Friday, November 04, 2011

We Really Can't Wait

I've just started reading a 1984 science fiction novel by Kim Stanley Robinson called Icehenge.  The first section (which in many ways seems a clear forerunner to his Mars trilogy) is set in 2248, and has the common glitch of futures written then of referring to the Soviet Union.  But it also mentions an earth troubled by resource depletion, environmental and political problems due to the burdens of a population of six billion.

And in the real world of November 2011, Earth's human population reached 7 billion.  It is the burden that is least talked about by environmentalists and politicos alike--the very definition of that wearisome cliche, the elephant in the room.  It is the elephant, and the room.

It's a major factor in how hard it is going to be for the planet to respond to not only dwindling fossil fuel and the consequences of immense environmental poisoning and other destruction, but to the Climate Crisis.  

It took about 24 hours for the environmental community to pick up on Politico's report of some surprising statements by President Obama, pretty much stating an environmental case against the oil pipeline, the Keystone/oil sands project that Bill McKibben and other Climate Crisis activists have been agitating about for weeks.  So in the past couple of days a number of stories about it have emerged, in the mainstream press as well as enviro sites like Real Climate.   So whatever is going to happen now, is not going to happen quietly.  Update: I forgot to note that McKibben's group and allies are converging on Washington this Sunday, and asking supporters to join them. 

The Real Climate piece again quotes James Hansen as saying this pipeline will mean "game over" for attempts to limit the effects of the Climate Crisis.  But then there's this story, indicating that despite all the talk and so-called treaties, the amount of greenhouse gases spewed into the atmosphere jumped significantly in recent years, so that their concentration in 2010 is higher than the worst case scenario of climate experts four years ago.  That's not encouraging, let alone good news for attempts to save the planet from our worst.

Though there's been little doubt in the science--the case only getting stronger and more detailed--the media has waxed and waned on the facts of global heating.  In view of that recent study, more media outlets have seized the opportunity to call it settled.  One predicted phenomenon that follows from this may also be gaining credibility: that extreme weather is becoming the new normal.  All of this as folks are getting wind of a very grim IPPC report in the works.  The Climate Crisis is going to drive the future, and even though it's pretty scary--even paralyzing or surreal to consider--it's much better to recognize this now instead of when panic sets in.

We Can't Wait

While the political media obsessed over GOPer entertainments that will soon be forgotten, President Obama has continued his relentless Pass This Bill campaign to build public support for action to create jobs and help the country come out of this recession stronger than when it went in.  Three sections of his original jobs bill have been reintroduced separately, and all three stopped in the Senate by unanimous GOPer opposition to even discussing them.  The latest was Thursday, when the Senate by a 51-49 vote, stopped consideration of a bill that would immediately hire workers to rebuild American infrastructure, basically because it would be paid for by a .07 tax increase on the very few Americans who make more than one million dollars a year.  Supporters by the way were the 51--they had a majority to pass the bill, but not the 60 required to override the GOPer filibuster.

Why Congress is so intent on protecting the 1% became clearer with this chart introduced Thursday: it's because an awful lot of Congress is among the 1%.

At the same time, President Obama began his We Can't Wait initiatives, attacking some of the most pressing problems with executive orders, wherever possible.  The President took some administrative steps to make it easier for hard-pressed Americans to re-finance their home mortgages.  He announced steps to help returning veterans to get jobs in community health.  He announced several changes to help students deal with crushing school loan debts.  Although none of these are large-scale solutions, each one of them will make a big positive difference for at least some thousands of people.  (We Can't Wait, by the way, was also the title of a book by Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Polls continue to show that on his job proposals, the American public is strongly on his side.  These efforts tend to get lost in the media frenzy and the political spin on everything (the irony being that MSNBC spends more time talking about GOPers than Obama by a factor of ten, and despite their oppositional slant on everything Obama, FOX actually spends more time reporting what he actually says and does.)  

But GOPer congressional intransigence is not going by unnoticed.  How about this for a poll in Florida?  Very close to a majority believe that the GOP is deliberately sabotaging the American economy for political gain. Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly writes: "Here’s a suggestion for other pollsters: given these results in one of the nation’s largest states, and the fact that the charge has been made by so many prominent political voices, perhaps it’s time to start putting the question to a national audience?"

This is the Washington element shaping the future.  But in these volatile and chaotic days, much is happening outside Washington with just as much power to shape that future: in Oakland (where the Occupy actions get larger, wider and more significant), in Ohio (going to the polls to vote on a union-busting law) and right now in Europe, where President Obama meets with leaders who must steady European finances or else plunge themselves into another recession, taking the U.S. down with them.

Then there's what's happening to the planet: subject of the post above.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

JFK and Obama

Chris Matthews has been aggressively shilling for his new book, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.  And shamelessly, using major amounts of time on his own show to do so.  That's an observation, I don't actually know how I feel about it.

But to pump up interest in the book, Matthews has been making a lot of comparisons between JFK and President Obama.  Some of his points are interesting and worth checking out (when quantitative), others are interpretations that seem at least partly colored by his admiration for JFK.  Not surprisingly, he thinks Obama is no JFK, particularly in his personal relationships with other politicians and media figures.  At times he seems to be saying that President Obama is too aloof.

