jump to navigation

Glenn Beck’s Miracle | Three 8/28 Thoughts August 29, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Media, Politics.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

Towards the end of his spectacle this weekend, Glenn Beck offered definitive proof of god’s existence.  He started recounting a personal tale about the most holy type of divine intervention: the fundraising miracle.

Beck said that although having raised $3.1 million for a charity he’d pledged to help, he was still $600,000 short of his target.  But alas, there were no more donors to be found.

On the flight back from his final fundraiser, Beck says he raised his face to the ceiling of the airplane cabin and, for the first time, actually questioned god (he cried as he said this).  But that makes sense, because falling $600,000 short of a fundraising target would test the faith of the most fervent believer.

So Beck called out to god.  Then, he tells us, without saying a word to anyone but god, the final $600,000 were miraculously donated in just two days.  God himself saved Beck’s fundraising effort when all hope was lost.  Ask and you shall receive.

It’s a moving story: god helped Beck meet his fundraising target when there was literally no more money to be found anywhere – except perhaps the $32 million Beck made last year…

“The 2010 Wingnut Superbowl” in the words of John Avlon.  I’ve seen bigger.

Three additional observations:

1) Focus. Wasn’t this event supposed to be about supporting the troops?  It was called “Restoring Honor.”  I came a little late to the theatrics, but what I saw was solely about restoring faith.  Glenn Beck just attempted to evangelize America.  Maybe I missed something, but is that really how this event was advertised?

A friend of mine spoke to some tea partiers as they were leaving the rally, and they seemed to echo this sentiment.  To paraphrase them, “we thought he was going to talk about the troops and the Constitution. We thought he was going to tell us what to do since we came all the way here.  Instead, he just told us to go to church.”  I am curious whether there may actually be some resentment from his base about this.

2) Size. Beck and his conservative gang are using the size of the rally as proof of the strength of their movement.  But how big was it actually?  The U.S. National Park Service no longer makes official tallies since being accused of low-balling the numbers for the Million Man March (and because they get nothing out of making the tallies so that’s a lot of hassle and no benefit to them).  Unfortunately, the absence of an official tally opens up the crowd size to conservative hyperbole.

Instead of just guessing, CBS commissioned an estimate based on aerial photos that came to 87,000 +/- 9k.  NBC Nightly News said tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands.  ABCNews said more than 100,000.  The event had a permit for 300,000.  Beck said between 300,000 and 650,000 were there.  Fox News “reported” at least 500,000.  (Just our of curiosity, anything happen if your event exceeds its permitted size?)

But my favorite crowd estimate was conducted by Rep. Michele Bachmann (TP-MN).  At her own little rally at the Washington Monument, she asked her audience how many people thought that more than one million people were there.  The crowd cheered.  And so it was.  Having compiled that scientific data, she said “We‘re not going to let anyone get away with saying there were less than a million people here today because we were witnesses.”

This is exactly the kind of manufactured conservative reality I have been talking about – it’s a “we believe it, so it’s true” perspective.  Democracy is a good form of government, not a good tool to determine what is objectively factual.

3) Class. Beck told his audience that they needed to accept god “so that we can guide [America/the world] down the stairs and out of the building to safety.”  I was confused for a minute, but then I got the reference.  I don’t find that imagery particularly tasteful.

But then what do you expect from Glenn Beck?  John Avlon has a good critique of the rally at The Daily Beast that highlights the blinding hypocrisy of this event.  Beck’s actions invite media commentators to rightly call him out because external criticism only further endears Beck to his faithful audience, and he doesn’t have to worry about them noticing the hypocrisy because they only trust Fox News.

Advertisements

There is No Common Ground between Different Realities August 27, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Climate Change, Congress, Media, Offshore Drilling, Politics.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

To call Republicans “the Party of No” is not quite fair – they say a lot of things besides ‘no.’ But that is the full extent of their political output: speech. Currently, Republicans are more accurately the Party of Rhetoric.

Now this is partly because they are in the legislative minority, but I can’t think of any other period in our history during which the minority party decided to so fully abstain from policymaking.  You can count on one hand the number of GOP senators willing to substantively work with the Democratic majority.  It makes you wonder what the rest of them are doing with their time.

In the past, when our country faced a problem, our two political parties fought about which policy was better to address it.  That is how our legislature is supposed to function.

