IBI Watch 12/8/13

8 12 2013

Inequality and Apathy //

Income Inequality in America continues to grow, but how many of us are really paying attention? George W Bush scaled new heights of cluelessness with his apparently earnest celebration of an audience member who had three jobs. But that problem has not disappeared. Far from it. Try this Weekend Edition Saturday story about a certain class of people who are hiring valets for their one-year-old(!) progeny while hordes of that three-job class struggle for the scraps of income that tinkle down from on high. And of course former Labor Secretary Robert Reich campaigns on this crucial issue – his latest work being a highly-regarded documentary that I just have to see. Here’s the trailer, and a brand-new and worthy review from Canada.com.

What really got me thinking again about income inequality and economic justice this week was an opinion piece that I read in the Star Tribune. On its surface, Virginia Postrel’s Bloomberg News article is not even about income inequality.  Rather, it’s really more of an extended homage to the fun most of us – even the three-job crowd – are experiencing as a result of the entertainment technology revolution. That revolution has indeed bestowed a remarkable basket of benefits. Postrel’s argument – that the happiness bonus earned from lives enriched by wider entertainment options is not included in measures of well-being has some merit. But let’s look a little deeper. If her premise is correct – that all the entertainment whiz bang overrides the economic troubles that low-wage workers suffer – then the US, the home of the go-go economy and still the richest country in the world should be the happiest, or one of the very few happiest in the world. Sorry, not so. And when you look at measures of human health, there is an even more shocking lag.

Of course I benefit mightily from the entertainment tech revolution. While I am not a big gamer, the pleasures of playing word games online with friends around the world, carrying radio podcasts around with me on a device smaller than a matchbox, schlepping a whole universe of data on a smart phone smaller than a deck of cards, all of this is not lost on me. But entertainment tech is today’s opium. How else to understand how we have let the kind of gulf that Reich decries happen? How can we not pay attention to a system that allows all of this?

A significant part of the answer is exactly what Postrel celebrates – most of us, even the three-job crowd, even the middle class who are getting mugged in the name of austerity, are well entertained, i.e. anaesthetized against seeing what is really happening. And what is really happening is corporate control of our government system. Since Citizens’ United, that power has grown. (If you need a ghastly laugh at corporate rule, count on Jon Stewart!) Until we figure out a way to stop it, we will stay on the same dangerous path – recreating the Gilded Age, even a modern feudal system, where a tiny elite holds more and more power and wealth while all others shrivel. But hey, at least we are entertained!

There must be a better way. I like this Bernie Sanders petition and the wealth of information included in the bargain. Please join me in signing.

The Dangers of Abruptness

No, this is not about rude, curt communication but something much more consequential. Because our unrelenting and accelerating production of greenhouse gases has pushed the world’s climate into completely uncharted (in human time) territory, scientists tell us we must expect the unexpected. Here is the latest on what they are teasing out, and what we should do to comprehend and cope. (Be sure to catch the exit line from the NPR story, about how a certain party wants to handle the costs of crucial research.)

And of course it is not just risk of future change. It is already here – in the form of sea level rise that is already loaded in the system, a variety of costs that we are already paying, and persistent heat waves that are already scorching food crops. Though heat waves and climate change in general seem an odd topic to some in the north right now as we shiver, we really have to consider the big picture. Got 14 seconds for an animation? And of course the picture might be even bigger and darker, as proponents of the theory of near-term extinction are quick to point out. While noting that those pessimists have much evidence for their views, I say we should keep it from becoming the most awful of self-fulfilling prophesies.

So what are we doing? Some are pushing clean energy, others conservation – both parts of the mix. But in the long run we get nowhere without slaying that corporate power dragon. Here’s a start. Here’s another.

Look Beyond that Frozen Nose

This NPR piece is a refreshing big-picture antidote to the inevitable pignorant chorus about how the current American Arctic cold wave casts doubt on climate science. These things really are at stake, and the trends are sad.

Raw Deals for Women

Here are two stories that don’t seem directly related, until you think just a bit. First, a brief video expose of the beauty game, and an articulate video plea by scientist Emily Graslie, with a simple request – respect for her knowledge and research. Made me want to check out her science blog. I love her enthusiasm. Look out, Bill Nye!

Two Nearby States, a World Apart

This story is for residents of Wisconsin and Minnesota, but it has messages for all Americans really. I am certainly glad for which side of the divide I live on, though I have not an ounce of Scandinavian blood running in these veins. And as MPR rightly points out, but for the grace of 8000 votes, there went us in 2010. Oy, was that close! This also got me thinking big picture, and right back to a story I heard recently about the foundations of American liberalism and conservatism. I found this Tom Paine/Edmund Burke comparison fascinating, and I bet you will as well. I think I will have to read Yuval Levin’s book, The Great Debate. And keep voting.

Remember to Save the Bees

Here in December’s frozen northland, it is a bit difficult to think about pollinators at the moment. But think and act we must, because time is growing short. As you no doubt know from reading this blog and other sources of science, a variety of factors, led by a class of “miracle” pesticides, have been decimating populations of bees and other pollinators worldwide. Here are some updates. First, the European Union – those namby-pamby risk-averse wimps, have dared to ban these miracles of modern science for a few years and see what happens. That’s not exactly news, but this new update sheds more light an article by Robert Krulwich (whose RadioLab show you really have to check out). And if that dot-connecting piece inspires you to do something, you could always struggle against the empire.

Celebrating the Voice of Freedom

The airways are rightly full of tributes right now to a giant of the 20th century. Here is an entire library of material for you to sample, courtesy of PRI’s The World. While Nelson Mandela is lionized as a champion of freedom and justice, to me the most amazing and enduring example he set was forgiveness. A lesson we all need to learn.

“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”
– Nelson Mandela

Contributed links or content to this posting –Allyson Harper, Mike Nevala, Lucinda Plaisance

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 10/27/13

27 10 2013

A Climate Change Balance Sheet //

There was a time, not long ago, when climate change activists like me expected the rising cost of oil and coal to speed moves toward conservation and alternatives. This was the thesis of the Peak Oil movement – that it would become increasingly difficult to access and exploit remaining fossil fuels, thus making it ever harder to keep burning them for energy and transportation. That was BF (before fracking). (Though I disagree with his assessment of overall risks of exploiting extreme fuels, David Blackmon rightly justly skewers the notion of peak oil in this Forbes commentary.) Also, costs have risen, but all that has done is to make “extreme” fossil fuels economically viable. The result – for now – is business as usual, more or less, with continued overall increase in greenhouse gas emissions. And then there are the climate paybacks.

Since peak oil will not save our bacon, motivation for the essential move toward sustainable energy will have to be financial, a massive cost/benefit analysis. Right now, who is suffering the costs or our addiction to fossil fuel burning? Certainly, indigenous people in the Arctic and on islands threatened by sea rise. But increasingly, “climate justice” of sorts is moving in. The anniversary of Hurricane Sandy is a reminder that storms strengthened by sea rise threaten American cities as well, with New York, Miami and New Orleans the prime targets for now. Also, the Amazon – sometimes called the planet’s lungs – being cut down for cheap wood and endangered by climate change, faces even more serious, costly risk than previously understood. And then there is the ocean, already on course for massive change caused by acidification and warming from our greenhouse emissions. Not to mention burgeoning wildfires, which travel around the world with the warm season.

