The Lies of the Keystone XL pipeline

The most common mistake that politicians and the media make when discussing the Keystone XL pipeline is to frame it as an “environment vs. economy” issue. When presented this way, it appears to be a niche issue that will only resonate with the liberal base. The key to effectively informing people, and arguing the case against the pipeline, is to point out that the claims of benefits are lies.

While the environmental impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline would be numerous and extreme, it is too easy for people to dismiss the consequences when they perceive the benefits to be more jobs, less dependence on foreign oil, and cheaper gas at the pump.

There aren’t any actual benefits to the pipeline – only perceived benefits. It is within this context that the environmental impacts are even worse, since we will be destroying our planet for no real reason. 

Conservatives have been obsessive about the pipeline for years, frequently attacking President Obama and Democrats every chance they get for not supporting it. Their rationale can be summarized by former Senator Scott Brown (R-MA):  “[it is] a project that will create thousands of new jobs, reduce gas prices in the Northeast, and help free us from dependence on Middle East oil. In doing so, the Keystone project strengthens American economic and national security.” The problem is that these are blatant lies.

 The first lie is that the Keystone XL pipeline would create jobs.

Pipeline advocates have touted a wide variety of figures ranging anywhere from 6,500 up to 1 million jobs, but their sources are wildly misleading (or simply non-existent). In a previous blog post, I pointed out that the US Chamber of Commerce took out a full-page ad in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal claiming that “20,000 jobs” would be created. It is not surprising that the right-wing Chamber would lie to support an anti-environment agenda; especially considering their president recently advocated a civilization-ending policy of pollution to satisfy our energy needs.

The fact is that many of these figures are based on misleading metrics such as claiming that if a job lasts two years, that’s “two jobs,” and that the pipeline will be a tourist attraction that draws 51 NYC dancers to the Midwest to entertain the “100 librarians, 510 bread bakers” and “1,714 bartenders”.

Among the studies conducted to estimate jobs created, there were only two not affiliated with TransCanada: those conducted by the US State Department and Cornell University. The State Department concluded that it would create a maximum of “5,000 to 6,000 direct construction jobs in the United States that would last for two years.” Cornell’s study found that only 2,500-4,650 temporary jobs would be created, and the net effect would job losses over the long-term. This is not the solution to our jobs crisis; it would make it worse. Strike 1.

The second lie is that the pipeline would decrease our dependency on Middle Eastern oil. 

This lie hinges on two ideas: 1) that the pipeline would necessarily increase oil flow out of Canada, and 2) that the oil would necessarily be used within the United States. Neither is true.

The first idea was pushed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) when he said the pipeline “could have brought 700,000 barrels of oil to the market each day…” As pointed out, that would be the additional capacity only if Canada had that to send, which it does not. A 2010 study (by EnSys Energy & Systems Inc. of Lexington, MA) found that existing pipelines can handle any theoretical surplus, even without the Keystone XL.

So if it is not going to increase oil flow, why build it?  Most of Canada’s existing pipelines go to Cushing, Oklahoma, with the rest terminating elsewhere in the Midwest such as Wisconsin and Illinois. This is a great deal for us, but Canada’s Natural Resources Minister, Joe Oliver, indicated that Canada wants to “diversify” to increase profits.

This is why the Keystone XL is being built: to bypass Cushing and other Midwestern refineries, and bring Canadian crude to Texas’ Foreign Trade Zones for export.

Amid concerns that this was the intention, Massachusetts’ Congressional Representative Ed Markey, asked TransCanada’s president to require any oil transported in the Keystone XL to be sold to the United States. Mr. Pourbaix refused.  The purpose of the pipeline is to increase Canadian oil profits by taking access away from the US; it will not decrease our dependency on Middle Eastern oil. Strike 2.

The last lie is that the Keystone XL pipeline would decrease prices at the pump.

There are two reasons why this statement is a lie. First, the pipeline would actually be in two sections. The larger, more controversial section would travel through the Ogallala aquifer as currently proposed. The smaller section, or “lower leg,” will run from Cushing to Texas. Unbeknownst to most people, President Obama actually approved this section, and construction began this past summer. The point of the lower leg is to transport excess crude out of Cushing .

The fact that there is so much oil in Oklahoma is economically good for Americans, and particularly good for Mid-westerners, because the supply is keeping prices artificially low. However, when the lower leg is completed, TransCanada has stated that they will use it to extract $5 billion/year more from Midwestern refineries by ending existing discounts, causing prices at the pump to increase.

The second reason this is a lie, is that prices at the pump will increase nationwide by roughly 10-20 cents per gallon due to Canadian oil customers being “diversified.”   Pump prices are not dictated by simple “supply and demand” economics.  This is the myth that has allowed conservatives to run the table on energy for years, from 2008’s “drill, baby, drill” to the Keystone XL of today.

There are two main standards for pricing barrels of oil: the US’s West Texas Intermediate (WTI), and the UK’s Brent. The best explanation I’ve seen of the two is from Vedran Vuk (of the conservative-biased Heritage Foundation). WTI is a lighter crude than Brent, and is easier to process. Thus, WTI has been the more desirable crude around the world, and has historically driven the global pricing of oil.

However, in recent years, WTI cost has been kept artificially low mainly due to the bottleneck of crude in Cushing. This crude has increasingly become composed of natural gas from shale, and bitumen from the Canadian tar sands. Dr. Stuart Stanford explained that this shale/bitumen transition has contributed to a wide divergence in WTI and Brent pricing, and “landlocked oil [in Cushing] had to be discounted to persuade reachable consumers to use more of it.”  This has been confirmed by TransCanada officials in their testimony to the Canadian National Energy Board.

When the lower leg is completed, and if the rest is green-lighted, Canadian oil will flow to Texas, where the price is actually based on the Brent standard. Vuk accurately pointed out that the way to end the WTI-Brent discrepancy is to build the Keystone XL, driving WTI price up – not bringing Brent price down.  The US will not see lower prices at the pump when this happens. In fact, prices will increase.

This all flows from the fact that the price of a barrel of oil actually isn’t based purely on “supply and demand.” The price is largely influenced by speculation in oil futures on the commodities exchange.  An article in Forbes Magazine pointed out that “speculation in crude oil adds $23.39 to the price per barrel… this translates out into a premium for gasoline at the pump of $0.56 a gallon.”

There are plenty of other of analyses that show this correlation between barrel price and speculation, and many are outlined in a article entitled “STUDY: Media Missing the Mark on Gas Prices,” and it is definitely worth a read.  In fact, back in 2009 a stock broker at PVM Oil Futures got really drunk one night and accidentally purchased 69% of the world’s oil futures stock. This had nothing to do with physical supply, and yet it drove up the price of oil by $1.65/barrel to an 8-month high. 

Based on these market forces, Canada’s National Energy Board expects the US to pay upwards of $3.9 billion more per year if the pipeline is built, causing prices at the pump to go up. Strike 3.

Environmental Impacts
Conservatives in politics and in the media (Wall Street Journal, FOX News, Rush Limbaugh – who my first blog post was about, etc.) are completely fabricating “benefits” to overshadow the consequences. They know they can fool some of us into thinking that they are looking out for our best interests, when really, all they want is to make the rich and powerful even more rich and powerful – consequences be damned.

Make no mistake – the consequences of building the pipeline, and continuing to encourage exploitation of the Canadian Tar Sands, would be extreme and devastating. First, tar sands crude carries diluted bitumen, which the National Resources Defense Council indicates is “highly corrosive, acidic, and potentially unstable blend of thick raw bitumen and volatile natural gas liquid condensate.” Rupture of the pipe, and thus spills, are inevitable. One of these spills (which didn’t get a ton of press coverage due to the fact that it happened while everyone’s attention was on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico) happened near Marshall, Michigan in July 2010. 1.1 million gallons of oil flooded the Kalamazoo River, with clean-up efforts lasting 18 months (the EPA maintains that further clean-up is still required). A key property of the bitumen-containing crude is that it sinks in water… so the only way they could separate the oil was to literally shake the riverbed.

The pipeline’s currently proposed route would put at risk the Ogallala aquifer, which not only provides safe drinking water to 82% of those living within the aquifer boundary (including parts of South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas), but also provides irrigation water for 30% of the entire nation’s crops.

