Wednesday, October 29, 2008

This Night will End

Just about a year ago, the Nobel Prize Committee made a strong statement about the importance of climate change by giving the prize to Al Gore and to the IPCC, the International Panel on Climate Change.

In December, Gore delivered his acceptance speech. It was a powerful moment and a cogent statement of our choice between two different futures – a choice that to my ears echoes the words of an ancient prophet: "Life or death, blessings or curses. Therefore, choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live."

Here's more from Gore:

We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency – a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential even as we gather here. But there is hopeful news as well: we have the ability to solve this crisis and avoid the worst – though not all – of its consequences, if we act boldly, decisively and quickly. (clip)

We must quickly mobilize our civilization with the urgency and resolve that has previously been seen only when nations mobilized for war. These prior struggles for survival were won when leaders found words at the 11th hour that released a mighty surge of courage, hope and readiness to sacrifice for a protracted and mortal challenge.

These were not comforting and misleading assurances that the threat was not real or imminent; that it would affect others but not ourselves; that ordinary life might be lived even in the presence of extraordinary threat; that Providence could be trusted to do for us what we would not do for ourselves.

No, these were calls to come to the defense of the common future. They were calls upon the courage, generosity and strength of entire peoples, citizens of every class and condition who were ready to stand against the threat once asked to do so. Our enemies in those times calculated that free people would not rise to the challenge; they were, of course, catastrophically wrong.

Now comes the threat of climate crisis – a threat that is real, rising, imminent, and universal. Once again, it is the 11th hour. The penalties for ignoring this challenge are immense and growing, and at some near point would be unsustainable and unrecoverable.

For now we still have the power to choose our fate, and the remaining question is only this: Have we the will to act vigorously and in time, or will we remain imprisoned by a dangerous illusion?

Mahatma Gandhi awakened the largest democracy on earth and forged a shared resolve with what he called "Satyagraha" – or "truth force."

In every land, the truth – once known – has the power to set us free." (clip)

When we unite for a moral purpose that is manifestly good and true, the spiritual energy unleashed can transform us. The generation that defeated fascism throughout the world in the 1940s found, in rising to meet their awesome challenge, that they had gained the moral authority and long-term vision to launch the Marshall Plan, the United Nations, and a new level of global cooperation and foresight that unified Europe and facilitated the emergence of democracy and prosperity in Germany, Japan, Italy and much of the world.

One of their visionary leaders said, "It is time we steered by the stars and not by the lights of every passing ship." (more)

Tonight, another visionary leader will address the nation.

He will not be coasting to the finish line.

He will offer his leadership and his force.

Through the Blizzard of Lies

that issues from the Right,

our stars have been blurred,

and the night has grown long.

But they are there,

And this night will end.

"Light at the end of the tunnel" courtesy of Terry Gay Puckett

And here's the Obama special

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Stern Times

Herkomer "Hard Times"

Perhaps the only way to make lemonaide from the bumper crop of lemons that is heading our way is to understand that this economy, this system that must forever grow using limited resources must reform itself into a system that actually deals with reality.

And that reality is this: We have many limited resources. We have limited reserves of oil, of coal, and of uranium. We also have a limited amount of air to put our combustion products into. We have limited capital and perhaps more importantly, limited time.

James Hanson believes we only have a decade or so start making the right decisions.

So the one good thing about the coming economic debacle is that it will give us an opportunity to start making the right decisions. And this idea is beginning to take root all over the western world. Here's Nicholas Stern, a former senior British Finance economist, who authored the Stern Review.

Risks of global warming greater than financial crisis: Stern
By James Pomfr
Mon Oct 27, 2008

The risks of inaction over climate change far outweigh the turmoil of the global financial crisis, a leading climate change expert said on Monday, while calling for new fiscal spending tailored to low carbon growth.

"The risk consequences of ignoring climate change will be very much bigger than the consequences of ignoring risks in the financial system," said Nicholas Stern, a former British Treasury economist, who released a seminal report in 2006 that said inaction on emissions blamed for global warming could cause economic pain equal to the Great Depression.

"That's a very important lesson, tackle risk early," Stern told a climate and carbon conference in Hong Kong.

As countries around the world move from deploying monetary and financial stabilization measures, to boosting fiscal spending to mend real economies, Stern said the opportunity was there to bring about a new, greener, carbon-reducing world order.

"The lesson that we can draw out from this recession, is that you can boost demand in the best way possible by focusing on low carbon growth in future," Stern said, including greater public spending on mass public transport, energy and green technologies.

