Tag: Direct democracy

True Independence.

Can’t believe a year has gone so quickly!

Last year, on this day, I published the transcript of the Declaration of Independence before Congress on July 4, 1776.  Part of one of the comments, left by Patrice Ayme, was this:

That the trust is gone is actually a good thing. We cannot trust a system where a few lead hundreds of millions, if not billions. Even if they come from the People, and especially if they come from the People. Because the less power where they come from, the greedier they are, and thus, the more eager to be bought.

Two thousand years ago, any grouping of a few thousands Germans got enraged when someone would proclaim himself a king. Now people venerate those who think they can do all the thinking in place of billions.

Hence we are facing the reality of a vastly incomplete revolution: Athens, at her apex, had direct democracy (OK, no women, no slaves…). We don’t.

Perhaps, what has changed most in the last year is the realisation, the growing realisation, as to where real power lies.

This highly subjective conclusion comes to me as a result of reading, very recently, two essays.

The first was an essay by ‘Gaius Publius’ seen on Naked Capitalism.  It was called: A Primer – What’s in a “Tar Sands” Pipeline?

In the wake of renewed interest in the Keystone Pipeline project and the likelihood that Obama will eagerly approve it unless we stop him, there’s a lot of interest in what actually flows through those pipes.

Van Jones has called it “planet-cooking goo.” I’ve called it “sludge.” But what is it really?

To answer that question, we need to look at:

▪ What is “tar sand“?
▪ What is extracted from it (answer, bitumen or “tar”)?
▪ What is done to the bitumen to make it “flow”?

All of which produces a great bottom line. Click any of those links to jump to that section.

The primary source, though not the only source, of this information is a great article and slideshow at the Scientific American website. Feel free to click and read as we walk through this material.

It is a thorough and very disturbing explanation of what Keystone XL is truly about; please don’t hesitate to read it in full.

It includes this video:

However, I will republish the closing paragraphs:


If you thought that diluted bitumen, as produced by the upgrading plants, is now capable of flowing through a pipeline to the cash registers in Texas (or wherever), you’d be wrong. Even in diluted form, bitumen doesn’t flow. To make it flow, it has to be heated — often to 150°–160°F — and then forced through the pipelines under high pressure.

So what flows through the pipeline? Keeping those cash registers in mind, you now have all the pieces. Tar sand pipelines contain:

A carbon-rich colloidal suspension …

Made up of lighter-than-water, easily-evaporated toxic liquids (like diesel) …

And heavier-than-water solids (the tar or bitumen itself) that sink to the bottom of rivers and below the mud in fields …

Which has been heated hot enough to burn your hand — or accelerate the external corrosion of the pipeline itself, including pinhole breaks …

Which has been forced to move under high pressure …

And which contains poisons and toxins like sulphur, arsenic, nickel, lead and mercury …

All so megalomaniacal carbon billionaires can make even more money.

That’s what flows through the pipelines. Or to put it more simply:

What flows through the pipes is the unmonetized assets of the try-and-stop-me CEO class, which if it spills, will poison everything it touches for decades or centuries, and if it gets into the air, will turn most of our grandchildren — the ones that survive — into hunter-gatherers.

Bill McKibben counts those unmonetized assets (proven reserves) at $27 trillion dollars. Add in reserves that are likely but not proven, plus the ones in the melting Arctic that are yet to be found, and you’re talking real money. The billionaire class won’t walk away from that in a hurry.

And that, kids, is Science Talk for today. We learned a little about a lot, didn’t we — everything from colloidal suspensions and bitumen “froth,” to billionaire psychopathology and cash registers in Texas. To those of you who got to this end of the post, my thanks!

So hold in mind the reference to the billionaire class as I cross the ‘pond’ to the old country for the second essay.

Recently, George Monbiot published an essay under the title of Robber Barons.

It opened, thus:

Why do we ignore the most blatant transfer of money from the poor to the rich?

It’s the silence that puzzles me. Last week, the Chancellor stood up in parliament to announce that benefits for the very poor would be cut yet again. On the same day, in Luxembourg, our government battled to maintain benefits for the very rich. It won. As a result, some of the richest people in Britain will each continue to receive millions of pounds in income support from taxpayers.

There has been not a whimper of protest. The Guardian hasn’t mentioned it. UK Uncut is silent. So – at the other end of the spectrum – is the UK Independence Party.

