All of the Above, Please

21 07 2019

who-fights-climate-change            My internal BS alarm was blaring as I read a recent extended piece in the Opinion section of my local Star Tribune. The author, a certain Paul John Scott of Rochester MN, had written a jocular, yet full-bore, defense of the cattle industry against claims that it is a major contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global climate disruption. As you will see, I am far from the only reader and commentator possessing a well-tuned BS alarm, or “crap detector,” as my professor in a long-ago journalism class described the tool. As you will also see, Scott’s article is just the kind of deceptive, misdirected demonization that is one of the main obstacles to concerted climate action.

You can read the article here if you like. The “wise” lords of opinion at the paper dedicated the better part of an entire page to the piece, which, to be honest, is very well written. But writing skill does not automatically convey logical prowess, nor does it contribute to solving the world’s most pressing environmental crisis.

A detailed dissection of the piece would be too much “inside baseball.” But here are Scott’s key arguments in capsule form.

  1. The cattle industry is wrongly fingered as a major source of greenhouse gases
  2. Methane emissions from domestic cattle in North America are not really so different from the emissions of ancient megafauna – mainly the millions of bison that roamed the plains, but also woolly mammoths, large cats, giant sloths and large bears(!)
  3. The growing interest in vegetarian, low-meat or vegan diets is mainly based on health concerns, which are misguided at best or bogus at worst
  4. The public’s desire to explore and enjoy meat alternatives is aided, abetted and exploited by a cabal of dishonest, greedy capitalists
  5. Some meat alternatives are actually a larger climate disruption concern than animal products, mainly beef – which seems to be Scott’s favorite

And here are some linked rebuttals to each of those key ideas.

  1. Various estimates of cattle production’s contribution – for meat and dairy both – to human greenhouse gas emissions run from the absurdly low 2.8% cited by – you guessed it – the Meat Institute! To EPA’s 9% (quoted by Scott) to the stratospheric 51% from World Watch Institute, which Scott, of course, lampoons. This NY Times piece offers a measured assessment. It shows a global average of 15 to 18%, and points out one key reason why agriculture appears to be a lesser contributor in the US. That is, our other sectors – transportation, industry, power generation, etc. – blast out so damned much.
  2. We can argue about how much agriculture contributes to humankind’s planet-toasting greenhouse gas emissions, but this is inarguable. Those wild animals of the long past – megafauna – existed in integrated ecosystems, and at times when atmospheric CO2 was nothing like today’s inflated level. They were exhaling and excreting their methane and CO2 in the wild, natural world. That world looked not at all like this lovely panorama.  Bon appetit!
  3. A debatable point at best. Thanks to above-cited Meat Institute and so many other special interests, you can find seemingly reliable proof for almost any point of view on this. Here is a comparison of plant-based vs. vegan diets and their health effects. Here is a quite balanced view from Medical Health News. It covers nutrient sources, and also notes emerging evidence that frequent consumption of red meat – chemically cured or not – carries its own health risks. But I believe excessive focus on human health when it comes to food choices is itself a diversion from the main issue. It’s the planet’s health that is at stake here, though of course that planetary health is already damaging human health. Scott, to his credit, mentions the clearing of rain forests in favor of cattle production.  And this fact is certain – it takes more chemicals, fossil fuel, and land to produce meat than plant-based foods. And among animal products, beloved beef is the biggest offender.
  4. I have to admit, Scott has a strong point here. Venture capitalists and big corporations see dollar signs in the public’s growing interest in switching to plant-based foods, and that does lead to misleading claims. But in this capitalist system, what trend is not exploited by someone or some organization with lots of power, money and influence?  What concerns me is all the energy and scientific brainpower being thrown at creating “Franken-meat.” You know, taking cells from animals into the lab and generating faux meat and fish.
  5. There may be some humor in the way Scott fingers rice and soy as the true climate demons. But it is not at all helpful. Yes, rice paddies are a greenhouse gas concern. But that is certainly not an argument for substituting meat. And it is more than a bit simplistic to assume that “rice and beans” is the only way for vegans to obtain complete proteins. Have a look. (Full disclosure – I am not a vegan, but have been a vegetarian for several years, and continue to reduce my reliance on non-meat animal products.)

I mentioned that other readers saw some problems in Scott’s opinion piece. As a daily reader of my local newspaper, I can say it is exceedingly rare for responses to any opinion piece to line up unanimously in disagreement with the piece’s ideas. But such was the case here. Five intelligent letters to the editor take Scott to task on one or more points – some in common with my five, and some taking other approaches.

A wide variety of human activities are contributing greenhouse gases that are steadily heating the planet, and warping the climate.  Here is a fine and concise sorting out – with easy-to-read charts – of global contributions by the various sectors. The main sectors, of course, are energy production, agriculture, industry and transportation. The source of this very useful data is the US Environmental Protection Agency.  Hard to believe in the era of Trump that EPA apparently remains a useful source of some information. So far anyway.

Defending any of the sectors against change, and demonizing others, is like a chaotic classroom mess created by kindergartners, with each insisting that the other is responsible. We are all responsible, and if one thing is clear, it’s this. It will take thought, planning, innovation and yes, individual and collective changes to lifestyle choices if we are to have any hope of halting climate disruption before the truly catastrophic predicted consequences unfold.  That is to say, even more catastrophic than what we are already observing.

So, where should we go?  Here is a hopeful site that I have not linked with before, though I have ordered the book. (It’s next on my reading list, after my current read – The Uninhabitable Earth.) Here are several organizations working to educate the public and encourage change – Bill McKibben’s 350.org, Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and the Citizens Climate Lobby.

We need rapid progress in all sectors. Right now, cities and states are standing up to the destructive policies of the current US national government. Trump and McConnell and Co. are holding up national progress, and doing damage of course, but they won’t be around forever, and there is only so much they can do to thwart state and local initiatives. We hope. But the ultimate solution of course is to free government from powerful corporate influence.  This group is working to do just that.

Meanwhile, please join me in activating your own BS alarm, or crap detector, when you hear or read some shill saying the other guy’s sector is the problem.  This is our problem, in all sectors, and we all have to do our part to solve it.

 

Blogger’s notes.

A few things I just can’t resist sharing this week.

 

Michael Murphy
St. Paul MN





Climate “Winners” and Losers

14 07 2019

Lipsticky Pig            If you are anything like me, you read, watch or listen to everything that pops up in the media, mass or niche, about climate disruption.  Since I write about the topic often, the fact that you have opened this article – thank you! – tells me you are at least a bit interested in this enormous environmental challenge facing our kind and the planet.

