Monday, December 14, 2009
A few years back an expat friend held a house warming for a new place he’d bought in Phnom Penh. He was close to 50, recently married with a one-year-old kid, his first. Home tours are practically required under the circumstances, so he took me to check it out. When he opened the door to the kid’s room I was hit with a blast of cold air.
Gee, why do you have the air-con on full blast, I inquire. It’s on just in case the baby gets hot and needs to cool off, he replies. The kid is Cambodian and as long as she lives in Cambodia she’s going to have to get used to heat. Besides, I would think, the kid might get pneumonia from bouncing back and forth between sweltering and chilly. Besides, it doesn’t take more than a few minutes for an air-conditioner to cool down a hot room.
His thoughts are on providing the best for his child but his actions are wasting the Earth for no good reason. It’s one thing to use energy for things that have value but to waste it mindlessly is just being clueless.
In a similar experience, also here in Cambodia, I was being shown around nice remodeled colonial house in Kampot, when my friend opened a door, announcing this was the bedroom, to a very cold room. What’s with the air-con full-on, I ask. I think my girlfriend might be up for a little nookie today, he answered, so I want the room to be ready, just in case. Hours of costly air-conditioning for an empty room. Why couldn’t he wait until he was sure the great event was going to happen to turn on the air-con and then wait another 3 or 4 minutes for the room to cool down before getting all hot and bothered?
It’s thoughtless consumption that contains no positives for the Earth, although it does have one (sort of) benefit, it adds to Cambodia’s GDP, Gross Domestic Product. So actually they’re doing their part to boost Cambodia’s economy. Hmm, that doesn’t sound right, does it? Can we really think of waste as a good thing? In this case, evidently, yes.
Everybody knows people in America who leave all their lights on or maybe leave the TV on all day even when nobody is watching it. No one could begrudge the use of electricity to provide light in the dark, but at least it should have a purpose. If that light is going to add to the planet’s CO2, it should be used for something. Light to read by? 100% good. Lighting rooms for hours when no one is there? Totally negative.
Back in 1994 I stayed at a small hotel in Amsterdam. As I headed up the stairs for the first time I turned on the light at ground level. As I got near the second floor the light automatically turned on, meanwhile the first floor light had gone out. Wow, it was almost like a revelation. Nobody’s present, the light goes off, what could be more simple?
Energy in America is so cheap that most people can’t be bothered conserving or even thinking about it. The reason why it’s so cheap is that most of the costs have been externalized. Coal makes cheap electricity but its extraction and use also results in pollution that causes many health problems; the cost, however, of treating those maladies is not part of the electricity bill.
People in the Pacific Northwest have very cheap power, the bulk of which comes from the many dams on the Columbia River, but it came at a high cost. There once were between 10 million and 16 million salmon, weighing up to 40 kilos, that returned annually to spawn in the Columbia or its tributaries. Today there are about 50,000 to 100,000 wild salmon spawning in that area. (There are also farmed salmon, but I’ll tell you a secret: they have to add orange coloring to those hatchery fish to make them look like salmon.) Well, what are ten million salmon worth? Shouldn’t that be part of the cost of the power?
There was hand-wringing and consternation in the financial community recently at the news that Japan didn’t grow as fast as predicted. Japan has an aging population; the oldest in the world, I believe. Oldsters generally have accumulated what they want of the material world, and don’t need to buy much. In addition, Japan’s population as a whole is declining, so there are fewer people every year to consume things. So then why do they need to grow? They are already rich. And why is it looked at as such a tragedy when they don’t?
Well, because we are locked into a mindset that promotes, even extols waste. Not everything is purely waste, of course, but the whole idea of contemporary economic thinking is to encourage people to consume. Marketing pervades all aspects of life in the modern world. It’s designed to get people to buy things whether they need them or not. Even sometimes whether they can afford them or not; as in purchasing non-essentials with credit cards and then paying usurious interest on the credit.
You can’t think about tackling climate change without thinking of sustainability first; without redesigning modern lifestyles to reflect values other than material possessions. However, as long as corporations have such a stranglehold over contemporary life, there is no possibility of even discussing sustainability. On the periphery, of course, there are a lot of people looking for more from life than mindless consumption, but sustainability can never replace the mania for growth as long as the corporations hold sway.
In addition to the problem of the waste inherent in developed country lifestyles there’s the desire, on the part of the newly flush in previously poor countries, to catch up with the rich world. Car sales in China this year rose 44% and have now surpassed the US. Chinese have the same rights to the convenience of private vehicles as Americans. As in the US their airwaves are jammed with car ads.
The ads, of course, never show those shiny new wheels stuck in traffic, where, in fact, they’re likely to spend most of their time. There’s no mention of the pollution and congestion they’ll bring to Chinese cities or the drain on the planet’s fossil fuel supplies. As in the US, the Chinese government has provided incentives to purchase new cars.
I totally understand the desire to own a car. I have one here in Cambodia and would feel really burdened not to have it. In Portland I’d feel positively deprived without a car. On the other hand, when I’m in Kampot, the small town, I always ride my bicycle. I always felt uncomfortable riding a bike in Portland and Phnom Penh is much worse, I’d never ride there. However, if you make biking convenient and comfortable, as in Amsterdam or Copenhagen, a much greater percentage of people will opt for that healthiest of transport.
China, in fact, was once a model of sustainability. When I first got to Kunming, in Southwest China, in 1992, private cars were banned and more than 80% of all movement was on bicycle. Every major street had a very wide bike path, as much as 3 to 4 meters wide. You could be out on the street with hundreds of people going by and it was so quiet the loudest sound would be conversations between people. Many of those boulevards had very wide sidewalks that were graced with one, two, sometimes even three rows of stately trees. It was heavenly, especially for an urban planner type.
However, even before I left at the end of 1996 the city, in order to provide more space for motor vehicles, had felled thousands of those great old trees and narrowed both the sidewalks and bike paths. On one main thoroughfare, after they contracted the bikelane, it was so crowded at times I would have to wait for two green lights to get through.
All to make room for the small number of elite who could afford to own private vehicles. Today, of course, lots of Chinese can afford cars and the country wants nothing more than to emulate the US and its car culture. And bordering on the absurd: some streets in Beijing have been made off-limits to bicycles to make them more convenient for cars.
So how do you promote sustainability and voluntary simplicity for the sake of the world when the masses are inundated with slick advertising encouraging them to buy what they really don’t need? Where are the ads to encourage people to ride bicycles?
Well, you don’t, at least not with any chance of actually making a difference. As long as the world is focused on endless growth and the manic pursuit of wealth, the relatively small number of people who consciously reject the push to consume cannot possibly save the planet.
If the mindset doesn’t change, the world cannot meet its challenges.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
I’ve been having a hard time thinking about what to write lately. I started out with a
Obama’s Health Care Plan, more aptly described as a Health Care Industry Guaranteed Profits Plan? Almost worse than nothing since it does a little tweaking around the edges but leaves the rotten core to fester and create conditions that will demand revisiting the whole issue a few years down the line.
Too-big-to-fail big-bank record profits and bonuses generously subsidized by US taxpayers while unemployment grows and record numbers of people are forced out of their homes? You’ve heard it all before. Sensible bank regulation, separation of retail banking from purely speculative investment banking, consumer protection from financial scamming, taxation of financial transactions? Bwaa, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Like the prospects of a young doe in the clutches of a hungry tiger.
Meanwhile here are a few political tidbits to chew on that appeared in recent news.
Most Seniors Get the Shaft from the Obama Administration
The government recently announced that there’d be no cost-of-living increase for Social Security recipients. Instead there’ll be a one time payment of $250 for each pensioner. I’ve been getting a pension for six years during which my monthly pension has gone from $522 to $636. Averaged out it comes to about $19 per month per year. For me the one time $250 payment will be a wash, about the same as I would receive from a cost-of-living increase.
But I never earned more than $11,000 in one year in my life, so most seniors are getting more than me and loosing out. Half the people on Social Security depend on it exclusively so to take even a small portion of their due for other purposes – wars, bank bailouts – is borderline criminal, not to mention reneging on a firm commitment. For decades young people have been told that the money was not going to be there for them when they retired. That was to prepare them for the kind of raid on SS that we’re now witnessing.
In fact, Social Security is doing great, it has nearly $3 trillion in savings in the bank. The problem is the
Reagan raised SS taxes to put money away for the eventuality that’s about to happen and it’s worth noting that SS taxes are very regressive; that is, earnings are taxed at a single rate up to $90,000 per year so the lower classes, including the lower middle class pay the full rate but the upper middle class and wealthy pay a smaller percentage of their income.
Back when Bush pushed through his tax cuts for the wealthy, Alan Greenspan, then head of the US Federal Reserve, thought it was a great idea. Just a few months later he was wringing his hands in worry about Social Security and how seniors were going to have to take a hit. Take back those tax cuts for the wealthy to meet long-time commitments to seniors? That’d be class warfare, can’t do that. Much easier to shaft the geezers.
US Government Pressures International Energy Agency to Falsify Crude Oil Supply and Demand Estimates
The IEA was created back in the 70’s in response to crude oil shortages that disrupted markets. Its purpose was to provide accurate figures for future supply and demand to protect from excessive price fluctuations. The
For their purposes they predicted that future demand and supply numbers would rise to levels that no rational impartial observer would consider achievable, let alone sustainable: in simplest terms, wishful thinking. But, reality doesn’t hinge on wishful thinking so falsifying the numbers to stave off price surges can only put off those surges to the future and make them a lot worse when they do happen. But at least Americans’ god given right to drive monster SUV’s in the interim was given a green light. Why worry about tomorrow when you can own a gas guzzler today?
Surge in Billionaires
A recent news article stated that the number of billionaires in
And I got to wondering if those at the top ever think about the amount of pollution they’re responsible for, or if they ever extend even one iota’s thought to being good global citizens. You know, maybe change the thermostat in their climate controlled mansions by one degree to do their little bit for the planet. But then I thought, impossible: putting the planet’s needs first is for peons and commoners and left-wing radical environmentalists.
Tiger Woods’s Cadillac SUV has been in the news lately. Do you think it ever occurred to him that he really didn’t need one of the largest personal vehicles ever created just to bop around town? Naa, no way, I can’t imagine that it ever entered his mind. Billionaires are exempt from those kinds of mundane considerations. They are privileged, they have a special dispensation from the creator that encourages them to satisfy their every whim.
