Monday, November 30, 2015

Mainstream media trivializes Paris climate talks by focusing on Obama’s legacy

By Marc Jampole

Have you noticed that most mainstream news media coverage of the climate change summit in France stresses that any agreement will burnish, establish, enhance or cement the legacy of Barack Obama’s presidency?

It’s absurd to conjecture that Obama will be judged by one conference after almost seven tumultuous years in office. He shaped and passed healthcare reform, ended torture, led us in two, and now maybe three wars, had massive budget fights with Republicans, arranged the capture and immediate assassination of than man most responsible for the 9/11 attacks, oversaw an economy that went from 10% unemployment to 5% unemployment, and initiated an immigration plan that the courts may or may not approve as constitutional. Plus he has already made his mark on global warming with his semi-tough regulations and his rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Despite the apparent silliness of the statement, lots of mainstream news media are peddling it, including The New York Times, The Hill, Huffington Post, CNSNews, Washington Examiner, and Politico, among many other media outlets.

What would cause so many editors to pursue what is truly a trivial concern?

 I suspect it’s a combination of reasons, mostly venial, including:

It’s an easy story to write. It’s relatively easy to write a story on a legacy. You can build much of the article on a recap of Obama’s past accomplishments and losses in the environmental area, analyze his statements on climate change, as the polite euphemistically call human-induced global warming, and get some experts to chime in about the President’s legacy. It’s much harder to analyze the technicalities and implications of proposed initiatives or to compare the various climate change and economic impact models.

It’s a personality story. As much as possible, the mainstream news media likes to turn all issues into personality stories: Obama versus Boehner; Marco backstabs Jeb; Bush II motivated by Saddam’s diss of his dad; Reagan and O’Neil govern as pals. Donald Trump received enormous media coverage from the very start of his campaign because his obnoxious personality and personal comments about others enabled the media to write about personality without really touching the issues.

It takes our mind off the problem. Focusing on the legacy issue instigates conversations about what Obama’s legacy should be. Those opposed to actions to slow down and address the ravages of climate change should be delighted. They can no longer call into question the facts of global warming, at least not with a straight face. The latest research puts the lie to their long-time fallacy that transitioning from fossil fuels will hurt the economy. But no matter, the mainstream media helps to distract people from the gloomy facts by creating another controversy: what does a conference on climate change mean to the legacy of the widely if unfairly despised first black president? If the talks fail, Obama has in part failed. If Republicans can block any agreement to which Obama agrees in Paris, they have taken down the man and tattered his legacy. The main attraction is no longer what to do about established facts, but a political cat fight.

There are misinformed voters who don’t want the government to take over Medicare and others who don’t like food stamps and other social welfare programs because they wrongly believe that the money goes almost exclusively to blacks. Similarly benighted individuals who support action to address climate change might root against Obama achieving anything of substance at Paris since what is at issue is not preserving the world as we know it for 7.3 billion human inhabitants and our fellow travelers, but something far more important—the legacy of this one man who has attracted so much unwarranted animosity by virtue of being the first black president.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Wyoming Senator John Barrasso perfects the art of lying while telling the truth

