Dangerous Intersections

Both Progressive Populist articles of 11/15/01: Mark Hertsgaard's "The Real Price of Oil," and Ralph Nader's ["Insurance Companies Seek More Handouts"] are disturbing in their own right, but the intersection of their themes is even more dangerous.

Hertsgaard accurately points out that the oil industry in particular (and the entire unsustainable "old economy" in general) poses a massive overhang of negative externality costs on society, which can best be thought of as hidden corporate negative externality taxation without representation.

While Nader exposes the same lobbying reinsurance scam to avoid costs of terrorism that Business Week (hardly a left-wing journal) describes as "propping up the insurance industry to the tune of $229 billion over three years." Even the pro-business Business Week in their Oct 29 issue notes that "this is a 'free ride' at the expense of American citizens, and that a scaled down insurance plan should be paid for by the overall business community and not average taxpayers."

However, the real danger comes when one looks at the intersection of these two scams: negative externality costs and insurance bailouts. The real danger is that the "old economy" elite is using the 9/11 tragedy to set the stage for getting out of all the negative externality cost liabilities that accrue from the dead-end, energy gluttony of their "old economy" Ponzi scheme. The insurance industry knows better than anyone that the huge overhang of negative externality costs built up by the unsustainable "old economy" can't be effectively covered by insurance, and they are now beginning to shift the burden to government.

The 9/11 terrorist tragedy is viewed by them as just a convenient excuse for the insurance industry to set the precedent of government payout for any big, supposedly "unexpected" tragedies. Then, when oil burning induced global warming causes the sea level to rise by 10 feet, you guessed it, they will say that this tragedy was 'unpredictable' and that the government (and not private corporate insurance) must pay the $trillions in damages. And when some genetically modified food source causes mutations in 25% of all babies, the insurance industry will say that their product liability policies can't pay for this 'unexpected' tragedy -- only the government can pay the trillions in medical costs and pain and suffering.

The current overhang of negative externality costs in the corrupt and non-sustainable 'old economy' represents a Ponzi scheme which can never be covered by the faux profits that these scam corporations are making today. Existing negative externality costs (exclusive of my examples above) are already several times greater than the reported profits of the Fortune 500.

The basis of the current "old economy" is nothing but a Ponzi scheme, and the insurance industry knows this -- because they would be the ones holding the bag when this scam collapses. But they are now trying to duck out on the disasters that will be left for the general population of the earth when this "old economy" finally implodes. They saw what could be done in the case of the S&L scam to push the costs onto the government and average citizens, and they saw how the $500 billion bullet of cigarette deaths was dodged by shifting costs with the help of their political pimps in Washington. Now they are setting the stage to get government to cover all the negative externality costs of terrorist "blow-back." Next will be global warming/sea level cost avoidance, and then genetic disaster product liability coverage.

As Herman Daly and other innovative economists have documented, the energy gluttony of our high "growth" unsustainable "old economy" is now entering a painful death spiral, and the "old economy" gang that put Bush in the White House will do "whatever it takes" to insure that that pain is transferred away from them.

Sanford, Maine

What Homeland?

Since the tragic disasters of Sept. 11, there has been an increased use of the word "homeland" to refer to the United States. We even have a White House Office of Homeland Security with a new Cabinet-level Secretary of Homeland Security.

The term, "homeland," is a bizarre choice that evokes the strident militaristic rhetoric of Nazi Germany during the 1930s and 1940s. Not surprisingly the use of the term here originates with the military. The ANSER Institute for Homeland Security, a non-profit conservative think tank linked to military and intelligence agencies, says while the concept of "defending the homeland" is a historic one, the first American use of the term homeland defense was in a report by the National Defense Panel in 1997.

Since then, ANSER says, the idea of the homeland is almost universally accepted by policy makers. And, we might add, by the media. CNN even has an official Homeland Security Correspondent and MSNBC has a special "Homeland Security Desk."

Before the media institutionalize the term "homeland' as an acceptable synonym for the United States, we hope they would consider the source.

At a time when we're seeking international support to rid the world of terrorism, it would seem incongruous to identify ourselves with a term that portrays a disturbing chauvinism.

We are not the homeland. We are a democracy. We are a republic. We are the United States of America.

Rohnert Park, Calif.
Email jensen@sonoma.edu

Bring Out the Bodies

Dear Norman Solomon and Charles Levendosky

I just read both your pieces in the 11/15/01 Progressive Populist and they got me thinking about media and this war. In your pieces you make many crucial points about televised images in our present context, but they ignore one crucial aspect. Our televisions have not shown any actual, mangled, dead bodies of the victims of the World Trade Towers and Pentagon attacks. I don't recall seeing one (and I am sure I would have remembered it). Yes, we saw photos of their faces (sometimes) before they were murdered -- but no abhorrent images of specific body remains were distributed by television world wide. Yes, you may say, this is to be expected and thank heavens for it.

But wait. As a result of this omission, the image war, which necessarily surrounds this grave physical warfare, is ordered in our opposition's behalf. This is because people in the entire world -- and this concerns the Muslims world wide, especially -- see by television primarily two tall buildings falling down and one penetrated and burning -- three buildings that symbolize American economic and military power. I wish to point out that this is entirely too abstract when close-up images of destroyed individual people in Afghanistan are shown and distributed world wide. This is regardless of the fact that these devastated people may have been devastated as a result of the West's bombs or their own anti-aircraft fire (we cannot be sure as there is no free press television there). As a result, Moslem extremists are ordering the image spin of this deadly conflict -- for they do not have the hesitancy of good taste and decorum and respect for the family of the victims that we do. In this sense, television is failing us by omission.

New York, N.Y.
email joseph_nechvatal@hotmail.com

Patriots Speak Out

Anthrax spores delivered by mail to a few high visibility media and political personalities preoccupy a terrified nation and keep attention focused on the threat to national security of a hidden network of a few thousand religious extremists disbursed throughout the world. Meanwhile a few thousand political extremists in Washington, D.C., who stole the American presidency through election fraud, intimidation, and judicial corruption act under the cover of a national tragedy to suppress civil liberties, increase corporate giveaways, gut environmental protections, and bomb one of the world's poorest and most backward countries. In the name of patriotism, freedom, and democracy they demand our blind obedience and urge us to fulfill our patriotic duty to go shopping in defense of corporate profits. It is time to recall that American patriotism was born in resistance to a man called King George III who demanded blind obedience to an agenda of elite privilege, military domination of subject people, and suppression of basic human rights. The allegiance of the true American patriot is to the principles on which this nation was founded, not to those who defy them in the pursuit of personal power and wealth. It is time for true patriots to speak out.

Bainbridge Island, Wash.
(Korten is author of When Corporations Rule the World)

Backing the President Feels Right for Americans

In "Remember the People" [11/15/01 PP], Jim Cullen wrote: "It is possible [quite likely] that I am out of step with the mainstream of Americans, but I simply do not believe that upwards of 90% of the people think George W. Bush is doing a bang-up job as president."

I don't think the 90% number is true either! In fact, even hear in the conservative Midwest where I live, most people that I talk to have some serious doubts. They just can't come up with a better idea of what to do. This feels like a time when backing the president on whatever action he takes seems like the right thing to do.

I suspect that if President Bush had insisted on taking the "High Road" and not responding with only massive violence most Americans would have rallied around that decision too. Some war hawks would be left muttering in their beer, just as the peace proponents are now, but most people would see the wisdom of not becoming "terrorists" ourselves.

Lebanon, Ill.

Get Past Racism

"Remember the People" by JMC [11/15/01 PP] was really well written, and a good piece on the forgotten working people.

However, it included a bit of racism. In the third paragraph, he talks about Inwood, "a little-known neighborhood tucked away at the northern tip of Manhattan." He calls it an "historically Irish enclave that lately has seen an influx of Dominicans." He follows that immediately with the fact that it's a safe neighborhood, largely because a lot of active and retired cops live there.

Just who is JMC afraid of? Does he think those Irish folks will stir up trouble? I doubt it. He's worried about the Dominicans -- the dark skinned folk who are also poor working people, but painted as threatening the safety of the neighborhood because of their color.

I invite you to take a look at this bit of racism that crept into this editorial -- it is not uncommon in this racist society. But until we look at the racism that lives in every one of our fat white hearts, we won't really be able to feel compassion for those who work and strain to find a better life here in wonderful America. And we'll be nowhere near the society that provides equality for all. We have to work at eradicating racism. It is noxious and under the surface of much that we do and say.

