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 - (http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20090906_food_is_power_and_the_powerful_are_poisoning_us)


 
 
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.”

Micro-Managing

SUBHEAD: Pacific immigrants from Micronesia face a government death panel of their own. SOURCE: Shannon Rudolph (shannonkona@gmail.com) By Alan D. McNarie on 2 September 2009 in Honolulu Weekly - http://honoluluweekly.com/feature/2009/09/micro-managing 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
http://theautomaticearth.blogspot.com/2009/09/september-5-2009-great-american.html





 
Image above: A 1953 futuristic illustration of selling a housing bubble. From http://joekillian.wordpress.com/2007/06/30/dreaming-of-the-future-circa-1953
 
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 - http://www.kauaiworld.com/articles/2009/09/05/opinion/kauai/doc4aa21cf08e813086741325.txt 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

 

Calls for KIUC Cost Cutting

SUBHEAD: Continued calls for KIUC cost cutting instead of a rate hike approval. by Brad Parsons on 5 September 2009 in Aloha Analytics - http://alohaanalytics.blogspot.com/2009/09/letters-calling-for-kiuc-cost-cutting.html image above: proposed new logo for KIUC proposed by Juan Wilson.
There has been a steady stream of good letters to the editor of The Garden Island news about KIUC since the Aug. 25th Rate Hike PUC Hearing. I'll point out "KIUC’s unnecessary expenses" by Francine Grace from Sept. 4th, "Time for a plan" by Monroe Richman from Sept. 2nd, and "Power from the sun" by Kawika Moke from Aug. 28th. Each one of them makes great points and together are right on it. In the case of "Power from the sun" by Kawika Moke here is an article about how to actualize the idea that Mr. Moke envisions. From the article:

"Two years ago the city of Berkeley figured out an easy financing trick to get around this problem — the city itself just issues a bond to pay for the upfront costs of installing the solar panels, and the homeowner then repays the government over the course of 20 years via a small line item on the property-tax bill. (This way, if the home is sold, the costs of the panels get passed on to the new owner getting the benefits.)

It's a small policy tweak, but quite sensible. No mandates, no regulations, just offering homeowners an extra option if they choose. So it's not surprising to hear that, as Kate Galbraith reports today, the idea's been proliferating like crazy: This year alone, eight states have followed California's lead by giving their municipalities permission for this sort of financing, including Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin." In "Time for a plan" Monroe Richman makes the following key points, "...So where do we go from here? I have heard nothing from the CEO of KIUC as to methods of financing change other than the current rate increase to maintain the status quo...Whether it is wind power or sun power or nuclear power, a dependence on fossil fuel will only mean future rate hikes far beyond what you can visualize now." It is true. All KIUC filings with the PUC and Board Minutes show that other alternatives were not fully evaluated with due diligence other than just a rate increase. By recent case history before the PUC, this should be of particular importance to the Commissioners. But furthermore, Mr. Richman's closing point is oh so true; from the PUC docket in this case, "The EMP incorporates and projects the need for additional rate increases and rate cases in 2012 and 2015." (KIUC 10-T-200, 32:3-4) The most obvious alternatives to the proposed 10.5% revenue rate increase that were not thoroughly evaluated with proper due diligence are the many cost cutting measures that KIUC could undertake internally to make up most if not all of the difference. In fact, in the current economic environment, cost cutting measures are the more obvious alternatives that should be considered over a rate increase. Which leads us to the letter today "KIUC’s unnecessary expenses" by Francine Grace. Mrs. Grace first starts off with a generous remark towards KIUC, but quickly focuses in on a few specific cost cutting measures: member rebates deducted from bills or direct deposited to save on mail and postage; cutting the hardcopy and mailing of the KIUC Current magazine and posting it online only; and cutting the non-electricity related giveaways at KIUC meetings. Mrs. Grace concludes, "...When times are hard and finances are tight, any household or business would consider any unnecessary expenses and cut them out. Maybe KIUC should first look a little deeper and cut out any unnecessary expenses, before requesting a rate hike of its already cash strapped members..." In oral testimony to the PUC on Aug. 25th, others mentioned additional cost cutting measures that KIUC could pursue. David Ward mentioned the "33% electricity discount rate" that KIUC employees may receive. That is inconsistent with what KIUC is asking of its members and creates a sheltered environment from which energy decisions are made at KIUC. A related question has also come up, "Do KIUC Board Members also get that electricity discount rate?" Additionally, at the hearing, Judie H. Lundborg also mentioned the excessive air conditioning that KIUC runs in the luxury offices that they lease, "Too damn cold," I think were her appropo words. But maybe the best testimony I have seen on cost cutting measures that KIUC could pursue as a matter of new found due diligence to negate any perceived need for a rate increase was the following testimony submitted by Robert Goldberg and family via e-mail on Aug. 27th after the hearing and is now a part of the docket: "Aloha PUC and Consumer Advocate: We strongly oppose KIUC's requested rate hike. Instead, KIUC should cut wasteful spending: 1. KIUC rents the most luxurious, expensive commercial building on Kaua'i. Their convenient excuse is that they're stuck with a prior lease. If true (which we doubt), they should assign the lease and rent a much cheaper space. 2. KIUC publishes and mails a glossy magazine (Currents) that [almost] nobody reads. 3. KIUC hosts an extravagant annual meeting with food, entertairmient, rides, prizes, etc. They should hold a no-frills business meeting in a [modest] conference room. 4. KIUC mails rebate checks (separate from bills). They should simply credit the customers' accounts, thus avoiding a huge amount of administrative time and overhead. 5. KIUC's charitable contributions, sports sponsorships and political/lobbying activities [in D.C.] should be zeroed out. 6. Enormous waste in terms of salaries, benefits, travel, conferences, food, entertainment and [excessively fuel inefficient Executive] vehicles. We're in a deep recession, and consumers are suffering. All fuel increases are absorbed into the giant Energy Adjustment on every bill. There is no conceivable basis for any rate hike. Mahalo. Robert Goldberg [et. al.]" Could not have said it any better. Mahalo to all for your letters and oral and written testimonies. The oral and written testimonies should be good enough to influence the PUC Commissioners and Consumer Advocate on this. Marriott's representative has recently added some further filings to the docket...Marriott's response to KIUC's filed Opposition to Marriott's rep. request to intervene in the case. A hearing is set for September 14th as to whether they will be allowed to intervene in the rate case. Any other intervenors had 10 days from August 25th to file a request to intervene. The only filers to intervene so far on the docket are the Navy/PMRF and the Kaua'i Marriott's representative. Kauaians for a Bright Energy Future has decided not to try to intervene, but we will be following the case closely and writing about it throughout.

How to Grow Democracy

SUBHEAD: Five leading figures of the food movement expound on how food democracy can be achieved. By The Editors on 02 September 2009 in The Nation - http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090921/forum_intro image above: Poster by Jill Giraffe from http://media.photobucket.com/image/food%20democracy/jillgiraffe/Causes/fooddemocracynow.png "Food democracy" has become the rallying cry of an emerging grassroots movement. It certainly sounds good--but what exactly does it mean? "Eating local," as more and more people strive to do, is part of it. At the most basic level, though, food democracy requires a transformation of the food industry, so that workers and consumers can exercise control over what they produce and eat. As the Small Planet Institute defines it, "Food democracy means the right of all to an essential of life--safe, nutritious food. It also suggests fair access to land to grow food and a fair return for those who labor to produce it. Food democracy concerns itself with the future as well: It implies economic rules that encourage communities to safeguard the soil, water, and wildlife on which all our lives and futures depend." The vision is compelling, but how can it be made concrete? What are the obstacles to democratizing the food system, and how can they be overcome? For this forum, we asked five leading figures of this country's food movement to reflect on how food democracy can be achieved, here and now. Their responses follow.
In This Forum

Alice Waters: A Healthy Constitution

Dan Barber: Why Cooking Matters

Dave Murphy: An American Right to Food

Grace Lee Boggs: Detroit's "Quiet Revolution"

LaDonna Redmond: Food is Freedom

American Stealth Militarism

SUBHEAD: A Seven-Step-Program to return America to a quieter, less muscular, patriotism.

Introduction by Tom Engelhardt on 3 September 2009 - http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175110/william_astore_american_militarism_on_steroids

image above: The Stealth Bike built for Northrop-Grumman in honor of the B-2 Bomber. From http://www.irconnect.com/noc/press/pages/news_releases.html?d=157374

Here's how Cheryl Bartholomew, described an event happening at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska, for the local affiliate of the national web portal Examiner.com:

"The Offutt Air Show, Defenders of Freedom '09 looks to be a great outing for the younger kids this year... Performers include the US Navy Blue Angels, US Army Golden Knights parachute team, an assortment of US Air Force aircraft, fake dog fights, and Tops in Blue will perform Saturday at 4pm. Static displays from the Air Force, Navy, and retired aircraft will be available to the public. There is even a B-2 Motorcycle crafted by Northrop Grumman to celebrate 20 years of the B-2 Stealth Bomber. Units from local organizations and military presenters will have booths set up around the flightline. The Fun Zone will be set up for children including 17 inflatables, glitter temporary tattoos, and photos in a[n] F-4 Phantom Cockpit are offered at the event. There will be food and drink vendors available throughout the event."

This little blurb catches something larger -- the way military displays of every sort have increasingly been woven into the interstices of our everyday lives as spectacle in movies, video games, ever more militarized ceremonies surrounding the country's honored dead, and in so many other ways. Americans largely prefer not to notice. On our own militarism, we are generally in denial. We seem to take it all in not as a reflection of a more militarized country with a Pentagon budget unparalleled in history, but as so much passing entertainment, in part because the militarized land we live in conforms to no notions we hold of militarism.

Abroad, the U.S. has developed a unique global presence in which our military is both everywhere and nowhere. This is the case because our version of imperialism is focused not on acquiring colonies, but on building scads of military outposts, what Chalmers Johnson calls "our empire of bases." We may literally garrison the planet (and patrol its seas and oceans), fighting constant wars in distant lands, and yet it all makes only a minimal impression on what is these days regularly referred to as "the homeland" (a word now inseparable from its companion "security").

