31 December 2011

Finally something to like about Virginia Repubes

Many times during this campaign the GOP race for the presidential nomination has resembled a clown car crash in the middle of a B-rated one-ring circus -- and that was never more so than this last week in Virginia. I'm starting to wonder if any of the Republican candidates are serious about getting the Republican nomination -- except, that is, for "Wall Street" Romney (who the party's base hates) and "Crazy old Coot" Paul (who scares even the right-wing nuts).

Thanks to a multi-candidate comedy of errors, the only candidates who will be on the March 6th Virginia primary ballot are Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. That means those two will be splitting up the Virginia delegates, and all the other candidates will be out in the cold.

To get on the Virginia ballot a candidate needed to get at least 10,000 voter signatures (with at least 400 signatures in each of the 11 congressional districts), and those signatures had to be submitted by 5pm last Thursday. Romney turned in 16,026 signatures on Tuesday, and Paul beat the deadline on Thursday with 14,361.

Perry and Gingrich also turned in signatures by the deadline -- with Perry submitting 11,911 and Gingrich submitting 11,050. But evidently either too many were not registered voters or they didn't meet the 400 level for every congressional district, because the state Republican Party said they had both failed to qualify for the ballot.

The Perry campaign hasn't said much, but Newt Gingrich blew a gasket. He called the Virginia requirement "a failed system" and said he would be working hard to get write-in votes. That was obviously just another example of him talking without knowing what he's talking about, because the rules prohibit any write-in votes in Virginia's primary.

But as ridiculous as the Perry and Gingrich campaigns look after this fiasco, there are four other Republican presidential campaigns that look even worse. The campaigns of Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, and Buddy Roemer didn't even bother to submit any signatures at all. That's pretty pathetic. Out of a population of more than 8 million people, they couldn't even scrape up a paltry 10,000 signatures? How is anyone in that state (and elsewhere) supposed to take their candidacies seriously?

30 December 2011

Ford Focus Electric to Boast 100 Mpg Equivalency

Environmental Leader December 15, 2011

Ford says that its Ford Focus Electric is to be the first five-passenger electric vehicle to achieve a 100 mpg equivalent rating. The automaker announced this week that production of the car is to begin at a Michigan assembly plant.
The Focus Electric should also be able to fully recharge in three-to-four hours – half the time of Nissan Leaf, according to Ford. This technology can help double the car’s range during a busy day of driving and recharging multiple times, Ford says. Ford announced a solar powered home charging option for the car in August. http://www.environmentalleader.com/2011/08/11/ford-sunpower-offer-solar-offset-system-for-focus-electric/
The company began taking orders for the 2012 Focus Electric in November through dealers in the California and New York/New Jersey markets. Deliveries to other U.S. markets are expected later in the year as production ramps up.

Neither the automakers nor the EPA factors in source efficiency or transmission losses when calculating mpg equivalency of EVs, which would bring “100 mpgs” down to more like 30-40. I’d take clean diesel over an EV any day.

Source efficiency, as in how much resource or energy it took to produce the electricity for supply? Neither does a gas vehicle or diesel, if you want to talk about that, talk about the energy it takes to find the oil-Crude oil is extracted from underground reservoirs, transported to refineries and refined into a range of petroleum products- MPG for a gas guzzling SUV or clean diesel does not take into account these factors for the energy to bring the product to diesel either. EV emits 0 tail pipe emissions, and I live in California and offset my house and EV charging with Solar PV. California does not use coal either when I charge at night, mostly low emission natural gas turbines to products. It’s the cleanest solution without a doubt, and least energy intensive.

29 December 2011


27 December 2011

24 December 2011

Shock as retreat of Arctic sea ice releases deadly greenhouse gas


Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.

The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Igor Semiletov, of the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.

"Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we've found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It's amazing," Dr Semiletov said. "I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them."

Scientists estimate that there are hundreds of millions of tonnes of methane gas locked away beneath the Arctic permafrost, which extends from the mainland into the seabed of the relatively shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. One of the greatest fears is that with the disappearance of the Arctic sea-ice in summer, and rapidly rising temperatures across the entire region, which are already melting the Siberian permafrost, the trapped methane could be suddenly released into the atmosphere leading to rapid and severe climate change.

Dr Semiletov's team published a study in 2010 estimating that the methane emissions from this region were about eight million tonnes a year, but the latest expedition suggests this is a significant underestimate of the phenomenon.

In late summer, the Russian research vessel Academician Lavrentiev conducted an extensive survey of about 10,000 square miles of sea off the East Siberian coast. Scientists deployed four highly sensitive instruments, both seismic and acoustic, to monitor the "fountains" or plumes of methane bubbles rising to the sea surface from beneath the seabed.

"In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed," Dr Semiletov said. "We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal."

Dr Semiletov released his findings for the first time last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco

23 December 2011


22 December 2011

Koch-Fueled Americans for Prosperity Takes Credit for Bullying GOP Lawmakers into Climate Denial

Cross posted from Think Progress

The cover story of this week’s National Journal takes a deeper dive into a question we’ve explored before: What happened to the Republican consensus on climate change?
Three years ago, prominent Republicans including Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Tim Pawlenty, and Sarah Palin all expressed belief in human-caused climate change. Several even voiced strong support for policies to cap and reduce carbon pollution. Today, all six of these leaders have joined the rest of the Republican Party in a sudden and near-unified retreat to silence or denial.
When contacted by the National Journal, only 65 out of all 289 GOP lawmakers in Congress would agree to be interviewed on the topic. Of those interviewed, only 19 said they believed that human activities are at least partly responsible for climate change. Of the 19, only five (or fewer than 2 percent of GOP lawmakers) attributed a “significant amount” of climate change to human activity.
So, what happened?
It’s not the science that has changed — it’s only gotten stronger. As Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the National Research Council, said: The level of scientific certainty that human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change is comparable to the strength of our understanding that vaccines prevent measles and polio.
What have changed, according to the National Journal, are the types and relative strengths of pressures on GOP lawmakers. Namely, “the rise of the Tea Party, its crusade against regulations, and the influx of vast sums of money into electoral politics from energy companies and sympathetic interest groups.”
Among those groups is Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which is backed by fossil fuel magnates Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries, Inc. Several reports have highlighted AFP’s role in promoting fossil-fuel-friendly candidates and policies. Others have accused the organization of “astroturfing.”
Surprisingly, AFP isn’t shy about discussing its influence on electoral politics. In fact, in the National Journal article, AFP’s president, Tim Phillips, openly takes credit for bullying — literally threatening — GOP lawmakers with “political peril” should they chose to “play footsie” on climate change and clean energy:
“If you look where the situation was three years ago and where it is today, there’s been a dramatic turnaround. … We’ve made great headway. What it means for the candidates on the Republican side, is if you … buy into green energy or you play footsie on this issue, you do so at your political peril. … And that’s our influence. Groups like Americans for Prosperity have done it.”
A sudden and unified flip flop by almost an entire political party, from acceptance of climate change to silence and outright rejection, is suspect on its own. (Especially given that, to date, no scientific body of national or international standing has offered a dissenting opinion on the fundamentals of manmade warming). But here we have the president of a fossil-fuel-funded interest group flaunting his role in sparking and enforcing the GOP’s about-face on climate change and clean energy.
One has to wonder: At what point will we stop hearing about serial climate change flip flopping and start hearing about a party-wide bow to industry demands?
– Emilee Pierce, in a Political Correction (Media Matters) crosspost

21 December 2011


20 December 2011

No Comment Necessary

No Comment Necessary

19 December 2011

Occupy Sesame Street

Reposted from jobsanger

Amazingly, there are still some people who claim not to know why the Occupy Wall Street movement is necessary. Well this comment at AV Club, from a person calling him/her self Cookie Monster, puts it in the words of the famous Sesame Street character. It is the simplest explanation I have seen (and it is funny). Here is how "Cookie Monster" explains it:

Yes, there always going to be rich and poor. But we used to live in country where rich owned factory and make 30 times what factory worker make. Now we live in country where rich make money by lying about value of derivative bonds and make 3000 times what factory worker would make if factories hadn't all moved to China.
Capitalism great system. We won Cold War because people behind Iron Curtain look over wall, and see how much more plentiful and delicious cookies are in West, and how we have choice of different bakeries, not just state-owned one. It great system. It got us out of Depression, won WWII, built middle class, built country's infrastructure from highways to Hoover Dam to Oreo factory to electrifying rural South. It system that reward hard work and fair play, and everyone do fair share and everyone benefit. Rich get richer, poor get richer, everyone happy. It great system.
Then after Reagan, Republicans decide to make number one priority destroying that system. Now we have system where richest Americans ones who find ways to game system -- your friends on Wall Street -- and poorest Americans ones who thought working hard would get them American dream, when in fact it get them pink slip when job outsourced to 10-year-old in Mumbai slum. And corporations have more influence over government than people (or monsters).
It not about rich people having more money. It about how they got money. It about how they take opportunity away from rest of us, for sake of having more money. It how they willing to take risks that destroy economy -- knowing full well what could and would happen -- putting millions out of work, while creating nothing of value, and all the while crowing that they John Galt, creating wealth for everyone.
That what the soul-searching about. When Liberals run country for 30 years following New Deal, American economy double in size, and wages double along with it. That fair. When Conservatives run country for 30 years following Reagan, American economy double again, and wages stay flat. What happen to our share of money? All of it go to richest 1%. That not "there always going to be rich people". That unfair system. That why we upset. That what Occupy Sesame Street about.

18 December 2011

17 December 2011

Truth is a Bitch!

From the Brilliant L. David Roper

16 December 2011

15 December 2011

No Comment Necessary

13 December 2011

Why Iceland Should Be in the News, But Is Not

An Italian radio program's story about Iceland’s on-going revolution is a stunning example of how little our media tells us about the rest of the world. Americans may remember that at the start of the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland literally went bankrupt. The reasons were mentioned only in passing, and since then, this little-known member of the European Union fell back into oblivion.

As one European country after another fails or risks failing, imperiling the Euro, with repercussions for the entire world, the last thing the powers that be want is for Iceland to become an example. Here's why:

Five years of a pure neo-liberal regime had made Iceland, (population 320 thousand, no army), one of the richest countries in the world. In 2003 all the country’s banks were privatized, and in an effort to attract foreign investors, they offered on-line banking whose minimal costs allowed them to offer relatively high rates of return. The accounts, called IceSave, attracted many English and Dutch small investors. But as investments grew, so did the banks’ foreign debt. In 2003 Iceland’s debt was equal to 200 times its GNP, but in 2007, it was 900 percent. The 2008 world financial crisis was the coup de grace. The three main Icelandic banks, Landbanki, Kapthing and Glitnir, went belly up and were nationalized, while the Kroner lost 85% of its value with respect to the Euro. At the end of the year Iceland declared bankruptcy.

Contrary to what could be expected, the crisis resulted in Icelanders recovering their sovereign rights, through a process of direct participatory democracy that eventually led to a new Constitution. But only after much pain.

Geir Haarde, the Prime Minister of a Social Democratic coalition government, negotiated a two million one hundred thousand dollar loan, to which the Nordic countries added another two and a half million. But the foreign financial community pressured Iceland to impose drastic measures. The FMI and the European Union wanted to take over its debt, claiming this was the only way for the country to pay back Holland and Great Britain, who had promised to reimburse their citizens.

Protests and riots continued, eventually forcing the government to resign. Elections were brought forward to April 2009, resulting in a left-wing coalition which condemned the neoliberal economic system, but immediately gave in to its demands that Iceland pay off a total of three and a half million Euros. This required each Icelandic citizen to pay 100 Euros a month (or about $130) for fifteen years, at 5.5% interest, to pay off a debt incurred by private parties vis a vis other private parties. It was the straw that broke the reindeer’s back.

What happened next was extraordinary. The belief that citizens had to pay for the mistakes of a financial monopoly, that an entire nation must be taxed to pay off private debts was shattered, transforming the relationship between citizens and their political institutions and eventually driving Iceland’s leaders to the side of their constituents. The Head of State, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, refused to ratify the law that would have made Iceland’s citizens responsible for its bankers’ debts, and accepted calls for a referendum.

Of course the international community only increased the pressure on Iceland. Great Britain and Holland threatened dire reprisals that would isolate the country. As Icelanders went to vote, foreign bankers threatened to block any aid from the IMF. The British government threatened to freeze Icelander savings and checking accounts. As Grimsson said: “We were told that if we refused the international community’s conditions, we would become the Cuba of the North. But if we had accepted, we would have become the Haiti of the North.” (How many times have I written that when Cubans see the dire state of their neighbor, Haiti, they count themselves lucky.)

In the March 2010 referendum, 93% voted against repayment of the debt. The IMF immediately froze its loan. But the revolution (though not televised in the United States), would not be intimidated. With the support of a furious citizenry, the government launched civil and penal investigations into those responsible for the financial crisis. Interpol put out an international arrest warrant for the ex-president of Kaupthing, Sigurdur Einarsson, as the other bankers implicated in the crash fled the country.

But Icelanders didn't stop there: they decided to draft a new constitution that would free the country from the exaggerated power of international finance and virtual money. (The one in use had been written when Iceland gained its independence from Denmark, in 1918, the only difference with the Danish constitution being that the word ‘president’ replaced the word ‘king’.)

To write the new constitution, the people of Iceland elected twenty-five citizens from among 522 adults not belonging to any political party but recommended by at least thirty citizens. This document was not the work of a handful of politicians, but was written on the internet. The constituent’s meetings are streamed on-line, and citizens can send their comments and suggestions, witnessing the document as it takes shape. The constitution that eventually emerges from this participatory democratic process will be submitted to parliament for approval after the next elections.

Some readers will remember that Iceland’s ninth century agrarian collapse was featured in Jared Diamond’s book by the same name. Today, that country is recovering from its financial collapse in ways just the opposite of those generally considered unavoidable, as confirmed yesterday by the new head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde to Fareed Zakaria. The people of Greece have been told that the privatization of their public sector is the only solution. And those of Italy, Spain and Portugal are facing the same threat.

They should look to Iceland. Refusing to bow to foreign interests, that small country stated loud and clear that the people are sovereign.

That’s why it is not in the news anymore.

12 December 2011

11 December 2011

Stop Congressional "Insider Trading"

Reposted from Jobsanger

Last week it was revealed that Congress is commonly doing something that, if done by any other American, would be considered a criminal act. It is "insider trading". This is when someone uses information not available to the general public to make trades in the stock market, thereby giving themselves an unfair advantage in the market. An example of this would be when a corporate insider knows something will soon happen that will affect the market price of that company's stock. It would be illegal for him/her to use that knowledge to buy or sell that company's stock until that information is released publicly.

But the members of Congress and their aides routinely have that kind of information available to them (such as the knowledge that a new law or regulation will soon be imposed that will significantly affect a certain industry, or the knowledge that a lucrative government contract will soon be given to a certain corporation). While it would be illegal for an American citizen to use this secret information to enrich themselves by buying or selling stock, that illegality does not extend to members of Congress or their aides. And many members of Congress and their employees (of both political parties) have used "insider trading" to fill their own personal banks accounts with cold hard cash (and lots of it).

Of course this isn't the only example of Congress giving themselves perks that ordinary Americans don't enjoy. How many ordinary workers do you know that can vote themselves a raise without permission of their bosses, even in the midst of a recession? Congress can, and they don't seem to care what their bosses (the people of this country) think about it. But in spite of their usual arrogance, this insider trading story seems to have embarrassed at least some members of Congress.

Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minnesota) and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-New York) have introduced a new bill in the House of Representatives. It is called the "Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act (STOCK Act), and it would ban any member of Congress or their aides from buying or selling stocks or commodities if they have "material nonpublic information" that relates to a company or commodity. The bill would eliminate the insider trading advantage that Congress currently enjoys over all other Americans.

