Is Bernie Sanders damaging the Democratic brand beyond recovery?


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angry bernie

A little skepticism is a healthy thing, while cynicism too often proves self-destructive. A recent article by NBC foreshadowing the example of Bernie Sanders’ run for the Democratic nomination provides an object lesson on this point—and grimly augurs what increasingly looks like prophesy by Benjamin Franklin, whose closing statement was read to those gathered on the last day of the Constitutional Convention:

In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other. I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views.

Before any of Sanders’ supporters lock onto the term “corruption” to twist it into their narrative, they need to know that it’s meaning in the late 16th Century was far more general. While it included what many understand it to mean today, the meaning then ranged from being so “dillitary” that one did not participate in societal issues to the gamut of moral failings.

The article reports on the decade-long trend of the growth in numbers of voters who identify as independent voters. With the possible exception of the 2000 Presidential election, the most significant impact this trend has had is in general elections, and states with open primaries and caucuses. While the facts are not yet in, analysis of the 2016 primaries may find another impact. If Sanders’ supporters who were registered independents did not register as Democrats in states with closed primaries, that failure may have cost him the nomination.

Among many other comments by his supporters that I have become aware of through involvement on social media, the following suggests the real possibility that Sanders’ loss was due to the extreme cynicism and political ineptitude of his supporters, and that it may continue to frustrate the cynical left:

As soon as this election cycle is over, there will be a giant sucking sound, as half the members of the Democratic Party will reregister [sic] as Independents. They really screwed themselves for a single person’s insatiable appetite to win at all costs, even at the expense of the party. The DNC will have been sacrificed at the alter of the Clintons’ greed.

While the article makes no effort to associate the trend with a cause, I will. The media has widely reported on the dissatisfaction with the “status quo” on the left and right, and avoided labeling it for what it is, cynicism. If, as some speculate, Donald Trump represents the cynical malcontents of the right, the harm done may be a temporary setback for the Republicans. After all, the GOP establishment has tried to distance itself from him. The damage done by Bernie Sanders may however be long-term.

Having little that truly recommends him for the office of President, Sanders has had to rely on trashing his opponent. In doing so, he has also lashed out against the Democratic brand in general, and drawn untold numbers of Democrats into his cynical ideology. Politics is too nuanced to reduce to the “they are all alike” view expressed by him and those of his ilk. The fact that history refutes their view seems to escape their awareness as well.

Perhaps the problem lies with the fact that few people are exposed to more than sound-bites, and may not have the attention-span for research or study in any depth. Perhaps the observation that millennials were for the most part “educated to the test,” and lack critical thinking skills explains their failure. What ever the reason, there is no denying that cynicism is easy, much easier to embrace than reasoned thought—and an obstacle to understanding that “they” are no longer alike.

Effectively, Sanders’ supporters have been corrupted. The extent to which they have been corrupted and will no longer be effective in helping further the liberalization of the Democratic brand—or weakened it to allow the right to again gain control of government at every level—remains to be seen.


Political choices: A matter of the greatest possible good


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Cynics are fond of dismissing criticism of their political decisions by declaring they will have no part of any decision between the “lesser of two evils”. Throughout much of our past, political choices often were between the lesser of two evils, but that has changed. The Democratic party has not gone as far to the extreme left as the right to its extreme, but it is more liberal today than it ever has been.

Cynicism has tremendous appeal, likely due to its sheer simplicity. It’s too easy to distrust “banksters,” and assume that money in politics buys votes. mad-bernieIt was easy to say Obama violated our trust of his intent on energy policy when he appointed nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz as Energy Secretary, especially after all his “all of the above” policy statements in his State of the Union addresses. Then there is the favorable State Department report on the Keystone pipeline.

Cynics, like children, seldom think about issues in great depth. Never mind that Obama still says he will veto any bill approving the Keystone pipeline. They do not consider for a moment that his appointments and speeches may be political smoke-screen that will help him get away with stopping the Keystone pipeline and championing other eco-friendly policies.

In the same vein, they accept Bernie’s promises without question. After all, he shares their cynical outlook, and tells them what they want to hear. Their view reminds me of the oft quoted line from 1 Corinthians, 13:11:

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

Unfortunately, age never truly determines either the insight or maturity of most people. Bernie and his supporters exemplify that fact. They declare that the Democrats have failed them, when only their logic has. Never mind that their “revolution” was stillborn, and the one candidate remaining who could stop the GOP from gaining hegemony in government is Hillary Clinton. Never mind that Bernie once declared that “on her worst day, Hillary Clinton will be an infinitely better candidate and President than the Republican candidate on his best day.” He now threatens not to support her unless the Democrats adopt his platform, and his supporters are determined not to vote for her.

