Monday, August 17, 2015

Immigration Politics and the Statue of Liberty

By Bill Britton

Do the words of Emma Lazarus (“Give me your tired, your poor . . .”), inscribed on a plaque within the Statue of Liberty’s base, still convey the same power today as when they were written in 1883? Like the title of Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus,” the United States has evolved from being a land occupied by Native Americans and scattered immigrants, eking out a hardscrabble existence, into the most powerful nation on the globe.

Just as, in a sense, we are all Africans, having migrated from the original homeland some 60,000 years ago, we are all migrants the world over, no matter how much we might identify ourselves as American, Iraqi, Chadian, Chinese, or any other national or ethnic group, black or white and all shades in between. The end result is a myriad of cultures, some of which consider themselves superior to others because of supposed innate, exceptional qualities. These range from India’s Brahmins, to England’s old aristocracy, and to various other “chosen people,” among others. The most egregious example is Nazism’s mythical Aryan race of supermen.

The tendency of a culture to become exclusionary is exemplified by the anti-immigrant bias exhibited by some in the United States today. Politicians use the issue of immigration when catering to a particular segment of the electorate. Undocumented immigrants are commonly labeled “aliens,” a term that sets them apart from full-fledged Americans. Others describe them as “invasive” or part of an “alien invasion,” something akin to kudzu or zebra mussels. They lose their humanity and become mere objects to be manipulated for political gain.

The basis of most anti-immigration rhetoric is fear, a common emotion in racial rhetoric as well: fear that your job will be lost to a migrant, fear that your home’s value will suffer, or fear that your neighborhood will become crime-ridden—three of the more common assertions of which there are many. The problem is that migrants are rarely the direct cause of any of these realized fears. The direct causes involve a lack of landlord concern, corrupt political systems, predatory and opportunistic employers, and the failure to support infrastructure and support systems in poorer communities and in those migrant enclaves hidden from view.

The one issue that has gained political leverage is the loss of jobs to non-Americans of all hues, documented or not, in-country or offshore. Wal-Mart once emblazoned “Made in America” across its trucks and on its product labels, until it realized that merchandise could be outsourced at a fraction of the cost of goods produced domestically. “Made in China” is now the company’s mantra. The high-achievers in high schools and universities are disproportionately foreign-born or first-generation Americans. Thus, there is an undercurrent of resentment toward anyone who exudes “foreignness” in much of U.S. society, which engenders a “Fortress America” mentality: e.g., build a higher fence along the Mexican border.

Both undocumented immigrants and those with work permits do dominate certain sectors of the workplace: farming, construction, landscape maintenance, and homecare, among others. But most entry-level American workers shun these jobs because they are low-paying and, in their eyes, low-status. When I was in high school in the 1950s, certain of these jobs were gobbled up by me and my classmates—how else were we to buy gas for that old Ford or Chevy? Few of high-school age today will cut lawns or chop weeds, not even in their own yards.

The easy answer, according to some politicos, is to deport the 11 million illegal immigrants and thus free up jobs for Americans, an answer that only gins up anti-immigrant sentiment. Others have proposed a “pathway to citizenship” with requirements like learning basic English and satisfying the conditions spelled out the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Whether trucking illegal immigrants across our southern border, or creating a pathway to citizenship, funds will have to be appropriated by Congress, something many members are loath to do. And so, the endemic inertia that rules Washington will obviate any immediate solution to a problem that has been called a “crisis,” but one which is of our own making, politicized—and distorted—by both Republicans and Democrats. Perhaps the relevant part of Emma Lazarus’ sonnet should be read at the opening of each session of Congress:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Why the Fracking Frenzy?

By Bill Britton

May, 2015—The oil and gas industry gave nearly $250,000 to each of the 62 senators who voted in favor of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project this spring ( The fossil fuel industry (oil, coal, natural gas) made total campaign contributions of $40.8 million to members of the 113th Congress. In 2014, the industry paid $144.9 million to lobbyists; in return, the industry received $15.2 billion in subsidies ( (By contrast, National Park Service funding for 2014 totaled $2.6 billion.) And with the Supreme Court’s obscene decision in the Citizens United case, the floodgates have been opened: witness the Koch brothers pledge of $1 billion toward Republican candidates for the 2016 election cycle.

