IBI Watch 11/24/13

24 11 2013

Information, Please  //

When it comes to food, full disclosure is the only rational policy. And yet, thanks to the immense political power of the food industry, progress on information access is a grinding battle. Take meat for instance. This change in federal regulations is a big deal. Of course, cost is the main reason a change like this does not go down easy. The change happened only to keep the United States in compliance with international trade agreements. But this detailed accounting of origin is really only one step to full information access. Some say that people don’t care about the footprint, or impact, or production consequences, of consumer goods. But I say we have not really tried to put that information front and center.

In the case of mass-produced meat, what if the suppliers were required also to include the consequences of factory meat farming practices – such as inhumane treatment of animals, the misguided overuse of antibiotics on factory farms, and maybe most important of all, the impact of meat production on the climate crisis? Think about it – when the average person goes to the average supermarket, all those neat plastic meat packages are stacked up, their sale supported by discounts in the store’s advertising flyer. Where is all that impact information? That is why the origin labeling is a good thing, but really only a baby step toward what needs disclosing.

It’s a similar situation with genetically modified organism crops, though precious little progress has happened. Debates continue about the long-term health effects, but GMO crops are implicated directly in the destruction of family farms (though you will see some progress at that link!) and indirectly in the decline of pollinators worldwide. Not to mention that they are the key to the growth in power of the evil empire of agriculture, Monsanto. Research continues on the immediate and long-term human health consequences of consuming GMOs. A rational approach would be to fully inform, and let consumers decide. Another bit of progress at the previous link.

And then there a huge, hidden information crisis. Walk through your average grocery store, and you will find this product right there on the label of countless baked goods, snack foods, personal care items and other products. It’s a “miracle” modern product, palm oil. This ubiquitous substance clearly meets many needs, and will no doubt receive yet another boost in popularity now that we are finally eliminating those heart-surgery-promoting trans fats (the change due at least in part to labeling requirements). But there is one problem.

Palm oil production is a blight on a particular corner of the world, and is pushing an amazing creature toward extinction. As you saw in the former of those past two links, sustainable practices are having a slight impact – something like a bandage on a gushing artery. And then there is the biggest picture, the climate change connection.

It’s one thing to read “palm oil” on a label of a cracker box or a bar of soap. But what if some of that information on environmental destruction were required to be available? Would people just ignore the messages, and go ahead and buy? We don’t really know.

And for another look at the big picture, the story not told on consumer product labels, there is the inherent irrationality. As Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz tells us in this New York Times piece, our agriculture system not only rewards excess production, it perpetuates and exacerbates wealth inequality.

What if the consequences of all our purchases were readily available? That is the idea behind an entire school of thought – life cycle assessment. For all of us on the end of the product chain, this information can help us assess the impact of any product before we buy it. The GoodGuide site, brainchild of Dana O’Rourke, is a tremendous resource. What if all of us committed to taking a look at this site instead of just the advertising before buying products?  The truth can set us free, and maybe help save the world – if we let it.

Warsaw’s Two Camps

For those of us who grew up during the Cold War, those two paired ideas – camps and Warsaw – evoke memories of the great East-West standoff. But today of course it is two different camps. And just as with the old matchup, the world’s fate hangs in the balance. This time, it is not the immediate extermination of life through a nuclear war, but the slow-moving (but accelerating) climate crisis. The division is familiar to anyone who follows the issue – it’s between the developed and developing worlds. And the current climate talks in Warsaw, predictably and sadly, show little sign of a planet-saving agreement in the offing.

The main battle now is over who is responsible – and should assist – in cleaning up the mess that the first century-plus of industrialization has created, and who should help poorer countries adapt and develop sustainably. Look at this chart to see who holds the biggest tab right now. Surprised? Me neither. And when you think about how we in the richer countries – especially the US – have externalized so much industrial production these past few decades, we are actually responsible for an additional large share of the developing world’s greenhouse emissions. Cheap is expensive.

Democracy Now ran an interview with two men who are arguing for “loss and damage” – Martin Khor, executive director of South Centre, and Nitin Sethi, senior assistant editor at the Hindu. You will be saddened – but probably not surprised – to see the US reaction to this idea. But what is even sadder is the content of the leaked document detailing the US strategy – also from Democracy Now.

There are reports as I write of a compromise. But it sure looks like more of kicking this can down the road, fiddling while Rome burns, rearranging Titanic deck chairs, choose your comparison. For a real, science-based solution? Consume less. Much less.

