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Wednesday, 04 January 2017 07:20

Jim Hightower: A Political Party Worth Joining

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Bob 0104wrp opt(Photo: Sen. "Fighting" Bob LaFollette, Library of Congress)The best political party in America is not the Dems nor the Repubs. By far, the best political party is a real party named "Fighting Bob Fest."

It's a daylong, outdoor political festival run by a coalition of Wisconsin progressives who believe in "putting the party back in politics." Held in Madison every September, Bob Fest is like a "state fair" of politics, not only featuring give-'em-hell speechifying and hot populist issues — but also terrific edibles from a dozen food trucks, bottomless kegs of great local beers, lively music, dozens of activist booths, games, political humor, a farmers market and... well, fun!

The idea behind Bob Fest is to have a political event that people actually want to come to. Plus, not only is admission free, but Bob Fest is also proud to be corporate-free, rejecting any funding or ads by corporate interests. It's a volunteer-run festival of, by and for regular people, and it pays for itself each year by passing the bucket and getting staff support from The Progressive, the feisty, populist-spirited magazine founded 107 years ago by Sen. Robert "Fighting Bob" La Follette.

Yes, Fighting Bob Fest is named for La Follette, a truly great U.S. Senator who was renowned for battling the corruption of American politics by corporate money. In fact, when he was Wisconsin's governor a century ago, La Follette passed a law banning corporations from making donations to political candidates — a law that is still in effect.

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WalkerDurr 1228wrp(Photo: Michael Vadon)Whoever is managing Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources website must be wearing out the delete key. The word "climate" has been quietly stripped from the department's webpage dedicated to explaining the state's response to climate change, Raw Story reported.

In total, 13 original appearances of the word "climate" have been kiboshed. The only place you'll see the word now is in the "climatechange.html" URL and a tiny footnote link. Not only that, any reference to humanity's contribution to global warming has been deleted.

The text that appears on the webpage now inserts classic climate skeptic arguments, in which Earth's "changes" are being "debated." This is the text on the website as of today:

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TheSun 1228wrp opt(Photo: Jessie Eastland)Renewable energy has reached an important milestone. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has determined that in many parts of the world, solar energy is now the same price or even cheaper than fossil fuels for the first time.

In a handbook released this month, the WEF observed how the price of renewable technologies, particularly solar, has declined to unprecedented lows.

While the average global LCOE [levelized cost of electricity] for coal and natural gas is around $100 per megawatt-hour, the price for solar has plummeted from $600 a decade ago to $300 only five years later, and now close to or below $100 for utility-scale photovoltaic. For wind, the LCOE is around $50.

According to the WEF, more than 30 countries have already reached grid parity—even without subsidies. ("Grid parity" is the point when an alternative energy source, say solar, can generate power at a LCOE that's equal or even less than the price of traditional grid power.)

"It is relevant to note that the mentioned evolution, market share gain and continued potential for renewable energy do not hinge on a subsidy advantage," the report added. "In fact, according to [International Energy Agency], fossil-fuel consumption has received $493 billion in subsidies in 2014, more than four times the value of subsidies to renewable energy."

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Bottles 1221wrp opt(Photo: whatsyourimpact.org)U.S. and Canada together discard 22 million pounds of plastic into the waters of the Great Lakes each year, according to a new Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) study. Most of it washes up along the shores, accounting for 80 percent of the litter found there.

Researchers said that Chicago, Toronto, Cleveland and Detroit are the worst contributors to the plastic pollution. Half of the plastic dumped into the Great Lakes—11 million pounds—goes into Lake Michigan. Lake Erie comes in at number two, receiving 5.5 million pounds. Lake Ontario gets 3 million pounds of plastic waste a year, with Lake Huron and Lake Superior receiving smaller amounts.

"This study is the first picture of the true scale of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes," said Matthew Hoffman, assistant professor in RIT's School of Mathematical Sciences and lead author of the study.

Plastic pollution in Lake Michigan is approximately the equivalent of 100 Olympic-sized pools full of plastic bottles dumped into the lake every year.

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Wednesday, 21 December 2016 06:18

Jim Hightower: What Is the "Trump Fix"?

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Crown 1221wrp opt(Photo: Gryffindor)In Donald Trump's presidential campaign, it was his frequent, unbridled slaps at Wall Street elites and arrogant, job-busting corporate executives that gave him the "populistic" patina he needed to win. But wait a minute: Who are those guys escorting The Donald into the Oval Office?

Oh, my God, they're Wall Street elites and arrogant corporate executives! Trump campaigned on the theme of remaking Washington by "draining the swamp" of pay-to-play corporate favoritism and cronyism. But those swamp critters are the very ones who are buying favors from the president-to-be by putting up tens of millions of dollars to pay for his inaugural extravaganza and his transition operation.

The transition team itself, which is literally shaping and staffing our next national government, is a viper's nest of pay-to-play corporate interests. The teams setting up the various agencies and writing their agendas are dominated by top operatives from anti-worker corporations and from the same Wall Streeters whose casino-style speculation crashed our economy in 2007 and crushed the middle class. Now they are on the inside, deciding who will fill more than 4,000 executive positions and run our government.

Some 850 of these corporate high rollers and lobbyists huddled with Trump early this month for a fundraiser at a posh Manhattan restaurant to pay for putting together his government — and theirs . The room was filled with moneyed elites, such as Paul Singer, the hedge-fund billionaire and extremist laissez-faire ideologue. These are not people who are going to finance any sort of working-class populism; they instead intend to use The Donald's victory to impose a plutocracy over America.

