IBI Watch 10/21/12

21 10 2012

It’s a Pander Party . . .  //

. . . And we are all invited!  We listened in vain for ANY mention of environmental issues in the first two presidential debates and the veep matchup.  Yes, I know the economy is foremost in people’s minds, as usual, but in the long run there is nothing more important than clean air and water and a livable environment.  And without those, the economy won’t mean a hell of a lot.  Yes, President Obama was much more energized and on-message in the second debate, and Governor Romney continued his mythologizing.  But nothing annoyed me more than all the jaw-flapping on both sides about ‘energy independence’ and the notion that a president controls gas prices.  It seemed like an argument over who is more in support of what I call our long-term energy policy under both parties, i.e. ‘Find lots more oil and coal, and burn it all up – fast!’  And when Obama failed to pounce when Romney rhapsodized about his love for coal – the full exploitation of which is a death sentence for a livable planet – you could see pandering in full flower.  An insult to our intelligence – gas prices are more important than a whole range of important issues – energy choices, pollution and especially climate change.  Now all is not lost on this issue – Obama is right on to declare that Romney basically wants to let Big Oil and Big Coal run the whole energy policy.  But where is the open discussion about what our addiction to fossil fuels is doing to destabilize the climate?  And when Romney cherry-picks the failures among those trying to build alternative energy, what is his solution? You know it – “Drill, baby, drill!”

There is still time to demand better.  Sign this petition from the League of Conservation Voters.  Or you can act here with Climate Silence.  Better yet, do both.  And if you think the focus on international affairs precludes dealing with the environment in general and the climate crisis in particular, you are not paying attention.

Remember – the economy of a subsidiary of the environment, NOT the other way around.

Green Chained

There is one candidate who, if included in the debates, would make sure the environment is not neglected.  I speak of the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein.  As you might expect, her candidacy is all about sustainability.  IBI Watch readers who live in thoroughly blue or thoroughly red states might consider casting a vote her way.  Her ideas are so dangerous, though, to the powers that be and business as usual, that this happened on the night of the second presidential debate.  Democracy Now also covered the arrest of this dangerous radical.

This incident reminds me of two of my favorite causes – getting corporate money out of politics and allowing a truly level field for all candidates.  The two issues go hand in hand, and, you might say, are also shackled in today’s America.  But they don’t have to be.

Plutocracy Ascendant

In this blog and elsewhere, I have long followed the growth of plutocracy in America – a process we have built with increasing intensity since about 1980.  But I learned much – and you can, too – from a fine interview that Bill Moyers just did with two expert sources on the issue.  His two sources have a long track record of reporting on this phenomenon.  Matt Taibbi has reported on plutocracy with admirable, biting wit, in Rolling Stone.  Here is an example.  Chrystia Freeland is the author of a new book that headed right to my reading list – Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.  Moyers himself is so impressed that he has organized a book club around this first selection.

Taibbi and Freeland cover the whole gamut of issues here – wealth and income inequality, ‘too big to fail,’ the idea that America is on its way to being another Russia, Brazil or maybe a gigantic banana republic.  But what is new here for me is a term for something I have observed – ‘government capture,’ also known as cognitive capture.’  This is a way of describing how the super-wealthy have increasingly cemented their hold on the reins of power, but also gotten in the public consciousness that things should be this way, and really always should have been this way. And lest you think these two authors are the latest reincarnation of Marx and Lenin, note that Freeland especially presents a balanced view.  Yes, globalization has changed the world to foster some concentration of wealth and power – but US government policy is also a major driving force.

This discussion about what is happening in American society is also explored in a historical way by the same Chrystia Freeland.  She recently covered a work comparing modern America with the Venice of the 1400s.  Not an example we should seek to follow, thank you very much.

This story of Venice’s rise and fall is told by the scholars Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, in their book “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” as an illustration of their thesis that what separates successful states from failed ones is whether their governing institutions are inclusive or extractive. Extractive states are controlled by ruling elites whose objective is to extract as much wealth as they can from the rest of society. Inclusive states give everyone access to economic opportunity; often, greater inclusiveness creates more prosperity, which creates an incentive for ever greater inclusiveness.  Sound familiar?

