In the Belly of the Beast: 6/3/11: Dems to recall Gov. Walker early next year

INDEX (full text of stories follow Democracy Now headlines)

The WikiLeaks News & Views Blog for Thursday, Day 110

from The Nation Blogs: Media Fix by Greg Mitchell


Americans increasingly pessimistic about economy

“Fascism is the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary sector of monopoly capital”



from Raj Patel by Raj





Americans increasingly pessimistic about economy

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And for good reason. Why should anyone have high expectations when those who created the recession are still on the loose? People voted for a lot more change than they’ve seen. Voting for the same old crowd with the same old ideas that got us into this mess won’t fix the problem. It’s unfortunate but neither political party has much of a clue which probably is why so many voters are so pessimistic.

Americans are growing increasingly doubtful about direction of the US economy, according to the latest survey from business-advisory firm AlixPartners.

In fact, an increasing number, some 61 percent, say they don’t expect to return to their respective pre-recession lifestyles until the spring of 2014, if ever.

What’s worse, a full 10 percent said they expect they will never return to pre-recession spending.

Dems to recall Gov. Walker early next year

Via Markos and Twitter, we get this great news from Greg Sargent and the Plum Line blog (my emphasis):

There’s a long way to go, and the goal seems like a very tough one to reach, but Wisconsin Democrats are set to go for it: They will announce at their annual convention later today that they intend to launch an effort to recall the ultimate target — Scott Walker himself.

Mike Tate, the chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, will reveal the plan in a speech today [June 3] at the convention in Milwaukee, according to advance excerpts of the speech that were sent my way.

“We will not stand down — and next year, we will recall Scott Walker from office,” Tate will tell the crowd, according to the excerpts. “We will begin to repair the damage done to this state and we will begin a new with a Democratic Governor who will fight for our children, who will fight for our families, our teachers and our firefighters. We will fight for the people — not the powerful.”

You can’t win if you don’t play, and play hard. We’ll have a Contribute link for that recall effort as it gets organized.

In the meantime, if you can, please contribute to the recall effort in the Wisconsin Senate by clicking below. Every bit helps and we’re more than two-thirds there. Thanks!


Ari Berman on the lobbying war against Elizabeth Warren

Ari Berman has a terrific new article in The Nation on the war against Elizabeth Warren as waged by bankers and the lobbyists who serve them.

For example, Berman details how banking newbie and freshman Republican Rep. Sean Duffy went from ignorant to informed as if by magic (my emphasis throughout):

On May 13 the House Financial Services Committee passed three bills designed to weaken the CFPB, which goes live on July 21. One was sponsored by freshman Representative Sean Duffy, the telegenic former star of The Real World: Boston. When he entered Congress, Duffy admitted he “wasn’t very familiar” with “banking issues, housing issues, insurance issues. These are specific issues that I didn’t deal with in my entire life.” Yet within a few months he found himself denouncing the CFPB as a “rogue agency” with an “authoritarian structure” and introducing legislation to give existing banking regulators greater authority to override the bureau’s new rules.

Then Berman explains who supplied the magic: banking lobbyists.

“I come from central and northern Wisconsin,” [Duffy] said. “This is not Wall Street, I promise you.” Yet the legislation has endeared him to the most powerful financial interests on Capitol Hill and K Street’s lobbying corridor. In recent months groups opposed to the bureau, such as the American Bankers Association (ABA), the American Financial Services Association (AFSA), the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) and the National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU), have donated thousands to Duffy’s re-election campaign. “Why is Sean Duffy sponsoring this legislation?” asks Ed Mierzwinski, director of the consumer program at USPIRG. “How many big banks are in Wausau, Wisconsin? This is all about money.”

A side note — I highlighted the National Association of Federal Credit Unions above for a reason. Unlike the others, credit unions really are small financial institutions, and they should be supporting Warren and the CFPB.

Wells Fargo won’t listen to your complaints about their lobbying, but I’ll bet your local credit union will, if you’re a member. Care to test that? Why not pay them a little visit and see.

