Friday, April 30, 2010


I encounter a lot of independent work around the web that I enjoy and some I admire. Very few of these mostly creative, fierce individualists inspire me, however, but the guy who posts his writing and photos a few times each month at the EarthHomeGarden blog. certainly does.

I don't link to EarthHomeGarden here, but I do on my other blog -- the Omnem blog. What I'm finding is that Jim's photos and short accompanying essays get better as time goes by; he's been doing this for five years now, and is clearly warming up to it. Most of his work is upbeat and full of the joy of living on God's green earth, but the joy issues from the realization that the fragile little ball we live on is an endangered ship, and being driven to destruction by a decrepit and crumbling civilization.

As the ancient cliché goes, "Enjoy yourself; it's later than you think."

I feel a great affinity for Jim, the proprietor of this little corner of the internet, and not just because he and I were born very near the same time (a few years before the middle of the XX century) and share many of the same cultural traits and experiences. Jim is also a guy who knows and has accepted Where We Are. He lives with his wife and dog in a cabin in the mountains between Los Angeles and the High Desert of inland California, without a car and foregoing most of the machines usually called "modern conveniences." Living in that way is an expression of what Jim, in one of his more serious and not-so-upbeat posts, visualizes as "those of us who remain scaveng(ing) the grotesque ruins of (our) addictively consumptive oil-addled civilization for tools and materials to help make our humble lives of meager subsistence a bit easier."

In the near future, so near that it's already upon us, intelligent and purpose-oriented scavenging will be one of the habits of effective survivors.

Knowing Where We Are leads to the search for better, often older ways of doing things, and that awareness is not exclusively the province of older people. It's shared these days by many who are under 40, like the young man in the photo above happily listening to 78 rpm records on his electricity-free Victrola, or the kids living on a Missouri commune who built their cob cottage entirely by hand. When you see people obstinately resisting those "modern conveniences" and doing things by hand or with manually operated machines (including bicycles), like, for instance, sewing on a treadle-operated machine, it's a sign you're dealing with someone who knows Where We Are.

Is there hope for this exhausted, battered old lady we call Earth? Maybe. But only if a lot more people know and are willing to accept Where We Are than do now. Because we don't have the slightest idea of where we want to go or how to get there unless we have an accurate notion of Where We Are.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

April Showers

It's been a wet month, but warming steadily toward the end. The rains earlier this afternoon have subsided and made way for sunshine, and Seattle can finally glimpse the warmth and tranquility of May a short distance ahead.

The tulips are out all over town now, splashing their insistent primary colors, red and yellow mostly, in among the muted tones characteristic of most of the city's rather dull architecture. It'll soon be time to happily elbow one's way among the sun worshipers crowding Green Lake, and commune with the flocks of amorous ducks for whom the island on the westerly side of the lake is named.

The city is like a bear awakening after winter hibernation, lying sleepy and heavy in the new sun, ready to gather energy and and enthusiasm and that sort of half-drunk joie de vivre which reaches its ultimate expansiveness here in July and August. It's my favorite time of the year, and I look forward to it with eager anticipation, even after a relatively mild winter like the one now ending.

Monday, April 26, 2010

the gap

I'm not an Obama fan, as most of you know. He's better than his predecessor, and way preferable to the guy he ran against in '08. Those are about the most enthusiastic things I can say about him.

He tends to be an unintentionally polarizing figure. According to a Research 2000 poll commissioned by DailyKos, Obama is viewed favorably in most regions of the country: In the west his favorability percentage is 59 percent, and in the midwest it's 57 percent. In the Northeast it's a whopping 67 percent, but in the former Confederacy -- you guessed it -- his "viewed favorably" number drops to 40.

The great divide I find most fascinating in this poll, though, is the gender differential. His favorability rating among American females is 65 percent -- two out of every three ladies like him. But among American males, that number is 43% -- more than twenty percentage points lower.

That's a huge difference, and I totally don't understand the reasons for it. Is Barack Obama some kind of beefcake to some people? And is he also some sort of "guy you wouldn't want to have a beer with" to others?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

no bull

So, why aren't the tea partiers gathering en masse in NYC to protest Wall Street's multi-trillion-dollar thefts and shennanigans? If memory serves me, the teapers originally formed to protest the bank bailouts and the way they left taxpayers holding the bag for Wall Street's "mistakes."

