheld information,” and that the company “knew the [radioactive] scale [inside the pipes] posed a direct danger to the physical health of those workers.”

Has Smith made great money by bringing these suits? No doubt. But really, what he and others like him are doing is to function as an ad hoc branch of government. And mounting further suits is time-consuming and costly.
Polluters, who could easily be monitored and prevented from polluting, experience very little oversight by government agencies. They pollute, are usually caught, and the government slaps them on the wrist with a wet noodle.

It is left to Smith and other tort lawyers to "prosecute" the cases the government should have prevented in the first place. No one else is protecting innocent victims from the polluters' activities. 

Is it any wonder that the right wing boot-lickers want to stringently limit the size of jury awards in cases involving many industries but especially energy? The right would leave us defenseless from the inception of a drilling or digging project through to the inevitable catastrophe created by polluters.

The right would gut current "strong" regulations, see to it there is no funding for policing under remaining flimsy laws often written by industry insiders, and finally do away with the tort lawyers' ability to find recourse for victims and/or the overall commonly held environment.

People like Stuart Smith may be be doing very well financially. Deservedly. Perhaps they are even rich, but they are folk heroes nonetheless.

Smith said: "Oil companies are the meanest, nastiest defendants in the country. They just don't care; they have so much money."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Rand Paul's New American Animal House

Rand Paul's scurvy view of how the Federal Government should interact with private business on racial matters is not the only danger associated with the cruel, demented politics of Kentucky's Republican Senate candidate.

Dating back to the 1850s - almost 160 years ago now - progressive ideas entered mainstream American political currents. (In 1852 Massachusetts passed a law making it mandatory for children to attend school, the opening bell for a century and a half of government activism.)

The progressivist Abolitionist Movement of the 1840s and 50s culminated in the Civil War of course, which Libertarians, radicals all, would not have brooked.

And, the grand sweep of the 14th Amendment would be nothing but a ghostly promise in Paul's haunted American house. Due process? Forget about it.

Rand Paul and his war-of-all-against-all fellow-travelers would have none of this government activity if elected in 2010.

I wish this were an exaggeration, but everything from racial equality to women's rights to pure food and drug laws would be swept away by the Libertarian lunatic fringe. The Interstate Commerce Act, Sherman Anti-Trust Act, wildlife conservation and land preservation, unionization, the building of railroads and the interstate road system, public transportation, the space program, pollution control, regulation of dangerous narcotics, the prohibition against selling alcohol or tobacco products to children, and a thousand other activities our governments regulate - they too would be swept away.

One can see this philosophy virulently at work in the Libertarian Supreme Court's Citizen United v. Federal Election Commission decision this past January. It gives businesses license to buy elections, pure and simple. They can fly the flag of "Free Speech" all they want, but it's flying over a parade designed to work against the individual work-a-day citizen's true interests.

Rand Paul's is not the philosophy of a man running for high office but running for the position of top dog in the bull sessions of a right wing frat house.

His (lack of) thinking comes to us draped in the regal robes of fiscal responsibility and in expensive suits, when indeed such thinking is an impish child born on a beer-sticky floor during a farting contest.

Paul would thrust us all into an Animal House of ethnic hate, filthy air and water, child neglect, drug and alcohol abuse. Laws? Who needs 'em as long as the budget is balanced.

Here he comes, Rand Paul, selling his medicine show swill to the people of Kentucky, a poverty-stricken state sorely afflicted by environmental devastation created by the coal companies who have also had the good conscience to bust the people's unions as government stood aside in Libertarian glee.

Kentucky has the highest cancer rate in the country.

Kentucky is the state with the highest proportion of adults under 65 without teeth.

It has an adult illiteracy rate of about 40%.

Kentucky ranks 47th in the nation in percentage of residents with a bachelor's degree.

17% of the population lives in poverty, over 684,00 people, up from 14% in 1995.

Kentucky's ground water upon which a great majority of its citizens rely for drinking ranks last in the United States for purity.

All this Rand Paul and his non-compassionate cohorts vow to stand aside and watch.

Libertarian? Death merchants.

As the old bumper sticker said: The Moral Majority is Neither.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The "I-Served-Didn't-I?" Syndrome

The arguments about the Vietnam War will be with us until the last of the Baby Boomers die off in the next 30 to 40 years or thereabouts.

