On Hole Cards, Or, “Drill, Baby, Drill”? Why? Is Canada Out Of Sand?

In America, today, there are three kinds of drivers: those who look at the other gas pumps down at the ol’ gas station and think: “Oh my God, I can’t believe how much that guy’s spending on gas”, those who look at their own pump down at the ol’ gas station and think: “Oh my God, I can’t believe how much I’m spending on gas” – and those who are doing both at the same time.

Naturally, this has brought the Sarah Palins of the world back out in public, and once again the mantra of “Drill, Baby, Drill” can be heard all the way from the Florida coast to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But what if those folks have it exactly backwards?

What if, in a world of depleting oil resources, the last thing you want to do is use yours up?

To put it another way: why isn’t all our oil part of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?

Consider the inexorable logic of the Big Lie. If a man has a consuming love for cats and dedicates himself to the protection of cats, you have only to accuse him of killing and mistreating cats. Your lie will have the unmistakable ring of truth, whereas his outraged denials will reek of falsehood and evasion.

–From the book Ghost of Chance, by William S. Burroughs

So here’s the thing: we produce a surprising amount of our own oil right here in the USA (in fact, we’re the world’s third-largest oil producer), but we don’t produce enough to cover our current use, and that’s why we import about half of the roughly 19 million barrels of oil we use daily. The vast majority of that is used in vehicles or for heating; almost none is used to generate electricity.

Our largest suppliers of oil, despite what you might think, are not all from the Middle East: instead, it’s Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Nigeria, and Venezuela, in that order.

(Perhaps you’re thinking: “Canada? Oil?” Yes. Canada and Oil. They provide us with more than twice as much as Saudi Arabia from huge “oil sand” resources, primarily in Alberta; the exploitation of those resources has created a huge environmental controversy.)

Now if you ask me, an ideal situation would be one where we decided to get out of the business of using oil altogether – and to help make my point, we have some helpful numbers from a guy that you pay every day to figure this stuff out: Mark Doms; he’s the Chief Economist for the US Department of Commerce, and, to paraphrase Little Feat, he’s always handy with a chart.

According to Doms, 60% of our 2010 trade deficit (about $265 billion) represents the cost of imported petroleum products, and if things continue through December as they did the first three months of this year, in 2011 every American, man, woman, and child, will pay a “tax” of about $1000 to import all that petroleum.

Do you know what we, individually, spend on gas? In March of this year, the average household spent just over $300 on that month’s gasoline; 5 months ago that number was $56 lower. The way it works out, every time gas goes up 10ยข a gallon, it costs the average household another $7 a month.

And that’s not all: less than half of the total cost of imported oil is paid at the pump: about 44% of imported oil is used by businesses; another 15% is used by governments across the USA, and that means almost 60% of the cost of imported petroleum is “folded into” the price of everything else.

(A quick author’s note: you’ve seen the words “oil” and “petroleum” used liberally in this story; the exact literal reality is that in each instance we should really be referring to “petroleum products”, and that’s because we import and export not just crude oil, but a variety of other petroleum products. I get tired of using the phrase “petroleum products” over and over, and I’m probably using “oil” and “petroleum” more interchangeably than I should.)

So get this: if we were out of the importing oil business, we’d save about $300 billion a year – and as it turns out, over a 10-year period we could actually convert the entire US auto fleet to electric cars powered by windmills by providing $15,000 cash “buy-outs” for today’s 135,000,000 gasoline cars and building the wind generation and “smart grid” we’d need to support the effort…and doing all that would cost…wait for it…about $250 billion a year.

If I get the math right, 20 years after we first started building windmills and subsidizing cars, everything would be paid off; and every year after that the US economy would generate a $300 billion “profit” on our investment – unless the price of a barrel of oil goes up. If it does, the amount of money coming back to our wallets every single year from then on, obviously, also goes up.

And if we were out of the “using oil for driving” business, once everything was paid off we could put almost $4000 a year (in today’s dollars) right back in the pocketbooks of every family in this country – which, if you ask me, represents a pretty good “tax cut”.

Let’s also keep in mind that any new oil drilled on our public lands might not necessarily end up in the US; that’s because even if oil companies were 100% free to “Drill, Baby, Drill” in our waters to their hearts’ content…they’d also be perfectly free to sell as much of that same oil, anywhere in the world, to whatever entity might end up being the highest bidder – and today, our friends in places like India and China are desperate to be that high bidder.

Put all of this together, and you get back to the question I posed at the top of the story: why in the world would we be in a hurry to “Drill, Baby, Drill”, when we could, instead, put all our efforts into getting out of oil, which would save us so much money that the conversion pays for itself?

Then, when oil’s running $400 a barrel or so, let’s use our oil to pay China back the trillion dollars we owe ’em…which, at current production rates, would only take about 400 days, assuming it were possible to divert all our production for that purpose.

To state it a bit more ironically, it may be that the smartest thing we can do right now is to conserve every possible drop of oil we have…until we don’t need it any more, and it becomes a sort of Strategic Cash Reserve that can help strengthen the dollar and reduce the national debt in the years to come, both at the same time.

Or to put it another way, the next time someone tells you they want to “Drill, Baby, Drill”…you can step right up, look them square in the eye, and ask: “Why do you hate America?”

And won’t that be fun?

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On Sunday Drinking, Or, Has Satan Been Rendered Irrelevant?