That would have been the bailouts that occurred under Obama -- they weren't motivated to form a movement when the same thing happened under Bush. That was different. What was different about it? It happened under Bush.

So wouldn't you expect them to take this opportunity to protest the TARP money, the easy credit, the incredible risk taking, and the huge bonuses bankers award themselves with taxpayer funds?

We all know that will never happen, and some of us even know why. It's because, as Cenk Uygur says of them, They're dupes. They think they are so fiercely independent when in fact they are the most easily manipulated people in the country. All that anger toward the power establishment and what happened? They were used by that same establishment to fight against health care reform and to try to protect the health insurance companies. Suckers.

And we can't expect the tea partiers to organize themselves for such a protest can we, without Dick Army's FreedomWorks astroturf outfit to charter the buses, or Beck's and Hannity's detailed instructions?

These are people so dim they can't recognize the contradictions in their own thinking. They were strongly against to the bailouts but at the same time adamantly oppose "excessive regulation" which would prevent future re-occurrences of the meltdown. Uygur says they are being led by the nose by their corporate overlords. And they think they're so tough and independent-minded. What a farce. The whole movement is a sad joke being played on its own members.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

peace, freedom, ecology

Nick Clegg is the brand-new rising political star of England's Liberal Democratic Party, which hasn't captured the grand prize in that country's elections since when? Sometime in the 19th century?

We could sure use somebody like him, or even better a bunch of somebodies like him on this side of the pond. People are ready for what this young guy is putting down, and in the first election debate recently he provided a wake-up call for Labour's Gordon Brown and the Tories' David Cameron.

American conservatives, of course, don't like Clegg at all, and a guy I usually don't read, Niles Gardner of the National Review Online blog, the Corner, provided a bunch of reasons why I and progressives generally, are going to like Clegg. Of course, these are all the same reasons why Gardner doesn't like him (via James Wolcott).

1. Clegg’s outlook is anti-American.

Clegg, a major opponent of the Iraq War, has made a number of statements calling for a completely new relationship with the United States and an end to what he mockingly calls London’s “subservience” to Washington...

Probably because he recognizes that the world very badly needs peace if we're ever going to make any progress, and an end to the business of war, and of war as business as usual. If the U.S. refuses to adopt a more peaceful approach to world politics, Europe will have to go its own way.

2. Clegg is not an Atlanticist.

Clegg has called for an end to “default Atlanticism,” and has shown barely any interest in the transatlantic alliance...

No wonder. Europe now leads the way; the U.S. has become one of the backward and retrograde countries, with its crude and primitive approach to such things as healthcare and income distribution.

3. Clegg does not believe in a nuclear deterrent.

Clegg has called for the scrapping of Britain’s trident nuclear deterrent and is firmly opposed to the use of force against Iran’s nuclear facilities as a last resort if sanctions fail. His national-security outlook is extremely weak in the face of mounting threats from rogue regimes, and he has been a fierce critic of key aspects of the U.S.-led War on Terror (my italics--jw)

When nuclear weapons are outlawed only outlaws will have nuclear weapons. And outlaws can be dealt with through law-enforcement measures, rather than invading a country.

4. Clegg is a fervent supranationalist.

...He is a big believer in the power of supranational institutions such as the United Nations and summed up his views on sovereignty in a speech at Chatham House: “Globalization requires us to formulate a system of supranational governance capable of controlling forces which escape the limitations of the nation state.”

It's a small world, and as Benjamin Franklin once said, "If we don't hang together we'll hang separately."

5. Clegg harbors strong anti-Israeli views.

...Clegg has penned a number of articles condemning Israel’s handling of Gaza, and has been the most prominent British critic of Israel’s response to Hamas attacks. He has alleged that the Israeli government “continues to imprison 1.5 million Palestinians and prevent the rebuilding of its shattered infrastructure,” and supports the U.N.’s use of the highly offensive term “collective punishment.” Clegg has drawn parallels between Israel’s defensive actions and the terrorist campaigns of groups such as Hamas, and has urged the European Union in the past to isolate and even sanction Israel.

Just one more reason to like Nick Clegg, if you ask me. He seems to be exactly what this country could use right now -- someone whose highest political values are peace, democracy, and working toward achieving a sustainable environment.

