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Sunday, February 27, 2011

The End of Clean Water in PA?

The New York Times published a disturbing article today, "Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers".

With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself.

While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.

The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.

Pennsylvanians and Americans anywhere near hydrofracking are left to wonder about just how safe their tap water (and well water) really is. Bottled water is no answer as it's a path in all the wrong directions because of the amount of oil used to make the bottles, the health hazards those bottles themselves create, and the problem that billions and billions of them going into landfills create for thousands of years to come.

It's crazy what we tolerate as citizens from our elected officials who are supposed to be working for us. That has proven to be a complete fantasy in the Koch Party, and the Dems are not much different it seems.

Some interesting and disturbing facts about bottled water:
Out of the 50 billion bottles of water being bought each year, 80% end up in a landfill, even though recycling programs exist.
17 million barrels of oil are used in producing bottled water each year.

Bottled water costs 1,000 times more than tap water. Drinking 2 Litres of tap water a day only costs 50 cents per year.

Plastic leaches toxins into the water, which have been linked to health problems such as reproductive issues and cancer.

Here's a challenge for all the pro-business GOP shills out there: Take a drink from one of the water treatment facilities that have no means for testing for radiation and which are located downstream from a sewage plant where fracking water was sent, and then have that water tested.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Koch Party Part 2: Covert Operations

Here's more justification for changing the GOP to the Koch Party.

I was asked via email recently the following question:
"...isn't the Koch Industries thing kind of tiny compared to the money unions have funneled to the Dems for over 100 years?"

Here is my response.

100 years? Not sure how much of the American labor force was actually unionized in 1910. The National Labor Relations Act wasn't passed until 1934. I heard more stories today at a family funeral of the "blackjacks" - hired thugs - who were beating up my ancestors and their neighbors in the 20s for trying to unionize as coal miners. has data on contributions dating back 21 years, to 1989. The "Top Donors / Heavy Hitters" section is very revealing. Many of you will be pleased to see how much money is going to Democrats. Hold that thought. I'm coming back to it in a minute or two.

The following excerpts are from a New Yorker article by Jane Mayer from last August on the Koch boys called "Covert Operations". It's a really, really detailed expose. I can't encourage everyone strongly enough to read the whole thing. Yes, you'll need to turn off Beck and Faux Snooze for 20 minutes or so. Do yourself that favor. Things worth reading and learning about take a little quiet time. This is one of those times.

From (

Only the Kochs know precisely how much they have spent on politics. Public tax records show that between 1998 and 2008 the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation spent more than forty-eight million dollars. The Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, which is controlled by Charles Koch and his wife, along with two company employees and an accountant, spent more than twenty-eight million. The David H. Koch Charitable Foundation spent more than a hundred and twenty million. Meanwhile, since 1998 Koch Industries has spent more than fifty million dollars on lobbying. Separately, the company’s political-action committee, KochPAC, has donated some eight million dollars to political campaigns, more than eighty per cent of it to Republicans. So far in 2010, Koch Industries leads all other energy companies in political contributions, as it has since 2006. In addition, during the past dozen years the Kochs and other family members have personally spent more than two million dollars on political contributions. In the second quarter of 2010, David Koch was the biggest individual contributor to the Republican Governors Association, with a million-dollar donation. Other gifts by the Kochs may be untraceable; federal tax law permits anonymous personal donations to politically active nonprofit groups.

Adding up just the numbers in the paragraph above is $257million in 10 years. Keep that in mind and go back and look at the data at again. Notice again that that data spans 21 years: 1989 to 2010. Now start adding up the numbers up for yourself on the Top All Time Donors list. Be sure to account for the percentage split of those contributions between Dems and Kochs.

In half the time - 1998 to 2008 - and, again, using just the dollar amounts specified in the above paragraph, which clearly isn't everything, the Kochs outspent the top 8 contributors to the Democratic party combined. Half the time, 8 times the contributions.