So the question is – when does all this cost become enough to be widely recognized as more costly than moving to a sustainable energy/climate future?  This won’t be easy, because those reaping the benefits – oil and coal companies and their obedient congressional acolytes – still hold sway. Why else would misinformation continue to thrive on Fox News? And the true costs of dependence on fossil fuels are hidden, imbedded in the system. And for a measure of that control, see this AlterNet expose on the Koch Brothers. You can see more of the same on the horizon. Can you guess which country is trying to slow the process of moving to a new, stronger, greenhouse gas agreement? Of course you could.

If we have any hope of passing on a livable planet to future generations, this can’t continue. Here is a call for “solutions journalism.” And to me, hope lies in part with corporate interests recognizing the folly of wrecking the place, long-term, in the interest of profits. Here is a piece on investors’ doubt in the financial future of Big Hydrocarbons. And insurance companies are beginning to get the message that climate change threatens their business model, big-time. And Bill McKibben is a force to be reckoned with. His 350.org has spearheaded a campaign to help investors large and small divest from Big Oil and Big Coal.

But the best idea out there for hastening the process of internalizing is to build the momentum for a carbon fee and dividend system. This is not the discredited cap and trade idea, but a rational way to nudge the market system toward sustainability by rewarding responsible behavior. One worthy organization working steadily and specifically on that goal is the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. And it would be a far better, more sustainable world if we just followed the punchy slogan at the heart of this Guardian piece.

 

An Unplanned War on Drugs

No one really wants to fight this war, and in fact we don’t like even to admit the war is proceeding. But fight we do, and any one of us could find ourselves in the crosshairs of the resurgent enemy. That may sound like unhinged, extreme fear mongering. But it is an accurate assessment of our increasingly shaky relationship with a whole class of drugs – antibiotics. Accurate because uncontrollable infections affect two million Americans per year, killing 23,000, and solutions elude us.

There is much to learn from a recent Frontline documentary – Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria. The suffering of the people highlighted in the video makes it hard to watch. But I highly recommend it, first because it explains a story we don’t hear nearly enough about, and because it points to societal trends that we must manage if we are to save masses of people from fates like those of the documentary’s unfortunate subjects.

A dark twin of the old adage “use it or lose it” applies here. The video makes clear that when it comes to antibiotics, we “use them and lose them.” That’s because, thanks to evolution, which takes place at warp speed in the microbial world, bacteria are constantly morphing into new forms that challenge our defenses, i.e. the miracle cures of antibiotics. Therefore, the more encounters we arrange, wittingly or not, between the bugs and the drugs, the more we help the bugs get “smarter,” more potent, and maybe invincible. So that is the battle we have conducted since Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928. And in fact Fleming warned against complacency in using these drugs in his 1945 Nobel Prize speech.

Two recent developments justify Fleming’s concerns. You will learn about them in the video – gram-negative bacteria, which have special, impenetrable defenses against antibiotics, and a special instance of that resistance – klebsiella pneumoniae, called KPC in the Frontline segment.

So, knowing this is unfolding, you would think we would be mounting an effort akin to the moon race to protect the population. You would think wrong. First, research on this shadowy problem is number 70(!) on the priority list cited by a Federal source in the video. Second, if you think government-supported scientific research somehow thrives in this era of partisan showdowns, government loathing and government shutdowns, you are living in another realm. Third, an interesting market- driven phenomenon, also explained by Frontline, plays out here – private research by drug companies is hard for them to justify. Why? Remember – use it and lose it. That is, antibiotics, used properly, are developed, demonstrated to be effective, and then shelved for those instances where they are really needed. That is far removed from “take two pills per day for the next five decades.” That is, maintenance drugs pay long-term profits, but antibiotics just don’t pay back the private developers for their investment. A fine example of where the common good just does not fare well in an unregulated, profit-driven system.

But there is one more piece of this story that the excellent Frontline segment just does not touch. That is this – for all the problems we encourage with misuse of antibiotics in human health care, they pale in comparison to the risks we create with our livestock practices. Here is why – eighty percent of all antibiotics used in the US are used on farms. This would be bad enough if they were used to combat rampant illness. But the main purpose of all this mass feeding of miracle drugs to meat animals is twofold – first, to prevent illness in cheek-by-jowl feedlot confinement, and second, to fatten up Big Piggy or Bossy for market faster. That’s right, we are risking health Armageddon in the name of a cheaper Big Mac. You can learn more about that particular ignorance-based initiative in an excellent interview of David Hoffman (whose work is featured in the Frontline story) done by NPR’s Terry Gross. (And for an in-depth look at the bigger picture of factory farming’s impacts, check this commentary on a new John Hopkins University report.) The entire Fresh Air interview is excellent, but if you want to cut to the chase for a summary of all the issues – medical, feedlot and antibiotic cleansers –  go to 34:00 on that audio segment.

Hoffman promises a follow-up specifically on the feedlot problems, but does not go so much into solutions. Seems to me that common-good solutions are these:

  • Recommitment to government-sponsored research into bacterial resistance
  • Regulation against overuse and misuse of antibiotics in agriculture and consumer products
  • Creative ideas for overcoming the perverse market forces that discourage drug companies from researching and developing new antibiotics

These will not be easy in our corporate-ruled, gerrymandered system, but I see no other way forward.

 

Wealth Gap in Video

The ever-widening gap between the rich and poor, and especially the extremely wealthy and everyone else, is no accident. And it’s not because most of us are just not working hard enough, otherwise we would all be millionaires or even billionaires. It’s the logical result of policy decisions over decades, coupled with market forces. What is tremendously interesting – and – if you are not careful, depressing, is people’s poor understanding of this issue. This six-minute video is an eye-popper. And arguably the most tireless and optimistic teacher on this issue – former Labor Secretary Robert Reich – has a new movie on this crucial issue that I just can’t wait to see.

 

Martians Invade!

Seventy-five years ago on 10/30, the great film director Orson Welles pulled off one of the greatest media hoaxes ever. His War of the Worlds radio broadcast – which was identified at the start as fiction – induced untold panic and mayhem. The prank spun out of control thanks to a variety of coincidences. And the most amazing thing? The phenomenon repeated itself years later, and not just once. Years after the event, Welles said he and his co-conspirators sought to encourage media consumers not to believe everything they hear or see. And yet . . . a case can be made that sensational fear mongering that is the heart of much TV news got its start on that night in the fall of 1938. I strongly encourage you to take in the excellent RadioLab feature on the broadcast and its long legacy.

 

Young Warriors for Social and Environmental Justice

Too many in my generation – the graying Baby Boomers – stereotype our followers, i.e. Generation X and especially the Millennials, as self-absorbed, disengaged texters who never lift their gaze from their IPhones. Here is a gallery of activists who defy that stereotype and offer hope for a sustainable, just future.

