Rethinking the Rust Belt

SUBHEAD: From Detroit to Bufallo - from Peoria to Pittsburgh, there is a possibility of renaissance.

By John Michael Greer on 06 May 2009 in The Archdruid Report -
Image above: Old industrial city. These may be the green industry hubs of the future. See article. From (

One of the least useful habits of thought fostered by the modern mythology of progress, it seems to me, is the notion that historical change can only move in one direction – the direction in which it seems to be going at the present. Those of us who suggest that today’s industrial societies are headed for a process of decline and fall, not that different from the ones that ended civilizations of the past, run up against this insistence constantly. The truism that time only goes one way gets distorted into the claim that since the last three hundred years have seen a great deal of expansion and technical development, the future must follow the same trajectory.
A hundred years ago, exactly that same logic was applied by people who insisted that war between civilized nations was a thing of the past. Wars between the nations of Europe had, in fact, become steadily less frequent over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, and a great many Europeans managed to convince themselves that this process could only continue in the 20th, leading to universal peace. As you may have noticed, they were quite mistaken – a detail that has not prevented the same logic from being deployed with equal enthusiasm more recently.
Consider the chorus of derision that rose up a couple of years ago when James Kunstler, in his book The Long Emergency, warned that piracy would likely revive around the Pacific rim as the industrial age comes to its end. I don’t recall a single reviewer of the book who took that prediction seriously, and a great many of Kunstler’s critics lept on it with gleeful cries – though one should note that these cries became curiously muted once the recent spate of pirate raids off the coast of Somalia hit the news.

 Of course Kunstler is quite correct; piracy was already a serious problem in several parts of the world when he wrote, it has become worse since then, and once fuel shortages begin to limit the reach of modern navies and economic crises add to the roster of failed states, it may become a serious factor affecting the future of maritime trade. Only the delusion that piracy belongs to the past, and therefore can’t be part of the future, keeps this ugly reality from being recognized.
It’s impossible to make sense of the present, much less the future, from within the tunnel vision of a view of history that sees the world moving through some fixed sequence of development. When pundits say that contemporary hunter-gatherers are “still in the Stone Age,” or that members of some nonindustrial societies are “living in the Middle Ages,” while only the world’s industrial cultures have “entered the 21st century,” they are talking nonsense. It’s a very popular kind of nonsense; people in the industrial world love to think of themselves as the top rung of history’s ladder, with every other culture as a now-outmoded stage in the ascent to ranch houses and SUVs; but it’s still nonsense.
Biologists studying the evolution of life forms have gradually been forced to discard the notion that evolution has a fixed agenda, and have realized instead that the interplay of genetic diversity and natural selection can move in any direction – simplifying here, adding complexity there, leading one species into a highly specialized niche while another becomes a generalist capable of moving between many ecological roles.

Notions that the biosphere as a whole has moved toward greater complexity over Earth’s long history – very nearly the last holdout of the old fantasy of linear evolution – have had to be discarded, because the evidence simply won’t support them; the last fifteen million years, for example, have seen a steady loss of complexity across the Earth’s biosphere as the planetary climate cooled in the run-up to the most recent round of ice ages, and the rich ecosystems of the Mesozoic, the age of dinosaurs, were far more complex than most of those that have succeeded them.
It’s long past time to apply the same thinking to history, and recognize that forcing human societies onto a linear model of progress serves the purposes of ideology rather than clear thinking. Human societies, like biological species, adapt to make the most of their environments with the inherited resources they have to hand. Sometimes those adaptations move in the direction of greater complexity and some form of technological development, while in other cases they move toward greater simplicity and shed technologies that are no longer useful. Those societies with a long cultural memory can even cycle back and forth between simpler and more complex levels of organization and technology – the long history of imperial China offers an excellent example of just this process at work.
The rise and approaching fall of the industrial age, it may be worth suggesting, may turn into the same process on steroids. In ecological terms, the torrent of fossil fuel energy that created the modern world can be seen as a massive disruption to established patterns of human social ecology. Those patterns stretched like silly putty, or broke apart entirely and were replaced, as a new economy of abundance evolved and expanded. That economy, however, was ultimately a product of ever-expanding supplies of fossil fuels, and once production bumped against the hard ceiling of geological limits, it began to break apart. The economic convulsions of the last few decades mark the crest of the wave, and the beginning of its long retreat.
As that retreat proceeds, the more complex and resource-intensive technologies and social habits of recent years will likely be among the early casualties, and some of the less complex and resource-intensive technologies and social habits of the recent past may well get fished out of the trash heap and pressed back into service, because they are better suited to the new environment of resource constraints than their more extravagant replacements. This will have sweeping impacts on the new economies that take shape in the wake of the current Great Recession, paralleling the impacts the original shifts had in their time – but in the other direction. Any number of examples could be named, but the ones I want to discuss now are geographical.
The economic and human geography of North America during the 20th century went through sweeping changes with results that are still echoing around us today. Technology played some role in driving those changes, but another factor was at least as powerful: the transformation of the United States from a manufacturing economy, producing goods and services at home, to a tribute economy propped up by the labor and resources of client states overseas. (This is what actually underlies the recent rhetoric about “globalization;” there was similar talk during the heyday of the British Empire, too.) Since most of the real wealth circulating in the American economy of the late 20th century came from overseas, the seaports of the east and west coasts came to dominate the economy, while the old economic heartland of the Midwest turned into a “Rust Belt” of half-empty cities and crumbling smokestacks.
The idea that these same cities might be on the brink of economic revival may seem about as likely as, say, a revival of piracy did to Kunstler’s critics a few years ago. Those who believe in the continuation of business as usual are unlikely to be able to imagine Pittsburgh or Peoria at the crest of the future’s wave; those who believe in the equally improbable scenario of overnight collapse into a dark age or worse can’t imagine an economic revival at all.

Still, all history is ultimately local; it’s easy to say, for example, that “Rome’s economy declined in the last two centuries of the Empire,” and as a generalization this is true, but it masks a huge amount of temporal and regional variation, including periods and regions in which the economic climate improved noticeably.
Thus the possibility of a Rust Belt renaissance in the coming decades should not be dismissed out of hand. America’s overseas empire is already coming apart at the seams, as the costs of maintaining it overtake its economic benefits – the common fate of empires throughout history – and rival powers turn our imperial overreach to their advantage. In the foreseeable future, the United States will again have to produce most of the goods and services it uses at home – and as that happens, the regions most likely to profit by it are those inland areas whose central position gives them easier access to markets nationwide, and whose access to the old arteries of waterborne transport will make them much more viable as centers of production and distribution in future where energy will be in short supply.
More generally, the best resource for thinking about the economic map of 2050, say, may just be an economic map of 1880. When railroads and waterways once again become the primary means of transport, the places that were major economic hubs will likely become major hubs again, because they will make the same economic sense in the future that they did when railroads and waterways were last in vogue.

The economic map of 2100, in turn, may have more in common with that of 1830 or thereabouts, since continuing depletion of remaining fossil fuel supplies will likely have made railroads uneconomical for most uses, leaving waterborne transport the only cost-effective alternative to local production. Add in the impact of population contraction driven by economic decline and failing public health – essentially the same mix that’s driving a similar contraction in the former Soviet Union – and the parallels may be even more exact.
This way of looking at the future has any number of potential implications, not least for those who hope to weather the current round of economic contraction and social turmoil with some level of grace. My guess is that both these factors will be concentrated in the coastal regions, as the wealth flows generated by the declining import economy give way to economic stagnation and contraction, and in regions such as the Southwest where political borders are increasingly out of step with demographic reality. Isolated regions throughout the West, already marginal at best, are likely to slip into permanent poverty as the tourist economy breaks down and climate shifts already under way make crippling droughts more common.

On the other hand, agricultural regions outside the drought belt will likely thrive as the price of food rises, and the old Rust Belt cities – many of which shed half or more of their population over the last fifty years, relieving the population pressure and many of the social problems that made headlines not too many decades ago – may weather the current wave of crises tolerably well.

There will be other waves of crisis further down the road; history reminds us that the downside of a civilization’s history is a very uneven process, and it’s anyone’s guess which areas will be favored by the patterns of change that take shape later in the course of the decline. Suggesting a renaissance in the Rust Belt and the agricultural Midwest also flies in the face of a great many contemporary assumptions, driven as they are by the intellectual fashions of a mostly coastal intelligentsia used to dismissing the inland reaches of this continent as “flyover states.”

Still, history seems to take a perverse delight in overturning such assumptions, and those who can get outside the delusion that historical change is a one-way street may find unexpected possibilities opening up before them. .


Auto makers' bankruptcy

SUBHEAD: Pulling the plug on America's automobile industry.
By Tom Whipple on 06 May 2009 in Falls Church News-Press A few years back peak oil all seemed so simple. Worldwide oil production was going to stop growing; shortages were going to develop; prices would go higher and higher; demand would drop; prices would fall; demand would increase; and the cycle would repeat itself. Each repetition would send prices higher than the one before as more and more people would be forced out of the oil age. Last summer, it looked as if this scenario were happening. Oil prices, which had been rising slowly for several years, suddenly shot up to $147 a barrel causing all sorts of economic havoc. Weak airlines dropped like flies! New car sales plummeted! Politicians postured! The Saudis opened the oil tap a bit! Exactly why this price spike was happening became a matter of national debate. Many thought it was caused by speculators. Others blamed environmentalists for keeping us from all that oil waiting to be drilled just off our beaches. A few even thought that demand for oil was actually getting ahead of supply and noted the surge of Chinese imports in preparation for the Olympics. We are going to have to let the historians sort out the causes of the great spike, for oil prices soon dropped even faster than they had gone up. Just as oil prices were spiking, economic activity was dropping. A year ago we were debating the possibility of an economic downturn. Now we are looking for the bottom of a major recession or perhaps something worse. It seems that for the last 30 or 40 years we have been extending ourselves ever increasing amounts of credit. It had to stop somewhere-and it did - just as world oil production was peaking. The economic waters have become so muddled with bursting bubbles, lost jobs, closing factories and failing banks that it is difficult to see clearly, much less attribute blame for the increasing ills befalling us. Many believe our current problems are from too liberal an extension of credit and can be cured with a firm dose of regulation. Others, wondering why an American mortgage crisis could spread so rapidly to every corner of the globe, are saying high energy prices deserve more of the blame. Again, we shall have to wait for the historians to sort this out some decades from now. The crisis du jour, however, is America's automobile industry. With new car sales now approaching only half of what they were a few years ago, the manufacturers are surviving on billions in federal aid. The Obama administration, realizing that the people and the Congress are unlikely to tolerate a permanent multi-billion dollar monthly dole to Detroit, is in the midst of pulling the plug. Last week Chrysler went into bankruptcy and unless GM can reorganize itself satisfactorily before the end of the month, seems likely to follow Chrysler. While government and industry officials talk optimistically of quick 30 to 60 day bankruptcies that will cleanse the companies of unprofitable factories and liabilities accumulated over the decades, others are not so sure. Chrysler is asking the judge to let it set up a new company to be called of all things "Chrysler" and to let the new company pick just which assets and liabilities from the old Chrysler that will return it to profitability in a few years. The rest of the factories would be sold off, or more likely scrapped, and much of the old Chrysler's debts and obligations would become close to worthless. The only liabilities that the new company must have would be car warranties without which the new Chrysler would be instant toast. Needless to say, those secured lenders that are not under the thumb of the U.S. Treasury's TARP program are screaming bloody murder about their billions in secured loans becoming worthless. There have already been death threats, and lenders have asked the bankruptcy judge to scrap the proposed deal, but he seems likely to approve it anyway. It would all make grand theater if there weren't so much at stake. There are a number of issues that should be clearer in the next few months. Can car firms in bankruptcy continue to sell enough cars to survive? Can the matter be settled quickly enough to keep Chrysler, which is currently in suspension, from simply melting away? Can FIAT, which is also flat broke and is being given the company to run, really return it to profitability in a reasonable amount of time? What are the implications for GM which is only three weeks away from an out of court settlement or bankruptcy? Chrysler, the rest of the U.S. automobile industry, and in fact much of the U.S. economy could be in a lot of trouble. Should Chrysler's sales fall further in May or its bankruptcy bog down in protracted litigation, the company, the FIAT deal and hundreds of thousands of jobs are likely to disappear, setting off a chain reaction within the industry. The Chrysler melodrama will be replayed on a larger scale at the end of the month when GM faces its own deadline. With the federal government no longer willing to provide billions in monthly subsidies, and car sales too low to support the industry, it seems doubtful that letting FIAT run Chrysler, or cutting model lines and closing a few factories at GM can solve much of anything. Despite optimism in the equity markets, those taking a hard look at the economy say that housing prices are likely to continue falling, foreclosures likely to continue increasing, and unemployment likely to continue rising for an indefinite period. In this environment the outlook for sufficient new car sales to support the size automobile industry currently envisioned is doubtful. This month's bankruptcies/reorganizations are unlikely to settle the matter.

Waste system hearing tonight

SUBHEAD: It's time to be heard on Kaua`i’s waste system.
By Andrea Brower and Keone Kealoha on 5 May 2009 in Save Kauai - Image above: Kauai Council meeting room in the Old County Building. Photo by Juan Wilson. IMPORTANT BUDGET HEARING, WEDNESDAY Start: May 6 2009 - 5:00pm End: May 6 2009 - 8:00pm Council Room Old County Building Rice Street, Lihue, Kauai Aloha Councilmember, Perhaps the most critical decisions facing county government right now have to do with Kaua`i’s waste system. These decisions will effect agriculture, our economy, and the `aina, and will undoubtedly impact many generations to come. Malama Kaua`i opposes any current spending related to Waste to Energy (WTE), and believes that the fast-tracked siting, design, and construction of a Materials Recovery Facility should be a top funding priority. The $385,000 line item related to studying “Waste Reduction” facility ownership options should instead be invested in the infrastructure necessary for a maximum diversion approach, as recommended in the Integrated Solid Waste Management (ISWM) Plan Update. How can we know if it is appropriate to invest in WTE until we have invested in maximum diversion? A “Max 3R” (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) approach is more favorable than WTE for many reasons, including: • The capital and operations cost of WTE are much higher than a 3R approach. Hawai`i Island already discovered that WTE is financially impractical – lets learn from them. • WTE offers a small fraction of the jobs that a 3R solution does, and most of the money goes off-island to the developer of the facility. • The county will be required to deliver a minimum tonnage of refuse to the incinerator, or pay the difference - this will discourage maximum diversion and use of our resources. • Our current waste stream is full of resources that are becoming even more valuable as global virgin material sources decline and the price of imports and oil rise. • There are significant environmental concerns with WTE, especially having to do with environmental justice and siting the facility. At the recent Kaua`i Agricultural Forum, the first priority that was identified in the sector Waste and Resource Stream was “compost all organic waste”. Most of you are probably familiar with the fact that Kaua`i’s agricultural industry is highly dependent on imported inputs, and that our volcanic soils are in need of remediation. We must begin to utilize “green waste” by funding programs and infrastructure that enable use of our on-island, valuable resources. WTE will discourage the use of these essential resources. Cutting the funding for the Recycling Coordinator position, the Household Hazardous Waste and Electronics collections programs, and the Backyard Composting effort are all contrary to the ISWM Plan and the favorable Max 3R approach. Lastly, the proposed curbside recycling pilot project will not be successful without a Material Recovery Facility and a Recycling Coordinator. We support Zero Waste Kaua`i’s statement that this pilot project is premature, and we should instead use the allotted equipment and staff to implement curbside greenwaste collection, as we already have the processing capacity on-island. We have an opportunity to develop lasting green jobs, to invest in infrastructure that will enable us to harvest valuable resources, to develop local products and micro-industries from these resources, to support agriculture, and to do what is pono for the `aina. If you have any questions, or are interested in additional data and information, please do not hesitate to contact us. Mahalo,
Andrea Brower and Keone Kealoha

Moloaa Water Not For Sale

SUBHEAD: Ka Loko Reservoir disaster continues to do damage to Moloa`a.  

By Tim and Hope Kallai on 5 May 2009 in Island Breath -

Image above: View of Moloa`a Bay and the valley beyond. From GoogleEarth.

On Wednesday, May 6th at 7:15 pm, there will be a Round Table discussion of the Kilauea Irrigation Company water delivery system from Ka Loko Reservoir to about 20 residents of Kilauea Farms subdivision, highlighting a report recently prepared by the County of Kauai Office of Economic Development,


available at It discusses the inflow to Ka Loko reservoir as now coming from Pu`u Ka Ele stream (via the Ka Loko ditch) and the un-permitted Moloa`a ditch. According to the county report, sometime in the past decade, a new ditch system was constructed beginning on Mary Lucas Estate land, and continuing about a half mile on Moloa`a Forest Reserve, state land.

During the Kilauea Sugar plantation era, the Moloa`a ditch system delivered an “inconsequential amount of water” and fell into disrepair from non-use. Mysteriously, a new ditch system appeared – about the same time as the spillway at Ka Loko disappeared and the raising of the elevation of the dam face. Kalua`a is a perennial stream tributary that starts from a soggy seep on state forest land, flows into Moloa`a stream and is the main water source for Moloa`a stream.

Mysteriously, someone poured a new cement ditch system diverting Kalua`a water from Moloa`a stream into Ka Loko Reservoir and into a pipe system servicing Mary Lucas Trust lands and Pila`a. This extra water inflow allowed the impoundment of hundreds of millions of gallons of extra water in the increased-capacity Ka Loko reservoir (altered by removal of spillway and elevation of dam) beyond the intended storage capacity of the reservoir.

At least until March 14, 2006. Our ahupua`a based group of neighbors, Malama Moloa`a, formed about a decade ago around a common cause – the de-watering of the streams from Anahola to Kilauea. About the same time, late 1990’s, Moloa`a stream began changing.

There were no flushing flows – high precipitation events didn’t cause the stream to rise as it used to. Sometimes, Moloa`a stream rose when there was no precipitation. A few times the stream ran really dirty – brown water and grey water (looking like cleaning up after a cement pour). Early 2000’s Moloa`a stream had a sand berm at the mouth that didn’t clear for 3 years, blocking the migration of o`opu.

Malama Moloa`a wrote many letters with maps and photos where we thought the diversion was, but Mayor Kusaka wouldn’t honor anonymous photos submitted to our group from the public. DLNR’s Commission of Water Resources Management (CWRM) sent a representative to investigate but they were escorted by a representative of a land owner who did not show them the new diversion from Kalua`a into the re-aligned historic Moloa`a ditch and into Ka Loko reservoir or the Mary Lucas/Pila`a pipeline. Alterations to state land in the Moloa`a Forest Reserve by James Pflueger were revealed in the EPA Consent decree settlement, in very close proximity to the newly-created ditch system, and the unpermitted grading and grubbing remediated.

Yet no agency present noticed the disappearance of the spillway or the increased flow into Ka Loko from a new, unpermitted stream diversion from Kalua`a/Moloa`a. On Feb. 21, 2006, Moloa`a Stream experienced a destructive flood that took out the Old Government Road bridge in lower Moloa`a. Due to the volume of water and how long the flood lasted, we thought that Ka Loko had blown. We were told by county representatives “Ka Loko’s not full; it’s still holding.

Don’t worry, if it blows, it will take out Kilauea side.” Three weeks later it did – killing 8 people. We believe what actually happened was the diversion experienced a log jam and Moloa`a regained it’s stolen water. Since the failure of the alterations to the historic dam, Ka Loko has had some high tech additions of monitoring equipment. Pu`u Ka Ele stream delivers water via the Ka Loko ditch into the reservoir but is “insufficient to meet the water needs of 20 farmers and Mary Lucas Trust”.

An unknown amount of water is being delivered by the newly constructed, unpermitted Kalua`a/Moloa`a ditch system into the reservoir. There still is no spillway or way to remove water during high flow/emergency situations. Kalua`a Stream, the major source for Moloa`a Stream waters, is being heavily diverted from the Moloa`a ahupua`a. Moloa`a is one of the few areas of Kauai not serviced by county water; there are NO residential hookups.

Most residences have water wells. Since the removal of the only perennial tributary from our stream system, Kalua`a, Moloa`a Steam has gone completely dry in the lower reaches during the summers of 2007 and 2008. The ground water aquifer has dropped. Wells have gone dry. Pumps have been lowered and residents are rationing water during the summer. Many houses have been built within the past decade, all with well water. There is no alternative water source available to the residents of Moloa`a.

Well over 200 Moloa`a residents have to move because of loss of primary source of water to deliver a secondary source of water to the 20 water users of Kilauea Irrigation System (who use 37%) and the Mary Lucas Estate (who use 63% of the water from Ka Loko and as much of the Moloa`a ditch as they want)? This plan is not sustainable to the residents of the source water – Moloa`a and is a violation of Public Trust. Moloa`a residents must be considered as stakeholders and included in this planning process. Moloa`a water is not for sale. Our stream needs its’ water.

 Our groundwater table needs its’ water. Our reefs need fresh water. All Kalua`a Ditch waters must be returned to the Kalua`a/Moloa`a Stream of origin. Out-of-the-watershed export of water cannot be considered. An unpermitted, un-engineered, stream diversion, in trespass on state land, constructed illegally, can not be considered as a water source for a public water delivery system.

There is no insurance or maintenance agreement. This theft of water cannot be allowed to continue. If a flash flood happens on this diversion and another wall of water kills people, who is responsible? Please attend this important meeting on Wednesday, May 6th at 7:15 pm at the Kilauea Neighborhood Center.

• Tim and Hope Kallai writing for Malama Moloa`a -

Flying Pigs & Swine-flu Part 2

SUBHEAD: WHO takes a page from a Michael Crichton novel.

By F. William Engdahl on 5 May 2009 in Financial Sense -

Image above: Flying pig illustration in The Guardian. From

As the late great American poet Yogi Berra might have put it, ‘this just gets absurder and absurder.’ The international agencies supposedly responsible for monitoring worldwide dangers of new pandemic threats, the WHO and CDC are acting like the directors of a Hollywood ‘B’ grade sci-fi movie or the author of a copycat version of Michael Crichton’s Andromeda Strain novel.

The global panic over the outbreak of a new human-to-human Swine Flu pandemic is increasingly revealed as a likely operation in mass psychological terror whose only beneficiaries are the few global pharmaceutical giants that are in the business of peddling so-called ‘antiviral’ drugs — Roche, Smith-Kline-Glaxo and Novavax most prominently.

The losers are the rest of us normal folks. The news releases of the WHO in Geneva and the US Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, the central coordinating agencies in this production, are worth careful study. On April 30 the CDC issued a detailed report with the alarming title, Swine-Origin Influenza A (H1N1) Virus Infections in a School --- New York City.

The report described in detail a school in New York City, where as of April 28, approximately half (45) of all U.S. cases of S-OIV infection had been confirmed among students and staff members. The CDC called these cases all genetically similar to viruses subsequently isolated from patients in Mexico. We are not told in scientific terms what ‘genetically similar to’ means, but it sure sounds ominous. At that point, the CDC claimed 109 victims of confirmed Swine Flu in the United States. Forty five of the 109 came from this New York School. The TV news channels were flooded with panic messages of the uncontrolled spread of Swine Flu.

On April 29, the next day, the WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, upgraded their Swine Flu Pandemic alert status from a Phase 4 event to Phase 5, a step below full global Pandemic Alert. According to WHO, Phase 5 indicates that there is evidence of the virus being spread from human-to-human in at least two countries in one WHO region. Phase 6, the pandemic phase, is characterised by increased and sustained transmission in the general population. In her announcement of the upgrade, Dr Chan added an unfortunate panic-inducing comment that was predictably grabbed onto by CNN and the world media:  

‘After all it really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic.’

Note the WHO Director-General had not declared a Pandemic Phase 6 alert, but in a speech in Geneva in an apparent side comment, merely made the self-evident observation that ‘during a pandemic’ all humanity is under threat.’

 A press release by the Atlanta-based CDC stated, ‘On May 3, CDC is scheduled to complete deployment of 25 percent of the supplies in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) to all states in the continental United States. These supplies and medicines will help states and US territories respond to the outbreak. In addition, the Federal Government and manufacturers have begun the process of developing a vaccine against the novel H1N1 flu virus.’

The pandemic response apparatus was going into high gear. The 45 New York City school children the CDC solemnly reported were ‘confirmed cases of swine-origin influenza A (H1N1) virus (S-OIV) infection,’ ninety-five percent of whom reported to the health authorities symptoms that included ‘fever plus cough and/or sore throat, meeting the CDC definition for influenza-like illness (ILI).’ OK. Better to be cautious when dealing with a new form of Andromeda Strain. But cough? Sore throat? Fever? Aren’t these pretty vague ordinary symptoms? Not for CDC apparently.

The 45 kids were immediately added to the growing ‘confirmed cases’ statistics, fuelling emergency responses, statements by the President of the United States, economic catastrophe to the fragile Mexican economy as tourism dried up overnight, and worldwide fears of a new Black Death or at least a new version of the 1918 Spanish Flu plague. The CDC hastened to add the note, ‘symptoms in these patients appear to be similar to those of seasonal influenza.’

For those bothering to read through three detailed pages of the CDC New York report, they found near the end that, ‘on April 27, 37 patients (84%) reported that their symptoms were stable or improving, three (7%) reported worsening symptoms (two of whom later reported improvement), and four (9%) reported complete resolution of symptoms. Only one reported having been hospitalized for syncope and released after overnight observation.’

 The CDC adds, ‘To date, this school-based outbreak is the largest cluster of S-OIV cases reported in the United States.’ In addition to the 109 ‘confirmed cases’ reported in the United States, including one death of a Mexican boy in Texas, the CDC reported as of April 29, ‘a total of 57 confirmed cases had been reported, including seven deaths (in Mexico). By country, the following numbers of cases had been reported: Mexico (26); Canada (13); United Kingdom (five); Spain (four); Germany and New Zealand (three each); Israel (two); and Austria (one).’ Is this another case of ‘Chicken Little’ crying the sky is falling?

 A revealing name change -
Now, not only are the alleged victims in New York of the worst plague since the Black Death showing signs of remarkable recovery after only days, but the WHO also announces a name change in the middle of the worldwide events. By May 1 the WHO, the CDC and the National Institutes of Health in Maryland all announced the name Swine Flu was no longer appropriate, that, despite the fact that according to Dr. Raul Rabadan, a professor of computational biology at Columbia University, six of the eight genetic segments are purely swine flu and the other two segments are bird and human, but have lived in swine for the past decade. We instead are told to call it Influenza A (H1N1).

That’s a catchy name. The name change came following a heavy lobbying campaign by the US pig industry to drop the Swine Flu label as it was apparently cutting into pork sales. The largest US and world pig producer, Smithfield Foods of Virginia, was most certainly among those lobbying CDC and the WHO for the name change. They won their wish. But name change or not, the swine production process of Smithfield Foods and other industrialized Factory Farms or as they are technically known, CAFOs—Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation—bears closer scrutiny.

As I detailed in Part I, the Mexican Swine Flu deaths and illness first were recorded in La Gloria, Perote Municipality, Veracruz State, Mexico, where local residents had for weeks prior to the official announcement been protesting the dangers of the huge Smithfield Foods pig CAFO in the village. Children and adults alike were reported having a rash of symptoms in the vicinity of the vast pig waste linked to the site. Smithfield Foods is the world’s largest industrialized pig meat producer. It also has one of the most egregious health and safety records.  

Pig feces and other niceties - 
 Feces is the Latin term for what most of the world terms shit, the waste product of human or animal digestion. Pigs are world champion waste producers. An average pig produces some three times in weight the amount of fecal matter that an adult person does.

As GRAIN, an agricultural organization reports, ‘the rise of large-scale factory farms in North America has created the perfect breeding grounds for the emergence and spread of new highly-virulent strains of influenza.’7 The pig fecal waste product is at the center of the problem, something the CDC name change conveniently tends to obscure. As the GRAIN study notes, because concentrated animal feeding operations tend to concentrate large numbers of animals close together, they are ideal breeding grounds for toxins and virulent pathogens.

In 2003 Science magazine warned that swine flu was ‘on a new evolutionary ‘fast track’ due to the increasing size of factory farms and the widespread use of vaccines in these operations.’8 It’s the same story with bird flu, where huge industrial CAFO Factory Farms with tens of thousands of chickens breed toxic waste galore. Smithfield Foods, the world’s biggest hog butcher and CAFO owner has an impressive track record of violations of health and safety including water safety laws. In the USA, the world’s largest pig CAFO is in Tar Heel, North Carolina.

According to local reports the town could easily be renamed Pig Waste, N.C. given the scale of fecal waste and combined matter Smithfield Foods’ Tar Heel CAFO emits locally. As Jeff Tietz, in an analysis of the pig waste problem calculated, ‘the best estimates put Smithfield's total waste discharge at 26 million tons a year.

That would fill four Yankee Stadiums. Even when divided among the many small pig production units that surround the company's slaughterhouses, that is not a containable amount.’ Tietz adds, ‘So prodigious is its fecal waste, however, that if the company treated its effluvia as big-city governments do -- even if it came marginally close to that standard -- it would lose money. So many of its contractors allow great volumes of waste to run out of their slope-floored barns and sit blithely in the open, untreated, where the elements break it down and gravity pulls it into groundwater and river systems. Although the company proclaims a culture of environmental responsibility, ostentatious pollution is a linchpin of Smithfield's business model.’

The problem, he and other critics of CAFO pollutants stress, is not just normal pig waste, but waste combined with staggering volumes of antibiotics and toxic chemicals used by Smithfield Foods and similar industrial CAFO operations to maximize ‘efficiency.’ Tietz notes, ‘A lot of pig shit is one thing; a lot of highly toxic pig shit is another. The excrement of Smithfield hogs is hardly even pig shit: On a continuum of pollutants, it is probably closer to radioactive waste than to organic manure.

The reason it is so toxic is Smithfield's efficiency. The company produces 6 billion pounds of packaged pork each year. That's a remarkable achievement, a prolificacy unimagined only two decades ago, and the only way to do it is to raise pigs in astonishing, unprecedented concentrations.’11

The degrees of concentration in the Smithfield Foods vertically integrated pig meat concentrations have little to do with traditional hog farming. In facilities now spread around the world, Smithfield's pigs live by the hundreds or thousands in warehouse-like barns, in rows of wall-to-wall pens. Sows are artificially inseminated and fed and delivered of their piglets in cages so small they cannot turn around.

As Tietz notes, ‘Forty fully grown 250-pound male hogs often occupy a pen the size of a tiny apartment. They trample each other to death. There is no sunlight, straw, fresh air or earth.

The floors are slatted to allow excrement to fall into a catchment pit under the pens, but many things besides excrement can wind up in the pits: afterbirths, piglets accidentally crushed by their mothers, old batteries, broken bottles of insecticide, antibiotic syringes, stillborn pigs -- anything small enough to fit through the foot-wide pipes that drain the pits. The pipes remain closed until enough sewage accumulates in the pits to create good expulsion pressure; then the pipes are opened and everything bursts out into a large holding pond.’

He continues on the toxic CAFO conditions: ‘They become susceptible to infection, and in such dense quarters microbes or parasites or fungi, once established in one pig, will rush sprite-like through the whole population. Accordingly, factory pigs are infused with a huge range of antibiotics and vaccines, and are doused with insecticides.

Without these compounds -- oxytetracycline, draxxin, ceftiofur, tiamulin -- diseases would likely kill them. Thus factory-farm pigs remain in a state of dying until they're slaughtered. When a pig nearly ready to be slaughtered grows ill, workers sometimes shoot it up with as many drugs as necessary to get it to the slaughterhouse under its own power.

As long as the pig remains ambulatory, it can be legally killed and sold as meat.’ Jeff Tietz is not the only one who has noticed the gargantuan scale of the Smithfield Foods CAFO pig waste problem. The United States Government Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has repeatedly fined Smithfield Foods for damage to local water supply with discharge of its pig waste from its CAFOs at Tar Heel and elsewhere across the USA.

In Virginia, its home state, Smithfield was fined $12.6 million in 1997 for 6,900 violations of the Clean Water Act -- the third-largest civil penalty ever levied under the act by the EPA, for waste generated during the hog-slaughtering and meat processing operations.14 There was little convincing evidence the fines changed their practice of waste disposal in any significant way.

 Smithfield Foods has spread its hog CAFOs to other countries where environmental regulations are presumably less strict, including Romania, Poland, and of course, rural Mexico. Several years ago the Smithfield pig CAFO in Romania was focus of major accusations by local and Government health officials. Smithfield refused to let local authorities enter its pig farms after residents complained of the stench coming from hundreds of dead corpses of pigs left rotting for days at the farms.

‘Our doctors have not had access to the American [company's] farms to effect routine inspections,’ stated Csaba Daroczi, assistant director at the Timisoara Hygiene and Veterinary Authority in Romania. ‘Every time they tried, they were pushed away by the guards. Smithfield proposed that we sign an agreement that would oblige us to warn them three days before each inspection.’ It later emerged that Smithfield had been covering up a major outbreak of classical swine fever on its Romanian CAFO farms.  

The Drug Cartel comes in - Rather than order a full-scale independent investigation into the pathogen-generation in the toxic waste of Smithfield Foods’ Veracruz CAFO pig operations or other similar pig CAFOs around the world for production of deadly toxics and various possible pathogens, the CDC and increasingly the WHO seem to be more concerned with creating a climate for mass distribution of what have been documented to be dangerous, and in some cases deadly, influenza drugs such as Tamiflu.

 On April 14, almost two weeks before the panic over Mexico’s cases of Swine Flu or as CDC now prefers, Influenza A H1N1, the US pharmaceutical company, Novavax announced a pre-clinical study allegedly showing, ‘an investigational H1N1 virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine based on the 1918 Spanish influenza strain protected against both the Spanish flu and a highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza strain.’

The genetically-manipulated vaccine of Novavax, the company claimed, ‘protected Mice and Ferrets Against the Spanish Flu and Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Bird Flu,’ and also conveniently ‘provided protection against highly pathogenic H1N1 and H5N1 Influenza strains.’ On April 24, the WHO issued a press release stating that ‘The Swine Influenza A/H1N1 viruses characterized in this outbreak have not been previously detected in pigs or humans.

The viruses so far characterized have been sensitive to oseltamivir…’ Osteltamivir is the technical name for Tamiflu, the drug invented by Donald Rumsfeld’s Gilead Sciences and licensed to Roche Inc. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a convenient Emergency Authorization on April 27 that allows US health officials and others to administer Tamiflu even to infants under one year of age.

The FDA statement added it had decided, ‘to authorize the use of unapproved or uncleared medical products or unapproved or uncleared uses of approved or cleared medical products following a determination and declaration of emergency.’ That suggests that the US Government has or is about to release experimental drugs on a panicked population such as the VLP-based Influenza vaccine of Novavax, as well as the vast stockpiles of Tamiflu and influenza drugs sold by giants like GlaxoSmithKline’s Relenza (zanamivir).

With the evidence to date of the scale of the ‘confirmed’ cases of Swine Flu H1N1 variety worldwide, 985 cases of influenza A (H1N1) or Swine Flu infection, there is hardly grounds to subject the human population to drugs whose side effects have included death or severe complications and typically flu-like symptoms and, as in the case of Tamiflu, never even claim to ‘prevent or cure’ the influenza. The entire drama of the past weeks is reading more and more like a bad remake of Crichton’s Andromeda Strain.

Adding a note of the bizarre to the entire drama, in November 2004, amid the early days of the then-world panic over alleged Avian Flu, when Tamiflu was first promoted as a wonder drug by Donald Rumsfeld and others, the WHO published an extraordinary fantasy scenario. In a UN agency normally given to issuing dull scientific notices to world health professionals, the 2004 report was extraordinarily ‘prescient’ of the current scenario with Swine Flu panic. In a fantasy section titled ‘Sometime in the future…’ the WHO wrote four years ago,
 Rumours of an outbreak of unusually severe respiratory illness in two villages in a remote province reach the ministry of health in one of the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Member States. A team is dispatched to the province and learns that the outbreak started about a month earlier. The team is able to identify at least 50 cases over the previous month. All age groups have been affected. Twenty patients are currently in the provincial hospital. Five people have already died of pneumonia and accute respiratory failure. Surveillance in surrounding areas is increased, and new cases are identified throughout the province. Respiratory specimens collected from several patients are tested at the national laboratory and are found to be positive for type A influenza virus, but they cannot be further subtyped. The isolates are sent to the WHO Reference Centre for Influenza for further characterization, where they are characterized as influenza A(H6N1), a subtype never isolated from humans before. Gene sequencing studies further indicate that most of the viral genes are from a bird influenza virus, with the remaining genes derived from a human strain.
If one changed the name from Influenza A (H6N1) to Influenza A (H1N1) we could be talking about the current situation. That 2004 WHO fictional scenario reads as if it were the handbook for what has unfolded since late April in the US Mexico and beyond. It leads to serious question whether the world is being submitted to a giant psychological warfare game aimed at inducing them to take massive doses of dangerous drugs to counter a danger that does not actually exist as claimed.

With the reported cases in Mexico clearly dropping off at present and little sign of the feared repeat of the 1918 Spanish Flu, or worse, as officials were warning only days earlier, it is well beyond time to launch a full-scale worldwide health inquiry into the toxic conditions of CAFO pig and other animal Factory Farm concentrations, and to end the official coverup of what has become a colossal health danger.

See also:
Island Breath: Is swine flu a terrorist plot 4/27/09

Knudsen sued over Poipu

SUBHEAD: Knudsen Trust taken to court on Hapa Road development activities.

By Charlie Foster on 21 April 2009 in Planet Kauai -

Image above: North end of Hapa Trail near Saint Raphael's Church in Koloa. From The Historical Marker Database 

Local activist Theodore (Teddy) Blake, represented by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, filed suit last month over the Knudsen Trust's planned Village at Poipu development. The complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, available online here, names as defendants the Eric A. Knudsen Trust, The county planning commission and planning department, Planning Director Ian Costa, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, and DLNR Chair Laura Thielen. The factual allegations can be read in the complaint.

The legal claims are: that the process of considering the Knudsen Trust's Village at Poipu development proposal violated the state public trust doctrine; that in the process of considering the Knudsen Trust's application for final subdivision approval of Phase One of the development, defendants failed to thoroughly investigate and protect Native Hawaiian rights; that defendants failed to comply with the requirements of HAR Chapter 13-284 - the administrative rules governing the review process the SHPD is to follow in making comments to state and county agencies on entitlements affecting historic properties; that the development threatens to cause irreparable injury to burial sites and other historic sites; that defendants failed to comply with the objectives, policies, and guidelines of HRS 205A, specifically, "the protection, preservation, and restoration of historic and prehistoric resources in the coastal zone management area that are significant to Hawaiian history and culture"; and that a supplemental EIS is required to address a plan to cross the Hapa Trail with a street. That is a bunch of issues. And it's a classically Hawaiian land use dispute.

Complaints tend not to contain much in the way of legal argument. That's not their purpose. We can hope though that there will be some summary judgment motions filed and those will give rise to some interesting arguments on the issues.

See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Knudsen to spoil Poipu 1/18/09 Ea O Ka Aina: Knudsen Trust Setback 12/9/09 Island Breath: Knudsen & Koloa Monkeypod Trees 1/11/08

Green Shoots of Economy

SUBHEAD: These ‘Green Shoots’ won’t lead world economies out of woods. By Matthew Lynn on 5 May 2009 in Bloomberg News - Image above: "Green Shoots" stock photo from Spring has arrived and everyone is fed up talking about the greatest depression since the 1930s. So now there are “green shoots” everywhere. On one day last week, Bloomberg carried 118 articles and research reports from many sources in which the most durable of horticultural metaphors was deployed. They weren’t isolated cases. “I do indeed see green shoots for the European economy,” Ewald Nowotny, a council member of the European Central Bank, said at a press conference in Vienna last week. “We’re beginning to see some healthy signs -- the stirrings of what I call green shoots,” Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Richard Fisher said last month. The trouble is, most of them are nonsense. Over the next few months, you are going to hear a whole series of increasingly ridiculous and bogus signals of recovery trumpeted as if they heralded the end of the recession. All will be meaningless. Here’s a fool’s guide to four types of “green shoots,” all of which can be ignored by anyone trying to work out where the economy is going. One: It’s no longer getting worse. “The economy has continued to contract, though the pace of contraction appears to be somewhat slower,” the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee said in a statement last week in which it signaled that -- yup, you guessed it -- the emergence of all those “green shots” meant it didn’t have to do much more to stimulate the economy. So, to get this straight, the economy is still falling off a cliff, only not falling quite so fast as it was a few months ago. It is, however, still getting smaller, which means everyone is getting poorer. At the risk of spoiling everyone’s fun, there is a big difference between that and the economy actually starting to recover. Two: We applied the medicine, so stop complaining. “I am confident that the innovative policies being pursued by the Federal Reserve will facilitate and, indeed, expedite the recovery process,” said the Fed’s Fisher in the same speech in which he forecast the healthy emergence of those “green shoots.” It is pretty much the same message pumped out by central bankers around the world: We have cut interest rates, printed money and pumped up demand. We have a computer in the basement that says when you do all of those things, the economy will start to recover. There is just one snag: What if you have the wrong diagnosis and the wrong cure? Just applying the medicine doesn’t tell us anything, and certainly not that the patient is about to get up and start walking again. Three: The stock market says so. Indeed it does. The markets aren’t so much spotting “green shoots” as a whole flowerbed of roses and tulips. Europe’s Dow Jones Stoxx 600 Index has erased all its losses from the early part of the year and shows every sign of kick-starting a new bull market. It climbed 13 percent in April, the biggest monthly gain since data for the index started in 1987. Most other major markets around the world have staged similar rallies. “All the things are in place for the bear market to have ended,” Anthony Bolton, president of investments at Fidelity International, said in an interview. Again, there’s a snag: The stock market doesn’t have any more of a clue about what will happen than the rest of us. It has predicted at least 12 of the last two recoveries, and nine of the last five recessions, to paraphrase economist Paul Samuelson. One consequence of the credit crunch is that we should stop believing the markets are much good at predicting anything. After all, they didn’t see the blow-up in the markets, and that was happening right under the noses of professional investors. There’s no point in imagining the same people can spot a recovery now. Four: Business leaders are more optimistic. Some of the most respected names in business are blooming with confidence. Those “green shoots” are “turning into daffodils” Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Economist Jim O’Neill said in an interview last week, after raising his forecast for global growth next year. Consumers want to “move on” from the economic decline, said Stuart Rose, chief executive officer of U.K. retailer Marks & Spencer Group Plc, as if the recession were just some tiresome psychological condition we could just snap out of. Ignore them. Business leaders are perennially optimistic. It is part of their job. To get to the top of a big company you have to be constantly “breaking new ground,” “pushing the envelope” and “taking things to the next level.” The gloomy realists don’t make it to the board -- even though, of course, they are often right. Reality Intrudes. The reality is, no one knows where the global economy is going at the moment. We are living through the worst recession since World War II, but much has changed since then. It’s time those “green shoots” were “nipped in the bud.” To deploy a simile from a different part of the garden, “we’re not out of the woods yet.” And we won’t be for a long time.

The Bottom

SUBHEAD: The new good news is the new bad new doesn't seem as bad as the old bad news.  

By James Howard Kunstler on 4 May 2009 in Clusterfuck Nation -

Image above: A Chrysler 1970's muscle car painted as an advertisment for Cheetos. From

Euphoria managed to out-run swine flu last week as the epidemic-du-jour, with "consumer" confidence jumping and the big bank stocks nudging up. The H1N1 virus fizzled for now, at least in terms of kill ratio, though we're warned it might boomerang in the fall with a vengeance. No one was surprised to see Chrysler roll over like a possum on a county highway, but the memory of their muscle cars will linger on like a California surfing song.

Here in the northeast, where Sundays are not spent at the Nascar oval, the spring foliage reached the tenderly explosive stage and it was hard to feel bad about anything.

For now, the "bottom" is in -- that is, the bottom of this society's ability to process reality. It may continue for a month of so, even after the "stress test" for banks is finally let out of the massage parlor with a "happy ending." But events are underway that are beyond the command of personalities. We're done "doing business" in all the ways that we've been used to, but we just can't get with the new program.

Let's count the ways: 1. The revolving credit economy is over. It's over because we can't increase energy inputs to the system, which is one way of saying "peak oil." Of course hardly anybody believes this right now because the price of oil crashed nine months ago, along with global manufacturing and trade.

But nothing has changed on the peak oil scene -- except perhaps that ever more new oil projects have been cancelled for lack of financing, which will boomerang on us (even if swine flu doesn't) in the form of much lower future oil production. In any case, the credit fiesta is over, and the "consumer" economy with it, because industrial growth as we have known it is over. It's over globally, too, though all regions of the world will not experience its demise the same way at the same rate.

The Asian nations may swap things around a while longer but China is basically screwed. They have less oil left than we have (which is saying, not much at all) and they won't corner the rest of the global oil market without starting World War Three. Meanwhile, they're running out of water and food. Good luck becoming the next global hegemon.

Oh, and Japan imports 90 percent of its energy; India over 80 percent. Fuggeddabowdit. Credit will not vanish everywhere overnight -- even in the USA -- because it is not distributed equally everywhere. But it will vanish in layers, and here in the USA a very broad layer of the lower and middle classes are now losing their access to it in one way or another -- personally, in small business -- and they will never get it back.

Anyone who intends to thrive in the years just ahead had better plan on doing it on the basis of accounts receivable -- and what they receive might not even necessarily come in the form of US dollars. It may come in the form of gold or silver or in the promise of reciprocal services rendered. This has enormous implications for two of the items in which our credit-dispensing operations are most deeply vested: houses and cars.

Unfortunately, these are exactly the things that economic life has been based on for decades in our nation, which leads to the next categories: 2.) The suburban living arrangement is over, along with all its accessories and furnishings. Taken as "all of a piece," the suburban expansion was one sixty-year-long orgasm of hypertrophy. We did it because we could.

We won a world war and threw a party. We had lots of cheap land and cheap oil. It made lots of people lots of money and all its usufructs have become embedded in our national identity to the dangerous degree that the loss of them will provoke a kind of national psychotic breakdown. In fact, it already has. The completely unrealistic expectation that we can resume this way of life is proof of it. The immediate problem is that we can't build anymore of it.

The next problem will be the failure of the stuff that already exists. The first stage of that is now palpable in the mortgage foreclosure fiasco and, just beginning now, the tanking of malls, strip centers, office parks and other commercial property investments. The latter will accelerate and become visible very quickly as retail tenants bug out and weeds start growing where the Chryslers and Pontiacs once parked. The next stage, which involves large demographic shifts in how we inhabit the landscape, has not quite gotten underway. 3.)

The Happy Motoring fiesta is over. You'd think that with Chrysler crawling into the bankruptcy court, and GM just weeks away from the same terminal ceremony, the news media would begin to suspect that the foundation of everyday life in this country was cracking. Instead, all we hear is blather about "market share" shifting to Toyota. News flash: not only will we make fewer automobiles in the USA, but Americans will buy far fewer cars made anywhere. We'll keep the current fleet moving a while longer, but when it's too beat to repair, we won't be changing it out for a new fleet -- despite all the fantasies about hybrids, plug-and-drive electrics, and so on. The masses will be too broke to buy these things.

What's more, they will be very resentful of the shrinking economic "elite" who can afford them. And, anyway, our roads and highways are destined to fall apart very quickly because there is no way we can sustain the necessary rate of normal maintenance. Meanwhile, we remain completely un-serious about public transit -- even about fixing the vestiges that still exist. The airline industry, of course, will be toast inside of five years. 4.) Our food production system is approaching crisis. There's no way we can continue the petro-agriculture system of farming and the Cheez Doodle and Pepsi Cola diet that it services.

The public is absolutely zombified in the face of this problem -- perhaps a result of the diet itself. President Obama and Ag Secretary Vilsack have not given a hint that they understand the gravity of the situation. It is probably one of those unfortunate events of history that can only impress a society in the form of a crisis. It also happens to be one of the few problems we face that public policy could affect sharply and broadly -- if we underwrote the reactivation of smaller, local farm operations instead of shoveling money to giant "agribusiness" (or Citibank, or Goldman Sachs, or AIG...).

I maintain that this may be the year that the crisis gets our attention, because capital is suddenly harder to get than fossil-fuel-based fertilizer. All these epochal discontinuities present themselves, for the moment, as a season of muted "hope" and general apathy. The days are suddenly mild.

We've resumed old and happy habits of grilling meat outdoors and motoring to those remaining places that were not blanketed with franchised food huts and discount malls. We have a new, charming president with an appealing family. Newly-minted dollars are flowing to the "shovel-ready."

The new bad news is less bad than the old bad news (or seems to be). And the year just past has been such a bummer that our hard-wired human nature tells us that good things must be just around the corner. Personally, I think a lot of good things await us, but not the ones we're expecting -- not a return to buying slurpees on credit cards. It will be very salutary to leave behind the junk empire we've accumulated and move into an epoch of quality and purpose. For the moment, though, our hopes reside elsewhere.

Worst Case Scenario

SUBHEAD: We are at critical mass in spending and debt.

By Big Jake on 03 May 2009 in Seeking Alpha -

Image above: An entrance to the abandoned Washington Mall, a modern ghosttown. From

Since the economy began sliding downhill in late 2007, mainstream economic and market experts have consistently erred on the sunny side. As late as June 2008, mainstream consensus held that the U.S. was heading for a “soft landing” and would avoid recession.

Several months later, the slump was acknowledged to have started in January 2008, but we were supposed to see renewed growth by mid-2009, with unemployment peaking in the eight-to-nine percent range.

A quick “shovel-ready” stimulus bag was supposed to set us back on the road to prosperity. In January, recovery projections were pushed forward to late 2009.

Today, the consensus is for a mid-2010 recovery, with unemployment peaking at just over 10 percent. Clearly, the mainstream has struggled to catch up to reality for well over one year.

What are the chances that they finally have it right this time?

 Moreover, the mainstream continues to see what is going on as a plain-vanilla recession that will be quelled with some on-the-fly monetary and fiscal tinkering. Washington, we are told, will pull us out of this slump—as soon as the masses can be enticed back to the shopping malls. Then things will return to how they were before.

But what if the experts and politicians are wrong not only on their ever-changing recovery timeline, but also on the nature—nay, the very existence—of a recovery?

America’s reigning political-economic ideology has demonstrably failed. Given that its government is obviously fumbling along without a clue, its foreign and domestic credit is tapped out, and its 300 million people are discovering that their hopes for continuous material improvement will never be met, could the U.S. be headed the way of the USSR? Instead of a recovery as the mainstream envisions it, what if America permanently bankrupts, impoverishes, and marginalizes itself?

What if its cherished institutions fail across the board?

For example, what happens when the police realize that their under-funded pension plans cannot support a decent retirement?

Will they stay honest, or will they opt to survive by any means necessary?

These are questions that the mainstream does not even begin to contemplate. In the interests of providing you with an alternate vision—something outside the mainstream—below are ten predictions for America through the year 2012. This is not boilerplate doom-saying.

Rather, I am laying out in highly specific terms what will happen over the next three-odd years. Others have thrown around the term “Depression”, but I am going to tell you precisely what it means for you, your investments, and your community.
When these predictions come true, I expect to be rewarded with a seven-figure consulting gig, a book contract, or a high-level position in whatever administration succeeds the doomed Obama team—that is, if anyone succeeds it at all.  
Prediction one.
The twenty-five-year equities bubble pops in 2009. U.S. and foreign equities markets will stop treading water and realign with economic reality. Stock prices will cease to reflect the “greater fool” mentality and will return to being a function of dividend yields, which have long been miserable.

The S&P 500 will sink below 500. In a bid to stem the panic, the government will enforce periodic “stock market holidays”, and will vastly expand the scope of its short-selling prohibitions—eventually banning short-selling altogether.  

Prediction two.
With public pension systems and tens of millions of 401k holders virtually wiped out—and with the Baby Boomers retiring en masse—there will be tremendous pressure on the government to get into the stock market in order to bid up prices.

Therefore, sometime in 2010, the Federal Reserve will create and loan out hundreds of billions of fresh dollars to the usual well-connected suspects, instructing them to buy up stocks on the public’s behalf. This scheme will have a fancy but meaningless name—something like the “Taxpayer Assurance Equities Facility”. It will have no effect other than to serve as buyer of last resort for capitulating smart-money types who want to get out of stocks entirely.  

Prediction three.
Millions of new retirees—including white-collar people with high expectations for a Golden Retirement—will be left virtually penniless. Thousands will starve or freeze to death in their own homes. Hundreds of thousands will find themselves evicted and homeless, or will have to move in with their less-than-enthusiastic children.

Already strained by the rising tide of the working-age unemployed, state and local welfare services will be overwhelmed, and by 2012 will have largely collapsed and ceased to function in many parts of the country.  

Prediction four.
“Quantitative easing” will fail to restart previous patterns of lending and consumption. As the government sends out additional “rebate” checks and takes ever-more drastic measures to force banks to lend, hyperinflation could take hold. However, comprehensive debt relief via a devaluation of the dollar is even more likely.

This would entail the government issuing one “new” dollar for some greater number of “old” dollars—thus reducing both debts and savings simultaneously. This would make for a clean slate a la Fight Club. As there are many more debtors than savers in the U.S., the vast majority would support devaluation.

The Chinese and other foreign holders of our bonds would be screaming mad, but unable to do anything. Every country that has not found a way out of dollar-denominated reserve assets by 2012 will see its reserves eliminated.  

Prediction five.
The government will stop pretending that it can finance continuous multi-trillion-dollar deficits on the private market. By late 2010, the sole buyers of new U.S. Treasury and agency bonds will be the Federal Reserve and a few derelict financial institutions under government control. This may or may not lead to hyperinflation. (See prediction four).  

Prediction six.
As the need for financial industry paper-pushers declines and people have less money to spend on lawyers and Starbucks (SBUX), unemployment will rise until the private sector has eliminated all of its excess capacity and superfluous or socially needless jobs. The government’s narrow unemployment figure (U3) will rise into the high teens by late 2010.

The government’s broader unemployment figure (U6) will cease to be reported when it reaches 25 percent—it will simply be too embarrassing. Ultimately, one in three work-eligible Americans will be unemployed, underemployed, or never-employed (e.g. college grads permanently unable to find suitable work).  

Prediction seven.
With their pension dreams squashed, and their salaries frozen or cut, police and other local government workers will turn to wholesale corruption in order to survive. America’s ideal of honest, courteous, and impartial cops, teachers, and small-time local functionaries will have come to an end.  

Prediction eight.
Commercial overcapacity will strike with a vengeance. By 2012, thousands of enclosed malls, strip malls, unfinished residential developments, motels, truck stops, distribution centers, middle-of-nowhere resorts and casinos, and small-city airports across America will turn into dilapidated, unwanted, and dangerous ghost towns. With no economic incentive for their maintenance or repair, they will crumble into overgrown, plywood-and-sheet-rock ruins.  

Prediction nine.
By the end of 2010, tens of millions of households will have fallen behind on their mortgages or stopped paying altogether. Many banks will be unable to process the massive volume of foreclosure paperwork, much less actually seize and resell the homes.

Devaluation (as mentioned in prediction four) could ease the situation for those mortgage holders still afloat, but it would also eliminate any incentive for most banks to stay in the mortgage business. In any case, the housing market in many parts of the country will lock up completely—nothing bought or sold. With virtually no loans being made, even the government will finally acknowledge that most banks are fundamentally insolvent.

A general bank run will only be averted through a roughly one trillion-dollar recapitalization of the FDIC, courtesy of new money from the Federal Reserve.  

Prediction ten.
As an economy is never independent of the society within which it functions, the next few paragraphs will focus on social and political factors. These factors will have as much of an impact on market and consumer confidence as any developments in the financial sector. 
 Whether rightly or not, President Obama, having come to power at the dawn of this crisis, will be blamed for it by over 50 percent of the population. He will be a one-term president. In response to his perceived socialization of America, there will be a swarm of secessionist and extremist activity, much of it violent.

Militias and armed sects will be more prominent than in the early 1990s. Stand-off dramas, violent score-settlings, and going-out-with-a-bang attacks by laid-off workers and bankrupted investors—already a national plague—will become an everyday occurrence. For both economic and social reasons, millions of immigrants and guest workers will return to their home countries, taking their assets and skills with them.

The flow of skilled immigrants will slow to a trickle. Birth rates will plummet as families struggle with uncertainty and reduced (or no) income. Property crime will explode as citizens bitter over their own shattered dreams attempt to comfort themselves by taking what is not theirs. Mutinies and desertions will proliferate in an increasingly demoralized, over-stretched military, especially when states can no longer provide the educational and other benefits promised to their National Guard troops.

There will be widespread tax collection issues, and a huge backlash against Federal and state bureaucrats who demand three-percent annual pay raises while private sector wages remain frozen or worse. In short, the “Tea Parties” of tomorrow will likely not be so restrained. Finally, between now and 2012, we are likely to see another earth-shaking national embarrassment on the scale of the 9/11 attacks or Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

This will demonstrate conclusively to all Americans that their government, even under a savior-figure like Obama, cannot, in fact, save them. By 2012, there will be a general feeling that the nation is in immediate danger of blowing up or coming apart at the seams. This fear will be justified, given that the U.S. has always been held together by the promise of a continuously rising material standard of living—the famous “pursuit of happiness”—rather than any ethnic or religious ties. If that goes, so could everything else.

We were lucky in the 1930s—we may not be so lucky again. Since the economy began sliding downhill in late 2007, mainstream economic and market experts have consistently erred on the sunny side.

Energy Sustainabilty Planning

SUBHEAD: Background information to be familiar with for community planning.  

By Ken Taylor on 3 May 2009 in Island Breath -

This page contains background documents that are being considered for the energy sustainability plan. Before attending a community meeting, please familiarize yourself with these documents. You may find it helpful to refer to these documents while taking the survey. Glossary of Commonly Used Acronyms (, 212 KB)  

Sentech Hawai`i Presentations:
• Kick-off Presentation  

Sustainable Energy Plan Examples:
• Hawaii County Energy Sustainability Plan (Executive Summary) (, 185 KB)
• Hawaii County Energy Sustainability Plan (, 1,860 KB)
• Hawai`i Sustainability 2050 Plan (, 9,862 KB)
• Focus Maui Nui (Executive Summary) (, 667 KB)
• California Energy Action Plan (, 324 KB)  

Kauai-Specific Information
• A Catalog of Potential Sites for Renewable Energy in Hawaii(, 2,950 KB)
• Kauai Economic Development Plan: Kaua‘i’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) Report 2005-2015
• Kauai County General Plan Required Implementing Actions, by County Department (, 74 KB)
• The General Plan for the County of Kauai
• 2008 Kauai Renewable Energy Conference;i-renewable-energy-conference  

Information from Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC)
• 2009 House & Senate Energy Committee Briefing: KIUC Update(, 1,673 KB)
• KIUC IRP: Plan Recommendation(, 2,829 KB) 2008 House & Senate Energy Committee Briefing: KUIC Update(, 820 KB)
• KIUC Strategic Plan 2008-2023(, 1,231 KB)
• IRP: A Process for Meeting the Electrical Needs of Kauai's People(, 486 KB)
 KIUC Renewable Energy Technology Assessments(, 4,998 KB)  

Other Energy Reports in Hawaii
• Energy Agreement Among the State of Hawaii, Division of Consumer Advocacy of the Dept of Commerce and the Hawaiian Electric Companies(, 1,180 KB)
• Assessment of the State of Hawaii's Ability to Achieve 2010 RPS (, 383 KB)
• Hawaii Energy Strategy 2007(, 608 KB)
• Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative
• HCEI Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard(, 443 KB)
• Feed-in Tariff Case Studies: A White Paper in Support of HCEI (, 710 KB)
• Large Scale Renewable Energy Integration: A White Paper in Support of HCEI (, 232 KB) Transportation-Specific Information State of Hawaii Energy Efficiency in Transportation Strategies Study - Phase 1 (, 720 KB)
• State of Hawaii Energy Efficiency in Transportation Strategies Study - Phase 1 Appendices(, 1,005 KB)
• Victoria Canada Transport Policy Institute - Case Study (, 261 KB)

Save the planet with language

SUBHEAD: The oxymoron of value added advertising.

By John M. Broder on 01 May 2009 in The New York Times -
Image above: Marketing green illustration. From

The problem with global warming, some environmentalists believe, is “global warming.” The term turns people off, fostering images of shaggy-haired liberals, economic sacrifice and complex scientific disputes, according to extensive polling and focus group sessions conducted by ecoAmerica, a nonprofit environmental marketing and messaging firm in Washington.

Instead of grim warnings about global warming, the firm advises, talk about “our deteriorating atmosphere.” Drop discussions of carbon dioxide and bring up “moving away from the dirty fuels of the past.” Don’t confuse people with cap and trade; use terms like “cap and cash back” or “pollution reduction refund.” EcoAmerica has been conducting research for the last several years to find new ways to frame environmental issues and so build public support for climate change legislation and other initiatives.

A summary of the group’s latest findings and recommendations was accidentally sent by e-mail to a number of news organizations by someone who sat in this week on a briefing intended for government officials and environmental leaders. Asked about the summary, ecoAmerica’s president and founder, Robert M. Perkowitz, requested that it not be reported until the formal release of the firm’s full paper later this month, but acknowledged that its wide distribution now made compliance with his request unlikely.

 The research directly parallels marketing studies conducted by oil companies, utilities and coal mining concerns that are trying to “green” their images with consumers and sway public policy. Environmental issues consistently rate near the bottom of public worry, according to many public opinion polls. A Pew Research Center poll released in January found global warming last among 20 voter concerns; it trailed issues like addressing moral decline and decreasing the influence of lobbyists.