Connecticut's Democratic senatorial candidate Richard Blumenthal has clearly lied about his participation in the undeclared war. (We haven't had a declared war since WWII.)

The question remains, why would a person, almost 40 years after the end of a conflict that tarnished our moral standing in the world, feel compelled to lie about his service in it?

Pictured below is the 1968 My Lai massacre in which somewhere between 350 and 500 Vietnamese civilians were murdered led by William Calley-Charlie Company, of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd Infantry Division. 

The BBC described it this way:

Soldiers went berserk, gunning down unarmed men, women, children and babies. Families which huddled together for safety in huts or bunkers were shown no mercy. Those who emerged with hands held high were murdered. Elsewhere in the village, other atrocities were in progress. Women were gang raped; Vietnamese who had bowed to greet the Americans were beaten with fists and tortured, clubbed with rifle butts and stabbed with bayonets. Some victims were mutilated with the signature "C Company" carved into the chest. By late morning word had got back to higher authorities and a cease-fire was ordered. My Lai was in a state of carnage. Bodies were strewn through the village.

In eyewitness testimony during an initial Peers Inquiry, one soldier testified:  

He fired at it [the baby] with a .45. He missed. We all laughed. He got up three or four feet closer and missed again. We laughed. Then he got up right on top and plugged him.

The Vietnam War dehumanized two peoples, Vietnamese and American; for, while the United States had no rational reason for being in Vietnam and committed heinous crimes against humanity, neither the Vietcong nor the North Vietnamese behaved humanely either.

One can understand past generations wanting to wear the mantle of service in World Wars I & II. But Vietnam?

Exactly what part of the war does Blumenthal want to lay claim to? Something beyond the ribbons and medals - but what?

The burning of villages inhabited by peasants living in near Medieval conditions? The carpet bombing of huge swaths of Indochina? The virtually unopposed high level bombings of Hanoi and Haiphong?

Perhaps Blumenthal would like to embrace the use of Agent Orange and other defoliants. Or the secret war in Cambodia that tore America apart in disturbances that culminated in the murders of a dozen young students around the country? Could it be he wanted to join in a whole generation of kids who came home with drug and alcohol monkeys on their back?

Bodies of dead Vietcong pictured below. This is what you missed, Mr. Blumenthal. A death machine that had no purpose except the cynical exercise of power visited by a huge country upon a small, struggling one. Everyone was born of a revolution. Ours started in the 1770s, theirs in the 1940s.

I am proud to this day that my compatriots and I energetically opposed this madness.

I'm waiting for the Boomer politician who will have the guts to stand up and say he is as proud as we are to have been in patriotic opposition to the mass derangement that was the Vietnam Era.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

David Brooks Swings and Misses Again

In what might have been a terrific column yesterday about how New York groped its way back from the chaos of the 1960s, 70s and 80s that engulfed us, David Brooks relies on the simplisticism of John Podhoretz, the unerringly inaccurate neo-con, to launch an attack on everything and everyone from hippies to minorities.

Simultaneously, Brooks sanctifies in a backhanded way the old middle class who abandoned New York primarily for racist reasons after World War II while bemoaning the fact that slum clearance, the wholesale destruction of some of the most beautiful housing stock in the city, and the building of housing projects failed to stem the deterioration of conditions.

Babbling Brooks says, among other things, "The crime wave killed off the hippie movement. The hippies celebrated disorder, mayhem and the whole Dionysian personal agenda. By the 1970s, the menacing results of that agenda were all around."

In reality, judging simply by the calendar, the rising crime rate could not have been a result of "hippies," (whoever they were,) since the entrenchment of dangerous conditions began in the mid-1960s when the Baby Boom had not even emerged from adolescence.

Rather the vertiginous decline in manufacturing jobs in New York above all else contributed to the dwindling of employment opportunities for undereducated inner city youth. Secondly, the traditional gate for immigrant and emigrant success - civil service - remained slammed, locked and bolted in the collective face of minorities.

White flight initiated and exacerbated the situation. Cheap suburban housing and the construction of outer-borough projects like Co-Op City sucked the heart and soul of old Jewish and Italian New York away. (The Irish had been decamping since right after the war.)

If any group celebrated disorder and mayhem, it was the nihilistic, right wing and pro-war "Greatest Generation" that blundered into and stubbornly stayed in Vietnam; who saw any sign of protest as reason to act repressively; and whose self-medication through excessive alcohol use was transmogrified into drug experimentation and addiction in the 1950s and forward. 

