Thursday, September 17, 2009

prostate cancer an STD?!?!?

The Scientist | Mounting evidence suggests that prostate cancer is an infectious disease caused by a recently identified virus. The latest report, published today (September 7) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found the virus was associated especially with aggressive prostate cancers and noted that "all individuals may be at risk" for infection.

The notion that prostate cancer is an infectious disease like cervical cancer would not surprise most cancer experts, said Ila Singh of the University of Utah, the study's senior author. Almost 20% of visceral cancers are now proven infectious diseases, and there is a lot of indirect evidence from epidemiology and genetics that prostate cancer may be one of them.

The suspect is xenotropic murine leukemia-related virus (XMRV), a gammaretrovirus similar to viruses known to cause cancer in animals. Researchers at Columbia University and the University of Utah found the virus in more than a quarter of some 300 prostate cancer tissue samples, especially in malignant cells. That prostate cancer is a viral disease is not yet proven, but this is the third independent confirmation that XMRV infects prostate tissue.

Singh pointed out that clinicians badly need better tools for distinguishing between prostate cancers that are potentially deadly and those that develop so slowly that the affected men die of something else. "We have no idea if this virus is such a marker but it clearly needs to be investigated further," she said.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

the ghost fleet of the recession

Dailymail | The biggest and most secretive gathering of ships in maritime history lies at anchor east of Singapore. Never before photographed, it is bigger than the U.S. and British navies combined but has no crew, no cargo and no destination - and is why your Christmas stocking may be on the light side this year

Here, on a sleepy stretch of shoreline at the far end of Asia, is surely the biggest and most secretive gathering of ships in maritime history. Their numbers are equivalent to the entire British and American navies combined; their tonnage is far greater. Container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers - all should be steaming fully laden between China, Britain, Europe and the US, stocking camera shops, PC Worlds and Argos depots ahead of the retail pandemonium of 2009. But their water has been stolen.

They are a powerful and tangible representation of the hurricanes that have been wrought by the global economic crisis; an iron curtain drawn along the coastline of the southern edge of Malaysia's rural Johor state, 50 miles east of Singapore harbour.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

a paradise built in hell?

NYTimes | In his journals, Jack Kerouac recalled riding on a bus through North Dakota in 1949, when snow and ice brought the highway to a halt. From a nearby town came “crews of eager young men” who “pitched in” through the “attritive, swirling, arctic-­like night.” Kerouac was struck by their selflessness, their willingness to help strangers of whom they had “no need.” “Where in the effete-thinking East,” he wrote, “would men work for others, for nothing, at midnight in howling freezing gales?” He concluded with a koan of sorts. “Men work against each other only when it is safe to abandon men — only when and where.”

Kerouac was, in essence, asking a favorite question of social psychologists: Under what conditions are people willing to help others? Urbanites, or the social dynamics of urbanism, have been particularly implicated in these inquiries, whether by “diffusion of responsibility” — the more people who are around, the less any one person feels compelled to act — or “information overload,” the idea that city people must filter and limit what they take in, including appeals for help.

But every so often comes a moment when the normal rules of life are suspended, when some kind of force brings suffering, deprivation or, at the very least, extreme inconvenience. Given the normal travails of city life, one might reasonably expect the social fabric to rend. But ask any New Yorker about, say, the blackout of 2003, and you’re likely to get not a shudder of horror but wistful reminiscences about people spontaneously directing traffic when the signals went dark.

As Rebecca Solnit documents in “A Paradise Built in Hell,” a landmark work that gives an impassioned challenge to the social meaning of disasters, this same sort of positive feeling has emerged in far more precarious circumstances, from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to Hurricane Katrina. Disasters, for Solnit, do not merely put us in view of apocalypse, but provide glimpses of utopia. They do not merely destroy, but create. “Disasters are extraordinarily generative,” she writes. As the prevailing order — which she elliptically characterizes as advanced global capitalism, full of anomie and isolation — collapses, another order takes shape: “In its place appears a reversion to improvised, collaborative, cooperative and local society.” These “disaster communities” represent something akin to the role William James claimed for “the utopian dreams” of social justice: “They help to break the general reign of hardness, and are slow leavens of a better order.”

resource nationalism on the rise

As I mentioned hereabouts a few weeks ago, resource nationalism - of various sorts - is on the rise. This trend is worth watching closely, serving as the nearly certain harbinger of global conflict.

Forbes | Triggered by Wednesday's OPEC meetings and last week's announcement of new regulations governing Brazil's offshore oil, I am devoting this week's column to examining whether government control of the resource sector is increasing as commodity prices continue to creep up.