In their childish resentment that their “revolution” has failed, Bernie’s and his followers’ vilification of Hillary Clinton has blinded them to the fact that she represents the greatest possible good, not a lesser of two evils. At bottom, they are behaving like spoiled children who resent mommy not buying them the candy they wanted at the grocery check-out, and Bernie is like the kid whose team mates chose someone else to pitch for their side in a sand-lot ball game. Bernie and his supporters are willing to abandon the revolution, because they don’t get to lead it.

It’s time for Bernie to call for party unity


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Albeit Bernie Sanders had been disingenuous about running as a Democrat to avoid splitting the Democratic vote, it’s time that he stood up and honored the claim. The question is: will he? His use of innuendo to sully Hillary Clinton’s image, as well as his misrepresentation of her position on issues since the day of his announcement of candidacy, misrepresentation of endorsements and misrepresentation of his past positions leave his honesty as questionable as his claim of integrity.

CaptureSanders had his shot at heading a transformative revolution, but it should be clear to him now that he miscalculated the turnout he could solicit. The numbers just are not there. His “revolution” was, in fact, stillborn.

Not only was Sanders not able to raise the seething millions of discontented voters from the left and right, too few liberal extremists—the self-described anarchists, socialists and assorted other cynics—rose to the old cynic’s call to arms. The delegate count tells the story.

Having done well in the Iowa Caucus, and his home state of Vermont, analysts queried whether he would do as well in states with more representative demographics. With the exception of Michigan, the results of the March 15 primaries answered their question. Clinton swept the states, even those with open primaries—those where Bernie performed best—and decimated him in those with closed primaries. This last fact gives weight to the speculation that cross-over votes were at least largely responsible for the life-long cynic’s win in Michigan.

With the closed primaries yet to come, and the delegate split that can be expected even in states with open primaries, Bernie needs to find God and pray for a miracle if he wants to win. For that matter, his supporters will need to pray that he wins enough that Hillary wins only by virtue of the Superdelegates if they want to continue to grouse about that.

By every indication, Sanders intends to hold on until the bitter end—which brings us back to the revelation about his real reason for running as a Democrat. Now that he has the name recognition he sought, can he be trusted not to run as an independent—I would not bet on it. His career has shown him to be a cynic, and his conduct throughout his bid for the Democratic nomination has shown him to be dishonest as well.

If he has enough remaining of the integrity he claims to hold so dear, it is time to acknowledge Hillary’s triumph. Moreover, it is time to confess to the character assassination in which he and his cynical supporters engaged, and endorse her with the same vigor with which he and they tried to sully her name.

Realpolitik: The disconcerting disconnect from political reality on the liberal left


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It’s disappointing to see how simplistic so many people’s understanding of the political process is. It’s not about a stated position on the issues, nor even a demonstrated continuity of position. Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primaries debateAs unchanging as Bernie Sanders was, his uncompromising position on the issues assured that he would accomplish almost nothing during his 24 years in Congress. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton proved very effective. A realistic contrast between the two provides the perspective on political reality that too many liberals lack.

Politics is a lot like poker. You cannot bluff if you lay your cards out on the table—and Sanders has laid them all out there. This is what his support is all about. His supporters love his position on the issues. Unfortunately, his plan to use the “bully pulpit” to invigorate the electorate (his millions of voters) is a pipe dream.

“Now, in my view, the only way we can take on the right-wing Republicans who are, by the way, I hope will not continue to control the Senate and the House when one of us [is] elected president, but the only way we can get things done is by having millions of people coming together.”[sic] ~ Bernie Sanders, First televised debate between Democratic presidential candidates.

Not only is it unlikely that the Democrats can retake Congress before 2022, but the GOP has retained their base despite ignoring the majority Republican voter’s position on climate change, income inequality and other issues. They will stonewall him just as they did President Obama—unless he compromises.

