fossil fuel header


Fossil fuels – petroleum, coal, and natural gas – were instrumental in mankind’s development.  The Industrial Revolution, which took us from disconnected farms to an integrated civilization, depended on them.

In the opinion of this writer, however, they are now becoming a liability.  Our continued dependence on them leads to environmental damage which is approaching the point of no return.  It has distorted our domestic policy, and our foreign policy.  Those whose fortunes depend on the continued prominence of fossil fuels appear willing to use all means necessary to maintain the status quo.

Climate Change is Real

Everyone has heard the claim that 97% of the world’s climate scientists believe that climate change is occurring, and human activity is a primary cause.  The Institute of Physics (IOP) has carefully examined thousands of peer-reviewed papers on the subject.  They found, “Surveys of climate scientists have found strong agreement (97–98%) regarding AGW [anthropogenic global warming] amongst publishing climate experts.” [1]

The same article noted that the consensus has steadily increased and continues to do so.  So if the people who study climate for a living are this certain that it’s real, why are others so insistent that it is not?  We will get to that.

Global Temperatures are on a Steady Increase.

Many climate-change deniers point to brief periods in which temperatures fluctuate downward.  The following image from NASA shows the overall trend, going back to the beginning of the industrial revolution.[2]  There is no denying that mean global temperatures are steadily increasing.  While the numbers seem small (1.4F. over more than a century), even such small increases can lead to dangerous shifts in the Earth’s climate and weather.[3]



How fossil-fuel consumption affects climate.

Greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases – insulate the Earth and maintain its warmth.  The planet would otherwise not be habitable by humans.  However, we are reaching the point where we have too much of a good thing.

The oxidation of fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  This includes manufacturing, transportation, and the production of electricity.  In 2013, the U.S. alone released 6.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.[4]

Many alternative theories have been presented for the cause of climate change.  Such things as deviations in the solar orbit, deforestation, ozone, and aerosol usage have been suggested.

In June of 2015, Eric Roston and Blacki Migliozzi made a cogent analysis of data assembled by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies.  [5]  They reviewed the relationships of various factors with the observed temperature change.  One factor stood out: greenhouse gases.

greenhouse gases

Combining all human-related factors, the correlation with the trend-line of observed temperature change is remarkable.

human factors and warming

So where is the contrary opinion coming from?

There have been detractors who dispute man’s role in climate change.  What about them?

Let’s take a good, hard look at the ‘research.’  One excellent example is Wei-Hock Soon, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.  He claims that variations in the sun’s energy can largely explain recent global warming.

In February of 2015, the New York Times revealed that Dr. Soon had accepted funding of over $1.2 million from the fossil-fuel industry, which he failed to mention in his published works.[6]

More recently, the Union of Concerned Scientists published a detailed list of the attempts at disinformation fostered by members of the fossil-fuel industry.  They concluded that, “for nearly three decades, as the scientific evidence concerning climate change became overwhelmingly clear, these companies and their allies developed or participated in campaigns to deliberately sow confusion and block action to address global warming.”[7]

The picture is clear.  The scientists who study climate as their profession have a consensus:  Climate change is real, and man’s activities in burning fossil fuels are a significant cause.  The contrary opinions come from people who have a direct or indirect financial interest in the fossil-fuel industry.

The United States’ Domestic Policies have been distorted by the influence of the fossil-fuel industry.

The most obvious distortion is the taxpayer support of an industry which is highly profitable on its own.  More importantly, tax subsidies for oil and gas production encourage the expanded use of fuels with higher pollutant content.

In 2012, the International Energy Agency stated that “No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050” to avoid potentially catastrophic climate change.[8]  Yet federal and state subsidies for oil gas and coal production and exploration increased to $21.6 billion in 2013.[9]

According to a national survey, the majority of Americans would prefer that government subsidies go more toward renewable, clean energy rather than fossil fuels (61% clean energy vs. 33% traditional sources).  Of those, 51% ‘strongly’ preferred investment in clean energy.[10]

How the government be persuaded to spend huge sums of money against the both the public’s best interest and the majority opinion?  Follow the money.

In 2009 and 2010, the fossil-fuel industry spent $347,282,110 on campaign contributions and lobbying the 111th Congress.  The 111th Congress gave the fossil-fuel industry $20,489,340,000 in subsidies.[11]

The result is not limited to subsidies.  Congressmen and other elected officials who are beholden to the fossil-fuel lobby have been reluctant to invest in clean energy.  They have consistently worked to limit the authority and effectiveness of the EPA.

