Unsprawling

So the New Green Deal is already getting a lot of attention and push-back – both to the good. It’s at least bold enough in some ways to get noticed, if not bold enough in others. For so long, the conversation has been muted by a sense of futility that is quite self-indulgent. Nonetheless…
Not far enough? Correct:

But the Green New Deal has a big blind spot: It doesn’t address the places Americans live. And our physical geography—where we sleep, work, shop, worship, and send our kids to play, and how we move between those places—is more foundational to a green, fair future than just about anything else. The proposal encapsulates the liberal delusion on climate change: that technology and spending can spare us the hard work of reform.

The Environment

America is a nation of sprawl. More Americans live in suburbs than in cities, and the suburbs that we build are not the gridded, neighborly Mayberrys of our imagination. Rather, the places in which we live are generally dispersed, inefficient, and impossible to navigate without a car. Dead-ending cul-de-sacs and the divided highways that connect them are such deeply engrained parts of the American landscape that it’s easy to forget they were, themselves, the fruits of a massive federal investment program.

Sprawl is made possible by highways. This is expensive—in 2015, the Victoria Transport Policy Institute estimated that sprawl costs America more than $1 trillion a year in reduced business activity, environmental damage, consumer expenses, and other costs. Leaving aside the emissions from the 1.1 billion trips Americans take per day (87 percent of which are taken in personal vehicles), spreading everything out has eaten up an enormous amount of natural land.

Tell them what they could win, Jonny:

But the good news is that if we do account for land use, we will get much closer to a safe, sustainable, and resilient future. And even though widespread adoption of EVs is still decades away, reforms to our built environment can begin right now. In short, we can fix this. We build more than 1 million new homes a year—we just need to put them in the right places.*

Unsprawling America isn’t as hard as it sounds, because America is suffering from a critical, once-in-a-lifetime housing shortage. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reported last year that the U.S. has a national deficit of more than 7.2 million affordable and available rental homes for families most in need. Of course, if we build those homes in transit-accessible places, we can save their occupants time and money. But the scale of housing demand at this moment is such that we could build them in car-centric suburbs, too, and provide a human density that would not just support transit but also reduce the need to travel as shops, jobs, and schools crop up within walking distance.

Walking distance needs to become an old/new catch phrase. Also, as another Slate article proclaims, plane trips CAN be replaced by train trips. Not LA to NYC, and not even NYC to Chicago. But most trips under 500 miles and all trips under 300 miles could be taken out of the equation with an updated modest-speed rail system. 100 miles per hour cuts what is a four-hour drive to three (math!), plus airports are never in city centers – you always have to drive in. Bump up the speed to even 150 mph and, well, a 2 hour trip. Math!

Image via Alon Levy on the twitters.

Alps drips dipping Rhine

With all honor to Vic, but something else loves the Alps but hates the snow:

After a prolonged summer drought, the bustling traffic at one of the shallowest points on the Rhine ground to a halt for nearly a month late last year, choking off a critical transport artery. The impact damped Germany’s industrial machine, slowing economic growth in the third and fourth quarters. It was the latest sign of how even advanced industrial economies are increasingly fighting the effects of global warming.

and

With its source high in the Swiss Alps, the Rhine snakes 800 miles through the industrial zones of Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands before emptying into the sea at Rotterdam, Europe’s busiest port. It serves as a key conduit for manufacturers such as Daimler AG, Robert Bosch GmbH and Bayer AG.

When low water halted shipping this summer, steelmaker Thyssenkrupp AG was forced to delay shipments to customers like automaker Volkswagen AG as it couldn’t get raw materials to a mill in Duisburg.

Though not nearly as important a commercial waterway, we saw this on the Elbe during the summer of 2015. ‘What did we think would happen?’ is being displaced by ‘what do we do now?’ Imagine an average teenager in a ‘borrowed’ car, three drinks more than he’s used to, dashed from the drive-through without paying but not before dinging the BK awning and hitting the highway, sees a patrol car pass in the opposite the direction, hit the lights and squall a U-turn. Our answers in a pinch of what’s best to do next might not be the most trustworthy. If we had planned for this, sure, we probably would have had the drinks but maybe not taken the car so no dine-n-dash, cops or DUI fender scuffs. But we did do all those things, in that order, the lights are flashing and sirens blaring. So what do we do now? Our lines are open, higher-than-normal rates apply.

