Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Is America a democracy?

The Education Forum
America is a democracy all right. And Americans vote on the wallets just as soldiers march on their stomachs.

Life is good here. Maybe it is a Matrix-like existence and maybe it isn't. But evena modest school teacher like myself can afford more than I should and live in calm and security.

Americans have the power to change their government whenever they wish. Here in America you are considered a bore if you harp too much about politics. We generally learn about politics as things go wrong and react in outrage if the mood suits us.

I don't believe in the Matrix and a range of other ongoing conspiracies. People are just too inept to have a master ring of control over everything. Look at how accurate the CIA was about Iraq and then rethink its ability to shape the world the way it wants to.

We are a complacent people. We need to see real damage at home before we will react. We like short speeches, and Americans react a lot more strongly to "let's nuke 'em and turn it into a glass desert" then we do to "In order to stave off terrrorism for the long run we need to better understand 'why they hate us'. It is far easier to paint the threat as evil and leaving it ill-defined.

But make no mistake about our political system being a democracy. Just because our first past the post system makes it difficult for smaller voices to be heard, does not mean that populism cannot shake people out of their seats in Washington.

We are also a capitalist system, and as in any other society I can think of, people with lots of money have an inordinate impact on the policies of our country.

Complacency lets the milionaires club rule through influence peddling. The people get the governmnet they deserve. That is democracy.

Working with John's definition of democracy: A government in which the supreme power is exercised by the people directly or indirectly through a system of representation involving free elections… the absence of class distinctions or privileges; then no. If "the absence of class distinctions or privileges" is part of the definition, no reasonable person could define America as a democracy.

America is more accurately defined as a capitalist society (for better or worse). Money buys political influence, favors, and power. This is true on both sides of the political aisle in America- left and right, democrat and republican. Though we elect our officials, they are/become subordinates of corporate wealth and desires. Money talks. Protest all you want. Vote with your head and your conscience. But have no illusions, your voice, the will of the People and the good of the population buys rhetoric and lip service. Money buys legislation. Money buys action. Money buys policy decisions.

I hate to sound so cynical, but even if an elected official starts out as an idealist with higher values and a broader, more enlightened vision, he or she quickly learns who signs the checks in America.

Perhaps I'm too cynical, but IMHO, a more accurate description of today's America would be a plutocracy.

1. the rule of power of wealth or of the wealthy.
2. a government or state in which the wealthy class rules.
3. a class or group ruling, or exercising power or influence, by virtue of its wealth.

Government by the rich and powerful. "A weapon in that struggle [between democracy and plutocracy] is the Court system, more often than not used to greatest effect by the plutocracy. An example is the series of injunctions taken out by European Pacific to prevent these matters being exposed [in the Media or Parliament]." [PCW p326]

Rule by wealth

a political system governed by the wealthy people

A plutocracy is a government system where wealth is the principal basis of power (from the Greek ploutos meaning wealth).

The word "democracy" has come to be nothing more than a corporate marketing buzzword employed by politicians as often as possible, preferably with the flag waving in the background and a patriotic score playing in the throughout. And the masses gobble it up like crack-flavored pringles, slapping American flag bumper stickers all over their cars and basking in their self-righteous, ethnocentric world view.

Of course the alternative would be to turn off the TV for awhile, start thinking critically and independently, and face the today's realities with a more educated and open-minded world view. I frankly can't see that happening.

Karl Marx said that religion is the opiate of the masses. Karl, meet today's entertainment industry (television, Hollywood, professional sports, consumer electronics). The greatest ally the plutocracy has had, aside from the media, is the distraction, errrr... entertainment industry. We're sheep. Sheep who have become all too comfortable and do not wish to be inconvenienced by today's political and economic realities.

Of course, that's just my opinion. Sorry about the rant.

Friday, August 19, 2005

An Iraq War without a plan

These are two obvious differing sides to the war. What I would like to see (and will email fellow bloggers on) is there needs to be some type of plan or timetable set in motion that states some parameters on how long or when American troops should come home. There are different variables to this, and no one answer is perfect. So with that in mind, I suggest we set a timetable in the future, a marker point, for the supposed war strategy to improve, assuming it has declined. Opposers of the war cannot expect our troops just to drop everything and head home immediately. Supporters cannot expect frustrated family members to wait out a campaign without a hint of any Iraqi seperation.

The real dagger pointed at the heart of the War Party isn't the Democratic mobilization that is even now gathering to bring down the GOP, it's the people Hagel's been talking to back in Nebraska, all of them rock-solid Republicans. They will prove decisive in putting the war plans of the neocons on indefinite hold:

"Hagel said even some who had previously backed Bush strongly on Iraq now felt deep unease. 'The feeling that I get back here, looking in the eyes of real people, where I knew where they were two years ago or a year ago – they've changed,' he said. 'These aren't people who ebb and flow on issues. These are rock-solid, conservative Republicans who love their country, support the troops, and support the president.'"

The neocon radio screamers and the Fox News bleach blondes are always carrying on about how it's "the Left" and "the leftists" who are driving rising antiwar sentiment across the country, but if you look at the polls, it just isn't true. Paul Hackett, an Iraq war veteran and a Democrat running in a heavily Republican district, almost beat the GOP candidate in a special congressional election in Ohio, winning 48 percent of the vote, against the 52 percent won by Rob Portman, the Republican incumbent in 2004.

Victor Davis Hanson
Third and most important, is the battlefield, the final adjudicator of political disagreement. War more often creates political reality, rather than politics determining the course of the war. If the United States winds down its presence, curtails its losses while Iraqis beat the terrorists and ensure a democratic government, then the victory, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, will still have a thousand fathers. WMD controversies will be a distant memory.

But if the insurrection increases, topples the government, and we withdraw from a new Lebanon, then the Iraqi defeat will be an orphan.

My own view remains absolutely unchanged — that we were right, in both a practical and a moral sense, in removing Saddam, that despite depressing lows and giddy highs, the democratic reconstruction of Iraq will work out, that an emerging constitutional government will make both Americans safer and the Middle East in general more stable, that preexisting jihadists are flocking to Iraq and being defeated rather than being created ex nihilo, that anti-Americanism will gradually subside in the Muslim world as millions see that we are consistent in our support of democratic reform, that the United States military has proved itself the preeminent fighting force in the world today and is on the offensive in Iraq and winning a difficult asymmetrical campaign, and that old allies in Europe and Japan and new ones from India to Russia will slowly come to appreciate American constancy and leadership as never before.

But I am not na├»ve enough to think that most Americans at this moment would agree with all — or any — of that.

Cindy Sheehan: I'll be glad when this passes over

It is embarrassing and inhumane for the media to expose this poor women’s unbalanced behavior. Somebody needs to step in to provide her with a quiet place to rest and, one would hope, regain her rationality and emotional balance. It is terribly sad to see the press ¬¬–– bored from a slow-news August and the forced inactivity in Crawford, Texas –– exploit someone who has become a crackpot.

Lengthy indictments:

Michelle Malkin
Front Page

Media Matters: Hard Right
Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens also implied that Sheehan is anti-Semitic, accusing her of repeatedly making a statement "to the effect that her son was killed in a war run by a secret Jewish cabal within the administration." Hitchens then asserted that Sheehan was being manipulated by "hysterical paranoid ideologist[s]" who have turned the "Camp Casey" protest into "Camp Fruitbat and Nutbag."

Well, I think that it's true that there are Americans who feel the way Cindy Sheehan does. Unfortunately, they are Americans who are very anti-Israel and, in some ways, anti-Semitic. She uses the term how the "neocons" are doing this thing -- that's code word for "the Jews in the Pentagon." -G. Gordon Liddy

To expiate the pain of losing her firstborn son in the Iraq war, Cindy Sheehan decided to cheer herself up by engaging in Stalinist agitprop outside President Bush's Crawford ranch. It's the strangest method of grieving I've seen since Paul Wellstone's funeral. Someone needs to teach these liberals how to mourn. -Ann Coulter

Media Matters
Olbermann named nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh "today's worst person in the world" for saying on his August 15 radio show that "Cindy Sheehan is just Bill Burkett. Her story is nothing more than forged documents. There's nothing about it that's real." Commenting on Limbaugh's remarks -- which Media Matters noted on August 16 -- Olbermann said, "I guess she made up that dead-son-in-Iraq business! He [Limbaugh] also referred to her supporters as 'dope-smoking FM types.' I guess the painkillers wipe out your memory along with your ethics. Rush Limbaugh, today's worst person in the world!"

Iraq The Model's appropriate Message to Cindy Sheehan

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Bush energy bill not suprising with a few token fuel alternatives

Bush Green Watch
According to the EIA, gasoline prices will increase by 6.45 percent by 2010. If the energy bill becomes law, however, EIA says gas prices will increase by 6.6 percent by 2010. Over the long term, by 2025, the energy bill would result in a price jump of 10.3 percent, while under business as usual the increase would be only 8.2 percent.

The energy bill would also fail to reduce oil imports. According to EIA, oil imports are projected to increase 24.7 percent by 2010 under current policies. If the energy bill passes, oil imports will increase only slightly less, 23.8 percent. Over the long term, the energy bill would only modestly affect imports. If the bill passes and is signed into law, imports will increase 82.9 percent by 2025, compared to an increase of 84.8 percent without the energy bill.