Bill Gates, one of the people in this world I most love to hate, build a $55 million house a few years back. It’s a modern technological marvel full of electronic gadgetry and wizardry but not one second’s thought went into making it energy efficient or in tune with the planet. If he had spent another $5 or $10 million more, literally pocket change for someone worth $50 billion, he could have built a great example of advanced ecological design. He couldn’t be bothered.
The world is stuck in a conundrum. On the one hand is the very real and pressing need to reduce consumption and corollary greenhouse gas emissions, which can only be done by the world’s people adopting a more sustainable lifestyle. On the other hand is the widespread, nearly ubiquitous desire to get rich and consume extravagantly and thoughtlessly. Wealth is applauded, pushed and extolled as what everyone’s ultimate goal should be and encouraged through tax laws that favor the moneyed classes.
You can’t have both. You can’t save the planet at the same time you encourage the accumulation of wealth. The vast majority of the wealthy have no social consciousness and certainly would not give up the least trifle of their comfort or prerogatives for any measure of global citizenship.
Obama and a lot of other leaders are looking at climate change as just another political problem where you negotiate here and compromise there and… well, you come up with an agreement which looks like you are doing something, but utterly fails to take into account the seriousness of the situation.
At this point I can almost sympathize with Obama: he’s the ultimate practical politician (at this point he seems to believe in nothing except compromise) so he knows how impossible it would be to actually do something meaningful to combat global warming. The US Senate, which has to ratify any international treaty, will never agree to do the right thing regarding climate change. The last time the issue came up in the Senate in 1998 they voted 98-1 against ratifying the Kyoto Treaty.
A true leader, through force of will and power of oration, could facilitate great changes but that’s not Obama.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
If there’s one topic sure to get my blood boiling it’s
The first, about two months ago, involved the eviction of a family in Arab East Jerusalem from a house they had lived in for more than 50 years. It seems that a deed for the property was found showing it had been owned by a Jew back in Ottoman times, that is, about a century ago. The Israel Supreme Court decided that the extended family of about 18 people spanning three generations had to vacate the property, evidently, so that Jewish settlers could move in. In fact, it only took a couple of hours before Jews moved in to occupy the house.
The Arab family, as I understand it, has been camped out in tents across the street since the eviction. I’m sure the Jews who took over the property were proud of their actions, thinking they were doing a great thing, securing additional land for Jews in the ‘
We hear over and over how
In another telling event Amnesty International recently put out a report describing how
West Bank Arabs living in dusty villages cannot get permits to dig wells to supply their own water but meanwhile, in their midst, there are lush green Jewish colonies graced with swimming pools and gardens. I saw, when I was in the
Regarding water supply in Gaza, Israel, which maintains a stranglehold on Gaza because it doesn’t like Hamas, the party that won the last Palestinian elections by a wide margin, doesn’t allow import of equipment or materials necessary to repair the damage caused by its ravaging of Gaza’s infrastructure in its recent offensive.
Terrorists drink water so water systems had to be destroyed and cannot be rebuilt. Terrorists shit in toilets so sewage treatment systems were also legitimate targets. If Gazans have to deal with raw untreated sewage, tough shit, they’re only Arabs. Bad guys use electricity to plot their homemade rocket attacks so power stations had to go. If a million and a half non-terrorist Gazans have to suffer without power, too bad, it’s not
In the Israeli mindset, Palestinians have to be taught hard lessons so they tire of resisting occupation and the theft of their land and resources. BTW: targeting civilian infrastructure is considered collective punishment and a war crime. Factually inaccurate was the Israeli government’s response to the Amnesty report.
The cropper is the Goldstone Report. Richard Goldstone was commissioned by the UN to look into possible war crimes committed by both sides in the
Richard Goldstone is a South African Jew with strong ties to
Where is the humanity? What about justice, fairness, equality? Why is there no sympathy for a people who’ve had their land stolen from them, and have increasing amounts being taken even today? Colonization of conquered lands is fundamentally contrary to international law. Why is the
Now in the latest twist to this sordid saga, after being firm about the need for
Palestinians currently control less than half the
The settlements take a large chunk of the
Finally there are large Israeli military bases in the
As stated previously, what
The one bright spot in the story is that many prominent Israelis are no longer able to travel abroad for fear of prosecution for committing war crimes. It’s called universal jurisdiction and was first used by
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
I recently went for a hike with a friend, Nicolas, up in the mountain above Touk Chhou rapids, which is about 9 kilometers from Kampot town. I’d been on the trails in that area several times before and had a pretty good idea, or rather thought I had a good idea, of what I was doing.
I had intended to get high enough on the mountain to get a view of Kamchey dam which is under construction, which I’d been told had been seriously breached in the heavy rains last month, and in fact was responsible for the worst of the flooding in Kampot. The authorities gave their assurances that the dam was in fine shape but a friend had his Khmer staff go up disguised as a worker to check it out. He was able to take pictures that showed a gaping hole in it. I also heard from someone who lives near the road to the dam that rock trucks were rolling all night, obviously to try to patch it up.
From Wat (Wat = Temple) Touk Chhou which sits up above the village there’s a trail that leads straight up the mountain to a small shrine and then follows the ridge for quite a long distance and meets other trails. That trail, however, is steep and eroded and in full sunlight so pretty rough trekking; I prefer going down it. I can go a long ways on level terrain or downhill without tiring but uphill I’m very slow even when the grade is not very steep.