When Edwin Drake drilled his oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania in 1859, the modern oil industry began. Demand accelerated with the introduction of the Model-T Ford in 1908 and led to seven decades of “easy” oil, easy in the sense that it was both plentiful and readily accessed. Similarly, natural gas output ramped up to satisfy demand from power companies, residences, and nitrate fertilizer conversion.

Today, much of that easy oil and gas is gone, which has stimulated the installation of ocean drilling platforms, tar-sands mining, and hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” which involves injecting water, sand, and various chemicals under high pressure into shale deposits thousands of feet below the surface. The fissures thus formed provide flow pathways for the trapped oil and natural gas.

To give you an idea of the scale of fracking, the Bakken Shale formation alone, located in North Dakota and Montana, is home to upwards of 15,000 fracking wellheads, with another 20,000 planned. By mid 2014, there were over 1.1 million active oil and gas wells of all types in the U.S. Some form of fracking is now used in 90% of all new onshore oil and gas development, and currently accounts for 60% of natural gas production in the U.S. The following photo is of a large fracking field in Wyoming:

The American Petroleum Institute (API) claims that “There are zero confirmed cases of groundwater contamination connected to the fracturing operation in one million wells hydraulically fractured over the last 60 years,” and that “Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling are safely (my italics) unlocking vast U.S. reserves of oil and natural gas found in shale and other tight-rock formations” (API website). However, all extraction methods carry with them certain inherent risks to both the environment and life, as is best illustrated by the 2010 explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf. Flaring of waste gas is not an atypical oil field sight:

Along with the issues of contamination and safety, a third must be included: the water required for the fracking process. Most fracking takes place in water-stressed areas of the world. In the U.S. and Canada, 55% of the wells hydraulically fractured are in areas experiencing drought and 36% overlay regions with significant groundwater depletion; in Colorado and California, 97% and 96% of the wells, respectively, are in regions with high or extremely high water stress (2014 Ceres report).

Each fracked well requires from 3 to 5 million gallons of water. Up to 80% of the water is “flowback” and returns to the surface. The EPA does not regulate fracking fluids (the mix is an industry secret) even when they enter our water supply because in 2005, fracking was given an exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the so-called “Halliburton Loophole” (The Earth Institute, Columbia University). A 2015 EPA report stated that groundwater contamination from fracking is not widespread, but a number of instances have been documented.

Thus, there are three primary sources of contamination: (1) from the fractured shale leaking oil, gas, and drilling fluid into aquifers supplying drinking water; (2) from fracking wastewater discharged at the surface and then into wastewater injection wells, retention ponds, local streams, or treatment plants; and (3) from natural gas (methane) and other volatiles released into the atmosphere (Note that methane as a greenhouse gas is 25 times more potent than CO2). In any case, the fluid stream contains proven carcinogenics, and in some cases, high levels of radioactivity (The New York Times, 02/27/2011).

An emerging problem is the marked increase in the number of earthquakes in oil fields, not from fracking itself but from the injection of wastewater flowback into deep wells. The earthquake hot spots include portions of Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Ohio, Arkansas, Alabama, Colorado, and New Mexico. Until recently, many of these states were among those places least likely to have an earthquake (USGS report; Washington Post, 07/03/2014). This is an Oklahoma church damaged by a fracking quake:

The systemic problem is the lack of uniform regulations, and uneven enforcement, at both the state and federal levels. Too often, the regulators are former industry executives whose interests do not always align with the common good. Plus, weak campaign-finance laws have led to legislative “pollution.” But the overriding problem is America’s insatiable demand for energy and the lack of a national will to move toward alternative energy sources. We seem oblivious to the fact that fossil fuels are a finite resource and will become exhausted in a century or less, given the current rates of depletion. And as the oil and gas industry drills deeper offshore, expands the mining of tar sands, and fracks shallower shale deposits, the risk of environmental disaster can only increase.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Republican Convention to Feature Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Competition

Two Republicans competing
Special to TPN—Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus has revealed that the party’s presidential nominee will be determined by the winner of a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) tournament. “With dozens of party members having thrown their hats in the ring, the committee felt that an actual ring would be the best place to settle the nomination. In this way, we can avoid confusing the voters and, at the same time, avoid talking about the issues.”

