by Gilles d'Aymery
"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy."
—Sir Ernest John Pickstone Benn, 2nd Baronet (1875 - 1954), British publisher, writer and political publicist.
(Swans - August 11, 2008) WHEN MR. BUSH entered the White House in January 2001 he inherited a $128 billion budget surplus and a $5.6 trillion national debt, which by the time he leaves office in January 2009 will have grown to just about $10 trillion, and an estimated budget deficit for 2009 of nearly $500 billion to which will have to be added the cost of the wars. How fast is this ugly beast growing? Last September (2007), Congress raised the debt ceiling to $9.815 trillion. On July 28, 2008, it raised it again to $10.6 trillion as the august body gave authority to the Treasury Department to bail out Fannie and Freddie as it sees fit up to a staggering tag of $800 billion (an unconstitutional move, by the way, since only Congress has the power of the purse -- but then the Constitution is not even worth the paper it was printed on).
HOW MUCH HAS the national debt increased? In January 1981 when Saint Raygun took office, the total debt of the U.S. was just under $1 trillion. Raygun managed to increase that debt to over $2.6 trillion in eight years. In that short period, the king of voodoo economics accumulated more debt than the nation had accrued since its creation. Papa Bush kept going with the program, and baby Bush has brought "trickle down" economics to a new high, not seen since the times of another "trickle down" champion, Herb Hoover, who brought us the Great Depression in the Roaring Twenties. Don't believe me? Check out Steve McGourty's analysis of the "United States National Debt (1938 to present)" and find out how reaganomics and neoconomics have served you. And if you think it has no incidence on your daily life, though I've told you before (even if you do not believe me), just note that in 2003, according to an entry in Wikipedia, "$318 billion was spent on interest payments servicing the debt, out of a total tax revenue of $1.95 trillion." Our tax money at work! Check your local schools and infrastructure, among other matters that ought to be of interest to your life, and wonder what $318 billion could have done for our well being (hint: a latest report talks about the need to spend $160 billion to save our bridges.) Worse, in FY 2006, the servicing of the debt shot up to $406 billion and it is projected to reach $500 billion in FY 2009. Over one-half of the 2009 budget will go to finance the military and to service our gargantuan debt as human resources are getting further slashed. Take a look at "The Federal Pie Chart" on the Web site of the War Resisters League.
AND YOU REMEMBER, I hope, my Blips #69 in which I reported that according to David M. Walker, the former Comptroller General of the United States, the liabilities of the American people topped 53 trillion dollars as of September 2007, that each American is carrying a public debt burden of $175,000 and each American household is responsible for $455,000 in public debt (on top of their personal debts). It's gone up another $2 trillion in just 12 months. Have you heard any of the two candidates address this issue, or any politician for that matter? Actually, David Walker was so dejected by the lack of response and attention from the administration, Congress, and corporate chieftains, that he resigned before the expiration of his 15-year term, saying, "I think the future of the country is at risk. I think we have a number of serious sustainability challenges that current elected officials are not taking seriously." He joined the newly-created Peter G. Peterson Foundation in an effort to tackle the US debt.
I RECALL A COLLEAGUE of Jan and friendly acquaintance, a high-IQ pharmaceutical scientist and, in his spare time, a rock 'n roll guitarist and singer, a man with a long lineage of liberal Democratic politics in his family. The last time I saw him was at a birthday party last fall. We had not seen each other in several years. It was a truly pleasant and fun reunion. But, when I asked him about the state of affairs, his complexion turned reddish and his face went into a nasty, angry grimace. "They've done irredeemable damage to the country -- maybe it's irreparable," I remember him telling me. "It'll be unfair to have a Democratic president inherit this catastrophe and expect her or him to fix the mess. Let have another of those fuckers to finally drive us into the ground fair and square. Those who survive the mayhem will at least start on a clean, though bloodied, slate." Hmm, I wondered, is there not a third possibility, one between mayhem and impotence? "What about Nader?" I asked. "Hey, this is America," he answered. "There is no place for sane people in the political arena." We laughed and went back to the joyful festivity (Jan's best friend's 50th birthday).
