Archive for September, 2010

LISTEN: Jamie Court interviewed on NPR’s Morning Edition and on KPFK

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Jamie Court was interviewed on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition yesterday for a story on recent changes within the health insurance industry. Click here to listen to the program.

Jamie also took part in an interview on Monday to promote The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell on Uprising Radio/KPFK out of Los Angeles. Listen to part one of the interview here, and part two here.

“Nearly two years into the Presidency of Barack Obama, collective American anger at unemployment, bank bailouts, and the generally poor state of the economy, has translated into focused populist organizing – but mostly on the right. The Tea Party movement, for a variety of reasons, has captured enough power from establishment partisan politics, that it has managed to win nominations for Congressional seats. But whither the left? Are most progressive organizations so eager to have a seat at the table of a president they helped elect that they are willing to be complicit in his compromises rather than hold him accountable? Long time organizer and President of Consumer Watchdog, Jamie Court, has a simple message for progressives: it’s time to start raising hell. His new book is called The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell: How to Win Grassroots Campaigns, Pass Ballot Box Laws, and Get the Change We Voted For. Calling it a “Direct Democracy Toolkit,” Court shares stories of many successful campaigns he has been involved in to illustrate winning strategies for progressives. The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell includes Ten Rules of Populist Power, how to be an effective online activist, and a Guide to using Ballot measures to make gains. Film maker Robert Greenwald calls the book ‘Tough, smart, strategic. Read it and take action. NOW.’” – from the KPFK transcript

Jamie Court is the president of Consumer Watchdog and the author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell: How to Win Grassroots Campaigns, Pass Ballot Box Las, and Get the Change We Voted For, available now.

Stephen and Rebekah Hren featured in Scientific American blog

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Sustainable living pioneers Stephen and Rebekah Hren were invited by Scientific American blogger George Musser (Solar At Home) to write a guest blog coinciding with the release of their new book, A Solar Buyer’s Guide for the Home and Office. Here’s the result.

Someone Please Tell the Obamas: Solar Works Now!
By George Musser
Sep 22, 2010 01:00 PM

Editor’s Note: Scientific American‘s George Musser has been chronicling his experiences installing solar panels in Solar at Home (formerly 60-Second Solar). Read his introduction here and see all posts here.

One of the hardest things about installing solar panels is getting good information, so I’m happy to report that a new book by fellow solar bloggers Stephen and Rebekah Hren, A Solar Buyer’s Guide, is coming out in a couple of weeks. I invited them to write a guest blog on where they think home solar technology stands.

Many people feel inclined to wait on the sidelines until some breakthrough makes solar energy “work” or until it becomes “affordable.” Some of those people are apparently the Obamas, who have refused to allow free installation of solar panels on their roof! But even though solar installations are generally not free, they are still a good deal.

We are quite capable of designing buildings and lives in a sustainable way powered by the sun, and much of the basic technology goes back millennia. Yet historically it has taken a crisis of energy supply or ecological devastation to encourage widespread use of solar energy. After they had burned all there accessible forests, ancient Romans developed the heliocaminus, or “sun furnace,” a south-facing room that heated their homes in winter. Similarly, once the British had eliminated their woodlands during the late Middle Ages, they also discovered the joys of solar heating. Access to the sun became a fundamental right in Britain for any building, eventually codified in the Law of Ancient Lights. Today, the impetus comes from global climate disruption and the peaking of per-capita fossil energy supplies.

Hren's 1932 bungalow with various forms of solar energy Why solar has been regarded as a technology of last resort is a mystery to us, because it can be extremely cost-effective. We can harvest the sun’s energy in multiple ways. Instead of just using solar energy to heat our homes in winter, we can heat our water, cook our food, and of course convert solar energy into electricity. You can make your home carbon-free, as we have done with our 1932 bungalow (see photo above), or you can put up a solar water heater or smaller photovoltaic (PV) system that offsets only some of your home’s or office’s fossil energy use.

