Archive for January, 2011

Why We Need a Green Revolution

January 30th, 2011

It is time to get past the false choices that we’ve been presented with in regard to the environment. The typical “either/or” thinking about all things “green,” and the inaction that results, has left us behind much of the industrial world. The discussion should not be a choice between economics or the environment, or capitalism verses nature. And we should be well beyond the debate between global warming alarmists and climate-change deniers. We have some who correctly state that, “2010 remains on pace to be the hottest or second-hottest year ever recorded” (source); while others use a snow storm in D.C. to “prove” that global warming isn’t real (source).

The bottom line is this: Climate change (or global warming, if you like) is a well-tested, provable fact, not a hypothesis. The question that scientists have been working on in recent years has been, “To what extent is global warming being influenced by human behavior?” This is a key question because the answer empowers us to do something about this problem, especially as we learn more about the devastating consequences of global warming to our planet. The answer from the scientific community has been an overwhelming, “yes, it is caused by human activity.” Now we can take action to reverse the trends. Right?

Wrong. Unfortunately, there is serious opposition to taking action. Energy companies spend millions funding junk science front groups who will try to keep an element of doubt about global warming in the minds of voters. Conservatives have largely been in the pockets of big oil, defending the status quo of dirty energy at every turn. Rather than fighting regulation and supporting big oil’s interests, the business community should be supporting clean energy, and the new jobs and vibrant economy that will come with this vital and emerging field. It is destined to be the next big economic bubble—certainly something conservatives should be able to get behind.

President Obama used the word “energy” nine times in his recent State of the Union address. He sees the need for a green revolution as a way of creating jobs, filling our ever-increasing energy demands, and yes, a national security measure. He said in last week’s speech:

This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.  Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race.  And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal.  We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -– (applause) — an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.

Already, we’re seeing the promise of renewable energy…we’ve begun to reinvent our energy policy. We’re not just handing out money.  We’re issuing a challenge.  We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo projects of our time.

At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars.  At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they’re using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities.  With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.  (Applause.)

We need to get behind this innovation.  And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.  (Applause.)  I don’t know if — I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own.  (Laughter.)  So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.

Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling.  So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal:  By 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.  (Applause.)

Some folks want wind and solar.  Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas.  To meet this goal, we will need them all — and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.

Thomas L. Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, has made a similar argument about the need for a green revolution to propel our economy toward greater competition (see clips below).

Thomas L. Friedman

Friedman’s more recent book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America, makes an excellent case for why we need a green revolution now.

» Read more: Why We Need a Green Revolution

State of the Union 2011: A Review

January 27th, 2011

President Obama’s State of the Union speech was a clear signal that he wants to work with House Republicans to get things done over the next two years. He focused on making America more competitive through education, infrastructure development, better government, and innovation. He spent more time on proposing a centrist agenda moving forward than he did on touting his accomplishments of the past year. Almost of of his proposals are centrist policy prescriptions–things that are difficult for anyone to disagree with. A CBS New Poll reported that 92% of people who watched the speech approved of Obama’s proposals, with only 8% who disapproved. The tone of his speech, and the agenda he is pursuing, are signs that he wants to keep going full steam to get things done, in spite of losing the House. But this is also a sign that he is gearing up for 2012.

See Rachel Maddow’s analysis on how Obama is steering to the center–the real center.

Here is a great breakdown of the speech by the Washington Post.

See also coverage by Democracy Now!

In contrast to Obama’s inspiring message about working together to improve our economy, Paul Ryan’s opposition response was a real downer.

His message focused on the threat of the deficit. This isn’t a surprise, since this is the guy who wrote the “Roadmap” that focuses on cutting programs that help people, but says nothing about corporate handouts or military spending.

He did attempt to bring some level of balance to his message when he acknowledged that Obama came into office with a wrecked economy: “There is no doubt the President came into office facing a severe fiscal and economic situation.” But then he quickly blasts the President’s stimulus as being ineffective: “Unfortunately, instead of restoring the fundamentals of economic growth, he engaged in a stimulus spending spree that not only failed to deliver on its promise to create jobs, but also plunged us even deeper into debt.”

He also blasts Obama’s ideas on investing in America (which includes eduction, infrastructure, and innovation). Even a basic understanding of U.S. economic history makes this criticism ridiculous. Does Congressman Ryan think the free market came up with the internet?