Finally, the energy bill would have a devastating effect on our environment. Most notoriously, the bill would open the spectacular Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and production. Drilling in the Refuge would have no affect on today's gas prices, because oil from the Refuge will take 10 years to reach the market. Moreover, oil from the Refuge would provide the nation at best with only a 180-day supply – a miniscule amount in the big picture.

Washington Post
-Despite repeated calls by President Bush and members of Congress to decrease U.S. dependence on oil imports, a major energy bill that appears headed for passage this week would not significantly reduce the country's need for foreign oil, according to analysts and interest groups.

The United States imports 58 percent of the oil it consumes. Federal officials project that by 2025, the country will have to import 68 percent of its oil to meet demand. At best, analysts say, the energy legislation would slightly slow that rate of growth of dependence.

-The United States consumes more than 20 million barrels of oil a day, an amount forecast to grow steadily. The House-Senate conference committee rejected a measure calling on the president to reduce oil consumption by 1 million barrels a day by 2015. The Bush administration opposed the provision, saying it would require increasing fuel-efficiency standards beyond what technology would allow at an affordable price.

The provision that would have the biggest impact, analysts agreed, is a requirement for the United States to increase the amount of ethanol and other agriculture-derived fuels. That would offset some gasoline use, they said.

The Senate version, which requires more ethanol or agriculture-derived fuels than the House bill, would cut oil imports by 80,000 barrels a day by 2012, according to government estimates. That would mean oil imports would be about 0.8 percent less than they otherwise would have been in 2012.

-Bush has pushed to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, to tap what geologists say is one of the few remaining areas of the country that hold promise for major new production. Without that new drilling, net oil imports would be 68 percent in 2025, according to the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration. With drilling in the refuge, net oil imports would account for 64 percent of consumption in 2025, according to the EIA.

-The energy legislation also calls for money to be spent on research into hydrogen, alternative fuels, efficiency and technology, which supporters said could ultimately help reduce oil consumption. The Senate version of the legislation calls for tax breaks for hybrid vehicles, which supporters said would help reduce oil demand.

Environmentalists cited a provision included in the legislation that they said would result in more oil consumption and greater imports: extension of a provision designed to encourage auto manufacturers to produce vehicles that can run on either gasoline or a fuel blend of 85 percent ethanol.

The provision allows automakers to receive fuel economy credit -- and increase production of less-fuel-efficient vehicles -- even if owners use only gasoline, environmentalists said. Few gas stations sell the ethanol blend, and many of the cars end up being fueled by gasoline, they said.

Most Americans will feel the impact of new law in 2007 when daylight-saving time is extended by one month to save energy.

Consumers will also be able to claim tax credits for installing more energy-efficient windows and solar panels on their homes and purchasing hybrid fueled vehicles.

Business Week: Bush Is Blowing Smoke On Energy
FOLLOWING A SCRIPT? Want to take a real step to prevent gasoline shortages and keep a lid on energy prices? Easing regulations on refineries may sound good. But the Administration could make things truly easier for refineries by requiring that the nation use just one blend of fuel, instead of the current dozens that various states require. Of course, that wouldn't be a hit in many of the red states, which currently don't use the cleanest-burning fuels. It would be a bold step that would make a real difference, however.

Want to increase supplies of oil and gas? Instead of drilling in the ANWR or adding a few LNG ports, Bush could open up areas like the Gulf coast of Florida or the Rocky Mountains, which has a 60-year supply of natural gas, to exploration and drilling. But that wouldn't be popular in Florida, where his brother Jeb is governor, or in some of the Western states that are strong Bush country.

The President's failure to propose any meaningful solutions, while claiming to "do the right thing for America" makes it hard not to conclude that the Administration's main goal is not energy independence, but rather improving its standing the polls. Indeed, what's most striking about Bush's Apr. 27 speech is how closely it follows the script written by Luntz earlier this year. A few examples:

• The pollster recommended emphasizing that the nation's energy problem "has been years in the making, and it will take years to solve." On Apr. 27, Bush said: "This problem did not develop overnight, and it's not going to be fixed overnight."

• Luntz wrote that in advocating drilling in the ANWR, the Administration should say that "using modern techniques, only a very small area will actually be impacted by the development." In his speech, Bush echoed that, saying: "Because of the advances in technology, we can reach the oil deposits with almost no impact on land or local wildlife."

• The pollster stressed that Republicans should have a positive message, appealing "to American ideals of invention and innovation" and tapping "into feelings of American exceptionalism and ingenuity to seal the deal with the swing voters." Any surprise, then, that Bush emphasized in his address that "technology has radically changed the way we live and work"? He added: "Our country is on the doorstep of incredible technological advances that will make energy more abundant and more affordable for our citizens."

Stirring words. Americans can only hope the President is right. But the goals of energy efficiency and independence won't be spurred by anything this Administration is currently proposing.

Salt Lake Tribune
The bill includes $14.5 billion in incentives, but the true cost is more than $20 billion because the law includes a tax credit for nuclear power that is worth $6 billion, said Anna Aurilio, Washington, D.C.-based legislative director for U.S. PIRG.

Tax breaks for renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean vehicles totaled $5.3 billion. But the $3.2 billion for renewable energy, an extension of an existing production tax credit mostly geared toward wind energy, now includes subsidies for geothermal, biomass, hydropower and development of coal on Indian tribal lands.

"Obviously coal is not renewable in any sense and hydropower can have [environmental] problems," Aurilio said. And with just 26 percent of the subsidies going toward nontraditional energy, renewables are at a disadvantage, she said.

The bill gives nuclear power $7.3 billion in tax breaks, including a 20-year extension of limits to the nuclear industry's liability in case of an accident.

That's an unacceptable handout for a mature industry, said Salt Lake City activist Jason Groenewold, director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah.

-The bill alters the National Environmental Policy Act to allow the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to take shortcuts when granting permits for oil and gas drilling and essentially cuts the public out of the process, said Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

-The bill also repeals the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, a New Deal reform aimed at protecting consumers from market manipulation, fraud and abuse in the electricity sector.

"Repealing it will now leave electricity customers vulnerable to some of the shenanigans we saw with Enron in California, and it will allow foreign companies to own utilities," said U.S. PIRG's Aurilio.

-Hurwitz also extolled the bill's provisions that enable the federal government to trump states, local governments and communities that have objected to electric transmission lines and liquefied natural gas terminals, which coastal cities have resisted due to safety concerns.

FOX News
"As oil prices reached another new high today, President Bush signs into law an energy policy that his own Department of Energy says actually increases gas prices," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. "This energy policy is yet another example of Republicans catering to corporate special interests at the expense of the public interest."

"Eventually, someone will find some really clever substitute for oil, but I guarantee it won't be the federal government that will do it," National Review editor Rich Lowry told FOX News.

Weekly Standard, 12-1-03
The president and Congress have missed a golden opportunity to do something about our large and increasing dependence on imported oil. Saudi Arabia, our second largest supplier after Canada, is teetering on the brink of chaos; Venezuela, our fourth largest supplier, is in the hands of a Castro sound-alike; Nigeria's production, our fifth most important source of imports, is periodically interrupted; Iraq, if and when it gets back into full production, has promised to rejoin the OPEC cartel that provides over 40 percent of our imports and that is now keeping prices above the growth-retarding $30 per barrel level; Iran's mullahs aren't eager to make it easy for us to buy oil from their large reserves should we ever want to do so; Libya isn't exactly likely to prove a friend in need; Russia is still a minor supplier, with an oil sector that has been destabilized by Vladimir Putin's jailing of one of his nation's "oiligarchs." And China is now a major competitor for any new sources of oil that might become available.

As a result, the American economy remains at risk of oil supply interruptions and price spikes that can stifle economic growth. Ask this: Should a radical terrorist group seek to depose the House of Saud, would we be in any position to stand idly by, or would we once again face the necessity of sending troops to the Middle East, in this case to secure the Saudi oil fields? We would, of course, do the latter. Understandably. But what is less understandable is our politicians' failure to initiate the programs that will in the long run reduce--not end, merely reduce--our dependence on foreign oil.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Bye bye National Parks and Forests

There have been artists and other like-minded individuals who have talked about leaving the country on political grounds. I am now making the same gesture on the basis of our National Parks. According to these links below, I have no reason to believe the American government or the private sector believes in these natural monuments. America essentially has no plan, no guide for the environment.

I suggest our National Parks be kept off limits while the bulk of the rest of the world, unfortunately, be open range. This way we also have some semblance of a guide for consumption that the supply-and-demand world readily needs. Consumption-driven societies primarily do not believe excess can exist in the same markets they are a part of. Humanity may be at the top of the food chain, but we are not above Nature.

About National Parks

There is nothing new about politicians helping friends to raid commonly owned wealth. What is new in the past decade is the weakening of the federal agencies charged with preventing that from happening. Says Mintzmyer: "The politicians, congressmen, and executives have ... taken over the upper parts of the agency.... There is no longer any abiity on the part of the agency to protect its lower level people. They can be targeted and neutralized without real resistance."

