Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Landfill Mining

I wonder if, in the not too distant future, we'll be in such short supply of petroleum products that we won't start mining our own landfills. I could see big companies buying up landfills because of the vast resources they contain. All those plastic bags, pop bottles, and other plastic products we throw away today will be a potential source of wealth for our sick future society that has run out of petroleum resources.

Unless we get our act together, it is certainly a possibility.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Purging the Poor

Wealthy white folk who could afford to live on higher land in New Orleans have been cleared to go back home. Poor black folk who lived in the low-lying areas still cannot return. Will they ever? Not if policy makers have their way. There is a push to rebuild New Orleans into a sort of new New England, says Naomi Klein. Her article in The Nation shows how the reconstruction is becoming another example of disaster profiteering, as well as a sort of ethnic cleansing.

Instead of providing housing in New Orleans itself (Klein estimates there are 23,270 vacant apartments in the dry areas, which could easily house 70,000 evacuees) the 200,000 homeless are scattered and separated, and many have no means to return. This means they will be unable to affect decisions, leaving policy totally up to the white elite minority, whose main advantage was being able to afford altitude.

When the poor majority is excluded from decisions, you get horribly unjust ideas like getting rid of wage laws (somehow giving poor workers less money is supposed to be helpful), repealing environmental regulations, introducing flat taxes and corporate tax breaks, etc. These policies have either already been adopted or will be soon.

What are the results? Probably a radically different New Orleans. Certainly a huge cash cow in the form of no-bid contracts:
"Reconstruction," whether in Baghdad or New Orleans, has become shorthand for a massive uninterrupted transfer of wealth from public to private hands, whether in the form of direct "cost plus" government contracts or by auctioning off new sectors of the state to corporations.

There is an insatiable greed on brazen display here. Gated communities protected by militias amount to wealth and power hoarding. Getting rid of the poor (who are a visible indicator of the failures of this wealthiest nation in history) by carting them away or ghettoizing them rather than helping them to get out of the state of poverty just makes no sense! It is unfathomable to me that the powers that be can justify handouts to oil companies for things like subsidized oil exploration, (or tax break for the wealthy), but they can't justify a mandatory living wage?

After all, class matters, and it's certainly not getting any better. If you are unfortunate to be in the wrong class I guess you are SOL.

Shouts out to the Common Ground Collective, anarchist activists providing free medical treatment to residents in the Algiers neighbourhood. They will not only provide temporary emergency care; they are working to create an ongoing community controlled clinic. Listen here.

More on Hurricane Katrina.
More on Poverty & Class Issues.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Because everyone seems to be forgetting...

There is no connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. Hear it from Bush himself. Thanks to The Rational Radical for the clip.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Education: state or private funding?

In this past issue of The Economist there was a huge feature on European universities. Something that really hit me was the central thesis of this feature was that European universities need to adopt the American model of privately funded two-tier higher education.

The premise on which this conclusion is based is the debatable assertion that US colleges are generally better than counterparts in European nations. The support for this is pretty flimsy. The magazine states that "America boasts 17 of the world's top 20 universities" based on the Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings, which use strange criteria such as numbers of Nobel Prizes and Field Medals awarded to alumni and staff and research output, while ignoring things like quality of education for students, average class size, accessibility, diversity, and social responsibility. These other criteria are arguably as important, if not more so. (see Vilas Rao's article)

To fix the supposedly substandard European universities, they say, universities should be "set free from the state", meaning start charging fees so that universities can pay more for better talent. While this sounds fine in theory, it of course means less social mobility for a society. When university is beyond the means of the disadvantaged, they won't go. It is that simple.

The article dismisses this concern:
Higher education is hardly a monopoly of the righ in America: a third of undergraduates come from racial minorities, and about a quarter come from families with incomes below the poverty line.

Unfortunately the data does not support this statement:

Source: Anthony B. Carnevale and Stephen J. Rose, Race/ethnicity and Selective College Admissions, in Richard D. Kahlenberg, ed., AmericaƂ’s Untapped Resource: Low-Income Students in Higher Education (Century Foundation, 2004). From Inequality Matters Conference Briefing Booklet

I'm all in favour of improving education, and I think, though only from anecdotal evidence, that many European nations do need to seriously look at the status of their higher education, there are many many alternatives to free market education! Increase state spending, for example. When universities are turned over to the market, they soon realize that liberal arts are not as profitable as technology and the nature of the offerings changes. Access by disadvantaged populations decreases. Contrary to the business press's favourite line, privatization and free-marketization are't always the answer!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Profiting off of other's misfortunes, part deux

It's only a matter of time 'til Haliburton et al get even fatter off of the ravages of Hurricane Katrina.

Second verse, same as the first.

