Adapted from "The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of the Old Ways of Thinking to Unleash a New Prosperity," by Matt Miller, to be published in January by Times Books, an imprint of Henry Holt & Co. Copyright © 2009 by Matt Miller.
SUBHEAD: The true economic face of American exceptionalism. by Matt Miller on 29 December 2008 in Fortune Magazine - (http://money.cnn.com/2008/12/29/news/economy/miller_downwardmobility.fortune/index.htm) image above: The Yard Sale - an old shopping mode becomes Main Street The voters in the town hall meeting were so silent you could almost hear them straining to listen. No public official, let alone a newly sworn-in President, had ever talked to them this way. "Look," said the President, walking across the stage with a microphone in hand, "here's what no one wants to tell you. Structural changes in our economy, and new competition from countries like China and India, mean that we're in a different world now. That pattern we once took for granted, in which our incomes basically kept rising across the board, turns out to be something we can't sustain. Many of you are earning less than your parents did, and the truth is, many of your children will earn less than you do." The President paused, watching as the words sank in. "I don't think denial helps any of us. I know it won't help us come together to do the things we need to do as a nation to thrive even amid these new realities." Don't worry, you didn't miss the news; the scene above has not happened yet. Few politicians would say those things even if they believed them to be true, because it would challenge a notion at the heart of the American dream: the idea that the kids will earn more than we do. This idea has been at the core of American experience for so long that it seems to us the natural order of things, a brand of progress to which we're practically entitled. Political leaders plainly believe we cherish this prospect, because it is central to how they talk about our lives. It's as if relinquishing the certitude that the kids will earn more than we do would be to give up something essential in the American spirit. The problem, as new research shows, is that we have to face a new reality. As many as 100 million Americans now live in families that are earning less in real terms than their parents did at the same age. The rise of such developing economies as China and India means the earnings picture is only likely to get worse. One in three American jobs may be exposed before long to competition from workers overseas, putting an effective wage cap on large swaths of employment even if jobs don't actually move offshore. New research also shows that, contrary to popular myth, upward mobility is now lower in the U.S. than in many European countries. People sense what's unfolding, even if it remains politically taboo to say so. A July 2007 poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that 60% of Americans surveyed say the next generation will be worse off than theirs, vs. 31% who say it will be better off. Yet the truth is that these developments, while hardly what we would choose, are not something to fear. Yes, they represent a jolt to our expectations and an unsettling break with our history. But if we approach the future with fresh eyes, the tests we now face will present an opportunity to fix serious flaws in our economy. Liberating ourselves from this Dead Idea will force us to reexamine a fundamental question that is almost never explicitly discussed: What is the role of the individual, and what should be the role of the broader community, in assuring opportunity and security in a wealthy nation like the U.S.? As events force us to consider fresh answers to this question, the result will be a good life, and in some ways a better life, even for Americans who face wage strains. America will have gained the sturdier brand of hope that comes from dealing squarely with unpleasant realities rather than wishing them away. The classless society Why do Americans think a better standard of living for their children is a national birthright? Because this remarkable pattern has largely been our experience since the nation's earliest days. The new republic's official policy of classlessness and ethic of equal opportunity made it unique in history. In short, America was about upward mobility, the chance to rise from the station into which you were born to whatever heights your talents and efforts might let you attain. This helps explain why America came to lead the world in mass education. Yet all this individual opportunity might have meant little had America's early years not coincided with the kickoff of the Industrial Revolution. This made the idea of economic progress something that applied on a grand scale, not just to particular people with moxie and drive. The twin tragedies of the Great Depression and World War II interrupted the general march of progress, but the remarkable boom that followed made earlier norms of generational economic advance seem timid. Real incomes doubled in a generation. Americans at all income levels shared in the gains. Yet in retrospect, despite the achievements of the boom, the entire episode was in a real sense a historical accident, the result of the U.S. being the only economy left standing after a devastating global war. Foreign competition was virtually nonexistent. Families who'd been through two wars and a depression in 30 years were bursting to enjoy life, and they greeted American manufacturers with long-suppressed appetites for cars, refrigerators, televisions, air conditioners, lawn mowers, air travel, and more. "Keeping up with the Joneses" became something of a middle-class obsession, as the boom unleashed a competitive consumption spree. Yet this wasn't just the magic of the market. A number of other institutions helped assure that prosperity was broadly shared. Labor unions, a robust minimum wage, progressive taxes, and a sense of restraint on corporate boards regarding the salaries of chief executives all contributed to a sense of a shared economic destiny. As postwar prosperity unfolded, all this gave ordinary people a greater sense of security. The rising tide kept rising. The power of the individual The impact has been profound, and largely positive. Our "can do" spirit and "anything is possible" determination tamed the frontier, helped win two world wars, invented countless technologies, and put a man on the moon. But the way our success mutated over time into the expectation that our kids would always do even better has created three problematic ways of thinking: The first is that we've overestimated the power of the individual to shape his own economic destiny. The thread running through our admiration of Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln on to such modern icons as Bill Gates, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama is the celebration of the self-made man: In America you shape your own destiny via determination and hard work. The corollary of our faith in the individual has been a tendency to judge harshly those who fail. After all, with so much opportunity for the taking, if you can't make it in America, it's probably your own fault. The question is whether our instincts here have been shaped by a faith that no longer accurately reflects the prospects of even many hard-working Americans in the global economy. The second problematic way of thinking is what the author and Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson has called America's sense of "entitlement." In this view, we became so spoiled by progress that we presumed endless growth was simply our due - and believed further that this growth would enable us to solve virtually every social problem, from poverty to racial animus to health inequities. This is the economic face of American exceptionalism, the idea that the U.S. is somehow destined to be blessedly immune from the travails that ordinary nations face. The distrust of government that has become the legacy of such hubris makes the work of reform harder today, because a high burden of proof is imposed on those who would use government for new purposes. There's a third worrisome attitude traceable to our faith that the kids will earn more than we do. This is the imprudent conviction that we can live beyond our means, because somehow we'll earn enough later to deal with any problems. This outlook represents a dramatic shift from earlier American thinking, as the sociologist Daniel Bell noted in 1976. "Twentieth-century capitalism wrought a ... startling sociological transformation," he wrote, "the shift from production to consumption as the fulcrum of capitalism." Both as individuals and as a society, we've been gambling on better days tomorrow to make good on unsustainable borrowing today. Such is the toll of a Dead Idea. These habits of mind leave us ill-equipped to cope with the economic realities we now face. One in three Americans, of all races and at all income levels, now live in families that earn less than their parents did, according to research from the University of Michigan and the Pew Charitable Trusts. This finding is more disturbing when you consider that families work longer hours today thanks to the prevalence of two-earner households. The U.S. now offers its citizens a smaller chance of rising from their economic status at birth than do France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Canada, and Germany. The contrast with the "good old days" is stark. After World War II, about a quarter of the men whose fathers had been in the bottom quarter of income distribution made it to the top quarter of income earners over their working lives. Now the figure is more like 6%. So what will these new circumstances mean for individuals and the country? The answer will turn on the way the new downward mobility affects Americans' attitudes toward the role of government. Public opinion surveys have long shown that Americans see themselves as authors of their economic fate, while Europeans tend to believe that forces outside the individual's control have greater influence. Yet the forces that are now undermining upward mobility in America are in fact largely outside people's control. Does that mean Americans will be open to more aggressive policies (to bolster health care, pensions, and education, for example) that might promote economic opportunity and security, even if they mean higher taxes or "bigger government"? As the post-American Dream era unfolds, it's hard to imagine that the growing disconnect between the economic trajectory of millions of families and the nostalgia of our public debate can be sustained much longer. The comforting news, at least from history's perspective, is that our challenge may in some sense be temporary. Britain, after all, was said to be in "decline" from the 1870s onward, even as living standards for the British rose massively over the ensuing 100 years. Many British families were hurt in those decades when Britain lost its relative economic edge, but once a new global equilibrium had been reached, the broad British earnings escalator resumed its rise. Similarly, a period of painful adjustment now for millions of Americans as other powers rise and new technologies are deployed is not inconsistent with an eventual return to broadly shared long-term increases in our material well-being. In other words, "The kids will earn more than we do" is a Dead Idea that could come back to life later in this century. Or perhaps sooner, if President-elect Obama aims high enough and we get lucky to boot. It seems increasingly likely that Obama will meet the current crisis not only with bold steps to spur near-term economic recovery but also by seeking the kind of transformative reforms required if everyday Americans are to rise again. Again, Britain's example is instructive. Everyone knows that the unifying trauma of World War II helped forge a consensus in Britain under which basic health care and pension security became universal. But in ways that have gone little noticed in the U.S., this social contract was recently deepened under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as the global economy posed new threats. Consider: Blair introduced and boosted Britain's first-ever minimum wage past $9 an hour, an unthinkable level in American debate (at least until Obama quietly proposed to phase it in during the campaign). Yet British unemployment in recent years has been lower than that of the U.S. Or take schools. Britain shares the accountability fetish that George W. Bush usefully enshrined in No Child Left Behind. But there the resemblance ends. In Britain high-poverty schools receive more per-pupil spending than other schools; in the U.S. it's usually the opposite. Britain has hiked teacher salaries 25% to lure new talent and drive achievement gains; here, by contrast, little beyond lip service has been paid to address America's teacher crisis. This isn't to say Britain is nirvana. But it has begun to marry economic efficiency and social justice in ways more likely to sustain a consensus for the open markets and technological change that in the long run benefit most people. In the face of new global challenges, in other words, Britain's political center has moved. The question now is whether Barack Obama can move America's. Obama has pledged ambitious steps to make health care affordable, improve college access, recruit an army of new teachers, boost wage subsidies, and more. Success will depend partly on his ability to redefine our obligations to those Americans who are fated to lose out during the difficult transition ahead. And that's a task that starts, first and foremost, inside our heads. There has never been a nation with so much of its self-image riding on the idea that the kids will earn more than we do. The death of this idea as the measure of American progress will force us to rebalance American capitalism and augment our romance with the power of free men and free markets with a deeper awareness of its limits. Psychologists say that narcissists obsessed with their own "specialness" can be cured only when they learn to accept their ordinary humanity. Something like this acceptance in the realm of economic life lies ahead for the U.S. We can't control every aspect of our economic trajectory in this new era. But with the right presidential leadership, we can influence how we think about what is happening - and, more important, what we do about it.
