"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Vulture Capitalism’

Drought-Plagued California Watering Crops With “Treated” Oil Drilling Wastewater Containing Toxic Chemicals & Radionuclides Purchased From Oil Companies

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2015 at 2:46 pm
Oil and water

Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times Water flows into a holding pond at a Kern County vineyard near Bakersfield. Water in the reservoir was tested last summer by Scott Smith, chief scientist at Water Defense.

Oldspeak:”As California farmers face a fourth year of the state’s historic drought, they’re finding water in unexpected places — like Chevron’s Kern River oil field, which has been selling recycled wastewater from oil production to farmers in California’s Kern County. Each day, Chevron recycles and sells 21 million gallons of wastewater to farmers, which is then applied on about 10 percent of Kern County’s farmland. And while some praise the program as a model for dealing with water shortages, environmental groups are raising concerns about the water’s safety, according to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times. Tests conducted by Water Defense, an environmental group founded by actor Mark Ruffalo in 2010, have found high levels of acetone and methylene chloride — compounds that can be toxic to humans — in wastewater from Chevron used for irrigation purposes. The tests also found the presence of oil, which is supposed to be removed from the wastewater during recycling….  The water from the Kern River oil field is applied to some 45,000 acres of crops, irrigating everything from nut trees to citrus fruits.” -Natasha Gelling “Behold! The fruits of vulture capitalist industrial civilization! Ummm….Who decided this was a good idea?!? Feeding crops with radioactive toxic waste!?!?! What could possibly go wrong here!? Oh, the irony. The very same energy corporations using millions of gallons of California’s dwindling and rationed fresh water resources daily (rationing by the way they are exempt from) to produce their toxic energy products, are generating even greater profits at our expense. Selling their toxic waste water to water-starved farmers to put on food crops. Crops presumably sold to unwitting people for their consumption. Sigh. Left undiscussed here are the levels of radionuclides in produced water,  especially in light of the fact that there is no safe level of radionuclide exposure. Yep, this is where we’re at.  Watering plants with radioactive carcinogens. Nothing to see here people, just a little food supply poisoning. Enjoy your radioactive fruits and nuts.” -OSJ Written By Julie Kart @ The L.A. Times:

Here in California’s thirsty farm belt, where pumpjacks nod amid neat rows of crops, it’s a proposition that seems to make sense: using treated oil field wastewater to irrigate crops. Oil giant Chevron recycles 21 million gallons of that water each day and sells it to farmers who use it on about 45,000 acres of crops, about 10% of Kern County’s farmland. State and local officials praise the 2-decade-old program as a national model for coping with the region’s water shortages. As California’s four-year drought lingers and authorities scramble to conserve every drop, agricultural officials have said that more companies are seeking permits to begin similar programs. The heightened interest in recycling oil field wastewater has raised concern over the adequacy of safety measures in place to prevent contamination from toxic oil production chemicals. ———— FOR THE RECORD

Recycling oil field wastewater

Oil field water: In the May 3 Section A, an article about the use of recycled oil field water in California agriculture said that samples contained acetone and methylene chloride after treatment. Acetone was found in testing in 2014, but not in a March 2015 test. An accompanying graphic cited the levels of three chemicals found in untreated oil field water: oil, 240,000-480,000 parts per million; acetone, 440-530 parts per billion; and methylene chloride, 82-89 parts per billion. However, the graphic omitted the levels found in tests of treated water: oil, 130-1,300 parts per million; acetone, 57-79 parts per billion; and methylene chloride, 26-56 parts per billion. Also, the source of the untreated water was misidentified. The samples were from the Poso Creek Oil Field, not an oil field owned by Chevron. And Blake Sanden was identified as an agriculture extension agent for UC Davis. Sanden works for the statewide UC Agriculture and Natural Resources program. — ————

Until now, government authorities have only required limited testing of recycled irrigation water, checking for naturally occurring toxins such as salts and arsenic, using decades-old monitoring standards. They haven’t screened for the range of chemicals used in modern oil production. No one knows whether nuts, citrus or other crops grown with the recycled oil field water have been contaminated. Farmers may test crops for pests or disease, but they don’t check for water-borne chemicals. Instead, they rely on oversight by state and local water authorities. But experts say that testing of both the water and the produce should be expanded.

Last month, the Central Valley water authority, which regulates the water recycling program, notified all oil producers of new, broader testing requirements and ordered the companies to begin checking for chemicals covered under California’s new fracking disclosure regulations. The law, which legislators approved last year, requires oil companies to tell the state which chemicals they use in oil-extraction processes. The water authority gave producers until June 15 to report their results. “We need to make sure we fully understand what goes into the wastewater,” said Clay Rodgers, assistant executive officer of the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board. One environmental group has tested the irrigation water for oil field chemicals. Over the last two years, Scott Smith, chief scientist for the advocacy group Water Defense, collected samples of the treated irrigation water that the Cawelo Water District buys from Chevron. Laboratory analysis of those samples found compounds that are toxic to humans, including acetone and methylene chloride — powerful industrial solvents — along with oil. Water Defense, founded by actor Mark Ruffalo in 2010, works to promote access to clean water by testing local supplies and documenting contamination.

Sarah Oktay, a water testing expert and director of the Nantucket field station of the University of Massachusetts Boston, reviewed Smith’s methods and the laboratory analysis of the water he sampled. “I wouldn’t necessarily panic, but I would certainly think I would rather not have that,” she said, referring to the chemicals identified in the water samples. “My next step would be most likely to look and make sure the crop is healthy.” State Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) is sponsoring legislation that would require expanded testing of water produced in oil operations. The Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, is already facing lawmakers’ ire after the recent discovery that about 2,500 oil wastewater injection wells were allowed to operate in aquifers that, under federal standards, contain clean water.

Pavley said it is “obviously unacceptable” that oil contaminants are found in irrigation water. “Anyone would be extremely concerned.” Chevron and the water district say that the water is safe for use on crops, citing the fact that they are complying with testing requirements under the wastewater discharge permit issued by the Central Valley water authority. David Ansolabehere, general manager of the Cawelo Water District, reviewed Smith’s results. He said the sampling methods gathered too many solids and not enough liquid for testing. Smith uses a sampling method that gathers water and particles over a longer period of time, from deeper levels, than traditional water testing techniques. That method, Ansolabehere said, casts doubt on the test results. Ansolabehere said Chevron and the water district, in an abundance of caution, would contract with a third party to test for the broader array of chemicals that is now required by the water board. “Protection of people and the environment is a core value for Chevron, and we take all necessary steps to ensure the protection of our water resources,” Cameron Van Ast, a company spokesman, said in an emailed statement. In the Kern County program, Chevron’s leftover water is mixed with walnut shells, a process the company says extracts excess oil. The water then flows to a series of treatment ponds. The treated water is launched into an eight-mile canal to the Cawelo Water District, where it is sometimes further diluted with fresh water. The water supplies 90 Kern County farmers with about half their annual irrigation water. The program is a good deal for oil companies, which view the water as an expensive nuisance. And it’s a bargain for the water districts. Ansolabehere said the cooperative pays Chevron about $30 an acre-foot for the wastewater, about half of open-market rates. Jonathan Bishop, chief deputy director of the State Water Resources Control Board, said that monitoring oil field activities has been a “low priority” in recent years. He said the onus for disclosure and testing rests on the discharger, in this case Chevron.

In some instances, oil companies have sought permission to reduce the frequency of the tests, which are expensive, because they consistently show the water to be in compliance with regulations. The local water board has the discretion to grant those requests, he said. “It’s a balancing act,” Bishop said. “We look at the cost of monitoring to assess risk associated with the discharge.” But Bishop said the water used for irrigation is safe as long as the company and the water district follow the rules of the permit.

The Central Valley water board is responsible for regulating the water recycling program and requires Chevron to collect samples and send them to a third-party lab for analysis. Smith, the Water Defense scientist, has consulted for the Environmental Protection Agency and other government offices on more than 50 oil spills and spent two years studying the oil wastewater used for irrigation in Kern County. He traveled the eight-mile Cawelo canal, taking samples of the water as it moved from Chevron’s oil fields through the irrigation canals to farmers’ fields. He said he gathered samples only from areas that were publicly accessible. He took samples from 10 points, collecting water from a number of depths at each site through a process that he said is more comprehensive than the sampling state and local authorities require. The samples Smith collected contained acetone and methylene chloride, solvents used to degrease equipment or soften thick crude oil, at concentrations higher than he said he had seen at oil spill disaster sites. The water also contained C20 and C34, hydrocarbons found in oil, according to ALS Environmental, the lab that analyzed Smith’s samples. Methylene chloride and acetone are used as solvents in many industrial settings. Methylene chloride is classified as a potential carcinogen.

One sample of the recycled Cawelo irrigation water, for example, registered methylene chloride as high as 56 parts per billion. Smith said that was nearly four times the amount of methylene chloride registered when he tested oil-fouled river at the 2013 ExxonMobil tar sands pipeline spill in Mayflower, Ark. That spill was declared a federal disaster, spurred evacuations and resulted in a $2.7-million fine for the company. Chevron told The Times it does not use acetone or methylene chloride in its oil extraction process. The company would not disclose the fluids used in drilling or well maintenance.

Mark Smith, a board member of the Cawelo Water District who grows pistachios and citrus using treated water from Chevron, said he had “never heard a word” about contamination from the oil production process and is satisfied that the water testing is adequate. “As long as they’re treating the water to the point where it’s allowed by whatever agency governs the quality of water, I think it would be OK,” said Glenn Fankhauser, assistant director of the Kern County Department of Agriculture and Measurement Standards. Blake Sanden, an agriculture extension agent and irrigation water expert with UC Davis, said “everyone smells the petrochemicals in the irrigation water” in the Cawelo district. But he said local farmers trust that organisms in the soil remove toxins or impurities in water.

“When I talk to growers, and they smell the oil field crap in that water, they assume the soil is taking care of this,” Sanden said. Microorganisms in soils can consume and process some impurities, Sanden said, but it’s not clear whether oil field waste is making its way into the roots or leaves of irrigated plants, and then into the food chain. It’s unlikely that petrochemicals will show up in an almond, for example, he added, “But can they make it into the flesh of an orange or grape? It’s possible. A lot of this stuff has not been studied in a field setting or for commercial food uptake.”

Carl K. Winter at UC Davis, who studies the detection of pesticides and naturally occurring toxins in foods, said some plants can readily absorb toxins without transferring them to the leaves or the flesh of their fruit. Still, he said, “it’s difficult to say anything for sure because we don’t know what chemicals are in the water.” Some chemists say that the key to effective testing is to cast a broad net that includes all chemicals used in oil production. “As an environmental health scientist, this is one of the things that keeps me up at night,” said Seth B.C. Shonkoff, a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley and one of the researchers analyzing hydraulic fracturing for the state Legislature. “You can’t find what you don’t look for.”

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Genuine Leisure Is No More: Modern Day Leisure Is Too Much Like Work

In Uncategorized on March 29, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Leisure in the ancient world did not mean time off, but was an activity in it’s own right. Illustration: Happiness by Harriet Russell http://www.harrietrussell.co.uk

Oldspeak: “Leisure for us, in other words, is a mere interlude in the productive process, a moment to unwind or recharge before the next bout of work. Indeed, a good deal of modern leisure is indistinguishable from work. We play squash in order to stay fit, party in order to network, invest quality time in our children in order to keep them sweet. No wonder a life of leisure fills us with dread! …. How can we recover genuine leisure? A first step would be to recall the original meaning of the term. Leisure in the ancient world – schole in Greek, otium in Latin – was not just time off work, but a distinct form of activity in its own right. It was what was done freely, for its own sake, rather than for the sake of something else. Leisure was a privilege of landed gentlemen. Slaves proverbially lacked it, as to a lesser degree did paid labourers, whose waking hours were devoted to servicing the needs of others.

Athenians called work of this sort ‘banausic’ or ‘mechanical’, words suggestive of servility and stultification. “We call those arts mechanical which tend to deform the body,” wrote Aristotle, “and likewise all paid employments, for they absorb and degrade the mind.” -Edward Skidelsky

“We’ve been so perfectly acclimated to the sick society we’ve created, we actually believe we’re NOT DOiNG ENOUGH. More, more, more, we’re driven to do more, more extremely, faster, harder, louder, bigger, swaggier. There is no connection of the infinite growth model & ever more consumption to the exhaustion of all vital resources and by extension life on earth a.k.a mass extinction. How much is enough ‘stuff’? Ask yourself, why are we being told that idleness is to be avoided at all costs; that if you’re not “productive” you’re not therefore valuable.  We must let go of our emotion-backed obsessions to be productive ALL THE TiME.  We must realize that we are not our “productivity”, or the “value” of it. We must stop trying to profit from our leisure. We must just let it be. We must reduce our slave-like connections to our devices; the new overseers, scheduling every second of our lives with some multitasked, partially comprehended, quickly forgotten activities that absorb and degrade our minds. it would do us well to reclaim our humanity, spontaneity, untethered to the matrix selves.  Don’t freely surrender your YOU time to forces dedicated to draining and profiting from your life energy. Don’t let you’re leisure time be privatized by the vulture capitalist forces that pay you to use your life energy for their gain.  Breath deeply. Meditate.  Do Yoga. Disconnect. Focus on powering down and really building and maintaining your vital life energy. Balance your consumptive activities with non consumptive ones. You will heal yourself.  it’s sooooo much better than pills, energy drinks & self-help books. Reject your subservience to the Cult of Productivity.  Resist the savage inhuman slavery that’s being passed off as “success”.  You’ll live a calmer, longer, less stressed, more balanced life.” -OSJ

By Edward Skidelsky @ The Ecologist:

To be without leisure and do everything for the sake of something else, is to be only half alive, writes Edward Skidelsky.

Conventional wisdom holds that we must work more. The unemployed should be employed. People in part-time jobs should be in full-time jobs. And even those in full-time employment should work harder in order to keep pace with the industrious Indians and Chinese.

I think this is topsy-turvy. The great mystery of our time is not that we don’t work harder: it’s that we continue to work as hard as we do. When I say ‘we’, I refer, of course, to the working population. There are many people in our society – the unemployed and partially employed – who would dearly like to work more. But there are equally many people who would dearly like to work less. This is a deeply irrational state of affairs.

The obvious solution is for all adults to work, but to work shorter hours. It is only our devotion to the principle of the 40-hour week that condemns a large (and growing) sector of the population to the grim fate of unemployment.

Wealthy, but not joyful
We belong, let us recall, to one of the wealthiest societies that has ever existed in human history. Yet we have failed to realise the chief benefit of wealth: leisure. This should surprise us more than it does. In the past it was generally assumed that as people became richer they would work less.

The great economist John Maynard Keynes shared this assumption. In his essay of 1929, entitled Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, he predicted that standards of living in the affluent world would rise between four and eight times over the following 100 years, leading to a decline of working time to 15 hours a week, or just 3 hours a day. Liberated from the burden of toil, ordinary people would be able to share in the spontaneous, joyful kind of existence once the privilege of the lucky few.

I see us free”, Keynes wrote, “to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue – that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanour and the love of money is detestable, that those walk most truly in the paths of virtue and sane wisdom who take least thought for the morrow. We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful. We shall honour those who can teach us how to pluck the hour and the day virtuously and well, the delightful people who are capable of taking direct enjoyment in things, the lilies of the field who toil not, neither do they spin.

Still working 40 hours a week. Why?
Well, it hasn’t happened like that. Keynes got one thing right though: standards of living in the affluent world have indeed risen about fourfold. But hours of work have not fallen anything like as much. Today in Britain we work on average about 40 hours a week (down from 50 hours in 1930), but nowhere near the 15 hours Keynes foresaw. Why?

My father Robert and I wrote a book last year called How Much is Enough? in which we tried to solve this “Keynes problem”. We considered various explanations: the inequalities of power in the labour market, the increasingly uneven distribution of wealth and incomes, and the power of advertising to kindle dormant passions of envy and vanity.