Cost-effectiveness depends not only on a wide array of varying federal, state, and local incentives, but also on the efficiency of the system. Turning solar energy into heat is simpler and typically more efficient than converting it to electricity, so paybacks on solar water heaters are often quicker than for PV systems, but check out your local situation before making any assumptions. Some areas have spectacular incentives for PV at the moment. While a system of patchwork incentives is obviously less than ideal, until the mammoth subsidies and tax breaks for the fossil fuel industries are removed and a carbon cap or tax is established to account for their detrimental effects, such breaks for solar energy allow it to be on a more level playing field. They help create economies of scale and drive technological progress that should help reduce prices in the future.

Technology is advancing all the time. One very cool gadget that is now being incorporated into solar electric panels is the microinverter, a topic of past Solar at Home blog posts (here and here). These sophisticated gizmos are capable of converting the DC juice being pumped out by each individual PV module directly into AC power right there at the module.

One huge advantage of the microinverter is that it mitigates shading problems on the PV array. When installed on the roof, an array will often suffer from partial shading some time during the day due to trees, another building, chimneys, and so on. Conventionally, the output from an array of PV modules is sent to one main inverter, and even small amounts of shade can have disproportionately large effects on the electricity output due to the way the modules and arrays are wired. Without microinverters, the shading of just one PV module could possibly disrupt production for the whole array. But with microinverters, the production from the shaded modules can be isolated, allowing the solar juice to keep flowing from the rest of the array.

Using microinverters, PV array wiring is faster and more straightforward, and the power is easier to shut off in an emergency. Microinverters also allow web-based production monitoring of individual PV modules, providing entertainment when the office gets slow. Maybe no one explained these nifty things to the White House.

As the novelist William Gibson quipped, the future is here now; it’s just not widely distributed yet. The technology to harvest solar energy effectively is already available, but it’s up to us to make its implementation a priority, despite what our First Family does. From high-tech gadgetry like the new microinverters to the more prosaic technologies that can heat our buildings and hot water, solar energy is varied in what it can accomplish. There’s no need to wait for some theoretical time in the future, because solar power is here and ready now.

Photo: The Hren’s home, courtesy of them

Stephen and Rebekah Hren are the authors of The Carbon-Free Home, and, most recently, A Solar Buyer’s Guide for the Home and Office, available now.

Gene Logsdon: Selling A Book That Has No Name

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Prairie Public Radio interviewed me recently about my latest book, Holy Shit. The interviewer was kind about my writing. He knew a lot about farming which is rarely the case but always a relief when discussing agriculture before an urban audience. The only problem was that he did not mention the title of the book during the entire interview! He said that he would get fired if he did. Regulations forbid the utterance of that awful word, shit, even when it is in the title of a book.

It happened again. The excellent website, The Chronicle of Higher Education, referred to my book with kind praise, even calling it “charming.” But never once did the reviewer give the title of the book. Policy, he said.

Several years ago, I wrote an article for The Draft Horse Journal in which I felt obliged out of sheer honesty to use the naughty word. This proved to be a problem for Maury Telleen, the editor. He didn’t have a problem actually, but his lovely wife, Jeannine, (they are two of my favorite people) ruled the roost when it came to proofreading and she did not intend for the naughty word to soil her publication. They compromised and rendered the word as “sh#!” ! By now I’ve seen “sh*t”, “sh–”, and even “s…”, none of which is quite as ingenious or resourceful as “sh#!”. But it opens up a whole new frontier. How about “czhit” or “sh?t” or “sh[]t” or “shi”.

I should just have been content to call the book Holy Manure. But all this hypocrisy speaks eloquently to the main underlying point I wanted to make. We are so ashamed of our excrement and that of all the other animals on earth that we pretend the stuff doesn’t exist. It is as closely connected to us as our digestive tracts, and having been delicious food just hours earlier, it becomes in the very instant that it leaves the colon, obnoxious and poisonous. So fearful is our attitude in this regard that we have scrubbed the most common word in the American language (well maybe the second most common word) from polite language. We have even made excrement disappear in real life. Flush it and forget it.

Because flushing seems to be so handy, agriculture is making one of the biggest blunders in its history. For some thirty years now it has been trying to handle uncountable tons of livestock manure by flushing it out of animal confinement buildings with water and electric power into large ponds lugubriously called “lagoons” or into underground, fly-infested toxic pits. These “manure handling systems” have led to some of the worst cases of polluted waterways in our history.

The amount of manure we are talking about is beyond comprehension, at least mine, especially when the water to do the flushing and treating the sewage is included. Each of the 300 million plus people in the U.S. excretes about a thousand pounds of fecal material a year. Every toilet flush takes about two to three gallons. You can do the arithmetic. An expert in these matters whom I quote in the book says if the whole world flushed like we do, it would be impossible to handle all human manure this way.

It takes about ten tons of barn manure and bedding to fertilize an acre of corn adequately. The cost of commercial fertilizer is averaging a little under $100 an acre. That means that just in pet horse, dog and cat manure, (9.5 million horses, 73 million cats, 68 million dogs) there’s about two billion dollars of fertilizer much of which is being thrown away, as I pointed out in an earlier blog. There are about 100 million cattle in the U.S., each of them defecating 80 to 100 pounds a day. The latest figures show an ongoing pig population in the U.S. of about 60 million. A hog defecates at least as much as a human does. There are over a billion chickens in the U.S., each of them contributing as much manure as a cat. I don’t even want to try to do the totals.

This could be charged off as just the necessary cost of doing business. (My elders used to refer to a bowel movement as “doing your business,” another euphemism to avoid uttering any dreadful words.) But the sources of commercial fertilizers are rising in price and declining in easy availability. We need to find alternatives. Manure is the best one as centuries of farming traditions have attested. Even farm manure that is being returned to the land now (as slurry out of animal factories or as material artificially dried at great cost) has lost much of its plant nutrient value because of improper handling. The book that often has no name describes how we can turn this situation around. Shit really is holy.

This article was published first on Ukiah Blog.

Gene Logsdon is the author of, most recently, Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind.

Jonathon Porritt recommends Limits To Growth

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

British writer and environmentalist Jonathon Porritt, co-founder of Forum for the Future, a prominent sustainable development charity in the United Kingdom, selected Chelsea Green’s own Limits to Growth as one of five best books for saving the world!

Read Jonathon’s explanation of his choice in an interview with Five Books, below.

Tell me about Limits to Growth.
This is a report produced in 1972, but it’s still as current now as it was then and is still available today. It was commissioned by the Club of Rome and produced by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. What they did was simply to look at projections for world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production and resource depletion and draw up models of what would happen to the earth in those areas. At the heart of it was the message that we need to make wiser use of the earth’s finite resources. That is true now and it was true 30 years ago. We have to get into a different mindset about the earth’s resources. It’s not saying that everything is going to run out tomorrow, but if we get smart there is no reason why the earth shouldn’t be able to sustain us way into the future.

When is it all going to run out?
Tricky question! But if we take, for example, the aluminium can – we are all familiar with that – if it was in a closed loop cycle, if nearly every can were recycled, then, clearly the amount of aluminium that would need to be mined would be very small. It’s easy to see how the economy can keep churning with renewable resources in that way, but with oil and gas, these are strictly finite. There are a lot of hydrocarbons in the world and, though not everybody agrees with me, I think there will always be a lot simply because we will stop using them for environmental reasons long before it runs out.

So, this is a report without laughs in it?
You want laughs?

Well, I suppose I mean – is it readable?
Yes, it’s written for the layperson so it’s very readable. I wouldn’t choose anything unreadable unless you think Moby-Dick is unreadable.

Read more about Limits To Growth: The 30 Year Update by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, and Jorgen Randers.

