Recently instead of writing longer essays I have been writing short commentaries on articles in the media, primarily the Boston Globe and the Progressive Review. I have kept a file of the ones I have written in the last month and will include a few of them here. Sometimes the commentary is self-explanatory, but often it needs a bit of context to be relevant. Where they do not need context, I just present the essay. When necessary, I will include a few sentences to explain the article they are a commentary on. The articles with this label Prosperity For RI are the ones that were in the on line Boston Globe comments section
The MBTA has had a lousy month with crashes and fires.
June 22 Boston Globe
To run a culture of excellence at the MBTA would require that the people of MA (and everywhere else) tell their political leadership that they are willing to actually pay the cost of running a mass transit system and that it must prioritize safe and green as gasoline goes away and more people are going to need to use non-auto mobility options.
Two things that are always at the top of my mind are the climate and the business climate
First commentary was on an article showing a chart pointing out greenhouse gas emissions are growing faster than the population
June 22 progressive review
We keep getting told that the economy shall be dematerialized and de carbonized so that it can grow forever. But it cannot grow infinitely on a finite planet overcooking its life support systems and systematically depleting the resource base and especially the forests.
And of course, with the economic craziness of the last 2 decades the emissions of carbon have grown faster than the population, which clearly says dematerialization is a myth.
6/27/2022 Boston globe article on a way to reduce flooding in Boston
Several things about this are troubling. First and foremost is that rising temperatures will harm the overall economy. So, developers are a lousy source of money for resilience. Further points. If Antarctica melts, sea level rise is 200 feet. Seawalls will not cut it. Nothing in the article pointing out the need for zero emissions buildings everywhere. Nothing in the article offering up the idea that we need to seriously look a retreating from the coast. Trees are a good way to slow down catastrophic flooding, and reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, but they do not stop the flooding from sea level rise. The entire article sounds like the rich grasping at straws to protect their money without taking the issue with the seriousness it deserves and that our society requires for survival
As human populations turn more and more forest into farmland humans come ever closer to vast reservoirs of animal disease. Climate change is linked to this by a variety of pathways. One is that deforestation contributes to climate change. Another is that climate change is causing droughts and floods, forcing people to move into new territories to farm. Another is that warmer temperatures increase the range of various disease carrying insects. Our response ought to be to increase public health monitoring of forests, strengthen public health infrastructure, and reduce carbon pollution, but I sort of doubt that this country will be able to muster the political will.
The climate catastrophe will kill everything if we keep adding to fossil fuel consumption. Using more fossil fuels will tank the economy before we all die. If we had been smart, I know Americans never do the right thing until every other possibility is exhausted, we would have made the switch 30 years ago.
One of the biggest problems for many countries has been the dependence upon fossil fuels economically. Countries that are fossil fuel giants without much else in the economy tend very strongly to become dictatorships. Saudi Arabia and Russia come to mind. If we want a healthy democracy, and a healthy planet, we have to use the current crisis to speed up the development of carbon free energy.
While these kinds of things may reduce wave action and damage in a big storm, they do nothing about the inexorable rise of sea level. And they do not work as well as salt marshes. Our real choice is to start an organized retreat from the coast and to give up fossil fuels.
Several other articles today discussed various aspects of climate without room for comments. Natural Gas is a bridge fuel to nowhere. It just supports petro states like Russia. Germany made a mistake. When weaning from nukes it should have gone totally to wind, but decided to use gas. Now they are dependent upon Russia. When war in Ukraine hit, the idea of drilling more pops up but it is a loser. Short term gain, more long-term disaster. We need a WW2 type effort to stop all fossil fuel use. Now.
Narragansett Bay has warmed 3 degrees in 50 years. Gulf of Maine is much warmer as well. Average temperatures are up, more than almost anywhere else except the arctic. If you looked at the temperature graph the blue lines reach the record numbers on the up side several times this year, but we have set no record lows this year. If all of the record days are on the high side of the ledger and the average is up, pretty obvious we are getting significantly warmer.
What hardly any economist is doing is figuring climate change into the equations. The climate catastrophe is devastating the economy. Look at the low water in the Colorado River and its effect on power generation and the food supply. And look at the fires. What we need to straighten out the economy is a New Deal/World War approach to eliminate fossil fuels from the economy. That would also limit Putin’s hold on the west.
Economists are not very good at looking at things holistically. Neoliberalism is based on formulas that do not reflect reality, and reality will never fit the models no matter how much they are massaged. Until climate and collapsing ecosystems are completely integrated into economic planning, we shall continue to be at the mercy of the wizards of Wall st and all of the mistakes they regularly make.
The choices are not A or B. It is that in order to deal with the climate catastrophe we need to do many many things, and to do them at an appropriate scale, one commensurate with the deadliness of the issues. Eliminate fossil fuel use as fast as possible is of course number one on the list. Provide as much clean energy as possible, without deforestation or other damaging things is number 2. Stop building oversized and inefficient housing. Switch people to non-motorized and public transportation. Rebuild soils and forests. Prioritize lower income neighborhoods for fixes because it will save more lives and money. Listen to indigenous communities and their wisdom on land use practices.
