Thursday, August 28, 2014

Remembering Archbishop Oscar Romero and his Murderers

Pope Francis has made it clear that he intends to beatify Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero. The younger ones among us will not remember the troubles in El Salvador, where President Reagan supported the government and its death squads. But I remember El Salvador and the priest who said this just before he was murdered:

“I want to make a special appeal to soldiers, national guardsmen, and policemen: each of you is one of us,” he said. “The peasants you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear a man telling you to kill, remember God’s words, ‘thou shalt not kill.’ No soldier is obliged to obey a law contrary to the law of God. In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people, I beseech you, I implore you; in the name of God I command you to stop the repression.”

These words could equally apply to the forces of repression that recently attacked the people of Ferguson, Missouri.

In announcing that the beatification of Romero is no longer blocked, Francis also mentioned Rutilio Grande as a candidate for Sainthood. Romero was a friend to Grande, another Salvadoran priest, who was murdered by the US-supported government. It was the death of Grande that convinced Romero to stand up against the Salvadoran government, and it was, of course, that action that led to Romero's own assassination.

By moving forward with the beatification of one or both of these men, Francis continues to signal his disapproval of the actions of the US in central America. In July, he called for an end to 'racist and xenophobic' policies toward children who emigrate to escape privation and violence.

Conservative Catholics have begun to chafe at Francis's advocacy for the poor and powerless. No doubt their opposition will grow if and when he beatifies Romero and Rutillo Grande. This opposition is unlikely to deter him, however. Christopher Dickey has written a powerful piece for the Daily Beast in which he he gives a first person account of how the government (one assumes) fired on the crowd that attended Romero's funeral, killing at least 35 people.  Dickey concludes his piece by saying,

Some day in the not too distant future, Romero will be beatified. And then, if Pope Francis is still with us, we may well see the leftist saints go marching in.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Mountaintop Removal: The High Cost of Coal

Left: Forest--Right: Mountaintop removal
Mountaintop removal means environmental destruction. We don't know the extent of this destruction because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stopped studying its impact in 2001, when Deputy Director J. Steven Griles, a former coal industry lobbyist, cancelled the study. President Bush's friends had no interest in finding out about environmental damage in the Appalachians. Instead, Griles concentrated his efforts on finding ways to expedite mining permits without bothering to discover their effects on the environment.

Those effects are severe. The incomplete study released the following statistics before Bush pulled the plug:
  • More than 7 percent of Appalachian forests have been cut down and more than 1,200 miles of streams across the region have been buried or polluted between 1985 and 2001.
  • Over 1000 miles of streams have been permitted to be buried in valley fills.
  • Mountaintop removal mining, if it continues unabated, will cause a projected loss of more than 1.4 million acres by the end of the decade-an area the size of Delaware-with a concomitant severe impact on fish, wildlife, and bird species, not to mention a devastating effect on many neighboring communities.
  • 800+ square miles of mountains are estimated to be already destroyed.
Since the study was never completed, experts have estimated that it underestimates the problem by 40%. The damage described dates from the late 1990s. The coal industry depredations have continued without hindrance since then.

The area where this devastation is proceeding is one of the few wilderness areas in the northeastern United States. It is a region of beautiful forests teeming with wildlife: trees, creeks, birds, animals, fish. Few people hear about this rape of the land because coal companies buy all the land on the mountain and prevent anyone coming near enough to take pictures of what they do there. Their activities pollute the ground water in a watershed that provides drinking water for the residents of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

The affects of air pollution caused by the coal mined in this region extend even farther. Georgia and North Carolina are the biggest users of Appalachian coal. Recently a leak at a Duke Coal Energy ash containment pond in North Carolina released 50 to 80 thousand tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Rick Perry Must Be Innocent: His Lawyer Says So!

I'm getting tired of the BS. Some rich guy is indicted for something and he goes out and hires a legal team. In this case the rich guy is Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, and the legal team is composed of some of the best-known and highest-priced lawyers in the country.

No one was surprised when the legal team held a press conference to announce that their client is innocent. They declared that just accusing Perry of a crime is a nasty attack on the rule of law and the Constitution. Perry has a right to free speech, they said, just like anyone else.

Perry does have a right to free speech, but his speech must be governed by the same laws that govern everyone else. The charge against Perry is that he made a threat against an elected official to force her to resign from office. Then he carried through the threat with a veto of funds for a public interest watchdog, the PIU. The PIU has been investigating a few of Perry's campaign donors who also received contracts from a charity Perry controls. So the veto has the appearance of Perry protecting his friends from an investigation.

