31 August 2009

Killing Stephan Hawkings and Palin's baby

The Investor's Business Daily, with their buildings full of top researchers ready to give you advice on what to do with your hard-earned dollars, informs us:

The U.K.'s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) basically figures out who deserves treatment by using a cost-utility analysis based on the "quality adjusted life year." One year in perfect health gets you one point. Deductions are taken for blindness, for being in a wheelchair and so on. The more points you have, the more your life is considered worth saving, and the likelier you are to get care. People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

Actually, I've never seen Stephen Hawking's passport, so I'm pretty sure he was actually born to a family of pigmies in Africa and was smuggled into the U.S.--which merely proves that much more that there's something terribly wrong with the Brits and the French who have chosen to build their country right next to them.

26 August 2009

Monkeys with two moms

A brave new world is rapidly approaching. Scientists have not created monkeys with three parents (as a technique to avoid passing on defective genes of a parent with faulty genes in their mitochondria).

25 August 2009

A small step in the right direction for China

China plans on installing a massive wind farm that will give it 100 gigawatts of wind-generated capacity by 2020. This is good news since it'll provided a needed boost in the manufacturing capacity for wind infrastructure. Of course, it's still a minute fraction of China's overall use. But someone sitting within U.S. borders can hardly point fingers. Critics of China's rapid industrialization are, as the old Chinese saying goes, like the cowardly soldier who retreats 50 steps, only to criticize the ones who retreated 100 steps.

Diminishing expectations

Change that lobbyists can agree to.

24 August 2009

Our task

Murli Natrajan has an excellent post providing a good general picture of the current healthcare debate and how to proceed.

21 August 2009

Guess who's coming to dinner: Mercury

The USGS has released a report showing that pollution, primarily from coal and auto exhaust, is leading to harmful amounts of mercury in fish throughout the U.S. As the introduction explains (bolding added):

Mercury (Hg) is a global pollutant that ultimately makes its way into every aquatic ecosystem through the hydrologic cycle. Anthropogenic (human-related) sources are estimated to account for 50–75 percent of the annual input of Hg to the global atmosphere and, on average, 67 percent of the total Hg in atmospheric deposition to the United States (Meili, 1991; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1997; Seigneur and others, 2004). Elevated Hg concentrations that are attributed to atmospheric deposition have been documented worldwide in aquatic ecosystems that are remote from industrial sources (Fitzgerald and others, 1998).

The mercury flowing through the water ends up flowing through our veins as well:

Accumulation of MeHg in fish tissue is considered a significant threat to the health of both wildlife and humans. Approximately 95 percent or more of the Hg found in most fish fillet/muscle tissue is MeHg (Huckabee and others, 1979; Grieb and others, 1990; Bloom 1992). Women of child-bearing age and infants are particularly vulnerable to effects from consumption of Hg-contaminated fish (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2001).

The report found dangerously high amounts of mercury throughout the U.S., but particularly, on the East Coast:

Hg concentrations in fish at more than two-thirds of the sites exceeded the value of 0.1 μg/g Hg ww that is of concern for the protection of fish-eating mammals, including mink and otters. Fish-Hg concentrations equaling or exceeding the 0.3 μg/g ww USEPA criterion for the protection of human health were found at 27 percent of the sites. The highest concentrations among all sampled sites occurred in fish from blackwater coastal-plain streams draining forested land or wetland in the eastern and southeastern United States, as well as from streams draining gold- or Hg-mined basins in the western United States.

The presence of mercury from old gold mines is noteworthy. Quite often, the market-oriented lovers of capitalism deride concern for the environment. But many of the mines that are causing problems were created 50 or 100 years ago. They made a few people rich and a century later are still making people sick! And they will probably continue to leech poison into the water for thousands of years. Business entrepeneurs and the government representatives that they buy off simply can't be trusted to look forward for decades or centuries so as to factor in the ultimate costs of what they do. The appearance of mercury throughout a key part of the foodchain is deeply disturbing. It shows limits to this growth-at-all costs mentality that drives so much of our thinking about the economy.