Then start retreating from the coast, depaving roads, managing stormwater for beneficial uses and other forms of adaptation. These are secondary because if we do not reduce fossil fuel burning all will be overwhelmed anyways.
We have delayed enough. At this point delay is a crime against humanity as millions will die. So let us get moving NOW.
First thing is to kick the fossil fuel habit. Fast. Then plant a lot more trees. Open cooling centers 24/7 during heat waves. Ban cars driving into downtown. Everyone running air conditioners blasts more heat into the atmosphere so those without it get even hotter.
What we have is the rich stay cool, they run more air conditioners and go to the Cape. The poor die. We need solutions at all scales, from individual to global. Only the people who appear to be running the planet are bloodthirsty killers. Putin does not want an end to fossil fuel use. it is how he runs his war machine. Xi is not ready to quit burning fuels, he wants to grow his war machine. Trump just wanted to line the pockets of the fossil fuel barons. Manchin just wants more money for coal companies.
But everything is on fire. And the poor are dying.
The Business Climate
Several times in the last month the idea of how important the business climate is has come up. I have researched this for a long time, and the data is very clear. Business climates have no predictive value for economies. In other words, there is no correlation between the business climate and the performance of the economy.
There is an East Side (of Providence) neighborhood list I will copy here what I sent to that newsletter, which includes a commentary I sent to the Boston Globe
7/14/22 East side newsletter
I have been paying attention to the discussion about the business climate for more than 10 years, so I read the Boston Globe article on the same study. This is what I left on the Globe website and I think it is just as relevant here
“There has never been a statistically valid study that demonstrates that a good business climate has anything to do with the strength of an economy. Other factors such as history and natural resources have a much greater influence and the business climate may affect at most 5% of an economy. In other words, no one could ever find anything noticeable about how the business climate affected economic growth.
I know it is an article of faith that the business climate is important, but have you ever seen an actual report, not some PR flack report from a business group, that demonstrates the effect? I have asked newspaper reporters and state agencies to show me one for years, and no one has ever showed me one. Google searches also do not bring anything that is peer reviewed. If you want to see the data, go to my blog ProsperityForRI.com and check out the reports I have written which all contain many sources.’
Here are some further comments
Think about the data. Rhode Island always ranks near the very bottom, of business climate rankings but we have a per capita income right in the middle of the pack, and unemployment better than the national average. In other words, no correlation between ranking and performance. But actually, what you would expect in a place with a very old and much faded industrial base that is rather dependent upon tourism, and in which the biggest local banks have been gobbled up by corporate giants and no longer pay attention to small places.
The business climate indexes were started by James Buchanan who was a professor at the University of Virginia and later at George Mason University. He was a long time racist with a deliberate political program to undo civil rights and to undo environmental protection. If you look at the heart of the business climate rankings what they are based on is low taxes on the rich, a lack of protections for civil rights and workers’ rights, and weak environmental protections. I challenge all the readers of Cheryl’s newsletter to find even one statistically valid study that says protecting the environment is bad for the economy. The Clean Air Act has provided economic activity that is more than 40 times what it cost to implement, and that is without adding in all of the benefits of cleaner air such as reduced health care spending. It has been a tremendous source of innovation, and allowed us to export clean technology around the world. Same thing for the Clean Water Act. Think about the costs of climate change, with fires, droughts, heat waves. Would weaker environmental laws help us? The General Accounting Office has plenty of data that shows faster economic growth in the US consistently correlates with higher taxes on the rich.
Let us call the business climate industry by its real name. It is a philosophy designed to benefit the rich, and skew economic policy towards the rich by undercutting democracy. It is not based on real data, just a fascist political philosophy that would like to do away with democracy. If you do not believe me, look it up. Check out James Buchanan and look in the pages section of ProsperityForRI.com and read any of the articles with Business Climate in the title. And if you really want to refute my opinion, present some real data, not some puff piece by some paid shill for the very rich.
I have a file for an article on “Are we ready for the next pandemic” I add to it occasionally, but it has really been too hot to do the concerted effort that it takes to write such a thing, and besides the answer is obvious, we are totally Unprepared. But here are a few things I have written on public health recently. The monkeypox outbreak adds urgency to this discussion
I totally agree with the editorial. The US, like most of the world, has been unable to stop the Covid pandemic. The virus has evolved differently than most viruses seem to, and that has complicated issues. We are also not taking any steps to prevent the next pandemic. The US needs to rebuild our own public health infrastructure, work to stop deforestation around the world (nearly all of the zoonotic viruses come from forested areas that people are rapidly deforesting) and give more help to those places that do not have enough vaccine or the ability to get it into arms.
But the real reason we are unprepared to end the Covid pandemic or prevent the next one is that a segment of the political spectrum has decided that rebuilding the public health infrastructure interferes with their freedom (you know the freedom to kill your grandmother) and because many of the things necessary to prevent the next pandemic align with what we need to do to stop the climate catastrophe.
