July 30, 2009

Social stigmata

“Not every windfarm should be licensed, but the great bulk of them will need to be. In a country that is serious about tackling climate change, raising objections might need to become something that carries a certain social stigma, as the climate secretary, Ed Miliband, has suggested.” —The Guardian, Editorial, July 30

Anything other than entertain the possibility for a moment that for tackling climate change windfarms are useless ...

This is the same paper that consistently defends horrible and useless animal experimentation against stigmatization by those who are serious about tackling unnecessary cruelty. For a supposedly “liberal” paper, it might be upsetting to note that the common thread is a defense of corporate violence, whether against animals or against the landscape and rural residents – both activities pointless except as demonstrations of power.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism

July 24, 2009

Unselling single-payer

Helen Redmond writes at Counterpunch:

... There’s been virtually no stories about labor’s support for HR 676 [Representative John Conyers' single-payer legislation], despite the fact it’s been endorsed by 554 union organizations in 49 states and by 130 Central Labor Councils. But we heard plenty when Andy Stern, the president of the SEIU sat down with Lee Scott, the CEO of Wal-mart to discuss solutions to the nation’s health care crisis. Those two are experts on providing health care to workers? What about the nurses and doctors who support single-payer and got dragged out of, and arrested in Max Baucus’s senate hearings in Washington, DC? If doctors and nurses had been arrested for any other political issue it would have been the lead story in every newspaper and online edition. Doctors and nurses never deliberately get arrested -- that’s news!

The sea change in the public’s attitude toward government financed health care, however, has gotten press. A New York Times poll in June found that 72 percent supported a government-administered insurance plan – like Medicare for everyone under the age of 65. That poll also reported 64 percent believed the federal government should guarantee coverage to the entire population, i.e. health care should be a human right. Another interesting number: 85 percent of respondents said the health care system needed to be fundamentally changed or completely rebuilt. This is in stark contrast to President Obama’s position of tepid, incremental reform. Obama asserts if he was starting from scratch he might favor SP, but we aren’t so he can’t. He wants to build on the existing system and not “disrupt” the employment-based provision of health care. As if employment-based health coverage isn’t being massively “disrupted” by the economic depression that has laid off millions of workers and forced them down into the ranks of the 50 million uninsured.

But what is truly disgusting is how the “progressive” left has caved so quickly and cravenly, given up the fight for single-payer and support for HR 676. They have become the indignant foot soldiers, apologists and spinmeisters for Obama’s piece of shit legislation. They are betraying what they absolutely know to be true: the private insurance industry must be evicted in order to provide health care to everyone and end the fiscal crisis the multiple-payer system creates.

Even the insurance companies know that, according to revelations by Cigna whistleblower Wendell Potter. He reports the implementation of a single-payer health care system is what keeps the billionaire CEO’s of insurance companies and Karen Ignagni, the high priestess of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), awake at night cowering in fear and forced to spend 1.4 million dollars a day to make sure it doesn’t happen. They don’t fear a public option despite their protestations; they accept that due to the depth of the crisis, a few token compromises are in order to stay in business. It’s chump change and in exchange for perhaps losing a little market share, they’re going to get a mandate that legally obligates every person to buy their priced-to-make-profits “insurance products” or be financially penalized. If the Obama bill subsidizes the uninsured going into private plans, that’s millions of new customers to extract profits from and a transfer of taxpayer dollars into insurance industry coffers. The Massachusetts mandate madness gone nationwide. ...

human rights, anarchosyndicalism

Thoughts on Acceptable Wind Turbine Placement

Daniel Imhoff, Food Fight: The Citizen's Guide to a Food and Farm Bill, Watershed Media, 2007, p. 113 [paragraph breaks added]:

The scientific consensus on global climate change predicts inevitable disruptions and potentially dire consequences. The prescriptions are equally clear: significant reductions in fossil fuel emissions are being called for across the board. Agriculture is no exception. Tough choices will be made in the decades ahead. Regional production of diverse renewable energy sources should be aggressively scaled up.

At the same time, energy is not renewable if essential resources such as soil and water are despoiled in the process. Simply increasing the supply of renewable energy without a national strategy to make the United States "carbon neutral" may only succeed in providing more power to consumer.

Across the world, and prominently in agricultural areas, large wind farms are gaining traction as alternative electricity producers. The latest generation of turbines have been criticized as noisy, aesthetically polluting, and being "Cuisinarts for birds," particularly raptors.

Within an overall context of a more positive energy future, however, it should be possible to identify appropriate areas to locate utility-scale wind farms withexceptions such as these proposed by John Davis of the Adirondack Council:

  • No energy production in roadless areas.
  • No windmills or energy production in wildlife migration corridors.
  • No windmills in parks or protected areas.
  • Keep windmills away from water bodies.
  • Complement renewable energy funding with a national energy conservation platform.
wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, animal rights, human rights

July 22, 2009

Missing the point about wind energy development

Bradford Plumer writes in The New Republic's environment and energy blog about the action in North Carolina to ban structures taller than 100 feet from the state's mountaintops, which would effectively ban industrial wind energy turbines. His analysis consists only of showing a picture of mountaintop-removal coal mining and asking whether in comparison wind turbines can still be called "unsightly".

If mountaintop-removal is the issue, then the blog should ask why it is allowed.

If coal in general is the issue, then the blog should ask just how much coal would be saved by adding wind turbines to the grid. (The answer is: none.)

Having learned that wind energy does not reduce coal use, then the blog should ask if industrial wind's own adverse environmental impacts, including not just aesthetic but also on birds, bats, hydrology, and wildlife habitat, can be justified by other benefits. (The answer is: hardly. Wind is a highly variable, intermittent, and diffuse resource that only adds to the grid's burden of supplying steady energy in response to demand.)

Instead, the false and unexamined premise that wind turbines on the grid provide substantial useful energy, leading to the next false and unexamined premise that nondispatchable, unpredictable, and variable wind energy displaces coal -- generally a baseload supplier (wind preferentially displaces first hydro, second open-cycle natural gas [at a loss of efficiency]), leads to Plumer simply ignoring the actual debate about industrial wind energy development on the wild mountains of North Carolina.

What is gained and what is lost? Very little, if anything, is gained, and very much is lost. That is not to deny the horrors of mountaintop-removal mining or the pollution from coal burning. Those are irrelevant to the debate about wind. Adding industrial wind development will not reduce them in the least. Wind only adds a new insult to the environment.

So to Plumer's challenge, "There's nothing wrong with finding wind turbines unsightly, but the relevant question here is: Compared to what?"

Compared to a wild mountaintop teeming with flora and fauna -- without heavy-duty cut-and-filled roads, blasted-in turbine platforms, 400-ft-high machines grinding around day or night, flashing lights, acres of tree clearance, miles of new transmission lines, substations, etc. Duh.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, animal rights, human rights

July 21, 2009

The doctor is out to lunch

So Dr. Howard Dean tells us that we can't have the efficient and fair system of health care Europeans enjoy because the European system was "essentially destroyed during World War II" ("Doctor's Note," New York Times Magazine, July 9).

Ahem. World War II is long over, as is the post-war American boom when employers provided expanding benefits to their employees. After decades of seeing those benefits taken away and the cost of private health care skyrocket, it is not "crazy," as Dean asserts, to change to a public plan.

Canada's system was not destroyed during World War II, and they implemented a totally public plan. And in the U.S., private health care and insurance are not our only experience. Medicare is a successful single-payer insurance system, and the Veterans Administration is a successful government-run (socialized) health care system. Furthermore, the SCHIP program is a successful example of state-federal partnership -- much like what Canada's current system developed from -- to provide single-payer care to the children of working families.

It is crazy to pretend that these public plans don't already exist and to ignore not only the inefficiencies but also the horrors, even crimes, as many people experience it, of our private for-profit employment-based system. It is crazier still to dismiss out of hand the solution that every other civilized country in the world has established: a public health system by which we fairly share the costs of what we are all subject to.

Are American health needs somehow exceptional? Have we not "hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means ...? if you prick us, do we not bleed? ... if you poison us, do we not die?"

July 20, 2009

Freedom for tyranny, socialism for big business

The U.S.A., spreading freedom and democracy ...

