Archive for March, 2016
Read this: I am constantly wondering how to find ways to get sensible progressive messages to the majority of Americans. Evidently others do as well. It seems former secretary of labor Robert Reich thinks the same way. Different from me however, he has and continues to find and utilize a variety of methods to do just that. Many of these are very well done like: a variety of 3 minute videos (that he illustrates himself), appearing on multiple talk shows (representing progressive views with some real clout), a weekly radio show (with some of his students) and of course he writes (frequently). The hurdle continues to be, how to get these in front of a lot more people.
The article below from Salon.com demonstrates a different kind of writing. Here he fictionally depicts a future, that “predicts a People’s Party rising … to challenge the political establishment”. The interesting thing is that this all takes place because of the stupidity and blind arrogance of the party leaders in both of our main parties in the 2016 election. After the election, “both Republican and Democratic political establishments breathed palpable sighs of relief, and congratulated themselves on remaining in control of the nation’s politics.” They quickly go ” back to doing what they had been doing before.” This time however, they end up becoming the catalyst for the rise of the “People’s Party (winning) the U.S. presidency and a majority of both houses of Congress in 2020”. Change, bringing the majority of both parties together, actually happens.
Oh if only it could be! Read the entire short article and dream – no get active. Maybe a full length movie could tell this story as well.
My thoughts: I have been a Bernie Sanders supporter from day one. I have to admit I was not real optomistic and that says more about me than Bernie. After all, I have been listening to him for years and have always been impressed. Whether it was seeing him give the speech I would like to have given on the Senate floor, seeing him bluntly say it like it is on some TV news show or listening to him on Thom Hartman’s weekly “Lunch With Bernie”, he has continually represented, the left, the powerless, the voiceless and most of all – ME. I feel he represent the real heart of democracy. I think this is what many of us liberals, progressives or whatever we call ourselves think as we watch Bernie’s campaign slowly gain momentum.
We are all wondering “could it really happen?” Talking with friends, most tend to cling to the predictions of the media. He won’t have enough, even if he gets in he wouldn’t be able accomplish anything, blah, blah, blah. I start to lose my cool and these conversations frustrates the @#&# out of me. When someone has cancer do we just say give up and die? Most people want to analyze politics like it is a business, or a sport or some other thing easily reduced to statistics and analytics. After an election this often appears to be true and with the massive influence of various streams of propaganda, often pushed by our major networks, it is amazing it ever varies from any predictable, statistical outcome. But the funny thing is, it sometimes does and often the really important changes happen like this. A recent example was the change nationally regarding marriage equality. That was never supposed to happen, or at least not for a long time, but it did and it happened very rapidly.
The article below from The Nation Magazine, by John Nichols recaps some recent victories by the Sanders campaign as he narrows the gap with Hillary Clinton. It is largely told from the positive perspective of the Sanders campaign and why not? The rest of the media sure ain’t gonna give that view. Really big and important changes probably don’t follow normal patterns. They kind of gain a life of their own and then “We The People” wake up a little bit and say “Yeah”, “That’s Right”, “Go”. We start to pay attention. We stop, watch and listen. Kind of like the little bird that perched on Bernie’s podium up in Washington the other night. I guess it heard something interesting and took a little listen – short though it was.
I sure hope that symbolism is valid and not lost on us as a nation.
Read this: “If you get the chemistry wrong, it doesn’t matter how many landmark climate agreements you sign or how many speeches you give.” Those are serious words from Bill McKibben of 350.org in The Nation Magazine article linked below. The thing is we evidently have been getting a very big part of the causes of Climate Change very wrong. While we have been focusing on CO2, “its’ nasty little brother methane CH4, has recently been getting some serious press”. Most of this is because of a February report from Harvard. The “explosive paper in Geophysical Research Letters …(uses) satellite data and ground observations … concluding that the nation as a whole is leaking methane in massive quantities.” Consensus seems to be that “the core problem … is the rapid spread of fracking.”
As we have moved away from coal and to a lesser extent oil (the largest CO2 producers) we have replaced them with natural gas (less CO2 but basically unmeasured quantities of methane CH4). The reason this is so bad is that “molecule for molecule, this unburned methane is much, much more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.” The EPA had been denying the increase in methane, “but it turns out, as some scientists have been insisting for years, the EPA was wrong.” So what does this do to the gains we have made in recent years? “These leaks are big enough to wipe out a large share of the gains from the Obama administration’s work on climate change—all those closed coal mines and fuel-efficient cars. In fact, it’s even possible that America’s contribution to global warming increased during the Obama years.” Furthermore, “it undercuts the promises we made at the climate talks in Paris. It’s a disaster—and one that seems set to spread.”
