Bill Totten's Weblog

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How Liberalism Almost Killed ...

... the Chance for Real, Progressive Change

by David Sirota

AlterNet (March 28 2010)

As a progressive, I'm often asked if there is a real difference between progressivism and liberalism, or if progressivism is merely a nicer-sounding term for the less popular L-word.

It's a fair question, considering that Democratic politicians regularly substitute "progressive" for "liberal" in news releases and speeches. Predictably, Republicans call their opponents' linguistic shift a craven branding maneuver, and frankly, they're right: Most Democrats make no distinction between the two words.

However, that doesn't mean the ideologies are synonymous. In fact, if the last decade of economic policy proves anything, it is that even as the word "progressive" is now ubiquitous, a perverted form of liberalism has almost completely snuffed out genuine progressivism.

Some background: Economic liberalism has typically focused on using the government's treasury as a means to ends, whether those ends are better healthcare (Medicare/Medicaid), stronger job growth (tax credits) or more robust export businesses (corporate subsidies). The idea is that taxpayer dollars can help individuals afford bare necessities and entice institutions to support the common good.

Economic progressivism, by contrast, has historically trumpeted the government fiat as the best instrument of social change - think food safety, minimum wage and labor laws, and also post-Depression financial rules and enforcement agencies. Progressivism's central theory is that government, as the nation's supreme authority, can set parameters channeling capitalism's profit motive into societal priorities - and preventing that profit motive from spinning out of control.

Looked at this way, liberalism and progressivism once operated in tandem. But regardless of which of the two economic ideologies you particularly favor (if either), three of the recent epoch's most far-reaching initiatives make clear the former now dominates both parties.

It started in 2003 with Republicans' Medicare drug benefit. Rather than go the progressive route - imposing price controls, permitting government to negotiate lower bulk prices or letting wholesalers buy drugs at cheaper foreign prices - the bill hinged on taxpayer money. Essentially, the government gave $1.2 trillion to the pharmaceutical industry in exchange for the industry providing medicines to seniors.

This became the bank bailout's model. Instead of first responding to the Wall Street crisis with progressive, New Deal-style regulations, Presidents Bush and Obama opted for liberal bribe theory: Specifically, they bet that giving banks trillions in loans, subsidies and guarantees would convince financial institutions to halt their riskiest behavior and start lending to small businesses again.

Now, it's healthcare.

The Democratic bill began as a hybrid. On the liberal side, it proposed growing Medicaid and trading subsidies to insurance companies for expanded coverage. On the progressive side, the original legislation included measures like premium regulation and a government-run insurer to compete with private firms. But save for a few fairly weak consumer protections, the final bill was stripped of most major progressive provisions. Ultimately, the celebrated "reform" is based primarily on a liberal wager that Medicaid plus subsidies will equal universal healthcare.

Which, for a short time, may be the case.

The trouble, though, is what the Washington Post reports: "The [subsidies'] buying power could erode over time in an era of rapid medical inflation".

There, of course, is the rub.

Liberalism sans progressivism - that is, public money sans regulation - turns the Treasury into an unlimited gift card for whichever private interests are being sponsored.

In this era of corporate-tethered lawmakers, such public-to-private transfers often face less congressional opposition than progressivism's inherent confrontations. But the inevitable result is taxpayers being bilked, as subsidized industries freely raise prices and continue engaging in destructive behavior, knowing government and/or captive consumers will keep financing the binge.

So to answer the question - is there a difference between liberalism and progressivism? Yes - and without both, we end up paying a steep price.


David Sirota is the author of the best-selling books Hostile Takeover (2006) and The Uprising (2008). He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado and blogs at E-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @davidsirota.

(c) 2010 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

Bill Totten

The Health Bill is a Bonanza ...

... for the Insurance Industry and Other Monied Interests

by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Bill Moyers Journal

AlterNet (March 28 2010)

That wickedly satirical Ambrose Bierce described politics as "the conduct of public affairs for private advantage".

Bierce vanished to Mexico nearly a hundred years ago - to the relief of the American political class of his day, one assumes - but in an eerie way he was forecasting America's political culture today. It seems like most efforts to reform a system that's gone awry - to clean house and make a fresh start - end up benefiting the very people who wrecked it in the first place.

Which is why Bierce, in his classic little book, The Devil's Dictionary (1911), defined reform as "a thing that mostly satisfies reformers opposed to reformation".

So we got health care reform last week - but it's a far cry from reformation. You can't blame President Obama for celebrating what he did get - he and the Democrats needed some political points on the scoreboard. And imagine the mood in the White House if the vote had gone the other way; they would have been cutting wrists instead of cake.

Give the victors their due: the bill Obama signed expands coverage to many more people, stops some very ugly and immoral practices by the health insurance industry that should have been stopped long ago, and offers a framework for more change down the road, if there's any heart or will left to fight for it.

But reformation? Hardly. For all their screaming and gnashing of teeth, the insurance companies still make out like bandits. Millions of new customers, under penalty of law, will be required to buy the companies' policies, feeding the insatiable greed of their CEOs and filling the campaign coffers of the politicians they wine and dine. Profits are secure; they don't have to worry about competition from a public alternative to their cartel, and they can continue to scam us without fear of antitrust action.

The big drug companies bought their protection before the fight even began, when the White House agreed that if they supported Obama's brand of health care reform - not reformation - they could hold onto their monopoly. No imports of cheaper drugs from abroad, no prescriptions filled at a lower price by our friendly Canadian neighbors to the north.

And let's not forget another, gigantic health care winner: a new report from the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity says the battle for reform has been "a bonanza" for the lobbying industry. According to the Center's analysis, "About 1,750 businesses and organizations hired about 4,525 lobbyists, total - eight for each member of Congress - and spent at least $1.2 billion to influence health care bills and other issues".

But while we're at it, a cheer for the federal student loan overhaul - Democrats managed to pass that reform with an end run around powerful lobbyists, cleverly nestling it in the health care reconciliation package.

Nonetheless, under pressure from the lending industry, it, too, was watered down from its original intent. The three Democratic senators who voted against - Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor - have all received campaign contributions from Nelnet, the student loan company based in Nelson's home state of Nebraska, or its lobbyists.

(And would you be amazed to learn that one of the student loan industry's lobbyists used to be Blanche Lincoln's chief of staff? The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call described Kelly Bingel as Lincoln's "alter ego", and cited a former colleague saying Bingel was "first on the list of the Senator's callbacks", words that would sound like heaven to any Washington lobbyist's ears.)

Another case of reform gone off track: this week, a year and a half after Wall Street brought us so close to fiscal hell we could smell the brimstone, a crippled little financial regulation bill seems to be hobbling out of the wreckage, but still faces an array of well-armed forces gunning for it.

No wonder. In the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, members of the Senate Banking Committee - which sent the bill to Congress this week - received more than $39 million from Wall Street and the banks; members of the House Financial Services Committee raked in more than $21 million - so far. Just how serious do you think they're going to be about true reform?

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd of Connecticut has sounded like a champion of reform ever since he announced he will not run for reelection. It's about time. Since 2005, his top ten campaign contributors have included Citigroup, AIG, Merrill Lynch and the now deceased Bear Stearns, all front-line players in bringing on the financial calamity.

Then there are the Republicans, shamelessly hawking their favors en masse to the highest bidder. The website reports that the reelection campaign of Tennessee Senator Bob Corker - who's one of the key negotiators on financial reform - sent an e-mail to Wall Street lobbyists and others soliciting contributions of up to $10,000 for a chance to meet or grab a meal with the senator.

Informed of the e-mail, Corker was shocked - shocked! - saying the e-mail was "grotesque and inappropriate". But did House Republican leader John Boehner think it was inappropriate last week when he advised the American Bankers Association to fight back against the proposed rules and regulations?

This is, of course, the same John Boehner who in the summer of 1995 walked around the floor of the House of Representatives handing out checks to his fellow Republicans - checks from a tobacco company. And the same John Boehner who was the grateful recipient of campaign contributions from the four Native American tribes represented by Jack Abramoff, the corrupt lobbyist currently cooling his heels in a Federal corrections facility.

So wouldn't it have been fascinating to have been a fly on the wall earlier this year when Boehner sat down for drinks with Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase? Reportedly, he invited Dimon and the rest of the financial community to pony up the cash and see what good things follow.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Republicans already were receiving an increasing share of campaign contributions from the Street. In the game of reform, it's the political version of loading the dice.

We can't know for sure what Ambrose Bierce would have made of all this; what The Devil's Dictionary author would say about the current DC scams. But he might have agreed that the only answer to organized money is organized people. That would be one hell of a reformation.


Bill Moyers is the host of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS.

(c) 2010 Bill Moyers Journal All rights reserved.

Bill Totten

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Our Turn?

Clusterfuck Nation

by James Howard Kunstler

Comment on current events by the author of
The Long Emergency
(2005) (March 29 2010)

Nations go crazy. It's terrifying when it happens, especially to a major nation with the ability to project its craziness outward. We look back on the psychotic break of Germany in 1933 and still wonder how the then-best-educated population in Europe could fall under the sway of a sociopathic political program. We behold the carnage and devastation left in the wake of that episode, and decades later you still can do little more than shake your head in bewilderment.

