Monday, June 27, 2011

Commonist Nostalgia

Michael Parenti’s book Superpatriotism is an excellent deconstruction of “free market” ideology. He claims that the people of Eastern Europe and Russia had guaranteed jobs, health care, housing, education etc; With the fall of the USSR they entertained visions of suburban McMansion, two car garage etc; but what they got is shit and corruption: gangsters running things in collaboration with dictators, no real political input, more or less fake elections like here, malnutrition, no work, no food, no suburbia.... they become third world… and they wish they had back what they had before the fall. They aren’t idealizing it, they definitely lacked political freedom, due process etc; but they had the basics and the basics are pretty important – try going without’em. The comparison isn't of "freedom and tyranny but of having the basics and of not.

Noam Chomsky has also pointed out, in his curtain-lifting books, that in the Soviet domains of Cold War days the people had the bare necessities - even high government officials lived in modest apartments - whereas in the U.S. domains, Central and South America, Indonesia, etc; a tiny wealthy elite were maintained (so long as they served U.S. corporate interests) while the majority population endured deprivation, malnutrition, poverty and were threatened by accusations of "Communist!", which made them targets of death squads, if they tried to organize to improve their lot. The U.S. provided much of the means for this oppression via “foreign aid”, CIA intervention, military training and arms – funded by U.S. taxpayers of course. So the bottom people of an affluent nation fund the oppression of bottomers of another nation. As the observation goes, the wealth is created by the workers and divided among the owners. The owners own/control the media so we get ministers of misinformation like Rush Limbo, O’reilly etc; keeping us distracted from the exquisite scam by demonizing immigrants, Islam, the homeless, dark-skinned people, gays, women… whatever works. This history is shameless and disturbing enough but as the logic of the elite notion of globalization plays out our capacity to rationalize injustice will be challenged as it encroaches upon our personal space.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fear of Sharing

Just finished The Big Rich by Bryan Burrough. One of the things that struck me about the Texas oil-millionaires, aside from their often ostentatious and outrageous consumption, was that many, despite immense wealth freeing them from the necessity to work for a living, continued to go into the office six days a week like any other working stiff. Roy Cullen even drove a cheap Chevrolet and brown bagged his lunch. Since they were basically workaholics, why were they so concerned about “big spending liberals” taxing them to death? They could have simply paid the tax owed, say 40% or whatever it was, and still had way more than they knew what to do with. They certainly weren’t working for their salaries, struggling to meet the mortgage, pay the bills.

Unfortunately these very wealthy individuals were mostly extremist conservatives who shifted the country rightward with their undemocratic money influence. Cullen even seriously argued for the idea of one dollar one vote. They funded McCarthy, William F. Buckley, John Birch Society, KKK etc; right wing radio and newspapers and supported politicians who would do their bidding and went after those who wouldn’t with Swiftboat type campaigns, funding their opponents, and not just in Texas. They funded the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua, fully buying into the hysterical religion of anti-communism. Of course not every oil millionaire fits the profile. Some became world-class partiers, some collected art and enjoyed high culture, donated to worthy causes. Cullen, again, gave away over 90% of his fortune to hospitals and universities while otherwise completely embracing the right wing stereotype.

This kind of concentrated wealth has repercussions. When workaholics are out there feeding their addiction and are willing to use their influence to grease government wheels in order to pull off deals that include harmful environmental and social costs then we all lose, enabling a dysfunctional class. Cullen’s one dollar one vote philosophy isn’t that far off as embodied in our political system where politicians must raise huge sums to finance their campaigns. As Molly Ivins, a Texan of a different stripe, used to say, “You dance with who brung ya.” If the public finances elections then it is the public who brung the politicians so it is the public, not the corporations and wealthy class, who they owe, who they represent. The health care debate, military spending, corporate tax policy, the whole range of issues would be a whole different discussion under those circumstances. That class would still own the media and thus limit if not control debate but there might be something we could do about that too.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Nuclear Power After Fukushima