Traditionally as commodity prices rise, national governments have sought to boost their share of the proceeds, either to save or to spend. When prices fall, by contrast, they have tended to loosen their fiscal regimes to encourage investment and extraction. The period from 2005 through the middle of 2008 was par for the course, in this respect. As the oil price increased, countries ranging from Kazakhstan to Russia to Venezuela sought to reduce the share of key projects managed by foreign oil companies; even the Canadian province of Alberta tried to change its royalty regime. While these policy changes may be politically popular--and according to some analysts, may even help fund infrastructure development--they also run the risk of further deferring investment in the oil and gas sector. The combination of weak demand, lower prices and tighter credit all contributed to a reduction in investment in hydrocarbons. While the investment outlook is still weak, some countries eased regulations early in 2009 in an effort to boost revenues and increase investment.

Monday, September 14, 2009

ignore the optimists - peak oil is real

Foreign Policy | Last week, four of the world's most outspoken oil aficionados waded into the controversy of peak oil, publishing articles packed with myth and distortion. This "Gang of Four" all claimed the issue was silly, moot, or simply a myth. The four pieces were Pulitzer Prize-winning author Daniel Yergin's seven-page article in Foreign Policy, energy analyst Michael Lynch's three column op-ed in the New York Times, analyst Edward Morse's essay in Foreign Affairs, and scholar Amy Jaffe's paper published by the Baker Institute at Rice University.

Here is a quick synopsis of the views expressed by all four writers:

1. Oil will remain an extremely important part of the world's economy throughout the next century as its main base of users shifts from prosperous countries to the teeming mass of humanity in Asia that previously used only tiny amounts.

2. Oil markets are now far more transparent and far more liquid given the fact that existing oil contracts allow investors to trade three to five times more oil than the world uses every day. This transparency will flood capital into oil markets, keeping the price low which, in turn, will encourage even greater demand.

3. The world's endowment of oil has never been so large, despite 150 years of constant oil use coupled with the fact that the world now consumes more than 85 million barrels of oil daily. This "fact" is why all four authors took aim at the Peak Oil worry-warts who they feel are intent on trying to convince the world that it is running out of oil.

4. The emergence of spectacular new technology will enable the supply of oil to flow far easier than ever. And, this new technology boom is just getting started. Over time, it will improve by leaps and bounds.

Thus, these four global oil authorities mused that oil, celebrating its 150th birthday last week, has never been in better shape. How terrific the world's outlook would be if these four myths had even a touch of reality! Sadly, if one ignores opinion and simply adheres to a body of well-documented -- if ugly -- facts, it quickly becomes clear that these four assertions are utterly without substance.

what happens where corporations rule unchecked

NYTimes | Across the nation, the system that Congress created to protect the nation’s waters under the Clean Water Act of 1972 today often fails to prevent pollution. The New York Times has compiled data on more than 200,000 facilities that have permits to discharge pollutants and collected responses from states regarding compliance. Information about facilities contained in this database comes from two sources: the Environmental Protection Agency and the California State Water Resources Control Board. The database does not contain information submitted by the states. Full Story

ecological macroeconomics

Consumption, investment, and climate change

RealWorldEconomicsReview | In February 2008, two separate scientific research articles analyzed climate models that included deep-sea warming, and reached the conclusion that carbon dioxide emissions must fall to near zero by the mid twenty-first century to prevent temperature increases in the range of 7º Fahrenheit by 2100 (Schmittner et al., 2008; Matthews and Caldeira, 2008), These results were consistent with, though somewhat stronger than, those of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007b), which indicates that a reduction of 50–85 per cent in carbon emissions by 2050 is needed to limit the likelihood of temperature increases in excess of 2ºC (3.6ºF), Also in the spring of 2008, the Earth Policy Institute reported that “… global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the burning of fossil fuels stood at a record 8.38 gigatons of carbon (GtC) in 2006, 20 percent above the level in 2000. Emissions grew 3.1 percent a year between 2000 and 2006, more than twice the rate of growth during the 1990s” (Moore, 2008).

The cognitive disconnect between scientists’ warnings of potential catastrophe if carbon emissions continue unchecked on the one hand, and the political and economic realities of steadily increasing emissions on the other, defines the outstanding economic problem of the twenty-first century. Can economic growth continue while carbon emissions are drastically reduced? Addressing this issue necessarily refocuses attention on the meaning of economic growth itself.

