World at Gunpoint

SUBHEAD: I can’t speak for you, but the question I’d be asking is this: "How do I disarm or dispatch these psychopaths? By Derrick Jensen in the May/June 2009 issue of Orion magazine A few months ago at a gathering of activist friends someone asked, “If our world is really looking down the barrel of environmental catastrophe, how do I live my life right now?” The question stuck with me for a few reasons. The first is that it’s the world, not our world. The notion that the world belongs to us—instead of us belonging to the world—is a good part of the problem.
image above: Painting "Evening in the Valley" by Mark Bryan. 
From The second is that this is pretty much the only question that’s asked in mainstream media (and even among some environmentalists) about the state of the world and our response to it. The phrase “green living” brings up 7,250,000 Google hits, or more than Mick Jagger and Keith Richards combined (or, to look at it another way, more than a thousand times more than the crucial environmental philosophers John A. Livingston and Neil Evernden combined). If you click on the websites that come up, you find just what you’d expect, stuff like “The Green Guide: Shop, Save, Conserve,” “Personal Solutions for All of Us,” and “Tissue Paper Guide for Consumers.” The third and most important reason the question stuck with me is that it’s precisely the wrong question. By looking at how it’s the wrong question, we can start looking for some of the right questions. This is terribly important, because coming up with right answers to wrong questions isn’t particularly helpful. So, part of the problem is that “looking down the barrel of environmental catastrophe” makes it seem as though environmental catastrophe is the problem. But it’s not. It’s a symptom—an effect, not a cause. Think about global warming and attempts to “solve” or “stop” or “mitigate” it. Global warming (or global climate catastrophe, as some rightly call it), as terrifying as it is, isn’t first and foremost a threat. It’s a consequence. I’m not saying pikas aren’t going extinct, or the ice caps aren’t melting, or weather patterns aren’t changing, but to blame global warming for those disasters is like blaming the lead projectile for the death of someone who got shot. I’m also not saying we shouldn’t work to solve, stop, or mitigate global climate catastrophe; I’m merely saying we’ll have a better chance of succeeding if we recognize it as a predictable (at this point) result of burning oil and gas, of deforestation, of dam construction, of industrial agriculture, and so on. The real threat is all of these. The same is true of worldwide ecological collapse. Extractive forestry destroys forests. What’s the surprise when extractive forestry causes forest communities—plants and animals and mushrooms and rivers and soil and so on—to collapse? We’ve seen it once or twice before. When you think of Iraq, is the first image that comes to mind cedar forests so thick the sunlight never reaches the ground? That’s how it was prior to the beginnings of this extractive culture; one of the first written myths of this culture is of Gilgamesh deforesting the plains and hillsides of Iraq to build cities. Greece was also heavily forested; Plato complained that deforestation harmed water quality (and I’m sure Athenian water quality boards said the same thing those boards say today: we need to study the question more to make sure there’s really a correlation). It’s magical thinking to believe a culture can effectively deforest and yet expect forest communities to sustain. It’s the same with rivers. There are 2 million dams just in the United States, with 70,000 dams over six feet tall and 60,000 dams over thirteen feet tall. And we wonder at the collapse of native fish communities? We can repeat this exercise for grasslands, even more hammered by agriculture than forests are by forestry; for oceans, where plastic outweighs phytoplankton ten to one (for forests to be equivalently plasticized, they’d be covered in Styrofoam ninety feet deep); for migratory songbirds, plagued by everything from pesticides to skyscrapers; and so on. The point is that worldwide ecological collapse is not some external and unpredictable threat—or gun barrel—down which we face. That’s not to say we aren’t staring down the barrel of a gun; it would just be nice if we identified it properly. If we are concerned about the salmon, the sturgeon, the Columbia River, the migratory songbirds, the amphibians, then the gun to worry about is industrial civilization. A second part of the problem is that the question presumes we’re facing a future threat—that the gun has yet to go off. But the Dreadful has already begun. Ask passenger pigeons. Ask Eskimo curlews. Ask great auks. Ask traditional indigenous peoples almost anywhere. This is not a potential threat, but rather one that long-since has commenced. The larger problem with the metaphor, and the reason for this new column in Orion, is the question at the end: “how shall I live my life right now?” Let’s take this step by step. We’ve figured out what the gun is: this entire extractive culture that has been deforesting, defishing, dewatering, desoiling, despoiling, destroying since its beginnings. 
We know this gun has been fired before and has killed many of those we love, from chestnut ermine moths to Carolina parakeets. It’s now aimed (and firing) at even more of those we love, from Siberian tigers to Indian gavials to entire oceans to, in fact, the entire world, which includes you and me. 
If we make this metaphor real, we might understand why the question—asked more often than almost any other—is so wrong. If someone were rampaging through your home, killing those you love one by one, would the question burning a hole in your heart be: "How should I live my life right now?" I can’t speak for you, but the question I’d be asking is this: "How do I disarm or dispatch these psychopaths? How do I stop them using any means necessary?" Finally we get to the point. Those who come after, who inherit whatever’s left of the world once this culture has been stopped—whether through peak oil, economic collapse, ecological collapse, or the efforts of brave women and men fighting in alliance with the natural world—are not going to care how you or I lived our lives.
They’re not going to care how hard we tried. They’re not going to care whether we were nice people. They’re not going to care whether we were nonviolent or violent. They’re not going to care whether we grieved the murder of the planet. They’re not going to care whether we were enlightened or not enlightened. They’re not going to care what sorts of excuses we had to not act (e.g., “I’m too stressed to think about it” or “It’s too big and scary” or “I’m too busy” or any of the thousand other excuses we’ve all heard too many times). They’re not going to care how simply we lived. They’re not going to care how pure we were in thought or action. They’re not going to care if we became the change we wished to see. They’re not going to care whether we voted Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian, or not at all. They’re not going to care if we wrote really big books about it. They’re not going to care whether we had “compassion” for the CEOs and politicians running this deathly economy. They’re going to care whether they can breathe the air and drink the water. They’re going to care whether the land is healthy enough to support them. We can fantasize all we want about some great turning, and if the people can’t breathe, it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters but that we stop this culture from killing the planet. It’s embarrassing even to have to say this. The land is the source of everything. If you have no planet, you have no economic system, you have no spirituality, you can’t even ask this question. If you have no planet, nobody can ask questions. What question would I ask instead? What if, instead of asking “How shall I live my life?” people were to ask the land where they live, the land that supports them, “What can and must I do to become your ally, to help protect you from this culture? What can we do together to stop this culture from killing you?” If you ask that question, and you listen, the land will tell you what it needs. And then the only real question is: are you willing to do it?