Similarly, the creeping militarization of this society in these last decades has followed an unfamiliar route. No massed parades of troops, no vast, visible military presence in the streets, nothing we would recognize as typically militaristic is in evidence. And yet an in-your-face, militarized version of patriotism filled with threat, fear, and an almost tangible desperation has enveloped the society, a style of patriotism that would have made past generations of Americans deeply uncomfortable -- and does exactly that to TomDispatch regular retired Lieutenant Colonel William Astore. But let him explain why and what we should do about it.

Tom Engelhardt

Whatever Happened to Gary Cooper? A Seven-Step Program to Return America to a Quieter, Less Muscular, Patriotism

By William Astoreon 3 September 2009 in Tom's Dispatch

I have a few confessions to make: After almost eight years of off-and-on war in Afghanistan and after more than six years of mayhem and death since "Mission Accomplished" was declared in Operation Iraqi Freedom, I'm tired of seeing simpleminded magnetic ribbons on vehicles telling me, a 20-year military veteran, to support or pray for our troops. As a Christian, I find it presumptuous to see ribbons shaped like fish, with an American flag as a tail, informing me that God blesses our troops.

I'm underwhelmed by gigantic American flags -- up to 100 feet by 300 feet -- repeatedly being unfurled in our sports arenas, as if our love of country is greater when our flags are bigger. I'm disturbed by nuclear-strike bombers soaring over stadiums filled with children, as one did in July just as the National Anthem ended during this year's Major League Baseball All Star game. Instead of oohing and aahing at our destructive might, I was quietly horrified at its looming presence during a family event.

We've recently come through the steroid era in baseball with all those muscled up players and jacked up stats. Now that players are tested randomly, home runs are down and muscles don't stretch uniforms quite as tightly. Yet while ending the steroid era in baseball proved reasonably straightforward once the will to act was present, we as a country have yet to face, no less curtail, our ongoing steroidal celebrations of pumped-up patriotism.

It's high time we ended the post-Vietnam obsession with Rambo's rippling pecs as well as the jaw-dropping technological firepower of the recent cinematic version of G.I. Joe and return to the resolute, undemonstrative strength that Gary Cooper showed in movies like High Noon.

In the HBO series The Sopranos, Tony (played by James Gandolfini) struggles with his own vulnerability -- panic attacks caused by stress that his Mafia rivals would interpret as fatal signs of weakness. Lamenting his emotional frailty, Tony asks, "Whatever happened to Gary Cooper?" Whatever happened, in other words, to quiet, unemotive Americans who went about their business without fanfare, without swagger, but with firmness and no lack of controlled anger at the right time?

Tony's question is a good one, but I'd like to spin it differently: Why did we allow lanky American citizen-soldiers and true heroes like World War I Sergeant Alvin York (played, at York's insistence, by Gary Cooper) and World War II Sergeant (later, first lieutenant) Audie Murphy (played in the film To Hell and Back, famously, by himself) to be replaced by all those post-Vietnam pumped up Hollywood "warriors," with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger-style abs and egos to match?

And far more important than how we got here, how can we end our enduring fascination with a puffed up, comic-book-style militarism that seems to have stepped directly out of screen fantasy and into our all-too-real lives?

A Seven-Step Recovery Program

As a society, we've become so addicted to militarism that we don't even notice the way it surrounds us or the spasms of societal 'roid rage that go with it. The fact is, we need a detox program. At the risk of incurring some of that 'roid rage myself, let me suggest a seven-step program that could help return us to the saner days of Gary Cooper:

1. Baseball players on steroids swing for the fences. So does a steroidal country. When you have an immense military establishment, your answer to trouble is likely to be overwhelming force, including sending troops into harm's way. To rein in our steroidal version of militarism, we should stop bulking up our military ranks, as is now happening, and shrink them instead. Our military needs not more muscle supplements (or the budgetary version of the same), but far fewer.

2. It's time to stop deferring to our generals, and even to their commander-in-chief. They're ours, after all; we're not theirs. When President Obama says Afghanistan is not a war of choice but of necessity, we shouldn't hesitate to point out that the emperor has no clothes. Yet when it comes to tough questioning of the president's generals, Congress now seems eternally supine. Senators and representatives are invariably too busy falling all over themselves praising our troops and their commanders, too worried that "tough" questioning will appear unpatriotic to the folks back home, or too connected to military contractors in their districts, or some combination of the three.

Here's something we should all keep in mind: generals have no monopoly on military insight. What they have a monopoly on is a no-lose situation. If things go well, they get credit; if they go badly, we do. Retired five-star general Omar Bradley was typical when he visited Vietnam in 1967 and declared: "I am convinced that this is a war at the right place, at the right time and with the right enemy -- the Communists." North Vietnam's only hope for victory, he insisted, was "to hang on in the expectation that the American public, inadequately informed about the true situation and sickened by the loss in lives and money, will force the United States to give up and pull out."

There we have it: A classic statement of the belief that when our military loses a war, it's always the fault of "we the people." Paradoxically, such insidious myths gain credibility not because we the people are too forceful in our criticism of the military, but because we are too deferential.