Here is Ryan’s vision of government: “We believe government’s role is both vital and limited – to defend the nation from attack and provide for the common defense … to secure our borders… to protect innocent life… to uphold our laws and Constitutional rights … to ensure domestic tranquility and equal opportunity … and to help provide a safety net for those who cannot provide for themselves.” Yet, he wants to gut virtually every social program that takes care of “those who cannot provide for themselves.” He digs up old Reaganesque arguments about people abusing social programs: “If government’s growth is left unchecked and unchallenged, America’s best century will be considered our past century. This is a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.” See how social programs are really spent. Congressman Ryan is speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He is trying to say government can take “care of people who can’t provide for themselves,” bu t he also thinks that government social programs lull “able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependence.” The vast majority of people who receive government assistance are vulnerable people, mostly children, the elderly, the disabled, and mentally ill. Ryan also wants to blame the government for the recession: “Millions of families have fallen on hard times not because of our ideals of free enterprise – but because our leaders failed to live up to those ideals.” Either Ryan doesn’t get out much, or he is a damned liar in the back pocket of the powerful…And I am willing to accept that both are true.

(We won’t spend any time on Michelle Bachmann’s silly little fringe-wing response to the speech)

Back to the State of the Union.

We’ve gone through the speech and pulled out the highlights; the best ideas, quotes, and proposed actions. » Read more: State of the Union 2011: A Review

Manufacturing of Consent

January 26th, 2011

Democracy requires the free flowing information, critical thinking skills, and broad participation. When monopoly powers of any kind interfere with these principles, democracy suffers. Today, more than ever before, our democracy (or “Democratic Republican,” if you like) is under assault by monopoly powers–powers that control the media, political representatives, and write the rules for our society. Policy that flows from the interests of the powerful would never be accepted by the electorate, and using force wouldn’t work today (and would interfere with kind of market “freedom” that the powerful want to uphold). So the only way to get the electorate to go along with the interests of the powerful is to use propaganda. People’s consent must be engineered, manufactured. (…And it explains why conservatives still exist today, despite such broad access to real facts!)

The powerful have been using this method for centuries, but with greater sophistication since World War I. This explains why a citizen could make a comment like, “Keep your government hands of my medicare”; it explains why they would support repealing the “death tax,” which only effects the heirs of the very wealthy. It explains the strong connection that many Americans make between love of country and support for military strength and war. It explains why an under-paid employee will reject the idea of a labor union, viewing it as connected to socialism. More recently, it explains the overall low polling scores of the healthcare bill of 2010—even though most Americans accept specific ideas in the bill, many are willing to march to Washington with the Tea Party in protest…not realizing that they would benefit greatly from many aspects of the new law.

Understanding how power works is critical for citizens in a democracy, because it empowers them to fight back, and to remain independent. One of the best models for understanding power in general, and thought control specifically, is MIT professor Noam Chomsky’s propaganda model. Chomsky has been called by the New York Times, “Arguably the most important intellectual alive.” The Nation magazine has said, “Not to have read him is to court genuine ignorance.” The Boston Globe called him, “America’s most useful citizen.” The New York Times Books Review proclaims: “Chomsky is a global phenomenon…perhaps the most widely read voice on foreign policy on the planet.” He has also been called the most cited living scholar. His propaganda model was developed with Edward Herman. (See links to their books below.)

Chomsky and Herman’s propaganda model goes beyond the worn-out narrative of the “liberal media” that was conjured up by the Right. The model does not assume some kind of back-room conspiracy either. It is an “institutional analysis” of how facts become “filtered” to present content to the public that favors the media’s real customer: big businesses, those who advertise with the media establishment. As a result, media content comes out with a bias that favors the interests of those in power: the rich, corporations, etc. (However, there are independent media sources that are supported by consumers rather than “sponsors” and advertisers; some of the best sources are: Democracy Now!, The Nation magazine, public radio and TV, the BBC, Al Jazeera, city weekly magazines…see the links section of this blog). A documentary film about Chomsky’s model was released in 1993 (and it is excellent…and free online!). See also Chomsky’s books, “Media Control,” and “Necessary Illusions.”

We have included a summary of the propaganda model here. This model should be studied by all who seek the liberation and empowerment of ordinary citizens.

Propaganda Model

Five Filters Intro from Keyvan on Vimeo.