But while the bill makes a lot of sense and would be supported by a large majority of Americans, don't start celebrating its passage yet. For a lot of the members of Congress this is akin to killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, and you can bet that many of them will fight tooth-and-nail to kill this bill. In fact, they are already coming up with reasons why the bill "wouldn't work", and might even be a bad idea.

These naysayers tell us that it would be very hard to prove that a member of Congress or their aides had used insider information in making trades. And they say that Congress might just make many more things secret from the public to cover their tracks after making insider trades. These are actually fairly good arguments. We already know that many Wall Street executives engage in insider trading but are rarely caught, and authorities would be even more reluctant to make an accusation against a member of Congress. And the government already keeps too many things secret that should be public knowledge.

But even if both of those things are true, they are nothing more than excuses for failing to address the problem. Insider trading is wrong and should be outlawed no matter how hard it is to prove. And it is just as wrong for Congress as it is for everyone else. While not all insider trades are caught, some are and that acts as a deterrent to other who would consider it. As for Congress trying to cover their illegal acts with government secrecy, there are ways to expose that (remember WikiLeaks?).

The truth is that there is an easy way to overcome both of those arguments. Just amend the STOCK Act to outlaw all trading of stocks and commodities by members of Congress and their aides and immediate family members (whether insider trading is used or not). I know there will be some that will say this would be unfair, and that members of Congress should have the right to make money by honest trading just like other Americans. I disagree.

These men and women were not sent to Congress to make themselves rich. They were sent there because they told the voters they wanted to serve their country, and they are well-paid for that service. A member of Congress is paid nearly $170,000 a year (plus expenses, perks, and benefits). The salary alone is three times the average wage of the bottom 99% of Americans. If this is not sufficient remuneration for their service to their country, then I question if their running for office was really a desire to serve -- and they should resign (and then they could trade to their hearts desire).

Government service should not be the path to riches, and for millions of government workers at all levels it isn't. They work for salaries lower than they could get in private industry because they have a desire to serve their country and their fellow citizens -- and they retire on a modest income after that life of service. Why should it be different for members of Congress (or their aides)?

10 December 2011

The Teabagger Pledge

08 December 2011

The thought leaders of the conservative alternative knowledge system

“But the thought leaders on talk radio and Fox do more than shape opinion. Backed by their own wing of the book-publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics. Outside this alternative reality, the United States is a country dominated by a strong Christian religiosity. Within it, Christians are a persecuted minority. Outside the system, President Obama—whatever his policy ­errors—is a figure of imposing intellect and dignity. Within the system, he’s a pitiful nothing, unable to speak without a teleprompter, an affirmative-action ­phony doomed to inevitable defeat. Outside the system, social scientists worry that the U.S. is hardening into one of the most rigid class societies in the Western world, in which the children of the poor have less chance of escape than in France, Germany, or even England. Inside the system, the U.S. remains (to borrow the words of Senator Marco Rubio) “the only place in the world where it doesn’t matter who your parents were or where you came from.” — David Frum

06 December 2011


05 December 2011


04 December 2011

Reposted from No Corporate Rule

"The two greatest visions of a future dystopia were George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” The debate, between those who watched our descent towards corporate totalitarianism, was who was right. Would we be, as Orwell wrote, dominated by a repressive surveillance and security state that used crude and violent forms of control? Or would we be, as Huxley envisioned, entranced by entertainment and spectacle, captivated by technology and seduced by profligate consumption to embrace our own oppression? It turns out Orwell and Huxley were both right. Huxley saw the first stage of our enslavement. Orwell saw the second."
------ Chris Hedges, from 2011: A Brave New Dystopia, Truthdig 12/27/10

By now, you've probably seen the video of the obviously intentional and grotesque behavior by campus police at the University of California in Davis.This video, originally only available through fringe progressive blogs and websites, has finally seen the light of day within the corporate-owned mainstream media -- mainly because it has gone viral on the Internet. As with anything accusatory or demeaning of the corporate-state, unless there's no further chance of ignoring or omitting the obvious (as in the case of the Occupy movement), the corporate media is forced to undraw the curtain and reveal the events -- although, not necessarily, and often not, the truth and reasons behind them.

The question I want to ask is this: When this kind of despicable behavior is conducted by those entrusted to serve and protect us from criminal activities, and equally important, is condoned and approved by their superiors and those we supposedly elect, when and where is the line drawn that separates us from the inhumane and state-sanctioned slippery slope toward totalitarianism and demagoguery?

03 December 2011

The Top 0.1% Of The Nation Earn Half Of All Capital Gains

Capital gains are the key ingredient of income disparity in the US-- and the force behind the winner takes all mantra of our economic system. If you want even out earning power in the U.S, you have to raise the 15% capital gains tax.
Income and wealth disparities become even more absurd if we look at the top 0.1% of the nation's earners-- rather than the more common 1%. The top 0.1%-- about 315,000 individuals out of 315 million-- are making about half of all capital gains on the sale of shares or property after 1 year; and these capital gains make up 60% of the income made by the Forbes 400.
It's crystal clear that the Bush tax reduction on capital gains and dividend income in 2003 was the cutting edge policy that has created the immense increase in net worth of corporate executives, Wall St. professionals and other entrepreneurs.
The reduction in the tax from 20% to 15% continued the step-by-step tradition of cutting this tax to create more wealth. It had first been reduced from 35% in 1978 at a time of stock market and economic stagnation to 28% . Again 1981, at the start of the Reagan era, it was reduced again to 20%-- raised back to 28% in 1987, on the eve of the October 19 232% crash in the market. In 1997 Clinton agreed to reduce it back to 20%, which move was an inducement for the explosion of hedge funds and private equity firms-- the most "rapidly rising cohort within the top 1 per cent."
Make no mistake; the battle that is to be fought over the coming attempt to reverse this reduction in capital gains will be bloody and intense. The facts are clear according to the Congressional Budget Office more than 80% of the increase in income inequality was the result of an increase in the share of household income from capital gains. In fact, you can go so far as to claim that "Capital Gains income is the most unevenly distributed-- and volatile-- source of household income," according to Laura D'Andrea Tyson, University of California business professor and former chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Clinton.
No wonder the super wealthy plutocrats obtained the largest share of national income-- 25% of the nation's wealth- greater than any other industrial nation in the the period of 1979 to 2005. Make no mistake; after unemployment-- this disparity between the 1%-- 3 million-- or the 0.1%-- the 300,000-- and the other 312 million citizens of the U.S. has become the major theme of the Occupy Wall Street movement-- and an important national debate.
I commend you to the late Justice Louis Brandeis warning to the nation that " We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." We have to make up our minds to restore a higher, fairer capital gains tax to the wealthiest investor class-- or ultimately face increased social unrest.

02 December 2011

Timeline of a mass extinction

Since the first organisms appeared on Earth approximately 3.8 billion years ago, life on the planet has had some close calls. In the last 500 million years, Earth has undergone five mass extinctions, including the event 66 million years ago that wiped out the dinosaurs. And while most scientists agree that a giant asteroid was responsible for that extinction, there’s much less consensus on what caused an even more devastating extinction more than 185 million years earlier.

The end-Permian extinction occurred 252.2 million years ago, decimating 90 percent of marine and terrestrial species, from snails and small crustaceans to early forms of lizards and amphibians. c Possible causes include immense volcanic eruptions, rapid depletion of oxygen in the oceans, and — an unlikely option — an asteroid collision.

While the causes of this global catastrophe are unknown, an MIT-led team of researchers has now established that the end-Permian extinction was extremely rapid, triggering massive die-outs both in the oceans and on land in less than 20,000 years — the blink of an eye in geologic time. The researchers also found that this time period coincides with a massive buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which likely triggered the simultaneous collapse of species in the oceans and on land.

With further calculations, the group found that the average rate at which carbon dioxide entered the atmosphere during the end-Permian extinction was slightly below today’s rate of carbon dioxide release into the atmosphere due to fossil fuel emissions. Over tens of thousands of years, increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide during the Permian period likely triggered severe global warming, accelerating species extinctions.

