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>Why Democrats are afraid to raise taxes on the rich

>Could it have something to do with the recent affection of hedge-fund managers for the Democratic Party?

by Robert Reich

http://www.salon.com (October 25 2007)

New data from the Internal Revenue Service show that income inequality continues to widen. The wealthiest one percent of Americans earn more than 21 percent of all income. That’s a postwar record. The bottom fifty percent of all Americans, when all their wages are combined, earn just 12.8 percent of the nation’s income.

Considering the magnitude of challenges ahead for America, it seems only reasonable that taxes should rise on the wealthy. Taxing the super-rich is not about class envy, as conservatives charge. It’s about the nation having enough money to pay for national defense and homeland security, good schools and a crumbling infrastructure, the upcoming costs of boomers’ Social Security (the current surplus has masked the true extent of the current budget deficit, but it won’t for much longer) and, hopefully, affordable national health insurance. Not to mention the trillion dollars or so it will take to fix the Alternative Minimum Tax, which is now starting to hit the middle class.

To some extent, the major Democratic candidates for president appear to agree. They are unanimous in their pledge to roll back the Bush tax cuts. That means that the wealthiest Americans, who are now taxed at a marginal rate of 35 percent, would go back to paying the 38 percent marginal rate they paid under Bill Clinton. So far, however, no Democrat has suggested that the nation should raise the marginal tax rate on the richest Americans above that 38 percent, as will probably be necessary if America is to avoid an economic meltdown in the years ahead.

The biggest emerging pay gap is actually within the top one percent of all earners. It’s mainly a gap between corporate CEOs, on the one hand, and Wall Street financiers – hedge-fund managers, private-equity managers (think Mitt Romney) and investment bankers – on the other. According to a study by University of Chicago professors Steven Kaplan and Joshua Rauh, more than twice as many Wall Street financiers are in the top half of one percent of earners as are CEOs. The 25 highest-paid hedge-fund managers are earning more than the CEOs of the largest 500 companies in the Standard and Poor’s 500 combined. While CEO pay is outrageous, hedge-fund and private-equity pay is way beyond outrageous. Several of these fund managers are taking home more than a billion dollars a year.

At the very least, you might think that Democrats would do something about the anomaly in the tax code that treats the earnings of private-equity and hedge-fund managers as capital gains rather than ordinary income, and thereby taxes them at fifteen percent – lower than the tax rate faced by many middle-class Americans. But Senate Democrats recently backed off a proposal to do just that. Why? It turns out that Democrats are getting more campaign contributions these days from hedge-fund and private-equity partners than Republicans are getting. In the run-up to the 2006 election, donations from hedge-fund employees were running better than 2-to-1 Democratic. The party doesn’t want to bite the hands that feed.

If the rich and super-rich don’t pay their fair share, the middle class will get socked with the bill. But the middle class can’t possibly pay it. America’s middle class is under intense financial pressure. Median wages and benefits, adjusted for inflation, have been going nowhere for thirty years; health costs are soaring (employers are quickly shifting co-payments, deductibles and premiums to their employees), fuel costs are out of sight, the prices of the houses occupied by the middle class are in the doldrums.

What’s fair? I’d say a fifty percent marginal tax rate on the very rich, meaning those earning over $500,000 per year. I’d also suggest an annual wealth tax of one-half of one percent on the net worth of people holding more than $5 million in total assets. Can’t be done, you say? Well, the highest marginal tax rate under Republican Dwight Eisenhower was 91 percent. It dropped under John Kennedy to the seventy percent range. You say the rich will leave the country rather than face a marginal tax of fifty percent? Let them, and take away their citizenship.

If the Democrats stand for anything, it’s a fair allocation of the responsibility for paying the costs of maintaining this nation. So far, neither the Democratic candidates for president nor the Senate Democrats have shown much eagerness to advocate this fundamental principle. It seems the rich have bought them out.

Copyright ©2007 Salon Media Group, Inc.

http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2007/10/25/taxes/

Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

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>Assumptions

>Clusterfuck Nation

by Jim Kunstler

Comment on current events by the author of
The Long Emergency (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005)

www.kunstler.com (October 29 2007)

When historians glance back at 2007 through the haze of their coal-fired stoves, they will mark this year as the onset of the Long Emergency – or whatever they choose to call the unraveling of industrial economies and the complex systems that constituted them. And if they retain any sense of humor – which is very likely since, as wise Sam Beckett once averred, nothing is funnier than unhappiness – they will chuckle at the assumptions that drove the doings and mental operations of those in charge back then (that is, now).

The price of oil is up 53 percent over a year ago, creeping up now toward the mid-$90-range. The news media is still AWOL on the subject. (The New York Times has nothing about it on today’s front page.) The dollar is losing a penny a week against the Euro. In essence, the American standard of living is dropping like a sash weight. So far, a stunned public is stumbling into impoverishment drunk on Britney Spears video clips. If they ever do sober up, and get to a “… hey, wait a minute …” moment when they recognize the gulf between reality and the story told by leaders in government, business, education, and the media, it is liable to be a very ugly moment in US history.

