IBI Watch 9/1/13

1 09 2013

Respect for Science //

Well-funded disinformation campaigns since the late 70s have helped weaken both understanding of and regard for scientists and their work. For the back story on this, check into Chris Mooney’s work. But for now, here is a look at some of the worst that scientists and science journalists are up against. One of the most prominent pignorant (pretend-ignorant) pundits, Glenn Beck, is here trying to outdo Bachmann in the crazy derby. But what a fun-loving guy, don’t you think?  And of course Glenn, replete with his wacky conspiracy mobiles, is far from the only purveyor of pignorance out there. This HuffPost piece rightly celebrates California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, dinosaur flatulence and all. Try out this quote from the brilliant legislator: “Just so you’ll know, global warming is a total fraud and it’s being designed because what you’ve got is you’ve got liberals who get elected at the local level want state government to do the work and let them make the decisions. Then, at the state level, they want the federal government to do it. And at the federal government, they want to create global government to control all of our lives.”

How can you top that? You can’t, but some think climate change denial and resultant policy paralysis are on the wane. That’s what Leo Hickman suggests in this Guardian piece. And though the agents of inertia have lots of money from the Koch brothers and their fellow wreckers, many are working to turn the tide. This video (also included in the Hickman piece) is very funny, and has an easy to sign petition attached. Be ready for the specter of Michele Bachmann’s eye bearing down on Florida, and the worst case scenario of hurricanes, James Inhofe, threatening the entire east coast. That is a storm naming system I would pay to see.

And a longtime figure on the science ramparts, Bill Nye the Science Guy, has a new, short video in which he explains – Nye-style – what motivates him to keep on fighting pignorance.

Here is an important update on a highly influential – and unjustly attacked – climate scientist. Michael Mann – he of the much-criticized (by powerful, self-interested denialists) hockey stick model of global warming – is gaining traction in his litigation against the well-paid goon squad that assailed him in the fabricated scandal known as “Climate Gate.”

And to close on this – following Bill Moyers on Facebook is a wise choice. The senior PBS journalist and host has suddenly stepped up his posts, to go along with his excellent Moyers and Company show. Here, he points out that the climate liars are up against a formidable, fact-based organization. The National Science Foundation? No, the US military.


A Legacy “Misunderestimated”

Let’s give credit where credit is due. I count myself among the most dedicated bashers of former President George W. Bush. Some have taken me to task for that. You know the tune – he has been out of power for x years, time for you liberals to move on, all that. Many have indeed moved on, for better or worse. But I think moving on would be committing an all-too-common sin. That would be forgetting the consequential actions of the past. For example, how many times have you heard someone complaining about the Iranian mullahs and their awful trouble-making government? But if you ask, they generally do not have a clue that the root cause of Iranian theocracy can be traced easily back to, not the Ayatollah Khomeini, but Great Britain and the US “taking out” democratically elected Mohammad Mossadegh. But don’t just take my word for that.  And hey, considering events around Syria, it is worth noting that this momentous meddling is celebrating an anniversary.

That’s a long way of saying that leaders who leave the scene often have long-lasting effects, and should keep receiving credit or blame for their achievements and other sorts of actions. In the case of President Bush, we dare not forget his signature achievement – the war on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, monstrously costly in lives, treasure and good will the world once had toward our country. On the treasure front, that is trillions, with a TR as in millions of millions. How could we possibly forget and move on from such a huge, consequential step? And for now, never mind that the whole thing was trumped up, ginned up and orchestrated with help of a compliant mainstream press corps. (And fairness requires me to nod to the true legacy of Bush the Younger.) Never mind because my premise here was to write about the Decider’s positive legacy. OK, here goes.

First, Bush was honest enough on at least one point – we are addicted to oil. Sure, he didn’t take that big next step and admit that oil was also the main driver behind the unstoppable urge to attack Iraq, but who is counting steps?

Second, how bad would a Republican president have to be to lead to a Democratic successor who wins by a big enough margin to overcome Rovian dirty tricks – and an African-American candidate to boot? Now that is positive, in my book anyway.

Third, and most important right now, is this. President Bush outrageously overreached in executive power, especially but not exclusively via the war in Iraq and its lead-in propaganda campaign about imaginary weapons of mass destruction. This so sickened Americans and allies alike that our current president had to halt his own march to militarism before ordering strikes against Syria. Just look at what happened in Britain the other day. After more than ten years of hostilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans are so tired of war that there is virtually no enthusiasm even for the promised “limited strikes.”

President Obama may find that stepping on the brakes may be one of the smartest moves of his presidency. This is true because our interventions have almost always turned out badly in the long run – as Stephen Kinzer demonstrated in his book Overthrow (which I recommend strongly). It will be true many times over if late-breaking news on the appalling chemical-weapons deaths in Syria turns out to be true.


Endangered Miracles

When we get sick enough with upper respiratory infections or other maladies, we crave a quick return to health. And the handiest tool for a speedy recovery is often a prescribed antibiotic. And why not? These substances are not called “miracle drugs” for nothing. But we may be playing fast and loose with their power.