The debate over economic growth and the environment has a long history, and involves many issues other than climate change. Theorists have considered possible growth limits associated with population, agriculture, energy, renewable resource systems, and waste generation (see Harris and Goodwin, 2003). Ecological economists have suggested that environmental and resource constraints imply limits on economic scale, and thus limits to growth (Daly, 1996). Mainstream neoclassical economics, however, has generally rejected the concept of growth limits. The contrast between these two perspectives has remained unresolved so long as no immediate issues of urgent growth constraints at the macroeconomic level have come to the fore. Areas in which ecological capacities are clearly being overstressed – such as declining fisheries, degraded agricultural systems, or ecosystems loss – have been recognized as important problems, but are not usually seen as serious threats to the continuation of global economic growth. Global climate change, by contrast, has a clear and direct relationship to economic growth both in industrialized and developing nations.

The challenge of reducing global carbon emissions by 50–85 per cent by the year 2050, which is suggested by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007a) as a target compatible with limiting the risk of a more-than-2ºC temperature increase, clearly conflicts with existing patterns of economic growth, which are heavily dependent on increased use of fossil fuel energy. While it is theoretically possible to conceive of economic growth being “delinked” from fossil fuel consumption, any such delinking would represent a drastic change from economic patterns of the last 150 years.

peak oil - coming soon but when?

RealWorldEconomicsReview | The optimum pattern of extraction for any well or reservoir depends primarily on certain factors, such as the size of the initial find, the rate of extraction over time, the characteristics of the rocks in which the reservoir is located and, of course, the economics of further extraction. So many professionals have attempted to model this pattern mathematically.

One of the most famous models was M. King Hubbert's version of the logistic curve, by which he correctly predicted the peak and decline of US crude production. In fact, most of the debates over "peak oil" in the 20th Century revolved around what are, for lay people, arcane issues of modeling. So in that sense, and that sense only, the 20th Century debates may be characterized as "theoretical" in part.

However, the debate which has begun in the 21st Century is different. It is not theoretical. It is not even about forecasting techniques. It got started because people began to question the veracity of Saudi Arabian oil statistics and the accuracy of that country's projections of its future production. This is the story.
For some five decades, Saudi Arabia managed to make the world believe that it was a cornucopia of oil. It also managed to convince people that it had some "aces up its sleeve", in the form of geologically promising rock formations which had not been drilled. The writer remembers this very clearly, beginning in his refinery days, in the late 1960's.

Indeed up to a few years ago, Saudi oil executives were still claiming that the country would produce 10, 15 or even 25 million barrels per day of crude oil for the next 50 years! This was despite the fact that it had never produced much more than 10 million and is currently producing less than eight million. All of these allegations were of course very convenient because (a) they got the world "hooked" on cheap oil and (b) they assured the country of US military protection against hostile neighbors, who were stronger militarily and, in some cases, more populous (Iraq, Iran and Israel).

However, all of these assertions have turned out to be somewhat optimistic. Most of the reservoirs which are still active today "show their age", especially those which have been producing for 50 years or more, and some even began to do so decades ago. Last but not least, the unexplored or underdeveloped reservoirs appear to be only "jacks" or "tens", instead of "aces". Only the outside world didn't know any of this until recently.

The first person to "blow the whistle" was Dr. Sadad al Husseini, head of exploration and production for Saudi Aramco, the government oil company. In 2004, he wrote a memorandum to the Minister of Oil. Following a dead silence (at least as far as the public was concerned), Dr. Husseni retired.

However, Matthew Simmons, an American banker with 35 years of oil-industry experience, picked up the thread. Among other documents, he studied nearly 300 Saudi technical presentations given at international conferences with the approval of Saudi Aramco. He concluded that Husseini was right and wrote the now famous book, "Twilight in the Desert" (2005) which sets forth his findings. This book does not confirm the Saudi joke, "camel herders to camel herders in three generations", but still it tells a pretty somber story.

Needless to say, lots of people heard or read each and every one of these presentations but very few heard or read more than a few. So most people were not aware of the story which these documents told, when organized by reservoir and set end to end by date.

This book set off an international debate with various consequences. First of all, the Saudis are now talking about a peak in their production of 12 million barrels, to be followed by a "plateau" of 10 million barrels and then a decline. The plateau is expected to last no more than a decade. All of which begs the question: When Saudi production peaks, can a world peak be far behind?