SUBHEAD: The coming year will be daunting. Kunstler tells us how.
The minority reality (let's call it The Long Emergency) says that it is necessary to make radically new arrangements for daily life and rather soon. It says that a campaign to sustain the unsustainable will amount to a tragic squandering of our dwindling resources. It says that the "consumer" era of economics is over, that suburbia will lose its value, that the automobile will be a diminishing presence in daily life, that the major systems we've come to rely on will founder, and that the transition between where we are now and where we are going is apt to be tumultuous. My own view is obviously the one called The Long Emergency. Since the change it proposes is so severe, it naturally generates exactly the kind of cognitive dissonance that paradoxically reinforces the Status Quo view, especially the deep wishes associated with saving all the familiar, comfortable trappings of life as we have known it. The dialectic between the two realities can't be sorted out between the stupid and the bright, or even the altruistic and the selfish. The various tech industries are full of MIT-certified, high-achiever Status Quo techno-triumphalists who are convinced that electric cars or diesel-flavored algae excreta will save suburbia, the three thousand mile Caesar salad, and the theme park vacation. The environmental movement, especially at the elite levels found in places like Aspen, is full of Harvard graduates who believe that all the drive-in espresso stations in America can be run on a combination of solar and wind power. I quarrel with these people incessantly. It seems especially tragic to me that some of the brightest people I meet are bent on mounting the tragic campaign to sustain the unsustainable in one way or another. But I have long maintained that life is essentially tragic in the sense that history won't care if we succeed or fail at carrying on the project of civilization. While the public supposedly voted for "change" this fall, I maintain that they underestimate the changes really at hand. I voted for "change" myself in pulling the lever for Barack Obama. I regard him as a figure of intelligence and sensibility, but I'm far from convinced that he really sees the kind of change we are in for, and I fret about the measures he'll promote to rescue the Status Quo when he moves into the White House a few weeks from now. Where We Are Now Without reviewing all the vertiginous particulars of the year now ending, suffice it to say that the US economy fell on its ass and that the "global economy" did a face-plant as well. The American banking sector imploded spectacularly to the degree that investment banking actually went extinct -- as if a meteor landed on the corner of Madison Avenue and 51st Street. The response by our government was to shovel "loans" onto the loading dock of every organization that pretended to be something like a bank, while "bailing out" an ever-longer line of corporate claimants with a pitiable song-and-dance. The oil markets went on a roller coaster ride. The housing bubble collapse grew to avalanche velocity (taking out whole colonies of realtors, mortgage brokers, and construction contractors in its path), the commercial real estate sector developed hemorrhagic fever, retail drove off a cliff on Christmas Eve, the stock market fell in the toilet, jobs and incomes went up in a vapor, and tens of millions of ordinary citizens addicted to revolving credit found themselves in a life-and-death struggle for the means of existence. None of this is over yet. The Year Ahead Much of what has been lost in 2008 will not be recovered: enterprises, personal fortunes, chattels, reputations. I expect a period of euphoria to mark the early weeks, perhaps months, of the Obama team. It will be a relief to have a president who speaks English correctly and has experienced something like real life prior to politics. Restoring credibility and legitimacy in leadership will be a big deal. If nothing else, we may recover a collective sense of consequence from a president who tells the truth, even the harsh truth. The age when it was enough to claim that "mistakes were made" might be over. A sign of this sort of change may be the commencement of prosecutions for misdeeds in banking and securities that are now destroying the entire system of deployable capital. A good place to start will be an investigation of Henry Paulson for insider trading stemming from Goldman Sachs's shorting of its own issued mortgage-backed securities when Mr. Paulson was the company's CEO. Beyond his case, there should be enough work at Attorney General Eric Holder's office to employ a line of law school graduates stretching from Brattle Street to the planet Mars. It will be salutary for the nation to see those who engineered the banking collapse come to greater grief than the mere surrender of their Gulfstream jets and Hamptons villas. By the way, being allergic to conspiracy theories, I don't believe for a minute that there is some kind of shadow elite of "Bilderburgers" standing in the background to protect these grifters -- and I also believe the reason these paranoid notions persist is because it is otherwise hard to account for the extravagant irresponsibility of the Bush circle and its servelings. Apart from "cleaning up Dodge," so to speak, and from issues of collective character-and conscience-in-office, I worry that the avalanche of troubles already ongoing will overwhelm Mr. Obama and his people. It's also well worth worrying whether they will pursue policies similar in kind to the ones pursued by Bush, namely throwing money at everything and anything, and it sure looks like they are planning to do just that. I am especially concerned about an "infrastructure stimulus" project aimed at highway improvement at the expense of public transit. This would be the epitome of a campaign to sustain the unsustainable. We need to begin planning right away for a transition away from automobiles, not in order to be good socialists but because Happy Motoring is at the core of our unsustainability trap. The car system is going to fail in manifold ways whether we like it or not, and it will fail due to circumstances already underway. For one thing, it will cease to be democratic as the remnants of the middle class find it impossible to get car loans, or pay for fuel, or insurance, and that will set in motion a very impressive politics-of-grievance setting apart those who are still able to enjoy motoring and those who have been foreclosed from it. Contrary to what you might make of the the current situation in the oil markets, we are in for a heap of trouble with both the price and supply of petroleum (more on this below). And there is no chance in hell that any techno rescue remedy to keep all the cars running by other means will materialize. A consensus in the blogoshpere says that the stock markets will rebound strongly during the first Obama months. This is possible just on the basis of pure "animal spirits," but the Obama Bounce will occur against a background of continued dismal business and financial news. It will appear to defy that news. By May of 2009, the stock markets will resume crashing with the ultimate destination of a Dow 4000 before the end of the year. Meanwhile, jobs will vanish by the millions and companies will go bankrupt by the thousands, especially in the so-called service sector, and in all the suppliers of such, along with the landlords in all the malls and strip malls. The desolation will mount quickly and will be obvious in the empty storefronts and trash-filled parking lagoons. In the event, two things will become increasingly clear to the nation: that the consumer economy is dead, and that there is no more available credit of the kind that Americans are in the habit of enjoying. We'll turn around early in 2009 and discover that we are a much poorer nation than we thought because from now on credit will be extremely hard to get for anyone for anything. The businesses that survive will have to keep going on the basis of accounts receivable. This is the area where the crash of giants will be heard. I've been saying since publication of The long Emergency that comprehensive downscaling in all our activities, from farming to business to schooling to governance, will be the categorical imperative of the years ahead. Giant enterprises requiring giant loans to get from quarter to quarter will tend to not make it. Borrowing from the future will become a practical impossibility as past bad debts from previous borrowings continue to unwind, cease performing, and get written off. This argument implies that the federal government will tend to flounder just as General Motors, Citicorp, Target Stores and other gigantic enterprises will tend to flounder. It would be sad to see a President Obama so hamstrung and helpless, and it is largely why I see his role as largely symbolic -- as a reassuring presence encouraging the distressed public to bravely bear their hardships, and to be kind and helpful among their neighbors. Households, like businesses, will have to pay as they go from earned income. The house as ATM is over. Credit cards are maxed out and credit ceilings are lowering like the ceiling in "The Pit and the Pendulum," preparing to slice-and-dice the old "normal" of family life in America. Bankruptcy will be the new Nascar. A lot of families will lose everything. They will sift and disperse into the housing owned by other family members -- parents, siblings -- and a strange new not-altogether comfortable kind of togetherness will become common. Over time, a lot of people will go looking for casual work "under-the-table"( and probably low-paying). To some degree, these workers will begin to look and act like a new servant class, and before too long they may be absorbed into the households of people who employ them. There will be plenty of room for them there. Counties, municipalities, and states will join in the bankruptcy fiesta. It would be reasonable to expect collapsing services as a result. This would be a situation fraught with danger -- of rising crime, of public health emergencies as water systems are not kept up and sewage treatment becomes unaffordable. I don't imagine the federal government stepping into every Podunk or Metropolis from sea to shining sea and propping up these services. People will have to cope with danger and deprivation. 