Pernicious Effects

The only place where [climate change] denial is anything credible any longer is here in Congress, where money from the fossil fuel industry still has such a pernicious effect.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI, last Tuesday in the Senate)

Everybody talks about affordable health care, Syria, Ukraine, or the children at the border. The real issue is our institutions aren’t working. That’s one of the reasons we’re unable to deal with these other questions.

Senator Angus King (I-ME, quoted in Saturday’s NYT)

This week’s featured article is “Can Conservatives Solve Poverty?

This week in New England, everybody was talking about a grocery chain

Seriously. If you live somewhere else, you probably know nothing about this, but the local Market Basket chain is the site of a fascinating struggle over the meaning of capitalism. In particular, is it possible to run a company in a way that benefits all of its stakeholders — customers, workers, managers, stockholders, and the community — or does capitalism necessarily mean managers and stockholders exploiting everyone else? (Except in Germany, I mean.)

For years now, Market Basket has been doing a pretty good job for all the stakeholders — paying good wages, keeping prices low, and still turning a nice profit. But recently the other side of the family got control of this family-run corporation, and all hell broke loose. Now workers are striking (without a union; figure that out), customers (including me) are boycotting, and the former CEO Arthur T. is trying to buy the company away from his cousin Arthur S., who would rather sell out to a mega-corp.

Esquire has a good article laying out the details. I’ll add only that it’s impossible to over-state the amount of buzz this has locally. There are demonstrations outside the supermarkets. In restaurants, I hear people at other tables talking about it. Thursday, I was at a diner I never go to, where no one knows me, and a guy a few stools down the counter had to tell me (at some length) what a greedy bastard Arthur S. is. I have yet to hear anyone take the side of the current management.

and the holes in Siberia

One of the big mysteries about global warming is when the feedback cycles start to take off, so that the problem escapes our control completely. One cycle environmentalists are holding their breathes about involves methane trapped in the Siberian permafrost: As Siberia warms, the permafrost thaws, releasing the methane into the atmosphere, where it is a powerful greenhouse gas and creates more warming.

So the three big holes that have appeared recently in Siberia are causing a lot of anxiety. I found the explanation of Russian geophysicist Vladimir Romanovsky on Scientific American‘s site:

The crater’s formation probably began in a similar way to that of a sinkhole, where water (in this case, melted ice or permafrost) collects in an underground cavity, Romanovsky said. But instead of the roof of the cavity collapsing, something different occurred. Pressure built up, possibly from natural gas (methane), eventually spewing out a slurry of dirt as the ground sunk away. … The development of permafrost sinkholes could be one indication of global warming, [said] Romanovsky. “If so, we will probably see this happen more often now.”

Oh boy.

and Gaza

It deserves attention, but I can’t find much new to say about it: Ceasefires get negotiated and broken. Civilians keep dying. And I’m not sure what any of this has to do with a long-term solution to the underlying problems.

Interesting poll from the Pew Research Center. Asked who was more responsible for the current violence, the over-65 age group said Hamas (53%-15%), while the 18-29 age group said Israel (29%-21%). Whites said Hamas (46%-14%), but blacks were divided (27% Israel, 25% Hamas) and Hispanics said Israel (35%-20%).

and impeachment

Humorously, Republicans are now pretending that all the talk about impeaching President Obama is a “scam” drummed up by the Democrats as a fund-raising ploy. (Suing Obama for abuse of power is on, though. The House voted to authorize that suit Wednesday.) Fact check: The WaPo has a timeline of Republican calls for impeachment, going back to 2009.

It is true that Speaker Boehner says there won’t be an impeachment. The problem: He also said there wouldn’t be a government shutdown. The Republican base (57% in a recent poll) wants impeachment, and Boehner has consistently caved to the base, even when it means reversing whatever he may have said along the way.

In 2006, when Nancy Pelosi said that the new Democratic House majority wouldn’t impeach President Bush, that was the end of it for all practical purposes. Dennis Kucinich might offer a bill of impeachment, but the leadership easily killed it. The difference: Pelosi was actually the leader of the Democratic caucus, and Boehner is only the figurehead of Republicans. Boehner has been repeatedly wrong about what the Republican caucus will and won’t do — as recently as this week, when his border-crisis bill had to be pulled back without a vote, so that the most extreme anti-immigrant yahoos could rewrite it.

Of course, it’s also true that Democrats are fund-raising off the impeachment threat. (Check your Inbox.) When your opponents threaten to do something that silly and unpopular, you capitalize on it. Or, expressing it from the other side: You don’t get to pander to your base on something this important without the rest of the country listening in.

and what else Congress did and didn’t get done before its vacation

VA reform. Congress did indeed pass a bill to reform the Veterans Administration. Shortened time horizons allowed a $44 billion House bill and $55 billion Senate bill became a $16.3 billion compromise. The LA Times summarizes:

The deal includes $10 billion in emergency funds to pay private doctors to treat veterans who can’t get a VA appointment within 14 days or those who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. The remaining funds are allotted to build up the healthcare system’s clinical staff and lease new clinics across the country.

