Nuclear power advocates make illogical comparison to hydroelectric and coal plant accidents

When a Guy Chapman responded to my blog entry on ending nuclear-generated electricity by citing a 1975 Chinese Dam accident in which 26,000 died and another 140,000 may have starved to death later, I thought I would ignore it. 

But yesterday in many newspapers across the globe, Gwynne Dyer, a legitimate international journalist, repeated the ridiculous argument central to Chapman’s response, that nuclear is unfairly treated and held to a higher standard than we hold other ways of generating electricity. 

Now I have to analyze what looks like one of the major rhetorical strategies that the nuclear industry and its supporters will employ to explain away the growing disaster at Fukushima.

The way this argument goes, hundreds of miners die every year and only 5,000 died at Chernobyl, which of course ignores the thousands of malformed children born or those who developed thyroid and other cancers afterwards and the hundreds of thousands of early deaths that have occurred and we know will occur over the coming decades.

There are five problems with the argument that other electrical-generating industries kill more people and get a free pass:

  1. It’s not true that the other industries get a free pass:  After the 1975 Chinese hydroelectric disaster, the heads of those in charge rolled and the dam was entirely rebuilt.  We see what’s happening to Massey and its CEO in the wake of the West Virginia coal accident: investigations and indictments.
  2. You are comparing apples to oranges:  In both the hydroelectric and the coal comparison, the authors compare the total fatalities of many accidents or of the very worst imaginable accident to the immediate fatalities of what may or may not have been a severe nuclear plant accident. 
  3. The failures leading to most of the coal and hydroelectric accidents resulted either from human error, poor maintenance or bad technology, all of which can be corrected with existing technologies and higher inspection standards, which virtually all nations are now dedicated to achieving.  But while human error and inferior design have led to most nuclear accidents, too, the unavoidable safety hazards of nuclear are inherent in that it produces harmful radiation, which is impossible to store safely and lingers for tens of thousands of years.
  4. A hydroelectric or coal accident affects only the immediate surroundings, whereas the nuclear accident can infect water and food hundreds and even thousands of miles away.
  5. It is possible to implement all the steps to ameliorate hydroelectric or coal damage to the natural and human environments within the course of a few decades at the most.  Ameliorating not only the damage from a nuclear accident, but the waste nuclear produces takes far longer than the recorded history of mankind to this date.   

One thing that all these technologies have in common is the need for governmental support to produces inexpensive electricity.  If governments made coal-powered generating plants use equipment that is now available to “scrub” most of the noxious wastes from burning coal to generate electricity, the price of electricity would rise significantly.  Virtually all hydroelectric projects have government support.  In the case of nuclear-generated electricity, the industry would not even exist without the Price-Anderson Act, which limits the financial liability of companies that generate electricity through nuclear fission to the equivalent of the cost of a fender-bender. If we were to repeal the Price-Anderson Act, I’m betting virtually every nuclear power plant in the United States would shut down in 10 years.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t provide support to electricity-producing industries.  What I am saying is that we should immediately end all governmental support of nuclear-generated electricity and invest that money into cleaning up and making safer existing technologies and commercializing solar, wind and other renewable alternatives. 

Mass media barrages young people with messages that even if school is good, learning is not.

I like to collect examples of the ideological subtext hidden in mass media documents such as TV shows, advertisements, movies, cartoons and news stories.  Today I would like to share some recent examples of one ideological message embedded in the mass media for decades: anti-intellectualism and anti-learning.

The mythology of anti-intellectualism has been alive since at least the end of World War II.  In this mythology, only the socially maladroit and sexually unattractive do well in school or engage in intellectual pursuits.  The brand name for these socially inadequate creatures that end up alone with their books is the nerd.  Here is how Merriam-Webster’s defines nerd:  an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; especially: one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits

It’s easy to spot anti-intellectualism in films such as “Grease,” the “Revenge of the Nerds” series and even “The Social Network,” or in any number of television shows.  I want to give a few examples of more subtle digs at those who like to do well in school or pursue intellectual activities:

  • The latest New Yorker has an article by D.T. Max about chess phenom Magnus Carlsen that sets Magnus up as the anti-chess nerd.  Max tries to convince us the Magnus, who played thousands of games of chess over the Internet a year, is not a studious chess professional compared to unnamed others.  All the details about Carlsen are meant to oppose him to some imaginary chess archetype who is less normal and nerdier.  This imaginary archetype exists only in myth.  Most of the children and young adults whom I met when my son was a nationally ranked youth chess player were well-rounded, athletic kids with a lot of social poise and grace for their age, including the current American phenom Hikaru Nakamura.
  • A article circulating the Internet this week claims to tell us the “Top 10 cities to date a nerd.”  It’s a list of the 10 cities with the highest educated members in technical or educational occupations.  I can see the value of the article, because if I wanted to find a spouse, I would certainly be interested in going where there are a lot of highly educated people.  But note that the label doesn’t glamorize highly educated people, the articles uses the derogatory “nerd.”
  • A Garfield the Cat cartoon of March 3 finds Garfield and his owner, Jon, perusing the owner’s yearbook. Remember that years ago the strip’s creator Jim Davis established Jon as a socially inept doofus.  Here’s what Jon says as they flip the pages:  “There’s me in the chess club….There’s me in the Latin club…There’s me in the science club…There’s me in the calculus club.” Finally, in the last panel the punch line comes, “There’s me stag at the Junior prom,” to which Garfield think-says with a sarcastic smirk etched across his face, “Go figure!”  The inference and the essence of the joke, is that it’s a no-brainer that Jon went stag to the prom since no one with those intellectual activities could ever attract a date.

Now for two examples of one of the most popular sub-themes of the anti-intellectual ideology, the myth that math is impossibly hard.

  • In October of last year, Mackenzie Carpenter wrote a very good story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the fact that all over the county, more and more freshmen kids are freaking out when they get to colleges.  Unfortunately, she marred the story with her anti-math opening: “It’s late October. Have you gotten The Call or The Text yet from your college freshman?  As in: I hate it here. No one will sit with me in the dining hall. I’m going to flunk algebra because the teacher has a foreign accent and I can’t understand her.” 

In analyzing this hypothetical case history that Carpenter presents, let’s place the mildly racist comment to one side and look at what Carpenter imagined was the tough class the hypothetical freshman was failing: algebra.    The fact of the matter is that most kids bound for college have already taken algebra, many as early as the 6th grade.  On the college level, algebra is considered a remedial class. To propose algebra then as the “hard subject” in the hypothetical case history actually demeans the intellectual content that should be the central experience of college.  By selecting algebra instead of calculus or freshman English is inherently anti-intellectual, while also supporting the false view that math is extremely hard.

  • “The Motley Fool” column of financial advice and news also took a gratuitous swipe at math by assuming that his target market assumes math is hard in an article from last October: “The bad news: Studying companies well involves a little math. The good news: It’s not that hard.” There are so many other ways that the Fool (or should I write fool?) could have approached the story, which is about calculating growth rates, none of which would have proposed that math is hard.  It’s not that the Fool/fool has an agenda to help enslave people intellectually by convincing them they are not smart enough to master the intricacies of “10 = X + 3, what is X?”  It’s that “math is hard” and “intellectuals are socially maladroit” are part of the underlying ideological messages that permeate all our lives, including the Fool/fool’s. 

Some of you are going to remind me that I often write about another social trend: the mad push by helicopter parents to get their children into the very best colleges possible.  This mad dash can include a lot of actions that would appear on the surface to support and cherish learning, such as taking enrichment classes during the summer and getting private tutors.  But judging from the stories in the mass media and the vast anecdotal evidence I have collected from my own experience and those of many other parents, the quest of the helicopter parent, or maybe I should say the Tiger Mom, has nothing to do with learning or education.  It has to do with upgrading to a brand of education that the parents believe will represent a more powerful certification of their children’s status and therefore lead to a higher social position and a job that pays more money.  The helicopter parent has commoditized education, that is, turned it into a commodity that they believe they can buy to enhance their children’s lives (and their own).

Far from being a paradox, the coexistence of these two trends—anti-intellectualism and the helicopter parent—makes all the sense in the world.  What debases intellectual activity more than reducing its value to a certification that money and not intellectual achievement can buy? 

Mother Nature reminds us to stop messing around with nuclear generation of electricity.

At the time of this writing, we have just learned that the heroic efforts of Japanese nuclear-generated electrical power workers have failed and the last remaining workers have evacuated the Fukushima nuclear power plant.  It seems all but certain that some amount of poisonous radiation will escape the containment and carry into the atmosphere to silently harm millions of people. 

The nuclear electrical generation industries in Western Europe, China and the United States have responded admirably by inspecting and closing plants on a temporary basis.  But that doesn’t change the fact that they have a flawed and pernicious technology that represents a dead end in the development of alternative energy.  

It took a forceful act of Mother Nature to demonstrate the inherent dangers of depending on nuclear energy to generate electricity. 

I can understand why many of those cognizant of the danger of continued global warming should have recently warmed up to nuclear-generated electricity, which does not empty carbon into the environment and by that measure has a “clean bill of health.”

