Ghost Slave's Carrying Capacity

SUBHEAD: Consideration of the present system of exploitation, destruction of the natural world, and indeed, self-destruction. Image above: Scene from stage play of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Magical thinking about automobiles from 007 author Ian Flemming. From By Derrick Jensen on date unknown in Endgame

It is axiomatic that we are in no way protected from the consequences of our actions by remaining confused about the ecological meaning of our humanness, ignorant of ecological processes, and unmindful of the ecological aspects of history.

- William R. Catton, Jr.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about carrying capacity, and what that will mean for life through the crash. The best book I’ve read about carrying capacity—what it is and what it means—is Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change, by William R. Catton Jr.

Any environment’s carrying capacity, he states, is the number of creatures living a certain way who can be supported permanently on a certain piece of land, for example how many deer could live on a certain island without overgrazing and damaging the capacity of that island to grow food for them.

Permanently is the key word here, because it’s possible to overshoot carrying capacity—to temporarily have more creatures than the land can support—but doing so damages the land, and permanently lowers future carrying capacity. This is true when we talk about nonhumans, and it’s just as true when we talk about humans.

Consider the land where you live. How many people could it have permanently supported before the arrival of our extractive culture? How many people did it support? What did these people eat? What materials did those who came before use to make their homes?

And now? What will those who come after eat? If you were to rely only on local foods harvested sustainably—by which I mean entirely without the assistance of civilization or its technologies (e.g., no fossil fuels or mining)—what would you eat? Do the plants and animals eaten there before still call this their home? How many people could live in your place forever? How many people will live there after the crash?

There are a few ways one can temporarily exceed a place’s carrying capacity.

One is by degrading the landscape; for example, eating all of the local fish this year instead of eating few enough that the fish remain fecund as always.

Another example would be killing off species you don’t eat—salamanders, owls, bees, grasshoppers, and others—and in doing so almost undoubtedly impeding the eventual viability of your food sources.

Once you’ve undercut the carrying capacity where you live, you can continue to exceed your carrying capacity by degrading someplace else, for example, by eating all of that place’s fish.

This is just another way of saying that cities must import resources, a process also known as conquest, colonialism, and these days, the global economy. As we’ve seen, when the resources of that other place get depleted—when its carrying capacity has more or less been permanently reduced—those who are importing resources will attempt to find another place to exploit.

Because the power of those at the center of empires always depends on this importation/exploitation, the powerful have become quite adept at it. It is, at this point, nearly ubiquitous. As long ago as 1965, more than half of Great Britain’s foods were coming from what Catton and others call “ghost acreage,” that is, from sources invisible to those at the center.

Catton writes, “If food could not be obtained from the sea (6.5%) or from other nations (48%), more than half of Britain would have faced starvation, or all British people would have been less than half nourished. Likewise, if Japan could not have drawn upon fisheries all around the globe and upon trade with other nations, two-thirds of her people would have been starving, or every Japanese citizen would have been two-thirds undernourished.” This importation not only makes the lifestyles (and lives) of those who import dependent on the military and economic violence I’ve been talking about so far in this book, but also makes them strangely dependent on those from whom they steal.

The United States economy is dependent on oil from the Middle East, South America, and around the world. American lives are dependent on it: the agricultural infrastructure—from gasoline to pesticides—rests on the foundation of oil and natural gas.

It’s not too much to say that we eat refined and transformed oil. It’s like Catton wrote, “Everything human beings do requires energy. At the barest minimum, animals human in form but with no technology would have been converting in their own bodies about 2,000 to 3,000 kilocalories of chemical energy (from food) into heat in the course of a day’s activities.”

That changed with domestication—more properly called enslavement—as some humans were able to harvest the energy—work—of those they enslaved, whether it was an ox pulling a plow or a bunch of humans pulling big blocks of stone to make mausoleums for the rich.

And it changed again with oil.

James Watt is one of the most important names in the history of enslavement, a first vote inductee into the Enslavers Hall of Fame, which is quartered neither in Cooperstown nor Cleveland, but in every city on the planet, and increasingly, in every head.

He ranks up there with the first of the domesticators, who not only enslaved plants, animals, and land to agriculturalists but all of us to the process of agriculture.

He ranks with those who first created a god in the sky, in so doing denying the divinity present in every rock, plant, animal, river, and raindrop, as well as every moment of every being’s life, and in so doing also created a heaven beyond the earth where the wretched could receive a reward perhaps (they hope) commensurate with their enslavement here.

He ranks with the founders of the first cities, whose kingship, we learn from the ancient King List of Sumer, “was lowered down from heaven,” showing, if little else, that from the beginning, all writers have been propagandists, and mainly for the wrong side. He ranks with those who first used force to steal another’s resources.

He ranks with those who discovered—after agriculture had enslaved us all—that, as Lewis Mumford put it, “He who controlled the agricultural surplus exercised the powers of life and death over his neighbors. That artificial creation of scarcity in the midst of increasing natural abundance was one of the first characteristic triumphs of civilized exploitation: an economy profoundly contrary to the mores of the village.”

Others in the Hall of Fame would include those who discovered, as Mumford also wrote, that any “crude system of control had inherent limitations. Mere physical power, even if backed by systematic terrorism, does not produce a smoothly flowing movement of goods to a collecting point, still less a maximum communal devotion to productive enterprise.

Sooner or later, every totalitarian state, from Imperial Rome to Soviet Russia, finds this out. To achieve willing compliance without undue waste in constant police supervision, the governing body must create an appearance of beneficence and helpfulness, sufficient to awaken some degree of affection and trust and loyalty.”

Entire histories could be filled with those who are in the Enslavers Hall of Fame (indeed, this is precisely what history consists of): the Benedictine Monks who developed clocks in order to regiment work, enslaving themselves and those who followed to time itself, and enslaving each moment also to this artificial creation, the clock, the second; Columbus, Cort├ęs, Frobiscer, Cartier (and the kings and queens [and bankers] they served), who sought out new peoples and new lands to enslave; today’s mineralogical and biological prospectors (and the CEOs they serve) who seek to enslave ever more of the planet; the engineers, scientists, and technicians from the earliest cities till now who conceptualize ever-more-efficient ways to bring everything we see (and things we do not see) under their control; and many many more.

James Watt invented an effective means to enslave the dead. The bodies of the dead are burned in a confined space, heating the air around them and causing it to expand. Because the space is confined, pressure goes up, pushing out a piston which is attached to, and turns, a crankshaft. This enslavement device is called the steam engine, and has evolved now into the internal combustion engine.

At first the burned dead were trees, and later the longer dead, in the form of coal and oil. The energy released in this burning originally struck the earth when these plants and animals were alive, and had been stored in their bodies. Of course using energy stored in the bodies of others is old news: everybody’s been doing that since they learned how to metabolize. And everybody who has ever used fire to keep themselves warm has used energy stored in trees, or coal, for that matter. The big change was in the conversion of these dead into mechanical energy, into what Catton and others call “ghost slaves.”

A ghost slave would be the equivalent to how much energy one human would spend in one day (that 2,000 to 3,000 kilocalories Catton mentioned). Yesterday, for example, I went to a traditional Yurok (Indian) brush dance pit, where they hold their annual brush dances. The pit is perhaps four feet deep, and about ten by ten. A narrow ramp leads into it. The walls are lined with weathered wooden planks, and a pole stands one per side. There is effectively no roof. I was told that the design is similar to that of a traditional Yurok home, except, of course, that the houses have roofs. The point as it relates to ghost slaves is this: this home could be constructed by hand by a few people in a day with materials close by.

I pictured how the Yurok traditionally lived, there on the banks of the Klamath River. Fishing for salmon. Hunting for elk and deer. Gathering greens and berries. Performing rituals. Building their homes. Playing. Sustainably. Using their own energy, energy gained from eating, metabolizing.

No more.

We have come to base our way of living on these ghost slaves, and our use of them has turned us into slavers on a degree unimaginable to the most megalomaniacal of our forebears. More energy was used in a few minutes to propel a Saturn V rocket toward the moon—and perhaps to an even less life-serving purpose—than was used by two decades of Egyptians stacking 2.3 million blocks of stone (each stone weighing 2.5 tons) to form the Great Pyramid of Cheops.

