110 years ago today in our town — 110 years later in our world

” … and up from the ground came a bubbling crude, oil that is, Black Gold, Texas Tea.”  From “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” written by Paul Henning

That description of good fortune found by Jed, of “The Beverly Hillbillies” fame, fits to a “tea” what happened in real life about three miles from where I live. The crude began bubbling — exactly 110 years ago today (January 10, 1901) — at place known as “Spindletop.” A very informative article about the history of Spindletop that was written by Robert Wooster and Christine Moor Sanders, and published in Handbook of Texas Online describes the pivotal moment of the World’s most important oil gusher ever:

“The startled roughnecks fled as six tons of four-inch drilling pipe came shooting up out of the ground. After several minutes of quiet, mud, then gas, then oil spurted out. The Lucas geyser, found at a depth of 1,139 feet, blew a stream of oil over 100 feet high until it was capped nine days later and flowed an estimated 100,000 barrels a day.”

It is pretty safe to say nothing of such far-reaching magnitude ever occurred since in Jefferson County, Texas, located on the easternmost Gulf Coast of the Lone Star State. Although I wasn’t around for Spindletop, I bet that not even Janis Joplin’s triumphant return in 1970 to her 10th graduation anniversary at Thomas Jefferson High School in Port Arthur could have matched Spindletop as a colorful and raucous event. And, from what I saw on local TV, Janis coming home freaked out a lot of folks.

The geyser, simply stated, started the modern petroleum industry as we know it. Some of the world’s most important oil companies had their start within a 25-mile radius of Spindletop: The Texas Company, later Texaco; Magnolia, later Mobil and even later ExxonMobil; Humble Oil, later Exxon and ExxonMobil, Gulf Oil, Sun. The companies read like a who’s who list of the petroleum industry.

Some who share my occasional liberal thoughts seem to believe “oil” is a four-letter-word. But the truth is not even those people can with any type of ease live without the fruits of hydrocarbons. While the oil industry made some people filthy rich and others just filthy, many modest livings — read: above average middle class — came from refineries, drilling and other facets of the petrochemical world. Why yours truly has made even a very modest amount of dough off oil and gas wells that I inherited. Certainly not much, albeit the low five-figure range over 25 years.

Most of the folks in the area I grew up in certainly knew the worth of oil as the industry paid for a lot of those people’s pickup trucks, bass boats, nice houses and for the most part a comfortable life. But other than immediate jobs, those who lived in the area I am from and now live in had no clue 110 years ago how Spindletop would transform the worldwide economy.

Those were certainly heady times, back in 1901.

But all was not quiet.

In September at a state fair that year, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt first mouthed his foreign policy mantra: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Four days later, President William McKinley was shot at the Pan American Exhibition in Buffalo, N.Y. He died eight days later.

McKinley’s assassin, 28-year-old Leon Czolgosz, was an avowed anarchist although none of the known anarchist groups would claim him as a member and some reportedly thought him to be a spy for the government. Before the month of September was out, a jury convicted Czolgosz. In really swift justice he was executed in the electric chair at New York’s Auburn Prison about a month later, his last words being: “I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people – the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime.”

The new Republican president, Roosevelt, showed that year that he would not be  easily buttonholed as a politician when it came to his actions. There was  his bully pulpit rhetoric about carrying a big stick, but after becoming president he also told Congress he wanted trusts curbed reasonably and he also invited noted African American Booker T. Washington to the White House. The latter sat off riots and other unrest in the South.

On Saturday, January 8, 2011, almost 110 years to the day Spindletop blew in, Jared Lee Loughner, 22, allegedly shot almost two dozen people at a congressional meet and greet outside a Safeway store in Tucson, Ariz. Six people were killed including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge. The target of the shooting appeared to be U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat. Giffords was shot in the head and remains in critical conditions although doctors say she shows encouraging signs that could signal improvement.

Loughner has left a lot of crazy writings behind as he sits in jail. The alleged assassin appears to be anti-government but like Czolgosz  also appears to be a lone nut job.

Perhaps in the days ahead we will learn just what were the motivating factors behind these shootings. Was the act because Giffords is a Democrat, or that she is Jewish, or that she supported President Obama’s health care plan even though she supported tough immigration measures and is pro-gun? Did the relentless cacaphony of political argument that passes for entertainment on cable news and talk radio play a part in driving Loughner over the edge?