The Forest Service is a main target. Clearcuts in the Targhee National Forest go right up to the border of Yellowstone Park, creating a straight-line edge that can be seen from outer space. Logging in many national forests is proceeding at rates well above the sustainable cuts mandated by law. Overcutting, hidden by what one Wilderness Society spokesman calls "a carefully orchestrated Forest Service coverup," is now coming to light in forest after forest.

Handouts to logging companies cost us not only our forests, their wildlife, and their protection of water tables and streams, but also our tax money. The Forest Service charges below-market fees for timber concessions and obligingly builds logging roads at public expense. The network of federal logging roads is now longer than the interstate highway system -- 6600 miles, with another 900 planned. The Forest Service earns from timber concessions 34 cents for every dollar it spends supporting loggers. In the Yellowstone area in 1990 it lost $12.6 million.

Salvage Rider affects fisherman
Salmon fishermen! Imagine -- if you can -- that Congress has just passed a bill requiring the destruction of the Northwest’s last best remaining salmon spawning areas and banning any further public participation in public lands management. Imagine also that Congress required this destruction to proceed regardless of the environmental consequences by suspending every single environmental law on the books. Imagine also that, under this new law, citizen’s will no longer have the right to appeal federal agency decisions on public lands, even though these lands were paid for by their tax dollars. Finally, while you are at it, imagine that you will be forced to help pay for this destruction, in effect using your own money to put you out of business.

You say Congress would never do any such thing in a democratic society? Think again. Congress just did! This abomination is called the “Timber Salvage Rider,” and its full effect is just about to bite you where you live.

Most salmon (and coho salmon in particular) need old-growth riparian forests in order to spawn and thrive. However, the Northwest has already lost between 90% and 95% of all its original old-growth forests as a result of a timber harvest feeding frenzy that lasted several decades, ending only in the early 90's when finally halted by court order. Just about all old- growth on private lands is long since gone. What little remains is almost entirely on public lands.

For years the US Forest Service and BLM pumped up timber survey figures to show far more available old-growth timber than was really there, and violated their own laws to make sure as much as possible was cut regardless of the consequences to old-growth dependent fish and wildlife. After seeing species after species go extinct as whole watersheds were literally strip- mined of old-growth, concerned citizen’s in the Northwest finally filed suit to stop this wave of extinctions -- and to their surprise, they actually won! The species that finally caused the courts to draw a line in the forest duff was a small little bird called the “Northern spotted owl.”

These court victories became the “spotted owl” cases, now used perpetually by timber industry propagandists to press for the total repeal of the Endangered Species Act. Yet none of these cases were ever based on the ESA -- the injunction that from 1990 to 1993 closed down most public timber harvesting west of the Cascades in the Northwest and Northern California was won on the basis of agency violations of their own laws, the National Forest Management Act (16 U.S.C 472a et. seq.), not the ESA. The spotted owl was only the indicator species anyway -- its plunge toward extinction was merely an indication that something was very, very wrong with public forestland management. In fact, what was going on was simply not sustainable. In the 80's public forestlands were being cut down at about 8 times what we now know to be a sustainable rate.

One of the tragic results of these decades of overcutting was the decimation or extinction of quite a number of the region’s best salmon runs, particularly coastal coho salmon (the most dependent on federal lands). Fishermen are literally the victims of years of illegal agency timber giveaways fueled by bottomless timber industry’s greed and a pliant Congress.

After the owl injunctions, President Clinton’s Northwest Forest Plan was finally adopted in 1993 and approved by the court as a (barely) legal plan. What the federal court (Judge Dwyer) actually said in the owl case injunction was that no more public timber giveaways could proceed until a legally acceptable plan for a sustainable harvest was adopted. The timber industry, of course, screamed bloody murder -- and still does today. They have devoted much of their efforts in Congress and in the courts to turning back the clock to the “good old days” when Congress, rather than scientists, set timber harvest targets based on timber lobbyist clout rather than the biological needs of salmon and other forest dependent creatures.

While there is no doubt that it was pretty hard on innocent mill workers caught up in the sudden forced closures, even today nobody gives much thought to the thousands of salmon fishermen whose livelihoods have utterly disappeared as a result of widespread clearcutting of important salmon habitat in these same forests. Salmon too are an old-growth dependent species. When the mills took away most of the old-growth, they took away wild salmon as well. Today between 90% --95% of the original old-growth is gone, more than 106 major salmon runs are extinct, and another 214 (more than 90% of the remainder) are facing extinction in the near future unless things change. Over the past 30 years, the salmon fishing industry in the Northwest has lost an estimated 47,000 family wage jobs due to the collapse of coastal salmon stocks alone (i.e., outside the Columbia Basin).

While I feel empathy for out of work timber workers and wouldn’t wish a layoff on anyone, the companies they work for and the agencies that allowed it to happen had no right to extinguish the very existence of the salmon which supported the families of fishermen. Douglas fir trees can grow anywhere, but once a river’s irreplaceable wild salmon runs are extinct, they remain extinct forever.

Salvage Rider facts
On August 22,2002, President Bush released a new plan he said would address the issue of wildfire. Instead, the plan appears to be a resurrection of the disastrous 1995 Salvage Rider. Pro-timber industry Senators are planning to attach similar language to the Interior Appropriations bill, up for debate on September 3.

Bush Plan and Salvage Rider: Striking Similarities

In July 1995, following widespread forest fires during the previous summer, Congress enacted the Emergency Salvage Timber Sale Program (Salvage Rider) as part of the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations and Rescissions Act (P.L. 104-19).

The Salvage Rider was written principally by Mark Rey, a former timber industry lobbyist who was then an aide to Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) and is now the Bush Administration’s top forest policy official.


Like Bush’s so-called “Healthy Forest Initiative,” the Salvage Rider temporarily exempted salvage timber sales on federal forest lands from environmental and wildlife laws, administrative appeals, and judicial review.

The Salvage Rider directed the Forest Service to cut old-growth timber in the Pacific Northwest that the agency had proposed for sale but subsequently withdrawn due to environmental concerns, endangered species listings, and court rulings. Bush’s initiative also aims to increase logging of old-growth trees in the Pacific Northwest.

The Salvage Rider expired at the end of 1996, and Congress made no effort to extend it. Vice President Al Gore subsequently stated that approving the Salvage Rider was the worst mistake the Clinton Administration made during its first term.

President Bush’s new forest plan bears strong resemblance to the Salvage Rider. Both seek to exempt timber sales from environmental laws, administrative appeals, and lawsuits. And both aim to allow timber sales of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest that have been protected due to wildlife concerns.

The "Salvage Rider" -- A Subversion of Democracy

-- The "Emergency Salvage" timber rider was stealthily attached
to and signed into law by President Clinton as part of the 1995
Rescissions Bill, legislation supposedly designed to reduce
federal expenditures. The "salvage rider" is probably the most
far-reaching, anti-environment legislation in the history of this
We, the people, are paying dearly for it: in terms of
actual dollars; loss of critical wildlife habitat, endangered
species, and the last bits of our intact ecosystems and ancient
forests; and in the precedent it sets for lawmaking and the
separation of powers in this country. Utilizing the rider process
means virtually no process at all. Senators Mark Hatfield (R-OR)
and Slade Gorton (R-WA) subverted democratic lawmaking by
promoting the "salvage rider." The Rider bypassed the proper
channels of debate and analysis in Congressional committees, and
its actual text was still being withheld from members of Congress
when they were asked for an initial vote. Other individuals
instrumental in the passage and broad interpretation of the rider
include Senators Craig (R-ID) and Murkowski (R-AK), and
Representatives Dicks (D-WA), Taylor (R-NC), Young (R-AK), and
Roberts (R-KS). These decision-makers, as well as all those who
voted for the Rider, along with those who acquiesced to its
becoming law (President Clinton included), must be held

Suspension of Laws

-- The "salvage rider" has put logging outside the law. It
suspends the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Forest Management
Act (NFMA), three other major laws, and finally, as a catchall,
"all other applicable Federal environmental and natural resource
laws," such as the Clean Water Act. Three decades of
environmental legislation succumb to timber industry greed.

-- The public is blocked from the legal process through which
decisions affecting their public forests are made. All sales
under the "salvage rider" are exempt from the administrative
appeal process, and judicial review is essentially non-existent,
as it is severely limited to sales deemed "arbitrary and

Friday, August 12, 2005

I'll be gone this weekend

I have a conflicting schedule and family picnic which will prevent me from blogging this weekend. I'd also like to thank you all for visiting. It's nice to know I am not talking to myself. LOL!

Some of the up coming things I hope to be covering: Are tax cuts (not raising them) appropriate in war time?, Is the US economy really in good shape with a national debt in the trillions?, Bush administrations environmental record, and Bush's newly passed energy bill.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Environmental reviews reflective of our environment

I had to put these reviews down because the first one made me laugh so hard, and the second frankly is a hallmark to a kind of second sight you just will not hear normally. It unfortunately does tell a real truth: The Wise Use crowd, that being those who only know the developed, metropolitan way of life, know what is best for the environment. These are the people who know nothing about the great outdoors and camping under the bright night lights. These are some of the people who would laugh at the mention of a healing and spiritual relationship with nature. These are the unplugged who would simply dismiss John Denver's environmentally-aware music as nothing more than granola-munching cheesiness. These are the politicians who base the environment not on the environment, but on economics. These are examples of all the people who are defending their right to live an excessive consumer-driven life without consequence.

