Friday, April 28, 2006

Bush, Big Oil bleeding US dry.

Record profits.

That’s what big oil corporations have reaped during an economic period that has left millions of Americans bankrupt, underemployed and without health coverage. Since 2001, big oil companies have exploited every angle from war to tropical storms in an effort to charge increasingly high prices for fuel.

The American people share part of the blame. Our refusal to practice conservation and demand better fuel economy resulted in a dangerous dependence on oil, but much of the blame for rising fuel costs falls on the Bush administration and key members of the Republican party who are in the back pocket of big oil and other corporations.

Bush has used the high fuel prices to create a nationwide hysteria over foreign oil. Legislation has been proposed and passed that has drastically reduced environmental protection regulations and big oil has its sights set on our national parks, forests and wildlife refuges as potential oil fields.

In spite of all of the spin, the fact is big oil is taking advantage of cronyism to pad its pockets while it can. The technology that can but big oil out of business can no longer be restrained and the future brings the promise of fuel cells, renewable combustion fuel sources and dramatically increased fuel economy. Concern over emissions, dwindling oil reserves and global participation in the quest for better energy technology is chipping away at the economic foundation companies like Exxon, Marathon, and BP have built over the past 100 years.

The Bush administration has not been very aggressive in promoting conservation initiatives. Sure, they’ve paid some lip service to certain talking points that sound good, but nothing has been done to mandate improved fuel economy. Nothing has been done to prepare this country to make a transition from fossil fuel dependence to agricultural alternatives. The truth is, the Bush administration has effectively made us even more dependent on oil.

The results have been detrimental. American automotive giants, Ford and Chevy are in the process of cutting tens of thousands of jobs amidst massive revenue shortfalls, while Honda has seen impressive growth. Why? Fuel economy. While Chevy and Ford were racing to build a bigger pickup, Honda kept it’s eye on improved fuel economy. When the gas prices went up, buyers walked away from monstrous trucks and purchased smaller cars.

It’s no secret that the global reserves of oil are finite. One of the reasons there is so much unrest in the Middle East is because oil fields are becoming less productive. The combination of religious fundamentalism and illiteracy are major components of the chronic instability, but there is a sense of urgency among the people in power that compels leaders to fortify their positions in the coming years. Religion is simply a means of obfuscation. Oil will begin to run out and the only bargaining chip that anybody in the Middle East will have is power. That explains the desire for weapons of mass destruction

Since taking office Bush has demonstrated considerable favoritism toward industrial interests, particularly big oil. His refusal to impose a windfall tax on the massive profits reaped by oil companies demonstrates his painfully obvious bias. While it is easy to make the argument that it defies the spirit of capitalism to impose such a tax on a profitable business, the nature of the oil industry is a special case. The future of this country depends on solvent energy supplies. Oil companies have conspired with each other to set prices, with the government to maintain energy dependence on oil and with other businesses to ensure an unhealthy addiction to oil. The government isn’t suspending capitalism, big oil has long abandoned the spirit of a free market.

It is up to our elected leaders to balance the needs of the present with those of future generations. By failing to take a proactive stance on oil, Bush has allowed our country to reach the precipice of systemic economic collapse. Because we are not aggressively implementing renewable energy alternatives, our immediate and long term future is in jeopardy. Bush is to blame.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Dixie Chicks Redux

A couple of years ago Natalie Maines started a fire storm in country music when she made her feelings about George W. Bush public on stage at a London concert. Redneck myopia prevailed and the Dixie Chicks became pariahs within their defined niche of country music. Stores pulled their records, radio stations stopped playing their songs and country music morons like Toby Keith piled on and reaped huge profits by exploiting the pseudo patriotic sub-genre that was setting the country charts afire.

After apologizing for choosing such a strongly worded condemnation of George W. Bush and expressing her concerns overseas, Natalie made it clear that she was not a Bush supporter and refused to back down from her statements. Her only regret was being disrespectful. Clarifying that point only made matters worse. The girls fired back at other performers, but eventually they disappeared from view and remained largely forgotten. They performed a few benefits and released a few stray songs, but for the most part they seemed to be on their way out.

Until now. The Chicks have returned with a powerful single Not Ready to make Nice from their latest album Taking the Long Way. The song is a departure from their bluegrass roots, embracing complex the complex musical arrangements of a pop power ballad. It's a sweeping musical score that revisits the political controversy and addresses critics with blunt indignation. Natalie makes it clear that she sees no reason to apologize for speaking her mind. The song conveys the pain the Dixie Chicks endured in receiving death threats from angry anti-fans.

I made my bed and I sleep like a baby
With no regrets and I don'’t mind sayin’
It's a sad sad story when a mother will teach her
Daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they'd write me a letter
Sayin’ that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over

While American Country Music stations aren't embracing the song just yet, it is a hit on Canadian stations and has piqued the interests of American pop music fans. The video has appeared on VH-1 and will eventually claw its way into the V-Spot Top 20 countdown. The Dixie Chicks enjoyed a little crossover success when they covered Stevie Nicks' Landslide, and it would appear that Not Ready to Make Nice has been engineered to appeal to the much broader and more accepting pop audience. Maines has softened her twangy trailer park drawl and replaced it with a folksy vocal delivery that has country roots without being trashy. It's clear that the Dixie Chicks are ready to explore a new market for their music.

