“New Normal” Politics

Jim Brewster at the Chickens of Mass Destruction blog makes some offers some insights about our government and politics.

He makes several observations: left and right can agree about some important issues, big government and big industry work together to block local solutions to big problems, and elected officials need to hear reasoned thinking from constiuents, not angry rants.

Link: Chickens of Mass Destruction: Möbius Politics

…if you wander far enough from the political center, either to the right or to the left, the ends of the spectrum meet in interesting and unexpected ways. It's not a new idea to me, and I wouldn't expect it to be original, but manifestations of this dark side of the political moon have been popping up recently like mushrooms in a cow pasture after a 2-day rainstorm.

Case in point: the Local Food movement. What ties together this motley assortment of foodies and farmers, vegans and beef-eaters, libertarians and progressives, devoutly religious and steadfastly secular? A desire for good food. A sustainable food system. And good old American distrust.

There is a common belief that the dominant food system has failed us. That centralized commodified food processing and distribution is bad for consumers, bad for farmers, bad for the earth, bad for crop diversity, bad for the animals. That the agencies that are supposed to protect our health and support the future of agriculture instead set up roadblocks to anything that doesn't feed into that system.

Some methods toward a solution can be agreed upon. If you buy local farm products, you support local agriculture. If you grow organic heirloom vegetables instead of grass in your yard, you feed yourself and enhance the soil. If you save and exchange seeds you preserve crop diversity. But none of these things are likely to be enough to keep the FDA from cracking down on raw milk, or keep conventional farms from depleting topsoil and releasing toxins, nutrients, and patented genes into the environment.

On the right, it is common to speak in terms of overarching global conspiracies. On the left, we're more likely to ascribe the problems to simple greed, corruption, and layers of historical development. There may well be conspiracies afoot, but I suspect they exist within the boardrooms of Monsanto, ADM, and other corporate players rather than the halls of the UN. But hey, I could be wrong.

In either case, I think it is vital to be informed. And it is vital to speak up and give representative democracy a whirl. Knowing what I know about the diverse politics in the movement, I make no assumptions about my elected officials, what they know about the issue or where they stand. If they don't hear from me, who will they hear from? They'll certainly hear from Monsanto and friends. And if all they hear from the local food movement is inflammatory rhetoric like this, how can they take us seriously?

Parallels Between the Financial Crisis and the Gulf Oil Spill

Charles Hugh Smith describes the similarities between the financial crisis and the gulf oil spill. Hubris, Incompetence, Corruption, and Denial combined to create a disaster.

How many more can we endure?

Link: Of Two Minds

1. The extreme levels of inherent risk in each system were downplayed/misunderstood by those responsible for their management.

2. The unprecedented risk intrinsic to each system was masked by facsimiles of regulation and specialized expertise.

3. The initial warning signs were dismissed, downplayed or ignored.

4. Each system was on the outer edge of human engineering (mechanical and financial) but was treated by regulators and managers as entirely standard.

5. Once the system collapsed, nobody knew how to fix it.

6. As the full extent of the damage became apparent, those responsible sought to mask the true extent of the damage.

7. The mainstream media and elected officials unskeptically accepted prevarications, mis-statements, misinformation and manufactured facades as representations of the truth.

8. As the true extent of the damage, distortion/manipulation and failure of responsible authorities became undeniable, public confidence in government, regulatory agencies and the market irrevocably eroded.

Black Swan Events

Think of oil spills, mine explosions, financial meltdowns or even global warming. There is a natural tendency of human beings to underestimate the odds of such seemingly unlikely events — of forgetting that the 100-year flood is as likely to happen in Year 5 as it is in Year 95. And if there are insufficient data to calculate the probability of a very bad outcome, as is often the case, that doesn’t mean we should assume the probability is zero.

Steven Pearlstein

via Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture