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Is global warming headed for a new high?

Posted on July 28th, 2009 in Environment by Robert Miller

A recent paper published in Geophysical Research Letters, but summarized in The Guardian,  grapples with some of the ideas floating around related to global warming. The hottest year on record was 1998 and because it has been more than a decade since then, with somewhat cooler temperatures prevailing, opponents of global climate change have argued that the forces for drastic change have been over-rated. Some even want to argue that the planet is cooling, not warming. In the new article, the authors point out that we have enjoyed a period of comparatively low temperatures because sun spot activity, which showers us with additional photons, has been in its eleven year quiet cycle. But during that eleven year pause, carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere have increased more than previous projections anticipated, so the resumption of sun spot activity is likely to usher in new forces for increased global temperatures, such that we could erase the 1998 record. This paper attempts to deal with several forces at work, not all of them man made. However, arguments are presented that El Nino, an event where the Pacific Ocean warms because of a collapse of the normal easterly trade winds off the coast of Ecuador, used to be on a ten to 11 year cycle, but in more modern times, that cycle has been reduced to four years. The basic argument offered by this new research, suggests that, with the resumption of sun spot activity, we will see a new wave of heat and weather induced destruction around the globe in the next few years. As the quality of our atmospheric air improves, with additional removal of ash and soot pollution (some of which comes from dirty Chinese pollution sources), we will see further intensification of global temperatures because these pollutants are blocking out some of the sun, like a mild pair of sunglasses.

If you want to get a nice graphical explanation of the forces behind the El Nino southern oscillation weather pattern that impacts on our own weather and has global influences, with alternate warm (hot) and cool weather cycling, The Guardian has a nice, comprehensible visual explaining the essence of El Nino. Many of the global warming or cooling projections (such as Europe’s winters getting colder) are based on modeling results which give altered trade wind patterns due to polar warming conditions and these polar changes seem to be happening on a much faster scale, indicating that our models are too simple to give us good insight into what’s going on. We need much better, more sophisticated models and maybe by the time we get them, our future will have arrived.


A hundred years of “The Progressive”

Posted on July 26th, 2009 in Culture,History,Media by Robert Miller

This year The Progressive magazine celebrates its 100 year anniversary. If you don’t know about this publication, it was started in 1909 by Senator Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin and was originally called La Follette’s Weekly. La Follette was one of the luminary progressives of his era, as was his wife Belle Case La Follette.  After his death in 1929, the magazine became The  Progressive. To celebrate its 100th anniversary, a special conference was organized and held in Madison Wisconsin on May 1-2 of this year. I had another obligation so I couldn’t go, but my son Drew went and text messaged back information on some of the highlights. Robert Redford was the honorary chair of the celebration event and notables in attendance included Senator Russ Feingold, Rep Dennis Kucinich, Howard Zinn, Cindy Sheehan, Barbara Ehrenreich, Katrina vanden Heuvel, George McGovern, Jesse Jackson, Naomi Klein, Ruth Conniff, Amy Goodman and many others. If you know nothing about the publication, or the history of progressive politics in the United States, you can purchase the April edition of the magazine, which is a historic summary of the first 100 years, including excerpts from writers who contributed articles over the years (you may have to subscribe to the magazine to get the 100 year anniversary issue that came out in April).  La Follete’s writings are messages of clarity and strong commitment and continuity of message. Every progressive you have ever heard of at one time or another contributed to the magazine and the article summaries in the centennial edition (April, 2009) give a quick sketch of some of the published material that appeared, organized year by year. It’s a fascinating view of our political history, albeit from a progressive point of view.

Tracing American greed back to the Greeks: the cultural destruction of money

Posted on July 25th, 2009 in Culture,History by Robert Miller

For those of us who grew up during the early post WW II America, today’s iteration of our country not only doesn’t feel right, but we have a sense that we have changed the coin of the realm, all for the worse. We can trace the history of our discomfort. It began, as William Pfaff points out, when our model for America started to deviate from a path we thought would last forever. The culture we remember had good paying jobs, a rising middle class,affordable  higher education and expectations of improved living conditions and better income expectations for our children, even going so far as to include a reduced hourly work week. Then the bubble began to burst. Coming out of academic schools of business and economics, but particularly from Milton Friedman’s Chicago School of Economics, with momentum beginning in the 1970s, a new model for America emerged, with a greater emphasis on corporate wealth and profits, using the label “free market economy,” as a code word for giving sway to corporatist ideology. The corporations that used to pride themselves on the “gold watch” for retirees, went through a religious epiphany and converted their highest aspirations to worship at the altar of the “golden parachute” for the CEO and corporate executives. Huge corporate profits became the new coin of the realm, and the stock market soared.  Leveraged buyouts, junk bonds, the savings and loan scandal, the technology bubble and our current fiscal meltdown, did not deter the march towards a country increasingly dominated by the financial sector, in which making lots of money was the new holy grail that emerged, without an appropriate antidote or a diagnostic strategy. No one seemed to question whether the pursuit of wealth was healthy for the country or those that engaged in  it.   Indeed, the pathological state of greed was welcomed as the new model for all Americans: if you feel your middle class lifestyle is shrinking in its benefits, go into the financial service sector and finally make some real money–that was the implicit message of those dragging us into this new direction.  Hedge funds, private equity firms and increasingly larger investment banks could generate huge profits out of small changes in the price of currency or through the securitization of assets, wrapped up in such a way that no one understood them, least of all the CEOs who derived  huge salaries from them. Selling short, a mechanism that didn’t build anything or launch an enterprise, gave unseemly profits that were absurdly easy to generate and, in some cases, created billionaires overnight.

Those in the financial sector who could turn profits with ease, began to view manufacturing as a primitive way of making a living and manufacturing began to decline rapidly, converting good paying workers’ jobs into subsistence employment, with a rapidly fading middle class. Moving manufacturing to other countries provided higher corporate profits with the additional benefit of diminishing the influence of labor unions, as giant companies like Walmart  organized and carried out union-busting practices.  The middle class that rose to prominence through the GI bill and the good paying jobs in the manufacturing sector, proved to be a single generational event and by the late 1990s, people were beginning to talk about a return of America to the “gilded age” of the late 19th Century. During the Bush administration hard numbers about income disparity and excessive profiteering in the financial sector  provided proof of the “Gilded Age” assertion.

So what is it about the need for obscene profits, or money,  that drives people into acts that collectively destroy the social fabric of a country? Writing in the Times, professor Richard Seaford speculates that it was the Greeks who introduced us to money, as they were the first culture known to us which  generated that foreshadowed the current greed state of America.  In Seaford’s book “Money and the Early Greek Mind(2004), he suggests, that at the end of the seventh century BC, polis, or the city-states of Greece, were the first society in history (with the possible exception of China) to develop and use money; by the end of the 6th century BC, coinage was broadly present throughout Greece.   Thus Greece presents us with its own cultural control for the same folks with and without the cultural impact of  money.

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