Organoponico! Cuba's food security

SUBHEAD: Cuba is no democratic paradise, but the country could certainly teach the west a thing or two about sustainable, secure food production, as this new film demonstrates.

By Claire Birch on 6 November 2009 in The Ecologist -

image above: An example of organoponico garden bed. Low concrete wall, organic material, drip system. From 
Organoponico! begins with a summary of life after the start of the Special Period. In Cuba, the Special Period refers to the period of economic crisis that began in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was defined primarily by severe shortages of oil derivatives and imports, leading to widespread famine. 
 From this desperate need for food came the establishment of small organic farms, making use of any available space, from disused car parks to road-sides. The result is not just highly productive, but also attractive - splashes of lush green space within urban environments: flourishing gardens, grown without any pesticides, offering an oasis of calm amongst the busy Havana streets.  

The six minute film demonstrates the strong sense of cooperative spirit provided by the organoponicos, organised, as they are, 'by the neighbours of the community, to produce food for the community'. Government subsidies allow the organic produce to be sold at often half the price of conventionally farmed produce, making the enterprises economically viable too. 

Video above: "Organoponica!", a six minute film in Spanish with subtitles (5/9/2009) From 

One of Organoponico!'s strengths is that its story is told entirely by workers, painting a realistic picture of working life for those who tend organoponicos, illustrating that although the work is intensive, employees enjoy good conditions and pay. The food security created by the system is highly valued: Cuba’s 7000 organoponicos supply 90 per cent of the country's fruit and vegetables, and have helped lift Cuba from the poverty of the Special Period. 

Peak oil 
Although born out of necessity, organoponicos have proven that an oil-scarce society can survive, if not thrive. Many environmentalists have seen the Cuban experience as something of a model for how to survive peak oil. Because of this, other countries have attempted to replicate it, although results have been variable. 

The film ends with some startling facts about the state of the food industry here in the UK. Currently we import 95 per cent of our fruit and 50 per cent of our vegetables. Since consensus is forming around the possibility of an oil supply crunch within the next decade, perhaps the time to start reclaiming the UK's urban landscape is now. 

Organoponic Raised Bed Gardening was created in Cuba and was born from the crisis the Cubans experienced after the collapse of the Soviet Union and this crisis was deepened by the strengthening of the American Trade Embargo An Organoponico simply consists of low level concrete walls filled with organic matter and soil, with a couple of lines of drip irrigation laid on the surface of the growing media.  

The concrete sided beds are called “Cantero” in Spanish and the organic matter is usually “Bagasse” which is the waste left over from crushing sugar cane. Normally the ratio between soil and organic matter is 50%:50%. Sometimes every 7th bed is used for worm farming and the resultant vermicast is an important contributor to the fertility, especially for nitrogen and microorganisms. So it is obvious where the “organo” part of organoponic comes from but why call it “ponic” ?

Well it just so happens that the Cubans had installed an hydroponic operation just before the crisis which quickly became defunct, but because they liked the hi-tech sound of that term and probably because the new gardens incorporated the use of drip irrigation they coined the term organoponic, which transformed into the generic name for these type of gardens, Organoponico.

 I have adopted this word for my garden beds because the garden beds are highly amended with organic materials and also I believe in using the drip irrigation system for fertigation with both organic and chemical fertilisers. In fact the high organic matter levels in the beds provides a excellent buffer for the input of regular small doses of chemical fertilisers either through the irrigation or lightly sprinkled on the surface by hand. This is because chemical fertilisers are by nature very acidic and salty and the nutritive elements are present in a very concentrated form which can easily get out of balance and do harm to soil and plants, but a very high organic matter content in the soil can to a large extent buffer and balance all that.  

Zen Concrete
 If a Hydroponic Glasshouse operation is one extreme of the vegetable growing spectrum and a Large-Scale Open-Field Market Garden is the other end, then what we are trying to create here is something in between. In the Cuban Capital of Havanna there are 200 large Organoponicos providing a city of 2.2 million people with 50% of their vegetable supplies.

See also: Ea O Ka Aina: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil 2/25/09

