IBI Watch 4/1/12

1 04 2012

Government for Sale //

I have long argued that a cascade of positive, general-good-promoting changes would flow if one single change were made.  Of course, that single change is in no way simple.  It is the private money that runs our political system.  And since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which anointed unlimited political spending as ‘speech,’ that goal seems further away all the time.

As they have done so many times, Ira Glass and his staff at This American Life ran a riveting episode that gets to the heart of this supremely important topic.  Enjoy it on the archives here.  The edition details the reality of running for and serving in today’s Congress – it is ALL about securing cash, and all the obligations that brings.  It also looks at the Citizens United monsters known as SuperPACs.  But the segment I found most compelling was the third, which brought together the thwarted architects of the most recent attempt to stifle the money machine – Senator John McCain and former Senator Russ Feingold.  I don’t think I have ever heard a sitting legislator rip into the much-deserving Supreme Court in quite the way McCain does here.  But I think the good senator gives Justice Scalia and his friends too much credit here when he calls their perspective ‘naïve.’  I believe the Supreme Corporatists know damned well what they are doing.  Note that the audio for the TAL links will not be available until the evening of 4-1 (no fooling!).  However, these associated charts from Planet Money tell the story as well.


Time to Stand Our Ground Against ALEC

The major-league power brokers of America now seem to be earning at least a little of the intense public attention they have long deserved.  ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council – is basically the place where corporations exercise their direct influence on lawmaking in states across the nation, creating ‘model legislation’ that they work to get approved in a series of state legislatures.  No real news there, you say?  No different from lobbying, you say?  They’re probably just aiming at lower taxes, you say?  If you’re inclined to say any of those, you really need to explore some of these links.

First – Terry Gross’s Fresh Air did a terrific story last summer, interviewing The Nation’s John Nichols as well as ALEC’s leader – who really needs to be heard to be believed.  I provided some links last July in this post.  But since then ALEC’s power, influence and scope have only grown.  And the current news item actually relates to stand-your-ground laws.  You know, those laws that expand our rights to shoot and kill when we feel threatened.  Try this Paul Krugman commentary on both the gun legislation, and the overall agenda ALEC is pursuing.  As Krugman points out, the special interest of this ambitious and insidious uber-special interest is corporatization and privatization.


Next – Learn more about the America that this virtual shadow government is working to build.  Public interest? Bah.  How about destroying environmental regulations?  Maybe some for-profit online learning?  But best of all, try some exploitation of prison labor.  Ah, yes, the land of opportunity!  You can learn lots more from the ALEC Exposed web site, which is updated frequently as news of more ‘successes’ is unearthed.Climate Scientists’ Biggest Fear Realized

Forget Climategate allegations.  Forget Rush Limbaugh fulminations.  Forget Fox News obfuscations.  It’s been learned that climate scientists and activists called a hasty videoconference Saturday.  Their most formidable, most dangerous truth-telling opponent now has unlimited time to pursue his quest – to save the country and the world from the nefarious, job-killing, sky-is-falling rhetoric of liberal scientists.

That’s right, following his convention loss, the mighty State Senator Michael Jungbauer will soon be free to knock those lying scientists off their ivory-tower perches.  In his own words (check this video), the soon to be ex-state senator will be ‘honing in,’ exposing those charlatans – James Hansen, Paul Douglas, the whole research-money-grubbing, progress-destroying lot.  After all, Jungbauer has a sacred mission – to protect carbon dioxide (the stuff of life) from elimination at the hands of climate zealots.  And watch out, you liberal scientists . . . the good senator revealed his secret in the video – he is deploying the time-honored technique of, again, using his term – ‘infotainment.’

Rumors are that videoconference participants vowed to work all the harder to exaggerate temperature and carbon data to scrounge ever more research funds.  They will need every penny to fight this mighty crusader for truth and prosperity.  Links providing further detail may be available soon after April 1.


How We are Taken in – the Frank Perspective

If you have never read commentary by Thomas Frank, you are missing keen insight that answers many puzzling questions.  His book What’s the Matter with Kansas? solves a riddle that vexes many – how the modern Republican Party has managed to convince a critical mass of working-class voters to vote against their own interests.  Not pretty, just effective.  His recent book – Pity the Billionaire – is a welcome update chronicling the strengthening of the wealthy since the 2008 financial collapse.

