Thursday, April 26, 2018

Scientists Were Asleep at the Wheel

During the ongoing debate about the nature of climate change, I had assumed, as I’m sure most others have, that the revelation both regarding the extent of climate change and the cause of that change being greenhouse gases was relatively recent.  I certainly never remember the subject being raised before the 90s.

I was shocked therefore when I recently came upon the following while reading Rachel Carson’s famous and well-respected book, The Sea Around Us.  The book discusses the origins of the oceans and the evolution of oceans, continents, climate, and human settlement over geologic time into the present.  Writing in 1961, she said:

“It is now established beyond question that a definite change in the arctic climate set in about 1900, that it became astonishingly marked about 1930, and that it is now spreading into sub-arctic and temperate regions.  The frigid top of the world is very clearly warming up.”

She goes on to discuss a resulting dramatic lessening of ice in the arctic, the greater ease of navigation, the retreat of glaciers, the impact on the migration patterns of animals, and the lengthening of growing seasons in sub-arctic regions.  She also notes the rising of the seas.

But she puts this in the context of “we are still in the warming-up stage following the last Pleistocene glaciation - that the world’s climate, over the next thousands of years, will grow considerably warmer before beginning a downward swing into another Ice Age.”  

She states that the dramatic change seen since 1900 is “of a shorter duration, decades or centuries,” perhaps because the change is so much greater than would be expected, and goes on to note the several possible explanations that scientists have proposed … an increase in solar activity or the cycle of the ocean’s deep currents.  She ends with  “the long trend is towards a warmer earth; the pendulum is swinging.”

She does not mention the greenhouse gas effect.  Yet in fact, the theory of the impact of greenhouse gases on global warming from burning fossil fuels was formed and studied by the late 1800s.  But scientists being often ego-driven and slow to accept another’s research, this theory was not taken up again until the 1950s and was not broadly accepted until the 1980s.  Apparently when Rachel Carson wrote, there wasn’t a serious question in scientific minds at that time that this warming was caused by the greenhouse gas effect.

So we have been sitting on a climatic time bomb for more than a century.  And for most of that time, scientists and governments have been asleep at the wheel.  We have virtually lost the opportunity to act so as to prevent future climatic disruptions and disaster for the human race.  Even if the will were to be found.

The question I ask myself is: how many other issues are there that are of vital importance to the future wellbeing of the planet and mankind that we aren’t addressing because no one is paying attention or no one has a confirmed answer.  Just like there is a group that is scanning the skies for asteroids that might strike the Earth, creating havoc, there should be a committee which focuses on evidence of other matters that are of great import to our future and sees to it that they receive appropriate public and scientific airing.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

”They Were Never Going to Let Me Be President.”

Those words, spoken by Hillary Clinton when she was informed that she had lost the election, as recently reported in The New York Times, speak volumes about what was wrong with Hillary as a presidential candidate.  

Who were this “they” that she referred to?  The deplorable people?  The NRA?  No one kept her from being president.  It was her own flawed campaign that caused her to lose the presidency that was hers to lose.  While she has finally admitted some mistakes, she has never owned up to this basic fact.  It was always someone else’s fault … especially James Comey.  And that makes her a weak person, despite all her strengths.

Democrats have a history of losing because of problems with their campaigns, as opposed to the strength of their opponents or shifting demographics.  When Gore lost it was because of problems with his campaign, not the agony over Florida’s “hanging chads.”  When Kerry lost, likewise.  When Hillary lost, ditto.  The recent Democrats who didn’t lose … Bill Clinton and Obama … won because their campaigns did not have major problems.  They were candidates who spoke to the people in a way that the people understood, and the people heard and voted.

Ever since the 2000 election, I have argued that Democrats run flawed campaigns.  To me, the biggest problem is that they do not have a vision and they do not know how to speak to the people in a way that the people get.  So they aren’t able to get someone out of his apathy or change someone’s mind.  And so the people on the margins of life, the people who need to be convinced to cast their vote, just don’t vote; and people leaning to the other side vote that way.  And that’s a lot of people.

In 2004 I wrote We STILL Hold These Truths to show the Party the way to win the hearts and minds of the American people and win the election.  Sadly, despite my repeated efforts to bring the book’s message to the attention of party leaders and candidates, my advice has fallen on deaf ears.  Lucky, Obama didn’t need my advice because he did have a vision.  And he instinctively knew how to speak to the people, just as Bill Clinton did.