“We know why it’s lowest,” said Mr. Perkowitz, a marketer of outdoor clothing and home furnishings before he started ecoAmerica, whose activities are financed by corporations, foundations and individuals. “When someone thinks of global warming, they think of a politicized, polarized argument. When you say ‘global warming,’ a certain group of Americans think that’s a code word for progressive liberals, gay marriage and other such issues.”

The answer, Mr. Perkowitz said in his presentation at the briefing, is to reframe the issue using different language. “Energy efficiency” makes people think of shivering in the dark. Instead, it is more effective to speak of “saving money for a more prosperous future.” In fact, the group’s surveys and focus groups found, it is time to drop the term “the environment” and talk about “the air we breathe, the water our children drink.”

 “Another key finding: remember to speak in TALKING POINTS aspirational language about shared American ideals, like freedom, prosperity, independence and self-sufficiency while avoiding jargon and details about policy, science, economics or technology,” said the e-mail account of the group’s study. Mr. Perkowitz and allies in the environmental movement have been briefing officials in Congress and the administration in the hope of using the findings to change the terms of the debate now under way in Washington.
Opponents of legislation to combat global warming are engaged in a similar effort. Trying to head off a cap-and-trade system, in which government would cap the amount of heat-trapping emissions allowed and let industry trade permits to emit those gases, they are coaching Republicans to refer to any such system as a giant tax that would kill jobs. Coal companies are taking out full-page advertisements promising “clean, green coal.”

The natural gas industry refers to its product as “clean fuel green fuel.” Oil companies advertise their investments in alternative energy. Robert J. Brulle of Drexel University, an expert on environmental communications, said ecoAmerica’s campaign was a mirror image of what industry and political conservatives were doing.

“The form is the same; the message is just flipped,” he said. “You want to sell toothpaste, we’ll sell it. You want to sell global warming, we’ll sell that. It’s the use of advertising techniques to manipulate public opinion.” He said the approach was cynical and, worse, ineffective. “The right uses it, the left uses it, but it doesn’t engage people in a face-to-face manner,” he said, “and that’s the only way to achieve real, lasting social change.”

Frank Luntz, a Republican communications consultant, prepared a strikingly similar memorandum in 2002, telling his clients that they were losing the environmental debate and advising them to adjust their language. He suggested referring to themselves as “conservationists” rather than “environmentalists,” and emphasizing “common sense” over scientific argument. And, Mr. Luntz and Mr. Perkowitz agree, “climate change” is an easier sell than “global warming.” 

Permaculture Realists & Optimists

SUBHEAD: The “realists/doomsters” versus the “optimists/delusional-dreamers”.
By Wayne Davis on 01 May 2009 in The Daily Loaf - Image above: Permaculture in a new urban setting. The best of both worlds? From Concerns for the disastrous consequences of Peak-Oil and Climate Change are the most obvious reasons for “Going Green”. A great deal has been written about both subjects and it is not my desire to discuss the merits or lack thereof of either topic. You have probably “framed” your own position by now. I do posit the belief (based on the science I have seen) that the global production of sweet crude has peaked and that our species is responsible for major disruptions in the natural rhythms of the earth upon which we depend for survival. In my last post I referenced Rob Hopkins (and I do so again). It would be well worth your time to listen to his interview if you have not. As an instructor and major advocate of permaculture he has great insight on how we need to approach the future collapse of America. The “Transition Initiative” is a methodology he and others have devised to help the communities of villages and hamlets in the U.K. understand the risks of complacency and move toward post-carbon solutions. They say that it is not merely going back to the past in terms of lifestyle but it has all the appearances. I know enough about permaculture to be dangerous and I will not attempt to illuminate you on the subject. You would learn best through your own investigation of more authoritative sources. My range of experiences includes attending lectures on permaculture and the transition initiative given by various “certified” individuals, reading a variety of books, and searching and digesting hours of internet videos and web sites (”Establishing a Food Forest” is exceptional). Permaculture has been presented to me as a large umbrella that encompasses literally all human endeavors which sustain human civilized life (economy, energy, transportation, food production and so on). Not to in any way belittle the image of permaculture but it seems that the term is most commonly used with respect to organic food production. Getting back to the Transition Initiative (TI). After some seminars and reading The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins I had the following observations: this concept seems to work well in villages and hamlets, and like Totnes, it requires a majority of the village population to understand the dangers of peak oil and climate change and it requires the village to be of “one mind” in the action of transition, power down and energy descent. The TI folks use a film called The End of Suburbia and the lectures and writings of Richard Heinberg (Power Down, The Party’s Over) to begin the educational process for the uninitiated with respect to peak oil. (Peter Calthorpe and James Howard Kunstler are also players in The End of Suburbia). In addition the TI process relies on tools such as The World CafĂ© to help the community come together to transition towards a more viable lifestyle that will be required after the crash. That may be a little too much background but I felt it necessary in the presentation of my point of view. The topic of this discussion concerns the “doomers” and the “optimists” or as I like to say the “realists” and the “delusional utopian dreamers”. I am willing to play nice, so I’ll settle with the “realists” and the “optimists” (R/O) to borrow from Dimitry Orlov’s Reinventing Collapse. Let me be clear that I am only applying the R/O dichotomy for this post with respect to how the permaculturists (”Permies”) view transitioning a city like St. Petersburg, FL, (not to mention Los Angeles) into a fully functional and sustainable community in the post-carbon world (that same world depicted so clearly by James Howard Kunstler in “World Made by Hand“). I began studying Traditional Neighborhood Design (TND) about eight years ago and it has aquired another handle, New Urbanism ( I call them “Nurbs”). The Permies, just like the Nurbs, have segregated the world into “zones”, where the Permies have six zones and the Nurbs have seven. In the Permie world there is one zone (zone zero) that contains the “house”. It is the only zone that contains any built environment. The Nurbs, not surprisingly, have only one zone that is unbuilt, zone T1, the natural zone. The Permies concern themselves, per their zones definitions, with the “house” and all the remaining natural zones that remain unbuilt. The Nurbs are primarily concerned with the built environment and especially with the “city”. Here’s the rub: The Permies think they can transition a city like St. Petersburg or Los Angeles. I have spent a good deal of my life in both cities and I think they are totally delusional. My reasoning involves: human nature, existing population densities, the existing built environment and simple logistics. It is important to remember that the post-carbon world envisioned by the Permies has no electrical power, no fuel, everything is made by hand from naturally available materials and that technology will not save us. (I am in agreement there.) Babcock Ranch and SKY are good examples of village designs that can transition. I have a running discussion with one of my best friends (an optimist) concerning the role that hope should play in the way we shape our views, thoughts and subsequent behaviors. He feels that hope is absolutely instrumental in living his life. That is not how I live my life. Hope, for me, is derived from “faith, hope and charity”, which is not a stable foundation upon which to base possible life threatening (or even pleasurable) decisions. I want to know the odds. That chair will probably support me. Less oil with greater demand will probably lead to conflict. My friend hopes that Obama will pull us through this mess. I perceive that the likelihood of that happening is very low given that the O-man selected and stands behind Timothy Geithner (TG) and Lawrence Summers (LS). Those two guys are major players in the game that got us to where we are now! Trusting them is like believing that democracy should be two foxes and a chicken deciding the dinner menu. Here’s the deal. Look around you. This is the result of thousands of years of humans trying their very best to create a perfect civilization. I am not inspired. Let’s look back 75 years and see what direction we humans are going. Read Adam Cohen’s Nothing to Fear, about FDR’s cabinet members. FDR’s cabinet included Francis Perkins - a feminist before her time and the strongest advocate for social welfare programs. She like the other cabinet members fought hard for America to get back on its feet. Now we have the likes of TG and LS doing their best to help themselves, the banksters and their worthless Wall Street crony friends. Hope? Good luck! Human Nature. Let’s take a look at diversity. Doesn’t it feel good to know that Charles Manson and George W. Bush are your brothers? We are all in this together brothers and sisters. Give them the benefit of the doubt. They just did what they thought was right (really!). They are just, perhaps, a little “different” than you or me; diverse, if you will. It might do us well to introduce George Lakoff and his concept of “framing” along with Bob Altemeyer and his studies with the RWA’s (Right Wing Authoritarians). Most of us have a point of view, a “frame” of reference. Listen to Lakoff’s discussion. After all, who really thinks the entire foundation of their being, their “frame”, is flawed in any way? Yet, we are so “diverse” as a species. Sometimes I wonder how anything positive gets done. The point I am trying to make about human nature and the delusional concept of transitioning St. Pete is that a city with that many people will never hold hands and skip off towards some blissful future united in transcendental love and harmony. James Howard Kunstler paints a much more realistic picture in World Made by Hand. People tend to associate and group themselves into subsets that have similarities. I guess we’ll have to study population densities, the existing built environment, and logistics some other time. Peace, Love, Dove. Everything is just fine.