Truthout Stories Sun, 04 Oct 2015 11:27:15 -0400 en-gb Koch Brothers Backing Misleading Anti-Solar Campaign in Florida

Solar power(Image: Solar power via Shutterstock)

The Koch brothers and utility giants are bankrolling a ballot initiative in Florida to block the development of home solar and to protect the utilities' continuing oligopoly on energy generation in the Sunshine State.

Solar is booming in the U.S., with a thirty percent increase in generation in 2014, but surprisingly it's facing an uphill battle in Florida. The state Public Service Commission - stacked with appointees hand-picked by Republican Governor Rick Scott for their current terms - have gutted Florida's energy efficiency goals and ended a solar power rebate program for homeowners.

State law even prevents homeowners from installing solar panels by restricting the leasing of equipment by consumers.

A coalition of environmental groups, called Floridians for Solar Choice, has secured more than 250,000 signatures of Florida residents toward proposing a ballot initiative to end this anti-solar law. If passed, their constitutional amendment would end the utilities' oligopoly on energy generation in Florida and give homeowners the flexibility to enter into contracts with solar companies, also known as Solar Power Purchase Agreements (SPPA).

If successful, the initiative would make Florida the 47th state to allow SPPA's, late but not dead last.

However, challenging the pro-solar amendment is a group calling itself "Consumers for Smart Solar" (CSS). Despite the innocuous sounding name, the group was created with cash from the utilities and groups tied to the billionaire Koch brothers - Charles and David Koch, whose vast wealth has grown from their refinery and pipeline business.

(David does own an enormous mansion in Palm Beach, although that's not the image the group's name brings to mind).

CSS is pushing Floridians to support a rival amendment that would actually prevent homeowners or businesses from contracting with solar companies that can install solar for no upfront cost.

The Utilities Have an Oligopoly in Florida, and They're Fighting to Keep It

Eyeing home solar energy as a growing threat to their control of the market, Florida utilities have spent $12 million since 2010 on state political campaigns, according to reporting by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

In just two months, Consumers for Smart Solar has received more than $473,750 from outside groups, including some that have ties to the Koch brothers, plus $325,000 from Florida utilities, according to an analysis of campaign finance data reviewed by the Center for Media and Democracy and the Energy and Policy Institute.

Here are some examples of the big money at play:

Electric Utility Companies Funding to Consumers for Smart Solar:

  • Duke Energy – $60,000
  • Florida Power and Light Company – $80,000
  • Gulf Power Company – $80,000
  • Tampa Electric Company – $75,000
  • Powersouth Energy Cooperative – $30,000

Outside Group Funding to "Consumers for Smart Solar":

  • National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) – $50,000
  • 60 Plus Association – $100,000
  • Energy & Social Justice Project – $15,000
  • Energy Equity Alliance – $1,000
  • The Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy – $51,000
  • Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce – $50,000
  • Florida Faith and Freedom Coalition Inc – $125,000
  • Florida Council for Safe Communities – $20,000
  • Floridians for Government Accountability – $61,750

Among the list of contributors to "Consumers for Smart Solar" is NBCC, which gave $50,000. The group has a long history of receiving funding from fossil fuel interests and advocating on their behalf.

Since the early 1990s, the organization has received $950,000 in grants from ExxonMobil. They've not only had two channels to Koch corporate funding connections but has also received funding from other carbon companies, including Chevron, ExxonMobil and Southern Company.

So it's no surprise that the group has pushed back against many environmental regulations. Most recently, NBCC launched an entire campaign against the Clean Power Plan, which would reduce carbon pollution in the U.S. At this point, NBCC meets the definition of "front group" for corporations, running ads that throw the voice of energy companies in their lobbying agenda.

Another contributor to the anti-solar campaign is the "60 Plus Association," which contributed $100,000. This senior citizen sounding group has deep ties to the Koch money machine. It has received at least $34 million since 2010 from organizations financially backed by the Koch brothers, including at least $15.7 million from the Koch-controlled "Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce," a new entity from the Kochs and their billionaire allies that shuttled a couple hundred million into the 2012 election cycle before anyone other than insiders knew the group's name.

This is not the first time that 60 Plus has been deployed for this kind of operation, even though it is more widely known for peddling opposition to health care reform. This Koch-aligned operation received secret funding in 2013 from Arizona's largest utility - APS - to run ads in another very sunny state, Arizona, pushing opposition to home solar. It also received at least $258,000 from the American Petroleum Institute since 2008.

Both Floridians for Solar Choice and the Koch-tied Consumers for Smart Solar are still collecting signatures to put the question of permitting Solar Purchasing Agreements to the voters on the 2016 ballot.

For more information about the utility and Koch-backed funding of a misleading ballot initiative in Florida, read the recent joint release published by the Center for Media and Democracy and the Energy and Policy Institute.

News Sun, 04 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Brazil's Unending World Cup: Twenty-Two Communities Still Fighting for Home in Fortaleza

After a World Cup light rail project forced them to relocate, community members and activists in Fortaleza, Brazil, successfully fought for the guarantee of compensation for their homes. They are also working to ensure the government provides replacement housing.

Caśsia Sales (center) with husband Marcio Sales (left) and fellow community member Nete Gomes da Silva (right) at a community meeting. (Photo: Jesse Meehl)Caśsia Sales (center) with husband Marcio Sales (left) and fellow community member Nete Gomes da Silva (right) at a community meeting. (Photo: Jesse Meehl)

The home of Cássia Sales and her family was destroyed by a World Cup light rail project, which is continuing to displace members of her community of 42 years in Fortaleza, Brazil. The residents of Trilha do Senhor, a community along old train tracks, have been weaving a social fabric for over 70 years. They depend on the hospitals and schools nearby, and they own the land.

But the light rail project, the VLT (Veículo Leve sobre Trilhos, in Portuguese), has not destroyed her or her community's resolve to come together as a movement and win thousands of reductions in the evictions the city has claimed necessary for the train route. As part of the Movement to Fight in Defense of Housing (MDLM) in this large northeastern city, Sales and numerous other community members and activists successfully fought for the guarantee of compensation for their homes when initially none was offered. They are also working to ensure the government follows through on its promise of replacement housing.

The VLT was originally touted by the government as a way to make an exciting improvement in the city's "urban mobility" for the World Cup. According to government press releases and the website of the international football governing body FIFA, the VLT would allow tourists staying in nearby hotels to more easily reach the World Cup stadium.

Over a year after the World Cup, this VLT project - among numerous other World Cup projects throughout the country - remains far from complete. According to activists on the ground, even the basic rails have been barely laid down. Now after a yearlong pause, construction has recently resumed, and the government claims that if there are no further interruptions, it will be ready by 2017.

"We fought against the violations of the powerful and throughout the fight we were able to change a lot."

The proposed VLT does little to serve the transportation needs of Fortaleza's residents, however. Contrary to the government and FIFA's story, local residents argue that this project is a form of social cleansing. It is set to run approximately eight miles from Parangaba to Mucuripe, affecting 22 communities in its path, totaling around 2,500 families who are being forced to move, according to MDLM.

The Sales family's home before it was demolished. (Photo: Nolan Morice)The Sales family's home before it was demolished. (Photo: Nolan Morice)

The city's population has been waiting for the completion of a robust subway system, "o Metrô," since the transportation department formed Metrofor 27 years ago with that intention. The only line currently running with regular frequency for in-city transportation, however, is the South line, "Linha Sul," and four other lines are being implemented in stages. These lines were planned with in-city transportation for residents in mind; in contrast, the VLT's route runs from hotels to the stadium.

Though it is clear that the city needs serious transportation improvements, the government used the World Cup, and has been using the VLT project, as a way to remove working-class residents without fair process or compensation. The domineering and arduously bureaucratic approaches of the city's government have prioritized development for the upper class and tourists over serving the transportation needs of longstanding communities.

The government and FIFA may have been able to sweep these violations under the stampede of World Cup tourists if MDLM hadn't organized and demanded otherwise.

But the fight for reducing evictions and protecting civil rights is far from over. "We didn't just sit back and do nothing," said Sales, who has belonged to MDLM since the communities started organizing against the removals in 2010. "We fought against the violations of the powerful and throughout the fight we were able to change a lot."

House marked for removal in Comunidades do Trilho. (Photo: MLDM)House marked for removal in Comunidades do Trilho. (Photo: MLDM)

Cássia's Story

After being forced to leave her home in Trilha do Senhor, one of 22 communities along the proposed route, Sales fought for proper compensation and replacement housing, and eventually found a place in a neighborhood eight miles from her home community. With her significant involvement in the movement since the beginning, and in turn, strong community-organized support, Sales was able to win about 98,000 reais ($24,800) in compensation. This was a big win in comparison to the 39,000 reais ($9,900) originally offered by the state.

In general, the government has only been offering 15,000 reais ($3,800) or less to families for the houses in the area. "Where will you find a new place to live that costs only 15,000 reais?" said Gláucia Sayuri Takaoka, an activist involved in MDLM. The average price per square meter for real estate in Fortaleza was 3,600 reais last October.

Families learned that they were facing eviction not from someone coming to inform them, but from news reports.

But even Sales' compensation doesn't adequately cover the expense of relocating a family. She was forced to take out a loan because it wasn't enough for a new place. On top of that, the government has then been requiring the families to pay IPTU, a Brazilian urban real estate tax, for the land from which they are being evicted. This means in order to receive the government compensation, families first have to pay the IPTU for all the years they've been living there because they don't have papers saying they own the land, even if they have been living there for decades.

"It's really ridiculous because one time they say the land isn't theirs, and the other time, they ask for money for the land," said Gabriela Zaupa, an activist from Fortaleza and MDLM member. "That makes people feel really vulnerable every time the government is asking for more and giving less."