Now we are preparing for the 2018 midterm elections and are in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential elections.  Democrats have to be more than the anti-Trump.  They have to be clear on what they are offering the American people, especially the middle class and the poor (they comprise 79% of US households), if they are to win, certainly to win decisively.

So far, all I see is a muddle.  There is no clear voice, anywhere.  

And the DNC is wasting energy and creating more negative political capital than positive with their new lawsuit against the Trump campaign for working with the Russians to defeat Hillary.  I see that as doing more to undermine the Special Counsel’s legitimacy than anything the Republicans have done, because it will appear to many people that Trump has been right in his claim that the issue of collusion is a Democratic-inspired with hunt.

The 2018 and 2020 elections are once again the Democrats to lose.  Whether they win or lose, it will be a result of the strength or weakness of their campaigns, not a problem in the American people.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Towards a Reformed Capitalism

Despite all the laws and regulations that apply to corporations, which for the most part are designed to make corporations more responsive to the greater good, corporations have wreaked great harm on our environment, their workers, their customers, the general public, and other corporations.  Despite all the rules, capitalism has been allowed to run pretty much rampant.

The problem is not that the laws and regulations are not enforced, although that is partly true.  The problem is more that the laws and regulations are weak because of the strong influence corporations have on both Congress (this is true of Democrats as well as Republicans) and those responsible for regulating.

But the more basic, functional, aspect of the problem is that the context has always been corporate interest v public interest.  Corporations are structured in such a way that their only interest is the bottom line, how to constantly increase their profit and so please their shareholders.  That is the source of the problem.  And that is what must be reformed.

People will say that it is the nature of the beast for corporations to be concerned solely with their bottom line.  That is certainly true for the beast as it has been formed.  But there is nothing inherent in the idea of a corporation or capitalism which makes it inimical to factoring in a concern for the public good.  The essence of capitalism is that control of the means of production and the distribution of products lies in private hands; that will remain unchanged.

My point is that we must rethink what a corporation is.  What is its function in our economy and society?

Corporations, all business models, are a creature of the law.  Corporations are allowed the benefits of incorporation because they provide something of value … they are critical to the economic health of the country and of their workers.  They also thus meet a societal need.

So from a governmental/societal perspective, corporations exist to enhance the greater good.  Unfortunately, as we have seen repeatedly ever since the industrial revolution, corporations have been mostly intent on making money and so have done much that harms, that is not in keeping with the greater good.  Often with full knowledge.

The answer to this conundrum is to reform the laws under which corporations are organized by restructuring their governance.  The goal of this effort should be to make consideration of the greater good … the public interest as well as worker interest … an integral part of the corporate decision making process.

I propose that this reform have four primary elements:

  • By law, the primary mission of each corporation should be to enhance the greater good.  To do that, it must be successful and prosper, and so the goal of the corporation to prosper and make money for its shareholders would not be altered by any of the proposed changes.  It would, however, be tempered by this new context, by these changes.  No longer would the only factor be impact on the bottom line.  Now there will be other important factors to be considered.
  • By law, Boards of Directors should include a stated percentage of directors (perhaps 25%) who represent the interests of the greater good and the interests of workers.  
  • By law, all management decisions, whether regarding products, or methods of manufacturing, or personnel, must include a consideration of the impact of the decision on their workers and the greater good.  Any decisions directly impacting workers should be arrived at with worker participation.  This will engage corporations in a more healthy, long-term perspective, rather than the short-term one resulting from the current emphasis on stock price.  
  • By law, there should be a public ombudsman in the hierarchy of each corporation that sees that the law is followed not just in spirit but to the letter.

Most people currently involved in the management of corporations and most shareholders, as well as the broader market, will most likely not react kindly to these proposed changes.  They would involve both a major change in corporate culture as well as a reduction in the financial benefits that accrue to those running and investing in corporations.

But with the passage of time, with the emergence of a new generation of business leaders, these changes will become such a part of the corporate method that it will be hard to imagine that it was ever otherwise.  This is the rational way to manage a business if it is to be not just productive but a good citizen of a reformed society.   

