Archive for December, 2015

Our Most Valuable Progressives

Progressive Honor Roll 2015


Read this:  What is progressive excellence and what does it look like?  It has many forms and is often overlooked for what it really is and does.  We tend to take many progressive actions for granted.  We get caught up in the moment or the cause and forget how creative and powerful some of these efforts have been.  So let’s take a look at some of the really moving moments of progressive actions for 2015.  For this I turn to an article in The Nation magazine, by one of my favorites, John Nichols, who did all of the work.

Here Nichols puts together his 2015 Progressive Honor Roll where he says “This year’s list of most valuable progressive individuals, groups, and ideas focuses attention beyond the top-tier politics of a presidential race or the latest bad news. We’re celebrating progressivism that mattered in 2015 and that—if past is prologue—will matter even more in 2016 and beyond”.   His categories include:

  • Most Valuable Senator
  • Most Valuable House Member
  • Most Valuable Cabinet Member
  • Most Valuable State Legislator
  • Most Valuable Mayor
  • Most Valuable Union Wins
  • Most Valuable Humanitarians
  • Most Valuable Activist
  • Most Valuable Intervention
  • Most Valuable Ideological Comeback
  • Most Valuable Media Criticism
  • Most Valuable Broadcast Media
  • Most Valuable Podcast
  • Most Valuable Headlines and Covers
  • Most Valuable Documentary
  • Most Valuable Rock Album
  • Most Valuable Memoir
  • Most Valuable Illustrations of Our Times

Read the article to find the winners in each category and learn more about each action or effort. Obviously this is only one man’s opinion and there were other candidates in each category worth of debating, but that’s not really important.   The winners here did something important and necessary. They took chances, put themselves on the line and people took note.  If we are lucky those actions may become infectious and millions of us may end up with a movement that causes real change, maybe even democracy.


http://www.thenation.com/article/this-years-most-valuable-progressives/

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A Christmas Jingle from Climate Change Deniers

Climate Deniers Anthem 2015


Watch this:  Sometimes a little humor / satire might convey a message better than all the facts and intelligent discourse ever could.  Maybe it just catches some off guard and finds a hidden path to their seldom used vaults of reason.  I hope this helps do just that.

I stole this from an email I received from ClimateTruth.org, an organization worth connecting with.  They have many more like this one.

In a new video spoof by Funny or Die, infamous conservative billionaires, the Koch brothers, pay celebrities to sing a climate change denier’s anthem to the music of “We Are the World.”

See who you recognize, then sign up to join ClimateTruth.org to fight back against the Koch brothers and all those blocking bold action on climate change.

Watch and enjoy.


http://act.climatetruth.org/sign/climatedenieranthem_share?

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Climate Change and Understanding Reforestation

Reforestation


Read this:  The The Nation magazine article below, by Eilís O’Neill, illustrates why it is so important that science be the guiding force in our collective actions regarding scientific problems, particularly climate change. Having someone who doesn’t believe in climate change, like Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, as the ranking member of the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is just so very dangerous.  But we are currently stuck with him.  As the world focuses on climate change in Paris we can only hope intelligent minds prevail.

O’Neill’s article examines the complexities related to attempts to reforest major rain forests in many of the poorer countries around the world.  Having been drastically reduced by man’s search for quick, short term profits, the results, as we know, have been massive increases in CO2.  As science and governments attempt to find solutions, they often go astray, doing nothing to curtail the problem and often exacerbating it.

One story focuses on a Uruguay farmer, Francisco Ferber who planted “1,000 acres of trees, which could be harvested within a decade and sold for firewood, paper, poles, and posts … benefits and subsidies offered by Uruguay’s Forestry Law of 1987 made the option tempting. The law forgave property taxes on land covered with native forest or a tree farm—so, by covering half their land with eucalyptus, the Ferbers could dramatically reduce their taxes.”  Sounds like a simple solution, especially to the non scientist (i.e. Sen. Inhofe), but it is much more complicated that it seemed.  The facts are that “Planting trees locks up carbon in the trunks—for a long time, if they’re left standing or used to make furniture or buildings. If they’re used for toilet paper or paper napkins, the carbon returns to the atmosphere as soon as the product starts to decompose—but even that can have its advantages, because tree farms can help take pressure off old-growth forests … (and) … Planting trees, reforesting, restoration are an essential element for Latin America to be able to reduce its carbon footprint.”  Part of the problem is that “planting a tree is not always a good thing. It depends on what species gets planted and where, who plants it, and who owns the land.”  Intelligent, experts need to be in change of these efforts and politicians, worldwide, need to rely on that expertise.  Even so, they will sometimes get things wrong.  Additionally, we need to beware of the “expertise” within the corporate world, where other, often misguided agendas invariably dominate.

