Delusions of Democrats: Ending Obamania

It’s hard to give up on an ideal.  But the “Change We Can Believe In” has faded, even as the illusion we had hoped it was not.  The American electorate has always had a problem with distinguishing rhetoric from action.  Of course, Obama’s efforts, such as they have been, have also been thwarted at every turn by the blatantly racist Republican congress.  Great speeches, but regular capitulation prior to negotiation became his modus operandi where tough negotiations were called for.

Foolish Faith

The old Liberal Class of politicians who fought for human values and the rights of hard working Americans of all colors in a dynamic congress, is dead.  The dominant politicos of the Democratic Party are agents of their corporate benefactors, even if slightly less so than their Republican colleagues.  They vote to stay elected and the corporations pay to see that happen.

But many progressively minded people with good will and the desire to see a better America just can’t let go of the idea that if we can just get more Democrats elected, then liberty and kindness will prevail across the land.  They want to believe in Obama’s ‘liberal agenda’ and they want to have good reason to fight for Hillary so they will not have wasted their hard political work and resources.   But it is just not working.

Most claims about what President Obama has achieved miss the point when it comes to what really matters to the nation and planet at this point in history.

Illusions of Accomplishment

It’s all about political misconceptions of success and failure.  A blogger recently posted 14 “objective facts” that he offered as proof that the country is doing well under Obama’s leadership.  (See “14 Facts About the Obama Presidency that Most People Don’t Know,” jeff61b.hubpages.com )  Each one cites a source and appears quite descriptive.  But wait; there’s more.  Let me briefly explain each one.

1. “63 straight months of economic expansion.”  The Fed buying up hundreds of billions of dollars in bad debt from the Big Banks has driven up stock prices and mergers, since little of those vast sums has trickled down into the real economy.  Most “economic expansion” is in the pockets of the 1% of the 1%.  It is not being invested  in economic  production.

2.  “the longest period of private sector job creation in American History.”  Sure it’s taken a long time to create any jobs; the corporations have sat on their huge stash of cash because weak demand due to unemployment and underemployment made them afraid to invest that cash in production.  So, most of the job creation that has happened is minimum wage service jobs below the poverty line.

3.   “Unemployment has dropped from 10.1% in October of 2009 to 5.9%”  Despite the fact that the government statistics have way underestimated unemployment for decades, look at the quality of the jobs — most new jobs do not carry a living wage.  The real level of unemployment has been at least double that reported by the government.  See ShadowStats.com

4.  “The stock market continues to set new records…”  Well, the ‘funny money’ has to be put somewhere.  Instead of investing the vast sums of bailout money and no-interest loans from the Fed, the Big Banks have busily bought up each other and continued their derivative Ponzi schemes.  The inflated valuation of stocks has resulted from new money, not new productivity.  It’s not a good indicator of a healthy economy under these conditions.

5.  “The federal budget deficit is shrinking…”  Of course.  The government is shrinking, except for spending non-existent money on military adventures.  Since the Fed has brought down interest rates so low, the interest on the debt is much smaller.  And since the Congress-of-No continues to cut expenditures on desperately needed infrastructure repairs and conversion to renewable energy systems, spending has come down to match the reductions in tax on the most wealthy persons and corporations.  The nation and earth systems are collapsing together.

6.  “Under President Obama, spending has increased only 1.4% annually…”  Certainly, the Congress-of-No has prevented some of the necessary investments in renewable energy and other infrastructure that would have created many jobs.  But I fail to see that as an accomplishment for Obama.   It’s an achievement for the neo-liberal economists who want to do away with the public sector entirely.  He keeps diddling with whether to approve the disastrous Keystone XL pipeline to accelerate carbon emissions even further while failing to push hard to replace fossil-fueled energy production with renewable systems.

7.  For most Americans “income taxes are lower…”   Basically, since incomes are down, so are taxes.  But whatever the rates [kinda complicated; some up, some down, but from what base?] the rich and the corporations are still stealing the nation blind with the tax dodges congress has allowed them.  We need to return to the progressive tax system that accompanied the prosperity of the 1950s.