For the sake of human progress, do I have the answer for the environment? No, I haven't a clue. The environment will continue to decline for our development. (Noting Front Page's "environmental experts" devotion to a more developed economic globe does not lead to a improved natural environment because humanity will in fact use up more land.) All the excesses though will one day catch up and be realized that these over-romanticized green nuts, who are killing the environmental message in many ways today, were right about this one thing after all. Humans did misread God's plan by thinking the land was strictly for the taking instead of as being part human developer, part caretaker.

Earth Report 2000
What a great read. Nothing like a good political book. We rightwingers enjoy books like this because it provides science that we know to be false that we can use to back up our profit-driven agenda through the usual propoganda outlets such as talk radio. For example, in the excellent chapter on Air Quality, the authors talk about whether or not we humans are actually causing the air quality to go down or not. Although we all know that pollution is real, when folks like me own stock in large factories, the financial bottom line is all that matters. If the Big Government puts heavier restrictions on such companies, that means their costs will go up, and folks like me will lose money in our stock portfolios. Not a good thing. The chapter on Pesticides provides another example of misinformation that we can use on our talk radio shows to make sure the masses will vote Republican. I don't really care if pesticides are hurting people or not; what matters is when I, like Tom Delay, have a vested financial interest in a pesticide company, the last thing I want are the liberal scaremongers causing the government to force us to shut down our companies, causing us more financial losses. It's all about money. And that's why a book like this is such a good thing. Sure, the science is bad and absurd, but it helps us push forward our agenda.

Ronald Bailey’s dumbed down “Earth Report” is nothing more than vulgar anthropocentrism marketed as feel-good ecology neatly packaged for the McMasses. Actually, even the title of the book is a misnomer. While Bailey’s book is a “report” of sorts, at no point does the author seem to express a sincere or grounded interest in the “earth”.

Perhaps the book's greatest flaw, aside from the curiously misinterpreted statistics and erroneous conclusions, is its perverse avoidance of addressing the spiritual and philosophical issues logically raised when considering mankind’s roll in the natural world. While the book does a good job of inundating readers with all sorts of statistics and corporate-sponsored meditations, Bailey refuses, in a rather disturbingly determined sort of way, to pose the “larger questions”. The result is a book that too often feels intentionally rushed and suspiciously simple.

In Bailey’s worldview nature is a tangible commodity with a value that can fluctuate (...). “Ecology” is seen only as a tool to better manage natural assets to meet corporate and economic needs. This “nature as product” ideology has been practiced by capitalist entities since the industrial revolution, but Bailey’s attempt to bring it to the masses, and the simplistic manner of his presentation presents a new and dangerous trend. Bailey even insists that we should judge a species as “good” or “bad” depending on its relative worth to mankind. For example, Bailey believes that North American white-tail deer are, “dangerous mammals” and “killers” because they have the audacity to stray onto roads and highways where they often cause serious accidents when struck by fast-moving cars and trucks. Not only do these deer/vehicle collisions cause human fatalities, they ALSO result in over 1 billion dollars worth of insurance claims annually. To Bailey this represents a prime example of poor asset management (the deer of course being the poorly managed asset). Bailey never once considers that the massive deer overpopulation (which has logically increased the risk of deer/vehicle collisions) may have something to do with reduced deer habitat and the almost complete annihilation of the white-tail deer’s natural predators (courtesy of mankind).

Bailey’s disarmingly pronounced hubris in “Earth Report” is matched only by his inane insistence that there aren’t even any real ecological issues at all (at least in the “green” sense)! Counter arguments are seen as radical and suspicious.

The technocrat-friendly ideas presented by Ronald Bailey in “Earth Report” are not only arrogant and misguided, they are downright dangerous. Bailey’s subtle and consistent suggestion that all is really well in the world, may just cost us that, the world.

This book is full of propaganda and misinformation. The general concensus of the larger scientific community is all but ignored by the various authors on virtually every subject. The one example I will site is in the essay Fishing for Solutions:The State of the World's Fisheries. Although the book has a copyright of 2000, and the author sites some data as recently as 1998, he chooses to paint a rosy picture of the fishing harvest by limiting his data to data available up to 1996. He fails to mention that it was at this point that the fishing harvest hit its peak and that it has been in decline ever since. Being a biology teacher, I have spent considerable amounts of time researching the literature on various environmental problems including population growth, global warming, loss of diversity and the state of our fisheries. In every case, the authors of this book are at odds with what I have found to be the general concensus of the larger scientific community. I find it troublesome that the publishers of this book apparently did no research of their own to determine the validity of the views expressed within the pages of this book. Such misinformation is dangerous and unconstructive and presents a real risk to our environment and the economic health of our country in decades to come.

I have been researching the motives of the good news industry for some time. As a population ecologist, my area of research concerns our understanding of the relationship between species richness and ecosystem function, as mediated through diffuse and strong multi-trophic interactions and feedbacks. What's scary is that, at present, we really have very little idea how large scale processes, such as nutrient and energy transfer in food webs, stabilization of the atmosphere and other life-sustaining ecosystem services at broad scales are generated at much smaller scales, where selection works at the level of individuals organisms. We do know that global ecological systems generate processes which serve as our life-support systems, and that their simplification impairs the ability of the biosphere to generate these life-sustaining processes for humanity. That's the state of the field right now. Many of my eminent colleagues across the world are working hard to understand how our continued assault on the natural world might affect the services upon which we depend for our own survival. In the background, are those, with virtually no scientific credibility, and who represent very vested interests (their paymasters in the corporate world) who dish out the news that everything in Eden is fine, without a shred of scientific credibility to support this. The alarming fact is that our current knowledge of ecological systems and their functions is too limited to support the argument that Bailey and his ilk (Easterbrook, Budiansky etc.) have been constantly dishing out to the masses: that the Earth is in a fine shape and can withstand everything that our species is throwing at it. While systems are somewhat resilient to change (bearing in mind that they are dynamic and become new systems in the face of environmental stress), there is no reason to believe that these same systems will be so robust in providing those services which permit our survival. This is a hard fact.

I am particularly dismayed by the non-scientific propoganda which spews forth from a long line of libertarian think tanks - The CATO Institute, the Hudson Institute, The Competitive Enterprise Institute, The Reason Foundation, are just a few - which contain very little credible science but considerable misinformation. Consider the so-called blurb at the beginning of the piece, which says that the list of writers are scientific "experts". Ronald Bailey's scientific credibility is about as thin as it can get: he has covered science as a writer for Forbes magazine and as a producer for PBS. That's it. And the ecological "authority" obtained a diploma in field ecology from the University of Zimbabwe. Unbelievable: considering the wealth of expertise available, they can only recruit someone with these credentials? I think that this is indicitive of the backlash and of their motives. I checked to see how many peer-reviewed papers this ecologist has published in relevant journals, and I couldn't find any. His chapter is a mish-mash of misinformation, misinterpretation of facts, and a basic misunderstanding of many important areas in conservation biology. I do not have the time here to expand upon this in detail: however, his take on the rate of current biodepletion and the consequences for nature and humanity was appalling. Invoking the use of classic species-area models to defend the backlash view that current extinction rates represent a fraction of the extant global biota was disturbing enough, but many key parameters were omitted in his thesis. For instance, diversity is multi-dimensional: extinctions at the species level are one problem, the other, hidden in this deceitful tome, is that of losses in genetic variation within populations. There is profound evidence which suggests that many, many species, particularly in tropical biomes, are declining rapidly and are therefore losing the genetic variation which enables them to respond evolutionarily to changing environmental conditions. Its part of a two-edged sword which may lead to a cascade of extinctions: reduction in habitat reduces the number of populations, which further reduces the ability of species to adapt to habitat reduction. Species lose their economic and conservation value long before they approach extinction. Furthermore, a reduction in the population diversity of a species coincides with the potential disruption of interactions with other species. Multiple interactions function by anchoring the stability of communities, and serve as cornerstones in our understanding of food webs.

There is an unspoken belief pervading these right-wing organizations that all government is harmful and that corporations are a boundless good, which underpins the motives of Bailey and his ilk in writing this patent nonsense. I would gladly debate any of these individuals on these issues, to expose the degree of their scientific illiteracy, which stands out in the pages of books like this. It seems to me that these publications are meant to dupe the nonexpert into believing the corporate line. However, these publications do serve a dual purpose: they have inspired me and my colleagues in environmental science to enter the public forum and to expose Bailey and his backers for what they really are.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Federal budget analysis

It appears the Bush administration is making the same mistakes Reagan's did: Giving out tax cuts in a time of heavy military spending equates to a country in serious national debt. How can any conservative say the economy is getting better when our national debt is increasing yearly? Is this not another effort of a administration, any number of administrations, to hand out tax cuts on the basis of votes? Is it not a false sense of prosperous times, and one that will come back to hurt the economy, namely the people, sooner or later?

The annoying thing is this macro economist's article is from 1994! Those who do not learn from history will repeat history.

Note: This is a leftist economics text (see the last paragraph under the first link), so all interpretations are welcome, including conservatives.