The article needs to be read in total to get a real feel.


http://www.thenation.com/article/when-planting-trees-hurts-the-environment/

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 Socialize American Housing: A Sensible Idea, Except For the Wealthy

Image result for Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative images


Read this:  Socialistic ideas abound, but today, here in the USA, they are avoided like the plague.  At the same time we have so many “social” problems (poverty, homelessness, etc.) maybe we should be a bit more open to ideas and methods we haven’t looked at for a long time.  Increases in inequality and homelessness seem to be very closely related and in order to make any significant changes we may need to look seriously at the system of “wealth, rights, and property” that is taken for granted in America and throughout much of the world.  The article linked below by Jesse A. Myerson, writing for The Nation magazine does just that.  His premise says: ” The true culprit is so deeply embedded in American notions of wealth, rights, and property that we cannot see it for the terrible economy policy it is: private housing. Real estate as a store of private wealth is the rotten tree that sprouts these diseased branches, and the solution is to quit pruning twigs and chop the sucker down.”  He goes on to “propose some models and policies that can (make a difference).  As a matter of fact several of these are already working.  While many are taking place outside the USA, there are successes here as well.  To understand how this can work you have to grasp the concept of separating private housing into its’ two primary parts: real estate (or land) and the structure (or home).   “Land, save the bits beneath one’s feet, can’t be ‘possessed,’ as a phone or a shirt can. What a “land owner” possesses is a deed … that if challenged, the federal government … (will) back up (or protect).”  Myerson suggests this is artificial and “the entire apparatus by which housing is privately ‘owned’ is created by the government’s decisions to subsidize or protect certain interests.”  As inequality has gotten out of control this process has invariably leveraged the wills of the wealthy, at the expense of the poor and powerless.  “Treating real estate as privately owned wealth, as a financial asset, has devastating public effects”.

Myerson’s solution (which is already in progress in various places and countries) is for government (We The People) to “turn land and housing stock toward the public good”.  Here are some concepts and examples:

  • “Pennsylvania ha(s) … a two-tiered property tax, wherein the assessed value of the location is taxed at a higher rate than the assessed value of the building. For best results, 100 percent of the location price should be confiscated and invested in a sovereign wealth fund, the way Alaska’s oil royalties are”
  • “An exclusion fee effectively makes the land public, leaving the ‘owners’ of the buildings without a way to collect more in rental income than the building, distinct from the land, is worth”
  • “There is no reason to suspect that a given property-development capitalist should be more capable of determining for a community what optimally desirable new buildings to produce than the community itself … (with) boards typically composed at least one-third of residents”
  • “Bostons’ … Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) established a community land trust that has democratically directed a renovation project resulting in hundreds of affordable-housing units and other public spaces, among them community centers, new schools, a community greenhouse, parks, and playgrounds.”
  • There are other models such as one in Vienna, Austria where, because of “its erstwhile socialist government (‘Red Vienna,’ 1918–34), the City of Vienna is the largest landowner in all of Austria. On its land, the city government provides comfortable housing (whose units might be high-end condos in the United States) not just to poor and working-class people but to virtually half the city.”

When the pilgrims tried to purchase land from the Wampanoag people one of the native leaders said “What is this you call property? … It cannot be the earth, for the land is our Mother…. everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How then can one man say it belongs to him only?”  This all suggests, if not shouts “socialism”, which is still THE WORD THAT SHALL NOT BE SPOKEN in American politics. We all know this is hogwash so why do we accept it?  Most of our successful national programs have a socialistic basis.  It is time we acknowledge this socialistic fact and implement changes that are needed and that will benefit all of society, not continue to add to the leverage of the wealthy and powerful.