Frank’s essays are a highlight of Harpers each month.  And this piece – from the recently revived journal Baffler – analyzes several phenomena around the series of bubbles, and the wealthy’s continuing success at profiting and then avoiding blame.  He points out that those who got it right all along on the bubbles – James K Galbraith being one – are still not being listened to.  Why?  The truth is often inconvenient to those who would make a financial killing, and convince others that they can get in on it, if only they believe and act accordingly. Here is a great quote:
“You can have a shot at being part of the 1 percent, money tells us, only if you are first committed to making the 1 percent stronger, to defending their piles in some new and imaginative way, to rationalizing and burnishing their glory, to exempting them from regulation or taxation, to bowing down as they pass, and to believing in your heart that their touch will heal scrofula.”
For some strange reason, as I read that, I heard a chorus of Republican voices warning us not to burden ‘job creators.’


Climate Reality – Not Just for Liberals Anymore

I was shocked to learn this week that Twin Cities meteorologist Paul Douglas – one of the most committed scientific truth- tellers you will find – is a Republican.  Actually, shocked is the wrong word.  Elated is more like it.  What is shocking is the way the science of weather and climate has become so politicized over the last 30 years, but especially over the last 15 as the gravity of the man-made climate crisis has deepened.  In this very informative blog entry, Douglas reveals his political leaning, and does his usual yeoman service explaining the situation in terms anyone not blinded by pignorant (pretend-ignorant) ideology can understand.

Just for good measure, here is a piece by climate scientist Michael Mann, who was vilified in association with the phony scandal known, of course, as Climategate.  Mann has written a book about his experience.

If we will ever get moving on the climate crisis, it will take some push from industry.  How about the insurance industry?  Their whole livelihood is threatened by increasing weather chaos, the inevitable consequence of our vast uncontrolled tinkering with the atmosphere.

To wrap up on climate chaos, here are two thoughtful pieces.  First, comments from Will Steffen, a global change expert from the Australian National University of scientists views.  He was speaking at the Planet Under Pressure conference.  He effectively sums up the pressure our ballooning population and insatiable resource appetites are placing on our sustaining planet.  Got a minute?  Here is the embedded time-lapse animation showing the growth of carbon emissions worldwide since the start of the Industrial Revolution.  And finally, I love it when a superior writer puts in print messages that I have communicated less articulately.  Thanks, Chip Ward!


Health Coverage?  Let Them Eat Broccoli!

With the spectacle of three days of Supreme Court hearings behind us, and the black robes’ decision two months off, there will be much more to write in coming weeks.  But one thing is clear.  The arrogance of Scalia, decried by Senator McCain in the story above, was on full, in-your-face display this week.  Unless some kind of compassionate miracle happens, it sure looks like the feeble attempt at solving the health crisis – the Affordable Care Act – is doomed.  Maybe Chief Justice Roberts will find some fairness in his heart and common sense in his head.  But I am not holding my breath.  For now, as we wait for the judicial hammer to fall, we might as well laugh.  Thank God for Jon Stewart!


Save the Bees

I had a conversation recently with someone who professed a dislike for bees.  They sting, you see.  Nothing like big-picture thinking.  Whether we ‘like’ them or not, pollinators are some of the real ‘job creators,’ and life creators for that matter.  It’s been said that one-third to one-half of the foods we eat are dependent on the pollinating work of the buzzing insects.  That’s why Colony Collapse Disorder is to troubling. Scientists finally seem to be puzzling out the causes, and we can only hope they are not too late to save the bees.  I have two friends who are doing their part, by raising bees.  One of those friends – Tess Galati – recently shared this story with her subscriber list.  I do not believe in magical thinking of any kind (except the Yankees’ hoodoo over the Twins, but that is another story!)  Just the same, this story has me thinking . . .


“Bee Dreamin’:  Confession of a Newbie – by Tess Galati

I am a retired professor and business woman, not one of your airy fairy types, so this confession took more nerve than you might imagine. But the fact is, the bees sent me a dream. There’s just no other way to say it.

