Add to Technorati Favorites

Friday, October 21, 2011

It Finally Has a Name -- Even Two

Credit the Occupy Wall Street people with simplifying the complicated topic of the dominance of the bankers over the political system by naming the bankers the “One Percent” and the rest of us rats on this sinking ship the 99%. One photo Rat saw from the Wall Street occupation said it beautifully. It depicted a woman holding her granddaughter and a sign that read, “99% chance that you’re with us.”

Finding an easy way to explain how wealth has become skewed to the top of the economic food chain is hard to do without pummeling people with lots of numbers and arcane economic theory. But there are people – and from the mainstream academic world, not just a park bench in Manhattan – who are making this topic more accessible and interesting.

Rat recently found a rat hole in the swank new Wisconsin Institute for Discovery at UW-Madison, where I snuck in to overhear a talk by Yale University political scientist Jacob Hacker. Author of Winner Take All Politics, Hacker tossed out lots of numbers to explain the wealth disparity. The most salient: how the One Percent’s percentage increase in income since 1970 is six times higher than that for the rest of us. Another: 40% of all income increases in the U.S. since 1970 went to the One Percent.

The typical rat brain struggles with numbers, but also with big words. Rat hopes the big word “oligarchy” rings a bell with the 99% of Americans who are not the One Percent. Another academic, political economist Jeffrey Winters, of Northwestern University, has re-introduced that term to the political discussion, along with one he may have coined –the wealth defense industry.

Read his article A useful complement to Hacker’s numbers, Winters’ narrative account of how the uber-rich have wired the political system (for them, the most important thing to do) to their considerable advantage, and they more wealth they amass, the more lawyers, lobbyists, right-wing think tanks and political contributions they deploy it to protect it.

You have to hope the powerful evidence these two scholars have assembled, paired with the gritty passion of the Occupy Wall Streeters, will give ordinary Americans, in their beleaguered status as the 99%, pause to ask how the country got where it is. Sure, it’s “the government,” but bad government is a byproduct of the oligarchy’s putting the wealth defense industry to work to manipulate government to its benefit.

Rat remains nonpartisan, so I will end this note about partisan politics. Both Hacker and Winters make it clear there is not one political party on which to hang the country’s financial crisis; both have the blood of the 99%’s ever-shrinking economic prospects on their hands. Sure, Republicans align much more with wealthy interests, but Democrats have abetted them at crucial times, and failed to explain to American voters, in real and honest terms, the threats to their economic self-interest.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Someone please put a lamprey on some congressmen

Rat was enjoying an August afternoon on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, near the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, with my rat-letts (offspring), who commented on how clear the water was, despite the fact the beach we were lounging on was right next door to heavily-industrialized Gary/Hammond/Chicago.

I hated to inform the young rats that in this particular instance, such clear water was probably a bad thing. Lake Michigan is being scrubbed sterile by trillions of quagga mussels, an invasive critter that devours the tiny plankton that the rest of this Great Lake's food system depends on. Elsewhere on the Lake Michigan shore, the clarity caused by the quaggas only encourages another scourge -- cladophora, a stringy variety of algae that creates a great green stinky mass when it washes up on shore.

But leave it to Congress to not only ignore how these invasives are destroying the Great Lakes, but try to pass a law that Rat officially dubs the Free Passport for Invasive Creatures Act. The proposed law would exempt ballast water (that's the water ships take in and dump out of their hulls to balance their loads) from pollution regulation, and makes it illegal for states to have tougher standards than federal ones.

This is a really bad idea. In its sponsors' defense of costs to the shipping industry, it totally ignores the billions of dollars of repair and maintenance costs and lost recreational revenues from the invasives that are fundamentally altering the Great Lakes.

For a fine, and very sobering, assessment of the weird paradox of how mussels are making the lakes both nutrient-rich and starving them of nutrients, and therefore messing with the entire system, see this new report from the National Wildlife Federation.

The whole thing makes Rat want to loose sea lampreys upon those members of Congress supporting this bill. Also an invader to the Great Lakes via the Atlantic Ocean, lampreys attach themselves (that's the mouth of one in the picture up there) to their victims and eventually suck them dead. Lampreys know only cold-blooded animals, so as far as members of Congress go, that definitely works.

(This bill was passed out of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week on a voice vote, so it's hard to know how the two Wisconsin members serving on that committee -- Rep. Reid Ribble and Rep. Tom Petri -- voted on the measure. When Rat's moles find out, we'll let you know.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Nasty Trail of Mining Dirt

As a rat, I have a deep appreciation for cunning and admire a bit of deviousness. After all, that’s how my kind has survived in this rough, sometimes unfriendly world. But even I was taken aback by the latest high jinks in the hallowed halls of the state capitol, and the doublespeak and outright lies by those who stand to gain.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or should I say in deference to my many friends who do indeed live under rocks, blissfully oblivious to state news), there has been much ado about a renewed interest in mining in Wisconsin, and a giant, out of state corporation has made known their intent to create an enormous open pit taconite mine in Ashland County. Couched in the tired old cliché that environmental protections kill jobs, there has been much rhetoric about how state laws protecting water resources undermine the potentially vast economic boon that open pit mining could bring to Wisconsin.

In spring, a terrible bill completely undermining environmental protections and clearly written by the mining industry was leaked to the public but was never formally introduced. Just last week, blithely ignoring the well-documented history of boom and bust cycles accompanying mining operations around the world, and without questioning the mining company’s assertion of how many local jobs their operation would actually create, the state senate has created their “Select Committee on Mining Jobs” to look at “streamlining” the state’s mining laws.

First there was a bit of a kerfuffle over who would be appointed to the select committee. The Democrat legislators recommended to join the committee were rejected by the Republican leadership. Then a day later, the recommendations were accepted after all. But that very same day, the Guv introduced a special session (and we all remember the last one, don’t we?) called “Back to Work Wisconsin.” Buried in the long list of bills touted as helping to create jobs are proposals to revise state laws guiding protection of wetlands and streams. There are no details yet, but you can bet they’ll be chock full of many of the exemptions the mining company hoped to achieve through their bill this spring. Suddenly it all makes sense – who cares who’s on the Senate Select Committee on Mining Jobs? After these special session bills, they won’t have much to talk about anyway!

And then there’s the mining folks. The Wisconsin Mining Association, a self-proclaimed non-partisan organization reconstituted from the dark days of debate on the Crandon Mine that had been proposed at the headwaters of the Wolf River, hosted a press conference to proclaim their fervent belief that job creation and environmental protection go hand in hand. They issued a list of catchy “principles” including this kicker: “The Wisconsin Mining Association believes that facts matter.” Well, that’s certainly comforting. Unfortunately they don’t seem compelled to actually use them.

They also issued their list of key elements of new mining legislation, prefaced by a totally fabricated history of the current mining law. They flatly state, “Wisconsin’s mining laws were written for sulfide mines.” According to the Legislative Reference Bureau, the non-partisan record-keeping arm of the legislature, the fact is that current laws were written for all metallic mining, with a special emphasis on taconite mining! As a result of the Crandon mine debate, the law was amended to add an extra step for proposed sulfide mines, but that step does not apply to taconite mine proposals. There is absolutely no need to change our current laws to ensure the efficient review of a taconite mine proposal. The real issue is that an enormous, deep mine in the Penokee hills could not possibly proceed without utterly devastating the water resources of the region, and the changes demanded by the Wisconsin Mining Association and their cronies in the legislature are to allow just that.

posted by the River Rat