SCOTUS: Big Oil Profits Before Children’s Health

In one of the most blatantly calloused and greed-driven rulings in its checkered history, the U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of mercury pollution from power plants can’t be enforced because profits were not taken into account before they were drawn up.

In a dissent from the 5-4 ruling, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the majority view “deprives the American public of the pollution control measures that the responsible Agency, acting well within its delegated authority, found would save many, many lives.” The majority relied almost solely on the issue of the need for Federal regulators to take into account the impact of their rules on private companies’ costs and profits as part of determining the fairness of their proposed rules. In his majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia writes that “it is unreasonable to read an instruction to an administrative agency to determine whether ‘regulation is appropriate and necessary’ as an invitation to ignore cost.”

Translated, “Let’s not pay too close attention to the cost in human life or well-being. If a regulation is too expensive to implement or enforce, just do away with it.”

I know I shouldn’t be astonished.

What ARE Those Bright Spots on Ceres? I Have the Inside Scoop!

NASA scientists and thousands of others are bewildered by the appearance of several bright, shiny spots on the surface of the asteroid Ceres, largest object in the asteroid belt, which the U.S. space program has been exploring in recent weeks.

Speculation has run rampant as to the nature and origin of these reflective spots.

Wonder no more, my friends. I am in the exclusive possession of a communique from the leaders of Ceres to us Earthlings that explains precisely what the spots consist of and the threat they pose to our national — nay, our global — security.

You can read it all at this link.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein: Two Hopes for 2016

As an unabashed democratic socialist / dyed-in-the-wool progressive, I’m delighted to have two good choices in the field for President of the United States in 2016.

Independent/Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has my primary attention despite the fact that he seeks the nomination of a party that is captive of Corporate America. He’s just independent enough in his thinking and in his long-held policy positions that he may well be able to overcome his party’s abysmal failure to draw important distinctions between it and the Republicans. Looked at outside the constraints of party, Sanders is easily my favorite candidate in many, many years.

Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein has essentially all the same policy positions as Sanders but without the baggage of a lost and meandering party. That strength is also her practical weakness. Combine her inexperience in both political office and executive management with the lack of a major party backing and she looks a bit more than a little Quixotic.

I can barely make out the outlines of a scenario in which Sanders gets his party’s nomination. If Hillary Clinton’s email problems — which surfaced again in a new coat that looks a lot like pants-on-fire today — combine with a smoldering major scandal lurking in her and her husband Bill’s family foundation, I could see her candidacy spectacularly implode. If Sanders stays the course long enough and that implosion is big enough, he could step in and pick up the pieces. She is a flawed — maybe even fatally flawed — candidate. Depending on how long it takes for her demise to come to fruition, she may be forced to withdraw from the race in disgrace.

Meanwhile, Sanders is keeping the Left agenda alive, moving her farther left in the process, and although he seems genuinely intending to win the nomination, he’s a pragmatic guy. Somewhere deep down inside he has to have a Plan B for what to do if and when HRC becomes unstoppable.

Enter the Greens. It would not be unprecedented for them to name Sanders as their nominee as well. Then if and when the Democratic Party completes its abandonment of its primary purpose and constituencies under Center-Left Hillary Clinton, Sanders picks up the mantle from the truly progressive Greens. Meanwhile, he runs on both tickets; it’s not like he’s a die-hard Democrat.

Stein, on the other hand, has served the Greens well, acting as their national standard-bearer in 2012. Her messaging is clear, she’s bright, articulate and energetic. She doesn’t have a real shot at the White House because of the way politics in this nation is rigged. But with matching funds, she can run a respectable campaign, further harass HRC from the left, and keep the Progressive agenda alive in the minds of voters like me who just don’t want more of the same.

I’m going to keep backing Sanders but providing some support for Stein as well until this sorts itself out. I’m no longer a party loyalist. I’m a democratic socialist. I’ll end up backing the candidate from whichever party comes closest to my ideals, electability be damned. This is the start of a long period of change. The battles are not the decisive points; the war is what matters.

 

Interactive Bloomberg Chart Makes it Clear: Global Warming is Our Doing

Wow.

This is one of the clearest data representations I’ve seen demonstrating the truth of the argument that it is human factors that produce greenhouse gases that is the primary driver of global climate change.

