Saturday, July 14, 2012

Storms Fast and Slow

A solar storm, resulting from this huge solar flare, reached the Earth on Saturday.  So far no major effects reported, though some big time auroras seem likely this weekend in northern areas.  As for our comparatively slow motion climate crisis,  NOAA issued its comprehensive report on global weather patterns in 2011, and even with some cooling effects produced by double dip La Ninas, the categories highlighted in this excellent summary all are in line with what climatologists expect from  ongoing global heating.  Except for one statistic: with all this evidence over all this time, a rational being might expect that the rational beings in control of artificial CO2 emissions that in large part are creating this global threat would be busy reducing them.  That didn't happen. The level of  CO2 emissions increased in 2011.

Friday, July 13, 2012


Mitt Romney's rationale for the presidency comes down to two propositions: he's not Obama, and as a successful business executive he knows how to create jobs and right the economy.  On that first proposition he's unassailable.  He is no Barack Obama.  But he's been relentlessly if gradually damaged on the second, as stories about his tenure at Bain feed Obama campaign ads in swing states to show that as a "vulture capitalist" (in the words of Cowboy Rick Perry) he made massive profits from the misfortune visited upon working class Americans.   His job was to make profit, which he did from companies that did well and companies that went bankrupt, fired workers and sent jobs overseas.  That's a fundamentally different job than being President (as illustrated in this handy Doonesbury narrative.)

Then the stories became more directly focused: on Bain as a pioneer in sending American jobs to workers in other countries, and on Romney's finances, the glimpses of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island funds, raising questions that Romney will not answer, in particular by releasing past tax returns.  The Obama campaign dutifully followed up each revelation with new ads.  Polls began showing that all of this was possibly having an effect.

But on Thursday the Mitt really hit the fan.  The Boston Globe added some original reporting to previous revelations by David Corn at Mother Jones and Josh Marshall at TPM, to show that Romney was officially listed on SEC filings as CEO, President, Chairman of the Board and sole stockholder of Bain in 2002--several years after he has been saying he left the company.  That's important because he's been denying responsibility for some of the bankruptcies and layoffs and outsourcing etc. that happened after 1999.  These filings also show that he was paid a minimum of $100,000 a year (and it could have been much, much more) in salary, in addition to profits of the company.  These were listed as his principal occupation.  Moreover, he didn't always claim that he'd "retired" in 1999.  He told Massachusetts officials in 2002 that he had taken a leave of absence (to run the Olympics) with the intention of returning.

There are serious legal implications as well as credibility questions in all of this, and so this story will continue for awhile.  But there was another story that also broke on Thursday--David Corn in Mother Jones found that in 1998, when Romney doesn't dispute he was in charge, Bain invested in a Chinese company that made money by taking American jobs to China.

The Romney campaign and allies quickly pushed back on the Globe story, offering other paper trails that don't name Romney as executive in charge.  The relevance of these claims was quickly disputed.   The Romney campaign employed two other tactics.  As they've done before, they demanded apologies and retractions.  None were forthcoming, so they seem to be counting on the news headline of demanding them to signal to some that there might be some merit in their demand.

The second technique was identified and named on this site some time ago: the schoolyard "That's what you are, what am I?" which has been taken up by others now, notably TPM and Lawrence O'Donnell.  To combat the outsourcing charge, they put out an ad that called Obama an outsourcer.  To combat both the Bain charges and the general charge that Romney lies with almost every breath, they made a big ad buy accusing President Obama of lying as a campaign tactic.

 But the Mittstorm on Thursday suggested to me the real possibility--though just the possibility---that Romney could be so defined that he's essentially disqualified as a presidential candidate even before the GOP convention.

He has two main hopes.  First that the economy suffers to the extent that the rising optimism expressed in polls severely sours, and the "I'm not Obama" proposition becomes persuasive.  Second, that if the economy simply doesn't improve, his Mittblitz of ads that his accumulating millions can buy will substitute his lies for any reality, and he will move perception away from President Obama to the figure that Romney will destructively create as President Obama, Vampire.