But consider these facts about nuclear-generated electricity, facts that have not changed in the 60 years that power plants have been generating energy while accumulating harmfully radioactive nuclear wastes:

  • The half-life of some radioactive wastes from nuclear power plants is 25,000 years.  That means that in 25,000 years half the radioactivity will dissipate, and then in another 25,000 years another half of it will dissipate.  The challenge then is to build waste disposal facilities that will last through more than 25,000 years of natural disasters, evolving languages, government changes, lunatic leaders and the downfall of civilizations.   If the waste facilities are built to withstand all but a massive natural disaster that happens only every 100 years (the Katrina event or an earthquake), it must weather 250 such events, just to get through one half life cycle.
  • There are two theories regarding the dangers of radiation: the threshold theory, which avers that radiation never is harmful until exposure is above a certain level.  The alternate view is called the cumulative theory, which states that the effects of radiation accumulate so that every X-ray you take adds to the possibility of future side effects.  No one knows for sure, but the nuclear-generated electrical power industry works under assumption that the threshold theory is right.  But it seems to me that until we know for sure, the cumulative theory—the one used by medical professionals—is the safer one for the public.
  • Most people know about Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now the Japanese reactors, but in total there have been more than 15 serious accidents, meltdowns and partial meltdowns since the dawn of the nuclear power generation age in the early 50’s.  That’s an average of one every four years.  The source I’m using cites no major accident in 11 years before the recent earthquake and tsunami leveled parts of Japan, but that is not enough time to say the technology has gotten safer, especially in light of these recent events. 

Did you know that if a Japanese style reactor disaster were to occur in the United States, the nuclear industry’s liability is likely inadequate to clean up a major mess, thanks to the Price-Anderson Act, passed in 1957 and extended several times?  By limiting the liability of the nuclear industry,  the federal government has transferred the true cost of delivering nuclear-generated electricity from the companies that generate the electricity to society in general. 

And did you know that in the early 50’s, experts presented white papers outlining how to commercialize nuclear and solar power to President Truman (our worst president and one of the most evil men in recorded history for ordering the dropping of atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki)?  Truman rejected the solar option and poured billions into subsidizing nuclear-based businesses.   

And did you know that in the 1970’s, some 40 years ago, Barry Commoner proved that if the U.S. army insisted that all their field batteries were photovoltaic (which means the energy is generated by solar power), then cost of manufacturing would come down to the point of making photovoltaic cells a competitive source of energy?

The relentless pursuit of the nuclear option pretty much ended in the United States after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, but a few years back, as soon as we realized that the twin challenges of energy dependency and global warming were entwined, politicians, think tanks and the news media began generating  support for nuclear-generated electricity again.   

With such a bad record of safety and no real way to store dangerous wastes, why is there still such a fascination with nuclear power? Why waste more money on this inherently dangerous technology instead of working on more energy-efficient technologies and the development of solar, wind, hydraulic (water) and biomass energy?

The answer, I believe, lies in the difference between the language typically used to describe the subject of the blog entry—nuclear power—and the more accurate phraseology I have employed—nuclear-generated electricity.

All nuclear power can do is make electricity and send that electricity to a centralized grid that delivers it to industrial, commercial and residential users.     

Government leaders everywhere tend to like generating electricity centrally, instead of providing the energy at the source of use (which by definition wastes less energy), as you could with rooftop solar panels or solar-generated electricity stations in neighborhoods, and as you do with natural gas powered vehicles.

But why do many leaders in virtually all governments love nuclear power?  My speculations:

  • Industries with few participants are easier to deal with and easier to integrate into industrial policy decisions.
  • It takes big organizations to operate and finance electrical generation and our leaders hobnob all the time with the leaders of big organizations, in their spare time and during campaigning.  If you don’t believe me, check the social schedule of all our presidents and ex-presidents since Richard M. Nixon.  What that means is that our leaders are always hearing the views of big organizations and tend to think in terms of “big” when they want to get something accomplished.
  • It’s the big companies and their owners and large shareholders (and in particular of nuked-out utility companies and the financial institutions backing them) lining the pockets and campaigns of our elected officials.
  • Especially at the dawn of the nuclear age, governments have liked the fact that nuclear generation of electrical energy is a peaceful use that in part justifies their horrifying and macabre weapons research and manufacture.  

Yes, our governments love nuclear-generated electricity because they love electricity, they love big projects, they love central control, easy access to major economic players, and an easy source of campaign funds and future endowed university chairs.  They love it because they love their nuclear weapons.

Other energy sources can deliver some of these benefits to short-sighted or corrupt government leaders, but none can deliver all of them in one pretty little glowing package.

If you click through 157 slides, Parade’s list of what people earn reveals that you need to own a business to get rich

I always love to peruse the photos, jobs and wages of the 150 or so people that Parade Magazine features in its annual review of people’s wages in the United States.  This year, only a sampling of the featured made it to the print addition.  To see the full survey, you have to go to the website and click through 157 slides (and thereby have a chance to ignore 157 sets of online ads!).

The print edition continued Parade’s pursuit of all things celebrity.  The one full article was about an actor in a situation comedy about a white collar workplace titled “The Office.” The three sidebar articles on the one full page of people and what they earn compared the lives of three real people with television characters with the same jobs, all from situations comedies.  Parade titled these sidebars “TV vs. Reality.”