Among the oft-ignored pieces that tell the sad truth – pieces and books by writers such as Seth Borenstein, Chris Mooney, Dahr Jamail, Elizabeth Kolbert, Andrew Revkin and many others – there is a certain flavor of communication that you find from time to time mainly in newspapers and mass-market mags such as Time. The theme of these pieces can be summed up with this phrase – “Yes, climate disruption is happening, and there will be both winners and losers as a result of the changes.” Let’s test that.

Losers first. Yeah, that’s the easy part.

Some losers are localized, and feeling the pain right now. As I write, Hurricane Barry is making landfall in Louisiana, just west of New Orleans. Here is a tracker, which will be updated over the next few days as Barry slowly edges north into the heart of middle America.  Looking strictly at storm strength, Barry looks mild – it barely makes the cut as category 1, with sustained winds of 75 MPH. No big deal?  Think again. That very slow path and northward motion both of which used to be less common for hurricanes – create long-lasting headaches for those in Barry’s path.  Its slow movement means drenching rains that linger. Most recent forecasts suggest up to two feet (!) of rain for parts of Louisiana, where Barry will remain a most unwelcome guest until early Sunday evening.  It is then forecast to continue north to central Missouri, which it should reach by Tuesday morning.

Levee-threatening rain is problem enough. But the vastly changed environment that greets Barry on its path just compounds the challenges. As you will read here, record winter and spring rain throughout the Midwest has kept the lower Mississippi at or near flood stage for months – and even without tropical storms, that flooding had been forecast to linger for several more months. Even if you do not take the time to read the entire linked Inside Climate News story, scroll down to see two eye-popping graphics that tell the story of the multiple factors fueling the complex threat facing New Orleans right now, and many other coastal American cities just ahead – ridiculously warm Atlantic and Gulf waters, and the pervasive record and near-record precipitation that continues to overfill the Mississippi. And then there is that matter of what I call misbehaving hurricanes – best exemplified recently by Florence and Harvey. Barry appears to have potential to be another one of those, if on a smaller scale. I have written about warped hurricane paths in the recent past.

Some losers are not local at all, and not even human.  I was walking in my neighborhood the other night at dusk and was reminded of another environmental issue that is most likely caused by climate disruption.  Surely you remember – no doubt fondly – a phenomenon that would grace early evenings in all locales – rural, suburban, urban alike. I speak of the lowly but wondrous firefly or lightning bug. So, where the hell are they?  I noticed the decline of fireflies and so many other beneficial (or simply interesting) insects – butterflies, moths, dragonflies, etc. – about five years ago.  It’s a global phenomenon it seems, and scientists have not figured out the root cause.  Agricultural chemicals no doubt contribute, but the problem is so pervasive that I find it hard to believe it is NOT connected to climate disruption. (I’ve posted on this before as well.) And, sadly, many of us citizens, i.e., voters, don’t make that connection, either.  I have heard people explain the firefly-free evening darkness away.  “Oh, we never really had those in the city anyway, did we?” Oh, yes, we did. And, oh yes, how conveniently brief are some of our memory spans. What this drastic decline in flying insects (except, it seems, horseflies, gnats and mosquitoes) will mean for the overall environment remains to be seen.  To quote our nation’s chief executive – one of the few things Trump says (and repeats, ad nauseam) that makes any sense at all – “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.” (Sorry, you must add your own virtual helicopter blades whirring or jet engines roaring as Trump utters that mindless throw-away for the umpteenth time. To complete the heroic picture, imagine him applauding himself while striding away.)

It’s no secret what will happen to a particular, enormous population in the future. That would be the hundreds of millions of people who live in areas drained by rivers – mainly the Ganges and Indus but also several others.  This burgeoning population has depended for centuries on gradual, seasonal melt from Himalayan glaciers for their drinking water, agriculture and hydropower. That melt of course is no longer seasonal – it’s a year-round meltdown. As this article by Seth Borenstein reports, the mountain glaciers have lost 28% of their ice since 1975. The melt rate is accelerating, and scientists have looked at several possible suspect causes, concluding that the culprit is – surprise – rising temperatures caused by humans burning fossil fuels.

We are of course just skimming the surface on losers here. What about the “winners?” Surely, someone, somewhere, is benefitting from human activities disrupting the climate. Right.

I am not at all pleased to report that, even with the onslaught of increasingly extreme weather events, affecting so many people that  public opinion in America has come around to accept the scientific facts of human-caused climate disruption, the bullshit machine continues to steam along on all cylinders. Let’s visit a few of the most prominent BS fabrication plants to see what sorts of fables they are spinning these days. My favorite site for anti-science spin has to be the Heartland Institute. Founded in 1984(!), and funded by the Koch Brothers, ExxonMobil and other propaganda merchants, it continues to “teach the controversy.”  Here is a recent piece on the site that decries “climate alarmism.” More on target with my current topic, here is another piece from the same site that actually touts climate disruption (they don’t call it that, of course!) as a boon to American agriculture.

Another favorite fabricator is the innocent-sounding Climate Depot. The brainchild of notorious climate disruption denier Marc Morano, the site amalgamates articles like this one, that claims climate disruption benefits Chinese agriculture. And then there is wattsupwiththat.com, where site managers spend most of their time ridiculing and attempting to debunk climate science. But I dug deep and found this gem, celebrating the “greening of the earth.” CO2 is plant food, you see. More CO2, more lush greenery. As the article says, “global greening is happening faster than climate change, and it’s a good thing.” Uh huh.

But you don’t have to limit searches to the noted science deniers and climate liars to find celebration of “winners.” Here is a recent news piece from my  local StarTribune that caught my eye. For the busy, skimming reader, this looks like good news – climate changes are helping some Minnesota farmers increase corn and soybean yields, according to a multi-year study at the University of Minnesota.  But if you read carefully, you see that this is a fair, balanced report.  Wheat, you see, has not fared so well. And the author, Adam Belz, widens the lens to look at global agricultural changes: “Global palm oil, barley, rice and wheat yields have fallen. Soybean yields in Western Europe have dropped 22% and corn yields in Eastern and Northern Europe have dropped by 25% as a result of climate change.”

So are certain Minnesota farmers climate disruption “winners?” Maybe for now. But then there is that heavy precipitation pretty much the entire region suffered through in the first half of 2019. As recently as a few weeks ago, many farmers in Minnesota and elsewhere in the Midwest were still struggling to get crops in the flooded fields, switching seed choices for the flood-shortened growing season, or in some cases just packing it in for the year. I wonder how those farmers are enjoying the ballyhooed “global greening.”

