Monday, March 2, 2015

Who thinks for USA

As someone who truly believes that the ideas that drive us are possibly the most important part of our intellectual architecture, I have spent serious time in life contemplating how some ideas become so powerful.  My first brush with such ideas came as the result of growing up in a parsonage.  I soon learned that religious ideas are not only passionate, they have far too often become a matter of life and death.  This is even true when the distance between the basic ideas and the practice can be measured in light-years—try going from the Sermon on the Mount to the Spanish Inquisition, for example.

But for me, the big amazing example of how a powerful idea can quickly sweep away anything in its path was the Gulf of Tonkin incident that led to such a dramatic escalation of the Vietnam War.  I was still pretty young and so I had no defenses against this story.  I believed.  But I was still astonished how the Gulf of Tonkin could go from being a place virtually no one even knew where it was to a subject on which everyone had an opinion.  How do they do that? I wondered.  I knew religious missionaries who worked years to obtain a handful of converts—how do you change the minds of a whole nation in a few hours?

Of course, the big topic of my life—the wholesale rejection of the economics I was taught at university by professors who who believed that Keynesianism was the perfectly logical and enlightened thing to believe—is an even greater example of the power of ideas and how quickly they can change.  And it doesn't seem to matter that the Friedmanite replacement for Keynesianism is quite literally killing people.  For example, we have a pretty good idea how we could technologically address climate change but because our economic ideas will not allow it, we cannot do anything meaningful.

What follows is an interesting look at think tanks—those institutions funded to set the intellectual agenda for the world.  The subject here is USA-Russia relations but the operating principles are the largely the same for a wide assortment of subjects.

American Think Tank Policy: Not for or by the People

American think tank elitists - amazingly influential but far removed from public scrutiny and accountability - have betrayed their nation's trust

Phil Butler

The world seems more volatile, dangerous, and chaotic than it was even a year ago. The smoldering embers of a potential holocaust are nearly everywhere. With the America-EU-Russia divide, potential EU-Russia integration has been rethought by the West.

In this report I will show one major reason for this course reversal. I will also illustrate in so doing, that the policy forgers in America, are nothing like the rest of us.

I watched the other day, some Russians burning an American flag. Then a few hours later, I saw students in America burning an effigy of Vladimir Putin. The events worried me greatly. I realized that our patience is wearing thin, that our feelings are now raw. Americans, Europeans, and Russians alike, grow weary of insult and injury perpetrated by leaders who seem to know nothing of us at all. Instead of citizens blaming one another, perhaps Americans and Russians can hold accountable the real perpetrators of today’s East-West crisis.

To begin let me quote from the great American historian, author, and anti-war activist Howard Zinn who said:
“There has always been, and there is now, a profound conflict of interest between the people and the government of the United States.”
In 1979 Zbigniew Brzezinski was then President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser. He and other great thinkers in Washington devised strategies that created for the Soviets, a world strategic emergency just like the one we see today in Ukraine. The Soviet Union, baited into invading Afghanistan, got mired in 10 years of useless conflict.

As for Zbigniew Brzezinski now, he is pointedly unapologetic that his theories have been deployed in bringing down regimes, and forging American strategic aims, for better or for worse.

Brzezinski, along with other key figures like former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Robert Gates, and myriad disciples, they sit seemingly everlasting, like stone statues in some Pantheon of American exclusivist control. It is their thinking that has set us all at odds.

Washington’s stinking thinking

There’s a term that Brzezinski and other think tank brains adhere to, it’s a term the Council on Foreign Relations defines, a central strategic idea known as the “Arc of Crisis.” The concept is essentially an American strategy aimed at surrounding Russia, an ongoing and devastatingly negative fight against a convenient and well known foe. Brzezinski is used in this piece as a sort of “poster boy” for all Washington elitist movers and shakers. His books, such as; The Grand Chessboard, published in 1997, have become templates for events like the Arab Spring, the resurgent Iraq fiasco, and pointedly the Ukraine crisis. To understand today’s crisis, one has to investigate the players behind the White House.

Back in 1979 Brzezinski and his contemporaries like former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, concocted a plan to bait the Soviets into invading Afghanistan by giving aid to the Mujahedeen. The end result was tens of thousands of Russians and Afghanis dead, millions displaced, and for Brzezinski, he’d created a foreign policy “how to” for dealing with Russia. Back then, as now, Moscow did its best to show the reasons for the invasion, but to no avail. The mainstream media, and PR strategists, they ensured the American people would never believe the Russians.

Brzezinski’s documented intentions in the 1979 affair were to ensure that the Afghanistan intervention;“led to the demoralization and the breakup of the Soviet empire.” And this, he admitted later, was prioritized in his mind as, “at any cost.” However, an unforeseen result of funding the Mujahedeen back then, was the conflict America would have with more familiar modern forms of extremism (see Osama bin Laden), this was “a justified means” to the task of ending the Soviet empire. This is another story though.

Today, Brzezinski’s former pupils, and protégés, his influential think tank comrades, their business interests, they range from his son Ian Brzezinski, to ambassadors, industry titans, CIA and NSA directors, hedge fund capitalists, and yes, US and foreign presidents.

Within the ranks of these think tanks we find Barack Obama advisers like Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman (former Utah Governor). Interestingly, Huntsman was caught on amateur video in Beijing allegedly lending support for the so-called Jasmine Revolution. As for the administrations they’ve advised, this group of peers has counseled everyone since Richard Nixon.