If you wanted to learn something other than the fact that an Indiana park superintendent likes his real job as much as Amy Poehler likes her play job on “Parks & Recreation,” you had to slog through 157 slides online.

Fortunately, I’ve done the work for you.  Here is a graph that clusters the various amounts people earn in increments of $5,000, except at both ends of the graph, i.e., the amounts at the extremes are $10,000-$20,000 per year; $100,000-$110,000; $110,000-$125,000; $125,000-$250,000; to a million; and over a million. Remember that we are talking about individual, not household, income:

Based on four great divides on the graph I identified, I created four income categories:

  1. Struggling: Under $40,000 in annual income
  2. Today’s middle class: $40,000-$80,000
  3. Today’s upper middle: $80,000-$125,000
  4. Wealthy: More than $125,000

I also divided the people into four groups, as noted on the graph:
A: Artists, craftsmen, musicians, entertainers

G: Government and public employees

X: Private-sector employees

B: Business owners

I did not put anyone making less than $10,000 a year on the chart, as these were all part-timers or volunteers, with a sprinkling of a few more A-types.  Note that Parade segregated celebrities into their own article, which differs in the past when the earnings of an Oprah or a Michael Jordan made it seem as if the only way to riches was to become an entertainer or professional athlete. 

Here is the chart.


Before commenting, I first want to address the issue of whether the Parade list reflects reality.   Parade itself says that the median annual income in the U.S. is $28,580; median means that half of all people make less and half make more.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics tells us that mean income, what we call average, is $43,460.  When mean is significantly larger than median, it usually means that a few big numbers are driving the average up.  In income terms, that means that a very few people are making a lot of money, while most people make very little. 


Just looking at the chart it seems as if the Parade survey pretty much reflects reality, as far as mean and median incomes go.  While I am concerned that there are no Fortune 1,000 executives or high-powered attorneys on the list, there is a wide spread of different professions, so let’s assume that the Parade list is a reasonably accurate reflection of the current salary situation in the United States.


What can we learn?


First and least is that you better not try to earn a living as an artist, crafts person, entertainer or writer unless you intend to be very successful.


It’s also interesting to note that the public sector has a far more equitable distribution of wealth, with most public sector employees making what I call middle or upper middle class incomes and only one that barely makes it into the bottom echelon of the wealthy.  In the private sector, by contrast, if you want to make it into the upper middle class or be wealthy, then you had better own a business.  In fact, if we took out the artists and public employees, we are left with a graph in which there is a very uneven distribution of wealth between employees and business owners.


Right-wing politicians and the news media want to hammer public workers as a chief cause of our deficit problems.  Instead, perhaps we should emulate the public sector model.  We know that public workers tend to be more well-educated than private sector employees, plus the public employee is more likely to be unionized.  So the key to obtaining an upper middle class income, but not get rich, may be to get more education and join a union. 


News media help those who want to cut important programs to outshout those who want to raise taxes.

Am I a delusional paranoid liberal, seeing a conspiracy in every corner?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten the subjective impression that our elected officials and other leaders on all levels of government were inundating the marketplace of ideas (AKA the news media) with demands and plans to cut budgets, especially in the areas of education, social service programs and health care. I perceive seeing very little mention of raising taxes in the media as a means to address budget deficits, even though taxes on the wealthy are at a historic low. 

How could it be, I have wondered to myself, that no one is talking about raising taxes? 

Then I remember that when “60 Minutes” and Vanity Fair released a survey showing that 61% of Americans wanted to raise taxes on the wealthy to address our budget woes, it made it into a mere 44 online media, according to Google News.  Not among these brave few media outlets were the Wall Street Journal, nor the New York Times. 

In other words, it’s the will of the people to raise taxes on the wealthy. But it seems as if the news media, our elected officials and our think tank gurus are ignoring the people’s will.

Does my impression stem from my biases as an aging progressive feeling abused by the right wing?  Or is our national marketplace of ideas working to keep taxes low on the wealthy while cutting important government programs, even if that means greater unemployment, more human suffering and a continued deterioration of our infrastructure of bridges, roads, mass transit systems and schools?

As Kai Ryssdal, American Public Radio’s cheery purveyor of smiley-face capitalism likes to say, “Let’s do the numbers!”

Google News reports that over the past month, roughly February 9-March 9, 2011, there were 8,827 distinct stories in online news media that mentioned the term “cut spending.”  There were only 4,059 stories that mentioned the term “raise taxes.”

But it’s worse than that.  I estimate that on average, every story that mentioned “cut spending” was on 1,428 websites or online media outlets; stories mentioning “raise taxes,” by contrast, made it onto an average of only 80 websites or online media outlets each.

Here’s the methodology I used to determine the number of times that each story appeared: Each search revealed dozens of pages of stories.  I counted the number of media running the 20 stories on the first two pages.  I disregarded the top total for each search term and took the average total of the other 19.