China had a psychotic break in the 1960s in its "cultural revolution", provoked by the mad neo-emperor Mao. He sent cadres of Chinese baby boomer youths rampaging across the land, turned every institution upside down, and let millions starve. Mao's China lacked the ability then to export this mischief, but enough of his own people suffered.

Cambodia was the next humdinger of a national nervous breakdown when the Paris-educated classic marxist Pol Pot decided to make the world's biggest omelette by cracking a million eggs. He took everybody wearing eyeglasses, everybody who appeared to have a thought in his or her head, and sent them out to the bush to be worked to death, or shot in ditches, or disposed of otherwise. The mounds of skulls remain to tell the tale.

Lately we've had the Hutu-Tutsi genocides in Rwanda, the craziness in former Yugoslavia, the cruelty of Darfur, the international suicide-bomber craze (including today's blasts in Moscow). Surely, I've left a few out ... but these are minor episodes compared to what be coming next.

Am I the only one who senses it might be America's turn to go nuts? I don't mean a family squabble, like the Boomer-Hippie-Vietnam uproar that was essentially an adolescent rebellion against bad parenting in the national household. I mean a genuine descent into madness, with the very high probability of persecution, violence, murder, and mayhem - all more or less sponsored by various authorities and institutions.

The Republican Party is doing a great job in provoking such a dangerous episode by making consensual governance impossible in a time of awful practical problems and challenges. They're in the process, right now, of transforming themselves from the party of "no" to the party of no decency, no common sense, no ideas, no conception of the public interest, and no respect for the traditions that they pretend to stand for, like due process of law. In the days since the passage of health care reform, they've gone as far as inciting mobs to violence against their fellow congressmen and senators - bricks thrown through windows, death threats made, coffins placed in the yards of their adversaries. One day soon, somebody with a gun or an explosive device, someone with a very sketchy sense-of-self, and perhaps a recent record of personal failure and humiliation, is going to sacrifice himself to become the Tea Party's first martyr by shooting up a shopping mall in some blue district.

Republican leaders' avidity to ally themselves with the followers of hate-monger entertainers like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and the Fox News gang is only the beginning of the process that will lead to a political convulsion possibly worse than the one that started at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, 1861. If it comes, it will certainly be a far more incoherent conflict. The guerilla forces of the radical right will not know whether they are fighting for WalMart, or the Financial Services arm of General Electric, or against abortions, or for bigger and better freeways, or the rights of thoracic surgeons to drive families into bankruptcy, or against the idea of climate change, or evolution, or Jews-in-the-media, or their neighbors having something they feel envious about ...

In the background, of course, is an economy just barely holding together with political baling wire and duct tape. It has very poor prospects for continuing in the way it was designed to run, on cheap oil and revolving debt. The upshot is an economy now destined for permanent contraction, and nobody has a plan for managing that contraction - which will include awful failures in food production, in disintegrating water systems, electric grids, roadway systems, schools ... really anything that requires ongoing public investment. It includes a financial system that cannot come up with capital deployable for productive purpose, or currencies that can be relied on to hold value, or markets that function without interference.

For its part, the Democratic Party has done a poor job of clearly articulating the realities of these things, and in actions like bailouts they've given the false impression that the nation can somehow engineer a return to the reckless hedonism of the late 20th century. My guess is that the situation is so desperate now that President Obama and his supporters can't risk telling the truth about the comprehensive contraction we face.

The health care reform act was a tortured way of dealing with some of this indirectly. It will absolutely lead to a kind of health care "rationing", but rationing is unavoidable in an economy where there is less of everything that people need, and fewer resources to spread around. The difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is that the Republicans would prefer to see the rationing accomplished by money-grubbing health insurance companies denying coverage to policy-holders who get sick, or by the bankrupting of households (that is, losers who deserve to die anyway), while the Democrats want to at least try to distribute what we can a little more fairly. The larger failure of both factions to emulate better systems running in sister societies like Canada and France is something that history will judge.

I was in favor of the health care reform act for the reason of that basic difference between the Right and the Left. For all its flaws - and perhaps even the prospect that we are too far gone in national bankruptcy to ever get all its provisions running - I believe it was necessary for our national morale to pass the bill, to prove that we could do something besides remain stuck in paralysis and bickering indefinitely. And it was necessary to smack down the Party of Cruelty, to inform ourselves that we are not quite ready to go completely crazy.

Whatever his flaws, omissions, and failures, I'm impressed with President Obama's ability to conduct himself like an adult, like a good father, in the face of the most unseemly provocations by his red-faced adversaries John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Michelle Bachman, Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint, and all the other apoplectic opportunists trying so desperately to turn the United States into a high-definition Jesus tele-theocracy of Perpetual NASCAR. As economic conditions worsen - I believe they will - I hope Mr Obama can discipline these maniacs. I would like to see him start by instructing his attorney general to look into the connection between Republican officials (including staff members) and the threats of violence and murder that were made last week around the country.


My novel, The Witch of Hebron, a sequel to World Made By Hand (2008), will be published in September by The Atlantic Monthly Press.

Bill Totten

The Logic of Abundance

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (March 24 2010)

Druid perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial society

The last several posts here on The Archdruid Report have focused on the ramifications of a single concept - the importance of energy concentration, as distinct from the raw quantity of energy, in the economics of the future. This concept has implications that go well beyond the obvious, because three centuries of unthinking dependence on highly concentrated fossil fuels have reshaped not only the economies and the cultures of the industrial West, but some of our most fundamental assumptions about the universe, in ways all too likely to be disastrously counterproductive in the decades and centuries ahead of us.

Ironically enough, given the modern world's obsession with economic issues, one of the best examples of this reshaping of assumptions by the implications of cheap concentrated energy has been the forceful resistance so many of us put up nowadays to thinking about technology in economic terms. It should be obvious that whether or not a given technology or suite of technologies continues to exist in a world of depleting resources depends first and foremost on three essentially economic factors. The first is whether the things done by that technology are necessities or luxuries, and if they are necessities, just how necessary they are; the second is whether the same things, or at least the portion of them that must be done, can be done by another technology at a lower cost in scarce resources; the third is how the benefits gained by keeping the technology supplied with the scarce resources it needs measures up to the benefits gained by putting those same resources to other uses.

Nowadays, though, this fairly straightforward calculus of needs and costs is anything but obvious. If I suggest in a post here, for example, that the internet will fail on all three counts in the years ahead of us - very little of what it does is necessary; most of the things it does can be done with much less energy and resource use, albeit at a slower pace, by other means; and the resources needed to keep it running would in many cases produce a better payback elsewhere - you can bet your bottom dollar that a good many of the responses will ignore this analysis entirely, and insist that since it's technically possible to keep the internet in existence, and a fraction of today's economic and social arrangements currently depend on (or at least use) the internet, the internet must continue to exist. Now it's relevant to point out that the world adapted very quickly to using email and Google in place of postage stamps and public libraries, and will doubtless adapt just as quickly to using postage stamps and libraries in place of email and Google if that becomes necessary, but this sort of thinking - necessary as it will be in the years to come - finds few takers these days.

This notion that technological progress is a one-way street not subject to economic limits invites satire, to be sure, and I've tried to fill that need more than once in the past. Still, there are deep issues at work that also need to be addressed. One of them, which I've discussed at length elsewhere, is the way that progress has taken on an essentially religious value in the modern world, especially but not only among those who reject every other kind of religious thinking. Still, there's another side to it, which is that for the last three hundred years those who believed in the possibilities of progress have generally been right. There have been some stunning failures to put alongside the successes, to be sure, but the trajectory that reached its climax with human footprints on the Moon has provided a potent argument supporting the idea that technological complexity is cumulative, irreversible, and immune to economic concerns.

The problem with that argument is that it takes the experience of an exceptional epoch in human history as a measure for human history as a whole. The three centuries of exponential growth that put those bootprints on the gray dust of the Sea of Tranquility were made possible by the conjunction of historical accidents and geological laws that allowed a handful of nations to seize the fantastic treasure of highly concentrated energy buried in the Earth's fossil fuels and burn through it at ever-increasing rates, flooding their economies with almost unimaginable amounts of cheap and highly concentrated energy. It's been fashionable to assume that the arc of progress was what made all that energy available, but there's very good reason to think that this puts the cart well in front of the horse. Rather, it was the huge surpluses of available energy that made technological progress both possible and economically viable, as inventors, industrialists, and ordinary people all discovered that it really was cheaper to have machines powered by fossil fuels take over jobs that had been done for millennia by human and animal muscles, fueled by solar energy in the form of food.

The logic of abundance that was made plausible as well as possible by those surpluses has had impacts on our society that very few people in the peak oil scene have yet begun to confront. For example, many of the most basic ways that modern industrial societies handle energy make sense only if fossil fuel energy is so cheap and abundant that waste simply isn't something to worry about. One of this blog's readers, Sebastien Bongard, pointed out to me in a recent email that on average, only a third of the energy that comes out of electrical power plants reaches an end user; the other two-thirds are converted to heat by the electrical resistance of the power lines and transformers that make up the electrical grid. For the sake of having electricity instantly available from sockets on nearly every wall in the industrial world, in other words, we accept unthinkingly a system that requires us to generate three times as much electricity as we actually use.

In a world where concentrated energy sources are scarce and expensive, many extravagances of this kind will stop being possible, and most of them will stop being economically feasible. In a certain sense, this is a good thing, because it points to ways in which nations facing crisis because of a shortage of concentrated energy sources can cut their losses and maintain vital systems. It's been pointed out repeatedly, for example, that the electrical grids that supply power to homes and businesses across the industrial world will very likely stop being viable early on in the process of contraction, and some peak oil thinkers have accordingly drawn up nightmare scenarios around the sudden and irreversible collapse of national power grids. Like most doomsday scenarios, though, these rest on the unstated and unexamined assumption that everybody involved will sit on their hands and do nothing as the collapse unfolds.

In this case, that assumption rests in turn on a very widespread unwillingness to think through the consequences of an age of contracting energy supplies. The managers of a power grid facing collapse due to a shortage of generation capacity have one obvious alternative to hand: cutting nonessential sectors out of the grid for as long as necessary, so the load on the grid decreases to a level that the available generation capacity can handle. In an emergency, for example, many American suburbs and a large part of the country's nonagricultural rural land could have electrical service shut off completely, and an even larger portion of both could be put on the kind of intermittent electrical service common in the Third World, without catastrophic results. Of course there would be an economic impact, but it would be modest in comparison to the results of simply letting the whole grid crash.

Over the longer term, just as the twentieth century was the era of rural electrification, the twenty-first promises to be the era of rural de-electrification. The amount of electricity lost to resistance is partly a function of the total amount of wiring through which the current has to pass, and those long power lines running along rural highways to scattered homes in the country thus account for a disproportionate share of the losses. A nation facing prolonged or permanent shortages of electrical generating capacity could make its available power go further by cutting its rural hinterlands off the power grid, and leaving them to generate whatever power they can by local means. Less than a century ago, nearly every prosperous farmhouse in the Great Plains had a windmill nearby, generating 12 or 24 volts for home use whenever the wind blew; the same approach will be just as viable in the future, not least because windmills on the home scale - unlike the huge turbines central to most current notions of windpower - can be built by hand from readily available materials. (Skeptics take note: I helped build one in college in the early 1980s using, among other things, an old truck alternator and a propeller handcarved from wood. Yes, it worked.)

Steps like this have seen very little discussion in the peak oil scene, and even less outside it, because the assumptions about technology discussed earlier in this post make them, in every sense of the word, unthinkable. Most people in the industrial world today seem to have lost the ability to imagine a future that doesn't have electricity coming out of a socket in every wall, without going to the other extreme and leaning on Hollywood cliches of universal destruction. The idea that some of the most familiar technologies of today may simply become too expensive and inefficient to maintain tomorrow is alien to ways of thought dominated by the logic of abundance.

That blindness, however, comes with a huge price tag. As the age of abundance made possible by fossil fuels comes to its inevitable end, a great many things could be done to cushion the impact. Quite a few of these things could be done by individuals, families, and local communities - to continue with the example under discussion, it would not be that hard for people who live in rural areas or suburbs to provide themselves with backup systems using local renewable energy to keep their homes viable in the event of a prolonged, or even a permanent, electrical outage. None of the steps involved are hugely expensive, most of them have immediate payback in the form of lower energy bills, and local and national governments in much of the industrial world are currently offering financial incentives - some of them very robust - to those who do them. Despite this, very few people are doing them, and most of the attention and effort that goes into responses to a future of energy constraints focuses on finding new ways to pump electricity into a hugely inefficient electrical grid, without ever asking whether this will be a viable response to an age when the extravagance of the present day is no longer an option.

This is why attention to the economics of energy in the wake of peak oil is so crucial. Could an electrical grid of the sort we have today, with its centralized power plants and its vast network of wires bringing power to sockets on every wall, remain a feature of life throughout the industrial world in an energy-constrained future? If attempts to make sense of that future assume that this will happen as a matter of course, or start with the unexamined assumption that such a grid is the best (or only) possible way to handle scarce energy, and fixate on technical debates about whether and how that can be made to happen, the core issues that need to be examined slip out of sight. The question that has to be asked instead is whether a power grid of the sort we take for granted will be economically viable in such a future - that is, whether such a grid is as necessary as it seems to us today; whether the benefits of having it will cover the costs of maintaining and operating it; and whether the scarce resources it uses could produce a better return if put to work in some other way.

Local conditions might provide any number of answers to that question. In some countries and regions, where people live close together and renewable energy sources such as hydroelectric power promise a stable supply of electricity for the relatively long term, a national grid of the current type may prove viable. In others, as suggested above, it might be much more viable to have restricted power grids supplying urban areas and critical infrastructure, while rural hinterlands return to locally generated power or to non-electrified lifestyles. In still others, a power grid of any kind might prove to be economically impossible.

Under all these conditions, even the first, it makes sense for governments to encourage citizens and businesses to provide as much of their own energy needs as possible from locally available, diffuse energy sources such as sunlight and wind. (It probably needs to be said, given current notions about the innate malevolence of government, that whatever advantages might be gained from having people dependent on the electrical grid would be more than outweighed by the advantages of having a work force, and thus an economy, that can continue to function on at least a minimal level if the grid goes down.) Under all these conditions, it makes even more sense for individuals, families, and local communities to take such steps themselves, so that any interruption in electrical power from the grid - temporary or permanent - becomes an inconvenience rather than a threat to survival.

A case could easily be made that in the face of a future of very uncertain energy supplies, alternative off-grid sources of space heating, hot water, and other basic necessities are as important in a modern city as life jackets are in a boat. An even stronger case could be made that individuals and groups who hope to foster local resilience in the face of such a future probably ought to make such simple and readily available technologies as solar water heating, solar space heating, home-scale wind power, and the like central themes in their planning. Up to now, this has rarely happened, and the hold of the logic of abundance on our collective imagination is, I think, a good part of the reason why.

What makes this even more important is that the electrical power grid is only one example, if an important one, of a system that plays a crucial role in the way people live in the industrial world today, but that only makes sense in a world where energy is so abundant that even huge inefficiencies don't matter. It's hardly a difficult matter to think of others. To think in these terms, though, and to begin to explore more economical options for meeting individual and community needs in an age of scarce energy, is to venture into a nearly unexplored region where most of the rules that govern contemporary life are stood on their heads. We'll map out one of the more challenging parts of that territory in next week's post.


John Michael Greer, The Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA), has been active in the alternative spirituality movement for more than 25 years, and is the author of more than twenty books, including The Druidry Handbook (Weiser, 2006) and The Long Descent: A User's Guide to the End of the Industrial Age (New Society, 2008). He lives in Cumberland, Maryland.

Bill Totten

Monday, March 29, 2010

Your Gifts Better Be Edible

Guest post by Tim Nelson of the Outdoor Drum School

Club Orlov (March 03 2010)

Announcement: For a limited time, you can get a numbered, autographed copy of a limited edition collection of Dmitry's essays by making a donation to this blog.

Hi, I am Tim Nelson. I live out in the woods of northern Wisconsin, four hours north of Madison, and I run a mean drum circle. These are my credentials, upon which I base my opinions, mixed with more opinions, concerning Industry's Parting Gifts {*}.


I have been practicing primitive skills while living out in the woods all over the USA for twelve years, with a few breaks of homeless urban living, and the closest I have ever come to entering the System in my entire adult life was during the three months when I shared a one-room house with seven other people. I haven't had to survive a real famine yet, or a real collapse such as that of the Soviet Union, but I have experienced slow starvation, where there was not much to eat, nothing to do and nowhere to go for months on end.

This is not a point of pride, but I do count myself, and others like me, among those few modern Westerners who have been living a third-world lifestyle, and who could take a slow collapse in stride. I only use a few hand tools, I live as part of a clan, and I know from experience just how hard it really is to survive without access to stores.

In all my years of living on the fringe and practicing primitive skills, I have met few people who couldn't survive because they lack courage. But in a fast crash, there would simply be too many things stacked up against us. Not that we won't try, even if we must eventually succumb of starvation, violence, disease or heartbreak. If the crash continues to happen faster than we can adapt, then we won't stand a chance. If we don't have the time to start gardens and to learn to raise chickens, and the chance to make a few mistakes before we become good enough at it, then we are down to depending on dead animals to sustain ourselves. In a cold climate, if there isn't enough animal fat in the diet, people die. It's not possible to survive on just winter squash and potatoes. When the supplies run out, there better be dead animals to eat and I mean entire animals, internal organs included, not just the choice cuts.