Secondly, the King of that country reserved all futures discoveries "for our grandchildren", instead of allowing them to be exploited immediately, to satisfy the world's insatiable appetite for crude oil. Thirdly, everybody began to make projections of the year in which world crude-oil production would peak. In October 2008, the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security (ITPOES) even warned that a peak in cheap, easily available oil production is likely to hit by 2013, posing a grave risk to the UK and world economy.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

the raw truth about the war on drugs

Medical-Wiki | We are a nation of drug addicts. We drug ourselves, our elderly and our children on a daily basis. We do it with prescription medications, over-the-counter pills, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine… and we say it’s all fine because those drugs are legal.

But wait a minute, you say. Those legal drugs are different from marijuana. They’re FDA-approved drugs, prescribed by a doctor. They have a medical purpose.

Oh really? Ritalin has a medical purpose? What medical symptoms does Ritalin treat, then? What measurable physiological state is addressed with Ritalin? There are none, of course. Ritalin is an authority drug. It keeps children in line. It makes teachers feel less stress and parents feel less guilt. Ritalin is a mind-altering narcotic, and yet millions of children are on it today. Its purpose is not to help children, but to make life more convenient for those who manage children.

So what’s the real difference between legal drugs and illegal drugs? Some people think that only illegal drugs are habit-forming. Yet legal drugs can be just as addictive as illegal drugs. Just ask anyone who has tried to quit smoking, go off caffeine, or kick to Oxycontin habit.

So is there some other difference between illegal drugs and legal drugs? People argue that legal drugs are safe. They’re FDA-approved! And yet they fail to recognize that prescription drugs kill more Americans each year than all the crack, meth, and heroin deaths combined.

Okay, then, what about the argument that illegal drugs have no medicinal purpose, and legal drugs do have a medicinal purpose. What about that? Wrong again. Medical marijuana is a medically proven treatment for a variety of conditions, yet marijuana still remains illegal. Even MDMA (now called “Ecstasy” on the street) was long considered an effective “experiential drug” that helped severely traumatized adult patients overcome past pains through improved clarity. At the same time, tobacco smoke has no medical purpose whatsoever, yet cigarettes remain perfectly legal.

No, the real difference between these two classes of drugs is not their medical merit, nor their safety. The real difference is something far more sinister. It gets right down to answering the question of why DEA agents will raid medical marijuana clinics, yet stand by doing nothing while Americans smoke themselves to death on tobacco.

Want to know the real answer? I very much doubt you do. Because, like most Americans, you won’t believe it. You’ve been blinded to the obvious truth for your whole life, manipulated by the media, and brainwashed by advertising that has turned you into a statistically-validated consumer. You’ll think, no, this couldn’t possibly be true. The world isn’t that unjust, you think. But you’re wrong. (Take the free Gullibility Factor test to find out if you’re really a mind slave or not…)

Here’s the raw, blunt truth about the war on drugs. Drugs are declared legal or illegal based primarily on who benefits from their manufacture, distribution and sale.

cumulative impacts in a finite world

SEHN | The Overarching Structure Of U.S. Environmental Decision-Making

Our current property and environmental law, including both federal statutes and the common law, harbors the presumption that economic activity generally provides a net benefit to society despite any accompanying damage it may cause. Grounded almost invisibly in this starting presumption, most of our property and environmental laws permit interference with economic activity only where that starting presumption is proved false, that is, where a particular activity can be demonstrated to fail to provide a net benefit to society.

These laws for the most part do not forbid damage to human health or the environment. Rather, even when fully enforced they permit protection of human health or the environment only where the benefits of doing so can be proved to outweigh the costs. The theory is that this structure ensures that the legal system will not intervene in the economy unless the intervention will increase net social welfare. So it is that cost-benefit analysis has become the legal system’s primary tool for deciding when economic activity may be regulated in the interest of protecting human health and the environment.

The allocation of the burden of proof to government and plaintiffs has an enormous impact on environmental decision-making. Because of this allocation, the law permits damage to the environment not just when it appears cost-benefit justified but also whenever regulators and plaintiffs cannot carry their cost-benefit burden of proof. In cases of doubt or missing information, the law defaults to its starting presumption: it allows the damaging activity to continue. This allocation of the burden of proof transforms doubt and missing information into a barrier to legal protection of human health and the environment. This explains why industrial interests are rationally motivated under our legal system to invest in the manufacture and spread of doubt and confusion.

A simple diagram can represent the law’s prevailing structure for resolving conflicts between economic and environmental interests, as well as the economy this legal structure promotes. Figure 1 illustrates ever-growing social benefits produced by an exponentially growing economy (upper line). It also illustrates the growth in the accompanying cumulative environmental damage that the law permits by imposing on government and plaintiffs a cost-benefit burden of proof (lower line). This lower line might be thought of as depicting the growth in society’s ecological footprint.

