Dim Bulb Award for 2014

dim-bulbThe Dim Bulb Award is an RNWMV tradition. It is an award that I give to any worthy member of the Idaho Legislature who has, through word or action, reached the acceptable level of abject stupidity. This legislative session has reached new heights of dimness. I could easily award the Dim Chandelier award to the whole Republican caucus, as this was the first legislative session that warranted an editorial from both the New York Times and the Washington Post. The take away comment from the NYT described the Republicans as exhibiting “xenophobic fantasies”. I couldn’t agree more.

Nevertheless, I will remain true to the Dim Bulb award tradition and award it to an individual legislator. But, as I have done in the past, I will fudge a bit by giving more than one award for this session. It was impossible to single out just one Legislator among a group of Republican Legislators who engage in group think.

Today, the award goes to a runner up to the award in 2013, Vito “Cousin Vito” Barbieri. He managed to pull off a couple of bone head idiocies this session including inviting the rabid anti-Islam speaker Shahram Hadian to speak at a luncheon where he convinced the members of the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration to vote against updating Child Support legislation because it would put Idaho under Sharia law. As a result, the Legislature will have to come back in special session to correct the screw up.

Below is Cousin Vito displaying the stupid that led to the first Dim Bulb award of 2014.

Winters of Delay

baltimore-cover-finalAs the Baltimore “riots” were reported on the 24/7 news channels, I immediately thought of the title of Henry Giroux’s latest collection of essays, The Violence of Organized Forgetting.   According to Giroux,  the media suffers from purposeful amnesia. Instead of context and analysis, we see the same looped video and hour after hour of “commentary”.  Print media does a somewhat better job of providing some historical context. For example, Time magazine points out that the same neighborhoods in Baltimore where the riots are taking place today are pockmarked with destroyed or boarded up buildings from the 1968 riot after the assassination of Martin Luther King. Of course, few people today read Time or any other print media.

Rather than asking why black neighborhoods like those in Baltimore have been marginalized and ignored while two generations of young black Americans grow up without equal opportunities and equal justice, pundits on Fox and CNN debate the appropriate punishment for the “thugs” who steal and destroy property. As long as most Americans get their news from television news and social media, the purposeful amnesia and organized forgetting will continue.

As I think about the history of Baltimore and previously forgotten “riots”, including the 1968 riot over Dr. King’s assassination, I recall King’s comments made almost 50 years ago.

I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice in progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.

Those words resonate as much today as they did then.  A riot is the language of the unheard. It seems to me, it is the obligation of the media to give voice to the unheard. The media response to Baltimore reminds us once again that injustice is not likely to be reported until somebody riots.

 People who remember court madness through pain,  the pain of the perpetually reoccurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence- James Baldwin

Happy Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! One of the problems with thinking about climate change is how impotent it makes the average person feel. There doesn’t appear to be much we can actually do.

Juan Cole, who is my “go to” blogger for all things Middle East, has a list of 10 thing many Americans can, in fact do. It is worth reading: Informed Comment

Earth Day 2015

I haven’t posted in some time, but couldn’t let a RNWMV tradition pass without comment. Every year since I began this blog in 2006, I have marked Earth Day by posting this cartoon, the creation of one of America’s greatest philosophers, Walt Kelly, artist and writer of the comic strip, Pogo. Since the first Earth Day in 1971, the phrase, “We have met the enemy and he is us” has become part of the American lexicon.

Forty four years after the first Earth Day, it is hard to be terribly optimistic about the idealistic goals of the Earth Day movement. The “Green” movement has grown steadily, but faces a situation where change might be “too little, too late”. See, for example, this article from the current issue of Scientific American, Have We Passed the Point of No Return on Climate Change?

Although, over the years, the enemy has coalesced into the climate deniers, politically, the “Green” movement has it’s supporters, including President Obama and the Democratic party, who have become increasingly willing to call out Republicans who remain vocal climate change deniers.

Politics aside, perhaps the most hopeful sign for Earth Day, 2015, is that investors are now making money by going green. Forbes has a list of solar and clean energy exchanges that are easily beating the S&P 500.

The Earth Day Network is still alive and well. It would be worth your time to visit their site and see how you could contribute while there is still time.

Update: President Obama uses Earth Day to talk about climate change.

Fear and Apathy

Less than one third of the registered voters voted in the recent midterm elections, yet the Republicans claim a mandate and President Obama a lame duck who should quietly and passively accept that his is a failed presidency. Fortunately, he has refused to do so and seems to be responding to the election with renewed energy, resulting in his latest speech on immigration.