I know better than to go drinking on Sundays, but it’s just been one of those weeks, and I figured I’d grab a few beers, no big deal, and then head hone and get some real work done.

Of course, the reason I don’t drink on Sundays is because that’s when Satan likes to go hang out at my favorite bar – and to be real honest with you, lately Satan’s getting to be a real drag to hang out with once he gets drinking.

I mean, it’s depressing: he’s always talking about how he gets blamed for the economy, even though he claims he has no control over Wall Street, and atheism is a bit of a sore subject – and he’s forever complaining about how all his best customers have been outsourcing more and more work to Varsavarti.

But if you think all that’s a drag to have to deal with…you should hear him complain about Republican Presidential Politics.

They say that heaven is,

10 zillion light years away;

But if there is a God,

we need him now;

Where is your God?

That’s what my friends ask me;

and I say it’s takin’ Him so long,

’cause we’ve got so far to come.

–From the song Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away, by Stevie Wonder

I had no idea what a Tardis was until recently, except that it’s one of the things you have to hit a bunch of times to get to the really good multiballs in the “Doctor Who” pinball game, and it was Satan who told me all about this “Doctor Who” stuff over a few games in the back of the bar (and he would know: he tells me almost every BBC producer, one time or another, has availed themselves of the intercession of the Devil just to get another 12 episodes out of that network); in fact, the way I really got to know Satan was over a whole bunch of games of pinball.

He plays fair, by the way: he gives himself free replays by making the machine “match” his score at the end, but he doesn’t manipulate the gameplay just to rack up results; because of that we have some pretty competitive games, especially after he has a beer or two and really loosens up.

But once he found out I’m a blogger…oh, man, it’s Republicans this and Republicans that – and the thing that really has him upset with this crowd lately is that it’s all sort of gone out of his control.

“There was a time,” (it’s always “there was a time” with Satan) “when a guy who was in favor of private businesses being allowed to be ‘Whites Only’ who also wanted to run for Senate, much less President…well, they wouldn’t have a chance in Hell unless they made a deal with me – and now you got two of ’em in the same family who went and ran for Congress, and won, without me getting’ a single soul out of the deal, and now Ron Paul’s running for President, and it’s just killin’ me.

And look who else you got over there: you can’t do a deal with Trump, because he’ll try to bankrupt his way out of any agreement you make, and Santorum actually believes he can win without a deal. Me and Dan Savage, though, we fixed him good: Google ‘Santorum’ sometime, and see what you get.

I made a deal with Bachmann…but I did it when I thought she’d only make it to Congress…so I’m gonna get short-changed on that one. I don’t know if Pawlenti wants it bad enough to make a deal, and if he doesn’t run I’ll lose that soul. Romney hasn’t done a deal yet, and I’ve told him three times already that he can’t win without me.

Gingrich was the one I was sure I would get eventually, but he has no shame, so he’s running without my help even though I showed him how bad he looks to the rest of the world…and he’s been trying for years to undercut me by going to the Catholics to get his marriages annulled – and for cash, instead of a soul. The guy’s just pathetic, he really is.

I am negotiating with Daniels, though, so it’s not all bad – and on that deal, I might even get a ‘two-fer’: him and the wife.”

By now I’d been just nailing Daleks and I was in the middle of the three-ball multiball, and collecting Davros jackpots big-time, but even in the middle of all that I had the presence of mind to ask if Satan had any campaign tricks up his sleeve for this bunch?

“Tell me what you think about this: I’m working something up where Christine O’Donnell gets caught up in an affair with one of the candidates – but I can’t figure out who makes a better scandal: linking her romantically to Newt Gingrich…or to Michelle Bachmann?”

And I told him the truth: I was happy indeed that I hadn’t been drinking a beer when he asked, because I would have done a “spit take” for sure.

But, honestly, I’m not sure who would make the better scandal, so I’m going to do what I promised Satan I would: I’m going to throw it open to you, the readers, and we’ll see who y’all think would be the best person for Christine O’Donnell to be, shall we say, “seeing”.

Anyway, by that time I figured I better go, especially before he got all caught up in another big speech about how “Citizens United” screwed him over, or how that guy from the IMF is gonna be calling any time now, so I finished up my pint, and I headed on home to bring you this story of how the Republicans have screwed things up so badly that, for perhaps the first time in history, discord, anarchy, insanity, and ugliness aren’t business opportunities for The Horned One…and, of course, I wanted to get you the “heads up” on the Christine O’Donnell scandal that hasn’t even happened yet – which, if my friend Satan has anything to do with it, soon will.

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On Living Up To Your Words, Or, Tornado? That’s Not In The Constitution.

There are lots of big tough words coming out of our friends in the Tea Party these days, especially when it comes to the permissible functions of the Federal Government.

“If it’s not specifically enumerated in the Constitution,” they say, “It must be a function of the States-and the 10th Amendment says so!”

None are tougher in their language than those living in the States located below the old Mason-Dixon line-and by an amazing coincidence, just this weekend pretty much all of those States got a bit of a “gut check” in the form of dozens of tornados that slammed into the area.

So we’re going to put the Tea Party philosophy to the test today, and see just what exactly the Federal Government should-and should not-be doing to fulfill the Tea Party vision and to help those folks who were hit by this particular natural disaster.

“…For that was not true; his attitude was not to be explained by greed, or at any rate by greed alone, but rather by the touchiness which his great labors and their complete unsuccess had bred in him.”

