Monday, December 19, 2011

Michigan Legislature Offers More Fiscal Destruction

I heard on NPR this morning that the Republican held Michigan Legislature snuck a bundle of legislative uglies onto the calendar for the Wednesday right after Christmas, when they figure no one pays attention. Probably, they are correct that fewer eyes will scrutinize their misdealings. But, the evil that lurks on that calendar in various stages of the law making process might sadden even the most cynical observer. It's worth a look.

Most of the lawmaking seeks to screw wage-earning people out their hard-earned money, and funneling the filthy lucre to the corporations who own Michigan Republican representatives and keep the revolving door money-go-round spinning. (Bust unions, privatize government functions, bankrupt public education to replace it with for-profit schools, cut business taxes, eliminate environmental regulation -- do all that, and you're sure to find a corporate or lobbyist sinecure waiting for you when you term-limit out of state government) Hoo-rah! Read up. Be informed. Maybe "we" won't vote for them next time. Maybe...

Have a look at Follow The Money, a site devoted to state campaign finance information. See where your representatives get the juice for their campaigns. And who they owe favors to.

And give some thought to the Republican devised Starve The Beast approach to governance.

The list is long, so I give you my favorites:

No. 103

Wednesday, December 28, 2011
11:30 A.M.

HB 4445 Rep. Moss
Appropriations; supplemental; school aid supplemental; provide for fiscal year 2010-2011.
Amends secs. 11, 11m, 22a, 22b, 51a, 51c & 74 of 1979 PA 94 (MCL 388.1611 et seq.).
(Returned from Senate with Senate substitute (S-1) and immediate effect; laid over 1 day November 10, 2011.)
(I.E. House April 13, 2011.)
(For Senate substitute (S-1), see Session Website.)

The 2011/2012 education appropriation bill cuts about $200 million from public education (analysis/breakdown). I know a lot of this stuff is mandated by law, and I know this was a done deal months ago, but laws and deals can be changed, and for example, reducing education spending because homeowner property value assessments decreased seems short-sighted (the cost of education didn't decrease, so those homeowners' children will receive less "education)." Further, about $30 million was saved in reduced borrowing costs (due to reduced interest rates), but was cut from the budget instead of re-directed to education needs. Seriously. Our "need" for education did not diminish by $200 million in one year, so is it not logical to find the money for something as important as education?
And lo, these cuts comes at the same time that our illustrious governor eliminated corporate taxes on all but C corporations. The governor suggests corporate tax cuts translate into more jobs. They don't. And if we are less well-educated, we are less able to secure what jobs there are.
SJR C Sen. Jansen
Labor; civil service employment; health benefits of public employees and officers; allow legislature to regulate.
Amends the state constitution by adding sec. 9 to art. XI.
(Reported by the Committee on Oversight, Reform, and Ethics.)
(Not adopted; motion to reconsider postponed temporarily June 30, 2011.)
(Reconsidered; passed for day August 24, 2011.)
(For House substitute (H-2), see Session Website.)
(Requires 2/3 vote for adoption, Const. 1963, Art. 4, Sec. 43.)

This bill prevents public employee unions from negotiating health insurance plans -- the legislature, helpfully, intends to do it for them.

HB 4466 Rep. Scott
Labor; public service employment; changes in provisions concerning teacher strikes; provide for.
Amends secs. 2a & 6 of 1947 PA 336 (MCL 423.202a & 423.206).
(Reported by the Committee on Education.)
(For proposed House substitute (H-2), see Session Website.)

This law means to prevent teachers from going on strike, or if it fails to that, it will fine teachers a day's pay for every day they are on strike, and threaten them with revocation of their license to teach. It will also fine their union $5,000 / day on strike. And I thought Republicans hated intrusive laws.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Friday, December 2, 2011

Empathy -- One Thing The 1% Lacks

We always hear about the haves and have-nots, and we know to "have" means to possess financial security -- or at least the illusion of it. Most Americans have no such illusion of financial security. The vast majority lives hand to mouth, and stands one paycheck from ruin. But, there are those who rise to the pinnacle of affluence, they are a minority but they dominate American society. In fact, through corporate sponsorship of politicians, they own our government and dictate the conditions under which the rest of us subsist.

Wikipedia defines empathy as follows:
Empathy is the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings (such as sadness or happiness) that are being experienced by another sapient or semi-sapient being. Someone may need to have a certain amount of empathy before they are able to feel compassion. The English word was coined in 1909 by E.B. Titchener as an attempt to translate the German word "Einfühlungsvermögen", a new phenomenon explored at the end of 19th century mainly by Theodor Lipps. It was later re-translated into the German language (Germanized) into "Empathie," and is still in use there.
How many of us have worked for sleazy martinets who repeatedly make astonishingly unsympathetic demands of employees. How many times have we heard the pleas of employers who insist a minimum wage intrudes unfairly on the free-market, who insist collective bargaining impairs competitiveness, who insist taxes on business profits impede job creation. And while the chiefs ardently make their pleas for unfettered, Darwinist capitalism, they extract from the same ostensibly suffering business salaries and bonuses that reach many multiples of the least well paid in their organization, multiples that exceed in some cases more than 10,000 times the wage of their lowest paid staff, i.e. $20,000 vs. $200,000,000 per year.

How do these crass entrepreneurs, these venal captains of industry justify such incomes for themselves while at the same time justify meager pay and benefits, meager financial security, for the least compensated? The simple formula derives from the fact that the best paid feel a sense of entitlement to such largess derived from an over-inflated sense of self worth, while they feel absolutely nothing for those whose labor enables their compensation. They feel no sense of obligation, much less shame when they take so much, and give so little.