In 2010, the families in Trilha do Senhor learned that they were facing eviction not from someone coming to inform them, but from news reports and the discovery that outsourced companies had begun marking their homes for removal without their consent, according to MDLM. This was when they started organizing and learning what they could do to stop this, and as they met with some of the 22 communities affected by the light rail project, they then founded the Movement to Fight in Defense of Housing.

"The movement remains focused on the struggle for adequate housing," Sales said. "I believe that through the struggle, the families who remain in the train track communities, in the future, will have gained their space and their deserved respect."

Activist Victories and Government Roadblocks

After MDLM demanded the government make an alternative route proposal for the VLT, the number of families facing displacement was reduced from an estimated 5,000 to about 2,500, housing activists said. In addition, temporary compensation was initially 200 reais per month before MDLM got it raised to 400. While a success for housing activists, the doubled compensation still only covers the cost of a single room in the city, far from sufficient for an entire family.

Another major gain for MDLM and the threatened communities was getting the government to promise alternative housing. The families could thus either choose a government house through Minha Casa Minha Vida, a federal government housing program for low-income families, or additional compensation for their home.

However, none of the houses for the train track communities have been built, even though a government press release stated that over 1,000 "processes" have been completed, meaning those inhabiting over 1,000 homes have already been evicted before construction resumed. Furthermore, some of those already evicted haven't even started receiving the 400 reais per month to be used to rent temporary housing.

Sales is concerned those replacement houses are never going to become displaced families' homes.

"I sincerely do not believe that the government intends to fulfill these promises of houses from Minha Casa Minha Vida," she said.

During the World Cup, the streets were so militarized people were afraid to even go out.

The two housing options the city has promised are in the neighborhoods of José Walter and Cidade 2000. The José Walter houses would be about 30 miles from their previous homes for some community members, while at the site of the closer housing, in Cidade 2000, the city has not started construction. In order to receive the promised housing, community members must prove they have a regular income, which many do not have.

The state has said that the number of families facing removal has been reduced, but there is no new estimate provided. This reduction is then qualified by stating that it could increase if other construction is determined necessary or if there are project changes. Government press releases state that the VLT is 50 percent complete, while activists in the communities believe it to be much less than that. In any case, the danger is that the government has left open the possibility for increased evictions.

The State of Ceará's Secretary of Infrastructure (SEINFRA) now has a pamphlet on its website explaining the VLT project and the removals that includes cartoons of neighbors discussing why they have to leave, compensation and replacement housing, though the reality outside this cartoon world has been much different. Government promises have been broken and guarantees, as well as basic information, have been received only after a tremendous fight from the communities.

According to the pamphlet and the law, the government is required to provide housing, sufficient compensation for their homes and temporary rent assistance to the displaced residents. As a result of broken promises to date, however, many MDLM members are skeptical that the government will follow through on these obligations.

For example, after a public hearing in April, the government suggested creating a working group involving government representatives, people from the communities and MDLM members, which met for a couple months. However, essentially nothing came from the meetings for the community, and the government stopped the meetings in June citing a change in staff.

Displacement of Working-Class Families: Development for Whom?

Trilha do Senhor established its community over 70 years ago, in what is now one of the wealthiest neighborhoods of Fortaleza, Aldeota. Residents of Trilha do Senhor and housing activists claim the city's intention is to remove working-class residents from wealthier areas.

The World Cup provided an excuse for the government to "clean the city in the eyes of the tourists," Zaupa said. "So they came up with a lot of projects all over Brazil to remove those kind of communities they didn't want to see."

The government continues to use other development projects, such as a tunnel and overpasses, as a way to remove community residents. Some families that were originally able to stay despite evictions are now being told they must also move.

"That's actually something we said from the beginning, that people should fight for what they have now because once this first project is done, others would come because they don't want people there," Zaupa said. "They want buildings, or something that gives investment to the upper class. They don't want people who don't have a lot of money in those areas."

Other Tactics and Resistance

Aldaci Barbosa, another community that has faced displacement from the VLT project, took a different approach in its resistance and negotiation due to the circumstances in the community, according to resident and activist Jersey Oliveira de Albuquerque.

Community organizers saw that families were individually negotiating with the government and "resolved to negotiate collectively before the government weakened us," Albuquerque said.

They have also made significant gains, including an 80 percent decrease in potential removals in the area, better compensation and promised housing close to the community, as well as keeping the health center and town hall where the community center was previously. In total, about 600 families took part in organizing, which primarily occurred through the residents' association.

Significance of Protests Leading Up to and During the World Cup

Though Fortaleza was one of several Brazilian cities affected by the displacement, extravagant spending and violent repression associated with the World Cup, the city and the injustices faced by working-class residents and protesters who took to the streets received little international media attention.

While many speculated as to why the protests weren't as strong during the World Cup as in June 2013, when they caught the world's attention with their magnitude, those on the ground said the streets were so militarized, people were afraid to even go out.

One protest that occurred at the FIFA Fan Fest didn't face as intense repression due to all the tourists outside the game, and the protesters' ability to blend in, while other protests were completely shut down with extensive arrests.

Many people avoided the protests out of fear.

"The police made it very difficult to protest," Zaupa said. "That's actually a very dangerous thing to happen because if you can't even protest, what can you do?"

Jeffrey Rubin, an associate professor at Boston University, whose research has focused on the history of grassroots activism in Brazil and its contributions to democracy, noted that Brazil has a long historical trajectory of social movement activism, particularly since the late 1970s, when civil society organizing surged and new social movements focused national attention on a wide range of inequalities.

The outbreak of protests on the streets in 2013 was a natural result of this trajectory, according to Rubin. He said the protests at the time of the 2014 World Cup were then a second, very significant moment in that trajectory of activism, and added that the reconfiguring of sports in the public perception was also crucial.

"People are not just saying, 'World Cup! Wow! We've made it,' which is what leaders imagined they would say," Rubin said. "Rather, ordinary Brazilians are saying, 'World Cup! Wow! We love it, but this is a moment when all sorts of really difficult or downright horrible things are happening in our daily lives.'" In a context of ongoing economic hardship, a few cents added to bus fares can become national news alongside the World Cup, he added.

"That's the connection-making that the trajectory of social movement activism inspires," Rubin said. "And it shapes whether democracy can bring about real change. So what happens now in Brazil is really relevant to what happens in Latin America and what's possible in the world."

Where Are the Families Now and What Does the Future Hold?

The residents who have already been forced out of their homes and communities have wound up in various situations. Some have been successful in finding houses, but usually very far from where they lived before because it's cheaper.

"Then they are far from their jobs, far from their schools, far from the hospitals, far from their neighbors, their friends - it's tough and really sad," said MDLM activist Takaoka.

Others live with their relatives or friends who offer to help. But MDLM is still organizing, whether against the VLT project or another threat.

It's important for the community struggles to continue to gain international attention, MDLM said. The impact of the protests against FIFA and government priorities in Brazil and in the international community remains a test for the future, particularly as the Olympics come to Brazil in 2016.

Questions remain for the housing activists and all communities impacted by these infrastructure issues. Will Brazil's protests against how the World Cup came to Brazil hold governments and FIFA, along with other major sporting institutions, accountable to democratic processes in the future? How can public transportation and sporting events develop without dismantling tight-knit, working-class communities? How can the resistance of groups like MDLM set an example for future communities fighting displacement by major sporting and government interests?

"It's good that the whole world knows what's really happening here in Brazil, in Fortaleza, because what the mainstream shows isn't what's really happening in the streets," Takaoka said.

News Sun, 04 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
More Leisure, Less Capitalism, Thanks to Tech

What will today's workers do in an age of touch-screen cash registers and drive-themselves taxis? Enjoy more leisure or be put out to pasture like so many horses in the age of the automobile? Peter Frase sticks to the optimistic view. With more tech tools, there's more leisure in our future, as there should be, he says. He's also convinced that capitalism will end.

Cover image for Four Futures, written by Peter Frase. (Image: Verso)Cover image for Four Futures, written by Peter Frase. (Image: Verso)

It was 53 years ago last month that "The Jetsons" made its television debut, with its futuristic world of flying cars, flat-screen TVs and a robot maid named Rosie. The screens and domestic robots - even the flying cars - are futuristic no more, but what about George Jetson's workday? On the ABC show, daddy Jetson worked only three hours a day, three days a week. What will today's workers do in an age of touch-screen cash registers and drive-themselves taxis? Enjoy more leisure or be put out to pasture like so many horses in the age of the automobile?

Jacobin contributing editor Peter Frase sticks to the optimistic view. With more tech tools, there's more leisure in our future, as there should be, he says. He's also convinced that capitalism will end.

This week on "The Laura Flanders Show" our guest is Peter Frase. He has a book coming out next year from Verso. It's called Four Futures. Watch our conversation:

Laura Flanders: You say that technology isn't so much a thing as a social relation. I mean, somebody does have to make this thing, but it's the social relation behind it that is the important factor.

Peter Frase: Exactly. A few years ago, we saw the stories of the horrible labor conditions of the workers in Foxconn's iPhone factories. They were committing suicide; they were organizing; they were rising up. One of the reasons that that came about in the first place is because with China entering into the capitalist world you had this enormous influx of cheap labor that essentially made it so that workers were cheaper than machines. You could basically treat human beings as though they weren't human beings. Once those workers started to rise up, and also, once the labor market became tighter in China, one of the first comments the owner of Foxconn said was, "Well, I'm going to look into robots to do this stuff."

It's not just here; it's not just in the rich countries but even in places like China, that you see that persistent struggle, where workers struggle to get higher wages, better working conditions and more control over their work, but the people who actually own the property who control the wealth and who control the production process respond by saying, "How can I cut the workers out of this process?"

