Sunday, April 22, 2012

I want to hold your hand

“I Want to Hold Your Hand” was recorded by the Beatles in October 1963, and was the first Beatles album record to be made using four track equipment.

Although the song was popular in the United Kingdom, it became EVEN MORE popular in America. It entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart on January 18, 1964. By February 1, it held the number one spot on the list, which it held for seven weeks. Ultimately, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” became the Beatles’ best selling single WORLDWIDE. If you’re feeling a little nostalgic, you can listen to the song “one more time” by clicking on the link below:.

the boys from Liverpool

If the Beatles were still performing together today, though, it’s likely that they would not be able to perform anywhere in the state of Tennessee, and for a very peculiar reason..

A few weeks ago, the Republicans in the Tennessee legislator introduced language in a sex education bill that defined kissing and holding hands as “gateways to sexual activity”. Strictly speaking, they’re correct, but it’s a hell of a stretch to assume that holding hands automatically leads to a “roll in the hay”. .

Come to think of it, Hootie and Blowfish probably wouldn't be welcome there either, because of the group's desire to "hold your hand."

In Tennessee, “sex education” is a bit of a misnomer, since the sex education classes focus ONLY on abstinence.. The Tennessee legislature recently introduced HB 3621 and SB 3310, which would give parents the ability to take action against teachers who encourage the use of contraceptives to promote safe sex..

Nationally, teen pregnancy rates have continued to drop.. As of 2010, the rate fell to 34 pregnancies per 1000 for girls 15 through 19, which is the lowest rate since 1940. Mississippi (which does not require sex education in schools) has the highest rate of teen pregnancies, with 55 pregnancies per 1000 girls. .

Davidson county Tennessee (which includes Nashville) is pretty close to that number, with 54.2 pregnancies per 1000, but the rest of the state is somewhat lower. Overall, though, Tennessee is tied (with Arizona) for the 9th highest rate of pregnancy in the nation. .

New Hampshire has the lowest incidence of teen pregnancy, at 16 per 1000 girls. New Hampshire requires comprehensive sex education in schools. The information provided in the classes also included information about condoms and contraception..

Like many other states in the last few years, the Volunteer State” has passed a number of other laws that make you question the sanity of the legislators. Other laws that Tennessee has recently passed include the following:.

1) Tennessee (as well as Montana) passed legislation that effectively said that “no gun control powers were ever granted to the Federal Government.” Understandably, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives took offense at the laws, and they were negated..

2) In June of 2010, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen signed HB 670, which has provisions similar to Arizona’s SB 1070, which is being challenged in Federal court this week..

3) In May of 2011, the Senate passed SB 0049, which prevents teachers in kindergarten through eight grade from discussing homosexuality in prepared materials or instruction..

Since I live in Arizona, I’ve been exposed to some proposals that actually didn’t make a lot of sense., and I may have played a small part in getting a few of them killed due to the fact that I’ve been writing to (and getting responses ) from the legislators in Phoenix..

In 2011, state legislators in our country passed a dizzying 40,000 new laws, most of which took effect in January of 2012. Since many of the new laws appear to be similar from state to state (for example, 25 states have laws similar to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law) you might start to think that all those laws came from a single source, and you’d be correct..

The American Legislative Exchange Council was started in September 1973. According to the information on its website, the organization is “a nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty”. .

If you go back in history, you may recall an organization called the John Birch Society, which still exists today. JBS favors limited government and personal freedom. The Society upholds an originalist view of the U.S. Constitution (which it identifies with fundamentalist Christian principles), and it is also opposed to wealth redistribution and economic interventionism..

I may not be the sharpest tack in the box, but I think that I see a connection between ALEC and JBS, which I’ll explain further in a minute..

Is ALEC actually a “non partisan” group? To quote the old AVIS commercials, “not exactly”. Out of 104 legislators in leadership positions, there is exactly ONE Democrat. Across America, there are 2000 state legislators who belong to ALEX. Their dues are a very modest $50 per year. .

There are also more than 300 corporate sponsors, who pay substantially more - between $7000 and $25,000 a year. However, corporations who participate in task forces may contribute as much as $10,000 more each year. Additionally, ALEC also receives grants from large corporations. Between 1998 and 2009, ExonMobil contributed $1,400,00 to the organization.