8.  “Our dependence on foreign oil has shrunk due to record domestic oil production…”  Another faux accomplishment.  Fracking is destroying water supplies all around the country while it generates a  short-term surge of production.   So, like excess coal, it is exported, adding to the carbon available for emission, further exacerbating global warming.   We need to reduce our dependence on ALL oil..   Obama has been on the wrong side of that one.

9.; 10; 11.  The Affordable Care Act:  “…more Americans have health insurance…”  “added years to the life of Medicare.”  “slowest rate of increase in healthcare costs since 1960…”  Obama’s signature accomplishment may have been the elimination of pre-existing conditions dodge by the insurance companies.  But, despite the fact that the majority of Americans wanted it, he cut off any discussion of single-payor universal health care from the start.   Real reform would have made Medicare permanently solvent.  The U.S. is the only modern industrial nation without universal national health care.  We spend  much more  and get worse outcomes..

12.  “‘..we have fewer people in war zones…than any time since 2002”   Well, looks like not for long…  The use of drones and assassination programs belies such arbitrary claims.

13.  “Zero successful attacks by al Qaeda on U.S. soil since Obama became president.”  Neither Cheney nor Obama can claim victory in the “war on terror.”  The U.S. fossil-fueled empire has created far more “terrorists” (most of whom see themselves as freedom fighters defending against invaders) than our military has killed — not counting innocent civilians.  In any case, the scattering of al Qaeda occurred across administrations.  Obama can, however, claim bin Laden’s assassination.  The lack of attacks on U.S. Soil is mostly due to lack of capability or interest — still a danger, however.

14.  “We…deport more illegal immigrants than ever before.” Yes, and with reckless disregard for human rights, even of those children seeking asylum from murderous thugs in Honduras and elsewhere.  Has Obama done anything to mitigate the forcing of Mexican farmers off their land by flooding Mexico with cheap subsidized GMO corn?  No, but he’s busy working on trade agreements worse than NAFTA in Asia, which will further damage the environment as well as worker safety and rights.

Eyes Wide Open

So, would the Republicans do worse?  Of course.  But that does not make bad good.  And Hillary?  Another servant of the financial elite, just like Barack and the rest of the gang in Washington.  Lipstick on a pig does not make bacon.  And its very hard to find organic bacon.

Moving Toward an Ecological Infrastructure. Part III: Ecological Transformation

An ecological society will require some basic changes in the way we live. Most analyses of climate change are about disruptions leading to untenable future conditions. Specific reductions in carbon emissions will require transformation of economic infrastructure, which is rarely discussed.

To stabilize global temperature, return to 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere is necessary. That goal might be achieved if a tipping point is not reached before we take major actions. We are already at about 400. Several indicators suggest such a tipping point is near, where positive feedback loops will amplify already accelerating trends, even if we drastically cut emissions. Warming melts tundra releasing methane, causing more warming, etc. Calling for “further research” excuses intolerable inaction. We must act now based on what we know now.

Carbon Control
It is impossible to list all major contributors to carbon pollution in a blog post. But here are some major categories of carbon polluting infrastructure we need to get under control.

● The Built Environment. More carbon emissions come from fossil fuel burned to heat, cool, and supply electricity to homes, apartments, commercial buildings, and factories, than any other source.

Transportation. Cars, trains, boats, and planes consume huge amounts of fossil-fuel energy and emit greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

Energy Production. We burn a lot of carbon fuels in the process of extracting the raw materials from which those fuels are refined. Power plants emit 40% of U.S. carbon pollution. Fracking, the latest technology for extracting oil and gas, is itself a major methane polluter and consumes huge amounts of water and fuel. Tar-sands extraction and processing is another big one. That’s why the Keystone XL pipeline is so dangerous.

Electronics Everywhere. Little thought is given to the immense amount of electricity used to run electronic equipment. ‘Phantom load’ from computers, music electronics, and appliances in standby mode accounts for about ten percent of the electricity usage in households. “The Cloud,” consists of many competing computer “server farms” the Internet giants use to store and process data of all kinds. Let’s not forget the giant telecom corporations. The NSA and other surveillance operations consume massive amounts of electrical energy, mostly from fossil fuels.