Anyone who has done any reading at all about modern factory farming knows that antibiotics are in copious use in those establishments. This is logical of course – animals on factory farms are kept in such close quarters that the risk of disease skyrockets. But did you know that factory farms are also pumping livestock full of these miracle drugs in order to prevent illness? Or that some antibiotics have another purpose entirely – to fatten up the beast faster for market? All this pill-popping and needle-pumping adds up, but the percent of all antibiotics that are used on factory-farmed animals compared to people can only be described as shocking – 80 percent.

This is a big deal. Mother Jones’ food and agriculture correspondent, Tom Philpott, explains why. And doesn’t this really stand to reason? By over-applying antibiotics to factory livestock, we are forcing the bugs to multiply and try their damnedest to outsmart our miracle drugs. The more cracks they get at the task, the more likely some mutation will allow for the bug to beat the drug. We are essentially hyper-speeding evolution (if you believe in that sort of thing). Naysayers demand solid proof. In other words, seeing a plague begun by resistant bacteria would be the only thing convincing them to back stepped-up regulation of factory farm antibiotic use. . This sounds familiar, no?

And the overuse problem is not unique to the US.  Cheap factory meat is very popular in China as well. That story from PRI’s The World clearly explains the issue.

Can’t we just say that cheap factory meat is way too costly? Cutting meat consumption is a good idea – the specter of antibiotic resistance is only one more reason to avoid the stuff and force the adoption of wiser practices.


The Powerful Few, or the Public Good

The late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said. “There is no such thing as society. There are only individual men and women and there are families.”  The Iron Lady would probably take issue with Robert Reich’s articulation of the need for building and maintaining society. Note the timetable – the former Labor Secretary is pointing to the Thatcher/Reagan era as the precise time when the benefits of increased productivity starting sliding toward the wealthy and powerful, and working people were cut out. And Reich rightly notes that you hardly hear the phrase “the common good” at all anymore. And what of those benefits to the wealthy and powerful? They seem to come with less and less accountability, if you look at CEOs.

Bill Moyers sees a plutocratic end game in that system that coddles the powerful. So what keeps people from rising up and restoring democracy? Dennis Marker has a theory in his 2012 book. In 15 Steps to Corporate Feudalism, he argues that getting people to hate the government is a key strategy to persuade the masses to support policies that benefit the powerful few at the expense of the many. I think he is onto something big. There is a great interview of the author by Thom Hartman at that last link.

The essential question here is this – are we in this together, or are we completely isolated islands? The Star Tribune’s Bonnie Blodgett has a modest proposal to help us get back to shared responsibility and accountability. Before you dismiss her idea as unfeasible, just think of the payoff in policy and outcomes if everyone – the Bushes, the Clintons, the Obamas, and even the Limbaughs, Coulters and Hannitys – had an actual share in this nation’s overseas adventures, of the “regime change” sort and others. Very wise, and very timely.


Musical Notes (Including One on Sustainability)

Here are three musical stories that hit me this past week. First, a story that pained me. It is sad to know that the owner of one of the sweetest voices and most diverse catalogs in popular music will sing no more. Second, a veteran Twin Cities jazzman who deserves a far bigger audience. If you like old-time jazz, and have ever listened to A Prairie Home Companion, this MPR story will bring you a smile. Finally, this singer songwriter from Iowa was already known in folk circles for wonderfully wise and witty lyrics taking on, among other things, conservative religion. Now she has turned her attention to farming, with similar entertaining and thought-provoking results. Be sure to click and listen to the clever Herbicides..


“The long memory is the most radical idea in America” – Bruce “Utah” Phillips


Contributed links to this posting –Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 6/16/13

16 06 2013

War Footing Needed //

The imagery is powerful and symbolic. High-tech war weapons, including Blackhawk helicopters, fight Colorado’s Black Forest fire, now acknowledged as the greatest natural disaster in the state’s history. That fire is coming under control now, after it has killed two people and destroyed more than 400 homes. And though it turns out that the fire was caused, accidentally or criminally, by human activity, we must focus on the big picture. That is, this fire comes just a year after a terrible Colorado fire season, and is undoubtedly a preview of an impossibly awful fire season across the West this year. That is owing to a Sierra snowpack at a tiny fraction of average. And though some insist on blaming this crisis on “the hand of God,” (listen to the fellow in this NPR story on the fire say just that), the inescapable conclusion is this – our greenhouse gases will continue to further dry out many drought-prone areas, as well as build more sudden, violent storms and resultant floods.

We have no problem – indeed, no choice – but to roll out a massive, military response when the individual weather events occur. After all, fires must be extinguished, flood victims must be saved and relocated, storm surge damage must be repaired. But the irony is this – as we muster the will to repair and adapt, there remains sinfully little commitment to reduce the activity that causes these problems in the first place.