3. It's time to redefine what "support our troops" really means. We console ourselves with the belief that all our troops are volunteers, who freely signed on for repeated tours of duty in forever wars. But are our troops truly volunteers? Didn't we recruit them using multi-million dollar ad campaigns and lures of every sort? Are we not, in effect, running a poverty and recession draft? Isolated in middle- or upper-class comfort, detached from our wars and their burdens, have we not, in a sense, recruited a "foreign legion" to do our bidding?

If you're looking for a clear sign of a militarized society -- which few Americans are -- a good place to start is with troop veneration. The cult of the soldier often covers up a variety of sins. It helps, among other things, hide the true costs of, and often the futility of, the wars being fought. At an extreme, as the war began to turn dramatically against Nazi Germany in 1943, Germans who attempted to protest Hitler's failed strategy and the catastrophic costs of his war were accused of (and usually executed for) betraying the troops at the front.

The United States is not a totalitarian state, so surely we can hazard criticisms of our wars and even occasionally of the behavior of some of our troops, without facing charges of stabbing our troops in the back and aiding the enemy. Or can we?

4. Let's see the military for what it is: a blunt instrument of force. It's neither surgical nor precise nor predictable. What Shakespeare wrote 400 years ago remains true: when wars start, havoc is unleashed, and the dogs of war run wild -- in our case, not just the professional but the "mercenary" dogs of war, those private contractors to the Pentagon that thrive on the rich spoils of modern warfare in distant lands. It's time to recognize that we rely ever more massively to prosecute our wars on companies that profit ever more handsomely the longer they last.

5. Let's not blindly venerate the serving soldier, while forgetting our veterans when they doff their spiffy uniforms for the last time. It's easy to celebrate our clean-cut men and women in uniform when they're thousands of miles from home, far tougher to lend a hand to scruffier, embittered veterans suffering from the physical and emotional trauma of the battle zones to which they were consigned, usually for multiple tours of duty.

6. I like air shows, but how about -- as a first tiny step toward demilitarizing civilian life -- banning all flyovers of sporting events by modern combat aircraft? War is not a sport, and it shouldn't be a thrill.

7. I love our flag. I keep my father's casket flag in a special display case next to the very desk on which I'm writing this piece. It reminds me of his decades of service as a soldier and firefighter. But I don't need humongous stadium flags or, for that matter, tiny flag lapel pins to prove my patriotism -- and neither should you. In fact, doesn't the endless post-9/11 public proliferation of flags in every size imaginable suggest a certain fanaticism bordering on desperation? If we saw such displays in other countries, our descriptions wouldn't be kindly.

Of course, none of this is likely to be easy as long as this country garrisons the planet and fights open-ended wars on its global frontiers. The largest step, the eighth one, would be to begin seriously downsizing that mission. In the meantime, we shouldn't need reminding that this country was originally founded as a civilian society, not a militarized one. Indeed, the revolt of the 13 colonies against the King of England was sparked, in part, by the perceived tyranny of forced quartering of British troops in colonial homes, the heavy hand of an "occupation" army, and taxation that we were told went for our own defense, whether we wanted to be defended or not.

If Americans are going to continue to hold so-called tea parties, shouldn't some of them be directed against the militarization of our country and an enormous tax burden fed in part by our wasteful, trillion-dollar wars?

Modest as it may seem, my seven-step recovery program won't be easy for many of us to follow. After all, let's face it, we've come to enjoy our peculiar brand of muscular patriotism and the macho militarism that goes with it. In fact, we revel in it. Outwardly, the result is quite an impressive show. We look confident and ripped and strong. But it's increasingly clear that our outward swagger conceals an inner desperation. If we're so strong, one might ask, why do we need so much steroidal piety, so many in-your-face patriotic props, and so much parade-ground conformity?

Forget Rambo and action-picture G.I. Joes: Give me the steady hand, the undemonstrative strength, and the quiet humility of Alvin York, Audie Murphy -- and Gary Cooper.

William Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), is a TomDispatch regular. He teaches History at the Pennsylvania College of Technology and can be reached at wastore@pct.edu.