An Ecological Manifesto

SUBHEAD: The only feasible solution for a sustainable industrial society. By Kurt Cobb on 05 July 2009 in Resource Insights [Author's Note: I'm not a European, but I play one on the Internet--at least for the next month. Comment: Visions, a website which "explores the personal views of thinkers, innovators and scientists about possible solutions to global warming, overpopulation and dwindling resources," asked me and other "European intellectuals and leaders" to respond to the following question for the month of July posting: "What can we do to ensure that generations to come have a sustainable future?"
image above: Dutch style 17th century windmill on Long Island, New York.
From We are in overshoot. Failure to recognize this fact and act on it will ultimately condemn humans worldwide to nature's cure for this condition: collapse. Overshoot is a well-defined ecological term; it means an organism is temporarily living beyond the long-term carrying capacity of its environment, that is, the ability of the environment to provide it with the needed food, energy and other resources for the long-term and to absorb the pollution it produces without destroying that carrying capacity. Collapse is a more indefinite term, but it does not mean annihilation. Collapse in the case of human society implies a fairly rapid decline in population over perhaps many decades and the reorganization of society into smaller and far more decentralized units. For those who say that this cannot happen, the onus is on them to show that the record of history (which is replete with such instances) and the findings of science no longer apply to humans. Our predicament is probably most aptly described by ecologist William Catton Jr. in his book entitled "Overshoot." The enabling substances for this overshoot have been fossil fuels. They have provided a one-time endowment of exceptionally concentrated energy which we have used to extract large yields from farms, forests, mines, fisheries and factories. Fossil fuels have enabled us to increase our population and our wealth exponentially in the last 150 years. But once these finite fuels are burned, they are gone forever. The long-run alternative is solar, its derivatives of wind and water power, and possibly nuclear power. However, our problems run deeply across multiple natural systems--climate, fisheries, water, farm fields, and forests to name a few. Merely deploying alternative energy quickly enough to replace fossil fuels will not solve all our problems. In fact, increasing our use of energy could put even more pressure on the very natural systems upon which our lives depend. How then are we to climb down off this ledge of overshoot and avoid crashing headlong into the valley of collapse? And, what should our destination be? The historical record has only a handful of examples of long-term sustainable societies, and they are based on agriculture and hunting and gathering. The Indian agricultural village and the Australian Aboriginal culture come to mind. But few people in industrialized nations desire a return to such forms of human society. When modern people speak of sustainability, they mean a sustainable industrial society. And so, we are in uncharted waters for there is no historical example of such a society to guide us. We must rely instead on certain principles to tell us what to do. The bedrock principle that nature suggests is this: We cannot have infinite growth in the consumption of resources inside a finite system, the Earth. If we are in overshoot, as I suggest, then we are beyond the point of growing and must recede from our current consumptive habits. How can we achieve this? I admit that my solution is one no sane politician would embrace: a steady-state economy, that is, an economy in which neither the throughput of material resources nor the associated pollution would grow. The quality of goods and services, however, could continue to increase so long as that increase in quality does not demand the use of additional resources. And, the satisfactions we obtain from nonmaterial sources such as friends and family, athletic and artistic pursuits, and religious practice could continue to deepen and grow indefinitely. Note, however, that while this is the description of a steady-state economy, it is not one of a steady-state society. Both the economic and cultural life of such a society would continue to evolve. All of this seems hard enough to imagine, let alone implement. But we must go even further for we cannot achieve a sustainable, steady-state economy by merely ceasing to grow. Rather, because we are already in overshoot, we need to reduce drastically our use of resources, especially energy. This will doubtless require new technology to make us vastly more efficient. But it will also require that we rearrange our lives and change our habits so as to accomplish our goals by using far fewer resources than we do today. We will also need to bring down population gradually over time to a level consistent with long-term sustainability. While what I'm suggesting may seem like an impossible political task, it is the only feasible solution for a sustainable industrial society. Either we summon the will to bring about a steady-state economy or nature will tragically and remorselessly implement one for us. These are our choices.

Here's the Deal

SUBHEAD: There are ways forward that secure the future while we live through rough times. Those ways are for you to find for yourself.

By Juan Wilson on 5 July 2009 for Island Breath -

Image above: Darkness falls on the Titanic. Scene from the 1997 movie by James Cameron.

Welcome Aboard the Titanic
There is no doubt in my mind that President Obama and his advisors know exactly what is going on concerning the availability of energy, food, the effects of climate change, environmental degradation, overpopulation and a host of interrelated elements of our Human Catastrophe. I believe most world leaders, in a variety of fields - with an overview of economic, social and environmental conditions - understand the dilemma we are in.

Why are we relying on just a few renegades, wingnuts, space cadets and internet bloggers to provide us the truth on this subject? For much the same reason as the crew continued to serve champagne as the band played on during the last few hours that the Titanic was afloat. It kept the passengers calm.

 On April 14th, 1912, at 11:40 pm the Captain of the Titanic, Edward John Smith, was awakened by the collision with an iceberg and rushed to the bridge. He received the report of the accident from his officers and then made a quick inspection of the ship. A three hundred foot gash along the starboard side of the ship compromised too many bulkheads for continued flotation. Smith knew then what the fate of the Titanic would be.

He immediately ordered the lifeboats prepared but wavered when it came to giving the order to load and lower them. He, of course, knew there were not enough lifeboats for all on board, and that the freezing ocean water was as deadly as fire. His legendary skills of leadership seem to have left him. Smith was curiously indecisive and unusually cautious. He was last seen in the bridge area having given the final order to abandon ship. He appears to have made no attempt to save himself. Two and a half hours after the strike, the Titanic slipped beneath the sea carrying most aboard to the bottom.

The phrase used today about parts of our economy "Too Big to Fail" echoes the reputation of "The Unsinkable Titanic". Obama and Company, as well as the others at the helm of our global human enterprise, know what is going on... and know the general landscape of the future. They are acting much like the crew of the Titanic; managing the remaining resources; planning to evacuate the most privileged first. In the meantime they are keeping us calm with misinformation and satisfied with creature comforts, while manhandling the rowdy and boisterous.

Unfortunately, Obama has kept on the same crew that steered us into the iceberg. But that seems only fair since we all were having such a jolly time as passengers of the good ship Gluttony.  

Slow Motion Effect
 Many seem oblivious of our current plight. To some degree that is because, relative to an individual's average daily experience, no change is so calamitous as to be a game-ender. It is all happening incrementally, in slo-mo. So what if CitiBank just closed-out your Visa card at 19.99%? You still have $2000 available on that Discovery card for 29.99%. When it gets real is when the Sheriff's department comes to evict you from your home with kevlar vests and their hands touching their 9mms. But even then, it does not seem real. You must have heard at least one eyewitness victim of a hurricane landing or train wreck describe it as "it was just like in the movies", or "It seemed like it was happening to someone else". If you've ever been in a car crash you know that slow-motion mental state. That inevitable instant before contact you mind calmly evaluates where the likely impact will be and considers possible outcomes and injuries. It is like dodging bullets in a Matrix shootout. In a social-historical context things are just ripping along in high gear. In a geological or climatic context we're traveling at warp speed.

Disaster Syndrome
Back in the 1980's I was doing some research at the Ford Foundation, in New York, for a disaster movie script. We needed to know about people's psychological state in specific disaster situations. What we found was a series of papers on a condition called the Disaster Syndrome. It is a state where so many things go wrong at the same time that a person cannot make a rational decision as to what to do first or next.

Those afflicted become immobilized, dumbstruck, passive and ineffective. So, for example, after a tornado has left nothing but rubble and a chimney where there was once a home, the emergency workers that arrive at the site find the owner in an almost catatonic state of dazed confusion. (see The United Nations, United States, State of Hawaii, and County of Kauai will not be nimble enough to keep up with the events playing out. Each will go bust in an attempt to keep the old system intact. There won't be enough blankets, cocoa and donuts for them to keep us snug and warm. Katrina was the poster child for this "new" phenomena in America.

But things are not going to go kablooey in an instant. Varying parts of the system will unravel at different times. Collapse will be uneven from country to country and from province to province. For that matter from neighborhood to neighborhood and house to house. Anticipating the unraveling is key. Be saving and investing in the future that is coming while you can.

There may be as long as a few years for us to get off the grid and be on our own. One thing is for sure. It will be mighty inconvenient for us here on an outer island in the middle of the Pacific when a major supplier, like, or a shipper, like Federal Express, say they no longer can afford to deliver products to Kauai as they did in the cheap-old-days. Begin getting what you'll need for your new life now.  