The researchers also discovered evidence of simultaneous and widespread wildfires that may have added to end-Permian global warming, triggering what they deem “catastrophic” soil erosion and making environments extremely arid and inhospitable.

The researchers present their findings this week in Science, and say the new timescale may help scientists home in on the end-Permian extinction’s likely causes.

“People have never known how long extinctions lasted,” says Sam Bowring, the Robert R. Schrock Professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) at MIT. “Many people think maybe millions of years, but this is tens of thousands of years. There’s a lot of controversy about what caused [the end-Permian extinction], but whatever caused it, this is a fundamental constraint on it. It had to have been something that happened very quickly.”

Rocks in a hard place

Bowring worked with a group of American and Chinese researchers to pinpoint the extinction’s duration. The group analyzed volcanic ash beds from Meishan, a region in southern China where an old limestone quarry exposes rocks containing abundant fossils from the Permian period, as well as the very first fossils that signified a recovery from extinction, during the Triassic period. The rocks of the region have been widely studied as the best global example of the Permian-Triassic Boundary (PTB).

The group collected clay samples from ash beds both above and below rock layers from the PTB. In the lab, they separated out zircon, a robust mineral that can survive intense geological processes. Zircon contains trace amounts of uranium, which can be used to date the rocks in which it is found. Bowring and his colleagues analyzed 300 of the “best-looking” grains of zircon, and found the rocks above and below the mass-extinction period spanned only a 20,000-year phase.

Bowring says now that researchers are able to precisely date the end-Permian extinction, scientists will have to re-examine old theories. For example, many believe the extinction may have been triggered by large volcanic eruptions in Siberia that covered 2 million square kilometers of Earth — an area roughly three times the size of Texas.

“In the old days you could say, ‘Oh, it’s about the same time, therefore it’s cause and effect,’” Bowring says. “But now that we can date [the extinction] to plus or minus 20,000 years, you can’t just say ‘about the same.’ You have to demonstrate it’s exactly the same.”

‘Something unusual going on’

The group also analyzed carbon-isotope data from rocks in southern China and found that within the same period, the oceans and atmosphere experienced a large influx of carbon dioxide. Dan Rothman, a professor of geophysics in EAPS, calculated the average rate at which carbon dioxide entered the oceans and atmosphere at the time, finding it to be somewhat less than today’s influx due to fossil fuel emissions.

“The rate of injection of CO2 into the late Permian system is probably similar to the anthropogenic rate of injection of CO2 now,” Rothman says. “It’s just that it went on for … 10,000 years.”

Rothman says the total amount of CO2 pumped into Earth over this time period was so immense that it’s not immediately clear where it all came from.

“It’s just not easy to imagine,” Rothman says. “Even if you put all the world’s known coal deposits on top of a volcano, you still wouldn’t come close. So something unusual was going on.”

David Bottjer, professor of earth sciences and biological sciences at the University of Southern California, views the group’s results as strong evidence for one of the extinction’s most likely causes.

“This is the most precise set of dates that have been produced for analysis of the end-Permian mass extinction,” Bottjer says. “Because these dates are analyzed in conjunction with geochemical and fossil information they provide unique evidence … that this mass extinction was probably caused by an enormous input of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and oceans caused by volcanic eruptions.”

01 December 2011


By Ted McLaughlin

Republican congressmen/women like to talk a lot about class warfare. Their talk is really code for keeping the rich in the advantageous position they have, and preventing any new laws that might distribute income and wealth more evenly throughout the population. After years of funneling the nation's riches into the pockets of the rich, the very idea of "economic justice" is anathema to them.

But the truth is that there is a class warfare going on, and it has been happening for the last thirty years -- a war directed by Republicans on behalf of the 1% and waged against American workers. It started with Reagan's initiation of trickle-down economics about 1980, and was kicked into high gear in the presidency of George W. Bush. Over that thirty year period the income of the 1% of richest Americans has increased by over 270%, while the wages of the bottom 80% of Americans has been stagnant (and has actually dropped in the power of what those wages will purchase).

Republicans now want to blame the recession for the economic hurt that is being felt by far too many Americans. And in a way, that is partially true. But the truth is that the recession (brought on by the Republican economic policies) just hastened a process that was already well under way before the recession hit in late 2007. A report by the Economic Policy Institute tells us that during the period between 2000 and 2007 (before the recession hit), the real median income of working-age households fell by $2,114. That's a drop of over $176 a month, and that is a drop in real dollars, not purchasing power.

But while the Republican policies were making the rich richer and lowering the wages of workers, perhaps the most insidious and tragic effect of these policies has been to swell the ranks of the poor. We now have more than 46 million people who depend on the government food stamp program to put food on the table, and more than 15% of the total United States population now lives below the poverty line.

President Johnson's War on Poverty had been reducing the number and percentage of people living in poverty in America since the 1960's. Poverty hadn't been wiped out, but the country was starting to get a handle on it. Now, thanks to the Republican economic policies, all of those gains have been wiped out and we are now once again at record levels of poverty in America.

And most tragic of all is the number of children who are being forced into poverty. Thanks to Republicans blocking job creation, denying extensions of unemployment benefits, and slashing the funding of many social programs, the number of children being thrown into poverty is reaching disastrous proportions. In just one year more than a million children were added to poverty rolls -- from 14.7 million children in 2009 to 15.7 million children in 2010.

This means that currently more than 20% (or one in every five) of all American children now live in poverty. In some states, like Texas, that rate is 25% (one in every four) or 1.8 million children -- and Texas is a state the Republicans hail as being the beneficiary of a Republican economic "miracle". The fact is that in Texas and in the nation the Republican policies may be good for the corporations and the rich, but they have been an economic disaster for everyone else.

The Republicans have driven the American economy into a deep ditch. How much longer will we allow them to force our economy to stay in that ditch? Can we really afford to let them retain even a semblance of power?

30 November 2011


29 November 2011

No Comment Necessary

28 November 2011

No Comment Necessary

27 November 2011

A Coal Region's Quest to Switch to Renewables

By Frank Dohmen and Barbara Schmid

Germany's bituminous coal mines are soon to lose their subsidies. But one Ruhr Valley company is looking to transform its mines into sources of renewable energy. Along the way, they could solve one of Germany's largest challenges as it attempts to switch over to green energy.

Shortly before 2 p.m., tiny, twinkling lights become visible at the end of the long, dark tunnel on the seventh level of the Prosper-Haniel mine in Bottrop, a city in west-central Germany. The lights slowly begin to take shape, as miners with mine lamps on their white helmets make their way back to the surface. It has been a difficult shift, and the men have covered several kilometers through an intricate labyrinth of tunnels and shafts.

In just a few years' time, an entirely different scenario could be unfolding in the mine, one that has little to do with Ruhrkohle AG's classic coal-mining business. But it is one which could very well have a promising future.

The German government and the European Commission passed a resolution in 2010 that by 2018, the billions in subsidies which have kept the coal mining industry in Germany's Saarland and Ruhr regions afloat over the past few decades will expire. When that happens, the last mines belonging to Ruhrkohle AG (RAG) will be closed for good. "Every day takes us a little closer to saying goodbye," a miner says bitterly.

But on level seven in Bottrop, a small revolution is underway, one that remains largely invisible to the miners. There, at exactly 1,159 meters (3,802 feet) beneath the surface of the earth, in giant transfer halls directly in front of the mine's steep shaft, RAG plans to generate large amounts of environmentally friendly power in the future.

It may sound utopian, but the plan is not all that far-fetched. The underground chambers are large enough to easily accommodate one or two large, hydroelectric turbines. Through giant pipes placed in the mineshaft, water is to plunge up to 1,000 meters from the surface into the mine, where it would then power the turbine rotors.

A Serious Challenge

The machines could eventually generate about 600 megawatts of electricity, which -- in theory -- is enough to supply a medium-sized city with clean energy. More importantly, the turbines fit perfectly into Germany's new energy strategy. They would be an elementary building block of the country's planned clean-energy -- and nuclear-free -- future.