A little closer to the experience of most of us is the truth that, as Catton points out, “Within two eventful centuries of the time when James Watt started us substituting fossil energy for muscle power, per capita energy use in the United States reached a level equivalent to eighty or so ghost slaves for each citizen. The ratio remained much lower than that in many other parts of the world. But, dividing the energy content of total annual world fuel consumption by the annual rate of food-energy consumption in an active adult human body, the world average still worked out to the equivalent of about ten ghost slaves per person....More than nine-tenths of the energy used by Homo sapiens was now derived from sources other than each year’s crop of vegetation.”

Because the amount of energy that struck the earth a very long time ago and ended up stored in coal, oil, natural gas, and so on is merely tremendous, and not infinite, its use is not sustainable. To base one’s way of life on this energy is to live unsustainably.

“To become completely free from dependence on prehistoric energy (without reducing population or per capita energy consumption),” wrote Catton, and remember this was more than twenty years ago, meaning that things have become far more extreme, “modern man would require an increase in contemporary carrying capacity equivalent to ten earths—each of whose surfaces was forested, tilled, fished, and harvested to the current extent of our planet.

Without ten new earths, it followed that man’s exuberant way of life would be cut back drastically sometime in the future, or else that there would someday be many fewer people.” Or maybe both.

Interview with William R. Catton, Jr. This is an interview with William R. Catton, Jr., conducted on August 9, 2008 at his home near Tacoma, Washington, USA. Catton is the author of the seminal book, "Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change," published in 1980. In the interview he outlines the major themes of his book: stealing from the future, exuberant growth, takeover and drawdown, industrialization, carrying capacity deficit, the absence of real villains, the bane of advertising, humankind's true nature, ecological modesty, and the need for us to expect the worst. He also addresses the push to re-localize our economies, and outlines his current book project: "Humanity's Impending Impasse." He ends on a note of optimism, encouraging us to enjoy life despite the catastrophe he fears is coming. .


SUBHEAD: Distilled down as far as possible, a connection is the quantum unit of the sacred. [Editor's Note: We have enjoyed publishing several of Mr. Chefurka's articles over the last year or so. This one appears to be the last from his current website. We hope to hear more from him in the future.]

By Paul Chefurka on 2 September 2009 in Limits to Growth -

image above: Photo of Paul Chefurka from his website.

Over the past few years I have used this site as a notebook to record my thoughts about our global civilization in the face of crisis. I've focussed on the converging crises of ecology, energy and economics – all of them driven by an expanding human population with growing material wants. As my investigation has progressed I've experienced a range of very intense feelings, from amazement, disbelief and outrage through resignation, despair and bone-deep cynicism to transformation, optimism and finally to hope.

In the process I've attempted at all times to respond to the world as it truly is, both in terms of the physical circumstances that we have helped create on our shared planet and the qualities of the human beings that share it. As my responses have developed I've also tried to apply the same honesty and realism to my personal reactions.

Being human, I have not always been successful at being honest about my own reactions, as my long sojourn in existential darkness amply demonstrated. Instead of recognizing my bleak feelings as a momentary, personal truth that was driven purely by my inner states, I mistook them for some sort of Absolute Truth. As I viewed world events through this barren filter, I indulged in long chains of confirmation bias and bent the meaning of the events I analyzed to fit and validate my own cynicism.

Just to be clear here, my perceptions about the physical world were not wrong. The evidence for climate change, the degradation of virtually all the ecological domains we have touched, the limits to growth implied by Peak Oil and the risks posed by the excessive complexity of our globalized civilization are all too real.

How we as individuals choose to respond to those physical facts, however, is an entirely different matter. Here we enter the realm of interpretations, values and meanings. Each of us will respond to the same set of facts in a different way depending on our inner state. Some of our responses may be helpful, others may not be. What one person sees as a glorious challenge, another may see as evidence of failure. I may perceive a situation as an invitation to shake off old ways and build a very different future; someone else may see the need to tighten up, refine or enforce existing ways; yet another may simply say the problem is too large and give up.

To some, choosing to shake off old ways and build a very different future can look a lot like giving up. We may even accuse those who are looking for a complete change of direction of being quitters if we are very attached to the old ways they are trying to shake off. For instance, we may be attached to our economic system, our desire for material growth, cars, air conditioning, television, packaged food or our legal and educational systems. For every person who suggests we might live perfectly happy lives without one or another of these things there will be a host of others with reasons why such a change is undesirable, unacceptable, impractical or even impossible.

In the end, though, change has always been inevitable. Our living circumstances have changed dramatically over the years, centuries and millennia. What humans have always done in the face of change is adapt to whatever new situation we found ourselves in.

Remarkably, we have always managed to find great amounts of happiness no matter how constrained our physical situation became. The root of this happiness has always been in our sense of connection. In the core of ourselves, only connections truly matter to us. My earlier despair arose from my sense of separation, of disconnectedness, of isolation. As I rediscovered my sense of connection – to my community, my world, the universe and my own true self – my despair, loneliness and cynicism washed away. In its place I rediscovered wonder, boundless joy, deep love and a sense of optimism that was simply inconceivable a couple of years ago. As I have explored this new interconnected realm I have traveled many paths that would have been similarly inconceivable to me just a short time ago. I recognized quickly that this new landscape was best described by the word "spiritual", though even that word seems somehow impoverished compared to the richness of the actual experience. Like all word symbols it has been given various meanings by our culture – meanings that in most cases bear only slim resemblance to reality.

Each path I have explored has revealed its kernel of truth and has given up a nugget of value. Deep Ecology, pantheism, Taoism, Zen and other forms of Buddhism, shamanism and Earth worship, the mystic experiential cores of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism, the free-form spiritual experimentation of New Age thought, Tantra, Theosophy – the list goes on and on.

While I am still at the very beginning of this extraordinary journey, one idea has taken root in me. It's an idea that I see expressed in different forms in virtually all of these streams, and it's very simple:

The reality we experience exists because of its connections. Everything is connected, ultimately, to everything else. This applies to physical things like quarks, galaxies, plants and animals, as well as to non-physical things like ideas, social structures, actions, intentions and our inner Self.

Distilled down as far as possible, this idea becomes:

"A connection is the quantum unit of the sacred."

As I travel though this new land, I've come to realize that our consciousness and awareness determine the nature of the world we build from all those inward projections of the outer world. The old maxim "Know Thyself" has never been more urgent. The spreading "Gaian antibody" movement of environmental and social groups that I've described in various articles, along with the world-wide explosion of spiritual awakenings like mine are evidence that this sense of urgency is being felt by millions upon millions of people. In their own way each one is answering a call, and I have joined this rising tide.

I am now closing this notebook to which I have been so fiercely devoted for the last few years. It's time to follow a new direction. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to everyone who has followed and encouraged my explorations. I've made amazing connections through this work, and it has been a privilege to share these connections with all of you. I will be leaving the web site intact, and all the material here will remain available.

I wish you joy, I wish you love, I wish you success in your chosen path. But most of all I wish you Grace – that boundless, soundless shout of joy through which the universe answers us back.

Bodhisantra see also:

Ea O Ka Aina: Guardians of Hierarchy 7/22/09 Ea O Ka Aina: Meat Computers with Cultural Programs 4/28/09 Ea O Ka Aina: We Are Only Human 3/29/09 Ea O Ka Aina: Responding to the Crisis 2/20/09 Ea O Ka Aina: The New Normal 12/6/08 Island Breath: Don't Worry About Collapse I of III 8/2/08 Island Breath: Cultural Change at the Limits to Growth 6/9/08

Superferry 9 Sinks

SOURCE: Larry Geller's SUBHEAD: Witnesses said it was just like the movie Titanic, minus the icebergs. By Julie Alipala on 8 September 2009 in the Mothers prayed for help, children were heaved into the sea and others fought for lifeboats in the terrifying moments before the SuperFerry 9 went down to its doom off Zamboanga del Norte Sunday morning. image above: Superferry 9 bithred at night ane loading cargo. From

In gripping accounts they gave Philippine Daily Inquirer correspondents, survivors compared the horror they went through in the dying moments of the 7,000-ton ship to what happened to the British liner Titanic, minus the icebergs nearly a century ago.

“It was like Titanic Filipino-style. It was as though we were in the movie but all of it happened,” survivor Raffy Borro said. He also said there was a shortage of life jackets and life rafts.

“People fought for them. It was cold. It was dark. That was why people were afraid to jump into the sea,” Borro recalled, speaking in Filipino.

“When the ship tilted sharply, many people ran and panicked. Children were crying, mothers were also crying and pleading for help.”

A first-time sea traveler, passenger Ronley delos Santos also said that what happened to the ferry and the more than 1,000 people aboard “was like in the Titanic.”

Delos Santos, who was only used to swimming in a river in his hometown in Sultan Kudarat, said he positioned himself on the sun deck and, sensing the ship was going down fast, jumped into the sea.

Billed as unsinkable, the Titanic sank in 1912 after colliding with a massive iceberg during a trans-Atlantic voyage. Some 1,500 of the more than 2,200 aboard perished.

‘No more lifeboats’ Delos Santos said he floated in the waters for some two hours before rescuers on a naval boat fished him and several others out of the sea.

Another survivor, Delia Gandiselia, said she didn’t know what to do except pray. Clutching a grandchild, she rappelled down the side of the tilting boat.

“There were no more lifeboats. People had fought for them,” she said.

She recounted how children were thrown overboard into the arms of passengers swimming desperately in the waters below.

“That was when I saw the children being thrown into the sea (pinaghahagis sa dagat). One of those who were thrown was killed because the person who was going to catch the child struck his head on a steel so he and the child died,” Gandiselia said.

‘Something wrong’ Tilting at around 45 degrees from 3 a.m. Sunday, the ferry was gobbled up by the sea some eight hours later, according to the survivors’ account.

Survivors recounted that when they started the voyage, they felt “something wrong” with the vessel.

Luigi Domingo, a resident of General Santos City, said he and his fellow passengers on the economy deck noticed that the vessel was largely inclining to the right as it sailed on.

This was also the recollection of Rogelio Ganuhay, a carpenter from Guimaras. Both Domingo and Ganuhay said they had encountered no large waves or strong winds during the voyage.

A SuperFerry 9 sea marshal told passengers of the rescuing ship SuperFerry 5—where an Inquirer correspondent was on board—that the ill-fated vessel was not overloaded, but he could not explain why it listed to its starboard.

Rattling sounds The marshal from the Maritime Police said there was still more cargo space available when the SuperFerry 9 left General Santos City.

Past 2 a.m. Sunday, Elsa Monsali said she was awakened by loud, rattling sounds below, referring to the cargo section. It was at this time that she said the ship experienced intense rocking.

Then suddenly, she felt the ship had tilted sharply.

Ganuhay said he was jolted awake when he was thrown down from his upper bunk in the tourist accommodation.

As he rushed out, he saw water already flowing in.

To help out passengers get to the left side of the vessel, the ship’s crew used ropes and also distributed life jackets to passengers.

The deck’s doorway was jammed with people also wanting to escape.

Domingo said he texted his mother in General Santos City to “pray for me.” He told her the ship “would probably go down in the water.”

He said that when his mother called him around 4 a.m., he was already positioned at the railing and hearing orders from sea marshals for people to get ready to abandon the ship “per advice of the captain.”

Survivors said they saw people jumping into the waters while they screamed.

Domingo, who was among the first to jump, said that not many followed “probably because they were fearful about the cold and darkness below.”

This might explain why several life rafts drifted away empty. Some people “floated with the currents” with only their life jackets, Domingo said.

Daylight comes Ganuhay said one woman had asked for his help as her life jacket was detached from her as she was going down. He later learned that the woman was among those who died.

Ganuhay said most of the life jackets that passengers wore had defective strings which broke as people adjusted the jackets.

Many jumped into the waters between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. when daylight broke.

Some survivors rappelled down a rope to the water or onto a waiting boat.

One of those who rappelled down was Reynante Ramos, a pastor of Grace Gospel Church in Zambales. He was clutching his 2-year-old daughter with his right hand. His wife carried their other child.

A number of those rescued were infants; some along with their parents while others were not.

Lost boy A skinhead boy, about 3 years old, was separated from his parents, who had also jumped into the sea. A 2-week-old infant traveling with her mother and aunt was also rescued, minus her mother.

Chelona Pabit, from Agusan, said that as they left port on Saturday morning, the boat began to tilt.

“I noticed when the boat was slowly turning around away from the wharf, it tilted a bit. When the boat leaned to the other end, I heard a strong sound coming from downstairs. Everyone ignored the sound, but we all noticed the boat was tilting,” Pabit said.

For more than 12 hours, the “tilted” ship sailed, Pabit said.

At around 11 p.m., Pabit saw crewmen running down to where the cargoes were located.

“Again I heard another strong sound and I guess a kind of (container) van fell off. I asked the crew what was wrong and they told me there was nothing to worry about as it was just strong waves and strong winds,” Pabit said.

No sleep Pabit said she did not sleep that night. At around 2 a.m., she said, crew members started distributing life jackets to passengers.

“I was not able to get hold of one. They gave me a whistle telling me they had run short of life jackets and we were all told to transfer to the (left side of the boat) to create a balance on the boat. I never heard the ship captain tell us to abandon ship. We were just advised to go to the other end. The lights were blinking then. Sometimes it’s dark, sometimes not,” she said.

At around 3 a.m., she saw many passengers jumping off the boat. She jumped, too.

The sun was already up when a passing commercial vessel came to their rescue.

Comparing the scenes on the ship to those he saw in the film “Titanic,” Borro talked about people running around, others trying to get out of their cabin, and mothers with their children scrambling to the highest part of the boat.

Some passengers had to hold on to railings, boards and ropes, while others fought over life jackets, Borro said.

“It came to my mind that what I saw in the movie, Titanic, was happening to us. Climbing on rails, fighting for a chance to be saved, snatching away some rope from the others to survive and floating on a cold sea for over an hour waiting for someone to rescue us. It’s Titanic, Filipino version,” Borro said. Island Breath: HI Superferry Rudder Problems 2/5/08

Seeds for Change

SUBHEAD: Rural electric co-ops have lagged behind other utilities in shifting to alternative energy. That's starting to change. By Stephanie Simon on 8 September 2009 in Wall Street Journal -

BRIGHTON, Colorado—Every now and then, Dorothy and Dan Oberhausen take a little detour to check in on their solar panels.

The two panels aren't much to look at. They are just standard-issue photovoltaic cells, facing due south and angled skyward, set in a scruffy, weed-choked field.

But the Oberhausens couldn't be prouder.

image above: Co-op members Dorothy and Dan Oberhausen, Lynn Richards, New Energy Program coordinator Jerry Marizza and board director Rick Newman at United Power’s Brighton solar farm.

Not only are they participating in the nation's first co-operative solar farm—a pioneering venture set up by the electric-utility co-op serving their area—they are playing a small role in an emerging and potentially significant trend in the nation's energy landscape: A move by rural co-ops into renewable-energy production.

These nonprofit utilities, which are owned by their members and supply power to 42 million Americans in 47 states, have long lagged behind other utilities in their use of solar, wind and geothermal resources. Part of the reason is that in many large states, including Illinois, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Texas, co-ops are exempt from laws requiring that utilities shift steadily to renewable sources of power.

In the past year, however, some prominent rural co-ops have invested in massive solar and wind projects. Others have experimented with small-scale innovations to educate their rural customers, often conservative and very cost-conscious, about renewable energy's potential.

Environmentalists aren't ready to hand out gold stars yet; they say rural co-ops remain far too reliant on old-style, coal-fired power plants. Still, some see clear signs of progress. "These are all good developments," says Bruce Driver, an energy consultant to the environmental group Western Resource Advocates, which is based in Boulder, Colo. Co-ops, he says, "are starting to think differently than they were even two or three years ago."

An Idea is Born

The solar farm here in Brighton, a fast-growing, working-class town northeast of Denver, was born out of frustration.

United Power, the local utility co-op, has tried to encourage conservation by giving out 50,000 free compact fluorescent light bulbs, but the organization says it doesn't have the resources to help customers install renewable-energy systems.

By contrast, utility giant Xcel Energy Inc. offers hefty rebates to bring down the cost of solar power for homeowners; across Colorado, more than 5,000 have signed up. A state grant let United Power offer similar rebates for the first time last year, but only to 11 customers.

