Saturday, December 04, 2010

Emerson for the Day

"I saw how long it must be before the soul can learn to act under these limitations of time and space, and human nature; but I saw also, that it must do it.”

Margaret Fuller

Friday, December 03, 2010


As a consequence of one of the few "real" jobs I ever had (the kind with a salary, an office, daily series of mind-destroying meetings, etc.), I went on my only "real" vacation (paid, winter, flew, sunny place, hotel, restaurants, shops, sunburn) in Cancun. This was so many years ago that if the babe in the bottom photo was there, she'd be in her forties or fifties now. But the hotel in the top photo (a smaller version of it anyway) was where I stayed. It was the winter after a hurricane mashed the place, and they were anxious for tourists to come back, so it was unbelievably cheap. And though the beaches had been damaged some, they still existed. Apparently these days, as the international Climate Crisis Convention (or whatever they call it) is happening there...not so much.

The beaches are disappearing in Cancun, thanks in large part to direct and indirect effects of global heating. But the Climate Crisis is well beyond such ironies. That the reality doesn't matter seems to be a given. So the norm is clashing headlines like Study: Climate change to cause extreme world drought (USA TODAY)meets Climate Change Doubt Is Tea Party Article of Faith (with its nice play on "faith," in the New York Times).

As everyone knows, political opposition has kept the U.S. from leading or doing anything much through congressional legislation, and that's only going to get worse when John "Voldemort" Banal becomes Speaker, and the Death Eater Party is the majority. But we're not alone--our shining country to the north disconcertingly mirrored our intransigence last month: Canada senate kills climate bill ahead of UN summit noted BBC News.

And so expectations for what the summit in Cancun can accomplish is very low--it's pretty much that Cancun can't. What is specifically at issue, what increments may show some progress, are summarized here. Some scientists even remain hopeful, either because they see incremental progress (even if others have noted that incremental progress is unlikely to be sufficient) or they take a longer view (even if that presupposes a future that may not be there.) For example, the ICCC's Rajendra Pachauri who claims:

"I am not terribly dismayed about the current state of affairs," Pachauri said. "I believe the trend is clearly toward much greater understanding and awareness on climate change than was the case three or four years ago. I personally feel very optimistic about the youth all over the world, including the US, who feel very sensitive about some of these issues. ..There's a lot of disinformation, which is driving current attitudes, and these things don't last," he added.

Meanwhile, Oxfam reports that "climate-related disasters killed 21,000 people in the first nine months of this year, more than double the number in 2009..." and "The summit takes place against the backdrop of forecasts that carbon emissions are set to start rising again after a brief interlude from the recession, and analyses showing that countries' current pledges are not big enough to keep the global average temperature rise within bounds that most nations say they want."

Since controlling carbon and encouraging clean energy are linked economically as well as ecologically, the United States is confronted with another problem that the Party of Ignorance and Hypocrisy is intent on ignoring: the U.S. is losing any chance of leadership in global clean energy technologies to other nations, particularly China. (This piece also provides some play-by-play on the Can'tcun not-goingson.)

This fact has distressed U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, as well as others who have been paying attention (just sample the comments to that story.) He says it should be our "Sputnik moment," i.e. the fact that galvanizes us into action, basically by scaring us to death. I'll at least give him credit for not calling it a "wake-up call," as every story about rising temperatures and sea levels, melting glaciers etc. is supposed to be, but hasn't been. There are good reasons why this isn't a Sputnik moment (we're not threatened with imminent nuclear holocaust from the sky by a sworn and highly propagandized enemy, for starters) but it does somewhat indicate why we're in this fix. Scientists typically don't have a grasp of political and social realities, and a field rightly following the lead of scientists has no vocabulary that has succeeded in communicating urgency or moral responsibility.

As much as the continuing inability to communicate effectively really distresses me (the current mind-numbing mumbling over "mitigation" vs. "adaptation" being the latest case in point--do they really think anybody knows what they're talking about?), that's unlikely to be most of what's gone wrong. We sure could use some plain talk and some real moral leadership. But the gap between demonstrable realities and public "belief" is so extreme, that this must be mostly in the realm of the psyche, involving politics built around psychological responses, and perhaps even rising to the status of large groups captured by a psychological complex on a massive scale, as were many in Germany and western Europe as the Nazis rose to power. Whatever it is, I don't think it has reached its fullness yet, and I kind of doubt that anything--any disastrous event even--will change that until it has played itself out, or has reached a point where a disaster or the right words at the right time by the right person throws enough cold water in humanity's face to wake us all up to these realities, and our fate.

Of course I have no idea when this will be, or what difference it will make if and when it happens. But I doubt it will be in Can'tcun.

Thursday, December 02, 2010


She's one of the most reviled people in America, and quite possibly the most reviled woman. A Google search of photos of her yields results that are overwhelming unflattering, and mostly just vicious. But she has been the most effective Democratic Speaker of the House in generations, and a true champion of the future. Today was probably her last hurrah, and she stuck it to those champions of ignorance and perfidity, the GOPers of the House.

TPM: "Using a wily procedural maneuver to tie Republican hands, House Democrats managed to pass, by a vote of 234-188, legislation that will allow the Bush tax cuts benefiting only the wealthiest Americans to expire."

Apparently the Senate is very unlikely to follow suit. But it's worth it to have this rare last moment, when somebody stands up for the change we believed in. Nancy Pelosi, I salute you.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

“Are you jealous of the ocean’s generosity?
Why would you refuse to give
this joy to anyone?

Fish don’t hold the sacred liquid in cups!
They swim the huge fluid freedom.”