Be the Solution
The most important investment you can make at this time is that which leads to you securing food, water and energy. For example, this could mean:
• using a food co-op for buying power; joining a community vegetable garden; putting up your own raised-bed food garden; getting a surf-casting rig for shore fishing; or learning to hunt pig with bow and arrow.
• getting a storage container for a few hundred gallons of fresh water; installing a rain catchment system off your roof; diverting ditch water for crops or digging a water well.
• buying a small electric storage device and inverter for emergency lighting and communication; deploying some solar-voltaic panels; erecting a small electric generating windmill or generating electricity with a washing machine motor off waterwheel.
Start now. Ease your way in. Do things incrementally. Find out what works for you. Scale your operations up as you can afford to. After your own food, water and energy are in hand you can go on to secure some education, entertainment and recreation. There are many ways to go... but go you must.


Clerics Defy Ayatollah

SUBHEAD: Iran's Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum call recent election illegitimate. By Michael Slackman & Nazila Fathi on 4 July 2009 in NYT - (

Image above: Square in front of the Shrine of Fatima in Qum, Iran. From ( The most important group of religious leaders in Iran called the disputed presidential election and the new government illegitimate on Saturday, an act of defiance against the country's supreme leader and the most public sign of a major split in the country's clerical establishment. A statement by the group, the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum, represents a significant, if so far symbolic, setback for the government and especially the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose word is supposed to be final. The government has tried to paint the opposition and its top presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, as criminals and traitors, a strategy that now becomes more difficult - if not impossible. "This crack in the clerical establishment, and the fact they are siding with the people and Moussavi, in my view is the most historic crack in the 30 years of the Islamic republic," said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University. "Remember they are going against an election verified and sanctified by Khamenei." The announcement came on a day when Mr. Moussavi released documents detailing a campaign of fraud by the current president's supporters, and as a close associate of the supreme leader called Mr. Moussavi and former President Mohammad Khatami "foreign agents," saying they should be treated as criminals. The specific charges of fraud included the printing of millions of extra ballots before the vote. Since the election, the bulk of the clerical establishment in the holy city of Qum, an important religious and political center of power, has remained largely silent, leaving many to wonder when, or if, the nation's most senior religious leaders would jump into the controversy that has posed the most significant challenge to the country's leadership since the Islamic Revolution. With its statement Saturday, the association of clerics - formed under the leadership of the revolution's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini - came down squarely on the side of the reform movement. The association includes reformists, but Iranian political analysts describe it as independent, and it did not support any candidate in the recent election. The group had earlier asked for the election to be nullified because so many Iranians objected to the results, but it never directly challenged the legitimacy of the government and, by extension, the supreme leader. The earlier statement also came before the election was certified by the country's religious leaders, who have since said that opposition to the results must cease. The clerics' decision to speak up again is not itself a turning point and could fizzle under pressure from the state, which has continued to threaten its critics. Some seminaries in Qum rely on the government for funds, and Ayatollah Khamenei and the man he has declared the winner of the election, incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have powerful backers there. They also retain the support of the powerful security forces and the elite Revolutionary Guards. In addition, the country's highest-ranking clerics have yet to speak out individually against the election results. But the association's latest statement does give a tactical boost to Mr. Moussavi, Mr. Khatami and the former speaker of Parliament, Mehdi Karroubi, who have been the most vocal in calling the election illegitimate and who, in their attempts to force change, have been hindered by the jailing of many of their influential backers. While the government could continue vilifying the three as traitors, analysts say it was highly unlikely that the leaders would use the same tactic against the clerical establishment in Qum. "The significance is that even within the clergy, there are many who refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the election results as announced by the supreme leader," said an Iranian political analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. The clerics' statement chastised the leadership for failing to adequately study complaints of vote rigging and lashed out at the government's use of force in crushing public protests that drew hundreds of thousands into the streets. "Is it possible to consider the results of the election as legitimate by merely the validation of the Guardian Council?" the association said in its statement. Perhaps more threatening to the supreme leader, the committee called on other clerics to join the fight against the government's refusal to adequately reconsider the charges of voter fraud. The committee invoked powerful imagery, comparing the 20 protesters killed during demonstrations with the martyrs who died in the early days of the revolution and the war with Iraq, asking other clerics to step in to save what it called "the dignity that was earned with the blood of tens of thousands of martyrs." In effect, the comparison cast the government as betraying the ideals of the revolution. "The complaints of other candidates were ignored and people's protest, which was expressed peacefully, was violently crushed," the statement said. The statement was posted on the association's Web site late Saturday and carried on many other sites, including the Persian BBC, but it was impossible to reach senior clerics in the group to independently confirm its veracity. The statement was issued after a meeting Mr. Moussavi had with the committee 10 days ago and a decision by the Guardian Council, a body loyal to the supreme leader, to certify the election and declare that all matters concerning the election were closed.But the defiance has not ended. With heavy security on the streets, there is a forced calm. But each day, slowly, another link falls from the chain of government control. Last week, in what appeared a coordinated thrust, Mr. Moussavi, Mr. Karroubi and Mr. Khatami all called the new government illegitimate. On Saturday, Mr. Milani of Stanford said, former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani met with families of those who had been arrested, another sign that he was working behind the scenes to keep the issue alive. "I don't ever remember in the 20 years of Khamenei's rule where he was clearly and categorically on one side and so many clergy were on the other side," Mr. Milani said. "This might embolden other clergy to come forward." The committee of clergy was formed in the 1960s. Mr. Milani said that for many years, Ayatollah Khamenei also belonged to the group, and that it has since developed some political clout by backing successful candidates for national office. As the resistance has continued, so have the government's attempts to muzzle its critics. On Saturday, an editorial in a radical right-wing newspaper, Kayhan, that is close to the supreme leader, called for Mr. Moussavi and Mr. Khatami to be treated as criminals and foreign agents. The editorial was written by Hossein Shariatmadari, who was picked by the supreme leader to run the paper and who often knows of actions the government is going to take. See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Iranian Regime Change 6/22/09 .

"Conquest of Hawaii"

SUBHEAD: "Conquest of Hawaii is a documentary showing on 7/12 at Kapaa Neighborhood Center.

Chronicle of Hawaii's history from Kamehameha

Image above: Detail of "A Gathering of Chiefs" by Herb Kane. From

WHAT: "Conquest of Hawaii" is a documentary produced by the History Channel that details the arrival of the first polynesians who created a bountiful society which was later taken over by western settlers who overthrew the Hawaiian Monarchy and later forced Statehood upon the Native Hawaiians, to Hawaii's present situation and the Sovereignty Movement. There will be talk story and discussion to follow.

Kapaa Neighborhood Center Auditorium, on Kuhio Highway

Sunday, July 12th, at 12 Noon


For more information please call Ben Nihi at (808) 634-0469.