How is that possible? How is it possible to accrue so much to oneself, and to feel no compulsion to share collectively attained profits with the staff, the nation, the culture that created the conditions for generating that wealth? The answer derives from one condition: those who freely exploit exist unburdened by empathy. Empathy is the force that holds the majority back, prevents them from demanding -- from taking -- that which is rightfully theirs. As the empathy-bound majority stills their hand from justifiable action, a tiny majority who feels no compunction to share wealth -- wealth created by the majority -- grab as much as they can and declare themselves righteous victors. And then they smile and say, "To the victor goes the spoils." In their eyes, after all, life is a battle, and since they feel nothing for their victims, no empathy whatsoever, they are the perfect free-market soldiers.

For an egregious example of the empathy-less, perfect free-market soldier, consider the folks who invented Pay-Day loans with interest rates that exceed 400%, loans made to the least capable of enduring such usury; people who earn minimum-wage, with no health insurance, and no savings to buffer them against day to day exigencies; the most vulnerable, marginal workers in our economy. Yet, the Pay-Day loan-makers see only a source of profit in the wages of kitchen staff, motel housekeepers, nursing home orderlies, farm workers, convenience store clerks. The Pay-Day loaners claim to provide a valuable service. They truly believe that line. They lack empathy.

Consider the profiteers who dreamed up sub-prime loans with ballooning interest rates they knew perfectly well their clients could never sustain. The underwriters laugh at clients put on the street while surrounding home values plummet and millions lose the life savings invested in their homes. They laugh at deceived 401K investors who saw their retirement accounts evaporate when they bought securities derived from bundles of these worthless mortgages; securities rated AAA by ratings agencies. Yet, the underwriters feel no sense of responsibility for the pain they inflicted on homeowners and middle-class investors. They lack empathy.

Consider investment bankers who execute proprietary trades to bet against the securities they sell to deliberately deceived pension fund managers. The pensions of thousands evaporated while the bankers took home immense windfalls. Yet, the bankers feel no shame. They are proud of their market acumen. They boast of their domination of the witless. They lack empathy.

Consider weapon vendors who sell overpriced weapons to our government with the implicit threat that not buying such weapons consigns our nation to destruction by invisible but implacable forces of evil, that politicians who object to such excessive expenditures of our national treasure are complicit with forces of evil. After they shame politicians -- and bribe politicians -- into compliance, they lobby those politicians to provoke hostilities with other nations. This insures they will sell even more weapons, while unjustifiable war wreaks havoc on millions of innocent civilians. Yet, the politicians and war profiteers feel no shame, no guilt, no sense of obligation to those whose lives they ruin. They lack empathy.

Even amongst the exploited, amongst the indebted, wage-earning majority there are multitudes who lack empathy, and hope one day to do the exploiting for a change. They are not evil. But they lack empathy. Consequently, they lead hollow, empty lives, and grow angry because they never get the material compensation they feel owed. Among them, it seems, are observers who insist they do not "get" Occupy Wall Street. Surely, most of the obtuse who claim the point of the occupy protests escapes them are well and truly part of the 99% -- likely even the bottom half of the 99% -- they have at least one thing in common with the exploitative, venal 1%: they are incapable of empathy.

Who possesses empathy and puts it to good use? Think of those who sacrifice what little free time and spare change they have to the public good; to leave the world a better place; to give more than they take: environmental activists, animal rights activists, child-welfare advocates, human-rights advocates, anti-war protesters, labor activists, government accountability activists, progressive taxation activists, etc, etc. Gnawing, relentless empathy drives them to act. Those who lack empathy condemn the activists amongst us as simple-minded do-gooders, as busybodies, as tree-huggers, as smelly hippies, as -- wait for it -- socialists.

Those who lack empathy do not understand the urge that compels the empathetic to upend the status quo. The notion frightens them into self-induced rigor mortis. Think of the activists who founded this country. They had empathy. Think what the status quo-ers of our society -- the Fox News bloviators and their minions -- would do with them. Empathy must prevail. It will.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Labor Joins Occupy Detroit In Solidarity March

I joined a march through Detroit today, along with several labor unions, and the protesters from Occupy Detroit. (see: Unions rally with Occupy Detroit) It was the first time I did a march. It felt a little surreal to chant the slogans I had heard so many times on LiveStream. It was like stepping through the fourth wall. But it felt good. And it felt sad, too -- so many good people, hard-working people, the people who build and maintain our society are on their knees, brought low by a regressive tax system, and offshoring of jobs under the spectre of free trade, which is anything but free. Free-trade cost Detroit its prosperity. Free-trade, offshoring, and bad tax policy cost the United states its broad, inclusive prosperity. That and corrupt government bought by incompetent, criminally venal corporate management.

Things will change, though. They have to. Folks are getting up off their knees, and they are angry. The question is, how much worse will the economy and the environment get before the country -- the entire country -- stands up and boots corporations and corrupt politicians out of our government.

Here's some pics:

The labor march -- union members, occupiers, sympathetic citizens -- arrives at Grand Circus Park, Detroit

Marchers gather at the base of the Hazen Pingree statue to hear speeches from labor leaders and occupiers.

Occupier Art

Sandwiches prepared by volunteers and given to anyone who was hungry.

A quote from Hazen Pingree, a visionary, progressive, four-term Detroit mayor and twice Michigan governor. He was one of the first to warn against unfettered corporate influence in the public sphere. A plaque on  a statue of Pingree in Grand Circus Park, where the occupiers are camped reads: “The citizens of Michigan erect this monument to the cherished memory of Hazen S. Pingree. A gallant soldier, an enterprising and successful citizen, four times elected mayor of Detroit, twice governor of Michigan. He was the first to warn the people of the great danger threatened by powerful private corporations. And the first to awake to the great inequalities in taxation and to initiate steps for reform. The idol of the people. He died June 18, MDCCCI, aged 60 years.”

Signs left behind by marchers, and preserved near the fountain.

The campsite.

"Comfort" -- protesters provide food, blankets & clothing to homeless as well as occupiers.

"This is what peaceful revolution looks like."

Chalked on the fountain: "Superman never made any money saving the world from Solomon Grundy"

One Occupier

I met an occupier named Martin (not his real name -- he deserves a little privacy). He camps at OccupyDetroit. He always liked camping, he said. Now maybe he doesn't have a choice. I did not ask a lot of questions, but he told me a few things. Martin has lived in many places: Alaska, California, Florida, North Carolina, and now Michigan. He looked young and fit. I would be surprised if he was over thirty. He struck me as smart and personable.

He spoke of family members who died of unfortunate afflictions. He seemed to flinch a little at their recollection, as though the memories sting. These deaths affected the stability of the family he grew up in. His father disappeared and he and his mother moved into an uncle's place. The uncle was one of a set of triplets, two of whom subsequently died.

He told me he does not drink. He can't. He did and it did not work out for him, and now he doesn't. He's seen a lot ugly things in his life. He's seen people fall down and stay down -- people close to him. And my impression was that he does not want to be one of them. He said he'd like a job; that he lost his identification documents; that he is trying to reacquire these documents so he can get a job. For now, he is a camper at OccupyDetroit.

Martin stands as one of the troops, peacefully -- quietly -- breaking down the barricades of injustice for the rest of us. He shivers in the dark through cold nights, he shakes off the rain when the wind blows it in his face and there is nothing to do but duck, and he waits for the sun to shine again, and bring a little warmth into his external existence. Martin is not lost -- he is young, and vigorous, and sharp -- but the rest of us will be lost if we do not create a society that offers a guy like Martin a little help to get on his feet. I think if help were offered, he would take it and thrive. And probably return the favor. We need that society now.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Severn Suzuki Speaks Truth To Power

(UN Earth Summit, 1992)

Give this speech a listen. 
It's a child's perspective on a dying planet.
If it doesn't give you chills, or make you cry, 
you are already dead...

Now, do something...
  • Inform others: acquire and share knowledge
  • Inspire others: live cleaner and smaller
  • Create better government: support real leaders
  • Shame poor government: protest peacefully, persistently, loudly

Monday, October 3, 2011

Right-Wing Reactionaries Lie, Then and Now

Situationist leaflet in Denmark.[73]

Back in the 1950's, following the insanity of WWII, and influenced by Dadaism and Surrealism, the French filmmaker and political theorist, Guy Debord, (Howls for Sade [1952], and  Society of the Spectacle [1972]) initiated a movement called, Situationist International, which is outlined in wikipedia here.

Below, I excerpt some passages from that Wikipedia entry I think are relevant to current complaints against modern Western society enumerated by participants in the "occupy wall street" movement. (Go ahead, take a swipe at wikipedia, and me for using it, now -- let's get that out of the way).

I am certain the references to Marx will make the right wingers who stumble errantly on this page wither with rage. That's not my intention, but it can't be helped, reactionaries will be reactionary, after all.

Anyway, here are the excerpts:
With their ideas rooted in Marxism and the 20th century European artistic avant-gardes, they advocated experiences of life being alternative to those admitted by the capitalist order, for the fulfillment of human primitive desires and the pursuing of a superior passional quality. For this purpose they suggested and experimented with the construction of situations, namely the setting up of environments favorable for the fulfillment of such desires. Using methods drawn from the arts, they developed a series of experimental fields of study for the construction of such situations, like unitary urbanism and psychogeography.
They fought against the main obstacle to the fulfillment of such superior passionate living, identified by them in advanced capitalism. Their theoretical work peaked with the highly influential book The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord. Debord argued in 1967 that spectacular features like mass media and advertising have a central role in an advanced capitalist society, which is to show a fake reality in order to mask the real capitalist degradation of human life. To overthrow such a system, the Situationist International supported the May '68 revolts, and asked the workers to occupy the factories and to run them with direct democracy, through workers' councils composed by instantly revocable delegates.
The Situationists played a preponderant role in the May 1968 (Paris) uprisings,[41] and to some extent their political perspective and ideas fueled such crisis,[41][42][43] providing a central theoretic foundation.[44][45][46][47][48][49] While the SI's member count had been steadily falling for the preceding several years, the ones that remained were able to fill revolutionary roles for which they had patiently anticipated and prepared for. Incredible as it may seem, the active ideologists (“enragés” and Situationists) behind the revolutionary events in Strasbourg, Nanterre and Paris, numbered only about one or two dozen persons.[50]
The situationist theory of the spectacle is a development and application of the Marxist concepts of commodification, reification and alienation.[62]
The spectacle is the unified, ever-increasing mass of image-objects and commodified experience detached from every aspect of life, fused in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished.[62]
To survive, the spectacle must maintain social control and effectively handle all threats to the social order. Recuperation, a concept first proposed by Guy Debord,[65] is the process by which the spectacle intercepts socially and politically radical ideas and images, commodifies them, and safely incorporates them back within mainstream society.[65] More broadly, it may refer to the appropriation or co-opting of any subversive works or ideas by mainstream media. It is the opposite of détournement, in which conventional ideas and images are commodified with radical intentions.[65]
The situationists observed that the worker of advanced capitalism still only functions with the goal of survival. In a world where technological efficiency has increased production exponentially, by tenfold, the workers of society still dedicate the whole of their lives to survival, by way of production. The purpose for which advanced capitalism is organized isn't luxury, happiness, or freedom, but production. The production of commodities is an end to itself; and production by way of survival.
The theorists of the Situationist International regarded the current paradigm of work in advanced capitalist society as increasingly absurd. As technology progresses, and work becomes exponentially efficient, the work itself becomes exponentially more trivial. The spectacle’s social function is the concrete manufacture of alienation. Economic expansion consists primarily of the expansion of this particular sector of industrial production. The “growth” generated by an economy developing for its own sake can be nothing other than a growth of the very alienation that was at its origin.
Debord argues that in advanced capitalism, life is reduced to an immense accumulation of spectacles, a triumph of mere appearance where "all that once was directly lived has become mere representation".[85][86] The spectacle, which according to Debord is the core feature of the advanced capitalist societies,[87] has its "most glaring superficial manifestation" in the advertising-mass media-marketing complex.[88]
By 1972, Gianfranco Sanguinetti and Guy Debord were the only two remaining members of the SI. Working with Debord, in August 1975, Sanguinetti wrote a pamphlet titled Rapporto veridico sulle ultime opportunità di salvare il capitalismo in Italia (English: The Real Report on the Last Chance to Save Capitalism in Italy),[60] which (inspired by Bruno Bauer) proported to be the cynical writing of "Censor", a powerful industrialist. The pamphlet argued that the ruling class of Italy supported the Piazza Fontana bombing and other covert, false flag mass slaughter for the higher goal of defending the capitalist status quo from communist influence. The pamphlet was mailed to 520 of Italy's most powerful individuals. It was received as genuine and powerful politicians, industrialists and journalists praised its content. After reprinting the tract as a small book, Sanguinetti revealed himself to be the true author. In the outcry that ensued [61] and under pressure from Italian authorities Sanguinetti left Italy in February 1976, and was denied entry to France.
Worth a ponder, at least, right? I found out about this movement by chance while doing a little research for another endeavor related to contemporary art. I stumbled on a link to Situationist International in an entry that describes "Culture Jamming," which I arrived at via "Contemporary Art." A strange attractor kind of serendipity going on there I think.

It appears the Situationists had the whole media advertising, broadcast TV, disinformation funnel figured out. And they figured it out sixty years ago. Corporations in the US, and politicians owned by corporations for that matter, do take provocative, unsettling imagery, and wash away with money all of the negative impact -- think of mountaintop removal, deep ocean drilling, hydro-fracking, global warming, corporate campaign contributions, and religion trumping science in schools with creationism. And then think of how these topics are laundered for popular consumption: clean coal, energy independence, domestic jobs, natural climate change, First Amendment guaranteed free speech, an equally valid, competing scientific theory. Bullshit. Not one of these things bring any good at all. And the crazy Situationists saw it coming. We are being manipulated. And not for the better. Not for our better, anyway. We are being manipulated so we lie down and go to sleep while corporate thugs steal our money and futures, and destroy our planet.

Beware though, the Situationist International page has the word "Communism" on it, which pretty much rules it out as a contributor to modern US political dialectic. If you dare to mention Marxism, Communism, or even Socialism -- maybe especially Socialism -- the right-wing, reactionary, pseudo-libertarians will turn red, scream, and blow you down with gobs of spit sprayed at you along with their epithets, including parabolic references to Hitler and Fascism; references which the uninitiated will find baffling and unintelligible. You need a secret decoder ring to figure out what the hell these automatons are talking about. Their logic always tunnels through the disinformation sewer back to Nazi Germany, though...or Stalinism, or Castro's Cuba (all bad places and times). And when your eyes glaze over with confusion and dismay, your screeching interlocutor will insist you learn your history, Pal. They always throw in a patronizing diminutive like, "Pal," just to unnerve you a bit. Or, is that an unconscious tick of hot-tempered, Hitler-loving reactionaries everywhere? I am not sure. Maybe you can tell me. Learn your history, Pal.

For the record, I am too old and cynical to think Communism could ever deliver a fair and equitable society, but I do think Marx and Engels were pretty smart -- smarter than me, anyway. They had a lot of seemingly prescient ideas. Finally, I don't think Socialism is as bad as the US right-wing corporatists would have one believe, nor do I think it is executed flawlessly anywhere. But where Socialism is practiced, or more precisely, social democracy is practiced, I think it delivers a more socially just version of capitalism where people are not kicked to the curb and left to die if they are too old, sick, or mentally unraveled to earn a decent, living wage -- or, if economic conditions induced by the incompetence of corporate leadership precludes the possibility of earning a living wage. And social democracy, where it's been practiced so far at least, delivers societies where 99% of the wealth is not controlled by a corrupt 1% of the population.

So, you right-wing, reactionary, corporatist flunky, before you start calling me silly names like fascist, communist, socialist, Marxist, or even social democrat -- I'm not. Yet. I still believe fair and honest competition -- real capitalism -- works best for everyone. But take out the fair and honest, and you lose me, and a lot of other folks. The Situationists are back.

Peace & Love.

Cover of film The Society of the Spectacle, by Guy Debord, 1973

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Look out. A Goldman Economist Offers A Plan To "Fix" the Economy

Sven Jari Stehn

A Goldman Sachs economist, Sven Jari Stehn, has definitely jumped the shark, or expects the US to. The audacity of this plan is exceeded only by the insanity of it. And guess who picks up the tab, via increased cost of living and devaluation of savings? You guessed it: the same wage-earners who picked up the tab for the financial industry's previous boondoggles and extortion of the middle class. Increased inflation wacks the working hardest because they expend more of their income on commodities like food and fuel, and because they lack sophisticated investments to hedge against inflation. Cheers, Sven. I hope this brilliant plan works out for you. And I hope you never have to work for a living.
But with an overload of pessimism already in the market, the Fed's "Twist" announced last week-in which it plans to swap out $400 billion of short-term government debt on its $2.8 trillion balance sheet and buy-longer-duration Treasurys-also has dampened enthusiasm for fundamental economic growth.
The Treasury market is sending the message that inflation, in particular the healthy kind that comes from growth, is dead for now as the central bank commits to a zero-interest rate policy for at least the next two years.
"One source of inflation is a healthy economy running at full tilt and companies exercising pricing power over the consumers of their goods and services," Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx in New York, wrote in his daily market analysis.
"A 10-year note yielding less than 2 percent signals that Treasury buyers do not think such a scenario will play out until 2021 at the earliest," he continued. "That means little domestic earnings growth through the cycle and even less in the way of a recovery in domestic labor markets. Hard assumptions to justify owning equities, to be sure."
That idea of generating positive inflation has gained prominence recently as forecasts for gross domestic product growth come down and the Fed advances its idea to drive down borrowing costs from already near-record lows.
Over the weekend, Goldman Sachs economist Sven Jari Stehn released a bold proposal that would entail a joint effort between the Fed and Congress.
Washington, under Stehn's plan, would embark on an aggressive stimulus program using government debt. The Fed then would crank up the printing presses and simply monetize the debt away once growth has reached a desired level. 
It's a dangerous plan that risks inflation, particularly when the headline rate is at 3.6 percent and the core rate-stripping out food and energy-is at 1.8 percent, near the Fed's desired range of 2 percent. The controlling of inflation is half of the central bank's dual mandate, so the idea is representative of how desperate the market is of creating growth.
"Combining fiscal stimulus with a change in the Fed's targeting regime and further purchases of Treasury securities would be a powerful device to enhance the credibility of the Fed's commitment to push up prices," Stehn wrote in a research note. "Such cooperation would be a radical but highly effective tool: fiscal policy would accumulate additional public debt and the Fed would inflate it away."