Don’t email; write. Or better, walk in and hand your letter to the manager. Smile as you talk, and remind him or her that you see lots of other CU members as you stand around the water cooler, sharing little comments about this and that. You’d be glad to put in a good word. (I did say smile, right?)

As Berman notes, there’s a ton of money flowing from Thank You Street:

The three chief sponsors of the CFPB bills—Duffy, Bachus and Shelley Moore Capito—received a total of $1.4 million from the finance, real estate and insurance sector during the 2010 election. Now they’re returning the favor. The GOP Congressional assault on the CFPB is a clever way for the caucus to appeal to the Tea Party’s antigovernment fervor while attracting prodigious campaign contributions from Wall Street and forcing the Obama administration to play defense on yet another critical piece of legislation.

Berman’s piece contains a great backgrounder on the CFPB, its creation, and its unusual organizational constraints. But it’s mainly about the Benjamins and the Congressional push to neuter the threat, with lots of well-gathered, gritty details.

Deceptive and predatory financial products may be ugly little beasts, but they’re a terrific source of income for financial institutions (including payday lenders) and the CEOs who drink from them. After all, you can’t get to that painfully low top marginal tax rate without raking in some bucks from somewhere. Where better than from the hapless and ill-informed?

All in all, an excellent article, and a good go-to piece for where we are today with Elizabeth Warren vs. the Lobbyists. Strongly recommended.

AP: Romney’s first day as a candidate, big ole lie

AP does a great job pointing out five big lies Mitt Romney made on his inaugural day as a presidential candidate.

In rhetorical excesses marking his entry in the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney said the economy worsened under President Barack Obama, when it actually improved, and criticized the president for issuing apologies to the world that were never made.

Obama says won’t agree to extend tax cuts for rich; gets testy when asked to fight more

While this is nice, it’s what he’s said before.  And then he caved.  I just don’t believe him.  Yes, I believe he means what he’s saying.  I just don’t believe he’ll keep his word.  Partly because he won’t fight, sufficiently or early enough.  Which leads us to his back and forth with Dem. Congressman Waxman.  HuffPost reports:

“He was a little testy with the Waxman question. Essentially, Mr. Waxman was urging him to fight more,” one legislator said. “The president reminded folks that he’s the president sitting in that chair and he knows how to negotiate.”

Obama also told the assembled Democrats not to count on more fiery rhetoric from the Oval Office.

“He said, ‘There’s a difference between me and a member of Congress,'” another lawmaker said, paraphrasing the president as saying: “When I say something the markets react, all of society reacts, other countries react. I’ve got to be careful with what I say. I can’t just say it for brinkmanship. I’ve got to say it in a way so that I get what I want said, but I don’t upset markets and so on.”

Please. It’s not like he’s the first president to ever hold an opinion on something. Lots of presidents in the past have forcefully fought for their beliefs without bringing down the markets. The argument is a red herring. Candidate Obama didn’t fight nearly hard enough against John McCain either, and there was a rather large blow up about it, involving the Netroots, major Obama donors, and the campaign that summer before the 2008 election. And there was no fear of hurting markets then.  And do we really think the markets would have crashed had the President actually fought for the public option?  This sounds like an attempt to justify a pre-existing behavior.  And it’s not a good sign that he still doesn’t get it.

Oh, the President also said he’ll stand by Medicare (not clear what that means).  Again, the words are nice.  For what that’s worth.

Pelosi: Dems. “very good chance of winning” House in 2012, aided by GOP’s agenda

Yesterday, I attended a blogger/progressive media event on the Hill with House Democrats. It was the day Kathy Hochul was being sworn in and, despite their minority status, many of the members to whom I spoke seemed upbeat. During recent town hall meetings, many found their constituents, particularly seniors, are enraged about the GOP plan to destroy Medicare. The Minority Leader spoke to ABC News — and thinks Democrats can take back the House in 2012:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told ABC News in an exclusive interview that Democrats “have a very good chance of winning the House” majority in the 2012 elections, pointing to Medicare as the key issue that could propel her party back into control of the lower chamber of Congress.

“We just take it, as I say to the members, one day, one good day, one good week, one good month, one good quarter at a time,” said Pelosi, D-Calif., in an interview for ABC News’ Subway Series with Jonathan Karl.

Pelosi, who is an astute politico, was spot on about the GOPers:

“I wish we could change minds of Republicans on abolishing Medicare,” she said. “The public is going to have to help us do that either before the election or at the time of the election.

“If the Republicans are convinced of that over the next 18 months, that they will change their mind on it, then that is less of an issue in the campaign,” she said. “We’d rather solve the problem than have the issue. But we are determined to fight for the issue.”

She said that while Republicans are focusing their message on reducing the deficit, voters should be mindful of the causes that led to the looming debt crisis.

“To reduce the deficit, you have to promote growth through jobs, you have to make cuts where you can, and make them wisely, and you have to put revenue on the table. That’s how you are going to reduce the deficit,” Pelosi said. “People don’t want to hear about how we got here, but we got here because of the policies of President Bush and we don’t want to repeat them. And so we want to have something different. We want to have investment in jobs. We want to have revenue on the table so that we can reduce the deficit, and we have to make cuts.”

Now, the key thing here is what the White House does. It would have helped if the Obama administration had blamed the economic crisis on Bush and the GOP (but that would have been mean and too political.) You may recall that last week, after Hochul won, just about everybody credited her victory to Medicare and the GOP’s budget that would destroy it. The one glaring exception was the President. 

There’s still a long way to go until November of 2012. But, the GOPers have put themselves on a path to destruction. They’re alienating seniors. They’ve already gone after women and gays. They’ve got some really ugly anti-immigration legislation in the hopper that will further enrage Latinos, the nation’s fastest growing voting demographic. The question is whether Democrats can capitalize on this. As we’ve seen, that’s not exactly a strength of Obama and his crack team of political geniuses.

“Fascism is the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary sector of monopoly capital”

This is in Europe–not the Middle East–so it won’t get much attention

JC translated this:  “Madrid, (EUROPA PRESS) .- A committee of feminism Camped on Sun(plaza del Sol) has reported in the general assembly on Thursday that they have suffered “sexual assault” and that for this reason, it will overnight in the central square in Madrid in 15M Movement.     A spokeswoman for the committee has explained that such sexual abuse include “touching, abuse and intimidation,” which has meant that they have decided not to continue sleeping in the Puerta del Sol, however, stressed their intention of remaining connected to the “fight “Movement 15M.”

Delta’s nasty anti-union practices could be exposed by process GOPers will try to undermine

We know Delta has been flying anti-union lobbyists to DC earlier this year. The airline is really burnishing its anti-labor cred. But, some of its employees are fighting back. From the WSJ (it’s a sub. req. article)

The National Mediation Board said Wednesday it will conduct a full-blown investigation into allegations by a flight attendants union that Delta Air Lines Inc. interfered in last year’s fractious organizing drive at the world’s second-largest airline by traffic.

The investigation is expected to shine a spotlight on labor relations at the Atlanta-based carrier, which has denied interfering with the hotly contested union votes in which its workers rejected union representation.

Delta is the only major U.S. carrier to remain largely nonunion.

The probe could heighten political scrutiny of the NMB, amid allegations by Republicans on Capitol Hill that the federal agency has a pro-union bias.

Delta is like the Scott Walker of airlines. It wants to be known as anti-worker. And, of course, the GOPers in Congress are great allies in that quest. They’ll join together to fight this investigation and undermine NMB.

Turns out that Delta is the main carrier to Minneapolis, which is the site of this year’s Netroots Nation. I’m not flying Delta to get there. I’ll take a stopover over spending my money on an anti-worker company.

Time to end the so-called war on drugs?