The second problem with further exploiting the tar sands can be summed up by NASA’s top climatologist, Jim Hansen, who pointed out that if we “tap this stuff heavily, it’s game over for the climate.” And this comes at a time when we can already see and feel the effects of Global Warming through continually more-frequent and more-devastating storms (the article in the link is a VERY good read). The recent Hurricane Sandy was the largest hurricane to ever hit the northeastern United States, killing at least 75 people, stranding thousands in their homes, leaving millions without power, and carrying an estimated clean-up cost of $60 billion.

By peddling these three lies to advocate for a project that would cause so much devastation, every politician who voted for the pipeline (such as the 42 Senators who voted for the Hoeven amendment), or continues to support the pipeline (such as Mitt Romney), has shown that they simply cannot be trusted to represent the best interests not just of America, but also humanity as a whole.

They should be called out for it, forced to answer for their lies, and be thoroughly defeated.

*     *     *     *

Two proposed amendments to the March 2012 Transportation Bill related to the Keystone XL. The first, the “Hoeven amendment,” would’ve approved the project without an environmental impact study. The second, the “Wyden amendment,” would’ve required all oil transported by the Keystone XL to be used within the US:

Rollcall Vote on “Hoeven amendment”, YEAs (approve pipeline):

  • Alexander (R-TN)
  • Ayotte (R-NH)
  • Barrasso (R-WY)
  • Baucus (D-MT)
  • Begich (D-AK)
  • Blunt (R-MO)
  • Boozman (R-AR)
  • Brown (R-MA)
  • Burr (R-NC)
  • Casey (D-PA)
  • Chambliss (R-GA)
  • Coats (R-IN)
  • Coburn (R-OK)
  • Cochran (R-MS)
  • Collins (R-ME)
  • Conrad (D-ND)
  • Corker (R-TN)
  • Cornyn (R-TX)
  • Crapo (R-ID)
  • DeMint (R-SC)
  • Enzi (R-WY)
  • Graham (R-SC)
  • Grassley (R-IA)
  • Hagan (D-NC)
  • Hatch (R-UT)
  • Heller (R-NV)
  • Hoeven (R-ND)
  • Hutchison (R-TX)
  • Inhofe (R-OK)
  • Isakson (R-GA)
  • Johanns (R-NE)
  • Johnson (R-WI)
  • Kyl (R-AZ)
  • Landrieu (D-LA)
  • Lee (R-UT)
  • Lugar (R-IN)
  • Manchin (D-WV)
  • McCain (R-AZ)
    • McCaskill (D-MO)
    • McConnell (R-KY)
    • Moran (R-KS)
    • Murkowski (R-AK)
    • Paul (R-KY)
    • Portman (R-OH)
    • Pryor (D-AR)
    • Risch (R-ID)
    • Roberts (R-KS)
    • Rubio (R-FL)
    • Sessions (R-AL)
    • Shelby (R-AL)
    • Snowe (R-ME)
    • Tester (D-MT)
    • Toomey (R-PA)
    • Vitter (R-LA)
    • Webb (D-VA)

Rollcall Vote on Wyden amendment, NAYs (do not require crude from Keystone to be used in US):

  • Akaka (D-HI)
  • Alexander (R-TN)
  • Ayotte (R-NH)
  • Barrasso (R-WY)
  • Baucus (D-MT)
  • Begich (D-AK)
  • Bennet (D-CO)
  • Blunt (R-MO)
  • Boozman (R-AR)
  • Brown (R-MA)
  • Burr (R-NC)
  • Casey (D-PA)
  • Chambliss (R-GA)
  • Coats (R-IN)
  • Coburn (R-OK)
  • Cochran (R-MS)
  • Collins (R-ME)
  • Corker (R-TN)
  • Cornyn (R-TX)
  • Crapo (R-ID)
  • DeMint (R-SC)
  • Enzi (R-WY)
  • Gillibrand (D-NY)
  • Graham (R-SC)
  • Grassley (R-IA)
  • Hagan (D-NC)
  • Hatch (R-UT)
  • Heller (R-NV)
  • Hoeven (R-ND)
  • Hutchison (R-TX)
  • Inhofe (R-OK)
  • Isakson (R-GA)
  • Johanns (R-NE)
  • Johnson (R-WI)
  • Kerry (D-MA)
  • Kyl (R-AZ)
  • Landrieu (D-LA)
  • Leahy (D-VT)
  • Lee (R-UT)
  • Lugar (R-IN)
  • Manchin (D-WV)
  • McCain (R-AZ)
  • McConnell (R-KY)
  • Moran (R-KS)
  • Murkowski (R-AK)
  • Nelson (D-NE)
  • Paul (R-KY)
  • Portman (R-OH)
  • Pryor (D-AR)
  • Reed (D-RI)
  • Risch (R-ID)
  • Roberts (R-KS)
  • Rubio (R-FL)
  • Sanders (I-VT)
  • Sessions (R-AL)
  • Shaheen (D-NH)
  • Shelby (R-AL)
  • Snowe (R-ME)
  • Toomey (R-PA)
  • Udall (D-CO)
  • Vitter (R-LA)
  • Warner (D-VA)
  • Webb (D-VA)
  • Whitehouse (D-RI)
  • Wicker (R-MS)
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Political Super Bowl: 2014

Every year, I enjoy compiling a list of important political stories that surround the year’s most anticipated and watched sporting event: the Super Bowl.

In previous years, I’ve written these entries prior to kick-off as a “be on the look-out for” type of article (such as 2012’s ads that featured animal cruelty and anti-choice/anti-abortion viewpoints, and 2013’s pre-game team comments on homosexuality). However, I ran out of time before the game in 2014, so I wrote this entry after the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Denver Broncos in a rather uncompetitive 43-8 game. It actually came in handy to wait until after the game because several important stories started only after the game was over.

So let’s get started with some of the important political stories surrounding the 2014 Super Bowl:

Racism: Conservatives call Seahawks player a “thug”

When the Seahawks won their way into the Super Bowl by defeating the 49ers in the NFC championship game, their cornerback – Richard Sherman – gave an aggressive post-game interview as FOX Sports’ Erin Andrews held the mic. While this might not seem like a particularly ‘sociopolitical’ event, it quickly became one as conservatives went nuts.

In conservative media (like FOX News), Sherman was described as “thug” over 600 times. It should be noted that he was the #2 student at his high school, and then went to the prestigious Stanford University; he worked his way up from his beginnings in Compton; he is the American dream. Also, Erin Andrews later clarified that she was totally fine with it, and understood that it was just post-game adrenaline, saying “That was so awesome. And I loved it.”

After Sherman’s post-game adrenaline came down, and after all of the conservative backlash, he explained that when conservatives call a black person a ‘thug,’ what they have really done is figured out a socially acceptable way to say the ‘n-word.’ The use of the word ‘thug‘ was prevalent in conservative media to describe Trayvon Martin after he was shot to death by George Zimmerman (who, inexplicably, became a hero to conservative gun-lovers).

Meanwhile, as FOX News was deriding Sherman as a ‘thug,’ they playfully labeled crack-smoking Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Justin Beiber the “bad boys of Canada.” On one hand: Ford and Beiber had been accused of authorizing or engaging in assault, and on the other hand: Sherman gave an aggressive interview. It would seem to any rational person that Ford and Beiber were more ‘thuggish’ than Sherman – but they are white, and Sherman is black (and he was talking to a white woman on FOX)… so Sherman is the thug…?

Racism & Homophobia: Multilingual Coca-Cola ad backlash

In an attempt to make up for sponsoring the 2014 Olympic games (held in anti-gay Russia), Coca-Cola ran an ad in which “America the Beautiful” was sung by Americans who spoke languages other than English. The ad was supposed to highlight how accepting Americans are of other cultures, and how we are a true cultural melting pot; even though America is typically thought of as a nation of English-speakers, there a many of us whose cultural background consists of other languages, and we all love America equally.  Someone apparently didn’t give conservatives the memo, because their racism was swift and severe.

One of the most prominent conservatives pissed at the ad was professional insane person Glenn Beck, who claimed that Coca-Cola made the ad specifically to make Republicans look bad.

In an “it would be funny if it weren’t sad” moment, those spouting their racism revealed that they are, expectedly, not very smart — many took to Twitter (using the hashtag #fuckcoke) to reveal that they believed that “America the Beautiful” is our national anthem … it is actually the “Star Spangled Banner.”

There was also a backlash from conservatives because it featured a gay couple… they would probably be shocked to learn that the woman who wrote “America the Beautiful” was a lesbian. So there’s that.

This came just weeks after conservatives feigned outrage when the MSNBC Twitter account implied that conservatives tend to be racist: “Maybe the rightwing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the adorable new #Cheerios ad w/ biracial family.” MSNBC apologized, and then were proven correct just weeks later.

