IBI Watch 6/16/13

16 06 2013

War Footing Needed //

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

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

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

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

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


An American Travesty

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

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

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


The Little Guys will be Missed

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

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


Father and Son Harmony

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


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

-Neil DeGrasse Tyson


Contributed links to this posting – Tess Galati, Allyson Harper


Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

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  //


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