A joke

Digby:

Here’s the deal.

NASA knows humans are causing climate change and that it’s dangerous.

The Pentagon knows it.

The UN knows it.

99% of the international scientific community knows it.

We can either believe what NASA, the Pentagon, the UN, and the entire scientific community say about climate change.

Or we can believe what the paid lackeys for the oil industry, Tony Abbott, Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh say.

That’s not a debate. It’s a joke.

I can hardly disagree with this assessment. However, despite the overwhelming evidence in support of human-induced climate change, not only have the deniers had their way, no one is doing a damn thing about it. Why is that?

In my humble opinion, the failure to act has everything to do with inertia borne of collective everyday activities that to each of us seem either trivial or nonexistent. Clearly, few of us consciously record our carbon-emitting behaviors. Fewer still try to modify them. We simply do today what we did yesterday and the day before. When we awake tomorrow, repeat.

During rare moments of rationality, we may be forgiven for concluding that changing our own habits won’t even register on the larger scale. And scale here matters. Hundreds of us altering behaviors will not make a difference. Even a few thousand voluntary changes fail to improve the situation. Tipping the carbon needle backward requires millions.

But we millions in America go about our business: driving to work; keeping the lights on; flying to visit relatives; heating living space; refrigerating and cooking food; keeping computers whirring. We will not change. Perhaps we cannot.

Some of us realize that arresting climate change demands government action. The simplest fix—establishing a carbon tax then letting people, utilities, businesses react to avoid paying them—seems as unachievable now as it ever was. Those aforementioned deniers ensure zero progress on that front. Absent the tax (or its weaker alternative, cap-and-trade) we have no incentive to modify behavior, save for assuaging our guilt, I suppose.

Nevertheless, let’s imagine Obama or his successor boldly campaigning for a carbon tax. Let’s also imagine that enough people in Congress sign on. Would we applaud and support the effort? Or would we take the next opportunity to “throw the bums out”?

Yet, if we think about this for a bit, we may justifiably conclude that our political leaders react to us rather than the other way round. Yep, democracy, properly practiced, inverts follower and leader. As it happens, it’s when enough of us demand action in the marketplaces of either commerce or politics that things happen.

Oh, how saccharine, you say. You’re ready to put your finger down your throat. I’m resisting the urge myself, the author. But consider the polls that suggest that we both recognize the threat of climate change and, more important, support initiatives to do something about it.

Most Americans (83%) say the U.S. should make an effort to reduce global warming, even if it has economic costs.

Now we have to figure out a way to translate that sentiment into action. I’m all ears.

Reality imitating art

Digby writes about spy agencies and associated private contractors abusing surveillance data for an array of purposes. To paraphrase a politician, What’s the good in having all this data and not use it? But first…

Most of us, I should think, have suffered the disappointment of having a “favorite” TV show canceled. You and the pundits have judged the show brilliant or exceptional, but not enough of your fellow human beings agreed. So the network sends a pink slip, and you’re left to seethe and wonder what might have been had the series continued.

I experienced these feelings with the cancellation of Rubicon, which featured the fictional American Policy Institute. Composed of ex-spooks and a host of multiple-PhD employees, the Institute had secured generous contracts from the U.S. government to  decipher data accumulated from the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA, and the FBI to help thwart the next terrorist attack in the immediate post-911 era. But, of course, that was not all the Institute was about.

Its head, Truxton Spangler, belonged to a cabal of extravagantly wealthy men who had known each other since childhood. His secret purpose was to use information gathered by API to create an event that the men would exploit for financial and political gain. One enterprising analyst, the star of the show, suspected that all was not quite kosher at the firm. Of course, Spangler in turn became aware of the analyst’s probing within and without the Institute, fearing that the cabal and its nefarious deeds would be exposed. During the run-up to one artificial catastrophe or another, Spangler and his off-campus henchmen would exact collateral damage on both Institute employees and key outside individuals should they threaten the identity or misdeeds of the cabal. All good stuff, but evidently lacking in overt bloodlust and car chases cherished by the masses.

Yet, as Digby tells us, this kind of misuse is happening in real life, albeit on a less egregious scale. Maybe Rubicon was axed by the NSA, and we know what happened to Caesar.

New to inequality?

President Obama calls income inequality “the defining challenge of our time.” It’s certainly gotten worse of late, with the gap between the Haves and Have-nots as high, if not higher, than at any time in the last 100 years. I’ve written ad nauseam on the topic, embedding multiple charts to illustrate the chasm. (Just search on ‘inequality.’) But with the exception of the “relative halcyon days” of the immediate post-war period, what others call ‘the great moderation,’ the normal state of capitalism as practiced here and abroad is very much about the rich getting richer and the poor poorer.

