IBI Watch 10/21/12

21 10 2012

It’s a Pander Party . . .  //

. . . And we are all invited!  We listened in vain for ANY mention of environmental issues in the first two presidential debates and the veep matchup.  Yes, I know the economy is foremost in people’s minds, as usual, but in the long run there is nothing more important than clean air and water and a livable environment.  And without those, the economy won’t mean a hell of a lot.  Yes, President Obama was much more energized and on-message in the second debate, and Governor Romney continued his mythologizing.  But nothing annoyed me more than all the jaw-flapping on both sides about ‘energy independence’ and the notion that a president controls gas prices.  It seemed like an argument over who is more in support of what I call our long-term energy policy under both parties, i.e. ‘Find lots more oil and coal, and burn it all up – fast!’  And when Obama failed to pounce when Romney rhapsodized about his love for coal – the full exploitation of which is a death sentence for a livable planet – you could see pandering in full flower.  An insult to our intelligence – gas prices are more important than a whole range of important issues – energy choices, pollution and especially climate change.  Now all is not lost on this issue – Obama is right on to declare that Romney basically wants to let Big Oil and Big Coal run the whole energy policy.  But where is the open discussion about what our addiction to fossil fuels is doing to destabilize the climate?  And when Romney cherry-picks the failures among those trying to build alternative energy, what is his solution? You know it – “Drill, baby, drill!”

There is still time to demand better.  Sign this petition from the League of Conservation Voters.  Or you can act here with Climate Silence.  Better yet, do both.  And if you think the focus on international affairs precludes dealing with the environment in general and the climate crisis in particular, you are not paying attention.

Remember – the economy of a subsidiary of the environment, NOT the other way around.

Green Chained

There is one candidate who, if included in the debates, would make sure the environment is not neglected.  I speak of the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein.  As you might expect, her candidacy is all about sustainability.  IBI Watch readers who live in thoroughly blue or thoroughly red states might consider casting a vote her way.  Her ideas are so dangerous, though, to the powers that be and business as usual, that this happened on the night of the second presidential debate.  Democracy Now also covered the arrest of this dangerous radical.

This incident reminds me of two of my favorite causes – getting corporate money out of politics and allowing a truly level field for all candidates.  The two issues go hand in hand, and, you might say, are also shackled in today’s America.  But they don’t have to be.

Plutocracy Ascendant

In this blog and elsewhere, I have long followed the growth of plutocracy in America – a process we have built with increasing intensity since about 1980.  But I learned much – and you can, too – from a fine interview that Bill Moyers just did with two expert sources on the issue.  His two sources have a long track record of reporting on this phenomenon.  Matt Taibbi has reported on plutocracy with admirable, biting wit, in Rolling Stone.  Here is an example.  Chrystia Freeland is the author of a new book that headed right to my reading list – Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.  Moyers himself is so impressed that he has organized a book club around this first selection.

Taibbi and Freeland cover the whole gamut of issues here – wealth and income inequality, ‘too big to fail,’ the idea that America is on its way to being another Russia, Brazil or maybe a gigantic banana republic.  But what is new here for me is a term for something I have observed – ‘government capture,’ also known as cognitive capture.’  This is a way of describing how the super-wealthy have increasingly cemented their hold on the reins of power, but also gotten in the public consciousness that things should be this way, and really always should have been this way. And lest you think these two authors are the latest reincarnation of Marx and Lenin, note that Freeland especially presents a balanced view.  Yes, globalization has changed the world to foster some concentration of wealth and power – but US government policy is also a major driving force.

This discussion about what is happening in American society is also explored in a historical way by the same Chrystia Freeland.  She recently covered a work comparing modern America with the Venice of the 1400s.  Not an example we should seek to follow, thank you very much.

This story of Venice’s rise and fall is told by the scholars Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, in their book “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” as an illustration of their thesis that what separates successful states from failed ones is whether their governing institutions are inclusive or extractive. Extractive states are controlled by ruling elites whose objective is to extract as much wealth as they can from the rest of society. Inclusive states give everyone access to economic opportunity; often, greater inclusiveness creates more prosperity, which creates an incentive for ever greater inclusiveness.  Sound familiar?

Vote This Way, or You Will Pay

One of the demons released by the infamous Citizens United Supreme Court decision is this – employers feel emboldened to ‘persuade’ their indentured servants, er, uh, employees that is, to support the Big Boss’s political issues and candidates.  If you are say, Robert Murray, or David Siegel, or one of the Koch Brothers, guess which side you will be pushing?  As Moyers notes in his commentary, these guys are pushing their power right to its legal limits.  Concern is growing over this persuasion, which you might call employment bullying.  Soon, more and more of us may be able to truthfully sing that final line from the iconic Merle Travis song – ‘I owe my soul . . . to the company store!’  That song of course is ‘Sixteen Tons’ – performed here by Tennessee Ernie Ford (‘cheered on’ by some well-heeled fans).

Do-It-Yourself Geoengineering

Why reduce greenhouse gases?  Technology will save us from climate chaos – Rex Tillerson told us so, recently.  And so what if those snail-paced, hypercautious governments are too sclerotic to be bold, be brave, be Randian?  Take the iron into your own hands, and go dump it into the ocean, may all those nervous nellies be damned.  Edward Teller must be rejoicing at the bold, visionary action taken by this pioneer.  Oy.

Calling Tar Sands Oil Out

When I am feeling discouraged about the massive government inaction on climate change, I seek out stories of activists taking bold steps.  Such is this story about a group that punked a ‘climate conference’ that was organized and paid for by the marauders themselves.  This story reminded me of notable heroes in this regard.  If you have never heard about the Yes Men, you need to watch that linked video.

But back on the serious side, here is why scientists are in an uproar about further exploitation of tar sands oil.  If there ever was a lose, lose, lose proposition for the climate, ecosystems and the very planet, it has to be tar sands oil.  Also protested here, as covered by Democracy Now!

Empathy?  Nah.

Maybe it is just the old FDR Democrat in me, but somehow, I think these two stories go together.  Meet Paul Ryan in the soup kitchen, and Paul Krugman in full critique mode regarding the Romney approach to health care.

Human Nature and Society – Assumptions Reconsidered

Before you dismiss these links as ponderous, heady, even – God forbid – boring, think again.  Radiolab ran a terrific program this week on change.  The most compelling segment for me was this one.  It is an amazing piece of accidental research that calls into question – from afar in the primate kingdom anyway whether we will always fight wars and kill one another because it is simply ‘human nature.’ I find a strange affinity with this segment from This American Life.  It chronicles a quixotic (and possibly ethically questionable) campaign by a legislator on behalf of early childhood education.  You just won’t believe which state we are talking about here.

Binders Unbound

OK, I could not resist.  Cheers!

‘The highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one’s country deep enough to call her to a higher plain.’

-George McGovern

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper


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