State ignores outcry at Kokee Plan

SUBHEAD: Residents reject Kokee entrance fees. Public tell DLNR to preserve park "as is". You can still submit testimony by letter or e-mail until November 19, 2009. [Editor's Note: After years of countless public meetings and almost unanimous requests to preserve Kokee as it is, the state continues to ignore the public and move ahead on plans to develop Kokee and turn it into an income generator for the rest of the park system. You can still submit public comments by November 19th, e-mailed to: or mailed to: DLNR, Reacreational Renaissance Rules PO Box 621 Honolulu, HI 06809] By Paul C Curtis on 5 November 2009 in The Garden Island - PUHI — Michael Ornellas of Kapa‘a said his father warned him that one day he would lose access to the very place he was born and raised, the mountains of the Eastside. The idea of losing access to hunting grounds in Koke‘e on the Westside is unfathomable, he said. State Department of Land and Natural Resources officials heard comments from dozens of community members who testified Wednesday evening at the Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School cafeteria. The hearing was held to address the proposed amendments to Hawai‘i Administrative Rules governing state parks that would allow DLNR to charge admission to state parks and use the money to support the park system, among other things. . “Koke‘e is the only place all of us get access to,” Ornellas said, adding that several of the places he and others used to hunt on the North Shore and Eastside are no longer accessible due to gates erected by private landowners. “Listen to everybody.” Robert Girald, a lifelong Puhi resident who also recalls unfettered access to the mountains and ocean while growing up, said Koke‘e is now the only mountain place remaining for public hunting here and needs to remain available to hunters. “Keep it wilderness. Keep it Kaua‘i,” said Girald, who also recalled a short-lived federal idea in 1964 to make Koke‘e a national park. After local public opposition, the national-park idea “faded away,” he said. “Let’s keep things simple. We don’t need all of that,” he said of an entrance gate, entrance fees for visitors, concessions and other ideas conceived to generate revenue for state-land upkeep. “Let’s keep it a wilderness park,” said Girald, adding that he is surprised that after hours of public testimony against the state’s Recreational Renaissance Plan B to fund repair and maintenance of state parks and harbors that there have been no proposed changes to the plan. There are so many new rules proposed that the state will need to hire more people just to enforce the rules, he said. The public opposition to the proposed erection of an entry gate and an entry fee for visitors to Koke‘e State Park and Ha‘ena State Park was seemingly unanimous. And all those who spoke on proposed increases in mooring fees at state harbors opposed such increases. Richard Iwamoto, a Westside commercial akule fisherman, said an increase in mooring fees for his boat would be passed on to consumers, moving the price of akule from $6 a pound to $7.20 a pound in local stores. Most people who eat akule are elderly who can’t absorb the additional cost, “So what’s going to happen? We sure as hell can’t fish for a loss,” Iwamoto said. The community and people are against a gate and entrance fees at Koke‘e State Park, said Adrian “Cowboy” Malina, who was given the three minutes of several other registered speakers and said the “sweat equity” used to fix the road access leading to Polihale State Park could also be used to fix up Koke‘e. Malina, who was cited and had to go to court for the way he went about trying to improve Koke‘e roads and waters (like removing invasive ginger from streams in apparent violation of federal and state Clean Water Acts), said he would “go to court anytime for the right thing.” He also advocated finding a nonprofit to fix up and manage run-down state cabins at Koke‘e, and that fellow hunters he talks to would be willing to donate vehicles, equipment and labor for park improvements. One recreational boater said proposed increases for mooring fees at state harbors would be “raping the boaters,” and said what the state describes as “modest increases” in mooring fees are anything but modest. A rise in mooring fees at Hanalei Bay from $30 to over $1,000 is not modest. “The people will help you,” but the proposed fee increases are “off the planet,” the boater said. Other speakers said people won’t pay the increased mooring fees in Hanalei Bay because they can’t afford them. “Hawai‘i should have world-class (harbor) facilities,” but don’t, said Dick Olsen, former commodore of the Nawiliwili Yacht Club. If the state can’t afford world-class harbor facilities, they should seriously consider privatization of state harbors, he said. “Koke‘e is not bad, and you guys (state DLNR officials from O‘ahu) just don’t get it,” said Ned Dana. “You guys need to learn from Kaua‘i.” Dana added that the plan should have started with public meetings to gauge what the public wants, instead of coming up with a plan first then conducting statewide meetings on the proposals. Linda Marsh of Bubbles Below scuba charters said six-passenger-boat operations like hers can’t survive with increased mooring fees. “I may very well be forced to sink my boat” if it costs $3,000 to moor for the summer in Hanalei Bay, said Phil Green. “This is absurd. These are not modest increases.” Mary Lu Kelley said she doesn’t like the way the state plan is being pushed in front of the ongoing development of a Koke‘e master plan. “We do not want a gate. We don’t want another lodge in Koke‘e,” she said, adding that she wants vacant lands and vacant cabins auctioned off. Several speakers including Bruce Pleas of Kekaha said entrance fees collected on Kaua‘i should stay on Kaua‘i, while another speaker said the state plan continues the attack on the mountains, heritage and history of Kaua‘i. “You guys aren’t even going to listen to us,” she said to state officials, adding that they don’t understand “our connection with the land.” “Kaua‘i is not a zoo,” and Kauaians don’t want entry gates, concession stands and parking lots, said another speaker. At least 60 people attended the meeting. Canen Ho‘okano, chair of the Koke‘e Advisory Council, said increasing the administrative fee visitors pay when they rent vehicles would raise more money than the plan to institute entry fees at eight state parks across the state. “Koke‘e is self-sustainable by itself. Let’s start getting a little more creative” in fund-raising ideas, said Ho‘okano. Nancy Budd, also a member of the Koke‘e Advisory Council, said there are lots of other ways to raise lots more money than through entry fees, that each island finds its own special places sacred, and that management of parks should be sensitive to the local mana‘o, or knowledge. The current proposed Koke‘e master plan ignores several years of public opposition, said Budd. “(The state) should trash this paper. No Plan B, no gates,” said Puanani Rogers. The state should go with the Koke‘e Advisory Council’s recommendations for the park, “and let it be ours, not yours.” Rogers spoke of the cultural, archaeological and historical significance of Ha‘ena and Koke‘e, and said, “Please do not mess around with our burials, OK?” Dayne Aipoalani of the Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi sovereignty group served papers on Dan Quinn, state parks administrator, saying 92,000 acres of crown lands in Waimea, Koke‘e, Alaka‘i and Na Pali belong to the Hawaiian people, not the state. The cease-and-desist order also claims the state is trespassing. “The lands that you talk about do not belong to you,” said Rogers. Public comments on the state plans must be postmarked (via U.S. mail) or e-mailed by Nov. 19, to, or mailed to DLNR, Recreational Renaissance Rules, P.O. Box 621, Honolulu, HI 96809. More information on the comprehensive plan is available at The proposed rules are available online at Copies for public review are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (except furlough Fridays) at the DLNR district offices for the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation (at Kukui Grove Professional Village), and State Parks and Forestry and Wildlife (in the Lihu‘e State Office Building). People may also make written requests for mailed copies by sending name and mailing address in correspondence sent to the DLNR address above. see also: Ea O Ka Aina: Save Kokee Meeting 6/28/09 Island Breath: Kokee will never be the same 7/27/06 Island Breath: DLNR Betrayal of Kokee 7/26/06

