Democracy For Sale! $50!

Last week the EPA held hearings in Chicago and Washington DC regarding the first-ever rules to limit carbon dioxide pollution from new power plants.  The new EPA rule would prevent nearly 123 billion tons of carbon pollution annually. In Chicago, the public meetings were attended by many, and a lunchtime press conference demonstrated the widespread support from local Chicago groups for the EPA rules. A local Alderman, faith leader, health group, labor, and community leaders all expressed their concern over a warming world and thanked the EPA for taking this first step. The speakers were flanked by supporters in bright blue shirts and signs.

Just as when our nation decided to use the Clean Air Act to regulate the mercury levels or sulfur dioxide emissions, the coal industry is balking at the idea of following these reasonable regulations. Unfortunately for them, coal companies don’t seem to have supporters for their point of view in Chicago, so they reacted to the public EPA meetings disgracefully. Prior to the meetings, the coal industry apparently placed adds found by the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago, a coal group promised participants $50 to “wear a t-shirt in support of an energy project.”

The fact is that in 2010, almost a million tons of coal was shipped from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin to a single power plant in Chicago, that company made $215 in profit in 2010 from burning coal while their industry caused $117 million dollars in coal related health issues.  Fifteen people die each year because we burn coal for energy in the United States. While coal companies reap the profits, skip over the human cost, and deny global warming… they bribe people to pretend to agree with them.

Here on the internet, in the blogosphere, on Facebook, and Twitter, we have a word for those people who are paid drones that show up to chats or internet events even though they are not interested in the topic at hand, with intentions of diverting, dividing and demoting the ideas at hand. We call those people trolls. Some of the worst trolls lie, misrepresent facts and otherwise derail important conversations. An example of this might be found in the comments section of any article published on the internet, maybe even this one.

These people wearing pro-coal t-shirts were paid to present misinformation in a public forum. They specifically intended to promote the idea that there were people who support the coal industry in a grass-roots movement kind of way – when there aren’t. I don’t know what disturbs me more, the fact that the coal industry is paying people off in this manner, or the fact that people are taking those payments. The truth is, that both of these terrible and disturbing thoughts are secondary to the true problem here. Democracy is for sale. I’m not joking. I’m not speaking in metaphor. Democracy is actually for sale, and it is listed on Craigslist at a going rate of $25 bucks an hour. Don’t believe me?  Google astroturfing then ask yourself who’s paying, who’s taking the cash, and who profits. At this point, I’d even stop and ask myself if the entire GOP isn’t just one big roll of astroturf.