Friday, May 11, 2012

For Your Urgent Attention

First Bill McKibben and his sounded the warning, and organized demonstrations opposing the pipeline from Canada, but for all their claims, their main issue--the catastrophic damage to the climate future that exploiting the Canadian tar sands would do--was lost in the general environmental uproar.  In the end--at least as I read it--the Administration's stopping the original pipeline had more to do with environmental fears along its proposed route: insufficiently investigated threats to water and land, for instance.

But now the other American heavyweight on the issue has added his even more prominent voice.  In an oped in the New York Times, "Game Over for the Climate,"  NASA scientist James Hansen wrote:

 "If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.

Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk."    

Hansen reinterates the Climate Crisis facts, noting that we are experiencing the weather he predicted we would at this time--a prediction he made in 1981.  He calls for leadership, and calls out President Obama.

The power of this statement must not be lost in the ozone of the twittercycle.  Hansen has focused the argument and others must repeat it--not with cute images or generalized slogans but with precision, power and repetition.  So far there has been nothing that has focused attention on this issue for very long.  This is another opportunity.  Now that President Obama has led on marriage equality, this must be the next issue to assume its rightful prominence, its urgency.

And not just in the United States.  This is also a Canadian responsibility--and a global responsibility. 


The Washington Post report on Mitt Romney orchestrating a bullying assault on a younger student in high school, and the subsequent ABC report, reveal a character flaw that is shocking but frankly not surprising.  It showed the callousness one could sense behind his apparent cluelessness, and is further evidence of his assumed rich boy/rich guy entitlement.

   His leadership in a cruel and (in the word of one of the others involved) "vicious" attack when he was 18 is bad enough.  But his response to it when it was revealed on Thursday was even more telling.  He didn't repudiate it, expressed no shame, expressed no sense of having learned anything, and (as Jonathan Capehart pointed out on Lawrence O'Donnell) didn't use it to condemn bullying now--which is a much-discussed epidemic, particularly victimizing gay and lesbian teens.  It is no wonder that the incident and his response sickened Matthew Shepard's mother.

Romney led a group of bullies, including a wrestler who helped hold down the crying boy--who remembered his fear for years--while Romney himself cut the boy's offending hair with scissors.
That Romney claimed not to remember the incident, and that he classifies it as possibly a prank that went too far, is in itself enough evidence.  It was an assault that everyone else involved remembers clearly.  It apparently was a memory that the victim took to the end of his troubled life.

Romney tried to defend himself Thursday by saying he did not think at the time that the boy involved was gay, partly because in the 60s, there was little such awareness.  Talk about missing the point.  I was in high school then, and I had no concept at all of what homosexuality was, or who might or might not be one.  But I knew about a gang of stronger preying on a single weaker victim.  Every boy knows this, and has had multiple opportunities to sort out a response by the age of 18.  In my high school I saw it happen when a group of football players were "teasing" a terrified classmate, who was what would today be described as a geek.  And I intervened.  But if I hadn't, I would know today that I should have.

Perhaps Romney is so comfortable in today's GOP because it has become a party of bullies, whose House representatives spent their Thursday voting to cut food stamps, Medicaid and other programs essential for survival of those not smart or hardworking enough to be born a Romney.  Because the United States is too poor a country to share with the most vulnerable those resources that are needed to give tax breaks to the richest corporations and the richest people in the history of the world.

  Taken together, Thursday's revelations are to my mind disqualifying. Mitt Romney is not simply the lesser choice between two presidential candidates, or even a castastrophic political choice. Mitt Romney is not fit to be President of the United States.  And the GOP is a gang of thugs, supervised by gangsters in suits, and funded by criminal billionaires.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

It Bends Towards Justice

Hours after the super-swing state of North Carolina voted for a state constitutional amendment that stripped all legal rights from same sex relationships, President Barack Obama became the first President of the United States to state his support for marriage equality. 