Also see:  "A Few Facts About the Honduran Military Coup" by Ken Silverstein, Harper's, July 6; and "Honduras and the Big Stick" by Nikolas Kozloff, Counterpunch, July 20.

Hugh O'Shaughnessy, Independent, July 19, writes about the coup in Honduras:

... For some of the plotters it is their second attempt to overthrow an elected reformist government in Latin America: the group includes prominent figures involved in the 2002 ousting of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who was kidnapped for 48 hours and sent to a Caribbean island before being restored to office after widespread popular protest.

The temporary toppling of Mr Chavez was welcomed by the Bush administration, the Blair government and the International Monetary Fund [Ed:  and the New York Times]. This weekend, the US seems destined for a replay of 2002's Operation Chaotic Coup. Amid a stream of contradictory messages it is clear that last month's putsch against Mr Zelaya was brewed up in Washington by a group of extreme conservatives from Venezuela, Honduras and the US. They appear to have hidden their plans from the White House, but hoped eventually to bounce President Obama into backing them and supporting the "interim president" [Roberto Micheletti]. They are making much of Mr Zelaya's alliance with Mr Chavez, whose sense of nationalism challenges US hegemony.

Financial backing for the coup is identified by some as coming from the pharmaceutical industry, which fears Mr Zelaya's plans to produce generic drugs and distribute them cheaply to the impoverished majority in Honduras, who lack all but the most primitive health facilities. Others point to big companies in the telecommunications industry opposed to Hondutel, Honduras's state-owned provider. Parallels are being made with ITT, the US telecommunications company that offered the Nixon government funds for the successful overthrow of President Salvador Allende of Chile in 1973.

A key figure is Robert Carmona-Borjas, a Venezuelan active against Mr Chavez in 2002, who later fled to the US. He runs the Washington-based Arcadia, which calls itself "an innovative 'next generation' anti-corruption organisation". Its website carries three video clips alleging, without evidence, that Mr Zelaya, his associates and Hondutel are deeply corrupt. Behind Arcadia are the US-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the International Republican Institute (IRI), the well-funded overseas arm of the Republican Party. Currently active among the Uighurs of western China, the NED has this year funnelled $1.2m (£740,000) for "political activity" in Honduras.

The focus of attention in the campaign against Mr Zelaya is now on the office of Senator John McCain, the defeated US presidential candidate, who is chairman of the IRI, takes an interest in telecoms affairs in the US Congress and has benefited handsomely from campaign contributions from US telecoms companies - which are said to have funded the abortive 2002 coup against Mr Chavez.

Mr McCain's former legislative counsel, John Timmons, arranged the visit of Micheletti supporters to Washington on 7 July where they met journalists at the National Press Club "to clarify any misunderstandings about Honduras's constitutional process and ... the preservation of the country's democratic institutions".

Meanwhile, within the US administration, difficulties in co-ordination have emerged between the State Department and the White House, with the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, issuing a low-key condemnation of the coup which was quickly superseded by stronger words from Mr Obama. The President called for Mr Zelaya's reinstatement, which Mrs Clinton had failed to demand.

The conservative-minded Mrs Clinton retains John Negroponte, an ambassador to Honduras under Ronald Reagan, as an adviser. He also represented George W Bush at the UN and in Baghdad. Democratic Senator Chris Dodd attacked Mr Negroponte in 2001 for drawing a veil over atrocities committed in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, by military forces trained by the US. Mr Dodd claimed that the forces had been "linked to death squad activities such as killings, disappearances and other human rights abuses".

During his time in Tegucigalpa, Mr Negroponte directed funds to the US-supported Contra terrorists seeking to overthrow the government of Nicaragua. He assured them of arms and supplies from the Palmerola airstrip, the main US base in Central America. As President Rafael Correa of Ecuador is in the final stages of closing the US base in his country, Mr Negroponte is conscious of what the US could lose if a Zelaya government banned its presence at Palmerola. For their part, Hondurans have noted that when Mr Zelaya tried to return on 6 July, and his plane was refused permission to land at Tegucigalpa airport, no room was found at Palmerola.