Stern's warning comes on the heels of last week's Asia-Europe or ASEM meeting in Beijing, where China indicated in talks it was committed to seeking a climate change pact in vital end-game talks in Copenhagen at the end of next year. (clip)

"The U.S. and China will be the key leaders for a global deal. Either one of them could kill it, and I don't think either one of them will kill it." (clip)

Yet Stern remained optimistic, saying while talks would be "very tense" the likelihood of a deal in Copenhagen to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2050 remained "very high." more

We can use the coming economic upheaval to accelerate the solutions we must follow, or we can allow this crisis to be used by the likes of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who recently warned that 10 other EU nations backed his efforts to block an EU climate agreement.

We can use this crisis to build high speed rail between our cities, to build better public transit, to remake our cities for ourselves instead of our cars, and to develop affordable third generation solar materials that will someday cover every manmade surface that sees light, providing us an unlimited bounty of energy.

We can use these coming years to rebuild our communities, to bring back local food, to restructure the way we work and the way we live.

We can use this time to reexamine the worst aspects of our consumer society, and replace it with a new understanding of the balance we must find in achieving a sustainable world that cannot possibly support six billion American lifestyles.

Or we can follow the Berlusconi's of the world and their plutocratic prattle into a hole that will swallow us all.

For these are indeed Stern times.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Poll of Polls

All polling is based on statistics. And even the best poll will occassionally fall outside of its statistical significance. For that particular sample, the poll has becomes an outlier. That's why it's useful to look at the average of lots of polls. If you don't know by now, you should.

Of course the popular vote doesn't actually elect the president, so you have to look at the electoral votes of each state. Right now, Pollster has Obama at 306. Check out the map.

Another good site is Real Clear Politics. It's owned by Forbes.

But if you are a complete poll geek, go to

Or, I guess you can go to Colorado, or New Mexico, or Ohio and work, like so many folks have done.

But whether you are working or worrying,

this looks good,

and the real poll of polls is just 10 days away.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Plain Old Scary

Not quite a year ago, during our Friday night dinner, a real estate broker friend and I were talking about energy and peak oil. He said that oil was way over priced and that a big bust was coming. At the time, oil was not even close to 100 a barrel. Knowing that the world has likely hit the peak of oil production, I disagreed strongly. Given that he is a real estate broker, and I'm an energy know it all, we bet on it.

His number was so low, I don't even remember it. (I think it was in the 30s)

As the price of oil almost hit $150.00 during the summer, I remembered our dinner bet thinking I might claim my free dinner in the next year or so, after oil had gone through the $200.00 dollar mark.

But I also remembered my caveat in the bet, and that was of course, "anything can happen", especially if we have a depression that completely disinflates all kinds of commodities, and at the same time destroys demand.

Well, oil is under 70.00 dollars this week and the "anything can happen" caveat is looking breaktakingly possible. Of course, this is the short term trend, and it was just early 2007 when oil was trading at 50.00 a barrel. Except for the bumps from the oil embargo in the early 80s, the long term oil trend has been pretty flat with a strong upward movement since 2000.

If world demand seriously weakens, then we can expect to see even lower prices. However, world demand is still at or near peaks. Still, the oil market is a huge, finely tuned market, and "a glut" is defined in small percents, as is a shortage. And each condition is greatly exacerbated by investors and speculators.

And that brings me to this piece from John Michael Greer who writes about the Tyranny of the Immediate. Here's a small part of it, but it's worth a full read.

"Most people who didn’t live through the opening years of the last Great Depression leave school with the notion that when the stock market crashed in the fall of 1929, the economy reached a full stop by the time investors stopped plummeting from Wall Street windows.

In reality, it took more than three years for the economy to finish contracting, and scenery en route included a dramatic stock market rally in 1930 and some of the best days of rising prices, in percentage terms, that Wall Street has ever seen. At every point along the course of contraction, furthermore, financial pundits drew false conclusions from short-term changes. The resulting headlines have more than a little similarity to the ones that clutter the financial press today.

This habit of reading too much into short-term conditions has shown itself more than once in the recent economic convulsions, and guesses about the future price of oil – a subject of interest to many peak oil researchers – have been particularly affected.

Earlier this year, as the price of oil soared to $143 a barrel, a great many people argued that it would keep on climbing to $200 or $250 a barrel in the near future. Now that the price of oil has slumped below $70 a barrel, the tide of opinion has turned, and some pundits are now predicting a continued slump to $50 or even $35 a barrel.

These predictions seem quite plausible at the moment they’re uttered, but then so did the idea that shares in dot-com startups would keep on climbing in value all through 2000.

The problem with linear projections of oil prices is that several factors unrelated to ordinary issues of supply and demand dominate the price of petroleum just now.

One of the most important comes out of the crucial but rarely remembered fact that, while oil is priced in US dollars, most of the oil in the world these days is produced and used in countries where the US dollar is not the local currency.

