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 6/2/13

2 06 2013

Happy-Talk or Sustainability? //

The future world will be the result of our choices as individuals, but also as societies. I think about that when I hear the growing chorus of well-meaning people who have a “solution” to the mounting crisis of bee die-off. They prescribe a laudable individual choice – plant more flowers, particularly native varieties. You can glean plenty of that good advice in this recent Star Tribune article, and also this NPR interview with scientist Marla Spivak.

It’s hard to argue with advice such as planting less grass and more flowers. After all, our chemically nurtured lawns are a big part of the problem – grass is nothing like a natural habitat for insects, and the fertilizers and weed killers create all manner of environmental problems. But this is clearly a case where individual virtue can make us feel good, but will go only so far in solving the serious environmental problem.

Articles about bee decline, or colony collapse disorder, carry a common theme. It could have multiple causes, we are told – fungus, landscape changes, mites, etc. Neonicotinoid pesticides are mentioned, but sometimes as an afterthought. Minnesota author William Souder – who recently wrote an acclaimed biography of environmental pioneer Rachel Carson – sees a Silent Spring connection. And look at this piece from MPR featuring beekeeper Steve Ellis. Make sure you watch the imbedded two-minute video.

Since research shows the pesticides affect bees’ navigation and orientation, and that is exactly what beekeepers are observing, a sensible approach would be to ban the stuff – particularly considering what is at stake. Our friends in Europe have seen enough. To us environmentalists, that sure looks like a prudent choice, considering the evidence and the risk. But here in the US, we are no nervous nellies, by God.

I fear this controversy is devolving into another policy-paralyzing stalemate – like the granddaddy of those standoffs, climate change. Powerful moneyed interests insist there is no danger, or insufficient proof, or the cost of fixing the problem is too high – as the situation warrants. Pick your business-as-usual-preserving argument, and go for it. It’s a winning formula. Just ask ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, back in the news this week with some creative new magical thinking.

Though the issue of bee decline is not as much in the public eye – for now – as climate change, I see the cause of “controversy” and resultant policy paralysis as one and the same – corporate control of the system. (How is that last article for a laugh?) The cure is the same as well – getting corporate money out of politics.

If we don’t get smart, we will push pollinators, the climate and who knows what else beyond the point of recovery before we finally set about creating sustainable, common-good policies that serve us all in the long run. In the meantime, let’s plant lots of pretty native flowers. They provide some beauty as we rearrange the deck chairs. And let’s play some fiddle music while we watch the fires. Worked well for Nero.

Climate Change Awareness and Action

Despite the almost daily recent weather events with varying levels of connection to climate change – the repeated pounding of the Plains by tornadoes and armadas of slow-moving storms, the freakish late-spring snowstorm in the Adirondacks, the fast-melt flood destruction of a small Alaska village to name just a few, a significant portion of the American public has still not connected with reality. Part of this refusal to respect scientific facts – carbon dioxide at about 400 parts per million is radically changing weather patterns – can be traced to the propaganda of Tillerson and company. But not all of it. Remember that accepting manmade climate change as real will require change and sacrifice, especially from us in the comfortably rich West. That’s inconvenient, and we just wanna be happy.

But prominent activists are keeping up the pressure. Former Vice President Al Gore’s latest message compares our treatment of the atmosphere to dumping waste in a sewer. Dr. Paul Ehrlich – he of The Population Bomb fame – writes about planetary limits. And Organizing for Action is raising a ruckus within the Obama Administration – trying to get the president to take a stance worthy of his campaign positions on climate change issues – mainly the Keystone XL pipeline.

This blog post offers suggestions for our mission – should we choose to accept. That would be – talking to ideological conservatives about climate change. The prime directive – awaken a critical mass of the public so we can build climate-friendly policies and clean energy before it is too late. The single biggest step, I believe, would be a carbon fee, along the lines of the system suggested by activist and former NASA meteorologist James Hansen. And an essential interim step is halting the madness of tar sands oil, by rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline – a main cause of longtime climate activist Bill McKibben.

Ceding Land to Nature

For environmentalists, it’s an inviting prospect – returning certain lands to something like a wild state. Watch this short video by George Monbiot (author of Heat) to get an idea of what this is about. If this sounds a bit romantic, quixotic, that’s because it is. While Monbiot points out that an area the size of Poland will be abandoned by agriculture in the next several decades, it is hard to imagine burgeoning humanity purposefully returning vast swathes of land to wildness. And yet, our technological blunders and wars have set up some dramatic, if little-realized, examples of just that.

Take Chernobyl’s neighborhood. Various accounts – including this one – have described Mother Nature’s rebound in the devastated area deemed too radioactive for human habitation. And further to the east – the standoff between the Kim dynasty in North Korea and its southern adversary has brought an endless hair-trigger drama to the peninsula. But the DMZ that divides the countries is something of a natural paradise – with no nuclear disaster either. Both areas, and so many others, are explored in a book I can’t recommend strongly enough – The World Without Us. Forget the movie by the same name, but I can guarantee that Alan Waisman’s book will get you thinking in new ways about the relationship between the natural world and humankind’s stamp upon it.

If Korea’s dictators named Kim finally come to their senses, and when Chernobyl’s curies finally diminish to tolerable levels for humans, it is hard to imagine wise leaders setting such prime real estate aside for nature. But still, groups dream and – more important – act.  The DMZ Ecology Research Institute’s work is featured in this post. There appears to be no group specifically working to preserve the Chernobyl exclusion zone, but you can learn more here from Voice of America’s bureau chief in Moscow.

Closer to home, and actually all over, this group works to connect wild areas, even in the midst of ribbons of freeways. That is exactly the message that emerges from another of my oft-recommended sources, David Quammen’s The Song of the Dodo.

Own a Little Less; Share a Little More

I am a lifelong advocate for and user of public transit. I started out riding to high school via the Q1 bus and the E train in Queens NY. Nowadays, I live in a southeast suburb of St. Paul MN. I still find ways to use transit whenever possible – I rarely drive to work for instance. But many people resist public transit because they “need” a car. And indeed, transit does not go everywhere. But several encouraging trends are sidelining more autos – and the beneficiaries are many. First, check this NPR story on bicycle sharing systems. It’s well produced and tells a very positive story. And car sharing is also on the rise. Here is an overview, with a cover quote from, of all people, the Chairman of Ford Motor Company. Young people are just not as enamored with the car as my generation, and that is a good thing for this crowded planet of ours.

Dingbats Stifled

There are two losses to report this week.

When the passing of Jean Stapleton was announced yesterday, I felt I had lost a member of my family. Her most famous character, All in the Family’s Edith, was the wise, kind foil to her husband, the irascible bigot Archie Bunker. OK, so my mom is not much like Edith. My dad on the other hand, had much in common philosophically with the immortal Arch. I reminded him of this so frequently that for the last few years of his life, he called me Meathead at least as often as I called him Arch. Of course, Stapleton was a fine actress who had other roles, including a portrayal of Eleanor Roosevelt. RIP, Jean Stapleton. Those were indeed the days.

The other passing is not a death at all, but a departure nonetheless. If you can watch the eight-minute farewell video, you have more patience than me. (For a shorter, comical version try this.) But scroll down for the amazing, facts-be-damned quote collection. What politician has provided more entertainment than our own Michele Bachmann? I am indeed sad to report this departure. And cartoonists are in mourning all over. But let’s give credit where it is due. The lady did win four congressional elections – no small achievement. And she also set herself up as a weighty scientific voice. Aye, we will miss ye dearly, Congresswoman Bachmann.

“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.”

― Albert Einstein


Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 5/26/13

26 05 2013

A Three-Beast Tale //

We humans could be doing so much more to share the world with our fellow travelers. Here are stories of three of our fellow large mammals and the treatment they are receiving from the most intelligent – at least that is our assumption – and most destructive – that’s obvious – species in the system. Note the absence of the term “fable” in the title of this piece. That’s because this is all too true.

First up – the elephant. Anyone following environmental news knows that poaching is on a dramatic upswing. And “poaching” seems too tame a term for what is happening in recent years. The prize, of course, is the animal’s ivory tusks – most valued in China and Southeast Asia. Globalization means ever more money flowing to that part of the world, and driving elephant slaughter and ivory smuggling. Scientists fear the extinction of Africa’s forest elephants. And as National Geographic reported earlier this year, today’s crisis is far more serious than those in the 1970s and 80s that ultimately led to a ban on ivory trading in 1989.  To understand how ghastly and sad all this is, just consider the intelligence of these giants. And if you follow that link, you will understand that our steady destruction of the species is itself the cause of the occasional “elephant rage,” or attack on human settlements. Courageous conservation workers in Africa try to stem the massacre, and NGOs help as well. The World Wildlife Fund has a special focus on the species, and Save the Elephants has enlisted prominent Chinese media personalities to halt the illegal trade.

The rhinoceros may be less charismatic than the elephant, but it suffers a similar fate. Like the pachyderm’s tusk, the rhino’s horn is the focus of various health myths. Big money in China and Southeast Asia drives another illegal smuggling trade and massive slaughter of the beasts. As this PBS article notes, all species are on the road to extinction thanks to habitat loss and senseless slaughter. Just read the numbers in this HuffPost piece to understand the concern that we may soon extinguish the rhino. World Wildlife Fund is on this case too – just another good reason to support that organization.

With both rhinos and elephants, it is easy for us in the west to point the finger at others – in this case Chinese customers and African poacher/suppliers – and say it’s their problem, not much we can do except support conservationists. But this is not so with a third example. To learn our impact here, walk up and down the aisles in your supermarket – in particular snack foods and personal care. Read the boxes of crackers and cookies and just try to find one that does not contain an innocent-sounding ingredient: palm oil. Hey, at least it’s not trans fat, right? Now walk over to the soaps and read labels. Same thing. Palm oil, palm oil everywhere. So what is the problem? This. The miracle substance is unsustainable for orangutans. Considering how we are crowding our fellow primates off the planet, can’t we do something about this situation? That is the focus of the Rainforest Action Network. The RAN graphic shows another benefit of preserving orangutan habitat – fighting manmade climate change. Learn more here. See how the Sierra Club weighed in recently. And then help by finding palm alternatives and not buying this stuff. Next, sign Jason DeGrauwe’s petition..

And when you look at the forces driving these three and so many animals toward the cliff of extinction, one jumps out at you. It is our unrelenting expansion of the human population. We stand at 7 billion right now, but not for long. Buried in the story about orangutans and palm oil is this startling fact: every single day, more human babies are born than the entire remaining wild population of gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans combined. The implication is clear – we either learn to share space with our fellow travelers, or our grandchildren will inherit an incredibly crowded but grossly impoverished world.

Here are three organizations educating and advocating on behalf of a sustainable human population: The Population Connection, World Population Balance and the UNFPA.


Climate Pignorance – Humorous and Harmful

Haven’t we missed Sarah Palin? Fortunately, she has not gone away from the political scene for good. She resurfaced this week to shed some light on the climate change “debate.” Heck, she even used a scientific term correctly – gluteus maximus. At least she is entertaining, unlike this guy who is merely pious and sickening. And of course the former Alaska governor is no newcomer to climate pignorance (pretend ignorance). The Skeptical Science site has dedicated an entire page to her past pronouncements.

Sarah Palin and James Inhofe are one thing, but if you want to see the biggest hurt of climate pignorance – public confusion and policy paralysis – you must seek out the big boys. And no one is bigger than these brothers. Just a couple of businessmen, pursuing their interests – which happen to include a veritable gusher of well-funded disinformation.


A Season for Cutoffs

The word “cutoffs” suggests the season that unofficially starts this very weekend. But here in the Twin Cities, summer has been slow in arriving. We have had one brief outbreak of strong warmth, and a couple of stretches of decent temps, but mostly it’s been cold and gloom these past few months.

As with everything, there is a scientific explanation. We have had a number of cutoff lows – seems like a series of them in fact. And they have not been a local phenomenon. In fact, today, as I finish this post, the very same cutoff low that gave us a solid week of gloomy, rainy weather here in the Twin Cities is spinning over the northeast coast. That means it took an entire meandering week to crawl from Iowa to Maine. Oh and by the way, the deadly tornado that devastated Moore, Oklahoma, was part of the very same system. And with the turtle-like pace of the low’s eastward progress, some of the same areas in the South received repeated daily poundings of severe weather.

So what is going on with all this? I glance at NOAA’s national radar animation most days, and I have been curious about all these lows. I have also checked with several scientists. The verdict – cutoff lows are not that unusual, and are more common in spring and fall. But now here is where it gets interesting – the climate disruption connection.  And though we must repeat for the gazillionth time the old misused saw that no specific weather event can be unequivocally linked to manmade climate change, the associative evidence continues to pile up. And Rutgers University’s Jennifer Francis, whose video work on Arctic amplification I linked to a few weeks ago (see Wacky Wobbly Weather) says that more frequent and persistent cutoff lows are precisely one of the phenomena that have been predicted as we change the chemical content of the atmosphere.

So the choice is clear. We can either continue to use a tight focus, finding some precedent for pretty much every weather event, and fool ourselves into believing the siren song of business-as-usual fossil-fueled energy, or we can get serious about the problem, tax carbon and build a sustainable energy future for the long haul. Let’s choose wisely.


3-2-1 Busted

The IRS has had more than its usual share of headlines and hatred this past week, with revelations that it targeted conservative groups unfairly. Fox News loves the story. For Michele Bachmann, it is a dream-come-true distraction from her own troubles.  The whole affair calls for a little perspective. Daily Show perspective, for instance.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

Albert Einstein


Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

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

Week of March 13, 2011

21 03 2011

Cut the Regulations and Do ‘Tort Reform’ – Corporations Strong Enough for Ya?
Just Wait.
Take a moment and think about the modern Republican credo.  The problem is
government regulation.  The Milton Friedman-inspired solution is to gut
regulations – the almighty market, you see, will take care of everything.  After
all, it sure worked well for the banking industry, didn’t it?! But then think
about the flip side.  At every turn in recent years, those same Republicans have
been fighting to restrict people’s right to sue a corporation that has harmed
them.  So what does this add up to?  Freed from ‘restrictive regulation,’
companies may engage in riskier activity.  Then, if the Republicans have their
way, you will find it much harder to sue for damages if injured.  Paying
attention to what’s going on in Japan right now? Several related links.  First,
in any rational setting, the bright, tough-minded and caring Elizabeth Warren
would be a shoo-in for the director spot in the new consumer protection agency
she played the chief role in creating.  Rational, you say?  How about
corporatist?  See a Charlie Rose interview, and a story on an apparent Wall
Street Journal editorial campaign trying to take Warren down.  Next, get up on
what gives with ‘tort reform.’  This approach reminds me of an astonishing
achievement of modern greed-driven Republicans.  That would be to get the ‘death
tax,’ actually the estate tax on multimillion dollar states, suspended (with
hope of elimination), with broad support from the American public.  Besides
hoodwinking millions of people into supporting this move, here is the other
achievement – beat the estate tax down largely with the argument that it’s
‘unfair to tax that money twice,’ while at the same time working like the
dickens to cut those ‘first-time’ income and capital gains taxes down to
nothing, or next to nothing. Thus is plutocracy built, friends.  Finally, a
Japan-related cartoon commenting on the deregulation mania. (It’s the March 18



Reactions to Japan Tragedy
Many of us are paying close attention to the nuclear side of the ongoing
earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan.  And indeed, the latest expert opinion
puts that crisis at least on a par with Three Mile Island – and possibly
trending toward Chernobyl.  But that can divert attention from the immediate
human tragedy – an expected toll of more than 10,000, with many bodies never
recovered as they were swept out to sea.  It’s easy to find ignorant, mean,
cruel responses.  In a video interview, Bill O’Reilly was actually the saner
party involved – by a long shot.  Ann Coulter was arguing that radiation is no
big deal – the scientists are exaggerating.  And Rush Limbaugh had a good old
time ridiculing the Japanese for being environmentally conscious (home of the
Prius after all) but being thrashed by Mother Nature.  And then there is the
linked video, and a commentary by NPR’s Scott Simon.  Inspiration from, of all
places, the realm of canine friendship.  Also – despite Japan’s relative wealth,
they can use our help.


The Shock Doctrine – in Action and Summarized
First link – the emergency powers now held by the governor of Michigan.  Second
– this has to be one of the cruelest cuts being contemplated.  Third – I have
been recommending Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine for some time.  A friend
recently noted that it has also been a movie for over three years.  Highly
recommended . . . though not by Dick Cheney.

“In Mah State, I Bin Cuttin’ Taxes!”
Whoa, who was that southern boy with the smooth drawl?  Is Bill Clinton back on
the campaign trail?  Lamar Alexander?  No, it’s that tough-talkin’, tax-cuttin’,
face-changin’ boy from the south (of the Twin Cities), ex-governor Tim
Pawlenty.  Proving there ain’t nuthin’ he won’ do to be the president of y’all,
our boy has now started talking the part.  That is, he’s adopted a faux southern
accent.  Just listen to the story at the first link and see if you don’t agree.
Heck, it worked for ol’ George!  (Born a New England blueblood)  I wonder if our
boy Tim is soon to take brush-cuttin’ lessons.  Maybe a chimpish smirk would
help him pull some thunder back from the show-stealing Tea Partier Michele
Bachmann.  Well, in at least one way, Pawlenty has made something like the big
time.  Stephen Colbert’s hilarious satire of our panderer-in chief proves that.
Sort of.  Gawd, I love mah state!

“Facts?  No Thanks.  I’m Pretty, Loudmouthed and Loved by Tea Partiers.”
In the interest of equal time, our other Minnesota-grown prez wannabe must be
heard to be believed.
You can’t make this stuff up.


A Species Truly Endangered – and not by Accident
It’s the American middle class.  Here are several perspectives.  For the
snapshot version, look at the first link – it’s a chart that tells the sad tale
of increasing middle class hardship – while the wealthy thrive.  Second link
takes you to Jim Hightower’s latest writing on the issue.  Third link is a
longish article from Chris Hedges, author of Death of the Liberal Class.  He
points out what is at stake in the Wisconsin struggle, and how it connects with
populist struggles past.


Environmental Risks:  In the Unlikely Event that . . .
The linked interview from All Things Considered provided a fascinating look at
how we manage technical and environmental risks – ‘low-probability disasters.’
It’s interesting to connect these ideas with the promises being doled out by
natural gas drillers, who are assuring all that ‘fracking’ presents little or no
risk to drinking water supplies.



Grow Your Own, or Buy Healthy
Gardeners are gearing up for planting season.  If that doesn’t work for you for
whatever reason, how about a community-supported agriculture farm membership?
Good for you and the local farmer, and if you choose a farm with sustainable
practices, you are helping the natural world as well.
Each year the nonprofit Land Stewardship Project (LSP) publishes a guide and
listing of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms.

CSA farms provide weekly deliveries of their locally-grown produce to their
customers throughout the growing season, with the customers paying the farmers a
subscription fee. In some ways the CSA customers become partners with the
farmers, and the subscribers benefit by helping to build community and a more
personal connection with the source of some of their food.
The 2011 edition of the CSA directory is available online and for free
downloading at the web site above. This year’s directory for the first time
lists not only farms that deliver to subscribers in the Twin Cities, but also
includes farms delivering to customers in Greater Minnesota and western
Farmers pay a fee to be listed in this directory, and LSP does not certify
these farms.
There are descriptions of about 80 CSA farms in the directory, along with links
to the farms’ web sites in many cases. The directory is a great way for those
considering CSA membership to check out the wide variety of options that exist.
“The greatest danger to our future is apathy.”
– Jane Goodall

Contributed links to this posting – Jeff Carlson, Allyson Harper, Linda Kriel