You may have noticed that this occurs less today.  Increasingly, the political debate has devolved into an argument not of HOW to act but rather IF any action is even warranted.  Instead of debating solutions, we find ourselves arguing about whether or not a problem exists at all:

  • This is true of climate change: conservatives don’t have their own solution, they simply deny that the problem exists.
  • This is true of healthcare: how many times during the last year were we told that “America has the best healthcare in the world”?
  • This is true of any policy that involves regulation (finance, pollution, offshore drilling etc.), because a push for deregulation instead of better regulation contains the implicit assertion that no problems exist (or that regulations somehow cause what problems there are).

Republicans deny that these problems exist altogether, and that is problematic because they are quite real.

Historically, even policies supporting inaction were not based on denial.  Consider America’s now defunct isolationism.  Advocates of non-intervention did not dispute the existence of foreign wars, they simply determined that staying out of them was a better course of action.  At least everybody was still operating in the same reality – they debated the merits of different solutions.

In 2006, Stephen Colbert told President Bush that “reality has a well-known liberal bias.”  So conservatives simply left.  Today, Republicans occupy their own reality.  They get their own news tailored to that reality, and anything that contradicts this fictitious worldview is simply denounced as biased, even empirical science.  No policy debate can occur because the conservative reality has its own facts and they distrust “ours.”  Experts are just elitists anyways.

But this planet and this country face real challenges, even if conservatives refuse to believe them.  Unfortunately, by the time they become full, immediate crises, it will be too late to act.  Think of America as riding in an SUV speeding towards a cliff: everyone in that car is in trouble – even the kid in the backseat with his eyes shut tight, plugging his ears and singing loudly to himself (presumably Mellencamp’s “[This Is] Our Country”).  But once the wheels leave the pavement, and likely well before then, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.  That kid is only forced to finally acknowledge the outside world upon impact.

So how we can bridge this inter-reality chasm?  It may not even be possible.  But there is one way we can try (and the Daily Show has been attempting this valiantly).

The Party of Rhetoric, especially now that it has started drinking Tea, has begun to make some wild claims.  Conservatives won’t listen to our words, so we must hope that they still believe theirs.

As Republican politicians increasingly resort to fear-mongering, they make ridiculous extrapolations and predict devastating futures that result from liberal policies.  So when these disasters do not occur, we must repeat their words back to them.

It will be a while before we can utilize this strategy for most issues, but we can start small with offshore drilling now.  Conservatives and the oil industry railed against the Obama administration for its perfectly justified temporary moratorium on deepwater drilling.  They insisted that this most minimal safeguard against another massive oil spill would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and more economic devastation than the BP spill itself.

As the New York Times reported this week, that simply has not happened.  Even the administration’s estimates were overly pessimistic (to a much lesser extent).  Instead of hundreds of thousands of laid off oil workers, unemployment claims attributable to the moratorium are currently just in the hundreds.

I’m sure that the conservative reality has an explanation for this development or simply rejects it altogether.  But if we can’t even look over our shoulder and agree about what just happened, how can we possibly look ahead and safely navigate the future?

Kill, baby, kill April 2, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Congress, Offshore Drilling, Politics.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
8 comments

***This post has become much more relevant since the BP oil spill began.  For a complete list of offshore drilling/oil spill questions and answers, click here.***

On Wednesday, President Obama unveiled a proposal to open vast swathes of American coastlines to new offshore drilling.  I have never opposed one of the President’s decisions more strongly than this, which makes sense because this move was made purely as a concession to congressional Republicans.  Conservatives would have you believe that science is a political debate, but there are some things that just cannot be spun.  Offshore drilling is one of them.

Below, I will demonstrate that there is literally no good reason to increase our offshore drilling.  Not one.  …Unless you’re an oil company.

Domestic drilling CANNOT lower oil or gas prices. Just last year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) analyzed what would happen if we fully opened our coasts to offshore drilling.  Their conclusion: by 2020, gas prices remain unchanged. By 2030, US gas prices would be $0.03/gallon lower. That’s it.  And it’s easy to see why:

We just don’t have enough oil to make a difference. We, the US, represent 25% of world oil demand and <3% of the world’s supply.  The price of oil, as a global commodity, is determined on the global market.  We produce so little of the global supply that we simply can’t affect prices from the supply side. The only exception to this is when regional refining capabilities are temporarily decreased (as in the wake of hurricanes), but this scenario can only raise local prices above the global market price, not lower them.  Additionally, since OPEC is a cartel, even if we were miraculously able to significantly affect prices, OPEC could simply reduce their supply to negate that effect.

