Issue 2 – February 2004

Current Affairs Essay
Can Renewable Energy Rise from The Ashes as a Hot Political Issue? by J. F. Miglio
Feature Interviews
Jamie Court
Paul Krugman
Book Reviews
Candle in a Dark Time by Virginia Stuart
The Riddle of Cthulhu by Ray Emerson
Confessions of a Corporate Centurion by Gordon S. Reiss
Last Things, First Things by Wells Earl Draughon
To Love or Love Not by Warren Lang
From Communism to Capitalism by Gordon S. Reiss
A Book Worth Reading by Wells Earl Draughon
The Misfit by Warren Lang

Book Reviews

The Online Review accepts all independently published books in any format for review. To submit your book, click here.

Danish Citizen Risks Life
For Jewish Compatriots

By Beth Birnbaum

Candle in a Dark Time by Virginia StuartThe title of Virginia Stuart’s emotionally engaging novel, Candle in a Dark Time, is taken from the words of Adolph Eichman’s chief prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, referring to the “shining light” of the Danish rescue of over 7,000 Jews from the Nazis in 1943. In an act of reluctant pragmatism, the Danish king and his government negotiated the terms of their Nazi occupation, maintaining their authority and protecting their Jewish citizens, in exchange becoming a propaganda example of Nazi benevolence. After four years of increasingly effective resistance, the Nazi occupiers removed the Danish government and instituted brutal martial law.

The main character of the story is Regine Lund, an anthropologist who flees Copenhagen and waits out the end of the war with her two sisters in their large, ramshackle country home. Learning from her desperate friend, bookseller Noah Abrams, that the Nazis are seizing Jews in Copenhagen and sending them to concentration camps, she immediately offers refuge to his family. She later welcomes others, risking her life to hide them, and bring them to safety to Sweden by boat.

The story is well researched, based in part on interviews with both rescuers and those rescued, a breathtaking, harrowing adventure that truly captures the time. The many characters, quickly and deftly drawn, are vivid, memorable, and all too human. The Lund family, the farmers and fisherman, the members of the Resistance (including Regine’s former fiancé) are merely fictional stand-ins for real Danish people who “spontaneously rose up” to rescue their fellow citizens without ever considering their actions remarkable. In fact, according to the author, who was born in Wisconsin to Danish immigrant parents and became the first female editor of Princeton University Press, they were unable to conceive of doing anything else. To underscore her point, Stuart quotes Elie Weisel: “In those times one climbed to the summit of humanity by simply remaining human.”

There have been other stories written about the Danish rescue effort during World War II; the children’s book, Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry comes to mind. But Candle in a Dark Time is unique; it appeals to both adult readers and young adults because it imparts a wealth of exciting historical information in an easy-to-read style. In addition, it fulfills the author’s intended purpose of “finding solace from my feeling of desolation” in coming to terms with the Holocaust, and finding a beacon of hope in humanity.

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Modern Day Ulysses
Battles Forces of Evil

By George Randall

The Riddle of Cthulhu by Ray Emerson

Part murder mystery, part horror fantasy, and part love story, The Riddle of Cthulhu by Ray Emerson entices the reader into a dark and mysterious labyrinth in order to shed light on the duality of human nature as revealed through a mysterious, omnipotent force known as Cthulhu, the evil brother of Yahweh.

The story begins when Ulysses Martini, a detective in Long Beach, California, investigates the murder of a sailor by an alluring woman with “hypnotic violet eyes.” As it turns out, the woman is a “siren” who is part of a nefarious plot inspired by Cthulhu to destroy mankind. Although Cthulhu is not a character from Greek mythology, there are frequent allusions to Greek mythology throughout the story, and many of the characters are named after ancient Greeks or Greek gods.

Martini falls in love with a beautiful young woman with psychic powers named Cybele, who may be a siren herself. As his investigation progresses, he and Cybele discover a top-secret government research project based on evidence that there is an invasion of female aliens with “non-human mitochondrial DNA” who are killing men at random. These alien women are descended from the sirens of Greek mythology and dutifully follow the will of the evil Cthulhu.

But will the beautiful but enigmatic Cybele turn out to be a siren that tries to kill Ulysses Martini? Or will she help him solve the riddle of Cthulhu? These questions are answered in the final chapters of the story as the two main characters descend into the underworld and the inner sanctum of Cthulhu.

