Feb 282013
 

TimesUpHippies2The environmental movement of the latter half of the 20th century is dying. And as a product and member of that movement, I say, not a minute too soon.

Don’t get me wrong. We have a lot for which to thank the green movement that arose in force during the Sixties. Without towering achievements like the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and countless other federal, state and local reinings-in of pollution, waste, and annihilation of habitat supporting biodiversity, our world would be vastly worse off.

Unfortunately, like so much that arose out of the Sixties, the era of environmental activism that is now passing away was based more on romantic notions than on practical and scientific realities. And now that time has moved on and younger generations do not, by and large, share those same romantic notions, we are threatened with a future in which protection and stewardship of the environment will dwindle as public support is lost.

Though there were certainly scientific reasons for the concerns being expressed by such Boomer-era environmental drivers as Rachel Carson and the David Brower-era Sierra Club, their articulated arguments were not couched in those terms. They were emotional appeals. Those coffee-table books featuring magnificent, endangered landscapes and adorable or noble charismatic species struck a chord in a Cold War public increasingly aware of the dark side of advancing technological progress, and painted a Muir-style romantic image of “Nature” as Out There: in the wild lands, far from humans, precious and endangered. As a result, millions of acres were protected as federal and state lands and parks. Nature-lovers flocked to hike, backpack, raft and otherwise enjoy these wild places.

There were those who loved and romanticized Nature prior to the 1960s, of course. But they were few, and viewed as cranks. Their signature, remarkable accomplishment was the invention of the national park, for which we must be ever grateful. But they were not a mass movement until a poetic idea of the Earth as a beloved, unified entity–what some claimed is even a single, intelligent organism–seized the imaginations of young people in reaction against their parents’ technologically enthusiastic, militaristic consumer society in the late 1960s, surging into the public imagination with the first full-Earth pictures relayed back by Apollo 8.

While there is certainly plenty of truth to describing wild lands as magnificent and rich with the fabric of life, it also had the effect of defining “the environment” as Somewhere Out There…rather than here, around us, all the time. By falling in line with the Sixties’ counterculture’s anti-societal ethos and evoking a romantic idea of Simpler Olden Times When Humans Lived More In Harmony With The Earth (particularly, lionizing with grossly oversimplified stereotypes the lifeways of native peoples) the environmental movement that rose to effective power at the end of the 1960s was the age-old-story of Man Against Nature, but rooting for the other team. It was the romantic mentality of the “back-to-the-landers”, rendered as a social movement.

Exacerbating this problem for us today is that one of the primary cultural legacies of the Sixties has been a wholesale cultural turning away from reason and science, suspiciously viewing these as the modalities and tools of authoritarian institutions, corporate greed, and engineered destruction. As a result, we have seen both on the left and right a tremendous surge in superstition, confirmation bias, junk, fringe- and pseudoscience accepted as fact, and paranoid conspiracy theories…be they about President Obama’s birth certificate, or the mortal dangers of water fluoridation.

Now, this is not to say that the modern environmental movement does not include many who are scientifically educated and literate, and who use the best available information in crafting proposed actions and policies. But this group tends to operate within institutions like established wildlife habitat restoration and land conservation organizations, academic institutions and policy think tanks. These informed and careful experts are often out of step, however, and even sometimes attacked by less educated grassroots activists, because they do not provide support for these activists’ more extreme theories.

The True Believers of the Sixties are fading away. Muir/Thoreau/Abbey-style Nature romantics who frame every proposal they don’t like as an environmental disaster belong to a generation now averaging over 60 years old, and their values have not penetrated to the youth of today. If theirs is the modality of operation and the mentality we continue to call “environmentalism”, environmentalism will die as a significant political and social movement.

Today’s generation does not view technology with suspicion. It spends most of its life engaging with it and interacting through it. Whether or not we want to face it, today’s youth feels little motivation to put on a backpack and hit the trail. Attendance at state and national parks has plummeted, and when you look at the number of people going to the back country, it is even lower. Those who do are overwhelmingly older, rather than younger.

The transition isn’t just in relation to technology. It’s demographic: a whole lot more of today’s young people come from backgrounds other than the white middle class suburbia from which most Boomer-generation environmentalists emerged. That’s just a fact.