You say that's actually what was going on with the Luddites. Going back to that group who are always raised whenever anyone criticizes new technology. "Oh, you're just a Luddite." It's not quite that simple ...

No, because people raise that as though the Luddites were somehow ideologically against progress or against technology.

These were people at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Europe.

Yes, early in the Industrial Revolution, who did smash machines. These were people who were weavers, people who saw new technologies that were being used by the bosses, essentially, to control them, and they did sometimes use smashing machines as a way of having leverage over the boss.

It wasn't because they were against technology or they were against the forward motion of increasing our social wealth. It was because that was how they could make the boss pay attention to them. They didn't limit themselves to smashing just the machines in the workplace. They would go and smash up the personal property of the boss because that was just a part of the overall strategy of labor struggle to improve their position as workers.

If it's all about social relations and the relationship between labor and owners, what's the future? You talk about four futures. The folks over at The Atlantic magazine who quoted you not so long ago talked about three futures. What are the possible options that we're facing, as far as you're concerned?

Four Futures spins out from a couple of different dimensions. I'm starting from the standpoint that it's possible for us - doing a thought experiment - suppose we could automate everything. Suppose we didn't need any human labor. Then what? There's a certain style of liberal futurist that says, "Well, great, we'll be the Jetsons, and we'll just all have great lives and it'll be post-scarcity and whatever."

My view is that we only get there through a political struggle because we remain in a society where property and political power and wealth is controlled by a small elite that wants to preserve that power and will want to continue to preserve it, whether human labor en masse is necessary or not.

The big struggle going forward is - is our social wealth shared out equally or is it not? One aspect of that is: In order to preserve their power and their wealth, the elite often promotes kinds of work that are not necessary, in the sense of improving our lives or our social welfare, but that are necessary in terms of preserving wealth and power.

Intellectual property is a way in which that's done. By creating claims over things that are essentially free to reproduce by controlling the copying of music files, say, you are preserving somebody's claim on wealth. Then people have to work to earn money to buy things that don't cost anything to reproduce.

The other aspect of this that intersects with all these questions is the ecological crisis. Climate change, resource scarcity, water scarcity - all of these things are very much happening now. Even if in principle we have the technology to produce an arbitrarily high standard of living for everyone, maybe the earth for this moment can't sustain that. And if it can't, is there going to be a shared sacrifice, a shared sort of rationing of what we can do? Or are the rich going to lock themselves away in their green enclaves, with their robots and leave everybody else to rot? Which is a very dangerous scenario in a situation where they don't actually need huge numbers of workers to produce goods. The questions become about ecological scarcity rather than about the need for labor.

What can people concerned about this usefully fight around? Labor power is being undermined daily by new technology, amongst other things. There are an ever-growing number of people in that pool of reserve labor who can be called in to undermine bargaining power at any moment. That seems like it's only going to grow. What gives us the political oomph, and what can we organize around, if we want to try and change some of these relations you're talking about?

It's a good question and I certainly don't pretend to know all of the answers to it or I'd be doing something more important than editing a socialist magazine. I think it's a battle that proceeds on multiple fronts. I think that, for example, to the extent that we see new kinds of labor struggles arising like the fast-food workers, the Fight for 15 workers demanding a higher minimum wage in the low-wage sectors. That's important and it's important in a way that goes beyond just the fact that it would be better for people to make a higher wage.

It's an attempt to break us out of a situation where, in some ways, the problem is not that we have too many robots but too few. Often, the response you get to something like Fight for 15 is "If the wages get too high, we'll just replace these workers with robots." There's a company that actually makes a machine that does all the hamburger flipping and everything. The response to that has to be that in the long run, that's not so bad. That's better than being stuck in a situation where we feel the only option, the only way for people to survive is to be stuck in these crappy, minimum-wage jobs.

Well, it's not so bad if your family's not going to starve and you're not going to lose your house.

That's the question. There have to be multiple fronts. We have to look at the larger scale of how to make sure everyone can achieve a basic standard of living. Everyone has the ability to live and not have that tied necessarily to wage labor, to jobs, in the way that it has been in a lot of the recent history of the liberal left.

So "You can have your technology, Mr. Employer, if we get to disconnect our health coverage from our job, if we get to have a guaranteed minimum income and if we get free education, guaranteed housing?" But I'm still asking - where is the political power going to come from to be able to fight for any of those things?

I think it comes from where it always comes from, which is the capacity of masses of people to disrupt, which I think we still do have.

The ability to quit before the robots take over?

The thing that is scary and dangerous is that we are in a world in which the rich can really just hide in their fortresses and send out the drones to keep order. It does become harder. I don't think that we live in that world right now.

You think capitalism is going to end?

Yes. Which doesn't mean that I think exploitative, hierarchical, social structures are going to end. I just think that what we have thought of as capitalism, based primarily on the exploitation of wage labor to make profit, is going to turn into something else.

In the book, I quote Rosa Luxemburg's famous phrase: "We face a choice between socialism or barbarism." The book is in a certain way a working out of that idea. What does socialism mean in the 21st century? What does barbarism mean in the 21st century? Those are some of the ideas I'm trying to explore.

Where do you see examples of green shoots of a new system out there? I do, to some extent. We try to cover them on the show.

On a political level, it's these new labor movements; it's things like Occupy and all the things that came out of Occupy that have continued to grow and develop. It's worker cooperatives; it's various other kinds of ways - whether it's open-source projects or other kinds of collaborative, not money-mediated kinds of projects. That stuff is all around.

I'm not enough of an anarchist to think that that stuff will just make the new society on it's own without a kind of pitched battle and a real direct break, and a struggle at the level of the state. The makings of that new world are all around. I think that's definitely true ... The more that we ... win reforms that allow people to have more time, to have more money, have more security in their health care and their education, to be able to pursue new ways of living, new ways of organizing. There are so many people that want to do that and the more that they have the opportunity to do it, the more we're going to see people figure out the elements of that new world.

It may be that the more they have the necessity to do that, the more they figure that out.

That's true too. We're going to see in places like Greece, we're going to see people, of necessity, creating these new forms. Sometimes that can also be the basis of something that people hadn't imagined was possible.

Peter, thank you so much for coming and we look forward to your book coming out, Four Futures.

Great. Thanks for having me.

News Sun, 04 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Job Growth Surprisingly Weak in September

The Labor Department reported the economy created just 142,000 jobs in September, well below most forecasts. Furthermore, the prior two months' numbers were revised down as well, bringing the average for the last three months to 167,000. In addition, there was a drop in the length of the average workweek of 0.1 hour causing the index of aggregate hours to decline by 0.2 percent. This drop, combined with a modest fall in the average hourly wage, led to a 0.3 percent decline in the average weekly wage.

The household survey also showed a weak picture of the labor market. While the unemployment rate was unchanged there was a drop of 0.2 percentage points in both the labor force participation rate and the employment to population ratio. The share of unemployment due to people who voluntarily quit their jobs remained at the low 9.8 percent rate of August, a level typically seen in recessions. The one piece of clear good news in the survey was a drop of 447,000 in the number of people working part-time for economic reasons. This number is erratic, but this is an unusually large one-month decline.

On the whole this report suggests the labor market is considerably weaker than had been generally believed. It is likely to make it much more difficult for the Federal Reserve Board to raise rates this year.

News Fri, 02 Oct 2015 12:23:22 -0400
Godzilla Niño and the Blob: How Weather Cycles and Ocean Temperatures Mask Global Warming

Godzilla Niño and the Blob: How Weather Cycles and Ocean Temperatures Mask Global Warming(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)

The influence of Pacific Ocean temperatures on our climate is so great that the cool phases of natural cycles, like El Niño and La Niña, have masked much of the global warming that has occurred. Now these cycles have both switched to their warm phases.

Godzilla Niño and the Blob: How Weather Cycles and Ocean Temperatures Mask Global Warming(Image: Lauren Walker / Truthout)

With our planet's temperature baseline ever rising, it is only a matter of time before we experience global weather patterns of outrageous proportion. The warmer it gets, the greater the risks become. Warmer temperatures add energy to earth's environmental systems creating extremes that far outpace the temperature increase because of feedbacks.

About 90 percent of heat generated from greenhouse gases is absorbed by our oceans.

Because ocean currents are driven by winds, earth's spin and unequal heating between the equator and the poles, heat is buried as warm surface water currents are obstructed and driven into the abyss. As warm water is buried, cold deep water surfaces in other areas.

It is this complicated interplay of winds, currents, density, gravity and changing wind structure on a warming planet that is quite likely interacting with ocean currents worldwide and changing the way our planet's climate behaves.

Unprecedented warming across huge expanses of the Pacific Ocean. But is this just another meaningless coincidence of nature?Unprecedented warming across huge expanses of the Pacific Ocean. But is this just another meaningless coincidence of nature?

Los Niños

In 1998, we had what the experts call a Super El Niño. El Niño (warm phase) and La Niña (cool phase) are currently recognized as the most impactful of ocean cycles, with impacts arising across the globe.

The '98 Super El Niño was bigger than anything ever recorded and it caused a spike in earth's temperature of about 0.17 degrees. This spike was a full 25 percent of all warming we have experienced globally since the turn of the 20th century. Now we have a new Super El Niño and this one is bigger than in 1998.

Comparing the Super El Niño to the Godzilla Niño, in just the equatorial region, Super El Niño in 1997/98 could be a bit larger, but the next image below compares sea surface elevation. This additional metric is another indication of Niño strength and plainly shows Godzilla to be the king of Los Niños. What sea surface height does not show is the widespread significantly abnormal warmth across the North Pacific in the image above. This is "the Blob," as scientists are calling it. It is probably associated with a decades-long warm/cool North Pacific Ocean cycle called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and it too is unlike anything we have ever seen.Comparing the Super El Niño to the Godzilla Niño, in just the equatorial region, Super El Niño in 1997/98 could be a bit larger, but the next image below compares sea surface elevation. This additional metric is another indication of Niño strength and plainly shows Godzilla to be the king of Los Niños. What sea surface height does not show is the widespread significantly abnormal warmth across the North Pacific in the image above. This is "the Blob," as scientists are calling it. It is probably associated with a decades-long warm/cool North Pacific Ocean cycle called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and it too is unlike anything we have ever seen.

Scientists are calling the developing, and in some cases already unprecedented, El Niño the Godzilla El Niño. (1) Current projections of a record-setting El Niño would be bad enough - except what other scientists are calling "the Blob" will be involved as well. The Blob is unprecedented warmth in the North Pacific. At the least, we are very likely in for a big new global temperature record.

An El Niño advisory continues in effect with a 95 percent certainty it will persist through the spring. The average surface temperature in the El Niño region of the equatorial and South Pacific continues to be above the 2 degrees Celsius warmer than average criteria for a strong El Niño. (2)

NASA Sea Surface Height: The current Godzilla Niño is significantly more extreme than the Super El Niño of 1997/98 as is shown by this image of sea surface height from NASA satellites. El Niño exhibits a characteristic increase in sea surface elevation that is not interpreted as easily with the North Pacific warming. These images were made with the Topex/Poseidon and Jason-2 gravity measuring satellites. Click on the image above to see a side-by-side animation of the evolution of the 1997/98 Super Niño and the evolution to date of the current Godzilla Niño.NASA Sea Surface Height: The current Godzilla Niño is significantly more extreme than the Super El Niño of 1997/98 as is shown by this image of sea surface height from NASA satellites. El Niño exhibits a characteristic increase in sea surface elevation that is not interpreted as easily with the North Pacific warming. These images were made with the Topex/Poseidon and Jason-2 gravity measuring satellites. Click on the image above to see a side-by-side animation of the evolution of the 1997/98 Super Niño and the evolution to date of the current Godzilla Niño.

The Blob - Pacific Decadal Oscillation

The North Pacific warm/cool natural ocean cycle is called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). It covers most of the North Pacific, lasts for 10 to 30 years, has been in the cool (positive) phase since the late 1990s and appears to have now switched to its warm (negative) phase. These two major ocean cycles (Niño and PDO) have significant influence on global weather in many ways, including influencing not only floods, extreme weather and drought, but by actually cooling or warming the entire atmosphere with heat transfer either too or from the oceans.

This graphic is from one of our important ice scientists, Jason Amundson, and his Physics 645 class. It helps our understanding of the different phases of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and El Niño and La Niña, the ocean temperatures involved, their location and how wind is significantly involved. Colors are temperature change in degrees Celsius and arrows are winds.This graphic is from one of our important ice scientists, Jason Amundson, and his Physics 645 class. It helps our understanding of the different phases of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and El Niño and La Niña, the ocean temperatures involved, their location and how wind is significantly involved. Colors are temperature change in degrees Celsius and arrows are winds. (Credit: Jason Amundson - Physics 645 - Fall 2003 / Image Source: Mantua, 2000)

The PDO joined the ranks of 1960s Eastern sci-fi entertainment in June 2014 when Nicholas Bond of the University of Washington coined the term "The Blob" to represent an uncharacteristic area of warming in the eastern North Pacific. (3) Bond says: "This is a taste of what the ocean will be like in future decades ... It wasn't caused by global warming, but it's producing conditions that we think are going to be more common with global warming." (4)

The Blob doesn't fit the definition of the PDO, however. Temperatures now are warmer and cover more of the North Pacific than is typical. Look at the graphic above titled "Godzilla Science." Normally, when the PDO is positive, most of the North Pacific is cooler than normal with the exception of the far eastern areas near North America. This has been the condition of the PDO since the late 1990s and like its cousin La Niña's cool equatorial and South Pacific surface waters, the phases of these currents cool our global atmosphere (among other things). This is where "hiatus" comes in, but more confusion awaits with the PDO first.

The positive mode of the PDO also means high pressures in the far eastern North Pacific abutting North America. This is really important in El Niño years. The high pressures, from warmer than usual ocean waters, cause impacts from El Niño to be enhanced, creating even more extreme floods (or drought) than El Niño alone is responsible for. (5)

Toby Garfield, director of the Environmental Research Division at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Southwest Fisheries Science Center, says the Blob could be a switch to a positive PDO phase, or it could be something happening due to the onset of El Niño. (6)

The "Hiatus"

Not only has the North Pacific been in its cool phase since the late 1990s, but the El Niño/La Niña cycle has largely been in the "cool" La Niña phase during this period as well. It is the cool phases of these two mega ocean current cycles that have largely held down global temperatures since 1998 and created the apparent "hiatus" of global warming. (7)

Beginning in 1998, it appears that the global temperature has gone on hiatus, that is, that global warming has ceased or slowed. At least, this is what the climate change counter-movement would have us believe.Beginning in 1998, it appears that the global temperature has gone on hiatus, that is, that global warming has ceased or slowed. At least, this is what the climate change counter-movement would have us believe.

This so-called hiatus, or pause in global warming, is nothing that humans have caused. Even though greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase faster than ever before, the actual thermometer record shows a pause. This is very confusing to most and a fantastic boon for the $900 million per year climate change counter-movement, which persistently states that earth stopped warming in 1998. (8) 

The warming must be going somewhere, and it is. It is being masked by massive ocean currents sucking heat out of the atmosphere in quantities significantly larger than before. (9) It is also hidden in polar regions where warming is double to triple the average global rate. (10) 

The reason warming is hidden at the poles is that there are very few weather stations in the polar regions. The dearth of weather information from polar regions is so large that the United Kingdom's national meteorological organization (UK Met Office) completely ignores the polar regions when evaluating global temperature, or at least they did until recently.

The US climate modeling agency, NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), has now begun to use the techniques that the most recent climate science suggests are appropriate for estimating polar temperature. The result is that almost all semblances of a "pause" in global warming have now been erased from GISS records as shown in the graphic "Global Land-Ocean Temperature 2014."

Looking carefully at the difference between the 2011 land-ocean temperature and that from 2014 reveals changes. Beginning in the late 1990s, polar regions started to warm rapidly. Because weather records in polar regions are so sparse, this warming was poorly reflected in the average global temperature. The latest research has updated techniques used for estimating polar warming and since the late 1990s, the record reflects more warming in the global average.Looking carefully at the difference between the 2011 land-ocean temperature and that from 2014 reveals changes. Beginning in the late 1990s, polar regions started to warm rapidly. Because weather records in polar regions are so sparse, this warming was poorly reflected in the average global temperature. The latest research has updated techniques used for estimating polar warming and since the late 1990s, the record reflects more warming in the global average.

Some bias still exists in the temperature record, however, and this is being caused by a tremendous increase in the emissions of global cooling pollutants from developing nations. The global cooling pollutants are the same pollutants that the United States and Europe began to regulate in the 1970s.

Looking carefully at the global land-ocean temperature records, it easy to see a pause in the warming between about 1940 and the mid-1970s. The Clean Air Act, vastly expanded by President Richard Nixon in 1970, cleaned up a great deal of these smog pollutants and unmasked warming that was there all along. (11)

These global cooling pollutants are mostly sulfate aerosols, or the basic ingredients in smog emitted mostly from coal-fired power plants. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change summary of recent climate research shows that 57 percent of warming that should have occurred already has been masked by these global cooling pollutants emitted at the same time carbon dioxide is emitted from burning coal. (12)

Even more warming exists than the thermometer record shows, but it has been masked by global cooling pollutants and buried in the oceans.

The final reason that Godzilla Niño and the Blob have defeated hiatus is a very simple piece of logic that has nothing to do with oceans or climate science. The mastermind deniers leading the climate change counter-movement have played a trick on us.

They say the temperature hasn't warmed since the 1998 Super El Niño. It fools us because their voices are very authoritative, or their counsel is broadcast by voices that are very authoritative.

But their counsel is based on flawed statistical techniques. The climate change counter-movement think tanks and policy institutes chose the Super El Niño of 1998 as the starting point for their temperature pause purposefully. This is bold-faced cherry-picking.

The warmth from 1998 was aberrant. It broke all kinds of records. One cannot begin a trend evaluation with a radically aberrant starting point.

One does not have to look too closely at this graphic to see that 2015 data to date has seen the warming hiatus defeated once and for all.One does not have to look too closely at this graphic to see that 2015 data to date has seen the warming hiatus defeated once and for all.

The Future

In the future, what can we expect from Godzilla and the Blob? More mayhem, of course. Godzilla? The Blob? Let me end on an encouraging suggestion. The same people that bring us the climate change counter-movement, literally, also brought us the smoking debate, the acid rain debate and the ozone-depleting chemical debate. (13)

Their propaganda is so strong that even our environmental advocates cannot trust the results of research into atmospheric capture of carbon dioxide. The climate change counter-movement says the solutions to climate pollution will destroy our nations' economies. Climate scientists say nothing of the sort.

