Wednesday, August 21, 2019

#233 / Is Jamie On Our Side?

Jamie Dimon is pictured above. He is Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, which is the largest of the "big four" American banks. Dimon gets paid about $30 million a year (in case you are interested). He is definitely one of those people that Ry Cooder was thinking about when he wrote that wonderful song, "No Banker Left Behind." 

Dimon is also the Chairperson of the Business Roundtable, which is the voice of corporate America. On Monday, August 19, 2019, the Business Roundtable made the news by announcing that corporate America was no longer putting the interests of corporate shareholders first. How unselfish of them! As some have noted, how weird!

Here is a lengthy excerpt from an article published on the CNBC "Markets" Website. The new-minted corporate commitment to everyone (not just corporate shareholders) also appeared in a full page ad in The Wall Street Journal, signed by 181 corporate CEOs.

Hey, maybe these guys are serious (though there is skepticism that they are). You can read all about it right here:

Shareholder value is no longer the main focus of some of America’s top business leaders.

The Business Roundtable, a group of chief executive officers from major U.S. corporations, issued a statement Monday with a new definition of the “purpose of a corporation.”

The reimagined idea of a corporation drops the age-old notion that corporations function first and foremost to serve their shareholders and maximize profits. Rather, investing in employees, delivering value to customers, dealing ethically with suppliers and supporting outside communities are now at the forefront of American business goals, according to the statement.

“While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders,” said the statement signed by 181 CEOs. “We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.”

The conscience of Wall Street has been at the forefront of American business and politics recently as issues about economic equality and fair business practices dominate the 2020 election stage and the overall news cycle.

The Business Roundtable, founded in 1972, has put out many statements on the principles of corporate governance since the late 1970s. It said this new definition “supersedes” past statements and outlines a “modern standard for corporate responsibility.”

“The American dream is alive, but fraying,” Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase and chairman of Business Roundtable, said in a press release.

Along with Dimon, the statement received signatures from chiefs including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan, Dennis A. Muilenburg of Boeing and GM’s Mary Barra.

“Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term. These modernized principles reflect the business community’s unwavering commitment to continue to push for an economy that serves all Americans,” said Dimon.

Another one of the signatures is from BlackRock chief Larry Fink, who has previously called on CEOs to reevaluate the purpose of a corporation, specifically the “inextricable link” between purpose and profit.

“Purpose is not the sole pursuit of profits but the animating force for achieving them,” Fink wrote in his 2019 annual letter to shareholders. “As divisions continue to deepen, companies must demonstrate their commitment to the countries, regions, and communities where they operate, particularly on issues central to the world’s future prosperity.”

Fink said that fundamental economic changes and the failure of the U.S. government to provide lasting solutions has forced society to look to companies for guidance on social and economic issues, such as environmental safety and gender and racial equality.

One of my friends saw the CNBC article and suggested to me that the corporate executives who signed on to this statement must be anticipating an electoral victory by Elizabeth Warren, and are trying to "play nice" in advance. 

That might be true, but forgive my skepticism!

I actually found this new statement by the corporate leaders who dominate American politics to be extremely disturbing - even chilling. To my mind, this statement indicates that the corporations have decided that they don't need to detour through Congress and the President anymore. Instead of simply trying to influence the government in the corporations' interest, corporations are now going to try to convince us that they can "be" the government, that the corporations have our interests at heart, and that the "purpose" of the corporations is to achieve positive economic, social, environmental benefits for the people at large. If that is true, who needs our ineffective and corruption-riddled government, anyway? That seems to be the proposal that Jamie and the Business Roundtrable are advancing.

I was interested to see that not all business leaders agree. According to an article in Tuesday's New York Times, the Council of Institutional Investors "forcefully disavowed" the ideas set out in the Roundtable Statement. "Accountability to everyone means accountability to no one," the Council said. "It is government, not companies, that should shoulder the responsibility of defining and addressing societal objectives...."

Me? I guess I am with the Council of Institutional Investors. I'm sticking with democracy. Both Donald Trump and Jamie Dimon look just a little bit too much like Benito Mussolini for my taste. I don't think we need to count on the millionaire bankers and the corporate CEOs to take care of the public's business. 

We can do it just fine ourselves!

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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

#232 / On Not Looking Away

Thinking About The Unthinkable, published in 1962, and now out of print, told Americans that they needed to have the courage to confront the realities of nuclear war - a world-ending nuclear war for which we were then preparing, and a world-ending war that we are still prepared to launch. Now, we have global warming, too, and other atrocities as pictured above. It seems we are complicit in them all.

For a meditation on how we can force ourselves not to turn away from the unthinkable realities that confront us, click right here to be redirected to a very brief article in The Nation magazine ("On Not Looking Away").

When we truly allow ourselves to see the atrocities in which we are complicit - when we don't "turn away" - we must then acknowledge and act upon the demand that we change the world to eliminate the horrors that involve us all.

Image Credits:
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Monday, August 19, 2019

#231 / Conspiracy Central

The death of Jeffrey Epstein gave rise, immediately, to various conspiracy theories. Was it suicide, or  was it murder? The Clintons were involved with Epstein. His death was certainly convenient for them, the way many people see it. Maybe the Clintons did it! Trump knew Epstein. In fact, Trump was really connected to Epstein! Maybe Donald Trump did it! And what about Britain's Prince Andrew? Reportedly, Prince Andrew was connected to Epstein, too! Was the Prince involved in Epstein's death? Well, here's something suggestive from The Daily Beast: "Jeffrey Epstein Died This Week. Prince Andrew Went on Holiday." Just think about that sequence of events. What could be clearer?

While it's pretty easy to poke fun at the various conspiracy theories that sprang to public notice along with the news that Epstein died in prison, Walter Kirn, writing in The New York Times, isn't completely wrong in asserting that "sometimes paranoia just stands to reason."

In an article on the Truthdig website we are told that "The Jeffrey Epstein Scandal Is Much Bigger Than Jeffrey Epstein." The article, a conversation between journalist Whitney Webb and Marc Steiner of The Real News Network, is quite interesting.  It suggests that Epstein is just one in a long line of highly placed individuals (including mob boss Meyer Lansky and J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI) who have operated extensive and systematic sex-for-blackmail schemes aimed at powerful figures in American society. It turns out, according to Truthdig, that attorney Roy Cohn, shown above with his client Donald Trump, was a key figure in these blackmail schemes. Click on this link, and read all about it. 

While the New York Medical Examiner who did an autopsy on Epstein's body has officially found that Epstein committed suicide, I doubt that the Medical Examiner's opinion will convince everyone that there was no conspiracy involved. Remember that sequence of events involving Prince Andrew! Very small coincidences can give rise to gigantic conspiracy theories. And, of course, sometimes those theories are correct!

Speaking of gigantic conspiracy theories, a series on Netflix, "The Family," advances the theory that  our nation is largely under the control of a band of religious zealots (no, not the "Elders of Zion" - that is another conspiracy theory), and that this small group has successfully infiltrated our government at the very highest levels. "The Family," sometimes called "The Fellowship," is a small set of right-wing Christians who show up in public at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, but they operate all year round. According to "The Family," key decisions about United States public policy are not actually being made by our elected officials but by this shadowy religious cult. At least, that is what the Netflix series would have us believe. Click this link for the trailer

The Netflix version of this conspiracy theory is based on a book by Jeff Sharlet, The Family. Sophie Gilbert, writing in The Atlantic, finds that the Sharlet-Netflix conspiracy theory is a bit overblown. Here is how Gilbert puts it:

The Family seems to think it’s only telling a compelling story if the Fellowship is actually a potent political force. But there’s something fascinating, and tragic, in the way it documents a group of ordinary men so easily convinced that they’re exceptional, even to the point of being handpicked by God like ripe fruit in a celestial grocery store. It’s a thread in contemporary politics that runs all the way to Number One Observatory Circle, if not the White House. That politicians are, instead, chosen by voters is an inconvenient fact that keeps interrupting so many careers. But it is, nevertheless, a fact, and one that Ensign, Sanford, Siljander, Wamp, and so many of their former congressional colleagues each has to attest to [emphasis added].

I think that we should pay attention to what Gilbert is telling us. It is undoubtedly true that small groups conspire together to try to run the world. It is also true that such groups sometimes use nefarious techniques in their efforts to do that. It is also true that they sometimes act to further the conspiracies they promote, and sometimes they are successful, through their actions, in achieving some of the public policy goals they seek. Truly, maybe Jeffrey Epstein was murdered. So far, we don't really know.

In the end though, as Gilbert is reminding us, we live in a democracy, and we can, if we exert ourselves, ultimately have the last word on the public policy questions we care about, and can defeat any and all conspiracies that aim to prevent us from doing that.

Of course, "exerting ourselves" means becoming personally engaged in the political struggles that will determine what our government ultimately does. It is fun, sometimes, to read about conspiracies. It is even more fun to work with others, in public, no conspiracy involved, to determine our own political destiny.

"Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" - that is what democracy is all about. No conspiracy is required!

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

#230 / How Not To Address Our Housing Crisis

On Thursday evening, August 15, 2019 (and actually continuing into the next day, since the meeting got over at almost 1:00 a.m. on Friday morning), the City of Santa Cruz Planning Commission considered a proposed development at 190 West Cliff Drive. 

That address is right across the street from The Dream Inn, and is at the corner of West Cliff and Bay Avenue. An extremely idealized picture of how the proposed development would look is prented above. The picture does not show the effects of current traffic conditions, pictured below, in a photograph taken on August 12th, at a little before 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon. The proposed development, which would include commerical as well as residential elements, would certainly make the existing traffic sitution worse. 

The Santa Cruz Sentinel published a report on the meeting, and quoted someone named Hooker as providing what may have come across to Commissioners as a good reason to approve the project - the need for more affordable housing in a community currently suffering from a genuine housing crisis: 

"I think that we have a housing crisis in Santa Cruz, we have a housing crisis in California,” speaker Hooker told the commission ahead of its vote. “We need to deal with it here, and this is one spot where we can actually make a difference and I think we should figure out a way to approve this project, and at the same time mitigate as many of these possible concerns that have been raised.

A housing crisis we definitely do have, as Mr. Hooker said, both here in the City of Santa Cruz and throughout the state. But the Commission's 3-2 vote in favor of the proposed project was not really a vote in favor of doing something about it.

Our housing crisis is not characterized by the lack of luxury housing. We have plenty of that. Except for required "inclusionary" units, the eighty-nine housing units that the proposed project will produce will definitely not be affordable to any average or below-average income resident. The new housing units, in a prime location adjacent to the beach, will be purchased by the ultra-wealthy, and most of these units will become second-homes. The Commission was asked by one Commissioner, Andrew Schiffrin, to apply local ordinances and state law in tandem, so as to increase the number of dedicated affordable units from ten to eighteen. This effort was rejected. The upshot of the Planning Commission's deliberations was to approve seventy-nine luxury condominiums and ten affordable units. 

This doesn't make the project, as approved, look much like a solution to our affordable housing crisis. Mr. Hooker's comment may well have been sincere, but the Commission was certainly not emphasizing its concern about affordable housing in its action on the application. 

Not only did the Commission not vote to require the maximum number of affordable units that might be justified under state law and the local zoning ordinance, the proposed development is immediately adjacent to a mobilehome park that provides genuine affordable housing for current city residents. The chances are very good that actual construction of the proposed new project would ultimately lead to the removal of this mobilehome park, the desirability of which would be massively impacted by the proposed high-rise luxury development next door. In short, approving this project could well actually reduce affordable housing opportunities in the city, over even a relatively short term. 

The Santa Cruz City Council will now have an opportunity to consider this proposed project, apparently on a date in September. Maybe the Council, as opposed to the Planning Commission, will understand that building high-density luxury housing units, adversely impacting existing affordable housing, and minimizing, instead of maximizing required inclusionary affordable housing, is NOT the way to address our housing crisis. 

Image Credits:
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(2) - Gary A. Patton, personal photo

Saturday, August 17, 2019

#229 / Eggs In A Basket

My posting on August 16, 2019, conceded that the control that national governments exercise over the national monetary system can lead to governmental abuse. Still, I opposed the idea that we should substitute a "cryptocurrency" system, like Facebook's proposed Libra. Cryptocurrency is attractive to many because they mistrust the government; they doubt that the government will take proper care of our money. They think that a system that takes the government out of the picture might be better. I don't agree. 

As I have been thinking about this position, I realize that my view about the desirability of taking away governmental control over our monetary system reflects a more general view about the role of government in our lives. That general view of government is perhaps best captured by a saying attributed to Andrew Carnegie:

The advice, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is all wrong. I tell you “put all your eggs in one basket, and then watch that basket.”

That's the way we should think about the government. The idea that "government is the problem," as President Reagan said in his 1981 Inaugural Address, is just plain wrong. 

"Individualistic" approaches to our social, economic, and political challenges might appear to guard against the "all our eggs in one basket" danger. However, we are all in this life together, and are more than just a series of unconnected individuals. Because that is true, the "government is the problem" approach is not only wrong, but is ineffective in helping us to overcome the challenges we face, and to achieve the objectives we care about most.

It is true that when we set up governmental systems to deal with essential social, economic, and political problems, we are putting all our eggs in "one basket." 

There is a danger there, and so we need to remember that when we have government act for us, on issues affecting our economy, or on questions of war and peace, or on social justice and transportation and health care, we do have all our eggs in that "one basket." Because that is true, we must absolutely be sure that we:

Watch That Basket!

As I usually put it, we can't have effective self-government unless we get involved ourselves. To make the point another way, let me refer, as I often do, to Lincoln's famous description of our government, a government that is "of, by, and for the people." We will not have a government that is "for" the people unless it is "of" and "by" the people, first.

Where government is concerned, where we have put a lot of "eggs" in "one basket," we need to "watch that basket." That means continuing civic engagement.

I think Andrew Carnegie would have agreed!

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Friday, August 16, 2019

#228 / What's Wrong With Libra?

Zachary Karabell, writing in The Wall Street Journal, makes the pitch on "Why We Should Like Facebook's Cryptocurrency." Maybe you can make it through the paywall to see what Karabell has to say. There is no paywall present on the Forbes website; at least, I don't think so. Thus, you can get the views of a selected composite of high-tech entrepreneurs by reading "What Blockchain Executives Think About The Uproar Around Facebook's Libra." Clicking on the link will take you to a blog posting by Joressa Blount

I, instinctively, resist the idea of putting my money into any system I don't understand, and "blockchain" is not something I understand. And that is not for the lack of trying! In addition, having observed the ups and downs of Bitcoin, it seems to me that this "cryptocurrency" idea is premised on the idea that your account is not a "store of value," but an "offer to speculate." From what I have seen, if you had put $1,000 into Bitcoin at a certain point, you might have ended up with $10,000 at another point. Fantastic! You might also have ended up with $0! 

