October 2011


“The whole political class is just getting the memo that Ozzie and Harriet don’t live here anymore.” — Edward Hill, dean of the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University

That’s from a New York Times article reporting that poverty in US suburbs went up by 53 percent from 2000 to 2010, with a full two-thirds of that increase occurring since 2007.

Awesome … Occupy NOLA rocks:

In Texas, reality is apparently “inconsistent with current agency policy.”

It would be hysterically funny if it weren’t so darned sad, pathetic and dangerous: upon being questioned about the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s near-complete elimination of any scientific references to climate change and rising sea levels in a 200-page report on the state of Galveston Bay, a spokesperson essentially said that peer-reviewed science is “inconsistent with current agency policy.” A s a result, every one of the scientists who contributed to the report has asked that his or her name be removed from the publication.

Fantastic. As Common Dreams said, “Watch it, post it.”

If you already despised Koch Industries because of its support for the Tea Party, climate science denial and all things regressive, just wait till you get a load of this Bloomberg article: Koch Brothers Flout Law Getting Richer With Secret Iran Sales. (Hat tip to the always insightful Digby at the blog Hullabaloo.) It reveals a laundry list of beyond-bad behavior from the firm: bribery, firing of whistleblowers, sales through foreign subsidiaries of petrochemical equipment to Iran (in violation of a US trade ban), “mismeasurements” of crude oil produced from wells on federal land, deadly negligence and more.

This is exactly the kind of sunlight that needs to be aimed at a far-too-influential private company run by a pair of billionaire brothers who back the idea of killing Social Security and believe President Barack Obama is the next Saddam Hussein. But every little bit the rest of us do can also help, and that means being aware of the many consumer brands that fall under the Koch Industries umbrella.

One Koch company, for example, is Georgia-Pacific, which produces several brands of toilet paper (Angel Soft, Quilted Northern and Soft n’ Gentle); paper napkins (Dixie, Mardi Gras, Vanity Fair); Dixie cups, plates, bowls and dispensers; paper towels (Brawny, Mardi Gras, Sparkle); and home and office paper (Georgia-Pacific, Spectrum). Then there’s Invista, the Koch business behind Antron carpet fiber, Comforel fiber, Coolmax fabric, Cordura fabric, Dacron fiberfill, Lycra, SolarMax fabric, Stainmaster carpets, Supplex fabric, Supriva fiber, Tactel fiber and Thermolite fabric.

So forget all the snarky media comments about the 99 Percenters in New York and other cities using iPhones to communicate … who cares? The late Steve Jobs didn’t do sneaky deals with Iran or oppose regulations on derivatives trading. But it’d be good to not see any Dixie cups or Mardi Gras napkins during mealtimes in Liberty Park.

Quote o’ the day, from Adam Smith of all people:

“To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers … The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.”

In other words, be very wary of any regulatory changes proposed by big business. (Hmm, US Chamber of Commerce, anyone?)

The world has been a stranger-than-usual place since the global economic crisis of 2008. At first, taken at face value, the events of that year looked mostly like a financial failing. But developments since then show that society is undergoing a sea change, a wholesale transformation of every part of our way of life.

We can’t enjoy the wisdom of hindsight yet. While we recognize that our way of life is evolving dramatically, we’re not at some endpoint where we can say, “Aha, this is how things will be from now on.” In fact, the more you look at things, the harder it is to even say where it all began. Was it really the fall of Lehman Brothers that set today’s strange wheels in motion? Or did the invention of the internet seed the revolution? What about the birth of the oil industry that enabled a globalized economy and civilization as we know it? Maybe that’s when it all started.

Ultimately, it probably doesn’t matter. Because it’s the “here” and the “now” we find ourselves in that we have to deal with. And that here and that now are telling us one thing:

The era of growing is over – it’s time to start downscaling.

Reality is telling us that.

Our financial systems are telling us they can’t get any more complex. They’ve already crashed once under the insanely complex investment “instruments” dreamed up by quants who knew a lot about calculus, physics and engineering but not much about the real people and real lives those instruments had the power to devastate.

Our highways, power grids and sprawling developments are telling us they’re crumbling under the weight of too much demand, too little thought to sustainability.

Our public-sector education and healthcare systems, and our social safety nets, are telling us they’re dying a slow death by a thousand cuts.

Our energy supplies are telling us they’re becoming harder to get and more expensive.

Our water supplies are telling us they’re becoming harder to get and more expensive.

Our food supplies are telling us they’re becoming more expensive and more vulnerable to shocks both natural and manmade.

The fish and other sealife in our oceans are telling us they’re choking on a toxic cocktail of discarded pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals, plastics and oil … and that, when we eat them, we’re eating that cocktail too.

Our climate is telling us it’s about to slip into a realm never before experienced by humans.

Even we are telling ourselves that, as we’re seeing now from the rising protests of ordinary people from Greece to the US, Chile to Egypt and beyond.

All these diverse developments might seem disconnected, but they’re not. The commercial lied: What happens in Vegas never stays just in Vegas … a hangover there affects someone’s wedding plans two states over, a shock in energy prices affects the cost of food, which affects poverty levels, which affects social unrest, which affects whole governments. You get the idea.

Bottom line: like it or not, things are changing. We can fight tooth and nail to deny the forces driving those changes and try in vain to preserve “life as we know it” by continuing to apply patches no better than string and bubblegum … until the whole darned edifice crashes around us. Or we can adjust our habits, our social systems, our ways of life accordingly and make the difficult but necessary transition to a more stable, liveable future.

For our own sakes, as well as for the sake of our kids and grandkids, the choice should be obvious.

Our future rests on downscaling.

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