Saturday, December 24, 2011

Why Ron Paul Matters

911 NYPD Pictures 2010 Pictures, Images and Photos
I first developed an interest in politics after 9/11. Why on Earth would someone hate America that much, I wondered? Who is al qaida? What the hell is their problem with us? Why are they attacking our financial institutions?  So I began paying attention to politics, U.S. foreign affairs in particular. During the Bush/Cheney march to war in Iraq in 2002 I was tuned in and I watched in amazement as the Bush Administration fed the American public one line of bullshit after another. I mean I was all for getting rid of Saddam, but what I was not for was being lied to. And it was so obvious that the Bush/Cheney Administration were lying out their asses. When ole Barack Obama, a local Chicago politician, came onto the scene, pointing out how the Bush/Cheney Administration was lying out their asses, it was refreshing.  The Bush/Cheney war was not about Saddam's violation of human rights, nor about national security and WMDs. It was about oil and geo-political influence. Then as I watched the 2004 Presidential election, the Bush/Cheney lies just kept snowballing. Cheney was obviously evil and Bush Jr. was living in a box of dellusions--yet Kerry/Edwards didn't inspire me to drive to my local voting place, wait in line and cast my ballot either. They just didn't seem like they would make things drastically any better.

How can you be so interested in politics yet not vote? People would ask me. I wasn't sure. It just didn't seem like it was worth my time. Lamely I argued that my state always votes Democrat anyway, so my vote wouldnt really make a difference. Plus I don't agree with the electoral college system. Why not one person = one vote?  But honestly, the main reason was because that the root of what I thought was wrong with our corporate-political economic system was not going to be solved by any of these candidates. No one was speaking out for what I wanted. I wanted to live in a nation that put an emphasis on ethics, honesty, transparency, and basic human decency. I wanted to live in an America where not ONE single corporation polluted the environment or rushed untested drugs onto the market. I wanted to live in an America where every single child had equal educational opportunities and health care. I wanted to live in an America where the economic system did not reward greed.

When 2008 rolled around, I chose not to vote once again. I was glad Obama won, but I saw no signs that he was going to overhaul our entire system like it needed to be overhauled.  Much of what he did felt like it was just more of the same old, same old.

By 2012 I had been listening to talk radio regularly--both left-wing stations and right-wing ones. I had spent the last few months of 2011 watching the Occupy Wall Street folks with interest--but I couldnt help but think that they had no chance of drastically changing the system. They might accomplish something positive, some small step in the right direction, but nothing revolutionary. And I also watched in waning interest as the Republican Party went through the fiasco of trying to nominate a Presidental candidate--a process that went from resembling a bunch of mentally handicapped people playing musical chairs that eventually breaks out into a full blown circular firing squad.  All of which led me to the the notion that most likely Obama would have 4 more years. Hopefully he will do some positive things, especially in the area towards building a greener infrastructure.  But I see no promise of anything revolutionary being done--nothing that would begin to tear down the corrupt corporate political system that governs our nation.  So it was beginning to look as though the 2012 Presidential election was going to be the same old typical bull shit, with nothing of interest in terms of real change being injected into the national debate. But then...

Enter Ron Paul
Ron Paul is not a new name in the presidential campaign. He ran in 1988 and 2008 with pretty much the same Libertarian message as he has today. But the difference now is that he actually has a chance to seriously interject this message into the national conversation. For the first time Paul is looking like he is about to enter the national spotlight as he is now poised as an honest contender to win the first Republican contest in Iowa. The time for his message to be heard, might have finally come.

The centerpiece of Paul's message is that our nation needs to phase out the Federal Reserve System. To get a more detailed picture of this argument I picked up a copy of End the Fed by Ron Paul. On page 4 of End the Fed Ron Paul writes:

 "...I think the system of Fed domination must come to an end."

On page 11 he goes on to write:

"The Federal Reserve System must be challenged. Ultimately, it needs to be eliminated."

End the FedNow that is what I call revolutionary talk. Paul does not come right out and say that we need to get rid of Federal money or even get rid of a Federal Bank, but he does say that we need to get rid of the Federal Reserve System. Paul then goes on to lay out the gripes he has with the Fed system. First of all, he thinks that no single institution in society should have a monopoly on money. It puts too much power in the hands of the Federal Government. He also doesn't like the idea that the U.S. government can just print money out of thin air in order to (directly or indirectly) generate funds for its agenda and policies--whether that agenda be a war for oil in Iraq, or universal healthcare, or financial aid to victims of Katrina, or building and repairing the nation's infrastructure. Paul also argues that having a Federal Reserve allows banks to provide risky loans. And that it also provides banks with 'elasticity' (the ability to expand money and credit as much as they want to). The Fed, as Paul sees it, is in the business of generating inflation. In fact since the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913 the worth of the dollar has shrunk to just 5 cents.

