Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Apocalypse Anonymous


The fresco is titled The End of the World, Apocalypse, created by Luca Signorelli from 1499 through 1502, in Orvieto Cathedral, San Brizio Chapel, Orvieto, Italy.
Winter solitude---
in a world of one color
the sound of wind.
---Basho
Loneliness, my everyday life.
The sweeping winds pass on the night-bell sound.
---Ching An
Science...means unresting endeavor and continually progressing development toward an end which the poetic intuition may apprehend, but which the intellect can never fully grasp.
---Max Planck
Bill McKibben's latest essay, Civilization’s Last Chance: The Planet Is Nearing a Tipping Point on Climate Change, and It Gets Much Worse, Fast, may have appeared first in Sunday's Los Angeles Times, but it's making the rounds fast. Common Dreams put it up yesterday and it has 146 comments so far. http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/05/11/8875/ When I read it my first thought was to send it out too, but then I realized I was too depressed to do it. What's the use, I thought. People who will read it already know and either are changing their own personal habits or sending money somewhere. Those who won't read it are the problem.

Psychotherapist and professor of history Carolyn Baker linked it in her newsletter and made this comment: "I have great respect for Bill McKibben, but unlike me, he is still waiting for some miracle of mass consciousness to save civilization. In this article he says we are 'nearing' a tipping point which in my opinion, we have already crossed. I believe that climate change now has a life of its own and that our best human efforts cannot stop it. In contrast to McKibben, I believe that it is only the END of civilization that can save what is left of the earth and its inhabitants, and for me, that cannot happen soon enough."

A friend of mine said a couple years ago, "The sooner we run out of oil the better. Aren't a hundred years of war about the stuff enough?" NASA climatologist James Hansen, quoted in McKibben's article, thinks burning coal to make our electricity is what's done it. President Bush said the U.S. is "addicted" to oil...and then advises us to go shopping. The guy sounds like a pusher. I remember his father being interviewed on television, sitting on the family cabin cruiser in Kennebunkport, in the midst of the gasoline shortage during his administration. At the end of it he was asked if he didn't want to urge Americans to conserve gas. He chuckled audibly...and then said, "Sure, conserve."

Is this the problem? Are we addicts now? I mean real addiction to stuff. Do we think we can't live without gasoline engines and the shopping mall? Or is it I don't want to live if I can't have it? I remember a guy in AA telling me once, "Before I gave it up I used to feel all I wanted to do was drink and smoke until I die." Maybe AA is the answer for consumerism too. Carolyn Baker thinks it is...and so last week she offered her 12 Step Plan to kick the habit. Maybe she's got something here.

12 STEPPING OUR WAY TO ARMAGEDDON, By Carolyn Baker
Friday, 09 May 2008

The end of everything we call life is close at hand and cannot be evaded.
H.G. Wells, 1946
I recently received an email from a reader, frustrated with my insistence on holding a vision of what is possible alongside the dismal, inevitable current realities of civilization's collapse. Admonishing me to bear in mind America's Oprah and NASCAR world view and therefore abdicate any sense of optimism I might have, this reader accused me of suggesting that we should 12 Step our way through Armageddon. Rather than being offended, however, I was overcome with gratitude for this reader's image, frustrated with me as he may be, because in spite of the regular "wordsmithing" that I do as a writer, I always feel a sense of relief and validation when someone else gives words that I may not yet have for what I've been thinking, feeling, or doing.
With the image of the 12 Steps in mind, I decided to look more closely at them in relation to the end of the world as we know it (TEOTWAWKI) and notice how they might in fact be useful not only for recovering from addiction, but for navigating Armageddon. At first I felt shy about applying the Steps to the collapse of civilization, thinking that my readers would think I had seriously gone around the bend, but then someone sent me the "12 Steps Of Peak Oil" from a Vancouver newspaper. At that point, I realized how relevant the Steps might be not only to Peak Oil, but to Peak Civilization itself. Seasoned 12 Steppers argue that despite their 1930s origin, the Steps are applicable to any situation-no matter how monumental, and the collapse of civilization is about as big as it gets. So let's take a closer look.
Step 1: We admitted we were powerless - that our lives had become unmanageable.
Step 1 requires that I admit my powerlessness over the situation with which I'm confronted. Maybe you're thinking, "Well hey, that's no problem-did I ask for this debacle? All those years that I was an upstanding citizen and voted in elections and had faith in the American dream? What was that for? I did all the right things and now we're looking at Armageddon. Of course, I know that I'm powerless."
But that's not exactly what I mean by admitting that one is powerless. Many of us are stockpiling food, learning skills, busily relocating to other parts of the country or world, investing in precious metals, and so much more, but let's not forget that no matter how much we prepare, we're ultimately powerless over the outcome. While we may know that intellectually, letting it sink into the gut is a whole different story.
Powerless means that we don't know the outcome and can't control it, and that's really scary. I mean what it really all comes down to is the "D" word, you know: Death. And even if we end up celebrating a 100th birthday eating soy cupcakes with our friends in some groovy ecovillage, collapse means that we'll be encountering many more endings than we can now imagine, beginning with the end of our current way of life no matter how small our footprint may be.
Control freaks won't do well with TEOTWAWKI; flexibility, on the other hand, is an essential attribute for survival. No matter how "manageable" our lives might be in the current moment, the collapse of empire is certain to challenge that and will compel us to align with others, give and receive support, trust our intuition as well as our intellect, and be willing to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. As a 12 Stepper might say, true empowerment lies in admitting one's powerlessness.
Step 2: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
People entering recovery often have a terrible time with this one. First of all, they feel they might have to buy into all that God stuff, but worse, they feel as if in order to recover, they have to admit that they are insane.
Let me hasten to emphasize that I too recoil at the use of the word "God" and wish to define "power greater than ourselves" as broadly as possible. Over the decades, countless atheists have benefited from using the 12 Steps for addiction recovery precisely because they were able to do the same. Atheists, agnostics, and feminists will have a much easier time with the Steps if they widen their concept of Higher Power to something non-theistic and gender-neutral.
"Insanity" as the Steps define it simply means that one does not recognize anything larger or more significant than one's own ego. Simply put, "something greater" could be one's concept of nature or one's confidence in the human spirit or anything else that one considers more benevolently powerful than oneself.
The 12 Steps inherently fly in the face of the ethics of civilization, based as those values are on the supremacy of the human ego-a pre-eminence that consciously or unconsciously deifies itself and whatever material gain it can amass unto itself at the expense of everyone and everything else. Now what could be more insane than that, and isn't everyone reading these words interested in transforming that paradigm into something more compassionate and sustainable? 12 Step programs further define insanity as doing the same thing that doesn't work over and over again, each time expecting different results. I can think of myriad examples of this in the culture of empire, starting with, "Maybe this time, if we just elect the right candidate for president then...."
12 Stepping into Armageddon begins with thoroughly examining how the culture of empire has inculcated us on every level and in every aspect of our lives. It means understanding how empire has programmed us to believe that we are all-powerful and that if we just do all the right things, we will succeed because our ego needs are the raison d'etre for our existence. When we are unable to recognize our powerlessness and resist acknowledging something greater than ourselves, we also rebel against the limits that life on this planet demand of us. We walk around as little "gods" and "goddesses" believing that we can consume whatever we like whenever we like at the expense of all other species as well as our own.
Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to that power.
OK, breathe. Remember-you don't have to use the word "God", and this Higher Power thing is gender-neutral.
This Step is particularly challenging because it requires action. Steps 1 and 2 just require me to admit something, but Step 3 asks me to DO something-something repugnant to the children of empire. It means I have to surrender my will to that "something greater". Eeeeeeew!
Step 3 is where the rubber meets the road-or not. In order to continue with the rest of the Steps, and therefore recovery, if that's what I'm using them for, or navigating collapse, as the case may be, I have to defer to a greater wisdom. What's even more distasteful is that I'm asked to surrender not only my will but my life.
Well, here we are again back to the dreaded "D" word. Anyone who has been researching and preparing for collapse knows the precarious position of the planet and the human race. If 200 species per day are going extinct, then the bottom line is that we are all staring our own mortality in the face as never before in human history. Collapse is, above all, forcing us to confront our personal mortality and that of our loved ones which is the principal reason so few are willing to deal with it. Who would sign up to feel that vulnerable? However, if we can allow that particular emotion, it becomes more possible to surrender our will and our life because what else do we have to lose?
The logical progression of the Steps is simply that since I'm powerless over the outcome, and there is something greater than my human ego and my five physical senses, it behooves me to consider abdicating my attempt to control what my finite humanity cannot. For this reason, I find that Step 3 relinquishes me from having "hope" because hope is ultimately another attempt to control what I cannot.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
So now that I know that my ego can't manage my life, and I'm willing to surrender the outcome of my life and the world as I have known it to a power greater than myself, I have to look more deeply within. If we are using the Steps in relation to TEOTWAWKI, then a moral inventory could be a somewhat different experience than if we're applying the steps in relation to an addiction. Nevertheless, TEOTWAWKI is not unrelated to the addiction issue. In fact, humanity's addiction to material gain and economic growth has resulted in a delusional disregard for the earth's limits. An expression often heard among 12 Steppers is "self-will run riot" which pretty much summarizes humankind's obliviousness and even contempt toward the earth community.
But let's define our terms. Inventory simply means taking stock of what we have and don't have-what we may need more of or less of. The collapse of empire forces all of us, whether we consciously intend to or not, to consider our values and priorities. People losing houses, jobs, having to relocate out of necessity or by choice, finding that their pensions have suddenly evaporated or who have lost health insurance are forced to make tough decision about priorities.
Those of us who have been aware of collapse for some time and have been preparing for it are faced not only with making decisions such as the ones mentioned above, but are also compelled to look more deeply within to notice what qualities we need to develop in the face of collapse and which ones we may need to minimize. For example, I grew up as an only child and have lived an extremely independent life as an adult. I currently find myself working on reaching out to trusted others, making plans to live in community, and although fiercely committed to personal space and daily periods of solitude, consciously forsaking a life that is all about just me and my needs.
In so doing, I am taken to deeper layers of Step 4 as I contemplate my own part in the collapse of civilization. Although I have left a very small footprint on the earth for most of my life, I must own responsibility for the ways, no matter how small, in which I've polluted the ecosystem, my disconnection from the earth community, aspects of personal independence that have manifested in dysfunction, isolation, arrogance, and rationalization about my need for interdependent connection. In other words, although I'm not on the board of Monsanto, I have played a role in violating the human and more than human worlds.
5. Admitted the exact nature of our wrongs.
Taking a searching and fearless moral inventory compels us to admit our errors to ourselves, to something greater, and to someone else. I begin this process by verbalizing these errors to the power greater than me and then to whomever or whatever I have harmed.
With respect to TEOTWAWKI, I must apologize to generations younger than mine for the failure of my generation to preserve and protect the earth. For example, when teaching college students about the collapse of civilization and its repercussions, I'm often confronted with, "Yeah, and it's your fault and the fault of your generation." Without the slightest hesitation, I wholeheartedly agree, and I tell them that I am genuinely sorry. I also point out that collapse has built up over a period of centuries and that inherent within the values of civilization were the seeds of its own demise. Nevertheless, I have made choices in my lifetime that reinforced those values.
6. Were entirely ready to have all these defects of character removed.
Defects of character? What is this?
It's easy to become defensive around this Step unless one takes it to the next level. I define "defects of character" as those aspects of my personality that have resulted from the programming of empire, or my wounds, if you will. These are the qualities that I have taken on while growing up in empire culture which mitigate against the earth community and my connection with it. I'm very ready to have those removed, but I'm also aware that that means I may need to change my lifestyle, perhaps in drastic ways. Speaking only for myself, I need to look at my appetite for meat (which I've almost extinguished); my tendency to think of my own needs first even when I know I shouldn't; my workaholism, which although greatly diminished in recent years is not entirely absent; my tendency to isolate; my quickness to judge others-the list goes on and on. None of these qualities will be useful as collapse accelerates, and I am working to transform their presence in my life which the next Step facilitates.
7. Humbly asked for the shortcomings to be removed
Now I'm back to Step 3 and my relationship with "something greater". Because I've surrendered the outcome to it, I can also surrender my character defects and ask them to be transformed-a word that I personally prefer over "removed" since I have come to believe that no part of me can ever be totally removed. Like energy, parts of myself can be transformed but never made to disappear.
8. Made a list of all we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
While Steps 4 through 7 are about oneself, Steps 8, 9, and 10 are relational. Step 8 asks me to notice carefully who has been harmed by my empire-inflicted wounds. This definitely does not apply exclusively to people. Without meaning to, I've harmed animals, birds, trees, soil, water, air-myriad members of the earth community, and I need to reflect on that. In fact, even after learning about collapse and how I need to live differently, I have not changed my behavior to the extent that I want and need to. Step 8 is about willingness and paying attention.
9. Made direct amends wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
So now that I'm willing to make amends, I must do so. Certainly I must make amends to the people in my life that I've harmed, but just as important are those members of the more than human world that I've overlooked, minimized, disregarded, or just simply didn't notice. Just as a 9th Step may require me to sit down with another human whom I've harmed and make amends, it may also require me to spend a day in the forest, or somewhere else in nature, expressing my regrets to trees, insects, streams, birds, or other non-humans for my obliviousness to them and the countless services they perform in the ecosytem from which I benefit.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
So Steps 6-9 are not one-shot deals. I am asked to practice them repeatedly. Inventory-taking is forever because what I have or don't have constantly changes, and it's important that I use both the "glass half empty" and "glass half full" approaches to my evolution. Just as I cannot successfully navigate collapse by myself, neither can I practice the Steps in isolation. I need the entire earth community in order to utilize them effectively.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with something greater
Some readers may recoil at the words "prayer" and "meditation", but I remind all of us of one of the key slogans of 12 Step programs which is: "Take what you like and leave the rest." If you find yourself reacting to "prayer" and "meditation", don't worry about it. The point of this Step is to improve conscious contact with something greater, and how we choose to do that is far less important than that we do it. Armageddon will not be easy to navigate, but it will be impossible without a conscious, working connection with a power greater than oneself.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Virtually every person preparing for collapse has had at least one, if not countless experiences, of attempting to share research, options, and the realities of collapse with others, only to find oneself blown off by the other person. Not unlike the individual addict who must be ready for recovery before fully applying the Steps, the people with whom we share information about TEOTWAWKI will either be ready to learn more or they will resist and maintain their head-in-the-sand posture. So we must be discreet and respectful, remembering that walking our talk (practicing these principles in all our affairs) is the most important message we can carry.
Waking up is an extraordinarily mixed blessing. With it comes tremendous clarity and joy, as well as sometimes excruciating sorrow as one witnesses more clearly civilization's trajectory of self-and-other destruction. Just as addicts in recovery frequently experience the tragic deaths of other addicts in their lives who will not engage in the recovery process, individuals preparing for collapse invariably encounter numerous loved ones about whom they care deeply who prefer to remain asleep. I feel sorrow daily for those I know who will probably never open their eyes. But I have opened mine, and I imagine that most people reading these words have as well. I carry that and these incredibly practical Steps with me, alongside a plethora of emotions and wonderfully awake allies, as each day we journey more deeply into Armageddon.
While I do not feel optimistic about survival in the abyss into which we appear to be descending, I believe that the principles inherent in the Steps can facilitate our planting seeds that may ultimately germinate and flourish as a new paradigm lived out by some of us and our descendents who are committed to creating lifeboats of localized, sustainable living that serve the entire earth community.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