2009 may be the point where we begin to understand what kinds of places will be more hospitable to human society further ahead. I maintain that our giant urban metroplexes have way overshot their sustainable scale and will contract severely. With all the economic hardship, we ought to expect a lot of demographic churning, people leaving hopeless places and moving on to something more promising. I believe we will see them move to smaller towns and smaller cities. The reorganization of the rural landscape into smaller-scaled farms has not begun to occur -- though 2009 might be very hard on agribusiness, given the shortage of capital and if oil begins to march up in price by late winter. Eventually, the rural landscape will require the labor of many more people than is currently the case. Whatever else happens, 2009 will surely see a massive return to home gardening as budgets become strained to the extreme. As the New Urbanist Andres Duany said recently, "Gardening is the new Golf!" The Oil Scene Many were stunned this year to witness the parabolic rise and fall of oil prices up to nearly $150 and then back around $36 by Christmas time. Quite a ride. I said in The Long Emergency that volatility would be the hallmark of post peak oil because it was obvious that advanced economies could not absorb super high prices and would crash in response; that at some point after crashing, these economies would respond to the new lower oil price, resume their cheap oil habits, and build to another price rise. . . and crash again. . . in a declension of ever-lower industrial activity. What I probably didn't realize at the time was how destructive this cycling between low-high-and-low oil prices would actually be in the first instance of it, and what a toll it would take right off the bat. We can see now that our first journey through the cycle took out the most fragile of the complex systems we depend on: capital finance. As a result, a huge amount of capital (say $14 trillion) has evaporated out of the system, never to be seen again (and never to be deployed for productive purposes). It will be harder for the USA to rebound from the grievous injury to this crucial part of the overall system, and Europe has foundered similarly -- though the European nations are not burdened to the same degree by the awful liabilities of suburbia. Even if these advanced economies -- throw in Japan too -- remain moribund, the price and supply prospects for oil look ominous. My own guess is that the price of oil has overshot on the low end just as it overshot on the high end, and that, when all is said and done, we'll still see an upwardly trending price line over the long haul. The plunge, which began right after the $147 peak in July 2008, was as much the result of banks, hedge funds, and individuals dumping oil investments and positions to raise cash as it was a matter of the markets predicting a sharp fall-off in economic activity (and supposedly oil consumption). The truth is that demand destruction for oil in the USA has been surprising mild compared to the drop in price. Jim Hansen's Master Resource Report says that gasoline consumption dropped from 9.29 million barrels a day in 2007 to 8.99 million barrels a day for 2008. That's not much of a fall-off, especially compared to the price drop. As Julian Darley of the Post Carbon Institute put it recently: "There won't be any energy bail-out." And, as many other people have noted, the recent plunge in oil prices strongly implies future supply destruction, since so many planned oil projects have been suspended or cancelled because they are economic losers at $40-a-barrel (or even $70). Even projects well underway, such as Canadian tar sand production, have been scaled back or shut down because they don't make sense at current prices. Some of these other newer projects will now never get underway -- they have missed their window of opportunity with so much capital leaving the system -- and so the hope of offsetting very-near-future depletions in old giant oil fields looks dimmer and dimmer. Those depletions are very serious. For instance, Mexico's super-giant Cantarell oil field, the second-largest ever discovered after Saudi Arabia's Ghawar field, has shown a 30 percent depletion rate in the past year alone. (Pemex had forecast a 15 percent rate entering the year.) Cantarell provides over 60 percent of Mexico's total production, and Mexico is America's third largest source of imports -- just after Saudi Arabia (#2) and Canada (#1). Obviously, Mexico soon will lose its ability to export oil, and as that occurs, America is going to feel more than pinch -- more like a two-by-four upside the head. In short, remorseless depletion is underway and we are less likely now than even a year ago, to make up for it. At some point, then, demand, even if slightly lower, will catch up with declining supply. My prediction for 2009 is that we will see two things occur, possibly at the same time: a resumption of rising prices, and spot shortages. I say this because the global economic fiasco is sure to produce geopolitical friction, and inasmuch as America has to import almost three-quarters of the oil we use, the prospect for trouble is great. The tragic part of all this, of course, is that the temporary plunge in oil prices has prompted an incurious American public to assume, once again, that the global oil predicament is some kind of a fraud. Given the flood tide of fraud they have been subject to in banking and investment matters, I suppose you can't blame them from thinking that everything is some kind of a scam. Given feeble car sales this season, there are reports that an increasing percentage of those sold now are are trucks and SUVs. Though I give Boone Pickens high marks for stepping up to the leadership plate, I'm not altogether on board with his energy proposal for swapping natural gas for gasoline in motor fuels while we swap out wind power for natural gas in electric power generation. I don't believe that the ballyhooed shale-gas-plays of the last few years will prove-out long-term, as some huckster's claim. They are expensive to drill and run, and they all tend to deplete very quickly -- around one year. I'm not convinced we have the capital or the resources even to come up with the steel necessary to drill for it. In the meantime, there are still those who hope (as described above) that various alt.energy systems will insure the continuation of our Happy Motoring habits. This is an idle hope, and 2009 will be very sobering for those who imagine that hybrid cars, or electric cars, or "air" cars, or any other kind of car technology are going to save the day. Even if President Obama mounts an "infrastructure stimulus" program, it will not keep up with all the necessary routine road repair that our highway system requires. The extreme financial hardship faced by localities and states insures that they will have to postpone a lot of expensive highway maintenance -- even if the federal government fixes a big bunch of bridges and tunnels -- and so we face the interesting prospect that our roadway systems will enter their own deadly zone of systemic failure even before the whole car issue is settled. I am waiting to see whether Mr. Obama will undertake a restoration of passenger railroad service. I've said enough about this in the past, but it's worth reiterating that a failure to get comprehensive passenger rail service going will be a sign of how fundamentally unserious we are as a nation. The Specter of Inflation This is the "other shoe" that a lot of people are waiting to drop. Right now we are caught up in a compressive debt deflation as mortgages stop "performing" and loans of all kinds are welshed on. Since money is loaned into existence, and a great many loans are not being repaid, then a lot of money is going out of existence. That's what I mean when I say that capital is leaving the system. At the same time, the Federal Reserve has made good on its promise to drop money from helicopters if necessary to prevent an implosion of the banking system (as all that older money goes out of existence), and so it's now a question as to when the amount of new money will exceed the disappeared old money. (Of course when I say money, I mean "money," because we are dealing here in a shadow realm of assumed value.) In any case, there is bound to be a lag period between the time that the Fed's money is dropped from the choppers and the time it actually filters through the banks and other recipients to the so-called "real economy" of people who buy and sell real things. The credible estimates I hear