HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Time for change » Journal
Page: 1

Time for change

Profile Information

Gender: Male
Home country: United States
Current location: Winter Garden, Florida
Member since: Fri Dec 3, 2004, 12:01 AM
Number of posts: 13,714

Journal Archives

The Successes of the U.S. “War on Drugs”

After 40 years of the U.S. “War on Drugs”, at a cost of about $1 trillion, it would behoove our country’s leaders to consider what we have gained from our efforts and cost. Eugene Jarecki had this to say about it:

Over forty years, the “war on drugs” has cost a trillion dollars and accounted for 45 million drug arrests. Yet for all that, America has nothing to show but a legacy of failure. Drugs are cheaper, purer, more available and used by more and younger people today than ever before...

In making his film about the “War on Drugs”, “The House I Live in”, Jarecki wanted to look beyond the statistics. He continues:

So I visited more than twenty-five states to meet people at all levels of the drug war whose lives have been affected by our misguided laws and vast prison system. What I found on the ground was nothing short of shattering. Wherever I went, everyone involved – prisoners, cops, judges, jailers, wardens, medical experts, senators – all described to me a system out of control, a predatory monster that sustains itself on the mass incarceration of fellow human beings. Their crimes, most often the nonviolent use or sale of drugs in petty quantities, have become such a warping fixation for our prison-industrial complex that they are often punished more severely than violent crimes…

But surely a program sustained for 40 years and costing a trillion dollars must have some major consequences that appeal some people. Let’s take a look at some of these “successes”.

The U.S. leads the world in imprisoning people

Between 1980 and 2000, the U.S. prison population increased from about 300,000 to over 2,000,000. so that the United States now has by far the highest prison rate of any nation in the world – 751 persons in prison per 100,000 population in 2008. Russia was a distant second. The number of incarcerated drug offenders increased from about 42 thousand in 1980 to 455 thousand in 2000. But the role of the “War on Drugs” in increasing the overall incarceration rate appears misleadingly low from these figures: Concurrently there has been a massive increase in incarceration for parole violations, which is almost entirely due to the “War on Drugs”. Under the rules of the “War on Drugs”, people can be sent to prison for such parole violations as missing an appointment with one’s parole officer or failing to maintain employment.

Racial and class disparity in the United States for imprisonment for drug offenses is well known. Though the Federal Household Survey (See item # 6) indicated that 72% of illicit drug users are white, compared to 15% who are black, blacks constitute a highly disproportionate percent of the population arrested for (37%) or serving time for (42% of those in federal prisons and 58% of those in state prisons) drug violations.

Combine that with a multitude of state laws that don’t allow felons or ex-felons to vote, and we have a substantial effect on the U.S. electorate. As a result of these laws, almost 8% of otherwise eligible African American voters were not allowed to vote in 2012, compared to only 1.8% of other U.S. voters. Since African Americans have voted overwhelmingly Democratic in recent U.S. elections, it is easy to see why this consequence of the “War on Drugs” would be considered a great success by many people.

Corporate profits

The prison industry
Coincident with the burgeoning prison population in the United States, there has also been a large increase in the number of private prisons, from five in 1995 to 100 in 2005, in which year 62,000 persons were incarcerated in private prisons in the United States. Profits are especially high in this industry because of the use of slave labor. The owners of these prisons have a financial interest in more frequent and longer prison sentences, for which they have lobbied extensively. Tara Herivel and Paul Wright assiduously document the machinations of the prison-industrial complex in their book, “Prison Profiteers – Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration”. From the book jacket:

Beginning with the owners of private prison companies and extending through a whole range of esoteric industries… to the U.S. military (which relies on prison labor) and the politicians, lawyers, and bankers who structure deals to build new prisons, “Prison Profiteers” introduces us to a motley group of perversely motivated interests and shows us how they both profit from and perpetrate mass incarceration.

It turns out that locking up 2.3 million people isn’t cheap… “Prison Profiteers” traces the flow of capital from public to private hands, reveals how monies designated for the public good end up in the pockets of enterprises dedicated to keeping prison cells filled, and challenges us to see incarceration through completely different eyes.

Obviously the “War on Drugs” must be considered a great success from the viewpoint of the prison industry.

The pharmaceutical industry
Many illicit drugs have important medical uses, but because of the “War on Drugs” their use for medical purposes is either completely outlawed or severely curtailed. Marijuana provides exceptionally good symptomatic relief or treatment for a wide range of medical conditions, for which there is no better or even comparable alternative treatment. Yet the pharmaceutical industry and the prison industry (among others) has lobbied extensively against the legalization of medical marijuana, and the federal government has complied by over-ruling state enacted medical marijuana laws. This adds to the huge profits of the pharmaceutical industry while denying millions of Americans symptomatic relief from serious diseases such as cancer or AIDS.

Recent developments in the drug war

Many states in recent years have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana. Now for the first time, in the 2012 elections two states, Colorado and Washington, approved ballot initiatives legalizing recreational use of marijuana. But what will the federal response to that be?

Though Barack Obama promised in 2008 that as president he would not interfere with state medical marijuana laws, his Department of Justice has acted otherwise. In October 2011, they began large-scale raids on medical marijuana cultivators and distributors in states where medical marijuana was legal. Federal authorities have since raided and shut down 600 dispensaries in California alone.

For what purpose? Is this the result of pressure from those who profit from the drug war? Does President Obama really believe it is a good expenditure of federal resources to prevent people from receiving the medical benefits of marijuana and brand as criminals those who strive to make that possible, in accordance with state laws? Was this done on the initiative of the Department of Justice, with no input from the President? Few in any people know the answers to these questions, as the President has said almost nothing about it.

Katrina vanden Hueval, in "It's time to End the War on Drugs", had this to say about the subject:

If left free of federal intrusion, Colorado and Washington might become a model for legalizing and taxing marijuana. If successful, the experiment could yield millions in tax revenues and drastically decrease incarceration rates, while giving members of Congress more incentive to change federal law. It could even help improve U.S. relations with Latin America, and help demilitarize our hemispheric policies with our closest neighbors, particularly Mexico….

This holiday, as President Obama pardons the traditional turkey, let’s hope he also considers the millions of Americans trapped in a cruel, senseless system.

The $1 trillion cost of the “War on Drugs” noted at the beginning of this post doesn’t include the vast individual costs in terms of destroyed families and lives. Yet no system endures for 40 years if there aren’t at least some people who profit from it. Indeed, there are many who profit greatly from the U.S. “War on Drugs”, and they have spent tons of money bombarding the American people with their propaganda and lobbying our government to perpetuate it. It is well past time for decent, open minded and intelligent people to reassess the costs of this “war” to the American people and weigh those costs against whatever benefits it produces for some.

Posted by Time for change | Sun Nov 25, 2012, 11:27 AM (22 replies)

The “Fiscal Cliff” Hoax

The scare of a so-called “Fiscal Cliff” is basically a trick created by right wing elites to get us to accept cuts to social safety net programs like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare – as well as to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich. If extending tax cuts for the rich doesn’t sound to you like a good way to reduce the federal deficit, you’re not alone. Yet despite the massive evidence to the contrary, and against the opinions of any decent economist not in the pockets of Wall Street, the right wing elite want us to believe that decreasing their taxes will create jobs, reduce the federal deficit and stimulate our economy.

The so-called “Fiscal Cliff”

So what exactly is the “fiscal cliff”? At the end of December 31, 2012, two things will happen if some sort of deal isn’t cut to prevent it. One is that the Bush tax cuts for the rich will expire, and the top marginal tax rate will go back to the 39.6% that it was during the Clinton administration. That in itself would go a long way towards reducing our federal deficit. And it would not reduce jobs or slow down job growth. During the Clinton Presidency our economy was much better, unemployment was much lower, and small businesses grew twice as fast as after the Bush tax cuts for the rich. And we then had a budget surplus.

Along with taxes on the rich going back up to Clinton era levels, there would also be a modest rise in taxes on the middle class. So how could that be rectified? Legislation has already been passed by the U.S. Senate to restore the middle class tax cuts in 2013, and President Obama has vowed to sign that into law if the House goes along with it. Would the House dare to refuse to do that? What would that do to their re-election chances?

The other thing that will happen after the end of this year if a deal isn’t cut first is that there will be various automatic cuts to domestic and military spending. Those consequences are not cut in stone, but rather are a Tea Party/GOP manufactured crisis. They demanded those future automatic cuts in the summer of 2011 in return for their agreeing to raise the debt ceiling so that our country could pay its debts and avoid crashing the economy. It was blackmail. Right wing zealots in Congress created this “crisis”, and they could just as easily un-create it by acquiescing to a reversal of the spending cuts they voted for in 2011.

This is what Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman had to say about the so-called “fiscal cliff”:

Contrary to the way it’s often portrayed, the looming prospect of spending cuts and tax increases isn’t a fiscal crisis. It is, instead, a political crisis brought on by the G.O.P.’s attempt to take the economy hostage. And just to be clear, the danger for next year is not that the deficit will be too large but that it will be too small, and hence plunge America back into recession.

And as for their motives:

It’s not just the fact that the deficit scolds have been wrong about everything so far. Recent events have also demonstrated clearly what was already apparent to careful observers: the deficit-scold movement was never really about the deficit. Instead, it was about using deficit fears to shred the social safety net. And letting that happen wouldn’t just be bad policy; it would be a betrayal of the Americans who just re-elected a health-reformer president and voted in some of the most progressive senators ever.

The real crisis

So why did Krugman say that the danger “is not that the deficit will be too large but that it will be too small”? Our federal deficit at this time is not all that much larger as a percentage of our GDP than it has been in the past, as you can see from this chart:

Our major problem at this time is our very weak economy and the joblessness that goes along with it. Economists have long known that this kind of problem is not solved by decreasing spending, but by increasing it on things that put people to work. It is exacerbated by the kind of severe income and wealth inequality that our country is now experiencing and that our right wing elites want to make even more severe. It is exacerbated by cuts to social safety net programs that our right wing elites want to privatize and destroy. Robert Borosage explains:

Virtually every aspect of this hysteria is wrong. The United States does not have a short-term deficit problem, and the fundamental long-term problem isn’t one of soaring debt; rather, it is the lack of a foundation for sustainable growth that includes working people…

Austerity is, paradoxically, likely to undermine the stated goal of deficit reduction. Cutting spending… in a weak economy destroys jobs and slows growth. The increased unemployment leads to declining tax revenue as well as increased demands on government services, all of which adds to the deficit. This is the famous “debt trap” recently experienced in much of Europe, where premature and harsh austerity drove many EU countries into recession…

Putting people back to work does more to reduce deficits than any other factor. That requires more federal spending now, preferably in areas vital to the economy, like modernizing our infrastructure and keeping teachers on the job. Once the economy is growing and people are working, the deficit will come down. Additional steps can be taken, if necessary…

What Americans do not want

Most Americans are against what the right wing elites are trying to force upon on with their “fiscal cliff” scare. They are against “requiring deep cuts in domestic programs without protecting programs for infants, poor children, schools and college aid” (75%); they are against “cutting discretionary spending, like education, child nutrition, worker training and disease control (72%); they are against cutting taxes for the rich and corporations (67%), and; they are against “reducing Social Security benefits by having them rise more slowly than the cost of living” (62%). And all this is despite the massive propaganda efforts of our right wing elites.

What we should do

Robert Borosage sums up the situation that we now face, and how we should address it:

The essential dynamic is that Democrats reward Republican intransigence with concessions. Republicans refuse to hike taxes, so to entice them, Democrats offer the crown jewels: Medicare and Social Security. Republicans still resist tax hikes, so the austerity crowd suggests “reform” that will in theory bring in more revenue while lowering tax rates (on the rich)….

The debate we should be having is about how to make the economy work for working people again, how to revive a broad middle class and make the American Dream more than a nostalgic fantasy….

A serious long-term commitment to rebuild America would renovate our infrastructure to withstand the extreme weather that is already upon us. It would break up the big banks and shackle finance so that it serves, rather than threatens, the real economy. Measures to transform corporate governance, curb excessive executive compensation, and empower
workers to organize and bargain collectively would help counter extreme inequality…

It would feature progressive tax reform, compelling the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share. It would continue healthcare reform and guarantee affordable care as a right for every citizen, not a privilege allowed only to those who can afford it…

Reaching no deal is preferable to a bad one that cuts entitlements. Going over the so-called fiscal cliff is perilous, but probably preferable to a bargain under the terms currently in play. With no agreement, the Bush tax cuts would expire. In January the Senate would immediately push to revive the lower rates for everyone but the top 2 percent….

Posted by Time for change | Thu Nov 22, 2012, 12:02 AM (62 replies)

Hmmm… Why Was Karl Rove So Adamant that Romney Not Concede Ohio?

When Ohio was called for Barack Obama on Election Night, thereby pushing him over the top in the Electoral College, Karl Rove didn’t take it very well, as he encouraged Mitt Romney not to concede for several hours. In fact, Romney didn’t concede until after Obama had won enough states to win the election even without Ohio. From the Washington Guardian:

The prominent Republican strategist and former Bush White House guru didn’t seem able to deal with Mitt Romney’s loss on Election Night. When the network he was appearing on, Fox News, called that Ohio had voted for President Barack Obama, thereby effectively ending the election, Rove strongly pushed back.

"I think this is premature," Rove said, insisting that only part of the vote had been counted. "I don't know what the outcome is going to be, but we gotta be careful about calling things when we have like 991 votes separating the two candidates."

Rove put up so much protest, in fact, that anchor Megyn Kelly traveled back into Fox’s studio to speak with their statisticians and experts who were calling each state. Even before Rove almost had a conniption, Fox in fact had been one of the last to call Ohio for Obama.

Rove insisted that only part of the vote had been counted? As we all know, states are routinely called for one candidate or another when only part of the vote is counted – based on statistical analysis of a combination of the current vote count, exit polls, and what parts of the state have yet to be counted. So what was Karl Rove so sure he knew about the vote count – or looming vote count – that none of the network statisticians knew, even at FOX news? To consider that question, let’s go back to 2004:

Election Night 2004

In the official 2004 Ohio vote count, George W. Bush beat John Kerry by about 118 thousand votes, a margin of about 2.5%. But according to the final Ohio exit polls, John Kerry was predicted to win by a whopping 4.2% – thus producing a huge discrepancy between the exit polls and the official vote count.

Prior to Election Day 2004, it was evident that Ohio was the most critical swing state in the country. Late on Election Night, it became apparent that whoever won Ohio would win the presidency. TV commentators discussed how the situation looked very bad for George W. Bush. Even the right wing political hack Robert Novak acknowledged that Bush had little chance of winning Ohio – and thus the election.

So what happened then? Stephen Spoonamore, a computer expert and close associate of Michael Connell, who was widely known as “Karl Rove’s IT guru”, provided a likely answer to that question in a sworn affidavit on October 26, 2008.

During the evening and early morning on the 2004 General Election in Ohio, on my own computer I was watching the results of incoming counties and precincts. I believed there was a more than likely chance County Tabulators had been programmed to manipulate votes…. As early results showed Kerry ahead, I noticed a trend in a very few counties (I believe I noted 8 counties on election night) that at about 11 p.m. suddenly began reporting radically different ratios of Kerry to Bush votes. All in favor of Mr. Bush. This sudden rate of change… resembled a fraud technique called an Intelligent Man In the Middle, or KingPin Attack. This type of attack requires a computer to be inserted into the communications flow of an IT system…

Other experts found additional data indicating Bush's increase in votes from these counties, and Kerry's decrease in votes… When information about the SmartTech IT routing switch became public… I again stated that we now have confirmation of a KingPin, or Intelligent Man in the Middle position had been created… The SmartTech system was set up precisely as a KingPin computer used in criminal acts against banking or credit card processes and had the needed level of access to both county tabulators and Secretary of States computers to allow whoever was running SmartTech's computers to decide the output of the county tabulators under its control… The SmartTech computer would as the results of the evening proceeded be able to know how many votes Bush needed to steal from Kerry, and flip enough votes on the desired county tabulators to reverse the outcome of the election…

The aborted testimony of Michael Connell

The SmartTech system that Spoonamore referred to was operated by Michael Connell – “Karl Rove’s IT guru”. Two days after Spoonamore’s affadavit, attorneys filed a motion to compel testimony of Connell regarding his knowledge of the workings of the GOP computer systems. On October 31 a federal judge ordered Connell to submit to a deposition on possible election manipulation. Connell gave the deposition on November 4, providing as little information as possible, but eventually he was forced to admit that “he brought Triad and SmartTech into the Ohio election game”.

When it became apparent that Connell would testify in the case, Connell was warned not to fly his plane. Cliff Arnebeck, the Ohio lawyer who brought the suit and subpoenaed Connell, warned the U.S. Justice Department that Connell’s life might be in danger, and requested witness protection. Connell never did get to testify. On December 19, shortly before he was due to testify, he died in a plane crash, presumably caused by his plane running out of gas.

What happened on Election Night 2012?

If up to the point where the TV networks were discussing how hopeless Ohio looked for Mitt Romney on Election Night 2012 seems to you to be eerily similar to Election Night 2004, you’re not alone. As in 2004, Ohio was the critical swing state. As in 2004, the situation looked very bad for the Republican candidate. As in 2004, the Ohio election was being handled by a highly partisan Republican administration. As in 2004, Karl Rove seemed to be a key player. And as in 2004, SmartTech computers played a central role in tabulating the Ohio vote. As explained here two months prior to the 2012 election:

In 2012 the current Ohio GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted plans to once again use SMARTech for the 2012 Ohio Presidential Election. It would be interesting to know how SOS Husted plans to utilize SMARTech and if he will admit knowledge of the use of SMARTech. Will the computer IT architecture be similar to the one created in 2004 where Stephen Spoonamore claimed the architecture was a classic Man-In-The Middle attack format for the ability to manipulate vote totals.

But there were a couple of big differences between 2004 and 2012. One is that the Republican candidate apparently was substantially further behind in Ohio in 2012 than in 2004. And the other difference is that – as we found out soon – it turned out that the Democratic candidate didn’t need Ohio to win the election. So apparently for one or both of those reasons we didn’t see a repeat of 2004 in 2008. Perhaps the decision was made to pull back when it became apparent that even if he won Ohio Romney couldn’t win the election. Perhaps the decision was made a little sooner, when the approximate magnitude the number of votes needed became apparent.

In any event, despite all the evidence to the contrary, both Karl Rove and Kenneth Blackwell (Ohio Secretary of State in charge of the Ohio election in 2004) denied any knowledge of SmartTech. Democracy Now! Producer Mike Burke summed up the situation two months prior to the 2012 election:

Do you think Karl Rove and Ken Blackwell need to take lie detector tests? How can they possibly deny knowledge of SMARTech with a straight face? Will Ohio election integrity folks check into the status of the use of SMARTech in the 2004 and 2012 elections? Perhaps for the integrity of the vote totals in Ohio it would seem like a pretty good idea.

Posted by Time for change | Fri Nov 16, 2012, 10:54 PM (170 replies)

Wealth Inequality and Societal Collapse

Economic inequality in the United States has been growing now for several decades – since the late 1980s. It has been fueled by right wing economic philosophy, which can be summed up by the phrase “trickle down economics”, which purports that the best way to grow an economy is to shower the rich with advantages that allow them to become ever wealthier. The theory behind that is that the rich know what’s best for us, so the more opportunities we give them to make more money, the more they will be incentivized to utilize their tremendous intelligence and abilities to benefit society. A phrase that encompasses this theory today is “job creators”. The rich are our job creators. Give them more tax breaks, subsidies, and deregulation, and they will create more jobs for us.

But the reality is that nothing could be further from the truth.

Such theories are nothing new in world history. The powerful have always sought to justify and increase their power over other people by claiming that all of society benefits from their disproportionate wealth and power: Kings claimed that their power was the will of God. Europeans settled the present day United States by displacing and nearly exterminating the native population, using every excuse in the book to justify that. They said that Native Americans didn’t deserve the land they occupied because they were "uncivilized". They claimed "Manifest Destiny" over the land they sought to occupy. Much of the early U.S. economic system was based on slavery. Again, this was justified for all the “best” of reasons, mostly involving claims that black people were inferior, uncivilized, savage, etc. etc. etc. The idea was also advanced that black people benefited from being slaves and owed their masters a debt of gratitude for giving them the chance to “serve”.

Let’s consider: 1) The obscene degree of wealth inequality in the United States today; 2) The economic effects of that wealth inequality, and; 3) The society effects of that wealth inequality. It is important to consider those things because right wing forces are doing everything in their power to make it worse. They are currently going after what is left of our social safety net programs as a way of enabling more tax cuts for themselves. This kind of thing will continue to get worse until they are stopped.

Wealth inequality in the United States today

By 2007, the wealthiest 1% of Americans owned more than a third of the country’s total wealth. Take a look at this chart to see how bad it was (and still is).

The wealthiest 1% of individuals own between 100 and 200 times more than the bottom 40% combined. That means that the average individual wealth of the top 1% exceeds the average individual wealth of the bottom 40% by about six thousand times. Income and wealth inequality was then greater than at any time in our recorded history, since such records began to be kept in the early years of the 20th Century. Because the Great Recession, which started in 2008, resulted in far more economic damage to the bottom 99% than the top 1%, economic inequality has worsened still further since that time.

The economic effects of income and wealth inequality

Here is a graph that shows the relationship of income inequality to the two worst economic catastrophes of our history: The Great Depression of the 1930s and our current recession. It is titled "Re-creating the Gap that Gave us the Great Depression":

The top chart plots income inequality, measured as the ratio between the average income of the top 0.01% of U.S. families, compared to the bottom 90%. Note that preceding the great stock market crash of 1929, which plunged us into depression, the ratio rose from about 250 at the start of the 1920s to a peak of about 900 by 1929. The ratio then plunged, and by the start of WW II it had declined to about 200, where it remained with some relatively minor ups and downs until the beginning of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency. It then began another precipitous climb, with a sharp decline beginning during the last year of Clinton’s Presidency, but then another sharp increase beginning at about the time that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy first went into effect, so that by the end of 2006 we exceeded even the peak ratio of 1929 that preceded the Great Depression. The three green bars in the chart represent the stock market crash of 1929, the last pre-Reagan year, and the end of the time period represented by the chart, which shortly preceded the great recession of 2008, in which we are still mired.

It is similarly instructive to note that prior to this accelerating economic inequality our country had gone through about three decades (1947 to late 1970s) of what Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman refers to as "the greatest sustained economic boom in U.S. history". In 1947, when accurate statistics on this issue first became available, median family income was rising at a remarkable rate. With the top marginal tax rates approaching 90% at this time (See bottom chart, above), median family income rose steadily (in 2005 dollars) from $22,499 in 1947 to more than double that, $47,173 in 1980. Are those who claim that taxing the wealthy hurts our economy utterly unaware of this, or are they simply willing to say anything to convince us that reducing their taxes is good for everyone?

Societal effects of income and wealth inequality

Epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett demonstrate in their book, “The Spirit Level – Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger”, numerous troubling non-economic consequences of obscene income inequality that are independent of absolute income or wealth. These consequences include more mental illness, greater use of illegal drugs, higher imprisonment rate, higher infant mortality rate, more homicides, lower educational performance of our children, lower index of child well-being, lower trust in our fellow citizens, and lower status of women, among other adverse societal effects.

As bad as all these consequences are, much worse is the total collapse of entire societies. Perhaps the most comprehensive explanation I’ve ever read on that subject appears in a book by Jared Diamond, “Collapse – How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” (Chosen as “Best Book of the Year” by The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and others). Diamond’s book describes the causes of past and present failed societies, such as the ancient Easter Island civilization, and compares them with other societies that have succeeded, in order to identify the causes of failed societies. The theme of his book can be summarized as:

Environmental crisis + failure of society to address it ==> societal collapse

Diamond’s reason for writing his book was to make the point that we humans have it within our power to either fail to address the problem, which will lead to world-wide catastrophe, or to avoid catastrophe by addressing the problem while we still can.

Diamond identifies several general factors that contribute to the equation of whether or not societies succeed or fail in response to the environmental crises they face. The common denominator in most or all of his examples is a combination of environmental crisis leading to depletion of vital resources with an inadequate societal response to the crisis. The inadequate response to the crisis usually or always involves an elite ruling class that is far more concerned with preserving their own short-term wealth and status than with the long-term effects on the society that they rule. Diamond’s examples are well worth considering:

Easter Island
It is estimated that the first human settlement of Easter Island occurred around A.D. 900. The estimated maximum population was 6,000 to 30,000. Easter Island is perhaps best known for its huge stone statues, 887 which have been identified, weighing as much as 9,000 tons (including the base).

The primary reason for the demise of Easter Island society was deforestation, which was virtually complete somewhere between the start of the 15th and the 17th Century. Without trees a major source of wild food disappeared; fuel for warmth virtually disappeared; fish consumption substantially declined because of the absence of canoes; and agriculture was severely disrupted because of soil erosion. Easter Islanders had to turn to cannibalism to survive. Europeans, who began frequenting Easter Island at least by 1722, no doubt contributed to their final demise by spreading disease and kidnapping them. By 1872, only 111 Easter Islanders remained.

Massive amounts of statue construction, fueled by competition between clans, contributed greatly to resource depletion on Easter Island in two respects: the work required vast amounts of rope and wood products (ladders, sleds, levers, etc.), which led to the deforestation; and it also required huge additional amounts of food for the people who built the statues. In sum, a very fragile environment, combined with a culture that was characterized by massive consumption of vital resources, led to the demise of Easter Island society.

The Anasazi
The Anasazi resided in current day Southwestern U.S., including parts of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. This area first became populated with humans around 11,000 B.C., though agricultural societies in that area did not arise until about A.D. 1. Anasazi civilization lasted from about A.D. 600 to 1200.

Chaco Canyon was the capital of Anasazi civilization. The Anasazi were a highly hierarchical society, such that a well fed elite living in luxury came to occupy Chaco Canyon, while the peasantry did all the work and produced the food that supported the elite. Diamond notes that “Chaco Canyon became a black hole into which goods were imported but from which nothing tangible was exported. Into Chaco Canyon came those tens of thousands of big trees for construction…”

The final blow was a drought in about A.D. 1130. Chaco Canyon became abandoned as many probably starved, people killed each other, and others fled the region.

Mayan civilization
The Maya were the most advanced civilization in pre-Columbian America, and the only one with extensive preserved writing. They occupied parts of Mesoamerica, which extended from present day central mid-Mexico to Honduras. The so-called Classic period of Mayan civilization began around A.D. 250. The Mayans were a highly hierarchical society. Diamond explains:

There was a tacitly understood quid pro quo: the reason why the peasants supported the luxurious lifestyle of the king and his court… and built his palaces was because he had made implicit big promises to the peasants… Kings got into trouble with their peasants if a drought came, because that was tantamount to the breaking of a royal promise.

As with other failed societies, environmental problems played a large role. But more instructive than that was the societal response to those environmental problems. Diamond has this to say about that:

We have to wonder why the kings and nobles failed to solve these seemingly obvious problems undermining their society. Their attention was evidently focused on their short-term concerns of enriching themselves, waging wars, erecting monuments, competing with each other, and extracting enough food from the peasants to support all those activities. Like most leaders throughout human history, the Maya kings and nobles did not heed long term problems…

The Greenland Norse
While 99% of Greenland is uninhabitable, there are patches of it that are suitable for agriculture. A settlement from Norway was established in A.D. 984, which lasted approximately 500 years before completely dying out. The fate of the Greenland Norse is especially instructive because another society, the Inuit (Eskimos), who occupied Greenland before the Norse arrived, continue to live there today.

Greenland’s very cold climate, with very short summers, makes agriculture a precarious undertaking. But the Greenland Norse inherited a farming culture from Norway, and they stuck with it. Unlike the Inuit, they never learned to hunt whales, and they had a cultural taboo against eating fish. Thus, when their cows and sheep overgrazed their pastures, farming became an even more precarious undertaking, and lacking adequate alternative food sources, the Norse starved in the midst of plenty. The Greenland Norse was a very hierarchical society. Diamond explains:

Power in Norse Greenland was concentrated at the top… They owned most of the land… and controlled the trade with Europe. They chose to devote much of that trade to importing goods that brought prestige to them: luxury goods for the wealthiest households, vestments and jewelry for the clergy, and bells and stained glass for the churches. Among the uses to which they allocated their few boats were… to acquire the luxury exports… with which to pay for those imports. Chiefs had two motives for running large sheep herds that could damage the land by overgrazing… independent farmers on overgrazed land were more likely to be forced into tenancy, and thereby to become a chief’s followers… Innovations could have threatened the power, prestige, and narrow interests of the chiefs…. Thus, Norse society’s structure created a conflict between the short term interests of those in power, and the long term interests of the society as a whole… Ultimately, though, the chiefs found themselves without followers. The last right that they obtained for themselves was the privilege of being the last to starve.

The underlying cause of failed, collapsed societies
Each of these examples of failed societies involved a small proportion of the population that had a very disproportionate amount of political power and wealth. In those types of societies, the rich and powerful often make decisions that benefit themselves to the great detriment of the vast majority of other people. Environmental degradation often means little to them, as long as it increases their wealth and power. Significantly, Diamond found not a single example of a society that collapsed because too small a share of resources went to the ruling elite.

Right wing plutocrats and the austerity myth that will ruin our economy if we let them

Thus it is that our current situation in which right wing oligarchs and the politicians that they buy are attempting to amass ever more wealth and political power at the expense of everyone else is nothing new in the context of world history. To convince Americans to give up the social safety net programs that have sustained the poor and built a strong middle class since President Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s, they claim that the predominant problem facing our country today is our federal deficit. This is their excuse for privatizing Social Security and Medicare. They want us to forget that private corporations are in business to make a profit, whereas the purpose of government programs (such as Social Security and Medicare) is to serve its citizens. Where do people think that corporate profits are going to come from if not from the people who need the programs?

Not coincidentally, it is the same right wing oligarchs and politicians who try to scare us about the federal deficit who also continuously push for tax cuts for the rich, and tax cuts, deregulation, subsidies, and bailouts for powerful corporations. Our news media should – but repeatedly fails to – hold them accountable for their hypocritical message that we need to cut vital social safety net programs to reduce our debt, while at the same time arguing that we need to cut their taxes and increase military spending.

Their message about our federal debt is grossly misleading. The significance of the federal debt should be measured as a percentage of our nation’s GDP, rather than as an absolute figure. Here is a graph that looks at federal debt as a percentage of GDP:

Note that as a percentage of our GDP, after many years of reduction it began to rise substantially during the Reagan years, when “trickle down economics” came into vogue and tax rates on the wealthy were greatly reduced. Our national debt (as a percent of GDP) then decreased during the Clinton years, when tax rates on the wealthy were modestly increased, but rose again during the Bush years simultaneously with Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy.

William Greider demonstrates our misplace priorities in an article titled “Economic Free Fall”. In that article Greider discusses how Congress has claimed to ameliorate our economic crisis by providing economic assistance to the wealthy, while generally ignoring the rest of us.

Washington’s selective generosity for influential financial losers is deforming democracy and opening the path to an awesomely powerful corporate state… Hundreds of billions in open-ended relief has been delivered to the largest and most powerful mega-banks and investment firms, while government offers only weak gestures of sympathy for struggling producers, workers and consumers. The bailouts are rewarding the very people and institutions whose reckless behavior caused this financial mess. Yet government demands nothing from them in return…

Washington can act with breathtaking urgency when the right people want something done. In this case, the people are Wall Street's titans… Talk about warped priorities! The government puts up $29 billion as a "sweetener" for JP Morgan but can only come up with $4 billion for Cleveland, Detroit and other urban ruins.

Right wing plutocrats and the destruction of our planet

The human weaknesses that led to previous societal collapses have not changed much during the course of world history. Too much wealth and power in the hands of a small elite lead to tyranny and societal collapse, just as it always has.

But there is an important difference today, as compared with the past. Because of rapidly accelerating technological advances, the confluence and environmental crises with inadequate human response is now intertwined in ways that have never previously existed on our planet. It is now likely that future environmental crises will be primarily man-made rather than natural. Thus, too much power in the hands of an irresponsible ruling elite actually leads to the creation of environmental crises, which the elite then not only fails to respond to, but actively prevents others from responding to. And unlike the past, today’s environmental crises threaten the whole planet, rather than a single society at a time.

Brian Fagan describes the catastrophes that are likely to befall humanity if climate change is not adequately addressed, in his book “The Great Warming – Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilization”.

Today, we are experiencing sustained warming of a kind unknown since the Ice Age. And this warming is certain to bring drought – sustained drought and water shortages on a scale that will challenge even small cities… Imagine how many people might uproot themselves if the choice were between famine and food. Many believe the wars of coming centuries will not be fought over petty nationalisms, religion, or democratic principles, but over water, for this most precious of all our commodities may become even more valuable than oil. They are probably correct.

The U.S contribution to climate change is greatly out of proportion to its population. It is responsible for approximately one quarter of all the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Yet, in 2001 President Bush pulled the United States out of its international commitment to the Kyoto protocol, leaving us and Australia as the only two industrialized countries uncommitted to the international effort to respond to the climate change threat.

Effects on small islands are already being seen. In December 2006, the first inhabited island, Lohachara Island, disappeared beneath the sea. Several nearby islands have been affected as well, with tragic human consequences. Several other islands face catastrophic consequences in the immediate or foreseeable future if global warming isn’t soon halted or at least slowed considerably. For that reason, many small island nations made evacuation plans.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Organization reported 111 major hurricanes in the tropical Atlantic from 1995 to 2008, a 75% increase over the previous thirteen years. A researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research noted that “Storms are not just making landfall and going away like they did in the past… Somehow these storms are able to live longer today”.

The Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters conducted research that gives us an indication of the magnitude of the increase in severe weather events. That research found that there was four times the number of weather disasters in the last thirty years as in the first 75 years of the 20th Century.

In conclusion

In conclusion, a nation’s level of income and wealth inequality is not God-ordained, nor is it the natural consequence of a society arranging things for the benefit of all. Rather, a high level of national income and wealth inequality generally means that its elites have been successful in arranging its laws and policies to enhance their own wealth and power at the expense of their fellow citizens.

Our elites have formed themselves into giant powerful corporations that have demanded and received all the rights of “persons”, with few or none of the responsibilities of ordinary persons. The result has been to substantially widen the gap between rich and poor and to give to the few the license to enrich themselves at the great expense of the many. If nothing is done to stop them we will not be able to solve the environmental crises that threaten to make our planet less and less habitable for human life.
Posted by Time for change | Wed Nov 14, 2012, 04:32 PM (2 replies)

Voting “Irregularities” and Dirty Tricks Looming in Pennsylvania

President Obama has apparently built up enough of an early voting (prior to Election Day) lead in the key swing states of Ohio, Iowa, and Nevada that Romney’s chances of winning the Electoral College have dimmed considerably in the past few days. Without those states, a Romney victory seems quite remote.

A win in Pennsylvania would go quite a ways towards getting him back on track. Though Obama has an apparently safe lead in Pennsylvania, enough election “irregularities” and dirty tricks could save the state and the election for Romney. Maybe that could explain the following:

Misinformation in African American areas of Philadelphia
Misinformation encouraging people in Philadelphia to cancel their own votes has been circulating on Tuesday, and Obama field operatives have begun trying to correct the rumor on the ground. The rumor, which has spread in urban and predominantly African American areas of Philadelphia that tilt towards Barack Obama, wrongly instructed voters to first select an "All Democratic" voting slate -- and then cast another vote specifically for Obama. That second vote has the effect of canceling the original vote, according to two Democratic sources in Philadelphia.

"Many voters are being told to vote for the President by BOTH checking the Straight Democrat Box and the Box for the President," explains an email from an Obama Voter Protection staffer targeting Philadelphia voters. That action cancels the vote, says the staffer, who instructed voters "to do one or the other, but not both."

The Obama campaign has voter protection staff and attorneys on the ground trying to clarify the situation…

Pennsylvania voting machine caught switching vote from Obama to Romney
An electronic voting machine in Pennsylvania has been taken out of service after a voter captured video of it changing a vote for Barack Obama into one for Mitt Romney.

Trying to purge black voters at the polls in three major cities
Poll workers in Pennsylvania wrongly telling voters they need photo ID to cast a ballot. According to the law, poll workers in Pennsylvania can ask voters for ID, but they are not required to show it in order to vote. However, that is not how the law is being enforced. Eric Marshall, co-director of Election Protection, says such problems are occurring across the state, although reports are that minority voters are being targeted in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. “Poll workers are asking black voters for ID but not white voters,” Marshall reported.

Posted by Time for change | Tue Nov 6, 2012, 06:31 PM (14 replies)

Path to Victory: Wisconsin, Ohio, Nevada, Iowa – Early Voting and Polls Suggest Clear Obama Victory

As the last weekend before Election Days draws to a close, President Obama is tightening his grip on an electoral college victory. Of the nine states that are considered competitive at this time (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin), Obama seems to be pulling away in four of them (Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, Wisconsin) with more than enough electoral votes to win. Of the other 5 competitive states, Obama has a slight lead in one (NH), two are virtually tied (CO, VA), and Romney has a slight lead in one (FL) and a somewhat comfortable lead in one (NC). But Obama doesn’t need any of those 5 states to win. Iowa, Ohio, Nevada and Wisconsin alone will give him 277 electoral votes, to 261 for Romney. In fact, Obama could even lose Iowa or Nevada, in addition to the other 5, and he would still win.

Recent polling in Nevada, Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin

First let’s consider the polling. Obama leads in a series of recent polls in the 4 states, as compiled by Real Clear Politics, ranging from 2.8% to 4.2%, as follows:
Nevada: 5 polls, [font color="blue"]+ 2.8%[/font]
Ohio: 12 polls, [font color="blue"]+ 2.8%[/font]
Iowa: 6 polls, [font color="blue"]+ 3.0%[/font]
Wisconsin, 5 polls, + [font color="blue"]4.2%[/font]

Those leads may not seem like a great deal. But keep in mind that the statistical margin of error in combined polls is far lower than that from a single poll. All of those Obama leads are above the statistical margin of error, with only two days to go.

Nate Silver recently looked at the historical accuracy of state polls right before Election Day, since 1988. Of 77 series of late state polls since 1988, 74 of them correctly predicted the winner. One of the ones that didn’t was the series of Ohio state polls right before the 2004 election – and as we now know, there is a great amount of evidence that that election was riddled with fraud. The latest pre-election polls in Ohio in 2004 predicted John Kerry the winner, while George W. Bush won the official vote count. Not incidentally, the Ohio exit polls also predicted John Kerry the winner – by a large margin.

Early voting

An analysis of early voting provides additional strong reason to believe that Obama will win these 4 states:

72% of Nevadans have already voted (if one assumes that total turnout will approximately equal that of 2008), and analysis of voting by party affiliation shows that more than 48 thousand registered Democrats than Republicans have voted so far. Of course Party affiliation does not prove who one is going to vote for. But extrapolation from similar early voting data in Nevada in 2008 indicates that Obama has a comfortable lead in Nevada at this point.

With 39% of Iowans having voted by now, the lead in registered Democrats over Republicans is about 63 thousand. Again, extrapolation from early voting data in 2008 indicates a comfortable lead for Obama.

In Ohio, only about 29% of voters have early voted so far. Early voting in Ohio is not tabulated by Party affiliation. But the two most highly Democratic counties in the state (Cuyahoga and Franklin) have early voted so far by much higher rates (36% and 37% of the total 2008 voter turnout) than the rest of the state, which is mostly Republican (21%). This is similar to early voting rate patterns by county observed in 2008 in Ohio, when Obama won by a comfortable margin.

Not much early voting has occurred in Wisconsin. But since Wisconsin is one of the very few states in the country that has same day voter registration, typical polls of “likely voters” are likely to underestimate the Obama lead in Wisconsin. Added to the comfortable and growing Obama lead of 4.2% in Wisconsin, that should translate into an Obama victory in Wisconsin.

In summary

Late polling data in Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, and Nevada, in addition to analysis of early voting in Iowa, Ohio, and Nevada, shows a strong likelihood of a comfortable Obama win in each of those states, which together provide more than enough electoral votes to win the presidency, when added to those the 20 non-competitive, safe Obama states.

Therefore, if the official vote count should show a Romney victory on Election Day, intensive investigations, including a review of exit polls, carefully observed recounts and forensic examinations of electronic voting machines, should be demanded prior to an Obama concession.
Posted by Time for change | Sun Nov 4, 2012, 10:15 PM (10 replies)

Romney’s Utterly Irresponsible Attitude towards the Fate of our Planet

Mitt Romney has said a lot of irresponsible things in his life, especially during the current Presidential campaign. But perhaps the most irresponsible and ridiculous of all is this one, delivered during this year’s Republican National Convention:

President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise (audience laughter) is to help you and your family.

That statement says all we need to know about Mitt Romney. He claims to want to help us and our families, and yet he publicly demonstrates in the same sentence that he is not the least bit concerned about the warnings of virtually all reputable climate scientists in the world, to the effect that if we do not take measures to reduce the impact of climate change on our planet, hundreds of millions of people will suffer terribly in the coming years, as our planet becomes more and more unfit for human habitation.

It is not of course just this statement that characterizes Romney’s position on this issue. His presidential campaign has been characterized by a total unwillingness to acknowledge that climate change due to the burning of fossil fuels poses any problem for us whatsoever. Instead, he has put forth many plans to increase the problem by accelerating the burning of fossil fuels.

The threat of climate change and the lack of U.S. response

Brian Fagan describes the catastrophes that are likely to befall humanity if climate change is not adequately addressed, in his book “The Great Warming – Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilization”.

Today, we are experiencing sustained warming of a kind unknown since the Ice Age. And this warming is certain to bring drought – sustained drought and water shortages on a scale that will challenge even small cities… Imagine how many people might uproot themselves if the choice were between famine and food. Many believe the wars of coming centuries will not be fought over petty nationalisms, religion, or democratic principles, but over water, for this most precious of all our commodities may become even more valuable than oil. They are probably correct.

The U.S contribution to climate change is greatly out of proportion to its population. It is responsible for approximately one quarter of all the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Yet, in 2001 President Bush pulled the United States out of its international commitment to the Kyoto protocol, leaving us and Australia as the only two industrialized countries uncommitted to the international effort to respond to the climate change threat.

Effects on small islands are already being seen. In December 2006, the first inhabited island, Lohachara Island, disappeared beneath the sea. Several nearby islands have been affected as well, with tragic human consequences. Several other islands face catastrophic consequences in the immediate or foreseeable future if global warming isn’t soon halted or at least slowed considerably. For that reason, many small island nations made evacuation plans.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Organization reported 111 major hurricanes in the tropical Atlantic from 1995 to 2008, a 75% increase over the previous thirteen years. A researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research noted that “Storms are not just making landfall and going away like they did in the past… Somehow these storms are able to live longer today”.

The Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters conducted research that gives us an indication of the magnitude of the increase in severe weather events. That research found that there was four times the number of weather disasters in the last thirty years as in the first 75 years of the 20th Century.

The effects on coastal areas of the United States

Mike Tidwell referenced Hurricane Sandy in a recent article, to expound upon the coming effects of climate change on the coastal areas of the United States:

Aided by a full foot of sea-level rise during the last century, Hurricane Sandy is just the latest example of climate change’s impact on human society. Unless we rapidly phase out our use of fossil fuels, most Americans within shouting distance of an ocean will – in coming years – live behind … massive levees and floodgates… There will be levees everywhere. Imagine the National Mall, Reagan National Airport and the Virginia suburbs – all well below sea level – at the mercy of “trust-us-they’ll-hold” levees maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Oceans worldwide are projected to rise as much as three more feet this century – much higher if the Greenland ice sheet melts away. Intense storms are already becoming much more common. These two factors together will in essence export the plight of New Orleans… to New York City and Washington, as well as to Charleston, Miami, and other coastal cities. Assuming we want to keep living in these cities, we’ll have to build dikes and learn to exist beneath the surface of surrounding tidal bays, rivers and open seas…

What can we do? Three major options: (1) abandon our coastal cities and retreat inland, (2) stay put and try to adapt to the menacing new conditions or (3) stop burning planet-warming fossil fuels as fast as possible…

In truth, we must combine some level of adaptation with the third option: switching away from fossil fuels and onto clean energy. Clean energy is less expensive, less risky and overall much better for us. It’s the option that treats the disease of global warming, not just the symptoms. Only by dramatically reducing greenhouse gas pollution… can we slow the sea-level rise and potentially calm the growth in hurricane intensity.

The limitless greed of those who prevent action on climate change

Words fail me in attempting to describe how irresponsible was Romney’s show of contempt for President Obama’s expressions of concern about the fate of our planet. But words didn’t fail Rebecca Solnit in describing the most common reasons for ignoring the greatest threat to the survival of human life on our planet. She asks:

Why have we done almost nothing over the past twenty-five years about what was then a terrifying threat and is now a present catastrophe? Because it was bad for quarterly returns and fossil-fuel portfolios. When posterity indicts our era, this will be the feeble answer for why we did so little – that the rich and powerful with ties to the carbon-emitting industries have done everything in their power to prevent action on, or even recognition of, the problem. In this country in particular, they spent a fortune sowing doubt about the science of climate change and punishing politicians who brought the subject up. In this way have we gone through four “debates” and nearly a full election cycle with climate change unmentioned and unmentionable.

We need to talk about climate change as a war against nature, against the poor (especially the poor of Africa), and against the rest of us. There are casualties, there are deaths and there is destruction, and it’s all mounting… While we’re at it, take back the term “pro-life” to talk about those who are trying to save the lives of all the creatures suffering from the collapse of the complex systems on which plant and animal as well as human lives depend. The other side: “pro-death.”…

What is the great obstacle {to public discussion of climate change}? The oil corporations, the coal companies, the energy industry, its staggering financial clout, its swarms of lobbyists and the politicians in its clutches.

Honesty and concern about the accumulating effects of climate change compel me to note that President Obama’s actions against climate change have been far too little. But at least he has publicly recognized the existence of the problem, doesn’t make sick jokes that show contempt for the scientists who have investigated it and the fate of our planet, and has made some efforts towards addressing the problem – all in marked contrast to Mitt Romney. Hopefully those concerned about the future of our planet will be able to convince him to do far more in a second term. With President Mitt Romney there would be no hope of that for at least another 4-8 years.
Posted by Time for change | Thu Nov 1, 2012, 07:05 PM (2 replies)
Go to Page: 1