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 12/16/12

16 12 2012

The App Most Needed   //

From a distance, it’s easy to take a hard, ideological position on certain important issues. Marriage rights for gays? No, those people are an abomination. Climate change? Not happening. Enact and enforce sensible gun laws? No, freedom is paramount. We have the Second Amendment, after all.

A funny thing happens, though, when these issues are immediate. Despite all his tough, hard-hearted policy stances, you won’t hear Dick Cheney bash gays. His daughter, Lynne, is a lesbian. Inuit whose villages and livelihood are upended by melting permafrost and vanishing sea ice might beg to differ with Inhofe’s canard about global warming being a monstrous conspiracy.

And then there is Newtown, Connecticut, scene of the latest, and maybe the ghastliest, mass murder in modern America. As these massacres pile up, it gets more difficult to shrug them off, as so many do, as “the cost of living in a free society.” And indeed this time, the National Rifle Association, opponents of even the most reasonable, consensus-based weapons controls, has been silent. So far, anyway. And on Saturday, the Republicans declined the chance to respond to President Obama’s weekly radio address, which of course centered on the horrific tragedy.

None of the massacres from recent history – not Columbine, not the attack on Congresswoman Giffords and her staff and audience, not the Colorado theater attack, none of them, nor any other incident, has been enough to generate a serious discussion about reasonable controls on automatic and assault weapons.

Maybe this time. This StarTribune editorial is skeptical about that prospect. And though the big boys at the NRA have yet to weigh in, you can’t say that about all gun apologists. Just check the letter to the editor in this collection. It’s the Bronski letter I have in mind. He outrageously equates automatic weapons with a club, and suggests that the mass murders continue until they stop for 18 months, and only then we can talk about how to stop them. Hm.

Wildly illogical though that letter is, it serves as a fine example of the ritual that Grist’s Philip Bump fingers in this short piece. The NRA, he points out, has effectively convinced us that there is never a good time to discuss rational controls on the most dangerous weapons. AlterNet’s Joshua Holland begs to differ. Here is a good start – measures that even gun rights advocates can agree with. In the New York Times, columnist Charles Blow discusses public opinion, and advocates arguably the most logical step to take, reinstating the assault weapons ban. And my son, Brendan Murphy, penned this thoughtful piece, pointing out that the mounting series of atrocities has multiple causes, and urgently demands multiple solutions.

But back to that app that is most needed. It is an app not for our cell phones, but for our brains and hearts. It would allow us to feel genuine empathy for those who are different from us, without us personally living that difference. It would allow us to empathize with those who are losing their homes, livelihoods and even their nation to our human-generated climate change. And it would allow us to discuss and enact meaningful measures to protect society from the terror of gun violence, without each of us – like for example Jim Brady, Gabrielle Giffords, and the victims and survivors at Sandy Hook Elementary School – suffering that violence first hand.

Cliff Notes

What, us worry? Is financial disaster just ahead, or are we looking at Y2K or even the end of the world as predicted by Mayans? Nobel economist Paul Krugman suggests that the cliff dancing is much more political than financial, and the end game of Republicans’ 30-year ride of radical rightness. You can see more of Krugman in this video, a panel also including James Carville, Mary Matalin and George Will. (Listen to Will perform his latest song and dance – his lecture on the need to “allocate scarcity.” Sure, now that abundance has been allocated to his wealthy pals and backers for all these years, poor folks, it is time for you to pay up!) And if you want a cliff critique from a different perspective, watch this Bill Moyers interview with Yves Smith and Bruce Bartlett. The latter is another Republican who thinks his party has gone too far in its promotion of plutocracy. Both pundits agree that President Obama, far from deserving the socialist label endowed by his bitter critics, is actually to the right of Eisenhower and Nixon. Also – both have advice for the president. Let the country go over the cliff.  And for a little more cliff perspective, how about a short visit with Robert Reich?

The Grim Reality of Minnesota Winter

What image does that headline conjure? Snow blowing into three-foot drifts? Cold, clear nights that send the mercury diving down below zero, where it stays for several days? Lake ice solid enough for huts, cars, trucks? If this were 1940, 1970, even 1990, right you would be. No longer.

Minnesota winter has utterly changed, especially here in the east central region, home of the Twin Cities. Right now, outside my window, it is raining. Raining! In December, in Minnesota! That was the rarest of events here for as long as records have been kept. As Casey Stengel used to say, “You can look it up.” Now, rain deep into the winter is commonplace – even if some clueless people (the ones who look up from the TV to notice, that is) say, “My, this is unusual/wonderful.” The best way to understand Minnesota winter as our greenhouse emissions have remade it is this – three months of what used to be March, interrupted occasionally by echoes of what once was. Since March (aside from St. Pat’s of course) has always been my least favorite month, you can imagine how enthused I am about this modern phenomenon of pseudo-winter. I am, quite simply, in mourning for the loss of something great and unique – what I used to call “solid winter.”

But really, why should my adopted home be exceptional? The entire world’s climate has already received a colossal kick in the ass from our fossil fuel emissions. For now, our local effects have been relatively minor. Of course, there is that matter of the persistent drought, which has been predicted. And then there is that minor issue of Greenland melting. Dramatic video right here. Here is more on last summer’s Greenland melt. More broadly, this six-minute National Geographic video summarizes issues and events very well, and in its last minute offers hope and a call to action. Best remedy? A carbon tax, of course! And action would be advised, right about now. Just read this article about the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecast. Or check this pie chart. Remember that next time a denialist tells you, “Some scientists say climate change is real, but some scientists have other ideas.” And we must remember this. All the change we have seen so far – and there has been plenty – comes from a one-degree temperature rise. Most experts say we are easily committee to two degrees. These numbers are Centigrade. But it is always a good time to act. More here.

Help Our Cousins

Do a favor for yourself, your cousins and the planet. It is actually pretty easy, but you have to be persistent. The problem is palm oil, and manufacturers’ and bakers’ affection for it threatens the future of our amazing cousins, Indonesia’s orangutans. Read more here, here and here. About that persistence? Read labels. Find alternate, palm-free products. The orangutans will thank you.

Low, Low Prices . . . Low, Low Lifestyle

As I was thinking recently about the imminent transformation of Cottage Grove MN (just down Hwy 61 from my home) by the advent of Wal-Mart, I heard several relevant stories on NPR’s Marketplace. You can listen to those stories here and here. Their relevance is clear – the topic was the impact of a living wage – something Wal-Mart does NOT offer its associates – on workers, their communities and the larger economy. I have had a chance to talk to several cashiers at my local supermarket. Almost to a person, they understand Wal-Mart’s possible impact – sell enough groceries at “low, low prices” to jeopardize the grocery chain’s living-wage jobs.

For another issue related to living wages (or sub-living wages), here is a news item from this week, and Jon Stewart’s take on the same. The race to the bottom goes on. But hey, it’s all about jobs.

The Cost of Inclusive Thinking

One of my favorite aphorisms that explain the way the world really works is this – “No good deed goes unpunished.” That could be the title of the journey of evangelical pastor Carlton Pearson, as recounted on This American Life. As payback for abandoning all the theological nonsense about hell, the reverend virtually created his own hell. He paid a dear price, but learned much and finally ended up in a better place. His story is very much worth your time.

“The main goal of the future is to stop violence. The world is addicted to it.”

-Bill Cosby

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links and/or content to this posting – Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper, Brendan Murphy