Fed's 'Twist' Pulling Down Bond Yields-Are Stocks Next?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Jobs, You Say, Mr. President?

Land in Alberta Befor and After Tar Sand Oil Extraction photo: Watchdog Progressive

The president will approve the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, planet be damned (current "cancellation" not withstanding), I know it. I feel it. Or, maybe he has turned Republican too many times already, so I am conditioned to expect the worst. I think he fears Republican politicians, and so-called business "leaders" (who should really be called "rich-folk-leaders") calling him a "job-killer." It isn't environmental regulations (quite the contrary, such regulations create jobs), and it isn't uncertainty (business in predicated on uncertainty -- hence competition, profits, and loss!) that prevents the creation of jobs. It is impoverishment of the middle-class. And that is due solely to Republican Starve the Beast policy, and the craven and callous short term greed of "business leaders" who sold off our manufacturing base for pennies on the dollar, and became importers.

Anyway, here is a letter I have sent to the President about ten times (the XL part, the Renewable Energy Standard [RES] part I added today). You might want to send something similar, or identical. Feel free. In fact, do it right now. Here is the link to the White House:

Dear Mr. President,

    I urge you to deny a permit to the Keystone XL pipeline. Tar sand oil extraction is a colossal environmental disaster. If you permit this pipeline, you will be giving the nod to the immediate destruction of vast tracts of Alberta, and ultimately to our oceans, forests, and thousands of species... not to mention the renewable energy job opportunities lost through opportunity cost and the economic impacts of a ruined US environment and reputation.
    Jim Hansen, a renowned climate scientist at NASA, condensed the message well: "Tar sands production is game over for global warming mitigation." If you stand up for nothing else during your presidency, stand up for this; stop Keystone XL, and be remembered as the only president who stood up to Big Oil. Thanks.

    Incidentally, if you are interested in creating good, long-term, domestic jobs, A Renewable Energy Standard of at least 15% (how about 25% by 2025, still an embarrassingly modest goal -- ask Mr. Chu) provides essential motivation for utilities to replace existing inefficient, toxic, capital intensive electricity generators with efficient, cost-effective, labor-intensive renewable energy.

    Replacing coal with renewable energy -- a plausible, cost-effective plan -- would create 4.5 million net jobs, and generate $4.3 trillion in job-creating economic activity. (

    So why not support an RES (i.e. S.559.IS, as well as the REC bill, S.1291)? Because you fear energy industry propagandists will attack you. Fear. That's the only reason not to vigorously promote renewable energy. Fear that you will not be re-elected.

    Please find the courage to act in the best interest of your constituents and promote renewable energy with all the enthusiasm you can muster. It is our only hope for a viable economic and environmental future.

Thanks, again.   
Jim Welke
Green Collar Jobs, via climatelab photo: Solar Richmond

Monday, September 19, 2011

#takewallstreet #occupywallstreet

Some say occupywallstreet has not articulated their complaints clearly enough. I disagree. If you listen to what occupiers talk about in their live feed, or read what is on their website,, or on the adbusters page devoted to occupywallstreet, or on the Facebook page, or the NYC General Assembly page, the motives of occupywallstreet become eminently clear. Those who don't understand, need to clear the scales from their eyes, as one old book put it.

It may be presumptuous of me, but here are a few ideas I think -- or have gathered -- the occupywallstreet protesters are sacrificing their time, and risking their safety for:
  • It's about greed-blinded corporatism, not genuine, free-market commerce
  • It's about free-market capitalism, not unlawfully-fixed-market capitalism
  • It's about fair trade, not job-stealing, free-trade empty promises of prosperity
  • It's about outsourcing jobs and offshoring profits and de-unionizing wage earners
  • It's about no healthcare for working poor, but bailouts for the rich -- cheers
  • It's about tax-free private-equity takeover and liquidation of mfg jobs & knowhow
  • It's about 15% cap gain regressive tax rewards for selling out the middle class
  • It's about regressive tax law that concentrate wealth among those who destroy us
  • It's about privatizing profit for 1% and socializing loss at the expense of 99%
  • It's about trading broad, tolerant prosperity for narrow, hateful oligarchy
  • It's about commodity speculation imposing de facto taxes on trampled wage-earners
  • It's about a securities transaction tax to quench speculation and fund prosperity
  • It's about a securities transaction tax to diminish speculation induced inflation
  • It's about educating the duped who don't know they've been duped
  • It's about saving agriculture from corporatist monoculture and toxic GMO's
  • It's about squandering more on defense than the next 18 big spenders combined
  • It's about Congress, the Executive, and Judiciary bought by corporate lobbyists
  • * It's about Constitution trampling, police-state, "Patriot" Act surveillance
  • It's about the impossibility of repaying usurious student loans if no jobs exist
  • It's about Constitution trampling, police-state, surveillance of citizens
  • It's about austerity measures during a depression leading to trickle down disaster
  • It's about gambling with and losing other people's money, then demanding charity
  • It's about people who drink corporatist Kool-Aid, and the rest of US get hungover
  • It's about lazy laggards who cling to lobbied-for-and-obediently-legislated-filthy-stolen-lucre

A modest demand: before the 99% votes for them, let's insist politicians register as independents & refuse corporate $$$

Read more about this artificially concocted "economic crisis."