The Karlo proposal for healthcare

As the nation engages in its meticulous and rational debate of the issues, it's interesting to note that 62% of Republicans believe that the government should stay out of Medicare. Since Republicans tend to be the bacon-chompin' ignorami with the big guts, I suggest an alternative solution to the Obama plan. Why don't we just divide the nation into two halves, between Republicans and everyone else and have an insurance company calculate the rates for both halfs based on health risks? My guess is that the Republicans would pay double. We can then have all these Democrat-leaning states (like California) stop paying more to the Federal government than they get (in effect, subsidizing the red states). Finally, we can have the government get out of . . . Republican Medicare.

19 August 2009

Guns--fine, t-shirts-not

Guns at Political Events: A Chilling Effect on the First Amendment

by Howard Friel

On August 11, a man with a loaded firearm in a holster appeared outside a town hall meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where President Obama was speaking. He carried a sign that said: "It is Time to Water the Tree of Liberty"—a reference to Thomas Jefferson's statement that "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." Neither the Secret Service nor police ushered the man away from the area of the president's town meeting. ("Protestor at Obama Healthcare Town Hall Carried 9mm Pistol-Legally," Guardian, August 12, 2009)

On August 17, a reported dozen people carrying guns, including two with assault rifles, were among protestors outside a convention center in Phoenix, Arizona, where President Obama was speaking. It was the latest incident where protestors with guns were seen outside events where the president had appeared to speak about his healthcare proposals, which right-wing opponents denounce as an assault on liberty. Neither the Secret Service nor police ushered the persons carrying guns away from the event, nor were any persons carrying firearms arrested. ("Armed Men Seen Outside Barack Obama Event," Telegraph/UK [via Common Dreams], August 18, 2009)

Compare this restraint by the Secret Service and police to the following events.
In July 2008, a 61-year-old librarian was arrested at a McCain campaign event in Denver for carrying a sign that read, "McCain=Bush." ("Woman Arrested at McCain Event for ‘McCain=Bush' Sign," AlterNet, July 7, 2008)

In 2005, three people were ejected by police from a Bush town hall meeting in Denver after they arrived in a car with a bumper sticker that read, "No More Blood for Oil." ("Politicians Are Stifling Dissent, Critics Say," Knight-Ridder [via Common Dreams], February 4, 2006)

In October 2004, three school teachers in Medford, Oregon, were threatened with arrest by police and thrown out of a political rally featuring President Bush after they showed up wearing T-shirts with the slogan, "Protect Our Civil Liberties." ("Teachers' T-Shirts Bring Bush Speech Ouster," NewsChannel 8, Portland [via Common Dreams], October 15, 2004)

In July 2004, a Wisconsin county supervisor wearing a blue-denim shirt over a T-shirt that said "Kerry for President" was ejected from a Bush campaign speech after the Secret Service reportedly took his driver's license, social security number, and phone number. (" County Supervisor Booted from Bush Event for Wearing Hidden Kerry T-Shirt," The Progressive, July 22, 2004)

From the standpoint of the U.S. Constitution, the heavy-handed treatment of liberal school teachers, librarians, and county supervisors and the more deferential approach to armed right-wing protestors, makes no sense. While there would be no threat to the Constitution in the months and years ahead if dozens or hundreds of school teachers showed up at Republican political events wearing T-shirts with political messages that did not incite violence, the threat of violence would be extreme if as many armed right-wing protestors appeared at Democratic events. Even in the absence of actual violence, the implicit threat of violence by the appearance of armed right-wing protestors represents an unacceptable chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of Americans.

Black's Law Dictionary defines "chilling effect" as "the result of a law or practice that seriously discourages the exercise of a constitutional right, such as ... the right of free speech." Who could credibly argue that the appearance of armed right-wing protestors at Democratic political events would have no chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of Democrats to attend those events, and to express their political preferences with regard to healthcare, global warming, or gun-control? Mustering the courage to show up and speak up at Democratic political events in the presence of armed right-wing protestors obviously poses an undue burden on the First Amendment rights of Democrats, including on Democratic presidents, congressional officials, and candidates for office.

Nor does the alleged Second Amendment right of an individual to a firearm trump the First Amendment rights of Americans. While the federal courts have treated First Amendment rights as fundamental to the Constitution, the same courts have not treated any Second Amendment right in a similar manner.

The Congress and the president have a compelling public interest and constitutional duty to protect the First Amendment, and the safety of elected officials and their supporters, by outlawing the discretion of gun owners to appear at political events with their weapons.

18 August 2009

Canadian healthcare

A Majority of Two has a long post in response to some rightwinger's taunt ""When was the last time a new lifesaving treatment was developed in Canada……?" The post lists a panopoly of key medical procedures discovered in Canada. The final paragraphs:

Canadians live longer, they receive better health care than most Americans, there is no such thing here as a “pre-existing condition” which prevents them from getting medical care. And, Americans would be surprised to learn just how much of their medications and medical procedures are discovered in places like Germany, France (yes) even Great Britain.

I could go on, but I’m getting tired. Canada is not a medical backwater, and Americans need to come here and see the truth for themselves. All the horror stories about Canadians going to other countries for medical care is false. I work in the medical system, and I know. It is false. It’s fear mongering. In fact, it’s embarrassing it’s so untrue.

We are not saying our system is perfect. Far from it, but it's better than many others. However, we would really appreciate it if Americans would stop telling lies about our system in order to further their arguments in their debate about their own health care system. We really don't care what system you choose, but please -- stop trashing ours.

Since we're on the topic, here are some interesting stats to consider (not from A Majority of Two):

In the World Health Organization's ratings of health care system performance among 191 member nations published in 2000, Canada ranked 30th and the U.S. 37th, while the overall health of Canadians was ranked 35th and Americans 72nd.

In terms of population health, life expectancy in 2006 was about two and a half years longer in Canada, with Canadians living to an average of 79.9 years and Americans 77.5 years. Infant and child mortality rates are also higher in the U.S.

The incidence of cancer and incident of cancer mortality rates of the two countries are basically identical with slight variations (some favoring one system, some the other) depending on the type of cancer.

YET Canada spends roughly half of what the U.S. spends on healthcare (in 2006, per-capita spending for health care in the U.S. was US$6,714; in Canada, US$3,678.)

16 August 2009

Nietzsche and the Nazis

I recently watched Stephen Hicks documentary (or should I say, "filmed lecture") titled Nietzsche and the Nazis on Netflix. It's an interesting film. I agree with the author that Nietzsche provides much of the philosophical groundwork for Fascism. Hicks does point out some areas where Nietzsche's philosophy and words were twisted a bit to fit into the Nazi framework, but by and large, he concludes they're a good fit. A good critique of the film can be found here.

15 August 2009

Boycott Whole Foods? Getta life!

People are calling for a boycott of Whole Foods because of the conservative views the CEO voiced about healthcare reform. I've got news for these people. Most CEOs have such views, so if you really want to be consistent, you're going to have to stop shopping all together. To make matters worse, Whole Foods is about as green and likeable as a corporation can get--with John Mackey and top management voluntarily taking an exceedingly small share of company profits. Boycotts are a great idea, but if anyone has any sense, Whole Foods should be on the very bottom of the list of companies to boycott.

Related articles:

Waylon Lewis--Why I ain't about to boycott Whole Foods
The Moderate Voice (looks at what Mackey actually wrote)
TPM: Whole Foods Boycott and the Progressosphere: Bats in the Belfry

