Democracy & Elitism 4: equality, opportunity and leveling up the playing field

Pulitzer- and Emmy-winner William Henry‘s famous polemic, In Defense of Elitism (1994), argues that societies can be ranked along a spectrum with “egalitarianism” on one end and “elitism” on the other. He concludes that America, to its detriment, has slid too far in the direction of egalitarianism, and in the process that it has abandoned the elitist impulse that made it great (and that is necessary for any great culture). While Henry’s analysis is flawed in spots (and, thanks to the excesses of the Bush years, there are some other places that could use updating), he brilliantly succeeds in his ultimate goal: crank-starting a much-needed debate about the proper place of elitism in a “democratic” society.

Along the way he spends a good deal of time defining what he means by “egalitarianism” and “elitism.” Continue reading

$45 billion: a sour-tasting decade of out-of-control political spending

the2000sAdd up every nickel and dime recorded by the Federal Election Commission and state election commissions in this decade now ending. Result: Americans have given more than $24.2 billion in campaign contributions to federal and state incumbents and challengers.

Contributions to all federal candidates for House and Senate seats and the presidency from the 2000 through 2010 election cycles totaled $9.7 billion, according to an S&R analysis of records aggregated by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Contributions to candidates and committees in all 50 states, from 2000 through 2009, totaled about $14.5 billion, according to records aggregated by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

In this decade, thanks to computerization of records and a few top-notch, non-partisan organizations, we’ve learned how to follow the money. Well, so what? Has vastly increased public visibility of political money changed the way politics operates?
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UN Secretariat knew COP15 wouldn't hit 450ppm CO2, 2°C target

The pledged cuts to carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) won’t be enough to hit the targeted 450 ppm of CO2 thought to be necessary to keep the Earth’s mean temperature from rising more than 2 °C. This isn’t news to anyone who’s followed climate closely for a few months. What’s news, however, is that the UN knew this as well and yet they’re still saying that 2 °C is possible. Earlier today an early draft of an internal UN analysis of GHG cuts leaked, and the document shows that the UN Secretariat knew in advance of the Copenhagen meeting that the cuts wouldn’t be enough.

According to the 2009WEO [World Energy Outlook], global emissions in 2020 are projected to be about 5 Gt for the reference scenario. According to the 450 ppm scenario, global emissions peak around 2015 at the level of 43.7 Gt and remain broadly stable at that level before starting to decline in 2020.

The UN Secretariat’s “reference scenario” puts the global emissions peak at or above 550 ppm, occurring after 2020, and at least 3 °C. Continue reading

Lord Monckton labels climate activists "Hitler youth"

Americans for Prosperity (AFP) hosted a speech by Christopher Lord Monckton, a UK climate disruption denier, at Copenhagen yesterday. According to a report on the event at It’sGettingHotInHere.org, there were only five attendees that weren’t AFP employees – until around 50 US youth climate activists showed up, took over the stage, and proceeded to hold up signs and chant “Real Americans for Prosperity are Americans for Clean Energy” from the stage behind Monckton, who continued his speech despite the disruption.

Until he drifted off message and said:

You are listening now to the shouts in the background of the Hitler youth.

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Trust us – we're smarter than you: climate and Superfreakonomics

sstAug24-09 Back in 2005, self-described “rogue economist” Steven D. Levitt teamed up with journalist Stephen J. Dubner to write Freakonomics, a book that rose to #2 on the NY Times Nonfiction Bestseller List based largely on the controversial topics within its covers. Some of those topics included analyses of cheating by teachers, the economics of being a crack cocaine dealer, and the impact of legalized abortion on the crime rate. Levitt and Dubner (hereafter L&D) have recently published a second book, Superfreakonomics, and even before it was published it had made a huge splash in climate circles over its last chapter (Chapter 5 – “What do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo have in common?”), the one that attempts to tackle climate disruption.

I’m greatly troubled by the content of Chapter 5, but only partly because of the many factual errors that L&D made. Continue reading

Game over? Billionaire elites now blatantly rule American politics

What drives a man or a woman to spend millions of dollars — even tens of millions — of his or her own money to get a job that would place the words senator, representative, governor, or mayor in front of his or her name? For most of us unwashed heathens, the multiple millions of their own money these financial elites spend on their political campaigns represent seemingly staggering amounts.

But viewed in the rarified context of the very wealthy, the amounts are petty cash.

For example, former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman has put $19 million so far into her campaign for governor of California — but that’s barely 1.5 percent of her $1.3 billion fortune.