Today, using existing technologies we can remove 50 parts per million of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and literally end the climate pollution problem for $21 trillion. This is how much the United States spent on health care and the military from 2000 to 2009. (14)

New, field-proven technologies, now at $200 per ton, once fully industrialized, will remove the same 50 parts per million of carbon dioxide for $20 per ton or less. This is a relatively tiny $2.1 trillion. (15)

The United States spends $2.9 trillion per year on health care. Across the globe, we spend $500 billion a year on advertising. The costs to treat climate pollution are almost insignificant. In the United States, we lose $500 billion per year to sick days. We spent $2.9 trillion across the globe on life insurance premiums in 2012. We spent $479 billion on entertainment in the United States in 2012, and not including damages from climate-change-related weather events, every year in the United States, we lose $500 billion to weather-related damages. (16) Please tell your friends.


1. Godzilla El Niño… NASA climatologist Bill Patzert coined the term Godzilla Niño in a San Jose Mercury News story on May 8. He didn't say it was a Godzilla yet, but that it could become one. More recent publishing in the Los Angeles Times quotes Patzert: "This definitely has the potential of being the Godzilla El Niño."
Rogers, California drought: El Niño probability raised to 78 percent for next winter, San Jose Mercury News, May 8, 2015.
Lin, Latest forecast suggests 'Godzilla El Niño' may be coming to California, Los Angeles Times, August 13, 2015.ño-20150813-htmlstory.html

2. NOAA Niño Forecast Discussion: September 10, 2015…

3. The Blob… Nick Bond of the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington coined the term "the Blob" for the unusual shallow layer of very warm ocean water across much of the North Pacific. During the negative phase of the PDO, most of the North Pacific is cool, except for the far eastern areas along North America where it is warmer than normal. During the positive phase, the North Pacific is mostly warm, except for cooler than normal along the coast of North America. The "uncharacteristic" part of Nicholas Bond's statement speaks to above normal temperatures extending across the entire North Pacific, with no demarcation of warmer and cooler than average waters as is usually the case in either the positive or negative phases of the PDO.
Milstein, Unusual North Pacific warmth jostles marine food chain, Office of the Washington State Climatologists newsletter, June 3, 2014.

4. "This is a taste of what the ocean will be like in future decades"… Bond is quoted in the University of Washington Today. Recent research has likely found a cause for the Blob. It is related to Omega blocking in the northeast Pacific, likely caused by Arctic Amplification (see here: Melton, Arctic Warming and Increased Weather Extremes,, July 15, 2014. A persistent area of high pressure, caught between loops of the jet stream in a process called Omega blocking, has caused weaker winds in the northeastern Pacific recently. The weaker winds allow less ocean water cooling in winter and the warmer water has persisted.
Hickey, 'Warm blob' in Pacific Ocean linked to weird weather across the US, University of Washington Today, April 9, 2015, final paragraph.

5. The PDO enhances both El Niño and La Niña in North America… A positive PDO, with a warm far-Eastern Pacific, enhances El Niño weather impacts in North America and a negative PDO with below average North Pacific surface temperatures near North America enhances impacts of La Niña in North America.
Gershunov et al., North Pacific interdecadal oscillation seen as factor in ENSO-related North American climate anomalies, EOS, American Geophysical Union, January 19, 1999, last paragraph, page 2.

6. This could be a switch to the positive phase of the PDO or something related to El Niño… Toby Garfield, director of the Environmental Research Division at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center.
Milstein, Unusual North Pacific warmth jostles marine food chain, Office of the Washington State Climatologists newsletter, June 3, 2014.

7. The PDO and El Niño reduce global warming in their cool phases and enhance it in their warm phases…
Trenberth and Fasullo, An apparent hiatus in global warming - question mark, Earth's Future, American Geophysical Union, December 5, 2013, page 22, second paragraph.'sFuture13a.pdf
Also: The PDO is referred to by another of its names in Maher - the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO).
Maher et al., Drivers of decadal hiatus periods in the 20th and 21st centuries, Geophysical Research Letters, August 2014, abstract.

8. $900 million per year climate change counter-movement… From 2003 to 2010, $7 billion in climate change counter-movement funding has been identified from revenues reported in IRS tax returns for 91 of 118 organizations and institutions identified in the academic literature as being involved.
Brulle, Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of US climate change counter-movement organizations, Climatic Change, December 21, 2013.

9. More heat going into the oceans… The upper 700 meters of ocean shows a systematic low bias because of sparse monitoring in the southern oceans since 1970, meaning that much larger amounts of heat are going into the upper oceans than previously understood.
Durak et al., Quantifying underestimates of long-term upper ocean warming, Nature Climate Change, October 5, 2014, abstract.
Also, more heat going into the middle layers of the oceans… Before 2006, intermediate depths between 700 and 1,500 meters were not warming. This research shows warming in intermediate depths is now nearly half of the warming in surface waters and surface water warming has remained steady.
Roemmich et al., Unabated planetary warming and its ocean structure since 2006, Nature Climate Change, February 2, 2015, abstract.

10. Warming hidden in the Arctic bias… A dearth of weather reporting stations in the Arctic has created a cold biased temperature record. New statistical techniques have introduced greater accuracy in global temperature sets with the UK Met temperature set responding to a greater degree than the rest. The UK Met formerly ignored polar temperatures because of their scarcity and (at the time) poor level of robustness.
Cowtan and Way, Coverage bias in the HadCRUT4 temperature series and its impact on recent temperature trends, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, November 2013, Abstract, last paragraph.

11. Air pollution caused global cooling between 1940 and the 1970s… Wilcox et al., The influence of anthropogenic aerosols on multi-decadal variations of historical climate, Environmental Research Letters, June 5, 2013, abstract:
Press release:

12. IPCC 57 Percent of warming already masked by smog… Up to (-)1.9 to (-) 0.1Wm(-2) of warming has been masked by aerosols out of 2.29 Wm(-2) of total warming experienced to date. This equals 57 percent of total warming masked by aerosols and does represent the high end of the range. The high end of the range is unfortunately, a likely scenario for the future as greenhouse gas emissions are trending or above the IPCC 2007 worst-case scenario.
IPCC 2013 Summary for Policy Makers (SPM), page 13, C. Drivers of Climate Change, bullet 7.

13. Smoking Debate, Acid Rain Debate and the Ozone Depleting Chemical Debate… The most definitive reference on the subject is a highly referenced book by statistician Naomi Oreskes.
Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt, Westchester Book Group 2011.

14. 50 parts per million of carbon dioxide for $21 trillion using existing technologies… From Hansen 2008, Target Atmospheric carbon dioxide, Where should humanity aim? "(The) Desire to reduce airborne carbon dioxide raises the question of whether carbon dioxide could be drawn from the air artificially. There are no large-scale technologies for carbon dioxide air capture now, but with strong research and development support and industrial scale pilot projects sustained over decades it may be possible to achieve costs ~$200/tC [81] or perhaps less [82]. At $200/tC, the cost of removing 50 parts per million of carbon dioxide is ~$20 trillion."
Hansen et al., Target Atmospheric carbon dioxide Where Should Humanity Aim? Open Atmospheric Science Journal, November 2008, page 226 and 227, Section 4.4 Policy Relevance, page 227, paragraph 1.

15. Atmospheric capture of carbon dioxide… Goepert et al. produced a summary of research on the subject.
$20 per ton (just over) capture and storage… Section 5.1 paragraph 2, "The technology developed by Steinberg and co-workers and CoAway LLC using the K2CO3/KHCO3 cycle is described as being able to capture carbon dioxide from air for less than $20 per ton. The total cost including sub-surface injection was estimated to be slightly above $20 per ton."
$49 to $80 per ton… Section 5.1 paragraph 3: "An air capture system designed by Keith et al. using a Na/Ca cycle was estimated to cost approximately $500 per ton C ($140 per ton carbon dioxide). The authors added that about a third of this cost was related to capital and maintenance cost. Further development and optimization of the system by Carbon Engineering Ltd. for the effective extraction of carbon dioxide from air resulted in the decrease of the estimated cost to $49-80 per tonne carbon dioxide."
$30 per ton long term… Section 5.1, paragraph 5: "Lackner and co-workers developed an anionic exchange resin able to release carbon dioxide in a moisture swing process. The cost of only the energy required per ton of carbon dioxide collected was around $15. The initial cost of air capture including manufacturing and maintenance can be estimated at about $200 per ton of carbon dioxide. However, this cost is expected to drop considerably as more collectors are built, possibly putting carbon dioxide capture in the $30 per ton range in the long term."
Goeppert et al., Air as the renewable carbon source of the future - carbon dioxide Capture from the atmosphere, Energy and Environmental Science, May 1, 2012.
Abstract only:!divAbstract
Lackner's testimony to Congress: Cost of Air Capture: $200 per ton initially, $30 per ton fully industrialized... Testimony to the Science, Space and Technology Committee chaired by Lamar Smith, 020410, page 5 first paragraph.
The myth of the costs of atmospheric removal being exorbitant… This myth comes from an evaluation of existing atmospheric removal techniques done by the American Physical Society. This work did not evaluate new technologies currently in the developing and field trial stages. The climate change counter-movement picked up the APS study and ran. They have been grandstanding this study as proving the infeasibility of atmospheric capture ever since. The media penetration is so deep that most environmental advocates believe them, both amateur and professional alike. Two days after the APS press release for this work, one of the two or three most prestigious scientific journals in the world (Nature) rebutted the APS work and its relevance to current science.
American Physical Society Study:
Direct Air Capture of carbon dioxide with Chemicals, The American Physical Society, June 2011.
APS Press Release May 9, 2011:
Evaluation of APS study by Nature: Van Norden, Sucking carbon dioxide from air too costly, say physicists, Nature May 11, 2011.

