IBI Watch 1/15/12

15 01 2012

Populism False and Real //

The attacks on Mitt Romney by his fellow Republicans are predictable – but who knew they would be so entertaining, and so blatantly hypocritical?  Sure, we expected to hear the ‘elitist’ and ‘out of touch’ charges.  But when Perry, Santorum and especially Gingrich go for the jugular by calling the front-runner out for spending unlimited cash to game the system, for making millions by firing people, well, the shameless political entertainment just does not get much better.  This is a job for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

It also makes us wonder – just how rich are these guys?  Let’s tally it all up with this slide show from Money Magazine.  Every one of the remaining candidates – and President Obama as well – is a millionaire.  And 57 members of Congress (11 percen t of both Houses) are among the top 1 percent wealthiest in America.  Of course, no current candidate tops Romney.  Here is a photo of the young lad and his comrades celebrating, back in the Bain days.

And politicians are just one slice of the wealthiest sector that is pulling away from the rest of us in income and wealth.  Our system has devolved into a virtually continuous campaign, with the financial barriers of entry so high that only very wealthy people can run for higher office.  So the choice is – a millionaire spends his or her own money getting elected, so they can do their compatriots’ bidding when in office, or a slightly less well-heeled candidate can use piles of corporate cash to get elected, in order to begin doing the bidding of corporations and tycoons.  Some choice.  This article from AlterNet suggests explains how, increasingly, the very wealthy are creating a separate, insulated realm for themselves.  Think of it as a gated enclave on a massive scale.

The Occupy movement is awakening more people all the time.  Check this recent Pew study on rich/poor class conflict.  And populist Elizabeth Warren – denied the chance to lead the new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau that she developed – is raising big dollars from small donors in an effort to win back from Scott Brown the Senate seat long held by Ted Kennedy.

Could this awakening be coming just in time?  Paul Krugman points out that Mitt Romney’s chief claim to presidential qualification – his vaunted prowess as a CEO – is not the knockout sales pitch he’d have us believe.  And think of the consequences of a Republican presidency.  The current corporatist Supreme Court – authors of the notorious Citizens’ United decision – would move further to the right, and for a very long time.

Many are watching the circular firing squad currently in progress in the Republican campaign, and assuming Obama will win handily.  I differ.  Remember 2000?  How about 2004?  With all the current voter suppression measures (disguised as protection against ‘voter fraud’), the Republican nominee merely has to make the election close enough for shenanigans, and presto – ‘victory.’  Just ask George.

So – what can we do?  I really like Annie Leonard’s most recent animated video, The Story of Broke.  And here is a video on efforts to overturn Citizens United.  And finally, the Occupy movement will soon take the protests to the source – the US court system.  OK, Scalia will be well insulated from the chants and drums.  But just the same, check to see if there is an Occupy the Courts event in your area on January 20.

Do You Believe in Science?

That, it seems, is what it has come to in collective regard for the crucial field of climate science.  Paleoclimatologists have done truly remarkable work, teasing out the secrets of climate long past of ice cores, carbon isotopes, maritime sediment deposits.  If we had a lick of common sense, we would be in awe of what these brilliant seekers have done for us, and making critical decisions based on their discoveries

So what do our elected policymakers do?  Just listen to the entire crowd of current Republican wannabes (with the notable exception of dark horse Jon Huntsman) and you will have your answer.  Here is just a brief video portrait of pignorance (pretend ignorance) featuring the newly anointed conservative Christian candidate.  Made me nostalgic for the good ol’ days of good ol’ George.  That new standard bearer, of course, is Rick Santorum.  When you watch, just close your eyes, change the accent, and you too will be floating in fond memories.  You will even hear the deer-in-the-headlights moment.

Recent studies show that the percentage of the American public that ‘believes’ in climate science has declined by about a third.  That means only about half the public thinks the phenomenon, which has been common scientific knowledge for more than 30 years, and is more obvious by the day, is real.  This American Life aired an especially intriguing program this week, Kid Politics.  The theme linking the stories was this – What if children ruled the world?  Could they possibly muck things up any worse than we sadly have?  It included experiments in school democracy and an examination of what passes for history indoctrination, er, uh, I mean education.  But what is most interesting in the climate change context is Act Two: Climate Changes; People Don’t.  This aptly titled segment features climate scientist Roberta Johnson, who does an admirable job encapsulating what scientists know – and are trying mightily to communicate.  It all sounds so hopeful, until you listen to an awfully bright-sounding high school freshman.  I came away understanding ever more clearly that pignorance has its price – in un-educating the next generation.  You can’t help but notice how this future Republican politico deftly brings the ‘doubt’ about evolution into the discussion of her ‘doubt’ about climate science.  Somebody should get her signed up with Karl Rove’s future recruits.

This denial of science is of course imperiling the future of our habitable planet.  But that doesn’t mean it does not provide some laughs.  Don Shelby wrote a piece for MinnPost highlighting the work of Peter Gleick.  He is a climate scientist with a strong interest in BS, that is, of course, bad science.  Read about his BS awards.  And then enjoy this Toles cartoon that about says it all.  Tom Toles has long spotlighted this issue in his sardonic work.  And on a more serious note – just when we need more and more media coverage of climate chaos and its sources, you know what we are getting – the opposite.

