Chill, baby, chill: Arctic oil exploration and climate security


image courtesy of

My wife’s engagement ring contains a marquis cut diamond appraised at $2000. I bought it at a pawn shop for $600. The pawn broker was ready to shoot me dead if I tried to steal it. When I paid him the $600 he was asking, he got teary eyed, ransacked his back room for a jewelry box, admitted he would have taken $550 because he could tell I am a good man, and promised that she would have no choice but to marry me in the face of that sparkling gem. It is a thing of beauty, no doubt.

Diamonds are plentiful and relatively indestructible. The second hand market is glutted with diamonds that no one wants because, without the sentimental value, they are comparatively cheap. Oil is not like that. Once it is consumed it exists only as a cloud of excrement. Our collective cloud of excrement has become a life-threatening problem as a result of economic forces set in motion by the General Motors streetcar conspiracy, in which five companies were convicted of conspiring to destroy electric-powered mass transit in favor of oil-powered transportation. Continue reading


Land of the free, be brave.


photo credit

I am a proud Democrat. I think the Democratic Party started with a Virginia planter and Renaissance man named Thomas Jefferson. I am not proud of TJ for owning slaves. Slavery is an abomination, the antithesis of everything for which the Democratic Party stands. Jefferson himself was an abolitionist, describing slavery as holding “a wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.” He also believed that emancipation would result in a large scale race war which would destroy America, his beloved experiment in liberty.

I believe otherwise. I believe that if one allows a man to stop being a wolf and become a fellow Renaissance man, he will do exactly that. I believe this has been proven time and again during the intervening centuries. I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the Communist Party. I have read Max Weber. I understand that every moment is valuable, not only in the present, but also for the fruits it may bear, properly invested, in the future. Continue reading

The fearless that Pope Francis displayed in his papal encyclical letter on global warming flies in the face of cynicism that many experience about institutions. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Pope Francis blesses environment, McKibben gives Pope his blessing

Laudato Si’, the papal encyclical letter written by Pope Francis, is helping to move global warming to the forefront of the world’s consciousness.

The fearless that Pope Francis displayed in his papal encyclical letter on global warming flies in the face of cynicism that many experience about institutions. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The fearless that Pope Francis displayed in his papal encyclical letter on global warming flies in the face of cynicism that many experience about institutions. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Recent years have exposed the emptiness of the free market ideology — arguably a theology — and U.S. intervention. In turn American voters have staged some dramatic about-faces: from George W. Bush to Barack Obama (or our idealized version of him before he proceeded to continue and even double-down on — surveillance — some of Bush’s policies); from Scott Brown to Elizabeth Warren; and Mike Bloomberg to Bill de Blasio. But none of these can compare with the series of popes culminating in the ossified Benedict XVI to Francis, who didn’t take long to reveal himself as a champion of the dispossessed (and I’m speaking as a former Catholic to whom no love was lost on the church). Continue reading


American Exceptionalism: It’s the economy, stupid


Image courtesy of Pew Research

My grandfather was a union-buster at Hanes Dye and Finishing Company in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He got his degree on the GI bill after World War Two and worked his way up through the company, all the way to executive vice-president. He was one promotion away from the presidency. He could have made Hanes Dye the best chemical company in the world. Instead they made him the straw boss. Continue reading


Iran Deal: open letter to Congress


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Dear Sir or Madam,

Thank you for your service to our country. As you know, President Obama’s historic peace accord with Iran is in jeopardy. Granted, we could smash Iran into little pieces without very much effort at all. However, to do so would precipitate a catastrophic descent into world war, destabilizing our military hegemony and costing millions or billions of lives. It would also place America firmly in the historical category of hubristic villain states, and could very well bring about our downfall, if not our complete destruction. A vote against the Iran deal is a vote for that second option. Continue reading


Greece votes “No,” leaving us where?