New Jersey / Governor Chris Christie Bridge Scandal

The Super Bowl seems to have a pattern of being held in locations that are political hotbeds at the time. In a 2012, it was held in Indiana as anti-union Republicans were pushing so-called “right to work” legislation, and they very much would have liked to have done so without the eyes of the nation upon them. In 2013, the Super Bowl was held in New Orleans at a stadium reconstructed and renovated using $470 million of American tax dollars; this was at a time when conservatives were all caught up in their “we built that” hysteria, and claimed that private businesses never received any help from the government. Likewise, 2014’s Super Bowl was held in New Jersey amid Governor Chris Christie’s concurrent “bridge” and “Sandy” scandals.

Back-ups on the mass transit system and outside of Metlife Stadium leading up to the game were criticized on Twitter as “traffic studies,” which was a call-out to the back-ups ordered by Christie’s administration on the George Washington bridge (originally explained as a “traffic study.”) And then Christie was booed at Super Bowl events.

Two days prior to the Super Bowl, key player in the Bridge scandal, David Wildstein, released a letter from his lawyer to the Port Authority in which he accused Christie of lying about not having prior knowledge of the lane closures. Christie’s office responded to the accusations in a message to friends and supporters that Wildstein has been known to be “deceptive” ever since high school, so no one should trust what he says… despite Christie authorizing his hiring at the Port Authority by Bill Baroni, into a job with no job description that required no interview or submission of resume, and which was created specifically for him.

On the same day as the accusation from Wildstein, Christie’s Director of Departmental Relations, Christina Genovese Renna, resigned.  She is the one who sent a message to Bridget Kelly during the shutdown to “apologize” for letting a call from Mayor Sakolich get through, which seems to contradict Christie’s claim that neither he nor anyone in his office had ever heard of Mayor Sakolich, and that he wasn’t on Christie’s radar.

Meanwhile, news was breaking that Christie had used $25 million in Federal aid meant for Hurricane Sandy recovery to fund campaign-style “tourism” ads that he inserted himself into ahead of his bid for re-election. It did not help that the story was coming to light as New Jersey was hosting the Super Bowl that they secured by giving the NFL an $8 million tax break.

FOX Sports / News Corp

Ever since 2006, the NFL has given only three television networks the rights to air the Super Bowl: CBS, NBC, and FOX (ABC used to be in the mix, but not anymore). The Super Bowl aired on FOX for the first time in 1997, and has hosted the game more than any of the other networks since then (seven of the 18 years since then have been on FOX; CBS has hosted 5 times, and both NBC and ABC have each had the rights 3 times).

For anyone not yet aware, all TV networks using the name “FOX” (including FOX Sports, FOX Business, every local FOX affiliate, and FOX News) is run by News Corporation, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. In my 2012 entry, I pointed out that News Corp. also owns the Wall Street Journal and many other purely political and conservative media outlets. Whichever network gets the rights to air the Super Bowl in a given year, they make a ton of money; the last time FOX aired the Super Bowl, they raked in $195 million (2011) – that’s a lot of funding that can be distributed News Corp’s non-sports, political operations. In the month after the 2014 Super Bowl, News Corp’s stock rose an average of 2.3 points, reversing a downward trend that turned around a couple days after the game aired.

FOX News: Bill O’Reilly’s pre-game interview of President Obama

It has become a tradition for the President of the United States to give a pre-game interview to the network airing the Super Bowl, but that CBS and NBC typically give the honor to a “straight news” / non-opinion reporter (such as CBS’ Scott Pelley). However, being that FOX Sports is under Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp umbrella, both of their pre-game interviews of President Obama have been conducted by FOX News’ Bill O’Reilly – a partisan “opinion guy” who routinely tells people to “shut up,” and once was deemed so much of a “pathological liar” that it would be pointless to take him to court for defaming the son of a 9/11 victim.

When O’Reilly had the opportunity to interview then-President George W. Bush in 2006, O’Reilly gave the President ample time to respond to questions, and rarely followed up after any of his answers. He later defended his lack of questioning by claiming that you “cannot be confrontational with the president of the United States. You can be direct, but you can’t be disrespectful.”

In O’Reilly’s 2011 Super Bowl interview of President Obama, he interrupting the President 48 times, apparently forgetting that he previously believed “you cannot be confrontational with the president of the United States.” described O’Reilly’s technique: “He cut the president off, constantly interjected comments, and redirected the interview midstream. O’Reilly often asked Obama questions that required complicated answers and then jumped in with new ones after giving Obama just a few seconds to answer the first query.”

During his 2014 interview, O’Reilly could have used his unique opportunity to discuss any number of important issues, but instead he fell right back on the FOX News manufactured conspiracies that they’ve been marketing for the past 5 years. Obama called out FOX News’ fact-free, partisan attacks during the interview by saying that debunked conspiracy theories (like Benghazi and the IRS) keep coming up only because FOX News continues to promote them as legitimate stories.

President Obama also pointed out that, despite conservative media painting him as the most liberal President in history, “in a lot of ways Richard Nixon was more liberal than I was.” He added that the political spectrum has shifted rightward, and “what used to be considered ‘sensible’ we now somehow label as ‘liberal,'” citing Social Security benefits and Medicare.

O’Reilly also claimed that Obama never explicitly addresses “black culture” and absent fathers, further claiming that it is O’Reilly’s show that stands up for fixing this problem. President Obama whipped him back, pointing out that he has, in fact, directly addressed this problem repeatedly; compiled a list of President Obama’s speeches in which he does so: O’Reilly Forgets To Fact-Check Before Lecturing Obama For Not Addressing Black Issues

Note that, leading up to the Super Bowl, President Obama had angered conservatives by saying that, if he had a son, he would not let him play football due to concerns over concussions.

SodaStream and Oxfam

Scarlet Johannsen was dropped by Oxfam as an ambassador after she starred in SodaStream’s Super Bowl ad. SodaStream is an Israeli company that operates a factory in what Oxfam calls an “illegal” settlement in the West Bank.

Oxfam stated: “Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam global ambassador. Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support. Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.”

Johannsen defended her position, saying “I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine… I am happy that light is being shed on this issue in hopes that a greater number of voices will contribute to the conversation of a peaceful two state solution in the near future.”

Just Foreign Policy’s policy director, Robert Naiman, wrote an pro-Oxfam article for the Huffington Post comparing the two positions: “Yes, #ScarJo, There’s a Line Between Israel and Palestine

This is not the first time SodaStream has made news around the Super Bowl; in last year’s “Political Super Bowl” entry, I pointed out that CBS “bowed to pressure from Coke and Pepsi” by refusing to air a SodaStream ad pointing out that Americans use far too many plastic bottles.

North Carolina Coal Ash Spill

While not directly related to the Super Bowl, it was Super Bowl Sunday that North Carolina experienced a devastating “spill” at one of their coal ash ponds operated by Duke Energy.

Child prostitution

Back in 2011, when the Super Bowl was held in Texas, the state’s Attorney General Greg Abbott called the Super Bowl the “single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.” In 2014, Abbott was the Republican candidate for Governor of Texas; his Democratic opponent was Wendy Davis, who famously filibustered the Republican attempt to ban abortions at 20 weeks and implement anti-abortion TRAP laws. (NOTE: Abbott ended up defeating Wendy Davis, and is the governor of Texas at the time of this writing.)

An article at Huffington Post pointed out that “according to Forbes, 10,000 prostitutes were brought to Miami for the Super Bowl in 2010 and 133 underage arrests for prostitution were made in Dallas during the 2011 Super Bowl.”

However, it’s also important to note that large events like the Super Bowl bring a lot of eyes, and “the real crime is happening when no one’s looking and no one cares, not when every media outlet, advocate and cop has its sights set on it,” as pointed out by Rachel Lloyd (founder of GEMS)

Wait, I See Something: “It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter.”

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2013’s Political Super Bowl

Last year, I wrote about how 2012’s Super Bowl was more political than many people may have realized: “I’m sure many people will balk at the idea of politics mixing with sports – usually they are seen as being mutually exclusive – a somewhat ‘safe’ topic of discussion rather than the ‘risky’ topics of religion and politics. But politics and the Super Bowl have a history…”

In 2010, CBS aired a watered-down version of Tim Tebow’s conservative anti-abortion ad, but rejected a liberal ad that portrayed gay men positively. In 2011, FOX Sports took in $195 million through Super Bowl ad revenue for their parent company “News Corp,” whose subsidiaries (FOX News, The Wall Street Journal, etc) are nothing more than conservative propaganda masquerading as news.

