Monday, May 31, 2010

Please join our blog Penigma in celebrating Memorial Day.

Formerly known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day exists to honor our dead who died in war, the men and women who died defending this country, its principles, and its civilians.

Please take a moment now, to bow your heads in silence, to recognize their sacrifice.

Please also take a moment today to thank those other brave individuals who have served their country in our armed forces, recognizing their courage and their sense of honor and duty.

I would like to begin by thanking my dear colleagues and co-admins, Penigma, for his long years in the Army, and ToE for his service in the Navy.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Everything Old Is New Again

"January 13, 1949: Fahy Committee holds its first hearings. Representatives of the Army defend segregation of African-Americans. The Marine Corps also defends its segregation policy and admits that only one of its 8,200 officers is African-American. The Navy and Air Force both indicate they will integrate their units. The Navy admits that only five of its 45,000 officers are African-American."

"March 28, 1949: The three service secretaries testify before the Fahy Committee. Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington and Secretary of the Navy John L. Sullivan both testify that they are opposed to segregation and are pursuing policies to integrate their services. Secretary of the Army Kenneth Royall argues in favor of maintaining segregation, saying that the Army "was not an instrument for social evolution."

- The Truman Library Timeline of Military Desegregation

"We're saying, 'We're shoving this down your throat,'" said Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican. "The military is not a social experiment. We are sending them out there with a mission to protect this country."
- Anne Flaherty, Associated Press "Congress to Vote on Military Gay Ban"

My father served in the armed forces in World War II as a naval aviator in the Pacific. One of the places I remember quite vividly that I was taken as a child, decades later during a family vacation was the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, one of the Presidential Libraries. My father spoke admiringly of Truman, "even if he was a Democrat". The parental admiration was earned for his conduct as Commander in Chief during the war, not for his desegregation of the armed forces.

I happen to believe Truman was a remarkable president for both reasons.

But when I read some of the statements, such as that of Congressman Gohmert quoted above, something about the phrase "social experiment" in his comment rang a bell. The place I went to look for the earlier similar wording was the Truman Library (online this time) that I remembered from my childhood.

In hindsight, from the vantage of the early days of the 21st century, it would be a rare person who sees the desegregation of our military as a radical exercise in "social evolution". Now we would simply see it as fair, as reasonable, so logical that the earlier status quo seems a bit ridiculous, foolish.

Word for word, argument for argument, I am struck by the similarity of the objections against allowing people to serve, to risk their lives and limbs, to protect this country and its citizens, without regard to their sexuality.

It is not new, gays serving in armed forces. This is not really an 'experiment'; it has been done successfully elsewhere, repeatedly. It is the norm in the armed forces of our allies.

When I was a small child, travelling on winter vacations with my parents, I saw the last holdouts of the "whites only" and "coloreds only" water fountains in small southern towns - mostly poor rural places. On one occasion, the "whites only" fountain was out of order, so as a stubbornly independent kid, I simply drank out of the other water fountain, to my parents' dismay. They didn't actually care which fountain I drank out of, they were simply concerned that I would offend the local populace.

Instead of being meekly rebuked, I crossed my arms (always a harbinger of my stubbornness rising) and declared the segregated system "just dumb". I further quite adamantly expressed my opinion that the local population would be better served by getting one good working drinking fountain, instead of having one crummy one and one that didn't work at all.

My parents tried to hush me, but I was not a hushable child, any more than I tend to be a 'hushable' adult. ( I fear my co-admins may have just choked on their beverage of choice at their respective computers.)

I proceeded to pose what seemed to me to be a logical question, didn't we all drink out of just one fountain without any problems? My mother agreed that was probably true. I pointed out that unless we actually saw who drank out of a fountain before we did, we wouldn't even know if it was another white person or not. My mother agreed this was true. So, I pointed out that it didn't really matter who drank out of a fountain, because it didn't make any practical difference, so it was just DUMB. "Just dumb" was my chronic and persistent protest of all adult illogic.

My parents gave up the hushing battle and simply picked me up bodily, threw me into the back of the family car, and hurriedly drove away to avoid an incident. My parents tried to explain how people felt, that it wasn't about logic.

I held to my conclusion that segregation was just dumb; not, I regret to say, for the inequality of it - I didn't really understand that part of it until later. I objected to the redundancy, the impracticality of it, in the face of poverty.

I find that as an adult looking at the current policy of our government towards gays in the military, I feel similarly that the policy of prohibiting people from serving because of their sexuality is "just dumb". We have always had men - and women - serving in our armed forces who were not heterosexual. Eisenhower had a notable experience in World War II in the European theater with having to relent to allow lesbians in the military, for example.

We have veterans of our current wars who have served with distinction, including people who have been honored for their courage in combat. We have graduated officers from the various service academies who have gone on to lead our armed forces in combat, without any more consequence resulting than that from shared desegregated drinking fountains.

Which does not alter the feelings of those who object. Minnesota has experienced the homophobic murder and beatings of gays in our history. We have right now so-called ministries and politicians, and their respective supporters, who contribute to that homophobia by claiming that muslims have the right idea in executing gays, who claim that the muslim and 'judeo-christian' faiths correctly label homosexuality an abomination. Perhaps the most egregious claim is that all homosexuals are child molesters, that homosexuals "molest 117 individuals" before being "found out". This is a factually inaccurate claim that is calculated to create fear and hatred. You can see a video of it here:

I have read comments from a devout catholic commenter who sincerely believes that the crisis in the Roman Catholic church is clear evidence that homosexuals are child molesters, because the priests who abused children "buggered little boys" more often than they abused girls, according to the statistics of the church.

Never mind the illogic of the reasoning, it is not about reason.

They claim to be upholding moral values; it is not about moral values. Values are the excuse, the justification, the attempt to defend the indefensible.

They don't want to hear facts or reason any more than those southern whites who believed in the necessity, the importance, the sacred tradition of segregation.

In every case fear will be the weapon of bigotry, whether it be the fear that blacks are criminals and that black men are just dying to rape white women, or the fear that homosexuals are all sexual predators and child molesters who want "to bugger little boys".

Predictably, religion will be dragged out to justify the bigotry that is too weak to prevail, to persuade, by fear alone. Dire predictions of divine retribution are the hallmarks of the worst of the religious zealots who try to preserve and extend the bigotry.

Predictably patriotism and fears for our security will be dragged out, claims that our military will fall apart if we do this. Similar arguments were made against desegregating the armed forces. It is an old, tattered, predictable fear tactic, not a valid argument.

In every case where fear fails to stop, the bigots will resist by trying to slow the progress, wailing that those who would act justly are forcing this evil thing on them. Just as predictably, those who come later will look back with the 20/20 vision of history and with clear hindsight, view the discrimination against gays as equally incomprehensible.

I have learned the adult lessons of diplomacy, that it is not useful to one's position to insult those who think differently by helpfully pointing out their position is 'just DUMB" even if the intent is only to be logical, to reason, not to be demeaning.

There is no more point in expecting logic to prevail in this instance. Some change will come through persuasion, but the majority of real change will come because, like Truman, those who can make the change find the strength to act. It is unrealistic to expect that we will have complete consensus so long as we have elected officials like the gormless Republican Rep. Gohmert of Texas, or Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a supporter of the man who is in the video ranting against gays and who shares his view.

It is unrealistic to expect that logic or persuasion will prevail over bigotry. The opposition of those who are so very wrong hurts our fellow citizens through this kind of discrimination, denies them dignity and honor, denies them careers, and denies us the valuable service of their courage, and skills. It is foolish for us to indulge the bigots any longer or to let this decision be dictated by the lowest denominator instead of the highest.

History shows us there will always be opposition. There are and will continue to be segments of the armed forces that are virulently homophobic. That opposition will exist between now and the conclusion date for the study; it will exist during the 60 days after the study is completed (presuming the study affirms the position of the majority of the military leadership as currently expressed).

History teaches us that like the changing attitudes towards desegregation and race, the only thing which will succeed is to steel ourselves to take the plunge. George Santayana said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Peter Allen came up with the song and lyrics "everything old is new again". An anonymous author perhaps was the wisest when he - or she - came up with the saying "''Each time history repeats itself, the price goes up."

It is time to learn the lessons of history. Again. And to pay that price, whatever it will be.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tort Reform and Frivolous Lawsuits: Show Me the Money!

The following is cross posted with permission from our friend of the blog and contributing author, Dr. Michael Kirsch of MD Whistleblower (please see our blog roll). Thank you, Michael!

Several months ago on this blog, I informed readers that I was a defendant in a medical malpractice case. I offered no specifics, as I didn’t want my attorney to fire me as a client, in case he discovered the post. Although the plaintiff was granted two 45 day extensions to troll for an Ohio physician to sign an affidavit of merit against my care, none could be found. My lawyer had reviewed every syllable of the medical record, and couldn’t divine an allegation against me. My lawyer and I were groping guests in a Chamber of the Absurd - trying to figure out what allegations the other side might concoct.

After a few months, I was dropped from this case that should have never been filed in the first place. Years ago, as a younger and more idealistic gastroenterologist, I was kept dangling on a lawsuit for a few years. I endured the light hearted amusement of the discovery process, including expert witnesses outside of my specialty who claimed in their written reports that my care was negligent. The deposition was so much fun, that I was disappointed when it ended. “One more hour, please”, I begged, After the ‘experts’ reviewed my testimony, they recanted, but I wasn’t formally dismissed until a few days before the trial date. Nearly 20 years later, the memory of this unfair experience still lurks in a dark recess of my mind. Lawyers don’t get this, as they don’t appreciate how deeply personal malpractice litigation is for physicians. For them, win or lose, they close their briefcases and move on to the next case.

Had the plaintiff’s attorney reviewed the record prior to suing me, he would have concluded that my care was proper and that I should not be targeted. Although in Ohio, an affidavit of merit is required to sue a physician for medical malpractice, judges will extend leniency to plaintiffs and grant extensions, as occurred twice in my case.

On March 31, 2010, I received a letter from my medical malpractice insurance carrier. Although the letter was marked PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL, in all caps, bold and underlined, I feel I can share it with loyal Whistleblower readers.

Here is an excerpt:

Many physicians wonder about the magnitude of the expenses incurred in defense and/or investigation. In this case, they were $9,120.85.
Where was the rush to sue me? The statute of limitations was far in the distance. Because I was named as a defendant from the outset, with no supporting affidavit, nearly $10,000 was incinerated.

I am sure that this scenario occurs in all 50 states every day. Imagine what the aggregate financial cost is of defending innocent physicians, or doctors like me who should never been defendants in the first place. The costs of the discovery process, which I escaped, are orders of magnitude higher than my costs were.

The inarguable facts, disputed by plaintiff attorneys, are that the current dysfunctional medical liability system fails to:

Narrowly target negligent physicians
Capture most patients who have been victims of true negligence
Improve medical quality
I have no idea how many tens of millions of dollars or more are being vaporized in the medical malpractice crucible. With a health care system that is sagging under escalating costs, couldn’t we find a better use for this money?

Keep in mind that the actual costs of litigation are but a fraction of the costs of the medical liability system. Sure, my case burned up 10 grand, but, I will spend much more this year ordering tests and consultations that are as much to protect me as they are to protect my patients. Sad, but true.

Failing to include any real tort reform in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health care reform panacea, is legislative malpractice. Hey, that gives me an idea. If I can get one citizen to sign an affidavit of merit attesting that our representatives breached the community legislative standard, defined as what a reasonable legislator would do, can we sue them? We wouldn’t need a judge to grant an extension. Millions of Americans are ready to sign this affidavit yesterday.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Abject Cowardice

This man deserves nothing less than assassination.

US Born Cleric calls for killing US Civilians

I can understand why someone might feel a population is to be held accountable for it's government - after all, this is what John Locke said and what we believe in (what our founders believed in as well). It justified our bombing of Tokyo. It justified our bombing of Nagasaki.

It is often hard to discriminate between population and war making ability, BUT...

This man isn't calling for making war on the US solely, he is calling for exclusively seeking out the US population because of "intentional" deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. First of course, most US civilians have NO desire to see innocent civilians die in Iraq (or Afghanistan).

Second, these Yemeni Wahabi ALSO killed indiscriminately in Iraq and Afghanistan. Whatever complaint this 'cleric' has with the US, he has ten-fold with his own people who started killing in Iraq long before we arrived (they hated secular Iraq) and in Afghanistan - and they'll likely be killing long after we leave.

Making "total war" is often brutal and ugly, and it leads to offended, embittered families - who prove ably that an eye-for-an-eye simply leads to endless war and a lot of blind people. But when you hide behind your frock/cloth/prayer shall and call for the killing of children because people do inadvertently what you do overtly, you've parted with the rational world. If the US can find this man, then his own speech clearly puts him in conspiracy with those who have both tried and succeeded in killing US civilians. Perhaps some sort of trial in abstentia would be more thorough, but if it's not practical, the world will not judge us harshly - the innocent will not find us at fault for removing such vileness. He complains about the deaths of those he'd gladly see killed. Apparently he's only mad HE didn't kill them or cause their deaths.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Greek System

The government of Greece has spent decades overspending, on the military, on social programs, on many things, while lying about the nature of such debts. It lacked financial oversight, failed to implement reforms when warned, and once audited by the EU, was found to have lied about how far in debt it truly was.

Now, you could take this to be an implication of overspending, which is in part true. Or, you could look deeper, and see that it bears remarkable resemblance to the US under George Bush and the conservatives. They turned a blind-eye to unregulated and abusive energy companies, until Enron showed that companies were lying about their "off-book" debts, they turned a blind-eye to financial regulation, and continue to, even after the failures of Bear Stearns and Lehman and the manipulation of the market by many many others. They overspent wildly on military campaigns, booking the costs OFF of the supposed federal budget.

Ultimately the decision comes down to, will you cut (or curtail the growth in) spending, will you raise taxes, or will you do both? Republicans voted 37-3 against any sort of reform of Wall Street (even the FAR too weak reform the Democrats passed) - the Republicans talk about less spending, but they don't do it. They give hand-outs to big business, want to lower taxes on the rich, but don't give a rip about long-term impacts when they are in the White House. Nothing is different here than in Greece fundamentally - it's simply a fraternity boy system of paying each other off with other people's money.

State of Arizona, Senate Engrossed House Bill 2281

"I'm not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it."
Niccolo Machiavelli

"In the human heart new passions are forever being born; the overthrow of one almost always means the rise of another."
Francois de La Rochefoucauld

"This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it."
Abraham Lincoln

The title of this post doubles as a link to the official Arizona website for texts of that state's legislation. (I was playing with the blog features again.) For those who do not recognize the law by the Legislation identification, this is the controversial legislation recently signed into law, intended to control the teaching of K-12 electives described as ethnic studies.

