Saturday, May 05, 2012

                                     I still believe in global warming.  Do you?

The latest Rabid Right madness manifested as a billboard showing Ted Kacziynski (The Unabomber) with those words under it, "I still believe in global warming.  Do you?" It was sponsored by the increasingly notorious Heartland Institute.  It immediately drew more attention than any effort of say to publicize their Climate Impacts Day of action, which is today (Saturday May 5.)

What is actually newsworthy about this is that a firestorm of criticism--including from GOPers--forced the Institute to take it down.   And presumably to scuttle their announced plan to add to the series the faces of Fidel Castro, Charles Manson and Osama bin Laden.  I wish I could say this story is from the Onion, but it's from a Bangor, Maine newspaper.

But good marketing ideas never die.  I'm starting my own series right here, with the image above.

 Meanwhile, NASA has been studying the changes in Arctic ice:  "And it now appears that changes in Arctic sea ice affect everything from weather in Europe to the amount of sunlight the Earth absorbs. "The once seemingly insignificant and remote Arctic region is now understood to be intimately connected to the rest of the planet," noted Goddard Space Flight Center's Nathan Kurtz in a post from the field in late March."

A study of Greenland ice says that while melting is not at a worst-case-scenario speed, it has speeded up to a faster rate than UN projections from 2008, and threatens the world's coastal cities with a 3 ft. rise (together with other factors) by the end of the century. ’Glacial pace’ is not slow anymore,” said study author Twila Moon, a glacier researcher at the University of Washington.

As for Connect the Dots day, I wish I could say that I even understand what they're doing, but I am clearly not their demographic.  Best of luck to them anyway.  For the record, here is what Bill McKibben says is happening:

"We desperately need to put real human faces on climate change — to make sure that people understand it’s not an abstraction and a future threat, but a very present and very real crisis. And a crisis with solutions — in many places people are putting up green dots of hope, at their solar panels and windmills. (At my mom’s retirement home the residents are heading out to dig a big new community garden!)

So please: if you can spare an hour or two for the planet on 5/5, make sure you go to to find out where the nearest action is, and make sure you call a few friends and get them to come with you. We won’t solve climate change in a single day — but if we don’t manage to show our fellow citizens that it’s a problem, we’ll never solve it.

And here’s the thing — you’ll have a good time. On too many occasions we ask you to do really hard things, like get arrested. This action is crucial but simple — just lend your body for a little while to make the most important point we can make right now.

We’re asking everyone, at every local event, to take a photo of their “climate dot” and upload it to our website — and we’ll assemble those images into a global mosaic that puts a real human face on climate change. Our crew at will do everything we can to deliver your photos and stories to the media and decision-makers the world over. We can't let our elected officials pretend that this crisis is still in the future, and we’ll make sure our actions on 5/5 are a crucial first step to get global leaders to connect the dots on climate change."

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The Depression They Believe In

Paul Krugman has a new book with a very provocative and timely title: End This Depression Now!  I haven't yet read it but here are the major points he's making in interviews:

We may no longer be in an economic recession, but we are functionally in a depression, though not as great as the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Krugman points out that within the Great Depression period were years when the U.S. economy grew, just not enough to rebalance the economy and in particular, not enough to re-employ enough people and otherwise end the misery.  This is the state of things now.

The stock market crash precipitated the Great Depression, and the financial crash of 2008 precipitated this one, though in both cases there was a long period of preparation.  One of the factors was the growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, with a commensurate rise in real poverty at the other end. 

While figuring out all the right moves to make in 2009 in order to get the U.S. economy back on track was complicated, the way to pull the U.S. out of its current depression now (Krugman says) is relatively simple.  Government spending to stimulate the economy is what works, and smart government spending works better.  It might have been difficult in 2009 to identify what this money should be spent on, but now the situation makes it pretty clear.

State and local governments have been savaged during the Great Recession, and have shed about 600,000 jobs, most of them serving a public good, if not utterly essential to civic well-being and to both the short and long term economic future.  In this period, the natural growth in government jobs (responding to population growth etc.) would be an additional 700,000 jobs.

That adds up to 1.3 million jobs, and if the federal government would simply sign those paychecks for awhile, it would in itself generate enough economic activity to lower the unemployment rate to under 7% in 18 months.  This might well be enough to start the "virtuous circle" of people spending, and business responding to new demand by employing more people, who will spend that money, etc.  This would End This Depression Now!

What makes this especially possible now, Krugman said, is that some of the other weaknesses in the economy are healing.  Household debt was a huge problem, and it is down substantially.  The housing market is poised to come back because of pent-up demand.  Those additional paychecks and the economic activity they generate would likely to go spending (rather than paying down debt) and the pent-up demand for housing would be a natural place for some of that spending to go.  Since the housing market is a particular drag on the economy, that would be good.