New Energy Paradigm - Simplicity

SUBHEAD: Insights from the ASPO Peak Oil Conference. Keep is simple stupid. image above: Sample of an information architecture diagram. An example of too much complexity. From By Chris Nelder on 6 November 2009 in Green Chip Stocks - One of the more interesting themes that emerged from this year's ASPO peak oil conference was the problems of maintaining complex systems, and the role that energy plays in them.

Dr. Jason Bradford, the biology brains behind Farmland LP (more on that here), ticked off a few of the key vulnerabilities of the U.S. food system in his presentation on sustainable agriculture:

  • Commercial agriculture consumes 10.3 quads (quadrillion BTUs) of primary energy in order to produce 1.4 quads of food energy. The inputs are mainly fossil fuels used in running tractors, producing artificial fertilizers, producing seeds, trucking, refrigeration, processing, freezing and cooking.
  • Commercial agriculture not only depletes non-renewable resources and degrades soil, air, and water, but it also releases 5 billion pounds of harmful chemicals and massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into the environment per year.
  • Animal waste provides critically important fertilizer to small distributed farms, but in the modern massive feedlots of concentrated animal populations it becomes an environmental hazard. All the feed transported to the feedlots uses petroleum fuels, and the hay is grown using ancient "fossil water" pumped from deep, essentially non-renewable aquifers.
  • Over the last four decades or so, runoff from commercial agriculture has resulted in massive "dead zones" near our shorelines caused by algae blooms that suck the oxygen out of the water and create anoxic environments where nothing can live. (The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico has grown to an estimated 8,500 square miles.)
  • Just three crops comprise 71% of U.S. crop acres: corn, soybean, and wheat.
  • Monsanto, Pioneer, and Syngenta —all basically chemical companies — dominate the seed industry with patented GMO seeds. Those seeds are finely tuned to the temperature, rainfall, and so on of the recent past, making climate change a major threat to the whole food regime (more on that here).
  • Likewise, a handful of giant companies now control the vast majority of the food supply system — a stark contrast to the millions of small family farmers who dominated it prior to the 1960s.
  • Nearly all of the food delivery system uses just-in-time inventory methods, so there is only one to three days' supply at any point in the distribution chain.

In short, Bradford explained, we have built a complex food supply system with very low diversity and strong connectivity. Yet in nature, those characteristics lead to instability. Stable systems are highly diverse with weak connectivity. The very complexity and interconnectedness of our food web is, in itself, a dangerous vulnerability.

Bradford aptly compared our blithe faith in the food supply system to "the hubris of Wile E. Coyote" just before he realizes he's about to plunge into the canyon.

The Energy-Water Nexus

A presentation by Michael Webber of the University of Texas at Austin emphasized another important interrelationship: We use water for energy, and energy for water.

Nearly all power plants are thermoelectric heat engines — they use heat to produce electricity (the notable exceptions to this are hydro power, wind generators and solar photovoltaics). Although there are many variations of the process, here's a simple explanation: A source of heat is applied to one side of the engine, which causes the expansion of a gas. The expansion of the gas makes a turbine spin, generating electrical power. The heat is then dumped by the cold side of the engine, which causes the gas to condense again.

Water is typically used to remove the heat on the cold side. Air-cooled plants are also possible, but they are less efficient because they're less cold, and so water-cooled plants are far more common.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the largest user of water in the U.S. is the thermoelectric power sector, accounting for 48% of the total water withdrawal and 39% of freshwater withdrawals.

The first vulnerability of the energy-water relationship is what happens when insufficient (or insufficiently cold) water is available: It forces power plants to scale back, or shut down altogether, which has happened at numerous coal- and nuclear-fired plants around the world over the last few years.

Webber believes that droughts could even close nuclear power plants in the Southeast permanently due to limited water.

On the flip side, Webber noted that roughly 10% of electricity in the U.S. is used for waste and wastewater, including end uses. But in denser, larger states the energy load can be much higher. According to a 2005 study by the California Energy Commission, fully 19% of the state's energy use is related to pumping, treating, transporting, heating, cooling, and recycling water.

The energy-water nexus includes liquid fuels as well as electricity. Net energy researcher David Murphy noted at the conference that the EROWI (energy returned on water invested) is 228 for petroleum diesel, but only 0.024 for corn ethanol, because making it requires massive amounts of water.

Producing liquid fuels from low-grade resources like tar sands and oil shale also requires enormous amounts of water to produce steam and fracture shale. Vince Matthews, the director of the Colorado Geological Survey, expressed his doubts at the conference that his state's shale resources would be developed because of the water dependency. The "head" of the state's water supply is dropping by about 30 feet per year, he said, and has been falling for 20 years. He expects it to hit the aquifer around 2011.

