Friday, January 6, 2012

American Petroleum Institute wants us to be “energy voters,” which means supporting the Keystone XL pipeline.

By Marc Jampole

The friendly looking and sharply dressed middle-aged African-American man looks out at us from a full-page ad with a confident smile. A headline in a type face that looks like someone wrote it out by hand reads the words this impressive executive-looking man is supposed to be saying to us: “I’m an energy voter.”

The rest of the ad consists of about 70 words which tell us that we need energy from all sources to create new jobs and then makes the unproved assertion that to get the energy we need “means developing our plentiful domestic energy—like oil and natural gas.” The text then urges us to become “energy voters.” Underneath a campaign button that reads “; more growth.” below which it tells us we can learn more at

I saw this print ad in yesterday’s USA Today. When I went to the website I discovered that it is part of a series of ads which feature a diverse mix of attractive people telling us to vote for energy.

The Vote4Energy website has lots of facts and figures (all without attribution, so we don’t know how to check if they are true), including projections of how many jobs could be created with a greater supply of domestic energy. Vote4Energy gives us 6 energy issues, including access to energy, energy security, jobs, taxes on energy, consumer needs and the environment (which focuses on not “undermining the economy,” an unveiled code phrase for deregulation).

Vote4Energy also uses many web pages to propose actions that energy voters can take, including registering to vote, writing letters, attending Vote4Energy events and holding letter-writing parties. It provides information and calls-to-action related to every one of the 50 states of the union. You can actually download voter registration forms for all 50 states. There’s also a place to join, which costs nothing but requires you to give all your personal contact information to the organizers of the Vote4Energy movement.

The funny thing about the website is that it keeps talking about domestic sources of energy, but it only ever mentions oil and natural gas in the boiler plate description of the “organization,” in which nuclear, renewable and alternative energy sources appear in a list that begins with fossil fuels. For this one mention of non-fossil fuels I found dozens of mentions of oil and natural gas until I stopped counting.

Funnier still: the only specific action related to a real issue, as opposed to the nebulous concept of “developing our plentiful domestic energy,” is to remind President Obama that time is running out to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which will run from Canada to multiple U.S. destinations. Any frequent follower of the news knows that this pipeline is extremely controversial because of its high cost and the environmental havoc it will wreak along thousands of miles. The Natural Resources Defense Council has stated that the Keystone XL undermines the U.S. commitment to an economy built on clean energy and instead would deliver dirty fuel from oil tar sands at a high cost. And no, I didn’t get that last piece of information from the Vote4Energy website!

It came as no surprise, then, to discover that Vote4Energy is a project of the American Petroleum Institute (API), which represents 490 oil and natural gas companies.

The approach is quite deceptive for two reasons: 1) API keeps saying “energy,” but it clearly means oil and gas; 2) it focuses on actions that are depicted as empowering to voters, but the one specific action it advocates is to put pressure on the Obama Administration to make the decision to build a pipeline opposed by a large and growing number of state and national elected officials, environmentalists and even some oil refineries.

What’s truly fascinating is that API has launched what is in part a voter registration campaign. API member companies and their executives tend to give money and votes to Republicans, who for the past few years have been pursuing an aggressive campaign to make it harder for people to vote.

I’m not proposing a conspiracy theory by any means. I would be extremely shocked to learn that the API and the Republican Party are working together to create a more conservative electorate.

But what is true is that both Republicans and the API are using deceptive means to cook the voting rolls. The Republican Party is sponsoring and passing state laws that restrict voters based on the bogus issue of voting fraud, which is statistically non-existent. The API is encouraging voting among people whom they have deceived with their misleading marketing campaign.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

No one should get a free pass for trying to take a gun on an airplane.

By Marc Jampole

It sure seems as if there has been a lot of news lately about people trying to carry firearms onto airplanes. As it turns out, people have been trying to sneak guns on board for a long time, at the rate of 2 per day 18 months ago. In December, that number more than doubled, to from 4-5 a day. The week of December 19-25, for example, TSA screeners found 31 guns in carry-on bags, many of them loaded, with bullets in their chambers.

What I find disturbing is the news that the TSA does not have these gun-toters all arrested. As a blogger representing the TSA recently stated (I’m giving you the original reference but note that the New York Times was my source), “Just because we find a firearm on an individual does not mean they had bad intentions, that’s for the law enforcement officer to decide.” Evidently, a majority of passengers found with firearms in their carry-ons explain sheepishly that they simply forgot they had them in their bags.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s like saying the dog ate your homework. I believe that every person who attempts to check a gun through security should go to jail for a minimum of a month. If the gun is loaded or if bullets in the gunperson’s possession, it should be for a minimum of a year. To my mind it’s absolutely amazing that someone can spend years in jail for selling marijuana to adults (a victimless crime), but some people who try to sneak a gun on board a plane can get off with a wrist slap.

I would also end the practice of allowing people to carry unloaded guns on board if they register them first. If someone were waving a gun around on airplane, would you assume that it is probably unloaded? Too bad we can’t get the opinion of the people who went down on planes on 9/11 because terrorists brandished box cutters. Let people check their guns in their suitcases.