Senators McConnell and Cruz, for example, have argued that the evidence of climate change is not persuasive.  Senator Cruz received $1 million in campaign contributions related to the fossil-fuel industry; Senator McConnell received $3.7 million.

The United States’ foreign policy has been distorted by dependence on fossil fuels.

US relations with Iran have been, to say the least, strained.  The agreement recently negotiated regarding nuclear materials is hotly debated.

It could be instructive to take a look back.  Is it possible that the US did something for which Iranians rightfully harbor a grudge?  And what, if anything, might it have had to do with oil?

In 1951, Mohammad Mosaddegh was democratically elected as Iran’s prime minister.  In May of that year, he received approval from Parliament to nationalize the oil industry.  The British company, Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), had enjoyed exclusive rights to Iranian oil.

Great Britain blockaded Iran economically and brought the matter before the International Court at the Hague, as well as the United Nations Security Council.  In 1952, both the Hague and the UN Security Council rejected Britain’s complaint.[12]

In August of 1953, a coup d’etat overthrew Mossaddegh’s government and consolidated the authority of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.  Britain’s MI6  and the US’ CIA were instrumental in the coup.  While this was widely understood, the CIA did not release documents acknowledging the CIA’s role until 2013.[13]

There’s something worth contemplating.  An agency of the government of the United States of America facilitated the violent overthrow of a democratically-elected leader.  The primary motivator?  Oil.

Most Americans are familiar with the events which followed.  Pahlavi was pro-Western, and he was viewed as harshly authoritarian.  When he was inevitably removed from power in 1979, hatred for the people who had put him in power and helped him stay there should not have been a surprise.

US policy toward Saudi Arabia has also been distorted.  While US statesmen have spoken out against most regimes that deny the rights of their citizens, they have been silent about Saudi Arabia.

When talking about Osama bin Laden, few people mention that he was born and raised in Saudi Arabia.  Nor is it often mentioned that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis.

This is not to suggest that the Saudi government was complicit.  What it does suggest is that the US support for the Saudi government foments hatred toward the US.

Amnesty International has stated, “Protesters have been held without charge and incommunicado for days or weeks at a time, and some are reported to have been tortured and otherwise ill-treated. Nearly 20 people connected with protests in the Eastern Province have been killed since 2011 and hundreds have been imprisoned.”[14]

The Saudi regime has suppressed speech with regard to religion, making ‘blasphemy’ a capital offense.[15]  Recently, Saudi Arabia’s director for external relations at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs proposed making blasphemy a crime world-wide.[16]

While all this goes on, the silence from the US government is deafening.  The most that seems to happen is that in 2014, Saudi Arabia was classified as a “Country of Particular Concern under the US International Religious Freedom Act for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”[17]

The actions in Iraq were intimately related to oil.

Everyone is familiar with the invasion of Iraq.  Years later, declassified documents showed what most people had suspected all along.  The ‘intelligence’ on WMDs in Iraq was far from compelling.[18]

We went to war based on a lie.  One of the underlying reasons for invading Iraq?  Oil.

General John Abizaid, former head of U.S. Central Command and Military Operations in Iraq, said in 2007, “Of course it’s about oil; we can’t really deny that.”[19]

Alternative sources of energy are feasible.

There are many examples of the advance of renewable energy sources.  A project undertaken at Standford in 2014 has demonstrated that a conversion to 100% renewable energy is feasible by 2050.[20]


There was a time when fossil fuels were a necessary part of our development.  The Industrial Revolution could not have occurred without them.

Now, however, our dependence on them is a liability.  The financial strength of the fossil-fuel industry allows it to continue manipulating our elected officials.  They spend money on campaigns and lobbying.  They finance self-serving ‘research’ to deny the conclusions reached by independent scientists.  And they somehow manage to continue receiving government funds, while all other government spending is being closely scrutinized.

Fossil fuels have had their time.  Now it’s time for something else.








What is Jade Helm 15?

Members of U.S. Army Special Operations Command will train with other U.S Armed Forces units July 15 through Sept. 15, 2015, in a multi-state exercise called Jade Helm 15.  Jade Helm will take place across seven states.  However, Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) will only train in five states: Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.  The point is using terrain somewhat similar to that found in overseas ‘hot spots.’

What are the conspiracy theories?