And in 2012, there again was an anti-abortion ad campaign, as well as an ad that featured the abusive practice of greyhound racing. Also, the Super Bowl was being held in Indiana, which was embroiled in a battle between anti-union “Right to Work” advocates and union-entities – such as the NFL. (Check out last year’s entry for more detail:

As famed naturalist John Muir once wrote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” It is with that sentiment that I present 2013’s Political Super Bowl.

To begin, a couple of background points:

  1. At a time when the nation is the most politically divided it’s been since the Civil War, much of that division comes from outlets such as FOX News and Rush Limbaugh, claiming that President Obama and Democrats are evil socialists. It’s important to note that, while such claims are ignorant and false, the NFL is legitimately socialist, and it seems to be working pretty well for them.
  2. Meanwhile, many NFL owners and players overwhelmingly favored Mitt Romney in last year’s election. NY Jets owner Woody Johnson is even being floated as a potential Republican replacement for Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) if he is forced to resign, leaving Governor Chris Christie to appoint his replacement. And earlier in the 2012-2013 NFL season, anti-union Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, voiced his displeasure with the anti-union “replacement refs.” Apparently, getting rid of unions was fine for teachers, but not when it affects a “real” American institution such as football!

This year’s Super Bowl will hit on several issues:

  • Members of the Super Bowl competitors, the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, have very publicly come out on different sides on gay rights in the lead-up to the big game. Chris Culver, 49er cornerback, first made news on January 30,when he declared that he wouldn’t tolerate having any gay teammates: “No, we don’t got no gay people on the team, they gotta get up out of here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff. Nah…can’t be…in the locker room man. Nah.”Culver’s fellow 49er teammates seemed to echo his anti-gay stance by claiming that they only participated in the pro-gay “It Gets Better” campaign because they thought it was anti-bullying in general, rather than bringing awareness to kids being bully specifically because they’re gay.

    Conversely, Raven linebacker, Brendon Ayanbadejo, has publicly criticized such anti-gay comments, saying that he hopes Culver will learn from this mistake. He is a straight ally to the gay community, and has brought his philosophy into the Ravens’ locker room:

    “I’ve preached since Day 1 to my teammates, there are certain words you can’t say. When they’re around me, they know, if B.A. is around, you can’t say gay in a derogatory manner. You can’t say the three-letter ‘F’ word.”
    -Brendon Ayanbadejo

  • In an ad touted as the one that “Coke and Pepsi don’t want you to see,” SodaStream hits at the fact that American’s use far too many plastic bottles, which contributes to “enough trash every year to cover the state of Texas — twice.” This comes on the heels of a disingenuous ad campaign from Coca-Cola to obscure soda’s role in America’s obesity epidemic. You can only see the ad online, because CBS has bowed to pressure from Coke and Pepsi, and has pulled it from their Super Bowl line-up.
  • And just as with last year’s Super Bowl, the venue itself is tied up in politics. New Orlean’s Superdome is hosting the game, which is the first time since the city was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Contrary to the Republican claim that private corporations do everything themselves (“I built that!”), American tax payers gave $470 million to fund reconstruction and renovations. There is currently only one NFL facility in the country built solely with private funds.

Go Ravens!

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Debunktion Junction: Myth of “1 More Gun”

In the wake of gun-related tragedies, the pro-gun part of the population always comes to the same conclusion: the problem was not that there were too many guns, but rather that there were too few guns. In other words, had there been “just one more gun” – in the hands of one of the victims – they would’ve been able to defend themselves, and stop the shooter.

This is a notion etched in our minds from years of movies, TV shows, and video games portraying the singular “good guy” as an excellent marksman going up against a gang of inept “bad guys” who seem to have never attended aiming school.  It is a theme so prevalent that Roger Egbert deemed it the “Principle of Evil Marksmanship” in his 1980 book “Little Movie Glossary.”

It’s easy to deal in the theoretical, and simply say that more guns would’ve fixed the problem. However, this idealized view of guns falls apart when we look at the actual facts. I agree that the “one more gun” myth sounds good in theory, but we don’t live in a theoretical world.

In the real world, we know that having a gun actually makes you LESS safe, not more safe. A 2009 study found that having a gun while being the victim of an assault made it more likely that you would be shot: “On average, guns did not protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault. Although successful defensive gun uses occur each year, the probability of success may be low for civilian gun users in urban areas. Such users should reconsider their possession of guns or, at least, understand that regular possession necessitates careful safety countermeasures.”

In addition, arming a victim of a mass-shooting with a gun is actually more dangerous than it is helpful. An ABC News experiment showed that your body naturally gets in your way in crisis situations, as your brain is sending “flee” signals. As you work to overcome those signals (such as increased blood flow) and tunnel vision, even highly experienced gun owners most likely will not be able to react quickly enough to stop a shooter, and may even get themselves injured or killed in the process:

“No one ever gets hit in the movies, but in real life I got hit 5 or 6 times.” -participant in ABC News experiment

Not only is it “blaming the victim” for not defending themselves, the more we learn about the details of mass-shootings, the more it becomes clear that “one more gun” wouldn’t have made any practical difference.  Let’s look at three well-known mass-shootings: (1) the “Batman” shooting in Aurora, Colorado, (2) 2011’s Gabby Giffords shooting, and (3) the Virgina Tech massacre in 2007.*

*NOTE: Some pro-gun advocates have criticized my focus on these three events as a way to “cherry-pick” only those that fit my needs, or as an attempt to isolate them from some “other” trend that I’m trying to “hide.” This entry was originally published on July 24, 2012 (as the URL indicates), and I picked these three because, at the time, they were three of the highest-profile mass-shootings. Aurora had just happened 4 days earlier. Virginia Tech was (and is still) the deadliest school shooting in American history. Gabby Giffords had been targeted as a United States Representative during a time when political rhetoric was becoming very violent (particularly against President Obama and Congressional Democrats after the passage of Obamacare).

As of December 14, 2012 (according to “since 1982, America has mourned at least 61 mass murders,” and it would certainly not be feasible to go through every case to make my point.  Since this post was first published, there have been several mass-shootings, including Wade Michael Page’s attack at a Sikh temple, Adam Lanza’s rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Aaron Alexis’ shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC.  I stand by the three I had chosen at the time, and the exclusion of any other mass-shootings is not an attempt to be deceitful or disingenuous.

The theory of “one more gun” relies heavily on the following two contradictory assumptions:

1) If everyone is allowed to carry a gun, then the fear of retaliation will preemptively stop someone from using a gun in the first place, because statistically it’s probable that someone else will have a gun… and no one wants to be killed – obviously.

2) If someone wants to kill someone, there is no way to stop them – not even fear of retaliation from the possibility that someone around them will have a gun.  So then everyone (or at least most people) must actually HAVE a gun, because a trigger-ready vigilante is the only way to stop the second bullet.

Point 1 assumes that those who commit these acts are logical, rational people.  It also assumes they every person who wants to kill people also who cares if they themselves die – and cannot take precautions against this. It also assumes that point 2 is incorrect.
Point 2 assumes that point 1 is incorrect, and leads to a fully-armed (or mostly-armed) country of vigilantes. 

Let’s see how these apply in the real world…

“Batman” / Aurora, Colorado

As of right now (July 24, 2012), what we know is this: between May 22 and July 7, James Holmes bought two Glock pistols, a shotgun, and an AR-15 rifle from local branches of Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain Guns. At the same time, he was stockpiling bullets, high-capacity magazines, and military-grade protective armor from such websites as and, “which caters to police officers looking to augment their equipment, [and] members of the military who don’t want to wait on permission from the bureaucracy for new combat gear.” All of this was available to a civilian with no background check. According to a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, “there is no official system to track whether people are stockpiling vast amounts of firepower.”

With his arsenal set, and raising no red flags within our current system, Holmes purchased his ticket for the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” and walked in with everyone else in plain clothes. He then propped open an Emergency exit, left, and came back wearing bulletproof vest, tactical helmet, groin, leg, and throat protection, as well as a gas mask. He first threw smoke bombs, and since there were plenty of people wearing costumes, many thought it was part of the show. It wasn’t until he started firing that anyone realized it was an attack.

It lasted a mere 90 seconds.

According to Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates, Holmes used the 223-caliber assault rifle loaded with a 100-round drum magazine. “I am told by experts,” he said, “that with that drum magazine, he could’ve gotten off 50-60 rounds within 1 minute, even if it were [only] semi-automatic.”