"I got a ton of applications, but once the money was used up, it was, 'Thanks for calling, talk to you next year,' " says Jerry Marizza, the co-op's New Energy Program coordinator. "It wasn't a solar program, it was a solar lottery."

Then Mr. Marizza had an idea. Instead of subsidizing solar panels for a handful of wealthy homeowners, why not invite a broad swath of green-minded families to subsidize a solar farm?

Here's how it works: For $1,050, an investor gets a 25-year lease on a photovoltaic panel set up on United Power's land. The co-op takes care of installation, insurance and maintenance. ("We'll squeegee it once a month," Mr. Marizza promises.) Investors can visit their panels any time and track their energy output online. Each month, they get credit on their bill for that amount.

The leasing fee works out to about $5 per watt, or roughly as much as an individual homeowner would pay to install a residential solar system after taking advantage of the federal tax credit. Utility rebates, where available, can reduce the cost of home-based solar systems even further, to about $3.50 per watt. While the solar farm can't match that, Mr. Marizza says the farm concept allows investors to buy a single panel at a time, adding more as their budget permits. And investors keep their panels, and credits, even if they move. (If they move out of United Power's service area, they can donate the credits to a local charity and earn a tax deduction.)

A single panel generates a credit of about $3 to $4 a month; depending on rate increases, it might take 17 to 25 years to recoup the investment.

That long time horizon didn't bother Rick Newman, who manages a manufacturing plant and sits on the co-op board.

Mr. Newman called his wife and three children into a family meeting and they all agreed to sacrifice summer travel plans to purchase a solar panel. "Times are tough, but we took it out of our budget to make a statement," Mr. Newman says.

While some other utilities also offer lease arrangements, the deals are generally reserved for homeowners in sunny locales. Typically, these utilities will install solar panels on homes at no charge, pocketing the federal tax credit for themselves, and then allow the homeowner to use the power the panels generate for a fixed monthly fee. Such programs were developed for commercial properties and began migrating to the residential market about a year ago.

Mr. Marizza boasts that his solar farm is far more flexible. It is open to renters, office-park tenants, homeowners with heavily shaded roofs—even customers outside the United Power service area who might want to invest in green energy and donate the power their panels generate to a local charity.

Culture Shift

The solar farm—which United Power expects to break even on within a year—is just one example of a shifting co-op culture.

Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association Inc., which supplies electricity to electric co-operatives throughout a 250,000 square-mile service territory across Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming, has announced plans to develop a 30-megawatt solar plant in New Mexico, among the largest in the nation. Tri-State also is investing in a vast wind farm in eastern Colorado. The Minnkota Power Cooperative Inc., which serves parts of North Dakota and Minnesota, has pledged that fully a third of its power will come from wind by the end of the year.

Smaller co-ops are getting in the act, too. The Highline Electric Association, which serves parts of Colorado and Nebraska, has launched a project to recover hot exhaust from a natural-gas compressor. The heat is then converted into as much as four megawatts of electricity The Delta-Montrose Electric Association in western Colorado subsidizes geothermal exchange pumps for residential customers.

Rural co-ops traditionally have shied away from clean-energy projects for both financial and cultural reasons. As nonprofits, they can't take advantage of federal tax credits for generating energy from renewable sources, while federal loans for traditional coal-fired plants have been plentiful. Co-ops also tend to be run by conservative members who aren't eager to take on the burden of innovation in the name of fighting global warming. Their attitude is, "this is a global problem, not something that's solved on a local level," says Ken Anderson, general manager for Tri-State.

But new incentives and requirements are prodding change. The stimulus bill set aside $2.4 billion to help co-ops and publicly owned utilities issue bonds for clean-energy projects—up from $800 million last year. And many states, including Colorado, have stopped exempting co-ops from renewable-energy mandates. In Colorado, the co-ops must generate 10% of their power from renewable sources by 2010. Other states require co-ops to move toward generating 20% or even 30% of their power from renewables. The result is that co-ops nationwide boosted renewable capacity (apart from hydropower) by 65% last year, according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a trade group representing the industry.

The Oberhausens welcome the shift.

Trains crammed with coal pass by their backyard in Brighton several times a day, keeping them aware of what is being burned to keep their fridge humming and their lights on.

Though they have the space for solar panels on their property, the Oberhausens, both retired, say they don't want the hassle; they worry about vandalism, insurance costs and maintenance.

They plan to soon draw down their retirement funds to purchase another 30 panels in United Power's solar farm, which would fully offset their home energy use. For now, they drive by regularly to watch, with pride, as their photovoltaic crop soaks up the Colorado sunshine.

Island Energy Solution

SUBHEAD: The El Hierro project will demonstrate that it is possible for islands to achieve energy independence. By staff on date unknown in Insula - El Hierro ( Image above: Operating windmill on Nantucket Island built in 1746. From
With 276 km² and more than 10,000 inhabitants, El Hierro is the smallest island of the Canary archipelago ( Spain ). The island has its own electricity grid; it is totally isolated as the significant sea depths make any interconnection impossible. Till a little time ago , the electricity demand, which accounts for about 65% of the internal energy consumption, was mainly covered by a conventional thermal power station (10MW diesel-fired system). The contribution of renewable energies to the electricity grid was less than 5% and came from two wind turbines installed close to the main town (100 kW and 180 kW). The island has a large renewable energy potential, mainly wind, and decided to implement a 100% Renewable Energy Sources (RES) project for its supply. The latter is a key issue of the “Sustainable Development Plan” defined in 1997 by the Island Government of El Hierro and has became even more relevant since El Hierro was declared a “World Wide Reserve of Biosphere” by UNESCO in January 2000. Objectives The bet on a strategy aiming at the attainment of a 100% RES island already appears within the Sustainable Development Plan of the island, supported by UNESCO, which defends an advanced concept of Biosphere Reserve as an insular development model and laboratory. The Reserve is characterised by a high degree of participation of the local population in the strategic decisions affecting development, where energy options are linked to the productive model, to the integral exploitation of endogenous resources, and to population's quality of life. In the continuity of this approach for sustainable development, the main objective of the El Hierro project is to meet the energy demand of the island using a 100% RES strategy. Other objectives were also identified and consist of: • Demonstrating that RES integration is a way of providing 100% of the energy supply on isolated islands • Demonstrating that the synergies between different RES can contribute greatly to increasing RE penetration into weak grids in isolated areas • Demonstrating that the storage of energy in water form is the most economic way to store energy • Optimizing the available potential of RES by using them together in integrated systems for local power supply • Demonstrating and widely disseminating the benefits of innovative and integrated renewable energy solutions for islands Actions in focus In order to reach the objectives of the project, 3 different programs are to be implemented: • The Energy Saving Program • The “100% RES for Electricity Production” Program • The Transport Program (gradual conversion from Fossil Fuels to Clean Transport) With the financial support of the DG TREN of the European Commission, a consortium of 7 partners, coordinated by ITC (Instituto Tecnol├│gico de Canarias), are carrying out a project that focuses on the “100% RES for Electricity Production” program. During the first phase, the program aims to meet 70-80% of the electricity demand of the island by means of several activities. The most innovative one will consist of the implementation of a Wind-Hydro Power Station (WHPS), with the target of covering 75% of the island's electricity demand and achieving 30% direct wind penetration into the grid. As the set objective can only be reached by the integration of several RES, the following activities are also in focus: • Implementation of a Solar Thermal Energy Program • Implementation of a PV Roof Program • Implementation of a Biofuels Program During the first phase, an important part of the project is devoted to the construction and monitoring of the Wind-Hydro power station on El Hierro, but also to feasibility and economic studies for the development of similar Wind-Hydro power station, initially on Crete and Madeira and later, on other islands worldwide that are appropriate for the replication of the system. On a less technical level, tasks such as the integration and involvement of the island population (acceptance of the system), socio-economic research and knowledge sharing will be implemented... “Wind and water: the perfect synergy” With great ascents and high wind energy potential (Trade Winds), El Hierro proves to be a very suitable place for the implementation of a Wind-Hydro power station; it is also the first Wind-Hydro power station that will be providing close to 80% of the electricity demand of a totally isolated area. The major advantage of such a combination is that the system can overcome the usual problems of discontinuity and power fluctuation caused by the intermittent characteristic of the wind resource. When the energy produced by the wind farm exceeds the demand, the surplus is used to pump desalinated water in a reservoir situated 700 m above sea level. Conversely, if the energy produced by the wind farm is insufficient to meet the demand, the water stored in the upper reservoir is released through the turbines to a lower reservoir, converting the potential energy of the water into electrical energy. In this way, thanks to the potential energy storage and the controllable power output of the hydro turbines, it is possible to establish a stable grid in terms of frequency and voltage, where the production matches the demand at any time. As the water-energy binomial is an essential aspect of the sustainable development strategy of the island, the system also includes a water desalination plant, not only to fill the reservoirs and compensate for the evaporation losses but also to produce water for irrigation and domestic use. It has been estimated that a maximum direct wind energy penetration into the grid of 30 % could be achieved. Until now, no isolated island (weak grid) has had such a big direct wind contribution. Therefore, the island will be a study of grid stability issues and the results will contribute to defining the real limit of wind penetration. As well as the Canary Islands, all isolated islands, in Europe and worldwide, could benefit from the results of this experience. see also: Island Breath: Sustainability on Kauai 11/13/07 Island Breath: Our First Sustainability Post Post 1/4/04

