Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Two Recent Major Reports of Note

Here are two reports issued in the past ten days from two very different sources that should get way more play than they are receiving. There is a confluence between the two that I shouldn't have to explain once you look at them. One report comes from the international development and relief agency Oxfam, which notes that

Image result for oxfam 8 richest

Oxfam’s report, ‘An economy for the 99 percent’, shows that the gap between rich and poor is far greater than had been feared. It details how big business and the super-rich are fueling the inequality crisis by dodging taxes, driving down wages and using their power to influence politics. It calls for a fundamental change in the way we manage our economies so that they work for all people, and not just a fortunate few.[Oxfam press release].

Six of the eight men are from the U.S.

  • Bill Gates (US)
  • Michael Bloomburg (US)
  • Carlos Slim Helu(Mexico)
  • Jeff Bezos (US)
  • Mark Zuckerberg (US)
  • Larry Ellison (US)
  • Warren Buffet (US)
  • Amanzio Ortega Gaona (Spain)
The richest are accumulating wealth at such an astonishing rate that the world could see its first trillionaire in just 25 years.  To put this figure in perspective – you would need to spend $1 million every day for 2738 years to spend $1 trillion, the report noted.

But maybe you aren't concerned about this escalating inequality. Well then, if Oxfam is maybe just a little too liberal of a source for you, check out the World Economic Forum's recently released Global Risks Report 2017. The WEF is the bastion of the world's elite politicians, corporate leaders, and a sprinkling of other big players that meet annually in Davos, Switzerland. They are meeting as I write this.


This annual assessment based upon a survey of some 700+ leaders offers a glimpse at what we might see unravel in the near future.

Global Risks Trends interconnections

If the elites are concerned enough about the intersections of these global challenges, perhaps we should nudge our elected leaders to enact policies to address them, not to make them worse.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hope, Lies and Making Change

I was up early as usual yesterday morning to sneak in a little quiet reading time before heading off to set up for our local monthly recycling drive we've been operating for 28 years. It was chilly (14 degrees) and dark when I loaded up our 1999 Ford Ranger, 4-cylinder truck with our material before swinging by the elementary school to load some of their recycled paper, tin and plastic to our drive site. 

This monthly adventure allows me to catch the national NPR show, On the Media, which is unfortunately the only time I ever hear it. Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone have been doing this always thoughtful and reflective show for many years.

Since the truck was not yet warmed up I had the heater fan off, which made listening to it easier. Before I got to the school they aired a segment that inspired this blog post. Bob Garfield was demonstrably depressed by the state of our politics and the press and he was trying to cope with it. Wherein a colleague referred him to a book by Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark. [Those of you who may been occasional readers of this blog will note that name, and even that book, from which I have added one of my favorite quote, which I'll add at the end. Here's another blog post that excerpts a quote from a 2013 essay or this one from a post-2016 election essay.]

Image result for rebecca solnit

But Garfield went further than just trying to summarize the book. The colleague suggested he contact Solnit to see what she had to say and therein lies the reason for this blog. I have never heard Rebecca Solnit. I knew that she was one of my favorite writers - penetrating, lyrical, powerful and unafraid to stare into dark corners of our world. But Solnit is not simply a writer. She is also an activist and it is from that personal engagement that the fire and power of her writing emerges. I was somewhat anxious that she would not be as powerful a speaker, especially in an interview environment. Some people we know write beautifully, but speaking live on the spur of the moment doesn't allow for the editing that good writing does.

Not to worry, despite a very different voice than I expected, the exchange with Garfield, by both of them was uplifting in ways I cannot give adequate words to. The 11-minute audio track from the show is a necessary vaccination for all progressives as we enter the dark times. Please take the time to listen to this segment. I also suggest those of you who have access to On the Media through your local NPR station, add it to your regular diet of listening.

Below is a quote I have used in many talks and in many things I have written. If by the time you get this far in the blog you have not listened to the interview with Garfield, perhaps reading this tiny excerpt from the same book that inspired Bob Garfield to call her for an interview, this might nudge you to do so. I believe you will be glad you did.

     Causes and effects assume history marches forward, but history is not an army.         It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away a stone, an                 earthquake breaking centuries of tension. Sometimes one person inspires a                 movement, or her words do decades later; sometimes a few passionate people             change the world; sometimes they start a movement and millions do; sometimes         those millions are stirred by the same outrage or the same ideal and change                 comes upon us like a change of weather. All of these transformations have in               common is that they begin in the imagination, in hope. To hope is to gamble. It’s         to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and               uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is             the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.

I say all this to you because hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say this because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope. At the beginning of his massive 1930s treatise on hope, the German philosopher Ernst Bloch wrote, “The work of this emotion requires people who throw themselves actively into what is becoming, to which they themselves belong.” To hope is to give yourself to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable. 

             -Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark,

If you need an extra boost here's a link to Stand Up (and Be Strong) by Keb Mo 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Thoughts at Large at the Beginning of the Year

I heard a clip on the radio today of VP-elect Pence stating that the November election  showed the overwhelming vote of the American people was to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. Well of course this is an outright lie on two counts. Even if everyone who voted for Trump was against the Affordable Care Act, highly unlikely and impossible to prove, Mr.'s Trump and Pence actually had more voters vote against them than for them.!!! They received only 48% of the vote which means 52% of the people wanted someone else. The Republicans lost six seats in the House, even though they have a commanding lead in the number of seats (241 to 194)  or 55% of the seats. Total votes for the House the Republicans received 1.1% more votes than the Democrats, but still less than 50% of those cast for US House seats. If ever the use of the term "mandate" was inappropriate this is clearly one. Make sure when it is used you call them out. (Ballotpedia LogoSee Ballotpedia for the data).


On this evening's broadcast of  Martketplace there was story about Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson's plan to divest his holdings in Exxon Mobil. I believe I heard some interviewee suggesting that this would be quite a loss for him. When he could cash out for $55 million in present stock and an addition $182 million in deferred stock are we supposed to feel sorry for this guy. 

If the HOUSEHOLD (not individual) median income (50% of households earn more and 50% less) is approximately $50,000 and the typical working lifetime is about 50 years, that means a lifetime of median income would have a household collect about $2.5 million. Tillerson's stock value alone is 100 times that amount and does not include his income received over the many years of his working life. How much is enough!!!!

Exxon Mobil's Rex Tillerson speaks at a discussion organized by the Economic Club of Washington.


Has anyone who has been yipping at the diverse countries at the UN who signed UN Resolution 2334 regarding the Israel/Palestine conundrum actually read it???? You had countries as diverse as Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain, France China, Russia, Japan, Uruguay, Angola, Senegal, United Kingdom, Venezuela, and Egypt all voting in support? Why, because they are all anti-Semites??? That's what you would think if you listened to the critics both in Israel and among our own Congress. As you will read in the resolution and as you can better understand if you are willing to listen/watch Secretary of State Kerry's thoughtful and powerful explanation of the US abstention, we can either have international law and agreements which we honor or we throw them all away and go back to all out war, every country for itself.

Image result for john kerry speech c span israel


Hardly a peep about climate change in the political discussion save the notation of all the climate deniers the President-elect hopes to surround himself with in his new cabinet. Even as the the climate science community gets ready to officially declare 2016 as the hottest year on record following  the pattern you see below.

Image result for climate change warmest years

Having just finished David Orr's recently released superb Dangerous Years: Climate Change, The Long Emergency, and the Way Forward (Yale University Press, 2016), I feel MLK, Jr's deep sense of the "fierce urgency of now". But as Orr does better than anyone else I've read or heard, you see the ties that bind and the durable threads essential for creating a fabric of life that is sustainable. He has long been higher education's sage of sustainability. As Dangerous Years makes vividly clear Orr has immersed himself in the literature of many disciplines - biology, physics, philosophy, economics, sociology, history, literature, the classics and of course political science. His writing is powerful and persuasive, but he is not arrogant as the following passage clearly notes. In it he is describing the two-and-a-half reasons we should have concerns for future generations. In this section he begins to describe his half reason.

         "My half reason to act on behalf of future generations follows. It is discounted by half because it rests entirely on the unverifiable grounds of my own feelings and experience such as they are. I cannot say for certain whether my life is a gift or not, but even with its ups and downs it certainly feels like one. I cannot say for certain that the feeling of sea winds in my face, or the fragrance of spring flowers, or the sounds of whitewater, or the comforting solitude of an old-growth hemlock forest, or the view from an Appalachian ridgetop, or the feel of good oak, or the hug of an old friend, or the smell of rain after a long hot drought or that of newly plowed ground, or the red-tail hawk that is nesting in my yard this spring, or the delight of fireflies on a summer evening are gifts. But they give me pleasure and they feel like beneficence beyond any thoughts I can muster. I cannot say with cool scientific logic why such things should be passed on unimpaired to my four grandchildren. But I fervently hope that they will be. I can only say that I am very thankful that others before us protected what they did or were unable to damage more than they did.

        Whether life and all that it entails, including pain and suffering, has come to each of us as a gift or by some random chance no longer interests me. How could I know such things? Either way I can imagine no good reason to destroy, cheapen, deface, or risk harm to the biotic community and the enterprise of life. I can, however , think of many reasons to protect life from the vast planetary cycling of water and materials down to the pair of cardinals nesting this spring in my side yard. I believe myself to be better off because they're busy raising their brood and that makes me happy. I am even willing to chase off the neighbor's cat prowling close by on their behalf. Exactly why I cannot say, nor do I think it very important to give reasons or analyze further. In all of our efforts to conjure up reasons for one thing or another down to parts per million, one thing is missing is the sense of wonder that exists beyond words and reasons. Theologian Abraham Heschel once said that 'a l;ife without wonder is not worth living.' In that spirit I am content to find my cardinals ad their brood wonderful and feel blessed by their presence in some mysterious, unnamable way and let It go at that. But I am distraught by the possibility that these wondrous things may go extinct, never to be experienced by my descendants and yours." (p. 134-5)

While Orr is simultaneously lyrical and scholarly, you can feel his heart and soul in this book, a culmination of a life's work, a crescendo of head and heart. His 50 pages of annotated notes are themselves an education from which he has plumb the depths of many to synthesize for us both a description of the challenges, and possibilities for solutions. He finishes with one example from his own current community level work which is a poster child for communities everywhere - the Oberlin Project