The lawyers also showed a videotape that has been shown over and over again on national television. The videotape shows the elected official seriously intoxicated. The lawyers intend this video to prove that the official is incompetent. But it doesn't prove that. It proves that she has a drinking problem. The lawyers do not mention--because no lawyer ever tells the whole truth--that the official is not going to run for re-election, so the threat was unnecessary and the veto was superfluous. One possible motive for Perry's veto is to protect his friends from indictment.

The lawyers also claim that the charges against Perry amount to an attempt to "criminalize politics". The real crime here is the attempt by the lawyers to turn a trial for corruption into a public relations campaign. The right wing has had great success with this tactic, much to the detriment of public safety and morality. A politician has no incentive to behave in an upright and just manner if he can pay a lawyer to get him out of any illegal shenanigans he becomes involved with.

A corporation has no incentive to produce products that are safe if it can hire a PR firm to convince the public their products are safe when they are not. The asbestos industry spent millions to convince the public its products are safe when they cause cancer. Asbestos producers were only thwarted by a fluke when it turned out the type of cancer caused by asbestos--mesothelioma--is ONLY caused by asbestos.

Tobacco companies continue to sell a product that causes lung disease and premature death because they have been able to convince the public, through a massive, ongoing PR expenditure, that their products should be kept legal. I'm still stunned by how many of the celebrities of the twentieth century died prematurely because they smoked tobacco: John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Sammy Davis Junior, Yul Brynner, John Candy, Nat King Cole, Gary Cooper, Walt Disney, Mimi Farina, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ian Fleming, Bob Fosse, Errol Flynn, Betty Grable, Susan Hayward, George Harrison, Judy Holliday, Michael Landon, Doug McClure, Steve McQueen, Roy Orbison, Jackie Onassis, Jesse Owens, Lee Remick, Stan Rogers, Babe Ruth, Rod Serling, Robert Shaw, John Thaw, Robert Taylor, Bea Benaderet (voice of Betty Rubble), Sarah Vaughan, Dick York, and many more.

I noted that Bea Benaderet was the voice of Betty Rubble because the cigarette companies used the Flintstone characters in an advertisement for tobacco. Who were they advertising to if not children?

Despite this long list, and the millions of people who have died from smoking-related diseases, no tobacco company executive has ever been prosecuted for his/her depraved indifference to the effects of tobacco. It was proven that they all knew what those effects were, yet kept quiet about it while they reaped the rewards of their executive salaries.

Public Relations is the main reason that thousands die every year from smoking-related diseases. And public relations is what is keeping the world from facing up to the challenges presented by climate change.

So public relations is being used to claim that Rick Perry should not be prosecuted for his publicly acknowledged actions. It makes me sick.




Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Racist Omertá Exposed in Ferguson

The Heritage Foundation recently posted on Google Plus that Mississippi should cut its corporate income tax. I pointed out in a comment that Mississippi ranks 50th among states in education, 50th in health care, and that its failures in these areas were race-based, since the poor who are affected by lack of education and health care are predominantly African American. I don't think there is any doubt about that statement. But one person, I'll call him Jack, commented that Mississippi may have been racist in the 1960s, but not any more.

Southern whites were embarrassed by the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights bills in the late 1960s. Their response to these exposures of racist government was not to work to end racism, but to conceal it (and in this they are joined by northern Republicans). They have done this through a policy of omertá--a rigid code of silence about racial matters imposed on southern whites. Under the policy of omertá, white southerners pretend that racism is dead, that there is no discrimination against African-Americans, and that what happened in the bad old days just doesn't matter any more.

The 5 conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) recently endorsed this fiction by striking down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because, they claimed, it wasn't needed any more. The Court ruled that the law made sense because of past violations of voters' rights, but is no longer valid because today African-Americans can vote without any problems. SCOTUS thus let themselves be convinced by Southern omertá that everything is fine now and the federal government does not need to keep watching the southern states for potential violations.

Naturally, the first thing that Republicans in state legislatures (not all of them in the South) have done is to enact laws to restrict voting rights--Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Arkansas have tried this. One of their favorite techniques is to require state-issued id (generally a driver's license) to be able to vote. This immediately disenfranchised all elderly black voters who no longer drove cars, even if these people could prove they had been on the voting rolls for 50 years--since the voting rights law of 1965 was enacted. Another way African-Americans have been disenfranchised is to gerrymander them all into one district instead of letting them exercise their votes in several districts--Alabama has tried this.

