Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 10th, 2012

Seizing opportunity—very clever guy

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Kevin Hall of McClatchy Newspapers:

ON THE CARRETERA CENTRAL, Cuba — “Subanse,” climb aboard, I said repeatedly, pulling the right wheels of my eight-seat van off the dangerous two-lane highway that snakes hundreds of miles across an island considered off limits to most Americans.

Ostensibly, I was in Cuba to cover Pope Benedict XVI’s visit. But over the week and across the length of the Ohio-sized country, I gave more than five dozen Cubans a “botella” — in Cuban slang, a ride.

My riders gave an unvarnished view of the country. They were farmers, housewives and doctors. They were school kids, half a baseball team, an economist and even a judge, who proclaimed herself to be a huge fan of Jack Bauer in the American TV thriller series “24.”

The van was a lark. Waiting for my small rental car at the Havana airport for two hours — described to me as five Cuban minutes — the overworked rental agent finally offered me the huge diesel-powered vehicle if I’d get on my way.

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I spent most of the following week offering ordinary Cubans a ride in my gray Hyundai van — which often carried more passengers than it was designed to.

I don’t speak with a gringo accent. Some riders thought I was Argentine, most were baffled and many were wide-eyed to discover their driver was American and a reporter to boot.

“I have an aunt in Florida,” said Angela, who got in before Camaguey, a central Cuban city. Many others said the same, citing family members in Miami, Orlando and Houston.

A few passengers were nervous — perhaps because of my driving — and sat silently. Most were expressive but guarded, quieter when others were in the car. As the number of riders thinned, the conversation generally opened up.

To break the ice, I . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2012 at 5:34 pm

Posted in Daily life

Communicating with the Adaptive Unconscious

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So as I think about my unconscious self and establishing communications, I start to recognize (I just now blogged about “delayed recognition” and this is an example) that quite often the communications are clear and direct from me (conscious self) to AU (my adaptive unconscious): I’ve made a practice to repeat things to myself, visualize the outcomes I want, and otherwise deliberately create an environment in which AU, if he’s paying attention at all, will get the drift of where I want to go.

But I thought for a while AU wasn’t communicating with me—he never called, he never wrote, I never heard a word. But then, I realized, words are really not AU’s metier—words are more my meat. AU deals in more primitive fare: disgust, anger, contempt, admiration, excitement, and so on: all those emotions are responses to what’s going on and they are not (generally speaking) from our conscious selves. (I have known managers who deliberately and consciously become angry as a management tactic, but I’m speaking more on our daily encounters with our emotions, in which they seem to come charging in: we often blame others for the emotions that we ourselves feel (“You make me so angry/sad/happy/etc.!”), but in fact those emotions all originate in us and, I think, can be viewed as communications from AU to us (the conscious selves).

For example, you’re at a party, you see and hear a guy talking with some other people, and you find that you immediately not only detest the guy, you’re sort of angry at him. That’s clearly not from your conscious self. To my mind, that’s a direct communication from AU to you: “Watch out for this guy, and better to stay away from him.” But AU doesn’t use words, so the message comes as feelings.

One common mistake is to think that the message is not from AU to (conscious) you, but is somehow intended for the guy—the mistake that leads you to go pick a fight with the guy by being snarky. If you do that, you’ve perhaps misunderstood the message. (Maybe you consciously decided that a fight was a good step, but sometimes people simply carry the message from AU to that guy without realizing that the message could (and perhaps should and most likely was intended to) stop with your conscious self.) The correct response to the message from the AU (the feeling) is probably a thought along the lines of “Understood. And agreed.” directed to the AU. And then you drift away from the guy to enjoy the party.

So strong feelings—particularly when you’re simply observing something—are, I think, communications from the AU. Others are inexplicable forgetfulness, or blurting something out that you did not consciously intend to say, or any acute fascination/obsession that suddenly appears. Once you begin taking notice of your thoughts and responses to things, you’ll see quite a bit of what goes on in you is NOT from a conscious decision or agenda. Those are your AU in action, and if you observe quietly and stay alert, you can see it doing quite a bit.