Compromise will cause his support to evaporate, just as Obama’s support did—but Sanders will not have the advantage of a Democratic majority in Congress that Obama had during his first two years, the years in which he secured his greatest triumphs. The cynics who supported Sanders will jump ship, and hand the 2018 mid-terms to the GOP, possibly even cementing a Republican super majority in the Senate. It goes without saying that any seat on the Supreme Court that comes vacant over the next four years will remain vacant.

Clinton, on the other hand, demonstrates a lot of the same political savvy Obama did, albeit any mystery related to her political position has eroded because she appears to have thought it necessary to position herself further to the left. It’s not that she was not liberal and progressive. The Sanders supporters just paint her as such, because they are too cynical and lacking in understanding of the political process to differentiate him enough without vilifying her.

Simply contrasting Sanders’ and Clinton’s approach to the issues cannot fully demonstrate the mastery of the art of political positioning that the next President must demonstrate. Bernie SandersSanders does not, while Clinton does—as did Obama. Sanders has declared himself to be uncompromising, and this trait throughout his political career has rendered him ineffective.

Granted, Clinton may not be any more successful than Sanders in overcoming Republican obstructionism, but her pragmatic statement of willingness to compromise exhibits the political acumen that assured the Democrats a fighting chance to keep the White house in 2016. Obama positioned himself well as the “grown-up” in his bouts with the GOP over the last seven years. Whereas Clinton appears to understand this, Bernie appears ready to throw up barricades and stand his ground.

Standing one’s ground may be an admirable trait for a martyr, but it’s anathematic in democratic politics. Whereas Obama’s political “maturity” enabled him to tag the GOP with obstructionism, Sanders’ infantile demand that he get it his way will most certainly result in him—and the Democrats—wearing that tag by 2018.

Obama’s handling of energy policy provides both an excellent example of how he set himself up to minimize the effects of attacks from the right throughout his presidency, while losing the support of the cynical left, due to their lack of perspective on the realities of politics in a heterogeneous society.

While the cynical environmental extremists and others praised the president early in his first term for stating he would veto any attempt by Congress to push through the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline, his State Department’s endorsement of the pipeline early in his second term sent them into a rage. After all, he had touted an “all of the above” energy policy in each of his State of the Union speeches. Then there was the matter of his appointment of Ernest Moniz to the post of Energy Secretary.

Moniz is of course a nuclear physicist with financial interests in the fossil fuel industry—and an apologist for both industries. What more proof could anyone want that Obama was the anti-environmentalist president. No one cared that Obama still had not approved of KXL, or noticed that the EPA and DOE had issued no new permits for coal or nuclear power plants.

Obama remained an enigma to opponents and supporters alike during his tenure, and only recently took the offensive. He can afford to openly confront his political enemies as a lame-duck president, but only because he positioned himself as the grown-up from the beginning. Likewise, Clinton is holding her cards close to her chest, and behaving like an adult who understands she will not be able to have it her way if all she does is rant about the terrible inequities in our society.

The US is an Anti-Christian nation

Ample clues to the sins of Americans exist in Revelation 1 through 8. Then, in Revelation 9: 20 through 21, we read, “The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.”

RevelationTruly, those who claim that the US is a Christian nation forget the commandment prohibiting coveting thy neighbor’s goods (on the assumption that native American lands are included, or that might fall under coveting their house).

Then there is the whole Christian thing about graven images of Christ on the cross—especially those who are among the Church of Christ sect—and violating the sabbath by keeping businesses open on Sunday (Saturday if you are a Seventh Day Adventist), and bearing false witness (a serious tea-bagger GOPer sin).

Now, on the assumption that they are “born again” and saved by Jesus (the whole craven images/ taking other gods before me thing remains problematic), you might accept that Christians are saved–except that becoming “born again” requires that they follow Jesus’ teachings.

BTW–Jesus was a Jew, and commanded that his followers believe in his Father–but he did so without overruling all the prohibitions against eating “unclean” animals: pigs, shrimp, catfish etc., which are prohibited in Leviticus.

That leaves an opening for salvation only in ignorance, because God forgives those who do not know they sin. But you have to remember that God know all, so most of those who claim to be Christian are probably damned.

So tell us who these people are who claim that the US is a Christian nation. Could it be that they are the minions of the Anti-Christ—the false prophets that the Lord Himself warned us of in Jeremiah 14: 14: “Then the Lord said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds.”

