Friday, October 21, 2011

Why Occupy Wall Street MUST be Occupy Well Street too

My response to Tony Calderelli. The entirety of this charged exchange can be found here:

Tony Caldarelli on October 20, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Pro Publica and Vanity Fair . . . Really? Really! Why would anyone bother with information stated by senior members of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) when you can reference Vanity Fair? I am not the Tony Caldarelli who is a driller, I am the Tony Caldarelli who is a Geologist, so I actually have some understanding of what is going on under the surface of the earth. Without doing the calculus required to explain Darcy’s Law, or going into a diatribe about the Principle of Buoyancy, let me state it like this. If fluids like frac water (and it is almost entirely water and sand with trace amounts of other dilute chemicals) could migrate up from 6 or 7 thousand feet deep, up to the freshwater aquifers tens of feet deep, the the natural gas and oil that the other Tony Caldarelli would be drilling for WOULDN’T BE THERE. Wells have been fraced for 60+ years and now all of a sudden it is a problem, why? Here is why. Because the Shale Gas industry is a game changer in the world energy market, so foreign energy produces (OPEC, the Russians)are stirring up and funding well meaning but uniformed individuals like MS Lee to try shut down shale exploration and maintain their stranglehold on the world energy market. Around Bloomsburg where Ms Lee teaches, there are plenty of gas wells that have been fraced. North Central PA is a working gas field and has been for a long time but it is beautiful, with wonderful natural environments including some of the best trout streams (Trout are an “indicator species” for pure water) in the country. The Oil Creek Valley was destroyed by the early oil industry (who paid attention to the environment in 1860?) but now it is a beautiful state park and Oil Creek is a wonder trout stream where I saw the heaviest hatch of mayflies (another “indicator species,” in this case Ephemerella dorothea)I have ever seen (to include Montana, Idaho etc). Having worked in higher education for almost a quarter of a century, I have encountered many people who choose to express uniformed opinions well outside their discipline and areas of expertise. I’m sure Ms. Lee can give a rousing lecture on whether or not existence precedes essence, but when it comes to understanding Geology . . . ummmmm, not so much.

Wendy Lynne Lee's Response to Mr. Tony Caldarelli:

1. Among the most remarkable aspects of Mr. Caldarelli's responses to my posts concerning hydraulic fracturing--fracking (and besides his obvious agitation)--is his glaring omission of either credentials or employer. He says he's a geologist. Well and good. He also claims he works in higher education--but again, does not say at what institution or in what capacity. Perhaps he's the "leadership trainer" at Universal Well Services who earned a B.S. in geology from Juniata College in 1982. I don't know. If he is, however, a B.S. alone does not qualify Mr. Caldarelli to refer to himself as a geologist, and if he is this "Tony Caldarelli" we must weigh what he says carefully since he has an obvious interest in the continuation of fracking--it's paying his "leadership trainer" salary. I, on the other hand, have absolutely no vested monetary interest in the argument that we should--indeed MUST--ban fracking--although, as I readily acknowledge, I have a moral, political, and philosophical investment in the end of this environmentally devastating form of profiteering.

2. In point of fact, the articles I site from Pro Publica (, Vanity Fair (, The New York Times (, and a number of other news sources are widely acknowledged to be among the most well-researched and objective thus far on this issue. It is the EPA, the industry funded Penn State report, and the United States State Department that are the subject of extensive criticism with respect to pro-industry bias.

But should Mr. Caldarelli still be in need of further confirmation about the dangers of this process, he need only consult Scientific American:, whose reference to Cornell University fracking experts, professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea make quite clear that the fracking process itself may be MORE polluting even than coal production--particularly given the chemical used and the fracking's current immunity from regulation under the Clean Drinking Water Act; in other words, massively polluting. From yet another Scientific American article: "A widely distributed study out of Cornell University suggested gas could be just as dirty as coal when the energy-intensive process of extraction is included. When burned, gas produces about half of the carbon emissions of coal. Still, the process of drilling for oil and gas releases into the atmosphere methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas" ( While the industry insists that technology exists to control greenhouse gas emissions, such claims should warrant little but incredulousness from any thinking person given the horrendous record BIG GAS and BIG OIL to date. What is quite clear on the evidence is that fracking "will exacerbate the effects of global warming" ( According to the Cornell Study: "We looked at the greenhouse gas in comparison to conventional natural gas,” Howarth said. “Our research showed that carbon dioxide is only part of the problem, and natural gas, which is mostly methane, is far more potent. Even small leakages have a large footprint, leading to our conclusion that natural gas actually has a bigger impact on global warming" (

3. Mr. Caldarelli misrepresents both Bloomsburg and Northcentral Pennsylvania with respect to fracking. He is correct that DRILLING has been with us for some time--notably to significant negative environmental effect--but the process properly called fracking is a relative newcomer to the region as a drilling METHOD. Why Mr. Caldarelli should want to misrepresent these facts, I have no idea--other than that he hopes to perpetuate the myth that no serious environmental consequences will come from fracking, a claim clearly and demonstrably false.

4. The notion that the only issue with respect to the safety and consequences of fracking has to do with the geology of drilling as also false. Even IF this drilling process could be made safe (and it cannot), this point has no bearing on the massive collateral damage wrought on roads, bridges, and communities as the direct result of fracking. Damage for which there is demonstrably little compensation and plainly no adequate restoration. To take a case in point, consider Dimmock, Pennsylvania where residents whose aquifer was destroyed by fracking have now been denied future access to water buffaloes thanks to a governor--Tom Corbett--who, in the pockets of the natural gas industry, has released Cabot from this responsibility and, to add insult to injury, will likely allow the corporation to continue fracking in Dimmock. This example, moreover, puts the lie to Mr. Caldarelli's "geologically informed" claims and only hints at one variety of collateral damage--the COMMUNITY of Dimmock, a town whose property values have tanked, whose residents are moving out if they can, and whose property tax base to support its public schools will surely suffer.

5. Mr. Caldarelli also ignores another source of serious danger to environment and health, namely, the construction and potential accident hazard posed by transmission lines and compressor stations. Consider, for example, the pipeline explosion and fire in San Bruno, California, September of 2010, or the fact that children living near compressor stations have been shown to be highly susceptible to nosebleed--traceable to the emission of formaldehyde, an established carcinogenic byproduct of combustion engines ( In addition to the potential hazard posed by toxic leakages anywhere along these pipelines--some thousands of miles long--is that of noise pollution from compressor stations and trucking traffic, and the arguably unconstitutional use of eminent domain laws to infringe on private property rights (for example:

I could, of course, go on to detail the many and serious forms of collateral damage that will be the byproduct of fracking unless it is banned--not regulated--BANNED. I could talk about the plainly false claim that fracking will brings jobs to Pennsylvania--when not only is it true that as much as 70% of these jobs are filled by imports, but so many in fact that there were few if any apartments or motel rooms available for Hurricane Lee flood victims.