I would encourage Penigma readers to take a few moments to look at the actual legislation; the pertinent section begins on the top of page 1, comprising only 49 lines, and continues for another 9 lines on page 2 of 4. The remainder of the bills 4 pages consists of an introductory cover on page 1, or unrelated amendments on the balance of pages 3 and 4, addressing school disciplinary modifications, such as expulsions. It is a quick read.

Beginning with the end of page 4, I was a little surprised to see that this Act does not go into effect until "from and after December 31, 2010", which struck me as a rather long lag time for legislation which presumably is intended to affect the 2010-11 school year.

The time frame caught my interest because one of the main advocates for this new law, Tom Horne, has had it in the works for some time. One might think that the lag time is the result of changes across the state in curricula, but in researching the background to the legislation, it turns out to be directed pretty much entirely at classes on the schedule of one single school district, the Tucson Unified School District; and within that one school district, specifically focusing on the Mexican American Studies Department. This law does not contemplate a very big amount of change on the statewide scale of curricula, so the lag time is curious.

But I find it interesting beyond the curiosity, because this statewide law that is directed at one department of one school district, was the work of the conservative Republicans in Arizona. Conservatives who profess to favor as a fundamental, core principle smaller and less intrusive, less far-reaching government. This law, which has a lot of problems in it from my humble reading, would seem to be a clear example of the extent to which conservatives are willing to throw out their core principles on the flimsiest, stupidest provocation. This hypocrisy is the basis for my distrust of conservative slogans, my distaste for conservative actions in direct violation of their stated principles we are asked to believe are dearer to them than their very lives. Core values we are asked to believe are fundamental to patriotism. I harbor the deepest skepticism that a state law was required to address the elective classes taught by one department of one school district. If this is not an over-reach of government, an abuse of power, an attempt to impose the beliefs of one political group on others thereby curtailing their liberties and freedoms, I don't know what is.

This is using a sledge hammer to swat a fly. The danger inherent in using a sledge hammer for fly control is the damage that the force of the sledge hammer does to the surrounding surface, as well as the unlikely chances it will actually do anything to the fly.

Sam Stein in his piece in the New York Times, "Arizona: The Gift That Keeps On Giving" wrote a very well researched column, despite it appearing in the Opinionator column of the Opinion section: Stein addresses the aspects of politicizing education in Arizona, on the part of the school district, and on the part of the Republicans who passed this law far better than I can.

Stein concludes his column with these words:

"This is one case, however, where the remedy is worse than the disease, or rather is a form of it. Rather than removing politics from the classroom, House Bill 2281 mandates the politics of its authors, who, in the bill’s declaration of policy, set themselves up as educational philosophers and public moralists, and even, given the magisterial tone, as gods: “The Legislature finds and declares that public school pupils should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not be taught to resent or hate other races or other classes of people.” The declaration tendentiously, and without support either of argument or evidence, affirms a relationship between critically questioning the ideology of individual rights — and make no mistake, it is an ideology — and the production of racism and hatred.

This would be a great surprise to those communitarian theorists like Robert Bellah, Michael Sandel and Robert Putnam, generally as American as apple pie, who contend that an excessive focus on the individual results in an unhealthy atomization and tends to loosen and even undo the ties that bind society together. The idea of treating people as individuals is certainly central to the project of Enlightenment liberalism, and functions powerfully in much of the nation’s jurisprudence.

But it is an idea, not a commandment handed down from on high, and as such it deserves to be studied, not worshipped. The authors of House Bill 2281 don’t want students to learn about the ethic of treating people equally; they want them to believe in it (as you might believe in the resurrection), and therefore to believe, as they do, that those who interrogate it and show how it has sometimes been invoked in the service of nefarious purposes must be banished from public education.

The moral is simple: you don’t cure (what I consider) the virus of a politicized classroom by politicizing it in a different direction, even if that direction corresponds to the notions of civic virtue that animate much of our national rhetoric. The political scientist James Bernard Murphy has been arguing for years that teaching civic virtue is not an appropriate academic activity, both because schools are not equipped to do it and because the effort undermines the true function of education — “enthusiasm for the pursuit of knowledge” — and even corrupts it. Teaching students either to love or criticize their nation, Murphy wrote in The Times in 2002, “has all too often prompted textbook authors and teachers to falsify, distort and sanitize history and social studies.”

Lots of evidence of that in Arizona on all sides of the dispute. Teach ethnic studies by all means, but lay off the recruiting and proselytizing; for if you don’t you merely put a weapon in the hands of ignorant and grandstanding state legislators who, as the example of Arizona shows, will always be eager to use it."

I always prefer to go to the actual text of controversial legislation, to see for myself, and I will address the specifics of the law here. From page 2, line 5, immediately under "15-111 Declarations of policy" THE LEGISLATURE FINDS AND DECLARES THAT PUBLIC SCHOOL PUPILS SHOULD BE TAUGHT TO TREAT AND VALUE EACH OTHER AS INDIVIDUALS AND NOT BE TAUGHT TO RESENT OR HATE OTHER RACES OR CLASSES OF PEOPLE.

Really? Now I agree that it is not appropriate for a public school to teach hatred for others, including groups which might be unpopular -- say for example, Muslim Americans, or illegal immigrants. But in view of the mood on the right in Arizona towards their border issues and crime problems, this strikes me as a bit of pot calling kettle black.


I looked at the educational philosophy being targeted, "Teaching for Social Justice", and the Marxist Brazilian educator who is central to it. I don't run away screaming at the word Marxist; but neither do I embrace Marxism. My own education included an objective and critical look at it. Marxism is not illegal in this country, nor is communism, or socialism, although it is unpopular in many quarters. But it is not fundamentally anti-American, or bent on the overthrow of the United States government, or any state or local government within the United States. I looked at the web site for the Tucson Unified School District, and frankly it just wasn't all that different from any other school district in this country. It stresses the same ideas of courtesy, individual achievement and excellence as you will find anywhere else. The Brazilian educator, associated with "Teaching for Social Justice" is addressed by Stein at greater length than I will go into here.

The essential point is that there is NO teaching taking place so far as I can find, or that anyone else can find apparently, advocating the overthrow of the United States government. This is an unnecessary law. We have laws addressing advocating the overthrow of government, federal laws. If we follow the logic of including this, giving it priority in the list no less, then we cannot in fairness teach the writings of the figures quoted above - Machiavelli, Rochefoucauld, Lincoln, or many others, if you take these authors from the past, and consider applying their thoughts to our modern world. But that does not appear to be the intent of this law; this law is intended far more specifically to enable a few individuals to go after other people with whom they disagree, allowing them to impose their views on others. This state law addresses elective classes, not graduation requirement material, and over-reaches what should be the local school districts determinations as reflected in the decisions of the elected school board and the school districts employees. This is NOT smaller government, less intrusive government.

As to number 2, promoting resentment towards a race or class of people........I did come across a number of references to a guest speaker saying "Republicans hate Latinos." It was a personal opinion, protected by First Amendment freedom of speech, it was not part of the formal curriculum, and it is not a justification for a state law. While it is a very partisan opinion, one to which I can appreciate Republicans might object, even if it represented a pattern of the exercise of free speech, it is not a matter for state intervention; it is a matter for the residents of the school district. There are better ways of dealing with this as an issue, including news coverage, assemblies, rallies, and other interaction between the community and the school district, and between the rest of the state and the community. We need to ask the supporters of this law if the still value our first amendment, or not.