Political commentators, including Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, have bought into the idea that racism is dead. O'Reilly goes so far as to say that those who accuse others of racism are the real problem because they would create a nation of haters.

All of these arguments against racism have been exposed by events in Ferguson. There, in a town that is two-thirds African-American, the white police chief has refused to arrest a police officer on suspicion of homicide after the officer shot times and killed an unarmed youth. The lines between white and black are being clearly drawn by the suppression of demonstrators in Ferguson, a town outside Saint Louis, Missouri. Rather than acceding to the reasonable requests of law-abiding citizens that the officer in question be arrested, the police floated rumors that the boy was high on drugs, or had recently robbed a convenience store, or was attacking the officer when he was shot.

All of the excuses given why the officer should not be arrested and arraigned for murder are irrelevant. They are arguments with which a defense attorney might try to sway a jury, but they are not reasons why a trial should not take place. The rift between black and white in this country is as deep as it ever was, fueled by the toxic flames of racism that have been kept hidden by white southerners for the last 50 years. But no longer. Ferguson has exposed the true state of race relations in this country. Let's all call for something more than silence--omertá--in response.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Rick Perry's Past Catches Up To Him

Rick Perry has been indicted by a grand jury for abusing the power of his office. The indictment came as a shock not only to Republicans, but also to Democrats. All of those who now claim that Perry will not be convicted have one thing in common: they have not seen the evidence against Perry that the grand jury found convincing.

The jury indicted Perry for vetoing funding for the public integrity unit. Although this unit operates within the District Attorney of Travis County's office, it is an independent entity charged with the vital task of investigating corruption in Texas. Just before Perry pulled the plug, a lengthy investigation by the public integrity unit had led to the indictment of Jerald Cobbs, a senior executive of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Perry has been using the Institute as his private slush fund for years, having directed millions of dollars in grants to be given to big donors to his various campaigns. The indictment of Cobbs last December was a big red flag in Perry's face. Cobbs was a lower echelon player, indicted for awarding $11 million to a corporation without properly investigating that company as required by Texas law. But lower echelon players are frequently willing to trade their own jail time for testimony against bigger fish, like Perry and Greg Abbott, both of whom were involved with the slush fund.

Abbott, Texas Attorney General and current candidate for governor, had public exposure in the broadening scandal because he sat on the board of directors of the Cancer Institute and was supposed to look out for the public interest. Abbott never bothered to attend board meetings, a fairly obvious indication that he had not been doing his job.

There was a second indictment against Perry, alleging that he had tried to force Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign her office. Perry's motive for targeting Lehmberg was that she had been convicted of drunk driving and sentenced to 45 days in jail. This, he said, proved that she was unfit for her position. There was no legal requirement that she do so, however, and she refused.

Again, Perry's attempt to force Lehmberg from office leads back to possible future indictments that might come from the public integrity unit. One of those who could be indicted is Perry himself; another is Abbott. If Lehmberg resigned, Perry could appoint a friendly politician to be district attorney who could then stifle further investigation into corruption within the Perry administration. It was essential for Perry and his friends that Lehmberg resign voluntarily. If she were impeached, there would be an election to replace her, and Perry would lose his chance to control events.

One well-known fact about prosecutions like the one now threatening Perry: the prosecutor will be able to investigate the activities of the Cancer Institute and Perry's cronies using subpoena power to read emails and other communications between them. This is the real reason that Perry cut funding for the public integrity unit.

Perry's defenders contend that Perry had every right to cut the state agency's funding. But President Nixon had every right to fire his Attorney General during the Watergate investigation. Nixon hoped thereby to stop the unraveling of his administration. Nixon used the power of the presidency to stop the investigation against him, just as Perry has done in this case. But using a legal procedure to obstruct an investigation is a clear abuse of power.

Perry's defenders also content that he cannot be impeached because Republicans control the Texas State Legislature. But the Democratically controlled legislature of Illinois impeached then-Governor Rod Blagojevich for abusing his office, exactly the same charge that Perry now faces. Although Blagojevich became famous for offering to sell an appointment to the US Senate, he was also convicted on 17 charges of corruption, including pay to play and influence peddling, the same kinds of charges that Perry now faces.




