Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Aliens Amongst Us

But tell us further, Meletus, before Zeus, whether it is better to dwell among upright citizens or villainous ones?
Sir, answer. For surely I am asking nothing hard. Do not the villainous do something bad to whoever are nearest to them, while the good do something good?
          Plato, The Apology
A few years ago a local supermarket chain explained the reason for its support of community services:
After all, we live here too” (or words to that effect).
Those words (or their equivalent) surged to the forefront of my mind as I gagged at the devastation to the environment that will shortly be effected by the willful actions of Trump and his fellow destroyers of the planet Earth. As Elizabeth Kolbert wrote on the New Yorker website:
A White House characterized by flaming incompetence has nevertheless managed to do one thing effectively: it has trashed years’ worth of work to protect the planet. As David Horsey, put it recently, in the Los Angeles Times, “Donald Trump’s foreign policy and legislative agenda may be a confused mess,” but “his administration’s attack on the environment is operating with the focus and zeal of the Spanish Inquisition.”(1)
And, of course, it isn't just the Executive branch that is all-out for more pollution and contamination of the air and water. There are congressmen like Matt Gaetz (Republican) of Florida, who wants to abolish the EPA altogether, allegedly to “better protect the environment.”(2) We should, he claims, “downstream resources to states for more effective & efficient protection.”   

Let's look at that word “downstream,” used here by Gaetz as a verb, and its opposite “upstream” in their more usual roles as adverbs. Waste, contaminants, and pollution flow downstream. If a state upstream is less zealous in its policing of its waters, then the downstream states are also the victims of the former's abuse of the environment. (And if you're Florida, you're way downstream.) Or, consider this air pollution stream:
Much of Hong Kong’s pollution . . . wafts across the border from China. About 60-70% of particulate matter comes from the mainland, according to a study commissioned by the city’s Environmental Protection Department. In winter, when the wind direction tends to blow more pollutants towards Hong Kong, as much as 77% of dust in the air comes from China.Hong Kong has signed a series of agreements with Guangdong province directly to the north – but they are unenforceable, stymying efforts by the local government and activists to have a meaningful impact. In the meantime, the health impact on Hong Kong’s population is severe.(3)
Yes, Hong Kong creates a great deal of its own air pollution, and needs to attack it at the source, just as local and state action in the US is needed to tackle localized pollution. But only action by larger political entities, national and international, can significantly help to reduce overall pollution. 
If the desire to kill people is a prerequisite for the job of Attorney General of Arkansas(4), the prerequisite for the Attorney General post in either North Carolina or Oklahoma is selling-out to fossil fuel companies. 

To understand that devolving complete environmental control to the states is meshugah, take a look at North Carolina.
It’s like our state is deaf, and the only voice they can hear is Duke Energy,” claims  Amy Brown, who lives with her husband and two sons in a small single-story home in Belmont, not far from Charlotte. (5)
Because of contamination from Duke Energy's power plants, the Brown family has been forced to live on bottled water, and they never take baths, only rushed showers; the in-ground pool, "which has elevated levels of arsenic, among other chemicals, is strictly off-limits.”

In Oklahoma, the state's Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, seemed to spend his whole tenure fighting to dissolve the Environmental Protection Agency—plagiarizing texts from petroleum industry flacks in doing so. He was, of course, named Trump's head of the EPA. “It’s the worst thing in the history of our environment!” exclaimed Garvin Isaacs, the president of the Oklahoma Bar Association.
We are in danger. The whole country is in danger. Our kids are in danger.” . . .He claims the fossil-fuel industry “owns the whole darn state.” But his worries at the state level are now national. By choosing Pruitt, Isaacs said, Trump has outsourced his environmental policy to the Republican Party’s most powerful private donors—the oil-and-gas magnates who have funded Pruitt’s campaigns in Oklahoma.(5)
All of which leads me back to the beginning of this post: “After all, we live here too.”

As Socrates stated, it is better to live among good people than bad people—and I think that we can all agree that polluters and their enablers are bad people. Don't the Trumps, the Pruitts, the Gaetzes “live here too”? Don't they share the same air as everyone else? Are they oblivious to the damage they are doing not only to us but their own families?

For a long time I tried to wrap my head around this seeming absurdity—of people actually promoting harm to themselves and their families. But I have finally found the answer:
Aliens exist and they live in our midst disguised as humans - at least, that's what 20 percent of people polled in a global survey believe.(6)
I am converted! That is the answer. The polluters and their enablers don't “live here too.” They are aliens amongst us, who are only temporarily on Earth in order to destroy it, before retreating to their true home in some nasty far-off corner of the universe.