Figure 1.

What is missing from this environmental decision-making structure is any recognition that the Earth has a finite and limited ability to sustain ecological damage, and that exceeding this limit will inevitably degrade the Earth’s ecological integrity. The reasons for these limits are plain. The Earth has a finite physical size, so that environmental damage becomes concentrated as it accumulates. The deep interconnection between the various constituents of the biosphere causes our various impacts to interact, each compounding the effects of the others. Moreover, species and ecosystems can be replenished only very slowly if at all, so that their losses accumulate with the passage of time.

A simple diagram can depict this ecological limit, too. Figure 2 includes a horizontal line that represents the finite limits of the Earth’s ability to sustain ecological damage. This is a limit that our current legal system is utterly blind to.

Figure 2.

Thus we see the fatal flaw inherent in our system of environmental decision-making. Routinely allowing all environmental impacts except those proved to fail a cost-benefit test, it permits those impacts to grow without limit even when their cumulative effect results in ecological overshoot. Many of these impacts occur not because they actually satisfy the law’s cost-benefit test but because whenever we do not know enough, the law’s default structure permits them to continue.

Even when cost-benefit analysis can effectively evaluate impacts when we are far below ecological limits, it cannot do so once we exceed those limits. Each incremental impact, if taken alone in an empty world, might have caused cost-benefit justifiable harm or even, in many cases (such as carbon emissions), no harm at all. But under conditions of ecological overshoot each incremental impact contributes to a total loss that is immeasurable. Indeed, the permanent loss of the ecological integrity of the Earth, since we need it to survive and prosper, might fairly be considered an infinite loss.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

teabaggers gone wild!!!!

NYTimes | When a security guard at the United States Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, was leaving for breakfast Monday morning, he froze at the sight of a crude poster of a rat hanging on his door.

“Warning!” the poster said in stark, black letters. “Rats can cost you your job and your family.”

The guard was a whistle-blower who had told of security lapses and lewd, drunken bacchanals by fellow workers, sparking an outcry and enraging Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Now he wonders whether he should have kept his mouth shut.

“Threats are still running rampant here,” he said in a telephone conversation from Kabul, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. “So even though it looks like State may finally turn things around, no one’s ready to celebrate yet.”

Such skepticism may be warranted.

A review of two years of e-mail messages, letters and memos reveals that the State Department had long known of the serious problems with ArmorGroup, the contractor chosen to protect its embassy. The complaints went beyond the lurid pranks that made headlines, the documents show, and included serious understaffing, bullying by management, petty corruption and abusive work conditions.

In fact, the deficiencies became so severe that they threatened the security of the compound, the documents show, and State Department officials withheld payments to ArmorGroup as a way to compel it to comply with the terms of its agreement. On a few occasions, government officials warned the company that if it did not correct the most egregious problems it would lose the five-year, $189 million deal.

Yet both times the contract came up for renewal, in 2008 and 2009, the State Department opted to extend it, officials confirmed.

As the teabagger sedition league is wont to profess, this is the ONLY thing that the gummint does well, and, it's the ONLY duty that the gummint has a constitutional right to impose on taxpayers universally.

another really bad precedent in light of...

..the years and years of bad road ahead...,

Washington Post | A federal appeals court rejected a lawsuit Friday against CACI International that accused the firm's employees of taking part in the torture and abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

In a 2 to 1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed the case on the grounds that CACI should be immune from prosecution because the company's employees were under U.S. military authority.

"During wartime," wrote Judge Laurence H. Silberman, "where a private service contractor is integrated into combatant activities over which the military retains command authority, a tort claim arising out of the contractor's engagement in such activities shall be preempted."

The decision reversed a lower court's ruling in March that the company must face a lawsuit filed by former detainees who claim that they were tortured at the detention center near Baghdad.

contraception is the cheapest challenge to climate change

Telegraph | Contraception is almost five times cheaper as a means of preventing climate change than conventional green technologies, according to research by the London School of Economics. UN data suggests that meeting unmet need for family planning would reduce unintended births by 72 per cent.

Every £4 spent on family planning over the next four decades would reduce global CO2 emissions by more than a ton, whereas a minimum of £19 would have to be spent on low-carbon technologies to achieve the same result, the research says.

