United States & Canada - Mar 12
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The Fall of the American Consumer
Barbara Ehrenreich, The Nation
How much lower can consumer spending go? The malls are like mausoleums, retail clerks are getting laid off and AOL recently featured on its welcome page the story of a man so cheap that he recycles his dental floss--hanging it from a nail in his garage until it dries out.
It could go a lot lower of course. This guy could start saving the little morsels he flosses out and boil them up to augment the children's breakfast gruel. Already, as the recession or whatever it is closes in, people have stopped buying homes and cars and cut way back on restaurant meals. They don't have the money; they don't have the credit; and increasingly they're finding that no one wants their money anyway. NPR reported on February 28 that more and more Manhattan stores are accepting Euros and at least one has gone Euros-only.
... While Americans search for interview outfits in consignment stores and switch from Whole Foods to Wal-Mart for sustenance, the world watches tremulously. The Australian Courier-Mail, for example, warns of an economic "pandemic" if Americans cut back any further, since we are responsible for $9 trillion a year in spending, compared to a puny $1 trillion for the one billion-strong Chinese. Yes, we have been the world's designated shoppers, and, if we fall down on the job, we take the global economy with us.
"Shop till you drop," was our motto, by which we didn't mean to say we were more compassion-worthy than a woman fainting at her work station in some Honduran sweatshop. It was just our proper role in the scheme of things. Some people make stuff; other people have to buy it. And when we gave up making stuff, starting in the 1980s, we were left with the unique role of buying. Remember Bush telling us, shortly after 9/11, to get out there and shop? It may have seemed ludicrous at the time, but what he meant was get back to work.
We took pride in our role in the global economy. No doubt it takes some skill to make things, but what about all the craft that goes into buying them--finding a convenient parking space at the mall, navigating our way through department stores laid out for maximum consumer confusion, determining which of our credit cards still has a smidgeon of credit in it?
(11 March 2008)
Army to turn trash into power in Iraq
Rick Callahan, Associated Press
The water bottles, plastic foam plates and other trash discarded by American troops in Iraq's mess halls may soon be serving double-duty - as an unlikely power source to illuminate barracks and power up laptops.
The Army is preparing to deploy to Iraq two 4-ton biomass refineries designed to turn piles of trash into electricity. Each can run for 20 hours on a ton of trash, producing enough power to light a small village.
(12 March 2008)
U.S. may protect oilsands
Considering move to exempt region from new crackdown
Claudia Cattaneo, National Post
In response to concerns that new U.S. environmental legislation will drastically impact development of Canada's oilsands, Washington is considering classifying oil produced from the region as "conventional" fuel rather than subject it to the stringent standards expected of "alternative" fuels.
The U.S. government passed a law that prohibits federal procurement of alternative fuels that generate more greenhouse gases than "conventional sources," which spurred a warning last month from Canada's ambassador to the United States, Michael Wilson. Mr. Wilson said a narrow interpretation of the legislation would include the vast deposits of the oilsands -- where U.S. firms are major investors and the U.S. government is a major customer.
An interdepartmental working group with representation from several U.S. agencies is looking into how to classify the Alberta deposits under the new rules, said a source who suggested the step was taken because "D.C. does not want to hammer" the region.
(11 March 2008)