The Wall Street Journal article on Libra, which is the name for Facebook's proposed new cryptocurrency, gave me another reason not to like the whole idea. Here's an excerpt from The Journal's article:

In the long run, Libra and the legacy cryptocurrencies could potentially replace ... the sovereign power of states over currency ... 
Facebook says that is has no intention to overturn the current system, and its Libra consortium currently includes major payments players such as Visa and PayPal. The company is attempting to allay the concerns of both governments and established banks. 
Why ... are governments in such a tizzy? Because they understand that once in place, there may be no way to prevent a sophisticated, widely adopted cryptocurrency system from evolving into something much more far-reaching. 
Would that be a bad thing? 
States have been the foundation of economic prosperity for the past century. The creation of regulations governing the marketplace, the launch of a global monetary system after World War II, the taming of banks and the establishment of relatively stable currencies in affluent countries—all were part of the mix. 
No one would argue, however, that this system has solved all problems or that most societies are at peak prosperity. Will states and banks in their current form, or some new financial technology, lead to the next great wave of economic improvement? ... 
Perhaps it is time to shift our attention from the admitted risks of cryptocurrencies to the astonishing opportunities they could create (emphasis added).

Currently, our monetary system is directly and inevitably connected to our government. This means that where our money is concerned, "we are all in this together," and we thus have an opportunity, utilizing the powers we have as citizens, to make decisions about how the system works.

As we know, the government is hugely and disproportionately responsive to those who have the most money. We saw that in 2008. In the inimitable words of Ry Cooder, when our monetary system was on the brink of collapse, "no banker was left behind." Cartoonist Tim Eagan dramatizes the same message this way:

Unfortunately, the ordinary people didn't get the same treatment as the bankers and the money managers. The Obama Administration saved the banks, but those homeowners who made bad choices lost everything. If you don't think that this governmental response to the 2008 financial meltdown had something to do with the 2016 election, you and I are not seeing the world in quite the same way. 

In other words, The Wall Street Journal article is correct that our current system, tied to government, has some real problems. Our government is not, really, working for ordinary people. While transforming our monetary system into an Internet-based system that it totally "individualistic" may be a good way to show our disdain and disgust about past and current governmental performance, do we really want to discard, forever, the opportunity to make our democratic system work for ordinary people?

I do think that we are "in this life together," whether we like that or not, and that thinking that "individualistic" and "market-based" approaches to our problems will give us better results is a massive illusion. Detaching our monetary system from governmental control means that we will lose the chance, forever, to make democracy work for the ordinary people.

Not a good choice, the way I see it!

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Thursday, August 15, 2019

#227 / Pinchot And Muir

Under the headline, "To Protect and Conserve," The Wall Street Journal has reviewed a new book by John Clayton. Clayton's book, Natural Rivals, discusses the beginnings of efforts in this country to preserve and protect the natural environment. Those "rivals" of the title are John Muir and Gifford Pinchot, whom Clayton describes in this way: 

John Muir, the most famous naturalist in American history, protected Yosemite, co-founded the Sierra Club, and is sometimes called the Father of the National Parks. A poor immigrant, self-taught, individualistic, and skeptical of institutions, his idealistic belief in the spiritual benefits of holistic natural systems led him to a philosophy of preserving wilderness unimpaired. Gifford Pinchot founded the U.S. Forest Service and advised his friend Theodore Roosevelt on environmental policy. Raised in wealth, educated in privilege, and interested in how institutions and community can overcome failures in individual virtue, Pinchot’s pragmatic belief in professional management led him to a philosophy of sustainably conserving natural resources.

Gerard Helferich, who reviewed the book for The Journal, concludes that "Muir and Pinchot were friendly rivals, each working in his own way to balance human needs against the sanctity of nature. The men were “yin and yang: rivals like day and night are rivals, or hot and cold. Although they embodied contrasts, they were complementary and interdependent. The world needed both of them.”

Since I haven't read the book, I can't tell you whether or not I agree that the conclusion quoted above is justified by Clayton's text. However, I have my own thoughts. 

I continue to say that we must never forget, as fact, that we live in "two worlds," simultaneously. Most immediately, of course, we live in a world that we ourselves create (the world in which the pragmatic approaches of Pinchott are most appropriate - and indeed, necessary). Ultimately, however, we live in the World of Nature, and that world is primary. That is the world that has created and sustains all life. 

If Muir is revered more than Pinchott, in the popular mind, and I think that's a fair assessment, it is because Muir called us to understand the majestic primacy of the Natural World. Preserving wilderness unimpaired is not just a nice gesture. It is not valued for the "pragmatic" benefits it provides. It was Thoreau who said it best. Everything, and all our human works, depend upon our deference to Nature:

In wilderness is the preservation of the world. 