Listen: Jamie Court debates the Tea Party

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell: How to Win Grassroots Campaigns, Pass Ballot Box Laws, and Get the Change We Voted For debated a member of the Tea Party in this Southern California Public Radio clip from September 20th.

Listen to the interview here.

From SCPR:
While Tea Partiers are darlings of the political press in the last few months, racking up several impressive wins in Senate, House & gubernatorial primary elections, just two years ago it was liberal progressives that were on the march. Emboldened by the end of George W. Bush’s term and the historic opportunity put a left-leaning, African American president in the White House, progressives turned out in droves and produced a solid Democratic majority in Congress. What a difference two years makes: with 2008 a distant memory, the Tea Party is now the movement of the moment, taking their small government, socially conservative ideals into the mainstream and crowding out disheartened progressives in the process. While 2010 looks like it belongs to the Tea Party there is sure to be an epic clash between these two movements in 2012. We get a glimpse of what sets progressives apart from Tea Partiers, and what policy battles they will fight from now until the next presidential election.

Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell and president of Consumer Watchdog
Ryan Hecker, organizer of the Contract for America & Houston Tea Party Society member

9 Simple Steps for Sheet Mulching, An Excerpt from Perennial Vegetables

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Learn about a simple, ecological way to fight weeds in this excerpt from Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious, Easy-to-Grow Edibles, by Eric Toensmeier.

Sheet mulching builds soil organic material and smothers weeds at the same time, so they never get a chance to grow!

Perennial Vegetables – Sheet Mulching

Woody Tasch: Earth to Stewart and Colbert: “Tea Party Out, Eat Party In!”

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Jon and Stephen, we have an important announcement to share with you.

We, not we the people, not we those people, no, we a bunch of un-we-the-peoplers had previously filed an application for a rally on the Washington Mall on October 30.

That’s right. Evidently you were so busy planning your rallies that you didn’t notice we had already applied for a permit on the same date. What rally, you might ask? Who are we?

Not the Green Tea Party. Not the Coffee Party, either. Not the T Party (although it is tempting, with T standing for everything from Truthiness to Treason and Trillions to Triorganophosphate). We’re none of the above. In all truthiness, we’re not even much of a we.

Heck, we couldn’t even figure out what to call our rally. The Un-We-The-Peoplers Rally for Off Shore Drilling in the Last Known Deepwater Reserves of Civil Discourse? There aren’t many folks who can be funny and serious at the same time, the way you can, and we certainly couldn’t manage it. So, we left our name off the rally permit application and told the Park Service we’d get back to them with a name by October 1. Imagine our positively incredulous serendipitous delight when we learned that you had come along and applied for the same date!

(What are the odds of that? Probably lower than the odds that Lipton and Starbucks are about to announce a joint venture on a new nutraceutical smoothie called Lipbucks. Leave it on your lips for a few seconds before you slurp it down and it gives you the kind of pucker people pay for.)

Which leads us to our announcement: we called the Park Service today and officially relinquished the date. It’s all yours.

The funny thing is, in the process of making the decision to withdraw from the Mall, a bunch of us were talking and it came to us. Our name, that is.

The EAT Party.

Kind of like the TEA Party turned around, only better. (Turn TEA around and you get AET, the ticker abbreviation for Aetna Insurance. Who knows where Aetna stands on the whole question of the health benefits of green tea, much less those of Lipbucks.)

The EAT Party.

The Enough Already with Taxophobia Party.

The Equally Audacious Truthiness Party.

The Everyone At the Table Party.

Everyone At the Table. That seems like a solid recipe for a good party and a healthy culture.

What would it be like if we spent a little less time hurling slogans at one another and a little more time finding ways to break bread together? A little less time at Drive Thru windows and a little more time in the kitchen? We’re not only driving thru for our food, we’re driving thru for our politics. Lip-smacking, quick, stuff-your-face politics that fill us up quickly but leave a trail of health problems behind.

Our politics have become as salty and greasy as our food. Distrust and scapegoating are more rampant than salmonella in an egg factory. And there’s no recall for infected discourse.

