Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Culture of Corruption is a Well-Oiled Machine

Is America a democracy or a corporatocracy?

The fate of the Climate Bill will answer that question.

...Of course, recent fossil fuel political history could already tell us. (And yes, the facts are here.)

On previous posts I have pointed out that the fossil fuel industries have not only manipulated our nation's energy consumption for decades; they have also lied to us for decades, are lying to us now, and will continue to lie as long as they can throw some doubt in our minds.

They want more money.

It doesn't matter if every government on the planet is being corrupted. It doesn't matter if everyone on Earth is being slowly poisoned. It doesn't even matter if our world's climate is becoming unstable – which could result in the deaths of millions, if not billions.

They will always want more money.

How big is the lie? America's oil, gas, and coal industries are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on industry front groups, lobbying firms, and television, print, and radio advertising. They may end up spending a billion dollars in the US this year – to lie to us.

That's a lot of money. But look what's at risk. Just Chevron had revenues of $263 billion last year.

The US Climate Bill is a threat to their exorbitant profits. Worse, for them, at least some of these cap and trade fees will go to support their business model competition – renewables. (That's right, despite all the ads you've seen, the fossil fuel industries are still in the fossil fuel business.)

Should we trust them? Let's consider some examples of fossil fuel corporate behavior:

This March marked the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill – that contaminated 1,200 miles of Alaska's coastline. The spill could have been avoided, and it could have been contained. The Exxon Valdez's radar had gone unrepaired since it's maiden voyage. And oil spill containment equipment, required by law, didn't exist.

The Alyeska Consortium of oil companies had cut every corner. The spill was all but inevitable. But since the Exxon Valdez ran aground, it was Exxon that got sued. And they lost a huge settlement – but they only had to pay pennies on the dollar – almost 20 years later. The effect on the local Natives has been catastrophic. The effect on Exxon has been minimal.

Lee Raymond, President of Exxon at the time of the spill – and its President when the company made the secret decision to do without the oil spill equipment, retired in April 2006. The company awarded him a $400 million retirement bonus, more than double the bonuses received by all the AIG executives combined.”

For the rest of the Greg Palast story on the Exxon Valdez, please click here.

And then there's what Texaco did in the Amazon:

Our teachers taught us that Indian massacres ended in the 1800s. But I guess that depends upon how you define a massacre.

This isn't the worst of it though. 363 million gallons of oil drain into the oceans every year from municipal and industrial waste. Moreover, “every year oily road runoff from a city of 5 million could contain as much oil as one large tanker spill.” The awful truth is; just humanity's use of oil leads to the equivalent of numerous huge oil spills every year.

The use of products made from oil has consequences also. The oil used in making polycarbonate bottles is poisoning us with bisphenol A (BPA). That's right, you can't drink out of the spring because its been contaminated with oil, and you can't drink bottled water because its been contaminated with oil too. (We could have used bioplastics, made from plants – they were first invented in Henry Ford's time. But that will be another story.)

...Isn't our government protecting us? Aren't there laws? Sure, but they haven't been enforced. Or they have been so watered down they don't matter.

This whole oil industry/pollution/corruption thing is far bigger than most of us realize. In a way, they want to rule the world. In a way, they already have for decades. But they have competition. has published a very revealing article about the proposed oil pipelines through Afghanistan and Pakistan. Not only the US, but also Russia, China, India, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran are involved. Of course, a number of big oil companies are involved to. And of course, the United States has “coincidentally” stationed tens of thousands of troops there.

You may recall that Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan (once part of the Soviet Union) have been found to be rich in oil. You may also recall that when Gorbachev asked for help to move his country away from communism, America wouldn't help (even though we had spent trillions fighting communism). I guess America's “leaders” would rather watch the Soviet Union fail, the people of the former Soviet Union suffer, and Russia eventually return to totalitarianism. It all makes sense now that American oil companies want to profit off of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan oil. Apparently, freedom didn't really matter. Democracy didn't matter. Only profiting off of another country's resources mattered. It was all about the spoils of war.

If you haven't been living under a rock for the past six years, you've heard of Halliburton, their questionable practices and their extraordinary profits. If you get a chance, read Halliburton's Army: How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized The Way America Makes War. Publishers Weekly has written that the author, Pratap Chatterjee, “marshals his extensive evidence to reveal... Haliburton's record of corruption, political manipulation, and human rights abuses.” (Let me know what you think.)

I find the title of this book very revealing. It reminds us that Halliburton was once only an oil company – and Dick Cheney was only it's CEO.