One of the stupidest assumptions made by the educated salient of adults these days is that we are guaranteed a smooth transition between the cancerous hypertrophy of our current economic environment and the harsher conditions that we are barreling toward. The university profs and the tech sector worker bees are still absolutely confident that some hypothetical “they” will “come up with” magical rescue remedies for running the Happy Motoring system without gasoline. My main message to lecture audiences these days is “… quit putting all your mental energy into propping up car dependency and turn your attention to other tasks such as walkable communities and reviving passenger rail …” Inevitably, someone will then get up and propose that the transition to all-electric cars is nearly upon us, and we should stop worrying. As I said, these are the educated denizens of the colleges. Imagine what the nascar morons believe – that the ghost of Davey Crockett will leave a jug of liquefied “dark matter” under everyone’s Christmas tree this year or next, guaranteed to keep the engines ringing until Elvis ushers in the Rapture.

The educated folks – that is, the ones subject to the grandiose story-lines of techno triumphalism taught in the universities – are sure that we’ll either invent or organize our way out of the current predicament. A society that put men on the moon in 1969, the story goes, will ramp up another “Apollo Project” to keep things going here. One wonders, of course, what they mean by keeping things going. Even if it were hypothetically possible to keep all the cars running forever, would it be good thing to make suburban sprawl-building the basis of our economy – because that’s the direct consequence of perpetually cheap energy. Has anyone noticed that the housing bubble and subsequent implosion is following the peak oil line exactly?

It’s a bit harder to discern what the assumptions really are among leaders in the finance sector, since so much of their activity the past ten years has veered into sheer fraud. The story line that everyone is putting out – from the Fed chairman Bernanke to the CEOs of the Big Fundz – is that American finance is a python that has swallowed a few too many pigs, but if we jigger around interest rates a little bit more, and allow some more money to be lent out cheaply, the python will eventually digest the pigs and go slithering happily on its way along the jungle trail with a burp and a fart. From this vantage, one sees a rather different story: more like a gang of human grifters sweating through their Prada suits as it becomes increasingly impossible to conceal massive losses incurred through overt reckless misbehavior. My own guess is that a lot of these boyz will be in line for criminal prosecution before too long.

The political assumptions one hears are the most astoundingly naive and ridiculous, especially the ones that involve other countries and our relations with them. New York Times followers no doubt believe, along with Tom Friedman, that the global economy is now a permanent fixture of the human condition, and that soon it will transform itself into a colossal engine of “green” (that is, benign) commerce. Friedman and his followers tend to forget the second law of thermodynamics when spinning their fantasies of a world that can harmlessly manufacture and market an endless number of plastic salad shooters from one side of the planet to the other without incurring any losses to the health of said planet.

My own assumptions are somewhat different. I think we’re likely to see a lot of nations scrambling for survival, initially manifesting in a contest for the world’s dwindling supply of oil (and oil-like substances). For instance, when viewing the globe, few people consider that Japan currently imports 95 percent of its fossil fuel. Japan has been a “good boy” among nations since its episode of “acting out” in the mid-20th century and has enjoyed a long industrial prosperity since then. But what happens when there is not enough oil in the world to be allocated rationally by markets among the powerful nations? Will Japan just roll over and die? Will they shutter the Toyota factories and happily turn to placid tea ceremonies. I think Japan will freak out, and it’s hard to predict exactly who will feel its wrath and how.

Similarly, Europe. Americans view Europe as a kind of theme park full of elderly cafe layabouts swaddled in cashmere as they enjoy demitasse cups in the outdoor cafes of their comfortable art-filled cities (some of them not long ago rebuilt from rubble). Europe has let America do its dirty work for it in the Middle East for the past decade while enjoying tanker-loads of oil coming up through the Suez Canal. Europe has only had to make a few lame gestures in defense of its oil supplies. But the North Sea oil fields, which for twenty years have hedged the leverage of OPEC, are crapping out at a very steep rate. Sooner or later Europe will freak out over oil, and geo-political flat-earthers will be shocked to see that all the nations of cafe layabouts can mobilize potent military forces. God knows whose side who will be on, exactly, when that happens, and where America will stand – if its own military is not so exhausted that it can even stand up.

Personally, I think the world will be growing a lot larger again, and less flat, and that eventually America will find itself isolated once again between two oceans – though incursions by desperate foreign armies in one way or another, is not out of the question as the great struggle for resource survival gets underway. In time, however, I think the current Great Nations of the world will lose their ability to project power in the ways we’ve been conditioned to think about it.