One of the most remote places on earth, the Hawaiian Islands were thrust into the spotlight of history by Pearl Harbor, and then the Pacific archipelago became America's 50th state in 1959. From the voyages of the ancient Polynesians to the current independence movement, this feature-length special examines America's tropical treasures. 
Meet some of the many larger-than-life figures who have called Hawaii home and examine the influence of people like Captain Cook and the legendary King Kamehameha, who used courage, luck, determination, deceit and strategic brilliance to bind the islands into one nation. Head to the Pacific for a tour of the real Hawaii, see what the islands were like before the hotels came to Honolulu, and examine the roots of the burgeoning Hawaiian independence movement. 
Features interviews with leading politicians, historians and activists. A History Channel video, plain jacket (100 minutes)


Agriculture & Food Crisis

SUBHEAD: Food prices have come down from their extraordinary heights in 2008, but they are much higher than just a few years ago. By Magdoff and Brian Tokar in July 2009 issue of Monthly Review - [Editor's Note: this is the opening of the overview article for the current MR issue of Agriculture and Food in Crisis: Conflict, Resistance, and Renewal linked above. All images are from world-wide food crisis in 2008 recorded by] “Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?,” asks the title of an article by Lester Brown in Scientific American (May 2009). Just a few years ago, such a question would have seemed almost laughable. Few will be surprised by it today.
image above: Pakistani women buy subsidized flour in Lahore. The price of staple foods and fuel has risen drastically in the country in the last few months. Many people in Pakistan are now dependent on state subsidies. From
In 2008 people woke up to a tsunami of hunger sweeping the world. Although the prospect of rising hunger has loomed on the horizon for years, the present crisis seemed to come out of the blue without warning. Food riots spread through many countries in the global South as people tried to obtain a portion of what appeared to be a rapidly shrinking supply of food, and many governments were destabilized.The causes for the extraordinary spike in food prices in 2008, doubling over 2007 prices, brought together long-term trends, at work for decades, with a number of more recent realities.1 The most important long-term trends leading to current situation include: • Increased diversion of corn grain and soybeans to produce meat as the world’s per capita meat consumption doubled in about forty years. As much as 95 percent of calories are lost in the conversion of grain and soybeans to meat. • Decreased food production associated with poor countries adopting the neoliberal paradigm of letting the “free market” govern food production and distribution; • Widespread “depeasantization,” partially caused by neoliberal “reforms” and International Monetary Fund (IMF) mandated “structural adjustments,” as conditions forced peasant farmers off the land and into urban slums, where one-sixth of humanity now lives; and increasing concentration of corporate ownership and control over all aspects of food production, from seeds, pesticides, and fertilizers, to the grain elevators, processing facilities, and grocery stores.2
One of the more recent causes for the crisis is the diversion of large amounts of corn, soy, and palm oil into producing agrofuels, the term adopted by critics worldwide for industrial-scale biofuels based on agricultural crops as feedstocks. Agrofuel production looked very appealing as the United States and the European Union sought to break the influence of oil producing countries and promote “greener” fuels (which are actually not particularly “green”).3
In 2008 some 30 percent of the entire corn crop in the United States was used to produce ethanol to blend with gasoline to fuel cars. Estimates of how much ethanol production contributed to the rise in food prices varied from less than 5 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to upwards of 80 percent, as estimated by the World Bank. The year 2008 also brought major crop failures, from Bangladesh to the grain exporting regions of Australia, where wheat and rice crops were devastated by drought. Scientists agree that such widespread disruptions in food production will only increase with the increasing destabilization of the earth’s climate (see discussion below).
In addition, speculation at the local level (usually called hoarding) and unprecedented financial speculation in world commodity markets — an increasingly popular way to gamble as global stock markets plummeted — forced prices to much higher levels than they would have reached otherwise. With global food stocks at very low levels after several years in which consumption exceeded supply, crop failures in a few countries, and the new large-scale diversions of food into fuel production — combined with the longer-term trends — a “perfect storm” was created in which many people suffered greatly, and continue to suffer. Although food prices have come down from their extraordinary heights of the summer of 2008, they are still considerably higher than just a few years ago. And food supplies, although ample to feed everyone if distributed equally, are still in relatively short supply. Today, approximately a billion people — close to one-sixth of humanity — suffer from continual and severe hunger. There are many more, possibly another two billion, who live in perpetual food insecurity — missing some meals and often not knowing where their next meal will come from. This means that close to half of all humans are either perpetually hungry and malnourished or suffering from varying degrees of food insecurity.
In the United States, even before the economic crisis that began in 2007 and the rapid rise in food prices in 2008, there were approximately 36 million living in hunger and food insecurity — an incredible 12 percent of the population without secure access to food in the richest country in the world, despite vast food production and ample supplies. Seventeen percent of its children under five years old, some 3.5 million, are estimated to be at high risk of cognitive and developmental damage as a result of inadequate nutrition due to hunger.4 This travesty occurring in the United States pales in comparison to the horrible conditions in the poorer regions of the world. What are the prospects for the future? Are they really as dire as Lester Brown suggests? As we write this, a severe recession has set in around the world — deep and, perhaps, long lasting. It has already resulted in much more hunger and food insecurity in the United States and many other countries. How much worse can things get? Probably quite a bit, is the unfortunate answer. Hungry for Profit Many of the trends discussed ten years ago in the summer issue of Monthly Review, Hungry for Profit: The Agribusiness Threat to Farmers, Food, and the Environment (later issued in book form5) continue to this day: • The disruption of nutrient cycles with the spread of capitalist agriculture and the more recent move toward large-scale, factory-style animal production facilities; • The ecological damage caused by chemical- and fossil fuel-intensive agricultural practices; • The great extent of consolidation (both horizontal and vertical integration) in the input and processing sectors of the agrifood system; • Farmers increasingly working as laborers for agribusiness, often under contract to large integrated meat-producing corporations; • The role of genetically modified (GM) seeds in consolidating corporate control over the input sector and farm practices overall; • The difficulties presented to the third world by the various provisions of the World Trade Organization; • The mass migration of peasants from the countryside of the third world (depeasantization), and into urban slums where there are few jobs available; • The extent of hunger amidst plenty in the United States, with many anti-hunger organizations focusing on the most immediate emergencies, thus leaving the deeper issue of poverty unaddressed; • The importance of land reform and the benefits of reducing or eliminating reliance on commercial fertilizers and pesticides; • The resulting emergence of organizations within the United States and worldwide that are not satisfied with the system and are working to develop new solutions to feed communities and protect the land.
image above: In Manila, the capital of the Philippines, soldiers stand guard during the sale of government rice. With the price of rice soaring, the government is looking at ways to ensure none of its citizens starve. From
Things have changed in the course of the last decade, of course. However, the basic trends continued and have become deeper and more ingrained in the system. For example, the many ecological disasters associated with conventional agricultural production have only gotten worse. These include pollution of groundwater and surface water with nitrates, phosphates, sediments, and pesticides; contamination of food; nutrient depletion on farms that raise crops, even while nutrient-rich wastes accumulate to dangerously polluting levels in large-scale animal production facilities; and increasing spread of antibiotic resistant microbes due to the routine use of antibiotics in factory-raised livestock.
The main driving force of the agrifood system is, of course, the never ending goal of continual generation of profits. Little appears to stand in the way of a system that worships, as Rachel Carson put it, the “gods of profit and production.”
The Current Situation This issue of Monthly Review has two parts: the first deals with the history, politics, and economics of the food and agriculture crisis — how it developed and its characteristics in selected countries. Articles in this issue by Philip McMichael, Walden Bello and Mara Baviera, Utsa Patnaik, Sophia Murphy, and Deborah Fahy Bryceson offer a mix of historical and contemporary outlooks on the underlying roots of the crisis, as seen from a variety of international perspectives. The second part of this issue discusses the possibilities for improving systems of food and farming as well as attempts to develop more secure food supplies for all people. David Pimentel addresses questions concerning energy and agriculture while Miguel Altieri discusses better ways to grow crops, organize production, and feed people. Christina Schiavoni and William Camacaro describe how Venezuela is working to reach food sovereignty, and articles by Peter Rosset and Eric Holt-Giménez explore the struggle for food through social movements and the push for meaningful land reform. Farming, the process of growing food and fiber crops and raising food animals, is imbedded in a larger system, often referred to as the agrifood system. This system includes all the “upstream” inputs into farming (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, tractors, fuel, implements, and so on) as well as the “downstream” sectors (purchasing farmers’ products, processing, transporting, wholesaling, and finally retailing at markets and restaurants).
While everyone eats food, the share of the population that is directly involved in its production declined precipitously in the industrial world during the twentieth century. A century ago, a third of the U.S. population, some 32 million people, lived on farms.6 At the beginning of the Great Depression, there were some 6.8 million farms in the United States.7 By the early 1960s this number was reduced by half — today there are only 1.3 million farms that earn more than $1,000 per year.8 There are more prisoners (2.3 million) than farmers in the United States today. At the same time, hundreds of millions of people are still engaged in farming in the countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America — it is estimated that there are about 1 billion farmers out of a total world population of over 6 billion people.
image above: Food prices in Haiti are reported to have risen by 50 to 100 per cent in the last year, hitting the vast majority of the population -- who live on less than $2 a day -- particularly hard. From Biotech Crops For the last fifteen years, corporations have aggressively promoted the idea that the genetic engineering of crops and seeds is the key to improving world agriculture. It is clear, however, that crops that have been genetically modified, usually by introduction of genes from other species, have so far produced no reliable increase in yields over equivalent non-GM crops.9
Since the first commercial production of GM crops in the late 1990s, opposition to this technology has united small-scale farmers, environmentalists, and public health advocates from India to southern Africa, as well as Western Europe and the United States. While over 300 million acres worldwide are currently planted in GM crops, according to industry sources, this represents only 2.6 percent of cultivated land, and is highly concentrated in North and South America. While GM acreage in China and India is expanding, most of the world’s croplands are still GM-free.10 Nearly all of the commercially grown GM crops are of two general types: either they are engineered to withstand large doses of chemical herbicides (for example, Monsanto’s well-known “Roundup Ready” varieties), or they produce one or more pesticidal proteins, derived from Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) bacteria. Recently released varieties combine both traits, a technology known as “gene stacking.” Twenty years of claims that genetic engineering will “feed the world” by making crops more resilient and healthier have time and again proved false.
Instead, companies like Monsanto focus their research and development on traits that increase farmers’ dependence on proprietary chemicals, while making farming more logistically convenient, hence easier to carry out over larger acreages in increasingly mechanized farms. While comprehensive analyses of the health and environmental effects of GM crops remain relatively sparse, scientists continue to reveal new information demonstrating that the technology is inherently disruptive of cellular metabolism and gene expression.11
Independent research is largely stifled by proprietary control over GM traits by companies that have every interest in suppressing systematic studies of the technology’s consequences, and independent plant breeding research at the state Land Grant universities in the United States is being largely supplanted by in-house corporate research.12
Corporate influence is exacerbated by an increasingly cozy relationship between these institutions and agribusiness corporations; for example, the president of South Dakota State University, David Chicoine, joined Monsanto’s Board of Directors, and is slated to receive significantly more income in 2009 than the $300,000 salary he receives from his University.13
Seed corporations have thoroughly corrupted the land grant university mission — directly through research grants and payments to consulting scientists, and indirectly by prohibiting most independent research on GM seeds.