What are they thinking?

If policy by the elite were not a bad enough issue for America, the revelation of the New York Times exposing cases where Washington think tanks received massive funding from outside the United States should be. Norway to Qatar and beyond, organizations like the Atlantic Council received funds at an alarming rate before and after Barack Obama’s inauguration. This graphic from the NYT piece paints a vivid picture of a Washington disconnect from the American people, and intensifying ties to foreign interests implicated in current crises. Outside interests essentially lobbying for US strategy to serve their purposes!

Moving forward past the tens of millions funding Washington think tanks, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and organizations like the Brookings Institution are the playgrounds for the Brzezinskis of the world. For your scrutiny, here’s a short list of his contemporaries, and some interesting affiliations:

Sam Nunn – Former US Senator and head of the Senate Armed Services Committee – is a co-chairman & CEO at CSIS now. Nunn was on the board of directors of Hess oil company, Chevron Corporation, and Texaco up until just recently. Interestingly, Hess sold off its Russia operations in April 2013 to Lukoil for $2.05 billion days after Nunn retired, and just five months prior to the Euromaidan events in Kiev.

Richard Armitage – A CSIS trustee and the 13th United States Deputy Secretary of State, Armitage was part of the so-called Plame affair, admittedly having divulged classified knowledge that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA operative. Colleagues claim when he was in Vietnam, Armitage was part of the CIA’s notorious Phoenix Program. He’s been a close advisor, and has had roles from Tehran before the Shah was deposed, to Afghanistan. Armitage is currently on the board of directors of ConocoPhillips Oil Company. Conoco sold its interests in Russian oil in 2010.

Lois Dickson Rice – The mother of Barack Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, is Director of the Think Tank Consortium at Brookings. Both have been distinguished fellows of Brookings, and Rice the junior also served as a Clinton adviser and Ambassador to the UN. Susan Rice’s long time mentor former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, was a student of Zbigniew Brzezinski, and later served under him at the National Security Council.

Henry Alfred Kissinger – This CSIS counselor and trustee literally needs no introduction. The 56th U.S. Secretary of State has been credited on the one side with recreating foreign relations intellectually and strategically. Conversely, from the Vietnam era to Senator John McCain’s defense of the dignitary at the now notorious “Get out of here you low-life scum” hearings where Kissinger was called a murderer, the aging think tank brain is part of the problem for many.

Rex W. Tillerson – The Chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil is also a CSIS trustee. Tillerson came to prominence around the time the company's holdings in Russia and the Caspian Sea grew in prominence. In 2011 he signed an agreement with the Russians for drilling in the Arctic estimated to be worth $300 billion. Exxon reportedly lost out in Siberia and in the Black Sea because of the Ukraine crisis. However, factoring in vast natural gas deals in Australia and North America, this puts Tillerson at the head of think tank curiosities, and especially given Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbot’s vehement anti-Russia temperament.

Brent Scowcroft – An advisor to presidents Nixon, Ford, Lieutenant General Scowcroft had or does hold key positions within the Washington “thinking elite’s” ranks. Bush administration, Scowcroft was Vice Chairman of Kissinger Associates, founder of The Forum for International Policy think tank, co-chair of Aspen Strategy Group, a member of the Trilateral Commission, Council on Foreign Relations, and board member of The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), as well as The Atlantic Council of the United States. His discussions of foreign policy with Zbigniew Brzezinski led by journalist David Ignatius were published in the 2008 “America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy.”

David M. Rubenstein – Rubenstein is on the Board of Trustees of think tank the Brookings Institution, and Co-Founder and Co-CEO the Carlyle Group. The Jewish billionaire was the domestic policy adviser to Jimmy Carter before forming the equity firm that has offices in 33 countries, with 1,500 limited partners in 75 countries worldwide. The largest private equity firm in the world according to Private Equity International (PEI), the group has on its lists of acquisitions the media conglomerate Nielsen Holdings N.V. Nielsen operates across over 100 countries and employs some 40,000 people worldwide. This fact leads nicely into where policy meets information and the public.

I could go on, and on, and on, and on…

Thinking: Not of Us

Whether you’re an Atlanta or Moscow resident, it’s clear the current crisis is not of our own making. In a very real way we are all victims of a strange Orwellian plutocracy. Canadian Parliamentarian and author Chrystia Freeland puts these modern plutocrats in perspective in her book; “Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.” Speaking of the elite mindset, Freeland states:
“You don't do this in a kind of chortling, smoking your cigar, conspiratorial thinking way. You do it by persuading yourself that what is in your own personal self-interest is in the interests of everybody else.”
The CSPAN segment below is at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing with several of today’s key policy evangelists. Former National Security Advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft (both at CSIS) testified using such deep intellectual language, an apparently exclusive terminology and theory, as to forever cement their separateness form the rest of us.

Listening to Scowcroft’s “undermining of the Westphalia Structure,” I wonder how many who’ve never studied European history even know of the events of 1648? Listening and watching, it’s apparent these people look at everything in an adversarial way. Take a look at one part of General Scowcroft’s testimony about governing people:
“For most of history, most of the people of the world did not participate in the politics of their system. They were just like their parents; they expected their children to be just like them, and so on. Now, they are surrounded by information and they are responding, they are reacting to it.”
So a globalized and informed public is problematic? Perhaps this is why we have been subjected to a cohesive mainstream media onslaught? The massive PR efforts, billionaire media moguls and their part, these all make more sense when media and advertising are considered. Scowcroft’s “cyber weapons,” they’re not just for Russia and China to use, America certainly has her countermeasures!