In the meantime, our own nation has become a society incapable of thinking, and the failure at all levels of rank, education, and privilege is impressive. If you listen to the people running for president – many of them overt clowns – you’d think that that all the comfortable furnishings of everyday life can continue with a few tweaks of the dials. They are cowards and it is possible that they perfectly represent a whole nation of cowards who deserve cowardly leadership. The danger, of course, is that when a non-cowardly leader finally does step forward in a desperate America, he will not shrink from pushing around a feckless people, or doing their thinking for them.

http://jameshowardkunstler.typepad.com/clusterfuck_nation/2007/10/assumptions.html

Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

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>The Road Well Travelled

>Are we already shutting our minds to the consequences of climate change?

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (October 30 2007)

A few weeks ago I read what I believe is the most important environmental book ever written. It is not Silent Spring, Small is Beautiful or even Walden. It contains no graphs, no tables, no facts, figures, warnings, predictions or even arguments. Nor does it carry a single dreary sentence, which, sadly, distinguishes it from most environmental literature. It is a novel, first published a year ago, and it will change the way you see the world.

Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road considers what would happen if the world lost its biosphere, and the only living creatures were humans, hunting for food among the dead wood and soot. Some years before the action begins, the protagonist hears the last birds passing over, “their half-muted crankings miles above where they circled the earth as senselessly as insects trooping the rim of a bowl”. {1} McCarthy makes no claim that this is likely to occur, but merely speculates about the consequences.

All pre-existing social codes soon collapse and are replaced with organised butchery, then chaotic, blundering horror. What else are the survivors to do?: the only remaining resource is human. It is hard to see how this could happen during humanity’s time on earth, even by means of the nuclear winter McCarthy proposes. But his thought experiment exposes the one terrible fact to which our technological hubris blinds us: our dependence on biological production remains absolute. Civilisation is just a russeting on the skin of the biosphere, never immune from being rubbed against the sleeve of environmental change. Six weeks after finishing The Road, I remain haunted by it.

So when I read the UN’s new report on the state of the planet over the weekend, my mind kept snagging on a handful of figures {2}. There were some bright spots – lead has been removed from petrol almost everywhere, sulphur emissions have been reduced in most rich nations – and plenty of gloom. But the issue that stopped me was production.

Crop production has improved over the past twenty years (from 1.8 tonnes per hectare in the 1980s to 2.5 tonnes today), but it has not kept up with population. “World cereal production per person peaked in the 1980s, and has since slowly decreased” {3}. There will be roughly nine billion people by 2050: feeding them and meeting the millennium development goal on hunger (halving the proportion of hungry people) would require a doubling of world food production {4}. Unless we cut waste, overeating, biofuels and the consumption of meat, total demand for cereal crops could rise to three times the current level {5}.

There are two limiting factors. One, mentioned only in passing in the report, is phosphate: it is not clear where future reserves might lie. The more immediate problem is water. “Meeting the Millennium Development Goal on hunger will require doubling of water use by crops by 2050” {6}. Where will it come from? “Water scarcity is already acute in many regions, and farming already takes the lion’s share of water withdrawn from streams and groundwater” {7}. One-tenth of the world’s major rivers no longer reach the sea all round the year {8}.

Buried on page 148, I found this statement. “If present trends continue, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity by 2025, and two thirds of the world population could be subject to water stress”. Wastage and deforestation are partly to blame, but the biggest cause of the coming droughts is climate change. Rainfall will decline most in the places in greatest need of water. So how, unless we engineer a sudden decline in carbon emissions, is the world to be fed? How, in many countries, will we prevent the social collapse that failure will cause?

The stone drops into the pond and a second later it is smooth again. You will turn the page and carry on with your life. Last week we learnt that climate change could eliminate half the world’s species {9}; that 25 primate species are already slipping into extinction {10}; that biological repositories of carbon are beginning to release it, decades ahead of schedule {11}. But everyone is watching and waiting for everyone else to move. The unspoken universal thought is this: “if it were really so serious, surely someone would do something?”

On Saturday, for some light relief from the UN report (who says that environmentalists don’t know how to make whoopee?), I went to a meeting of roads protesters in Birmingham. They had come from all over the country, and between them they were contesting eighteen new schemes: a fraction of the road projects the British government is now planning {12}. The improvements to the climate change bill that Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, anounced yesterday were welcome. But in every major energy sector – aviation, transport, power generation, house building, coal mining, oil exploration – the government is promoting policies that will increase emissions. How will it make the sixty per cent cut the bill enforces?

No one knows, but the probable answer is contained in the bill’s great get-out clause: carbon trading {13}. If the government can’t achieve a sixty per cent cut in the UK, it will pay other countries to do it on our behalf. But trading works only if the total global reduction we are trying to achieve is a small one. To prevent runaway climate change, we must cut the greater part – possibly almost all – of the world’s current emissions. Most of the nations with which the UK will trade will have to make major cuts of their own, on top of those they sell to us. Before long we will have to buy our credits from Mars and Jupiter. The only certain means of preventing runaway climate change is to cut emissions here and now.