And then there's voter suppression, particularly now in Pennsylvania, which could become the new Florida if GOPers there have indeed successfully disenfranchised nearly 10% of the voters in the state, nearly all of them non-suburban non-Romney voters.  On this front, Attorney General Eric Holder told the NAACP that these voter ID laws constitute poll taxes, which are unconstitutional.  That may mean federal action.

Update: Another intent of the Romney strategy of demanding that President Obama apologize occurs to me--it deflects attention from the stories reported by news organizations and attempts to suggest that these are simply politically motivated charges by the Obama campaign.  (Of course, President Obama is no more responsible for these campaign ads--managed by other people--than Romney is for all the lives deformed when he was merely the CEO, President, Chairman of the Board and sole owner of Bain Capital.)

A further attempt at deflecting attention by the Romney campaign was the trial balloon stating that Condi Rice is being considered for v.p. nomination. But there is nothing to see here. That will never happen.  Even if the Dick himself showers praise on Romney as he did at his fundraiser.

                                           I still believe in global warming.  Do you?

                                            (John Tyndall, 19th century physicist)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Heat Front

In his Sunday report, Chris Hayes opined that the key figures needed to legitimize the climate crisis for the TV viewing public are the weather reporters.  It's true that especially at local stations the weather guy (it's usually a guy) is the best known TV celeb, and even the biggest celeb period.  Plus the network and Weather Channel reporters (many of whom are women) evoke the most positive recognition.  But partly because of the virulence of Rabid Right responses to any mention of global heating or the climate crisis,  local stations and even the networks aren't wild about the idea of their weather folk venturing the same opinion as 98% of climate scientists.  Plus weather celebs know where their bread is buttered--at the corporate speaking engagements and other corporate gigs where the real money is made.

But this June may have dented if not demolished that cold front.  Even Climate Progress is impressed with network coverage linking the summer heat and fires to global heating.   In addition to their examples, there's this NPR story about the lasting impact of the recent heat, and this CNN story  quoting scientists that the climate crisis means more of this kind of weather in the future.

Meanwhile, the hurricane season is starting to heat up.  Stay tuned.

Guess Who?

Guess who these two women are listening to.  Would you be surprised it's Mitt Romney addressing the NAACP convention?

Nobody would, least of all Romney.  While some in the media were giving him "credit" for showing up, it was clearly not some honest and courageous effort to win African American votes but a ploy to show the Grand Old White Peoples' Party that he's on their side.  He told them he would repeal "Obamacare," and let the boos go on, since reportedly he knew the term itself was going to be booed. Later referring to this audience he said that if they want more stuff from government they should vote for Obama.  This wasn't dog whistle race politics.  This was loud and clear.

Meanwhile, if you think things are bad now, catch Rachel's opening segment Wednesday on the Bush-Cheney years, as Romney tries to distance himself from them while preparing to attend a multi-milliondollar fundraiser at the home of, and hosted by, the Dick himself, v.p. Cheney.  It also concerns a scary bad Washington Post story.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Chill Out

And remember: the planet you save might be your own.

Teachable Moments

 Teachable moments are moments when the attention of a class or a nation is already on the subject--when the need for answers or at least discussion is already there.  The trick is to recognize them and use them.

President Obama had a teachable moment on Friday when a positive but disappointing jobs report was issued.  It was a moment he could have pointed out that had Congress passed his jobs bill, thousands if not millions of people would right now be repairing and restoring the infrastructure that the entire American public depends on, and not the least of all, its businesses.  And otherwise building--literally building--what the country needs for its future, to generate other new jobs as well as help its citizens be safer and more secure.  And more employed.