Here are a few more interesting comparisons, all of which show that whatever our elected officials, economic experts, think-tank scholars are saying, reporters and editors actively seek to fill deficit reduction discussion with talk of spending cuts, with almost near silence about raising taxes:

  • On the first two pages of the search results, nine of the 20 stories about cutting spending appeared in more than 1,000 Internet locations; for raising taxes, it was only one.
  • The headline of the most widely-disseminated story to mention raising taxes was the wishy-washy “Obama plans to cut taxes, and raise them, too” and was in 11,090 places. No other story about raising taxes was in even 700 places.  By contrast, the headline of the most widely-disseminated story to mention cutting spending was the very aggressive “Boehner to Obama: Cut spending more,” which also made it to 11,090 places.
  • If you extrapolate the results of the first 20 pages over the entirety of all the stories that Google News reports for both of these search terms over the past month, we find that someone could have seen stories about cutting government spending about 12.6 million times.  Do the same math for raising taxes and you get a total of about 325,000 stories over the past month.  In other words, for every story in which the idea of raising taxes is mentioned, there are probably about 39 mentioning the idea of cutting spending.

39 to one! Think about it!  For example, imagine being in a room.  On one side of the room one person sings as loud as she can and on the other side of the room 39 people sing a different song, again as loud as they cam.  Who would you hear?

One could argue that the results are biased because of the stories in the large number of wacky right-wing websites and groups, all funded by a number of very wealthy people, the most notorious of whom currently are the Koch brothers.  First of all, not that many of those right-wing publications are on the list of media from which Google News pulls its stories.  And the bias created by those that do make the list just proves the broader point that money now controls the outcome of most elections. 

So my impression was accurate, and the news media is for the most part in bed with those who want to cut spending on needed programs, ignoring the will and best interests of the vast majority of people.

Why would Direct TV create an ad in which the logic makes one want to not buy the service no matter what?

Sometimes the logic in an ad backfires by creating a situation in which no matter what the viewer concludes, the astute thing to do is not buy the product or service. 

Take, for example, the current Direct TV “reading of the will” TV commercial: The scene is a large conference room in which all the chairs are facing towards a large desk behind which a high powered attorney reads the will of a wealthy man.  First the attorney says that the business, house and all money go to his trophy mistress, which delights her but pastes a frown of disapproval and disappointment on an elderly and primly dressed woman who is obviously the wife or ex-wife.  Then the attorney announces that the Direct TV package with access to 6,000 movies and other shows goes to the obviously ne’er-do-well son.  The son starts to whoop it up for joy, while the wife once again squeezes a frown of disapproval and disappointment.  Then comes the sell—$29 and some change a month for the Direct TV package, the son’s shouts of joy, ever and ever more manic and louder, serving as background.

The message is supposed to be that the package is very valuable, because some rich guy is so grateful to have it and some rich and bitter crone wants it. 

But let’s dig into the logic a little.  These rich folk treat the Direct TV package as being worth as much as the rest of the dead man’s empire: The will has a special clause about it.  The wife treats losing it exactly the same way that she takes losing the fortune. And the son—he cares not for the fortune but exults in the bequest as if it were the best thing that ever happened to him.

My point: that if these rich people value the Direct TV package so much, it must be too expensive.

Of course, there’s the opposite view, which is that the son is completely loony. But who would listen to a guy like that?  If someone goes gaga about getting an inheritance worth about $360 a year, he’s probably too stupid to trust his opinion about a product or service.

It’s a difficult either/or for Direct TV.  Either your endorser has no credibility or the service is too expensive.  Not a pretty plate of poison from which to pick!

The problem with the logic stems entirely from the fact that the ad makes fun of the customer, one of the most common mistakes of all ads.  The vignette is marginally funny, but the humor is at the expense of a customer, whose thought process we are then supposed to emulate.  But why would I imitate the thought process of an obvious dunce? And why would I buy a product from someone who makes fun of me? 

Ads which make fun of the customer always raise these questions.  The one exception is the beer ads in which young men are made to act like risk-taking slacker-doofs, because in fact much of the target market of young men aspires to this image.

In the case of Direct TV, I think the ad backfires, even among the many people who don’t analyze the logic of the sell.  The lack of logic I believe acts subliminally on the viewers, making them feel a little uneasy when the spot ends.

TV commercials never get distributed nationally without first being tested in front of focus groups, which are groups of 10-20 people who represent the target market, led by someone whose interests will usually be advanced if the group likes the product or ad under review.  We’ll never know for sure, but I suspect that the fact that this commercial aired is more evidence that the results of focus groups research are often suspect.

Kochs tell us why they are “speaking out”: because they like policies that take from poor and give to rich.

