Archive for September, 2008

Video: Stunning Comeback! McCain/Palin Win Election by 51.2%

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Stephen Spoonamore has been working in the technology field for 20 years. In this time he has worked extensively with electronic credit card security, bank security, corporate security, military security, and voting security. Lately, Spoonamore has been working in the political technology field. He is a Republican, a McCain supporter, and a man who cares about a clean vote.

In a recent interview, Spoonamore asserts that not only have elections been stolen in the past (2000 and 2004, duh), but the election will be stolen again in 2008.

Spoonamore’s advice for securing the vote? Paper. 100% paper, 100% hand-counted. “Sometimes the best technology is old technology,” he says.

I certainly agree in this case. I’ve tried several times to contact our Vermont Secretary of State, Deb Markowitz, several times regarding our state’s woefully pathetic electronic vote-verification process and, after being fully ignored, I’m left with zero confidence that the vote I cast will be the vote they count. To hedge my bets, I’m voting via absentee ballot.

Please watch this interview (all ten parts), digg this important story, and then pass it on to your friends.

(Clip summaries from Mark Crispin Miller.

It’s a network, people.

Electronic voting machines are a national security threat.

The genie is out of the bottle.

Fifty ways to steal an election.

Mike Connell: Bush IT Guru

The Rapp Family: Ohio election cover-up.

Evangelicals and voting machines.

Paper ballots please.

McCain/Palin will win by theft.

People should doubt the vote, it’s being stolen.

Richard Heinberg: Lessons from the Soil

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Richard Heinberg, Senior Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, explains the need to learn the lessons of sustainability with your whole body—by digging your hands in the soil and gaining a visceral understanding of what it means to get your food from the Earth.

From the September 2008 edition of The Ecologist:

It’s hard to learn much or do much about sustainability without getting your hands dirty.

True, global problems of resource depletion and climate change entail some high-level thinking. We need to understand some important numbers—350 parts per million of CO2 (the target necessary to avert catastrophic climate change), 5% production decline rate in existing oilfields (what must be overcome each year to forestall the inevitable peak of global oil output). We need skills in analysis and persuasion. Inevitably, all of this requires much time spent in front of computer screens.

However, while we attend to these technologies and abstractions, we are much more likely to succeed in our ultimate goal of building sustainable culture if we are also grounded in the most basic of activities—obtaining food directly from the Earth.

Reading has taught me a lot. Gardening has taught me as much or more. Often, these lessons tend to be ones that sound trite when put in words: Stay humble; Don’t demand too much too fast; Notice the interconnections; Go slow, but always pay attention and be prepared for rapid-onset opportunities and problems. However, when you garden you don’t just learn these lessons verbally and mentally. You learn them with your whole body.

Leaving food production entirely to others is the essence of full-time division of labor, the origin and vulnerable taproot of civilization. Only in agricultural civilizations has a rigid class system arisen in which the most important decisions are made by people who don’t need to spend any of their time directly contemplating our human dependence on nature. Instead, the managers, accountants, soldiers, and religious functionaries of state societies tend to enclose themselves ever more completely in the language-based solipsistic social matrix that is the source of their power. They pay ever more attention to words, money, and technology; ever less to weather, birds, and insects. And this, ultimately, is why civilizations collapse: the people in charge simply don’t notice that the ecological basis of their society is being undermined.

Sound familiar?

There are lots of good reasons to garden these days—given that food prices are soaring and the nutritional quality of supermarket food diminishes by the year. Those of us who are working on sustainability issues have even more reasons to plant and hoe. We must teach our neighbors the survival skills they will need as fossil fuels dribble away; we must set an example, and help create the gardening networks that will provide food for our communities during the hard times ahead.

But perhaps the best of all reasons to garden is simply our need to stay sane. I mean this in two ways. Yes, the garden is a refuge from a world that often seems to be flying apart. Turn off the television and pick up a trowel: you’ll feel better. But more importantly, if we garden we are more likely to be psychologically balanced people capable of making sane choices. And the world needs people like that at the moment.