run between six and 18 months. I'll only venture to guess that we could see the start of serious inflation sometime in 2009. To some extent, all currencies are now free-falling together, some at slightly faster rates than others, but the situation of the US dollar is so grotesquely dire, and our structural imbalances so monumental, that it is hard to imagine that our currency will not win the international race to the bottom. Gold resumed its movement upward against the dollar a week before Christmas, and that may be an early sign. The government -- and anyone badly in debt -- benefits much more from inflation than deflation, so every effort will be made to avert the latter. The trouble lies in the government's dumb incapacity to control dangerous things that it sets in motion, so that an inflationary campaign to avoid compressive deflation can so easily lead to a fiasco of super or hyper inflation -- the kind that kills governments and turns societies into murderous monsters. I'll forecast the that the US dollar is worth 40 percent of its current value by next Christmas. Geopolitics Well, now, who the hell knows what's in store. Aside from a few bombs here and there, and pirates skulking around the horn of Africa, the world scene was miraculously free of major incidents in 2008 -- perhaps the worst being a toss up between the September Mumbai bombings and the fiasco in Georgia, where the US prompted Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili to send troops into the South Ossetia region and the move was answered by overwhelming force from neighboring Russia, leaving the US looking feckless and retarded for our troubles. But otherwise, there wasn't a whole lot of action out there. Until the last few days of the year, that is. I'm sure the ever-growing cohort of American anti-semites who send me emails will be tickled when I assert that the Hamas rocket attacks against Israel of recent days guaranteed a sharp response from Israel -- and now, of course, Hamas is playing the crybaby card: "... what'd we do to deserve this...?" Well, you fucking fired a bunch rockets into Israel. Did you ever hear of cause-and-effect? This matter requires no further elucidation, except that it seems to suggest a ramping back up of hostilities. I wonder if it is the beginning of a new coordinated offensive by Islamic extremism aimed at taking advantage of the West's current economic plight (and the West's probable aversion to anything that will complicate its desired recovery). We'll know in a month or so, I think, since any coordinated campaign (if such a thing were possible) might well be aimed at confounding the new American president. The other hot corner of the world right now is the India-Pakistan border where the 60-year-old rivalry, which has already produced three wars, looks to be gearing up for yet another round. I'm not the first one to say that Pakistan is an extremely dangerous regional player, being an economic basket case, possessing a score or so of nuclear bombs, harboring more Islamic fundamentalist maniacs than any other place in the world, and having a government held together with duct tape and twine. The caper in Mumbai last September could well have been construed as an act of war, but somehow India kept its head. Who knows where this is going. . . . So far I have only described what is already obviously going on. Add to this the likelihood that Iran is closer to achieving membership in the atomic weapon club. They've been spinning their centrifuges all year and nobody has done anything about it. My guess is that neither the US nor Israel will attempt to take out their facilities in the year ahead. If Iran used a nuclear device against Israel, or anybody else, they would be asking to become, in turn, the world's largest ashtray. End of story. A different story, though, is how Iran might behave if and when the US Military presence in Iraq is reduced. I can imagine Iran doing anything possible surreptitiously to gain control over Iraq's southern oil regions around Basra, but even the Iraqi Shia don't like the Iranian Shia that much. Anyway, iran's economy has suffered hugely from the fall in oil prices. That nation may be in for more internal trouble than they have seen in thirty years since the Shah was tossed out by the minions of Ayatollah Khomeini. There's been a lot of sentiment the past year that as the US and the Europe fall into economic disarray, China would emerge as the great new hegemonic superpower. While it's come a long way in a quarter-century, China's internal problems are still enormous and worsening. They're in trouble with water, food imports, mass unemployment, and energy. They have locked in some oil contracts around the world, but they are still susceptible to vagaries in the oil markets and Black Swan events. As the US consumer economy falls into a coma, and the shipping containers from China to WalMart get sparser, the Chinese government will face the wrath of millions of unemployed workers. I believe they will struggle through 2009, perhaps growing more surly as the US dollar inflates and their holdings of treasury bills begins to look more like a swindle. Russia may be suffering economically for the moment due to the crash of oil prices, but they are energy resource-rich -- at least for the next couple of decades -- and if they don't like the current price, they can keep more of their oil in the ground until the price looks more attractive. I think Mr. Putin has the confidence of the Russian people and will survive the current malaise. Japan remains a riddle wrapped in toasted nori. They're beggaring their own factory workers to stay solvent. Their banking sector has been zombified for a generation. They import 95 percent of the energy they use. Do they have a plan? One can imagine them sliding in resignation back to something like the sixteenth century, giving up the whole industrial circus as more trouble than it's worth, just as they once gave up on firearms. The over-arching geopolitical theme of 2009 will be the end of robust globalism as we've known it for some time. Reduced trade, competition for energy resources, sore feelings over debts and currencies will drive the nations inward or, at least, direct their energies toward their own regions. Note to Tom Friedman: the world turned out to be round after all. Conclusion The big theme for 2009 economically will be contraction. The end of the cheap energy era will announce itself as the end of conventional "growth" and the shrinking back of activity, wealth, and populations. Contraction will come as a great shock to a world of conventionally programmed economists. They will toil and sweat to account for it, and they will probably be wrong. Unfortunately, this contraction will do its work in unpleasant ways, driving down standards of living, shearing away hopes and expectations for a particular life of comfort, and introducing disorder to so many of the systems we have depended on for so long. People will starve, lose their homes, lose incomes and status, and lose the security of living in peaceful societies. It will become clear that the Long Emergency is underway. My hope for the year, at least for my own society, is that we will transition away from being a nation of complacent, distracted, over-fed clowns, to become a purposeful and responsible people willing to put their shoulders to the wheel to get some things done. My motto for the new year: "no more crybabies!"
SUBHEAD: Tennessee accident indicates only fundamental cultural change can end the madness.
By Jan Lundberg on 28 December 2008 in Culture Change Letter #224
Image above: Another dam breach created coal slurry spill in Martin County, TN in 2000
Notions such as "clean" solar and wind power on a massive scale for a renewable-energy panacea, and the idea that roads are a good thing, are why idiocy and tragedy continue. The doomed petroleum infrastructure is just one reason, and all are ignored by our society wearing blinders. We're the animal that errs -- the incorrectly named homo sapiens sapiens. And when we consider "clean coal" or "clean cars" homo idiotus comes to my mind (someone correct my Latin).
The Kingston power plant whose lagoon of toxic waste gave way this week, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, tell us what's wrong in the large sense in their very names, and gives us an indication of what must be abolished: "King's town" and "boss of a valley." Question authority, question "reality."
It a wrongheaded mindset that has allowed "more than one-billion gallons of waste containing potentially dangerous levels of heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium, mercury and lead, as well as radioactive elements such as uranium and thorium, impurities typically found in coal." [from Southern Exposure's Dec. 26 report, ref. below] Self-defeating reforms are the rule, not the exception: "In recent years, the technology for capturing the pollutants from stacks of coal-fired power plants has become more sophisticated, which means coal combustion waste contains even higher concentrations of toxins."
The article exposed the absurdity of mining and development, as in "developers used 1.5 million tons of coal ash to build a golf course over a shallow aquifer in Chesapeake, Va." But the conclusion of the Tennessee article was only a call for better regulation. Oh, sure. You can expect nothing from the Obama regime or the dominant culture to directly rectify or transform the problems that plague us and the whole Earth.