When Yanis Varoufakis left academia to take up his position as Greece’s finance minister after the far-left electoral victory which brought Syriza to power, he said words to the effect that – if things didn’t work out – he could always go back to university.

“I mean, I really don’t want to be in this office … I will go back to my book about Europe, which is half-finished. It’s very difficult to find an ending when I am still in this job.”

I took away from that soundbite that he, akin with many of his ivory-tower colleagues, is unsuited for the real world and would abandon the consequences of his actions as soon as he got bored.

Today, he did just that, saying, “I wear the creditors’ loathing with pride.” Continue reading


Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road: maybe Southerners aren’t merely caricatures…

Reading Caldwell’s Tobacco Road is reminiscent of watching an episode of Dukes of Hazzard and reading Flannery O’Connor at the same time… 

First, an anecdote:

Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell (image courtesy Goodreads)

Sometime back in my graduate school days I ran into an article in which the scholar spent a number of pages complaining that Charles Dickens didn’t create characters – rather, he created caricatures, exaggerated depictions of humanity. While I saw the guy’s point, it didn’t make me love Dickens any less. It seems to me Dickens’ caricatures (whether an Ebeneezer Scrooge or a Samuel Pickwick) vibrate with more of this thing we call life than most “realistic” literary characters (I’m looking at you, Emma Bovary).

Another anecdote:

I was a voracious reader as a child. Growing up as I did in the South, where for too many folks “reading” consisted of a) checking on how the Tarheels or Gamecocks or Cavaliers did, or b) reading (and usually badly misinterpreting) the Bible, my interests in books and learning made me both an anomaly and an object of suspicion, especially among my peers.

It also allowed me access to secret, forbidden worlds. Like the world of Erskine Caldwell. Continue reading


War and economics: where is Bernie Sanders’ 12th step?

There’s much to like about Bernie Sanders, but can he really help us kick the war habit?

Occupy Democrats and US Uncut have a handy macro going around that highlights Bernie’s 11 point economic agenda. It’s big. It’s important. It’s to be lauded. And if we’re not to have Bernie, it’s to be emulated. But we’ve also seen the devastating effect war has had on our economy, to say nothing of the lives lost to our wayward military adventurism. Below you’ll find my own reasons for supporting this 11-point economic plan as well as some serious consideration of his missing 12th point. Continue reading


Alcee Hastings can kiss my working class lily-white ass

Don’t understand me too quickly. It’s because of the way he disparages black Americans

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), thinks that Congress and its staffers deserve a raise. First, to be sure, entry-level staffers make less than $30,000/year, but they hardly represent all staffers, many of whom do very well for themselves. Congresstitutes, on the other hand, make $174,000/year plus some rather enviable benefits.

For that matter, on a list of the ten poorest Congresstocrats, good ol’ Alcee comes in 8th poorest with a net worth of $2.23 million, to say nothing of that teeny weeny salary of his. Poor Steve Scalise, hobnobber with Duke-inspired hatemongers that he is, at least has the decency to get by as the poorest of the poor with a net worth of only $671,000.

Can we all please cry these folks a river or three? Continue reading


You, too, can be a journalist (or a corporate message control specialist)

I asked my students as the semester ended: “How many of you do not want to be journalists?”

Most raised a hand, albeit timidly. (I am, after all, a professor of journalism.)

“How many of you wish to work in PR or advertising?”

Several raised their hands. I smiled – in the evil way they say I do when I’m setting them up for the kill.

“If you plan to work in PR and advertising, then I’ll bet you’re going to be working as a journalist,” I said.

Confused looks ensued.

Suppose they take jobs with a mattress company, thinking they’ll be pushing sleep products — writing ads, doing media buys, all the sorts of things PR and advertising flacks do.

But at Casper, a start-up company, they’ll likely be working as journalists. Continue reading

Democrats embrace Citizens United in defense of Clinton

As reported from the actual left

Democrats Embrace Citizens United in Defense of Clinton

Hill just loves her some big money in politics. And the party machinery that spent years on end crying foul about it before? Suddenly they just loves ’em some big money in politics.