Rather than beating the dead horse of values the young mostly do not share, if we want advocacy for the environment to persist it will have to become relevant to them. Environmentalism must evolve, or it will die.

Central to that evolution must be heightened emphasis on ecosystem services such as integrity of food webs and biodiversity, carbon sequestration, watershed function and other operations of the natural world which have a direct nexus with human needs, as opposed to wilderness preservation in remote areas. We all need to eat. We all need to breathe. We can still advocate for preserving wilderness from the standpoint of watershed functions, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, etc., but if our talk continues to be rooted in Muir/Brower “glory of Nature” rhetoric and the expectation we can lure popular support with the prospect of wilderness recreation opportunities that fewer and fewer of us are seeking, we’re going nowhere.

And, fellow greenies, we also have to stop indulging or participating in so-called “environmentalism” that is really just self-interested obstructionism. We need to call out the difference when opponents of change (and it is always opponents, not proponents, isn’t it?)  use environmental protection laws as a cudgel. We need to distance ourselves from fringe- and pseudoscience. We need to accept that all actions have impacts, and that this alone is not an argument never to do anything. The question is what will be impacted, and the significance of that impact. If the debate at hand is about which store goes into an already-existing mall, it’s up to us to point out that there may be reasons to oppose the project, but they are not environmental reasons.

Environmental reasons are rooted in air, water and soil quality; biodiversity; minimizing waste; efficient use of resources such as energy and water, and moving toward lower-impact ways of sustaining ourselves. That’s all.  Fighting a multi-family in-fill housing project in your neighborhood when what you really care about is parking convenience and the prospect that (gasp!) some brown people might try to live near you isn’t environmentalism. Opposing a more natural flow regime in managing a dam and claiming your concern is for fish and wildlife–when what you’re really concerned about is tourism-related business downstream–isn’t environmentalism.

In my home town a few years ago, a specific plan–mind you, just a plan, not a project–was proposed which would have set standards for developing mixed-use, higher density, transit and pedestrian-friendly projects in an area adjacent to the downtown, on lands currently occupied by decaying light industrial buildings.

The town went berserk. And self-styled “environmentalists” killed the plan.

Now, by no stretch of the imagination was theirs an effort in defense of or to augment the natural world. The existing policies applying to the area allowed more filling of nearby wetlands than did the proposed ones. Residents of the housing units would have been within walking distance of three grocery stores, a drug store, a farmers market, a post office, a movie theater, shops and restaurants and the town’s hub for regional transit. They would have been able to live a nearly car-free lifestyle. Everything about the plan was the kind of thing environmentalists around here say they support.

But only, apparently, if it is built somewhere else.

We have to stop this, folks. It’s shameful. Because what we’re showing the next generation is an “environmentalism” that lies about its real motivations while claiming to speak for the Earth in romantic, unreasonable, technophobic and often hysterically irrational terms.

There are projects well worth opposing. There are areas that should be protected rather than being allowed to intensify in land use. Zoning, land use, water and transportation planning and enforcement are good things. But they are abused every  bit as much when they are twisted to prevent change out of knee-jerk, reactionary opposition to anything new as they are when policy makers rubber-stamp exceptions to them to allow destructive activities to go forward.

We environmentalists were among the first to recognize the very serious problems homo sapiens was creating by fouling its nest. We bear a responsibility to be problem-solvers rather than reactionaries, to accept that some of our comforts are probably going to have to be let go for the greater good. Environmentalism can no longer be a luxury of the privileged, nor a movement primarily focused on defending that luxury. We have to make caring about the biosphere a practical, common-good ethos that includes a place for those who are never going to go backpacking, couldn’t care less whether there continue to be polar bears, and are not afraid of cell phone towers.

We are in the Earth and of the Earth. Our task is to figure out how to keep the biosphere livable for humanity–all of humanity–and for as rich a diversity of organisms as is practically possible.

Note the “practically”.

We must be thoughtful, well-informed, realistic, and embrace positive change. And we must distance ourselves from those who do not meet that standard but claim our mantle.

We must evolve, before we die.