Macro Economics
I. The BBA's Achilles' heel

It is generally understood that the BBA (Balanced Budget Amendment) would cause a tangle of definitional, accounting, legislative, judicial and federal/state/local-relations nightmares. But its real Achilles' heel can best be understood by looking at the federal budget's two functional components, as shown in the accompanying chart.

The Policy Deficit is controlled by the Congressional tax and spending policies which are the BBA's ostensible concern. But the HI-Unemployment (HI-UE) Deficit (the difference between the total deficit and the Policy Deficit), reflects the economy's growth rate and unemployment rate, which are controlled mainly by the Federal Reserve -- over which Congress now has no effective control.

When the Fed slows the economy and increase's unemployment to combat inflation, federal outlays for welfare, unemployment benefits and other means-tested entitlements automatically increase. But the biggest effect is the automatic nosedive of receipts from income and employment taxes -- much like the effect on laid-off workers and recession-hit businesses. A one percent change in unemployment automatically changes the HI-UE Deficit by more than most of the spending changes that Congress votes on -- nearly $60 billion a year in 1995, $80 billion in 2000.

Thus, contrary to the allegations of BBA and "smaller government" ideologues, most past deficits and resulting increases in federal debt have been caused more by Fed-induced revenue deficit than by "out of control" non-military deficit spending .

The BBA's requirement of a politically impractical 60% vote for a tax increase implicitly forces Congress to try to respond to every Fed-induced revenue reduction by an even greater reduction of current policy outlays. This would hardly facilitate stable businesslike management of the government.

Causes of past deficits.

Historically, the Policy Deficit has been caused mainly by Congress's political unwillingness to impose higher taxes to pay for higher military spending. The Policy Deficit was over 2% of GDP in the Korean War (1952-53), nearly 2% in the Vietnam War (1967-68), and varied between 2«% and 3«% during 1983-94 (when the military buildup over 1979 levels accounted for half of the total Policy Deficit). But the structurally endemic nature of the Policy Deficit since 1982 was also caused by the calculated "Reagan Revolution" political strategy of trying to "reduce the size of government" by cutting taxes and then pushing for cuts in non-military spending "to balance the budget." The renewed "Republican Revolution" now seems to be adopting this same strategy.

The HI-UE Deficit has been a serious problem mainly when governments have rejected an "activist" approach to managing the economy and abandoned full employment as a primary goal of national policy. The HI-UE Deficit reached temporary peaks of 3% of GDP in 1958 and 1960 (Eisenhower) and over 2% in 1970/71 (Nixon). But it became endemically high (over 1«%) only in 1974 when the OPEC cartel's first extortionist "oil tax" caused an economically- devastating worldwide inflation and ensuing recession -- and governments continued to rely primarily on "tight money" and high unemployment to combat the inflation. Since then HI-UE Deficits have accounted for 2/3 of the total increase in our national debt -- and the interest payments on it.

In fact, interest payments on the HI-UE debt are a key link between the HI-UE and Policy Deficits. If interest on the HI-UE share of the debt were included in the current HI-UE Deficit the Policy Deficit would now have a surplus of over $80 billion.

Why federal fiscal responsibility is fundamentally different from non-federal.

Households, businesses and state/local governments have little current control over their own income. But the federal government, through Fed monetary policy, has major control over not only its own income but also everybody else's. Governor Pete Wilson recently referred to his California as a "proud sovereign state." But states, counties and cities are not sovereign economically. In an integrated national economy, mismanaged policy in Washington can bring California to its knees along with everyone else.

Thus, federal fiscal responsibility also requires federal economic responsibility -- with much more systematic coordination of all our economic policy tools. By ignoring the HI-UE Deficit and putting the Policy Deficit in a straight-jacket the BBA would make businesslike economic management impossible.

II. There is a better way than the BBA to achieve real fiscal responsibility

2) Recognize that the key economic responsibility of fiscal policy is to maintain stable low real interest rates -- by "counter-cyclical" adjustments of the federal budget's deficit or surplus to maintain a stable balance between the economy's total supply and demand for credit.

"Cyclical" fluctuations of borrowing, particularly consumer credit, home mortgage borrowing and business credit to finance the capital investment needed to meet these credit-financed fluctuations in consumer demand, are key factors in continuing the "business cycle."

* Excessive total borrowing, federal and non-federal combined, as in 1994, drives up interest rates and increases the Policy Deficit through interest on the federal debt. In addition, excessive consumer borrowing tends to cause inflationary market conditions in credit-financed sectors such as houses and cars, thus causing the Fed to slow the whole economy and increase the HI-UE Deficit.

* Insufficient total borrowing, as indicated by abnormally low real interest rates as, in 1980 and 1992-93, makes it difficult for the Fed and the banks to maintain a recovery rate of money growth, and thus increases the HI-UE Deficit. In this case a temporary increase in the Policy Deficit would tend to reduce the HI-UE Deficit.

Thus, how fast the present Policy Deficit can be appropriately reduced depends mainly on the national credit balance, as indicated by short-term real interest rates. Because total borrowing is now excessive, with short-tern rates about 2% above their historical norms, faster reduction of the Policy Deficit would be economically appropriate -- by either spending cuts or tax hikes. For instance, now would be an ideal time to eliminate the inappropriate tax deduction for interest on non-housing-related home equity loans. It would also be an ideal time for an energy tax -- to help reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil and reduce the huge trade deficit which matches our federal budget deficit.

But any kind of tax cut now would be economically inappropriate. Fed Vice Chairman Alan Blinder says that the Fed is likely restrict economic growth even further if the Republican "smaller government" ideologues repeat the Reagan era fiscal irresponsibility by combining tax cuts with another military buildup.

III. The Philosophical and Political Context

The Preamble of the Constitution says that one of the purposes of the Constitution and the federal government is to "promote the general welfare." Thus the government has two choices:

* an "activist" philosophy to prevent problems and help people by long-run "framework" planning to create the kind of social-economic, full-employment environment in which businesses, workers, consumers and investors everywhere can have maximum confidence to plan further ahead in pursuit of the American Dream without having to call on government for the kind of assistance which tends to concentrate power in Washington;

* a "laissez-faire" philosophy which permits the traditional "business cycle" and free-enterprise profit motive to work without interference -- until things fall apart (like the savings and loan debacle), and then reluctantly and inefficiently yield to public demands for the government to "pick up the pieces."

Conservative opposition to the goal of full employment.

After WW II, Congress passed the "Em ployment Act of 1946." Although it is often referred to today as "the full -employment act" conservatives forced Congress to take the "full" out of the title because they recognized that if an "activist" government accepts effective responsibility for maintaining stable full employment growth it would require many "interventions" in the economy which are opposed by those who know how to profit from "the business cycle" and from the absence of effective legislation protecting the general welfare. The H/H Act kept "full " in its title and set specific economic goals, but conservatives made sure that it had so few real teeth that it has been largely ignored.

The "size of government" issue.

Undoubtedly, some supporters of the BBA either really believe it would help reduce the deficit or don't realize that there are more effective means of doing that. But for some conservative ideologues the most basic purpose of the BBA is to "reduce the size of government" by putting artificial pressure on Congress to reduce non-military federal spending, even when that clearly diminishes the national welfare. When they were pushing the BBA in 1936 they were really trying to prevent FDR, whom they hated ideologically, from mobilizing the full powers of the government to get us out of the Great Depression. In 1982 they pushed it in support of the Reagan Revolution. Now they are using the general public discontent with the results of past government mismanagement of the budget and the economy to gain public support for the BBA. But if the public fully realized the nature and implications of the BBA's basic ideological purpose, it is doubtful if many would support it.

Since 1929 the relative size of the federal government has been greatly increased by four factors: the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, and excessive unemployment most of the time. All of these might have been avoided by a more effective "activist" federal government with more vision to understand what was needed to prevent those catastrophes and better leadership to help the public understand what needed to be done.

If "size of government" is measured by the amount of current spending, and if the self-financing Social Security system, other pension programs and Medicare and Medicaid are excluded, then the great bulk of policy budget spending goes for current military spending and the interest cost of previous HI-UE Deficits and deficit-financed military spending. In this perspective, the best way to "reduce the size of government" is to eliminate the HI-UE Deficit by managing the economy for stable full employment, reforming and strengthening the United Nations so that it could take over a good share of America's national defense and foreign military responsibilities, and enacting a universal, effective, cost-conscious and largely self-financing (like Social Security) national health-care system . Everything else is marginal.

World Socialist
On January 6, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued new projections showing that the cumulative deficit between 2004 and 2013 would reach $2.3 trillion. But this is generally acknowledged to be an understatement.

A study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities issued on February 1 noted that if likely or virtually certain costs, left out of the CBO projection, were added back in then the deficit projection for the next 10 years rose to $5.2 trillion.

The Center’s analysis made it clear that the budget blowout is not due to increases in domestic spending but is the result of the Bush tax cuts—aimed primarily at the wealthy—and increased spending on the military and “homeland security.” As a result of the tax cuts, revenues in 2004 will total only 15.8 percent of GDP—the lowest level since 1950—and will only average 17.1 percent of GDP over the coming decade, lower than average levels for every decade in the second half of the twentieth century.

In January 2001 estimates from the CBO showed surpluses for the 10-year period to 2011 totalling $5 trillion. Now it is estimated that there will be a deficit over the same period of $4.3 trillion. According to the Center’s report, approximately 35 percent of this $9.3 trillion turnaround is due to the tax cuts made by the Bush administration. Another 28 percent is due to increased spending, more than two thirds of which arises from increased costs for the military, homeland security and the “war on terrorism”. Only one-twenty-fifth of the new spending represented the increased costs of domestic programs outside of homeland security. The remainder of the turnaround was accounted for by over-optimistic estimates by the CBO in 2001.

What others are saying at American Progress
The White House predicted recently that the budget deficit would drop to $333 billion, $94 billion less than expected, and continue falling for the next four years to $162 billion in 2009. In light of recent tax changes, increases in defense spending, and the war in Iraq, this declaration startled many and caused numerous Wall Street analysts to warn of over-excessive optimism. The Bush administration attributed the drop to supply side economics, as an auspicious sign that his tax cuts are paying for themselves. Others pointed out that "triple-digit deficits for as far as the eye can see" were not a cause for celebration. Furthermore, the prediction does not take into account the costs needed for Iraq past the next year and excludes full funding for programs such as job training and Medicare. Even nonpartisan firms such as Goldman Sachs warned of the accuracy of these numbers. Here is a sampling of what America is saying about the budget deficit.

Jackson, Mississippi - The Clarion-Ledger
July 18, 2005 - Editorial

"Putting a positive spin on the latest federal budget deficit figures, President Bush is claiming his economic policies are cutting the growth in the deficit by $100 billion. …

"That sounds good, but wait a second. The annual mid-year report didn't say the budget deficit was cut; it said it was less than expected by $100 billion. So, how high is it?

"As it turns out, this year's budget deficit will 'drop' from what was anticipated as the largest budget deficit ever.

"In fact, with this new "drop," the budget will be the third largest deficit in history, at $333 billion, following the two previous records under Bush last year and the year before."


Are tax cuts always good?

This is an older column on how Bush's tax cuts follow a supposed cyclical pattern to Reagan's. I'm not sure I agree with everything the columnist says, but it does beg the question: How can a political party, namely the Bush administration, claim the economy is "better than ever" when the country is in trillions of dollars in debt? Are we not utilizing someone elses money in order to be prosperous? I'd love to hear from any economist, let alone anyone else.

You may recall the last time the feds raised taxes was 1993, when the Democrats gutted up and raised them on the richest people in the country by exactly one vote. Rush Limbaugh and others of his ilk went ballistic over "the biggest tax increase in history," even though it affected no one we know. (All tax increases and cuts are "the biggest in history" because the size of the economy keeps growing.) In 1994, the Republicans took over Congress. That's cause and effect there.

Now Bush breezes in and starts by sending everybody in the country a check for "up to" $300 (that's being done at the insistence of the Democrats, who keep trying to get something for everyone, rather than for large political donors only). This is the Clinton Bonus, what we get for having Clinton and Robert Rubin in for eight years. What do you think the next president's going to face?

Apparently, we're dumb enough to fall for this once every 20 years. Ronald Reagan gave us a nice, shiny new tax cut in '81, and it only cost us $2 trillion in debt.

Back at Bad Government Central, the session was one long hangover from the Bush years. If it didn't cost any money — like the hate crimes bill and keeping kids out of the back of pick-ups — it got done. However, they could not bring themselves to stop executing the mentally retarded. Even with a record-large budget of $114 billion, the state still can't afford the level of services that would get us up to average in anything.

So here's the news bulletin from our parts: Living with the aftermath of Bush is a bad hangover. Some people are smart enough to see it coming. When Ronald Reagan was pushing tax cuts 20 years ago, a Republican voted against him, predicting the cuts would lead to massive deficits. The guy's name was Jim Jeffords.

Blackout of August 14, 2003

This is one version and thorough account of what went wrong in the midwest and eastern portions of the country. You'll pardon my being two years late. I stumbled upon this by accident and just assumed the blackout occured on non-managerial grounds.

Power Plays
"Politics, not lack of power, is to blame for the great American blackout," wrote the Economist on August 21. While cautioning that "not all the facts are in," researchers at Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA), a private energy consulting firm, have tentatively concluded that the massive power blackout of August 14 began with a series of failures by First Energy, a power conglomerate created from the merger of Toledo Edison, Cleveland Electric, Ohio Edison, Pennsylvania Power, Pennsylvania Electric, Metropolitan Edison and Jersey Central Power & Light. The nation's fourth largest investor-owned electric system, according to its web site, First Energy has been cited previously for plant mismanagement and accounting irregularities.

First Contributors Have a History
First Energy executives are among Bush's top campaign fundraisers. First Energy President Anthony Alexander was a member of the "Pioneers" -- the Bush campaign group composed of individuals who raised at least $100,000 each during the 2000 campaign. As a member of the Republican National Committee's Team 100, Alexander raised $250,000 in 2000, and personally donated $100,000 toward Bush's inauguration events. Alexander also served on the Bush energy transition team. And on June 30 of this year First Energy's chairman, H. Peter Burg hosted a $1,000-a-plate dinner at the Akron Hilton that raised $600,000 for Bush's 2004 campaign. In 2001-2002 First Energy executives contributed more than $1 million to federal candidates, with over 70% going to Republicans, placing the firm in the top ten political contributors from the electric utility industry. First Energy also spent $3.8 million lobbying Congress and the administration in 2001-2002.

In the 70s, Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich confronted one of First Energy's predecessors, Cleveland Electric (CEI), when it sought to undermine the City of Cleveland's ability to operate a municipal electric system, Muny Light. Muny Light provided power to streetlights and many city facilities, and to residential customers in parts of Cleveland at a savings of 20 - 30% over CEI. In a precursor to schemes that Williams and Enron would use later in California, CEI worked to prevent Muny Light from buying power from other suppliers, and then tripled the rates it charged. When Muny Light began to lose money as a result of CEI's schemes, CEI cited Muny Light's deteriorating financial condition as as evidence supporting their contention that the city should sell Muny Light to CEI. With the aid of local media that, in Kucinich's words, "received substantial advertising revenues from CEI," CEI succeeded in convincing Cleveland's mayor and city council to sell Muny Light in 1976. Kucinich, who held the elected office of Municipal Court Clerk at the time, organized a campaign to prevent the sale, and ran for mayor of Cleveland on the issue. He won and canceled the sale.

Two years later Cleveland Trust, Ohio's largest bank, informed Kucinich that it would not renew 15 million in loans taken out by his predecessor, unless he agreed to sell Muny Light to CEI. The bank offered $50 million in new credit if Kucinich would agree. Kucinich refused, and the City of Cleveland defaulted. Kucinich lost the election in 1979. Later it would emerge that Cleveland Trust that Cleveland Trust held a substantial interest in CEI, and that the firms had four directors in common. Kucinich's decision was vindicated in 1993 when Muny Light, now renamed Cleveland Public Power, announced the largest expansion of any municipal power system in the country.

First Failures
Fast forward ten years. At about 2pm on August 14, 2003 First Energy's 550-megawatt coal-fired Eastlake power plant east of Cleveland, OH, shut down. An hour later a single transmission line near Cleveland went out of service. By themselves, these incidents should have been routine. According to CERA Senior Consultant Hoff Stauffer, "they're designed to be able to withstand that kind of event without any problem." But those events were only the beginning.

The control room alarm system, which ordinarily would have notified operators of the generation and transmission problems, apparently did not work. With a transmission line unavailable, power that might have traveled along it flowed onto other lines, which heated up -- "as anticipated," says Stauffer. Also anticipated is that overheated power lines sag, which First Energy's did. But not anticipated was that one of the lines would sag into a tree. "That tree was not supposed to be there," Stauffer observed dryly, and so a second power line went out of service. At this point First Energy was experiencing four simultaneous problems, "and systems are not designed to be able to withstand that without some kind of blackout to at least some of their load," said Stauffer.

The American Electric Power (AEP) system to the south and the PJM to the east, successfully disconnected from First Energy, thereby protecting the supply of electricity to the Midwest, including Chicago, and to the east, including most of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland. "But," the New York Times's Richard Glanz and Andrew Revking wrote, "the severing of the two crucial Ohio lines was the equivalent of suddenly damming an onrushing stream: the flow had to divert to find a way to reach the Cleveland area." The power flowed into Indiana, Michigan, and back into Ohio. As a result, within a few seconds power in a grid serviced by the International Transmission Company (ITC) in lower Michigan went from a modest 200 megawatts to nearly 2000. At the same time, power that had been flowing from ITC to Ontario began to flow the other way, into northern Ohio. This caused instability in ITC's system, which took plants and transmission lines in eastern Michigan out of service, eventually causing a blackout in Detroit.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Responses to Dennis Prager and Rush Limbaugh

About a year ago I was a staunch conservative who had only the highest praise for Dennis Prager and conservative ideology alike. As you know, I am The Middle Ear now, and these columns further demonstrate to me what is the even more distancing of these individuals. The last column, on Rush, is such a devastating account of the man which it makes it awfully difficult to persuasively support him.