Will Corporatism Win?

SUBHEAD: The Supreme Court could surrender control of our democracy to corporate interests.

By Robert Kaiser on 6 September 2009 in The Washington Post -

Occasionally, the Supreme Court reaches a decision that transforms American life. Fifty-five years ago Brown v. Board of Education announced the impending demise of racial segregation, and today we have a black president. In 1962, Baker v. Carr initiated a series of decisions that established the principle of "one man, one vote," eventually ending rural domination of Congress and state legislatures, a revolution in American governance.

image above: Illustration of American Fascism. From

This year or next the court could again remake the American system by permitting a flood of corporate money into our electoral campaigns, which are already drenched in dollars. Like Brown, such a decision would create vast new opportunities for a particular class of Americans -- this time, corporate elites.

This possibility comes as a surprise. Until this summer, the barriers preventing the use of corporate and union funds in political campaigns -- the oldest dating to 1907 -- were "firmly embedded in our law," in the words of a 2003 Supreme Court decision upholding the ban. Then on the last day of the court's term in June, for reasons not explained, the court invited the parties in a case called Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission to revisit the constitutional issues involved. This they will do in an unusual second argument on the case, scheduled for Wednesday.

Could the court really allow corporations and their agents -- the Chamber of Commerce, say, or coalitions of companies created for the purpose -- to campaign openly for or against individual candidates for federal office? Yes, it could. Campaign finance reformers are afraid that the two newest conservative members of the court, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, may be eager to overturn a long line of precedents. This would revolutionize our elections and could profoundly corrupt our government.

Though Citizens United itself looks like small beer, the stakes are enormous. The case involves a dispute between a conservative nonprofit organization, Citizens United -- legally, a corporation -- and the Federal Election Commission, which is supposed to enforce campaign finance laws.

Citizens United made a 90-minute film pillorying Hillary Clinton during last year's Democratic primaries, and the group sought to distribute it through on-demand cable television services and to advertise the film on television. Under the law, it is illegal to use union or corporate funds to pay for broadcast messages that advocate the election or defeat of a named candidate for federal office up to 30 days before an election. So the FEC moved to stop Citizens United from paying to show or promote the film. A U.S. District Court agreed. Citizens United appealed to the Supreme Court.

Lawyers involved in the case expected a narrow ruling, perhaps concluding that a nonprofit organization such as Citizens United ought not be covered by a ban on corporate participation in elections. Instead the court reached no decision and asked for the re-argument.

How would the political world be changed by legalized corporate campaigning? There would be a vast increase in the influence of corporations.

Of course that influence is already substantial. In the 2008 election cycle, when a staggering total of nearly $6 billion was spent on all federal campaigns, corporate political action committees, trade associations, executives and their lobbyists put more than a billion dollars into the kitty. Not surprisingly, corporate interests have always done well in Congress.

More than a quarter-century ago, then-Sen. Bob Dole, a Kansas Republican, told the Wall Street Journal: "When these political action committees give money, they expect something in return other than good government."

"We may reach a point," Dole predicted, "where if everybody is buying something with PAC money, we can't get anything done."

Dole was prophetic. Congress has failed to legislate on urgent issues for years -- think of health care, climate change, immigration, Social Security and Medicare. The organized interest groups that surround those issues rely on money to defend their positions and frustrate new initiatives. This is the wall our new president ran into this summer.

What is now called "corporate" money in our politics is raised from the shareholders and executives of the companies that maintain PACs. Unions similarly collect PAC contributions from their members. Executives and their families can make personal donations. These are the only legal ways for corporate executives and companies to contribute to campaigns. The law sets limits on how much both PACs and individuals can raise and give -- rules of the game long accepted by all the players.

A decision to allow direct, unlimited corporate participation in campaigns would nullify the impact of those rules. American corporations, which collectively made $1.7 trillion in profits in 2007, would obviously have enough money to blow the roof off campaign spending standards.

But the most dramatic effect of eliminating legal restrictions on corporations' spending could come not in campaigns but in the realm of lobbying. Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, who has been crusading for campaign finance reform for four decades, explained: "Just imagine the impact on a member of Congress in the midst of deciding what to do on health care or climate control or banking legislation if the member knew that dozens of companies in affected industries each could spend millions of dollars . . . on full-scale campaigns to defeat or elect the member."

Chuck Hagel, the Nebraska Republican who retired from the Senate last year after serving two terms, said in an interview that if restrictions on corporate money were lifted, "the lobbyists and operators . . . would run wild." Reversing the law would magnify corporate power in society and "be an astounding blow against good government, responsible government," Hagel said. "We would debase the system, so we would get to the point where we couldn't govern ourselves."

The court's unexpected reopening of these issues comes at a time when the reformers had begun to feel that events might be moving in their direction. The scandal set off by Jack Abramoff -- the lobbyist who conned millions from his clients, corrupted public officials and is now serving a prison term -- produced new rules in Congress eliminating nearly all gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers and their aides, from lunches to sky-box seats and exotic vacations. Then in 2008, small donors unexpectedly showed up in droves, helping Barack Obama raise about half of the nearly $800 million he spent to win the White House -- a new source of money that could help neutralize the spending of corporate interests.

But now the Roberts court gets the last word.

Poison is Profitable

SUBHEAD: It’s also one of America's top products. Food is power and the powerful are poisoning us.

By Chris Hedges on 06 September 2009 in Truthdig - (

Our most potent political weapon is food. If we take back our agriculture, if we buy and raise produce locally, we can begin to break the grip of corporations that control a food system as fragile, unsafe and destined for collapse as our financial system. If we continue to allow corporations to determine what we eat, as well as how food is harvested and distributed, then we will become captive to rising prices and shortages and increasingly dependent on cheap, mass-produced food filled with sugar and fat. Food, along with energy, will be the most pressing issue of our age.

And if we do not build alternative food networks soon, the social and political ramifications of shortages and hunger will be devastating. The effects of climate change, especially with widespread droughts in Australia, Africa, California and the Midwest, coupled with the rising cost of fossil fuels, have already blighted the environments of millions.

The poor can often no longer afford a balanced diet. Global food prices increased an average of 43 percent since 2007, according to the International Monetary Fund. These increases have been horrific for the approximately one-billion people—one-sixth of the world’s population—who subsist on less than $1 per day. And 162 million of these people survive on less than 50 cents per day. The global poor spend as much as 60 percent of their income on food, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute.
There have been food riots in many parts of the world, including Austria, Hungary, Mexico, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Morocco, Yemen, Mauritania, Senegal and Uzbekistan. Russia and Pakistan have introduced food rationing. Pakistani troops guard imported wheat. India has banned the export of rice, except for high-end basmati. And the shortages and price increases are being felt in the industrialized world as we continue to shed hundreds of thousands of jobs and food prices climb. There are 33.2 million Americans, or one in nine, who depend on food stamps. And in 20 states as many as one in eight are on the food stamp program, according to the Food Research Center.