He did so in an interview with ABC reporter Robin Roberts (photo.)Contrary to the Fox drone, he had previously stated his belief that the North Carolina proposition should be defeated, his administration had stopped legally defending the anti-same sex marriage federal law, and he had from the beginning of his term set in motion the procedures that culminated in the end of discrimination in the military against gay and Lesbian participants.  So there was no clear political need to state his support for same sex marriage.  He framed it in the context of conscience.

In an email sent to his supporters later on Wednesday, he said:  "I've always believed that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally. I was reluctant to use the term marriage because of the very powerful traditions it evokes. And I thought civil union laws that conferred legal rights upon gay and lesbian couples were a solution.  But over the course of several years I've talked to friends and family about this. I've thought about members of my staff in long-term, committed, same-sex relationships who are raising kids together. Through our efforts to end the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, I've gotten to know some of the gay and lesbian troops who are serving our country with honor and distinction.

What I've come to realize is that for loving, same-sex couples, the denial of marriage equality means that, in their eyes and the eyes of their children, they are still considered less than full citizens. Even at my own dinner table, when I look at Sasha and Malia, who have friends whose parents are same-sex couples, I know it wouldn't dawn on them that their friends' parents should be treated differently.  So I decided it was time to affirm my personal belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry."

He added: "I respect the beliefs of others, and the right of religious institutions to act in accordance with their own doctrines. But I believe that in the eyes of the law, all Americans should be treated equally. And where states enact same-sex marriage, no federal act should invalidate them."  This 'states rights' aspect of his position on a matter of civil rights remains troublesome, but it is for now a practical compromise.  For as many commentators pointed out, this position is on the right side of history. The arc of the moral universe is bending. Younger generations support it overwhelmingly.  It's going to happen.

But it has an effect now.  Its effect on the gay community I leave to Andrew Sullivan and others to describe.  But empathy suggests the good it will do.

Its political effect on this year's election is more ambiguous at present.  Remember--President Obama did this in an election year, without clear indication that it will be to his political benefit.  It could energize the Rabid Right, not terribly in love with Romney.  Rachel Maddow showed just how extreme GOPers have become in trying to deny rights and oppress gay people, especially on the state level.  

 It may have consequences in swing states like Ohio, Virginia and particularly North Carolina, where the Democratic convention will be held.  It is not supported by many in the African American and Latino communities. 

But this is not the first time that Barack Obama has defied conventional wisdom. There were those who said candidate Obama should not touch the subject of race in his campaign, before he gave the speech on race in Philadelphia that elevated his candidacy.  He was urged to repudiate his Chicago pastor and he didn't do it, he only repudiated some of his pastor's statements.  Then when his pastor continued down that road, he did cut off all ties, and the issue disappeared.  When John McCain said he was suspending his campaign because of the financial crisis and Obama's advisors wanted him to do the same, he refused, saying a President has to do more than one thing at a time (you know, like tell jokes at the Correspondents Dinner while going after bin Laden.)

Now he has done this, and we'll see if the doomsayers are right about the political costs.  Right now the effect is electric.  A huge surge of energy is moving through the Obama campaign.  One of the first statements in praise of his stand came from independent New York Mayor Bloomberg, who had previously said he didn't yet know which candidate he would endorse. Other Democrats who had been circumspect on the issue were free to speak their mind.  Even some non-Democrats, including the Romney foreign policy advisor who became former because he's gay. Even a Fox commentator. 

For those who fear the response from the black community, I'd like to think this is a moment of moral leadership that the black community will follow.  For those who were afraid that the enthusiasm and idealism of 2008 wasn't going to be repeated, well--don't be so sure.  Sometimes it takes a lightning bolt to start a fire.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"His thoughts sleep not.  Yet thought that wakes
In sleep may never meet another thought
Or thing...Now day-break comes."

Wallace Stevens

painting: Vincent Van Gogh

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Dark Thoughts

After reading a little of Bernard Shaw on the years leading up to the Great War (and later, some of Don DeLillo's least popular novel, Ratner's Star, which posits--not for the first time--that the humanity we know now de-evolved from an earlier state of development)  I had these dark thoughts, these ugly analogies, to that arc of time...