I also saw a New York Times piece touting cold Duluth MN as a “climate refuge.”  It talks about several American cool-weather cities, including Buffalo NY, as possible destinations for those fleeing say, sea rise in Florida or wildfires in the West. So again here, the headline suggests some “winners” – Duluth and Buffalo adding population, exclusively those with the means to up and move. But will residents of those livable cities consider themselves winners when they have to deal with big-city problems like traffic gridlock and the inevitable crowding and pollution issues that come from an exploding population? Be careful what you wish for, as they say.

My point is this – suggesting that someone, some city, some organization, some country, will be a “winner” as a result of climate disruption is shortsighted at best and delusional at worst. Even hinting at such an outcome is problematic.  I believe even balanced pieces like the two cited here offer something for deniers to capitalize on in their quest to maintain the status quo, and for ordinary citizens to cling to in their wish to continue their lifestyles without changes.

What should we be doing?  There is hope. Humans, being a self-centered lot, are much more inclined to hear messages that directly affect them and their immediate tribe members. If people see how climate disruption is also disrupting their health, those people just might accept the science and join the movement to do something about it. NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday ran a piece on a doctor who includes climate disruption in her discussions with individual patients suffering from related health issues.  Cities around the world and in the US (Trump’s national willfully and ignorantly destructive environmental policies be damned) are making real progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Speaking of Trump’s attacks on the environment, one of the acts he brags about as a big achievement is pulling the US out of the Paris climate agreement.  Though that agreement falls far short of what is needed to protect the earth from the most devastating effects of climate disruption, a study shows that limiting global temperature rises – which that agreement will do, to some degree – will greatly reduce human mortality from heat waves. This NY Times piece describes the study and the benefits.

A new edition to my “You just could not make this up” file appeared just the other day. There he was, Trump, the superhero destroyer of “job-killing regulations,” the anger-fueled blowhard who really should rename the Environmental Protection Agency as the Environmental Polluter Protection Agency, bragging about his “environmental stewardship.” Read it and weep, gasp or despair, however you are inclined.

Ridding our government of Trump will not solve all environmental problems, including climate disruption. But it would be a helluva great step in that direction. Every one of the Democratic contenders would re-enlist the United States in the Paris climate accord. The days of us as a rogue nation could be over, at least until we elect someone even more ignorant and destructive than Trump.

Here’s hoping we choose wisely. Our current path may create some “winners” in the short term. But ignoring, even enabling, climate disruption will make us all losers in the long term.

Blogger’s Note: Technical problems kept me from posting for several weeks. My main computer locked up and needed to be wiped clean and restored. I bought a smaller, less powerful laptop/tablet hybrid that kept me on line. But it was not up to the blogging task.

One other thing. If you read this week’s post carefully, you may have noticed my use of the term “climate disruption.” I intend to use that as my default description for what we are doing to the climate. “Global warming” is accurate in the long term, but falls short when you consider climate disruptions such as the slowing jet stream and consequent spillage of polar air over Siberia and central North America. “Climate change” is more accurate, but sounds benign, almost natural. Of course, that is just what the term’s coiner, that prince of communication darkness, Frank Luntz, intended. “Climate destabilization?” Definitely accurate, but it has too many syllables.  “Climate disruption” tells the story precisely and cleanly. If you can call this mess we are creating “clean,” that is.

Thanks for sticking with IBI Watch.  This post resumes my weekly cycle.

Michael Murphy
St. Paul MN





Royally Distracted

12 05 2019

Care            Think way back to Monday, May 6. Seems way back, doesn’t it, with our 24-hour news cycle’s second-by-second updates, not to mention the never-ending campaign in this country.  On that day, there were two “big” news stories, which garnered about equal billing.  There is no scientific way I know of to prove this, but if I could get my hands on the data, I believe I could show that the dramatically less important story got more attention from the news-consuming public.

Here are the two stories in question. First, a “happy-happy” item, and now “gloom and doom.”

As an Irishman, I have little time for the fawning attention so many Americans shower on British royalty in particular. That said, I have no personal animus against the British royalty. After all, many of them – in particular Prince Charles, as well as his two sons by his late wife Princess Diana – are decent human beings who do some good work in the world.  And you have to admire any royal scion who would name a son “Archie.” Only a name like Spike or Butch or Curly could be more of a departure from traditional royal stodginess. Based on Queen Elizabeth’s longevity, I won’t live long enough to see King Archie, but wouldn’t that be a kick in the meathead? All he would need is a sweetheart named Edith – All in the (Royal) Family, dingbat!

OK, so the new royal brat’s full, formal name is actually Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, but you get the point. The point I wish to make is this – why would anyone pay any attention at all to such drivel in the face of the other story?

An exhaustive, multi-year study overseen by the United Nations says we humans, self-appointed masters of the universe, are on a trajectory to extinguish one million species. That’s out of an estimated five to eight million species total around the globe. How exhaustive was this study? It involved over 450 researchers, and about 15,000 science and government reports. We are not talking about a lone Chicken Little here, friends.

If you followed that link, you read about the ways humans are increasingly crowding out and extinguishing more and more species that happen not to be human. If you didn’t, here are the main ways humans are making it difficult for everything except squirrels, rats, cockroaches and (for now anyway) humans to survive in the not-so-brave new world we are creating.

  • Turning forests, grasslands, and other areas into farms, cities, and other developments
  • Overfishing the world’s oceans
  • Permitting climate change from the burning of fossil fuels to make it too hot, wet, or dry for some species to survive
  • Polluting land and water
  • Allowing invasive species to crowd out native plants and animals

The idea that humans are taking over and trashing the entire world, making it harder for anything else to survive, is not new. If you want to read more about how we are accelerating the extinction process, read this book. I have read Elizabeth Kolbert’s Sixth Extinction, and can highly recommend it.

No time to read these linked articles and books? Then try these two links that summarize the UN report on extinction – here and here. The first offers a video of a short but informative CBS interview with Time Magazine’s Jeffrey Kluger. He points out the direst numbers, including this one – since 1980, human emissions of planet-heating carbon dioxide have doubled. Also, since we care mostly about humans (that’s ALL some of us care about, alas), 40% of our burgeoning population lacks access to clean fresh water. He rightly agrees with the comment from one of the panel interviewers – “We haven’t even begun to address this.” Amen, brother. The second is a “feast” for the eyes. That’s because the piece from Popular Science features five eye-popping charts that break out the details of the UN report, in digestible chunks. Here is one number from each of the charts:

  • 40% of amphibians are in danger of extinction over the next few decades (Sorry, Froggy)
  • 100 million hectares of forest have been cut down just since 1980, with 42 million in Latin America for cattle ranching, and 7.5 million in Southeast Asia for palm oil plantations (Read the label of so many food and health products, and you will see how our palm oil addiction is replacing the planet’s “lungs”)
  • 55% of the world’s ocean is covered by industrial fishing (Hey, that leaves 45%; let’s get to work on that, lads. Look up “bycatch,” and the connection between this massive fishing and the plastic pollution that chokes ocean life, and you will begin to understand the enormity of this problem)
  • 33% of the world’s land is in use for agriculture (And a lot of that is unsustainable – look up “monoculture” to learn more)
  • Indigenous communities own, manage, and/or use 28% of global land, but 72% of species those indigenous peoples depend on are in decline (Now THERE’S progress for ya!)