Writing for Salon, historian Thomas Frank reminds us that inequality is nothing new to America. What’s changed is our attitude toward it. We’ve ceded the conversation to economists nowadays. In the past the people did battle to right the wrong. Frank:

To our ancestors, though, this same issue was the most basic matter of them all. What we call “inequality” they called “the social question”; the phrase denoted nothing less than the eternal conflict of rich and poor. Let us recall how they used to address the subject. Here is a famous passage from the Omaha Platform of the Populist Party, written in 1892:

The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of those, in turn, despise the republic and endanger liberty. From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes—tramps and millionaires.

Frank concludes his poignant essay:

…“Inequality” is not some minor technical glitch for the experts to solve; this is the Big One. This is the very substance of American populism; this is what has brought together movements of average people throughout our history. Offering instruction on the subject in a classroom at Berkeley may be enlightening for the kids in attendance but it is fundamentally the wrong way to take on the problem, almost as misguided as it would be if we turned the matter over to the 1 percent themselves and got a bunch of billionaires together at Davos to offer pointers on how to stop them from beating us over and over again in the game of life. (Oops — that actually happened.)

“Inequality” is the most basic issue of them all, the very reason for liberalism’s existence. It is about who we are and how we live. Virtually every other liberal cause pales by comparison. This is the World War II of political subjects, and if we are going to win it must be a people’s war, not a Combat of the Thirty between the plumèd knights of the Beltway. We owe the economists thanks for making the situation plain, but now matters must of necessity pass into other hands. If the destruction of the middle class is ever to be addressed and solved, the impetus must come from below, not from above. This is a job we have to do ourselves.

A “people’s war.” Pass it on.

Endless struggle

I admit it. Sometimes I just don’t feel like tossing a few more words into the rhetorical jungle we call ‘the blogosphere.’ For me, it’s a matter of repetition: write something about the sorry state of the world only to witness further decay—repeat.

For example, It bothers me that some people have ridiculously high financial fortunes that are placed in service to simply awful initiatives that erode the wellbeing of the Rest of Us. You name it, from educational “reform” and government austerity to blaming the poor for their own poverty.

One piece of news on the education front is the lawsuit underway in Los Angeles: Vergara v. California. The lawsuit seeks to abolish teachers’ employment rights on the grounds that students’ educations are being thwarted or undermined by allegedly lousy teachers who are impossible to fire—or so the argument runs.

Writing for Hullabaloo, David Atkins comments.

The main backers of the case against teachers are the ultra-wealthy magnates Eli Broad, Charles Schwab and Fischer family (owners of the Gap, among other things.) Billionaires have been aggressively funding education “reform” efforts for years under the theory that there’s nothing wrong with education that destroying teachers’ unions and privatizing education can’t fix. It’s important to remember that these are the same people who spent millions in 2012 trying to defeat California’s Proposition 30 to fund schools, and to pass Proposition 32 preventing unions from spending on elections while allowing corporations free rein.

He continues:

And that’s really the whole point here: destroy teachers’ unions, eliminate the possibility of the government being able to attract decent teachers, then use the resulting chaos to privatize the entire education system. The billionaires want to do this not only because private education is a big, booming business, but also because they want to change the way children are taught to make them more docile, pliable units fit for the brave new corporate workforce of the 21st century. That’s what the anti-Proposition 30 efforts were all about, and that’s what the Vergara case is all about.

It’s certainly not designed to actually help children. We already know what produces good results in education, based on examples around the world: 1) incentivizing adults to pursue a career in teaching by paying a decent salary, 2) teaching real critical thinking skills instead of rote memorization; and 3) properly funding education.

But the billionaires aren’t interested in any of that. If they get their way, the country will be much the worse it.

See what I mean about crawling into a cave from time to time?

No comments

Not that my blog entices the commentariat, reader remarks being remarkably rare. Yet I have decided to disable the comment feature. The reason is simple: I expect comments apropos of a particular post.

Recently a couple of people have opined on matters completely unrelated to anything I’ve written here. Rather, they used this blog as a means to engage me in my role as an elected official. There are other avenues for such communication.

Third Place buzz

From the New York Times, on the shuttering of British pubs:

Guy Wingate, a longtime patron, pointed to Hampstead’s fallen locals. While the village has other pubs, the Old White Bear, he said, had become the center of his community.

“You rip the heart out of that, and we’re either all going to wander the streets like zombies or stay indoors and not see each other ever again,” Mr. Wingate said over coffee at Cafe Rouge, which used to be the Bird in Hand.