He began firing indiscriminately at first, and then at anyone who tried to leave. He injured 70 people (a small handful were not hit by bullets, but were injured indirectly), and killing an additional 12 (10 of whom died in the theater). So many bullets were fired that some pierced the adjacent theater.

When he decided he was done, he left the theater and returned to his car. At this point, the police had arrived and arrested him. “If you look at active shooters, they often go to engage their mayhem, and then be killed by police or commit suicide. He didn’t do that.” -Danny Coulson, former FBI deputy assistant director.

So let’s apply the “one more gun” theory:

1) Premise: ‘If Holmes knew there could be other people in the theater with a gun, he wouldn’t have tried to kill people in the first place because he – like all murderers – was a rational person.’

Reality: Holmes was aware that he could face retaliation – perhaps from people in attendance, or from a police response. He was aware and prepared for this possibility, and it wasn’t enough to deter him.

2) Premise: ‘Someone with a gun could’ve been stopped sooner.’

Reality:  With his head-to-toe armor, Holmes was prepared for retaliation, and any return fire would’ve been unlikely to do any damage. Further, let’s put ourselves into the situation: this theoretical person with “one more gun” would’ve been fully engrossed in the film – their mind distracted, and their eyes focused on the screen. It was not only dark, but once Holmes entered, also filled with smoke. Holmes had the benefit of a gas mask, which the theoretical person would not have had. They would’ve had to have realized what was going on, pulled their gun, seen through the smoke, gotten a clear shot through all of the chaos of bullets and people scrambling for the exits, managed not to be shot themselves, and found the smallest part of his body not covered with protection… all within 90 seconds.  

That’s far too much to ask.

No, “one more gun” likely would not have helped in this tragedy.  Further, what if instead of “one more gun,” there were rather several more guns … multiple people straining through the smoke, and firing at where ever gun shots were coming from – including each other. Bullets cross-firing through the entire room… MORE innocent people potentially killed.  Or imagine if people were accustomed to going to movies fully armed, “just in case.”  We’ve already seen plenty of cases of road rage turning deadly when guns are present – how tragic if we started seeing altercations between rowdy movie goers turning deadly…

Virginia Tech 

Two years prior to launching his attack, Seung-Hui Cho was removed from school and admitted to a psychiatric hospital where he was deemed “an imminent danger to himself or others as a result of mental illness.” He was ordered to obtain treatment, but no one followed through on that order and was allowed to re-enter Virginia Tech.

In the months leading up to the attack he legally purchased two guns and a variety of ammunition through eBay, Wal-Mart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Home Depot.  His history of psychiatric problems did not stop any of the purchases.  Despite Virginia Tech’s “no guns” policy, he had both guns and all of the ammunition in his possession for several months prior to the shooting.

That day, he gained access to a residence hall at 7:15am where he shot and killed a girl whom he had previously harassed.  When the RA tried to stop Cho, he was shot and killed. Most of the campus was asleep, as the earliest classes didn’t even begin until 8:00am.  The dorm was on lockdown as police investigated the homicide, but Cho had already returned to his dorm to reload.  At 9am, Cho entered the Engineering building and chained the doors shut.  A call to 911 was made at 9:45 indicating that shots had been fired.  Police arrived three minutes later to find the doors chained shut.  Using two semi-automatic pistols (Glock 19 and Walther P22) he was able to shoot 60 people within 9 minutes, killing 33 including himself.  Police were making their way to Cho’s position when the shooting stopped.

So let’s apply the “one more gun” theory:

1) Premise: ‘If Cho knew there could be other people on campus with a gun, he wouldn’t have tried to kill people in the first place because he – like all murderers – was a rational person.’

Reality: Cho was mentally unbalanced and likely wouldn’t have been swayed by logical things like “probability” and fear.  Also, since he was able to get away with having guns on campus, he could’ve assumed that other people also had guns, but that clearly didn’t stop him.  Not only was he aware that VT didn’t actually check to see if anyone had any, VT also had a history of students being caught with guns.  So “gun free” wasn’t really true. Also, since he killed himself he clearly wasn’t concerned with someone else killing him as a deterrent.

2) Premise: ‘If people had been allowed to have guns (which they basically were) then he could’ve been stopped sooner.’

Reality:  the first shootings happened at a time in the morning when most college students are still asleep. While it is true that if the girl or the RA had a gun, then perhaps Cho would’ve been stopped sooner, but that assumes that:

a) The only reason they didn’t have a gun was because VT didn’t allow it (and they were good kids so they followed the rules), and not because they were ideologically opposed to guns, regardless of the rules.
b) They would’ve been alert enough at 7:15am to be ready to use a gun properly at a moment’s notice.
c) Having a gun wouldn’t have led to some other unrelated incident.

None of these assumptions are necessarily true.

The second round of shootings happened at an early class (‘early’ for college), and most of the campus was likely still asleep.  The ones who dragging themselves out of bed to class might not have thought their gun was a necessary accessory for the annoyingly-early class. Not to mention, would you want a potentially hung-over (or still partially drunk), half-asleep college student with a gun in-hand?  Anyway…

The shooting spree lasted 9 minutes due to the use of semi-automatic weapons.  And the doors had been chained closed.  So someone inside of the building would have had to have been armed for there to even be a chance of helping.  And they would’ve had to have been able to find the shooter within 9 minutes.  If someone in the actual classroom had been armed, that’s probably the only way Cho could have been stopped.  But if you give people the ability to choose whether or not to own a gun, not everyone will.  So what if no one in the classroom chose to own one?  Or if they did, what if they didn’t happen to bring it with them that morning?  Short of mandating that everyone carry a gun at all times, this isn’t a practical deterrent.

So really the question isn’t ‘how many lives were lost that day because students weren’t allowed to protect themselves?”  But rather, ‘how many lives were lost that day because a mentally unstable person was allowed to purchase and use guns that have no place in a civilized society – even in the hands of a rational person?’

Jared Loughner / Gabby Giffords

Despite being rejected from the Army (for confidential reasons) in 2008, and showing clearly unstable tendencies at his job and school (leading to his suspension from Pima Community College – on the terms that re-admission would be granted upon passing a mental health evaluation – in September 2010), Jared Loughner was able to legally purchase a Glock pistol with an extended magazine from Sportsman’s Warehouse on November 30, 2010.  He bought 90 rounds of ammunition between two local Walmart stores the morning of the shooting.

On January 8, 2011, Loughner brought his gun, extended magazine, and ammunition to Representative Gabby Giffords’ “Congress On Your Corner” event in Tuscon, Arizona. At 10:10am, he walked up to Giffords and shot her at point-blank range. He then opened fire on the rest of the crowd, killing 6 and injuring another 13.

Only when he stopped to reload was Patrica Maisch able to disarm Loughner, at which point several men (Bill Badger, Roger Sulzgeber and Joseph Zamudio) wrestled him to the ground, and subdued him until police arrived. Had Loughner not been allowed to own an extended magazine, he would’ve had to stop and reload sooner…

I don’t even have to theorize about the “one more gun” premise here, because there was one more gun that day, and it almost led to one of the heroes being murdered by someone who thought they were helping. In an interview with MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, the man revealed that he heard the commotion, and as he ran toward the scene he had his hand on his gun. He assumed that the man holding Loughner’s gun was the shooter — and he almost shot & killed him, but someone yelled that it wasn’t him. Another hero might not be so lucky…

When “One More Gun” Works… Rarely

The Rachel Maddow Show sought out any instances of “one more gun” actually stopping a mass-shooting… and they came up with one… kind of. On May 25, 2008, a family feud erupted in Winnemucca, Nevada. Ernesto Villa Gomez burst into a bar and killed two members of another family. When he stopped to reload, “a man from Reno took out a gun and shot Villa Gomez. That man has a concealed weapons permit.”

Real Solutions Needed, Not Fantasy

Pro-gun advocates often combat the idea of gun safety reform (aka “gun control”) with the argument that “if someone wants to kill someone else, they’ll do it regardless of whether or not they have a gun.” But as Eddie Izzard once said, “I think the gun helps. Just shouting ‘bang!’ isn’t going to kill too many people.”

Yes, if Holmes, Cho, Loughner, or any other murders decided they wanted to kill people, and they didn’t have access to guns, it still would’ve been theoretically possible. But why make it so easy for them?

While it is true that there is no amount of regulations that could stop someone from killing someone else if they really want to, that does NOT mean that we should abandon all regulations. For example, guns are banned on planes, but I could theoretically stab someone with a pencil, so should TSA ban pencils on planes?  No. But should they remove metal detectors and just let people carry on whatever they want, including knives, guns, and explosive material?  No.