As an alternative, there’s a trail that starts in a sharp bend in the road that leads to the wat about 200 meters below it. That trail rises gradually up the valley and passes through plantations and past makeshift living quarters, many abandoned. After about two kilometers you head up away from the habitated area and in 50 meters or so of bushwhacking, you hook up with the ridge trail. I had done it that way two or three times previously so felt confident of where I was going. There probably are trails that go from the habitated area to the ridge trail, but if so, they’re hard to find.
However, the last time I headed up that way I came to a fork in the trail and thought sure the left fork was the proper direction but instead of following the valley laterally, it climbed straight up through a very large cut over area that was no fun at all to walk through. We eventually found the steep trail that heads straight up the ridge and went up to the hillside shrine and after a suitable rest time headed further up the trail. We didn’t get very far since a tree blown down from a big windstorm last spring had completely blocked the trail, at which point we gave up and headed home.
Once again trying to avoid the steep climb uphill, I, as the one who was experienced in the area, led us up the valley. I also figured the ridge trail that we were seeking to hook up with had to have been cleared by now. In fact, last time I had done those trails I thought I should bring a big knife with me next time, and as it turned out not having something to cut through the brush was our biggest problem.
We reached the fork in the trail and so this time I was sure the right fork must be the one to follow. Ah, but instead of heading up the valley it went down to the creek and over to the opposite side. At this point I must say that both times, right and left fork, I followed the most traveled, primary trail; however, there obviously must be other secondary trails that I missed because I had hiked one previously that took me up the valley where I wanted to go.
One other point of clarification, just in case: There are no signs whatever on these trails and while there is evidence of human activities, you don’t necessarily see people that often, so can’t depend on asking directions. In fact, during the day we often wished somebody, anybody, would show up to help us out of our predicament. If so we would have made his day with generous recompense.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Well, after heading up the other side a ways, sometimes steeply, the trail just disappeared. Mm, I’m thinking, there’s got to be a trail on this ridge top as well and it’s most likely to meet with the trail on the opposite side at some point so let’s bushwhack a bit until we find the trail.
We found the trail, all right, but not until after nearly two hours of rough slogging. In an old intact tropical forest, the dense canopy shuts out most sunlight from ground level and it’s relatively easy to hike off-trail. When most or all of the larger trees are cut, the ground level often becomes a maze with areas of impenetrable thicket. I’d bushwhacked in the general area several times before and always found a reasonable way through it. Not this time.
I was sad to see the locals are slowly but surely cutting the few big trees that are left in the area. I don’t know if they have titles to the land and the rights to cut the trees or are just squatters. I tend to think the latter since many of their dwellings are ramshackle to say the least.
When I have a destination in mind, I tend to plow on through till I get there. Headstrong is another way to put it. This doesn’t work too well when you’re trying to go through a thicket filled with thorny vines and plants. My legs are crisscrossed with scratches. It’d make a great picture but unfortunately I lost my camera on the hike. From hours of rough jostling the leather case attached to my belt fell apart. I actually had had it repaired at a shoemaker once, but as it turns out he stitched up everything but the part that was still together, which is, of course, where it came apart and allowed the camera to slip through. I loved that little camera and almost cried when I discovered its loss.
The other part about being headstrong is that you don’t think enough about what you are doing or look carefully enough where you are going. Thus Nick, who was far more tuned in at how to negotiate the thicket than I was, had barely half the scratches on his legs as I did.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. On the way to finding the trail, we wound up going to the highest point on the ridge. The trail was a short ways down the other side. At the top someone had set homemade small animal traps. I’m not sure what they were after, the only animal I saw was a squirrel or something akin.
It was a relief to find the trail after our ordeal but our luck was short lived. After about 15 minutes of easy walking we hit an impasse. A large blowdown of several trees had covered the trail for maybe 15 or 20 meters, and all around it was difficult going. The trail had to restart on the other side but we couldn’t figure out how to get to it.
Once you start into a thicket it sometimes becomes a maze with lots of dead-ends. You start through the best opening you can find, and follow through logically where you see a way to go in your preferred direction, but then you can find yourself almost surrounded by thicket and are forced to retrace your steps. It’s also possible, with all that changing of direction that you’re no longer sure where you are. We should’ve concentrated more on finding the trail because we knew it was leading in the right general direction. We just kept getting diverted from our path. In fact, we always knew where we were in a macro sense; that is, we could often see in the distance where we needed to go, but just couldn’t find a way to get there.
It was another three hours of hard slogging, during which we found and lost another trail that was blocked by a blowdown. During that time, by charging ahead without looking very carefully, I disturbed two bee hives. They were small, translucent blue bees and not terribly aggressive. If they had been I would’ve been really suffering. The first time I got stung on my finger – it was still swollen five days later. At that point I was on a steep overgrown area and in my haste, shall we say panic, to get out of their way, I slipped and fell and bruised myself up a bit.
At this point, let me say, though I have a lot of stamina and can keep plugging away without a lot of rest (we stopped frequently but only for short periods) after two or three or five hours of it I get very sloppy and careless and fall and bump into things. That’s especially true when it’s getting late in the day and I can imagine the very distasteful possibility that I’ll be out there all night. The one sting from the second hive, which happened about 4pm knocked me for a loop as it got me right in the eye.