We may never know. But just as the world turned 110 years ago today in the town in which I reside, giving rise to the world’s most important — although sometimes exasperating — industry so does our planet keep revolving where it seems no amount of good can ever completely snuff out the anger that lives in mankind.

I am painting broad brush here. But sometimes it does a body good to look at the world through the macro lens inward. Perhaps one must speak softly and carry a big magnifying glass.

One certain prediction in health care debate

 If I were to say I knew everything there was to know about the Democratic health reform plan, then I think you could pretty easily say that I was lying about such a statement.

 The  truth is that I, like probably millions of Americans, know little about the plan which originally targeted health insurance of some kind for all our citizens.

 But I think deductive reasoning will get one toward some pretty good suppositions about some of the proposed features of the plan floating around out there. I say “suppositions,” not “suppositories,” although I am sure the latter would be an apt word to help describe what Republicans would like the Democrats to do with the plan.

 With respect to the so-called “public plan” that polls show Americans favor, it should be easy to see that the only way any kind of positive change will happen is through some kind of a public options. Perhaps the majority of those polled like a public plan because they want health care available to all Americans and the public plan will be the only way such a plan would fly. If  you have no public plan, you have the status quo, which is nada.

 Another non-starter is the ability for states to opt out. In red states such as Texas, where I live, the  state legislature would never pass  a public plan no matter how much the voting public wanted it. Why some state leaders, like our screwball governor, think the state should pull out of the whole United States. Public health insurance in Texas if it is not mandated? You got to be jivin’ me.

 I may not know a lot about the health reform package but I know if you let states skate on major issues those states will never capitulate until the greater republic decides enough is enough and some form of carrot-stick approach is used to bring the states into line. When I talk about carrot-stick, I refer to examples such as the federal government withholding highway funds until states pass stricter auto or public safety laws. The seat belt and 18-year-old drinking laws come to mind. Pick your own congressional blackmail.

 So we shall see what we shall see in the next month or so. I can’t see too far off in the future but I do have one prediction that will probably hit with near-perfect accuracy. That is, I predict everyone will not be happy when the health reform debate is done. How’s that for sticking my neck on the line?

Has the right propaganda machine won?

It is a little difficult for me to believe. It is even harder for me to stomach. But it seems the Republicans have won or are winning the propaganda war in their fight against health care reform. What really upsets me is that the national media, not all, but specifically the cable news networks, have helped deliver the public opinion against the Obama administration’s attempts.

The cable news managers and other media jumping like trained dogs whenever a disruptive town hall is near will repeat that old journalistic saw: “If we piss off the right and the left, we must be doing something right.”

Well in this particular instance, you aren’t really pissing off the right.

The “Washington Post’s” E.J. Dionne, a liberal leaning columnist, reports a particularly telling encounter with a network TV stringer at a recent town hall. The freelancer tells Dionne quite frankly that if the meeting doesn’t “blow up,” then their piece doesn’t see the air.

So, if the Republican minority defeats health care reform or forces a “reform lite,” then the party can sit back and celebrate. Perhaps the GOP can then go forward with a bit more confidence and calmly plan a takeover of Congress during the midterms. Right?

Oh they will go forward. But calm doesn’t seem like the strategy.

One goes with what works. The screaming and anger and incoherence which makes people hate the thought of government health care while loving their Medicare, all of which has been accomplished through millions in Republican money and clever brainwashing will not stop.

And as long as the media — cable news especially — have what they believe to be a simple crowd pleaser such as screaming, angry, incoherent and often ignorant citizens riled up against a cause, that too will continue. Remember car chases covered by helicopters?

Where will it all end or will it end? Maybe it won’t. Perhaps it is just beginning or has been under way for some time. Think back to the previous administration and some of the techniques used today by those pulling strings behind the health care opposition.
One may see certain characteristics which were similar in style to those of a infamous autocratic leader. That leader’s psychological profile by an early U.S. intelligence agency reported:

“His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”

The leader, of course, was Adolf Hitler. Yes, say the right-wingers, it always comes down to Hitler. Well, yes, or Joseph Goebbels. Remember the book burning, or Kristallnacht? Such incredible media manipulation by very inferior little men.

What one sees in all the screaming and hate, besides the ignorance and the failure of some the American education system, is people with gigantic chips on their shoulders. Some may have material wealth. Some may even claim spiritual wealth.  But somewhere in that same American system that many of us so cherish, that is so cherishable, is left a gap.