I could point out that since fracking has come to Pennsylvania, unempolyment has increased: "[t]he state's unemployment rate rose for a forth straight month in September while payrolls shrank...the state jobless rate increased to 8.3% in August" (Press Enterprise, 10.21.11). I could point out that all the while unemployment is rising, BIG GAS CEOs like Chesapeake's Aubry McClendon are raking it in to the tune of 112.5 million dollars.

But the long and short of it is the same: fracking is so potentially calamitous to environment and health that no number of jobs can possibly make up for it--plus the jobs claim is just a lie to protect Mr. McClendon's big bucks.

As for the rousing lecture on Jean Paul Sartre's "existence precedes essence," you bet. Mr. Caldarelli, I can certainly deliver it. I'll be teaching Phenomenology and Existentialism next term. Please consider signing up. But be advised. My name is not "Ms. Lee." It is "Professor Lee" or "Dr. Lee," and it is VERY telling that you opt not to accord me the recognition of earned title. I do not pretend to be a geologist--but I DO know a good deal about fracking and its collateral consequences. You, on the other hand may (or may not) be a geologist, but what you're clearly not is interested in objective fact and reasoned argument.

Wendy Lynne Lee

Monday, October 3, 2011

Of Flooding and Fracking

To the editor,

Every time I drive or walk down West Main, or out to Espy, or to Town Park, I am struck first by the staggering damage flooding and endless rain can cause, and second by the resilience, tenacity, and generosity of Bloomsburg’s people, especially in a crisis, who have volunteered their time, energy, and dollars to help folks they don’t even know.

I know why I love my town:

the sheer contrast of one lightless, rain-soaked, morning drive to the elementary school shelter compared to so many I’ve taken down a Main Street glowing with life is indelibly stamped onto my memory, onto my very understanding of what it means to live in this beautiful region as a resident of its “only town.”

As we quickly learned, the crisis of these past weeks only began with the 32.7 ft. rise of the Susquehanna, the flooding of Fishing Creek, etc. The real crisis is what follows, some of it stunningly visible—like houses washed off their foundations and cavernous gullies cut through paved streets—some of it’s quite invisible, at least at first.

This latter comes in the form of health hazards like mold, like exposure to toxins and other forms of industrial waste polluting the Susquehanna and its tributaries. Dawning rubber gloves, FEMA footwear, and masks became de rigueur for anyone mucking basements, tearing down saturated drywall, or getting the toxic-sludged remains of folks photo albums and Christmas ornaments to the curb—a job as heart-breaking as it is dangerous.

And dangerous it is.

The American Rivers Organization, a non-partisan advocate for our waterways, reports the Susquehanna is the most endangered river in the country. In addition to the massive industrial, medical, and household waste already demonstrably present in the shiny sludge with which we’re familiar, waste fluids from hydraulic fracturing—fracking—threaten further contamination:

• “…limited facilities for treating the highly toxic wastewater that results from the extraction process and few government regulations to prevent it from seeping into rivers like the Susquehanna, which provides drinking water for more than six million people.”

• “In the Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania alone, drilling companies were issued approximately 3,300 gas-well permits in 2009 compared with 117 in 2007.”

• “…ground water pollution in Susquehanna County resulting in loss of a community's drinking water, a blowout in Bradford County that went uncontrolled, allowing toxic fracking chemicals to flow into the Susquehanna...”

• “A natural gas well blew out during fracking operations, sending thousands of gallons of toxic fluid — containing hazardous chemicals, some potentially cancer-causing — over fields and into Towanda Creek, which feeds the Susquehanna River and supplies water for millions of people in the area.”

What will the next flood be like?

The one that happens once fracking is in full-swing as I’ve detailed in my previous three letters? Can we really afford to be scraping THAT sludge off our salvageables? Are we willing to brook THAT for the few jobs that will come of the gas boom?

What adds insult to injury—what makes it personal—is that an industry poised to make billions from something that offers us little but cancer, destroyed property values, obliterated roads and bridges, and community division—brags on its propaganda website—The Marcellus Shale Coalition—about corporate donations to communities affected by Hurricane Lee. A million dollars total from eleven corporations compared to Chesapeake’s chief executive officer Aubry McClendon’s $112.5 million take-home pay last year—the biggest CEO package in the U.S.—should leave us nothing but cold.

If we don’t muster our collective voices and demand fracking be BANNED, we’ll won’t just be cold. We’ll be fools.

Wendy Lynne Lee

600 words

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why Hydraulic Fracturing Must be Banned in Pennsylvania

To the editor,

In June, I detailed the
• pollution for rivers, streams, ground water, well water, and air produced by hydraulic fracturing,
• fact that fracking involves draining millions of gallons from Pennsylvania water ways—meaning less clean water to drink and greater concentration of carcinogens in what remains,
• 13-known carcinogens utilized in producing the “earthquakes” necessary to release the gas from the shale,
• fact that an unknown number of additional chemicals used are protected as proprietary rights—and hence unknown to the affected public,
• fact that fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act,
fact the Williams Production Appalachia is lying about their drilling plans for Columbia County,
• WPA’s alarming record of environmental and safety violations—6 on the list of the top 26 violators in PA,
• fact that WPA controls 55,000 acres in PA, 10,000 in Columbia County and more in state parks and game lands in Bradford and Lycoming Counties,
• traffic, vehicular hazard, noise, road and bridge destruction that will accompany WPA’s mammoth presence in townships like Benton,
• fact that not one fracking dollar of either the product or the profits is destined for Pennsylvania.

Fracking in Pennsylvania is a disaster-in-the-making. Yet only fifteen residents of Benton Township appeared to protest WPA’s proposal for a water withdrawal station near Rt. 487. The zoning board gave approval with nary an outcry. Some local’s biggest worry is they might be milking less than their neighbors from the fracking cash cow. They whine about being taken by “landmen” for low-ball deals, and feign surprise at corporate greed—all the while corporations like WPA cheerily park machinery on their property, letting it sit there like conversation pieces. Will Benton Township supervisors feign the same fake-shock over destroyed roads and bridges? Decimated resources? Plummeting property values? Contaminated wells?