Following in the tradition of H.P. Lovecraft, the author creates a spooky, multi-layered, world where fantasy, reality, and metaphor all blend together to keep the reader turning pages. In addition, the author’s writing is simple, fast-paced and unassuming; however, there are spots where the dialogue and character descriptions are predictable and clich�, and the frequent references to Greek mythology eventually become tedious and heavy-handed, revealing them as literary devices rather than as integral parts of the story.

Nevertheless, The Riddle of Cthulhu will appeal to a wide scope of readers- from murder mystery buffs to horror/fantasy fans to those who like an eclectic blend of elements not often found in the same story.


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Corporate Executive Recounts
Life of International Adventure

By Peter Lewis

Confessions of a Corporate Centruion by Gordon S. ReissIf you are interested in living or doing business abroad, or you have a yen for learning the customs and cultural idiosyncrasies of countries around the world, Confessions of a Corporate Centurion by Gordon S. Reiss is the book for you. The author, who has 30 years of business experience working for multinational companies like Ford Motor, International Paper, and Cinema International, recounts his many adventures and business escapades while working as a high-level executive, or “corporate centurion,” in countries like Italy, Japan, England, Iran, and the former Soviet Union.

Of all the countries where he lived and worked, Reiss does not hide the fact that his favorite was Italy, saying, “I have always enjoyed working with Italians. They have style. Both the good guys and the bad guys have a certain flair in their activities and approach to life. ” In one episode in Italy, Reiss describes a meeting with Enzo Ferrari, the legendary founder and owner of the sports car company that bears his name: “On the other side of the table sat Commendatore Ferrari, an elegant, autocratic entrepreneur. He made his own rules and took orders from no one. Ferrari was what the Italians called an ‘uomo unico,’ a unique man, truly an individualist. Ferrari, meticulously courteous but haughty, dominated the room. He radiated confidence and power.”

Unfortunately, his business deal with the Ferrari Company did not work out, but as a consolation prize, he was given one of Ferrari’s low-slung racing cars to tear around Italy’s autostrade for a few weeks. Needless to say, not all his business deals had happy endings. The author points out that he was caught in the middle of four wars in his career, and he was involved in many precarious situations while doing his wheeling and dealing for major corporations.

Even during dangerous or potentially dangerous situations, however, Reiss keeps his writing light and breezy, as evidenced in this exchange while negotiating a business deal over dinner with an intimidating Iranian businessman: “‘Mr. Reiss, do you know what it would cost to have someone assassinated in Tehran?’ I admitted I did not. It was not something I had ever investigated or priced out. ‘It only costs $100.’ There followed a thoughtful silence. ‘Would you care for some more baklava?'”

This exchange is typical of the many humorous episodes in the book. To his credit, Reiss steers clear of heavy-handed political analysis and relies on real life situations to keep the reader turning the pages in this fast-paced, witty memoir.

Dark Fate Teaches
Life’s Important Lessons

By J. E. Laine

Last Things, First Things by Wells Earl DraughonA patient who learns there is little time left to live discovers where true happiness exists in Last Things, First Things, a novel by Wells Earl Draughon. Without the sap found in Erich Segal’s tissue-shredding “Love Story”, this crisp tale of doomed romance also explores the aftershocks of divorce, the tremors of biological clocks and the slippery slopes of parenthood.

The action moves swiftly from the depressing depths of a Boston hospital to an exotic isle after a chance meeting links computer company drone Val Markham and architect Erin Stacey, whose passion is designing a model of housing that could change the world. The picturesque village of Mykonos provides an idyllic backdrop for nurturing a budding love, but the beauty is marred by modern realities and the death sentence that leaves one unable to commit. Unsaid words spark misunderstandings; fear of a love that soon will be lost fuels conflicting emotions; hopelessness drives a desperate decision before fate finds a path to bring them back together.

There are a couple of O’Henry-type curves in this story, but — since the author lets the reader in on one of the secrets from the beginning — there is little suspense. Rather than heartstrings swelling to a crescendo, this symphony of emotions ends in a soft sigh.

Draughon shares few physical details of his protagonists but is much freer with entertaining descriptions of secondary characters and inanimate objects, bringing them to life through vivid narration: “… a huge fat plane was just lifting off the runway, climbing laboriously into the sky with a lion’s roar and the body of a hippopotamus.” And he often offers imagery that compels the reader to stop and indulge in luxurious mental mirages: “Each drop felt like a sensual treat calling on life to blossom out of her body.”

The characters’ ruminations on life’s priorities ring true, but there are no clarion revelations here; just a bittersweet tale of two people tangled in an ill-fated destiny. It’s light reading, with believable characters, seductive settings and a hint of mystery keeping readers interested.