Do the effing math.

For anyone ready to screech "What about George Soros?", the article goes on to make this point.

Of course, Democrats give money, too. Their most prominent donor, the financier George Soros, runs a foundation, the Open Society Institute, that has spent as much as a hundred million dollars a year in America. Soros has also made generous private contributions to various Democratic campaigns, including Obama’s. But Michael Vachon, his spokesman, argued that Soros’s giving is transparent, and that “none of his contributions are in the service of his own economic interests.” The Kochs have given millions of dollars to nonprofit groups that criticize environmental regulation and support lower taxes for industry. Gus diZerega, the former friend, suggested that the Kochs’ youthful idealism about libertarianism had largely devolved into a rationale for corporate self-interest. He said of Charles, “Perhaps he has confused making money with freedom.”

If you truly care about context and history and facts, then read the whole New Yorker article. The conclusion is inescapable.

You Republicans need to change the name of your party.


Ann Coulter's Latest Drivel: Look For The Union Fable

Ann is up to her same tired act: talking out of her you-know-what.

This time she's making a pathetic attempt to comment about what's happening in Wisconsin with Walker's attempt to kill state unions. She then goes into some disjointed blathering about government in general.

Here are a few choice phrases from her rambling babble with my own following each! You decide which of us is crazy.

"Government unions have nothing in common with private sector unions because they don't have hostile management on the other side of the bargaining table."
-> That's idiotic on its face. Walker and the entire Koch Party is hostile to every state worker because they presumably tend to vote Democratic. If the Walkergate Tapes don't prove that, then you're living in the warm embrace of blissful and self-imposed ignorance.

"This is why the head of New York's largest public union in the mid-'70s, Victor Gotbaum, gloated, "We have the ability to elect our own boss."
- > Never heard of this guy so I did a search. Didn't find this quote. Even if it was something that he said, he does seem to be recognized at least in part for making concessions when it was in everyone's interest.
Under Gotbaum's leadership, DC37 successfully organized thousands of municipal hospital workers in the 1960s and helped create New York City's Office of Collective Bargaining. During the New York City bankruptcy crisis in the mid-1970s, Gotbaum and DC37 agreed to major collective bargaining concessions, which set a pattern that forced other municipal unions to do the same. The action helped the city avoid default on its bonds.[2] (

The reference source listed in the footnote led to this:
The New York unions in the Seventies, led by Victor Gotbaum and his colleagues, agreed to major concessions on their contract demands and to make investments in city bonds from their pension funds; both of these decisions will be difficult to duplicate.

Democratic politicians don't think of themselves as "management." They don't respond to union demands for more money by saying, "Are you kidding me?" They say, "Great -- get me a raise too!"
-> This is really effing stupid. Like Democratic politicians are the only ones who vote themselves pay raises and if they can't get that passed they just go to their pals in the government unions to decide how much to raise only Democratic pay. Typical idiotic Coulter hyperbole.

BTW, it's become popular among both parties in Congress to suddenly come to the realization that not only are automatic pay raises a bad idea, maybe they can curry favor with us if they vote to cut their pay.

I want to give special kudos to some GOP reps. Rigell (VA) is sending 15% of his pay back to the Treasury. Coffman (CO) wants to cut Congressional pay by 10%, supposedly saving the government $5.5billion. (You do realize that that means total Congressional compensation is $55billion. Can that be right?) Buchanan (FL) introduced a bill that would forbid any pay raises to Congress unless the budget was balanced. THIS ALL MAKES PERFECT SENSE TO ME!!!

Here was an eye-opening passage from the article:
With the economy still reeling, members of Congress - nearly half of whom are millionaires - are eager to show they are in touch with their constituents' economic pain

These are the people we elect and who are supposed to represent us? Opens up a tiny crack of understanding as to why some people are attracted to the tea party. Want a real slap of reality? Here are some net worth numbers of both parties that are jaw-dropping. Anyone not think these people fall under the generalized category of RWMFs?