–From the story The Village School Master [The Giant Mole], by Franz Kafka

Stories often begin by setting the terms of the discussion; that will be true today, and the framework for where we’ll start is Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution, which is the “unless it’s enumerated…” part of the Tea Party argument:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

To establish Post Offices and Post Roads;

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; And

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

OK…so, let’s talk about “who’s who” in this little drama (for the record, this won’t be a complete list of events or people; it’s just a sample for the purposes of discussion):

Arkansas had tornados Friday night; seven people died (five of those from winds not attributable to a tornado), and according to “The Post and Courier” of Charleston, SC, there had been three days of warnings from the National Weather Service before this particular weather event.

The paper also reports that Oklahoma, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Mississippi were hit.

North Carolina was hit with as many as 62 tornados over the weekend, with at least 22 dead.

In Virginia, Saturday, a 12-mile swath of Gloucester County was severely damaged, with a total of 5 dead in the Commonwealth.

North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi have declared a State of Emergency, so has Virginia. Oklahoma has been under one State of Emergency due to wildfires since March, a second Emergency was declared over the weekend, and Federal assistance was again requested by Governor Mary Fallin to help make things better.

To keep this to a reasonable length, we’re going to drill in on three States, and three Governors; those States are Virginia, Alabama, and Oklahoma.

Alabama’s new Governor, Robert Benchley, is one of those “enumerated powers” kind of guys, in fact, he signed The 10th Amendment Pledge; the parts which concern us here read as follows:

The phrase, “General Welfare,” in Article I, Section 8 does not authorize Congress to enact any laws it claims are in the “General Welfare” of the United States.  The phrase sets forth the requirement that all laws passed by Congress in Pursuance of the enumerated powers of the Constitution shall also be in the General Welfare of the United States…

… I do, and will continue to, oppose any and all efforts by the federal government to act beyond its Constitutional authority.

Let’s move on: the Tenth Amendment Center is proud of Oklahoma’s Mary Fallin for turning down the Federal grant to set up the State’s “Obamacare” insurance exchange (officially part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [PPACA]) on 10th Amendment grounds-and she would also want you to know that:

“…I believe, as I know many of our legislators and the majority of our citizens do, that the PPACA is unconstitutional, fatally flawed and ultimately harmful to our economy and the health of our citizens…”

And then there’s Virginia:

Gov. Bob McDonnell on Friday drew cheers from the tea party crowd as he announced support for a “Repeal Amendment” to the Constitution.

“There has been a bi-partisan trampling of that federal compact of the 10th Amendment,” said McDonnell as he spoke at the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Convention in Richmond.

A “Repeal Amendment” was proposed last month by House Speaker Del. Bill Howell, R- Fredericksburg. The amendment to the U.S. Constitution would allow a federal act to be over-turned if two-thirds of state legislatures voted against it. Such an act would sway power to state legislatures, and is a popular concept in tea party circles.

When the panel moderator asked McDonnell is he would support such an amendment, he replied “yes.”

And now it’s disaster time, and these Governors are looking for disaster help…but they have a very particular view of how the Federal Government and the States ought to relate to each other…so… at this moment of urgency, just what precisely are the specifically enumerated powers that the Federal Government has at our disposal for disaster relief?

Well, according to my quick re-reading of Article 1, Section 8, that would be exactly…no power at all, except to act in case of insurrection, to try any Federal criminal offenses that might occur, and to repair any Federal docks or other needful Buildings.

(You’ll note I did not say “try and punish” any Federal criminal offenses. That’s because there’s nothing I can see in Article 1, Section 8 about Federal prisons.)

I don’t see anything in there about the National Weather Service, either, so from now on, if a State wants to know if a tornado’s coming, I guess they better pony up the cash and start themselves a State Weather Service, or buy the forecasting and warning services from a private contractor.

(This could be good for the economy, by the way: forecasting the weather requires satellites, and if every State that believes in self-reliance each launches their own satellite constellations…that’s some jobs, right there.)

FEMA? In the view of those who truly understand, it’s unconstitutional on its face, and, therefore, the Governors shouldn’t be looking to them for help.

The loans that businesses and citizens rely on to get back on their feet? Show me the “enumerated” language that permits those activities, because I can’t find it.

Grants to States to cover their extraordinary expenses? I don’t see anything authorizing such activities, and with that in mind…I don’t think so.

According to the “purist” view, the 10th Amendment requires all of this to be handled by the States, not the Federal Government; that’s why, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why these Governors weren’t thinking about disaster planning from the start of their terms.

Why weren’t these supposedly self-reliant States ready when this happened?

I mean, each of these States already has an emergency management department, and I’m sure they can manage much better locally than the Feds (or at least they claim they can), so why are they even asking for Federal help in the first place?

How is it possible that these Governors never considered that protecting the citizens of their States would be “Job 1”, to steal a phrase, and, to make a moral point, why should the rest of us be bailing them out now?

I mean, hey: you told us these were State problems, and now you have problems, and you still have States, so you know what?

Live up to your words: get all “10th Amendment-y”, and suck it up, and deal with it yourselves.

That’s what you told us you wanted, when you were Full Of Big Campaign Talk, so now do it, Governors, and stop all that crying and whimpering to us for outside help, and go make that 10th Amendment work for you.

Show us how much better local control is than when the Giant Hand Of The Federal Government Tells You What To Do.

