IBI Watch 5/5/13

5 05 2013

Ups Rising //

One of the most enduring conservative causes is deregulation. Government regulation is burdensome, a drag on commerce, a nuisance for “job creators.” Often, that regulation is around disclosure – sharing information that customers or the public need to make informed choices. The ideal world of the radical deregulators – the Randians’ deified “makers,” has one guideline – caveat emptor. In that world, we are all “ups,” that is, customers on the used car lot. It’s our job to figure out what is going on, and we are only as secure as the salesman is honest. This sure worked well in the financial industry leading up to the 2008 collapse. Remember? Real estate values would never fall. Mortgage-backed securities? Maybe the best engine for wealth creation ever. Leave it all to the smartest guys in the room. Uh huh.

The battle raging right now over fracking is just such a regulatory tussle. Trust us, we are told. The chemical brew used to coax reluctant oil and gas from deep shale is safe, not a threat to ground water. And anyway, the exact mixtures are trade secrets. The earthquake connection? Forget that, folks. What is more important than cheap gas for the car? And all that noise about silica sand? Just that, noise.

Look in your clothes closet. See how rarely “Made in USA” appears. (For me, it’s mostly a few near-antique tweed sport coats with a new lease on life – I can wear them less often because of chronic winter warmth.) Now check how often you see “Made in Bangladesh.” Ah, just as I thought. Now try to convince yourself that folks like you and me have no responsibility at all for the horrible factory building collapse – where the death toll just passed 600. Right, it’s that big, bad building owner’s fault. Punish him and all will be well. Elizabeth Cline knows better. Based on an interview on Terry Gross’s consistently amazing Fresh Air show, Cline’s book just might become the first volume on fashion that I ever read. Well, it’s sort of about fashion.

And what about the continuing decline of vital pollinators? Just read this article that dances all around the issue, seeking some natural cause. I am sure natural causes are part of the problem with colony collapse disorder, but do you think the main cause could, just possibly, be those amazing “new generation” pesticides, the nicotinoids? The European Union thinks so. But not us here in America, land of the government run by and for the big corporations. Some groups are fighting to get a ban here as well – here and here.

These are just three examples where the long-term common good is pretty much missing from the debate. Should cheap gas, damn the environmental consequences, be the driving force behind energy policy? Should cheap, fashionable clothing trump worker safety and survival in the poorest corners of the world – where that business has migrated over the past three decades? Should agricultural chemical manufacturers, with their stranglehold on the political process, be allowed to beguile us with low-priced processed foods based on factory-farmed monoculture, while ignoring the long-term destruction of nature?

In each case, the industry making big current money regard to long-term harm would be glad for us not to know what the man behind the curtain is up to. What if every fracking decision were made on a full disclosure of the chemicals, the process and the implications? What if the Wal-Marts, the H&Ms and Targets were held accountable for the factory inspections they wink at, and minimum standards for worker welfare were actually enforced? What if decisions on agricultural chemicals were tilted in favor of safety rather than expedience?

The world we create is the sum total of our decisions every time we buy something. And we really do have choices. But we have to be willing to “know what we don’t want to know.” So it seems to me that we have three tasks:

  • Make the wisest choices from what is available right now
  • Force disclosure of information on everything we do, so that we can make better choices
  • Work to change the system to focus more on the long-term common good

In a terrific book I am reading right now, emotional intelligence guru Daniel Goleman argues strongly for “radical transparency.” Radical transparency, in the author’s words, “converts the chains that link every product and its multiple impacts – carbon footprints, chemicals of concern, treatment of workers, and the like – into systematic forces that count in sales. Radical transparency leverages a coming generation of tech applications, where software manipulates massive collections of data and displays theme as a simple readout for making decisions. Once we know the true impacts of our shopping choices, we can use that information to accelerate incremental changes for the better.”  Is Goleman too idealistic? Maybe, but we don’t really know because we have not really tried. One tool the author promotes in the book is Good Guide, developed by Dara O’Rourke. This site collects information on a variety of protection standards, and rates products from personal care to pet food to automobiles. I have spent some time on the site, and it looks helpful – especially in the way a user can fine-tune results for particular priorities. Goleman’s book goes into much more detail about how we can make the right choices easier. Check out Good Guide and see if it doesn’t help you make some wiser choices. And it also is bottom-up pressure, as compared to top-down regulation.

But what about expanding those choices? That will take system change. And here in the good old USA, big corporate money does not talk, it shouts down other interests. All of them. To change that, we need a much less corporatist Supreme Court. To get that, we need fair elections and a process that is not unduly influenced by the big spenders.

Universal, easy access to information that drives big-picture decisions. Quixotic? Probably. But what if we really try? Think of it as a lemon law for all occasions. We don’t have to be a nation of “ups.”

Global Warming Cooling?

This climate denialist strategy never seems to die. Find someplace somewhere in the world where cooling is taking place, and ballyhoo it. Another variant is to select specific data from temperature records and twist it to tell your story. You will find all that and then some in this denialist blog post – flagged by an IBI Watch reader. No time to go deeply into detail here, except to point out the magical thinking that underlies this stance. If you are to believe Larry Bell, Marc Morano and this whole crowd, well then, it’s OK for us to keep pumping ever more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The planet’s systems will overwhelm anything we do anyway. Great big planet. Little old inconsequential humans, all seven billion of us. Pour on the coal, boys. And if this crowd of magicians is wrong? Oh well. . .

Here is an exercise for you. Open this link to a taxonomy of climate change denier arguments and science debunking the debunkers, provided y the Skeptical Science site. Got that? Now check this article that condenses the array of denial in our oily Congress. It includes a hilarious video that you might call the Pignorance Parade. But here is the exercise – see where each of those Congressional fairy tales land on the Skeptical Science hit parade.

As we pass an ominous historic milestone – 400 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere – it’s a good time to compare our impact with the planet’s natural production. And do something about it. For Twin Cities-based readers of this blog, this blogger is a certified presenter for the Climate Reality Project. I would be happy to come and engage in a discussion with your group.

Take a Bite out of Climate Change

Those not in the pignorance (pretend ignorance) society would like to know what to do to help. The obvious – using less fossil-fueled energy – springs to mind. But a too-rarely connected step is actually simpler. Eat less meat. There, that was easy, eh? Good for us and the planet – as detailed in Tracie McMillan’s book. Could even force some diabetes doctors to find something else to do.

Weapons of Anti-Logic

It’s a big weekend for the Gun Lobby. Wayne LaPierre is having a field day at the NRA convention, playing the freedom card to drum up ever more weapons sales. You have to hand it to this guy. Whatever your ideas on gun regulation, it is good to know your 2nd Amendment. This quiz can help. Can you beat my score of 12/15?

The logic of radical anti-regulators is this: We don’t need gun regulation because the criminals won’t obey the laws anyway. Think about that. Both Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart did, with hilarious results. Stewart’s Daily Show featured his British cohort John Oliver in a raucous interview with gun lobbyist Philip Van Cleave. This whoop-de-do tour takes us to Australia, for an interview with staunchly conservative former Prime Minister John Howard. Get that – a conservative who supports gun regulation, and has the history to prove its efficacy. Must be another planet. Just watch Van Cleave make Oliver’s case for him. The deer-in-headlights look alone is worth the trip. Head-slappingly funny, friends. And Stephen Colbert makes the NRA’s case for them – the real victims of gun violence are not the victims and survivors of mass shootings. We all know who the real put-upon victims are.


A little late in the game, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor had something interesting to offer this week. I sort of liked the common-sense justice when she served on the Court. Compared to other Reagan appointees – such as those named Scalia – she was not an intolerable right-wing ideologue. Heck, she is even rethinking arguably the most momentous decision of her tenure. She was the swing vote on that one. Too late smart, as they say.

We celebrated the new presidential fun house last week (“The Misunderestimated Decider), but President George W. Bush’s impact was so epochal that it merits further celebration. And the new library/fun house does not really do that impact justice, as this AlterNet piece demonstrates. To end festivities, I recommend visiting Tom Degan’s hard-hitting and well-researched Rant blog. Check the April 30 entry. Were I running for office, I would say, “I approve this message!”

Musical Impact Past and Present

We lost Richie Havens recently. Havens made a big splash with his rhythm-infused, driving performance at Woodstock. I always enjoyed his warm vocals and his inventive covers of songs like Here Comes the Sun. I confess to not knowing of his environmental commitment until his passing. RIP Richie Havens.

Ah, to live to 94 and still be relevant! That is what Pete Seeger can say this week. This is a 1994 interview done by Bill Moyers where Seeger talks about what it takes to change the world. And here is a celebration of Seeger and his impact from Common Dreams. Learn more about this great American via this video. Happy Birthday, Pete Seeger! We need you more than ever!

“Participation – that’s what’s gonna save the human race.”
Pete Seeger

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper, Brendan Murphy

 Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN




One response

5 05 2013

The thing about the “Global Warming Cooling” is that the global average temperature increase of +0.8 degrees C has not gone done. The fact that it has not gone up leads some deniers/skeptics/ignorers/delayers to say that we’re cooling (sheesh, flunk math much?). But here’s the thing … the atmosphere has been retaining more and more heat (because of the “greenhouse effect”), but it’s been being taken up by the oceans, which are warming (leading to all sorts of horrid problems: ocean acidification, melting of the Arctic summer sea ice, destabilization of subsea methane hydrates). So when someone says “we’re cooling,” please counter by explaining that the oven is still on (we’re still +0.8) and that the oceans are absorbing the extra heat. And that’s not cool.

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