3. Global Warming Comes Home to Roost

Nov-09-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Hurricane Sandy (see photo spread below) put climate change back on the table. And if no politicians are willing to start nibbling, well, then with grandmotherly kindness*, Nature will keep reminding us. Meanwhile, insurance companies are always focussed on the current reality, so they’ll raise their rates, and Naomi Klein looks at how the 1% are trying to use the shock of Sandy, as they use all shocks, to gain more power.

* Bloomberg Businessweek Gets It Right

Those crazy, radical hippies at Bloomberg Businessweek have gone and done it. With the blunt, no-nonsense cover that likely already appeared on your Facebook feed or Twitter stream or Tumblr dashboard, Businessweek dared state with certainty what so many media outlets have nervously danced around in their coverage of Superstorm Sandy: It’s Global Warming, Stupid.

* Making a Buck off Climate Change Common Dreams

Change the language and you’ve begun to change the reality or at least to open the status quo to question. Here is Confucius on the rectification of names:

“If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.”

So let’s start calling manifestations of greed by their true name. By greed, I mean the attempt of those who have plenty to get more, not the attempts of the rest of us to survive or lead a decent life.  …You can look at the chief executive officers of the oil corporations — Chevron’s John Watson, for example, who received almost $25 million ($1.57 million in salary and the rest in “compensation”) in 2011 — or their major shareholders. They can want for nothing. They’re so rich they could quit the game at any moment. When it comes to climate change, some of the wealthiest people in the world have weighed the fate of the Earth and every living thing on it for untold generations to come, the seasons and the harvests, this whole exquisite planet we evolved on, and they have come down on the side of more profit for themselves, the least needy people the world has ever seen.

* Insurance Is Set to Go Up Forbes

“Insurance is the first line of defines against extreme weather losses, but climate change is a game-changer for the models that insurers have long relied on,” Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler told an industry blog on risk and insurance. “Companies will need to adapt if insurance is to remain available and affordable.”

“With 40 percent of industrial insurance claims that Allianz now pays out being due to natural catastrophes, climate change represents a threat to our business,” Allianz told the Insurance Journal.

“We are already vulnerable to the impacts of weather related natural catastrophes. We expect climate change to compound the problems,” Swiss Re Natural Hazards Expert Megan Linkin says on the reinsurer’s web site.

* Super Storm Sandy—A People’s Shock? Naomi Klein The Nation (Thanks, Amy)

Less than three days after Sandy made landfall on the East Coast of the United States, Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute blamed New Yorkers’ resistance to big-box stores for the misery they were about to endure. Writing on Forbes.com he explained that the city’s refusal to embrace Walmart will likely make the recovery much harder: “Mom-and-pop stores simply can’t do what big stores can in these circumstances,” he wrote.

And the preemptive scapegoating didn’t stop there. He also warned that if the pace of reconstruction turned out to be sluggish (as it so often is) then “pro-union rules such as the Davis-Bacon Act” would be to blame, a reference to the statute that requires workers on public-works projects to be paid not the minimum wage, but the prevailing wage in the region.

The same day, Frank Rapoport, a lawyer representing several billion-dollar construction and real estate contractors, jumped in to suggest that many of those public works projects shouldn’t be public at all. Instead, cash-strapped governments should turn to “public private partnerships,” known as “P3s.” That means roads, bridges and tunnels being rebuilt by private companies, which, for instance, could install tolls and keep the profits.



2. Europe: The Gloves Come Off

Oct-26-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: …and the jackboots go on. Economic hardship rarely brings out the best in any group, and Europe today, despite its Nobel Peace Prize,  is an example. As various bodies of bankers fight, the UK joins those protesting austerity. Do look at the Guardian’s interactive timeline, which offers a remarkable amount of knowledge in an interactive format that simply couldn’t happen in a non-computer medium.

* IMF and Europe in Dangerous Game Of Brinkmanship  Guardian

The eurozone and the International Monetary Fund are locked in their worst showdown of Europe’s three-year sovereign debt crisis, engaged in a dangerous game of brinkmanship over how to respond to a Greek bailout that is threatening to go off the rails.

The IMF, it is understood in Brussels, is insisting that Greece’s eurozone creditors and the European Central Bank write down or write off up to €30bn (£24bn) in Greek debt to close a funding gap in the Greek rescue plan which may need to be extended by two years.

The showdown between the eurozone and the IMF is being described as eyeball-to-eyeball, a shouting match, and a contest to see who will blink first. It is expected to come to a head next month. The IMF is demanding that the eurozone and the ECB resort to a new policy of Official Sector Involvement (OSI), meaning a write down or write-off of Greek debt to its official creditors – a move that the ECB and the German government are resisting fiercely.