The Military. The various branches of the armed forces consume more fossil-fuel energy than any other economic sector. Not surprising. Always contemplating future threats to its viability, the DoD has been pursuing research on alternative propulsion systems and energy sources for a number of years.

These diverse economic sectors involve infrastructure powered by fossil-fuels. Each requires different changes to achieve carbon-neutrality. Priorities must be set and ‘least-impact’ parameters established to make reasonable decisions for each of these sectors. Who is doing that?

Conversion of Economic Infrastructure
All infrastructure conversion requires technology, materials, and labor. Reducing carbon emissions from buildings is labor intensive, which translates into lots of jobs. Most talk of energy efficient buildings is about new construction. But existing buildings produce most of the energy wasted. So investing in retrofitting existing buildings with energy conserving technology will best upgrade this sector of infrastructure.

Conversion to electric cars seems inevitable. But it requires infrastructure – mostly solar-powered charging stations to allow commuters to use their cheap second-generation Teslas. International trade involves massive amounts of mostly diesel fuel consumption. Advanced designs for solar and wind driven ships are now proven. But new ship building takes time. Meanwhile, the false economies of corporate “free trade” must be restrained. The free movement of capital to exploit cheap immobile labor must be curtailed so that local labor can be employed to serve local needs.

If the environmental and social costs of fracking were taxed, the practice would come to a screeching halt. It poisons local water resources, spews lots of methane into the atmosphere, and accelerates global warming. A carbon tax reflecting the real costs would put an end to fracking and accelerate solar power installations and adoption of electric cars.

The Cloud” provides no better data storage than increasingly cheap local storage, which by comparison minimizes electricity use. It should be abandoned for most computing purposes. “Phantom load” is easily controlled by inserting ‘smart’ power bars between the source and all those electronic gadgets and appliances.

The best way to reduce military energy consumption is to stop all the futile wars of choice, eliminating a major source of terrorism as well as the huge environmental costs of war. Cancel absurd super-weapon projects. The vast savings could be converted to useful activity, like converting to an ecological economy.

These are only a few of the economic conversions that are necessary to bring carbon emissions under control while converting to an ecologically viable economic infrastructure and employing millions of citizens.

Necessary Social Mobilization
Here’s the rub. The large scale infrastructure conversions required to realistically control carbon pollution to minimize climate chaos are huge. Yet, national and international institutions remain moribund. Their response to the climate crisis consists mainly of false promises and finger pointing. A major social mobilization is necessary and must be from the bottom up.

Direct action is needed now to mitigate climate disruption and dampen its most extreme effects. Only engaged citizens can take such immediate action. Awareness is surging. Clear mechanisms for meaningful effective action must be made a matter of public knowledge. Bill McKibben and 350.org have made divestment from fossil-fuel industries the centerpiece of direct climate action. Move your money to local credit unions and banks. Drastically slash corporate consumerism — what do you really need and from what local source can you get it? Take advantage of federal and state tax rebates for solar installations while they’re still available. Be creative. Momentum follows action. Join others. Act.

Moving Toward an Ecological Infrastructure. Part II: Infrastructure of an Ecological Economy

Almost everyone agrees that much of America’s infrastructure (highways, bridges, electrical grid, power plants, etc.) is in desperate need of repair or replacement. Economic ideologists of corporate “free enterprise” oppose public investment as they attempt to drive corporate taxes to near zero. Nevertheless, we must find a way to move beyond these old powerful forces and ask the more important question. What infrastructure? Here is where we must part with the economic ideology of general “growth” as the answer to every economic problem. Climate disruption forces economic policy to be driven by the immediate need for carbon-neutral infrastructure.

Ecological Energy Production
First and foremost, we must radically reduce carbon emissions to reduce the effects of greenhouse gases. If we don’t, climate chaos will soon turn into economic and social chaos. Simply repairing existing infrastructure would add a lot of carbon and stimulate more carbon-producing activity. Under current conditions, almost any construction or reconstruction process would worsen climate disruption because it relies on fossil-fuel energy. To develop “carbon neutral” industry or products will inevitably involve some carbon emissions too. The only way to minimize that is to go to the root of the problem: energy production. Some predict that within two or three years, half of automobile production will be electric cars. Great. But if the energy to produce them continues to be from coal-fired power plants, well, not so great.