And – no tissues required.

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Navy Seaman Searches
For Identity and Love

By George Randall

The era leading up to the Korean War is not one many Americans are familiar with – unless they are part of that generation. Warren Lang, the author of To Love or Love Not, writes fondly of that generation, and his novel is a nostalgic look back at a young man’s coming of age during the Korean War.

The main character of the story, presumably based on the author himself, is Johannes Langdel, or Jon, to his friends. Jon is a shy farm boy from North Dakota who hates milking cows and tending the fields on his family farm and joins the navy to see the world and become his own man. What follows is a lean tale based on a series of his adventures in the navy and misadventures with women.

Plagued by his shyness and hick-from-the-sticks persona, he strikes out with women one after another in the first half of the novel. Later, as he becomes more confident in himself as a result of his experiences in the navy, he meets a young woman named Sherry and has a torrid love affair with her. But when he leaves her for a tour in Korea, she loses interest in him. When he returns, she tells him she is pregnant and wants an abortion. This event, coupled with a chance meeting with an old girlfriend, leads the main character to a realization about his own identity and the value of true love.

There is not much else to the story, and it suffers from not having more of a plot. In addition, the writing needs work; it lacks imagery and depth, and there are numerous grammatical mistakes throughout. Lang also falls into the trap of telling a story without using ample description to set a mood, and there is little attempt to develop a sense of time and place.

Nevertheless, the story is honest and it has heart, and it brings the reader back to a time when America was more innocent, a time of Doris Day movies, Lucky Strikes cigarettes, and young navy seamen falling in love for the first time.

U.S. Executive Brings Capitalist
Techniques to Former U.S.S.R

By Mark Westfield

From Communism to Capitalism by Gordon S. Reiss

Doing business in countries that were once part of the Soviet Union is a daunting task for corporate executives who have limited overseas experience. No doubt these executives are trained by their respective companies about what to expect when they arrive in the former Soviet-controlled nations, but before they embark, they would do well to pick up a copy of From Communism to Capitalism by Gordon S. Reiss and read it en route to their destination.

Reiss, a senior executive at several major corporations who has lived in nine foreign countries over a 30-year period, has a wealth of experience in conducting business and negotiating commercial contracts overseas. In his book, the author recounts his business experiences and adventures in three former Soviet countries: the Republic of Georgia, the Czech Republic, and Russia. In the Republic of Georgia, his assignment is to help promote and market Georgian films around the world and also to encourage Western film production companies to make their films on location there. In the Czech Republic, he is contracted to assist a company reorganize its medical equipment division, and in Russia, he has the pleasant task of helping a model agency and modeling school become more productive and profitable.

In each case, Reiss describes his trials and tribulations as he introduces capitalist techniques and the entrepreneurial spirit to his clients. Along the way, he must rise to the occasion and overcome many barriers, including dealing with language and cultural differences, inadequate living conditions, and clueless managers, still connected to the old Soviet mindset in which they “were taught to follow instructions unquestioningly and were discouraged from proposing new policies.”

In addition to his business experiences, Reiss also discusses the culture, history, and geography of each country where he lived and worked. His descriptions are colorful and to the point, and his writing style is light and unencumbered by politics or ideology. In fact, he doesn’t mention his political affiliation at all (unless I missed it), nor does he reveal how much he was paid for his consulting positions. He also doesn’t discuss major issues like the effect of globalization on worldwide business or the corporate exploitation of workers in Third World countries. Then again, his book is not meant to be a political tract; it is designed to enlighten corporate executives about doing business in the former Soviet Union. With that objective in mind, Reiss has succeeded in writing an informative, good-natured business memoir.

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A Book Worth Reading:
Only By Academics

By Robert Moss

A Book Worth Reading by Wells Earl Draughon

In the preface of A Book Worth Reading, its author, Wells Earl Draughon, poses the question: “Is a given novel, play, or poem worth reading, or is it not?” He goes on to say that his goal “is to come up with good, practical, usable criteria that will enable us, as readers, to choose for ourselves which books, if any, to read and which books not to read, regardless of what category academics or critics may have placed them in.” A difficult task, to say the least. What follows is 248 pages of pretentious academic analysis that no one- other than the most fanatical graduate student in English literature- would actually want to read.