The unconscionable hypocrisy of the reactionary right

heritage foundation tea partyIn “The Tortured Logic of the Heritage Foundation on Public Transportation,” a piece by Kevin DeGood for The Center for American Progress, demonstrates the undeniability that “conservative intellectual” is an oxymoron. There is however another, equally damning section of “The Budget Book: 106 ways to Reduce the Size & Scope of Government” that also shows the hypocrisy of the reactionary right.

If Republican sequester-mandated cuts to SNAP payments that benefited thousands of military personnel are not enough to shed light on hypocrisy of their lip service to the concept of supporting our troops, the section of “The Budget Book” that outlines further cuts should make it clear. While a few of the recommendations may be reasonable—and are notably already being implemented by the Department of  Defense (DoD), five of them are ill considered or constitute nothing short of a betrayal of the personnel in uniform who serve our country.

The call to “cut funding to research to programs that are not related to increasing military capabilities” overlooks two salient points about DoD research. The research along several disciplines has not only found cures for diseases that have plagued mankind for millennia, but provided the basis for ensuing research that has improved mankind’s condition. The principal argument, which specifically targets DoD environmental research and policy:

In addition, the DOD spends significant amounts of money on green-energy initiatives. While finding alternative fuels could be extremely beneficial to the troops and reduce DOD energy costs, these projects should be limited to those focused on providing cost-efficiencies, or improving warfighting capabilities. However, some of the DOD’s programs are more focused on promoting green energy than military capabilities. One example is the current mandate that requires 25 percent of electricity used by the DOD to come from renewable sources by 2025. Congress should repeal this mandate.

What they seem unaware of is that the DoD did a long term assessment of the consequences of our reliance on fossil fuels, and found our national security at risk. Personally, I prefer having the personnel at DoD decide what is in our best security interests—and busily implementing policy that helps reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. In fact, I feel that it is just short of treasonous to say, “Congress should repeal this mandate.”

Understanding why closing the 63 schools on military bases in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Cuba is a bad idea is a bit more complicated. It first requires a sense that educating our young is critical to our nation’s future. These schools have incredibly high standards that are unparallelled by the public schools in the states in which they are located. I can testify to this based on my own experience. After four years in Germany,where I attended DoD junior and senioir high schools, my father was transferred to Texas in the middle of my junior year. My grades instantly went from C level to A level. At the end of that school year, my Algebra II class had still not advanced as far through the text book as my class in Germany had. My study habits had not changed, yet I excelled and earned As and Bs throughout my senior year.

One other fact about these DoD operated schools needs mention. The DoD no longer compensates schools for enrolling military dependents who live on base/post, thanks to legislation passed in 2005 by our Republican Congress, and signed into law by President George W. Bush. Since local schools cannot collect taxes on property on military reservations, local schools must absorb the entire cost of teaching our military’s dependent children who live on military bases/posts.

Diem Nguyen Salmon is the Senior Policy Analyst for Defense Budgeting in the Heritage Foundation's Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies.

Diem Nguyen Salmon is the Senior Policy Analyst for Defense Budgeting in the Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies.

Perhaps the worst recommendation is the call to cut the cost of military compensation. Bla, bla, bla needs to be done, the foundation hatchet-men (it is actually a woman) says—including the pension system, which is among the few reasons military men and women make careers of the military. With vague recommendations to “reduce costs to the military,” the bottom line comes to cutting already inadequate pay in order to meet the needed cuts.

Let’s get real, any all all the cuts necessary to reduce the burden of taxation should first come from what I call the Fact, Fiction and a Sense of Entitlement, that permeates the reality behind the stated ideology of the reactionary right. As for cuts that the DoD can make, let’s start by eliminating the ongoing fraud by contractors which runs rife through the military procurement system. Alone, the 37 companies that engaged in fraud over the last decade cost the tax payer more than $1.1 trillion. Getting a handle on this problem would dwarf anything the Heritage Foundation has come up with.Thereafter, let’s cut some of the “welfare” payments to which the reactionary right seems to have no objection. No, this is not about taking food out of children’s mouths or heaping further hardship on the working poor and military, like the Republicans intend. Nor is it about the usual liberal complaint about “corporate welfare.” This is about our tax dollars being used to pad the salaries and bonuses paid to executives in the military procurement process.