The rules to be followed will be similar to those set by the MMA, although back-biting will be allowed. The biggest departure from MMA rules will have contestants fight until one gives up, has a heart attack, or breaks down sobbing, whichever comes first. Top prize of $1 billion will be awarded by the Koch brothers and deposited directly into the winner’s campaign war chest. The early favorite is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Tickets will be available at the convention venue, the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, or from StubHub. Ringside seats for the earlier brackets will start at $2,500, and for the final round are set at $50,000. Sky boxes will be available at an undisclosed price. Quicken is offering special financing on ticket purchases of $5,000 or more. An HBO package will be offered to subscribers in December, 2016.

To liven up each day’s competition, a prayer breakfast will be co-hosted by Rev. Pat Robertson and popular fundamentalist pedophile Josh Duggar. The Republican National Committee approached the surviving members of the Grateful Dead band to see if they would perform “U.S. Blues,” thinking it was a patriotic song. Member Bob Weir suggested they instead contact Bruce Springsteen to see if he would perform “Born in the USA.”
Democratic cornhole competition

Priebus said that, if all goes well, he sees “no reason why the presidency itself couldn’t be decided using a similar format.” Chairperson of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, agreed, but suggested that a cornhole competition be held instead.

—Bill Britton

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Presidential Candidate Cruz Says that Tax System Should Be “Voluntary”

By Bill Britton
Senator Cruz when not praying

Special to TPN — Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) followed up his announcement that he was running for President in 2016 with this statement given to Matt Lauer of the Today Show: “I believe the IRS should be eliminated and taxes made voluntary. It works great in the Fundamentalist Holy-Roller Baptist Church in Houston, where I pray for 12 hours each Sunday. We’d just have to pass a second plate for the Federal government. Either that, or we could just give 10 percent of the Sunday offerings to the Feds.”

When pressed concerning the likelihood that such a system would bankrupt the federal government, Cruz shouted, “That’s my plan! You got it! Without enough money coming in, I could do away with the EPA and FDA and all those other useless agencies. Whatever’s left I’ll turn over to the private sector. The Koch brothers will do a great job regulating the coal industry. By the way, let’s subsidize the installation of coal-fired furnaces in every American home. The damn Chinese have pulled ahead of in the area of carbon emissions.”

Cruz went on: “Of course, under my administration, church attendance would be made mandatory, which would ensure that both plates would be filled. It’s all part of my belief that ours is a Christian nation and that the flames of Hell will consume all non-believers and Nancy Pelosi.”

Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, is director of Purifying Fire International Ministry and has said his son is one who is anointed as “king” to take control of all sectors of society, an agenda commonly referred to as the “Seven Mountains” mandate, and “bring the spoils of war to the priests,” and thus guarantee a “great transfer of wealth” from the “wicked” to righteous gentile believers.

When Lauer reminded Senator Cruz that this “transfer” has already taken place, his response was that “You can never do enough for the 1 percent. After all, without them, we wouldn’t have the Kardashians.”

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Koran Written by Mel Brooks Ancestor

By Bill Britton

Special to TPN — In a discovery that will disturb Muslims everywhere, scholars have determined that Islam’s holy book, the Koran (Qur’an), was created by a Mel Brooks’ ancestor, Melali Broukhani. Muslim tradition says that God revealed the book’s verses to a Muhammad in the seventh century. Broukhani’s pen name was Muhammad Shmukheini, later shortened to Muhammad after he gained fame with his dancing camels act, which performed in tents throughout the Arabian peninsula.
Mel Brooks as Moses in History of the World

The critical piece of evidence that led scholars to this finding was a scroll detailing Muhammad’s trip to Mecca. His assistant, Gabriel, thought it might be a good idea to get a Jew to write down rules of conduct for the unruly crowds of Arabs who attended his performances—thus, the Koran. (At the time, Jews were the only ones who knew how to make pencils.) The Jew then ran off with one of Muhammad’s daughters and named their first-born son, Meli Brookman.

Not to be outdone by his grandfather, Brookman became a rabbi and amateur archaeologist, whose diggings on Mount Sinai in the year 679 unearthed the stone tablets listing the Ten Commandments. In tribute to his ancestors, Mel Brooks wrote, produced, and directed the acclaimed 1981 film, History of the World, in which he plays the part of Moses, who received the tablets from God and then exclaimed, “Oy! Ten! Ten commandments for all to obey!”