Busted at Last

This is a real blow against the gridlock that has paralyzed the Senate since President Obama’s election. Considering the dramatic escalation of filibuster use since 2008, the only real question to ask is – what took so long?! There is, of course, some fallout. And freak-out.  But for some additional good news on this story, look to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me – where one of the celebrity panelists pointed out that you do not hear this talked about as the “Nookyalar Option.”

A New Tornado Season

Until last week, many were marveling about the relatively quiet tornado season the US enjoyed in 2013. But wait. It’s not over yet. How unusual? You be the judge.

The Myth of Choice: How Junk Food Marketing Targets Kids – Guest Post

Guest blogger Rolly Montpellier (of the Boomer Warrior site) posts a commentary linking to an excellent new short video by Anna Lappe on striking back against the junk food marketeers.

Health Follies

I will stick to my pledge last week about not writing more Affordable Care Act stories . . . sort of. Nothing substantive here, mind you. But all you can do is stand aside and marvel at the gyrations we go through to preserve those corporate sacred cows, at the expense of, well, everything and everybody else. Here are a video, a cartoon and a timeless song for some bitterly funny entertainment.

50 Years on

Here is an observance on the JFK anniversary, from well-known blogger Tom Degan.

“It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.” – Ansel Adams

Contributed links or content to this posting – Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper, Rolly Montpellier


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 11/3/13

3 11 2013

The Utility of Futility //

Call it a war among friends. This is an argument about climate change that is getting louder in recent days. It’s not the dreary battle between those who respect climate science and those who deny, facts be damned. No, this one is about whether it’s already too late to slow and ultimately reverse the manmade climate change juggernaut. And while this may seem like inside baseball – the debate rages in particular in chat groups among highly engaged activists – it has consequences for all of us and for the planet.

Evidence mounts daily for the futile position. For a few of the latest examples, consider this article about projections that we will burn through the world’s “carbon budget” in just 20 years. (The carbon budget is the estimated limit to total fossil fuel use before triggering climate change feedbacks that push world temperatures beyond the “safe” 2o C. rise that most experts say is already pretty much a done deal.)  Or maybe a look at the level of Arctic warming tells the story better. Then there are new IPCC projections of climate change cutting into food supplies, while the human population continues to expand. Then there is the debt we owe to the ocean, which has been absorbing the largest part of our emissions, and turning acid as a result. That debt will be repaid with interest. (Check the imbedded NOAA video.)

In my mind the most important battle is still that between climate scientists and their supporters on the one hand and denialists on the other. Why? Because the denialist crowd (I refuse to call them “skeptics,” because that implies openness to persuasion) still has the upper hand when it comes to policy. In other words, that battle is far from won, particularly in the pivotal country known as the US of A.

But the battle within the climate science activist community is vital as well. Why? If a significant share of those who trust the science say it’s too late to save this place known as Earth, this is fuel for the very profitable fires of the fossil fuel oligarchs, particularly these guys. If anyone knows how to capitalize (i.e., build lots more capital) on policy inertia that is helped by public futility, it is the Koch Brothers (whom I like to call “oiligarchs.”).

Think of it this way. We are on a ship, moving at full speed. The ship seems to have sprung a leak. One crowd – the one that holds sway, at least in America – says “Don’t worry about it, we are still moving at speed, and anyway, when we reach our destination, there will be a miracle fix that will bail out all the water and fix the hull, the whole works. So just shut up now and enjoy the ride.” Another crowd acknowledges the leak, and some are fighting to persuade the captain to slow down the ship and dedicate all energy to plug that leak, which by the way is growing, slowly but steadily. But part of that latter, fact-aware, crowd does complex calculations to prove that the leak is growing too quickly, there is already too much water on board, and of course that distant port is too far off for that magical fix. The result – full steam ahead, pay no attention to that hull problem, if it even exists.

I say, let’s pull together and fix the damned leak. Right about now.

Prescription: Scientific Revolt

One of the things I keep promising myself I will do on this blog site is post a list of my most recommended books. A pillar of that collection will be Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine. Klein brilliantly documents how powerful industrialists have continued to profit from crises, and, insidiously, foment crisis where one does not already exists – in order to privatize profits and socialize losses. Klein has weighed in several times on the climate crisis, so when she spoke out recently on climate science and activism, it was worth noting.

Here is Klein’s complete article, in which she rightly calls out the godfather of scientific activism, James Hansen. She also notes the work of Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows, both of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

Commuting Lessons from Orangutans?

Most stories these days about these amazing, endangered apes from Indonesia and its surroundings are on the sad and futile side – like this and this. That may be why I found this NPR story oddly entertaining and inspiring. The author, Richard Harris, used it as a chance to speculate on the possibilities of leaner, meaner modes of commuting.

