Jim Hightower

Is There a Fargo in Your Future?


In an era that fawns on the high-flying, high-techers of California’s Silicon Valley, it’s worth a trip to one of America’s rural outbacks-North Dakota-to visit some folks who’re busy bringing high-tech down to earth (and back to the grassroots). If you want to see a brighter energy future, travel to the Holiday Inn in Fargo, North Dakota. There, in a small workroom, you’ll find a 30-kilowatt Capstone MicroTurbine, no bigger than a refrigerator, humming quietly. This stand-alone power unit, unconnected to any utility’s power grid, creates all the electricity to heat 200 rooms in the motel, keeping customers cozy even on the state’s coldest sub-zero days. Not even the turbine’s exhaust heat goes untapped-it’s used to provide hot water for the motel’s kitchen, laundry, and public bathrooms.This microturbine represents a fundamental shift in America’s energy thinking, away from today’s massive, belching, centralized power plants that produce a billion-and-a-half watts of electricity each, which then has to be sent out along hundreds of miles of high-voltage wires. Instead, the micropower movement is based on Thomas Edison’s original model of small, localized generators controlled by the users of electricity, with businesses and neighborhoods generating their own power. Using new materials and technologies, inventors and entrepreneurs have updated Edison’s vision with ultra-high speed turbines that are affordable, super-efficient, non-polluting, virtually maintenance free, and safe. Instead of continuing to subsidize failure, let’s focus on the future in Fargo.

Nuke This Bill.

You might see the dome of our nation’s Capitol building as a majestic symbol of our Republic. Corporate lobbyists, however, see the dome as the lid to a giant candy jar. Among those reaching deepest into the Congressional candy jar is the nuclear power industry. This disgraced industry has failed in the marketplace, constantly threatens human safety with radioactive emissions, burdens ratepayers with its bad investments, and has left a mountainous legacy of nuclear waste for future generations. Why worry about such unpleasantness, however, when your campaign contributions can buy you friends in high places?

One of those friends, Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico, wants to give a sugar-sweet deal to the nuke boys. His bill not only includes some $400 million a year in direct subsidies, but it also attempts to bamboozle us with linguistic hocus-pocus, simply defining away the industry’s environmental ugliness. The Domenici bill asserts that nuclear power is “essentially” emissions free-a claim that will come as quite a surprise to scientists and anyone living around a nuclear facility. The bill goes further, declaring that nuclear power “shall be considered an environmentally preferable product.” Never mind that it isn’t. Hey, this is Congress-it can declare butter to be a diet food!

To help his pals even more, Domenici goes after their opponents. His bill would pull federal funding from any organization that opposes nuclear power development (a group that includes the World Bank), and it would strip from the American public our legal right to have full participation in hearings concerning the safety and licensing of nuclear power plants.

Does Jonah Have Kids?

Time for another Gooberhead Award, presented periodically to some figure in the news who’s got his tongue rolling, but forgot to put his brain in gear. We’re celebrating Mr. Jonah Goldberg, editor of National Review Online, a Web publication that blissfully parrots the ideology, agenda, and propaganda of the corporate elite. In an article for the National Review, our Goober of the day attempted to put a little yellow smiley sticker on (get ready): sweatshops! Yes, indeed, Goldberg (who’s clearly a guy who never had to do any heavy lifting), exults that the low-wage, abusive, polluted, child-exploiting, hell holes called sweatshops “are actually a good thing.” He adds that “sweatshops, all in all, equal progress,” and that sweatshop workers around the world are “happy.” If ignorance is bliss, this guy must be ecstatic.

Not content merely to chirp about the joys of doing sweatshop labor, Goldberg chose to assail the students, churches, unions, human rights advocates, and other people of good will who are standing up to the corporate profiteers that sustain the global sweatshop system. He mocks this growing political movement as “sweatshop chic,” and dismisses the people in it as “dour feminists and moth-balled Marxists.” Of course, if the movement consisted only of dour feminists and Marxists, National Review’s corporate patrons wouldn’t be worried about it, and Goldberg wouldn’t be writing about it.

But write he does, writing himself into such an absurdist hole that he even sings the praises of child labor! We shouldn’t be troubled that the rugs, silverware, toys, and other consumer goods we buy are made by eight-year-olds, he assures us, because in the Third World “it is natural to view your child as an economic asset.” No, Jonah, it’s “natural” everywhere to view your child as a child-who ought to be in school.

Jim Hightower’s latest book is If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates. Find him at www.jimhightower.com or write [email protected].