31 March 2010

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30 March 2010

No Comment Needed

29 March 2010

The Sham Recovery

By Robert Reich

Are we finally in a recovery? Who's "we," kemosabe? Big global companies, Wall Street, and high-income Americans who hold their savings in financial instruments are clearly doing better. As to the rest of us - small businesses along Main Streets, and middle and lower-income Americans - forget it.

Business cheerleaders naturally want to emphasize the positive. They assume the economy runs on optimism and that if average consumers think the economy is getting better, they'll empty their wallets more readily and - presto! - the economy will get better. The cheerleaders fail to understand that regardless of how people feel, they won't spend if they don't have the money.

The US economy grew at a 5.9 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2009. That sounds good until you realize GDP figures are badly distorted by structural changes in the economy. For example, part of the increase is due to rising health care costs. When WellPoint ratchets up premiums, that enlarges the GDP. But you'd have to be out of your mind to consider this evidence of a recovery.

Part of the perceived growth in GDP is due to rising government expenditures. But this is smoke and mirrors. The stimulus is reaching its peak and will be smaller in months to come. And a bigger federal debt eventually has to be repaid.

So when you hear some economists say the current recovery is following the traditional path, don't believe a word. The path itself is being used to construct the GDP data.

Look more closely and the only ones doing better are the people and private-sector institutions at the top. Many of America's biggest companies are sitting on huge amounts of cash right now, but that says nothing about the health of the U.S. economy. Companies in the Standard&Poor 500 stock index had sales of $2.18 trillion in the fourth quarter, up from $2.02 trillion last year, and their earnings tripled. Why? Mainly because they're global, and selling into fast-growing markets in places like India, China, and Brazil.

America's biggest companies are also showing fat profits and productivity gains because they continue to slash payrolls and cut expenditures. Alcoa, for example, had $1.5 billion in cash at the end of last year, double what it had on hand at the end of 2008. Sounds terrific until you realize how it did it. By cutting 28,000 jobs - 32 percent of workforce - and slashed capital expenditures 43 percent.

Firms in S&P 500 are now holding a whopping $932 billion in cash and short-term investments. And they can borrow money cheaply. Corporate bond sales are brisk. So far in 2010, big U.S. corporations have issued $195.2 billion of debt, excluding government-guaranteed bonds. Does this spell a recovery? It all depends on what the big companies are doing with all this cash. In fact, they're doing two things that don't help at all.

First, they're buying other companies. (Walgreen last month spent $618 million for New York drugstore chain Duane Reade; Bank of New York Mellon, $2.3 billion for PNC Financial Services; Monster, $225 million for jobs.com; Diamond Foods, $615 million for Kettle Foods.) This buying doesn't create new jobs. One of the first things companies do when they buy other companies is fire lots of people who are considered "redundant." That's where the so-called merger efficiencies and synergies come from, after all.

The second thing big companies are doing with all their cash is buying back their own stock, in order to boost their share prices. There were 62 such share buy-backs in February, valued at $40.1 billion. We're witnessing the biggest share buyback spree since Sept 2008. The major beneficiaries are current shareholders, including top executives, whose pay is linked to share prices. The buy-backs do absolutely nothing for most Americans.

(None of this, by the way, is stopping supply-side fanatics from arguing government needs to cut taxes on big corporations in order to spur the recovery. Their argument is absurd on its face. Big companies don't know what to do with all their cash they have as it is. They aren't investing it in new plant and equipment and new jobs. So why should the government cut their taxes and enlarge their cash hoards even more?)

The picture on Main Street is quite the opposite. Small businesses aren't selling much because they have to rely on American - rather than foreign - consumers, and Americans still aren't buying much.

Small businesses are also finding it difficult to get credit. In the credit survey conducted in February by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, only 34 percent of small businesses reported normal and adequate access to credit. Not incidentally, the NFIB's "Small Business Optimism Index" fell 1.3 points last month, just about where it's been since April.

That's a problem for most Americans. Small businesses are where the jobs are. In fact, small businesses are responsible for almost all job growth in a typical recovery. So if small businesses are hurting, we're not going to see much job growth any time soon.

The Federal Reserve reported Thursday that American consumers are shedding their debts like mad. Total US household debt, including mortgages and credit card balances, fell 1.7 percent last year - the first drop since the government began recording consumer debt in 1945. Much of the debt-shedding has been through default - consumers simply not repaying and walking away from homes and big-ticket purchases.

This is hardly good news. But here's the Wall Street Journal's take on it: "the defaults are leaving many people with more cash to spend and save, jump-starting the financial rehabilitation" of the economy.

Baloney. As of end of 2009, debt averaged $43, 874 per American, or about 122 percent of annual disposable income. Most economic analysts think a sustainable debt load is around 100 percent of disposable income - assuming a normal level of employment and normal access to credit. But unemployment is still sky-high and it's becoming harder for most people to get new mortgages and credit cards. And with housing prices still in the doldrums, they can't refinance their homes or take out new loans on them. The days of homes as ATMs are over.

Some cheerleaders say rising stock prices make consumers feel wealthier and therefore readier to spend. But to the extent most Americans have any assets at all their net worth is mostly in their homes, and those homes are still worth less than they were in 2007. The "wealth effect" is relevant mainly to the richest 10 percent of Americans, most of whose net worth is in stocks and bonds. The top 10 percent accounted for about half of total national income in 2007. But they were only about 40 percent of total spending, and a sustainable recovery can't be based on the top ten percent.

Add to all this the joblessness or fear of it that continues to haunt a large portion of the American population. Add in the trauma of what most of us have been through over the past year and a half. Consider also the extra need to save as tens of millions of boomers see retirement on the horizon. Bottom line: Thrifty consumers are doing the right and sensible thing by holding back from the malls. They saved a little over 4 percent of their disposable income in fourth quarter of 2009. In the months or years ahead they may save more.

Right and sensible for each household but a disaster for the economy as a whole. American consumers accounted for 70 percent of the total demand for goods and services in the American economy before the Great Recession, and a sizable chunk of world demand.

So what happens when the stimulus is over and the Fed begins to tighten again? Where will demand come from to get Main Street back, create jobs, raise middle class wages? Not from big businesses. Certainly not from Wall Street. Not from exports. Not from government.

So, where? That question is the big unknown hanging over the U.S. economy. Until there's an answer, an economic "recovery" for anyone other than big corporations, Wall Street, and the wealthy is a mirage.

28 March 2010

I Am Angry




By John Cory



I am angry.

I'm tired of pundits and know-nothing media gasbags. I'm tired of snarky "inside politics" programming. I am sick of the bigotry and hatred of "birthers" and faux patriotic cranks and their GOP puppet masters. And I'm really pissed at the Democratic Party that confuses having a plate of limp noodles with having a spine.

I'm going to vomit if I hear the word "bipartisanship" one more time.

It was "bipartisanship" that gave us this activist conservative Supreme Court. A Supreme Court that says money is free speech and corporations are persons except when real people try to hold them accountable for their greed and poisonous ways.

"Bipartisanship" gave us the Patriot Act and FISA and illegal wiretaps and two wars and "free speech zones" and "no fly" lists. God bless bipartisan America.

I get nauseated every time the Senate explains how it takes a super majority to do anything for the American people. Tell you what Senate Bozos, if it takes 60 votes to pass legislation then it should take 60% of the popular vote to get you elected.

When some Tea Party crank says, "I want my country back," I respond, "No madam, you want your country backward."

When a deficit-mongering politician says, "How do we pay for this?" Why not ask, "What did you Republicans do with the surplus we Democrats left you?"

When a compassionate conservative says, "Healthcare reform is socialism," why not answer, "No, sir it is the moral and American way to care for people."

Yes, I can hear it now: "You are naïve and simplistic. These are complicated matters and require sophisticated solutions. Democrats are a big tent and strive for balance. But Republicans block our path at every turn. We are thinking and considering new ways to work in harmony with everyone."

Bite me.

The only thing you get with "harmony" is a Barbershop Quartet.

Democrats stop being Republican Lite. Stop whining about that mean GOP and their nasty messaging. Grow a pair, get a message, get a bumper sticker and hang it out there. Get some strong vivid talking points.

G-O-P = Greed Over People.

Greed Kills - jobs, people and the economy.

Terrorism is Viagra for Republicans: The more fear - the more excited they get.

When a soldier dies for America, who dares ask if they were gay or straight?

Don't act so shocked, Democratic Party. Have you looked around lately?