see also: Island Breath: Dick Cheney's NASCAR Army 6/2/07

Peak Civilization

SUBHEAD: Example - The Fall of the Roman Empire. Collapse is invisible from the inside. By Ugo Bardi on 22 July 2009 in the Oil Drum: Europe - http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/5528 [Editor's note: This is the concluding section of a long article that is linked above.] image above: Middle Age copy of late Roman Empire design for oxen powered warship to rule the seas. From linked extended article. Avoiding Collapse From our viewpoint, we see what was the history of the Roman Empire. But, from inside, as we saw, it wasn't clear at all. But let's assume that someone had it clear, already at the time of Marcus Aurelius. I said that there might have been something like an ASPE; "association for the study of peak empire". Or let's imagine that a wise man, a Druid from foggy Britannia, an ancestor of Merlin the wise, was smart enough to figure out what was going on. You don't really need computers to make dynamical models, or maybe this druid made one using wooden cogs and wheels, the whole thing powered by slaves. So, let's say that this druid understood that the troubles of the Empire are caused by a combination of negative feedbacks and that these feedbacks come from the cost of the army and of the bureaucracy, the overexploitation of the fertile soil, the fact that Rome had exhausted the "easy" targets for conquest. Now, it is a tradition of Druids (and also the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas, ASPO) of alerting kings and rulers of the dangers ahead. After all, Merlin did that for King Arthur and we may imagine that the Druid we are thinking of felt that it was his duty to do that with Emperor Marcus Aurelius. So, he decides to go to Rome and speak to the Emperor. Suppose you were that Druid; what would you say to the Emperor? Good question, right? I have asked it to myself many times. We could think of many ways of answering it. For instance, if gold is running out from the Empire's coffers, why not suggest to the Emperor to mount a naval expedition to the Americas? It is what Columbus would do, more than a millennium afterwards and the result was the Spanish empire - it was also based on gold and it didn't last for long. Maybe the Romans could have done something like that. But they didn't have the right technology to cross the oceans and, at the time of Marcus Aurelius, they had run out of the resources to develop it. So, they had to remain in Europe and to come to terms with the limits of the area they occupied. The Empire had to return its economy within these limits. So, there is only one thing that you, as the wise Druid from Britannia, can tell the Emperor: you have to return within the limits that the Empire's economy can sustain. So you walk to Rome - kind of a long walk from Eburacum, in Britannia; a place that today we call "York". You are preceded by your fame of wise man and so the Emperor receives you in his palace. You face him, and you tell him what you have found: "Emperor, the empire is doomed. If you don't do something now, it will collapse in a few decades" The Emperor is perplexed, but he is a patient man. He is a philosopher after all. So he won't have your head chopped off right away, as other emperors would, but he asks you, "But why, wise druid, do you say that?" "Emperor, " you say, "you are spending too much money for legions and fortifications. The gold accumulated in centuries of conquests is fast disappearing and you can't pay enough legionnaires to defend the borders. In addition, you are putting too much strain on agriculture: the fertile soil is being eroded and lost. Soon, there won't be enough food for the Romans. And, finally, you are oppressing people with too much bureaucracy, which is also too expensive." Again, the Emperor considers having your head chopped off, but he doesn't order that. You have been very lucky in hitting on a philosopher-emperor. So he asks you, "Wise druid, there may be some truth in what you say, but what should I do?" "Emperor, first you need to plant trees. the land needs rest. In time, trees will reform the fertile soil." "But, druid, if we plant trees, we won't have enough food for the people." "Nobody will starve if the patricians renounce to some of their luxuries!" "Well, Druid, I see your point but it won't be easy....." "And you must reduce the number of legions and abandon the walls!" "But, but.... Druid, if we do that, the barbarians will invade us....." "It is better now than later. Now you can still keep enough troops to defend the cities. Later on, it will be impossible. It is sustainable defense." "Sustainable?" "Yes, it means defense that you can afford. You need to turn the legions into city militias and..." "And...?" "You must spend less for the Imperial bureaucracy. The Imperial taxes are too heavy! You must work together with the people, not oppress them! Plant trees, disband the army, work together!" Now, Emperor Marcus Aurelius seriously considers whether it is appropriate to have your head chopped off, after all. Then, since he is a good man, he sends to you back to Eburacum under heavy military escort, with strict orders that you should never come to Rome again. This is a little story about something that never happened but that closely mirrors what happened to the modern druids who were the authors of "The Limits to Growth." They tried to tell to the world's rulers of their times something not unlike what our fictional druid tried to tell to Emperor Marcus Aurelius. The heads of the authors of "The Limits to Growth" weren't chopped off, but they were surely "academically decapitated" so to say. They were completely ignored. Not just ignored, ridiculed and vituperated. It is not easy to be a Druid. So, here we found another similarity between our times and the Roman ones. We are subjected to the "fish in the water" curse. We don't understand that we are surrounded by water. And we don't want to be told that water exists. As things stands, we seem to be blithely following the same path that the Roman Empire followed. Our leaders are unable to understand complex systems and continue to implement solutions that worsen the problem. As the wise Druid was trying to tell to Marcus Aurelius, building walls to keep the barbarians out was a loss of resources that was worse than useless. But I can see the politicians of the time running on a platform that said, "Keep the barbarians out! More walls to defend the empire". It is the same for us. Tell a politician that we are in trouble with crude oil and he/she will immediately say "drill deeper!" or "drill, baby, drill!" Negative feedback kills. Middle Ages are the solution But I would like to point out to you something: let's go back to what our fictional Druid was telling to Emperor Aurelius. He had this slogan "Plant trees, disband the army and work together". I had invented it in a post that I had written on the collapse of Tuscan society in 16th century; it is another story but one that shows how all societies follow similar paths. Anyway, can you see what kind of world the Druid was proposing to the Emperor? Think about that for a moment: a world of walled cities defended by city militias, no central authority or a weak one, an economy based on agriculture. Do you see it.....? Sure, it is Middle Ages! Think about that for a moment and you'll see that you could define Middle Ages as a solution for the problems of the Roman Empire! So, our Druid had seen the future and was describing it to Emperor Aurelius. He had seen the solution of the problems of Empire: The Middle Ages. It was where the Empire was going and where it could not avoid going. What the Druid was proposing was to go there in a controlled way. Ease the transition, don't fight it! If you know where you are going, you can travel in style and comfort. If you don't, well, it will be a rough ride. We may imagine a hypothetical "driven transition" in which the government of the Roman Empire at the time of Marcus Aurelius would have done exactly that: abandon the walls, reduce the number of legion and transform them into city militias, reduce bureaucracy and Imperial expenses, delocalize authority, reduce the strain on agriculture: reforest the land. The transition would not have been traumatic and would have involved a lower loss of complexity: books, skills, works of art and much more could have been saved and passed to future generations. All that is, of course, pure fantasy. Even for a Roman Emperor, disbanding the legions couldn't be easy. After all, the name "Emperor" comes from the Latin word "imperator" that simply means "commander". The Roman Emperor was a military commander and the way to be Emperor was to please the legions that the Emperor commanded. A Roman Emperor who threatened to disband the legions wouldn't have been very popular and, most likely, he was to be a short lived Emperor. So, Emperors couldn't have done much even if they had understood system dynamics. In practice, they spent most of their time trying to reinforce the army by having as many legions as they could. Emperors, and the whole Roman world, fought as hard as they could to keep the status quo ante, to keep things as they had always been. After the 3rd century crisis, Emperor Diocletian resurrected the Empire transforming it into something that reminds us of the Soviet Union at the time of Breznev. An oppressive dictatorship that included a suffocating bureaucracy, heavy taxes for the citizens, and a heavy military apparatus. It was such a burden for the Empire that it destroyed it utterly in little more than a century. Our Druids may be better than those of the times of the Roman Empire, at least they have digital computers. But our leaders are no better apt at understanding complex system than the military commanders who ruled the Roman Empire. Even if our leaders were better, they would face the same problems: there are no structures that can gently lead society to where it is going. We have only structures that are there to keep society where it is - no matter how difficult and uncomfortable it is to be there. It is exactly what Tainter says: we react to problems by building structure that are more and more complex and that, in the end, produce a negative return. That's why societies collapse. So will all our efforts are to keep the status quo ante. For this reason we are desperately looking for something that can replace crude oil and leave everything else the same. It has to be something that is liquid, that burns and, if possible, even smells bad. Drill more, drill deeper, boil tar sands, make biofuels even if people will starve. We are doing everything we can to keep things as they are. And, yet, we are going where the laws of physics are going to take us. A world with less crude oil, or with no crude oil at all, cannot be the same world we are used to, but it doesn't need to be the Middle Ages again. If we manage to deploy new sources of energy, renewable or nuclear - fast enough to replace crude oil and the other fossil fuels, we can imagine that the transition would not involve a big loss of complexity, perhaps none at all. More likely, a reduced flux of energy and natural resources in the economic system will entail the kind of collapse described in the simulations of "The Limits to Growth." We can't avoid going where the laws of physics are taking us. Conclusion: showdown at Teutoburg Two thousand years ago, three Roman legions were annihilated in the woods of Teutoburg by a coalition of tribes of the region that the Romans called "Germania". Today, after so many years, the woods of the region are quiet and peaceful places, as you can see in this picture: It is hard for us to imagine what the three days of folly of the battle of Teutoburg must have been. The legions surprised by the ambush of the Germans, their desperate attempt to retreat: under heavy rain and strong winds in the woods, they never were able to form a line and fight as they were trained to. One by one, almost all of them were killed; their general, Varus, committed suicide. The Germans left the bodies rotting in the woods as a sort of sacred memory to the battle. The ultimate disgrace for the legions was the loss of their sacred standards. It was such a disaster that it led to the legend that Emperor Augustus would wander at night in his palace screaming "Varus, give me back my legions!" I think we could pause for a moment and remember these men, Germans and Romans, who fought so hard and died. We have seen so many similarity between our world and the Roman one that we may feel something that these men felt as well. Why did they fight, why did they die? I think that many of them fought because they were paid to fight. Others because their commander or their chieftain told them so. But, I am sure, a good number of them had some idea that they were fighting for (or against) the abstract concept that was the Roman Empire. Some of them must have felt that they stood for defending civilization against barbarians, others for defending their land against evil invaders. Two millennia after the battle of Teutoburg, we can see how useless it was that confrontation in the woods soaked with rain. A few years later, the Roman general Germanicus, nephew of Emperor Tiberius, went back to Teutoburg with no less than eight legions. He defeated the Germans, recovered the standards of the defeated legions, and buried the bodies of the Roman dead. Arminius, the German leader who had defeated Varus, suffered a great loss of prestige and, eventually, he was killed by his own people. But all that changed nothing. The Roman Empire had exhausted its resources and couldn't expand any more. Germanicus couldn't conquer Germany any more than Varus could bring back his legions from the realm of the dead. Civilizations and empires, in the end, are just ripples in the ocean of time. They come and go, leaving little except carved stones proclaiming their eternal greatness. But, from the human viewpoint, Empires are vast and long standing and, for some of us, worth fighting for or against. But those who fought in Teutoburg couldn't change the course of history, nor can we. All that we can say - today, as at the time of the battle of Teutoburg, is that we are going towards a future world that we can only dimly perceive. If we could see clearly where we are going, maybe we wouldn't like to go there; but we are going anyway. In the end, perhaps it was Emperor Marcus Aurelius who had seen the future most clearly: "Nature which governs the whole will soon change all things which thou seest, and out of their substance will make other things, and again other things from the substance of them, in order that the world may be ever new." Marcus Aurelius Verus - "Meditations" ca. 167 A.D. see also: Ea O Ka Aina: Too Big to Fail 4/22/09 Island Breath: Navigating the Great Turning 5/22/08 Island Breath: The Great Turning from Empire 6/16/06

