Monday, December 31, 2007
Sunday, December 30, 2007
First, the Dennis Kucinich campaign called the house today ... 10 days before the New Hampshire primary and the Kucinich campaign is finally getting around to calling voters. Yikes. Oh gosh Dennis, you really should have started this months ago. Similar to the Gravel supporter hiring canvassers, it is almost too late to just start gearing up your campaign here.
Obama canvassers were walking the neighborhood this afternoon, obviously following up on the three other times they have been through the neighborhood. I guess you can't be too cautious about outcomes, especially when Hillary is co-opting your message.
There were a couple more strange phone calls today but I don't know if it was a satellite service sales company or political since I didn't answer them.
Here is a clip of Mike Huckabee defending John McCain from the latest round of salvos from Mitt Romney:
It is so funny seeing Romney's ads attacking McCain for at least trying to fix the illegal immigration problem while the illegals have been tending to Romney's lawn. Pot, meet the kettle.
But McCain isn't just taking it. He has a cutting new ad out which I literally just saw. The ad features an out of focus picture of Mitt Romney and then has quotes from both the New Hampshire Union Leader and the Concord Monitor assailing Romney as a phony and other things. Woo ha!
If any voters out there needed another reason to consider not voting for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama on Election Day, consider this article here: ["Nuclear Power Gets Boost from Candidates"].
Dan Kennedy has two pieces here about the NYT's Sunday edition covering only six of the Democratic candidates: ["missing in action"] and ["Missing in action (II)"].
And lastly, David Broder has this piece about these folks seemingly taking up the cause of "unity": ["Bipartisan Group Eyes Independent Bid"]. I don't want to comment on this right away. I want to give these folks the chance to have their Jan. 7 event and listen to what they have to say, with an open mind.
As an independent myself, I'm encouraged by this kind of activity. I would be thrilled if Michael Bloomberg ran as an indie even though I don't agree with his gun control tendencies or fat tax crap. He could buy the election and, frankly, it would be better that one man bought the election instead of all these corrupt influences buying the election.
But on the flip side, I don't know if we need a lot of "national consensus" right now. We need national justice. And I fear, and I think correctly, that national consensus will bring a lot of bad decisions that are not in the interest of the average American. Look at some of the people involved in this. Some, like Sam Nunn and William Cohen are war mongers. If the national consensus was to defund the military industrial complex, they would balk at that. And where would the American people be? Chuck Robb and Gary Hart have has serious personal problems. They couldn't keep their simple vows to their wives or God. Where would they get off lecturing us about "unity"? We all know what Christine Todd Whitman allowed to happen at Ground Zero in NYC because she was probably influenced by higher ups. Where will her priorities be?
Coos County Democrat (Lancaster)
the Granite State News (Wolfeboro)
Carroll County Independent (Conway)
Record Enterprise (Plymouth)
Winnisquam Echo (Tilton)
Mountain Ear (Conway)
Foster’s Daily Democrat
Hollis Brookline Journal
I just can't believe that there are so many clueless and/or gullible people working in the newspaper business in our state. And they wonder why circulations are dropping. I am truly shocked.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Guest Perspective/Ralph Nader
1. Call them small investors, savers or shareholders - corporate crimes, frauds and abuses have battered them in the past decade. Think Enron, Worldcom, Wall Street’s brokerage and investment giants and now the big shaky banks. Trillions of dollars have been drained or looted by these corporate bosses while they pay themselves handsomely with other people’s money.
Speaking, writing and testifying against these massive unregulated rip-offs of defenseless Americans are two former chairmen of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) – Arthur Levitt and William Donaldson. Openly sharing their urgent pleas for reform are John Bogle, founder of mutual fund indexing and severe critic of excessive, often hidden, mutual fund fees, and Lynn Turner former chief accountant of the SEC.
These men are well known and respected in their fields, have ready access to the mass business media, possess great Rolodexes of supportive people all over the country and could raise substantial sums of money. They are part of the monied classes themselves.
And for what? To start a large investor protection and action organization to represent the 60 million powerless and individual investors in our country. Individual investors really have no organized voice, either in Washington, D.C., or the state and local level where public sentiment and demand for action generates the rumble for change.
These experienced, superbly connected men, who have respected each other for years and are frustrated over inaction by those in authority, are not taking the next step.
To demonstrate their credentials, see their books, "Take on the Street: How to Fight Your Financial Future" and "Take on the Street: What Wall Street and Corporate America Don’t Want You to Know," by Arthur Levitt, and, "The Little Book of Common Sense Investing and The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism," by John Bogle. To document the broader urgency of their concerns, see veteran shareholder rights leader, Robert Monks’ new book, "Corpocracy."
2. It would not take you very long, searching the Internet, to come up with scores of retired high military officers, from Generals and Admirals on down, high-ranking former diplomats and national security officials, who have spoken and written against the invasion of Iraq and the continuing quagmire and casualties that have cost our country so much and destroyed so much of Iraq and its people.
These outspoken, stand-up Americans, include former cabinet secretaries, agency chiefs, and White House special assistants, who have served under both Republican and Democratic administrations.
No one can question the experience and service of these straight-talk, former public officials. They have seen it all. Wealthy, like-minded funders would return their calls.
Organized together into a powerful, well-funded advocacy organization, these Americans can have a decisive impact on Congress and the White House, because they would be able to reach the American people through the mass media with the truth, and the strategies for peace and justice.
Although active in their pursuit of a sound foreign and military policy that does not jeopardize and bankrupt America, they have not taken this next step.
3. Can you possibly count all the progressives - elected, academic, authors and columnists - who are tearing into the Democratic Party for how often they caved in Congress this year to George W. Bush and his minority Republicans in the Senate and House?
There is nothing new about their complaints. Whether on foreign or domestic policy, whether on the domination of giant corporations over elections, legislatures, regulatory agencies and mass media, whether on the destructive results and portents of corporate globalization and autocratic trade regimes (WTO and NAFTA), progressives have been criticizing the Democrats for years now.
Hear it from Bob Herbert of the New York Times, John Nichols of The Nation magazine, the duos of James Carville and Paul Begala, Mark Crispin Miller and Jim Hightower, Bill Moyers and Anthony Lewis, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown, and Reps. John Conyers and Ed Markey – to name just a very few of the grossly disappointed and outraged critics of the establishment Democrats, and their Democratic Leadership Council and their corporate financiers.
But they do not take the next step. Or steps. Either organize into a powerful counter-weight inside the Democratic Party to make progressive demands that cannot be shrugged off, or move to a progressive third party that can either lever its messages to the Democrats or compete with them?
How many years can the bad Republicans and their corporatist allies keep pulling the mainstream Democratic Party toward them and leave progressives with the futility of the least worst form of disastrous corporate government?
There are many influential and knowledgeable people in our country who know what causes are critical to pursue, what redirections are necessary for present and future generations, what assets of persuasion and change to amass. But they are stalled in this state of the next step not taken.
Taking the next step is the difference between talking and acting, between promise and performance, between autocracy and democracy!
In some ways, I kinda have to agree with her a bit. I love following and writing about politics. But this primary campaign has been too damn long. I truly hope, as I have been saying privately to some people, that there are brokered conventions for both major parties this year. While I would like the New Hampshire primary to be over already, I don't want the nomination process to be over on Feb. 6. If it is, it will spell doom for the voters. I really do think that voters in the other states should have a role in picking the nominees just like they used to in the old days and just like we have here in New Hampshire.
Remember the 1984 campaign? Walter Mondale and Gary Hart were duking it out all the way to the end - "California, here I come ..." "Where's the beef?" ... the nightly news actually had clips of speeches from around the different primaries.
How about 1976? While I was only 11, I remember it well. I recall my dad and his then-girlfriend dragging me around to Fred Harris events. I recall seeing Jimmy Carter, Fred Harris, Birch Bayh, and another guy, he's slipping my mind, on a new program called "Good Morning America." The top four Iowa Caucus candidates were featured on the program that morning. Later, Brown and Frank Church jumped in and tried to derail Carter but it was too little, too late [For you youngins out there, read Jules Witcover's book, "Marathon: The Pursuit of the Presidency 1972-1976," a great overview of that campaign]. I was just a boy at the time but I was already starting to become a junkie.
Even in 1992, the primary at least lasted until early April, when the late Paul Tsongas jumped back into the primary to derail Jerry Brown and save Bill Clinton's ass.
To this day, I can't help but think about that race and all the reform we could have had if Brown had won. We could have had a single-payer health care system back then. Instead, Hillary fritted it all away with her secret health care meetings and in swept the Republican Congress. Sigh. I think about all of the money that has transferred from my pocket to some health insurance company because that stupid woman and her foolish husband fritted away a health care MANDATE by voters. I could have probably paid for half a small starter house with all the money I have spent on insurance over the last 14-plus years. Yeah, "I trust Hillary ... she loves children ..." Ugh.
Now those were primaries.
Anyhow, back to the political phone calls. The two numbers we've been getting calls from are 603-371-2283 and 603-236-7581. The first one was a woman who asked me two questions: 1) Will you be voting in the New Hampshire Primary [Yes] and 2) Who will you be voting for ["I'm not interested in sharing that information with you"].
"Oh, OK, I'll put you down as 'undecided.'"
"No, I'm not undecided. I'm just not going to tell you who I am voting for."
She thanked me for my time and hung up.
After that call, I Googled the number and it looks like it is the Hillary Clinton campaign calling according to several other people who have been called by the number. Well, good, I thought to myself, I told them last time I wasn't voting for Hillary but not this time! Previously, the Clinton campaign called from their own phone system. Now, it appears, they are hiring the phones out.
About 15 minutes later, the phone rang again [my wife is clearly irked now].
This time, another woman asked four questions: First, she asked me if I will voting in the Democratic primary [Yes, probably]. Then she asks me if I have favorable or unfavorable feelings about the top three candidates: Clinton [unfavorable], Obama [favorable], and Edwards [favorable].
I then asked, "You're only going to ask me about those three candidates?"
"I'll be asking about the others later."
In the upcoming primary, which of the following Democrats do you plan on voting for?
I answer where I'm leaning, noting that she forgot to list former Sen. Mike Gravel.
She asks, If your first choice was no longer running, which of the following would you vote for?
I answer that question, throwing her a curve ball, heh, heh.
Oh, she said. She then thanked me for the call and hung up.
Again, I go to the computer and look up the number. It is rumored to be owned by Meyer Teleservices, a Democratic political firm out of Minnesota. Interestingly, the company's Web site notes that they are "employee-owned" - so they probably aren't with Hillary - and they even offer people the opportunity to opt-out of their phone system. They also claim to regularly buy the Do Not Call List. I wonder which candidate they were calling for. Stay tuned!
Friday, December 28, 2007
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, has won the Virginia Democratic Party's online presidential primary straw poll. Candidates in the poll included the six Democrats who have qualified to appear on the primary ballot in Virginia on Feb. 12.
The party's Web site said from the start and continues to say that the straw poll voting closed at midnight on Dec. 23. In reality, it is still possible to vote and to change the totals. Since the 23rd, the numbers have increased very slightly, though not enough to alter the results. Presumably, this is because most voters are unaware that the voting is still open.