Update 10-Oct:
Former Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) concisely summarizes what he thinks Occupy Wall Street is all about (I think he is right, and I suspect most protesters would agree):

Update 3-Oct: I don't know what to call this except a big can of whoop-ass opened up on Fox News by a guy with some serious interview game. Hoo-rah for the man on the street. I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it any-f-ing more!

Watch live streaming video from globalrevolution at

From Flux, Media Center, OccupyWallStreet, Zucotti Park -- give it a look, it's impressive:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Coal Mine Industry Shill?

Otter Creek Coal Tracts
photo: katfranchino

Sen. Carmine Mowbray (R-MT 6th District), a first term, governor appointed, state senator in Montana's legislature, offers a fine example of how it sounds when you are bought, fully bought, in her article, "Capitol Letters — 'It's All About Business'," in the Lake County Leader, a local paper she owns in her district. She advocates strip mining Otter Creek, where the state cut land lease auction rates from $0.25 to $0.15 per ton (which is between two and six times lower than Wyoming rates) when Arch Coal said the rates were too high. Arch Coal subsequently bid on the rights to strip mine Otter Creek, and won. The land was leased to them for coal mining by the state without first performing an environmental impact statement. Earth Justice and the Sierra Club sued Montana and Arch Coal over that gesture, and in January a judge denied Montana and Arch Coal's motion to dismiss the case, saying the case had merit.

Senator Mowbray cheer leads for coal strip-mining like I've never seen coal strip-mining cheer led for before...
I jumped at the chance to join several legislators in Billings for Arch Coal’s field trip in August. We boarded our bus early for a full day of economic education. We observed Montana’s Otter Creek proposed coal tract, with the potential to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and several hundred Montana jobs. Looking over the beautiful country, I asked Senator Jim Peterson, “How would YOU feel if Arch came to your ranch and told you they were going to displace you and your neighbors for up to 20 years so they could gouge out the coal beneath your land?” 
He said, “I could temporarily relocate and they’d leave the land as good or better than they found it, or I’d take the buy-out money and go elsewhere to ranch.” 
We continued south of Gillette to the Black Thunder mine, the largest surface coal mine in North America. We entered the control house of the huge drag line, mesmerized by the garage-sized bucket, colossal pulleys and cables the diameter of fence posts.
Our guides explained their approach to responsible resource development. The mine produces roughly 81 million tons of coal per year and employs over 1,600 people. Average wage is over $77,000. In 2009 the coal industry provided over $1 billion to Wyoming’s state and local governments. After development, the disturbed land is reclaimed, which we saw as wildlife and cattle grazed. 
The pride the men and women take in these jobs was obvious. Arch has an admirable safety record, and they have no problem finding good people to fill positions. Montana stands to gain greatly by responsible coal development. 
With a healthy economy, more folks are likely to stroll through their local farmer’s markets, stimulating trade with businesses, small and large.
Senator Mowbray is just so happy about strip-mining coal. And that fellow senator, Jim Peterson, if they wanted to strip mine his land, why he'd just go elsewhere to ranch. Sure. It's that easy, I bet. These folks are leading their constituents into the abyss, and I suspect their constituents -- most anyway -- have no idea what's in the abyss.
coal strip mine
photo: Coal Power
Ms. Mowbray was appointed in 2011 to replace Senator John Brueggeman, who resigned. But, look at the money contributed by the mining industry to Montana's candidates the year Mr. Brueggeman was first elected to the senate: Montana 2004 Mining Contributions

I reckon Ms. Mowbray can expect some generous contributions from coal mine operator Arch coal, seeing how she so enthusiastically supports strip mining Otter Creek -- and permanently destroying Otter Creek.

I write about this case because it is such an egregious example of politicians working to promote the interests of industry over the interests of their constituents. They destroy public land in exchange for campaign contributions, and $250 million a year in state tax & royalty revenue. The strip mine will create a few jobs (about 250 at each of two mines for 40 years, and 500 to construct the Tongue River Railroad, for 2-3 years), but the cost of dealing with the ensuing environmental degradation will surely exceed the tax & royalty revenue, which incidentally must be used to finance state education programs. Other state money will undoubtedly be used to subsidize mines with new roads and increased road maintenance, power lines, and perpetual treatment of polluted groundwater -- and in Montana, groundwater is dear.

By the way, Arch Coal will need new rail lines along Tongue River to get the coal out. That requires rights of way and more land ruined for other uses. Ranchers are fighting this in court.

Folks in Montana won't get much for the destruction of their land. And the costs have not even been calculated since Montana didn't bother with an environmental impact study before leasing the land. Not to mention the intangible moral cost of pristine land and the animals and plants that inhabit it destroyed forever for something we do not even need -- Arch intends to export this coal. Besides, renewable energy and efficiency could easily, cost-effectively, job-intensively, immediately replace this coal, and create 4.5 million jobs, over and above those lost by coal miners, and other dirty-energy workers. And it would add $4.3 trillion of domestic revenue to our economy.