This is not to slight the author’s erudition or understanding of creative writing, literature, and literary theory. Nor does it impugn his integrity as a writer; however, he doesn’t seem to grasp the paradox of nullifying the subjective criteria of other academics and critics who pass judgment on creative writing while at the same time setting himself up as an authority. Thankfully, he doesn’t make the claim that he has an “absolute” standard by which to judge artistic works. That would be sheer hubris.

Having said that, there are many elements in Draughon’s book that are worth reading, and many of his criticisms and analyses of creative writing and literature are quite thought provoking, if not entirely accurate. For example, in his critique of the academic-literary novel, he observes that this type of novel “is static rather than dynamic, has a main character but not one who could be called a Protagonist, does not have a character who could be called an Antagonist, does not create a strong emotional reaction (certainly not the affirmative emotions of love, caring, etc.), and avoids making any position appear to be right or wrong. The more the academic-literary novel avoids what most readers like in a novel, the higher the quality of that novel is said to be.”

This is a point worth discussing in a literature class, but is it something the average reader is concerned about? Later in his book, in a subchapter called “The Worldview of ‘Literary’ Literature,” he reiterates his dim view of the “literary” novel because “everybody who works outside academia has learned from their own experience how miserable life is. We do not need to be shown. What we need now is a literature that helps us fight or at least endure the problems of life, not a literature that rubs our faces in those problems, nor one that claims those problems to be normal and inevitable.”

Again, this is a point worth discussing, but only by academics.

Troubled Misfit Tells
Tragic Life Story

By Ben Miles

The Misfit, a novel by Warren Lang, is a cathartic creation, a story steeped in bathos and simplistic psychobabble that is at once novel and awkward. The protagonist, Cyril, is a character of many challenges, ranging from a so-called “penis syndrome” to an all-too- common inferiority complex.

We follow Cyril’s trials and troubles from his birth in North Dakota- two years prior to the Great Depression- all the way to the present day. In addition, we become familiar with Cyril’s childhood humiliations- he was the butt of his huge family’s abuse- escaping the non-nurturing environment only through enlistment in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Here the outcast youngster reluctantly finds his place.

Nevertheless, Cyril’s life continues beyond this point. He marries, fathers five children of his own, and passes through a series of post-war employments. The story itself (only 155 pages; 43 chapters) is conveyed in flashbacks as Cyril opens his sad heart and worried mind to a psychiatrist, obtusely referred to as “Psyche.”

The dialogue between Cyril and his shrink (perhaps Cyril and His Shrink would be a more fitting title for this self-deprecating tale) is exemplified by this exchange:

” Psyche… said, ‘you mentioned your dad never related to any of your questions about your birth and surgery thereafter. How did you feel about that?’ ‘I felt like he didn’t give a damn about me; he ignored me,’ Cyril said. Psyche studied Cyril’s face before continuing his analysis. ‘ Hmm, that could be why you feel you suffer from social phobia.'”

What’s more, novelist Lang ought to consider a rewrite of The Misfit, utilizing Strunk and White to guide and inform his style. Simple errors, such as using affective when effective is meant, undermine the author’s credibility and the quality of the piece.

Still, Cyril is a sympathetic character who elicits our empathy as we connect to the inner-misfit that lives within all of us. In this sense Cyril is a sort of “Every Misfit” with whom we can affectively identify. Cyril’s story is also a “tragedy of the common man,” to use a phrase from Arthur Miller; his joys are small and his emotional turmoil seems nearly insurmountable, with or without psychiatric anodynes.


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A Growing Trend Becomes More Insidious

How Large Corporations Rob Citizens
Of Personal Freedoms and Liberties

Jamie Court
A new word has entered the American lexicon: “corporateer.” As defined by Jamie Court, the author of Corporateering: How Corporate Power Steals Your Personal Freedom… And What You Can Do About It, the term can be used as a verb- to prioritize commerce over culture, or as a noun- one who prioritizes commerce over culture. Either way, the author argues that large corporations today have become so powerful that not only do they control the major commerce in our culture, but in many ways have become the culture itself. In addition, the CEOs at the helm of some of these corporations have become like the old time buccaneers who steal and plunder at will in flagrant disregard of the law or any civilized code of ethics.

Court, an award-winning and nationally recognized consumer advocate, is the executive director of The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a political action group that has been instrumental in helping ordinary citizens stand up to corporate interests. Throughout his career, he has been a social activist and champion for consumer rights. He helped pioneer the HMO patients’ rights movement in the United States, and he inspired the nation’s first flat-rate, low-cost auto-insurance program for the poor.