The Koch Foundation contributed $500,000 to the organization in 1996..

The connection between ALEC and JBS?.

One of the founders of the John Birch Society in 1958 was Fred Koch, founder of Koch Industries, one of the largest privately hold companies in America. His sons, David and Charles, are currently running the company, and are tied for 4th as the richest men in America..

In 2004, the Koch brothers founded an organization called Americans for Prosperity , a political advocacy group headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. The group played a major role in the Republican’s takeover of the House of Representatives, and has been called “one of the most powerful organizations in electoral politics.

Americans for Prosperity is also one of the major supporters of the Tea Party movement

The Tea Party has managed to produce some pretty nutty politicians, like
Michelle Bachman of Minnesota and Representative Allen West of Florida whose recent pronouncement that 81 member of Florida’s House were communist evokes memories of Joe McCarthy from the 1950’s.

Bachman was a founder of the House Tea Party Caucus.

The American Legislative Exchange Council has been a major factor is rewriting laws in our country. In addition to the passage of more liberal gun laws, ALEC has also focused on at least five other areas:.

1) Immigration reform.

2) Health care.

3) voter ID laws.

4) Right to Farm.

5) Privatizing education.

The link below provides a great deal of more information about all of the items listed above:.

be sure to watch the video .

The “common folk” are starting to fight back. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will review the legality of Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070..

ALEC’a preferred method of operating in the dark has started to develop some embarrassing revelations, which a man named David Offutt revealed on his post of March 21, 2012..

The extreme positions advocated by ALEC could cause the Republican Party to lose control of the House of Representatives., and ALEC’s influence over state legislatures has come to the attention of some local journalists..

As always, it’s all about the money, and ALEC has essentially bribed a number of key Federal legislators. Fortunately, our friends at Google have allowed us to track “the money trail”.

In a number of states (Arizona being one)
legislators with ties to ALEC control both the House and the Senate, as well as the Governor’s office.

Not everyone shares my distrust of politicians with ties to ALEC, or my dislike for Republican legislators in general, and that’s OK. America is a great melting pot, and we inevitably are going to have some disagreements..

As we move forward, it’s critical that we somehow find a way to work together for the common good, a position that seems to be in short supply these days, especially at the Federal level..

It may surprise you to know that all of us, AS INDIVIDUALS, can actually influence the direction that our government takes. I’ve written a number of letters to the state legislators in Arizona, and have received encouraging responses from a number of legislators..

My next goal is to work with the “friendly faces” that I have in the legislature to reduce, as much as possible, the influence that ALEC has in not only my state, but other states as well..

If we don’t all work together to reduce the death grip that both Big Oil and ALEC have on the United States, I’m afraid that we’re all in for A Hard Days Night .

Thursday, April 12, 2012

How to deal with zombies

All of us have fears of one sort or another.

Fear of heights (acrophobia) is fairly common, as is fear of flying (aerophobia). Even a brave guy like Indiana Jones had a fear of snakes (ophidiophobia).

A sizable portion of the population, though, have fears that most of us would consider to be a little more eccentric.

Because Flagstaff sits at a higher elevation (7000 feet) than most of the cities in America, some of the residents had expressed concern that the recent sunspots that we experienced could hit their house. Since we are all living in the last year of the Mayan calendar, there are also folks who seem to believe that the world is going to end sometime in December.

Politics, of course, always attracts some fringe nut cases, so I’m not even going down that path.

Zambies, however, DO cause concern for portions of our population. If YOU are a person who is afraid of zombies , there ARE a few ways that you can deal with them. One of those methods is pictured below:

A lot of us would snicker at the thought of dealing with “the undead” slowly wandering through our neighborhoods, but the fact remains that the respectable Center for Disease Control in Atlanta recently updated its handbook to include a section on how to deal with zombies:

The article on the CDC website, about zombies, was written by Assistant Surgeon General Ali Khan.

One of the ways of dealing with our fears is to have some strong backup. In some situations, the guy pictured below could be of help to you:

In most situations, even the “redneck militia” can’t help you as much as the man discussed in the link below:

the shroud of Turin

Since He literally walked out of his own grave on an Easter Sunday a long. long time ago, it’s pretty likely that He could handle pretty much any problem that you could throw at Him.