In 1937, the American president beloved by liberals, FDR, warned that collective bargaining "cannot be transplanted into the public service."
-> FDR's letter sure has become popular.

Too bad the right continues to so blatantly take one or 2 phrases so badly out of context. The whole thing can be read at

It's obvious that what FDR was actually saying about unions and collective bargaining is that:
a) the administration (i.e., management) are elected officials sent to their position by us to represent us and as such,
b) they cannot agree to any old desire or demand, especially if it violates the law.

That's it. The reason that collective bargaining "as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service" doesn't mean that FDR thought that public service unions should be dissolved, disbanded, or kept from collectively bargaining. All he basically said was that union and management, alike, need to understand that there are different circumstances that govern public versus private service.

Here's the paragraph from which the quote is surgically removed and grossly misused by Coulter and everyone else on the right.

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.

The preceding paragraph in FDR's letter is where he expresses unequivocal support of unions, including even in government and with special considerations for the differences that exist when compared with private sector.

The desire of Government employees for fair and adequate pay, reasonable hours of work, safe and suitable working conditions, development of opportunities for advancement, facilities for fair and impartial consideration and review of grievances, and other objectives of a proper employee relations policy, is basically no different from that of employees in private industry. Organization on their part to present their views on such matters is both natural and logical, but meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government.

George Meany, head of the AFL-CIO for a quarter century, said unions were not appropriate for civil servants.
-> When I did a search on this sentence, the search results page was pretty much full of results pointing exclusively to Coulter. Hints strongly that she might have made this up. I couldn't find any other resources on the quote, but I did find this:

Personally, I give no credence to anyone with "McCarthyist policies" regardless of who they were and what organization they led. In other words, who gives a if Meany said anything like unions are inappropriate for civil servants if he had anything in common with McCarthy.

There's never a recession if you work for the government. The counties with the highest per capita income aren't near New York City or Los Angeles -- they're in the Washington, D.C., area -- a one-company town where the company is the government. The three counties with the highest incomes in the entire country are all suburbs of Washington. Eleven of the 25 counties with the highest incomes are near Washington.
-> What's Ann claiming here, that overpaid school teachers, firefighters, park rangers, and government workers in DC are living in the lap of luxury?

And WTF does this have to do with Wisconsin?

As for DC, I wonder if she's ever heard of "government contractors?" I'd love to see some data on how much of the wealth encircling DC is actually private businesses started and/or led by ex-elected officials who legislated for corporate lobbyists instead of us and then turned that into a lottery win once out of office.

Teachers, whether in DC or Wisconsin? Clerks in state or federal government? Nurses in the VA? Low- and mid-level workers?

They are the ones living in mansions in Madison and Loudon County? Please.

Ann, you're an idiot.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

GOP Should Just Go Ahead and Change Name to Koch Party

"In Wisconsin, union leaders agreed to concessions requested by Mr. Walker: to pay nearly 6 percent of their wages for pension costs, up from nearly zero, and double payments for health insurance. At that point, most governors would declare victory and move on. Instead, Mr. Walker has rejected union concessions and won’t even negotiate. His true priority is stripping workers of collective-bargaining rights and reducing their unions to a shell. The unions would no longer be able to raise money to oppose him, as they did in last year’s election, easing the way for future Republicans as well."

The Wisconsin governor is dutifully following the Koch GOP playbook: kill unions because members and supporters tend to vote Democratic and, as everyone knows, elected GOP politicians will dutifully do the bidding of wealthy capitalists faster and with greater zeal than the Dems.

It's politics. It really isn't about balancing budgets. That's just a convenient excuse to lie some more but, once again, the math doesn't lie and the unions have already agreed to the $300million in concessions on a $3600million dollar budget shortfall. That's 8.3%, and the union has agreed to it so what's the problem?