 

Awkward

Jon Stewart has done it again. Watch him sum up the trajectory of America’s image with world leaders right now. It ain’t pretty, folks. Should you wax nostalgic for the good old days of the Bush II administration, watch for a cameo appearance of the would-be-masseur himself. Terrific job, see?

 

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” — George Orwell

 

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

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 10/27/13

27 10 2013

An Unplanned War on Drugs //

No one really wants to fight this war, and in fact we don’t like even to admit the war is proceeding. But fight we do, and any one of us could find ourselves in the cross hairs of the resurgent enemy. That may sound like unhinged, extreme fear mongering. But it is an accurate assessment of our increasingly shaky relationship with a whole class of drugs – antibiotics. Accurate because uncontrollable infections affect two million Americans per year, killing 23,000, and solutions elude us.

There is much to learn from a recent Frontline documentary – Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria. The suffering of the people highlighted in the video makes it hard to watch. But I highly recommend it, first because it explains a story we don’t hear nearly enough about, and because it points to societal trends that we must manage if we are to save masses of people from fates like those of the documentaries’ unfortunate subjects.

A dark twin of the old adage “use it or lose it” applies here. The video makes clear that when it comes to antibiotics, we “use them and lose them.” That’s because, thanks to evolution, which takes place at warp speed in the microbial world, bacteria are constantly morphing into new forms that challenge our defenses, i.e. the miracle cures of antibiotics. Therefore, the more encounters we arrange, wittingly or not, between the bugs and the drugs, the more we help the bugs get “smarter,” more potent, and maybe invincible. So that is the battle we have conducted since Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928. And in fact Fleming warned against complacency in using these drugs in his 1945 Nobel Prize speech.

Two recent developments justify Fleming’s concerns. You will learn about them in the video – gram-negative bacteria, which have special, impenetrable defenses against antibiotics, and a special instance of that resistance – klebsiella pneumoniae, called KPC in the Frontline segment.

So, knowing this is unfolding, you would think we would be mounting an effort akin to the moon race to protect the population. You would think wrong. First, research on this shadowy problem is number 70(!) on the priority list cited by a Federal source in the video. Second, if you think government-supported scientific research somehow thrives in this era of partisan showdowns, government loathing and government shutdowns, you are living in another realm. Third, an interesting market- driven phenomenon, also explained by Frontline, plays out here – private research by drug companies is hard for them to justify. Why? Remember – use it and lose it. That is, antibiotics, used properly, are developed, demonstrated to be effective, and then shelved for those instances where they are really needed. That is far removed from “take two pills per day for the next five decades.” That is, maintenance drugs pay long-term profits, but antibiotics just don’t pay back the private developers for their investment. A fine example of where the common good just does not fare well in an unregulated, profit-driven system.

But there is one more piece of this story that the excellent Frontline segment just does not touch. That is this – for all the problems we encourage with misuse of antibiotics in human health care, they pale in comparison to the risks we create with our livestock practices. Here is why – eighty percent of all antibiotics used in the US are used on farms. This would be bad enough if they were used to combat rampant illness. But the main purpose of all this mass feeding of miracle drugs to meat animals is twofold – first, to prevent illness in cheek-by-jowl feedlot confinement, and second, to fatten up Big Piggy or Bossy for market faster. That’s right, we are risking health Armageddon in the name of a cheaper Big Mac. You can learn more about that particular ignorance-based initiative in an excellent interview of David Hoffman (whose work is featured in the Frontline story) done by NPR’s Terry Gross. (And for an in-depth look at the bigger picture of factory farming’s impacts, check this commentary on a new John Hopkins University report.) The entire Fresh Air interview is excellent, but if you want to cut to the chase for a summary of all the issues – medical, feedlot and antibiotic cleansers –  go to 34:00 on that audio segment.

Hoffman promises a follow-up specifically on the feedlot problems, but does not go so much into solutions. Seems to me that common-good solutions are these:

  • Re-commitment to government-sponsored research into bacterial resistance
  • Regulation against overuse and misuse of antibiotics in agriculture and consumer products
  • Creative ideas for overcoming the perverse market forces that discourage drug companies from researching and developing new antibiotics

These will not be easy in our corporate-ruled, gerrymandered system, but I see no other way forward.

 

A Climate Change Balance Sheet

There was a time, not long ago, when climate change activists like me expected the rising cost of oil and coal to speed moves toward conservation and alternatives. This was the thesis of the Peak Oil movement – that it would become increasingly difficult to access and exploit remaining fossil fuels. That was BF (before fracking). (Though I disagree with his assessment of overall risks of exploiting extreme fuels, David Blackmon rightly skewers the notion of peak oil in this Forbes commentary.) Also, costs have risen, but all that has done is to make “extreme” fossil fuels economically viable. The result – for now – is business as usual, more or less, with continued overall increase in greenhouse gas emissions. And then there are the climate paybacks.

Since peak oil will not save our bacon, motivation for the essential move toward sustainable energy will have to be financial, a massive cost/benefit analysis. Right now, who is suffering the costs or our addiction to fossil fuel burning? Certainly, indigenous people in the Arctic and on islands threatened by sea rise. But increasingly, “climate justice” of sorts is moving in. The anniversary of Hurricane Sandy is a reminder that storms strengthened by sea rise threaten American cities as well, with New York, Miami and New Orleans the prime targets for now. Also, the Amazon – sometimes called the planet’s lungs – being cut down for cheap wood and endangered by climate change, faces even more serious, costly risk than previously understood. And then there is the ocean, already on course for massive change caused by acidification and warming from our greenhouse emissions. Not to mention burgeoning wildfires, which travel around the world with the warm season.

So the question is – when does all this cost become enough to be widely recognized as more costly than moving to a sustainable energy/climate future?  This won’t be easy, because those reaping the benefits – oil and coal companies and their obedient congressional acolytes – still hold sway. Why else would misinformation continue to thrive on Fox News? And the true costs of dependence on fossil fuels are hidden, imbedded in the system. And for a measure of that control, see this AlterNet expose on the Koch Brothers. You can see more of the same on the horizon. Can you guess which country is trying to slow the process of moving to a new, stronger, greenhouse gas agreement? Of course you could.

If we have any hope of passing on a livable planet to future generations, this can’t continue. Here is a call for “solutions journalism.” And to me, hope lies in part with corporate interests recognizing the folly of wrecking the place, long-term, in the interest of profits. Here is a piece on investors’ doubt in the financial future of Big Hydrocarbons. And insurance companies are beginning to get the message that climate change threatens their business model, big-time. And Bill McKibben is a force to be reckoned with. His 350.org has spearheaded a campaign to help investors large and small divest from Big Oil and Big Coal.

But the best idea out there for hastening the process of internalizing is to build the momentum for a carbon fee and dividend system. This is not the discredited cap and trade idea, but a rational way to nudge the market system toward sustainability by rewarding responsible behavior. One worthy organization working steadily and specifically on that goal is the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. And it would be a far better, more sustainable world if we just followed the punchy slogan at the heart of this Guardian piece.

 

Wealth Gap in Video

The ever-widening gap between the rich and poor, and especially the extremely wealthy and everyone else, is no accident. And it’s not because most of us are just not working hard enough, otherwise we would all be millionaires or even billionaires. It’s the logical result of policy decisions over decades, coupled with market forces. What is tremendously interesting – and – if you are not careful, depressing, is people’s poor understanding of this issue. This six-minute video is an eye-popper. And arguably the most tireless and optimistic teacher on this issue – former Labor Secretary Robert Reich – has a new movie on this crucial issue that I just can’t wait to see.

 

Martians Invade!

Seventy-five years ago on 10/30, the great film director Orson Welles pulled off one of the greatest media hoaxes ever. His War of the Worlds radio broadcast – which was identified at the start as fiction – induced untold panic and mayhem. The prank spun out of control thanks to a variety of coincidences. And the most amazing thing? The phenomenon repeated itself years later, and not just once. Years after the event, Welles said he and his co-conspirators sought to encourage media consumers not to believe everything they hear or see. And yet . . . a case can be made that sensational fear mongering that is the heart of much TV news got its start on that night in the fall of 1938. I strongly encourage you to take in the excellent RadioLab feature on the broadcast and its long legacy.

 

Young Warriors for Social and Environmental Justice

Too many in my generation – the graying Baby Boomers – stereotype our followers, i.e. Generation X and especially the Millennials, as self-absorbed, disengaged texters who never lift their gaze from their IPhones. Here is a gallery of activists who defy that stereotype and offer hope for a sustainable, just future.

 

Awkward

Jon Stewart has done it again. Watch him sum up the trajectory of America’s image with world leaders right now. It ain’t pretty, folks. Should you wax nostalgic for the good old days of the Bush II administration, watch for a cameo appearance of the would-be-masseur himself. Terrific job, see?

 

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” — George Orwell

 

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

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





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





IBI Watch 9/8/13

8 09 2013

Climate Winners and Losers //

Several recent climate change postings recall a frequently heard pronouncement – “Climate change will have winners and losers.” Sounds reasonable enough.

Let’s try that one out. Low-lying islands will soon be underwater speed bumps. Hard to see anything but losers there. But wait – those poor unfortunate souls will soon have new potential homes as the poles thaw. Greenland will be open for business any decade now. Winners? See for yourself. At first glance, all the greenery makes that NBC News article look happy and inviting. But if you dig in, you see that John Roach did an admirable, honest job at painting the big picture. Note those temperature rises – five to 11 degrees F. And those are mid-range predictions. And he includes quotes from Danish biologist Jens-Christian Svenning, who helps us understand this will really not be a good example of “winners.” Not by a long shot.

How about the oceans? Surely, warmer oceans will allow marine life to flourish, leading to recovery of key fisheries. And a well-known climate change denial site tells just such a fish story about lobsters. (Chuckles all around at the cheap shot against vegetarians. Heh, heh.) Looks like we may have found ourselves a winner, folks. But slice a little deeper in the baloney and what do you get? Long-term damage to the lobster fishery, and bizarre behavior changes to boot.

But surely something must be capitalizing on the warming ocean environment. Distance swimmer Diana Nyad knows what it is, all too well. So the much-reviled jellyfish is a clear winner in manmade climate change. And that is just a part of the story. If you have 18 minutes for an excellent TED talk, coral reef ecologist Jeremy Jackson will educate you on the triple whammy (pollution, overfishing and climate change) we have visited on the world’s once-teeming oceans. How we wrecked the oceans, indeed. I like Jackson’s prescription for cleaning up the mess – but you will have to watch for yourself to find out what that is.

So on the seas, it’s pretty much losers all around, save for the jellyfish armada. But on land it is a different story. Sure, habitats are moving towards higher latitudes and altitudes, but creatures will just have to adapt. Tough luck. But agriculture will surely gain. More carbon, more plant food, more bountiful harvests, says the Heartland Institute. The propaganda-free, science-rich truth is much more interesting, and quite scary. This Guardian article gives the big picture. If you do nothing but scan the graphics, you will uncover a few true winners in this competition – the British Isles (sea rise aside) and West Africa (population overshoot aside) most notably. But if you look at the projected yield declines, and then remember that global population continues its inexorable rise, you can see a nightmare scenario developing. In other words, business as usual makes all of us abject losers, and there is much more at stake than a discarded lottery ticket.

It’s a pretty dismal search, this hunt for climate change winners. Here, though, is one undeniable group in the winners’ circle. I call them the Hail Mary Squad. These are the geniuses who will save us from ourselves by hacking the planet. I speak of course of geoengineering. This Wikipedia entry catalogs the ideas, which generally aim to reduce solar energy hitting the earth, or pull our waste carbon from the air. This madness is guaranteed to rise in prominence, and its proponents in audacity. And hey, for a while, they stand to make big money.

Truth is, we would all be a lot better off if we can summon the political will to drastically cut greenhouse emissions. It starts with making carbon pay its way – before we lose everything that matters.

 

Celebrating Workers and Banksters

Amid all the picnicking and partying last Monday, we were supposed to celebrate the American worker. This is hard to do nowadays, especially for certain Republicans. Count Eric Cantor in that number (based on his 2012 Labor Day pronouncement), as recalled by Paul Krugman. It is also a five-year anniversary of the 2008 economic crisis. That was the reason for NPR’s interviewing former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Host Robert Siegel gamely held Paulson accountable, and though Paulson professed support for Dodd-Frank, he could not bring himself to speak positively of the best insurance against future financial bubbles, reinstating Glass-Steagall. Here is hoping it does not take another disaster to build momentum in this important remedy.  And should you want to review the sorry 2008 episode, it is hard to top An Inside Job.

 

The Entitled Ones

The pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm educated us well. Some of us, maybe too well. All animals are created equal, they told their post-revolutionary subjects, but some animals are more equal than others. That could describe the thinking of many wealthy and powerful personages. I think Joshua Holland is onto something here. The moral of the story – if you see a BMW approaching, get the hell out of the crosswalk.

 

Banishing Pignorance

Regular readers of this blog know “pignorance” is my term for “pretend ignorance.” For the powerful, especially the petro-powerful, this means blowing smoke all around the science of climate change, so that very profitable business as usual may proceed. For the rest of us, this means ignoring our senses, avoiding alternative media that tell the truth, and perhaps taking reassurance from pundits that pooh-pooh the concern of arm-wavers like myself.

I was thinking about how pignorance is built the other day as I listened to yet another in a series of what I think of as “changeling weather summaries.” And mind you, this was on a sensible public station, staffed by bright, aware people. First, following a couple of days where high temps were about five degrees or so above the long-term average (82 vs. 77), the radio voice talked about impending 90s being “more like summer.” So, is 82 not “like summer?” Since when? Then there was the guy who talked about 80s being “chillier” than what we have been used to (90s). Chillier? Yep, 80s sure make me reach for the woolies. And then there is the morning gal’s vacuous weather patter, virtually free of the word “hot,” even as temps break the 90 barrier, day after day. It’s now “warm,” folks.