Paul goes on to argue that the reason that the Fed can do all these things is because of "the institution of fractional reserves" -- in other words the mixing of the two distinct functions of the bank. The first function of a bank is simply the warehousing of money whereas the second function is providing a loan service. When the warehousing of money becomes a source of lending then that is considered as mixing the two distinct functions of a bank (a.k.a. the fractional reserve sytsem). As the Fed relies heavily on fractional reserves, "using the banking system as the engine through which new money is injected into the economy as a whole" and then backs this fractional reserve system with the promise of endless money creation and bailouts, it perpetuates an illusion, according to Paul. Paul labels this system as half-socialized--"propped up by the government". It is a system that was created by the establishment of the Federal Reserve in 1913 by "powerful bankers with powerful government officials working together to have the nation's money serve their interests..." The Fed was designed to benefit the rich and poweful and that is what it has done for the last hundred years, continually making the rich even richer and expanding the gap between the 1%ers and the rest of us.

So if the Fed is so bad, then why not get rid of it?

The one obvious problem with free market capitalism is that it doesn't concern itself with humanity. It simply does not calculate humanity into the equation at all. It ignores humanity--which is why free market proponents come off as so callous: they have dehumanized us. They think only in terms of monetary concerns, the bottom line. And this is why free-market capitalism will never work. It is why we have Ron Paul and Libertarians making callous comments about victims of Katrina, or about victums of large corporate drug companies who have rushed untested drugs onto the market. It is why they do not seem concerned about children who have gotten cancer due to chemicals that nearby factories dump into the land, air and water in their neighborhoods. The government shouldn't regulate these corporations, they argue--you have to let the free market determine everything and fuck the people who get bulled over by the wave of free-market enterprise, for people are not important. Only corporations are important. They are all that matters.

money tree Pictures, Images and PhotosAnd this is why true free-market capitalism has never worked and never will work. We say we have a capitalistic system, but the truth is--as Ron Paul says, we have a half-socialized system, a half-capitialistic system. Which is actually a good thing. If you pit capitalism against communism, neither one actually takes into account the realistic influences of human nature. In a strictly communist society, with no economic motive to get ahead, there will be people who simply will not contribute, people who will be motivated NOT to work. Why should they go out and bust their ass when their food and shelter is provided for them? There will also be those who form a black market, there will be those who get ahead through corruption. Likewise, a strictly capitalistic society, falls victim to human vices as well. Those with power and money and access to power and money create machinations that perpetuate their access to power and money and that discriminate in order to further deny that access to others. This is why there are no truly capitalistic societies nor any truly communistic societies in the world. What we have are systems that are various combinations of the two, and that are in continual flux, teeter-tottering back and forth, leaning toward one or the other at all times. In the U.S for example, for every shift toward communism (like the New Deal in the 1930 or the Great Society in the 1960s) we see a counter-shift toward capitialism (like in the Eisenhower Era and Reagan Era). At times however, these battles are very complex and colored in nuance. Today for instance, we are seeing that the capitalisitic shift during the Bush/Cheney that was camoflauged in smoke and mirrors is being countered with a communistic shift of the ObamaCare era that is equally as nuanced, complicated and camoflauged in smoke and mirrors.

Which brings us back to Ron Paul and his effort to shift America back towards capitalism--which is really what his 'End the Fed' ideology is all about. Does America need a shift towards free-market capitalism right now? Or do we need to continue shifting towards socialism? Is there some way to restructure the Federal Reserve System? What would happen if we stopped bailing out the "too big to fail" financial institutions? Do we simply need more regulations on the Fed or to actually enforce the regulations that exist?  In the long run what is better for America? What would be the most fair?  If Ron Paul makes it to the national spot light and is able to take the stage in a debate with Barrack Obama, these will be some of the questions that American voters will be challenged to digest. 

Maybe there is hope for this year's Presidential Election after all...

In 2008, Paul secured the support and signatures of 4 canidates for President that agreed to the follwoing statement:

We insist that there be a thorough investigation, evaluation and audit of the Federal Reserve System and its cozy relationships with the banking, corporate, financial institutions.  The arbitrary power to creat money and credit out of thin air behind closed doors for the benefit of special interests must be brought to an end.  There should be no bailouts of corporations and no corporate subsides.  Corporations should be aggressively prosecuted for fraud.

©2012 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

One Million Electric Cars

Nothing symbolizes the greatness of America more than the road trip. Growing up in the 1970s I went on at least one road trip with my (disfunctional) family every summer. My brother and I would travel cross country to Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, some times with our biological father in his Econoline van or other times with my step-father and our mother in our Dodge Ramcharger. Each trip was an adventure, stops to go swimming, tubeing, bicycling, camping, fishing, to see ball games, to run around amusement parks, go-carting, hang at water parks, visit distant relatives, eat bologna sandwiches with Pringles and slurp 7-ups on the side of the road.