(4) Arkansas is determined to run convicted prisoners to their death on an assembly- line basis.

(6) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/survey-claims-one-in-five-worldwide-believe-in-aliens-1938928.html

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pizza and Circuses

Joseph Louis Barrow was one of the twentieth century’s greatest sporting heroes, reigning as boxing’s heavyweight champion for almost a dozen years. But perhaps his greatest accomplishment was to prove, in knocking out the German fighter Max Schmeling in1938, (like Jesse Owens winning four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics) that brown-skinned Americans were superior to members of Hitler’s “Master Race.”

In 1979 Detroit, Michigan opened a new sports facility (built mainly to house the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League) and named it after its favorite son: The Joe Louis Arena.

This past Sunday the Red Wings played their last game at The Joe (as it’s known); the team will be moving to a new home next season  Perhaps fittingly, the end of the team’s stay at its old home was also the end of the team’s successful run of a quarter-century of appearances in the league’s Stanley Cup Playoffs (they finished one point out of dead last in their division). After a few more music concerts, The Joe will be demolished.

A brand-new facility, Little Caesars Arena, will be the Red Wings' next home. The Ilitch family (the paterfamilias, Mike(1), died earlier this year), who own the team (not the arena, but paid for the arena’s naming rights), made their original fortune selling pizzas under the Little Caesars name (though somehow they couldn’t afford an apostrophe). 
Publicly Financed Sports Stadiums Are A Game That Taxpayers Lose(2)

Arizona City Lays Off Workers While Handing Millions To Its Professional Ice Hockey Team(3)

New Minnesota Vikings Stadium A Boondoggle Before It’s Even Built(4)

Record-Breaking Public Subsidy Lures Hated Football Team to America’s Gambling Capital(5)
One thing that the Ilitches can’t brag about is that their arena deal is the country's worst public-financing rip-off. That dubious honor, according to Roger Noll, a Stanford economist, belongs to the Las Vegas subsidy cited above. Noll called it the “worst deal for a city” he had ever seen. According to Henry Grabar, the author of the slate.com article, 
Clark County taxpayers will contribute $750 million to the new arena, a record for a sports facility—about $354 per resident, taken from an increased tax on hotel rooms. That tax currently pays for schools and transportation, in addition to tourism-related expenditures.
Like the Vegas deal, the Detroit deal diverts tax money away from public uses:
If no DDA TIF district existed, the property taxes would go to the city's general fund, Detroit Public Schools, Wayne County, Huron Clinton Metropolitan Authority, Wayne County Intermediate School District, Wayne County Community College District, and the state (bold type in original).(6)
And Detroit could use that money. It’s a city that had to declare bankruptcy in 2013, the largest city to do so. What happened a week later? The Red Wings “secured $284.5 million in public money for their new arena.”(7) 
As Deep Throat, the whistleblower in the Watergate scandal famously declared, “Follow the money.” Somehow it always seems to flow one way: into the pockets of the rich.
The wrecking ball will soon demolish The Joe, which honored one of the icons of the twentieth century;(8) it will be superseded by a venue that is named after a purveyor of baked dough whose logo features a cartoon character.
(1) Bill Bradley: "The truth is, Mike Ilitch was a rich old man who owned a bunch of stuff and never saw a tax break he didn’t like." http://deadspin.com/mike-ilitch-was-no-saint-1792480558

(8) Sportswriter Jimmy Cannon (speaking of Joe Louis in response to another person's characterization of him as "a credit to his race") "...he is a credit to his race, the human race.” 
UPDATE (April 13)

The day after I posted the above, the Guardian (UK) published a story by Jerald Podair about the controversy in Los Angeles between 1957 and 1962 over the construction of a new baseball stadium in Chavez Ravine to accommodate the transplanted Brooklyn Dodgers. Podia writes:
Opponents of the stadium objected to what they viewed as a giveaway of public property – the land at Chavez Ravine on which the stadium would be constructed – for the personal gain of a private individual, Walter O’Malley [the most reviled man in Brooklyn history]. . . .

Supporters argued that the public benefits derived from the stadium in the form of property tax revenues, jobs, entertainment, and civic improvement justified O’Malley’s profits. . . .

But stadium critics rejected the idea that a great American city required a central core studded with civic monuments. They argued instead for a Los Angeles that performed the basic tasks of urban life: concentrating tax resources on neighbourhoods in need of schools, streets, sanitation and safety.(9)
 I highly recommend Podair’s article.