You're losing the young vote that showed up to elect Obama. You're losing those old enough to remember real Democrats. Why? Because you don't talk to them any more than you talk to me. You talk at me. You talk around me. You talk down to me. You talk about me. You don't talk with me. And you don't inspire and you don't champion and without that you are nothing more than an arbitrator of compromise and abdication.

You are facing a bully. Deal with it!

Republicans want the country backwards. They champion superstition over science because it entrenches ignorance and bigotry and captures the easily frightened.

Republicans treat the Constitution the way they treat the Bible, with selective interpretation and selective application to others while exempting themselves from judgment and accountability.

Republicans preach the gospel of fear because fear is darkness and darkness covers their theft of civil liberties and Constitutional principles.

For thirty years the Republican Party has claimed the mantle of law and order but now quake in dread of the American judicial system when putting terrorists on trial. How criminal is that?

Torture is illegal. Period. John Wayne and Jack Bauer were not our Founding Fathers - only in the make-believe world of Republican drugstore-patriots.

DADT needs to be repealed. Now. It is unconscionable, immoral, and disgusting.

Empathy, compassion and equality are not pejoratives. They are American values proven again and again throughout our history.

Republicans believe that bake-sales and cookies for chemotherapy best determine the value of life and healthcare because life is a pre-existing condition and the "free market" should not have to take on such a high risk - after all, no one gets out alive, so why should the corporation be left holding the bag? Unless of course the price is right.

Republicans believe that government should keep its hands off healthcare but should put its hands inside a woman's body.

Republicans believe in small government - small enough to hold the "right" people and small enough to be owned and operated by the "right" people. And who are the "right" people? Them. Not you.

Democratic Party, DNC, DLCC, DSCC or whatever your acronym - I have only one question for you: Really?

You can't win against these guys? You can't get your message out against these guys? You can't give America leadership against these guys?

Really?

27 March 2010

Korea starts testing 'recharging road,' might make it part of its public transport system



By Vladislav Savov posted Mar 10th 2010

Time to set aside the chains of worry that have prevented us from jumping on the electric bandwagon -- Korean researchers have figured out a way to make us forget all about charging stations and cruising ranges with their magnetically recharging road. The Online Electric Vehicle (OLEV) you see here went into service yesterday and can now be found towing three bus-loads of tourists around a Seoul amusement park. It operates on a battery five times smaller than conventional EV juice packs and can collect its power through non-contact magnetic transmission from the recharging strips in the ground. We're also told running costs for this system are a third of what a typical EV would require, and should it prove successful and find itself expanded to the public transport system, only about 20 percent of bus routes would need to be electrified -- at bus stops, crossroads and the like -- with the rest being covered by the power stored inside the OLEV. Here's to hoping it all works out.

26 March 2010

Traveling The Luxury Skies The Eco-Friendly Deluxe Airship Way



by Susan DeFreitas, February 5th, 2010
Imagine, a luxury eco-hotel where every room has a stunning view…of the clouds in the sky and the earth from above. The designers at London’s Seymourpowell did, and the result is something truly lovely: a concept design for a hydrogen and solar-powered “clipper in the clouds” integrating a hotel into an airship with zero emissions.
According to Ecofriend, the Aircruise concept integrates four duplex apartments, five smaller apartments, a penthouse apartment, and a number of bar/lounge/communal areas with features glass floors that offer breathtaking views from the sky. The design makes innovative use of the fact that airships typically need large volumes of a gas that’s lighter than air–in this case, hydrogen–and a comparatively smaller passenger payload, integrating the two into a low-density, high luxury “air-cruise” moving at an average of 90/miles hour. At this pace, it would take about one and a half relaxing days to get from London to New York.

It’s hard to remember sometimes, in the increasingly cramped and uncomfortable spaces afforded by commercial air-travel, that flight was once a romantic human ideal. This concept design revives that ideal in the form of a spacious, futuristic airship. Although the technical challenges that would have to be overcome in order to make the Aircruise a reality are formidable, according to Seymourpowell, the designers were commissioned by Samsung to develop detailed interiors and achievable technical specifications, which involve large hydrogen fuel cells. Here’s hoping…

25 March 2010

24 March 2010

Backpack Hydroelectric Plant Gives You 500 Watts on the Move



A human-portable hydroelectric generator that weighs about 30 pounds and generates 500 watts of power may soon be a new option for off-grid power.

Developed by Bourne Energy of Mailbu, California, the Backpack Power Plant can create clean, quiet power from any stream deeper than 4 feet.

The company showed off its more-rugged, militarized version of the Backpack Power Plant at the Cleantech Forum in San Francisco last week. Bourne Energy CEO Chris Catlin estimates the system will cost $3,000 after it goes into production.

“The BPP-2, which operates silently with no heat or exhaust emissions, is 40 percent less visible during operation and can also be bottom mounted to be totally invisible,” the company maintains.

Off-grid solar cells are also quiet, but they don’t make much power relative to the mini-turbine. For example, one commercially available foldable solar panel measures about 12 square feet and produces 62 watts of peak power. You’d need 60 square feet of panels to get the same peak power as the BPP-2, and the panels would only generate electricity while the sun was shining.

To install the civilian BPP, you would dig two trenches on opposite sides of a river and insert a lightweight anchor into each. Then, you’d run a synthetic rope between the anchors and the BPP. Catlin said his company designed the system to work like the high-tension mooring systems that hold up floating oil rigs.

The military version of the BPP has been designed to work with a variety of flow rates. The civilian version was designed to function best in streams moving at 2.3 meters (7.5 feet) per second.

The civilian market for a $3,000 mini hydro system might not be huge in the industrialized world, but Catlin hopes the plant will find willing customers in developing nations and the military.

“This can bring a cheap, highly portable energy technology to remote areas and remote villages,” Catlin told Wired.com.

Bourne is currently looking for $4 million in venture capital to take the BPP from prototype to production.



Read More http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/03/backpack-hydroelectric-plant/#ixzz0hRdIiod1

23 March 2010

Evatran Starts Field Trial of 'Hands-free' Electric Car Recharging

Wytheville, VA -- Evatran, LLC, the makers of the world’s first “hands-free” proximity charging system for electric vehicles and extended-range hybrids, announced today the launch of a field trial of Plugless Power™ pre-production units in and around Wytheville. Field trial participants include the Town of Wytheville, several businesses, and individuals, each of whom will be driving electric vehicles on a regular basis and supplying Evatran with feedback on the Plugless Power™ system. The electric vehicles, including three Wheego Whips, a Current from Electric City Motors and one ZENN, will be delivered in March, with Plugless Power prototype systems installed after an initial acclimation period.

According to Rebecca Hough, co-founder and director of sales and marketing for Evatran, “We recognize that convenient charging of electric vehicles is essential to their volume acceptance. We invite drivers to see for themselves how our proximity charging system can make EV ownership more convenient and enjoyable. We’re thrilled to be working with town officials, local leaders, and the owners of Trinkle Mansion, Counts Pharmacy and Smokey’s BBQ to make Wytheville the first locale in the country to offer Plugless Power™ to drivers of electric cars.” Hough adds, “MTC Transformers, our parent company, has been a leader in the Virginia business community for 20 years. We are continuing in this tradition by inviting other Virginia businesses to make our community a model for convenient EV charging.” Following the field trial, Evatran plans to extend its Field Trial program to other parts of the U.S.

The Plugless Power™ charging system will be ready for full-scale production by late Fall 2010. For details on the program and driver testimonials, visit www.evatran.com.

22 March 2010

Bloom Energy: Is its ‘power plant in a box’ worth all the hype?


Watch CBS News Videos Online

Bloom Energy finally emerged from stealth mode, unveiling its “Bloom Box” fuel cell during a 60 Minutes segment with Lesley Stahl yesterday. Capable of powering more than 100 homes while producing close to zero emissions, just one of these boxes could radically alter how people get their energy. But is it the godsend that some are saying it is?

Wireless and neatly compartmentalized, the Bloom Box could one day be a fixture in your backyard or basement, transmitting clean energy to your home as needed, Bloom CEO K.R. Sridhar says. Right now, it’s available on a large scale, with each box costing as much as $800,000. In the next five to 10 years, Bloom says it will release smaller boxes for individual households costing less than $3,000. If this happens, there is a chance that Bloom Boxes could supplant utilities and long-distance transmission lines — not to mention capital intensive wind farms and solar arrays.

Bloom investor John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, who played a big role in last night’s 60 Minutes debut, says it is definitely Bloom Energy’s goal to disrupt, and even replace the country’s electrical grid. This is a bold assertion, considering how much time, effort and money is being sunk into the creation of the so-called Smart Grid. Incidentally, Bloom Energy was Kleiner Perkins’ first investment in the green sector, which has now become a huge area of focus for the firm. Since then, former Secretary of State Colin Powell has also joined the board of directors.