Of course, the major television networks, in an unprecedented failure to use the public airwaves for the public good, refused to broadcast the President’s speech.  Fox news, on the other hand, brought out the usual suspects to spew fear and rattled the swords of impeachment.

Meanwhile, a Republican controlled House committee determined that, contrary to the unrelenting “reporting” from Fox news, the allegations of wrongdoing in response to the 2012 attack on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi Libya are completely unfounded. According to the Associated Press,

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the two-year investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, intelligence about who carried it out and why was contradictory, the report found. That led Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to inaccurately assert that the attack had evolved from a protest, when in fact there had been no protest. But it was intelligence analysts, not political appointees, who made the wrong call, the committee found. The report did not conclude that Rice or any other government official acted in bad faith or intentionally misled the American people.

Any guesses as to whether Fox news will offer retractions?

The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week. Many of its findings echo those of six previous investigations by various congressional committees and a State Department panel. The eighth Benghazi investigation is being carried out by a House Select Committee appointed in May.

The attacks in Benghazi killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith, and two CIA contractors, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty. A Libyan extremist, Ahmed Abu Khatalla, is facing trial on murder charges after he was captured in Libya and taken to the U.S.

In the aftermath of the attacks, Republicans criticized the Obama administration and its then-secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to run for president in 2016. People in and out of government have alleged that a CIA response team was ordered to “stand down” after the State Department compound came under attack, that a military rescue was nixed, that officials intentionally downplayed the role of al-Qaida figures in the attack, and that Stevens and the CIA were involved in a secret operation to spirit weapons out of Libya and into the hands of Syrian rebels. None of that is true, according to the House Intelligence Committee report.

Of course, Fox news (And the Republican Party) has moved on from  criticizing the President about Benghazi to calling for his impeachment for “overextending” executive powers on immigration. The fact is, the current attitude towards immigrants is, at a very deep level, unAmerican. For most of America’s history, citizenship was granted based on residency requirements alone. Only in the relatively recent past has this changed in any significant way. Even then, as 18 executive actions on immigration by various presidents (5 of whom were Republican) across the past 50 years have shown, there have been ways for presidents to alter the situation. For example, amnesties of extremely large groups of Cubans in the past benefited that community. Both Senator Cruz and Rubio were born to Cuban citizens, and would today be called anchor babies by the Republicans.

The President acted because the Republican lead House has refused to. John Boehner should let the 2013 Senate Immigration Reform bill come to a vote instead of blocking it. The President has responded to immigration based upon what the majority of Americans want. As recently as last week, a Wall Street Journal poll showed that 74% of all Americans approve a pathway to citizenship that includes penalties and waiting periods — just like those found in the Senate bill.

The fact is, President Obama’s action, rather than an abuse of power,is a band aid intended to provide temporary relief. The Republicans will have a difficult time refusing act on immigration now that Democratic leadership would be wise to join him. If only the media would provide him the “bully pulpit” his position as President deserves.

2014 Mark Twain Award

I just learned that Jay Leno will receive the 2014 Mark Twain Award for American humor. I have usually been pleased with the Mark Twain Award recipients, feeling that most came close to living up to the standard the Award Committee identified when describing Mark Twain himself:

As a social commentator, satirist and creator of characters, Samuel Clemens was a fearless observer of society, who startled many while delighting and informing many more with his uncompromising perspective of social injustice and personal folly.

Although Leno is “funny” in the innocuous way comics were prior to Pryor (the first recipient of the Mark Twain Award in 1998), it is difficult to think of him as a “fearless observer of society” with an “uncompromising perspective of social injustice and personal folly”.

Of all the Mark Twain Award recipients, there is really only one, in my humble opinion, that epitomizes the Mark Twain standard and that is the only one to receive to award posthumously, George Carlin. The clip below is just one of many that show Carlin to be much more than a comic in the Leno sense.

Earth, The Wakened Giant

Rachel-Carson Today is the 107th birthday of Rachel Carson. Carson was the American marine biologist and conservationist whose book Silent Spring was largely responsible for starting the global environmental movement. By observing the damage to humans and nature caused by factories and industrial agriculture, Carson presented nature as highly vulnerable to destruction by the power of synthetic chemicals. 

The idea that the earth is fragile,  easily disrupted and unable to repair itself led to an environmental movement focused on repairing a damaged planet.