The average monthly benefit was $113.87 per person, leaving many, even with government assistance, without adequate food. The USDA says 36.2 million Americans, or 11 percent of households, struggle to get enough food, and one-third of them have to sometimes skip or cut back on meals. Congress allocated some $54 billion for food stamps this fiscal year, up from $39 billion last year. In the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, costs will be $60 billion, according to estimates.

Food shortages have been tinder for social upheaval throughout history. But this time around, because we have lost the skills to feed and clothe ourselves, it will be much harder for most of us to become self-sustaining. The large agro-businesses have largely wiped out small farmers. They have poisoned our soil with pesticides and contaminated animals in filthy and overcrowded stockyards with high doses of antibiotics and steroids. They have pumped nutrients and phosphorus into water systems, causing algae bloom and fish die-off in our rivers and streams.

Crop yields, under the onslaught of changing weather patterns and chemical pollution, are declining in the Northeast, where a blight has nearly wiped out the tomato crop. The draconian Food Modernization Safety Act, another gift from our governing elite to corporations, means small farms will only continue to dwindle in number.

Sites such as La Via Campesina do a good job of tracking these disturbing global trends. “The entire economy built around food is unsafe and unethical,” activist Henry Harris of the Food Security Roundtable told me. The group builds distribution systems between independent farmers and city residents. “Food is the greatest place for communities to start taking back power,” he said. “The national food system is collapsing by degrees. More than 50 percent of what we eat comes from the Central Valley of California.

What happens when gasoline becomes $5 a gallon or drought sweeps across the cropland? The monolithic system of food production is highly unstable. It has to be replaced very soon with small, diverse sources that provide greater food security.” Cornell University recently did a study to determine whether New York state could feed itself. The research is described in two articles published in 2006 and 2008 by the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. If all agricultural land were in use, and food distribution were optimized to minimize the total distance that food travels, New York state could, the researchers found, have 34 percent of its food needs met from within its boundaries.

This is not encouraging news to those who live in New York City. New York once relied on New Jersey, still known as the Garden State, instead of having food shipped from across the country. But New Jersey farms have largely given way to soulless housing developments. Farming communities upstate, their downtowns boarded up and desolate, have been gutted by industrial farming. The ties most Americans had to rural communities during the Great Depression kept many alive.

A barter economy replaced the formal economy. Families could grow food or had relatives to feed them. But in a world where we do not know where our food comes from, or how to produce it, we have become vulnerable. And many will be forced, as food prices continue to rise, to shift to a diet of cheap, fatty, mass-produced foods, already a staple of the nation’s poor. Junk food, a major factor in obesity, diabetes and heart disease, is often the only food those in the inner city can buy because supermarkets and nutritious food are geographically and financially beyond reach.

As the economy continues to deteriorate, the middle class will soon join them. “It is clear to anyone who looks carefully at any crowd that we are wasting our bodies exactly as we are wasting our land,” Wendell Berry observed in “The Unsettling of America.”
“Our bodies are fat, weak, joyless, sickly, ugly, the virtual prey of the manufacturers of medicine and cosmetics. Our bodies have become marginal; they are growing useless like our ‘marginal land’ because we have less and less use for them. After the games and idle flourishes of modern youth, we use them only as shipping cartons to transport our brains and our few employable muscles back and forth to work.”

Berry, who lives on a farm in Kentucky where his family has farmed for generations, argues that local farming is fundamental to sustaining communities. Industrial farming, he says, has estranged us from the land. It has rendered us powerless to provide for ourselves. It has left us complicit in the corporate destruction of the ecosystem. Its moral cost, Berry argues, has been as devastating as its physical cost.
“The people will eat what the corporations decide for them to eat,” writes Berry. “They will be detached and remote from the sources of their life, joined to them only by corporate tolerance. They will have become consumers purely—consumptive machines—which is to say, the slaves of producers. What … model farms very powerfully suggest, then, is that the concept of total control may be impossible to confine within the boundaries of the specialist enterprise—that it is impossible to mechanize production without mechanizing consumption, impossible to make machines of soil, plants, and animals without making machines also of people.”

The nascent effort by communities to reclaim local food production is the first step toward reclaiming lives severed and fragmented by corporate culture. It is more than a return to local food production. It is a return to community. It brings us back to the values that sustain community. It is a return to the recognition of the fragility, interconnectedness and sacredness of all living systems and our dependence on each other. It turns back to an ethic that can save us.

“[The commercial] revolution … , ” writes Berry, “did not stop with the subjugation of the Indians, but went on to impose substantially the same catastrophe upon the small farms and the farm communities, upon the shops of small local tradesmen of all sorts, upon the workshops of independent craftsmen, and upon the households of citizens.

It is a revolution that is still going on. The economy is still substantially that of the fur trade, still based on the same general kinds of commercial items: technology, weapons, ornaments, novelties, and drugs.
The one great difference is that by now the revolution has deprived the mass of consumers of any independent access to the staples of life: clothing, shelter, food, even water. Air remains the only necessity that the average user can still get for himself, and the revolution has imposed a heavy tax on that by way of pollution. Commercial conquest is far more thorough and final than military defeat.

“The inevitable result of such an economy,” Berry adds, “is that no farm or any other usable property can safely be regarded by anyone as a home, no home is ultimately worthy of our loyalty, nothing is ultimately worth doing, and no place or task or person is worth a lifetime’s devotion. ‘Waste,’ in such an economy, must eventually include several categories of humans—the unborn, the old, ‘disinvested’ farmers, the unemployed, the ‘unemployable.’ Indeed, once our homeland, our source, is regarded as a resource, we are all sliding downward toward the ash heap or the dump.”


SUBHEAD: Pacific immigrants from Micronesia face a government death panel of their own. SOURCE: Shannon Rudolph ( By Alan D. McNarie on 2 September 2009 in Honolulu Weekly - Retired cook Calvin Nelson says that when he came to Hawaii from Kwajalein after the United States had seized his home for a new missile range, he was told, “everything will be covered.” But 20 years later, he learned that a new health program that the state government was issuing for himself and thousands of other Micronesian immigrants wouldn’t pay for the kidney dialysis that kept him alive. He vowed that if that happened, he would go back and reclaim his home on the missile range. “Well, I guess I don’t have any choice but to go home and to go to heaven. There’s no other way for me to receive treatment,” he told the Weekly. Trucy James was in a similar situation, except there was no home left for her to return to. It was destroyed in a nuclear bomb blast–one of 67 such nuclear tests that devastated much of the island chain. Now, like Nelson, she faced a cutoff of her dialysis, without which both would be dead in a matter of days. image above: Photo by author Alan D. McNarie Nelson, James and approximately 108 other legal Micronesian immigrants on dialysis got a last-minute reprieve from the governor on August 31, when Senior Policy Advisor Linda Schmidt and Health and Human Services Director William Koller told a group of Micronesian protestors outside Lingle’s office that their kidney dialysis would be covered for the next two years. Not so lucky, perhaps, were 130–160 Micronesians, including Marshallese nuclear test refugees, who need radiation therapy or chemotherapy for cancer. According to a Health and Human Services press release, the dialysis patients could be treated because Federal courts had ruled dialysis an “emergency treatment” and the Federal government would eventually reimburse the State for such treatment–but “We cannot cover chemotherapy in the same way because the Federal Government does not consider it an emergency.” “We are working with the American Cancer Society and other providers to find a way to continue chemo treatments,” said the press release. Queens Medical Center said Tuesday it will continue to treat Micronesian cancer patients at no cost, for now. Hundreds of Micronesian immigrants may lose their benefits entirely, because they didn’t file the proper paperwork on time. Who pays? At the heart of the Micronesian health crisis is the state’s budget crunch and a dispute between the U.S. and the State over who should foot the bill for the immigrants. The U.S. is obligated to provide for Micronesian immigrants’ health needs under the Compact of Free Associations, which guarantees residents of the former U.S. Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands access to some U.S. domestic programs and services in exchange for military concessions from the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Palau and Republic of the Marshall Islands–including the missile range at Kwajalein. Under COFA, the federal government also divides $30 million of “Compact Impact” money annually among Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa and Northern Mariana Islands to help defray the cost of providing services to Micronesian immigrants. The Lingle administration maintains that it spent over $101 million to provide such services in 2007, but only got $11 million in Compact Impact payments from the U.S. government. In response to this gap, the Lingle administration is removing Micronesian immigrants over the age of 18 from a program that provided the equivalent of QUEST (Medicaid) coverage, and is enrolling them instead under a new program called “Basic Care Hawaii,” which provides only a fraction of the former coverage. The administration claims it will save $15 million dollars by making the change. Critics contend, however, the change will force the immigrants be forced to use hospital emergency rooms instead of their former health care providers, thus straining the ER’s ability to provide services to all residents. From Eniwetok to Ocean View Particularly hard-hit may be the Big Island–especially the rural district of Kau, where relatively cheap land prices and rental costs have lured thousands of Micronesians. According to Dr. Keola G. K. Dowling, who serves as Care Coordinator for COFA Immigrants at the Big Island’s nonprofit Bay Clinics, the island holds 2,000–3,000 Marshallese, 3,000 Chuukese, 1,500 Kosraeans, 150–300 Yapese, 1,500–1,800 Pohnapeians, and 200 Palauans. But Dowling believes those estimates are low. He says more than a thousand Marshallese reside in the remote Kau community of Ocean View alone. “Almost all of the Eniwetok refugees live there,” he says. “Some Bikinians too. They definitely consider themselves nuclear refugees.” The U.S. Eniwetok and Bikini were used as nuclear testing grounds, setting off 67 open-air atomic and hydrogen bomb blasts that equaled, Dowling says, “1.7 hiroshima-sized bombs every morning 12 years…One of the islands in their homeland was turned into white light. It was vaporized.” “Of 160 Micronesians who are under chemotherapy in Hawaii, most of them are from the Marshall Islands, and most of those came from where they blasted those bombs on Eniwetok and Bikini,” Dowling notes. Bureaucracy vs. Culture The Micronesians’ supporters also claim that many immigrants didn’t know to register for the new program, thanks to a combination of cross-cultural difficulties and poor government planning. “Their exposure to bureaucratic systems and the necessity of doing paperwork has been pretty limited,” says retired UH-Hilo Professor Craig Severance, who has lived in Micronesia and who wrote a letter to Lingle supporting a delay in the implementation of the new program. He notes that while “Those that have been here for a while are well adjusted,” newcomers from the outer islands have trouble with bureaucracy, and “part of the trouble is not so much their fault as it is the agencies…It’s the responsibility of the agencies to make that transition easy, and not difficult. It’s also to make the translation and the communication of expectations clear, rather than simply stereotyping all Micronesians as being the same.” When members and supporters of Micronesians United called an ad hoc to discuss the health crisis, some participants brought stories of immigrants who were stymied in their efforts to get their paperwork in for the transition, because they were referred to automated phone services that were either entirely in English or were so badly translated that Marshallese islanders didn’t recognize the reputed Marshallese phone recordings as their own language. “A lot of them that did call them said that the recording was automated and ‘We didn’t understand it, says Leilani Resureccion of the nonprofit Alii’s Hale, which works with Pacific islanders in Kau. “If you don’t get your form in, then you will lose your health care for yourself and for your family.” Both Severance and Resureccion note that state law requires the government to supply translators for those who need them. But translation wasn’t the only problem. Ocean View has no post office. Many of the immigrants get their mail at post office boxes in Kona, 40-plus miles away, and many do not have cars, so they don’t often check their boxes often. So many may not have gotten the notification letters and forms that were mailed out. Resureccion notes that the Marshallese are a “very communal” people and that the best way to get the word out was through meetings. “Did the health workers actually come out here and hold meetings to inform them of the change?” she asks rhetorically. “You know what the answer is? No.” So the Lingle administration may save even more money than it anticipated, by dropping many members from its health care rolls entirely. Cream-skimming Participants at the August 31 meeting accused the Lingle administration of achieving the savings it claimed by essentially cream-skimming–keeping Micronesian patients who were unlikely to cost much and dumping high-expense, chronic care patients. One noted that the State of Hawaii was probably actually making a profit off under-18 Micronesians, who required little health care. “Migrants under 18 are not being taken off of Quest because they get two-for-one matching funds from the Feds,” he claimed. Downing also notes that the Lingle Administration could have saved money simply by reducing bureaucratic waste. He notes, for instance that both Bay Clinics and another organization got grants to do redundant studies of the immigrants’ needs. “There was a third entity called the COFA task force, and they had very big funding. As far as I know, they’ve never published anything of what they did,” he adds. PR Problem On top of their bureaucratic woes, Micronesians in Hawaii are also battling the same image problems that many immigrant groups face. When the Honolulu Advertiser ran a story about the health care crisis, online comments ran heavily in favor of the cuts; many of those commented made remarks to the effect that the Micronesians were freeloading. That’s far from the truth, according to their supporters. Resurecion says that in Kau, many of the Micronesians work as macadamia nut and coffee harvesters. “Most of the Micronesians we know are working and some of them are working in professional capacities,” says Severance. Downing agrees. “We do not want people ever to be saying of Micronesians that they were victims.”

Banks inflate home prices

SUBHEAD: Real estate price conundrum of the Great American Affordability Scheme.

By Raul Ilargi Meijer on 05 September 2009 in The Automatic Earth

Image above: A 1953 futuristic illustration of selling a housing bubble. From
Labor Day, Monday September 7, marks the first anniversary of the US takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Prior to the takeover, the two had for over 70 years bought over half of US mortgage loans from lenders and sold them on, packaged as securities, to investors. If you put it in in the right terminology, Fannie and Freddie are just one step shy of the Red Cross and Salvation Army. The Financial Times gives it a try:
[..] many have enjoyed lower interest rates on their home loans because the two companies kept money flowing through the market. Backed by an implicit government guarantee, their mission was to support the US housing market by providing liquidity, stability and affordability for those in need of a mortgage.
This is the sort of description of Fannie and Freddie's activities that has become standard in the US media. But there is something missing, and something crucial at that. By allowing lenders to rake in commissions and other fees for a loan they originate, while selling off the risk of default on that loan to global investors, in a set-up that provides implicit government (re: taxpayer) guarantees for that risk, Fannie and Freddie serve to drive up real estate prices, and dramatically so.

 There was a time when mortgage loans were provided for maximum 50% or 60% of the purchasing price, and when they were standard paid off in 5 or 10 years. At today's prices, compared to people's incomes, that is unthinkable. Loans are now paid off in 25, 30 or even 40 years. Moreover, when all accumulated fees are taken into consideration, home-"owners" will more often than not have paid 3 or 4 times the purchasing price of the home once the loan has been paid in full.

This is not a typical US phenomenon, government "support" for homebuyers exists in many countries. For example, when I was in Portugal ten years or so ago, I noticed that multi-generational loans were all the fad. It's a generally accepted sort of scheme, but that doesn't make it any more morally acceptable. The often lauded additional "affordability" offered through a government guaranteed home loan system is of course nothing but a hoax.

In essence, what it delivers is the opportunity for someone who couldn't afford a $50,000 house under "normal" conditions to now get financing for the exact same abode for $350,000. And if everybody can "afford" to spend that much more, prices will, as if by magic, rise accordingly. After all, why would anyone try to sell a house for only $50,000 when there's that much credit in the market?

Buyers wouldn't even want it, they'd think there was something wrong with it. So if the home still costs about as much to build, where does all the extra money go? Well, builders become "project developers" and drive fancy cars. Suppliers get a share; until the crash the cement and plastics industries were doing just fine, thank you. Most of it, though, goes to the banks. That is the one and only real effect of Fannie, Freddie, their brethren around the globe, and the government guarantees they offer.

Instead of a hard working family paying George Bailey's Building & Loan Association in "It's a Wonderful Life" 50% of their income plus 5% interest for 5 years, that same family, if it wants a home of its own, is forced to pay 30% or 40% of its income for 30 or 40 years to a bank that runs no risk whatsoever and that will charge it fees left, right and center on top of everything else. Is it any wonder that the real wealth of American families has been falling since the early 1970's?

The largest and most important purchase for everyone who wants a family has turned into the largest and most important transfer of money from Main Street to Wall Street. And now that Wall Street’s gambles with all the money raked in through the scheme, as well as the highly leveraged securities written on the loans, turn sour, the government guarantees kick in, and it's up to deeply impoverished Main Street to cough up the cash to pay the piper.

Meanwhile, the banks still operate, their traders still make millions, Fannie and Freddie are about to be replaced by a side-scheme operated through Ginnie Mae and the Federal Housing Administration (which will need a taxpayer bail-out before the year is over). There is one thing more crucial than any other to the present US economy: a program must remain in place which guarantees that people pay far too much for their homes.

If that would be let go, there would be no financial or banking system left in the country. Sharply lower property taxes would bankrupt all states, counties and municipalities save for a precious few. And perhaps most of all, the previously incurred losses would be forced to the surface. You can't keep a $350,000 loan in your books for a home right next to a similar one that sold for $35,000.

 If we want to ever shine a light on any of this. before the next step in this tragic drama is locked in by the White House, it would be good for an investigative journalist or two (hello, Huffington!) to dig up the answers to a few questions such as these:
  • What is Fannie and Freddie's securities portfolio valued at presently?
  • How did Ginnie Mae end up with over $1 trillion in loans?
  • How did the FHA become insolvent?
  • What is the situation at the various Federal Home Loan Banks? What is the precise role they play in the scheme?
  • What happened to Fannie and Freddie share prices recently that makes them compliant with NYSE rules once more?
  • Who puts money into companies with a combined negative asset value of $260 billion?
  • What would have been the estimated effect if both had been de-listed?
Do Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac provide "affordability for those in need of a mortgage"? No, clearly not, they provide the opposite. They raise home prices by guaranteeing loans at steeply elevated prices. They pervert the market. Is it true that "many have enjoyed lower interest rates on their home loans" because of Fannie and Freddie?

Well yes, but who of sane mind would rather pay 5% + fees on a $350,000 mortgage than 6% + no fees on a $50,000 loan? What sort of discussion is that to begin with? If the government and media keep repeating the positive sides often enough, and god knows they’ve been at it for 75 years now, who will dare be critical? A system with government guarantees for real estate could work, but never if it is provided through a banking system that seeks to maximize its profits at the expense of the taxpayers whose money is being spent by that government. It won't stand.

The system is broken beyond repair. The boondoggle has extracted so much capital out of the economy that there cannot be a market any longer at the higher price levels. Sure, according to the S&P-Case/Shiller index, prices are down 30% from their peak already. But if you think that’ll be all, imagine what would happen if Fannie and Freddie, or their taxpayer-guarantee providing successors, would be taken out of the market. Real estate prices can no longer be kept at such artificially high levels, since people can't afford them anymore no matter what guarantee they come with.

At the same time, if real estate prices are allowed to fall, by taking the guarantees away, the housing market will implode overnight, taking individual homeowners as well as the banking system and indeed the entire American economy with it. A real life conundrum. If you don’t want the banks and the economy to implode, you need to keep prices high. But if you keep prices high, there are no buyers, which means the banks and the economy will implode (just a bit slower). Now, you would think a government would choose the lesser of two evils. Instead, the present administration elects to embrace both evils.

What should a government do? In the end, it all comes down to Garrett Hardin again, who said the main task of the shepherd is to minimize the suffering of the herd. What the Fed and White House do instead is try to minimize the suffering of the rich. The only consolation for the rest of us is that it won't work. Unfortunately, we’ll pay a high price to figure that out.

See also:
 Island Breath: Wall Street Bets Agianst Homeowners 4/19/06
Island Breath: NYSE on Tumble. It this it? 6/6/07

Kauai County Attorney Rampant

SUBHEAD: Kauai County Attorney oversteps his bounds with Ethics Board.  

image above: The wig on an English barrister was symbol his social status. A practice abandoned in America.

By Walter Lewis, Special on 5 September in The Garden Island - At the August 13th meeting of the Kaua‘i Ethics Board, County Attorney Al Castillo, in disregard of the approved procedure for that meeting, appropriated three agenda items and launched into a roughly 30-minute patronizing lecture to the board as to its role and authority and the role and authority of the County Attorney under the County Charter.

 In his discourse, he asserted that the charter specifies that the County Attorney is the chief legal adviser of the offices and agencies of the county on matters related to their powers and duties. He advised that the board must comply with his opinions. When one board member asked if he meant “should” instead of “must,” he bridled and stated that he was not going to debate his position in the open meeting and taking the retreat that is well practiced by our County Council and others, he suggested that any discussion should be held in an executive session. But he who is presumably omniscient in legal matters seemed to overlook that debating the law is not one of the eight avenues listed in Section 92-5 of the Sunshine Law as an allowable basis for an executive meeting.

Continuing on his set path he alluded to the agenda item regarding criteria for public release of opinions but never identified any and veered off into a discussion of various types of communications from the County Attorney’s office as including opinions of law that are not confidential and advice that may or may not be designated as confidential. His delineations between opinions and advice were vague and inconclusive and not helpful to his audience. He did acknowledge that these communications are subject to the attorney-client privilege, and that the privilege may be waived by the client.

 A question arose about whether Mr. Castillo would respond to the board’s request for his position on the opinion issued by his office last year on the interpretation of Section 20.02D of the charter. Without acknowledging that the request was for his written reply, he stated that he “almost” agreed with the opinion although he never explained what that meant and then he specifically disclaimed that he would provide any written comment. All in all, his peremptory manner and his disdainful treatment of the board members was a disquieting performance. For the citizens in the audience, his conduct was shocking. One citizen submitted a letter to The Garden Island calling Mr. Castillo’s demeanor “dictatorial.”

Reviewing Mr. Castillo’s pronouncements, the most troublesome was his contention that he is the legal adviser of the board and it “must comply with his opinions” with the threat that if they do not, they must face the consequences. He apparently believes that his prime duty is to those who appointed him and not to serve his clients. Such a belief is not sustainable. Lawyers are not known for their unanimity on legal matters and for any lawyer to claim he is omnipotent is pretentious and unwarranted. Yet Mr. Castillo is decreeing that our county agencies must accept his opinions “or else.”

The law is similar to the practice of medicine. Although all lawyers and doctors have education and experience in their fields, no one has expertise in all areas. Typically, each year our county incurs more costs to retain counsel on matters considered beyond the competence of the county attorney staff than it does to meet the payroll of the County Attorney’s office. When our county officers and employees question the reliability of a county attorney office opinion what they should have is something similar to the right of a “second opinion” in general usage in the medical profession. Our charter says the County Attorney is the chief legal adviser, not the exclusive one. Opinions from the County Attorney’s office are not generally released to the public. I have only seen one. Traditionally legal opinions recite the relevant facts, offer a discussion of the applicable law and then a conclusion.

The opinion I have seen as to Charter Section 20.02D was woefully organized. It provided an incorrect statement of the legal principles that should be applied and then it mandated the view that the charter section should be read in conjunction with Kaua‘i county ordinances totally failing to express a conclusion as to the results of such a reading. If this opinion is representative of the opinion output of the County Attorney’s office, it is deeply troublesome. An illustration of the ambiguities and problems of the points discussed by the County Attorney at the Ethics Board meeting and the sorry consequences of the failure to make public county attorney opinions recently played out in our Charter Review Commission.

There, the County Attorney’s office had issued an opinion of law relating to the county manager system and asserted it must be treated as confidential. An effort by one commission member to make the opinion publicly available was rejected by the commission, deferring to the confidentiality assertion by the County Attorney and bowing to his mandate that his opinions must be obeyed. This occurred despite the County Attorney’s Ethics Board statement that opinions of law are not confidential and the clear right of the commission to waive the privilege. Even worse was the fact that discussion about attorney opinions release was conducted in executive session.

Mr. Castillo may well have interpersonal skills. But his arrogant and insulting style at the Ethics Board meeting seemed disparaging and unpleasant to its members. His pontifications were akin to a dressing down of mischievous children. If the man has humility, it was not readily apparent. The County Attorney’s duties are important to our county. For the well-being of its people, I urge that Mr. Castillo review his role and consider how he might improve the interactions necessary to properly perform his designated function.

 •Walter Lewis is a resident of Princeville and writes a biweekly column for The Garden Island.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai's Napoleonic Advisor 8/23/09