Finally, we must not forget that most of the Middle East is investing heavily in the desalination of seawater to provide adequate fresh water for its burgeoning population (and of course, its indoor ski slopes). Desalination requires over 9,800 kWh per million gallons, according to Webber. I can easily imagine desalination becoming a major factor in the declining oil exports from the Middle East.

On the energy-water nexus, Webber made two important conclusions: first, we need to rethink transportation; and second, water conservation and energy conservation are synonymous.

Peak Credit = Peak Oil

Gail Tverberg, energy analyst and editor of The Oil Drum, discussed the financial side of complexity in her presentation, describing the economy as a highly-networked system of great interdependence: manufacturing depends on international trade; businesses depend on credit, manufactured goods, and electricity; electric utilities depend on credit and on replacements parts, and so on.

There is a systemic risk in highly-networked, interdependent systems she said, like a computer crash: one thing stops working, and everything else stops working. International trade and finance and credit, for example, are closely linked with oil extraction. It's not coincidental that consumer credit peaked in July 2008, just as oil production peaked. . .

Credit enables oil production, and also enables demand for oil, by allowing consumers to buy things made with and from oil. Conversely, shrinking oil supplies limit economic growth, leading to the kind of defaults we saw this past year. When banks cut back on lending, it leads to less supply and less demand.

The net impact of credit on oil is that it provides positive reinforcement for oil extraction when it's growing, and negative reinforcement on the way down. Peak oil equals peak credit, and peak credit equals peak oil.

Therefore, Tverberg concluded, our complex systems' vulnerabilities to peak oil extend far beyond mere fuel supply. Our current model of food production may cease to work. Our current model of transportation may cease to work. Globalization will fail without ample cheap liquid fuels, making re-localization a necessity. And ultimately, without all complex systems we take for granted today, we will likely be forced to accept a much lower standard of living.

Simplify, Simplify

Simon Ratcliffe, an energy advisor for the UK government and an expert on energy and security in Africa and South Africa, offered this graphical depiction of some of the interconnected risks he has studied in those nations:

Just reading a chart like that makes you want to turn away and latch onto a simpler view, doesn't it? Well, keep that in mind and we'll return to it in a moment.

The problem with complex systems of course is that they're. . . well, complex.

No one can model demand accurately, and no one predicted that oil would hit $147 and $33 in a span of six months last year.

No one has a good model for the feedback loop from GDP to oil demand, oil demand to price, price to supply, and supply to GDP — let alone the influence of new Frankenstein financial instruments and monetary policy.

No one has a good model for how much fossil fuel we'll need to build the renewably-powered infrastructure of the future, let alone how we'll procure it in a scenario of shrinking global supply. (In fact, hardly any models even contemplate the reality of depletion.)

No one seems to recognize that although the population growth curve led the energy curve on the way up, energy will lead population on the way down.

Even the historical data is all from an era of constantly growing energy supply, making it a poor guide to the future.

A quick aside: In a presentation to the World Future Society annual conference this year, David Pearce Snyder, an editor of The Futurist magazine, argued that schools are not equipping students with the necessary skills to deal with complexity, and that new curricula are essential to surviving the modern world. I agree completely.

So how can retail investors navigate this increasingly complex and chaotic world?

My guiding lights here include the likes of E. F. Schumacher, Paul Erlich, Paul Hawken, and Thomas Malthus — they were right, if a little (or a lot) early. And of course Henry David Thoreau, who exhorted us to simplify.

They would tell us to focus on simplicity in our investing strategies: Think locally, not globally. Small and distributed is more resilient (and more beautiful) than big and centralized. Using less energy to accomplish the same thing will succeed over trying to produce more energy. Imitating nature's low-energy, low-impact, non-toxic methods in our industrial activities — a study now known as biomimicry — will succeed over inventing wacky new chemicals that nature has never seen before.

From now on, we should let the K.I.S.S. principle be our guide: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Harnessing the Hippogriffs