The theories are vague, at best.  In general, the claim is that the exercise is for the implementation of martial law and the subjugation of the American people by their government.  I have seen one writer make a connection between this exercise and the Kennedy assassination.  No, really!

Why the conspiracy theories are ridiculous.

For most readers, no explanation is necessary.  This notion of a martial-law plot, across much of the Southwest, doesn’t pass the giggle-test.

For the sake of thoroughness, here are some of the reasons this is pure delusional fantasy.

First of all, what possible motive could there be?  The only one articulated, more or less, follows the notion that President Obama is a power-mad tyrant, bent on becoming a dictator.  Other than the generalized character assassination, this doesn’t address what the president could hope to gain by initiating armed conflict inside the USA.

Government forces withdrew from the standoff at the Bundy Ranch last year, despite having a court order.  Would the same administration drag the country into a bloody internal conflict, the likes of which we haven’t seen in over 100 years, with no provocation or stated justification?

Keeping such a plot secret would be impossible.  The Special Operations Command includes literally thousands of military personnel.  Such a conspiracy would have to include a command structure of dozens of commanding officers.  Because the theorized objective is clearly contrary to law, the probability of all such officers being in agreement is remote.  Their being able to keep it secret would be next to impossible.
One other thing – the public announcement contained an assurance that the soldiers will not carry live ammunition.  A few may have blanks.  These troops are not raw recruits.  If issued live ammo, they would recognize it instantly.  Any secrecy would be gone.

The scenario also assumes that enlisted personnel would fire on civilians.  The exchange of fire would have to be assumed (It does include Texas, after all).  Historically, armed forces have been reluctant to fire on their own civilians.  It would not be rational to assume they would do so here.

What, exactly, have Governor Abbott, Senator Cruz, and Senator Paul said?

All three men had an opportunity to calm the waters.  All three failed.

Governor Gregg Abbott said, “… I think it was a misplaced perception by people in Texas who have problems with the Obama administration and connected that trust with the Obama administration to the military.”  But he hedged his bet and requested that the Texas State Guard stand by.  He spoke more about the underlying reasons for distrust than the reasons why such a plot is ridiculous.

Senator Ted Cruz said, “My office has reached out to the Pentagon to inquire about this exercise. We are assured it is a military training exercise.  I have no reason to doubt those assurances …”
If he had stopped there, it would have reassured those concerned.  He didn’t.  Instead, he went on, “but I understand the reason for concern and uncertainty, because when the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration, the natural consequence is that many citizens don’t trust what it is saying.”

Senator Rand Paul said he would “Look at” the planned exercises.  That was on April 21, 2015.  Since that time, he has made no public statements to the knowledge of this writer.

In a defining moment of that the 2008 presidential campaign, an agitated woman was at a rally for Senator John McCain.  She declared, of Candidate Obama, “He’s an Arab!”  Without hesitation, Sen. McCain calmly replied, “No, ma’am.  He’s not.”

In that response, which he had to know would be unpopular among many of those in attendance, he displayed courage and honor.  He refused to fan the flames or irrational hatred and fear.

Senators Cruz and Paul have failed to disassociate themselves with the conspiracy theorists.  They could have given calm assurances that the exercises will not result in Texans being incarcerated in vacant Wal-marts.  By their failure to do so, they have indirectly lent credence to the groundless accusations of the fringe-dwellers.

This tells us two things.  First, both candidates consider the conspiracy-theorists and their followers too important a group to risk offending.  Second, they lack the moral courage to do or say the right thing, when it serves their purpose to allow hatred and fear to grow.

One other thing, and remember you read it here.  When the Jade Helm exercise is over, with no implementation of martial law, one of these guys will try to take credit for preventing it.



As with so many social issues, emotions run hot on gun control.  There are many who decry the frequency of mass shooting and want guns severely restricted, if not outlawed.  On the opposite end are the gun enthusiasts who believe that more guns make us safer.  They also warn of tyrannical government without private gun ownership as a counterbalance.

Is there a middle ground?

Let’s begin with a simple question.  It’s hypothetical (I hope).  Imagine a man who has been ordered to take anger-management treatment after being arrested for spousal abuse.  He has previously been treated for bi-polar disorder, as an inpatient in a mental hospital.  Should he be allowed to carry a loaded M4A1 assault weapon (up to 950 rounds per minute, grenade launcher optional) around with him, everywhere he goes?


If you said yes, don’t bother reading the rest of this blog.  If you said no, then you believe in at least some manner of gun control.