In the wake of the disastrous accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan in March of this year, the German government decided to shut down eight of the country's 17 nuclear reactors immediately, and to massively expand renewable sources of energy, like wind and solar.

Germany now plans to derive 35 percent of its power supply from renewable energy sources by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050. But this also presents a serious challenge: The wind and the sun are extremely unreliable as sources of energy in Germany. Under certain conditions -- a cloudy day with no wind -- the production of green energy could sink to almost zero. On days that are sunny and windy, on the other hand, the facilities already installed today are sometimes capable of covering Germany's entire electricity needs.

Sometimes -- for hours or even days at a time -- there is even a surplus. With a lack of sufficient storage capacity, however, some of the expensive green energy is simply given away to neighboring European countries.

This will change in the future, once energy storage systems have been built throughout Germany. Many different technologies, such as storing energy with the help of compressed air, gas or hydrogen, are being tested. Pumped-storage hydroelectricity plants, like the ones RAG plans to build in its Ruhr region coalmines, would seem to be the most promising for storing large amounts of energy.

Significant Intervention

The principle is simple. When a large amount of wind and solar energy is available, it is used to pump water out of the mine tunnels into an artificial lake on the former mine grounds. When there is an electricity shortfall or if the energy supply begins to fluctuate, the floodgates are opened and the water drops through the giant pipes to drive the turbines 1,000 meters below the surface. The entire output becomes available to the grid within a very short amount of time.

These types of systems have long required significant intervention in nature. In facilities like the Schluchsee plant in the Black Forest, operated by utilities EnBW and RWE, pumped-storage systems normally take advantage of differences in altitude in mountainous regions. Installing power lines and turbines often requires expensive blasting, while new reservoirs need to be created at high altitudes.

At RAG, the engineers say enthusiastically, none of this will be necessary. Large amounts of groundwater are already pumped out of the deep shafts today to keep the tunnels dry. The infrastructure -- kilometers of shafts to hold the pipes, large halls for the turbines and the power supply -- already exists. And even the creation of man-made lakes on the decommissioned mine sites will improve the landscape -- and won't likely trigger protests.

It would be possible to build pumped-storage hydroelectricity plants in three locations in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia and two in the southwestern state of Saarland in the next few years, says RAG Director Peter Fischer. They could produce about as much power as two medium-sized nuclear power plants.

The plans, which are being developed in collaboration with the University of Duisburg-Essen, are not entirely new, having sat idle in the drawers of RAG executives for the last few years. But they were long overshadowed by the hope that the German bituminous coal industry, and with it RAG, could be on the verge of a comeback. They hoped that the political decision to phase out coal might be reversed.

Vision of the Future

Now, though, RAG executives have come to see such a change in fortunes as unrealistic. In addition to winding down operations, closing mines and selling parts of the company, they are trying to develop new prospects for RAG and the 24,000 employees it still has today.

The pumped-storage hydroelectricity plants are only part of the company's vision of the future. Powerful wind turbines will be erected on top of the tall waste heaps, known as spoil tips, on the mine grounds. Engineers also plan to install solar panels on the southern slopes of the spoil tips.

Even the mine water -- which has to be pumped out for decades after mine closures to prevent landslides -- will be used to generate energy in the future. At a depth of 1,000 meters, the water is up to 40 degree Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), explains Professor Ulrich Schreiber of the University of Duisburg. That means it is warm enough to heat buildings, residential areas and industrial plants. Initial pilot projects in the Ruhr region cities of Essen, Bottrop and Bochum, where RAG has already connected a few apartment buildings, schools and an outdoor swimming pool to hot water pipes, have apparently been successful.

Using the simplest of methods, says RAG executive Fischer, the company could generate another 600 to 700 megawatts of renewable electricity at its former mine sites. This corresponds to the output of a medium-sized coal power plant, and it doesn't even include the output that would come from the pumped-storage plants.

The company officially unveiled its green vision to the broader public on Monday in Essen, to coincide with the traditional local holiday of Coal Day. RAG has also hired an outside firm to prepare a funding application for a pilot power plant designed to demonstrate that the technology in the depths of coal mines actually works. "It's an ambitious project," says geologist Schreiber. "But the problems are solvable."

The only thing that would still be needed before the project can move ahead on a large scale is the approval of RAG's shareholders, particularly the federal government and the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Saarland.

But in contrast to the difficult negotiations over new coal subsidies in the past, RAG management isn't in the least bit concerned about securing the necessary approval. Even the Greens, the company's biggest critics in the past, have had nothing but praise for the company's new direction.

26 November 2011

No Comment Necessary

Walking on the beach, a mother and daughter observed thousands of starfish, stranded on the beach after a storm that had just ended. They felt bad for all the starfish, doomed to suffocate on dry land. Finally the daughter picked up one of the starfish, walked up to the water, and threw the starfish as deeply into the ocean as she could.

Her mother thought for a few moments, and then asked her daughter, "Dear, what difference does that make? Look how many starfish there are still stuck on the beach!". Her daughter replied, "It made a difference for that starfish!"

25 November 2011

Learning From China: Why The Existing Economic Model Will Fail By Lester Brown

For almost as long as I can remember we have been saying that the United States, with 5 percent of the world's people, consumes a third or more of the earth's resources. That was true. It is no longer true. Today China consumes more basic resources than the United States does.

Among the key commodities such as grain, meat, oil, coal, and steel, China consumes more of each than the United States except for oil, where the United States still has a wide (though narrowing) lead. China uses a quarter more grain than the United States. Its meat consumption is double that of the United States. It uses three times as much coal and four times as much steel.

These numbers reflect national consumption, but what would happen if consumption per person in China were to catch up to that of the United States? If we assume conservatively that China's economy slows from the 11 percent annual growth of recent years to 8 percent, then in 2035 income per person in China will reach the current U.S. level.

If we also assume that the Chinese will spend their income more or less as Americans do today, then we can translate their income into consumption. If, for example, each person in China consumes paper at the current American rate, then in 2035 China's 1.38 billion people will use four fifths as much paper as is produced worldwide today. There go the world's forests.

If Chinese grain consumption per person in 2035 were to equal the current U.S. level, China would need 1.5 billion tons of grain, nearly 70 percent of the 2.2 billion tons the world's farmers now harvest each year.

If we assume that in 2035 there are three cars for every four people in China, as there now are in the United States, China will have 1.1 billion cars. The entire world currently has just over one billion. To provide the needed roads, highways, and parking lots, China would have to pave an area equivalent to more than two thirds the land it currently has in rice.

By 2035 China would need 85 million barrels of oil a day. The world is currently producing 86 million barrels a day and may never produce much more than that. There go the world's oil reserves.

What China is teaching us is that the western economic model—the fossil-fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy—will not work for the world. If it does not work for China, it will not work for India, which by 2035 is projected to have an even larger population than China. Nor will it work for the other 3 billion people in developing countries who are also dreaming the "American dream." And in an increasingly integrated global economy, where we all depend on the same grain, oil, and steel, the western economic model will no longer work for the industrial countries either.

The overriding challenge for our generation is to build a new economy—one that is powered largely by renewable sources of energy, that has a much more diversified transport system, and that reuses and recycles everything. We have the technology to build this new economy, an economy that will allow us to sustain economic progress. But can we muster the political will to translate this potential into reality?

24 November 2011

Can We Stop The Next Fukushima Times 10,000?

The horrible news from Japan continues to be ignored by the western corporate media.

Fukushima's radioactive fallout continues to spread throughout the archipelago, deep into the ocean and around the globe---including the US. It will ultimately impact millions, including many here in North America.

The potentially thankful news is that Fukushima's three melting cores may have not have melted deep into the earth, thus barely avoiding an unimaginably worse apocalyptic reality.

But it's a horror that humankind has yet to fully comprehend.