But then something happened – on 9/11/2001.

9/11 was the spark that set us in an endless war with an undefined enemy. For some people, it was a damn good excuse to go “medieval” on the Middle East. For others, it was a great excuse to get no bid, cost plus contracts. For Bush Jr.; he got his highest approval ratings ever (for not protecting America on 9/11). And for a while, he ruled this country with more power than any President.

There's just something about the response to the 9/11 tragedy (you know, the total lack of air defense on the entire North East Coast - and the instant subversion of the US Constitution) that was just all too prepared...

  • None of the accused 9/11 terrorists were Iraqi.
  • Torture is a lousy way to get good information. But it was the only way to get Iraqis to lie that there was a link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda.

  • A New York Times reporter, David Barstow, has received a Pulizter Prize for exposing a Pentagon pro-war propaganda media campaign.

  • The only people to benefit from the unnecessary invasion of Iraq were military contractors, a small group of big oil companies, and a small group of big banks.

  • We have stumbled into what is essentially a never-ending World War over oil. No declarations. No explanations. No exit strategy.

  • Defense Secretary and Pentagon Chief Robert Gates has said that the Obama White House has not ruled out the possibility of a military strike on Iran.

  • Northern nations (and their respective oil companies) are already posturing for oil reserves in the Arctic – when the ice cap melts from global warming.

This is bigger than Chevron. This is bigger than Exxon. This is bigger than Halliburton. This is world wide. Just Google the words oil and corruption. The number of articles is overwhelming.

Actually, this corruption is even bigger than the oil industry. This is systematic. For well over a hundred years now, our dominant world economic system has been based upon the exploitation of Earth's natural resources – with little regard for the consequences. Humanity has gotten away with this because we weren't that good at it. But we can screw it all up now, and we seem to be hell-bent on doing just that.

This is worse than crazy. This is criminally, psychopathicly, even sinfully self-destructive and suicidal!!! We have created the machines that will destroy us all. And they're not Terminator robots, they're unbridled corporations.

Capitalism is crushing our democracy.

Corporatism is destroying our environment.

Oil is corrupting our souls.

If you are under 50 years old, it is quite likely that there won't be anything left to fight over – in your lifetime.

The absolute horror of this tragic travesty is that it doesn't have to be this way.

We still might be able to fix this.

It would be crazy not to try.

In fact, it is (life-or-death) imperative that we invent better ways of doing things.

We have to get away from a system that runs on a limited and vanishing resource that has to be delivered by a few big companies. These companies will systematically exploit scarcity to drain us and our planet of everything. The irony is that the people who “manage” these companies seem unable to stop the undermining of their very own future.

Humanity has created a system that rewards irresponsible behavior. And at the moment, we are committed to that system. It doesn't have to be that way.

I don't want a violent revolution.

...I just don't want humanity to win the Darwin Award.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Political Reality is Not as Important as Reality

Have the political realities of Washington weakened the momentum of those of us who elected President Obama?

... Is this all the change we're going to get?

I believe our political system can't ignore us if we keep pushing. But recent news has me very concerned.

Funds are being cut for the development of hydrogen powered cars. The Department of Energy will be cutting research money for hydrogen fuel by almost 60% ($100 million). Yet at the same time, the budget now includes $2.4 billion for “clean” coal.

Hey wait a minute. We can't afford to spend $100 million for a fuel that essentially burns totally clean, but we can afford to spend $2.4 billion on a fuel that can never be clean? (The very best we can hope for with “clean” coal is that they bury those millions and millions of tons of effluents.)

Now, before I go off, let me say a couple of things (and then I'll go off).

I heard a rumor that a lot of the money for hydrogen research has been wasted. I don't know this, but I do know how hydrogen research has been funded. You may recall Bush Jr.'s call for hydrogen research. His plan was to get hydrogen from hydrocarbons and distribute it to hydrogen gas stations.

Now, whether this is the best way to utilize hydrogen or not is a great question, but it begs the real question. Why should a politician be telling scientists what to study?

There is another option, of course. We could make hydrogen by running an electric current through water. But, for some reason, the Bush Jr. administration didn't even want to think about that. Now why would they not want to fund research into a fuel you could make at home?... They're oil men, remember?

So when it came time to fund research, it only made sense (in the political reality of Washington) to keep the money coming in for the oil companies. I have my suspicions that the scientific research for hydrogen for cars was intentionally misdirected. Maybe it was time to clean house at the DOE.