Disaster Transitionism

SUBHEAD: How can those of us working to manage the transition to a post-carbon world prevent disaster capitalism?
By Asher Miller on 29 June 2009 in the Post Carbon Institute Image above: Arnold watches California economy go up in flames. Detail of Illustration by Azrainman. From If you haven't read Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, you really should. It's an examination of how the Chicago School of Economics and its adherents have taken advantage of or created crises to further their privatization agendas. In country after country, free market and pro-corporate devotees have used the chaos, violence, and panic that result from periods of war or economic collapse to rapidly remove price controls, open borders to global trade, and sell off state-owned industry to multinational corporations for a fraction of their true value. In the civic vacuum that ensues when people are dropped down to the lowest levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, these proverbial foxes are able to raid the hen house. Milton Friedman, the guru of free market economics and disaster capitalism, was unabashedly candid about the role of crisis in furthering their agenda: "Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable." After reading it I'm left with one question: How can those of us working to manage the transition to a post-carbon world prevent disaster capitalism and flip it on its head? Call it Disaster Transitionism, if you will. The first thing I should do is to clarify what I mean by "manage the transition." My position is that we're going to be transitioning, no matter what. In fact, we already are. The peak of global oil production occurred almost exactly a year ago; we're now on the down slope of Hubbert's peak. And many believe that the peak of global economic activity occurred in late 200, or early 2008. So we could be on the down slope of the economic peak, too, if there is such a thing.
image above: reduced size graphic from original article. Click to enlarge. The thinking is that even if we do have a few quarters of growth, this growth will still not raise GDP to pre-recession levels. And if demand does again pick up, peak oil will quickly put the kibosh on any meaningful economic growth. The graph above shows what may be the first of a number of steps we'll take down to a much lower level of global economic activity. In other words, a Depression from which we'll never come out.
This may well be a slow-motion crash, but we should be concerned that Friedman's rules of crisis opportunity management still apply. I fear that as governments are overwhelmed with insufficient resources (due to lower tax revenues) and growing crises, as unemployment balloons and crime increases, and as we experience price spikes and shortages of basic commodities like food and, well, shoes, people around the world will be struggling to get by and clamoring for answers. What those answers will be, and who will be in a position to provide them, is of profound importance. Are disaster capitalists and other special interest groups (xenophobes, military contractors, etc.) planning for these crises right now? Shouldn't we? I'm deeply concerned about the risk of us jumping at dangerous "solutions" (for example, "clean coal") that not only fail to fix the problems but manage to exacerbate them. And, as Michael Klare (author of Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict) details, global conflicts could easily cascade. As resources and wealth shrink, and climate change is unleashed, we could well see a growing social justice crisis that makes our current, already deep gap between rich and poor look like a small scrape.
In The Shock Doctrine, Klein quotes John Robb —a former covert-action mission commander with Delta Force and a now management consultant— painting a picture of a future that looks a lot like Apartheid South Africa: "Wealthy individuals and multinational corporations will be the first to bail out of our collective system, opting instead to hire private military companies, such as Blackwater and Triple Canopy, to protect their homes and facilities and establish a protective perimeter around daily life... That elite world is already largely in place, but Robb predicts that the middle class will soon follow suit, "forming suburban collectives to share the costs of security." These "'armored suburbs'" will deploy and maintain backup generators and communications links" and be patrolled by private militias "that have received corporate training and boast their own state-of-the-art emergency-response systems." I don't know about you, but I'm not interested in living in that kind of world. So what do we do? Well, to be over-simplistic, two things: First, let's flip disaster capitalism on its head and use Friedman's words below as our own mantra. "Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable." That means spreading the word and work as quickly as possible. We need to be developing model projects (food and energy production, thriving local economies, post carbon training/reskilling, new jobs, etc.) that can be quickly replicated. And we need to provide support and coaching for individuals to prepare their own families. The more experimentation, the better. And the more communication between individuals and communities, the better. The good news is that this is beginning to happen, on both fronts. It also means that we need to emphasize the first "step" in the Transition Town process: awareness building. We need to seed as many communities as possible. Personally, I think the most important work of national and regional Transition networks is to plant as many Transition Towns as possible. And Transition Town initiators should be careful about skipping over step #1. It's great if you find an excited, committed group of folks who are ready to start working groups and get projects going. By all means, do that! But it's not just about having enough people to move the Energy Descent Action Plan process forward. We need ambassadors to spur a meaningful level of awareness in the community—most especially among elected officials and key influencers—so that ours are "the ideas that are lying around." Even if they try to ignore you at first or roll their eyes when you walk away, make sure they know you're there. Make sure they remember you so that when events lead them somewhere, they are led to you. Second, we need to infuse our efforts with a deep commitment to equity and social justice. The only way we're going to get through this transition is by working together. And I'm not talking about token gestures here: I mean, working extra hard to reach out to those in the community who have suffered most from social injustice and who will be most likely to suffer it in times of crisis. To do this, we must be prepared to ask questions, to learn, and to create room for diverse experiences and perspectives to "own" and influence our work for the future. The stakes couldn't be higher. All the cards are up in the air right now. So, together, let's make sure the ones we want land right side up.