So, now that we’ve stumbled on a name and the beginnings of a platform, we need an alternate location for the first rally of the EAT Party. We’ve got one.

While you’re on the Mall, we’ll be in Piazza di Spagna in Rome, across from where the first McDonald’s in Italy opened in 1986, sparking the Slow Food Movement. Instead of fighting fire with fire, we are going to fight TEA with pasta. And a little Barbera d’Alba.

We’re not giving up on American politics. We’re just going to get a little distance from them this time around, in a country whose politics are every bit as fractious but whose food is, well, a lot more Italian.

In a moment of seriousness, we may ask while we are there: Is the erosion of civility that is happening in America unique to us? Or maybe we should ask, are we exporting the erosion of civility around the world as surely as we exported fast food?

So many of our cultural values are eroding: civility, optimism, trust, our willingness to invest for the long term, our spirit of common purpose in building for the future. Even our ability to gather around the dinner table. It’s all eroding faster than farmland in Iowa.

If we had any sense of black humor left, we’d note that the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico into which millions of gallons of oil just spewed had already been emptied of oxygen and filled with chemical run-off from the breadbasket of the world. That’s one Molto Grande Americano Double-Down Non-Latte, hold the dispersant.

But even our sense of humor is eroding. That’s where you come in.

I don’t know if the word humor is related etymologically to the word humus, but maybe you could look into it. It sure seems like humor is as vital to a healthy culture as humus is to the health of the soil.

We’ll be toasting you from Rome!

For more information on the first rally of the EAT Party, contact Woody Tasch at [email protected] Woody is the Founder and Chairman of Slow Money, an NGO dedicated to catalyzing the flow of capital to local food systems. He is the author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered.

This article appeared originally on The Huffington Post.

Jamie Court: Big Oil Behind The Tea

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

When Californians angry about oil companies’ attempt to repeal the state’s greenhouse gas emission cap went to confront the oil refiner behind Prop 23′s power play, they found the Tea Party in their way.

What’s an angry populist movement that’s supposed to represent real people doing defending oil companies?

It’s a question the New York Times could have answered in its otherwise excellent editorial today, The Brothers Koch and AB 32. Petroleum magnates Charles and David Koch fund both Prop 23′s greenhouse gas cap repeal and The Tea Party.

While the Tea Party is voicing authentic anger, the money fueling it is coming from petroleum magnates who simply want to profit and pollute at the expense of the rest of us. The Tea Party in California has become Big Oil’s army. Not very populist to me.

If you believe Kansas oil and gas tycoons want to save California jobs through Prop 23, you might as well join The Tea Party. I debated a Tea Party pooh-bah on LA’s NPR station KPCC yesterday. All there is when you strip away the angry talk is a Reagan-Bush plan to deregulate everything.

That’ why Consumer Watchdog is airing a JumboTron advertisement in Times Square, the largest public square in America, that raises the question: “Are You Mad As Hell? But Think The Tea Party Is Insane?”

The commercial, created by Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films, calls upon those who believe in progress to use their anger to get the change they voted for. It is insane to let oil companies repeal greenhouse gas emissions caps, and it’s insane to turn the reins of government over to people who would destroy it.

Progressives need to start speaking up and raising some hell. The power of the government is our collective will to deal with the corporate abuses at the heart of the 2008 election. We cannot allow the Tea Party or anyone else to exploit the public’s anger in order to rob us of our ability to deal with the corporate greed and corruption that pisses us off most.

This article appeared originally on The Huffington Post on September 21st.

Jamie Court is the author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell:How to Win Grassroots Campaigns, Pass Ballot Box Laws, and Get the Change We Voted For, available now.

Les Leopold: Poverty Rises as Wall Street Billionaires Whine

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

The ranks of the working-age poor in the United States climbed to the highest level since the 1960s as the recession threw millions of people out of work last year, leaving one in seven Americans in poverty. The overall poverty rate climbed to 14.3 per cent, or 43.6 million people, the Census Bureau said yesterday in its annual report on the economic well-being of US households.

