Thursday, December 29, 2011


You all know who congress works for when, around Christmas time, they Scrooge-like hold hostage tax breaks for working middle class families, unemployment insurance for those who can’t find a job, and Medicare monies needed to treat the sick. 
What ransom did these congressional ne’er do wells demand in exchange?  What else?  A deal for their rich oil patrons! 
The American Petroleum Institute, fronting for Canada and its partners in the United States, wants to build the dirtiest, riskiest, $7 Billion crude tar sand oil pipeline called the Keystone XL. 
They want to pump 700,000 barrels of filthy crude every day, along a 36 inch pipe, traveling 1,661 miles from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas.
You might think they’d be embarrassed to make such a push only a year after BP despoiled the Gulf of Mexico and then had an oil leak on its TransAlaska pipeline, and after Michigan suffered a million gallon oil spill.
TransCanada says that there is no risk to the underground water along the pipe route.  (If you believe that, I can show you where the weapons of mass destruction are hidden in Iraq.)
TransCanada is unconcerned that a forerunner pipeline made of questionable steel leaked oil.  TransCanada nevertheless asked the US for permission to lay this steel pipeline across 70 rivers and streams and a huge aquifer, the Ogallala, the source of one-third of all ground water to irrigate farms in the region.  TransCanada is going to dig down four feet below the surface for this pipe line.  So it will be below the water table in many places, putting the water supply at risk from oil leaks.  TransCanada made some limp assurances, telling Texas residents not to be concerned as these pipelines will have a cut-off valve every 20 miles.  If true, then you could only be mired in 20 miles worth of inky black muck, rather than the full length of the pipeline.
TransCanada has also bullied landowners telling them if they don’t permit them on their land, then they’ll take it by eminent domain.  In some instances, TransCanada began construction of the line without official approval. 
On the economic front, some buyers of Canadian crude said there is too much pipeline capacity now so that Keystone is neither necessary nor economical. 
Unsurprisingly, citizens from the region have objected on all the obvious grounds, protesters gathered outside Congress and the White House, and the Administration delayed approval of this pipeline for a year. 
That’s why Congress demanded as its ransom, the shortening of the government’s decision horizon, from a year to a few months, by February 21, 2012.
In exchange, these oil industry stooges in congress gave a green light to middle class tax breaks, unemployment insurance and Medicare.
TransCanada and its PR machine keep saying the pipeline will create jobs.  Not really. 
At its peak, the Keystone XL application promised it would hire 3,500 to 4,200 temps for construction.  Given that the foreign-built pipe has been stockpiled in North Dakota, the actual temp work force is likely to be more like a third of TransCanada’s original forecast.    
As for really helping workers, the payroll tax cut helped 750,000 Americans.
A proposed bill that would really help workers, the American Jobs Act, would create 1.9 Million jobs.
Kill this wrong-headed pipeline and save the farms and homes of people half way across the country because this pipeline has never been about helping us, it’s about making a killing at our expense, about playing us as fools in this latest oil industry con.

