Sunday, April 6, 2014

Charles Koch spills his guts in WSJ Op-Ed

Charles Koch believes that everything he does is good. Other people are not to be trusted to make decisions that he disagrees with. He is the most conceited, self-righteous, and misguided person in the headlines today.

Koch makes several dubious claims in his Wall Street Journal Op-Ed. Koch claims he has spent his life studying the principles that enable people to improve their lives. This statement is demonstrably false. Koch has spent his entire life running a multi-national corporation. This occupation has left him little time for reflection.

Koch lists these principles as dignity, respect, equality before the law, and personal freedom. These are not the principles listed in our founding documents, where the authors discuss life, liberty and the the pursuit of happiness. The Constitution includes a bill of rights that nowhere mentions dignity or respect. Those principles are too vague and ill-defined to serve as the cornerstone of any philosophy. Dignity is an attribute of authority. A judge has dignity, a king has dignity. Respect is a two-edged sword: Respect is earned as well as granted.

Koch lists equality before the law as a fundamental principle, but he has not spent his life donating to legal services for the poor, to ensure that everyone is equal before the law. He lists personal freedom as another fundamental principle, but he runs an organization, a corporation, which tells each employee exactly what he or she should do. Each corporate employee has a written job description that describes exactly what the corporation expects the employee to do for 40 hours a week. There's not much personal freedom there.

Furthermore, the corporation has unwritten rules that restrict personal freedom. The employees must obey all the edicts imposed on them by the executives of the company. They must never question authority, since insubordination is grounds for immediate dismissal. In many ways, a corporation limits the personal liberty of its employees, in the clothes they wear, in the language they use, and in the opinions they must hold about the company and its place in the world.

Koch apparently finds it acceptable to control his employees in this way, but believes that the elected government should never make any rules that affect its citizens. The citizens of a country vote to choose the government and the laws they wish to follow. The citizens of this country choose representatives to make those laws and enforce them. Koch's corporation is a dictatorship. One man makes all the decisions for everyone.

The worst thing that our current government does, according to Koch, is tell people how to run their lives. It does this because it does not trust them to run their own lives, he says. It is Koch who does not trust the people, however. He does not believe a government should rule with the consent of the governed. According to him, no one should have to obey any law he or she disagrees with. This is not a prescription for any real-world government, and it is certainly not a description of how Koch runs his company.

Koch's most egregious lie is when he pretends that his company cares about the environment. The company has won environmental awards, it is true, but these are awards for such things as keeping their oil tankers from leaking. They are not awards for fighting against global warming, because Koch does not acknowledge that greenhouse gases are a problem that has anything to do with him.

Koch is concerned about rearranging deck furniture while the ship is sinking. His refineries only release low levels of greenhouse gases, he says. His company has a fine safety record. He argued for the demise of the ethanol tax credit. But Koch industries is fighting to stop conversion of our energy grid to renewable energy.

Koch has no sympathy for the plight of people all over the world who find their homes threatened by rising sea levels, or watch their crops wither in the ever-hotter sun. Instead, he claims that he is not his brother's keeper. He takes no responsibility for his own actions. He spends vast sums of money to defeat politicians who might be tempted to listen to their constituents and limit the influence of undemocratic corporations.

Charles Koch is the face of evil in our world today.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tim Kaine advocates fracking and Keystone XL—Why is the Sierra Club supporting this man?

The most vital issue facing the world today is the rising level of greenhouse gases in the environment, which leads to climate change. The response of the U.S. government has been to promote the use of natural gas instead of oil or coal for the production of electricity.

I recently received a letter from Tim Kaine, U.S. Senator from Virginia, reiterating in detail the talking points of the energy lobby. In his letter, Kaine ignores the one salient fact about natural gas that the energy lobby would like us to forget: Burning natural gas in the atmosphere increases the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Instead, Kaine, and his energy producing allies, states another fact, equally true but completely irrelevant:

Recent innovation in the production of natural gas has dramatically changed our nation's energy portfolio...[and results in] lower prices, cleaner American electricity, and job growth in our nation's manufacturing sector.”

This is not an argument for permitting greater production and exportation of natural gas. It is simply and blatantly and appeal to permit the energy companies to use these new procedures to make more money.

Senator Kaine, it is not the responsibility of the federal government to assure that energy companies make a profit. It is your responsibility to do everything possible to promote the well-being of the American people. You take an oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Constitution protects the American people, not the profits of corporations.

In his letter, Kaine suggests that we should permit export of natural gas to foreign countries when it is in the interest of the U.S. to do so. In particular, he suggests that exporting U.S. natural gas to Europe will keep European countries from relying on Russia and Iran for their energy needs. This is an indirect approach that has the result of increasing world production of greenhouse gases. Any such policy should be abandoned immediately.

We cannot directly determine what Russia and Iran do, nor can we determine what Europe will do. We can only determine what the U.S. does. We must oppose any policy that results in the U.S. producing more greenhouse gases or enabling other countries to do so.

In regard to other environmental concerns, Kaine states that we should “always ensure that environmental safeguards in the gas production process are rigorously followed to avoid harm to drinking water sources.” Fracking is a “recent innovation”. It has not been proven safe for the environment. It has only been proven profitable for the energy companies. The history of energy companies shows that it make take years or even decades before the harm caused by new technologies is known. During that time, energy companies have proven again and again that they will lie to us about the harmfulness of their products.

The EPA is currently investigating the problems caused by fracking. It could take years to discover just how badly this new technology is degrading our environment. In the meantime, the U.S. must use every means possible to stop fracking. Kaine suggests that we do the exact opposite, that we trust the energy companies when they claim their extraction procedures are safe.

We now know for certain that no product that injects greenhouse gases into the environment is safe to use. We also know for certain that no product that pollutes ground water is safe to use.

Tim Kaine is not a friend to the environment, as he would have us believe. Instead, he is a friend to the energy moguls, like David Koch, who are using their profits from oil to buy the U.S. Congress. Kaine's opinions expressed in this letter suggest that he has already been bought.

A true friend of the environment would be proposing bills that increase use of renewable resources. He would propose increased spending on clean energy research and development. He would be decrying the actions of bought and paid for politicians who today are voting to stop any federal research into global warming.

We, the people, are not gullible, Senator Kaine. We see exactly which side of the issue you are on. Please start respecting our intelligence by making proposals that will save the environment, not destroy it.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

David Koch wants you to elect Rand Paul president

Rand Paul will be the Republican candidate for president in 2016. He is well-known, partly because of his father's notoriety. People have a generally good opinion of him. His public statements are frequently rational  and appeal to libertarians on the right and the left. Most importantly, the Koch Brothers, billionaire backers of regressive candidates and causes, claim to be libertarians and will be eager to back a candidate who also claims to be libertarian.

Libertarian politics are not a new idea. Nearly 300 years ago, philosophers and politicians in Europe began preaching that the government oppresses the individual. In order to be truly free, they argued, an individual must be free from any governmental coercion whatsoever. Libertarians of that time advocated freedom from the church as well as the state, since in Europe church and state were often one and the same.

Above all, these early libertarians advocated freedom from oppression by an aristocracy. The aristocracy in Europe held hereditary positions and wealth. The common people could not get those things in the ordinary course of events. Therefore, libertarians like Thomas Paine argued for the abolition of aristocracy and a government that would be responsive to the people.

Times change. We do have a hereditary aristocracy now in this country. The children of the rich eat better food, wear better clothes, go to better schools, and live a better life than the children of the poor. This aristocratic system is far from the one that patriots like Paine sought to install when they called for a rebellion against England. The Americans abolished hereditary titles, but they did not establish a system that guaranteed equal access to wealth for all.

Libertarians like Thomas Paine rebelled not only against the government, but also against church and the wealthy. Libertarians like Paul would like us to forget that. They consider the government alone to be the enemy of the individual, not the social structure that supports the government. In recent years, the government has become the strongest support for the poor and elderly. Cutting government programs frequently means taking bread away from poor children and comfort away from the elderly and infirm.

Rand Paul advocates freedom, but only in a general sense. He never explains what freedoms he endorses and what may be the end result of these freedoms. He has said that a private business should have the freedom to refuse service to a minority member. The end result of this freedom would be a restitution of the segregation laws that kept black Americans from enjoying their constitutional rights for more than a century.

Paul says he is proud to be a Republican because Republicans in Kentucky abolished the Jim Crow system there. Those Republicans may have done so, but starting in 1964 the Democrats in the South began changing allegiance to the Republican party. The map of the electoral votes shows that the states that were solidly Democratic in the 1950s are solidly Republican now.

Paul and his fellow Republicans would like the rest of us to forget that the federal government provides solace to millions and prevents the wealthy from riding rough-shod over the disadvantaged. Paul will likely be the Republican candidate for president in 2016. His presidency will further deepen the divisions that beset the country. Paul has no solutions to offer for healing these divisions. Instead, he offers slogans, half-truths, and an inflexible philosophy.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Rand Paul advocates segregation, Paul Ryan advocates decimation.

Adherents of libertarian philosophies enjoy wide-spread popularity these days. Their views coincide generally with American ideals. Patrick Henry summed up his animus against the British crown in 1775 by saying, "Give me liberty or give me death." America's schoolchildren conclude each pledge to the flag with the words, "With liberty and justice for all."

As much as Americans idealize liberty, they seldom offer a realistic definition of the word, which means many things to different people. So Rand Paul, a self-identifying libertarian, has stated that liberty means the freedom to refuse service to African Americans at lunch counters and hotels. This comment has endeared him to the crypto-racists of the Republican heartland. I call them crypto-racists because they refuse to admit their own obvious racism and steadfastly maintain, contrary to all available evidence, that white racism no longer exists.

Rand Paul's extreme views place him in the forefront of Republican presidential hopefuls, largely because billionaire David Koch is an ardent libertarian. Koch is likely to spend $100 million or more of his vast fortune to insure the election of a libertarian Republican president. For David and his brother Charles, liberty means the freedom to pollute the environment and endanger the future of the planet by denying the influence of humans—especially himself—on global warming.

Paul Ryan, another Republican politician with libertarian ideals, has attacked the federal government for giving lunch money to disadvantaged children. He says this practice feeds their bodies but starves their souls. The soul, however, cannot be separated from the body except by death.  Whatever benefit a child may gain from refusing a subsidized lunch will be destroyed by malnutrition and ultimate starvation.

Here the philosophy of libertarianism jumps the tracks and starts gnawing at the roots of our democracy. Ryan is apparently applying the views of Patrick Henry, since he unequivocally states that a child would be better off dead than enslaved by free food from the government. Ryan does not betray an iota of satire here, as did Jonathan Swift when he proposed a similar solution to the problem of poverty. He is deadly serious when he advocates helping poor children by refusing them food.

Wealthy businessmen have been the core of Republican power since the party's inception. Their philosophy has always been that whatever is good for business is good for the USA. The Kochs have added a new wrinkle to this self-serving attitude, for they maintain that whatever is good for the Kochs is good for the world. They express this belief repeatedly, by their public pronouncements and their secret donations to organizations and candidates that happily envisage the death of civilization rather than pay an extra dime to protect the environment.


Green-Winged Macaw Eating Wild Almonds

Holly (my wife) has been working on some beautiful paintings lately. She just finished this oil painting of a wild macaw, from a photograph taken by her son Matt in Brazil. Here we see the macaw foraging for wild almonds amid translucent variegated leaves.

This painting emphasizes the macaw in its natural environment. We can see the reason for the bird's bright plumage, since he is under the forest canopy and immune from hawks and other predatory birds. The colors also help macaws find each other in the midst of a green panoply.

A bright tropical sun shines through the leaves of a wild almond tree.

The green-winged macaw is native to the rain forests of Central and South Americas. It is among the largest of the parrot family, with a wing span of over 4 feet.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Iron Fertilization: Get ready for radical assaults on global warming

The world has been looking for ways to stop increasingly large amounts of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. Iron fertilization has been studied for over 20 years and is now ready to go to work for us.

Adding small amounts of iron to the ocean in order to increase the amount of phytoplankton is called iron fertilization. Phytoplankton are microscopic organisms that absorb carbon. So increasing the amount of iron increases the absorption of carbon. This much is accepted science.

Only a small amount of iron is needed to make vast increases in the absorption of carbon. One ton of iron can remove 83,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere.  Once the phytoplankton have absorbed the iron, they are consumed by other organisms. Some of the carbon will sink to the ocean floor, where it will remain untouched for thousands of years.

It may be possible to absorb a large percentage of the carbon dioxide generated by human activities. We do not know precisely how much because it has only been tried in small experiments. Estimates are as high as 25%, however. This reduction in greenhouse gases, together with the reduction of these gases that can be achieved through conservation and government regulation, could reduce the rate of global warming.

This change in temperature has happened before. About 49 million years ago, when temperatures on earth were much higher than they are today, carbon dioxide was trapped by a fast-growing fern called azolla. Azolla is able to absorb 6 tons of carbon per acre per year. At that time, conditions were right for the growth of large quantities of Azolla and also the burial of the resultant plants at the bottom of the ocean. The growth and burial of azolla may have been largely responsible for the decline in temperature--and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere--that led to the emergence of mammals and ultimately human civilization.

There are risks associated with iron fertilization, primarily because it has never been tried on a large scale. Because of the capability of this process to slow or even to reverse global warming in a short period of time, more experiments on a larger scale will be undertaken soon. If these are successful, we may see the introduction of large-scale iron-fertilization projects within the next 20 years.


Russia v. USA: Natural gas not bombs.

The most important battle we face in the world today is the fight against global warming. But we must also make the world safe for children and growing things. Vladimir Putin is one of the chief threats in both battles.

Putin is an old-style dictator who learned how to make people believe just about anything while he worked for the NKVD. He has adopted the old Soviet style of government, based on threats, bullying, and force.

In the old days, which people call the Cold War, the US responded to Soviet threats with threats of their own, bullying, and force. There was not much to distinguish between the two cold war antagonists. The Soviets crushed demonstrations in Hungary with tanks in 1956. The US sent troops to Vietnam to suppress the revolution, starting in 1957. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The US provided weapons to the Afghan resistance.

The Cold War is generally considered to have ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1979. But the Cold War was no more than an extension of the armed conflicts between European powers and their proxies that occupied the 19th and 20th centuries. Russia has the same territorial ambitions that drove its foreign policy since the Crimean War. Once again, Russia has seized the Crimea.

The US has signaled that it does not intend to fight against Russia with military force. Instead, it is fighting with natural resources. The US has increased its production of natural gas through fracking and other technical advances. Russia's only influence in the world now comes from its natural resources. By providing an alternative to Russian gas and oil, the US is using commodities as a weapon.

This presents a strategic problem for those of us who believe that less energy production, not more, is the answer to global warming. At the same time, we would like to see less bloodshed in the world. There is a fine line to be drawn here. Deflecting Russian aggression serves two purposes, though. First, it protects Russia's neighbors from the kinds of oppression they experienced under Stalin and during the Cold War. Second, it assures that less Russian gas will be sold on the open market. The total of US and Russian gas sales will remain constant.

Defeat of Putin is essential to serve as an example to other warmongers everywhere. Less Russian production of natural gas will eventually lead to fewer greenhouse gases and less global warming.ß