Who will persuade us to act? However strong the opposition parties’ policies appear to be, they cannot be sustained unless the voters move behind them. We won’t be prompted by the media. The BBC drops Planet Relief for fear of breaching its impartiality guidelines: heaven forbid that it should come out against mass death. But it broadcasts a programme – Top Gear – that puts a match to its guidelines every week, and now looks about as pertinent as the Black and White Minstrel Show. The schedules are crammed with shows urging us to travel further, drive faster, build bigger, buy more, yet none of them are deemed to offend the rules, which really means that they don’t offend the interests of business or the pampered sensibilities of the Aga class. The media, driven by fear and advertising, is hopelessly biased towards the consumer economy and against the biosphere.

It seems to me that we are already pushing other people ahead of us down The Road. As the biosphere shrinks, McCarthy describes the collapse of the protagonist’s core beliefs {14}. I sense that this might be happening already: that a hardening of interests, a shutting down of concern, is taking place among the people of the rich world. If this is true, we do not need to wait for the forests to burn or food supplies to shrivel before we decide that civilisation is in trouble.

www.monbiot.com

References:

1. Cormac McCarthy, 2007. The Road, page 55. Picador, London.

2. United Nations Environment Programme, 2007. Global Environment Outlook: GEO4.
http://www.unep.org/geo/geo4/report/GEO-4_Report_Full_en.pdf

3. ibid, page 86.

4. ibid, page 110.

5. ibid, page 110.

6. ibid, page 83.

7. ibid, page 110.

8. ibid, page 99.

9. Alok Jha, 24th October 2007. Warming could wipe out half of all species. The Guardian.

10. James Randerson, 26th October 2007. The edge of oblivion: conservationists name 25 primates about to disappear. The Guardian.

11. David Adam, 23rd October 2007. Carbon output rising faster than forecast, says study. The Guardian.
12. The organisation RoadBlock, which convened the conference, has lists of the government’s new trunk road schemes. http://www.roadblock.org.uk/

13. HM Government, March 2007. Draft Climate Change Bill.
http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm70/7040/7040.pdf

14. page 93.

http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2007/10/30/the-road-well-travelled/

Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

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>The Man Who Builds Hillaryworld

>by Alexander Cockburn

http://www.counterpunch.com (October 20 / 21 2007)

The pollster and immensely influential tactical adviser at Hillary Clinton’s elbow is Mark Penn. Penn’s polling played a crucial role in Bill Clinton’s recovery from the nadir of 1994, when he joined Team Clinton as part of the rescue party summoned by Hillary Clinton and headed by Dick Morris. Penn has been joined at the hip politically to Mrs Clinton ever since, as a prime adviser of her successful senate bid and now in her drive to capture the Democratic presidential nomination.

To find out what Penn and hence Mrs Clinton deems worthy of note about the state of he nation we can now turn to Penn’s new book, Microtrends.*

Penn’s America is a bright-eyed, mostly upbeat world. As he bowls along, Penn tosses market-researched stats and polling data like confetti and soon the reader is spattered with golly-gee micro-measurements: growing number of home knitters (“knitting is very hip”), decline of baseball fans, burgeoning vegan children, rise of women archers, longer best-selling books, more college-educated nannies, a surge in employees in the non-profit sector, more kids who are cross-dressers and who, Penn says brightly, “are triggering a large, new tolerance movement in schools and communities”.

There are no Columbines in Mr Penn’s index, no Goths intolerantly spraying the schoolyard with machine-gun fire. Why look on the dark side when Penn’s researchers excavate the news that there are more left-handers, hence – Penn boldly claims – the probability of more da Vincis. Now that’s a microtrend worth savoring! The factoid lies on the page, awaiting an entrepreneur and a business plan. Will some niche ‘trep (teen entrepreneur – a microtrend) change the zipper seam on guys’ pants, so lefties can unzip with their left hands. Will guys wear pants? Will there be any guys? Yes, says Penn, the long-term trend is towards more guys, hence more gays.

“Part of the reason I love this work”, burbles Penn about his polling, “is that every day I find out some new aspiration, hope or concern people have, and I get to help my clients shape their products and messages based on these findings”. What Penn never finds are the collective aspirations of groups of people who find the American corporate system intolerably unjust. Union people don’t figure in his focus groups – at least as real workers as opposed to pasteboard constructs as such Soccer Moms or Nascar Dads. The people who find it easiest to contact Penn to communicate their aspirations, hopes and concerns are the people who can afford to meet his hefty bills, meaning the rich and the powerful, starting with Bill Gates and heading on through Silvio Berlusconi, the nuclear industry, Monsanto and other clients in need of image refreshment.