As Fukushima's owners now claim its three melted reactors approach cold shutdown, think of this:

At numerous sites worldwide---including several in the US---three or more reactors could simultaneously melt, side-by-side. At two sites in California---Diablo Canyon and San Onofre---two reactors each sit very close to major earthquake faults, in coastal tsunami zones.
Should one or more such cores melt through their reactor pressure vessels (as happened at Fukushima) and then through the bottoms of the containments (which, thankfully, may not have happened at Fukushima), thousands of tons of molten radioactive lava would burn into the Earth.
The molten mass(es) would be further fed by thousands of tons of intensely radioactive spent fuel rods stored on site that could melt into the molten masses or be otherwise compromised.
All that lava would soon hit groundwater, causing steam and hydrogen explosions of enormous power.
Those explosions would blow untold quantities of radioactive particles into the global environment, causing apocalyptic damage to all living beings and life support systems on this planet. The unmeasurable clouds would do unimaginable, inescapable injury to all human life.
Fukushima is far from over. There is much at the site still fraught with peril, far from the public eye. Among other things, Unit Four's compromised spent fuel pool is perched high in the air. The building is sinking and tilting. Seismic aftershocks could send that whole complex---and much more---tumbling down, with apocalyptic consequences.

Fukushima's three meltowns and at least four explosions have thus far yielded general radioactive fallout at least 25 times greater than what was released at Hiroshima, involving more than 160 times the cesium, an extremely deadly isotope.

Reuters reports that fallout into the oceans is at least triple what Tokyo Electric has claimed. Airborne cesium and other deadly isotopes have been pouring over the United States since a few scant days after the disaster.

Overall the fallout is far in excess of Chernobyl, which has killed more than a million people since its 1986 explosion.

Within Japan, radioactive hotspots and unexpectedly high levels of falloutcontinue to surface throughout the archipelago. The toll there and worldwide through the coming centuries will certainly be in the millions.

And yet....it could have been far worse.

In the US, in the past few months, an earthquake has shaken two Virginia reactors beyond their design specifications. Two reactors in Nebraska have been seriously threatened by flooding. Now a lethal explosion has struck a radioactive waste site in France.

We have also just commemorated a 9/11/2001 terror attack that could easily have caused full melt-downs to reactors in areas so heavily populated that millions could have been killed and trillions of dollars in damage could have permanently destroyed the American economy.

The only thing we now know for certain is that there will be more earthquakes, more tsunamis, more floods, hurricanes and tornadoes....and more terror attacks.

Horrifying as Fukushima may be, we also know for certain that the next reactor catastrophe could make even this one pale by comparison.

Japan will never fully recover from Fukushima. Millions of people will be impacted worldwide from its lethal fallout.

But the next time could be worse---MUCH worse.

The only good news is that Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Sweden and others are dumping atomic power. They are committing to Solartopian technologies---solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, ocean thermal, sustainable bio-fuels, increased efficiency and conservation---that will put their energy supplies in harmony with Mother Earth rather than at war with her.

The rest of humankind must do the same---and fast. Our species can't survive on this planet---ecologically, economically or in terms of our biological realities---without winning this transtion.

The only question is whether we do it before the next Fukushima times ten thousand makes the whole issue moot.

23 November 2011


"They Call it the "American Dream" because you have to be asleep to believe it."

-George Carlin

The Jungle
by Upton Sinclair

The problem with the American people is the fact that there is no one left alive who remembers what life for ordinary working people was like in this country when this book was published in 1905, in the days before unions and workplace regulations. When Upton Sinclair died on November 25 1968, both he and his most famous book were pretty much forgotten. Recent years have seen a resurrection. Do you want to understand where the right wing wants to bring us back to? Read "The Jungle".

22 November 2011

Bob McDonnell's Transportation Plans Serve Developers, Not Commuters

Reposted from The Green Miles

The Coalition for Smarter Growth warns Gov. Bob McDonnell's transportation plans will only add more cars from sprawling new developments to Virginia's existing traffic problems:
The state is borrowing $3 billion in state and federal funds on top of their normal annual spending for transportation, and we'll be paying this back for years. We should be setting smart priorities, but instead, VDOT is:
Reviving the controversial Outer Beltway through historic landscapes at Manassas Battlefield -- the first ten miles of which could cost $250 million to $475 million -- instead of focusing on fixing existing commuter routes in Northern Virginia.
Shifting $200 million in statewide money to a bypass in Charlottesville that won't fix major local traffic problems.
Giving $750 million of our tax dollars to subsidize a private toll road (Route 460) through empty farmland southeast of Richmond.
Meanwhile, when asked to help fund critical Tysons Corner transportation needs, the Examiner reports that "Virginia's Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton warned Fairfax to look elsewhere for cash."
It's not surprising Bob McDonnell's pandering to developers - he's gotten more than $5 million in campaign cash from developers, real estate & construction, by a wide margin his biggest source of private sector contributions. The Coalition for Smarter Growth has a 10-step transportation agenda for Northern Virginia - really radical stuff, like "Bring our local elected officials back to the table in transportation decision making."

21 November 2011


20 November 2011

No Comment Necessary

19 November 2011

World headed for irreversible climate change in five years, IEA warns

The world is likely to build so many fossil-fuelled power stations, energy-guzzling factories and inefficient buildings in the next five years that it will become impossible to hold global warming to safe levels, and the last chance of combating dangerous climate change will be "lost for ever", according to the most thorough analysis yet of world energy infrastructure.

Anything built from now on that produces carbon will do so for decades, and this "lock-in" effect will be the single factor most likely to produce irreversible climate change, the world's foremost authority on energy economics has found. If this is not rapidly changed within the next five years, the results are likely to be disastrous.

"The door is closing," Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said. "I am very worried – if we don't change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever."

for the rest of the article click here

18 November 2011

How Wall Street Occupied America

by Bill Moyers
The Nation, November 4, 2011

During the prairie revolt that swept the Great Plains in 1890, populist orator Mary Elizabeth Lease exclaimed, “Wall Street owns the country…. Money rules…. Our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags. The [political] parties lie to us and the political speakers mislead us."

She should see us now. John Boehner calls on the bankers, holds out his cup and offers them total obeisance from the House majority if only they fill it. Barack Obama criticizes bankers as “fat cats,” then invites them to dine at a pricey New York restaurant where the tasting menu runs to $195 a person.

That’s now the norm, and they get away with it. The president has raised more money from employees of banks, hedge funds and private equity managers than any Republican candidate, including Mitt Romney. Inch by inch he has conceded ground to them while espousing populist rhetoric that his very actions betray.

Let’s name this for what it is: hypocrisy made worse, the further perversion of democracy. Our politicians are little more than money launderers in the trafficking of power and policy—fewer than six degrees of separation from the spirit and tactics of Tony Soprano.

Why New York’s Zuccotti Park is filled with people is no mystery. Reporters keep scratching their heads and asking, “Why are you here?” But it’s clear they are occupying Wall Street because Wall Street has occupied the country. And that’s why in public places across the nation workaday Americans are standing up in solidarity. Did you see the sign a woman was carrying at a fraternal march in Iowa the other day? It read, I Can’t Afford to Buy a Politician So I Bought This Sign. Americans have learned the hard way that when rich organizations and wealthy individuals shower Washington with millions in campaign contributions, they get what they want.

In his Pulitzer Prize–winning book The Radicalism of the American Revolution, historian Gordon Wood says that our nation discovered its greatness “by creating a prosperous free society belonging to obscure people with their workaday concerns and pecuniary pursuits of happiness.” This democracy, he said, changed the lives of “hitherto neglected and despised masses of common laboring people.”

Those words moved me when I read them. They moved me because Henry and Ruby Moyers were “common laboring people.” My father dropped out of the fourth grade and never returned to school because his family needed him to pick cotton to help make ends meet. Mother managed to finish the eighth grade before she followed him into the fields. They were tenant farmers when the Great Depression knocked them down and almost out. The year I was born my father was making $2 a day working on the highway to Oklahoma City. He never took home more than $100 a week in his working life, and he made that only when he joined the union in the last job he held. I was one of the poorest white kids in town, but in many respects I was the equal of my friend who was the daughter of the richest man in town. I went to good public schools, had the use of a good public library, played sandlot baseball in a good public park and traveled far on good public roads with good public facilities to a good public university. Because these public goods were there for us, I never thought of myself as poor. When I began to piece the story together years later, I came to realize that people like the Moyerses had been included in the American deal. “We, the People” included us.

