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This third week of June provides some interesting history, in the context of the current Tea Party Republican efforts to return America to some disneyfied fantasy about what we used to be.


It was on June 22, 1969 that the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio burst into flames. Those were the days before environmental regulation, before pollution controls. Industries in Ohio just dumped their factory wastes, the effluents of manufacturing, their industrial sewage, into the Cuyahoga for decades.

That industrial sewage was the natural product of making things that Americans wanted, from locks on our front doors and the pots and pans and casseroles in our kitchens to the paper towels and industrial cleaners in our office restrooms. In the world of free market capitalism, the factories had to pay for the raw materials that went into their products. They had to pay the workers who made their products. They had to buy and pay for maintenance on the machines that made their products. Then they got to reap the profits from selling their products.

But they didn’t have to pay to deal with the waste left over from generating those profits. Instead, they just dumped their industrial sewage into the public waterway. They dumped chemicals, poisons and trash into the river used by people for boating and swimming. Then they let the public deal with that sewage.

On June 22, 1969 the public got the chance to pay tax dollars to ensure corporate profits. The sewage dumped by corporate profiteers burst into flames, inflicting damage on boats and property, both public and private, along the riverbanks. The taxpayers got to pay for firefighting and repair. The sewage dumpers got the taxpayers to absorb the cost of dealing with the factory wastes that otherwise would have reduced the profits, if the corporations had had to pay the costs of dealing with the wastes that they generated.

The 1969 Cuyahoga fire is widely seen as the corporate action that finally spurred legislation to try to reign in corporate pollution. Now, less than 50 years later, Tea Party Republican presidential candidate Willard M. Romney is campaigning on the premise that corporations would never cause any such problems again, if we just end all regulations.

One of the things that the Romney campaign doesn’t want people to reflect on is that the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga was the 13th fire on the river. After each of the previous 12 fires all the corporate responsibility, that Romney and his Tea Party campaign crow about, had done absolutely nothing to stop the dumping of industrial sewage or to clean up the damage done to public property by the corporate profiteers.

This week in June’s history also reminds us of other lies in the Tea Party Republican ideology. It was on June 22, 1633 that Galileo Galilei was condemned by the Catholic inquisition for the heresy of claiming that the earth revolves around the sun. It’s easy to snicker at the idiocy of condemning a man for putting scientific observation ahead of blind religious dogma, 150 years before our First Amendment was enacted.

But it’s harder to snicker when we recall that, on June 19, 1987, 100 years after the First Amendment gave us nominal religious freedom, the United States Supreme Court struck down the Louisiana Creationism Act. Until that decision, it was a crime in Louisiana for a teacher to teach students that science actually proved evolution theory and that there was absolutely no evidence, beyond blind religious faith, that creationism had any basis in reality.

Few readers will be surprised to learn that Tea Party Republican Supreme Court ‘justice’ Antonin Scalia dissented from the Court’s decision. Scalia argued that the First Amendment should not be read to prohibit religious bigots from getting elected and then forcing their religious views onto all school students, regardless of the religious beliefs of those students and regardless of any quantifiable scientific reality. Scalia’s view were shared by Cardinal Ratzinger (now the Pope), who argued in a 1990 speech that the Church had been right to condemn Galileo, and that the Church’s position that the earth does not revolve around the sun “kept much more closely to reason than did Galileo”.

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Now, 25 years after the Supreme Court’s decision striking down conscious, intentional religious bigotry and teaching against science, the Romney campaign, and the Tea Party Republican platform is not merely in full anti-science mode. Romney has called for reducing funding for public education. He wants to do away with public education, or at least push teacher incomes down below subsistence levels, so that no one will do those jobs.

Less than a decade after the 1969 Cuyahoga fire, on June 20, 1977, the Alaska oil pipeline started delivering North Slope oil. For three decades the pipeline has helped drain the oil under Alaska’s soil. The pipeline is privately owned. Beginning in 2006, and continuing today, the major source of leaks from the pipeline has been corrosion from uninspected, unmaintained sections of the pipeline. Corrosion has been discovered only after spills occur or after inspections mandated by government agencies.

While the corporate owners of the pipeline continue to refuse to inspect it on their own, and let oil spills onto public lands be the indicator of problems, just like the Cuyahoga fire, Romney’s campaign and his congressional allies continue to work to eliminate all government mandated inspections as “unnecessary”.

June 2012 is going to go down in history as the month in which Tea Party Republicans moved to censor political speech. The Tea Party Republican controllers of the Michigan legislature banned elected, female lawmakers from speaking on the legislative floor because the women wanted to oppose laws giving men more control over women’s bodies. This follows the Tea Party Republicans’ decision in the U.S. House of Representatives that only men were qualified to speak at congressional hearings dealing with plans to limit women’s healthcare options. And the decision of Tea Party Republican legislators in North Carolina to pass a law outlawing the scientific measurement of sea level changes that prove global warming. The Tea Party Republicans want to bring back the censorship that the Pope forced on Galileo 400 years ago.

But there are also hopeful signs in the history of this week in June. It was on 18, 1983 that astronaut Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel to space, finally breaking the unwritten but firm rule that only men were qualified for such dangerous work.

And it was on June 23, 1868 that a U.S. patent was first issued for what was called a “type writing machine”. The man who got the patent, Christopher Sholes, also developed the “QWERTY” keyboard that most of us still type on today.

144 years later, on June 18, 2012, Microsoft introduced a new tablet computer. Microsoft’s main claim for this tablet being competitive with Apple’s iPad is that the Microsoft tablet will have a QWERTY keyboard built into the case as a standard feature. The iPad has no keyboard, which makes it much less useful for business applications.

So perhaps Microsoft is learning from history. An invention from 150 years ago still has practical value today. Perhaps voters could find a lesson in this. Galileo’s scientific observations from 400 years ago still have value, despite Tea Party Republican efforts to force religious conformity over reality, as the Pope forced it on Galileo.

Tom Hall

The Founding Father’s invention of the First Amendment 221 years ago (adopted in 1791), still has value, despite the Tea Party Republicans’ efforts to censor even political speech, and to force religious indoctrination back into our schools.

Tom Hall

Posted: Wednesday, 20 June 2012