Penn also the CEO of Burson-Marsteller, (part of the British-based WPP Group), a public relations firm that in the course of its career has been retained to winch some sensationally grimy clients out of the mud, such Union Carbide after Bhopal, the Argentine military junta and Royal Dutch Shell after some very poor publicity in Nigeria.

“We live in a world with a deluge of choices” Penn exults, in a typical paean to modern times. “In some sense it’s the triumph of the Starbucks economy over the Ford economy … Starbucks is governed by the idea that people make choices – in their coffee, their milk, their sweetener”. It’s the way Bill Clinton used to burble on, using research briefs and polls concocted by Penn and Morris to persuade Americans that with Bill at the helm the nation would be on the cutting edge of innovative thinking and performance.

Actually, in terms of their respective products Fordism offered a lot more choices than Starbucks. In the mid-1950s, the options available to the purchaser of a Chevy Bel-Air 4-door sedan were infinite, from a rainbow of paint and fabric combinations including a paisley-pattern roof. The shapes and styles of the cars were prodigious in baroque variety. And the cars were often cheap. As for Starbucks, the company’s basic signature is over-roasted beans and its core achievement is to have people fork over $3.50 for a cup of coffee. Starbucks is a predatory franchiser and its arrival in any town usually heralds the extinction of existing small cafes and diners. Its signage, across America and around the world through 13,000 outlets, advertises not Penn’s “customized, personalized products” but unending repetition.

The trick of Microtrends is to offer an America shaped to match the sort of “non-divisive” political rhetoric favored by the Democratic Leadership Council, an outfit paid for by corporations and designed to purge the Democratic Party of any partiality to the cause of labor or the interests of the poor. The Clintons have always been the DLC’s marquee attraction, and its outlook is Penn’s. In the tapestry of Microtrends the spotlight is not on an awful health system with over forty million uninsured, but on DIYDs, Do-It-Yourself Doctors. Penn tells us “it’s the biggest trend in American health care”, spearheaded by women and the young and promoted by Penn and Burson-Marsteller, working diligently for the pharmaceutical companies whose products, freed from the trifling restraints of a doctor’s prescription, will be at the disposal of the DIYDs in the chain stores. Thus do microtrends find their due place in the great scheme of things.

_____

* Microtrends, The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes. By Mark J Penn with E Kinney Zalesne. Twelve Books. 426 pages.

http://www.counterpunch.com/cockburn10202007.html

Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

Categories: Uncategorized

>Plastics are Forever

2007/10/29 1 comment

>by Suzanne Elston

http://yourearth.blogspot.com (May 22 2007)

Like a lot of Canadians, I divided my Victoria Day weekend between garden centres and dallying in our flower gardens at home. Aside from the perennials that we’ve inherited from our mother’s and grandmother’s gardens, up until now most of our flowers have been annuals. This year we decided to invest in expanding our perennial stock. At the end of the weekend, as I stood admiring our handiwork, I began wondering exactly how long each purchase would last. As I was cleaning up the leftover plastic pots and bags that remained, I got my answer. Seasons and flowers, even perennials, come and go, but plastic is forever.

My revelation comes on the heels of the Ontario government’s announcement that it wants to reduce the number of plastic bags that consumers use by half over the next five years. If the voluntary program (launched through a partnership with the Recycling Council of Ontario, grocery and retail associations), doesn’t work, then the province is promising everything from charging for bags to an outright ban.

And so they should. Many other jurisdictions have already placed everything from heavy tariffs to bans on plastic bags. Last month, Leaf Rapids, Manitoba, became the first municipality in Canada to enact a complete ban. Retailers who ignore the ban risk a fine of up to $1,000.

Ontarians, who currently use about seven million plastic bags per day, should be taking notice. Plastic bags, like all other plastic products, are made from oil, a non-renewable resource. The fact that we have created these single use carry-alls solely for the purpose of being thrown out is criminal. The use of plastic bags, packaging and wrapping should be banned, or at least heavily taxed. Packaging, most of which is plastic, makes up a whopping one-third of our waste stream.

Unfortunately, we can manufacture these plastic disposables so inexpensively that on the surface it appears to be cheaper to throw most of them away than it does to create systems to recycle them. The plastic items that we currently put in our blue boxes make up a small fraction of the total plastic waste that we discard every day. For example, the plastic plant pots that I threw out could have been reused many times over. Unfortunately, they aren’t accepted in curbside recycling programs, and any garden centre that I’ve tried to return them to won’t take them back. It’s cheaper and faster to buy new ones.

At least for now. Scientists are just beginning to understand how truly permanent these temporary items are. Alan Weisman writes in The World Without Us, the long-term prognosis for plastics is simply that, long-term. With the exception of plastics that have been destroyed by burning, every bit of plastic that has been manufactured in the last fifty years remains somewhere in the environment.