National Journal lists long-term veterans’ issues still to be addressed.

The Highway Trust Fund. Mission accomplished: an accounting gimmick will keep it from running dry for another few months. Gail Collins:

We now make about half as much fiscal effort as Europe does on these matters. You may be tired of hearing people ask why we can’t have day care like Sweden. But it does not seem too much to demand a Spanish level of commitment to infrastructure repair.

Israel. Israel gets $225 million to reload its Iron Dome missile defense.

Refugee children. Republicans in the House spent a lot of time telling reporters that President Obama’s $3.7 billion proposal to handle the refugee children crisis was a “blank check”, but (as so often happens) the House leadership was unable to pass its own bill. John Boehner’s stopgap bill to provide funding until the end of September had to be pulled back without a vote. Then, as Michele Bachmann put it, “We completely gutted the bill,” focusing it almost entirely on border security, and adding a companion bill to deport the so-called “dreamers” — the undocumented high school graduates who were brought to this country as children, whose deportations were delayed by President Obama’s executive order and who would get permanent residency if the DREAM Act ever passed. Fox News summarizes:

The new bill includes $70 million in National Guard money for both the states and federal government. It includes more than $400 million for the Department of Homeland Security to boost border security, and nearly $200 million for housing and “humanitarian assistance.” It would also tighten language tweaking a 2008 immigration law, for the purpose of speeding deportations of illegal immigrant children back to Central American countries.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans blocked a $2.7 billion plan, using a point of order that required 60 votes to overcome. With no bill coming to his desk, President Obama is considering a broader executive action on immigration, which some Republican congressmen have said would lead to impeachment.

and the ObamaCare subsidies

TPM’s Dylan Scott highlights a key point in the legislative history of the Affordable Care Act: The Congressional Budget Office never analyzed a scenario in which costs would be affected by states choosing not to set up their own exchanges.

“It definitely didn’t come up. This possibility never crossed anybody’s mind,” David Auerbach, who was a principal analyst for the CBO’s scoring of the ACA, told TPM on Thursday. “If we started to score it that way, they would have known that, and they would have said, ‘Oh, oh my gosh, no, no no,’ and they probably would have clarified the language. It just wasn’t on anybody’s radar at all.”

The idea that Congress might have intended the apparent meaning of a line in the bill limiting ObamaCare’s insurance subsidies to plans purchased on state-run exchanges was the center of a decision by the D. C. circuit appeals court last week. Simultaneously, the 4th circuit ruled the opposite way.

Law professor Richard Hasan elucidates the legal theory — textualism — which justifies the D. C. court’s ruling (though not its reading of history).

The 4th Circuit judges, and Edwards, were looking at the whole statute to make it coherent and to make the law work. There is a long tradition of reading statutes in this purposeful way, and a few decades ago, the opposing strict textual reading likely would not have been taken seriously. Today, however, arguments that were once considered “off the wall” are now, in Yale law professor Jack Balkin’s terms, “on the wall.”

The counterargument—that courts have an obligation to make laws work—is especially important these days, when Congress is barely working. In this time of political polarization, Congress is much less likely to fix any statutes, much less a statute as controversial as Obamacare. The judges surely know that the courts, rather than Congress, will have the last word on the statute’s meaning.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration appealed the D.C. court’s ruling to the entire court (rather than the three-judge panel that issued the 2-1 ruling). If they succeed there, then there is no conflict between the appeals courts and the Supreme Court need not take the case, unless it wants to. But the ObamaCare critics who lost in the 4th circuit are asking the Supreme Court to intervene.

and you also might be interested in …

This week’s quote comes from a 7-minute speech Senator Whitehouse of Rhode Island gave after Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma led a Republican effort to block a resolution saying that climate change is happening. The whole thing is worth watching or reading. Here’s another chunk, responding to Inhofe’s frequently repeated charge that climate change is a hoax:

Let me tell you some of the government agencies who are so-called “colluding” together – who believe that climate change is real and that carbon pollution is causing it. NASA: We trust them to send our astronauts to space, to deliver a rover the size of an SUV to Mars safely, and drive it around, sending data and pictures back from space. You think these people know what they’re talking about? … The idea we should base policy on a petition that imaginary people are on, rather than on what NASA, NOAA, the US Navy and every single scientific society and the entire property casualty insurance/reinsurance industry are telling us is just extraordinary.

[Note: Based on the video, I edited/corrected that quote from the transcript.]


My reading list grows. Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge goes on sale tomorrow. Frank Rich has already reviewed it.


Salon’s Kim Messick re-interprets the Republican Civil War:

The party is now riven into three parts: a donor class that, like the rank-and-file, mainly wants to win elections and to govern the country in a (relatively) responsibly conservative way; a ferocious cell of right-wing fabulists that prefers defeat to the slightest modulation in its hatred of the modern world; and a network of entertainers and “journalists” with an entrepreneurial investment in promoting the second group at the expense of the first. This leaves the latter in an increasingly exposed position.