Since the value of the US dollar has been anything but stable of late, the price of these transactions in dollars has changed dramatically, while the price in any other terms has remained much more stable. (clip)

Even more dramatic though, has been the effect of commodity speculation on the price of oil.

Those economists who still insist that a completely free market will manage production and price with perfect rationality have apparently done their best to ignore the multiple monkey wrenches speculation throws into the market’s machinery.

The crucial point to realize is that the results of speculation, unlike most other economic phenomena, are radically asymmetric over time." more

I'm probably going to have to buy my friend dinner pretty soon... maybe not because we hit the price he said we would hit just a year ago, but because the general condition of falling prices in the oil market is clearly upon us.

And yes, the world probably did reach the all time peak in oil production last summer.

And yes, the price of oil may go below $50.00 a barrel by Halloween.

And that is just plain old scary.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

One of These Days

With all of the energy and drama of these days, its not easy to focus on how we are actually going to survive the next few decades. As we watch the world head into this sea change in technology and in political realization, the tips of the technologies that might well change everything are beginning to emerge.

Thanks to Technology Review, here's one that just might be a game changer:

Mass Production of Plastic Solar Cells
A novel photovoltaic technology moves into large-scale production.
Technology Review
Friday, October 17, 2008
By Kevin Bullis

In a significant milestone in the deployment of flexible, printed photovoltaics, Konarka, a solar-cell startup based in Lowell, MA, has opened a commercial-scale factory, with the capacity to produce enough organic solar cells every year to generate one gigawatt of electricity, the equivalent of a large nuclear reactor.

Organic solar cells could cut the cost of solar power by making use of inexpensive organic polymers rather than the expensive crystalline silicon used in most solar cells. What's more, the polymers can be processed using low-cost equipment such as ink-jet printers or coating equipment employed to make photographic film, which reduces both capital and manufacturing costs compared with conventional solar-cell manufacturing.

The company has produced its cells in a relatively small pilot plant with the capacity of creating about one megawatt of solar cells a year. The large gigawatt capacity of the plant was made possible by the fact that Konarka does not require specialized equipment to make its solar cells.

Indeed, the factory and equipment were formerly owned by Polaroid and used to make film for medical imaging. With minor modifications, the same equipment can now be used to make solar cells. Richard Hess, Konarka's president and CEO, says that the company's ability to use existing equipment allows it to scale up production at one-tenth the cost compared with conventional technologies. (clip)

The solar cells are based on a design by Alan Heeger, a professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who won the Nobel Prize in 2000 for his work helping to develop electrically conducting polymers.

His solar-cell design included two main components: a polymer that releases electrons when exposed to sunlight, and carbon nanostructures called fullerenes, which escort those electrons away from the polymers and to an external electronic circuit, generating electricity. Konarka's solar cells use similar polymers and fullerene-like nanostructures.

These materials, as well as positive and negative electrodes made from metallic inks, can be spread over a sheet of plastic using printing and coating machines to make solar cells. (clip)

The technology has several drawbacks that will initially limit its applications. The solar cells only last a couple of years, unlike the decades that conventional solar cells last. What's more, the solar cells are relatively inefficient. (clip)

Because the solar cells can be made transparent, Konarka is also developing a version of its solar cells that could be laminated to windows to generate electricity and serve as a window tinting."

One of these days, we are going to be covering every man made structure that sees large amounts of light with advanced materials that convert those photons to electrons. And those electrons are going to be used to run your computer and to power the photon emitting surfaces inside your home and office.

The excess will be used next door, or in the next state, or it will go into solid state super capacitors which are stationed on your electric poles much like transformers are today.

One of these days, we're going to have an advanced solid state photonic energy web that is as smart as it is powerful.

And organic solar cells will likely be an important part of the picture.

And a pretty picture it will be.

One of these days.

"One of these days, one of these days, one of these days,
And it won't be long, it won't be long." Neal Young

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Temperament and Judgement

I voted early today, and then I gave the campaign more money. And it felt good, even knowing yesterday's remarkable numbers . According to their recent statements, I voted with Colin Powell and Kenneth Adelman, both R's in the administration of George the Lesser.

Adelman explains his thinking in the New Yorker:

Why so, since my views align a lot more with McCain’s than with Obama’s? And since I truly dread the notion of a Democratic president, Democratic House, and hugely Democratic Senate?

Primarily for two reasons, those of temperament and of judgment.

When the economic crisis broke, I found John McCain bouncing all over the place. In those first few crisis days, he was impetuous, inconsistent, and imprudent; ending up just plain weird. Having worked with Ronald Reagan for seven years, and been with him in his critical three summits with Gorbachev, I’ve concluded that that’s no way a president can act under pressure.

Second is judgment. The most important decision John McCain made in his long campaign was deciding on a running mate.