If this doesn’t inspire confidence in Bloom’s lofty claims, its roster of current customers probably will. Google was actually the first to install Bloom Boxes on its campus 18 months ago, followed soon after by eBay, FedEx, Wal-Mart and 16 other big names. EBay CEO John Donahoe gave the Box a strong endorsement last night, reporting that the several fuel cells it installed nine months ago have already saved the company $100,000 in energy costs — and are putting out five times more energy than its extensive rooftop solar system.

Last night also marked the first glimpse anyone has gotten at Bloom’s actual technology. Each Bloom Box is filled with stacks of razor-thin discs made out of baked beach sand and coated with green and black proprietary inks (this component remains secretive). When the Box is infused with a source of fuel, whether it be natural gas, biomass-produced gas or even solar energy, each of these discs puts out enough electricity to power a light bulb. Together, they can light up whole city blocks. The design was adapted from a similar product that Sridhar worked on at NASA.

As Greentech Media editor-in-chief Michael Kanellos pointed out during last night’s segment, previous attempts at similar fuel cells have been prohibitively expensive — especially when it comes to scaling the technology. But Bloom’s Sridhar says it has dramatically reduced the costs associated with building fuel cells. Not only does it use a cheaper metal alloy between each of its discs instead of the typical platinum, but it has replaced the expensive, pure hydrogen gas that used to be required, with more plentiful gas-based fuels. The bigger problem might be that the company only has the capacity to build about one box per day after raising upwards of $400 million.

After letting Sridhar sing his Box’s praises at the beginning of the segment, 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl turned to potential problems and challenges. Notably, if the Bloom Box becomes available (and affordable) for average consumers, won’t threatened utilities start to push back? Sridhar and Doerr have foreseen this problem and reasonably argue that utilities could become major Bloom Box buyers themselves, selling the power the Boxes produce to their residential and commercial customers. After all, utilities already buy wind farms and nuclear reactors to do the same.

Stahl also called attention to some of the technical difficulties existing Bloom customers have encountered. For instance, early on, one of Google’s Bloom Boxes used to power a data center abruptly shut down. Sridhar admits that not every Box has performed perfectly and acknowledges that several Boxes have had problems with air filter clogs. But he maintains that the technology is still being refined, and that the early adopters are playing an important role in providing feedback and making the product more commercially viable.

Kanellos provided perhaps the most salient counterpoint: Companies like General Electric and Siemens have been working on their own fuel cell models for decades. If Bloom Energy succeeds as widely as Sridhar and Doerr say it will, what’s stopping these bigger players from investing their immense capital in developing their own branded solutions? Kanellos articulately framed this issue, agreeing that fuel cells may indeed become a staple in household basements in the next decade, but that they’ll bear the GE logo, not Bloom’s.

Even after shedding some mystery, Bloom still seems to hold an amazing amount of potential. It will be interesting to see which companies sign up to be in its second flock of big-name customers. At what point will it begin to approach major utilities as potential buyers? And what will happen to fledgling competitors like home fuel-cell maker ClearEdge Power? Will Bloom’s technology be adapted for automotive applications as well? Could it revolutionize the developing work with off-the-grid electricity? There are many more questions yet to be answered, but for now, it looks like Bloom deserves all the buzz.

Written by: Camille Ricketts

21 March 2010

Marine Current Turbines secures funds for commercial tidal energy farm

This is really Exciting!



LONDON, England 1/6/10 (PennWell) --
British tidal energy company Marine Current Turbines (MCT) has raised 3.5 million pounds (US$5.6 million) from an investor group led by Carbon Trust Investments Limited to help it deploy a commercial tidal energy farm in UK waters, Carbon Trust reported.

Carbon Trust is an independent company set up by the government in 2001 to help accelerate the move toward a low-carbon economy.

MCT plans to develop a tidal energy farm within the next two years using its 1.2-MW SeaGen device, which uses rotors driven by tidal currents to produce power.

Part of the new funding will support MCT’s first deployment of SeaGen in Northern Ireland’s Strangford Lough, which has been successfully operating for more than six months. The company is now also looking to export its technology abroad.

The Carbon Trust’s investment is drawn from a fund provided by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The new fund is designed to speed up Britain’s move toward a low carbon economy by providing promising UK clean energy sector companies with investment.

The investor group for the project included Bank Invest, EDF Energy, High Tide and a group of significant private investors.

20 March 2010

Practical Guide to Free-Energy Devices

For a really fun site with lots of Cool "free" energy devices go to:

19 March 2010

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18 March 2010

San Jose Gets Creative to Help Homeowners Pay for Solar



By this time next year, thousands of San Jose rooftops could be covered with solar panels — with the homeowners paying little upfront cash thanks to some creative solar financing.
City officials announced at a City Council meeting yesterday that they were drawing up plans for San Jose to become one of the first major cities to take advantage of the new CaliforniaFIRST statewide assessment district.
The district will sell energy bonds to fund loans to residential and commercial property owners, not only for solar installations but also for energy efficiency improvements such as new insulation or replacing water-hungry fixtures with low-flow models (because water equals energy, but you know that already).
It's an example of one of today’s more successful solar financing strategies — property tax financing, which allows property owners to pay for their solar panels over 20 years via a line-item addition on their property tax bills. If the owner sells the house, the solar tax assessment shifts to the new owner, eliminating two stumbling blocks at once: the upfront cost of a $10,000-plus solar installation and concerns about the investment paying off.
We spoke with Nanci Klein, manager of corporate outreach for the City of San Jose’s economic development office, who was excited about the city’s proposed involvement with CaliforniaFIRST.
“We’re hoping for a few thousand people to participate in the first round, and it will keep going as long as people are interested," Klein says.
The statewide assessment district was developed by California Statewide Communities Development Authority (CSCDA) and allows cities and counties that express official interest in the program to access statewide bond financing. CSCDA sells bonds on behalf of the CaliforniaFIRST participants, thus lifting the financial responsibility off of individual cities and allowing them to tap into the economies of scale provided by a statewide taxable bond sale.
This type of financing is beginning to take off across California. Berkeley became the first to attempt it earlier this year, and its Berkeley First pilot program, which financed 35 solar roof installations, has become the blueprint for followers. The application process for that program is now closed, however, and the city is evaluating whether to continue it.
Though largely credited with starting the property tax financing trend, Berkeley did so before AB 811 passed and thus had to take responsibility for funding the program itself. Now that there are other options available, the city may well opt to join either CaliforniaFIRST or a regional assessment district that the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) is putting together.
In the meantime, larger cities are talking about following in Berkeley's footsteps.
San Diego is set to launch a similar program next month, and San Jose hopes to launch its program by the end of the year. San Francisco also plans launch a version this year; it currently offers GoSolar incentives of $4,000 to residential property owners and $10,000 to commercial property owners for solar installations.
Why California?
While some municipalities outside California have tried municipal solar financing — Boulder, Colo., offered a first round of financing in April, for one — the majority of the progress has been in the Golden State, thanks to its passage last year of AB 811. The bill allowed for the creation of loan assessment districts that are authorized to sell bonds in order to secure loans for renewable energy installations and energy efficiency upgrades.
With both statewide assessment districts like CaliforniaFIRST and more localized assessment districts that operate either in single cities or in larger counties or regions (the Association of Bay Area Governments plans to have a district comprised of the nine Bay Area counties it represents by later this year), California residents will eventually be able to take their pick of programs.
If there are differences between them, residents are free to go with whichever loan suits them best.
“You’ll see a whole cottage industry I think for solar financing and energy efficiency financing, and it will bring with it jobs,” Klein says. “We’re focusing training dollars that have come to us through regular and stimulus money towards getting people ready for solar and energy efficiency-related jobs.”
Though California was the first state to authorize such districts, Louisiana is following closely with the proposal of Senate Bill 224. The state’s Senate unanimously passed the bill on June 10, and it is awaiting a vote from the House. If it passes, it will go into effect by August.

17 March 2010

Texas Sues To Protect Corporate Polluters


Posted by Ted McLaughlin

There is no doubt at all that the state of Texas is by far the biggest polluter in the United States. It is such a bad polluter that it makes other large state polluters like California, New York, Ohio and Illinois look like paragons of cleanliness by comparison. In fact, if Texas was a country it would be the seventh largest polluter in the entire world.