Sure, this is small stuff, but it contributes to what I call “normalizing the abnormal.” And normalizing the abnormal is just one piece of a puzzle called climate inertia, in which we, like the frog in the heating pot of water on the stove, stays passive until it dies when the nice warm water reaches the boiling point.

Normalizing the abnormal is also one of many perspectives on the big, comfortable lie that we collectively tell ourselves in order to avoid recognizing and acting to avert the existential climate crisis we are relentlessly creating. In this AlterNet piece, Margaret Klein does a terrific job analyzing our games of pretending and ignoring, and issuing a clarion call for all of us to live in what she calls “climate truth.” That means fully recognizing, fully responding to, and fully solving this disaster we have energized. Our descendants have everything to gain; we have nothing to lose but our pignorance. I also can’t help but noting that “climate truth” sounds an awful lot like “Climate Reality,” an organization that I represent.

 

Syria’s Context and Climate Connection

As the battle rages over what action the US will take over Syria and its use of chemical weapons, a few things are clear. First, the shadow of the Bush Administration’s war-happy adventures in Iraq looms large. Second, the American public is weary of such adventures. Third, President Obama, to his credit, is sharing the decision-making power with Congress. All the rest is not so clear. That’s why Bill Moyers’ postings are so important. Here is a Syria reader supplied by Moyers, and here is a thought-provoking look at the Syrian civil war in terms of manmade climate change.

 

He’s Back

Just in time for fall gridlock season, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart makes an outrageously dramatic return.

 

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” – Rachel Carson

 

Contributed links to this posting – Bonnie Blodgett, Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 9/1/13

1 09 2013

Respect for Science //

Well-funded disinformation campaigns since the late 70s have helped weaken both understanding of and regard for scientists and their work. For the back story on this, check into Chris Mooney’s work. But for now, here is a look at some of the worst that scientists and science journalists are up against. One of the most prominent pignorant (pretend-ignorant) pundits, Glenn Beck, is here trying to outdo Bachmann in the crazy derby. But what a fun-loving guy, don’t you think?  And of course Glenn, replete with his wacky conspiracy mobiles, is far from the only purveyor of pignorance out there. This HuffPost piece rightly celebrates California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, dinosaur flatulence and all. Try out this quote from the brilliant legislator: “Just so you’ll know, global warming is a total fraud and it’s being designed because what you’ve got is you’ve got liberals who get elected at the local level want state government to do the work and let them make the decisions. Then, at the state level, they want the federal government to do it. And at the federal government, they want to create global government to control all of our lives.”

How can you top that? You can’t, but some think climate change denial and resultant policy paralysis are on the wane. That’s what Leo Hickman suggests in this Guardian piece. And though the agents of inertia have lots of money from the Koch brothers and their fellow wreckers, many are working to turn the tide. This video (also included in the Hickman piece) is very funny, and has an easy to sign petition attached. Be ready for the specter of Michele Bachmann’s eye bearing down on Florida, and the worst case scenario of hurricanes, James Inhofe, threatening the entire east coast. That is a storm naming system I would pay to see.

And a longtime figure on the science ramparts, Bill Nye the Science Guy, has a new, short video in which he explains – Nye-style – what motivates him to keep on fighting pignorance.

Here is an important update on a highly influential – and unjustly attacked – climate scientist. Michael Mann – he of the much-criticized (by powerful, self-interested denialists) hockey stick model of global warming – is gaining traction in his litigation against the well-paid goon squad that assailed him in the fabricated scandal known as “Climate Gate.”

And to close on this – following Bill Moyers on Facebook is a wise choice. The senior PBS journalist and host has suddenly stepped up his posts, to go along with his excellent Moyers and Company show. Here, he points out that the climate liars are up against a formidable, fact-based organization. The National Science Foundation? No, the US military.

 

A Legacy “Misunderestimated”

Let’s give credit where credit is due. I count myself among the most dedicated bashers of former President George W. Bush. Some have taken me to task for that. You know the tune – he has been out of power for x years, time for you liberals to move on, all that. Many have indeed moved on, for better or worse. But I think moving on would be committing an all-too-common sin. That would be forgetting the consequential actions of the past. For example, how many times have you heard someone complaining about the Iranian mullahs and their awful trouble-making government? But if you ask, they generally do not have a clue that the root cause of Iranian theocracy can be traced easily back to, not the Ayatollah Khomeini, but Great Britain and the US “taking out” democratically elected Mohammad Mossadegh. But don’t just take my word for that.  And hey, considering events around Syria, it is worth noting that this momentous meddling is celebrating an anniversary.

That’s a long way of saying that leaders who leave the scene often have long-lasting effects, and should keep receiving credit or blame for their achievements and other sorts of actions. In the case of President Bush, we dare not forget his signature achievement – the war on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, monstrously costly in lives, treasure and good will the world once had toward our country. On the treasure front, that is trillions, with a TR as in millions of millions. How could we possibly forget and move on from such a huge, consequential step? And for now, never mind that the whole thing was trumped up, ginned up and orchestrated with help of a compliant mainstream press corps. (And fairness requires me to nod to the true legacy of Bush the Younger.) Never mind because my premise here was to write about the Decider’s positive legacy. OK, here goes.

First, Bush was honest enough on at least one point – we are addicted to oil. Sure, he didn’t take that big next step and admit that oil was also the main driver behind the unstoppable urge to attack Iraq, but who is counting steps?

Second, how bad would a Republican president have to be to lead to a Democratic successor who wins by a big enough margin to overcome Rovian dirty tricks – and an African-American candidate to boot? Now that is positive, in my book anyway.

Third, and most important right now, is this. President Bush outrageously overreached in executive power, especially but not exclusively via the war in Iraq and its lead-in propaganda campaign about imaginary weapons of mass destruction. This so sickened Americans and allies alike that our current president had to halt his own march to militarism before ordering strikes against Syria. Just look at what happened in Britain the other day. After more than ten years of hostilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans are so tired of war that there is virtually no enthusiasm even for the promised “limited strikes.”

President Obama may find that stepping on the brakes may be one of the smartest moves of his presidency. This is true because our interventions have almost always turned out badly in the long run – as Stephen Kinzer demonstrated in his book Overthrow (which I recommend strongly). It will be true many times over if late-breaking news on the appalling chemical-weapons deaths in Syria turns out to be true.

 

Endangered Miracles

When we get sick enough with upper respiratory infections or other maladies, we crave a quick return to health. And the handiest tool for a speedy recovery is often a prescribed antibiotic. And why not? These substances are not called “miracle drugs” for nothing. But we may be playing fast and loose with their power.