Number 3, line 14, addresses classes "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group", but if has the glaring fault of failing to define how this is to be determined. I would imagine this makes the law too vague to be enforced, given that I could not find any classes in this district which restricted enrollment on the basis of race or ethnicity; classes are open to all academically qualified students.

And number 4, the line which addresses ethnic solidarity. Again, the law consists in this regard of the single brief line. There is no definition of what constitutes teaching 'solidarity' or teaching against 'individuality'. There is no evidence of how ethnic solidarity is remotely damaging. I don't see how they can construe the one, 'individuality', as contrary to the other, 'ethnic solidarity'. Is it ethnic solidarity, for example, when an ethnic group has a Cinco de Mayo celebration, or observes Sytten de Mai, or Saint Patrick's Day, Guy Fawkes, or some other event? (I celebrate a very eclectic calendar of holidays.) Even the United Nations came out against this aspect of the law, something I don't recall seeing before in response to state legislation, noting that all people have a right to learn about their linguistic and cultural heritage. Without defining what constitutes ethnic solidarity, without defining how to identify and measure a failure to teach the importance of individuality, this law is again, profoundly flawed.

The Tucson Unified School District makes it very clear they promote individuality. If they are correct, then it doesn't matter if this law comes into effect on December 31, 2010, or next Tuesday. Given the severe flaws inherent in its very concepts, the moment there is an attempt to enforce it, particularly applying the financial penalties that are included in this section of the law, there will be challenges in court, challenges I would not expect this law to withstand. What the very nature of such a poorly conceived law entails is to increase the contentiousness of the situation while attempting to expand inappropriately the reach of government to allow the views of a few at the state level to over-ride the views of local citizens. That is not freedom; that is not patriotism; that is tyranny. We should be most wary of tyranny when it is cloaked in claims of liberty, and patriotism.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Time to Put People First, Part 2

(This was reposted by Dog Gone - thanks DG - on my behalf) - Penigma

by Penigma...

Since 1981, incomes for the upper 5% of the nation have quadrupled.

Since 1975, incomes for the middle class have NOT been part of the "rising tide lifting all boats". They've either fallen slightly, or risen slightly, or even fallen sharply, depending upon how you measure.

Productivity has increased 50 PERCENT!

Increased production and a highly cash-rich upper class could have, should have led to a 'trickle' down, according to supply-side economic theory.

So, why didn't the incomes of the middle-class go up?

We have larger homes, but our parents had color TV's and refrigeration, new labor saving appliances, standard vacations and pensions, Social Security and cars, and there were more single income families. We are now in the computer age, but our parents got jet travel, interstate highway systems, nuclear power, and went to the moon winning the 'space race'.

The real measurement of the success of economic theory and taxation philosophy HAS to be income. It must include leisure time / total time worked to achieve that income, to have any fair measurement of the 'good jobs' we were all promised by the trickle down economic theory and tax philosophy.

Some statistics from the 1950's tell the story (courtesy

If you have $100 Converted from 1950 to 2005 it would be equivalent to $835.41 today
In 1950 a new house cost $8,450.00 and by 1959 was $12,400.00
In 1950 the average income per year was $3,210.00 and by 1959 was $5,010.00
In 1950 a gallon of gas was 18 cents and by 1959 was 25 cents
In 1950 the average cost of new car was $1,510.00 and by 1959 was $2,200.00

What this means is that since 1950 we've seen roughly 830% inflation, an 8 fold increase, in the value of dollars. Average income in 2005 is more than 8 times the 3200, but less than 8 times 5,000.00 (average income is $28k - roughly).

The average car costs $27,700 now, MUCH more than eight times the $1,500 it cost in 1950, and much more than eight times $2,200. Meaning, while we have more cars, they also consume far more of our incomes. It isn't that cars are cheaper, and much more affordable; anything but.

The same for homes, the average house is WAY over $70,000 (8 times $8450). By 2005, a new home cost $180k. So it's not that housing is cheaper, it is that we spend far more of our income, go far deeper into debt. Yes, homes are larger, but we also borrow far more. I don't believe it is the people are less or more responsible, people borrow what they can and are generally allowed to borrow, but an income of $5010 wouldn't allowed someone to buy a $25,000 house in 1959, yet an income of $40,000 in 2005 DID somehow qualifiy someone to buy a home of $180k.

The simple answer is this, money at the top end was happy enough to lend, and earn interest on loans which 45 years earlier would never have been written. The speculation was driven by ever increasing expectations of return.

Accumulation of wealth at the top-end drove changes in lending practices and encouraged and supported the movement of money upward through bigger houses and bigger loans. We don't LIVE better, we BORROW more and the wealthiest are damned glad of it. That doesn't make them evil, far from it, it makes them human. They want to accumulate wealth like all of the rest of us.

But it does do one other thing, it explodes the myth that they are ready and happy to give it out as pay to US workers in US factories if they simply get to keep more of it.

If they get to keep more of profits then they WANT TO KEEP MORE OF PROFITS. They want to employ cheap labor overseas while getting US workers to borrow more so that they can again KEEP MORE of the overall wealth. It's frankly just that simple. We do not live better today, we have bigger homes and another car, but our fathers and grandfathers had better overall incomes (against costs) than we do, despite the fact that we're more productive AND that taxes are at their lowest in 60 years.

In fact, since 1981, we've changed the way we measure unemployment, no longer counting those who simply give up looking, but who are still unemployed. If we had measured that as we had during the 1970's, a time when many conservatives complain about high unemployment, high inflation and interest rates, our unemployment figures in the middle 80's - and now - would be STARKLY higher. We might be at 15% unemployment right now, certainly we'd be at 12%. This despite having a decade of perpetual tax cuts, including even steeper tax cuts for the uber-rich and on capital gains. The vast majority of dollars areno longer paid in taxes going to that same upper 5%.

What we HAVE seen, however, is that same 5%, when they DO invest, invest off-shore, building factories and creating 'jobs' in places where they can obtain effective slave wage rates. They HAVE invested in highly speculative things like the default swap bond market. They HAVE sought to bring down barriers like Glass-Steagal. We have seen the effects, high energy prices due to spot market speculators, huge profits by oil and drug companies, but not vast numbers of new jobs in the US.

It has been US wealth building factories in China or India, and US consumption of the "discount produced but still sold at a premium products" filling the accounts of the new uber-rich elite, the new Carnegies and Hearsts. We have seen this slowly, inexorably weaken the middle class. We have seen college become a cost so steep that most parents will never pay off the debt. We have seen union pay go the way of the dinosaur, benefits become mocked by calling companies who provide them things like "Generous Motors" - though their Japanese counter-parts provide similar benefits. This exposure to free or nearly free labor has destroyed our economy and our ability to pay for government. All of the supposed investment in factories on-shore, never materialized.

No, the only real period of investment in the US was the middle-90's, when the Internet/Silicon Valley boom reinvigorated the labor pool, with higher technology sector wages driving up wages nation-wide. And you know what happened??? That investment also resulted in more tax revenue, higher property values, and federal budget surplus.