Investing in durability

SUBHEAD: Now is the perfect time to make a personal investment in durability, for myriad reasons. By Guy R McPherson on 29 June 2009 in Nature Bats Last Industrial society is fully committed to tossing the planet in the waste bin. The throw-away products of the Industrial Age became particular obvious after World War II, when the quaint idea of durable goods gave way to all the trappings of planned obsolescence. We invested heavily in items fabricated from non-renewable materials and specifically designed for one-time use, including now-ubiquitous diapers and grocery bags. And we made annual cosmetic alterations to every conceivable consumer product, from pens and kitchen knives to refrigerators and automobiles. Even consumer goods fabricated from renewable materials, such as wood, are routinely packaged in non-renewable materials designed for ease of discarding. The mass of transparent plastic wrap sold every day surely exceeds the combined biomass of all endangered species in the world.
image above: House collapses as plastic lawn toys shine in the sun. Photo by Juan Wilson. At this point, there is no stopping the arc of history or the icons of industry. We're all hanging onto the roller-coaster ride of economic collapse, which is fueled by the flawed notion of never-ending economic growth. Unless you're planning to withdraw to an anarcho-primitivist society beyond the reach of the industrial world, there's little you can do, as an individual, to mitigate the damage to Earth or your wallet. If you are planning to withdraw, please tell me where you're going, and send directions. If not, it's time to start thinking about how you and your family or tribe will muddle through the years ahead. One word comes to mind: durability. If that wasn't the first word that came to your mind, I'm not surprised. Industrial culture has steered us, for the sake of economic growth, in the diametrically opposed direction for so long we usually fail to consider the obvious benefits of durability when making decisions about our own lives. It's time to change that pattern of thinking, time to start thinking about our own individual futures instead of the future of the empire. First, let's consider what we actually need. Not want we want, which is the type of thinking that got us into this greed-induced mess. But what we actually need to survive as human animals. A group of students with whom I was fortunate to work last year laid the groundwork with a student- and southwestern-centric report. In this post, I focus on acquisition of a durable set of living arrangements for the post-carbon era. Most accounts list at least three items requisite to human survival. We die within a few minutes without oxygen, within a few days without water, and within a few weeks without food. Each of these three varieties of death is allegedly painful and also uninteresting enough to merit much mention in the news (if you're going under, you might as well make a splash).
In addition to these three items, many people add a fourth: some means of keeping body temperature at a relatively stable 37 degrees Celsius. The usual approaches involve a mixture of shelter and clothing, although we've been using fire to warm ourselves for millennia and fossil fuels to cool ourselves for a few generations. In addition to these four items, I believe a fifth is imperative: community. In the history of the planet, very few people have managed to live alone. Even fewer managed to maintain some semblance of sanity and happiness while doing so.
In this post, I will assume Earth's air will remain sufficiently toxin-free to support human life for the next several generations. This assumption likely is unmerited in light of global economic collapse and the consequent release of toxic material into the atmosphere as nuclear-power plants melt down without proper planning. But, in the spirit of my usual unwarranted optimism and our individual inability to mitigate for such a dire outcome, I will restrict my discussion of durable living arrangements to water, food, body temperature, and community. I'll provide a few examples of the investments I've made, and I welcome contributions from all readers. The first and most important of my investments was, and is, not on my list of five items: information. After all, the more you know, the less [stuff] you need, so knowledge about surviving economic collapse is hugely advantageous. Considerable information is available at little or no cost via the local library and also Internet search engines. The usual caveats apply: much of this information is worth exactly what you pay for it, and you'll need to provide the brainpower. I bought quite a few books, and borrowed many more from the library. Aric McBay provides an excellent primer with his brief book, Peak Oil Survival. In the absence of fossil fuels, acquiring and delivering potable water is no minor task. Although age-old technology can be used to build aqueducts, I have a feeling we'll not return to that technology in time to save modern cities. As a result, I think contemporary cities are the worst possible places to be when the grid fails.
Without access to water, it will be difficult to rally the increasingly irritated troops into constructing an aqueduct. And then there are the pressing issues of pressuring the water-supply system, and getting rid of human waste in a safe manner. For the last few generations, we've avoided frequent, large-scale incidents of disease even while using potable water to distribute humanure throughout the entire civilized world. I doubt we can retain this indulgence much longer.
If cities are unviable, at least for large numbers of people, humans will be living in towns and rural areas, as we did for thousands of generations. For nearly all those thousands of generations, surface water was abundant and potable. Because of our historical and ongoing abuses to the planet, surface water has become scarce and undrinkable.
As a result, we're left with rainwater, subsurface water, or a system of purification that does not rely on fossil fuels. Rainwater is relatively easy to harvest and use. I will not discuss the many types of filtration that can be used, but even a cursory investigation yields several alternatives, with a wide variety of costs and benefits. Subsurface water can be brought to the surface with wells dug by hand, particularly in regions with abundant rainfall where the water is relatively shallow. Alternatively, individuals can harness fossil fuels to dig wells before the ongoing collapse is complete.
Once the hole in the ground reaches the water level, a rope and bucket, hand-pump, windmill, or solar pump can be installed in the well to draw water to the surface. Life-giving water can be stored in cisterns, preferably far enough above the delivery point(s) to use gravity for pressure. Obviously, scaling up the acquisition and delivery of water to a few thousand people on the planet poses a serious problem. Scaling up to nearly seven billion human beings is almost certainly hopeless. Water conservation is certain to come back into vogue. When we realize how precious water is, we will start using it more wisely. I suspect we'll become far more accustomed to the smell of the human body again, and I doubt we'll be using potable water as a vector for transmitting feces throughout the local area. A decent composting toilet is a great personal investment, especially if everybody in your neighborhood follows suit. At the mud hut, we have invested in rainwater-harvesting gutters and cisterns, a 3,000-gallon cistern for drinking water enclosed in a cinder-block wall, solar pump (with some backup parts), cast iron hand pump, and composting toilets. The entire set of materials and labor, including the cost of drilling a new well, cost less than a new car. Given the primacy of water to, well, every living thing, this investment is our most important one. Food is similarly problematic for large numbers of people in the absence of fossil fuels for production and delivery. The industrial agricultural model relies heavily on inexpensive fossil fuels for manufacturing and applying fertilizer, pesticides, and water, and then again for harvesting, processing, and delivering food. In the United States, each calorie of food requires ten calories of fossil fuels, and the typical piece of produce travels 1,500 miles before reaching the grocery store. Obviously, this model of food production and delivery will not persist long into the future. And that's a good thing, since industrial agriculture is simultaneously killing us and the planet. Assuming cities manage to secure water for their citizens, they will have profound difficulties acquiring and distributing food. Again, small towns and tribal collectives present significant advantages relative to modern cities. Intensive organic agriculture, which can be practiced locally with no fossil-fuel inputs, can produce food for four to six people on each cultivated acre, which is approximately 10 to 20 times the productivity of contemporary industrial agriculture. The resulting food is well-matched to the local environment and it need not undergo significant processing or travel great distances prior to consumption. As with water, however, scaling up the production and delivery of food to billions of human beings seems highly unlikely. As with water, I doubt the near future will see us wasting a large fraction of our food, as we do today. Our investments include ample time with shovels at the mud hut. We also invested in seeds and seedlings, hardware cloth to protect trees and planting beds from pocket gophers, and compost and horse manure to mix with the native soil. We picked up free, hand-me-down composting bins for our organic material, and we installed a water-delivery system throughout the orchard and garden areas. Gutters collect water, and inexpensive cisterns store the water harvested from the roofs of the straw-bale house and the old mobile home; the stored water is applied to the garden beds.
We built a fowl coop from straw bales and leftover corrugated roofing tin, and filled it with day-old chicks and ducklings that now provide several eggs each day. I've constructed a goat pen, and soon will build a predator-proof goat run. The goats will provide milk, hence butter, yogurt, and cheese. Food will be stored in a root cellar, as well as in a deep-chest freezer powered by the off-grid solar system and a multitude of surprisingly expensive canning jars. Fruits and vegetables will be canned in the old-fashioned, wood-fired cook stove in the outdoor kitchen. Finally, I have rifles and a shotgun from my youthful days of hunting, and ample ammunition to harvest the occasional deer or javelina meandering onto the property. Echoing the way we treat water from the taps and food at the grocery store, we take for granted clothing and structures that maintain the temperature of our bodies. Nearly all modern clothes contain petroleum, and the systems of producing fabrics, stitching them into clothing, and delivering the clothes to users all depend heavily on fossil fuels. As with clothes, we rarely question the fossil-fuel-intensive heating and cooling systems that maintain buildings at a comfortable temperature. Given the near-term demise of broad-scale access to fossil fuels, we will have to make other arrangements to maintain the temperature of our bodies. As with water and food, cities are poorly suited for temperature regulation. Once the stores are picked clean of clothing, living in areas dense with human beings likely will pose significant dangers, including maintenance of body temperature at a constant 37 C. Individuals and small groups of individuals will rely on simple, archaic techniques such as wearing layers of clothing and hats for personal warmth. (You thought your civilized ancestors wore hats as a fashion statement?) Hand-me-downs will come back in fashion, and we will pay close attention to maintenance of our bedraggled pants and shirts. (I'm sure you remember this one, although you probably haven't applied it directly for a while: A stitch in time saves nine.) There is much information to consider in the arena of body temperature, and specific topics range from insulating buildings to layering socks. A healthy dose of common sense, a bit of thinking outside the proverbial box, and a couple books by Cody Lundin are particularly valuable in this regard. In a grand stroke of extravagance, we built a straw-bale house with superb insulation, passive solar heating (supplemented rarely with a small wood stove), and geothermal cooling. We pulled off this trick only by living frugally during a multi-decade, decently compensated career and then by cashing in our suburban home and everything else we owned, including life-insurance policies and retirement accounts. I bought a few pair of study work books, several pair of Carhartt pants (renowned for their durability), and plenty of sewing needles and strong thread. I suspect community is the least regarded, yet most important, characteristic for the post-carbon era. All other preparations become moot if your neighbors take your water and food because they don't like you, or don't know you. Ready access to cheap fossil fuels has allowed us to ignore or disrespect people in close proximity while creating electronic "networks" of "friends." That problem's about to take care of itself. A durable set of living arrangements necessarily includes substantive bonds between neighbors. If we are to thrive in the years ahead, we will need to share water, food, shelter, clothing, knowledge, stories, humor, and entertainment with the people in our community. I doubt we'll readily tolerate the kinds of behaviors exhibited daily by the typically hyper-indulgent twenty-something in contemporary America. People who do not make a positive contribution to durable communities face a never-ending struggle with thirst and hunger in the perennially too-hot or too-cold years ahead. My investment in community is ongoing, as I have described many times on this blog. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to develop a tenancy-in-common agreement with friends who have been valued members of their (and now my) rural community for several years. During the last two years, I have applied considerable elbow grease, my limited knowledge, and as much tact as I'm capable of mustering. I know these investments are necessary, and I hope they are sufficient, to get us through the challenging years ahead. Durability has always been a wise investment. Now is the perfect time to make a personal investment in durability, for myriad reasons. For one thing, most sellers still think fiat currency is valuable.