Vote This Way, or You Will Pay

One of the demons released by the infamous Citizens United Supreme Court decision is this – employers feel emboldened to ‘persuade’ their indentured servants, er, uh, employees that is, to support the Big Boss’s political issues and candidates.  If you are say, Robert Murray, or David Siegel, or one of the Koch Brothers, guess which side you will be pushing?  As Moyers notes in his commentary, these guys are pushing their power right to its legal limits.  Concern is growing over this persuasion, which you might call employment bullying.  Soon, more and more of us may be able to truthfully sing that final line from the iconic Merle Travis song – ‘I owe my soul . . . to the company store!’  That song of course is ‘Sixteen Tons’ – performed here by Tennessee Ernie Ford (‘cheered on’ by some well-heeled fans).

Do-It-Yourself Geoengineering

Why reduce greenhouse gases?  Technology will save us from climate chaos – Rex Tillerson told us so, recently.  And so what if those snail-paced, hypercautious governments are too sclerotic to be bold, be brave, be Randian?  Take the iron into your own hands, and go dump it into the ocean, may all those nervous nellies be damned.  Edward Teller must be rejoicing at the bold, visionary action taken by this pioneer.  Oy.

Calling Tar Sands Oil Out

When I am feeling discouraged about the massive government inaction on climate change, I seek out stories of activists taking bold steps.  Such is this story about a group that punked a ‘climate conference’ that was organized and paid for by the marauders themselves.  This story reminded me of notable heroes in this regard.  If you have never heard about the Yes Men, you need to watch that linked video.

But back on the serious side, here is why scientists are in an uproar about further exploitation of tar sands oil.  If there ever was a lose, lose, lose proposition for the climate, ecosystems and the very planet, it has to be tar sands oil.  Also protested here, as covered by Democracy Now!

Empathy?  Nah.

Maybe it is just the old FDR Democrat in me, but somehow, I think these two stories go together.  Meet Paul Ryan in the soup kitchen, and Paul Krugman in full critique mode regarding the Romney approach to health care.

Human Nature and Society – Assumptions Reconsidered

Before you dismiss these links as ponderous, heady, even – God forbid – boring, think again.  Radiolab ran a terrific program this week on change.  The most compelling segment for me was this one.  It is an amazing piece of accidental research that calls into question – from afar in the primate kingdom anyway whether we will always fight wars and kill one another because it is simply ‘human nature.’ I find a strange affinity with this segment from This American Life.  It chronicles a quixotic (and possibly ethically questionable) campaign by a legislator on behalf of early childhood education.  You just won’t believe which state we are talking about here.

Binders Unbound

OK, I could not resist.  Cheers!

‘The highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one’s country deep enough to call her to a higher plain.’

-George McGovern

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper





IBI Watch 10/14/12

14 10 2012

Two Years on, Two Years off . . . Sort of  //

The Iowa Caucus to Election Day spans nearly two years.  Think about that.  It takes about half a term in order to select the president to serve that term.  And during the two years ‘off,’ candidates spend much time seeking contributions for the next campaign.  And for Congress, it arguably is worse – shorter term, less time ‘off’ from campaigning.  Is it any wonder that our national leaders are paralyzed on so many important issues – national debt, financial regulation, environmental protection, and on and on?

This is one of the most extreme examples of American ‘exceptionalism.’  And what is the result of that extended, serious, thoughtful deliberation, heh heh?  A final, forced choice, for many, of the lesser of two evils.  Other countries have much more compact election seasons, and with good reason – the business of government should be to serve the people, not to solicit money from well-heeled sponsors in order to ensure election to another term of serving those well-heeled sponsors.

But another factor is in play here.  The whole spectacle entertains us.  Most political coverage centers on the horse race, not policy decisions. Who will win?  Who will lose?  That election is over, let’s get onto the next.

I think Matt Taibbi has it right in this piece on hype over substance.  I have often said that dialing back the campaign season would allow more time for the business of governing.  His demand for a six-week presidential contest goes further than I have argued, but more power to him.

One giant step in this direction would be getting the big money out of politics.  Here is a group working to do just that – just see its name.  And here is another, targeting the outrageous Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

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Biden Steps it up . . . Too Much?