Even if there were 1,000 Ecovillage Training Centers (in Tennessee at The Farm), and as many Earth University's (in Chiapas on autonomous land), plunked down from on high, there's no logical argument that can herd the "sheople" to try a new approach to living, even if we could commandeer NPR, PBS, the BBC et al for a good spell. For the boss man is too strong, and there's not an open commons where the land ain't fenced or paved, so that people can gather food and erect shelters in peace and freedom.
Too many people, divided as they are -- what leader in power has ever tackled overpopulation? Doing so toppled Indira Gandhi. The Chinese have tackled it but rather too late. Only a collapse of the entire system of industry and consumption will change the playing field. Are things finally crashing down as we speak?
Being compassionate is essential. But to fight for changes on the policy level and possibly legitimize the system is in the end not compassionate if we neglect to prioritize fundamental cultural change. Meanwhile some of us on the latter track continue to develop and point to ways of sustainability. Some of us even risk getting arrested for what we believe in. May the new year make more sense to us in terms of a positive flow of consciousness. * * * * *
"'EMPTY PROMISE': The broken federal commitment behind the Tennessee coal ash disaster"by Sue Sturgis, Facing South/Southern Exposure (Institute for Southern Studies): southernstudies.org United Mountain Defense: No Such Thing As Clean Coal: unitedmountaindefense.org Ecovillage Training Center: Universidad de la Tierra:
SUBHEAD: Report on the Current State of Visitor Occupancy Numbers in Hawaii...Trouble Ahead.
image above: Honolulu in a blackout. Photo by Josh Bernard
by Brad Parsons on 27 December 2008 in Aloha Analytics http://alohaanalytics.blogspot.com/2008/12/report-on-current-state-of-visitor.html Every year during Christmas and New Year's, Hawaii usually gets a surge of visitors that bring almost all of the hotels to 100% occupancy levels. We in the visitor industry always look forward to it. Traditionally it is a fun time with lots of visitors; actually, usually too many for the facilities and infrastructure, but it usually only lasts 2 weeks, so we go with the flow and enjoy it.
Last year the Christmas and New Year's rush only lasted 1 week. That was when I knew something was up with the Mainland and Hawaii economies and shortly thereafter decided to start this blog because after those of us who noticed the visitor spending slump that began in Nov. and Dec. of 2007, there was no mention of it by neither the economists nor Lingle nor other elected officials not in December, January, nor February. It wasn't until Aloha and ATA failed in late March because of the slump that the economists and elected officials finally became aware of it. A couple of months ago traditional economists finally declared officially that the nationwide recession began in December 2007. Right now we are at just such another dramatic turn of events again, and I suspect the traditional economists, Governor, and elected officials are again not aware of it. What is it that is happening now? This year we don't even have just 1 week of 100% occupancy in all of the hotels and major accomodation properties throughout Hawaii. In particular, two days ago I surveyed some full accomodation properties on Kauai and was shocked to find that many of them are not even at 50% occupancy. The next day, yesterday, I called a friend on Maui with high level contacts inside the visitor industry, and he reported that there are many hotels there that are not at 100% when they normally would be, even though they are having their low level employees tell most inquiries that they are fully booked, but many are not. Further, the visitors that are there are noticeably on tighter budgets. Furthermore, my friend noted that there are 4 major restaurants/bars in Lahaina that based on the Fall and now this Christmas season are planning on shutting down and going out of business in the next few months. He mentioned those restaurants by name; they are major institutional names, but I will leave them anonymous for now. My point in all of this is that the visitor levels we are not having right now, that we normally would be, is a clear indication of a dramatic decline in revenue to the state now and in the months ahead. Just like last December and January, when Lingle among other things was proposing the State buy and manage a resort, I don't think Lingle and most of the Legislature have any idea of the significance of what is happening right now in the visitor industry. This doesn't even consider the effect of the nationwide $1.5 trillion Alt. A's and Option Arm's mortgage industry problems that will begin in about a month or two when the terms of those start to re-adjust. It may not be until March again that the Governor and Legislature acknowledge the significance of what is happening right now because of the fact that they rely on lagging indicators. If you thought 2008 was a shock for the Hawaii visitor industry, you ain't seen nothin' yet, 2009's gonna be a wild ride. The trick to this is to cut your expenses to the minimum and enjoy what we have here that is free,
SOURCE: Elaine Dunbar (email@example.com) SUBHEAD: People displeased Lingle’s actions on Hawaiian rights take to street armed with signs.
[Note from source: Wow! Front page opportunity on protest. Was hoping somebody would have used it as an opportunity to highlight the fact that there is a solution. Also, that Mark Bennetʻs quote/defense is one of selective omission; regarding the purported use of Hawaiian lands according to the constitution. The main emphasis is for the betterment of Native Hawaiians. But he forgot to include that part. Some lawyer who just picks out the parts he likes and leaves the rest. Too bad a legal spokesperson wasnʻt there to clear up the haze on the issue for the general public, like Kane Pa. There are HRS laws that specifically state the Hawaiians have a right to self determination without the interference of U.S. government. Need to get those laws out there...exposed in the sunshine so thereʻs no way the bats can find dark hiding places anymore. nOh well. Guess weʻll be protesting until the year 3000.]
by Michael Levine on 27 December 2008 in The Garden Island Members of the Kaua‘i Alliance for Peace and Social Justice said the protest was designed to show solidarity with a similar event taking place in front of the Capitol on O‘ahu.Protest a ‘solidarity action’ with O‘ahu rally. A group of 25 to 30 activists lined both sides of Kuhio Highway in Lihu‘e yesterday afternoon, waving Hawaiian flags and holding signs voicing their displeasure with Gov. Linda Lingle’s handling of the controversial ceded lands issue. The demonstration, organized by the Kaua‘i Alliance for Peace and Social Justice, was described by those involved as a “solidarity action” with a similar protest taking place in front of the state Capitol on O‘ahu. That rally drew about 100 people, according to an Associated Press report. At issue is the Lingle administration’s continued appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruling handed down in January that prohibited the state from selling or transferring more than a million acres of public lands that had belonged to the Hawaiian monarchy prior to the 1893 overthrow. In 1993, President Clinton signed the Hawai‘i Apology Resolution, acknowledging American wrongdoing in the overthrow. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs used that resolution as the basis for a lawsuit filed against the state in the mid-1990s seeking an injunction to prevent the selling or transfer of the ceded lands. That effort was largely fruitless until the Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruling overturned an earlier Circuit Court decision early this year. “Until January 2008, we had won the case,” Hawai‘i Attorney General Mark Bennett said in a phone interview yesterday. “We believed we had no choice but to appeal that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court because we believe the ruling is contrary to law. “In appealing, we are simply carrying forward the same position that the state has had for 14 years.” When asked to clarify that position, Bennett explained that the state owns the lands and holds them for the benefit of all of the people of Hawai‘i, a power the state was granted by the U.S. Congress when it was admitted to the union. More than 30 states have filed briefs on the state’s behalf in preparation for the hearing in front of the Supreme Court, which Bennett said is scheduled for Feb. 25, 2009. He said he expects a ruling by the end of June 2009. Yesterday’s protests were designed to “pressure the Lingle administration to back off its appeal to the Supreme Court and honor the moratorium on the sale of the lands,” according to literature distributed by the Kaua‘i Alliance for Peace and Social Justice. “Lingle uses the idea that the general public needs to benefit from this land, but as a member of the general public, I don’t want to benefit at the expense of the native Hawaiians,” said Katy Rose, one of the events organizers. “It’s important to show our support and show that we stand behind them in their efforts.” Rose said the response to the sign-holding was largely positive, with a lot of drivers-by honking and giving thumbs up and shakas. “It’s important because this land used to belong to the native Hawaiians,” said Raymond Catania, another activist. “Local people understand that we should support them on this because they’re on the bottom of society and they need our help. This is their birthright, nobody should take it away from them.” Community organizer Jimmy Trujillo agreed that the “indigenous people’s right to self-determination ... doesn’t need to be impeded by our government,” going so far as to say he believed the government should support the sovereignty movement. “It’s just an opportunity for the community to show (its) displeasure with the current administration’s decision to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the state Supreme Court decision,” Trujillo said, describing Lingle’s action “fraud” and “illegal.” “To sell stolen property is a crime in most courts, but that’s what our governor is trying to do.” The timing of the protests — President-elect Barack Obama is vacationing with his family on O‘ahu this week — could raise awareness of the issue. Rose said there was a large march planned for Jan. 17 on O‘ahu, and her group was planning a solidarity action on that date as well. “People have the right to protest and let their voices be heard,” Bennett said, “and we’re certainly listening.”