SUBHEAD: Free markets do not exist. Strictly speaking, they are as mythical as hippogriffs. image above: Illustration of a hippogriff (half horse and half gryphon) in flight. From By John Michael Greer on 4 November 2009 in the Archdruid Reort - One of the more interesting aspects of writing these essays is that I can never predict in advance what will get me a flurry of outraged responses each week. It’s a fair bet that something always does; the collective conversation of the modern industrial world has become so overheated in the last decade or so that it’s difficult to say much of anything without getting somebody in a swivet; still, what it is that sets off the swiveteers routinely catches me by surprise. Last week was no exception. Of all the things in that essay that might plausibly have launched the usual cries of outrage, the one that did so was an offhand reference to the free market fundamentalists of the Austrian school, many of whom insist that the proper solution to every economic problem is to let the market have its way. As it happens, in making that comment I was thinking specifically of Michael Shedlock aka Mish, whose blog is one of the handful I read daily. Mish is among the most thoughtful and articulate proponents of the Austrian school in today's blogosphere, and he has an excellent eye for the economic news that matters – which is by and large exactly the economic news that the rest of the media avoids covering. Very nearly the only thing on his blog that makes me roll my eyes is his repeated insistence that the market is always right and government regulation is always wrong; no matter how berserk the market gets, its vagaries are for the best, and any problems should be corrected by privatizing even more government functions. Now of course Mish is hardly an official spokesperson for the Austrian school, as if there were such a thing, but he's not exactly alone in his insistence, either. Enough people in the peak oil scene share similar views that it's probably necessary to say something about the free market and its potential for solving or creating problems during the twilight years of industrialism ahead of us. Any such comments need to be prefaced, though, by a reminder that a spectrum consists of something other than its two endpoints. Just as a great many people on the left have picked up the dubious habit of using labels such as "fascism" for any political system to the right of Hillary Clinton, a great many people on the right seem to have convinced themselves that any form of economic regulation at all is tantamount to some sort of neo-Marxist hobgoblin – a "socialist-communist-ecologist" system, to use a phrase that actually appeared in one of the comments fielded by last week's post. Now it bears remembering that drowning is not the only alternative to dying of dehydration; there's a middle ground that is noticeably more pleasant than either. The same principle also applies in economics. The experiment of having government own all the means of production in an industrial society, along the lines proposed by Marx, received a thorough test at the hands of the Communist bloc and failed abjectly. At the same time, the experiment of having government keep its hands off the economy altogether in an industrial society, along the lines proposed by a great many free-market proponents these days, received an equally thorough test, and failed just as dismally. The test took place a little earlier; in America, it ran from the end of the Civil War into the first decade of the twentieth century, and the result was a catastrophic sequence of booms and busts, the transfer of most of the nation's wealth to a tiny minority of wealthy people, the bitter impoverishment of nearly everyone else, and a level of social unrest that included two presidential assassinations and so many bomb attacks on the rich and their families that bomb-throwing anarchists became a regular theme of music-hall songs. Now it's always possible for theorists to contrast a Utopian portrait of a free-market economy against the gritty and unwelcome realities of extreme socialism, just as it's possible for people on the other side of the spectrum to contrast a Utopian portrait of a socialist economy against the equally gritty and unwelcome realities of unfettered capitalism. Both make great rhetorical strategies, since the human mind is easily misled by binary logic: if A is evil, it seems wholly reasonable to claim that the opposite of A must be good. The real world does not work that way, but this is hardly the only case in which rhetoric ignores reality. The problem with the rhetoric, however, may be stated a bit more precisely: however pleasant they look on paper, free markets do not exist. Strictly speaking, they are as mythical as hippogriffs. It occurs to me that some of my readers may not be as familiar with hippogriffs as they ought to be. (Tut, tut – what do they teach children these days?) For those who lack so basic an element in their education, a hippogriff is the offspring of a gryphon and a mare; it has the head, body, hind legs, and tail of a horse, and the forelimbs and wings of a giant eagle. Hippogriffs are said to be the strongest and swiftest of all flying creatures, which is why Astolpho rode one to the terrestrial paradise to recover Orlando's lost wits in Orlando Furioso, and why Juss rode one to the summit of Koshtra Pivrarcha to rescue Goldry Bluszco in The Worm Ouroboros. They are splendid creatures, no question; their only disadvantage, really, is the minor point that they don't happen to exist, and drawing up plans to use them as a new, energy-efficient means of air transport in the face of peak oil, for instance, will inevitably come to grief on that annoying little detail. Free markets are subject to essentially the same little problem. There have been many examples of market economies in history that were not controlled by governments, but there have been no examples of market economies that were not controlled, and if one were to be set up, it would remain a free market for maybe a week at most. Adam Smith explained why in memorable language in The Wealth of Nations: "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or some contrivance to raise prices." When a market is not controlled by government edicts, religious taboos, social customs, or some other outside force, it will quickly be controlled by combinations of individuals whose wealth and strategic position in the market enable them to maximize the economic benefits accruing to them, by squeezing out rivals, manipulating prices, buying up their suppliers, bribing government officials, and the like: that is to say, behaving the way capitalists behave whenever they are left to their own devices. This is what created the profoundly dysfunctional economy of Gilded Age America, and it also played a very large role in setting up the current debacle. There's a rich irony here, in that the market economy portrayed in textbooks – in which buyers and sellers are numerous and independent enough that free competition regulates their interactions – is exactly the sort of commons that so many free market proponents insist should be eliminated wholesale in favor of private ownership. All commons systems, as Garrett Hardin pointed out in a famous essay a while back, are hideously vulnerable to abuse unless they are managed in ways that prevent individuals from exploiting the commons for their own private benefit. This year's Nobel laureate in economics, Elinor Ostrom, won her award for demonstrating that it's entirely possible to manage a commons so that Hardin's "tragedy of the commons" does not happen, and she's quite right – there have been many examples of successfully managed commons in history. Strip away the management that keeps it from being abused, however, and the free market, like any other commons, rapidly destroys itself. This does not mean that the best, or for that matter the only, alternative to the unchecked rule of corporate robber barons is Marxist-style state ownership of the economy; once again, dying from heatstroke is not the only alternative to dying from hypothermia. It means, rather, that something between these two extremes might be worth trying, especially if it can be shown by historical evidence to work tolerably well in practice. Of course this is what history shows; broadly speaking, economies that leave the means of production in private hands, but use appropriate regulation to harness their energies to the public good, consistently produce more prosperity for more people than either unfettered capitalism or extreme socialism. This being said, the midpoint between these extremes may not lie where today's conventional wisdom tends to place it. Consider an example from the not too distant past: a large industrial nation with a capitalist economy, but remarkably tough regulations restricting the growth of private fortunes and the abuses to which capitalist economies are so often prone. The wealthiest people in that nation paid more than two-thirds of their annual income in tax, and monopolistic practices on the part of corporations faced harsh and frequently applied judicial penalties. The financial sector was particularly tightly leashed: interest rates on savings were fixed by the government, usury laws put very low caps on the upper end of interest rates for loans, and hard legal barriers prevented banks from expanding out of local markets or crossing the firewall between consumer banking and the riskier world of corporate investment. Consumer credit was difficult enough to get, as a result, that most people did without it most of the time, using layaway plans and Christmas Club savings programs to afford large purchases. According to the standard rhetoric of free market proponents these days, so rigidly controlled an economy ought by definition to be hopelessly stagnant and unproductive. This shows the separation of rhetoric from reality, however, for the nation I have just described was the United States during the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower: that is, during one of the most sustained periods of prosperity, innovation, economic development and international influence this nation has ever seen. Now of course there were other factors behind America's 1950s success, just as there were other factors behind the decline since then; still, it's worth noting that as the economic regulations of the 1950s have been dismantled – in every case, under the pretext of boosting American prosperity – the prosperity of most Americans has gone down, not up. It makes a good measure of how far we have come as a nation – and not in a useful direction – that the economic policies of one of the most successful 20th century Republican administrations would be rejected by most of today's Democrats as too far to the left. A case could be made, in fact, that far and away the most sensible thing the US Congress could do today, in the face of an economy that has very nearly choked to death on its own bubbles, is to reenact the economic legislation in place in the 1950s, line for line. (When you're hiking in the woods, and discover that you've taken a trail that leads someplace you don't want to go, your best bet is normally to turn around and go back to the last place where you were still going in the right direction.) Yet there's an interesting point that also ought to be made about the economic regulation of the 1950s. Outside of antitrust legislation, not that much of it applied to the economy of goods and services on any level, whether that of Mom and Pop grocery stores or big industrial conglomerates. The bulk of it, and very nearly all the strictest elements of it, focused on the financial industry. More broadly speaking, instead of regulating the production and consumption of goods and services, the economic policies of the Eisenhower era focused on regulating money: on ensuring that too much of it did not end up concentrated unproductively in too few hands, and on controlling its propensity to multiply as enthusiastically as rabbits on Viagra. The relative success of these measures points toward a distinction already made in these posts, and to practical steps that will be explored in next week's post.

