Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pipe Dreams

My beloved right-wing correspondent was kind enough to pass along an NRO article from Victor Davis Hanson, who is always good for a few laughs. In this case he leads off a lengthy kvetch about the Keystone XL pipeline decision by saying "it is hard to remember a presidential decision that had as many negatives as this one."

I guess it's "hard to remember" the downside to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, particularly if, like Mr. Hanson, you were an enthusiastic cheerleader for that particular decision. But GOP support for this dubious Canadian pipeline boondoggle is of a piece with using our troops to install a client regime in an even more lucrative oil patch. In both cases frugality with our tax dollars takes a back seat to subsidizing the fossil fuel barons.

The Republican party (along with its attendant think tanks and journals) is so in thrall to the pipeline of dollars from this 19th century technology that they have led a successful 30-year effort to prevent us from transitioning to 21st century clean energy.

If, instead of removing solar panels from the White House in the Reagan Era, we had started buying them for every government building in America, photovoltaics would by now be cheaper than coal. That prospect, long delayed, is now not too far off, thanks in part to the efforts of our global competitors in Asia and Europe.

Republicans are not content with blocking the removal of corporate welfare for the oil industry (about a half trillion over the past century, and half a trillion a year now, on a global basis). On top of all this they keep whining about the inefficiencies and costs of renewable energy (about $6 billion in subsidies over the last 15 years). Their hypocritical efforts at scandal-mongering over Solyndra serve the same agenda of delaying the inevitable as long as possible – not unlike the white South Africans of the Reagan Era.

Of course, the staggering price for all this foot-dragging will be paid by our children and grandchildren in the form of irreversible climate change, and the attendant war, pestilence and famine. Meanwhile Hanson just can't think of any decisions with more negatives than denying a taxpayer-funded straw into another pool of oil.

To make so ludicrous a claim, the author must assume his readers have forgotten that the GOP deliberately forced the rejection of the Trans-Canada deal because, as one congressional aide candidly stated, “It’s a question of whether we’d rather have the pipeline or the issue.” Well, now they have their issue, but as Hanson's article demonstrates, it's pretty thin gruel.

He bullet-points five separate complaints: One is the snarky invocation of the president's desire for large-scale infrastructure projects. There are innumerable such plans the GOP has blocked or dismissed, not least of which would be the transit systems needed to break our petroleum addiction. Most predictable is the concern-trolling over our vast debt, a legacy of our previous GOP presidents (see also the links in my fifth paragraph).

Hanson waves off environmental concerns, and also strains for a national-security dimension, laughably invoking the Iranian bogeyman. This would hold more water if he hadn't advocated the forcible removal of their chief regional rival, to be replaced by a Shiite-majority regime warmer to the mullahs than any other neighbor.

But of course the whole reason the GOP preferred the pipeline as an issue to the pipeline as a reality is so that they could complain about "job destruction." The subsidizee inflates their claim to 20,000 jobs, and while all construction jobs are temporary, any job in this economy is certainly welcome, especially in that distressed sector. Yet the exaggerated claims have already sparked calls for an SEC investigation, as the numbers given to US authorities are 67 times the job creation claims cited in Canada. Moreover, according to XL's own documents, the number of permanent US jobs arising from a completed pipeline would amount to as little as twenty.

Hanson's concern over job creation would have more credibility if the last Republican administration hadn't presided over an economic collapse that shed nearly nine million jobs before it bottomed out early in Obama's term. Since the recession's trough, the economy has added 2.6 million private-secor jobs. The overall employment number would be even higher if it weren't for GOP obstructionism, leveraging and blackmailing forced-austerity policies that have caused continued public-sector contraction.

After all, suppose that we grant the dubious claim that a subsidized pipeline allowing Canadians to export to world markets through the Gulf of Mexico would create 20,000 jobs. Just last month, the US economy added ten times that many. So good luck making an issue out of this. The only way that will work is if one assumes that a pool of credulous low-information voters is an inexhaustible resource. Oh, wait.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Mother Writes to Ask

"Objective journalism is one of the main reasons why American politics has been allowed to be so corrupt for so long." -Hunter S. Thompson 
 Mark, what does this mean? please translate for me. thanks.

Hunter Thompson, of course, was anything but objective, not only memorably saturating his stories with his own turbocharged opinions, but, frequently, injecting himself into the events of the story. But he was also part of a larger movement among journalists who acknowledged that the writer inevitably colors the story with his or her own views, and so strove to be upfront about their stances, while still attempting to be as accurate as possible. This is more akin to the European style of journalism. 

If you consider the great journalists in history, you don't see too many objective journalists on that list. H. L. Mencken was not objective. Mike Royko, who just died. I. F. Stone was not objective. Mark Twain was not objective. I don't quite understand this worship of objectivity in journalism. Now, just flat-out lying is different from being subjective.

The quote refers to Richard Nixon - the next line was "You can't be objective about Nixon." Elsewhere Thompson states that what he wrote about Nixon - specifically, that Nixon was a monster and a crook - was the truth. And that was his truth, as he saw it, which was obvious from everything he wrote about Nixon. But if another journalist's truth was that Nixon was a noble statesman, or that he was just another American politician and should be regarded as such, those truths, too, would be obvious from their writing, whether they tried to conceal it or not.