It’s hard to decide when to call attention to outlandish statements and when to write them off. I’m inclined to write off the blogger on the Times of Israel site who wrote “When Genocide is Permissible”, though he got some attention on Salon and in a few other places. The Times removed the post promptly, issued a statement rejecting its views, and discontinued the author’s blog. It’s easy to tar a site by quoting things that get uploaded without going through an editor. But in this case there’s no reason to believe the blogger represents anyone other than himself.

On the other hand, I think the openly theocratic views of elected representatives like Iowa Congressman Steve King don’t get nearly enough attention. Right Wing Watch posts this audio:

In St. Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill … he says, “And God made all nations on Earth, and He decided when and where each nation would be.” … So I believe in the sovereign nation state. I believe that God gave us this country. He shaped it with the hands of the founding fathers, whom he moved around like men on a chessboard to build this nation. And we need to respect it and revere it and restore this country to its true destiny.

Such mythologizing of a nation’s history and “true destiny” is a prime characteristic of fascism. (It’s easy to have a blind spot for your own country’s myths, but wouldn’t it be a little bit creepy to hear Vladimir Putin expound on the divine founding and true destiny of Russia?) The line sometimes attributed to Sinclair Lewis has it right: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” And you have to wonder who is included in the “us” to whom God gave this country. King then segues into demonizing his chosen scapegoats:

That means we have to secure our borders. We have to restore the rule of law — we can’t be rewarding people for breaking it. That’s all pretty clear and is fundamentally, philosophically and, I think, faithfully sound. … I declare [President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy] to be Deferred Action for Criminal Aliens, because each one of them that came across the border illegally committed the crime of unlawful entry into the United States.

Multiple misrepresentations: You could just as easily read that Bible verse to mean that if people have made it to this country, God intends them to be here. (It is God, and not us, who “appoints the bounds of their habitation.”) That would also be consistent with our history, because, as I’ve observed before, the Founders did not secure the borders against immigrants. (That started much later.) Also, unlawful entry is not a crime. As Charles Garcia put it for CNN:

Migrant workers residing unlawfully in the U.S. are not — and never have been — criminals. They are subject to deportation, through a civil administrative procedure that differs from criminal prosecution, and where judges have wide discretion to allow certain foreign nationals to remain here.

To put it bluntly, King cloaks lies about our history and laws in dubious religious rhetoric. That ought to be a scandal.

and let’s end with some industrial art

This week I discovered Bored Panda, which is a treasure trove of beautiful, surprising, and creative images. This post calls attention to several pieces of railroad art from Portugal by Artur Bordalo. If the environment gives you parallel lines, why not use them?

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Comments

  • Erica  On August 4, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    When you said: “One of the big mysteries about global warming is when the negative feedback cycles start to take off, so that the problem escapes our control completely.” I think you meant to say “positive feedback cycles”. Positive feedback means that a small change in the system produces an even greater change in that same direction. Negative feedback means that a small change in the system becomes smaller and the system goes back to equilibrium. I understand wanting to use the word negative to describe a change that is bad or uncontrollable, but I don’t think it’s technically correct.

    • johnarkansawyer  On August 4, 2014 at 10:05 pm

      I missed that, Erica! Sure enough, it’s exactly bass-ackwards. (When did I get old and stop being the person who found these things first?)

    • weeklysift  On August 5, 2014 at 8:00 am

      Good catch! After looking for an adjective that would say what I wanted, I finally fixed the sentence in a less-is-more fashion, by axing the word “negative”. Now it’s just “when the feedback cycles start to take off”.

  • Rebecca  On August 8, 2014 at 8:51 am

    I must share a video with you! (Link at the end.) In it Dr. Wolfe talks about Market Basket with a surprising insight. (The story begins at 38:20 with some background information). At 42:37 he talks about what the people started to do (picketing, demand the CEO they wanted to run the company which is usually a no-no in capitalism, and they got politicians to join). At 44:06 he gets to the insight. It only takes 3 minutes, until 47:02. Please go watch it. The idea is that people are demanding a say in running the company because the decisions that are made effect all of their lives. This has happened before in history. Leading up to revolution, people often rise up and favor one king (or CEO) over another. And not only do they favor one king over another, they act on it. They rise up, get out on the streets. In history this often leads to the realization that if the people themselves ran the country (or business) and had no kings (or CEOs) they wouldn’t be in the difficult position they’re in, in the first place. There ought to be no kings at all. Note that we don’t have kings any more. The decisions about how a company is run should be made by the people who have to live with the consequences of those decisions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REPaxBX9LGo

    • weeklysift  On August 10, 2014 at 10:00 am

      Thanks. I wound up watching the whole thing. I’m going to pass the link on and quote from it Monday.

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