The report, Fewer Emitter, Lower Emissions, Less Cost, concludes that family planning should be seen as one of the primary methods of emissions reduction. The UN estimates that 40 per cent of all pregnancies worldwide are unintended.

If these basic family planning needs were met, 34 gigatons (billion tonnes) of CO2 would be saved – equivalent to nearly 6 times the annual emissions of the US and almost 60 times the UK’s annual total.

Roger Martin, chairman of the Optimum Population Trust at the LSE, said: “It’s always been obviously that total emissions depend on the number of emitters as well as their individual emissions – the carbon tonnage can’t shoot down as we want, while the population keeps shooting up.”

UN data suggests that meeting unmet need for family planning would reduce unintended births by 72 per cent, reducing projected world population in 2050 by half a billion to 8.64 million.

The research is published on the day that the Government’s climate change advisers, the Climate Change Committee, warned households and industry that a planned 80 per cent reduction in emissions are likely to prove insufficient.


Friday, September 11, 2009

german geothermal earth rumbles...,

NYTimes | Government officials here are reviewing the safety of a geothermal energy project that scientists say set off an earthquake in mid-August, shaking buildings and frightening many residents of this small city.

The geothermal plant, built by Geox, a German energy company, extracts heat by drilling deep into the earth. Advocates of the method say that it could greatly reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels by providing a vast supply of renewable energy.

But in recent months, two similar projects have stirred concerns about their safety and their propensity to cause earthquakes. In the United States, the Energy Department is scrutinizing a project in Northern California run by AltaRock Energy to determine if it is safe. (The project was shut down by the company last month because of crippling technical problems.) Another project, in Basel, Switzerland, was shut down after it generated earthquakes in 2006 and 2007 and is awaiting the decision of a panel of experts about whether it can resume.

The Landau project will be allowed to continue operating while the review panel, which held its first meeting last Friday, deliberates. Geox officials initially denied any responsibility for the temblor and continue to dispute the government’s data linking the project to the quake. The panel will, among other things, have to sort through the conflicting data presented by the company and government scientists.

But some experts in the field say they worry that projects like the one in Germany, if the managers deny responsibility for inducing earthquakes or play down the effects on people’s lives, could damage the reputation of geothermal energy, even in highly environmentally conscious areas of the world like California or Western Europe.Justify Full

theirs and ours - us and them

Boston Review | Warnings about the purposeful destruction of U.S. productive capacity have been familiar for decades and perhaps sounded most prominently by the late Seymour Melman. Melman also pointed to a sensible way to reverse the process. The state-corporate leadership has other commitments, but there is no reason for passivity on the part of the “stakeholders”—workers and communities. With enough popular support, they could take over the plants and carry out the task of reconstruction themselves. That is not a particularly radical proposal. One standard text on corporations, The Myth of the Global Corporation, points out, “nowhere is it written in stone that the short-term interests of corporate shareholders in the United States deserve a higher priority than all other corporate ‘stakeholders.’”

It is also important to remind ourselves that the notion of workers’ control is as American as apple pie. In the early days of the industrial revolution in New England, working people took it for granted that “those who work in the mills should own them.” They also regarded wage labor as different from slavery only in that it was temporary; Abraham Lincoln held the same view.

And the leading twentieth-century social philosopher, John Dewey, basically agreed. Much like ninetheenth-century working people, he called for elimination of “business for private profit through private control of banking, land, industry, reinforced by command of the press, press agents and other means of publicity and propaganda.” Industry must be changed “from a feudalistic to a democratic social order” based on workers’ control, free association, and federal organization, in the general style of a range of thought that includes, along with many anarchists, G.D.H. Cole’s guild socialism and such left Marxists as Anton Pannekoek, Rosa Luxemburg, Paul Mattick, and others. Unless those goals are attained, Dewey held, politics will remain “the shadow cast on society by big business, [and] the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance.” He argued that without industrial democracy, political democratic forms will lack real content, and people will work “not freely and intelligently,” but for pay, a condition that is “illiberal and immoral”—ideals that go back to the Enlightenment and classical liberalism before they were wrecked on the shoals of capitalism, as the anarchosyndicalist thinker Rudolf Rocker put it 70 years ago.

There have been immense efforts to drive these thoughts out of people’s heads—to win what the business world called “the everlasting battle for the minds of men.” On the surface, corporate interests may appear to have succeeded, but one need not dig too deeply to find latent resistance that can be revived. There have been some important efforts. One was undertaken 30 years ago in Youngstown Ohio, where U.S. Steel was about to shut down a major facility at the heart of this steel town. First came substantial protests by the workforce and community, then an effort led by Staughton Lynd to convince the courts that stakeholders should have the highest priority. The effort failed that time, but with enough popular support it could succeed.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

tightening the corporate grip: the stakes at the supreme court

EssentialLists | Can things get still worse in Washington?