We don't have enough oil to drill our way out of this problem.

As of 2009, the US consumed approximately about 1.5 million barrels of oil per day. So even in a recession, we use roughly 8 billion barrels of oil per year.  According to the EIA, the federal drilling moratorium only blocked drilling for 18.17 billion barrels of offshore oil (a little over 2 year’s worth) out of an estimated 59.09 billion barrels offshore in the Lower 48 states, with most of that unavailable oil off of California, which is wisely united in bipartisan support against offshore drilling.

Oil companies already have access to about 34 billion barrels of offshore oil that they have yet to develop. When you take into account realistic production rates, the fact that this oil would have to be extracted over the course of many decades and the scope of the current proposal, we are talking about displacing from imports just 1-1.5% of our annual consumption.  That DOES NOT make us more energy independent or secure.

Offshore drilling is still a dirty, dangerous risk. Just last year, an oil rig off the northwestern coast of Australia sprung a leak that couldn’t be plugged for nearly 3 months.  An estimated 9 million gallons spilled into the ocean, covering more than 9,000 square miles of ocean. The drilling rig and platform in question were all the newest technology, having been built in the last 3 years, and they caused a spill nearly as large as Exxon Valdez.  Offshore drilling poses a grave threat to our nation’s beaches, oceans and wildlife.  Not to mention billions of dollars and millions of jobs in sustainable tourism and fishing industries along the nation’s coasts.  We risk so much to obtain so little.

This is the new, modern oil rig that spilled oil for almost 3 months just last year, causing an oil spill big enough to be seen from space. And this exact thing could happen off of any of our beaches here in the U.S.

Drilling is a long-term proposition. Any politician who touts offshore drilling as an immediate fix for gas prices (or anything, for that matter) is flat out lying to you.  Even if we opened the continental shelf and/or ANWR tomorrow, oil wouldn’t begin to flow for at least 10 years, and maximum production wouldn’t be achieved before 2027. Only THEN could we get our prices lowered by mere cents per gallon.

“American” oil doesn’t help America. We don’t have nationalized oil companies. In many other countries, oil companies are government-run.  A country taps its own resources and distributes them as the government sees fit.  That, for better or for worse, does not happen here.  “Our” oil companies are huge, privately owned companies that span the globe and act solely in the interest of their stockholders.  It is true that freeing ourselves from our dependence upon unstable, unfriendly countries for their oil would be better for America.  But offshore drilling does almost nothing to accomplish this.

Industry front groups try to set up cost-benefit analyses to show us how much money we save/earn by drilling domestically, but the American people (who do not own stock in Exxon) don’t benefit from US oil company profits.  We still pay the same money for the same gas.  I’m not endorsing foreign oil, I’m just saying that US oil companies are not our saviors or even our friends.  They are just companies trying to make as much money as they can.

And just for the record, oil companies already have access to about 34 billion barrels of offshore oil that they have yet to seriously develop.

“All of the Above” is not a solution. Whether we’re talking about federal dollars or private investment, money is limited.  Every dollar spent on a needlessly dangerous and unsustainable fuel source like oil could be more efficiently and effectively spent on renewable energy for our future.

So why did Obama do it? On the surface, the political calculus is there: combined with his recent concession on nuclear power, offering conservatives another of their major energy objectives could pave the way for a comprehensive climate/energy bill.  But this really doesn’t do it for me.  Only a handful of Republicans were “in play” for climate change anyways, and this doesn’t appear to have convinced anyone else.  Indeed, most congressional Republicans angrily panned the plan as “job killing” because it doesn’t jeopardize every last beach in America.  The most moderate Republicans offered only tepid praise for the plan as “a good first step.”  It has been suggested that this centrist tack removes this issue from the upcoming midterm elections amidst the inevitable higher gas prices of summer, but as long as any coast remains protected, I think that talking point remains (and John Boehner clearly agrees).  I really don’t have a good explanation for this.

Sen. Lautenberg put a more accurate spin on the omnipresent conservative mantra proposed by the President today: “kill, baby, kill,” because offshore drilling threatens not only marine wildlife but also coastal economies and jobs that rely on clean beaches and healthy oceans.   The day after this unfortunate announcement, the President released his long anticipated tougher gas mileage standards for cars.  This move will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of the program.  That’s 1.8 billion barrels of oil we don’t have to drill for or buy, and we can achieve these savings without sacrificing the Chesapeake Bay, North Carolina’s gorgeous Outer Banks, or that beach you go to that you love so much.  These are the solutions we need.  Drilling just isn’t the answer.