Germany was an imperial power in the late 19th century, ruled by a plutocracy.  After a long and costly and futile war that everyone saw coming and everyone knew was going to be ruinous, there was a brief period of democracy and progressive government, bedeviled by economic Depression, an angry public looking for scapegoats.  There was a simultaneous atmosphere of giddy excess, modern civilization and political extremism, particularly on what we would now identify as the right.  The Nazi Party kept chipping away at the republic's legitimacy, with a set of ideas that might well be described as fundamentalist, racist and reactionary but promising moral certainty, and restoration of national glory--i.e. getting our country back.

Many Germans could not believe that their country would ever take the primitive Hitler seriously, until he was elected.  And then they couldn't believe the Nazis would actually do what they had claimed they would do, and a lot they had said of course they wouldn't ever do.  Then they did it all.

The dark thoughts were of course that after our plutocratic empire had its futile wars and crashed the economy, this might be our American Weimar.  That the Rabid Right likes to throw around the Hitler and fascism labels doesn't inoculate them from those analogies.  Whoever said "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross" (it apparently wasn't Sinclair Lewis) may have had it right.

Probably the most unsettling question about how the American public will respond in this election is how important the factual turns out to be.  On Tuesday, a number of new Etch-a-Sketch moments emerged.  In addition to claiming he would have gotten bin Laden too, Romney claimed credit for saving the U.S. auto industry.  On the economy, President Obama pointed out that in previous recessions--including those under GOPer Presidents Reagan, Bush I & II--government employment grew.  Only during his presidency has government employment fallen--because the GOP Congress won't allow this government to employ this now-traditional remedy to ending high unemployment. 

Will that fact matter?  Will it matter that under President Obama, the U.S. economy has recovered ALL the private sector jobs lost since he took office?   Or even that nearly 2/3 of the private sector job growth since 1960 has happened under Democratic Presidents?

Several pundits opined that the calculation of making false claims, obvious and not --along with the aggressive lies that those millions of dollars in unmarked bills can pay to repeat endlessly--is that just enough people will believe them (or one or two of them) in the swing states like Ohio to throw the election to the GOP.  Which as Tuesday's election results in Indiana and North Carolina show is emboldened in its increasingly extreme agenda, detached from reality in ways that will only cause pain, tragedy and chaos. 

Which was bad enough in the bloodbath called the 20th century.  But in this crowded and dangerous world, with this civilization apparently unaware of the fragility of its current existence,  and particularly with the Climate Crisis on the doorstep,  there does not appear to be time for another lost decade.    

Monday, May 07, 2012

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

“Psychology, so dedicated to awakening human consciousness, needs to wake itself up to one of the most ancient human truths: we cannot be studied or cured apart from the planet.”

James Hillman

photo: one of many of this weekend's "supermoon"photos, focusing the optical illusion of a rising moon magnified by the moon's unusual proximity to Earth.

That's Baseball

Sunday I watched a little of the San Francisco Giants baseball game on TV.  Maybe it was the first actual game action I watched this year rather than just highlights but it suddenly became more than this game.  It was every game.  I felt how deep baseball and I go together.  I've seen major league games in several ball parks in several cities.  I've seen minor league and amateur baseball.  I've seen the game from the field, wearing a uniform, on the pitcher's mound.  I've seen some of my best-remembered games in my head, listening to voices on the radio.  My experience with no other sport matches this extent or this depth.

After the San Francisco Giants World Series win, Margaret gave me a 2011 Giants calendar for Christmas--the kind with the pages you tear off.  It had some baseball fact or question on each page, and though the calendar is gone, I happened on a small pile of pages I'd kept because something about the fact on it struck me.

I wrote about one of them before, almost exactly a year ago-- about the guy who hit two grand slams in the same inning, off the same pitcher.  Here's a few more...

One of the characteristics of major league baseball is that it's been around so long, and clearly the game has changed, several times.  So the year that this happened isn't too surprising: Who was the last player to lead a league in home runs without reaching the double-digit mark?  Gavvy Cravath of the Philadelphia Phillies, who hit 8 homers in 1918.   But what about this record--who was the last player to lead a league in RBI without reaching 100?  It was another one of the Phillies, who had 91.  But it was Mike Schmidt in 1981.

The Phillies have another one: In 1971, pitcher Rick Wise not only threw a no-hitter against the Reds, but he hit two home runs and battled in three of his teams four runs.  How did I miss noticing this game?   Or this one--Tony Cloninger was the only pitcher to ever hit two grand slam homers in one game, for the Atlanta Braves in 1966. 

Maybe it's not connected to the number of bizarre records they hold, but the Phillies themselves have the record for the oldest team in any pro sport to be continuously in the same city under the same name.

I got two correct answers on questions about fairly amazing stuff--the last 30 game winner among pitchers (Denny McClain) and the brothers who won all four World Series games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1934 (Dizzy Dean, and his brother Paul "Daffy" Dean.)

Winning 20 games in a season has long been a benchmark for top pitchers.  But who was the last pitcher to win 20 games on a team that lost 100?  Ned Garver was 20-12 for the 1951 St. Louis Browns (52-102), which means that one pitcher won nearly half their games.  The Browns were an American League team (the Cardinals were and still are in the National) that moved to Baltimore to become the Orioles in 1954.

Here's one that piqued my curiosity: Red Barrett of the Boston Braves holds the record for pitching a complete game with the fewest pitches: 58.  So how did that work out?  It was in 1944, and Barrett got that total and still gave up two hits, but apparently those baserunners were erased.  The key is that he had no strikeouts and no walks.  He faced the minimum 27 batters, and--to keep it from being too bizarre--he won the game, 2-0.

There is a game I well remember that was tragically bizarre, and I'm surprised it didn't make it onto this calendar.  In May 1959 Pittsburgh Pirates left-handed pitcher Harvey Haddix threw twelve perfect innings in one game, something no one had done before or since, and no one will likely ever do.  But in the scoreless game, a fielding error in the 13th ended his perfect game, and he gave up a home run and all he got out of it was a loss.  Especially since it was against the NL champion Milwaukee Braves (with Hank Aaron in the lineup) it is considered the best pitching performance in Major League history.  But Haddix didn't even get credit for the perfect game he pitched for nine innings. (I started to listen to this game on the radio but fell asleep before Bob Prince or Jim Woods noted that a perfect game was underway.  I wonder when they did--even announcers in those days were somewhat superstititious about mentioning a no-hitter or perfect game while it was going on.)

But on the calendar was a story about another perfect game that technically wasn't recorded as such.  And it involves Babe Ruth--in  his early days as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.  On June 23, 1917, Babe Ruth walked the first Washington Senator's batter he faced, and became so angry about the call that he was ejected from the game.  So Ernie Shore took the mound--and retired all 26 batters he faced.  He pitched a perfect game, except for that first batter, who was caught stealing anyway.  It wasn't as bad as the Haddix game, but he also didn't even get credit for a no-hitter. 

The calendar also didn't mention the 2010 game in which Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers was robbed of his perfect game on what should have been the last out of the game by a blown call at first base--which even the umpire later admitted.

I guess part of the fascination is trying to figure out how these guys feel, especially after one extraordinary game: the perfect game you lost, or the no-hitter you threw while hitting two home runs?  At least Harvey Haddix had nowhere to go but up, and he did become the winning pitcher of the 1960 World Series 7th game (although only Maz's homer is remembered.)  But Rick Wise?

He had nowhere to go but down  But for awhile it wasn't very far down.  His no-hitter with his 2 homers was on June 23, 1971.  That August, he again hit two home runs in the same game.  And that September, after a rocky start giving up three runs, he retired 32 batters in a row (4 fewer than Haddix did)--and he hit a homer that won the game in the 12th inning.   He also eventually duplicated Haddix in a World Series--he was the relief pitcher of record for the deciding game of a World Series won by a home run, this time by the Red Sox in the 12th inning.  On the other hand, he had two other no-hitters going that he lost in the late innings.

And now, as I check ESPN online, it turns out that Sunday was a bizarre record-setter: for the first time since 1925, teams playing each other had a position player pitching in the final inning, because they'd used up their available pitchers.   Chris Davis, the DH for the Baltimore Orioles, who went 0-8 as a hitter, was the winning pitcher when he struck out Boston Red Sox All-Star Adrian Gonzalez and got the next batter to hit into a double play---in the 17th inning.

Well, that's baseball.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

It's On

President Obama officially began his reelection campaign with speeches before 14,000 in Ohio and  8,000 in Virginia.  With a slightly new color scheme, a new play-off song (The Boss singing "We Take Care of Our Own") and a new slogan, he wrapped the speech with the assurance that the campaign this time is also about hope and change--the change that he started, but needs to be completed.

He warned the crowds of the millions that would be spent on negative ads, and his opponent asking the question of whether you are better off now than before the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression (kind of a trick question.)  He said the question should be, will we be better off in the future?  His speech made the case that his policies, his achievements and his proposals for a second term would move the country towards a better future for all, not just the super-rich. 

Here's that part of the text:

"Over and over again, they will tell you that America is down and out, and they'll tell you who to blame, and ask if you're better off than you were before the worst crisis in our lifetime," Obama said. "The real question - the question that will actually make a difference in your life and in the lives of your children - is not just about how we're doing today. It's about how we'll be doing tomorrow."

Read more here:
He said that the Romney campaign is about turning back to the failed policies of the past (sometimes, as in the case of affordable contraceptives and equal opportunity for women, to the distant past), in the belief that in their dissatisfaction Americans won't remember the consequences of those policies from the Bush years.  But he asserted "We were there, we remember, and we're not going back."   In one of his strongest lines, President Obama linked this with the bloody battles he fought in his presidency to make progress, as well as the legacy of such struggles in the past that he called upon in 2008:  "We've gone through too much to turn back now."

The crowd in Ohio was larger because the venue held more people.  The Virginia crowd seemed livelier, responding more quickly and more loudly.  Among the lines that got the most applause in both places--but especially in Ohio--was about the clean energy future not only for an economic future but "for the safety of our planet."
The rallies also revealed that if President Obama is the best politician in America, Michelle Obama is a close second.  Her opening speeches were tremendously affecting and effective.  Once Bill Clinton gets out there, and with Joe Biden doing what he does best, this is a formidable team.

Then there's the Obama campaign, and for all the noise about it, the early indications are that it's just as smart and dedicated, and even stronger.  TPM drew a number of contrasts between Obama and Romney campaign events (including Romney's crowds being in the hundreds, and the Obama crowds being way more diverse), and here's a striking one:

Supporters at Obama’s rally in Virginia were given homework – the campaign and the speakers on stage (including Obama) urged them to sign up with the campaign and register voters. First Lady Michelle Obama even reminded the college kids in the audience to change their registrations if they’re moving over the summer. Everywhere you turned, supporters were being asked to hand the Obama campaign a phone number, address or social media account handle.

This is not the scene at a Romney rally, generally. While campaign staff often sign up supporters with clipboards, voter registration booths and social media stations (both fixtures of Obama’s Virginia rally) are nowhere to be found. And Ann and Mitt Romney rarely, if ever, talk about voter registration."

I keep thinking of that Times story about organized and funded  Obama campaign efforts to register voters even in states that have made this more difficult.  Even the League of Women Voters is too intimidated to register in Florida.  But not the Obama campaign.  That says a lot.

I've also been thinking that I want to enjoy this.  There is something to the "happy warrior" idea.  Hubert Humphrey got that nickname when he fought for civil rights and progressive causes, win or lose, he kept fighting.  With President Obama, there's not so much frustration with the message or the way it is articulated as I've sometimes felt in past campaigns.  I know who's side I'm on, and I'm all for taking in all the emotion of fighting the good fight.  I wouldn't be surprised if this is the last presidential campaign I'll follow closely.  So I'm going to embrace this one for every moment I can.