For the eight environmentally devastating years of the Bush administration, Texas had a protected status thanks to Texan George Bush and pseudo-Texan Dick Cheney. They refused to let the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declare greenhouse gases as pollution or put any kind of onerous restrictions on Texas polluters. But with the election of Barack Obama that has changed.

Last year, the EPA finally came to its senses and declared greenhouse gases to be pollution. That means it's production can now be restricted and the EPA can finally take serious steps to clean up the massive pollution problem in Texas.

This gave the state leadership in Austin a choice. They could act in concert with the EPA and actually make Texas a safer and healthier place for its citizens (especially children with conditions like asthma) and provide a better future for the country and world by controlling and cutting back on greenhouse gases. Or they could fight the ruling and protect corporate polluters.

To anyone familiar with the state's Republican leadership, it was certainly no mystery which choice the state would make. A quick look at how ineffective and utterly useless the Railroad Commission (who controls oil and gas production) and the Commission on Environmental Quality (who controls other pollution, including radioactive waste) are would tell anyone what the answer would be.

Texas Republican leaders, from the elected officials to those appointed by them, were long ago bought and paid for by the corporations. They are always going to act to protect the corporate polluters, regardless of how much that destroys the quality of life for ordinary citizens.

On Tuesday, Governor Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples once again pledged their fealty to their corporate masters by announcing they had filed suit against the EPA to overturn their greenhouse gases decision. These global climate change deniers say the EPA decision is based on "bogus conclusions" and would cause "billions of dollars of economic damage in Texas".

Governor Perry declared, "The EPA's misguided plan paints a big target on the backs of Texas agriculture and energy producers and the hundreds of thousands of Texans they employ." The governor would like for everyone to believe that the poor energy producers would go out of business and cost Texas thousands of jobs if they had to clean up the pollution they are currently filling the air with.

That's a ridiculous assertion. These are the same corporations that are reaping record windfall profits in the middle of a serious recession. They can easily afford to use cleaner technologies and renewable energy sources. In addition, moving to greener energy would undoubtably create many more jobs than the clean-up would cost.

The environmental groups Public Citizen and the Sierra Club have delivered a symbolic "citizen citation" to Governor Perry, demanding that he "cease and desist endangering the health of breathers, the economy and the climate in Texas". While I approve of their action, I doubt it will have much effect on the state's Republican leaders.

I enjoy political theater as much as anyone, but what is really needed is to replace these Republican leaders with Democrats in the coming general election. I'm not sure replacing Perry with leading Democrat Blue Dog Bill White will do much good, since he is a corporate-owned conservative in Democratic clothing, but replacing others could do a lot of good.

This nonsensical lawsuit could be stopped by replacing the Attorney General with Democrat Barbara Radnofsky, and replacing the Agriculture Commissioner with either Kinky Friedman or Hank Gilbert -- all of whom are progressives who will fight to clean up the Texas environment (and Texas politics).

I wish I could say there's a good chance of that happening this November, but I don't think there is. In the last couple of decades, Texas voters have proven to be easily deluded by the Republicans. Republicans know they can get most Texas voters to vote against their own interests by addressing fringe issues that don't really affect most Texans but appeals to their bigotry (homosexual, minority and immigrant rights) and their religious fundamentalism (gay and lesbian marriage, prayer in schools and intelligent design).

I'm afraid we're probably going to have to rely on the courts to rein in the corporate polluters, and that's not good news either. I expect the state (and the polluters) will appeal all the way to the Supreme Court. That conservative court has already declared the corporations to be "people" with the right to spend as much as they want in political campaigns to protect their interests. From there, it's just a small step to giving them the right to pollute as well.

I wish I could be more positive about this issue, but frankly the future looks pretty dim for citizens and the environment and very bright for the corporate polluters.

16 March 2010

The New Deal in Reverse How the Obama Administration Ended Up Where Franklin Roosevelt Began

by Steve Fraser

On March 4, 1933, the day he took office, Franklin Roosevelt excoriated the "money changers" who "have fled from their high seats in the temples of our civilization [because...] they know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision and where there is no vision, the people perish."

Rhetoric, however, is only rhetoric. According to one skeptical congressional observer of FDR's first inaugural address, "The President drove the money-changers out of the Capitol on March 4th -- and they were all back on the 9th."

That was essentially true. It was what happened after that, in the midst of the Great Depression, which set the New Deal on a course that is the mirror image of the direction in which the Obama administration seems headed.

Buoyed by great expectations when he assumed office, Barack Obama has so far revealed himself to be an unfolding disappointment. On arrival, expectations were far lower for FDR, who was not considered extraordinary at all -- until he actually did something extraordinary.

The great expectations of 2009 are, only a year later, beginning to smell like a pile of dead fish with new rhetoric -- including populist-style attacks on villainous bankers that sound fake (or cynically pandering) when uttered by Obama's brainiacs -- layered on top of the pile like deodorant. Meanwhile, the country is suffering through a recovery that isn't a recovery unless you happen to be a banker, and the administration stands by, too politically or intellectually inhibited or incapacitated to do much of anything about it. A year into "change we can believe in" and the new regime, once so flush with power and the promise of big doings, seems exhausted, vulnerable, and afraid. A year into the New Deal -- indeed a mere 100 days into Roosevelt's era -- change, whether you believed in it or not, clearly had the wind at its back.

A Tale of Two Presidencies

If, a few days after Roosevelt pronounced them ex-communicant, the "money-changers" were back inside the temple -- "temple," by the way, was how the Federal Reserve used to be known before its recent fall from grace -- no one was too surprised. He, like Obama, was initially worried about alienating big business and high finance. He arrived in the Oval Office, in fact, still a prisoner of his own past and the country's. He believed, for example, in the then-orthodox wisdom of balancing the budget and would never entirely abandon that faith.

Not long before he assumed office, his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, vetoed a bill calling for the accelerated payment of bonuses to World War I veterans. Many of them had only recently gathered in makeshift tents on Anacostia Flats in Washington D.C., an army of the destitute, to plead their case. Hoover, to his lasting dishonor, ordered Army Chief of Staff General Douglas McArthur to have their tents set on fire and drive them away at bayonet point. Not long after FDR took the oath of office, he vetoed the same bill. He shared, as well, in a broad cultural repugnance for what was then called "the dole," and today is known as "welfare."

The legendary first 100 days of the Roosevelt administration, memorable for a raft of reform and recovery legislation, also prominently featured an Economy Act designed to reduce government expenditures. Fearing the possibility of a break with the commercial elite, the president tried forging a partnership with them, much as Hoover had. As a matter of fact, the first two pieces of recovery legislation his administration submitted to Congress -- the National Industrial Recovery Act and the Agricultural Adjustment Act -- were formulated and implemented in a way that would seem familiar today. They gave the country's major corporations and largest agricultural interests the principal authority for re-starting the country's stalled economic engines.

However, even as the administration tried to maintain its ties to powerful business interests and a traditional fiscal conservatism, it broke them -- and it severed those connections in ways, and for reasons, that are instructive today.

*The Glass-Steagall Act: This emergency banking legislation passed during those extraordinary first 100 days separated commercial from investment banking. It was meant to prevent the misuse of commercial bank deposits (other people's money like yours and mine) in dangerous forms of speculation, which many at the time believed had helped cause the Great Wall Street Crash of 1929, prelude to the Great Depression. Today, ever more people wish Glass-Steagall had never been repealed (as it was in 1999), as its absence helped open the door to the financial misadventures that brought us the Great Crash of '08.

The bill infuriated what was called, in those days, "the Money Trust," especially the once omnipotent house of Morgan, the dominant member of an elite group of Wall Street firms that had run the financial system since the turn of the century when J.P. Morgan, America's most famous banker, was revered and feared around the world. (Jack, the patriarch's son, was so incensed by New Deal financial reform that he banned all pictures of the President from the bank's premises.) Glass-Steagall, as well as the two Securities Acts of 1933 and 1934 which created the Securities and Exchange Commission and left the doyens of the New York Stock Exchange apoplectic, represented real reform, and so were different in kind from TARP and all the other contraptions designed by the Bush and Obama Treasury Departments simply to bail out the financial sector.

*The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA): Offspring also of those first 100 days, the TVA uplifted a vast, underdeveloped, and impoverished rural region of the country by bringing it electric power, irrigation, soil conservation, and flood control. It introduced the then-alien (and once again alien) idea of government-directed economic planning and development. It left the private utility industry irate at the prospect of having to compete with effective, publicly owned electrical-power-generating facilities. Fast-forward to today when, on the contrary, the private health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, conniving behind closed doors with Obama's people, proved triumphant in a similar confrontation, leaving government competition in the dust.