There are three main categories of gun regulation: the person, the weapon, and the location.  My personal belief is that certain people should not be permitted to own any type of firearm.  I also believe that certain classes of firearm should not be available to civilians at all.  And I believe that one is entitled to more latitude in keeping weapons in the home than carrying them in public.

The most prevalent regulation as to who may purchase a gun is the background check.  Using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), a potential buyer is screened for such things as a felony record, having been committed to a mental institution, being subject to a domestic restraining order, or having been convicted of domestic violence.

This background check is required for sales of guns at retail stores.  From 1998 through 2012, a total of 118 million background checks were performed.  Sales were denied for 2.1 million, almost 2%.[1]

There are at least two loopholes in the background-check system.  The first is that private sales do not require a background check.  This is where you sell your gun to a neighbor, relative, or outright stranger.  The second is selling guns at gun shows.

Most states have no law requiring a background check for a private sale, and 33 states do not require background checks at gun shows.[2]  These sales comprise 20% of total firearm sales in the U.S.[3]

We have approximately 81,300 nonfatal injuries and 31,672 deaths every year involving guns, an average of over 300 per day.[4]  The majority of guns used in mass shootings were obtained legally.[5]  Given all this, it is not surprising that 92% of U.S. voters, including 92% of gun owners, would favor making background checks universal.  That is, applied to all firearm sales.[6]

The simple truth is that not everyone should be allowed to have a gun.  One of the best illustrations is the domestic abuser.   In states that require a background check for every handgun sale, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners.[7]


Modern weapons have the potential to kill a lot of victims very quickly.  The 100-round magazine used by the shooter in Aurora, Colorado, comes to mind.

There are a number of reasons for owning firearms.  Self-defense, hunting, and defense of the home are the main ones.  There are also those who say they need guns in case the government needs to be overthrown, or some such nonsense.  So long as we continue to have elections, that one doesn’t need serious discussion.

For hunters:  If you need an automatic weapon to bring down a deer, perhaps you should spend some time practicing on the shooting range.  The ‘sport’ (I’ll save my opinion on that for another time) is to show your skill, right?  Not much skill involved in spraying the general area with bullets, hoping for a hit.

Self-defense, as in carrying a weapon, is legitimate.  But carrying an automatic weapon with you to the grocery store just makes you look stupid – and cowardly.  It’s also awkward.  A handgun in a holster is much more practical.  One thing you should know, though.  Having a gun makes it more likely you will be shot, not less.[8]

Defense of home is also a legitimate use of firearms.  However, using an automatic weapon means you have that many more bullets flying around the home, that many more chances to injure or kill a member of your household.  The consensus of the experts seems to be that a pump shotgun or a handgun would be the best weapon for this purpose.[9]

One last word on keeping a gun for one of these legitimate purposes.  Don’t take it home, stick in the drawer, and figure you’re now safer.  It’s essential that you know how to use, and are familiar with such things as the noise and recoil.  A good article on the importance of practice is found here.[10]


While laws vary from state-to-state, having a firearm at home is usually subject to less regulation.  Buying a gun takes only a background check – not mentally ill, not a convicted felon, not subject to a restraining order, etc.  Being allowed to carry in public is a whole, different ballgame.  This goes back to a couple of things, in my opinion.  The first is that keeping a gun at home was contemplated when the Second Amendment was written.  Your home is your castle, etc.  The other is that you are less likely to kill multiple strangers with your gun at home.


There are some who believe that the right to carry a firearm is sacrosanct.  It’s in the Bill of Rights, after all.  “Shall not be infringed …” etc.

Several rights are protected in the Bill of Rights, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  Those rights only go so far.  Your right to free speech doesn’t include the right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater.  The freedom of religion doesn’t include human sacrifice.  All Constitutional rights are subject to reasonable regulation.  And that has to include reasonable gun control.



[3], id.










wedding float 2

In the last few weeks, several courts have moved toward recognition of gays’ right to marry.  The ultra-conservatives of the Republican Party have gone ballistic.  Mike Huckabee has threatened to take his ball and go home.  Like it or not, this is progress.


First, it’s about equality.  Rather than being a psychological abnormality, as was believed in the fifties, homosexuality is a natural condition.  The notion that there is ‘something wrong’ with anyone who prefers the same sex was debunked, a long time ago.  An excellent narrative on the history of psychological thoughts on homosexuality is found here.[i]

The majority of humans are heterosexual.  The majority of humans are also right-handed.  Being in the minority doesn’t make one inferior.  Discriminating against someone for being in the minority is innately unfair.  Left-handed people have the same rights as those who are right-handed.  Homosexuals have the same rights as heterosexuals.

That’s the moral reason.  The legal reason is the application of the equal-protection and due-process clauses of the Constitution.  Granting a marriage license is a government function.  Recognizing the existence of a marriage for tax and estate purposes is a government function.  Everyone is supposed to equal treatment by the government (including state governments under the 14th Amendment) in its performance of its functions.

In case you haven’t noticed, there is a clear pattern to the decisions recently rendered by the federal courts on this question.  They are overwhelmingly recognizing that discrimination against gays by government entities violates the Constitution.


The right wing, especially those who call themselves Christians, keep making the same, tired arguments.  What is amusing is how often these arguments are quite similar to arguments used earlier, for everything from maintaining slavery to forbidding interracial marriage.

So let’s take a look at the more popular excuses for blocking gay marriage.

Same-sex marriage will destroy the sanctity of marriage.

This argument is often accompanied by the appropriate verse from Leviticus, declaring homosexuality to be an abomination.  Of course, those who quote this verse tend to ignore many of the other things the Old Testament says.  A humorous take on this, called “Why Can’t I Own a Canadian?”[ii] makes this point quite well.  Christians who condemn homosexuality tend to forget one other thing.  There is no record of Jesus ever having said one word about it.

In Matthew 19, Jesus did say a little about divorce and remarriage.  That would seem to be a more direct statement on ‘the sanctity of marriage’ than the cherry-picked verse from Leviticus.  Yet no one seems (these days, at least) to want to try to make divorce illegal.

But all of that is beside the point.  Churches may regard marriage as sacred, or some such thing.  And I have no problem with any religious organization telling its members what is right or wrong for them.  Where I have a problem is a church telling everyone else, particularly those who don’t share their beliefs, what they can and cannot do.

Marriage is a legal status.  You do not have the right to use your religion, to determine another’s legal status.  To do so would be a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

I addressed this indirectly one of my books.  In the first chapter of Differential, I had the main character debating a preacher.  The argument about the sanctity of marriage seems familiar, until the reader learns that the subject is interracial marriage.  That was a real issue in the sixties, where this scene occurs.  The argument was made then, too.  It is as unpersuasive now as it was then.

 If we allow gays to marry, it will lead to pedophile marriages, and people marrying dogs.

Really?  Show me the evidence that these things have become more frequent in Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, France, the United Kingdom , Sweden, or Luxembourg.  This argument is basically saying that homosexuality is a perversion, and legalizing same-sex marriage will somehow set a precedent for legalizing other perversions.  Any change to the law should be weighed on its own merits, not on what someone thinks may be the next point of contention.  Where do we draw the line?  For me, that’s easy: consenting adults.

We should encourage procreation.

Procreation happens by instinct.  Letting those who don’t share that instinct marry will not change it, for those who do.  Besides that, overpopulation is a serious problem.  The encouragement to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ was seven billion people ago.  We can let up any time now.

The majority of the voters and/or the individual states should have the right to decide this issue.

That’s why we have the Bill of Rights.  It protects the minority from the excesses of the majority.  As far as the states’rights argument is concerned, see the discussion of the 14th Amendment, above.  Had we left it to the individual states, slavery might still be legal in some of them.  And we almost certainly wouldn’t have integrated schools in all of them.


As with most social issues in this country, same-sex marriage has taken some time to reach maturity.  In my mind, two things led to this point.  1) The recognition by the psychological community, discussed above, that homosexuality is not a psychological abnormality, and 2) The recognition by the court system that homosexuality is not a crime.[iii]

Once we realized that gays are not sick and are not criminals, it led inexorably to the conclusion that they are normal human beings.  As such, they have the same rights as heterosexuals.



[iii] Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003)



By Peter D. Miller


I’m aware that “lying politician” is almost redundant.  All politicians stretch the truth, to a greater or lesser extent.  But the non-partisan Center for Media and Public Affairs recently demonstrated that contemporary Republicans make untrue statements significantly more frequently that Democrats.[i]

What are the lies about?  The Affordable Care Act (ACA), often called “Obamacare,” is a favorite target.  So are the economy, and the national debt.  These range from the ridiculous (Sarah Palin’s ‘death panels’) to the sublime (the ACA will cost jobs).

