IBI Watch 8/19/12

19 08 2012

Extreme Hydrocarbons – Extreme Consequences //

The easy oil is gone.  What remains is the tough stuff – deep below the ocean, far up in the thawing Arctic, and diffused through sand below arboreal forests.  All have grave risks, including tar sands oil.  The folly of producing the gooey stuff in the first place is apparent to anyone who looks into the practice. This TED Talk is a good introduction.

I had been skeptical about the special risks of transporting tar sands oil – until I listened carefully to this NPR story on the Kalamazoo River pipeline spill.

Want a bright spot in the hydrocarbon picture?  How about this – a big drop in US greenhouse gas emissions.  No question, a positive development if true.  But it is almost certainly due mostly to power plants switching to natural gas, which was produced by fracking – which of course has its own enormous risks.

And with that gas boom, creating unstable demand, what’s a poor coal industry to do?  Globalize!  It’s win-win.  India moves toward stable electricity, US coal producers find a rapidly growing market, US jobs are protected.  Oh yes, there is that global warming thing, but we’ll think about that tomorrow!

Until we enact a carbon tax, the atmospheric changes we are causing – documented nicely here and here – will only get worse.  NASA meteorologist James Hansen has an integrated, great set of proposals.  We would be wise to listen. . . and act.

Beyond Stigma

It’s hard to believe that, here in 2012, mental health issues are still ignored in so many cases.  And when we do seek treatment, the counseling is often associated with a church.  My son Brendan – soon to be a doctoral student in neuroscience – recently delivered a presentation to the Secular Students Alliance conference that focuses on non-faith-based, i.e., scientific methods of treating mental disorders.  Presentation here; slides here.  Recommended.

Ryan Hood

Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, has spent years proselytizing on behalf of Ayn Rand and her cult of the individual, while claiming to be an adherent to Roman Catholicism.  He has been able to ignore that inconvenient matter of the Beatitudes and whatnot.  Now that the spotlight is on the GOP’s vice presidential candidate, he claims to have rethought his longstanding enthusiasm for the Objectivist philosopher and author.  His budget plan – featuring additional tax cuts for the wealthiest, while cutting support for the disadvantaged – argues otherwise.

Here are two views of the Christianity vs. Randism question.  First, CNN’s Stephen Prothero takes a theological approach.  He holds that Rand’s philosophy is its own sort of atheistic religion, and lists five points that make Objectivism and Christianity polar opposites.  And – a clever touch – he warns of Rand disciples who will post comments blasting him for using the ‘r’ word at all.  And Gary Weiss – author of Ayn Rand Nation – argues that smilin’ Paul can’t have it both ways.

Leaving aside the philosophical contradiction, what do Ryan’s policies mean to the American economy and to citizens?  Paul Krugman speculates on what the first ten years after implementation of Ryan’s budget would look like – and sees nothing but red ink.  This Think Progress piece lists a dozen things we should know about the new guy.  Hey – Glenn Beck loves him!  The Rand/Christianity matter is not the only ambiguity about Ryan.  He rants and rants against government bailouts, and Keynesian spending, but when it comes to bringing home the bacon, that’s a different matter.  (Sort of reminds you of his Objectivist hero, that individualist collector of Social Security and Medicare benefits!)  And then there is Ryan’s pursuit of individual benefits – his own.

Mitt, Re-Mitt

It’s modern American politics.  Candidates re-invent themselves – on the sly.  They are staunch conservatives.  They have always been staunch conservatives.  It is positively Orwellian.  Recent history offers one of the most consequential examples, of a different sort.  In 2002-3, with a new president completely in the thrall of neocons bent on turning Iraq into an international oilman’s paradise, we were bombarded with propaganda about just how evil its dictator was.  There was no talk of how, just a few years earlier, Saddam Hussein was our well-funded henchman.  Then came the war, when we were to be welcomed as liberators.  The rest is, well, history . . . if anyone cares to pay attention.

Today, without any admission of the facts, or nod to irony, Mitt Romney’s candidacy for president depends on widespread ignorance of history – his own.  Will the American public let him get away with this preposterous pignorance (pretend ignorance)?  Just take a quick look at three key issues.

When he governed Massachusetts, Romney was one of those ever-rarer Republicans who would often earn progressives’ respect.  Consider his respect for climate science, and actions in favor of sustainable energy.  (That piece, by the way, is the work of Joe Romm – who also does outstanding work at the Climate Progress blog.)  Or think about his current NRA-friendly stance on assault rifles.  Governor Romney had a sensible position on banning the most dangerous weapons, while respecting Second Amendment rights.  That was then, this is now.  But no Romney stance stretches the facts further, or demands more Animal Farm-like revisionist history, than his attacks against President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.  That plan, ridiculed as ‘Obamacare’ by Romney and most other Republicans, is pretty much a national clone of Governor Romney’s Massachusetts plan.

Well-stoked public ignorance of history served President W well in his run-up to war.  That war brought immense costs – in life and treasure.  And now, Mitt Romney wants to be a president who would be very different from Governor Romney.  Will the public let him get away with it?  He and his supporters are counting on the bleating sheep (see Animal Farm) to drown out those who demand historical accounting.  The debates will be entertaining, but not necessarily enlightening.  The debate I would like to see is the one that will not happen – in this corner of the stage, Governor Willard Mitt Romney; in the opposite corner, Candidate Willard Mitt Romney.

Forget the Fair Fight

It’s clear that the voter ID laws springing up like so many toadstools around the country are part of the GOP victory plan.  But giving the (undeserved) benefit of the doubt, that they really are designed to protect the vote, and not restrict it to their chosen few, this article provides some astute analysis.  And Ohio – ground zero of the 2004 election games – is rapidly becoming a special case of ‘protecting the vote.’  Even with the latest ‘special enhancements,’ most electoral projection maps are looking pretty good for President Obama.  But I am skeptical.  So is Jon Stewart.

A Little Help Going a Long Way

I found this NPR story a fitting antidote to self-interest on steroids as a way of national life.  Participation Nation celebrates altruism – something that Ayn Rand derided as a sign of weakness.

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links or content to this posting – Jeff Carlson, Allyson Harper, Mike Kuehn, Brendan Murphy




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