Thursday, December 10, 2009


I’ve been having a hard time thinking about what to write lately. I started out with a Copenhagen summit global warming rant but then it seemed like I was repeating the same tired old lines. Anyway, nothing of substance, at least nothing that could preserve the world as we know it, is going to come out of the summit because most of the worst polluters are concerned that considering the needs of the Earth might hamper their economic growth. It doesn’t seem to penetrate their thick skulls that accumulating wealth is not going to mean much in a world that’s no longer viable or functional but that’s where we are today: everything revolves around immediate profits or wealth accumulation and the future be damned.

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.

Afghanistan, Obama’s personal quagmire? Truly a lost cause. People who know the country will tell you Obama’s nation building project will take around a decade, not the year-and-a-half that the president is talking about; the year-and-a-half he says he needs to start bringing the troops home again.

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 US government: it’s been using that money as if it were part of the general budget instead of a dedicated fund. The real crunch will come soon, in just a couple years, when a $200 billion dollar annual surplus from Social Security taxes changes to a $200 billion shortfall and SS starts dipping into its $3 trillion dollar trust fund to pay current recipients.

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 US government, however, has not been interested in accurate numbers but rather feel-good numbers that would give everybody confidence that there’d be plenty of oil to last for decades so they could continue to consume to their heart’s content. Their rationale for fudging the numbers was they didn’t want to cause unnecessary price surges.

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 India doubled in the past year. About a month ago it was the number of billionaires in China that had doubled. In contrast to their growing numbers of mega-rich both countries have hundreds of millions of desperately poor people. So I start to ponder, in terms of carbon footprint, how many poor Indians it takes to equal one Indian billionaire. Ten thousand? One hundred thousand? I imagine that one trans-oceanic trip in a personal jet produces as much carbon as the total emissions coming from thousands of poor Indians or Chinese all year.

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.

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