"Peace" means abstaining from all wars except defensive ones.

Democracy implies equality, including, especially including, gender equality. It's the concrete expression of Jefferson's observation made over two hundred years ago that government exists for to serve the people, not the other way around. And it certainly doesn't exist to serve CEO's, billionaires, and other kinds of kleptocrats, for whom modern conservatives have become the thinly-disguised partisans.

Environmental sustainability? We won't get far without it, and it needs to include practical measures to limit human populations. That could be accomplished more easily than most people might think; see number two above: gender equality.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Why Not RICO?

Everybody has now heard about the Security and Exchange Commission's charging Goldman-Sachs with securities fraud. But many people, including me, were surprised by the SEC's sudden move to prosecute, and many more have a hard time understanding the exact nature of the crimes the so-called "bank" is alleged to have committed.

What's surprising about the SEC's move is that it appears one part of the government's financial apparatus is taking on another. Goldman penetrated the Treasury Department years ago, and the last two Treasury Secretaries, Hank Paulson under Bush and Geithner under Obama, were formerly closely associated with the investment giant. Paulson was the company's CEO during most of the years of the housing bubble was inflating and giving the financial "industry" its golden opportunity to perpetrate mischief.

The details of the accusation are hard to comprehend because the transactions under scrutiny involved extremely complex, computer-generated "financial instruments" that frequently even the people who buy and sell them don't fully understand.

In a fairly short and easy-to-read essay at "Counterpunch," Dean Baker does a commendable job of explaining the details of the SEC's accusation in layman's terms:

(T)he big news is Goldman’s indictment for putting together a collaterized debt obligation (CDO) from mortgage-backed securities that were expected to fail and then marketing it to its clients as a good investment. The central allegation is that in early 2007, hedge fund manager John Paulson recognized that the housing bubble was starting to collapse.

This meant that many mortgages would go bad. The subprime mortgages, in which homeowners had little or no real collateral, and were facing resets to higher interest rates, were especially vulnerable. Paulson worked out a deal with Goldman in which he would pick the mortgage-backed securities that were put into the CDO. Paulson would then bet that the CDO would go bad, by taking out credit default swaps (CDS) on the CDO. A credit default swap is effectively an insurance policy where the issuer makes up a loss if an asset goes bad.

Goldman was left with the other side of Paulson’s deal, finding suckers to buy this huge piece of junk. It would have been hard to find buyers for this CDO if investors knew that Paulson had deliberately constructed it as a piece of junk to short. Therefore, according to the SEC charges, Goldman concealed Paulson’s role in constructing the CDO. Goldman allegedly told investors that the CDO was constructed by neutral parties, rather than letting them know that the assets were picked by a hedge fund manager who was taking a short position.

Writing yesterday on his weekly blog, Jim Kunstler asked why, instead of or in addition to the SEC's action, the Justice Department isn't prosecuting Goldman under the provisions of the anti-racketeering act, RICO, because the collateralized debt obligation designed by John Paulson was "designed to blow up."

The question that now begs to be answered is: why is this activity not being investigated and prosecuted under the federal RICO statutes against racketeering? The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act was designed to punish exactly this kind of behavior, whether the defendant's name ended in a vowel or not. How is it not a racket to deliberately and systematically construct investments designed to fail so you can collect what amounts to insurance against them -- and then to sell those financial instruments to customers without telling them that these investments were engineered to blow up? At the very least it amounts to a failure to disclose material information, which is the basis for distinguishing illegality. More to the point, it almost certainly amounts to prosecutable criminal fraud and insider trading.


So where is the DOJ's criminal division in all this? The Goldman Sachs racket has been publicly known, in one form or another, for several years. I wrote in this space several times at least as far back as 2007 that Goldman was essentially shorting it's own issued securities, and I'm neither a lawyer or a finance professional. Anyone could see this from just reading the news.

I couldn't agree more. Americans need to get used to the idea that gangsters don't always carry violin cases.

Photo: Edward G. Robinson as the gangster Rico Bandello in the 1930 gangster classic "Little Caesar." The role catapulted him to decades-long stardom.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

computered out

Because the computer seems to have for some time been dominating my existence in an increasingly unpleasant way, I'm going to have to make a concerted effort to stay away from it.