NO PLACE FOR sane people in America? No wonder I don't fit in! But then how can one fit in a totally dystopian culture frozen by paranoia and fear galore? In this delusory fantasyland, where's Nader when we need him?
DELUSORY FANTASYLAND? Well, what about Washington's latest answer to high gas prices and energy independence? More oil drilling onshore and offshore, and believe it or not more nuclear power plants to decrease our dependence on oil. Two of the most idiotic policies, along with the ethanol boondoggle, that McInsane has been pushing relentlessly (and Obama to a slightly lesser extent) on the campaign trail for the past couple of weeks. Politically, it appears to be a winning strategy. According to a recent CNN/Opinion Research poll 69 percent of Americans want more offshore drilling and 51 percent believe that such drilling would lower gas prices within one year -- within one year! Problem is, there is no drilling ship available. They are all booked until 2013. It would then take another 4 years at best to bring oil to the market. And whatever ridiculous amount is found, it will not make a dent on prices and energy independence. Take onshore drilling in the west: the annual production has actually decreased below 100 million barrels a year -- a year! That's less than five days of US oil consumption!!! Don't believe me? Check the Petroleum Basic Statistics of the Energy Information Administration. The U.S. has only 2 percent of the world's known reserves of oil and consumes 24 percent of the world production. Even T. Boone Pickens, the 80-year-old Texas oil & gas magnate, is telling everybody that will listen that we cannot drill our way out of this ugly reality. Check his energy plan at pickensplan.com (I don't necessarily endorse it but it is worth considering within a mix of alternative, renewable energies on a path to a post-fossil fuels or at least dramatically-reduced fossil fuels-based economy -- a sort of transitional phase).
HOW MCCAIN and the politicos can say with a straight face that building new nuclear plants for electricity generation will decrease our dependence on foreign oil is beyond comprehension. Electricity production in the U.S. comes from coal (51 percent), nuclear (21 percent), natural gas (17 percent), renewable energy (9 percent) and only 2 percent from oil. I am not inventing those figures. They come from the Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Review. What increased nuclear energy would do is displace coal at astronomically high prices combined with environmental hazards that no one has figured out how to manage, and it would literally devour the financial resources that should be invested into clean renewable energies (solar, wind, hydro, etc.). A quick word about environmental hazards: The US commercial nuclear industry produces 2,000 tons of nuclear waste a year. It already has over 64,000 tons stored in "temporary" sites. One of them in Hanford, Washington State, known as one of "the most contaminated places on Earth," stores over 55 million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste in 177 underground tanks, most of them over 50 years old. Over 1 million gallons have leaked into the soil from 67 failed tanks. The Department of Energy keeps delaying the clean up of the site though a report of the Government Accountability Office asserts that there are "serious questions about the tanks' long-term viability." And that's only one site. Meanwhile, the highly controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Utah (90 miles northwest of Las Vegas) won't be ready until 2020 -- if it ever is -- and will be supposed to receive used reactor fuel for 50 years. Now follow me just a moment. The Department of Energy assumes that the site will be able to handle 122,000 tons of this deadly waste, though Congress has limited its use to 77,000 tons. By 2020, we may well have over 85,000 tons...and McCain wants to add up to 45 new plants. Sheer idiocy. Sheer madness.
CITATION FOR THE AGES: "Don't get me wrong: I love nuclear energy! It's just that I prefer fusion to fission. And it just so happens that there's an enormous fusion reactor safely banked a few million miles from us. It delivers more than we could ever use in just about 8 minutes. And it's wireless!"
—William McDonough, Fortune Brainstorm Conference, 2006
[From his Web site, mcdonough.com: "William McDonough is an internationally renowned designer and one of the primary proponents and shapers of what he and his partners call 'The Next Industrial Revolution.' Time magazine recognized him in 1999 as a 'Hero for the Planet', stating that 'his utopianism is grounded in a unified philosophy that--in demonstrable and practical ways--is changing the design of the world.' Time Magazine again recognized Mr. McDonough and Michael Braungart as 'Heroes of the Environment' in October 2007. In 1996, Mr. McDonough received the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development, the nation's highest environmental honor; and in 2003 earned the U.S. EPA Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award. In 2004 he received the National Design Award for exemplary achievement in the field of environmental design. In October 2007, Mr. McDonough was elected an International Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects."]
IF YOU WANT TO decrease the US's dependence on foreign oil, consume less of the stuff. In the short to medium term, drive and travel less, demand smaller cars that easily can do 50 to 60 mpg (they exist, there are plenty of them in Europe and in Japan), lower your driving speed, carpool, use mass transit systems where they exist. These are just a few simple and practical steps anyone can take. But more importantly ask for increased investment in solar thermal. What T. Boon Pickens's plan seems to ignore is that solar thermal is already competitive with natural gas. Actually, as the price of natural gas has soared the California Energy Commission has found that solar thermal was actually cheaper. According to the Department of Energy, the cost of solar energy will fall to US 7-10¢/kwh by 2015 and to US 5-7¢/kwh by 2020, then making solar thermal competitive with coal. New solar thermal capacity is coming on line at an increasing rate. The fossil fuel industry has taken ample notice -- and umbrage. They have embarked on a serious lobbying effort to kill the Investment Tax Credit bill that would extend tax credits to the solar industry for another 8 years. More drilling, more nuclear energy, more coal, more of all the stuff that's killing the planet... Those people can't be reformed. Throw the bums out.
HERE IS THE TIME to go read, or read again, the dossier I put together in January 2007 regarding Admiral Hyman G. Rickover's 1957 speech, "Energy Resources And Our Future," the 1998 adaptation of physicist Dr. Albert Bartlett's 1978 lecture, "Arithmetic, Population, and Energy," and the 2005 study known as the Hirsch Report, "Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk Management." Those are fundamental documents to understand the scope of our energy predicament. We must stop digging this deadly hole. We desperately need sane and sound state and federal policymaking and find a way to tame the corporate fat cats that put their wallets before the interests of the commons.
I HAVE NO IDEA how it will ever happen. According to a May 2008 poll, 34 percent of Americans call themselves liberal and only 8 percent very liberal. On the other side of the ledger, 62 percent call themselves conservative and 22 percent very conservative. That's the crucible we are facing. And if you think that Obama is a liberal check The Progressive Review and Sam Smith's July 24 (my birthday, for what it's worth) analysis, "Swampoodle Report: The Progressive Puzzle," where I found the polling stats. (Of course, he too, after much circumflexion and intellectual masturbation, is calling for lesser-evilism.) Weak as water, weak as water!
TALKING ABOUT NADER, a reader asks whether the entire Swans crew shares our editorial line and the reason we do not have other viewpoints published. Ojala, as the Spaniards say, but fat chance; this is America, after all -- the land of individualism and diversity. Only a few of us are "Naderites" -- Jan Baughman, Joel Hirschhorn and Louis Proyect (both of them are irregular contributors but strong Nader supporters), and me. Then we have Martin Murie who supports Cynthia McKinney and the Green Party; one regular contributor is thinking about writing Kucinich in on her ballot as she is utterly disgusted with the Democrats. In addition, we have a few that do not peep a word and will (or will not) vote for the lesser evil. Two or three contributors are located outside of the U.S., are not American citizens, and could not care less. We even have good ol' Art Shay, who's been kicking my ass so hard of late that I have to sleep on my belly. So, diversity reigns and keeps kicking.
THE ABSENCE OF differing or other viewpoints comes from an editorial decision we made last year after spending much time -- Jan and I -- discussing the pros and cons. In 2004, we opened the gates and let so-called free expression flow freely (see "2004 US Presidential Election: Recapitulation," October 18, 2004). It resulted in two negative consequences. First, Swans appeared to be all over the board without any cohesion, and with much dissent. Our analyses, intentions, and conclusions turned out to be utterly erroneous -- the second consequence being a case in point: all the dissenters eventually ceased to contribute to Swans. So, we bent backward and forward as much as we could, accepted contributions that were anathema to us, all in the name of diversity and acceptance of others' points of view (and the expectation of retaining the dissenting contributors). We failed.