Further, the failed redevelopment projects, from warehousing the poor in what amounted to the permanent cell blocks of housing projects to the destruction of entire neighborhoods by superhighways championed by Robert Moses such as the Cross Bronx and Bruckner Expressways, created more havoc than any thousand things hippies ever might have done. (170,000 to 200,000 middle class people were displaced and relocated by those two roads alone.)

Atop of all that, beginning with the tail end of the Wagner administration into the two Lindsay administrations, roughly 1962 to 1970, the city entered a financial tailspin that the helmsmen were unable to stop. Hippies, as one might imagine, had very little to do with this. Inefficiency and corruption in practically every city undertaking had everything to do with it.

Eventually this led to a hiring freeze of public employees, including police and fire fighters, from 1976 to 1980. Neither department recovered to adequate levels until well into the 1990s. As the city recovered financially, policing improved dramatically.

Meanwhile, all those raving hippies turned 30, then 40, then 50 as the city recovered. Manhattan in particular experienced a reversal of white flight, although the city would become an almost indescribably diverse town. The "aging" hippies bought co-ops, had children, helped to better schools, and to demand better services - especially clean streets and public safety.

The liberal spirit of the former youth of the 60s welcomed and encouraged an enormous wave of new immigrants. So much for disorder and mayhem.

This cycle played out in many Manhattan neighborhoods, but especially the Upper West Side, which, along with the Lower East Side, the East Village, and Chelsea, had deteriorated most from white flight. By the 1970s, the Upper West had already seen the gentrification of a swath from the West 70s to lower 80s. (My brother, born in 1946, was among the pioneers on 74th between Columbus and Amsterdam, a neighborhood my mother literally cried over when she saw where he was going to live.)

By 1987, the change had pushed approximately to West 98th where it curiously stopped to take a breath then leaped a dozen blocks to Morningside, the neighborhood around Columbia University, from 110th north.

Why did it skip the intervening blocks? An unimaginably large housing project, the Frederick Douglass Houses, squats between 100th and 104th Streets, stretching from Amsterdam Avenue across Columbus to Manhattan Avenue. It incarcerates thousands upon thousands of people and has helped keep poverty and crime in the immediately surrounding area high, although that has changed, too.

Today the phantom hippies are of grand-parenting age. The Upper West Side is one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Manhattan, and even though a depressing portion of it was destroyed by urban redevelopment, its architectural charms, park-like atmosphere, and overall ambiance are readily evident on a short stroll through its side streets.

Mr. Brooks' and Mr. Podhoretz's city view could not be any more false and corrupt. The hippies couldn't have brought down the West Side. At best, they were very young adults when the malaise began and most of us were no more than college students who, until 1971, couldn't even vote, thank you. (A person born in 1948, for instance, was only 21 in 1969.)

By moving back into Manhattan, the so-called hippies heartily began countervailing, as they did in so many respects, the destructive impulses of their parents toward the urban centers of America. I'm not sure what Brooks thinks we were doing en masse, but I can tell him that by 1973, when I was 23, I was married, working two jobs, saving for a co-op, and going to museums and concerts in my spare time, even though I was and am a hippie to the marrow. I cannot think of literally one of my friends for whom this was not also the case.

As my own college-age daughter said once regarding our Upper West Side home: "I can't imagine how growing up anyplace else could be as good."

Thanks, honey. We did it for you and your compatriots. And we invited people from every country on Earth to lend a hand.

A Ridiculous Comment On This Blog's Satirical Critique of Big Oil

 "Anonymous" has left a new comment on May 12th's post "Oil Hearings: Somebody Spoke And I Went Into A Dream."(click to read)

Is it really that difficult for you to understand the difference between your dream and reality? Your dream is about a dysfunctional person intentionally set upon destruction. Reality is about men and women working long hard hours in difficult conditions to bring you the cushy comforts you desire. After literally millions of barrels of your comfort brought to you cleanly through risk and hardship, an accident - yes accident -has catastrophic results. Not only is there no evil intent, there is death and destruction as a reward for risk and hard work. And you, on the sidelines, using the oil, have the temerity to assign blame.

Apparently the self-righteous know neither common sense nor do they own a modest sense of humor. The post on Big Oil's disruptive, polluting, profit-at-any-price - see link immediately above - was a SATIRE. It was meant to make a point that minor crimes committed by ordinary people are vigorously prosecuted while the criminals who devastate the environment or steal billions through the manipulation of financial instruments are almost never given prison time.

The apologist for the oil industry who sent the anonymous comment believes, idiotically, that the oil companies provide "comfort brought to you cleanly." Patently false. Simply a big lie from Big Oil. Oil and other fossil fuels are filthy, dangerous, and cause millions of premature deaths and serious illness globally through pollutants every year. Purchase of foreign oil hurts America's national security. Oil companies have long hampered development of alternative energy in order to keep their pockets stuffed with ill-gotten money. Its directors and managers are voracious pirates in business suits.

The commenter goes on to say that "there is no evil intent" in the corporate heart of Big Oil. Does skirting regulations for the sake of profit not count? Oil at any price, including human life, is not "evil?" Then what is it? It is an attack on all humanity. The Earth belongs to everyone.

Bob Dylan in All Along The Watchtower:  

"Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Elena Kagan, The Pernicious Vaudevillian, and Oedipus.

If vipers had radio shows, Rush Limbaugh would be chief among them: Viperidae Vaudvilleana.

During the May 10th broadcast of his extravaganza of radio lies, Limbaugh attacked Kagan as a "liberal elitist theoretician" who has "no clue how real Americans live," citing her prior residency in cities including New York. Don Vito Limbaugh, puppet-master of the right wing, said in huffing-puffing detail:

This woman Kagan, she supposedly is there to make sure the court deals with the despised and the downtrodden, with the despised and the poor, and so forth. She doesn't know anything about it. She's lived at Harvard; she's lived at Hyde Park in Chicago, inside the Beltway, and the Upper West Side of Manhattan. As is the case with all liberal elitist theoreticians, they have no clue how real Americans live, they think they know how Americans ought to live. And that is what they want to use the judiciary for. They're totally animated by their prejudices and their biases.

Limbaugh's Elitist Roots

Yo. Who you callin' elitist? Come over here and say that. 

Depending on how you draw its boundaries the Upper West Side is home to around 350,000 people, which, last I looked is about 10 times the size of Limbaugh's home town, that paradigm of Americanism, Cape Girardeau, MO - which that paradigm of young vehicular man-slaughterers, Laura Bush, recognized as a "Preserve America Community." 

Americans also are one of the most urbanized countries on Earth. 81% of us live in cities or suburbs. Only 19% of us live in towns like Cape Girardeau. Hmmm. 

I believe Cape Girardeau's town motto is "From the few, even fewer, and better make 'em white while you're at it."

Cape Girardeau is almost 90% white, around 8% African American and 1% each Hispanic and Asian. (The country at large is about 72% white, 14% Hispanic, and 11.5% African American.)

Limbaugh's family has many lawyers, including his grandfather, father and brother, David. 

His uncle, Stephen Limbaugh is a Reagan-appointed federal judge in the U.S. District Court for Missouri's Eastern District. 

His cousin, Stephen Limbaugh, Jr., is currently a judge in the same court, appointed by George W. Bush. 

Limbaugh's grandfather, was a Missouri prosecutor, judge, special commissioner, and member of the Missouri House of Representatives in the 1930s and longtime president of the Missouri Historical Society. The Federal Courthouse in Cape Girardeau is named for grandpa Limbaugh. 

Kagan's Non-Elitist Roots

On the very same day of the right wing vaudevillian's diatribe, the New York Daily News, in a display of excellent research journalism, printed this headline and story by Mike Daly (click for full article): "Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan grew up one block away from Murder Hotel hellhole."

I don't know about you, but that sounds quite real and distinctly non-elitist to me. (Anyone who remembers that little neighborhood from the 1970s will also remember it as "Needle Park," so bad was the heroin problem then. )

What is even more impressive is the contrast between Limbaugh's demonstrably elitist family and Kagan's folksy (in a New York way) activist father, Robert Kagan.

"We represented about 300 tenant groups who were fearful of [being forced to leave] their homes, suspicious of the bait being offered and angry at being forced into a co-oping process few of them knew anything about," his law partner, William Lubic, said in a eulogy at the elder Kagan's funeral in 1994. "Bob was inventive, skillful, a tough negotiator and an effective advocate."

Lubic added, "But always Bob Kagan had the human touch - the touch of a man who loved and respected his fellow human beings."

