Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

It is a bit weird to subscribe emotional attachment to a political figure, I think. Cults of personality are odd at best and dangerous at worst. Politicians are people of tremendous power and wealth who are already three-quarters of the way colored by the system before they reach us in any form. But, darnit, if it isn’t love that I actually feel for my president at times.

Especially at times like this (from New Orleans, 2009):


Of course this clip has nothing to do with Obama’s policies and various compromises and he doesn’t address the specters of otherness and race or the repeated whispers of “birth certificate” and “secret Muslim.” What he does do is give a warm, affirming, and honest answer to a 4th grader –What he does do is be real and it turns out that real Barack Obama is totally lovable.

I recognize that not everyone enjoys primary politics as much as I do. I love primaries. I love the coverage, the gaffes, the shuffling of positions for support, the revelations of character, the off-the-record moments that without fail get splashed across the Internet –basically the glimpses these all provide into the corners of our political landscape. Even as I think our monied-representative system is a disaster and our media is failing its essential function (to inform) in favor of entertaining or campaigning… I love primaries and this particular GOP presidential primary has been one of the most amazing ever.

And Herman Cain! Wow. Herman Cain has been so much fun. I will truly miss him from the news cycle.

This video is a pretty good summary of the most amazing moments, though it misses “Libya… okay… Libya…,” the performance of “Imagine There’s No Pizza,” and the metoric crashing of Herman Cain’s rising star on the sexual harassment and affair allegations (since when did affairs hurt Republican candidates, Newt?).

I really don’t think politics is a joke. I think politics matters deeply and our politicians can profoundly impact our lives for the better or the worse. It is nice, however, to have such a jokey field of candidates representing such radically offensive positions. It only seems appropriate.

For most of my adult life I haven’t owned a TV. I don’t play video games unless I’m on vacation at my brother and sister-in-law’s and I get most of the media I need from the Internet, renting the occasional DVD, and bumming off someone else’s TV in a pinch. Then, last year when I was a live-in nanny in Massachusetts,  I had a TV in my room. With cable. After about a week of quietly and awkwardly sharing the space, I got bold and turned it on. And loved it. I hated it a little, too, I guess (Jersey Shore made me feel depressed), but it was mostly a great time. Top Chef Masters!

One thing I was really surprised to learn that I had missed out on during my break from TV was the greening of the oil companies’ images. I was surprised to hear, for example, all the happy reports from Gulf residents who found that BP had kept all of its promises after the massive spill and left the Gulf Coast better than ever.


Or that Exxon Mobile has done so much for green energy research.


This one was especially hard to handle, given the film “Gasland” and so many independent reports of water contamination due to fracking.


From Bloomberg News this past July:

July 30 (Bloomberg) — Exxon Mobil Corp., the biggest U.S. oil producer, spent more on Washington lobbying during the first half of the year than all clean-energy companies combined, researcher New Energy Finance Ltd. said.

Exxon Mobil, based in Irving, Texas, spent $14.9 million lobbying in the six months, 23 percent more than the $12.1 million laid out by companies that make solar panels or wind turbines to generate electricity, London-based New Energy Finance said today in a note to clients. Oil and gas companies spent a total of $82.2 million on Washington lobbyists, according to the report.

Congress is debating legislation that would promote renewable power, limit carbon dioxide emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels, and expand drilling for oil and natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico. President Barack Obama signed a law earlier this year that allocates more than $60 billion to promote clean energy.

Read the rest of the article here. The most recent clean energy expenditures I could find for Exxon Mobile were from 2008. They totaled 1% of the company’s budget.

These commercials are the contemporary, highly polished version of the 1950’s doctors trying to get us to smoke Camels.


Except their product is killing everything, not just lungs and people.

In Deep Economy, The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future (2007) by Bill McKibben writes,

The year 2005 was the warmest on record, and nine of the ten hottest years were in the decade that preceded it; as a result of that heat, about an extra degree Fahrenheit globally averaged, all kinds odd things have begun to happen. For instance, everything frozen on earth is melting, and melting fast. In the fall of 2005, polar researchers reported that Arctic ice had apparently passed a “tipping point”: so much sun-reflecting white ice had been turned to heat-absorbing blue water that the process was now irreversible. Meanwhile, other scientists showed that because of longer growing seasons, temperate soils and forests like the ones across America were now seeing more decay, and hence giving off more of their stored carbon, accelerating the warming trend. So far, this young millenium has already seen a killer heat wave that killed fifty-two thousand people across Europe in the course of a couple of weeks, and an Atlantic hurricane season so bizarrely intense that we ran out of letters in the alphabet for naming storms. The point is, climate change is not some future specter; it’s already emerging as the biggest problem the world faces (p. 20). Bold added by me.

As someone who lived it, it doesn’t come as a surprise to me that 2011 in Texas set the new record for hottest summer recorded anywhere in the United States. Apparently the state averaged a temperature of 86.8 degrees Fahrenheit across the months of June, July, and August. Everything planted by every optimistic gardener I know in Austin (there are several) stopped growing in the stifling heat and 3:00AM’s air was heavy and tepid like bathwater. Noon to 4:00PM was just dangerous. According to the Lower Colorado River Authority, “As of Sept. 30, Austin has recorded 90 days of 100-degree temperatures this year, obliterating the old record of 69 days set in 1925.” More worrisome, the year marked from August 2010-August 2011 was the driest in all of Texas’ history and the unprecedented heat has plunged essentially the entire state into extreme drought conditions.

Texas' Drought

Time did a painful cover story on this depressing phenomenon: Why Texas’ Drought May Have Global Effects.