I honestly can't see how jobs making tools that last a lifetime, or having these tools, would make that much of a difference, unless the crash is slow enough to sustain complex society for the duration. And just how likely is that? Is it likely enough to bet your life on it? Most of us can feel it in our bones that there are just too many of us. That's what it comes down to every time, and if you aren't ready to live on a starvation diet, work all day and remain efficient while listening to your kids complain of hunger, while suffering from diarrhea for weeks at a stretch, while nursing a few mildly infected cuts, while living in close quarters with a few other adults whom you grow to resent more and more with each passing day as they slowly lose their will to live - let me tell you, if you aren't ready for that sort of thing, then you are in for one hell of a rude awakening!

Am I pessimistic? You bet I am! But I am not selling any books meant to cheer you up. I am just living in woods with my clan, humbled by their honesty, checking hare snares, gathering firewood, eating imported food (while supplies last), sleeping in a wigwam, dreaming of my baby boy, crapping under the open sky, wondering where all the whitetail deer have disappeared to ...

Bill Totten

Carbon cuts have got us nowhere in tackling global warming

Bjorn Lomborg interviewed

by Tom Levitt (March 16 2010)

Sceptic or realist? Bjorn Lomborg speaks to Tom Levitt about why his ideas on tackling climate change will actually help to solve the crisis

Tom Levitt: Are you convinced that climate change is both happening and man-made?

Bjorn Lomborg: Definitely it is happening. I don't think anyone would say it is completely man-made - the UN says it is somewhere between fifty to 100 per cent man-made and I see no reason to disagree or not to accept that.

TL: Why are you still seen as a global warming sceptic?

BL: Unfortunately some of my opponents have somewhat successfully caricaturised me into someone who does not believe in global warming, which makes it easier to dismiss me.

I also called my book The Sceptical Environmentalist (Danish 1998, English 2001) and being sceptical is a good thing. It's what we should be doing in science but it has somehow being overtaken by how you characterise people in the global warming debate.

I am sceptical about how we approach global warming - the political and policy ways we tackle global warming - but I am not sceptical of the global warming science per se.

Listen: Bjorn Lomborg talks about his motivation for speaking out on global warming

TL: Why do you think your solutions will help tackle climate change?

BL: There are a lot of natural assumptions about what is the right policy on climate change and [one] assumption is that we should promise to cut a lot of carbon emissions. Well, we've been doing that for eighteen years since Rio and we've got nowhere.

I am just pointing out that a successful strategy is not the same thing as a popular strategy. It's the one that will actually work. I am proposing something I think will actually work rather than makes people applaud and say 'oh, he's a really nice guy'.

TL: But if we don't act now to cut carbon emissions then aren't we storing up worse problems for future generations?

BL: The UN climate panel estimates the average person in the developing world will be about 35 times richer by the end of the century, so we're talking about very rich people. If you look at a Bangladeshi today they are poor, but by 2100 they will be as rich as people in the developed world.

So the real question is, is it justice to focus on people who will be a lot richer in 100 years and help them ineffectively through climate policies or should we rather be focusing on poorer people that are here today?

Imagine very rich Chinese or Congolese in 2100 as we expect according to UN predictions, imagine them looking back and saying, 'how odd that all these well-meaning people cared so much about helping me that they cut carbon emissions so that I would have a slightly easier life here in 2100; yet they cared so little about my great grandfather and great-great grandfather who were suffering from the most easily curable infectious diseases and did nothing about that'.

If you really care about justice, especially towards poor people, well the poor people are here right now:

TL: What in your opinion is a safe level of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere?

BL: The safe level, if there was no consideration of cost, would be pre-industrial levels. But you can't talk about safe levels without talking about cost.

Traffic accidents are the second biggest killer worldwide. More than one million entirely man-made and preventable deaths. We could cut them all by cutting car speed limits to five miles per hour. But we are not going to do that because people would rather get home quicker and then kill some people. You don't want to say it that way but that is the effect of what we're deciding.

We don't have the discussion about safe levels of traffic speeds without talking about the downside of the debate. We need that discussion on climate. How much are the economic models telling us it will cost to cut back and how much for not cutting back?

TL: So what is your solution?

BL: The problem we are seeing with global warming is that everyone has been saying for the last eighteen years that we need to cut carbon emissions. Right now we are not succeeding because it costs too much and the benefits are not going to felt until 100 years from now.

So instead of trying to put expensive solar panels up that look good but don't achieve much we should be focused on trying to make solar panels much cheaper.

If we could make them cheaper than fossil fuels by say 2040 we would have solved global warming because everyone; the Chinese, Indians would buy them not because they are green but because they are cheaper.

My point is that instead of trying to cut [emissions] directly - which economically seems a poor strategy and politically seems infeasible - a much better idea is to invest in research and development. By making green energy cheaper in the long run you will end up cutting much much more carbon emissions.

TL: Why do so many NGOs and campaigners oppose your ideas?

BL: I think it's a testimony that there is a great power in images. WWF don't raise money to help dung beetles; they raise it from Pandas and other cute animals.

This doesn't mean that they don't necessarily know that there are a lot of other issues that are perhaps more worthy but these are the places you can raise money. This is perhaps not politically correct but if it would do more good, doesn't it need to be said by someone?

Listen: Bjorn Lomborg on why sea-level rises are not the disaster that many are suggesting:

TL: What should NGOs be campaigning on?

BL: We shouldn't blame Greenpeace for focusing on green stuff and not on poor people. It's about what democracies should make of all that noise in trying to make good judgements.

They have caused the debate to focus on this one issue, namely to cut carbon emissions right now. The evidence indicates that that does not work. Economically, it's the least effective way of cutting carbon emissions.

They have had a lot of success in getting that on the table but virtually zero success in getting it implemented. They could have a lot more success focusing on clean energy research and development and achieve much more.

TL: Do you believe that the current public scepticism about climate change is a result of alarmism?

BL: It's very much of a consequence of the alarmism. I've always found it curious that well-meaning people think that you can long-term work with alarmism.

We are seeing the entirely predictable outcome of five to fifteen years of scare campaigns that we've gone from being over-worried to being under-worried now.

I understand why people like Gore have thought this is a huge issue: 'people aren't listening; I have to ramp up the fear factor'. But it only works for a short while.

If you scare the pants off people they eventually figure it out. Given that this is a fifty to 100 year problem it is just not going to work with fear.

TL: Is your work feeding global warming sceptics rather than helping tackle the problem?

BL: I have no doubt that many people would say I am a hindrance but that is because you are seeing it in too short a time-span.

Am I a hindrance to getting more than Kyoto passed? Undoubtedly. But that is because it is not going to get it passed, and even if it were it wouldn't get implemented.

There are a lot of people I am arguing against that I am actually much more on their side than they realise. They are battling to do something about climate change but through unrealistic and ultimately futile policies.

I am trying to look out for [George] Monbiot's and others' better interest because I am coming up with suggestions that would do many of the things they want but much cheaper and more effectively.

TL: What about fears about runaway climate change if we do not tackle the problem today?

BL: I don't think we have any good evidence for that but it's definitely a possibility and to that extent if you want to talk about a solution that will work in the next ten to fifteen years then geoengineering is the only answer.

If you talk about a window of opportunity, the only one now is to throw a lot of money and gain very little. Just look at the German attempts on solar panels. Their finance ministry is estimating that they'll be spending about $120 billion euros till 2010 in commitments to the solar panels. The net effect will be to postpone global warming by about one hour.

TL: Do you value nature and the future of the earth?

BL: Yes but when we talk about what political choices we are making it has to be something you can get people to value and not something important in and of itself but which no-one really cares about.

If you start asking, is this a bad thing for the earth? Well I am not really sure if this is bad for the rest of the ecological system.

One way to measure this is to look at the amount of biomass or living stuff on the planet. It's a crude measurement but if you don't pass a value judgement on whether, for example are penguins nicer than algae, then pretty much all the models for global warming indicate that we're going to see a lot more biomass, in the order of sixty to 100 per cent more by the end of the century. Is that bad?

It might be bad for human ecological valuations because we're going to have fewer polar bears and problems with our wetlands, but is it bad for nature?

Useful link:

Bill Totten

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bullets from the Drug War

by Dmitry Orlov

ClubOrlov (March 24 2010)

[One-year update: I posted this a year ago. Right now, the Secretary of State, the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other American top brass are in Mexico City trying to spin this. Let's see if any of what I said a year ago needs to be revisited.]

* The US has lost the "War on Drugs"

* The losing side is usually not the one to decide when a fight is over or how it ends

* Unlike other recent defeats, this lost war is a defeat followed by an invasion

* Mexico is the natural staging area for the invasion (inconvenient though it is for the Mexicans)

* New franchises are being set up to service the North American drug market (which is the biggest in the world)

* The CIA has to eat, and all they know how to do competently is run guns and drugs and control thugs; they get a seat at the table

* The narcs have to eat too, and all they are trained to do is deal (with) drugs; they get a seat at the table too

* As the federales grow weak in the US and Mexico, the battle lines will advance north of the border, leaving Mexico a quiet and largely intact backwater

* This is an inter-US conflict, because Americans are the most avid consumers, sellers, and prosecutors of drugs

* Life in the USA gives everyone a pain that is for many people simply not survivable without drugs: either alcohol, pharmaceuticals or illegal drugs

* Illegal drugs are far more cost-effective than either pharma or alcohol - government-licensed industries which are either excessively lucrative or taxed heavily

* As Americans give up hope, they will need to self-medicate in ever-larger numbers

* They will be far more able financially to afford illegal drugs than either pharma or alcohol.

* Illegal drugs (and moonshine) are two very large post-collapse enrepreneurial opportunities within the fUSA/бСША [Orlov 2005]

* This is no longer a war against drugs; it is now a contest between alternative drug distribution systems

* One alternative is a centralized, paramilitary organization run by CIA remnants, former military, and former police

* Another alternative is ethnic mafias, which will diversify into many other kinds of trade.

* The third, nautrally most cost-effective alternative will be provided by informal, local distribution networks based on barter, which will be all that is left once the dust settles

* The downside of all this is that it will be hard to find anyone sober enough to operate a light switch

* The upside to that is that the national electrical grid goes away, so there will be very little demand for competent light switch operators

Bill Totten

The Civic State

Re-moralise the market, Re-localise the economy, Re-capitalise the poor

by Phillip Blond (October 03 2009)

It is now clear that we are at one of those epoch-changing moments in British political history. Just as the 'Winter of Discontent' in 1978/1979 marked a paradigm shift, an utter and complete reversal of the pre-existing order and the arrival of something new, something revolutionary and something transformative - so the present unprecedented debt crisis of 2008/2009 is doing the same.

1979 brought an end to the welfare state, 2009 will see an end to the market state and the next election will, with the election of a conservative government, usher in the birth of the civic state.

We know what was wrong and what was right with the welfare state, it is right to provide a floor through which people cannot fall, it is right to have a safety net which catches and supports people who for reasons of health, wealth or market fluctuation cannot sustain themselves in the interim. Finally it is right to secure the general well being of all through a universal account of the common good and the necessity of full participation in it.

However we also know that welfare is a far more effective ceiling than it is an adequate floor - it traps as many as it helps and condemns therefore a whole class to permanent poverty and dependence. Furthermore welfare dis-empowers its recipients - the philosophy of entitlement destroys consciousness of mutuality and it fragments working class culture and permanently disables the associative drive that alone can make communities and foster the development of wealth and independence. Finally welfarism was the Faustian bargain that the left struck with monopoly capitalism, it ensures a kind of permanent ascendancy of the middle over the working class and creates an antagonistic feudal structure - where any genuine extension of power and ownership to the poor is resisted by the liberal middle classes who fear mostly for their own status and their sole assumed inherited right to social mobility. (Just look at British schooling)

Similarly we know what is right and what is wrong with the market state. Clearly the market is a more effective and efficient mechanism for the distribution of many resources than the state. Evidently if one can enter the market place and if one has something to trade - the market creates wealth, prosperity and independence. Finally there is the manifest good of liberty and unless this has an economic reality - one would exist under the permanent subjugation of the state, or the private cartel. Yet we also know what is wrong with the market state - too often it replaces a public monopoly with a private cartel. In the name of breaking up the state too little attempt was applied to breaking up the market. Under the dispensation of the market state, private replaced public monopoly and market entry was effectively and progressively denied to newcomers. The majority of Britons having being denied entry to the market lost any access to investment capital. Thus the ability to transform one's life or situation steadily declined as wealth flowed upwards rather than downwards and a new oligarchical class, asset rich and leverage keen, assumed market freedom was synonymous with their complete ascendancy. Market fundamentalism abandoned the fundamentals of markets. Prudent Chancellors promised no more boom and bust, the state sanctioned monopoly capitalism and sat happy on the tax receipts of unrestrained global gambling. As Labour stoked the engine of inequality - it abandoned the rest of the economy for the receipts of city speculation and the re-distributive power of welfarism. Thus the market and the welfare state merged into one as they both colluded in a system whose bankruptcy is now ongoing and self-evident.

The welfare state and the market state are now two defunct and mutually supporting failures. The real merit of the current conservative renaissance has in some way escaped notice. Those on the now bankrupt left argue that the new Toryism is but a cover for Thatcherism Mark II, while those on the bankrupt right secretly agree and seem to want nothing more than a return to monopoly capitalism and the dominance of their kind of people.

Modern conservatism rejects both dispensations as it seeks to replace the welfare and the market state with the civic state. The civic state aims to blend the benefits of welfare and the market mechanism not by favouring one or the other but by exceeding both. The Conservative's new civic settlement privileges the associative above the alienated, the responsible over the self-serving and (yes I know this is shocking) the communal over the individual. As such Cameron's political agenda is far more radical, far-reaching and transformative than the majority suspect. It offers a way out of the failed class based politics of the past, it would offer through expanded notions of ownership a way to escape the conflicts between capital and labour. It could inveigh with equal vigour against the public monopolies of state and the private cartels of the market - in order to break down the barriers to market participation and individual capitalisation. Finally it could undo the ruinous consequences of state sanctioned multi-culturalism and the lazy moral and social relativism of the liberal middle class. By injecting a new moral purpose and political culture into Britain - Cameron could and should fashion a new compact of mutual responsibility and binding social ethic. As such modern Conservatism could be the foundation of a new commonwealth and a new and better way to live our lives.

But if politics is real, if it intervenes and makes a difference then progressive conservatism must tell us how it gets there from here. How does Cameron's conservatism realise the civic state that is so needed and so desired.

In the face of the current collapse of credit engendered and state sanctioned monopoly capitalism, the most urgent need is for Conservatives to craft an entirely new political economy and a refigured paradigm for markets and trade. This new progressive conservative economics would pursue three interrelated goals: the re-moralisation of the market, re-localisation of the economy, and re-capitalisation of the poor.

Only markets located in and shaped by a moral architecture are sustainable, as Adam Smith understood. Without law, morality, custom and conscience we would have anarchy in place of exchange, and extortion in place of contract. Economic output needs to pass a series of social tests, and the Conservatives need to tie economic policy to the social outcomes they favour. For Conservatives it must be the extension of wealth, assets and the benefits of ecological and social well being to all. Freedom from the monopoly dominance of state bureaucracy and market power would allow independence for the formation of community and autonomy and a rebalancing of the demands of work, family and childcare.

Second, more attention needs to be paid to the health of local economies. Labour's 'market state', subservient to big business, has generated a nation of 'clone towns' and 'ghost towns' where retail outlets are either identical or absent. Blair and Brown's worship of monopoly markets produced the paradox of competition without competitors, an almost exclusive favouring of the big box retail model, and the permanent dominance of supermarkets. Small business are squeezed out by the monopolistic power of trans-national enterprises, and the barriers to market entry that their economies of scale represent. Small wonder that the UK has one of the lowest percentages of small and medium businesses in the OECD.

But small and medium businesses are how millions ordinary people own and secure the wealth for themselves and their families. The present market dispossesses them and re-categorizes them as permanent members of the low-waged shop serving, rather than shop owning, class. By toughening planning laws and reforming local tax bases, Conservatives can restore local economies and local capital, so that the benefits of trade flow downwards to all participants rather than upwards to the tax-avoiding off-shore aristocracy of Brown's Britain.

The third goal of modern, progressive conservatism is the re-capitalisation of the poor. Under the reign of the monopoly market, the poor have been wholly dispossessed. In 1976 the bottom fifty per cent of the population owned twelve per cent of the nation's liquid wealth; by 2003 they had just one per cent. In the same period, the share enjoyed by the top ten per cent rose from 57% to 71%. Even when property is included, the bottom half of the population still only owns just seven per cent of the country's wealth. Savings rates have declined to levels last seen in the 1940s, wages at the bottom have risen slowest, and the poverty gap - both relative and absolute - has widened while the elite lectured us on the universal benefits of global capitalism. A new conservative agenda of ownership extension and security is therefore urgently required. If the most vulnerable victims of Labour's debt-financed depression are to be saved from re-proletarianisation and permanent subjection to an inadequate welfare state, a new popular philosophy of asset extension and stakeholder equity capitalism is required.

To conclude, the new conservatism is accused of being shallow or extreme - of being vapid or a sinister covert Thatcherism of the most insidious intent. It can't be both - since in fact it is neither. On the contrary it is something new and unrecognised - it represents a deep and profound critique of the pre-existing extremes and a restoration of something close to the real heart of Britain : an organic conservatism that cares for all.

Bill Totten

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Rise of the red Tories

The crisis is an opportunity to sweep away the rotten postwar settlement of British politics. Labour is moribund. But David Cameron has a chance to develop a "red Tory" communitarianism, socially conservative but sceptical of neoliberal economics

by Phillip Blond (February 28 2009)

We live in a time of crisis. In such times humans retreat to safety, and build bulwarks against the future. The financial emergency is having this effect on Britain's governing class. Labour has withdrawn to the safety of the sheltering state, and the comforts of its first income tax rise since the mid-1970s. Meanwhile, the Conservatives appear to be proposing a repeat of Thatcherite austerity in the face of economic catastrophe. But this crisis is more than an ordinary recession. It represents a disintegration of the idea of the "market state" and makes obsolete the political consensus of the last thirty years. A fresh analysis of the ruling ideological orthodoxy is required. Certainly, this new thinking isn't going to come from the left. New Labour is intellectually dead, while Gordon Brown promises an indebted return to a now-defunct status quo. But, in truth, Brown's reconversion from post-socialist free marketeer to state interventionist is only plausible because the Conservatives have failed to develop an alternative political economy that explains the crisis, and charts a different future free of the now bankrupt orthodoxies. Until this is achieved, Brown's claim that the Conservatives are the "do nothing" party has real traction, and makes the result of the next election far from assured.

On a deeper level, the present moment is a challenge to conservatism itself. The Conservatives are still viewed as the party of the free market, an idea that has collapsed into monopoly finance, big business and deregulated global capitalism. Tory social thinking has genuinely evolved, but the party's economic thinking is still poised between repetition and renewal. As late as August 2008 David Cameron said: "I'm going to be as radical a social reformer as Margaret Thatcher was an economic reformer", and that "radical social reform is what this country needs right now". He is right about society, but against the backdrop of collapsing markets and without a macro-economic alternative, Thatcherite economics has been wrongfooted by events.

Thankfully, conservatism is a rich and varied tradition, and re-examinating its history can provide the answers Cameron needs. These ideas are grounded in a conservatism with deeper roots than 1979, and whose branches extend into the tradition of communitarian civic conservatism - or red Toryism. This is more radical than anything emerging from today's left and should be the way forward for the right. The opportunity to restore a radical, and progressive, Toryism must not be lost to the economic downturn.

To date, neither political party has offered a plausible analysis of the origins of the meltdown. Brown denies all responsibility while George Osborne and Cameron hold him wholly and uniquely culpable. Given that no reasonable person can think either position is tenable, both parties have surrendered the intellectual high ground. But the financial crash does provide an opportunity to think through a renewed "one nation" conservatism. Cameron says that Disraeli is his favourite Tory. Disraeli attempted to ameliorate a society destroyed by the rampant industrialisation of nineteenth-century capitalism, whereas Cameron's chief target (until now, at least) has been a twentieth century creation: a disempowering, dysfunctional state. Nineteenth-century Tories criticised liberal capitalism, while twentieth century conservatives condemned the illiberal consequences of statism. But 21st-century Tories, especially against the backdrop of the current crisis, must inveigh against both in favour of the very thing that suffers most at the hands of the unrestrained market and the unlimited state: society itself. And conservatism, so imagined, could reject the politics of class - of "our people" - and the interests of the already wealthy in favour of a national politics that serves the needs of all.

It was Edmund Burke who famously spoke of conservative radicalism being founded on the little platoons of family and civic association. "To love the little platoon we belong to in society is the first principle of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country and to mankind." This is the true spirit of Cameroonian conservatism and, taken seriously, it represents a break with the monopoly logic of the market state. But to recognise this innovation for what it is we have to contrast the potential of Cameron's civic communitarian conservatism with what it aims to transcend: the corrupt and rotten postwar settlement of British politics.

Since 1945 Britain has experienced two governing paradigms. The first - state sponsored Keynesianism - extended from 1945 through the oil shocks of 1973 to its death in 1979. The second - neoliberalism - ran from then until the global debt crisis of 2007 and 2008. It is often assumed that these models represent genuinely different and mutually exclusive worldviews - yet, in spite of very real distinctions, they share important philosophical and economic assumptions, and both attracted cross-party support. Look at the society we have become: we are a bi-polar nation, a bureaucratic, centralised state that presides dysfunctionally over an increasingly fragmented, disempowered and isolated citizenry. The intermediary structures of a civilised life have been eliminated, and with them the Burkean ideal of a civic, religious, political or social middle, as the state and the market accrue power at the expense of ordinary people. But if both twentieth-century socialism and conservatism have converged on the market state, they have done so by obeying the insistent dictates of modernity itself. And modernity is nothing if not liberal.

To understand why the legacy of liberalism produces both state authoritarianism and atomised individualism, we must first note that philosophical liberalism was born out of an eighteenth-century critique of absolute monarchies. It sought to protect the rights of the individual from arbitrary abuse by the king. But so extreme did the defence of individual liberty become that each man was obliged to refuse the dictates of any other - for that would be simply to replace rule by one man's will (the king) with rule by another. As such, the most extreme form of liberal autonomy requires the repudiation of society - for human community influences and shapes the individual before any sovereign capacity to choose has taken shape. The liberal idea of man is then, first of all, an idea of nothing: not family, not ethnicity, not society or nation. But real people are formed by the society of others. For liberals, autonomy must precede everything else, but such a "self" is a fiction. A society so constituted would be one that required a powerful central authority to manage the perpetual conflict between self-interested individuals. So the unanticipated bequest of an unlimited liberalism is that most illiberal of entities: the controlling state. Even the most "communitarian" liberals - from philosophers like Michael Sandel to politicians like Ed Miliband - cannot promote community without big government. They see the state as the answer, when it usually makes the problem worse. The legacy of liberal individualism is the restoration of the very absolutism that it originally sought to overthrow - a philosophical tragedy that can be summed up as: "the king is dead, long live the king".

Conservatives who believe in value, culture and truth should therefore think twice before calling themselves liberal. Liberalism can only be a virtue when linked to a politics of the common good, a problem which the best liberals - Mill, Adam Smith and Gladstone - recognised but could never resolve. A vision of the good life cannot come from liberal principles. Unlimited liberalism produces atomised relativism and state absolutism. Insofar as both the Tories and Labour have been contaminated by liberalism, the true left-right legacy of the postwar period is, unsurprisingly, a centralised authoritarian state and a fragmented and disassociative society.

In respect of liberalism, the left has twice sinned. It has produced a managerial state that has destroyed the old mutualism of the working class. And it has destroyed both middle and working class morality; in the name of permissiveness, it commodified sex and the body, creating the licentious empty pleasure-seeking drones of the late 1960s. This left-libertarianism repudiated all ties of kith and kin and, though it was utopian in aspiration, its true legacy has been the dystopia of divided families, unparented children and the lazy moral relativism of the liberal professional elite. In this sense, the left was right wing years before the right, and it created the conditions for universal self-interest under Thatcher. The current political consensus is left-liberal in culture and right-liberal in economics. And this is precisely the wrong place to be.

In addition to this liberal legacy in Britain, two further pejorative factors persist: class and monopoly. After the second world war, the need for massive reconstruction enabled European countries to pool the interests of state, capital and waged workers. But in Britain few parties saw the need to abandon their sectional interests. The unions were unwilling to discard free collective bargaining and British postwar industrial relations were frozen in a state of unresolved class conflict. When Keynesianism began to break down, the workers responded simply by asking for more and more of less and less. Thatcher's anti-union legislation did eventually curtail union power. But British management was shortsighted too - as Tony Benn once put it, if they made a profit they thought there was no need to invest, and if they didn't there was no money available to invest anyway.

Thatcher, in turn, declared this bankrupt British variant of corporatism dead. But she overshot in the other direction. Instead of holding the middle ground, the state was deployed in favour of the owner and entrepreneur. The benefits of Conservative liberalisation in the late 1980s accrued mainly to the top. The middle class saw its rise in income partly offset by more debt, while the poor sank relatively lower. New Labour did little to reverse these trends. In short, Britain remains stuck with a contested, class-based capitalism that has done great damage to British life.

The final feature of postwar British politics is the maintenance and escalation of monopoly. The fact that the state has established monopolies is self-evident. Nationalisation was a failure on its own terms, even more so because working people were never enfranchised by it. It created remote new behemoths, with popular disengagement from the levers of power. J B Priestley, socialist doyen of the intellectual class, wrote in 1949 that "the area of our lives under our own control is shrinking rapidly ... politicians and senior civil servants are beginning to decide how the rest of us shall live".

Thatcherite neoliberalism was determined to terminate all these state monopolies. Instead, markets would become the vehicle by which efficiency was maximised and prosperity attained. But the free market fundamentalists often did little more than create new monopolies of capital to replace those of the state. It was not until New Labour enacted the 1998 Competition Act that Britain obtained its first effective anti-monopoly, pro-competition regime. And, gallingly for Conservatives, the most effective protection the British economy gained against restrictive practices during the Thatcher and Major years came from Brussels competition legislation.

The financial crisis is just the latest example of the collapse of markets into what I call "modal monopoly". By this I mean a model of monopoly that extends beyond whether an individual company has undue market influence to whether a certain mode or way of doing business constitutes a cartel. For example, the great housing crash is primarily the result of the absorption of all local, regional and national systems of credit into one form of global credit. The world's financial system lacked the firewalls needed to separate local from national and international capital. Unduly reliant on one source of credit supply, the residential asset market collapsed when this supply was compromised. The housing bubble was just the last and most notable piece of neoliberal speculation to burst. In the meantime, the big banks were dedicated to generating price fluctuations and asset bubbles and then exiting before their demise. This strategy of market manipulation deployed enormous amounts of capital in speculative arbitrage (just five US banks had control of over $4 trillion of assets in 2007). This market was far from the thousands of small investors envisaged by classical free-market liberals.