A lot of this was part of what he did say at several campaign events, and he said some of it in his remarks after signing the transportation bill, which at least keeps workers on infrastructure projects that have already started.  But he didn't relate this to the moment in a way that would get it excerpted in ways that reach people.

He spoke on Friday at one of my old haunts, the Carnegie Mellon campus in Pittsburgh (photo.)  It was very hot, and a number of people fainted.  He could have used this moment to talk about the climate crisis and the need for green energy.  This was a teachable moment, and he missed it.

Now President Obama is hardly alone in either having the opportunity for a teachable moment or in missing one.  But Bill McKibben did call him out for this one, and he was right to.  Still, this summer is a long teachable moment, and there will be other opportunities.

Someone who didn't miss this moment was MSNBC's Chris Hayes on his Sunday morning program, which he largely devoted to the climate crisis, and with more than the usual insight--much of it coming from Bill McKibben (it was on that show that he made the above observation.)

McKibben's entire interview is really worth watching.  Rather than embed part of it, I'll provide links because it's in several parts.  If you go to the Up with Chris Hayes site right now, chances are that all of these links will be in plain view.  But if not, here's the link to his introduction, to the first panel discussion, to the first part of the McKibben interview,  the second part of McK, the third part of McK.  

As Chris Hayes said, the summer's weather phenomena--this year's, or even the past few years'--demonstrate that "the climate change wolf is at the door."  McKibben is particularly cogent in interviews, and here are a few of his points.  Thanks in part to the very visible manifestations of climate change, about 2/3 of the American public now believes in the climate crisis and is willing to do something about it.  And even though the fossil fuel industry is the major funder of political denial (he said that the fossil fueled Chamber of Commerce poured more money into the 2010 election that the R and D parties combined), even within it, denial is crumbling. 

In terms of political action, he said that the next direct action campaign may be to deny government subsidies to fossil fuel industries.  Beyond that, divestment is another weapon, similar to global divestment that helped end apartheid in South Africa.  (By coincidence we just saw a film about that incredible moment, and it makes the point that the economic self-interest of at least one major company in South Africa materially helped bring the parties together to make agreements that seemed impossible before they actually happened.) 

McKibben also came up with a very neat formula for the cause/effect problem that I've gone on about many times--that we have to deal with the effects of the climate crisis at the same time as we deal with the causes, whereas denial is preventing us from dealing with either, at least at the necessary scale.

McKibben uses the "adaptation" buzzword, which I still think is a loser, but at least he places it in a more comprehensible context.  His two mottos are:

1. Adapt to that which you can't prevent.
2.  Prevent that to which you can't adapt.

It's still not clean enough verbally but there's a solid core there.  Until we admit that we're going to have real climate-caused problems for the forseeable future, we aren't going to invest the resources in addressing those effects.  But unless we also deal with the causes of the climate crisis, its effects in the farther future--yet within the lifetimes of people living now--will become so severe that our societies and our science may not be up to the tasks.  Life as we know it could be over--permanently.   
The Chris Hayes segments don't teach all they could.  Nobody got around to noting that there is no paradox about "global warming" causing it to snow more in some places.  It is one of the predictable effects of warming the atmosphere--warmer air is wetter, and warmer air in the winter makes for snow--simple weatherman facts that anybody can understand.  It's a little more complicated to explain extreme cold caused by global warming but we accept many things that are more counter-intuitive and bewildering. 

What teachable moments do more than anything is they allow issues to transcend political positions.  Prominent among the many real sins of the right is making the climate crisis political.  And the way that the Rabid Right operates on this issue as on most others is with violence against anyone not adhering to their dogma.  They don't do opposition politics--they deal in heresy and heretics,  the saved and the damned.

 What's necessary for many people to suddenly see that this is some false artificial arena of noise is to focus on the reality, the problems and the consequences.   After last winter and spring, this particular summer is such an opportunity.  This is real.  This can wreck us.  It causes pain and suffering and death.  This must be addressed as problems that need solutions.