And then this past weekend, it rained. Not enough, but a lot. It was almost as though I felt a sigh of relief come from this city that I love. It does nothing, of course, to halt or delay the frightening trend, but it does seem to mean that Texas has finally tipped into its lovely non-summer months and that it’s going to make it another year. While it is wonderful to hear the rain-induced excitement from home, it is so frustrating to listen to would-be Republican presidential candidates continue to debate the existence of climate change while Texas suffers in its grip.

For the most extreme of these views –that global warming is in fact a hoax drummed up by politically motivated scientists manipulating data– you need look no further than the man who has served as Governor of Texas for the past decade.

I had some catching up to do on Occupy Wall Street this week. Why did I not know much about this thousands strong anti-corporate, anti-Wall Street movement sweeping the country? Here is a bit of what I’ve learned and a bit of what I think.

This is my fault and it is also the fault of the media which has consistently under-reported progressive activism. Despite that the largest anti-war protests in world history swept the globe in 2002-3, the media largely sat out the anti-war outcry and focused instead on the much more entertaining political drumbeat to war in the lead up to the Iraq invasion. There was no reason to expect the brilliant work of Billionaires for Bush, the efforts of Code Pink, or the grassroots firestorm in Wisconsin, just to name a few, to be any different.

But Occupy Wall Street does feel different and not because the media is paying attention to it (they largely aren’t). It feels different because it really feels like there are a lot of people out there who are out of options, for whom If not this, then what? is a legitimate question. I think the lull and distraction of entertainment is wearing off and the frustration has itched to the point of sparking action. One thing I’ve consistently read about this protests is that there are lots of young people, college students and recent graduates especially, in attendance who don’t have jobs and do have tons of debt. Looking at any press, however, it seems like there are a range of people with many ages and backgrounds represented. It would seem from the photographs that there are a range of people who feel that for them the economy is a failure.

The little bit of history I’ve read on the protests indicate that they started “as a call to arms from anti-consumerist magazine AdBusters” which is the same anti-consumerist magazine that got me to stop eating meat over eight-years ago (true story). The popular criticism in the media is that the protesters are not organized and demands are not clear. There is a fascinating and super educational report on Up with Chris Hayes on the organization and aims of Occupy Wall Street (it is the first segment on this clip). The movement is 14-days old and complaints are multitudinous and complex, so I think a little disorganization can be forgiven so far.

I agree that our economic system, focused on power and wealth accumulation rather than poverty reduction and shared prosperity, is a failure.

So, what’s going on down there? There’s lots of chanting, drumming, marching –standard street-protest stuff. There’s also apparently an amazing nightly General Assembly (which you will learn about if you watch the report linked above from Chris Hayes) where opinions are heard and decisions are made in a fascinating display of direct democracy. There are some confrontations with the police, like today where apparently 700 protesters were arrested. Protesters have also been attacked with pepper spray even though the movement has consistently been peaceful. They’ve been getting a lot of outside donations and support, especially food.

In other big news, big unions like the Transport Workers Union in New York, teachers unions, health-care unions, and progressive groups like MoveOn.org are just now joining up, so it seems like we can expect this to get a lot bigger in the coming weeks which is sort of exciting, though I also feel wary and nervous for the participants. At my most un-cynical core, I wish them all the best and hope their progressive, inclusive, anti-corporate message grows and resonates and sparks positive change.

I snagged these pictures off the comments thread of the Huffington Post article and would love to credit them:

Some of the crowd on day 14 of the protests. Photographer unknown.

 

Amen to this man's message from day 14 of the protests. Photographer unknown.

On September 19th, CDM called a press conference to announce the filing of a complaint against the United States under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) claiming that the U.S. is failing to uphold its obligation to protect migrant workers.

From the Media Center at the AFL-CIO:

(Mexico City, Sept. 19) “The AFL-CIO, together with Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM), the Southern Poverty Law Center, PRODESC and other civil society organizations filed a complaint today against the United States under NAFTA’s North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) on behalf of workers who were brought to the United States to work under the H-2B visa program.  The workers have attempted under U.S. law to gain redress with no success so are using NAALC to hold their employer accountable. The complaint states that the United States failed to comply with its obligations under NAALC by permitting companies to routinely pay H-2B workers less than the minimum hourly wage and deny them overtime and reimbursement for  travel, visa and recruitment costs.” Read the rest of the article here.

CDM's Comité members speak out against workplace abuses in the United States (photo by Gracia Cuzzi).

Comité members who signed on to the complaint spoke at the press conference, along with Silas, CDM’s Legal Director in Mexico City. Seven or eight press organization attended, including the New York Times and Univision. This action highlighted the existence of complaint mechanisms under international law but also, perhaps more importantly, the need to publicize their use as widely as possible in the hope of raising awareness and increasing the likelihood of a desirable outcome.

More press here (Spanish) and here (also Spanish).

Me on the issues: Gun Control? Pro. If I were to make a list of things I would like my government to do, Make it harder for us to kill each other would be pretty near the top. Pro-Gun people will scoff at this. There is the, “What if someone breaks into your house?” argument and the argument that guns prevent crime. Not in Mexico, they don’t. Guns are super sad, I don’t believe my Constitution gives me the right to one, and I feel compelled to live the way I want to live, not how I imagine society forcing me to live. I don’t want to shoot people or other things. I’d prefer that people and other things not be shot.

Naturally, I like to imagine that people who disagree with me don’t know what the hell they’re talking about and are probably a little crazy. But then the educated side of my brain says no, it’s important to listen to other points of view and weigh their merit, consider context, motivation, and objective, etc… Write an essay about it. Yawn.

This clip from “The Daily Show,” however, really makes the crazy just pop. A quote, to get into it: “Barack Obama has been good to the NRA, but if you want to take away [NRA CEO] Wayne LaPierre’s preconceived narrative, you’ll have to pry it from his cold dead hands.”

"The Daily Show" September 29th, 2011.