Fracking must be BANNED. There’s no way to adequately control its pollutant waste: “When a well is fracked, a small earthquake is produced …The gas trapped inside is released and makes its way to the surface along with about half of the “fracking fluid,” plus dirt and rock that are occasionally radioactive...Volatile organic compounds…and other dangerous chemicals are burned off directly into the air during this on-site compression process…the returned fracking fluid… is either trucked off or stored in large, open-air, tarp-lined pits on site, where it is allowed to evaporate. The other portion of the fluid remains deep underground—no one really knows what happens to it” ( In other words, the massive pollution of both air and water—some of it radioactive, some of it unaccounted for—is the single GUARANTEED product of fracking.

Why didn’t we demand a ban long before the Dimmock disaster? Ignorance, jobs, and the bizarre idea promoted by local corporatists like Tom Anderson who insist environmental regulation is some leftist plot. Perhaps they think WPA can be successfully sued. Absurd. Corporations left to regulate themselves and to control that information are virtually un-sue-able. Indeed “wastewater treatment plants…often don’t know the exact makeup of the water they’re treating, nor do they have the capacity to remove all contaminants.” Try to prove your ignite-able tap water’s WPA’s fault. “When you live next to a gas drilling operation… you don't have any control of your own property,” says a Taylor County man who can no longer graze his horses on his OWN land. Jobs ARE important. So important we’re apparently willing to sell out our kids, state lands, properties, and our health for them. Is the pay going to be enough to make up for the massive losses? Not a chance.

Wendy Lynne Lee

597 words

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Williams Production Appalachia comes to Columbia County: An Environmental Disaster, and not just for Surgarloaf Township

To the editor,

The PE headline, ‘Fracking comes to area” hardly captures what’s coming to Columbia County now that Williams Production Appalachia (WPA) has struck gas “gold.” Let’s not speculate about the pollution threatening our wells, streams, and the Susquehanna River, the millions of gallons of water required for fracturing which will drain our rivers and creeks, further concentrating its carcinogens, the destruction of our roads, the 24/7 noise, congestion, and safety hazards produced by drilling operations and truck traffic, or that neither the gas nor the profits are destined for Pennsylvania. Let’s examine the facts:

1. The Citizen’s Voice reports that WPA is “poised to become a major player.” In fact, WPA’s spokesperson Helen Humphreys is lying to Sugarloaf Township residents. She claims WPA is “still ‘trying to determine how much gas might be in the rock formation.’” False: “State Department of Environmental Protection records show Williams has recently been issued two gas well permits for Benton and one for Sugarloaf Township in Columbia County… ‘Our plan is to develop those properties, that is, drill on those properties," Williams spokesman Jeff Pounds said…’” WPA leased 45,000 acres, mostly in Pennsylvania, paying $501 million, and added 10,00 acres in Columbia County—paying only $2,800 an acre. WPA effectively owns the PA State Game Commission who, economically strapped, continues to lease more land to the corporation in Bradford and Lycoming County. WPA owns the Gulfstream, Northwest, and Transco Pipelines—none of which deliver to Pennsylvania, and two of which deliver out of the country—raising the price of natural gas in Pennsylvania.

2. The Buffalo News reports that since 2008, “Marcellus Shale drillers in Pennsylvania amass[ed] 1614 violations,” “1056 identified as most likely to harm the environment.” WPA ranks at #11 of the 26 top violators: 32 violations/seven wells. A comparatively small operation compared to Chesapeake Appalachia (149 violations/190 wells) or Cabot Oil and Gas (93 violations/73 wells), yet 32/7 makes WPA not only a major player, but a major environmental violator. WPA’s average violation per well is 4.6, #6 of 26—well behind Cabot. Chesapeake doesn’t even make the top 26. Moreover, WPA is listed among the 55% of all gas corporations in Pennsylvania failing to meet production-reporting deadlines in 2010. Specific violations include: “Site conditions present a potential for pollution to waters of the Commonwealth,” “Pit and tanks not constructed with sufficient capacity to contain pollutional substances,” “Failure to properly store, transport, process or dispose of a residual waste,” “Failure to notify DEP of pollution incident,” and that’s just Franklin Township.

3. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempts BIG GAS from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. “[S]hale gas drillers don’t have to disclose what chemicals they use.” Nonetheless, “fracking has already been linked to drinking water contamination and property damage in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.” Of the 29 common fracking chemicals 13 are known carcinogens, 8 are regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and 24 are hazardous air pollutants. Examples: methanol, formaldehyde, naphthalene, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene xylene, lead, hydrogen chloride, ethylene glycol, 2-butoxyethanol, and diesel which, according to the EPA “poses the greatest threat to underground sources of drinking water.”

Sugarloaf Township could become the next Dimmock whose aquifer is so polluted that “one woman's water well spontaneously combusted, and horses and pets mysteriously began to lose their hair,” not to mention the obliterated property values of folks who’d like to sell their homes and move. Trouble is, some residents have already sold out. Bigger trouble is that we’re all going to pay for the environmental tsunami that’s coming if we don’t stand up NOW.

Wendy Lynne Lee

598 words

Monday, June 13, 2011

Another couple of observations about my experience in China, Or: Notes on change

The minute I spent in Yibin, China hardly counts as sufficient ground upon which to make any of the following observations. Such shan't prevent me from making them anyways, but I intend them merely as modest notes on what seems to me a slow revolution's worth of social and political change.

First, I could not but be smitten by the generosity and graciousness of my hosts. I get it that I was there as a guest, and not a tourist, but even at that the provision of an assistant/translator all my own was, well, Wow! What I came to realize too, however, was that this graciousness served a purpose well beyond guest satisfaction. It offered a strategy for shaping the narrative, for controlling the story told by the guest. Indeed, THAT I am telling a story shaped by the experience I had of that university, that city, its people, and THAT that story is itself shaped by the narrative infrastructure crafted for my experience by my hosts IS the story--in three acts: (1) my experience, (2) my reflections on HOW that experience came to be, came to have the particular content it does have, contained by the borders imposed on it, and (3) my recognition that my own experience--my comport at Yibin--itself forms part of the narrative my hosts wish to project about themselves, their university, their city, and their people.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that there's anything nefarious or "dark" about the ways in which my possible experiences were contained--even manipulated. What I am suggesting is that this effort--campaign even--to produce such a positive narrative (to plant such a meme) reflects a perhaps slow-developing, but profound, change in the ways in which one people, in this case the Chinese, see themselves in the globalized world. No longer insular, sealed off, the Other, such excellent public relations suggests a reaching out. The guest heads home with stories about the wonderful time they had. And I did--I had a wonderful time. I want to return to Yibin. And I want to return KNOWING that to some extent my very experience is permeated with precisely what they want me to see and hear, taste and feel. Why? Because as I know and my excellent hosts know as well, I'm manipulable--but not robotic. I'll experience, but I'll then think and reflect. I'll chew it all over, and then I'll tell THIS story.