Elena Kagan's mother was a public school teacher as are her two brothers. Those are her elitist roots.

The only thing that marks Kagan as part of an elite is that she left Hunter College [public] High School for Princeton undergrad work, went to Oxford for her Masters, then Harvard for her J.D. (This seems like a good time to point out that Limbaugh dropped out of Southeastern Missouri State University because, as his own mother said, "He flunked everything.")

One has to wonder about a guy who couldn't fight his way out of what amounts to an academic paper bag then attacks great educational institutions and its alumni. What kind of weird, loose-screw, Freudian, Oedipal feelings does Limbaugh have toward his family circle of elitists, his failures early in life?

Lucky for him he can contemplate such complicated feelings in his home in salt-of-the-earth Greenwich, Connecticut - 90% white, average family income of $171,000 per year. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Oil Hearings: Somebody Spoke And I Went Into A Dream

Although reverie is much too pleasant and lighthearted a word for it, I fell into one of those strange drifts of thought where anything can happen, where fantasy and logic meld effortlessly.

In the crazy daydream, in my arms I carried a few quarts of motor oil in garishly-colored plastic bottles when suddenly I was gripped by an uncontrollable, really an unconscious, impulse to twist off the caps and begin pouring it (take your pick):

1. into Bethesda Fountain in Central Park,
2. over the Channel Gardens that lead to the statue of Prometheus where the famous Christmas tree is sited in Rockefeller Center,
3. into the Hudson River,
4. over the floor of Grand Central's main concourse,
5. all over Fashion Avenue's "Walk of Fame,"
6. onto a Rembrandt in the Metropolitan Museum, or maybe one of the Egyptian sarcophagi, etc., and,
7. for good measure, I found a few frogs sitting in the Lake in Central Park and gave them a good dose of the poisonous goo.

Maybe a quart or two for each prime location. Places that represent the "ecology" of the great city. Not a lot of oil, mind you. Let's say two gallons total would do the trick.

I wondered what would happen to me. Certainly I would be arrested. Most likely, if the authorities didn't have me committed, I would do jail time, be forced to make restitution (in the case of the Rembrandt probably community service unto the seventh generation). Lord knows what the papers would make of my actions.

It's likely I wouldn't be brought up before a Congressional panel wearing a three-thousand-dollar suit while I blamed my subcontractors, associates, friends, neighbors and the little boy who lived down the lane. I certainly wouldn't be flying in and out of Washington on a private jet. I wouldn't get no stinkin' $200 lunch out of my anti-social behavior.

I'd be branded an outlaw. A lunatic. A miscreant. A sociopath. A scarlet O for oil would be blazed into my skin.

I'd be fined, jailed, shamed, and pretty much enjoined to keep my grubby hands off any and all oil products for the rest of my pathetic life.

We increasingly live in a two-tiered society. Everyone knows it. The Tea Parties in their off-kilter way express it. The divisions in American society are palpable and frightening. Which side of the divide will our children and grandchildren end up on?

To get off scot-free when dousing the world with oil, it's wiser to spill 200,000-plus gallons a day than just a gallon or two. Then you're a somebody. Then you'd make a multimillion dollar salary and be among those untouchable by the real law.

You remember that: the law of crime and punishment, not crime and lashes with a wet noodle.

No clean environment, no future. No justice, no peace.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Just What Good Are Experts? Why Are We Allowing Them To Ruin Us?

The chitter-chatter that's been swirling around Solicitor General Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court is beginning to settle on this line of argument: she hasn't served on any other court.

My first reaction was, "So what?" It's not as if she is a retired squeegie man seeking entry to the nation's highest court. She's got plenty of creds.

This faux argument posed by the right wing, and in other contexts embraced by the center and left, is that only the most advanced experts can lead us. But, clearly the experts are leading us down dark and dangerous roads all over the place, whether the road to financial ruin, environmental blow-outs, safety, religion, hapless military strategies, or simple budget balancing on local, state and national levels.

What good are the experts? Really?

Did they govern the banking and finance industry properly? Greenspan, Bernanke, Paulson and Geitner appear to be either corrupt or incompetent. Listen to them closely for 10 minutes at a Congressional hearing and they sound like very well-spoken carnival barkers.