Be the self-reliant Brawny Men that you were in your campaign ads.

And I’d pose the same challenge to anyone who voted for these Governors:

Remember how you all cheered when your candidates told you Government wasn’t the solution; that it was, instead, the problem?

If you really believed that, then what in the world are you doing asking for the Federal Government’s help now?

After all, you said you wanted Government “off your back”, and “the Government that governs best governs least”, right, so why would you want Government in your faces at a time when you’re trying your hardest just to get back on your feet?

Why aren’t you (and I’m thinking specifically of you, Tri-Corner Hat Patriot Guys) demanding that the Federal Government stay out of this and leave the States alone?

And it’s only fair: there was no tornado in California this weekend, so why should Californians pay taxes for your disaster?

And remember how adamant you were, just a couple of weeks ago, that the budget cuts associated with those Continuing Budget Resolutions weren’t deep enough?

Well, how are we supposed to make the kind of budget cuts y’all wanted on the Federal side when you’re coming around here demanding more money?

We have a deficit, remember, and we can’t be spending money we don’t have-and even if we had the money, we couldn’t spend it on helping you, because, as you all recall, there’s nothing specifically in the Constitution to allow it.

This is your problem, Constitutional purists, and, according to your own logic, it’s not ours…so if you want your roads and schools fixed, ask your citizens to volunteer to do the work or something.

Since we can no longer help you, maybe the Red Cross or some other private charity could fund the rebuilding of your communities.

Since so many conservatives believe corporate and religious philanthropy will fill in the gaps in the shrinking “social safety net”, you could try asking churches and private industry to do the work for you as a community service; I’m sure they’ll jump right in and pick up all the slack.

Hey: you were the ones full of tough talk last November, my Tea Party friends, and now it’s 10th Amendment “gut check” time, and I want to see you live up to your own words, if you have the “man pants” to do it…or I want you to see you acknowledge that this was all a giant load of hooey.

That maybe there’s a place for a United States of America, that maybe there is such a thing as “general Welfare”…or maybe even that being a 10th Amendment purist might be great down at the ol’ Heritage Foundation when you’re hustling for campaign money, but that once the big winds start blowing, ideology ain’t worth spit compared to a system of weather radars and satellites and a FEMA that will come and bail your butt out if it all goes wrong.

And if you voted for one of these clowns…either you need to get smart, right now…or maybe we need to cut the cord.

Maybe you need to see what your own vision of “10th Amendment reality” is really all about.

Maybe, just as so many of you have demanded, we should mind our own Federal business and let local government govern best.

And if it doesn’t work out, then, maybe, you’ll wake up and realize that Ronald Reagan was wrong: sometimes Government is the only game in town, and when it’s not around, providing helpful solutions…that’s when you got real problems.

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On Done Deals, Or, Sometimes Losing Is How You Win

( – promoted by John Morgan)

We have been talking a lot about Social Security these past few weeks, even to the point where I’ve missed out on talking about things that I also wanted to bring to the table, particularly the effort to reform Senate rules.

We’ll make up for that today with a conversation that bears upon both of those issues, and a lot of others besides, by getting back to one of the fundamentals in a very real way…and today’s fundamental involves the question of whether it’s a good idea to keep pushing for what you want, even if it seems pointless at the time.

To put it another way: when it comes to this Administration and this Congress and trying to influence policy…if Elvis has already left the building, what’s the point?

Bachmann response now on CNN. Turn to SAP Channel 3 for English captions.

–A Tweet posted by pourmecoffee, immediately following the 2011 State of the Union address

If you have been in any way awake and alert over the past 18 months or so, you’ve noticed that this President is having some trouble with the most fervent of his November ’08 supporters, who feel-with some considerable justification-that they’ve either been sold short, used as a target of political convenience, or ignored altogether in their calls for a more Progressive agenda.

It has come to the point where many who gave money to Democrats in the ’08 cycle did not donate in ’10-and it’s also suggested that many of that ’08 voting coalition chose not to vote Democratic as well, exacerbating the Party’s electoral troubles in this cycle’s contests.

And there are numbers to back this up: I’ve been looking at a CAF/Greenberg poll that’s about a week old, and even as those who oppose Obama’s policies (particularly his most strident opponents) have been warming to his approach over the past six months or so, the number of voters who support him the most strongly has never been lower-and it’s stayed that way since about June of ’10.

So a long-running theme of my work is that this is the time to try to influence one thing or another; most recently that’s been an effort directed at trying to impact the discussion around what might happen with Social Security.

A long-running response to that work, in the comments that some of my friends post on the sites where these stories appear, is that there is just no purpose in trying to change the direction of this particular Ship of State, as it has already sailed. This Administration is too corrupt and too feckless to be forced into change, they will tell you, and anyone who thinks otherwise is either deluded or carrying water for the DCCC.

But I don’t agree, and I’ll tell you why:

Right off the bat, you might be surprised how often you can win, even when you did not think you would; the fights over DADT and Elizabeth Warren’s nomination are a couple of recent examples that come to mind.

Beyond that, losing a political fight, and doing it well, helps to move the conversation incrementally over the longer term; I would suggest that it took two political cycles before the tide turned on the war in Iraq, and now it’s beginning to look like the military’s plan for “Victory In Afghanistan Through Massive Force” is a proposition that’s tougher and tougher to sell every day-even within the White House.  