Right now Ukraine is in flames just because Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovich said “no” to the EU in favor of Vladimir Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union? Or is it because Russia is still Soviet to these ruling Washington thinkers? A partial answer lies in examining Russia’s policies toward the EU before the current crisis.

Vladimir Putin’s endeavors to integrate with greater Europe, and toward a greater EU-Russia economic integration even before 2010, I believe these policies scared some people to death in Washington.

Putin’s view was summed up in policies he made when Prime Minister. The so-called Lisbon to Vladivostok initiative laid out a mutually beneficial integration with the EU which would have spelled peace and prosperity for hundreds of millions. I quote from the English version via Spiegel International:
"We propose the creation of a harmonious economic community stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok…In the future; we could even consider a free trade zone or even more advanced forms of economic integration. The result would be a unified continental market with a capacity worth trillions of euro."
Now that we have at least a partial answer, the think tanks possessed of old Cold War ideas saw Putin’s initiatives as a threat. Regardless of the prosperity and peace Europe and Russia might enjoy, the prime directive for Washington has been to prevent Lisbon to Vladivostok.

Like some of you, I imagine an alternative reality. I can see a million or more safe at home in Ukraine, instead of in refugee camps in Russia. I can also envision parents playing with their children there, instead of looking down tearfully into their tiny caskets in the Donbass. Maybe all our problems are so simple after all?

Maybe if the thinkers out there would really think, instead of extending their own legend or bank accounts, then America and Russia together might help change the whole world for the better! I wonder now, as an American; “What if Vladimir Putin’s Lisbon to Vladivostok plan were successful?”

Instead we are left to the devices of brilliant rich people and their meetings we’re not invited to. more

Saturday, February 28, 2015

HAWB 1876 - The Granger Laws, Munn v. Illinois, TPP, and Net Neutrality - How America Was Built

I was in the middle of preparing a post on how early corporate charters included provisions to ensure that corporations would serve the general welfare, but had to deal with a grave medical issue. My doctor sent me to the ER, and for over a week following, I found I was sleeping 12 to 14 hours a day, with little energy to do much else than watch the boob tube. I had intended to return to my post on early corporate charters, but listening to the news yesterday morning on the way to pick up a prescription, decided instead to post one long excerpt from a 1912 dissertation on railroad legislation in Minnesota.

Railroads, of course, had been constructed in the United States decades before the Civil War. So had  some telegraphs. But they were not fully developed into an integrated national system until after the Civil War. There were three problems. Remember, our purpose here is to examine the history of USA economic development, to identify and adduce the proper principles of political economy for a republic. The United States was established as a republic at a point in world history where all other countries were ruled by monarchs and oligarchs. What sets the USA apart as a republic, so far as political economy is concerned, is the Constitutional mandate to promote the general welfare.


What I want to focus on here is the Dartmouth College case of 1819, which unfortunately, as time passed, became a shield behind which corporations tried to escape the regulatory will and intent of state and national governments. But as corporations became ever more powerful, and their activities affected the lives rapidly increasing numbers of people, the first stage of the populist uprising of the late 1800s emerged. This was the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry (The Grange), which was formed in the summer of 1867 and grew steadily until the financial crash of May 1873.  As the resulting economic depression wore on, The Grange was surpassed in membership, political activity. and radicalism, by the Farmers Alliances, which had adopted the much more thorough Greenback critique of American capitalism. But it was the members of The Grange that first pushed through significant legislative regulation of corporations in the1870s. These became known as the Granger laws.

One of the principal grievances The Grange, and farmers more generally had, was the railroad companies' practice of giving preferential freight rates and storage rates to larger customers. This is not quite the exact same issue of rate differentials involved in today's debate over net neutrality (in which the internet carriers argue that they should be able to charge more for faster service, thus getting larger data users to pay more for improving and upgrading internet infrastructure), but it is remarkably similar. More important are the principles of political economy that we can adduce from the significant court decisions that resulted when corporations affected by the Granger laws attempted to have those laws declared unconstitutional under the legal precedent of the Dartmouth College case. The most important case was Munn v. Illinois, 94 U.S. 113 (1876). Before we return to the historical narrative, I think an excerpt from the summary of the case will show why it is so important.
1. Under the powers inherent in every sovereignty, a government may regulate the conduct of its citizens toward each other, and, when necessary for the public good, the manner in which each shall use his own property.

2. It has, in the exercise of these powers, been customary in England from time immemorial, and in this country from its first colonization, to regulate ferries, common carriers, hackmen, bakers, millers, wharfingers, innkeepers, &c., and, in so doing, to fix a maximum of charge to be made for services rendered, accommodations furnished, and articles sold.

3. Down to the time of the adoption of the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution of the United States, it was not supposed that statutes regulating the use, or even the price of the use, of private property necessarily deprived an owner of his property without due process of law....