Robert Kuttner: Get Rid of the Toxic Executives!

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

The first Bush/Paulson/Pelosi bailout plan to come before Congress was defeated. Wall Street reacted, the Dow plunged, world markets trembled, and we now face a financial future that can at best be described as uncertain.

With the elections a few weeks away, no one—Democrat or Republican—wanted to vote for a bill that was perceived by many as giving a helping hand up to the man from Wall Street while stepping on the face of the man from Main Street. With their jobs at stake, a majority of Representatives killed a bill that may have been the only feasible option out of this mess.

The Republican leadership wasn’t there, and you could have bet the Democrats weren’t going to go all in without significant support from the GOP. So it failed.

But if we can put aside the predictions of gloom and doom (Financial Pearl Harbor? Great Depression II? Financial Armageddon?) for just a moment, the Republicans may have actually done us a favor.

Economist and author Robert Kuttner (Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency) spoke to host Neal Conan on NPR’s All Things Considered yesterday as the vote was transpiring. They actually get the news of the bill’s defeat in the middle of the interview (at around 05:30), as the vote closed.

Now that we have the chance to take another crack at it, one thing that we absolutely must have, says Kuttner, is “direct government refinancing of home mortgages” a la the Homeowners Loan Corporation, created under F.D.R.’s New Deal.

And, Kuttner goes on, “instead of having government simply buy up toxic securities, and get the toxic securities off the books of these banks, you need to get rid of the toxic executives.”

Listen to the entire program here.

Holy Roller: Excerpt

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

The following excerpt is from Holy Roller: Growing Up in the Church of Knock Down, Drag Out; or, How I Quit Loving a Blue-Eyed Jesus by Diane Wilson.

Momma’s pregnancies were hellacious. First she vomited her guts out and then she cried about it. If that wasn’t enough to cement the connection between hell and pregnancy, six months into her fourth pregnancy, while hanging out a washtub of wet clothes on a line tied to a rain cistern where rats and birds fell plus we got our water, a blood clot froze in her eyes and she went blind in one. One-eyed and one year later, Momma had me. (Nothing slowed down her baby train.) It was October, the dead-last phase of the moon, and summerlike with the windows open but screened to keep out the mosquitoes that were always worse after dark. I was delivered, howling like a banshee, in my grandma’s bed by Aunt Teny, whose curly, frizzy hair mine eventually resembled.

I was not the first grandkid born at Grandma’s but the fifth. And while babies might have started at home, they always ended up at Grandma’s because she had an indoor toilet and many helpful girls: Goldie Belle, Silver, Tena Perlina (Teny), and June Bug. (Grandma had attempted to name all her girls after precious jewels mentioned in the Bible, but she quit and settled on a month of the year for the youngest girl because a neighbor lady said Garnet sounded like Jezebel.) Grandma had a couple of taboos on childbearing. One, don’t mention that nasty word! But if you must, then call it PG. Two, a woman’s insides would fall out if she set foot on the floor too soon after delivery so for two solid weeks, Grandma and her three girls waited on Momma hand and foot (this was the only time Momma was queen of anything), and in the evening fried chicken and dumplings and biscuits in a covered skillet were toted from the bayou house (where Grandma and the girls were) to the shinnery house (where Daddy and the boys were).

Then Daddy showed up from shrimping one day and, lo and behold, there was a new screaming baby in the house. Daddy was indifferent to the whole baby thing and the most he’d do was put one rubber fishing boot against the baby’s butt and say, “Goldie, this baby’s diaper needs changing.” Only once was a baby (my brother) delivered in Momma’s iron bed and for once Daddy got to see the whole messy little affair from scratch and in her delirium Momma called Daddy Billy Bones, which she never did again.