I Am A Self-Reliant American Conservative

I enjoyed this clever article by David Gaines.
I get up at 6 a.m. and fill my coffeepot with water to prepare my morning coffee. The local government water supply is clean and safe because some tree-hugging liberals fought for federal minimum water-quality standards. With my first swallow of water, I take my daily medication, the original basic research behind which was conducted by the National Institutes of Health. My medications are safe because some stupid commie liberal fought to ensure their safety and that they work as advertised. All but $10 of my medications are paid for by my employer's medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance - now I get it, too. I prepare my morning breakfast, bacon and eggs. The bacon is safe to eat and the pigs it comes from are treated more humanely than used to be the case because some girly-man socialists fought for laws to regulate the meatpacking and agricultural industries.
In the morning shower, I reach for my shampoo. My bottle is properly labeled with each ingredient and its amount relative to the total contents because some pansy crybaby fought for my right to know what I was putting on my body and how much of each ingredient it contained.
I dress, walk outside, and take a deep breath. The air I breath is relatively clean because some tree-hugging environmentalist wacko fought for laws to stop industries from polluting all of our air. I walk down the public sidewalks to a public subway station patrolled by tax-funded police officers for my government-subsidized ride to work. I save a considerable amount in parking and transportation fees because some fancy-pants liberal fought for affordable public transportation.
I begin my work day. I have a good job with excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some pinko socialist union members staged protests and strikes, and in many cases died, so that we could have those benefits. If I'm hurt on the job or become unemployed, I'll get a worker's compensation or unemployment check, thanks to some stupid nanny state liberal who didn't think I should lose my home because of my temporary misfortune.
It's noontime and I need to make a deposit at my not-for-profit federal credit union, the idea for which some hippy brought down from socialist Canada, so I can pay some bills. My deposit is insured by the National Credit Union Administration because some godless communist wanted to protect my money from speculators causing wild swings in the economy. I have to pay my Fannie Mae-underwritten mortgage and my below-market federal student loan (so that I could attend a publically funded state university) because some elitist McGovernite decided that both society and I would be better off if I were educated and earned more money over my lifetime.
Now I'm home from work. I plan to visit my father this evening at his farm in the country. I get into my car for the drive. My car is among the safest in the world because some America-hating socialist fought for car safety standards and a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to go along with the taxpayer-funded roads. I arrive at my boyhood home. Mine was the third generation to live in the house, which was financed by the Farmers Home Administration because bankers didn't want to make rural loans. The house didn't have electricity until some big-government liberals stuck their noses where they didn't belong and demanded rural electrification. My father lives on Social Security and a union pension because a bunch of bleeding heart "blame-America-first" types worked for decades to make sure he and people like him wouldn't spend their old age in poverty. My aunt and uncle are able to visit him tonight too. They were laid up for a long time but are back on their feet now, thanks to the socialist doctors and hospitals paid for by the Veterans Health Administration (my uncle's a Korean War vet).
On my way into the house, I bring in a letter that arrived in my father's mailbox. It was delivered from 2,000 miles away for only 44 cents, thanks to a bunch of leftists who created the US Postal Service. If not for yet another big-government program called Rural Free Delivery, Dad would have had to drive dozens of miles to pick up his mail.

When I get home I log on to the internet, which was developed by the Dept. of Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA), and post on FreeRepublic.com and Fox News forums about how SOCIALISM will ruin our healthcare system because the government can't do anything right!

We don't need those big-government liberals ruining our lives! After all, I'm a good old, self-made, self-reliant, American conservative who believes everyone should take care of himself, just like I have.

13 August 2009

A not-so-novel experiment

On his website, Stephen Hicks has the following bold proposal:

I think we have to consider sacrificing Maryland. Some of my best friends are Marylanders. Nothing personal, guys, but this healthcare thing is important, and there’s only one way to break the impasse: hard scientific experimenting. Here is the plan. We isolate Maryland and turn it into a giant test case. We send in a crack team of government healthcare administrators to run the place. We give them some billions of dollars and a free hand. And we leave the rest of the country alone (especially Illinois). And after five years we’ll know one way or the other: Maryland the shining exemplar of robust health. Or not.

Hmmm. Or we could save ourselves five years and simply look at how the rest of the world runs their healthcare system and compare it to the U.S. "experiment" over the last couple decades. If we did the comparison, we'd find, using statistics from pretty much any reliable source, that the U.S. healthcare system is far more expensive, and that the other health systems (e.g., those of France, Germany, England, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and Japan) beat the U.S. system in terms of actual outcomes using pretty much any meaningful measure (life expectancy, infant mortality, satisfaction, and so on). But I guess Hicks humorous proposal at least does what it's meant to do: paint attempts at reforming the broken U.S. system as wildly risky and untested and the current system as somehow natural and inevitable. Personally, I suggest we create a national system and then let Illinois continue with the grand U.S. experiment, trusting healthcare providers, insurance companies, and drug lobbies to suddenly start cutting costs and premiums.

12 August 2009

Decoupling spiritual and material wealth

Undoubtedly, the most commented-on post thus far here on Swerve Left has been one of my off-the-cuff rants I made about Alan Stang, an odd ("ridiculous," in my opinion) character who has been described as a neo-Confederate. I won't bore you with a blow-by-blow account of the supererogatory flames, but one interesting meme that I noticed was the repeated attack on historical figures based on the failures of their business ventures. John Brown, to take just one example, is to be loathed because he was a "failure" in "everything" he did.

I guess the implication is that those who succeed financially should be praised since they've been "successes" in everything they've done. This coupling of capitalist success with personal virtue is something that I don't quite get. But it underlies a lot of rightwing rhetoric--this notion that we shouldn't hand out any benefits to the poor because they're the unvirtuous group that doesn't really deserve it. Many libertarian sites (Hispanic Pundit's a good example) expend much of their ink on protection of the virtuous wealthy against the poor rabble who want to steal their hard-earned money.