Conservatives know this well, and efforts to advocate for gun rights, to advance “pro-life” policies, and to radically change the form and function of government have extended over decades, with incremental changes often being the incremental goal (“let’s create these temporary tax cuts today…and let’s try to extend them forever another day…”).

Ironically, another good reason to “fight the good fight”, even in an environment where you might not see victory as possible, is one that is very familiar to the most fervent of Obama’s ’08 supporters: the very fight, in and of itself, is often a way to create political capital-even if you lose.  

How many of us have wished this very President would have stood up and fought for things that he might not have thought he would get?

Would you support this President more if he had demanded that Congress pass a single-payer plan, or if he was pushing harder to end renditions and close Guantanamo, even if Congress was blocking him? I bet you would.

And it makes sense: if you support single-payer, and you see someone out there fighting hard for the idea…that’s a good thing, and that’s someone you’re likely to come back and support later.

It worked for three Congressional Democrats who lost elections this fall: Feingold, Grayson, and Patrick Murphy are all in a great position to seek support from the very people who are the most frustrated with pretty much all the other Democrats today.

Some of those supporters aren’t even waiting for the future candidates; the “Draft Feingold for President” movement goes back to at least 2004, Grayson and Murphy also have supporters ready and willing to go.

So…if it’s true that if this President would fight like Bernie Sanders, even in a losing cause, then we would treat him with the same degree of affection and respect we feel toward Bernie Sanders…is it also true that we should, maybe, apply that lesson to ourselves?

There is an argument to be made that trying to move your opponent when you don’t think you can, and in the process showing how they appear to be either intransigent, or ignorant, or corrupt by comparison…or just plain wrong about something…can regularly end up moving voters, instead-and that the result of that movement is that your opponent sometimes has to move your way as well.

I would submit that the 2005 effort to “reform” Social Security, when we had a Republican President, House, and Senate, went exactly nowhere fast because being wrong did move a bunch of voters to say…well, to say that all those Republicans were wrong.

So there you go, folks: I’m here today to suggest that, even when we might not feel we have a good chance of winning a political fight-or even a fair chance-you still have to get out and fight the fight, if only to advance the cause for another day.

It’s also a great way to accrue political capital that can be used to your advantage later-and if the resistance from the other side is perceived as being too heavy-handed, they can suffer from a sort of “attrition”, as their own political capital is diminished.

And even if you lose, there’s still a lot to be gained in the effort, although you might not see the results until further down the road.

As we said at the top of the story, there are lots of battles left over, including what is going to happen to Social Security and the potential for reforming Senate rules; but win or lose, it’s probably a better idea to be trying to fight these fights, loudly and logically, just as we wish the President would, then to find ourselves hanging back and doing nothing at all today…and then voting for Jack Box for President 2012 as a way of expressing our frustration.

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On Shame As A Tactic, Or, Betsie Gallardo: She Won…And So Can You!

We have been following the story of Betsie Gallardo lately, she being the woman that, due to a medical decision, was being starved to death in a Florida prison.

She has inoperable cancer, her death is imminent, and her mother was working hard to make it possible for Betsie to die at home with some dignity.

As we reported just a couple days ago, half the battle was already won, as the Florida Department of Corrections had agreed to place her in a hospital so that she could again go back on nutritional support.

On January 5th, the Florida Parole Commission voted to allow her to end her life at home-and that means you spoke out, made a difference, and achieved a complete victory for the effort.

But even as we celebrate that victory, I think we should take a moment to realize that there is a bigger lesson here: the lesson that the fights over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), benefits for 9/11 first responders (the Zadroga Bill), and Betsie Gallardo’s imminent release are all actually pointing us to a political strategy that works, over and over, if we are willing to understand the wisdom that’s been laid before us.

Under heaven nothing is more soft and yielding than water.

Yet for attacking the solid and strong, nothing is better;

It has no equal.

The weak can overcome the strong;

The supple can overcome the stiff.

Under heaven everyone knows this,

Yet no one puts it into practice.

— From chapter 78 of the Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu

So what do all three of those victories have in common?

Well, how about this: in every case, Those Proud And Courageous Conservatives found themselves too embarrassed to hold their ground, and once the bright light of public shame fell upon them, their high-minded opposition to three good things simply collapsed.

And that’s my underlying thesis for 2011 and the 112th Congress: shame and embarrassment, which don’t really seem like weapons at all, are in fact fantastically powerful when focused upon those who are trying to do wrong-and a small group of people, combining shame with a bit of imagination and effort, can crack apart even the most unyielding opposition when they embarrass the hell out of those on the other side.

Jon Stewart and “The Daily Show” can very honestly point to the “weapon of mass embarrassment” they delivered just before Christmas as the final straw that broke the back of Republican obstructionism around the Zadroga Bill-and how many of you look at DADT and John McCain and see not a principled fighter for military tradition, but a sad old man who didn’t know when to go home to Arizona and take up sitting on the front porch?

For the next two years we are going to have the chance to apply this tactic over and over and over again-and we already have Republicans and Democrats alike lining up to cut your Social Security…even as they make sure their own “defined benefit” retirement is fully funded, at your expense…and that’s a great place from which to start hitting back.

And in this Congress, embarrassment and shame actually pile up, layer upon layer, to create an amazingly target-rich environment.