Uh oh, the defense industry won’t like this either. It’s been profitable for them since they’re able to sell plenty of weapons and modern technology to fight this supposed war that the world is always losing. Personally I’m a beer and wine person but I can see no reason why the world should continue this other wasteful war. Unfortunately the political class is much too afraid of any real changes (regardless of the issue) so there’s little chance they will listen. The Independent:

It isn’t working. It never has worked. And so long as it continues to be fought in its current form, the “war on drugs” will do little to curb the spread of illegal narcotics or prevent hundreds of thousands of people from continuing to lose their lives each year as a result of the international drug trade.

So says a panel of world leaders who called yesterday for the biggest shake-up of drug laws in half a century. “The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world,” declared the Global Commission on Drug Policy. “Fundamental reforms… are urgently needed.”

The Commission, which counts the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan along with former presidents of Brazil, Mexico and Colombia as members, believes governments must now experiment with “legal regulation of drugs.” “This recommendation applies especially to cannabis,” reads a major report it published in New York yesterday. “But we would also encourage other experiments in decriminalisation.”


Back Toward Double Dip

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The May jobs report is a disaster — the weakest reading since September. Non-farm payrolls grew only 54,000 last month, according to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Private employment rose only 83,000 — the smallest growth since last June. Government payrolls dropped 29,000.

The overall jobless rate rose to 9.1 percent.

Together with plummeting housing prices, falling wages for non-supervisory workers, a paltry 1.8 percent growth in the first quarter, and a precipitous drop in consumer confidence, the picture should be clear to anyone able to see clearly.

The recovery has stalled.

We’re not in a double dip yet, but the odds are increasing.

The question is whether all this will wake up Washington, and stop the monumental distraction of the games being played over the debt ceiling and long-term budget deficit. The Republican lie that the nation’s long-term budget deficit is responsible for high unemployment would be laughable if it weren’t so tragically irrelevant to the current situation.

The President cannot be reelected if the economy tanks. He may not even be reelected on an anemic recovery in which unemployment remains nearly this high. But all incumbents are endangered. Republican House members from swing districts are toast if they don’t show voters they’re actively working on the twin problems of jobs and wages.

Several steps need to be taken right away. Exempt the first $20,000 of income from payroll taxes for two years. Lend money to cash-starved state and local governments. Initiate a new WPA for the long-term unemployed. Amend bankruptcy laws to allow homeowners to include their prime residencies in personal bankruptcy (giving them more bargaining leverage with their lenders to renegotiate mortgage loans).

Above all: Washington needs to show Americans it’s taking seriously the ferocious problem of jobs and wages, and the trend back toward a double dip.

Nationalize the monopolies

from PA Editors Blog by Political Affairs
The Wall Street bailout of the biggest financial institutions to the tune of 12 trillion dollars or more was justified by the claim that certain financial companies were “too big to fail.” The term and definition of “too big to fail” comes from the finance capitalists and their financial ministers. So, we take their concept and definition to determine which corporations are “too big to fail.” All r per se monopolies, “trusts,” and must be made society’s property. Any private institution that is so big that its failure will destroy the whole or public finance system, must be owned by the People, must be public, not private. This follows from the fact that the Public sector had to bail the too-big-to-fails for the sake of the Public. The government could not do that unless it was necessary to thepublic health, welfare and safety, for a public, not private, purpose. Nationalize the Monopolies!

Largest US businesses made $170 billion and paid no taxes

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Obviously taxes are only for the little people. Forbes:

Today, and not a moment too soon, the non-profit Citizens For Tax Justice (CTJ) has put out their findings revealing that twelve of the nations largest Fortune 500 companies, while making $170 billion in profits during the period of The Great Recession, paid an effective tax rate of negative 1.5%.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Not only have these twelve companies paid zero in taxes for the years 2008-2010, they actually received tax subsidies that added $62.4 billion to their bottom lines.

“Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon”

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Rosner_morgensonA prominent Wall Street analyst predicted this week that not a single top executive at Goldman Sachs will face criminal prosecution for the company’s role in causing the financial meltdown of 2008. “I think that there is a genuine sense out there that there are two sets of rules, one for big and powerful institutions that are deemed to be too politically interconnected or powerful to fail, and the rest of us, Main Street,” says our guest Gretchen Morgenson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning business reporter who has written extensively on how the U.S. government has failed to prosecute any of the top figures who played a role in the economic crash. Morgenson and Joshua Rosner are co-authors of the new bookReckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon.

Bush tax cuts went to the rich

from PA Editors Blog by Political Affairs

Ten years after their enactment, the Bush tax cuts remain expensive, ineffective, and unfair. As outlined in a new EPI policy memo, the Bush-era tax changes conferred disproportionate benefits to those at the top of the earnings distribution, exacerbating a trend of widening income inequality at a time of already poor wage growth.

distributional analysis of the 2001-08 tax changes shows that the top 1% of earners (making over $620,442) received 38% of the tax cuts. The lower 60% of filers (making less than $67,715) received less than 20% of the total benefit of Bush’s tax policies.

The Bush-era tax cuts were designed to reduce taxes for the wealthy, and the benefits of faster growth were then supposed to trickle down to the middle class. But the economic impact of cutting capital gains rates and lowering the top marginal tax rates never materialized for working families. Inflation-adjusted median weekly earnings fell by 2.3% during the 2002-07 economic expansion, which holds the distinction for being the worst economic expansion since World War II.

Fatal Fatalism

Our current economic discourse is pervaded by fatalism. Leave aside the people who insist that somehow Obama has destroyed capitalist incentives by passing Mitt Romney’s health care plan and threatening to raise tax rates to Clinton-era levels. Even among people who should be sensible, you hear many assertions that run something like this: historically, recovery from financial crisis is usually slow, so we have to accept a slow recovery this time around too. Actually, that’s more or less what Obama has been saying.

This fatalism is deeply destructive — because there’s no good reason we need to experience many years of high unemployment. What historical experience shows isn’t that there’s no answer to post-crisis slumps, it only shows that most governments have responded to such slumps with the same kind of fatalism and learned helplessness we’re showing now. (Hey, Greg, I have first dibs on that!)

We are not, after all, suffering from supply-side problems. We don’t have high unemployment because workers lack the necessary skills, or are stuck in the wrong industries or the wrong locations; the hypothesis that we’re mainly suffering structural unemployment has been repeatedly shot down by evidence. This is a demand-side slump; all we need to do is create more demand.

So why is this slump, like most slumps following financial crises, so protracted? Because the usual tools for pumping up demand have reached their limits. Normally we respond to demand-side slumps by cutting short-term nominal interest rates, which the Fed can move through open-market operations. But we now have severely depressed private demand thanks to the housing bust and the overhang of consumer debt, so even a zero rate isn’t low enough.

So what’s the right response? Should we just throw up our hands, and say that having 12 million or so adults who should be working out of work, and roughly $1 trillion per year of output we should be producing not getting produced, is just a fact of life? Or should we be using unconventional policies to deal with an abnormal situation?

The answer seems obvious. We should be using fiscal stimulus; we should be using unconventional monetary policy, including raising the inflation target; we should be pursuing aggressive measures to reduce mortgage debt. Not doing these things means accepting huge waste and hardship.

But, say the serious people, there are risks to doing any of these things. Well, life is full of risks. But it’s simply crazy to put a higher weight on the possibility that the invisible bond vigilantes might manifest themselves, or the inflation monster emerge from its secret cave, over the continuing reality of enormous human and economic damage from doing nothing.

The truth is that we have nothing to fear but fear itself — fear and complacency — the two things we have to fear are — amongst our fears ….

Anyway, seriously, the fatalism that has overtaken economic debate is a terrible thing. It is, indeed, the main enemy of prosperity.

Faltering jobs numbers, a wake up call

As Republicans dominate the agenda, and Congress tackles abortion bills and austerity measures, the economy is faltering badly.

Indeed, we’re already seeing the results of austerity — state and local governments are being forced to cut spending, and as a result, tens of thousands of public-sector workers are being forced from their jobs. This, in a nutshell, is the agenda Republicans are desperate to bring to the federal level.