More insidious are the lies about President Obama personally.  We are all familiar with the claim that he is not a natural-born citizen, as well as the allegations that he is Muslim (as though it would matter), a socialist, a communist, and a fascist.  In recent weeks, some have even stooped to dragging Shasha and Malia Obama into the arena, claiming that they were not born to Michelle and Barack Obama.

Is there a common thread?  Perhaps.  My observation is that the lies center on hatred and fear.  Fear of economic ruin, unemployment, governmental intrusion …   Hatred for a president who doesn’t look like other presidents (hint: He’s black).



The Republicans of old – Eisenhower, Goldwater, Teddy Roosevelt – were fiscal conservatives.  The focus of the Tea Party, which has somehow taken effective control of the Republican Party, seems to be on social issues.  They are particularly shrill when talking about abortion and gay marriage.

This is where we begin hearing all about religion – what the Bible says about homosexuality, and how God holds life sacred.  Those who believe in equality for marriage, and/or a woman’s right to choose, are characterized as evil and godless.  This is where religion spills into politics more now, than at any time in my memory.

Here’s the thing.  It’s a sham.

Marriage equality and abortion rights will ultimately rest with the courts.  There is some potential impact in legislation.  And of course the makeup of the Supreme Court could be affected by the Senate, if a vacancy occurs.  But on the whole, the election results will not have a substantial impact on these matters.  Not enough to base such a large portion of the national policy debate on them.

So why are we hearing so much about them from the conservatives?  It is a lot like President Lyndon Johnson said many years ago:  “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket.  Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

And that’s what I think is happening here.  The Tea Party is offering up gays, and women with unwanted pregnancies, to its base:  “See?  Someone you can look down on!”

What is our attention being diverted from?  The real issues – bread-and-butter stuff.  First, there’s the economy.  Spoiler alert: it’s a lot better now, than it was six years ago.  The stock market has doubled, and the deficit has been cut in half.  Unemployment has gone below six percent (6%).

What’s missing is the equitable distribution of the economy’s expansion.  Real income for the middle class is flat, at best.

Much has been said about the 99% and the 1%.  From 1970 through 2012, the average annual income of 99% of Americans has increased seven percent (7%!) to an average of $44,000.  In the same period, average annual income of the top 1% has increased 213%, to $1.3 million. The average for the top 0.1% of Americans has increased 413%, to $6.4 million.[ii]

Think about that, the next time you try to stretch your budget to buy the kids new shoes.  Six-point-four million dollars.  Annually.

What does this have to do with politics?  A lot.  The federal minimum wage for most workers has not been increased in over five years.  For tipped workers, it has not increased in 22 years.  Republicans in the U.S. Senate filibustered a bill to raise the minimum wage.

In theory, the best way to improve your income potential is through education.  The obvious problem with that is the cost.  And it is getting worse.  The average cost of a college education increased 538% from 1985 to 2013, more than four times the rate of increase in CPI (121%) in the same period.[iii]

As a result, those who choose to better themselves through education face staggering debt.  In 2012, the average student-loan debt for college seniors reached $29,400.[iv]  In 2014, Senator Warren proposed legislation that would have allowed borrowers of both federal and private loans to refinance their debt at the interest rate currently offered to new federal borrowers.  Republicans blocked the bill.[v]

So the Republicans don’t want to discuss the economy.  It’s better.  And they block any effort for the middle class to share in the economic upturn in any meaningful way.  Minimum wage must remain below the poverty line.  Measures that could make it less burdensome to improve one’s lot, through education, won’t be allowed.

The conversation is, instead, directed toward gay marriage and abortion.  “Hey!  Look over here!  These gay guys want to get married!  Women want to make decisions about their own bodies!”


Before examining the record, let’s ponder why Republicans would want to obstruct the business of Congress.  It all goes back to what Rush Limbaugh said in January of 2009:  “I hope Obama fails.”

Obstruct, they have.  Here is a partial list of the legislation Republicans have blocked during the Obama administration:

  • Infrastructure bill for building and repairing roads and bridges
  • Bipartisan transportation and housing bill
  • Bill to rehire 400,000 teachers, firefighters, paramedics, and police officers
  • Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act
  • Bill to stop tax breaks for moving jobs out of the country
  • Extension of long-term unemployment
  • Bill to enhance healthcare and employment for veterans
  • ‘Buffet rule’ – to unsure that millionaires pay tax rate comparable to that of middle class
  • Equal pay for women
  • Increase minimum wage
  • Student loan reform

And of course, we can’t forget the government shut-down.