Friday, December 23, 2011

GAZETTE COLUMN: Mary and Joseph – a Christmas Meditation by John P. Flannery

            We live so much of our lives in a world of distorted fantasy, too many people wrongly projecting how they see the world, shadow figures reflected on a wall, taken as real and true, but not real at all.
Too many people these days take comfort in these illusory projections – and it’s a self-verifying system of bias that allows too many citizens to do less and less – without regard to what’s best for the common welfare.   
            The best example of cognitive dissonance is the middle class defending the filthy rich that exploit them, by unbridled greed and selfishness, destroying their jobs, promoting insecurity, and transforming benefits into misty vapor. 
Too many middle class project a holograph of the wealthy as heroes rather than the self-aggrandizing overlords they’ve become.  They call them “job creators,” when they’ve done exactly the opposite.  Despite the evidence, too many insist that the wealthy want to employ us all and share the profits that they have horded for years – and the cover story is that evil government has reined in their creative freedom that simply awaits release for our eternal benefit.  Poppycock!
            These same folk insist we should all subscribe to belief in an “invisible hand” with supernatural properties that makes all things right in our economy.  They don’t question why this talismanic nonsense – the “invisible” hand - failed to make its presence known to protect us when our economy crashed in 2008.  Still they are steadfast in their belief in the economic beneficence of this palsied hand – like the members of some long gone primitive culture that trusts in totems carved from woodland trees.
            They save the worst of their projections for the most fragile.  A poor homeless person, who spent last night in a park near Leesburg, doesn’t exist unless we see him walking to McDonald’s with his bed roll of papers and bags, and, if we do see him, it is as likely the deluded observer will fault the poor for failing to do “what he should have done” to save himself.  Similarly, the aged should have planned better for their retirement and medical care.  Heaven forbid that we would think to open a public building on the coldest of evenings so that the homeless might not die of exposure to the elements.  Or that we should care to protect the aged who have contributed so much to their communities and now must fear for their security.
            It is sweet irony that we live in a county that prides itself on being a hot bed of Christian activism – at least when it comes to condemning and circumscribing personal freedoms (and then how they hate).
            The meditation of the Christmas season that tells us who we are is the answer to this question: How many people would open their door after dark to an unmarried pregnant woman and give her and the apparent father shelter for the night?  Of course, we’re talking about Mary and Joseph and, when they knock, as was true in the original account, no one knew she was going to give birth to Jesus or that this unborn child had any significance.  Yet they finally found shelter. Would they do as well today in Loudoun County?
In this County, it’s a nice question, whether it would matter if Mary was dark-skinned (as she likely was) or if she was shabbily dressed?  Do you think it is unlikely that Mary would get shelter if Bethlehem were Leesburg and Nazareth were Mexico?
On Saturday night, a neighbor I’ve always respected told me that he has all this room in his house.  He said he feels badly about the homeless and would have them in his home.  He said he doesn’t require much privacy any more.  He just feels badly that he has space that could shelter others.    There is no question in my mind that he would give shelter to Mary and Joseph – as he would shelter anyone else.  There are many other friends and neighbors in this County who would do as much.  I have seen them do amazing things.  These are the people of heart and soul that are the future of this community and the nation and it is by their character that we fulfill our constitutional promise as a people.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