Friday, August 15, 2014

Consistency will destroy the country

In response to a remark by Margaret Leber on Google plus, who said:

"
There's very good reasons indeed why we have a republic rather than a democracy."

If we have a representative democracy, give me a good reason why 80 percent of the people believe we need immigration reform but our “representatives” refuse to act on it. In fact, our “representatives” refuse to act on anything at all because they dislike the government they are a part of. For a government to be a republic, it has to be working, else it’s not a republic or anything else. 

As for my opinions being inconsistent, I freely admit it. The real world is inconsistent. Some things unions do are good; some things are not so good. But you propose to destroy everything unions do, good and bad, with nothing to replace them. Your opinions are consistent, but harmful to our citizens and also to those who live and work here but to whom we grant no citizenship rights.

Only when the basis for all your ideas is an artificial construct that doesn’t reflect the real world do all your ideas become “consistent”. The real world is irregular. For example, some snakes are beneficial, others are poisonous. We should not adopt a policy to kill all snakes, only those that are harmful. Similarly, we should not adopt a policy to destroy all unions because we don’t like their politics.


So you believe all unions are bad, all taxes are bad, in fact, all government is bad, yet you just said you are glad we have a “republican” form of government. You are not consistent there. If we are to continue to have a republic, we must supply it with enough revenue to accomplish the tasks we set for it. Starving government to make it smaller is like killing all the snakes because some of them are poisonous. That doesn’t make sense, either.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Huge holes appear in Siberia: Climate Change is Accelerating

I do not ascribe every warm day or tornado to the effects of global climate change. I do not look at each heavy rainfall and announce, "That happened because of global climate change." I do not consider myself an expert on climatology. It annoys me when someone says they looked in the rain gauge chart and discovered rainfall was normal, or that they looked at a temperature chart and discovered that there were several low temperatures during a hot spell and therefore the scientists who study global climate change are wrong. This is equivalent to going to a doctor's office and looking at x-rays of cancer and saying, nope, that doctor is wrong, there is no cancer, because I feel fine.

But I do look at each natural event and judge whether it could be influenced by global warming. Many events seem to be influenced by global climate change, while others are indirectly influenced. For example, Hurricane Sandy came very far north for a tropical storm while still maintaining hurricane-force winds. The increased warmth of the Atlantic Ocean may have influenced this northern thrust.

The height of the storm surge was affected by the sea level rising at New York City by 12 inches during the last century and the land there subsiding 3-4 inches during that time. The subsidence is caused by the melting of glaciers after the last Ice Age. The land that used to be covered by ice is now rising slowly, relieved of the massive weight. The land around NYC was not covered by ice, so it is sinking, like the other side of a seesaw from the rising ground to the north.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) states that, while Global Warming may not have caused Hurricane Sandy, it did cause the flooding in Manhattan and nearby coastal areas.

In many places around the world, like Miami, Florida, and Hampton Roads, Virginia, subsidence is a severe problem that makes the incremental increases in ocean level much more damaging to the local infrastructure.

We can't be certain, in many cases, how much an event is affected by global warming. In the case of the recently discovered sinkhole-like holes in Siberia, however, we can be fairly certain they were caused by global warming.

In the first place, the phenomenon of holes in permafrost is unprecedented in the historical record. This phenomenon is something new, just as global climate change is new. In the second place, global climate change theory has predicted the melting of permafrost. We didn't know how it would happen until now. We supposed that the permafrost layer, which consists of undecayed vegetation that has been frozen by perpetual frost, would slowly melt and gradually release its carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Now it appears that another, much more disturbing process may be underway.

The Siberian holes appear to have been caused by eruptions of methane gas bubbles, although an unknown amount of carbon dioxide was also released. Pound for pound, the effect of methane on global warming is 20 times as much as carbon dioxide. It appears that melting permafrost will release large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane. An estimated amount of 300 billion tons of carbon will be released by melting permafrost, about 2/3 of all the carbon released into the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

That sounds dangerous, though it could be spread out over the next 200 years. The effects of methane alone are impossible to predict because we don't know how much methane is trapped in the permafrost layers. What we do know is that huge bubbles of methane--the hole in Siberia is 200 feet in diameter--can burst into the atmosphere. According to this article at realclimate.org, the potential for temperature rise from methane is catastrophically large.

I have been called a global warming alarmist. This latest news is the most alarming yet.