There's great irony here too: In the very effort to appear more global, more cosmopolitan, more Western--indeed, in order to accomplish this very objective--the experience of the Western guest must be contained, directed, and thereby limited to a specific trajectory that tells the story, and only the story, this particular configuration of Chinese academics wants told. But of course, far more than this story is told; for example, the one I am telling right now. Are such "containment" objectives nefarious? No, certainly not. Orchestrated to a specific advertising? Sure. And perhaps not really different from what "we" do. Or rather: There's much more to be said about how impressions/experiences/attitudes are shaped and imbued for the foreign guest, but whatever more this is, it's not just about being or not being in a "free" country. No, it's about a lot more.

Second, "containing" might be one way to describe the function of my assistant/translator. I didn't go out without him, and was subtly discouraged from doing so. But "containment" isn't at all adequate; it deflates the very human quality of my young friend Shu's comport towards me. In short, he liked me, and I liked him too. I found him charming, helpful--and a kid. That is, a young man--a kid--like any young men I've known over my many years as a teacher. A young man with aspirations, worries, fears, and desires for a meaningful future. And this observation, methinks, is as important to the future of China as could be any. This too isn't just about being or not being in a "free" country; it's not just about what it means to live or not live in a democracy. There is a "more" here as ineluctable and murky as is the United States relationship with China. What I do know is that there IS such a relationship, that it IS changing, that our old stereotypes about, as the inimitable Rush Limbaugh puts it, the "Chi-Coms" are more absurd now than ever; we remain stuck in this stereotype at our own political peril.

The moral of this story: Stepping off a plane radically changes your world.

Impressions from China. Or: Why being open to the beautiful, messy, tortured world matters

There are really two stories here. The first one is the travel log of one very lucky girl who, along with her Canadian and Continental Indian colleagues was treated like a rock star by her Chinese university fellows. This story canvasses the very long travel time, the effort to reach across a daunting language barrier, the busy conference schedule, the incredible generosity of her hosts, and perhaps the food--that she really REALLY tried to like, and struggled with a bit.

And that story's got some great moments in it, some funny scenes, and some pathos.

But it's one that might be told of many places.

The second story is about her impressions of CHINA--those so-hard-to-capture moments, the ones her pictures hint at but can't exhaust, those feelings, sensations, and experiences that, perhaps in the case of this travel experience more than any she has had to date, have changed something in her--have engraved something new on her sense-of-the-world, have infused her feel-of-things with a new color.

One story of a hundred: Thirty-one hours of travel, the sense that I need to wash, happy just to get off the plane, greeted by the smiling face of my excellent friend and colleague Ming Shao (who has nearly single-handedly made it possible for me to travel to Yibin at all), and being "gifted" with a personal assistant and translator--my new young friends Joanna and Shu--almost overwhelming. I kept trying to SEE everything I could take in on the way to the hotel--warm day, city smog, walls with flowers growing over them, license plates, Chevys, a distinctive smell (not food, not grease, not car-exhaust, not flowers--all of these), high rise apartment buildings, billboards with Chinese characters and Pepsi, Rickshaws, activity much color among things; so flat and grey the smoggy backdrop. Two hours to prepare for my first "lecture," now in scare quotes. What good will a lecture be--no matter how interesting the subject matter (how environmental deterioration disproportionately affects women and children in the developing world, and why we should care about this)--if I cannot reach my audience? A blown up color glossy full-sized poster announcing my visit greeted my in the courtyard just outside the lecture hall--confirming my responsibility to Reach My Audience. Chuck any prospect of reading. Think in terms of accessible language. Get out from behind the damnable lectern. Get off the stage. Walk. Talk. Go. Laugh. Gesticulate. Wave. Demand. Ask questions. REACH THEM. My audience was composed mostly of English language education students--200 of them. Attentive, interested, expectant. THIS was an opportunity like I might never have again. REACH THEM. THIS MATTERS. REACH THEM. REACH THEM. REACH THEM.

I don't know that I have ever "worked a room" harder in my life. I don't know that I have ever loved teaching more. Struggling to understand--to UNDERSTAND--not just words, but sensibilities, sentiments, cadences, fears. How do I capture this? We spoke to each other--across culture, age, ethnicity, class, language, sex, and education. Spoke. To. each other. They were as (or more) interested in the curiously tattooed middle aged white woman as in anything she had to say. Thing is, the curiously tattooed middle aged white women IS what she has to say. This IS the meaning of a philosophical life: trying to BE what one says. My tattooing disrupts stereotypes of my class, age, sex, and education. My refusal to be contained to a lectern disrupts what a "professor" is supposed to look like/be like. My "husbandlessness"--though I suspect scandalous by Chinese standards--was a magnate to many of the young women in this room. How odd, I kept thinking, I must seem to them. And not odd at all--human. From another place. An example of one human life. A moment of listening and reaching and holding-on to a present irreplaceable by any other. I am holding onto it right now.

However bedraggled and just wiped out (WIPED OUT) I might have been by the end of this night, this moment with these students in this place mattered. This was not a learning that could be tested, charted, "outcome-assessed" or any of the other now fashionable manifest bullshit that passes for education. No. No. No. This WAS education. THIS was unforgettable.

