Saturday, June 28, 2014

Towards the Showdown of Delusion?

As Republicans continue to accelerate their noxious nonsense, Democratic leaders are pushing back with some plain talk.

Addressing the recent resurrection of the Republican vampire called Cheney and his allied neocons providing the same insane analysis and policy prescriptions (i.e. war) for Iraq, former President Bill Clinton told NBC News: "If they hadn't gone to war in Iraq, none of this would be happening. Mr. Cheney has been incredibly adroit for the last six years or so attacking the administration for not doing an adequate job of cleaning up the mess that he made. And I think it's unseemly."

Last week Speaker of the House Banal announced the GOPers were going to sue President Obama for some of his executive actions as President.  Josh Marshall is among those who see this as a prequel to an inevitable attempt to impeach the President.

While on a trip to Minnesota (photo above) which included a town hall meeting (the best of the three events), a short speech at a party event held at the residence of an early supporter, President Obama addressed this suit bluntly in a public speech in Minneapolis:

"And, now, some of you may have read -- so we take these actions and then now Republicans are mad at me for taking these actions. They’re not doing anything, and then they’re mad that I’m doing something. I’m not sure which of the things I’ve done they find most offensive, but they’ve decided they’re going to sue me for doing my job."

Though this quote made the news, the President surrounded it with factual statements about what he had done and what Congress had not done, plus one thing they did (vote for more tax breaks for the wealthy.)

But even buried in the middle of a substantive speech, this blunt defense (plus some blunt offense) signals that if Republicans think they can take the stage alone through impeachment, they better think again: President Obama is not going to be passive or above it all.  He's ready to go right at them.

It's hard to credit this impeachment talk, since there isn't anything approaching a real scandal except in the GOP/Fox echo chamber.  They may be looking at the President's marginally dropping approval numbers, but these can be deceptive.  In analyzing dropping approval numbers on his foreign policy while the polls also show that voters actually support Obama's foreign policy actions, Dan Dresner in the Post makes a distinction between "outputs" and "outcomes."  Those surveyed show their unhappiness with the outcomes--that is, the current mess in Iraq for instance--but they agree with the outputs, that is the specific policies.

I think this is true on domestic issues as well (which is why in MN President Obama made sure to describe his attempts to get those policies enacted that he, the Democratic party and the majority of Americans support): voters surveyed register their unhappiness with various outcomes (from the job market to congressional stalemate) more than President Obama's policies (which they largely support) or certainly President Obama himself.

If Republicans don't understand this, they might convince themselves that impeachment is a winning strategy, regardless of whether or not it is an abuse of the Constitution.  But they would be really, really wrong.

Let me put it this way: President Obama's Inaugurals brought several million people to Washington.  Do they want to see how many will assemble in front of the Capitol if they're rash enough to try this, and somebody calls for such a rally?

I didn't make it to either Inaugurals, but if this happens, believe me I'll be there.  And so will a lot of others.  President Obama's core support is deep and wide.  On top of that, there are millions who won't look kindly on such a repulsive political move.

 So GOPers, consider this a not entirely friendly warning.  And let me speak plainly too.  You want to do this?  Go ahead.  Make my day.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Here Comes the Sun (continued)

Revisiting the Al Gore article in Rolling Stone and its section on solar energy: after noting the faster than anyone expected progress in technology (including battery storage) he described the response by the Koch Brothers and others whose investment in the fossil fuel grid is threatened by decentralized clean energy.  They're pouring money into the states--and into their made men in office--to impose extra taxes on solar panels, for instance.  They've had some success in their puppet state legislatures.  But according to Gore, not so much with voters:

But here is more good news: The Koch brothers are losing rather badly. In Kansas, their home state, a poll by North Star Opinion Research reported that 91 percent of registered voters support solar and wind. Three-quarters supported stronger policy encouragement of renewable energy, even if such policies raised their electricity bills.