A Response to Dennis Prager
In an op-ed piece in the L.A. Times on Sunday, May 29th, conservative political pundit Dennis Prager revealed a great insight that came to him some years ago in a debate with Alan Dershowitz, whom Prager dismisses as "a Harvard liberal." That insight or "epiphany" for him was that the central genesis of the culture war in America is not between religions per se, but rather "the great divide in values is…between those who believe in a divine text and those who do not." "What distinguishes leftist Jews from rightist Jews and leftist Christians from rightist Christians…comes down to their belief in the bible, not their belief in God." He then goes on to argue that some Jews and some Christians believe that their sacred texts come "from God" and "are divine" and some Jews and Christians believe that biblical texts are "man-made": "conservative Jews and Christians share the belief that God revealed a text (while) liberal Jews and Christians share the belief that this text is man-made."


The problem with this smug argument is that it mischaracterizes the belief of those who disagree with a narrow, literalistic reading of sacred text as people who fail to hold sacred writings as divine, who are guided more by heart and sentiment than by the Word of God.

To argue that scripture is "from God" (Prager) is too simplistic by far; for what conservative Christians and Jews really suggest is that scripture is "authoritative and determinate" based on its "inerrancy." Evangelicals, faced with inconsistencies in scripture - e.g. the creation story in Genesis One in which God creates man and woman in his image simultaneously and Genesis Two in which man is created first and needing a helpmate, Eve is formed from Adam's side - argue that in their "original autographs," God's word is without error and that until these are found, we are bound to a corrupted and yet authoritative text.

From this "high theology" of scripture, conservative Jews and Christians argue for a closing of debate on settled issues of moral values (and by implication public policy). In his op-ed piece, Prager argues that there are four: that marriage can not be redefined to include gays and lesbians; that human life, not animal life, is sacred; that murderers should be executed and that people are not essentially good. (That conservative Roman Catholics read the same text and hold the same high regard for scripture as God's Word and conclude that a consistent and seamless regard for the sacredness of human life makes the death penalty unacceptable and immoral seems to have eluded Mr. Prager; that the Hebrew scriptures he holds so dear say in Genesis that "God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good" [Genesis 1:31] also seems to have been lost.)

The sin (defined as "missing the mark") of Dennis Prager is to selectively elevate portions of sacred text which justify conservative politics (the death penalty, "defense of marriage", exploitation of the environment) and to ignore the vast witness of both Testaments which, for example, condemn the abuse of the poor by the rich. To paraphrase Jim Wallis, a progressive evangelical, in speaking of these believers: "I don't question their good faith; I question their bad theology." To say that scripture is "divinely inspired" is simply to say that God, not the written word, is divine. There is a danger in idolatry, including biblio-idolatry. Such narrow and uncritical reading of scripture leads not to God but to human enmity and strife.

Surely Dennis Prager knows that the scriptures of the so called "New Testament" were written by Jews who told the story of a Jewish rabbi who claimed that "no one comes to the Father but by me." If God's word is divine, then why are these words not binding for Jews, liberal or conservative? Many conservative Christians believe that they are and that there is no place in God's economy for the unconverted. That Mr. Prager, as a Jew does not accept this portion of 1st century Jewish sacred text as binding for him as a Jew, does not make it less so. The great pathos in Paul's epistles is his sadness for his fellow Jews who refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah. His call to them was to "repent and believe (accept as God's revealed truth) the gospel" that Jesus is Lord.

Dennis Prager is a gifted speaker and writer but his dismissal of those who don't agree with him as being merely "guided by the heart" ("do I listen to my heart or to what I believe is God's word?") is intellectually dishonest and unworthy. Many of us believe we should and must read the bible in the fullness of our humanity, through the God given faculties of head and heart; and to approach these texts with humility and wonder but ultimately knowing that they point the way to God but are indeed not Gods' self.

Dennis Prager and other conservatives have the right to read and interpret scripture as they wish. As progressives, we honor their voice and their perspective in that on-going dialogue with texts which are indeed "living words" which speak with newness and power to each generation. But we will not allow the conservative and repressive voices to claim for themselves the mantle of true and sole Godliness, nor allow them to dismiss those of us with an alternative view as being people of less faith or less integrity.
-St. Augustine

Dennis Prager and The Ecological Indian
Krech, a white anthropologist, says Indians killed more buffalo than they needed when they drove them over cliffs. Prager acts surprised by this "revelation." My response:

1) That’s a fairly well-known fact, despite what Prager thinks 99% of Americans think. To pretend it’s a secret the PC police have tried to conceal is nonsense.

2) The buffalo jumps were carried out by a few tribes out of many that hunted buffalo. For one thing, you had to have cliffs nearby to conduct the maneuver. Vast stretches of the Great Plains had no usable cliffs...which is probably why there weren’t many buffalo jumps south of the Dakotas.

3) So what if some Indians killed, say, 50 buffalo when they needed 10...when there were still a million buffalo extant? Do conservationists use every scrap of wood and bark when they cut down a tree? Every scrap of meat and hide when they kill a cow? Do they never litter or discard a half-eaten meal?

Of course not. We don’t live in that needy a society. Even the best of us wastes a little because we can.

To equate Indians killing an extra 40 buffalo to Europeans killing the remaining 999,850 buffalo (leaving 100 of 1,000,000 alive) is the worst sort of joke. It’s intellectual sophistry and Prager is guilty of it. Does the word "vile" or "reprehensible" suggest anything to you?

Were the Indians comparable to today’s conservationists? Hell, yes. They wasted a little because all humans do, but they didn’t touch the overall supply. Their actions conserved the population even if they didn’t conserve every animal.

Were the Indians comparable to today’s Euro-Americans? Hell, no. The Europeans killed entire species—as in permanently extinguished them. They also clearcut 90% or more of the virgin forests they found. In no way, shape, or form were the two groups equivalent.

Deer and beaver
Krech claims the Indians of middle America almost wiped out the deer and beaver. My response:

Both these alleged cases of massive hunting happened after Europeans arrived with their colonizing culture—a fact Prager the sophist neglected to mention. In the 1700s and 1800s, especially east of the Mississippi, Indians were no longer acting on their original beliefs, uncontaminated by outside contact. They were no longer completely free agents.

The Europeans forced them to adopt a cash economy and so they adopted one to survive. If they wanted to buy guns (to defend their lives) or food (because they were forced from their bountiful homelands) they needed something to trade. The Europeans valued furs, skins, and meat. Can you guess what happened?

That’s right, the Indians got co-opted into the European system. So if Indians decimated species, it was because they mimicked European culture, not because it was inherent in their own culture. If the Europeans hadn’t come, the Indians wouldn’t have harmed the deer or beaver populations.

Again, the conniving Prager didn’t bring up these points, though they seemed obvious to me. The anthro Krech didn’t sound like he had an axe to grind, but Prager sure did. Even if the three examples were valid—and none were close—they’d cover only a third or so of the continent. So where does Prager get off claiming Indians as a whole were as bad as Europeans?

Because they decimated two animal species while aping Europeans and mildly wasted one species on their own? While Europeans laid waste to flora and fauna like a nuclear holocaust? Who was it, exactly, who wiped the passenger pigeon from the face of the earth? Who came close to extinguishing the buffalo and the bald eagle, our national emblem? Who caused the Dust Bowl, the burning rivers, the eggs laced with DDT?

Native Americans? Don’t think so. Look in the mirror if you want to know who, because we’re still putting profits before polliwogs. Which reminds me of the massive die-off of frog species occurring now, but that’s another story.


The message here, and in all my multicultural postings, is that every culture has something to offer us. What I dispute is the incessant exaltation of Western civilization above all others. Western civilization exists only because it borrowed from earlier, non-Western traditions. (See my posting, Multicultural Origins of Civilization, for more on that point.)

The corollary to my message is that every culture has problems. I'm not exalting a Native American culture or lifestyle over its Western equivalent. You don't see me living in a tipi, hunting Bambi and kin, or grubbing for roots in the dirt, do you? Clearly I enjoy the benefits of our so-called civilization; I don't deny them.

I'll grant that Indians might have been no better than "average" in terms of their stewardship of nature. But Euro-Americans have been far worse than average. Despite their much larger populations, are China and India paved over like parking lots? No. The idea of conquering nature and replacing it with something "better" (cities, farms, strip malls, McDonald's) is peculiarly Western.

Bigotshtick: Rush Limbaugh on Indians
[The following award-winning essay was first published in Native Americas Journal, Fall 1995, after Rush Limbaugh made one of his "provocative" racial comments about American Indian people.]

"The American Indians were meaner to themselves than anybody was ever mean to them. The people were savages. It's true, they damn well were ? these people were out there destroying timber, they were out there conquering and killing each other, scalping people." - Rush Limbaugh

"Bigoted: Obstinately and blindly attached to some creed, opinion or party and intolerant toward others." - The Oxford Universal Dictionary

In my car, alone, and sometimes at home - to my wife's discomfort - I listen to Rush Limbaugh or catch his TV appearances.

I have heard enough of Limbaugh over the years to get the gist of his message and of his style, which is the medium of his message. The man's opinions might not be of much interest except that they are nearly inescapable. He has national airtime for over 20 hours a week and he reaches some 20 million people a week, in long, continuous monologues. Limbaugh, a veritable rotor of right wing politics in North America, is furthermore an entertainer. He can make people laugh.