U.S.A., Inc

The corporatization of American politics continues unabated, of course, except it has achieved hyperspace warp speed from the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. Enter Romney, who I guess is supposed to be the lobbyists’ dream candidate. But do they really want to succeed raising the barriers to entry and eliminate their competition? Eliminate corporate taxes and regulations? Do they believe that’s going to create a healthy economy where their companies will flourish? Wait – they don’t care about those things? What do they care about?

The ever-expanding role of lobbyists in politics is a major victory for corporate America. Overwhelmingly, the companies and trade associations that dominate top-dollar lobbyists’ clientele are seeking to protect their own legislated competitive advantages, including special tax breaks, favorable procurement rules and government regulations that prevent new challengers from entering the marketplace.

Republicans should be acutely aware of the dangers posed by the lobbying community. When insurgents led by Newt Gingrich took over the House after the 1994 election, they were determined to open markets, allow free enterprise to flourish and rid the legal and regulatory system of competitive favoritism.

In practice, just the opposite took place. Gingrich, and especially Tom DeLay, ceded enormous power to Washington lobbyists in what they called the K Street Project. Loyal lobbyists were rewarded with earmarks, leadership support for special amendments and the delegated authority to write legislative provisions.

Shortly before he became House whip in 1995, DeLay created Project Relief, a legislated moratorium on new regulations. He appointed Bruce Gates, a lobbyist for the National-American Wholesale Grocers’ Association, to run the project and Gordon Gooch, a petrochemical lobbyist, to write the first draft of the bill. The bill was then modified by Paul C. Smith, an automobile industry lobbyist, and by Peter Molinaro, a lobbyist for Union Carbide.

That was a remains a real question.

On Perfidy

Glenn Greenwald has a nice meta re-cap of his latest encounter with established media re: L’Affair Assange. It’s an instructive reminder of just how inseparable are the ‘who’ that provides your news and the ‘what’ it is supposedly all about:

It’s not news that establishment journalists identify with, are merged into, serve as spokespeople for, the political class:  that’s what makes them establishment journalists.  But even knowing that, it’s just amazing, to me at least, how so many of these “debates” I’ve done involving one anti-WikiLeaks political figure and one ostensibly “neutral” journalist — on MSNBC with The Washington Post‘s Jonathan Capehart and former GOP Congresswoman Susan Molinari, on NPR with The New York Times‘ John Burns and former Clinton State Department official James Rubin, and last night on CNN with Yellin and Townsend — entail no daylight at all between the “journalists” and the political figures.  They don’t even bother any longer with the pretense that they’re distinct or play different assigned roles.

And there are identical notches in that belt for climate, environment, high finance, taxes, business generally… the list is its own scandal. Where does it start? This kind of rot is re-inforced from two directions, at least: the top of the food chain at the journalism-government crossover, and at the j-schools themselves. The kids learn how to network and are instructed by the commencement speakers who demonstrate not how to afflict but how to comfort, and thus move up the hierarchy into the anchor/editor’s chair. It’s all a celebration of career success, practically apart from what makes the career. The notion of muckraking doesn’t even come up; instead the news bleeds towards the most vulnerable, i.e., those least equipped to defend themselves, who can be dissected in public without push back or a loss of advertising revenue. Immigrants, the poor, criminals. I should qualify that: low-level criminals. Accordingly, no voices allowed that vary from the corporate line until the playing field is sufficiently skewed that you can be easily disregarded as a radical for advocating things like… high speed rail.

Oh, the horrors. But the Cossacks work for the Czar. Some of this is in exchange for the comfort we get from news that is based on things like the ‘war on Christmas’, black friday and shark attacks in summer. So it’s in part our fault for not rejecting the poolside, corporate, rolling green carpet viewpoint more stridently. The other part is a testament to how difficult it is to rock the boat, especially when things are going so swell.

So resolve and be resolute – without the self-condemnation of cynicism or conspiracy. There’s more room there to be skeptical than you think.

Billions of Ways to Be Wrong

When you’ve got enough of it, green means being able to influence elections, muddy the water on issues of the day, even fund fake grassroots movements, aka Tea Parties (R.I.P), all to stoke your corporate agenda while you call it libertarianism. Huzzah! Jane Mayer has a well-written and well-reported piece in The New Yorker on the Brothers Koch and their exploits. You should read it all; it’s like contemporary American history in the making:

In a 2002 memo, the Republican political consultant Frank Luntz wrote that so long as “voters believe there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community” the status quo would prevail. The key for opponents of environmental reform, he said, was to question the science—a public-relations strategy that the tobacco industry used effectively for years to forestall regulation. The Kochs have funded many sources of environmental skepticism, such as the Heritage Foundation, which has argued that “scientific facts gathered in the past 10 years do not support the notion of catastrophic human-made warming.” The brothers have given money to more obscure groups, too, such as the Independent Women’s Forum, which opposes the presentation of global warming as a scientific fact in American public schools. Until 2008, the group was run by Nancy Pfotenhauer, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries. Mary Beth Jarvis, a vice-president of a Koch subsidiary, is on the group’s board.

Naomi Oreskes, a professor of history and science studies at the University of California, San Diego, is the co-author of “Merchants of Doubt,” a new book that chronicles various attempts by American industry to manipulate public opinion on science. She noted that the Kochs, as the heads of “a company with refineries and pipelines,” have “a lot at stake.” She added, “If the answer is to phase out fossil fuels, a different group of people are going to be making money, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re fighting tooth and nail.”

I’m as guilty as anyone of narrowing my focus at times and missing the big picture. But the big picture is huge and often difficult to grasp, and it’s good to be reminded that it’s not conspiratorial to think know that some people with means count on this, too, as just another tool in the pouch. Remind yourself that it takes some work to stay informed, that the 1st amendment is a kind of cautionary note, freedom in reverse – not to do nothing, but a responsibility to do more. Way more. Just to find out what you need to know. Especially when we’re as peopled with highly motivated oligarchs as we are. Besides the many other things they are, the Kochs’ activities equal exhibit A for the estate tax. 99.3% at least.

Before Petroleum

One thing that is very difficult to get to, maybe not as difficult as a gushing volcano of oil a mile below the surface of the Gulf, but… just how did we get o this place? With major corporate interests having us all right where they want us, able to create a catastrophe but still leave us unconvinced that we/they should stop the activity that created the situation in the first place. And they are right, in a way, because what would that be? And on top of that, we blame our political leaders for not being able to immediately fix the situation – but not for creating the atmosphere that made the situation possible. See. Difficult. Where do you even start? Maybe 1876?

Johnson’s rocky relations with Congress resulted in an impeachment trial. Johnson survived in office, and was followed by Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant, who was elected in 1868, and reelected in 1872.

The eight years of the Grant administration came to be known for scandal. Financial chicanery, often involving railroad barons, shocked the country. The national economy faced difficult times. And federal troops were still stationed throughout the south in 1876 to enforce Reconstruction.

The Candidates In the Election of 1876

The Republican Party was expected to nominate a popular senator from Maine, James G. Blaine. But when it was revealed that Blaine had some involvement in a railroad scandal, Rutherford B. Hayes, the governor of Ohio, was nominated at a convention that required seven ballots. Acknowledging his role as a compromise candidate, Hayes delivered a letter at the end of the convention indicating he would only serve one term if elected.

On the Democratic side, the nominee was Samuel J. Tilden, the governor of New York. Tilden was known as a reformer, and had attracted considerable attention when, as New York’s attorney general, he prosecuted William Marcy “Boss” Tweed, the famously corrupt political boss of New York City.

The two parties did not have tremendous differences on the issues. And as it was still considered unseemly for presidential candidates to campaign, most of the actual campaigning was done by surrogates. Hayes conducted what was called a “front porch campaign,” in which he talked to supporters and reporters on his porch in Ohio and his comments were transmitted to newspapers.

Waving the Bloody Shirt

The election season degenerated into the opposing sides launching vicious personal attacks on the opposition candidate. Tilden, who had become wealthy as a lawyer in New York City, was accused of participating in fraudulent railroad deals. And the Republicans made much of the fact that Tilden had not served in the Civil War.

Read all about it.