The meme doesn't fit in very well with any of my own experiences of the world. I think back on my own grandfather who was in constant motion until the day he died, working to the point of exhaustion, and who never really had anything to show for it, and then I reflect on all the superwealthy that I've observed (mostly from afar) who don't seem to do anything except expend resources and corrupt the political process. In my imagination, I'd love to trace their wealth up their family trees to its ultimate source. I'm pretty certain that instead of finding generations of hard-working virtuous ancestors, I'm more likely to see a lucky speculator (probably dealing in weapons or pirating) or someone on a horse with a gun watching slaves work a field--hardly the Joe the plumber sorts that the right parades about.

With this thought in mind, we need a few more statues and parades for the great "losers" in history, who stood up for what was right against great odds and . . . lost. We need fewer parades for Christopher Columbus and more busts of John Brown.

11 August 2009

Heinberg artcle

Oil Drum has a good article by Richard Heinberg on the current economic crisis and resource depletion. Some excerpts:

Rather than attempting to prop up banks and insurance companies with trillions in bailouts, it would probably be better simply to let them fail, however nasty the short-term consequences, since they will fail anyway sooner or later. The sooner they are replaced with institutions that serve essential functions within a contracting economy, the better off we will all be. (27)

Meanwhile the thought-leaders in society, especially the President, must begin breaking the news—in understandable and measured ways—that growth isn’t returning and that the world has entered a new and unprecedented economic phase, but that we can all survive and thrive in this challenging transitional period if we apply ourselves and work together. At the heart of this general re-education must be a public and institutional acknowledgment of three basic rules of sustainability: growth in population cannot be sustained; the ongoing extraction of non-renewable resources cannot be sustained; and the use of renewable resources is sustainable only if it proceeds at rates below those of natural replenishment.


It is worth noting that the $23.7 trillion recently committed for U.S. bailouts and loan guarantees represents about $80,000 for each man, woman, and child in America. A level of investment even a substantial fraction that size could pay for all needed job training while ensuring universal provision of basic necessities during the transition. What would we be getting for our money? A collective sense that, in a time of crisis, no one is being left behind. Without the feeling of cooperative buy-in that such a safety net would help engender, similar to what was achieved with the New Deal but on an even larger scale, economic contraction could devolve into a horrific fight over the scraps of the waning industrial period.

However contentious, the population question must be addressed. All problems that have to do with resources are harder to solve when there are more people needing those resources. The U.S. must encourage smaller families and must establish an immigration policy consistent with a no-growth population target. This has foreign policy implications: we must help other nations succeed with their own economic transitions so that their citizens do not have to emigrate to survive.

If economic growth ceases to be an achievable goal, society will have to find better ways of measuring success. Economists must shift from assessing well-being with the blunt instrument of GDP, and begin paying more attention to indices of human and social capital in areas such as education, health, and cultural achievements. This redefinition of growth and progress has already begun in some quarters, but for the most part has yet to be taken up by governments.

A case can be made that after all this is done the end result will be a more satisfying way of life for the vast majority of citizens—offering more of a sense of community, more of a connection with the natural world, more satisfying work, and a healthier environment. Studies have repeatedly shown that higher levels of consumption do not translate to elevated levels of satisfaction with life.

This means that if “progress” can be thought of in terms of happiness, rather than a constantly accelerating process of extracting raw materials and turning them into products that themselves quickly become waste, then progress can certainly continue. In any case, “selling” this enormous and unprecedented project to the general public will require emphasizing its benefits. Several organizations are already exploring the messaging and public relations aspects of the transition. But those in charge need to understand that looking on the bright side doesn’t mean promising what can’t be delivered—such as a return to the days of growth and thoughtless consumption.

10 August 2009

This is what the best looks like?

For the life of me, I just don't get this conservative meme about the U.S. healthcare being the greatest in the world. This morning, I call my primary care doctor, who I'm supposed to see in order to get access to any healthcare, and was told that he was booked up solid for the next four months. I then called my insurance company and after punching in keys to no avail and then talking to a computer that couldn't understand my English, was told to call back Wednesday when I might be able to get through. After much frustration, I eventually reached a living person and was told to try a walk-in clinic. And this is what the most expensive healthcare system in the world is supposed to look like? What a frikkin' joke! We really need to toss a die on a map of northern hemisphere and adopt wholesale the first country's system where the die lands. (We'll have a roll-over rule if it lands on the U.S. or Russia.)