Since last July, the US ambassador in Tegucigalpa has been the Cuban-born Hugo Llorens. He was the principal National Security adviser to Mr Bush on Venezuela at the time of the failed 2002 coup, when he was working with two other well-known State Department hardliners, Otto Reich and Elliot Abrams.

Mr Reich, a former US ambassador to Venezuela, advised Mr McCain in his presidential bid and previously worked for AT&T, the US telecoms giant. As he goes into battle against Mr Zelaya, the website of his business consultancy, Otto Reich Associates, quotes Mr Reagan: "You understand the importance of fostering democracy and economic development among our closest neighbours."

Mr Abrams was also deep in the business of supplying the Contra terrorists. He tried to sabotage the Central American peace plans proposed by Oscar Arias, then the Costa Rican President, who later received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. In 1991 Mr Abrams, a neoconservative passionately supportive of Ehud Olmert and other leading Israeli hawks, was convicted of hiding information from the US Congress investigation of the Iran-Contra affair. The New York Times reported in 2006 that he had strong ties to then vice-president Dick Cheney. ...

And Alexander Cockburn comments on, among other things, Obama's international lecturing:

“Africa’s future is up to Africans,” he said in Accra. No it’s not. Africa’s future is to a pervasive extent up to the World Bank, the IMF, international mining and oil companies, the US Congress (which for example votes cotton subsidies to domestic corporate farmers, thus undercutting and laying waste the cotton economies of Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali and Chad).

human rights

Goldman Sachs and the coming carbon credit bubble

Matt Taibbi, "The Great American Bubble Machine", Rolling Stone, July 13, 2009:

From tech stocks to high gas prices, Goldman Sachs has engineered every major market manipulation since the Great Depression — and they're about to do it again.

... If America is circling the drain, Goldman Sachs has found a way to be that drain — an extremely unfortunate loophole in the system of Western democratic capitalism, which never foresaw that in a society governed passively by free markets and free elections, organized greed always defeats disorganized democracy. ...

If you want to understand how we got into this financial crisis, you have to first understand where all the money went — and in order to understand that, you need to understand what Goldman has already gotten away with. It is a history exactly five bubbles long — including last year's strange and seemingly inexplicable spike in the price of oil. There were a lot of losers in each of those bubbles, and in the bailout that followed. But Goldman wasn't one of them.

BUBBLE #1 — The Great Depression ...

BUBBLE #2 — Tech Stocks ...

BUBBLE #3 — The Housing Craze ...

BUBBLE #4 — $4 a Gallon ...

BUBBLE #5 — Rigging the Bailout ...

BUBBLE #6 — Global Warming

Fast-forward to today. It's early June in Washington, D.C. Barack Obama, a popular young politician whose leading private campaign donor was an investment bank called Goldman Sachs — its employees paid some $981,000 to his campaign — sits in the White House. Having seamlessly navigated the political minefield of the bailout era, Goldman is once again back to its old business, scouting out loopholes in a new government-created market with the aid of a new set of alumni occupying key government jobs.

Gone are Hank Paulson and Neel Kashkari; in their place are Treasury chief of staff Mark Patterson and CFTC chief Gary Gensler, both former Goldmanites. (Gensler was the firm's cohead of finance.) And instead of credit derivatives or oil futures or mortgage-backed CDOs, the new game in town, the next bubble, is in carbon credits — a booming trillion dollar market that barely even exists yet, but will if the Democratic Party that it gave $4,452,585 to in the last election manages to push into existence a groundbreaking new commodities bubble, disguised as an "environmental plan," called cap-and-trade.

The new carbon credit market is a virtual repeat of the commodities-market casino that's been kind to Goldman, except it has one delicious new wrinkle: If the plan goes forward as expected, the rise in prices will be government-mandated. Goldman won't even have to rig the game. It will be rigged in advance.

Here's how it works: If the bill passes, there will be limits for coal plants, utilities, natural-gas distributors and numerous other industries on the amount of carbon emissions (a.k.a. greenhouse gases) they can produce per year. If the companies go over their allotment, they will be able to buy "allocations" or credits from other companies that have managed to produce fewer emissions. President Obama conservatively estimates that about $646 billion worth of carbon credits will be auctioned in the first seven years; one of his top economic aides speculates that the real number might be twice or even three times that amount.