Most screaming babies take a couple days to calm down, a month at the most, but I never calmed down. I screamed like I had a hot poker stuck to my foot—until I didn’t. And I stopped because I was sent to Houston to visit my curlyhaired Aunt Teny (who had only one kid) and I fell in love with their cement sidewalk. Momma thought it was the 150-mile ride that ended the crying, but it wasn’t. The cement sidewalk did it.

The cement-sidewalk love affair was cut short, though, ’cause Daddy liked all his kids in one spot and not farmed out (for a starving fisherman, he had an inordinate amount of pride), so I was sent home to Momma, who had two more babies, and my fascination with cement was transferred to a baby bottle that I sucked until I was four. I didn’t see my Aunt Teny again until a hurricane sent an open invitation to her and her feisty union husband and her one kid: come to Seadrift and live with Grandma in the Land of Plenty. Which was exactly what they did. They moved from Houston to Grandma’s bayou house that had shifted off its blocks in a storm and left them a leaning metal bed to sleep in.

If Aunt Teny’s husband had a horse he would have rode it out of town quick because Seadrift was a town that had no love of union men. She only loved fishermen. But he didn’t have a horse so he got over it soon enough and set up a store that for nine long years was a Main Street attraction along with a picture show, a dry goods store where unsold clothes hung so long on the racks that the sun rotted the seams, and a Western Auto store where fishermen bought rope, shackles, and webbing with promises of payment come a good shrimp season.


I was sitting (hiding) in Uncle Bill’s empty potato bin and not because I was scared of Uncle Bill who cussed on a dime, shouting, “You demon, you demon! I’m gonna keeel you!” if you messed with one iota of anything of his; I was hiding because crying had wore my young life out and hiding was the extent of my projection into the world. And anything would make me hide. I hid because the sun came up funny. I hid because of a bad dream. I hid because somebody said I had a big bottom lip and did I play the trumpet? Did I pout a lot? Once I hid because my brother burned my paper dolls that I’d cut from a Sears catalog and had propped up on a pillow with a quilt covering their paper legs.

And the potato bin wasn’t the first place I’d hid, it was just the latest. I hid in weeds and in ankle-deep mud with foam nearly in my nose, and sometimes I hid in an old wrecked car in the pasture and watched a million yellow jackets track across the blurred windows and beat their wasp wings like Momma’s finger beating against my chest. You listening to me, Silver? You listening to me? Well, one part was and one part wasn’t and the part that wasn’t, Momma said, was one queer girl. One time I hid in a high leafy branch overhanging the only road in front of our house and a man on a tractor came by, looked up, saw my funny little face, and nearly ran into the ditch. Another time I was underneath Momma’s bed and I forget who all was left in the bedroom while Momma was pulling off her Sunday dress, but Pill was warting the fool out of the cat hiding under the bed with me.

Pill leaned down and her voice cracked when she bent over. She said, “Whooo do you luuuv, Siiilvaaah? Whooo do you luuuv?”

I grabbed the yellow cat lying in the dust and shouted, “I love Jesus and Brother Bob! And Abraham Lincoln!”

Momma yelled, “Leave her alone!” and Pill said, “Whyyy?” And Momma said, “You know.” That’s what Momma said: “You know.”

Well, half the you know was five women in the same house with one having a whole room to herself while three slept in the same bed with the one nearest the window hiding and taking notes on the windowsill. Of the three sisters in the same bed, Sheena was the cleverest, the oldest, and the prettiest (Pill was just the cutest) and she liked conflict as much as Momma hated it and I disappeared before it arrived. For instance, in the cold early-morning hours after a howling norther blew the leaves off every tree and shoved half the water from the bay, Sheena tossed us out of bed just to rearrange the quilts and the pillows and the sheets. She was boss of the bed. Any questions? Any takers? Well, not Pill, who just grogged around, saying, “Ughhh.” A real deadhead seeking warmth. Even a thimbleful. So half the time she ended up curled in a knot on the floor while I ticked away in silence and devised a bomb for Sheena’s fat head. A big ax to fall on her big fat skull. Finally she told me to go back to my spot at the window. And I did.