SUBHEAD: A Utah economics student outbids corporations on national lands.
By Amy Goodman on 23 December 2008 for Democracy Now! -
Image above: Bryce National Park, Utah. Photo by Ron Niebrugge
By Amy Goodman on 23 December 2008 for Democracy Now! -
Image above: Bryce National Park, Utah. Photo by Ron Niebrugge
Tim DeChristopher is an economics student at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. He had just finished his last final exam before winter break. One of the exam questions was: If the oil and gas companies are the only ones who bid on public lands, are the true costs of oil and gas exploitation reflected in the prices paid?
DeChristopher was inspired. He finished the exam, threw on his red parka and went off to the controversial Bureau of Land Management land auction that the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance called “the Bush administration’s last great gift to the oil and gas industry.” Instead of joining the protest outside, he registered as a bidder, then bought 22,000 acres of public land. That is, he successfully bid on the public properties, located near the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Dinosaur National Monument, and other pristine areas.
The price tag: more than $1.7 million. He told me:
“Once I started buying up every parcel, they understood pretty clearly what was going on ... they stopped the auction, and some federal agents came in and took me out. I guess there was a lot of chaos, and they didn’t really know how to proceed at that point.”Patrick Shea, a former BLM director, is representing DeChristopher. Shea told the Deseret News:
“What Tim did was in the best tradition of civil disobedience, he did this without causing any physical or material harm. His purpose was to draw attention to the illegitimacy and immorality of the process.”There is a long tradition of disrupting land development in Utah. In his memoir, “Desert Solitaire,” Edward Abbey, the writer and activist, wrote: “Wilderness. The word itself is music. ... We scarcely know what we mean by the term, though the sound of it draws all whose nerves and emotions have not yet been irreparably stunned, deadened, numbed by the caterwauling of commerce, the sweating scramble for profit and domination.” Abbey’s novel “The Monkey Wrench Gang” inspired a generation of environmental activists to take “direct action,” disrupting “development.”
As The Salt Lake Tribune reported on DeChristopher:
“He didn’t pour sugar into a bulldozer’s gas tank. He didn’t spike a tree or set a billboard on fire. But wielding only a bidder’s paddle, a University of Utah student just as surely monkey-wrenched a federal oil- and gas-lease sale Friday, ensuring that thousands of acres near two southern Utah national parks won’t be opened to drilling anytime soon.”Likewise, the late Utah Phillips, folk musician, activist and longtime Utah resident, often invoked the Industrial Workers of the World adage: “Direct action gets the goods.” More than just scenic beauty will be harmed by these BLM sales. Drilling impacts air and water quality.
According to High Country News,
“The BLM had not analyzed impacts on ozone levels from some 2,300 wells drilled in the area since 2004 ... nor had it predicted air impacts from the estimated 6,300 new wells approved in the plan.”ProPublica reports that the Colorado River “powers homes for 3 million people, nourishes 15 percent of the nation’s crops and provides drinking water to one in 12 Americans. Now a rush to develop domestic oil, gas and uranium deposits along the river and its tributaries threatens its future.” After being questioned by federal authorities, DeChristopher was released.
The U.S. attorney is currently weighing charges against the student. DeChristopher reflects:
“This has really been emotional and hopeful for me to see the kind of support over the last couple of days ... for all the problems that people can talk about in this country and for all the apathy and the eight years of oppression and the decades of eroding civil liberties, America is still very much the kind of place that when you stand up for what is right, you never stand alone.”His disruption of the auction has temporarily blocked the Bush-enabled land grab by the oil and gas industries.
If DeChristopher can come up with $45,000 by Dec. 29, he can make the first payment on the land, possibly avoiding any claim of fraud. If the BLM opts to re-auction the land, that can’t happen until after the Obama administration takes over.
The outcome of the sales, if they happen at all, will probably be different, thanks to the direct action of an activist, raising his voice, and his bidding paddle, in opposition.
SOURCE: Jonathan Jay (jonathan@DAkauai.com) SUBHEAD: A rally in Lihue on Friday against Lingle's plan for Hawaiian land.
Image above: Hawaiian demonstration on Maui in 1995 concerning ceded land.By Katy Rose on 23 December 2008 -
Join Kaua'i Alliance for Peace and Social Justice in a solidarity demonstration with the big rally being held at the same time in Honolulu! When: FRIDAY DECEMBER 26, 2008 3:00-5:00pm
Where: Intersection of Kuhio Hwy and Hardy St., Lihue (across from Mc Donalds) Why: Governor Lingle is pressing the US Supreme Court to overturn the moratorium on the sale of “ceded” lands. She hopes the US Supreme Court will clear the way for the State to start selling off the “ceded” lands – to big business and development interests. It is WRONG for the state to attempt to clear the way for a fire-sale of Native lands without proper resolution of the many injustices facing the Native Hawaiian people. Tell Lingle and the State of Hawai'i to withdraw the appeal and honor the moratorium on land sales until Native Hawaiians - through THEIR OWN PROCESS OF SELF-DETERMINATION – can deal properly with the question of the “ceded” lands. Bring signs! · WITHDRAW SUPREME COURT APPEAL! · PROTECT NATIVE LANDS! · UPHOLD THE MORATORIUM! · NO SALE! · SELF-DETERMINATION FOR KANAKA MAOLI! · KEEP HAWAIIAN LANDS IN HAWAIIAN HANDS! · CEDED LANDS BELONG TO THE HAWAIIAN PEOPLE!
For more information please call Jimmy at 346-7725 or Katy at 346-7011 see also:
SUBHEAD: Reprint of Christmas article in TGI from from 2007.by Juan Wilson on 16 December 2007 Revision 3.2 071214 -
[Editor's Note: This article was written last year and published in the Garden Island News as part of a bimonthly column. It is reproduced here, in case you missed it then. It will be interesting to see the historical place the Christmas of 2008 will occupy. ]
For Better or Worse The American version of the "Holiday Season" is upon us. I say for better or worse because as joyous as it can be, it is a time when many find themselves depressed and lonely. It might be in part because the hopeful expectations and cheerful decorations around us do not match the reality within. In reality it can be dark and wet and nasty out. We know we are being conned into spending too much for too little.
Why is the Holiday Season now? To begin with, it is related to the fact that the vast majority of land in this world is in the northern hemisphere. Consequently, most of people of this world find the harvest time ending in late October; the darkest time coming at the end of December; and the dead of winter occurring at the end of January. This means that the hard work of planting and tending the crops is put aside for a while. The larder is full. The days are short, the nights long. As a result, it is time to celebrate and reflect. Today most Americans were brought up as children to expect Christmas to be the culmination of everything they could possibly wish for in life. As it stands today, this is primarily expressed through shopping our brains out. What many do, without much thought about it, is celebrate the holiday by satisfying greed and gluttony. Is this really happiness?