Rocket’s Red Glare?

SUBHEAD: Celebrating the 4th of July—that revolution that gave birth to our nation by exerting people power.  

By John Schettler on 01 July 2009 in The Writing Shop -

It’s that time again, as the second quarter fizzles out and Americans reach the mid year fest we call the “fourth”—Independence Day, the commemoration of the founding of our nation by a group of daring dissidents, yes, a bunch of free thinking liberals from the Northeast, who dragged along their Southern colonial compatriots by compromising on the issue of slavery.
Image above: Francis Scott Key coined the phrase the "rocket's red glare" after the British fired rockets against the U.S. From

They huddled in a humid courthouse in Philadelphia, in a slow, grinding debate before they finally reached consensus and penned their names to a declaration. These United States would no longer be beholden to the King of England, but would declare themselves to be a free and independent nation.
After asserting those “unalienable” rights of mankind, our declaration then labored to define government as the creation and agent of the people. The entire second paragraph of the declaration cemented this idea, and made it abundantly clear that should government ever fail to deliver on its primary charge of securing our rights and wellbeing it was the privilege and mandatory responsibility of the people to correct that situation. 
“To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government…when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.” 
These assertions were not made as mere justifications for what the Founding Fathers were about to do in separating from the British Crown, they were also meant as both a warning and clarion call to future generations, urging them to be mindful of what government does and cognizant of whom it serves. This year the 4th of July will be strangely quiet, at least in my region of the country, (California). Budget strapped cities and towns have all cancelled their fireworks displays to save much needed funds. Fire danger has led to the banning of smaller fireworks one often hears popping and crackling on the streets, or along the beaches. 
As the 8th largest economy in the world, California is at the leading edge of this bank induced Recession/Depression that has gripped the nation in its icy fist. In lieu of the traditional fireworks, my town is rolling out a barbecue, also an American tradition on the 4th, and they are holding a little town play in a park where actors will play at Franklin, Jefferson and Adams. 
How odd to think that when one quotes the words of these great men, or references passages from our own declaration of independence or bill of rights, there is a segment of our government out there that is quietly disturbed by this, and takes notice. In some ways they might see this as seditious behavior! 
Quote Jefferson and you could be flagged as a potential threat to “the state.” Such words were, after all, framed in the minds and spoken on the lips of dissidents, revolutionaries, upstarts. They were men who had the insight and moral strength to see wrong, oppose it, and courage to make that opposition a real and tangible action. Indeed, they flat out ended the governance of Great Britain over the American colonies, and started over. 
Americans get all gushy on the 4th of July. They display flags, don their old military uniforms, hold parades and fire off those rockets—but this year we will be a humbled and chastened nation as we celebrate our founding. We look at ourselves, after generations of largesse, and wonder what our future holds now . What would Franklin, Jefferson and Adams think of our nation today, I wonder? How would they view an organization like the “Federal Reserve,” private bankers with the power to issue credit and create currency at their whim—by the trillions. 
How would they view the allocation of more dollar resources in a single year to banks and financial institutions than our government has spent in all its previous history? For what? To pay off broken investment deals made by the wealthy—that top 1% who control nearly 50% of all financial resources in this country now.

And worse, to pay off shadowy foreign wealth centers, foreign banks and sovereign funds. And what would the Founders think to learn that while this tremendous allocation of funds was being made by a largely unregulated Federal Reserve, with the government complicit, all across the nation people were having their homes seized by banks after the explosion of rigged mortgages, seeing banks cut and freeze their access to credit, impose usurious interest rates of 30% or higher.