I’m talking about the most blatant transfer of money from the poor to the rich that has occurred in the era of universal suffrage. Farm subsidies. The main subsidy – the single farm payment – is doled out by the hectare. The more you own or rent, the more money you receive.

Later on mentioning:

The minister responsible for cutting income support for the poor, Iain Duncan Smith, lives on an estate owned by his wife’s family. Over the past ten years, it has received €1.5m in income support from taxpayers.

How much more obvious do these double standards have to be before we begin to notice?

Then Mr. Monbiot examines some of the cultural aspects such as how “A high proportion of the books aimed at very young children are about farm animals.” then closes with this thought.

Whatever the reason may be, it’s time we overcame these inhibitions and confronted this unembarrassed robbery of the poor by the rich. The current structure of farm subsidies epitomises the British government’s defining project: capitalism for the poor, socialism for the rich.

So examples from both sides of The Atlantic that reveal deeply disturbing issues.  However …….

I celebrate America this day.  I celebrate the power of the common man to achieve justice and fairness for the peoples of all nations. I celebrate the Constitution of the United States of America.



We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.


Looking down the wrong end of the telescope.

Trying to make sense of the utter nonsense of the Rio+G20 summit.

I share the deep frustration that must be felt by millions around the globe at the outcome of the Rio summit meeting, if outcome is the appropriate word!  Martin Lack summarised his anger in a post last Friday and I’m going to publish an extract from his writings because they so perfectly reflect not only his anger but, I suspect, the anger of millions of others.

Adam Vaughan’s blog from Rio for the Guardian newspaper is not for the faint-hearted.  At 2:07 pm today, [Friday 22 June 2012 12.23 EDT, Ed] he quoted David Nussbaum (WWF-UK) as follows:

“It would have been naïve to pin too many hopes on a single conference, but undeniably we expected more from the outcome document. Entitled ‘The Future We Want’, the text doesn’t live up to the aspirations of the title – it’s more a case of ‘The Future We’ll Get If We Rely On Politicians’. Full of weak phrases, and re-confirmations of previous aspirations which they haven’t realised, the text fails to commit governments to actions, targets, timeframes and finance to which we can hold them accountable….What we have is an agreement within the bounds of what they thought politically possible; what we needed was an agreement to address what is scientifically necessary. This is no way to manage our planet!”

Neither would I recommend George Monbiot’s column today – Rio+20 draft text is 283 paragraphs of fluff; unless you are feeling brave:

“World leaders have spent 20 years bracing themselves to express ‘deep concern’ about the world’s environmental crises, but not to do anything about them…Several of the more outrageous deletions proposed by the United States – such as any mention of rights or equity or of common but differentiated responsibilities – have been rebuffed. In other respects the Obama government’s purge has succeeded, striking out such concepts as “unsustainable consumption and production patterns” and the proposed decoupling of economic growth from the use of natural resources.”

I would like to be able to dismiss this as facile criticism from the liberal left. However, in reality, to do so would be to second-guess the scientists who have been telling us for decades that we need action not words. Our children and grandchildren will not forgive us for failing to act.

BUT a conversation I had with Lew L. here in Payson last Friday afternoon helped crystalise some thoughts that I would like to share with you.

Representative democracy a la British House of Commons

The first is about democracy, or more accurately representative democracy.  Lew pointed out that some US Towns still employ direct democratic processes where all the people who attend a Town meeting vote in person for or against the motion.  The challenge for a representative democratic process is that those elected representatives are vulnerable to a wide range of influences and between elections may be taking decisions that the people would neither support nor approve of.

The idea of direct democracy goes back a very long time, as Wikipedia reveals,

The earliest known direct democracy is said to be the Athenian Democracy in the 5th century BC,

So it could be argued that the fundamental flaw in the Rio+G20 meeting was not the lack of any real progress by our ‘leaders’, but in our expectations, as in the expectations of ‘you and me’, all across the world.  The money and power that must be intertwined in such games of international politics doesn’t bear thinking about.  It was Lord Acton, the British historian, who said: ‘Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely‘.

So rather than expecting our representatives and leaders to do what we what them to do and being bitterly disappointed, time and time again, there is another equally valid way of bringing about change – create the change you desire by changing yourself.

As my friend Jon Lavin expressed in a very recent email,

People like something solid to relate to in such changing and unpredictable times and a dogs view is brilliant because dogs just are because they are in the present. All that matters is the ‘now’. Most of our problems can be traced back to our lack of ability to be in the ‘now’. Driven by regrets about the past, and a fear of what the future holds, we carry on hoping that all our problems can be solved by amassing material possessions.

Oh, well. The best way to save the world is to work on our selves.

So that leads on to my second thought, the urgency in tackling what is happening to the Earth’s climate.  In Martin’s second angry post over at Lack of Environment, he writes,

Here in the UK, the weather is literally unbelievable. 100mm of rain falling in one day. At the end of June. It’s ridiculous. Just one problem: It is exactly what the climate models predicted.

Global average temperatures are rising. Since the 1980s, every decade has been warmer than the last. 1998 was a very warm year, but global warming has not stopped; it has morphed into Anthropogenic Climate Disruption (ACD). Some even suggest we should call it Human Induced Rapid Global Overheating (HIRGO) but I prefer ACD, because that is what we are experiencing: It will be decades before it becomes obvious that HIRGO is happening and, if we wait for it to be obvious, there will be no way to stop it.

We need to accept that ACD is a reality; it is an inevitable consequence of a warming atmosphere; one with more moisture in it more of the time and – as I said – it is exactly what the climate models have being tell us would happen for decades. That being the case, how is it that our politicians – seemingly led by members of a supposedly left-of-centre Democratic Party administration in the USA – can have such monumental tunnel vision as to offer up the planet itself as a sacrifice upon the altar of the god of Growth?

But do you see the fundamental error?  The idea that our leaders have to create change: “.. how is it that our politicians …. can have such monumental tunnel vision as to offer up the planet itself as a sacrifice upon the altar of the god of Growth?

As Jon Lavin revealed in his email to me, the agency of change is within each of us. It is not a “thing.” There’s a huge amount of information revealed by a simple Google search on change, the change process, change management process, etc., etc., so I’m not going to add to the noise by quoting the experts.  It’s as simple as Jon wrote:

“The best way to save the world is to work on our selves.”

OK, moving on to my second thought, and for this I want to play a little mind-game.

That is what would be the impact if 50% of the combined populations of North America and Europe decided to save the power of one 60-watt lamp, or equivalent, for 36 hours a year, i.e. turning off one 60-watt lamp for less than one hour a day for a year!

Let’s take this a step at a time.

The combined population of the USA, Canada and Europe is 1,090,487,000 people, i.e. a little over 1 billion.

Thus half that population is 545,243,500 persons.

Saving 60 watts for 36 hours a year is 60 X 36 = 2,160 watts.

Thus 545,243,500 people times 2,160 watts = 1,177,725,960,000 watts.  Which is 1.178 trillion watts. (rounded up)

 I say again: 1.178 trillion watts.

How can one get any notion of what that means?  The best I could find from a web search was this:

The U.S. electric power industry’s total installed generating capacity was 1,119,673 megawatts (MW) as of December 31, 2009—a 1.0-percent increase from 2008.

Ergo, in 2009 the USA had the capability of generating 1,119,673 megawatts.  A megawatt is one million watts so 1,119,673 megawatts is 1,119,673,000,000 watts, or 1.119 trillion watts.

Wow! switching off a 60-watt lamp for less than an hour a day would save 1.178 trillion watts, more than the combined generating capacity of the entire USA in 2009 of 1.119 trillion watts.

I suspect that the current USA generating capacity isn’t that much different and, of course, one can’t run away with the idea that all of that is generated by fossil fuels.

But if I have done my mathematics correctly (and do please check my sums), the simple expediency of turning off one 60-watt lamp for 36 hours a year, if done by just half the populations of North America and Europe, would be the equivalent of saving 105% of the total US generating capacity!

So think about the change you want in your life, and  the lives of your children and grandchildren, and get on with it.  Turn out that light!

“The best way to save the world is to work on our selves.”

And I can do no better in terms of reflecting on the power of our minds, than courtesy of this fabulous video which Christine of 350orbust had last Saturday:

Remembering Fred Rogers.

Final thought!  If one thinks of the way that we trust the Internet for so much these days, and the huge number of people that are now ‘wired’, it doesn’t seem to be beyond the wit of man to come up with a reliable, secure method of direct voting electronically.  Wonder why that hasn’t caught on?