Friday, March 09, 2012

Sweet Deception

Thursday was another sunny day.  The evening before, just after sunset, the southwest sky was dominated by the big and bright Venus and Jupiter, and to the north there was red Mars, now at its closest point to Earth, and near it the rising luminous full moon.

As much as I love such a night sky, and as much as I bathe in the warm sun and the cool air, I know it's not supposed to be this way, not so regularly, not in what's usually our rainy season, not in early March.  It's hard to complain about the sunniest winter I've ever experienced here (probably last winter comes in second.) There are undoubted benefits, just as there are elsewhere in the U.S. where the winter has been warm, where there has been little or no winter at all.  For instance, an oped in the New York Times recently pointed out that the warm weather has so far killed the flu season--which usually costs the economy, costs comfort and health, and costs some people their lives.

We're in the warming part of global warming, and for a lot of people in a lot of places, it's pretty sweet. (Not where the warm air helped spawn deadly tornadoes last week.)  But it's unfortunately as deceptive as that sweet name "global warming."  As I've argued for ten years now, the term makes the Climate Crisis seem too safe, and even sort of nice.  Warmth is a good thing.  When people get too warm, it's a minor inconvenience.  It's only when it's hot, when it's too hot, that things start getting serious.

And things will.  Even after this winter there will be consequences.  We may have skipped over flu season, but because of the lack of cold that slows or kills insects, we may be in for a pest-filled spring and a summer higher in disease and danger from insects.  Not to mention what this may portend for summer temperatures.

If over the next few years winters stay warm and summers get hotter (as on average they have been), we're apt to see the return of insects and other troublesome creatures in ways several generations haven't experienced.  I think of the ever-present houseflies in my childhood, that were even more of a plague in Mark Twain's day.  Though they've all but disappeared from everyday life, their presence may become greater in a hotter world, along with the diseases and other health problems they bring.  And that's just one possibility among many.

Here on the North Coast our seasonal rainfall is down by at least a third of normal, and snowpacks in the Sierras are half or less than what they should be.  We'll probably start paying for that very soon with an early fire season, and perhaps with water shortages this summer.  The long-term effect on the ecosystem--on the Redwoods--is incalculable at this point, but it's certainly not good for them.  They depend on rain, and on the moisture from fog which over the long term has itself been declining.            

This is the bittersweet effect of this warm winter, as is the higher number of Americans who suddenly believe the world is getting hotter after all.  It's hardly a matter of belief anymore, but of observation.  Even in this temporary sweet spot of the relentless change.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Your Old Road is Rapidly Aging

Some penetrating new political commentaries outline the long term and perhaps the present problem the Grand Old White Peoples Party has. 

In a piece that begins by quoting Romney's harsh position on aid to students (the headline is Pay For Your Own Damn College!), Jonathan Chiat at New York Magazine concludes: "Republicans are defending the shared cultural prerogatives of a certain group of people. That is why I am arguing that the shifting demographic tides will require the GOP to undertake a major reorientation in order to maintain its competitiveness. There’s simply no way to transpose their sense of what is and what is not a legitimate government function onto a progressively younger, browner electorate. (Latino voters overwhelmingly support Obama’s health care reform.) Their conception of us versus them can work for a while – it worked quite well with the anomalously old, white 2010 off-year electorate – but the them is rapidly outnumbering the us."

Specifically with the fastest growing population group, Latinos, GOPers are persistently and even doggedly digging themselves a black hole into which their electoral fortunes are already falling.  When asked which party supports their chance to achieve the American Dream, only 10% chose the GOWP.  President Obama beats any GOWP opponent by a factor of 6 to 1.  Said a GOP strategist  in this Monitor piece that outlines the problem, "If we don’t do better among Latinos, we are not going to be talking about how to get back Florida in the presidential race, we are going to be talking about how not to lose Texas.”

Meanwhile Josh Marshall at TPM offers the most cogent explanation for the mindset of Mitt Romney: as a businessman, his core values are bloodless business values which he freely expresses as let Detroit go bankrupt, let the housing market hit bottom, pay for your own damn college, etc.  But on other issues that don't touch this business mindset, he'll say whatever works on the principle of market testing: there's no sense trying to sell a product that your market testing tells you won't sell to the people you see as your market.  Hence his "flip-flops" on everything else.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

President Obama on War and Peace

Excerpts from President Obama's press conference on Tuesday:

"When I came into office, Iran was unified, on the move, had made substantial progress on its nuclear program, and the world was divided in terms of how to deal with it. What we’ve been able to do over the last three years is mobilize unprecedented, crippling sanctions on Iran. Iran is feeling the bite of these sanctions in a substantial way. The world is unified; Iran is politically isolated.

And what I have said is, is that we will not countenance Iran getting a nuclear weapon. My policy is not containment; my policy is to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon -- because if they get a nuclear weapon that could trigger an arms race in the region, it would undermine our non-proliferation goals, it could potentially fall into the hands of terrorists. And we’ve been in close consultation with all our allies, including Israel, in moving this strategy forward.

At this stage, it is my belief that we have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically. That’s not just my view. That’s the view of our top intelligence officials; it’s the view of top Israeli intelligence officials. And, as a consequence, we are going to continue to apply the pressure even as we provide a door for the Iranian regime to walk through where they could rejoin the community of nations by giving assurances to the international community that they’re meeting their obligations and they are not pursuing a nuclear weapon.

That’s my track record. Now, what’s said on the campaign trail -- those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities. They’re not Commander-in-Chief. And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war. I’m reminded that the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy.

This is not a game. There’s nothing casual about it. And when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we’ve been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that’s more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.

Now, the one thing that we have not done is we haven’t launched a war. If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk."
[ ]

"And so this notion that somehow we have a choice to make in the next week or two weeks, or month or two months, is not borne out by the facts... And so I do think that any time we consider military action that the American people understand there's going to be a price to pay. Sometimes it's necessary. But we don't do it casually.

When I visit Walter Reed, when I sign letters to families that haven't -- whose loved ones have not come home, I am reminded that there is a cost. Sometimes we bear that cost. But we think it through. We don't play politics with it. When we have in the past -- when we haven't thought it through and it gets wrapped up in politics, we make mistakes. And typically, it's not the folks who are popping off who pay the price. It's these incredible men and women in uniform and their families who pay the price.

And as a consequence, I think it's very important for us to take a careful, thoughtful, sober approach to what is a real problem. And that's what we've been doing over the last three years. That's what I intend to keep doing."

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Stupor Tuesday: The Death of Mr. Inevitable

There he was confidently smiling up on the high wire, stepping off and...oh no!  Mr. Inevitable goes splat.

It's pretty clear after Stupor Tuesday's voting that the GOPer base does not want Richie Richney as their presidential candidate.  For Richney to transform once again into the superhero Mr. Inevitable, he needed to spin around three times while chanting the magic words: I won Tennessee!  I won Ohio!  But instead he lost Tennessee, by a lot, to Little Ricky Sanctimonious, who also beat him in Oklahoma and North Dakota.  They essentially tied in Ohio, though Richney gets the victory by a few thousand votes with a surge late in the evening.  But that it took all night testifies to his weakness. 

Why was the CPW so wrong about Stupor Tuesday?  Partly because the most conservative voters--the ones who consider anything other than Fox and Rush to be the lamestream media--like to lie to pollsters, or avoid them altogether.  Partly because vote totals combine early and absentee ballots and voting day ballots, in an apparently volatile year when choices change from week to week, and now from hour to hour (polling showed Richney gaining over the weekend, but Tuesday "deciders" breaking for Ricky) so polls and CPW predictions are pretty useless.  But one conclusion that the CPW may make in the next few days is that the hostility towards Romney by the Christian Right GOPer base remains very strong, and apparently impervious to Establishment endorsements and endlessly repeated negative ads. 

Richney won more delegates than anyone Tuesday, so he is still the frontrunner.  But even with all this week's high profile endorsements, and even with outspending everybody else by at something like 10 to 1, he could not put Sanctimonious away, and Casino Newt won Georgia pretty easily too.

So here's where things stand in the GOPer nominating circus: nobody can win enough delegates by primary and caucus elections to have a winning majority before the convention.  The Richney people conceded today that he couldn't.  And there does not appear to be a way that any of the other candidates can either.  This is going to the GOPer convention without a numerical winner.  (Richney won the Virginia primary, where his only opponent was Ron Paul, because the other candidates fumbled the eligibility requirements.  Less than 6% of GOPers voted in that primary.)

Richney cannot get the votes of the non-rich and Evangelicals.  Combine the votes of Little Ricky and Casino Newt, and Richney is toast in most of these states.  But while Ricky's folks are going to try to convince Gingles folks that he should drop out in favor of Ricky, it's unlikely to happen.  Casino Newt can see that Ricky can't possibly get to the convention with enough delegates, even if they combine forces.  But if nobody has the nom by convention time, Gingles goes there with the power of his delegates, and at least theoretically becomes a kingmaker. 