That decision showed appalling lack of judgment. Not only is Sarah Palin not close to being acceptable in high office—I would not have hired her for even a mid-level post in the arms-control agency. But that selection contradicted McCain’s main two, and best two, themes for his campaign—Country First, and experience counts. Neither can he credibly claim, post-Palin pick."

But Powells statement of support for Obama was withering:

I don’t believe [Palin] is ready to be president of the United States,” Powell said flatly. By contrast, Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, “is ready to be president on day one.”

Powell also told NBC’s Tom Brokaw that he was “troubled” by Republicans’ personal attacks on Obama, especially false intimations that Obama was Muslim and the recent focus on Obama’s alleged connections to William Ayers, a co-founder of the radical ’60 Weather Underground.
Stressing that Obama was a lifelong Christian, Powell denounced Republican tactics that he said were insulting not only to to Obama but also to Muslims.

“The really right answer is what if he is?” Powell said, praising the contributions of millions of Muslim citizens to American society.

“I look at these kind of approaches to the campaign, and they trouble me,” Powell said. “Over the last seven weeks, the approach of the Republican Party has become narrower and narrower.”

Narrower and narrower pretty much describes the e-mail I got from a West Texas businessman who sent this piece from to everyone on his contacts list. In it, the author writes:

Throughout his career, Obama has worked closely with a network of stone-cold socialists and full-blown communists striving for "economic justice."

He's been traveling in an orbit of collectivism that runs from Nairobi to Honolulu, and on through Chicago to Washington.

Yet a recent AP poll found that only 6% of Americans would describe Obama as "liberal," let alone socialist.

Public opinion polls usually reflect media opinion, and the media by and large have portrayed Obama as a moderate "outsider" (the No. 1 term survey respondents associate him with) who will bring a "breath of fresh air" to Washington.

The few who have drilled down on his radical roots have tended to downplay or pooh-pooh them. Even skeptics have failed to connect the dots for fear of being called the dreaded "r" word."

I know being an "R" is a scarlet letter for my group, but apparently it is wider spread that I knew.

Seriously, I didn't know what other "r" the writer meant until I thought about it.

Not all "R"s are "r's.

But they've built their southern strategy on it.

And that may be just about all they'll have,

when the dust settles on this race. . .

When Temperment and Judgement

overcomes hate and fear,

and liberty and justice
meet once again
in the hall of our honor.
Because after all,


Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Other Joe

My good friends.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Hard Winter Waits

As the electoral process moves into its final stages, and the financial crisis begins to set like a six inch concrete slab, another much larger and ultimately more powerful process continues its march into the human consciousness. Here's the story from MSNBC:

'Dramatic evidence' of Arctic melt, experts warn

WASHINGTON - Autumn temperatures in the Arctic are at record highs, the Arctic Ocean is getting warmer and less salty as sea ice melts, and reindeer herds appear to be declining, researchers reported Thursday.

"Obviously, the planet is interconnected, so what happens in the Arctic does matter" to the rest of the world, Jackie Richter-Menge of the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., said in releasing the third annual Arctic Report Card for the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"There continues to be widespread and, in some cases, dramatic evidence of an overall warming of the Arctic system," the experts stated in their report.

Compiled by 46 scientists from 10 countries, the report looks at six areas in the Arctic: atmosphere, sea ice, Greenland, ocean, biology and land. It found a "warming" trend in the first three signals and "mixed" signals in the latter three. (clip)

"Changes in the Arctic show a domino effect from multiple causes more clearly than in other regions," said James Overland, an oceanographer at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle. "It's a sensitive system and often reflects changes in relatively fast and dramatic ways."

Air temps 9 degrees above normal

For example, autumn air temperatures in the Arctic are at a record 9 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

The report noted that 2007 was the warmest year on record the Arctic, leading to a record loss of sea ice. This year's sea ice melt was second only to 2007.

Rising temperatures help melt the ice, which in turn allows more solar heating of the ocean. That warming of the air and ocean affects land and marine life, and reduces the amount of winter sea ice that lasts into the following summer.

The study also noted a warming trend on Arctic land and increase in greenness as shrubs move north into areas that were formerly permafrost. (clip)

Other findings from the report include:

The Arctic Ocean continued to warm and freshen due to ice melt. This was accompanied by an "unprecedented" rate of sea level rise of nearly 0.1 inch per year.
Warming has continued around Greenland in 2007 resulting in a record amount of ice melt. The Greenland ice sheet lost 24 cubic miles of ice, making it the largest single contributor to global sea level rise." (more)

Last night, I found myself thinking out on the fringes of the collective super ego.