In his book, he describes in detail (with a plethora of facts and footnotes to back up his claims) how pervasive corporate control has become at every level in American society. One passage that is particularly telling deals with former FCC commissioner Nicholas Johnson, who explains how mainstream news reporters learn self-censorship when it relates to hard-hitting exposes that run counter to the financial interests of their corporate owners:

“A young reporter writes an expose, but the editor says, ‘I don’t think we’re going to run that.’ The second time the reporter goes to the editor [with an expose], the editor says, ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea.’ She doesn’t research and write the story. The third time the reporter has an idea. But she doesn’t go to the editor. The fourth time she doesn’t get the idea.”

This past month, the Online Review caught up with the busy consumer advocate and discussed his book with him. We also talked about current political and consumer issues.

Jamie Court Interview

OR: In your book you discuss how large corporations have taken over so many aspects of our lives, often times restricting our freedoms and liberties, or costing us time and money. Yet there are some Americans who would say that without large corporations, we would not have as high a standard of living or the choices for consumer goods that are available today. How would you answer that?

JC: There is a lot of truth to the fact that corporations give us tremendous commercial conveniences, and there is no question that there is an appropriate role for large corporations to compete in our economy, and I’m all for that. I just want them to compete better. The problem occurs when a corporation becomes so much of an economic powerhouse that it exceeds its boundaries and works against the public commercially. In addition, corporations often step into our cultural sphere and change our mores and rules of law. For example, when corporations trade our personal financial or medical information without our consent, that’s showing cultural disrespect for our privacy. What my book strives to do is show that in the last 25 years- what I call the age of the corporateer- large corporations have aggressively marketed to our children, gone after our privacy, and tried to change our rule of law by usurping individuals’ legal rights.

OR: Would you say that large corporations acted more responsibly in the past?

JC: My contention is that until the 1970s, large corporations really adhered to a stakeholder view where community and labor and nation were co-equals. Then something went awry, and I attempt to chart that phenomenon in my book.

OR: In the 1950s, they used to say, ‘What’s good for General Motors is good for the USA.’ In those days I suppose that saying had some validity, but today…

JC: Well, when companies like General Motors became transnational corporations, they forgot they had certain responsibilities to the community and put commercial concerns over everything else. That’s when things went awry. For example, when Ford thought it was more important not to tell people about a fatal flaw in the gas tank because it was going to cost them too much money, that’s when they overstepped their bounds and began mucking up the culture. And it’s very hard for most people to think of corporations as institutions, but they are. They have institutional memories, institutional strategies, and institutional assumptions that affect America very deeply.

OR: Is it an exaggeration to say that in some ways they have become the new gods of our modern culture?

JC: I think to many, corporateering has become a religion. And that’s why you heard Ken Lay at the height of the California energy crisis saying, I believe in God and the free market, and the problems in California were created by too much regulation, not too little. In fact, you could see the religious fervor among many of the big CEOs in the nineties, and that was a sure sign that the bubble was going to burst. Not just the economic bubble, but also the bubble of arrogance and hubris in the executive ranks.

OR: You mention how corporations use think tanks in America to get their message across to the American people, and you write that there are over 1,000 of them in America. I don’t think most Americans are aware of the power of conservative think tanks like the Cato Institute or the Heritage Foundation. Explain the process of how large corporations use these types of think tanks to influence public opinion.

JC: These think tanks are the oracles for movements like less regulation, fewer rights for individuals, and less corporate accountability. They are funded primarily by Fortune 500 companies, and they are the intellectual backing for economic ideas that are questionable. My experience is that these think tanks are there to prove their point, and their mission is to show how government’s intrusion into a corporation’s business, or any type of government regulation of a corporation, is not appropriate.

OR: You also point out that large corporations have so many loopholes today that they only pay about 8% of all the taxes collected by the IRS. Back in the 1950s, they paid about 28% of the total tax load. And so today average citizens make up the 20% difference. Yet some Americans give corporations a pass on this point, saying, well, if we place more taxes on corporations, they’ll only pass the cost on to consumers. Or they say that consumers are also shareholders in companies, so it benefits them for corporations to avoid paying higher taxes. How do you respond to this?

