Archive for July, 2009

Political Narratives

Posted in Chit chat, Environment with tags , , , , , , on July 28, 2009 by Mort the Sport

(Upfront Disclaimer: I came up with many of these ideas after a conversation with the Pope of Walnut.)

It’s no secret that political battles are won and lost based on the stories told by the opposing sides. Each side wants to create a narrative that appeals to the broadest number of voters no matter what the facts are. Moreover, the facts often have little to do with the outcome of a political battle. An excellent example of this was the lead up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Bush Administration created a narrative wholly divorced from reality, making claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that he would use at any time on the American people. I can remember vividly debating the necessity of going to war with some co-workers. At the time, they felt that the threat posed by Saddam was a good enough justification for going to war. Bush and company put enough doubt in people’s minds that they were able to accept the possibility of a “what if” scenario (i.e., What if Saddam really has WMDs?). This kind of narrative is the easiest to sell. Why? Because there are clearly defined “characters” in the story. The “protagonist” (if you’ll let me indulge in a little stretching of the metaphor) was W, the cocky cowboy/village idiot from Texas by way of upper crust New England. He’s the common man. He’s inarticulate. He’s sincere. That’s why people back then liked him. The “antagonist” was Saddam. He was obviously evil because he was swarthy and had a mustache. And it didn’t matter to many Americans that there was absolutely no link between Saddam and the events of 9/11. They believed it. We went to war, and you know how that’s turned out.

Also easy to sell was Obama’s narrative of hope and change. These themes are often used by politicians trying to oust the incumbent, especially if the incumbent has really f**ked things up. Obama came across as a boy wonder who would, by virtue of his impeccable credentials and his charisma, lead the country to a new era of collaboration. His message was never anything close to the claim that we would have four more years of centrism and wishy-washy policies, and yet that’s exactly what we’re getting with Obama. Many of his moves have been Clintonian (from Cabinet picks to his position on healthcare), but the narrative that he created on the campaign trail was as far from Clinton as it could get.

This leads me to my last point. If we look at the current climate crisis, we see a political battle unfolding. The winner will create the most effective narrative. Conservatives often vote against environmental causes because they see regulation as too much government intervention. (There are many holes with this way of thinking, but I’ll save them for your imagination.) Because of this, for many conservatives, these regulations are a non-issue: they simply will not favor more regulation. However, much of middle America finds regulations fairly neutral (provided they don’t raise taxes or end up costing them too much money in other ways). The only way that Americans in our current political/cultural moment will make any sacrifices whatsoever is with a compelling narrative. As I see it, there are two ways to get Americans to take global climate change (GCC) seriously and begin to give up fossil fuels: 1) Scare the crap out of them by painting a dire picture about impending environmental catastrophes. 2) Appeal to their sympathies for cute little animals that will die if we don’t do something. Neither of these strategies have been all that effective. If I were an ace political strategist, I’d have great plan to get people to care about the environment. But I’m not, so, sadly, I don’t.

I care about the environment for really selfish reasons. The narrative I believe in involves the possible future that will affect my daughter. She’s only a year old, but I am already concerned that the worst effects of GCC will hit her generation pretty hard. I worry about what life will be like for her when she’s forty or fifty in the late 21st century. I may still be alive by then, but I’ll have already lived a fairly full life. If GCC results in a 20-50% species loss or increased incidents of drought, hurricanes, or other extreme weather, the lives of our children will be qualitatively different from ours. This is not a political narrative. It’s a real possibility. What scares me, what ought to be a matter of national security, is that the lives of our children are in real danger if even a handful of the predictions made by reputable scientists are right. Global climate change cannot be a villain the way that Islamic extremists can. GCC doesn’t wear a beard and a turban. But I’m much more scared of it than I am of another Al-Qaeda attack on US soil. I’d love to find a narrative that can push people’s buttons on this issue, but the truth is that the facts are scary enough. But people don’t want facts. They’re too busy looking for more stories.

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Capitalism, Climate Change, and the Fate of Humanity

Posted in Economics, Environment with tags , , on July 26, 2009 by Black Pumpkin
Capitalism is an economic system profoundly and irrevocably at odds with a sustainable planet, as it requires ever-greater material and energy throughput to keep expanding.  Capitalism simultaneously and of necessity exploits the land and the people and sacrifices the interests of both on the altar of profit. (Williams, 57)

Every so often, I read something that I feel should be read by everyone.  Whether it is a book or an article, it is something that I think needs to have much more attention paid to it.  I just finished reading the second half of a pretty long article that appeared in two issues of Internationl Socialist Review.  It appeared in issues 62 and 64 under the title, ” Hothouse Earth: Capitalism, climate change, and the fate of humanity.”  The title sounds pretty heavy but considering how important climate change is, I think it is appropriate.  While it is difficult to predict exactly what will happen because of global warming, all the estimates point to a world that will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to live in.  More important than what the world will look like is what we need to do now to fix things.