What Thompson is referring to is the longstanding trope in American journalism whereby the journalist strives to keep his or her own views from being perceived. Instead they speak to influential people from both parties and report what they say, giving each side equal weight.

This allows powerful people to spew pernicious nonsense if they so choose - and choose they do. By dutifully reporting their spin, ostensibly objective journalists become, as media critic David Barsamian put it, "stenographers to power."

The ultimate corruption arising from this format is the treatment of the global warming issue. Knowing that whatever they say would be treated as "one side" of an issue, the fossil fuel barons hired PR firms to churn out propaganda asserting that the planet was not warming, or that if it were, that humanity's industrial processes had nothing to do with it. 

Because powerful people had a vested interest in preventing regulation of their pollution, they "threw sand in the umpire's eyes." This is akin to what the cigarette companies did for so many years before the Surgeon General's report of 1964, or how chemical firms managed to delay the removal of lead from our environment for more than thirty years after European governments had responded to this known neurotoxin.

This corruption allows a handful of people to become fabulously wealthy while dispersing the costs onto the public at large. In this case the costs are dispersed onto the global population, and onto my children's generation. And while these costs are literally incalculable, the scale of this crime makes the tobacco barons look like convenience store burglars. 

As we watch our global climate wrenched into dysfunction, "famine and pestilence" only begins to describe the consequences. Given two decades of studied inaction on the issue, this century will now witness deaths and refugee flows in the hundreds of millions as entire agricultural systems collapse and tropical diseases spread into new populations. Wars over dwindling resources are inevitable, particularly over potable drinking water, as watersheds decline with the snowpack that feeds them. 

Our political paralysis on this issue was bought and paid for - and paid for so well that both conservative voters and the politicians they elect have fallen into step with the industry line. Where just a few years ago, polls showed that voters understood the nature of the problem and wished for it to be dealt with, we now have large numbers of Republican voters denying the truth. Where just a few years ago Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney agreed that climate change was real and should be addressed, now they sow doubt along with their donor base and decry any attempts to regulate carbon as a threat to free enterprise. 

All this was made possible by objective journalists, who knew damn well that a handful of studies subsidized by the vested interests were contradicted by an overwhelming scientific consensus, but who nonetheless dutifully reported "both sides" of the issue. To do otherwise would not be objective, and moreover, would upset major advertisers. 

Thompson was being explicit about the link between this style of corporate journalism and the corruption of our politics, and both trends have only accelerated in recent years. Journalistic enterprises have been more and more dominated by Wall Street interests dictating the bottom line, and politics, particularly since the Citizens United decision, have become more dependent on monied interests than ever. If he hadn't seen it all coming, Hunter Thompson would be flailing and thrashing in his uneasy grave. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Monday Random Ten #35

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/ Song/ Album:

1. Jane Siberry/ Everything Reminds Me of My Dog/ Bound by the Beauty

2. Clor/ Making You All Mine/ Clor

3. Robyn/ Electric/ My Truth

4. Neu!/ Negativaland/ Neu!

5. BeauSoleil/ Chez Seychelles/ Roots Music: An American Journey

6. Kronos Quartet/ Flugufrelsarinn/ Kronos Plays Sigur Ros

7. Medasyn/ The Battle/ The Battle

8. Jerry Lee Lewis/ Hillbilly Music/ The Sun Years

9. Billie Holiday/ Just One of Those Things/ Songs for Distingué Lovers

10. Huggy Bear/ Her Jazz/ Taking the Rough with the Smooch

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Santorum Surges From Behind

Whatever the final tally in last night's Iowa caucuses, that's the obvious headline, given what we know about Santorum. But while humor is an effective political weapon, we have to be careful what we wish for. I can still remember activists hoping for Reagan to get the nomination in 1980, or George H.W. Bush to get the nod in '88, on the grounds that they'd be the easiest to beat.

And as ludicrous as "President Santorum" sounds today, if the economy goes south again, then whoever ends up with the Republican nomination can beat Obama. Under those circumstances, we have to hope that the least crazy among them is the eventual nominee - that is, the least crazy after Jon Huntsman drops out, anyway.

And while, arguably, we might get better results out of President Romney with a Democratic-controlled Congress than from President Obama with a Republican-controlled Congress, the reality is that if the economy deteriorates enough for Obama to be beaten, the GOP will be in control of all three branches, and it won't much matter how sane the president is.

But on the other hand, the best chance at any decent legislation over the coming years is for Obama to win re-election in a landslide, with coattails long enough to hold the Senate (a dicey proposition even in a best-case scenario), and to sweep Pelosi back into the Speaker's chair. So the thing to hope for, first of all, is that the US economy continues to improve and that fiscal conservatives in Europe don 't drag down the global economy with their folly.

And second of all, we have to hope that whoever wins the GOP nomination is as crazy as possible. Since Herman Cain is gone, and given the deep (and justifiable) loathing for Gingrich within the party elites, that makes Senator Man-On-Dog the most plausible candidate for craziest potential nominee and landslide victim.

Of course, back in reality, Citizens United means that GOP party elites are going to nominate who they damn well please and make any chance of a decent Congress a hard-fought battle under any circumstances. So we might as well enjoy the comedy while we can.