Here is a good question. Shouldn’t the heavily industrialized United States, which has contributed mightily to the global environmental crisis, be a leader in generating and implementing ideas to reverse these destructive trends?  Should is right. But here is what our Secretary of State was doing just this very week. Environmental activist Bill McKibben (350.org) strikes the right tone in this New Yorker piece detailing the struggle between greed and the planet, or, to focus, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Arctic Council.

This is an exact Pompeo quote, which he delivered following a parade of speakers who decried the rapid melting of the Arctic and its effect on northern indigenous peoples.  “The Arctic is at the forefront of opportunity and abundance,” he said. “It houses thirteen per cent of the world’s undiscovered oil, thirty per cent of its undiscovered gas, an abundance of uranium, rare-earth minerals, gold, diamonds, and millions of square miles of untapped resources, fisheries galore.” So, in the Gospel of Greed according to Big Mike P (libertarian acolyte of Ayn Rand, and holder of a lifetime 4% rating from the League of Conservation Voters), all that damned ice can’t melt fast enough.

So much for environmental leadership from the top of our federal government, at least in the era of Trump.

And of course the problem that no one, even prominent environmentalists, seems to want to talk about, lurks behind all the environmental challenges documented in the UN report.  No, it’s not climate change, or habitat destruction, or plastic pollution. It’s the one obliquely alluded to in that Jeffrey Kluger interview, when he called humans a “hungry, messy species,” and mentioned the numbers – current human population – tracked right up to the second at this site. Note that his number was already a little low.  He said 7.6 billion humans, while the current number is 7.8.  Oh hell, what’s a hundred million among friends?

Is all hope lost?  Not exactly.  While pignorant (pretend-ignorant) greedmeisters like Pompeo do the bidding of the planet-gobbling Koch brothers, enabled by the profoundly, genuinely and proudly ignorant Trump, more Americans are waking up to environmental issues, in particular the pervasive and worsening problem of climate change. While all the problems described in the UN report need attention, climate change would be a good place to start.

As nearly as I can tell, this bill – which would impose a fee on carbon – is still in consideration in the House of Representatives. Yes, I know that anything passed by today’s Democrat-led House would have to be embraced by oily Mitch McConnell’s Senate. But you do have to start somewhere.  And once we sweep Trump and his band of pignorant plunderers, along with Supreme Court Stealing McConnell, into the dustbin of unfortunate history in 2020, we can get to work on some version of the Green New Deal.

In the meantime, here is a modest proposal.  Instead of celebrating the birth of some fabulously rich, ridiculously entitled kid in Britain, let’s work on initiatives to support family planning around the globe. That’s the way, in the long run, to solve all environmental problems before it’s too late.

Mother Earth is waiting. But I think she’s getting mighty pissed off.

 

Michael Murphy

St. Paul MN





Fixers Take All

5 05 2019

tycoon limo            You might say it started with a comedy routine. No, I am not talking specifically about Trump’s presidency, though based on his rally shtick I think he is, deep down, a failed, frustrated, flop-sweat-worthy wannabe standup comic. No, I refer to one of  Steve Martin’s most famous routines. You remember it. Some off-the-wall self-help advice. It went, more or less, like this:

“Here’s how to be a millionaire and pay no taxes.  First, get a million dollars. When the tax man comes to your door, just say, “I forgot.”

Martin launched that televised bit in January 1978 on the new hit show, Saturday Night Live.  His timing was perfect, of course. In the intervening four decades, a whole crowd of entrepreneurs, technocrats, oligarchs, crooks and corporations have turned this joke into an art form.

A million dollars?  Pocket lint.  We’re talking many billions of “forgot.”  And of course the phenomenon – paying no tax on massive fortunes, ill-gotten or otherwise acquired – really has nothing to do with forgetting. It is a well-planned, well-executed, well-practiced strategy for gaming the system for private gain and public neglect.

The New York Times recently ran a story written by two of their reporters on assignment in Akron OH, Stephanie Saul and Patricia Cohen. Akron of course is an old and suffering Midwestern industrial town, many of whose downtrodden voters saw supporting Donald Trump’s faux populism as a fine way to poke a stick in the eye of the elites.  (“Take that, Crooked Hillary!”) Their reporting includes a list of the companies that have made a killing in recent years, a killing that has been supercharged by the tax changes championed by the “man of the people” from Queens.

Quiz time. What retail company reported 10.8 billion dollars in revenue last year, and not only paid zero corporate income tax, but actually finagled a net tax rebate?  Hint – most of my readers, and this blogger, have bought from this entity. If you guessed Amazon, right you are. Consider it the high cost of low price and world-class convenience. Three other well-known corporations make the top four of this list of high earners/zero payers – Delta Airlines, Chevron Oil and General Motors. Other big names further down the list of what you might call Steve Martin honorees (earn megabucks, pay zilch) include Halliburton, Netflix and IBM.

Of course, this did not begin on that dark day of the greatly exaggerated crowd of Inauguration worshippers on the National Mall, but it has become a lot more pervasive during Trump’s reign. Here’s how much more pervasive – the number of companies reporting income but paying no corporate income tax since 2017 has doubled.  That must be how we “make America great again.” I guess.

Just think what all that corporate tax avoidance is doing to government revenue. You know, the resources that are needed to restore our nation’s aging infrastructure.  And now think about how disingenuous Trump was last week when he – allegedly in earnest – met with Congressional Democrats to discuss – get this – a $2 trillion infrastructure initiative.  Where in the hell is all that development and construction money going to come from?  Remember way back in 2017, when Trump scored his biggest “success,” the tax “reform” whose benefits went mostly to those at the very top of the wealth and income ladders, and, of course, big corporations.  You can’t make this stuff up. It’s too unbelievable. Think about this, though, the next time you nearly break your axle or your jaw when you meet up with a wrecking-ball-sized pothole, or detour around a water main break, or wait an eternity for an overcrowded subway train.

