IBI Watch 10/13/13

13 10 2013

Rube Goldberg’s Health Care for Cows //

The struggles of the poor souls trying to sign onto the sputtering, complex health care exchanges spawned by the Affordable Care Act’s startup recall a kids’ game – this one. As the Obama-haters lambaste the program as unworkable – and the early going certainly adds fuel to that vitriol-driven fire – it is helpful to remember a few things. This is especially important since the right wing’s fatwa against the Affordable Care Act is a main force behind the current federal government shutdown. (In fact, it has driven righties over the edge, as explained here by Jim Hightower.)

  • The term “Obamacare” is a derogatory coinage by the Tea Party that many Democrats and all too many media voices have adopted. The term, carefully designed to capitalize on the already thriving dislike of the president in some circles, and of course build more, is at best misleading and at worst a bald-faced lie. Why? It implies that the program is some kind of national health care system. i.e. the dreaded “government takeover of health care.” It is not.
  • The Affordable Care Act – which seeks to force the uninsured to buy into the private health insurance system – is originally a Republican idea, successfully instituted in Massachusetts on the watch of that raving socialist Mitt Romney.
  • The program is a baby step in the right direction that has at least two laudable goals – bring uninsured people into the health care system so they have access to care before they are wheeled into costly emergency rooms, and prevent insurance companies from refusing to insure sick people by declaring that they have pre-existing conditions.
  • While the Affordable Care Act may – once the bugs are ironed out – serve as a modest slowdown in health care costs, it will not go after the biggest problem – the massive profits locked into the health insurance and medical systems. As described by Florida Congressman Alan Grayson in a conversation with Bill Maher, those profits create a fundamental conflict of interest.

One of most powerful conservative arguments against the new program is this – forcing people to buy a private product is fundamentally unfair and undemocratic (though Chief Justice John Roberts did sway the Court to upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.) But here is why I find that argument both endlessly frustrating and also entertaining. The whole reason we have this Rube-Goldberg-inspired system is the right’s visceral opposition to anything that looks like the dreaded bogeyman, national health care.

The administration rightly upholds this baby-step toward a rational system. But that is a tough job in the face of the flaws and bungling, as HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius found out when she met with Jon Stewart.

But what about those cows I referred to in the headline? Well, these are not barnyard animals, but they are plenty hungry and also plenty satisfied. The sacred cows are the profits of the insurance companies. Those are well protected under the Affordable Care Act, and will continue to grow until reason creates a single-payer system something like those that citizens of other advanced nations enjoy.

Meanwhile, I leave the last word, or words – the most words you can pack into a content-filled, well-argued polemic – to the animated, amazing, agitated John Green. Eight minutes of video common sense that you will be glad you checked out. As you watch Mr. Green, remember about those sacred cows that our Rube Goldberg system will go on protecting.

 

This Horror Movie is Already in Production

This week’s announcement of a new, research-based perspective on manmade climate change makes for compelling reading. It would be fascinating as science fiction, but that would only be half right. Because we have the science part, but this is nothing like fiction.

Here is the story – if greenhouse gas emissions keep rising at their current rate, virtually the entire world will be living in a completely new climate regime by 2050. Now that may seem far off, but it is obviously within the lifespan of today’s young adults. And babies born today? This will be the prime of their lives. What will they think of baby boomers like me, who let this creeping tragedy unfold before our very eyes?

The implications of these changes are profound. One way to understand it is this – by midcentury, the coolest year will be warmer than the hottest year that we have experienced as of 2013. Think about that. We are a force of nature, overwhelming the planet’s natural self-regulation system. For humans, we are talking about climate refugees who are forced to leave their devastated homelands. And forget the oil wars of our era – how about water wars? And note that the people who have done the least to build the climate crisis will be among the first to suffer. For instance, think of the island residents of Tuvalu , the Maldives and the Far North.

What startles me in this study is the geographic progression. Since about 1990, when I started explaining climate change to anyone who would listen, I have read and reported that changes would be seen first in the higher latitudes, in the center of continents, during winter, and in overnight low temperatures that would rise faster than daytime highs. Of course, all that remains true, but the new study points out that tropical areas, as they are not used to wild fluctuations, are more vulnerable to rapid climate transformation. That is, it takes less of a temperature change to cause major disruption near the Equator than closer to the planet’s poles. That leads to projections like this one.

And while we consider the effects on humans, what about the Armageddon we are unleashing on our fellow travelers. Commentator Thom Hartmann makes the extinction connection very effectively here. The same Hartmann has a new video that is gaining much attention. It is an eleven-minute video with accompanying web site that compellingly explains the climate crisis, incorporating the latest research findings, especially those on methane hydrates. If you don’t know about those, you need to watch the video.

If the new research does not scare the hell out of us, maybe nothing will. Don’t you wish it were all just science fiction? Best scenario of course would be scaring a critical mass of citizens into action. In fact, you may not have noticed that “take action” link on the Lost Hours site.

Here is one recent example of the logic for wise action, and here are several organizations working for change:

350.org

Climate Reality Project

Citizens Climate Lobby

 

One is Called by God; One Fears the Devil

Minnesota Public Radio deserves much credit for its recent investigative series on the local Archdiocese’s continuing covert campaign to protect pedophile priests. The series has led to action. This particular installment had me swearing at my radio, particularly when this predator claimed to be “called by God.”

As for the other powerful doer of good deeds from my church of origin, we go to the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court. Call it The Devil and Mr. S. I have long maintained that “Constitutional Originalism,” as practiced by Justice Scalia and his allies, might as well be a literalist religion, replete with deity and dogma. Did you hear about how the Constitution was inscribed in stones up on the mountain and brought down by the Chosen Founding Father? Just kidding, I think. But here I am not kidding – if there ever was a walking, preaching argument for Supreme Court term limits, it would be Antonin Scalia. I imagine the good justice channeling President W. Think of the hilarity – the robed Satan hunter ransacking the office. A mirror might help.

 

 

Apply the “C” Word Here

The US government was once, they tell me, based on the principle of majority rule. That was then, this is now. Look at the current government shutdown, and think of it as majority overruled by a minority within a minority that parades and struts and threatens and obstructs as if it were a majority.  I strongly recommend this link to Rachel Maddow’s work, where she lays out the connection between the gerrymandered House of Representatives, and the twisted, extreme process that got so many Tea Party politicians into power in the first place. In addition to the current video, be sure to watch the one from December 2012 at the same link.

How did we come to this system of super-powered money? The long story is worth telling another time, but for now, this visit to Moyers and Company offers some valuable insight. Heather Gerken gives her take on our current corporatocracy and the importance of an imminent Supreme Court decision on candidate contribution limits. The “C” in the headline is for coup, as in coup d’état, a term Gerken so rightly uses for the right-wing subversion of our system.

It is up to us to change it, and it will be no easy task. For some inspiration, here are two wise recent animated commentaries. The first is narrated by Ed Asner, and the second is the latest from Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff series – the Story of Solutions.

 

An Inspiration from a Troubled Land

Who can fail to be impressed and inspired by Malala Yousafzai? When I watched Jon Stewart’s interview, I was floored by the young Pakistani’s knowledge, poise and commitment to a radical idea – education for all throughout the world, but especially for young women who have been excluded and in her case nearly assassinated by repressive societies. She may not have won the Nobel Prize, but this young lady has a hugely influential future ahead of her.

 

“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.” – Wendell Berry

 

Contributed links to this posting –Allyson Harper, David Vessel

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

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IBI Watch 4/21/13

21 04 2013

Wacky, Wobbly Weather  //

To say this spring’s weather in the Twin Cities has been “interesting” would be a gross understatement. Following a winter that could best be characterized as “average,” (save the midwinter rains and warmer bottom-out temperature), winter has come limping back, zombie-like.  March and April can be described only in one (printable) way – cold!

To most typical small-talk gripes, I have been responding that this colder-than-average spring somewhat balances the ridiculously warmer than average spring of 2012.

So what is going on here? It is one of three things:

  • A return to “normal Minnesota winter”
  • Random variation
  • Further evidence of manmade climate change’s local effects

Forget the first option. Magical thinking. If you dig deeper into the NOAA site linked above – here it is again – you will see that winters, even one that seems like old times, are just not as cold as they used to be. Higher overnight lows and winter rain are far outside historical norms. And then there is this NOAA bulletin that, if the Twin Cities were really just “going back to normal,” it would somehow have separated itself from earth. Yup, 337 consecutive months of above-average temps are one thing, but any day now, it will bounce back. Uh-huh. Check the excellent two-minute video narrated by meteorologist Deke Arndt for an explanation – “Pockets of Cold in a Warming World.”

As for the second option, if you still believe that, you were not paying attention. Review the Arndt video, and listen for the phrase “but they are not random.”

The third option is the most interesting, of course. Remember that big Arctic melt last summer? It has a legacy, friends. And, here we go again. But the NOAA video, fine though it is, fails to delve into the underlying causes of the cold regimes that arrive and linger in certain parts of the world, even as overall averages continue their inexorable climb. For that explanation, we turn to Rutgers University coastal and marine science professor Jennifer Francis. First, an overview of her work from Mother Jones’ Chris Mooney. Here is the video itself, a mini-lecture that includes animation showing that the slowing, drooping, wobbling jet stream is the culprit for our miserable spring. It is also no doubt connected to many other “stalled-weather” phenomena, but that is a topic for future discussion.

It’s comforting – to a point – to understand the scientific basis for deviant weather patterns. On the other hand, this is just one more reason why climate change science simultaneously fascinates and terrifies me. If this much chaotic change happens when we have not even raised the global temperature quite a full degree Celsius, and raised atmospheric CO2 to not quite 400 parts per million, what lies ahead in the inevitable world of two or more degrees of increase, and 450, or 500 ppm?

Stay informed, and get involved with promoting a rational approach to the climate crisis here, here and here.

Incidentally, I am a certified presenter for the Climate Reality Project. How is this for irony? My first presentation was scheduled for this past week, but was postponed by an out-of season snowstorm. This of course gives me another climate chaos story to tell when I present on the rescheduled date, next month. I am happy to present to any Twin-Cities-based group, barring chaotic weather of course. Request a talk at the Climate Reality site, or contact me directly.

Our Subverted System

For sale. Not exactly cheap, but rich benefits accrue to the successful buyer.

It’s our government, naturally, and it has already been sold. The owners are not the rightful ones – citizens – but those “people” called out by Mitt Romney. Remember? He told us “Corporations are people, my friend.” If they ever were people, they have become hyper-powered people in recent years, though I hesitate to call them superheroes.

The power of corporations is on display frequently – Monsanto’s domination of agriculture, and Big Oil and Big Coal’s continued success at heading off further regulation for two examples. But this past week saw one of the most blatant trashings of the public will in recent memory. The Senate voted 54-46 in favor of a reasonable gun regulation that polls show overwhelming majorities support – universal background checks for firearm purchases. This happened despite the presence in Washington of family members of Sandy Hook victims, and former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  But wait – Senate voted 54-46, in favor, and the measure failed?  Yes, of course – in this modern era of abuse of the filibuster by the modern Republican Party, it takes 60 votes to pass just about anything out of that broken body of government.  The Constitution says the Senate passes bills with a simple majority, but, well, you may remember what President W had to say on the Constitution.

So how is this failed effort at reasonable gun regulation further evidence of the corporate stranglehold over our system? Three ways. First, consider that most of the senators who voted against represent a small slice of the population. Second, consider that most of them take money from one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the history of politics. Third, remember that, despite rhetoric about freedom, this organization is, like any good lobbying body, dedicated most of all to the unlimited, unregulated sale of its products. To my mind, this is just one of the most egregious examples of corporate control of politics, public will be damned.

Still not convinced that many of the largest corporations today rule the roost, disregard the public and don’t pay their dues?  Try this AlterNet piece on corporate tax cheating. Or how about this Nation of Change article on the real corporate terrorists? Or how about checking in on the coddled industry that was bailed out with taxpayer money five years ago?  Take that, you wealth inequality activists!

It does not have to be this way, and if it stays this way, we are in deep, deep trouble, friends. Here is a good snapshot of the layoff the land. Jim Hightower’s current Lowdown has a dirty laundry list of corporate purchasers of the last election. You will have to subscribe to read that one right away (It is in the April issue), but Hightower often writes powerfully on this all-important issue. Here is a recent commentary on tax fairness. In his April newsletter – which I strongly recommend – he lists three groups that deserve more support – Open Secrets, Sunlight Foundation and Public Campaign.

But to close, let’s return to the most pressing issue of corporate control – gun violence. This chart from Slate has been tallying the body count since the Sandy Hook school massacre. In this month’s Scientific American, Michael Shermer shines the light of reason on one of the most shameful aspects of the NRA takeover of American politics – the denial of science. In this and so many other areas, it is long past time for the public good to trump callous, fear-driven profits.

Founding Sustainers

Commentator Bonnie Blodgett makes a persuasive case that key founders of our republic, often claimed by the likes of “originalists” like the corporatist Justice Antonin Scalia, were actually originalists of another stripe – the USA’a first sustainability advocates. Recommended.

April 22 Earth Day. Heal Our World, Heal Ourselves. (Guest Post)

This is a guest post by Lynn Hasselburger – a blogger in her own right. Her work is also featured at Boomer Warrior, where you see my posts from time to time as well. Thanks to editor Rolly Montpellier for passing this along.

“Reaching a general understanding that sustainability is the ultimate issue will finally bring us face-to-face with the political challenge of forging a sustainable society during the next few decades. It is a challenge we can meet if we have the leadership and the political will to do so.”  – Gaylord Nelson

 

Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





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 9/16/12

16 09 2012

Forecast for Winter Weather – and Its *Pignorant Exploitation  //

*Pretend-Ignorant

You don’t have to be a meteorologist or a climatologist to see what lies just ahead.  The scientists tell us we are entering another El Niño phase.  This generally means a warmer and drier winter in the region I call home – the US Upper Midwest.  But there is big change afoot – most important, we are still wondering where the current (and epochal) record Arctic ice melt will stop.  And a closely related phenomenon – the increasing waviness of the jet stream, north to south, makes – surprise! – more extreme weather events likely.  Just look at the short imbedded animation in the last link to see how that jet stream change is working.

So – with those two points in mind – here is the general winter weather (and winter weather reaction) forecast for the northern United States.

  • Some places will be hit with extraordinary snow and ice events– in some cases smashing records.  And the storms may linger for several days.
  • Denialist blowhards such as Inhofe, Limbaugh, assorted Fox News commentators and others will seize on the extreme winter weather events as evidence that man-made global warming is a hoax.  They will have a few lusty laughs at Al Gore’s expense and continue to help paralyze movements toward sustainable climate and energy policy.  The grand irony, of course, is that these pignorant pundits are using precisely the consequences of manmade climate change to ‘disprove’ manmade climate change.
  • No one will be paying attention when most of those places that got the record snow see it all rapidly melt when the weather shifts in a few days to temps that until recently could only be called ‘unseasonably warm.’
  • The overall pattern of the winter will be above normal to well above normal temps.  Just read here if you doubt that.  It’s as close to a sure bet as you can find.

How can I say this and – more important – who the hell am I to think I can say this?!  Two good questions.  First, I feel vindicated by recent events and analysis.  I have noticed in about the last 10-15 years that weather systems so often stall – in ways they had not in the past.  This means that some areas might have a long drought broken by rain that far overstays its welcome – such as a year or two of rain that falls in a few days on a drought-stricken area.  It also means fronts that virtually creep across the country, plaguing an area with successive days of severe weather.  Watch for more of this as weather becomes more extreme due to our ongoing alteration of the atmosphere with our greenhouse gases.  Second – there is a phenomenon afoot that any day now will be recognized as a trend.

But back to winter for a moment.  Two recent articles highlight scientists’ winter predictions – here and here.

Meanwhile, we keep up the climate change ‘debate’ in this science-averse country of ours.  But it turns out this is one real example of a well-worn right-wing concept: American Exceptionalism.  But it doesn’t have to be that way, and it doesn’t have to be a partisan issue.  My favorite local meteorologist and truth-teller, Paul Douglas, wrote a terrific piece recently.  His intended audience – the climate change jokester himself, Mitt Romney.  Heh, heh.  And of course, it is never a bad idea to visit Douglas’ excellent weather and climate blog.

Piling it High and Deep

It is hard to find a politician who does not stretch the truth from time to time.  You might even say that every politico – shocking I know – will tell a lie at some time.  But surely the current Republican presidential candidate and his running mate are setting a new standard.  This of course has been heralded by the quote of a campaign advisor – “Romney pollster Neil Newhouse responded to criticism of his campaign’s TV ad attacking the president with false claims about the welfare reform law. After it was noted that myriad fact checking organizations had found the ad false, Newhouse stated, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

Here is my favorite recent Romney quote.  The candidate rightly identified as favoring further tax advantages for the wealthy now charges the president with making the wealthy wealthier.  Hilarious.  Then there is the one about Republicans wanting President Obama to succeed in the early days of his administration.  Here is even more hilarity.  I about choked when I heard Romney tell us in his Convention speech how he wanted Obama to succeed.  Jon Stewart has the proper assessment.  This five-minute video is worth the time, but if you want the reaction, go straight to 3:20.  The last example is more sad than funny.  It’s about a closed auto plant and Paul Ryan.

All this creativity reminded me of a piece (Liars’ Party) I wrote a few months back.  It puts this new standard of storytelling in a broader context, worthy of the era of Karl Rove and Frank Luntz.

Colossal Incompetence, Strategic Ignorance or Both

When 9/11 investigation commission member Richard Ben Veniste was pressing Condoleezza Rice on the President’s daily briefing memo warning of Bin Laden’s plans to attack America, I knew there had to be more, lots more, intelligence that was dropped or ignored.  The story is now emerging. Kurt Eichenwald – author of a new book on this important history, ‘500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars,’ appeared on Democracy Now! this week.  The intelligence was much, much more than the single memo that Ben Veniste courageously probed.

In all likelihood, it won’t ever lead to a true, comprehensive investigation and reconstruction.  But it is important to get the truth out – if for no other reason than to expose and destroy the big whopper of a lie from that era.  You know, the one that went something like this:  ‘We could not have known they would fly planes into buildings.’  Uh huh.  You can learn more here and here.

Organic – It’s Not Just about Us

A recent study on organic food garnered much attention.  Turns out that the nutritional and health benefits of eating organic are not so clear.  But there is a much bigger health issue that is largely ignored in the debate.  But not in this story.

Corporate Money and Unbalanced American Politics

The bedrock issue that must be moved if we are to achieve change is getting the big corporate dollars out of our political process.  With each cycle – aided and abetted by a right-wing Supreme Court – Congress increasingly does the bidding of its corporate sponsors.  This latest edition of Moyers and Company does a fine job of laying out the issues and exploring ideas for cleaning up the mess.  Moyers interviews Katrina vanden Heuvel and Jamie Raskin , in conjunction with a special issue of The Nation dedicated to this all-important topic.  Warning – if you dislike Justice Scalia as much as I do, fold your hands carefully while watching his smug explanation of his love for lot$ more $peech.  $eriou$ly.  You don’t really want to throw something at your computer, do you?

High-Speed Waste Disposal

This one is strictly for yucks.  Military innovation and waste solutions rolled in one disgusting package.

Environmental Progress

Three stories of environmental hope:

Tree planting in Africa to hold back desertification

Progress on electric vehicles

The roof of the future – solar shingles!

“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.”

― Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

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





IBI Watch 9/9/12

9 09 2012

A Man of the People   //

I have long been a big fan of Senator Bernie Sanders, the populist Independent from Vermont.  His latest appearance on Moyers and Company is a tour de force of issues that need so badly to be discussed openly and truthfully.  He speaks in favor of a key Republican – not of course a Republican of today, whom he calls out for their blatant deficit hypocrisy.  No, Sanders’ praise is for Teddy Roosevelt, who tirelessly fought the concentration of power in the financiers of his day.  Sanders sees the same fundamental problem in our era – the overwhelming power of large corporations over our electoral process.  The Vermont senator makes a persuasive case for publicly funded elections as the only hope of restoring fairness and stemming the tide of growing wealth and income disparity.  If you want a quick statistical primer on just how out of balance things are right now in the good old USA (aka land of opportunity), click to the 21:00 marker on the video.  Oligarchy, anyone?  Though this man is an independent, there is no better advice for Democrats in winning back the working class, whose interests are so clearly abandoned by today’s Republican Party.  Sanders fairly points out that things weren’t always this way – not even during his career.  This Moyers interview runs 30 minutes; you will be very glad you invested the time.

Climate Change at the Conventions

I listened to most of the Democratic convention, and a fair amount of the Republican.  With all the extreme weather of late – and the irrefutable evidence of its connection to man-made climate change – I was listening carefully for mention of this environmental issue of supreme importance.  The Republicans virtually avoided the issue, except for Mitt Romney’s attempted laugh track.  (Heh, heh.)  But there it was in President Obama’s acceptance speech. I was encouraged, as was Joe Romm of Climate Progress.  But the issue has nowhere near the prominence it deserves, and until recently, it seemed that it might be completely ignored in the campaign and the debates.  If you don’t think the issue deserves all the alarm, arm-waving and calls to action, you need to read further in this blog posting.  And if you agree that it needs to be thoroughly discussed at the debates, then I hope you will join me in signing on a petition to get the moderator – Jim Lehrer – to pose a question to the candidates.  Read hereSign here.

A Cascade of Weirding and Melting

Virtually every week, new evidence emerges of the consequences of our unwitting, relentless alteration of the atmosphere.

You want weirding?  How about a tornado on Long Island?  How about tropical storms behaving strangely – splitting, interacting?  Those phenomena are well explained here by Michael Lemonick of Climate Central.  One of five simultaneously active storms – Leslie – was even projected to maintain tropical storm strength as it approached Greenland, though that prospect seems to have receded in just the last day or so.  And then there is the deepening drought affecting a huge portion of the US Midwest.  I didn’t know this sort of damage was possible.

And what about melting?  Yes, we have melting.  Forget every week – we are talking about a new Arctic ice cap melt record every day.  Read and see graphics here and here.  And yes, there are still denialists out there who want us to believe that we are seeing random variation, that all this could not possibly have anything to do with the 90 million tons of CO2 we put into the atmosphere every day of the year.  This article does two things – explains research that asks that question – what are the chances that the incredible melting we are seeing is entirely a natural phenomenon (you won’t believe how slim the chance is) and it introduces another prominent denialist who had escaped my attention.

Arresting Climate Change – Some Research and Thoughts

Yes, some say we have already gone too far – there is nothing to be done.  But I say it is always the right time to do the right thing.  And clearly, human psychology is not on our side – we are not wired, it seems, to assess, understand and respond to a distant threat.  And yet, if we wait until everyone personally experiences a house under floodwater, Death Valley temperatures or an evaporated drinking water source, it may indeed be too late.

This Guardian article from a few years ago considers the psych angle on climate change.  Beth Gardiner’s more recent piece in the New York Times discusses how people can see threats as real and respond before disaster.  She makes the valid (if exasperating) point that more scientific data will not get through to people whose minds are already made up.  But we don’t have to be climate change idiots (Gardiner’s term). For instance, if we all adopted most of the practices advocated here, we would hugely reduce the carbon we pour into the environment.

But as far as influencing choices, I say there is nothing like the wallet.  And until a better option comes along, I like James Hansen’s fee and dividend approach to cutting carbon emissions.  You can hear from the NASA meteorologist himself right here, and also read more at the Citizens Climate Lobby, and also take action here.

The Weather Forecast We Need to Hear

Regular readers of this blog know I am a fan of Jeff Masters and Paul Douglas.  But no one I have seen can beat this lady’s dose of reality.  Sometimes only satire can do the job.  A very funny and arresting video.

It’s the Spending, All Right

Here are two takes on the notion of spending.

First, one of the most common charges that conservatives throw at President Obama is this one – he has wildly increased the size of government, and the money it spends.  This opinion piece in Forbes Magazine (aka Capitalist Tool!) begs to differ.  Next, here is a recent Hedrick Smith article from the New York Times that looks at a tough capitalist from another era – Henry Ford.  The creator of the Model T had a good idea about paying workers generously – in stark contrast to titans of today, many of whom balk at raising the minimum wage.

Reviving the Economy; Cutting the Deficit

One of my favorite lines of all during the recent Republican convention was Mitt Romney saying, with a straight face, that he wanted Barack Obama to succeed in the early days of his presidency.  Check this video that details just how much the Republicans have tried to help the president succeed – right from Inauguration Day.  And now, consider how the deficit could be cut dramatically.  Couple this with the reforms advocated by Senator Bernie Sanders, and, before you know it, things could be pretty OK.

Two Compelling Nature Stories – and a Song

Alan Rabinowitz’s success in protecting endangered big cats is the subject of this Radiolab episode.  It’s not new, but was worth a rerun this weekend, and is definitely worth your time.  Here is a more recent update on his work, which is mostly about protecting the environment, but also about overcoming personal obstacles.  I also liked this nature piece about the New England coast, from Chris Hedges.  His Life is Sacred article stares our damage to the earth’s ecosystems – especially the oceans – in the face.  No green washing here.  But it does need an antidote.  Try this Dave Carter/Tracy Grammer performance of one of Carter’s best songs.  Dave, sadly, is no longer with us.  But Tracy carries on, and in fact is performing at the Landmark Center in St. Paul on September 21.

“We can never fully understand the hearts and minds of people . . . unless we can speak directly to them in their own language so that the implications, not just the words, come through clearly.”  – Alan Rabinowitz

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN
Submitted links to this post – Jeff Carlson, 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