The power of the Frame

Good catch by Fallows here.

See if you can guess how the lead paragraph of the story ends. It begins this way:

“Americans are using more gadgets, televisions and air conditioners than ever before. But, oddly, their electricity use is barely growing, …”

Possible choices for the rest of the paragraph are:

(a) “… reflecting hard-won efficiencies in electric-power use by industries and utilities.”

(b) “… raising hopes that economic growth can coexist with reduced resource-use and greenhouse-gas emissions.”

(c) “… which together with increased shale-gas production may hasten the era of ‘energy independence’ for the United States.”

(d)”… posing a daunting challenge for the nation’s utilities.”

OK, you peeked, and know that the real answer is (d).

The objectivity of news versus the corporate mentality. Fallows says there is no way to be objective about news that some outlets will report one way and others will report another, but I think this skips a vital point about our susceptibility to corporate propaganda. Corporate messaging takes us, by ambulance, to the monument of corporate personhood. There, cases like Citizens United are debatable, while back on the street or over the fence, the look silly. Editors at major news outlets allow corporate personhood to become another point of view, but we have to view this is as a fundamental corruption we live with voluntarily and not allow it slip into yet another example where views merely differ.


Many kids, when they first go off to college, are considered green in a way. But what if you went off to college just o be lucky enough to sit in a class taught by genius NYT columnist David Brooks?

According to its description, the course promises to explore “The premise that human beings are blessed with many talents but are also burdened by sinfulness, ignorance, and weakness,” as demonstrated by men such as Moses, Homer, and “others,” like maybe Paul Krugman. “I taught at Yale about six or seven years ago and at Duke since and really enjoyed it,” Brooks told Intelligencer, “so I was pleased to be able to do it again. I’m going to commute up Mondays and Tuesdays each week.”

But yes, he knows how it sounds. “The title of the Humility course is, obviously, intentionally designed to provoke smart ass jibes, but there’s actually a serious point behind it,”

I wish I was kidding about this, and I bet many of the kids at Yale do to. Brooks is the conservative many liberals love to love. But they should get real; Brooks is a tool. And probably a more dangerous one in that his rabid foam comes in colors and flavors that so many people find acceptable. Caveat discipulus.

Clueless on the optics

Trying to watch some professional athletic competition with the Green boy yesterday, we had this Romney/Crossroads ad forced on us. We both groaned but continued watching. And then we both noticed the atmospherics on display. I mean, how can you miss them?

A woman in her very ample kitchen, with the door open, is watching an Obama ad on her iPad. It finishes and she turns to the camera and says something like: “Mr. President, what are you going to do to help my family?”

Okay, she lives someplace where her door can just stay open, has a giant, well equipped kitchen and complains about an Obama ad she is watching on her iPad. Really? Do I need to explain to you geniuses that no, lady, helping your family isn’t the priority. You seem to be doing fine.

The people making and paying for these ads are clueless. Let them plead their case!

It’s… It’s…


Via DL, on fB, Bloomberg looks downtown:

Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.

Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it: At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores, and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent, and underwater.

Green car Go


Via IC, notoriously unreliable fuel source causing chaos in California. If California is the future and $5 gas prices are the present, are you still following me and I don’t mean on the twitter machine?

Unless he’s been reading the news, my neighbor probably has no idea that California is enduring a sudden, surprising and, for other people, very painful spike in gasoline prices, which in some parts of the Southland have crossed the $5-a-gallon mark. This is creating a serious economic hardship for many. After all, not everybody can afford a $35,000 electric car to replace their gas-guzzler, and $90 or more to fill the tank of an SUV is real money. That got me wondering: When you consider all the costs of owning and operating a new car in this environment of soaring gas prices, is my neighbor a genius or a chump?

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center has an interesting tool on its website for comparing the costs of fuel and ownership of nearly every motor vehicle sold in the U.S. I compared my neighbor’s Leaf to seven other popular 2012 gas-powered models, including the hybrid Toyota Prius, given current local electricity prices and figuring the average current price of gas at $4.75 a gallon. Here’s what I came up with:

Fuel costs for the Leaf come to 22 cents per mile, far lower than any other car on my list (the other models I picked, besides the Prius, were the BMW 328i luxury sedan, Ford Focus compact, Honda Civic compact, Honda CR-V crossover, Mini Cooper subcompact and Toyota Camry sedan). The popular Prius hybrid, no surprise, was the next cheapest to fuel, at 29 cents per mile. Closest behind were the Focus at 33 cents per mile and the Mini at 34 cents. Turning to annual operating cost, the Leaf is again a big winner at $2,629, followed by the Prius at $3,407, the Focus at $3,985 and the Mini at $4,031. The most expensive vehicle on my list to operate was the 328i at $4,998, but I doubt many Beemer owners care.