Although he has heavy competition from Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, Donald Trump has recently established himself the king of the Big Lie.
Saying that he saw thousands of people in New Jersey cheering the toppling of the twin towers on 9/11 serves as the American epitome of the “Big Lie.” Like Hitler’s big lies about the Jews, Trump’s false statement serves to support a virulent and odious racist position and also plays into the beliefs of Nativists and what some pundits are calling the “undereducated voters.”  After historians and news bureaus proved beyond the doubt that there was no such occurrence of a group of thousands cheering the destruction of the World Trade Center, Trump dug his heels in and said many people had tweeted they saw the same thing on TV—surely what Trump and his peeps saw were crowds of Arabs in a Middle Eastern country cheering. But it never happened in the United States, and Trump knows it!
The crescendo of disapproval of Trump’s incendiary 9/11 lie coincided with a report in the New York Times that Trump placed an historical marker on a golf course he bought noting that a bloody Civil War battle had taken place on the spot. Of course nothing happened there. After historians corrected the Donald, he dug his heels in again with some medieval thinking: “So if people are crossing the river, and you happen to be in a civil war, I would say that people were shot—a lot of them.” Note he’s arguing from general principles, which is called deductive reasoning. Popular among scholastics in the European Middle Ages, deductive reasoning can be a powerful tool, except when its conclusions contradict the facts on the ground, which are determined through inductive reasoning. 
Trump’s logic is full of holes. Moreover, the fact that he believes deductive logic over empirical fact-gathering should be truly disturbing to everyone. Unfortunately, these lies comfort those predisposed to mistrust immigrants and hate religions not their own.
But Trump’s Big Lies and those of the other Republican candidates are blunt instruments compared to the surgical precision that Wyoming Republic Senator John Barrasso uses in his Wall Street Journal opinion piece, “Congress Can Cool off Obama’s Climate Plans.”  Barrasso manages to build lies based on accurate statistics.
The headline tells us all we need to know about Barrasso’s stand on human-induced global warming, which is now euphemistically called “climate change” in polite circles. He tries to stonewall all actions to address climate change for the short-term business interests of the coal companies and other energy corporations which he serves.
His call to arms to Congress to block the President’s likely actions at the upcoming Paris climate change conference begins with his assertion that there is already too much regulation of emissions in the United States. His proof is the fact that we are responsible for a mere 13% of world-wide greenhouse gas emissions, down from 24% since 2000. China by contrast pumps out 24% of the world’s carbon-based pollution.  His implication, of course, is that China should cut back, but that United States has already done its part.
What Barrasso neglects to say is that per capita Americans burn more fossil fuels than any other nation. We Americans pumps so much pollution into the atmosphere that we are responsible for 13% of all greenhouse gases with only 5% of the world’s population. China has 4.35 times the population of the United States, which means that on average each American is responsible for 2.37 times more greenhouses gasses than each Chinese.  Certainly China, India (another country given an apples-to-orange comparison by Barrasso) need to install additional pollution controls and switch as much as possible to non-fossil fuels, but that does not absolve the United States of its responsibility to continue reducing green-house gas emissions.
Later in the article Barrasso notes that the United States is negotiating away our economy, because recent deals give developing nations more slack than the United States in terms of when emissions regulations are phased in. He notes that developing countries have been growing recently by 7%-9%, whereas the United States has seen 2% growth. He blusters that by imposing environmental regulations on us 15 years before they go into effect elsewhere we are subsidizing these other economies. The facts about growth rates are true, but the premise is as leaky as a straw roof in a hurricane. First of all, 2% growth is more than twice as high as the historic growth rate of the economy through centuries. More significantly, our growth does not depend on the energy we use, nor on the energy that we sell to other countries.  Recent studies have delinked the growth of greenhouse emissions with economic growth because the problems caused by global warming will cost the United States and the world, so much money to solve and natural disasters will lead to so much lost productivity.
Barrasso performs a rhetorical feat of distraction similar to a magician’s. While we are watching the facts in one hand, Barrasso slips us a mickey of false premises and illogical reasoning, proving once again that Samuel Butler was right when he said that while figures never lie, liars figure.
Of course, for many people, the annoying part of Barrasso’s article is not that he lies, but that he doesn’t tell entertaining lies such as the ones uttered by Trump, Carson and Cruz.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Americans around tables with friends/families in warm homes should give thanks they aren’t refugees

By Marc Jampole

As hundreds of millions of Americans gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, we should give thanks that we aren’t refugees.

Whether praying to a deity or expressing our humanity, we should give thanks that our homes have not been destroyed, that we have not seen friends and family killed or injured by bombs and bullets.

We should give thanks that we have never been raped, nor lived with the knowledge that our daughters and women have been.

We should give thanks that we have not had to huddle in camps, low on food or not knowing where to find the next meal, or crowded onto trains, our children crying, our elderly groaning in pain, often smelling the stench of human excrement.

We should be thankful we don’t live in a no-win situation, caught between two, three, and in the case of Syria, four armies, all shooting, bombing, rounding up, vandalizing and marauding.

We should give thanks that our country has been bombed only once and that was 74 years ago. We should be thankful that our country hasn’t been invaded since a slave-owning break-away confederacy attacked the territory of those loyal to the Constitution more than 150 years ago.

We should be thankful that we live in a land of relative abundance and low crime. 

We should be thankful that we were born or have immigrated to this country and remember that we didn’t make the United States, the United States made us—its freedom of expression, religion and action, its relative abundance, its consistent rule of law and its openness to immigrants. We have our problems, specifically our mistreatment of minorities; a wide gap between the wealthy and everyone else; a lack of cradle-to-grave healthcare and education for all; and our dependence on fossil fuels. But we at least have the possibility of fixing those problems without resorting to violence.

In particular, Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina should be thankful for being born rich. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz should be thankful for being born with high intelligence, a gift of god or chance that no one works to get. Jeb Bush should be thankful he was born the scion of a political dynasty.

All these individuals and everyone else about to take a knife and fork to a large succulent piece of white turkey meat slathered with gravy could have just as easily been born in Aleppo or Palmyra.

And being thankful that we are not refugees, we should open our hearts—and our shores—to those unfortunates who are. Otherwise, we lose our humanity and our country loses the reason it exists.