9 August 2009

Julie and Julia

I watched Julie and Julia tonight. Meryl Streep does an excellent Julia Child, and viewers are offered a few historical allusions to help spice things up. The film switches back and forth between Julia Child's life and the life of a young admirer who sets out to cook her way through all the recipes in Julia's cookbook. As someone with high cholesterol and a propensity to put on pounds, all the concoctions looked very much like forbidden fruit (with thick syrups on top), but I suppose a few people blessed with thin genes might enjoy them. If you're in the mood for a heart-warming and very watchable film (and aren't straining under pressures of a diet), I'd recommend this.

6 August 2009

Robert Entman on global warming coverage

Extra! Extra! Read All About It?

The US news media are utterly failing to offer a coherent climate crisis narrative of the sort required for scientific understanding and urgency to penetrate the public mind. This is evident not only from analyses of media, but from surveys showing that public understanding and concern have dropped even as scientific comprehension and apprehension grow.

To increase the potential for greater public involvement, and more importantly, to give our leaders strong incentives to make policy based on science rather than ideology and denial, journalistic practices must change. As it turns out, such a shift would require journalists to more closely mimic the ways scientists themselves build and communicate scientific narratives (aka theories).

These points add up to the argument suggested by my title: that the media need to do something “extra,” that they should treat global warming as a crisis, as “stop-the-presses” news. Failing this, the public has scant ability to read (or find out) all about the growing threat of climate change. Unfortunately, as the public’s not-so-blissful ignorance of climate science grows, politicians’ inclinations to act creatively and decisively shrivel.

Public Misunderstanding of Climate Science is Growing

Recent Gallup Polls reveal the results of the media’s failure to construct a narrative that accurately registers the scientific consensus on climate change. The data show public ignorance and emotional detachment from global warming, along with a disturbing partisan gap. Gallup’s results show a decline in public concern about global warming and a firming up of its ranking in last place among eight environmental problems.

Those saying the media exaggerate the seriousness of global warming now outnumber those saying they underestimate its gravity by 41-28 percent. In 2006 respondents saying “underestimated” outnumbered “exaggerated” by a 38-30% margin. So there’s been a net swing of 21% toward public ignorance.

I use that word with some confidence since others’ research, along with the data disclosed below, demonstrate that the American media have not “exaggerated” the perils of global warming. Thus even if one interprets the survey as more a rating of media behavior than of global warming itself, it reveals a poorly informed public, a conclusion backed by other survey data too.
The polarization of opinion (Figure 2) suggests that this ostensibly scientific factual issue has been subsumed into the larger culture wars that feed the nation’s partisan divide. The partisan gap in those seeing global warming as exaggerated grew from 12 points in 1998 to 44 in 2009.[1] This is deeply troubling, for these polls suggest the debate on global warming is taking place not over how to cope with the problem but whether it even exists. As Figure 2 shows, over the past few years there has been a sharp jump in denial even among independents. Abetted by traditional journalistic practices, the public mind appears to be miring deeper in confusion rather than focusing more sharply.

The Narrative Gap

The surveys make a prima facie case that the US media are not persuasively conveying the scientific consensus. They also challenge any hope that the internet is educating the public.[2] Consider some further evidence of the media’s failure to encourage understanding of the climate crisis.

On March 12, 2009, an international conference of leading experts on climate change issued a preliminary statement of major findings. They concluded that “the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realized” and that “a significant risk [exists] that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climate shifts.”
It is difficult to imagine a clearer, more compelling demonstration of the seriousness with which scientists take global warming. Yet the mainstream media virtually ignored the event and its stark conclusions.[3] Among all the media indexed in the Nexis database, just one full newspaper story (370 words in Newsday) appeared. Four other papers gave the Copenhagen news passing mentions (one to three sentences). Broadcast and cable news networks entirely ignored the findings. Reasons likely include such traditional journalistic practices as “objectivity” and “balance,” which (research shows) often yield their opposites, and reporters’ and editors’ probable perceptions of global warming as stale news.