This graphic shows the new areas that would be open to drilling in President Obama's new proposal.

One final point worth mentioning:

Big Oil profits from our suffering. With soaring gas prices in recent years, the oil companies have been posting record profits while the American public has struggled.  The fanatical support oil companies enjoy from the rank and file Republican is sadly ironic as these companies profit at the expense of regular people.  While they do contribute handsomely to campaigns, these companies do nothing for the everyday conservatives who champion their cause.  It really is a testament to the expertise with which the GOP and industry advertising/lobbyists manipulate the public.  And to add insult to injury, the Big 5 are spending most of their profits on buying back their own stock.  They are spending under 4% of their profits on exploration for new oil and even less on research and development.

This makes me pretty angry, but I’ve had people tell me “well, they’re private companies making a profit.  Good for them.”  Just because I am a Democrat does not mean I automatically begrudge businesses for their success.  This is different for one fundamental reason: the oil industry is very heavily subsidized.  Oil companies receive millions and millions of taxpayer dollars and tax breaks each year.  If they are going to continue to be supported by the American people, they must act on our behalf.  Their expenditures clearly indicate that they do not.

Separation of Church and School February 22, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Election, Politics.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

***Much of this post is incited and informed by Russell Shorto’s excellent NYT Magazine article, “How Christian Were the Founders?”  It is long, but well worth the read.***

There are times when we are reminded that even a single, small election can matter.  No, this isn’t about Scott Brown.  I am speaking of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE).  How many of you vote in your state’s BOE elections?  Do you even remember?  If it wasn’t on the straight party ticket I certainly didn’t.  But these elections can have sweeping consequences, especially in Texas.

I have written previously of Don McLeroy, the dentist on the Texas SBOE who last year decided he was more qualified to determine the science curriculum than the National Academy of Sciences.  Specifically about creationism.  Each year, the Texas SBOE reviews and rewrites that state’s public school curriculum standards for one subject, and this year is History.

Before we move any further, it is important to highlight the significance of these decisions and the broader implications of the public school curriculum in Texas.  With 4.7 million public school students, Texas is the second largest domestic market for textbooks.  Because the largest, California, is so specific, Texas essentially determines what is or isn’t included in textbooks for the rest of the country.  While publishers offer the decidedly weak defense that “It’s not a given that Texas’ curriculum translates into other states,” Professor James Kracht of Texas A&M, who has long been involved in the state’s textbook process, explains that “Texas governs 46 or 47 states.”  So a perversion of Texas’ curriculum is a national problem.

This situation is not lost on the members of the Texas SBOE.  In fact, for many, it’s the entire reason they’re there.  7 of the 15 members operate openly as a Christian conservative voting bloc and are quite frank about their objectives.  This causes some tension with the rational world.

Mr. Shorto offers samples of this year’s controversies:

“McLeroy moved that Margaret Sanger, the birth-control pioneer, be included because she “and her followers promoted eugenics,” that language be inserted about Ronald Reagan’s “leadership in restoring national confidence” following Jimmy Carter’s presidency and that students be instructed to “describe the causes and key organizations and individuals of the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.” The injection of partisan politics into education went so far that at one point another Republican board member burst out in seemingly embarrassed exasperation, “Guys, you’re rewriting history now!” Nevertheless, most of McLeroy’s proposed amendments passed by a show of hands.”

and

“The board considered an amendment to require students to evaluate the contributions of significant Americans. The names proposed included Thurgood Marshall, Billy Graham, Newt Gingrich, William F. Buckley Jr., Hillary Rodham Clinton and Edward Kennedy. All passed muster except Kennedy, who was voted down.”

Many of you may remember the beloved children’s book “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?”  Its author, Bill Martin Jr., was recently removed from the Texas 3rd grade social studies curriculum on account of un-American “critiques of capitalism and the American system.”  The board members were concerned about a 2008 book entitled “Ethical Marxism” written by Bill Martin.  A different Bill Martin. By the time their mistake was pointed out, the board members had already struck Bill Martin Jr. from the curriculum.  This is a benign example of what happens when non-expert ideologues are allowed to decide what our kids should and shouldn’t learn.

The latest victim of McCarthyism. In textbooks for children no less.

Don McLeroy has long led this misguided charge, but he is not at all alone.