And it goes something like this:

If you are very rich, very well informed, and in position to make very big things happen, would you rather watch the world's markets run into the double brick walls of peak oil and climate change, with pieces of your wealth vehicle flying off in all kinds of places with a jillion unpredictable events to manage, or would you rather slam on the brakes now, drive oil prices down, drive demand down, and at the same time, defer the need for meaningful carbon legislation?

And with the massive cash reserves that you have accumulated from a great era of record breaking profits, along with the capital that you and your pals foist from the public sector in one of the greatest reverse bank robberies of history, you will be in a strong position to buy into the market when the "buying is good".

Unlikely you say.

That's probably what a large shrub thinks,

Until the time the master of the garden whacks it back for winter.

And make no mistake.

It's been a warm wet summer.

But a hard winter waits.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Joe Blow

Joe Blow

Joe Six Pack
Joe the Plummer
Joe Black
Joe Shmo
GI Joe
Hey Joe
Morning Joe

American as apple pie?
Just a name?

Are we talking
about a stereotype —
white, working class, a small
business man who fixes toilets,
for instance,
crawls under a house
to replace broken pipes,
the guy with the proverbial
butt crack,
salt of the earth?

Are we saying
Joe Blow doesn’t like Democrats
because they will tax the rich
bring his son or daughter
home from Iraq
create universal health care
prevent him from losing
his house,
protect his parent’s
life savings?

Or are we saying
no way Joe Blow will
vote for a black
man for president?

Are we saying
there is a class of people
in America who
would lie, cheat, threaten
or even kill to keep another class
of people from rights
guaranteed them
by our Constitution?

Ya think?

And is Barack Obama’s
very existence a class
affront to those people?

Anyone think
inciting crowds
to shout
“Kill Him!”
isn’t going to cut it
in America
any more, and
that candidates who
resort to that are

We are better than that —
We are not stereotypes.
We are human beings.

Obama counts on that
on that every time
he stands up in a crowd,
reaches across a rope line
risks his daughter’s futures
on the conviction
that America is worth
our best efforts to fix.

©Susan Bright, 2008

Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-ninety books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.

'Joe the Plumber' Isn't Licensed
by Larry Vellequette and Tom Troy

© 2008 Toledo Blade

"Joe the Plumber" isn't a plumber - at least not a licensed one, or a registered one.

A check of state and local licensing agencies in Ohio and Michigan shows no plumbing licenses under Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher's name, or even misspellings of his name.

Last night, his name, "Joe the Plumber," came up about two dozen times in the debate between Mr. Obama and Republican nominee John McCain.

Sine last night Mr. Wurzelbacher who lives alone with his 13-year-old son has been besieged with local and national news media, willingly granting interviews.

Mr. Wurzelbacher told reporters Thursday morning that he worked for Newell Plumbing & Heating Co., a small local firm whose business addresses flow back to several residential homes, including one on Talmadge Road in Ottawa Hills.

According to Lucas County Building Inspection records, A. W. Newell Corp. does maintain a state plumbing license, and one with the City of Toledo, but would not be allowed to work in Lucas County outside of Toledo without a county license.

Mr. Wurzelbacher said he works under Al Newell's license, but according to Ohio building regulations, he must maintain his own license to do plumbing work.

He is also not registered to operate as a plumber in Ohio, which means he's not a plumber.

Mr. Wurzelbacher said he was hired by Mr. Newell six years ago and that the possibility of him eventually buying the company was discussed during his job interview.

He said it's his understanding he can work under Mr. Newell's license as long as the licensed contractor works on the same site.

Mr. Wurzelbacher said he is working on taking the Ohio plumbing contractors' license test.

Mr. Wulzerbacher's notoriety has raised the ire of Tom Joseph, business manager for Local 50 of the United Association of Plumbers, Steamfitters, and Service Mechanics, who claimed that Mr. Wulzerbacher didn't undergo any apprenticeship training.

"When you have guys going out there with no training whatsoever, it's a little disreputable to start with," Mr. Joseph said. "We're the real Joe the Plumber."

Mr. Joseph said Mr. Wulzerbacher could only legally work in the townships, but not in any municipality in Lucas County or elsewhere in the country.

"This individual has got no schooling, no licenses, he's never been to a training program, union or non-union, in the United States of America," Mr. Joseph said.

The association has endorsed Barack Obama, according to Mr. Joseph.

Questions were raised Thursday morning whether Mr. Wurzelbacher is a registered voter.

Linda Howe, executive director of the Lucas County Board of Elections, said a Samuel Joseph Worzelbacher, whose address and age match Joe the Plumber's, registered in Lucas County on Sept. 10, 1992. He voted in his first primary on March 4 of this year, registering as a Republican.

Ms. Howe said that the name may be misspelled in the database.

Mr. Wurzelbacher, 34, acknowledged during an interview at his home late Thursday morning that he knows he's "a flash in the pan," after his fame spread for an impromptu debate he had in front of his Springfield Township home with Mr. Obama last Sunday.