Yes, you read that right! 10 U.S.C. § 2324(e)(1)(P) and 41 U.S.C. § 256(e)(1)(P), aka: Executive Compensation Benchmarks, are paid out in addition to the costs to fulfill government contracts. The amount, currently capped at $763,029 per contract, is paid out on everything from aircraft artificial horizons to toilet paper. Guess what else? This neat little bonus has risen from, $200,000 in 1995 to its current level, during the period of Republican hegemony in Congress.

To be sure, the limit was raised a whopping $70,000 in 2011, but the House rejected an amendment (PDF) to HR 4310, the 2013 NDAA, that would have limited the amount to $400,000. While the Democrats do not get an “all clear” on this point, it should be clear who the principal benefactors of this largess were. Estimates put the savings as high as $6 billion a year if the cap were lowered to $200,000 on defense spending alone.

It is hard to imagine that executives like Halliburton’s David J. Lesar and other executives who bring home seven and eight digit incomes will suffer needlessly if the rest of the 99 percent draw the line and demand that Congress remove all this padding from their compensation. Considering the campaign contributions, especially to Republicans, that the defense industry heaps on politicians, it should however be pretty easy to imagine why they receive this largess.

corporate greedThen there are the ongoing problems with military procurement like those of the 1981 findings of the Project On Government Oversight. Who can forget the $640 toilet seats, $7,600 coffee makers and $436 Stanley hammers (which retailed for $12 in 1981) and other overpriced spare parts used by the military. Add to this the “$586 billion in ‘wasteful defense and contractor spending over the next 10 years” on weapons systems that “even the Pentagon says it doesn’t need or want.”

Let us note here that Republicans acknowledged that government spending creates jobs when they complained that cuts to the defense budget mandated in the sequester would result in job losses. While canceling $586 billion in contracts would undoubtedly result in job losses, the bloated procurement system thus far demonstrated assures that they would be relatively few. Unlike the impact on consumerism by reducing transfer payments, little of that money would be removed from the consumer economy.

In the end, the more we learn about the reactionary right, the more incredible their claim of fiscal conservatism becomes. Truly, borrow and spend conservatives—borrowing from the Social Security Trust Fund to spend on unfunded wars and Medicare Part D, while giving billions away to corporations that are reaping record profits, and tax breaks for the wealthy—contributes far more to the budget deficit than transfer payments to the poor. Then too, recent revelations about the very real shift in the tax burden onto the middle class secured by their demands during the budget debate reveal them to be anything but concerned over the taxes paid by the overwhelming majority of Americans.

Can the Democrats appease their cynical base and rebound in the next decade?


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If Jason Easley is right in his Politicususa article, “Payback Time: Obama Plans On Punishing All Of The Republicans Who Obstructed Him,” it’s past due for him to do so. For that matter, Democratic politicians in general need to demonstrate their convictions to their base—who are increasingly seeing them as no better than the Republicans.

Keeping the Democrats from going forward.

More than anything else, Democrats hold themselves back.

Throughout his presidency, Obama’s critics on the left have faulted him for bending too far backward to accommodate the obstructionist Republican opposition. Albeit he has also taken unrealistic criticism from political neophytes on everything from the use of drones to policy regarding Wall Street, his failure to take a clear stand on environmental issues—like the Keystone XL pipeline (KXL)—may have been the most costly.

While the environment and climate change are not among the top priorities for voters in general, they at least make it onto the polls—while the use of drones and handling of the prisoners at “Gitmo” do not. Moreover, how environmental issues are addressed by Democrats in office is extremely important to the base, regardless of rank against other issues.

From his declaration of an “all of the above” energy policy to his confirmation of it through his appointment of Ernest Moniz as Secretary of Energy, Obama sent clear signals to his environmentalist base that he did not care about their concerns—despite his initial statements in opposition to KXL.

A number of factors may have played into the 2014 electoral fiasco. Not the least of them was the mainstream media characterization of the failure of what has generally been called the “do nothing Congress.” Undoubtedly, many poorly informed Democrats were unaware of the extent to which Republican obstruction factored into that failure. That, and dissatisfaction with Democrats—but especially with President Obama, the titular head of the party—kept Democratic voters from turning out in virtually unprecedented numbers.

If Democrats hope to dominate the political sphere ever again, they will first need to behave like their base expects Democratic politicians to behave, and then declare it loudly enough to their base to get them to turn out and vote.