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

#226 / Dead Babies In Overheated Cars

"Just because you do something wrong doesn't make it a crime."
          District Attorney Scott McNamara

Apparently, about three dozen babies die each year, in incidents in which a parent simply forgets, for an extended period of time, that he or she has left one or more infants in a vehicle. As the vehicle heats up, during such an extended period, the forgotten babies die. There was a recent case in Rockland County, New York. An article in The New York Times described the tragedy in that case, which resulted in the death of two, one-year-old twins. Other cases were also profiled in the article. 

The main issue explored in the article in The Times was whether or not such infant deaths should be regarded as "accidents," or whether the parents involved should be prosecuted for a crime. The quotation at the top of this blog posting indicates that some law enforcement officials do believe that such incidents are "accidental," not "criminal." Key to making this determination is a Latin phrase learned by every first-year law student: 

Mens Rea

The existence of "Mens Rea," which means a "guilty mind," must be proven before someone can be convicted of a crime. A "bad act," an "Actus Reus," is not enough.  Our criminal law only penalizes intentional bad conduct. Both mens rea and an actus reus must be demonstrated before a person can be subjected to a criminal penalty.

Anyone hearing about one of these cases involving a dead baby in an overheated car is likely to have an almost immediate reaction that this kind of "oversight" is unforgivable, and should be punished. These babies are defenseless. The parental inattention that results in their deaths seems outrageous. District Attorney Scott McNamara, however, is right on the law: not everything we do "wrong" is a "crime."

Maybe this observation by a New York State prosecutor should be brought into play as we consider other "bad acts" that we currently prosecute as criminal. The United States incarcerates more people, in absolute numbers, than any other nation in the world. In other words, when something "wrong" has occurred, we are imposing criminal penalties for such bad conduct far more often than such penalties are imposed by other countries. As most will undoubtedly know (but let's not forget it), a disproportionate number of those who are imprisoned in the United States are persons of color.

Usually, people who are imprisoned, and who have been subjected to this criminal penalty, have actually done something "wrong." Query whether we should put everyone who has done something "wrong" in jail. 

If we can exercise some forebearance when we consider the case of those who have killed babies by leaving them, for extended periods, in hot cars, can't we find it within ourselves to treat those who have otherwise done something "wrong," even intentionally, in a way that doesn't automatically put them in jail for an extended period, and then label them, for life, as criminals?

This is something worth thinking about! If we could figure out how to do that, that would be genuine criminal justice reform.

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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

#225 / Two Lifeboats

In an article titled "Lifeboat Earth," John Feffer has raised an important question: "Is China or the Green New Deal the Answer to Climate Change?" Feffer's article is rather long. Here's the basic premise: 

Imagine not one but two lifeboats of survivors bobbing in an endless, empty sea. Both contain the same number of people and a limited amount of food. Based on some educated guesses by one knowledgeable crewmember, the boats are at least five days from land, if everyone rows together and they don’t veer off course. 
In the first boat, the survivors debate the problem: Should they stay in place and conserve their energy or strike off in search of land? They divide into three committees to address the different aspects of the problem and present their findings, making sure everyone has input. They debate for hours, growing weaker and weaker until they no longer have the energy to do anything and the issue decides itself. 
In the second boat, one person takes control, believing he alone has the skill and knowledge to steer the lifeboat toward land. Not everyone agrees, but dissenters are silenced. The others agree that there’s no time for more discussion. The new leader imposes rules on who rows and who eats. When someone falls deathly ill, he orders the incapacitated man thrown overboard. 
The second lifeboat is moving at a good pace -- but is it going in the right direction? 
On Lifeboat Earth, time and resources are similarly limited. According to most climate scientists, the window of opportunity to prevent irrevocable climate change is about a dozen years. Opinion is divided, however, on how to address this problem with the urgency it requires. 
The international community has tried, in a roughly democratic fashion, to avoid the apocalypse. In 2015, the countries of the world came together in Paris and negotiated a non-binding climate accord that was a victory for compromise but a failure for shrinking the planet’s actual carbon footprint. In a number of countries around the world, democratic elections subsequently brought climate-change deniers like Donald Trump to power, further compromising that accord. 
In this way, the planet risks following the first lifeboat scenario: talking ourselves to death. 
The second lifeboat option -- think of it as eco-authoritarianism -- seems to better fit the temper of the times. The current climate emergency coincides with a profound disillusionment with the liberal world order. Authoritarianism has become significantly more popular these days, even in otherwise democratic societies like India, Brazil, and the United States.

Feffer does not definitively conclude that eco-authoritarianism is the "correct" response to the climate crisis faced by every human being on earth. In fact, he criticizes the approaches currently being pursued by China. Feffer is pretty clear, however, that endless debate, without decision, is just not going to work. Not only won't it save us, it will ultimately lead not only to "eco-authoritarianism" but to what I suggest might better be called "eco-totalitarianism."