JC: I think the idea that this is being done for the benefit of shareholders is wrong. The people who benefit when corporations do really well are, first, the top management, who are often the biggest shareholders. Society and individuals who can least afford it are actually the ones who lose out when individuals don’t pay their fair share of taxes. And there are many tax loopholes on the books written for corporations that never get removed because politicians get a lot of money from corporations. So, as state governments start to see a shrinking of their resources, we’re going to see more pressure to tax corporations. I think this was inevitable. In addition, as a result of the backlash to scandals like Enron and Tyco and Worldcom, more people believe there is a need to rethink the corporate tax structure and its fundamental lack of fairness. In fact, in California we are trying to get an initiative on the ballot in November to charge corporations higher rates for commercial properties they own.

OR: This ties in with another point you make in your book about how corporations waste an individual’s time, like when you spend 20-30 minutes on the phone just to get through an automated menu to fix a problem with a telephone bill.

JC: Time value, I think, is the future. The ‘Do Not Call List’ is a good example, because what we need to do is start charging these companies for wasting our time. And I think there needs to be a standard for whenever a company excessively wastes our time, there is a mechanism that clicks in to recover money for that time.

OR: Could you put something like that on the ballot in California?

JC: We’re thinking about it.

OR: Speaking of California, how do you think Arnold Schwarzennegger is doing as governor?

JC: Well, so far I’ve counted more than a dozen broken promises that he made, so he hasn’t been doing too well if you judge him by keeping his word. Actually, Schwarzennegger is a quintessential example of a corporateer. Here’s a guy who is a businessman who understands the power of branding, and during the election he put out a very verifiable promise to clean house and stop taking money from special interests. In essence, it was like him saying, ‘100% satisfaction guaranteed!’ You can’t prove it, of course, but no one would believe that you would lie about it, so you say it over and over until people assume that it’s true.

OR: But why are Americans so gullible? And why can’t third party populist candidates like Peter Camejo, who ran for governor in the last California election (and actually participated in the debates and got some decent coverage), or Ralph Nader, who ran for president against Bush and Gore, ever get more than a few percentage points of the popular vote?

JC: The public doesn’t want to bet on someone who’s not going to win. You know, we live in a sports culture (laughs). I think that corporations have influenced not only our political life and our politicians, but they have also convinced Americans that it’s important to be with a winning brand. And if your brand isn’t the best, why bother.

OR: What about health care? Will it be possible to get a single payer, national health care bill passed in the United States if a Democrat wins the next presidential election?

JC: I think it has to happen in a state before it happens nationally. There are just so many vested interests involved- from pharmaceutical companies to insurance companies to doctors- who just don’t want to go that route because they don’t want their fees and prices limited. I think we’re more likely to move toward a public utility type health care system where there are much greater price and costs controls, and if companies do not want to play by the rules, we’ll have to take the next step.

OR: Is your group going to propose something like that in the near future in California?

JC: We’ve been having some dialogues with stakeholders in California, and I think they are ready for the public utility model in health care, especially because there is now a mandate for employer health care coverage by 2006. So unless the mandate is undone, we need to make that system affordable. And the only way to make that system affordable is to look at where all the money is going in the system. I mean right now know one knows where all the money goes. And it seems to be common sense to find that money and watch it.

OR: Now here comes a very tough question: Given the fact that transnational corporations buy and sell politicians to promote their agendas; given that these companies control a majority of the major media; and given that many Americans have become so inured to the corporate culture that many of them actually prefer it, how can we stop what you call “corporateering?”

JC: One word at a time, one conversation at a time. Each individual must find his own personal power to do it. One person actually can do an amazing amount. In my experience, not too many people fight back. But when someone does fight back and is successful, it resonates. read more


Can Renewable Energy Rise from
The Ashes as a Hot Political Issue?

For years, only diehard environmentalists and Green Party candidates have kept the issue of renewable energy alive, but at long last the Democratic candidates for president are beginning to speak out on the issue. The question is whether they will make it a cause celebre in the coming presidential election.

By J.F. Miglio

In 1977, the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) published an exhaustive report that could have changed the future of the United States and the world. The government report, written by some of the top energy experts in the country, concluded that if the federal government and energy industries worked together to speed up the mass production of renewable energy technologies, these technologies “could be made competitive in markets representing over 40% of U.S. energy demand by the mid-1980s.” Given this timetable, it is reasonable to conclude that by 2004, renewable technologies would be supplying well over 50% of all our current energy needs.

The key to this timetable, however, had always been predicated on whether there was the political will to implement a national energy policy designed to mass produce renewable technologies– like photovoltaic (PV) panels and wind mills– to drive down their cost and make them cost effective for all Americans. Back in the latter half of the 1970s, Jimmy Carter got the program off to a good start. He put PV panels on the White House roof and initiated a new energy policy that gave U.S. businesses and consumers various incentives and tax credits to reduce the cost of renewable energy technology. The idea was that once the per unit cost dropped and became more competitive with the cost of producing fossil fuels, more startup companies would emerge and begin mass producing renewable technology, thereby driving down the cost even more. And the more competitive the industry became, the more innovations and technological breakthroughs would follow.