In Hothouse Earth, Chris Williams lays out exactly what is to blame for climate change and why individual action will not be enough to save us.  In other words, we can put in compact florescent bulbs, recycle our cans and bottles, and even carpool to work, but if systemic changes are not made to our entire economy and society we will like end up destroying ourselves and most species on the planet.

In addition, Williams explains how the global economic system of capitalism is to blame for the situation we find ourselves in and how it will not be able to get us out of it.

There are many who believe that if we incentivise pollution controls, such as cap-and-trade schemes or show how profitable “green” technology can be, we can allow the free market to usher in the new carbon-free utopia.  But Williams argues that even if companies were to decide that this were the way to go in search of profits, it would be too little, too late.  We cannot wait for the markets to decide that green is the new gold.  Instead, he argues that massive government action is the only way that we can go from here to where we need to be.

Allowing the markets to do their magic or telling people that they need to weatherstrip their homes will only get us so far and it will not be far at all.  We are heading towards a cliff.  We may not know we have crossed the edge and are in free fall until it’s way too late, but if we don’t apply the brakes now, instead of letting off the gas a little, it will most certainly be too late.

The first part of the article is now online, and I think the second half will be available in the near future.  Please read the first half of the article or get your hands on the hard copies of ISR 62 and 64.

Only with massive effort from below can we push those in power to do what needs to be done.  If it’s not too late already, we certainly don’t have much time.

  • Williams, C. (2009) “Hothouse Earth: Capitalism, climate change and the fate of humanity.”  International Socialist Review, no 64, 57.

Maybe Not More Butter, But Certainly Less Guns

Posted in War and Peace with tags , on July 22, 2009 by Black Pumpkin

A big deal is being made of the fact that the Senate voted to kill funding for the F-22.  And a big deal should be made of it.  With so many people pushing to end it, it would seem extremely assinine to continue funding it.  President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and even the Pentagon are against the F-22.  And yet it seems like a miracle that the Senate voted the way they did.

But I think it’s important to keep this in perspective.  First of all, the House’s version of the defense authorization bill (aka money for the military) includes $369 million for the production of 12 more F-22s.  So it could still end up in the final bill, but Obama has promised to veto the bill if it contains any money for the F-22.  How symbolically important would that be, that Obama’s first veto would be a defense authorization bill?

In addition, the Senate voted for $550 billion for the military as a whole.  And an additional $130 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  So when you look at the $369 million in the House version, it seems like chump change.  But that is certainly a lot of change.  But I think that more needs to made of the $550 billion that is going to the military in the first place.

Most of this money is nothing more than corporate welfare.  A few companies have contracts with the government to build weapons and equipment for the military, and they are the ones who benefit most from these billions.

For instance, the Pentagon wants to kill the F-22 because they want to use the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter because they think it is more versatile.  Guess who makes the F-22?  Lockheed Martin.  Now this will shock you… Guess who makes the F-35?  You guessed it: Lockheed Martin.  How fortunate for them, the bastards.

Now, it certainly makes sense to have the best equipment and vehicles when we go to war, but the question that seems to get ignored is whether we should be going to war at all.  If we didn’t feel the need to depose dictators (at least the ones we don’t like) or ensure our corporate cronies access to a country, we wouldn’t need so many weapons or so many soldiers.  And we wouldn’t have to spend so much damn money on new ways to find and kill poor brown people.

And if we spent more money on helping people instead of killing them, then maybe we wouldn’t have to defend ourselves from terrorists who “hate our freedom.”  How much medicine or food or houses or healthcare would $550 billion buy us?  And more importantly, how much good will?

It would all seem like a ridiculous game if it weren’t so deadly serious.

Morning in the Sunni Triangle

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on July 20, 2009 by Mort the Sport

The sun rose over Ramadi: a pink eye,

an industrial fire. Just off the highway

to Baghdad, we waited behind a hatchback

for my Chechen friend. My contact,

an Iraqi, helped me pack the car

with all the necessary items, but nothing

behind the seat caught my eye; my friend,

nowhere in sight. The man stiffly

mused over a piece of paper, a checklist,

making sure I had everything I needed

and that I was, in fact, following Iraqi law.

The car, a beat-up old ‘70s-era compact,

was a dingy white, the color of all foreign cars

that one sees in old spy movies. He kept

eyeing the piece of paper to make sure

I would be okay. He had, I felt, nothing

but my best interest in mind. Before we

were about to leave, my friend appeared,

darker and shorter than I had remembered.

We exchanged jovial pleasantries;

we laughed nervously, kicked at the sand.

Before we left, my Iraqi host wanted to make

sure I had a gun. He said I not only needed protection

but also that it was the law. According to Iraqi law,

one had to have a gun to travel. He threw

a clear plastic bag at me, which I caught.

In it, I found a toy gun. I couldn’t even

get my finger in between the trigger

and the trigger guard. The Iraqi

assured me that I would need nothing

else besides the gun to travel.

Roe No More?