Republicans are not patriots


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A recent article by Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker made it into the Washington Post, and was subsequently posted to the Web site of their organization, the Center for Economic and Policy Research. The article, “Full Employment: The Recovery’s Missing Ingredient,” argued that failure to reach full employment had caused the recovery from “The Great Recession” to stagnate.

Audio disk of the wealth of nationsAs brilliant and insightful as these men are, I believe the following needs to be addressed in addition to their policy recommendations. Adam Smith said it best:

“The liberal reward of labour, therefore, as it is the necessary effect, so it is the natural symptom of increasing national wealth. The scanty maintenance of the labouring poor, on the other hand, is the natural symptom that things are at a stand, and their starving condition, that they are going fast backwards.”

Smith was of course relating his observations related to the conduct of business for the wealth of nations, an archaic, nationalist ideology. The fact that Republicans champion policies favorable to those who have reduced the US economy to its current state—yet claim to be true patriots—is among the most galling hypocrisies imaginable.

Much has been said of Smith’s laissez-faire position, and nearly all of it takes his position out of context. He, unlike the framers of the US Constitution, had few illusions about the noblesse oblige of those with great wealth, and was very critical of their ill considered policies toward labor. He believed however that wealthy owners would see the light, and opposed government support for and collusion with the corporations of his time, not labor policy. The fact is that government simply did not have a policy related to labor—with the exception of those that supported corporations in suppression of labor’s ability to organize for its benefit, or getting labor under control when it rioted.

To overcome this, we need something more than the recommendations in the article. If we are ever to turn things around, I’m convinced that all legislation that impedes labor’s ability to oppose management excess needs to be repealed, and the legislation that addresses management usurpation of labor’s right to negotiate be strongly enforced.

How the energy independence myth threatens our national security


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“Our nation faces a growing energy challenge. We must chart a new course toward energy independence.” Who has not heard some politician or media talking head say something to this effect? Who believes it? Was it more true in 2008, when the US imported 57 percent of its oil? Does the fact that we imported only 45 percent of our oil in 2012, and oil imports declined another 16% in 2013 make it less true? The fact is that energy independence as a national security issue—as the politicians and Cato Institute Sophists posit it—is a big lie, a very big lie.myth of energy independence

This lie actually poses a threat to our national security, due to our acceptance of the policies that result from our believing the lie—policies that are drawing us painfully close to the point of no return from an impending global climate change catastrophe, while assuring that demand will outstrip supply.

In part, the threat lies in the fact that we not only import less than half of our oil, but we now export over half of our domestic oil production. The danger in the myth is the absurdity of the notion that we should fully exploit finite domestic resources to gain independence from what some would say are unreliable sources of supply. This should be obvious on its face. The fact that oil is a finite resource first drew wide attention during the Arab oil embargo of the 70s, and this fact alone raises the question of what we would do once we exhaust our resources. Would such an event not actually make us dependent on imports?

The “Oh, but there is still the unreliability of supply” argument might seem reasonable, but is it? Possibly, but no. Currently, there are 27,000 capped oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico alone. In fact, the well beneath BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig was being sealed with cement for temporary abandonment when it exploded, and BP alone has capped about 600 wells to be held in reserve. Capping wells is a common practice that is used to keep prices stable (some would argue high), and these wells are in addition to the strategic reserve.

The Chicken Littles who spout the “unreliability of supply” argument are, of course, not talking about peak oil theory. They would, in fact, be the same people who deny the validity of the theory. Consider for yourself whether the “drill, baby, drill” mindset makes sense if oil and gas reserves are declining to the point that they are no longer economically viable.

The extent to which the rate of decline in demand over the past decade will provide a reprieve from the consequences of peak oil are anyone’s guess. Trends in development of new technologies and accelerating interest in green energy, as well as a push for conservation are however providing an offset. While switching to natural gas is greatly reducing demand on coal and oil, there is a conundrum in this. Natural gas has itself attained its peak, and may actually be dumping more hydrocarbons into the atmosphere than coal.

wind turbinesGreater fuel efficiency in passenger automobile engines, the growth in popularity of electric, hybrid, and transitioning to natural gas and electric public conveyance, including growing impetus toward development of commuter trains further add to the break from fossil fuels. Following Clean Technica can give the impression that new technologies and technological advances providing greater efficiencies seem to come out almost daily. With current consumption at approximately 18,690,000 barrels per day, and estimated domestic reserves of 160 billion barrels, the US reserves alone could provide our energy needs well beyond 23 years as the current rate of usage declines.