Yes, they can. And they will, if the Supreme Court decides for corporations and against real human beings and their democracy in a case the Court will be hearing today, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Until reaching the Supreme Court last year, this case has involved a narrow issue about whether an anti-Hillary Clinton movie made in the heat of the last presidential election is covered by restrictions in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. However, in a highly unusual move announced on the last day of the Supreme Court's 2008 term, the justices announced they wanted to reconsider two other pivotal decisions that limit the role of corporate money in politics.

The Court ordered a special oral argument on the issue, before the full start of their 2009 term in October.

The Court will today hear argument on whether prior decisions blocking corporations from spending their money on "independent expenditures" for electoral candidates should be overturned. "Independent expenditures" are funds spent without coordination with a candidate's campaign. The rationale for such a move would be that existing rules interfere with corporations' First Amendment rights to free speech.

Overturning the court's precedents on corporate election expenditures would be nothing short of a disaster. Corporations already dominate our political process -- through political action committees, fundraisers, high-paid lobbyists and personal contributions by corporate insiders, often bundled together to increase their impact, threats to move jobs abroad and more.

On the dominant issues of the day -- climate change, health care and financial regulation -- corporate interests are leveraging their political investments to sidetrack vital measures to protect the planet, expand health care coverage while controlling costs, and prevent future financial meltdowns.

The current system demands reform to limit corporate influence. Public funding of elections is the obvious and necessary (though very partial) first step.

Yet the Supreme Court may actually roll back the limits on corporate electoral spending now in place. These limits are very inadequate, but they do block unlimited spending from corporate treasuries to influence election outcomes. Rolling back those limits will unleash corporations to ramp up their spending still further, with a potentially decisive chilling effect on candidates critical of the Chamber of Commerce agenda.

The damage will be double, because a Court ruling on constitutional grounds would effectively overturn the laws in place in two dozen states similarly barring corporate expenditures on elections.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

making ends meet in the great depression

NYTimes | AT a time when life in America is beginning to resemble a roller-coaster ride on the way down and everyone is trying to find ways to save money, it may be instructive — both in terms of offering helpful hints and putting things in perspective — to look at how people ran their households during the Great Depression.

Back then there was little money for food, let alone new curtains, but people found ways to cope. Backyard gardens were cultivated not because of a sudden itch to eat locally grown produce, but out of necessity; homeowners did their own repairs and found ingenious ways to make their homes functional and attractive.

Below, some who lived through the Depression share their memories. Peter Holden worked for the New York City parks department for 35 years and still lives in Manhattan. He grew up in Raleigh, N.C., where his mother took a job as a cleaning woman for North Carolina State University when he was 7, after the death of his father, a brick mason. Mr. Holden’s home had electricity, but no water; water had to be drawn from a neighbor’s well or hauled from a stream several houses away.

We lived high up on a hill above the southwestern campus, and we just worked together and shared. There was a great feeling of cooperation and help, even among the poor whites and the poor blacks. My grandfather had a farm and most any time he would come in, he would bring enough for two or three days — corn or tomatoes, whatever the season was — and we would share.

We ate beans maybe four times a week, boiled in salt pork. On Saturday or Sunday somehow or other we would have a nice meal. My mother would bring back a steak, that might have been 25 cents a pound. She was paid $8 or $9 a week, but at that time you could have more than a whole week’s groceries with that and have a little money left over.

She got laid off from the N.C. State job and there was just no jobs around Raleigh, so she went to Stamford — she had a sister living up there — and took my younger sister with her. I finished high school in 1934.

My mother always told us you can be anything you want, don’t come here telling me you can’t be this and they won’t let me be that.

That first year, I didn’t think I would be able to go to college, but my mother sent $10 from Stamford. She said, ‘Boy, you take this to St. Augustine’s and see if they don’t take this as a down payment, and if they don’t take it, you send my money back to me or I’ll come back to Raleigh and beat you all over.’

So I went out and tried to discourage St. Augustine’s, but they took me. I graduated college in 1938.

Like my mother said, if you really want to do something you can.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

growing poverty and despair in america

MediawithConscience | On August 6, the US Department of Agriculture reported a record 34.4 million Americans (one in nine) receiving food stamps in May as unemployment keeps surging. It was the sixth consecutive monthly record, and every state showed an increase as economic conditions worsen.