4. When the owner of property devotes it to a use in which the public has an interest, he in effect grants to the public an interest in such use, and must, to the extent of that interest, submit to be controlled by the public, for the common good, as long as he maintains the use. He may withdraw his grant by discontinuing the use....
These republican principals elaborated by the Supreme Court in Munn v. Illinois are, of course, completely at odds with the conservative and libertarian renderings of American economic history, which have been carefully rewritten and misinterpreted to present a view of untrammeled property rights. And I write "carefully rewritten and misinterpret" deliberately, having in view the thousands of shills and propagandists at places such as Club for Growth, American Enterprise Institute, Reason magazine, and the Cato Institute, maintained and funded by the Koch brothers and other conservative and libertarian enemies of the republic.  
 
To return to our historical narrative, here is an extended excerpt from Railroad Legislation in Minnesota, 1849 to 1875, by Rasmus S. Saby, published by the Minnesota Historical Society, in Volume XV of its Historical Collections. The Volkszeitung Company, Saint Paul, Minn. May, 1912.
P 177
Whenever attempts were made to subject the railroads to regulation in the interest of the people, they sought refuge behind the Dartmouth College decision. In this case the United States supreme court had held that the original charter of Dartmouth College constituted a contract between the Crown and the trustees of the college, which was not dissolved by the Revolution, and that an act passed by the state legislature of New Hampshire altering this charter without the consent of the corporation impaired the obligation of the contract and was therefore null and void. (n789) All rights once legally vested in corporations were thus placed beyond the reach of subsequent state legislation. “This decision,” said Chancellor Kent approvingly, “did more than any other single act proceeding from the authority of the United States to throw an impregnable barrier around all rights and franchises derived from the government; to give solidity and inviolability to the literary, charitable, religious, and commercial interests of the country.” (n790) This statement, made in 1826, seems almost prophetic in the light of later developments. The growth of corporate enterprise and the part this decision was to play could not be foreseen, even by such far-sighted men as Marshall and Kent. The doctrine laid down in this decision was followed in later cases in federal and state courts, and it soon came to be regarded as a settled principle of American constitutional law that charters of private corporations were inviolable contracts between the legislature and the corporators, and that the subsequent power of the legislature was restrained by their terms. (n791)

…. different states began almost immediately to guard against the interpretation of future charters as inviolable contracts by expressly reserving to the state legislature the right to alter, amend, or repeal acts incorporating private corporations. (n793) …A third plan was to insert this reservation of power in the state constitution. Beginning with the Delaware constitution as amended by a constitutional convention in 1831, we find that by 1866 this provision is to be found in the constitution of at least fifteen different states. (n796)

From the great amount of legislation and constitutional enactment which it provoked, it is evident that the doctrine promulgated in the Dartmouth College decision was regarded as new and not altogether acceptable by the different states. And as time went on and railroads were built and railroad corporations grew in power, the situation became more and more serious; for the new corporations, though controlling an essential factor in the economic life of the country, claimed exemption from state regulation in the interests of the public they were serving as common carriers, because their charter rights were constitutionally beyond legislative interference….

P179
….The right of the legislature to control its own creatures, the corporations, was at the time of the granger movement no longer an academic question of political and legal theory; it was a vital question in the economic life of the country, and it had to be faced squarely. Thomas M. Cooley, the eminent jurist, expressed his opinion of the situation in 1873 as follows: “It is under the protection of the decision in the Dartmouth College case that the most enormous and threatening powers in our country have been created; some of the great and wealthy corporations actually having greater influence in the country at large, and upon the legislation of the country, than the States to which they owe their corporate existence. Every privilege granted or right conferred—no matter by what means or on what pretence—being made inviolable by the Constitution [according to this doctrine], the government is frequently found stripped of its authority in very important particulars by unwise, careless, or corrupt legislation; and a clause of the Federal Constitution, whose purpose was to preclude the repudiation of debts and just contracts, protects and perpetuates the evil.” (n799)

In an address in 1873 James A. Garfield criticised the judicial application of the Dartmouth College case, and ventured the opinion that some feature of that opinion as applied to the railway and similar corporations must give way under the new elements which time had added to the problem, and said further: “It will be a disgrace to our age and to us if we do not discover some method by which the public functions of these organizations may be brought into full subordination, and that too without violence and without unjust interference with the rights of private individuals.” (n800 James A. Garfield, "The Future of the Republic: Its Dangers and its Hopes," 5 Legal Gazette Phila 408 9, Dec. 19, 1873)

P180
Railroads had from their first appearance been considered common carriers, both in England and in the United States; (n801) and this being the case, many failed to see why railroads should not like other common carriers be subject to legislative regulation. That railroads, though constructed by private corporations and owned by them, were public highways, had been the doctrine of nearly all the courts since the earliest days of railroad construction. (n802) Because they were public highways for the public benefit, the right of eminent domain had always been given to them; (n803) and courts had frequently held that the public had an interest in such roads, whether they were owned and operated by a private corporation or not. (n804) Because railroads performed public duties and functions and were indispensable to the public interests, the state legislature could rightfully tax or authorize taxation for the purpose of aiding railroads. (n805) The United States supreme court in 1872 expressed this doctrine in the following words: “A railroad built by a state no one claims would be anything else than a public highway, justifying taxation for its construction and maintenance, though it could be no more open to public use than is a road built and owned by a corporation. Yet it is the purpose and the uses of a work which determine its character.” (n806 Alcott vs The Supervisors, 16 Wall., 678, 696)