Notes on bad weather and good government

This excellent Harper's essay discusses some of the sociology of disasters. It contrasts the Hobbesian image of mob and riot with the actual tendency of disasters to bring out the best in people:
Many of the stories we hear about sudden natural disasters are about the brutally selfish human nature of the survivors, predicated on the notion that survival is, like the marketplace, a matter of competition, not cooperation. Cooperation flourishes anyway.

This timely piece was written before Hurricane Katrina, but there is a postscript added about the disaster. A great read.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

When White House Officials and their Cronies do care

They do care when there is an election and a potential disaster is going to hit an important swing state. This article shows how FEMA gave $21 Million in Miami-Dade county in the 2004 hurricane season, even though the severity of the storms were like "bad thunderstorms" causing minimal damage. People bought furniture, televisions and computers with the money they received from FEMA. Of course, this year, there isn't anything to gain, so now , I guess, no help is on the horizon for residents of these counties more severely affected by Katrina than even by Francis, the worst storm last year.

They do not care when there's no personal gain to be had from a situation. To do not care despite the fact that they KNEW what would happen.
This is a transcript of the National Weather Service message from 10:11 in the morning on Sunday before Katrina hit. Remember the National Weather Service is the government weather service, and the president was personally briefed on this.
10:11 Central Time- Devastating damage expected. Hurricane Katrina. A most powerful hurricane with unprecedented strength rivaling the intensity of hurricane Camille of 1969. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks, perhaps longer. At least one-half of well-constructed homes will have roof and wall failure. All gabled roofs will fall, leaving those homes severely damaged or destroyed. The majority of industrial buildings will become non-functional, partial to complete wall and roof failures expected, all wood-frame low-rising apartment buildings will be destroyed, concrete block low-rise apartments will sustain major damage including some wall and roof failure. High-rise office and apartment buildings will sway dangerously, a few to the point of total collapse. All windows will blow out.

Military disaster reponse crews knew what was happening, but needed to wait for the president's authorization. They were told "not to respond to affected counties and states without being requested and lawfully dispatched by state and local authorities." (courtesy of Sydney Morning Herald, Democracy Now and Times Online)

Seeing as how there's no immediate POLITICAL benefit to keeping residents of NO healthy and safe, why send aid? If they had started prepping response in advance of the situation, WHEN THEY WERE WARNED OF IT, imagine the difference!!

But, see, warnings like the one above, does not an emergency make. "Devastating damage expected" is not cause for a response. How do we know this? Well, Department of Homeland Security head, Michael Chertoff, explained at a press conference, nearly a week after Katrina, why it took so long to get National Guard troops to New Orleans:
You know, these are citizen soldiers, we have to get them mobilized and deployed. When we send the National Guard overseas, we don't tell them to pack up and leave in 24 hours unless it's some huge emergency [emphasis added].

I'm not very good at math, but I think I can get this one. It's very simple really. Potential of Losing Lives = Not-Emergency. Potential of Losing an Election = Emergency.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Makale - Kingztanbul Review

What a find this was. Amazing Turkish hip hop. To begin with, Makale have great musical talent. The rhythms are interesting, there's some great scratching, and they are strong rappers. I can't understand anything they say, which is too bad, but there's something about listening to another language that makes one appreciate even more the quality of the music itself.

Highly Recommended. Do a search for "Makale" on your local CD shopping site, like that amasomething and you'll be sure to find it. Pick it up!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Why it is important to be political PART II

(Part I)

Economic Policies
When profit and the market is more important than human life, we start to see human suffering. The right wing agenda includes reducing public services. They seem to think the free market is a better ruler than a democratic government would be. Well, guess what, guys... Hurricane Katrina's devastation is a perfect example of just how market forces DON'T work fairly or effectively for the majority of people, in particular the poor and dispossessed. (Excellent article: How the Free Market Killed New Orleans)

The moral of the story - Government policies are important and have direct effect on your life. So be political; it is your right and your duty and your life IS at stake.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Why it is important to be political

There are real consequences to government policies. Although we are discouraged from being a part of decisions, these decisions shape our way of life in many ways.

Hurricane Katrina is an excellent point of reference, as many political decisions are at the root of this disaster. Yes, it was natural, but the results could have been mitigated by proper policies. Some specific policies that could have helped include a focus on reducing land loss in deltas, training local disaster-relief personnel, building better sea walls, improving emergency preparedness planninng, etc. Read this article for more information.

Environmental policies
There are so many environmental problems that together contribute to the incredible devastation of natural disasters. Though hugely problematic, global warming isn't necessarily the most pressing issue. For example, land loss and ruined coastal wetlands, which act as natural storm barriers, means deluges of water are not absorbed but instead cause increased flooding. Water pollution, such as the Mississippi spells out increased danger during and after floods as well. This is just a few examples.

To be continued (Part II).... In the meantime, please read an open letter from Michael Moore to George W. Bush