 At publication, the Dragon was TELLING IT LIKE IT IS

Dec 202012
 

keep-calm-and-stfu-127The Zeitgeist at Daily Kos is so annoying right now that I can’t stand to read it. Yet another iteration of Chicken-Littling about “OBAMA SELLING US OUT OMG OMG OMG OMFG!!!!!!!” Just like all the previous times…when, in the end, it has turned out he’s done nothing of the kind.

Markos himself has posted the same nonsense (here is one example diaryhe’s posted about five of them in recent days). Maybe he’s just stirring up the pushback, but the language he is using about what a lousy negotiator Obama iswhich flies in the face of historyis personal, insulting, and highly emotional. Also, baseless: it flogs a narrative that can only be considered true if you think failure to screech purist talking points while eating the Republicans’ lunch in policy face-offs is “weak”.

If you don’t think so, cast your eye back to the Republicans’ attempted hostage-taking of the debt ceiling in summer 2011.

Remember that one? Where the same Chicken Littles were screeching about “Obama slashing Medicare and Social Security”, because he’s a corporatist closet Republican blah blah yawn?

Remember the actual outcome? The actual outcome was to throw the deficit question to a commission which 1) everyone knew would fail to reach an agreement; 2) did, indeed, fail to reach an agreement; and 3) therefore, resulted in these impending sequester cuts which exempt Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, while balancing fully half of the cuts on the military…and don’t take place until after the Bush tax cuts expire, leaving all the leverage to whoever won the 2012 election.

In other words, understanding that anything he would have wanted would be dismantled under a Republican President anyway, Obama made the relatively safe bet that he would have a second term, protected the very things the Chicken Littles were certain he was destroying, and handed the GOP a live grenade with no pin and an achingly strong handle spring.

Yeah, that was weak negotiating, all right. Oh, also a big giant orange and lime green sell-out, let’s not forget that…while we’re tripping balls.

So that brings us to today. The current face-off’s necessary outcomes include

  1. Raising the debt ceiling, so the US doesn’t default on its credit (credit extended by act of CONGRESS, it bears saying…not by the President);
  2. Extending unemployment insurance benefits for millions who will lose them next week;
  3. Doing some kind of deal on the deficit that avoids the draconian cuts to both military and social spending which will happen under the sequester deal unless such a deal is made. That means raising revenue, cutting spending, or both.

This isn’t just a battle over policies. It’s a battle over who gets to own “reasonable” in the eyes of voters, with the 2014 midterm elections hanging in the balance. Context includes the coming sequester and the sunsetting of the Bush tax cuts. So as of Jan. 1, taxes will go up on everyone by quite a bit…improving the revenue situation a lot, but also blowing a hole in our economy, which is still floating barely above the waterline as it is.

Oh…and the election for Speaker of the House happens on Jan. 3.

That election is Boehner’s top priority, make no mistake. And he can’t possibly get a bill with NO expenditure cutting through his caucus–if he tries he’ll either lose that election or win it so narrowly as to become even weaker than he is now. The President has insisted that taxes must rise on the wealthy–his position during the campaign was all incomes above $250K, but he recently offered to reduce that to $400K, and cuts including changing the COLA for Social Security to a chained CPI system, which is actually a more accurate way of estimating cost of living increases, but liberals are squawking about it because it is less generous than the current system.

Obama’s offer includes the requirement that the debt ceiling be raised and unemployment benefits extended as a part of the deal (read: “no more hostage-taking. Ever.”), and that interest payment savings to taxpayers by reducing the deficit through sunsetting the tax cuts on the wealthy be counted as part of the “cuts” side of the equation, which means nearly $300 billion less in actual cutting of expenditures. It also includes a permanent solution to the annual “doc fix”, which, if you don’t know what that is, you can go look up, as it’s a tangent to this post.

Boehner’s knee-jerk reaction to this was to declare a “Plan B” in which he proposed restoring Bush tax cuts for all incomes under $1 MILLION, and nothing else. The White House promptly said it would veto that, and Boehner doubled down, bringing it to a vote today even though he knows it’s doomed. It’s an empty gesture trying to make Democrats oppose a tax cut, but nobody is buying it. No matter what the outcome, Boehner loses.