Kucinich supporters, fearing some secret plot to flood the election with votes for another candidate, have been collecting screen shots of the results each day from the website and attempting unsuccessfully to get party officials to explain why the voting is still open.
Here are the results as of Dec. 25, with almost 7,000 votes cast:
Kucinich 30 percent
Clinton 27 percent
Obama 14 percent
Edwards 12 percent
Richardson 9 percent
Biden 9 percent
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Well, now it looks like what was originally speculation could turn into reality: ["State faces loss of congressional seat after 2010 census, two studies show"].
What is interesting about this is that I originally thought the state might only lose one seat. But two? What a friggin' bloodbath that will be! Even if say a Rep. Richard Neal or Rep. Ed Markey decided to retire, since I think they are the two oldest reps., the entire state would still need to be redistricted. And that would throw everything up into the air.
As it is now, as the article states, Massachusetts will have to be redistricted anyway, whether it loses none, one, or two seats. The population is shifting all over the place. But, don't expect that to require a change in representation. The redistricters will protect their own, just like they always do. This, despite the pseudo "people's commission" that gets set up every year to have a few meetings around the state about how the redistricting should look. Nothing will change.
But, wouldn't it be great if none of the 10 decided to step down and four of them went at each other in two congressional primaries? Would there actually be a chance for a Republican or, gasp, an independent to win a seat in that situation? Recently elected Niki Tsongas won the seat by a little more than 6,000 votes out of more than 105,000 cast. If Jim Ogonowski had a better campaign organization and a bit more money, Merrimack Valley might be calling him representative.
Who knows. But, we do know this: Let the games begin!
Here is a red state that might be winnable if Edwards is the nominee: ["New poll shows Oklahoma winnable in November - if we nominate Edwards"].
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
But the question begs to be asked: Why is AFSCME spending its radio money in Boston? While WBZ has a ton of New Hampshire listeners, is that money well-spent considering how expensive their ads are? Wouldn't that money be better spent on New Hampshire radio stations, including those news talk stations? ... Well, OK, there are only a handful of those. And, of course, if you are trying to reach voters who are going to cast votes for Obama, they probably aren't listening to many of the AM stations in New Hampshire since most of them are rightwing talk stations.
Also, I heard a new Teachers Union radio spot supporting Hillary Clinton on WGIR-AM late this afternoon. It included the voices of three New Hampshire teachers, all women, proclaiming, "I trust Hillary," and "We need change and Hillary has the experience to bring it," among other prepackaged slogans. The ad ran towards the end of "The Rush Limbaugh Show" so it was effectively placed and whatever money was spent on that ad was money well-spent ... Not! How many Democratic primary voters and teachers were listening to the 'boob's substitute host this afternoon? That's right, close to none. Who is doing the media buying for these unions? Do they know anything about New Hampshire? S'heesh!
Then, I happened to be flipping through the FM side of the dial, and I stopped on NHPR. At the top of the 4 p.m. news, Xenia Piaseckyj read two news headlines. The second was about an incident in the Hillsborough County prison. The first sounded like script from the AP about the Concord Monitor's anti-endorsement of Mitt Romney from Sunday's newspaper.
I thought for a second, It's Wednesday afternoon and the anti-endorsement made headlines nationally on Saturday night and through Sunday. Why are they talking about this on Wednesday, four days after the story broke!?! Is there not any other news they could be reading? Then, at the end of the story, there was a short bit about the full-page of letters reacting to the anti-endorsement [it was close to a full page but not quite]. And then I thought, Ah, another day to bash Romney. Boy, this story sure has gotten its legs, eh?
But, at the same time, the story is more than four days old. I know it is a slow news week. But is there really nothing else to read during the 4 p.m. hour? With all their news staff, they couldn't hunt down a few state stories today? If not, that's a pretty sad state of affairs.
Speaking of the almost full-page worth of letters reacting to the Romney anti-endorsement, I must congratulate the Concord Monitor, specifically for publishing the following letter from Evan Whipps of Hopkinton:
On Nov. 19, the Monitor gave Romney the thumbs up in an editorial called "Romney has a good grasp of nation's problems." Now they're doing something unprecedented by strongly urging people not to vote for Romney. What has changed? Is the Concord Monitor flip-flopping?Most of my readers will note that I posted this point four days ago. And, frankly, it isn't like the Monitor doesn't allow criticism of its coverage or editorial positions in the newspaper. It does. But, to basically allow a letter writer to call you a hypocrite? Well, that's pretty impressive.
Weird. Hillary over the others? Eh, no, I don't think so. I wonder if this test is rigged to give Clinton some numbers. Wouldn't that be funny, if no matter what you answered, it came up Hillary and undecideds thought, Hmm, the test says I should vote for Hillary ... so I will!
Another one at SpeakOut.com gave me even weirder results ["Vote Match"]. All the candidates failed but look at the results:
Alan Keyes and Ron Paul 43 percent.
Mike Huckabee, Dennis Kucinich, and Duncan Hunter 40 percent.
Mike Gravel, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, John Cox, and Cynthia McKinney 38 percent.
I know I'm a bit libertarian and all - I prefer to use the term "liberaltarian" - but come on. Alan Keyes, Duncan Hunter, Mitt Romney, John Cox and Hillary Clinton over John Edwards or Barack Obama? That is preposterous! I would never vote for those people.
Well, alright, I admit that I might vote for Keyes only to continue to hear him debate and rail against the empty suits running on the Republican side and with the hope that someone would form a moshpit somewhere so he could dance in it like he did on MTV in 2000. But the vote would be a prank vote at best and not an ideological one. So, it isn't realistic.
Of course, the flip side of this is that maybe I'm just a total weirdo when it comes to political issues and what I believe in. Are peace dividends, fair trade, not being a nation that tortures people, real health care - not just insurance - but health care, protecting the borders, and standing by the Bill of Rights such radical ideas these days that not a single presidential candidate can get more than 70 percent on one of my tests? Is that so weird? I honestly can't fathom that this would be the reason why my testing results are so screwed up and whacky. It's gotta be the test; really. It's not me ... it has got to be the tests!
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Monday, December 24, 2007
First, it has been months since I have filled out some political candidate selector polls to see who I "should" vote for. Let's look at some of the results:
This one, SelectSmart.com says barely any of the candidates receive a passing grade:
Chris Dodd - 60 percent
Ron Paul - 60 percent
Barack Obama - 59 percent
Mike Gravel - 59 percent
Dennis Kucinich - 57 percent
John Edwards - 50 percent
Everyone else is under 50 percent.
Over at Candidate Calculator [http://www.vajoe.com/candidate_calculator.html] the results came out this way:
Dennis Kucinich - 69.84 percent
Ron Paul - 68.25 percent
Mike Gravel - 62.7 percent
Joe Biden - 61.9 percent
Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd and Barack Obama - 55. 56 percent
All the rest were less than 50 percent [John Edwards was 49.21 percent on this one and John McCain came in at 47.62 percent].
After taking this test, I began to wonder about the results as well as the tests in general.
For example, I found another one at Kucinich's site and took that. It's located here: ["Pick Your Candidate"].
After taking this one, the list came out Paul, Kucinich, Gravel and Obama, with the others well below them. The neat thing about this test is that it lists all the issues in which there is disagreement between you and the candidate.
But the problem here is that the answers don't quite match up with reality.
For example, the test has Edwards down as a supporter of sanctions and military action against Iran but that just is not the case. Edwards has come out against military action against Iran. On withdrawal of troops from Iraq, it has a bunch of the candidates down as not being for withdrawal when they have said they are for withdrawal [Maybe the catch word there is "immediate" which is a trick. Only Kucinich, Gravel, and Paul support immediate, day after elected full withdrawal].
The test ranks me as closer supporter of fringe Republican candidate John Cox [!] than Bill Richardson, John Edwards, or John McCain, which isn't really accurate. The test also had no questions about international trade like the other ones had. I truly wonder if it is skewed in order to convince people to vote for Kucinich.
Obviously, you can't be 100 percent agreement with any one candidate. It is nearly impossible. But, getting 60 percent and then having it be someone like Dodd, who I would never vote for because of his support of NAFTA and GATT/WTO, his support for the Telecom Bill in 1996, and many other bad things he has voted for in the Senate, is pretty sad. Linking me with Cox over Richardson, Edwards, or McCain is ridiculous. I would vote for McCain before Cox any day of the week. McCain is a friggin' hero and Cox is a semi-delusional businessman [As I told a pro-life activist friend of mine who interviewed him back in 2006, "Any kinda fringy, lower-tiered candidate who starts bandying about words like, "The day after I'm inaugurated I'm going to do such-and-such," instead of, "If you vote for me, here is what I'm going to do ..." is worrisome. It shows that they aren't playing with a full deck because they actually believe they are going to win when they are never going to get elected in a million years].
I would be interested to hear from other people about their test results. Obviously, it is just for fun. But I wish they would at least get the positions accurate.
The Union Leader had another endorsement for Sen. John McCain on Saturday: ["Kill the pork!"]. No offense to my friends at the UL but what is this, three, four endorsements? Come on. How many are you going to write and publish?
According to Politics1, the FEC certified funds for some of the presidential candidates on Friday. Here are the amounts each will get in March: Edwards $8.8M, McCain $5.8M, Tancredo, who just dropped out and endorsed Romney, $2.1M, Dodd $1.1M, Biden $857k, and Kucinich and Hunter will get $100k each. To qualify, each candidate must raise at least $100k by collecting at least $5k from 20 states in amounts no greater than $250.
I wasn't going to comment on Rep. Tom Tancredo dropping out at first but the more I thought about it, the more I figured, what the hell.
First, why quit two weeks before the first voting? Is it actually better to quit before you lose or quit after you lose? At least if you quit after you lose, you have a reason. You lost. I mean, with elections, you never know what can happen. Sure, his odds were very, very long. But why quit two weeks before a vote is even cast? That just seems stupid to me.
Second, the Tancredo candidacy never really took off the ground. While people care about illegal immigration, it isn't a top issue. The top issues are health care, the economy, energy, and the war. Illegal immigration is a middle issue at best. And that is all Tancredo had.
I interviewed Tancredo in 2005 for a preview radio feature to promote a speaking event he was doing in the state. He had some interesting things to say. But just before the end of the interview, he said something very curious: If another candidate embraces deportation of illegal aliens as an issue, I won't run and I will support that candidate.
So I said, Hmm, so you're saying if Hillary Clinton started campaigning on deportation of illegal aliens, you would support her?
He backtracked immediately saying, No, no, I meant any Republican candidate who endorsed the policy.
Oh, OK, I said.
In the end, Tancredo endorsed the candidate with the illegals tending to his lawn.
Edwards support spot
The Friends of the Earth are promoting this ad to caucus for Edwards in Iowa ... because money don't vote:
Hillary's Christmas ad
Well, we put up Huckabee's. Why not Hillary's? Actually, this is kind of amusing, although I wonder why she hasn't sponsored any of these bills as a U.S. Senator:
In the mailer, it mentions a critical comment by Edwards against Obama's health care plan. But why would a pro-Clinton union do such a thing? To make it look as if Edwards is attacking Obama maybe? Damn those Clintonistas are friggin' desperate!
On the flip, it states:
Obama's plan will leave 15 million Americans uninsured. "Barack Obama spends a lot of time promising bold leadership. He claims his health care plans covers everyone, but his proposal does not match his words.It then quotes John Edwards talking about Obama's plan on MSNBC and ends with: "And we don't have time to wait for Obama's plan to catch up with his promises."
Instead, Obama took the timid way out, offering yet another band-aid solution.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe this is the first negative mailer of the Democratic primary here in New Hampshire, granted, not by a candidate but by a union.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
The ad, which ran on A7 in the Concord Monitor, states: "SAVE OUR COUNTRY & EARN HOLIDAY CASH $10/hr - $15hr + mileage ..."
Since I'm behind on my daily newspaper reading by a few days due to early work deadlines, I don't know if this has been running all week or is a new ad. Chase has been running a slew of newspaper ads promoting Gravel's campaign in daily newspapers here in the state. Here is a story from a couple of months ago here: ["The man behind the Mike Gravel ads"].
However, hiring canvassers about two weeks away from the primary seems too little, too late. While some people are still undecided, most will probably not be eyeing Gravel as a choice.
As well, in order to win a single delegate at the convention from New Hampshire, Gravel would need to get 15 percent in the primary [The NHDP Web site states there will be a second opportunity to go to the convention after the primary, if your selected candidate receives at least 15 percent and has not withdrawn by April 26, 2008, potential delegates could run again]. Gravel getting 15 percent on Jan. 8 - barring a full-blown attack on Iran, with every Democrat except him backing Bush in the move, or something else even more outlandish or unrealistic - seems very unlikely that Gravel will reach that plateau.
While I don't know the total amount of money that Chase is planning on spending to hire canvassers, the money might be better spent on television or radio advertising around New Hampshire and other early states - instead of newspapers, which Chase has done enough of - in order to raise awareness about Gravel. But, alas, this too might be a waste of money.
What is so sad about this is that Gravel had the opportunity to really make a difference in this race but unfortunately has not.
I will admit that I have a soft spot for Gravel. That mostly comes from being a supporter of underdogs most of my life. I met the senator back in 2005 when he first announced he would be running and sat in on an hour long conversation with the candidate [He was the first Democrat to formally announce, BTW, despite being ignored early on by the press]. While I didn't agree with everything he talked about, it was easy to realize early on that he had some great ideas.
Yet, when given the chance to shine on a national debate stage, time and time again, Gravel came across like a cranky old grandfather who was just let out of the attic, yelling and screaming incoherently from the stage. It was, frankly, embarrassing to watch. After seeing him in the first debate, I wondered who the guy was because he was nothing like he was on the radio.
Gravel also refused to take advantage of the free airtime to talk about his support of a Fair Tax plan, something which could have drawn more small L libertarians to his cause early on [especially in New Hampshire]. Instead, he flailed about at the leading Democratic contenders and it was only a matter of time before he was kept off the stage [Rep. Dennis Kucinich has also been kept off the stage, most recently during an Iowa Public Television debate - probably another reason to look at seriously defunding public television and radio on the national level].
In the end, while Chase can do what he wants with his money, this might all be for naught and that is truly unfortunate because Sen. Mike Gravel is a national hero.
Update: According to the Monitor's Capital Beat column, Chase has so far spent around $500k on ads and is planning a television blitz for Gravel on WMUR-TV Channel 9 out of Manchester, worth about $274k. The ads will run between Christmas Eve and Jan. 7. This, it would seem, would be money better-spent than the canvassers, although it all may be a waste in the end.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
But what is so confusing is that just a month ago, another editorial in the Monitor seemed to commend him for understanding the nation's problems: ["Romney has good grasp of nation's problems"].
While the first editorial didn't endorse Romney, it seemed to say, Hey, he gets it. The second, well, it says he has no record and insinuates he is a phony. So, which is it?
WRKO's new host
WRKO 680 in Boston has a new talk host in the 10 a.m. to noon slot named Reece Hopkins: ["WRKO's newest talk show host has a Wild resume"].
The SaveWRKO blog has a bunch of stuff about the new host and the apparent firing of Todd Feinburg: ["SaveWRKO"].
This is one of the more interesting posts this week: ["Focus Group Participant: Hopkins Got Lukewarm Response"].
I was emailed about the focus group and they had me fill out a questionnaire before I could be a part of the focus group. But, alas, my test didn't get an invite, which I found to be a bit strange since I've only been listening to WRKO off and on for more than two decades. What do I know, right?
While many impoverished American families are shivering in the winter cold for lack of money to pay the oil baron their exorbitant price for home heating oil, ex-oil man, George W. Bush sleeps in a warm White House and relishes his defeat of the Congressional attempt to get rid of $15 billion in unconscionable tax breaks given those same profit-glutted oil companies like ExxonMobil when crude oil was half the price it is today.
This is the same George W. Bush who, calling himself a “compassionate conservative” in October 2000 made this promise to the American people: “First and foremost, we’ve got to make sure we fully fund the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which is a way to help low-income folks, particularly here in the East, pay for their high, high fuel bills.”
So what did this serial promise-breaker propose this year? Mr. Bush wanted to cut the fuel aid program by $379 million! This entire assistance program is funded at about half of the $5 billion that state governors and lawmakers believe is essential to meet the needs of the six million people eligible to apply for such help this year.
Everyone in Washington knows that the big, coddled, subsidized oil industry has many politicians over a barrel. When it comes to oily Bush and Cheney though, the global melting industry has these two indentured servants marinated in oil.
Look at what ending regulation of natural gas prices has produced: prices up 50 percent since last year. Home heating oil prices are up 30 percent. Bush’s own Energy Department estimates the rise of heating oil costs will impose an average increase of $375 for customers this winter. No way that supply and demand explains this gouge.
If a home dweller is too poor to order more than 100 gallons at a time, they get smacked with an extra surcharge of 60 to 70 cents per gallon for delivery.
Some states set aside some money. New York State will spend $25 million. Joe Kennedy and Citgo sell discounted heating oil, but that Venezuelan program is undergoing a reduction.
Efforts in Congress to impose a windfall-profits tax on the King Kong, record-profit-setting oil companies got nowhere.
Two years ago, efforts by Senator Charles Grassley (Rep. Iowa), then chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, begging the major oil giants to slice off a tiny portion of their profits for charitable contributions toward energy assistance for the poor did not receive even the courtesy of a response.
I’ve asked members of Congress, including the Black Caucus and the Hispanic Caucus in the House of Representatives to take up this cause vigorously and prominently on behalf of their constituents back home. Have you heard any high-visibility demand from these veteran lawmakers? I haven’t.
Even Senator Grassley seems to have despaired.
Please note that ExxonMobil alone made $36 billion in profits last year. That’s one company profiting over seven times the amount of dollars needed for energy assistance. Greed, arrogance, callousness and far too much unaccountable power exists in Big Oil and in its White House.
Enforcing the antitrust laws and prohibiting organized speculators at the Mercantile Exchange from determining the price of an essential product like petroleum will bring prices down. But there is no action in the White House. No demand from the Congress.
Veteran free lance reporter, Lance Tapley has been reporting for The Portland Phoenix newspaper on the price bilking of recipients of energy assistance programs. For thirty years, he writes, the oil dealers have been charging the Maine state housing authority, which administers the LIHEAP program, higher prices than they set for their payment-plan customers, despite the large bulk purchasing by this housing authority.
Tapley severely criticizes the failure of Governor John Baldacci for not standing up for poor Maine people at the same time he promotes large subsidies for business and sells off state-owned assets at bargain-basement prices to corporations.
Mr. Tapley writes: “The heating oil crisis could be a big test in 2008 for Baldacci and the State House Democrats. The picture will not be pretty if elderly poor people freeze in their trailers while rich Republicans and professional-class Democrats snuggle up in their McMansions or old Colonials…but, with our Democrats, who needs Republicans?” (Contact Lance Tapley at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Some day, the tens of millions of poor people in America, most of them working poor, will be heard from. Until now, they have been exhausted, powerless, despairing, fearful and grasping for whatever crumbs fall off the table. History teaches us that such a subdued human condition does not continue indefinitely.
Call the White House switchboard (202-456-1414) and your member of Congress (Senate Information: 202-224-3121; House Information: 202-225-3121). Tell them not all these low-income Americans have been sent to oil rich Iraq. Many are here mourning their losses of and injuries to loved ones while they shiver in the cold.
Tell them to make those big oil CEOs making as much as $50,000 an hour to ante up.
Friday, December 21, 2007
This morning, I did a seven minute stint with Jon Keller on WBZ-TV 4. Barring a major disaster, the "Keller@Large" segment will air during the Sunday morning news, probably at around 8:45 a.m. Keller called Politizine, "Must reading for those in the know," which was very kind of him.
Update: Arrrgh. The segment actually aired at 8:35 a.m. not 8:45 a.m. Sorry about that. When the link for the video is posted at WBZ, I will post it here too.
Update 2: Here are the links to my appearance on "Keller@Large." They can also be viewed at the WBZ-TV 4 Web site:
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Washington, DC (Dec. 18) -- What's hotter than 1979 cattle futures, blue like Lewinsky's dress, and disappearing faster than records at Rose Law Firm? It's the Stop Hillary T-shirt -- the official shirt of the vast right-wing conspiracy. And this Christmas, it's available at a 10% discount from StopHillary.org.
From now through January, shoppers who type "Stand By Your Man" in the coupon box at checkout will receive 10% off the regular $15.95 price.
"That's a lot cheaper than a night in the Lincoln Bedroom," says Chad Wilkinson, co-founder of StopHillary.org.
StopHillary T-shirts are an expression of solidarity. And they're available in only one color-scheme -- red, white and blue. "We wanted to keep things simple and straightforward," says Wilkinson. "These shirts are great for Obama fans, Edwards fans and assorted right-wing nuts."
For more information about StopHillary T-Shirts, or to take advantage of the 10% holiday discount, please visit www.StopHillary.org.
StopHillary.org is a for-profit company. We don't accept donations from communist China and have no idea if our shirts are environmentally friendly. Please don't sue us just because we're awesome. For more information, go to StopHillary.org.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
I know that in the past he was considered a "hater," politically incorrect, a blowhard who backed the presidential campaigns of George Wallace, Ronald Reagan, and Pat Buchanan. But I only knew him as a solid vote for what was right, standing up for Boston's neighborhoods and working folks. He would always - always - stand by the working class people of Boston, no matter what the color of their skin. Sure, he was conservative. But, when push came to shove, he was a stand up guy.
In 1997, when I ran for an at-large seat on the council on a lark, I got to know Dapper well [there weren't enough people running so they were going to cancel the preliminary election. I jumped in five days before the deadline to force the election]. Nine of us were vying for eight places in the prelim and Dapper was one of the four incumbents.
Right after getting on the ballot, I challenged all the candidates to meet for 10 debates - nine, one in each ward council districts, and one on cable access. All declined, except for Dapper, who called me on the phone accepting the debate challenge.
At the first event I was invited to speak at, a forum at St. Mark's Parish in Dorchester, I gave what would become my standard stump speech, a litany of complaints about how lazy the council was and a slew of ideas to improve the city.
"I find it shocking that while democracy is burgeoning all over the globe, in the birthplace of liberty, they are canceling elections due to lack of interest," I would say.
I took some potshots at at-large councilor Peggy Davis-Mullen [and I was wrong to do so because she is actually an alright person] and I asked voters for one of their four votes.
After the speech, I introduced myself to people and went over to Dapper to introduce myself.
"Great speech kid," he said with a snarl. "Where the hell did you come from?"
I laughed and we talked for a bit and later, he said, "You're alright."
A week later, at another event, Dapper and his driver, Frank, congratulated me again on another great speech. I thanked them and then turned to Dapper, "Hey Dap, can I have one of your four votes?"
He said, "Sure kid."
I said, "Thank you. Can I take that as an endorsement?"
Dap said, "You bet."
That Sunday, the "endorsement" made the Boston Herald but it didn't come without a crack. Because of my previous work with Ralph Nader, trying to get him on the ballot in 1996, they joked, It's the Green Party Dapper, not green beer!
The campaign was an interesting one. I got to meet a lot of people and I got to know and respect Dapper. A lot. At one forum in Roxbury at Grove Hall, Dapper gave his standard stump speech, with people in the audience nodding their heads in agreement. He then held up a stack of his bumperstickers.
"Do you see these?" he said, holding the stack up into the air, "They're in black and white. Black and white ... together ... that's what I'm about and you know it."
The crowd cheered and after he left the stage, he was swarmed by voters shaking his hand. I always thought this was amazing - the man who liberals said hated blacks was earning their votes and support. Why? Because when he was needed, he supported them. That was the man I knew and that's why he always got my votes and support.
Eighteen months later, the Boston Red Sox floated a massive megaplex proposal which would have required knocking down historic Fenway Park and taking a slew of private land, like the Boston Phoenix's entire building, for private use. The neighborhood was up in arms and baseball fans were shocked. Many of us kicked into gear and started working to preserve the ballpark and kill the megaplex proposal.
With my help, the Fenway Action Coalition put together a plan to stop the megaplex while Save Fenway Park, another group, raised awareness about how special the ballpark was. Essentially, we only had one real option to stop the megaplex: We needed five Boston city councilors to agree to vote against eminent domain [a two-thirds vote of the council would be needed to pass the land-taking]. So, we went to work.
Dapper, thankfully, was one of the first councilors to agree to vote against the land-taking, at my request. He did it ... no questions asked.
"I supported the Red Sox when they wanted to expand with that 600 Club and you know what?," he spat at me, "They never let me in there afterwards!"
Later, Mickey Roache and Stephen Murphy would also agree to vote against the land-taking, at my request, and Davis-Mullen and Ward 7 Councilor Gareth Saunders would soon follow.
This solidified the five votes needed to save historic Fenway Park. Everyone was in a tizzy because we effectively stopped Mayor Tom Menino from taking private land for private use.
[As an aside, Councilor Charles Yancey met the entire contingent of Fenway supporters and gave us positive remarks but he was ultimately non-committal. Councilor Tom Keane, the councilor representing the most effected areas, was obstinate and difficult which was not a surprise. He later openly endorsed the megaplex, horrifying residents while abandoning his supposed free market political principles, since the project was the most offensive example of corporate welfare ever proposed in the city's history].
In the 1999 preliminary, Dapper placed third, way below his usual turnout of first or second. Others were within striking distance. And since the final election tended to be the election with the most liberal turnout, the writing was on the wall: Dapper was in trouble and he asked everyone for help. I obliged, donating money to his campaign, putting a sign on my door in Mission Hill, and doing standouts for him and another candidate, challenger Joe Mulligan, another great guy who was the only registered Republican in the race.
Some of my liberal friends went wild.
"How can you support Dapper? How can you support Mulligan?" one young, yet connected, woman asked me, urging me to support Michael Flaherty, the guy who placed fifth that year but was sitting on scads of money.
"Dapper has always stood by regular folks. I have talked to Joe and he gets it," I said.
"But Flaherty's relatively liberal," she said. "He's more in line with us."
I had also decided to vote for Davis-Mullen and Murphy too, even though he was getting a little squeamish over his earlier position to vote against eminent domain. My friend didn't know I had already decided where my four votes would go so I asked her some questions, with the impression that I might be able to toss a vote to Flaherty.
"OK, let me ask you: What's Flaherty's position on the megaplex?"
She was mum. She knew: Flaherty would back it and as would she, since she took her marching orders from Menino.
"There you go," I said, smiling. "It's a billion dollar boondoggle. It's insanity. I won't support insanity."
Along the way, it was looking pretty grim and everyone knew it. But, we all plugged away, attempting to save Dapper. In mid-October, the Boston Herald did a piece on Dapper's campaign and I was interviewed for it.
What can explain his staying power? It's more than nostalgia, more than the entertainment value of a profane pol who recorded the novelty tune, "The Irish Belly Dancer,'' more than grizzled old white guys giving him bullet votes.Me and Minister Don Muhammad, quoted in the same article, supporting a guy that most people pigeonholed as a rightwing, lunatic, racist throwback to the old days.
It's visibility. The long hours at the zoning board - so many hours that they named the hearing room after O'Neil. The countless community-group meetings. And, of course, the wakes.
"I differ on ideology with him on a lot of things but he's always there for us,'' says Anthony Schinella, a board member of the Community Alliance of Mission Hill.
Another supporter, Minister Don Muhammad, head of the Nation of Islam's Mosque No. 11, says the conservative O'Neil is misunderstood: "He's very community- and people-oriented.''
But, in many ways, Dapper was a throwback: He was about hard work, sticking to your word, never giving up a principled fight, and standing by the little guy. And those are values you just don't see very often in politicians these days.
Rest in Peace, Dapper.
Krugman also incredibly stated that if Edwards did not win Iowa, he was finished.
But if you look at polling from both 2003 and 2007, in a run up to the Iowa Caucuses, the exact opposite is true. And Edwards is actually in strong third place positions in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada ... positions strong enough to win delegates and potentially work with Barack Obama [or another candidate] to stop Hillary Clinton from getting the nomination, if they so choose to do and if Clinton's numbers hold up.
All throughout 2007, Edwards has been in a tight three-way race in Iowa, sometimes leading the polls, sometimes second or third, but within a few points of the top spot. Virtually every poll shows this. In poll after poll for a year, Edwards has had a solid position in Iowa.
Compare this to 2003, when Edwards was nowhere to be found in the early stages of the caucus but later vaulted to a second place finish. In fact, Edwards was often in fourth in the early stages of Iowa, behind candidates Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, and sometimes Wesley Clark, until very late in the game. According to numerous polls in Iowa posted on this site in 2004, Edwards didn't climb out of fourth place until days before the caucus.
* Jan. 18, Des Moines Register: Kerry 26, Edwards 23, Dean 20, and Gephardt 18 percent.
* Jan. 17, Zogby: Kerry 23, Dean 19, Gephardt 18, and Edwards with 17 percent.
* Jan. 15, Zogby: Kerry 22, Dean and Gephardt 21, and Edwards 17 percent.
* Jan. 14, Zogby: Dean 24, Gephardt and Kerry 21, and Edwards at 15 percent.
* Jan. 10, Los Angeles Time: Dean 30, Gephardt 23, Kerry 18, and Edwards 11 percent.
* Jan. 9, Research 2000: Dean 29, Gephardt 25, Kerry 18, and Edwards 8 percent.
* Jan. 9, Survey USA: Dean 29, Gephardt 22, Kerry 21, and Edwards 17 percent.
A month and change before, the numbers looked like this:
* Dec. 9, the Pew Research Center: Dean 29, Gephardt 21, Kerry 18, Edwards 5, and Kucinich 4 percent.
* Dec. 6, Zogby: Dean 26, Gephardt 22, and Kerry 9 percent.
* Nov. 25, Survey USA: Dean 32, Gephardt 22, Kerry 19 and Edwards 11 percent.
* Oct. 29, KCCI-TV: Dean and Gephardt at 26, Kerry 15, and Edwards with 8 percent.
* Oct. 24, Zogby: Gephardt 22, Dean 21, Kerry 9, with Edwards and Clark 7 percent [Clark pulled his org. out of Iowa a few days before this poll was posted].
* Oct. 21, Survey USA posted this poll: Gephardt 27, Dean 22, Kerry 15, and Clark and Edwards 11 percent.
While some of these numbers are admittedly a bit older - its late December not late October or late November - it proves the point: Edwards is in a much better position to win now than he was in 2004.
As well, the blogosphere is all in a tizzy over even tighter data numbers showing Edwards leading the state, with a lot of second choice response of caucus goers supporting other campaigns - something that helped him get second in 2004.
So, why are the Krugmans, Beaumounts and NPR affiliates of the world saying otherwise and being so cryptic about it? Could it be the Des Moines Register's endorsement of Clinton? Could it be Krugman getting that boomer feeling about Obama? Who knows. But whatever the reason, the show should have done a bit more research into the numbers and not bandied about half-truths.
Guest Perspective/Burt Cohen
As is the custom in New Hampshire this time of year, I recently asked a woman in a coffee shop who she was supporting for president.
Her answer: “The last candidate I heard speak.”
The point is we have a remarkable group of candidates, so it’s no surprise most voters remain undecided. As the date gets closer, more and more people have asked who I’m with. After many months consideration, I’ve finally made my choice.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich deserves to do well in New Hampshire. His bold and uncompromising vision needs to be heard. Gov. Bill Richardson would make a great chief executive, with his unmatched experience. But inspiring personal presentation (also called charisma) is a job requirement which is not his strength. Sen. Chris Dodd is consistent on every issue, and is a terrific speaker. I wish his numbers were at least as high as Kucinich. Same goes for Sen. Joe Biden: Great on the issues, a captivating speaker too. Just not connecting enough.
That leaves the “top three.” Before the Republicans have laid a glove on her, Clinton starts out with 50 percent of Americans saying they would never vote for her. She’s relied on an engineered aura of inevitability. She buys into the all-things-to-all-people style, the course laid out for Sen. John Kerry by his political director Jeanne Shaheen in 2004. Straddling everything doesn’t win.
Some people say it’s time for a woman. Martin Luther King hoped we would judge people by the content of their character, not by their color, or by extension, their gender.
A new direction? What about support for the war in Iraq, her prideful refusal to accept that she made a mistake, her unconscionable vote declaring part of Iran’s government to be a terrorist organization (giving Bush the carte blanche to attack). Her commitment to keeping combat troops in Iraq and her refusal to say she’d get them all out by 2013. Her blatant pandering to the right on flag-burning and on late term abortions. And then there’s planting softball questions for himself to answer. Experience? Aside from spouse of the president, I can’t seem to remember her cabinet post.
New Hampshire voters, at crunch-time, consider both issues and win-ability. She’s got neither. The GOP knows her nomination would be a gift to them. Two recent polls showed Clinton is the only Democrat all five Republicans would beat. New Hampshire has an enormous responsibility now. We owe it to the country to select a stronger candidate.
I’ve always liked John Edwards very much. His vision of two Americas is dead on, his values are exactly what we need. His dedication to health care reform is a shot in the arm. His wife Elizabeth is a huge asset. She’s the better candidate here.
So here I am: Sen. Barack Obama. His star didn’t fade, as I worried it might. Young people remain enthusiastic, an advantage which can hardly be overstated. And it’s important to remember that he clobbered his Republican opponent in southern Illinois, which is indeed The South.
Obama was a constitutional law professor. Wow, do we need that. Yes he’s young, just three years older than John Kennedy was. Sure, others have more experience, like his distant cousin Dick Cheney. But he has vision, he has sincerity, and he’s got amazing momentum and steadiness.
Barack Obama may not be perfect, but as state Rep. Marjorie Smith once told me, "Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good."
Barack Obama can, and I believe, will win. He can unite all patriotic Americans, and make us proud to be Americans in the world once again. With a boost from New Hampshire, he can dramatically help achieve the as yet unrealized potential of our nation.
Burt Cohen served the Portsmouth area as state senator from 1990 to 2004 and now hosts “Portside,” a radio talk show now heard on the Progressive Radio Network.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
This decision, of course, is a bad one. But, as I wrote on his site, there are a few lessons to be learned from Giuliani's collapse and the eventual end of his campaign, which will probably happen.
First, a presidential candidate can't run in the primaries on fear. In primaries, voters don't want to be fearful; they want to be hopeful. Virtually Giuliani's entire campaign has been about fear ... and very little hope.
Second, national polls don't matter, for the millionth time. Giuliani has been leading in national polls for almost the entire year. But, those polls don't matter. It's the early states - and later, the state by state polls - which matter. While consistently leading in the national polls, he has been topsy-turvy in most of the early state polls. Giuliani has never really had a chance to get settled anywhere. Mitt lives just south of New Hampshire; Huckabee lives just south of Iowa; Thompson lives just west of South Carolina. McCain won New Hampshire in 2000 and is a national hero. They kinda all have a bit of an advantage. While Giuliani is a national figure, he isn't a hero like McCain.
Third, not everyone is Bill Clinton. If you have baggage - and I mean, BAGGAGE, like drug use allegations, cheating on your wife/wives, even maybe rape, like Clinton had - in your background, you are never going to be president. It happened only once and it probably won't happen again. The media is just too much these days. Even citizens are the media now. Nothing is going to get by them.
If I were Giuliani's campaign manager, I would tell him not to pull out of New Hampshire. I might give up on Iowa, because caucuses are so hard to organize. But not New Hampshire or South Carolina. I would shed as much of my staff as I could, cut a few simple ads and run them sparingly, and campaign door-to-door and get as much face time with Republicans and independents as possible and hope to stay alive until Feb. 5.
Monday, December 17, 2007
"Great moral philosophy does not come primarily from concerns arising within philosophy itself. It comes from engagement with serious problems about personal, social, political, and religious life." - J.B. Schneewind
Toward An Ecological Ethics
Building an ecological civilization will be accompanied by a basic change in our consciousness, common sense, and behavior. Ecological values will supplant industrial values. Sustainability will emerge as core motive, practical means, and end. Economic growth that means ecological improvement, not ecological destruction, can replace the uncritical industrial evermore as motive and guide.
The spirit of a new Golden Rule: Do onto the earth, as the earth will do onto us, valuing the biosphere, will inform the ecological common sense of the 21st century.
Ecological ethics and morals will shape our sense of the good, of what is possible and desirable. These ethics can enliven the dreams of our children. They will shape our imaginations and creative use of our human energy, our entrepreneurship, our literature, and our songs, poetry and philosophy.
Ecological ethics will inform our conceptions of who we are and what we want and can become. They should emerge as the basis for our new common sense and a guide to behavior and cultural credos.
Ecological values will become part of democratic conversation and debate as we undertake practical measures in response to necessity. We don’t have to transform ourselves before we begin to transform the world. The flowering of a diverse ecological ethics will be inseparable from our journey from industrialism to ecological civilization.
Sustainability concerns the consequences of economic growth. As ethic, it is inextricably tied to the practical and to the circumstances of our lives, both material and philosophical. Sustainability will indeed mean major changes in unsustainable business as usual. Change is inevitable. What’s at stake is the nature of these changes. That’s a policy question, a matter, above all, of what we must do in response to industrial reality.
Sustainability and an ecological ethics do not mean an end to markets, or democracy, or freedom. That’s fortunate. Sustainability’s practical definition means making economic growth mean ecological improvement. Crucial, is to get the prices right and make the market send signals for sustainability.
Sustainable development has been broadly defined as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Sustainability’s precise meanings still await clearer definition though social practice.
Sustainability has both a practical affect and a moral valence. Ethics and morality are not merely the froth upon the ocean of sustainability. They represent a co-evolving part of the democratic conversation about what will be an ongoing process of change in all aspects of our lives and livelihoods as we transform an industrial civilization to an ecological one.
Ecological values cannot be imposed upon the industrial crowd. We will not wake up one morning and all realize precisely what we must do. Ecological values cannot be legislated or decreed. And a universal and eternally valid ecological value system will not magically be discovered. As Patrick Curry indicates in Ecological Ethics (2006), it is the very unbounded limitlessness of such a conceit that reflects an industrial as opposed to an ecological social order and value system.
Our task is not to banish the seven deadly sins. We cannot eliminate gluttony, avarice, and greed. We cannot predicate the building of an ecological civilization upon perfect behavior and unbounded selflessness. Our challenge is not to abandon shopping and consumerism. What matters is what we buy and what we consume. The grand movement toward a sustainable civilization will not be crippled if you want to purchase the most prestigious and feature laden software or drive a luxury zero carbon emitting car.
Nevertheless, if we continue to consume and pollute at a rate that would require five planet earths to sustain, we will find ourselves collectively plunged into dire and intractable poverty. Business as usual threatens collapse and involuntary stringencies and limits upon our lives and freedom far beyond any effects of new price signals from the adoption of sustainable market rules which make polluting products more expensive. Getting the prices right is far less daunting a task than a project to ban gluttony and human excess.
Ecological Ethics Emerge
The good news is that the growth and development of ecological values will accompany our pursuit of the ecological imperative in response to industrial excess. We are in the midst of the emergence of ecological conduct and sustainability in an industrial market place and global system. The consequences and costs of industrial activity are manifest and can no longer be ignored.
It is precisely the policies we adopt, for example, ecological market rules and eco-taxes that makes decreasing pollution lead to increasing profits, which are the concomitants for the rise of ecological values.
Ecological ethics will evolve and express, as all ethical systems do, a particular set and setting. Aristotle discussed the good life and the choices to be made by elites while lecturing from Nicomean Ethics to an audience of young Athenian men of inherited wealth and property. Our ecological ethics, in contrast, are addressed to the billions of the industrial world in transition to a sustainable ecological democracy.
Ecological ethics are important in helping clarify and facilitate the constructive choices to be made by an ecological democracy. Central is the pursuit of actions, lifeways, programs and policies that manifest sustainability and transform economic growth into a force that results in ecological improvement, not ecological destruction. Slavish attempts at ethical and ideological perfection, whether green, red, black, or red white and blue will become a fetish and fetter upon an ecological turn.
There are many ways to reach sustainable ends. Not poisoning poison the lake with a chemical may be the result of the reformist adoption of the precautionary principle that demands thorough testing of toxicity before use; or, alternatively, it may be a consequence of the development of an industrial ecological process that results in zero discharges; or the abandonment of toxic technology and embrace of sustainable natural filtration methods motivated by our believe in supporting the integrity of ecosystems in accord with the land ethic; or valuing the health of the mussels, algae, and microorganisms and their community more than human benefits and profits from our toxic process…
There are many paths to the practice of sustainability and an ecological democracy. Each begins from where we are. It is this welter of change, of discussion, experiment, success and failure, invention and discovery that reflects the work of an ecological democracy.
Sustainability can be the expression of a Kantian categorical imperative treating both other people and the ecosystems of which we are part as an end and not a means. It can be the expression of a Benthamite utilitarianism that finds the greatest good and the minimization of pain encompassing not just all people but the entire ecosphere. It can be the expression of an Aristotelian virtue that expresses the practice of a stewardship and personal excellence encompassing not just our behavior and conduct as it affects people, but as it impacts all aspects of the world around us. Sustainability can be the application of John Rawls’ original position and difference principle to include the maintenance of the health of the ecosphere and the fair distribution of a social minimum. It can be the expansion of the duties of John Nozick’s minimal state to include protecting the environment and the adoption of sustainable market rules.
There are many roads and many doors leading toward an ecological civilization. How less likely would our prospects for success be if there were but one. Further, we operate not from a standpoint of perfect knowledge of both present and future from which to calculate and determine our actions. Quite the opposite. The present is hardly clear, the future an even greater mystery. We do not even have a common definition of sustainability, let alone a clear program of how to get there. Humility and creative action is in order, not arrogant pronouncements. There are an enormous range of possible opportunities for constructive change. Any particular venue can not be anointed in advance as the best of choices with a realistic understanding of the probability of success.
What’s of central concern is not the debates of philosophers, priests, and pundits over the virtues and validity of competing ecological value systems whether deep or shallow, spiritual or materialist, radical or reformist, ecocentric or anthropocentric.
What we do, not why we do it, is what matters most. To embrace the supremacy of the single abstracted why over what is to accept the primacy of a world of ideas over actions and incline us to dwell in the cave of an ecological Platonism perfecting our ideological purity. Ideas, sustainability, for example, are certainly important for an ecological turn. But a blinkered idealism can incline us to refuse to recognize the co-evolution of why we do things and what we actually do.
There is, indeed, nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come. But that idea has a context that gives it efficacy. For instance, assume that an emergent popular belief in angels guiding human affairs leads to adoption of new ecological market rules by Congress. Credit needs to be given to the tenor of the times, not simply to a theogeny interpreting the debates of the beings in a Seventh Heaven. We need take seriously our history, our ideas, our epoch and the great historical forces in response driving an ecological turn—a countervailing and healing response to industrial excess and an increase in social complexity in reaction to seemingly insolvable problems of industrial reality.
Ecological ethics are not alien to our nature. Altruism, cooperation, and considering actions in terms of their effect on several generations, instead of immediate gratification and short-term profit, are underlying and likely evolutionarily selected characteristics of humanity as social animal--an idea advanced by Darwin (1871) in The Descent of Man and supported by a wide range of social theorists, from a Kropotkin (1902) in his Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution , to a Robert Nozick (1976) in Anarchy, State and Utopia.