In other words, the GOP has a plan to make matters much worse.

As awful as this morning’s jobs report was, it should, in theory, have one important upside: policymakers who were content to ignore job creation and focus on the deficit just got a startling reminder that those priorities are backwards. The stimulus made the jobs landscape better, and now that the Recovery Act has largely run its course, the job market is deteriorating.

The dominant theory on Capitol Hill is that everything will get magically better just as soon as we take money out of the economy, scrap public investments, focus on inflation that doesn’t exist, and prioritize the debt over the economy.

It didn’t work for Hoover, but congressional Republicans are slow learners.



Tomgram: Bill McKibben, Obama Strikes Out on Global Warming

from TomDispatch – Blog by Bill McKibben

If you didn’t know better, you might think the planet was simply piling on to make a point.  The extreme weather events of the last year have proven little short of biblical.  As a start, 2010 had the dubious distinction of tying 2005 as the hottest year on record and the 34th year in a row with temperatures above the twentieth-century norm. Meanwhile, just to mention a few high (or low) lights of the past year: massive flooding hit the record books when 20% of Pakistan was engulfed, parts of eastern Australia (the size of France and Germany combined) went underwater, and the Mississippi River Valley was turned into Waterworld.

Then there were fierce droughts and heat waves like the one that, with its associated wildfires, almost burned down Russia last summer, or the one that still has China’s Yangtze River region in its grips, or the “historic” drought and associated wildfires that continue to plague Texas, or the “exceptional dry spell” now settling into northern Europe (and helping send global grain and food prices soaring).

Look northward, and stunned scientists are reporting that anywhere there might be ice — the arctic, its open waters, the Greenland ice sheets — it’s melting faster than anticipated (which, of course, means earlier and more sizeable rises in sea levels and greater flooding of island and coastal areas globally).  Peer southward, and the vast Antarctic ice sheet is reportedly experiencing a similar more-rapid-than-expected meltdown.  And keeping to the theme of water, don’t even get me started on the increasing acidification of the oceans and its ensuing dangers.

And now, of course, the American West has been experiencing a record-tyingly fiercetornado season that has yet to end, with damage that beggars the imagination.  And yet if global warming comes up at all in the mainstream media, it’s generally only to argue about whether an event like those tornadoes is (or is not) connected to it — a question that, at the moment, remains unanswerable and, in some ways, beside the point.  The danger to us from global warming is demonstrably real, a fact emphasized by the most recent record-breaking news: despite all the talk about mitigating it, more fossil-fuel burning led to more carbon dioxide being spewed into the atmosphere in 2010 than at any previous moment in history.

It’s a conundrum.  Our global civilization was built to eat fossil fuels for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, not to speak of those irresistible midnight snacks, while disgorging ever more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  And yet if we keep it up at this pace, somewherenot far down the line the adjective “biblical” will seem a paltry enough thing in comparison to the world of Xtreme weather we’ll experience.

Under the circumstances, you would think that all across the globe humanity would be launching the equivalent of Apollo programs not to catapult us to other planets, but to improve, enhance, and make ever cheaper alternative energy systems of every sort.  Instead, despite rare bits of upbeat news, human beings — and we Americans in particular — seem hell-bent on insuring that TomDispatch regular Bill McKibben’s remarkable new book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, just out in paperback, has an endless shelf life warning us that we now inhabit an all-new, far less hospitable, far more rugged planet of our own making. Tom

Three Strikes and You’re Hot
Time for Obama to Say No to the Fossil Fuel Wish List 

By Bill McKibben

In our globalized world, old-fashioned geography is not supposed to count for much: mountain ranges, deep-water ports, railroad grades — those seem so nineteenth century. The earth is flat, or so I remember somebody saying.

But those nostalgic for an earlier day, take heart. The Obama administration is making its biggest decisions yet on our energy future and those decisions are intimately tied to this continent’s geography. Remember those old maps from your high-school textbooks that showed each state and province’s prime economic activities? A sheaf of wheat for farm country? A little steel mill for manufacturing? These days in North America what you want to look for are the pickaxes that mean mining, and the derricks that stand for oil.