They would see how the financial “services” industry has choked off business credit lines as well, while millions and millions of Americans lose their jobs and join the ever swelling ranks of the unemployed. They would see a nation that has become the biggest debtor in the world, relying on daily loans from places like China and Japan to simply make the interest payments on this debt. They would see the hunger in America, the homelessness, the lack of adequate health care for over 40% of our citizens. 
And while this is going on, what would they think of the fact that our nation has built over 700 military bases on foreign soil, and has the bulk of its armed forces deployed abroad in a vast archipelago that costs us over half a trillion dollars each year to sustain? 
Quite frankly, I believe Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and all their cohorts, would plainly see the reality of what we have become—a nation no longer “of the people, by the people and for the people,” but a complex system of financially engineered power structures that exist solely to serve the moneyed interests of the banks and the wealthy investor class. These institutions, deemed “too big to fail” are now liberally and brazenly supported by the federal government, and the “Fed” to the tune of over $13.8 trillion dollars, (some say much more). They would see this in a heartbeat, know it to a certainty, and there would be no “spin” in what they chose to say or do about it were the matter given to their able hands, hearts and intellects once again. 
I have little doubt that Jefferson’s pen would be busy as before, urged on by Franklin and Adams to lay out a list of offenses and transgressions that required redress. The ire of their hearts and minds would not be vented on the King of England, or even the government in Washington, but first against the dark heart and soul of what we have become—a nation mortgaged to Citibank, BofA, JP Morgan Chase and manipulated by a royal financial caste bred in the lavish halls of Goldman Sachs.

This is truth. This is reality. Any sense you may have that we have free and fair elections and a government that exists to secure our rights and needs is pure theater, a fiction spun out by media centers that are again wholly owned by powerful corporations and wealth centers. 
The eloquent clauses that opened our original declaration would be invoked again, and incisively pointed at the heart of these money centers, the brokers of phantom securities, swaps, and derivatives, in a never ending flow of dark finance that few, if any, really understand. Do you doubt it? We gave into the hands of these wealthy men the solemn charge of securing the wellbeing of our future—and they have botched the job. 
The funds allocated thus far to bailing out their malfeasance and greed have already consumed the future of generations of Americans yet unborn. So I ask you, what would Franklin, Jefferson and Adams say and do were they to witness our situation today as a nation? I have little doubt that the first order of business would be to take a horse whip to anyone in government beholden to banks and financial institutions.

They would abolish the Federal Reserve in a heartbeat, and restore the power to create currency to the government where our construction says it must reside. They would properly re-allocate our financial resources for the sole benefit and wellbeing of our citizens, and not the wealthy few who command so much and who have failed us so badly. 
They would recall our vastly dispersed armies on foreign soil and scale down deployments at home. They would forbid moneyed interests to lobby our Senators and Representatives, effectively buying their votes, and ruthlessly drum out corruption in the people’s chambers. 
They would work feverishly to re-establish and support a press that was free of control by corporate masters. And this would just be their starting point. 
But it is really fruitless to ask, as I have here, what Franklin, Jefferson and Adams would do?The question is: what will we do? Where are the good men now? In what humid rooms do they meet to organize opposition to the power centers that have largely bought and mortgaged away our government and our future? And are you one of them?

Such thoughts and expressions might be permitted still under our constitution, but would certainly be deemed “revolutionary,” by the powers that be and the Orwellian organizations that have been spawned in recent years with names like NORTHCOM, FEMA, and our beloved Department of Homeland Security. They would be seen as the words of dangerous dissidents, terrorists in the making, who dare oppose generations of invested wealth, and the accumulation of real power into fewer and fewer hands through the “miracle of compounded interest.” The dollar itself was once called “almighty.”

Consider now the power of men who can create dollars at their whim. It is they who now run this nation, quite openly, and at the very highest levels. They come from Wall Street investment houses and large private banks and they staff our Treasury Department, who’s job it is now to look to the wellbeing of those very same banks. No president gets elected in this country without their monetary support and their willing consent. You though your vote decided that, last November and brought “Change.Gov” to the White house.

Instead you got Summers, Geithner and Rubin—all in league with Bernanke and the Fed, and the beat goes on. Paulson is writing his memoirs and waiting for a book deal. The faces may have changed, but the policy remains the same—look to the interest of the wealthy power centers—the banks. This is the end the resources of America now serve—now no longer rooted in real assets of value, but simply pixilated dollars conjured into being by the Federal Reserve. 
What we need now is a new miracle, and one that properly restores and re-defines the reason we called ourselves a new nation dedicated to securing the rights of all “equal” men. Sounds a tad like a communist manifesto now, doesn’t it--Equal men and women? Oozes with leftist socialism, this strange idea that a nation’s resources and wealth should be directed to the wellbeing of all its citizens, not its banks and investor class. We have learned, in so many ways, (as Orwell put it), how “Some animals are simply more equal than others” in our society. Dat’s da way it is. 
So the rockets red glare will not be gleaming in the skies this fourth of July, with so many of our cities and towns grown dark and silent, struggling to find resources to simply provide basic services like water and trash and police/fire protection now. There is no money for schools, health care, job programs, business, and certainly no more money for you to finance that new car—your FICO score just won’t do any more, tisk, tisk. 
There’s no money for food programs, affordable housing, clean water, renewal of our roads, rails, bridges, power systems. Yet there were trillions of dollars readily made available to all the big banks at the stroke of a pen, at the push of a digital keystroke, amen This is the America we let happen all around us while we busied ourselves with the blue light specials at K-mart. This is the America we bought at 29.99% interest at home depot, and then re-financed in an interest only Option ARM rigged to explode like an IED. This is the America we delivered to the hands of the wealthy so they could chop it up and sell it off as a “security,” and all while we watch American Idol and Survivor on our wide screen plasma. 
The “you want it, you got it” society we built here on credit created from nothing has made us comfortable, but we have paid much more than a high interest rate for the life style we enjoyed so long. Just ask Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams. They will tell you what you paid, if you do not already know it. Now what will you do about it? 
Blogger Karl Denninger offered up his idea in a recent post. He advised consumers to go on a strike, buying nothing but essentials until our demands are met. The list of demands was spot on: Round up all the fraudsters and prosecute, restore Glass-Steagall to regulate the financial industry, stamp out insider stock trading, withdraw all government bailout of financial institutions and let insolvent banks fail, audit the fed, jail government officials in collusion with banks, stop deficit government spending.

To this I might add: purge all bank and Wall Street insiders from government posts, end the securities & derivatives trading game, abolish the Federal Reserve and restore money creation to the Government, restore the gold standard to back up our dollars, impose a limit of two terms for all Representatives and Senators (ending the “Senator for life” game paid for by big corporate donations), make lobbying a Senator or Representative a crime, prohibit campaign donations of any kind and have all elections paid for by a government fund. (If we can toss off billions for banks without blinking , we can do this easily enough), restrict imposition of interest on any loan to a ceiling of 10%, reform the mortgage industry to create fair affordable lending, severely regulate Wall Street, abolish short selling on the markets, (you only make money when a company stock goes up—not down—ending the stock casino trading games.) Severely regulate banks and the credit card industry—now, not a year and a day from now. The inability of people to afford anything but necessities may soon make this consumption fast a de facto occurrence. 
Denninger’s heart, and head, are in the right place, but I’m afraid it may take a good deal more than a collective Ghandi-inspired consumption strike to accomplish even a fraction of those demands. He saw this consumption strike as a lawful means of exerting people power, but re-read that declaration again—the United States is not the Federal government, it is the people, and it is in the will of the people that all lawful power resides in this country. 
If the people were to rise and demand all the above, and our government tried to pull an Ahmadinijad and set troops against the people, that government would be perpetrating a high crime against the United States—the people, and not the other way around.

Is this revolutionary talk? Not in the slightest. It’s just how America was founded, and it’s what we’re supposed to be celebrating every 4th of July—that revolution that gave birth to our nation. Will it come to revolution again if Change.Gov doesn’t start really delivering on what it promised?