 * Eurozone Crisis: Three Years Of Pain – Interactive Timeline The Guardian

A fascinating summary of three years of history, and the interactive part is unique in my experience.

 * “David Cameron is Clueless”: Ed Miliband   The Independent

Nurses, firefighters, teachers and prison officers joined over 150,000 protesters today in huge demonstrations against the Government, loudly cheering calls for a 24-hour general strike. Union officials and politicians, including Labour leader Ed Miliband, bitterly attacked the coalition’s spending cuts, accusing ministers of being more interested in supporting millionaires than ordinary workers.

The events in London, Glasgow and Belfast passed off peacefully, although activists from the Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) group staged a sit-in and cut off traffic close to Hyde Park in the capital. The TUC said the turnout was better than expected and sent a strong message to the Government about the unpopularity of its policies.

* Greece Today: A Fascist Party In Full Cry Mail Online

Dressed in black shirts with faces hidden by helmets, ten men on motorbikes came to find him on a Saturday, after darkness fell. 

Finding the door bolted at his home in a pot-holed Athens side street, they smashed the windows, broke in and trashed the place. Then, their dirty work done, the neo-Nazi gang roared away into the hot evening. It had taken less than a minute for them to sound an ugly warning that foreigners were not welcome in Greece….So dangerous are the streets for foreigners that the U.S. State Department has sent out a warning to dark-skinned American visitors that they must be careful of their safety when they leave their hotels.

A shocking internet video shows leaders of the anti-immigrant Far-Right Golden Dawn party — which has 18 MPs — marching into an ethnic street market at Rafina, an hour’s drive from Athens, destroying the stalls with wooden clubs and scattering the merchandise to the ground.



Oct. 12th, 2012 :: Year 9, Issue 36

Oct-12-2012 | Comments Off

1. The Real Issues Issue 

The US

Bird’s Eye: In democracies, we were taught, people vote on the important issues. But in the US, 30% think more than 5% of the US federal budget goes to (Big Bird) TV and Radio, while Paul Broun, a Republican who sits on the science committee of the House has dismissed evolution, the Big Bang theory and embryology as “lies straight from the pit of hell”. So if the important issues aren’t being discussed by politicians, what are they? We look at the US, at Europe, and at Latin America. In the US, some key issues about which Obamney is silent are impending environmental disaster, the failure of US military might, and the rise in power of the 1%. Here are some people who are talking about those issues.

* Issues That Obama and Romney Avoid Noam Chomsky  Truthout

With the quadrennial presidential election extravaganza reaching its peak, it’s useful to ask how the political campaigns are dealing with the most crucial issues we face. The simple answer is: badly, or not at all. If so, some important questions arise: why, and what can we do about it?

There are two issues of overwhelming significance, because the fate of the species is at stake: environmental disaster, and nuclear war.

…The melting is much faster than predicted by sophisticated computer models and the most recent U.N. report on global warming. New data indicate that summer ice might be gone by 2020, with severe consequences. Previous estimates had summer ice disappearing by 2050.

“But governments have not responded to the change with any greater urgency about limiting greenhouse emissions,” Gillis writes. “To the contrary, their main response has been to plan for exploitation of newly accessible minerals in the Arctic, including drilling for more oil” – that is, to accelerate the catastrophe. This reaction demonstrates an extraordinary willingness to sacrifice the lives of our children and grandchildren for short-term gain. Or, perhaps, an equally remarkable willingness to shut our eyes so as not to see the impending peril.

* The Pentagon’s Imperial Overstretch and Victory Culture Tom Engelhardt  Informed Comment

By all the usual measuring sticks, the U.S. should be supreme in a historically unprecedented way.  And yet it couldn’t be more obvious that it’s not, that despite all the bases, elite forces, private armies, drones, aircraft carriers, wars, conflicts, strikes, interventions, and clandestine operations, despite labyrinthine intelligence bureaucracy that never seems to stop growing and into which we pour a minimum of $80 billion a year, nothing seems to work out in an imperially satisfying way.  It couldn’t be more obvious that this is not a glorious dream, but some kind of ever-expanding imperial nightmare.