It's not an exaggeration to say that the machine has eaten my life. I'm at an age and in a situation where I have very few responsibilities and obligations, but I'm neglecting even those few perfunctory tasks, and neglecting myself as well.

I finally realized what's happened to me today, when I got outside for a few hours to enjoy the sunshine and warm weather. It was a gorgeous day, and walking around in Greenwood I felt more alive than I have in some time.

The computer was a very good friend until recently. It got me through a long, difficult time in my life, and I was able to avoid a lot of pain by keeping myself distracted with trivia and idle cyber chatter. When life is too painful to contemplate, it's not a bad idea to endlessly distract oneself. But now changed circumstances require alterations in behavior,

I will probably not be posting here as frequently as in the past, but neither do I plan to abandon the blog, and if I have something I need to write about I'll still come here to express it.

From now on I'd like to use my computer mostly as a radio. I'll go on it in the evening, before bed time, to read and answer e-mails and sometimes write a little bit. But I really need to end the days of being umbilically tied to a machine that has gradually gone from being a friend confidante to being parasite and a drudgery.


Friday, April 16, 2010

the golden time

OK, I'll admit our sunrise this morning is not quite as glorious as the one in the picture. It's cloudy right now, and a bit chilly.

However, the overcast will burn off by noon and we'll have sunshine and warmth. The northwest's golden time has arrived, and for the next five months this will be the most idyllic and inviting place on earth. The long winter's night is now definitely passed, and webfoots are opening their windows, putting on their walking shoes, and beginnng to spend half their lives outside.

In the spring and summer, Mt. Rainier dominates the southern skyline like a surreal scoop of vanilla ice cream, and people here go a little bit nuts, but in a good way.

This past winter was relatively mild, especially compared to the blizzards of 2008-09, but I'd still like to figure out a way to spend the six months between mid-October and mid-April in a more southerly clime, then return here or to Portland every spring.

I have nothing special planned for the day. I'm sure I'll spend half of it walking around Greenwood, shopping, socializing, and making friends with passing dogs while sitting outside somewhere drinking peppermint and feeling the sun on my face.

And lo and behold, as I'm typing this, here comes the sun.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

plastic armageddon

The oceans are dying -- choking on plastic garbage.

The AP reports that researchers have discovered what one describes as "the great Atlantic garbage patch" circulating in the Sargasso Sea, between Bermuda and the Azore Islands off Portugal. It's the second such floating plastic midden found so far; the first, located between Hawaii and California was discovered about a decade ago.

A worse problem is that the surfaces of both the oceans are full of tiny plastic particles.

It's not hopeless. There must be a way to clean this mess up. It would be similar to vacuuming a carpet. The problem is, in order for that to happen we'd have to actually devote some serious resources and attention to it. And we're too busy fighting wars, propping up "too big to fail" banks, and figuring out more ways to cut taxes to mess with inconsequential stuff like the death of the planet.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

ruh oh

In September of last year, police in Lakewood, Colorado were called to a home after firemen had been summoned there earlier and discovered a bullet hole in a basement water pipe.

The 69-year-old homeowner told the cops he'd been firing his pistol in the basement when a round accidentally punctured the pipe. Oops! Well, don't a lot of people practice shooting in the basement?

The guy was arrested and given a summons for illegal discharge of a firearm.

These kinds of stories crop up every day. A woman in Florida shot herself in the thigh while waiting for an order of McNuggets in the drive-through line. She said she reached into her purse and grabbed hold of the .45-calibre semi-automatic to "check it" when it discharged. "I didn't even get my food," she said later. "I was starving."

Cops impounded the weapon because it belongs to her boyfriend, not to her. The story didn't say why she was packing heat at McDonald's. Maybe she didn't know the only chicken they serve is already dead.

Also in Florida, cops were called to a medical center in Fort Walton Beach to interview a guy who showed up with a gunshot wound to his hand. He told them he'd attempted to pull his Berretta out of his back pocket when the hammer got caught in a hole in the fabric, and the subsequent discharge sent a slug through his right hand just below the pinky.

But just think -- it could have turned out a lot worse if he'd forgotten the weapon was in his back pocket and sat on it.

A guy in Denton, Texas was visiting a friend and they decided to go out drinking. The visitor left his pistol at the friend's house while they went to the bar, which does show a bit of restraint and caution.