So, in considering the upgrading of U.S. economic infrastructure, the first priority must be to convert energy production from burning fossil-fuels to the proven renewable energy sources: solar, wind, and to a lesser extent, geo-thermal technologies. Hydro-electric generation is great, but there is little opportunity for it. To be clear, nuclear power is a non-renewable, highly expensive and dangerous, and an economically futile path. That is why neither big investors nor big insurance companies will touch it without government guarantees and subsidies. For an ecological economy, nuclear power is simply off the table.

Strong Systems: Distributed and Human Scale
So called “economies of scale” are over-rated. At a certain stage in the industrializing era, bigger factories that took advantage of labor-saving technologies were more cost-effective. But beyond a certain point, returns diminish and size becomes a burden. The power grid is a good example. The big investor-owned utilities have profited from their monopolies — by law, not by efficiency. The giant electric grid with long transmission lines is very inefficient and vulnerable. Now, “smart-grid” technology is available and can better manage a grid, reducing waste. But size is still a problem.

Systems analysts have long known that the larger and more complex a system, the more vulnerable to disruption it is. Smaller self-sufficient power grids, interconnected for backup, are much more reliable, efficient, and defensible. With today’s advanced science and technology, small local systems have advantages that were not available to small tribes and communities of the pre-industrial world. Today, large complex systems are vulnerable to climate chaos, terrorist attacks, and internal system failures, not to mention internal corruption.

Whether it’s power grids, industrial production, food production, or other economic activity, small local systems are the most effective. But they are strongly resisted by powerful existing institutions. The problem, of course, is that the entire trajectory of the industrial and industrializing worlds has led to centralization and gigantism. Concentration of wealth, income, and political power in the hands of an integrated power elite has been the result. This has prevented the establishment of a rational economic policy to serve the public interest. Distributed power, whether electrical, economic, or political, conflicts with the interests of the power elites. Yet, this is exactly what is needed to not only respond effectively to climate chaos, but to establish viable economies for human societies.

The Hard Part: Achieving an Ecological Society
The power elites have a firm grip on the existing national economic and political institutions. That is clear. That renders electoral politics nearly moot for effecting sufficient change quickly enough. In the little time left before climate disruption engulfs the world in economic, political, and social chaos, radical changes are necessary. Any time extreme changes must be accomplished in a short time, a lot of unknowns arise. Uncertainty breeds anxiety. Anxiety causes resistance. Add in all the corporate propaganda and political stagnation is a likely result. That is the state of the national political scene today; not so, local communities.

Despite all the denial propaganda, many people are directly experiencing the immediate impact of the initial stages of climate disruption. Drought, floods, extreme storms, and other extreme weather events are confronting people’s lives directly. Awareness is rapidly growing. The U.S. may be lagging behind most countries in responding to the threat, but public awareness is catching up quickly.

An uncountable number of small groups all across the country are taking action in their local communities to spur adoption of solar energy, resist fracking, and establish community action networks to accelerate societal response to climate disruption, from the grass-roots up. That is exactly the last best hope for human mitigation of global warming and for adaptation to the effects that are already upon us. Part III of this essay will discuss the particulars of the localized political and economic actions that may bring about an ecological society.

Techno-Fix: Triumph or Tragedy?

So called “modern man” has basked in the illusion that something like “American Ingenuity” can find a solution to any problem by inventing a new technology that will do what needs to be done, whether to replace a no-longer viable technology – such as developing a new fuel that is somehow carbon-neutral – or to solve a new problem resulting from existing technology – such as finding a new material to replace one nearing depletion.

After all, just look at the steady growth of technology throughout the industrial era of the past two hundred years. Invention has continued, sometimes at a seemingly breathtaking pace. Manufacturing, transportation, and communication have all benefited from the combination of new inventions and new forms of energy, from the first coal and steam driven factories to the latest nanotechnologies in micro devices with diverse applications from medicine to surveillance. Why can’t this triumph of technological progress just continue indefinitely?