This was the beginning of my week in Yibin.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Letter to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett on PASSHE budget cuts


Governor Tom Corbett:

After having carefully read and digested your proposal for the Pennsylvania budget of 2011, after having considered the relevant facts concerning the Commonwealth’s fiscal health, the relationship of the state to its constitutional responsibilities, and particularly your proposal for cutting by 54 percent the state appropriation for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s (PASSHE), we, the undersigned, can only conclude that your motives have little to do with the current recession—and everything to do with an ideologically motivated agenda that aims to privatize and corporatize institutions traditionally identified as public goods. It’s evident, moreover, that part of that agenda is to undermine Pennsylvania’s public unions by starving the institutions that employ union members. We are forced to conclude this for a number of reasons:

1. Failing to tax natural gas extraction: You claim the state is on the brink of fiscal disaster and must fill a $4 billion dollar budget shortfall, but yet you refuse to impose a severance tax (or any tax) on Marcellus Shale Drilling. You claim that the drilling companies will go elsewhere were such a tax imposed. False. Ninety-six percent of states that drill for natural gas impose a severance tax—including the largest gas drilling state, Texas. No evidence supports the claim that companies drilling in those states are threatening to leave. What discourages gas drilling, according to a respected University of Wyoming study, isn’t taxation but rather the market price of natural gas. Moreover, the Marcellus drilling fields are limited—drilling is only possible where it is possible—and this suggests that companies like Cabot and Penneco aren’t going anywhere. Indeed, their profit margins promise nothing but substantial future gains, and at a 5 percent tax (akin to West Virginia’s), a projected minimum of 200 million a year could be raised to fund essential social services and education in what some are now calling the Saudi Arabia of natural gas extraction. You claim that drilling will bring wealth and jobs to Pennsylvania, but this too is false on the evidence. In fact, profits from natural gas extraction exit the state at about the same speed at which the environment is destroyed. Even worse, as Pro Publica reports, “the state's oil and gas inspectors have been stripped of their power to issue violations to the drilling companies they regulate,” increasing profits for the drilling companies at the cost of Pennsylvania’s environment and its citizens who will no doubt shoulder the burden of restoration after the drillers have left—including the restoration of 74,000 acres of state forest land. You insist that “we need to send a powerful message to the Pennsylvania Business Community that Pennsylvania is open for business.” Indeed you have—at the cost of every citizen of the Commonwealth who works, goes to school, attends a state university, drinks Pennsylvania water, utilizes Pennsylvania social services, or has any sense for the fairness and equity embodied in the Pennsylvania Constitution.

2. Ideological motivation: Given the compelling argument for taxing natural gas extraction, we can only surmise that your opposition to it is either ideological or self-serving—or both. Fact: You received more than $800,000 in donations from drilling corporations for your gubernatorial campaign. Fact: in delegating some of the state’s most critical environmental decisions over to Alan C. Walker (appointed to head the Department of Community and Economic Development), CEO of Bradford Energy and Bradford Coal—a corporation who donated $184,000 to your campaign—you have effectively put a fox in charge of the henhouse: "Walker’s ties to the energy industry are deep. He is listed on state disclosure forms as an executive of the Pennsylvania Coal Association and he has served as chairman of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry...[L]ike many energy companies, his, too, have run into problems with the state. In 2002, three of Walker’s coal companies notified Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection that they had run out of money and were going to stop treating the 173 million gallons of polluted water they produced each year and released into tributaries of the Susquehanna River. The state eventually got a court injunction to force them to continue treating the wastewater as required by state and federal law" ( Why, Governor Corbett, should we believe that your investment in natural gas extraction has to do with anything other than an ideology that seeks to maximize private profit of a public good—all the while padding the pockets of your political and business allies? Why shouldn’t we think you endorse a new suggested slogan for Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania, Inc., only dirtier, dumber, and poorer than Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio.

3. An end to publicly funded state universities: This brings us directly to your proposal to lacerate the funding of PASSHE. In addition to your refusal to tax gas extraction—and in the same week you drastically reduced funding for health services for the poorest of Pennsylvania citizens—you offered $833 million in tax breaks to corporations who do business in a state which already taxes fewer than 30 percent of corporate enterprises: “Governor Corbett announced that Pennsylvania’s corporate tax will allow corporations to follow federal accelerated bonus depreciation rules adopted as part of the tax cut compromise in December. The rules allow companies to write off or “expense” 100% of equipment purchases made in the last quarter of 2010 and all of Tax Year 2011…Bonus depreciation goes to investment in other states not just Pennsylvania. Companies do not have to purchase equipment in the state to take advantage of the provision. Thus the bonus may lead to no new investment in the state” (Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center). In other words, we have no reason to believe that such a give-away will benefit Pennsylvanians. Nonetheless, to afford this generous gift to your corporate allies, you propose to devastate education—leaving local school districts and their taxpayers to foot the tsunami-sized bill coming their way, undermining education at the K-12 level, and insuring that students are under-prepared for college. To add insult to injury, you also propose to cut state funding to the very colleges and universities that middle working class families have depended on for generations to educate their children, the PASSHE. 90 percent of PASSHE students are from Pennsylvania. Hence, the perversity of your reasoning on this matter can hardly be overdrawn: You insist that PASSHE universities have failed to “live within their means,” and that the evidence of this is found in rising tuitions—but you fail to acknowledge that state funding for PASSHE has already been cut to less than one third of total funding. It is, moreover, flatly false to claim that PASSHE has failed to “live with its means.” In fact, three PASSHE universities, West Chester, Millersville, and Bloomsburg made Kiplinger’s prestigious list of the 100 best state universities in the United States. Their criteria: “the best education at the best price” ( Facts: “In FY 2010-2011, PASSHE will receive nearly $8.3 million less in state funds than it did in FY 2001-2002.Tuition increases have been below the rate of inflation in four of the last six years…Controlled for inflation, the System will operate with 13% fewer dollars from all sources per student in FY 2010-11 than it did in FY 1999-2000. Despite fiscal challenges, PASSHE continues to offer the lowest-cost baccalaureate degree programs in the state. However, the combination of flat state funding and low tuition increases has created historic shortfalls for the universities, which, if continued, could translate into viability issues” ( Add another 54% cut in funding, and here’s what “viability issues” means in plain English:

• A 25-33% rise in tuition that will exclude many deserving Pennsylvania citizens from being able to access higher education.

• The laying-off of faculty, particularly adjunct faculty, and the resultant loss of courses and opportunities for students.

• The inability to attract high quality faculty to the state, and the resultant loss of the quality instruction PASSHE can clearly demonstrate it provides. Indeed, at least four PASSHE graduates are appointees in Governor Corbett’s government.

• The expansion of class size, and the resultant loss of high quality instruction made possible by smaller classes and access to professors.

• Brain drain from the Commonwealth as students seek educational opportunities elsewhere in the pursuit not only of their dreams, but their economic wherewithal.

• Campus closures and the resultant loss of access to students to higher education in their communities.