"In contrast to McKibben, I believe that it is only the END of civilization that can save what is left of the earth and its inhabitants, and for me, that cannot happen soon enough."
---Carolyn Baker

I understand that Carolyn Baker is a "Psychotherapist and professor of history," so, perhaps, she'll want to define for us what she means exactly by "END of civilization."

For some reason I am hearing that dueling banjos song from Deliverance....

jazzolog said...

I think she means this particular civilization, which is spread out, globalized, unmanageable---in the sense the Romans discovered as they became increasingly vulnerable to "barbarians." I know she favors localized communities, as self-sustaining as possible. Try this one for more detail~~~

http://www.carolynbaker.net/site/content/view/463/3/

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I just finished reading the article from that link.

Well, the devil is in the detail, isn't it?

I quote:

"To fully understand Peak Civilization is to understand that the federal government per se does not exist, but rather an elite corporate cartel engaged in the management of citizens-citizens who are now completely on their own in terms of their survival as the pseudo-government continues to implode. Moreover, the cartel's direct intent is the cessation of nation states to be supplanted by corporations and their subsidiaries."
---PEAK CIVILIZATION AND THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONNECT, By Carolyn Baker

Precisely so. That's why I was asking Carolyn Baker's definition of "civilization." Consider this: If, as can be reasonably expected, the "cessation of nation states" is one of the results of the "END of civilization" that the author projects and longs for, wouldn't that serve the agenda of the corporations and their subsidiaries of which the author is speaking? Can you say "unchecked" power? Wouldn't that be a regression to (as opposed to a step forward and away from) a WARLORDS civilization (aka Barbarism.)

Furthermore what are "localized communities" if not small independents governments. In what would that be different from the Greek state cities of the past? Isn't that re-inventing the wheel, all over again?

Carolyn Baker speaks of Elgin's stage IV of development of a civilization in which "bureaucratic mechanisms and their complexity become overwhelming, and society begins to break down." The truth of the matter is that this phenomenon is also present in Spring Time (Stage I of civilization development), I am well acquainted with some of those "self-sustaining" "localized communities," and had some first-hand experience with one, and, well, it's not always all what it's cracked up to be. What does Carolyn Baker knows of "truth to power"? My experience is this: As above so below, only, on a smaller scale.

From the author's perspective, as stated in her article, "collapse must occur in order for long-term revitalization to become possible." Hmm...I don't know...I am not sure that some 6.5 billion human beings let lose on what remains of the current fragilized earth ecosystem and biosystem is really what the planet needs right now. Nor am I sure that a regression to some idealized utopian stage-I of civilization is the right direction to go.

History doesn't have to repeat itself. The law of Evolution (increasing sustainable complexity) suggest that a stage V is possible. Can we find it in time?

jazzolog said...

You think you can't get anywhere talking with "terrorists?" Try teaching Bush something. Clearly a terrorist is anyone who disagrees with this man about absolutely anything in the world. Especially the wondrous "invisible hand" that guides the free market of democracy. Praise God from Whom all these wonders flow! Or praise Keith Olbermann for continuing to dog this president. Many of the rest of us are trusting the stats that show the worst approval rating in the history of the republic---but that isn't the way you squash psychopaths like this...or win elections. They squeak and ooze out from under such boulders of rejection.

Here's Bush before the Israeli Parliament yesterday likening Barack Obama to the Nazi appeasers~~~

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/16/us/politics/16obama.html?_r=1&th&emc=th&oref=slogin

And here's Will Bunch's pointed response in The Philadelphia Daily News~~~

I've seen a lot of sad things in American politics in my lifetime -- the resignation of a president who became a national disgrace after he oversaw a campaign of break-ins and cover-ups, another who circumvented the Constitution to trade arms for hostages, and yet is now hailed as national hero. And those paled to what we have seen in the last seven years -- flagrant disregard for the Constitution, the launching of a "pre-emptive" war on false pretenses, and discussions about torture and other shocking abuses inside the White House inner sanctum.

But now it's come to this: A new low that I never imagined was even possible.

President Bush went on foreign soil today, and committed what I consider an act of political treason: Comparing the candidate of the U.S. opposition party to appeasers of Nazi Germany -- in the very nation that was carved out from the horrific calamity of the Holocaust. Bush's bizarre and beyond-appropriate detour into American presidential politics took place in the middle of what should have been an occasion for joy: A speech to Israeli's Knesset to honor that nation's 60th birthday.

But here's what he said:

JERUSALEM (CNN) – In a particularly sharp blast from halfway around the world, President Bush suggested Thursday that Sen. Barack Obama and other Democrats are in favor of "appeasement" of terrorists in the same way U.S. leaders appeased Nazis in the run-up to World War II.

"Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," said Bush, in what White House aides privately acknowledged was a reference to calls by Obama and other Democrats for the U.S. president to sit down for talks with leaders like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"We have heard this foolish delusion before," Bush said in remarks to the Israeli Knesset. "As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American Senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."

As a believer in free speech, I think Bush has a right to say what he wants, but as a President of the United States who swore to uphold the Constitution, his freedom also carries an awesome and solemn responsibility, and what this president said today is a serious breach of that high moral standard.

Of course, there are differences of opinion on how America should handle Iran, and that's why we're having an election here at home, to sort these issues out -- hopefully with respect and not with emotional and inaccurate appeals. Not only is the president's comment a gross misrepresentation of Barack Obama's stance on the issue, but ironically, it comes just a day after his own Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, said of Iran: "We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage . . . and then sit down and talk with them." Is Gates a Nazi appeaser-type, too? And Bush has been hardly consistent on this point, either. Look at his own dealings with oil-rich Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, linked to deadly terror attacks like Pan Am Flight 103.

But what Bush did in Israel this morning goes well beyond the accepted confines of American political debate, When the president speaks to a foreign parliament on behalf of our country, his message needs to be clear and unambiguous. Our democracy may look messy to outsiders, and we may have our disagreements with some sharp elbows thrown around, but at the end of the day we are not Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives.

We are Americans.

And you, Mr. Bush, are the leader of us all. To use a diplomatic setting on foreign soil to score a cheap political point at home is way beneath your office, way beneath your country, and way beneath the people you serve. You have been handed an office once uplifted to great heights by fellow countrymen from Washington to Lincoln to Roosevelt to Eisenhower, and have plunged it so deeply into the Karl-Rove-and-Rush-Limbaugh-fueled world of political destruction and survival of all costs that have lost all perspective -- and all sense of decency. To travel to Israel and to associate a sitting American senator and your possible successor in the Oval Office with those who at one time gave comfort to an enemy of the United States is, in and of itself, an act of political treason.

In another irony, this comes from an administration that has already committed such grave abuses that its former officials are becoming fearful of traveling overseas, lest they be arrested for war crimes. Despite the alleged crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush administration, the Democrats who control the House have until now been restrained in their use of the impeachment process, hoping that the final eight months of our American nightmare can pass by quickly. Indeed, one has to wonder how much of Bush's outrageous statement this morning arose from fear -- fear that a President Obama will go after his wrongdoing in 2009.

Today, it's a whole new ballgame. I believe this treacherous statement by a U.S. president in Israel is a signal to the Democrats in the House in Washington, that it's time to play its Constitutional role in ending this trauma, before even greater acts against the interest of America are wrongly committed in our name.

http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/attytood/President_Bush_committed_treason_today.html with 148 comments at this hour.

By now you may have viewed Keith Olbermann's searing commentary Wednesday night about Bush's whining again that he was misled by bad intelligence and his assertion that he gave up golf for the troops. (As I recall Ike played golf through the Korean War and it didn't look all that bad.) If you missed it TruthOut has the transcript for you~~~

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/051508A.shtml

Finally back to the imminent apocalypse toward which this president has led us, thanks to Bob Sheak and TruthOut for leading me to this revealing interview at AlterNet about the food crisis. Raj Patel has authored a book entitled Stuffed And Starved, which charges the guiding hand of the free market has created consumers out of citizens and is merely a glove controlled by some sneaky capitalists who are becoming more visible every day~~~

http://www.alternet.org/story/85395/?page=entire

jazzolog said...

Mourning the passing of his beloved wife Mary, who, like him, also was a professor emeritus (emerita) at Ohio University, did not stop Gifford Doxsee from alerting some of us to a blog article yesterday morning. The essay, at HuffingtonPost, was written by Larisa Alexandrovna in response to remarks made by Bush in Israel about Nazi appeasement. A prisoner of the Nazis himself, who shared a cleanup detail with Kurt Vonnegut after the bombing of Dresden, the historian Doxsee maintains avid interest in those in America who maintained business as usual with the Nazi regime. As Ms. Alexandrovna reminds us, among them was Bush's own grandfather. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/larisa-alexandrovna/all-the-presidents-nazis_b_102022.html

I suppose Bush could have doused the flames of the firestorm he created himself with accusations on foreign soil that most interpret were directed at Barack Obama, who favors diplomatic negotiation as a foreign policy tool. Bush could have confessed he was referring to Prescott Bush as an appeaser, whose resulting family fortune financed the various adventures of our president. I wonder why he didn't do that. Journalist Robert Parry, who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for the Associated Press in the 1980s, on Sunday posted a concise history of Grandfather Prescott and his Nazi connections at ConsortiumNews. http://www.consortiumnews.com/2008/051808.html

Also over the weekend, a selection from Bill Moyers' new book Moyers On Democracy appeared at CommonDreams, and soon was picked up as well by TruthOut. The book itself is a collection of those stirring talks he's been giving lately at such diverse locations as West Point, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and the Texas State Historical Association. I don't recall this particular selection being offered before, and perhaps Moyers chronicles best how it has come to pass that America seems to have stumbled as the world leader of freely elected government.

"Our democracy has prospered most when it was firmly anchored in the idea that 'We the People' — not just a favored few — would identify and remedy common distempers and dilemmas and win the gamble our forebears undertook when they espoused the radical idea that people could govern themselves wisely. Whatever and whoever tries to supplant that with notions of a wholly privatized society of competitive consumers undermines a country that, as Gordon S. Wood puts it in his landmark book The Radicalism of the American Revolution, discovered its greatness 'by creating a prosperous free society belonging to obscure people with their workaday concerns and their pecuniary pursuits of happiness' — a democracy that changed the lives of 'hitherto neglected and despised masses of common laboring people.'" http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/05/17/9016/ where, at this hour, there are 110 comments.

Another way of looking at the troubles of US citizenship these days was demonstrated on Sunday's Writer's Almanac, which is a journal and brief daily radio show offered by Garrison Keillor. The featured poem that day was by Jim Harrison, and here it is~~~

Easter Morning

On Easter morning all over America
the peasants are frying potatoes in bacon grease.

We're not supposed to have "peasants"
but there are tens of millions of them
frying potatoes on Easter morning,
cheap and delicious with catsup.

If Jesus were here this morning he might
be eating fried potatoes with my friend
who has a '51 Dodge and a '72 Pontiac.

When his kids ask why they don't have
a new car he says, "these cars were new once
and now they are experienced."

He can fix anything and when rich folks
call to get a toilet repaired he pauses
extra hours so that they can further
learn what we're made of.

I told him that in Mexico the poor say
that when there's lightning the rich
think that God is taking their picture.
He laughed.

Like peasants everywhere in the history
of the world ours can't figure out why
they're getting poorer. Their sons join
the army to get work being shot at.

Your ideals are invisible clouds
so try not to suffocate the poor,
the peasants, with your sympathies.
They know that you're staring at them.

http://www.elabs7.com/functions/message_view.html?mid=463375&mlid=499&siteid=20130&uid=a956fc3ece

Quinty said...

That's a great poem by Harrison.

"I told him that in Mexico the poor say
that when there's lightning the rich
think that God is taking their picture."

An unforgettable image. And so true. The last stinging line ("you're staring at them") is wonderful too.

Yeah, ol' George comes from a long line of those who knew and know what's best for THEMSELVES. Themselves exclusively. Let's not forget - and it's worth repeating - that the great appeasers in the thirties were on the right. They hoped Hitler would (like Chamberlain, Stanley Baldwin, et al) deal with Stalin. And many thought Herr Hitler wasn't such a bad guy.

In the US it was a somewhat different matter. We had a vicious right, of course, but many Americans also remembered the horrible needless slaughter of the First World War. Never again, they vowed. Though the more prescient knew the fascists would have to be stopped. That's why so many volunteers went to Spain to fight in my father's war

Anonymous said...

You think you can get anywhere talking with "terrorists?

Maybe it's a question Bush should direct at Israel and Syria.

Let's make things clear, since Israel has been accused by some of engaging in Stateterrorism, and there are those who call Syria a terrorist state, what we really have here is a bunch of them "terrorists", and by Bush's definition, no one there should have any business talking to anyone.

But wait... what's this? Syria, Israel Announce: We're Talking

GASP! Betrayal!!!

In statements issued minutes apart, the two governments said they "have declared their intent to conduct these talks in good faith and with an open mind," with a goal of reaching "a comprehensive peace."

"Good Faith," "Open Mind"?!!

Are those people nut? Has the wisdom of George W. Bush passed right over their "terrorist" heads. What part exactly of not being an "appeaser" didn't they get? Was the visit of our President to Israel such a total waste? Maybe we ought to send McCain next---without the "appeasing" influence of Joe Lieberman.

I mean, really... How can anyone in their right mind expect to have peace if they stop the name calling and just sit down and talk?!

Anonymous said...

The vocation of the news media in a healthy society is founded on the right of people to learn about matters of public concern and a right to demand that policymakers defend their decisions. Such things rely on access to information. There cannot be "informed consent" without it. People can play a useful role in a democracy and hold their government accountable only if informed well enough to do so. In this context the news media act as both a conduit and a watchdog.

Or, this is supposed to be the idea, in any case. The reality of it has been disappointingly different, in this era of Johnny-one note "talking point" media and white house cheerleading. The period of time between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq has been described as one of the greatest collapses in the history of the media in America, so, here is hoping that President Bush's interview with NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is the harbinger of a rebirth of responsible journalism (journalism with a conscience) and better investigative reporting (incisive journalism): the kind that is not afraid to ask the tough question, and I am talking about the REAL "tough questions" here, that is issues of policy making, as opposed to, say, the trivia of a presidential candidate's kindergarten musings.

Dan Froomkin's special to washingtonpost.com, yesterday is pretty extensive on the topic, and one of the most thorough I was able to find, so I 'll just be posting most of it here (bold characters emphasis mine):


By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, May 20, 2008


There is more to the White House's unprecedented attack on NBC News yesterday than meets the eye.

The blistering letter to NBC from White House Counselor Ed Gillespie ostensibly focuses on the way President Bush's interview with NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel was edited for presentation on Sunday's Nightly News.

But NBC's handling of the interview was not atypical for a tightly-edited broadcast and did not violate any journalistic norms. The White House may believe that news outlets are obliged to reproduce all of Bush's non-answers in their rambling entirety, but that's not the way the news business works.

A major topic was Bush's controversial speech to the Israeli parliament last week.

Here is the particular exchange that Gillespie complained about at some length:

Engel: "You said that negotiating with Iran is pointless, and then you went further. You said that it was appeasement. Were you referring to Senator Barack Obama?"

Bush: "You know, my policies haven't changed, but evidently the political calendar has. . . . And when, you know, a leader of Iran says that they want to destroy Israel, you got to take those words seriously."


What NBC cut out was these two sentences: "People need to read the speech. You didn't get it exactly right, either. What I said was is that we need to take the words of people seriously."

NBC also omitted the rest of Bush's response: "And if you don't take them seriously, then it harkens back to a day when we didn't take other words seriously. It was fitting that I talked about not taking the words of Adolph Hitler seriously on the floor of the Knesset. But I also talked about the need to defend Israel, the need to not negotiate with the likes of al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas. And the need to make sure Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon."

If Bush had actually explained what he thought Engel got wrong, then the editing might have come in for legitimate criticism. But all Bush did was vaguely and confusingly suggest that what he was calling appeasement was "not taking the words [of enemies like Iran -- or Hitler --] seriously." By no accepted definition does that amount to appeasement. But regardless, Bush's point was dutifully noted in what NBC aired.

The White House's outsized reaction instead appears to be about two other things entirely.

It doesn't take a trained psychologist to observe that Bush got angrier and angrier as the Engel interview went on.

That obviously had nothing to do with the editing; it had to do with Engel's questions.

Bush typically sits down with interviewers from Fox News -- or, more recently, Politico-- where he can count on more than his share of ingratiating softballs. But Engel, a fluent Arabic speaker who has logged more time in Iraq than any other television correspondent, assertively confronted Bush with the ramifications of his actions in the Middle East.

For instance, Engel noted: "A lot of Iran's empowerment is a result of the war in Iraq." He questioned Bush about his lack of an exit strategy in Iraq: "So it doesn't sound like there's an end anytime soon." He clearly upset Bush by saying that "on the ground," the situation in Iraq "looks very bleak." (Bush replied: "Well, that's interesting you said that -- that's a little different from the surveys I've seen and a little different from the attitude of the actual Iraqis I've talked to, but you're entitled to your opinion.")

He also challenged Bush on his legacy: "[I]f you look back over the last several years, the Middle East that you'll be handing over to the next President is deeply problematic: You have Hamas in power; Hezbollah empowered, taking to the streets, more -- stronger than the government; Iran empowered, Iraq still at war. What region are you handing over?"

And Bush seemed positively furious by the end of the interview, when Engel had this to say: "The war on terrorism has been the centerpiece of your presidency. Many people say that it has not made the world safer, that it has created more radicals. That there are more people in this part of the world who want to attack the United States."

So is it a stretch to suspect that Bush told his counselor to get a little revenge?

The other essential bit of context is the ferocious, high-profile campaign being orchestrated by Fox News star Bill O'Reilly, Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes and News Corp. owner Rupert Murdoch against NBC and its cable channel, MSNBC. Just in case that had escaped the White House's attention before, a front-page Washington Post story by Howard Kurtz yesterday noted, among other things, that O'Reilly "routinely assails NBC . . . as an organization that 'spews out far-left propaganda,' is 'the most aggressive anti-Bush network' and is 'in the tank' for Barack Obama."

Gillespie was clearly unloading more than a little pent-up frustration with NBC. Though his letter opened by decrying what he called the "deceitful editing" of the Engel interview, he quickly added a litany of other complaints:

"As long as I am making this formal request, please allow me to take this opportunity to ask if your network has reconsidered its position that Iraq is in the midst of a civil war," he wrote.

He also complained about NBC's use of the word "recession," and then concluded: "I'm sure you don't want people to conclude that there is really no distinction between the 'news' as reported on NBC and the 'opinion' as reported on MSNBC, despite the increasing blurring of those lines. I welcome your response to this letter, and hope it is one that reassures your broadcast network's viewers that blatantly partisan talk show hosts like Christopher Matthews and Keith Olbermann at MSNBC don't hold editorial sway over the NBC network news division."

NBC released a statement of its own: "Just as the White House does not participate in the editorial process at the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal or USA Today, NBC News, as part of a free press in a free society, makes its own editorial decisions."

The Coverage

David Bauder writes for the Associated Press: "The White House routinely pushes back against news stories it does not agree with by issuing ' Setting The Record Straight' press releases. But the one against NBC News stands out for its angry tone and its accusation that the news division deceptively and deceitfully edited the president's words.

"It also came personally from Gillespie, one of the top figures in the White House and a veteran politico as former head of the Republican Party."

John D. McKinnon and Rebecca Dana write in the Wall Street Journal: "The White House got involved in a media feud, criticizing NBC for its handling of a recent interview with President Bush and questioning whether its cable talk-show hosts are skewing the broadcast network's point of view.

"The broadside by White House counselor Ed Gillespie, in a letter to NBC News President Steve Capus, elevated a battle over network coverage that has previously pitted MSNBC's left-leaning Keith Olbermann against Fox News's conservative Bill O'Reilly. Recently, each has intensified his attacks on the other's parent company and on executive higher-ups. Fox News is owned by News Corp., which also owns Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones & Co. NBC is owned by General Electric Co. . . .

"Mr. Engel, the NBC correspondent who conducted the interview with Mr. Bush on Sunday in Egypt, has been an occasional target of Mr. O'Reilly, who has said Mr. Engel was being too critical of the Iraq war. . . .

"In a reply letter to Mr. Gillespie, Mr. Capus wrote that 'We appreciated President Bush's decision to do the interview with NBC News, and believe Mr. Engel's reporting accurately reflects the discussion with the President.' He also said that 'the notion this was, 'deceitful editing to further a media-manufactured storyline,' is a gross misrepresentation of the facts,' and that the full Bush interview was posted Sunday on its Web site.

"He then offered: 'Editing is a part of journalism. We take the collective body of information surrounding a story, distill it and produce a report. We strive in all cases to be fair and accurate. In some instances, where appropriate, we offer interviews in their entirety -- in live broadcasts, or posted on our website.'"

Elana Schor writes in the Guardian: "The White House today accused NBC news of twisting George Bush's remarks on Iran and suggested that the television network had absorbed the bias of two of its star pundits. . . .

"Conservatives in the US have long frowned on what they consider a liberal bias at NBC, singling out the network's cable TV pundit Keith Olbermann for his fiery tirades against the Bush administration."

Dan Eggen and Peter Slevin write in The Washington Post: "The dispute illustrates the reverberations from Bush's speech on Thursday, in which he compared those who seek talks with Iran and radical Islamic groups to those who gave in to the Nazis before World War II. 'We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement,' Bush said.

"Although Bush did not mention Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), the remarks were widely seen as an attack on the Democratic presidential front-runner, who has said he would be willing to talk with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions during his first year in office. . . .

"White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said that while the administration often criticizes media coverage, it felt that the NBC report 'was particularly egregious.'"

Alex Pareene blogs for Gawker: "[R]eading the full transcript, it's clear that Bush does basically agree with Engel's question, just without mentioning Barack Obama.

"The White House letter also includes gratuitous swipes at Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann -- which may be a hint! Olbermann's ' shut the hell up, Mr. President' comment swept across the internet last week. It was maybe a bit more upsetting to the White House than a 'deceptively edited' interview."

On Cable

Here's Olbermann's own take on the complaint that NBC didn't show the full exchange: "Since they asked, we'll play it. Trust me, it makes him look worse." Olbermann's conclusion: "The White House apparently [doesn't realize] that in full it is clear the president never actually answered Richard Engel's first question and clear that the president either does not know what he talked about or what he is now talking about."

On Fox News's O'Reilly Factor last night, guest host Laura Ingraham and her guest, Karl Rove, applauded Gillespie's attack.

Laura Ingraham: "As you know, there has been a lot of criticism of NBC made by Bill that the news agency has gone far left. And this is just another piece of that evidence. . . .

Rove: "[T]his was either a very sloppy job of editing, or it was an example of bias. Either one of those doesn't speak well of NBC News. I mean, they deliberately edited out the president correcting Engel's depiction of what his speech was about. They deliberately left that on the cutting floor. . . .
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"Look, NBC has got a real problem because we're now in a position where we are starting to see the journalistic standards of MSNBC, which are really no standards at all, creep into NBC, which is a respected news organization."

About Engel

TVNewser has NBC's announcement in April that Engel had been promoted to chief political correspondent: "Previously, Engel served as NBC News' Senior Middle East Correspondent and Beirut Bureau Chief since May 2006. Engel, one of the only western journalists to cover the entire war in Iraq, joined NBC News in May 2003.

"Engel reported as a freelance journalist for ABC News during the initial U.S. invasion of Iraq and was NBC News' lead Iraq correspondent from 2003 until his appointment to Beirut Bureau Chief in May 2006. He covered the war between Israel and Hezbollah during the summer of 2006 from Beirut and southern Lebanon. Engel continues to cover the ongoing war in Iraq as well as other assignments throughout the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe.

"A celebrated journalist, Engel received the 2008 Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University award and the Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism, the first ever given to a broadcast journalist, for his report ' War Zone Diary.' The one-hour documentary, compiled from Engel's personal video journal, gave a rare and intimate account of the everyday realties of covering the war in Iraq."

In a 2006 profile of Engel in The Washington Post, Howard Kurtz wrote: "Among the small circle of journalists who risk their lives in the region, Engel commands considerable respect. . . .

"'In an era of instant media criticism, he calls balls and strikes in the middle of a war zone,' says NBC anchor Brian Williams. 'He is completely unbothered by any Web site that may have problems with his reporting while he's over in Iraq dodging bullets. . . . He is the most agenda-less person I've met in our business, I think, in the past 20 years.'"

Iran Watch

An Israeli newspaper's report that Bush has plans to attack Iran was slapped down by the White House this morning.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Bush "intends to attack Iran in the upcoming months, before the end of his term, Army Radio quoted a senior official in Jerusalem as saying Tuesday.

"The official claimed that a senior member of the president's entourage, which concluded a trip to Israel last week, said during a closed meeting that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were of the opinion that military action was called for.

"However, the official continued, 'the hesitancy of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice' was preventing the administration from deciding to launch such an attack on the Islamic Republic, for the time being.

"The report stated that according to assessments in Israel, recent turmoil in Lebanon, where Hizbullah de facto established control of the country, was advancing an American attack.

"Bush, the officials said, opined that Hizbullah's show of strength was evidence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's growing influence. They said that according to Bush, 'the disease must be treated - not its symptoms.'"

But in a statement released this morning, Press Secretary Dana Perino wrote: "An article in today's Jerusalem Post about the President's position on Iran that quotes unnamed sources -- quoting unnamed sources -- is not worth the paper it's written on. . . .

"As the President has said, no president of the United States should ever take options off the table, but our preference and our actions for dealing with this matter remain through peaceful diplomatic means. Nothing has changed in that regard."

Via Thinkprogress.org, here is CNN's Ed Henry with a few caveats: "A reporter pointed out to Dana Perino though that we heard these similar denials from the White House in the run-up to the war in Iraq. They insisted that diplomacy was the first option; military option was the last option." Henry said that there was no public word of such a meeting while Bush was in Israel, but he noted that "if -- and I stress if -- this had happened behind closed doors, this is not exactly the kind of story the Bush administration would have told us, because it's not the story line they want out right now." And Henry concluded: "The bottom line is that there's a broader fight going on -- which is the White House against the media."

jazzolog said...

I've never been a particularly popular guy...well, not since rating-and-dating took over my social scene somewhere between junior high and high school. So, in my 68 years, I've become used to being an outsider, a voice in the wilderness. When my instincts tell me something is wrong, I'm accustomed to announce my concerns and be shrugged off. I'm the guy who campaigns for a stop sign at the street corner, before we finally get one after the kid is run over. Over the years, I've become someone who just holds in big anxieties and walks around work without the cheery "HI's" to everybody. But this morning, maybe I've reached my limit and have to try again. Perhaps enough other people have become worried too that we might get some conversations going.

It started after I read Kevin Phillips' article from Sunday, titled The Old Titans All Collapsed. Is the U.S. Next? Yeah, big bold headline. This is at a site called Information Clearing House, which apparently is an alternative news source run by one guy out in California. The article didn't upset me so much because there are a lot of them out there these days. What shook me were the comments. One after another, real economic gloom and doom. And the writers don't seem just flamers and ranters. They seem, unlike me when it comes to world economics, the banking system and all that, to know whereof they speak. The article is here~~~

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article19962.htm

and, if you dare, the comments follow~~~

http://www.haloscan.com/comments/tf2777/article19962_htm/

Then I got referred to a blog called

"Eco-Anxiety
Feeling concerned about the seriousness of what is taking place ecologically in the world today and the personal, spiritual, and economic consequences is not a mental illness. It's a normal reaction to a growing awareness of a real threat and a call for healing and action by caring individuals and helping professionals."

OK. The blog is a product of Sarah Anne Edwards, PhD, LCSW, who lists herself as an ecopsychologist. Last Tuesday she posted

"Eco-Anger: A Worldview under Threat, Part 2
Personal Insights into What’s Up"

From eco-anxiety she has gone on to eco-anger apparently. Her anger is about people still in denial about climate change and how you can cope with them. She has a therapy she suggests on how to deal with your frustration over people who make fun of your attempts to conserve stuff. Here's the entry~~~

http://eco-anxiety.blogspot.com/2008/05/eco-anger-worldview-under-treat.html

My own therapy is to make this comment about my worry...essentially NOT to hear back from anyone to not worry or that worry doesn't solve anything. It's to vent. In my situation of being a lone wolf, I have to howl once in a while---just to let the pack know I'm still around.

Anonymous said...

In northern Minnesota, where wolves are protected from humans, the primary cause of death for adult wolves is being killed by wolves from other packs. So howling has its costs (running into the opposition) as well as its benefits (getting back with the pack). Consequently, wolves are careful about where and when they howl, and to whom they howl.

Some have speculated that howling strengthens the social bonds between packmates; the pack that howls together, stays together. That may be so, but chorus howls can also end with nasty quarrels between packmates. Some members, usually the lowest-ranking, may actually be "punished" for joining in the chorus. Whether howling together actually strengthens social bonds, or just reaffirms them, is unknown.
[link]

Anyhow, ranging across the WWW Tundra this morning in search of food, I ran into The Global Intelligencer (TGI), which I made a point of checking out. The way I looked at it, I figured, hey, intelligence is good. We can all use intelligence, right?

And ccording to the publisher:
The Global Intelligencer is one small piece of the puzzle. Its mission is to serve as an information clearinghouse for topics concerning individual, social and global transformation, making it available on a monthly basis to a maximum number of people worldwide.

Ah! yes, TGI did remind me of a network (or two, or three) I knew, which names I just don't seem to remember right now. They usually have some of the most inspiring mission statements stressing synergy and collaboration, and they are supposed to be multi/inter/disciplinary and multiparadigmatic in nature, in a sort of all embracing sort of way---which, for some reason, they never are.

Anyway, somewhat unexpectedly, the site eventually connected me to the Enlightenment Card.

Imagine that:

A membership and a Visa Reward Card program. When you apply for the card, it automatically enrolls you into a free membership program that can be used for discounts on health-conscious stores, products, and services.

I kid you not.

And you can earn 5000 bonus points when you refer a friend!!!

Some of the categories of rewards ("positive products and services that enhances one's overall conscious life") that you can earn points toward are: Travel, Retreats + Workshops, Yoga Classes, Organic Products, Holistic Spa Treatments, Books + DVD's, and Merchandise. And, oh yes, you can also, of course, use your points to donate to a charity.

Not exactly the kind of stuff I was looking for when I started ranging the WWW Tundra this AM, if anything it has left me a bit depressed. And, here I was, looking for some food (some piece of good news) to share with another lone wolf in need of cheering up, and I am the one now going through a bout of acute "Eco-Anxiety."

That's the thing with wolves, when two packs do meet, their relative size usually decides the outcome. Thus small packs, and "lone wolves" even more so, are often quite reluctant to howl and draw attention to themselves, whereas large packs howl readily. But packs can fib to one another about their size.

Janis said...

Oooh, this is good. How can anyone look at our world - the tension between the sublime and the ridiculous - and not find something terribly funny about the whole mess. Today I am the laughing buddha. Yesterday I was crying. Same shit, different day, as they say. To laugh at the world implies an acceptance of incomprehensibility. It offers, I guess, a way of being reconciled to the creation even as one expresses anger or despair at what sometimes appears like the tragic absurdity of it all. Thanks for this.

Nausicaa said...

"The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives."
---Albert Einstein

Amongst some of the most potent and beautiful things on Earth is the human soul on fire...

...it just also happens to be at the current time amongst some of the most destructive forces on Earth.

Einstein commented that the release of atomic energy had not created a new problem but that it had merely made more urgent the necessity of solving an existing one.

The same thing can probably be said today of Global Warming.

jazzolog said...

I'm thinking of the lone wolf that still is connected with a particular pack, but stays on the outskirts. Sometimes he's a black wolf, perhaps not suitable as a mate (though god knows I've tried) but watches from afar in case a family gets in trouble. Like hunters killing off a dad and mom, and suddenly pups are alone in the den. They say There are no orphans among wolves.

Here's another freakout this morning~~~

"Far From Normal"
by James Kunstler, May 19th
____________________________________
Those were the words that Fed chairman Ben Bernanke used to describe the financial markets (and by extension the economy) these heady spring days when everybody else with a rostrum, it seems, has pronounced the so-called liquidity crisis contained. There's a great wish for American finance to return to business-as-usual -- raking in fantastic fees for innovating new modes of tradable paper, and engineering mergers and buy-outs that generate huge fees plus $100 million kiss-offs for corporate CEOs in the noble struggle to dismantle America's productive capacity -- but apparently events are still out of hand.

The Federal Reserve itself has been instrumental in promoting abnormality by doing everything possible to prevent the work-out of bad debts in the system. Since money is loaned into existence, and loans are debts, the work-out of bad debt suggests the discovery that a lot of money has disappeared -- which is exactly the case. The Fed has postponed the work-out by sucking up truckloads of impaired, untradable securities in exchange for loans to giant banks who don't have enough cash on hand to pay their janitors.
Personally, my theory has been that the specter of peak oil pretty clearly implies the inability of industrial economies to continue producing real wealth in the customary way. In the face of this, either consciously or at a more mystical level, the worker bees in banking recognize that, in order to maintain their villas in the Hamptons, money has to be loaned into existence some other way (than in the service of industrial productivity).
We've tried just about everything else. There was the so-called service economy, an attempt to replace manufacturing with hamburger sales. Then there was the information economy, in which work would be replaced with knowing about stuff. Then there was the tech thing, which was about bringing internet companies that existed only on the back of cocktail napkins to the initial public offering stage of capitalization -- which allowed a few-hundred-or-so thirty-year-old smoothies to retire to vineyards in the Napa Valley, while hundreds of thousands of retirees lost half the value of their investment portfolios. Then there was the housing boom, which was all about the creation of more suburban sprawl under the theory that houses (or "homes" in the jargon of the realtors) represent an obvious sort of wealth, and therefore that using houses as collateral would allow humongous sums of money to be loaned into existence -- along with massive fees for structuring the loans into bundles of bond-like thingies.
This has all failed now because the racket went too far. Every possible candidate for a snookering got snookered. Too much collateral for which there were no takers went into the ground. The insane run-up in house values made a downward price movement inevitable, and as soon as the turnaround happened, it fell into the remorseless algebra of a deflationary death spiral. More importantly, however, this society ran out of tricks for loaning money into existence and instead began to experience the pain of money thought-to-be-in-existence being defaulted into a vapor -- and worse, these defaults led to logarithmic chains of money destruction in its places of origin, the investment banks that had created the racket.
The important part of this is that the money is gone. What makes matters truly eerie is that the "bubble" in suburban houses has occurred at exactly the moment in history when the chief enabling resource for suburban life -- oil -- has entered its scarcity stage.
The logical conclusion of all this is not what the American public wants to hear: we have become a much poorer society and are now faced with the unavoidable task of making major changes in how we live. All the three-card-monte moves at the highest level of finance lately amount to an effort to avoid the unavoidable, acknowledging our losses. Certainly the political fallout of all this will be awesome. But it's not about politics, really. It's about the entire society's inability to form a workable new consensus of reality.
It's hard to predict how long these institutions at the heart of our economic system can linger in the "far from normal" limbo of pretending that money has not been defaulted out of existence. Since the same process is underway in Great Britain and Spain, places beyond the control of Bernanke, Secretary Paulson, and the Boyz on Wall Street, and since actions and reactions there will affect the destiny of money here, its hard to escape the conclusion that we're at most months away from the brutal recognition that Wall Street has managed to bankrupt itself (and, by extension, the United States). This is dark heart of the matter of which no one dares speak.
Meantime, on the ground, every mook and minion in the land sees the gas pumps levitate beyond the $4 hash mark, and notes with bugged-out eyes the double-digit price stickers on common supermarket items, and feels the rush of blood from the extremities when some check-out clerk at the WalMart declares that a certain proffered credit card is maxed out, and some strangers in overalls -- the neighbors say -- managed to hot-wire the GMC Sierra in the driveway, and took it away....
The candidates for president will have a lot to talk about. I wonder if they'll dare to.

http://www.jameshowardkunstler.typepad.com/ (504 comments so far!)

Anonymous said...

Thank you, once again, for another interesting article. The comments are fascinating. As Jim Kunstler does make a point of reminding us on his blog, he is the author, amongst other books, of "A World Made by Hand." Although the novel is presented as a disaster scenario, one can’t help but feel the author secretly has quite a hard-on for the idea of a societal collapse and a return to the mid 19th century. I get the same feeling from some of the comments on his blog.

Like, for example, this comment by someone by the handle of theroachman1:

Like you, JHK, I've expected each bubble bursting to be "the one" that was going to trigger the general collapse that I've been expecting since my high school days in 1975. We've seen inflation, we've seen stagflation, we've seen recessions. Each time, they've found another way to keep the game going. The millions the Boyz rake in provide a powerful incentive to find a way. That "at most months away" may well turn into a few years yet.

Or this one from Zack:

peak oil could be here sooner than we think – some predict as early as 2012. So maybe the Mayans were correct after all.

A World Made By Hand has been described as "a utopia for the white male upper middle class aging hippie demographic that shares Kunstler's cultural biases. Union Grove, New York, is a quasi-Amish paradise devoid of African-Americans, Latinos, gays and lesbians, and teenagers with their loud hip hop music, all of whom seem to have been conveniently eliminated by an Islamic Fundamentalist terrorist nuclear attacks on two US cities and a pandemic."

To that regard Jim Kunstler reminds me of Carolyn Baker (see my earlier comment @2:59 PM) except, that I am sure, she would most certainly object to a woman’s place in a world made by hand (no much room for feminism, there).

I am not sure that a regression to a dystopian or utopian Stage-I of civilization is the way the world would go in the event of a civilization collapse. I am not sure either that it would be such a desirable outcome like some people, such as Carolyn Baker and some of the commenters on Jim Kunstler's blog, seem to think. History doesn't have to repeat itself. The law of Evolution (increasing sustainable complexity) suggest that a stage V is possible.

That said Jim Kundler’s analysis of some of the ills of our time are not devoid of interest, and his novel, “A World Made by Hands,” while amazingly naive by certain aspects, has at least the merit to awaken us to the fact of how much in the world we take for granted.

Nausicaa said...

"A World Made bY Hand" reminds me a little of Ishikawa's great novel "2050 Nen Ha Edo Jidai" (Year 2050: Return to the Edo Period). I hope it doesn't come to that. I don't think I'd like lo live in a neo-Edo period. My guess is that it would probably not take too long before powerful regional families (daimyo) and warlords' military rule (shogun) surfaced all over like they did in the feudal period of Japanese history.

jazzolog said...

Kunstler had a piece in the Washington Post Saturday. Did you see it? http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/23/AR2008052302456.html

Since the seasons have become so screwed up, opening wide the windows during the first consistently warm days and shaking out all the rugs doesn't have quite the ring of joy about it as it did when I was a kid. The 2 or 3 feet of snow finally had melted completely, the crocuses and daffodils done their stuff, lilacs were in bloom and the robins' first brood ready to fly. Instead of Winter to Spring, now we move from tornado season into hurricane season. Fire and drought season comes after that I think.

But still it cleanses the soul to tackle the stacks of dusty mess that have collected over the past year---or in my case, several years. There are the receipts and summonses of all the traumas, evidence of which you knew you should save...just in case. Accidents, surgeries, insurance stuff, tax returns...how long should you keep these documents? I recycled almost all of it yesterday. I feel like a fresh start!

So imagine my happiness when I ran across a note sent by old friend Pat Holderith Rusch (Bates '62) from July of 2003? Somehow it had gotten "sorted" into this mass of drudgery. In the meantime Pat has moved from Minneapolis down to the Carolina mountains, and we've actually visited her there, reconnecting after so many years. But in the note was tucked a poem by John Tagliabue, that had gotten published in The American Scholar back when he still was alive. It's a wonderful memorial to chickens, and though you too may misplace it you'll never forget it!

Confessing and Chanting more or less clearly

John Tagliabue

I am not a vegetarian like some of my grandchildren
and pacifist friends
and I have eaten, Italian style, Chinese style, Japanese style,
Indian style,
thousands I guess of chickens, I imagine them all over
the turning world
pecking pecking pecking scampering vocalizing in their unpompous
ways, putting up
with insistent roosters, I heard thousands of them waking up in
amazing Bali,
I vaguely at various times feel guilty, but then so-called
Reasoning comes
to help me make excuses, reasoning that all must eat
something or other,
cabbage, chickpeas, carrots, etc., all of which might
have been living
longer; reason or not, I continue my slightly
carnivorous ways
apologetically. Odes to chickens! they might give me (I who
so far
have not been eaten) a slightly chanticleer future. I know you
ignore this
passing thought, sister hens, sisters east and west, north
and south,
as you go on all over the world pecking pecking pecking and
like all of us
doing what we can; we all take our chances when we awaken
in the world.

Nausicaa said...

Kokiriko's length measures
Seven and a half suns
The long side reaches
To the kimono's sleeves cuff

The window frame sounds like
Dedereko den
That frame also sounds like
Dedereko den

In the mountain opposite
The Bulbuls are crying
They cry and fall
They cry and rise

The window frame sounds like...

In the mountain opposite
What is that thing that is shining?
Is it the stars, the fireflies or
the gold bugs glittering?

The window frame sounds like...

Kokiriko Bushi

Kokiriko no take wa
7(shichi) zun 5(go) bu ja
Nagai wa sode no
Kanakai ja

Mado no sansa wa
Dedereko den
Hare no sansa wa
Dedereko den

Mukai no yama ni
Naku hiyodori wa
Naite wa sagari
Naite wa agari

Mado no sansa wa...

Mukai no yama ni
Nikaru mono nanja
Hoshi ka Hotaru ka
Kogane no mushi ka

Mado no sansa wa...

Anonymous said...

The insane ramblings of a bitterly savage mind... Or so it says. [Link]

What do you think?

The blog is, yes, still a bit sophomorically adolescent by some aspects, but also quite inspiring overall. The blog is not bad at all. It asks the right questions. Or it asks a lot of questions, in any case. Questioning is good. (There are many blogs like this on myspace.) Reasoning skills are at an adult level. Shows understanding and concern over many important issues. Demonstrates increased thinking ability and creativity and a good incorporation of integrative media (Definitely part of the newly networked generation). The conclusions it comes to are still in their developmental stage (but that’s also the quality of the whole thing – the organic rawness of it), so the conclusion are at times still somewhat limited and unsophisticated, they do however show complex judgments. Viscerally right (emotional intelligence). Yet, still lacking at the higher reasoning levels. But, hey, the kid is only 31.

Mr. Kunstler however is now 60. I expect better.

Some people show their best years during adolescence and early adulthood (an important awakening stage), some don’t. Some get stuck, some evolve, some regress. What is of interest is what’s next.

While children first words are always a reason to rejoice, and are usually words that are an important part of the child’s daily life. A child not uttering any new words besides "mama," "dada," "milk," or "dog" beyond the age of 18 months or 24 months might be a valid cause for concern.

DNA evidence seems to indicate that modern humans originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago. How old or young is that on the scale of the world? I am not sure. The current speculations are that the universe is about 13.73 billion years, take or leave some 120 million years. The generally accepted age of the Earth and the solar system is estimated to be at about 4.54 billion years.

Quinty said...

We're that old, huh? And humans have been predicting the end of the Earth since time immemorial. Perhaps our ancestors were onto something? Or perhaps this only reveals a certain lack of stability in human nature? A glimpse into the “primordial” fear? The fearful ignorance of uncertainty?

Though we seem to have scientific evidence today that the "end" may indeed be near.

Genius often reveals itself in early youth. Or teens. Robert Frost once commented (this appeared in the New York Post, back in the late fifties, I believe) that there is a genius in every high school graduating class.

What he meant was that at least one kid in that class thinks independently, can see things clearly on his own, and hasn't been smothered yet by "socialization," to use an archaic or unarchaic word. And may still have an independent, inventive imagination.

Among painters most of the best don't begin to paint in a transcendent manner until they're past sixty. Goya, Rembrandt, all the old masters. They all improved and went way beyond their early work with age. And as a result suffered some obscurity. One thinks of El Greco, painting for himself in Toledo. Ignored.

As John Updike says, art is personality and praxis, not theory. Picasso is intriguing in that respect since his work offers an interesting evolution. He started out chatting with Apollinaire and Jacob and the like but eventually mined into his own being creating, finally, that unique style, with the three noses and upside down eyes, etc. He also became lax once he discovered that sure final plane, not doing much of anything really interesting (according to some) after Guernica. Certainly the most powerful painting he ever did. (At least I think so.) Though it’s hung badly in the Reina Sofia in Madrid, making it hard to look at. What’s more, it’s like the Mona Lisa, attracting large crowds. And school groups and the like. All terrible and noisy distractions when looking at paintings. But the museum’s administrators don’t care.

Poets can burn out quite young. Great scientists usually key on early. Einstein did his best work when he was still a kid. The rest was an incomprehensible search (for me at least) for a unified theory. (Perhaps I should stay out of this since I know next to nothing.)

In the music world prodigies are rife. Five year olds who can easily play Mozart. Ten year olds giving recitals in Carnegie Hall.

What about the rest of us? Are we born with the spark or not? What happens to it if we are? Do we become conservative and uptight and rigid in our overall view of things? Does some idiotic dogma or theory dominate our lives? Do we become the conformists our kids sneer upon? Do we excite their contempt because we elect fools for office and president?

We all have different opinions and answers, don’t we?

Anonymous said...

That we do.

And that’s what LIFE is about, isn’t it? And how Evolution works.

The challenge of a civilization growing in balanced harmony - with itself as well as nature - is hardly new.

Just for the record:

"Agricultural villages nowadays still contain about half the world's population, few people today - including most traditional villagers! - would describe these villages as either full-featured or supportive of healthy human development. The work is hard, life expectancy is short, opportunities for personal development and education are few (almost non-existent for women), and the diversity of livelihoods is small.

In addition, the harmony between these villages and the natural environment has often depended on low population densities - a luxury we no longer have. Traditional villagers around the world use three main types of agriculture: slash-and-burn, dry-land rain-fed, and irrigated. Of these, slash-and-burn is the most environmentally demanding and requires the lowest population density. But even irrigation, which supports the highest population density, can be environmentally damaging, as the ecological collapse of many past irrigation-based civilizations attests.

And finally, traditional villages are hardly paragons of harmony between humans. Village life is often, from a modern point of view, painfully patriarchal. Beyond the household there is feuding and mistrust within villages, between neighboring villages, and toward the world beyond."


That’s the kind of stuff Robert Gilman and other like him, interested in sustainability, used to write back in the 80’s.

The situation has not changed that much. If Evolution there is, it is going to have to be a leap FORWARD, NOT BACKWARD.

A true eco-civilization of 6.7 billion human beings and growing would not (and could not) be a return to any previous period or way of life in human history.

Nausicaa said...

I am reminded of Earth 2:

"This is a journey about second chances, an adventure clear across the galaxy to a new world... a journey to Earth2."

Except that we don't have the luxury of a second Earth. It looks that we'll just have to deal with the one Earth we have in its current condition and its growing population and dwindling biodiversity.

Still, one of the things I liked about the series was the concept of "Space-Age Clean-Energy technology" meets "Gaia."

Is it too late for a civilization which has put a man on the Moon and is now landing a rover on Mars?

Can't some of that craft and ingenuity save the day on planet Earth?

And what of Man's Heart?

Einstein said:

There is a race between mankind and the universe. Mankind is trying to build bigger, better, faster, and more foolproof machines. The universe is trying to build bigger, better, and faster fools. So far the universe is winning.

Einstein said it in jest, of course and I don't believe that such separation between Man and Universe can really be drawn. If anything, it seems that life on Earth has constantly been evolving, for the last 4 billion years or so (if these numbers are correct), towards greater complexity and... greater intelligence. And man (the tool-maker) has become in turn a new twist of evolution.

If struggle there is, it seems to be of Man Vs. Man at this point in time. Or of the Universe vs. the Universe. Same difference. Which is of course what Einstein meant.

Einstein was heavily involved in attempting to bring about world peace in his later life, a cause which he actively promoted until his death in 1955.

Anonymous said...

Nausicaa? What about Warrior Culture? I mean Quinty's got a point, you know, "We all have different opinions and answers, don’t we?" It wouldn't do to impose World Peace to those who do not want it.

Some societies develop a particular emphasis of warrior culture (such as the Nuer of Sudan, the Māori of New Zealand, the Dugum Dani of New Guinea, the Yanomamö (dubbed "the Fierce People") of the Amazonas, or the Germanic tribes of Iron Age Europe).

Among the Chimbu and the Dugum Dani, pig theft is the most common cause of conflict, even more frequent than abduction of women, while among the Yanomamö, the most frequent initial cause of warfare are accusations of sorcery.

Warfare serves the function of easing intra-group tensions and has aspects of a game, or "overenthusiastic football." Especially Dugum Dani "battles" have a conspicuous element of play, with one documented instance of a battle interrupted---I kid you not---when both sides were distracted by throwing stones at a passing cockoo dove.

Nausicaa said...

Um! okay, lol, you got me with that one.

May be some form of ritualistic open Batoru Rowaiaru available to those it interest could be arranged. The movie is highly popular, it scored 80% on the T-meter.

I don't think it would work, tho. The problem with those who have an interest in war has always been that they feel entitled to extend it upon those who have no interest in it.

jazzolog said...

Thanks friends for carrying on here in such a fascinating manner, while I'm marrying my son off tomorrow to his wonderful lady. And look look! Just above is one person suggesting a correction to another person---and no flame war erupts! I'm not used to this civility on the Internet.

Utah Phillips died, a wonderful singer I got to see twice. Hope you did too. Amy Goodman wrote a tribute~~~
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20080528_utah_phillips_has_left_the_stage/

And here's a guy at Princeton.edu who thinks the world economy will collapse at $300 a barrel. Pumped a full tank of gas lately? We have 2 hybrids with small tanks, so we still aren't squirming too badly at 30 bucks a toss. How about trucks though, that take 120 gallons of diesel?
http://www.princeton.edu/hubbert/current-events.html

Quinty said...

My intellectual life has been a whittling down over the decades. A shaving away of mistakes and fantasies. With the result that what I don't know far exceeds what I do know.

I think that for many of us it can be extremely painful not to know, to function within uncertainty. And that it may be reassuring and consoling to hold onto a rigid belief: whatever it is, in order to have meaning. We can see much of that in the world surrounding us.

But there is a comfort in listening to the silence, in looking out at the world silently, uncritically. Allowing its majesty to overcome us. (Much of Jazzo's poetry - those prefatory quotes which appear before his log entries - express this calm state of absorption in which an individual can lose himself.)

I sometimes heard U. Utah on KPFA in Berkeley and really liked him. We lose all these great people over time but I suppose we can console ourselves with the knowledge that new ones will come along. Though not the same, right? Not at all the same, for each one is unique.

So your son is marrying? I suppose this is only a formality? Why not? Many are the ways.

May you and yours have a fine happy day: Paul

Anonymous said...

"Many are the ways," indeed, and so, though it may, at first sight, seem at odd with the topic matter, a post about the Apocalypse---why not?---is as good a place as any (such as The Redemption of Spring in the Appalachia, where, are we told, "spring is more lovely than anywhere on Earth"), for one to announce that one is marrying one's son off, I suppose. After all, isn't it all part of the cycle of life, an Eros-Thanatos kind of a thing?

And Quinty said it well, there is indeed a lot to be said about the overwhelming majesty of the world.

And a lot to be overcome with.

~*~*~

I hold her hands and press her to my breast.
I try to fill my arms with her loveliness, to plunder her sweet smile with kisses, to drink her dark glances with my eyes.

Ah, but, where is it?

Who can strain the blue from the sky?

I try to grasp the beauty, it eludes me, leaving only the body in my hands.
Baffled and weary I come back.

How can the body touch the flower which only the spirit may touch?

(...)

Is it true, is it true, that your love traveled alone through ages and worlds in search of me?

That when you found me at last, your age-long desire found utter peace in my gentle speech and my eyes and lips and flowing hair?

Is it then true that the mystery of the Infinite is written on this little forehead of mine?

Tell me, my lover, if all this be true.

---R. Tagore (The Gardener)

jazzolog said...

More On Chickens, but mostly about an egg this time and how things are all connected. Thanks to Garrison Keillor for finding this poem and reading it on Writer's Almanac yesterday~~~

A Quiet Life
by Baron Wormser

What a person desires in life
is a properly boiled egg.
This isn't as easy as it seems.
There must be gas and a stove,
the gas requires pipelines, mastodon drills,
banks that dispense the lozenge of capital.
There must be a pot, the product of mines
and furnaces and factories,
of dim early mornings and night-owl shifts,
of women in kerchiefs and men with
sweat-soaked hair.
Then water, the stuff of clouds and skies
and God knows what causes it to happen.
There seems always too much or too little
of it and more pipelines, meters, pumping
stations, towers, tanks.
And salt---a miracle of the first order,
the ace in any argument for God.
Only God could have imagined from
nothingness the pang of salt.
Political peace too. It should be quiet
when one eats an egg. No political hoodlums
knocking down doors, no lieutenants who are
ticked off at their scheming girlfriends and
take it out on you, no dictators
posing as tribunes.
It should be quiet, so quiet you can hear
the chicken, a creature usually mocked as a type
of fool, a cluck chained to the chore of her body.
Listen, she is there, pecking at a bit of grain
that came from nowhere.

"A Quiet Life" by Baron Wormser, from Scattered Chapters. © Sarabande Books, 2008.

Here's what Amazon has of Baron Wormser~~~

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/search-handle-url?%5Fencoding=UTF8&search-type=ss&index=books&field-author=Baron%20Wormser

Nausicaa said...

And here is another egg, watch for it at 0:52.

All feeling
Falls into the big space
All feeling
Swept into the
Avenues of angles


A commenter on youtube says that listening to Suzanne Vega on his walkman was one of the things that helped him through while he was staioned on a ship in the Persian Gulf during the war.

Sometimes music is the only way out.

In "Soundtrack to War" (a 90 minute documentary by George Gittoes, filmed throughout 2003-2004), American soldiers deployed in Iraq were interviewed to create an account of the role of music in the life of soldiers on the battlefield.

Songs featured in the movie include Slayer's "Angel of Death" and Drowning Pool's Bodies, as well as freestyle rap and gospel choirs.

Anonymous said...

BEYOND A WORLD MADE BY HAND:
7 Modern Wonders of Green Technology - Written by Urbanist on June 9th, 2008: a look at seven of the most amazing real and conceptual designs currently at the forefront of ecological innovation.

jazzolog said...

This article at Salon last month requires a site pass to read so, to save you time if you're not a member, I'm posting the whole thing. Joseph Romm is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he oversees ClimateProgress.org. He is the author of "Hell and High Water: Global Warming -- The Solution and the Politics." Romm served as acting assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy in 1997. He holds a Ph.D. in physics from MIT.
Why we never need to build another polluting power plant
Coal? Natural gas? Nuke? We can wipe them all off the drawing board by using current energy more efficiently. Are you listening, Washington?

By Joseph Romm


July 28, 2008 | Suppose I paid you for every pound of pollution you generated and punished you for every pound you reduced. You would probably spend most of your time trying to figure out how to generate more pollution. And suppose that if you generated enough pollution, I had to pay you to build a new plant, no matter what the cost, and no matter how much cheaper it might be to not pollute in the first place.

Well, that's pretty much how we have run the U.S. electric grid for nearly a century. The more electricity a utility sells, the more money it makes. If it's able to boost electricity demand enough, the utility is allowed to build a new power plant with a guaranteed profit. The only way a typical utility can lose money is if demand drops. So the last thing most utilities want to do is seriously push strategies that save energy, strategies that do not pollute in the first place.

America is the Saudi Arabia of energy waste. A 2007 report from the international consulting firm McKinsey and Co. found that improving energy efficiency in buildings, appliances and factories could offset almost all of the projected demand for electricity in 2030 and largely negate the need for new coal-fired power plants. McKinsey estimates that one-third of the U.S. greenhouse gas reductions by 2030 could come from electricity efficiency and be achieved at negative marginal costs. In short, the cost of the efficient equipment would quickly pay for itself in energy savings.


While a few states have energy-efficiency strategies, none matches what California has done. In the past three decades, electricity consumption per capita grew 60 percent in the rest of the nation, while it stayed flat in high-tech, fast-growing California. If all Americans had the same per capita electricity demand as Californians currently do, we would cut electricity consumption 40 percent. If the entire nation had California's much cleaner electric grid, we would cut total U.S. global-warming pollution by more than a quarter without raising American electric bills. And if all of America adopted the same energy-efficiency policies that California is now putting in place, the country would never have to build another polluting power plant.

How did California do it? In part, a smart California Energy Commission has promoted strong building standards and the aggressive deployment of energy-efficient technologies and strategies -- and has done so with support of both Democratic and Republican leadership over three decades.

Many of the strategies are obvious: better insulation, energy-efficient lighting, heating and cooling. But some of the strategies were unexpected. The state found that the average residential air duct leaked 20 to 30 percent of the heated and cooled air it carried. It then required leakage rates below 6 percent, and every seventh new house is inspected. The state found that in outdoor lighting for parking lots and streets, about 15 percent of the light was directed up, illuminating nothing but the sky. The state required new outdoor lighting to cut that to below 6 percent. Flat roofs on commercial buildings must be white, which reflects the sunlight and keeps the buildings cooler, reducing air-conditioning energy demands. The state subsidized high-efficiency LED traffic lights for cities that lacked the money, ultimately converting the entire state.

Significantly, California adopted regulations so that utility company profits are not tied to how much electricity they sell. This is called "decoupling." It also allowed utilities to take a share of any energy savings they help consumers and businesses achieve. The bottom line is that California utilities can make money when their customers save money. That puts energy-efficiency investments on the same competitive playing field as generation from new power plants.

The cost of efficiency programs has averaged 2 to 3 cents per avoided kilowatt hour, which is about one-fifth the cost of electricity generated from new nuclear, coal and natural gas-fired plants. And, of course, energy efficiency does not require new power lines and does not generate greenhouse-gas emissions or long-lived radioactive waste. While California is far more efficient than the rest of the country, the state still thinks that with an even more aggressive effort, it can achieve as much additional electricity savings by 2020 as it has in the past three decades.


Serious energy efficiency is not a one-shot resource, where you pick the low-hanging fruit and you're done. In fact, the fruit grows back. The efficiency resource never gets exhausted because technology keeps improving and knowledge spreads to more people.
The best corporate example is Dow Chemical's Louisiana division, consisting of more than 20 plants. In 1982, the division's energy manager, Ken Nelson, began a yearly contest to identify and fund energy-saving projects. Some of the projects were simple, like more efficient compressors and motors, or better insulation for steam lines. Some involved more sophisticated thermodynamic "pinch" analysis, which allows engineers to figure out where to place heat exchangers to capture heat emitted in one part of a chemical process and transfer it to a different part of the process where heat is needed. His success was nothing short of astonishing.

The first year of the contest had 27 winners requiring a total capital investment of $1.7 million with an average annual return on investment of 173 percent. Many at Dow felt that there couldn't be others with such high returns. The skeptics were wrong. The 1983 contest had 32 winners requiring a total capital investment of $2.2 million and a 340 percent return -- a savings of $7.5 million in the first year and every year after that. Even as fuel prices declined in the mid-1980s, the savings kept growing. The average return to the 1989 contest was the highest ever, an astounding 470 percent in 1989 -- a payback of 11 weeks that saved the company $37 million a year.

You might think that after 10 years, and nearly 700 projects, the 2,000 Dow employees would be tapped out of ideas. Yet the contest in 1991, 1992 and 1993 each had in excess of 120 winners with an average return on investment of 300 percent. Total savings to Dow from just those projects exceeded $75 million a year.

When I worked at the Department of Energy in the mid-1990s, we hired Nelson, who had recently retired from Dow, to run a "return on investment" contest to reduce DOE's pollution. As they were at Dow, many DOE employees were skeptical such opportunities existed. Yet the first two contest rounds identified and funded 18 projects that cost $4.6 million and provided the department $10 million in savings every year, while avoiding more than 100 tons of low-level radioactive pollution and other kinds of waste. The DOE's regional operating officers ended up funding 260 projects costing $20 million that have been estimated to achieve annual savings of $90 million a year.

Economic models greatly overestimate the cost of carbon mitigation because economists simply don't believe that the economy has lots of high-return energy-efficiency opportunities. In their theory, the economy is always operating near efficiency. Reality is very different than economic models.

In my five years at DOE, working with companies to develop and deploy efficient and renewable technologies, and then in nearly a decade of consulting with companies in the private sector, I never saw a building or factory that couldn't cut electricity consumption or greenhouse-gas emissions 25 percent to 50 percent with rapid payback (under four years). My 1999 book, "Cool Companies," detailed some 100 case studies of companies that have done just that and made a great deal of money.

There are many reasons that most companies don't match what the best companies do. Until recently, saving energy has been a low priority for most of them. Most utilities, as noted, have little or no incentive to help companies save energy. Funding for government programs to help companies adopt energy-saving strategies has been cut under the Bush administration.

Government has a very important role in enabling energy savings. The office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy has lots of (underfunded) programs that deliver savings every day. Consider, for instance, Chrysler's St. Louis complex, which recently received a DOE Save Energy Now energy assessment. Using DOE software, Chrysler identified a variety of energy-saving measures and saved the company $627,000 a year in energy costs -- for an upfront implementation cost of only $125,000.


The key point for policymakers now is that we have more than two decades of experience with successful state and federal energy-efficiency programs. We know what works. As California energy commissioner Art Rosenfeld -- a former DOE colleague and the godfather of energy efficiency -- put it in a recent conversation, "A lot of technology and strategies that are tried and true in California are waiting to be adopted by the rest of country."
So how do we overcome barriers and tap our nearly limitless efficiency resource? Obviously, the first thing would be to get all the states to embrace smarter utility regulations, which is a core strategy of Barack Obama's plan to reduce greenhouse gases. But how does the federal government get all the states to embrace efficiency?

We should establish a federal matching program to co-fund state-based efficiency programs, with a special incentive to encourage states without an efficiency program to start one. This was a key recommendation of the End-Use Efficiency Working Group to the Energy Future Coalition, a bipartisan effort to develop consensus policies, in which I participated. The first year should offer $1 billion in federal matching funds, then $2 billion, $3 billion, $4 billion, and finally stabilizing at $5 billion. This will give every state time to change their regulations and establish a learning curve for energy efficiency.

This program would cost $15 billion in the first five years, but save several times that amount in lower energy bills and reduced pollution. Since the next president will put in place a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases, the revenues from auctioning the emissions permits can ultimately be used to pay for the program.

We should restore a federal focus on the energy-intensive industries, such as pulp and paper, steel, aluminum, petroleum refining and chemicals. They account for 80 percent of energy consumed by U.S. manufacturers and 90 percent of the hazardous waste. They represent the best chance for increasing efficiency while cutting pollution. Many are major emitters of greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide. A 1993 analysis for the DOE found that a 10 to 20 percent reduction in waste by American industry would generate a cumulative increase of $2 trillion in the gross domestic product from 1996 to 2010. By 2010, the improvements would be generating 2 million new jobs.

For these reasons, in the 1990s, the Energy Department began forming partnerships with energy-intensive industries to develop clean technologies. We worked with scientists and engineers to identify areas of joint research into technologies that would simultaneously save energy, reduce pollution and increase productivity. The Bush administration slashed funding for this program by 50 percent -- and keeps trying to shut it down entirely.


Indeed, conservatives in general have cut the funding or shut down entirely almost all federal programs aimed at deploying energy-efficient technologies. Conservatives simply have a blind spot when it comes to energy efficiency and conservation, seeing them as inconsequential "Jimmy Carter programs."
I recently testified at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on nuclear power and spoke about how alternative technologies, particularly energy efficiency, were a much better bet for the country. Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said this was "poppycock," and then asked all the pro-nuclear witnesses to address the question, "If nuclear power is so uncompetitive, why are so many utilities building reactors?"

Voinovich apparently has forgotten about the massive subsidies he himself voted to give the nuclear industry in 2005. He seems to be unaware that states like Florida allow utilities to sharply raise electric rates years in advance of a nuclear plant delivering even a single electron to customers. If you could do that same forward-pricing with energy efficiency, we would never need to build another polluting plant.

Although he is a senior member of the Senate and a powerful voice on energy and climate issues, Voinovich doesn't seem to know the first thing about the electricity business; namely, that a great many utilities have a huge profit incentive to build even the most expensive power plants, since they can pass all costs on to consumers while retaining a guaranteed profit. But they have a strong disincentive from investing in much less costly efforts to reduce electricity demand, since that would eat into their profits.

The next president must challenge the public service commission in every state to allow utilities to receive the same return on energy efficiency as they are allowed to receive on generation. That single step could lead the country the furthest in solving our ever-worsening climate and energy problems.

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/07/28/energy_efficiency/index.html