Why, you might ask, are our politicians lying to us about the need for energy independence. The facetious answer would be, “do you really need to ask?” Money, jobs, and political self interest is the short answer. The long answer draws the full spectrum of current and emerging energy technologies into the issue.

Oil companies will likely have an energy role in the foreseeable future, at least as long as fossil fuels still provide the energy needs to fuel our war machinery, though alternative fuels and technologies are already being explored and financed by the Pentagon. Though electric and fuel cell technology could theoretically supplant fossil fuel driven engines for our ground transportation needs, they could hardly meet the demands placed on them by the airline industry and modern war machines. They could, in example, not replace the jet fuel used to power fighter and bomber aircraft, or even the turban driven Abrams main battle tank. This too is being addressed, just as the Nazis did nearly eight decades ago.

Coal, part of the mix advocated by any “energy independence” advocate, will likely also continue to provide the energy needs to power our electric grid for some time to come—albeit an indeterminate and short time. In desperation, they have created the rhetorical myth of “Clean Coal” technology to lull us into a false sense that there is no urgency in transitioning to renewable energy. The truth is that despite alternative energy production bringing the percentage of our electricity generated by coal fired plants from 50 percent to 39 percent since 2002, coal still dumps 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide—36 percent of total U.S. emissions—into our atmosphere annually.

Both those invested in the oil and coal industries, and the legislators in those states most vulnerable to the effects of declining demand know that the heyday has already passed. Moreover, they know that the development of alternative energy technologies that are beginning to replace fossil fuels are accelerating—and will soon supplant them. Just for perspective, it’s worth noting that renewable energy accounted for 14.3 percent of the domestically produced electricity in the United States in the first six months of 2011—and has continued to grow since, while demand declines.

While the energy independence argument is just so much rhetorical gibberish intended to deceive people into accepting the status quo, there are very real dilemmas associated with failure to transition to renewable energy technologies. Quite aside from the costs involved in producing and developing renewable energy systems, these dilemmas revolve around the cost and timing of abandoning fossil fuel technologies.

Not only do the oil companies make astronomical fortunes, but they and the industries that serve and supply them are deeply invested in the capital means of production and distribution. Everything from the exploration equipment that finds the underground reserves to the pipe that follows the drill head into the ground to the tanker truck that delivers the gasoline from the refinery is specialized. Huge investments in pipelines, refineries and supertankers yet need to be recovered. Transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy would reduce the value of these assets to scrap metal, and doing so would also mean oil companies would have to surrender their market position in the oligopoly they struggled to secure for themselves over the past century and a half.

In addition to these costs, the human and consequent economic costs of transitioning to renewable energy will be epic. From exploration through exploitation and transportation to refining, and transportation to the consumer, the fossil fuel industry is labor intensive. Not only would the transition result in the loss of millions of jobs, but entire states, like West Virginia, the economies of which are almost solely dependent on exploiting their fossil fuel reserves, would be thrown into economic collapse.

The great and tragic irony of this dilemma is that the people who live in these coal producing regions keep voting for the promise of preventing “needless regulation” by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that is killing the coal industry. While EPA regulation undoubtedly have some effect, the fact is that coal is fading into history due to all those factors mentioned above. It just cannot compete, and , as its fortunes fade, so do those of the single industry communities it once supported.

economic rot in a post-coal region

Economic rot in a post-coal region. The highway into Centralia, Pennsylvania, where the coal mine that once supported a community has been burning and abandoned for over 75 years.

Examples of the rot following the decline of coal are everywhere in the carbon belt. In example, the once thriving city of Shamokin, Pennsylvania, first lost its place in the textile industry, and has fallen into a downward spiral as coal became less relevant. At the intersection of two major highways, Pottsville, Pennsylvania, provides another example. While not a coal producer itself, the city is flanked by Minersville to the west, Port Carbon to the east, and Shenandoah to the north.