By 1984 I obtained my driver's license and I began road tripping with my friends.  We ventured off to state parks, county fairs, R.E.M. concerts, to the Iowa border (to a grungey strip club that let 17 year olds in), to the Wisconsin border to buy fireworks, to New Orleans' French Quarter, to tailgate parties in the parking lots of college stadiums. And by the 1990s I was taking road trips with girlfriends, romantic getaways to small tourist towns with antique shops, and ski resorts with almost-fine dining. My honeymoon in 2005 was a road trip to Knoxville Tennessee where my bride (now ex-wife) and I explored the winding roads and small towns around the Smokey Mountains, camped deep in the woods, hiked trails and listened to bluegrass music in smalltown bars.

                                            The summer of 2011

Now I have a 3 year old daughter and a 5 year old son and I can't wait to pass down the tradition of experiencing the wonders of the American road trip to them.  This was the summer in fact that I was planning to take my curious little munchkins on their first ever American road trip adventure, through small towns, visiting arts and crafts fairs, music festivals and eating in ma and pa diners. But there is something different about America in 2011.  Gas prices are well over 4 dollars a gallon - and in an economy crippled by wasteful government spending in recent foreign wars for oil, my dream of a summer road trip with my munchkins seems more like a fantasy. When I sat down to try and work out a budget for this road trip the reality hit me and it became too depressing to even think about: my kids would not be able to experience the great American road trip adventure. Not this year at least.  Maybe never.

But wait a frickin minute. Wait one god-damned minute! This IS still America, right? The once great land where anything was possible? The nation that gave us Muhammid Ali, the electric blues, NFL football, Classic Rock, muscle cars, baseball cards and Indie films? The nation that put a man on the moon, created the internet, defeated Hitler, and invented the roller coaster and gonzo journalism. So why can't this be the nation to perfect the electric car and give rebirth to the dream of the American road trip?

Addicted To Oil

Our country's addiction to oil was at one time a productive thing. After World War II oil promoted innovation, it got the country moving, it enriched our culture. But in october of 1973, for reasons too complex to get into here, Egypt and Syria attacked Isreal. Our President, Richard Milhouse Nixon, sided with Isreal which pissed off OPEC and resulted in an oil embargo on the US by the anti-Isreal, oil-exporting countries of the Middle East. This embargo caused a disastrous energy crisis in America which saw oil prices skyrocket from just $3 a barrel to $40 almost overnight. There were lines at gas stations as oil consuming Americans worried about whether they would have enough fuel to maintain their lives. The idea of an alternative to the gas-engine car started to become something worth serious considerion.

In 1976 in fact, three years after the Arab oil embargo, Congress passed the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development and Demonstration Act (despite a veto by then-President Jerry Ford). The idea was to stimulate the production of alternatives to gas-engines. During Jimmy Carter's time in office (remember Jimmy Carter--the guy who put solar panels on the roof of the white house) government funds were provided that led to serious progress in the development of electric batteries. This progress lead to an enormous cultural and economic impact via the resulting gadget boom of the early/mid 80s; digital watches, pocket calculators, cameras, portable stereos, Sony walkmen, cell phones. As the gadget boom continued throughout the 80s it seemed like it was only just a matter of time until a viable electric car battery would be produced.

 But then, just like that, development for the electric car in the USA came to a sudden standstill. In 1985 the price of oil began to fall again as the short-sighted Reagan Administration deregulated the oil industry. Oil companies were finding new petroleum sources in the North Sea, Alaska, Mexico and South America. Meanwhile OPEC lowered its prices in a successful attempt to increase U.S. addiction to oil and by 1986 the price of oil dropped down to only $15 a barrel. As Japanase auto companies encroached on the US auto market the idea of the electric car became even more marginalized. To compete with Japanese automakers the Reagan Administration was compelled to promote the consuption of cars with combustionable engines and totally dismiss alternative energy. On page 37 of Seth Fletcher's book Bottled Lightning, he writes:

"Reagan came in and cut back energy efficiency and renewable energy programs by something like 80 percent," Elton Cairns, who at the time was working on advanced battery research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told me. "All labs, including ours, suffered layoffs as a result. The reduction in funding occured something like overnight. That pretty well put an end to the significant involvement in DOE [Department of Energy] labs in battery and fuel-cell programs at that time."

Who Killed the Electric Car?

