Brainstorming Future American Neo-Feudalism Today

Picture 174See if this sounds familiar to you:

…governments and global elites pursue short-term economic gain above all else. Their aggressive focus on growth, efficient markets, and robust trade eventually causes financial volatility as a result of poorly organized uncoordinated responses to crises in global health, environmental change, and other international issues. The global economic system appears robust and successfully promotes prosperity, but this type of globalization has a dark side: trafficking of illicit goods, human rights violations, and a widening gap between rich and poor. Health and environmental disasters—some sudden and others slow-burning—frequently overwhelm domestic agencies, which are increasingly understaffed. Climate change becomes an acute concern, exacerbating resource scarcities and damaging coastal urban centers.

While it’s not an exact match, it sounds pretty close to what I was talking about in my post on health care as a significant step towards neo-feudalism, or Glenn Greenwald’s must-read piece on corporatism.

The piece is from an Office of Director of National Intelligence Scenario developed for the Quadrennial Intelligence Community Review. It is, ODNI seems to think, just one possible future–a future it places in 2025, 15 years away–though not the most likely one.

I raise it because Congress’ failure to pass health care reform that actually promises health care, and its upcoming failure to pass climate change legislation that actually fixes climate change (which was one of the things preventing Copenhagen from being more successful) show that key elements of this scenario are already in place. The reason Mary Landrieu and Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson (though Landrieu is the only one who will consistently admit this) refuse to pass legislation that will introduce competition in the health insurance industry is because they want to ensure that the health care industry remains at its 16% of the economy, if not grows. The profits of our corporations are effectively taking precedence over the urgent need to both give everyone health care and cut the amount of money we use doing it. And while the health care bill will put off the time when our failure to do what every other industrialized nation has managed to do causes a major crisis, it will not prevent it.

Now the interesting thing about this scenario are the things that it gets–in my opinion–wrong. For example, it suggests that citizens in this world would have the ability to demand privacy protections from the government; yet we have already ceded so much privacy to corporations, and the corporations have taken over governmental functions, I see little chance of demanding real privacy from our government, or even rolling back the surveillance the government has already put into place. (Though note the scenario’s fear that “profit motivated state actors dominate the information environment, limiting the Government’s access to critical data”–it seems the intelligence community’s big fear is that they won’t be able to continue collecting our data.) I also find it ludicrous that our IC (!) suggests that the time when terrorists and other criminals will exploit cross-border flows to further their causes lies 15 years in the future; do they really not know the degree to which this happens right now? And while the government is currently dumping stimulus dollars into our infrastructure–something this scenario envisions happening to stave off natural disasters–it’s not clear that we’re making substantive advances in our infrastructure, rather than just doing the maintenance that has been neglected for the last decade. And frankly, I think this scenario is far too placid about the types of organizations that average people will be forced to form in response to their increasing vulnerability.

It’s a weird thing, this scenario. While it recognizes the real threat of the rising neo-feudalist world, it seems more worried about whether the IC will be able to exert the power it does today than about what it means for people more generally.

Don’t Let the Americans Know They’re Killing the Globe

These are the words that the TradMed will not speak in the United States:

Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required [on climate change] until the U.S. Congress has done so.

General interest readers in America, apparently, can’t be expected to face the fact that our dysfunctional Congress is not only ruining our own country, it is ruining the globe.

I’m speaking of the Guardian editorial that was published in 56 papers, in 45 countries, in 18 languages.

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.


Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty.

Here are the papers in which it was published. Read more

Wasting 1400 Calories a Day


In addition to the fact that many Americans eat far too many calories (even while others go hungry), we apparently also waste them, to the tune of 1400 calories a day. (h/t Stuffed and Starved)

In a new paper published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal PLoS One, Kevin Hall and colleagues at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases calculate the energy content of nationwide food waste from the difference between the US food supply and the food eaten by the population.


The researchers found that US per capita food waste has progressively increased by about 50% since 1974 reaching more than 1400 Calories per person per day or 150 trillion Calories per year.


Hall and colleagues suggest that addressing the oversupply of food energy in the US could help curb to the obesity epidemic as well as reduce food waste, which would have profound consequences for the environment and natural resources. For example, food waste is now estimated to account for more than one quarter of the total freshwater consumption and more than 300 million barrels of oil per year representing about 4% of the total US oil consumption.

As Raj points out at Stuffed and Starved, this is about as many calories as Haitians get in a day–being thrown in the trash or lost in the food prep system.

Something to think about on the day after Thanksgiving…

Court Faults Army Corps In Katrina Levee Breaches

hurricane katrina floodingLate last Wednesday, there was a blockbuster court ruling that got lost in the healthcare and oversight hearing onslaught. However, the decision by Eastern District of Louisiana Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. in the In Re: Katrina Canal Breaches Consolidated Litigation case is a game changer with immense and far reaching ramifications.

Duval excoriated the Army Corps of Engineers and held them, and the government, directly liable for much of the flooding that devastated New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish in the Hurricane Katrina disaster of 2005.

The full opinion is here. It is long, 156 pages, detailed, and absolutely fascinating reading. Seriously.

The potential ramifications are huge and, if the decision holds up in the certain appeal, affect large swaths of policy from basic concepts of Federal governmental liability, the structure and performance of government contracting and the entire future of national flood control policy.

Duval finds:

The Corps’ lassitude and failure to fulfill its duties resulted in a catastrophic loss of human life and property in unprecedented proportions….

Clearly, in this instance, the Corps shortchanged the inhabitants of New Orleans and the environs by its myopic approach to the maintenance and operation of the [Mississippi River Gulf Outlet] ….. It simply chose to ignore the effects of the channel.

It is the Court’s opinion that the negligence of the Corps, in this instance by failing to maintain the MRGO properly, was not policy, but insouciance, myopia and shortsightedness. For over forty years, the Corps was aware that the Reach II levee protecting Chalmette and the Lower Ninth Ward was going to be compromised by the continued deterioration of the MRGO, as has been exhaustively discussed in this opinion. The Corps had an opportunity to take a myriad of actions to alleviate this deterioration or rehabilitate this deterioration and failed to do so. Clearly the expression “talk is cheap” applies here.

The government had asserted immunity under the Flood Control Act of 1928 which, along with other laws, generally protects the Army Corps of Engineers from liability for defective flood-control project and provides the government can’t be sued for acting with reasonable care or making a judgment call based on policy. Duval, however held the pertinent shipping channel to be a navigation canal, not a flood-control project under the Flood Control Act of 1928 and that the Corps breached the duty of due care in their construction, maintenance and oversight of the navigation canal.

Duval’s current ruling only covers six named plaintiffs, but is thought to potentially open the door to over 100,000 plaintiffs’ actions on behalf of private property owners and businesses pending in the areas described in the ruling. So now the obvious question is whether Judge Duval’s monumental decision will withstand appeal.

The New York Times, citing Tulane University law professor Oliver Houck, an expert in environmental and natural resource law, indicated:

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, where the case would go, has a record of hostility to plaintiffs in environmental cases, said Oliver Houck, a law professor at Tulane University. But, he said, Judge Duval’s decision is so technical and packed with details — it came with a 33-page appendix of graphs, charts and maps — that there are only a few areas where it would be exposed to a reversal.

“For an appellate court to reverse him on the facts is unthinkable,” Professor Houck said.

Well that still leaves the law of course, in this case Duval’s interpretation and application of the Flood Control Act of 1928 and the other immunity sources claimed by the government, but there is no question that Duval has intentionally and meticulously crafted a piece of art designed to anticipate and withstand scrutiny. Here is the Appendix of charts, graphs, maps and specs that Houck described; specially downloaded from PACER for the discerning readers of Emptywheel.

The government has been placed in a game changing box. Duval’s opinion is a work of art and, despite being lost in the hubbub of the healthcare shuffle and cable shouting orgies over Sarah Palin, is of seminal importance. Enjoy.

Kaplan Test Prep Still Brokering Meetings with Lobbyists

Zachary Roth reports that Newsweek, a subsidiary of Washington Post aka Kaplan Test Prep, is teaming up with the American Petroleum Institute to host an event on climate change.

Newsweek magazine is teaming up with an oil-industry lobbying group to host an event on climate-change and energy issues involving lawmakers, just as the Senate gets set to take up legislation on the subject.

The panel discussion, entitled “Climate and Energy Policy: Moving?,” will feature Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, and, as moderator, Newsweek columnist Howard Fineman, according to an email invitation sent by a Newsweek business staffer and obtained by TPMmuckraker.

Roth is working off the invite for the event, rather than any internal funding documents, so he doesn’t explain who is funding this shin-dig. But he does provide a list of those–aside from Gerard and Fineman–who have been involved in the schmoozy relationship between Newsweek and API:

  • Newsweek International editor Rana Foroohar
  • Newsweek International managing editor Tony Emerson
  • Columnist Jonathan Alter
  • Editor Evan Thomas

And Roth notes that one of APIs front groups has a big ad today in the WaPo:

And today, the Washington Post is running a full page ad from a group called Energy Citizens, attacking climate change legislation. Energy Citizens is essentially a front group for API — the two share a Washington address, and the astroturf rallies that API organized this summer were officially projects of Energy Citizens.

Roth asked Newsweek if they had thought to invite an environmentalist. Director of External Relations Mark Block feigned interest, then said they probably couldn’t do it because they had to give Congressmen time to bloviate.

Asked whether Newsweek planned to invite a representative from an environmental group to the upcoming event, to balance Gerard’s appearance, Block said the magazine “would definitely consider that opportunity,” if there were a high-profile environmentalist who might be appropriate. But he said that because members of Congress would likely also participate, time constraints might dictate against it.

Again, thus far we have no proof that this is another WaPo Pay2Play scheme. Rather, Newsweek pitches this as them trying to make news, with reporters invited and on-the-record treatment understood.

But it does point out how cozy Newsweek is with the climate denier industry.

The Vaunted WaPo Fact-Checking Process

I’ve mostly stayed away from beating up George Will for his propaganda denying global warming. There was not much way I could improve on ThinkProgress’ and Media Matters’ multi-part response to Will.

But I’m fascinated by WaPo Ombud Andrew Alexander’s column on the controversy. It’s a vast improvement over Debbie Howell’s columns as Ombud, not just for his willingness to rethink his own early defensiveness, but because he names names of those who screwed up. 

First, the editing process. My inquiry shows that there was fact-checking at multiple levels.

It began with Will’s own research assistant, Greg Reed. When the column was submitted on Feb. 12 to The Washington Post Writers Group, which edits and syndicates it, Reed sent an accompanying e-mail that provided roughly 20 Internet reference links in support of key assertions in the column. Richard Aldacushion, editorial production manager at the Writers Group, said he reviewed every link. The column was then edited by editorial director Alan Shearer and managing editor James Hill.

Next, it went to The Post’s op-ed editor, Autumn Brewington, who said she also reviewed the sources. 

The editors who checked the Arctic Research Climate Center Web site believe it did not, on balance, run counter to Will’s assertion that global sea ice levels "now equal those of 1979." I reviewed the same Web citation and reached a different conclusion.

It said that while global sea ice areas are "near or slightly lower than those observed in late 1979," sea ice area in the Northern Hemisphere is "almost one million sq. km below" the levels of late 1979. That’s roughly the size of Texas and California combined. In my mind, it should have triggered a call for clarification to the center.

But according to Bill Chapman, a climate scientist with the center, there was no call from Will or Post editors before the column appeared. He added that it wasn’t until last Tuesday — nine days after The Post began receiving demands for a correction — that he heard from an editor at the newspaper. It was Brewington who finally e-mailed, offering Chapman the opportunity to write something that might help clear the air.

Here’s a snapshot of the editorial process that–journalists would tell you–makes newspapers infinitely superior to blogs.  Greg Reed sends a bunch of links. Richard Aldacushion "reviews" every link. Autumn Brewington "reviews the sources." Read more

Don’t Drill Baby, Don’t Drill

In yet another chapter of Ken Salazar being my temporary favorite cabinet secretary, Salazar and Obama have reversed Bush’s plans to increase offshore drilling.

The Obama administration on Tuesday overturned another Bush-era energy policy, setting aside a draft plan to allow drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

"To establish an orderly process that allows us to make wise decisions based on sound information, we need to set aside" the plan "and create our own timeline," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced in a statement.

Alleging that the Bush administration "had torpedoed" offshore renewable energy in favor of oil and natural gas, Salazar said he was extending the public comment period by 6 months.

"The additional time we are providing will give states, stakeholders, and affected communities the opportunity to provide input on the future of our offshore areas," he said.

Salazar also ordered Interior Department experts to compile a report on the Outer Continental Shelf’s energy potential — not just oil and gas, but also renewables like wind and wave energy.

"In the biggest area that the Bush administration’s draft OCS plan proposes for oil and gas drilling — the Atlantic seaboard, from Maine to Florida — our data on available resources is very thin, and what little we have is twenty to thirty years old," he said. "We shouldn’t make decisions to sell off taxpayer resources based on old information."

Granted, compared to Eric Holder (who gets to embrace renditions as his first meaningful act) and Tim Geithner (who is stuck with the worst economy in decades), Salazar has it easy. He can stay busy for months just undoing Bush’s harm. 

Still, it’s nice to see one Department improving on what Bush had done.

Is Bush Getting the Military to Pay Laura for Her Native Plants?

ft-hood-map.jpgThere’s plenty that’s stinky about this program where Texas A&M funnels money from the Pentagon to Bush’s Crawford neighbors to restore wildland to make up for the habitat the military is trashing in training programs.

The Pentagon has been funding Texas A&M University to pay landowners near a Texas military post to protect endangered bird species on their land under a secretive program designed to free the military to conduct training activities that would damage the birds’ habitats inside the post’s boundaries, documents show.


Under the program, the Army accumulates "credits" that correspond roughly to the acreage that landowners agree to conserve for between 10 and 25 years. After banking sufficient credits, the military can use them to offset the habitat loss or harm that would stem from its activities. It must set aside 10 percent of the credits to foster the recovery of a target species. 

There’s the problem that you’re creating habitat for as little as 10 years (after which the habitat will be long gone at Ft. Hood). And there’s the problem that the habitat is not continuous contiguous with the land at Ft. Hood.picture-82.thumbnail.png

A biological evaluation issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service on Aug. 2, 2007, agreed with the Army that the project’s impact would not necessarily boost the bird’s numbers because the contracts with landowners were "not in perpetuity. . . . Thus, golden-cheeked warblers would receive short term benefits from the proposed action with no guarantee of future protection." 


"You don’t go out 10 miles away and start planting trees. You’ve got to do it on adjacent territory," he said. "It needs to be guided by the science that pertains to the biology of the bird." 

But the most troubling part of this–which the WaPo barely alludes to–is that this really was a plan dreamt up by George Bush and his political ally Susan Combs, administered in secret through the Bush family pet university, Texas A&M, giving money secretly to people who are literally W’s neighbors in Crawford.

At Fort Hood, the program — which does not disclose the landowners’ identities, the amounts they receive or precisely where their properties are located — aims to provide ranchers with expertise and financial incentives to expand habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.

Read more

Salazar’s Successes

desolation-canyon.jpgI didn’t think I’d be saying this, two weeks into the Obama Administration. But thus far, Ken Salazar has been the high point of the new Administration for me.

