Friday, February 15, 2013

We Are All Newtown

From Thursday's rally in Connecticut  marking two months since the Sandy Hook assault weapons massacre.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

Response to Reaction

The day-after political/ media "analysis" of the State of the Union included the typical mixture of cynicism and stupidity.  State of the Union addresses never have any effect or are remembered (except of course when they are.)  This speech was just another "laundry list," which apart from being the easiest cliche to find in the deeper recesses of small minds, may well be the impression you'd get if you weren't actually listening, but busily twittering and tweeting and checking others doing so.

Those wearing the typical political blinders said it was "partisan" because it didn't cave to the extremely bad ideas of the GOPer sulking in the audience. 

Here's a decent summary of some of the proposals in what Bob Shrum called the most progressive agenda of the past 50 years.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Next Great Chapter

I got the sense of a liberated Obama in his State of the Union address, but not because he doesn't have to worry about be re-elected, as the pundits say.  Let me do something novel and take him at his word.  He began the speech by referring to how the country has come out of the Great Recession with which he was greeted on his first Inauguration, and how the second of the two wars he inherited is being ended.  "So, together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger."

So the rubble is cleared, and it's time to build it.  And that's what I heard: the Obama we probably would have heard in 2009 if  the GOPers Wall Street hadn't conveniently tanked the economy during his presidential campaign.  The 21st century America that he wants to build.

This address was full of proposals and declarations of the directions we need to go, and why.  It was clearly and logically articulated in the language of common sense.  The sense we have in common, and of what we do in common.  "Obama's repeated plea to the nation tonight was to face reality: his tone was relentless reasonability," wrote xpostfactoid in the critique that best reflects my own response of any I read.

(Here's the transcript of the speech as delivered.)

Yet President Obama did not dwell on a single issue or argument but proposed an exciting scope of ideas and initiatives.  A lot will depend on follow-through, but I did get the sense that these were not thrown-together notions at a p.r. brainstorming session but legislative proposals that were worked out in terms of cost, and either executive actions or public-private initiatives that have been started. 

The more you look into issues like the climate crisis, the more you see that valuable stuff can be accomplished without Congress.  And what choice do we have?  It's clear that little of significance is going to be done by this Congress except through the back door (i.e. the Senate and a majority of Dems with some GOPers in the House, but only on a few issues), so you have to go to working with the states, with business and academia, etc. as well as through executive action and going to the citizenry for political heat.

Howard Fineman on msnbc said he was in the chamber for the speech and felt that President Obama's mantra on gun violence legislation was very powerful in the room, and that translated over the TV.  "Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight [the Chicago teenager gunned down days after performing in the Inaugural parade], along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote. They deserve a vote. (Applause.) Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. (Applause.) The families of Newtown deserve a vote. (Applause.) "  

As someone said, President Obama was shaming the Republicans in this and other sections of the speech, but this mantra was applicable as well to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who doesn't want to bring the assault weapon ban to a vote.  It's going to be very hard for him to deny it now.

But he ended the speech with what will live from it in quotation--yet another distillation of President Obama's core belief, and a subtle transition to tomorrow (which is today)--when he goes out on the road and takes his case beyond the Beltway:

"We may do different jobs and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us. But as Americans, we all share the same proud title -- we are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations, that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter of our American story." 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Idle No More

U.S. environmentalists have allies to the north, including this First Nations protest in Canada against the tar sands exploitation, specifically of Native land, that is the front end of the Keystone pipeline.  As described in this Rolling Stone article, these First Nation protests have spread beyond Canada to a very interesting spot across the border in the U.S.---the Mall of America in Minnesota.

Building a Movement

This weekend , along with the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups is organizing a Forward on Climate Rally (on Sunday the 17th) and other activities in Washington in support of federal action on confronting the climate crisis, and specifically calling for the Obama administration to deny approval for the Keystone pipeline.

Demos and pressure from groups and people who are otherwise allies can be very helpful not only in spurring action but in giving the Administration some political room to act.  It was the March on Washington in 1963 that told Washington there was a lot of support for Civil Rights legislation, which gave President Kennedy the political room to propose what became the Voting Rights Act and other laws.

One of the problems on responding to the climate crisis as well as other issues has been the lack of a cohesive and persistent progressive movement.  It still doesn't exist--marches like this should have the kind of broad institutional support that the March on Washington had, from most Civil Rights groups to religious groups to Big Labor.  We'll see if this particular march has made any progress in that regard.

So the web site's call to action --"Tell Obama to Step It Up!"--is relevant, although as everybody knows, the real problem is Congress.  Still, there are things that the President can do and advocate that don't require Congress, and I hope we do hear some of those in the State of the Union.

But it's very important to the effectiveness and credibility of this effort not to go too far in personalizing this, especially in regard to President Obama.  And that's for a very clear political reason.  As this last election proved, there are millions of voters who feel very protective of President Obama.  They are mostly but not exclusively people of color, and members of other minorities.  They are very sensitive to the kind of slights they've heard about themselves, and they won't tolerate personal attacks on this President. 

To name a conspicuous example, Joe Romm at Climate Progress declared the Obama administration a "failure" because it didn't succeed in passing cap and trade or otherwise do what Romm wanted them to do.  That was (if memory serves) barely two years into Obama's first term, although Romm has repeated it several times since.  It got him attention, but not all of it was positive.  It turned people off, including me.

Whether an administration is a success or failure is a judgment for history, when more is known and the consequences are clearer.  We all wish the last 5 Presidents, including Obama, had been more successful in leading on what is very probably the most consequential issue of our time. If we fail to confront this crisis, there will be plenty of blame to go around.  But making a premature judgment on success or failure of a presidency is arrogant and unfair--and in this case it has been perceived as such.  Repetition of this will only alienate more people. 

 The environmental movement needs to move beyond affluent white liberals, and the perception that it still is that.  The necessary environmental coalition--let alone the necessary progressive coalition--will not happen if a lot of natural allies are driven away.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Winter Hurricane

(Reuters) - "The U.S. Northeast started digging itself out of a blizzard that dumped up to 40 inches of snow with hurricane force winds, killing at least nine people and leaving about half a million customers without power."

Dr. Jeff Masters: "A historic Nor'easter roared through New England overnight, bringing snowfall measured in feet, not inches, hurricane-force wind gusts, and serious coastal flooding. The snow was heaviest in coastal Connecticut, where snowfall rates of 6"/hours were recorded, and an astonishing 40" piled up in Hamden. An all-time snowfall record was set in Portland, Maine, where 31.9" fell, and numerous cities in the Northeast recorded top-ten snowfall amounts, including Hartford, CT (2nd all-time with 22.3"); Worchester, MA (3rd all-time, with 28"); Providence, RI (8th all-time, with 17"); Concord, NH (2nd all time, with 24"), and Boston, MA (6th all-time, with 21.8.")

The great storm, dubbed "Nemo", bombed out to a central pressure of 971 mb at 7 am EST Saturday, February 9. This is the type of central pressure one sees in Category 1 hurricanes, and Nemo generated numerous hurricane-force wind gusts along the coast, including a 76 mph gust at Boston's Logan Airport. Significant wave heights of 30' were measured in Massachusetts Bay, and 35.4'at the Cape Ann Buoy 44098, off the east coast of Massachusetts...

The high winds from the storm drove a damaging storm surge into the coast of Eastern Massachusetts Friday night and Saturday morning. Hardest hit was the coast of Cape Cod Bay southeast of Boston, where major flooding forced residents of low-lying areas to evacuate. A storm surge in excess of four feet inundated roads, damaged coastal buildings, and caused severe beach erosion."

The global heating relationship to this storm is probably most obvious in the warmth of the ocean leading to snow but also winds.  Higher sea levels mean higher storm surges.  Here's one piece on the global heating contribution, and here's another.

This storm is also notable for the response.  The New York and New England state governments closed highways and roads in advance of the storm, quickly issued emergency declarations when it hit, and used new sophisticated means for dealing with it, like GPS on emergency vehicles and snowplows, with computer mapping of affected areas and where the vehicles were.

That these governors and governments are doing this is encouraging because a lot more can and must be done to minimize deaths, suffering and damage of these less and less rare but larger and larger weather events.

Fortunately this storm hit chiefly in these Blue states where governments take their responsibilities seriously, plan and spend money to prepare.  Other states may not be so prepared, and the consequences may be even greater.