There simply is no argument to be made for cutting funding for university education in Pennsylvania. Indeed, there is every argument for funding education at a much higher level, especially if you mean what you say, namely, that you want to see a citizenry fully equipped to participate in the global economy. The consequences for our citizens, especially our middle class working families will be crushing—and you cannot fail to know this. Hence, again, we are compelled to wonder what are your motives; they cannot be preparing Pennsylvanians to live and thrive in a globalized world; they cannot be to encourage what is fundamental to a thriving culture—the humanities, arts, and music; they cannot be what the Pennsylvania Constitution explicitly specifies is the responsibility of the state—the education of its citizens and the provision of their basic welfare.

4. The destruction of public sector unions: This brings us to our final argument, namely, that much like your apparent aims in effectively selling off Pennsylvania’s environment and resources to natural gas interests, your aim in undermining PASSHE funding is to see the end of the state university in Pennsylvania, to see, in other words, a fully privatized, for-profit, university system. But the only way to accomplish this—much like what are perhaps your models in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin—is to destroy the one real obstacle that stands in your way—the public sector unions. Unlike Governor Scott Walker who committed a political blunder in seeking to destroy collective bargaining rights for state workers in Wisconsin through legislation, you have in fact executed a far more insidious strategy of starving public sector unions like APSCUF (The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties) by starving their institutions of funding. One way, in other words, to force the state universities to either privatize or close is to cut the funding that supports their central missions—a mission instantiated by their faculties who, through the power of collective bargaining, are the bedrock of the excellent education offered by the PASSHE. As you surely must know what such devastating cuts this will mean is that the dream of higher education for thousands of Pennsylvanians will come to a grinding halt next year. We can only gather that you regard this as an acceptable casualty in the drive to corporatize higher education in the state.

To sum up, this agenda is unconscionable, and it is premised on the erroneous view that the budget deficit is the product of funding for public services and goods. It is not. Rather, it’s the result of licentious gratuities to corporate entities—some from whom you directly benefit. 41% of your own Republican Party members have recently assessed your performance as “poor.” The rallies on the steps of the state house should make clear to you where the vast majority of PASSHE students stand, particularly the Lock Haven students who ran one hundred miles to get your attention. A Franklin and Marshall College poll demonstrates that two thirds of Pennsylvanians oppose the budget cuts. In fact, these same Pennsylvanians who generally oppose tax hikes made clear they support taxing Marcellus Shale drilling in the interest of funding education ( Given all of the facts, Governor Corbett, what could justify what amounts to the re-invention of the Commonwealth as Pennsylvania, Inc. other than that this is precisely your goal? The problem, of course, is that he Constitution of Pennsylvania is a charter for a state—not a business plan for a corporation.

We hope you will reconsider this ill-fated ideological agenda for the sake of your state and its citizens.

Wendy Lynne Lee, Professor
Department of Philosophy
Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania
Bloomsburg, PA 17815

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Governor Corbett's Plan to Convert Pennsylvania into PA, Inc.

It might not appear at first that these two issues are related: Corbett's education-decimating budget and gas drilling. But they are. Joined at the hip, in fact. As the article below makes clear, Corbett's first priority is not education, is not the state's welfare, is not Pennsylvania--but is in fact padding his own political war chest with dollars from virtually unregulated drilling in a fashion that smells distinctly of Michigan's own recent legislation to use "state of emergency" powers to transfer public utilities to private profit-driven corporations ( Consider:

"Pennsylvania has come under fire lately as pollution from drilling in the Marcellus Shale threatens water resources across the state. But instead of ratcheting up oversight, Gov. Tom Corbett wants to hand authority over some of the state’s most critical environmental decisions to C. Alan Walker, a Pennsylvania energy executive with his own track record of running up against the state’s environmental regulations." Michigan. But even worse: as Corbett starves Pennsylvanians access to education, he also weakens the economic power of the educated citizen to resist what can only be called an ideologically driven power grab:

"Walker, who has contributed $184,000 to Corbett’s campaign efforts since 2004, is CEO and owner of Bradford Energy Company and Bradford Coal, which was once among Pennsylvania’s largest coal mining companies. He also owns or has an interest in 12 other companies, including a trucking business and a central Pennsylvania oil and gas company. Walker was Corbett’s first appointee—he chose him to lead the Department of Community and Economic Development in December, before taking office. Now, as Corbett stakes much of the state’s economy on Marcellus Shale gas drilling, a paragraph tucked into the 1,184-page budget gives Walker unprecedented authority to “expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.” That includes, presumably, coal, oil, gas and trucking."

It's all in the "budget": Huge profits for gas companies--many of whom will wisk their profits right out of the Commonwealth--and a devastated environment for Pennsylvania citizens to clean up--all the while we're trying to figure out how to pay our mortgages and educate our kids.

And it's all about as democratic as Scott Walkers obliteration of collective bargaining in Wisconsin: "It’s not clear how Corbett can delegate such sweeping authority to the economic development office, which would be reorganized to focus on coordinating with corporate interests and creating job growth. It also isn’t clear how the state would address the legal conflicts that could arise if, for example, [C. Alan] Walker pushed for approval of a permit that conflicted with the Clean Water Act or other federal laws."

But here's Corbett's statement: "The budget introduced today represents a completely new way of doing business for DCED and its economic development partners,” the statement said. “In a tough economic climate, we need to send a powerful message to the Pennsylvania Business Community that Pennsylvania is open for business."

You bet. First it's our environment. When will it be our schools? Universities? Colleges?

The aims are abundantly clear. Corbett's goals are a carbon copy of Scott Walkers: Sell off Pennsylvania to corporate interests--especially those through whom he stands to gain the most. Too bad Ian Murphy of the Buffalo Beast might not get away with a second round of pretending to be the Koch Brothers. But perhaps we don't need him--Corbett's aims are as clear as the contributions made to his campaign by C. Alan Walker:

"Walker’s ties to the energy industry are deep. He is listed on state disclosure forms as an executive of the Pennsylvania Coal Association and he has served as chairman of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. He also has firsthand experience with the state’s environmental regulations, because his companies would likely have applied for permits similar to those the oil and gas industry is now pursuing in the Marcellus. And like many energy companies, his, too, have run into problems with the state. In 2002, three of Walker’s coal companies notified Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection that they had run out of money and were going to stop treating the 173 million gallons of polluted water they produced each year and released into tributaries of the Susquehanna River. The state eventually got a court injunction to force them to continue treating the wastewater as required by state and federal law."

Beautiful, yes? And so transparent: "The Governor’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the policy shift, the role of the economic development office, or funding for the DEP. Spokespeople for both the DEP and the state Attorney General’s office also declined to comment, saying that only the Governor’s office could speak to the issue" (

A new state slogan: Pennsylvania, Inc.--Just like Wisconsin and Michigan--only Dirtier, Dumber, and Poorer. But who cares? Gas Executives don't have to Live Here!

