IBI Watch 6/23/13

23 06 2013

Ugly is Beautiful //

It was just a throwaway comment from a source on an NPR story on bad travel experiences. But her entirely understandable distaste for bats speaks volumes on human attitudes about nature. If it pesters us, inconveniences us, or does not impress us as cute and cuddly, it can be damned. We can get along without it, thanks. Or so we think (if we think about it at all).

Give this lady credit – she and her cohorts did not kill the misplaced bat. And she is right about them struggling to survive – across Canada and the US, a deadly fungus has been devastating bat populations in recent years. Because the proximate cause of that wildlife crisis is “natural,” a fungal disease as opposed to an obvious man-made chemical source, it is tempting to think of the situation as something we can lay unequivocally at Mother Nature’s doorstep. But the fact is that, with the way our ever-expanding human footprint on the earth has encroached on natural habitat, stressing animal populations, even as we alter the environment with our miracle agricultural potions and greenhouse gases, in no way can we wash our hands of blame even for maladies that seem natural on first glance. And of course bats play an important role in ecosystems, with their huge appetite for insects and in some cases their penchant for pollination.

It’s the same story with snakes and turtles, which some drivers seem less inclined to avoid running over (compared to “cute” species like geese and ducks) and sharks – whose numbers worldwide are decimated by the cruel practice of “finning.” There is also remarkably little outcry over the steep, documented decline in amphibians. (It’s a good time to remember Tyrone Hayes’ sadly under-publicized research on the pesticide atrazine’s endocrine disruption in frogs – but who cares about that?)

The biggest looming extinction story right now is bees. As I have written about recently (Scroll down to “The Little Guys will be Missed”), another miracle chemical is implicated here – neonicotinoid pesticides. The evidence fingering the chemicals was good enough for the European Union’s scientists, but here in corporation-dominated America? Nah, we are not impressed. We blithely blame Mother Nature, minimize our chemical assault on the environment, and life goes on. For now.


Fakin’ It

I just love this story. At some level, most of us feel a bit uneasy eating overprocessed, computer-designed, machine-extruded, factory-assembly-line-produced foods. Big Food knows that, and has ways of fooling us. I remember in my youth, eating one Burger King Whopper after the other, and noticing those grill sear marks on the meat. Were they authentic? Who knows? Who cares? It sells, and isn’t that what really matters? “Naturally flavored.” Yum. Before you buy another mcburger or in fact buy any highly processed foodstuff, you really owe it to yourself to read Eric Schlosser’s excellent Fast Food Nation. And now there is another book that updates the technical wizardry used to fool us into thinking this stuff is good. And the author, Michele Simon, has a new blog that targets Big Food. Sorry, enough on that for now. I think my freezer is running low on pink slime.


Oh, Alberta!

The weekly extreme weather roundup is starting to remind me of the deep, dark days of the Vietnam War. The nightly news then ran a roll call of American soldiers killed in action in Southeast Asia. The news today could easily be a similar sad parade. There’s the obvious – wildfires in Colorado, floods in Germany and India, Alaska (Alaska!) baking in the tropical sun, but also the subtle – “stuck” weather and slower moving storms pounding the same areas, day after day, with flood-spawning rains.

Virtually all of this extreme weather can be traced to a single phenomenon, and – hint – it is not Mother Nature. Find out more here. I also highly recommend this five-minute video explaining the jet stream/climate change connection, posted by by Rutgers University’s Jennifer Francis.

OK, I hear you wondering, what is with the “Alberta” headline? It’s this – one of the most pressing wild weather stories this week is the devastating, deadly floods in Calgary, the Canadian province’s largest city. That province is also the site of one of the most controversial, and consequential, enterprises in our history of fossil fuel production and burning – tar sands extraction. Further expansion of that vast, destructive effort hinges on a key American decision – the Keystone XL pipeline.