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe, just to the west of the Otter Creek tracts, will be done to by the mining companies, too. They already have mines to the north and south, and dirty, dusty, noisy, constant coal trains on all sides. So this is just one more insult added to a long list of injuries. These people, like common American wage-earners, are relegated to third class status -- "shut up and take what we give you," is the corporate party line, and Arch Coal will stick with that party line to great effect. The Cheyenne did get a settlement from the State of Montana, but the reality is that not much is settled in the Cheyennes' favor. The Cheyenne fought for redress, and their effort warrants praise, but they are aligned once again in opposition to formidable if not impervious forces. Here is a summary from the MMB FAQ:
Prior to the federal conveyance of the Otter Creek tracts, the Land Board entered into a February 19, 2002, Settlement Agreement with the Northern Cheyenne Tribe (NCT). The NCT had concerns over potential impacts to the NCT from development of a mine at Otter Creek. They filed suit against the federal government opposing the transfer, but withdrew that suit after entering into an agreement with the Land Board. Key provisions of the Settlement Agreement include:
  • Federal impact legislation;
  • Improvements by the state of key off-Reservation roads;
  • Cooperative enforcement agreements among the Tribe, counties and, if appropriate, the State Highway Patrol.
  • Otter Creek related training and employment opportunities for members of the Tribe and other local residents;
  • Otter Creek related contracting opportunities for the Tribe and its members;
  • Environmental monitoring of air, water and biological resources on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation which may be affected by mining operations;
  • A cultural resource program addressing Northern Cheyenne historic, cultural, religious and burial sites or items, including plants having cultural or religious significance.
If the Land Board issues any coal leases in the Otter Creek project area, these leases will expressly require the lessee to comply with the provisions of the Settlement Agreement.
One day, Montana's residents will find themselves living in a toxic wasteland, dying of mysterious ailments, and wondering why nobody warned them. Well, you've been warned.

strip mining stream pollution
photo: one penny sheet
If you want more detailed info about Otter Creek, and western coal mining, and coal exporting in general, have a look at this exceptionally well done white paper from the Northern Plains Resource Council:
Exporting Powder River Basin Coal: Risks and Costs

I'll end this with Montana's Minerals Management Bureau FAQ that can also be found here:
Otter Creek Coal Proposal
Fact Sheet
June 25, 2009
Prepared by Montana DNRC
What is the coal leasing process? How do my comments fit into the process?
The department and Governor’s office have received significant interest in having the Otter Creek state coal tracts put forth for public bidding. In May 2008 the Land Board authorized the department to prepare a coal leasing appraisal to assist the board in its review of whether or not and upon what terms to place the state school trust coal rights up for lease. The department is now making the appraisal available for review and public comment, as provided by state statute. (77-3-312, MCA)
If the Land Board decides to solicit competitive bids on state coal leases at Otter Creek, the board will utilize the appraisal and public comments received to design a bid package to secure fair market value for the coal leases. If a bid or bids are received, the Land Board will evaluate whether to accept or reject the bids. If the Land Board determines it has received an acceptable bid, it would then direct the department to issue coal leases to the successful bidder.
How much coal exists at Otter Creek? What is its development potential?
State recoverable coal totals 616 million tons, or about one-half of the total 1.3 billion ton reserve.
Of that, 572.3 million tons of state coal is not leased.
What revenues could be generated from leasing and development of the Otter
Creek property?
State coal leases generate two types of revenue for the school trust beneficiary – rentals and
royalties. Rentals are payments made by the lessee to hold the lease. Rentals may include bonus payments, which are amounts offered through a competitive bid process over and above the first year base rental. If the coal lease is developed, royalties are paid on each ton of coal removed from the lease. Royalties represent the state’s share of the gross revenue generated when the coal is sold. Royalties constitute the overwhelming majority of gross revenue generated from a producing coal lease.
The appraisal yields the following estimated value for the state property that may be considered for lease and development.
Minimum Bonus Payment: $37.3 million ($57.2 million if rail line is separately financed)
Annual Rentals ($3/acre): $1.0 million (over 40 years)
Royalty Payments (12.5%): $1.4 billion (over 40 years)
Since the state’s Otter Creek property is school trust land, these revenues would help support K-12 education in Montana.
If a mine were developed, the state and Powder River County would receive the following additional estimated tax payments over the life of the mine:
State of Montana Severance Tax: $2.7 billion
Gross Receipts Tax: $0.9 billion
RIT Tax: $0.072 billion
Powder River County Property Tax: $1.09 billion
Why does the appraisal analyze a coal mine project both with and without railroad
development costs?
Appraisal methodology requires an estimate to consider the development costs needed to get the production from the proposed project to market. Therefore, the base appraisal does incorporate financing costs for that portion of the Tongue River Railroad from Otter Creek to Miles City. For years state Land Boards have established a policy that all transactions involving state trust land resources be valued as if access is in place. The railroad should be viewed as if it had separate financing.
Therefore, the appraisal also calculated the net present value of the proposed mine operations
without any capital investment required for railroad construction. This calculation yielded the higher forecast bonus bid of $0.10 per ton.
What is the Settlement Agreement between the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and Land
Prior to the federal conveyance of the Otter Creek tracts, the Land Board entered into a February 19, 2002, Settlement Agreement with the Northern Cheyenne Tribe (NCT). The NCT had concerns over potential impacts to the NCT from development of a mine at Otter Creek. They filed suit against the federal government opposing the transfer, but withdrew that suit after entering into an agreement with the Land Board. Key provisions of the Settlement Agreement include:
  • Federal impact legislation;
  • Improvements by the state of key off-Reservation roads;
  • Cooperative enforcement agreements among the Tribe, counties and, if appropriate, the State Highway Patrol.
  • Otter Creek related training and employment opportunities for members of the
  • Tribe and other local residents;
  • Otter Creek related contracting opportunities for the Tribe and its members;
  • Environmental monitoring of air, water and biological resources on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation which may be affected by mining operations;
  • A cultural resource program addressing Northern Cheyenne historic, cultural, religious and burial sites or items, including plants having cultural or religious significance.
If the Land Board issues any coal leases in the Otter Creek project area, these leases will expressly require the lessee to comply with the provisions of the Settlement Agreement.
Does the issuance of coal leases authorize a mine to be developed?
No. A coal lease establishes the operating, rental and royalty provisions that the lessee must comply with, but does not authorize mining activity. The mine lessee/operator must submit detailed operating and reclamation plans to the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for permitting review pursuant to the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). This environmental review process includes opportunity for public review and comment. The lessee/operator cannot commence mining activities unless the DNRC and DEQ issue approvals.
Is coal mining and reclamation regulated in Montana?
Yes. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is charged with regulating coal
mining operations on federal, state and private lands in Montana. The DEQ reviews proposed mine operating and reclamation plans in detail pursuant to MEPA. DEQ staff inspect and monitor all phases of exploration, mining and reclamation. DEQ also calculates and requires full reclamation bonding from the mine operator.
A significant portion of the surface estate above the coal resources owned by the
state school trust is privately owned. How are surface owners compensated for
their property ownership?
While ownership of the coal estate carries with it the right to explore and develop the coal resource, the surface estate owner is entitled to compensation for the impact to their property. It is not uncommon for the operator of a surface coal mine to either purchase or enter into a long-term lease agreement with the split-estate surface owner. Where the state owns both the coal and the surface estate, the state’s surface lessee would be entitled to compensation for lease improvements on any acreage withdrawn from the surface lease.
Is there an estimate of how many jobs this project might create?
A briefing packet prepared during the Federal process of transferring the Otter Creek tracts to the State of Montana provides the following job estimates:
• Construction of Tongue River Railroad (2-3 years): 500
• New mine 1 (40+ years): 261
• New mine 2 (40+ years): 225