Wisconsin, and more broadly labor unions everywhere, are targeted elements of a bigger and broader GOP strategy to.......wait for it.........control more of your lives from corporate boardrooms instead of state capitols. The beauty of the plan is that Charles and David Koch never have to appear in public, never have to defend their policies against their opponents in pre-election debates, and never have to run and win elections. They and their allies in conservative media like Limbaugh and Murdoch have gotten very good at spending relatively small amounts of their fortune to whip into a frenzy people who don't or won't bother with facts.

It's just too bad that there are as many Americans as there are who have bought into and now desperately cling to the biggest lie of all: that they are part of the Koch/GOP grand plan for greater American wealth and prosperity. They're not, except as chattel.

Anyone outside the richest 2% who still believes the lies of the GOP is just carrying their water like a dutiful servant is expected to do. They've been duped into the complete masquerade and utter sham that Republicans are fiscal conservatives interested in doing anything at all to improve the condition of average Americans.

Here are more inconvenient numbers from Gallup.

It's really only a slim majority of Republicans, 54%, who even agree with the idea of taking away collective bargaining rights of state union workers. It should be noted that two-thirds of Independents oppose it, as do two-thirds of all adults nationwide. The key word there is 'adults.' People with the maturity, wisdom, and experience to know right from wrong and to discern fact from fiction.

Put simply, if you agree with breaking state unions you are in the minority. There's a reason for that. Opposing workers is not just bad for them, it's bad for America and the economy. We have no economy without a thriving middle class, and state workers - teachers, firefighters, law enforcement, and even the dreaded "bureaucrats" - are part of that middle class.

You can be mad at me for continuing to say these things, and you can dig your heals in deeper because you hate me for rubbing your noses in the reality of where your party is on issues like this. It won't change the facts: the GOP is pro-business and anti-worker. Always has been.

While I've never been a member of a union and probably never will be, I don't see how America rises to such economic prosperity and prominence post-WWII without unions. I'm proud of the fact that my father provided a middle class life to us in part because he was a union worker. I wonder how many reading this are willing to say the same?

What about all that nostalgia for the post-WWII years to which conservatives always seem to want to "take our country back?"

I seriously doubt that my father and all the other hard-working men and women in the 40s, 50s, and 60s would have been able to own a home and raise kids in a working class (and barely middle class) neighborhood had he had to endure the indignities and oppression that his father, a coal miner at the beginning of the 20th century and at the start of the labor movement, endured. Given the generosity and benevolence of late 19th and early 20th century capitalist, I'm completely comfortable saying that the answer would be no. This country rose to economic prosperity as much on the backs of labor as it did on the business acumen of entrepreneurs and capitalists. It's symbiotic. One cannot exist and thrive without the other.

All the trickling down in the world - then and now - doesn't turn the GOP into a party that even remotely approaches being pro-middle class. Tax cuts for the wealthy are not stimulative. That was proven yet again in 2001, 2003, and 2010. Deregulation only opens up more opportunities for corporations and a select few to rig the system so they prosper with all the rewards and none of the risk. We - the middle class - are left with the economic, environmental, and social bills while the Kochs, Murdochs, Limbaughs, and Becks laugh their way to their overseas bank accounts.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Case for Funding The Corporation for Public Broadcasting

The following is in response to two questions recently raised by a friend who opposes funding public broadcasting. His questions were:
1. Is it really the role of government to support such enterprises?
2. Do you really believe that NPR is unbiased?

Here was my response.

First, I guess I have to take just a little bit of an issue with how you frame your first question. I believe that "citizens" should support public broadcasting. I wouldn't call it government support.

I also would never call The Corporation for Public Broadcasting an "enterprise." For me, that connotes visions of shareholders wanting to know how this quarter's performance will translate into dividends and an increase in the value of their equity. I don't envision the CPB board as having dividend payments and share price on their agenda.

I do think that a civil society ought to appreciate and place enough value on what public broadcasting brings to that society to have about 2 of our tax dollars per year per every man, woman, and child in America spent on funding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. That's just over one-half penny per day per citizen. The DoD's nearly $600 billion budget, on the other hand, costs each of us $2,000 per year, or $5.48 per day. 1000 times different.

IMHO, CPB has proven their worth over the years and many times over. They brought us all the classic programming everyone likes to talk about like Sesame Street, Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, Nova and much, much more. More recent works include

It is precisely the non-commercial, non-profit, public service characteristics that they offer that I think are most precious and most important to a civil and well-informed society.

Supporters of public broadcasting can attest to the frequent pleas for donations to make up the difference between what they get from our paltry tax dollars and what it takes to actually employ some 21,000 people ( who bring us news and programming that simply would not be commercially viable nor nearly as valuable if it had the taint of advertising dollars influencing it. Would we really want our kids watching Big Bird shill for Taco Bell? I admit that I cringe whenever I see Exxon/Mobil thanked for their contribution to programming, and I wonder exactly how much influence they may be exercising over the content. There has been concern expressed about that, but I won't go into it here.

I also think it's important to put their funding into perspective. CPB is asking for $604million for FY2014 after having been, "faced with flat CPB funding for the better part of the past decade." (

600million sounds like a big number, and it is, until you look at the budget as a whole.

The Department of Defense's budget for 2011 is $548.9 billion (, almost 1000 times greater than CPBs. I won't deny nor debate here the value and the need for a military and the jobs tied to our industrial military complex. I just question whether we need a military that's this big, if it's the right type for the 21st century, and where the logic is in wanting to balance the budget by entirely eliminating the CPB while increasing defense spending?

If we're worried about paying for CPB, I would prefer that we reduce the DoD budget by the equivalent 0.1%. One-tenth of one percent of the DoD budget funds CPB.

It gets even more difficult for me to understand the attraction for eliminating CPB's funding when it's compared to a $3.6 trillion dollar budget. CPB's $0.0006 trillion funding request just doesn't look at all meaningful. It certainly makes no sense to an accounting neophyte like me to be one of the first budget items to eliminate.

As for the question of bias, yes, of course there's bias. We human beings, by our very nature, are biased about pretty much everything. There's no getting around that.

To my experience, the "bias" of people who support public broadcasting seems to be toward a sincere desire for a greater depth of coverage and information that is backed by substantiated and referenced facts than can be found or even reasonably produced, for that matter, in a 22-minute local news broadcast or in the madness of the never-ending race for ratings in a 24x7 cable news world gone mad. There's simply not much chance of big ratings and advertising money in a news story that takes 6 or 7 minutes in a country which seems to suffer from mass-attention deficit disorder and a fixation on all things Khardasian.

So, yes, I proudly profess my "bias" in support of the balance that public broadcasting brings to commercial news. Even more importantly, CPB's work appears to be the last vestige of balance to what masquerades as news these days. I really think, now more than ever, that we need news and programming that isn't filtered or directed out of a concern for advertising dollars, corporate profit, and unabashed political agendas.

Not all of the CPB's efforts and funds are directed to news, of course. As I started out typing this I was listening online to WDUQ's broadcast of a program called Studio 360. They were discussing a book entitled "Spark" about human creativity. It included a discussion of the art, photography, and reflections of the tragedy that was 9/11. Not sure where else I would have heard this. Glad that I did. I then listened to commercial-free jazz before starting the PBS American Experience Reagan documentary. I figure I've already gotten much more than this year's 2 dollars worth of news and entertainment in just one morning.

Where I think we need to try to reduce or eliminate our biases is when we talk about what to do about our federal budget.

Looking at this purely from the financial perspective and through a lens of limited knowledge and understanding of the dark art of accounting, I think we need to start cutting in places that are much bigger than CPB's funding. It is, after all, only 0.0167% of the total budget.