It is time to start doing things! Really! No kidding! Feffer's bottom line is this:

The Green New Deal isn’t just an important policy initiative. It may be the last democratic method of guiding Lifeboat Earth to a safe harbor.

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Monday, August 12, 2019

#224 / Who's Afraid Of Revolution?

Americans like bold, aspirational ideas, such as sending a man to the moon. It’s less clear that they like revolutions and forced upheavals in their own lives ...
           Karl Rove (pictured above)

The article from which the above quote was taken appeared in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, August 1, 2019. Rove is a Republican Party political consultant and policy advisor. He was commenting on the "Medicare For All" program endorsed by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and supported by groups like National Nurses United

What Rove said made me wonder. Why would anyone think that Americans are unwilling to think about politics as a kind of "revolution?" A political "revolution," of course, is exactly what Bernie Sanders has been calling for as part of his campaign for president. For those unclear about what Sanders is advocating, here is a link to his book, Our Revolution, and here (for those with shorter attention spans, or with bedside tables already overflowing with reading material) is a Wikipedia article that provides a very brief outline of Sanders' program

This nation began with a revolution, and people like Bernie Sanders, who couch their call for political change in terms of "revolution," are not, very clearly, calling for armed combat or violence. They are using the word "revolution" to mean substantive, real political change. 

What do you think about "revolution," if that's what we are talking about? I am for it!

My favorite book in the world, as I have revealed in other postings to this blog, is Hannah Arendt's On Revolution. Her most poignant chapter, in my view, is titled, "The Revolutionary Tradition And Its Lost Treasure." That "lost treasure" is the "revolutionary spirit" that infused those who brought our nation into existence, and I am hoping that no one will really be afraid of trying to find, and make manifest, that revolutionary spirit once again!

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Sunday, August 11, 2019

#223 / 5G Wireless? G-Whiz! And Watch Out!

If you would like to read an article titled, "Everything iPhone Users Need to Know About 5G Wireless," please click that link. Just be aware that the article does NOT tell you "everything you need to know."

This article, and many like it, emphasize the "Gee Whiz" aspects of this proposed new 5G technology. How about complete movies downloaded in seconds? How about autonomous cars?

Gee Whiz, Mr. Science, that 5G wireless sounds really keen!

What people have NOT been told about 5G wireless is that there are potential health impacts that have not been fully evaluated. Here is a link to an informative video, for those who want to learn more. Remember, you won't find out about any of the potential problems from Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T!

Here is another thing. What people have NOT been told is that the federal government is attempting to prevent any local or state government from interfering with the upcoming rollout of this new 5G wireless technology.

On this coming Tuesday, August 13, 2019, the Santa Cruz City Council is slated to adopt an ordinance governing the installation of 5G wireless hot spots throughout the City of Santa Cruz, massively increasing the number of these radiation-emitting antennas in the local community, and allowing them to be placed not high above the ground, but at street level, where human exposure will be greatest (this is what the federal government requires, not necessarily what our local elected officials want).

You can find a link to the City Council agenda right here. Materials relating to the 5G wireless issue are found as part of Agenda Item #25.

Local activists, and particularly a group called called EMF-Aware-Santa Cruz, are trying to persuade the Council to impose the maximum controls possible, and to make it easy to appeal any grant of a permit for a 5G wireless installation. If you think that would be a good idea, and would like to communicate with the Council on this matter (and that's encouraged), you can send an email to the City Council by clicking this link.

I continue to believe that the "precautionary principle" is the proper approach to proposed new technologies. That is not what is happening with the proposed rollout of 5G wireless. To the degree that our local government can stand up for the local community, as the federal government seeks to sweep possible objections under the rug, I'm in favor of local control! Those concerned can attend the City Council meeting Tuesday, or send the Council a message in advance!

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Saturday, August 10, 2019

#222 / Do Yourself A Favor

Do yourself a favor and track down the August 2019 edition of The Sun magazine. That is Issue #524. Read what Paul Chaat Smith has to say about "Our Fellow Americans - The Complex Truth Of Native American History." Read his article, "Geronimo's Cadillac." 

Smith is a Comanche author and an associate curator at the National Museum of the American Indian. “Geronimo’s Cadillac” is excerpted from the essay “On Romanticism,” from Smith's book Everything You Know About Indians Is Wrong

What do we get wrong? 

Smith thinks that non-Native Americans "cherish the myth[s] more than the genuine struggles of real human beings." That's where we go wrong. 

Consider what Gwen Westerman has to say about that, in her poem, published in Issue #524: 

Dakota Homecoming
We are so honored that 
you are here, they said.  
We know that this is  
your homeland, they said. 
The admission price 
is five dollars, they said.  
Here is your button  
for the event, they said.  
It means so much to us that  
you are here, they said.  
We want to write 
an apology letter, they said.  
Tell us what to say.