Thus, our task is not, for instance, for all of us to adopt a Buddhist economics based on harmlessness toward all living beings as the sine qua non of ecological change. Rather, it is in the expression of ecological conduct in response to necessity that will provide the basis for the elaboration, development and co-evolution of an ecological ethics and morality and their internalization as good conduct and common sense to replace self-destructive industrial pillage.
Nature must be nurtured and repaired, not conquered and exploited. The awareness of the consequences of our actions and mitigating behavior will gradually replace the reflexive satisfaction of our consumptive lusts without regard to ecological consequences. The co-evolution of ecological values will accompany the development of the elements of an ecological economics and social structure. In a world, for example, where market prices reflect long term true costs, and where all have existential security through a negative income tax (NIT) or basic income grant (BIG), the exploration and elaboration of ecological values is consonant with our social structure.
Ethics and morality develop along with practical resolution to problems. Differing solutions and their consequences are discussed, considered, argued over and gradually emerged as part of generalized codes of ethics and conduct. We don’t have to change human nature. We don’t have to change ourselves before we can take a step toward an ecological future. We need, in the words of Ken Jones, to “get out of our own light and respond positively and openly to what the situation requires of us”.
We will still face the same moral choices. But they will be made in the context of social structures that provide a real opportunity for the rise of ecological social relations and sustainability. We will be rewarded not “with pie in the sky when we die” as incentive for good conduct (and acquiescence with the unbearable), but will find rewards in a better life in vibrant communities in the here and now.
Why Ethics Matter
Industrialism exists in a moral universe that forbids we speak its name. In an industrial world, waste and effluents, social dislocation and misery, the destruction and degradation of ecosystems, species and communities are accepted as the necessary consequences of the power, profits and surpluses that industrialism confers and the cornucopia of products it disgorges. This is called progress. The consequences are dismissed as externalities, unrecorded, uncounted in the market, as if they were somehow unrelated to industrial production and consumption and its maximization.
This is true for capitalism. This is true for communism. Yet industrialism, its ideology and its destructive cult of progress remains largely unexamined.
In fact, dislocation and disturbance of all aspects of ecosystems and communities are not just unfortunate consequences of industrialism, but essential concomitants that allow and facilitate industrial activity. Strangely blind to the cause, we bemoan the consequences. We focus on the crises of lost ozone, dying species, mammoth hurricanes, melting ice caps and ignore the underlying forces and choices which contributed to them.
We are afflicted by “progress” that you “can’t stop”. We are abused by that particularly malevolent corporation or this bad boss or that corrupt official.
To challenge industrialism is to be labeled a machine smashing Luddite, or hopeless romantic primitive. To critique industrialism is to be calumnied as being against science and reason and its benefits. To call for fundamental change, as global ecological catastrophe gathers, is to be told “there is no alternative” to industrial business as usual. Of course, there are alternatives. We moved from an agrarian to an industrial world. We can move from an industrial to an ecological world. Industrial self-destruction is the unrealistic path. The movement from an industrial to an ecological civilization is the practical pursuit of peace and sustainable prosperity.
Industrialism continues to colonize and exploit our souls and lay waste to the land, water, and sky. Industrialism, as the only alternative, obtains our consent and provides pleasures and rewards for the many millions of the lucky and dutiful participants of the consuming classes, albeit amidst widespread agonies and profound losses. Industrialism offers outlets for our creativity and entrepreneurship, our invention and our charity. All is permitted—if we accept industrial rules as participants.
The ideology of industrialism rests upon an ideological steel triangle composed of three dynamic elements that support the endless maximization of production and consumption:
Technique, which encompasses science, technology and the applications of reason;
Hierarchy, which offers fungible orders of power accessible to the talented, the fortunate, and the ruthless, supported by a doctrines of law and obedience to industrial ends;
Progress, which is a cult that justifies industrial change as good and its consequences acceptable.
Industrialism is, in a sense, a product of its own internal logic. Industrialism is, in the terms of anthropologist Claude Lévi Strauss, the grand expression of oppositional thought, the raw and the cooked, placed at the service of technique, hierarchy and progress. Industrialism is one particular, ultimately self-destructive manifestation of a world of “A and not A” based on a relentless reductionism, a science that misses the forest for the trees.
The relational ecological successor to industrialism, in contrast, entertains the prospects of a world of “both A and B”, a world of freedom and community, of the one and the many, all within the context of embracing biosphere. This is the expression of sustainability, of a mindful harmony where democracy serves the equilibrating function among the one and the many and biosphere. Describing a Gaian Buddhism, Elizabeth Robert writes, “It may be more appropriate to think of ourselves as a mode of being of the Earth, than a separate creature living on the Earth. Earth does not belong to us. It is us.”
Industrialism proudly and morally justifies its conduct through the practice of its self-justifying utilitarianism, the pursuit of a supposed greater good for the greatest number. This is a blinkered industrial utilitarianism predicated on counting only the “goods” in a peculiar fashion, that is, considering only the monetary value of the production and consumption that industrialism is designed to maximize and ignoring the “bads” of ecological destruction and human misery and never allowing them to be accurately accounted for and placed upon the scales of judgment.
Industrialism provides us with the reflexive “common sense” and the ethics and morality that permit our participation and consent to pillage to co-exist with our high minded judgment of our intentions and moral conduct. Typically, we do our jobs to provide for our families and meet humanity’s needs. Our conduct is moral. Our operations are in accord with all pollution regulations and requirements.
Industrialism is not simply a crime committed by them. Industrialism rests upon our consent and enthusiastic participation in the maximization of production and consumption. More, the unnuanced more is always better. The GNP value of cancer treatment, a consequence of peripatetic industrial toxins, is still counted dollar for dollar as if it has the same value as education. Both are services.
Industrial civilization has proven to be the great consumer, not only of goods, the earth’s material substance turned to products, effluent, and waste, but of human culture and values. Industrial expansion is graced by the universal imperative of progress that conflates growth of almost any kind with goodness. The tools for progress are science and industrial technique place at the service of ruling hierarchies. This has been true of industrialism’s capitalist and socialist manifestations.
The usually unspoken supposition of industrialism was that the incredible productive power of our machines has essentially resolved the material problem, and we are left with issues of fair distribution and enjoyment of our bounty. In fact, the application of industrial methods has created new physical threats not only to our comfort, but to our civilization and perhaps to the existence of our species.
Thus, our ethics in the 21st century must be conditioned to address this tripartite interaction and feedback between freedom and community and ecosphere – between individual and the group and living world. We must value and protect the freedom and rights of individuals. But we must do so in the context of a more complex system where the community is both guarantor of freedom as well as potential fetter, and the ecosphere is the fundamental basis for freedom and community and where actions in any of the three spheres affect the nature and well being of the whole. It is democratic action to establish social policies for sustainability that manifests a new ecological ethics in social practice and a common sense of what now is right.
An ecological ethics and new common sense can help us begin practically answering the question posed in many forms, “How can we be prosperous without being self-destructive”, and a corollary question implied by the first: “How can we make economic growth mean ecological improvement, not ecological destruction?”
This is not a Zen koan, or riddle, such as, “What is the sound of one hand clapping? “
There is, in fact, no necessary equivalence between prosperity and self-destruction, and between economic growth and ecological pillage. Economic growth need mean neither ecological pillage, nor injustice. There is, for instance, no practical limit on the trade of information in cyberspace powered by renewable energy resources. And if this can be true in a high profit information-based economy, why can’t it be true for other more material pursuits, particularly if we need to and try to make it so. This is sustainability in action.
Instead of a self-evident, enduring truth, to identify economic growth with ecological destruction is a category error confusing the quality of economic growth with its quantity. It’s a matter of not distinguishing between self-destructive growth in an industrial market and sustainable growth in an ecological market.
And if this supposed verity, always connecting growth with ecological degradation, is not true, and need not be true, then we are called upon both to more carefully examine our assumptions and recognize that fundamentally what’s at stake is the nature and quality of our actions and their consequences.
The self-destructive proclivities of industrialism paradoxically came from the exercise of autonomy and of reason for industrial ends which were focused on the limitless maximization of production and consumption typically with little or no regard for their negative consequences. In the 21st century, our virtuous industrial moral order that graces things with inherent trappings of good or bad, and where prosperity, or lack thereof, is epiphenomena of virtue, or its lack, seems to be running into trouble.
Carefully following our industrial rules, by working hard, producing more, consuming more, and paying our taxes we are on a path of self-destruction. Erecting our shining city upon the hill has polluted the aquifer, destroyed the forest habitat, and changed the climate. What seems, at first glance, to be the path to virtue, and an unalloyed good, somehow changes into its opposite. A series of choices that appear legal and moral, leads to unintended consequences, and sometimes catastrophic results.
Sometimes the market, instead of the realm of freedom and prosperity, leads us down the path of self-destruction. Fifty SUVs are an interesting oddity. 500 million gasoline powered SUVs are a plague.
Rawls and Nozick and An Industrial Ethics
In an ecological democracy, ethics, values, and morality must address questions that transcend typical modernist ethical judgments that were wrought, often with compelling philosophical legerdemain, upon the forge of industrial fire. These are applied to our conduct within the context an industrial world of “A and not A”.
Thus we were offered two classic and prescient books in the early 1970s, John Rawls’ liberal treatise, A Theory of Justice (1971), parsing justice as fairness , and Robert Nozick’s property friendly, anarchic libertarianism, Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974). These books represent a classic philosophical confrontation, largely academic and obscure in the 1970s, now played out between liberals and conservatives in the everyday politics of modern America in ideological conflicts over the role of government and market.
It should be no surprise that these singular works of Rawls and Nozick are compatible with the core conduct of industrial business as usual, that is, the maximization of production and consumption. Their books were written at what, in retrospect, was the high water mark of American empire and industrialism.
It’s useful to take the measure of those times. Richard Nixon was President. OPEC was still a willing partner to the then Seven Sisters, the seven dominant oil transnationals , under whose management you could fill up your gas tank for a few dollars. The bloody Vietnam War was winding down in defeat, not victory, but a defeat more or less on Nixon’s and Kissinger’s imperial terms with tens of thousands of American dead and millions of Vietnamese and other Asians killed. An opening was made to the Chinese to further limit Soviet power.
Environmentally, Nixon signed the Clean Air and Clean Water acts and legislation establishing the EPA. This was in the grand tradition of an environmentalism that successfully limits the worse abuses of industrialism to help assure continued growth and maximization. Nixon flirted with, at least politically, a Negative Income Tax and National Health Insurance. He was, many now waggishly comment, our last liberal president (albeit a scoundrel).
Rawl’s and Nozick’s efforts reflect those times of muscular American power and confident imagination. These are works of logical philosophical reasoning and imagining. A self-doubting deconstructionism, soon to be fashionable, is nowhere to be seen.
The central issue for classically liberal Rawls is, “How should the fruits of industrial production be distributed?” For Rawls, the answer is fairly. For libertarian Nozick, the question is, “What limits, if any, shall be placed upon the free association and actions of individuals by the impositions of the state” For Nozick, the answer is ideally none, and, in practice, only minimally.