Here’s a great example: Fred Upton is the new Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees things like the regulation of offshore drilling and healthcare-and that’s because it was just too embarrassing to give the job to Texas’ Joe Barton…especially after he publicly apologized to BP for how tough we’ve been on them after that giant oil spill last summer.

So Fred has the new gig, and he’s all happy about that, and he’s appointed himself a Staff Director, a fella named Gary Andres.  

Now there’s been a lot of talk that some of these Members of Congress might be a bit too associated with lobbyists…and the name seemed awfully familiar…so I decided to Google Andres…and sure enough, not only is he a healthcare lobbyist, in 2007 he was named by Politico as the Top Lobbyist In Washington, making him the first “Top Lobbyist” of the post-Abramoff era.

Andres, just to add to the layering, is upset that Obama is deploying an “Army of Lobbyists“, even though he himself wrote the book on lobbying, literally: “Lobbying Reconsidered: Politics Under the Influence” is available in many fine bookstores.

This seems like as good a time as any to bring today’s conversation to a close, so let’s see where we are:

Even as we celebrate Betsie Gallardo’s victory, which was at least partially obtained through the timely and well-directed application of shame and embarrassment, Conservatives are feeling awfully full of themselves, despite the fact that they were embarrassed into caving on so many things so quickly in the past month.

They will set themselves up for lots more shame and scorn…I promise…and if we step up and focus the larger public on how shameful these folks are going to be, day after day after day, we can stop things like the upcoming raping of your Social Security in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, or any of the other 100 similar kinds of changes our opponents hope to enact, by hook or by crook.

So there you go, America: we have fish, and we have barrels, and if we can’t shut these folks down, then we have only ourselves to blame-and if that were to happen, then the only people who should truly be ashamed and embarrassed…will be us.

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On How To Honor The Brave, Or, Why We Hate Republicans

( – promoted by John Morgan)

We are coming down to the end of the 111th Congress, and we are all surprised that a number of things actually got done: a nuclear arms reduction treaty appears to be on the verge of approval, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed; we have new health care and financial reforms (admittedly, they’re imperfect solutions, but…), food safety reform, a better way to do student loans, and a credit card reform act that’s forcing issuers to spend thousands of labor hours to develop new and better ways to work over consumers.

And yet there is one important bit of legislation that is still being blocked by Republicans, and, amazingly enough, it’s a bill that would provide health care and compensation for those people who ran down to the World Trade Center site on September 11th, and for months thereafter, in the effort to rescue and recover victims, and to restore normal operations in the city after the attack.

Yes, folks, you heard me correctly: the Party of waving flags and “Second Amendment solutions” and tri-cornered hats and Rudy (“noun, verb, 9/11”) Giuliani is now engaged in a desperate battle to screw over the very 9/11 first responders that you would think they would be…well, putting up on a stage somewhere next to Rudy Giuliani.

“…no! You hear me? You go to Hell! You go to Hell and you die!”

–“Mr. Garrison”, as “Mr. Hat”, talking to “Kyle”, from the television show South Park

It’s HR 847, also known as the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, that we’re talking about here, and it’s intended to provide health care coverage and compensation for the police, firefighters, trade workers (lots of carpenters, electricians, plumbers, operating engineers, steelworkers, and others worked on the site after the planes hit), and nearby residents who have been experiencing a litany of cancers, heart disease, respiratory, and neurological problems over the past several years.

Who, you might ask, is James Zadroga, that they should name an Act after him?

He carried NYPD badge number 6663, and Detective Zadroga was one of those who was part of the initial World Trade Center response that morning; they were able to get about 25,000 people out of the buildings alive and basically unhurt.

He was actually inside 7 World Trade Center as it began to collapse, but he got out of there that day; according to the Officer Down Memorial Page website he spent another 470 hours sifting through the debris.

Here’s something else the website says about the man:

“Shortly after finishing his rescue and recovery work at the World Trade Center, Detective Zadroga developed a chronic cough, shortness of breath, acid reflux, and was plagued by headaches. Within months he required oxygen tanks to breathe as well as other medicines to slow the deterioration of his health. His condition continued to worsen and Detective Zadroga was granted a 75% pay disability pension on November 1, 2004.

Detective Zadroga died on January 6, 2006, as a result of respiratory disease, black lung disease, and mercury on the brain. His death was directly linked to his work at Ground Zero.”

So why is a New York City cop’s biography an issue?

Well, for a variety of reasons, Zadroga, and others in similar situations, aren’t getting their health care paid for; this is often because their health insurers claim that this is an industrial insurance problem. (The industrial insurance folks, by the way, are fighting 40% of those claims.)

Beyond that, lots of the victims are losing the ability to work altogether, which means they’re getting by on either unemployment or disability payments, which means they’re in danger of losing their homes and cars and the ability to continue their former lives.

And, of course, some of these folks have died, and there are claims that have been made by survivors.

The Zadroga Bill would compensate these folks for what happened to them-and you wouldn’t think helping out the cops and firefighters and volunteers who helped dig out the World Trade Center site would be that big a deal…especially since all those Republicans are so big on supporting the troops and waving the flag and landing on aircraft carriers and accomplishing missions and all that kind of stuff.

As it turns out, that’s not the case.

Instead, every single Senate Republican, with the exception of Illinois’ Mark Kirk, has chosen not to support the bill.