However, when they returned, presumably under the influence, all caution was thrown to the wind. "Let me show you how I sleep with this thing," the visitor said to his host, as he sat in a chair unloading the weapon. The demonstration was accompanied by a loud report and resulted in an entry wound to his groin and an exit wound out the back of his leg.

John Lennon wrote that "Happiness is a warm gun," but I hope for his sake that this guy finds another human to sleep with instead of a roscoe, and that he stows the hardware in a drawer somewhere at night from now on.

And finally, a gun owner in Oklahoma shot himself in the leg after his dog jumped into his lap, causing him to inadvertently fire his .22 pistol which he just happened to be holding at the time.

That just goes to show, guns don't shoot people in the leg, Fido does.

Bad dog!

I found all these news items on the blog at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence website, and there are plenty more where they came from.

Monday, April 12, 2010

the answer, my friend blowin' in the wind, or at least a part of it is.

Last year world electricity production from wind power topped 158,000 megawatts, which is enough to meet the residential needs of 250 million people world wide. The problem is, that 250 million is only slightly more than one-third of one percent of the world's population of seven billion.

But it is progress.

China led the way, installing 13,000 megawatts of new capacity and bringing its total production to 25,000 megawatts, putting it in third place behind the U.S. and Germany. However, with its command economy and a dictatorial government which dominates the country's economic system rather than being dominated by it, China is poised to eat our lunch when it comes to making the transition to the energy economy of the new century.

According to Lester Brown, head of the Earth Policy institute, The United States passed longtime leader Germany in installed capacity in 2008 and then widened its lead in 2009, expanding its wind fleet by nearly 10,000 megawatts to reach a cumulative 35,000 megawatts. Texas remained the leading state in both annual and total wind installations, reaching 9,400 megawatts overall. And while Iowa is a distant second, with 3,700 megawatts of total wind capacity, at least 17 percent of its electricity generation comes from wind.

Other states which have not come anywhere close to realizing their potential as wind-generated power producers include Kansas, Nebraska, and California, although the latter has a couple impressive wind farms, at Tehachapi Pass near Bakersfield, and in the gap between the San Bernardino and San Jacinto ranges, in the desert just north of Palm Springs.

The wind and the sun are going to replace coal in electrical generation and make petroleum less important. Because it's so obvious that this is what's happening, I'm surprised more big American investors aren't getting in on the ground floor of these new developments. Maybe next year...

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Everywhere there's lots of piggies
Leading piggy lives;
You can see them out for dinner
With their piggy wives,
Clutching forks and knives
To eat their bacon.

--Lennon and McCartney

Frank Rich's column in the New York Times this morning should be chiseled into granite and erected in a public place somewhere. It dispels most of the smoke and fog that's been deliberately manufactured to conceal the origins of our various ongoing national catastrophes, caused by piggish policies created by the swilling classes.

Its theme is established by Rich's puncturing and lampooning of Alan Greenspan's ludicrous and wormlike assertion that his policies as Fed chairman had nothing to do with setting off the economic meltdown of 2008-2010 and counting, which the former Pope of Wall Street asserts nobody could have predicted anyway. To Greenspan's contending that he was "right 70 percent of the time," Rich drily notes that so was the captain of the Titanic.

Likewise, when Rich turns to Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton's secretary of the treasury, and nearly single-handedly responsible for key elements of financial deregulation that enabled Greenspan's laissez-faire, hands-off policy toward banking and real estate, we discover another major player trying to duck responsibility, and maintaining that the current recession is "a crisis virtually nobody saw coming."

That, of course, is totally false, and Rich supplies a raft of juicy, sausage-like links to prove it. They include this Matt Taibbi Rolling Stone article on the crimes of Goldman Sachs which everybody should have read by now, and testimony from Michael Burry, an investor who saw the bubble coming as far back as 2005, predicted the catastrophe, and identified the political and economic motivations of the people whose policies enabled it.

Attempting to dodge responsibility is in fashion these days as the consequences of criminal policy decisions rebound back into the offices where those policies originated, from Washington to Rome. Even Pope Ratzo the First -- yes, Rich has him in there too -- is going to now have to answer for what he's done, and his weaselish attempts to duck the hard questions will only make the final accounting more painful.