Both Rawls and Nozick embrace a world of logical and cogitating individuals who make careful calculations leading to decisions and agreements that determine the good life. People attempt to construct, through these agreements, the best of all possible worlds that logically follows if free individuals are given the opportunities to make such decisions.
The underlying problem is not so much what these books say, but what they do not entertain—the question of sustainability and the unanticipated consequences of otherwise lawful, proper, and even well intentioned industrial activity.
In the 21st century, thirty-five years after A Theory of Justice, the central importance of the relationship between individual, group and the living world should be unmistakably clear as a liberal, industrial free market industrial society moves toward self-destruction. Both Rawls and Nozick did not adequately consider the community, under unremitting assault from industrialism, and focused their attention upon the individual as if the two could be separated.
In Rawl’s A Theory of Justice (which Nozick calls “a powerful, deep, subtle, wide- ranging systematic work in political and moral philosophy which has not seen its like since the writings of John Stewart Mill” ) community is nowhere to be found in the index. It is not that community is unimportant for Rawls. For Rawls, the importance of community is subsumed within democracy’s underlying constitutional framework.
Community and collective action as inextricably connected with the exercise of justice is not central for Rawls, let alone the interconnection between individual, group and the living world.
As Nozick, in Anarchy, State, and Utopia proceeds to critique Rawl’s embrace of distributive justice he begins with a thought experiment. “Let us imagine n individuals who do not cooperate together and who live solely by their own efforts…” He then continues with complex and robust discussion of individual efforts, entitlements, the validity of voluntary market mechanisms and their relationship to cooperation and distributive justice.
The philosopher’s point of departure is an impossible world where cooperation is voluntary, not an inescapable part of human social existence. And it is a similarly impossible world were concepts of distributive justice (whether mediated by market exchange or social distribution) and the good do not rest upon the healthy sustainable relationship between individual, group, and living world.
There may, or may not, be an unmistakable logic and validity behind such imaginings that are relevant to a real world. But it should be clear that they are predicated not simply on thought experiments removing the chaff of social complexity to sharpen the nub of the philosophical point. They violate fundamental realities and dynamics informing human life and incline us toward the still confident pursuit of the industrial evermore without regard to consequences (beyond our conceptions of the good), and certainly without regard to sustainability.
While an individual man or woman may live alone in the wilderness, they did not enter that wilderness alone as a naked infant. Those young children that have survived in the wild were reportedly nurtured by social animals. One is hard pressed to find a land of solitaries. We are social. Our communities are inseparable from biosphere.
We are not isolated individuals, anonymous wielders of instrumental logic, living apart from this earth. We are a part of the biosphere. We are both A and B. We are individuals and one of the many.
It is profoundly ironic that the exercise of industrial freedom today is endangering industrial civilization and perhaps courting human extinction by ever-so-slightly upsetting the carbon dioxide balance of the biosphere through our relentless extraction and burning of carbon from ancient plants. We can no more be separated from the biosphere and the embracing atmosphere whose nature and homeostatic maintenance is a central expression of life, than a fish can separate itself from the ocean and from oxygen. But unlike a fish suddenly out of water, we take the air as a given to be abused with impunity.
Community is of central concern for Nozick for whom the state is anathema. But this is community, in his utopian vision, as the logical contractarian creation of individuals mediated, if at all, by a minimal state. Collective action has little valence as a force for Nozick, save as a mechanism for the exercise of individual freedom of consenting individuals and its protection from the impositions imposed by the state and community.
Rawls and Nozick embrace a rational world that does not entertain emotion and passion. The power of crowds and of sexual attraction, the power of nationalism, patriotism, racism, and industrialism and the history and social dynamics that brought them about does not stand in the way of the philosopher’s self-assertion of the primacy of reason and the logic guiding social contract theory. What’s on the table are rights and values not social forms that will be a healing response to the self-destructive excesses of a property and commodity besotted industrialism. Contract theory inside embraces a lonely rationalism where all is reducible to the logical analysis following the philosopher’s system, aspiring to the rigor of Whitehead and Russell’s (1910, 1911, 1913) logicism in Principia Mathematica, and Carnap and Ayer’s (1959) logical positivism to parse and find the truth values of statements. However, the world, including mathematics, admits the necessity for a greater range of ambiguity and incompleteness, as Gödel (1931) demonstrated with his incompleteness theorems.
Torts and Pollution: A Practical and Ethical Challenge
In Anarchy State and Utopia, Nozick offers an extended italicized sidebar discussion of the example of pollution under The Principle of Compensation that provides, from Nozick’s standpoint, potential resolution to the problem. Pollution for Nozick is basically a case of property rights to be handled, if at all feasible, by tort law, whether by individual suits or creative class actions of victims against polluters. It’s a “We can do nicely without the nascent EPA, don’t spoil the party please,” argument.
Nozick writes (italics in original):
“Perhaps a few words should be said about pollution…Since it would exclude too much to forbid all polluting activities, how might a society (socialist or capitalist) decide which polluting activities to forbid and which to permit? Presumably, it should permit those polluting activities whose benefits are greater than their costs, including within their costs polluting effects…If a polluting activity if allowed to continue on the ground its benefits outweigh its costs (including its polluting costs), then those that benefit should actually compensate those upon whom the pollution costs are initially thrown. The compensation might encompass paying for the costs of devices to lessen the initial pollution effects… airlines and airports might pay for soundproofing a house and then pay compensation for how much less the economic value of the house is… .
Nozick favors the creative use of class action suits by trial lawyers as means to successfully use tort law to resolve the problems of industrial pollution. Indeed, the lawyers are trying.
The problems with Nozick’s argument are not in his support of making the polluter pay. The ethical problem with the tort solution for pollution lies in the undeserved faith in the conduct of Nozick’s free individuals operating in an industrial market and all the practical difficulties that creates. The incentives and signals given to industrial market participants remove restraint from individuals without an understanding of consequences. We can intentionally act in good faith and unintentionally cause great harm. And, of course, we can also act in bad faith as “black hat” polluters. And the tort solution, empowering courts and judiciary, is a rather strange standpoint for a philosophical anarchist.
Relying on the tort solution for pollution has, in fact, also demonstrated several daunting applied problems with ethical imbrications. First, the remedy is long delayed; second, the remedy is dependent upon the polluter’s ability to pay years later; third, the remedy requires the courts and populace to withstand a near limitless tort burden.
Absent either accurate market price signals to make prices reflect the true costs of pollution, depletion and ecological damage, or protective regulatory oversight, the tort solution to industrial pollution is usually a hopeless effort to put the tooth paste back in the tube. Perhaps Nozick’s individuals in a sustainable market regime might make the right choices, but that means their involvement in the interplay between freedom, community, and biosphere that challenges the privileged position of Nozick profit maximizing deciders.
This is decidedly not an argument for industrial state action as opposed to industrial market action. A realist would suggest that the largest, most expensive and potentially destructive hard path technologies of industrialism, mega-hydro dams and nuclear power systems are imposed, paid for, or massively subsidized by governments because no one in the market would take the risk.
Industrialism has, nevertheless, been forced to embrace limits on some of its worse abuses a la Richard Nixon. These necessary, and often important reforms, did not transform the conduct of industrialism toward the pursuit of ecological sustainability. These were limits generally imposed on the margin, that is, upon additional amounts of pollution from expanded operations.
The industrial environmental model is to grandfather, to the extent possible, existing levels of pollution, depletion, and ecological damage and permit those to continue without cost as if they had no consequence. Our climate changing behavior therefore remains a right, not a cost. This is a cost which if properly assessed would change behavior.
Alternatively, the enforcement of new pollution regulations are sometimes endlessly postponed (e.g. old coal power plant emissions limits forever delayed under the Clean Air Act). Occasionally, limits would reduce the worst pollutants, and even eliminate them, if allegedly less harmful substitutes were available or could be soon developed (e.g. for lead in gasoline and ozone destroying Freon refrigerants.).
Climate changing behavior is apparently a fundamental industrial right, a commandment pursued vigorously by individuals, corporations, and governments. Carbon and its unhindered release is both central to the economic well being and continued suzerainty of the global Empire of Oil with its government and corporate management. We can exercise the freedom offered to us in an industrial context – that is, the freedom to drive what we want (including subsidized 400 horsepower gasoline behemoths) and wherever we want (there being little or no mass transit in a society organized around long distance commuting) by burning oil that must be kept at an affordable price.
While in 1970, for most of us, including Rawls and Nozick, the import and impact of our behavior may not have been fully apparent. This is certainly not the case in the 21st century. We must use our freedom in sustainable ways or we will lose it. That’s an ecological ethics in practice.
The nuts and bolts of sustainable social practice where ethics becomes reality, means, first, getting the market prices right so they send clear signals that the pursuit of sustainability is rewarded and self-destructive pollution is not; second, the parallel adoption of other relevant market rules supporting sustainability, for example, an electric utility revenue model increasing the utility’s rate of return in response to increased efficiency and distributed generation; and, third, investment in the renewable resource infrastructure, facilitated by a combination of sustainable financial engineering, eco tax policy, and targeted government savings and investment to overcome market failure.
Greening Rawls and Nozick
Sustainability is absent as a concept in A Theory of Justice. And, in fact, Rawls states that an expansion of his theory to include rights as fairness seems “to include only our relationship with other persons [i.e. those that are rational and can give rights and justice] and to leave out account of how we are to conduct ourselves with animals and the rest of nature.” Rawls calls this question of “first importance” but outside the scope of contract theory.
Here, Rawls is following the “logic” of contract theory that eliminates the living context from consideration in matters of justice as fairness. Rawls thus pays unconscious obeisance to the self-destructive proclivities of an industrialism that can dispense with the living world, instead of embracing it as inseparably imbricated in all issues of freedom, community, and democracy including justice as fairness or otherwise expressed.
Sustainability, however, in my view, if not that of John Rawls, is surely consonant with Rawls discussion not only of the good but of justice between generations. Rawls suggests that people, in his “original position”, that is, if unaware which generation they represent, “are to consider their willingness to save at any given phase of civilization with the understanding that the rates they propose are to regulate the whole span of accumulation. In effect, then, they must choose a just savings principle that assigns an appropriate rate of accumulation at each level of advance.”
This question, however, is posed more as a question of, “How much?” than addressing issues of “How?” and “What?” and “Why?” that are, at least, of co-equal importance for sustainability. Quantity is assumed, under industrialism, to be practically related to quality manifest through our choices of what to do with our shares of goods and social product.
Rawls is focused on social democratic “How much?” questions of distributive justice and necessary minimums. This are addressed based on Rawls’ brilliant “difference principle”-- inequality is unjust unless it means improving the position of the least well off.
A sustainable Rawlsian ethics might suggest that individuals behind the veil of ignorance, unaware of their status, in the original position would choose a fair distribution of ecological goods and services, for example clear air, clean water, healthy foods, stable climate, sustainable forest and fisheries. A Green difference principle could include the application of steps for ecological justice, through improvement of ecological conditions for the poor, with, of course, collateral benefits for all.
