Archive for April, 2015

This Changes Everything – Naomi Klein

The One Book

If you are planning to read a book this year I strongly suggest Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. Climate change and global warming are real, tangible, and undeniable, the evidence is concrete, and it is planet wide. The only serious question remaining is whether or not something can be done to slow or otherwise mitigate it in the face of powerful political opposition. This book reminds me of Ralph Nader’s Unsafe At Any Speed. The sounding of an alarm reflexively resisted by vested interests but of vital interest and value to everyone else.

The international climate goal for some time now had been to hold warming to a 2°C rise in temperature. This number was developed and agreed upon as far back as 2009 by several international environmental organizations and scientists. Alarmingly 2°C is no longer deemed sufficient and 1.5°C is now believed to be the critical limit. This new limit was agreed on by a UN climate group in 2014 as being necessary to avoid melting most of the Arctic ice to keep sea level rise below 2 feet. Rise is a measurement across time of movement from a lower position to a higher one. In the case of climate change and global warming this means that globally the overall temperature of the earth and its atmosphere cannot become more than 1.5° to 2°C than it is presently and sustain life as we know it. Controlling temperature in a dynamical system as complex as this planet is naturally, with no help from humans, is in and of itself an awesome challenge on many levels.

The book deftly takes you through the history and politics of climate change, the awareness of its extent and effects, and the well organized, well financed denial of its reality. Klein also details the hare-brained schemes to cool things down such as a plan called Solar Radiation Management which sounds innocuous enough but is a scheme to spray chemicals into the upper atmosphere to dim the sun.

If you like numbers, concrete examples, and statistics This Changes Everything will satisfy. The writing is clear, concise, and non-technical, the arguments are well documented. Beyond the numbers the narrative is conversational, insightful, and oftentimes witty as well as startling. Good guys and bad guys (and some in between) are identified and numerous specious proposals for remediation called out. Klein’s skilled writing makes the complex issues readable and, more important, understandable in non-technical language. Her thesis is, I think, best summed up thus: “… our economic system and our planetary system are now at war. Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth.” Klein deftly demonstrates how everything is connected to everything else from ecosystems to economic systems and the dangers of ignoring this fundamental principle.

Florida’s Governor, Rick Scott made himself into a world class laughing stock forbidding Florida state employees to use the term climate change or global warming. Scott is now followed by Louisianna’s Jindal and Wisconsin’s Walker, two leading lights of contemporary right-wing political leadership. One has to wonder and be concerned when politicians dissemble and deny, and ask who is paying them to perform. Denial seems to be as contagious as it is profitable. When the phrase “money is the root of all evil” was coined they hadn’t yet heard of PACs, ALEC, or the Koch boys numerous political organizations to funnel money into politics. Climate change has, until recently, been below the general public’s awareness and now, for good measure, it is being denied, suppressed, and politicized. This Changes Everything carefully details the players and the plays.

Nowadays it is extremely difficult to avoid being cynical as we witness the political, and not in the least, moral compromises, and betrayal of public trust even with matters of such universal import as climate change. Both for the amusement and the ensuing disbelief I suggest you direct your web browser to the following URL: <http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/florida-official-climate-change-video>. The right-wing response to the difficult issues at hand seems to be, don’t talk about it and it will go away. Well, it won’t. Denial of the obvious seldom gets very far though it is, nevertheless, a favorite ploy of politicians of every stripe as long as they have an audience wanting to hear only what they want to hear. Politicizing science as Klein well illustrates is a dangerous road to travel and she has provided an eloquent and thoroughly documented counter argument with This Changes Everything.

   

This Changes Everything

Naomi Klein

Simon & Schuster

2014

Children And Society As Fair Game

What is with the anti-children political agenda going on across the country? What do Republicans have against children? Why do they push laws to force women to have children then pass laws to harm those children and not just at the state level but at the national level as well by cutting funds for education, food stamps, health care, and anything else of social value?

To have witnessed a revolting fist-pumping celebration by a New Mexican Republican legislator for his victory over third-graders who aren’t ready to learn to read by third grade was an eye-opener. If someone had told me adults would celebrate such a victory I wouldn’t have  believed it – but I saw it with my own eyes! At the moment, 3rd grade retention is an iconic right-wing red-meat political issue, part of a larger strategy to privatize public education nationally. Public schools in Kansas are closing early because of a $51 million funding short-fall caused by the Governor’s budget cuts and tax breaks for businesses which themselves caused a $1 billion shortfall in state revenues. Children be damned – we won! Yea Us! Remember Hitler’s little dance at the fall of Paris?

Fourth grade school children in New Hampshire recently received a lesson in how vile partisan politics has become. The kids had proposed naming the Red Tailed Hawk as the state bird and then witnessed a Republican lawmaker take the floor and use the proposal to disparage Planned Parenthood.  Here is what the politician said to the body as the children watched: “It grasps them with its talons then uses its razor sharp beak to basically tear it apart limb by limb, and I guess the shame about making this a state bird is it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.” The measure was defeated along party lines. The lesson the kids learned wasn’t part of the curriculum but it was an indelible lesson.

In North Carolina lawmakers recently turned down a school girl’s request to designate a state fossil because, as many were creationists fossils were an existential challenge. In Idaho naming the Giant Salamander the state amphibian as requested by school kids was killed by Republicans because they feared it would lead to environmental protections for that animal. This is like believing that having intercourse standing up leads to dancing. Sad but substantial lessons in contemporary political behavior and disregard for education in America today. And more than disregard, I believe fear of educated people is a root cause, people who can think and analyze before they vote, if they are allowed to vote, that is, and there are billionaires and their politicians working on that voting problem as well.

I’ve been thinking lately how fortunate we are that the Child Labor Laws were enacted in 1938 because I doubt they could be today. My mother worked in a Western Massachusetts mill at the age of 12. She had to carry a stool because she was too short to change bobbins without it. Her recollections of 12 hour work days and children regularly being injured were vivid into her late 90s. Remember, there was no workers comp back then and WC is now another target for the new reformers as are unemployment compensation, food stamps, and health care. In recent weeks Republicans in Congress just proposed a budget that would remove 11 million people from food stamps so Congress could provide bigger tax cuts to billionaires. Presently some Republican legislators and one born-rich presidential candidate in particular are going so far as to call for the end of 40 hour work weeks and the minimum wage. It’s starting to look like “back to the past”! Nothing surprises me anymore. What’s next? Perhaps bondage and children sold into servitude at birth? Debtors prisons have already been revived.

                                            child labor

At least for the moment children aren’t working in factories or on farms as child labor they are in school (for as long as that lasts) learning what we as a society believe they need to know to become productive fully-functioning adults. With state legislatures banning the teaching of global warming and trying to replace high achievement college placement courses with bible studies the definition of “fully-functioning” is undergoing profound distortion and re-definition. Texans for Education Reform and Republican leaders in that state’s senate are openly pursuing an ALEC sponsored agenda to privatize public education. Texas cut funding for public education by $5 billion a few years back and has offered no new money since then. School systems are floundering. What is being sought is total destruction of public schools and teachers.

But why? What is the desired outcome? What future are right-wing activists seeking? Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness cannot be the objective, they must have something else in mind. Social control perhaps? A nation of sheep? Then again the rank and file of the movement may not have anything in mind except satisfying deeply held resentments and perceptions of being left out. Or, perhaps it’s fear of an increasingly uncertain future.

People are increasingly disinclined open their hearts for the homeless or for impoverished hungry children but they did open their wallets to the tune of nearly a million dollars for a bigoted bakery owner who shut down her business in order to not serve gays. Whatever the cause, sociopathy is fast becoming the new normal and children are the latest targets joining people of color, women, and gays. Next?

    


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