Investment on-shore wasn't dependent upon upward "gifting", nor did it rely upon the unbelievably asinine idea that people's nature is to give money away once they've acquired it. It simply rested upon what has always been true. When consumer spending increases the economy does MUCH better and THAT spending relied upon people, investors, municipalities etc.. deciding that a sector of the economy really could provide sustainable growth and jobs. To do that, there had to be a belief that DEMAND not supply, would exist. Building supply without demand is the province of fools, and no one does it, nor did anyone during the 80's or the 90's. There also was more than enough money to create those jobs, despite large tax increases by GHW Bush and Clinton.

The upshot of all of this is, is that tax cuts aren't "job creators" any more than tax increases are "job killers." Companies seek out skilled labor at the cheapest possible cost. Normally areas with low taxes have historically also had low amounts of skilled labor, because their educational systems and infrastructure were substandard.

If we want to see our nation do well, we must accept that we cannot simply shift all of the wealth upward. It does NOT trickle down, it does not create supply - simply for that supply to go un-purchased. It does not create production unless there is a real market, and it surely doesn't do so if veritable slave labor can be found elsewhere.

We have engaged on a 30 year race to the bottom since 1981, reducing the value of labor, killing off benefits, jobs, arts programs, schools, virtually everything that a well-invigorated labor sector used to support.

We can continue to put capitalism first, but if we do, we will be putting people last.

We can continue to put the wealthiest of us ahead of the interests of the country and a sustainable democracy, and we will continue to see flat wages and rising costs AND declining standards of living.

We must, we HAVE to recognize that lowering taxes didn't work, nor did giving the money to people who only took it offshore, instead we must put the interest of the average American first and we must require business to invest on shore, and in our own people rather than those they can pay $5/day. To do otherwise is to kill the now sickly golden goose, to do otherwise is to abandon our country, to say the hell with patriotism, it is ME first, last and always.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

It's Time to Put People First, Part 1

Almost 30 years ago, Reagan took the Presidential oath. I remember the day after his election like it was yesterday.

Mr. Lauritzen, the "cool" U.S. history teacher, came to class with a new, much shorter hair-cut. He had gotten his hair cut to fit in with the new mindset in the country. The recognition by academia of the sea-change sat well with my upper middle class classmates; not so much with me.

My father, a Republican-turned-liberal, reacted to Reagan's election differently. Always politically savvy, he'd predicted Reagan's landslide, and the subsequent course of Reagan's Presidency. He said Reagan's inaugural claim, to be able to balance the budget while spending vastly more on defense, was simply impossible; the debt would explode. The national debt quadrupled during Reagan's eight years.

My father predicted Reagan's squabbles with Paul Volker, the Federal Reserve Chairman who killed inflation, caused a recession, but rescued the country from "malaise." He predicted the destruction of not only EPA's ability to regulate because of the cozy, symbiotic private-public-private revolving door between private companies and regulatory agencies,but that such relationships would render oversight, including oversight of oil drilling, effectively nul.

My father understood supply-side economics was a farce, a useless, horribly ineffective economic model which was not designed to stimulate the economy, but rather to put the tax code back sixty years - back to the gilded age, back prior to the Great Depression. My father understood the reason for 70% or 90% tax rates on high income was NOT to confiscate wealth, but rather to prevent the accumulation of vast fortunes in the first place.

We had seen the impact of that kind of economy. We had seen 80% of people lived paycheck to paycheck, where the upper tier of the lower class (defined by means standards) were barely able to survive working 80 hours per week. Children worked beside parents, who were both employed full time. That U.S. was a mostly agrarian nation with inefficiencies of production. There were a wealthy few: Rockefellers, Morgans, Hearsts, Roosevelts, and Carnegies. People who lived in huge mansions, attended by staffs of servants. We were also a nation of smaller but still substantial Victorian homes, but only for a very small middle class.

After the Great Depression, this country recognized bankers had risked locally saved money on the stock market, in speculative, highly leveraged margin-based buys. Investors lost the fortunes of not just the middle-class and the poor, but also of the highly affluent, resulting in shuttering factories, destroying lives, towns, homes, and futures. The nation responded, "never again" after the revelations of reckless financial misadventure revealed in the 1932-34 Pecora Commission hearings.

In response to the lessons learned, barriers, like Glass-Steagal, and like 90% tax rates on incomes above $3M were put in place. Not because anyone hated the rich, not because they wanted to confiscate money or "redistribute the wealth." They understood what harm came from over-concentration of wealth in the hands of a few powerful men and a very few women. They understood making it harder for the owners of industry to personally accumulate wealth would result in owners instead investing their profits in production lines, in better pay for their workers, and NOT in worrying quite so much about stock price as the end-all, be-all measure of a robust working economy.

We enacted barriers between investment and banking to protect banks from profit competition with Wall Street, and Wall Street from having to provide security like a bank, but also to offer local investment money locally. We started Fannie Mae to ensure a secondary sales market would exist for home loans, and started FHA and VA after WWII to ensure funds would exist to offer those loans.

We enacted income taxes on corporations at rates unheard of, undreamed of, during the "Roaring 20's." Tax rates which would bring about claims of "Communism" if they were tried today, or worse yet, cries of "Job Killers!" After all of these sweeping, broad and mostly egalitarian changes, the nation lived at it's highest level of productivity and prosperity. We had high employment, high home ownership, and a high standard of living. Companies stayed in business, people enjoyed more free time and job security. There was a shorter distance between the lower class and the middle class, and a MUCH shorter distance between the middle class and the upper class.

That was not against paying the bright and gifted well, they WERE paid well. There WERE millionaires, there just weren't many BILLIONAIRES. Companies put money into pension funds. Not everything was idyllic, but we were more thoughtful, better educated, and more forward-looking, living better, enjoying life more, than at any other time in our history.

We were in part the recipients of good fortune that our economy hadn't been wrecked by WWII. We had gone into WWII with 50% of the world's productive capacity, and ended with 75%, as much of the European and Japanese production capability was destroyed. This lead to the easy life of the 1950's and 1960's, but by 1965, W.E. Demming had been to Japan. The Japanese had begun to compete with us.. but we still had jobs, productivity here in the US was very strong, and we were generally doing well. The lack of U.S. mega-rich billionaires was not the catalyst for Japanese competitive success. Our tax rates didn't disable us and enable the Japanese, our barriers between banks and the stock market didn't make it so that WE couldn't invest while our competitors, like Taiwan, or Japan, or France could.

The primary complaint of conservatives was our 'socialist' tendencies would lead us into a Communist style take-over, not into financial ruin, not a failure to compete. They didn't complain about a lack of good jobs, nor did they complain about "job-killing" proposals. Reagan, in "The Speech" in his 1964 run for the California Governor's seat, evoked images of rampant socialism. Reagan in the cold war era stoked and painted fears of Communism taking over the country. Reagan minimally objected to unfairness in social programs like Medicare or Social Security, for good reason. The mood of the country wasn't it was "unfair" to keep the elderly from starving or the poor from being homeless so that the rich could instead be super rich.

Fast forward, 1964 to 1981. In 1981 and 1982 Reagan and a conservative majority in congress enacted steep tax cuts for the rich. Marginal tax rate for the highest incomes dropped from 70% to 36%, then 33%, then rose again in the face of alarmingly rising deficits.

The Republican majority enacted cuts and loop-holes for industry. Taxes on the middle-class were cut initially, but then increased in 1987 to pay for a significant increase for Social Security. The increase was forced on Reagan by Claude R. Pepper, powerful southern Senator from Florida, the leading voice for the elderly in Congress. Reagan was advised by idealistic wunderkind David Stockman "supply-side" or "trickle-down" economics they had relied on for success had NOT been effective.

The nation engaged in VAST spending, gorging itself on debt and real-estate speculation. When the credit-driven element of the economy was factored out, what was seen was that factories were closing instead of being built by "supply-side" money. The money being amassed by the wealthy were instead invested in real-estate speculation. In the late 80's, the real-estate market crashed. The Savings and Loans after lobbying a friendly Congress to remove S&L limits on types of loans they could offer, followed real-estate down the rat-hole of economic collapse. The same collapse in S&L's occurred in the 1980's that we are seeing today in banks, for much the same reasons.

Real-estate was artificially inflated by too much money chasing too few good property. This included investment from newly affluent Japan. The collapse of the S&L's (iirc) resulted in the shut down of almost 80% of the S&L's amid scandal. It resulted in a "bail-out" by Reagan and then GWHBush, through a 1930's era solution, an RTC (Resolution Trust Corporation). They relied on the "big gov'mint" fix to purchase "toxic assets", then liquidating them once they stabilized and a real value was established.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I Take It Desert Is Out of the Question…

I read the article concerning the most recent “developments” in the continuing MN budget shortfall saga. One reader's comments posed the analogy of a group of people going out to dinner and getting a bill that’s larger than they expected. So instead of responding to the article, I thought I’d explore that analogy a little further from an ethics perspective to see how well it fits.

To tighten the analogy let’s say that there are twenty people went out to dinner and Adam had offered to pay. His card is rejected and on calling the bank he finds that his accounts were wiped out by his wife who has since fled the country. He has enough cash for himself and one other person which he pledges towards the bill.

Here are some of the first questions that come to mind: Is Adam telling the truth? How well did he really know his wife? Did he contribute to her actions by mistreating her in some way? If not, could he have prevented it from happening if he had been more diligent as a husband, or just more observant to her behavior? Is there a chance that she may come back? If not, will she ever be found and brought to justice? If she is, will any of the money be returned?

All of these questions have at least one thing in common. They do absolutely nothing to help resolve the issue at hand, which is the bill. Everyone was party to the meal and consumed the meal, so the restaurant is within their right to hold each individual legally responsible for the entire bill.

At this point, all talk of “fair” is out the window. The situation is not fair or just because an injustice (whether through happenstance or by design) has transpired. Any argument that a certain solution should be rejected on the grounds that it is not just is invalid because it uses reasoning that would result in the rejection of all possible solutions.

It is not fair for everyone at the table to immediately look at the wealthiest member of the table, but I guarantee that is the first thing that will happen. It would be very fortunate for everyone involved if one person could immediately solve the problem in one fell swoop by simply agreeing to pay the entire tab and ask for everyone else to simply contribute whatever they can when they can. If one person is well within their means to do this, there will be great resentment in their refusal to help. Whether or not the resentment is merited (the merit will be based on the perception of their worth, not their actual worth) will have little bearing on its existence.

However resentment will also serve no purpose to resolve the issue. The inevitable discussion will focus on the distribution of the tab. It would be simple enough to have everyone pay for what they got. But in this particular instance, the food was brought on platters to be shared by everyone. The discussion then falls to distributing the bill evenly among everyone. This solution will be more of a burden on those who did not take as much food as others, and some may argue that since they took less they should held accountable for a smaller portion of the bill. They have a good case for this, but ultimately this argument does not have any legal bearing, since all are individually liable for the party as a whole. Someone who took nothing will have a good argument for abstaining, but the common perception will be that the table needs to resolve the issue as a community. The perception of those who argue against contributing can reasonably expect a lower opinion from the others regardless of whether or not such opinion is merited.

Even if everyone is to agree on splitting the tab equally, there are two ways to do it. If the total of the bill is equally shared the problem will be solved, but the solution will be a greater burden to those who are less fortunate and a minimal burden to those that are more fortunate. For the burden of the bill to be equally shared, each would need to contribute an equal percentage of their worth. If everyone is open and honest, this is easily resolved. However the probability of 20 random people being completely honest is low enough for each person to reasonably assume dishonesty at the table. This means that even if everyone at the table is dishonest, the perception of dishonest will prevent a flawless process of assigning burden. The burden would then be distributed based on perceived value rather than actual value.

The moral of the allegory appears to be that it is more strategically advantageous for one to understate their worth rather than to overstate their worth. But my point was to demonstrate the risks of the process. Everyone is going to do what they can to mitigate their personal burden of the solution. Those that are well off will run of the risk of alienating themselves from the majority of the community if they over-mitigate themselves. However if those who are less-fortunate are going to distribute the burden to the wealthy they need to consider whether they can expect those parties to return to the table next time the next time they gather.

Lieberman's Folly

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Amendment XIV, Constitution of the United States

This amendment, enacted after the civil war, sets the standards for citizenship in the United States. It has been used, over the years, to also extend many of the protections found in the Bill of Rights to state criminal proceedings, such important protections as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, protection from illegal search and seizure, etc. Many people today, however, only focus on the last part of this clause, forgetting about the first part, which defines citizenship in our great country.

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof..." means exactly what it says. If a person is born on US soil, regardless of their parentage, they are a US Citizen. Recently, Sen. Joe Lieberman, (Republican in all but name- Connecticut) introduced a bill which would amend 8 USC 1481 and add providing material support for any organization which is on the Secretary of State's terrorism list as grounds to revoke citizenship.

In Osborn v. Bank of the United States, 9 Wheaton 738 (1824) Chief Justice Marshall, held in dicta that "[The naturalized citizen] becomes a member of the society, possessing all the rights of a native citizen, and standing, in the view of the constitution, on the footing of a native. The constitution does not authorize Congress to enlarge or abridge those rights. The simple power of the national Legislature, is to prescribe a uniform rule of naturalization, and the exercise of this power exhausts it, so far as respects the individual." at 827. The history of citizenship in the US was then discussed in great detail in Afroyim v. Rusk 387 US 253 (1967)

Rather than force the reader to read this case, let's summarize. From the founding of the Republic it was widely accepted that Congress had the right to determine the qualifications for citizenship. As early as 1794, many members of Congress held the English common-law doctrine that provided for perpetual allegiance and many doubted that a person could in fact renounce citizenship. A bill that would have allowed a US Citizen to state before a magistrate that he was renouncing citizenship and then departing the country was defeated in Congress in 1794 and in 1818. There the matter stayed until the 14th Amendment which was ratified in 1868. There it was established that all persons born in the United States were citizens. Congress, in the Nationality Act of 1940, established naturalization procedures and requirements for naturalization. It set a number of ways in which a person could lose one's citizenship as well, including voting in a foreign election, etc. Most if not all of those ways, except for express renunciation of citizenship, have been found to be unconstitutional. The essential rule of the Court announced in Afroyim was that a person cannot be deprived of citizenship without his/her express act renouncing such status.

Senator Lieberman is an attorney, having a law degree from Yale. As a graduate of one of the top law schools in the US, Sen. Lieberman should know better, and/or should have staff who know how to research the status of the law. The cases at point in this, Afroyim and the debate in Congress years before would have given Sen. Lieberman and his cronies a good civics lesson and show how valuable US Citizenship truly is. The supporters of this law, in a knee-jerk reaction, seem to think that by revoking someone's citizenship, they can prevent terrorist actions. That is closing the barn door after the horse has already fled. It is true that in this case, the "wanna bomber" had been naturalized for a little under a year. However, he just as easily could have been here as a lawful permanent resident, (green card) or have even been here illegally. It would not have stopped the attack. The threat of losing citizenship would have no effect whatsoever, and would not give the US any further protection against terrorism.

This bill, riddled with constitutional infirmities, a knee jerk reaction of "patriots" who obviously forgot their high school civics lessons, should be quietly filed away and forgotten, never to see the light of day.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fight Them! Kill Them! and there will be no more

This morning federal agents arrested Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized US Citizen born in Pakistan, for his part in an attempted bombing Saturday in New York's Times Square.

I'm certain we will soon hear the chorus of those who will say, "We weren't attacked while George Bush was President," ignoring Richard Reid AND the attempts in New Jersey and L.A., but my question for them would be 'since when were the lives of hundreds of Britons or Spaniards worth LESS than lives here?' Since when does the fact that attacks didn't primarily kill Americans make everything OK? (Please remember that dozens of Americans - for example - died in the Bali bombing).

However, my response to this kind of idiocy is simply this. I thought we were fighting them "there" to keep from having to fight them "here." I though, especially since we were told Iraq was the central front in the Greater War on Terror, and that we had "won" (both of which were BS) - but anyway, I thought, in the minds of neo-conservatives, that we wouldn't face these kinds of attacks any longer. I thought George Bush's vast successes included winning Iraq and by it, killing off the terrorists until there weren't 'no more.' Apparently not, apparently he and they were wrong, nearly dead wrong.

The point is, it was a lie to say we were in Iraq to fight them "there." People with any level of expertise and honesty understood that terrorists are born of many reasons. They may be zealots who firmly believe in Wahabism or Catholicism or even anti-tax/anti-abortion insanity. They may be the family members of those killed by errant bombs OR as may have been the case here, they may be sympathetic, deluded souls who think our attacks in Pakistan killing Taliban leaders and/or which inadvertently kill innocent civilians are unacceptable. The point is, we can't "kill off" terrorism, nor was there any validity to the idea that we were "engaging" ALL of the terrorists (or any significant number) in either Iraq or Pakistan. There are and were PLENTY to go around, most importantly because they are motivated by different things, and new ones are motivated by new things all the time, such as the killing of the Pakistani Taliban leader.

The end result simply is this, terrorism is only truly fought by de-legitimizing the message of the terrorists themselves. You can't "kill it", you can't "fight" in the streets. You will never run out of opponents, and killing a tactic is impossible anyway. Obama has in no way slackened the effort, in fact he's probably more aggressively engaged the Taliban than at any point since 2001, and the consequence is terrorism - and it is a price we are likely to continue to have to pay. So before anyone belly-aches about faux prevention by one President while ignoring the failure to prevent fighting "here" or there, let's remember that the enemy is implacable and irrepressible as long as we do not have a good and logical counter to their chaos. If we help to sustain a stable government in Pakistan, if we stop occupying Afghanistan as much as we are helping to end corruption, we will find ourselves a much more welcome sight, and our own wacko citizenry probably will only try to bomb us for asking them to pay for governmental services, rather than because we killed other terrorists (as was apparently this man's cause).

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Drill, Baby, Drill; Spill, Baby, Spill; Burn, Baby, Burn; Now......................... Plot, Baby, Plot?

“The complete lack of evidence is the surest sign that the conspiracy is working.”
- author unknown

"“In fact, one thing that I have noticed . . . is that all of these conspiracy theories depend on the perpetrators being endlessly clever. I think you'll find the facts also work if you assume everyone is endlessly stupid.”
- author unknown

"The popularity of conspiracy theories is explained by people's desire to believe that there is - some group of folks who know what they're doing”
- Damon Knight
American Science Fiction Author, Editor, Critic and Fan
1922 - 2002

“Many journalists have fallen for the conspiracy theory of government. I do assure you that they would produce more accurate work if they adhered to the cock-up theory.”
-Sir Bernard Ingham
Chief Press Secretary to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and
prominent opponent to wind energy

Sarah Palin promoted the slogan "Drill, Baby, Drill!" during her 2008 Vice Presidential campaign as the Republican candidate. In April 2010, President Barack Obama came out in favor of off-shore drilling, reversing his earlier more pro-alternative and renewable energy / pro-environmental concerns position.

On April 20, 2010, two days before Earth Day, the Gulf of Mexico oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded, and subsequently sank into the gulf, killing 11. It appears likely to be one of the largest oil spills in history. Atttempts to control the volume of oil include controlled burning. President Obama now appears to be at least temporarily returning to his original more cautious position on off-shore drilling. Proponents of the practice, including Sarah Palin, have for the moment gone relatively silent.

Meanwhile, the conspiracy theorists on the political Right have gone out of their ever-loving minds; the further to the right, the crazier the conspiracies they promote while trying to politicize the disaster. I will provide the highlights of these conspiracy theories, but first...

A little background on Earth Day; Earth Day is a core part of at least some of these conspiracies, so a brief overview is germane. Back in 1970, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, came up with the idea for a nation-wide environmental "teach-in" day in response to widespread environmental degradation. His proposal achieved an unexpected success, participation by an estimated 20 million people back in 1970. The celebration of Earth Day has spread to some 175 countries, and 500 million people. It is, in other words, no longer an event unique to the United States. Senator Nelson had the bright idea for this annual event, in part to emulate the college and university 'teach-ins' held in response to the Viet Nam war; and in part as a response to witnessing as a senator the damage done by an oil spill in 1969, near Santa Barbara, California and the lack of a government response.

Ah, history! The more things change, the more some things stay the same...just variations.

One of the key pieces of misinformation in some but not all of these conspiracy theories is the ignorance of the correct meaning of the acronym "SWAT". In the context of the oil rig explosion, it refers NOT to "Special Weapons and Tactics Teams, the type of law enforcement special ops personnel, garbed in bullet proof black clothing, bristling with sexy weapons and lethal skills. It refers to the personnel of the Minerals Management Service, the branch of the Department of the Interior responsible, among other things, for the management of safety and the environment in drilling for oil and natural gas on the federal Outer Continental shelf. The Federal Continental Shelf includes an area off the coast of the eastern United States covered by the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico off the southern United States, a large area under the Pacific Ocean off the western United States, an area around Alaska including land covered by the Gulf of Alaska, the Bering Sea, the Chukchi Sea, and the Beaufort Sea (sorry, but I love geography). The Department of Interior SWAT teams are assigned to check the blow out valves and other safety compliance and records - not shoot anyone. They are more geeks than 'gun bunnies'.