The difference principle focused on inequality, means “How much?”, and clearly does not address the self-destructive effects upon all of industrial pollution, depletion, and ecological damage. Sustainability must address questions not only of splitting the pie fairly, but also questions about, “What are the ingredients of the pie?”; “How we obtain them?”; “How do we bake the pie?” Fair distribution, whether mediated by a Rawlsian difference principle or created by the mythic free market of a Nozick or Hayek, is a necessary, but far from sufficient question to be addressed.
Nozick’s minimal state with protective functions, or his utopia with only anarchic exchange relations, is compatible with the pursuit of sustainability if such choices were made by participants. The minimal state can protect the environment much as it guards the coasts and enforces law. It can adopt market rules that sends proper price signals that makes profit and economic growth mean ecological improvement. The same mutually beneficial rules can be voluntarily adopted by the anarchic participants of Nozick’s utopia, as well as agreements for the protection of the environment if sustainability and its dynamics were of shared concern.
Looking backward at our self-destructive conduct, our progeny (one hopes from the standpoint of an ecological civilization) will say, “How could people in the industrial epoch have been so stupid?” A sustainable civilization will have followed many routes, informed by a variety of ethical systems based on available cultural traditions, to address the issues of sustainability to get from an industrial present to an ecological future.
For both Rawls and Nozick, in the 1970s, the root questions of sustainability and industrial proclivities for self-destruction were unparsed. It was not part of the task these leading philosophers recognized or felt moved to consider.
In refreshing contrast, profound engagement with ecological questions, social action, and the self-destructive trajectory of industrialism was apparent to a Murray Bookchin, articulated most fully in his masterwork The Ecology of Freedom. Bookchin was less an academician than activist scholar and outsider who did not begin to believe that he could divorce his social and philosophical explorations from the processes of collective action and change.
Bookchin in an interview late in his life said, “The whole ecological question is up for grabs today, and people should focus on the main thing: to try to create a free, rational — and ecologically oriented — society…And we have to create a movement that is educational and political, that has a real philosophy, a real concept of history, a real economics, a real politics, and a real ecological sensibility.
We do not have to be practitioners of Murray Bookchin’s libertarian municipalism to pursue sustainable ends and practice an ecological ethics. It’s useful to recognize Bookchin’s deep and significant involvement with ecological questions, but it’s vital for us to face the challenges posed by the relationships between freedom, community, and the living world.
Freedom and Ethics
The problems of industrialism are the problems of the exercise of our freedom and our reason (which encompasses our science and economics). The challenge is how we can exercise our freedom and our reason to lead to a sustainable prosperity, to an ecological democracy in which economic growth means ecological improvement, not ecological destruction.
The problem of industrialism is that we can exercise perfectly our freedom and our reason and continue to follow the path of self-destruction. Conceptions of justice as fairness and of seeking the Pareto optimal division of goods in a self-equilibrating market for maximum benefit are unfortunately not necessarily incompatible with standard industrial practice.
Industrial reason is unable to adequately judge the consequences of our actions (in time and in space). This is not a challenge to freedom and autonomy, but it raises a challenge to the flawed nature of traditional conceptions that ignore the entwined and interactive nature of freedom and community and its inextricable connection to the ecosphere.
In the 21st century, we must ask not only is this act fair to others and to myself, but what are the broader consequences? We must recognize and practice a broader moral ecology, that our actions have consequences not just upon one another, but upon the ecosphere which inescapably will affect us and our descendents.
Unless we take this step, even if we follow Kant’s wisdom and treat others not as means, but only as ends, or practice the traditional golden rule, our best intentions will lead to unanticipated and frequently negative consequences. If we clear cut the forest and net all the fish, it doesn’t really matter if we shared equally in the wood, the fish, and the profits.
An ecological ethics need not blaze new ground to convince us of the immorality of self-destruction. Rather, an ecological ethics can open our eyes to see the ways in which our market and industrial behavior can be conditioned to meet ecological ends by establishing, for example, sustainable market rules.
Ethically, if we can get the prices right, then the price system will make the market send signals for sustainability and there will be a convergence between our behavior and its effects. This is not just a matter of green consumerism.
Rather, it is a recognition that in a complex market system, with millions of objects and trillions of purchases, as much information as possible must be contained in prices so that goods and services that are polluting, depleting, and ecologically damaging will cost significantly more than sustainable goods and service.
Ethics tells us we must behave sustainably. Technique through ecological consumption taxation can send proper signals to make it so. Our heart tells us what we should do. Prices tell us what we will do. An ecological ethics focused on the interaction between freedom, community and the ecosphere will help us find the correct practical mechanism to make sustainability real. This is the operational arena for an American pragmatism of a John Dewey, not as philosophical trope, but as a way of encouraging the connection between judging and doing.
We can reclaim the strength of the Enlightenment’s embrace of freedom and reason as route to human autonomy and self-determination and wellspring for democracy. Our industrial night is an unintended consequence of using reason and technique to power the unlimited growth engine of industrialism. We embraced a reductionist freedom and ignored freedom’s interdependence with community and the living world. Freedom or the market is not the culprit, but our uses and abuses of freedom and the market is a problem. The question today, given our near global embrace of autonomy and democracy, is to move toward effective self-control of freedom and markets without the embrace of reactionary authoritarianism, or a nihilist embrace of self-destruction and collapse.
J.B. Schneewind wrote in his magisterial, The Invention of Autonomy:
The conception of morality as self-governance provides a conceptual framework or a social space in which we may each rightly claim to direct our own actions without interference from the state, the church, the neighbors, or those claiming to be better or wiser than we. The older conception of morality as obedience did not have these implications. The early modern moral philosophy in which the conception of morality as self-governance emerged thus made a vital contribution to the rise of the Western liberal vision of the proper relations between individual and society, That form of life could not have developed without the work of moral philosophers.
Our challenge is not to say that Kant and the Enlightenment were wrong and we should cast aside autonomy, freedom, and democracy and embrace theocratic or technocratic rule. Rather, the crisis of industrial civilization suggests that the unintended consequences of autonomy – among them industrialism and individualism (as de Tocqueville most presciently noted of the U.S.) and ecological crisis call for a more ethical and nuanced guide for our practice of autonomy and self-determination that relies on the entwined dynamic of freedom and community and ecosphere.
Sometimes, out of complexity whole new phenomena develop. Sometimes qualitative change appears suddenly. Sometimes, when there are only a few atoms, matter behaves as mostly empty space in a quantum world, but sometimes, when there are enough atoms together, the solid world suddenly emerges. Sometimes, a pond is more than just the sum of its inhabitants.
And as integral part of meeting the ecological challenge, an unjust war system can co-evolve with the development of an ecological democracy to a just peace system. This task is not utopian. It will be one of the consequences, and necessary concomitants to the pursuit of sustainability.
A peace system will not spring full blown from the warring present. Resource wars for oil, for water, for fertile agricultural land are increasingly the leading causus belli in the 21st century as ecological catastrophe gathers. Sustainability as practice will mean that peace is more likely to become the rule, not the exception. But clearly, a peace system can have periods of war, much as a war system can have periods of peace.
Sustainability need inform both our democratic judgment and our ethical sense. Democratic debate driving an ecological turn lies in the understanding that our actions have consequences that there is an inextricable connection between freedom and community and the living world.
A New Golden Rule: Basis for a New Common Sense
In the 21st century, as a popular ethical guide for us as autonomous agents: Do onto others as you would have them do onto you, is no longer sufficient. We must practice a more realistic ethics. Ethical behavior can no longer be limited to simply applying a timeless rules-based morality understood and practiced primarily in interpersonal terms. We need be mindful that the consequences of our actions are inextricably linked with our conduct within the biosphere.
A New Golden Rule must include the injunction: Do onto the earth, as the earth will do onto us.
To practice the New Golden Rule is to practice a moral ecology that recognizes that our actions have consequences not just between people, but between people and the living world. The New Golden Rule expands the scope and consequences of action beyond the individual to all of us. It introduces a new moral calculus of benefit and harm that transcends individuals and is aware of the affects of our actions upon the biosphere and upon ourselves.
A New Golden Rule is not offered as a complete system of ecological ethics. It is, however, a comprehensible tool to foster a new ecological common sense, applicable to school kids, presidents, scientists, consumers, and business leaders.
A New Golden Rule means using our democracy to make decisions that make the pursuit of sustainability a reality in a market economy, to change industrial market rules that reward pollution, to ecological market rules that rewards sustainability.
To see the ecosphere as manifesting a world of both A and B, of trees and forests, members of one encompassing reality, is crucial for our democracy to develop the ability to harmonize the pursuit, for example, of nanotechnology and of dharma Gaia.
A New Golden Rule can help guide democratic decisions to use the most potent emerging high technologies as venues for the pursuit of sustainable prosperity and not for the development of terror weapons. We could, for instance, use nanotech filters made of millions of sheets of carbon layers doped with a catalyst to remove and transform carbon dioxide from power plant exhaust to an innocuous solid such as calcium carbonate.
The engagement with both A and B, going deeper into our choices and understanding those choices we make for good and bad—tov i ra in Bereshit (Genesis) in the Torah—calls for our engagement with everything, the whole of our moral and political reality, our engagement with the one and the many and the encompassing living world.
This New Golden Rule can help guide our daily life and be taught to our children. A New Golden Rule is an ecological ethics becoming a new common sense. This new common sense is grade school stuff, not rocket science, although technical details may indeed be rocket science.
The structure is in the activity, not the enforcement, as good kindergarten and first grade teachers know. The job of an ecological ethics is to inform our choices and self-management within an ecological democracy. Practicing a New Golden Rule will enable us to pick not just A or B, but understand the relationships and value of both A and B. This is the step away from the path of industrial self-destruction. We can make choices, personally and collectively, that account for the seamless connection between ourselves and the embracing living world, in social terms between freedom and community, between the one and the many. This concept should not be strange, other than to self-interested industrial polluters and apologists. The Great Seal of the United States, written on the ribbon in the mouth of the eagle on the back of the dollar bill, affirms: E Pluribus Unum (From Many, One).
We can teach our kids not just the golden rule, but the New Golden Rule. It’s time for us to step off the path toward self-destruction.
Ecological ethics will play an important part in informing the decisions that guide an ecological turn. A New Golden Rule: Do onto the earth, as the earth will do onto us, is an accessible place for us to start. A New Golden Rule can become an important guide to our moral and practical choices.
We are embarking on another of the great human adventures, the evolutionary movement from an industrial to an ecological civilization in which we and our children and their children transform the way we live. We can embrace the sustainable as necessity and opportunity, as a healing response to industrial excess.
The practice of an ecological ethics, co-evolving with our sustainable conduct, will play an important role informing and guiding this great transformation. Ecological ethics address the personal and political, the one and the many, and, above all, the practice of democracy. Ethics will provide guidance as we ask: “Why are we doing this?” and wrestle with issue of “What must we do?”
Ecological ethics will help us participate as world healers in the dynamic interaction of freedom and community and ecosphere. Without freedom, community becomes tyranny. Without community, freedom is solitary license. Without sustainable conduct, both freedom and community will wither.
We share a responsibility for what happens in the 21st century.