While 43.6 million Americans live in poverty, the richest men of finance sure are getting pissy. First Steve Schwartzman, head of the Blackrock private equity company, compares the Obama administration’s effort to close billionaires’ tax loopholes to “the Nazi invasion of Poland.” Then hedge fund mogul David Loeb announces that he’s abandoning the Democrats because they’re violating “this country’s core founding principles” — including “non-punitive taxation, Constitutionally-guaranteed protections against persecution of the minority, and an inexorable right of self-determination.” Instead of showing their outrage about the spread of poverty in the richest nation on Earth, the super-rich want us to pity them?

Why are Wall Street’s billionaires so whiny?
Is it really possible to make $900,000 an hour (not a typo — that’s what the top ten hedge fund managers take in), and still feel aggrieved about the way government is treating you? After you’ve been bailed out by the federal government to the tune of $10 trillion (also not a typo) in loans, asset swaps, liquidity and other guarantees, can you really still feel like an oppressed minority?

You’d think the Wall Street moguls would be thankful. Not just thankful — down on their knees kissing the ground taxpayers walk on and hollering hallelujah at the top of their lungs! These guys profited from puffing up the housing bubble, then got bailed out when the going got tough. (Please see The Looting of America for all the gory details.) Without taxpayer largess, these hedge fund honchos would be flat broke. Instead, they’re back to hauling in obscene profits.

These billionaires don’t even have to worry about serious financial reforms. The paltry legislation that squeaked through Congress did nothing to end too big and too interconnected to fail. In fact, the biggest firms got even bigger as they gobbled up troubled banks, with the generous support of the federal government. No bank or hedge fund was broken up. Nobody was forced to pay a financial transaction tax. None of the big boys had a cap placed on their astronomical wealth. No one’s paying reparations for wrecking the US economy. The big bankers are still free to create and trade the very derivatives that catapulted us into this global crisis. You’d think the billionaires would be praying on the altar of government and erecting statues on Capital Hill in honor of St. Bailout.

Instead, standing before us are these troubled souls, haunted by visions of persecution. Why?

The world changed. Before the bubble burst, these people walked on water.
Their billions proved that they were the best and the brightest — not just captains of the financial universe, but global elites who had earned a place in history. They donated serious money to worthy causes — and political campaigns. No one wanted to mess with them.

But then came the crash. And the things changed for the big guys — not so much financially as spiritually. Plebeians, including me, are asking pointed questions and sometimes even being heard, both on the Internet and in the mainstream media. For the first time in a generation, the public wants to know more about these emperors and their new clothes. For instance:
• What do these guys actually do that earns them such wealth?
• Is what they do productive and useful for society? Is there any connection between what they earn and what they produce for society?
• Did they help cause the crash?
• Did these billionaires benefit from the bailouts? If so, how much?
• Are they exacerbating the current unemployment and poverty crisis with their shenanigans?
• Why shouldn’t we eliminate their tax loopholes (like carried interest)?
• Should their sky-high incomes be taxed at the same levels as during the Eisenhower years?
• Can we create the millions of jobs we need if the billionaires continue to skim off so much of our nation’s wealth??
• Should we curb their wealth and political influence?

How dare we ask such questions! How dare we consider targeting them for special taxes? How dare we even think about redistributing THEIR incomes… even if at the moment much of their money comes directly from our bailouts and tax breaks?
It’s true that the billionaires live in a hermetically sealed world. But that doesn’t mean they don’t notice the riffraff nipping at their heels. And they don’t like it much. So they’ve gotten busy doing what billionaires do best: using their money to shield themselves. They’re digging into their bottomless war chests, tapping their vast connections and using their considerable influence to shift the debate away from them and towards the rest of us.