I remember walking by the freak show tent at carnivals in my youth, reading the enticements, but I never went in (Nice Catholic Boy that I was.)  Whatever pleasure to be had there would be perverse one way or another, maybe perversely scary and more likely  perversely hilarious, but hard to see how I'd emerge from it feeling anything but dirty.  That's what this circus feels like.  It is so crazy, and yet we are talking about the presidency of the U.S. at a critical time in human history.  HUMAN history, and the history of life on this planet--which nobody is talking about!  It's perverse to the max.  None of these clowns is fit to be President of the United States.  Fortunately, we've got a real President.  If we can keep him.

Stupor Tuesday

Come one, come all, it's the biggest circus show so far this year, it's SUPEr TUEsday!  Get your popcorn, get your peanuts, and wear your boots and slickers cause the mud--let's call it mud--is gonna fly!

But the usual drumbeat by the carnival barkers is a bit muted this time, as the CPW (Conventional Pundit Wisdom) is that Richie Richney is going to have a big night.  The Sanctimonious campaign is finally revealing itself to be the Wizard of Oz frantically pulling levers behind the curtain, but the wheels have come off.  Richney's big edge in money and organization plus Little Ricky's inability to come through with a compelling or even coherent message should tell the tale.

Well, if you've been hanging out here, you might have figured that it was only a matter of time.  Not that the Richney campaign has improved any.  The candidate is just as terrible as ever. His fumbling of the Limbaugh bullying is yet another moral and political coffin nail. The only thing the campaign itself seems to have learned to do is pack debate audiences and caucuses with its "loyalists" (though that may be stretching the term a bit to include the well-paid.)  But the collapse of the other phony campaigns was inevitable.  Their only hope was to somehow become so viral that the party would have to provide real apparatus in the general. 

So Richney, whose proudest boast now must be "I'm less incompetent than the others," is likely to win Ohio, the Must Win of the night, and even Tennessee, which is close enough to being a southern state that he can even plausibly call himself a GOPer.  So before the night is out we may see the Final Return of....Mr. Inevitable!  Though from back in the shadows, speeding suddenly into the limelight for one last comeback, could it be, could it be?--Casino Newt rides again!  

A Bully Too Far

For months now the Rabid Right methodology of total nuclear warfare against all opponents on everything, which won them some victories through the shock and relentless ultraviolence of their attacks as well as their unprecedented boldness in relentlessly repeating lies,  has come back to haunt them.  When adopted by the GOPer Congress and many state governments after the 2010 elections, it had a blitzkrieg effect, but in recent months, the extremism of the content as well as the tactics have become obvious, and unpopular.  Then when GOPer presidential candidates began to compete, they didn't know how to do anything else but attack each other with a virulence that effectively destroyed the opponent but with the tawdry violence rebounding on the attacker.

These are the tactics of bullies, and for awhile they were successful, as bullies often are.  But with Rush Limbaugh, the personification of the GOPer bully who looks and sounds the part, that helpless excess has exposed both the tactics and their extreme positions as never before.  Limbaugh attempted to bully a young woman whose entire career as a public figure added up to a few hours, first when she was not permitted to testify to a congressional committee, and then when she did testify to an unofficial hearing about the health implications of insurance coverage for contraceptives. 

Limbaugh went after her in the only way the Rabid Right knows--viciously, violently, relentlessly, thoroughly, repeatedly, with no limits.  This time however the bullying met immediate response.  Social media and email lists rallied the response, resulting in advertisers and radio stations abandoning his radio program, with the suggestion that the biggest shoe of all might drop--Armed Forces Radio, petitioned by female military personnel.  In the midst of this, the bullied young woman, Sandra Fluke, got a very public call of support from President Obama.  That raised the stakes even more. 

This battle is hardly over, perhaps hardly begun, as Rabid Right pundits rally a defense and a counteroffensive with advertisers.  But what also sets this apart from other political battles is that it is personal--it is about sisters, daughters, wives, grandchildren, mothers.  The terms of Limbaugh's bullying made it an attempt to bully American women.  It could turn out to be the spark for today's young women to take up the cause that even their mothers may have thought was already won.

Thanks to the swarming effect of digital media and cable news, this is going to be a very long election season--so long that seemingly the only way to get through it is to forget each past week as quickly as possible, so it may well change dramatically over and over.  The polls may change many times.  Other events will dominate the roaring buzz.  But this latest act of bullying may turn out to have lasting consequences.            

Monday, March 05, 2012

Emerson for the Day

"Men esteem truth remote, in the outskirts of the system, behind the farthest star, before Adam and after the last man.  But all these times and places and occasions are here...We are enabled to apprehend at all what is sublime and noble only by the perpetual instilling and drenching of the reality which surrounds us."