Isn’t it obvious what’s going on here? Obama has Boehner on a limb, and he is steadily sawing it off.

A time-honored, ruthlessly effective political negotiating technique is to make an offer you know your opponent can’t possibly accept, but which appears to go much farther than s/he had any right to expect in the first place. If the offer appears to appall your supporters, so much the better…clearly, then, you must be trying really hard to find common ground. And then when your opponent refuses this offer, because you’ve poisoned it enough to make that inevitable…guess who’s the asshole?

Saying that “everything should be on the table” is positioning language, people. It doesn’t mean what it says. Anyone paying the slightest attention knows that. Eliminating the Department of Health and Human Services isn’t on the table. Eliminating the Navy isn’t on the table. Nationalizing the oil industry isn’t on the table.

I mean, c’mon. Take a break from your drama binge for a minute and think, for god’s sake. Boehner does have some leverage. He can prevent unemployment benefits from extending, and we really need for that to happen. Obama wants some infrastructure investments, too. He is going to have to give Boehner something for those, and it may come in the form of backing off somewhat from the $250,000 ceiling for restoring the tax cuts, and some expenditure cuts. I wish it weren’t so, but the Republicans hold the House. That’s just reality.

That said, I’d say it’s pretty much guaranteed that beneficiaries of social safety net programs are not going to see their benefits reduced by whatever comes out of this deal. They may, it’s true, see benefit increases slow a tiny bit, but by no reasonable definition does that constitute a cut.

Medicare benefits won’t be cut. Social Security benefits won’t be cut. Funding for the Obamacare programs won’t be cut. Medicaid won’t be cut.  Unemployment will be extended and the middle class tax cuts will persist, enabling the economy to continue to warm. You can take that to the bank.

The guy you’re smearing has your back. Maybe you can lay off the hyperbolic tarbrushing until there is an actual outcome you can assess, instead of forming up the circular firing squad again. Sheesh.

At publication, the Dragon was GROWLING

Nov 212012
 

Remember when Karl Rove had “the real numbers”?

Well, that was a long time ago. How about this?

And honestly, who could forget this? That one was so delicious I had to watch it several times, until my stomach hurt from laughing so much.

Ah, the sight of a man who pissed away $200 million in right-wing money watching his former reputation as a “genius” evaporate on live television. It just never gets old.

The GOP has been all a-Twitter over how completely wrong they were about Romney, and a bunch of other races. So now, the execrable neocon (but I repeat myself) and erstwhile Romney advisor Dan Senor says there is a “crisis” in polling accuracy, particularly in “right of center” polling, citing Rasmussen and Gallup.

Well, color me gobsmacked, guys. Slap my fanny and call me Nancy. It truly is shocking.

Funny, though, how that “limp-wristed” guy you were all smearing up until the returns started coming in managed to get it dead-on, using exactly the same polling data.

Granted, Nate did that in part by weighting polling houses for historical bias. But he used data from Rasmussen and Gallup, and even by your shills like Gravis and Mason-Dixon.

How about this: Republicans are so used to the idea that reality can be created by a media narrative that your polling outfits’ goal has become not to accurately measure the state of electoral races, but to drive the media narrative about them.

You guys have been living and dying by Fox News and insisting on living in the bubble of myths it promulgates for so long that you are no longer aware that there is a reality outside of it. While there are countless examples of how this is so, the starkest and most inarguable is arithmetic.

No reasonably informed observer of the 2012 Presidential election had any doubt that, short of massive and obvious electoral fraud, Barack Obama was going to win re-election. I said so last summer: it was clear that Romney was disliked and his campaign was hapless, while Team Obama was the mightiest political organization ever built, and supporting an incumbent.

No matter how much you try to spin them, numbers are numbers. And yours were badly wrong, Republicans, because you thought lying about the state of contested races would bring the numbers more into conformity with your wishful thinking. Just as you think Hannity, O’Reilly and Limbaugh lying their heads off about Benghazi or birth control or death panels or Kenya or tax cuts creating jobs or sociamalism can actually make these things true enough in the public mind so you can win.