Dead Last - Hawaii gets F in Education

SUBHEAD: Our politicians and community leaders always say children are our future. This is the time they need to prove it. image above: Kapaa Elementary sign of lack of educational offerings. From article in Photo by Jack Yatsko. By Jon Letman on 6 November 2009 -

Hawaii's public schools are in crisis.

Simply put, there isn't enough money to keep them open full-time. With the State of Hawaii facing a $1 billion budget deficit through the middle of 2011 and a $468 million budget cut to Hawaii's Department of Education, in September the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) voted to accept a two-year contract that includes 17 furlough days for both the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 academic years.

Commonly referred to in the islands as "furlough Fridays," the cuts have been scheduled for regular school days, reducing Hawaii's public instruction from 180 days to 163, the fewest in the nation and ten days less than the state second from the bottom, North Dakota.

The classroom cuts were made despite President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's call for the nation's schools to increase the amount of classroom time so that the US can better compete in the global marketplace.

With what was, for most parents, an unexpected and unwelcome surprise, the furloughs have sparked a firestorm of debate in which state politics, budget priorities and questions about the impact school cuts will have on students, their families and the state have all come to a head.

There is no shortage of frustration to go around, particularly among parents of public school children. One such parent is Jack Yatsko, a PTSA member and the father of fifth and eighth grade daughters on the island of Kauai. At an anti-furlough rally he helped organize one week prior to the first furlough day, Yatsko said in a speech before Kauai's state building, "our kids are not poker chips in a high stakes game of budget and contract negotiations."

Yatsko pointed out that in 2005 and 2006, the Department of Education consistently informed parents that if their child missed 10 or more days of school without a medical excuse, they could be prosecuted for educational neglect.

Of the 34 furlough days planned this year and next, Yatsko said, "this is educational neglect."

Another parent on Kauai, Nadine Nakamura, has a son in fourth grade and daughter in eighth grade. Nakamura is also a PTSA member and is chair of her School Community Council.

Like Yatsko, she sees a web of blame-game being played. "Everyone is pointing to the other group, saying, 'it wasn't us.' The governor says she wasn't involved in negotiations. The legislature says the governor wouldn't raise taxes, then you have the Board of Education and Department of Education saying the legislature and governor shouldn't have cut their budget in the first place. Some are saying parents should have rallied a long time ago. One state legislator says, "I can't believe the teachers approved [a contract with furloughs]."

Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser, among the most vocal state legislators calling for a special legislative session to examine possible alternatives to the furlough days, calls the classroom cuts "unacceptable."

In an op-ed piece in the Honolulu Advertiser, Hooser suggested a using a portion of a $180 million Hurricane Relief Fund as one way to keep schools open. Hooser has also called for reforming Hawaii's general excise tax which, unlike most states, generates the bulk of Hawaii's education funding. So-called "new sin taxes" on soda, processed and fast food, and petroleum oils are potential revenue generators, Hooser wrote.

According to Wil Okabe, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, Hawaii's public schools, which operate as a single school district, cost $5 million a day to run. The latest two-year contract, approved by 81 percent of voting teachers, reduces their pay by nearly 8 percent as it slashes instructional days for students.

And while Hawaii received over $157 million in stimulus funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, money intended to keep the state from cutting education services, Okabe indicated that it was Governor Lingle who imposed 14 percent budget cuts on the Department of Education while using stimulus money for balancing the state budget. Okabe called it a "shell game."