In Georgia, the Atlanta Tea Party joined forces with the Sierra Club to form a new organization called – wait for it – the Green Tea Coalition, which promptly defeated a Koch-funded scheme to tax rooftop solar panels.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, after the state's largest utility, an ALEC member, asked the public-utility commission for a tax of up to $150 per month for solar households, the opposition was fierce and well-organized. A compromise was worked out – those households would be charged just $5 per month – but Barry Goldwater Jr., the leader of a newly formed organization called TUSK (Tell Utilities Solar won't be Killed), is fighting a new attempt to discourage rooftop solar in Arizona. Characteristically, the Koch brothers and their allies have been using secretive and deceptive funding in Arizona to run television advertisements attacking "greedy" owners of rooftop solar panels – but their effort has thus far backfired, as local journalists have exposed the funding scam."

Clean energy has already spurred innovation, and as Gore and President Obama keep insisting, clean energy is the global industry of the future.  It can no longer be strangled in the cradle as for years it seemed it was going to be.  It's too far along all over the world, and all across North America.  It's going to look like computer tech does now--unimaginable a few decades ago, now unimaginable to be without it.  Economic as well as moral leadership are at stake right now.

Enough raw energy reaches the Earth from the sun in one hour to equal all of the energy used by the entire world in a full year, Gore writes, and I just heard something similar on Cosmos.  If we recover just a fraction of that energy for use, civilization can have all the energy it could ever need without polluting the atmosphere.

Update: News of a "breakthrough in solar panel manufacture that could promise cheap energy within a decade."  Another story about it here.

Getting to that point--producing abundant energy without greenhouse gas pollution--while pursuing innovative solutions to the problems resulting from the effects of the climate crisis, and ramping up even more ways to address the causes of the climate crisis with clean energy tech, maybe carbon capture etc.--will drive the economy of the future, starting now.

Those who claim that addressing the causes and effects of the climate crisis are only economic burdens and drains on the economy, are merely repeating truisms that are no longer true.  Even relatively conservative changes that would result in lower greenhouse gases pollution would grow the world economy, according to a new report by the World Bank.  Not exactly a far left organization.  

As this article in the Guardian notes, there are plenty of studies showing how economically devastating it would be to NOT address the climate crisis, or to significantly delay addressing it.  Now studies are emerging that make a positive case for economic growth from addressing it.  This is even before the true economic costs and benefits are added to the conventional and unreal assumptions of economics that never figures in the costs in health or environmental degradation and hence the future support for human life and civilization.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Party for No

Giants fan favorite Tim Lincecum tossed a no-hitter on Wednesday in front of 41,500 in San Francisco.  In their radio postgame, the announcing team talked about the drama and excitement in the stadium during this game against the San Diego Padres.  Despite this being the second no-hitter this month, and Lincecum's second in a year, given the number of games played over the years it is a rare event. He's only the second pitcher for the Giants to have thrown two no-hitters--the others were by legendary Christy Matthewson in 1901 and 1905.  Fans gave Lincecum several ovations in the later innings.  After the game the team broke out the champagne--that's how special this is.

In fact Lincecum was one batter away from a perfect game.  He gave up one walk, and there were no Giant errors.  On top of that, he had two hits and scored twice.

This bolt from the blue event was all the more dramatic given Lincecum's starts this year, and particularly the morass of losing the Giants have been sunk in for weeks.  Lincecum's starts this year have been an adventure, with lots of walks and hits, though the Giants were scoring well enough to win most of those games.  In recent weeks, the Giants have found every which way to lose: for awhile their hitting and starting pitching was fine but late inning relief pitching--one of their strengths--simply fell apart.  More recently their most reliable starters have faltered while their hitting fell off.  One of those starters, Tim Hudson, made a statement about it that's pure 21st century San Francisco--he suggested it was regression to the mean.  The Giants had been winning games they probably should have lost, and then lost games they should have won.

In their Techtown broadcasting booth, the game announcers also talked about the role of tech --the news of Lincecum pitching a no-hitter into the late innings spread around the world via social media and various sports aps via smartphones etc. so by the ninth inning there was global attention on this game.

Playing second base in this game was the Giant's rookie phenom with the great baseball name of Joe Panik.  He'd been called up from his minor league team, as usual without warning, and managed to make a phone call that woke his parents at 3 a.m., but they got on a plane and were in the stands for his first start--and his first major league hit.  Now learning the big league ropes, he fielded the ground ball that ended the no-hit game.