Possibly the worst dilemma of all is the potential that global climate change will reach a point of no return. We are already at the point that climate change has raised global sea levels about 8 inches since 1880, and the rate of rise is accelerating. According to a new analysis by non-profit research organization Climate Central, the rate of acceleration may be faster than previously thought. The probability that “100 year floods” occurring by 2030 are on track to double or more. The danger this poses for the five million people living at or below four feet above sea level in coastal areas of the US is however dwarfed by the worst case scenario:

In quick summary, if enough cold, fresh water coming from the melting polar ice caps and the melting glaciers of Greenland flows into the northern Atlantic, it will shut down the Gulf Stream, which keeps Europe and northeastern North America warm. The worst-case scenario would be a full-blown return of the last ice age – in a period as short as 2 to 3 years from its onset – and the mid-case scenario would be a period like the “little ice age” of a few centuries ago that disrupted worldwide weather patterns leading to extremely harsh winters, droughts, worldwide desertification, crop failures, and wars around the world.

Some skeptics will dismiss this potential catastrophe, because climate scientists cannot pin down a date. They may even dismiss it despite the fact that climate science has for decades been able to associate oceanic phenomena like the el Niño to weather extremes. While some of the skeptics may in fact believe they are correct, it is likely safe to say that the bulk of them will be the same people who dismiss climate change for self interest—self interest founded upon the interests of the fossil fuel industry.

coastal floodingWhether time remains to transition to alternative and renewable energy is uncertain. Coastal flooding is already a fact with terrible consequences, and climate scientists cannot dismiss that the Gulf Stream will not shut down this year, or for decades to come. Too many variables, including political resistance, also stand in the way of forecasting when the displacement of fossil fuel technologies will result in economic hardship. What is certain is that little to nothing is being done to avert these catastrophes, and the threat to our national security and our very lives increases with every delay that primarily Republican resistance imposes on addressing the issues.

What is also certain is that overcoming the political resistance will be a necessary first step. We will need proactive leadership that will not wait until we reach the point of no return. Reactionary Republicans and apostate Democrats alike will need to be swept aside if we hope to create the needed partnership between government (federal and state), business, organized labor and education. We will need to make the necessary capital investment in research, development and production of renewable energy resources, from bio-gas, fuel cells and geothermal energy to tidal and wind electric systems and networks. More importantly, we will need to retrain and educate those who work in the fossil fuel industry, as we deliberately transition to alternative energy sources within as short a time as possible.

How a simple majority can reverse “Citizen’s United”


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To understand how a simple majority can reverse Citizen’s United (Citizens), you first need to understand that politics is all about messaging. The right hailed the Supreme Court’s onerous decision as a victory of free speech that would assure that the views of the 1% would not be buried under those of the 99%. Pity, oh pity the oppressed minority who cannot out shout the masses—but have the wealth to fight back through the media if only unconstrained by laws that virtually gag them.

Does anyone see where this is going yet? It should be obvious. Use of social media to expand the messaging power of the left should be able to overcome any advantage the right gained through Citizens.

First, ask just how effectively the right’s currency fueled messaging machine really is. Did all the money Sheldon Adelson, David and Charles Koch and others fed into the slot help Mitt Romney? For that matter, didn’t the money that flowed in on the left make the whole question of money a moot point?

Let’s next ask, since I advocate the use of social media to overcome the right’s messaging machine, you should next ask whether the 25% of the electorate who identify as Republican can withstand the 31% who identify as Democrats. Don’t be too sure about your answer. The fans of conservative political pages on Facebook share the posts on those pages at three times the rate that the fans of liberal pages share (0.11 percent conservative to .037 percent liberal for written content, and respectively 3.7 percent to 1.7 percent for memes).

Since the numbers are not large, these fans are not likely to affect the decisions of others—which is pretty much the whole point of this blog post. All the cynical idiots aside, the failure of liberals to get the message out makes it possible that polls will report the following:

Even though the 50 percent who think Congress was very unproductive are in part talking about the Republican House, they don’t want the majority to change. ~ Daily Caller

talking headsWith no better sources than Fox News, CNN (Fox Lite), and admittedly biased outlets like MSNBC, it’s not surprising that voters, let alone the general public is all but unaware of the issues. You can forget about them understanding the issues. The right has no monopoly on stupid.

reachIf you doubt that sharing relevant  content on Facebook can help, consider this. A Facebook political page that had no more than four shares and fewer than 300 people “reached” on every post above and below the post (comment section) shown above reached 1,556 people after being shared by only 43 people.

If the estimated 1.2 million liberals who regularly visit political pages on Facebook were to share content, they could potentially reach over 43 million. Imagine the potential for messaging power like that to reverse any effect in Citizens United. This is Realpolitik.