Do yourself a favor. Read that magazine. Learn something you can say.

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Friday, August 9, 2019

#221 / Dead Reindeer, II

A while back, I wrote in this blog about two hundred dead reindeer. The reindeer had died from starvation, and their story was covered in The New York Times. One reason to care about this, I said, was that "we could all be next! The food supply of millions of human beings is vulnerable to shifts in climatic conditions."

Yesterday, The New York Times carried a front-page article that validated this observation. If you click the link (and can escape The Times' paywall) you can read the article for yourself. The hard copy version that I read yesterday was headlined as follows: "The Food Supply Is At Dire Risk, U.N. Experts say." 

Unless we want to tell ourselves "so it goes" a few million times, using Kurt Vonnegut's famous phrase that memorializes each death he chronicles, we had better start paying attention to what human beings are doing to the planet. We had better start changing our ways! First the dead reindeer. Then us!

There are environmental warriors who are trying to fight back against the damage that human beings are doing to the World of Nature that sustains all life. Large corporations, and particularly the oil companies, are sacrificing the ability of the natural world to continue to sustain not only human life, but any life. Remember, the reindeer go first. Then us! 

The Times' editorial yesterday spoke to this issue, as the Editorial Board decried the murder of those environmental activists, around the world, who are trying to fight back against the corporations that are helping to push us all towards the fate of the dead reindeer: 

In 2018, 164 defenders of the land and environment were killed, with the Philippines of the brutal President Rodrigo Duterte taking over from Brazil as the deadliest place to resist rapacious developers and governments. That was less than the 201 killed in the previous year, but it was hardly an improvement. 
Global Witness noted that the actual figure is probably far higher because reporting is iffy in the most vulnerable parts of the world. Governments and industries are also learning that there are other, nonlethal means of intimidating or eliminating activists who resist them. In addition to the violence of private security agents, state forces or contract killers, activists now also confront teams of aggressive lawyers.
Using, or misusing, laws and the courts, governments and industries, intent on driving indigenous people or activists away, criminalize resistance or proclaim them to be “terrorists,” choking off their funding and tying them up in costly legal battles. The United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, was among 600 people the government of her home country, the Philippines, labeled terrorists. 
Human Rights Watch called the action “a virtual government hit list” and noted that state security forces and pro-government militias in the Philippines had a long history of murdering people labeled terrorists or Communists.

I assume that most of us know the famous Pogo cartoon at the top of this blog posting. Walt Kelly got it right! "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Here is another Walt Kelly saying, one cited in The New York Times' editorial. It is one I didn't know, and I think Walt Kelly has got it right again. Assuming that the corporations and their political defenders are the "tiger" (which is what I think) Kelly tells us:  

When you starve with a tiger, the tiger starves last.

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Thursday, August 8, 2019

#220 / Land Lines

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy publishes a quarterly magazine, Land Lines, which I receive in my mailbox. You can peruse the magazine online, too

In its most recent edition, a special issue celebrating the Institute's thirtieth anniversary, Land Lines devotes the entire magazine to a set of deliberations about what Ian McHarg's famous book, Design With Nature, might mean for us today. If you are not familiar with McHarg, this blog posting is an invitation to become acquainted. Be warned, however, McHarg is not given to sweet talk, as you can undoubtedly tell from the quotation above. 

In the latest edition of Land Lines, the "President's Message" is particularly straightforward in presenting what McHarg had to say about human "development." 

“Man is an epidemic, destroying the environment upon which [he] depends and threatening his own extinction.” 
ddressing a throng of 30,000 people in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park at the first Earth Day demonstration in 1970, landscape architect and author Ian McHarg minced no words. His was not a feel-good speech; in addition to the sobering assessment above, he also informed the crowd, “You’ve got no future.”

I guess we could all accept that judgment, and decide that we don't have any future (and then give up). 

Or, we could try to reorient our human activities and prove McHarg wrong. That is, as you can imagine, what Land Lines counsels. McHarg's book was titled, Design With Nature. The Lincoln Institute has put out its own book, and its title is the prescription it recommends:

I have to say I agree. Emphasis on the NOW! (That is the only time we've got).

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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

#219 / Article II

According to President Donald Trump, Article II of the Constitution gives him the power to "do whatever he wants." This was noted in a July 23, 2019, column in The Washington Post. The newspaper has a "paywall," and given the way The Post's paywall works, you may or may not be able to access the article by clicking that link. You don't have to take it from Jeff Bezos' newspaper, however. Here is a YouTube video of the president, making this claim himself:

For those who would like to read the actual document being analyzed by the president (the Constitution, I mean), you can click this link for the full text. There is no "paywall" for the Constitution - at least not so far. Unless something rather dramatic has happened to American government between the time I am writing this and the time you are reading it, that link to the Constitution should definitely work!