The point is to make the government ineffective.  The theory is that a large number of people will not take the trouble to see who is to blame.  They will simply conclude that “Both sides are at fault.”

Unfortunately, this is working to a certain extent.  A recent Washington Post poll[vi] found that only 19% of the public is confident that Republicans in Congress will make the right decisions.  However, Democrats in Congress also received a low number – 27%.  While this is significantly better than confidence in Republicans, it shows how the ‘blame them all’ philosophy has worked.


In June of 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a portion of the Voting Rights Act, which had required prior approval of changes to voting laws.  New legislation has been introduced or passed in 30 states, directed at making it more difficult to vote.[vii]  These laws disproportionately impede low-income and minority voters.[viii]  Some Republicans have made it clear that they do not want minority voters to cast votes.[ix]

The given justification is to cure and/or prevent voter fraud.  However, every single study done on voter fraud in the last several years has come to the same conclusion:  Voter fraud is miniscule, practically non-existent.  One of the most comprehensive studies found 31 credible incidents, out of one billion votes cast.[x]


So what does all of this mean?  It’s simple.  The party of ‘family values’ doesn’t trust the public with the truth.  It does not want members of the middle class to share in the economic recovery equally, or to have a reasonable means by which to improve their lot.

It chooses not to run on the issues that affect Americans’ everyday lives, and it doesn’t want poor people or minorities to vote.  In short, today’s Republican Party values winning a lot more than it values honesty.















Photo by NY Daily News
Photo by NY Daily News

By Peter D. Miller

The disturbances in Ferguson, MO, got my attention.  I wasn’t the only one, of course.  They held the entire nation’s attention for several weeks.  Over a month later, the aftermath of this tragedy is far from over.

One thing made it resonate with me at a visceral level.  The precipitating event was disturbingly similar to a plot point in my recent novel, Differential.

In Differential, a riot followed the police shooting of an unarmed African-American teen.  This fictional occurrence was set in 1969.  I remember the turmoil of that period.  When I wrote this scene, it seemed plausible in the late sixties.

That a somewhat similar incident would occur in 2014 caused me to ponder.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was meant to defang racism, put us on a level playing field.  Why have we made so little progress in 50 years?

I have read many accounts of the shooting itself, the violence that followed, and the police activities during, and following the violence.  There is a specific division in the points of view for these accounts.

One point of view emphasizes that Michael Brown was unarmed when killed by a police officer.  It cites multiple examples of conduct perceived to be improper – in the past and present – by police and city personnel.  Essentially, this point of view paints the Caucasian-dominated local officials as the ‘bad guys.’

The other point of view emphasizes Brown’s size, claims he had tried to take Officer Wilson’s gun, and claims that he had stolen cigars from a convenience store.  In the aftermath, this point of view concentrates attention on the looting and destruction of property, by members of the African-American community.  From this point of view, the African-Americans who participated – from Brown to the demonstrators and looters – are the ‘bad guys.’

How can two sets of people, viewing the same information, arrive at diametrically-opposed conclusions?  The answer is obvious.  The conclusions preceded the information.

Each of these conclusions is not a deduction based on reason.  It is, rather, based on the belief system of the person drawing the conclusion.  He focuses on the information that supports his belief, and he discounts any information that does not.

Niall Ferguson, MA, D. Phil., is an author and professor of History at Harvard.  In an article in The Guardian[i], he states, “Race mattered, and, alas, may still matter, not because there are biologically distinct races but because people believe in their existence. That belief has repeatedly served to justify acts of organised repression …”

Belief systems are ingrained.  They come from your upbringing – largely from your parents – and from the social groups of which you were a part in your formative years.

If you are a Protestant, the odds are very high that your great-great-great-grandfather was a Protestant.  It is likely that your lineage includes Protestant ancestors, going back four centuries.

Most Catholics have Catholic ancestors going back as far as twenty centuries.  Many Jews have Jewish ancestors as far back as twenty-six centuries.

There are, of course, exceptions.  Sometimes people will ‘convert’ to another religion in order to marry someone of that religion.  And a growing number of people identify with no particular religion.

The point, here, is that racial prejudice is a belief system.  Like religion, it is passed from generation to generation.

As James Fidlerten observed in Racism in America: Live and Well[ii] “The problem with racism is that it’s passed down from one generation to another. When children who are racist because they were brought up by parents who are also racist and their parents were also brought up by racist(s) …”

There are ingrained viewpoints on both sides.  Mistrust for the government in general, and the justice system in particular, is widespread in the African-American community.  Like the racial prejudice among many Caucasians, this has also been handed down, generation to generation.