This idea has had various metaphorical expressions, including “Mother Earth” as a nurturing, feminine and easily damaged entity. The notion of living harmoniously with nature took hold, inspired by images of pre-industrial peoples living close to the natural world.

Underlying these conceptions is a view that, while humans can cause a great deal of damage, nature is passive and always our victim. That vision has changed dramatically thanks to the science of climate change. Today we see that the planet has been disturbed from its resting state, jolted out of the providential era of climatic stability characteristic of the last 10,000 years, and is now on a new and largely uncontrollable path that is creating conditions dangerous for human life.

Clive Hamilton has written a piece for The Conversation entitled, Forget “saving the Earth”- it’s an angry beast we’ve awoken, that analyses this new perspective.

a growing chorus of senior scientists refer to the Earth with metaphors such as “the wakened giant” and “the ornery beast”, a planet that is “fighting back” and seeking “revenge”, and a new era of “angry summers” and “death spirals”.

Whether you consider yourself to be an environmentalist or not, the warnings from Earth system science have far-reaching implications for us all.

According to Hamilton, Earth System Science is responsible for this more holistic view.

The rise of Earth system science – which has brought together many different fields of science so that we can better understand how the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land and other systems work together – has changed the way we see the world.

Now, the Earth is understood as a dynamic system with strong feedback effects, which can suddenly shift it to a new state when critical points are crossed.

So profound has been the influence of humans that scientists have proposed that the Earth has entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene or the Age of Humans, defined by the fact that the “human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of Nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system”.

As Earth scientist James Syvitski writes:

At some point, we graduated from adapting to our environment to making it adapt to us … But now we regularly decelerate and accelerate natural processes, focus energy in extraordinary ways and alter, destroy or create ecosystems.

That means we must no longer see the Earth as the submissive repository for supplying our resources or taking our wastes, nor as the docile victim of our rapacity or carelessness.

This newer understanding of the Earth has been vividly expressed by palaeoclimatologist Wally Broecker:

The palaeoclimate record shouts out to us that, far from being self-stabilizing, the Earth’s climate system is an ornery beast which overreacts even to small nudges.

When the Earth is understood this way, the task of environmentalism can no longer be to “save” or preserve the planet, for the planet we wanted to save has already become something else. Our task now is to do what we can to pacify, or at least not aggravate further, something vastly more powerful than we are.

If we have wakened the slumbering beast by poking and prodding it, the prudent course is firstly to stop. But we cannot put it back to sleep.

There is no return to the peaceful conditions of the Holocene, at least not for thousands of years; but to provoke it further, as we still are, is foolishness on an epic scale.

So, the metaphor of “Mother Earth” is being replaced by something akin to William Butler Yeats‘ rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem.

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Idaho Republican Primary Debate for Governor

Wednesday’s Idaho Republican Primary Debate for Governor has received lots on national media attention. The most frequently used term has been “Circus”. If you haven’t seen it already, watch the video above and I imagine you will agree with the characterization. It is hard to watch it and not think you are seeing a classic SNL sketch, particularly because of the eerie resemblance between Russ Fulcher and Dan Aykroyd.

The truth is the debate was a clever political move on the part of current Idaho Gov. CL (Butch) Otter. He is running for a third term and has a serious opponent in the tea party favorite candidate Russ Fulcher. In a move to solidify control of the Idaho Republican Party, the tea party pushed for a closed Republican primary. Otter, and other mainstream Republicans, were against it, but got outmaneuvered. Consequently, Otter insisted that two fringe candidates (leather-clad biker Harley Brown and Bible-thumping mountain man Walt Bates) be included in the debate. Brown and Bates served as comedy relief and were the reason the debate received national notoriety, but, more importantly, they serve the political purpose of making Butch Otter appeared to be the only sane one in the room. Anyone familiar with Otter’s political career knows how far to the right- i.e. libertarian- he really is, but in this debate he seems to be a real moderate.

This debate took place the same week that a federal judge overturned Idaho’s ban on single-sex marriage. In fact, as I write this, LGBT couples are meeting at the Ada County courthouse in Boise to obtain marriage licenses. Although Brown and Bates provide the real entertainment value to the debate, it is worthwhile to hear how Otter and Fulcher respond to the questions about single-sex marriage. Neither seems to understand the constitutional principal that majority wishes do not trump minority rights. Even though Judge Candy Dale refused Otter’s request for a stay, and even though no state ban against single-sex marriage has withstood  judicial scrutiny, there is no doubt that Otter will spend the $1 million he and the legislature has set aside in the current budget to fight this all the way to the Supreme Court. Quite simply, it is a matter of  taxpayer dollars that could be used in a state that ranks near the bottom  in support for education wasted. Ironically, of the four candidates, biker Harley Brown was the only one supporting single-sex marriage.