Yesterday, we learned via POGO that Salazar is interested in reopening cases against those at the Minerals Management Service who made a mockery of that department. 

According to several sources at the department, Salazar is specifically interested in Gregory Smith and Lucy Denett. They’re both former high-ranking Interior officials; Justice declined to prosecute either one.

Smith is a former director of the controversial royalty-in-kind program at MMS. He took tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees from a company that wanted to do business with oil and gas companies, and accepted gifts and trips from the industry. Denett ran the Minerals Revenue Management agency, part of MMS, and steered more than $1 million in contracts to a friend.

These are the alleged crimes, recall, referred to DOJ–including alleged sexual assault of a subordinate–that Michael Mukasey didn’t think merited prosecution.

And today we get the news that Salazar is going to cancel Bush’s last minute drilling leases on sensitive land in UT. 

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is cancelling oil and gas leases on 77 parcels of federal land in Utah, according to sources familiar with the decision, ending a fierce battle over whether to allow energy exploration in the environmentally-sensitive area.

The Bush administration conducted the lease sale in December, but environmental groups went to court to block the winning bids encompassing roughly 110,000 acres near pristine areas such as Nine Mile Canyon, Arches National Park and Dinosaur National Monument.

Just before Bush left office last month, U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina issued a restraining order on the lease sales, postponing the final transactions until he could hear arguments on the merits of the case.

An Interior spokesman declined to comment on the matter, but several sources familiar with the decision said Salazar planned to announce it later today, adding that he can reject the winning bids without a penalty because the transactions had not become final and the department has the discretion to accept or reject lease bids that prevail at a public auction.

He’s also modifying upcoming leases in Wyoming to account for local concerns about conservation and recreation.

Granted, thus far Salazar has simply set about reversing some of the most egregious abuses of the Bush Administration. Read more

Oh Noes! Lobbyists Standing in Line with Labor Leaders!!

standing-in-line.jpgThe really amusing part of this story–describing how a number of business interests who ran were warmly welcomed in the Bush White House are aghast that they have to stand in line in the same waiting room with labor interests–is behind a firewall (thanks to egregious for liberating it).

The extent of substantive interaction varies. Some lobbyists, particularly those representing industries Obama wants to promote, report numerous contacts and substantive meetings.

But other K Street veterans report a shocking new reality.

Top business officials accustomed to red-carpet treatment in the Bush White House say they must stand in line in the cold outside transition headquarters along with people they don’t recognize, waiting to be cleared to meet with Obama staffers they don’t know and who don’t always appear to understand their issues. One veteran business official lamented that the only Obama official he has recognized so far is former Environmental Protection Agency Director Carol Browner — along with lobbying foes for labor and environmental organizations he has seen milling around or standing in the queue.

"We were part of the team" during the Bush transition, reminisced another top K Street player. "The business lobby was not pro-Obama," he acknowledged. "And for good reason, if you look at the campaign rhetoric."

Several business representatives wondered whether they were involved in a "check the box" scam designed to show inclusiveness rather than practice it.

"You get your five-minute elevator presentation," said one top industry lobbyist who said his meetings have been devoid of meaty discussion. "They say nothing. It’s a pure note-taking exercise. Will they be able to say they reached out? Sure." [my emphasis]

And these poor lobbyists are also worried that the white papers they give the Obama Administration, which under the Jack Abramoff style system employed by the Bush White House would be printed out on White House letterhead and presented as Administration policy, will be released in original form on the net.

Obama appears so far to be sticking to his promise to shed daylight on the process, reversing Bush White House practices most famously exemplified by Vice President Dick Cheney’s secret meetings with energy lobbyists. Instead, business types huddling with Obama officials are immediately told that the position papers and other documents they are pushing across the table are going directly onto the Web. 

To be fair, the story describes the industries which Obama has welcomed warmly: Read more