Another board member, Cynthia Dunbar, works at the new law school at Jerry Falwell’s conservative Liberty University.  The school’s stated objective is “to transform legislatures, courts, commerce and civil government at all levels.”  As a law professor, she teaches her students legal techniques to overturn rulings against conservative objectives such as prayer in schools.  In her book “One Nation Under God,” Dunbar described her work on the SBOE as a “battle for our nation’s children and who will control their education and training” and described it as crucial to our [Christians’] success for reclaiming our nation.

With such strong beliefs about education, it is not surprising to find Dunbar on a SBOE; indeed, concerned parents have every right to voice concern about their children’s education and even to get involved if they so choose.  But Dunbar does not have children in the Texas public school system.  She wrote in her book about “the inappropriateness of a state-created, taxpayer-supported school system” and compared sending kids to public schools to “throwing them into the enemy’s flames, even as the children of Israel threw their children to Moloch.” All of her kids were home-schooled or attended private Christian schools.  She is on the SBOE purely to indoctrinate America’s youth.

Fortunately, these abuses have not gone unnoticed.  Campaigns are in full swing ahead of the March 3rd election for these important positions, and Don McLeroy and his social conservative bloc have serious challengers running against them.  But stakeholders on both sides of the aisle are mobilizing their supporters; conservatives only need to pick up one more reliable vote to gain complete control of the Board.  Conservatives are typically much more active in small mid-term elections (which is how we found ourselves in this predicament to begin with), but rational people are fed up with these 7 zealots in unfortunate positions of outsized power.  It is time to end this perversion of our nation’s public education, and on March 3rd, Texans will have their chance to do it.

Snowmageddon – The End of Global Warming? February 11, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Climate Change, Media, Politics.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
3 comments

It’s cold here in Washington, DC.  By now, everybody knows we’ve had quite a bit of snow over the last week.  Conservative media outlets (and conservative pundits given a platform by mainstream outlets in the name of “balance”) offer these powerful blizzards as proof that global warming is a hoax.  In reality, however, all that these storms prove is that one cannot win an argument with a climate denier.

The term “climate change” was adopted because it is more accurate than “global warming.”  Even as the average global temperature rises, there will be some regions that grow cooler.  Yet taken as a whole, our planet is incontrovertibly warming.  According to NASA, the 2000s were the warmest decade on record, and 2009 tied as the second warmest year.  In fact, despite the chill here, last month (Jan. 2010) was 0.3 degrees warmer than the long term average.  Moreover, the recent storms don’t even counter the theory of climate change – they are predicted by it!

NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies report of surface temperatures.

As a disclaimer, it should be noted that individual weather events (short instances not to be confused with the much longer trends of climate) neither prove nor disprove climatic trends.  That being said, it is established fact that warmer air can hold more moisture.  So it makes sense that we would see increased precipitation fall on a warming planet.  In summer, that means more rainfall.  In winter, that warmer air with its increased moisture cools and causes “Sno-verkill” (the most recent, annoying successor to “Snowpocalypse” and “Snowmageddon”).

The Daily Show has a particularly good (and hilarious) segment demonstrating how ridiculous this denier logic is. One of my favorites to date.

The term “climate change” is also preferable because it helps to counter the annual lies that winter somehow disproves a demonstrable warming of our planet.  Regardless of the global temperature, the nature of our planet’s orbit and axial tilt in relation to the sun will always cause seasons of relative warmth and cold.  You knew this.  But unfortunately many people don’t.  And the media are allowing climate deniers to wield events that are literally explained by climate change as evidence of its failure.  This news story casts doubt upon the reality of climate change in the minds of the public, who are continually told by conservatives that we cannot act because scientists aren’t even sure it’s happening.

Climate change is not certain; it’s a theory.  But it’s a theory the same way that gravity is a theory: the best available explanation for a phenomenon, based on volumes of verifiable evidence, and tantamount to fact as long as there is no contradictory data or a better explanation.  The IPCC, over 2000 of the world’s leading climate scientists from around the world, has concluded with “at least 90% certainty” that greenhouse gases released by fossil fuels and other human activities are warming our planet.  That is more than enough certainty to act upon.

If an airline mechanic told you that the plane you were about to board had at least a 90% chance of crashing, would you get on that flight?  Definitely not.  Now let’s make the analogy a little more accurate: you are already on that plane, with that same at least 90% chance of crashing.  Don’t you think it’s about time we found a safe way to land?