What we cannot do, he says, is follow the European example and go for austerity.  Those governments that have cut back spending substantially have further weakened their economies.  The U.S. debt is manageable, and although federal spending on "entitlements" is an issue that may well need to be addressed, it doesn't require that spending be cut now or in the near future. 

Here's the Reuters report on Krugman's book that gives some of the economic background concerning Europe.

I'm sure Krugman makes fact-based arguments in favor of this thesis, but even without reading his book (and unfortunately not reading his column as much as I used to), all of this makes a lot of sense to me.

With high unemployment over the past three plus years and dropping slowly, the income of the very rich growing fast, and the incomes of the 99% stagnating or dropping, and especially with the extent of poverty in America--the highest percentage the Census Bureau has measured in 52 years--it's not much of a stretch to conceptualize this as a depression.

As for the solution, I've been noting the drag on the employment figures each month by continuing job losses in state and local governments.  Here in California, austerity in state government is crippling education, and ruining the state university system, a process over years that I've watched up close and personally.  Unemployment and insecurity for teachers, police, fire, EMTs, etc. is truly depressing to communities in all senses of the word.  And clearly these are overwhelmingly jobs that are necessary to the public good, and necessary to the short and long term economy.

I'm not sure if Krugman goes into the politics of this, but that's what's driving this.  Our current political polarization tracks neatly with the growing income inequality (as graph-happy Rachel showed on Tuesday.)  GOPers promoting federal austerity and trying to panic people about the deficit (which they by the way created entirely in the Bush years) are not just serving a high-sounding ideology.  Nor are they only trying to keep taxes low for the very wealthy (since that's where voters would want the government to look for the money necessary to pay for 1.3 million government workers), although that is certainly a mighty motivation.

No, there's very clear and present party- political motivation.  It should be remembered a day after May Day, the international workers day, that the once powerful economic and political force of labor unions have faded to almost nothing in the private sector.  The strongest unions represent workers in the public sector, especially state and local government employees.  Rabid Right GOPer legislatures and governors have been busy trying to end union rights for public sector unions quite directly in several states.  But the indirect method--or maybe it's the more direct method--is just as effective: get rid of the employees altogether, at least until you can get rid of the unions.

And in fact, that's where the biggest drops in government employment have been--in these very red states (doing nothing for their economies except weakening them, or or their state budgets, since they typically lower taxes for corporations and rich people.)  Unions of course are the largest financial backers of Democratic candidates, and their members provide a lot of political organizing.  It's another partisan political attack without conscience, without regard for other consequences, like the laws to make voting and registering harder for certain people.

Krugman's book comes at a fascinating moment--just as the Obama campaign is gearing up, and as President Obama is providing the rationale for the government's role.  It will be interesting to see if proposals like Krugman's become an explicit part of the President's agenda this summer.    

One more point.  Krugman mentioned that he hoped the entitlement problem (Medicare & Medicaid) can be addressed in the long run largely by bringing down health care costs themselves.  This was a major intention of the Affordable Care Act.  Even before the Act takes full effect, there are signs that health care costs are stabilizing, as cost containment mechanisms begin to take hold, and thousands of seniors are seeing billions in savings on their medicines.  

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Where the Wars Will End

Tonight President Obama addressed the nation from Afghanistan, where he signed the agreement that leads to the end of the war, on the first anniversary of the action he ordered that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.

Pundits swarmed afterwards to say how complicated and fraught the situation still is, and how many ways it could all collapse.  I don't think the American people actually care anymore what happens to Afghanistan.  They want the war to be over.

President Obama refocused Afghanistan as much as he could on dismantling al Qeda, and in his address he made it clear that this is the objective, and continuing a large U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan is no longer necessary to that end.  That's also what the American people wanted: the terrorist threat to be crippled.  Osama bin Laden's death or capture was probably necessary to allow a U.S. president to get us out of Afghanistan, and so this address was more than symbolic on this anniversary.

As I listened, I could feel the accumulated weariness of so much war.  Vietnam exhausted my generation to a point that has still not been fully reckoned.  Then El Salvador--does anybody remember the proxy war in El Salvador, the Contras?--further poisoned the poisonous 80s.  And the horrible Iraq aggression further sucked the life out of this country in so many ways. 

The military-industrial complex has been the most direct way the 1% has used government to enrich itself.  That as much as anything explains these awful years, and all the lives lost and ruined and diverted over these decades. 

It's still possible that this carefully geopolitical policy will yield some pleasant surprises, like an actual coalition government in Afghanistan.  But who really cares anymore?  Just so it is over.  For most Americans, it is over.  President Obama made sure to mention the country's obligations to the veterans who executed this policy, and paid for it in some very sad ways.  We must make sure they are not casualities of our exhaustion.  Otherwise, we're probably too tired and sick at heart to celebrate.  But it will be over.  And we have at least a chance--financially , politically and morally--to address our real problems, the real threats to our country and the world.   