Chomsky Video

Good summary from Wikipedia (source):

Editorial Bias: Five Filters

Herman and Chomsky’s “propaganda model” describes five editorially-distorting filters applied to news reporting in mass media:

  1. Size, Ownership, and Profit Orientation: The dominant mass-media outlets are large firms which are run for profit. Therefore they must cater to the financial interest of their owners – often corporations or particular controlling investors. The size of the firms is a necessary consequence of the capital requirements for the technology to reach a mass audience.
  2. The Advertising License to Do Business: Since the majority of the revenue of major media outlets derives from advertising (not from sales or subscriptions), advertisers have acquired a “de-facto licensing authority”. Media outlets are not commercially viable without the support of advertisers. News media must therefore cater to the political prejudices and economic desires of their advertisers. This has weakened the working-class press, for example, and also helps explain the attrition in the number of newspapers.
  3. Sourcing Mass Media News: Herman and Chomsky argue that “the large bureaucracies of the powerful subsidize the mass media, and gain special access [to the news], by their contribution to reducing the media’s costs of acquiring […] and producing, news. The large entities that provide this subsidy become ‘routine’ news sources and have privileged access to the gates. Non-routine sources must struggle for access, and may be ignored by the arbitrary decision of the gatekeepers.”
  4. Flak and the Enforcers: “Flak” refers to negative responses to a media statement or program (e.g. letters, complaints, lawsuits, or legislative actions). Flak can be expensive to the media, either due to loss of advertising revenue, or due to the costs of legal defense or defense of the media outlet’s public image. Flak can be organized by powerful, private influence groups (e.g. think tanks). The prospect of eliciting flak can be a deterrent to the reporting of certain kinds of facts or opinions.
  5. Anti-Communism: This was included as a filter in the original 1988 edition of the book, but Chomsky argues that since the end of the Cold War (1945–91), anticommunism was replaced by the “War on Terror“, as the major social control mechanism.

First Order of Business: Healthcare Repeal?

January 7th, 2011

House Republicans have made repeal of the healthcare bill their number one priority. Politico reported: “The House on Friday cleared a key procedural hurdle in repealing the landmark health care law, voting 236-181 largely along party lines to move ahead to next week’s final vote on repeal.”

Republicans say they care about the deficit. They don’t. The care about staying in power. Their are major contradictions in their approach to healthcare.

First, these two things can’t both be true:

  1. The bipartisan Congressional Budget Office says repealing healthcare would cost the country $230 billion over ten years (in other words, the new healthcare law will save the country that amount over ten years
  2. Republicans say that “the healthcare bill does nothing to rein in costs.”

In their eyes, the reason it does not rein in costs is because Obama and the Democrats got it done. If Republicans had passed the same bill, they would embrace the CBO assessment about cutting costs.

Second, they say, “Let’s start from scratch,” but their “Pledge to American” says their version of a new healthcare bill has most of the same points as the one that passed. Why does their alternative plan have many of the same ideas? Because many elements in the bill poll very well as stand-alone items, even though the bill as a whole has been effectively demonized and is polling poorly. So which is it? Are these things a disaster for our system, as Speaker Boehner alleges, or are most aspects of the law good for America, as their Pledge to America would have a us believe?

Bottom-line,  it is not going to get repealed…ever. The fact say it is, by and large, a good thing for America. And Republicans have dig themselves into a whole, and they have to stay the course for the sake of power, and they are not looking out for the American people. Period.

See this: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/06/AR2011010606159.html?hpid=topnews

About the bill: I am glad there will be fewer bankruptcies now (good for the economy and lending in general), fewer uninsured young adults who are in start-up jobs with no benefits (they can now stay on their parent’s insurance longer, and not go to the ER when problems hit—and it allows their employer to keep their costs low for these positions); no child will be uninsured as a result of circumstance beyond their control, and we will get better economies of scale to lower costs when another 30 million newly-insured citizens are force to cover themselves (and lessen the ER approach to doctor visits). I am glad the government is not going into the healthcare business, just expanding regulation of the private healthcare thieves insurance industry. I absolutely love that insurance companies now have to spend a certain percentage of their revenue on direct care (pushing them into a velocity-quantity financial strategy, rather than a “denial-of-care” profit strategy that harms individuals).

Still…we still have not fixed long-term Medicare cost projections; the law probably requires too much paper work from small businesses; and we need to force doctors/clinics/hospitals to publish their costs for consumers, with insurer incentives, to involve consumers in cost control.

At the end of the day, however, the healthcare reform bill is a great thing for Americans. One has to wonder, though, given their agenda, if  Republican leadership is good for America. I, for one, seriously doubt it.