But, my fear is that the political reality has not changed.

Could the Obama administration have folded to pressure from the fossil fuel industry? Did the Obama administration shut down hydrogen research to keep hydrogen fuel from displacing gas and diesel?

This video about hydrogen from Honda is the best advertisement I have ever seen:

To see Honda's hydrogen powered FCX Clarity, which is already on America's roads today - click here

The National Hydrogen Association and the US Fuel Cell Council issued a joint statement that stated:

The newest fuel cell vehicles get 72 miles per gallon equivalent with no compromise in creature comforts. Fuel cell buses operating in revenue service achieve twice the fuel economy of diesel buses. Hydrogen production costs are already competitive with gasoline. Projected vehicle costs have been reduced by 75%. These are accomplishments of the Department's (DOE's) own program in partnership with industry. It would truly be a government waste to squander them by walking away just as success is in sight.”

Oh... did I mention that the price of gasoline is rising again?

One more thing; there is a NASA backed project that would produce hydrogen power from a windmill and solar panels to generate hydrogen from water with an electrolyzer. This hydrogen is to be used in buses in Cleveland Ohio. (If the Obama administration chose to increase funding on projects such as this, I'd be really impressed.)

You have to wonder though; engineers in Spain have announced manned flight with a hydrogen fuel cell powered airplane – yet, Energy Secretary Steven Chu claims that hydrogen fuels for cars are over 20 years away. Something just doesn't add up. The evidence doesn't warrant giving up on hydrogen cars. Especially when Masatami Takimoto, an executive vice president for Toyota has recently said about hydrogen; “by 2015, we will have a full fledged commercialization effort.”

The truth is, at this point, we don't really know what technology will provide us with the best option. Battery technology just keeps getting better. But hydrogen electrolysis and storage just keep getting more practical too.

Energy Secretary Chu has claimed that we should concentrate on electric hybrids. Sounds good, but is this just a political move to assure that gasoline stays in the mix? There is no clear answer. But some reports are questioning the advantage of electric hybrids. In real world conditions, people get lazy and don't plug in their hybrids. Moreover, they often floor it to make up for the lack of power – which negates any gas savings for these hybrids.

This all sounds a little too convenient for the oil companies, who, by the way haven't spent much money on renewables. (Don't believe the hype.) The oil and gas industries have, however, spent $44.6 million on lobbying Congress this year. And the electric utilities have spent $34.4 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. With that kind of spending, is it any wonder the Climate Change Bill is becoming a subsidy bill for the oil and power companies.

The political reality in Washington is as ugly as ever. The bureaucrats who gave away the nation during the Bush Jr. presidency are now back as lobbyists. Republicans in the Senate blocked Obama's choice for the top environmental post in the Department of the Interior until Interior Secretary Salazar backed down on stopping illegitimate Utah oil leases. Robert Kennedy Jr. claims Obama is an “indentured servant” to the coal industry. And the surprise winners in the Climate Bill have been the coal industry and the electric companies. I have to wonder sometimes, is Washington even capable of doing the right thing?

The self-evident truth is that our political movement is losing momentum. We worked hard for change – and to some extent, we got it. But the American people get tired easy. Many have quit in the last mile of the marathon. And unfortunately, Obama can't fix things on his own.

In the political “real world” of Washington, this Climate Bill may be the best we can hope for. It may be that the only way this Climate Bill will ever get passed is if decent Representatives and Senators sell out to the very corporations we want to change. This Climate Bill is a step in the right direction, but we need a leap.

We all know that there's no such thing as a perfect bill in Washington – but if we're diligent, we can put pressure on them to do better. And if we keep paying attention, we can weed out the self-serving politicians in the next election.

The political reality in America is that if an elected representative tries to cut of the profits of an established (rich and powerful) industry, no matter how wrong those profits may be, that industry will do everything within it's power run he or she out of office.

But also, the political reality is that we can play that game to. Can you say boycott?

Moreover, we can realize the obvious;

  • The more money a candidate has, the more suspicious we should be of them.

  • The more the corporate media attacks a candidate, the more likely that candidate is on the people's side.

  • And if WE don't make the difference, politics will always be a corrupted system of too little, too late.

If we act too late on the environment, it will be too late for our economy, it may be too late for our civilization, and it may even be too late for humanity.

Reality is more important than political reality.