Anyone who has done any reading at all about modern factory farming knows that antibiotics are in copious use in those establishments. This is logical of course – animals on factory farms are kept in such close quarters that the risk of disease skyrockets. But did you know that factory farms are also pumping livestock full of these miracle drugs in order to prevent illness? Or that some antibiotics have another purpose entirely – to fatten up the beast faster for market? All this pill-popping and needle-pumping adds up, but the percent of all antibiotics that are used on factory-farmed animals compared to people can only be described as shocking – 80 percent.

This is a big deal. Mother Jones’ food and agriculture correspondent, Tom Philpott, explains why. And doesn’t this really stand to reason? By over-applying antibiotics to factory livestock, we are forcing the bugs to multiply and try their damnedest to outsmart our miracle drugs. The more cracks they get at the task, the more likely some mutation will allow for the bug to beat the drug. We are essentially hyper-speeding evolution (if you believe in that sort of thing). Naysayers demand solid proof. In other words, seeing a plague begun by resistant bacteria would be the only thing convincing them to back stepped-up regulation of factory farm antibiotic use. . This sounds familiar, no?

And the overuse problem is not unique to the US.  Cheap factory meat is very popular in China as well. That story from PRI’s The World clearly explains the issue.

Can’t we just say that cheap factory meat is way too costly? Cutting meat consumption is a good idea – the specter of antibiotic resistance is only one more reason to avoid the stuff and force the adoption of wiser practices.

 

The Powerful Few, or the Public Good

The late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said. “There is no such thing as society. There are only individual men and women and there are families.”  The Iron Lady would probably take issue with Robert Reich’s articulation of the need for building and maintaining society. Note the timetable – the former Labor Secretary is pointing to the Thatcher/Reagan era as the precise time when the benefits of increased productivity starting sliding toward the wealthy and powerful, and working people were cut out. And Reich rightly notes that you hardly hear the phrase “the common good” at all anymore. And what of those benefits to the wealthy and powerful? They seem to come with less and less accountability, if you look at CEOs.

Bill Moyers sees a plutocratic end game in that system that coddles the powerful. So what keeps people from rising up and restoring democracy? Dennis Marker has a theory in his 2012 book. In 15 Steps to Corporate Feudalism, he argues that getting people to hate the government is a key strategy to persuade the masses to support policies that benefit the powerful few at the expense of the many. I think he is onto something big. There is a great interview of the author by Thom Hartman at that last link.

The essential question here is this – are we in this together, or are we completely isolated islands? The Star Tribune’s Bonnie Blodgett has a modest proposal to help us get back to shared responsibility and accountability. Before you dismiss her idea as unfeasible, just think of the payoff in policy and outcomes if everyone – the Bushes, the Clintons, the Obamas, and even the Limbaughs, Coulters and Hannitys – had an actual share in this nation’s overseas adventures, of the “regime change” sort and others. Very wise, and very timely.

 

Musical Notes (Including One on Sustainability)

Here are three musical stories that hit me this past week. First, a story that pained me. It is sad to know that the owner of one of the sweetest voices and most diverse catalogs in popular music will sing no more. Second, a veteran Twin Cities jazzman who deserves a far bigger audience. If you like old-time jazz, and have ever listened to A Prairie Home Companion, this MPR story will bring you a smile. Finally, this singer songwriter from Iowa was already known in folk circles for wonderfully wise and witty lyrics taking on, among other things, conservative religion. Now she has turned her attention to farming, with similar entertaining and thought-provoking results. Be sure to click and listen to the clever Herbicides..

 

“The long memory is the most radical idea in America” – Bruce “Utah” Phillips

 

Contributed links to this posting –Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 6/23/13

23 06 2013

Ugly is Beautiful //

It was just a throwaway comment from a source on an NPR story on bad travel experiences. But her entirely understandable distaste for bats speaks volumes on human attitudes about nature. If it pesters us, inconveniences us, or does not impress us as cute and cuddly, it can be damned. We can get along without it, thanks. Or so we think (if we think about it at all).

Give this lady credit – she and her cohorts did not kill the misplaced bat. And she is right about them struggling to survive – across Canada and the US, a deadly fungus has been devastating bat populations in recent years. Because the proximate cause of that wildlife crisis is “natural,” a fungal disease as opposed to an obvious man-made chemical source, it is tempting to think of the situation as something we can lay unequivocally at Mother Nature’s doorstep. But the fact is that, with the way our ever-expanding human footprint on the earth has encroached on natural habitat, stressing animal populations, even as we alter the environment with our miracle agricultural potions and greenhouse gases, in no way can we wash our hands of blame even for maladies that seem natural on first glance. And of course bats play an important role in ecosystems, with their huge appetite for insects and in some cases their penchant for pollination.

It’s the same story with snakes and turtles, which some drivers seem less inclined to avoid running over (compared to “cute” species like geese and ducks) and sharks – whose numbers worldwide are decimated by the cruel practice of “finning.” There is also remarkably little outcry over the steep, documented decline in amphibians. (It’s a good time to remember Tyrone Hayes’ sadly under-publicized research on the pesticide atrazine’s endocrine disruption in frogs – but who cares about that?)

The biggest looming extinction story right now is bees. As I have written about recently (Scroll down to “The Little Guys will be Missed”), another miracle chemical is implicated here – neonicotinoid pesticides. The evidence fingering the chemicals was good enough for the European Union’s scientists, but here in corporation-dominated America? Nah, we are not impressed. We blithely blame Mother Nature, minimize our chemical assault on the environment, and life goes on. For now.

 

Fakin’ It

I just love this story. At some level, most of us feel a bit uneasy eating overprocessed, computer-designed, machine-extruded, factory-assembly-line-produced foods. Big Food knows that, and has ways of fooling us. I remember in my youth, eating one Burger King Whopper after the other, and noticing those grill sear marks on the meat. Were they authentic? Who knows? Who cares? It sells, and isn’t that what really matters? “Naturally flavored.” Yum. Before you buy another mcburger or in fact buy any highly processed foodstuff, you really owe it to yourself to read Eric Schlosser’s excellent Fast Food Nation. And now there is another book that updates the technical wizardry used to fool us into thinking this stuff is good. And the author, Michele Simon, has a new blog that targets Big Food. Sorry, enough on that for now. I think my freezer is running low on pink slime.

 

Oh, Alberta!

The weekly extreme weather roundup is starting to remind me of the deep, dark days of the Vietnam War. The nightly news then ran a roll call of American soldiers killed in action in Southeast Asia. The news today could easily be a similar sad parade. There’s the obvious – wildfires in Colorado, floods in Germany and India, Alaska (Alaska!) baking in the tropical sun, but also the subtle – “stuck” weather and slower moving storms pounding the same areas, day after day, with flood-spawning rains.

Virtually all of this extreme weather can be traced to a single phenomenon, and – hint – it is not Mother Nature. Find out more here. I also highly recommend this five-minute video explaining the jet stream/climate change connection, posted by by Rutgers University’s Jennifer Francis.

OK, I hear you wondering, what is with the “Alberta” headline? It’s this – one of the most pressing wild weather stories this week is the devastating, deadly floods in Calgary, the Canadian province’s largest city. That province is also the site of one of the most controversial, and consequential, enterprises in our history of fossil fuel production and burning – tar sands extraction. Further expansion of that vast, destructive effort hinges on a key American decision – the Keystone XL pipeline.

That is the backdrop as Secretary of State John Kerry visits India to lecture the leaders of that  fast-developing country on cutting their greenhouse emissions (lots of cheek, there) and we anticipate President Obama’s long-awaited, legacy-critical plan for executive action on curbing greenhouse gases. Fingers eagerly crossed. Stay tuned.

 

Give the Kids the Bills . . . All of Them

Since 1980, by hook and by crook, we have rebuilt America in the image of “rugged individualism” – i.e., the Red State model. There is plenty of evidence that this is not what the people want.

For example, the system is constitutionally rigged in favor of red states. Wyoming has the same power as California in the filibuster-choked Senate. Also, a solid, obstructionist Republican majority sits in the House despite the GOP’s narrowly losing the 2012 popular congressional vote. Thank gerrymandering for that trick. And let’s not forget that the last more or less clean, legitimate presidential victory for Republicans was in 1988.

Nevertheless, we have been on the plutocratic path for 30 years. What has this brought us? Well, here we are, the richest nation in history, and we have a health care system that is the envy of whom? And our vaunted middle class – full of hard workers who, with a few good breaks to go with their toil, might be the next tycoons? Think again.

As we let our infrastructure decay, in the name of “cutting taxes for everyone,” and enable costly overseas adventures that profit only the big contractors, we are running up some massive bills. Who will pay? Why, those Millennials of course.  This fine AlterNet piece by RJ Eskow lays it all out. How will they pay for our selfishness? From cradle to grave, the author says. Let us count the ways:

  • Prenatal Nutrition
  • Early Childhood Nutrition
  • School lunches
  • Cutting education funds
  • Making college unaffordable
  • Leaving graduates drowning in debt
  • Massive unemployment
  • An increasingly inequitable, wage-stagnating economy
  • Greater fear and insecurity in old age

Gosh, who could have predicted this? Ah, well, sorry, kids. No time to wallow. Maybe you need to work harder. There is a third, low-pay, no-benefits job out there for you somewhere.

 

It’s a (Rich) Dog’s World

Heard about this vacation idea on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. It needs no additional introduction.

 

“Nature favors those organisms which leave the environment in better shape for their progeny to survive.” – James Lovelock

 

Contributed links to this posting – Tess Galati, Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 6/9/13

9 06 2013

Weather Meets Climate //

When does today’s weather become our climate? This question drives the climate change debate. Everyone agrees that the sum total of each day’s weather, over the long haul, adds up to the climate. But with our greenhouse gases rapidly changing the atmosphere and climate system, making the climate/weather connection is a key challenge for scientists from both the meteorology and climatology camps.

It is way past time to retire that dull old TV weather talking head’s saw, “It’s not possible to tie any specific weather event to climate change.”  How can I say that? That is, what other reasons are there than the fact that I have been waving my arms around on this issue since the late 1980s? The answer in a moment.

First, here is a roundup of the absolutely crazy weather plaguing the world in just the last week or so, along with some new climate-related findings. Ho-hum, seen-it-all- before stuff like record rain and flooding in Germany and neighboring countries. An early-season tropical storm setting flood records on the East coast. Maybe your taste tends toward extraordinary western wild fires (and don’t forget the record-low Sierra snowpack). Or how about the biggest, fattest, fastest tornado on record? A naysayer might point out that the Oklahoma mauler was only the second-fastest recorded, making it not unprecedented, but that just contributes to my argument. Which is – arguing that each of these phenomena, looked at individually, might represent only something approaching or slightly exceeding some isolated historical precedent, is a colossal and costly failure of big-picture thinking. That is because any historical precedent for a modern drought, a flood, a torrential downpour, did not happen in world anything like today’s dramatically warming orb. When each historical “precedent” occurred, alpine glaciers were not turning to water, the jet stream had not slowed by 14%, the trade winds over paradise were blowing as ever, and maybe most important of all, the Arctic ice cap was not in a death spiral of melt.

The world needs many more scientists like Stu Ostro and Jennifer Francis, and science journalists like Chris Mooney to help them tell their story. The two scientists come from different worlds, but, like 97% of climate scientists and (sadly) about 50 percent of TV meteorologists, have concluded that as Pogo said, we have seen the enemy and it is us. That is, human altering of the atmosphere is the root cause of the overall one degree Celsius of warming observed so far, and rapidly accelerating changes in climate patterns – which we see daily and weekly as perturbations of weather.

Ostro is a media meteorologist and self-described reformed climate change skeptic who is now travelling the country sharing research results that demonstrate key connections between our “thickening” of the atmospheric blanket with greenhouse gases, and resultant greatly increased frequency of blocking highs and cutoff lows. These result in a slowing of west-to-east progress of weather systems, and bring daylong floods, months of drought, tornadoes battering the same area for several days in succession, and other examples of meteorological mayhem. Ostro is also a witty fellow and good storyteller, as you will find if you stay with me and follow a link I will share shortly.

Jennifer Francis is a research professor in marine and coastal science, who has been approaching the climate change issue from a different angle. Her research centers on polar melting and the consequent changes in the jet stream. In her words, we have created “a real pickle.” Can’t argue with that.

The two scientists met recently in a seminar facilitated by journalist Chris Mooney (author of Unscientific America). The presentations by Ostro and Francis offer some of the most powerful evidence yet that our ever-weirder weather can be traced right to our carbon-spewing smokestacks, tailpipes and farm gas. If you are not already convinced that we need to take this problem on, their highly illustrated and fascinating talks can help spring you to action. Here is the link, with big kudos to Chris Mooney.

And oh yes, if you agree that it is time to act, see this guy.

 

Pre-Rich Fall Further Behind

I have heard it said in some extreme laissez-faire circles that the real divide is not between the rich and the poor, but the rich and the “pre-rich.” If we would just remove all the controls, all the impediments, all the “distortions,” barriers to wealth for all would vanish. Deregulation has been a work in progress, under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, since the 1970s. Let’s see how that is working out. Sorry, Mr. and Ms. “Pre-Rich,” just as Joseph Heller’s Yossarian must always fly more missions, you have to wait a little longer for that million. Maybe a fourth job?

 

Bees Chemically Imperiled

One of the greatest environmental crises right now is Colony Collapse Disorder. Just as climate change has a wealth of evidence pointing to the cause – manmade greenhouse gases – bee decline has a similar body of clues pointing to nicotinoid pesticides. But just as climate change has a powerful lobby blowing smoke and generating a critical mass of public doubt, so does bee decline. Learn more here. See some innovative hive designs, and meet some people trying to reverse the catastrophic decline. This documentary, cited in the longer piece, looks promising. Watch the trailer here. Also – I wrote a lead story on this issue in last week’s post – see Happy Talk or Sustainability?

 

COD (Crap on Delivery)

I wish my adopted home town would adopt this ordinance.

 

“Mark Twain had it backwards. Nowadays, everybody is doing something about the weather, but nobody is talking about it.”