While we are on the subject of commuting, the New York Times recently ran a Jane Body piece on something I have believed for many years. That is, commuting by car – something I avoid in every possible way – puts a big hit on human health in so many ways. Chris Tackett at the TreeHugger site wrote a commentary, with an imbedded link to the Brody piece. My favorite mode of commuting is the humble bicycle. I understand that many are not physically fit enough to share my passion. That is why inventions like this could be a big boost to two-wheeled culture.

Facts, Please

Stories like the one I link to here darkly amuse me. Why? Because it focuses on Antarctica, the “cleanup hitter” in the lineup of manmade climate change effects waiting to mow us down. The author looks into ancient climate conditions, which of course is valuable. But what about the documented changes in climate patterns? They include drier, colder temperatures in parts of Antarctica, plus heavier snow in other parts (which some denialists use as evidence debunking manmade climate change). This story about Antarctic glaciers melting from below, due to warmer ocean currents, is far more relevant.  Likewise this one from Bloomberg – based on updated IPCC projections.

Star Tribune commentator Bonnie Blodgett had a similar concern with a widely read New York Times article. The “unmentionable” in this case was the underlying assumption that continued growth is the only way. Here are Blodgett’s column  and the NYT piece.

Food Critic, Bee Booster

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, well-known Twin Cities food writer, got the story on pollinator decline just about right in an appearance on Minnesota Public Radio this week. Her prognosis was a bit too bright, in my view. It strayed close to that deluded notion that if we just plant our gardens right, all will be well again. But she covered the issues well, except for one – corporate control of agriculture (and everything else!). Read more at my recent post, the cover story – Blame it on Mother.

This is Your Chicken on Drugs

Another public radio story this week clarifies just how tough it will be to solve a growing problem – overuse of antibiotics on farms. This piece focused on the veterinarian’s perspective. You may be shocked, shocked, I say, to learn that money again is at the heart of the problem. I also covered this story in more depth, just last week. See An Unplanned War on Drugs.

Equipped for the Long Term

Buried deep in the debate about human longevity – the infamous NTE (near-term extinction) concept I alluded to earlier are current trends. Absent a major wake-up call, coupled with concerted, collective public action, we really are on course to make it mighty damned difficult for our descendants and maybe any critter larger than beagle to hang around this orb. But destroy the planet? Not a chance. Not with these guys to mind the store’s ruins.

Green in the Extreme

I can relate to most of these, except maybe for number 4. I like to think this weekly blog makes me less obnoxious. OK, maybe that is another form of self-delusion.


Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them.”  ~Bill Vaughn


Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 3/17/13

17 03 2013

A Most Important Question //

You don’t hear this question asked often enough. And yet, the way we live our modern lives gives an unfortunate answer by default.

Here’s the question – does the natural world exist in order to be used as desired by humans?

If the world is simply a storehouse of resources for our taking, then our cruel treatment of wild animals is OK. This includes our escalating elephant massacre, in the name of the ivory trade. See a new NY Times commentary. It also gives Japan a free pass for its continuing mass slaughter of dolphins at Taiji, despite that Oscar-winning undercover documentary. And hey, the ongoing shark slaughter – we need that shark fin soup, right? – is after all, just hunting despised predators. And the vile bear bile harvest industry is only exploiting a product from some dumb beasts (though the “dumb” beasts seem to be taking action against the practice). Then there are the abuses in our factory agriculture. Ham sandwich anyone?  But these are OK if we are free to exploit at will, as are the genetically engineered weed-resistant crops being forced by the likes of Monsanto – which are fingered as the chief culprit (aided by habitat destruction) in a shocking decline in the monarch butterfly population. Learn more about the monarchs here.

But it’s funny – no matter how much we think we own the place, and anything that we do in the name of human well-being, damn the natural world, is OK, nature has a way of outsmarting us. Witness the weeds that are coming back to trump our “magic.”

If our answer to that question is that human needs and wants always trump natural systems, then I suggest that we are paving the way to a world without us. It won’t be this year, this decade, or even this century, but if we continue our wanton disregard for natural systems, we are threatening our own extinction along with the wave of species extinction we have already unleashed.

A far better answer to the question is – the Earth and evolution have provided wonderful opportunities for humanity that we have all-too-well exploited. The earth and everything in it are not for us to exploit, but protect. After all, we have no choice but to take on the role of stewards that our relentless interference has imposed on us. In the words of Colin Powell in advising President W before the latter invaded Iraq, “You break it, you own it.”

