Waste to Energy on Kauai

SUBHEAD: Waste to energy (WTE), one possible way to turn municipal solid waste (MSW) to energy through some type of conversion technology remains a pipe dream.

By Doug Hinrichs on 4 June 2009 in Kauai Energy Sustainability Plan http://kauaienergysustainabilityplan.blogspot.com/2009/06/basics-of-waste-to-energy-on-kauai.html

Image Waste To Energy plant facility photo. From http://www.energyrecoverycouncil.org/waste-energy-produces-clean-renewable-a2984

The Situation:
The current waste diversion rate for the County of Kauai is approximately 25%, with over 250 tons per day (tpd) being sent to the Kekaha Landfill. Phase II of the Landfill has a capacity until May 2010, at which point a phased expansion would have to take place.

The first phase is expected to expand capacity to October of 2013 at a cost of $12 million, the second phase would expand capacity until January 2017 at a cost of $9 million, and the third phase has a conceptual capacity of 5.4 years (until mid-2022) at a cost of $13-30 million.1 Kauai is also faced with volatile and rising energy costs. Utilizing municipal solid waste (MSW) to generate energy is one potential component of a local energy portfolio.

The benefits of WTE include reduced landfilling (and potential reductions in landfill pollutants to Kauai's air, land, and water), reductions in Greenhouse Gas emissions, creation of a local energy resource, and potential useful products and by-products (reformation of syngas or biogas, slag, etc.). However, these benefits are balanced by the potential issues listed below.

 About Waste to Energy (WTE) Technologies:

1. Incineration
The most common WTE technology is incineration with energy recovery. Incineration is a waste treatment technology that involves the combustion of organic materials and/or substances. Incineration and other high temperature waste treatment systems (including gasification and plasma gasification) are described as "thermal treatment". Incineration of waste materials converts the waste into incinerator bottom ash, flue gases, particulates, and heat, which can in turn be used to generate electric power.

The flue gases are cleaned of pollutants before they are dispersed in the atmosphere. Incinerators reduce the volume of the original waste by approximately 70-90 %, depending upon composition and degree of recovery of materials such as metals from the ash for recycling. This means that while incineration does not completely replace landfilling, it reduces the necessary volume for disposal significantly. WTE facilities can be a complimentary part of a modern MSW management program.

Recyclable materials like glass and metal don't burn, so removing them from the waste stream feeding into the furnace makes the combustion process more efficient and reduces the amount of waste to be landfilled. This can be accomplished by integrating a modern Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) onto the front-end of a WTE facility.

 2. Gasification
Gasification is a method for extracting energy from many different types of organic materials, relying on chemical processes at elevated temperatures greater than 700 °C. Gasification (and plasma gasification) can process many more types of waste and do not necessarily require pre-sorting. The product of gasification is synthesis gas, or syngas, which consists primarily of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Gasification is potentially more efficient than direct combustion of the original fuel because the syngas product can be combusted at higher temperatures or utilized in fuel cells. The product syngas is normally used to fuel a combustion turbine power plant to generate electricity. Waste gasification has several advantages over incineration:
  • The necessary extensive gas cleaning may be performed on the syngas instead of the much larger volume of flue gas after incineration.
  •  Electric power may be generated in engines and gas turbines, which are much cheaper and more efficient than the steam cycle used in incineration. Even fuel cells may potentially be used, but these have severe requirements regarding the purity of the gas.
  • Chemical processing of the syngas may produce other synthetic fuels instead of electricity.
  • Some gasification processes treat ash containing heavy metals at very high temperatures so that it is released in a glassy and chemically stable form. 

A major challenge for waste gasification technologies is to reach an acceptable (positive) gross electric efficiency. The high efficiency of converting syngas to electric power is counteracted by significant power consumption in the waste preprocessing, the consumption of large amounts of pure oxygen (which is often used as gasification agent), and gas cleaning.

There are no current commercial installations of gasification or plasma gasification facilities processing MSW in the U.S. This presents a challenge for obtaining data on startup timeframe, emissions, O&M, reliability, etc. Plasco Energy Group has a MSW test facility in Ottawa, Canada called the Plasco Trail Road Demonstration Facility that makes public larger amounts of data and information than is available from other operations.

The Partnership for a Zero-Waste Ottawa is a joint project between the City of Ottawa and Plasco Energy Group and, as such, makes progress reports, environmental performance reports, and other information publicly available.2  

3. Plasma Arc Gasification
Plasma arc gasification (otherwise known as "PAG", "Plasma gasification" or "Plasma arc") is a waste treatment technology that uses electrical energy and the high temperatures created by an electrical arc gasifier. This arc breaks down waste primarily into elemental gas (syngas) and solid waste (slag), in a device called a plasma converter. The solid waste is a chemically inert, glass-like slag, resulting from a process called "vitrification".

The process is intended to be a net generator of electricity, depending upon the composition of input wastes, and to reduce the volumes of waste being sent to landfill sites. Plasma gasification operates at temperatures of up to approximately 14,000 °C. Certain metals, such as mercury, lead, zinc, and cadmium, may be volatilized, depending on the temperature in the reactor.

That is, if the temperature is low, the metal will be melted and become part of the slag at the bottom of the reactor. If the temperature is high, the metal will be vaporized and rise with the gases out the top of the reactor. For example, lead volatilizes at 1737 °C. Below this temperature, the lead becomes part of the slag; above this temperature, it escapes with the gases and must be captured elsewhere in the system.3

 4. Anaerobic Digestion
Anaerobic digestion (AD) is a series of processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. The MSW component for AD is source separated organics (SSOs). AD occurs in two phases:

In the first phase a group of microorganisms referred to as “acid formers” breaks down complex materials in an acidic environment. In the second phase, a second group of microorganisms referred to as “methane formers” breaks down the output from the first phase and consume the organic material to form biogas. Biogas from digesters is 55 to 60 percent methane; the remainder is mostly CO2. The biogas typically is used to generate heat or steam, through combustion in boilers, or it is used to generate electricity. Biogas generation varies by material.

There is limited information on the comparative biogas generation of different materials in source separated organics or mixed waste streams. AD designers generally use their own proprietary data. AD is particularly suited to wet organic material and is commonly used for effluent and sewage treatment. Until very recently, there were no anaerobic digestion facilities operating in the United States that processed MSW or source separated organic waste.

In October 2006, Onsite Power Systems Inc., in association with the University of California Davis, launched their biogas energy project with the start-up of an anaerobic digester. This AD facility will initially process residential and restaurant waste from San Francisco, gradually increasing the amount to eight tons/day. Each ton of food waste is expected to generate enough bioenergy to power and heat 10 homes over a 24-hour period. A newer trend in Europe is to market anaerobic digestion as one component of an integrated Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) system. MBT systems typically have a sorting component similar to a MRF.

Traditional AD vendors have begun to partner with larger MSW processors who already have composting technologies or facilities, as well as transfer stations and/or landfills. The advantage of MBT for many communities is that organics do not have to be source separated by residents.4  

Potential Issues:  

1. Process Emissions and Products
As part of the 1990 Clean Air Act mandates, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated new air pollution control standards for municipal waste combustors, including WTE facilities. These standards also require facilities to use the "maximum achievable control technology," and therefore are referred to as the MACT standards.

No new facilities can be built unless they can demonstrate that they can meet the strict new standards. Incineration and Gasification: The EPA also established the TCLP test (Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure) for determining whether the ash from WTE facilities is hazardous.

This ash must routinely be tested before it leaves the facility to insure that it is not hazardous. The ash exhibits concrete-like properties causing it to harden once it is placed and compacted in a landfill. This reduces the potential for rainwater to leach contaminants in landfills into the ground.

Ash landfill studies conducted over the past decade show that leachate is like salty water with a metals content at about the same level as the standards set for drinking water. In some states, waste ash is used as a substitute for aggregate in road bed materials. AD: There are three principal products of anaerobic digestion: biogas, digestate and water. Biogas is mostly methane and carbon dioxide, with a small amount hydrogen and trace hydrogen sulfide. As with syngas, it may require treatment or 'scrubbing' to refine it for use as a fuel. Digestate is the solid remnants of the original input material to the digesters that the microbes cannot use.

A maturation or composting stage may be employed after digestion, making the digestate more suitable as a soil improver. Further treatment of the wastewater is often required. This treatment will typically be an oxidation stage where air is passed through the water in a sequencing batch reactors or reverse osmosis unit.  

2. Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions
 In thermal WTE technologies, nearly all of the carbon content in the waste is emitted as carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere (when including final combustion of the products from gasification and plasma gasification).

MSW contains approximately the same mass fraction of carbon as CO2 itself (27%), so treatment of 1 metric ton of MSW produce approximately 1 metric ton of CO2. In the event that the waste was landfilled, 1 metric ton of MSW would produce approximately 62 cubic meters of methane via the anaerobic decomposition of the biodegradable part of the waste. This amount of methane has more than twice the global warming potential than the 1 metric ton of CO2.