Sheena was twelve years old and every boy cousin we had (we had six) was in love with her. She was as sophisticated as it was gonna get at her age and living in the country like we did. (My oldest sister’s, Nina’s, level exceeded all our expectations. She was sixteen, had a room to herself, and possessed a huge can of perfumed talcum powder that she got as a graduation present and for being so smart and she used it on every nook and cranny in her body and in the process drenched the floor, the walls, and a cedar hope chest where a half dozen of Grandma’s string rugs and one crocheted white-shell afghan nestled until the D-day of her marriage.) After Momma hid Ticky’s box of California underwear out behind the cow shed to keep us girls from rushing headlong into prostitution or Jezebel-style dressing, Sheena was the first to find the box, cut off one of the black silky nighties up to her bum, then swing through the trees, calling herself Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.

Matthew Stein on Coast to Coast AM

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

In case you missed it, Matthew Stein, author of When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency, was on Coast to Coast AM With George Noory Last night.

In the latter half of the show, author Matthew Stein talked about the popular interest in preparedness and how individuals can ready themselves for unexpected chaos. According to Stein, “having the self-reliance skills to do what our grandparents and their parents knew how to do is very important in this coming time.”

Stein listed a number of ways in which people can be prepared for disastrous events. One such suggestion was to acquire a “super efficient” vehicle, whether it be an electrically powered motor scooter or a plug-in hybrid car. Additionally, he emphasized the need for people to begin developing their own home gardens so that they can become self-reliant in the event of food shortages. Stein also suggested having an out of town contact who can act as a conduit between family members in the event that communications fail during an emergency.

If you want to listen to the program online, you’ll have to become a subscriber to the Coast to Coast AM website. Although, now that I think about it, many of you probably already are. It’s a very popular program—I had no idea exactly how popular until I saw the book had jumped to #35 (in all books) on after Matt’s appearance.

Now that’s a hell of a bump.

*** UPDATE 10/06/08 ***

Here’ the audio from YouTube:

Linda Faillace: USDA Won’t Allow Mad Cow Tests

Monday, September 29th, 2008

When the USDA declared war on Linda Faillace (Mad Sheep: The True Story Behind the USDA’s War on a Family Farm) and her tiny sheep farm in an effort to stave off criticism of the government’s mishandling of Mad-Cow Disease, she fought back. Ultimately, her entire herd was destroyed while Linda and her family could only stand by, helpless. Though the disease has never appeared in any sheep, the USDA had found its fall guy.

Now, this inept arm of the US government—which is responsible for the safety of the food we consume—is calling for less testing of American cattle for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad-Cow disease) in the wake of test results that confirmed three cases of BSE in American cattle. Why is this happening?

How much longer should we defer to a governmental agency that has consistently failed to perform its duties? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is charged with protecting the American food supply, yet not a week goes by without another food-related health scare seizing headlines across the nation: listeria in pasteurized milk; spinach contaminated with E. coli; and potentially unsafe meat from “downer” cattle (animals which are sick or injured and unable to stand). This past spring tomatoes and peppers were accused of causing 1,442 illnesses and two deaths, yet the USDA is still unable to confirm the source of the salmonella infections.

These outbreaks are the results of decades of USDA policy decisions which favor corporations and industrial agriculture over small family farms and local production. Intensive animal and crop operations can lead to sick animals and tainted vegetables entering the food chain, and regulations which would prevent these incidents are often overlooked when corporate interests are at stake. A prime example is the USDA’s (mis) handling of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or “mad cow” disease.

Europe has dealt with BSE for more than twenty-one years and has an extensive surveillance program in place: just last year approximately 9.7 million cattle were tested. While Europe tested millions, the USDA tested a few thousand and arrogantly proclaimed the United States was free of BSE, until the first case was discovered in 2003. Export markets dried up overnight. Japan and Korea, two of the largest importers of American beef, demanded the USDA either test for BSE or halt beef sales. The United States refused and a trade war quickly ensued. To date, tens of thousands of Koreans have taken to the streets to protest their government’s acceptance of untested American beef. Subsequently, Japanese and Korean top officials have been either severely criticized or forced to resign for allowing imports of US beef into their countries.

Creekstone Farms raises all natural, premium beef and had a very lucrative overseas market until the first case of BSE. Anxious to re-establish trade, Creekstone contacted the USDA to purchase BSE testing kits, but the USDA denied them access to the kits and threatened fines and even imprisonment if Creekstone attempted to test their cattle. Creekstone Farms filed a federal suit against the USDA, demanding the right to test. In 2007, a federal district court ruled in their favor. The USDA quickly appealed-and won.

In a decision last week, D.C. Court of Appeals Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson overturned the district court’s ruling and made repeated references to the fact that Congress gave the USDA broad powers. “We owe USDA a considerable degree of deference in its interpretation of the term, bearing, as it does, on USDA’s charge to ‘administer our federal meat and poultry inspection laws,’” she stated.

But the USDA does not deserve this deference. When the Humane Society released undercover footage of animal abuse and downer cattle going into the human food supply while USDA officials were on site, Americans were outraged and called for action. The USDA worked with the California-based company to organize the largest meat recall in history-143 million pounds. What the American public was not told was that the recall was for all the meat the company had produced over the previous two years, and the vast majority of it had already been consumed. The USDA should be supporting the decentralization of the beef industry. USDA inspectors were already on site, so more inspections would not have made a difference, nor would more regulations. The best suggestion is for the USDA to support smaller slaughterhouses instead of forcing them out of business with burdensome regulations necessary for the industrial meat processors.

Our family farm, which produced high quality breeding stock and gourmet cheese, experienced the USDA’s ineptness and corruption first hand when they targeted our healthy flock of sheep for BSE, a disease which does not exist in sheep. Our decade-long battle with the USDA and a subsequent lawsuit has revealed a laundry list of documented misdeeds against us including: destruction of evidence, suppression of test results, extensive undercover surveillance, and misleading and false statements given to the general public and our elected officials. The most egregious was an armed invasion of our family farm and the subsequent seizure and destruction of our animals and livelihood.

Read the whole article here.

Robert Kuttner: Will the Bailout Work?

Monday, September 29th, 2008

**UPDATE 2:32 PM**

The $700 billion rescue plan was defeated on the House Floor.


Assuming the Paulson-Pelosi package passes the House and Senate, will the $7oo billion bailout even work?
Robert Kuttner, author of Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency, puts our chances at about 50/50.

And the plan put forward by the rogue Republican faction? Kuttner, writing in the American Prospect, calls it “a joke.” The Paulson-Pelosi bill is flawed, but it may be our only shot at avoiding Great Depression II.

Robert will be appearing on Talk of the Nation today at 2:00 PM to talk about the economic crisis and the Wall Street bailout. Check your local listings.

From the American Prospect article:

Will Congress pass the Paulson-Pelosi package? Will both presidential candidates vote for it? And will it work?

At this writing, passage is still far from certain. There is still open rebellion on the Republican right, and a lot of progressive Democrats don’t really like it either. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs at least 80 of the 199 House Republicans, or the package becomes more the Democrats’ baby. Even if the rescue plan keeps markets afloat through the election, a proposition that I’d put at 50-50, there will be a rolling taxpayer backlash that Republicans will milk for all it’s worth.

For any House Republican facing a tight re-election race, the easier vote is No. The alternative Republican plan is a joke. It’s billed as a “free market” solution, but it depends on government tax breaks and government insurance to bribe more investors into buying this junk. It’s hardly a free market — if it were, they wouldn’t need the tax subsidy or the insurance. And it is even less likely to work than the Paulson plan. But angry taxpayers don’t follow the fine print. They only know that Wall Street is getting $700 billion and they are not.

Pelosi has one trump card. Wall Street desperately needs this plan, and Wall Street is not wrong to fear Great Depression II. In normal times, Wall Street has pretty good lines to the Republican Party. But in these times, Republican members are willing to gamble with the economy in order to appease angry voters. However, if Republican legislators will not share the credit and blame, there will be no bill and we can look forward to deepening crisis.

A similar drama is playing out in the presidential campaign. Both McCain and Obama said they were inclined to support the package, but both left themselves just a bit of wiggle room. Imagine the scene at McCain Headquarters. The phones are ringing off the hook from opposite quarters — captains of finance urging him to support the plan; and the Republican pseudo-populist rightwing demanding that he stand with them.

If Obama declares his intentions first, there will be great temptation for McCain to double-cross him. As McCain slips further and further in the polls, it’s desperation time. McCain could easily give a speech saying he hopes the measure works, but he can’t in good conscience vote for it be because it’s too tilted to the fat cats and doesn’t do enough for ordinary working Americans. Since the vote will be far closer in the House, which votes first, McCain would have the luxury of voting no, but knowing that the bill will pass. This then sets up the mantra of the campaign’s final month: McCain=Principled Independent who speaks for You; Obama=Washington Club that bails out Wall Street.

Obama, who views himself more as a steward and is already thinking about where the economy will be in January, will very likely vote for it. But in announcing his support, we can expect him to say that the package is far from what he wanted; that it is at best a stopgap; that in round two, when he is president, we will need to come back and do this right; and that any politician who plays politics with this vote is playing Russian roulette with the economy. Voters and pundits can then draw their own conclusions about whether McCain is populist hero or cynical opportunist.

But what about the plan itself? Ever since the plan was unveiled, I have been urging that critics of it not festoon it with more benefits for homeowners and more limits on executive compensation — but offer a whole other approach. The road not taken included direct government refinancing for homeowners instead of government mopping up of junk securities. With that approach, stability trickles up. The money markets get the same relief. But it’s far more just to ordinary people and far better politics. The Democrats, alas, were not able to add more than modest additional homeowner help to the package.

The second basic difference in the alternative approach is the idea that government should become a part or full owner in failing financial institutions. Variants of this have been proposed by Jamie Galbraith, former Soros associate Rob Johnson, and Douglas Elmendorf of the Brookings Institution.

But Congress did not follow this path. So is the package worth voting for? It is, in my view, but just barely and only as a stopgap. Congress did add tighter controls, and does not permit Paulson to go out and spend the whole $700 billion at once.

My crystal ball says that markets stabilize for a few weeks, credit begins unlocking, but the deeper rot in the system comes back to produce persistent crises. One place to look is hedge funds, as investors gradually begin exercising their right to withdraw their money. Another source of continuing crisis is the huge market in exotic derivatives. Because Wall Street financial engineers created highly leveraged and unregulated products at multiples many times the value of underlying mortgages, this process is still unwinding. The collapse of the insurance giant A.I.G. was the consequence of one small unit in London writing over $300 billion of these contracts, and taking down the entire company when its bets went bad. The best primer ever written on this subject is Gretchen Morgensen’s recent Times piece. You owe it to yourself to read it carefully. The problem is that there is a lot more such rot in the system, and we don’t yet know what will unravel next, only that it will be something big.

Read the whole article here.

John Podesta: Rebuilding—and Greening—the Economy

Monday, September 29th, 2008

At the risk of stating the obvious, the economy is, well, not in a good place.

What we need at this moment is real leadership, and a plan to address the problems of a collapsing economy while averting looming ecological catastrophe.

John Podesta, President and CEO of Center for American Progress, has a proposal that could create millions of new jobs, help lower oil prices, reconstruct local communities, and make the US a leader in the global green economy.

From the article:

The signs are clear: Our economy is in trouble. Falling home prices, foreclosures, bank failures, a weaker dollar, rising prices for gas, food, and steel, and layoffs in banking, construction, and manufacturing sectors are all indicators of serious economic strain—following a long period in which the middle class went nowhere even while the economy grew as a whole. What’s more, evidence suggests the current downturn will continue for at least another year.

At the same time, we face a growing climate crisis that will require us to rapidly invest in new energy infrastructure, cleaner sources of power, and more efficient use of electricity and fuels in order to cut global warming pollution. There is much work to be done in building smart solutions at a scale and speed that is bold enough to meet this gathering challenge.

It is time for a new vision for the economic revitalization of the nation and a restoration of American leadership in the world. We must seize this precious opportunity to mobilize the country and the international community toward a brighter, more prosperous future. At the heart of this opportunity is clean energy, remaking the vast energy systems that power the nation and the world. We must fundamentally change the way we produce and consume energy and dramatically reduce our dependence on oil. The economic opportunities provided by such a transformation are vast, not to mention the national security benefits of reducing oil dependence and the pressing need to fight global warming. The time for action is now.

Today, the Center for American Progress releases a new report by Dr. Robert Pollin and University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute economists. This report demonstrates how a new Green Recovery program that spends $100 billion over two years would create 2 million new jobs, with a significant proportion in the struggling construction and manufacturing sectors. It is clear from this research that a strategy to invest in the greening of our economy will create more jobs, and better jobs, compared to continuing to pursue a path of inaction marked by rising dependence on energy imports alongside billowing pollution.

The $100 billion fiscal expansion that we examined in this study provides the infrastructure to jumpstart a comprehensive clean energy transformation for our nation, such as the strategy described in CAP’s 2007 report, “Capturing the Energy Opportunity: Creating a Low-Carbon Economy.” This paper shows the impact of a swift initial investment in climate solutions that would direct funding toward six energy efficiency and renewable energy strategies:

  • Retrofitting buildings to increase energy efficiency
  • Expanding mass transit and freight rail
  • Constructing “smart” electrical grid transmission systems
  • Wind power
  • Solar power
  • Advanced biofuels

Read the whole article here.

Pollard: The End of Free Markets and the US Dollar

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Last Sunday, entrepreneur and author Dave Pollard (Finding the Sweet Spot: The Natural Entrepreneur’s Guide to Responsible, Sustainable, Joyful Work) contributed a sobering article on the state of the US economy and the plummeting value of the dollar to his blog on, “How to Save the World”. Considering the current fragile state of the Wall Street bailout, it’s still timely and worthy of some serious consideration.

This has been the first week in seven years that the mainstream media have actually been reporting important news. The top news, of course, is that greed and incompetence in the private sector of the US financial ‘services’ industry has now proved to be so massive that the entire financial sector is unraveling.

The US government had two possible responses. It could allow these long-time advocates of deregulation to be hoist on their own petard, which most of them surely deserved, but which would have collapsed global stock markets, thrown millions out of work, and extinguished the life savings and retirement hopes of most of the population. Or it could bail them out, not one by one as they fell, but preemptively, by guaranteeing (with taxpayer’s money) every financial company’s junk securities and junk mortgages — those reckless zero-down, no interest for one year, no payments for one year offerings to hopelessly overextended borrowers — which is what it has opted to do.

The price tag for this operation will easily surpass one trillion dollars. The US treasury doesn’t have this money, or any money for that matter — it is mired in unrepayable debt already thanks to the Bush wars and Bush tax cuts for the rich. So it will print this money. It will flush more than a trillion dollars of new paper into the global markets and pray that the Chinese and the Arabs will accept it.