“That half century’s total production now surpasses one billion tons. It includes hundreds of different plastics, with untold permutations involving added plasticizers, opacifiers, colors, fillers, strengtheners, and light stabilizers”, wrote Weisman. “The longevity of each can vary enormously. Thus far, none has disappeared. Researchers have attempted to find out how long it will take polyethylene to biodegrade by incubating a sample in a live bacteria culture. A year later, less than one percent was gone.”

The tragedy, according to Weisman, is that contrary to popular belief, only a small fraction of the plastics that we discard end up in our landfills. Eventually, they are blown into streams and lakes where ultimately they end up in our seas and oceans. Charles Moore, founder of the Algita Marine Research Foundation, estimates that eighty percent of what’s floating in our oceans originated on land, the majority of which is plastic. Something to think about the next time you go shopping.

Related Websites

Polymers are Forever, by Alan Weisman, is an abridged excerpt from his book The World Without Us, published by St Martin’s Press (July 2007). The article is featured in the current (May / June) issue of Orion Magazine. This thoughtful, visually beautiful and commercial-free magazine is produced by the Orion Society. To read Weisman’s (and other equally thought-provoking articles), join an online discussion group, or subscribe to the magazine, visit www.orionmagazine.org.

For more information on the Recycling Council of Ontario, go to www.rco.on.ca .

http://yourearth.blogspot.com/2007_05_01_archive.html

Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

Categories: Uncategorized

>Ecological Warfare

>Iraq’s Environmental Crisis

by Jeffrey St Clair and Joshua Frank

http://www.counterpunch.com (October 25 2007)

The ecological effects of war, like its horrific toll on human life, are exponential. When the Bush Administration and their Congressional allies sent our troops in to Iraq to topple Saddam’s regime, they not only ordered these men and women to commit crimes against humanity, they also commanded them to perpetrate crimes against nature.

The first Gulf War had a horrific effect on the environment, as CNN reported in 1999, “Iraq was responsible for intentionally releasing some eleven million barrels of oil into the Arabian Gulf from January to May 1991, oiling more than 800 miles of Kuwaiti and Saudi Arabian coastline. The amount of oil released was categorized as twenty times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska and twice as large as the previous world record oil spill. The cost of cleanup has been estimated at more than $700 million”.

During the build up to George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq, Saddam loyalists promised to light oil fields afire, hoping to expose what they claimed were the US’s underlying motives for attacking their country: oil. The US architects of the Iraq war surely knew this was a potential reality once they entered Baghdad in March of 2003. Hostilities in Kuwait resulted in the discharge of an estimated seven million barrels of oil, culminating in the world’s largest oil spill in January of 1991. The United Nations later calculated that of Kuwait’s 1,330 active oil wells, half had been set ablaze. The pungent fumes and smoke from those dark billowing flames spread for hundreds of miles and had horrible effects on human and environmental health. Saddam Hussein was rightly denounced as a ferocious villain for ordering his retreating troops to destroy Kuwaiti oil fields.

However, the United States military was also responsible for much of the environmental devastation of the first Gulf War. In the early 1990s the US drowned at least eighty crude oil ships to the bottom of the Persian Gulf, partly to uphold the UN’s economic sanctions against Iraq. Vast crude oil slicks formed, killing an unknown quantity of aquatic life and sea birds while wrecking havoc on local fishing and tourist communities.

Months of bombing during the first Gulf War by US and British planes and cruise missiles also left behind an even more deadly and insidious legacy: tons of shell casings, bullets and bomb fragments laced with depleted uranium. In all, the US hit Iraqi targets with more than 970 radioactive bombs and missiles.

More than fifteen years later, the health consequences from this radioactive bombing campaign are beginning to come into focus. And they are dire. Iraqi physicians call it “the white death” -leukemia. Since 1990, the incident rate of leukemia in Iraq has grown by more than 600 percent. The situation was compounded by Iraq’s forced isolation and the sadistic sanctions regime, once described by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan as “a humanitarian crisis”, that made detection and treatment of the cancers all the more difficult.

Most of the leukemia and cancer victims aren’t soldiers. They are civilians. Depleted uranium is a rather benign sounding name for uranium-238, the trace elements left behind when the fissionable material is extracted from uranium-235 for use in nuclear reactors and weapons. For decades, this waste was a radioactive nuisance, piling up at plutonium processing plants across the country. By the late 1980s there was nearly a billion tons of the material.

Then weapons designers at the Pentagon came up with a use for the tailings. They could be molded into bullets and bombs. The material was free and there was plenty at hand. Also uranium is a heavy metal, denser than lead. This makes it perfect for use in armor-penetrating weapons, designed to destroy tanks, armored-personnel carriers and bunkers.

When the tank-busting bombs explode, the depleted uranium oxidizes into microscopic fragments that float through the air like carcinogenic dust, carried on the desert winds for decades. The lethal bits when inhaled stick to the fibers of the lungs, and eventually begin to wreck havoc on the body in the form of tumors, hemorrhages, ravaged immune systems and leukemias.