P181
The granger movement was an attempt on the part of the people to secure control over railroad corporations and to prevent extortionate and discriminating rates by legislation, which according to the usually accepted understanding of the Dartmouth College decision, would be unconstitutional. The granger states were those whose legislatures enacted such laws and provided means for their enforcement. Cases involving the constitutional rights of state legislatures to regulate railroad rates soon came before the United States supreme court from three of the four granger states, namely, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. (n809) The railroads contended that state laws fixing maximum rates, or authorizing railroad commissions to do so, were unconstitutional because they impaired the obligation of the charter contract, because they virtually deprived the corporations of property without due process of law, and, finally, because such laws were a regulation of inter-state commerce over which Congress had been given exclusive jurisdiction. (n810) The constitution of the state of Wisconsin reserved to the legislature the right to amend or repeal charters. (n811 Const. of Wis., Art 11, sec 1) The railroad corporations here argued that this reservation clause must be construed in connection with the fourteenth amendment of the federal constitution, for the right to a reasonable compensation for their services was not a franchise or privilege granted by the state, but an inherent right which could not be abridged or impaired by the state,—the question of reasonableness was not for legislative but for judicial determination. (n812)

The supreme court however followed the decision it had just rendered in the case of Munn vs. Illinois. (n813) In this case it had held constitutional an Illinois statute which fixed the maximum charges for the storage of grain in warehouses at Chicago and other places in the state having not less than one hundred thousand inhabitants. The court asserted that, under the powers inherent in every sovereignty, a government may regulate the conduct of its citizens toward each other, and, when necessary for the public good, the manner in which each shall use his property; when the owner of property devotes it to a use in which the public has an interest, he in effect grants to the public an interest in such use, and must, to the extent of such interest, submit to be controlled by the public for the common good as long as he maintains the use; of the propriety of legislative interference within the scope of legislative power, the legislature is the exclusive judge. (n814 Munn v. Illinois, 94 U.S. 113 (1876))
I have already pointed to one the principles of republican political economy we may adduce, which is that property rights are subject to regulation in the interest of the general welfare - the public interest. Saby's quote of Kent reflects another principle: the rights of the people are natural, and exist before and independent of the government, but the rights of corporations are derived from the government. It is a gross mistake to not distinguish between people and corporations, as the Supreme Court notoriously did in Citizens United v. FEC.  

Finally, in view of this history, it should be easy to see that the push to protect the profits of multi-national corporations from the regulations of national governments, as is contained in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other “free trade” agreements, is a gross violation of the long-standing legal understanding of corporations’ relationship and responsibility to the community in which they operate. These trade agreements establish extrajudicial tribunals to adjudicate "investor-state disputes" in which corporations can sue governments for "lost profits" caused by the regulations of those governments. It should be obvious that the very idea of "investor-state dispute settlement" is an abomination to the principles of a republic, as articulated in Munn v. Illinois.

Try a Google search for "investor-state dispute settlement Munn v. Illinois" and you will see that nothing pertinent comes up. It is amazing that today's critics and opponents of the TPP and other “free trade” agreements have not applied the lessons of history to these latest attempts by corporations to escape their public duty. Proving, once again, that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Naomi Klein on the economics of climate change

Naomi Klein has a new book out that already looks important.  In it she traces links between the madness of neoliberalism and the fact that we can't seem to do anything meaningful about climate change.  Of course I love it!  I have been arguing that neoliberalism can only wreck things around here for years, so I congratulate her for writing a book about why thinking like an economic primitive tends to lead to disaster.

I have a few squabbles with her ideas but none of importance.  I would have liked her to slide a bit further towards the historical Progressives than she does, but as you can see in the interview, the good neoliberal German interviewer apparently thinks she is already too radical.  He asks if we must really have an economic revolution (or at least a reformation) before we can accomplish anything about climate change.  The implication was that if that is true, we are doomed because those things take time we don't have.  This exchange:
SPIEGEL: Ms. Klein, that's nonsense, because it's illusory. You're thinking far too broadly. If you want to first eliminate capitalism before coming up with a plan to save the climate, you know yourself that this won't happen.

Klein: Look, if you want to get depressed, there are plenty of reasons to do so. But you're still wrong, because the fact is that focusing on supposedly achievable incremental changes like carbon trading and changing light bulbs has failed miserably. Part of that is because in most countries, the environmental movement remained elite, technocratic and supposedly politically neutral for two-and-a-half decades. We are seeing the result of this today: It has taken us in the wrong direction. Emissions are rising and climate change is here. 
Poor Brinkbäumer has it exactly backward.  The first order of business is to rid ourselves of the ridiculous BS that has infected the minds of the economic establishment for the past 40 years because it not only has wrecked what our grandfathers worked so hard to achieve, it has made it impossible to address the most important problem facing humanity.  Oh, and it isn't really necessary to eliminate capitalism—just the finance version demanded by the neoliberals.

Something to read over the weekend.  There is also a thoughtful piece on climate change from the perspective of the Germans who are actually trying to do something about it.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Angry heart attacks

The day after the Paul Wellstone funeral, I was driving down I-35 listening to Minnesota Public Radio. They had a panel on to discuss the "controversy" surrounding the political remarks Paul's friends had inserted into the proceedings. A Republican clown by the name of Sarah Janacek starting lying her fool head off—at one point claiming that the crowd had only cheered these remarks because the closed captioning system had put "cheers" on the big screen (because the crowd was actually cheering).

Wellstone was a friend. I was upset that he had died so suddenly. I was REALLY upset that the Republicans were now trashing his funeral. Suddenly, I began to have major chest pains. Long story short, I wound up at St. Mary's in Rochester (Mayo) where they inserted a stent in my heart.