He added that Hawaii's schools do have the opportunity, if they choose, to individually vote to exchange non-instructional work time such as "professional development" or "wavier days" for cancelled class days as an alternative to furlough Fridays.

One woman who knows Hawaii's education system intimately is Maggie Cox. Currently serving her second four-year term as Kauai's representative to the Board of Education, Cox has worked as a teacher, vice principal and principal for 40 years in Hawaii. She also served on the negotiating committee for the contracts that include the 17 furlough days.

Cox says that if the governor or state legislature wanted to "bail out" the schools, they could have done so last spring. If they provide the funds, she says, the schools can return to offering full instruction.

While stressing that the Board of Education reduced classroom cuts by over 50 percent (from Lingle's originally requested 36 days to 17), Cox said, "we did the best we could to have as little impact on the schools as possible." She concedes that reduced classroom time means some subjects won't be covered or covered as well (in the classroom). Cox also noted that prior to the furlough days, Hawaii's academic year was 180 days, in keeping with the majority of public schools across the country but, as she acknowledged, well below that of countries in Europe and Asia.

"When you look at other nations, teachers' salaries and schools are top priority. The budgets are there for them," Cox said.

According to Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2003 research, the average number of instructional days in Korea, Japan and China was over 221, with Australia, Russia, England and Canada all between 188 and 196 days. With the latest cuts, students in Hawaii could have up to 12 weeks less class time a year than those in East Asia.

Meanwhile, nearly one-third of Hawaii's public schools are in restructuring as they attempt to meet federal No Child Left Behind requirements and Hawaii's fourth and eighth graders' test scores lag behind in National Assessment of Educational Progress rankings.

Here a cut, there a cut

Hawaii's state employee furloughs haven't been limited to educators and school employees. One furloughed state employee is Raymond Catania, a social services assistant with the Department of Human Services, Child Services, and an 18-year veteran with the state.

Catania, who has two teenage daughters, one a sophomore at Kauai High School, pulls no punches.

"By forcing teachers to take furloughs, it hits our children. Rich families can send their kids to Punahou (where Obama studied) or other private schools, but the working class can't afford that so our kids get cheated."

"The governor got what she wanted - furloughs and layoffs," Catania said, blaming the Lingle administration for not raising the general excise tax in a bid to please what he called "the business community she represents."

All options, including the hurricane fund, tax increases and the introduction of a lottery to generate revenue, should be examined, Catania said, adding that the governor shares blame for the school cuts with the teachers' union leadership.

"They (HSTA) were in the best position to resist the furloughs. There was far more sympathy for teachers and kids than for state workers like me. If the union refused to accept furloughs, there would have been a lot of public support, but they gave in and settled quickly."

And while many argue that temporary furloughs are better than layoffs, Catania disagrees. "Some elements in the community say, 'at least we've got our jobs.' The slaves had jobs. So what? My wife and I have three jobs and we can't even pay our bills and we're not alone."

In a state with some of the highest living costs in the nation, where salaries are consistently lower than national averages, Catania's frustrations are not uncommon. The furloughs and classroom cuts have only rubbed salt in open wounds.

Catania said that with Hawaii's huge military presence, it is painful to see military expenditures increase, while the host state suffers what he considers disproportionate cuts to education and human services.

Some State of Hawaii education officials expressed similar criticisms of burgeoning military budgets while education programs are slashed, but refused to be quoted by name.

On Oahu, Kyle Kajihiro, program director for the American Friends Service Committee, an international Quaker-founded nonprofit that works for development, peace programs and social justice, sees the current economic crisis as a pretext to cut programs for political or ideological reasons. He said the cuts are indicative of the state's priorities.

"I have to question why the defense budget keeps going up and up and schools keep getting cut. It's unconscionable." Citing the National Priorities Project, Kajihiro points out that since 2001 Hawaii residents have paid a $3 billion share of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "For that same money, Hawaii could have funded 54,718 elementary school teachers for a year," he said. Hawaii has around 13,000 public school teachers.

Long-term effects of school cuts include lowering Hawaii's competitiveness and ability to diversify its economy, keeping Hawaii dependent on federal handouts and tied to an economy based on the military and tourism, Kajihiro said.

Instead, Kajihiro said that because Hawaii is an isolated state with finite land and natural resources and heavily reliant on imported food and energy, it could also be a case study of best practices that could apply to the rest of the planet.

"There is experience here based on ancient Hawaiian models that we could be capitalizing on to create a new paradigm of economic development and sustainability, but we need to foster young people with the necessary imagination and schooling to become global leaders."

"Politicians and community leaders always say children are our future. This is the time they need to prove that they mean it by funding our schools and investing in education."

Jon Letman is a freelance writer in Hawaii. He writes about politics, society, culture and conservation on the island of Kauai. He can be contacted at