This should, of course, have been self-evident since at least early 2004, less than a year after the Bush administration invaded and occupied Iraq, when the roadside bombs started to explode and the suicide bombings to mount, while the comparisons of the United States to Rome and of a prospective Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East to the Pax Romana vanished like a morning mist on a blazing day.  Still, the wars against relatively small, ill-armed sets of insurgents dragged toward their dismally predictable ends.  (It says the world that, after almost 11 years of war, the 2,000th U.S. military death in Afghanistan occurred at the hands of an Afghan “ally” in an “insider attack.”)  In those years, Washington continued to be regularly blindsided by the unintended consequences of its military moves. Surprises — none pleasant — became the order of the day and victories proved vanishingly rare. 

* Occupy, Year One Chip Gibbons Counterpunch

First, we were told that there was no alternative to capitalism. Then, not only did we have to accept capitalism as the only viable economic system, but we could only choose a particular brand of capitalism: A deregulated, cutthroat brand of capitalism….There was no alternative. And every politician accepted it. If you lived in the United States it didn’t matter if you elected Democrats or Republicans, the policies were essentially the same (as were the corporate donors). Western Europe, where social democratic and socialist parties still existed in name, faced a similar closing of discourse.

Anthropologist David Graeber got it right when he said that Occupy was about the rediscovery of “the radical imagination.” While Occupy’s coalition of supporters include everyone from left-leaning Keynesians to anarchists, Occupy’s power and appeal rests in its fundamental core assertion than there is indeed an alternative. It is the rejection that private profit is the only valid raison d’etre for anything, whether it be education and healthcare or prisons and the military.



Oct. 5th, 2012 :: Year 9, Issue 35

Oct-05-2012 | Comments Off

1. Greece and Spain: Crisis Approaching 

Bird’s Eye: Most of what we read the media is about the financial implications of the Euro-crisis. But the political implications are at least as fraught. Both Greece and Spain have over 50% of their youth unemployed… and the implications of that are just starting show their jack-booted heads.

* Greek Youth Unemployment Hits 55% The Atlantic

* The Golden Dawn (neo-Nazi) party is the law enforcement in Athens Guardian

Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party is increasingly assuming the role of law enforcement officers on the streets of the bankrupt country, with mounting evidence that Athenians are being openly directed by police to seek help from the neo-Nazi group, analysts, activists and lawyers say.

In return, a growing number of Greek crime victims have come to see the party, whose symbol bears an uncanny resemblance to the swastika, as a “protector”.

One victim of crime, an eloquent US-trained civil servant, told the Guardian of her family’s shock at being referred to the party when her mother recently called the police following an incident involving Albanian immigrants in their downtown apartment block. “They immediately said if it’s an issue with immigrants go to Golden Dawn,” said the 38-year-old, who fearing for her job and safety, spoke only on condition of anonymity…. “If the police and official mechanism can’t deliver and there is no recourse to justice, then you have to turn to other maverick solutions.”

* Behind Spain’s Turmoil Lies A Cronyism That Stifles The Young And Ambitious  John Carlin   The Observer

It’s a problem that has a decisive impact on the country’s capacity to remain a competitive global player and that will be terribly difficult to solve because it is embedded in the national DNA.

I’m thinking, say, of two young men, in their early 30s, who moved to London six years ago, before the economic crash. They’ve done well…. 

The lessons from these two stories, entirely typical of Spaniards abroad, are clear: the Spanish are not inherently idle; the labour market in Spain does not sufficiently reward talent and hard work. The Spanish disease that both these young men said they had fled was “amiguismo” –“friendism” – a system where one gets ahead by who one knows.

Reams of opinion columns in the Spanish press in recent months have pointed to amiguismo in the political classes. Which is no doubt largely true but fails to acknowledge that corrupt or lazy or incompetent politicians do not inhabit a closed ecosystem but behave in a manner in keeping with the way society operates at large.

* Spain Reels At Violent Tactics By Riot Police  The Observer

The middle-aged man sitting on a railway station bench protects a younger man by wrapping his arms around him as he shouts desperately at the helmeted, baton-wielding police officers running up and down the platforms at Madrid’s Atocha station.

“Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!” he bellows repeatedly in a video that shows how police charged into the station during violent demonstrations that shook Madrid last week.

On the other side of the ticket barrier a younger man is whacked with truncheons by two policemen. “I don’t know whether he is a passenger or a protester,” one of them admits. A third man who was waiting for a train is bundled down the platform by police officers as he asks: “And what have I done?” A youth points to blood running down his face. “What the hell is this?” he asks.

As Spaniards respond with dismay to the violence shown by demonstrators, who launched attacks on police, and the response of some riot police, during scuffles in the area around Madrid’s parliament building last week, the long-running drama of the country’s deflating economy has lurched into a newly confrontational stage, amid fears that there will be more violence to come.



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