Wendy Lynne Lee, Professor
Department of Philosophy
Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania
Bloomsburg, PA, USA 17815

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Dear fellow colleagues, administration, and especially students,

Though we cannot abandon hope that our local representatives--John Gordner and David Millard--will work to resist a PA-budget that can only be described as grossly irresponsible, we cannot trust them either. Here's what Millard said to reporters right after Corbett announced his budget proposal: "Obviously, if you're going to shift money...there's going to be losers" (Press Enterprise, 3.9.11).

"Shift"? That's code for more tax payer dollars going to prisons and to the subsidizing of the natural gas industry in a state that graces 70% of its corporates entities with paying NO corporate income taxes.

Corbett's aims, moreover, have as little to do with fiscal responsibility as do Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's, namely, zero. Corbett's aims are ideological; his strategy is simply different. Instead of going after the right to collective bargaining directly--and risking the public outrage this despotic move rightly inspires--Corbett goes after the funding of precisely those institutions whose workforces are unionized. Corbett's aim is simply to accomplish without all the noise the same goal--union-busting. Perhaps it would be better to call Corbett's strategy "union-bleeding," or "union-gutting."

But make no mistake about it--his objectives are precisely the same--his strategy's just more insidious. And his objectives are to effectively sell-off Pennsylvania, its labor force, and its resources to the corporations that support his party: The Tea Party Republicans. There is no point in being polite or "carefully worded" about this fact. This is a fact.

The sentiment that "the university system will survive" is a nice one--but it is no more than that. If what survives is a shell easily converted into a trade school whose primary curricula cannot be but trivially called "education," then it would be better for it not to survive.

I am in no way suggesting that we are at this point--but what I am suggesting is that this is no time for hopeful pleasantries with our elected representatives. This is a time where we must FIGHT:

FIGHT for our student's right to a real education.

Fight for the right to collectively bargain for a decent wage and decent working conditions.

FIGHT for a university system worthy of that title.

For if we don't, we will have earned precisely what we deserve: a gutted PASSHE that makes a mockery of the phrase "PUBLIC higher education."

Let us take up this fight together.

Wendy Lynne Lee

Wendy Lynne Lee, Professor
Department of Philosophy
Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania
Bloomsburg, PA, USA 17815

Monday, February 21, 2011

Union-Busting: What's Really Going On in Wisconsin

Unsurprising: Scott Walker, the Tea Partying, Koch brother-bank-rolled, Big Oil loving governor of Wisconsin lies about his intentions to crush unions, in order to starve the ONLY real money the Democratic Party has to compete (thanks to the failure of the Supreme Court in Citizen’s United) with the corporations underwriting his party—and his aspirations. Surprising: that he thought he could get away with his false “Wisconsin’s broke” claim.

As the protests at the State House in Madison make clear, fear-mongering union members isn’t easy.


Unions—public and private sector—make possible a middle class; without them there’d be no minimum wage, child labor laws, work-place safety laws, access to health insurance, or protection from discrimination and unjust firing.

Why do union members often vote Democrat? Because Democrats stand for the working class.

Why do union members (like the police and firefighters Walker sought to exempt as a strategy to divide the unions) stand together even when they don’t vote Democrat? Because whatever their other political beliefs, they know that fairness in conditions, wages, and benefits is the American way.

Bizarre, then, that the foot-soldiers of the Tea Party would counter protest, especially since Walker’s bill harms them: “the tax breaks and other goodies that Walker and the Republican legislature passed…dramatically increased the deficit” (

Walker’s Republicans are more interested in advantaging their wealthy patrons than in acting in the best interest of Wisconsin.

Ending the right to collective bargaining won’t close this gap.

What it will do is empower corporations to control wages and conditions, thereby widening the wealth-gap, further entrenching America Inc’s stranglehold on labor.

Walker’s bill would insure that “[the union’s] ability to bargain benefits for their members is reduced…their ability to collect dues, and thus spend money organizing members or lobbying the legislature, is undercut…workers have to vote the union back into existence every single year” (

Walker is Big-Corporation’s union-busting dream come true: “The Koch's PAC…helped Walker via a familiar…political maneuver designed to allow donors to skirt campaign finance limits. [They] gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn spent $65,000 on independent expenditures to support Walker” (

Who drove busloads of Tea Partiers to Madison? Koch.

How can folks be so suckered as to agitate against their own best interests and for those of corporatists who’d curtail their access to the American dream?

Plain old titillation.

As I write this, the insane Glenn Beck is busy on his chalkboards laying out a paranoid vision of an America given over by the unions to “radicals” and “Islamacists” who “bear the mark of the beast,” and whose leader, Barack HUSSAIN Obama, is preparing to deliver America to the infidel. It doesn’t matter that not a shred of evidence supports his beyond-nuts claims.

The Tea Partiers are turned on by the spectacle of the violent world FOX lavishes on them.

It’s either this, or they’re stupid.

Walker’s claims about budget shortfalls have been debunked, his real aims exposed.

Tea Party anti-union slogan: “I stand with Walker because I care about making sure the Koch brothers and their BFFs are happy. Real happy.”

Or: “Decent wages and working conditions? Hell no!”

Or (Beck): “Who needs collective bargaining when the end times are coming?!”

Can Governor Corbett cash in on Walker’s gambit? Only if Pennsylvanians would rather be suckered by paranoid conspiracy fantasies about how only Tea Party corporatists like Walker can save them from Communist/brown/Muslim/feminazi/environmental whacko union members.

Does anyone really believe this junk? Or do they just get off on the spectacle?

I wonder.

Wendy Lynne Lee (591 words)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Diagnosing the "Crazy": Jared Loughner? Likely. The Political Discourse of the Far Right? Absolutely.

The only thing surprising (not really) about the Tea Party Republican response to the Tucson massacre is how swiftly its spin-masters and ideology-ministers rush to distance themselves and their party from the fact that their constant drumbeat of violent, paranoid, and evidence-free oratory contributes to a political and psychological climate where suggestible people like Loughner are ready to blow. All Loughner needed was a bit of direction—and the far right is there to offer it. To be clear: it doesn’t matter what Loughner believed—“Left” or “Right.” It’s irrelevant whether he knew there was a Tea Party or an American Renaissance, a Gun Owners of America, a Patriot’s Voice, a Glenn Beck, or a Ku Klux Klan—or even (heading back to the 60’s) a Weather Underground.

What matters is that his apparent anger could be channeled into violence, that he could acquire a gun with which to execute his plan, and that both of these are richly available thanks almost entirely to the far right that dominates our current and profoundly degraded political discourse. The very speed with which the TPR-faithful fell in line behind the “he’s just crazy” pitch itself offers evidence they know two things: (1) the vast majority of our current incarnation of vitriolic, hate-mongering, paranoid speech available on the Internet, through talk radio, and on the FOX Propaganda Station is from the Far Right, and (2) that they’ve got to blame someone else—fast—in order to distract us from this fact. It’s thus doubly ironic that pundits like O’Reilly blame the Left for having the audacity to point out the obvious, namely, that there’s blood on the hands of every pundit who has contributed to the ratcheting up, the dumbing down, and the gross manipulation of the American public through fear.

However disturbed, however the Limbaughs, Hannitys, Becks, Palins, Malkins, O’Reillys, Brewers, Rand Pauls, or Editor Sachettis fancy themselves psychiatric experts, Jared Loughner’s targeting of Gabriel Giffords was NOT coincidental, NOT unplanned, and NOT irrational. It is, moreover, morally depraved to call Loughner crazy—AND then insist he’s still responsible and should receive the death sentence.

There’s NO conflict between Loughner’s suffering mental illness and his having, however inchoate, political beliefs; he clearly has beliefs about the government, U.S. currency, guns, immigration—and Representative Giffords. To claim that a diagnosis of mental illness exhausts any need for further explanation of why Loughner chose the location, the target, the date, and the weapon he did is nothing more than an attempt to shut down the possibility of contributory factors—tacit admission that there are just such factors.

TPR hypocrisy: when Nidal Hasan opens fire at Ft. Hood, the far right call it “terrorism”—and dismiss the possibility of mental illness in order to score points against Islamic extremists (despite evidence he was acting alone). When Jared Loughner targets a congresswoman, then opens fire on a crowd of bystanders, the far right call it “crazy” to avoid what connects both tragedies: a political climate so toxic, so saturated by half-truths, outright falsehoods, and calls to insurrection that the only wonder is that this doesn’t happen more often.

The daily ravings of Glen Beck are every bit as incoherent, angry, and fact-free as are Jared Loughner’s. Both, for example, focus bizarre attention on U.S. currency ( The difference? One commits a horrific crime that ends the life of a nine year old; the other “merely” helps to foment a climate of hysteria—and gets paid millions of dollars to do it.

Wendy Lynne Lee (585 words)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Some Observations about the Massacre in Tucson

A few observations about the Tucson massacre:

One of the smartest things I heard from one of Keith Olbermann's guests last night was that it is often enough a false dichotomy to suggest that mental illness cannot coincide with political motives. I do not know whether Loughner is mentally ill--and I am VERY reluctant to attach this term to him unless he really qualifies for it. We are entirely too quick to use this language to describe the character, demeanor, habits of those who do not conform as "nuts."

Having said this, however, even if it turns out that Loughner is rightly--clinically--describable as mentally ill, that in no way means that he is not (a) politically motivated and/or (b) culpable for his actions. The two issues--is he mentally competent? Were his actions politically motivated? must be treated separately--and any answer to one is NOT an answer to the other. Moreover, it seems quite clear that even if he suffers mental impairment, it is NOT like that of, say, Jeff Dahmer.

There is also the very interesting question of what we mean by "politically motivated." This has many possible aspects. The evidence is clearly very murky here so far, but it seems that we can say this much:

1. Little evidence (so far) supports the claim that Loughner was motivated by the obvious hot-button issues like health care or immigration directly. But several of his claims (youtube, etc) Do seem to support the claim that he was profoundly disaffected as a citizen, and some of his language at least indicates that he spent time on radical far right websites (conscious dreaming, for example).

2. That he was not directed to perform this massacre by a group or organization implies (VERY much like the Hasan case) that he cannot rightly be described as a terrorist (note the hypocrisy in our assessments here), but this does not mean , again, that he was not politically motivated. And, like the Hasan case, he may very well be suffering from mental illness AND culpable for his actions.

3. The possibility that there was a second person (shooter? Something else?) strengthens the possibility that there were political motives in that it implies that this was planned more thoroughly--by a cooperation of two people in agreement about some set of motives, not just one--and that they at least considered one another to be sane enough to complete this objective. Who that second person of interest is will, I think, shed much light on this case--not necessarily a light that suggests a political objective, but this seems highly plausible. After all, Giffords was clearly the primary target. This was not a random shooting. And Loughner had approached her before.

4. What constitutes a political objective is a very important question. But I am willing to go to the mat for this claim: Whether or not Loughner had a specific objective in mind whose longer range consequences are explicitly political--like destroying the Congress or fomenting a revolution--is irrelevant. I think it's enough to call it "political"--as opposed, say, to personal, or aesthetic (for example if he imagined himself the Joker) if his objectives were to send a shock wave of anxiety through our elected representatives--if that was his aim, or to send the message that our representatives are precisely the targets Sarah Palin says they are.

Whatever Loughner's specific aims--however he is or isn't psychologically stable--I think a strong case can be made for the claim that the staggeringly violent, vitriolic, dismissive, arrogant, shrill, ignorant, and woefully disconnected from facts rhetoric of GLENN BECK, SARAH PALIN, MICHELLE BACHMAN, BILL O'REILLY, SEAN HANNITY, RUSH LIMBAUGH, ANN COULTER, JAN BREWER, MIKE HUCKABEE, MITCH O'CONNELL, MICHAEL SAVAGE, and many others almost entirely from the FAR TEA PARTY RIGHT aids, abets, encourages, and condones precisely this kind of explosion.

To be clear, I am NOT arguing for anything like censorship. I am as hawkish about free speech as anyone you'll ever meet--but this crazy fucked up idea that speech is "free"--that it hasn't consequences--is one we MUST rethink. SPEECH HAS CONSEQUENCES. DEATH IS ONE OF THEM. THIS YOUNG MAN MURDERED A NINE YEAR OLD.

Loughner may well be psychologically unstable, but my money is on the claim that even if so, his instability had to be channeled down some avenue of violent rhetoric/ideology/fear-mongering to produce THIS action. In some sense, he too is thus a victim--a victim of a climate where we celebrate the lethal combination of arrogance and ignorance and fascist ideological motives as if that was the meaning of "America."