The feature of this plan that has special appeal to speculators is that the "cap" on carbon will be continually lowered by the government, which means that carbon credits will become more and more scarce with each passing year. Which means that this is a brand new commodities market where the main commodity to be traded is guaranteed to rise in price over time. The volume of this new market will be upwards of a trillion dollars annually; for comparison's sake, the annual combined revenues of all electricity suppliers in the U.S. total $320 billion.

Goldman wants this bill. The plan is (1) to get in on the ground floor of paradigmshifting legislation, (2) make sure that they're the profitmaking slice of that paradigm and (3) make sure the slice is a big slice. Goldman started pushing hard for capandtrade long ago, but things really ramped up last year when the firm spent $3.5 million to lobby climate issues. (One of their lobbyists at the time was none other than Patterson, now Treasury chief of staff.) Back in 2005, when Hank Paulson was chief of Goldman, he personally helped author the bank's environmental policy, a document that contains some surprising elements for a firm that in all other areas has been consistently opposed to any sort of government regulation. Paulson's report argued that "voluntary action alone cannot solve the climatechange problem." A few years later, the bank's carbon chief, Ken Newcombe, insisted that capandtrade alone won't be enough to fix the climate problem and called for further public investments in research and development. Which is convenient, considering that Goldman made early investments in wind power (it bought a subsidiary called Horizon Wind Energy [Ed: formerly Zilkha Renewable Energy, bought in 2005 for less than $1 billion and sold to Energias de Portugal in March 2007 for $2.15 billion]), renewable diesel (it is an investor in a firm called Changing World Technologies) and solar power (it partnered with BP Solar), exactly the kind of deals that will prosper if the government forces energy producers to use cleaner energy. As Paulson said at the time, "We're not making those investments to lose money." [Ed.: Similarly, Enron lobbied hard in the late 1990s for the U.S. to sign the Kyoto Accord.]

The bank owns a 10 percent stake in the Chicago Climate Exchange, where the carbon credits will be traded. Moreover, Goldman owns a minority stake in Blue Source LLC, a Utahbased firm that sells carbon credits of the type that will be in great demand if the bill passes. Nobel Prize winner Al Gore, who is intimately involved with the planning of cap-and-trade, started up a company called Generation Investment Management with three former bigwigs from Goldman Sachs Asset Management, David Blood, Mark Ferguson and Peter Harris. Their business? Investing in carbon offsets. There's also a $500 million Green Growth Fund set up by a Goldmanite to invest in greentech … the list goes on and on. Goldman is ahead of the headlines again, just waiting for someone to make it rain in the right spot. Will this market be bigger than the energyfutures market?

"Oh, it'll dwarf it," says a former staffer on the House energy committee.

Well, you might say, who cares? If cap-and-trade succeeds, won't we all be saved from the catastrophe of global warming? Maybe — but capandtrade, as envisioned by Goldman, is really just a carbon tax structured so that private interests collect the revenues. Instead of simply imposing a fixed government levy on carbon pollution and forcing unclean energy producers to pay for the mess they make, cap-and-trade will allow a small tribe of greedy-as-hell Wall Street swine to turn yet another commodities market into a private taxcollection scheme. This is worse than the bailout: It allows the bank to seize taxpayer money before it's even collected.

"If it's going to be a tax, I would prefer that Washington set the tax and collect it," says Michael Masters, the hedgefund director who spoke out against oilfutures speculation. "But we're saying that Wall Street can set the tax, and Wall Street can collect the tax. That's the last thing in the world I want. It's just asinine."

Cap-and-trade is going to happen. Or, if it doesn't, something like it will. The moral is the same as for all the other bubbles that Goldman helped create, from 1929 to 2009. In almost every case, the very same bank that behaved recklessly for years, weighing down the system with toxic loans and predatory debt, and accomplishing nothing but massive bonuses for a few bosses, has been rewarded with mountains of virtually free money and government guarantees — while the actual victims in this mess, ordinary taxpayers, are the ones paying for it. ...

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, human rights, anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism