Friday, March 28, 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

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Know your rights--and the duties of police officers

I recently met a person who is working in a restaurant. He is a white American, but most of the workers are Latinos. He has developed a problem with other employees. The other employees come in before their shifts begin, put on their uniforms, set up their stations, and otherwise work off-the-clock. He refuses to do that. He tells the others that he doesn't want to give his work to the company without pay, but they tell him he's lazy. They shame him, he says, and he really can't abide that so he will likely quit his job.

It is likely the Latinos have little concept of work as a timed endeavor. They probably consider that they come to work, do their job, and then leave, without any consideration of how long they have worked. Their concept of an hourly wage may be vague. The American man would have to explain these things—in fact, he has tried—but he has the weight of numbers against him. The other employees all have the same view of the situation. He might be able to persuade them one at a time, but is helpless to argue against them all together.

The American man would like to organize them, because he knows that unions are able to improve wages and working conditions. Many of his coworkers are undocumented, however. They refuse even to discuss such a prospect.

The American needs to connect with them. First, he needs to prove to them that he is not lazy so they will stop shaming him in the workplace. He should tell them he doesn't mind working at all, especially when he is working to better himself or others. He should offer to spend some time each day teaching them something they can use to better themselves or cope with society better.

One thing he could do is explain the concept of ICE holds. Immigration police (ICE) pick up suspected undocumented workers and hand them over to the police or sheriff to be held in prison until such time as ICE wants to move on their cases. This is called an ICE stop. Under US law, however, a person can only be held in jail for 48 hours without bringing a charge against him in court. Undocumented workers do not usually know this. They should also know that there are some public interest lawyers that will file a writ of habeas corpus for undocumented workers who are being held illegally. Usually, once a prisoner is released, he will not be deported. The telephone number of such a lawyer would be valuable to one of the American's co-workers. Once one of them, or one of their friends, is released from prison in this way, it is likely they will stop shaming him.

Many people, even Americans, do not know their rights when they are stopped by police. They are technically free to walk away, but sometimes it is not possible to insist on this right.

One right they do have is to be represented by an attorney. Even before they are under arrest, they should tell the police that their attorney warned them not to answer any questions until he is present. A person who is likely to be stopped should get in the habit of carrying an attorney's business card, in case the police ask him for his attorney's name and telephone number.

A person in not required by law to produce identification when asked to do so by the police. He is required to give his real name and address, however. Failure to do so may lead to an arrest.

The subject of a police stop should not offer any incriminating evidence. For example, if a policeman asks if a bag of drugs belongs to you, you should always say you don't know anything about it. Do not reveal the location of other evidence.

The police are permitted to lie to suspects. They may say it will go easier on you if you confess, or give them names of your friends. Don't believe them. A policeman may seem powerful, but he is unable to influence the court. The person who can do that is the prosecutor, but you should always have a lawyer talk to the prosecutor.

For more information on this topic, see ACLU's Know Your Rights pamphlet.