Nothing particularly original or unusual about this strategy. The federal government has used it for decades to help the oil and gas industries increase production and become more profitable- just ask George Bush and Dick Cheney! In fact, according to Congressman Henry Waxman, the Bush administration’s latest energy bill will cost taxpayers at least $20 billion in subsidies to the oil, gas, coal and nuclear industries. Some analysts have put the cost of these subsidies even higher, as much as $100 billion! In the same bill, Bush and his fossil fuels backers in the Congress conveniently excised a proposal that would have required utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. But let’s not speak of conspiracies!

Of course, this is nothing new. Even during Democratic administrations, the federal government was always very generous with the fossil fuels industry. One example: the oil depletion allowance, which allows oil companies to deduct 15% of their gross income from their taxable incomes each year. This nifty little accounting trick has been around for decades and has cost American taxpayers over a billion dollars each year.

Unfortunately, the renewable energy industry does not have the same clout as the oil and gas lobbies. Never did. And when Ronald Reagan became president, he removed the PV panels from the White House roof, gutted Jimmy Carter’s renewable energy program, and gave a green light to the oil and gas industries to do whatever they wanted. No doubt George Bush Senior, then vice president (and longtime business associate of Saudi oil sheiks, including Saleem bin Laden), was not “out of the loop” when he and his oil buddies counseled Reagan to help the fossil fuels industries at the expense of renewable energy technologies.

Of course, Reagan and Bush Senior were not the only ones who were eager to sabotage the renewable energy industry. Almost every Republican in the Congress was in lock step with them, and so were many Democrats- and have been ever since. Which explains why all the major members of George Bush Junior’s administration are connected to the oil industry either directly or indirectly and have no intention of cutting into their profits by promoting renewable energy technology. Unfortunately, it is also true that many Democrats either accept large contributions from the fossil fuels industry or are heavily invested in it themselves. Even Mr. Environment, Al Gore, the author of the Earth in the Balance, kept his “green” views about renewable energy under wraps during the Clinton years. As a result, very little was accomplished to increase the mass production of renewable energy on a federal level, and as long as the price of gas stayed relatively low, the American public forgot about the issue.

Since then, the renewable energy industry has taken some strides forward, and the cost has come down on various technologies, but it is still moving at a snail’s pace, and it will take decades before it becomes a major player in America’s energy grid- unless there is a radical change in government policy to speed up mass production. And this is where the Democratic candidates for president come in. So far all of them have paid lip service to renewable energy technologies, and some of them- notably Kucinich- have offered some substantive changes and incentives for the future, but so far no one has come out with a full-scale national policy to radically change the energy delivery system in America to fulfill the prophesy of the OTA report.

In the meantime, the Germans and Japanese have forged ahead of the United States with national programs to place PV panels on homeowner roofs, and recently, England made a huge investment in windmill technology. Ironically, many Americans still believe the same old propaganda about renewable energy technology that became popular during the Reagan years, i.e., it isn’t cost effective, it isn’t reliable, it’s futuristic, etc. In reality, tens of thousands of homeowners in the U.S. already have installed PV panels on their roofs, thousands of customers are on waiting lists to buy electric and hybrid cars, and hundreds of small companies and farmers are using windmills to sell energy at a profit. And, as we all know, NASA has been using PV cells on their space stations for decades. But if you listen to the “energy experts” who represent the fossil fuels industry or conservative think tanks, renewable energy is still depicted as this side of Flash Gordon. Of course, these are the same experts who have been telling us for years that global warming is nothing to worry about.

And who allows these specious arguments to continue largely unchallenged? Our own mainstream news media, of course. After all, it’s not likely you’ll see Tom Brokaw do an expose on the fossil fuels industry or promote an alternative energy technology when his boss is General Electric. To prove my point: How many news stories have you seen in the mainstream media in the past several years that deal with the politics behind renewable energy verses fossil fuels? How many stories have you seen about the viability of using PV panels or windmills in today’s market? Oh, every once and a while you will see a cute little feature story about a back-to-earth husband and wife who have installed a PV panel on their barn, but as far as in-depth coverage or analysis, very few indeed. Check the alternative press, however, and you’ll find dozens of articles that deal with all sides of the issue.