The architects of the Iraq War, which even Republicans now say was "a mistake," likewise try to evade responsibility for the blood of the innocent, which now cries out from the ground for justice. "It’s remarkable how often apologists for Wall Street’s self-inflicted calamity mirror the apologists for Washington’s self-inflicted calamity of Iraq," Rich says. "In the case of that catastrophic war, its perpetrators and enablers almost always give the same alibi: 'Everyone' was misled by the same 'bad intelligence' about Saddam Hussein’s W.M.D. Hence, no one is to blame and no one could have prevented the rush to war."

What Rich doesn't get into is how the unraveling of our national political, economic, and ethical fabric is accompanied by a non-stop roar from the right-wing noise machine (think Fox News and innumerable internet sources), who make every attempt to deflect the guilt of the perps onto the victims. For example, they'll scream in your ear while wildly jumping up and down that the recession was caused by subprime real estate loans which banking regulations passed by "liberal" Democrats required all banks to make. If at all possible, right-wing media tries to blame anything and everything on people who are preferably poor and/or non-white; if possible, the rule of thumb is to find a way to hang it on ACORN, and if that's too big a stretch there's always George Soros.

All of this has the one advantage of clearly communicating who the piggies are afraid of -- the very people who would benefit most from their overthrow, and the institution of policies which are the diametrical opposite of what we've seen in the U.S. since 1980.

Unlike right-wingers, Frank Rich is an equal-opportunity saboteur of weak excuses, and the whiny evasions of Michael Steele, Charlie Rangel, and David Paterson all appear in this morning's tour-de-force. Even Tiger Woods makes an appearance.

All of these weak denials ultimately avail the responsible parties absolutely nothing, and will only increase the anger felt by those hurt by the results of criminally bad policies. The victims of bad policy are also, when all is said and done, the final authority on the fate of the perpetrators of those policies. I'm not much of a carnivore, but I think it's time to fire up the smokehouse, and get ready to cure some hams.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

promised land

I drove 500 miles from Boise today, making it into Seattle in the p.m. Logging 500 is harder than it used to be, but still doable. The last hundred miles are tough, though.

After seeing Utah, Idaho, Eastern Oregon, and Eastern Washington, I have to say I like where I am. But Seattle's too big and busy, so I wouldn't mind getting somewhere a little more smalltown.

There must be a little smalltown somewhere in which one can have nine bean rows, and a hive for the honey bee.

I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:

No doubt about it. In spite of the droopy weather, this is the promised land. And as Buck Cherry said, "Tell the folks back home this is the promised land calling and the poor boy's on the line." And if Innisfree doesn't work out, maybe I can get a small house in Aberdeen, of clay and wattles made.

Friday, April 09, 2010

you got to move

You got to move;
You got to move;
Oh, don't you know it child?
Just why you got to move?
'Cause when the Lord gets ready,
You got to move.

Sometimes you're up;
Sometimes you're down;
Sometimes you're damn near
On a level with the ground.
But when the Lord gets ready,
You got to move.

There have been days
When I weep in vain;
My broken heart keeps calling,
Calling out your name.
But then the Lord gets ready;
You got to move.

You got to move;
You got to move;
You got to move, child;
You got to move.
'Cause when the Lord gets ready,
You got to move.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


Today I'll be traveling across the breadth of northern Utah, about 200 miles, which will take close to four hours.

I'll be visiting with a former student of mine and his wife in Ogden for a day or two, and then point the insecto north and west, heading for Seattle and home, such as it is.

Utah has been an education, and last night by some strange coincidence PBS ran a documentary, "The Mormons." I'm in awe and a bit envious of the strength people here derive from their faith. Since I accept nothing on faith, I'll never experience that kind of security. I'd rather be independent, which requires a different sort of fortitude than religious believers enjoy.

Utah is an authoritarian patriarchy. It's the diametrical opposite of my northwest home, whose social outlook I would characterize as aggressively politically correct.

It's a good day to travel; the sun is shining bright and the roads should be clear.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


Hallucinated wealth and capitalism have brought us to a way of life that's not sustainable, and it's killing the planet. Fortunately, it's now reached the suicidal, terminal stage.

Boise, Idaho is not sustainable. It's a dying dinosaur.

I spent a couple hours driving around lost in Boise a few days ago, and it's an astonishing and repulsive epidermal cancer spreading on the skin of our mother, the planet.