Your problem isn’t that your polls need work. It’s that you’re tripping balls. If you want to become relevant to the concerns and wishes of a majority of Americans again, you need to put down the saying-it-makes-it-so pipe and confront reality.

In the process, you’re going to have to dump Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed and the PNAC gang. Embracing those guys and their extremist constituencies has marooned you on an island, and no matter how much you chant “The water isn’t rising!”, it is, and steadily. Demographics, like the climate change that is raising the oceans for all of us, are real. Steadily growing popular support for liberal positions on social issues is real. There are no words you can say to make them go away.

You don’t need to fix your polls. You need to start doing real ones, and actually looking at the results.

On publication, the Dragon was SOBER

Nov 072012
 

This is a grab-bag of observations I made on Facebook the day after Democrats’ electoral romp on November 6, 2012. Stuff I thought readers might find interesting. FWIW…

 

The people in the GOP we are NOT hearing from today (in the wake of the Republican trouncing) are the social conservatives/Christian right. They are the anchor around the neck of the Republican Party, and they are ***INCAPABLE*** of moving one inch on their flagship issues of abortion and hating gays. Their leaders will not let them. Huckabee is talking about trying to get to Latinos, but it was WOMEN who drove Obama’s victory more than anyone else, and the Robertson crowd is never going to move off its position on abortion. It raises too much money for the televangelists and it’s too convenient a tool for whipping up fervor among low-education social conservatives.

If it were just about their insistent fantasy of trying to return to the world of “Mad Men”, that would be a solvable problem for the GOP. But “Mad Men” is the Plutocrats’ fantasy and goal. The social conservatives’ fantasy is Jesusland, and tolerance is anathema for them. That’s the GOP’s real problem: they need all those ignorant Southern/Midwestern white Christians. They can’t get anywhere nearly enough votes without them. And they are an absolute stake in the ground which prevents the party from moving strategically.

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More election musing: the dispossessed.

One of the remarkable things about Barack Obama’s first Presidential campaign was that he tossed the conventional wisdom about who would vote and who wouldn’t. He looked for groups of forgotten, ignored and untapped voters in places no one had looked for years: the young, for example. Low-propensity African-Americans and Latinos. He went to those constituencies, registered them, organized them and won. And then he did it again in 2012.

One less-recognized part of that strategy was Team Obama’s major effort to register and turn out Native Americans. In low-population, high-Native states like NM and the Dakotas, Native American votes can be a deciding factor. And as it turns out, in North Dakota this time around, they were: they were the deciding margin that gave a Senate seat to Heidi Heitcamp over Rick Berg.

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Oh, and…that complete repudiation of the retrograde-fantasy, straight-white-male-rulership,hateful, antifactual, antidemocratic travesty that has become the brand and agenda of the Republican Party?

We totally built that.

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I’ve been involved in FOUR elections that were decided by less than ten votes, from Sonoma City Council to an alderman race on Cape Cod. Anyone who tells you a vote doesn’t mean anything just isn’t informed. It means *everything*.

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Given the Republicans’ complete shellacking in this election, it does bear pointing out, friends, that the scary super-secret voting machine software patches owned and manipulated by Tagg Romney did not materialize.

(Ohio Secretary of State Jon) Husted and the rest of the GOP tried everything they could this cycle to suppress the vote, because the system actually does deliver a result based on voter choices. Let’s try to remember that when the conspiracy theories start flying around next time.
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Here’s my take: the Powers want us not to care. It reinforces the narrative they’re trying to push: that nothing matters, that you can’t fight city hall, that the fix is in. They want us to go back to watching Jersey Shore and playing Angry Birds while they carve the world for their feast.

But the truth is that we aren’t like that at all. We’re suckers for a dream: we’re Americans. We want to believe, and we will exert quixotic effort in the name of our belief. I know that I wouldn’t think twice if I had to stand in the rain for a couple of hours to vote–I’d wear a coat and chat with the next person in line, if I had to.

But I wouldn’t consider not voting–not for one minute. I’m a shareholder in the future, goddamn it. My opinion matters. And so does yours. We aren’t the victims of history, nor its spectators. We MAKE history. We are its exponents.

We COUNT, you and I.

 

At publication, the Dragon was REALLY DAMNED HAPPY