Because the Chinese are dependent on US trade, they probably will. Because the Arab princes are afraid of an end of US military largesse and the threat of further US military chaos in their region, they may accept it too. It’s a giant game of chicken now. Everyone knows that the US dollar is now essentially worthless, and once people start bailing out, it will collapse. Just a matter of when, now. Six months or twenty years, sudden or gradual.

What’s fascinating is that most US politicians, who are either ignorant of all this or in denial, are still running on a “less government” platform, when the only hope to avoid a global depression was and is massively more government. We’re talking about a takeover, essentially a nationalization of the private sector, on a scale that’s never been seen before. The US government will soon effectively be keeping entirely afloat an industry that now produces close to 30% of the GDP, second only to the war industry that it is the only customer of. In other words, adding to what it already produces, the government (your tax dollars at work) could soon be responsible for three quarters of the entire US GDP. As the WSJ reported earlier this week, “the US financial system resembles a patient in intensive care” (thanks to Craig De Ruisseau for this link). Two days later, the patient is comatose.

And there’s more. Yesterday, in an act of staggering irresponsibility, US regulators placed a ban on short-selling. What that means is that people who bought hedges to protect themselves from losses in a downturn are now forced to cover those hedges, and take massive losses. To cover those losses, they had to buy the very stocks they’re worried will fall, and the huge rush of buying pushed the stock market up and made millions for short-term speculators gleefully ready to sell these stocks at artificially inflated prices.

Read the whole article here.

Peter Barnes: Towards a Fair Climate Policy

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Peter Barnes, author of Climate Solutions: A Citizen’s Guide and senior fellow at the Tomales Bay Institute, presents the basic principles of a cap-and-dividend climate policy. In easy-to-understand terms, he presents the problem (“the biggest market failure the world has ever seen”), as well as a common sense, truly fair solution that won’t place the financial burden disproportionately on the poor.

Many economists (and others) from a wide range of political viewpoints are coming to support the idea of cap-and-dividend or tax-and-rebate as the most sensible way to address climate change. It’s important to note that the two approaches (cap or tax) are functionally equivalent. Both policies are intended (1) to raise the price of the carbon emissions that cause global warming, thereby discouraging those emissions and encouraging alternatives, and (2) to do so in a way that does not place the burden of adjustment disproportionately on the poor.

If we don’t understand a problem, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to fix it. So let’s begin by asking, with regard to the climate crisis, what is the problem we need to fix? Often in public policy, the problem we need to fix isn’t immediately obvious. Sometimes we see symptoms without seeing the underlying problem. Other times we see part of the problem but not the whole. On the surface, climate change appears to be an environmental problem, or perhaps a technological one. But deeper down, it’s a result of two economic and political failures.

The first of these is a market failure. Humans are dumping ever-rising quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere because there are no limits or prices for doing so. There are, however, huge costs — costs that are shifted to future generations. When people don’t pay the full cost of what they’re doing, but instead transfer costs to others, economists call this a ‘market failure.’ Nicholas Stern, former chief economist at the World Bank, has said that climate change is “the biggest market failure the world has ever seen.”

The second cause of global warming is misplaced government priorities. Because polluting corporations are powerful and future generations don’t vote, our governments not only allows carbon emissions to grow, but subsidizes them in numerous ways. Thus, despite all we know today about climate change, about two-thirds of US federal energy subsidies currently go, for example, to fossil fuels.

It’s important to recognize that these twin failures permeate our entire economy. They’re not problems of the electricity sector, the automobile sector or the building sector; they’re problems of all sectors and must be treated at that level. They distort the behavior of all individuals and businesses. No matter how ‘responsible’ any of us may be, our separate actions can’t overcome what these twin failures make most of us do most of the time. What’s required are fixes for both system failures. We need to limit and pay for atmospheric pollution, and we need to shift government’s attention from dirty fuels to clean alternatives. If we don’t do both of those things, we won’t stop climate change.

Read the whole article here.

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