The slogan, “No justice, no peace!” has accompanied racial strife for decades.  Crowds in Ferguson shouted it.  It was chanted after the acquittal of the officers who had beaten Rodney King, and later after the acquittal of George Zimmerman.  It echoes one of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches, circa 1967.

It has to be noted that Dr. King eschewed violence.  However, it cannot be ignored that he was murdered.  The violence which erupted in the days following his death brought the country’s focus on his work more intensely than the peaceful demonstrations he led.

And so the animosity feeds on itself.  Each instance of racial injustice fuels mistrust.  It strengthens the position of those who advocate violence.  Each resultant act of violence by African-Americans strengthens the position of those who claim that African-Americans are by nature violent, uncivilized, inferior, etc.

How do we change this?  How do we accelerate a process that has been mired for generations?

In “The Multiple Futures of Racism,”[iii] Caleb Rosado, Ph.D., described the four major roles in repression: 1) Perpetrator, 2) Victim, 3) Bystander, and 4) Rescuer.  He makes a number of suggestions in the article on how people can help us make progress.

My suggestions are different for each of the four roles:

Perpetrator – in this context, a person who justifies treating non-Caucasians as inferior because he believes they are innately less intelligent, more violent, etc.

It is unlikely that anything I say will change your mind.  But here is some food for thought.  You may think of yourself as an independent thinker.  You are not.  Your prejudice against people of color was handed down to you, through indoctrination by your forebears.  It probably goes all the way back to someone who justified treating slaves as sub-human, by claiming that the race itself is inferior.

Victim – people who are treated as less than equal, by government personnel or in public accommodations, employment, etc., because of race.

There is ample evidence that acts of racism exist and continue.  If we are ever going to make progress, some of it must begin with your reaction to discriminatory acts.  It boils down to this: Don’t give them an excuse.  If you are stopped for driving while black, keep a civil tongue and attitude.  Some of these folks are looking for a confrontation.

I still believe that most police officers are good people, doing a difficult job.  There are, however, some racist officers, and many of those like to play a game Dr. Eric Berne called “NIGYYSOB.”  Antagonizing someone who carries a gun will not end well.

Be ready to record and document.  Check the laws of your jurisdiction on this.  In nearly all states you have the right to record and document police activities, so long as you do not interfere with them.

If you believe that the justice system will not work for an African-American, prove it.  Resorting to violence, based on mistrust of the judicial process, merely strengthens the hand of those who seek to deny your rights.  A demonstrated injustice can call attention to a problem in a positive way, without the offsetting effects of property destruction and looting.

The same is true of the political process.  Peaceful protest, lawful assembly, and especially participation in elections are powerful tools.  Doctor King showed the effectiveness of these generations ago.  The current attempts to minimize minority voting are a clue.  There are those who fear non-Caucasians to voting in significant numbers.

Bystander – people who observe discriminatory actions but do nothing about them.

This is the group that could, in my opinion, make the biggest contribution to long-term change.  And it wouldn’t take a lot of effort.

One of the keys to racism is insecurity.  The need to devalue other people often comes from a desire to feel better about one’s self, by comparison.

Because racial prejudice is part of a belief system, it can be unlearned.  Our belief systems are nurtured in our interactions with others – in the family, in the workplace, among friends and acquaintances.  When a racist makes a demeaning comment, he is often doing so to gain emotional support or approval from those around him.  To this person, silence is tacit approval/agreement.  What you can do is to remove his assumption of your agreement.

Why should you do anything?  It’s like Edmund Burke said long ago:  “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

You don’t have to do that much.  It can be as simple as a head-shake or an eye-roll.  If you feel adventuresome, perhaps you could even say something like, “I find that offensive.”

The point is to take away the assumption that you agree, because of your silence.  If take this small step, you may give others the courage to do so.  The person will lose some portion of the social support he seeks.  At the least, he may be less aggressive in his racist actions.  At best, the lack of social support could cause him to re-examine his belief.  All belief systems are subject to re-learning, or unlearning.  The small step of removing the assumed support could contribute to this happening.

Rescuer – the people who act to alleviate the effects of racism.

First of all, good for you.  Beyond that, I have only a couple of thoughts.  If you haven’t already done so, consider organizing and networking.  With every millimeter of progress we make, our country becomes better for all of us.