I think Hill should just stick with a snappy one-liner that’s served her well so far.

“What difference – at this point, what difference does it make?”

church is open for prayer need to rap come downstairs

Baltimore uprising: food deserts, gas deserts and why the media has it wrong on Freddie Gray

church is open for prayer need to rap come downstairsI took a bunch of rich kids to Baltimore in July of last year. We stayed at The Center, a fortified compound on the property of First & Franklin Presbyterian Church. My primary job was to keep the kids safe. I learned the access codes and the panic buttons. I learned which doors not to open, should anyone knock on them. I learned about the gates, a containment cage designed to prevent my empathy from endangering my fellow Christians.

I also learned about food deserts. Basically, a food desert is an urban environment in which the food is far away and the people have no reliable transport. Forget cars, the buses don’t circulate in the poor sections of Baltimore. We waited for two hours. Some empathetic locals emerged from their possibly condemned town house to warn us that the bus wasn’t coming and that we, positive vibes be damned, should be long gone before the sun went down. There is a metro station less than a mile away, downhill. Get going, children. Continue reading

Half-measures won’t fix Social Security

The GOP just isn’t trying hard enough

Today, Robert Reich had this to say on Facebook:

“Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and other Republican hopefuls are already pushing to raise the eligibility age for Social Security to 69 – which their big-business Republican donors have been urging for years.”

This is the kind of tepid thinking that lets those lazy olds off the hook way too easily. Continue reading

Hillary announces, Progressives already getting thrown under bus

It’s not even damned if we do, damned if we don’t. It’s just damned.

Of course you’ve probably heard that Hillary has finally announced, on Twitter no less.

Continue reading


TTP: fast-track disaster ahead

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the opposite of free trade

Like many, I have my share of disappointments with Obama. On balance, he’s infinitely preferable to any of the plausible Republican alternatives—can you imagine what Mitt Romney or John McCain and a Republican Congress would be getting up to these days? Still, there are areas—global warming in particular—where I wish he had been more aggressive. I fully concede the limits of what may have been possible throughout his term, given the implacable opposition he has been facing. But still, it would have been good to see a more deliberate attempt to change the trajectory of things.

The ongoing corporatization of nearly everything would have been another place to start. I suppose the failure to pursue the banks aggressively should have been a tip-off that the Clinton financial people were still running the show. Plus the Obama administration’s unwillingness to try to put Elizabeth Warren as head of her brainchild, the new (and pretty efficient, I gather) Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (although she has had her payback.) When people start telling me that there’s no real difference between the two parties, in the finance area I tend to agree, with some notable exceptions like Warren. Continue reading


Rereading Atlas Shrugged as South Africa becomes a dictatorship

atlas-shruggedKarl Marx was a brilliant diagnostician. His analysis of the way in which unregulated capitalism can drive inequality was incisive, especially considering the lack of data available to him to prove his point. His solution, on the other hand, was appallingly destructive.

That seems to happen fairly often. People notice a social or economic problem, assess and diagnose its cause with astonishing aplomb, and then suggest a solution of startling naiveté based on cartoonish assumptions about the way people behave.

Sometimes the cartoon solution reflects the cartoon in real life. Continue reading

One more reason to vote for Hillary

If you’re a Republican, that is

From Salon: The return of Larry Summers: Why his ’16 comments should make Dems nervous

However, if you happen to be one of the many lefties who regard the Clintons themselves as conservatives (or just amoral opportunists) in liberals’ clothing, the report is something worse than disappointing. It’s vindication. Because the campaign team the Times describes doesn’t sound like one searching for politically viable policies to fit into its populist economic message. Instead, it sounds like the opposite — a team that’s already settled on politically unviable policies and is now searching for ways to convincingly pretend they fit into a populist economic message.

And: Continue reading