Here is another angle on GOP science denial.  Author Chris Mooney has taken, if you will, a scientific approach to try to understand science denial.  His new piece for AlterNet seeks to boost understanding on both sides, always a good thing.  And I strongly recommend his book – The Republican War on Science.  Just the same, as long as corporatist billions rule, the BS-slingers will continue to have high-powered bullhorns to blast their pignorance into the brains of a credulous public, allowing anti-science and anti-facts to get more than equal treatment in the media.


Twisting the recent news of the disastrous winter hitting Alaska is no big challenge.  For climate chaos disbelievers, the story line goes like this:  The liberals say there is ‘global warming.’  Well, then, how do you explain 20 feet or more of snow in Alaska?

Anyone who reads carefully among authors and scientists who dwell in the fact-based universe can’t miss the word ‘unprecedented.’  On the local scene here in the Twin Cities, we are closing in on the record for the latest sub-zero nightly low – and the longer it goes, the greater the chances of no sub-zero for an entire winter.  That would be the first time in recorded history.  But what really matters is the big picture.  Look at the extremes recorded around the world, as documented in Jeff Masters’ blog.  And we can always count on Kenny Blumenfeld for witty, truth-telling commentary.  His newsletter is such a welcome break from the happy-patter about wonderful warmth that permeates the media.  Here is a sample from last week, which was the culmination of yet another ridiculously warm and snowless interval here in what used to be thought of as cold Minnesota.

“Well, our preview-of-the-future clinic will get one more showy day today, and it may be the grand finale, or at least the grand finale of Act 1 of This Freakishly Warm Winter.  Actually, I’m not sure how the grand finale will stack up against last Thursday, which you may not have noticed, because clouds kept afternoon temperatures down to around 45 in Minneapolis, a mere 21 degrees warmer than normal.  Out to our west, however, there were no clouds, and the low relative humidity allowed for temperatures to climb into the 60s and 70s.  In January.

Records are definitely made to be broken, but usually, they are broken politely and with class.  For a station with a 100-year record, and assuming a stable (in other words unchanging) climate, you would break a few warmth records, and a few cold (why can’t “coldth” be a word?) records each year.  But, our climate is not stable, and we currently are breaking warm records at a much faster rate than we are breaking cold ones.  But still, the rules of the game dictate that, out of respect for the dignity of old records I suppose, you break them gently, and by several degrees at most.  Statistical theories modeled on extreme values even tell us that randomly selected values will occasionally exceed the existing maxima, but they will do so by nudging the edge of the distribution to the right (warm) or to the left (cold).  They will not stretch the distribution to the point of snapping.

But that’s what happened on Thursday in South Dakota.  Whereas much of the Upper Midwest has been breaking a lot of warm records this winter but have been doing so by the standard, house-rules margins of 1-5 degrees, the records set in South Dakota on Thursday exceeded previous marks by 10-20 degrees.  Totally impolite.  I would say that those records are going to stand for a long, long time, but I’m not so sure about that.  Wintertime warming is going to come easily to us.”

Want to dig deeper?  Read about melting permafrost, as reported in Climate Progress.  It’s the world we are creating, friends.

Weapons of Mass Distrust

It’s unclear right now who was responsible for the murder of the Iranian nuclear scientist last week.  The predictable accusations and denials flying around right now are complicated by the fact that mystery surrounds Iranian nuclear intentions and progress.  But if Britain, the US or Israel were involved, it would be no surprise.  In fact, it would be tradition.

If there ever were a natural friend of America in the Middle East, it would be Iran.  This country, with a highly educated, large middle class, has so long been a target of our animosity, that it is useful to reflect on the history.  While it is easy to lampoon a wildly unpredictable leader like Ahmadinejad, and just as easy to criticize the theocratic regime, always remember that we brought this on ourselves.  Read up a bit on what happened sixty years ago, when Iran dared to go its own democratic, anti-imperialistic way.  Western overthrow of Mossadegh led to the Shah.  ‘Our guy’ then ruled until 1979, when the Ayatollah took over, and most of us know the rest.

Want to read more about dozens of such overseas adventures?  Stephen Kinzer’s Overthrow documents the long tradition.  You might sum it up this way:  “Sure seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Congress Shall Make No Law . . .

A young high school student in Rhode Island recently took the First Amendment at face value.  Annoyed with a prayer that had long been posted inside her public high school, she tried to do something about it.  Jessica Ahlquist has paid a nasty price.  Whew, good thing we don’t have theocracy here, like, in, you know, Iran.

Solar Progress

Take a minute and watch this slide show.  Advances in solar technology are allowing for safe light impoverished parts of the world.  Hey, I think these lamps have potential right here in the industrialized world.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Contributed links to this posting – Jeff Carlson, Allyson Harper, Brendan Murphy, Jeff Syme




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