The problem is that the man has an ugly side - a very ugly side.

The quote above must be considered. It is vintage Limbaugh when he gets rolling on his radio show. (He writes books, too, but they are severely whitewashed; you have to listen to Limbaugh's radio voice to get to know him.) On the radio, usually from a position of outrageous umbrage, he is one major national commentator willing to prejudice a whole race of people and perpetrate a racial slur that must be seen as significant, considering the breadth of the source. Why would a man in Limbaugh's position call Native peoples savages in this day and age?

Limbaugh is neither stupid nor particularly careless. True, he is self-promoting to an embarrassing degree, but he is nevertheless a master of public discourse with stated political goals. He is also a commentator who regularly uses the power of the medium and of his formatted personae to persuade, cajole, and at appointed times, command a large public to political action.

With a message well-suited for those mean times - his dominant idea seems to be championing unmitigated business development by dismissing all gestures of cooperative (as opposed to confrontational) thinking, and all efforts to regulate human activity to protect the earth and its resources - he plays to a major national audience, whose frustration and anger he mines in pursuit of ideological imperatives.

Dismissed for years as mostly a buffoon while his popularity increased exponentially, Limbaugh whips up the troops throughout the year, ditto, ditto, ditto, and come November elections, delivers for the Republicans. TIME has put him on its cover then and Ted Koppel has invited him to comment on his news show (as if 20 hours of national airtime per week is not enough for one mortal). Thus Limbaugh proved himself a hugely influential and highly marketable commentator. All of which makes it particularly troubling that dehumanization through racist stereotyping (used against Indians since Cotton Mather) is a trademark of the (formerly) rotund disc jockey.

Limbaugh developed his national audience by cleverly employing an old shtick: funny umbrage at imagined groups - the media, people on welfare, immigrants, feminists, black athletes, American Indians - that he props up to hit with a wide-slapping brush of ridicule, outright misinterpretation, and wanton disrespect. Limbaugh's shtick, becoming increasingly evident in media and in politics, is a 1990s kind of bigotry.

Those who like their politics mixed in with ridicule especially enjoyed his antagonistic sarcasm, ostensibly directed at "Liberals" but hitting, double-barreled, at many of the poor and resourceless groups whom Limbaugh giddily and nastily defines coast to coast. A master at reducing truth to comic line, he also knows how to repeat a half-truth that serves his purpose so regularly that it becomes a sort of reality substitute. Apparently, he is confident enough in his own positioning to hurl out stereotypes at whole classes and races of people without the slightest fear of rebuttal. In this era of trial by airtime, Limbaugh is a hanging judge.

The comment quoted earlier is not his first on Native peoples. I remember another, from 1992, when Native delegations met at the landmark Rio conference on environment and development. "What a ragtag looking bunch," he laughed on the air, expounding then too on the savvy ways of Indians and mocking "these fools out there" in the environmental movement who support Indians and want "us to live like stone-age people."

As Limbaugh is unabashedly political, one must assume that his attacks are orchestrated, his targets carefully selected. In this context, the connection with Native peoples is about the general public concern over environmental degradation, which Limbaugh and the interests he truly represents would like to see discredited or at least reduced. In the promised new era of non-regulated exploitative extraction of natural resources now well under way, concern over environment and Indians is a troublesome factor.

But, hey, the Indians ? "these people were destroying timber."

What Limbaugh is doing is transparent. It is part of the lining up of forces. Since Native peoples' issues often and naturally coincide with environmental concerns, Native peoples themselves must be attacked. As environmentalists are increasingly recognizing, interest in Native peoples and causes offers a convergence point where ecological issues can be creatively conceived. Native peoples' traditions are not made up by counter-culturalists or academic theorists - they are long-standing human ways that speak to the relationship to the natural world and can form the core of a realistic discussion among broad sectors of the population. Native traditional knowledge is sometimes abused or trivialized, but it is now widely accepted as a base on which to develop a true environmental philosophy.

A man in Limbaugh's position, I believe, must find ways to discredit that connection. That is his job. And Limbaugh is clearly very diligent about doing his job.

We might do well to consider Rush Limbaugh and his ways with words - not to banter with him, but because he should not so wantonly dominate and even seriously impact the most serious of topics. He should not be allowed to issue bigoted and racialist statements unchallenged. We should not pretend such languages and attitudes are proper for a public commentator of such wide reach.

Let's remember what Limbaugh said.

"The American Indians were meaner to themselves than anybody was ever mean to them."

This is the basic stereotype on Indians: a war-like nature. Limbaugh is starting by harping on this one. Watch him run with it again and again. It has just enough reality in it to make it useful. For instance, it is true that Indians warred, and that during wartime people sometimes acted with meanness and brutality. You won't hear from Limbaugh, however, how the damage inflicted in traditional Indian disputes pales in comparison to the mass exterminations carried out against tribes, or by nation-states against tribes, or by nation-states against civilian populations. It is a cheap stereotype. A trick.

"The people were savages. It's true, they damn well were ? scalping people."

This is a deepening of the stereotype, deceitful and manipulative, not only for what it says, but for what it hides and obfuscates.

By focusing on the "war-like" Indian image, by invoking the designation of "savage," the far more prevalent philosophies of Native American societies - governmental and spiritual application - the documented reality of Native American knowledge systems is completely left out of the listeners' perceptions. This reflects the Limbaugh style: over hours and hours each week, only negative images are reinforced of anyone Limbaugh perceives to be an enemy.

One never tunes in to find Limbaugh asking a Carl Sagan about ozone layer depletion or interviewing Native scholars on the variety of Native cultural viewpoints. Why present a balanced view when ridicule can suffice? Perhaps for Limbaugh a dialogue with "savages" would be unthinkable. "I am equal time," the commentator is prone to answer when questioned on the lack of balance in his shows.

They taught at my journalism alma mater that principles of public information handling were worked out over many decades. Major thinkers in American life contributed to the idea of balanced use of information channels - especially the national networks. Whether the law dictates it or not, the ethic holds that balanced journalism, well documented, is of central value to society. Simple, preferably depersonalized styles were expected from information handlers.

In that context, Limbaugh is to the national discourse what professional wrestling is to sports. Blowing his point of view often and loudly he takes center stage in the arena. His loud reductionism bombards the mind. His trick hold? The most scurrilous form of argumentation - crafting straw men for demolition - which he has down to a fine science. His sarcastic, constantly mocking style stresses the negative as primary - the negative, of course is whatever he is against; the positive and only the positive, of what he is for.

Still, despite his self-consciously arrogant style, Limbaugh can make people laugh. He is superb at skewering politicians' vanities, for instance. And no one is better at pulling out the loose threads of the Liberal coat, which he can then retie in clever knots of common logic, bathed in acid humor. He identifies some of what is wrong with the country after 40 years of (so-called) Liberal policies, and he can make sense. The problem is that Limbaugh projects his options in such one-sided, pin-the-blame contexts that the truth of matters is inevitably trivialized.

Limbaugh is superb at reducing environmentalism to some "animal rights nut" who won't kill a rat even to save her child from going through painful rabies shots. Listeners can identify with Limbaugh's outrage as his unbroken monologue guides us through. But then, hey, how about that spotted owl, he says and feigns eating a spotted owl, as if that somehow eliminates the need for bio-diversity conservation. Limbaugh tells us that there are more trees today than a century ago. Deforestation is not a problem. According to him, well, ahem, "there is not damage to the ozone layer, ha ha." Indians and the environment? Hey, "these people were out there destroying timber."

We used to know the difference between a stand-up comic with a political bent and a social commentator who, with respect and journalistic balance (the operative principle), integrates a range of information, analyzes the conflicting viewpoints, and strives to provide the public with a better ability to interpret. But Limbaugh blurs the two roles more thoroughly than anyone. His ego expands visibly as his "talent, on-loan from God," apparently grants him infallibility.

Limbaugh likes to run down a long list of people and causes that, in his eyes, fuel the Liberal conspiracy to end free enterprise, which must be saved from those he seems to consider less legitimate peoples with inferior viewpoints. That free enterprise might have excesses or that market-driven ideas are not always sacrosanct does not enter the picture. That some situation, might not fit within the Left/Right dichotomy seems inconceivable to Limbaugh. With him, it's full speed ahead, economically, and damn the rest. We can be sure how though: Native peoples - long condemned as "obstacles to progress" - are on the list.

It may be wise to keep watch on the bigoted views of Rush Limbaugh. Since he serves as a barometer of the national climate, familiarity with his points of attack can be useful. But remember also this truth, Native Americans - Limbaugh's so-called "savages" - carried out a prescribed protocol of participatory democracy that sat human beings in a circle. The object of discussion was placed in the center of the circle and in relation to it, everyone in the circle had a view, a unique vantage point. The truth was said to emerge from the common discussion, the respectful appreciation of everyone else's point of view. Highly trained specialists (elders) gathered the consensus. This style of governance spawned confederacies and produced a palpable freedom, a shared experience that inspired colonial American leaders, and that is more "of America" than Rush Limbaugh, from his glass-enclosed, push-button, over-blown, self-aggrandizing world will ever be.

Jose Barreiro, Ph.D., is senior editor at Indian Country Today.