The methane in biogas can be burned to produce both heat and electricity. Biogas does not contribute to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations because the gas is not released directly into the atmosphere and the carbon dioxide comes from an organic source with a short carbon cycle.

 3. Cost
Incineration: The ISWMP estimates the cost of a proposed WTE facility at $46-52 million, with an operating cost of $8-9 million/year. The facility would process 40,500 tons of MSW in 2013, or approximately 110 tons per day. The anticipated energy produced is 18,200-20,200 MWh. 5 Gasification and Plasma

Gasification: The capital and operations cost of gasification WTE can be extremely high. A cost/benefit analysis will have to be performed to compare WTE to source reduction and diversion efforts, and the benefits of WTE will likely have to be significant to balance the cost differential.

There are no current commercial installations of AD, gasification or plasma gasification facilities processing MSW in the U.S., which presents a challenge when verifying capital cost and operational cost estimates provided by companies. Project costs for all WTE technologies will also be site-specific.  

4. Verification of Cost and Performance Estimates
Many proposals come from new companies or vendors promoting new technologies. This presents significant issues regarding the reliability and economic viability of technologies or businesses without a proven track record.  

5. Size
According to Kauai's draft Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan (ISWMP), in 2005 the Kekaha landfill received 89,156 tons of municipal solid waste (MSW), for an average of 244 tpd. A total of 27,223 tons of MSW were recycled, for a total waste generation of 116,379 tons or 319 tpd. Based on 2005 resident and tourist population of 85,806 persons, the per capita generation rate per day is 7.43 lbs, which is consistent with tourist destinations.

The draft ISWMP projects a 2009 total daily de facto population of 91,900 persons with a generation of 134,670 tons, or 369 tpd.5 Many WTE technologies must take advantage of economies of scale to be cost effective, meaning that they need to process 500-1000 tpd or more of MSW. This is significantly more waste than Kauai currently produces.

One solution could be to bring MSW from other islands to support a WTE facility. Many of the AD facilities currently in operation, particularly those with operational experience of greater than five years, have capacities smaller than 20,000 metric tpy, although there is a trend to build larger anaerobic digestion facilities because of economies of scale.  

6. Siting
There are significant environmental issues that may be raised by national advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club & the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA). Opposition by local residents could be a significant issue when siting a project. Environmental reviews and permitting requirements could be significant. Having a WTE facility approved successfully will require an upfront analysis of inputs/outputs, including emissions, and a comparison of these with more conventional waste management strategies such as landfills. Most of the WTE facilities in the U.S. became operational between 1980 and 1996.

 Only three new plants have come on line since 1996 (2 in 1997 and 1 in 2000).6 The primary reason for the slow-down in new WTE plants is the environmental concern involving existing plants. Most of these plants were installed without adequately addressing the environmental issues. The WTE industry is currently in the middle of an $800 million plant upgrade to install adequate air quality control systems that will allow the facilities to meet current EPA standards.

Because of their historical emission problems, the WTE combustion plants have received and continue to receive significant resistance from environmental groups and negative reviews in the press. Groups such as GAIA and Greenaction have called alternative WTE technologies (gasification and plasma gasification) "Incinerators in Disguise" due to the combustion of product syngas to produce electrical power.  

7. Odor
Modern WTE facilities are built so that a constant negative air pressure is always drawing air from the refuse pit (where incoming waste is dumped) into the furnace where the waste is combusted. At the temperatures encountered in a modern combustion system all smells/odors associated with waste are eliminated. This insures that no odor will be detected around or downwind of the facility.

 8. Timeframe
The lifetime of many WTE plants is 25-30 years or more. Such long-term contracts may be inadvisable for communities and waste generators as they may stifle better options that may become available in the shorter term. Many alternative technologies such as gasification and plasma gasification remain under development and significant advances could emerge sooner than 25 years.  

1. County of Kauai Department of Public Works, “Public Informational Meeting: MSW Landfill Issues, www.kauai.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=3P1sSc3vtDQ=&tabid=238
2. Plasco Energy Group, "A Partnership for a Zero-Waste Ottawa", http://www.zerowasteottawa.com/en/
3. R.W. Beck, "City of Honolulu Review of Plasma Arc Gasification and Vitrification Technology for Waste Disposal", January 23, 2003, http://www.opala.org/pdfs/solid_waste/arc/PlasmaArc.pdf
4. Kelleher, Maria, “Anaerobic Digestion Outlook for MSW Streams”, BioCycle, August 2007, http://www.jgpress.com/archives/_free/001406.html
5. County of Kauai Department of Public Works, “Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan”, draft 3/2009, http://www.kauai.gov/
6. Recovered Energy, Inc., http://www.recoveredenergy.com/d_wte.html
7. HPower, http://www.honoluluhpower.com/
8. Oahu City Department of Environmental Services, "City to Brief Council on Plasma Arc Recommendations for Landfill Reduction Press Release", March 30,2004, http://www.honolulu.gov/refs/csd/publiccom/honnews04/plasmaarcrecommendations.htm  

AD – Anaerobic Digestion
EPA - Environmental Protection Agency
ISWMP - Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan
MACT - Maximum Achievable Control Technology
MBT – Mechanical Biological Treatment
MRF - Materials Recovery Facility
MSW - Municipal Solid Waste
PAG - Plasma Arc Gasification
TCLP - Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure
Tpd - Tons per day
Tpy – Tons per year
WTE - Waste to Energy  

MauiBrad said... The Big Island's take on this same question about Waste to Energy: Comments on WTE from the Hawaii County Energy Sustainability Study http://co.hawaii.hi.us/rd/hiesp_full.pdf "...Despite its apparent appeal in solving the County’s solid waste problem, the WasteManagement Report identified the following problems with WTE:
1. It may not be the most effective use of limited County funds;

2. It effectively eviscerates any recycling or reuse value of the waste streams; 3. It does not conform to the state’s goals for reducing waste generation and disposaland runs counter to U.S. EPA’s rankings for environmentally sound municipal solid waste. Limited Solid Waste and Funds The County is examining the possibility of developing a WTE incineration facility toburn the waste currently being disposed of at the South Hilo Landfill. 

The estimated costfor such a facility is approximately $35 million dollars.180 There are several problemsarising from this. An average of approximately 230 tons per day of waste are disposedof at the South Hilo Landfill.

However, in order to be profitable, economies of scaledictate that most incinerators currently operating in the U.S. (almost 75 percent) are built with a capacity of 500 tons per day or more and nearly half of US WTE facilities have acapacity of over 1,000 tons per day. There simply may not be enough waste available tokeep the plant functioning at an economically viable level.

Compounding this problem isthat the County would most likely sign a “put-or-pay” contract, whereby it agrees tosupply a certain amount of waste to the incineration facility. If this waste is notdelivered, the County will have to pay a fee. Perverse incentives may be createdencouraging the County to cap its recycling potential at a level so as to ensure that theWTE plant receives a minimum amount of waste required for them to run the plantefficiently and as contractually obligated. To put this in some perspective, Wheelabrator Technologies Inc. generates electricityusing waste fuels. They own sixteen WTE plants in the northeast United States, Florida,Washington, and California.

With one exception, each of their plants use between 500and 2,250 tons of solid waste every day, with an electric power capacity of between 14.5and 60 MW. This volume of waste far exceeds not just that which is landfilled in the180As reported in the Waste Management Report, Engineers at the Department ofEnvironmental Management developed cost estimates for various waste management facilities under consideration..."

 SENTECH Hawaii, LLC Team said... Dear MauiBrad, Thanks for providing information about Hawaii County's WTE plans. Examining how other locations have considered and dealt with some of the issues presented definitely adds value to the discussion! We would like to hear what people think about how this fits, or doesn't fit, Kauai's situation. And now that the Big Island is not moving forward with the Wheelabrator project, do you know what their future plans are for dealing with MSW? Mahalo!

Jill Sims APOLLO KAUAI IS BACK WITH REGULAR MONTHLY MEETINGS (Usually the 4th Thursday of the month at 6PM) Through education and advocacy, APOLLO KAUA`I assists our island in becoming more sustainable by using socially and environmentally responsible, renewable alternatives to fossil fuels.