Fifty years from now, tens of millions of Americans will be living in mud houses, and food production will again take center stage in our daily lives. Cities will have shrunk, and people will be mostly living in small towns again.

The much smaller houses of the future will be heated with wood pellets and solar panels. In most places, their green, living roofs will have the additional advantage of being put to use for berry cultivation.

Instead of one motorized vehicle for each person of driving age, the village will have a couple of cars and a couple of trucks that run on propane or kerosene, and once a month or so a small crew will travel to a warehouse to buy staples such as rice, flour, and oil. American society will be communal and cooperative rather than atomized and competitive.

There won't even be any traces left of Burger King, Midas Muffler, Bank of America, PetSmart, Bed Bath and Beyond, Office Max, Wal Mart, Motel 6, etc., except their concrete slab foundations. Some of these will have been recycled and incorporated into the new architecture.

Debt and revolving credit will have gone the way of high-button shoes. Expenditures will be strictly limited to cash-and-carry.

We won't adopt this new way of life because we want to. We'll adopt it because we have to.

It's not enough to think about the future, or imagine the future, or wish for the future. The time has come when it's necessary for us to be the future now, in this present, and there's no time to waste.

Sunday, April 04, 2010


The photograph shows a victim of a predator drone attack, murdered by us for no reason, in one of our endless wars in the Middle East. Our military arrogantly and callously refers to these innocents as "collateral damage." The karmic burden of this particular outrage rests on the soul of Barack Obama.

Over a year into his administration most Americans are still trying to figure out who this guy Obama really is, which is partly his fault and partly our fault.

Frank Rich has a very sharp and thoughtful column in the NYTimes this morning analyzing Obama's sometimes vague and cloudy politics and our own inability to see him clearly. Rich says:

When the 2008 Obama called Afghanistan an essential war and vowed to take out terrorist havens in Pakistan, he wasn’t just posturing to prove he was as hawkish as Hillary Clinton — which is what some chose to hear. Though he nominally supported a public option as a plank of health care reform, it was not a high priority and he rarely mentioned it, according to a review of his campaign speeches, interviews and debates by Sam Stein of The Huffington Post. Obama never said anything to suggest that he was interested in economic interventionism as bold as, say, the potential nationalization of failing banks. He was unambiguous in his professed opposition to same-sex marriage and largely silent on gun control. And as Jake Tapper of ABC News chronicled last week, Obama had even opened the door to offshore oil drilling in the weeks before Election Day.

Liberals and progressives are now divided over things like the Afghan War and warrantless wiretapping, because we all expected Obama to put an end to these things. The problem is, when he was running in 2008 a lot of us were seeing the person we wanted to see, not the real guy, who is at best a slick politician who is very hard to pin down and seldom gives a straight answer.

Conservatives, white racists, and born-again Confederate pukes also saw, and still see, the Obama in their minds -- a black thug sitting with his feet up on the White House dining table eating fried chicken -- rather than the real one.

Personally, I was hopeful about the guy, but I'm glad to say I was never fooled. He did say he'd close Guantanamo and end the "excesses" of the Bush years. That gave us the impression he'd stop the Cheney torture regime and close down illegal government spying on American citizens. He hasn't done either of those things.

He did get a kind of tepid health care reform bill passed. It does little more than establish the principle that government needs to somehow intervene in the care delivery process to moderate the excesses of insurance companies. I guess that's about as much as we could reasonably expect from a government controlled and manipulated by corporate buccaneers.

But when it comes to illegal wiretapping and the U.S.'s foreign wars of aggression, I really wish all the nice liberals would get their heads out of their butts and see the real Obama we're actually dealing with.

The thing about warrantless wiretapping is it's illegal, and when a government breaks its own laws, it's almost as if they're also giving citizens the right to break whatever laws they want. And when a government uses drone aircraft to murder civilians halfway around the world, in an invasion they can't explain the reasons for, it's as if they're giving the rest of us permission to throw molotov cocktails.

Here's the thing: if Bush and Obama can be terrorists, so can I. A government that lectures me about law and order when it's breaking both its own laws and the laws of human decency can go tell somebody who cares, because all they're talking about is their law and my order.

Friday, April 02, 2010

gas prices

I drove over 500 miles yesterday, so I had to fill up my bug twice, at $3.12 and 3.10 a gallon.