Worthy organizations are struggling to protect what is left of the natural world. Here are some of the most deserving – World Wildlife Fund; Sea Shepherd; National Wildlife Federation; Wildlife Conservation Society.


Mass Baby Production – for Better or Worse

I have to hand it to this Star Tribune commentator. In a clever opinion piece, he lays his case for continued population growth. It is entertaining, a bit snarky, and of course misguided. It is just more of the old-line thinking that says there can be no real change; the only way forward is an ever-growing population, with sufficient numbers of younger people in order to take care of the older people. And it glorifies mass baby production, like this organization does.

This thinking pays no attention to the real-world notion of a finite planet with exhaustible resources.  Commentator Mike Adams takes aim at the most ridiculous extreme of this sort of thinking – the (sadly) oft-heard right-wing notion that the earth could actually accommodate more people. This extreme thinking basically goes this way – the physical space required by people’s bodies is nowhere near filled to Bangladesh- like levels, so don’t talk about overpopulation. This commentary was shared by our friends at Growthbusters – who are dedicated to rational population policy. Other groups working toward that end are World Population Balance, Population Matters and Population Connection.

Many studies show that educating women in poor countries is the best way to stabilize population. On this issue and so many others, UNFPA deserves support.


Preparing (or not) for a Harsh Future

For those who are not shoving their heads under the sand or other dark places, tracing the trends in man-made climate change is a grim enterprise. Here are two stories on just that. First, a look at how the fantasy of the far north will become a short-order breadbasket is just that – a fantasy. And at the opposite end of the spectrum we have Phoenix – a technologically marvelous oasis in the desert, but for how long?


Decision Time Looms

With considerable justification, environmental activist Bill McKibben, author of many books including Eaarth, has made stopping the Keystone XL pipeline his main quest. His 350.org group was the driving force behind last month’s big Washington rally. And yet, for some, the debate has been subverted by the notion that the biggest question on Keystone is the safety of transporting the bitumen. Yes, it does behave differently in pipelines, and if spilled it has additional dangers in that it does not float the way purer oil does, but sinks to the bottom – making cleanup nigh impossible. That’s the thinking behind the Nebraska governor (Pilate-like) moving the planned pipeline route away from the Ogallala Aquifer.

Those water concerns, while serious, pale in comparison to the overall effects on the climate. Producing that stuff uses dramatically more carbon-based fuel, plus water, in the process, not to mention the fact that vital boreal forest land is replaced by a strip-mined wasteland. Then there are the vast tailing pools, a lingering hazard to wildlife that have somehow survived. Get the big picture here.

In spite of all that, stars appear to be lining up for approval. A recent State Department environmental study gave it an effective free pass. But the more we learn about that study, the more it resembles the same old fox-in-the-henhouse approach. The epic impact of tar sands oil is exactly the focus of this well-researched William Boardman blog post.  And I made a major resource discovery just this week that I want to share. NPR’s Alex Chadwick oversees a terrific radio show and web site – Burn, an Energy Journal. I love the irony of this post’s title: On super-highway to climate catastrophe, a demand for full tanks. The site is full of resources, and I highly recommend it.


Get Out the Money; But How?

It’s no secret. No matter what issue you analyze and trace to its source, it all comes down to money. That is, the money that rules our political system. I have long maintained that any progress on government of, for and by the people will be limited without a major change in the corporate control of politics. Democracy Now hosted an interesting segment, a debate of sorts, between two allies who have contrasting ideas on the best way to pursue that laudable goal. John Bonifaz, of Free Speech for People, is working on a national effort to amend the US Constitution to destroy corporate personhood (which was supercharged by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision). Mark Schmitt, of the Roosevelt Institute, opposes the amendment effort, but supports other paths to campaign finance reform. Watch the discussion and see what you think.


Far-East Freedom Fighters

The thought here – We don’t need no stinkin’ seat belts! Next time you see drivers on American roads doing foolish things – mainly playing with their devices while drifting out of lane or slowing to a crawl – remember that we have no monopoly on stupidity. Who are these guys fooling?


Where was OSHA?

For St. Patrick’s Day – a song about a fellow who was badly damaged at work.


“Do not wait for extraordinary circumstances to do good action; try to use ordinary situations.” -Jean Paul Richter


Contributed links to this posting – Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

IBI Watch 12/16/12

16 12 2012

The App Most Needed   //

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cliff Notes

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

The Grim Reality of Minnesota Winter

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

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

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

Help Our Cousins

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

Low, Low Prices . . . Low, Low Lifestyle

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

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

The Cost of Inclusive Thinking

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

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

-Bill Cosby

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

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

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.

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