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 10/14/12

14 10 2012

Two Years on, Two Years off . . . Sort of  //

The Iowa Caucus to Election Day spans nearly two years.  Think about that.  It takes about half a term in order to select the president to serve that term.  And during the two years ‘off,’ candidates spend much time seeking contributions for the next campaign.  And for Congress, it arguably is worse – shorter term, less time ‘off’ from campaigning.  Is it any wonder that our national leaders are paralyzed on so many important issues – national debt, financial regulation, environmental protection, and on and on?

This is one of the most extreme examples of American ‘exceptionalism.’  And what is the result of that extended, serious, thoughtful deliberation, heh heh?  A final, forced choice, for many, of the lesser of two evils.  Other countries have much more compact election seasons, and with good reason – the business of government should be to serve the people, not to solicit money from well-heeled sponsors in order to ensure election to another term of serving those well-heeled sponsors.

But another factor is in play here.  The whole spectacle entertains us.  Most political coverage centers on the horse race, not policy decisions. Who will win?  Who will lose?  That election is over, let’s get onto the next.

I think Matt Taibbi has it right in this piece on hype over substance.  I have often said that dialing back the campaign season would allow more time for the business of governing.  His demand for a six-week presidential contest goes further than I have argued, but more power to him.

One giant step in this direction would be getting the big money out of politics.  Here is a group working to do just that – just see its name.  And here is another, targeting the outrageous Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

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Biden Steps it up . . . Too Much?

The vice presidential debate provided a lot more for progressives to cheer about, compared to the lackluster performance of President Obama in his first meeting with Governor Romney.  But I found myself thinking – this is no way to run a debate.  So many times, I wanted to shout at Joe Biden, “Let Ryan finish, would you?!”  Still, the man from Scranton was energized and on message, even if more than a little overbearing, and was able to debunk a lot of what the Congressman said.  But don’t just listen to me – try Robert Reich.

Climate Policy Paralysis, by Design

One thing is clear about the current presidential campaign, including the debates.  There is hope, of course, that the upcoming town hall format will allow citizens to bring the climate crisis into consideration, but so far it has been virtually absent.  Heck, the president even let Romney tell us how much he ‘loves coal’ in that first debate, with nary a response.  But with the incredibly extensive and rapid Arctic summer ice melt just behind us (here is a pessimistic view from the Irish Times), you have to wonder – what will it take for our politicos to give this incredibly serious issue its due, and start to craft policy that starts moving us in the right direction?

This short video on the work of the late Stephen Schneider – Climate Science and Media Distortion – explains a lot.  In just 12 minutes, it runs through a capsule history of climate science and the accompanying political battle – including the ignominious starring role by Minnesota’s own pignorant space cadet, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.  But the real value here is the discussion of the choices and value judgments that are in play here, and recounting of the pervasive distortion of the science and its implications by fossil fools and their stooges. And speaking of that band of criminals, there is no greater force on their side than Fox News.  This video shows the unofficial right-wing propaganda organ at its worst.  Who knew what a star in this realm was the great Sean Hannity?!  Heck, he could give the Windbaugh himself a run for his money!  The news here (if you can call it news) – the distortion is systemic, strategic, and completely connected to big oil interests.  That would be the Koch Brothers and of course Exxon Mobil.

Other Countries, Other Climate Ideas

Just because our corporate-controlled system has prevented rational climate policy here in our great nation, that does not mean other advanced nations have to stand pat in pignorance with us.  As this Grist story reports, Norway is doing something we need to do – raising the carbon tax (we don’t even have one of those!) and using the money to help the world.  And there is good news from Germany – a big advance in efficiency of solar cells.  And from Britain’s Guardian newspaper, here is an interactive web page featuring the best climate preservation ideas from 50 different sources – including both prominent thinkers and interested citizens.  Many good ideas here.

Institutionalized Greed in Three Hefty Portions

Sometimes, it is entertaining to see the greediest of the greedy caught in their own webs.  At other times, the advance of unfettered greed in modern America is something to be very concerned about.  First, the saga of the empty seats in the new Yankee Stadium just goes on and on.  I would have loved to see those ushers shooing (relatively) low-buck fans into the penthouse perches – to maintain the TV illusion.  Beautiful.  But sorry, folks, that’s the end of the entertainment for now.  Read as Professor Krugman warns us of the wrong policies just ahead in case a certain corporatist candidate prevails.  And then there is the tale of the powerful capitalist and self-styled kingmaker.  He tells his minions, ‘Vote this way. Or else.’  Ah, America.

Two Minnesota Republicans, Two Views on Voter Suppression

Of course Governor Arne Carlson is a former politician.  In today’s Minnesota Republican Party, full of the likes of Mary Kiffmeyer, he would be shown the door in a hurry.  Guess which one thinks the voter ID amendment protects against voter fraud – that great ghost of a phantom of a problem – and which one thinks the whole enterprise is a gigantic sham of an antidemocratic boondoggle.  Right you are.

The Numbers We Dare not Mention

Name the environmental problem.  Man-made climate change.  Deforestation.  Loss of wildlife habitat.  Declining biodiversity.  Ocean dead zones.  We can see each as a discrete issue.  Or we can dig down to the root cause.  That is just what this blog post by Ingrid Hoffman does – which is why I like it so much.  And if that whets your appetite for greater understanding about how continued rapid human population growth drives all environmental problems, check this little illustrated article on the concept of exponential growth.  It is posted by an organization that I support.  If you visit, check the right side of the screen.

The Twilight Zone I Would Create . . .

Those who deny the science of evolution generally do so on religious grounds.  If the bible is literally true, well then how could the world be four billion years old.  Case closed.  Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way.  Even my church of origin – Roman Catholic – affirms evolution.

Bill Nye has something to say about all this – and his recent short video generated no small controversy in Jesusland.

Next stop, the Twilight Zone.  You see, if I could write this crowd into an episode of my favorite classic TV show, it would look like this.  Everyone who does not ‘believe in evolution’ would wake up tomorrow to a world where they get their wish.  Evolution is not true.  All is happy in this magical world.  The earth is 6000 years old, give or take a few Sabbaths.  Oh, and all denizens get no benefit from any scientific discovery based on evolution.  Happy Tales.

The Ice Chronicler

Photographer James Balog has done us a great service.  Putting himself at tremendous risk, and deploying technology in the most precarious of settings, he has produced a volume of first-hand evidence of the climate crisis as it is playing out in the Arctic – mainly Greenland and Alaska.  The real-time change is nothing short of shocking.  I highly recommend this interview done by Bill Moyers.  You can also see a collection of his extreme photography here.  If you watch the Moyers interview, you might pick up on the fact that he is a former ‘climate change skeptic.’  His quote about his daughters strongly resonated with me.  He muses about what they will think in a changed world decades hence – that is, what they will think about how little our generation did to recognize, mitigate and halt this climate crisis of our own making.  Indeed.

 “People would rather believe than know.”
Edward O. Wilson

Blogger – Michael Murphy, St. Paul MN

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