So, lets go through some of the right wing media 'talking heads' and their notions about the oil rig explosion conspiracies. Lets start with what many might consider the biggest - Rush Limbaugh. Rush has made not one but two different sets of comments on the explosion, the SWAT teams assignment, and the coincidence of the event taking place around the time of Earth Day. Rush states the rig blew up on April 21st, the day before - as he likes to deride it -'Erf Day', as an indication that the rig explosion might have been caused by sabotage carried out by environmental extremists. Except that the explosion and fire occurred on April 20th, if that makes any difference. And Rush claims that Earth Day was started because of the Cleveland River catching on fire - not the Santa Barbara oil spill. There was a Cuyahoga river fire in 1969, the year that Senator Nelson began working on Earth Day for April 1970; and it was related to an oil slick on the river along with debris and other pollution, but it was an ongoing problem, not related to a specific 'spill'. The same river had caught on fire before - in 1868, 1883, 1887, 1912, 1922, 1936, 1941, 1948, and in 1952 -- the 1952 fire was more extensive and costly than the 1969 conflagration. So while the river catching on fire did draw attention to the polluted state of the river, which in turn influenced federal clean water legislation in 1972, this was not a new experience for Cleveland, but rather more of a chronic problem that flared up from time to time - pardon the pun.

But we're talking here about Rush, so we can hardly expect a high threshold of fact to be characterize his rant. Rush goes on to claim that the rescheduling of cap and trade legislation is a red flag signalling that the environmentalists who opposed this kind of drilling because it was more dangerous than proponents advocating it would admit (and who were correct, as it turns out) also were in opposition to nuclear power proposals from President Obama. So Rush finds it plausible to float to his audience that this might be sabotage, instead of an accident. That environmentalist wackos would some how sneak onto an oil rig 42 miles out in the ocean - undetected; blow it up - remaining unscathed, where others were injured or killed; escape - again undetected; all with the intention of causing exactly the kind of damage they oppose. Lets us not forget, without taking credit for their sabotage, and skipping the opportunity to make their point clearly. This conspiracy has more holes in it than the Deepwater Horizon has oil leaks!

A more fact based cause and effect theory can be traced to more recent developments than the '69 river fire and earth day eco-commandos. Under the Bush administration, dating back just to 2003. Oil companies doing off-shore drilling were exempted from the requirements for additional safety measures that these same companies, like BP, are required to have in place by an overwhelming majority, virtually ALL, other countries in the world which have ocean drilling for oil. Experts indicate that had this equipment been in place this explosive fire and spill, and resulting complications would have been avoided.

According to a 2007 study by the Minerals Management Service, there were 39 rig blowouts in the Gulf of Mexico between 1992 - 2006, which suggests that while the explosion of the BP Deepwater Horizon rig, one of the largest ever constructed, is a bigger event than the others, it is far less rare than most of us were aware --- another important factual omission from Rush Limbaugh, as he insists we can do this kind of drilling safely.

By omission, I don't mean that Rush Limbaugh is deliberately withholding the information; I mean the man is profoundly ignorant, and doesn't care that he is inaccurate or uninformed. At least, he doesn't care enough to inform himself or his listeners with any information that doesn't suit his predetermined position.

Another little factoid that Rush either doesn't know or doesn't care about is that Haliburton, you know, that company that Cheney was CEO of from 1995 - 2000, was the company servicing the Deepwater Horizon, performing a job called 'cementing' that is connected to the probable cause of the explosion -------- along with 18 other instances of those 39 rig blowouts addressed in the 2007 Minerals Management Service study. But that doesn't make for a Rush approved conspiracy theory, so it is unknown or omitted, just like he omitted the information that BP did not prepare for anything resembling a major spill, in the arrogance that it simply couldn't and wouldn't happen.

Rush then goes on to quote his 'official climatologist, Dr. Roy Spencer' who according to Rush claims that the Gulf of Mexico and similar oceanic bodies of water simply take this in stride, oil leaks along the ocean floor all the time, and in Rush's words "the ocean's pretty tough, it just eats it up." Intelligent design proponent Dr. Spencer, affilardiated with the University of Alabama at Huntsville, may have to eat his words, which could be a good alternative to eating seafood out of the Gulf of Mexico any time soon, or for a long time to come. Huntsville is quite a ways inland, but it is looking as if all of the Gulf states will be affected, from Texas eastw to the gulf coast of Florida.

Limbaugh goes on to state that the oil spill from the Exxon Valdez in Prince William sound is all cleaned up - in Limbaugh's words, because "They were wiping off the rocks with Dawn dishwater detergent and paper towels and so forth. The place is pristine now." Except that it is not - but Rush doesn't want any legitimate opposition to the perils of drilling, so he leaves out those annoying facts, AGAIN.

The Exxon Valdez accident occurred in part because of Exxon being cheap - the ship was single hulled instead of double hulled, the captain was a drunk, the crew involved with piloting the ship were inadequately trained and had not had the mandated safety measure time off to rest, and equipment was in poor repair including a crucial Raycas radar system, among other factors.

According to the NOAA study in 2007, more than 26,000 gallons of crude oil remain in the contaminated shoreline, and is only declining at the rate of 4% per year -- far from the land or water 'eating it up'. Twenty years after the event, a number of studies show the area is still ecologically and economically devastated, and the effects of the spill are lasting far far longer than anticipated - by Exxon. Salmon and herring and other fishing industries have yet to recover from the damage, and tourism and sports industries are are still adversely affected, and a native American corporation, intended to help the various Eskimo groups had to file chapter 11 bankruptcy. There were even multiple suicides in the area attributed to problems from the spill. Not what anyone with a factually based reality could call 'pristine' in terms of clean up of that oil spill. But that's what you get when you listen or watch ol' Rush Limbaugh, much like the skewed information that comes from Fox News. Follow Rush here for yourself:

Much of this information about the Exxon Valdez spill after-effects, incidentally, comes from studies done by the state of Alaska, home of "drill, baby, drill" it's- all-safe Sarah Palin, who as governor of the state that did all of these studies should know better than most how UN-safe some of this drilling really is when an oil spill results. I would also expect that as Palin claims to have oil expertise, she would be - or SHOULD be - familiar with the largest oil spills in history, which involved larger amounts of oil, and which led to better understanding of oil spill consequences (both long term and short term) as well as triggering advances in clean up techniques. For those readers who are as unfamiliar with risks and damages from massive oil spills, I will refer you to lazy-style research, on Wikipedia: They provide a lovely graph.

And then there is my personal favorite, the conspiracy theory being promoted by right wing talking heads like Michael Savage, the claim that it was North Korea torpedoing the BP Deepwater Horizon. Some versions have this as an attack by North Korea on the United States for --- fill in the blank reasons. Other versions claim that because the South Korea industrial giant Hyundai corporation built the rig, that this was actually an attempt by North Korea to attack South Korea. It is rumored that South Korea / Hyundai is already contracted to build more of these rigs, so I'm unclear as to how giving them even MORE business, building a replacement rig, is a damaging attack; but heck, this is conspiracy theory thinking, not logic.

We have another right wing talking head, Alex Jones, who is promoting the conspiracy that the 'accident' is actually an intentional attempt to make oil more scarce so that oil speculation will be profitable again, and working in the 'one world government' paranoia angle.

Then we have Mark Levin, who helped Betsy McCaughey promote the death panel hysteria before Palin made it popular, who is positing that the oil rig was really blown up by terrorists, until he gets a caller who has a different convoluted theory - all very technobabble, which appeals to conspiracy fans - to explain what really happened. Geeze, I guess we don't need to wait for that investigation - talk radio has an unverified, unconfirmed CALLER to tell us all we really need to know.

I could go on with talking heads, pundits, and correlate all of the "internets" right wing conspiracy theories. As the oil spill spreads, I'm sure the theories will grow along with it, providing at least a few laughs for the rest of us sane people during this crisis. A few facts go a long way to 'explode' the conspiracies.