Friday, May 02, 2008

Americans Know Something Is Wrong But Have Not Connected All the Dots

Bush's poll ratings are the worst for any president since modern polling began. CNN Political Ticker has the story:
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Thursday indicates that 71 percent of the American public disapprove of how Bush his handling his job as president.

"No president has ever had a higher disapproval rating in any CNN or Gallup poll; in fact, this is the first time that any president's disapproval rating has cracked the 70 percent mark," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

The astonishing thing is that 28 percent still believe Bush is doing a good job (if nothing else, at least every American has an opinion these days).

That 71% of the American people know something is wrong and that President Bush is part of the problem is a good sign. However, when I look at the polls and realize Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton each hold only a somewhat insignificant 2 to 10 percent lead over John McCain, it tells me that too many Americans are unable to acknowledge the failures of the Republican Party over the last 27 years. You would never guess from the talk of Republican politicians and pundits that Democrats have been in charge for only 2 of those 27 years and in those two years the Democrats held only a small margin under Bill Clinton. That Congress got some useful things done but it could not undo more than a small part of the damage already done or forestall the damage that would come in the following fourteen years. The three biggest failures—just to name a few—of those 27 years was the failure to develop a serious energy policy, a serious policy to combat global warming and the failure to keep more jobs in the United States.

The Republican philosophy of the last 27 years is not hard to figure out: never take on a responsibility if a profit can be made for wealthy Republicans by doing nothing. We're now paying the price.

The nonsense, however, continues. This time the pandering and nonsense of John McCain is joined by Hillary Clinton who is pushing for a gas tax holiday that will do nothing for the American people except put more money in the pockets of the oil companies and hasten the inevitable. The Gristmill summarizes the ridiculousness of the gas tax holiday:
The gas tax holiday proposed by McCain and Clinton is indefensible. That, of course, is why just about every independent observer has criticized it. The Washington Post and, separately, Huffington Post have catalogued an impressive list of serious critiques, starting with the rather obvious point that in a demand-driven price shock, a gas tax holiday probably won't even save consumers a penny -- it will just enrich the poor, suffering oil companies...

(snip)

NYT's Paul Krugman calls the idea "pointless" and "disappointing." Tom Friedman labeled the plan "so ridiculous ... it takes your breath away." ...

If Barack Obama falters, John McCain or Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States. If Hillary wins the nomination and the election, one can only hope that she and Bill will set aside the nonsense and pandering of the election season and get real. Given McCain's increasing conservatism and rigidity, there is no hope of anything useful getting done in the next four years if he is elected. Time is becoming an issue as the worst president in American history sits on his hand during a series of world crises, one or two of which have been aggravated by his actions or failures to do anything useful.

There are so many big and small crises going on that I got flummoxed the other day when someone asked me about the rice shortage crisis. I knew rice futures were going through the roof but I didn't know exactly why. So I did my homework. Here's one article from Businessweek:
As farmers in the U.S. and Europe plant more corn in place of wheat to produce ethanol, the price of wheat has risen as supplies have tightened. Faced with higher wheat prices, people are substituting rice in their diets, particularly so in Africa. And, of course, the demand for ethanol as an alternative fuel is linked directly to the soaring price of oil. Moreover, the cost of rice production has increased significantly because fertilizer, transportation, and processing costs have shot up along with skyrocketing oil prices...

(snip)

The majority of rice farmers consume most of what they grow already and plant rice on every available acre of land. What's more, rapid urbanization and, in China, desertification has led to a decrease in the available supply of farmland. The increase in biofuels has encouraged palm oil plantations instead of rice paddies. Also, as incomes rise in the region, people substitute more meat for rice in their diet, which requires more land to raise livestock and produce the same amount of calories.

The story also mentions hoarding and speculation as additional factors. We're discovering everything is interlinked. If we're not careful as we solve a problem with a supposed solution, the repercussions can come around from behind and bite us in the ass. Most people don't understand concepts like ecology which is what a lot of this is about. The young are catching on and ecology will be a big subject for decades to come. We need to be very smart these days and we need people in Washington who are even smarter and are loyal to the American people more than they are to their campaign donors (who insist that they're worth 300 times the annual average income of Americans instead of 250 or even 299).

Tim F. of Balloon Juice puts things into a larger perspective on the food shortages and price hikes around the world. He discusses the connections to the major problems: oil, climate, greater demand for food, the growing taste for meat in new economies and one of the major canaries in the mine: the collapsing fish stocks worldwide. Here's what he says about the oil connection to rising food prices:
We have hit the point where oil stops being an elastic commodity (e.g., production can be upped to meet demand) and switches to a catch-as-catch can resource. Atrios had a post a few days back about how that shift will necessarily make the price of gas go crazy. We won’t see cheap gas again unless the entire planet stops driving or we find a magic spell that turns CO2, water and soot back into light sweet crude. Since modern agriculture has been described as the process by which petroleum is converted into food (fertilizers, harvesting, packaging, transport and most of the other steps depend on hydrocarbons) that can be a real problem.

Read the whole article; he says much more. If articles like these seem depressing, here's something useful the reader can do for a little peace of mind: buy some seeds for a vegetable garden or, if not that, buy some seeds for three or four potted plants on a balconey. There are things that can be done, even if it's on a small scale.

But we're not done here. Truthout had an article by Marie-Beatrice Baudet a few days ago about six crises that we're facing at the moment and several of them are not likely to improve in the near future. Her take is mildly academic and is tied more to economics than the resource problems that are clearly getting worse but one could read her article as a series of warning signs:
Where will history situate the global crisis - the symptoms of which are simultaneously financial, monetary, economic, environmental, and food- and energy-related - which the planet has been undergoing since mid-2007 and which has accelerated this first half of 2008? What will its amplitude on the Richter scale of economic and social earthquakes be? Stronger than that of the Great Depression of 1929? Similar to that of the 1970s, when, just before the first oil shock of 1973 and the second-half-1974 recession, the scientists, industrialists and economists who founded the Club of Rome in 1968 called for an end to growth in the 1972 Meadows Report in order to avoid the exhaustion of the planet's resources between now and the end of the twenty-first century?

I'm fond of the quick picture that graphs can provide and there are six excellent graphs in the story. One point in the article that is obviously on the mark is that many of the problems we now face are driven by noncooperation among the major governments of the world. Just a few years ago there was much more cooperation in world affairs and the leadership for that cooperation came from the United States. But the last seven years have been a debacle. The arrogant attitude of the current White House is harming Americans and harming the world.

As I said, there are things that can be done. Fighting wars we do not need is not one of those things. Electing officials who look like deer in the headlights while they sit on their hands is also not a solution. Even if we foolishly elect another Republican to the White House, there are things individual Americans can do. And the young are beginning to understand it better than most. We need reform. And we need it soon.

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