IBI Watch 3/4/12

4 03 2012

What Kind of Country? //

It’s the debate of our age – will America be a society that is primarily, well, a society – where we have a sense that we are all in this together – or will we be a nation of rugged individualists – each look out for our own and not care much about anyone else?  It is also the debate of the current interminable presidential election, once you cut through all the social-issue posturing.  This American Life this week ran one of its most relevant shows in recent memory on this very topic.  What I found most remarkable was its balance.  Sure, it ran a segment on the travails of New Jersey cities like Trenton, where cuts in state aid have meant dramatic cuts in police officer and firefighter ranks – with the predictable impact on public safety.  In the show’s second act, host Ira Glass got an extended interview with that architect of government starvation, Grover Norquist.  Listen to the pledgemeister crow about how he is ‘winning.’  But the most interesting segment of all was the final ‘wake-up call.’  That was a close look at what has happened in Colorado Springs, whose voters turned down a tax increase and then dealt with the consequences.  Lots of savings?  Randian nirvana? Listen to find out.


Of Promises and Projections

Led by frontrunner Mitt Romney, all four remaining Republican presidential contenders promise low, low taxes and high, high prosperity.  Nothing really new there of course.  But the difference between what they promise and what nonpartisan experts project is even starker than usual.  Try this Money magazine article laying out the cost of the tax cuts Romney promises.  That’s right, a cool $3.4 trillion.  A little more of that and you will be talking real money.  And wait – according to Paul Krugman, Romney’s proposals are actually less radical, less skewed toward the wealthy and powerful, than those of his rivals.


Trickle-Down Tricksters

Though you would never know it from Grover Norquist’s campaign, taxes on high earners today are dramatically lower than they have been over the past 70 years.  Top marginal rates have gone steadily downward since the 1970s.  The main way this profound change in tax policy has been sold to the public is the familiar trickle-down theory – lower taxes mean more money for the wealthy to invest so that more peasants can have jobs.  In recent times, this propaganda has been repositioned – we can’t tax the venerable and all-powerful job creators, lest they bag up their riches and head overseas, we are told.  But we have been on this road for some time, and the results are, to put it mildly, problematic.  Two new books on my reading list tackle this problem – Winner-Take-All Politics by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, and Pity the Billionaire, by Thomas Frank.  Hacker and Pierson recently appeared on Moyers and Company, where they discussed their view that the changes in American society – concentration of wealth in fewer hands, rapid growth for the top and stagnation for all others, etc. – was largely engineered, and not some unexpected act of God.  They use two metaphorical countries to compare our reality with what it could be – our current home, ‘Richistan,’ and ‘Broadland.’  Their conclusion as to why the rich and powerful have done this – ‘because they could.’  Amen, brothers.  But they apparently leave a note of hope as well – “Politics got us into this mess – presumably it can also get us out of it.”


Curious what your income might be if you lived in Broadland rather than our current Richistan?  Try this calculator.


Another view of why the rich and powerful would push their influence far enough to rig the system in their favor emerges from new research.  So you see, the more wealth I pile up, the more I focus on me, not anyone else.  But don’t worry – when it comes to greed-driven fraud, we are in good hands – Gordon Gecko is now on the case.


Bush Dynasty Chronicles

No one wants to talk about it much, but the previous administration played fast and loose with the truth, in myriad ways.  Former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman counts the ways, in her new book.  AlterNet interviewed her recently.  Move on, some say.  But wait.  We are not done with this dynasty yet – not by a long shot.  I have been predicting Jeb’s rise in 2016 for some time.  But with Romney’s continued difficulty winning over his fractured, tea-drunk party, we could see him much sooner.  And if you think the ongoing fracas within the GOP dooms them for 2012, I say, think again.


The Ongoing Struggle Against Climate Pignorance

As the climate destabilizes, and the ‘drill baby drill’ crowd just can’t wait to burn more fossil fuel, I say the battle over public awareness still matters.  Good news of a victory in court.  Prominent climate scientist Michael Mann will not have to turn over his internal communication to the pignorant (pretend ignorant) anti-science witch hunters.  To hear from Mann himself, check this audio interview from this week’s NPR Science Friday.  Mann’s new book – The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars – looks to include some valuable information not only on climate issues, but also the long slog against pignorant pundits and politicians who have managed to freeze climate policy as the situation only worsens.  His prescription – stop favoring fossil fuels, and instead incentivize alternatives.


Here is more.  The fossil fuel industry itself is not ignoring the problems of climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.  No – they have a plan to save our sorry keisters.  Not necessarily the wisest plan, mind you.  Magical thinking, anyone?  Read about it here. Also be sure to check this terrific climate site hosted by the New York Times.


Truck-Based SUVs – Damage that Can’t be Undone

Star Trek’s Scottie said it best: “You cannot change the laws of physics.”  Ever since the 1980s, when the Reagan administration decided that we needed massive repurposed pickup trucks masquerading as cars (large, truck-based SUVs), we have been dealing with the fallout.  First there was the long rollover controversy – the vehicles were (surprise!) too tall for their footprint, and often rolled over, with devastating results.  The ‘solution’ – ‘electronic stability control,’ an amazing modern feature designed to help the behemoths defy gravity.   Then there was that little problem about the too-tall bumpers overriding the rocker panels of ordinary cars.  There is still no fix in sight for that ‘collateral damage,’ which leads to horrible collision results for anyone unlucky enough to land in the SUV’s path – as discussed last week.  Likewise for another dirty little secret about what happens if you are cut down by a SUV instead of a passenger car.  Keith Bradsher, author of High and Mighty, states that 10.6 percent of pedestrians hit by SUVs are killed, compared to 6.6 percent of pedestrians hit by regular sized cars.


And now there is a new ‘fix.’  When I heard about the plans to mandate rear cameras in vehicles, I was reminded of a woman a friend of mine knows who used to drive one of the more monstrous pickup-based SUVs – maybe it was the Annihilator, or the Eliminator, or the Devastator.  Anyway, she had young children at the time, and always had the oldest get out of the vehicle so he could tell Mommy if there was anything behind the tank as she backed it out of the driveway.  Something wrong with this picture?  If you think this camera business is not directly caused by a need to manage the bulk and blindness of the behemoths, check this phrase from the news coverage of the vehicle rear camera debate:  “According to Kids And Cars, a nonprofit group, 50 children are injured every week from vehicle backover accidents, and at least two children die from those injuries. The group says that more than 60 percent of backover incidents involved a large SUV, truck or van.”  Read more here and here.  So now we will all have to pay for rear cameras.  Another solution to fix a problem that never should have been allowed to happen in the first place.  Ah, morning in America just goes on and on.


Laudable Environmental Work, Warm and Cold

First the warm.  Ken Nedimeyer and a team of volunteers are actively rebuilding coral reefs in the Florida Keys.  Read more about the organization and learn how to help right here.


For the cold, how about a paradox?  The world’s first line of defense against a ‘perfect storm’ of destruction in the natural world is now safely ensconced in a very cold place where virtually nothing grows.  That would be the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, just 700 miles from the North Pole.  There, Cary Fowler has been busy with a team, storing seeds from all over the world, protected against a tri-part perfect storm – the rise of monoculture (and decline of biodiversity in food crops), global population increases, and of course manmade climate change.  The vault was featured this week on NPR’s The Story, and also toured by Sixty Minutes a while back.  You can also get an idea of the scale of the effort at the Crop Trust web site.



“The only trouble with capitalism is capitalists – they are too damn greedy.”

– Herbert Hoover



Contributed links to this posting – Jeff Carlson, Allyson Harper, Barbara Pedro Miguel, Brendan Murphy




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