In a predictable shift, there is more talk of adapting to climate change. No problem with that – it was an activists’ pipe dream, the notion that we could cut greenhouse gases without also promoting mitigation and adaptation, but it is past time to bust up the irony. That is, throwing resources at adaptation to droughts, floods, sea rise – and this will take an ever-mounting treasure to fund – while doing so little to halt the reduce and halt the problem in the first place suggests a fire metaphor. It is like fighting a fire with one team, while other, much bigger teams, continue to heave ever more fuel into the blaze.

The current situation – though President Obama says some of the right things about climate change, he is doing little to follow through. This article talks about FEPA – one of the tools at his disposal that does not involve dragging along a recalcitrant, oil-bought Congress.  And of course Obama needs to nix the Keystone XL pipeline, an enabling pathway to the dirtiest oil on the planet. This Climate Progress piece hints that the President may unveil his climate change strategy in July. (It also contains a wealth of links to climate change stories.) CNN commentator and author Van Jones strikes just the right note in this article highlighting the importance of Obama’s decision on Keystone.

What we need is a World War II-style commitment to solve the climate crisis. We hold out hope that President Obama takes a cue from the great FDR in his final term, and right now the jury is still out. Kelly Rigg’s commentary on HuffPost may be a year old, but it makes strong points and includes some insightful graphic support. I hate quoting President George W Bush, though sometimes in spite of himself he said something intelligent. Such was the case when he said “We must, and we will, confront threats to America before it is too late.” Forget for a moment that the Decider was chest-pumping on his ginned-up, stove-piped case for invading Saddam’s Iraq, and think about that spirit as a rallying call to solve the climate crisis while we still can. It will take a war-level commitment from everyone, but the payback will be enormous. It starts with a carbon tax or fee, and it ends with a sustainable economy. Forget President W’s response to what we could do to support his Iraq war effort (“buy something”), we all can (and must) pitch in on this one.


An American Travesty

It’s clear. Commitment to reasonable weapon regulation has evaporated in the months following the Newtown massacre – just six months after the awful tragedy. A prominent victim of another tragedy, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, co-wrote a column to mark the anniversary. When you remember that 90 percent of the public supports that most reasonable of regulations – universal background checks for gun purchases – and you note that the law was rejected in both houses of Congress, you are reminded just how far our government is from the people, from majority rule.

Gerrymandering has the House showing a solid, not a slight, Republican majority, though a majority of House votes went to Democrats in 2012. And then there is the great filibuster game in the Senate, where today it would take 60 votes to support a resolution lauding apple pie. And wait – that linked chart is two years old! What about all of Senator Mitch McConnell’s greatest hits? But Senator Harry Reid shows no sign of ending this misuse of power, though he has the authority to do so. And when you think about this, remember that the Senate is already, constitutionally, out of whack – blue California (38 million people) has the same power in that lofty body as red Wyoming (576,000).

So majority rule is a fiction, as an illegitimate majority pushes the agenda of big corporations. The solution – get corporate money out of politics, and return to the original principle of government of the people, for the people and by the people.


The Little Guys will be Missed

Sometimes only a picture can tell an important story effectively. How about two pictures to tell the story of bee decline, and the dear price we will pay? Just look at before and after pix of supermarkets, presupposing that we continue to let Monsanto lead us down the pignorant (pretend-ignorant) path of chemical destruction of the pollinators.  And lest we think that chemicals are the only problem, and that bee decline is a matter for the large commercial beekeepers who hire their bees out to pollinate crops, read this commentary from local beekeeper Tess Galati: “I lost all 3 colonies because of the excessively long winter. One of the 3 new colonies is dead, as are about 1/3 of the new colonies of other local bee keepers. Nicotinoids are a huge problem, but climate change is also directly to blame. When it rains all the time, bees can’t get out to gather pollen, and what pollen there is just washes into the gutter. When springtime doesn’t bring five consecutive afternoons of sun in Georgia or California, the queens can’t mate properly, so they lay more drones and fewer workers. When farmers plant Roundup instead of clover between the rows, bees starve. I’ve been pretty depressed watching my girls struggle and not being able to help them.”

Though multiple factors are causing the bee crisis, considering what is at stake, why not eliminate those factors in our control? I think we know the answer, sadly. (You must watch the imbedded Jon Stewart video on corporate control of agriculture. Here it is.)


Father and Son Harmony

Bucky and John Pizzarelli are an inspiration. Their long collaboration has produced a tradition of beautiful swing jazz deftly played on seven-string guitars. And this NPR interview shows their partnership goes on even as the elder picker heads through his 80s. The piece is a marvel for so many reasons – snippets of great music of course, but also commentary on fatherhood, droll fashion advice from the late father of host Scott Simon, and maybe – nostalgia for good times with your dad. It made this Meathead think of good old Arch.


“The problem in society is not kids not knowing science. The problem is adults not knowing science. They outnumber kids 5 to 1, they wield power, they write legislation. When you have scientifically illiterate adults you have undermined the very fabric of what makes a nation wealthy and strong.” 

-Neil DeGrasse Tyson


Contributed links to this posting – Tess Galati, Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN