Monday, April 27, 2009

Transition Rogers Park Events This Week

First, many thanks to blogger Kheris, of The Living Room in Rogers Park, for featuring our local Transition Town network on her blog.The Transition Town Movement is a social movement designed to relocalize business and production, particularly food production, and enable citizens to prepare themselves and their communities for the transition to low-imput, sustainable lifestyles as fossil fuel supplies become scarce and expensive.

There are two Transition Town events this week:

The Power of Two- Too Good Design Ideas From Two Good Designers
April 28, 2009 from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM

Rogers Park Presbyterian Church
7059 N. Greenview (Greenleaf & Greenview)
Chicago, IL 60626

At this event, two top landscape architects discuss exciting garden designs using cheap, easy design ideas.

APRIL 30, 2009 from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM

Chicago Public Library- Rogers Park Branch
6907 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60626

This celebrated documentary film discusses how our complex, fossil-fuel systems are unsustainable and what will happen when the oil we need to run our show is no longer available.

Swine Flu: We Had Better Worry

While the World Health Organization has stated that it considers the recent outbreak of Swine Flu in Mexico to be a major threat and says that it could quickly become a pandemic, our own authorities here in the U.S. seem unconcerned, even though 8 cases have been reported in NYC and many more in Texas, in communities close to the border.

Mexico City has been virtually shut down as authorities scramble to get the epidemic under control. Most public facilities such as libraries and schools have been closed, and citizens are being cautioned to leave their homes as little as possible.

Is the virus really under control here, or are our leaders downplaying the threat for fear of the effect that public fear might have on the economy? Charles Hughes Smith at Of Two Minds thinks the latter, that our leaders have, while knowing full well the scope of the threat, adopted a policy of "no bad news" so as not to ruffle the fragile financial markets.

Can we trust our political leaders to put public health and safety ahead of corporate profits? Can we trust them to tell the public the truth, even if it means consumer spending will take another huge hit? We have to doubt it, especially after the maladroit handling of the Katrina disaster by local, state, and federal officials alike.

Update: Immediately after I published this post, the Dow Jones wire reported that 100 people have died of flu in Mexico, and that the European markets have fallen as investors dump travel-related stocks. One case of the flu has been reported in Spain and 17 more are being investigated.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fade Earth Day

Well, it's too late this year, for the annual Earth Day idiocy is upon us, and all the “green” celebrities are consuming multi-year supplies of nonrenewable resources and spewing toxic fumes and greenhouse gases allover the planet in order to attend these events and urge action on their pet issue, global warming.

But maybe next year, we can rename the day. May I suggest Resource Conservation Day, or Human Civilization Day, or simply The Day of the Human? Because most people forget that that is really what it is all about, maintaining the planet so that it will always be able to feed us and house us and enable us to live lives that make being human worthwhile, and by the time all the attendees have gone back to their wasteful daily ways, the “green” movement will once more have failed to engage most of the population.

So it really doesn't matter what you call it. The environmental movement has done such a superb job of trivializing the issues of environmental degradation and resource depletion while alienating 90% of the population in the process, that nomenclature is beside the point. The fact is that not only does most of the population consider the Green movement trivial, but view its initiatives as elitist and fascistic attempts to control the behaviors and limit the pleasures, privileges, and economic opportunities of ordinary citizens while its promoters continue to live lavish, wasteful lifestyles that are distinctly not in keeping with either their own professed beliefs and dictates, or with the realities of our resource situation. Thus, the members of the population who always suffer first and the most from the consequences of resource depletion and environmental damage, specifically, the non-rich, are the very people most opposed to the actions and adjustments necessary to mitigate the waste of resources and environmental damage caused by our current arrangements.

Worse, the movement talks almost exclusively about Global Warming, as if there were no other or more immediate problems. Why do our environmentalists and “green” political leaders never name Peak Oil? They speak of “ending our dependence on foreign oil”, but they seem to deliberately skirt the real issue, which is that global oil reserves are depleting rapidly and that it is unlikely that we will ever again discover any “elephant” fields that will replace the dwindling middle eastern fields or collapsing Cantarell field in Mexico, on which this country has been dependent for nearly 20% of its supply.

This is tragic, because it isn't the Al Gores or Amory Lovins of the world who will suffer first or the most from escalating food prices and growing scarcity of fossil fuels or the things they supply, such as plentiful, cheap food, potable water, electricity, vaccines, heat, or basic sanitation and hygiene, as we head down the other side of the slope. Rocky Mountain Institute fellows will still be able to drive their hybrid cars to work at the Institutes headquarters located many miles from the city core, and Al Gore will still live in his Belle Meade mansion with its solar panels and other “carbon offsets” to the 12,000 Kw H electricity a year his family consumes- how does a small family use that much power, anyway? Our privileged classes most likely will never have to live near a toxic waste dump or open sewer, or in a town like Herculaneum, Missouri, where almost every home and yard is so contaminated with lead from the local smelter that the town's children routinely have lead levels in their blood twice the level considered safe, and residents are campaigning for a government buyout of their unsafe and unsaleable homes. And, of course, it will not be the sons (and, increasingly, the daughters) of the wealthy and sheltered who die fighting the upcoming resource wars that will probably define politics for the next century.

It is we, the non-rich and non-privileged, who will bear the heaviest losses as our fossil fuel supplies shrink. We are the people who will find ourselves stranded in distant suburbs rendered inaccessible and utterly valueless as 50-mile commutes, or for that matter, cars, become unaffordable to anyone who isn't in the top 1% of wage earners. We will be the people being cast out of the upper-middle and middle classes, losing our jobs and homes permanently,doubling up in overcrowded dwellings or living in shelters and Tent Cities, and scrambling for odd jobs to pay for increasingly expensive food, power, and water as businesses and industries dependent on reliable and copious supplies of fuel collapse and our best farmland is converted from food production to biofuel production, in the frantic race for dwindling fuel supplies.

It's a lot more fun to talk about “green” cars and architecture than it is to consider just where we're going to get the wherewithal to retrofit our existing buildings, let alone replace them, or how 80% of the population is going to get around without cars and how we will heat our houses when we lose our access to foreign oil and natural gas passes peak production. It's much easier to go out and pick up the trash the neighborhood slobs have spread around than it is to change our mentality regarding zoning and land use so that we can all live close to public transit and essential services, and provide at least part of our own food locally. That would mean more high-density, multi-use construction around transit hubs and fewer single-family homes; it would mean canceling new highway construction and road enlargements in favor of more commuter trains and buses, and it would mean allowing homeowners to keep a goat or a chicken or two, and allocating vacant land for community gardens and urban agricultural projects instead of building more condos to throw onto a glutted market.

But it's easier to spend one day turning out lights and wearing green t-shirts and then go back to life as usual, than it is to alter our daily habits and life arrangements to, say, cut our personal fuel consumption by 30% or more, so that we aren't completely blindsided by future oil price shocks and the dislocations they cause.

Therefore, the most urgent task for the Green Movement is to engage the general public and convince the population at large of the towering threat that unsustainable lifestyles present to their ability to live on any terms, let alone in comfort and with any level of technological amenity, as liquid fuels become scarce and expensive. People need to know that this is not an issue only of interest to the “elite”, that, in fact, many among our elite are doing everything possible to thwart positive changes and have managed to convince most people that conservation initiatives will harm them economically and deprive them of technological comforts and pleasures.

And just maybe we could just cancel Earth Day, because sustainable lifestyles and technologies need to be daily things, not just something that intrudes on the awareness of a hostile and complacent public once a year.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Locked Out:The Cuban Trade Embargo Compromises U.S. Energy Security

Some of this country's worst national traits- American complacency, sense of entitlement, frantic obsession with yesterday's battles and obsolete doctrines, and inability to discern blatant logical inconsistencies and hypocrisy in them, have combined to further compromise our energy security and assure a much rougher transition to a low-energy regime than we might otherwise have to deal with, if we have not, in fact, absolutely assured our own future misery and poverty.

It's difficult to understand how the population of this country, notably its "conservatives", can blithely acquiesce to what amounts to the sale of this country to China, the world's major communist power and a major human rights violator, while maintaining the draconian trade restrictions on a tiny island 90 miles from Miami. By some mental process that could not exactly be called "thought" or "reasoning" that I've always been at a loss to understand, most people have made their peace with the outsourcing of our entire economy to China and are somehow not bothered by the consideration that we have almost no manufacturing capacity left and could not mobilize for a major war; yet are just appalled at the thought of normalizing our relationship with Cuba to the extent of ending the 50-year-old trade embargo on the island.

The entire Cuba issue is a political "third rail", an issue so politically toxic that no administration, Republican or Democrat, has dared broach the idea that perhaps the embargo might not work to our interest and might, in fact, be producing results that are the opposite of our intention when we imposed it. For a while there, in certain American cities, the whole subject was so sensitive that discussing it in public could shorten your life substantially if not instantly, and not very long ago at all, half the population of this country could go absolutely spastic at the notion that a little boy just might be better off with his only living parent even if that parent resided in Cuba. I don't see people reacting the same way to the news that China is no longer permitting thousands of utterly unwanted baby girls to be adopted by foreigners, and even the "pro-life" contingent here doesn't seem too awfully upset by the prevalence of brutal late-term abortions there, which are forced upon Chinese mothers who violate the country's one-child laws- as long as we can get all the cheap goods from Chinese sweatshops we want.

I've always thought that Castro's regime would have toppled long ago were it not for the embargo, just as China's vastly more powerful communist party is now becoming ideologically compromised by traffic with the west and the rapid growth of its blatantly capitalistic economy and the expansion of prosperity and material amenity among its citizens. Ultimately, the communist regime there will fall, because the development of the new economy has undermined and compromised the ideology that justifies it, and we have to wonder just how much more quickly Cuba would have progressed toward freedom if we had established similar cooperation there.

We'll never know. However, we will soon know just what the embargo has cost this country and just how much we might have compromised our own future by our obstinacy and stupidity in maintaining the embargo, for the undeveloped island is now negotiating exploration and production contracts with Russia, China, and Angola, to drill in the Gulf of Mexico. American oil companies have never been able to exploit these deep sea fields because of the trade embargo on Cuba.

And now, they never will be able to, for other nations are stepping in where we have defaulted, and are locking up substantial portions of the world's remaining oil reserves for themselves.

Thanks to the temporary oil supply glut and corresponding low fuel prices, Americans are wallowing in complacency regarding our precarious supply situation, and our leaders don't seem unduly disturbed by the speed at which other nations are taking advantage of our financial mismanagement and diplomatic failures to lock up future exploration, drilling rights, and oil production. As it is, China, one of the only solvent industrial countries remaining, has taken ample advantage of its economic strength and everyone else's extreme weakness to make contracts for a big fraction of Canada's production, and that of the middle eastern countries.

Keep in mind that the race for the world's dwindling oil reserves is distinctly a zero-sum game. What other nations get, we don't get. Their gain is absolutely our loss.

While our leaders give some lip service to "reducing dependence on foreign oil", quite as though we had any of our own to speak of, other nations have been wasting no time taking advantage of our current economic weakness, and our incredible complacency, to step in line ahead of us, just as they are taking much more aggressive measures to reduce their energy consumption and develop alternatives. There has not been a nuclear power plant built in the U. S. in 30 years, while other nations are not only planning dozens of plants, but are utilizing new nuclear technologies that are vastly safer and more efficient than the old cold-water reactors built here. Other nations, less complacent about their fuel supplies than we and far more experienced in deprivation and shortages, are expanding their railroads and demanding ever more fuel-efficient autos and appliances, but our auto executives howl every time we mandate modest improvements in fuel efficiency, on the grounds that the cost of meeting them will stunt "economic growth".

It's probably too late for our oil companies to get a seat at the table in Cuba, even were we to end the trade embargo tomorrow. But there might be time to build a relationship with Russia, a major oil producer, another opportunity we have so far let slide, to our disadvantage. There might be a way to set things right in the middle east. We had better give it our best shot. If we don't want to employ diplomacy and a pragmatic approach to dealing with nations ruled by regimes we find distasteful on ideological grounds, and if we also don't want to steeply reduce our energy consumption no matter what it takes to accomplish that,then we had better work to rebuild our manufacturing capacity really, really fast so we can mobilize for the coming world resource wars, because the windows of opportunity are closing quickly and leaving us with no alternative.

Petition to Support Don Gordon For Alderman in 2011

Don Gordon, who ran for the office of Alderman of the 49th Ward against incumbent Joe Moore in the 2007 election and nearly unseated him, is considering running again. Gordon is "testing the waters" to see if he has sufficient citizen support, and supporters can sign an online petition to voice their support.

Gordon has lived in Rogers Park for over 30 years, is a Loyola graduate, and has been active in a number of community organizations.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Dominick's Development Follow Up Meeting

Dominick's Follow Up Meeting

Meeting Date:
April 15, 2009

Meeting Time:
7:00 PM

Meeting Location:
The Breakers
5333 North Sheridan Road
In the Show Room Meeting Space

This meeting is co-sponsored by:
Association of Sheridan Condominium/Co-op Owners (ASCO)
Edgewater Beach Neighbors Association (EBNA)
Edgewater Chamber of Commerce
Edgewater Community Council (ECC)
Uptown Chicago Commission (UCC)
Uptown United

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Burned by the Torch

Steven Chapman discusses the many reasons Chicago would be better off without the Olympics, and the many hidden costs, at Reason magazine.

Go to http://www.reason.com/news/show/132714.htm

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Can Politicians Build Cars: The Death and Rebirth of the American Auto Industry

Amidst all the heat and yap surrounding the troubles of the Detroit Dinasaurs and plans to toss another $100 Billion of our money in life support, referred to as a "loan", to failing GM, another American auto industry is struggling to be born, and is already making some of the most advanced and innovative automobiles being built today.

Pictured above is the Tesla S-type, a 4000-pound, 5-seat (and possibly 7-seat) 4-door "saloon" type sedan of impressive beauty and luxury and powered solely by an ion-lithium battery,offered by Tesla Motors of California. It is the first all-electric highway-worthy sedan ever built, and the price, $57,000 USD, is about half that of the dazzling, electricity-sipping Ferrari-killer, the $105,000 Tesla Roadster. It will have a driving range of about 300 miles on one charge, and according to company founder and Entrepreneur Extraordinaire Elon Musk, use an amount of electricity equivalent to 135MPG of gasoline. Or, to put it differently, it is about three times as economical as the Toyota Prius or Honda Civic Hybrid. The S-Type is slated for production in 2011.

As Musk points out, the extraordinarily low "fuel" cost of the car make the car the equivilant of a $35,000 hybrid figuring on $4/gallon gasoline- which we will probably see again by the end of summer. However, Musk states that this car is only the next step toward his goal of building a mass market automobile to be offered at a price point competitive with Hondas and Toyotas, and that the substantial profits to be made from the high-end roadster are making possible the development of a moderate-priced auto. Musk believes that the company will achieve profitability this year, and while car sales in general are in the worst slump in decades, the Tesla Roadsters are selling briskly with no discounts, and there is a waiting list of buyers.

Tesla will be opening a showroom in Chicago, at 1053 W. Grand, this spring.

Now, lest anyone think that I'm becoming a tout for the "green" auto industry, I'll state that I have profound doubts about the future of mass auto ownership even were we able to convert our entire fleet of 200 million trucks and autos to electric power within the next decade. Aside from the steep ramp-up in power consumption that this would entail, cars in general consume prodigious resources in the sheer volumes of space they consume, and in their construction and maintenance. I question that we will be able to make a painless switch to electric autos and just keep driving as we have for the past 65 years; and in general, I tend to doubt that there is a technical "silver bullet" that will rescue us from a century and a half of prodigiously wasteful resource consumption and severe population overshoot.

However, if we are to retain any renmant of technological amenity and the civilization it has made possible, we will need every technical advancement we can get, in combination with conservation and a complete reversal of the public policies of the past century, that almost mandate the misallocation and wasteful consumption of resources. We will need everything we can bring to the table, whether it's urban agricultural stations and community gardens, geothermal heating and cooling, candle making and fabric-weaving, food co-ops and farmers' markets, innovative automotive and transportation technologies, new nuclear technoligies, a major revamping of land-use policies in all municipalities, or recycling of goods.

And let me say that I hope like anything for technical solutions. For, while I'm trying to prepare myself psychologically, financially, and physically for a steeply reduced standard of living with a much lower level of tech amenity, this is surely not what I'm hoping for, and I still nurse the hope that there are solutions that will not only make it possible to retain basic tech amenities through the inevitable drawdown and eventual depletion of our fossil fuel supplies, but take us to the next level of advancement, if that is possible.

But if there are technical solutions to our resource predicament, they sure as hell aren't going to come from our political leaders and policy makers, nor will they be achieved by bankrupting the treasury to "rescue" bloated old-tech companies and continuing to fund scientific research that has dead-ended for 30 years, like the Tokamak fusion reactor that has yet to sustain a reaction for more that a tenth of a second and into which we are continue to shovel billions of dollars of federal funds a year. In fact, it could be argued that the policymakers and entrenched bureacracies at all levels, federal, state, and local, are the biggest obstacles in the task of revamping our physical environment and technical platform for sustainability, notably because of their commitment to supporting outdated industries and technologies by lavish funding, and their power to allocate billions of dollars and promulgate policies that become set in stone and whose effects cascade and amplify down through decades.