Endless progress of technology has not been an entirely unreasonable assumption given the modern history of science and technology and the seemingly endless development of products to do all sorts of things, from washing our dishes to space travel to the moon and maybe soon to Mars. Yet the pantheon of technical progress has been intimately connected to and dependant upon the unlimited availability of cheap readily available fossil-fuel energy, both for development of technologies and for their deployment. The fossil fuel energy era has allowed continued development of advanced highly complex technologies.

But wait! What if we look closely at the context of all this and what conditions allowed such bounty? Well, we then find that most of the products we idolize arose in the context of an expansive materials science and the ready availability of more and more exotic minerals extracted from locations around the world and cheap energy to process them. Many of these materials are far from plentiful, yet are required for the new technologies to work.

Lithium, a key material in the manufacture the new lithium-ion batteries, which are gaining such widespread use in everything from hand tools to electric cars, is only found in a few places in the world. Various rare earth metals used in electronics are increasingly difficult and costly to extract as demand accelerates. Extraction, processing, and manufacture with these new materials all require fossil fuel energy – they cannot be made available without very large energy inputs. Furthermore, extracting and processing fossil fuels needed for these processes takes more energy and cash. As sources of fossil fuel are depleted, new more remote ones yield lower quality material. Net Energy Gain (NEG) declines and costs accelerate with deep water wells and “fracking” for onshore low-quality deposits. No new technology can change that.

A strong cultural belief in our inevitable salvation by technological innovation is evident in claims for particular technological imaginaries. One such claim is that all we have to do is send privately funded rockets (more efficient than NASA) to the moon to mine abundant minerals, and we will have plenty to fuel continuous economic growth through advanced technologies. Another imaginary ‘techno-fix’ is the strange resurgence of “cold fusion” a hypothetical type of nuclear reaction proposed by Stanley Pons and Martin Fleishmann in 1989. Under a new name, “Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR)” – or other assumed names used to disassociate it from the scandal that resulted from early misrepresentations of results and failures to present data to support the first claims of evidence for this unlikely process – some still believe in the concept, but without scientific evidence to support it.

In the case of moon-mining, the fantasy simply does not address the underlying problem of continuing on the path to full climate chaos; rather its claim is to enhance extravagant extraction and consumption. In the case of ‘LENR,’ there have been no verified experiments demonstrating a process for which there is also no viable theoretical construct consistent with nuclear science and no experimental evidence that would confirm the claims that it even exists no less produces vast quantities of usable energy from low-energy inputs. It is a long story of “pathological science,” where claims were taken to the press but never substantiated by the scientific processes of replication and verification. This led to funding for more research but not to viable scientific results, yet the idea still garners some support from ‘true believers’ who just don’t want to give up on the fantasy and do not understand the scientific method. A brief summary of that history can be found at Wikipedia under “cold fusion.”

Because of the short history of technological successes in the fossil-fueled industrial age, the culture of consumerism includes a solid belief in the wondrous human ability to create solutions to any problem with new technology, thus allowing us to imagine that we can ignore the (inevitable) prospect of having to dramatically curtail the consumerism that increasingly defines our personal and social identities as it destroys the planet. We have projected our belief into a limitless future of technologically enabled endless consumption, just when the material and ecological limits to economic and technological growth are upon us. The convergence of the ecological, financial, industrial, energy, and climate crises we are now experiencing is not amenable to any technological fix, including “geo-engineering,” the final hubris. These crises are endemic to the relationship we have cultivated between our debt-driven growth-dependent economy and the biosphere upon which our lives depend. It is we who must change, and our technology must be reinvented to adapt to that change.

After Obama: Apocalypse or What?