Real Soldiers Just Say No

SUBHEAD: Where will real change come from in US military policy? Perhaps from the soldiers themselves.  

By Jon Letman on 18 August 2009 in AntiWar.com - 
http://original.antiwar.com/letman/2009/08/17/soldiers-who-just-say-no

 
Image above: Satire illustration of Hawaii's own Lt Ehren Watada (of the Stryker Brigade), who was the first US Army officer to refuse to go to Iraq because it was an unjust war, and who was widely condemned by "patriots".] From http://michellemalkin.com/2006/06/08/zarqawis-moonbat-friends

Six months into Barack Obama’s presidency, the U.S. public’s display of antiwar sentiment has faded to barely a whisper. Despite Obama’s vow to withdraw all combat forces from Iraq before September 2011, he plans to leave up to 50,000 troops in "training and advisory" roles.

Meanwhile, nearly 130,000 troops remain in that country and more than 50,000 U.S. soldiers occupy Afghanistan, with up to an additional 18,000 approved for deployment this year. So where is the resistance?

In independent journalist Dahr Jamail’s The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan (Haymarket Books), Jamail profiles what may ultimately prove to be the United States’ most effective antiwar movement: the soldiers themselves.

During the early years of the Iraq war, Jamail traveled to Iraq alone and reported as an unembedded freelance journalist. Over four visits, Jamail documented the war’s effects on Iraqi civilians in Beyond the Green Zone (2007).

Although he is a fierce critic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S. mainstream media, which he says served as a "cheerleader" for war, Jamail admits he was raised to admire the military. However, after covering the war from Iraq between 2003 and 2005, Jamail was enraged by what he calls "the heedless and deliberate devastation [he] saw [the U.S. military] wreak upon the people of Iraq."

Back in the U.S., traveling the country speaking out against the war, Jamail met scores of soldiers who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and found that he shared with them a "familiar anguish" which drove him to further explore their motivations as soldiers. In doing so, he opens the door to a growing subculture of internal dissent that is increasingly bubbling up and spilling over the edge of an otherwise ultra-disciplined, highly controlled military society.

"The soldiers I spoke with while working on this book are some of the most ardent antiwar activists I have ever met," Jamail told IPS. "Having experienced the war firsthand, this should not come as a surprise." In The Will to Resist, Jamail profiles individual acts of resistance that he envisions as the possible seeds of a broader antiwar movement.

The book is filled with stories of soldiers who refuse missions deemed "suicidal," go AWOL, flee abroad, refuse to carry a loaded weapon, even arrange to be shot in the leg – and those who in a final act of desperation commit suicide. S

oldiers who refuse to deploy or follow orders risk court-martial, prison time, dishonorable discharge, and loss of veteran’s medical benefits, yet an increasing number of active-duty soldiers and veterans are willing to do so.

Rather than accept a mission almost certain to bring death, some troops simply refuse to follow orders. Jamail describes soldiers in Iraq on "search and avoid" missions who grew adept at giving the appearance of going out on patrol when, in fact, they were lying low, catching up on sleep, and trying to avoid being killed. Jamail quotes one Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as saying, "Dissent starts as simple as saying, ‘This is bullshit. Why am I risking my life?’"

Soldiers tell Jamail that incidents of refusing orders are unremarkable and "pretty widespread," to which he responds, "It is also understandable why the military does not want more soldiers or the public to know about them."

 "Army Specialist Victor Agosto, who served a year in Iraq, has recently publicly refused orders to deploy to Afghanistan," Jamail told IPS, "and the Army, due to the threat of more soldiers and the broader public learning of this, backed away from giving Agosto the harshest court-martial possible, to one of the lightest." Jamail also dedicates two chapters to soldiers who stand up to systemic misogyny and homophobia in the military.

Extensive interviews with female soldiers detail a pervasive culture of institutionalized "command rape," harassment, abuse, and assault, which, in a number of high-profile cases (and many more unknown) end in ostracism, coercion, demotion, suicide, and murder.

Citing studies from professional medical journals that offer a grim assessment of sexual intimidation and abuse within the U.S. military, Jamail writes, "According to the group Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, one in six women in the United States will be a victim of sexual assault in her lifetime. In the military, at least two in five will.

In either case, at least 60 percent of the cases go unreported." As Jamail recounts horrific cases of violence toward women in the military, he notes the irony of frequent claims that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are "liberating" women of those Muslim countries.

 Like female soldiers, gay and lesbian service men and women are targeted for harassment and abuse. Jamail meets soldiers who, under the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy, must conceal their true identity, falsely posing as straight while battling internal conflicts about their own roles in the military.