I’m of the belief that events like bee stings are instant karmic reminders, or rejoinders. Just as that bee stung me I was thinking, gotta slog through, gotta slog through, whereas I should’ve been thinking about how to stay calm and be careful. I fell down lots of times through being hasty and pushing too hard; it’s only luck that I didn’t really hurt myself in a way that made walking difficult and our ordeal ten times worse.
Sometime after 3 we had come across a spring which led to a nearby little creek. I had thought following the creek downhill might provide a way out but didn’t recommend it since it meant walking through the water. A trail that would’ve gotten us to the other ridge where the car was parked would’ve been preferred but at that point just getting downhill would’ve been good enough. I knew there were plantations and dwellings at the bottom of the valley so it would be easy walking even if there wasn’t a clear trail and that a trail would appear soon enough.
At about 4.30, after more than an hour of hard slogging trying to find a way downhill or anywhere out of the morass, and after getting stung and barely able to see, we found ourselves back at the little stream. At this point I have to say I’m glad Nick was able to see and think clearly because it was he who realized we were back at the creek. We followed the creek and it was easy going for a short time at which point we came to a very difficult spot. I was in the lead and in my haste made a bad choice and fell through the thicket covering the stream. Nick, just behind me, saw a much better way and helped me out of the thicket. At that point it was getting on to 4.30pm.
It wasn’t more than a few meters after that before we came to a clearing and banana plantation. We soon found a good trail and we were home free, at least in terms of not being stuck on the mountain all night. It still took more than an hour of walking before we reached the main road and a village where we could grab beers and rest a little. By that time my cheap, but previously very comfortable, shoes were in shreds and I was walking in my socks. At that point Nick hired a motorbike to take him to the car which was 3 or 4 kilometers away and then picked me up and drove us home. I would never have been able to drive home from there.
I’m thankful I was able to keep my eyes open long enough to make that last hour’s walk because once I sat down I could barely open them at all. Adrenaline and Necessity. After I got home at about 7 I was so burned out I couldn’t keep my eyes open enough to eat, let alone not having the energy to do same, though we hadn’t eaten all day.
An adventure and a half and, all things considered, not bad for a near geezer.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The following is my response to comments from a friend regarding my last post.
My response in blue
Thanks for your efforts to see the bright side of Obama while criticizing his position on
Vice – Vise, in this case pretty much the same, but it’s in large part of his own making.
The dilemma the Left faces at this time is that their (our?) man cannot simply try to lift the locomotive from one set of tracks to the other without revealing his impotence.
He has in a sense chosen impotence, maybe thinking he’s not up to the choice of change and maybe, as you point out in the next sentence, he thinks we will get there at some point and he will be able to manifest his true feelings and political positions. There is a small part of me that thinks this is the case and at some stage he will become what we voted for, but only a small part.
To continue this set of muddled metaphors, it is obvious that he believes there is a cross-over switch somewhere on down the line and when we get there, we will get there. Thus his stance on
Correct except he has purposely chosen to maintain many, if not most of the worst Bush policies, now embracing them as his own: Spying, Habeas Corpus, two wars, feeding banks while the common folk starve; and in the Bush tradition, impunity for constitution maulers, insurance reform designed to protect company profits, standing by Israel in spite of its war crimes and dastardly treatment of the Palestinian people, even though that goes against the best interests of the US and Israel, as well as majority opinion in the
Clearly any elected leader is governed by electors who may give or deny their consent at any point, rendering their ultimate verdict during an election. Obama is no different. Of course, it is often pointed out that true leadership---strong leadership---is brave and heedless of mere public opinion, even to the point of disregarding the imperative to stay in power, even to the point of undressing in public if necessary.
Good analogy, except in this case it falls flat since Obama is going against public opinion in the wrong direction. He’s sloughing off the will of the public to serve the rotten and beaten-down opposition in a way that lifts the opposition and dumps on his constituency. Public opinion strongly supports single-payer health care, withdrawing from
True leadership is heedless of the wrath of the fat cats, he bows down to them in obeisance. FDR had as great a mandate as any president, but still had to fight tooth and nail against regressive forces. The banksters who brought down the world economy in 1929 put out everything in their power to stymie or emasculate his program, but because he fought and fought hard and had the people on his side, they were powerless to stop him. Obama, in contrast, has decided that the banksters deserve to be coddled so has given them everything they could ask for; plying them with taxpayer money, letting them off the hook for meaningful regulation, exempting the wealthy from having to pay their fair share of taxes. Didn’t have to be that way.
There also desperately needs to be a financial truth commission, a breaking up of the biggest banks, a tax on stock transactions, a return to the separation of retail banking from speculative banking and an assurance that no bank is too big to fail. If the latter especially doesn’t happen there will almost certainly be another bubble to burst. The banksters are already back in the business of excessive speculation; this time on the taxpayer dime. And making big-time bonuses off the rise in stocks. The latter spike in stock prices created, I might add, from the wealthy having too much money to play with. Too much money needing a purpose creates bidding competitions and causes prices to rise.
There needs to be a total change in the organization of banking that leaves the current banking system for business and big money individuals and creates an alternative system of credit unions designed for citizen banking. There also needs to be a philosophical change away from easy credit - including a strong social push against high-interest credit – towards saving and responsible borrowing.
To a considerable extent this was the nature of the Bush Administration, especially in the case of Dick Cheney. To an amazing extent, this highly aggressive leadership accomplished a great deal of what it set out to accomplish. I am reminded of this period being marked by virtually daily assaults on the Constitution.
Leadership creates results, even when it gets there by stealing two elections.
But obviously some of these more draconian changes were so radical they have had a problem becoming "traditional." All governance is, in some important ways, a reflection of the governed. My reading of history tells me that even out-and-out dictatorships and authoritarian regimes must keep their ear to the ground constantly about public opinion. They have always feared the impatience of The People---and with good reason. During the Reign of Terror something like 17,000 aristocrats (and other hapless bystanders) came away from the guillotines without so much as a head. Leadership can suddenly become a target for rotten eggs and pitch forks. And yet the siren call of leadership is almost irresistible to those inclined to seek it.
Another person who commented on my last post talked of revolution. The Declaration of Independence spoke of the people taking things in their own hands when they received no proper redress of their concerns from their government. While I’m not in the States to properly gauge the mood, it seems to me most of the people who have skin in the protest game (not even talking about revolution) are wingnuts of the Neanderthal persuasion, and no offence to our prehistoric cousins. Where is the anger? Where are the street fighting men/women?
I’m not quite in favor of the guillotine for congresspeople who don’t support single-payer health care but I do think that progressives should make it clear they will strive to defeat any legislator who doesn’t pledge to support it with their votes, no matter what the consequences. When legislators know the people are serious about reform, they will serve the people.
It is clear that all the major decisions facing Obama in the foreseeable future involve enormous political risks for the future of his presidency. If he quits
Yes but he will be on the right side of history and be expressing the will of the majority; and especially the majority who elected him.
On the other hand, if he lingers there and the losses continue to increase, he will be vulnerable to criticism from the Left who harbor their own warm images of lions and lambs lying together.
The left as well as the majority. Most people on the left recognize that there are times when war is absolutely necessary. But also don’t harbor the romantic view of war held by the right.
Thus we see how narrow the options are at this moment, regardless of the actual reality of what we face regarding geopolitical relationships. So what should he do?
He should represent his constituency, the people who elected him based on his campaign promises. He should fight like hell for what he knows is right. If that includes playing hardball with reluctant corporate-lackey Dems, so be it. Begging for support from Repugs is stupid when the opposition acts like rabid pit bulls and your own party has an overwhelming mandate.
As I see it, it is almost pointless to critique this or any leader unless the cultural milieu is brought into the analysis. How do leaders in a (nominally) democratic political culture navigate these forces, especially when they involve intense domestic policies (Health Care reform), always the most difficult issues as they pit brother against brother---a recipe for carnage if ever there was one. The Cain and Abel syndrome.
As you mentioned previously, leadership is the key. A leader takes the popular will and turns it into reality. A leader isn’t so much interested in everybody liking him or her but serving the greater good. Compromising on health care to the point of watering it down to worthlessness in order to make it acceptable to the insurance industry is not the mark of a leader.
Some people think his policies will result in a one-term presidency, with the country back in the hands of a moronic Repug party. I don’t think so, but it’s a possibility that all should fear. In spite of how bad he may be, he’s an angel compared to the opposition, who will, without the least compunction, steal the next election if it’s remotely close.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I’ve been working on a large writing project so haven’t had much time to rant. Now that I’m finished, I’ve been having a hard time thinking of what to write; it’s all so depressing and demoralizing – Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize as he’s escalating the war in Afghanistan and increasing the defense budget?
But first an apology.
Sometimes when writing a blog, which is usually done on a short schedule and in my case doesn’t include professional editing, you say things which get interpreted far differently than you intended. And so it was with my comment on my last post that my novel Y3K was liked by all but those who can’t deal with big words.
I didn’t mean to insult or denigrate anyone just because they didn’t like or couldn’t deal with my book. If I had taken more time I would’ve mentioned that many people who liked Y3K also had their criticisms – mostly on the order of preachy, pontificating, wordy - which I fully accept. At any rate I didn’t mean to sound or be arrogant.
Back on topic: Let’s start with Obama’s Nobel Prize. It has generated a lot of controversy, though hearing a short clip of Bush recently, which instantly provoked a feeling of revulsion, it’s clear how far Obama has raised the level of discourse internationally. He keeps a cool head, he can listen and talk to anybody, he’s driven to compromise and deflect rancor, all necessary qualities of a peacemaker. He’s working on nuclear disarmament and he scrapped the provocative but useless missile defense so there are rationales for giving him the prize.
A short while ago Obama spoke at a gathering of gays and lesbians. He said all the right things including that he was going to end the ban on homosexuals in the military (though he waffled by not saying when). He then went on to praise those gays who wish to serve and finished by saying, especially when we are fighting two wars.
So that’s the trade off. He’s immeasurably better than any Repug could possibly be on issues like gay rights, supreme court appointees and
So who is the international community (it is after all a NATO force) fighting in
So then are we there to save the Afghan people from the Taliban? The Taliban can certainly cause a lot of trouble, but the people remember what is was like under their rule and really don’t want them, so it’s very unlikely they could take over the country again.
Obama appointed a hard line general, Stanley McCrystal, to run the Afghan adventure. The good general leaked to the press that if he doesn’t get an additional 40,000 troops there’s a good chance of failure. In fact, if he doesn’t get the requested troops he’s covered his ass in case of failure. If he does get the additional manpower and the mission still fails, which it is almost certain to, the burden will be on Obama’s shoulders. By the Pentagon’s own standards in fighting insurgencies – 25 troops per 1000 population – it would take an army of half million to stabilize the country.
Obama recently held a forum of heavy thinkers to discuss the war, but no peaceniks - people opposed to continuing the war - were present; that viewpoint was not welcome. Only the same mentality that led the
His ‘necessary’ war should really be called his nonsensical war. Same with
Why did Obama ask for even more money for the military than Bush when the
Those two wars have cost a cool trillion dollars… and still counting, not just because the wars are ongoing, but also because all the money to wage them was borrowed so interest payments will continue for decades.
I needn’t detail the massive number of solar panels, windmills, electric trains both urban and interurban, that that money would buy. Or the transformative effect it would have if spent in the developing world where social and infrastructure needs are far greater.
I hate to say this but I despair of any of the issues mentioned in the beginning of this post coming out well. Every case bodes ill. The best that can be expected in today’s political world falls far short of the minimum necessary to make things right.
Obama, decent, well meaning guy that he is, seems to be completely in awe of the fat cats around him and catatonically unable to challenge their hegemony in any meaningful way. The Peace prize, it is said, was given more to encourage him than for anything he’s actually accomplished, other than rhetoric, that is. The problem is his almost desperate need to mediate and accommodate makes it near impossible for him to think outside the box, or take on the powers that be. In nearly every case he’s dumped on his constituency, the Dems and progressives who elected him, and stood by the corporate and military masters of the
His campaign slogan should have been, ‘Compromise and incrementalism you can sort of believe in’.
That’s all I can stand to write for now.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
In theory, at least, Cambodia like Oregon will fare better during hard times than many places because of the abundance of water, the most essential ingredient of survival. Like Oregon, its ground water has never been tapped to any extent. Many people here survive on extremely little, so will probably fare better than those who now live high whose fall will be extreme.
One problem here is that few country people have the small money it takes to have a well dug. I paid $350 for a twenty meter deep well which included a concrete pad and cast iron hand pump. Even in dry season ground water is only three or four meters below the surface at my land but they go down farther to be sure you have enough for irrigation. I didn’t want to pay for a wire, meter and electric pump (though they don’t cost much) since, not being around full time, someone might have tapped into my line to steal electricity. It happened to me in Phnom Penh so it’s not unusual here. Maybe even the pump might get nicked.
A few years back while visiting the countryside in hot season I witnessed an old guy at least my age using a shovel to dig, very slowly I should add, his water hole deeper in a 100 degree sun. The hole was about three meters before he started; with his efforts he was getting to soil moisture but not yet water. A majority of Cambodians live on less than a dollar a day so $350 for a well would constitute a princely sum for them.
Back on topic: hard times are not crunch times. It seems unlikely I’d be able to protect my property in the face of hungry neighbors. On a macro level, will the fact that the Khmer people recently went through the worst of times inoculate them from repeating those types of horrors, or would their history more likely portend a retreat back into collective bloodletting and insanity?
Moreover, do I want to be tied down to land when times are chaotic? Where ownership for non-citizens is not terribly secure? In a place which is welcoming now but could change drastically in extreme conditions? I’m currently enjoying my life here way too much to want to return to the States any time soon, but maybe I’d prefer being in proximity to my progeny at some future date.
By my prediction, Entropy Gaia begins in the mid twenty-teens and lasts for seven years of more or less intensity. The signature event is a multi-year drought in a context of economic chaos. For many people the contamination of their air, land and food supply will add to their trials. Disclaimer: My predictions have been wrong before - plenty of times, in fact - therefore I take no responsibility whatever for any wacky actions my readers may take based upon these ramblings.
On the other hand, is there any reason to think the US will be a safer place than Cambodia when food is scarce and gas costs $20 per gallon? Well, maybe, but certainly not in an urban setting; there are already so many guns and is so much violence, hard times can only intensify that American social malady.
Besides, you’ll need a place where you have the ability to grow at least a large part of your food supply, and it’ll need to be in an off-the-beaten-track location that’s reasonably defensible against the roving hungry.
What also must be considered is that America is a militarized surveillance state where the government has now taken upon itself the right to abduct citizens and non-citizens alike anywhere in the world, incarcerate and torture them and hold them indefinitely without charges, let alone trial. They don’t even have to tell the world who they are holding.
Everyone who attends leftist demonstrations is photographed by various police organizations. It would be extremely easy at this point for a right-wing government to target all demonstrators, or dope smokers, or whatever, as terrorists.
If you want to demonstrate at a political convention or at any kind of important international gathering, you get shunted off to a ‘free speech zone’ far from the action behind barbed wire and probably under a freeway, but if you’re a right-wing crazy you can bring loaded firearms, not to mention threatening signs, to an Obama event.
America has given gazillions of dollars to the big banks, but its citizens aren’t privileged to know how the money has been used. That would be too much of a burden on the banks. A public option for health care would amount to unfair competition to greedy-bastard insurance companies, so they get priority over the needs of ordinary human beings.
I feel thoroughly dismayed, disgusted, demoralized and more by what’s happening in the States now: The practice of feeding the rich while letting the poor tough it out, as is currently the prevailing philosophy, is destroying the world and the masses are cheerfully going along with it. Well, maybe not all that cheerfully but certainly not with the anger and revolutionary fervor it so deserves. Americans have been brainwashed into loving capitalism even when it is strangling them. To defend the rich even when they are being ripped off by them. To rail against socialism even while they benefit from socialist Medicare.
The world could’ve easily saved itself from itself if the elite who own it had just a smidgen of heart, empathy or compassion; but they clearly don’t, not even a whisker of it. They gleefully line their pockets with trillions of dollars of government handouts while bemoaning the cost of providing health care for commoners. They use the public money granted them in lieu of their malevolent mistakes to pay themselves huge bonuses and hire legions of lobbyists to resist the regulation they desperately need, and the country and the world needs.
It’s not too late for America to correct most of its ills - though not without some difficulty - but instead it’s rushing headlong into the abyss. And dragging the rest of the world along with it.
Anyway, I’d not be going back for the culture or my friends. While individual friends are irreplaceable, and I love my stateside ones dearly, I’ve accumulated lots of great friends here too. The potential for survival and proximity to my family would be the greater draws.
That said, I sure wouldn’t want to belittle commune life and certainly not the hip geezer home idea. The life we cobbled together on the commune, in very difficult circumstances, was precious and exceptional and would be an excellent way to live out the coming doddering days. It would also be something worth doing for its own sake, oldsters or otherwise.
We had a great time on the commune and gained an irreplaceable life experience. The bond we created has remained with us now for four decades. Furthermore, facing the future together would also give us an advantage during hard times.
At a certain point many of us will not be able to take care of ourselves entirely on our own. Besides, as my mother remarked, being together felt like living on a resort. For me it would be a fitting finale to a superlative and fascinating life. To be with my extended family and not only see my own children and grandchildren progressing, but all the other kids too. To witness the generations: a great privilege.
We have a strong reason to want to bring this idea to fruition - our previous experience together had its spectacular moments - but anybody my age with a countercultural disposition, even half of one, should be thinking about new kinds of places for oldsters, otherwise you may wind up in a middle-class fogey home/torture chamber and bemoan your fate till your dying days.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
While his rhetoric soared, as usual, his reality was risible, as expected. He said many presidents have tried to fix health care but he’s determined to be the last to have to deal with it… Very sorry, Mr. O, but you’re going to have to do a lot better if you don’t want to the subject to be revisited in the near future.
Obama is generally an honest, straightforward kind of person, but when he said that extending coverage won’t start for four years because they want to take the time to do it right, the whole assembly should have broke into uncontrollable guffaws.
As remarked in a previous post, it only took 11 months, starting from scratch, to get Medicare up and running in the sixties and that was before computers. No, the real reason, I surmise, for delaying the start is to avoid paying for it when you also have wars to fight and bankers to coddle.
Today, it would take only a few months to ramp up Medicare to enroll the entire
And if you choose nothing and get caught, you’ll pay a $4000 fine. It’s called an individual mandate, and it’s why, in spite of Obama’s fighting rhetoric and the tweaking he talks about regarding rules for insurance companies, the bloodsucking health care industry is all behind the Obama plan. If so, can it possibly be good for the people? I personally can’t imagine a scenario in which the insurance companies and I would be on the same political wavelength.
The proposal maintains employer based coverage, an evil in itself because it forces people to stay in jobs they may hate for fear of losing health care. This plan, even with a public option, won’t change that since, when your employment ends for whatever reason, you’ll have to come up with a lot of money to have coverage or go the indigent route.
The Dems plan is not universal. It’s expected that about 5% will avoid purchasing insurance; that’s 15 million Americans. It won’t save any money; the CEO’s will still earn outlandish compensation and there’ll still be a big chunk taken off the top in profit.
In comparison, single-payer automatically covers everybody and saves big money in the process. The latter is probably why discussion of it was taken off the table from the start: Once the numbers were officially crunched showing single-payer saving hundreds of billions a year, it would’ve been difficult to justify dumping it for the sake of protecting insurance company profits.
When you consider the majority of Americans – around 60% - are in favor of public involvement in health care and the vast majority of Democrats – around 90% - are, the current garbage bill is just an additional disgusting testament to the worthlessness of the Democratic Party.
There are, on the other hand, 60 members of the House who have pledged to vote against the plan if it doesn’t have a public option. If what they are eventually offered is the present totally inadequate public option, they should vote against it.
Furthermore, this should be a final test, a showdown, a call to arms. Activists should begin a campaign to defeat any legislator that doesn’t pledge to vote for single-payer to take effect on an ASAP timetable… fuck this four year bullshit. If not single payer than a strong public option that is open to everyone to join.
To placate the wingnut crazies, it should be possible to include an opt-out in a single payer plan; that is, if you prefer private insurance you could get a credit from the government based on actual Medicare costs.
For myself, I’m almost beyond cynicism in regards to US politics. Whether it’s health care, regulation of finance, global warming, never-ending warmongering, the trashing of the Geneva Conventions, I see no light on the horizon. A strong leader, an FDR, could’ve made big changes, but to expect Obama to fight for real progress; it seems unimaginable.
He does have an important redeeming quality; that is, he has the ability to admit his mistakes. Maybe that will eventually translate into the audacity to fight for those who elected him, but I’m not holding my breath.