It ought to be clear to just about everyone who had hoped for “change we can believe in,” that very little of significance will likely emerge from the Obama Presidency in its final years.  Whatever the outcomes of the mid-term elections, the political commitments of the president, as well as the Democrats in Congress, are likely to continue to put the interests of the ruling elites – the energy industry, Wall Street Banksters, military contractors, the prison-industrial complex, and international industrial corporations – above the public interest.  The entrenched power of the “Deep State” –  that informal assembly of the most powerful political, economic, and military elites that shape national policies in all domains – is in full control of the nation’s direction.  No matter what we may imagine Obama would like to have accomplished, it is clear that the interests of the most powerful institutions and the wealthiest individuals who are represented by the army of lobbyists in Washington who control congressional [in]action, will continue to limit the range of actions that this president will take.  What we have here is an elite plutocracy behind a thin veil of a hollowed out imaginary representative democracy.

Sadly, however we interpret the humanitarian causes referenced by eloquent impassioned rhetoric, the substance of those great speeches simply has not been reflected in national or international policy, except in the smallest of ways.  “Yes we can!” – well, how did that work out for us?  The widely popular principle of universal health care – routine in “advanced” nations except for our own – was taken off the table at the very beginning of the effort for “health care reform” in favor of protecting the economic interests of the unnecessary health insurance companies, the middle-men of the consequently expensive and distorted health care system.  The wind-down-the-wars president became Commander in Chief of Drone Assassination and Civilian Massacre.  The self-righteous indignation over Russia’s occupation of Crimea in response to the West’s pressuring Ukraine to join NATO and supporting the overthrow of its elected government – both seen as military threats by Russia– is nothing if not massively hypocritical.   Obama’s climate change policy of “all of the above” panders to the entrenched corporate interests of coal, nuclear energy, and fracked gas and oil, all of which are the main drivers accelerating the crisis of a destabilizing biosphere.  Meanwhile, Obama makes oratorical gestures toward human and planetary survival, while carefully avoiding any threat to corporate sovereignty.

Nothing, really, seems to be going all that well.  “Trickle down economics”?  How has that worked out for you?  Extreme wealth and income disparity to the point of economic destabilization, extreme climate disruption accelerating and politically ignored, extreme corporate control of mass communications constraining public understanding of the crises, never-ending propaganda supporting the fantasy of never-ending economic growth and consequent resource depletion, etc. – it all adds up to socio-economic as well as ecological disaster.  After all, the crises we face are only intensified by of the politics of business as usual – and that has been the problem all along.  So, the serious question now is what can be done outside the Obama presidency and after it ends, particularly when no Democrat or Republican made president by corporate controlled elections is any more likely to face the idea that the nation and the planet are in deep trouble.

Exactly what can anyone do, who has observed the politically moribund corporate state that prohibits the national concerted action necessary to re-establish some semblance of democratic process, no less a massive redirection of public policy toward international action to save the planet from certain biospheric catastrophe?  It is now quite clear that electoral politics – even if voter suppression could be reversed, gerrymandering unwound, and elections democratized – is too slow and cumbersome, given the proximity of disaster.

Of course, those things must be accomplished anyway.  But major actions must be taken now to stop continued expansion of the fossil-fuel economy and replace it.  Setting goals for utilities to produce ten or twenty percent of energy from renewable sources by 2030, and the like, are nothing more than pathetic gestures in the present emergency.  Even rationing energy production may be necessary in the short term.  But is it possible?

A new kind of thinking seems necessary and a new kind of action is required now – direct citizen action.  What is it and how can it be initiated and executed?  The beginnings of direct citizen action to stave off some of the worst projects of the oil and gas industry – protests of the Keystone XL pipeline and of oil and gas fracking around the country – offer examples of immediate lines of citizen action, along with divestment.  Such actions must be intensified, expanded and multiplied.

We are entering an apocalyptic era – not in the evangelical sense, but in the sense of the original meaning of the word, “to uncover, reveal, or disclose” – and we need to respond accordingly.  The catastrophic character of anthropogenic climate disruption will be revealed to us, even though we may have already ignored it too long.  A majority of citizens in a recent poll were still deceived into believing that Keystone XL is a ‘job creator’ and necessary for “energy independence.”  Wrong, but also irrelevant.  It is clear that much propaganda must be overcome to uncover the truth about dirty coal, nuclear, and fracked oil and gas, so that the nature of the crisis we all face can be fully revealed and collectively acted upon.