*Jobs: And then there was, as there is again, the question of jobs and how to create them. In 1933, American politicians still took the notion of balancing the budget each year with deadly seriousness. In our present era, every president from Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton to George W. Bush and now, apparently, Barack Obama talks the talk without any intention of walking the walk. What made the Roosevelt moment remarkable was this: balanced-budget orthodoxy notwithstanding, the new administration soon forged ahead with a set of jobs programs that not only implied deficit spending but an even more radical departure from business as usual.

Initially, the Public Works Administration (PWA), created as part of the National Industrial Recovery Act, relied on large-scale infrastructure projects farmed out to private enterprise. Undertaking such projects inevitably entailed government borrowing and deficits. Partly for that reason, the PWA proceeded at a glacial pace, put few to work right away, and -- in the way it looked to the private sector to take the lead -- resembled the latest thinking of the Obama administration whose newest tepid suggestions for creating jobs depend almost solely on funneling tax relief to business.

Simultaneously, however, the New Deal pursued a more daring alternative. FDR diverted a third of the PWA's budget to the Civil Works Administration (CWA), out of which was born the legendary Civilian Conservation Corps, an agency that deployed hundreds of thousands of unemployed young men to restore the country's forests and parklands. The CWA skipped the private sector entirely and simply put people to work: four million people in the summer and fall of 1933. (That would be the equivalent, today, of ten million Americans back on the job.)

During the first nine months of the Roosevelt administration manual laborers, clerks, architects, book-binders, teachers, actors, white and blue collar workers alike became Federal employees. They laid millions of feet of sewer pipe, improved hundreds of thousands of miles of roads, and built thousands of schools, playgrounds, and airports. Harry Hopkins, who ran the CWA, was authorized to seize tools, equipment, and materials from Army warehouses to get the new system up and running. (The Works Progress Administration, a subsequent incarnation of the CWA, would later create eight million jobs on the same principle of public employment.)

This isn't even within hailing distance of where the current Administration is now as it frets about the deficit and pledges to freeze domestic spending (and implies, without having the courage to say so, that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security had better watch out). Coming from a regnant Democratic Party this is change we can't or don't want to believe in.

Heading Backwards

Like Obama, Roosevelt was denounced by his enemies in the Republican Party and the business community as a closet socialist (not to mention a cripple, a Jew, and a homosexual). While the administration would sometimes trim its sails considerably to weather the right wing storm, its general reaction to Republican opposition was the opposite of Obama's. Even during that first year, and at an accelerating pace afterwards, the momentum of the New Deal carried it irresistibly to the left.

This was true, in fact, of the whole Democratic Party. The Congress elected in the off-year of 1934 was not only more overwhelmingly Democratic, but the Democrats who won were considerably more progressive-minded. They were far readier to jettison the shibboleths of the old order and press a still cautious President in their direction. By 1936, the essentials of the social welfare and regulatory state were in place, an insurgent labor movement had won the elementary right to organize (while becoming the New Deal's most muscular constituency), and the president was denouncing "economic royalists" and "tories of industry" whose "hatred" for him he "welcomed."

Today the Obama administration and the Democratic Party are visibly moving in the opposite direction. They read the lesson of humiliating defeat in Massachusetts and the voluble hostility of the populist right as an advisory to move further to the right. Tacking rightward, tailoring policy to match the tastes of business and finance, cautioning Americans that they'll need to tighten their belts (as if they hadn't already been doing so), adopting the parsimonious sanctimony of the balanced budget, slimming down their great expectations until what little is left mocks the hopes of so many who elected them -- all of this is seen as smart politics.

Smart like a chicken. This is the same cleverness that, beginning with Ronald Reagan's triumph, turned the Democratic Party into Republican-lite. Shrewdness like this helps explain, in part, why Obama's inner circle and Democratic leaders took the early, fateful steps that were bound to land them where they find themselves today.

Would the Republican right and its tea-party populists -- marginal, mockable political freaks less than a year ago -- have enjoyed their current growth spasm if the administration hadn't been committed to bailing out the very institutions most people considered the villains responsible for running this country into a ditch? Would the Democratic Party have been in imminent danger of losing its faltering grip on Congress had it found the will to pursue serious health-care reform and environmental legislation, or wrestled the financial oligarchy to the mat as Roosevelt did? A long generation spent cowering in the shadows of the conservative ascendancy has left the newly empowered Democrats congenitally incapable of seizing their own historic moment.

After a year of feinting to the left without meaning it, how seriously is anyone going to take the administration's latest call to tax the banks or break their addiction to reckless speculation? Even if Obama now means to push ahead with some sort of health-care reform or put some teeth into new financial regulations, he has spent so much political capital moving in the opposite direction and seeking partners where there never were any that his quest, even if genuine, may now be purely quixotic. As for the surge in Afghanistan and the endless war that goes with it, by election time 2010, it's an even bet that it will have further undermined any hopes of a late-inning Democratic Party revival.

Conventional wisdom notwithstanding, off-year elections do not always favor the minority party. Indeed, 1934 may be the best example of the opposite effect. Exactly because the New Deal showed itself ever readier to junk the ancien régime, break with economic orthodoxy, and above all say goodbye to its erstwhile corporate friends, it was rewarded handsomely at the polls. None of that apparently will be repeated in 2010, given an administration that seems to be running a New Deal in reverse.

15 March 2010

The Monopolization of America

by Russell Mokhiber

You walk into your local convenience store and head to the cold walk-in beer room in the back.

The choice is overwhelming.

Budweiser, Michelob, Bud Light, Busch Light, Stella Artois, Grolsch, Kirin,Tsingtao, Corona, Negra Modelo, Rolling Rock, Widmer, Miller and Coors.

In fact, all of these beers are controlled by two companies.

MillerCoors under the direction of South African Breweries (SAB) and AnheuserBusch In Bev.

Two multinational corporations controlling the beer choices of 300 million Americans.

And it's not just beer.

One single multinational corporation dominates the world supply of eyeglass stores.

One dominates the milk supply.

Barry Lynn goes down the list of industries.

And he finds a similar story across the board.

A handful of multinational corporations controlling each industry - or the supply chains of each industry.

Such dominant monopolies were illegal just thirty years ago.

But that all changed with Ronald Reagan and Robert Bork.

A corporatist oligarchy took hold.

President Obama has promised aggressive antitrust enforcement.

But Lynn says it's pie in the sky.

"It will take more than a lawsuit or two to overthrow America's corporatist oligarchy and restore a model of capitalism that protects our rights as property holders and citizens," Lynn argues in his new book - Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction (Wiley, 2010).

Antitrust law was developed to protect the political economy from extreme concentrations of corporate power.

Then came Reagan and Bork.

In 1978, Bork said we should have a consumer welfare test.

If economic concentration is good for the consumer - think Wal-Mart - then let it be.

Never mind the citizen.

In 1981, William Baxter, head of Reagan's Antitrust Division, announced that he would be guided by "an efficiency test."

"When Baxter first talked to the press in 1981, he said - we are going to impose an efficiency test," Lynn told Corporate Crime Reporter last week. "Those were the words he used. It was only a little bit later that they framed it as a consumer welfare test. And Robert Bork came up with that. Bork's book - The Antitrust Paradox - came out in 1978 and he floated this idea of a consumer welfare test."

"It took Baxter a couple of years to get the messaging together. They locked into the consumer welfare test. And it helped to bring along so many folks in the consumer movement. And for some reason, after focusing on safety, which is a fantastic thing that Ralph Nader did, they began fixating on prices. And there is a whole political analysis as to why they began fixating on prices. What groups were they targeting with that fixation?"

"In 1981, that marked a revolutionary change in how we applied our anti-monopoly laws. No longer was the primary consideration political. The primary consideration was prices and consumer welfare."

Lynn says that Bork didn't understand why the consumer movement didn't come after him on the consumer welfare test.

"In 1993, Bork put out a second edition of the Antitrust Paradox," Lynn said. "And in the introduction, he says - I don't understand what happened here. I thought the socialists were doing to come out and fight us tooth and nail on this. And they never did. We didn't think we were going to get this through. And we did." Mention the word "socialist" in this context, and Lynn sees red.

"In this country, the group that tends to point its finger and calls the other people socialists most effectively tends to win," Lynn said.

"And when they win - they get to socialize their own risks."

"So, you have this elite in this country that for a generation has been raving about socialism."

"And what were they doing in the meantime? They were socializing all of their risks."

"As was laid bare to us in September 2008. Larry Summers put it best - what the bankers did, he said, was they privatized all of their profits and socialized all of their risks."

"You really have to target the other people and call them socialists."

"We have just seen the most massive era of socialization in this country that we've ever seen."

14 March 2010

Facismo101



13 March 2010

Zero Point Of Systemic Collapse

Chris Hedges has summarized it:

Aleksandr Herzen, speaking a century ago to a group of anarchists about how to overthrow the czar, reminded his listeners that it was not their job to save a dying system but to replace it: “We think we are the doctors. We are the disease.” All resistance must recognize that the body politic and global capitalism are dead. We should stop wasting energy trying to reform or appeal to it. This does not mean the end of resistance, but it does mean very different forms of resistance. It means turning our energies toward building sustainable communities to weather the coming crisis, since we will be unable to survive and resist without a cooperative effort.

These communities, if they retreat into a pure survivalist mode without linking themselves to the concentric circles of the wider community, the state and the planet, will become as morally and spiritually bankrupt as the corporate forces arrayed against us. All infrastructures we build, like the monasteries in the Middle Ages, should seek to keep alive the intellectual and artistic traditions that make a civil society, humanism and the common good possible. Access to parcels of agricultural land will be paramount. We will have to grasp, as the medieval monks did, that we cannot alter the larger culture around us, at least in the short term, but we may be able to retain the moral codes and culture for generations beyond ours. Resistance will be reduced to small, often imperceptible acts of defiance, as those who retained their integrity discovered in the long night of 20th-century fascism and communism.

We stand on the cusp of one of the bleakest periods in human history when the bright lights of a civilization blink out and we will descend for decades, if not centuries, into barbarity. The elites have successfully convinced us that we no longer have the capacity to understand the revealed truths presented before us or to fight back against the chaos caused by economic and environmental catastrophe. As long as the mass of bewildered and frightened people, fed images that permit them to perpetually hallucinate, exist in this state of barbarism, they may periodically strike out with a blind fury against increased state repression, widespread poverty and food shortages. But they will lack the ability and self-confidence to challenge in big and small ways the structures of control. The fantasy of widespread popular revolts and mass movements breaking the hegemony of the corporate state is just that – a fantasy.

My analysis comes close to the analysis of many anarchists. But there is a crucial difference. The anarchists do not understand the nature of violence. They grasp the extent of the rot in our cultural and political institutions, they know they must sever the tentacles of consumerism, but they naïvely believe that it can be countered with physical forms of resistance and acts of violence. There are debates within the anarchist movement – such as those on the destruction of property – but once you start using plastic explosives, innocent people get killed. And when anarchic violence begins to disrupt the mechanisms of governance, the power elite will use these acts, however minor, as an excuse to employ disproportionate and ruthless amounts of force against real and suspected agitators, only fueling the rage of the dispossessed.

I am not a pacifist. I know there are times, and even concede that this may eventually be one of them, when human beings are forced to respond to mounting repression with violence. I was in Sarajevo during the war in Bosnia. We knew precisely what the Serbian forces ringing the city would do to us if they broke through the defenses and trench system around the besieged city. We had the examples of the Drina Valley or the city of Vukovar, where about a third of the Muslim inhabitants had been killed and the rest herded into refugee or displacement camps. There are times when the only choice left is to pick up a weapon to defend your family, neighborhood and city. But those who proved most adept at defending Sarajevo invariably came from the criminal class. When they were not shooting at Serbian soldiers they were looting the apartments of ethnic Serbs in Sarajevo and often executing them, as well as terrorizing their fellow Muslims. When you ingest the poison of violence, even in a just cause, it corrupts, deforms and perverts you. Violence is a drug, indeed it is the most potent narcotic known to humankind. Those most addicted to violence are those who have access to weapons and a penchant for force. And these killers rise to the surface of any armed movement and contaminate it with the intoxicating and seductive power that comes with the ability to destroy. I have seen it in war after war. When you go down that road you end up pitting your monsters against their monsters. And the sensitive, the humane and the gentle, those who have a propensity to nurture and protect life, are marginalized and often killed. The romantic vision of war and violence is as prevalent among anarchists and the hard left as it is in the mainstream culture. Those who resist with force will not defeat the corporate state or sustain the cultural values that must be sustained if we are to have a future worth living. From my many years as a war correspondent in El Salvador, Guatemala, Gaza and Bosnia, I have seen that armed resistance movements are always mutations of the violence that spawned them. I am not naïve enough to think I could have avoided these armed movements had I been a landless Salvadoran or Guatemalan peasant, a Palestinian in Gaza or a Muslim in Sarajevo, but this violent response to repression is and always will be tragic. It must be avoided, although not at the expense of our own survival.

Democracy, a system ideally designed to challenge the status quo, has been corrupted and tamed to slavishly serve the status quo. We have undergone, as John Ralston Saul writes, a coup d’état in slow motion. And the coup is over. They won. We lost. The abject failure of activists to push corporate, industrialized states toward serious environmental reform, to thwart imperial adventurism or to build a humane policy toward the masses of the world’s poor stems from an inability to recognize the new realities of power. The paradigm of power has irrevocably altered and so must the paradigm of resistance alter.

Too many resistance movements continue to buy into the facade of electoral politics, parliaments, constitutions, bills of rights, lobbying and the appearance of a rational economy. The levers of power have become so contaminated that the needs and voices of citizens have become irrelevant. The election of Barack Obama was yet another triumph of propaganda over substance and a skillful manipulation and betrayal of the public by the mass media. We mistook style and ethnicity – an advertising tactic pioneered by the United Colors of Benetton and Calvin Klein – for progressive politics and genuine change. We confused how we were made to feel with knowledge. But the goal, as with all brands, was to make passive consumers mistake a brand for an experience. Obama, now a global celebrity, is a brand. He had almost no experience besides two years in the senate, lacked any moral core and was sold as all things to all people. The Obama campaign was named Advertising Age’s marketer of the year for 2008 and edged out runners-up Apple and Zappos.com. Take it from the professionals. Brand Obama is a marketer’s dream. President Obama does one thing and Brand Obama gets you to believe another. This is the essence of successful advertising. You buy or do what the advertisers want because of how they can make you feel.

We live in a culture characterized by what Benjamin DeMott called “junk politics.” Junk politics does not demand justice or the reparation of rights. It always personalizes issues rather than clarifying them. It eschews real debate for manufactured scandals, celebrity gossip and spectacles. It trumpets eternal optimism, endlessly praises our moral strength and character, and communicates in a feel-your-pain language. The result of junk politics is that nothing changes, “meaning zero interruption in the processes and practices that strengthen existing, interlocking systems of socioeconomic advantage.”

The cultural belief that we can make things happen by thinking, by visualizing, by wanting them, by tapping into our inner strength or by understanding that we are truly exceptional is magical thinking. We can always make more money, meet new quotas, consume more products and advance our career if we have enough faith. This magical thinking, preached to us across the political spectrum by Oprah, sports celebrities, Hollywood, self-help gurus and Christian demagogues, is largely responsible for our economic and environmental collapse, since any Cassandra who saw it coming was dismissed as “negative.” This belief, which allows men and women to behave and act like little children, discredits legitimate concerns and anxieties. It exacerbates despair and passivity. It fosters a state of self-delusion. The purpose, structure and goals of the corporate state are never seriously questioned. To question, to engage in criticism of the corporate collective, is to be obstructive and negative. And it has perverted the way we view ourselves, our nation and the natural world. The new paradigm of power, coupled with its bizarre ideology of limitless progress and impossible happiness, has turned whole nations, including the United States, into monsters.

We can march in Copenhagen. We can join Bill McKibben’s worldwide day of climate protests. We can compost in our backyards and hang our laundry out to dry. We can write letters to our elected officials and vote for Barack Obama, but the power elite is impervious to the charade of democratic participation. Power is in the hands of moral and intellectual trolls who are ruthlessly creating a system of neo-feudalism and killing the ecosystem that sustains the human species. And appealing to their better nature, or seeking to influence the internal levers of power, will no longer work.

We will not, especially in the United States, avoid our Götterdämmerung. Obama, like Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the other heads of the industrialized nations, has proven as craven a tool of the corporate state as George W. Bush. Our democratic system has been transformed into what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin labels inverted totalitarianism. Inverted totalitarianism, unlike classical totalitarianism, does not revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader. It finds expression in the anonymity of the corporate state. It purports to cherish democracy, patriotism, a free press, parliamentary systems and constitutions while manipulating and corrupting internal levers to subvert and thwart democratic institutions. Political candidates are elected in popular votes by citizens but are ruled by armies of corporate lobbyists in Washington, Ottawa or other state capitals who author the legislation and get the legislators to pass it. A corporate media controls nearly everything we read, watch or hear and imposes a bland uniformity of opinion. Mass culture, owned and disseminated by corporations, diverts us with trivia, spectacles and celebrity gossip. In classical totalitarian regimes, such as Nazi fascism or Soviet communism, economics was subordinate to politics. “Under inverted totalitarianism the reverse is true,” Wolin writes. “Economics dominates politics – and with that domination comes different forms of ruthlessness.”