But according to some of our reviewers, we overlooked the obvious explanation for the failure of Keynes’ prophesy. Human beings, they said, want to work long hours, because they are frightened or nauseated by the prospect of endless leisure.

Here is Alasdair Palmer, writing in The Telegraph: “The Skidelskys have nothing substantial to say about boredom – and it is why their analysis is doomed from the start. The reason why most people keep striving long after they have satisfied all elementary needs is not, as the Skidelskys claim, that they mistakenly think that money is the ultimate value. It is simply that striving for it keeps boredom at bay… Boredom is the serpent in the Skidelskys’ garden of idle delights – and you can be sure that, were we ever to achieve it, that serpent would soon eject us from it.

Modern day leisure is too much like work
Now I don’t deny that many of us would be bored by a life of leisure, and carry on working primarily in order to avoid that prospect. But that is only because we do not know what leisure really is, or might become. We talk, revealingly, of ‘taking a break’ over the weekend or over summer.

Leisure for us, in other words, is a mere interlude in the productive process, a moment to unwind or recharge before the next bout of work. Indeed, a good deal of modern leisure is indistinguishable from work. We play squash in order to stay fit, party in order to network, invest quality time in our children in order to keep them sweet. No wonder a life of leisure fills us with dread!

How can we recover genuine leisure? A first step would be to recall the original meaning of the term. Leisure in the ancient world – schole in Greek, otium in Latin – was not just time off work, but a distinct form of activity in its own right. It was what was done freely, for its own sake, rather than for the sake of something else. Leisure was a privilege of landed gentlemen. Slaves proverbially lacked it, as to a lesser degree did paid labourers, whose waking hours were devoted to servicing the needs of others.

Athenians called work of this sort ‘banausic’ or ‘mechanical’, words suggestive of servility and stultification. “We call those arts mechanical which tend to deform the body,” wrote Aristotle, “and likewise all paid employments, for they absorb and degrade the mind.”

True leisure vs recreation
The Greeks were well aware that slaves and workmen had to rest, perhaps even ‘unwind’ occasionally, but for them that was something altogether distinct from leisure. ‘Recreation’, as we might now call it, was simply the flipside of work, a necessary respite from its pain and constraint. Leisure in the true sense had nothing restorative about it. It took place beyond the work/recreation cycle; it was human activity unleashed from any external purpose.

Leisure could thus be strenuous in the highest degree – far more strenuous than work – without losing its leisure character. The modern identification of leisure with recreation, as embodied in the ‘leisure centre’, simply shows how far the concept has strayed from its original and deeper meaning.

Leisure in the ancient world took many forms. For most Athenians, it was synonymous with athletics and oratory, the conventional occupations of the propertied elite. But for a dissident minority, leisure meant philosophia, love of wisdom – an activity quite unlike the academic discipline that now bears its name. Philosophia was free, open-ended speculation, unconstrained by dogma or money.

Plato contrasted it with litigation, in which the goal is to win one’s case, and win it quickly. (“Law is philosophy on a stopwatch,” said a friend of mine who had recently switched from one occupation to the other.) For Aristotle, philosophy was a celestial activity, the closest we come to the contemplative bliss of the gods.

Not just a Western ideal
Leisure is not just a Western ideal: it crops up wherever a minority is freed from the necessity of earning a living. The Chinese cultivated the arts of leisure with a whimsy absent from the more strenuous Greco-Roman version. Here is Shen Fu, a failed scholar of the early 19th century, reminiscing about happier times: “We would spend the whole day doing nothing but criticising poetry and talking about painting. My friends were like swallows on the rafters, coming and going as they pleased. Yün even sold her hairpins to buy wine without a second thought, because we did not want to give up lightly such a beautiful time and place. But now we are all parted like clouds blown by the wind. The jade is broken, the incense buried! I cannot bear to look back.”

These visions of leisure, Western and Eastern, are in many ways repugnant to us. Aristotle’s gentleman philosophers would have lived on the labour of slaves – “human tools”, as he charmingly calls them – while Shen Fu, a local government secretary, received an income that was almost certainly made up largely of bribes. How can an ideal of life erected upon such murky foundations hold any appeal for us today?

Freedom from drudgery
I share these worries. Yet when all is said and done, what else matters, ultimately, apart from leisure? To be without leisure, to do everything for the sake of something else, is to be only half alive. Imagine a man who works long hours at a boring job to pay the school fees; eats brown rice not because he likes it but because it is good for him; reads books in order to increase his stock of knowledge and culture; and keeps fit for the sake of his ‘erotic capital’.

Such a man is perpetually looking forward to a consummation he can never, in the nature of the case, enjoy. As Keynes put it, “he does not love his cat, but his cat’s kittens; nor, in truth, the kittens, but only the kittens’ kittens, and so on forward forever to the end of cat-dom.” He will die before he has ever really lived.

Nor should we be overly troubled by accusations of elitism. True, some can enjoy leisure only if others dig the coal and wash the dishes, but in a technological age there is no need for those others to be human beings. Mechanical work can, and should, be done by machines. “Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralising,” wrote Oscar Wilde in his visionary essay The Soul of Man under Socialism. “On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.” We now have machinery sufficient to free the affluent world from drudgery. It is only our failure of political organisation and ethical imagination that holds us back.


Edward Skidelsky is a lecturer in philosophy at Exeter University, and author, together with his father, Robert, of How Much is Enough: Money and the Good Life (Allen Lane).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Society of Addiction: Capitalism, Dopamine & The Consumer Junkie

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Oldspeak: “Today everything around us — clothing, apartments, food and technology — is a commodity. We wear commodities. We live inside commodities. We use and eat commodities. All that we need to live is filtered through the market. And if the store shelves are packed with bright colorful things, we feel safe because we have the freedom to choose…. we experience Capitalism as turning our bodies against us. It is a parasitical system that feeds on us. It takes our tongues and blinds us with taste. It floods our unconscious with logos. It takes our desire and puts a price tag on it. And dizzy with sensation and directed by commercials, we work ourselves numb to become landfills for commodities… we bounce like billiard balls between ads showing actors posing with a titanium watch and rappers with liquor bottles and sand-caked, teen bodies next to perfume vials. All the time, I see people waddling out of stores with bulging shopping bags, faces bright with the joy of a new purchase. Flush faces are the tell-tale sign of a dopamine rush. We get high from buying commodities that enhance our status. In this light, we can look at corporate stores and see them as consumer crack houses. If it’s true that billions of people around the world are being addicted to our evolutionary Achille’s heel of salt, sugar, fat and status, then it’s time to ask the question. Are we capitalism junkies?” –Nicolas Powers

“Short answer? Yes. Hyper-consumption is seen as a virtue, something to aspire to,  symbolic of high status.  We are utterly and completely dependent and perpetually desirous of the constellation of commodities provided to us by our vulture capitalist “corporate citizens”. Our entire environment has been comodified and market-valued.  Trinket Capitalism (an economic system that produces junk that people don’t really need.) dominates our existence. We must kick our habit.  We must resist the tyranny of “The Market”.  The latest rebellions are on in Turkey and Brazil. Oh what a wonderful day it will be when we decide to withdraw support for the market totalitarian system that enslaves and addicts us! As Nicolas outlines the first step we can take toward freeing ourselves from capitalist domination is “critiquing capitalism differently. To the older frame of political economy focused on production, distribution and consumption of commodities we must add a new frame. One possibility is thinking in terms of a physiological economy, in which the body is transformed into a consuming machine and directed to the market where it’s a commodity dumping ground, regardless of the health effects on it. Putting the body at the center creates a goal of respecting human potential.” Imagine that! In much the same way as others have suggested we put the environment at the center of our economy, we could put our bodies, and it’s health, at the center of our economy. Our bodies are after all a part of the environment. What a revolutionary and beautifully holistic change in thinking it could be!-OSJ

By Nicolas Powers @ The Indypendent:

I waited three months to eat a Krispy Kreme. I mean I waited. Every week or so, I take the train to Penn Station, quickly zigzagging through crowds. And every time I have the same internal monologue — Don’t stop at the Krispy Kreme. Don’t give yourself diabetes. Seriously, you might as well inject Elmer’s glue straight into your heart. But then I saw the store, bright and beautiful and smelling good. It’s very hard to walk past Krispy Kreme. It’s like those dreams where my legs move but I don’t go forward.

And then I begin the junkie’s debate — C’mon it’s been three months! Besides, one can’t hurt. And didn’t I help that homeless lady get her shit to the shelter last night. That was an Oprah thing to do. And doesn’t Oprah eat donuts? I was drooling before I even turned. Everyone on line had the same wild look. I feared for the servers. If they didn’t get us the donuts quickly we might have smashed the glass. When I got mine and bit into it, sugar and preservatives and trans-fat flooded my body and I lit up like a Christmas tree. It felt like Jesus descended from Heaven and kissed my brain.

Afterwards I felt dirty, guilty. At home, I googled Krispy Kreme and found a YouTube clip of comedian Chris Rock prowling the stage. “Krispy Kreme donuts are so good,” he said, “if I told you it had crack in it you’d go, ‘I knew something was up … got me knocking on the donut window at two in the morning. C’mon man open up, give me one more donut, I’ll do anything. I’ll suck your dick.’”

Rock chuckled maniacally as the audience roared. I paused the clip and let it sink in. How much of what we eat is not really food but a drug designed to addict us with a rush of sugar, salt or fat? McDonald’s, Checkers and the other fried fast-food places line the streets in Bed-Stuy. Neighbors have that addict’s scratch-the-neck gesture at bodegas where they buy sugary drinks or candy. But it wasn’t just food. How many times do I check my cell phone? I get itchy if I don’t send or get a text. How many people do I see on the street, heads down, typing away, swerving around the traffic as if by radar?

In New York, we bounce like billiard balls between ads showing actors posing with a titanium watch and rappers with liquor bottles and sand-caked, teen bodies next to perfume vials. All the time, I see people waddling out of stores with bulging shopping bags, faces bright with the joy of a new purchase. Flush faces are the tell-tale sign of a dopamine rush. We get high from buying commodities that enhance our status. In this light, we can look at corporate stores and see them as consumer crack houses. If it’s true that billions of people around the world are being addicted to our evolutionary Achille’s heel of salt, sugar, fat and status, then it’s time to ask the question. Are we capitalism junkies?

The Commodity

A commodity in classical political economy is any object that can be bought or sold in the marketplace. The market is any institution or place where we can engage in trade, be it Wall Street or the farmer’s stall at Union Square. From the market’s beginning 12,000 years ago with the Neolithic Revolution, when we first cultivated land, grew crops, and created surplus and trade to the post-industrial digital stock exchange, it has grown to dominate human life.

Today everything around us — clothing, apartments, food and technology — is a commodity. We wear commodities. We live inside commodities. We use and eat commodities. All that we need to live is filtered through the market. And if the store shelves are packed with bright colorful things, we feel safe because we have the freedom to choose.

The commodity has for centuries been the site of critique. In political economy it was an article of trade that satisfies a human need. Later it was reinterpreted by Karl Marx in Das Kapital as a fetish object concealing the exploitative relations of production. More than a century later, post-structuralist Jean Baudrillard redefined it as a sign in a larger social code.

Today, a view emerging from neuroscience understands capitalism as an immersive form of market totalitarianism. We see that advertising and commodities are designed to get us to a “bliss point,” to stoke a chemical blaze in our brains that incrementally robs us of the ability to choose. And this is the paradox; American culture is based on the ideal of freedom — freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom to choose — but its economy is increasingly based on targeting the unconscious and addicting our bodies. Corporations use science to ensnare deep evolutionary impulses. We are left with a tragic contradiction; the very act of consumption that we are taught is our freedom is also what most enslaves us.

Behold the iPhone

My cell phone was old. No touch screen. No internet. My friends would whip out smartphones and get precise, Googlemapped directions to the next bar. I took mine out, pretended to type an address and confidently offered random bullshit names like The Thirsty Wolf or Chug.

“Wait why can’t I see those?” one friend asked me. I quickly put my phone away, “Oh damn, battery just ran out. Sorry. So what did you find?” But I was content with my Flintstone-era cell phone until one day it broke. After one hour without a text or the ability to send one, I began to shake and sweat. I sprinted to the Virgin Mobile store, where the staff calmed me down, gave me water, patted my back.

In seconds, I was holding my future phone. But I saw it four different ways. The first was a symbol of the American Dream, a set of ideals that put prosperity and upward mobility at the center of our lives. Smartphone commercials make it into a tool of consumer empowerment. No one and nothing is out of reach.

Through a Marxist lens, I saw the swollen-eyed, arthritic Chinese workers at Foxconn, which if it didn’t make Virgin Mobile smartphones, made them for Apple and made them in the millions. In the Marxist tradition this human labor is eclipsed by the object’s transformation into a commodity through market exchange. We see its price tag or advertisement but not the people who made it or the fact that so many killed themselves by jumping off the roof of Foxconn that the company hung up nets.

Seen through Baurdrillard’s theory, my smartphone was a sign in a larger social code that recreated my identity. It was not simply a way to talk to friends. It was a smartphone. I now had instant access to information and was re-booted as a modern man. No asking directions or standing in line for a ticket at a cinema. Now I could do it all before I got there. Smartphone ads play on the theme of being up to date. One showed a trio of guys at a sports game: the ones with the 4G smartphones knew it was going to rain while the one with the 3G did not; he was doused when thunder broke. Today, commodities come with a story line and are the material anchors for the social roles we play.

Turning my new phone over and over in my hand, I remembered that itchy feeling when my phone ran out of energy or when it was broken. Turning it on, I googled addiction, smartphones and lo and behold, I found a painfully in-your-face article titled “Why We’re All Addicted to Texts, Twitter and Google.” It spelled out why I slept with my phone at night like a teddy bear. Written by Dr. Susan Weinschenk and based on research by Terrence Robinson and Kent Berridge, the article said our brains squirt dopamine not to make us feel pleasure (a concept still used but debated) but to make us seek it out.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter; it carries signals from neurons through synapses to other neurons or cells. Like Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball, it “makes me feel good.” It lights up the brain. It gets us moving toward satisfying goals. Weinschenk writes, “Dopamine causes you to want, desire and search … From an evolutionary standpoint this is critical. Dopamine keeps you motivated to move through your world, learn and survive. It’s not just about physical needs such as food or sex, but also about abstract concepts. Dopamine makes you curious about ideas.”

In the scholarly article “Addiction,” Berridge and Robinson state that there are two systems in the brain, one that involves dopamine based on wanting and the other based on liking, the opioid system, which gives us pleasure. The former says, “Go!” The latter says, “Stop and enjoy.” But with social media, we now live in a culture where the “Go!” light is always green. In seconds we can text, Facebook, Google or call and get rewarded, which incites us to seek again, which rewards us again, causing us to seek again and be trapped in a dopamine loop.

The saddest image of the article was of dying rats. Scientists destroyed the dopamine neurons in rats and they died of starvation, even when food was right in front of them. They lost “the will to live” or the chemical base of “will power,” aka dopamine. In another test, scientists electrically stimulated the brains of lab animals to produce dopamine. Rats furiously, feverishly pressed the lever to tingle themselves more and more, faster and faster, because the dopamine system doesn’t have an off switch.

After reading this I walked around Union Square and studied the consumers flowing in and out of the stores. “Go on you rats,” I thought, “Get your cheese!” And this is what capitalism has made of us. We’re a herd of slightly evolved primates gobbling salt, sugar, fat and status. We buy objects that light up our brains with dopamine even if we throw those same things away or incur debt. Using my new Chinese-made smartphone, I punched up Jay-Z’s song “Big Pimpin” and bobbed my head, his nasal voice the soundtrack to thousands of New Yorkers shopping. “Big pimpin,” he rapped, “Spending cheese.”

The Cheeto in the Crack Pipe

Going home on the B52 bus, I saw a father feeding his infant daughter bright, yellow, puffy Cheetos. I wanted to smack it out of his hand and yell, “This is crack! Why don’t you just put the Cheetos in a pipe and have her smoke it?” But I closed my mouth and rolled my eyes instead.

The baby grabbed the Cheetos and I imagined the Yellow 6 dye that makes it day-glow food entering her blood. In laboratory tests, it caused kidney tumors and contained carcinogens. Good job, Dad! She licked her lips because the hydrogenated oil makes the Cheetos so tasty. If she grows up eating snacks like these, her heart will eventually become a wheezing accordion.

My stop came and I stepped off the bus, seeing as if for the first time the many fast-food places and bodegas lining Nostrand Avenue. They are the two major institutions in working-class urban neighborhoods. Over 200,000 fast food restaurants open their doors each morning in America. Sometimes it seems all of them are in Bed-Stuy.

Each institution has a goal and the fast food industry is designed not to nourish bodies but to make profits. What was a $6 billion industry in 1970 raked in $160 billion last year. It did this by playing on our evolutionary buttons. Salt, sugar, fat — over the course of millions of years our bodies evolved to crave these tastes because it signaled the presence of much-needed nutrients.

We are physiologically adapted to survive famine. Our primeval ancestors roaming the high grass of the ancient savannah often had to endure hunger. Some hunters did not always have the best aim with the spear. Feast and famine marked us. We inherited a craving for fat, salt or sugar, and when any of them hits our tongues, our brain’s opioid system goes off like fireworks and the dopamine begins to flow. It is our gastronomical weak spot, one that the modern food industry has targeted. Our bodies are garbage cans to dump junk into as long as it makes profit.

This February, the New York Times ran an article with a disturbing scene. Entitled “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Food,” it opened with a meeting of the 11 heads of America’s major food corporations. The vice president of Kraft told attendees that the industry had gone too far in producing foods that excite hunger and overwhelm the body’s controls on overeating. He cited statistics showing more than half of Americans were overweight and nearly one-quarter were obese. The head of General Mills, Stephen Sanger, got up and said, “Don’t talk to me about nutrition. Talk to me about taste, and if this stuff tastes better, don’t run around trying to sell stuff that doesn’t taste good.” The meeting took place in 1999. In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 35.7 percent of Americans are overweight, along with one third of our children.

Walking home, I often see obese women like giant water balloons, out of breath just from walking. Children, faces swollen with fat, throw candy on the counter at the local bodega. Every day, thousands of people in my neighborhood get breakfast, lunch and dinner from fast-food places or bodegas. Eating well takes time and money. And when you have neither, you get what you can. And here food is fast. It’s cheap. It’s addictive. And it’s deadly. Not long ago, I saw an ambulance outside the adjacent building; my neighbor said his friend had died. He shook his head and said, “She was 50, only 50, and caught a heart attack.”

The Nag Factor

Capitalism — the private ownership over the means of production. It is the world of labor behind every smartphone, every Cheeto, every commodity. It is the factory and the workers inside. It is the bosses, regional managers and owners rising above the masses of workers in a vast pyramid of power.

Defenders of the system say that it raises incomes and life-spans and serves the needs of consumers. But in a dialectical reversal, we can point at clear evidence that capitalism does not serve our needs but creates consumers to serve its need of making profit. It’s a global conveyor belt where raw material is transformed into commodities, shipped to markets to be sold. But consumers are not born but made.

While waiting for my laundry to dry, I heard a kid screaming at his mother for Lucky Charms. I mean this kid was hollering like an N.F.L. coach. His veins bulged at his neck. “Ma, get me the Charms,” he shouted, “The Charms! The Lucky Charms!” She looked haggard and took him outside and when they came back he was scooping the cereal into his mouth.

The nagging scene struck a memory. Once home, I looked up a documentary called The Corporation; in it, Lucy Hughes, Vice President of Initiative Media and co-creator of the report “The Nag Factor,” said, “We asked parents to keep a diary and to record every time a child nagged them for a product. Anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent of purchases would not have occurred unless the child nagged their parents.”

She had the smug smile of someone paid well enough to not care. Later Professor Susan Linn of Baker’s Children Center said the study was done by corporations to get children to nag for their products. Linn was sad eyed. It was like she stared at the face of a juggernaut of money and power that she could analyze but not stop. She said, “Children are not little adults. Marketers are playing into their development vulnerabilities. The advertising that children are exposed to today is honed by psychologists and enhanced by media technology.”

Later Hughes reappeared, “You can manipulate consumers into wanting and buying your products. It’s a game.” Again that smug smile, she concluded, “They are tomorrow’s adult consumer, so start talking with them now…and you got them as an adult. Someone asked me, ‘Lucy is that ethical? You’re essentially manipulating children.’ Is it ethical, I don’t know but our mission at Initiative is to move product.”

To move product — into the bodies of children even at risk to their health and by targeting their soft minds. How can one talk of freedom of choice when corporations target us before we have the ability to choose at all? The advertising bullseye hovers on us through our lives. As adults, it is our unconscious minds that are hit. Brand names are stitched on clothes, products are placed in movies. Images are slipped under our consciousness and descend into our psychic depths were they grow into decisions that we mistake for our own free will.

Capitalism — this system of private ownership of the means of production rose from the collapse of feudalism, under which armored nobility in castles and cloaked monks in monasteries ruled over ragged peasants. It spread in the artisan towns and city states of the late Middle Ages, it spread with the enclosure of land as serfs, hungry and desperate, moved to factory work in the cities, it spread overseas in the New World conquest, the slave trade and colonization, it spread around the earth in violent racist colonialism. And now it dominates human civilization and has spread into our childhoods, our dreams and seeks to determine the destiny of our species.

The Body versus Capitalism

One of the most famous scenes in recent film history was from The Matrix, when the protagonist Neo is offered a red pill by a terrorist named Morpheus. He takes it and after plunging down a surreal dream wakes up hooked to cables in a gooey pod. He looks around and sees billions of pods with people sleeping inside.

It resonated because we experience Capitalism as turning our bodies against us. It is a parasitical system that feeds on us. It takes our tongues and blinds us with taste. It floods our unconscious with logos. It takes our desire and puts a price tag on it. And dizzy with sensation and directed by commercials, we work ourselves numb to become landfills for commodities.

Is this the destiny of our species? Is this the highest we can imagine, the enslavement of millions to work making products and enslaving millions more to buy them? It seems the tragedy of our civilization is that by being walled in with commodities, we lose sight of how rare and precious we truly are.

Our ability to create, to be conscious, to imagine is a spark of beauty in the void. Humanity is the result of a series of near improbable accidents. It is a sheer accident that we exist at all, that billions of years ago, hot rock formed a planet at this distance from the sun, that ice-loaded meteors hit earth and gave it water, that in the sea microbes ignited into life and plants swept over land.

When visiting the Museum of Natural History, I imagine the T-Rex skeleton chomping up one or two visitors in a swift bite. It’s easy to feel how lucky we got with that comet impact 66 million years ago. And that’s what I mean. It’s an accident we’re here at all.

And yet here we are. The universe may teem with life but most likely it is microbes on rocks or germs in seas. Sentient life that looks up and questions is infinitely rare. Our ability to look far into space and deep into the atom, to follow the trail of elements to the origin of reality and to know its end, is incredibly precious. We, so far as we know, are the only species that is the living memory of the universe.

The human body — lulled into commodity addiction, brainwashed by advertising is itself evidence of the grand-narrative of evolution that surpasses capitalism. Over millions of years, natural selection sculpted us to fit the environment until we began to adapt the environment to fit our needs. Now we are trapped in an economic system that does not serve us but ensnares us to serve it. But the history of revolutions and art and crime show us a truth about ourselves. Our power to imagine is greater than our need to obey.

Neuro-justice

Freedom: 1. The absence of constraint on choice or action. 2. The liberation from slavery or from the power of another.

This is the land of the free and the home of the brave. Hey, buddy, it’s a free country, right? In cliché sayings, we’re reminded that freedom is our social ideal. In the iconic scenes of U.S. history we learn that our nation’s flag was planted on the moon by an astronaut, our armies can strike anywhere, anytime, and even a black man can become president of a country that once had slavery.

But the daily evidence of that freedom is on the stacked store shelves and in the advertisements that teach us about the capitalist Good Life. But what if on either side of the commodity existed millions of people who were not free at all?

What if we saw that behind the label is a world of misery? There, suicidal men and women grind their lives against a factory clock to make our low-cost clothing and technology. They see no exit but death and leap from the roof to the only freedom left to claim. There, undocumented workers pick tomatoes and staff the blood-soaked killing floors of meat factories to get us our cheap fast food.

And in front of the label is us — people whose unconscious is shaped by subliminal advertising, our need for intimacy and recognition commodified into market experiences of bought and sold emotional labor. Our bodies are given addictive products that make us crave self-destruction. We who live in a market-dominated world are not free, but are chemically enslaved by the very sophisticated science of corporate America.

A step we can take in freeing ourselves is critiquing capitalism differently. To the older frame of political economy focused on production, distribution and consumption of commodities we must add a new frame. One possibility is thinking in terms of a physiological economy, in which the body is transformed into a consuming machine and directed to the market where it’s a commodity dumping ground, regardless of the health effects on it. Putting the body at the center creates a goal of respecting human potential.

And what might help is the idea of neuro-justice as a New Millennial update on natural rights. We have as human beings a right to develop ourselves. We are inheritors of a cosmic accident that created the earth in the seething, plasma-hot, shooting gallery of space. We are inheritors of millions of years of evolution, and each of us belongs to a thing rare and precious in the universe, sentient life.

Behind our eyes, in our brains is a power greater than reality. It’s the power to imagine. A truly human civilization will move beyond capitalism, beyond addicting our consciousness to demanding space for it, play for it, love and recognition for it — it will demand justice for the imagination. In that world, we can walk home and see no corporate ads or stores with addictive foods or feel itchy for the newest technology or desperate for status. We can be free by simply being ourselves.

And Then There Was One: Imperial Gigantism & The Decline Of Planet Earth

In Uncategorized on May 8, 2013 at 8:17 pm

https://i2.wp.com/yadayadayada.de/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/deadearth.jpg

Oldspeak:The present capitalist model (the only one available) for a rising power, whether China, India, or Brazil, is also a model for planetary decline, possibly of a precipitous nature.  The very definition of success — more middle-class consumers, more car owners, more shoppers, which means more energy used, more fossil fuels burned, more greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere — is also, as it never would have been before, the definition of failure.  The greater the “success,” the more intense the droughts, the stronger the storms, the more extreme theweather, the higher the rise in sea levels, the hotter the temperatures, the greater the chaos in low-lying or tropical lands, the more profound the failure.  The question is: Will this put an end to the previous patterns of history, including the until-now-predictable rise of the next great power, the next empire?  On a devolving planet, is it even possible to imagine the next stage in imperial gigantism? Every factor that would normally lead toward “greatness” now also leads toward global decline.” –Tom Engelhardt. We can’t continue to pretend the cannibalistic systems around which we organize our civilization are working. They are is literally destroying us and our planet. We have to change before it’s too late.

By Tom Engelhardt @ TomDispatch:

It stretched from the Caspian to the Baltic Sea, from the middle of Europe to the Kurile Islands in the Pacific, from Siberia to Central Asia.  Its nuclear arsenal held 45,000 warheads, and its military had five million troops under arms.  There had been nothing like it in Eurasia since the Mongols conquered China, took parts of Central Asia and the Iranian plateau, and rode into the Middle East, looting Baghdad.  Yet when the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, by far the poorer, weaker imperial power disappeared.

And then there was one.  There had never been such a moment: a single nation astride the globe without a competitor in sight.  There wasn’t even a name for such a state (or state of mind).  “Superpower” had already been used when there were two of them.  “Hyperpower” was tried briefly but didn’t stick.  “Sole superpower” stood in for a while but didn’t satisfy.  “Great Power,” once the zenith of appellations, was by then a lesser phrase, left over from the centuries when various European nations and Japan were expanding their empires.  Some started speaking about a “unipolar” world in which all roads led… well, to Washington.

To this day, we’ve never quite taken in that moment when Soviet imperial rot unexpectedly — above all, to Washington — became imperial crash-and-burn.  Left standing, the Cold War’s victor seemed, then, like an empire of everything under the sun.  It was as if humanity had always been traveling toward this spot.  It seemed like the end of the line.

The Last Empire?

After the rise and fall of the Assyrians and the Romans, the Persians, the Chinese, the Mongols, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, the English, the Germans, and the Japanese, some process seemed over.  The United States was dominant in a previously unimaginable way — except in Hollywood films where villains cackled about their evil plans to dominate the world.

As a start, the U.S. was an empire of global capital.  With the fall of Soviet-style communism (and the transformation of a communist regime in China into a crew of authoritarian “capitalist roaders”), there was no other model for how to do anything, economically speaking.  There was Washington’s way — and that of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank (both controlled by Washington) — or there was the highway, and the Soviet Union had already made it all too clear where that led: to obsolescence and ruin.

In addition, the U.S. had unprecedented military power.  By the time the Soviet Union began to totter, America’s leaders had for nearly a decade been consciously using “the arms race” to spend its opponent into an early grave.  And here was the curious thing after centuries of arms races: when there was no one left to race, the U.S. continued an arms race of one.

In the years that followed, it would outpace all other countries or combinations of countries in military spending by staggering amounts.  It housed the world’s most powerful weapons makers, was technologically light years ahead of any other state, and was continuing to develop future weaponry for 2020, 2040, 2060, even as it established a near monopoly on the global arms trade (and so, control over who would be well-armed and who wouldn’t).

It had an empire of bases abroad, more than 1,000 of them spanning the globe, also an unprecedented phenomenon.  And it was culturally dominant, again in a way that made comparisons with other moments ludicrous.  Like American weapons makers producing things that went boom in the night for an international audience, Hollywood’s action and fantasy films took the world by storm.  From those movies to the golden arches, the swoosh, and the personal computer, there was no other culture that could come close to claiming such a global cachet.

The key non-U.S. economic powerhouses of the moment — Europe and Japan — maintained militaries dependent on Washington, had U.S. bases littering their territories, and continued to nestle under Washington’s “nuclear umbrella.”  No wonder that, in the U.S., the post-Soviet moment was soon proclaimed “the end of history,” and the victory of “liberal democracy” or “freedom” was celebrated as if there really were no tomorrow, except more of what today had to offer.

No wonder that, in the new century, neocons and supporting pundits would begin to claim that the British and Roman empires had been second-raters by comparison.  No wonder that key figures in and around the George W. Bush administration dreamed of establishing a Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East and possibly over the globe itself (as well as a Pax Republicana at home).  They imagined that they might actually prevent another competitor or bloc of competitors from arising to challenge American power. Ever.

No wonder they had remarkably few hesitations about launching their incomparably powerful military on wars of choice in the Greater Middle East.  What could possibly go wrong?  What could stand in the way of the greatest power history had ever seen?

Assessing the Imperial Moment, Twenty-First-Century-Style

Almost a quarter of a century after the Soviet Union disappeared, what’s remarkable is how much — and how little — has changed.

On the how-much front: Washington’s dreams of military glory ran aground with remarkable speed in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Then, in 2007, the transcendent empire of capital came close to imploding as well, as a unipolar financial disaster spread across the planet.  It led people to begin to wonder whether the globe’s greatest power might not, in fact, be too big to fail, and we were suddenly — so everyone said — plunged into a “multipolar world.”

Meanwhile, the Greater Middle East descended into protest, rebellion, civil war, and chaos without a Pax Americana in sight, as a Washington-controlled Cold War system in the region shuddered without (yet) collapsing.  The ability of Washington to impose its will on the planet looked ever more like the wildest of fantasies, while every sign, including the hemorrhaging of national treasure into losing trillion-dollar wars, reflected not ascendancy but possible decline.

And yet, in the how-little category: the Europeans and Japanese remained nestled under that American “umbrella,” their territories still filled with U.S. bases.  In the Euro Zone, governments continued to cut back on their investments in both NATO and their own militaries.  Russia remained a country with a sizeable nuclear arsenal and a reduced but still large military.  Yet it showed no signs of “superpower” pretensions.  Other regional powers challenged unipolarity economically — Turkey and Brazil, to name two — but not militarily, and none showed an urge either singly or in blocs to compete in an imperial sense with the U.S.

Washington’s enemies in the world remained remarkably modest-sized (though blown to enormous proportions in the American media echo-chamber).  They included a couple of rickety regional powers (Iran and North Korea), a minority insurgency or two, and relatively small groups of Islamist “terrorists.”  Otherwise, as one gauge of power on the planet, no more than a handful of other countries had even a handful of military bases outside their territory.

Under the circumstances, nothing could have been stranger than this: in its moment of total ascendancy, the Earth’s sole superpower with a military of staggering destructive potential and technological sophistication couldn’t win a war against minimally armed guerillas.  Even more strikingly, despite having no serious opponents anywhere, it seemed not on the rise but on the decline, its infrastructure rotting out, its populace economically depressed, its wealth ever more unequally divided, its Congress seemingly beyond repair, while the great sucking sound that could be heard was money and power heading toward the national security state.  Sooner or later, all empires fall, but this moment was proving curious indeed.

And then, of course, there was China.  On the planet that humanity has inhabited these last several thousand years, can there be any question that China would have been the obvious pick to challenge, sooner or later, the dominion of the reigning great power of the moment?  Estimates are that it will surpass the U.S. as the globe’s number one economy by perhaps 2030.

Right now, the Obama administration seems to be working on just that assumption.  With its well-publicized “pivot” (or “rebalancing”) to Asia, it has been moving to “contain” what it fears might be the next great power.  However, while the Chinese are indeed expanding their military and challenging their neighbors in the waters of the Pacific, there is no sign that the country’s leadership is ready to embark on anything like a global challenge to the U.S., nor that it could do so in any conceivable future.  Its domestic problems, from pollution to unrest, remain staggering enough that it’s hard to imagine a China not absorbed with domestic issues through 2030 and beyond.

And Then There Was One (Planet)

Militarily, culturally, and even to some extent economically, the U.S. remains surprisingly alone on planet Earth in imperial terms, even if little has worked out as planned in Washington.  The story of the years since the Soviet Union fell may prove to be a tale of how American domination and decline went hand-in-hand, with the decline part of the equation being strikingly self-generated.

And yet here’s a genuine, even confounding, possibility: that moment of “unipolarity” in the 1990s may really have been the end point of history as human beings had known it for millennia — the history, that is, of the rise and fall of empires.  Could the United States actually be the last empire?  Is it possible that there will be no successor because something has profoundly changed in the realm of empire building?  One thing is increasingly clear: whatever the state of imperial America, something significantly more crucial to the fate of humanity (and of empires) is in decline.  I’m talking, of course, about the planet itself.

The present capitalist model (the only one available) for a rising power, whether China, India, or Brazil, is also a model for planetary decline, possibly of a precipitous nature.  The very definition of success — more middle-class consumers, more car owners, more shoppers, which means more energy used, more fossil fuels burned, more greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere — is also, as it never would have been before, the definition of failure.  The greater the “success,” the more intense the droughts, the stronger the storms, the more extreme theweather, the higher the rise in sea levels, the hotter the temperatures, the greater the chaos in low-lying or tropical lands, the more profound the failure.  The question is: Will this put an end to the previous patterns of history, including the until-now-predictable rise of the next great power, the next empire?  On a devolving planet, is it even possible to imagine the next stage in imperial gigantism?

Every factor that would normally lead toward “greatness” now also leads toward global decline.  This process — which couldn’t be more unfair to countries having their industrial and consumer revolutions late — gives a new meaning to the phrase “disaster capitalism.”

Take the Chinese, whose leaders, on leaving the Maoist model behind, did the most natural thing in the world at the time: they patterned their future economy on the United States — on, that is, success as it was then defined.  Despite both traditional and revolutionary communal traditions, for instance, they decided that to be a power in the world, you needed to make the car (which meant the individual driver) a pillar of any future state-capitalist China.  If it worked for the U.S., it would work for them, and in the short run, it worked like a dream, a capitalist miracle — and China rose.

It was, however, also a formula for massive pollution, environmental degradation, and the pouring of ever more fossil fuels into the atmosphere in record amounts.  And it’s not just China.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about that country’s ravenous energy use, including its possible future “carbon bombs,” or the potential for American decline to be halted by new extreme methods of producing energy (frackingtar-sands extraction, deep-water drilling).  Such methods, however much they hurt local environments, might indeed turn the U.S. into a “new Saudi Arabia.”  Yet that, in turn, would only contribute further to the degradation of the planet, to decline on an ever-larger scale.

What if, in the twenty-first century, going up means declining?  What if the unipolar moment turns out to be a planetary moment in which previously distinct imperial events — the rise and fall of empires — fuse into a single disastrous system?

What if the story of our times is this: And then there was one planet, and it was going down.

 

 

Lords of Disorder: Billions For Wall Street, Sacrifice For Everyone Else

In Uncategorized on March 7, 2013 at 5:38 pm

Lloyd C. Blankfein.Oldspeak:”“This bank is anti-fragile, we actually benefit from downturns.”-Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan ChaseThe term “antifragile” was coined by maverick financier & analyst Nassim Taleb, whose book of the same name is subtitled “Things That Gain From Disorder.” That’s a good description of JPMorgan Chase and the nation’s other megabanks… These institutions are designed to prey off economic misery. They suppress genuine market forces in order to thrive, and they couldn’t do it without our ongoing help. The Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve are making it happen.” –Richard Eskow. One look no further than how Mr. Dimon and his sociopathic corporation  profits off the misery of the poverty stricken by administering food stamp benefits to see his demented thought in practice. “A catastrophe for you and I usually presents an opportunity for the Titans of capital. And the grievous economic crisis affecting so many American families is no exception — big business has found a number of ways to profit, directly, from Main Street’s economic pain. Like vultures descending on a rotting corpse, they’ve come up with a variety of innovative methods to pull the last scraps of meat off the bones of America’s middle-class” –Joshua Holland. It’s very clear if one chooses to look. The corprocratic controllers of our political class and economic systems, profit from disorder, downturns, and catastrophes. Money is being redirected  from the people and real economy via austerity programs to prop up and sustain these failed, morally and spiritually bankrupt enterprises.  Knowing this, how logical is it to conclude that obviously deleterious political and economic policies that have us hurtling toward economic and ecological catastrophe will be changed to benefit the people? Not very. The problem is systemic. The systems around which we organize our societies must be fundamentally changed. All the nibbling around the edges that passes for sound policy is largely illusory.If we hope to survive as civilization we can no longer allow merchants of death and disorder who dominate the Military-Financial-Political Industrial Complex to reign as Lords of Disorder.”

By Richard Eskow @ The Campaign For Americas Future:

The President’s “sequester” offer slashes non-defense spending by $830 billion over the next ten years. That happens to be the precise amount we’re implicitly giving Wall Street’s biggest banks over the same time period.

We’re collecting nothing from the big banks in return for our generosity.  Instead we’re demanding sacrifice from the elderly, the disabled, the poor, the young, the middle class – pretty much everybody, in fact, who isn’t “too big to fail.”

That’s injustice on a medieval scale, served up with a medieval caste-privilege flavor. The only difference is that nowadays injustices are presented with spreadsheets and PowerPoints, rather than with scrolls and trumpets and kingly proclamations.

And remember: The White House represents the liberal side of these negotiations.

The Grandees

The $83 billion ‘subsidy’ for America’s ten biggest banks first appeared in an editorial from Bloomberg News – which, as the creation of New York’s billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg, is hardly a lefty outfit.  That editorial drew upon sound economic analyses to estimate the value of the US government’s implicit promise to bail these banks out.

Then it showed that, without that advantage, these banks would not be making a profit at all.

That means that all of those banks’ CEOs, men (they’re all men) who preen and strut before the cameras and lecture Washington on its profligacy, would not only have lost their jobs and fortunes in 2008 because of their incompetence – they would probably lose their jobs again today.

Tell that to Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, or Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, both of whom have told us it’s imperative that we cut social programs for the elderly and disabled to “save our economy.” The elderly and disabled have paid for those programs – just as they paid to rescue Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, and just as they implicitly continue to pay for that rescue today.

Dimon, Blankfein and their peers are like the grandees of imperial Spain and Portugal. They’ve been given great wealth and great power over others, not through native ability but by the largesse of the Throne.

Lords of Disorder

Just yesterday, in a rare burst of candor, Dimon said this to investors on a quarterly earnings call: “This bank is anti-fragile, we actually benefit from downturns.”

It’s true, of course. Other corporations – in fact, everybody else – has to survive or fail in real-world conditions. But Dimon and his peers are wrapped in a protective force field which was created by the people, of the people, and for … well, for Dimon and his peers.

The term “antifragile” was coined by maverick financier and analyst Nassim Taleb, whose book of the same name is subtitled “Things That Gain From Disorder.” That’s a good description of JPMorgan Chase and the nation’s other megabanks.

Arbitraging Failure

Dimon’s comment was another way of saying that his bank, and everything it represents, is The Shock Doctrine made manifest. The nation’s megabanks are arbitraging their own failures, and the economic crises that flow from those failures.

These institutions are designed to prey off economic misery. They suppress genuine market forces in order to thrive, and they couldn’t do it without our ongoing help. The Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve are making it happen.

We who have made these banks “antifragile” have crowned their leaders our Lords of Disorder.

Once Dimon told reporters that he explained to his seven-year-old daughter what a financial crisis is – “something that happens … every five to seven years,” which “we need to do a better job” managing.

Thanks to fat political contributions, Dimon manages them well. So do his peers. Misery is the business model. And by Dimon’s reckoning another shock’s coming any day now.

Money For Nothing

Bloomberg’s use of the word ‘subsidy’ in this instance can be slightly misleading. Public institutions don’t issue $83 billion in checks to Wall Street’s biggest banks every year. But they didn’t let them fail as they should have – through an orderly liquidation – after they created the crisis of 2008 through fraud and chicanery. Instead it allowed them to prosper from it, creating that $83 billion implicit guarantee.

As we detailed in 2011, the TARP program didn’t “make money,” either. Banks received a free and easy trillion-plus dollars from our public institution, on terms that amounted to a gift worth tens of billions, and possibly hundreds of billions.

That gift prevented them from failing. In private enterprise, this kind of rescue is only given in return for part ownership or other financial concessions. But our government asked for nothing of the kind.

Unpaid Debts

Breaking up the big banks would have protected the public from more harm at their hands. That didn’t happen.

Government institutions could have imposed a financial transaction tax, whose revenue could be used to repair the harm the banks caused while at the same time discouraging runaway gambling.  They still could.

They could have imposed fees on the largest banks to offset the $83 billion per year advantage we’ve given them. They still could.

But they haven’t. This one-sided giveaway is the equivalent of an $83 billion gift for Wall Street each and every year.

Cut and Paste

$83 billion per year: Our current budget debate is framed in ten-year cycles, which means that’s $830 billion in Sequester Speak.  You’d think our deficit-obsessed capital would be trying to collect that very reasonable amount from Wall Street. Instead the White House is proposing $130 billion in Social Security cuts, $400 in Medicare reductions, $200 billion in “non-health mandatory savings,” and $100 billion in non-defense discretionary cuts.

That adds up to exactly $830 billion.

No doubt there is genuine waste that could be cut. But $830 billion, or some portion of it, could be used to grow our economy and brings tens of millions of Americans out of the ongoing recession that is their daily reality, even as the Lords of Disorder continue to prosper. It could be used for educating our young people and helping them find work, for reducing the escalating number of people in poverty, for addressing our crumbling infrastructure, for giving people decent jobs.

It’s going to Wall Street instead.

Trillion-Dollar Tribute

The right word for that is tribute. As in, “a payment by one ruler or nation to another in acknowledgment of submission …” or “an excessive tax, rental, or tariff imposed by a government, sovereign, lord, or landlord … an exorbitant charge levied by a person or group having the power of coercion.” (Courtesy Merriam-Webster)

In this case the tribute is made possible, not by military occupation, but by the hijacking of our political process by the corrupting force of corporate contributions.

The fruits of that victory are rich: Bank profits are at near-record highs. Most of the country is still struggling to dig out from the wreckage they created but, as Demos’ Policy Shop puts it, “for the banks it’s 2006 all over again.”

On Bended Knee

“Millions for defense,” they said in John Adams’ day, “but not one cent for tribute.”

Today we’re paying for both. That doesn’t leave much for the elderly, the disabled, the impoverished, the children, or anybody else who doesn’t “benefit from disorder.” Nobody’s fighting for them in this budget battle.

That leaves the public with a clear choice: Demand solutions that are more just and democratic – or submit willingly to the Lords of Disorder.

Labor Day & The Election Of 2012: It’s The Inequality, Stupid.

In Uncategorized on September 3, 2012 at 6:53 pm

https://i0.wp.com/truth-out.org/images/090312in_.jpgOldspeak:” Seems pretty self-explanatory: “As wealth and income rise to the top, moreover, so does political power. The rich are able to entrench themselves by lowering their taxes, gaining special tax breaks (such as the “carried interest” loophole allowing private equity and hedge fund managers to treat their incomes as capital gains), and ensuring a steady flow of corporate welfare to their businesses (special breaks for oil and gas, big agriculture, big insurance, Big Pharma, and, of course, Wall Street). All of this squeezes public budgets, corrupts government, and undermines our democracy. The issue isn’t the size of our government; it’s who our government is for. It has become less responsive to the needs of most citizens and more to the demands of a comparative few.“-Robert Reich

By Robert Reich @ Robert Reichs Blog:

The most troubling economic trend facing America this Labor Day weekend is the increasing concentration of income, wealth, and political power at the very top – among a handful of extraordinarily wealthy people – and the steady decline of the great American middle class.

Inequality in America is at record levels. The 400 richest Americans now have more wealth than the bottom 150 million of us put together.

Republicans claim the rich are job creators. Nothing could be further from the truth. In order to create jobs, businesses need customers. But the rich spend only a small fraction of what they earn. They park most of it wherever around the world they can get the highest return.

The real job creators are the vast middle class, whose spending drives the economy and creates jobs.

But as the middle class’s share of total income continues to drop, it cannot spend as much as before. Nor can most Americans borrow as they did before the crash of 2008 — borrowing that temporarily masked their declining purchasing power.

As a result, businesses are reluctant to hire. This is the main reason why the recovery has been so anemic.

As wealth and income rise to the top, moreover, so does political power. The rich are able to entrench themselves by lowering their taxes, gaining special tax breaks (such as the “carried interest” loophole allowing private equity and hedge fund managers to treat their incomes as capital gains), and ensuring a steady flow of corporate welfare to their businesses (special breaks for oil and gas, big agriculture, big insurance, Big Pharma, and, of course, Wall Street).

All of this squeezes public budgets, corrupts government, and undermines our democracy. The issue isn’t the size of our government; it’s who our government is for. It has become less responsive to the needs of most citizens and more to the demands of a comparative few.

The Republican response – as we saw dramatically articulated this past week in Tampa – is to further reduce taxes on the rich, defund programs for the poor, fight unions, allow the median wage to continue to fall, and oppose any limits on campaign contributions or spending.

It does not take a great deal of brainpower to understand this strategy will lead to an even more lopsided economy, more entrenched wealth, and more corrupt democracy.

The question of the moment is whether next week President Obama will make a bold and powerful rejoinder. If he and the Democratic Party stand for anything, it must be to reverse this disastrous trend.