The Dog's Tale

As effective a political video the "Forward" video is (see the post below), the fake campaign ad President Obama unveiled during his White House Press Association Dinner stand-up comedy is more subtle (and of course funnier) in registering the political differences.  It starts at 12:14 of this video of his entire speech, and it is ostensibly from a Romney-supporting independent group ( the Woofpac) criticizing Obama for how he treats his dog Bo and praising Romney for allowing his dog to ride on top of the car where he has the freedom to feel the wind in his fur.  Beneath the jokes, and with a pitch perfect imitation of actual GOPer attack ads--including footage they haven't yet used taking out of context President Obama's gestures while telling a children's story on the White House lawn-- the political metaphors are almost perfect.

 The ad criticizes Obama for coddling his dog, for government mandates, socialism, etc., while Romney supports a dog's freedom.  The last image shows what that freedom means--the dog in a pet carrier strapped to the top of Air Force One.  It is exactly the difference between the phony catch-all image of "freedom" as Romney uses it (freedom from taxes for the wealthy, freedom from government, its benefits and protections for everyone else, plus the freedom to pay the price for the consequences of what the greedy 1% does to steal wealth from everyone else.) It's the difference in the result for the 1% (the freedom to ride in luxury) versus what this brand of "freedom" means for the 99%--confined inside a kennel and strapped to the fast-moving vehicle, where--as everyone knows by now--Romney's actual dog got sick.  Get sick with Romney and you're on your own in your spacious kennel.  Don't bother the Romneys--they're going places, on a schedule, and everything else be damned.

 Not only does the fake ad draw this contrast--it brings out a little of why this story of Romney and his dog resonates on its own.  There's the clueless selfish disregard and lack of compassion for dependent companions, first of all. But there's also that feeling of separation, between the wealth winners (by any means necessary) and everybody else, the people that John Boener characterized Monday as "the losers."  That's a Romney word--a Richie Richney word--for the 99%.

The Past As Prologue

This seven minute video unveils the new Obama campaign slogan, but more impressively, it states the Obama record in a compelling way.  I watched it with an eye to the accuracy of its claims, and the only one that I could recall credible dissent on would be the claims on the extent of Wall Street reform legislation.  For some environmentalists, record oil and gas production might not be a big positive, and there's no direct claims on progress towards meeting the Climate Crisis challenge, although the factual claims on increased emphasis on green energy are substantive.  Otherwise the list of accomplishments and promises kept is kind of amazing.

 And if--as some pundits say--this isn't the political grounds for President Obama's reelection, then what's the point?  If there is no reward for keeping promises and effecting positive change--even if it isn't all you wanted--where's the motivation to risk anything to accomplish anything?  You can do what GOPers are trying to do--use the same putatively attractive phrases that were used to devastating effect when acted upon, and trust that the heaven they conjure in people's heads will blot out the hell they caused, which we're still experiencing?


Monday, April 30, 2012

Get Ready

The upcoming 2012 election is like none in my lifetime, and very possibly none in a lot longer than that.  It comes closest to 1964, when the ideological right wing of the Republican party captured the presidential nomination from its establishment centrists and nominated Barry Goldwater to challenge incumbent (though unelected) President Lyndon Johnson.

Now suddenly in the past 4 years, the Republican party has destroyed its centrist segment and has become the most ideologically driven party in a century or more.  This election looks more like a European parliamentary election (though the winner won't necessarily have the power to govern, as the European government would have to) or even more like an attempted elective coup.  But calling it an ideology is too generous.  It's a Dark Ages cult.  It is a party incapable of governing or participating in a democratic government.

It's not just me noticing this, of course.  Here's exactly what T. Goddard's Political Wire grabbed from Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein's analysis in the Washington Post: "We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party." "The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition." "When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country's challenges."  

The entire analysis, which is worth reading, supports this excerpt. 

Not content with screwing with the filibuster and other undemocratic tactics, not content with relentless systematic lying as a strategy to seize power, the GOPer zealots in the states have actually changed the law to limit the ability of citizens--especially of certain citizens--to be part of this democracy through the most essential and sacred method there is: voting. 

These laws are being challenged but that takes time.  The purpose was to win the White House in 2012, so it may not matter if the challenges succeed later.  However the Obama campaign is not ignoring this, nor is it sitting around moaning about it.  According to this report, the campaign is aggressively pursuing a "vote anyway" strategy, to obey the letter of these onerous laws to register new voters, and to educate voters on what they will need to do (like get and bring a photo ID) in order to vote. 

What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.  Stick that up your legislatures, GOPer tyrants.