(If you live in Nevada, check out the Nevada Conservation League to see which politicians have the best and worst environmental records.)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Junk Science? No... Junk Reporting

Is there a mechanism for suppressing great ideas in America? This should convince you:

60 minutes recently aired a revealing report on Cold Fusion. You know, that “crazy” idea that was discredited years ago. Well it seems the phenomenon may have been crazy and discredited, but it continues to happen anyway.

To see the 60 minutes video click here

To read the 60 minutes transcripts click here

I remember when the first reports of Cold Fusion came out. I was cautiously enthusiastic. Observations in science don't always lead to practical, economical technologies (just consider hot fusion). But I enthusiastically read everything I could find about Cold Fusion. The potential for humanity was huge! The possibility of no longer being dependent upon coal, oil, and nuclear power – and their civilization destroying pollution, was extraordinary. And the liberating dream of generating our own power seemed almost within reach.

And then, in just a couple weeks, the press saturated stories that a couple other universities couldn't replicate the findings. The scientists who made the announcement were effectively accused of being frauds. The world was quickly convinced that Cold Fusion was a hoax. And it was almost instantly back to business as usual...

This was shocking to me. How had this all happened so fast. I never felt right about it. Something as important as this was studied just a few weeks and then shelved forever.

So what if a couple more “prestigious” universities couldn't replicate the experiments the first time they tried. But it happened. The once distinguished scientists who made the announcement were now banished. And anyone who continued to work on Cold Fusion was immediately considered a “quack.” How convenient...

And now we find out that the banished scientists were right. There really is a Cold Fusion phenomenon. What a waste of 20 years of scientific inquiry. We might have figured out how to utilize Cold Fusion by now. We might have been free from the fossil fuel industry by now. We might have stopped Global Warming. We might not have been at war in the Middle East. And we might have stopped our hemorrhaging of money. (Which of course, is what some people actually want).

Back when the suppression of Cold Fusion happened in the press, it was surprising to me how one-sided the story was covered as a fraud. Why didn't anyone in the press stand up for these once respected scientists? Why didn't anyone point out the obvious; that just because a phenomenon isn't consistently repeatable, doesn't mean it never happened. What conditions were there that made the coverage of something so positive so undesirable? ...And later I realized what it was; “diversified portfolios.”

That's right, diversified portfolios. Everyone has their hands in everyone else's pockets. Everyone has investment in the status quo.

What seems like a wise investment strategy has turned us all into frightened fools in fear of change. Because change might hurt our investments. Change might reduce our profit margins. Change might cut our advertising revenue. Change might bring others into power.

That's what it was. That's what generated the almost universal press attack on Cold Fusion. The mass media, owned and controlled by established big business, didn't want their formula for profits changed. And they were more than willing to suppress a great discovery to keep the advertising (etc.) money flowing in.

I also remember how President Jimmy Carter tried to bring about a new energy paradigm in the '70s.

Jimmy Carter knew that if we didn't develop alternative sources of power, America would someday be at constant war over the remains of the world's oil. Jimmy Carter knew that our nation's wealth was draining away to the fossil fuel industry. Jimmy Carter knew that our nation was in crisis, and that business as usual would eventually break us. President Jimmy Carter was right... and his efforts were suppressed. (Much of the mass media still vilifies President Carter.)

As a consequence of his support of alternative energy, the fossil fuel industry (and the mass media) supported Ronald Reagan in the election of 1980.

The Reagan Era was essentially a sell-out to the fossil fuel industry. Alternative Energy was not only no longer supported, it was suppressed. What else would you call multi-billion dollar subsides for fossil fuels and none for alternatives? Bush senior was an oil man. So its pretty obvious where his alliances stood. Clinton got slapped down within the first year of his first term. But some progress was made. And then, Bush Jr. practically gave away the country to the fossil fuel industry.

We now have a new President who is trying to change things. President Obama's support of renewable energy is a refreshing, and absolutely imperative decision.

So, is the suppression machine at work? Just check this out.

One more thing; hydrogen.

The U.S. military has just invested $3.3 million on drone airplanes powered by hydrogen fuel cells. These hydrogen fuel cell powered drones operate two to four times as long as battery powered drones.

And yet, the American people have been led to believe that hydrogen can't store enough power to drive a car – or that the technology is somehow not ready for prime time. We hear that hydrogen is flammable – like gasoline isn't. And we hear that there needs to be a massive hydrogen infrastructure built to replace the oil industry.

What we rarely hear is that America could generate our own hydrogen from renewable resources.

The liberating dream of generating our own truly clean power is even closer now. Don't let them fool us again.