there is a plan...

everyone's friend, David Koch

Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but...

1. Unemployment is way up. Folks are desperate for jobs, which means they will work harder for less. And they won't clamor for unions, health care, pensions, or a minimum wage.

2. Taxes have been cut to the point of government insolvency. Local, state, and the federal government can either raise taxes, or cut programs that provide education and safety nets for the poor and middle-class: mainly education, food stamps, housing assistance, energy assistance (home heating & cooling), small business assistance, public transportation, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security. With these programs diminishd, folks are more desperate for jobs, and more willing to work harder for less (witness the early days of the industrial revolution: 14 hour days, 7 days a week, child labor, no worker health & safety rules, no minimum wage -- a dream for corporate management).

3. The economy is barely growing, or even contracting, so raising taxes can be dismissed as "job killing." This leaves government shrinkage as the only tenable option.

All of the above suits the Republican Party's corporate campaign contributors just fine. So, Republicans continue to cut taxes, shrink government, and encourage off-shoring to keep unemployment high. And this facilitates the election of a Republican president, who will accelerate the US charge toward third-world oligarchy and concentration of wealth. Count on it. There is a plan...
WPA: unemployed shown at Volunteers of America Soup Kitchen: Washington, D.C. (Circa 1936)
(Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Citizens United Ruling Eats Citizens' Lunch

The Supreme Court ruling on the Citizens United case, which grants corporations "personhood" is not good for the election process in the US ...if you are merely a human being, that is. If you are a corporation with corrupt practices that need political protection, then you are in luck. In the words of B Jules, political action video producer and performer:
On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in elections cannot be limited because it is protected by the First Amendment. The ruling has enabled a flood of corporate and interest-group funded electioneering communications. It will be up to Americans to decide whether this ruling righted a previously unjust limitation or whether it creates unjust and artificial advantages for some citizens over others.
And B Jules' latest work -- watch, it's worth it:

And, now...write your congressional representatives! Tell 'em to legislate this ruling out of existence with campaign finance reform: no corporate money funneled into campaigns. None. Zero. Zip. Zilch.

If you want to know more about what money is going where, pop on over to -- you'll be impressed...

Bill McKibben & Tar Sands Action: Right On!

worth watching...
Tar Sands Action: Phase I Highllights

everyone can do something to persuade the President not to approve the toxic XL Pipeline...

so do it now: call, write, show up

Sunday, August 28, 2011

What A $1.2 trillion Low Interest "PayDay" Loan Gets You

Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs; Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase and Co.; Robert P.Kelly, CEO of the Bank of New York; Ken Lewis, CEO of the Bank of America; Ronald E. Logue, CEO of State Street; John Mack, CEO of Morgan Stanley; Vikram Pandit, CEO of Citigroup; and John Stumpf, CEO of Wells Fargo, testify during the House Financial Services oversight hearing of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). Photographer: Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images

Over and above the $160 billion TARP bailout from the Treasury, various banks, including foreign banks, were gifted with low cost loans that peaked December 2008, at around $1.2 trillion. The money has since been paid back.

Still, one might question the wisdom of such loans on numerous fronts, not least of which: the moral-hazard argument; the fact that the US borrowed the money (via the sale of bonds) that it lent to banks;  the piddling interest banks paid on the loans given the extraordinary circumstances (These were like PayDay loans, and what do they charge? Like 400%! The Fed got 1.1%.); and the crummy collateral provided by the insolvent banks (stocks, junk bonds, etc.). Do you think even an established small-business should hope for a loan with such terms? Hah!

Gretchen Morgensen is a fine journalist, who cuts to the chase and offers clear provision of facts. She should be honored. Her article below refers to a Bloomberg article that should also be read if you want to understand what went on in 2008. Here's a quote:
“Bailing out firms indiscriminately hampered rather than promoted economic recovery,” Mr. Kane continued. “It evoked reckless gambles for resurrection among rescued firms and created uncertainty about who would finally bear the extravagant costs of these programs. Both effects continue to disrupt the flow of credit and real investment necessary to trigger and sustain economic recovery.”
The Rescue That Missed Main Street, NY Times
Published: August 27, 2011
Read the Times and Bloomberg stories, and check out the Bloomberg interactive graphic based on Fed data. They are required reading for civic minded citizens.