And to really show just how ironic they could be, Republicans chose Senator (and Doctor) Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to announce that he would personally block the bill to provide “healthcare for heroes”:

“…this is a bill that’s been drawn up and forced through Congress at the end of the year on a basis to solve a problem that we didn’t have time to solve and we didn’t get done.”

(We are obligated to note that Coburn’s “end of the year” comment is a giant load of hooey: In June, the Senate Health Committee held a hearing on the bill; Coburn is a member of that Committee but he did not show up for the hearing.)

So with everything else getting done in the lame-duck session, what’s the problem with helping cops and firefighters and volunteer cleanup workers?

At first, of course, Republicans demanded that rich people had to get their tax cuts first, then they said they couldn’t support closing tax loopholes to pay for the bill. After that, Fox News tried to get roughly 20 Republican Senators to come on and explain their objections.

Every one refused, a fact Shepard Smith brought to the attention of the Fox Nation by naming them all on the air. In fact, things are so bad that Smith and Chris Wallace had this exchange of opinions one night:

Smith: “Who’s going to hold these people’s feet to the fire? We’re able to put a 52-story building so far down there at Ground Zero, we’re able to pay for tax cuts for billionaires who don’t need them and it’s not going to stimulate the economy. But we can’t give health care to Ground Zero first responders who ran right into the fire? You know how do they how do they sleep at night after this vote on uh ground zero first responders from 9/11? Are they going to get that done or are we going to leave these American heroes out there to twist in the wind?”

Wallace: “Well, it’s a good question and it’s a national shame. The idea that, you know, the people who were there were the first responders after 9/11 and have had health problems as a result — you would think if you are going to take care of all of these other things – and they were gonna pass these earmarks and name buildings and post offices after people – that they would take care of some authentic American heroes. But, that I don’t know what the deal is and whether they will get to that or not.”

Smith: “[T]hese people ran to ground zero to save people’s lives and we are not even going to give ’em medicine for the illness that they got down there? It’s disgusting – it’s a national disgrace – it’s a shame – and everybody who voted against it should have to stand up for and account for himself or herself. Is anybody going to hold them accountable?”

To his credit, Rudy Giuliani has been out there this past week, working the media, calling for the bill to pass:

“This should not be seen as a Democratic or Republican issue. It shouldn’t even been seen as a fiscal issue. This is a matter of morality, it’s a matter of obligation…”

So what can you do about all this?

It appears there may be a vote today; the more pressure we exert, the more shameful it becomes to be Tom Coburn, John Kyl, and Mitch McConnell-and if you want to give a Christmas gift to a bunch of real, live, genuine heroes, here’s your chance to do it.

Tom Coburn’s Washington DC Senate office phone number is 202-224-5754, and I’m sure the staff would love nothing better than to spend the entire day hearing what y’all have to say about this situation. When you’re done, Jon Kyl’s Washington number is 202-224-4521-and for those who wish to make a statement with art, he accepts faxes as well, at 202-224-2207.

It’s hard to imagine how Republicans can top screwing over rescue workers at Christmas-but with a bit of effort and imagination, I’m sure it won’t be long before Dana Perino is on “Fox and Friends” defending something even more heinous in the name of Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

These are indeed interesting times, and I just can’t wait to see what’s next.

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On Pushing The Unwilling, Or, Laughter: A Tool Of Asymmetric Warfare?

( – promoted by John Morgan)

So here it is, almost halfway through this President’s first term, and it’s starting to become abundantly clear that there is no way Obama is going to pursue the same agenda that he ran on in 2008.

In fact, as the President announces a deal that even he agrees the majority of the American people do not support, and he prepares the Nation for the news that we’re going to have to borrow money for the very tax cuts he said we couldn’t afford a few weeks ago, it’s starting to look like Obama isn’t even going to pursue the same agenda he campaigned for in October.

Now it is true that a lot of the problem here is the President’s-but it’s also fair to say that we Progressives have failed to force the President, and certain reluctant Members of Congress, to govern in a way that promotes that agenda.

That’s a real problem, and it needs a real solution; before we get done today I’ll offer a suggestion that could be not only highly effective, and a lot of fun besides, but a great chance to release your artistic muse as well.  

“…Private Pyle has dishonored himself, and dishonored the platoon. I have tried to help him, but I have failed. I have failed because you have not helped me. You people have not given Private Pyle the proper motivation.”

–R. Lee Ermey, as “Sergeant Hartman”, from the Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket.

Now before we go any further, a quick comment on that Presidential news conference: if this President was this passionate about his positions before he made deals with his opponents, maybe he wouldn’t have to pick so many fights with his own side…and, to use his own words, he wouldn’t have to do so much “negotiating with hostage takers”. But then again…what do I know?

And speaking of fights: we assume there will be no effort, in the 112th Congress, to advance “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, because this President is unlikely to want to pick a fight with Republicans, and Democrats no longer have the ability to control the House legislative calendar.

We will probably be pressured by our Republican friends to make some decision about Social Security, right now (well, in 2011, anyway), and we can assume that among the demands they’ll make will be to raise the retirement age and break the connection between the cost of living adjustment and the actual rise in the cost of living.

And it wouldn’t surprise me if this President also finds himself forced to make unwanted compromises on health care; all of this because the House threatens to refuse to fund something else that he wants at the time.

And all of that means we’ll constantly be “fighting to catch up”, instead of framing the messages and defining the issues ourselves-and that means we’ll always be facing a tactical disadvantage.

However, it may be that there’s another answer to be found-and it’s possible that the answer might be found in, of all places, Bhopal, India.

It was in Bhopal that Union Carbide’s Indian subsidiary operated a chemical plant that produced the pesticides Sevin and Temik. The process to make Sevin involved the use of chlorine, methyl isocyanate gas, and phosgene, which makes either a dandy reactive compound for industrial use or a dandy nerve gas, depending on how it’s applied.

Over the evening, as December 2, 1984 turned into December 3rd, some or all of these gases leaked from the plant into the neighborhood that had sprung up around the plant (that’s the bad way to apply phosgene); it’s estimated by the local government that 3787 people died that night. Others have estimated that as many as 15,000 died as a result of the events of that evening. Almost 575,000 people were compensated for losses related to the event.

Many are frustrated that neither “American” Union Carbide nor Dow Chemical, who eventually absorbed the company, have ever stepped up to acknowledge their own liability…but on the 20th anniversary of the leak, a window of opportunity had appeared, thanks to a realistic looking fake website that “reframed” Dow’s intentions in a subtle, but very unflattering manner.

That website got “Jude Finisterra”, a fake Dow representative, invited on BBC World Television, where he fake announced that Dow was now going to take full responsibility for the disaster and begin cleaning up the site and providing the medical care that the survivors could badly use.

Naturally, this forced Dow to publicly come forward and deny the whole thing, which created lots of new awareness around the issue.

This “identity correction” tactic is the specialty of “The Yes Men“, who have also done this to the WTO, when they fake proposed slavery for Africa at a Wharton Business School conference they got themselves invited to, and to Exxon, when they posed as Company representatives attending a Canadian energy conference and distributed “Vivoleum” candles, which was a proposed new fuel made from the human bodies of the victims of climate change.

And it’s not just The Yes Men who are following this path of “awareness refocusing”:

Remember “Billionaires for Bush?” (“Make Social Security Neither!”) They were a very effective visible image that made the Bush folks look like what they really were-and when people saw them marching, they got the point.

Why isn’t Sarah Palin Vice-President today?

Tina Fey clearly deserves at least some of the credit.

So how do we apply this kind of thinking to our current problems?

Well…suppose you live in Oklahoma. Why not put on a “Coburn For Global Warming” BBQ, with blackened birds and burned corn? Then get the video out to the Web-and if you do it right, you’ve got a shot at getting noticed nationally.

Do it every month, maybe even with new victims (“Oklahomans For 1959!”) and it becomes a symbol both the Republicans, and the national media, will find harder and harder to ignore.

Texas? How about an LBGT “Big Bad John” Cornyn drillteam that follows the Senator to public appearances and campaigns for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell-and then moves on to address the Senator’s unwillingness to tackle the bullying issue?

Feel like doing something for the unemployed in Ohio? Why not organize a “Where’s My Job, John?” campaign to start sending thousands upon thousands of job applications to John Boehner’s offices in West Chester and Troy…and then, start dropping by in groups, cameras in hand, to check on the status of your applications?

By the way: this kind of project would be a great way for someone to “organize with allies”, and if there’s a labor union or social justice activism group or loosely organized gang of Merry Pranksters around you might want to make an effort at email and in-person contacts to see if you can grow the impact of the idea.

Do you live in the Bible Belt? How about taking the cameras to a megachurch with your petition to ban divorce in order to protect the sanctity of marriage?

Arizona? How about “Tamale Tuesday” immigration reform parties at John Kyl’s and John McCain’s and Jan Brewer’s offices, with dozens or hundreds of Hispanics and friends showing up every week to make the point that political power in Arizona ain’t always lily-white.

Are you Liberal and live in Mississippi?

Well…you may have to move.

But what about all that buildup where you were talking about pushing the President back on a leftward tack?

Ok…how about this: set yourself up with a couple of desks in a very public place, with a “rope line” in front so that it looks like a bank line.

Then use a “greeter” to grab members of the public and get them to “apply” for the loans that we’ll have to take out to pay for the tax cuts for the rich.

Do that, or something along the same lines, somewhere in Washington, DC-or do it in a bunch of cities, either all at once or “tour style”, meaning week after week after week—and all of a sudden it’s a lot tougher for Obama and reluctant Congresscritters to ignore the symbolism, and, once again, Americans get a bit of their voice back.

Of course, the big trick here is to get ahead of the issues, not to have to constantly react to constant attacks-but the way to do that is to get behind an issue with a strong symbolic campaign (and the more absurd the thing is that needs the reform the better) and repeat the reform message so often that it becomes absurd not to support reform, placing the opponents on the defensive, and forcing them to become the ones reacting to events, instead of driving the narrative.

So how about that?

We do have tools, even in unlikely places, that can apply some of the proper motivation to this President and the reluctant Members of Congress, and they’re the kinds of tools that can be used by a few people or hundreds.

And I think we have reached the point where it’s become clear that, without constant outside pressure from us, we cannot depend on this President or many of those who represent us in the Houses of Congress to promote a Progressive agenda.

It’s true: we are going to have to be the ones who force what we want out of these people…and if it takes a whole lot of comedic embarrassment to drag them along, kicking and screaming, to join the effort to advance the Progressive agenda…then let’s get to it, let’s get creative about how we do it-and most importantly of all, let’s create a situation where the political risk of fighting for causes that work against the American people becomes more costly than fighting for the American people.

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