Globe on fire in folded human handsIn separate takes (keep clicking at the bottom of the screen), the chart (from Bloomberg, hardly a bastion of the “L” word), maps all of the major proposed “explanations” for global climate change that are not — at least entirely — humanity’s doing: the natural orbit variations of the earth; solar activity; volcanoes; all for those combined; deforestation; ozone pollution; and, aerosol pollution.

The bottom line: Nope, it really is greenhouse gases, which are caused by human pollution-based behaviors which can be modified with no scientific breakthroughs or major policy initiatives. All it takes is for enough human beings to become aware of the problem and willing to do something about it.

Yep, that’s “all it takes.”

When is a Religious “Principle” Not a Religious “Principle”? When It’s Politically Inconvenient

GOP Presidential hopeful Jeb! (no-last-name-needed) hides behind his adopted Catholicism to defend his position on marriage equality but declines to take his Pope’s teachings about the environment at face value. In doing so, he follows in the grand tradition of the liberal wing of the Catholic Church which has long displayed a kind of “cafeteria Catholicism” (a term I borrowed from American Conservative columnist Rob Dreher).

But if he reserves the right to disavow Pope Francis’ teachings on climate change as revealed in the Pontiff’s release last week of a major encyclical on the subject, then he can’t justify his opposition to gay marriage solely on the basis of Church teachings. He simply can’t have it both ways without revealing a kind of political pragmatism that defies any claim to political principle.

In a story posted on Grist, columnist Mark Joseph Stern wrote, “the candidate seems to follow Catholic teachings when they align with the Republican Party — and dismiss them when they don’t.” Furthermore, he denounced the climate change encyclical even before it was released and, therefore, clearly without having read it. Good, practicing Catholics are not required to agree with or follow the Pope’s teachings as embodied in his encyclicals, but they are required to give those views thoughtful and careful consideration, according to this article from the Catholic News Agency.

Nearly one-third of Congress is Catholic. If all of these politicians were good, practicing Catholics, they would be expected to give serious consideration to Pope Francis’ well-researched and incisive (as well as insightful) teachings on this complex subject. (Yes, I have in fact read the 180-page document in its entirety, which I suspect few if any of those in Congress have done.) If they did that, I suspect it would dramatically shift the tenor of the debate in Congress on climate change policy.

Predictably, Gun Nuts Blame Dead Pastor for SC Church Shootings

“If only he’d supported the right to carry in churches, eight of his parishioners would still be alive.” That’s the pronouncement from a number of nationally prominent gun nuts in the wake of Wednesday’s mass killing at an historic African-American church in Charlotte, South Carolina.

According to this piece on Huffington Post, National Rifle Association board member Charles L. Cotton took that position on a Texas discussion board. The NRA seldom comments diretly on mass shootings. Also voicing that indefensible and insensitive position as right-wing radio talk show host Bryan Fischer (who stopped just short of directly blaming the Rev. and State Sen. Clementa Pinckney). Conservatives rushed to the airwaves all over the nation to express the same insanity.

The underlying theory that you can stop violence with violence has never once been true in the history of humanity and it still is not today. Violence is a cycle. Someone — generally someone more civilized, more enlightened, more compassionate — must be the first to say, “Enough!” The NRA’s political clout is a myth. It’s time to call their bluff and pass meaningful outright registration and permitting rules for gun ownership. As President Obama pointed out — again — yesterday, we are the only developed nation in the world that still allows the private ownership and indiscriminate use of guns.

Enough, dammit!

Progressives Stick to Their Guns, Derail Obama’s Request for Fast-Tracking Trade Authority

I was delighted at the news today that progressive Democrats in solidarity with labor and environmental activists disrupted President Obama’s ill-considered attempt to get Congress to give him authority to fast-track a secret trade treaty with 11 Pacific Rim nations.

My congressman, Sam Farr, announced on Thursday on his Web site that he would vote with the Republicans and Obama on this legislation, which I wrote and phoned him urging a change of heart.

I don’t know whether the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is 100% bad or only more than half bad. But I do know it’s been negotiated in secret, its draft provisions are being guarded as if they were nuclear weapons plans, even our elected representatives in Congress have been cut out of the loop, and the draft provisions that have been leaked are uniformly bad trade policy. Today’s vote made it impossible, without further concessions by the Administration, for Obama to get the fast-track authority he sought for the treaty.