Until this country returns to a truly science based public health system, rebuilds our capacity, aligns our policies with the best climate science, and better educates people about how science and viruses work, we shall continue to have disaster follow disaster, and the only people who should be blamed are the science deniers among the right wing of the American political spectrum. People who think that masks do not work, that staying out of crowded places does not work, that vaccines do not work are the truly un-American and should have their own country on some island where they cannot infect the rest of us.
We all know the science, but the biggest obstacles to good public health in the US are political, whereas we do not fund public health, and maintain the most expensive healthcare system in the world, which prevents many people from seeking health care when they need it.
Monkey pox is another of the viruses coming out of the destruction of tropical forests. We need to stop deforestation and rebuild public health infrastructure. Either that or find a virus that only affects those opposed to public health infrastructure.
Monkey pox is a forest disease that spread to people. it probably first reached humans by people eating monkeys and preparing the monkeys for cooking. Many people caught Ebola by preparing bodies for funerals. But that was not the only transmission source.
What is also clear is that communities with pandemic experience, and the willingness to protect public health are much more capable of containing an outbreak. In this country that often means communities that went through a serious HIV outbreak. And have a more progressive politics that avoids labeling people with an illness as others. Unfortunately, many of the commentators who are labeling also have no real interest in rebuilding public health infrastructure.
One might think the Covid pandemic would have taught us that we need public health infrastructure, and the data bears out that in places where public health is neglected or even politically opposed, the death rates have been much higher. That statistic should be eye opening to those opposing public health measures, but instead the higher death rates have become a badge of honor. Kind of scary for those of us thinking about future pandemics coming out of the forest and what it will take to respond to them.
One of the biggest problems in American healthcare is that instead of funding prevention we actually spend nearly all the money on the latest gizmos and super expensive biotechnologies that help only a very small part of the population. For instance, we have among the highest maternal mortality rates in the industrial world. Life expectancies are low. Overall we are 1st in cost, 37th in delivery. Our priorities need to shift from expensive medicine to public health, but of course protecting the public is not as profitable for the wall st wizards.
Foreign policy and politics
6/24/22 progressive review
It appears the Supreme Court has decided to kill everyone. The abortion decision means that with our lousy healthcare system and high maternal death rates more women will die in childbirth. The Supreme Court decision on guns means more children getting shot in schools, more Black churches getting shot up, more people getting killed by partners. Next week there will be a decision taking away the power to reduce carbon pollution, which means more fires, floods, crop failures, heat waves and dirty air. The Republican party claims to be pro-life, but has mostly become a death cult. Death in our communities and death to the planet.
The next thing you are going to see is passport controls at state borders. If TX starts to prosecute women who have an abortion in another state, some state will prosecute any TX official that comes to the state. to investigate. Then it gets really stupid.
What the right wing always seems to forget is that if they do not want the government regulating what they want to do, they owe a reciprocal liberty to people who do not like what they wish to regulate. If they want guns, we want a freedom from guns. If their state says it does not want abortions, we can say abortions, while not a great thing, are available to all who need them.
If we are choosing freedom, then all of us have the right to be free.
The US military stopped drafting because it did not want people who opposed the empire in the military. So, the US now has a military full of white supremacists. We saw how that turned out on January 6 when white supremacist militias tried to overthrow democracy.
What we seem to have now is that the rich old men of the Congress think more money and a bigger military will solve all our problems, but the young people are voting with their feet. (And ever since the Supreme Court made voting harder, voting with their feet seems to be their only option)
What we need in this country is a serious discussion about what kind of military the American people want. Throw the military contractors out of the halls of Congress, stop listening to the generals, and invite about 1000 young people at random to testify in front of congress about the kind of military the US should have. do we want to be the world’s policeman? Is it right to spend more than the next 10 nations in military spending spend together? is it right to have lousy health care but more bullets and guns than any other country? Do we need nearly 800 military bases around the world?
If the young people of America are the future, maybe we need to listen to them. If they do not want to join the military, maybe we need a SMALLER military.
Everyone agrees that the Iranians were actually abiding by the agreement. Trump ripped it up. If it can be reinstated, it would be a good thing. The Israelis do not always see clearly, but now even some of their own experts are calling for the deal to go forward. Diplomacy is always better than war. Trump who had someone write “The art of the deal” for him, should have known, but was too blind to see. Putting a deal back together is in the long-term interest of everyone.
I have always believed that the US has the obligation to take in refugees and immigrants from all of the countries where the US has invaded, where the CIA overthrew the government, where we have propped and/or armed up dictators, where trade policies have forced farmers off their land, and where climate disasters, linked to American emissions ( the US has emitted more carbon than any other country so all climate disasters are linked to American emissions) has made life untenable. Until we become much more of a good neighbor, we should take in all the refugees we have created.
Boston globe lte 7/24/22
To the Editor,
John Yoo has a little op-ed defending Donald Trump and saying the January 6 hearings have not been convincing. At the end of the op-ed he is identified by several organizations he works with, but nowhere does it mention that John Yoo was one of the architects of the policies of torture for prisoners the US held in Iraq and Afghanistan. The man is a bloodthirsty killer with no morals. Of course, he defends Donald Trump. A little note at the end of his op-ed identifying him for his most heinous acts might have influenced public opinion. But it also would have allowed the public to understand the context from which he wrote.