If we are to reduce not just the inequality that is present in America but insure that corporations are working towards a goal that includes the greater good, then this reformation has to take place.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

One Race, Many Cultures

There is much societal strife in this world, and the reason comes down to one of two things:  either a country or group has something we want or wants something we have, or we feel threatened by the otherness of the other, that we cannot be safe while the other has potential power over us.

I laid out my thoughts on this issue in a previous post, “The Destructive Impact of Our Us v Them Perspective.”  But the current edition of the National Geographic, which explores the issue of race, affirms the need for another post on this topic.

The us v them perspective, contrary to the thoughts of many, is not human nature.  As with so many things, it is the result of human development; of our life experiences.  We were not born with this perspective.  It is an emotional response by our ego-mind.  We live in a very antagonistic, very competitive world, so that response is not surprising.  It is a vicious circle; a perpetual motion machine.

It is true that we see this same behavior in animals … fighting for territory, food, mates.  There is a fight for survival that is hard-wired into both animals and humans.  That is nature not nurture.  But as with other biological imperatives, man’s ego-mind has morphed these reactions into obsessions, cravings.  

When an animal needs to fight, it fights; otherwise it goes about its life unperturbed.  Humans, however, obsess about their fears, their insecurities, real and imagined.  And those obsessions filter all experiences, making it impossible to see things as they really are.  So we find it almost impossible to break out of the vicious circle.

The fact is, however, that we are all, each and every one of us, descended from a small band of human ancestors that first walked the earth in Africa 300,000 years ago.  Over time, they multiplied and spread throughout Africa.  Perhaps 120,000 years ago, they started crossing into the Middle East.  From 45,000 - 70,000 years ago they moved into Europe and Asia, at which point they interbred with Neanderthals and other species.  Later still, 15,000 - 20,000 years ago, they crossed from Asia over to North America and made their way down into South America.

How can we make such a definitive statement about those events?  The timing comes from anthropological discoveries, and so it will be subject to change from discoveries yet to be made.  That we all have a common ancestor comes from the evidence in our DNA.   

DNA analysis of people from around the world shows irrefutably, that “all non-Africans today are descended from a few thousand humans who left Africa maybe 60,000 years ago.”  DNA also tells us that the different colors of our skin occurred later in response to environmental conditions in different parts of the world where man settled. 

Race is defined as, “a group of persons related by common descent or heredity.”  Or alternatively, “People belonging to the same stock.”  And so, in the broadest sense, there is only one race, and that is the human race.  There are instead many different cultures, each with their own distinguishing characteristics, physical and otherwise, strengths, and weaknesses.  The term “race” has unfortunately been used frequently to imply something that is not based on science; it has been politically/socially motivated.

Many cultures are partly defined by skin color and other physical features.  Often they are connected to a particular geographic region, and even a particular country.  But we are all one race.  

Biologically, there is no evidence whatsoever that a man born into one culture is inherently smarter or more able than a man born into another one.  That is a function of nurture, not nature, which is why within each culture there is such a huge diversity in the abilities of individuals.

Yes, some cultures are intellectually more developed than others, but that is also a function of nurture, not nature.  There is nothing inherent in the intellectual stature of a culture, as seen by the way that aspect has ebbed and flowed over the centuries.  For example, while Europe was in the Dark Ages after the flowering and then demise of the Greek and Roman empires, Asia flourished with intellectual and scientific achievement.  During the Middle Ages, the Muslim world flourished while Europe was still struggling to emerge from its darkness.  Both South America and Africa had highly advanced civilizations before the advent of white men into their territories.

If one claims that one culture is more civilized than another or more God-fearing than another, that depends on how one defines civilization and God.  All cultures are civilizations and all cultures have their God.  And if the Western Judeo-Christian white man is so civilized, why does he consistently act in such uncivilized, inhumane ways both towards his fellow man, even his family members, let alone those of other cultures?

So once and for all we must disabuse ourselves of the idea of race and racial difference.  As to cultural differences, we all suffer from the same human failings.  We each have our aspects of civilization, and yet we each act in decidedly uncivilized, inhumane ways.  We each have had periods of intellectual growth and we each have had periods of intellectual decline or stagnation.  None is inherently superior to the others. .