The real tragedy is, if the federal government had continued the national renewable energy program that Jimmy Carter began in the late 1970s, renewable energy technology, a safe, nonpolluting form of technology, would already be cost effective, and a majority of Americans would be using it everyday in one form or another. Moreover, it would have ameliorated the problem of global warming and created hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the U.S. But perhaps most importantly, it would have made Middle Eastern oil irrelevant to our energy needs, which would have diminished the stranglehold the fossil fuels industry has over our elected officials and government agenda. And it would have saved the lives of the young men and women who died fighting in Iraq to protect “our interests.”

Oh, and by the way, the OTA, the government agency that came up with the report on the viability of renewable energy, no longer exists. Newt Gingrich and his boys got rid of it when they were cutting the budget back in the 1990s. And I don’t recall the mainstream news media ever doing a story about its demise. Perhaps they ran it on the back page with the rest of the “alternative news.”


‘Free Market’ Fanatics Pave the Way
For New Gilded Age in United States

It can’t happen here, it can’t happen here…
I checked it out a couple of times.
–Frank Zappa
Economist/Colomnist - Paul KrugmanPaul Krugman, the unabashed liberal economist and award-winning newspaper columnist, skewers the Bush administration and the usual gang of right-wing desperados and free market scam artists in his latest book, The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century. Krugman’s book is actually a compilation of his twice-weekly
Op-Ed columns in the New York Times (plus a preface and introduction) that explains his dread and deep concern for the economic problems that lie ahead for the United States.

In his introduction, he warns that if the Bush administration’s economic ideology, heavily influenced by right-wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, continues to its logical conclusion, America will lose all the New Deal and Great Society programs that have helped average citizens since the Great Depression. He goes on to say that “the people now in charge really don’t like America as it is. If you combine their apparent agendas, the goal would seem to be something like this: a country that basically has no safety net at home, which relies mainly on military force to enforce its will abroad, in which schools don’t teach evolution, but do teach religion and-possibly-in which elections are only a formality.”

This past month, the Online Review managed to intercept the busy Princeton economics professor and discuss his book with him. We also talked about related political and economic issues currently in the news.

Paul Krugman Interview

OR: In your book you discuss how the radical right wants to abolish all taxes on capital and only have taxes on labor. Does this mean that they would like to see a pre-New Deal America, like the Gilded Age where workers are routinely exploited and there is a huge disparity between the rich and poor?

PK: Well, they would reject that idea of what the Gilded Age was like. But if you ask the question, does the Heritage Foundation or Grover Norquist want to take us back to a period before the New Deal existed, the answer is yes. They are quite clear about that. In fact, when Norquist was asked about whether he wants to take us back to before the New Deal, he said, no, that he wanted to take us back to before the Progressive Era. Now, the Bush administration would deny that it wants anything like that, but people in his administration have advocated those views before they became members of the administration, and the people backing them are pretty clear that that is their goal.

OR: Speaking of Grover Norquist, in your book you also talk about how many members of the House of Representatives are “true believers in the miraculous powers of the free market-they are in effect members of a sect that believes that markets will work even when the businessmen actually involved say they won’t.” I suppose individuals like Grover Norquist would fall into this category as well.

PK: Yes, that’s right.

OR: But here’s what I don’t understand. A lot of these zealots on the far right who espouse this type of philosophy, like Tom DeLay, for example, did not come from privileged backgrounds, yet they seem to look back to the late 1800s and early 1900s and think it was a great time for the average person in America. Don’t they know their history? Don’t they know how bad working conditions for most average Americans were in that era? Didn’t they ever read books like The Jungle?

PKC: They believe that is all left-wing propaganda. Of course they will say that the country was poorer then and that the average standard of living was lower, but they believe there was also good stuff happening during that era, like people taking more responsibility for their lives. In addition, they believe that anything good that evolved from that time was a result of the free market.

OR: What about individuals like Bush or Cheney? Are they really true believers, or are they just scam artists who use this right-wing free market philosophy to promote their own self-interests?

PK: I don’t think they’re really big believers in the free market; in fact, I know they’re not. For example, when push comes to shove, and there’s a question of subsidies for energy companies, or for other groups that they support, they’re all for government intervention. So I don’t think they’re really free marketers. Actually, I’m not sure what is in the mind of somebody like Dick Cheney, but I do think he believes that people with the right connections should run things.

OR: In other words, he’s an elitist.

PK: I would call him an oligarch. read more


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