FAILURE IS FINE. To repeat the same pattern is idiotic. We went back to the drawing board. Jan, who is blessed with a pretty balanced, at times over-balanced temperament, advocated that we should keep valuing and promoting diversity all the while keeping a modicum of cohesion within the contributors thus avoiding a repeat of the 2004 cacophony. This approach was very appealing to me. Being strong supporters of the positions Ralph Nader has long taken on a wide range of issues that are important to us, we respectfully requested that our regular contributors abstain from filing any column on the oft-repeated arguments that advocate voting for the lesser evil. It is an editorial decision, which was carefully pondered and taken responsibly, knowing that some readers or contributors may disagree -- and can express their objections in our Letters to the Editor. We are gratified and thankful that our contributors have kindly obliged to our request; and we are happy to report that so far the readership has not suffered and the level of contributing retention has been exceptional.
TIME FOR HUMOR: Thanks to the wonderful German Web site, Sign and Sight, here is a small vignette of the beloved Vatican's cultural PR desk (courtesy of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, July 26, 2008):
Gianfranco Ravasi, the new Culture Minister for the Vatican, wants to set up a pavilion of the Holy See at the 2009 Venice Biennale. In an interview in the weekend supplement, he regrets the lack of interest the Catholic Church shows in contemporary art. It's important to tolerate provocation: "I am well aware of what I'm getting myself into here. I can quite imagine that at the same time we are exhibiting, there might be a Madonna crying tears of sperm right next door, that recently showed in Bologna, or a scene of the Last Supper where the disciples are masturbating, which is now in Vienna, and, by the way, was drawn by an outstanding artist in Alfred Hrdlicka. There is something for everyone these days."
MAYBE JESUS will next appear naked in the Sixth Chapel. Miracles can happen. While waiting for the unexpected expectation, you might want to direct your attention to Jewsus and the latest Jewish controversy happening in France. A 79-year-old cartoonist, Maurice Sinet, known as Siné, was summarily fired from Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, for having allegedly written a billet (a short column) containing an anti-Semitic slur against Jean Sarkozy, the son of President Sarkozy. The 21-year old fils is apparently engaged to the heiress of a French electronics chain called Darty who happens to be Jewish. Siné attacked young Jean, the "worthy son of his father," with a ferocity that has made him famous over the decades. The incriminating line read: "And that's not all, he has just said that he wants to convert to Judaism before marrying his fiancée, a Jew and heiress of the founders of Darty. He will go far in this life, the little one!"
THE BIEN-PENSANT Parisian salons went ballistic, accusing Siné of treading into anti-Semitism by conflating political power, wealth, and the Jews. The Editor, fearing a lawsuit, asked for a retraction and an apology. Siné replied that he would rather cut his balls than apologize. The provocateur was fired. The usual crop of chaise longue intellectuals -- Bernard-Henri Lévy, Claude Lanzmann, Elie Weisel, and a handful of other luminaries -- wrote of "rancid anti-Semitism" and hate speech. Many more came to his defense but to no avail, even though Siné had been defaming all religions -- he is a stern atheist -- and defamed Muslims as well as Catholics many a time. His major sin this time around is to have offended power and wealth, which has never been a path to success. The Jewish card allowed the court jesters to get his scalp, like Handke was hung for his association with Milosevic. Once again we are reminded that dissent shall not be tolerated.
AMUSINGLY, Siné remains unrepentant. According to Steven Erlanger of The New York Times, "In a letter to Libération, [Siné] wrote: 'Sorry to disappoint, but I am the author neither of Mein Kampf nor of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I am only, for the last 60 years, an anti-imbecile of the first order (a euphemism destined to pre-empt any eventual refusal to publish this).'" What he meant was anti-connard, or as we say in la-la land, anti-asshole -- a position or sentiment I share wholeheartedly.
. . . . .
C'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.