Whether by private or public means, the mark of recent decades has been defined by this three-part story: the liberal consensus, the persistence of class, and the triumph of monopoly and speculation in the name of free trade and modernisation. Against this, Cameron's nascent civic conservatism would be the first radical break with all of the aforementioned ills. It is the fulcrum around which the renewal of Britain could turn. But he has his work cut out. The erosion of our society extends way beyond the dysfunction of the underclass. A study last year by Danny Dorling showed how normal anomie has become, concluding that "even the weakest communities in 1971 were stronger than any community now". This is, indeed, a broken society.

British conservatism must not, however, repeat the American error of preaching "morals plus the market" while ignoring the fact that economic liberalism has often been a cover for monopoly capitalism and is therefore just as socially damaging as left-wing statism. Equally, if Conservatives are to take power from the market state and give it to the people, they must develop a full-blooded "new localism" which works to empower communities and builds new, vibrant local economies that can uphold the party's civic vision.

How will this happen? What must Cameron's priorities be, and how can he begin to build a new communitarian Tory settlement? He could start with four tasks: relocalising our banking system, developing local capital, helping normal people gain new assets and breaking up big business monopolies. The first priority must be a banking system that works. Britain's banks no longer provide credit because they are crippled by GBP 150 billion of constantly devaluing mortgage securities. To fix this, we need a new, parallel banking system. To get one, Cameron should announce a reconfiguration of the Post Office to extend its currently limited retail banking function, and reverse Peter Mandelson's privatisation plan. The Post Office is universally popular, national, tied to the local community and, crucially, entirely free of bad debt secured on declining assets. Other banks would lend to it but, more importantly with interest rates approaching zero, the Bank of England could use at minimal cost "quantitative easing" (printing money) to underwrite both business and mortgage credit. Using the Post Office would introduce some public sector competition. Yes, the state's balance sheet would expand, but at nominal cost. If it helps to arrest the fall in asset prices (as a restoration of lending would) any public money spent would secure money already invested in Brown's bailout, and be far more effective than any fiscal stimulus. This new Post Office could genuinely restimulate the economy by lending at small margins, and by being involved in local investment rather than global speculation. It could even be localised rather than privatised, giving it back to communities, to extend investment and increase prosperity in every neighbourhood.

Having announced this plan, Cameron should move forward by helping local communities to take ownership of their assets too. He should set up a new class of local investment trusts, dedicated to investing in the cities and villages that they serve. These trusts could become new centres of local finance; rather than investing in Iceland, local councils and other bodies should be compelled to deposit public funds with them, increasing the local capital base. Likewise the Tory's proposed new "social fund" could act within the trusts in deprived areas to offer micro-finance to people without assets. This would create a new, but distinctly conservative form of asset based welfare leading eventually to claimant independence. The trusts would own the local Post Office network, and each trust could work to invest and develop local economies. Instead of the wasteful regional development agencies (RDAs), which spend over a third of their ten to twelve billion GBP budget on administration and help less than one per cent of all small businesses, this could create a genuinely local form of venture capital. The regional trust network, meanwhile, could facilitate new guilds and cooperatives. With a common finance centre, and the use of modern technology, these could do anything from research and development to export drives to running local schools and hospitals. It would put real energy behind the "conservative co-operative movement" that David Cameron launched in 2007.

The next step would be to ensure local government procurement is devolved to local bodies. A 2005 study by the New Economics Foundation showed that every pound spent with a local supplier generated GBP 1.76 locally, while every pound spent with outside suppliers generated only 36p. A ten per cent increase in the amount of council money spent locally would mean an injection of GBP 5.6 billion into local economies. And if the trusts were also able to issue bonds, this could restore something like the power of the nineteenth century municipalities. (Residents could even participate in mass versions of Dragon's Den to decide on the investments to be made.) So conceived, the localities could help to reverse the dreadful centralising pull of London - which sucks all the talent and money from the rest of the country into the overheated south east, leaving everywhere else a mere backwater.

The next step for conservatism is to reverse the old politics of class, by restoring capital to labour. Cameron should reject the Marxist narrative that paints Tories as wedded to a disenfranchised proletariat. On the contrary: conservatives believe in the extension of wealth and prosperity to all. Yet the great disaster of the last thirty years is the destruction of the capital, assets and savings of the poor: in Britain, the share of wealth (excluding property) enjoyed by the bottom fifty per cent of the population fell from twelve per cent in 1976 to just one per cent in 2003. A radical communitarian civic conservatism must be committed to reversing this trend. This requires a considered rejection of social mobility, meritocracy and the statist and neoliberal language of opportunity, education and choice. Why? Because this language says that unless you are in the golden circle of the top ten to fifteen per cent of top-rate taxpayers you are essentially insecure, unsuccessful and without merit or value. The Tories should leave this bankrupt ideology to New Labour and embrace instead an organic communitarianism that graces every level of society with merit, security, wealth and worth.

Such ideas are not without a past. The idea of a Tory distributist state is not new; indeed the phrase "property owning democracy" was first coined in 1923 by the Conservative MP Noel Skelton. Anthony Eden used it too in his celebrated speech to the 1946 party conference, and the philosophy enthused both Churchill and Thatcher. Recent Tory proposals to exempt the savings of the low paid and pensioners from tax are exactly the path to follow. They should go further, arguing for far-reaching extensions to employee share ownership, workers' buyouts and the promotion of equity guilds and asset co-operatives. This would bypass the trade unions as institutions permanently wedded to welfare serfdom, and wed ownership to the earning of wages.

The final piece of the puzzle is for Conservatives to break with big business. We must end a model in which competition is reduced to a cartel of vast corporations maximising profits by discouraging competitors and minimising wages by joining with the liberal left to encourage mass immigration. A covert alliance between the liberal left and liberal right has destroyed incomes and identity at the bottom of the scale.

The Tories must take on the unrecognised private sector monopolies that hide on every British high street. According to figures from IGD research in May 2008, the British grocery market was worth GBP 134.8 billion. Of this, the big four supermarkets took GBP 98.6 billion, a 73 per cent market share. In the name of competition we have happily handed over our high streets to Tesco, strangling local commerce. The more that price is our only measure of competition, the bigger the economies of scale required to compete, and the higher the barriers to entry for small local competitors. Our fishmongers, butchers, and bakers are driven out - converting a whole class of owner occupiers into low wage earners, employed by supermarkets. And, once you have a monopoly, it demands that other monopolies serve it, just as Tesco demands economies of scale from its suppliers, driving out small and medium-size farms. It is perfectly clear that the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission are not up to the job. Cameron should revamp them and announce his intention to break up all the big-box retailers. And, when he is finished, he should take a hard look at mobile phone companies. Breaking up supermarkets won't change the world: but, as they say, every little helps.

Taken together, such policies will help conservatives create a transformative red Tory manifesto. They would build a new economic and capital base that decentralises power and extends wealth and also makes a final break with the logic of monopoly and debt-financed capitalism. In doing so, Cameron can finally bring together the Tory tradition of Disraeli's reform of capitalism with his own entirely justified desire to be a "social radical". It would render the left superfluous and redefine Marx as just another dispossessor of the poor. Moreover it would recover the insights of 19th-century conservatives like Cobbett, Ruskin and Carlyle, ally them with Tawney and the distributism of Chesterton, Belloc and Skelton - all of who knew that, without something to trade, one cannot enter a market. Making markets truly free prevents corporate domination, but also extends ownership, prosperity and innovation across the whole of society. The task of recapitalising the poor is, therefore, the task of making the market work for the many, not the few. David Cameron doesn't need to do any of this to win the next election. But, to be a great prime minister, he does.


Phillip Blond is the director of the progressive conservatism project at the think tank Demos

Bill Totten

The Broken Society

by David Brooks, Op-Ed Columnist

The New York Times (March 19 2010)

The United States is becoming a broken society. The public has contempt for the political class. Public debt is piling up at an astonishing and unrelenting pace. Middle-class wages have lagged. Unemployment will remain high. It will take years to fully recover from the financial crisis.

This confluence of crises has produced a surge in vehement libertarianism. People are disgusted with Washington. The Tea Party movement rallies against big government, big business and the ruling class in general. Even beyond their ranks, there is a corrosive cynicism about public action.

But there is another way to respond to these problems that is more communitarian and less libertarian. This alternative has been explored most fully by the British writer Phillip Blond.

He grew up in working-class Liverpool. "I lived in the city when it was being eviscerated", he told The New Statesman. "It was a beautiful city, one of the few in Britain to have a genuinely indigenous culture. And that whole way of life was destroyed." Industry died. Political power was centralized in London.

Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations. First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations.

Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.

The two revolutions talked the language of individual freedom, but they perversely ended up creating greater centralization. They created an atomized, segmented society and then the state had to come in and attempt to repair the damage.

The free-market revolution didn't create the pluralistic decentralized economy. It created a centralized financial monoculture, which requires a gigantic government to audit its activities. The effort to liberate individuals from repressive social constraints didn't produce a flowering of freedom; it weakened families, increased out-of-wedlock births and turned neighbors into strangers. In Britain, you get a country with rising crime, and, as a result, four million security cameras.

In a much-discussed essay in Prospect magazine in February 2009, Blond wrote, "Look at the society we have become: We are a bi-polar nation, a bureaucratic, centralised state that presides dysfunctionally over an increasingly fragmented, disempowered and isolated citizenry" {1}. In a separate essay, he added, "The welfare state and the market state are now two defunct and mutually supporting failures" {2}.

The task today, he argued in a recent speech, is to revive the sector that the two revolutions have mutually decimated: "The project of radical transformative conservatism is nothing less than the restoration and creation of human association, and the elevation of society and the people who form it to their proper central and sovereign station".

Economically, Blond lays out three big areas of reform: remoralize the market, relocalize the economy and recapitalize the poor. This would mean passing zoning legislation to give small shopkeepers a shot against the retail giants, reducing barriers to entry for new businesses, revitalizing local banks, encouraging employee share ownership, setting up local capital funds so community associations could invest in local enterprises, rewarding savings, cutting regulations that socialize risk and privatize profit, and reducing the subsidies that flow from big government and big business.

To create a civil state, Blond would reduce the power of senior government officials and widen the discretion of front-line civil servants, the people actually working in neighborhoods. He would decentralize power, giving more budget authority to the smallest units of government. He would funnel more services through charities. He would increase investments in infrastructure, so that more places could be vibrant economic hubs. He would rebuild the "village college" so that universities would be more intertwined with the towns around them.

Essentially, Blond would take a political culture that has been oriented around individual choice and replace it with one oriented around relationships and associations. His ideas have made a big splash in Britain over the past year. His think tank, ResPublica, is influential with the Conservative Party. His book, Red Tory, is coming out soon. He's on a small US speaking tour, appearing at Georgetown's Tocqueville Forum Friday and at Villanova on Monday.

Britain is always going to be more hospitable to communitarian politics than the more libertarian US. But people are social creatures here, too. American society has been atomized by the twin revolutions here, too. This country, too, needs a fresh political wind. America, too, is suffering a devastating crisis of authority. The only way to restore trust is from the local community on up.





David Brooks's Op-Ed column in The New York Times started in September 2003. He has been a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, a contributing editor at Newsweek and the Atlantic Monthly, and he is currently a commentator on "The Newshour with Jim Lehrer." He is the author of Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (2001) and On Paradise Drive : How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense (2005), both published by Simon & Schuster.

Bill Totten

Friday, March 26, 2010

Judea declares War on Obama

by Gilad Atzmon (March 25 2010)

Last week we read about AIPAC's assault against President Obama. It was reported that the Jewish Lobby in America took its gloves off. In the open, AIPAC decided to mount pressure on the American leadership and President Obama in particular.

"The Obama administration's recent statements regarding the US relationship with Israel is a matter of serious concern", AIPAC said in its statement. AIPAC's reaction came after a weekend of US recriminations and demands, following Israel's provocative announcement that it had given preliminary approval for the construction of 1,600 more apartments for Jewish settlers in a Palestinian neighborhood of eastern occupied Jerusalem. Unlike President Obama, who seems to be prioritizing issues like the health care reform bill and United States economic recovery, AIPAC claims to know what America's 'real' interests are and how to achieve them. "The administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel, with whom the United States shares basic, fundamental, and strategic interests". AIPAC also suggested that the American leadership should concentrate on a confrontation with Iran. "The escalated rhetoric of recent days only serves as a distraction from the substantive work that needs to be done with regard to the urgent issue of Iran's rapid pursuit of nuclear weapons".

Jewish lobbies certainly do not hold back when it comes to pressuring states, world leaders and even super powers. AIPAC's behavior last week reminded me of the Jewish declaration of war against Nazi Germany in 1933.

Not many people are aware that in March 1933, long before Hitler became the undisputed leader of Germany and began restricting the rights of German Jews, the American Jewish Congress announced a massive protest at Madison Square Gardens and called for an American boycott of German goods.

I obviously do not think that Obama has anything in common with Hitler. There is not much the two leaders share in terms of their philosophy, their attitude to humanism or their view of world peace {1}. However, it is hard to turn a blind eye to the similarity between AIPAC's behaviour last week and the Jewish American Congress' conduct in 1933.

On March 24 1933, The Daily Express (London) published an article announcing that the Jews had already launched their boycott against Germany and threatened a forthcoming "holy war" {3}. The Express urged Jews everywhere to boycott German goods and demonstrate actively against German economic interests.

The Express said that Germany was "now confronted with an international boycott of its trade, its finances, and its industry ... in London, New York, Paris and Warsaw, Jewish businessmen are united to go on an economic crusade".

Jewish texts tend to glaze over the fact that Hitler's March 28 1933, ordering a boycott against Jewish stores and goods, was an escalation in direct response to the declaration of war on Germany by the worldwide Jewish leadership. In fact the only Jewish enclave that is willing to admit the historical order of events that led to the destruction of European Jewry, is the anti Zionist Jewish Orthodox sect known as the Torah Jews {4}. I assume that, similarly, once things turn sour between America and its Jewish lobbies, Jewish tribal ideologists will be the first to forget that it was the Jewish American establishment that worked so hard to nourish the inevitable animosity.

If you wonder why Jewish politicians repeat exactly the same mistakes time after time, the answer is easy. Jews do not know their Jewish history for there is no Jewish history {5}.

As it happens, Jewish history is a set of fables tied clumsily together to portray a false image of a victorious narrative. Jewish history is a set of blind spots bundled together by myth, fantasies and lies, in order to present the illusion of a coherent past narrative and a vague semblance of chronology. Israeli professor Shlomo Sand {6} taught us that the Zionists, and to a certain extent their Bundist {7} rivals, were far from being shy of "inventing" the history of their Jewish nationhood. But it goes further, even the holocaust, which could be a major illuminating corner in Jewish reflection, was transformed into a rigid chapter that perpetuated blindness. As a vision of the past, it is there to hide and to disguise, rather than to reveal and inform. In a Jewish history book, you won't read about 'Judea's declaration of war against Nazi Germany'. In Jewish history texts chronology always launches when Jewish suffering begins. Jewish history transcends itself beyond the notion of causality. It persuades us that persecution of Jews occurs out of nowhere. The Jewish historical text avoids the necessary questions as to why hostility evolves time after time, why do Jews buy so many enemies and so easily?

AIPAC leaders are clearly repeating the grave mistakes of their forebearers: the American Jewish Congress. They do not learn from their history, for there is not a single Jewish history text to learn from. Instead of a history text, Jews have the Holocaust, an event that matured into a religion.

The holocaust religion is obviously Judeo-centric to the bone. It defines the Jewish Raison d'etre. For the Jews it signifies a total fatigue of the Diaspora, it regards the Goy as a potential 'irrational' murderer. The new Jewish religion preaches revenge. It even establishes a new Jewish God. Instead of old Yehova, the new Jewish God is 'the Jew' himself: the brave and witty being, the one who survived the ultimate and most sinister genocide, the one who came out of the ashes and stepped forward into a new beginning.

To a certain extent the Holocaust religion signals the Jewish departure from monotheism, for every Jew is a potential little God or Goddess. Gilad Shalit is the God 'innocence', Abe Foxman is the God anti Semitism, Maddof is the God of swindling, Greenspan is the God of 'good economy', Lord Goldsmith is the God of the 'green light', Lord Levy is the God of fundraising, Wolfowitz is the God of new American expansionism and AIPAC is the American Olympus where American elected human beings come to ask for mercy and forgiveness for being Goyim and for daring to occasionally tell the truth about Israel.

The holocaust religion is the conclusive stage in the Jewish dialectic; it is the end of Jewish history for it is the deepest and most sincere form of 'self love'. Rather than inventing an abstract God who prefers the Jews to be the chosen people, in the holocaust religion the Jews cut out the divine middle substance. The Jew just chooses oneself. This is why Jewish identity politics transcends itself beyond the notion of history. God is the master of ceremony. And the new Jewish God cannot be subject to humanly contingent occurrences. The new Jewish God, that is, 'the Jew', just re-writes fables that serve the tribe at any given time. This may explain why the Holocaust religion is protected by laws, while every other historical chapter and narrative is debated openly by historians, intellectuals and ordinary people.

As one may guess, with such a self-centered intensive world-view, not much room is left for humanity, grace or universalism. It is far from being clear whether Jews can collectively recover from their new religion. However, it is crucial that every humanist stands up against the holocaust religion that can only spread misery, death and carnage.


{1} Unlike President Obama who postponed his Far East trip just to meet Israeli PM and sent his Secretary of State to appease his Jewish opponents {2} promising more confrontation with Iran, Hitler actually reacted furiously to Jewish pressure.







Bill Totten