Some purists will knock them for cleaning up their image and catering to the pop market. Many will claim that this proves how wrong the Dixie Chicks were for taking an anti-war stance, but with pop artists typically doubling or tripling the sales of country performers is it really an example of a group hiding from their past or is it more likely an example of three women simply out growing a petty audience? Is it selling out, or moving up?

Regardless, the Dixie Chicks have struck back. Not Ready to Make Nice is a fantastic song with a powerful message. It has lyrical and musical depth. Even if Country fans aren't ready to accept the Dixie Chicks for speaking their minds, the pop charts will provide wide open spaces for these girls to make it big. Rednecks might have enjoyed a good chuckle when they were gleefully bulldozing stacks of Dixie Chicks records, but Natalie Maines and the girls will be having the last laugh.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Cynthia McKinney guilty of crimes she won't be charged with

Cynthia McKinney should be ashamed of herself. As a black woman she should know what racism is and as a U.S. Representative to Congress it should be her mission to eliminate it. Instead, Cynthia chooses to make it worse. You see, instead of addressing the issue of racism as it applies to the black community, Cynthia wants to draw attention to the racism she believes affects her in her daily life as a career politician.

Racial discrimination is a serious issue in this country, perhaps more serious now than it has ever been. The reason is because too many people want to believe that racism is no longer an issue. Slaves have been emancipated, amendments have been passed and laws have been enforced so there is no longer a legal host in which racism can fester, but it is still there in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans and the only thing that will remove it is time.

Of course time alone is meaningless. While the latent racism that remains still holds people of color back, the legal structure that is in place allows those who are willing to work a little harder an opportunity to overcome it. By achieving success and setting a positive example they can show other people of color that it is not impossible to beat racism, while giving the bigots out there less of a reason to cling to their ignorance.

The along comes an imbecile like Cynthia McKinney. Cynthia is not a black woman who pulled herself out of the ghetto in hopes of one day making the world a better place. She's a spoiled rich girl who got started in politics because her daddy put submitted her name as a write in candidate on a 1986 ballot for the Georgia state house. She's a career politician.

In 1992 Cynthia McKinney won her spot in the U.S. House of Representatives and immediately Cynthia decided to start trouble. In 1993 she had an altercation with a Capitol Police Officer which prompted the department to post her picture with all officers since Cynthia opted to not wear her security pin. Interestingly enough, this same issue is what led to the recent altercation.

Contributing to the problem is Cynthia's decision to change her hairdo from her trademark corn rows to a rather wild 'fro. It's a good look, but it certainly does alter her appearance. Her face is framed differently and she looks a little thinner-- even younger because her hair has a carefree look to it. And since Cynthia is a woman, she knows all too well that a change in hair style can completely change a woman's entire look. Most women count on it. So she should have expected a little confusion.

Cynthia initially claimed she was inappropriately touched, but after she realized that nobody was jumping on her bandwagon, she backed off and subsequently offered a carefully crafted apology. On one hand it looks like she is admitting that she was wrong, but it's vague enough that it can't be used against her in a court of law. She might be charged with assaulting an officer, which would seem a bit severe given the fact that the officer was not harmed. Cynthia's outburst was a tamer version of Zsa Zsa Gabor's incident where the aged actress slapped a cop for pulling her over. Cynthia is a spoiled brat who likes to be the center of attention. We get it.

Unfortunately Cynthia doesn't get it. As a black woman who has pursued public service, McKinney should have better judgment than that. There's more at stake than her ego. She's educated, having graduated from USC and attended the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy... Diplomacy? We didn't see any diplomacy in action during this whole ordeal, did we? In fact, McKinney displayed very little diplomacy or decorum at all. Even if she had a reason to be upset, there was a better way to express it.

If there was a situation with racial profiling that needed to be addressed, Cynthia knew that there were other means available that would have been more effective than a tantrum. She's a powerful woman with considerable resources. If that cop was guilty of racial discrimination she could have had him working third shift security at an Alexandria Burger King. But Cynthia's issue was not one of racism, it was one of ego. As a Representative she expects royal treatment. This wasn't a black thing. It was a diva thing.

The frustrating point in all of this is the damage McKinney did to the struggle against racism. By laying down that race card to defend her selfish actions, McKinney made future claims of racial discrimination a little less significant. Every time that race card is played out of turn, it makes the next problem that much harder to draw attention to. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have both suffered tremendous blows to their credibility for rallying to the wrong cause. Did you notice how neither of them wanted anything to do with McKinney? They know crap when they see it.

Cynthia McKinney already has a team of lawyers ready to handle anything that comes her way as a result of this. If criminal charges are filed, she'll have a pile of briefs and motions ready to have the case dismissed. If the cop files a civil suit, they'll have so much dirt on him he'll drop the claim. Chances are Cynthia McKinney will walk away from this with a slap on the wrist and a paltry fine. Given the details of the case, it's hard to expect much more. At least from a legal perspective.

