Friday, February 19, 2010

Gold Medal for Gall

First, my apologies to the neighbors: Watching the Winter Olympics the other night I think I uttered a sound somewhere between a Lindsey Vonn triump-shriek and a Howard Dean scream. What was the cause of my outburst? Was it Yevgeny Plushenko's haircut; Apollo Ohno's annoying little beard; or the dearth of Olympic-level Welsh snowboarders? No, it was the coal commercial.

What glued me to my seat during the the commercial break (the point at which I usually head to the kitchen) was a coal ad that managed to combine carbon sequestration with a soldier serving overseas. I couldn't quite connect the dots but, after my initial high-decibel response, I reflected on the sheer scale of the achievement and raised my beer in a salute to the spin doctors of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, the fossil-fuel front group. Riding high on their success in snagging $3.8 billion of our money in last year's stimulus bill, the coal industry has pulled off the truly Olympian feat of bracketing their climate-changing, asthma-inducing product with athletics and heroism.

Climate vandalism as athletic patriotism; I hadn't thought of it that way before. If I was in charge of medal distribution, they'd get a gold for gall.

But I'm not in charge of medal distribution, nor am I in charge of tax-dollar distribution. That's the remit of the Democratic Congress and White House, which recently treated their fossil-fuel and tree-burning allies to a few bucket-loads of loot while underwriting loans for the nuclear lobby. For example, they're giving $1 billion to the coal industry to build a new "clean coal" (sic) plant in Illinois and $8 billion in federal loan guarantees for two new nuclear reactors in Georgia. That's spreading the wealth around, all right.

On a happier note, before settling down with the family to watch the Winter Olympics I had been at a Green Party meeting in Amherst where two statewide candidates, Jill Stein (running for Governor) and Nat Fortune (running for State Auditor), made the case for voting GRP in the November elections.

When a member of the audience asked Jill what we should do about the coal-burning power station at Mount Tom, her answer was simple and direct: "We need to close it down."

Amen to that.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


The number of Britons who acknowledge the reality of climate change has fallen, according to a recent BBC poll.

I shall be offering no prizes (repeat, no prizes) for guessing the source of climate confusion in the land of my birth. But if you guessed "oil companies," give yourself a pat on the back.

ExxonMobil is one of the fossil-fuel giants behind a network of right-wing think tanks successfully pushing climate-change-denialism into the popular media, says the UK's Independent newspaper.

The bright side? It's not only Americans who are falling prey to corporate-sponsored climate-change denialism. Apparently a British accent is no predictor of intellectual ability or an indication of inherent authority after all, although any of my students (or offspring) who happen to have stumbled across this blog should disregard that last comment. I really do know best.

In the face of the Right's success in making climate-change denialism part of the debate among grown-ups who ought to know better, how should green social democrats respond? One option is to continue supporting Democratic office-holders who talk a good game about climate-change solutions but vote for decidedly dodgy cap-and-trade non-solutions like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). For a strong indictment of carbon-trading I recommend Mark Schapiro's "Conning the Climate" in the current Harper's Magazine.

Another option, popular among Democratic activists and voters alike during the senatorial special election, was to take what I think of as the Comfy Chair Option. My goal in this post is to urge readers to renounce that option and all its works. But I do understand its appeal.

After a decade of directionless Democratic supermajorities in Massachusetts and a year of Democratic under-achievement at the national level, many Bay State progressives are feeling disappointed, disaffected, and distraught. Yes, there is a welcoming home waiting for them in the Green Party, but even I (a Green with the zeal of the convert) have to admit to a continuing dearth of legislative candidates and active local branches. And on the path from Democratic to Green is the comfy chair of alienation.

Some contributors to the Dem blog BlueMassGroup are having a healthy and robust debate about the merits of fighting on within the party as opposed to supporting third-party candidates, among them my friend Leo Maley, who managed my successful 2004 campaign for Governor's Council. One of Leo's observations that jumps off the screen is that the 25 open seats in this year's legislative elections present progressives with an opportunity to change the dynamic of the State House for the next decade.

As the manufacture and dissemination of news increasingly becomes the preserve of the major corporations, it becomes even more important to jump into the public arena and stay there, particularly the part of the arena dedicated to electoral politics. Whether progressives devote their resources to fighting on within the Democratic Party or to taking it outside by joining the Greens matters less than their decision to shun the comfy chair.

I would like some of those 25 districts Leo mentions to end up in Green hands, but in the absence of Green candidates that hardly seems likely. On the other hand, potential Green candidates reading this should note that it's not too late to take out papers. Or persuade a friend to run. Or if you're sticking with the Dems and yo're in one of those 25 districts, support the greenest social democrat in the race. Anything but the comfy chair.

By the way, regular readers may have noticed that whatever the question I happen to pose in Mass Greens, the answer is usually "run for office as a Green." So stay tuned for my upcoming post "What should we do about the Celtics ranking 29th out of 30 in rebounding?"