The documentary film Who Killed The Electric Car? picks up the story from there. In 1987 a solar powered vehicle created by an L.A. company called AeroVironment won the World Solar Challenge race across Austrailia. Law makers in California took note and began to see that emission free vehicles were very much a reality. This inspired the California Air Resource Board (known as CARB) to pass a mandate in 1990 that called for 2% of all cars sold in California to be emission-free by 1995. Car companies then began teetering between trying to comply to this mandate and working to get the mandate repealed. The technology to make a viable electric car was basically there. In fact within a short period GM came up with the EV1, an electric car that was fast, smooth, stylish, aerodynamic, emission-free and silent. It went up to 140 miles per charge. But the EV1 was not for sale. GM decided to make it available by lease only - for about $349 a month. Francis Ford Coppola leased one. Mel Gibson leased one. 24,000 customers from L.A. and NYC alone called in requesting to lease a EV1 before it even hit the market. Yet even as GM was producing this eco-vehicle with a huge demand, they realized that more profit was to be made in keeping with the gas combustionable engine vehicle business model. The gas engine was so much more complex in terms of working parts and therefore needed more maintenance which yielded incredible profits for car manufactures.  The electric engine on the other hand required absolutely no maintenance at all. So the auto companies, in cahoots with the big oil companies, began infiltrating CARB in order to end the emmission free mandate (which was scheduled to be increased to a 10% requirement of all vehicles sold in California by 2003).

Since there was no common sense reason for CARB to repeal the mandate (other than it would line the big auto and big oil companies pockets), the auto manufacturers and oil companies had to manufacture a reason. Enter hydrogen fuel cell technology - a developing technology that big oil and big auto could use as a stalling tactic or a bait and switch to dupe Bill Clinton (and later Geroge W. Bush) into promoting the ideal of fuel cell cars. This fantastical idea of the fuel-cell vehicle allowed the oil companies and car manufacturers to argue that fuel cell was a better way to go than the electric car - with the added caveat of course that they needed a bit more time to develop fuel-cell technology. In reality however, it would take decades (if ever) to develop AND it actually cost one million dollars to make just ONE fuel cell car (whereas electric cars were going for around $32,000). This seemed like a hard sell, but to hedge their bets the oil and car companies got to the chairman of the California Fuel Cell Partnership, Dr. Alan Lloyd who was also elected as the chairman of CARB. And in 2003 CARB repealed the mandate. Then, in a gesture reminescient of Ronald Reagan having the solar panels removed from the white house roof upon moving in, GM and the other auto makers recalled ALL their electric vehicles - every last one of them - and trucked them out to the desert and had them literally crushed. Meanwhile, the Bush Administration's War for Oil in Iraq had been declared and was in full swing.

Yes We Can!

Upon winning office in 2008 Barrack Obama put an immediate emphasis on ending the USA's addiction to oil as he put forth historic new nationwide fuel-economy standards of a 35.5 mpg fleetwide by 2016 (a 40 percent increase over existing standards). Then, as Fletcher writes on page 115 of Bottled Lightning:

"...the current White House was more supportive of automotive electrification than any since Carter's. Obama worked an oblique mention of the Volt [GM's current electric car] into his first joint address to Congress as an example of the automotive technology of the future--and as a compelling reason to fund an American lithium-ion battery industry. And on March 19, 2009, he toured the Electric Vehicle Technical Center at Southern California Edison and declared a goal of putting one million electric cars on the road by the year 2015. He announced a $2 billion competitive grant program for electric-car battery and component manufacturers..." And the list goes on.

Today, there are a number of electric cars on the road. Chevy has the Volt, Nissan has the Leaf, Tesla has its Roadster. Meanwhile Ford, Toyota, Mitshubishi, Volkswagen, Audi and even Porsche have all announced plans to release an electric car by 2012. We will soon be seeing electric cars that can go 300 miles on a fully charged battery and which take as little as 5 minutes to recharge. You can charge the electric cars from your own home or at conveniently located charging stations (WalMart, are you listening?). The cost of an electic car has dropped to below $32,000 and considering the savings a driver will get from no longer having to put gas in their vehicle (with gas prices flirting with 5 dollars a gallon) it costs TEN times as much to travel in a gas engine vehicle than an electric vehicle - plus the savings from not having to get oil changes and engine maintenance.  So there is no reason NOT to buy an electric car. In fact I see no reason why I should ever need to buy a gas-engine car again in my life. I can see a 21st century where the American road trip returns, where I can travel all day on about one dollar in energy costs. Where I can drive my kids from small town to big city showing them all the greatness and glory that is still America.

Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium EconomyFor a history of the evolution of the electric car, check out
Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy by Seth Fletcher.  Overall, there are parts in Seth Fletcher's Bottled Lightning where you might need to have at least a high-school level physics class understanding of chemistry in order to get the gist of it, particularly the history and evolution of man's relationship to electricity. As this history unfolds it is interesting enough, but it begins taking on a more immediate relevence as Fletcher brings us into the early 1970s and the U.S. energy crisis. Fletcher does a workman's job of explainin how the electric car has gotten to where it is today and then explaining where it is going in the future.  For this I give Bottled Lightening 3 out of 5 wagemannheads.

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