On September 10, the Commerce Department will release 2008 census data expected to show around another 1.5 million people added to the poverty rolls over 2007 figures - a total of nearly 39 million representing 12.7% of Americans. According to Rebecca Blank, Economic Affairs Undersecretary, final numbers aren't yet in and may be worse than expected because of how bad things are for growing numbers in the country. She believes if (U-3) unemployment hits 10% (up from 9.4% now), poverty could reach 14.8% this year and rising because of jobs and homes lost, savings exhausted, and the sharpest ever decline in personal wealth between mid-2007 and December 2008.

Worst of all, conditions for most people are deteriorating as businesses, states, and local governments shed workers and cut budgets at the worst possible time. It promises harder times ahead and potentially millions more impoverished.

Homelessness Facts
Annually, two - three million Americans, including 1.3 million children, experience homelessness and many more are at risk. Most vulnerable are those losing jobs, homes, and the millions of low-income workers paying 50% or more of their income in rent so that a missed paycheck, health emergency, or unexpected financial burden makes them vulnerable to homelessness at a time government aid is being cut.

Criminalizing the Homeless
In the face of a growing burden on society's most needy, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty reported that "many cities use the criminal justice system to punish people living on the street for doing" what they must to survive. Local ordinances prohibit sleeping, camping, eating, sharing food, sitting, loitering, and/or begging in public places with criminal penalties imposed on offenders. Some cities even punish organizations and individuals for helping, and the idea always is to keep the unwanted out of sight, mind, and preferably out of cities, at least in or near more affluent areas or business districts.

As economic conditions deteriorate, the problem will grow and so will the plight of the homeless as cities crack down harder in violation of constitutional and international human rights laws.

The OECD's 2008 Report, "Growing Unequal?: Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries

It states that America "is the country with the highest inequality level and poverty rate" among the 30 OECD countries, ranking only ahead of Mexico and Turkey. In addition, since 2000, inequality grew rapidly, "continuing a long-term trend (going) back to the 1970s" when inflation-adjusted household incomes began falling.

income distribution and poverty in oecd countries

OECD | Whether the burden of any recession is felt by some social groups and countries more than others depends largely on public policy. Will government step up to the plate? New actions are needed, and a new report spells out the issues.

The world has seen recent decades of rapid growth. This has been most obvious in newly-industrialising countries, notably China and India, but has been shared by OECD countries. Yet the fruits of this economic growth have not been equally divided–either between countries or within countries. As it is put in the introduction to a new OECD report, Growing Unequal?, “there is widespread concern that economic growth is not being shared fairly” (page 15, see references). A rising tide does not necessarily raise all boats. Or, to use another liquid metaphor, we cannot rely on trickle-down.

This major OECD report assembles a wealth of evidence about changes in income inequality and poverty over the period from the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s, covering all 30 developed countries of the OECD. The sober statistics provide a much needed counterpoint to what the authors call the “Hello magazine effect” that highlights the super rich. The statistics show that few OECD countries have reduced inequality over the past 20 years. The past five years saw growing inequality and poverty in two-thirds of OECD countries. The report quotes the US president, George W. Bush in his 2007 State of the Economy speech: “our citizens worry about the fact that our dynamic economy is leaving working people behind”.

The OECD report has growth in its title, but the time of its publication inevitably leads the reader to ask: what will happen if the next decade is one, not of world growth, but of world recession? If a rising tide does not lift all boats, how will they be affected by an ebbing tide? Recession–if it comes–does not sound like good news for those on the margins of the labour force. Small savers, as well as bankers, are affected by the financial crisis. Is it a case of “heads, the rich gain; tails, the poor lose”?

Many commentators on the current economic crisis say that it is unprecedented in the post-war period; they are harking back, not 20 years to 1987, but some 80 years to 1929. In considering the distributional implications, too, we need to go back in time. Here the data are sparse, but we can say something, particularly about the upper part of the income distribution. In our book, Top Incomes over the Twentieth Century, Thomas Piketty and I have brought together studies for a number of OECD countries that show how the share of the top 1% changed following the Great Crash of 1929. This did indeed affect the rich, who had prospered in the Roaring ‘20s. In a number of countries, top income shares fell: in the US, the shares of the top 0.1 and 0.01% were reduced by between a quarter and a third. Top income shares fell in Australia, France, the Netherlands and the UK. But they did not fall universally, and, as the Great Depression ensued, other income groups were seriously affected.