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SolarPlant 1219wrp opt(Photo: Bureau of Land Management)With an incoming presidential administration seemingly hostile towards action on climate change, local solutions are now more important than ever. With or without Donald Trump's help, the North Carolina municipality of Boone is calling on the whole state—and the United States at large—to encourage green jobs and transition to 100 percent clean energy across all energy sectors.

The resolution was approved by a 5-0 vote by Boone Town Council on Thursday. This makes Boone the first town in the country to officially demand that the U.S. completely ditch fossil fuels to "avoid climate catastrophe."

The country's total transition to clean energy is not as far-fetched as it seems. Boone's resolution was inspired in part by the research of renewable energy expert Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson, a Stanford University professor and cofounder of The Solutions Project, a state-by-state roadmap to convert the country to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

You might have heard of the project before. In fact, Jacobson stopped by David Letterman's late-night television show in 2013 to explain how the whole world, not just the U.S., can transition to renewables.

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Prudhoe1219 wrp opt(Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service)Whatever his voters intended, we can abandon the notion that President-elect Donald Trump is a right-wing populist. Right-wing, yes, authoritarian, probably, demagogue certainly.

But his cabinet gives the lie to populism as part of his character. Wall Street may have paid Hilary Clinton hundreds of thousands of dollars to make speeches; but it is Trump who has given Wall Street four cabinet slots, three of them to Goldman-Sachs alumni. (Imagine the outcry if a President Clinton had done that). There's a clutch of corporate CEOs—sate, labor, small business; a retired military trio—national security advisor, defense and homeland security; Republican senators, governors and congressmen make up the remainder, plus Ben Carson, who had conceded he was not qualified for such a post. So far, we have four billionaires.

Based on his choices Trump doesn't like or respect Hispanics, but admires Russia greatly.

Trump himself just explained that he wanted a cabinet of "people that made a fortune!" His argument—making a fortune is proof that someone is a great negotiator and that's the job of the cabinet. This is hardly the stuff of populism, right or left. His choices reveal some other traits. He leans toward inside financial manipulators, military brass and the businesses that dominated the American economy of his youth—fossil fuels, manufacturing and real estate. He has no interest in the major drivers of the economy of the future—technology, communications, services other than finance. The American "Greatness" he aspires to, as many said during the campaign, is the world as it existed before 1970. This is pure reaction, nostalgia as politics, memory as vision.

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FightTrump 1216wrp opt(Photo: Ben Alexander)If you visit the dark and menacing edges of the internet where the right-wing media dwells, you will find repeated complaints that liberals are trying to “delegitimize” the presidency of Donald Trump. I will resist providing links to these pages, for fear that opening them may cause your computers or other devices to burst into flames. If you are interested, however -- having been duly warned -- just Google “delegitimize” and “Trump,” and page after page of links to such worthies as Fox News, the Washington Examiner, Breitbart and the like will pop into your browser.

To actual liberals there is, of course, considerable irony in this accusation: We would love to see elected Democratic officials and other Democratic leaders go after Trump’s legitimacy with all guns blazing -- in much the way the GOP would be attacking Hillary Clinton, were the roles reversed. But, of course, that’s not happening. It should be, but it’s not, or at least not nearly often enough.

Before getting further into the substance of this, however, there is a critical matter of proper English usage that needs to be addressed. You cannot delegitimize the Trump presidency because, as a matter of simple logic, before you can delegitimize something it must first have been legitimate. You can’t, for example, defang a reptile who never had fangs.

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FrackEPA 1214wrp opt(Photo: EcoWatch)The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its widely anticipated final report on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, confirming that the controversial drilling process indeed impacts drinking water "under some circumstances." Notably, the report also removes the EPA's misleading line that fracking has not led to "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources."

"The report, done at the request of Congress, provides scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources in the United States under some circumstances," the agency stated in a media advisory.

This conclusion is a major reversal from the EPA's June 2015 pro-fracking draft report. That specific "widespread, systemic" line baffled many experts, scientists and landowners who—despite the egregious headlines—saw clear evidence of fracking-related contamination in water samples. Conversely, the EPA's top line encouraged Big Oil and Gas to push for more drilling around the globe.

But as it turns out, a damning exposé from Marketplace and APM Reports revealed last month that top EPA officials made critical, last-minute alterations to the agency's draft report and corresponding press materials to soft-pedal clear evidence of fracking's ill effects on the environment and public health.

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Perry 1214wrp opt(Photo: Gage Skidmore)Perk up people - for I bring you tidings of great joy: Gov. "Oops" is back!

Yes, Rick Perry, the former Texas governor who specialized in putting the "goober" in gubernatorial, is being brought back from well-earned obscurity in rural Texas to join the menagerie of characters in "The Donald Show." For us lovers of low political comedy, Perry is literally an early Christmas gift from on high — not from heaven (not that high), but from the dizzying heights of Trump Tower. That's where the orange-haired Impresario-in-chief has been holding tryouts for his Washington cast, and Perry is a slapstick-perfect choice for Trump's bizarre cabinet.

Who can forget Perry's classic "oops moment" during his first failed run for the White House? Campaigning as a far-out, right-wing slasher of government services, he boldly declared in a televised debate that — by gollies — he would eliminate three federal agencies entirely, dramatically reeling off the names of his three victims: The Department of Commerce, Department of Education, and... and... and, alas, as a national TV audience watched in horror, Rick's brain just could not recall the third federal department he planned to kill off.

He was roundly ridiculed as being dumber than a dust bunny. But now — proving once again that being even quasi-smart is not a requirement for getting a high political job — Perry has been hired by Trump to be our next Secretary of Energy. Yes, that is the very agency that was third on the Goober's elimination list! He is actually being appointed to head the $32 billion department he couldn't name during the 2012 presidential race.

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