The hundreds of billions of dollars commited to sustaining failing companies and their outdated, low-quality products, is taken from emerging companies pioneering innovative products that could constitute solutions to our problems; we are thereby murdering the emerging companies that could provide us with solutions, in order to provide expensive life support to doddering, corrupt, uncompetitive businesses that should have been allowed to die natural deaths decades ago. The playing field is thus steeply tilted, by government policy and funding, toward sustaining the unsustainable, in this case automobile makers who have slid steeply downhill for three decades, thanks mostly to their unwillingness to do what it takes to remain competitive. GM and the other Detroit automakers have been welfare recipients for decades, surviving by a combination of policies and laws promulgated to favor them, as well as defense contracts that enable them to make a lavish living while producing outdated, low-quality products that show poorly against their foriegn competition.

GM has been given a short time frame to restructure and to generate a new business model that meets the criteria of Team Obama, to qualify for federal assistance. Bankruptcy is probably inevitable, and that means that thousands of jobs will disappear and that compensation and benefits for employees at all levels will have to be steeply adjusted downward. In other words, these jobs will be lost no matter what, for GM in its current bloated form is simply unworkable. However, it's hard to believe that our politicians and Beltway policy makers can do a better job of running GM and building autos than even the people in charge now, who've run the place into the ground.

Why not just let nature take its course and bury the old dinasaur, and let Tesla and other innovators at least have a level playing field, instead of having to ante up taxes to support their old tech competition?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Police State Olympics and the Greatness of Nations

THURSDAY, APRIL 2nd at 5:00 PM
Federal Plaza
50 West Adams
Chicago, Illinois

My thanks to Charles Hugh Smith, author and owner of the exceptional blog, Of Two Minds, for his permission to publish his essay Police State Olympics and the Greatness of Nations, which I have copied here in its entirety, below.

As Mr. Smith so clearly elucidates, the greatness of nations, or cities, is not measured by fake "wealth" or by Disneyland-style spectacles underwritten by billions of dollars of borrowed money.

Chicago wasn't made great and beautiful by circuses and deficit spending for the benefit of tourists who stay for a few weeks and for the handful of politician's crony "entrepreneurs" who will get the bulk of whatever economic benefits result from the massive expenditures and disruption of the Olympics. This contest won't begin to replace the industry we have lost or the entrepreneurial talent that built it, but the additional taxes made necessary by our deficit spending, in tandem with our obstructionist city bureaucracies and regulatory strangulation, will turn us into another Detroit, and make this a place most unlikely to give birth to any enterprise but the sort that we see taking place on Howard Street and other blighted streets in the city.

by Charles Hugh Smith
August 8, 2008

The greatness of a nation is not measured by the height of its buildings or its steel output or its military might but by these three factors:

1. the rights and opportunities it extends all its citizens, especially the lowliest

2. the manner in which it absorbs and responds to the criticism of its citizenry and the world

3. the willingness and ability of its citizens to question and actively resist the propaganda of that nation's elites

As for steel output and the number of tanks and missiles, we have seen how much "strength" those sources of puffery and pride actually hold, for the Soviet Union was masterful in touting its steel output and in staging mass reviews of its military might.

The illusory nature of these traditional measures of national strength was starkly revealed by the sudden implosion of the USSR's politically inept and financially insolvent regime.

When individuals are unable to accept criticism or generate realistic self-criticism, we define their crippling limitations as neurotic. We all know how these people respond to criticism: they lash out and attack the person offering the critique. Unfortunately this strategy doesn't help them improve their performance or resolve their conflicts.

In a similar fashion, what renders the alcoholic so massively incapable of positive action is not his/her alcoholism per se but his/her denial of their problem.

I am of course discussing China and the U.S. Each is in massive denial about somewhat different sets of serious problems, and who gets to be counted as a "great nation" will depend on which nation's citizens most thoroughly contest, refute and resist their elite's propaganda.

It's no secret that China has a chip on its shoulder. The general cultural view is that China has always been a Great Power and it's about time that well-deserved crown is once again set on China's head. Any and all criticism or skepticism of China is considered a sour-grapes attempt to "keep China down." If you read even a few international message boards with Chinese posters, you soon find the responses to any criticism of China range from foaming-at-the-mouth rage to attacks on the U.S. for bullying, interference with other's sovereignty, racism, etc.--more or less parroting the Chinese media's Party Line of propaganda.

(As for racism--few in China seem to think "foreign devil" isn't a perfectly good slang term for a Westerner. How would that fly if the equivalent phrase was standard useage in the U.S. for Chinese people? You can bet the outcry would earthshaking, voluminous and bitter.)

In other words, the general Chinese view is that China is peaceful and benign and any criticism of China is unwarranted, unfair and a mean-spirited attempt to "hold China back."