Here are some key points covered by this very good, but troubling article:
- Understanding how we got here,
- How fracking works,
- The miscalculation because of focusing only on CO2,
- The lure of natural gas being cheaper,
- Ignorantly promoting natural gas ,
- Push on the east coast to extensively frack the Marcellus Shale which attracted the attention of a couple of Cornell scientists …living on the northern edge of the Marcellus Shale, Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea,
- The fact about methane: Though it produces only half as much carbon as coal when you burn it, if you don’t—if it escapes into the air before it can be captured in a pipeline, or anywhere else along its route to a power plant or your stove—then it traps heat in the atmosphere much more efficiently than CO2,
- Politically, no one in power wanted to hear this, would be an understatement, so instead they attack the scientists even though new research kept backing up Howarth and Ingraffea,
- New worries: about the effects of methane in any quantity on the atmosphere. Everyone agrees that, molecule for molecule, methane traps far more heat than CO2 —but exactly how much wasn’t clear,
- The good news: a methane molecule lasts only a couple of decades in the air, compared with centuries for CO2,
- The bad news: Instead of peaking in 2007 and then trending downward, as the EPA has maintained, our combined emissions of methane and carbon dioxide have gone steadily and sharply up during the Obama years,
McKibben says “One obvious conclusion from the new data is that we need to move very aggressively to plug as many methane leaks as possible. ‘The biggest unfinished business for the Obama administration is to establish tight rules on methane emissions from existing [wells and drill sites].'” Furthermore we must remember that “containing the leaks is easier said than done … (as the) catastrophic blowouts like the recent one at Porter Ranch in California (demonstrated)”. More than any other tactic, “we need to stop the fracking industry in its tracks, here and abroad.” We must aggressively move to renewables now.
There is much more in the article. Read, remember and become active.
Read this: The news abounds with stories about the problems in our economy. Those in power too often rush to curtail social programs in the name of austerity. Something’s not working. “Many jobs are now part-time, flexi-time, or “gigs” with no benefits and few protections. And, we spend a lot of money to subsidize” more and more of us and resenting them simultaneously. There are lots of people talking about expanding the welfare state while others try hard to eliminate as much of it as possible.
While inequality spreads like the plague, it is obvious that something has to change. New ideas need to be explored. The attached article “Welcome To The Post-Work Economy” found in co.exist, by Ben Schiller, takes a close look at Finland’s attempt to try something quite different. They are attempting to universally protect everyone from changes in technology, etc. that are beyond their control. The system is called a “universal basic income” (UBI)—where the state gives everyone enough to live on. This would put a floor under the class of people we’re calling the ‘precariat,’ people for whom work doesn’t lead to increased financial security. It would free us from the bullshit, allowing everyone to benefit from automation, not just the lucky few.” Yes this is a very different kind of protection. Of course critics are everywhere suggesting “it’s unaffordable, impractical, and liable to lead to millions of layabouts living off the government dime—and perhaps they’re right. These criticisms are reasonable. But before dismissing UBI too quickly, it’s important to consider the idea not in the context of our current economy, but of what the economy could become in the future.” After all technology continues to change and often does a poor job (at best) of preparing us for the consequences. What will the new economy look like and how will we become prepared?
Schiller says we “need to read Postcapitalism, a profound and important book by Paul Mason, a British economist and journalist. Mason makes the case for UBI, among a larger set of changes necessitated by the failure of the current system.” A couple key points:
- “We need to move towards a “postcapitalist” economy, where working for money loses its centrality, where goods, information, and intellectual property are shared, and where economic actors collaborate in new ways,”
- He “shows how current economic orthodoxy—based around “free markets,” globalization and an oversized role for the financial services industry—isn’t some historical end-state, perfecting everything that went before. Rather, it’s the result of a particular set of choices, starting in the 1980s, that advantage some people over others.”
The article continues citing many factors that make UBI something we need to consider, such as : “inherent instability of the current system”, “cheap money where the seeds of debt-derived disaster are being replanted”, “Western capitalism’s fantasy with the financialization of debt”, “intellectual goods (informational / software) are intrinsically different from physical goods (car)”, “In time, technology is likely to drive many things to ‘zero marginal cost'”, “belief by leaders today that the market must set the limits of climate action”.
Mason says “we should socialize aspects of the finance industry (to stop it from taking all the profits while leaving society with bail-out bills), socialize information (so Google and Facebook don’t enjoy information asymmetry), encourage collaborative work and nonprofits, and nationalize utilities.” A basic income is key in a non-market economy, and “it would stop people from having to do things that machines can do more easily and more safely.”
Open your mind. Read and consider something very different.