It didn’t take long for medical teams in the region to detect cancer clusters near the bomb sites. The leukemia rate in Sarajevo, pummeled by American bombs in 1996, tripled in five years following the bombings. But it’s not just the Serbs who are ill and dying. NATO and UN peacekeepers in the region are also coming down with cancer.

The Pentagon has shuffled through a variety of rationales and excuses. First, the Defense Department shrugged off concerns about Depleted Uranium as wild conspiracy theories by peace activists, environmentalists and Iraqi propagandists. When the US’s NATO allies demanded that the US disclose the chemical and metallic properties of its munitions, the Pentagon refused. Depleted uranium has a half-life of more than four billion years, approximately the age of the Earth. Thousand of acres of land in the Balkans, Kuwait and southern Iraq have been contaminated forever.

Speaking of DU and other war-related disasters, former chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, said the environmental consequences of the Iraq war could in fact be more ominous than the issue of war and peace itself. Despite this stark admission, the US made no public attempts to assess the environmental risks that the war would inflict.

Blix was right. On the second day of President Bush’s invasion of Iraq it was reported by the New York Times and the BBC that Iraqi forces had set fire to several of the country’s large oil wells. Five days later in the Rumaila oilfields, six dozen wellheads were set ablaze. The dense black smoke rose high in the southern sky of Iraq, fanning a clear signal that the US invasion had again ignited an environmental tragedy. Shortly after the initial invasion the United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) satellite data showed that a significant amount of toxic smoke had been emitted from burning oils wells. This smoldering oil was laced with poisonous chemicals such as mercury, sulfur and furans, which can causes serious damage to human as well as ecosystem health.

According to Friends of the Earth, the fallout from burning oil debris, like that of the first Gulf War, has created a toxic sea surface that has affected the health of birds and marine life. One area that has been greatly impacted is the Sea of Oman, which connects the Arabian Sea to the Persian Gulf byway of the Strait of Hormuz. This waterway is one of the most productive marine habitats in the world. In fact the Global Environment Fund contends that this region “plays a significant role in sustaining the life cycle of marine turtle populations in the whole North-Western Indo Pacific region”. Of the world’s seven marine turtles, five are found in the Sea of Oman and four of those five are listed as “endangered” with the other listed as “threatened”.

The future indeed looks bleak for the ecosystems and biodiversity of Iraq, but the consequences of the US military invasion will not only be confined to the war stricken country. The Gulf shores, according to BirdLife’s Mike Evans, is “one of the top five sites in the world for wader birds, and a key refueling area for hundreds of thousands of migrating water birds”. The UN Environment Program claims that 33 wetland areas in Iraq are of vital importance to the survival of various bird species. These wetlands, the UN claims, are also particularly vulnerable to pollution from munitions fallout as well as oil wells that have been sabotaged.

Mike Evans also maintains that the current Iraq war could destroy what’s left of the Mesopotamian marshes on the lower Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Following the war of 1991 Saddam removed dissenters of his regime who had built homes in the marshes by digging large canals along the two rivers so that they would have access to their waters. Thousands of people were displaced. The communities ruined.

The construction of dams upstream on the once roaring Tigris and Euphrates has dried up more than ninety percent of the marshes and has led to extinction of several animals. Water buffalo, foxes, waterfowl and boar have disappeared. “What remains of the fragile marshes, and the 20,000 people who still live off them, will lie right in the path of forces heading towards Baghdad from the south”, wrote Fred Pearce in the New Scientist prior to Bush’s invasion in 2003. The true effect this war has had on these wetlands and its inhabitants is still not known.

The destruction of Iraqi’s infrastructure has had substantial public health implications as well. Bombed out industrial plants and factories have polluted ground water. The damage to sewage-treatment plants, with reports that raw sewage formed massive pools of muck in the streets of Baghdad immediately after Bush’s ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign, is also likely poisoning rivers as well as human life. Cases of typhoid among Iraqi citizens have risen tenfold since 1991, largely due to polluted drinking water.

That number has almost certainly increased more in the past few years following the ousting of Saddam. In fact during the 1990s, while Iraq was under sanctions, UN officials in Baghdad agreed that the root cause of child mortality and other health problems was no longer simply lack of food and medicine but the lack of clean water (freely available in all parts of the country prior to the first Gulf War) and of electrical power, which had predictable consequences for hospitals and water-pumping systems. Of the 21.9 percent of contracts vetoed as of mid-1999 by the UN’s US-dominated sanctions committee, a high proportion were integral to the efforts to repair the failing water and sewage systems.

The real cumulative impact of US military action in Iraq, past and present, won’t be known for years, perhaps decades, to come. Stopping this war now will not only save lives, it will also help to rescue what’s left of Iraq’s fragile environment.

_____

Jeffrey St Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon (Common Courage Press, 2003). His newest book is End Times: the Death of the Fourth Estate (AK Press, 2007), co-written with Alexander Cockburn. This essay will appear in Born Under a Bad Sky, to be published in December. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

Joshua Frank is the co-editor of DissidentVoice.org, and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St Clair, the editor of the forthcoming Red State Rebels, to be published by AK Press in March 2008. He can be reached through his website, BrickBurner.org.

http://www.counterpunch.com/stclair10252007.html

Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

Categories: Uncategorized

>The Politics of "Appeevement"

>Is There a Method to Bush’s Middle East Madness?

by Rannie Amiri

http://www.counterpunch.org (October 22 2007)

Over the past several weeks, the United States has gone out of its way to offend, irk and otherwise provoke a select group of leaders and nations. Through a series of deliberate and calculated actions intended to purposefully estrange those most likely to succeed at diplomacy with Iran, its failure has been ordained and the stage for military action set. For those who think the upcoming war will be another Bush-Cheney folly (as they believe Iraq to be), the collusion of the Democrats in the process again belies that assumption.

The groundwork was laid in September, when the Senate overwhelmingly approved a resolution urging the State Department to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a “foreign terrorist organization” – the prerequisite term needed to justify the use of force and the first ever such characterization of a governmental entity.

The Iranian parliament responded similarly, labeling the CIA and US Army in kind for everything from use of atomic weapons in World War Two to the killing of civilians in Iraq [surprisingly omitted was mention of the CIA’s role in orchestrating the 1953 coup of the democratically elected Iranian president, Mohammad Mosaddeq. This led to the installation of the Shah, whose rule was ruthlessly enforced by the Israeli-trained mercenaries of SAVAK, until the Iranian Revolution of 1979].

Defying all rational thought, Bush then had the audacity to certify the opposite of Saudi Arabia last week; calling it an “anti-terrorism ally cooperating with efforts to combat international terrorism” it allows the United States to allocate additional monies to the Kingdom.

Although purported Iranian support for Shia militant groups in Iraq may be nominally true, there can be no doubt of their desire to see a stable government run by fellow Shia Muslims succeed. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has done its utmost to see it fail. The early stages of the post-Iraq conflict witnessed the influx of thousands of militants bent on exporting the radical Sunni version of Islam, inspired and funded by Saudi Arabia, into the country. Suicide bombings, mass marketplace carnage and destruction of religious shrines have been hallmarks of these religious extremists and Sunni Iraqi nationalist groups which Saudi Arabia likewise supports. As if to officially sanction such violence, Saudi clerics even issued a fatwa calling for the demolition of all the Shia holy shrines in Baghdad, Najaf and Karbala. This makes the above Senate resolution and presidential “certification” all the more extraordinary.

Quite artfully, the United States has also made sure a peaceful and reasoned solution to the Iranian nuclear question never takes place, primarily by alienating both Russia and China. For should they become so disillusioned with the United States that they veto further punitive measures leveled against Iran at the UN, they will have conveniently left Bush and the Democrats “no other alternative but …” the use of force.

And indeed this has been the case. Russian President Vladimir Putin, recently completing a trip to Iran as part of the Caspian Sea Summit, is still seething at United States plans to install a missile defense system in Russia’s backyard through placement of interceptor missiles in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic. This comes atop another American initiative to build an oil and gas pipeline through Caspian Sea countries yet bypass Russia.

To raise China’s ire, Bush decided to hold a public meeting with the Dalai Lama – the first ever by a sitting US president – and award him the Congressional Gold Medal. This prompted the enraged Chinese to summon the US ambassador in Beijing for an explanation, further escalating tensions. But was this a genuine show support for the Dalai Lama or just a good opportunity to poke a finger in China’s eye?

In the midst of worsening Russian and Sino-American relations, Congress decided to get into the act and rile the Turks by proposing a resolution calling the killing of 1.5 million Armenians during World War One under the Ottoman Empire an act of genocide. At the hint of it being brought up for a vote, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Washington and passed a parliamentary resolution the same day authorizing the incursion of Turkish forces into Iraq to combat the PKK. If it was possible to inflame the sensitivities of yet another country which might provide needed diplomatic leverage with Iran, the United States did well to take advantage of it.

So there you have it. The friend of a friend has been declared the enemy and the enemy of a friend a great ally. In a matter of weeks, the United States quite intentionally miffed the Russians, Chinese and Turks under the guise of defending Europe, upholding human rights and suddenly decrying an historical tragedy. This assures their cooperation on Iran will be made all the more difficult and gives the United States the pretext it needs to act unilaterally and likely, militarily. An ingenious, yet diabolical, plan.
_____

Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on the Arab and Islamic worlds. He may be reached at: rbamiri@yahoo.com.

http://www.counterpunch.org/amiri10222007.html

Bill Totten http://www.ashisuto.co.jp/english/index.html

Categories: Uncategorized