Thursday, March 13, 2014


  Two new posts from The Lion:

Daily Show host Jon Stewart ran clips of regressive pundits on Fox attacking President Obama for being weak and for an ineffective foreign policy.  As proof, they pointed to the "mom jeans" the president wore while tossing out the first pitch at a baseball game.  By wearing "mom jeans", Obama became the 21st century equivalent of Neville Chamberlin.

     At last weeks regressive religious revival meeting in Washington D.C. (CPAC), Republican regressives took to the stage to attack the President for being feckless and timid, weak and soft when it comes to foreign policy, in particular in dealing with Iran and Syria and now Russia.  The President is a doormat being stepped on and muddied by foreign leaders eager to test his metal.  Even as these attacks drew hoots and hollers from the audience, what wasn't said was a deafening.  At no point did any speaker sight former presidents George W. Bush or George H.W. Bush, or their party, as examples to be emulated and the reason why Americans should again elect Republicans to the White House.

     Republicans promise not to wear "mom jeans", but beyond that they range from fuzzy to fanciful in their critiques.  They don't like the President's diplomatic strategy with Iran.  What do they propose instead?  A few, most notably Sen. John McCain, would use military force to bomb and destroy Iranian facilities.  This despite the widely accepted belief a military attack could only delay the inevitable while crushing any moderates left in the country and justifying Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon to its people.  It would also justify Iran's use of asymmetrical warfare through the use of Hezbollah and Hamas in attacks on Israel, soft American targets around the world, attacks on shipping or attempts to shut down the straights of Hormuz possibly driving the cost of a barrel of oil to $200-$300.  (can you imagine what would happen to our economy if oil jumped to that price?  It would make the depression of 2007-2008 look like a walk in the park...oh, also imagine if we were exporting energy too and what that would do to the price?)  Others, like Florida Senator Marco Rubio or Texas Senator Ted Cruz, want more economic sanctions.  More economic sanctions would do nothing to affect Iran's military budget (look at North Korea) and would guarantee they would walk away from any new or ongoing negotiations since there would be no advantage to them.  Still other Republicans say let Israel do it for us.  Nothing could be a bigger disaster for us were that to happen.

     These same critics attack Obama on Syria.  Once again McCain and others say we should use military force to topple Assad.  These are the same voices which screamed to get into Afghanistan and Iraq and we saw how well that turned out.  Some say Obama should have armed "moderate" rebels in Syria.  When pressed, none of the President's critics can identify who is moderate and who is Al Qaida.  (these same congressional experts called for arming the mujahideen in Afghanistan much to the benefit of the Taliban and Bin Laden.)  Maybe we should have a no fly zone over Northern Syria they say.  They are silent when confronted with what to do about resistance from allies in the region and Europe...what the rules of engagement would be and what would be done if a plane is shot down...where they would get the money to pay for this plan.  (perhaps we can cut back further on food stamps, day care tax credits and the earned income tax credit while cutting taxes more for the 1%)

     All of this perceived weakness and stumbling by the President is directly responsible for Putin's actions in the Ukraine we are told.  If Obama had bombed Syria after Assad had used chemical weapons...if he would have bombed Iranian nuclear facilities...if he had armed some rebels, any rebels in Syria...if he carpet-bombed Libya after the attacks in Benghazi...Putin would never have dared to invade the Ukraine.  Really?  You mean the same Putin who invaded and annexed parts of Moldova and mean that Putin?  You mean the Putin who moved into Georgia with impunity while George W. Bush was attacking and bombing and invading Afghanistan and Iraq?  That Putin?

     All of the weeping and gnashing of teeth by regressives cannot hide the fact they have nothing to offer as an alternative policy or solution to these problems or to growing unrest in Africa, Egypt, Thailand, or anywhere else.  They accuse the President of playing checkers while Putin plays chess, yet when asked how they would differ from the President's policies they look like deer caught in the headlights and manage to sputter how they would be stronger and more resolute.  Not one regress is advocating military force in the Ukraine.  They offer no plan on how to get the European Union to back strong economic sanctions.  (something the E.U. seems determined to avoid)  When asked for alternative proposals, they are mute.  The only comments they offer are how the "mom jeans" wearing president is at fault or is too soft and not up to the task at hand.  This is the equivalent of playing with matches in a room filled with gasoline.  They undercut the President...give the impression of disunity in the nation...provide aid and comfort to our enemies and hurt our ability to bring pressure on Europe to step up.

     Obama has not helped his own cause very much.  Hillary Clinton sounds more hawkish and strident than John Kerry.  Obama did blink in Syria when he ignored the red line he himself laid out.  (remembering of course that Congress at the time made it clear it would not support the use of force in Syria.)  The attack in Benghazi was a debacle and his attempt to restart his relationship with Putin and Russia has yielded view dividends and looks naive.  (although Syria has increased the pace of getting rid of chemical weapons and Iran is still at the table talking and Russia at least didn't torpedo these efforts)

     President Obama faces allies economically dependent on Russia who are reluctant to take Putin on and seem to be willing to even let him have the Crimea if he is nice about it.  (shades of Munich)  These same allies are not much better when it came to Syria and Iran.  Despite this, the President has to forcefully respond to the Russian aggression and he must be creative since military force is off the table.

     It is tiring and disheartening to watch politicians who offer no plan of their solution...take no political risk...have no responsibility for foreign policy...refuse to stick their necks out and then attack the President for being weak and soft because of the style of jeans he chose to wear when the last time most of them, and their party were in power they invaded two sovereign states on specious grounds, cost the American taxpayers over $1 trillion in treasure and the loss of thousands of young soldier's lives in blood in what is now recognized as a foreign policy disaster of biblical proportions.

     I'll take mom jeans over that any day.


 Believing in the axiom,"...a crisis is a terrible thing to waste", powerful forces in Washington are trying to use the situation in the Ukraine to argue for lifting restrictions on the exporting of American natural gas and oil.  Since the Arab oil boycott and shock in the early seventies, with the arrival of long gas lines and fears of compromised national security, it is illegal to export natural gas or oil in order.  Now, with the advent of horizontal drilling and fracking, America enjoys a surplus of both items and the cheap prices that follow when supply exceeds demand.  Not for long if the Speaker of the House and others have their way.

     In a Wall Street Journal column, Speaker John Boehner calls on President Obama to speed up the permit process that would allow for the construction of facilities to process, freeze and export liquefied natural gas and allow for the export of domestic oil.  Boehner claims these resources can be used as a way to undercut Russia by offering natural gas to Russian customers in Europe in the event Russia cuts them off because of their support for sanctions connected to the invasion of the Ukraine.  Boehner is not alone.  Democrats from energy producing states like North Dakota and Louisiana are lending their voices to the cause.  The longer the crisis in Ukraine, the louder the demands will get.

     Boehner sight numerous studies claiming America will produce more natural gas and oil than it needs.  (increasing pressure for the Keystone pipeline too)  America, they say, needs to punish Russian president Putin by stepping up and giving Europe all the natural gas it needs.  They see this as Putin's Achilles heal.  They say this, and call for new export authority, despite the fact even if new permits were issued today; it would be seven to ten years before any significant exports could be produced.  So why are they pushing so hard now?

     Supporters of exporting American energy need to use the current crisis to scare Americans into supporting a policy that is against their own economic best interests.  It is a classic example of "misdirection".  While you are intent on the crisis in the Ukraine, maybe even getting angry, maybe want to strike back at Putin and Russia, you will translate all that emotion into concrete action by supporting a lifting of export restrictions.  The oil and gas corporations are chuckling knowing if you were left to your own devices you would never cut your own throat, but the crisis in the Ukraine is exactly the distraction they need to overcome your common sense.

     All this natural gas being discovered is a huge boon for this country.  Companies are moving manufacturing plants back to America from overseas because it's cheaper due to lower energy costs.  Jobs are being created.  Utilities are shutting down old coal-fired plants and switching to natural gas because it's cheaper.  This will have a dramatic effect on the reduction in greenhouse gases.  Abundant natural gas could lead to more vehicles on the road powered by it and even more jobs created.  It can reduce energy costs for the average home putting more money in consumers pockets in an economy where 2/3 of it is dependent on consumer spending.  All of these benefits, and more not even envisioned yet, disappear if you allow the "surplus" to be given to foreign markets.  The only beneficiaries then will be the energy corporations.

     The law of supply and demand is simple.  More demand drives up the cost and uses up any surplus.  If you want to see this in real time, look at the effect this harsh winter in the Midwest and East has had on the price of natural gas.  It has skyrocketed in a few months.  This despite the alleged surplus.

     Now imagine Boehner gets his way.  Imagine we build huge LNG export operations at ports along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Texas.  The gas is exported to Europe and the rest of the world raising demand until it exceeds the supply.  The price goes up here at home of course.  Manufacturers lose the price edge the get from lower energy costs.  Utilities have no incentive to close old and damaging coal-fired plants.  Home heating bills will be huge and all of this susceptible to market forces which Americans would have no control over.

   I don't need to tell you what the energy companies will do.  They will justify price increases due to the heavy demand.  (not from Americans)  They will say there is nothing they can do about it because the market dictates price.  They will do exactly what they do with gasoline where price continues up and rarely goes down.  Supporters of exporting energy say there is so much Americans won't be hurt and besides, we have to do this to hit back at that thug Putin.  (Houdini would be proud)

  What is most distressing is to see Boehner and Sen. Landrieu from Louisiana, and others, putting short term political and financial gain ahead of patriotism.  Landrieu is running for re-election and Boehner sees a yellow brick road for Republican coffers from the huge profits energy companies will achieve at your expense and they are willing to put narrow self interest ahead of what is in the nation's best interest.

     It is in America's best interest to have a cheap abundant energy supply.  It is in America's interest to have manufacturing return and give them an edge over foreign competition.  It is in America's interest to utilize natural gas and oil for domestic consumption saving American families billions of dollars.  It is in America's interest to be able to end a detrimental dependency on foreign energy sources that drive political decisions about war and peace.

     If you allow the exporting of energy, it plays right into the hands of those who will always choose a quick buck over what is the best long-term policy for all of us.  Boehner, and company, want you outraged at Putin, teary-eyed for the Ukrainian people, demanding something be done to punish Russia, so you won't notice how you are being sold a bill of goods which will harm you, your children, the environment and America's one chance for energy security.

     Please keep your eye on the prize and don't get fooled into this energy version of 3-card Monty.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


 When I was young, my family owned a Ford Pinto.  You remember the Pinto.  It was ugly, with a four-cylinder engine, which barely made it up and down the hills of San Francisco and, if rear-ended in a crash, exploded like a Molotov cocktail.  Yeah, that Pinto.  Ford knew if the car was struck from behind it could turn into a fireball and people died.  The company made an actuarial decision that it was cheaper to pay off a few lawsuits by the families of dead or disfigured drivers, than it was to recall the car and fix the problem.  The account of their callousness towards unsuspecting customers is now the stuff of legend and we were told it couldn't happen again because now they teach ethics in business schools.  The reality is Ford embodied corporate evil...questionable ethics (if any)...everything which is wrong with the amoral corporate culture and they were an object lesson to future companies about how much you could get away with and stay in business.
     General Motors knew in 2004 they had a problem with the ignition switch in certain model cars.  If the ignition key was on a heavy key chain, or got jostled in some manner, it could cause the switch to jump from "run" to "accessory".  This would kill the engine and render the air bags useless.  In 2005, they got their first report of a fatality due to the defect.  They notified their dealers about a fix, but told them not to bring it up unless a customer specifically asked about it.  They knew this could kill but directed their dealers not to volunteer any information.  In the ensuing years, 12 more people died, many more injured, and yet it is only in 2014 that General Motors finally issued a recall.  Oh, and they are sorry and you shouldn't blame them because this was done by a different General Motors than the current company.  Huh?

     (N.B. my daughter owns one of these cars mentioned in published reports.  She had no idea about all of this and when she inquired was told she had nothing to worry about, as the dealer hadn't heard anything negative about her car.  I'm not kidding)

     I taught a class on ethics, as part of the Theology department, to juniors and seniors in high school.  The first day I singled out a student and presented her with a scenario in which she is the head of a corporation, which produces toxic waste.  If they process it and clean it up it will cost a fortune and hurt profits, but if they dump it in the local river they will make money.  She indignantly responded she would never agree to dump in the river.  I then mentioned if she didn't dump, she would be fired, lose her home, her kids would have to leave school and she would never work in the industry again.  She pondered for a moment and then said, "...oh, then I guess I would have to rethink my decision."  Welcome to corporatism 101.  When are we going to learn?

     There is great pressure on President Obama to approve the Keystone oil pipeline.  This despite numerous reports of the poor safety recorded of its owner, Trans Canada.  (the promise they would never build something, which would leak)  In West Virginia, and throughout the nation, corporations which store and work with toxic chemicals operate essentially on the honor system, due to corporate pressure against regulation, and promise to voluntarily police themselves.  In West, Texas, no one in the town new what was being stored by a chemical company until it exploded and wiped out homes, a school and a few people as well.  Recently in Pacheco, Ca, Tesoro Oil Company had a pipe burst and spray workers with acid causing burns and injuries.  When federal inspectors showed up to investigate the incident, the company refused to let them on the property claiming they had no jurisdiction.  (this was only the latest in a series of problems at Tesoro)  Supporters of fracking want us to trust the companies pumping toxic water into the ground.  The companies will spend whatever, do whatever to protect local aquifers and ground water and there is no need for more regulations.  What was it P.T. Barnum always said?

     The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the most evil organizations in this nation, spends hundreds of millions of dollars trying to eliminate or dilute regulations aimed at monitoring corporate America.  They were behind the de-regulation of the financial industry.  (how did that work out?)  They oppose regulations forcing corporations to be more transparent and to hold them responsible when they cause harm.  They oppose attempts to get companies to bolster their cyber security.  (can anyone say Target?)  Recently, they were in front of the Supreme Court trying to gut attempts by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases produced by corporations.  At every turn, corporations ask us to trust them when they cannot be trusted.  Apple says trust us that your iPhone, iPad and Macbook aren't being made by slave labor.  Google says trust us we are really giving away our Android system for free, until you find out that anyone who uses it for an app has to make Google search the default setting locking out anyone else.  Silicon Valley screams about too much regulation stifling innovation while they sacrifice your privacy for their profit.  (and give the government backdoors to spy on all y our online activity)

     That's the bottom line you can never avoid...the bottom line.  A corporation will always choose profit over principal.  They have to.  It's their nature.  The phrase "corporate ethics" is an oxymoron.  The only check we have is through regulations and lawsuits.  (regulations are certainly not a panacea since the same corporations spend millions lobbying to water them down like they did with the Dodd/Frank financial regulation legislation rendering it toothless)  Corporate America constantly tries to get Congress to pass, and the President sign, so-called tort reform to make it more difficult than it already is to hold them accountable for their corrupt practices...trying to prevent anyone from suing them for any reason.

     For 10 years, General Motors knew their cars were killing people and did little or nothing to stop it until the butcher's bill got too high to ignore.  Now, they are sorry and join the likes of J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citibank, Barclays, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs who are so sorry for almost destroying the world's economy, costing millions their homes and jobs while paying nice bonuses to their leaders for doing exactly what is in the corporation's best interest no matter who is harmed.     WILL WE EVER LEARN?