 In the blunt language of the soldiers, Jamail describes the military experience as a process of dehumanization."The primary objective appeared to be to mistreat and dehumanize your guys [fellow soldiers]," one Marine says. "I could not do it, not to my men and not to those people. I like the Iraqis, I like the Afghanis. Why were we treating them like sh*t? …

That is when I really started questioning what the hell was going on." For many soldiers, however, the pain of war is simply too much to bear and so they choose their own final discharge: suicide.

In an emotionally exhausting chapter, Jamail cites statistics from the Army Suicide Event Report, which states that active-duty military suicides have risen to their highest rates since the Army started tracking self-inflicted deaths in 1980, and the numbers are growing.

 Documenting the phenomenon of "suicide by cop," Jamail quotes from a Post Traumatic Distress Syndrome (PTSD)-wracked veteran’s pre-"suicide" Internet article in which he wrote, "We come home from war trying to put our lives back together but some cannot stand the memories and decide that death is better. We kill ourselves because we are so haunted by seeing children killed and whole families wiped out."

Contemplating the long-term implications of the more than 1.8 million military personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Jamail points out that the United States, for many years to come, will be faced with caring for tens of thousands of veterans whose lives are permanently marred by grave physical and traumatic brain injuries, psychological scars, PTSD, and a host of associated problems ranging from divorce and substance abuse to domestic violence, homelessness, and run-ins with the law.

Other soldiers manage to cope somehow and, perhaps in a sense, recover.

Following their discharge, some veterans profiled by Jamail seek to make peace with themselves by educating others about the realities they experienced in war.

The most successful and constructive of military efforts to resist war are made by those who turn their experiences into teaching tools and therapeutic exercises like music, video, theater, painting, books, blogs, photographic and art exhibitions, performance art, and even making paper out of old military uniforms.

 In a chapter titled "Cyber Resistance," Jamail contends the Internet "is probably the first time that we have available to us an inexpensive and extremely inclusive means to communicate and thereby advocate sustained resistance to unjust military action, at an international scale without losing any gestation time."

 Web sites like YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Blogspot, and countless alternative news sources have given soldiers and veterans both a voice and the means to connect with those Jamail calls "fence-sitters, members of the silent majority and well-intentioned but resource-less individuals to participate in the promise of a historical transformation."

"While we don’t have an organized GI resistance movement today that is anywhere close to that which helped end the Vietnam War," Jamail said, "

The seeds for one are there, and they are continuing to sprout amidst a soil that is becoming all the more fertile by the escalation of troops in Afghanistan, the lack of withdrawal in Iraq, and an increasingly over-stretched military."

See also: Island Breath: Army can't retry Watada 10/24/08
Island Breath: Watada can't use "unjust war" 1/16/07
Island Breath: Watada Explains Position 12/21/06
Island Breath: Army to try Watada for not deplying 11/13/06

Kauai Electronics Recycling

SUBHEAD: Keeping it Out of Africa. The right destination for your obsolete electronic equipment. By Jan TenBruggencate on 02 September 2009 in Raising Islands http://raisingislands.blogspot.com/2009/09/recycling-electronics-keep-it-out-of.html Folks on Kaua'i will be dropping off their old electronics for recycling during this Friday and Saturday (September 4th & 5th), and the good news is that none of it will end up on some village in Africa. image above: In Ghana obsolete electronics are stripped for parts and then thrown away. From http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/earth/2591471/Electronic-goods-recycling-poses-health-risk-for-Ghana-children.html?image=1 There is, of course, a vast difference between simply collecting stuff for recycling and actually recycling it. One of the open secrets about the whole recycling ethic is that large amounts of stuff never is recycled. Some “recyclables” are simply stockpiled awaiting some deus ex machina miracle to make their recycling possible or profitable. And large other amounts are simply dumped, often, as with some electronics, in third-world countries that reap the toxic benefits of our feel-good recycling efforts. image above: Plastic parts of abandoned electronics are burned off (releasing toxins) to reveal copper for recycling. From http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/earth/2591471/Electronic-goods-recycling-poses-health-risk-for-Ghana-children.html See this article on the e-waste trade in Africa. And this. The African paradigm describes a system in which a little of the material is indeed recycled, but much is left to create toxic dumps. This has gotten to be such a scandal, that some recyclers use it as a sales tool. They specifically advertise that they don't ship stuff to Africa. Like this. That said, much of Hawai'i's unwanted electronics does appear to be properly recycled. The next major electronics recycling program in the Islands is at the Vidinha Stadium parking lot on Kauai from 8 to 4 p.m. Friday (Sept. 4, 2009) for business and Saturday (Sept. 5) for residents. It is being run for the county by Recycle Hawai'i, a Big Island-based non-profit. Recycle Hawai'i, in turn, ships its electronic recyclables to a California firm, E-World Recyclers . E-World says nothing but compostable material like wood goes into landfills. Here's the list of stuff the Kauai electronics recyling program will take: Computer towers, tvs, copiers, monitors, hubs, fax machines, combination units, cell phones, keyboards, phones, scanners, CD-ROM drives, laptops, mice, stereo components, DVD drives, printers, backup batteries, plasma screens, typewriters, speakers, VCR players, electronic gaming units, cameras, radios, camcorders. They don't want packing supplies, toner cartridges or appliances. For more information on the Kauai program call County Recycling Office for further information at 241-4841.