In an individual, these responses would be considered neurotic and unhelpful to the individual's growth and ability to resolve inner conflicts. The same holds true for nations.

To those who can't bear any criticism of China: criticism, resentment, hatred and resistance go hand-in-hand with Great Power status. You can't have one without the other. To want to be a Great Power and be only loved and admired is like wanting to be famous and only be loved and admired--it is impossible. With high visibility comes criticism, and with power come restraints and limitations, not unlimited freedom. Embrace it or let go of aspirations to Greatness.

So anyway, welcome to the Police State Olympics: Beijing Olympics visitors to come under widespread surveillance
The government has installed about 300,000 cameras in Beijing and set up a network to spy on its citizens and foreigners.

"Everyone feels they're entering a police state, which by the way it is, duh," said Sharon Hom, executive director of New York-based Human Rights in China. "So they've got people reporting down to the lowest neighborhood level, which is not new, overlaid by state-of-the-art technology. It's the best of the old and the new."

Another technology that raises concern involves the new identity cards China is phasing in for its 1.3 billion citizens. The cards, developed with help from Plano, Texas-based China Information Security Technology, carry radio signal devices and a chip that records not only a person's height, weight and identification number, but also health records, work history, education, travel, religion, ethnicity, reproductive history, police record, medical insurance status and even his or her landlord's phone number.

The difference is that Western countries have better checks on police power, some human rights activists said, even as they expressed concern that the U.S. could soon be using technologies developed in China.

"Every country wants to avoid abuse of police power," said Xu Zhiyong, a lecturer at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications. "It's getting better in China, but we still have a ways to go."

In Beijing, two taxi drivers who asked not to be identified while discussing confidential matters displayed a pair of black button-sized devices just to the left of their steering wheel linked to the vehicle's navigation system. They said the devices allow a central monitoring station to listen to anything inside the taxi.

One driver said that besides listening in on passengers, officials can hear any griping he might do about the Communist Party, which could result in punishment.

The cameras and microphones, of course, will undoubtedly stay on after the Olympics. The Olympics will come and go and you will still have your passport scanned when you rent an Internet cafe computer.

Meanwhile, anyone publicly connected to the issue of Darfur and China's role in defending the genocide-happy kleptocracy in Sudan is denied a visa. My own experience with the Great Firewall of China is that an architect friend's innocuous website was blocked because it contained some Chinese characters. That alone kept it from being seen within China.

Isn't it a bit of a stretch to dismiss any questions about China's role in Sudan as "trying to hold China back?" How about trying to hold back the relentless slaughter of civilians by government-sanctioned and supplied armed forces?

And please don't believe that attacking the U.S. involvement in Iraq somehow gives China a free pass to pursue its interest in Sudan without challenge. The proof is called substitution: are you willing to allow the U.S. a free hand anywhere in the world because China has the right to pursue its strategy in Sudan? It's either one or the other--you can't have it both ways.

The U.S. has its own stone walls of denial. As I read Bill Gross calling for a $1 trillion U.S. Federal deficit to fund various bailouts he reckons are needed (and all around good fun as well), and Obama and McCain calling for various programs which inevitably increase Federal spending and borrowing, I am reminded of a full-blown alcoholic staggering to the back of the refrigerator for another bottle of his "secret stash" that everyone in the house knows all too well.

Does any American publicly ask where this $1 trillion comes from, and how much it will cost our children and grandchildren to pay the interest on that sum for their entire lives? And if not, why not? Because like the full-blown alcoholic addicted to easy borrowing and ever-greater debt, we don't want to stop the debt orgy because it might crimp our spending fun.

After all, it's tremendously great fun to let others scrimp and save and then borrow all their accumulated capital for less than inflation (known as a negative rate of interest) and then give it away (if you're a politico) or just blow it on vacations, furniture, vehicles, cosmetic surgery, speculative condos and other toys (if you're a U.S. consumer who borrowed the equity from your house).

The truth is the U.S. elites have badly mismanaged the U.S. economy, and as a result it is more or less doomed without a citizenry which demands an end to borrowing, fraud and lies. Correspondent Cheryl A. recently pointed me to what looks like a very topical title: The Mismanagement of America, Inc.

I don't know what the author ascribes this abject managerial failure to, but certainly one factor is that pandering, giveaways, lies and fraud have all been richly rewarded by voters, who return those who pander the most and give away the most "free money" (i.e. borrowed from overseas investors) to office, while anyone who dares speak a whisper of the truth--that some sacrifices will be necessary-- is immediately sent packing for the crime of audaciously inconvenient truth-telling.

American have rewarded fantasies like "we can cut taxes and borrow more with no consequences" by re-electing the cretins and criminals who espoused this Disneyland idea. Is it any wonder that every election for public office devolves into a contest over who can give away more borrowed money or money that is budgeted out of future revenues, i.e. entitlements to be paid by our grandchildren?

Frequent contributor Albert T. recently made this cogent observation about the American sense of entitled conceit:

Obama or McCain won't make a single difference to me; one will tie us to be wage slaves to the healthcare industry and the other to the military industrial complex. But does it really matter? The carrot (dream) is too far from the horses' (labor) mouth for it to care anymore and carry the burden. The public is becoming winded with crisis after crisis; when do we get a nice three months vacation on the floridian Riviera just like the French, ahem?

There will be a catalyst sooner or later that will shift metrics and psychology of the day from consumption, or conservation, to some third unknown. It could be pride since we are mass programmed to think that "I matter." For the past decade or so every generation has been drilled and ingrained with confidence of self through tv, school, etc... this mass conceit could backfire in so many ways. You could just see someone on the horizon with his hand in the air screaming "we deserve this!" and the crowd carrying a rallying cry. How pissed could a few generations of ingrained conceit be?

I fear that the Chinese are similarly ingrained with a sense of entitlement which is highly vulnerable to disruptions by reality: the sense that China "deserves" Great Power status regardless of its impact on the planet, and perhaps even more perniciously, a sense that China "deserves" endless growth in the 8% to 10% per year level for the foreseeable future.

As I have often written here: it's not poverty or hardship or sacrifice which makes people boil over with rage and resentment, it's the dissonance between their extremely elevated expectations and the modest results offered by reality.

Who has an out-of-touch-with-reality, grandiose sense of entitlement? Americans, hands-down. There can't be a budget crisis, public workers whine; there's money somewhere--go borrow it! But having suffered a decade of bogus "prosperity" which is now in full collapse and a foreign war which has caused thousands of casualties and a trillion dollars in extra borrowing, Americans don't have high expectations; they just hope to squeak by and keep their house and job. I believe it is the Chinese who feel Great Expectations, and the deflation of those expectations in a global credit-crunch recession could well be shattering.

At this point, it's an open question as to whether either China's citizens or American citizens have the greatness to stand up and demand real solutions to killing pollution, government mismanagement of the economy, unfunded entitlements, foreign entanglements, elite's corruption and fraud, Peak Oil, police-state surveillance and repression, circumvention of civil rights, a flawed healthcare system and the many other critical issues facing both nations' hundreds of millions of residents.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Withdraw the Olympic Bid


This week, the Olympic Committee is visiting Chicago, so this is the time to register our protest against the diversion of at least $2 Billion, which will mostly be public money, to an event that will last a few weeks, cause massive disruption, and return very little to the citizenry while benefiting a relative handful of people.

I'm repeating substantial portions of my previous post protesting the games,mainly to drive the point home that our leaders are grossly misrepresenting the true public cost of this event, which is likely to exceed $20 Billion. It's already cost London that much for the 2012 games, and they're not done counting.

At this time, some polls say that 77% of the city's citizens favor the games. I wouldn't expect otherwise. Americans as a whole are childish, self-indulgent people who are obsessed with entertainment and Having Fun, and have proved to be very poor at reckoning the costs. The Mayor and his shills have misrepresented the true costs of this event, and figure they can pretty well count on most of the city's denizens making no connection between the ever-rising taxes in this city, the ever-shrinking tax base, and the mounting expenditures on Bread & Circuses and other idiotic diversions by our Mayor and his minions, while our services deteriorate.

And just exactly what will the city gain from hosting this 8-week extravaganza with the attendant security risk, and the disruption and displacement of thousands of residents from the area around Washington Park?

The cost alone ought to make boosters pause. Chicago is in poor case to front the projected $2 billion the event will cost, which would mean a pretty steep net loss to the city, for revenues from ticket sales are projected to be about $750 Million.

However, the estimated cost is most likely a very conservative estimate of the actual costs involved. The experience of other cities hosting the event is very instructive. Tessa Jowell, the minister in charge of the London 2012 Olympic Games, has admitted that it was "a mistake, in light of the current recession", to have bid for the games, and that costs are far exceeding original estimates. The cost has, according to Jowell, risen almost four-fold, to 9.35 Billion pounds, or approximately $20 Billion. Bejing fared much worse with its 2008 games, which not only cost more than $40 Billion, but occasioned a massive diversion of water from the provinces, causing widespread crop failures in water-short,poverty-stricken rural provinces.

The London games will not take place for another four years, yet the costs continue to mount, and during the worst ecomomic downturn in 75 years. Given our mayor's penchant for monument-building projects that virtually always overrun their costs estimates and siphon much-needed funds from lifeline services such as our underfunded and steeply undermanned police department, and decrepit public transit and essential water, sewer, and road infrastructure, we can pretty well figure that the expenditures on the Olympics will cause steeper shortfalls, with potentially disastrous results, in our necessary municipal services and structures. We need urgently to consider whether an open-ended financial commitment to this immense vanity project is in order given our current economic situation, especially since it so closely parallels the debacle of 1929 and ensuing Great Depression. Falling personal incomes, failing businesses, and mass layoffs will probably continue for quite some time, and we will be severely challenged to meet minimal public needs from falling tax revenues. All public expenditures will have to be carefully weighed, and whatever is not essential to maintain our muncipal services at a level that assures the safety and basic well-being of its citizens and businesses, will have to be tabled.

Well, counter the boosters, the games will boost tourism and enrich city businesses. My first response to that, is: at whose cost? Will the taxpayers at large be soaked once more to provide profits to a few business concerns? Are the taxpayers not being soaked enough through the city's 165 or so TIF districts in order to provide lavish profits to a few crony businesses?

However, it appears, from the experience of Atlanta, that the event can result in a net loss of tourism and revenues to tourist-related businesses. A 2003 study by Coates and Humphrey concluded that "building new sports facilities and attracting new professional sports teams did not raise income per capita or total employment in any US city." In his excellent article, Estimating the Costs and Benefits of the Olympic Games:What Can Bejing Expect From Its 2008 Games?, Jeffrey Owens describes the disappointing economic results of the 1996 Atlanta, Georgia games:

In reality, data and anecdotal evidence strongly suggest the Olympics had a significant crowding out effect on the rest of the tourism industry. Table 3 shows convention attendance in Atlanta, which had been increasing steadily over the previous ten years, fell ten percent from 1995 to 1996. hotel occupancy rates fell from 72.9% in 1995 to 68% in 1996 despite the Olympics. Macroeconomic indicators in Georgia and Fulton County show no discernible break in the pattern of per capita income growth or unemployment rates (State of Utah 2000). Due to the disruption caused by the Olympics, hotels and restaurants that would be expected to benefit from increased tourist traffic were actually hurt. "In other parts of town, many hotels and restaurants reported significantly lower than normal sales volume during the Games. Even shops and resorts in areas up to 150 miles away reported slower than normal business during the summer of 1996" (French and Disher 1997, p. 390).

Mr. Owen goes on to remark:

Along with crowding out on the demand side, local businesses and workers must also deal with temporary entry on the supply side. Although the Atlanta economic impact report makes no mention of entry by either workers or firms, the Atlanta experience serves as an example of how entry can bring into question if area residents actually benefit from growth in the tourism sector. The Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta served as the focal point for entry of corporations who sponsored the Games. To some extent the Olympics in Atlanta were self-contained. Entry of corporations and workers from outside the Atlanta area made the Olympics an economy unto themselves. Much of the income would go to firms and workers who are not permanent residents of the local economy.

Lastly, consider the terrorism risk. Chicago got lucky in the 911 attack. The 911 terrorists had a much bigger day planned than what they were able to accomplish, for the Sears Tower was on their list of targets, and only the immediate closure of all airports in the country saved this city. Security will have to be a major obsession at the games, given Atlanta's experience, and the known threat that exists at this time. The Games have been so politicized and are so laden with symbolic value that they are a very appetizing target for terrorists.

Whether considered in the light of its cost to the taxpayers, the security risk involved, the disruption of the lives of thousands of residents in the affected area and their inevitable displacement, or the negative return on investment that most cities hosting the games have experienced, the Olympic Games are a costly and unjustifiable vanity.


Because of the lenght of the URL links to articles quoted here, I didn't link them in the article but am posting the links below.

The title of this post links to a series of articles examining the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid, by Daniel Honigman. Dan's website is http://danielhonigman.com. He has posted an entire series of articles discussing the costs and benefits of the 2016 Chicago Games.

Jeffrey Owens, Estimating the Cost and Benefit of Hosting Olympic Games: What Can Bejing Expect From Its 2008 Games? is at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa4127/is_200510/ai_n15705690/pg_1?tag=artBody;col1