Even though the House followed the resounding 297-127 defeat of the first bill (Trade Adjustment Authority, or TAA) with the narrowest possible 219-211 win on what was generally seen as the main bill (Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA), the first vote essentially rendered the second meaningless. Without its provisions, TPA is a hollow shell of its former self.

This means that if President Obama wants to continue to negotiate the TPP and submit it to Congress, it won’t be for a straight up-or-down-no-debate-or-amendments procedure by the legislature. Which means it will be a more transparent process. Which is what Obama always said he wanted, except when being transparent was too inconvenient for him and his tightly secretive inner circle have been from Day One.

 

McKibben to Obama: Here’s a Climate Change To Do List for Your Last 18 Months

Environmental champion Bill McKibben, the guy who pioneered investigation of what we now call global climate change, has issued a special open letter to President Barack Obama urging him to take more aggressive action in his remaining months in office. He suggests that there is still time — but not much — for Obama to become known to history as a climate change champion.

Here, in brief summary, are the key steps McKibben encourages Obama to consider as he wraps up his eight years as President. The list is derived from one prepared by a team of scientists at Nature magazine.

  1. Say no to the Keystone XL Pipeline once and for all. Those Canadian Tar Sands oil deposits are among those scientists agree must stay in the ground.
  2. Stop all Arctic drilling. Same rationale as the Keystone XL Pipeline; this is oil best left in place.
  3. Stop the sale of coal rights in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming dead in its tracks.
  4. Reverse your stand favoring vastly increased offshore drilling in the United States.

As McKibben notes in the full article (which I commend to your attention), these are all things the President can do without Congress, which is about the only way he can get anything done in Washington these days.

How about it, Mr. President? What’s your earth legacy going to be?

 

China May Provide Breath of Fresh Air, Be Key to Avoiding Climate Change’s Worst Outcomes

I love to put positive spin on stories that seem not to have such an angle.

Today, at Grist, a story appeared that suggested that China may be so far ahead of its announced plan to reduce greenhouse gases that, “The world could stay within the internationally agreed-upon limit of 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) of warming above pre-industrial levels.”

Say what!?

That’s right. According to a report [PDF] from the prestigious London School of Economics and reported on Grist, China’s move away from dirty coal is accelerating to a point where, emissions “could peak even earlier than” now promised and begin to fall rapidly thereafter. Based on earlier studies and Chinese commitments, it has been estimated that “China’s greenhouse gas emissions are likely to peak, and then begin to taper, around 2025.” But the new analysis suggests the picture might be much, much rosier.

How deliciously ironic would it be if China, a Communist nation of planned economies and tight government control, is able to make such a dramatic change in policy while the Republican Congress of the United States continues to argue that climate change isn’t real and in any case isn’t humanity’s doing? You can see it coming, right? China — not singlehandedly but in large part — staves off the worst of the effects of global climate change, thus essentially saving the human race, and the conservative knuckle-draggers in this country point to their success and say, “See? We told you global climate change wasn’t real and that y’all were just alarmists!”

Yeesh!

Growth is the Problem, Not the Solution

distributive_justice_bumper_stickerA friend and colleague recently shared with me yet another economic analysis from yet another economist who was struggling with the question of how to maintain perpetual growth in the economy to keep pace with — or, better, exceed — the rate of growth of the population.

I responded that this economist, like so many of his professional colleagues, is missing — or perhaps deliberately blinding himself to — the underlying Truth about which few if any of them wish to talk.

Growth is the problem, not the solution or even a path to the solution.

We must learn to live with enough rather than demanding excess. We must create a stable economy in which continual growth is recognized for the impossibility it has always been.

Every single resource that must be consumed (and ultimately depleted) to fuel the fires of economic growth is in finite supply. Every reliable indicator — not just from science but from every other area of human endeavor and understanding — points clearly to the impossibility of us continuing to increase the rate at which we consume these largely non-renewable resources.

As long as all of our economic indicators and processes depend on a growing economy, we will keep driving the engines of creation into the ditches of greed.

Distribution, not retribution, must characterize our systems of economic justice.

It is well past time to wake up to this Truth. We need to attempt to reach the point of population equilibrium (Zero Population Growth, or ZPG). We must learn to recognize the absolute and inalienable right of every human being to adequate food, shelter, water, medical care and personal safety. And then we must figure out how to reallocate the distribution of those goods across the broad population of the planet, to diminish or demolish the have-have not gap that keeps us from recognizing our fundamental Oneness.