16. US Health Care Expenditures in 2013 were $2.9 trillion… National Health Expenditures 2013 Highlights, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,
Advertising: We spend $500 billion every year on advertising across the globe… eMarketter, Asia-Pacific Poised to Dominate North America as World's Top Ad Market, According to 'Most Comprehensive' Edition of the eMarketer Global Media Intelligence Report, October 10, 2012, Chart: Total Media Ad Spending Worldwide by Region. $504 billion spent globally on total media ad spending in 2011, $572 projected in 2013.
Sick Days: We spend $576 billion every year in the US on the costs of being sick at work…This includes incidental absence due to illness, workers comp, short-term disability, long term disability; treatments at the doctor's office and pharmacy, lost productivity and reduced performance. This is according to the Integrated Business Institute's Full cost estimator.
Press Release:
$2.6 trillion in global life insurance premiums in 2012…
$479 billion in entertainment in the US in 2012… The Price Warehouse Coopers Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2013-2017 tells us: The US entertainment and media market generated $479.23 billion in 2012, representing 29.2 percent of the worldwide revenue of nearly $1.639 trillion. In 2017, the US is expected to account for $632.09 billion, or 29.4 percent of the worldwide total of more than $2.152 trillion

News Sun, 04 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
"This Changes Everything": Film Reimagines Vast Challenge of Climate Change

As we mark the third anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, one of the most destructive storms in the nation's history, are we prepared for another extreme weather event, which researchers say are becoming more frequent with the effects of climate change? 2015 is on track to be the hottest year in recorded history, and nine of the 10 hottest months since record keeping began in 1880 have occurred since 2005. We speak to the duo behind the new film, This Changes Everything, which re-imagines the vast challenge of climate change. The documentary is directed by filmmaker Avi Lewis and inspired by journalist Naomi Klein's international best-selling book by the same name. Over the course of four years, the pair traveled to nine countries on five continents to profile communities on the front lines of the climate justice movement - from Montana's Powder River Basin to the Alberta tar sands, from the coast of South India to Beijing and beyond.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The East Coast of the United States may have dodged a bullet this time, as forecasters say Hurricane Joaquin may not make landfall due to a northerly turn. The Category 4 storm is, however, hammering the Bahamas, and heavy rains have already caused massive flooding in Charleston, South Carolina.

But as we mark the third anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, one of the most destructive storms in the nation's history, are we prepared for another extreme weather event, which researchers say are becoming more frequent with the effects of climate change? 2015 is on track to be the hottest year in recorded history. Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released a report showing that July was the single warmest month in history, and nine of the 10 hottest months since record keeping began in 1880 have occurred since 2005.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we spend the remainder of the hour looking at a remarkable new film that re-imagines the vast challenge of climate change. The film is called This Changes Everything. It's directed by Avi Lewis and inspired by Naomi Klein's international best-selling book by the same title. Over the course of four years, the filmmakers traveled to nine countries on five continents to profile communities on the front lines of the climate justice movement - from Montana's Powder River Basin to the Alberta tar sands, from the coast of South India to Beijing and beyond. This is the film's trailer.

MARC MORANO: The majority of the human race does not see global warming as a serious threat. Celebrate! Climate legislation is dead.

UNIDENTIFIED: We in the Global North, with less than 20 percent of the population, are responsible for over 70 percent of global emissions.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are drilling all over the place.

UNIDENTIFIED: On the other side of the world, those people who are the most affected by climate change, most affected by environmental injustice, have the least responsibility for creating this crisis in the first place.

FISHERMAN: [translated] This is our livelihood. This is the water we drink.

ALICE BOWS-LARKIN: The amount of fossil fuel that we're combusting year on year is growing. We're going in completely the wrong direction.

NAOMI KLEIN: I've spent six years wandering through the wreckage caused by the carbon in the air and the economic system that put it there.

KEVIN ANDERSON: That old paradigm will be forced to change, either by the environment around us or by us.

PROTESTERS: We are all ... part of this movement!

PROTESTER: [translated] This is our wetland.

UNIDENTIFIED: When you see communities who are thrown into the front line, you see the incredible transformation. They become stronger. They stand up.

NAOMI KLEIN: So here's the big question: What if global warming isn't only a crisis? What if it's the best chance we are ever going to get to build a better world? Change or be changed.

SUNITA NARAIN: There are limits. Let's celebrate the limits, because we could reinvent a different future.

AMY GOODMAN: The trailer for the epic new documentary, This Changes Everything. The film opens tonight at the IFC Center here in New York City. Last month, it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in Canada.

For more, we're joined by Avi Lewis, the film's director and producer. He was previously a host for Al Jazeera's show Fault Lines. And we're also joined by the film's narrator, Naomi Klein, and writer. She's a journalist and best-selling author of the book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Her past books include No Logo and The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein, it's great to have you with us today together on the U.S. premiere of the film. So, talk about this film. You have been on this journey, Naomi, writing the book, and now to have the cameras following you, and in places you hadn't even gone, but that you have extensively written about and analyzed. Talk about what you're doing with the film?

NAOMI KLEIN: So the idea for the film was to do things a little bit differently. Usually what happens is, you write a book, and then a film is made maybe after. That's what happened with The Shock Doctrine: The [book] was completed, and then it was optioned, and Michael Winterbottom made a film about it. In this - and there's something kind of inherently flawed about that process, because you're retracing your steps. You're going back to places. And, in a way, you're sort of - you know, you're mimicking this process of discovery, because, you know, as anyone who's read the book knows, you've already come to those conclusions. So what we wanted to do with this project was Avi and I wanted to work on it together really from the beginning. So we started while - working together on it, actually, while Avi was still working at Al Jazeera. We went to cover the BP disaster together. We went to Bolivia together to cover the Peoples Conference on Climate Change. And then Avi left Al Jazeera to work on this full-time. And so, people who have read the book or skimmed the book, are familiar with it, will see things that are very recognizable. You know, there's a chapter in the book about my trip to the Heartland conference on - you know, the climate change denier kind of ground zero. And Avi and his crew were filming on that trip, so there are scenes that will be familiar. But it's very different to be in the room to see the people who are quoted, to see a whole new dimension. Same with reporting that is in the book on geoengineering. But I think the thing that a film can do so much better than a book, frankly, is really bring us into the heart of the social movements that are the final section of the book. And, you know, it's one thing to read about it - "Oh, these movements are rising up" - but it's something very different to be immersed in the energy of social movements that are fighting and winning these epic struggles against fossil fuel companies. And, you know, I'm so grateful to Avi and the whole crew for having stuck with this project for now five years to bring that to people.

AVI LEWIS: There's another thing in the film - there's another thing that film can do that books just can't: The look on Naomi's face in the cutaway in the climate deniers' conference is pretty unforgettable. That alone was worth the experience.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the other thing a film can do, obviously, is capture, in a way that a book really can't, the actual beauty of the planet that is being violated by this rampant industrialization, and the haunting pictures that you have are unbelievable. I wanted to ask you about the challenge of being able to put the content of the book into a film.

AVI LEWIS: Well, you know, luckily, I wasn't trying to take 500 pages of Naomi Klein and force it into a film, because those 500 pages weren't written when we started shooting. But the kernel of the idea was there. And I think, you know, we talked a lot at the beginning of the process of making nature a character in the film. And I think it's true that when you see communities who are defending their land and their air and their water, defining rights for communities, and actually challenging the economic logic behind the exploitation of nature, and enacting community-scale alternatives at the same time - the "no" against extraction and the "yes," as well - you know, you see the people, but you also need to know what they're protecting. And one of the reasons that we shot around the world and made the decision to go epic, as Amy said, is because the scope of Naomi's argument is vast. The scope of this challenge is global. And the scope of the resistance rising up is global, too. And you need to get that feeling that really these things are happening around the world, and they're happening in beautiful places that people love. And film has a unique way of touching the heart and the mind at the same time, so we tried to like, you know, bring people to the places.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to get a quick question in on AP's change in their stylebook, if you've heard about this. It was just issued, a staff memo from AP Stylebook editor Sally Jacobsen, David Minthorn and Paula Froke. "We have reviewed our entry on global warming as part of our efforts to continually update the Stylebook to reflect language usage and accuracy. We are adding a brief description of those who don't accept climate science or dispute the world is warming from man-made forces: Our guidance is to use climate change doubters or those who reject mainstream climate science and to avoid the use of skeptics or deniers." Your response, Naomi Klein? Clearly, Heartland and others weighing in here.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah. I mean, I think it's good that they are not using "skeptic," because "skeptic" actually has a positive connotation. We should all be skeptical. We should all be skeptical about science, you know, any scientific claim. And we should be rigorous about it. And, you know, indeed, it's a phrase that's celebrated in the scientific community. So, you know, I agree with them about no longer using "skeptic."

But these are climate change deniers. They are denying the overwhelming scientific evidence. They are denying the real human impacts. And, you know, that look on my face at the Heartland conference, I mean, I think - and I tried to capture this in the book - what I found most disturbing about immersing myself in that context was the real lightheartedness, you know, and you see that in the film. They're sort of laughing in the face of the problem. And what I took away from that experience and the extraordinary contradictory scientific claims being made, with no attempt to resolve them - this is not a rigorous scientific conference. You know, one person is blaming sunspots. One person is saying it's not happening. One person is saying it is happening, but we shouldn't worry about it. The overwhelming feeling, though, is that we are going to be fine. Right? And so, I think the most disturbing denial is the reality of the massive human costs that we are already seeing. We are coming close to the end of what looks to be the hottest year on record. We saw thousands of people die in heat waves in India. You know, this is not about people dying in the future, though it is about that, too. It's about a massive death toll in the present. We're seeing climate change act as an accelerant for conflicts. This is true for Syria. It's fueling the refugee crisis. So, I think people should be held accountable for that, and I disagree with not calling it "climate change denial."

