Monthly Archives: April 2014

No Climate Justice, No World Order?

According to a report last November that appeared in the London Guardian, “just 90 companies … between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age,” citing a recent study by the Climate Accountability Institute in Colorado.

“System Change, Not Climate Change.” (Photo c. Indiegogo)

“System Change, Not Climate Change.” (Photo c. Indiegogo)

Even more shocking is the fact that one-half “of the estimated emissions were produced just in the past 25 years.” Michael Klare, an energy resources expert, writes that our society has a carbon addiction, in which now is the terminal stage. Referring to figures from the US Energy Information Administration, Klare notes that in the year 2040 — after humanity passes the climate threshold, incidentally — “four-fifths of the world’s total energy supply” will be derived from oil, coal, and gas.

There is also the issue of what is called climate justice, namely the moral problem that the wealthiest countries in the world bear the brunt of the responsibility for the crisis and it is the poorest countries in the world that will bear the brunt of the consequences of the crisis. But if you ask the law professor Eric Posner, climate justice is a poison pill for any possible climate accord: “countries will need to negotiate a climate treaty that does not redistribute wealth from rich countries to poor countries,” a plan proposed by nation-states like Bangladesh to be compensated (one figure puts it at $100 billion, to start) for the damage wrought by the 90 corporations from the global north.

Unleashing a hybridization of Captain Planet and Robin Hood is a non-starter, then. That might be too bad, because it would be just if the global south, which by any measure has far less culpability for creating the climate change conundrum, received its due compensation for its far larger share of the likely and imminent effects of accelerating climatic changes that are going to outstrip human ability to adapt especially in places like Bangladesh, home to 160 million people.

It is useful to imagine the severity of the costs of not compensating countries, not only on the moral equation but also in the interests of maintaining some kind of world order that will not devolve into anarchic violence as millions eventually become refugees and fight over dwindling resources. This is a living nightmare. But the fear cannot paralyze decision-makers, who still have some time and a lot of power on their side.

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A Note On Human Security

In another time and space, the great-grandfather of hip-hop, Gil-Scott Heron, said these words: “Americans no longer fight to keep their shores safe / just to keep the jobs going in the arms-making workplace / and then they pretend to be gripped by some sort of political reflex / but all they’re doing is paying dues to the military-industrial complex.”

A fighter jet flies over low-lying land. (Photo c. The Guardian)

A fighter jet flies over low-lying land. (Photo c. The Guardian)

That premonition has only become more and more prescient. Heron’s target was the first Persian Gulf war, but it applies to a much wider scope of military actions that are sold to the public as crusades for freedom and democracy. A fearsome, swarthy tyrant also makes for a worthy adversary, even if he was an asset last week. He may be a sonofabitch but he’s our sonofabitch, like the liberal Democrat F.D.R. once famously said; he was describing Somoza, the Nicaraguan dictator. We would not want him to be someone else’s bastard, eh?

“The only problem with peace,” Heron adds later on in the song, titled “Work For Peace,” is “that you can’t make no money from it.” This is doubtless the case. There is no such thing as a peace-profiteer, or a humanitarian-industrial complex. Civil society groups are vastly underfunded and understaffed, especially when compared to the various problems they work very hard to address. One looming threat among many to be faced in the near future is a global food and water crisis, which is not a matter of supply but of distribution. Water itself, though, may ultimately be about supply; only a tiny fraction of the world’s aqua is drinkable. Let’s hope for widespread and cheap desalination. If people thought the blood for oil trade was bad, and it is, just wait for blood for water. Nothing is more basic to human survival. Privatization attempts, say in Latin America, were responded to with massive popular uprisings that put a stop to the privatizing schemes. How dare multinational corporations try to put a price on water, anyway. Of course, another focus is on the demonstrators: how dare they resist.

The next shift in consciousness will arrive when people stop discussing national security and begin talking about human security. It will not take too long, since there are imminent—in geologic time, that is—climate shocks that will force the issue. One report in Scientific American suggests that the planet, according to the recent and most alarming yet report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “will cross a threshold into environmental ruin by 2036.” Another way of putting that is there is still time to act, but not much, and serious action needs to happen now. The real controversy is not whether reality is real, but rather that the reality does not seem to spur enough to act in order to try to avert the worst probable scenario, in which all of humanity “will be exposed to potentially irreversible climate changes.” There is no point in panicking or despairing at such news. This is the challenge of our age. It is not too late, and there is no time to waste.

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Election in Afghanistan Testament to Power of Fear

The upcoming election in Afghanistan does not only represent the end of Hamid Karzai’s reign, but also symbolizes the beginning of the next regime to fight the Taliban once US forces withdraw by the end of the year. Azam Ahmed reports that the district governor of Logar Province, Khalilullah Kamal, believes that the word governmenthas no meaning here.”

The outcome of the vote is up in the air. (Photo c. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)

The outcome of the vote is up in the air. (Photo c. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)

Afghan “security forces are facing a Taliban campaign of violent disruption that has repeatedly struck at Western and government targets,” in a brazen attempt to strike enough fear into the heart of the society that it will not want to turn out to vote Saturday. Thousands of foreign troops still occupy the country, as well, which means that ordinary Afghans are caught between the terrorism of the Taliban and the government’s heavy-handed response, while US and international forces are in the background.

This picture hardly connotes the conditions of a “free” vote, but it is no doubt inspiring to see the tenacity of those who will show up at the polls no matter what. Whatever happens next, it is clear that the Taliban know who their next enemy will be and have shifted tactics, targeting elections officials instead of the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army.

The next head of state of perhaps the most war-torn land in the world will face off the Taliban or become consumed or co-opted by them. Without foreign forces around to intervene on Kabul’s behalf, the odds do not look promising. But nothing is etched in stone. The people of Afghanistan still have a choice. However, their options continue to narrow.

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Supreme Court Legalizes Oligarchy

Yesterday the Supreme Court decided to abolish campaign finance law, which will allow anyone to have the freedom to donate unlimited amounts of money to whomever they want to run the country.

One Dollar, One Vote. (Photo c. Toledo Blade)

One Dollar, One Vote. (Photo c. Toledo Blade)

In other words, by a 5-4 decision led by so-called “conservative” justices, the highest court in the land has decided to legalize oligarchy. Adam Liptak, the New York Times legal correspondent, records that the ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission “reflected sharply different visions

of the meaning of the First Amendment and the role of government in regulating elections, with the majority deeply skeptical of government efforts to control participation in politics, and the minority saying that such oversight was needed to ensure a functioning democracy.

Justice Breyer read the dissent from the bench, a move which signaled “deep disagreements.” The industry journal Advertising Age quoted Breyer as adding that, along with the 2010 Citizens United decision, McCutcheon “eviscerates our nation’s campaign-finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”

These are not mere abstract philosophical differences, either. In an analytical piece on the decision, Times politics reporter Nicholas Confessore observes that the only ones who will benefit are the big money players and the alleged public servants who want their support.

Democracy may have been for sale for a long time under the table, but now there is a legal precedent for bringing transaction campaigning into the open for all to see. Why this radical activist court is said to be controlled by “conservatives” is quite odd. We are talking about throwing away decades of jurisprudence on the power of money in politicking. Money used to be a chit; now it’s speech. Money talks, indeed. It is the loudest megaphone around.

Why bother with the whole charade of “public office”? It looks more like an extortion racket, where the general public funds the budget priorities of super-wealthy campaigners. In return, the legislator (or governor, judge, and any other office-holder) cashes in after carrying out whatever shadowy agenda he was purchased to carry out by switching over to “the private sector.” The decision, described by Chief Justice John Roberts as affirming “the right to participate in electing our political leaders,” is being celebrated by proponents of “small government,” which becomes in effect a euphemism for big business.

In The New Right: We’re Ready to Lead (1980), Richard Viguerie wrote, “More than in past years, growing numbers of business and association PACs [political action committees] spent their money wisely on free enterprise and national defense candidates.” These are terms of propaganda that refer, respectively, to corporate welfare and to the military contracting industry which is a key part of the former. Viguerie’s descendants are cheering that a very small slice of the population has the untrammeled right to make decisions for everyone else.

The country gets to be run by those who own it, as the founders intended—at least, according to the radical activist majority that presides on the court currently. Justice Breyer is right to worry about what he called “democratic legitimacy”: how is it legitimate to call ourselves democratic when the people with the most money, and therefore the most power, now have official sanction to make the most consequential decisions?

In effect, what happened is the Supreme Court just gave its stamp of approval — by a very slim majority — on where things have been going over the years, and that is toward plutocracy. The last presidential election cost $6 billion between both parties. That amount of money could be thought of as a measure of the democratic deficit. It is up to the imagination to surmise how much will show up on the tab next time.

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