Airport Security Follies

The inestimable, irrepressible Jon Carroll weighs in on the airport security follies in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Politics of Downward Bound

This apparently is going to be the familiar theme for the near future: self-destructive governing based on psychotic politics, in a decadent political system out of touch with reality.

First example of the day: Congress is not renewing unemployment benefits, which apart from the unforgivable cruelty in such a wealthy nation, and with excess dripping from the favored few, will take billions out of the economy and wound economic recovery, which will in turn lead to less tax money and higher government deficits--and deficits are apparently all that Washington wants to talk about.

Oh--except for the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, a major contributor to the federal deficit and the easiest to remedy. But the politics of that now favor their retention, which will be a further drag on the economy and the deficit.

Two things are happening politically: first, President Obama is being isolated by growing polarization to his left and right. It is reflected in some polls, but the true power of it is that both sides are professional politicians, and politics in this country is now primarily if not exclusively about raising money, which requires raising temperatures.

Second, the politics of the moment make so little sense that something else is going on, something deep in the American psyche. As Gov. Strictland of Ohio said, that there is not enough public support against ending the Bush tax cuts for the most wealthy boggles the mind. There's something--or several somethings--going on.

This is what we're watching, and in my case, more silently than usual in this space, as I turn my attention to other realms where dreaming up has more of a function for the future, as well as the present.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Other Crisis

It's not just the Climate Crisis that threatens the near future. It's the economic, political and social consequences of the growing divide between the supremely rich and the rest. The rich have been getting richer and everyone else poorer since the Reagan 80s. Though Clinton policies and a booming economy temporarily boosted the middle class, thanks to GB Bush policies and now the lingering effects of the Great Recession--mostly felt by the non supremely rich--the divide is getting way out of hand.

But Bob Herbert's recent column says it better than I can:

Recessions are for the little people, not for the corporate chiefs and the titans of Wall Street who are at the heart of the American aristocracy. They have waged economic warfare against everybody else and are winning big time...

The ranks of the poor may be swelling and families forced out of their foreclosed homes may be enduring a nightmarish holiday season, but American companies have just experienced their most profitable quarter ever. As The Times reported this week, U.S. firms earned profits at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the third quarter — the highest total since the government began keeping track more than six decades ago.

The corporate fat cats are becoming alarmingly rotund. Their profits have surged over the past seven quarters at a pace that is among the fastest ever seen, and they can barely contain their glee."

Herbert outlines how self-destructive this is economically, but moves on to the social consequences:

"Beyond that, extreme economic inequality is a recipe for social instability. Families on the wrong side of the divide find themselves under increasing pressure to just hold things together: to find the money to pay rent or the mortgage, to fend off bill collectors, to cope with illness and emergencies, and deal with the daily doses of extreme anxiety.

Societal conflicts metastasize as resentments fester and scapegoats are sought. Demagogues inevitably emerge to feast on the poisonous stew of such an environment

Herbert suggests that those who don't think this resentment can build should remember the 1930s. But that may be the wrong model. In the 30s, as earlier in the 20th century, it was politically potent to go after Big Business, Wall Street and the Trusts for their imperious wrecking of the economy and society. But after generations of equating such criticism with Communism, and deification of "private enterprise" as the solution for everything, it's politically tougher to aim at the supremely rich corporations so cleanly.

Instead that resentment gets translated the way corporate power prefers: the anxious white middle class scapegoats those below them (actually or traditionally) in the social order: other races and immigrants. So racism is on the rise, translated into anti-Obama fervor and such cultural expressions as the recent Dancing with the Stars debacle, in which voting Tea Partiers chose a talent-challenged Bristol Palin over the clearly more accomplished uppitedly black woman.

The black man in the White House also inflames anti-government rhetoric, thus depriving the middle class of its only institutional protection against predatory corporate power. Republicans gained power by refusing to be a governing partner, a virtually unprecedented act of unpatriotic selfishness. The combination does violence to social cohesion, the kind that is necessary in times of emergency.

Meanwhile, the governing ruling class goes on as apparently clueless as ever. Herbert cites a dandy of an example--

A stark example of the potential for real conflict is being played out in New York City, where the multibillionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has selected a glittering example of the American aristocracy to be the city’s schools chancellor. Cathleen Black, chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, has a reputation as a crackerjack corporate executive but absolutely no background in education.

Ms. Black travels in the rarefied environs of the very rich. Her own children went to private boarding schools. She owns a penthouse on Park Avenue and a $4 million home in Southampton. She was able to loan a $47,600 Bulgari bracelet to a museum for an exhibit showing off the baubles of the city’s most successful women.

Ms. Black will be peering across an almost unbridgeable gap between her and the largely poor and working-class parents and students she will be expected to serve. Worse, Mr. Bloomberg, heralding Ms. Black as a “superstar manager,” has made it clear that because of budget shortfalls she will be focused on managing cutbacks to the school system. So here we have the billionaire and the millionaire telling the poor and the struggling — the little people — that they will just have to make do with less

Making the point I just tried to make, Herbert adds his remedy:

Extreme inequality is already contributing mightily to political and other forms of polarization in the U.S. And it is a major force undermining the idea that as citizens we should try to face the nation’s problems, economic and otherwise, in a reasonably united fashion. When so many people are tumbling toward the bottom, the tendency is to fight among each other for increasingly scarce resources.

What’s really needed is for working Americans to form alliances and try, in a spirit of good will, to work out equitable solutions to the myriad problems facing so many ordinary individuals and families. Strong leaders are needed to develop such alliances and fight back against the forces that nearly destroyed the economy and have left working Americans in the lurch."