Thank you for listening.

Eugene, Ore.
Email hmarston@epud.net

Editor replies: You're reading a lot into an observation that the neighborhood is integrated. However, if the editor's observation was racist, then so is your assumption that the editor was worried about the Dominicans. In fact, the neighborhood having a lot of police was meant to set up the observation that at least two dozen of the locals died in the Trade Center collapse.

'Reparations' Don't Solve Injustice

Re: Ted Glick and reparations for blacks ["White progressives, black reparations," 9/15/01 PP], I am a WASP. But, among many other things, I marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, Ala. In Eugene, Ore., I was the only professional person of any kind in the city to march in an NAACP demonstration for open housing. I have a "black" (half black and half white) granddaughter and grandson. And I am totally opposed to the notion of reparations.

I would suggest that Glick read the book, The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade, by the prominent black scholar, W.E.B. DuBois. He details the constant debate and turmoil that raged over the slave trade that began well before the Revolutionary War. In 1640, a Captain Smith brought a ship load of black slaves to Massachusetts. He was promptly arrested, and in due course the slaves were sent back to Africa at the colony's expense. Abolition societies bloomed. Not only northern states, but also New Jersey, Maryland, North Carolina and Georgia passed laws prohibiting the slave trade. And in 1807, the US Congress passed a statute prohibiting [the slave trade] after 1808. Unfortunately, the invention of the cotton gin and the need for cheap labor caused the statute not to be enforced.

Glick might also read Brantz Mayer's book, Captain Canot, or Twenty Years of an African Slaver. Slavery was an accepted institution in practically ail of Africa. Canot notes "Five-sixths of the population is in chains." African chiefs and the elite sold their own people into slavery. They also waged wars to gain captives to sell. Canot notes that "Slaves became the coin of Africa" and the "legal tender of a brutal trade."

It took the Civil War at a cost of some 500,000 men killed and an equal number wounded and disabled, and millions of dollars, to end slavery in this country. Is this not reparations enough? At least for the citizens of this country.

Glick blames the "white, male, obscenely-rich power structure, the ruling elite" for slavery and the aftermath of discrimination. I disagree that only "whites" and "males" are obscenely rich. I agree that the "power structure, the ruling elite" must be confronted. Any sense of power over someone else -- be it monetary, religious, political, or racial -- is undemocratic. In a "Questions and Answers" section in Newsweek, 8/20/01, Nigerian author Wole Soyinka (he is black) was asked what message he wanted the world to hear from his new play, King Baabu. He is quoted as saying, "the message of the total corruptibility and grotesquerie of power. Ultimately, I find power really ridiculous. The only kind of power which is respectable is no power at all ..." Amen!

It was avarice -- money and possessions -- and the sense of power it brought to both blacks in Africa and the white cotton plantation owners in this country that instituted slavery here. Thus I doubt that money will repair the damage inflicted by this past "grotesquerie."

Our salvation lies in a totally egalitarian society, with equal opportunities for education, housing, and employment for everyone. A spiritual power within each person that respects the living force within all living things will lead the way. Then blacks will no longer think of themselves as victims (which is self-demeaning) and whites will no longer think of themselves as victimizers (a kind of paternalism). In an egalitarian democracy, no one has "any power at all" over anyone else, either by playing the victim or by thinking, "Yes, sonny, I've been really bad."

Medford, Wis.

Ditch the Dems

Sam Parry expounded at considerable length the Democratic Leadership Council party line that Ralph Nader was mistaken in thinking that there is a progressive constituency of any real consequence in the US ["Is Ralph Right?" 10/1/01 PP]. Parry asserts that "Nader was a negligible factor" except in Florida and New Hampshire, "the only two states where Nader's tally exceeded Bush's official victory margin." He nowhere acknowledges an obvious and important fact: that a great many voters who actually preferred Nader voted for Gore in the hope of sparing us four years of Bush.

Shortly after the election, I had dinner with five friends. When the talk got around to politics, I told them I voted for Nader. All five of my companions then confessed that they much preferred Nader but had nevertheless cast anti-Bush votes for Gore.

All right, that's what doctors disparagingly call anecdotal evidence. But as I remember, early polls indicated that something like 10 or 12% of the electorate favored Nader. Is it more logical to assume that millions of voters were inspired to switch by Gore's lackluster campaign, or that the desire to stop Bush seduced most pro-Nader people into voting for the second-best (and second-worst) man? Defectors from Nader failed to stop Bush, of course. But a perhaps even more serious failure was their failure to show their true colors. Their progressivism is lost to view, and the likes of Parry can claim with a degree of plausibility that they simply don't exist.

I propose this axiom: It is a perversion of the electoral process ever to vote for anyone other than the candidate of your choice. We need instant-recount voting to eliminate that temptation.

The DLC-dominated Democratic Party is not centrist; it is profoundly conservative and just as corporation-friendly as the reactionary Republican Party. Not only did I vote for Nader, but after the election, I changed my registration from Democratic to Green. I recommend a similar course to anyone who wants his or her progressive convictions to be visible and unambiguous.

Weed, California

US is Lucky

While I sympathize with the relatives and families of the innocent who perished on that day, I would like to point out that the US has been extremely fortunate that a similar act has not been perpetrated sooner. Since Dec. 7, 1941, we have literally been getting away with murder, without sustaining any casualties on our own soil. The death toll we have caused throughout the world is staggering and needs to be addressed. We have killed,or helped kill,through bombing and pounding, blockades, sanctions, invasions, destabilization, overthrows of governments etc.

The mere number of (known) countries thus mistreated boggles the mind: Germany, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Libya, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Haiti, Lebanon, Timor, Chile, Nigeria, Laos, Cambodia.

For every action there is the inevitable reaction! It seems that we are poised to take" revenge" on countries like Syria, Lebanon (again), Iraq (ditto), the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. Does the elite here realize that they are playing Russian roulette with the lives of millions ... not only their own citizens,but countless others who are just as innocent?

This begs the question: Was this a terrorist attack or a terrorist response to the reign of terrorism we have subjected others to?

Red Bluff, Cal.

Get Rid of Greenspan

When the economy was thriving under Bill Clinton's administration, Alan Greenspan was given much credit. Now that the economy is faltering, no one is giving Greenspan blame for the decline. Cutting interest rates nine times this year has devastated people who depend on interest income from CDs and savings accounts. People use this income to supplement their Social Security. There has been no mention by the media of this problem, which causes hardship for the elderly.

The lowering of the interest by the Fed will do little or nothing for the economy. Japan reduced its rates to zero and that did not help its economy.

Now Greenspan has testified before Congress that he would do away with the minimum wage law.

It's time we got a new chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Madison, N. J.

Don't Blame USA

Several weeks ago there was a peace demonstration televised in Washington, D.C. Although it was too disgusting to watch the entire affair, the speakers generally were of the same vein. "The World Trade Center and Pentagon incident was a tragedy, but," and then went on to discuss a litany of atrocities performed by the United States. Which is why such people are not respected, lack credibility, and are paid scant attention.

No one should deny that we have made mistakes, but to imply that the USA is somehow to blame for the attacks and that we should understand such hatred is ridiculous. This is simple; these people are terrorists, and those that harbor and support them need to have the full weight of the military applied against them.

Omaha, Neb.

Don't Need World Government

In the 11/15/01 PP Ronnie Dugger advocates an international court of justice. We couldn't have that without having international government, which is what the money barons want. An immature article which you should not have printed.

Boulder Colo.

Give Up Your Liberties

I was planning to give up my civil liberties next February for Lent, but Congress has squelched that idea with the "Patriot Act".

Lebanon, Tenn.
E-mail dsweeton@aol.com

Call Home

I couldn't agree more with Raymond Mostek's letter ("Don't Forget to Write Home") urging progressives to write letters to papers in their home town. There's no reason why right-wingers should dominate that forum as they often do. Another approach to disseminate information is AM talk radio. We can call into those programs as easily as Limbaugh's "dittoheads" can. They often cut me off and start yelling at me when I call in, but I always try to mention a good book or journal before they hang up on me. Lastly, make sure your local library subscribes to the Progressive Populist.

Best Regards,

Denver, Colo.

Write: Letters to the Editor
Progressive Populist
PO Box 150517
Austin, TX 78715-0517
Email populist@usa.net

Please keep them brief

Home Page

News | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2001 The Progressive Populist