Private gain at public cost is of course far from simply an American problem.  But the US plays an interesting role in the global greedfest. NPR’s Fresh Air ran a thought-provoking interview the other day with author Oliver Bullough.  The Title and subtitle of Bullough’s recent book describe the global con game the author has exposed: “Moneyland: Why Thieves and Crooks now Rule the World and how to take it back.”

Bullough suggests “Moneyland” as an apt name for the extra-national virtual realm where ill-gotten fortunes are sheltered from the boogeyman, er, uh, I mean the tax collector.  How much ill-gotten fortune?  The estimate is that $1 trillion per year are stolen by corrupt government officials, oligarchs and other shady characters, often in the poorest of the world’s countries. That’s money that could be spent improving the lives of those countries’ suffering citizens, not to mention stopping environmental destruction. But no matter. That money can’t be carried around in suitcases, semis or container ships. Hence, the need for “Moneyland.” Moneyland is where that money is invested – purchasing high-end real estate and corporate entities, investing in financially challenged construction and development. And where are the main capitals of Moneyland, i.e., where the bulk of these stolen fortunes are invested?  Let’s just say it’s mainly an American game.

Bullough lists New York City and London as the unquestionable big dogs in this show, but the next three spots are major American cities – Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco.  The high rollers who play this game are no dummies. They may have acquired their stolen riches in Nigeria, Saudi Arabia or Ukraine, but they want to invest it in places where it will be hard for another thief or thug to make off with it. So they are enriching themselves in an environment of rampant corruption, then taking those fortunes to a place where rule of law is somewhat more respected.  As I said, no dummies these guys.

Based in Great Britain, Bullough regularly conducts what he calls “kleptocracy tours.” These allow tourists to see from the outside, but close-up, the lives of the rich and infamous. As for my own city of origin, New York, Bullough’s take reminded me of a terrifically sad expose from Kevin Baker in Harpers last July – “The Death of a Once Great City: The fall of New York and the urban crisis of affluence.” Baker details the incredible lengths NYC has gone to in order to attract these foreign “investors,” with the result that these oligarchs and their friends spend little time in the city, while the services and businesses that actual residents depend upon flee or decline.  Bullough has a term for this phenomenon. He says it amounts to converting swaths of Moneyland’s main capitals – London and NYC – into physical “bank accounts.”

I took perverse pleasure in Bullough’s description of the language game that defines this virtual industry. It’s not “hiding dirty money,” it’s “asset protection.” “Secrecy?” Come, now, comrade, we are talking “confidentiality.” Let’s not talk “tax havens.” We are “avoiding fiscal friction.” “Bribes,” you say? No, “consultancy payments.”

One more thing. Guess which six-times-bankrupt NYC developer grew heavily dependent on these sorts of investors following the 2008 financial crisis (which of course was itself precipitated by reckless speculation and fraud by the highest of high rollers). And just think how much gratitude such a developer could show to those shady investors who had saved his faux-tanned hide.  And imagine if such a developer could ascend to powerful office.  Oops.

All this naturally leads to a crucial question. How did we ever let it get this bad?  An even more crucial question is “How can we stop it, and get on a path where the public good actually matters more than currying favor with foreign oligarchs in order to further enrich our own elites?”

I found some answers to those questions in an extended article in Time magazine from about a year ago, by Steven Brill. The article is adapted from his book, whose title rings so true to this blogger: “Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America’s 50-year Fall – and Those Fighting to Reverse it.”  Brill’s essential point is this – members of the Baby Boom generation have misused the privilege they gained from their parents’ hard work in creating a better, more prosperous post-war America.  Telling his own story of being the beneficiary of some fortunate connections – plucked from school in Far Rockaway, Queens (not far from where I grew up) he describes how he was eased into a successful undergraduate ride through Yale, culminating in a law degree from the same elite university.

And what did he contribute to society? By his own admission, his work as a lawyer – among other things, founding the journal American Lawyer – to “entrench a new aristocracy of rich knowledge workers who were much smarter and more driven than the old-boy network of heirs born on third base – and much more able to enrich and protect the clients who could afford them.” He details how his work – and that of other knowledge workers like him – enabled the very changes in the American economy that led to dramatically worsening wealth inequality, a system built on quick “deals” rather than long-term development and investment, corporate lobbying in virtual control of legislation and regulation, and ultimately the 2008 market crash. He spares no one – many Democrats have been just as responsible as Republicans for this rigging of the economic game.

In both the Time piece and his book – which is now on my must-read list – Brill describes his multi-year journey seeking answers to this fundamental question: “How did the world’s greatest democracy and economy become a land of crumbling roads, galloping income inequality, bitter polarization and dysfunctional government?”

If we have any hope of getting America back on a path where the public good matters, and the system is not run ever more for and by the elites, we need some answers to that question. And Brill provides some hope by naming some groups that I plan to further explore in a future piece. To close, here is a list of organizations that he names that are working to re-level the economic playing field:

Pursuit (formerly known as C4Q, helps displaced workers learn software engineering)

Issue One (An organization whose web site banner proclaims “Why Mitch McConnell is not invincible” is an organization I want to know more about!)

Better Markets (Mission is to support Main Street, not Wall Street)

Bipartisan Policy Center (As name suggests, seeks and promotes best ideas from both sides of the aisle)

Partnership for Public Service (Promotes more effective government; who can argue with that?!)

I recognize that all this reading can be very bleak. But one of the best cautionary quotes ever suggests that we pay attention and do what we can to reverse these disturbing trends:

“We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” – Louis D. Brandeis

Let’s start by un-electing the apologists for and enablers of the corporatist ruling class here in this struggling democracy of ours.  That is, remove the fixers, before they really do take all. I’d start with Mitch McConnell, if it were up to me.

You might have heard, a national election looms in 2020 . . .





The Lies that Blind

28 04 2019

War on Science.png            The “young and vibrant” (Trump’s newest self-description!) current occupant of the White House does not lie nearly as often as his harshest critics allege. Although he clearly surpasses the other most notably mendacious chief executives of my lifetime – Nixon and George W Bush (Johnson and Clinton deserve honorable mentions here too), there is a key distinction to be made. While all presidents lie at times and for various reasons, Trump far exceeds them in that plus another category of false statements.

No one bullshits like Donald Trump. There’s a key difference here.  To lie, one must know the truth, but then say something contrary to that truth.  I suggest that, much of the time, Trump does not know, and chooses not to learn, what is true. Don’t take my word for it.  Take a look at special “Pants on Fire” pages posted by Politifact, documenting dozens of false statements by Trump.  Here are just a few of his spews that he has delivered while obviously having no idea what the hell he is bullshitting about:

  • “The noise (from windmills) causes cancer.”
  • “For years, they have not been able to get tax cuts — many, many years, since Reagan.”
  • “If you buy, you know, a box of cereal, if you do anything, you have a voter ID. … The only thing you don’t is if you’re a voter of the United States.”

Want the whole truth on DT’s addiction to lies, exaggeration and bullshit?  The Washington Post has that, right up to the present moment.  As of this writing? A mere 9,451 false claims.  And remember – though campaign frenzy has been upon us for many weeks already, Trump is only three months into the second half of his term.  Oy.

That Trump and the truth are virtual strangers is not news.  But far more important is the deliberate peddling of known falsehoods about issues related to science by key parts of his administration.  These virtual corporate agents know exactly what is true. But in the age of “alternative facts,” ideology trumps truth, so they do everything possible to suppress and subvert the truth. Oh, and they lie as well. With the winking approval of their head man, Trump.  Remember his oft-repeated mission regarding regulation?  Remember his publicity stunt with the piles of paper, stating he was going to eliminate so many “job-killing” regulations that the regulatory burden on business would be less than it was nearly sixty years ago?  Whether you do or not, you need to know this.  His administration is full of polluter-serving opportunists who are taking advantage of a genuinely and unapologetically ignorant chief executive who will do anything to cater to big business and his “base.”

The idea for this article hatched earlier this week while I was reading the current (May) Scientific American. On page 88, a one-page article by Mark Fischetti speaks volumes. I can’t show you the article because SciAm, though a wonderful journal that I have long subscribed to, keeps their online content carefully guarded, and also does not precisely coordinate paper and web material.  Damn. Anyway, Fischetti’s piece, “Silencing Science,” tells the tale of government interference – on behalf of polluters – in science.  It documents 307 incidents of interference since the 2016 elections.  They break down as 195 efforts at the federal level, and 112 at the state. Here is a summary of the categories of interference:

  • Censorship – 93 incidents (scrubbing web sites, hiding data, forbidding scientists to speak publicly)
  • Bias and misrepresentation – 69 (Discounting studies in policy making, mischaracterizing papers)
  • Budget cuts – 44 (Ending program funds, cancelling grants)
  • Personnel changes – 40 (Remove scientists from agency positions, fail to fill openings)
  • Interference with education – 35 (Limiting teaching of theories, preventing use of materials)
  • Self-censorship – 14 (Voluntarily suppressing or distorting information)
  • Research hindrance – 12 (Destroying data, preventing publication, pressuring researchers to alter findings)

At the federal level, here are the departments where the highest level of anti-science has occurred:

  • Environmental Protection Agency – 51 incidents
  • Interior – 35
  • White House – 25
  • Health and Human Services – 17
  • Energy – 16

No federal surprises. Nor at the state level – Florida and Texas are by far the biggest offenders, followed by Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Iowa. And of course they are still at it.  You might say just getting started, with nearly two years left in the know-nothing (and damned proud of it!), anti-science, bullshitting bully’s term. (Note my refusal to say “first” term?) The numbers I share from Fischetti’s piece are already more than two months old, but you can see the current situation at his main source of data, the Silencing Science Tracker, maintained by the Columbia Law School.

Here’s another non-surprise. The vast majority of the documented incidents – 212 to be precise – deal with climate change. But don’t think they stop there. On the DeSmog Blog – which I highly recommend – I found an excellent read on the efforts of EPA chief Andrew Wheeler to relax pollution standards.  As you will see if you just look at the graphs, Wheeler and his pro-pollution crusaders are selling wacko theories based on evidence-free speculation that certain pollution levels are “safe” for human health. I have maintained that Wheeler is far more dangerous than his scandal-ridden, self-dealing predecessor. He pushes the same anti-environment agenda as faux-prince Scott Pruitt. Only far more effectively. At the DeSmog link, if you do just one thing, watch the imbedded one-minute video.  It explains the effects that particulate matter pollution has on our lungs, hearts and brains. Not that anyone at the top of Trump’s EPA gives half a flying feck. Or, come to think of it, could that be part of their strategy?  More sick people means more Big Pharma profits, and more brain-damaged people expands the crowd vulnerable to accepting their lies and bullshit as fact.  I don’t think Wheeler and the rest of the wreckers are that smart, but you never know.

For one last look at the Republican war on science, check this Scientific American blog post from February 2017. Note the date – just a few short weeks after Mr. Anti-Science (who would have won the general election, believe me, if not for all those illegal criminals voting for Crooked Hillary) waddled into the White House.  What makes this post interesting for me is the cover picture.  Who is the poster boy?  A Republican president from the past who actually respected science.  No kidding.

Different realm, same story. At the top of the Department of Commerce right now sits Wilbur Ross. A clueless rich guy as well as a faux billionaire (Trump lite?), Ross is defying all the expert advice from within the Census Bureau – experts who actually know what they are talking about – and carrying out the marching orders from his ignorant, big-brained boss.  In a fight that will play out in the Stolen US Supreme Court (thanks, Mitch!), Ross is insisting on including a question about citizenship in the looming 2020 census. Constitution’s requirement that all heads be counted, without regard to citizenship?  Bah, who needs a Constitution when we have our ideology! This will end badly. But the consequences of opposing expert advice, and the Constitution, and precedent will fall mainly in this case on poor people and Blue states.  Mission accomplished.

At times like this, we need some glimmers of hope.  Here are a couple.

This morning, NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday featured an interview with a young Republican – Nick Lindquist of the American Conservation Coalition. Yes, you read that right.  A young Republican who actually “believes in” science. Not a word about Chinese hoaxes here.  Could he represent a new movement?  More important, if it turns out to be a movement, how long will it take to break the corporatist stooges’ stranglehold on power?  Mitch McConnell is not going away anytime soon.

More parents get it. More teachers believe it should be taught.  It’s not happening nearly often enough. But teaching kids at school about climate change could be on the upswing.

Considering Trump’s approach to matters of race, it’s hard to imagine the White House having a more appropriate name.  Nevertheless, consider this modest proposal of mine.

Let’s rename it the Palace of Pignorance (Pretend-Ignorance).

It doesn’t have to be this way.

 

Michael Murphy
St. Paul MN





Friend or Foe?

21 04 2019

Whales.jpg            No, not Trump, not Barr, not Mueller.  Not any person at all, actually. I’m writing this week about an inanimate entity that circles the world, and has a profound effect on all life, marine and terrestrial alike. I speak of the ocean.

Over the next few decades, more and more people will be experiencing the “foe” side of this comparison of the ocean’s role in humanity’s fate. But as the rising ocean alters human fortunes, we must remember that this “foe” is entirely a monster of our own making.