I killed my first bee colony—or, to put it in bee-speak, I experienced “winter kill-off.” Last March, you’d find me in my Saint Paul, Minnesota, back yard cleaning out dead bees and sobbing into my unnecessary bee bonnet. That’s how inept I was. When I came back to my rational self, I reasoned that more hostages to fortune raised the probability of survival, so I ordered three new packages. With the help of the Bee God, a University of Minnesota Graduate Student, I installed three colonies in their new digs. Thus started summer and the Game of Queens.

One queen was half decent, another was poorly mated, and the third was a drone-laying virgin. Two new queens later, I had three poor-to-middling colonies. I learned to see eggs, find queens, and crush supersedure cells. I was elated, disappointed, delighted, discouraged, and finally, by July, a more balanced newbie keeper. There were still times when I dreaded opening the hives and other times when I did it with alacrity. Overall, though, the dread didn’t overtake me and the elation didn’t make me incompetent.

By August, guilt haunted me because I didn’t test for varroa and didn’t treat for anything at all. By September, I realized even my queen identification skills were iffy.  By the end of the season, the bees were horribly under-supplied with only half the honey they would need for the winter. I considered the possibility of a second spring of bee death.

 One thing was in the bees’ favor: I now had four experienced beekeepers to call on for advice.

“ What should I do,” I asked.

“Hope for the best,” said one.

“Try leaving syrup on for awhile,” suggested another.

“Give them fondant,” said the Bee God.

“Fondant and a bucket of syrup,” instructed the fourth, “and drill a hole in the moisture board so they can get to the syrup.”     

On the theory that too much is just enough, I followed the advice of the fourth mentor and, in the process, learned how to make and lay out a huge amount of fondant. Still I didn’t expect the bees, which I now referred to as “my girls,” to survive the formidable Minnesota winter.

The morning of January 25, I awoke from a vivid dream. In the dream, I was wearing a bee suit and checking the hives in the dark, feeling the cold of Minnesota winter. I opened hive number one, picked up a large ball of bees, and wrapped them in a blanket. Next, I saw that number two hive was knocked over, and bees were buzzing in fear and confusion. This colony was in trouble. I intended to gather these bees and wrap them in a second blanket. That’s when I awoke disturbed by the dream and curious about the condition of my bees.

I left the house early, noting the unseasonably warm weather. Upon my return at midday, I walked from the garage to the back door and turned to see a regular buzzfest out by the hives. The temperature was 52 degrees and the bees were on spring break.

I smiled. Then my delight turned to anxiety: Should I open the hives? Would the bees need more syrup? Fondant? I texted all four of my mentors.

“No, don’t do it,” replied the first.

“You can if you want,” said the second, “but you better be quick about it and have a plan.”

The Bee God was out of town and unreachable.  The wife of the fourth mentor said he would call me later.

I decided to open the hives and, if necessary, add fondant and syrup. In number one hive, the fondant and half the syrup were gone. The same was true in number three hive. I added fondant and watered down the syrup a bit. Then I opened hive number two, the one that was in trouble in my dream. No fondant and no syrup. I came inside to make more syrup, marveling all the while, knowing this colony would have perished if this had not been an unseasonably warm day, or if I had not opened the hive.

Just then, the phone rang. It was my fourth mentor, an older, no nonsense German guy. I blurted out that I had this dream and I had opened the hives, and hive number two was in trouble just as it was in the dream, and I was making more syrup. Long silence. “Be sure to wrap the syrup buckets in blankets because it’s going to get cold again.” Blankets? Blankets. As in my dream. I was speechless.

It is now March, and I’ve just laid pollen patties into the hives of three strong, happy, colonies. By the way, I meant to tell you that my expertise is language and communication. I guess the same could be said of my bees. But their medium is not print. It’s dreams.”


“The whole damned history of the world is a story of the struggle between the selfish and the unselfish! . . . All the bad around us is bred by selfishness. Sometimes selfishness even gets to be a cause, an organized force, even a government. Then it’s called Fascism.”

—Garson Kanin, Born Yesterday


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN


Contributed links or content to this posting – Mindy Bell, Jeff Carlson, Tess Galati, Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper




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