Inverted totalitarianism wields total power without resorting to cruder forms of control such as gulags, concentration camps or mass terror. It harnesses science and technology for its dark ends. It enforces ideological uniformity by using mass communication systems to instill profligate consumption as an inner compulsion and to substitute our illusions of ourselves for reality. It does not forcibly suppress dissidents, as long as those dissidents remain ineffectual. And as it diverts us it dismantles manufacturing bases, devastates communities, unleashes waves of human misery and ships jobs to countries where fascists and communists know how to keep workers in line. It does all this while waving the flag and mouthing patriotic slogans. “The United States has become the showcase of how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed,” Wolin writes.

The practice and psychology of advertising, the rule of “market forces” in many arenas other than markets, the continuous technological advances that encourage elaborate fantasies (computer games, virtual avatars, space travel), the saturation by mass media and propaganda of every household and the takeover of the universities have rendered most of us hostages. The rot of imperialism, which is always incompatible with democracy, has seen the military and arms manufacturers monopolize $1 trillion a year in defense-related spending in the United States even as the nation faces economic collapse. Imperialism always militarizes domestic politics. And this militarization, as Wolin notes, combines with the cultural fantasies of hero worship and tales of individual prowess, eternal youthfulness, beauty through surgery, action measured in nanoseconds and a dream-laden culture of ever-expanding control and possibility to sever huge segments of the population from reality. Those who control the images control us. And while we have been entranced by the celluloid shadows on the walls of Plato’s cave, these corporate forces, extolling the benefits of privatization, have effectively dismantled the institutions of social democracy (Social Security, unions, welfare, public health services and public housing) and rolled back the social and political ideals of the New Deal. The proponents of globalization and unregulated capitalism do not waste time analyzing other ideologies. They have an ideology, or rather a plan of action that is defended by an ideology, and slavishly follow it. We on the left have dozens of analyses of competing ideologies without any coherent plan of our own. This has left us floundering while corporate forces ruthlessly dismantle civil society.

We are living through one of civilization’s great seismic reversals. The ideology of globalization, like all “inevitable” utopian visions, is being exposed as a fraud. The power elite, perplexed and confused, clings to the disastrous principles of globalization and its outdated language to mask the looming political and economic vacuum. The absurd idea that the marketplace alone should determine economic and political constructs led industrial nations to sacrifice other areas of human importance – from working conditions, to taxation, to child labor, to hunger, to health and pollution – on the altar of free trade. It left the world’s poor worse off and the United States with the largest deficits – which can never be repaid – in human history. The massive bailouts, stimulus packages, giveaways and short-term debt, along with imperial wars we can no longer afford, will leave the United States struggling to finance nearly $5 trillion in debt this year. This will require Washington to auction off about $96 billion in debt a week. Once China and the oil-rich states walk away from our debt, which one day has to happen, the Federal Reserve will become the buyer of last resort. The Fed has printed perhaps as much as two trillion new dollars in the last two years, and buying this much new debt will see it, in effect, print trillions more. This is when inflation, and most likely hyperinflation, will turn the dollar into junk. And at that point the entire system breaks down.

All traditional standards and beliefs are shattered in a severe economic crisis. The moral order is turned upside down. The honest and industrious are wiped out while the gangsters, profiteers and speculators walk away with millions. The elite will retreat, as Naomi Klein has written in The Shock Doctrine, into gated communities where they will have access to services, food, amenities and security denied to the rest of us. We will begin a period in human history when there will be only masters and serfs. The corporate forces, which will seek to make an alliance with the radical Christian right and other extremists, will use fear, chaos, the rage at the ruling elites and the specter of left-wing dissent and terrorism to impose draconian controls to ruthlessly extinguish opposition movements. And while they do it, they will be waving the American flag, chanting patriotic slogans, promising law and order and clutching the Christian cross. Totalitarianism, George Orwell pointed out, is not so much an age of faith but an age of schizophrenia. “A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial,” Orwell wrote. “That is when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud.” Our elites have used fraud. Force is all they have left.

Our mediocre and bankrupt elite is desperately trying to save a system that cannot be saved. More importantly, they are trying to save themselves. All attempts to work within this decayed system and this class of power brokers will prove useless. And resistance must respond to the harsh new reality of a global, capitalist order that will cling to power through ever-mounting forms of brutal and overt repression. Once credit dries up for the average citizen, once massive joblessness creates a permanent and enraged underclass and the cheap manufactured goods that are the opiates of our commodity culture vanish, we will probably evolve into a system that more closely resembles classical totalitarianism. Cruder, more violent forms of repression will have to be employed as the softer mechanisms of control favored by inverted totalitarianism break down.

It is not accidental that the economic crisis will converge with the environmental crisis. In his book The Great Transformation (1944), Karl Polanyi laid out the devastating consequences – the depressions, wars and totalitarianism – that grow out of a so-called self-regulated free market. He grasped that “fascism, like socialism, was rooted in a market society that refused to function.” He warned that a financial system always devolves, without heavy government control, into a Mafia capitalism – and a Mafia political system – which is a good description of our financial and political structure. A self-regulating market, Polanyi wrote, turns human beings and the natural environment into commodities, a situation that ensures the destruction of both society and the natural environment. The free market’s assumption that nature and human beings are objects whose worth is determined by the market allows each to be exploited for profit until exhaustion or collapse. A society that no longer recognizes that nature and human life have a sacred dimension, an intrinsic value beyond monetary value, commits collective suicide. Such societies cannibalize themselves until they die. This is what we are undergoing.

If we build self-contained structures, ones that do as little harm as possible to the environment, we can weather the coming collapse. This task will be accomplished through the existence of small, physical enclaves that have access to sustainable agriculture, are able to sever themselves as much as possible from commercial culture and can be largely self-sufficient. These communities will have to build walls against electronic propaganda and fear that will be pumped out over the airwaves. Canada will probably be a more hospitable place to do this than the United States, given America’s strong undercurrent of violence. But in any country, those who survive will need isolated areas of land as well as distance from urban areas, which will see the food deserts in the inner cities, as well as savage violence, leach out across the urban landscape as produce and goods become prohibitively expensive and state repression becomes harsher and harsher.

The increasingly overt uses of force by the elites to maintain control should not end acts of resistance. Acts of resistance are moral acts. They begin because people of conscience understand the moral imperative to challenge systems of abuse and despotism. They should be carried out not because they are effective but because they are right. Those who begin these acts are always few in number and dismissed by those who hide their cowardice behind their cynicism. But resistance, however marginal, continues to affirm life in a world awash in death. It is the supreme act of faith, the highest form of spirituality and alone makes hope possible. Those who carried out great acts of resistance often sacrificed their security and comfort, often spent time in jail and in some cases were killed. They understood that to live in the fullest sense of the word, to exist as free and independent human beings, even under the darkest night of state repression, meant to defy injustice.

When the dissident Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was taken from his cell in a Nazi prison to the gallows, his last words were: “This is for me the end, but also the beginning.” Bonhoeffer knew that most of the citizens in his nation were complicit through their silence in a vast enterprise of death. But however hopeless it appeared in the moment, he affirmed what we all must affirm. He did not avoid death. He did not, as a distinct individual, survive. But he understood that his resistance and even his death were acts of love. He fought and died for the sanctity of life. He gave, even to those who did not join him, another narrative, and his defiance ultimately condemned his executioners.

We must continue to resist, but do so now with the discomforting realization that significant change will probably never occur in our lifetime. This makes resistance harder. It shifts resistance from the tangible and the immediate to the amorphous and the indeterminate. But to give up acts of resistance is spiritual and intellectual death. It is to surrender to the dehumanizing ideology of totalitarian capitalism. Acts of resistance keep alive another narrative, sustain our integrity and empower others, who we may never meet, to stand up and carry the flame we pass to them. No act of resistance is useless, whether it is refusing to pay taxes, fighting for a Tobin tax, working to shift the neoclassical economics paradigm, revoking a corporate charter, holding global internet votes or using Twitter to catalyze a chain reaction of refusal against the neoliberal order. But we will have to resist and then find the faith that resistance is worthwhile, for we will not immediately alter the awful configuration of power. And in this long, long war a community to sustain us, emotionally and materially, will be the key to a life of defiance.

The philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote that the exclusive preoccupation with personal concerns and indifference to the suffering of others beyond the self-identified group is what ultimately made fascism and the Holocaust possible: “The inability to identify with others was unquestionably the most important psychological condition for the fact that something like Auschwitz could have occurred in the midst of more or less civilized and innocent people.”

The indifference to the plight of others and the supreme elevation of the self is what the corporate state seeks to instill in us. It uses fear, as well as hedonism, to thwart human compassion. We will have to continue to battle the mechanisms of the dominant culture, if for no other reason than to preserve through small, even tiny acts, our common humanity. We will have to resist the temptation to fold in on ourselves and to ignore the cruelty outside our door. Hope endures in these often imperceptible acts of defiance. This defiance, this capacity to say no, is what the psychopathic forces in control of our power systems seek to eradicate. As long as we are willing to defy these forces we have a chance, if not for ourselves, then at least for those who follow. As long as we defy these forces we remain alive. And for now this is the only victory possible.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times, is the author of several books including the best sellers War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and his latest, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. He is married to the Canadian actress Eunice Wong. They have a son, Konrad, who is also a Canadian.

12 March 2010

Addicted To Oil And Violence

By Kurt Vonnegut

Many years ago, I was so innocent I still considered it possible that we could become the humane and reasonable America so many members of my generation used to dream of. We dreamed of such an America during the Great Depression, when there were no jobs. And then we fought and often died for that dream during the Second World War, when there was no peace.

But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America’s becoming humane and reasonable. Because power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas.

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When you get to my age, if you get to my age, which is 81, and if you have reproduced, you will find yourself asking your own children, who are themselves middle-aged, what life is all about. I have seven kids, four of them adopted.

Many of you reading this are probably the same age as my grandchildren. They, like you, are being royally shafted and lied to by our Baby Boomer corporations and government.

I put my big question about life to my biological son Mark. Mark is a pediatrician, and author of a memoir, The Eden Express. It is about his crackup, straightjacket and padded cell stuff, from which he recovered sufficiently to graduate from Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Vonnegut said this to his doddering old dad: “Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” So I pass that on to you. Write it down, and put it in your computer, so you can forget it.

I have to say that’s a pretty good sound bite, almost as good as, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” A lot of people think Jesus said that, because it is so much the sort of thing Jesus liked to say. But it was actually said by Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, 500 years before there was that greatest and most humane of human beings, named Jesus Christ.

The Chinese also gave us, via Marco Polo, pasta and the formula for gunpowder. The Chinese were so dumb they only used gunpowder for fireworks. And everybody was so dumb back then that nobody in either hemisphere even knew that there was another one.

But back to people, like Confucius and Jesus and my son the doctor, Mark, who’ve said how we could behave more humanely, and maybe make the world a less painful place. One of my favorites is Eugene Debs, from Terre Haute in my native state of Indiana. Get a load of this:

Eugene Debs, who died back in 1926, when I was only 4, ran 5 times as the Socialist Party candidate for president, winning 900,000 votes, 6 percent of the popular vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a ballot. He had this to say while campaigning:

As long as there is a lower class, I am in it.
As long as there is a criminal element, I’m of it.
As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
Doesn’t anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools or health insurance for all?

How about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. …

And so on.

Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney stuff.

For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.

“Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!

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There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.

But, when you stop to think about it, only a nut case would want to be a human being, if he or she had a choice. Such treacherous, untrustworthy, lying and greedy animals we are!

I was born a human being in 1922 A.D. What does “A.D.” signify? That commemorates an inmate of this lunatic asylum we call Earth who was nailed to a wooden cross by a bunch of other inmates. With him still conscious, they hammered spikes through his wrists and insteps, and into the wood. Then they set the cross upright, so he dangled up there where even the shortest person in the crowd could see him writhing this way and that.

Can you imagine people doing such a thing to a person?

No problem. That’s entertainment. Ask the devout Roman Catholic Mel Gibson, who, as an act of piety, has just made a fortune with a movie about how Jesus was tortured. Never mind what Jesus said.

During the reign of King Henry the Eighth, founder of the Church of England, he had a counterfeiter boiled alive in public. Show biz again.

Mel Gibson’s next movie should be The Counterfeiter. Box office records will again be broken.

One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.

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And what did the great British historian Edward Gibbon, 1737-1794 A.D., have to say about the human record so far? He said, “History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.”

The same can be said about this morning’s edition of the New York Times.

The French-Algerian writer Albert Camus, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, wrote, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”

So there’s another barrel of laughs from literature. Camus died in an automobile accident. His dates? 1913-1960 A.D.

Listen. All great literature is about what a bummer it is to be a human being: Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, The Red Badge of Courage, the Iliad and the Odyssey, Crime and Punishment, the Bible and The Charge of the Light Brigade.

But I have to say this in defense of humankind: No matter in what era in history, including the Garden of Eden, everybody just got there. And, except for the Garden of Eden, there were already all these crazy games going on, which could make you act crazy, even if you weren’t crazy to begin with. Some of the games that were already going on when you got here were love and hate, liberalism and conservatism, automobiles and credit cards, golf and girls’ basketball.

Even crazier than golf, though, is modern American politics, where, thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative.

Actually, this same sort of thing happened to the people of England generations ago, and Sir William Gilbert, of the radical team of Gilbert and Sullivan, wrote these words for a song about it back then:

I often think it’s comical
How nature always does contrive
That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative.
Which one are you in this country? It’s practically a law of life that you have to be one or the other? If you aren’t one or the other, you might as well be a doughnut.

If some of you still haven’t decided, I’ll make it easy for you.

If you want to take my guns away from me, and you’re all for murdering fetuses, and love it when homosexuals marry each other, and want to give them kitchen appliances at their showers, and you’re for the poor, you’re a liberal.

If you are against those perversions and for the rich, you’re a conservative.

What could be simpler?

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My government’s got a war on drugs. But get this: The two most widely abused and addictive and destructive of all substances are both perfectly legal.

One, of course, is ethyl alcohol. And President George W. Bush, no less, and by his own admission, was smashed or tiddley-poo or four sheets to the wind a good deal of the time from when he was 16 until he was 41. When he was 41, he says, Jesus appeared to him and made him knock off the sauce, stop gargling nose paint.

Other drunks have seen pink elephants.

And do you know why I think he is so pissed off at Arabs? They invented algebra. Arabs also invented the numbers we use, including a symbol for nothing, which nobody else had ever had before. You think Arabs are dumb? Try doing long division with Roman numerals.

We’re spreading democracy, are we? Same way European explorers brought Christianity to the Indians, what we now call “Native Americans.”

How ungrateful they were! How ungrateful are the people of Baghdad today.

So let’s give another big tax cut to the super-rich. That’ll teach bin Laden a lesson he won’t soon forget. Hail to the Chief.

That chief and his cohorts have as little to do with Democracy as the Europeans had to do with Christianity. We the people have absolutely no say in whatever they choose to do next. In case you haven’t noticed, they’ve already cleaned out the treasury, passing it out to pals in the war and national security rackets, leaving your generation and the next one with a perfectly enormous debt that you’ll be asked to repay.

Nobody let out a peep when they did that to you, because they have disconnected every burglar alarm in the Constitution: The House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the FBI, the free press (which, having been embedded, has forsaken the First Amendment) and We the People.

About my own history of foreign substance abuse. I’ve been a coward about heroin and cocaine and LSD and so on, afraid they might put me over the edge. I did smoke a joint of marijuana one time with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, just to be sociable. It didn’t seem to do anything to me, one way or the other, so I never did it again. And by the grace of God, or whatever, I am not an alcoholic, largely a matter of genes. I take a couple of drinks now and then, and will do it again tonight. But two is my limit. No problem.

I am of course notoriously hooked on cigarettes. I keep hoping the things will kill me. A fire at one end and a fool at the other.

But I’ll tell you one thing: I once had a high that not even crack cocaine could match. That was when I got my first driver’s license! Look out, world, here comes Kurt Vonnegut.

And my car back then, a Studebaker, as I recall, was powered, as are almost all means of transportation and other machinery today, and electric power plants and furnaces, by the most abused and addictive and destructive drugs of all: fossil fuels.

When you got here, even when I got here, the industrialized world was already hopelessly hooked on fossil fuels, and very soon now there won’t be any more of those. Cold turkey.

Can I tell you the truth? I mean this isn’t like TV news, is it?

Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey.

And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we’re hooked on.

11 March 2010