Meanwhile the Pittsburgh Pirates have the best winning percentage this month in the National League.  Their super-rookie, Gregory Polanco, hit safely in his first 11 games, and got on base in his first 15, both club records.        

Monday, June 23, 2014

We Are In It Now

"After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends."
Wallace Stevens
"The Well Dressed Man With a Beard"

Al Gore quotes this poem, probably not for the first time, in his new Rolling Stone article on the climate crisis.  It helps make his point that he believes chances are getting better than the climate crisis will be significantly addressed, specifically in the international meetings of 2015, but also more generally.

I'm glad he's no longer using the unfortunate "solve the climate crisis" formulation.  If it's a crisis, you can address it, you can confront it.  If it's a problem, you can try to solve it.  The difference is meaningful.  The climate crisis involves lots and lots of problems, many of which have no likely solution as such.  Sometimes it will be a matter of limiting the damage.

Anyway it's a very good article, very up to the moment, yet in useful context, and worth reading through.  Though much of what's happened--ice melts, drought, storms, etc.--has been reported as events (here at Dreaming Up Daily for example,) sometimes as events related to the climate crisis (here again), Gore provides a context of meaning and response, notably on the impact of the two studies on polar ice melts.

Likewise various efforts on various levels to directly address the climate crisis that were at least referred to here are placed in greater context, with a sense of where things are going.  Gore counts himself among those who believe President Obama's recent policies and speeches, particularly the EPA regs on power plants (a power again affirmed by the Supreme Court today), have suddenly returned international leadership to the US on confronting the climate crisis, prompting his optimism on a 2015 global deal: " is abundantly evident that he has taken hold of the challenge with determination and seriousness of purpose."

Most interesting to me are the early sections of this piece about the startling advances in clean energy, both in terms of technology and economics.  The best news is on solar power. "The cost of electricity from photovoltaic, or PV, solar cells is now equal to or less than the cost of electricity from other sources powering electric grids in at least 79 countries. By 2020 – as the scale of deployments grows and the costs continue to decline – more than 80 percent of the world's people will live in regions where solar will be competitive with electricity from other sources."

The positive trend includes developing countries which are doing what has long been hoped for--bypassing fossil fuel and going directly to clean energy as they develop.  And there's good news in general on "distributed generation" of power, primarily solar.  This section on energy is really worth checking out.

So it's clear that many areas--tech, a number of businesses (including insurance companies), the military, economists etc.--are out ahead of US national and some states' politics on the realities of the climate crisis, and they'll just have to catch up. Over the weekend yet another Republican, former treasury sec Henry Paulsen, called for a carbon tax to head off economic disaster caused by the climate crisis.  (Paul Krugman evaluates his ideas.)  Paulsen called for Republicans to confront the issue.

That's unlikely to happen soon in Washington.  As Gore notes, the Defense department warned that the climate crisis was not only likely to contribute to conflicts (as the drought in Syria is) but will likely be a major cause of conflicts.  The Navy was warned that due to sea level rise its Norfolk base--the biggest naval base in the world--will be underwater.  "And how did the Republican-dominated House of Representatives respond to these grim warnings? By passing legislation seeking to prohibit the Department of Defense from taking any action to prepare for the effects of climate disruption."

So the implacable no has not yet turned to yes.  But while there has to be a 'turning point' (as Gore titles his article) in some sense, the future may well be closer to Krugman's:" In policy terms, climate action — if it happens at all — will probably look like health reform. That is, it will be an awkward compromise dictated in part by the need to appease special interests, not the clean, simple solution you would have implemented if you could have started from scratch. It will be the subject of intense partisanship, relying overwhelmingly on support from just one party, and will be the subject of constant, hysterical attacks. And it will, if we’re lucky, nonetheless do the job. Did I mention that health reform is clearly working, despite its flaws?"

Still, the time is upon us because the climate crisis is here.  Gore constructs another interesting quote from a speech by Winston Churchill in 1936, talking about the gathering storm of World War II:  "Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have entered upon a period of danger. . . . The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays is coming to its close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences. . . . We cannot avoid this period; we are in it now."