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Housing Fetish

James Howard Kunstler, Clusterf*ck Nation
Martha Stewart was not an accident of history. She came along in the late 20th century as a kind of spirit guide to a society whose bad choices and misinvestments had led to the wholesale destruction of any place in America that people called home. And by this I mean the towns, neighborhoods, and city districts of our land, not just the individual dwellings.

By the 1980s, America had been converted, with monstrous efficiency, into what I have called a geography of nowhere, a panorama of identical highway strips, malls, big box warehouses, fried food out-parcels, and free parking wastelands — all serving the endless new subdivision pods of single family houses. The ultimate result was a landscape full of places no longer worth caring about.

…By the 1980s, both parents had to be out of the house generating income to pay the mortgage and especially to pay for the multiple cars needed to service the family headquarters. Mom went to work not because Betty Friedan said that actuarial science was more fun than managing a house, but because wages were stagnant and Dad could no longer make the family’s ends meet.

Out of this sad and desperate circumstance, Martha Stewart arose. The promise of Stewartism was that if the public realm was now inaccessible or meaningless, then one should make the most of the private realm. This was accepted as self-evident by enough people to make Martha extremely wealthy. Luckily for Martha, her job was at home. She didn’t have to drive thirty-eight miles to a cubicle in the billing office of Ramjack Medical and spend eight hours each day minutely examining spreadsheets on a computer monitor.

As her wealth and success increased, Martha’s resources for doing things in and around the house enabled her to spin a fantasy of uber-homemaking that America found irresistible — despite the fact that everyone else spent so much time away from the house that it was nearly impossible for them to emulate the goddess of hearth and home. Instead, they devoured her many publications and TV shows, finding consolation in all the beautifully portrayed scenes of Martha enacting the fantasy for them.
(29 Jan 2007)
Although Kunstler is right that Martha Stewart represents a fantasy for stressed Americans, nevertheless Martha Stewart and her publishing empire have produced much useful material. And in terms of fantasies, uber-homemaking is much better than the other ones out there. -BA

The City That Never Walks

Robert Sullivan, NY Times
FOR the past two decades, New York has been an inspiration to other American cities looking to revive themselves. Yes, New York had a lot of crime, but somehow it also still had neighborhoods, and a core that had never been completely abandoned to the car. Lately, though, as far as pedestrian issues go, New York is acting more like the rest of America, and the rest of America is acting more like the once-inspiring New York.

As a New Yorker who has spent two years researching roads and transportation across the United States, I am saddened to see our city falling behind places like downtown Albuquerque, where one-way streets have become more pedestrian-friendly two-way streets, and car lanes are replaced by bike lanes, with bike racks everywhere.

…We have lost our golden pedestrian touch in New York mostly because we still think about traffic as though it were 1950, and we needed Robert Moses to plow a few giant freeways through town to get the cars moving again. But the fact is that more roads equal more traffic.

London now charges drivers a fee to enter the core business area, but here such initiatives are branded as anti-car, and thus anti-personal freedom: a congestion fee, critics say, is a tax on the middle-class car commuter. But as matters now stand, the pedestrian is taxed every day: by delays and emissions, by asthma rates that are (in the Bronx) as much as four times the national average. Though we think of it as a luxury, the car taxes us, and with it we tax others.

And yet, here in New York, we even have the debate over bicycle traffic backwards. We focus on drivers’ complaints about the bicycle commuter who races through red lights, rather than on the concerns of the mother biking her child around organic-food delivery trucks that idle in bike-only lanes. In December, the police say, a bicyclist was killed on the Hudson River Greenway by a drunken driver speeding along a bike lane that was completely separated from the road. Asked what was being done to improve safety in light of the biker’s death, Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested that bikers “pay attention.”

“Even if they’re in the right, they are the lightweights,” he told a reporter.
(29 Jan 2007)

Scotland: Energy crisis as power cuts loom

Eddie Barnes and Murdo Macleod,
SCOTLAND is on the brink of a power crisis after an accident at one of the country’s biggest electricity plants massively reduced supplies to the national grid.

Emergency legislation will be rushed through the Scottish Parliament early this week to allow Longannet power station, Fife, to burn gas as well as coal in a bid to stave off potential blackouts.

Longannet has been shut down after a conveyor belt carrying coal collapsed. A nuclear power station is already off-line and widespread power shortages have so far been avoided because of the unseasonably warm weather. “We’re glad it isn’t cold,” one minister admitted last night.
(28 Jan 2007)

Selling off Aotearoa (New Zealand)

James Samuel, Yesterday’s Future
When I opened up this email from Christoph Hensch I was more than a little concerned. I am witnessing this trend directly and personally here on Waiheke Island, where I live. Northern hemisphere refugees, wanting to escape the social, political, and environmental degredation of their countries, are arriving with pots of overseas money and buying up large.

Awareness is the first step.

Foreign Control – Key facts

  • Foreign direct investment (ownership of companies) in New Zealand increased from $9.7 billion in 1989 to $82.7 billion at September 2006 – over 700% more.
  • Foreign owners now control 41% of the share market. In 1989, the figure was 19%.
  • In 2005, the Overseas Investment Commission (OIC) and its replacement, the Overseas Investment Office (OIO), approved foreign investment totalling $14.3 billion, which was well above the average of $8.8 billion for the previous decade. All but about $3 billion was sales from one overseas company to another. Until August 2005, only company takeovers involving $50 million or more needed OIC approval, except those involving land or fishing quotas. Until 1999, the threshold was $10m. As from August 2005 the government increased it to $100m and replaced the OIC with the OIO in the government department, Land Information New Zealand.
  • In 2005, the OIC approved the sale of 149,473 hectares of rural land to foreigners, of which about 100,000 hectares was from one foreign investor to another. Foreign owned land covers more than one million hectares or about 7% of our commercially productive land area.
  • Statistics NZ figures, as of March 2006, list the biggest foreign owners of New Zealand companies as, in decreasing order: Australia, US, UK, Singapore, Japan, Netherlands, Hong Kong, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.
  • Transnational corporations (TNCs) make massive profits out of New Zealand. These can truly be called New Zealand’s biggest invisible export. In the decade 1997-2006, TNCs made $50.3 billion profits. Only 32% was reinvested, and in some years more was sent overseas than was earned or the reinvestment was significantly offset by capital being taken out of the country.
  • The great majority of foreign “investment” is a takeover, not creating new assets.
  • Foreign investors are not great for employment – they only employ 19% of the workforce, despite owning a huge proportion of the economy. Foreign ownership does not guarantee more jobs. In fact, it quite often adds to unemployment. TNCs have made tens of thousands jobless.
  • Foreign ownership does nothing to improve New Zealand’s foreign debt problem. In 1984, total private and public foreign debt stood at $16 billion. As of September 2006, it was $182 billion, equivalent to well over 100% of New Zealand’s Gross Domestic Product, despite all of the asset sales and takeovers.
  • Ownership means political power. Foreign control means recolonisation, but by company this time, not country.
  • Nearly everything that has been done to New Zealanders in the past decade has been done to “make the New Zealand economy attractive to foreign investment”. This is what it all means to ordinary New Zealanders – we are involuntary competitors in the race to the bottom.

CAFCA home
(27 Jan 2007)
New Zealand has to be the most talked about refuge of people seeking to leave the US and other places to better weather possible global societal collapse. Mike Ruppert has argued:

Start building your lifeboats where you are now. I can see that the lessons I have learned here are important whether you are thinking of moving from city to countryside, state to state, or nation to nation. Whatever shortcomings you may think exist where you live are far outnumbered by the advantages you have where you are a part of an existing ecosystem that you know and which knows you.