Mr. Wurzelbacher said he objects to Mr. Obama's plans to raise income taxes on incomes above $250,000. He said he makes no where near that much money but he would not say how much he makes or if he ever expects to make $250,000.

Court records from a divorce show Mr. Wurzelbacher made $40,000 in 2006.

He said, "Is it right to take someone's money because they work a little harder? It's taking away from someone's hard work."

Mr. Wurzelbacher said he disagrees with the idea of people being taxed at a higher rate because they earn more.

"They're going to take more of your money because you've been more successful," he said.

In December, 2007, the Ohio Department of Taxation placed a lien against him because $1,183 in personal property taxes had not been paid, but there has been no action in the case since it was filed.

Mr. Wurzelbacher was playing football in his front yard with his son, Joey, on Sunday afternoon when Mr. Obama made an unscheduled stop to go door to door greeting voters and asking for their support.

In his conversation with Mr. Wurzelbacher, Mr. Obama tried to justify his plan tax breaks to 95 percent of Americans and raise taxes on incomes above $250,000.

Mr. Obama said his plan would improve the economy for other people trying to get a start in small business, and "spread the wealth."

The phrase was quickly picked up by conservative bloggers and commentators saying it reveals a desire to redistributed wealth on the part of Mr. Obama.

During that same conversation, Mr. Wurzelbacher advocated a flat tax to Mr. Obama under which everyone would pay the same rate of tax which was a feature of Mike Huckabee's unsuccessful campaign for the Republican nomination this year.

Mr. Wurzelbacher said he was surprised by the spread the wealth phrase.

"That's a pretty socialist comment. Two-fifty ($250,000) is his number now. When is it going to be one fifty ($150,000), when it's going to be one hundred ($100,000)?"

He continued: "If you believe him, I would be receiving his tax cut," adding that he would not want the tax cut.

He won't say who he will vote for on Nov. 4, but did say he likes Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

He said he was born in the Toledo area, lived until he was 13 in the Florida Panhandle area, went to Springfield High School, and then entered the U.S. Air Force. He was stationed at an Air Force base in Alaska from 1992 until 1995. He said he was honorably discharged.

Mr. Wurzelbacher also said he lived in Arizona from 1997 until 2000.

© 2008 Toledo Blade

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Magical Thinking

With all of the news air being sucked up by the market collapse and an election that is now less than three weeks away, it's been really hard to think about the real issues that face humankind much less write about them. Thank goodness George Monbiot is able to stay on track.

Here's a bit from his recent piece in the Guardian:

This stock collapse is petty when compared to the nature crunch
The financial crisis at least affords us an opportunity to now rethink our catastrophic ecological trajectory

This is nothing. Well, nothing by comparison to what's coming. The financial crisis for which we must now pay so heavily prefigures the real collapse, when humanity bumps against its ecological limits. (clip)

Here are some of the reasons why people fail to prevent ecological collapse. Their resources appear at first to be inexhaustible; a long-term trend of depletion is concealed by short-term fluctuations; small numbers of powerful people advance their interests by damaging those of everyone else; short-term profits trump long-term survival.

As we goggle at the fluttering financial figures, a different set of numbers passes us by.

On Friday, Pavan Sukhdev, the Deutsche Bank economist leading a European study on ecosystems, reported that we are losing natural capital worth between $2 trillion and $5 trillion every year as a result of deforestation alone. The losses incurred so far by the financial sector amount to between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion. Sukhdev arrived at his figure by estimating the value of the services - such as locking up carbon and providing fresh water - that forests perform, and calculating the cost of either replacing them or living without them. The credit crunch is petty when compared to the nature crunch. (clip)

Ecology and economy are both derived from the Greek word oikos - a house or dwelling. Our survival depends on the rational management of this home: the space in which life can be sustained. The rules are the same in both cases. If you extract resources at a rate beyond the level of replenishment, your stock will collapse. (clip)

The two crises feed each other. As a result of Iceland's financial collapse, it is now contemplating joining the European Union, which means surrendering its fishing grounds to the common fisheries policy. Already the prime minister, Geir Haarde, has suggested that his countrymen concentrate on exploiting the ocean.

The economic disaster will cause an ecological disaster.

Normally it's the other way around.

In his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond shows how ecological crisis is often the prelude to social catatrosphe. The obvious example is Easter Island, where society disintegrated soon after the population reached its highest historical numbers, the last trees were cut down and the construction of stone monuments peaked.