Yet this was not merely another study suggesting a climate in crisis, it was a declaration by many leading scientists that their prior warnings were insufficiently dire. To make a war on terror analogy, it is as if the media neglected an al Qaeda bombing in Chicago that killed “only” 50 because we’ve all heard the terrorism story.

Journalistic treatment of the Copenhagen conference both points to and reinforces absence of the continuing crisis narrative needed to attract the interest and generate the comprehension and concern of the public. That vacuum reinforces leaders’ temptations to take the easy path and put climate policy on the back burner (as it were).

Conclusion and Recommendations

Media ignored Copenhagen in major part because powerful US leaders did. Journalistic neglect in turn reduced elites’ incentives to tackle the issues and opened space for denial—among citizens, politicians, and journalists—in a self-reinforcing vicious circle. Breaking into the circle requires leadership from the very top. Only the president has sufficient sway over media agendas to interrupt this spiral of ignorance. As is true of traditional national security issues, pure democracy here is neither desirable nor possible. What we need is leadership of public opinion, with longer-term responsiveness to more informed public input.

Moneyed interests generally support vigorous (and profitable) responses to conventional security threats. They usually overpower underfunded peace groups in public discourse, making it relatively easy for policymakers to ignore or mischaracterize public opinion by isolating opponents as unpatriotic. In the matter of climate change, many wealthy interests oppose a pre-emptive “war.” This situation calls for Churchillian leaders whose cause can be taken up by watchdog journalism.

News media can help to interrupt the vicious circle of denial and delay, though it’s an uncomfortable role for them. The task would mean abandoning their stance of (ironically mislabeled) objectivity and actually becoming more scientific and more subjective (as scientists are too) in telling stories. Arguably, interpreting and narrating information collected with an open and creative mind might even serve news organizations commercially in their time of economic crisis. Coherent narratives sell.

For the Copehagen conference, this would involve fitting the scientists’ findings into a running narrative of threat and crisis akin to those stitching together otherwise disparate developments for the wars on terror, drugs, and AIDs, among others. American leaders in government and the media need to create a new narrative of global interdependence on climate, ecology and energy. Not only would this reflect scientific and economic truths, it would serve genuine US security interests.

[1] Other data supporting this conclusion can be found in a May 2008 Gallup Poll available at http://www.gallup.com/poll/107569/ClimateChange-Views-RepublicanDemocratic-Gaps-Expand.aspx?version=print.

[2] Blogs and internet searches can supplement news reports for a small proportion of citizens. As suggested by the polls, blogs and the rest cannot signal or produce changes in perceived or actual public opinion without penetrating major media in an enduring story.

[3] Based on searching “Copenhagen AND (warm! OR climat!)” in the Nexis libraries of (Broadcast) Transcripts and U.S. Newspapers, between March 10, 2009 and March 17, 2009.

5 August 2009


Today I watched Moon. The movie got high ratings and has been praised as thoughtful, but I wasn't very impressed. The plot is quite predictable and this theme has been explored in other sci-fi movies (many of which were vastly more entertaining). I'd give this one a miss.

4 August 2009

Atarashii biru

biru Just what we need, spirulina beer. We can now get drunk and healthy at the same time.

3 August 2009

More $s for world's dearest healthcare system?

Talk of new taxes to pay for healthcare reform reveals that the current approach is wrongheaded. Not that I'm generally against taxes, which are progressive--especially, if targeted at the wealthy--and are needed in our current plutocracy. But the move ignores the fact that we already pay more for healthcare than any country in the world. More needs to be done to contain costs, and the best way to do this is to get rid of private insurance, which merely adds costs (and tremendous hassle and headache) without adding any value whatsoever. Even more importantly, we need to develop fixed rates for every procedure. The absurd notion that the government is going to somehow give us more while we pay ever increasing sums out to the government's corporate sponsors is laughable--or would be laughable, if it weren't happening to we, the people.

Insipid people

I watched Funny People last tonight. Having heard some favorable reports, I was quite disappointed. It's humorless, formulaic, and predictable. Worst of all, like some many films of this type, the humor is consistently crass, plagiarized from the walls of junior high boys' bathrooms. Go see the movie if you can laugh at various syntactic variations of "licking balls" five dozen times. Anymore, I'm thinking that U.S. would be much better off if we just spun a bottle around a map of the world and adopted wholesale the first health system that it pointed to. We could then repeat the process and import films of the country that the bottle pointed to (with some good dubbing if the country didn't speak English).