The vice presidential debate provided a lot more for progressives to cheer about, compared to the lackluster performance of President Obama in his first meeting with Governor Romney.  But I found myself thinking – this is no way to run a debate.  So many times, I wanted to shout at Joe Biden, “Let Ryan finish, would you?!”  Still, the man from Scranton was energized and on message, even if more than a little overbearing, and was able to debunk a lot of what the Congressman said.  But don’t just listen to me – try Robert Reich.

Climate Policy Paralysis, by Design

One thing is clear about the current presidential campaign, including the debates.  There is hope, of course, that the upcoming town hall format will allow citizens to bring the climate crisis into consideration, but so far it has been virtually absent.  Heck, the president even let Romney tell us how much he ‘loves coal’ in that first debate, with nary a response.  But with the incredibly extensive and rapid Arctic summer ice melt just behind us (here is a pessimistic view from the Irish Times), you have to wonder – what will it take for our politicos to give this incredibly serious issue its due, and start to craft policy that starts moving us in the right direction?

This short video on the work of the late Stephen Schneider – Climate Science and Media Distortion – explains a lot.  In just 12 minutes, it runs through a capsule history of climate science and the accompanying political battle – including the ignominious starring role by Minnesota’s own pignorant space cadet, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.  But the real value here is the discussion of the choices and value judgments that are in play here, and recounting of the pervasive distortion of the science and its implications by fossil fools and their stooges. And speaking of that band of criminals, there is no greater force on their side than Fox News.  This video shows the unofficial right-wing propaganda organ at its worst.  Who knew what a star in this realm was the great Sean Hannity?!  Heck, he could give the Windbaugh himself a run for his money!  The news here (if you can call it news) – the distortion is systemic, strategic, and completely connected to big oil interests.  That would be the Koch Brothers and of course Exxon Mobil.

Other Countries, Other Climate Ideas

Just because our corporate-controlled system has prevented rational climate policy here in our great nation, that does not mean other advanced nations have to stand pat in pignorance with us.  As this Grist story reports, Norway is doing something we need to do – raising the carbon tax (we don’t even have one of those!) and using the money to help the world.  And there is good news from Germany – a big advance in efficiency of solar cells.  And from Britain’s Guardian newspaper, here is an interactive web page featuring the best climate preservation ideas from 50 different sources – including both prominent thinkers and interested citizens.  Many good ideas here.

Institutionalized Greed in Three Hefty Portions

Sometimes, it is entertaining to see the greediest of the greedy caught in their own webs.  At other times, the advance of unfettered greed in modern America is something to be very concerned about.  First, the saga of the empty seats in the new Yankee Stadium just goes on and on.  I would have loved to see those ushers shooing (relatively) low-buck fans into the penthouse perches – to maintain the TV illusion.  Beautiful.  But sorry, folks, that’s the end of the entertainment for now.  Read as Professor Krugman warns us of the wrong policies just ahead in case a certain corporatist candidate prevails.  And then there is the tale of the powerful capitalist and self-styled kingmaker.  He tells his minions, ‘Vote this way. Or else.’  Ah, America.

Two Minnesota Republicans, Two Views on Voter Suppression

Of course Governor Arne Carlson is a former politician.  In today’s Minnesota Republican Party, full of the likes of Mary Kiffmeyer, he would be shown the door in a hurry.  Guess which one thinks the voter ID amendment protects against voter fraud – that great ghost of a phantom of a problem – and which one thinks the whole enterprise is a gigantic sham of an antidemocratic boondoggle.  Right you are.

The Numbers We Dare not Mention

Name the environmental problem.  Man-made climate change.  Deforestation.  Loss of wildlife habitat.  Declining biodiversity.  Ocean dead zones.  We can see each as a discrete issue.  Or we can dig down to the root cause.  That is just what this blog post by Ingrid Hoffman does – which is why I like it so much.  And if that whets your appetite for greater understanding about how continued rapid human population growth drives all environmental problems, check this little illustrated article on the concept of exponential growth.  It is posted by an organization that I support.  If you visit, check the right side of the screen.

The Twilight Zone I Would Create . . .

Those who deny the science of evolution generally do so on religious grounds.  If the bible is literally true, well then how could the world be four billion years old.  Case closed.  Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way.  Even my church of origin – Roman Catholic – affirms evolution.

Bill Nye has something to say about all this – and his recent short video generated no small controversy in Jesusland.