― Stephen Schneider

 

Contributed links to this posting – Mark Goldberg, Allyson Harper

 

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN





IBI Watch 2/24/13

24 02 2013

What’s the Beef?  //

A meat caper boils in Europe right now. Two issues emerge. First, is it OK to eat our whinnying friends? Second, if a processed meat product is labeled “beef,” isn’t that what should be inside?

This update on the bait-and-switch horsemeat scandal explains how things got mixed up. It’s a safe bet that many a burger eater across America takes comfort in the thought that nothing horsey could ever make its way into a Big Mac. Maybe. But this affair got me thinking on other meaty issues – such as health. Human and planetary.

In a case of curious timing, the horsemeat kerfuffle coincides with a grim anniversary – the deaths of several Americans in 1993, from eating fast food burgers, and in one case, simply from sharing day care space with another youngster who had. NPR ran a cover story on 2/17 updating the meat safety situation. The story goes into real improvements (including the abandonment of the “dime standard”) in the safety of the meat supply that took effect after the 1993 deaths. But problems continue, as this story of a paralyzed dancer in Minnesota from just a few years ago attests.

Taking the health picture a step further, new studies are providing more evidence that eating more than a little red meat poses serious risks. Would you like some cancer with that everyday red meat?

So eating too much meat is not good for you. And as those charts show, many seem to be getting that message.  And that’s a good thing, though the change is far short of what is needed. Why? The total impact on the planet of a single quarter-pound hamburger is a little hard to grasp. This NPR story and accompanying graphics tells the surprising tale.

It has dawned on activists and others in recent years that one of the most effective things a person can do to help slow and reverse climate change is also one of the easiest – eat less meat. And as Michael Pollan points out, this does not necessarily mean banishing meat, but rather cutting consumption and making sure what you do eat comes from sustainable sources – i.e., no factory farms.

Though I have read several of Pollan’s books – which I strongly recommend – it was another book that scared me away from factory meat for good. This one. Take in that book or its documentary follow-up or watch the better-known Supersize Me and you too can learn about how those lip-smacking modern factory burgers are made, or the manufacturing process that produces those alleged chicken nuggets.

Do one of those things and, chances are, you will join me and many others on the outside of the fast-food meat industry.  We have nothing to lose but excess fat and carbon footprints.

Preparing for the Bath

Marketplace Morning Edition host Kai Ryssdal has been railing against what is really a stupid term – “sequester.” That term of course is all over the airwaves, since the latest manufactured Washington financial crisis is about to crest. Paul Krugman sees yet another example of false equivalence – that is, it is extremists on both the Republican and Democratic side that keep common sense and compromise from solving dilemmas.

And the Nobel economist has a good point. The Republicans are demanding an “all-cuts” outcome, while Democrats are pushing a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. I say this. Remember that nearly every Republican in Congress signed a pledge of fealty to that government-despising unelected power monger known as Grover Norquist. What if he and his vassals mean what they say?

Two authors have insights that explain the context of this sequester showdown. First, Richard Wolff sees the crisis as a tool for plutocrats to widen the divide between the rich and powerful on the one hand and everybody else on the other. He appeared on Moyers and Company this week. And of course Wolff’s take brings to mind Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine – a book I recommend in the strongest terms. Both authors make powerful arguments for changing our system. (If you watch the Moyers installment, be sure to stay for the short piece that follows the Wolff visit. It features the work of Saru Jayaraman, who has dedicated herself to securing a fair shake for the legions of sickeningly low-paid restaurant workers.)

Climate Paradoxes

If we could collect a dollar for every time someone declared that the latest blizzard proved that climate change was not happening, we would have a sizable fund to spend wisely – maybe on alternative energy. And in a popular, uninformed way, this line of thought seems to make sense. After all, they call this “global warming,” right?

This Yahoo news site article does a nice job explaining why that reflexive take is so wrong. It is anything but simple, and yet – this sentence sums things up nicely: a warmer atmosphere can hold more water, which fuels storms year round – including snowstorms.  But overall less snow, with more frequent big snow dumps? By all means. I like this quote:  “Strong snowstorms thrive on the ragged edge of temperature — warm enough for the air to hold lots of moisture, meaning lots of precipitation, but just cold enough for it to fall as snow,” said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. “Increasingly, it seems that we’re on that ragged edge.”

This article is good enough to warrant quoting at a bit more length – three bullet points in fact:

  • The United States has been walloped by twice as many of the most extreme snowstorms in the past 50 years than in the previous 60 years, according to an upcoming study on extreme weather by leading federal and university climate scientists. This also fits with a dramatic upward trend in extreme winter precipitation — both rain and snow — in the Northeastern U.S. charted by the National Climatic Data Center.
  • Yet the Global Snow Lab at Rutgers University says spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has shrunk on average by 1 million square miles in the past 45 years.
  • And an upcoming study in the Journal of Climate says computer models predict annual global snowfall to shrink by more than a foot in the next 50 years. The study’s author said most people live in parts of the United States that are likely to see annual snowfall drop between 30 percent and 70 percent by the end of the century.

Climate Actions

Fortunately, more people are learning the seriousness of the climate crisis and the imperative that we enact sensible policies to move us toward sustainability. Some are in positions of power. Just look how Ed Davey, Britain’s Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change, describes climate deniers. Hey – maybe we can hire this guy.

And forget the conventional “wisdom” on snow and warming. Get the facts. This new site – created by Peter Carter – is full of charts that tell many angles on the story of how we are altering the atmosphere and the climate. His Climate Change Index site illustrates land temperatures, Arctic sea ice, atmospheric methane, and much more.

And finally, kudos to the 40,000 citizens who marched in Washington last weekend. I wish I had been there. Their goal – stop the approval and construction of the Keystone XL pipeline – which will accelerate the destruction of a swath of Alberta’s boreal forest and – more important – rapidly advance our transformation of the world’s climate with our greenhouse gases.

The World Still Surprises

In the run-up to President W’s invasion of Iraq, then Secretary of State Colin Powell said, “If you break it, you own it.” Such is our relationship with the natural world. And yet, we still have so much to learn from the parts we have not destroyed or dramatically altered. Here are three interesting stories. First – news of a newly discovered owl species in Indonesia. Hope the little guy survives the palm oil boom. Next, who could have predicted this secret about bumblebees? Too bad that zap does not seem to fight Colony Collapse Disorder. And finally – shark finning has long been a cruel practice that has pushed many of these essential predators of the ocean to the brink of extinction. A new project matching human beauty and grace to that of whale sharks is calling attention to the practice and – we hope – will lead to its end.

Mother Nature is Keeping the Focus on Climate Change

Guest blogger Rolly Montpellier – http://www.boomerwarrior.org – suggests that 2013 could be a breakthrough year in public awareness and action on climate change.

“If we are going to start calling industrial corn sustainable, then we might as well say that petroleum is a renewable resource if you’re willing to wait long enough.”
Catherine Friend

Contributed links or content to this posting – Allyson Harper, Rolly Montepellier

 

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