Are the experts guarding the environment? EPA Secretary Lisa Jackson is at best a mixed bag, tackling greenhouse gases on one hand but issuing an unprecedented number of mountain top removal permits for mining on the other. Her predecessor was indeed corrupt and incompetent. “The Bush Administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules. I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone,” said Stephen Johnson, one of a handful of Bushy EPA directors. Anyone see any national standards?

How's the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) working out for the miners out there?

Joe Main, director of MSHA, said yesterday that his agency has had the power to seek federal injunctions for years, but has never tried to use it. "I can't speak for past administrations," Main said during the Senate's first hearing on the accident that killed 29 men. "We're going to use it." Well, Mr. Main, the Obama Administration is 15 months old now. It took 29 men dying before you thought it was a keen idea to use your injunction powers? After reading over Massey Energy's past safety record, a person with a GED would have been able to see an injunction was in order.

And Brownie? Hey... job well done. If you were intent on helping sustain the slough that New Orleans and the Gulf states descended into after Katrina. As a friend of this blog and a great aficionado of the great cultural gumbo of the Big Easy wrote to me last week as the oil slick came closer: "Just got back from New Orleans. God awful... those poor people have had just about all they can take. I ate three dozen oysters because there ain't gonna be anymore down there for a long long time."

As to our wars - some of the longest in our history - even leaving aside the failure or distortion of intelligence that drove us into them, how is it that a country that was preeminent in the defeat of Nazi Germany and hyper-militaristic Japan in less than four years can't seem to figure out how to corral and pacify two small, backward countries?

It's easy enough currently to bash the Pope over the child abuse scandal. It's much more important to condemn the morally bankrupt system that allowed countless priests to be saved from their just desserts, whether that was to be institutional expulsion or criminal prosecution. In the Middle Ages, during the scourge of the Black Death, thousands of priests shirked their duty in ministering to the sick and dying. One of the direct results of those failures was the Reformation. The Catholic Church - many other churches large and small, as well - are in sore need of reform. It seems that a sick obsession with sexual matters and reproduction has taken hold everywhere. Where are the true spiritual "experts," the ones who feed the hungry, succor the suffering, aid the sick, comfort the mourners? Where is a meek or humble priest, and where is his superior?

Finally, how difficult is it to take a budget and put it into a semblance of balance? Sure, it's OK to borrow modest amounts to shore up short term gaps, but when 90% of all governing entities find themselves in calamitous deficits, one can only look to the keepers of the keys and denounce them.

Experts? Failures up and down. Liars many the time. Men and women engaged in the most self-indulgently corrupt behavior - abandoning intellectual and spiritual rigor for the path of least resistance.

Monday, May 10, 2010

CADD (Calamity Attention Deficit Disorder)

The theorem itself is simple (luckily):  
As a society grows more complex, its problems grow bigger and more difficult to solve. 
The corollary is: 
The experts who now try to head off problems are less capable than ever of being effective.

To cite one aspect of our precariousness, the same kind of utter destruction and chaos stemming from the Hundred Years' War took less than a decade during World War II. The next big war catastrophe will take what? Less than an hour?

Everything grows more compressed as history "progresses."

There have been oil spills as long as there have been oil wells. But now, quantities being extracted are in the mega-million barrel range; the most advanced techniques are more inexact; and the goo is transported by pipeline, ship, truck and rail across ten thousand disparate routes.

(One can easily overlay the oil spill analogy onto the Wall Street mess. Or the medical care mess. Or the immigration mess. Each industry only needs some specificity in tweaking.)

The first reaction is that our government is failing us, both on the theoretical, regulatory side and even more so on the physical enforcement side. But it is failing us on another level all together - the organizational side.

The system of regulation and prevention needs deconstruction first, then some rebuilding. This brings to mind the legend that Henry Ford was inspired to build his mass assembly plants by watching cattle carcasses being butchered by boners, each of whom had a specialty that they cut as the sides of beef kept moving along a production line. Deconstruct a problem, then reconstruct the new edifice.

There are roughly a half dozen oil producing regions in the United States, and another dozen or so ports that handle the bulk of oil imports. Then there are pipelines, refineries and storage facilities.

Instead of each of these regions and types of facilities falling under the single banner of the EPA and/or Interior and/or Commerce, each should have a commissioner and a commission with inspection and prosecutorial powers, as well as emergency injunction powers. These commissioners (and their teams) would act independently and be associated only with Federal Courts NOT inside their geographical jurisdiction.(Theoretically, the Gulf of Mexico's issues would be heard in Boston.)

Moreover, such injunctions could have a predetermined length of time - say 30 or 60 days - in which operations dangerous to the environment or workers (listening, coal mine operators?) are closed down or severely curtailed.

The commissioners and the members of his/her commission could not have voting members who have ever worked in the industry they oversee. (It is the height of madness to have former oil executives and engineers oversee environmental and worker safety in the oil drilling industry, for instance.)

In fact, it is crucial that ordinary, well-educated people from outside affected industries are appointed as watchdogs and not insiders. Could we do any worse with fresh thinkers?

Possibly there should be a set of incentives for such commissions in the form of bonuses. There should no doubt be a set of disincentives for these out-of-control industries that have ruined our natural and financial environment, our health care delivery system, and sent our immigration approach into free fall. 

Somehow, we need to find a way to focus our expensive watchdog agencies on their real long-term missions. The old way simply is not working. We need new ideas and new systems of doing business, particularly when it comes to the environment and catastrophes that could effect the rest of human history. Meaning forever. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What Does Being Liberal Mean To You?

NY Liberal State of Mind has about 25 followers now, and not quite 50 people who have signed up for email notifications.

I'm curious what it means to people to be "liberal" in 2010. Not on specific issues, but the general political philosophy.

So, if you have a few minutes, can you give me a few sentences on what it means to you? I'd like to create a compendium of the thoughts.

Your privacy, if you so desire, will be protected.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Kent State + 40: Still "Unnecessary, Unwarranted And Inexcusable."

Three of the adjectives that the Presidential Commission that investigated the murders on an American college campus four decades ago.  

"We're going to use every weapon possible to eradicate the problem." - James Allen Rhodes, Republican Governor of Ohio, speaking at a news conference on May 3, 1970.

I wanted to say something very new and trenchant about the Kent State University shootings 40 years ago that today we commemorate. I wanted to link the extremism now afoot in America with the right wing extremism that stalked our country in the 1960s and 70s. 

Yet, when looking through the Internet photo archives of the murders, unexpectedly, two banal things struck me.

The first is that there are very few color photographs of Kent State that day - most of the iconic images are in black and white, lending an antique sheen to the day. The second observation seems even more ridiculous. 99% of the students were thin. Very thin.

Many people of a certain age when transported back to that murderous moment in time find that the memories still evoke surprisingly powerful emotions. Anyone of college age then, or a few years older or younger, had already had their "coming of age" marred by the assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy. Even the assassinations of polar political personalities Malcom X and George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party, had impressed their memories upon us. It was an decade of violence.

But the killing of everyday kids - people just like us - first at Kent in Ohio and then at Jackson State in Mississippi ten days later was shocking beyond belief. Nine others were wounded, one paralyzed for life. Worse, two of the dead victims were innocent bystanders, going to classes or milling about to watch the main event, when the Ohio National Guard reversed field, turned and fired 67 bullets into an unarmed crowd in the space of 13 seconds. A 1970 FBI investigation into the shootings found that the guardsmen were not in danger and that they "fabricated" this defense.

The demonstrations, the troops, the fresh, raw anger are all long gone. Where anti-war protests raged, today a granite plaza invites peaceful reflection. On the spots where four young people fell in a spray of National Guard bullets, lanterns stand in remembrance.

What kind of country shoots down its unarmed youth in cold blood? Is it the same country that spits on Congressmen or calls them by racial epithets? Or reviles the first President who isn't white? The strain of vile hatred by rightist, reactionary forces has a long and persistent presence in our nation's history.

Does not wisdom cry? (Proverbs 8:1)

You used to be a student.
You studied fine arts.
But other arts exist,
of blood and terror,
and headsmen with 
a genius for the axe.
 - Yevgeny Yevtushenko 
   Bullets and Flowers
   (written in memory of the massacred students)

The murdered students

The Guardsmen Killing Them 

The "Dangerous" Students 

A Wounded Student Attended To By His Contemporaries

The Tear Gas

The Side Show
The Color Photos

(Girl looking at bloodstain)

Dean Kahler, one of the wounded, has been in a wheelchair ever since

Memorial for Jeffrey Miller, one of the four students shot in 1970, photo taken September, 2009, in Kent, Ohio.

The dual granite memorial for the children murdered at Kent State 
and 10 days later at the Jackson State