Obama Channels Cheney’s Geopolitical Energy Policy June 21, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Dick Cheney, Energy, Environment, Nuclear weapons/power.
Tags: china policy, coal, Dick Cheney, energy, energy policy, energy politics, environment, fracking, gas, geopolitics, haliburton, hudro-fracking, michael t. klare, nuclear, Obama policy, offshore drilling, oil, oil exploration, oil industry, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: Back in the fall of 2008, after the election and before the inauguration, I wrote an essay entitled “Plus ça change you can believe in.” Obama has not disappointed this cynical prediction. I would not have thought that he would have out Bushed Bush on warmongering, but there is no surprise that he is loyal to the big money (despite the phony claim of small contributors) that put him in office.
Published on Thursday, June 21, 2012 by TomDispatch.com
Four Ways the President Is Pursuing Cheney’s Geopolitics of Global Energy
As details of his administration’s global war against terrorists, insurgents, and hostile warlords have become more widely known — a war that involves a mélange of drone attacks, covert operations, and presidentially selected assassinations — President Obama has been compared to President George W. Bush in his appetite for military action. “As shown through his stepped-up drone campaign,” Aaron David Miller, an advisor to six secretaries of state, wrote at Foreign Policy, “Barack Obama has become George W. Bush on steroids.”
When it comes to international energy politics, however, it is not Bush but his vice president, Dick Cheney, who has been providing the role model for the president. As recent events have demonstrated, Obama’s energy policies globally bear an eerie likeness to Cheney’s, especially in the way he has engaged in the geopolitics of oil as part of an American global struggle for future dominance among the major powers.
More than any of the other top officials of the Bush administration — many with oil-company backgrounds — Cheney focused on the role of energy in global power politics. From 1995 to 2000, he served as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Halliburton, a major supplier of services to the oil industry. Soon after taking office as vice president he was asked by Bush to devise a new national energy strategy that has largely governed U.S. policy ever since.
Early on, Cheney concluded that the global supply of energy was not growing fast enough to satisfy rising world demand, and that securing control over the world’s remaining oil and natural gas supplies would therefore be an essential task for any state seeking to acquire or retain a paramount position globally. He similarly grasped that a nation’s rise to prominence could be thwarted by being denied access to essential energy supplies. As coal was to the architects of the British empire, oil was for Cheney — a critical resource over which it would sometimes be necessary to go to war.
More than any of his peers, Cheney articulated such views on the importance of energy to national wealth and power. “Oil is unique in that it is so strategic in nature,” he told an audience at an industry conference in London in 1999. “We are not talking about soapflakes or leisurewear here. Energy is truly fundamental to the world’s economy. The Gulf War was a reflection of that reality.”
Cheney’s reference to the 1990-1991 Gulf War is particularly revealing. During that conflict, he was the secretary of defense and so supervised the American war effort. But while his boss, President George H.W. Bush, played down the role of oil in the fight against Iraq, Cheney made no secret of his belief that energy geopolitics lay at the heart of the matter. “Once [Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein] acquired Kuwait and deployed an army as large as the one he possesses,” Cheney told the Senate Armed Services Committee when asked to justify the administration’s decision to intervene, “he was clearly in a position to be able to dictate the future of worldwide energy policy, and that gave him a stranglehold on our economy.”
This would be exactly the message he delivered in 2002, as the second President Bush girded himself for the invasion of Iraq. Were Saddam Hussein successful in acquiring weapons of mass destruction, Cheney told a group of veterans that August 25th, “[he] could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East [and] take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies.”
For Cheney, the geopolitics of oil lay at the core of international relations, largely determining the rise and fall of nations. From this, it followed that any steps, including war and environmental devastation, were justified so long as they enhanced America’s power at the expense of its rivals.
Through his speeches, Congressional testimony, and actions in office, it is possible to reconstruct the geopolitical blueprint that Cheney followed in his career as a top White House strategist — a blueprint that President Obama, eerily enough, now appears to be implementing, despite the many risks involved.
That blueprint consists of four key features:
1. Promote domestic oil and gas production at any cost to reduce America’s dependence on unfriendly foreign suppliers, thereby increasing Washington’s freedom of action.
2. Keep control over the oil flow from the Persian Gulf (even if the U.S. gets an ever-diminishing share of its own oil supplies from the region) in order to retain an “economic stranglehold” over other major oil importers.
3. Dominate the sea lanes of Asia, so as to control the flow of oil and other raw materials to America’s potential economic rivals, China and Japan.
4. Promote energy “diversification” in Europe, especially through increased reliance on oil and natural gas supplies from the former Soviet republics of the Caspian Sea basin, in order to reduce Europe’s heavy dependence on Russian oil and gas, along with the political influence this brings Moscow.
The first objective, increased reliance on domestic oil and gas, was highlighted in National Energy Policy, the energy strategy Cheney devised for the president in May 2001 in close consultation with representatives of the oil giants. Although mostly known for its advocacy of increased drilling on federal lands, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Cheney Report (as it came to be known) largely focused on the threat of growing U.S. dependence on foreign oil suppliers and the need to achieve greater “energy security” through a damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead program of accelerated exploitation of domestic energy supplies.
“A primary goal of the National Energy Policy is to add supply from diverse sources,” the report declared. “This means domestic oil, gas, and coal. It also means hydropower and nuclear power.” The plan also called for a concerted drive to increase U.S. reliance on friendly sources of energy in the Western hemisphere, especially Brazil, Canada, and Mexico.
The second objective, control over the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf, was, for Cheney, the principal reason for both the First Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Although before that invasion, the president and other top officials focused on Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, his human rights record, and the need to bring democracy to Iraq, Cheney never wavered in his belief that the basic goal was to ensure that Washington would control the Middle Eastern oil jugular.
After Saddam’s ouster and the occupation of Iraq began, Cheney was especially outspoken in his insistence that neighboring Iran be prevented, by force of arms if need be, from challenging American preeminence in the Gulf. “We’ll keep the sea lanes open,” he declared from the deck of an aircraft carrier during maneuvers off the coast of Iran in May 2007. “We’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.”
Cheney also focused in a major way on ensuring control over the sea lanes from the Strait of Hormuz, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf (out of which 35% of the world’s tradable oil flows each day) across the Indian Ocean, through the Straits of Malacca, and into the South and East China Seas. To this day, these maritime corridors remain essential for the economic survival of China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, bringing oil and other raw materials to their industries and carrying manufactured goods to their markets abroad. By maintaining U.S. control over these vital conduits, Cheney sought to guarantee the loyalty of America’s key Asian allies and constrain the rise of China. In pursuit of these classic geopolitical objectives, he pushed for an enhanced U.S. naval presence in the Asia-Pacific region and the establishment of a network of military alliances linking Japan, Australia, and India, all aimed at containing China.
Finally, Cheney sought to rein in America’s other major great-power rival, Russia. While his boss, George W. Bush, spoke of the potential for cooperation with Moscow, Cheney, still an energy cold warrior, viewed Russia as a geopolitical competitor and sought every opportunity to diminish its power and influence. He particularly feared that Europe’s growing dependence on Russian natural gas could undermine its resolve to resist aggressive Russian moves in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.
To counter this trend, Cheney tried to persuade the Europeans to get more of their energy from the Caspian Sea basin by building new pipelines to that region via Georgia and Turkey. The idea was to bypass Russia by persuading Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan to export their gas through these conduits, not those owned by Gazprom, the Russian state-controlled monopoly. When Georgia came under attack from Russian forces in August 2008, after Georgian troops shelled the pro-Moscow enclave of South Ossetia, Cheney was the first senior U.S. official to visit Tbilisi, bringing a promise of $1 billion in reconstruction assistance, as well as an offer of fast-track entry into NATO. France and Germany blocked the move, fearing Moscow might respond with actions that could destabilize Europe.
Obama as Cheney
This four-part geopolitical blueprint, relentlessly pursued by Cheney while vice president, is now being implemented in every respect by President Obama.
When it comes to the pursuit of enhanced energy independence, Obama has embraced the ultra-nationalistic orientation of the 2001 Cheney report, with its call for increased reliance on domestic and Western Hemisphere oil and natural gas — no matter the dangers of drilling in environmentally fragile offshore areas or the use of hazardous techniques like hydro-fracking. In recent speeches, he has boasted of his administration’s efforts to facilitate increased oil and gas drilling at home and promised to speed drilling in new locations, including offshore Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.
“Over the last three years,” he boasted in his January State of the Union address, “we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my administration to open more than 75% of our potential offshore oil and gas resources. Right now — right now — American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years… Not only that — last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years.” He spoke with particular enthusiasm about the extraction of natural gas via fracking from shale deposits: “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years. And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.”
Obama has also voiced his desire to increase U.S. reliance on Western Hemisphere energy, thereby diminishing its dependence on unreliable and unfriendly suppliers in the Middle East and Africa. In March 2011, with the Arab Spring gaining momentum, he traveled to Brazil for five days of trade talks, a geopolitical energy pivot noted at the time. In the eyes of many observers, Obama’s focus on Brazil was inextricably linked to that country’s emergence as a major oil producer, thanks to new discoveries in the “pre-salt” fields off its coast in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, discoveries that could help the U.S. wean itself off Middle Eastern oil but could also turn out to be pollution nightmares. Although environmentalists have warned of the risks of drilling in the pre-salt fields, where a Deepwater Horizon-like blowout is an ever-present danger, Obama has made no secret of his geopolitical priorities. “By some estimates, the oil you recently discovered off the shores of Brazil could amount to twice the reserves we have in the United States,” he told Brazilian business leaders in that country’s capital. “When you’re ready to start selling, we want to be one of your best customers. At a time when we’ve been reminded how easily instability in other parts of the world can affect the price of oil, the United States could not be happier with the potential for a new, stable source of energy.”
At the same time, Obama has made it clear that the U.S. will retain its role as the ultimate guardian of the Persian Gulf sea lanes. Even while trumpeting the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq, he has insisted that the United States will bolster its air, naval, and special operations forces in the Gulf region, so as to remain the preeminent military power there. “Back to the future,” is how Major General Karl R. Horst, chief of staff of the U.S. Central Command, described the new posture, referring to a time before the Iraq War when the U.S. exercised dominance in the region mainly through its air and naval superiority.
While less conspicuous than “boots on the ground,” the expanded air and naval presence will be kept strong enough to overpower any conceivable adversary. “We will have a robust continuing presence throughout the region,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared last October. Such a build-up has in fact been accentuated, in preparation either for a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, should Obama conclude that negotiations to curb Iranian enrichment activities have reached a dead end, or to clear the Strait of Hormuz, if the Iranians carry out threats to block oil shipping there in retaliation for the even harsher economic sanctions due to be imposed after July 1st.
Like Cheney, Obama also seeks to ensure U.S. control over the vital sea lanes extending from the Strait of Hormuz to the South China Sea. This is, in fact, the heart of Obama’s much publicized policy “pivot” to Asia and his new military doctrine, first revealed in a speech to the Australian Parliament on November 17th. “As we plan and budget for the future,” he declared, “we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region.” A major priority of this effort, he indicated, would be enhanced “maritime security,” especially in the South China Sea.
Central to the Obama plan — like that advanced by Dick Cheney in 2007 — is the construction of a network of bases and alliances encircling China, the globe’s rising power, in an arc stretching from Japan and South Korea in the north to Australia, Vietnam, and the Philippines in the southeast and thence to India in the southwest. When describing this effort in Canberra, Obama revealed that he had just concluded an agreement with the Australian government to establish a new U.S. military basing facility at Darwin on the country’s northern coast, near the South China Sea. He also spoke of the ultimate goal of U.S. geopolitics: a region-embracing coalition of anti-Chinese states that would include India. “We see America’s enhanced presence across Southeast Asia,” both in growing ties with local powers like Australia and “in our welcome of India as it ‘looks east’ and plays a larger role as an Asian power.”
As anyone who follows Asian affairs is aware, a strategy aimed at encircling China — especially one intended to incorporate India into America’s existing Asian alliance system — is certain to produce alarm and pushback from Beijing. “I don’t think they’re going to be very happy,” said Mark Valencia, a senior researcher at the National Bureau of Asian Research, speaking of China’s reaction. “I’m not optimistic in the long run as to how this is going to wind up.”
Finally, Obama has followed in Cheney’s footsteps in his efforts to reduce Russia’s influence in Europe and Central Asia by promoting the construction of new oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian via Georgia and Turkey to Europe. On June 5th, at the Caspian Oil and Gas Conference in Baku, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan read a message from Obama promising Washington’s support for a proposed Trans-Anatolia gas pipeline, a conduit designed to carry natural gas from Azerbaijan across Georgia and Turkey to Europe — bypassing Russia, naturally. At the same time, Secretary of State Clinton traveled to Georgia, just as Cheney had, to reaffirm U.S. support and offer increased U.S. military aid. As during the Bush-Cheney era, these moves are bound to be seen in Moscow as part of a calculated drive to lessen Russia’s influence in the region — and so are certain to elicit a hostile response.
In virtually every respect, then, when it comes to energy geopolitics the Obama administration continues to carry out the strategic blueprint pioneered by Dick Cheney during the two Bush administrations. What explains this surprising behavior? Assuming that it doesn’t represent a literal effort to replicate Cheney’s thinking — and there’s no evidence of that — it clearly represents the triumph of imperial geopolitics (and hidebound thinking) over ideology, principle, or even simple openness to new ideas.
When you get two figures as different as Obama and Cheney pursuing the same pathways in the world — and the first time around was anything but a success — it’s a sign of just how closed and airless the world of Washington really has become. At a time when most Americans are weary of grand ideological crusades, the pursuit of what looks like simple national self-interest — in the form of assured energy supplies — may appear far more attractive as a rationale for military and political involvement abroad.
In addition, Obama and his advisers are no doubt influenced by talk of a new “golden age” of North American oil and gas, made possible by the exploitation of shale deposits and other unconventional — and often dirty — energy resources. According to projections given by the Department of Energy, U.S. reliance on imported energy is likely to decline in the years ahead (though there is a domestic price to be paid for such “independence”), while China’s will only rise — a seeming geopolitical advantage for the United States that Obama appears to relish.
It is easy enough to grasp the appeal of such energy geopolitics for White House strategists, especially given the woeful state of the U.S. economy and the declining utility of other instruments of state power. And if you are prepared to overlook the growing environmental risks of reliance on offshore oil, shale gas, and other unconventional forms of energy, rising U.S. energy output conveys certain geopolitical advantages. But as history suggests, engaging in aggressive global geopolitical confrontations with other determined, well-armed players usually leads to friction, crisis, war, and disaster.
In this regard, Cheney’s geopolitical maneuvering led us into two costly Middle Eastern wars while heightening tensions with both China and Russia. President Obama claims he seeks to build a more peaceful world, but copying the Cheney energy blueprint is bound to produce the exact opposite.
Michael T. Klare is the Five College Professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. His newest book, The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources, has just recently been published. His other books include: Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy and Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Dependence on Imported Petroleum. A documentary version of that book is available from the Media Education Foundation.
Irreversible Climate Change Looms Within Five Years November 9, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Energy, Environment.
Tags: cabon dioxide, carbon energy, clean energy, climate change, climate control, climate crisis, climate summit, co2 emissions, coal energy, emissions, energy, environment, fossil fuels, renewable energy, roger hollander
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LONDON – Unless there is a “bold change of policy direction,” the world will lock itself into an insecure, inefficient and high-carbon energy system, the International Energy Agency warned at the launch of its 2011 World Energy Outlook today in London.
Coal-fired power generating station in Shanxi, China. (Photo courtesy Skoda Export) The report says there is still time to act, but despite steps in the right direction the door of opportunity is closing.
The agency’s warning comes at a critical time in international climate change negotiations, as governments prepare for the annual UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa, from November 28.
“If we do not have an international agreement whose effect is put in place by 2017, then the door will be closed forever,” IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol warned today.
“Growth, prosperity and rising population will inevitably push up energy needs over the coming decades. But we cannot continue to rely on insecure and environmentally unsustainable uses of energy,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven.
“Governments need to introduce stronger measures to drive investment in efficient and low-carbon technologies,” she said.
“The Fukushima nuclear accident, the turmoil in parts of the Middle East and North Africa and a sharp rebound in energy demand in 2010 which pushed CO2 emissions to a record high, highlight the urgency and the scale of the challenge,” van der Hoeven said.
Some key trends are pointing in worrying directions, the agency told reporters today. CO2 emissions have rebounded to a record high, the energy efficiency of global economy worsened for second straight year and spending on oil imports is near record highs.
In the World Energy Outlook’s central New Policies Scenario, which assumes that recent government commitments are implemented in a cautious manner, primary energy demand increases by one-third between 2010 and 2035, with 90 percent of the growth in non-OECD economies.
In the New Policies Scenario, cumulative carbon dioxide emissions over the next 25 years amount to three-quarters of the total from the past 110 years, leading to a long-term average temperature rise of 3.5 degrees C.
“Were the new policies not implemented, we are on an even more dangerous track, to an increase of six degrees C.
The IEA projects that China will consolidate its position as the world’s largest energy consumer. It consumes nearly 70 percent more energy than the United States by 2035, even though, by then, per capita demand in China is still less than half the level in the United States.
The share of fossil fuels in global primary energy consumption falls from around 81 percent today to 75 percent in 2035.
Renewables increase from 13 percent of the mix today to 18 percent in 2035; the growth in renewables is underpinned by subsidies that rise from $64 billion in 2010 to $250 billion in 2035, support that in some cases cannot be taken for granted in this age of fiscal austerity.
By contrast, subsidies for fossil fuels amounted to $409 billion in 2010.
“As each year passes without clear signals to drive investment in clean energy, the “lock-in” of high-carbon infrastructure is making it harder and more expensive to meet our energy security and climate goals,” said Birol.
The World Energy Outlook also presents a 450 Scenario, which traces an energy path consistent with meeting the globally agreed goal of limiting the temperature rise to two degrees Celsuis above pre-industrial levels.
Four-fifths of the total energy-related CO2 emissions permitted to 2035 in the 450 Scenario are already locked in by existing capital stock, including power stations, buildings and factories, the report finds.
Without further action by 2017, the energy-related infrastructure then in place would generate all the CO2 emissions allowed in the 450 Scenario up to 2035.
“Delaying action is a false economy,” Birol warned, saying that for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.
Is Climate Science Disinformation a Crime Against Humanity? November 3, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: California, carbon emissions, climage change deniers, climate change, congress, degregulation, donald brown, emissions, energy, energy legislation, environment, environmental deregulation, epa, fossil fuel, global warming, green agenda, greenhouse gas, oil companies, science
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Deeply irresponsible corporate-sponsored programmes of disinformation have potentially harsh effects upon tens of millions of people
by Donald Brown
Although there is an important role for scepticism in science, for almost 30 years some corporations have supported a disinformation campaign about climate change science.
While it may be reasonable to be somewhat sceptical about climate change models, these untruths are not based upon reasonable scepticism but outright falsification and distortions of climate change science.
These claims have included assertions that the science of climate change has been completely “debunked” and that there is no evidence of human causation of recent observed warming. There are numerous lines of evidence that point to human causation even if it is not a completely settled matter. Reasonable scepticism cannot claim that there is no evidence of causation and some other claims frequently being made by the well-financed climate change disinformation campaign, and they amount to an utter distortion of a body of evidence that the world needs to understand to protect itself from huge potential harms.
On 21 October, 2010, John Broder of the New York Times, reported that “the fossil fuel industries have for decades waged a concerted campaign to raise doubts about the science of global warming and to undermine policies devised to address it”.
According the New York Times article, the fossil fuel industry has “created and lavishly financed institutes to produce anti-global warming studies, paid for rallies and websites to question the science, and generated scores of economic analyses that purport to show that policies to reduce emissions of climate-altering gases will have a devastating effect on jobs and the overall economy.”
Disinformation about the state of climate change science is extraordinarily – if not criminally – irresponsible, because the consensus scientific view is based upon strong evidence that climate change:
• Is already being experienced by tens of thousands in the world;
• Will be experienced in the future by millions of people from greenhouse gas emissions that have already been emitted but not yet felt due to lags in the climate system; and,
• Will increase dramatically in the future unless greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically reduced from existing global emissions levels.
Threats from climate change include deaths and danger from droughts, floods, heat, storm-related damages, rising oceans, heat impacts on agriculture, loss of animals that are dependent upon for substance purposes, social disputes caused by diminishing resources, sickness from a variety of diseases, the inability to rely upon traditional sources of food, the inability to use property that people depend upon to conduct their life including houses or sleds in cold places, the destruction of water supplies, and the inability to live where has lived to sustain life. The very existence of some small island nations is threatened by climate change.
As long as there is any chance that climate change could create this type of destruction, even assuming, for the sake of argument, that these dangers are not yet fully proven, disinformation about the state of climate change science is extraordinarily morally reprehensible if it leads to non-action in reducing climate change’s threat. In fact, how to deal with uncertainty in climate change science is an ethical issue, not only a scientific matter, because the consequences of delay could be so severe and the poorest people in the world as some of the most vulnerable.
The corporations that have funded the sowing of doubt on this issue are clearly doing this because they see greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategies as adversely affecting their financial interests.
This might be understood as a new type of crime against humanity. Scepticism in science is not bad, but sceptics must play by the rules of science including publishing their conclusions in peer-reviewed scientific journals and not make claims that are not substantiated by the peer-reviewed literature. The need for responsible scepticism is particularly urgent if misinformation from sceptics could lead to great harm.
We may not have a word for this type of crime yet, but the international community should find a way of classifying extraordinarily irresponsible scientific claims that could lead to mass suffering as some type of crime against humanity.
© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited
Barack Obama’s Green Agenda Crushed at the Ballot Box
With a slew of new climate change deniers entering Congress, Barack Obama’s environmental ambitions are now dead
by Suzanne Goldenberg
But many new members of Congress are at best sceptical on climate change, and Republican promises to reduce the role of government could spell the end for progressive energy legislation and could herald a new era of environmental deregulation.
In California though, there was celebration at the overwhelming defeat of Proposition 23 by a broad climate change coalition that ranged from the outgoing Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Silicon Valley executives and venture capitalists to environmental groups.
With 95% of precincts reporting, some 61% of Californians voted against a measure brought by Texas oil refiners, Tesoro and Valero, and the oil billionaire Koch brothers that would indefinitely halt a 2006 law mandating ambitious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
“We are beating Texas again,” Schwarzenegger told supporters at an election night party.
“Even though they spent millions and millions of dollars, today the people will make up their mind and speak loud and clear that California’s environment is not for sale.”
It was the first time voters had been asked directly for a verdict on a climate and energy plan.
Had the ballot measure passed, it would have scuppered the chances of other states following California’s lead.
But it was an expensive win, with opponents of Proposition 23 spending $31m to assure its defeat. The oil companies put up more than $10.
And the coalition, with their intense focus on Proposition 23, failed to anticipate its evil twin: Proposition 26, which will also hinder action on climate change. The measure, backed by Chevron, requires a two-thirds majority before imposing new taxes or fees. It gathered 54% support, blocking government efforts to get industry to pay for pollution.
In Washington, there was only devastation. 2010 is shaping up to be one of the warmest years on record, but that is unlikely to weigh heavily on the minds of many of the Republican newcomers to Congress.
Obama in interviews on the evening of the elections, admitted there was no change of sweeping climate and energy legislation in the remaining two years of his term. He said he hoped to find compromise on “bite-sized” measures, such as encouraging energy efficiency or the use of wind and solar power.
A cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions was the sleeper issue in the mid-term elections, a galvanising force for Tea Party activists. It saw the defeat of a handful of Democrats from conservative states who voted for last year’s climate change bill – such as Tom Perriello and Richard Boucher, in Virginia.
“I don’t think there’s any question about it, cap-and-trade was the issue in the campaign,” Boucher’s former chief of staff, Andy Wright, told Politico. “If Rick had voted no, he wouldn’t have had a serious contest.”
It also installed a heavy contingent of conservatives hostile to the very notion of global warming in Congress – and solidified the opposition of establishment figures to co-operation with Democrats on energy legislation.
The new speaker of the House, John Boehner, once said: “The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical.” Vicky Hartzler, who took out the 34-year veteran Ike Skelton in Missouri, has called global warming a hoax.
A number of the victorious Tea Party candidates in the Senate, including Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida have said they do not believe in man-made climate change.
Some of the surviving Democrats are just as opposed. Joe Manchin won his Senate seat in West Virginia by, literally, shooting his rifle at Obama’s climate agenda.
In her election night stint as a Fox news commentator, Sarah Palin singled out the Environmental Protection Agency as an example of big and wasteful government. The Republican leadership has signalled they it is opposed to a whole array of EPA regulations, including those on ozone and mercury. The EPA is seen as a fallback route for the Obama administration to deal with the regulation of greenhouse gases after the US senate dropped its climate bill in the summer.
The new crop of Republican leaders in the house are way ahead of Palin, with plans for sweeping investigations of climate science and of Obama administration officials such as Lisa Jackson, who heads the EPA.
As far as the leaders are concerned, the science of climate change is far from settled. “We’re going to want to have a do-over,” Darrell Issa, a favourite to head the house oversight and investigations committee, told a recent interviewer.
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
Pinpricks Derail Action on Climate April 6, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Environment.
Tags: Canada, climate change, emissions, energy, environment, gas lobby, greenhouse, greenhouse gas, koch, linda mcquaig, oil lobby, roger hollander, Stephen Harper
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Of course, it’s possible that the incredibly warm, barbecues-in-March weather we’ve recently enjoyed is just a fluke and has nothing whatsoever to do with climate change.
It’s also possible that if your 2-year-old falls into a swimming pool, he might manage to thrash his way to the side without you having to jump in to save him. On the other hand, jumping in might seem like a sensible precaution.
While obvious with the child in the pool, sensible precaution oddly seems to elude us when it comes to climate change. The vast preponderance of scientific evidence – prepared over the past two decades by thousands of scientists around the world under the authority of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – points to potentially catastrophic global warming and the role of humans in contributing to it.
Yet we allow pinpricks in the side of this vast body of science to derail global action.
The latest pinprick was “climategate” – hacked emails allegedly showing that climate researchers at a British university manipulated climate data to bolster the global warming case. That prompted an international flurry of “gotcha” commentaries from high-profile media skeptics.
There was considerably less attention last week after a British parliamentary inquiry into climategate announced it found no evidence of manipulated data and no evidence to challenge the “scientific consensus” that global warming is induced by human activities.
Discredited or not, climategate accomplished what the anonymous hackers apparently intended – to create a fog of uncertainty around the science.
The fog even manages to obscure the role of the immensely powerful oil and gas lobby, which quietly keeps climate skepticism alive by funding a legion of climate-denial front groups.
According to a report last month by Greenpeace, the wealthy, ultra-conservative Koch family, owners of oil conglomerate Koch Industries, has funnelled nearly $50 million since 1997 to groups denying climate change.
The fog generated has, among other things, enabled Stephen Harper – a climate change denier until becoming Prime Minister – to get away with essentially doing nothing on the climate front.
Last month’s federal budget confirmed this trend. According to the Alberta-based Pembina Institute, the U.S. now spends 18 times more per capita on renewable energy than Canada does.
This inaction makes no sense if we simply consider the probabilities. The IPCC estimates that there’s perhaps a 10 per cent chance that temperatures will not rise enough to cause worry.
So that leaves a 90 per cent chance that we should worry. Even if the IPCC were off by a factor of five and the chances of a benign outcome increased from 10 to 50 per cent, does it make sense to do nothing?
We might face a serious conundrum if tackling the problem required us to do something really awful, like exterminating all the world’s bunnies or chopping down all the evergreens.
But reducing greenhouse gas emissions is something we should do anyway, in order to cut pollution and save limited energy resources. If it turns out to be unnecessary, we’ll still be better off.
It would be like jumping into the pool to save your child, discovering he knows how to swim, and then realizing you needed a dip anyway.
On the other hand, the skeptics seems to think you should stay in your deck chair – after all, there’s a 10 per cent chance your child is going to be just fine.
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Tags: Al Gore, art levine, carbon reductions, clean energy, climate change, copenhagen, energy, environment, friends of the earth., global warming, greenhouse gases, greenpeace, helen caldicott, kyoto, nuclear, nuclear energy, nuclear industry, nuclear plants, nuclear power, nuclear reactor, radioactive, radioactive waste, roger hollander, sierra club, strontium 90, ujranium
Tuesday 22 December 2009
Dr. Helen Caldicott, the pioneering Australian antinuclear activist and pediatrician who spearheaded the global nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s and co-founded Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), has joined with left-leaning environmental groups here in an uphill fight to halt nuclear power as a “solution” to the global warming crisis. “Global warming is the greatest gift the nuclear industry has ever received,” Dr. Caldicott told Truthout.
In her brief speech outdoors in bitterly cold weather, you can see her speaking more slowly than in her usual lecture, so that not one word or grisly fact is missed by her international audience. But you can almost sense her frustration at boiling down into just over six minutes all that she knows about the dangers of atomic weapons and nuclear plants. While inside the Bella Center, no official who really counted was bothering listening to her – or the protesters:
She told the crowd:
The Earth is in the intensive care unit, it is acutely sick. We are all now physicians to a dying planet …The nuclear power industry has used global warming to say “we’re the answer.” All the money to go into nuclear power, 15 billion dollars per power plant, is being stolen from the solutions to fix the earth – solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, conservation.The nuclear power industry is wicked. The nuclear power industry was formed by the bomb makers – it’s the same thing. Nuclear power plants are bomb factories – they make plutonium. Two hundred and fifty kilos a year of plutonium that lasts for 250,000 years. You need five kilos to make a nuclear bomb. Any country that has a nuclear power plant has a bomb factory.If the Second World War were fought today in Europe, none of you would be here; Europe would be a radioactive wasteland because all the nuclear power plants would melt down like Chernobyl. So, war is now impossible in Europe. Do the politicians understand that?Nuclear power produces massive quantities, hundreds of thousands of tons of radioactive waste, which will get into the water, concentrate into the fish, the milk, the food, human breast milk, fetuses, babies, children. Radioactive iodine causes thyroid cancer. Twelve thousand people in Belarus had thyroid cancer. Radioactive Strontium 90 causes bone cancer and leukemia, [it] lasts for 600 years. Cesium 137 – all over Europe now – in the reindeer, in the lands, in the food, lasts for six hundred years, causes brain cancer. Plutonium, the most dangerous substance on Earth, 1 millionth of a gram cause cancer, lasts for 250,000 years. Causes lung cancer, liver cancer, testicular cancer, damages fetuses so they are born deformed.Nuclear power, therefore, nuclear waste for all future generations will cause cancer in young children because they are very sensitive, [will cause] genetic disease, congenital deformities. Nuclear power is about disease, and it’s about death. It will produce the greatest public health hazard the world has ever seen for the rest of time. We must close down every single nuclear reactor in Europe and throughout the world…
Art Levine, a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, has written for Mother Jones, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Slate.com, Salon.com and numerous other publications. He wrote the October 2007 In These Times cover story, “Unionbusting Confidential.” Levine is also the co-host of the “D’Antoni and Levine” show on BlogTalk Radio, every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. EST. He also blogs regularly on labor and other reform issues for In These Times and The Huffington Post.
Tags: carbon capture, carbon derivitives, clean energy, climate change, co2, coal power, coal-based energy, corporate giveaway, Dennis Kucinich, dirty coal, dirty energy, emission reductions, energy, environment, epa, global warming, greenhouse gas, nuclear power, nuclear reactors, nuclear waste, renewable energy, roger hollander, taxpayers, toxic waste, trash incineration
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www.opednews.com, June 26, 2009
“I oppose H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act
of 2009. The reason is simple. It won’t address the problem. In fact,
it might make the problem worse.
“It sets targets that are too weak, especially in the short term,
and sets about meeting those targets through Enron-style accounting methods.
It gives new life to one of the primary sources of the problem that should be
on its way out”" coal “” by giving it record subsidies. And it is
rounded out with massive corporate giveaways at taxpayer expense. There is $60
billion for a single technology which may or may not work, but which enables
coal power plants to keep warming the planet at least another 20 years.
“Worse, the bill locks us into a framework that will fail.
Science tells us that immediately is not soon enough to begin repairing the
planet. Waiting another decade or more will virtually guarantee catastrophic
levels of warming. But the bill does not require any greenhouse gas reductions
beyond current levels until 2030.
“Today’s bill is a fragile compromise, which leads some to
claim that we cannot do better. I respectfully submit that not only can
we do better; we have no choice but to do better. Indeed, if we pass a
bill that only creates the illusion of addressing the problem, we walk away
with only an illusion. The price for that illusion is the opportunity to take
“There are several aspects of the bill that are problematic.
1. Overall targets are too weak. The bill is
predicated on a target atmospheric concentration of 450 parts per million, a
target that is arguably justified in the latest report from the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change, but which is already out of date. Recent science
suggests 350 parts per million is necessary to help us avoid the worst effects
of global warming.
2. The offsets undercut the emission reductions.
Offsets allow polluters to keep polluting; they are rife with fraudulent claims
of emissions reduction; they create environmental, social, and economic unintended
adverse consequences; and they codify and endorse the idea that polluters do
not have to make sacrifices to solve the problem.
3. It kicks the can down the road. By
requiring the bulk of the emissions to be carried out in the long term and
requiring few reductions in the short term, we are not only failing to take the
action when it is needed to address rapid global warming, but we are assuming
the long term targets will remain intact.
4. EPA’s authority to help reduce
greenhouse gas emissions in the short- to medium-term is rescinded. It is our
best defense against a new generation of coal power plants. There is no room
for coal as a major energy source in a future with a stable climate.
5. Nuclear power is given a lifeline instead
of phasing it out. Nuclear power
is far more expensive, has major safety issues including a near release in my
own home state in 2002, and there is still no resolution to the waste problem.
A recent study by Dr. Mark Cooper showed that it would cost $1.9 trillion to
$4.1 trillion more over the life of 100 new nuclear reactors than to generate
the same amount of electricity from energy efficiency and renewables.
6. Dirty Coal
is given a lifeline instead of phasing it out. Coal-based energy
destroys entire mountains, kills and injures workers at higher rates than most
other occupations, decimates ecologically sensitive wetlands and streams,
creates ponds of ash that are so toxic the Department of Homeland Security will
not disclose their locations for fear of their potential to become a terrorist
weapon, and fouls the air and water with sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, particulates,
mercury, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and thousands of other toxic
compounds that cause asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, and
pulmonary and cardiac problems for starters. In contrast, several times more
jobs are yielded by renewable energy investments than comparable coal
7. The $60 billion allocated for Carbon Capture and
Sequestration (CCS) is triple the amount of money for basic research
and development in the bill. We should be pressuring China,
India and Russia to slow and stop their power
plants now instead of enabling their perpetuation. We cannot create that
pressure while spending unprecedented amounts on a single technology that may
or may not work. If it does not work on the necessary scale, we have then spent
10-20 years emitting more CO2, which we cannot afford to do. In addition, those
who will profit from the technology will not be viable or able to stem any
leaks from CCS facilities that may occur 50, 100, or 1000 years from now.
8. Carbon markets can and will be manipulated
using the same Wall Street sleights of hand that brought us the financial
9. It is regressive. Free allocations doled
out with the intent of blunting the effects on those of modest means will pale
in comparison to the allocations that go to polluters and special interests. The
financial benefits of offsets and unlimited banking also tend to accrue to
large corporations. And of course, the trillion dollar carbon derivatives
market will help Wall Street investors. Much of the benefits designed to
assist consumers are passed through coal companies and other large corporations,
on whom we will rely to pass on the savings.
10. The Renewabble
Electricity Standard (RES) is not an improvement. The 15% RES
standard would be achieved even if we failed to act.
11. Dirty energy options qualify as “renewable“-:
The bill allows polluting industries to qualify as “renewable energy.”-
Trash incinerators not only emit greenhouse gases, but also emit highly toxic
substances. These plants disproportionately expose communities of color and
low-income to the toxics. Biomass burners that allow the use of trees as a
fuel source are also defined as “renewable.”- Under the bill,
neither source of greenhouse gas emissions is counted as contributing to global
12. It undermines our bargaining position in international
negotiations in Copenhagen
and beyond. As the biggest per capita polluter, we have a responsibility to
take action that is disproportionately stronger than the actions of other
countries. It is, in fact, the best way to preserve credibility in the
13. International assistance is much less than demanded by
developing countries. Given the level of climate change that is already in the
pipeline, we are going to need to devote major resources toward adaptation. Developing
countries will need it the most, which is why they are calling for much more resources
for adaptation and technology transfer than is allocated in this bill. This
will also undercut our position in Copenhagen.
“I offered eight amendments and cosponsored two more that
collectively would have turned the bill into an acceptable starting point. All
amendments were not allowed to be offered to the full House. Three amendments
endeavored to minimize the damage that will be done by offsets, a method of
achieving greenhouse gas reductions that has already racked up a history of
failure to reduce emissions “” increasing emissions in some cases “”
while displacing people in developing countries who rely on the land for their
“Three other amendments would have made the federal government a
force for change by requiring all federal energy to eventually come from
renewable resources, by requiring the federal government to transition to
electric and plug-in hybrid cars, and by requiring the installation of solar
panels on government rooftops and parking lots. These provisions would
accelerate the transition to a green economy.
“Another amendment would have moved up the year by which
reductions of greenhouse gas emissions were required from 2030 to 2025. It
would have encouraged the efficient use of allowances and would have reduced
opportunities for speculation by reducing the emission value of an allowance by
a third each year.
amendment would have removed trash incineration from the definition of
renewable energy. Trash incineration is one of the primary sources of
environmental injustice in the country. It a primary source of compounds in
the air known to cause cancer, asthma, and other chronic diseases. These
facilities are disproportionately sited in communities of color and communities
of low income. Furthermore, incinerators emit more carbon dioxide per unit of
electricity produced than coal-fired power plants.
“Passing a weak bill today gives us weak environmental policy
tomorrow,”- said Kucinich.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich on His Battle With the Banks December 15, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
Tags: assassination, banks, budget, business, campaign, cei, cleveland, cleveland trust, congress, corruption, default, election, energy, government, history, kucinich, Media, money, muny light, national city, ohio, oversight, power, roger hollander, taxes
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Dec 15, 2008
|AP photo / Kevin Wolf|
Once they were as gods, but the deities of the American banking system are now in ruins, plunged from their pedestals into the maw of taxpayer largesse. Congress voted to give the banks $700 billion, lifting them temporarily out of their sepulcher of debt, while revealing a deep truth about the condition of America’s financial powers:
They never had the money they said they had as they constructed their debt-based monetary system which now lies in ruins. Their decisions on behalf of depositors, shareholders and investors were lacking in basic integrity and common sense. Green gods bailing out with their golden parachutes.
There was a time when their power was real. Come with me to Cleveland 30 years ago today.
Dec. 15, 1978, Cleveland, Ohio
I awoke to find a curt payment demand that was dropped on my front step by a grandfatherly man who supplemented his Social Security delivering the morning newspaper. The headline plastered across the front page:
Cleveland Trust: Pay Up. Bank would relent if Muny Light were sold, Forbes believes.
One of America’s largest banks, Cleveland Trust, led local banks in demanding immediate payment from the city by midnight, Dec. 15, of $14.5 million in short-term loans.
I regarded the headline skeptically. Having lived in 21 different places by the time I was 17, including a couple of cars, I had come to an encyclopedic knowledge of dun letters, sent to my parents by battalions of bill collectors seeking immediate payment for televisions, cars and a variety of household appliances that never seemed to work. I first came to regard these credit alarms with trepidation, later with impassiveness, with the expectation that as our family grew to two adults and seven children it would soon be on the move again, incurring new delinquencies with each new address. Lack of access to money, housing and credit seemed to be a permanent condition.
Now, having fought through a thicket of consequence to become America’s youngest mayor, elected on a promise to stop the privatization of the city’s electric system, I was faced with paying off loans taken out by the previous mayor, for the financing of municipal projects of dubious value.
The banks refused to extend terms of payment and connived with City Council members to block alternative payment plans, such as the sale of city land or tax revenues. The banks knew the city couldn’t otherwise pay. They demanded instead the sale of the city’s electric system, Muny Light, to an investor-owned electric company, the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. (CEI). The president of the Cleveland Council, George Forbes, had met with the head of Cleveland Trust bank, who insisted on the sale of Muny Light as a precondition for extending the city credit. This was a case of the bank blackmailing the city, pure and simple.
The alternative to accepting the bank’s blackmail was default. Cleveland could become the first city since the Depression to default on its financial obligations. Cities rely on credit for everyday operations and for meeting long-term financial obligations, such as infrastructure improvements. If banks called in their loans, the city would head toward dire straits. No one knew that better than the law firm of Squire Sanders and Dempsey, which had served as bond counsel for the city of Cleveland while the city entered fiscal peril and was simultaneously, though not coincidentally, the principal law firm for the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. Through Squire Sanders and Dempsey, CEI had access to the intricacies of the city of Cleveland’s financial records.
Under the previous administration, the city began using bond funds for general operating purposes. As mayor, I inherited $40 million worth of debt that had to be refinanced before the end of my first year in office. Under my predecessor, the city had illegally spent money it did not have, and yet it had the key to every bank in town and the confidence of the bond rating houses, at precisely the same time it was preparing for the sale of the municipal electric system to CEI.
Cleveland Trust and another bank demanding the sale of Muny Light, National City, were principal stock owners in CEI. Several members of CEI’s board sat on the boards of local banks as interlocking directorates. There was a myriad of bank-utility business relations. Cleveland Trust bank, which handled CEI’s demand deposits, pension funds and other assets, would directly profit from the sale of Muny Light. In a way, the banks were the private utility. With the sale, CEI would have an electricity monopoly in Cleveland and would be able to name its price for electricity and get it. Everyone in the Muny Light territory would receive at least a 20 percent rate increase as the rates would be raised to CEI’s levels.
The city was self-sufficient with Muny Light for many years. Muny provided power to 46,000 homes with low electric rates, which contributed to the economic growth of the city. That was until the late 1960s and early ’70s, when a series of suspicious mechanical failures and power outages diminished the system’s reliability. At that time, under heavy lobbying from CEI, the Cleveland City Council delayed the passage of legislation for $9.8 million in repairs to Muny Light’s generators, thereby forcing the city to purchase power at a premium from its competitor, CEI. The city became increasingly dependent on an interconnection between CEI and Muny Light, a high-voltage line over which power could be transferred from CEI to the city, to ensure reliability. The city’s power system began to experience more unexplained power failures. CEI began to make public overtures to purchase Muny Light. The sale of Muny Light to CEI was soon supported by most of Cleveland’s media, business, political and labor interests.
In November 1976, the City Council passed legislation authorizing the sale of Muny Light for a fraction of its value. I was clerk of Cleveland’s Municipal Court at the time and I objected to the sale. I was advised that there was no way to stop the sale, but I saw it differently. Cleveland had a long history of municipal power. I could sense a terrible injustice was being visited upon the people of the city by its leading institutions, which were conspiring to deprive the city of its public power system.
I organized a petition drive that attracted support from city neighborhoods served by Muny Light. A full civic campaign was born with an intense effort made under brutal weather conditions to gather the signatures necessary to put the issue on the ballot. There was much at stake besides the monetary value of the system: The people’s right to own an electric system. And the historic position of Muny Light, one of America’s first municipal electric utilities, founded 70 years earlier by Cleveland Mayor Tom Johnson. Muny Light provided electricity to about one-third of the homes and businesses in the city at a peak savings of 20-30 percent over the rates charged by CEI. Additionally, Muny Light provided millions of dollars annually in savings to taxpayers by serving 76 city facilities. It also provided Cleveland’s street lighting. High electric rates and higher taxes would follow if Muny were sold. The private sector was forcing the sale for its own profit at the expense of the community.
On Jan. 4, 1977, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), in an antitrust review required of any company applying to operate a nuclear power plant, ruled that CEI had conspired to put Muny Light out of business. CEI tried to force Muny Light into price-fixing and blocked Muny expansion, stopped the installation of Muny Light pollution-abatement equipment and forced the city to buy power it didn’t need. In addition, the ASLB uncovered a CEI budget planning report for 1971 that spoke of a five-year plan “to reduce and ultimately eliminate” Muny Light.
The ASLB determined that CEI deliberately caused a Christmas-season blackout on the Muny Light system and sent salesmen into Muny Light territory offering “reliable CEI service.” The private utility illegally tripled the cost of purchased power, thereby driving up Muny Light’s operating costs. CEI illegally blocked Muny Light’s access to power from other companies, all in violation of federal antitrust law. As a condition of receiving its license to operate a nuclear power plant, CEI had to provide Muny Light with access to cheap power. Documents showed that CEI executives believed the purchase of Muny Light would increase CEI’s earnings by $2.732 a share, eliminate a competitive threat, and push the company’s growth rate to 10 percent, further enhancing investment.
Documents in the case also demonstrated CEI’s successful attempts to subvert media editorial policy through cunning use of the company’s large advertising budget. Over the years, several local reporters lost their jobs after writing reports unfavorable to CEI, and CEI bragged internally about placing verbatim company-written propaganda as general media editorial content.
Confronted with the federal finding that bolstered a previously filed $330 million antitrust damage suit, the Cleveland city administration’s response was incredible: “Now CEI has to buy Muny Light!”
At the same time the campaign to sell Muny Light accelerated, a high-powered rifle shot ripped through my house, just missing my head.
A cavalcade of media editorials commenced favoring the transfer of Muny Light to CEI.
During an ensuing legal battle over the validity of the referendum petitions, I became a candidate for mayor. I promised that if elected I would save the system. I won the election. My first act in office was to cancel the sale of Muny Light. I next had to pay off a $14 million CEI electricity bill that the previous administration owed and wanted to satisfy through the sale of the light system.
I had been in the mayor’s office barely a year, facing a municipal horror story of huge snow storms, massive water main breaks and a police strike. I had cut city spending by 10 percent through eliminating corrupt contracts, payroll padding and attritional cutbacks. Through the year, I struggled with a recall attempt for firing a police chief. The recall was backed by banks, utility and real estate interests with a last-minute appeal printed by the Plain Dealer to sell Muny Light. Credit rating agencies, which had looked the other way while CEI was attempting to gain Muny Light in the previous administration, downgraded the city’s finances.
Another Muny Light-related attempted assassination was averted when I was rushed to a hospital vomiting blood from a profusely bleeding ulcer. Some years later, a congressional investigation produced information from an undercover agent of the Maryland State Police that the assassination attempt was to occur while I was the grand marshal in a local parade. A local television investigative report claimed the assassin’s services were purchased because I refused to sell the electric system.
One month later, I was back at work trying to find a way to save Muny Light. The utility’s financial difficulties, though contrived largely through interference with the system by CEI, were depicted as so overwhelming that only the sale of the electric system itself would save the city from financial catastrophe. I held several meetings with bank officials. and it became clear we were heading for trouble on the question of refinancing. The banks were going to try to force me to sell the electric system. I went public with a plea for an income tax increase to protect the city’s solvency.
On Dec. 15, I made a last-minute appeal to Cleveland Trust. It was 8 o’clock in the morning. I met with Brock Weir, the chairman of Cleveland Trust, Council President Forbes and our host, a local businessman. I had the intention of protecting Muny Light and avoiding a default.
“There’s just one thing you’ve got to do,” said the Council president, who strongly favored the sale.
Weir, the bank CEO with the stern visage: “If you sell Muny Light, we’ll roll over the notes. I can get you $50 million in new financing. We’d get other banks to participate.” It was a bribe.
My thoughts went to the street just outside the boardroom. Some 20 years earlier, a few blocks from where this meeting was taking place, I slept with my brothers and sister and parents in a car, homeless. I remembered an apartment where my parents sat underneath the pale yellow light of a kitchen wall lamp, counting their pennies on an old porcelain-topped table. The pennies dropped, click, click, click. Pennies to pay the utility bills.
It matters how much people pay for electricity. It matters if the public owns its own system and has political and financial control over rates. I could hear the pennies dropping, click, click, click, as Mr. Weir insisted on the sale of Muny Light. I remembered my family and the struggles of people like them. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sell. Not for $50 million, not for anything.
“I’m not going to sell, even if it means my career,” I said, as Council President Forbes looked on in surprise.
“Why do you want to end your career? Sell the system. Get rid of it!” he said.
“Is there some other way we can work this out?” I asked Brock Weir.
He shook his head “No.”
Throughout that day, every media outlet in Cleveland echoed the sentiment of Cleveland Trust’s chairman, including the morning newspaper headline, with such depth of coverage and intensity that it seemed the city itself would crumble unless I agreed to the sale, which also included a provision dropping the $330 million antitrust damage suit.
The objective condition of the city’s finances received no honest review. The sale of Muny Light was depicted as the only way the city could avoid fiscal disaster. The majority leader of the City Council held a news conference live on the 6 o’clock news. He declared that if I sold Muny Light, “the chairman of the Cleveland Trust bank has informed the council that his bank will purchase $50 million worth of city bonds. So, in effect, we have a plan sitting on the mayor’s desk that will absolutely end the city’s financial problems, if he will put his signature on it.”
The $50 million bribe had been brought out into the open in a manner that now suggested it was a legitimate offer, a fake solution to a fake crisis. I refused to sell.
As Cleveland television stations covered the event live, with a countdown clock that looked like a twisted version of New Year’s Eve, midnight struck. Television networks of several countries recorded the grim event: The city of Cleveland became the first American city to go into default since the Great Depression. The default was over just $14.5 million dollars in credit.
When I called for a congressional investigation a few days later, Cleveland Trust denied it wanted Muny Light, CEI denied it wanted Muny Light, the council president denied the chairman of Cleveland Trust wanted Muny Light, and the majority leader said he was mistaken when he said live on the 6 o’clock news that the bank chairman offered $50 million in credit for Muny Light. Muny Light was no longer the issue. It was the mayor and his obstinacy that caused the crisis. So went the waltz into a netherworld devoid of truth, justice, reality or morality.
Though the people of Cleveland supported keeping Muny Light by a margin of 2 to 1 in a referendum a few months later, and passed an income tax increase by the same margin in order for the city to pay off the defaulted bond anticipation notes, the state of Ohio intervened and put the city into fiscal receivership. I lost the mayor’s race in 1979. The banks renegotiated the defaulted notes, at a profit. The city lost its antitrust suit against CEI in 1981, in a hung jury. An appeal failed.
I was out of major public office for almost 15 years until, in 1993, Cleveland announced an expansion of Muny Light (now called Cleveland Public Power). At that time, the City Council and others decided that I had made the right decision in refusing to sell Muny Light. The city and its residents had saved hundreds of millions of dollars through Muny Light’s reduced electric rates and the savings the taxpayers enjoyed from Muny’s lower-cost power for street lighting and city buildings.
I attempted another political comeback and this time succeeded, getting elected to the state Senate with the motto: “Because he was right.” My campaign literature showed a radiant light bulb behind my name. Two years later, I was elected to Congress, with the slogan “Light up Congress.” Today I am the chairman of the House Government Oversight Domestic Policy Subcommittee, which has broad jurisdiction over most government departments and agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and electric utility matters generally.
The Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. is now a subsidiary of First Energy Co., which was fined by the NRC for various safety violations and, a few years ago, was found to have primary responsibility for the 2003 blackout that left 50 million people throughout the northeastern United States without electricity.
Cleveland Trust no longer exists. No other bank involved in the default survives, except for National City, which next week faces extinction through shareholder approval of a takeover by PNC bank. I have spent much time trying to save National City.
One newspaper, the Cleveland Press, which advocated that CEI be Cleveland’s sole electricity provider, ceased publication. The other strong proponent of the sale of Muny Light, the Plain Dealer, struggles to survive.
The city’s electric system endures and this past year celebrated its 100th anniversary.
Unions Aren’t the Problem December 9, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Labor.
Tags: anti-unionism, auto industry, bailout, banks, benefits, capitalists, cars, congress, credit crisis, deregulation, detroit, Economic Crisis, economy, energy, income, insurance, labor, labour, main street, marie cocco, middle class, money, roger hollander, taxpayer, trickle down, unions, wages, Wall Street, workers
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Posted on Dec 9, 2008
By Marie Cocco
As Congress and the White House lurch toward possible approval of a loan package for the crippled auto industry, we are undoubtedly in store for more union-bashing. Note well that we did not hear any such tirades when vastly larger sums of taxpayer money—with fewer strings attached—were lavished upon the banks and financial industry wizards who created the credit crisis.
Put aside for a moment the misinformation and outright untruths that characterize conservative attacks on the autoworkers’ unions. No one should be allowed to cast blame on workers who want nothing more than to maintain a middle-class life.
Unions aren’t the problem. They are the solution.
Creating a viable middle class has been the goal of organized labor since labor first became organized. And it is this goal that was abandoned outright by American political and business leaders as they did all they could over the past three decades to encourage a relentless race to the bottom in wages and benefits.
Strip away the financial mumbo jumbo and the credit crisis comes down to this: For decades, as wages and benefits for working and middle-class people stagnated or fell, the only way for them to purchase the goods that make the economy hum was through credit. This was true whether the item purchased was a home, a car—or all the unnecessary gizmos that retailers have been more than happy to tell consumers were the must-haves of the day. Until we understand that we are in the midst of two crises—one the short-term credit crisis and one the longer-term crisis in the failure to pay workers what they need to sustain themselves—we are doomed to repeat this horror.
“If you are a man with only a high school education … your chances of making a wage or salary as good as what your father was making in the late 1970s are not good,” says Gary Gerstle, a Vanderbilt University historian. “We are looking at a deterioration in their life opportunities and living standards, at the same time that an enormous amount of wealth has accumulated at the top of the income ladder.”
It is true that some individuals were reckless in taking on debt. But it is equally valid that American workers simply haven’t been paid what it takes for them to spend enough to keep the American economy growing. “The economy needed levels of expenditure and consumption that most Americans literally could not afford,” Gerstle says.
What do unions have to do with this? To start with, unionized workers make about $200 more per week than do nonunion workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The great expansion of the American middle class and an unprecedented rise in living standards occurred between the end of World War II and the 1970s—when unions were far more common and powerful than they are today. Beginning in the 1980s, an ideology of deregulation and anti-unionism took hold, with free-market capitalists arguing that no intervention in the markets—including labor’s intervention—was ever beneficial.
“The promise of deregulation was that this would create so much energy and dynamism at the top that it would all trickle down,” Gerstle says. “Not only would people on Wall Street make all kinds of money, but people on Main Street would find that there would be more dynamism in their lives, more opportunity, more wages.”
Well, people on Wall Street did make all kinds of money. People on Main Street got depressed wages, the demise of guaranteed pensions and 401(k)s that crashed with the stock market. They got health insurance that is barely affordable, if they’ve got insurance at all.
We are engulfed by an economic morass that holds the prospect of being the deepest and broadest downturn of the post-World War II era. It is no coincidence that the percentage of private-sector workers in unions—about 7 percent—is roughly the same as what it was before the Great Depression. Historically, Gerstle says, social movements have needed direct and often unsettling action to capture the public’s imagination and take hold.
This is why we can only hope that events such as the unfolding peaceful occupation of a Chicago window factory by its newly laid-off workers is the start of something much, much bigger.
Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at)washpost.com.