It is a gap where humility is missing as is understanding. Sure, we help our neighbor when their house burns down. But if that neighbor looks a little differerent or has a little different lifestyle, well, sorry we have things to do this weekend. We can’t rebuild your house.

Wealth has made our nation great. But prosperity has also poisoned some with greed.

In the end, what do we have? We have ignorance, anger, a lack of humility and greed. We don’t want to pay taxes. We want a strong military that will nuke every little tinhorn country at the drop of a hat. We don’t want to pay taxes. We have compassion, unless it is for someone whom we think based on a whim doesn’t deserve it. We don’t want to pay taxes. We hate government, especially the federal government. But we want our military marching down the street looking sharp, shooting at any illegal coming across the border. We hate the government. We like our military pensions and VA pensions and benefits. We don’t want to pay taxes.

So perhaps I have strayed from my original thesis that the Republicans have developed a well-oiled propaganda machine that in some respects reflect those from Germany in the 1940s.

More important is to recognize that some of our quirks and characteristics are ripe for carrying that propaganda machine way beyond defeating “Obama Care.”

If that happens, can anyone say: Goebbels?

VA to open care to about 250,000 new vets

If you are a military veteran who has thought about signing up for veterans health care but couldn’t, and if you don’t mind socialized medicine, then you just might be eligible now for VA care.

The Department of Veterans Affairs suspended opening up health care to so-called “rich” veterans in 2003 because of budget constraints. These are the vets who do not have disabling illnesses or injuries that are related to military service but whose income is above a set threshold. The income levels are geographically-based and an enrollment calculator for benefits can be found here. Don’t let the word “rich” fool you. It’s certainly not a $100,000-$200,000 level.

Dr. Blase Carabello, acting director of the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, said the rule allowing the addition of about 250,000 additional veterans for health care should take effect June 30 “if the regulatory process proceeds smoothly.” That is always a big “if” when dealing with the VA or most any other federal branch.

Congress opened the VA health system in 1996 to veterans other than those with service-related disabilities or the indigent. Poor funding and an explosion of veterans seeking health care closed the system to new enrollees under the Bush administration in 2003. Those, such as yours truly, who were already enrolled were grandfathered.

It is true I bitch about the VA health care system sometimes. It is certainly not a perfect system and it isn’t the best model for a socialized health care. But to be fair, it does pretty well  in most places with the funding it receives. Each VA regional system is a little different from the other, although they have indicated that they want to fix that. If you are dead-set on one type of medication, you aren’t always going to get it in one VA system but might in another. Some systems, hospitals and outpatient clinics are exceptional. Some are dreadful.

But when the VA is all that you’ve got then, well, it’s all you got. Like just about any service of any kind in the United States, if things aren’t working well for you then you need to raise 10 kinds of hell and you might just get your feelings across. The same goes for dealing with the VA.

Time to leave the right behind in hc reform?

It appears Team Obama is studying the abandonment of a bipartisan approach to health care reform. That is probably the wise choice although one wishes such a decision would have popped up before Congress recessed for the month which would have spared us all the right-wing histrionics and flat-out lies.

What also seems a step behind by the Obama camp is a concentrated effort to refute many of the more outrageous lies which have been spread such as that of Sarah Palin’s “death panels.” One has to wonder, though, whether efforts to set the record straight are just preaching to the choir no matter that the Obamanistas want their followers to spread the word. The fact that the answers to the numerous lies are documented on the pro-healthcare reform Web site and are pretty well spelled correctly would make one wonder if the folks who believe these lies would find such explanations as suspicious.

Many who buy the lies about proposed health care reform also accept some of the most outrageous and unfounded statements which the high-powered special interests are trying to foist upon the public. Such statements are what bring people to shrilly exclaim at townhall meetings before the TV cameras that: “I want my country back the way it was before it changed!”

Before it changed? Perhaps you want it back the way it was before a black guy was elected president. Or what about the way it was before white women was allowed the vote?

And socialism. Hell’s bells. Are those who are saying our nation is turning socialist the ones who support Medicare for themselves or their parents? Are they the ones who want jail sentences for those who are caught driving with no liability insurance? That is the state making one buy insurance for cars. But the nation will turn socialist if health care becomes universal. Go figure.

The Democrats of the House and Senate should go it alone on insurance reform. They will never be supported by their Republican opponents and the more the right does their bidding for the powerful special interests our civil discourse will even more be endangered of becoming a relic of bygone days.