Let me outline just a few of the provisions of the Constitution that bear on the president's assertion that he can "do whatever he wants." I suggest that we begin with Article I, which comes before Article II. A non-delusional reading of Article I might give any president the idea that the president's powers outlined in Article II are in "second place" for a reason. Here is the reason:

Article I (Article 1 - Legislative)

Section 1
All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

After the Preamble, which makes the point that "We, the People" are ultimately in charge, the words quoted above are the very first words found in the Constitution. Article I is quite lengthy, elaborating on how the Members of Congress are elected and what they are supposed to do, but there is no doubt that ALL legislative powers granted to the federal government are exercised by the Congress, not by the President. Maybe he can't do "whatever he wants," after all! At least, not if the Congress has legislated something different.  

Let's now direct our attention to Article II. The president acts like this is some sort of recently-discovered grant of authority, but Article II has actually been in the Constitution from the beginning. Here are the key statements about the powers of the president found in Article II:

Article II (Article 2 - Executive)
1: The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. [ ] 
8: Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:—“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” 
Section 2
1: The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment. 
2: He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments. 
3: The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session
Section 3
He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

We have a government with "limited powers," and the powers that the federal government does have are apportioned among the Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court in a way that intentionally allows them to "check and balance" each other.

That is the way it has always been. Nothing has changed (except in the assertions made by the current president, who is claiming powers no other president in history has ever tried to claim).

The president is not authorized to "do whatever he wants."

Let's not forget it!

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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

#218 / An Uprising Of Decency

Pictured is Marianne Deborah Williamson. Wikipedia identifies Williamson as "an American author, lecturer and activist ... [reporting that Williamson] has written 13 books, including four New York Times number one bestsellers in the "Advice, How To and Miscellaneous" category. She is the founder of Project Angel Food, a volunteer food delivery program that serves home-bound people with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses. She is also the co-founder of the Peace Alliance, a nonprofit grassroots education and advocacy organization supporting peace-building projects."

In addition to all of the above, Marianne Williamson is running for president. Maybe you have seen her on stage, during the two Democratic Party Primary Debates that have been held on CNN and MSNBC. Most recently, in the second of the two televised debates held so far, Williamson commented on the contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan. This is what she had to say: 

What happened in Flint would not have happened in Grosse Pointe [a very wealthy city just adjacent to Detroit, Michigan]. This is part of the dark underbelly of American society. The racism, the bigotry, and the entire conversation that we’re having here tonight. If you think any of this wonkiness is is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.

According to David Brooks, The New York Times' columnist, Williamson "knows how to beat Trump." This is not quite a full endorsement of her candidacy, but it is certainly getting there!

Williamson doesn't strike me as the "Chief Executive" type, but that doesn't dissuade Brooks. Brooks thinks that political debates focusing on policy issues (all that "wonkiness" stuff) are simply not going to motivate the kind of political changes he'd like to see. Brooks doesn't believe that emphasizing "policy" concerns can defeat Donald Trump's reelection effort. That's because, as Brooks sees it, the most important issues are not "policy" issues, at all. 

According to Brooks, Trump is a "cultural revolutionary" who is attempting to transform "who we are as a people" and our "national character." To beat Trump, we need an "uprising of decency." Williamson, says Brooks, understands that this is where the battle must be fought, and that we need, in this election cycle, to expose and destroy the "dark psychic force" that is corrupting American culture from within, under the leadership of our current president. 

I agree that "culture" is important, and that comparing the "policy positions" of the various candidates is not really the best way to decide who we should select as president. On the other hand, I am not really convinced that appeals made on a "psychic" level, aiming to advance "cultural" concerns, will translate into the kind of changes, political and cultural, that the nation so desperately needs. 

What will? 

Might I suggest that good old fashioned "politics" is what we should all focus on. In other words, however we motivate their involvement (by appeals to voters on the basis of "policy," or by an appeal that emphasizes the need to combat "dark psychic forces"), what candidates for president should be doing is to meet and mobilize ordinary American citizens to realize that they, the people, are actually in charge of the government, and that in a democratic, self-governing society ordinary people had better make sure that the people they elect to represent them should reflect their deepest values, as well as having a commitment to policies that benefit the majority, and the competence to achieve results. 

I have a lot of confidence in "politics." I used to be a politician, myself, and my twenty years of experience convinces me that ordinary people can change the world - and that they are smart enough, and decent enough, to find representatives who can help them accomplish their objectives, and to deal with the dangers that confront them. 

The way to "beat Trump," in my opinion, is simply to make sure that the majority of the American people know that they have an opportunity to elect a person of personal integrity, and a person who has a commitment to work for policies that will benefit the people themselves, and the competence and ability to be successful. There are quite a few persons on that Democratic Party debate stage who can fill that prescription. 

I think that our nation is not characterized, at its foundation, by dark psychic forces, but by the very kind of "decency" that Brooks wants us to manifest in our government. 

I do have a lot of confidence in "politics," and I am not afraid of letting the people of the United States select the person who will best represent them! I think they are going to make the right choice!

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