* * *

It’s heartbreaking to see what has become of that bargain. Nowadays it’s every man for himself. How did this happen? The rise of the money power in our time goes back forty years. We can pinpoint the date. On August 23, 1971, a corporate lawyer named Lewis Powell—a board member of the death-dealing tobacco giant Philip Morris and a future justice of the Supreme Court—released a confidential memorandum for his friends at the US Chamber of Commerce. We look back on it now as a call to arms for class war waged from the top down.

Recall the context of Powell’s memo. Big business was being forced to clean up its act. Even Republicans had signed on. In 1970 President Nixon put his signature on the National Environmental Policy Act and named a White House Council to promote environmental quality. A few months later millions of Americans turned out for Earth Day. Nixon then agreed to create the Environmental Protection Agency. Congress acted swiftly to pass tough amendments to the Clean Air Act, and the EPA announced the first air pollution standards. There were new regulations directed at lead paint and pesticides. Corporations were no longer getting away with murder.

Powell was shocked by what he called an “attack on the American free enterprise system.” Not just from a few “extremists of the left” but also from “perfectly respectable elements of society,” including the media, politicians and leading intellectuals. Fight back and fight back hard, he urged his compatriots. Build a movement. Set speakers loose across the country. Take on prominent institutions of public opinion—especially the universities, the media and the courts. Keep television programs “monitored the same way textbooks should be kept under constant surveillance.” And above all, recognize that political power must be “assiduously [sic] cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination” and “without embarrassment.”

Powell imagined the Chamber of Commerce as a council of war. Since business executives had “little stomach for hard-nosed contest with their critics” and “little skill in effective intellectual and philosophical debate,” they should create think tanks, legal foundations and front groups of every stripe. These groups could, he said, be aligned into a united front through “careful long-range planning and implementation…consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and united organizations.”

The public wouldn’t learn of the memo until after Nixon appointed Powell to the Supreme Court that same year, 1971. By then his document had circulated widely in corporate suites. Within two years the board of the Chamber of Commerce had formed a task force of forty business executives—from US Steel, GE, GM, Phillips Petroleum, 3M, Amway, and ABC and CBS (two media companies, we should note). Their assignment was to coordinate the crusade, put Powell’s recommendations into effect and push the corporate agenda. Powell had set in motion a revolt of the rich. As historian Kim Phillips-Fein subsequently wrote, “Many who read the memo cited it afterward as inspiration for their political choices.”

They chose swiftly. The National Association of Manufacturers announced that it was moving its main offices to Washington. In 1971 only 175 firms had registered lobbyists in the capital; by 1982 nearly 2,500 did. Corporate PACs increased from fewer than 300 in 1976 to more than 1,200 by the mid-’80s. From Powell’s impetus came the Business Roundtable, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Manhattan Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy (precursor to what we now know as Americans for Prosperity) and other organizations united in pushing back against political equality and shared prosperity. They triggered an economic transformation that would in time touch every aspect of our lives.

The Chamber of Commerce, in response to the memo, doubled its membership, tripled its budget and stepped up its lobbying efforts. It’s going stronger than ever. Most recently, it called in its agents in Congress to kill a bill to provide healthcare to 9/11 first responders for illnesses linked to their duty on that day. The bill would have paid for their medical care by ending a special tax loophole exploited by foreign corporations with business interests in America. The Chamber, along with nearly 1,300 business and trade groups, urged Congress to pass the new tax bill, signed into law just before this past Christmas and filled with all kinds of stocking stuffers, including about fifty tax breaks for businesses. The bill gave some of our biggest banks, financial companies and insurance firms another year’s exemption to shield their foreign profits from being taxed here in the United States; among the beneficiaries were giants Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, all of which survived the financial debacle of their own making because taxpayers bailed them out in 2008.

The coalition got another powerful jolt of adrenaline in the late ’70s from the wealthy right-winger who had served as Nixon’s treasury secretary, William Simon. His book A Time for Truth argued that “funds generated by business” must “rush by multimillions” into conservative causes to uproot the institutions and the “heretical strategy” of the New Deal. He called on “men of action in the capitalist world” to mount “a veritable crusade” against progressive America. BusinessWeek (October 12, 1974) somberly explained that “it will be a bitter pill for many Americans to swallow the idea of doing with less so that big business can have more.”

Those “men of action in the capitalist world” were not content with their wealth just to buy more homes, more cars, more planes, more vacations and more gizmos than anyone else. They were determined to buy more democracy than anyone else. And they succeeded beyond their expectations. After their forty-year “veritable crusade” against our institutions, laws and regulations—against the ideas, norms and beliefs that helped to create America’s iconic middle class—the Gilded Age is back with a vengeance.

If you want to see the story pulled together in one compelling narrative, read Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, by political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. They wanted to know how America had turned into a society starkly divided into winners and losers. They found the culprit: the revolt triggered by Lewis Powell, fired up by William Simon and fueled by rich corporations and wealthy individuals. “Step by step,” they write, “and debate by debate America’s public officials have rewritten the rules of American politics and the American economy in ways that have benefited the few at the expense of the many."

There you have it. They bought off the gatekeeper, got inside and gamed the system. As the rich and powerful got richer and more powerful, they owned and operated the government, “saddling Americans with greater debt, tearing new holes in the safety net, and imposing broad financial risks on Americans as workers, investors, and taxpayers.” Now, write Hacker and Pierson, the United States is looking more and more like “the capitalist oligarchies, like Brazil, Mexico, and Russia,” where most of the wealth is concentrated at the top while the bottom grows larger and larger with everyone in between just barely getting by.

The revolt of the plutocrats was ratified by the Supreme Court in its notorious Citizens United decision last year. Rarely have so few imposed such damage on so many. When five pro-corporate conservative justices gave “artificial legal entities” the same rights of “free speech” as humans, they told our corporate sovereigns that the sky’s the limit when it comes to their pouring money into political campaigns.

The ink was hardly dry on the Citizens United decision when the Chamber of Commerce organized a covertly funded front and rained cash into the 2010 campaigns. According to the Sunlight Foundation, corporate front groups spent
$126 million in the fall of 2010 while hiding the identities of the donors. Another corporate cover group—the American Action Network—spent more than $26 million of undisclosed corporate money in just six Senate races and twenty-six House elections. And Karl Rove’s groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, seized on Citizens United to raise and spend at least $38 million, which NBC News said came from “a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls”—all determined to water down financial reforms that might prevent another collapse of the financial system. Jim Hightower has said it well: today’s proponents of corporate plutocracy “have simply elevated money itself above votes, establishing cold, hard cash as the real coin of political power.”

No wonder so many Americans have felt that sense of political impotence that historian Lawrence Goodwyn described as “the mass resignation” of people who believe in the “dogma of democracy” on a superficial public level but whose hearts no longer burn with the conviction that they are part of the deal. Against such odds, discouragement comes easily. But if the generations before us had given up, slaves would still be waiting on their masters, women would still be turned away from the voting booths on election day and workers would still be committing a crime if they organized.

* * *

So take heart from the past, and don’t ever count the people out. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution created extraordinary wealth at the top and excruciating misery at the bottom. Embattled citizens rose up. Into their hearts, wrote the progressive Kansas journalist William Allen White, “had come a sense that their civilization needed recasting, that their government had fallen into the hands of self-seekers, that a new relation should be established between the haves and have-nots.” Not content to wring their hands and cry “Woe is us,” everyday citizens researched the issues, organized to educate their neighbors, held rallies, made speeches, petitioned and canvassed, marched and marched again. They plowed the fields and planted the seeds—sometimes on bloody ground—that twentieth-century leaders used to restore “the general welfare” as a pillar of American democracy. They laid down the now-endangered markers of a civilized society: legally ordained minimum wages, child labor laws, workers’ safety and compensation laws, pure foods and safe drugs, Social Security, Medicare and rules that promote competitive markets over monopolies and cartels.