Journalist Stephanie Cooke was at the Carter Center June 7 to promote her book, In Mortal Hands, a Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age. Her talk emphasized the Fukushima disaster and drew from history to support her anti-nuke view. The industry, for example, consistently underplays accidents, waiting until things have cooled off, when people have lost interest, assumed it’s all over, on to other things, when they finally admit the true figures of radiation releases, extent of damage etc; Even then they hedge with comforting denials of long-term effects, in language that may be technically correct but misleading. This could describe precisely corporate/government PR strategy around the BP oil spill, the Valdez disaster, Katrina, Chernobyl, conditions for cleanup crews at ground zero…. doesn’t seem to matter, those invested in the irresponsible continue to claim, and may even believe, that it’s all safe, under control, no problem. If belief, it’s belief of convenience. When your livelihood depends on believing something chances are you will talk yourself into it. Or at least you will keep your mouth shut. Due to this delay strategy fewer citizens are aware that three of the Fukushima reactors experienced full melt-down and that high levels of radiation are contaminating land and sea. The situation is an on-going catastrophe which, hopefully can be contained. Cooke informs us that contamination from this accident will be around for the rest of our lives. How many of these assaults can our life system withstand, do ya think?

Ms. Cooke was interviewed on nation-wide radio within hours of the Fukushima accident. The show also had a pro-nuker who assured listeners that the accident was low severity, it would all pass, a minor situation etc; Locally a Georgia Tech Professor did the same. The Japanese utility, TEPCO, several years before the current accident, was caught falsifying data (confirming that utilities tend to view safety as a public relations problem). The CEO was fired/resigned but shortly after hired as a high-paid “advisor” in the same company. Cooke claims that the Japanese squelched opposition to nuclear plants by creating a tax, which was showered on those who lived in the rural areas selected for plant location. The U.S. encouraged nuclear development in Japan, as in other nations, as part of its Peaceful Atoms project, which really amounted to a propaganda campaign behind which nuclear weapons could be pursued. The sad truth is that whatever nuclear proponents might claim in the “safe and clean” department, their real project is a major raid on the U.S. treasury and utility ratepayers with the macho side-benefit of Weapons of Mass Destruction. They make the Mafia seem like stumbling amateurs.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Energy Roadmap

Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free, a Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy

The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) offers the book as a free download on its website ( It is a product of IEER and the Nuclear Policy Research Institute. Its author, Dr. Arjun Makhijani, had to be talked into doing the book by S. David Freeman and Dr. Helen Caldicott. He had been so pre-occupied with research on the environmental and health affects of nuclear testing and processing that he was unaware of the advances in technology that had occurred during those years. Thus his skepticism and reluctance were jettisoned by the virtual revolution he discovered when he finally agreed to take on the research.

The book addresses the crisis represented by severe climate disruption, oil insecurity and nuclear proliferation. Makhijani set out to answer the question: is it possible to eliminate CO2 emissions from the U.S. energy sector without resort to nuclear power, without purchasing off-sets and at reasonable cost? His book answers in the affirmative, and provides a roadmap to get us there in 30 to 50 years.

The prime alternatives in Arjun’s scenario are wind and solar, augmented by hydropower, compressed air and back-up natural gas. Developments in hybrids and batteries make feasible a situation where parked cars could either feed or draw from the grid as needed.
U.S. electrical consumption could be more than met by wind generation in 12 Midwestern and Rocky Mountain states. Just the parking lots and rooftops in the U.S. could provide, via solar installations, most U.S. electricity needs. The Roadmap could be created with existing technology, requiring no miracle break-through, although of course developments in all areas would only shorten the timeline and/or reduce cost.

The political will to pursue this roadmap of course is the rub. Entrenched interests have the ear of policy makers. For example, a Blue Ribbon commission was appointed by the President to study the future of nukes in the U.S. Neither Dave Freeman, Dr. Caldicott or Makhijani were invited despite their knowledge and credentials, presumably because their opposition to nuclear power might skewer the pro-nuke conclusions presumably wished for, presumably due to ideology and industry campaign contributions. It has always been thus, folly will triumph unless its only effective adversary, an informed democracy, is mobilized.