There’s a pickaxe in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming, one of the world’s richest deposits of coal. If we’re going to have any hope of slowing climate change, that coal — and so all that future carbon dioxide — needs to stay in the ground.  In precisely the way we hope Brazil guards the Amazon rainforest, that massive sponge for carbon dioxide absorption, we need to stand sentinel over all that coal.

Doing so, however, would cost someone some money.  At current prices the value of that coal may be in the trillions, and that kind of money creates immense pressure. Earlier this year, President Obama signed off on the project, opening a huge chunk of federal land to coal mining.  It holds an estimated 750 million tons worth of burnable coal. That’s the equivalent of opening 300 new coal-fired power plants. In other words, we’re talking about staggering amounts of new CO2 heading into the atmosphere to further heat the planet.

As Eric de Place of the Sightline Institute put it, “That’s more carbon pollution than all the energy — from planes, factories, cars, power plants, etc. — used in an entire year by all 44 nations in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean combined.”  Not what you’d expect from a president who came to office promising that his policies would cause the oceans to slow their rise.

But if Obama has admittedly opened the mine gate, it’s geography to the rescue. You still have to get that coal to market, and “market” in this case means Asia, where the demand for coal is growing fastest. The easiest and cheapest way to do that — maybe the only way at current prices — is to take it west to the Pacific where, at the moment, there’s no port capable of handling the huge increase in traffic it would represent.

And so a mighty struggle is beginning, with regional groups rising to the occasion.  Climate Solutions and other environmentalists of the northwest are moving to block port-expansion plans in Longview and Bellingham, Washington, as well as in Vancouver, British Columbia. Since there are only so many possible harbors that could accommodate the giant freighters needed to move the coal, this might prove a winnable battle, though the power of money that moves the White House is now being brought to bear on county commissions and state houses. Count on this: it will be a titanic fight.

Strike two against the Obama administration was the permission it granted early in the president’s term to build a pipeline into Minnesota and Wisconsin to handle oil pouring out of the tar sands of Alberta. (It came on the heels of a Bush administration decision to permit an earlier pipeline from those tar sands deposits through North Dakota to Oklahoma).  The vast region of boreal Canada where the tar sands are found is an even bigger carbon bomb than the Powder River coal.  By some calculations, the tar sands contain the equivalent of about 200 parts per million CO2 — or roughly half the current atmospheric concentration. Put another way, if we burn it, there’s no way we can control climate change.

Fortunately, that sludge is stuck so far in the northern wilds of Canada that getting it to a refinery is no easy task.  It’s not even easy to get the equipment needed to do the mining to the extraction zone, a fact that noble activists in the northern Rockies are exploiting with a campaign to block the trucks hauling the giant gear north. (Exxon has been cutting trees along wild and scenic corridors just to widen the roads in the region, that’s how big their “megaloads” are.)

Unfortunately, the administration’s decision to permit that Minnesota pipeline has made the job of sending the tar sand sludge south considerably easier. And now the administration is getting ready to double down, with a strike three that would ensure forever Obama’s legacy as a full-on Carbon President.

The huge oil interests that control the tar sands aren’t content with a landlocked pipeline to the Midwest.  They want another, dubbed Keystone XL, that stretches from Canada straight to Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. It would take the bitumen from the tar sands and pipe it across the heart of America. Imagine a video game where your goal is to do the most environmental damage possible: to the Cree and their ancestral lands in Canada, to Nebraska farmers trying to guard the Ogallala aquifer that irrigates their land, and of course to the atmosphere.