Though I live about as far from the ocean as an American can, I still miss the seaside of my youth.  I spent countless days at Long Island’s beaches, and always visit the shore on my east-coast visits, regardless of season. The power and beauty of the ocean never fails to take hold of me. I can’t think of a more comforting sound than listening to the pounding and rushing of the waves on the shore, accompanied by the calls of sea birds.

Comfort is not how climate refugees will describe the ocean that will displace an estimated 150 million coastal dwellers by 2100. Those numbers vary, but it is clear that, on our current trajectory of adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, a significant slice of the human population will have to flee inland. The unanswerable question right now is just how far the sea will rise, and how much habitable land will be permanently flooded. Anyone who thinks the current worldwide refugee situation is serious – and it is – should consider what this pretty much locked-in future will mean. Though many US politicians currently in power – in fact nearly every prominent one from the Republican side – dance around this issue (“I’m not a scientist”), the US military is planning for the inevitable conflicts ahead.

Sea rise is far from the only risk we face from what we are doing to the ocean.  Considering the global ocean’s vastness, it is hard to imagine, but true that our profligate burning of fossil fuels has altered the ocean’s chemistry. The ocean historically has a basic pH reading, and still does.  But we have made it less basic, i.e., more acidic. That spells trouble for mollusks, some of which form the base of the marine food chain. It is also, along with warming ocean temperatures, responsible for grave damage to coral reefs.  This includes the biggest reef of all, Australia’s Great Barrier. Truth is, our chemical alteration of the ocean may be mimicking a process connected to what is known as the End-Permian Extinction.  That occurred about 250 million years ago, and nearly wiped out all life on the planet. Various causes are suspected, but one thing is clear – toxic oceans wiped out 96 percent of marine life.

So human activity is raising ocean levels, and altering marine chemistry.  What are we doing physically? Not a pretty sight there, either.  Overfishing has wiped out more than 90 percent of the ocean’s large fish.  The unfortunate poster child in this massacre is the Bluefin tuna.  In the Pacific, that species – so prized by sushi lovers – has declined by 97%.  And if you have a hard time summoning concern about disappearance of large fish at the top of the ocean food chain, just look at the opportunists that thrive in their absence. Ouch, that stings.

Marine mammals aren’t safe either.  Japan recently announced it will leave the International Whaling Commission so that it can continue its “scientific” hunting of cetaceans without adhering to international conventions.  And it’s not just Japan. In a recent report, the EIA and the Animal Welfare Institute said Japan, Norway and Iceland have killed nearly 40,000 whales since the 1986 international moratorium on whaling, with more than 22,000 killed by Japanese boats.  And who are we in the US to point fingers?  Our military forces and oil industry regularly conduct underwater sonar-based research and reconnaissance, with little regard for effects on marine mammals.

But the assault on the ocean that has been gaining more and more attention in recent years – with good reason – is the worldwide mess of discarded plastic. Scientists estimate that every year about 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans. In 2025, the annual input is estimated to be about twice that.  That plastic does untold harm to marine life. Here is another sad poster child for you – a whale that died with 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach.

So what are we to make of all this harm we are doing to the worldwide ocean, that great sustainer of life that we are steadily turning into a menace?  With the exception of the unforgivable overfishing, all this human-caused damage is not deliberate.  But we all contribute to some degree or other with our individual thoughtless acts, and our collective refusal to elect leaders who will manage these problems for the general good.  We need to get started on all that, big time.

Since ocean acidification is the evil twin of human-caused climate disruption, all the recommended individual steps to help stem climate change also apply to ocean acidification. This article provides a comprehensive array of individual and collective actions that can help head off climate disruption, and slow and eventually reverse ocean acidification. Not time to follow that link?  No problem, here are their ten steps:

  • Refrigerant management
  • Wind turbines
  • Reduced food waste
  • Plant-rich diets
  • Tropical forest restoration
  • Educating girls
  • Family planning
  • Solar farms
  • Silvopasture (combining grazing pasture with trees)
  • Rooftop solar

Intrigued?  Follow the link.

As for the physical assaults, ignorance and greed are responsible for the catastrophic overfishing. Good luck stopping that before the last Bluefin tuna appears on sushi plates.  When it comes to plastic, some efforts are underway, even if they are only a hint at what is possible. Keeping plastic out of the waste stream is the key to keeping the stuff out of waterways – which all of course empty into the ocean. Some municipalities and states have instituted bans on those ubiquitous and useless single-use plastic grocery bags. But this is a hard fight, since control efforts always meet stiff opposition from the plastics industry. This is yet another instance of corporate power trashing the common good. Would you believe banning the bans?  As for cleaning up the junk that is already out there, here is a non-profit doing just that. 4Ocean funds its work in part by selling bracelets made from recycled plastic. And on a smaller scale, a Florida brewery has developed an edible six-pack ring.  Edible for turtles and other marine life, that is.

At times in writing this blog, I feel I am repeating myself over and over. There is a good reason for that. Virtually all the problems besieging the world’s oceans come down to a pair of interwoven causes. Those causes would be corporate control of the political and policy processes, and the ever-expanding human population. Here are some important groups working on those causes.

You don’t have to be a scientist to understand that human activity is steadily destroying the ocean’s ability to sustain life both wild and human.  We are in the process of turning a great friend of humanity into a mortal enemy.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

 

Michael Murphy

St. Paul MN





Way Beyond Lobbying

14 04 2019

Corporate Power           Think about this term – “model legislation.” It sounds positive, even lofty, idealistic. Maybe even something to benefit the many. Something to admire, even emulate.

Think again.  It’s not a stretch to see model legislation as something more like this: an ingeniously designed, well-oiled machine to promote the interests of the powerful over all others.  A sort of “industry to look after industry.” It works in stealth mode, behind the scene. Usually behind the headlines, too.

I’ve long known this, and it fits my root-cause analysis that says this: pick a societal problem. Any problem. Examples – gun violence, environmental degradation, opioid abuse, college loan debt burden. Analyze each down to its root causes, and you will find this single factor – some super-wealthy honcho, powerful corporation or industry group has bought off the government and twisted the rules for their own benefit, may the public be damned.

We don’t read about this nearly often enough in our mainstream media.  That’s why, when a short editorial from, of all places, the St. Cloud Times, was republished in excerpted form the other day in my Minneapolis StarTribune, I had to investigate.

For my non-Minnesota readers, St. Cloud is the state’s 10th largest city, population about 68,000. It’s located 65 miles northwest of the Twin Cities metro. These days, I am always glad to know that a city of this size, relatively close to a major metro area, still has its own local daily. That said, this is the first time I have found that paper to be a useful source of investigative reporting covering something that really matters. With rampant consolidation sweeping what is left of the American newspaper business, of course, it’s too much to expect that such a paper would be independent.  And the St. Cloud Times is part of the USA Today Network.  But based on my research for this short piece, that is not at all a bad thing.