A couple of months ago, I found out that the stent they had put in was utterly unnecessary. The doc looked at the old records and said, "Based on what I see here, you should not even have had symptoms." So I told him how angry I had been. He claimed that serious anger was not enough to have triggered the event that got me to Rochester in the first place.

I am going to send him a copy of this article.  And in the meantime, I really try not to let myself become enraged about whatever madness is threatening to destroy us all—although goodness knows, there is an excess of provocation out there waiting to drive up the rage index in anyone minimally curious or aware.  In the name of my poor ticker, the appropriate response would have been to turn off the radio.

Of course, that doesn't let the Mayo system off the hook for an unnecessary stent insertion.  It's difficult to criticize the folks at Mayo because in many ways large and small, they really have earned their reputation for being the best in the land.  The level of competence from every level of employee is breath-taking—the nurses are spectacular.  But this place is also a perfect example of what is wrong with USA medicine because it has to be the global epicenter for expensive and unnecessary testing.  Show up as a middle-aged male with chest pains, and they have tests to run and boxes to check.  Lots of Republicans in medicine and they simply could not believe I could be so overcome with grief over the death of a left-wing Democrat as to trigger an MI (or at least the symptoms.)  So it was run the angio and while they were there, insert a stent anywhere that looked like it could develop into a problem.  They were institutionally disposed to sell me a stent—a big hospital like that probably does at least 100 procedures a day like mine.  And apparently a lot of people love all this attention—folks fly in from around the world to get their medical treatment in Rochester.  It really is quite amazing.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Harvard-Smithsonian sells out

One barely knows what to think about the following story.  The very idea that someone employed by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics is a climate change denier who rejects the easily demonstrable idea that CO2 traps enough energy to actually alter the climate is shocking enough.  But that such a well-known and endowed institution makes their scientists scramble for the meagre funds from anyone willing to throw a few bucks their way explains why there are always a few cranks up for sale to say anything about almost anything.  Guy's got to make a living and Soon wasn't exactly making a pile—$1.2 million over a decade is only $120,000 a year.

This scandal also points out the fact that after the banksters, the energy companies seem to have most of the rest of the world's loose change.  Over the years, we have pointed out the goofy nonsense folks are willing to write to please the moneychangers, so why should it be any surprise that the same sort of integrity-free intellectuals are willing to whore themselves out to the energy companies.

What is especially sad about all this is that we are going to have to come to grips with the end of the Age of Petroleum whether we like it or not.  Wouldn't it be a whole lot better if the society was so organized that the large piles of money were dedicated to those fields attempting to find our way out of this trap.  Of course it would.  One of the advantages of pushing the "$100 trillion solution" is that folks could become immediately aware of where the big piles were.  Not only would it create an environment where parents would send their children off to become civil engineers so they could design the new infrastructure, it might even give someone like poor Dr. Soon honest employment.

I am also not convinced that the best way to deal with climate denial is some sort of public shaming as suggested below.  There are a lot of levels of climate denial, and it is probably a waste of time to start splitting hairs over what constitutes politically-incorrect denial.  The topic simply must become "What the hell are going to do about climate change? And how do we organize and fund such a project?"  The "whose denial is worse" question should be relegated to after hours.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Will oil prices soon be returning to "normal"?

While everyone I know is really benefitting from the lower gasoline prices, all of them assume that this is just a temporary price holiday.  In fact, the consensus seems to be that by August, gasoline might be nearing $5 / gallon as the oil people seek to recoup their losses from this spring.  The idea that these low prices were driven there by fundamentals like an oil glut is simply not believable.  Yes, there are still places on earth where the cost to produce is less than $50 / barrel, but there aren't many of them.  And almost all of the new oil coming online is very expensive indeed.  This most especially includes the output of fracking.

I don't predict oil prices because there is often a disconnect between the cost of production and the price at the pump.  I mean, here in USA, there are some serious refinery strikes going on.  Under "normal" circumstances, the oil companies would seize on this as an excuse to raise prices.  Not now.  But since oil companies will never be confused with charitable organizations, high production costs will almost always translate into higher pump prices.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Interesting lesson from the other night

A few months back, I had one of those insights that actually startled me—it dawned on me that with the development of affordable solar cells, the human race was on the verge of another era of cheap energy (and all that entails.)

Well the other night I had another.  I was describing what it was like to live in one of those super-insulated Swedish homes.  Of course, it was cozy and warm but what made it so remarkable was that in order to eliminate the possibility of mold and mildew buildup (which is a major problem with super-tight buildings) it had a positive ventilation system complete with a heat exchanger so it could renew the indoor air without heat loss.  This system was so effective that it not only sucked the moist and odorous air from the kitchen and bathrooms, but supplied warmed outdoor air to the living room and bedrooms.  And because the house was within a few hundred meters of the sea, the make-up air smelled of salt water (which was an extra treat for me who has lived my whole life near the center of a large continent.)  I exclaimed, "I never had such clear sinuses during the winter before in my life."

This was part of an explanation for a Powerpoint slide that contained the following:
What are the most important economic issues of the Producers?