But the process is apparently politically wired and in a beautifully bipartisan Washington way. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must approve the plan for Keystone XL because it crosses our borders.  Last year, before she’d even looked at the relevant data, she said she was “inclined” to do so. And why not? I mean, the company spearheading the Keystone project, TransCanada, has helpfully hired her former deputy national campaign director as its principal lobbyist.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the political aisle, those oil barons the Koch Brothers and that fossil fuel front group the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are pushing for early approval.  Michigan Republican Congressman Fred Upton, chair of the House Energy Committee, is already demanding that the project be fast-tracked, with a final approval decision by November, on the grounds that it would create jobs. This despite the fact that even the project’s sponsors concede it won’t reduce gas prices.  In fact, as Jeremy Symons of the National Wildlife Federation pointed out in testimony to Congress last month, their own documents show that the pipeline will probably cause the price at the pump to rise across the Midwest.

When the smaller pipeline was approved in 2009, we got a taste of the arguments that the administration will use this time around, all masterpieces of legal obfuscation. Don’t delay the pipeline over mere carbon worries will be the essence of it.

Global warming concerns, said Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg then, would be “best addressed in the context of the overall set of domestic policies that Canada and the United States will take to address their respective greenhouse gas emissions.” In other words, let’s confine the environmental argument over the pipeline to questions like: How much oil will leak?  In the meantime, we’ll pretend to deal with climate change somewhere else.

It’s the kind of thinking that warms the hearts of establishments everywhere. Michael Levi, author of a Council on Foreign Relations study of the Canadian oil sands, told the Washington Post that, with the decision, “the Obama administration made clear that it’s not going to go about its climate policy in a crude, blunt way.” No, it’s going about it in a smooth and… oily way.

If we value the one planet we’ve got, it’s going to be up to the rest of us to be crude and blunt. And happily that planet is pitching in. The geography of this beautiful North American continent is on our side: it’s crude and blunt, full of mountains and canyons. Its weather runs to extremes. It’s no easy thing to build a pipeline across it, or to figure out how to run an endless parade of train cars to the Pacific.

Tough terrain aids the insurgent; it slows the powerful. Though we’re fighting a political campaign and not a military one, we need to take full advantage.

Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, founder of, and a TomDispatch regular. His most recent book, just out in paperback, is Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

Copyright 2011 Bill McKibben

What is British Nature Worth?

from Raj Patel by Raj
2 people liked this
The British government has just released a report on the value of ‘ecosystemic services’ in the UK. Nature, it seems, is worth billions. Live close to green space, and the health benefits to you are worth nearly $500. The total benefits to the British public of living near wetlands or the coast – over $2 billion. The services provided by pollinators: $700 million.

The boffins at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also played with some scenarios for the future. The Financial Times summarises them thus:

The “world markets” scenario – a drive for unfettered economic growth – produces a gain in agricultural output of £420m a year but losses in non-market values, particularly through lost green space and extra greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in an overall loss of £20.6bn a year.

In contrast, the “nature at work” scenario, promoting biodiversity and varied landscapes, produces a loss of £510m a year in farm incomes – but an overall gain of £33bn a year through increased recreation and other green space values.

A note of caution in thinking about these numbers, though. It’s a good thing to recognise that nature has a value, but we oughtn’t to rely on these calculations to set the terms of debate.

Think about a public health system. In that system, there are finite resources and so we need to think about how to get the most out of them. At some point, we’ll have to face the decision about whether to spend an extra dollar to give a chronically sick individual a few more hours of life, or to spend the same money on things like primary care. In these decisions, inevitably, we’re going to have to make tough decisions where costs matter, and numbers can help. But the cost ought never to precede or trump the debate about whether something is the right thing to do.

If we know that a particular wetland, containing, say, an endangered species provides services of $1 billion, and a property developer offers $2 billion (which might run many schools in addition to looking for alternative ways to perform ecosystemic services) would we be okay with selling the land? Without a framework of understanding what is right, we’ll default to what is ‘efficient’. To do that is to allow the market’s ethics to reign. And no-one should defer to an economist’s ethics.

Read more here and check out an introductory video by the terrific Bob Watson below.

This entry was posted in Background & Analysis, Corporations, Corruption, Drug War, Events, Food & Agriculture, Obama, US Economy, US Electoral Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

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