Next stop, the Twilight Zone.  You see, if I could write this crowd into an episode of my favorite classic TV show, it would look like this.  Everyone who does not ‘believe in evolution’ would wake up tomorrow to a world where they get their wish.  Evolution is not true.  All is happy in this magical world.  The earth is 6000 years old, give or take a few Sabbaths.  Oh, and all denizens get no benefit from any scientific discovery based on evolution.  Happy Tales.

The Ice Chronicler

Photographer James Balog has done us a great service.  Putting himself at tremendous risk, and deploying technology in the most precarious of settings, he has produced a volume of first-hand evidence of the climate crisis as it is playing out in the Arctic – mainly Greenland and Alaska.  The real-time change is nothing short of shocking.  I highly recommend this interview done by Bill Moyers.  You can also see a collection of his extreme photography here.  If you watch the Moyers interview, you might pick up on the fact that he is a former ‘climate change skeptic.’  His quote about his daughters strongly resonated with me.  He muses about what they will think in a changed world decades hence – that is, what they will think about how little our generation did to recognize, mitigate and halt this climate crisis of our own making.  Indeed.

 “People would rather believe than know.”
Edward O. Wilson

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links to this posting – Jeff Carlson, Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper





IBI Watch 9/2/12

2 09 2012

Trashing Our Refrigerator   //

Media meteorologists have had their hands full reporting on all the extreme heat and drought the United States has experienced this summer.  But most stories have stopped at reporting the individual phenomena, rather than connecting the hot and dry pattern with the obvious cause – man-made global climate change.  TV weather coverage is the weakest, with – anyone surprised? – FOX News having its head buried deepest into the sand.  But judging by the pignorance (pretend ignorance) displayed by Dave Dahl and other media meteorologists here in the Twin Cities (excepting Paul Douglas), you would never know that the American Meteorological Association minces no words.  Hey – do you think TV sponsors could be forcing downplay of the issue?  They wouldn’t do that, now, would they?

While many were ignoring the broader implications of changing weather and climate patterns, here comes a huge climate story that is also getting low-key coverage.  It is the record melting of Arctic sea ice.  Every year,  the ice retreats during the northern hemisphere’s summer, then refreezes over winter.  But the shrinking of that ice cap, well documented over the past few decades, recently broke the record 2007 melt.  And about two weeks still remain in the typical melting season.

Fortunately (and as usual), reliable sources in the less traveled media are providing extensive coverage.  Mother Jones’ Julia Whitty noted the new record and its significance.  This Seth Borenstein piece for Associated Press also tells the story, and includes this quote from NASA’s Waleed Abdalati, an ice scientist:  “Why do we care?”  This ice has been an important factor in determining the climate and weather conditions under which modern civilization has evolved.”  And this chart and commentary posted by researcher Peter Carter shows where 2012 is going compared the previous record.

Despite opening up the Arctic for incredibly risky oil drilling, this will have minimal effect on global sea rise.  Unlike the ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica, this ice is already floating.  But that ice cap is an integral part of the climate patterns we are accustomed to.  And the dramatic changes documented, especially in the last decade, are bound to have profound effects – as explained by  Climate Progress’s Joe Romm right here.  The exact results of destroying this global refrigerator – which we are so obviously doing with our greenhouse gas emissions – are chaotic and unpredictable.  But this summer gives us a stark preview of the near future.

So what does this mean to our politics?  For Mitt Romney, it’s a laugh line.  This of course is pure political pignorance – as Romney is on record as respecting climate science, pre-Tea Party.  As for President Obama, well, he certainly talks the talk, but has delivered precious little on the issue, thanks in no small part to the obstructionist Congress he is cursed with.

For my money right now, the best ideas out there are those of James Hansen.  The NASA meteorologist has little respect for ‘cap-and-trade,’ that much- maligned idea.  But his ‘fee and dividend’ plan holds much promise if we can muster the political will.  With hydrocarbon barons virtually owning our government, ‘this may take a while.’

Facts?  Truth?  Bah!

Lying has always been a part of the sport known as American politics.  And it has been a bipartisan enterprise – both parties offend.  But we may be hitting a new low this time around.

First – Charles Blow’s recent commentary in the New York Times lays out the state of truth right now – not so good, to say the least.

Second – Matt Taibbi has a new, in-depth commentary on Mitt Romney that is worth your time,  Note – it’s a long piece, but full of insights and takes on the question you hear often these days – ‘Who is Mitt Romney?’  Taibbi – clearly no fan of the former Massachusetts governor – calls his entire campaign ‘a shimmering pearl of perfect political hypocrisy .’  The heart of his critique – Romney is not the flip-flopper that media have painted, but something much more insidious – a massive debt creator (via his Bain work) who is running on the idea that debt is the biggest problem facing America and must be dealt with immediately.  No time for the entire article?  Here is the concluding paragraph:
Obama ran on “change” in 2008, but Mitt Romney represents a far more real and seismic shift in the American landscape. Romney is the frontman and apostle of an economic revolution, in which transactions are manufactured instead of products, wealth is generated without accompanying prosperity, and Cayman Islands partnerships are lovingly erected and nurtured while American communities fall apart. The entire purpose of the business model that Romney helped pioneer is to move money into the archipelago from the places outside it, using massive amounts of taxpayer-subsidized debt to enrich a handful of billionaires. It’s a vision of society that’s crazy, vicious and almost unbelievably selfish, yet it’s running for president, and it has a chance of winning. Perhaps that change is coming whether we like it or not. Perhaps Mitt Romney is the best man to manage the transition. But it seems a little early to vote for that kind of wholesale surrender.

Third – Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum asks a pertinent question – How can nice-guy Paul Ryan espouse such hard-hearted policies?  The numbers emanating from Ryan’s budget proposal will shock you.  Concise and insightful.

Finally – Where would we be without Jon Stewart?  In this 10-minute video – worth every minute – he devastates the most ubiquitous Republican straw man seen in these parts over the past month or so.  This straw man – in his many guises – came to life when President Obama’s ‘you didn’t build that’ quote was lifted, misinterpreted and milked to the last drop by the GOP.  It of course reached an absolutely ridiculous peak at the convention – prompting the Daily Show host’s hilarious send-up.  Jon Stewart  built this, for sure!

Unintended Consequences.

So now it seems we have created an environmental problem that some would like to solve with guns.  Hey!  What could be bad about that?  Plenty, probably.

This story is amazing in how it illustrates the rippling damage our carelessness and wanton environmental destruction can cause.  It also proves that, no matter how we trash the place, nature survives and adapts. . . but we may be stacking the deck against creatures many of us care deeply about.  Interest piqued?  Then read, please.

A grim story like that, it seems, calls for some biting musical satire.  This Chuck Brodsky song is a good fit.

It also calls for constructive action.  Here are two groups worthy of support.
http://www.oceanconservancy.org/

http://worldwildlife.org/
Nature Rebuilds, Right?

A trashed, then recovered, California beach provides some important environmental lessons.  This Sarah Goodyear piece for Grist asks important questions about our impact on the environment, and nature’s ability to overcome it.

It also made me think of a great book – definitely on my short list of strong recommendations – that deals in a comprehensive way with the myriad changes we have made to the planet – and their long-term consequences. Read The World Without Us.  Your eyes will be opened in so many ways.

Some Positive Developments – All Connected

Yes, friends, it is not all gloom and doom, not by a long shot.  Here is a roundup.

First – President Obama has come out in support of amending the Constitution to overturn the corporatist abomination known as Citizens’ United.  That is an indispensable step in loosening the stranglehold big corporations now have on our political life in America.

Second – Voter ID, the concerted GOP effort to suppress the unfriendly (to them) vote is running into serious headwinds in Texas and elsewhere.

Third – Just consider the benefits of the recent institution of dramatically higher fuel economy standards.  This can happen if we restore logic and respect for science and the common good to our political process.  That of course will be necessary if these new standards are to survive.  (Remember President Reagan ordering the Carter-era solar panels off the White House roof?)  Oh, and there is that matter of getting all that corporate money the hell out of politics.  Lots more on that soon . . .

“The man who has his millions will want everything he can lay his hands on and then raise his voice against the poor devil who wants ten cents more a day. . . . We do want more, and when it becomes more, we shall still want more. And we shall never cease to demand more until we have received the results of our labor.” – Samuel Gompers

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

Contributed links  to this posting – Jeff Carlson, Allyson Harper