Thursday, June 25 at 6PM
Mo`ikeha Room, County Civic Center in Lihue
Representative Mina Morita – Legislative Action this Session  

Update on Waste to Energy with input from SENTECH – Kaua`i Energy Sustainability Plan Thoughts on our water supply and its dependence on fossil fuel Eating locally – feature recipe of the month – Avocado Coconut Bars or Green Papaya Salad

Another Change Ahead

SUBHEAD: A transfer to another server for our website may create a temporary dropout in our service. By Juan Wilson on 16 June 2009 in Island Breath - (http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2009/06/another-change-ahead.html) Image above: The first masthead from www.islandbreath.org used in January 2004. The view is from Puolo Point near Salt Pond in Hanapepe Kauai lookingwest. THE SOLUTION: On July 7th our website hosting will be modified and hopefully simplified. There may be a few bumbs along the way. There is likely to be at least a short time in the days before then that the URL http://www.islandbreath.org will not get you where you want to go. You will be able to find new articles (posted after December 2008) at http://islandbreath.blogspot.com. You will be able to find older material (posted prior to December 2008) in the archives of www.islandbreath.org THE PROBLEM: The supporting structure of our website is more complicated than we would like. It's domain name is handled by one company that forwards any hit on www.islandbreath.org to another company's server that hosts the original format for Island Breath. To add to the complication, since the end of last year we have been using Google's blogger technology to simplify contributions by a larger editorial staff. The blogger posts are nested in the old Island Breath HTML frame format at http://homepage.mac.com/juanwilson/islandbreath. This means that someone entering the URL www.islandbreath.org passes through three servers owned by three different companies to arrive at our current website. Our plan is to move all material to our domain name server and try and repair and rebuild what is necessary to keep the new material and our archived articles intact. This includes "The Gobbler" material that has material from our former mainland website and its precursor printed newsletter going back to 1993. AN INVITATION: We use http://www.statcounter.com to monitor traffic to our site. We have noticed that since employing the Google blogger technology last December that there has been no increase in site traffic. In fact by some measures we may have lost readers. This may be because of a shift in our content towards economic issues or the cooling off of some hot issues like the Superferry fiasco that drew lots of readers. It may also have been the inconvenience and trouble getting through the change in the site architecture. We hope that we don't lose you as a reader as we pass through this next change. In any case, we hope to stay relevant as we go forward. That means continuing to receive a variety of editorial material from our readers. There are about a dozen regular contributors that email us links, original material and forwarded material for our use. Please continue, but be mindful, if you send us material, for it to be published, it must include the source of the content. We are able to read, evaluate, illustrate and post, on average, about two to three articles a day. As a result, not everything that we would like to put on the site gets published. If you want to be a regular supporter of our site you are more likely to get published if you become an editor. To learn more about having editorial privilege, please email juanwilson@mac.com. Thanks ahead of time for bearing with us as we shift gears again.

Conspiracy Theories

SUBHEAD: Three good reasons (and 1 bad one) why not to buy into conspiracy theories. SOURCE Katy Rose (rose.katy5@gmail.com) By Joshua Holland on 18 May 2009 in AlterNet.org - http://www.alternet.org/media/140066?page=entire Image above: The cabal sits and plots. National Security Council meeting on 7/6/06. From http://publicwhitecube.com/pwc/?p=583 Conspiracy theories often pre-empt substantive analysis of the real political structures that shape our society. Recently, a freelance writer sent a note to our editorial staff: "Perhaps I am stating the obvious," he wrote, "but AlterNet certainly appears quite hostile, in a kind of blanket sense, to any story labeled ‘conspiracy.' I am curious and eager to understand why." It's a question that frequently pops up in readers' comments on our stories, and the most common conclusion they draw is that our writers are in on the conspiracy; if they weren't an active part of the cover-up, how could they possibly fail to see the outlines of such an obvious plot as (insert obvious plot here)? I can only answer the question for myself, but I imagine it's the same answer many in the progressive media would offer. I've never felt pressure from above to "debunk" any particular theory, and, contrary to popular belief in some circles, am not in the employ of some murky organization that seeks to silence those brave enough to fight for the "truth." To the degree that I am hostile towards conspiracism (the reality is that I find it fascinating as a sociological phenomenon -- like other forms of mythology), I can offer four reasons for the skepticism -- three are sound, one is not. The one that is not is, however, a matter of human nature. Evidence and 'Evidence' - Conspiracists often suggest that the evidence for their theory is overwhelming, but on critical inspection, it simply doesn't stand up. I've approached conspiracy theories with an open mind and have found them to begin with a conclusion and work backward to "prove" its veracity. So, the simplest reason for my own skepticism towards conspiracy theories is that in my experience, the dots their proponents connect and hold up as "proof" have invariably turned out to be as substantial as vapor. In his classic 1964 essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," political scientist Richard Hofstadter wrote: … One of the impressive things about paranoid literature is the contrast between its fantasied conclusions and the almost touching concern with factuality it invariably shows. It produces heroic strivings for evidence to prove that the unbelievable is the only thing that can be believed. … Respectable paranoid literature not only starts from certain moral commitments that can indeed be justified but also carefully and all-but-obsessively accumulates "evidence." The difference between this "evidence" and that commonly employed by others is that it seems less a means of entering into normal political controversy than a means of warding off the profane intrusion of the secular political world. The paranoid seems to have little expectation of actually convincing a hostile world, but he can accumulate evidence in order to protect his cherished convictions from it. So it has been with 9/11 conspiracy theories -- those with which I'm most familiar. The supposedly water-tight "evidence" that 9/11 was an "inside job falls into one of three categories. Eyewitness accounts and early press press reports that cast doubt on the sequence of events that day are common, but it's well known that eyewitness testimony during a traumatic event and stories rushed to press in the heat of a huge breaking story are unreliable and often conflicting. Do I know why a BBC broadcast that announced the collapse of World Trade Center Tower 7 bore a time stamp suggesting it was aired 26 minutes before the building fell? No, I don't, but I don't believe the U.S. government -- or whoever was really behind 9/11 -- would blow its cover by tipping off the BBC. There are also pseudoscientific claims about 9/11 that don't hold water. Just one example among many: 9/11 "truthers" often say that the World Trade Center towers couldn't possibly have collapsed as a result of the impact of those jets because the estimated temperatures of the fires that followed weren't hot enough to melt the steel framework of the building. They point to photographs that show a substance flowing out of the damaged buildings before they collapsed, conclude that the substance was steel and argue that this is definitive proof that a substance other than an incendiary mix of jet fuel and office furnishings had to have been used to cut the steel supports. These claims -- offered as "proof" -- crumble when examined in detail. As a critical thinker who isn't an expert in the fine points of metallurgy, it would be deeply irresponsible to take them as evidence of anything more than what Hoftstadter called "the paranoid style in American politics." It is so with every claim I've looked at. Conspiracist Web sites have counterparts that are equally dedicated to examining the mountains of discrepancies, conflicting accounts and dubious scientific claims advanced by the conspiracists. The key to maintaining one's belief in farfetched theories is the ability to ignore any claims that contradict one's preferred narrative out of hand and paint any individual or organization that advances those claims as being in on the conspiracy. An excellent of the latter is the truthers' reaction to a detailed look at their claims by Popular Mechanics. It was in on the cover-up, according to many people with whom I've spoken, and the proof is that it was edited by Benjamin Chertoff -- a "propagandist and illuminati disinformation tool" who is "none other than a cousin of Michael Chertoff, the new secretary of the Department of Homeland Security." Only one problem here: Benjamin Chertoff isn't Michael Chertoff's cousin -- he ha's said flatly that no member of his family had ever even met the former head of homeland security or his family (Benjamin did concede that one might find a distant family connection of which he's unaware if one goes back to "19th century Belarus"). This brings us to a central dividing line between conspiracy theorists and their opponents: either one believes that those refuting claimed evidence of a dark conspiracy are in on the cover-up, or one doesn't. I don't, and that's a key reason I don't find the "evidence" backing these theories up terribly impressive. Structuralism and Dark Forces - Central to most conspiracy theories is the notion that the visible institutions of power in our society are merely puppets being pulled by invisible but all-powerful forces working behind the scenes. The forces vary -- the neocons behind PNAC, international Jewry, the Illuminati, bankers, the New World Order, the Bilderbergers, etc., but the theme is a constant -- someone we can't readily identify is really in charge, and all the visible centers of power right there before are eyes are merely actors on a grand stage. That view circumvents any substantive analysis of the real and diverse political and economic structures that shape our society. Instead of varied elites wielding influence in the fields of law, politics and the economy -- with different and often incompatible interests -- most conspiracy theories begin with a monolithic power working behind the scenes to shape events. An essay on conspiracism by Political Research Associates says: "Conspiracists sometimes target people who in fact have significant power and culpability in a given conflict-- -- Wall Street power brokers, corporate magnates, banking industry executives, politicians, government officials -- but conspiracists portray these forces in caricature that obscures a rational assessment of their wrongdoing." It is not individual people who have the actual power, but the roles they occupy in social, political and economic institutions. There are undeniably powerful individuals, but when they die, their power does not evaporate, it redistributes itself to other individuals in similar roles and to individuals that scramble to inherit the role just vacated. No single power bloc, company, family or individual in a complex modern society wields absolute control, even though there are always systems of control. Wall Street stock brokers are not outsiders deforming an otherwise happy system. Holly Sklar argues, "the government is manipulated by various elites, often behind the scenes, but these elites are not a tiny secret cabal with omniscience and omnipotence." There is no secret team ... the elites that exist are anything but secret. The government and the economy are not alien forces superimposed over an otherwise equitable and freedom-loving society. To the degree that conspiracism ignores the real centers of power in our society in favor an image of a murky globalist cabal, it doesn't do much to advance our understanding of the world in which we live, and that is itself a major reason not to take the lion's share of these theories seriously. Distraction and Marginalization of Serious Questions - The most harmful effect of conspiracy theories -- which, in my experience are often built on some small kernel of verifiable truth -- is that it pre-empts serious analysis and investigation of the really important issues by marginalizing those performing the analysis and making the questions themselves appear to be based on crazy, fringe propositions. They serve to distract from the real dynamics that more often than not underlie the plots cooked up by overheated imaginations. Two examples illustrate this point. While 9/11 "Truth" mainstay David Ray Griffin's rhetorical tactic of accusing those who don't buy into his version of events of "defending the official story" has become popular, the reality, at least in my case, is that I agree there are serious and unanswered questions about why 9/11 happened at all (as I wrote here almost three years ago). But asking those questions puts one at risk of being lumped in with a fringe movement, and the result is that we're less likely to get at the truth about what happened that day because of the 9/11 Truth movement, not despite its tireless efforts (a conspiracy theory as good as any other is that the whole 9/11 "Truth" movement is a government operation designed to prevent serious questioning of what led up to the events of that infamous day). Another example is the North American Union -- which I wrote about here. If you're not familiar with the theory -- it's especially popular in far-right circles -- it holds that there is a "globalist plot" to combine the U.S., Canada and Mexico into one transnational super state and replace our own government with a regional power that presides over all of the citizens of the new union. It is, simply, hokum: a "plan" endorsed in an academic white paper (and later a book) and nothing more. But there is a very real, and very dangerous (from progressives' perspective), push toward much closer economic integration in North America, as well as a move toward a "security partnership" among the U.S., Canada and Mexico with equally disturbing ramifications. I wrote in that article: "The context … is an important reason why [it's] taken on a sinister air in many people's minds. NAFTA was part of a larger push for legal and regulatory "harmonization" among the three countries of North America. Business groups and other "trade" lobbyists have in fact advocated greater consistency in North America's regulatory environment, and that always means decreasing, not increasing, labor, environmental, workplace and other standards. It is not the highest common denominator that backers want to see spread far and wide." Make no mistake, I've shed blood opposing corporate trade deals like NAFTA and the Free Trade Area of the Americas, and there are very real and very significant problems with the push toward harmonization and the relentless assault on national sovereignty represented by the arm-twisting that goes into forcing a trade "consensus." Construction of key parts of the "NAFTA highway" have raised serious environmental concerns. We don't need to expand NAFTA or the other institutions of international commerce; we need a pause in the march toward global (or in this case, regional) economic integration, not more of the same. And Canadian activists like Maude Barlow of the Council for Canadians have warned for some time that the [Security and Prosperity Partnership at the heart of the NAU conspiracies] is part of a push, financed by Canadian and U.S. corporate think tanks, to essentially bring an end to Canada's social-welfare state through regional integration. (More detail can be found in this PDF posted by the Council of Canadians.) Given that corporate lobbyists' favored tactic of deflecting criticism of their "trade" agenda is to accuse critics of suffering from an irrational "globalphobia," a lot of people screaming about a North American Union that's based on nothing more than an academic discussion is anything but helpful for those of us with deep concerns about corporate-led globalization. The Bad Reason - I'm most familiar with 9/11 conspiracism, and over the years I've interacted with many bright, intelligent and wholly sane members of the 9/11 Truth movement. Some I even consider friends. But those voices are, in my experience, overshadowed by those of people whose paranoia is quite apparent, or whose theories are, on their face, nothing short of insane (not long ago, a reader went on at some length about how utterly brain-dead I must be for failing to see the obvious truth: the World Trade Center towers were brought down by Chinese space lasers, and those planes that appeared to crash into the buildings were obviously just holographic projections). Similarly, while conspiracism is by no means limited to the political right, most conspiracy theories are based in an old form of right-wing populism, with fear of the pernicious role of foreign influence on our society at their heart -- the idea of the heroic "ordinary American" trapped under the yoke of an international conspiracy by unseen forces aided by a complicit government. Many -- like the NAU -- are enthusiastically promoted by far-right publications. Swift Boat veteran Jerome Corsi, for example, has been the most vocal proponent of the idea, warning of an imminent plot to "replace" the United States. Rejecting arguments based on the characteristics of their proponents is a classic logical fallacy. But it's also human nature, and journalists, writers and editors are only human.