We borrowed too much, not them. We get too much health care, not them. We retire too soon, not them. We need to tighten our belts while they pull in another $900,000 an hour. And if we want to cure poverty, we need to get the government to leave Wall Street alone. Sadly, their counter-offensive is starting to take hold.

How can this happen? Many Americans want to relate to billionaires. They believe that all of us are entitled to make as much as we can, pretty much by any means necessary. After all, maybe someday you or I will strike it rich. And when we do, we sure don’t want government regulators or the taxman coming around!

Billionaires are symbols of American individual prowess and virility.
And if we try to hold them back or slow them down, we’re on the road to tyranny. Okay, the game is rigged in their favor. Okay, they got bailed out while the rest of us didn’t — especially the 29 million people who are jobless or forced into part-time work. But what matters most is that in America, nothing can interfere with individual money-making. That only a few of us actually make it into the big-time isn’t a bad thing: It’s what makes being rich so special. So beware: If we enact even the mildest of measures to rein in Wall Street billionaires, we’re on the path to becoming North Korea.

Unfortunately, if we don’t adjust our attitudes, we can expect continued high levels of unemployment and more people pushed below the poverty line. It’s not clear that our economy will ever recover as long as the Wall Street billionaires keep siphoning off so much of our wealth. How can we create jobs for the many while the few are walking off with $900,000 an hour with almost no new jobs to show for it? In the old days, even robber barons built industries that employed people — steel, oil, railroads. Now the robber barons build palaces out of fantasy finance. We can keep coddling our financial billionaires and let our economy spiral down, or we can make them pay their fair share so we can create real jobs. These guys crashed the economy, they killed billions of jobs, and now they’re cashing in on our bailout. They owe us. They owe the unemployed. They owe the poor.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was no radical, but he accepted the reality: If America was going to prosper — and pay for its costly Cold War — the super-rich would have to pony up. It was common knowledge that when the rich grew too wealthy, they used their excess incomes to speculate. In the 1950s, memories of the Great Depression loomed large, and people knew that a skewed distribution of income only fueled speculative booms and disastrous busts. On Ike’s watch, the effective marginal tax rate for those earning over $3 million (in today’s dollars) was over 70 percent. The super-rich paid. As a nation we respected that other important American value: advancing the common good.

For the last thirty years we’ve been told that making as much as you can is just another way of advancing the common good.
But the Great Recession erased that equation: The Wall Streeters who made as much as they could undermined the common good. It’s time to balance the scales. This isn’t just redistribution of income in pursuit of some egalitarian utopia. It’s a way to use public policy to reattach billionaires to the common good.

It’s time to take Eisenhower’s cue and redeploy the excessive wealth Wall Street’s high rollers have accumulated. If we leave it in their hands, they’ll keep using it to construct speculative financial casinos. Instead, we could use that money to build a stronger, more prosperous nation. We could provide our people with free higher education at all our public colleges and universities — just like we did for WWII vets under the GI Bill of Rights (a program that returned seven dollars in GDP for every dollar invested). We could fund a green energy Manhattan Project to wean us from fossil fuels. An added bonus: If we siphon some of the money off Wall Street, some of our brightest college graduates might even be attracted not to high finance but to jobs in science, education and healthcare, where we need them.

Of course, this pursuit of the common good won’t be easy for the billionaires (and those who indentify with them.). But there’s just no alternative for this oppressed minority: They’re going to have to learn to live on less than $900,000 an hour.

This article appeared originally on the Huffington Post on September 17th, 2010.

Les Leopold is the author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It.

Mason Tvert discusses Proposition 19 on CNN

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Mason Tvert, executive director of SAFER and co-author of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People To Drink?, appeared on CNN on September 18th to discuss Proposition 19, which would make marijuana use and possession legal in California.

Voters will decide whether or not to pass Prop 19 on November 2nd, and the debate is heating up.

In the following video, Mason comments on the recent contribution of $10,000 by the California Beer and Beverage Distributors toward efforts to block the passage of Prop 19.

Mason Tvert is the co-author of Marijuana Is Safer.

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