Image above: 1931 Coke ad extolling the virtues of a "Pause that Refreshes!" Got 'nuff corn syrup? Pagan Rituals Many ancient pre-Christian cultures measured the year by the key positions of the sun through the year. The seasons of the year were defined (and still are) by the motions of the sun in the sky. The Summer and Winter Solstice (June 21 and Dec 22) mark the beginning of those seasons and are the longest and shortest days of the year. The Spring and Autumn Equinox (Mar 21 and Sep 22) identify the start of those seasons and are the only days where the day and night are of equal length. These dates are the Quarters of the year. Over thousands of years these times of the year have been celebrated by billions of (mostly pagan) people . In Christianity the two most holy holidays, Easter and Christmas, were designed to fall at the pagan celebrations of the Spring Equinox and Winter Solstice. These ancient celebrations co-opted by Christians focused on rebirth of the earth (Easter) and the return of the light (Christmas). It was no accident that Christian leaders chose the Winter Solstice as the time of Christ's birth. It had long been the most celebrated holiday of the year by the dominant Roman culture of the first millennium. The Romans invented using an evergreen tree as the centerpiece of their pagan ritual. Another pagan custom was to mark the Cross Quarter days. They were the midpoint of each season. In a way, the Cross Quarter days were the epitome, or height of each season. They turn out to be the beginning of February, May, August and November. The two most widely celebrated today are May Day and Halloween. These celebrations focused on youth and life (May Day) and age and death (Halloween). American Holiday Season As anybody knows who has entered a Walmart in October, the "Christmas" season has been drawn out and connected to Halloween. Christmas stock and decorations are going into the stores while candycorn and witch's hats are still on the shelves. Like a giant wave, the American Holiday Season is now a two month shopping extravaganza that only begins to peak the day after Thanksgiving and crests just about now in mid December. For the US retail economy it represents about 40% of the year's take. For many businesses it can be the difference between a good year and bankruptcy. It has become a ceremonial dance between consumers and corporations. It is hoped by the corporations that the consumers spend beyond their limits to celebrate the season; which only ends with the last of the returned items being exchanged and the first credit card bills coming due in February - The Cross Quarter Day of Debt. The Christians may have co-opted Christmas from the Romans, but the corporations have co-opted the "Holiday Season" from Christmas. Christmas has been secularized. The symbols today are the Tree, Santa, the Elves, Rudolf, Frosty and lately the Grinch Who Stole Xmas. These are largely symbols of the production, delivery, display and distribution of gifts. Gone from a central role are the Eastern Star, the Manger, Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, the Three Wise Men, and the barn animals. I do not consider myself religious or a Christian. For me the loss of those Christian symbols from the public square (or today the mall), is not as important as the loss of the spiritual celebration of "The return of the light". That is the real point of it all. It is what gives us hope at the darkest hour of the year. No wonder some shoppers get depressed. Today, the American Holiday Season begins with preparations for Halloween and goes on through Thanksgiving, peaks at Christmas and ends with a blowout party on New Year's Eve. The hangover soon follows. Besides the hype and consumer aspects, the spiritual dimensions are real and cut across many cultures. Christians, as well as Jews, Moslems and others, see the period between the end of the harvest and the harshness of winter as a time of bounty, thankfulness, peace, celebration, reflection, and spiritual rebirth. This is a spontaneous human response to the natural world. But what about the natural holiday season here in Hawaii? Image above: R.J. Reynolds ad from 1951 for Camel cigarettes - a gift with no wrapping required. The Season of Makahiki From a few sources I have read that the Polynesian season of "Makahiki" is made of two Hawaiian words. The word maka, "eye," refers to the constellation of the Pleiades (or Seven Sisters), hiki is a sign of movement. Makahiki, translated, refers to the rising of the Pleiades constellation in the eastern sky in mid November at sunset. That moment was the Hawaiian New Year. Importantly, it signaled the return of rain, the future growth of plants and the spawning of fish. Makahiki season was the most important holiday of the year. It is the traditional Hawaiian celebration of the harvest. A time of personal rest and spiritual and cultural renewal. In part, Makahiki is a form of the harvest festivals common to many cultures throughout the world. It is similar in timing and purpose to Thanksgiving, Octoberfest and similar celebrations. As the year's harvest was gathered, tribute in the form of goods and produce were given to the chiefs from November through December. During Makahiki, Lono, the god of agriculture and fertility, was honored to ensure peace and productivity. Lono is associated with all aspects of Hawaii's winter season. He reestablishes the vitality of the land and nourishes the gardens of the people. I speculate that Lono was a historical character who was able to navigate at least two trips to the Hawaiian islands from Tahiti, bringing more useful plants to the island. Makahiki was a time of festive events, all wars and battles ceased (Peace on Earth) , sporting competitions and contests between villages were organized (Superbowl?). Several of the rigid kapu (taboos) were eased or temporarily set aside for the celebrations. It was a time of rest and renewal in preparation for the next growing season. The celebration of the mystical Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, was the peak of the Makahiki Festivities. The return of a messiah-like Lono was anticipated by the Hawaiians. Various rites of purification and celebration in December and January closed the observance of the Makahiki season. The H.M.S. Endeavor landed at Waimea, Kauai, on 20 January 1778 at the end of Makahiki. It is no wonder that the Hawaiians embraced the Cook as their Lono, finally returned to them, a sad coincidence for the Kanaka Maoli. I expect that in future years, as we pass Peak Oil production, American Consumerism will fade as the central issue of our lives. Those of us living on Kauai will have simpler lives, growing our own food, and providing more of the basic necessities for ourselves. Then we will share a deeper connection with nature and the seasons as we pass through the year. They will be more important in our spiritual lives. Once again the natural meaning of the cycle of life will be the issue. This season near the Winter Solstice will have the poignancy that our mortal souls demand image above:Two dozen Santas go for a ride at Busch Gardens on the SheiKra rollercoaster.
SUBHEAD: Celebrating the Longest Night.The other night, on the 21st, we marked the Winter Solstice. We went to Puolo Point at Salt Pond Beach for sunset. The day was about as wintry as Hawaii gets: it was windy, cloudy, and cool enough to wear long pants and a sweater.
by Linda Pascatore 23 December 2008 -
Image above: view east from Puolo Point, Kauai. Photo by Juan Wilson.
We had some trouble getting out to the point. The road makai of the airport was blocked with quite an expanse of seasonal ponding created by the recent rainfall, and high surf had cut a temporary river inland, which blocked access to the beach. The landscape changes highlight the delicate balance of our life here on this island, which was created by a volcano and is now slowly crumbling into the ocean beneath our feet. So, confronted by fairly deep water in our path, we put our old truck into four wheel drive and gunned it through the sand on a side road to the beach. The risk of getting stuck in the sand highlighted the Solstice theme of the trip; making it through the dark times and back to the light. We made a fire, and settled down to watch the sunset. We were treated to a beautiful experience there. There was a couple perched on the exposed reef, silhouetted against the sunset. The woman was playing flute and dancing. The man accompanied her with his guitar. We could hear the music from where we sat, and we gratefully accepted this Solstice Blessing. The sun set behind a cloud bank which shrouded Niihau. We enjoyed the heat of our fire, and the muted twilight colors. Then the stars began to appear in the night sky. Venus and Jupiter shone very brightly to the west. We were awed and inspired by the vastness of this universe we inhabit. We remembered and honored the Polynesian Navigators who followed the stars to find these islands. It was a great place to welcome the Winter Solstice. Coming originally from Western New York (think Buffalo, but more rural and snowy), at first I didn’t think we really had seasons in Hawaii. However, I am now more attuned to the subtleties of the changing seasons here; changing surf and wind directions, rains, humidity, and cooler temperatures of winter. It is the season for celebrations and gift giving with family and friends across many cultures: Christian Christmas, Jewish Hanukah, African-American Kwanzaa, Hawaiian Makahiki. They are all probably based on Winter Solstice, a significant event in the solar cycle. Solstice is the shortest day and longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, and is the turning point of the year, the Return of the Light, a Turn of the Wheel. After this, the days will grow longer and we will have more sunlight and warmth. Many cultures also designate the New Year around this time, a season of dark moving into light, the death and rebirth of the year. The turn of the year is a time for taking stock of ones life. The cool, dark, rainy days spent indoors lend themselves to introspection. We acknowledge our accomplishments, and set new goals and resolutions for the coming year. My resolution is to learn to move in harmony with nature, becoming more kama'aina, or “of the land”, and living more sustainably here on this precious island. May you reflect in peace on the passing year, and move with hope to the coming one.