Well, the two American Presidents of my lifetime that I admire the most are JFK and Barack Obama.  As Matthews must surely know, JFK was criticized in his time for being aloof, distant, too cool for school.  (And people were forever saying that what he needed to do was communicate better with the American public, and/or resurrect FDR's New Deal programs.)  Whereas President Obama gets tagged as "professsorial,"  JFK was supposedly too "reserved" and intellectual--not the gladhander his brother Joe had been, for example.  Teddy was the one who was said to have the people skills.

On the other hand, I marvel at President Obama's enthusiasm and warmth in dealing with people.  It's evident to me that he's a tactile person--he always has his hands on someone's arm or shoulder.  Compare him with eight out of ten American men, and he scores high on people skills.  President Obama is especially good with ordinary people in a way that the "reserved" JFK could not match.

Caroline Kennedy with Michelle Obama
in the White House this week.
 As for all the other ways Obama doesn't measure up to JFK (as it was said that JFK didn't measure up to FDR), I offer one compelling piece of evidence: the Kennedys.  Caroline Kennedy, Teddy Kennedy, Bobby's wife, the wife of the sitting Republican governor of California-- almost the entire surviving Kennedy clan were way out in front in embracing Barack Obama, and making the analogy of Obama to JFK (Caroline Kennedy did so explicitly in a New York Times oped.)  It was the Kennedy imprimatur that propelled Obama through some tough primaries.

These are different times--even more different than JFK's 60s were from FDR's 30s and 40s, in political terms.  I don't see that much increased chance that President Obama would be getting his jobs program through the GOPer House if he just played cards every night with Eric Cant.  So while Matthews makes some good points about Democrats who should be publicly supporting the President better, I just don't buy the idea that if Obama were more like JFK he would be so much more effective. Nor would he be cruising to reelection.  (By Matthews own admission, JFK didn't believe he was cruising to reelection in 1964 either.)  Matthews' book sounds very interesting, but I favor the Kennedy family's judgments about JFK and President Obama.

Circus News

It's hard to even summarize the past few surreal days in the GOPer presidential race.  The Herman KochCain sexual harassment story is still evolving (as are his answers), but it obliterated the more immediately substantive story of improper campaign funding, involving the Kochs.  Whether KochCain survives all this long enough to start losing primaries is still an open question, but it does look like the already tanking Cowboy Rick is done (despite all his money), since he stuck a fork in himself with his bizarre speech in New Hampshire.  He was either drunk, high on something else or helplessly coming out.  These guys are giving new meaning to the title of a 1980s book by Neil Postman: Entertaining ourselves to death.

Meanwhile Newt Romney has performed his most obvious flipflop to date, which gets no points for grace but full points for sheer effrontery.  He merely states now that he has no idea what causes climate change, whereas just a few months he stated with the same baritone sincerity that he believes it's real, it's caused by human industry and cutting greenhouse gases is a responsible task.  Yet it seems more likely than ever that he's going to be the GOPer nominee.

Folks handicapping the 2012 presidential race this far out are themselves engaged in entertainment only.  If the American economy is currently hostage not only to souldead GOPers in Congress but to European politics or even Greek politics, there are just too many factors.  However, pundits like Chris Matthews have narrowed the possibilities to a close election with either Obama or Romney winning, or a GOPer blowout.  The one alternative off the table as far as they are concerned is an Obama landslide.  Heh heh heh.  You guys.  Maybe Americans will be more mindlessly angry and scared than smart on election day 2012, but there is a clear path for the Obama campaign to turn this into a rout in their favor. 

Who has a better chance to fix the economy?  Most people agree with President Obama's ideas. All he needs is a Congress to pass stuff.  Romney's ideas will make matters much worse, and most people know that.  He's running as a slick Herbert Hoover.  The contrast between President Obama and Romney could itself be decisive.  What the polls say now is one thing.  Pennsylvania for example went for Hillary over Obama in the primary, but they went for Obama in the general decisively.  Two candidates.  Pick one.  After a campaign focused on the choice, this country could very well do what it did before: elect Obama in a landslide.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Occupy This

So what Occupy Wall Street firebrand just said this:

"Our Congress today is a forum for legalized bribery. One consumer group using information from calculates that the financial services industry, including real estate, spent $2.3 billion on federal campaign contributions from 1990 to 2010, which was more than the health care, energy, defense, agriculture and transportation industries combined. Why are there 61 members on the House Committee on Financial Services? So many congressmen want to be in a position to sell votes to Wall Street.  We can’t afford this any longer."

Yes, you guessed it--it's that well known radical, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times.

Because you know (from watching Fox and listening to Rush, and nothing else) that this radical movement is all about class warfare (i.e. Marxism) and socialism, especially when they propose to tax the obscenely rich a bit more.  Of course this tax increase on the wealthy is supported by two-thirds or more of the public, including (it now turns out) about 68% of the millionaires who would be the target of the millionaires tax.

GOPers scream at being accused of deliberately subverting the economy for political gain.  Well, it's either that or they are too stupid to read economic reports, which show that the jobs being shed are mainly government jobs thanks to their stupid economic theories (stupid because they demonstrably haven't worked) and stupid policies in Washington and in the states (though its cupidity as much as stupidity, of course.)  The latest example being the jobs that will be lost thanks to their federal spending cuts that they claimed would create jobs.  A quantitative assessment from the Center for American Progress figures that these cuts will result in the destruction of 370,000 more jobs.