The StarTribune’s republished, edited editorial did a creditable job outlining the model legislation system. It is, plain and simple, “copycat legislation crafted and pushed by special interests.” The clip also summarized a two-year investigation by USA Today, the Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity.  Broadly speaking, that study found that, from 2011-18, at least 10,000 (the actual number is no doubt much higher) “model legislation” bills were copied, virtually word-for-word, and introduced in statehouses across the country, with more than 2,100 of those 10,000 signed into law. It also points out the depth of the problem – lack of transparency. Without some serious digging, citizens have no idea of the source of these “model bills.” And in fact, even legislators who might push these bills in their state often don’t know where they come from. And bills that emerge from the “model legislation” bill mill sometimes have deceptive names. Just get this name of a “model” bill that makes it more difficult for people gravely ill with mesothelioma – which often kills in less than a year – to sue the makers of the asbestos-laden product they were exposed to.  That’s the “Asbestos Transparency Act.” And then we have the “HOPE Act.” What does that do? Why, it makes it harder for poor people to obtain food stamps.  Now, there’s “hope” for you.

All well and good.  But there is a glaring omission in the StarTribune’s editorial clip of the USA Today study.  Fortunately, the USA Today report itself – word for word in the St. Cloud Times – includes what I consider to be a crucial detail in this matter.  But even that full report does not plumb the depths of this plague on American democracy.

I recommend that you read the entire story, but it is fairly long.  If you lack the time and patience for that read, why not watch the embedded videos? They are excellent.

The first is an animation, narrated by a cartoon Uncle Sam. It’s called “How model bills work and why you should care.” But even here, in what amounts to an expose, that old demon that I call “false equivalence” taints the narrative. In several places in the full report, the writers make the point, “all sides do it.”  Meaning business interests, well-heeled donors, labor unions, and both conservative and liberal think tanks. But dig just a little below that veneer of “balance,” and you see what a money-loaded, rigged, rich man’s game this really is.  That first video cites what it calls the “worst offenders” on both sides of the conservative/liberal divide.  That is, the states which considered and enacted the greatest number of bills via model legislation. In the conservative corner – Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri, Alabama and West Virginia. On the other extreme – Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, Hawaii and Illinois.  No surprises there, right? But wait. Scroll down to the chart just below that Uncle Sam video and take a sweeping look at the US map. What colors do you see?  The studied bills are broken into four categories, color-coded red for conservative, dark blue for liberal, light blue for industry and white for “other,” whatever that is.  Forget Other, which appears insignificant except possibly for New Jersey.  Now look at the light blue and convert it to what it really should be – light red, i.e., pink – to show its affinity for the conservative side.  Got that?  Now imagine how tilted toward industry and conservative interests this whole system really is.  And finally, look at “liberal” Illinois. Lacking all the specific numbers, I took up my “ruler of social science” and measured the bars in Illinois. The result – copycat bills in the study that push industry and conservative interests are 370 percent higher in “liberal” Illinois.  That, my friends, is pure false equivalence.

Understanding the effects of this process is also important. Scroll down a little further to meet Chris Winokur, whose husband Bob – former mayor of Fort Collins CO – died just nine months after being diagnosed with mesothelioma. Their case – that his disease was caused by exposure to asbestos during his previous work with the US Forest Service – was not settled when he passed away. And that is even without the new delays of the “Asbestos Transparency Act.” And here is that key item omitted in my StarTribune excerpt. It turns out that misleading bill is a product of the most nefarious bill mill of all – the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  That organization, my friends, is a key tool of the Koch Brothers.  Those guys are the climate-change denying industrial titans who seek to make the country and the world safe for unfettered, unregulated global capitalist interests. They do this, quite simply, by subverting democracy.

Deception is a key part of this process. But the powerful moneyed interests are also not above shameless exploitation of struggling people. Scroll down to watch a video of the tale of Susan Edwards, a disillusioned Arizona mother of boys with autism.  She was key in getting the Arizona legislature to debate a bill that would have created special vouchers for students with disabilities.  But as the bill went through the political meat grinder, special interests, most notoriously the Christian right (in association with Betsy DeVos – later Trump’s Education secretary), tacked on so many other categories for vouchers that it ultimately became a “vouchers for all” sausage.  In this case, though, the public had a rare last laugh. On Election Day 2018, Arizona voters rejected universal vouchers by a 65-35 margin.

The full report on the USA Today investigation includes more examples of citizens, organizations and even a Congressman who were harmed, embarrassed or simply misled by the model legislation machine, but I will leave you to investigate further. If you wish to understand how the dregs of our democracy are being steadily eroded.

But I will leave you with final proof of two things. First, how this model legislation, far from being a game played by all sides equally, is actually a key strategy in the right-wing campaign to turn America into an involuntary conservative bastion. Second, that mainstream media are blind to the bloodless right-wing coup that has been proceeding. It’s not clear whether they just don’t see it, or, more ominously, choose to look the other way or even aid and abet.

To see proof of both my points, just scroll down to the two graphics found about halfway through the article.  The first is labeled “Which bills were copied?” The second is “Which copies became law?” These two graphics tell the main part of the investigative story. Following my previous advice to combine the Industry and Conservative totals to get the real picture, the strength of the right-wing, corporate influence fairly screams in your ear.  Because I am something of a math nerd, I will provide the exact numbers and ratios.

  • Bills copied, total of all states
    • Industry and conservative – 8,713
    • Liberal – 1,602
    • Ratio – 5.43

Bills copied is one thing. Though those are out of balance, if they languish, who really cares?  But where the rotted rubber meets the rutted road, what is the real story?

  • Bills that became law, across the 50 states
    • Industry and conservative – 1,962
    • Liberal – 142
    • Ratio – 13.82

Remember that canard about this being something done “by all sides?” Baloney.  Therein lies mainstream media’s complicity in the corporate coup that has steadily, inexorably hijacked our democracy over the past 35 years.  Do I have all the answers?  Sorry, no. But more citizens becoming aware of this heist would be a good start. And then . . .

I do know what could help.

Meanwhile, think on this. President Calvin Coolidge may have said “The business of the American people is business.”

But he could not have foreseen the way, a century later, global corporations and their bought-off toadies virtually rule the American people. And tighten their stranglehold on power, stolen Supreme Court after gerrymandered election after shady model legislation, year after year after year.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

 

Michael Murphy

St. Paul MN

mickwmurph@yahoo.com