SUBHEAD: The dismantling America’s financial-military empire.
By Michael Hudson on 13 June 2009 in Global Research http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=13969 Image above: Dollar toilet paper photo at http://ava7.com/2006/10/funny-toilet-pictures.html The city of Yakaterinburg, Russia’s largest east of the Urals, may become known not only as the death place of the tsars but of American hegemony too – and not only where US U-2 pilot Gary Powers was shot down in 1960, but where the US-centered international financial order was brought to ground. Challenging America will be the prime focus of extended meetings in Yekaterinburg, Russia (formerly Sverdlovsk) today and tomorrow (June 15-16) for Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and other top officials of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The alliance is comprised of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrghyzstan and Uzbekistan, with observer status for Iran, India, Pakistan and Mongolia. It will be joined on Tuesday by Brazil for trade discussions among the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China). The attendees have assured American diplomats that dismantling the US financial and military empire is not their aim. They simply want to discuss mutual aid – but in a way that has no role for the United States, NATO or the US dollar as a vehicle for trade. US diplomats may well ask what this really means, if not a move to make US hegemony obsolete. That is what a multipolar world means, after all. For starters, in 2005 the SCO asked Washington to set a timeline to withdraw from its military bases in Central Asia. Two years later the SCO countries formally aligned themselves with the former CIS republics belonging to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), established in 2002 as a counterweight to NATO. The attendees have assured American diplomats that dismantling the US financial and military empire is not their aim. They simply want to discuss mutual aid – but in a way that has no role for the United States, NATO or the US dollar as a vehicle for trade. US diplomats may well ask what this really means, if not a move to make US hegemony obsolete. That is what a multipolar world means, after all. For starters, in 2005 the SCO asked Washington to set a timeline to withdraw from its military bases in Central Asia. Two years later the SCO countries formally aligned themselves with the former CIS republics belonging to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), established in 2002 as a counterweight to NATO. What may prove to be the last rites of American hegemony began already in April at the G-20 conference, and became even more explicit at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 5, when Mr. Medvedev called for China, Russia and India to "build an increasingly multipolar world order." What this means in plain English is: We have reached our limit in subsidizing the United States’ military encirclement of Eurasia while also allowing the US to appropriate our exports, companies, stocks and real estate in exchange for paper money of questionable worth. "The artificially maintained unipolar system," Mr. Medvedev spelled out, is based on "one big centre of consumption, financed by a growing deficit, and thus growing debts, one formerly strong reserve currency, and one dominant system of assessing assets and risks."2 At the root of the global financial crisis, he concluded, is that the United States makes too little and spends too much. Especially upsetting is its military spending, such as the stepped-up US military aid to Georgia announced just last week, the NATO missile shield in Eastern Europe and the US buildup in the oil-rich Middle East and Central Asia. The sticking point with all these countries is the US ability to print unlimited amounts of dollars. Overspending by US consumers on imports in excess of exports, US buy-outs of foreign companies and real estate, and the dollars that the Pentagon spends abroad all end up in foreign central banks. These agencies then face a hard choice: either to recycle these dollars back to the United States by purchasing US Treasury bills, or to let the "free market" force up their currency relative to the dollar – thereby pricing their exports out of world markets and hence creating domestic unemployment and business insolvency. When China and other countries recycle their dollar inflows by buying US Treasury bills to "invest" in the United States, this buildup is not really voluntary. It does not reflect faith in the U.S. economy enriching foreign central banks for their savings, or any calculated investment preference, but simply a lack of alternatives. "Free markets" US-style hook countries into a system that forces them to accept dollars without limit. Now they want out. This means creating a new alternative. Rather than making merely "cosmetic changes as some countries and perhaps the international financial organisations themselves might want," Mr. Medvedev ended his St. Petersburg speech, "what we need are financial institutions of a completely new type, where particular political issues and motives, and particular countries will not dominate." When foreign military spending forced the US balance of payments into deficit and drove the United States off gold in 1971, central banks were left without the traditional asset used to settle payments imbalances. The alternative by default was to invest their subsequent payments inflows in US Treasury bonds, as if these still were "as good as gold." Central banks now hold $4 trillion of these bonds in their international reserves – land these loans have financed most of the US Government’s domestic budget deficits for over three decades now! Given the fact that about half of US Government discretionary spending is for military operations – including more than 750 foreign military bases and increasingly expensive operations in the oil-producing and transporting countries – the international financial system is organized in a way that finances the Pentagon, along with US buyouts of foreign assets expected to yield much more than the Treasury bonds that foreign central banks hold. The main political issue confronting the world’s central banks is therefore how to avoid adding yet more dollars to their reserves and thereby financing yet further US deficit spending – including military spending on their borders? For starters, the six SCO countries and BRIC countries intend to trade in their own currencies so as to get the benefit of mutual credit that the United States until now has monopolized for itself. Toward this end, China has struck bilateral deals with Argentina and Brazil to denominate their trade in renminbi rather than the dollar, sterling or euros,3 and two weeks ago China reached an agreement with Malaysia to denominate trade between the two countries in renminbi.[4] Former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad explained to me in January that as a Muslim country, Malaysia wants to avoid doing anything that would facilitate US military action against Islamic countries, including Palestine. The nation has too many dollar assets as it is, his colleagues explained. Central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan of the People's Bank of China wrote an official statement on its website that the goal is now to create a reserve currency "that is disconnected from individual nations."5 This is the aim of the discussions in Yekaterinburg. In addition to avoiding financing the US buyout of their own industry and the US military encirclement of the globe, China, Russia and other countries no doubt would like to get the same kind of free ride that America has been getting. As matters stand, they see the United States as a lawless nation, financially as well as militarily. How else to characterize a nation that holds out a set of laws for others – on war, debt repayment and treatment of prisoners – but ignores them itself? The United States is now the world’s largest debtor yet has avoided the pain of "structural adjustments" imposed on other debtor economies. US interest-rate and tax reductions in the face of exploding trade and budget deficits are seen as the height of hypocrisy in view of the austerity programs that Washington forces on other countries via the IMF and other Washington vehicles. The United States tells debtor economies to sell off their public utilities and natural resources, raise their interest rates and increase taxes while gutting their social safety nets to squeeze out money to pay creditors. And at home, Congress blocked China’s CNOOK from buying Unocal on grounds of national security, much as it blocked Dubai from buying US ports and other sovereign wealth funds from buying into key infrastructure. Foreigners are invited to emulate the Japanese purchase of white elephant trophies such as Rockefeller Center, on which investors quickly lost a billion dollars and ended up walking away. In this respect the US has not really given China and other payments-surplus nations much alternative but to find a way to avoid further dollar buildups. To date, China’s attempts to diversify its dollar holdings beyond Treasury bonds have not proved very successful. For starters, Hank Paulson of Goldman Sachs steered its central bank into higher-yielding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac securities, explaining that these were de facto public obligations. They collapsed in 2008, but at least the US Government took these two mortgage-lending agencies over, formally adding their $5.2 trillion in obligations onto the national debt. In fact, it was largely foreign official investment that prompted the bailout. Imposing a loss for foreign official agencies would have broken the Treasury-bill standard then and there, not only by utterly destroying US credibility but because there simply are too few Government bonds to absorb the dollars being flooded into the world economy by the soaring US balance-of-payments deficits. Seeking more of an equity position to protect the value of their dollar holdings as the Federal Reserve’s credit bubble drove interest rates down China’s sovereign wealth funds sought to diversify in late 2007. China bought stakes in the well-connected Blackstone equity fund and Morgan Stanley on Wall Street, Barclays in Britain South Africa’s Standard Bank (once affiliated with Chase Manhattan back in the apartheid 1960s) and in the soon-to-collapse Belgian financial conglomerate Fortis. But the US financial sector was collapsing under the weight of its debt pyramiding, and prices for shares plunged for banks and investment firms across the globe. Foreigners see the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organization as Washington surrogates in a financial system backed by American military bases and aircraft carriers encircling the globe. But this military domination is a vestige of an American empire no longer able to rule by economic strength. US military power is muscle-bound, based more on atomic weaponry and long-distance air strikes than on ground operations, which have become too politically unpopular to mount on any large scale. On the economic front there is no foreseeable way in which the United States can work off the $4 trillion it owes foreign governments, their central banks and the sovereign wealth funds set up to dispose of the global dollar glut. America has become a deadbeat – and indeed, a militarily aggressive one as it seeks to hold onto the unique power it once earned by economic means. The problem is how to constrain its behavior. Yu Yongding, a former Chinese central bank advisor now with China’s Academy of Sciences, suggested that US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner be advised that the United States should "save" first and foremost by cutting back its military budget. "U.S. tax revenue is not likely to increase in the short term because of low economic growth, inflexible expenditures and the cost of ‘fighting two wars.’"6 At present it is foreign savings, not those of Americans that are financing the US budget deficit by buying most Treasury bonds. The effect is taxation without representation for foreign voters as to how the US Government uses their forced savings. It therefore is necessary for financial diplomats to broaden the scope of their policy-making beyond the private-sector marketplace. Exchange rates are determined by many factors besides "consumers wielding credit cards," the usual euphemism that the US media cite for America’s balance-of-payments deficit. Since the 13th century, war has been a dominating factor in the balance of payments of leading nations – and of their national debts. Government bond financing consists mainly of war debts, as normal peacetime budgets tend to be balanced. This links the war budget directly to the balance of payments and exchange rates. Foreign nations see themselves stuck with unpayable IOUs – under conditions where, if they move to stop the US free lunch, the dollar will plunge and their dollar holdings will fall in value relative to their own domestic currencies and other currencies. If China’s currency rises by 10% against the dollar, its central bank will show the equivalent of a $200 million loss on its $2 trillion of dollar holdings as denominated in yuan. This explains why, when bond ratings agencies talk of the US Treasury securities losing their AAA rating, they don’t mean that the government cannot simply print the paper dollars to "make good" on these bonds. They mean that dollars will depreciate in international value. And that is just what is now occurring. When Mr. Geithner put on his serious face and told an audience at Peking University in early June that he believed in a "strong dollar" and China’s US investments therefore were safe and sound, he was greeted with derisive laughter.7 Anticipation of a rise in China’s exchange rate provides an incentive for speculators to seek to borrow in dollars to buy renminbi and benefit from the appreciation. For China, the problem is that this speculative inflow would become a self-fulfilling prophecy by forcing up its currency. So the problem of international reserves is inherently linked to that of capital controls. Why should China see its profitable companies sold for yet more freely-created US dollars, which the central bank must use to buy low-yielding US Treasury bills or lose yet further money on Wall Street? To avoid this quandary it is necessary to reverse the philosophy of open capital markets that the world has held ever since Bretton Woods in 1944. On the occasion of Mr. Geithner’s visit to China, "Zhou Xiaochuan, minister of the Peoples Bank of China, the country’s central bank, said pointedly that this was the first time since the semiannual talks began in 2006 that China needed to learn from American mistakes as well as its successes" when it came to deregulating capital markets and dismantling controls. An era therefore is coming to an end. In the face of continued US overspending, de-dollarization threatens to force countries to return to the kind of dual exchange rates common between World Wars I and II: one exchange rate for commodity trade, another for capital movements and investments, at least from dollar-area economies. Even without capital controls, the nations meeting at Yekaterinburg are taking steps to avoid being the unwilling recipients of yet more dollars. Seeing that US global hegemony cannot continue without spending power that they themselves supply, governments are attempting to hasten what Chalmers Johnson has called "the sorrows of empire" in his book by that name – the bankruptcy of the US financial-military world order. If China, Russia and their non-aligned allies have their way, the United States will no longer live off the savings of others (in the form of its own recycled dollars) nor have the money for unlimited military expenditures and adventures. US officials wanted to attend the Yekaterinburg meeting as observers. They were told No. It is a word that Americans will hear much more in the future.

Women's Art Festival

SUBHEAD: Women's Artists of Kauai Art Festival at the NTBG. By Linda Pascatore on 14 June 2009 in Island Breath - (http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2009/06/womens-art-festival.html) Image above: First meeting of the Women Artists of Kauai at Duke's on May 20, 2009. http://womenartistsofkauai.blogspot.com/2009/05/our-first-meeting-women-artists-of.html WHAT: Art Festival: There will be an Art Sale, and a Silent Auction of Art. Musical entertainment will feature guitarist Dr. Matthew Miller from noon to 2pm. Food and refreshments will be provided by Savage Shrimp and Shave Ice. Keiki can enjoy Face Painting by Aunty Steph. Oshibana, NTBG's volunteer craft group, will be on hand from 9:30am to 2:30pm with hand-crafted items for purchase. WHERE & WHEN: Saturday, June 20, 9:30am to 3:30 pm, at the National Tropical Botanical Garden, 4425 Lawai Road, Poipu (across from Spouting Horn). WHO: Featured artists include: Emily Miller, Rocky Riedel, Aweepano Vivian Satow, Dava Shepherd, Anna Skaradzinska, Schar Freeman, Marionette, Helen Turner, and Jana Viles. SPONSORED BY: Women Artists of Kauai and the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG). A portion of the proceeds from sales at this event will benefit the garden. CONTACT: Women Artists of Kauai: http://womenartistsofkauai.blogspot.com/ Schar Freeman: schar2003@yahoo.com National Tropical Botanical Garden: http://www.ntbg.org/, (808) 742-2433

DOD sues to recruit kids

SUBHEAD: U.S. military targets kids' minds domestically, targets Middle East kids with weapons.  

By Jan Lunberg on 7 June 2009 in Culture Changes - http://www.culturechange.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=449&Itemid=1

Image above: BEFORE: Children examining the USMC recruiting humvee in front of the Dorton Arena at the North Carolina state fairgrounds. From http://travel.webshots.com/photo/1366530739060425724CzNgzT

The movement to stop the military from recruiting children brings it's challenge to the Federal Court. The Justice Department filed a suit against Arcata and Eureka in California, against the overwhelming support of the voters. We can step back from the U.S society that we normally take for granted, provided we're not completely immersed in televised entertainment or other distraction. One of the things we may notice, or if it hits home by virtue of a family member's becoming a military casualty in Iraq or Afghanistan, is that the nation is way overboard on "Defense." As this is unquestioned, branches of the Pentagon have brazenly been recruiting children.

A movement has sprung up to stop this, and its first big test is in Federal Court on June 9 (details below). The excuse for child-recruiting (ages 14-17) is tough to dispel when the economic factor in people's fears is constantly exploited. It starts with the assumption that "education" means compulsory, institutionalized regimentation for the sake of becoming "productive citizens" who, most of us discover, have to go work for a boss or bureaucracy -- if we're "lucky." There we usually produce something meaningless or questionable, or we serve consumers meaninglessly.

The health of the planet and the worker be damned along with human potential. Some of us realize that these patterns are tied up in profligate energy waste that will end, along with much of society's present structure, upon the completion of petrocollapse that has begun. Meanwhile, the opposing of egregious practices should be encouraged, even if the delusion of democracy and the continuity of the Empire go unquestioned.

The child-recruitment issue was on the radio/TV show Democracy Now on April 18 of this year, when host Amy Goodman had guests helping her delve into the details of the case: Goodman reported, "Two Northern California towns are finding themselves in a showdown with the Pentagon over a ban on recruiting minors for the military. Last November, residents of Eureka and Arcata passed a ballot initiative known as the Youth Protection Act.

The measure bars the U.S. government from trying to enlist youths under the age of eighteen in any branch of the U.S. armed forces. [In Arcata, it passed by 73 percent margin, and in Eureka, by 57 percent.] "But just days after the laws went into effect, the Justice Department filed a suit seeking to overturn them. The Justice Department’s civil action says the initiatives are invalid because they conflict with federal law.

Both towns are refusing to cave. They’ve hired lawyers, filed counter-claims challenging the federal government’s action." Guest Sharon Adams, with the Stop Recruiting Kids coalition, board member of the National Lawyers Guild Bay Area Chapter, illuminated the finer points that the case hinges on:
"The Supremacy Clause is an article in the Constitution that says that the laws of the United States are the supreme law of the land, but it also includes in there the treaties that the United States has signed. So, one of our arguments is that there’s a protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. That’s a treaty that the United States has signed. And in that treaty, it specifically discusses recruiting. And it specifically says, as far as the United States is concerned, that the United States will not recruit under the age of seventeen. And what we see over and over is that they are actually recruiting under the age of seventeen." 

Once again we find that the U.S. government is doing something illegal. Just as disappointing, to the naive especially, is to face that the defense of child recruitment for the military is being carried out by the Obama regime and its velvet glove that conceals the same old fist, it seems. What happened to ending the War?

Image above: AFTER - The burned out shell of an armoured US Humvee after passing over an IED. From (http://forums.military.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/672198221/m/2360035171001/p/2)

How many more children and other innocents have to be killed by drone missiles, raids by troops, etc.? Don't the violent, indiscriminate U.S. actions in other countries come back to haunt us, or is it "only" a matter of the Empire's fouling its own nest (Earth)

See also: Island Breath: Ban military recruiting of teens 2/7/08


Message of Overconsumption

SUBHEAD: We must value the world beyond ourselves to become sustainable members of the community of life. By Namaste Bodhisantra on 12 June 2009 in Approaching the Limits to Growth http://paulchefurka.ca/Overconsumption.html The magazine “New Scientist” recently published a remarkable set of graphs that make a strong visual case for the overconsumptive predicament our civilization is in. They are reproduced below:
Images above: Graphs from the “New Scientist” This collection of graphs, all showing apparently exponential increases in consumption – especially since 1950 – serves to remind us that human impact on the world has accelerated dramatically in a variety of wildly different domains. They also pose a series of unspoken questions: "Is the apparent correlation between these graphs real, or is it simply the result of confirmation bias (otherwise known as cherry-picking)?" "If it is real, are there cause-and-effect linkages involved between the different domains that are driving the correlations?" "Is this apparently exponential behaviour a problem?" "If it is a problem, can the exponential nature of the curves be reversed by voluntary human action?" And... "What might happen if the functions of those curves remain unchanged?" For me, these burning questions have lost a lot of their urgency over the last year or so. I decided long ago that the correlation is real and is being driven by cause and effect linkages. I also decided that the overall trend is probably irreversible, although changes are definitely possible within some problem domains.
However, I've also concluded that it really doesn't matter that much. Our current situation is just one more in a long chain of similar dangerous circumstances that individuals, civilizations and species have faced since the dawn of time. The world is a dangerously changeable place, and we are not its masters.
Evolution has always proceeded through a feedback process of environmental pressure, adaptation, mutation and selection. Our current circumstances can be seen as just another type of impersonal environmental pressure. As a result, our future progress will be determined by the dynamic balance of adaptation and selection that plays out.
Being a somewhat metaphorical thinker, I see the growth of the small-group movement described by Paul Hawken in his book "Blessed Unrest" as a sort of cultural mutation. As such it will play an inevitable role in our evolutionary process. Whether it will be a successful mutation or turns out to be irrelevant or even morbid remains to be seen – just the same as all the other adaptive and restorative actions we undertake. Still, the accumulating evidence of interlinked, accelerating problems in widely separated parts of the human experiment screams out for strong solutions. Why is it that with the exception of a few eccentric people and a few small fringe groups everyone is proposing solutions that are nothing more then variations on the theme of Business As Usual? There is scant evidence of solutions whose strength matches the scope and scale of the problems. One reason for this shortcoming is that our analysis of the problem is defeated by its sheer size. Very few people can or do dive deep enough into the problem space to get a realistic understanding of how deep its roots are. People can only propose (or accept) solutions that are consistent with our understanding of the problem, and only those who understand how deep the roots of the problem lie are likely to embrace strong solutions.
Diving very deep into the problem space can reveal surprising things about its origins. For example, I've become convinced that the root cause of all our woes can be traced back to the sense of separateness that arose from the self-awareness we gained as our neocortex developed. There is a risk in developing such a deep view, however. My perspective, while interesting, is not terribly useful. It provides no resolution path, and can easily lead one into paralysis from feeling that our problems are "bred in the bone". In a sense we need to go deep enough to understand the need for radical change, but not so deep as to start feeling that any change is useless or hopeless. Why is this happening? As social creatures, we are all acutely aware of the continuing breakdown of our social contracts. Communities are being reduced to soul-less husks with a Wal-Mart at their core. Extended families are now largely distant memories, and even the nuclear family is succumbing to the disruptive energies of the atom-smashing civilization we have created. I see the breakdown of small-scale social structures like families and communities as being driven by the same general forces that are breaking down the environment, the economy, and the human spirit. These forces seem to work fractally, generating similar problems at all scales of our experience: from dying species to dying towns, from ruptured ocean ecologies to ruptured personal relationships.
The underlying problem is that we are telling ourselves a dysfunctional cultural story about who we are, what our place in the universe is, what our rights are (and they are very many), and what our responsibilities are (very few). This underlying story drives everything we do, from strip mining to cruising for chicks, so the results are similar in every arena we enter. The story is malignant, so the outcome of the behaviour it causes is malignant.
The story we are telling is one of our innate superiority, independence and separateness – from nature, from each other, and from any sense of the sacred. Unless and until that story changes our behaviour will not change, nor will the effect our behaviour has on everything we touch. At the core, the problems in the world today are not technical as much as spiritual.
Luckily it's not we who are broken, it's just the story that's broken. We can always tell a new story about ourselves. Again luckily, that's now starting to happen. Will enough of us change our story quickly enough? Who knows? We're a species that's addicted to risk, and waiting this long to change our story is the biggest risk we've ever taken. Now, it may not seem as though strip mining and cruising for chicks could possibly have the same underlying driver. They operate at entirely different scales, by totally different rules in completely different areas of our culture and civilization, and operate. Why do I lump them together so casually? I have come to believe that the story of separation we tell ourselves has a general pervasive influence on all our activities, whether the activities are directed at inanimate nature, other living species or other members of our own species. Here is how it works.
Because I have a neocortex I am self-aware. I can feel my sensations and experience my thoughts. However, I can feel only my own sensations, and I can experience only my own thoughts. Because of that, I am the most "real" object in my universe, and therefore all other objects in the universe are less real than I am. Because they are less real they have less value to me than "I" do.
However, I need other objects in the universe to accomplish my goals, whatever those might be. I have to use them, and therefore they become my resources. Different goals may require different resources. Getting rich (which enhances my sense of status and self-worth) may require digging up coal to sell. Getting laid (which enhances my sense of status as well as providing hormonal soothing) requires a woman (or a man, of course).
Because the mountain full of coal and the woman are both outside of me they are less real than me, and therefore have less value to me than I do. Their feelings are less important than mine (in the case of the woman or a community living close to my coal mine) or non-existent and therefore irrelevant (in the case of the mountain). In both cases the objectification of the not-me (mountain or woman) that is imposed by my self-awareness permits me to do things to the not-me that I would consider totally unacceptable if done to me.
This is a deeply rooted issue, but how it expresses itself is always open to cultural modification. In Western industrial society we are imbued with the cult of the individual, where self-interest rules, competition is the norm, and the zero-sum nature of the game is taken as self-evident. However, this is not the only way to see the world. We can learn to give others as much or even more value than ourselves. We can learn to see our welfare as inextricable from the welfare of the natural world. We can even learn to see that we "contain" the entire universe -- what the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh calls "interbeing". However, these attitudes must be learned. The fact that we have this fundamental sense of objectification (which is really a polite term for solipsism) built into our nature courtesy of our brain structure means that we are very susceptible to learning cultural stories that devalue "the other" -- whether the other is human on not.
Our sense of separateness, brought on by the self-awareness provided by our neocortex, is what enables us to rape both mountains and women. The only way out of the box is to learn to value the world beyond ourselves, to heal the sense of separateness by learning to connect with the other. The more we learn this skill, the less harm we do. The less we learn it, the more harm we do. Where do we go from here? I see one possible long-term resolution path, even if my belief about the root cause is true. It's a two pronged approach. First, it involves deep cuts to Business as Usual using the technological and regulatory tools everyone is familiar with. Given the entrenched interests of our civilization's Guardian Institutions this change alone is hard enough, as we have seen at Rio de Janeiro, Kyoto, Bali and in the American Congress. In my opinion, even if we are successful at implementing such superficial changes it will do little more than buy us a bit of extra time. The second prong of this approach, the one that I view as the real game-changer, might be considered even less likely. It involves a global, grass-roots transformation of consciousness from an economic paradigm to an ecological one. To make this shift we need to help people to understand that without an underlying ecology there is no economy: that economics is a purely human construct that depends on a functioning ecology for its existence, while ecology is a fact of nature like gravity that functions on its own. When I talk about a transformation of consciousness to the ecological, I really mean recognizing the primacy of ecology, and as a result understanding and accepting that our economies are only branch offices. If you are so inclined, you can see this transformation in spiritual terms, as a reclamation of the sacred through a recognition of the ecological interconnection of everything. If it happens, it will be a metamorphosis in the truest sense of the word. Humanity will step from adolescence into adulthood, as mature beings able to accept our role in the world, accept the damage we did while we were getting here, and look back with compassion on those unconscious dreamers whose sleepwalking caused so many irreversible changes.
The only reason I give the possibility of such a shift any credence is that, as Paul Hawken has described in his book, "Blessed Unrest", it’s already happening. And that is the greatest reason for hope I can possibly imagine.