The island chiefs had competed to erect ever bigger statues. These required wood and rope (made from bark) for transport, and extra food for the labourers. As the trees and soils on which the islanders depended disappeared, the population crashed and the survivors turned to cannibalism. Diamond wonders what the Easter islander who cut down the last palm tree might have thought. "Like modern loggers, did he shout 'Jobs, not trees!'? (clip)

Ecological collapse, Diamond shows, is as likely to be the result of economic success as of economic failure. The Maya of Central America, for instance, were among the most advanced and successful people of their time. But a combination of population growth, extravagant construction projects and poor land management wiped out between 90% and 99% of the population.

The Mayan collapse was accelerated by "the competition among kings and nobles that led to a chronic emphasis on war and erecting monuments rather than on solving underlying problems". (sound familiar?)

Again, the largest monuments were erected just before the ecosystem crashed. (clip)

But the financial crisis provides us with an opportunity to rethink this trajectory; an opportunity that is not available during periods of economic success. Governments restructuring their economies should read Herman Daly's book Steady-State Economics.

A steady-state economy has a constant stock of capital that is maintained by a rate of throughput no higher than the ecosystem can absorb. The use of resources is capped and the right to exploit them is auctioned. (clip)

Alternatively, we can persist in the magical thinking whose results have just come crashing home." more

Monbiot points out that one of the benefits of modernity is our ability to spot trends and predict results. Obviously, if the global economy keeps growing at 3% a year (or 1,700% a century), it will hit a wall.

But our ability to believe in this kind of Wile Coyote magical thinking, and culture's natural tendency to believe that "the system that worked yesterday will work tomorrow", tends to obstruct our ability to act rationally.

Thus, we hear the crowds of red yelling to "drill, baby, drill".

As this crisis continues to reveal its full meaning, let us work together to shape a different kind of magical thinking, and a new hope for a world of justice and understanding, free from the chains of the past, grounded in the practicalities of the natural limits of our earth, and powered by the unlimited potential of the energy from the heavens.

This is magical thinking we can live with.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

A Weatherman

In all the "R" noise about "palling around with terrorists", very little actual news seems to make it to the surface.

So who is this Bill Ayers?

He is the son of Thomas G. Ayers, former Chairman and CEO of Commonwealth Edison , Chicago philanthropist and the namesake of the Thomas G. Ayers College of Commerce and Industry. In 1997, Chicago awarded him its Citizen of the Year award. Ayers is currently a Distinguished Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, College of Education.

And 40 years ago, he was a Weatherman.

So what kind of terrorist were the Weathermen? The documentary made in 2003 was pretty good at giving the radical organization a human face. It also received an Academy Award nomination. As far as the basic history goes, I got this from Wikipedia:

Weatherman, known colloquially as "the Weathermen" and later the Weather Underground Organization, was an American radical left organization founded in 1969 by leaders and members who split from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) (or claimed to be the actual SDS).

The group is most famous for a campaign consisting of bombings, jailbreaks, and riots, from 1969 through the middle 1970s. The "Days of Rage", the group's first public demonstration on October 8, 1969, was a riot in Chicago coordinated with the trial of the Chicago Eight.

In 1970 the group issued a "Declaration of a State of War" against the United States government, under the name "Weather Underground Organization" (WUO).

The bombing attacks were mostly against government buildings, along with several banks. Most were preceded by communiqués that provided evacuation warnings, along with statements of the particular matter to which their attacks were allegedly responding. For the bombing of the United States Capitol on March 1, 1971, they issued a statement saying it was "in protest of the US invasion of Laos." For the bombing of The Pentagon on May 19, 1972, they stated it was "in retaliation for the US bombing raid in Hanoi." For the January 29, 1975 bombing of the Harry S Truman Building housing the United States Department of State, they stated it was "in response to escalation in Vietnam."[2]

Miraculously, they never killed anyone. (except themselves in the Greenwich Village mishap)

After the Greenwich Village incident, the group went well underground, and it began to refer to themselves as the Weather Underground Organization.

They wanted to convince the American public that the United States was truly responsible for the calamity in Vietnam.[2] The group began striking at night, bombing empty offices, with warnings always issued in advance to ensure a safe evacuation. According to David Gilbert, "[their] goal was to not hurt any people, and a lot of work went into that. But we wanted to pick targets that showed to the public who was responsible for what was really going on."[2] After the Greenwich Village explosion, no one was killed by WUO bombs.[23]"

"We were very careful from the moment of the townhouse on to be sure we weren't going to hurt anybody, and we never did hurt anybody. Whenever we put a bomb in a public space, we had figured out all kinds of ways to put checks and balances on the thing and also to get people away from it, and we were remarkably successful." —Bill Ayers

In one of my favorite stories, the group took a $20,000 payment in 1970 from a psychedelics distribution organization called The Brotherhood of Eternal Love to break LSD advocate Timothy Leary out of prison,[2] transporting him and his wife to Algeria.