GAZETTE COLUMN: The 7 dwarfs from Des Moines! by John Flannery

The ABC News Division put on a terrific Saturday night show at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, kind of reality tv meets presidential politics, a demolition derby debate among the Republican presidential primary contenders.
We were short, however, by one dwarf.  Former Godfather Pizza’s CEO and Chairman Herman Cain caught the brass ring when the public wanted anyone but Mitt (Romney), and Herman topped the political polls, gaining altitude with attitude until, like Icarus, he flew too close to the hot sun, busted all records on the bimbo meter, lost his wax wings, and fell to the earth, having “overlooked” to mention to the Missus that 13 year “intimate friendship” he had with another woman.
Michelle Bachman praised Cain and then joined the Greek Chorus of caustic contenders kicking Newt around the stage for his sexual indiscretions.  Perry said, if you’ll cheat on your wife, you’ll cheat on your business partners – an interesting conjunction.  Newt scowled, played piƱata to their scornful remarks, bowed his head, and finally said he’d sought prayerful reconciliation. 
Mitt questioned Newt’s idea factory, starting with Newt’s proposal for a colony to mine minerals on the Moon.  Mitt overlooked to mention Newt’s space mirrors that would reflect the sun onto our highways -- so we can save electricity.  Newt explained another beaut -- to fire hard-working middle class school janitors, add them to the unemployment line, and use child labor drawn from grammar school classrooms, paying the kids less than the janitors of course.
One blogger wrote about the debate, “No, Diane Sawyer. It doesn't help. Give them clubs and don't interrupt!!”
Mitt, a man of the people, tried to make a $10,000 bet with Perry on whether Mitt changed what he’d said about his Massachusetts Health care program from one edition of his book to the next.  Perry couldn’t think to say, “Make it a fiver and you’ve got a bet, or, by the way, Mitt, real people don’t make bets for 10 big ones.”  Someone blogged, “Can Mormons bet?” 
This tied in nicely with Mitt’s explanation about how he knew about the poor.  His dad had been poor – and told him all about it.  Newt hung back because, “What could he know about the middle class when he’s got a running tab to buy shiny diamond treasures at Tiffany’s?”
No dwarf admitted to supporting any government regulations.  Newt did write a book in 1984, called “Window of Opportunity,” where he advocated “forceful government intervention on behalf of growth and opportunity” explaining how he opposed “a neutral jungle of purely random individual behavior.”  By the time of the debate in Des Moines, however, neither Newt nor any other dwarf were concerned with how a poorly regulated corporate America killed workers in mines, spilled oil in the Gulf, broke our banks and collapsed our economy with bogus home loans. 
The dwarfs refuse to increase taxes on the rich but they’re fine with increasing payroll taxes on the middle class.  No one called Mitt on whether his business had been to destroy jobs, and not to create them.  Mitt’s company, Bain Capital, made its fortune taking over companies, forcing some into bankruptcy, and always selling them off for a profit.  Mitt was more like Oliver Stone’s Gordon Gekko who went to Wall Street, than Capra’s Mr. Smith who went to Washington.
On foreign affairs, Mitt and Newt argued about Newt’s remark that the Palestinians were an “invented people” and then they argued, like children, about who knew Israeli Prime Minister “Bibi” Netanyahu better or longer.  Bachmann tried to top this sophomoric exchange by repeating she had worked on a kibbutz – and apparently never learned how to say Chutzpah.
            So what’s America to do? 
If you want to restore the basic bargain that our people made with its government, then you are best to ignore the dwarfs and consider what another presidential candidate said last week in Osawatomie, Kansas. 
“[W]hat’s at stake,” President Obama said, “is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, [and] secure their retirement.”  Obama decried how “the rungs on the ladder of opportunity have grown farther and farther apart, and the middle class has shrunk.”  He proposed an “economy where everyone plays by the same rules, from Wall Street to Main Street.” 
Now, that would be a welcome change!

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Food Stamp Benefit Card
We can’t refuse to help children.
There are parents who resent our First Lady’s suggestion that our children should eat good food and exercise -- if they can.  My Mom told me to eat well and exercise.  My teacher and coach, John Lyttle, at Fordham Prep taught us how to eat well and exercise.  When I was young, President Jack Kennedy inspired the nation to be fit and vigorous -- though he had severe disabilities.  We should welcome, not resist, a First Lady who re-visits these worthy values of good nutrition and exercise and invites our nation to embrace them anew.
Consider that we have 21 million children in school, receiving federally subsidized lunches.  At lunch, they consume 40% of all the calories they eat in a day.  Fully a third of all these children are overweight or obese. 
Congress looked the other way recently, favoring its monied contributors over our children, when it rejected the USDA’s proposed nutritional guidelines and treated pizza with tomato sauce as a vegetable, and approved a diet of French fries, starchy vegetables, and salt for our children.  Congress refused to help our children – so now we must do what Congress failed to do.
We have many other children who are not in danger of being overweight.  They are in danger, however, of going hungry.  We have gone from 18 million children eating lunches in 2006 to 21 million students today.  Layoffs have meant more families qualify for the free lunch program.  A family with an income that is 130 percent of the poverty level, $29,055 for a family of four, can receive free school meals.  A family with an income of $41,348 can receive a lunch for a 40 cent charge. 
Nor does this problem end with the school day.  More families now qualify for the USDA food stamp program to feed their children and to feed themselves after school.  Not that they get stamps any more.  It’s more like a debit card.  The USDA grants money to poor households to buy food and – since the recession – the ratio of poor to the rest of the population went from 130 per thousand in 2007 to 153 per thousand in 2010, an increase of 18 %.
Only a few days ago, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican presidential contender, attacked the food stamp program, criticizing President Obama for feeding the hungry so well, wrongly charging “You don’t get food stamps, you get a credit card and the credit card can be used for anything.  We’ve had people take their food-stamp money and use it to go to Hawaii.”
Gingrich scapegoats the poor with lies to win political support from the unwary and the well fed to advance his presidential primary bid.  We should know three things.  First, there is no “credit” card; there is instead an electronic benefits card – EBT card – and it creates an audit trail of expenditures, like your debit card, and bars the card holder from buying any items that are disallowed.  Second, you can’t buy restaurant meals, beer, wine or liquor, nor vitamins, food that you’d eat at the store, nor hot food, and most certainly not any plane tickets to Hawaii or any place else.  Third, Gingrich told another whopper when he said that “they give food stamps now to millionaires.” Nonsense.  You can’t get food stamps if you earn more than 130 percent of the poverty line.
Speaker Gingrich attacks the poor, as he proclaims in the most reverential tones, his Christian faith.  Perhaps Gingrich follows a different testament than other Christians for Jesus “cursed into everlasting fire” those who gave no meat nor drink when he “hungered.”  Matthew 25:41-42.  Of course, Jesus was not talking about his hunger but of his brothers and sisters.  Jesus explained, “When you refused to help the least of these my brothers, you were refusing to help me.”  Matthew 25:46.  Plainly, Speaker Gingrich wants only to help himself; his soul is as empty of charity as is a vacuum of air.
Unlike Congress and Gingrich, we must not refuse to help our children who are hungry.  Nor refuse to help children to eat better.  If we are truly a family, then we must act like one – and help each other.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


