IBI Watch 5/20/12

20 05 2012

Glass-Steagall, Volcker or Milton Friedman?  //

It would be incredible if not true.  Here we are nearly four years after a gigantic banking crisis and economic collapse that occurred mainly because of wildly unregulated speculation and risk-taking in  banking and investing, and what has changed?  Nearly nothing, thanks.  Why is this?  Not for a lack of talking or arguing.  Could it possibly be the political clout of those very speculators and wild risk takers?

The idea of returning regulation to banking – essentially, making it ‘boring’ again, is back in the headlines since the latest revelation of anything-goes investing at a financial institution thought to be solid.  And the meter is still running on the total loss in this fiasco.

Here is something that has truly been bipartisan in recent decades – deregulation of the finance industry.  That’s right, back in the 90s, most politicians in both parties thought it a boffo idea to take most of the controls off of finance and banking – including those put in place because of hard, painful experience.  This All Things Considered piece, aside from the last source (an ex-Bush II official who basically pooh-poohs the whole notion of restoring regulation) is very enlightening on the chain of events from 1999 to 2012.  Listen for those who ‘get it’ today – Elizabeth Warren and Senator John McCain to name two – and the smaller club of smart people who ‘got it’ way back when – former Senator Byron Dorgan (since un-elected of course).

Will this latest revelation of risk-driven losses finally bring action?  Don’t bet on it, as money rules.  Learn more by watching this highly recommended documentary, An Inside Job.  Just don’t hold any heavy projectiles while watching – unless you really want to replace your TV or computer.


Spend Now, Save (and Thrive) Later

That’s the doctor’s prescription to cure what is ailing our economy.  The doctor in question is Nobel economist Paul Krugman.  In this interview with Amy Goodman, he explains that his ideas are not radical, but straightforward Keynesian economics.  But then, in this era of false equivalency launched by media coverage of the Tea Party, anything that does not adhere to the ‘government is the enemy’ script is radical.  Krugman says a proper stimulus program – going beyond the stunted effort of the early days of the Obama administration – could lower unemployment to 6.5 percent.  He also points out the REAL reason for today’s ballooning deficits, and prescribes rehiring thousands of public-sector workers –who can then spend money, really stimulating the economy.  Hey – why can’t THIS guy be president?


Supremely Important

Big money runs our politics, with ever more power.  Sorry, but there is no improvement on this key issue – none.  And right now, there is no better way to keep us moving backward, i.e., further into America as Moneyland, than to elect Willard Mitt Romney as our next president.

I am no huge fan of President Obama.  I think his policy positions have generally been closer to a virtually extinct type – a liberal Republican – than my idea of a progressive Democrat.  To add to that, nearly any time he has tried to do something progressive, he has been blocked by the ideologically ‘pure,’ obstructionist Congress.

Further, I don’t think calamity will ensue if Romney takes it.  That is, except for one crucial issue.  The next American chief executive will almost certainly appoint one Supreme Court justice in the 2013-16 term, maybe several more.  Since the next retirement will very likely be Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it is easy to see what is on the line – a generation or more of Scalia/Roberts/Alito/Thomas-enabled corporatocracy.  Lately, it seems more are taking note of this lopsided, right-leaning supremely corporatist court, and recognizing that these are the true ‘activist judges.’  This piece calls out the great Justice Scalia’s apparent political bias.  And though many – myself included – see Scalia as the standard-bearer for this heavily right-leaning court, this in-depth New Yorker article points out that John Roberts gives little ground to Scalia in partisanship.

This Court is not done endorsing corporate power over the common good.  Citizens United will be just the beginning as it likely demolishes the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and moves onto other decisions that empower the wealthiest.  With that in mind, I see no alternative in 2012 than supporting President Obama for re-election, and doing everything we can to help him to a second term.  Then of course comes the hard part – holding his feet to the fire in the name of progressive principles and the common good.

Lately, many have said that the president will easily win re-election.  I say, ‘Not so fast.’  Remember 2000 and 2004.  A national election has only to be close – as this one sure looks to be.  Then, the modern Republican ‘magic’ kicks in – voter ID laws, fewer voting machines in poor precincts, Election Day dirty tricks.  The only solution is to make the margin of victory such that these ‘enhancements’ are not in play.



‘Clean,’ Remote-Control Warfare

Tom Engelhardt asks interesting questions about two growth industries – our United States’ security apparatus (Who knew we had so many people involved?) and our least-appreciated war strategy – drone aircraft (When will those things be used against American interests, and what will we do about it?)


Burning Like There’s No Tomorrow

Scientists – led by, among others, NASA’s James Hansen – continue to wave their arms around.  And the public continues to lag in interest.  But that may be changing . . . we can only hope.  This short LA Times piece details global temperature trends.  It includes what I found to be a shocker.  It’s one thing to have the warmest 12-month period on record, but check this – “The last time the globe had a month that averaged below its 20th century normal was February 1985. April makes it 326 months in a row. Nearly half the population of the world has never seen a month that was cooler than normal, according to United Nations data.”  Do you think that could be a trend?  27 years?  This chart that I clipped from the excellent Paul Douglas blog gives another perspective – how hot records just overwhelm cold records these days.  Must be those damned sunspots again!

Manmade climate chaos will hit all of us eventually, and if the worst scenarios play out, our civilization could ultimately be threatened.  And just as with so much else in life, those least responsible and of lowest means will suffer the most, at least in the near to mid-range future.  The cases of islands like Tuvalu and the Maldives have been told in many places.  But islands to be inundated by rising oceans are far from the only human story.  Desertification threatens the nomadic lifestyle of Mongolia.  This new story from PRI’s The World tells that sad tale well, and includes an imbedded video.

Some think geoengineering will save our necks.  The wildest ideas include pumping sulfur into the upper atmosphere, to block some solar radiation.  I have also read about schemes that involve launching giant solar mirrors.  But the problem is truly global, and, as this story details, goes as far as changing the chemistry of the oceans – and possibly endangering the entire food chain.  And of course, simply working on cooling the earth does nothing to fight the root cause of the climate crisis and virtually all other environmental challenges. That would be our inexorably expanding human population – all those people and all their appetites for food and creature comforts.  This article details how we are already using the world’s resources 50 % faster than they can be replenished.  And we add about 75 million people each year!

Can’t leave this topic without some hope.  First – this is essentially an open letter appealing to President Obama to take this issue on with courage.  A good time for that would be about now.  Next, this is one of the best climate blogs I am aware of.  And finally, this organization – which I support – works tirelessly to educate on the worldwide population problem.  I recommend the video on the home page.


Three Birds, Three Tales

Somehow, I thought these three current stories about three different large birds that make Minnesota home somehow belonged together.  First, this MPR story on great blue herons’ resilience in the wake of the 2011 Twin Cities tornado was an inspiration.  Second, I have seen huge flocks of migrating pelicans in our state in some years.  The 2012 crowd, sadly, shows evidence of a major pollution event in a state well to our south.  And finally, sad evidence that we still have a lot to learn about sharing the landscape with nature.  Note the ‘playing dumb’ tone.  ‘Biologists are puzzled. . .’  It couldn’t be all those birds we shot, now could it?  Somehow, that last story reminded me of a key lesson from one of my all-time favorite reads, The Song of the Dodo, by one of the best popular science writers around, David Quammen.  The lesson is that of the passenger pigeon.


The Sound of Silence

To my mind, the further Krista Tippett travels from personal-god religion in her excellent radio show, On Being, the better.  Last week’s edition was one of the best.  Acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton calls the Earth a ‘solar-powered jukebox.’  Here’s a list of his ten most inspiring places to listen.


“The ‘control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and the convenience of man.” – Rachel Carson


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN


Contributed links to this posting –Jeff Carlson, Richard Cornell, Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper




3 responses

20 05 2012

Hi Michael,
We saw An Inside Job at our little community hall here in a small rural island village in British Columbia. Never before (well, not since seeing the witch in the Wizard of Oz at the age of five) have I had such a visceral reaction to a film. Between anger, utter disbelief and total despair, round and round the movie took me, as I shook my fist and grrrrr’d through my teeth. But I felt especially bad for the gentleman sitting in front of me, as he, at one point, slumped forward, face in his hands. I think perhaps that was the moment he “got” where all his pension money had disappeared to.

The interesting thing here in Canada is that our Not-so-Prime Minister has taken credit for the Canadian banking system being so stable — when he was one of the politicians pushing to deregulate back in the mid 1990s! It was “the people” (led by someone called David Orchard) who fought deregulation of our financial industry and Canada’s involvement in the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). I still remember my knees knocking under the table as I presented my family’s reasons for opposing deregulation. (That’s why they put those nice white “skirts” on tables in conference rooms, you know. So people can hiding their nervousness. 😉

20 05 2012

Just another couple of thoughts, Michael. Just one tiny error snuck into your section, Burning Like There’s No Tomorrow. You wrote, “Manmade climate chaos will hit all of us eventually, and if the worst scenarios play out, our civilization could ultimately be threatened.” I’m afraid it’s worse than that, although the hell we’ll experience as our food security disappears and our water sources decline will indeed be anything but “civilized.”

There’s a 30-year lag due to the inertia in the climate system to keep in mind, which commits us to a doubling of today’s global average temperature increase. Today’s increase of a mere 0.8 degrees C has already set Arctic carbon feedbacks in motion. So, sadly, the worst case scenario *is* currently playing out, and if those running our economy decide to burn up all the fossil fuels (and that’s clearly their plan), this scenario has the potential to turn our Earth into a Venus — a planet too hot to sustain life. Those who would call that alarmist (alas, it’s not alarmist when you raise the alarm about something alarming) probably don’t understand the importance of the Arctic in moderating our climate systems, or the laws of physics that govern methane and other carbon in the rapidly warming North.

Those who are calling for geoengineering see a rapid cooling of the Arctic as the only way to slow the rapid Arctic summer sea ice loss and halt the runaway warming that is beginning there (warming from our greenhouse gas emissions releasing methane, which leads to more warming, which releases more methane, etc. etc. etc. in the most vicious cycle imaginable).

The problem with blaming human population numbers is that it’s the number of people living a *EuroAmerican lifestyle* that is the problem. When we talk about “population” only, EuroAmericans tend to think, “Yeah, get rid of some of those poor people with five kids in other countries.” They (ahem, we) never seem to look in the mirror!

20 05 2012
Mike Murphy


Thanks for the comments. I appreciate all the additional information you provide.

When I talk about ‘worst-case scenario,’ I mean essentially the ‘business as usual’ approach we seem to be blindly pursuing. I am well aware of the lag, and the feedbacks that are already functioning. And I also am quite familiar with the real worst-case scenario, which may indeed be under way, threatening a runaway greenhouse effect.

As for population, you make a good point about the difference between the relatively small number (as share of the world population) of heavy consumers and greenhouse gas producers in the industrialized world compared to the burgeoning numbers of low consumers in the developing world. We are all in this together, and I maintain that the root cause of all environmental problems is unchecked growth in human population, worldwide, in all sectors. I am all in favor of us taking concerted and drastic action to treat the most obvious symptom of the problem – manmade climate chaos. But we must also deal humanely with the continuing unsustainable growth in our numbers.

I wish we would stop electing demagogues and fools, so that we could enact policies that conserve the planet we depend on.

Please keep reading, and commenting!

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