Read the entire article and you may start to think THIS COULD WORK.


http://www.thenation.com/article/how-to-get-rid-of-your-landlord-and-socialize-american-housing-in-3-easy-steps/

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Aliso Canyon: Natural Gas Leak Another Unnecessary Disaster

Natural Gas - Aliso Cyn Protest


Read this:  Once again, a news story you need to search for when it should be unavoidable.  The rupture at Aliso Canyon natural gas storage site in Southern CA. “It’s the climate equivalent of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico: the rupture of a natural gas storage site in California that is spewing vast amounts of methane into the atmosphere and is likely to go unchecked for three months.”  The industries’ solution: make the story go away, then deal with the problem, maybe.  The leak occurred on 10-23-15, but we sure haven’t heard much about it.  Naturally, the resulting assumption ends up being that it must not have been much of a problem. However, the reality of this breach, near Porter Ranch in the San Fernando Valley is not small.  It’s consequences are alarming:

  1. It “has forced the relocation of hundreds of families, who complained of headaches, nosebleeds and nausea from the rotten-egg smell of the odorant added to the gas to aid in leak detection.”
  2. The leak “now accounts for at least a quarter of California’s emissions of methane – a far more powerful climate-altering gas than carbon dioxide.”
  3. “Already, the ruptured storage facility has released well over the equivalent of 800,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide – about the same amount that would be generated by driving 160,000 cars for a year, according to the California Air Resources Board.”
  4. “Methane is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a climate-altering gas, in the short-term.”  And this one is big

“The time lag and the scale of the breach brought immediate comparisons to BP’s oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11, caused lasting environmental damage to the marine wildlife and environment, and took three months to bring under control.”  Excuses abound regarding the difficulty of plugging the leak as well as determining any realistic timetable.  Consensus is “plugging the well won’t be quick.”  This kind of reckless use of our environment by the fossil fuels industry must stop and coverage of these problems must be diligent and accurate.  We have to make it so this industry cannot afford to chance these mistakes and that doesn’t even deal with the main problem, climate change.  Read the entire article from The Guardian, by Suzanne Goldenberg for more details.


http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/04/california-natural-gas-leak-methane-climate-change-old-infrastructure

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US Inequality Requires a New Math: Wealth of 20 > Wealth of 152 Million

Inequality - 20 Wealthiest


Read this:  Sometimes you just can’t seem to make a point sink in.  One of the best examples of this is the importance of inequality as one of the major obstacles to a functioning democracy.  No matter how often inequality is cited people just say wow and go about their business.  Where is the outrage, the calls for action, the refusal to continue?  To make a point, on inequality, we often talk about the wealth of the Forbes 400, the top 1 % or the or the top .01 %.  Forget all that.  The article in link below from The Nation Magazine, by Joshua Holland gives us some of the newest data on wealth and inequality and it is obscene.  A “report released on Wednesday by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) reveals. According to ‘Billionaire Bonanza: The Forbes 400 and the Rest of Us,’ just the twenty individuals at the top of the pile—a group that could fit into a Gulfstream G650 luxury jet, according to the study’s authors—now control more wealth than the bottom half of the population. That’s 152 million people living in 57 million households.”

Remarkably, “Chuck Collins … (a) co-author of the report, tells The Nation that their study likely underestimates the scope of the problem.”  You have to be kidding.  NOPE!  “So much wealth among the über-rich is hidden, either in offshore tax havens or in these loophole trusts where money is shuffled around into private corporate accounts or between different family members, and it disappears from taxation or any sort of oversight or accountability.”  Collins says “it is only getting worse” siting several related factors:

  • “893,914 avoidable deaths per year – compared with those other economies. That’s more unnecessary deaths than are associated with tobacco use, car accidents, and gun deaths combined”
  • Demise of our social fabric – as “people create mythologies about each other—like the ‘makers versus takers’ rhetoric that reared its ugly head during the 2012 presidential election”
  • Detrimental national policy changes – ” Those at the very top didn’t become three times as smart or lucky or good-looking in the intervening years. They’ve benefited from changes in things like trade policy, the tax code, and collective-bargaining rules—all policy changes they’ve used their wealth to champion.”
  • political connections: “our elected officials are highly sensitive to the interests of the wealthiest Americans (and overwhelmingly belong to that group themselves), pay some attention to those of the middle class—and the views of the poor don’t factor into legislators’ voting tendencies at all.”

Where does this all end?  ” Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, argues that sky-high inequality in the Middle East is a major reason terrorist groups like ISIS find fertile ground for recruitment.”  If we are to keep this from eventually happening here, in the US, change needs to come from We The People and maybe it will.  The absurdity of this wealth disparity may eventually sink in.  Finally, the article concludes with hope saying “People are realizing that a certain amount of inequality is part of how our society works, but these are absurdly extreme levels of inequality, … And while we can talk all day about policy fixes, those things won’t matter unless we actually build a movement to tax wealth and invest it in things that create opportunity for everyone else.”


http://www.thenation.com/article/20-people-now-own-as-much-wealth-as-half-of-all-americans/

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Why Is the United States “A Democracy In Name Only”?

Democracy


Read this:  Sometimes we need a different discussion to find a way into the minds of people stuck in the abyss of political party dogmas.  Maybe then a new perspective is possible, at least for a few.  I stumbled on the article linked below on a site called AlterNet, by Adam Johnson, where he looks at some of the limiting factors in a democracy.  He starts by attacking a common assumption that “in a democracy people get the leaders they deserve.”.  To this he rebuts “we get the Democracy our elites give us”. Johnson then says “It would be true, of course, if ‘Democracy’ existed in a friction less vacuum. But it doesn’t.”

Johnson goes on to analyze many of these points of friction, that restrict the ability of democracy to function.  A couple of them follow here:

  • “Any democracy coupled with unfettered capitalism will not, by definition, be a healthy one”. He sites a study concluding that “the preferences of economic elites have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of the average citizens do.”
  • There is the need of any democracy to have an independent press and (there are) concerns where this is jeopardized by increasing presence of propaganda.  Here in the US, the majority of our national media is owned by 4-5 corporations – not a sign of an independent media.  He sites “the father of public relations, Edward Bernays, in his seminal 1928 book (saying), ‘The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country’.”

This is a very good article to get you thinking and wondering how we can make our democracy more than just a word we blindly use to describe the US form of government.  As Bernie Sanders is saying, what we need is a political revolution in America and we must all participate.


http://www.alternet.org/no-we-dont-get-democracy-we-deserve-why-toxic-idea-needs-die

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Real Progressives: Not Pretty But Effective, Need Our Support & Emmulation

Ralph Nader - Rebel


Read this:  Our political leaders have, too often, become another celebrity.  We need to resist this.  They don’t need to be the most attractive.  We shouldn’t want to “have a beer or barbecue with them” as people often said about GW.  After all, that didn’t go so well.  Instead, we need our leaders to consistently do the right thing for us, for the majority, for those with no voice, for democracy.  We need them to fight back against power and not give in when the going gets tough.  We need them to make us think differently, really leading by example.  We need them to show us what is required when participating in a democracy. Some of our best leaders / advocates are taken for granted, particularly if their most famous accomplishments were a while ago.  Real Progressive leaders need to be rebels and a powerful example of all of this has been and continues to be the “ultimate consumer advocate” Ralph Nader.

The link below, from The Nation, by Mark Green takes a more detailed look at this rebel.  “On the 50th anniversary of Unsafe at Any Speed, (Green takes) a look at how (Nader’s) … work launched the consumer-rights, corporate-accountability, and other citizen movements.”  Nader is often blunt, sometimes offensive and many Americans view him negatively.  This is where Green’s article comes in. Discover what Nader has done for the American public.  Like the protections we all now take for granted and the actions we don’t hear much about.  New efforts as well as those he has been doing since he first started back in 1964. His first big report was a safety analysis of the GM, Chevy Corvair.  Amazingly when he “received a $3,000 advance from a small New York publisher and had a near-finished manuscript in mid-1964 when he left the only copy in a cab.” That didn’t stop this real progressive advocate.  “He (just) rewrote it from scratch”.  No big deal.  His story is amazing.  “If there had been no Ralph Nader, there probably would not have been a consumer-rights and corporate-accountability movement, or at least nothing remotely resembling the hundreds of organizations, laws, and books that have sprung from his initiatives.”  We need more leaders, like Ralph, stepping up for real democratic ideals (not just on the consumer side) but in every part of life in a democratic society.  Read the article and check out his web site.  Support leaders like Nader, “Real Progressive leaders” particularly in public office.


http://www.thenation.com/article/how-ralph-nader-changed-america/

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