            There is a hue and cry from the right that citizens are disturbing the peace because they have taken to the street to protest.
            But are we really at peace? 
At home, we have social violence, suffered in body and spirit, when those who are ill can’t afford to be treated to become healthy, those who had homes don’t any longer, and some don’t have apartments and live in cars or on the street, those who would work can find none, those who do work can be forced to work longer hours for less pay with fewer benefits, those who would learn can’t afford an education, those who are aged are insecure in the years they were promised would be golden but have turned leaden instead. 
Is the status of aloneness, of lost self-worth, of weakness the indicia of peace and prosperity?  I think not.  If this be our peace, then shouldn’t it be disturbed? 
Fundamental Fairness is an essential clause in the social compact that we made with each other in the formation of this imperfect union – and it’s been ruptured almost irreparably in favor of the wealthy few. 
Abroad, we fight wars for plunder at the expense of the life and limb of our young men and women who can hardly find any other way of life to work and live but to join the service for the promise of grand adventure and unequaled skills when they’ve finished their tours of duty.  Unfortunately, when these men and women come home, if not disabled or broken by PTSD or TBI, they find these promises were a lulling breeze in the wind. 
We support torture as a policy against anyone we deem our enemy and are surprised when these young men and women are tortured.  We unleash destructive and hellish forces into civilian populations against women and children and non-combatants and wonder why the inhabitants don’t praise us as their liberators, why they scorn us, and why they form protective coalitions with our enemies. 
We drain our treasury and borrow funds to fight these wars whose success is indeterminate, at least for the citizens of this nation who underwrite these conflicts with their taxes and loans from Far East nations at the expense of taking care of our own here at home.
It is wrong therefore to think those rude and “disturbing” who merely protest against the social violence that they have suffered at home and in the wars abroad.
It is indisputable that the Darth Vader garbed police, with their plastic head-butting shields, who sprayed pepper point blank into the faces of peaceful protesters, young and old, all passive, used excessive force and committed crimes of assault and battery.
The learned lesson is that freedom of speech is a prepositional freedom.  You may have freedom OF speech but you do not have freedom AFTER speech. 
Our nation’s local leaders appear to be coordinating efforts to circumscribe that freedom to protest with permits and timetables and arrests.  They are so concerned about our safety and our health – they say.  They recoil at the possibility of tents and pizza boxes that might not be cleaned up when, in truth and fact, these protesters have cleared all the waste themselves.  We all know what’s really going on here.  They are muzzling citizens speaking the truth.
These protests are the symptoms of our failure to provide for the “general welfare” and to define what defense of the nation requires – as opposed to jingoistic adventuring around the world to expand American hegemony.  We must steer the nation true again and it is really up to us - because most of our elected leaders are so defensive and disturbed, they don’t appreciate that it’s our nation at risk – and nothing less.