On the Longest Night
Stars shine bright with renewal
Guiding our journey
SUBHEAD: Developing replacement and transition communities.
by Chuck Burr on 15 December 2008 in Culture Change - http://culturechange.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=263&Itemid=1
During the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago, a minority of people invented a way to give themselves power over the majority. We call this invention “civilization.” For the first time large surpluses of food could be created, counted, and concentrated. Before that we had limited forms of agriculture and animal husbandry. But this time it was different. Instead of supplementing the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, agriculture competed against all of nature in a novel form called “totalitarian agriculture.” Instead of working with the native polycultures, the inventors of our culture found they could create great surpluses if they replaced natural landscapes with human food. This also allowed for the first time denial of food to other species and even wholesale destruction of species that competed for our food.
Image above: hunter Kalina with woman gatherer - by Pierre Barrere in 1743 There is only one catch. You have to work about twice as hard to earn a living under agriculture as you do living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. You literally have to whip people to live an agricultural lifestyle. So, how do you get people to give up their life of leisure? You lock up the food. This was the first means of control of the majority by a minority. The eventual closure of the commons and privatizing of the land gave whoever controls the land an iron clad control over the majority -- if you don’t work, you do not eat. It is that simple. The Fall of man was caused by private property. Self-love arose when man started to quarrel over the earth -- he would shut all others out. Control of the land also means control of water, timber, fiber, minerals, and energy. It has worked very well. In England .28 percent of the population owns 64 percent of the land. In the United States the top one percent of the population now owns more than the bottom 95 percent. A code of rules was needed to enforce privatization of the commons. We call these rules laws. This ensured that society as a whole would enforce this system of privatization. With the control of natural resources, came the need of an interchangeable system of wealth -- money was born. First we had commodity- and precious metals-backed money, then we had paper money, and now with our global financial markets and computers we have valueless virtual money. This has led to the speculative financial bubble that is now bursting. There is now three times as much money in the world as the total value of all goods and services. It has become not the control of money that yields the real power but the control of the “flow” of money. Money has become the oxygen of our economy that is now the life support system of humanity. This financial system is the lungs of the economy. Whoever, controls the lungs controls the world. It is not the money, it’s the flow of the money that counts. This is why Wall Street got a $700 billion bailout and the auto industry got only a $15 billion bailout. Those in true power have set up private central banks in every major country. The U.S. Federal Reserve is not a government agency; it is a private bank with confidential owners. Religion has also been a big factor is maintaining hierarchical control. Jesus said “choose,” Mohammed said “submit,” and Moses had the “ten commandments.” God and heaven were invented to rationalize the daily drudgery of our lives. Before modern salvationist religions, all people shared one belief, animism. They just respected the fire of life in all living things. This was a spirituality that has no book, is not a religion, and is not even capitalized. Power can also come in small amounts. Those who have significant power over you and your family include the boss at work, teachers, admission officers, utilities, credit card companies, airlines, politicians, healthcare providers, the media, the church, and the landlord or condo association. How do we get out? Who wants to work all day building pyramids for someone else with no guarantee that you will not lose your job tomorrow or your retirement in the future? First, I am beginning to believe that we cannot actually change our culture -- its not salvageable. One of the stories we live by is that “civilization must continue.” Nothing lasts forever, and now at our current overpopulation level it is becoming apparent that our culture is actually destroying our true life support system. Our culture has made humanity a species of uncontrolled growth. It has also made us not only cancerous to our home, while the financial system has made us parasitic. We are now financially consuming our own young with the deficits we are creating today. Our children will have to pay our debts when we are gone tomorrow. It is humanity’s nature to live in harmony with our home. Every cell in our body knows this. That is why we find no peace no matter how wealthy we become. We have lived in harmony with the earth for three or four million years. It is only in the last 10,000 years that our culture has made humanity toxic to its host. The answer is new cultures; not one new culture, but many variations. The only way to get there is to become the change we want to see. We have to find communities of like-minded people that can give us the alternatives we seek. For example, a suburban automobile-based lifestyle offers little of the alternatives that a pedestrian permaculture community can. But we have to do much more than become more interdependently independent. We have to give up power. We have to give up control of anything that can be concentrated including food, land, housing, water, timber, and money. We also have to give up systems that enable a minority to control the majority. Democracy is a system of tyranny of the majority to placate the masses. It makes us feel as though we get to be in charge of our destiny a little bit. This could not be further from the truth, since our system of governance from the local to the national level grants a handful of people control of everything from spending, laws, and even going to war. We are never asked on a ballot to decide how much of our taxes goes to each department. Our rulers are afraid we will eliminate the military -- the most profitable part of the military industrial complex. We give that power away to a handful people that often vote for what they believe is right and not want the voters want. Congress got telephone calls at about 100 to 1 opposing the $700 billion financial bailout, but they voted for it anyway because the believe they know what is best. Congress members were also threatened with martial law if the bailout was not immediately authorized. When it comes time to vote, those who make it on the ballot give us relatively little choice -- they are still defenders of our culture, Democrat or Republican. Our system of governance is an iron-clad system to control the population from sea to shining sea. Modern nation states are concentrators and protectors of wealth and power. One of the problems of our culture is its scale. Do we really need a transnational company to flip hamburgers? Do we really need a country a third the size of North America? Everything on a giant scale from corporations to governments are now being rendered failures as we begin to enter the grip of peak oil. Why not let regional communities decide if they want to be part of the larger nation state or not? Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia describes how northern California, Oregon, and Washington succeed from the union to create a steady-state society. I believe one of the first ways to reduce power is to reduce scale. The system of social organization that is evolutionarily proven to work for humanity for millions of years is not the global corporation, nor the nation state: it is the tribe. Our culture has had 10,000 years to create a just and sustainable society but has failed completely. Here are some of the steps I envision. Make decisions in your community by consensus -- no town councils. Working committees should report to the tribal community as a whole. End private property -- put your land in a land trust for the benefit of the community. Work towards eventually replacing government, industry, and private ownership of the commons with local community ownership. Why should your local ecosystem be clear cut to benefit a few wealthy individuals thousands of miles away? Shouldn’t the local community decide how local resources are sustainably used and who benefits from their use? However, even in small scale, there will be individuals who desire to put themselves in positions of power. We all know these people. Again we must use consensus decision making on a local scale. Early North American native tribal leaders were largely ceremonial positions. Colonist governments were frustrated because there was no one person “in charge” with whom to make treaties. Many tribal councils or governments were inventions of the white man to take away power from tribal consensus and give it to a few that could be dealt with. Native American tribes that still operate by consensus have the greatest control over their resources today. So why end the nation state and global power? Don’t they get things done? Well, that may precisely be the point, they get things we don’t want done. Progress is another word for destruction of nature -- our only life support system. Based on my experience working in congress and the Executive Office of the President, and inside industry from fortune 500 companies down to small entrepreneurial companies, participation in local government, and nonprofit work, I would estimate that at least half of every dollar spent is wasted and or concentrated. That means that half of your entire work week is spent on wasted effort. That is why I believe we should replace large scale systems with local interdependent tribal scale communities. Don't walk away from our culture, walk toward something better. Maybe there is a blend for those who must be fed by our corporations and those who see that as a false culture and want our own cultures. I want to emphasize that I am not advocating the overnight tear down of our civilization without first developing a replacement and transition communities. Follow a permaculture principle and be ready to replace a weed before you pull it. Also, hierarchies have great defenses from attack from below, however, they have none for abandonment. I have suggested in the past that all remaining native cultures should be protected, expanded, and studied as our greatest world heritage treasures. Study in our schools what is truly sustainable about tribal communities instead of studying dead presidents. The important part again is not how tribes live but what makes these communities evolutionarily sustainable. The solutions to most of our problems lie where there is no concentration of power. We have to let power fade in all of its forms. * * * * * Visit www.culturequake.org to learn more about the Culturequake book and the online Magazine. = Further Reading: Daniel Quinn , The Story of B Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics Toby Hemenway , Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia Consensus www.consensus.net A Manual for Group Facilitators Land Trusts www.cltnetwork.org www.osalt.org State of Jefferson www.jeffersonstate.com