Energy
Aesthetics
Honesty, Virtue
Precision
Inventiveness
Durability
Workmanship

The drag of predatory behavior
Regular readers know I cover these subjects pretty extensively so there was nothing new here.  But even so, I flashed on the question "What kind of paradise could the Producers build if they really did get their hands on the $100 trillion Tony and I have been arguing is the minimum necessary to rebuild the global infrastructure to eliminate the causes of climate change."  I mean we are talking about things like healthy indoor air times many thousands.

The future need NOT be Mad Max.  The future could just as easily be millions of people working at good jobs that would save the planet.  Instead of young people destroying their mental health because of the futility of unemployment, they could be doing work they will be proud to show their grandchildren.  And because this would be a Producer Class agenda that leveraged the Instinct of Workmanship, it would teach the virtues of a successful society.

I actually smiled about this as I fell asleep.  And in the future, I am going to try to keep from proclaiming that we must spend the $100 trillion or we all die and stress that IF we spend this sort of money, it will make a lot of us VERY happy and fulfilled.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Well, that went pretty well

One of the more strange experiences one can have is to watch yourself give a speech as recorded by someone who actually knows how to run a video camera.  I watched most of the file this morning—it ran 100 minutes including the question session.

And yes, 100 minutes trying to keep up with a bunch of retired Ph.Ds wore me out!

This was a group of Minnesota liberals who knew enough of the Midwest progressive traditions to get most of my references to Thorstein Veblen and giggled at my description of the different legacies bestowed on our politics by the various Nordic immigrant groups.  One audience member was especially upset that governor Scott Walker was assaulting the Wisconsin Idea and thanked me for mentioning the role of UW in the various Progressive ideas that have been successful over the years.

The videographer claimed during the speech's post-mortem that even though I was speaking to a highly educated group of Minnesota Liberals, most would be spending a bunch of time with Google before the night was over.  He may be right but I did attempt to use the old Populist method of using examples that people can verify on their drive home.

Anyway, I have a 18-gig AVCHD file I hope to turn into a Youtube version of the evening.  We will see if I can cram all the good stuff into a speech that lasts less than an hour.  One of the main things I learned from this was that people are really interested in a description of a future that is worth living.  I intend to expand on this theme in the next few months because it really is the best approach I have.  Yes, the solar future can be very beautiful, we CAN employ our young in useful pursuits, economics need NOT be a dismal science, etc.  Turn the Producer Classes loose on humanity's problems with sufficient resources and watch how magnificently they solve them!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Should be ready

Got the Powerpoint presentation done.
Got all the batteries charged and the equipment works.
Got to time to relax and get centered.

Hope this speech goes well.  I have been trying to branch out from the blog.  Creating a meaningful plan to address a big project like climate change is LONG overdue.  (It's harder than it looks!)

If this goes well, a Youtube video should be available soon.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Checking out the venue

Powerpoint has a well-earned reputation for being accessories to some truly awful speeches.  And even though I have had access to Powerpoint software for years, I honestly cannot remember using it.  But this time around, I thought the situation appropriate mostly because I have points I can really only make with illustrations and pictures.

So I call the folks at Plymouth Congregational Church to find out what sort of setup I would be facing.  Yes there is a projector for your Powerpoint presentation and it needs a VGA hook-up.  Naturally, I panicked.  In the world of Apple, I have not seen a VGA hookup since the 90s and I could not find any adaptor on-line that would fit any computer in the house, that I could use to get to VGA.  Besides, I had a couple of high-def movie clips I wanted to embed in my presentation and some pictures with important details.  VGA projectors are usually 800 x 600 resolution. Ugh!

I called a friend who arranged to borrow a medium definition projector that at least had a digital input.  But now I needed to see the room in case they are set up with a ceiling mount or some other problem with showing up with your own equipment.

So at 2:00 pm. today, I am waiting to see the Jackman Room in the biggest and most prosperous Congregational Church in Minnesota.  After satisfying myself that I could quite easily set up a projector I brought myself, I requested to see the big meeting hall.  The Puritans were never into ornamentation but this church does a fine job of dressing up the structural features like the roof trusses—which are really lovely examples of the woodworker's art.  The Scandinavians and Germans may dominate Minnesota culture but make no mistake, the Puritans still pretty much own things.  And they take very good care of their meeting house.  I was overwhelmed by the notion that I was at ground zero where they put the "P" in WASP.

Interesting place.  I had a good time.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Big speech this week

Been working really hard on this and hope some of my local readers can show up.  It will be on some favorite topics of mine including why doing right by the environment will complex, difficult, and very expensive.  The good news is that it will also employ millions for several generations.

You know, the basic point of this blog.
Sponsored by Citizens for Global Solutions, Minnesota Chapter

“GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS”

Thursday, February 19, 2015,
7:00-9:00 p.m.

Plymouth Congregational Church
Jonathan Larson, Presenter

FEBRUARY THIRD THURSDAY GLOBAL ISSUES FORUM

Plymouth Congregational Church (Jackman Room, lower level)
1900 Nicollet Avenue S., Minneapolis (Nicollet at LaSalle)

Free and open to the public. Abundant free parking is available in the lot on Franklin Ave. adjacent to the church. You can enter the building from the lot on the La Salle Ave. side.

Dresden—70 years later

Recently, a young Jordanian pilot was shown being burned alive by his captors.  The "civilized" world was horrified.  After all, pilots have long been a protected species—a practice left over from the early days of flying when pilots were always officers and most of them gentlemen.  His name was Baron Manfred von Richthofen, after all, and he was rich enough to have a silver cup engraved for every one of his kills—and he had 80 of them.  When he was finally shot down, the Brits accorded him a military funeral with full honors—something quite rare in the carnage of WW I.

But the days of rich kids dueling in the skies for the love of the adventure are long gone.  Ironically, for those horrified by the immolation of the Jordanian, weapons that fly very often have as the designed goal of burning people alive.  That was certainly the point of using napalm in Viet Nam.  But the practice really got going during WW II.  The fire bombing of Hamburg in July of 1943 may be considered that start of this vicious practice.  By March 9, 1945, air crews had perfected the practice so that when Tokyo was fire bombed, at least 100,000 people were burned alive.

Industrialized barbarism!  But one of the most memorable fire attacks happen Feb 13-15, 1945 to the city of Dresden.  Not only were thousands of people burned alive, but one of the great architectural jewels of Europe was destroyed—including the Frauenkirche that housed the great Gottfried Silbermann organ orginally dedicated by J.S. Bach himself.   They finally got around to rebuilding it in 2005 at a cost of over 180 million Euros.

There are those who still look at airstrikes as somehow still being cleaner and more "civilized."  Such people are wrong.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Paul Singer—evil Predator

It is really hard to imagine a more sinister figure than Paul Singer.  As the head of a so-called vulture fund, he buys up repudiated debt at pennies on the dollar and then finds some sleazeball judge to rule that this worthless paper is now worth its face value.  Singer has taken his greed out on countries like Peru, the Congo, and Argentina.  Not content with making the lives of the world's poor more miserable, it has been recently revealed that he is funding some Danish half-wit who has made it his goal in life the defense of the continued burning of fossil fuels.

So for those of us who keep wondering how the climate change denialists can persist in the face of so much overwhelming evidence, the answer is actually pretty simple.  The rich can buy whatever reality they choose.  The fact that the rest of us cannot get on with solving such an obvious problem is a mere detail in the lives of those rich enough to buy their own reality.  And while any jackass can kick down a barn, a rich jackass can kick down a whole lot more.

It is really quite easy to imagine a scenario where a combination of weather events brought on by climate change actually produces a global food shortage (or some similar event that would bring out angry mobs.)  Will the ability to describe an alternate reality by the Singers of this world be enough to save themselves?  Who knows.  Perhaps the historical ghosts of Louis XVI or Czar Nicholas II can describe the possible outcomes of such events.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Paul Craig Roberts on Russia

As someone who spent much of the Cold War in a state of terror that every day could be my last before the madmen blew up the planet, I am not especially thrilled that folks are talking about bringing it back.  It is utterly unbelievable that there are those who would provoke international conflict over what? Crimea?  Shades of Lord Tennyson and The Charge of the Light Brigade.

Here is Europe staggered by economic problems of their own making compounding their woes by trying to topple arguably the world's most popular politician by means of economic sanctions.  And all to please whom?  Some old Russia "hands" who still have an ax to grind in their old age?

Some of this I don't find SO unbelievable.  When I was still a teenager, I was exposed to a bitter old guy who had been a Christian missionary in China when the Communists came to power in 1949.  Even in 1965, he was still furious that the Chinese had ordered the missionaries to leave on very short notice.  On one hand, it was possible to sympathize with someone who had lost his life's work overnight.  On the other hand, he was such a miserable old coot that it was pretty easy to understand why the Communists wanted people like him to leave.  Missionaries had formed an effective cover for ugly western imperialism over the years and so had been targeted by Chinese nationalists from well before the Boxer Rebellion of 1898-1900.

It might have been easy to ignore the crazy old China Hands except that one of them, Henry Luce, was the editor of Time Magazine.  The drumbeat to involve USA in the Vietnamese Wars of Liberation from 1945-1975 was driven mostly by this crowd.  Today, Zbigniew Brzezinski may be a ridiculous old Pole who is still angry about the USSR's occupation of Poland, but he still has the ear of powerful people who believe the USA militarism should not only be dominant, but occasionally used to prove just how dominant it is.  So old Russia hands can be just as dangerous as old China hands.  And just as freaking crazy.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Greece tries to make nice with evil

A "leftist" response to the global bankster establishment by the newly-elected Greek government is not off to a flying start.  Not that anyone thought it would be easy.  Having watched the various raids on the economies around the world by the greedheads since the 1980s, I personally put Syriza's chances at getting meaningful debt restructuring at somewhere between zero and zero.  I mean, what exactly did the Greeks think they had going for them that Indonesia or South Korea or Bolivia didn't have when the debt ghouls came knocking?  Did they really think that all they had to do was remind the Germans that debts that cannot be repaid, will not be repaid?  Or that maybe the Greeks could provoke some German contrition by reminding them of the war crimes of the Second World War?

Good luck to that.  Considering what the banksters have destroyed in the name of their naked greed and abject stupidity in the last 40 years, expecting something as basic as empathy from these sociopaths is really unrealistic.  The banksters have created conditions where addressing Peak Oil and climate change is impossible so we already know they are willing to destroy human life on the planet.  If we cannot humiliate them over something so serious, what hope is there for people who simply want to defend an historically important culture.

With each passing day and each new revelation of yet another example of bankster outrage, I become more and more convinced that the future of mankind is only even possible when the rest of us remove the drag these thieves place on the real economy.  Jail them, humiliate them, whatever it takes—just get them out of the business of setting economic policy.