By the end of 1976, the Weather Underground would collapse.[43] Within two years, many members turned themselves in after taking advantage of President Gerald Ford’s amnesty for draft dodgers.[6]

Mark Rudd turned himself in to authorities on January 20, 1978. Rudd was fined $4,000 and received two years probation.[6] Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers turned themselves in on December 3, 1980, in New York, with substantial media coverage. Charges were dropped for Ayers. Dohrn received three years probation and a $15,000 fine.[6]

While at Annapolis, McCain palled around with Poindexter, McFarlene, and North.

They secretly and illegally diverted to the Nicaraguan Contras millions of dollars in funds received from a secret deal - a deal with the Iranians to hold American hostages until after the 1980 elections, in return for the sales of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.

They weren't terrorists though.

But you don't need to be a weatherman

to know what they were.
"We felt that doing nothing in a period of repressive violence is itself a form of violence. That's really the part that I think is the hardest for people to understand. If you sit in your house, live your white life and go to your white job, and allow the country that you live in to murder people and to commit genocide, and you sit there and you don't do anything about it, that's violence." -Naomi Jaffe

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Friday, October 10, 2008

The Ugly Face of Fear

The McCain campaign has gone insane. And here's the reason.

With the markets collapsing and uncertainty facing us all, folks get weird, especially when their leaders incite them.

And the media needs to call them on it.

We must transform the ugly face of fear

with courage and understanding.

And we must be strong enough not to hate.

Or our dragons will run wild through the valleys.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Rail On

A little while ago, I asked someone how much high speed rail could we have built for the 700 and counting billion dollars that was required to bail out the greed cults on Wall Street. Well, given that the California High Speed Rail Project is projected to cost 80 billion or so, then quite a lot.

The California project would provide high-speed trains capable of 220 mph (350 km/h) that link San Francisco and Los Angeles in as little as two and a half hours. The proposed system would also serve other major Calfornia cities, such as Sacramento, San Jose and San Diego.

We could build high speed rail for most of the country for the amount we just sunk. And, if we had spent the money on wind turbines and transmission lines? We would have replaced our oil imports.

We could be building infrastructure with this money.

Instead we have spent the money on the equivalent of financial air.

Thanks to the Oil Drum, here is a part of a piece by Herman Daly that helps you get your hands around it:

The current financial debacle is really not a “liquidity” crisis as it is often euphemistically called. It is a crisis of overgrowth of financial assets relative to growth of real wealth—pretty much the opposite of too little liquidity. Financial assets have grown by a large multiple of the real economy—paper exchanging for paper is now 20 times greater than exchanges of paper for real commodities.

It should be no surprise that the relative value of the vastly more abundant financial assets has fallen in terms of real assets. Real wealth is concrete; financial assets are abstractions—existing real wealth carries a lien on it in the amount of future debt. The value of present real wealth is no longer sufficient to serve as a lien to guarantee the exploding debt. Consequently the debt is being devalued in terms of existing wealth.

No one any longer is eager to trade real present wealth for debt even at high interest rates. This is because the debt is worth much less, not because there is not enough money or credit, or because “banks are not lending to each other” as commentators often say.

Can the economy grow fast enough in real terms to redeem the massive increase in debt?

In a word, no.

As Frederick Soddy (1926 Nobel Laureate chemist and underground economist) pointed out long ago, “you cannot permanently pit an absurd human convention, such as the spontaneous increment of debt [compound interest] against the natural law of the spontaneous decrement of wealth [entropy]”.

The population of “negative pigs” (debt) can grow without limit since it is merely a number; the population of “positive pigs” (real wealth) faces severe physical constraints. The dawning realization that Soddy’s common sense was right, even though no one publicly admits it, is what underlies the crisis.

The problem is not too little liquidity, but too many negative pigs growing too fast relative to the limited number of positive pigs whose growth is constrained by their digestive tracts, their gestation period, and places to put pigpens.

Growth in US real wealth is restrained by increasing scarcity of natural resources, both at the source end (oil depletion), and the sink end (absorptive capacity of the atmosphere for CO2). (clip)

Our brilliant economic gurus meanwhile continue to preach deregulation of both the financial sector and of international commerce (i.e. "free trade"). Some of us have for a long time been saying that this behavior was unwise, unsustainable, unpatriotic, and probably criminal.

Maybe we were right.

The next shoe to drop will be repudiation of unredeemable debt either directly by bankruptcy and confiscation, or indirectly by inflation."

In order to deal with the real problems of climate change and resource depletion, we must begin to build an advanced energy and transportation infrastructure.

If Wall Street is worth saving.

So are we.

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Professor Daly was Senior Economist at the World Bank before leaving to teach Ecological Economics at University of Maryland's School for Public Policy.