For Tea Party zealots it is impossible to utter, hear, read or write the words "freedom" and "liberty" too many times. And, of course, to them, the antithesis of freedom and liberty is the federal government, which they swear they will "take back."
For them, taking back the government means restoring the freedom to not be able to afford health care, restoring the freedom to be unemployed without any unemployment insurance, restoring the freedom to lose your home to mortgage fraud and your pension to criminal Wall Street bankers. That doesn't sound much like a "Party" to me; that sounds more like a nightmare.
Even though many of their devotees don't realize it themselves, what the Tea Party Nightmare is actually selling is not freedom for you, but more freedom for corporate America to deny your freedom. And, this year, no freedom is more important to the Tea Party Nightmare than the freedom for corporations to make you sick by polluting our air and water. Every Republican presidential candidate and virtually every Republican Congressperson has joined the Tea Party Nightmare chorus in ranting against the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) and not just the EPA regulating greenhouse gases, but against everything the EPA does. Michelle Bachmann, the Tea Party Nightmare's charmingly oblivious and truly frightening presidential pinup girl, proudly wants to abolish the EPA. Not to be out done, pistol packin' Rick Perry sounds like he wants to torture everyone who works there and shoot it with his gun before he abolishes it.
The 1979 movie "China Syndrome" brought to life the danger of a nuclear reactor meltdown. Within weeks, the first of real-life meltdowns occurred at Three Mile Island, then Chernobyl, then Fukushima. China is now in total environmental "meltdown," a new version of the China Syndrome if you will. With a political posture smothered in irony, the party that worships freedom wants the US to mimic China, the most repressive of major governments, in turning this country into a corporate-caused environmental meltdown. Call it the Tea Party Nightmare version of the China Syndrome.
Most Westerners have read about or seen pictures of the environmental catastrophe that is now China. If you haven't, go here. China actually has fairly strict environmental laws, but they are not enforced. Businessmen there are all too often free to do as they please, a core Tea Party Nightmare tenet.
So, how well is this Tea Party Nightmare brand of environmental protection working out in China? Chinese authorities admit that, every year, 750,000 thousand of their citizens die from air pollution and 60,000 from water pollution.(1) Outside organizations think that is a gross underestimation. According to the Chinese Ministry of Health, pollution has made cancer the leading cause of death in China, followed by respiratory and heart diseases also related to their air pollution. Only 1 percent of the country's 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered safe by the European Union, because all of China's major cities are constantly covered in a toxic, gray shroud.(2) In 2008, I inhaled the gray shroud smothering Beijing for two weeks. I've never been the same since.
Chinese citizens are becoming increasingly aware of how the China Syndrome is affecting their health, longevity and livelihoods. In 2009, China had almost 90,000 incidents of riots, mass protests, petitions, and other acts of civil unrest, most of them triggered by outrage over chronic or acute pollution episodes.(3) Some of these demonstrations and riots involved at least 15,000 people willing to risk arrest, beatings and even their lives.(4)
After an extensive investigation in 2007, The New York Times wrote, "Environmental degradation is now so severe, with such stark domestic and international repercussions, that pollution poses not only a major long-term burden on the Chinese public, but also an acute political challenge to the ruling Communist Party."(5)
Not only is pollution causing massive civil unrest in China, it is also a severe economic liability. Our own State Department estimates that pollution costs the Chinese between 7 and 10 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP).(6) That virtually eliminates all of their growth in GDP. In other words, this is not only an environmental, aesthetic and public health disaster; it is an economic disaster as well. And the Tea Party Nightmare wants this China Syndrome to come to America. Actually, some of it already has.
Satellite photos reveal an "Asian Brown Cloud," a massive plume of Asian industrial pollution and dust from the Gobi Desert constantly making its way across the Pacific Ocean and reaching the United States. On average, about 20-30 percent of the air pollution over Los Angeles originates in China.(7) In May 2006, University of California-Davis researchers claimed that almost all the particulate matter over Lake Tahoe came from China.(8) Mercury, furans and dioxins from the burning of coal in Chinese power plants and cement kilns circle the entire globe - as does our own pollution - adding to the growing contamination of the US environment with these intensely hazardous toxins.
Why is China having an environmental meltdown and the United States is not ... yet? Two reasons: first, much of our manufacturing has moved to China, and second, we have for now - but if the Tea Party Nightmare has their way, not for long - a functioning EPA.
Americans do not support eviscerating the EPA. Even those who don't appreciate the connection between their health and the environment still want it protected. In fact, numerous polls taken even recently, in the midst of our moribund economy, show that people don't think the environment has to be sacrificed for economic recovery; they don't want environmental regulations watered down and are even willing to pay more out of their pockets for cleaner energy.(9)(10)
But for the Republican/Tea Party Nightmare, what the people want is of little concern. Remember, that freedom thing is for corporations only, and they are intent on bringing the China Syndrome to America.
2. Joseph Kahn and Jim Yardley The New York Times.(August 26, 2007).
5. Joseph Kahn and Jim Yardley The New York Times.(August 26, 2007).
7. Joseph Kahn and Jim Yardley The New York Times (August 26, 2007), quoting The Journal of Geophysical Research.
8. Juli S. Kim and Jennifer L. Turner. China's Filthiest Export. Foreign Policy in Focus, January 16, 2007.
9. Conservation in the West: A survey of the attitudes of voters in five Western states. January 2011, Lori Weigel and Dave Metz.
10. See here.