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: One of the other powerful aspects of the film is when you actually chronicle the people who are benefiting from the rampant industrialization, especially in the Alberta tar sands -


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: - where you interview the people who are making $100,000, $300,000, $400,000 a year, and you realize that there is a constituency - I mean, classical Marxists would call it labor aristocracy - that is actually benefiting from this enormous - and they provide a political support for the continued, unbridled expansion.

AVI LEWIS: You know, Juan -

NAOMI KLEIN: It's complicated.

AVI LEWIS: It is complicated. And people in Alberta, who live next to that biggest industrial project on Earth, have been very anxious about the pace of development and the costs of that project for a long time. And, you know, the oil and gas industry is a very conformist culture. And if you speak about renewable energy, you really get slapped down. It's like a - there's a bit of a locker room thing happening there. But the number of workers who told us off camera that they would rather be building wind turbines and putting up - installing solar panels was remarkable. They wouldn't say it on camera, except for this one amazing guy in the film who's a boilermaker named Lliam Hildebrand, who started an organization called Iron and Earth, where he's organizing tar sands workers in support of renewable energy. And he's building support fast. And there's a huge constituency up there, especially now that the oil industry is laying off thousands and thousands of people, of workers in that industry who would rather go home and tell their kids what they did that day and feel proud of it.

NAOMI KLEIN: And there was actually a poll that just came out a couple of days ago in Canada, polling Albertans, where the tar sands are, showing that Albertans support a carbon tax. They overwhelmingly support more investments in renewable energy. There's an exhaustion in Alberta just about the boom-and-bust cycle, the roller coaster of that boom that we chronicle. I mean, we were there during the peak of the boom. The money was just flowing in. We were interviewing these kids going, "This is nuts. I'm making way too much money." That's what they were saying.

AVI LEWIS: It's true.

NAOMI KLEIN: They were kind of laughing, but you know. These are like 24-year-old kids, you know? Sorry, I mean young men. But we also interviewed a lot of workers who just talked about the kind of sadness of the place, right? Almost nobody who you meet in Fort McMurray is from Fort McMurray or has any intention of staying in Fort McMurray. People talk about their time there as, you know, "I'm on the four-month plan," "I'm on the six-month plan," "I'm on, you know, maybe the five-year plan," which is all - and the plan is always the same: Go in, work as hard as you possibly can, get as much money as you can, and get the hell out. Right? So in the film -

AMY GOODMAN: And see if you have a family to come back to.

NAOMI KLEIN: Exactly. I mean, this is hardly heaven. It's that there aren't better choices out there for a lot of people.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to break, then come back to another clip from This Changes Everything. Stay with us.

News Fri, 02 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Thirst for Truth: Who's to Blame for Flint's Water Crisis?

In April 2014, while under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager who had nearly complete control over all decisions regarding operation of the city, Flint, Michigan, left the Detroit water system and began using the Flint River as its primary source of municipal water. It was a purely money-saving decision that has proved to be a total disaster. There have been severe problems with the city's water ever since the switch was made. Recently, independent researchers have found high levels of lead in both the water and the city's children.

In this documentary city officials are asked hard questions about who is responsible for this catastrophic decision and the public health crisis that it led to.

News Fri, 02 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Greek Collective Critiques Consumption Amid Crisis

This is an ethnographic film about Skoros, an anti-consumerist collective in Exarcheia, Athens that was established in 2008, right before the beginning of the Crisis. It runs a space where people can come and give, take, or give and take goods and exchange services without any expectations of reciprocity.

Originally, Skoros emerged as a response to an increasingly commercialized and consumerist (Athenian) society. It represented an experimentation with doing things differently: by gifting, sharing, and exchanging; and by foregrounding the values of communality, degrowth, solidarity and social justice.

A few months after Skoros' opening I was in Athens for my sabbatical research on forms of consumer-oriented activism and I enthusiastically joined the collective. Back then, it was rather easier to apply conventional critiques of consumerism, not least because Athens appeared conspicuously wealthier, a world-class consumer city. Shopping in super-sized malls and fredoccino-fuelled encounters became cultural norms, not searching for second-hand items or socialising with strangers in grotty-looking places. I remember, for example, observing people that would reluctantly enter, take an item and then insist on donating whatever they considered to be the equivalent market value. Skoros' idea was too radical for them to grasp.

Of course there were also other visitors that refused to entertain the idea of Skoros. As Heracles explains in the documentary, they were those who brought and those who took too many things. Both were a "problem," the former because they simply wanted to alleviate their middle-class guilt (as is the case in many charity shops); and the latter because they in effect promoted alternative over-consumption. "Limits" soon had to be imposed in respect to the maximum number of items one could both bring and/or take, a containing - yet somewhat contentious - solution.  

Despite its problems, Skoros proved to be a very popular, and in this sense successful, place. As Nancy puts it, "this is something important that Skoros has achieved. Perhaps because it found itself in this area, in this location, as a neighbourhood shop and not within a squat or a social centre. It opened its doors to the neighbourhood, people walked in. In fact, many of those who came were people who had never done something like this before."

But then came the Crisis, as Zoe explains: "It suddenly dawned upon us: "Resistance? To what exactly? Things are different now." Put differently, the Crisis imposed a different kind of "here and now," one focused less on trying to do things differently and more on urgency, a need to provide solidarity to an increasing number of people who were approaching and falling below the poverty line. Skoros's critique of consumer needs became somewhat redundant. As a leaflet back in December 2011 wrote ."..How can we insist that 'we are not a charity' when poverty is next to us, around and above us and it is growing massively? How to counterpropose solidarity and community when the crisis isolates individuals and makes them turn against each other?..." More recently, solidarity has also had to be channelled to the thousands of Syrian refugees who have reached the ports of Athens.

Throughout the crisis anti-consumption, as originally understood, was no longer relevant; it had to be re-evaluated and redefined. This film is produced and directed almost entirely by members of the collective, in an attempt to narrate the evolution of what seemed to be a rather simple idea.

The film is also about the power of people to exercise agency in the face of formidable socio-economic circumstances, it is about solidarity/ies, and the collective joys of doing things differently.   

Written by Andreas Chatzidakis & Pauline Maclaran

Research: Andreas Chatzidakis, Pauline Maclaran, Alexandros Korpas Prelorentzos

Project Supervision: Andreas Chatzidakis

Shot and directed by Athina Souli

Produced by Zoe Kanelopoulou

Executive producers: Andreas Chatzidakis & Pauline Maclaran

Sound operator: Giorgos Politakis

Edited by Stavros Symeonidis

Music Supervision: Elena Fornaro

Graphics: Lito Valiatza

Intervieweees (in order of appearance): Nancy Palta, Dora Kotsaka, Zoe Kanelopoulou, Elena Fornaro, Vanda Davetta, Heidi Zotika, visitor from Ghana, Lito Valiatza, Lila Kaniari, Babis Kavouras, Iraklis Panagoulis, Alexandros Korpas Prelorentz.

News Fri, 02 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Miles to Go Before They Rest: Voices From the Croatia-Serbia Border Crossing

A few kilometres from the small Serbian border town of Sid, a dirt track through corn and turnip fields serves as a passage for tens of thousands of women, men and children seeking refuge and lives of greater possibility. The unofficial border crossing between Serbia and Croatia is surrounded by verdant, sun-lit fields, with apple orchards in the distance and a calm that brings temporary respite to those who have been on the road for weeks, or months. For a moment, the travelers manage to put aside the threat of militarised borders and the recent memory of dehumanising conditions along the way as they stop to drink freshly pressed apple cider handed out by a local farmer, chat, and rest before they continue on.

Parents carry small children in their arms, toddlers on hips, and on their backs rucksacks containing possessions salvaged from lives interrupted. Narin, a teacher from Mosul, hesitates as she and her group of survivors, Iraqi Yazidis and Kurds, approach the lone border police car stationed at the point where a corn field in Serbia becomes, a few metres onwards, a corn field in Croatia. "Every step away from Iraq, from the massacres of our people and those we left behind, has been so difficult," she says. "This seems too easy - we've forgotten what it is like to feel safe."

Fatima, pregnant with her third child, arrives exhausted, but despite the heat, dust and distance reminisces about family excursions to her parents' village in Syria. Mohammed Ali, her three-year-old son, runs ahead. He's wearing flip-flops, shorts and an over-sized vest, dragging behind him an over-stuffed blue unicorn given to him by volunteers at another border crossing. "He never lets go of that unicorn," Fatima says. "He feeds it and sleeps next to it and tells it stories about our journey".

Mahmoud, a Palestinian student from Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, holding the hand of his young nephew, says: "This is our fate. We are experiencing what our grandparents and parents experienced. But with each generation, each exile, we are being scattered further away from home".

Later, during the seven hours spent waiting in the heat for their names to be registered by comparatively sympathetic Croatian border police, Mahmoud sings songs of loss, struggle and love to those sitting around him.

Starting at sunrise, the buses arrive, bringing a continuous flow of those seeking refuge from a multitude of situations involving war and conflict, persecution and general precariousness. A constant amongst them all, however, is the sense of dislocation and often vulnerability, expressed in words and questions and requests for reassurances, in the tensing of shoulders and tight inhalations of breath as painful memories from the past - both distant and recent - are recalled.

Kamaal and Sabiha, a middle-aged Kurdish couple from Mosul are accompanied by their cousin, the dignified Jamaal, who struggles down the dirt road on crutches. Kamaal had been in hospital recovering from a heart attack when Mosul was taken over by ISIS over a year ago. He, Sabiha and their eldest son rushed home to find their home ransacked and their four teenage children gone, including their thirteen-year-old daughter. They stayed on in Iraq searching for them for almost a year before leaving, in the hopes that perhaps their search will be more effective from the outside. As we walk Sabiha begins to cry. Her husband puts his arms around her, his own shoulders heaving. Later they cross the border arm in arm, Jamaal limping beside them.