Here he is around minute 8:35 in the video:

Discrimination! Let me tell you about discrimination. In 1990- uh, bleep that- in 1964, the blacks got the Civil Rights Act passed. We bikers! Discrimination? We are cop magnets, like a Playboy Bunny wearing’ a miniskirt gets hit on all the time! They pull us over without probable cause, and they bring up the sniffin’ dogs and they search us and our bikes, even when we’re not flyin’ our colors. If you’re a leather-clad Harley Davidson driver, you know, the cops are gonna zero in on you like a heat-seeking missile.

Okay. Discrimination. I used to drive taxis in Boise for 20 years. At night! And I’ve picked up my fair share of the gay community. And they have true love for one another. I’m tellin’ you, they love each other more than I love my motorcycle. And you know, they’re just as American as a Medal of Honor Winner. And, uh, liberty and justice for all! Equal protection under the law! I’m glad that judge made that decision, and I’m glad they wanna get married and live like that. I know I’m not really talkin’ like a Republican, but…

After watching the debate, I am tempted to switch to the Republican Party for the Primary just so I can cast my ballot for Harley Brown. Watch and I think you might agree.

Earth Day 2014

Pogo Here we are again- Earth Day. I have posted this cartoon every Earth Day since I began the blog in 2006. It is, of course, by one of America’s greatest philosophers, Walt Kelly, creator of the comic strip, Pogo. Since the first Earth Day in 1971, the phrase, “We have met the enemy and he is us” becomes more and more profound. The climate change deniers,the Koch brothers and their lackeys who fight solar and wind power and all other alternative sources that cut into their oil and coal profits, have become more powerful and, because of their money, more influential.

A clear eyed appraisal of the current situation would say that we are beyond the point of no return. The enemy has won and we can only watch the carnage we have brought upon the “forest primeval”.

Nevertheless, foolish optimists continue to believe it is possible to reverse course. Given the alternative, foolish optimism does seem to be the only option left. If you are interested in fighting the good fight, even if the realistic position is that the war has been lost- click here 

The Angry Gnome Gets a Taste of Reality

JRisch The Angry Gnome, Idaho Senator James Risch, is back in the news, grandstanding for the rubes back home. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (not that he has any background, expertise, or knowledge in foreign relations), Risch used the testimony of Secretary of State, John Kerry, as an opportunity to criticize President Obama’s tactics in response to the Russian incursion in the Ukraine.

Risch, following in the shadow of Senator John McCain, seems to think that American foreign policy has been too “weak”. According to the GOP saber rattlers like Risch, trying to talk to the Russians is an invitation for Putin to annex all of the Ukraine. Any attempt to negotiate is little more than appeasement to the tyrannical Russian.

Risch seems to think America is in a position to punish those “misbehaving” Russians and his questions to Kerry reflect that false bravado.

They misbehave, then we sit down at the table, we make some kind of an agreement and they misbehave even worse after the agreement. So maybe you could give us a little taste of what you’re gonna tell (Russian Foreign Minister Sergey) Lavrov when you meet with him next week?

Kerry wasted no time in giving Risch a little “taste of reality” by pointing out America’s complete lack of a response when Putin annexed Georgia while George Bush was President. It should be noted that at that time Senator Risch did not consider the Bush administration’s response to be weak regarding that act of “misbehavior”.
Well, let me give you what I consider a taste of reality, senator, about our foreign policy and the realities of the world. Georgia happened under George Bush. Georgia happened under George Bush. And he didn’t even bring a sanction. President Obama has brought sanctions and it’s having an impact.
Risch interrupted in feigned disbelief,  “It’s having an impact?”
Yes it is. And the fact is it will have a far more serious impact if they cross over or continue what’s happening in East Ukraine. Now, I don’t know anybody in the United States of America who said we ought to go to war over Crimea. Is there any member of this committee who believes that? I don’t think so. So what are we doing? We’re using 21st century tools, which are the tools of diplomacy to bring people together in other countries to put sanctions in place. And we now have announced the possibility of using sector sanctions. Now that’s serious business. Serious business.
You can see the exchange between Risch and Kerry via this link to NBC news.