I don’t wish it on you but gas prices are going to climb, just we were saying four years ago – check the archives there to your right. All of that still holds. Live where you can ride a bike, train or walk. Restart your conversations. With people.

Image: Green car from here.

The Fake Issue


The national debt is a fake political issue. I’ve had this conversation many times with family members with opposing political views, because it seems like the one issue on which we can at least agree. But it’s not. Because it’s only a political issue. The people who scream deficit don’t really care about it – they only want to use it to try and abolish the social safety net. You might agree with them. But using the deficit as the reason is a cowardly, dishonest way to achieve your goals.

President Clinton balanced the budget at the end of the 1990’s, and the very first thing that happened was that Republicans began screaming that The Surplus was a threat to our very existence. The deficit wasn’t mentioned again until another Democrat moved into the White House. Then suddenly, vapors.

Please note for future reference. The government is also neither a family household nor a business and should not be run like either. Anyone likening this or any government to either one is being purposefully dishonest and manipulative and should not be afforded the gravitas above that enjoyed by any random lifer in the lunch line at Marion USP, later this afternoon.

Image of the first debt clock licensed under Creative Commons.

Lying to get to the Truth

It’s something we are not nearly smart enough to do, but some do believe they are sufficiently clever.

So apparently Greenpeace devised a fake website, twitter stream, video and accompanying ad campaign to bring to light everything Shell isn’t yet doing (but is prepared to do) in the Arctic. There are several problems with this, laid out here:

The first one is that I don’t think portraying Shell as inept is a very wise choice. If they wanted to influence public opinion, I suspect they’d pay decent money and get someone who knows what they’re doing to manage a new ad campaign and run a Twitter account. If they’re not doing that, it’s because the general public is not currently the target audience for their PR budget. But when we are, trust me: it will be a competent effort. If we’re only braced for buffoons and clowns, they’ll succeed at whatever spin they’re trying to convey.

The second, larger problem, is that Greenpeace lied to us. This wasn’t a nod-and-a-wink parody; this was a dedicated effort to deceive. They played the public for patsies and herded them like sheep. That kind of contempt for the people whose support (financial and otherwise) they need is inexcusable. For me, it puts them in a box with people like Bush and Blair, who were also flexible with the truth for the greater good.

Yes, people are very amused by the Yes Men. But adding to the general inventory of cynicism with your own disinformation campaign only lowers the value of accurate information that much further, which makes the work of Shell et al all the easier.

The boring and uncomfortable reality is that we have to be more truthful than ever about the effects of climate change and stop trying to filter it through ideas gauged to simultaneously make us feel better. Fossil fuel extraction companies are apathetic enough as it is – and attempting to shame or embarrass them through elaborate ruses only discredits the opposition and muddies the rising tides. They have no shame and cannot be embarrassed, only impacted by lower profit margins.

People already don’t know what to think because of the years of sophisticated, high gloss disinformation propelled at blinding speeds. Allowing any more vestiges of credibility to slip away intentionally is stupid and unforgivable.

And fortunately for the fossil fuel industry, sincerity already has the least currency imaginable. Think of everything it takes to keep this system in place. If you consider how difficult it would be to get millions of people to buy monster trucks that get <10 mpg and commute 50 miles to work each way each day, we’re talking at least a concerted effort, if not the addition of some magic potion. Don’t make it easier to go down.


I know there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on… what with all the face-eating bacteria and flesh-eating humans, but there is actually something else going on. The ‘business of America is business’ reality is actually taking over the country. The University of Virginia, founded by the revered Thomas Jefferson, is about to become the unofficial Citizens United test case for just how much can be run into the ground looted and sold bankrupted just like a business:

For as much as this has been described as “remarkable” and “unprecedented,” I can’t help but see it as the microcosm of a dynamic playing out in our politics and across our public institutions. The constant denigration of government and public service, coupled with the often unjustified veneration of business, has led to a world where successful capitalists are privileged in all discussions. In an earlier time, we understood that the values and priorities of the market weren’t universally applicable; of course you wouldn’t run a university like a business. It has different goals, serves different constituencies, and more important, has a broad obligation to serve the public.

The same goes for government. The Postal Service has never been a money-making operation, but that’s never been the point; as a country, we agreed that everyone should be connected, even if it doesn’t pay for itself. The value of public-spiritedness trumped the goal of profitability. You could say the same for Social Security, Medicaid, Pell Grants, Amtrak, etc. These programs should be judged by whether they accomplish the goals of our society—a safety net for the poor, help for the young, assistance for the old—and not whether they meet the metrics of a business. If they need reform to meet their goals, then we should move in that direction. But handing to them to the private sector, or running them like a business, won’t automatically solve their problems or make them better.

For the last thirty years, however, we’ve deferred to capitalists and businesspeople in nearly all decisions. A handful of rich people think they know how to run the economy? Great, we’ll let them take care of it. A few billionaires think they know what’s wrong with our education system? Well, we should listen to them!

It’s almost like 1876 all over again, except instead now with more updated, completely content-free b-school jargon.

Gimme (a tax) Shelter

If you want to smell the flowers in the hothouse of selflessness that is your America today, check out this Forbes article supporting fB c0-founder and erstwhile Singaporean tax patriot Ed Saverin:

Saverin’s essential maneuver will at first glance hopefully get Americans thinking once again about our wrongheaded system of taxation. As it stands now, Americans, through taxes levied on income and capital gains, are explicitly forced to “prove” their income to the IRS.

I was at first embarrassed to post this, but we really need to acknowledge that this, THIS, is where we are and the kinds of people we are releasing into the bloodstream of humanity. Not just Saverin but the writer and the many commenters who provide him attaboys, not to mention the many political and business leaders who believe this. He gets savaged by many others in the comments as well, but the appearance of this kind of stupid and graceless whining should remind us that we don’t get to think that we’re just loosening a bunch a Clooneys into the world. We aren’t. Those are rare; these are unfortunately the norm. THIS is what thirty years of government-is-the-problem propaganda has done to people’s minds and their idea of what they should expect: government as a one-way street to provide you all the opportunities of free-enterprise but a thief-in-the-night when it comes to paying your fair share.

And like most cycles, one of these kinds of people is running for president this year. If he, and Obama, don’t get asked about this early and often in the next few months, be appalled. Be very appalled.

Earth. Night.

For many reasons, I try not to go down this road too often – attempting to understand, and then perhaps parse, why we have taken such gigantic steps in the opposite direction of Earth Day since what seemed to have been a collective awakening in 1970. As Cole says, the pollution issues we identified back then seem trite in comparison to what we face now, as we crank the atmosphere and the oceans toward higher temperatures.

So how have we been able to establish, project and re-enforce such a counter narrative to global warming that it, rather than the way of life that fostered it, now seems like an issue with a legitimacy problem? It brings to mind that cunning and incisive riposte from Tonto, “What do you mean we, white man?”

Because what was established, what is entrenched, is simply a hard corporate line. It’s in the short term interest of huge industrial, agro, and energy concerns to question the science supporting global warming. They have effectively conjoined our will with theirs, made us believe that it is an option to refuse to believe AGW and we have gladly, and with great relief, accepted. There is nothing individual or human about it, and they have curiously obscured any short/long term distinctions. And you see why I try not to go down this road too often.

Because it sounds like conspiracy; such is the power of this counter-narrative. We could say it is of a piece with the way people are conditioned to support, and vote for, candidates and issues that go against their own interest. There is profit in division – apply all cliches here. Because they are true. A plainly available set of established facts all flow in one direction. And yet the question wins the day; the science of global warming itself has been impugned as dishonest, corrupt, heavy-handed and coercive. I accuse you of what I am guilty. It’s tricky. And we’re vulnerable.

We are highly susceptible to corporate propaganda, to marketing, especially for what we want to believe about ourselves. Our ability to project wonderful images about who we are has far-outstripped our ability to be critical of this imagery, much less the ideas behind them. We’re afraid to ask who or what is behind them. And we settle back into a state of existential fear – not of what might happen, but fear of even thinking honestly about what might happen. At least during the nuclear age, everyone had a clear image of the mushroom cloud if not what it meant. The specter of annihilation remained abstract but, again, it was part of a plainly available set of established facts. Constantly invoked, and yes opening us to manipulation. But we reckoned with even this, and life went on.

Not reckoning with the specter of planetary peril puts the developed world in its greatest danger – as it threatens the rest of the world with utter catastrophe. This is a brutal and vicious calculation. But see it for what it is. By all means let’s pick up trash on the side of the street – today, any day. But there is all manner of detritus we are allowing into our homes and heads on a constant basis, supplying our own evidence to continue ignoring what is happening. It is a truly a form of darkness, though fortunately self-imposed. Unfortunately, portending an even greater one.

And so we need to turn on some lights. And so I have another reason to hate irony.