Charles G. Koch’s justification in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal for the millions of dollars that he and his brother David throw at ultra right-wing causes, organizations and politicians reminded me of a very old “Saturday Night Live” bit: the one in which Dan Akroyd, Bill Murray and John Belushi are short-order cooks in a restaurant that only offers cheeseburgers and fries. In the article, Koch rails against the current government deficit, but like the Saturday Night Live crew, he offers only one item on the menu: cutting government programs. 

He never considers the idea of raising taxes, particularly on the wealthy who pay significantly lower taxes now than they did in 1981 after the first Reagan tax cut, which at the time represented historically low taxes on the wealthy for an industrialized democracy.

Koch changes bogie men in the middle of his screed from cutting government entitlements to ending what he calls “crony capitalism.”  As Mother Jones has already pointed out, Koch speaks hypocritically when he criticizes politicians who bend to the will of their cronies in the private sector.  The lifeblood of the crony system is one part lobbying and one part political contributions.  The Koch Bro’s have spent more than $40 million over the past three years alone on lobbying efforts.  We also know they have contributed to a slew of political campaigns, including to elect Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.  Forget about the hatred for unions that the Koch Bro’s and their Scottie share.  Scottie’s budget plan would give the governor—that means Scottie—the right to unilaterally sell off certain government assets to private interests at whatever price he wanted to get.  Of course these assets would fit neatly into the Koch’s industrial empire.

Koch closes his Wall Street Journal piece with a plaintive plea to get government out of the economy and just allow consumers to direct resources.   What that means is unfettered capitalism with no product and worker safety regulations, minimum wages, pollution controls or regulations against predatory pricing or other business practices considered unethical.   

Koch concern is that government intervention distorts the marketplace, and the marketplace in Koch’s world is holy. 

What Koch doesn’t mention is that size and money also distort the marketplace. 

For example, a small company with a product that cuts air pollution may never have a chance because a larger company floods all the airwaves with commercials for its pollution-generating product, launches websites that look like news sites that tout its product and, in an unregulated world, sells the product under cost until all competitors have gone out of business.

The government distorts the marketplace and it’s a good thing it does so.  The government distorts when it bans predatory pricing, it distorts when it sets environmental standards, and it distorts when it provides subsidies to companies that produce or consumers who buy more environmentally friendly products.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that ended limits on contributions to political campaigns created an unregulated “marketplace of ideas” for the last election cycle.  Because there were no “market constraints,” the Koch Bro’s and their ilk were able to distort the last election by throwing tons of money into political campaigns of right-wingers and paying for right-wing think tanks to flood the news media with a multitude of bogus studies and deceptive reasoning that discouraged progressives into staying home and marched other voters rightward.

Everything distorts the marketplace.  As a matter of public policy, it’s the government’s job to distort it for the public good, which in the post-industrial Western world has come to include a basic standard of living, education and health care for all, a clean environment and a level playing field in the market and society that sometimes requires constraining the largest market participants.

Deconstruction of typical anti-union cant reveals logical inconsistencies and devious propaganda tricks.

Among the flotilla of right-wing online publications that clog up the waterways of the Internet is the American Thinker, described by Wikipedia as “a daily conservative Internet publication dealing with American politics, foreign policy, national security, economics, diplomacy, culture, military strategy, and the survival of the State of Israel.”

A recent issue featured an anti-union diatribe title “Why I Changed My Mind About Unions,” by someone named Michael Filozof.  The article serves as a textbook case for a few shabby propaganda techniques. 

The article details how Filozof, child of a union family, evolved from being a union supporter to disliking unions. 

The article unfolds using a tried-and-true rhetorical strategy: argument from the negative.  In the classic argument from the negative, you use the premises of your opponent to prove your point.   The less rigorous form Filozof follows is to start in one position and end in its opposite.  Filozof, at least rhetorically, starts as a supporter and ends as an opponent of unions because he “has seen the negative effects of unions my entire life.”  There is nothing inherently wrong or devious with the argument from the negative—that is, if the details are right.

But all Filozof provides are anecdotes:

  •  “I’d heard stories about union people who worked in the steel mill or the auto plants who would punch the clock and than find a place to sleep all day, or would get drunk at lunchtime and return to work and still not get fired…” He never offers any proof of this statement.  They are just vague rumors, so represent the worst type of arguing from anecdote, which is when you prove a point by telling a story.   Too often, though, the argument by anecdote is used when the facts are stacked heavily against a position.  If you don’t have the facts, tell a story.  People will believe the anecdote because it exemplifies what they believe to be true.  That’s why you’ll find more arguments by anecdotes proffered by those on the losing end of the “facts” battle.  In this case, the anecdote is second hand, that is, something he only heard about and did not experience.
  • A union guy on a forklift drives by him and his Dad on a shop floor, yelling, “This f…ing job suuuuucks!”  Filozof said it enraged him because he knew that the guy couldn’t be fired because he was in a union and because he knew the guy was making more money than he with his three college degrees was making.  To which I say, BFD.  It’s absurd to condemn unions because one guy expressed what may only be a momentary hatred for his job in a particularly rude manner.  Everyone blows off steam and employees in workplaces in which you can never utter a word of displeasure would probably appreciate the protection of a union.  I have worked in three office environments—newsrooms, ad agencies and corporate marketing departments—and the only way I could imagine any of these workplaces without the occasional whining and the chronic whiners is if they were filled with nothing but robots.
  • The same anecdote contains some twisted thinking.  You would think that the fact that the union enabled someone without a college diploma to earn a good living would be a positive attribute of unionism, which should make more educated workers want to unionize themselves. (In fact, they do: teachers, nurses, civil service professionals).  By depicting the earnings ability as a negative, Filozof reveals his anti-union point of view more than he proves his point.
  • Now for my favorite: Filozof’s absolute anger at learning that a union roofer who only worked about half the time got paid unemployment for the weeks in which he didn’t work.  He goes on to paint the roofer as a malingering pothead who takes money under the table to do odd jobs in the off season while collecting unemployment.  Let’s strip away these embellishments and look at the core problem he finds—collecting unemployment during weeks when you can’t work.  This option is not limited to union members, but available to anyone with occasional work, including non-unionized accountants, bookkeepers, administrative assistants and other temp workers hired through services, free-lance writers working for agencies and corporations and lawyers staffing large legal processing centers.  I imagine that few of these workers file applications with McDonalds and Wal-Mart during the weeks they don’t have assignments.  What Filozof does is blame the union member for something that is everybody’s right.   

In all the anecdotes, a union guy acts in a way that makes Filozof angry.  But note that in all case, the union guy is doing something all employees—or should I say, representatives of all types and classes of employees—do or have done. 

The other thing to note is that the anger is often because the union guy is doing better than Filozof is doing.  It’s that kind of small-minded envy that forms the basis of the anger that the right-wing and mainstream news media want to instill in others of the middle and working class when it comes to unions.  Now I can understand why representatives of those in the business ruling elite benighted enough to think that they profit in the long run by keeping wages down would want others in the working and middle classes to envy union workers. 

But why do so many people who should look to the union model for improving their own lives instead believe these specious arguments and envy the union worker?  After all, these same media regularly have features that laud the ability of celebrities and business leaders to accumulate money.  Why is it good for business owners to do well, but not for union members?  And why do others in the middle and working class believe this nonsense?

By the way, it was hard to find any information on Filozof.  AmThink says that its contributors are “accomplished in fields beyond journalism and animated to write for the general public out of concern for the complex and morally significant questions on the national agenda.” But like all the writers for AmThink, I had never heard of Filozof.

Good thing I can google Mr. Filozof.  Let’s see now…

I would say that nowadays the major standard for “accomplishment in fields” is a Wikipedia biography.  Mr. Filozof has none. 

And nowadays, writing a book is a sign of accomplishment.  Now if a book has been published and is for sale, you’ll likely be able to find it on  By this measure, we can conclude that Filozof has published no books.  In fact there is no reference anywhere online to Filozof having written a book.

Piecing together his one-sentence bio on another conservative website, National Review Online, some news reports and a court filing, I was able to learn that once upon a time Filozof was an adjunct professor of political science at the State University of New York at Brockport.  But he last surfaced academically at the prestigious Monroe Community College in the Rochester, New York area, which evidently fired him after allegations that he sexually harassed both a male and a female.  Filozof has sued the community college, claiming a conspiracy to terminate his employment because he is a conservative, and, of course, the lawsuit has gotten him a wee bit of coverage as a martyr on another right-wing website called Accuracy in Academia.

That’s a very bizarre definition of “accomplished in fields beyond journalism” that AmThink is using, don’t you think?

Can the Wisconsin public union fight start a new movement to take back the country from the far right?

I wanted to pose a question that only time will answer:

Will the energy nationwide among progressives aroused by the Wisconsin public union fight grow and lead to a truly national movement that would sweep not Democrats, but progressives into office?

Will it happen?  Only if we—meaning you, me and everyone we know—make it happen. 

In the abstract that means three great demographic migrations:

  1. Working class to Democrats or small progressive parties:  The long-alienated white working class, once called “Reagan Democrats,” must realize that the right-wing anti-government nonsense they bought into actually hurts their economic interests.
  2. Young and minorities to polls: The non-voting young and minority must realize that they have to show up at the polls for every election, including all the primaries.
  3. Everyone to activists: All of us should make it clear in emails and letters to all candidates and potential candidates where we stand on the issues. 

For those elected to federal offices, here are the demands I would propose that people make of those seeking their votes or funds in the primaries:

  • Oppose anti-union measures, especially those that curtail bargaining rights or raid pensions.
  • Propose funding the minor Social Security gap by removing the cap on wages that pay the Social Security tax (called FICA).  Right now, people only pay on a maximum of $106,800 in wages.  Robert Reich recently said that if the cap were raised to $180,000, Social Security would be fully funded.    
  • Support legislation to raise the minimum wage and tighten the exemptions from it.
  • Support a multi-billion-dollar investment program in mass transit in cities and between cities; getting high-speed Internet into every household; improving our existing roads, bridges, tunnels and public parks, and developing alternative fuels and industrial processes, all with the objective of creating jobs and erecting the infrastructure for future growth.
  • Call for an immediate withdrawal from both Iraq and Afghanistan and a 40 percent reduction in military spending.
  • Support legislation to raise federal income taxes to the levels of 1979, which were historically low at the time but much higher than today, and use the funds to lower the deficit and return social services, education and healthcare programs to full funding.
  • Support gay marriage, a woman’s right to an abortion, a fair immigration policy, accurate science teaching in the schools, and greater controls on owning and carrying guns.

Let’s not let our energies dissipate.  Let’s let our oligarchy (or should I say “nobility”) of elected officials and candidates know that they have to begin doing what’s in the best interest of all Americans, not just the wealthy.

Who killed more people: the Nazis or the monarchs of England? It’s an open question.

Imagine seeing the following movie:

Hitler learns that on his visit with Mussolini, he will have to attend a formal ball.  It will be expected that he dance at least three or four dances, certainly with Mrs. Mussolini and perhaps also with some of the wives and daughters of the German high command.  But Adolph is a complete klutz and he is fearful he will embarrass not just himself but the whole of Aryan manhood, and at a critical time, when they are planning to respond to the difficult international crisis.  So on the advice of Himmler, Hitler engages a ballroom dance instructor who has an uncomfortably unconventional style.  But over time they bond and the student learns. The evening of the ball, Hitler reminds the assembled German and Italian bigwigs of Fred Astaire, only more virile.  The dance instructor, Himmler and a couple of very nice-looking ladies are all moved to tears. 

Depending on the date and provenance of such a film we would take it as a campy parody, like “The Producers,” or a piece of propaganda like “The Eternal Jew,” a 1940’s Nazi-made piece of anti-Semitic swill.

Would you think that any American, or even German, reviewer would describe such a film thusly?:

  • “…transcends its historical setting to present a compelling portrait of quiet heroism.”
  • “…a moving and remarkable story of friendship and triumph.”
  • “A beautiful story of one man’s finding his…”
  • “A film of extraordinary humanity and spirit.”

Yet these are some of the many positive and entirely serious comments that reviewers and critics have made about “The King’ Speech,” which depicts with no irony the struggle of King George VI of England to learn not to stutter.  These quotes are completely representative of the positive critical response the movie has gained.

Before proving that my provocative comparison of King George VI to Hitler is accurate and appropriate, I wanted to review the ideas for which all kings stand:

  • Certain people by birth are better than everyone else.
  • The ruler of a nation is hereditary or decided by a very small number of people all of whose positions derive from birth.
  • The ruler makes all decisions and can not be overruled.
  • A class of people above all others has special rights and deserves better treatment.
  • Every resident of a geographic area must fight to preserve the rule and special rights of the person on top and his family.

Now why are we glorifying a person who is the absolute symbol of these obnoxious beliefs just because he was rich enough to buy the best teacher possible to help him meet a challenge as an adult that most of us face by fourth grade (and in the case of poor children who stutter, sometimes with no help whatsoever)?

Even if you agree with me that that George VI is a symbol of these disgusting royalist views, you might still think it unfair to compare George VI to Hitler because he is only a rather weak and vestigial type of symbol called a “constitutional monarch.”

But consider:  Who killed more people and made more people suffer, the British royalty over about 800 years or the Nazis between 1930 and 1945? And since George VI is primarily a symbol and all symbols are vessels, we can extend his symbolism beyond England to encompass all of royalty, who surely in the history of the world were personally responsible for more deaths and more suffering than the Nazis.

I’m not saying that “The King’s Speech” didn’t deserve its 12 Oscar nominations and 4 Oscars.  Movies about the “banality of evil,” as Hannah Arendt put it, often are worthy of praise. What I am saying is that the critics and judges should have dealt with the film with the sense of irony and/or disgust with which they would deal with a serious film about Hitler, Stalin or Richard Nixon facing a personal crisis.

What I’m asking is that people, especially Americans whose ancestors shed blood twice to establish the principle that all men are equal, should begin to consider royalty as reprehensible.   

To those Americans who have flag decals on their cars or hang flags out their windows, I suggest that a more patriotic act would be to write or email every media outlet in which you see a story about the upcoming royal wedding and tell them that you don’t want to see any more stories about the personal lives of the royalty, which inherently glorify these leeches on society by reveling in their unearned celebrity.