The young, the elderly, those in wheelchairs carried by friends and family, the wounded, families, solo travelers, young couples holding hands disembark from buses in one quiet border town in Serbia and travel the next few kilometres on foot into another quiet border town in Croatia. From there, in the degrading, exhausting chaos of the weather-exposed Tovarnik train station, the better organised and welcoming volunteer-run rest-camp next to it, or in a recently established government-run processing camp, they will wait long days for transport that will hopefully take them a step closer to their final destinations - and to the extended family, friends or support networks that await some of them there.

Later, as night begins to fall, those arriving voice apprehension and doubt. The path is unmarked except for the presence of a handful of volunteers, and those walking now seek reassurance that the path and its surroundings really have been cleared of land mines, that they will not be detained, that they will not encounter police brutality, accounts of which have filtered back from those who were stranded in Horgos and Roszke at the Hungarian border.

Beneath a striking, star-filled night sky, Khalid, a 77-year old Circassian great-grandfather from Quneitra accompanied by his extended family, walks with a walking stick and politely refuses our offers of help with the large bag he carries on his back. "Continue to trust yourselves and each other," he advises fellow travellers. "We are strong and will face whatever difficulties lie ahead of us as we have faced everything else on this journey."

A group of Eritrean women and a lone traveler from Congo share a bag of oranges among themselves. "We have travelled from further away and are more used to the hardships of travelling and to walking long distances," says Mariam, a 22-year old nursing student. "We are young and strong but it is so difficult to see how all these children suffer."

A young Iraqi boy pleads with his father, who is already carrying his younger brother and their luggage, to carry him. His feet, like those of many others, are blistered and raw, every step painful. He sobs and begs and then cries silently as his father apologetically pulls him onwards, worried that the border might close, leaving them stranded. We take the boy to the medical tent and hurriedly dress and bandage his feet. Then they continue on into the night.

Zaynab and Mustafa, two children in wheelchairs, are ferried through the fields with their families in a volunteer's van. Mustafa's mother speaks of the difficulties they've faced over the past weeks. The overloaded rubber dinghy in which they crossed the Aegean Sea to Lesvos had begun to sink, and in order to keep it afloat for the final few hundreds of metres to shore they were forced to get rid of any excess weight they could by throwing their possessions overboard. She had to convince their fellow passengers to make an exception for Mustafa's heavy wheelchair. Sleeping on the streets and in temporary camps makes keeping him clean impossible. "I feel like I am failing him," she says. "I cannot change or bathe him regularly, and he feels very embarrassed when I have to do so without privacy."

Rima, a young law student from Aleppo, Syrian, and a mother herself, accompanies 8-year old Hiba, recently orphaned. Hiba's remaining family live in Sweden and are awaiting her. She looks around, wide-eyed, at the hundreds of people walking with them through the fields. The stars above and thin crescent moon are insufficient to light up the path, and the walkers rely on the lights of mobile phones to help them stay together as certain family members slow down, exhausted from their travels and the hundreds of kilometres many of them have already covered on foot.

For many of those making the crossing, the journey is far from over, and they are acutely aware of the heavily securitised borders to be crossed, the humiliating conditions they'll still have to endure. But the resilience, courage and strength of those seeking refuge is immeasurable, as they walk through these fields, down the roads and through the borders that will take them towards hoped-for possibilities that allow them to rebuild lives of dignity.

News Fri, 02 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Who's the Guy in the White Suit Next to All Those Billionaires?

Many of you know the words: "And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." So sayeth Jesus in the New Testament's Book of Matthew, Chapter 19, Verse 24.

But if you were taking a close look at and giving a careful listen to some of those surrounding Pope Francis during his visit here in New York last week, you could practically hear joints pop and muscles groan as the superwealthy contorted themselves to thread the needle and purchase their way into the pontiff's good graces. Camels? These wealthy dromedaries gave a new meaning to Hump Day.

Notwithstanding his encounter with notorious, Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, the pope's visit to the United States last week was a success, with millions turning out to get even a glimpse of him. But some had much better views than others. In fact, since before the Reformation, when the Catholic Church sold indulgences - pre-paid, non-stop tickets to heaven for affluent sinners - there has not often been such a display of ecclesiastic, conspicuous consumption and genuflection.

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

All of which, of course, is more than ironic when you think about the things Pope Francis has said and written about the rich and poor, some of which he expressed during last week's papal tour.

Back in November 2013, the pope wrote that, "While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few… A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules."

Ideas like that got Kenneth Langone, billionaire founder of Home Depot and major political bankroller of New Jersey's Chris Christie, a little hot under the collar. You may remember that last year he created a stir when he told Politico that he hoped a rise in populist sentiment against the one percent was not working, "because if you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany. You don't survive as a society if you encourage and thrive on envy or jealousy."

A year before, in 2013, New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan had enlisted the DIY plutocrat to help raise $175 million to restore the grand and elegant St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, but in an interview Langone gave to the money network CNBC, he said one of his high rolling potential donors was concerned that the pope was being overly critical of market economies as "exclusionary" and attacking a "culture of prosperity… incapable of feeling compassion for the poor."

So Langone complained to Cardinal Dolan, and this is how the cardinal says he replied: "'Well, Ken, that would be a misunderstanding of the Holy Father's message. The pope loves poor people. He also loves rich people…' So I said, 'Ken, thanks for bringing it to my attention. We've gotta correct to make sure this gentleman understands the Holy Father's message properly.' And then I think he's gonna say, 'Oh, OK. If that's the case, count me in for St. Patrick's Cathedral.'"

"Oh, OK?" Oh, brother. Wonder how Pope Francis would have responded to that bit of priestly pragmatism? After all, Francis is the one who wrote, "I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security."

But sure enough, there in the exclusive crowd at St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue Thursday night, hanging out as the Vicar of Christ celebrated Vespers, was Kenneth Langone, soaking it all in. There, too, reportedly, were a couple of other crony capitalists and St. Patrick's fundraisers - Frank Bisignano, president and CEO of First Data Corp., and Brian Moynihan, chairman and CEO of Bank of America.

Bisignano, known as "Wall Street's Mr. Fix-It" used to work for Citigroup and for Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase and reportedly received annual compensation at First Data to the tune of $9.3 million. Moynihan was paid $13 million for 2014, down from $14 million in 2013. Last year, Bank of America, the second largest in the country - but the most hated - made a record-breaking $16.65 billion settlement with the Justice Department to pay up for allegations of unloading toxic mortgage investments during the housing boom. Nice.

But of all the fat cats suddenly in the thrall of the People's Pope, one was the most impressive. Watching Francis on television Friday afternoon as he met with kids up in East Harlem at Our Lady Queen of Angels primary school, I noticed a well-dressed man hovering near the pontiff. A politician, a government or Vatican official, I wondered? Nope, it was none other than Stephen Schwarzman, head of the giant private equity firm Blackstone.

He was paid a whopping $690 million last year and last week, he and his wife donated $40 million to pay for scholarships to New York City's Catholic schools. A generous gift for sure, but as Bill Moyers and I wrote in 2012, this is the same Stephen Schwarzman "whose agents in 2006 launched a predatory raid on a travel company in Colorado. His fund bought it, laid off 841 employees, and recouped its entire investment in just seven months - one of the quickest returns on capital ever for such a deal."

"To celebrate his 60th birthday Mr. Schwarzman rented the Park Avenue Armory here in New York at a cost of $3 million, including a gospel choir led by Patti LaBelle that serenaded him with 'He's Got the Whole World in His Hands.' Does he ever - his net worth is estimated at nearly $5 billion."

As The Wall Street Journal reported, "The Armory's entrance [was] hung with banners painted to replicate Mr. Schwarzman's sprawling Park Avenue apartment. A brass band and children clad in military uniforms ushered in guests… The menu included lobster, baked Alaska and a 2004 Louis Jadot Chassagne Montrachet, among other fine wines."

It must have seemed like Heaven to some. And what makes this billionaire's proximity to the pope all the more surreal is that just the morning before, Francis had spoken to Congress in reverent tones of two outspoken, radical, New York Catholics; activist and organizer Dorothy Day - co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement - and Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton, each of whom embraced poverty, social justice and resistance.

"We believe in an economy based on human needs rather than on the profit motive," Day wrote, and Merton worried about "the versatile blandishments of money." Day wished the church's bounty to be spread among the needy and not spent on cathedrals and ephemera. And Merton wrote, "It is easy enough to tell the poor to accept their poverty as God's will when you yourself have warm clothes and plenty of food and medical care and a roof over your head and no worry about the rent. But if you want them to believe you, try to share some of their poverty and see if you can accept it as God's will yourself."

Whether the irony struck Stephen Schwarzman is unknown. He himself was probably in too much of a hurry for contemplation. After East Harlem, he rushed off to the White House and that state dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping. His plus-one was Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio, the billionaire hedge fund manager who infamously told employees they should be like hyenas stalking wildebeest: "It is good for both the hyenas who are operating in their self-interest and the interest of the greater system… because killing and eating the wildebeest fosters evolution (i.e., the natural process of improvement)."

There you have it. In the Bible - right before the camel and the eye of a needle, Jesus says, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me." Masters of the Universe like Dalio and Schwarzman prefer the Law of the Jungle, buying proximity to holiness and assuaging guilt with cash, all the while upholding savage nature red in tooth and claw.

By the way, Schwarzman's wife gave the White House dinner a pass. She had a better deal: an excellent, paid in advance seat at the pope's mass in Manhattan's Madison Square Garden.

Opinion Fri, 02 Oct 2015 00:00:00 -0400