Whitman has “publicly floated the notion of a record-shattering $150-million campaign budget” — but even if she financed $100 million of that herself, that still would only be 7.7 percent of her billion-dollar-plus wallet. Continue reading

Two very different climate disruption messages

Most people view climate disruption as a horror that we and the generations before us are about to visit upon our children and grandchildren. And there’s a great deal of truth to this view. The “civilization will end if we don’t stop global warming” approach is ultimately based on negativity, specifically on fear. But as bad as the future could be, fear isn’t the only way to approach talking about climate disruption. There are positive images and positive messages that can be pulled out of climate disruption as well. It is possible to make addressing climate disruption seem fun, even sexy.

Here are two very different, but simultaneously very effective, examples of climate messaging. First, the negative. Continue reading

The medical marijuana memo isn't worth the paper it's printed on

The Obama administration threw a bone to the lunatic, fringe left a few days ago. The memo to federal prosecutors in medical marijuana states has garnered hearty applause from Greenwald and the Marijuana Policy Project.

When elected, Obama said that federal raids on state-law legal marijuana cultivation and distribution would end. The didn’t, not by a long shot, and the reasoning was that the feds would continue to prosecute people who violated state and federal laws. That boils down to everyone, no matter their standing under state law. The latest memo simply tells prosecutors that it’s not a good use of their time to bring charges against those abiding by their State’s law.
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Insuring the world against climate disruption (Blog Action Day)

money burning earthImagine that in a few years you wake up to news reports on the radio that your town is under a flash flood watch. The ground has been so baked by the recent drought that water can’t soak in, and so the pounding rain is just flowing off into streams and filling low-lying areas.

What’s worse is you’ve got a pediatrician appointment today for both of your kids – their asthma is acting up and the drugs aren’t working as well as they should be. Furthermore, your son is still recovering from a case of malaria he picked up, probably from a mosquito bite he got during the pee wee football game by the reservoir a couple of months ago. At least the rains will damp down on your environmental allergies some today. Better rain, even flooding, than the dust storm that blew through the area a couple of weeks ago. That caused several major pileups and fouled up ventilation so bad that some of the buildings downtown are still closed..

As you pull together breakfast for the family, there’s no milk because it’s too expensive. Continue reading

Gore says ‘tipping point’ close for public push on climate change

Tom & Gore SEJ
SEJ member Tom Yulsman
asks a question of Vice
President Gore in Madison.
Photo: Anne Minard.

The fate of the earth could end up determined by which tipping point is reached first: a physical shift that ushers in abrupt climate change with catastrophic consequences, or a social one, in which public attitudes rapidly coalesce around a mandate to address climate change. Or, neither could materialize, at least not imminently.

Al Gore believes the U.S. is on the brink of a political tipping point on the climate issue. Speaking to the Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference in Madison, Wisc., last Friday, the former vice president said, “The potential for change can build up without noticeable effect until it reaches a critical mass. I think that we are very close to that tipping point.” Continue reading

Business and social media: American companies growing up, sort of

Ever since the Internet began gaining popular awareness in the mid-1990s, the topic of how businesses can productively use various new media technologies has been a subject of ongoing interest. Along the way we’ve had a series of innovations to consider: first it was the Net, and the current tool of the moment is Twitter. In between we had, in no particular order, Facebook (not that Facebook has gone away, of course), CRM, mobile (SMS, smart phones, apps), blogging, RSS and aggregation, Digg (and Reddit and StumbleUpon and Current and Yahoo! Buzz and Technorati and Del.icio.us and seemingly thousands more), targeted e-mail, YouTube, SEO, SEM, online PR and, well, you get the idea.

We certainly hear examples of businesses getting it right with new media, but in truth these cases represent a painfully small minority. Continue reading

Sparkman, collateral damage in the war on drugs?

Hard information about the murder of Bill Sparkman is difficult to gather. The FBI is now on the case and is backpedaling to the point of suggesting it might have been suicide for all we know. Really? According to the AP interview of Jerry Weaver, the man who found the body, Sparkman was stripped to his socks with his feet and ankles bound by duct tape. There was a gag in his mouth and duct tape around his neck. Apparently, an abandoned S-10 pickup truck was also nearby and Sparkman’s clothes were in the bed. That differs greatly from most of the initial news reports that said Sparkman was found hanging from a tree, and later amended to say that his feet were touching the ground so he wasn’t technically hanging. It’s gruesome and frightening any which way you arrange the details, but a very important amount of context has been left out of the entire media onslaught.

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The Weekly Carboholic: Climate disruption will disrupt volcanism too

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pavlof

Nature News reported last week that vulcanologists have concluded that climate disruption will increase the number of volcanic eruptions. According to the article, the reason is that climate disruption is expected to reduce the amount of ice present atop volcanoes and thus reduce the amount of material keeping volcanoes from erupting. Continue reading

Free the markets

. . .or, why can’t we be more like the savage socialists across the pond?

Marion Nestle recently pointed out that in Europe food must be labeled as containing GMO’s. The system isn’t new, and it springs from a general distrust of GM agriculture in much of the world. Nothing, however, stops a company from using GM ingredients or consumers from purchasing GM products. Their presence is labeled with the allergens. Looks like a free market where the informed consumer can make choices, promote competition and generally play a part in the all important invisible hand mechanism. But, no, you can’t have it.

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The Weekly Carboholic: U.S. Chamber of Commerce files for EPA climate disruption trial (update #2)

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Scopes

Earlier this week, the LATimes reported that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (hereafter “the Chamber”) has petitioned the EPA to hold a trial-like hearing on the science of climate disruption. According to the article, officials for the Chamber want to make it “‘the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century.'”

EPA officials interviewed for the LATimes article are dismissive of the Chamber’s petition, referring to it in the article as “frivolous” and a “waste of time.” However, given that the Chamber has threatened to take the EPA to federal court to force them to hold this trial-like hearing, it’s unlikely that the Chamber considers their petition “frivolous.” Continue reading

The Summer of Hate provides a watershed moment for "reasonable Republicans"

I’m not a Republican, but I know many people who are. I have GOP friends, co-workers and family members, and for that matter I used to be a Republican myself. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, to be sure. But it’s true.

It’s no secret that I don’t agree with the GOP on much of anything these days, but there’s kind of an odd element to my conversations with Republican acquaintances lately: a lot of them profess significant disagreement with the platform and policies of their party, too.

Taken in a vacuum, this is hardly surprising. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: ACCCE hired Bonner, but didn't notify Congress of forgeries when they were discovered

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accce-who

Before the House voted on the American Climate and Energy Security Act (ACES) earlier this year, someone hired Bonner & Associates (hereafter Bonner) to manufacture some grassroots opposition against ACES. At least one employee did so by forging letters from non-existent people to Representative Tom Perriello of Virginia. These letters were discovered, Bonner claims to have fired the employee, and a partner at Bonner apologized to the two minority groups from which the letters were supposedly sent. The apologies were, it’s fair to say, emphatically not accepted.

Since the Bonner story broke last Friday, there have been a lot of new information about who hired them, whether there were other Congresspeople who received forged letters, the legality or lack thereof, and an official response from a House committee with subpoena powers. Continue reading

Why American media has such a signal-to-noise problem, pt. 2

Part 2 of a series; Previously: What Bell Labs and French Intellectuals Can Tell Us About Cronkite and Couric

The Signal-to-Noise Journey of American Media

The 20th Century represented a Golden Age of Institutional Journalism. The Yellow Journalism wars of the late 19th Century gave way to a more responsible mode of reporting built on ethical and professional codes that encouraged fairness and “objectivity.” (Granted, these concepts, like their bastard cousin “balance,” are not wholly unproblematic. Still, they represented a far better way of conducting journalism than we had seen before.) It’s probably not idealizing too much to assert that reporting in the Cronkite Era, for instance, was characterized by a commitment to rise above partisanship and manipulation. The journalist was expected to hold him/herself to a higher standard and to serve the public interest. These professionals – and I have met a few who are more than worthy of the title – believed they had a duty to search for the facts and to present them in a fashion that was as free of bias as possible.

In other words, their careers, like that of Claude Shannon, were devoted to maximizing the signal in the system – the system here being the “marketplace of ideas.” Continue reading

Bonner & Associates forges documents in opposition to climate bill

BonnerThere are many people and organizations in the United States who oppose the American Climate and Energy Security Act (ACES), and many of them have mailed letters, written emails, and called their Representatives and Senators in an effort to convince their legislator to vote against ACES. Some of ACES’ opponents have deep enough pockets that they can afford to hire lobbying firms to lobby against the legislation, and did so. But someone took it much farther. Someone hired public relations and lobbying firm Bonner & Associates to mobilize the grassroots to contact their legislators, and according to a Charlottesville Daily Progress article, at least one Bonner employee forged letters from two minority groups in an effort to convince U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello of Virginia to vote against ACES. Continue reading

Congressional clunker

The Cash for Clunkers program is now open for business. Theoretically, you can trade in that old pile of crap currently defacing your driveway for something shiny and new with up to $4,500 of government money. The idea is sound. It worked well in the European countries that did it in 2008. It could be a shot in the arm for car manufacturers, dealers, and all associated with the auto industry. It might even prod consumers towards more efficient vehicles that would lessen our oil dependence and help clean up the environment. Unfortunately, the plan was cobbled together by our esteemed representatives, proving that if you have a good idea that you’d like ruined it’s best to give it to Congress.

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