Like so many other issues, the United States seems divided about the issue of gun control. A survey by the Pew Foundation after the Tucson shooting of Representative Giffords found that 49% of Americans currently say it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns, while 46% say it is more important to control gun ownership. Unfortunately, the National Rifle Association has thrown millions of dollars into convincing state and national lawmakers to pass looser gun laws, money that gun control advocates don’t have to spend. The result has been a spate of recent state laws that make it easier to own a gun and expand the places that people can carry them. Currently 32% of all households have guns in them, which seems high, but in fact is the lowest total since they started keeping records of such matters in the 1970’s. Meanwhile, the number of criminal background checks for gun sales set a record in November and broke that record in December.

My own approach to gun control is to protect society: I would outlaw possession of all handguns outside of shooting ranges and only allow private ownership of hunting guns, making gun enthusiasts rent other guns or keep their guns under lock and key at shooting clubs. I would do away with all the gun shows and all mail-order and on-line purchasing of guns, because it’s so hard to police these sellers. I would make the purchase and background check procedures much more rigorous. I respect hunters and range shooting enthusiasts, but I also respect pilots and drivers of automobiles, yet agree with all the restrictions we put on their rights to protect themselves and others.

The old saw that it’s not guns who kill people, but people who kill people, is wrong. It’s people with guns who kill people.

This is my worry too: Little Girl Red, Cover Your Head

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Santorum symbolizes a political party that says it wants to help families but supports anti-family policies

By Marc Jampole

Yesterday was a glorious, almost celestial day for Rick Santorum. He lost last night’s Iowa caucus to Mitt Romney by a mere eight votes. Earlier in the day, he was highly praised in a deceptive article by conservative columnist David Brooks.

The Iowa caucus represents what’s wrong with our electoral process and the Brooks article is the latest example of the deceptive politics that the Republican Party plays.

First Iowa: I am far from the first to note that our primary system gives more weight to rural and conservative voters. The first three “votes” almost always sort out the declared candidates into contenders and also-rans. By the end of these “votes” there are typically just two, and sometimes only one, candidate left standing in either party. Yet those “votes” include the Iowa caucus and the primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina, three states that have much higher levels of conservative voters than the nation as a whole and no major metropolitan area. For example, 6 of 10 voters identified themselves as evangelicals in last night’s Iowa caucus, which only decides on delegates to county conventions to take place later in the year. No national survey has ever shown that more than about 30% of voters identify themselves as evangelicals.

Let’s say that the first three “votes” were Massachusetts and New Mexico, two states with relatively progressive voters, and the swing state of North Carolina. After these three states voted or caucused, the candidates left standing in both parties would certainly be more progressive than they are now. More important, those who participated in these early rounds would be more representative of voters throughout the entire country. The electoral process is rigged right from the beginning.

The David Brooks encomium to Santorum is a masterpiece of political propaganda. If you read not only what it says but what it doesn’t say, you get a good idea of the game that Republicans have been running on the white working class since Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign.

In the article, titled “Workers of the World, Unite!,” Brooks slowly builds his case for Rick Santorum. Here is my paraphrase of his reasoning:

  1. The largest voting bloc in the country is white working class (whites with a high school education or a little college) and these voters now tend to vote Republican, which makes the Republicans the party of working class whites.

  2. Virtually all Republican candidates come from an upper middle class or wealthy background. (His exact words dance around this fact: “former College Republicans who have a more individualistic and even Randian worldview than most members of the working class.”

  3. Santorum comes from a working class and immigrant background and focuses his concerns not on the individual but on the family.

  4. Santorum is therefore the “working class candidate of the right.”

What Brooks expects us to believe is that the proof a candidate supports the working class is that he or she comes from the working class.

Even a cursory perusal of Santorum’s stands on economic and political issues at his website demonstrates that while he may come from modest means, Rick Santorum definitely does not support the best interests of the working class-white or otherwise:

  • He wants to curtail the National Labor Relations Board, which is an anti-union move. Unions were the main reason that so many working class whites and minorities achieved middle class status after World War II and the decline of unionism has been one of the major reasons the working class has slipped into poverty and near poverty.

  • He likes Paul Ryan’s plan to gut Medicare.

  • His proposals to lower taxes tend to help the wealthy and near wealthy much more than they help the working class.

  • His proposals to cut government spending would leave less money for creating jobs and educating children.

  • He explicitly states that he would look to the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation Enterprise Foundation and the Simpson-Bowles Commission’s recommendations for guidance in economic policies. That’s three ultra-right think tanks that routinely propose policies that take money from the poor and middle class and give it to the wealthy, plus the special commission that was supposed to work on reducing the debt, but instead proposed policies that shift even more of the tax burden away from the wealthy and onto the backs of everyone else while cutting spending for jobs, infrastructure improvements and education.

Brooks wants us to judge Santorum on his style and not his substance. In advertising, that’s called selling the sizzle instead of the steak. Santorum’s steak is a tough chew for the 39% of the population that is working class whites, the group for which Brooks proposes Santorum as a “white knight.” (Brooks doesn’t consider the fate or needs of the non-white working class in his article).

The separation of the working class into white (and the unmentioned “others”) is another example of the ruling elite trying to divide and conquer. The interests of working class whites and non-whites are exactly the same. To divide the groups may make sense for analyzing voting patterns, but in a discussion of issues and “best interests” is patently racist.

Santorum, like all the current Republican candidates, says that he supports the working class, but his policies say otherwise. An old saying goes, “Look at what I say and not what I do.” In considering Santorum, let’s change it a bit: Don’t look at what he says he represents, look at what he says he’s going to do. And what he says he’s going to do will further erode the economic well-being of anyone who doesn’t have a lot of money, which means most people and all of the working class.