The lesson is clear: Democracy doesn’t begin at the top; it begins at the bottom, when flesh-and-blood human beings fight to rekindle what Arlo Guthrie calls “The Patriot’s Dream.”

17 November 2011

No Comment Necessary

16 November 2011


15 November 2011

Actr now, or React later

The global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide has jumped by a record amount, according to the US department of energy, a sign of how feeble the world's efforts are at slowing man-made global warming.

The figures for 2010 mean that levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago.

"The more we talk about the need to control emissions, the more they are growing," said John Reilly, the co-director of MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.

The world pumped about 564m more tons (512m metric tons) of carbon into the air in 2010 than it did in 2009, an increase of 6%. That amount of extra pollution eclipses the individual emissions of all but three countries, China, the US and India, the world's top producers of greenhouse gases.

It is a "monster" increase that is unheard of, said Gregg Marland, a professor of geology at Appalachian State University, who has helped calculate department of energy figures in the past.

Extra pollution in China and the US account for more than half the increase in emissions last year, Marland said.

"It's a big jump," said Tom Boden, the director of the energy department's Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at Oak Ridge National Lab. "From an emissions standpoint, the global financial crisis seems to be over."

Boden said that in 2010 people were travelling, and manufacturing was back up worldwide, spurring the use of fossil fuels, the chief contributor of man-made climate change.

India and China are huge users of coal. Burning coal is the biggest carbon source worldwide and emissions from that jumped nearly 8% in 2010.

"The good news is that these economies are growing rapidly so everyone ought to be for that, right?" Reilly said. "Broader economic improvements in poor countries has been bringing living improvements to people. Doing it with increasing reliance on coal is imperiling the world."

In 2007, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its last large report on global warming, it used different scenarios for carbon dioxide pollution and said the rate of warming would be based on the rate of pollution. Boden said the latest figures put global emissions higher than the worst case projections from the climate panel. Those forecast global temperatures rising between 4 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit (2.4-6.4 Celsius) by the end of the century with the best estimate at 7.5 degrees (4 Celsius).

Even though global warming sceptics have criticised the climate change panel as being too alarmist, scientists have generally found their predictions too conservative, Reilly said. He said his university worked on emissions scenarios, their likelihood, and what would happen. The IPCC's worst case scenario was only about in the middle of what MIT calculated are likely scenarios.

Chris Field of Stanford University, head of one of the IPCC's working groups, said the panel's emissions scenarios are intended to be more accurate in the long term and are less so in earlier years. He said the question now among scientists is whether the future is the panel's worst case scenario "or something more extreme".

"Really dismaying," Granger Morgan, head of the engineering and public policy department at Carnegie Mellon University, said of the new figures. "We are building up a horrible legacy for our children and grandchildren."

But Reilly and University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver found something good in recent emissions figures. The developed countries that ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas limiting treaty have reduced their emissions overall since then and have achieved their goals of cutting emissions to about 8% below 1990 levels. The US did not ratify the agreement.

In 1990, developed countries produced about 60% of the world's greenhouse gases, now it's probably less than 50%, Reilly said.

"We really need to get the developing world because if we don't, the problem is going to be running away from us," Weaver said. "And the problem is pretty close from running away from us."

14 November 2011


13 November 2011


12 November 2011


11 November 2011

10 November 2011

Beyond the Financial Crisis Germany’s Plan to Regrow the Global Economy

At the moment, Germany is embroiled in a fierce debate over how to save the Eurozone and, with it, the future of the European Union. Although stringent austerity programs will have to be enacted in the member countries to reduce government debt, and new regulatory mechanisms put in place to oversee European financial institutions and markets, there is a dawning realization that these measures alone will be insufficient to assure the future of Europe and its member states. What's required, above all else, is a new sustainable economic growth plan that can take Europe into the future. That's beginning to happen.

While the rest of the world is in a near panic over the prospect of a second collapse of the global economy, a fresh new economic wind is blowing across Germany. In discussions with German business leaders over the past several months, and in recent conversations with Chancellor Angela Merkel and key political leaders in Berlin, it has become clear that Germany is embarking on a journey into a new economic era. The German plan is based on the historical understanding that the great economic paradigm shifts in history occur when new communications revolutions converge and merge with new energy regimes. New energy revolutions make possible more expansive and integrated trade. Accompanying communication revolutions manage the speed and complexity of commercial activity made possible by the new flow of energy. Today, the distributed Internet communication revolution is converging with distributed renewable energies, giving birth to a powerful Third Industrial Revolution that is going to fundamentally change German society.

The Merkel administration has launched an ambitious effort to transition the West's leading exporting power into a Third Industrial Revolution (TIR). The federal government has teamed up with six regions across Germany to test the introduction of an "energy Internet" that will allow tens of thousands of German businesses and millions of home owners to collect renewable energies onsite, store them in the form of hydrogen, and share green electricity across Germany in a smart utility network, just like we now share information online. Entire communities are in the process of transforming their commercial and residential buildings into green micro-power plants, and companies like Siemens and Bosch are creating sophisticated new IT software, hardware, and appliances that will merge distributed Internet communications with distributed energy to create the smart buildings, infrastructure, and cities of the future.

The transition into the new Industrial Revolution is quickly picking up momentum. In May, the government announced that the country's 17 nuclear power plants would be shut down by 2022. Then, in late summer, the German Association of Energy and Water Companies reported for the first time that renewable energy sources now account for nearly 20% of the country's electricity, putting Germany ahead of schedule in its goal of producing 35% of its electricity from green energy by 2022. On September 12th, Dr. Dieter Zetsche, the Chairman of Daimler, unveiled the company's hydrogen fuel-cell car at the opening of the Frankfurt International Auto Show. The company that launched the Second Industrial Revolution 125 years ago with the invention of the gasoline-powered automobile has joined with seven industrial partners -- EnBW, Linde, OMV, Shell, Total, Vattenfall, and the National Organization of Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology -- in a partnership to establish hydrogen fueling stations across Germany in preparation for the mass production of zero-emission fuel cell vehicles in 2015, signaling the beginning of the post-carbon auto era and a Third Industrial Revolution.

The creation of a renewable energy regime, loaded by buildings, partially stored in the form of hydrogen, distributed via an energy internet, and connected to plug-in zero-emission transport, establishes the essential 5-Pillars of a Third Industrial Revolution. The forty year build out will create thousands of businesses and millions of sustainable jobs and position Germany as the leader in the next industrial revolution.

Germany's ability to export the new model throughout the European Union and in its partnership regions in the Mediterranean, North Africa, and beyond, will set the framework for the next great stage of European integration, and ultimately determine whether the European political experiment and the European Dream succeeds or fails.

The opportunity is clear. The European Union has 500 million consumers and an additional 500 million potential consumers in its partnership regions, giving it the prospect of becoming the largest and wealthiest internal commercial market in the world. The key is creating a seamless green energy infrastructure, electricity grid, and communication and transport network that will allow one billion people to engage in "sustainable" commerce and trade across the European continent and its periphery. This represents the next stage of European integration as a political union.

In May 2007, the European Parliament issued a formal written declaration endorsing the Third Industrial Revolution (TIR) vision as the long-term economic road map for the European Union. The Third Industrial Revolution is currently being implemented by the various agencies within the European Commission as well as in the member states.

Now, Germany, the economic engine of the European Union, has set out on a course to quickly transform its economy into the new economic paradigm and serve as a lighthouse for moving the Third Industrial Revolution infrastructure across the European space. To the extent that Germany can effectively create a sustainable and prosperous post-carbon Europe and transform the continent into the largest integrated market space in the world, Germany will prosper, and the European Union will come of age. Other continental markets and continental unions in Asia, Africa, and the Americas will likely follow suit.

The world community will be watching the German experiment closely to see whether this new economic model can serve as a template for ushering in a new economic era. Germany's future, as well as Europe's and the world, depends on its success.