Jasmyne Cannick

Democrat Hypocrites Drive the Gas Guzzlers

The Democratic initiative to tax big oil profits was just another Washington "dog and pony show" designed to make you and me feel better. Blocked by Senate Republicans, the measure failed to achieve the 60 votes required by Senate rules to proceed. The vote was 51-43.

We've seen it before: Democrats put forth a piece of legislation that's supposed to make us think that they are in Washington fighting for us, and then the evil Republicans swoop in and kill it. Bad Republicans. But let's be real -- bad Democrats do it too.

When it was all said and done, both Democrats and Republicans scattered off to their various fundraisers in chauffeur-driven high-polluting Lincoln Town cars while their constituents were left to decide between food and gas.

"We're not afraid, on this side, to go after big oil when they are not doing the right thing," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York. "And we are not afraid to go after OPEC because they are a cartel that squeezes us," he added.

I'm not sure what Sen. Schumer means when he says "us." To the best of my knowledge, in California, with the exception of Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, I can't think of one California representative or senator who has demonstrated that they are, in fact, one of us. (Lee gets a nod of approval for taking the food stamp challenge and living on $21 worth of food for one week, the average weekly benefit for a food stam recipient.)

In fact, it's quite the opposite.

America's political etiquette dictates that elected officials are to be treated more like Hollywood celebrities than public servants, even during times of extreme duress (Read gas priced at $4.93).

So while your average taxpayer sees a 30-second sound byte of a representative "going off" on big oil's record profits at the expense of their constituents during a hearing on Capitol Hill, keep in mind that it's mainly for show.

For example, an amendment to last year's energy bill required House members who leased vehicles through their taxpayer office budgets to drive cars that emit low levels of greenhouse gases.

I could be wrong, but I don't think that includes Lincoln Town cars, Lexus, Cadillacs, and Ford Expeditions.

I guess what's good for the gander isn't necessarily good for the goose.

While Congress has mandated more fuel-efficient vehicles for "us," the public, (a public that quite frankly can't afford to fill their tanks, much less buy a new car), when it comes to their taxpayer-funded vehicle, nothing but the best will do.

According to an article published last month in the Los Angeles Times, 21 of California's 53 House members lease vehicles, among them Reps. Diane Watson, D-Los Angeles, and Laura Richardson, D-Long Beach.

The lease requirement passed narrowly last August after a brief debate, with most Democrats -- including Watson -- supporting it, and most Republicans opposing it. (Richardson was not in Congress for the vote on the amendment but supported the energy bill in December.)

In the article, Watson grew testy when asked recently about her taxpayer-funded vehicle.

"You guys ask me such idiotic questions," Watson snapped. Her spokeswoman, Dorinda White, explained that Watson chose the Lincoln because she is "over 6 feet tall in shoes" and spends a lot of time driving around her district.

But the double talk and fake sympathy doesn't come from just the Democrats.

In the same article, some Republicans lashed out at Democrats, accusing the House leadership of hypocrisy. "I will start driving a green car once Pelosi starts ballooning back and forth from coast to coast to save jet fuel," said Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, who has made climate change a top priority.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said the speaker's Chevy Suburban was selected by the Sergeant at Arms who oversees her security. But Hammill noted that Pelosi has asked that her next vehicle be a hybrid.

I find it very hard to believe some of the rhetoric coming out of Washington from people who not only ride around in taxpayer-funded, chauffeured luxury vehicles -- they defend it.

But short of getting caught toe-tapping in the men's room, there is very little that will move voters to hold their representatives accountable.

When it comes to the issue of the today's gas prices, who's fighting for "us" and who's fighting against "us," the Democrats and the Republicans are hard to tell apart.

At the end of the day, America's drivers are on their own on this one.

Purchasing the Pulpit

"I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves ... ."
-- Harriet Tubman

Recently, a group of black pastors under the name of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, held a press conference and summit in Los Angeles to announce the kick off for their "Black Contract with America on Moral Values." Led by Bishop Harry Jackson of Washington and white Christian evangelical Reverend Lou Sheldon and his Traditional Values Coalition, the press conference and summit gave new meaning to the phrase "sleeping with the enemy."

According to the newly formed coalition, topping the list of issues that black Americans need to focus on is the protection of marriage. Never mind the war, access to health care, HIV/AIDS, education, housing and Social Security, the number one problem facing black America is same-sex marriage.

Standing before the press in their Sunday best and eager to get their 15 minutes of fame and achievable share of President Bush's Faith-Based Initiative, these black pastors seemingly allowed their pulpits to be purchased by the GOP and Lou Sheldon, who is to gay people what Strom Thurmond was to blacks. Sheldon at one time even went so far as to support the quarantining of people with AIDS and accused the federal government of "running a network of whorehouses," when the U.S. responded to the AIDS crisis with resources.

Later that afternoon over one hundred black pastors gathered at Rev. Fred Price's Crenshaw Christian Center, another prominent mega-church, where Sheldon showed his infamous "gay rights, special rights" video and urged the pastors to have their congregations lobby African-American legislators who hadn't taken a position on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Listening from the outside, one might have thought they were listening in on a Klan meeting, but after one look around the room, I remember thinking of Dave Chappelle's portrayal of a blind black white supremacist who had never been told he was black.

Black pulpits are for sale to the highest bidder and black Christians are quite possibly being sold to the GOP under the guise of protecting America's moral values. With claims that gays are "high-jacking" the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr.'s message, Sheldon is bribing black pastor after pastor and church after church with check after check to take another look at the GOP and partnering with their white Christian counterparts all while using the Bible as a justification for their commonality. Yes, the same book that was used to justify racism, sexism and anti-Semitism has both black and white Christian evangelicals reading from the same page.

Few remember, that there were significant members of the black church including the National Baptist Convention led by Dr. J.H. Jackson in the '50s that vehemently opposed the civil rights movement and didn't want progressive ministers like Dr. King to have any confrontations with the government. So much so, that was one of the major factors in Dr. King's decision to create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference along with Los Angeles ministers Rev. James Lawson and the late Dr. Thomas Kilgore.

These black pastors who have aligned themselves with white Christian evangelicals and Conservatives, are the ideological descendents of the same people who opposed Dr. King in the '50s but today want to claim his message as their own in the name of protecting the institution of marriage, thereby giving new meaning to the name "Uncle Tom."

However, don't think that these new partnerships come without strings attached. The black vote is expected to be hand delivered on legislation that supports discrimination against gays and lesbians and their right to protect their families, denying a woman's right to choose and pushing the president's abstinence only campaign. In addition, our religious leaders are also expected to remain silent and not be the prophetic voices they should be on issues of critical importance to blacks. In exchange for money, they've essentially sold their congregations to people who continue to oppose universal access to health care, education and housing, the very issues at the core of the black struggle.

There's a coordinated religious campaign to get ministers across the state to speak out against gays and the debate is not about religion but more about politics, power and keeping that political power in the hands of people who stood in the schoolhouse door, fighting for segregation and against the full inclusion of blacks in society.

Zora Neale Hurston once said, "Not all black skin is kin."

Can I get a witness?

BRAND NEW STORIES

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.