Incidentally, the shroud pictured above was found neatly folded in the grave on the morning that the man disappeared, and there’s an historical reason for that fact.

In ancient Jewish culture, when a diner finished his meal, he crumbled up his napkin, and threw it on the table. However, if he planned to return to the table again, he carefully folded up his napkin, and placed it back on the table.

It was his way of saying, “”I’ll be back.”

As far as zombies go, though, the best advise that I can give you is to avoid them as much as possible. If you don’t, you’re going to wind up like the individual pictured below:

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Tell me a story ..

When I was six years old, one of the most popular songs on the radio was a song titled, “Tell Me A Story”, which rose as high as #4 on the charts in 1953. If you’re feeling nostalgic, you can listen to the entire song by clicking on the line below:

Tell Me A Story

Two minutes into this video is the line, “You promised me, you said you would “, which leads directly into our modern day world.

About a week ago, we passed the 23rd anniversary of the grounding of the Exxon Valdez in the pristine waters of Prince William Sound in Southern Alaska. Since the captain of the vessel (Joseph Hazelwood) had been drinking on the day of the collision, he allowed an uncertified officer to steer the huge vessel. When the vessel hit a reef, the resulting gash in the hull released 11,000,000 gallons of oil into the water. Wind currents spread the oil 100 miles from its source, which eventually polluted more than 700 miles of coastline, and adversely affected hundreds of thousands of birds and animals. Until the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010, it was the worst oil spill in history.

“Popeye the sailor man” (Hazelwood) was convicted of misdemeanor negligence, fined $50,000, and ordered to perform 1000 hours of community service. In July of 1992, an Alaska court overturned Hazelwood’s conviction, which meant that his punishment for his negligence was …

absolutely nothing.

The Exxon Valdez was repaired, and renamed several times. Its current name is “Oriental Nicety”, it’s owned by a company in Hong Kong, and it’s FINALLY heading to the scrap heap.

Exxon itself was condemned by the National Transportation Safety Board. Under pressure from environmental groups, Exxon agreed (in 1991) to pay a penalty of $100 million, and to provide $1 billion over a period of 10 years to pay for cleanup expenses. Later that same year, though, the state of Alaska and Exxon reached a revised agreement, and settled the case for $25,000,000, less than 4% of the amount that they had agreed to earlier that year.

Say, what?

Whatever happened to, “ You promised me, you said you would?”.

To quote a 1980 Star Kist commercial,

“sorry, Charlie”

To add insult to injury, the Federal and Alaska governments determined in 2006 that there was lingering damage from the 1989 spill, which would require an additional $92 million from ExxonMobil. Not surprisingly, that money hasn’t been paid either.

ExxonMobil isn’t exactly short of cash.

In 2011, the company had a profit of $41 billion. The combined profit for the years from 2001 through 2011 was approximately $341 billion. As a group, the Big Five oil companies earned slightly in excess of $1 trillion during this time frame.

Being a prudent company, ExxonMobil has been using its profits wisely. The company used $22 billion (53%) of its 2011 profits to buy back its own stock, which raises the value of the remaining shares. The profits were also used to increase the company’s cash reserves to a total of $11 billion.

Since it’s always good to have friends in high places, the company spent $146,000,000 in official lobbying expenditures in 2011, and also contributed close to $18,000,000 to federal candidates, 90% of whom were Republicans.

One of the politicians who benefited from the largess of the oil companies is Representative Cliff Stearns, the Republican congressman from Florida. Coincidentally, he also happens to be the chair of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which puts him a a good position to criticize any idea (such as green energy) that doesn’t support the oil and gas industries in our country.

Due to the fact that the Big Oil companies have been earning record profits in recent years, Representative Stearns feels that they need even LARGER subsidies than the are currently receiving. He also believes that we have too many national parks, so we should start selling them off to private investors.

Another politician who has benefited from oil company support is House Speaker John Boehner, the Republican congressman from Ohio. Like the major oil companies, he also has investments in the Canadian companies that are using fracking to extract oil and natural gas from the tar sands in Alberta. (At the end of January, 2012, he owned shares in seven different Canadian tar sands companies.) As a result, he would profit PERSONALLY from the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which is why he is currently being investigated by the SEC.