Better Kauai Government

SUBHEAD: We have an opportunity to change our future with a better system of local government.  

By Walter Lewis on 13 June 2009 in The Garden Island -

Image above: The Munchkin Mayor with Dorothy in the "Wizard of Oz". From (http://entertainment.webshots.com/photo/2228052590068076048ChZmqO

 It’s time, Kaua‘i - to wake up and reach out for a better system of government. At present our system provides that the chief executive of our island, the mayor, who is responsible for the administration of annual budgets of about $220 million, has only two qualifications for his position. He must be over 30 years of age and a resident.

The typical previous business experience of our last four mayors was by one who had a small florist shop in the civic auditorium. If Kaua‘i was your $220 million business, would you want someone with that paltry experience to manage it? There is a better way.

The majority of the cities and counties of our country with size and population characteristics similar to Kaua‘i have as their chief executive a person responsible for managing their operations who has been trained by education and experience for these duties. Each year more and more locations are moving to the county manager system. This “county manager” typically has a post graduate degree from a major university in administration of public affairs and three or more years of experience in the field.

That certainly beats the being 30 years of age standard. The Kaua‘i government now consists of a County Council that provides the legislative function, and the mayor, who has the administrative duties. The system is dysfunctional in its lack of accountability.

To perform its legislative and oversight duties, the council frequently seeks testimony from county department heads who consider that they work for the mayor and have no duties to the council. Many of these department heads don’t even bother to respond to the call from the council, and when they do more often than not they are unprepared to furnish the information being sought. In a county manager environment, the manager is appointed by and responsible to the council. This has two further effects.

The county manager, being responsible to the council, would oversee and assure that county employees meet the reasonable requirements of the council. And the council will have increased responsibility to the voters as it will not be able to blame the mayor as it does now for failures that occur.

Under our present system, the mayor has the duty to appoint most of the heads of the county operating departments such as public works and finance. He also appoints members of county boards and commissions. Unfortunately, some of these appointments are given to persons as patronage for assistance in the mayor’s campaigns and not as they should on the basis of merit and qualifications.

With a county manager who is not elected, these appointments would avoid any patronage factors. Another often overlooked favorable feature of the council-manager system is its stability in that department heads are not replaced with the advent of each new mayor as they are frequently at present. This stability avoids the inefficiency from unneeded employee turnover. Skeptical county officials will offer the lame “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” old saw. They just don’t know how bad things really are. With a council-manager system, county operations will be more efficient.

Wasteful and possibly corrupt practices will be eliminated. The results of these changes would be a government more effectively performing its services and with a lower cost of government there will be less taxes to pay.

A recent survey of the best run county governments found that over 80 of the top 100 had a council-manager system. International City/County Managers Association is a trade association of county managers in the numerous cities and counties where the manager system now exists. David Mora, a senior member of the staff of this association, who has had many years hands on experience in municipal manager systems, will be arriving on Kaua‘i to provide information and answer questions about the system.

Mora will make a moderated presentation at the War Memorial Auditorium in Lihu‘e on June 15 at 6 p.m. It will be televised by Ho‘ike. If you want to have a more efficient government and lower taxes, please come with your friends to attend this event and hear about how cities and counties across the country have discovered and are successfully using this better means of government.

As good as it is, the installation of a manager system won’t happen here automatically. In order for the system to begin, it must first be approved as a measure for a Charter amendment by the Charter Review Commission and then be adopted by a majority vote of the electorate.

The commission now has committee headed by a strong advocate of the manager system, Carol Ann Davis, but she needs citizen support at commission meetings so that the commission will accept its responsibility to offer the council-manager proposal to the voters. The best way to assist is to attend the commission’s monthly meetings, but you can also register your views by mailing the commission (Kaua‘i County Charter Review Commission, 4444 Rice Street, Lihu‘e, HI 96766) or e-mailing it at charter@kauai.gov.

When the Charter Review Commission acts to place a council-manager system on the ballot, the people of our county will then need to be responsive to this opportunity by assisting in the campaign to approve the proposal and then voting for its adoption. The path to a system of government that actually works is within our grasp. We don’t need tangled inefficiency and wasteful expenditures that continue to grow. Let’s take advantage of this outstanding opportunity and change our future.

Note from Carol Ann Davis-Briant
If you would like to learn about a different form of county government that would be more efficient and less costly please come to this important meeting to be held on Monday June 15th at 6:00 pm at the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall. The city/county manager form of government is presently functioning in 60% of all communities across the United States and 80% of all California cities. The guest speaker will be Mr. David Mora, an experienced county executive, and board member of the International City/ County Managers Association.

As some of you may know, my late husband Walter Briant was a strong advocate of the County Manager form of Government. It is a very efficient way to manage the government. Walter felt that a trained person should be in charge of day to day and fiscal management of the government. As manager of the Kauai Department of Water for its first formative 20 years, Walter saw the necessity of having the government run by a trained manager.

This does not eliminate the need for a mayor but essentially changes some of the duties of that mayor. Please let the charter commission know you are interested by showing up on Monday June 15th at 6 pm to attend this important public forum on the County Manager form of Government.

The Diet Catastrophe

SUBHEAD: By the end of the Soviet Union, 50 per cent of the food was being grown outside the official system.
By David Beers on 12 June 2009 in The Tyee http://thetyee.ca/Books/2009/06/12/PollanGardenFresh
Image above: Portrait of a picky eater. From http://health.more4kids.info
Michael Pollan's famous motto for a smart, healthy diet is "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Add to that: "And when you happen to be on your publisher's expense account, splurge." The night we met up to chat at a place of his choosing, he tucked into a roasted slab of B.C. wild Chinook salmon, a tangle of salad greens and several glasses of good Okanagan Pinot Gris in the swank environs of the Blue Water Café in Vancouver's Yaletown neighborhood. Pollan, who lives in Berkeley, California, has championed the cause of stronger local food networks with his bestsellers The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food. He was in town last week to sign books and headline a sold-out picnic fundraiser to preserve the University of British Columbia's urban farm as a working laboratory for sustainable agriculture. His rousing talk drew a standing ovation, and even a few tears.
As a dinner companion, Pollan is loose, friendly, and, as you might expect, intellectually omnivorous, peppering his interviewer with more questions than he was asked.
Along the way, he sketched the current state of food politics inside the White House and within his own home. He was surprised to learn the 100-Mile Diet was launched right here in British Columbia (on The Tyee) and said meeting 100-Mile Diet creators Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon is on his list of things to do (message delivered, Alisa and James). He compared today's food movement to Martin Luther's reform of the Church and he predicted certain breakdown for a North American food system far too dependent on cheap energy and big corporations. Between bites, here's what else Pollan shared with The Tyee… On raising an ultra-picky eater: "My 16-year-old son Isaac has been a very complex, tortuous food story. He was a terrible eater. One of the reasons I got interested in writing about food is he didn't eat anything. I love food, my wife loves food, and he just was tortured about food. He was one of these kids -- and there are many of them -- who only ate white food. He ate bread, pasta, rice, potatoes. There are a lot more of these kids than there used to be. I'm not exactly sure why. "But he basically found food scary and overwhelming. And so he controlled that by eating food that was as bland as possible. He was the same way about clothes. He didn't like any variety in clothing. So he wore black clothes for about eight years of his childhood. Ate white, dressed black. In both cases, in retrospect, he was trying to reduce sensory input. It was overwhelming. Smell was overwhelming, taste was overwhelming, colour was overwhelming. And he just had trouble processing. "A very interesting turnaround happened about two years ago. He discovered food. He became very serious about it, partly through cooking. And now he loves food. But he doesn't eat everything. No seafood, for example. But he'll eat any kind of meat, many kinds of vegetables. Last summer he worked a summer job in a kitchen. He worked as a chef. So he's gone through this really interesting transformation.
"But I've since heard that many chefs have gone through this as children. That they couldn't eat because their sensory apparatuses were overly receptive. And I heard this story from [famous Chez Panisse owner and chef] Alice Waters, who herself was a very, very picky eater as a child. She predicted Isaac would flip around. She met him when he was young and actually tried to cook for him when he was eleven. Such a waste of her talent! (laughs). "So anyway, my son's whole journey around food has been interesting for me to watch. And now he likes to cook and we cook together and he's a good cook. But now, of course, he's a horrible food snob. It'll be like, he's doing homework so I'm doing the cooking, and he'll say, 'What are we having?' And I'll say, 'Well, I've got this nice grass-fed steak I'm going to make'. And he'll say, 'Can you make a reduction to go with that? Maybe a Port reduction would be good'. And I'll say, 'Fuck you! If you want to do a Port reduction, you do it'! (laughs) And depending on how much homework he has, he will do it. He'll make this delicious Port reduction for his steak. He's a complicated character." On the personal politics of pint-sized picky eaters: "Kids' relations to food are complex. This generation will have its own neuroses, that's for sure. But it's very concerning that there are such high levels of allergies among kids nowadays. The reasons are as yet unexplained. But I've heard that it has complicated kids' relationships with food because so many have allergies, or think they do. "I've discovered cooking and gardening are great ways to get kids to reorient their relationships to food in a positive way. Kids will eat things that they'll pick in the garden that they'll never eat off the plate. Or they'll eat things that they've cooked themselves. Because I think a big issue for them is control. Food is really, I think, a primary political phenomenon. It is the first time you can control what you take into your body, and the first time you can say no to your parents and assert your identity. So I think food and politics are very intertwined." On whether Barack Obama is going to be good for food: "We don't know yet. I think Obama gets the issues. He's a great dot connector. He connects the dots between the way we grow food and the health care crisis and the climate change crisis and the energy crisis. He understands that and he's spoken about that eloquently. The question is how much political capital he is going to put into changing the system. "So far the most significant thing is what his wife has done, the way Michelle Obama has been talking about food, especially the importance of giving your children real food. When she planted a vegetable garden at the White House, she was very careful to let the world know that it was an organic garden. And that's a big deal, because organics are fighting words in this battle and in fact the industry came back at her. "A group with the wonderful name of the Crop Life Association, which is the lobbying group for the pesticide manufacturers, was very upset that she was casting aspersions on conventional agriculture. The Crop Life Association really should go by the opposite name, the Bug Death Association. (laughs) They understood Michelle Obama's garden to be a critique of non-organic agriculture. And it was a critique. But their backlash hasn't deterred her. She is going to make food one of her issues. "I was a bit surprised. I thought she was going to be leading with, like, war widows, families of soldiers, which she said was going to be her issue. But this came out first. And she's got great feedback on it and is going to do more, from what I've heard. "On Obama's side, you've got Tom Vilsack who is the Secretary of Agriculture. As the former governor of Iowa, he seemed like a real conventional choice. But in fact he's been quite surprising, too. He's also planted a garden at the Department of Agriculture, which you could dismiss as symbolism, but he's talking a lot about local food and urban agriculture. Most significantly, he appointed as his number two a woman name Kathleen Merrigan, who is a genuine reformer. She founded the organic program at USDA, she wrote the original organic law for Senator Patrick Leahy and she's a real staunch supporter of sustainable agriculture and she's running the Department of Agriculture! That's pretty mind blowing. We'll see. She's up against incredible forces of inertia." On the health dollar costs of America's 'diet catastrophe': "At some abstract level Obama sees that he's not going to get his health care costs under control unless we change the way Americans eat. Because the crisis of rising costs in the American health care system can be translated very simply as the catastrophe of the American diet, which represents probably half of what we spend on health care in America. We spend about $2 trillion a year. The Centers for Disease Control says that 1.5 trillion goes to treat chronic disease. Now you've got smoking in there, alcoholism, but other than that, chronic disease is mostly food related. So you really can't get control of that system unless you are preventing some of those chronic diseases. And the way you do that, really, is to change the food system. But, you know, it's very, very hard to do. "My bet is that what we'll see from the Obama administration is a lot of support for alternative groups such as local and organic. Money for farmers to transition, money to rebuild local food economies. Whether we'll actually see an attack on conventional agriculture is less likely, given the politics of it. The reason is you can't do anything with the current agriculture committees we've got in Congress. You can't drive any reform through. It's going to take a few years to change the populations of those committees." On whether he's trying to rally a movement in time to avert disaster, or just prepare us for the inevitable mess caused by scarcer oil, degrading ecologies, and global warming:
It's more the latter. We need to have these alternatives around and available when the shit hits the fan, basically. "One of the reasons we need to nurture several different ways of feeding ourselves -- local, organic, pasture-based meats, and so on – is that we don't know what we're going to need and we don't know what is going to work. To the extent that we diversify the food economy, we will be that much more resilient. Because there will be shocks. We know that. We saw that last summer with the shock of high oil prices. There will be other shocks. We may have the shock of the collapsing honey bee population. We may have the shock of epidemic diseases coming off of feed lots. We're going to need alternatives around. "When we say the food system is unsustainable we mean that there is something about it, an internal contradiction, that means it can't go on the way it is without it breaking up. And I firmly believe there will be a breakdown." On whether he's a fan of the 100-Mile Diet: "I think the 100-Mile Diet, as a pedantic exercise, is really important. People really learn a lot. They learn what's available. They learn how much they appreciate things that come from far away. It was one of the great teaching exercises. And we need those. People don't know where their food comes from and they have no idea what they are eating. But you know, when I was working on The Omnivore's Dilemma I talked to Joel Salatin, a farmer who is kind of a hero of alternative agriculture. He is radical. Beyond organic. Really uncompromising. In fact he hates organic, thinks it's already sold out. So I asked him: 'Are you going to blow up this food system?' He said, 'No, this isn't a revolution, this is a reformation.' And that's a good metaphor. "It's like once upon a time there was one way to feed yourself spiritually as a Christian. It was the Catholic Church. And you had to go through those doors to have any relationship with God. And then Luther came along and suddenly you have many denominations. And that's where we are now. Luther is like the organic pioneers, maybe Wendell Berry, I don't know. And these alternatives are thriving, and everyone is very excited about the possibilities. But the Catholic Church didn't go away. It just got smaller, you know? And I think realistically that's what’s going to happen. There still will be supermarket food. There still will be food that travels around the world. I just hope there is less of it and more good alternatives." On the communal pleasures and benefits of 'locavore' eating: "It's a part of the food movement that people don't pay enough attention to. Actually I met Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and at some point, apropos of nothing, he went into this incredibly eloquent riff about farmers' markets. He just loves farmers' markets. He said, 'You know, this isn't about food, this is about community. People are starved for community.' And he's absolutely right. And I'm amazed that the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture has that insight. "At my farmer's market, people go whether they are going to be cooking or not. They go to hang out. They go because they're going to see their friends. They go because there's politicking and music and massages and all these other things happening. And it's just as important." On how food insecurity can unravel an empire: "That's what brought down Soviet communism, you know. By the end of the Soviet Union, 50 per cent of the food was being grown outside the official system. And people just realized, okay, supermarkets aren't working, we're going to set up this other economy. We're going to grow it ourselves, we're going to tend small allotment farms. And I think it was the crisis of legitimacy of the whole system. Again, it was another reformation. The collective farms were still there, still producing large amounts of bread or whatever. But you had this alternative that just rose up."