Cynthia McKinney doesn't deserve to be in Congress, but only the voters in her district can do anything about that. Hopefully they're as disgusted over Cynthia's behavior as the rest of the country is and they do the right thing when Cynthia's seat is back on the block. Even if Cynthia can convince them that she was challenging an issue, there was a better way to do it. Instead of demonstrating intelligence, wisdom and a little diplomacy, McKinney went ballistic and made an ass of herself and by extension made fools of everybody in her district.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Republicans display a dangerous sense of arrogance

James Sensenbrenner's hotly contested immigration bill is only the latest in a long line of public displays of conservative bitterness. Like spoiled children being asked to share for the first time Republicans debate through tantrum and pass one-sided legislation without engaging in anything resembling diplomacy.

There's no doubt that illegal immigration is an issue that this country needs to address. With jobs being outsourced at an alarming pace, big corporations threatening to cut thousands of jobs over the next few years and the cost of education rocketing upward, it only makes sense to ensure that the dwindling employment opportunities are preserved for U.S. Citizens. The fact is illegal immigration artificially keeps wages down and has effectively created a serf class of laborers in this country who are willing to accept an appallingly low standard of living.

Unfortunately there is a right way and a wrong way to go about doing it. The right way would include reaching out to the Hispanic community and drafting an amicable resolution. The ham-handed manner in which Sensenbrenner attacked the issue galvanized the Hispanic community and has once again polarized this country.

But this is nothing new. Back in June of 2005, Sensenbrenner threw a tantrum during a meeting where Democrats and Republicans were discussing the Patriot Act. When the judiciary Democrats brought up issues concerning the Iraq war and Guantanamo Bay, Sensenbrenner halted the meeting and ordered the court reporter out of the room and then shut off the C-Span cameras.

This sort of behavior has become typical of the Republican Party. This my way or the highway attitude might have started with the conservative pundits such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, but it has permeated through the rest of the party. Even moderate Republicans who meekly question the uber-conservative wing of the party are thrown under the bus and characterized as RINO's.

The previous two presidential elections were close contests and the final results of each remain questionable. What sets the past two elections apart, however, is not the margin of victory or the controversies surrounding them, but how bitterly divided the two sides were. The Republican Party is not enjoying a mandate, but rather a very narrow advantage in a hostile political climate. One would think that such a bitter divide would call for the party in power to reach across the aisle and try to find a little common ground, but that has not been the case. In fact, the opposite is true. Instead of seeking middle ground and engaging in some healthy diplomacy, the Republican party has embraced the totalitarian concepts espoused by the far right. Republicans only see things in black and white. There's simply no compromise on any issue.

Recently, Republicans have embraced religious zealots who seek to impose Christian theocracy on the country through the passage of laws that violate basic civil rights. The party refuses to distance itself from pundits who spread a message of hatred and intolerance. When Bill Bennett aired a hypothetical commentary about how aborting black babies would reduce the crime rate, Republicans dismissed it as an unfortunate remark. When Rush Limbaugh spouts his own version of encoded bigotry, nothing is done to distance the party from it.

The fact is that the Republican Party is the white man's party. They assumed that position in the 1960's when Democrats alienated their Southern constituents with the passage of Civil Rights legislation. Seeing an opportunity to steal votes, the Republican Party retooled itself as the party of the god-fearing white Christian.

Republicans take the simple argument on every issue. Everything is a 101 level class. The Economy, Sociology, Foreign Relations. In the Republican world it is all 101. Unfortunately life is a little more complex than the 101 class. In fact, that's why colleges offer such a variety of advanced classes in each curriculum.

This over-simplified view of reality is exactly why things are such a mess right now. The war in Iraq is the direct result of applying 101 logic to a 301 situation. Republicans are quick to accuse the UN of failing, but as a permanent member of the Security Council aren't we to blame? The fact is the UN only works if the US allows it to. When Bush went to the UN with a proposal for war the UN balked. So Bush threw a tantrum, called the UN names and started a war anyway. Who failed whom?

Internally, the massive protests over the immigration bill is the result of Sensenbrenner's failure to reach out to the Hispanic community. His bill has stirred up a vocal minority of angry white people who have turned the immigration bill into a racial epithet, screaming for those who embrace their Mexican heritage to pack up and leave. Has the Republican Party tried to distance themselves from this? No. They encourage it.

Michelle Malkin recently accused the Hispanic demonstrators of being racist. This observation was gleaned from the fact that many of the demonstrators are waving Mexican flags and chanting "Brown Power." Sadly Malkin, like most conservatives, just doesn't grasp what racism really is. Showing a little ethnic pride is not racist. Nobody accused the Irish of being racist when they marched around the country a few weeks ago to celebrate Saint Patrick's day. They had Irish flags and chanted slogans as well.

Racism is when you discriminate against somebody because of their race. A Racist might take pride in his or her heritage but what makes them a true racist is the desire to place their race in a position of superiority. That's the difference between "brown power" and "white power." Unfortunately people like Michelle Malkin and most of the Republicans in congress are smart enough to recognize that. They just choose to be obtuse because it's easier to embrace the simplicity of being wrong. You can't reason with them because they choose to abandon reason.