Although the oil companies have spent a LOT of money on political contributions and lobbying expenses, it was money well spent. For now, ExxonMobil and the other big oil companies have retained $4 billion in annual tax breaks, and the Big Oil companies have also retained $53 billion in taxpayer subsidies for lost royalties from offshore oil production.

On March 29, Senate Republicans rejected President Obama’s call to end Big Oil tax breaks, so they appear to be safe for the time being.

As a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, BP agreed to pay $7.8 Billion. Unfortunately, the settlement doesn’t actually help the State of Louisiana. Although it’s difficult to determine when all of the plaintiffs will actually receive their money, it’s a fairly safe bet that it will occur sometime after the event pictured below:

Even if BP ultimately pays money towards the Gulf disaster, their plans are (at least at this point) to use at least a portion of their loss as a tax deductible expense.

If you measured oil companies in terms of oil reserves, the reserves held by companies in the Middle East dwarf the rest of the world. The National Iranian Oil Company is a close second to the Saudi Arabian Oil Company, which will continue to complicate the world’s relationship with that country for years to come. The reserves held by American oil companies are a tiny fraction of the total, which means it’s impossible for us to drill our way to energy independence, regardless of what your Republican congressman is telling you.

In terms of annual revenue, though, Royal Dutch Shell leads the world.

One of the company’s latest projects is drilling exploratory wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, roughly 20 miles north of the environmentally fragile Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In order to ensure that they’re successful in their venture, the company has sued the Center for Biological Diversity and 12 other environmental groups. So far, the environmental groups have been successful in stopping every offshore drilling proposal in Arctic waters since 2007.

On August 4, 2011, the Department of the Interior granted Royal Dutch Shell conditional approval to begin drilling exploratory wells in the Arctic Ocean in the summer of 2012. Predictably, that decision didn't turn out well, and the grounding of the drilling platform Kulluk at the end of December of 2012 should serve to confirm that drilling in the Arctic isn't a very good idea.

Although company officials publicly announced in February that they have dropped plans for drilling this year, (tell me a story …) Federal officials HAVE approved an oil spill response plan that could allow drilling in the Beaufort sea this summer. In view of the extreme difficulty in controlling oil spills in the Arctic, even THAT plan will likely to be challenged if drilling commences again.

Since 88% of Alaska’s revenue comes from the oil and gas industry, Alaska state officials (such as Senator Lisa Murkowski) are naturally hoping that Shell gets the “green light” to start drilling again.

Since Shell also has large investments in the Canadian tar sands projects, the chairman of the company, is bewildered why the Obama administration wants to withhold approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

By now, you are probably feeling a little disgusted by the antics of the Big Oil companies, and rightly so. However, boycotting Shell or BP stations to protest your indignation really won’t accomplish anything. For one thing, the companies have so much cash that they could care less what your opinion is. For another, many gas stations are owned by individuals, so boycotting them will simply hurt local businesses.

The Obama administration is pursuing a multi-faceted clean energy and environmental policy, which he elaborated on in this year’s State of the Union address. Nevada, of all places, could be a good example of how that multi-faceted program would work.

During his State of the Union address, the President proposed "responsible development" of domestic oil and natural gas even as he pledged to invest in renewable energy. “We don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy,” he said.

Oil production in Nevada peaked in 1990, and has been declining ever since. Since 1985, however, there has been an explosion of geothermal power production, which should make environmentalists happy. Just as important, however, is the discovery of HUGE deposits of oil (as much as 4.67 billion barrels of oil) buried deep beneath the surface, in a rock formation known as Chainman Shale.

To ensure that the programs he mentioned are carried out, it’s imperative that we, as voters, also take action, and our mandate is clear:

1) since the oil and gas industries apparently have a "death grip" on the current version of the Republican Party, we need to vote out of office every single Republican candidate that you can think of

2) we also need to vote out of office every politician that has ties to the American Legislative Executive Council

Some of the “good guys” will survive our purge, and they should, but it will take a combined effort from all of us to toss out the “bad apples”.

If we can all do that, this story will have a happy ending.