The answer to “if someone wants to kill someone, you can’t stop them” isn’t “let everyone carry a gun if they want to.”  In practice, that would turn us into a country of hair-trigger vigilantes. 

Bob Herbert (a NY Times columnist) recently pointed out that more than 1 million Americans have been killed since 1968 due to gun violence –  3 people are killed by guns every hour. According to the Center for Disease Control, 31,347 people were killed by guns in 2009.  Gun violence is a real problem that needs real solutions, not things that only sound good in theory based on fantasies portrayed in entertainment media.

The solution is not to introduce more guns into more situations under the guise that people need to be able to protect themselves once an attack begins. The facts above show that once an attack begins, it’s already too late. The solution must come from prevention: gun safety reform.

A 2013 study from Boston Children’s Hospital found that “states with more gun laws have lower levels of gun fatalities,” and Mother Jones debunked the pro-gun claim that killers specifically target “gun-free zones.” The pro-gun / NRA side clearly allows their love of guns to overshadow reality.

“The real NRA nut says ‘if the government can take our guns, then after that they can come take our freedoms.’ But what happened with the Patriot Act was the government said, ‘No, no, no – keep the guns, just give us the freedoms.’

And they said ‘we get to keep the guns!’

If you just wrap the request in a flag, they’ll line up to surrender the freedoms – they just really want the guns so they can protect the guns.”
– Dana Gould

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An Introduction to The Family’s Influence in Africa

For far too long, Africans have been influenced by American conservative politicians and religious leaders with their own selfish and destructive interests – particularly relating to homosexuality. It’s time that Africans decide their own way, free from Western influence.

These American leaders are part of a secretive religious group called “the Family,” and have long reached into Africa to impose their will on the people.  Their members claim to be helping Africans, but they are really just using Africa as a test-bed for their extremist, often anti-gay policies.  Some African leaders, such as Ugandan President Museveni (who has had ties to the Family since his first election), parrot the Family’s claim that homosexuality is a result of Western influence.

Family member Pastor Rick Warren has his hands all over Africa… he declared Rwanda the first “purpose-driven nation” in 2005 with the help of 48 other American Evangelicals. Uganda became the second such nation, along with plans for their “kill the gays” law. Warren, with help from Family “core member” Rep Joe Pitts (R-PA), also pushed on to Africa the idea of abstinence-only sex education rather than the use of condoms (since the church is opposed to contraception), and what resulted was an increase in AIDS cases.

Family member Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is ultra anti-gay, earning a 0% from the Human Rights Campaign, NARAL Pro-Choice, and Planned Parenthood and coining the phrase “guns, God, and gays” to summarize his agenda. He travels to Uganda twice a year, and calls the trips “a Jesus thing,” claiming that he “can always get in to see the kings.”

David Bahati, the Family’s go-to man in Uganda, introduced the idea for the “kill the gays” legislation at their National Prayer Breakfast in 2008 when their keynote speaker was an American Christian business consultant who runs “Jesus Christ Quality Management Consultants.” Bahati runs the “national prayer breakfast” offshoot African Youth Leadership Forum, with kids from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and South Africa. This fits with another Family venture in Africa, Cornerstone Developments, which seeks to “form a new generation of African leaders [since it is easier to do so] than to persuade the present leaders to reform.”  (Bahati and the Family’s African organizations are discussed at length in this interview with Jeff Sharlet)

Pat Robertson (whose father was VP of the Family in his day) also not only has a history in Africa (such as when he wined and dined Zaire president Mobutu for diamonds, and cut a deal with Liberia’s Charles Taylor for gold-mining rights), but is also a major influence in Africa right now. Through his US show, “The 700 Club” (which was Scott Roeder’s inspiration to murder abortion-provider Dr. George Tiller), Robertson has spread hate for the LGBT community – such as when he agreed with Jerry Falwell for blaming the September 11th terrorist attacks on “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays, and the lesbians.” In the 1970s, Robertson founded CBN International with distribution in “the Far East, Canada, South America, Mexico, Africa, and Europe.” And Robertson operates the CBN Africa TV network.

The CBN Africa TV network has regional offices in Angola, Botswana, Djibouti , Eritrea, Ethiopa, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Nambia, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.  In Nigeria, CBN airs “700 Club Nigeria” every weektheir website brags about their “Turning Point” program turning a gay Nigerian man straight. Since its creation in 1993, the 7,000 member Family Worship Center in Abuja has been run by Ina Omkau, a graduate of Robertson’s Regent University.

It’s time that Africans stood up for themselves, not the Family.

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Global Warming: April 2012

Global Warming increases the intensity and frequency of storms, and causes unseasonable weather. We are seeing both in different parts of the country…

An area spanning from Minnesota to Texas could be at risk of life-threatening tornadoes this weekend:

“Baseball-sized hail is tearing the siding off homes in northeast Nebraska, a tornado has touched down in Kansas and forecasters are warning residents across the nation’s midsection to brace for ‘life threatening’ storms.” (Midwest Tornadoes: ‘Life-Threatening’ Storms Feared This Weekend)

Record-breaking heat predicted for the Boston Marathon:

“Due to the unusually warm weather conditions forecast for the Boston area on Monday, the BAA will defer the entry of those official entrants to the 2013 Boston Marathon for participants who decide not to race.” (BAA to allow runners to defer to 2013, keep finish line open later)

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2012’s Political Super Bowl

On Sunday, February 5, 2012 the Super Bowl will be held in Indianapolis.  While I’m not a huge sports fan, I always enjoy watching the Super Bowl.  I’ll be especially engaged this year, as the NY Giants represent the state where I grew up, and the Patriots call Boston home, which is where I’ve lived since college.

Regardless of which teams are playing, the Super Bowl is consistently the most watched event every year. Last year’s was the most watched US show ever in history, scoring 111 million viewers, and that broke the previous year’s record of 106.5 million. And this year, the surely-over-100-million people watching the Super Bowl will be exposed to several political statements.

I’m sure many people will balk at the idea of politics mixing with sports – usually they are seen (incorrectly) as being mutually exclusive… a somewhat ‘safe’ topic of discussion rather than the ‘risky’ topics of religion and politics. But politics and the Super Bowl have a history…

In 2010, I missed the first Super Bowl I can remember because I was boycotting CBS’ decision to air an Anti-Choice/Anti-Abortion ad starring Tim Tebow. I could write an entire post about this alone, but the Action VP of the National Organization of Women said it best: “This ad is frankly offensive, it is hate masquerading as love. It sends a message that abortion is always a mistake.” Meanwhile, CBS rejected a liberal ad in which gays were portrayed positively.

And in 2011, after rejecting several controversial commercials (such as one claiming that “Jesus hates Obama”), FOX Sports took in $195 million (the second most profitable Super Bowl in history) for parent-company News Corp, while further solidifying the perception that they are a legitimate company. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp not only runs FOX Sports, but also runs “the political whorehouse that is FOX News,” as Keith Olbermann likes to say, as well as the Wall Street Journal, and many other purely political and conservative media outlets.

2012 is no different. While there is no Tim Tebow ad, and NBC is much more ethical broadcaster than FOX, there will be several notable ties to politics. Here’s the breakdown:

1) Anti-Choice/Anti-Abortion again takes center-stage at anti-abortion activist Terry Randall has found a loop-hole in Federal Communications Commission law, which says networks cannot forbid a political candidate from running an ad 45 days prior to an election (including primaries) as long as they buy the time. So Randall is running as a fake challenger to Obama, and he is running an ad featuring graphic footage of aborted fetuses in states that have primaries in the next 45 days (Wisconsin, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Kentucky).

This, like the Tebow ad of 2010, is a manipulative way to sway public perception away from allowing abortions to occur at all, and therefore actively take away a woman’s right to choose what she does with her own body. It is a common tactic by Anti-Choice (so-called ‘pro-life’) advocates to frame the abortion issue as if women are flippantly deciding to murder a baby simply because they don’t know, or don’t care, what they are doing. This is completely disingenuous. Many women who have abortions do so only because their own lives are at risk, or because the pregnancy has deteriorated to a point such that delivery would not result in life – such as in ectopic or molar pregnancies.

From Rachel Maddow’s eye-opening documentary, The Assassination of Dr. Tiller (can be seen in its entirety at the link):

“They were just all catastrophes.  You don’t pick up and go from NY or Washington or France or New Zealand, and travel to Wichita, Kansas (for an abortion) on a whim.  … Some of them were suicidal.  Some were ridiculously young, like 11 or 12 or 13.  And these women had to meet with a second doctor, who had to agree that this pregnancy represented a threat to their health.  … The patients were already sad to be coming there, and to be barraged by this constant hatred…”                             -Dr. Susan Robinson, OB/GYN, colleague of murdered Dr. Tiller

2) Animal Cruelty: keep your eyes open for a Sketchers ad that uses greyhound racing as a metaphor for how fast their new sneaker can be.

An undercover report from Grey2K shows that the track used for the ad is guilty of extreme animal cruelty.  Witnessed mistreatment includes:

  • muzzling greyhounds while they’re warehoused in dark, cramped kennels
  • providing inadequate exercise out of doors
  • feeding dogs raw meat from diseased animals and animals dead before slaughter
  • running dogs in dangerous conditions
  • ignoring a disturbing frequency (every 3-4 days) of serious injuries like fractured skulls, broken bones, dislocations and muscle tears.

Grey2K circulated a petition on asking NBC to pull the ad. More than just a local problem in Tucson, AZ, greyhound racing causes “thousands of dogs each year [to] suffer broken legs, cardiac arrest, spinal cord paralysis and broken necks … when the dogs are no longer profitable, they’re killed.”

3) Indiana: The last political point made at this Super Bowl will not be in the form of ad… but rather in locale. The Super Bowl is being broadcast from Indiana, where the Republican controlled legislature just passed, and Governor Mitch Daniels signed, a new anti-union, ‘Right to Work’ law.

Like many Republican-backed bills and laws, the ‘Right to Work’ law is named specifically to make it seem like something it isn’t. It sounds like it’s empowering workers to get jobs in this jobs-crisis we’re currently in, but it’s actually, “a right to work without representation. The right to work at the lowest possible wage with little or no benefits, and no way to negotiate for better working conditions.” -insightful YouTuber Jack194343

This also puts Indiana in an awkward position by hosting the Super Bowl, because the NFL is a union entity. If you don’t believe the person I quoted above, here’s the NFL players union’s input: ” ‘Right-to-work’ is a political ploy designed to destroy basic workers’ rights. It’s not about jobs or rights, and it’s the wrong priority for Indiana.”

As Keith Olbermann pointed on the January 6th, 2012 edition of Countdown: “Studies throughout the US show that ‘right to work’ laws reduce wages by $1500 a year for both union and non-union workers, lower the likelihood that employees get healthcare or pensions through their jobs, and have no impact whatsoever on job growth.”

When the law passed earlier in the week, 3000 protestors marched from the Capitol building to the Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Super Bowl will be played.

In addition to the ‘right to work’ law, a story just broke today that Indiana’s Republican Secretary of State and election chief, Charlie White, is guilty of voter fraud. Since this makes him ineligible to hold office, the civil judge ordered his 2010 Democratic challenger to be installed in office.

Also, Occupy Wall Street is partnering with NFL and Indiana labor unions, who are looking to use the Super Bowl to garner attention for the plight of Indianapolis’ Hyatt Hotel workers. They are some of the lowest paid in the nation, as Indianapolis is the largest American city without a unionized hotel. And as the Hyatt corporation is set to make millions of dollars off of Super Bowl tourism the just announced job cuts.

And because of these events, the Super Bowl comes at a time when the governor, state Republicans, and Indiana corporations would like the national spotlight to be far away from them… but they’re about to get about 111 million eyes focused squarely on them.

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Debunktion Junction: US Chamber of Commerce Lies About Keystone XL Pipeline

Welcome to today’s edition of Debunktion Junction: Keystone XL Pipeline

The Keystone XL pipeline is, at its core, a deeply destructive concept, and a lightning rod for deception and politicization. Big-monied interests have a huge stake in manipulating the public into thinking that it should be built, and if you listen to conservatives like Mitt Romney, Rush Limbaugh, John Boehner, and even the supposedly “moderate” Scott Brown (who is one of the few Republicans who claim to believe in Global Warming), you would think that the pipeline is the answer to all of our problems; they say it would create jobs (it wouldn’t), decrease price at the pump (it wouldn’t),  and decrease our reliance on foreign oil by increasing our domestic supply (it wouldn’t).

So where do these lies come from, and what is the truth?

In the January 18, 2012 print of Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, the US Chamber of Commerce (whose president recently called for a civilization-ending amount of pollution) took out a full-page ad that made two main claims about the Keystone XL pipeline. Both claims are blatant lies…

I will leave the most obvious lie (20,000 jobs) for last, and start with the one that’s buried deeper in the text:

1) The Chamber of Commerce claimed that the pipeline would “provide our nation with a safe, secure supply of reliable and affordable energy.”

This is a 2-part lie. First, the Chamber implies that the oil from the Tar Sands would be for American use. Wrong. In fact, the existing Keystone pipeline currently brings the oil to Midwestern refineries to use in the US, but the whole point of the new pipeline is to BYPASS the interior US refineries, transporting the oil to the Gulf coast where it can be exported to other countries (in Europe and Latin America). So the Keystone XL pipeline would actually COST America oil.

Second, the Chamber claims it would result in ‘affordable energy’ for the US. Wrong.  Being that the oil would actually be taken away from the US, gas prices would rise for Americans by roughly 20 cents per gallon. And to suggest otherwise is a lie designed to manipulate the uninformed.

2) As seen by the headline text, the Chamber claimed that it would create 20,000 jobs… this number has long-since been debunked – and by the very person who first created the lie: TransCanada’s Chief Executive Russ Girling. For the Chamber to bring it up as a ‘fact’ is completely disingenuous.

The number first got reduced to 13,000 jobs… then Girling finally admitted that it’d be more like 6,500 jobs, because they used a misleading metric that said if a job lasted two years it counted as two jobs. (Apparently I need to update my resume, because since I’ve stayed with the same company for 5 years, that means I’ve had 5 jobs…)

But even the 6,500 jobs is misleadingly optimistic. In the only independently-funded study (all others are funded by TransCanada itself),  Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute found that it would only create 500-1400 temporary jobs, and then the long-term job effect would actually be negative.

But this hasn’t stopped FOX ‘News’ (Rupert Murdoch’s other media empire) from pushing the lie even further: Neil Cavuto claimed that the pipeline would create 130,000 jobs. Where does that number come from? Who knows – it’s FOX… they likely just made it up like they usually do. They’ve previously claimed 50,000 jobs, 118,000 jobs, 120,000 jobs, and 1 million jobs.  As Stephen Colbert pointed out, “those numbers come straight from the pipeline they built from their ass to the airwaves.”

But regardless of which random number they choose, it’s probably loosely based on estimate of so-called “spin-off jobs,” or those created as a result of the pipeline being in existence. This analysis was done by Ray Perryman, a Texas-based consultant, and hinges on the pipeline becoming some sort of tourist attraction. His number includes the ludicrous claim that 51 NYC dancers would move to the Midwest to put on shows… apparently for the “100 librarians, 510 bread bakers” and “1,714 bartenders” that the pipeline would supposedly create jobs for.

As Bill McKibben once pointed out to Keith Olbermann, any jobs created by the pipeline would be “dwarfed by the number of people who would be employed if we turned to the wind and the sun – if we decide that we are no longer going to allow our addiction to oil to grow.”

This sentiment was enforced by environmentalist and actor Mark Rufalo on Olbermann’s Countdown show when he said “the Solar Jobs bill for NY State alone would create 22,000 jobs. You put a Solar Jobs bill in each of the 6 states that the pipeline would go through, and that’s 132,000 jobs – real jobs that are clean jobs that will really get us off of foreign oil.”

And even if the jobs claim were accurate… some things are more important than jobs and money — like humanity’s ability to inhabit the earth.

According to the NY Times: “the extraction of petroleum from the tar sands creates far more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional production does.” And in a second interview with Keith Olbermann, Bill McKibben said:

“The Tar Sands in Alberta is the second largest pool of carbon on Earth. Only the oil fields of Saudi Arabia are larger. When we plumbed the oil fields in Saudi Arabia, we didn’t know about Climate Change. Now that we do, if we just repeat the same thing, then we’re idiots. That’s why NASA’s Jim Hansen – our foremost climatologist – said ‘tap this stuff heavily, and it’s game over for the climate.’ … It’s a reminder that we need to leave carbon in the ground.”