Posted in Domestic with tags , , on July 18, 2009 by Black Pumpkin

Norma McCorvey was arrested when she and a small group of anti-abortion protestors stood up and started yelling during the hearings for Sonia Sotomayor.  To which most people would reply: Who is Norma McCorvey?  Or perhaps, who is Sonia Sotomayor?  But if you are asking that question, then you should use the internet for more than just MySpace.  You might learn something.

But the question of who is Norma McCorvey is perfectly understandable.  Hers is not a household name.  And her pseudonym is only slightly better known.  Norma McCorvey is Jane Roe.  And Jane Roe is the name that she used when she was involved in a lawsuit in Texas (in 1970) that became the famous Supreme Court decision known as Roe v. Wade.

Of course today, McCorvey is not a defender of choice, she is an anti-abortion zealot who worked with Operation Rescue for some time.  She now has her own group called Roe No More Ministry.

If the namesake of the Supreme Court case that allowed abortion to be legal in all 50 states crusading as an anti-abortion zealot isn’t ironic enough, then how about the fact that she never had an abortion in the first place.  She court case began in 1970.  And the Supreme Court ruled on it in 1973.  She had the baby long before the Court ruled that she could have had an abortion.  Go figure…

Another thing that really gets to me when I think about this situation is that even though abortion is technically legal in all 50 states, there are so many barriers to getting one.  According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, 87 percent of US counties don’t have any abortion providers.  And some states are doing all they can to make it more difficult with waiting periods and sonogram requirements, whereby doctors are required to show pregnant women pictures of their fetuses to “help” them understand the decision they’re making.

Unfortunately, this all seems too late.  We should be trying to prevent pregnancies in the first place, not waiting for women and girls to get pregnant and then telling them that they have to have the baby.  If we had comprehensive sex education in every single school across the country, we wouldn’t need to make abortion illegal.  And the rates of STDs would inevitably go down as well.  When we ignore the problem, it doesn’t go away, it just becomes worse.  And programs like abstinence-only education clearly do not work.

Just ask Bristol Palin.

Sarah Palin is a Moron (but they love her)

Posted in Domestic with tags on July 17, 2009 by Black Pumpkin

I have not really talked much about Sarah Palin because for the most part I think this is a non-issue.  But at the same time, there are plenty of people (according to polls, for what those are worth) that really like her and would probably vote for her.

I have to be honest, when Sarah Palin announced that she was resigning from the governorship of Alaska, I was taken aback.  It didn’t make any sense.  It didn’t make any political sense, and her reasons seemed like bullshit.  But at the same time, I didn’t really care.  However, the more I’ve thought about this, the more I like the decision.

One of two possible outcomes will occur.  Either she will leave the political scene altogether, or she will try to capitalize on her fame and make a run for the presidency.

If she is leaving the political scene for good, then we don’t have to worry about her nonsense views and cruel policies.  Clearly, as evidenced by her Washington Post op-ed, she has not gotten out of the game completely.  And it is quite possible that she is gearing up for a run at the Presidency in 2012.  I think it is a little early to be talking about that election (especially when we have another, non-presidential, election coming up in 2010) but if she feels that she needs to quit the gubernatorial game for the presidential game, then so be it.  In fact, more power to her.  I almost want her to run.  I want her to win the nomination for the Republican Party, so that Barack Obama can wipe the floor with her.

Can you imagine what a “debate” between Obama and Palin would be like?  It would be comedy of the highest order.  I don’t care how much coaching she got, it would be a disaster for her.  Say what you will about her, she is not very bright.  And it shows.  Just ask her a simple question, and watch her flounder.  The Katie Couric interview is a perfect example.  Lowball question after lowball question and she still couldn’t come up with decent answers.  She was not cut out for the political game.  It is that simple.  And that’s exactly why I want her to keep coming back.

If she were a Democrat (no matter what policies she supported), I would be horrified to have her anywhere near an election, much less an actual candidate.  But she’s not.  She’s a Republican.  And a really conservative one at that.  So I say, let her run in 2012.  And I hope the Republicans nominate her.  It doesn’t matter who her running mate is, she will be the nominee, and she will lose.  Badly.

Sarah Palin Is a Moron

Posted in Economics, Environment with tags , , , , on July 14, 2009 by Mort the Sport
800px-Palin_Nowhere_99901Apparently Sarah Palin wrote an op-ed piece in  The Washington Post, and the response it has received is overwhelming. It’s been attacked by mainstream figures and like Keith Olbermann and John Kerry, and it’s been lambasted by policy wonks and environmentalists. Her article attacks Obama’s energy policy and the Waxman-Markey bill. I won’t bore you with the details. I just have one point to make: If Sarah Palin has decided to leave political life, she should stop flaunting her ignorance of complex issues and shut up. Since her argument seems to ignore global climate change altogether, it reads like a sad attempt to justify the Republican “drill, baby, drill!” stance. Even worse, if this is Palin’s attempt to dive into policy issues and position herself for the 2012 presidential election, then she’s going about it the wrong way. In fact, based on her argumentation skills, silence on her part would be more convincing. I can’t figure out her strategy at this point, and it looks like she can’t either.