Why has the price of gas suddenly spiked? Because the price of crude oil is up. Crude was trading for around $67.50 a barrel at the end of last July, but now it's suddenly at $85. What gives? It's certainly not because oil is in short supply; in fact, the markets are saturated right now because demand has fallen off due to the economic collapse.

McClatchy News Service has it right: "Blame Wall Street."

Experts attribute much of the recent rise in prices to flows of speculative money into oil markets. These bets are fueled by investor expectations that the U.S. and global economies are poised to return to growth and thus spark increased use of oil. Strong growth in China supports the narrative of rising oil consumption and tightening supplies.

"The thinking goes that rising stock (market) prices implies expanding business activity, implies growing energy demand, implies rising oil prices. I think you can make that case, but it's awfully weak," said Michael Fitzpatrick , vice president-energy for MF Global , a financial firm that brokers the sale of contracts for future delivery of oil.

While there are signs of U.S. economic recovery, such as a slight uptick in consumption and strong manufacturing data, there are plenty of ho-hum signs too, including dismal construction spending and continued high unemployment.

"I just don't think if you look across the entire spectrum of the macro-economy that it creates a picture of a growing body of incontrovertible evidence that there is a strong, sustainable recovery. I just don't see it," Fitzpatrick said. "I think it should be closer to the range we were seeing in late summer and early fall, $67 to $72 " a barrel.

Looking at this from an environmental rather than a financial standpoint, there are plenty of reasons why the prices of oil and gasoline should be high, and go even higher. The biggest one is that we need to drive less, and reconfigure our communities, our entire society really, to a scale that encourages walking and using mass transit rather than driving.

To further that goal, oil needs to be at $85 or $90 a barrel, but a third of that should be taxes which would in turn be applied to building and improving urban and interurban mass transit. Instead, we're paying a tax of a sort, but not to any government. The surplus goes to greedhead traders so they can buy more McMansions, Cadillac Escalades, and send their kids to private acaemies so the little ones can learn how to lord it over their fellow citizens.

Gas and oil prices are about where they should be, and those price levels generate huge profits. But those profits are disbursed for the betterment of an economic and political elite, rather than being applied to benefit the people at large. In a nutshell, that's the difference between backwardness and progressivism, and it also tells you who runs government. Hint: it ain't "the socialists."

Thursday, April 01, 2010

terra incognita

Today I was on the road by five a.m., in order to avoid Seattle's infamous rush-hour traffic as I launched my first road trip in a long time. Usually the road is Interstate Five, and the terrain comfortingly familiar, but this time my insecto amarillo has carried me into a big adventure, for I've ventured into Terra Incognita.

For the most part, it turned out to be Terra Miseracordia. Even though I had never visited Yakima, Washington or the Tri-Cities area (Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland), I wasn't expecting to be charmed or entranced, so I can't exactly say I was disappointed. Yakima has probably the worst case of small-town sprawl I've ever seen, worse even than Apple Valley, California, and I never did find the town's only Denny's Restaurant, in spite of stopping and asking directions. I did finally get my eggs at Denny's in Kennewick, a dreadful place which exhibits all the worst aspects of latter-day America in an age of insensible decline and social atomism. In Kennewick, fry pits, muffler shops, chain motels, trailer parks, and strip malls are all inhabited by a population which has grown larger in numbers and girth at the same time it's gotten duller in its perceptions and insights.

The landscape was beautiful at first, but after the bug and I began climbing out of the Valley of the Columbia it became gradually featureless. I have no idea what most of the hill country of eastern Oregon and western Idaho is used for, if anything. Some of it is being used for cattle grazing, but most of it seems completely vacant, and I soon lost interest in looking at grassy hills.

After a brief gust of sleet, I ended the day in Boise, and the less said about it the better. I've been here before, but that was many years ago, when it was a different place in a different country. Now it's horribly swollen and infected with the corruption of a chaotic and counterintuitive infrastructure overburdened by auto traffic.

This will be a great country again someday, if we can find a way to reconfigure everyday life on a user-friendly, spiritually comprehensible, human scale once more. It's the same old story, and you've heard it here and in many other places before -- we need to get rid of Wal-Mart and bring back Main Street, where the things you need are supplied by folks you know, and community is a collective, mutually-shared enterprise.