That is the backdrop as Secretary of State John Kerry visits India to lecture the leaders of that  fast-developing country on cutting their greenhouse emissions (lots of cheek, there) and we anticipate President Obama’s long-awaited, legacy-critical plan for executive action on curbing greenhouse gases. Fingers eagerly crossed. Stay tuned.


Give the Kids the Bills . . . All of Them

Since 1980, by hook and by crook, we have rebuilt America in the image of “rugged individualism” – i.e., the Red State model. There is plenty of evidence that this is not what the people want.

For example, the system is constitutionally rigged in favor of red states. Wyoming has the same power as California in the filibuster-choked Senate. Also, a solid, obstructionist Republican majority sits in the House despite the GOP’s narrowly losing the 2012 popular congressional vote. Thank gerrymandering for that trick. And let’s not forget that the last more or less clean, legitimate presidential victory for Republicans was in 1988.

Nevertheless, we have been on the plutocratic path for 30 years. What has this brought us? Well, here we are, the richest nation in history, and we have a health care system that is the envy of whom? And our vaunted middle class – full of hard workers who, with a few good breaks to go with their toil, might be the next tycoons? Think again.

As we let our infrastructure decay, in the name of “cutting taxes for everyone,” and enable costly overseas adventures that profit only the big contractors, we are running up some massive bills. Who will pay? Why, those Millennials of course.  This fine AlterNet piece by RJ Eskow lays it all out. How will they pay for our selfishness? From cradle to grave, the author says. Let us count the ways:

  • Prenatal Nutrition
  • Early Childhood Nutrition
  • School lunches
  • Cutting education funds
  • Making college unaffordable
  • Leaving graduates drowning in debt
  • Massive unemployment
  • An increasingly inequitable, wage-stagnating economy
  • Greater fear and insecurity in old age

Gosh, who could have predicted this? Ah, well, sorry, kids. No time to wallow. Maybe you need to work harder. There is a third, low-pay, no-benefits job out there for you somewhere.


It’s a (Rich) Dog’s World

Heard about this vacation idea on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. It needs no additional introduction.


“Nature favors those organisms which leave the environment in better shape for their progeny to survive.” – James Lovelock


Contributed links to this posting – Tess Galati, Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 4/28/13

28 04 2013

Self-Interest at the Top //

Bipartisanship is so rare in Congress these days, that when an example shows up, it is worth celebrating. Maybe.

When the sequester hit home for the nation’s legislators and their well-heeled constituents in the form of air traffic delays, lawmakers bravely put bickering aside for now and took care of their own comfort and convenience. And there is yet another example of cooperation in support of a worthy cause, from not very long ago at all. Somehow, this noble act escaped much public notice.

I agree with Bill Moyers – we really do have the worst Congress money can buy. And has.


Me First; You are Irrelevant

Disregard for suffering has reached a new low in recent days. Listen to radio host Bob Davis as he rails about his “loss of liberty” being a greater tragedy than the loss suffered by the survivors of the Newtown school massacre. And then there was the National Review accusing former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of political stunts for her advocacy of sensible gun regulation.  Yup, nearly dying at the hands of a homicidal maniac, then courageously fighting to recover to walk and talk makes you a target all over again in this hyper-individualistic country of ours. And why? Because she dared to point out the obvious in print – that the NRA rules Congress.

The shock jock got his comeuppance when a Sandy Hook resident offered to pay his expenses so he could deliver his tough-guy rant in person in Connecticut. Davis has not taken the offer, though he did finally apologize . . . sort of.  All this makes me wonder how low gun absolutists will stoop. This Salon piece parses the twisted logic, which basically says – if you have experienced gun violence yourself, your understandably emotion-laced perspective is not valid (and, so, you can go to hell).

What I see here is the cult of individualism run amok. This cult extends far beyond the gun regulation debate. And it has consequences, especially since it extends to letting “great men,” you know, the makers not the takers, i.e. the John Galts, do their great work without “burdensome regulation.” That includes the makers and purveyors of the Bushmaster AR-15 (the shiniest object of modern American gun lust), but also those with influence over certain major news events of recent days. (If you take the trip, you will find a great punch line at the end of that linked article.) And note that those who support this “red state model” have designs on all 50 states. That’s the brilliant example that Kansas Governor Sam Brownback thinks the rest of us government-dependent slugs will be dying to emulate.

Radical free-market libertarianism – in other words the deregulation of just about everything – affects all matters of the public good. One of the most pressing is of course my favorite issue – climate change. Unfettered burning of fossil fuels is one of the best ways to say we don’t give a damn about people near and far who suffer the consequences. And as with gun violence, manufacturing safety and public security, if we wait until we all have personal experience with the issue, we have waited too long.

Climate change in particular calls for an added layer of empathy – for future generations. That is the focus of my friend Julie Johnston’s thoughtful blog, Compassionate Climate Action, and also of newly retired NASA meteorologist James Hansen’s fine recent book. Here is a new interview that AlterNet’s Tara Lohan did with Hansen. I believe Hansen will have an even bigger impact now that he is retired and can focus on his climate activism. He gives a damn, and acts on his compassion for the planet and its people, now and into the future. So should we.


The Misunderestimated Decider

A few years back, a joke circulated about President W and his library. It went this way. A tragic fire broke out at the president’s library, and it destroyed both books. And he hadn’t finished coloring in one of them.

Good news – he now has a real brick-and-mortar library. Reality trumps tired jokes. The ex-decider says history will judge his presidency, and his popularity ratings have indeed climbed from the abyss to which they had sunk at the end of his two tainted terms. But everything I have seen or read suggests this new “library” is more like an alternate-reality museum of “truth,” designed to create a propaganda version of the W legacy. It’s all about “decisions,” see? Sort of reminds me of this place, with several fewer dinosaurs. But it does have some scary ghosts.

In the midst of all the memorabilia, and the “decision-making” games, there appear to be several large numbers missing – such as 1,000,000 and 3,000,000,000,000. The first number – a million – that’s one estimate of the number of Iraqi war deaths. That next number – three trillion – is a conservative estimate of the cost of the Decider’s war of choice.

Will anyone aside from his corporatist high-rolling backers look back fondly on the W years? Doubtful. On the other hand, I remember each time I post or share this blog. Its title is a crooked tip of the hat to the decider-in-chief. IBI = Ignorance-Based Initiatives, one word removed from an early W idea, “faith-based initiatives.” And one thing is certain – President W sure left us a lot to remember him by.


Climate Change – Local Consequences, Global Struggle

Though “global warming” is, in the long run, an accurate term – we are steadily warming the planet with our insatiable thirst for fossil-fuel energy – its immediate manifestations are more like climate chaos. That’s why I prefer the term “climate change.”

My own local environment in the middle of North America, is showing impressive climate change – not that too many people think it is worth doing something about.

For one example, winter still has not let go of us. Though temps may approach 80 degrees Sunday, the forecast for later in the week calls for three days of intermittent rain/snow mix. Despite all the “Minnesnowta” jokes, this is not a normal pattern, friends. And it is definitely not a return to some long-lost “real winter” past. It is yet another cut-off low, related to the malformed jet stream – an increasingly common phenomenon.

So climate change seems to be causing lingering cold in these parts. Yet as Paul Douglas reports, the long view is something else again. We had a record low overnight temperature last week – the first since 2004. During that same nine-year stretch, we have had 40 record highs. Hey, could this be a trend?! Douglas’ blog and Star Tribune column have become indispensable resources for those who track climate change here in the Twin Cities and elsewhere. And as for the United States in 2012, Harper’s reports 362 record high temperatures, and how many record lows? Why, not a single one.

Here is some news from the other side of the planet – China. Even those who don’t watch climate change carefully know that China’s greenhouse emissions have been growing dramatically as they regularly bring new coal plants on line. It turns out that local warming seemingly related to all that CO2 is showing up, though it won’t stay there long. This is something we all share, whether we like it or not, and whether Senator James Inhofe believes it or not. That same MPR audio ClimateCast also talks about long-term changes we are causing in the Great Lakes – less winter ice means more evaporation, and lower lake levels.

With all this chaos we have unleashed, the best thing we can do would be to dramatically reduce our greenhouse emissions. That is what Bill McKibben and his organization is dedicated to doing. Check them out and get involved. There is much to learn in McKibben’s article in the current Rolling Stone.


Utilities Upended?

What if solar took over the power system? This has utilities more than a little concerned.


“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” – Alice Walker


Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 12/30/12

30 12 2012

Sustainability Works //

Three positive stories have crossed my path recently. Each inspires by exploding a common myth:

  • Modern agriculture forces farmers to use modern methods – heavy chemical fertilizer, monoculture, etc.
  • A carbon tax can never work – let the market decide
  • Business is all about the top guy and how much he can earn and keep for himself – he earned it after all, and Ayn Rand tells us that altruism is a mark of weakness

First, an 81-year-old farmer from Iowa who is doing things the old way, and making impressive profits.  As you will find out in this Josephine Marcotty story, Dick Thompson is charting a middle ground between rigid organic practices and what you might call the Monsanto way. Minimal chemicals, crop rotation, animal wastes and in general making friends with Mother Nature instead of battling her at every turn. Yea, Dick Thompson!

Next, many climate change experts – led by NASA meteorologist James Hansen – say taxing carbon is the best – and maybe the only – way to begin the necessary, dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Right now in the US, with the stranglehold that Big Coal and Big Oil seem to have over our government, taxing carbon is going nowhere. But Ireland has taken a big step. Check how getting smart with carbon emissions – far from “killing jobs” – has become part of the solution to the Irish debt crisis. This excellent New York Times story includes a three-minute video that tells the story well. Yea, Ireland!

And finally – A savvy CEO knows the drill – maximize profit, pay your people no more than you have to, pocket as much as you can, and hold onto it, by God. Meet a naïve CEO. You won’t believe the alternative that retiring grocer Joe Lueken has chosen instead of cashing in his years of hard-earned profits.  This story also includes a video. Yea, Joe Lueken!

Prevention; Clean-up is Too Late

There really are some problems that require proactive action. Once the damage is done, no penalty can undo the harm.  Climate change and gun violence are just two such issues.

This week’s climate news is (what else?) disturbing. The Antarctic is thawing much faster than predicted. Here is another look at that same issue. Yes, and trees – our staunch allies in the Earth’s interwoven life processes – are lying down on the job (that is, the ones that we are not laying down on the ground or burning!)  Need more? No big surprise here, but it turns out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has consistently underestimated the climate effects. That is, actual events outstrip what this very conservative, consensus-dependent group has predicted.  Let this go, and we – but even more so our grandchildren – will be very sorry.  So the kind of prevention that is needed must involve a carbon tax. This LA Times opinion piece by Jon Healey covers the political minefield that must be navigated to take this essential step.  Here’s how it can work.

And then there is gun violence. Two weeks have passed since the bloodbath at Sandy Point. That is time enough for the old lines to be drawn. And the NRA’s spokesman has certainly been up to the task. The solution according to Wayne Pierre is, naturally, “a good guy with a gun.” That is, lots of good guys with lots more guns. In this mythology, armed heroes in all places can “take out” those with nefarious missions.

Whether you agree with LaPierre or not, his “solutions” are all about reactive measures rather than trying everything possible to keep the most dangerous weapons and ammunition out of the hands of would-be murderers in the first place. You can see the NRA’s spokesman selling his ideas to a very skeptical and persistent host of Meet the Press right here. David Gregory makes a valiant effort to get the nation’s top gun salesman to answer questions – not always successfully.

In Wayne LaPierre’s world, the biggest problem is not the semi-automatic weapons and incredibly large ammunition clips. Rather, it is monsters, lunatics and Dianne Feinstein (but not necessarily in that order). And if you argue for reasonable regulation, you are, without exception, “trying to destroy the Second Amendment.” Such are the rules of Wayne’s World, which is what America becomes more and more all the time. Gregory takes apart each of LaPierre’s arguments, but to no avail.

On the other hand, here is more evidence of the need for preventive action, namely reasonable, enforceable regulations on the most dangerous semiautomatic weapons and ammunition. In the short time since Sandy Hook, the killing continues. And of course there are many more innocent victims over the long term. And note this – as reported on Democracy Now, America’s stubborn refusal to regulate access to the most dangerous weapons causes problems all over the world, and especially in the Mexican drug wars – which so often spill across the border. There is much to learn here. Here is the book by Amy Goodman’s guest, Andrew Feinstein – it is on my reading list.

Over the Cliff, Merrily?

By the time you read this, we may have already taken the dreaded “Thelma and Louise” plunge. But it is good to get a look at the politics involved. Much as I am no fan of House Speaker John Boehner, I sure would not want his job right now.

King of the (Rubbish) Hill

This short video is a bit gruesome and graphic; it tells the real story of dominion. And anyway, the real-world acts depicted in cartoon style here really are themselves pretty gruesome and graphic. Also – a very clever music score.

Summing Up 2012

Here are several wrap-up articles for the year:

Power to the People

To close for this week, try these items regarding taking action for a better world.

First, a column by Bonnie Blodgett on a topic that has recently gained more notice – divestiture from organizations whose practices are inconsistent with progressive values. This points out the power we have with our choices – both as customers and investors. It is something I plan to write more about in the coming year.

Second, here is a thought-provoking TedX Talk on “avoiding the crime of inaction.” Speaker John Bunzi expands on the traditional “prisoner’s dilemma” to call for global democratic action to stop climate change.

Finally, here is a movie that went right to the top of my Netflix list. The trailer for Carbon Nation promises many good ideas for getting supporters for the movement to stop climate change – even those who are not convinced that our tailpipes, smokestacks and farms are the main source of the rolling disaster.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

― Albert Einstein

Contributed links to this posting – Tess Galati, Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 8/26/12

26 08 2012

Climate Leadership   //

I am proud to say that I am now a certified presenter for the Climate Reality Project.  I returned Friday from three days of training, the middle day of which was taught by former Vice President Al Gore.  (Here is what Gore wrote about our conference.  His comments are brief and positive, but of course generated a mile-long list of responses.)  The instruction was first-rate, the networking even better.  I was one of about 1000 new climate leaders certified in the conference.  We represented 47 states and 56 countries from around the world.  Meet a few of my new colleagues here.  Also – read the excellent blog by Julie Johnston, my friend and fellow presenter from British Columbia, whom I had the great pleasure of meeting at the conference.

One of the most moving segments for me was hearing and meeting singer Kathy Mattea, a trained presenter for the project.  She told and sang of her native West Virginia’s complicated relationship with coal – simultaneously the source of the region’s livelihood and its shocking environmental destruction.

I have some prep work to do before taking my show on the road.  I hope you will come back to read more here in coming weeks.

On Climate, We are the Laggards

At the Climate Reality conference, one topic of conversation recurred, over and over again.  That is, how to deal with science deniers.  I can imagine that presenters coming from most every country aside from the US would become discouraged at the amount of time dedicated to this angle.  You see, we in the land of Rush Limbaugh, Richard Lindzen and James Inhofe have a virtual lock on denialism.  That’s right, it has come to this.  The country that once dominated the world in so many productive endeavors now is tops in heads thrust deeply into the sand.  But it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Maybe we need more proof of global warming’s creeping chaos.  This NPR story details the cascading, carbon-releasing effects of the persistent drought in the American southwest.  Then there is that great Greenland ice melt.  Here is a recent article detailing drought predictions from global warming. And just for good measure, here is a set of charts detailing the continuing and accelerating accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Now that I am certified by the Climate Reality Project, I expect to hear more variants of the following.  “Global warming?  Climate change?  That’s a fantasy cooked up by that big blowhard algore.”  In response, I could hand you a stack of books on the topic that I have read.  You will search the indexes in vain for Gore’s name.  Why?  It’s not about him – he is just one of the most prominent messengers.  And for that, he deserves heaps of credit, not scorn.

To my mind, one of the experts most worth watching and heeding these days is NASA meteorologist James Hansen.  He has emerged from the ranks of scientists to become one of the clearest sources of information for us non-scientists.  His concept of climate dice – which we have loaded with our greenhouse gases – brings home an important point.  It is explained very well here and here.  But Hansen’s most valuable idea is one that should form the basis of policy.  No, not cap and trade, which is widely discredited.  Try fee and dividend – very promising, and sorely needed, in my opinion.

Convenient Cover

Let’s say you have a problem and you know it.  You stand for reinstituting policies that were discredited in the recent past.  Those would be – massive cuts for the wealthy, coupled with steady increases in military spending.  Those policies contributed to a dramatic increase in inequality in both income and wealth, and are tied to a yet-to-be-proven notion that putting more and more money in the hands of ‘job creators’ will create a vigorous prosperity that will ‘trickle down’ to the masses.  (See more here.)  You know at some level that your policies will further accelerate income inequality, but you know that naked greed, fully understood, won’t sell.  You need a legitimate cover, a philosophy.

That’s the role that Ayn Rand’s fiction and essays play for an alarming number of modern conservatives, most prominently running mate Paul Ryan.  His recent denials notwithstanding, Ryan points to the Russian expat proponent of Objectivism as his main influence.  Though I must confess that I have never suffered through Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, Rand’s ideas and their prominence in the current election cycle have spawned a broad discussion of what policies motivated by that philosophy might mean for the nation.

You don’t find David Brooks and Paul Krugman agreeing on too much, but the Ryan/Rand connection is a rare exception.  I agree.  No ideology – socialism, communism, free-market capitalism, libertarianism (including its Randian brand, Objectivism) – can work in the real world in its purest form. Even Alan Greenspan, that devoted acolyte of Milton Friedman, admitted his surprise that big investors would make wildly speculative decisions in an unregulated environment, bringing harm to all.  And yet, that’s exactly the system Romney and Rand want to throw us back into.  Commentator Michael Kinsley could not resist a little satirical fun at the notion of implementing Rand’s philosophy as policy.

This Star Tribune commentary by Imara Jones says that Ryan’s financial ideas potentially put us back into a prior era.  Gilded Age?  Robber barons?  Feudalism?      George Lakoff – arguably progressives’ answer to conservative propaganda minister Frank Luntz – agrees that implementing such policies has serious implications for what kind of country we want to be.

But wait – Paul Ryan is not running for president.  For all the fire and fury around Ryan’s connection with Rand and glorified selfishness, we really should be paying attention to what Romney wants to do.  As I have written previously (see the Mitt/Re-Mitt piece), a President Romney consistent with Governor Romney of Massachusetts would be far from disastrous.  But this Economist piece points out that Romney is making it mighty difficult to know where he would lead us.  Deliberate ambiguity, ya think?

Woody’s Legacy of Protest

Back in the August 2001, I was visiting with old friends on the East Coast.  I let fly – as I am wont to do – a negative comment on President W.  Now remember, he had not yet found the ‘organizing theme’ for his presidency – that was a few weeks off.  Several of my compadres (most were inexplicably sympathetic to the great Decider) responded to my barb with good-natured criticism – I had lived too long in that ‘Communist hotbed,’ (Madison WI), and I had spent too much time singing Woody Guthrie songs.  As for that latter charge, well, to quote my look-alike hero, Groucho, ‘I resemble that remark.’  I was reminded of that party when I read this commentary on the value of Guthrie’s work.

“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”     -Neil Armstrong

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links or content to this posting – Jeff Carlson, Lee Ann Groppoli Lehner, Allyson Harper

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