I’m reminded of one of Bill Maher’s “New Rules” in response to the 2010 BP oil disaster… “Fuck your jobs… Sorry roughnecks, but eventually you’re going to have to find something else to do – try building windmills. … Calling something your job doesn’t make it sacred … maybe your job needs to go when it starts killing things.”

*          *          *          *

One final note: while President Obama struck down part of the Keystone XL pipeline as it’s currently being proposed, he did so not because he is necessarily opposed to it, but rather because Republicans forced his hand before a thorough review could be completed:

“This announcement is not a judgement on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline…”

In fact, few people realize that President Obama approved part of the pipeline – the southern leg that takes oil from Oklahoma to Texas for export. This will likely cause an increase in cost at the pump, so be on the watch for conservatives to blame Obama for approving the pipeline that they are currently blaming for not approving.

The Keystone pipeline is still in existence and growing. It poses a serious threat to humanity’s ability to inhabit planet Earth. It’s time for change.

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Lowe’s Caves to Anti-Muslim Extremists

Over the weekend it was revealed that 65 companies pulled their commercials from the TLC show “All American Muslim.” 

The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) issued a statement asking for a boycott of one of the companies, Lowe’s, unless they reinstate their commercials. Read the full statement here: Take Action Against Bigotry and Hate. Companies like Lowe’s are bowing to extreme right-wing bigots who do not want Muslims to be shown as real people, rather than stereotypical “terrorists”.

I have created a petition on specifically directed at Lowe’s CEO Robert Niblock, asking him to reinstate their commercials. This would send a clear message that Lowe’s, and the other 64 companies, were wrong to bow to extreme right-wing bigotry.

Please sign the petition, and pass it along: (the article linked at the top) has a good summary of the background:

The TLC reality TV show All-American Muslim chronicles the lives of a group of Muslims in Dearborn, Michigan. The show has been well-received for its fair and realistic portrayal of the Muslim American experience in the United States. Watch a trailer for the show here.

But a reality TV show that lets Americans relate to the lives of Muslims in the United States is an offensive idea to those who want to demonize Islam. The Florida Family Association (FFA) launched a campaign earlier this year to get companies to pull their advertising from the program. FFA claims that 65 of the 67 companies targeted have done this, including home improvement giant Lowe’s and megabank Bank of America:The Florida Family Association, a Tampa Bay group, has led a campaign urging companies to pull ads on ‘All-American Muslim.’ The FFA contends that 65 of 67 companies it has targeted have pulled their ads, including Bank of America, the Campbell Soup Co., Dell, Estee Lauder, General Motors, Goodyear, Green Mountain Coffee, McDonalds, Sears, and Wal-Mart.

In addition to the companies listed above, I was able to find a list of all the other ones as well. The hate-filled website “Bare Naked Islam” (deliberately left out a link for them) is taking partial credit for the ad-pull. They list the following companies having pulled their ads  (note that Lowe’s competitor Home Depot did NOT pull their ads):


3M (Command, Scotchbrand tape), Airborne Vitamin, Amway, Anheuser Busch Inbev (Select55), Art Instruction Schools, Bamboozles,  Bank of America (Cash Rewards), Bare Escentuals, Brother International (Ptouch), Campbell’s Soup, Capital One, Church & Dwight (Oxi Clean, Arm & Hammer), City Furniture, Conagra (Hunt’s Diced Tomatoes), Corinthian Colleges (Everst411), Cotton, Inc., Cumberland Packing (Sweet’N Low), Dell computers,  Diamond Foods (Kettlebrand Chips),  Estee Lauder (Clinique),  ET Browe (Palmer’s Cocoa butter),  Gap,  General Motors (Chevy Runs Deep), Good Year,  Green Mountain Coffee, Guthy Renker (Proactiv), Hershey kisses, Home Depot,  Honda North America,  HTC Phones, Ikea, JC Penney, JP Morgan Chase (Chase Sapphire),, Kellogg (Special K), Koa Brands (John Frieda),  Leapfrog Enterprise (Leapster Explorer),  Lowe’s Mars (Dove Chocolate), McDonald’s, Nationwide Insurance, News Corp (We bought a zoo movie), Nintendo (,  Novartis (Theraflu), Old Navy, Pernod Ricard (Kahlua), Petsmart, Pier One,  Pfizer (Centrum vitamin),  Procter & Gamble (Align Probiotic, Crest, Febreze, Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, Pur, Tide),  Progressive Insurance, Prudential Financial,  Radio Shack, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse,  SC Johnson (Drano, Glade, Scrubbing Bubbles),  Sears , Signet (Kay Jewelers), Sonic Drive-ins, Subaru, THQ (uDraw), T-Mobil,  Toyota (Camry), Volkswagen,  Vtech (Mobi Go, V Reader), Wal-Mart, Whirlpool (Maytag).


UPDATE: reader, Sue, contacted Progressive Insurance, and they stated that they “did NOT pull their ads,” as they “purchased a rotational ad, not a block ad.” Also, Amway says that reports of them pulling their ads are incorrect as well.

According to a new article at, several of the companies in the above list haven’t actually pulled their ads from All American Muslim. (Shows how unreliable hate-websites like “Bare Naked Islam” are…). Campbell Soup Company, Sears, and Bank of America have all condemned FFA’s boycott of All American Muslim. In addition, Gap, Green mountain Coffee, Home Depot, Art Instruction Schools, and Cumberland Packing have all said that it is a misrepresentation to say they pulled their ads. Lowe’s has confirmed they pulled there ads, but for the others, the best thing to do is get in touch with them directly.


Assuming that the above list is at least somewhat accurate, perhaps it is unfair to single out Lowe’s. But if we can convince Lowe’s, then maybe the others will follow suit. Also, Lowe’s has also been especially cavalier in their responses, saying via Twitter: “Lowe’s values diversity of thought in everyone, including our employees and prospective customers.” But by caving to to bigots, Lowe’s is showing they only care about some of their employees and prospective customers, and they don’t care about others.

For too long, hate-groups like the Florida Family Association have been allowed to go unchecked. Please stand with me and sign my petition to Lowes:

** UPDATE **

In addition to my petition (which I hope you’ve signed!!), there is another one on that has over 8000 signatures that you can sign as well, and another on with over 35,000 signatures that’s also open!

This issue has been getting a lot of coverage in the media, including Lowe’s CEO Robert Niblock being Keith Olberman’s “Worst Person in the World” for December 13, 2011, and a segment on The Daily Show entitled “kabulvision”

Also, please check out this viral video by

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Debunktion Junction: War on Christmas Myth

FOX & the equally disgusting Drudge Report are drumming up the stupid “War on Christmas” gibberish early this year.  It’s not even “War on Thanksgiving” time yet!

Four points shows how utterly ridiculous this whole “Obama’s Christmas Tree Tax” / “War on Christmas” / “War on Christianity” nonsense is:

1) As pointed out, the tax on xmas trees has nothing to do with Obama. This is just another attempt by the right-wing to smear the President, and make him seem like an “other.”

2) Christmas trees have nothing to do with Christianity. Evergreen trees are a Pagan tradition that originated at the Winter Solstice celebration of Saturnalia.  Christians took it over as a way to gain converts, and began hanging apples on them to reference the story of Adam & Eve. That’s how we got ornaments.

3) Christmas has nothing to do with Christianity. Jesus wasn’t even born on December 25. In fact, the first “War on Christmas” was waged by the Puritans in the 1600’s because they wanted to be true to the bible, which doesn’t mention the date of Jesus’ birth (Pope Julius I chose it). Celebrations of Christmas were banned in Boston when the Pilgrims came to America.

Over the years, Christmas became an excuse to riot and cause mischief, and it wasn’t until the 19th century that our modern views of Christmas were invented. Washington Irving wrote fictional, but nostalgic, stories of celebrations of the holiday that never actually happened, and Charles Dickens wrote the popular A Christmas Carol. It was then that Americans decided Christmas was a good excuse to celebrate peace, family, and social equality. It was also a way to reward children, and to stimulate the economy. Christmas as we know it has always been a non-religious, commercial holiday.

4) As much as right-wing media such as FOX, The Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh, or the Wall Street Journal want everyone to believe that Christians are the most oppressed religious group, that distinction goes to another group…. Atheists.

Okay, that’s cheating a little bit. Atheists, by definition, are not a religious group… but we are about religion.  And a new poll by Public Religion Research Institute shows that voters are most uncomfortable voting for an Atheist president – slightly edging out the idea of a Muslim president.  By contrast, they do seem to be quite comfortable with an Evangelical Christian president… like Rick Perry… or George W. Bush…

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