Watch / Read: In the following Democracy Now interview, Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman interview journalist Greg Palast, exploring an example of what many would call a classic example of “Vulture Capitalism”. In this case longtime Republican fundraiser Paul Singer is the big winner, or maybe “vulture”, when “Argentina … reached an agreement to pay U.S. hedge funds that have sought for 14 years to profit off the country’s economic crisis.” As with many similar cases the obvious questions involve fairness, excessive profit and the victims (people of Argentina). “The deal would see the hedge funds take about 75 percent of what they demanded from Argentina—several times more than what they actually paid for the debt. Singer’s fund itself netted $2.4 billion—10 to 15 times its original investment.” Making things even more interesting is the fact that Singer is one of Republican Presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s biggest endorsers, calling into question what Republicans think about such “vulture like” activities. Similar actions are being attempted state by state in the USA, for example Michigan’s water catastrophe in Flint.
Watch this: Every once in a while it is worthwhile to review some things that are, well, worth reviewing. The basic concepts suggested in Naomi Klein‘s book The Shock Doctrine / The Rise of Disaster Capitalism definitely meets this criteria, in my opinion.
While I would definitely encourage anyone, who has not, to read the book, I know that time is often a scarce commodity and for many reading will simply not happen. I recently found a quick alternative that gives a brief overview, with a little extra content related to issues such as inequality. This is a short YouTube video where Klein reviews the thesis of the book. Here she says that “we have entered a new phase of Disaster Capitalism, that uses the shock and awe of various national events to impose what economists call economic shock therapies” on the country or people least able to defend themselves. Often, if not usually, these economic actions end up not in the best interests of the people concerned. They, however, are usually wonderful for the wealthy people, corporations and banks that force them into being.
Watch this: This is a short video in the series The Zero Hour with RJ Esko, where he is discussing retirement benefits with Monique Morrissey from the Economic Policy Institute. Morrissey’s areas of interest include Social Security, pensions and other employee benefits, household savings, tax expenditures, older workers, public employees, unions and collective bargaining, Medicare, institutional investors, corporate governance, executive compensation, financial markets, and the Federal Reserve. Together they discuss “The State of American Retirement” and conclude “It Is Pretty Bad”.
Some of the key points are:
- “We have moved to a 401K system which magnifies inequality”,
- “The inequality has not been random – some groups have fared far better than others”,
- “25 years after we began moving from pensions to 401Ks, pensions are still providing 6 times the benefits of 401Ks”,
- “For most Americans the post WWII benefits peaked with the infamous 3-legged stool (savings, pensions & Social Security) but has now been whittled down to a single leg (Social Security)”,
- “Annual expansion of Social Security ended in 1983 (Reagan years again) and have not resumed that practice, while at the same time we were supplanting secure pensions with risky 401Ks”
Here are some things Morrissey says we need to do:
- “Make Social Security stronger and annually adjusted”,
- “Make our 401K system more like pensions were: stronger, better, safer”,
- “The pensions that exist (particularly public) are under attack and they need to be protected and strengthened”,
- “We need to develope plans for workers who typically get nothing through their employer (California’s new ‘Clear Choice Plan’ is an early attempt)”.
Esko recalls a CEO in an old interview saying: “I want to give emloyees less but make them think it is more”. And with the magical powers of writing the laws enacted by our government, this has basically happened. This is a key part in the “story of growing inequality” and particularly the covert redistribution of wealth. Of course “we have tended to blame the victims instead of focusing on a system that just isn’t working”.
There are a slew of other facts, many of which are very disturbing. Watch the video and recall it when making your political choices.
Read this: Here is another piece of evidence telling us that climate change is real and we better pay attention. The article below from The Daily KOS, by Meteor Blades relays the latest information from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The study shows that “the winter of 2015-2016 was the warmest winter ever recorded for the 48 contiguous states in the 122 years records have been kept”. Even for our “I’m not a scientist crowd this should mean something”.
The study lists many different indicators all of which show hot, dire results. Some of these were:
- “December-February average temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 36.8°F, 4.6°F above the 20th century average, surpassing the previous record of 36.5°F set in 1999/2000”,
- “all six New England states were record warm, and there was only one tiny speck of blue on the entire wintertime temperature map of the lower 48, though you’d probably need a magnifying glass to find it. (Hint: It’s near Yellowstone National Park.)”,
- “Alaska’s winter was more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal”
The authors opinions are blunt but hopeful summing things as they say: “It’s happening, and it’s going to get worse. But impacts can be ameliorated if we take action to keep fossil fuels in the ground, something that can only be achieved if we rapidly transform our energy, transportation, and agricultural systems. And if we dump the deniers and delayers in Congress (largely Republicans but there are always a few Democrats to worry about), in state legislatures, and—harder still, obviously—in industry. The alternative is grim.”
Read the article then use it to counter your denying friends.