Often one wants to understand (consciously) more about what is afoot, and a quiet evening with a journal can be very productive: you simply write down the question you’d like to ask AU, and then you write what you imagine would be AU’s answer. That will normally prompt a follow-up question, another answer, and you’re off to the races. If you’re relaxed and go with the flow, you’ll soon start seeing answers that surprise you and seem to provide actual new information, though in fact the information is new only to your conscious self, obviously.

In a previous post, I include this technique in the comments, but it is sufficiently valuable that I thought I’d post it. And in that previous post, BTW, I noticed that I felt much less offended by homophobia by recognizing it as the result of a scary conflict the individual is having between their AU and the rules they consciously obey. It’s not a good situation, and the pain must be agonizing—thus, no doubt, the anger and hostility: the person is hurting. Their AU knows their affectional preference, but their conscious self cannot stand the idea of what they want, so they can’t stand to look at it or anything that brings it to mind. It’s an awful situation in which to be, and it’s awful to put someone in that position by creating an environment in which homosexuality is difficult to acknowledge.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2012 at 2:07 pm

Posted in Daily life

Facing facts

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It’s often hard to face facts, and not simply because of denial (conflict between conscious self and unconscious self, so things that would surface the conflict are studiously ignored), or because the facts are unpleasant. It’s because we mostly operate on autopilot (or, in other terminology, with our unconscious self dealing with the daily decisions and directions of life while the conscious self ponders abstract issues), with the result that we often only gradually become consciously aware of a fact that we’ve been encountering repeatedly. One example that leaps to my mind immediately is how long it took me to recognize that the horsehair shaving brushes were truly excellent. That was a pleasant discovery, but it still took quite a while before I consciously recognized what was right before me.

Joe Nocera has an excellent column on a fact we still haven’t faced: College athletes, particularly in the revenue-generating sports of football and baseball, are in fact college/university employees, and should be hired, remunerated, and treated as employees. If they also want to take classes, great, but the fact is, that’s not why they’re in college. Nocera writes in the NY Times:

I was at the University of North Carolina when I heard the Swahili anecdote.

It was at a luncheon organized by some faculty members who have become, like me, critics of the N.C.A.A. and the hypocrisy of college sports. Among those attending was a former Carolina football player named Deunta Williams.

About halfway through lunch, the talk turned to education. The University of North Carolina, mind you, is a place that professes to care a great deal about whether its athletes go to class — and earn a degree. And, of course, the N.C.A.A. claims — preposterously — that athletes are students above all else.

Yet several of the professors complained that whenever an athlete enrolled in their classes, they got a letter from the athletic department asking them, in effect, to go easy on the player. After all, he was holding down a full-time job: playing football for the university.

Williams, however, had his own set of complaints. Athletes, he said, could only take the classes the athletic department wanted them to take. Coursework couldn’t interfere with practice, of course. It was always better that the classes not be too difficult — otherwise, there might be eligibility problems. And one other thing:

“All the freshman football players take Swahili as their language requirement,” Williams said. Why? Because the athletic department tutors are strong in Swahili.

I’ve been thinking about that Swahili story a lot these days. Over the past few months, as I’ve tackled the problems with college sports — and called for players to be paid, instead of serving as free labor in a multibillion-dollar industry — many readers and bloggers have responded by pointing to the presumed value of the free education they’re getting. Some have argued that the right answer is for universities to de-emphasize athletics. Others have said that schools should stop accepting athletes, no matter how talented, who lack the skills to do college-level work. Just last week, Bob Costas, the estimable NBC sportscaster, devoted two hours of airtime to the state of college sports. (I was one of the panelists.) A half-dozen times, he asked whether it was right for schools to enroll athletes who couldn’t handle the academic requirements of college.

I have come to believe that that is the wrong question. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2012 at 1:23 pm

Posted in Business, Education

Resolving conflict between conscious and unconscious self

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I fairly frequently mention (and recommend) Timothy Wilson’s Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unonconscious, which gives many vivid examples of how our conscious and unconscious selves operate, either cooperatively or in disagreement. It’s a great book, and obviously things go better if one can manage a harmonious relationship between his or her conscious and unconscious selves. I found this 3-minute video (from this AlterNet article) to be quite interesting:


I particularly resonated to his comment that we should pay attention to things that bother us more than they should: something’s going on in such situations that repays investigation. Example: I have a friend who, like myself, likes movies. He saw Groundhog Day (a rich and wonderful movie, IMO) and really hated it. He disliked it intensely, but everyone he talked to (including me and his wife) liked the movie.

Rather than dismissing the incident, he started thinking about it, trying to figure out what about the movie that was bothering him. He ultimately realized that the protagonist’s position—being stuck in a rut—was exactly his position: he also had a job he didn’t like, he also felt trapped by life, and he also was resisting the idea that, for things to get better, he himself would have to change.

Once he figured this out, things went much better. He looked around, found a much better job for him—different sorts of challenges, more authority—and ultimately it turned out that he liked the movie after all. He just didn’t like having his attention draw to something that was depressing him and to which he had not yet figured out an answer.

I note that after watching this video I have more sympathy for those who suffer from homophobia—it now seems less a choice than a desperate internal struggle. It must be extraordinarily frightening—“homosexual panic” is a real thing for some who have struggled particularly hard to repress/deny/ignore their actual preference—and the internal pain from an unavoidable sexual attraction to members of the same sex fighting with the conscious mind’s rules and attitudes imparted by loved and respected authority, it occurs to me, might account for the simmering anger that many homophobes exhibit: anger as a response to pain, much as one sees in wounded animals. The fear probably also plays into that response. No wonder homophobes are angry.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2012 at 10:17 am

7 sensible rules for recording police behavior

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Good article by Steve Silberman at AlterNet:

Last week the City of Boston agreed to pay Simon Glik $170,000 in damages and legal fees to settle a civil rights lawsuit stemming from his 2007 felony arrest for videotaping police roughing up a suspect. Prior to the settlement, the First Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that Glik had a “constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public.” The Boston Police Department now explicitly instructs its officers not to arrest citizens openly recording them in public.

Slowly but surely the courts are recognizing that recording on-duty police is a protected First Amendment activity. But in the meantime, police around the country continue to intimidate and arrest citizens for doing just that. So if you’re an aspiring cop watcher you must be uniquely prepared to deal with hostile cops.

If you choose to record the police you can reduce the risk of terrible legal consequences and video loss by understanding your state’s laws and carefully adhering to the following rules.

Rule #1: Know the Law (Wherever You Are)

Conceived at a time when pocket-sized recording devices were available only to James Bond types, most eavesdropping laws were originally intended to protect people against snoops, spies, and peeping Toms. Now with this technology in the hands of average citizens, police and prosecutors are abusing these outdated laws to punish citizens merely attempting to document on-duty police.

The law in 38 states plainly allows citizens to record police, as long as you don’t physically interfere with their work. Police might still unfairly harass you, detain you, or confiscate your camera. They might even arrest you for some catchall misdemeanor such as obstruction of justice or disorderly conduct. But you will not be charged for illegally recording police.

Twelve states—California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington—require the consent of all parties for you to record a conversation.

However, all but 2 of these states—Massachusetts and Illinois—have an “expectation of privacy provision” to their all-party laws that courts have ruled does not apply to on-duty police (or anyone in public). In other words, it’s technically legal in those 48 states to openly record on-duty police.

Rule #2 Don’t Secretly Record Police

In most states it’s almost always illegal to record a conversation in which you’re not a party and don’t have consent to record. Massachusetts is the only state to uphold a conviction for recording on-duty police, but that conviction was for a secret recording where the defendant failed to inform police he was recording. (As in the Glik case, Massachusetts courts have ruled that openly recording police is legal, but secretly recording them isn’t.)

Fortunately, judges and juries are soundly rejecting these laws. Illinois, the state with the most notorious anti-recording laws in the land, expressly forbids you from recording on-duty police. Early last month an Illinois judge declared that law unconstitutional, ruling in favor of Chris Drew, a Chicago artist charged with felony eavesdropping for secretly recording his own arrest. Last August a jury acquitted Tiawanda Moore of secretly recording two Chicago Police Internal Affairs investigators who encouraged her to drop a sexual harassment complaint against another officer. (A juror described the case to a reporter as “a waste of time.”) In September, an Illinois state judge dropped felony charges against Michael Allison. After running afoul of local zoning ordinances, he faced up to 75 years in prison for secretly recording police and attempting to tape his own trial.

The lesson for you is this: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2012 at 10:06 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Propaganda from the 1%

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Interesting article by William Lazonick, Ken Jacobson, and Lynn Parramore at AlterNet:

Corporations are not working for the 99%. But this wasn’t always the case. In a special 5-part AlterNet series, William Lazonick, professor at UMass, president of the Academic-Industry Research Network, and one of the leading expert on the American corporation, along with journalist Ken Jacobson and AlterNet’s Lynn Parramore, will examine the foundations, history, and purpose of the corporation to answer this vital question: How can the public take control of the business corporation and make it work for the real economy?

The wealth of the American nation depends on the productive power of our major business corporations. In 2008 there were 981 companies in the United States with 10,000 or more employees. Although they were less than two percent of all U.S. firms, they employed 27 percent of the labor force and accounted for 31 percent of all payrolls. Literally millions of smaller businesses depend, directly or indirectly, on the productivity of these big businesses and the disposable incomes of their employees.

When the executives who control big-business investment decisions place a high priority on innovation and job creation, then we all have a chance for a prosperous tomorrow. Unfortunately, over the past few decades, the top executives of our major corporations have turned the productive power of the people into massive and concentrated financial wealth for themselves. Indeed the very emergence of “the 1%” is largely the result of this usurpation of corporate power. And executives’ use of this power to benefit themselves often undermines investment in innovation and job creation.

These corporations do not belong to them. They belong to us. We need to confront some powerful myths of corporate governance as part of a movement to make corporations work for the 99%. To start, we have to recognize these corporations for what they are not.

• They are not “private enterprise.”
• They should not be run to “maximize shareholder value.”
• The mega-millions in remuneration paid to top corporate executives are not determined by the “market forces” of supply and demand.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these myths.

1. Public corporations are not private enterprise.

Here’s something you’ll rarely hear stated by today’s politicians and pundits: Publicly listed and traded corporations are not private enterprise. As documented by the pre-eminent business historian Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., in a book aptly called The Visible Hand, about 100 years ago the managerial revolution in American business placed salaried managers in charge of running the nation’s largest and most productive business corporations.

This was a peaceful revolution in which a generation of owner-entrepreneurs who had founded these companies some decades earlier used initial public offerings on the New York Stock Exchange to sell their ownership stakes to the public, leaving decision-making power in the hands of salaried managers. In effect, these corporate employees, and the boards of directors whom they selected, became trustees of the immense productive power that these corporations had accumulated.

Even when founders of companies that evolve into major public corporations become their CEOs, they generally occupy the top positions as corporate employees, not owners. For example, when the late Steve Jobs returned to Apple Computer in 1997, 11 years after being denied the CEO position of the company he had founded, his ascent to the top position was as a manager, not on owner. When a company founder like Larry Page of Google gives up private ownership by publicly selling shares, he may become CEO of the new corporation, but he is occupying this position as a hired hand, not as a private entrepreneur.

In other words, private owners make choices to transform a private enterprise into a public company that then needs to be regulated as such. There are other choices that could have been made. When the retiring owner of a private company wants to pass on control over a prosperous company to his or her employees, an alternative to the public corporation is to establish an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, or ESOP. There are many successful companies in the U.S. that are not public corporations precisely because they are under the collective ownership of their employees.

It is also possible for some investors to agglomerate sufficient shares to take a public company private (Mitt Romney made his millions doing just that), but that only emphasizes the point: public corporations are not private enterprise. We regulate public corporations far more stringently than private businesses precisely because they are publicly held. And as U.S. citizens, how we regulate public corporations (or even private businesses, for that matter) is up to us.

2. Corporations should be run to benefit everyone who contributes to their success – not just shareholders.

It’s a myth that corporations have a legal duty to maximize profits to shareholders at the expense of everyone else. Historically, the executives and directors of U.S. public corporations understood that they had a responsibility to other constituencies – customers, employees, suppliers, creditors, the communities in which they operate, and the nation. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2012 at 10:02 am

Posted in Business

The last thing authoritarians want: Outspoken journalists

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That is why Obama’s attacks on journalists and journalism is so worrisome: it’s not just whistleblowers he’s persecuting, he’s really trying to close off what the government does from public knowledge. Why? Well, in looking at the history of governments in general and our government in particular, it is NOT for a good reason. It is probably to hide wrong-doing, which is the usual reason (and which eventually comes out). Read this post by Jesselyn Raddack and see what you think:

For two years I have been writing about the criminalization of whistleblowing, or as Glenn Greenwald has put it more aptly, the “war on whistleblowers.”  I’m an attorney with the Government Accountability Project, the nation’s leading whistleblower organization.

How did I get into this line of work?  Because I myself was a whistleblower when I worked as a Legal Advisor at the Justice Department and blew the whistle when my advice not to interrogate “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh without an attorney (and, parenthetically, not to torture him) was ignored and then “disappeared” from the file in contravention of a federal court discovery order. After I blew the whistle, the Justice Department retaliated against me by, among other things, placing me under criminal investigation, referring me to the state bars in which I’m licensed as a lawyer based on a secret report to which I did not have access, and putting me on the “No-Fly” List. (The D.C. Bar charges are still pending 8½ years later.) I write about the experience in my new book TRAITOR: The Whistleblower and the American Taliban. Glenn Greenwald, for whom I am substituting here, wrote an eloquent foreword for the book.

While the Bush administration treated whistleblowers unmercifully, the Obama administration has been far worse. It is actually prosecuting them, and doing so under the Espionage Act — one of the most serious charges that can be leveled against an American. The Espionage Act is an archaic World War I-era law meant to go after spies, not whistleblowers. Strangely, using it to target the media and sources is the brainchild of neo-conservative Gabriel Schoenfeld, who would have sources who disclose information to reporters, journalists who then write about it for newspapers, the newspapers that publish the information and the publisher itself all be held criminally liable.

Everyone wants to know why Obama, with his pledge to “protect whistleblowers,” would do this.  After all, Obama’s transition agenda recognized that “[o]ften the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled.”  That’s not just a broken promise, it’s a complete reversal.

At first I thought Obama’s war on whistleblowers was meant to appease the intelligence establishment, which saw him as weak. I soon recognized this assault as a devious way to create bad precedent for going after journalists. All the Espionage Act cases involve allegations that the government employee “leaked” information (or retained information for the purpose of leaking it) to journalists.

The government’s spectacularly failed case against NSA whistleblower Tom Drake claimed that he allegedly retained allegedly classified information for the purpose of leaking it to Siobhan Gorman, then with the Baltimore Sun. It turned out that he disclosed unclassified information about a failed and wasteful (multi-billion dollar) NSA spy program that compromised Americans’ privacy. FBI translator Shamai Liebowitz pleaded guilty to leaking information to a blogger. Leibowitz made his disclosure because of an all-too-real fear that Israel might strike nuclear facilities in Iran, a move he saw as potentially disastrous. State Department arms expert Steven Kim is accused of leaking to Fox News that North Korea was planning to respond to a U.N. Security Council resolution by setting off another nuclear test — surely of public interest to China and South Korea. And, of course, Army Private Bradley Manning is accused of leaking to WikiLeaks.

In the most extreme proof yet that the war on whistleblowers is also a war on journalists, Glenn Greenwald’s explosive piece last night detailed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) repeatedly detaining and interrogating Oscar- and Emmy-nominated documentarian Laura Poitras, who has filmed three of my NSA clients for the third installment of her War on Terror trilogy. Not surprisingly, her latest film will be about the government’s ever-expanding secret domestic surveillance, NSA treating our nation like a foreign country for spying purposes, and the war on whistleblowers.

In yet other examples, for the Espionage Act prosecution of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, the government has subpoenaed New York Times journalist James Risen three times to testify about whether Sterling was his source. The issue is on appeal in the 4th Circuit from a lower court ruling that Risen had a “qualified reporter’s privilege” not to do so. Going after the media is also evidenced by last week’s Indictment of CIA officer John Kiriakou, which is laced with thinly-veiled references to “Journalist A” (Matthew Cole of ABC News) and “Journalist B” (Scott Shane of the New York Times). “Journalist C” (Richard Esposito of ABC News), mentioned in the charges, mysteriously disappeared from the indictment.

Kiriakou is charged with identifying a covert agent, three Espionage Act counts, and making a false statement, for which he faces 50 years in prison. In the government’s own words: “The charges result from an investigation that was triggered by a classified defense filing [by attorneys representing Guantánamo detainees], which contained classified information the defense had not been given through official government channels, and in part, by the discovery . . . of photographs of certain government employees and contractors in the materials of high-value detainees.” In other words, instead of investigating the government’s withholding of exculpatory information from Gitmo detainees’ lawyers, the government investigated how the lawyers obtained the information. And instead of investigating the approximately 70 names and 25 photos of the detainees’ alleged torturers, the government investigated how the prisoners found them out. . .

Continue reading. The US is on a rapid run toward an authoritarian government if not a totalitarian one. Maybe Obama believes this is necessary in view of the twin catastrophes of global warming and Peak Oil, but who knows? Our government is not communicating with us about its true concerns: that’s obvious from the weird strategic decisions it’s making (invading Iraq, for example, or this ceaseless and expensive war on drugs, or putting lots of drones in American skies).

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2012 at 9:24 am

Welcome to the New Third World of Energy, the U.S.

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Extremely interesting excerpt from a new book by Michael Klare, posted at TomsDispatch:

[Note for TomDispatch Readers:With today’s Michael Klare piece, you get your last chance to receive a signed, personalized copy of his new book, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources, in return for a contribution of $100 or more to this website.  (Visit our donation page to check it out.)  The offer will end later this week.  Many thanks to those of you who have already given.  Klare’s book is little short of prophetic and the dollars you so generously send in really do help keep TomDispatch afloat! Tom]

Here’s a simple rule of thumb when it comes to energy disasters: if it’s the nuclear industry and something begins to go wrong — from Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979 to Fukushima, Japan, after the 2011 tsunami — whatever news is first released, always relatively reassuring, will be a lie, pure and simple.  And as the disaster unrolls, it’s not likely to get much better.  The nuclear industry is incapable of telling the truth about the harm it does.  So when the early stories appear about the next nuclear plant in trouble, whatever you hear or read, just assume that you don’t know the half, not even the quarter, of it.

When it comes to the oil and gas industry and disasters, a similar rule of thumb follows: however bad it first sounds, the odds are it’s going to sound a lot worse before it’s over.  (See BP, Deepwater Horizon.)  So when you first hear about an oil leak from a Chevron well off the coast of Brazil or from a natural gas well in the North Sea operated by the French oil giant Total and you get those expectable reassurances, they, too, are likely to be nothing but gas.

And here’s the sad thing, you’re going to get all too many chances to test out these simple rules when it comes to bad energy news.  After all, as Michael Klare has been writing at this site for years, we’re entering the “tough energy” era.  The big energy companies are going to be extracting hydrocarbons in ever more hazardous, difficult-to-reach places like the Arctic and they’re going to be using ever uglier methods to do so.

It’s a guarantee that, however bad the environmental damage we’ve seen so far, it’s only going to get worse as the energy industry despoils various regions to give us our fossil-fuel fix and their mega-profits.  As Klare points out, one of those regions is slated to be not in distant Africa, the Persian Gulf, or the Caspian Sea, but right here in the U.S.  Klare has been ahead of the energy curve ever since, in the late 1990s, he suggested that we would soon be on a planet embroiled in “resource wars.”  His new book, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources, catches the nightmarish nature of the planet’s last energy boom in a way no one else has.  And don’t be surprised if that nightmare lands squarely in your backyard. Tom

A New Energy Third World in North America?
How the Big Energy Companies Plan to Turn the United States into a Third-World Petro-State 

By Michael T. Klare

The “curse” of oil wealth is a well-known phenomenon in Third World petro-states where millions of lives are wasted in poverty and the environment is ravaged, while tiny elites rake in the energy dollars and corruption rules the land.  Recently, North America has been repeatedly hailed as the planet’s twenty-first-century “new Saudi Arabia” for “tough energy” — deep-sea oil, Canadian tar sands, and fracked oil and natural gas.  But here’s a question no one considers: Will the oil curse become as familiar on this continent in the wake of a new American energy rush as it is in Africa and elsewhere?  Will North America, that is, become not just the next boom continent for energy bonanzas, but a new energy Third World?

Once upon a time, the giant U.S. oil companies — Chevron, Exxon, Mobil, and Texaco — got their start in North America, launching an oil boom that lasted a century and made the U.S. the planet’s dominant energy producer.  But most of those companies have long since turned elsewhere for new sources of oil.

Eager to escape ever-stronger environmental restrictions and dying oil fields at home, the energy giants were naturally drawn to the economically and environmentally wide-open producing areas of the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America — the Third World — where oil deposits were plentiful, governments compliant, and environmental regulations few or nonexistent.

Here, then, is the energy surprise of the twenty-first century: with operating conditions growing increasingly difficult in the global South, the major firms are now flocking back to North America. To exploit previously neglected reserves on this continent, however, Big Oil will have to overcome a host of regulatory and environmental obstacles.  It will, in other words, have to use its version of deep-pocket persuasion to convert the United States into the functional equivalent of a Third World petro-state.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2012 at 9:16 am

Stopping climate change is cheaper than you think

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And it’s MUCH cheaper than allowing climate change to proceed unchecked. James West writes in Wired Science:

You’ve heard it before: politicians say they’d love to take action against climate change, but they’re reeling from sticker shock. Today, a new report from the UK’s leading climate change watchdog refutes this oft-cited argument that climate action will herald economic Armageddon.

The Committee on Climate Change report, with the hairy-sounding title “Statutory Advice on Inclusion of International Aviation and Shipping,” says that in 2050, the UK’s emissions reductions across the whole economy will cost 1-2 percent of the total GDP. This updates, in greater detail, the range predicted half a decade ago by the watershed Stern Review.

Just how much is that? For a rough comparison, one percent of the UK’s 2011 GDP is a little more than what the country currently spends on public housing and community amenities, and is no where near the big ticket public spending items like healthcare. The UK has enshrined in law an emissions reduction of 80 percent on 1990 levels by 2050.

“It’s a very compelling economic case to act,” says David Kennedy, CEO of the CCC, an independent statutory body charged with advising parliament on all things climate. “You don’t need radical behavior and lifestyle change to achieve our climate objectives.” “It’s a very, very small impact on growth. And what you get for that is a whole range of economic benefits.”

This table from the report details the cost in 2050 of meeting emissions reductions in a few different scenarios, including if fuel prices are high or low: . . .

Continue reading. The table will surprise you.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2012 at 9:03 am

Latin American countries pursue alternatives to U.S. drug war

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Latin America, where the US fights much of its War on Drugs, is getting mighty tired of being a battlefield simply because the US resists a rational drug policy (legalization and regulation) in favor of prohibition and a chance to use military tactics. Prohibition did not work before, it is obviously and clearly not working now, and Obama has promised (for what it’s worth: zero) to reform our approach to drugs, which he thinks seems to mean doubling down on attacks on medical marijuana patients and providers. But people are getting fed up with the extremely high cost, in dollars and lives, of continuing on a course that does not work at all. (Have you seen how much of the US is now in prison?)

Here’s a front-page story in a conservative newspaper (the Washington Post), and it seems to push the idea of rethinking what we’re doing instead of constantly expecting that tactics proven to fail will suddenly start to work. Juan Forero reports:

When President Obama arrives in Colombia for a hemispheric summit this weekend, he will hear Latin American leaders say that the U.S.-orchestrated war on drugs, which criminalizes drug use and employs military tactics to fight gangs, is failing and that sweeping changes need to be considered.Latin American leaders say they have not developed an alternative model to the hard-line approach favored by successive American administrations since Richard Nixon was in office. But the Colombian government says a range of options — from decriminalizing possession of drugs to legalizing marijuana use to regulating markets — will be debated at the Summit of the Americas in the coastal city of Cartagena.

Faced with violence that has left 50,000 people dead in Mexico and created war zones in Central America, regional leaders have for months been openly discussing the shortcomings of the U.S. approach. But the summit marks the first opportunity for many leaders to directly share their grievances with Obama.

Those who have most forcefully offered new proposals, or developed carefully argued critiques of American policy, are among Washington’s closest allies. They include the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, a former defense minister who marshaled U.S. aid to weaken drug syndicates; Guatemalan President Otto Perez, a former military man who has long battled drug gangs; and Mexican President Felipe Calderon, whose nation has been engaged in an all-out war with cartels.

(Read excerpts of our interview with Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos.)

“There’s probably been no person who has fought the drug cartels and drug trafficking as I have,” Santos said in an interview last week with The Washington Post. “But at the same time, we must be very frank: After 40 years of pedaling and pedaling very hard, sometimes you look to your left, you look to your right and you’re are almost in the same position.

“And so you have to ask yourself, are we doing the correct thing?”

Perez, whose small country has been engulfed by violence that his security forces are barely able to contain, has been the most forceful and surprising proponent of sweeping change to the current policy. The military and police under his command in Guatemala have continued to battle traffickers, he said in an interview from Guatemala City. But he believes they have little to show for their effort.

(Read excerpts of our interview with Guatemala’s president Otto Perez Molina. )

“The strategy that we have followed these 30 or 40 years has practically failed and we have to recognize it,” he said.

In Washington, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, which oversees anti-drug policies for the Obama administration, declined to comment about the debate. But in a two-day visit to Central America and Mexico last month, Vice President Joe Biden laid out the government’s position, saying “there are more problems with legalization than non-legalization.”

“It’s worth discussing,” he told reporters, “but there’s no possibility the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy on legalization.”

Continue reading, but think about that last statement: Regardless of the facts and the experience and all that we’ve learned, there is no possibility that the Obama Administration will make any changes. That speaks to being wooden-headed, as Barbara Tuchman put it, or (as I would say) pig-headed. It is squeezing the eyes shut, hands over ears, and singing “Lalalalalala” in a loud voice to avoid recognizing what is obvious. He might as well have said, in fewer words, “That’s nice, but we’re stupid.”

This is how governments lose the respect of the governed: when the government ceases to be able to recognize reality.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2012 at 8:58 am

Global warming predictions are underestimates, unfortunately

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The actuality has consistently proven worse than predicted. The denialists take comfort from this by focusing simply on “predictions do not exactly match reality” and thus feel that they can ignore the problem. People who still possess common sense (and some knowledge of science) are more worried. Take a look at this graph:

The vivid purple line is what actually happened. From the post by Geert Jan van Oldenborgh and Rein Haarsma at RealClimate:

To conclude, a projection from 1981 for rising temperatures in a major science journal, at a time that the temperature rise was not yet obvious in the observations, has been found to agree well with the observations since then, underestimating the observed trend by about 30%, and easily beating naive predictions of no-change or a linear continuation of trends. It is also a nice example of a statement based on theory that could be falsified and up to now has withstood the test. The “global warming hypothesis” has been developed according to the principles of sound science.

The entire post is worth reading.


Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2012 at 8:48 am

Exceptional shave again

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I have to say that top-quality soaps produce really great lather—though of course, my Floris JF is several years old now, and who knows whether or not they’ve changed the formulation? Musings below.

The Omega boar did a fine job. I like this particular model, the only brush for which I use a stand, quite a bit. For one thing, it has good loft and thus feels good on the face. The stand is used because it seems to snap onto the brush handle nice, which has a ring seemingly designed for the stand. And this morning it did a fine job with the lather: very thick, dense, and lubricating, plus a great fragrance.

I finally put a new Astra Superior Platinum blade in my ARC Weber, and again I am getting a really exceptional shave. Right now, this is my favorite razor. Three VERY smooth passes, and then a good splash of JF aftershave.

Note on reformulation changes: It seems to me that modern capitalism has evolved into a hypercompetitive form that is unstable and undesirable. What has supported and driven the evolution is the increasing sophistication of computers and automated processes—you know something’s afoot when a new Atlantic cable costing $300 million is being laid primarily to shave 6 milliseconds off of trading times on the stock market. That’s not my generation’s stock market. But this new emphasis on speed of information is all over the place: companies now get real-time reports of production costs, inventory levels, order activity, sales figures, and so on. The information is plentiful, accurate, and immediate, and that leads to on-going adjustments to gain every penny of potential profit, and if that means redoing a shaving soap formulation—even redoing it frequently—then so be it, provided it increases profit.

Of course, generally there are bigger fish to fry, but sooner or later, with the information pouring in and the profit pressure continuous and increasing as competitors push the envelope, companies will see that many minor changes can add up to a noticeable total. In any event, the commercial environment is rapidly changing and those changes affect products. Caveat emptor still applies as it always has, but more quickly.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2012 at 8:18 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving


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