see also: Ea O Ka Aina: Hawaii's Chuldren Left Behind 11/1/09

New Landlord in Town

SUBHEAD:Fannie Mae posts big loss. Asks for another $15 billion…then offers to lease you your own home. image above: Satire of Grant Wood "American Gothic", 1928, with house underwater. From By John Schettler on 6 November 2009 in The Writing Shop - ( You wake up one morning, bleary eyed, browse the paper over your coffee, and happen across the real estate section where you notice what looks like an oddly familiar property. The ad reads: Mid-Town Charmer, 2+2, fireplace, deck, Close to Everything! Just $1600./mo – 1 Year Lease (Fannie Mae) As you squint at the picture in the ad you suddenly realize you are looking at you own front door. Yes! The address confirms it. 123 Anywhere Court, Anytown, America. What’s going on here? You’ve been behind in your payments and at the edge of foreclosure since your job cut back hours. Now you bring in only $4800 per month. Your mortgage was a hefty $2200. on the loan you were so eager to sign in 2005 at the height of the housing boom. An Option ARM, it has since reset to $3000. leaving you just $1800/month for all other expenses and food for your family of four. Since 2005 the value of your house has plummeted by over 35%, wiping out your meager down payment and any hope of building equity for years to come. In fact, with interest and fees, you now owe more on the house than the day you signed the loan! You’ve been waiting for the foreclosure notice, since efforts at loan modification have all been rebuffed by the banks, but never in your wildest dreams could you imagine your very own home up for lease. Perhaps you should have opened your mail. There’s a letter there, along with all the other delinquent bills, from your friends at Fannie Mae. They backstop the paper on your loan and, as millions of loans have gone bad, their portfolio is rotting away like a pile of dead carp in a hot summer boardwalk. Face it, the mortgage industry stinks these days, and Fannie and Freddie are two great landfills holding trillions in toxic bad mortgage paper. But not to worry! They’ve come up with a nifty new plan. Instead of issuing you that foreclosure notice, as the law presently mandates. They sent you a nice letter offering to lease your “Mid-Town Charmer” back to you if you just quietly sign over the deed and release any interest in the home. The hook? Your lease payment will be much lower than your mortgage payment, and it may allow you to stay in your “home” instead of hitting the street with a foreclosure. On November 5, Fannie Mae made this pleasant announcement in an official press release: “Fannie Mae (FNM/NYSE) is implementing the Deed for Lease™ Program under which qualifying homeowners facing foreclosure will be able to remain in their homes by signing a lease in connection with the voluntary transfer of the property deed back to the lender.” The program masquerades as a benefit to the homeowner, but in truth it is nothing more than an effort to avoid facing the same nightmare you’ve been living with on Elm Street the last couple of years as your house lost all it’s equity and your loan was swamped by the housing crash. You’re so far “underwater” on the house now that you would need a deep sea diving suit for ten years or more just to keep breathing. Why is the Fannie program a scam? It’s quite simple. If Fannie forecloses on your house they have to eventually mark down the loss and take it to short sale. If they don’t foreclose, statistics tell them you are ready to default. You’ve been contemplating mailing back the keys and walking, like millions of other folks have, to cut their losses and start over again. They can rent homes on the glutted housing market now for thousands less than their mortgage payments, and they ditch maintenance costs, hassles and property tax payments as well. Fannie Mae knows that all too well. So rather than foreclosing, and taking the loss onto their books, they decide to lease you back you home at a lower rate. And throughout the term of that 1 year lease they will carry your loan on their books at its full value. Bingo! They avoid facing up to the grim reality that the house has lost 35% of its value, and will likely lose another 5% in the coming year. They continue the delusion and denial that your house is still worth what it was in 2005. And they become your new landlord. Welcome to the dream of home ownership turned nightmare. For one little moment, as you considered just walking away, all the power was yours. Yes, you were going to lose your home, but you’d find another. And the money you would save from all those mortgage payments you weren’t making would really help. The bank who made your home loan, rigged to explode like an IED, and Fannie, (the loan guarantor), would have to mark down the staggering loss. Sure, it was going to hurt to lose your mid town charmer. But you were in charge, taking your life back and getting out from under the smothering weight of all that bad debt. Unfortunately, banks don’t much like the idea of you getting out from under the staggering debt they’ve saddled you with. So if they can weasel you out of your deed and make a lease slave out of you at the same time, then they can continue to pretend your house is still worth what it was in 2005. And when your 1 year lease runs out the power is again all theirs, just the way they like it. They can choose to extend your lease, or offer you month-to-month terms, and if you pull any late payment nonsense this time the eviction process will go much smoother than the year long agony of foreclosure. Economics Blogger Karl Denninger agrees. He greeted the November 5 press release with this pointed assessment: “This is yet another scam folks, all courtesy of our government who will do anything to avoid admitting the extent of the liabilities that are now in Fannie and Freddie's portfolio (and by extension, partially in The Federal Reserve as well!) But the economy is getting better, right? That's why we keep seeing scheme after scheme, scam after scam, all intended to do one, and only one, thing - avoid a true and accurate accounting of losses that have already occurred.” Yet we are told we must do this to prevent even more damage to Fannie’s withering portfolio. It’ simply too big to fail, right? Professor Black of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law has heard all the arguments about “too big to fail” and rejected them. From Paulson’s panic to Goldman’s shifty dealings in the market, there is an endemic idea that if we change the system, force the bad debt out into the light of day, it will cause a total collapse. "If that's true we've got to get rid of capitalism," Black warned, "because if we can't recognize losses in a capitalist system we have no future." The Shell Game Losses, and who gets stuck with them, is really what this whole shell game is about now, both in the financial system as a whole, and in Washington. Fannie Mae just posted a $19 .8 billion loss for the third quarter of this year. What did they do, stick it to shareholders and fat cat investors? Nope. They went directly to Uncle Sam and asked for another $15 billion dollar bailout as a Christmas present. This pushes the bailout tab for Fannie and Freddie to $111 billion. In short, they stuck YOU, the taxpayer, with the losses. Why not spread the pain around. The only thing wealthy investors and banks are interested in is holding all the profits. The losses go to you and I….along with the deed to the home they sold us and a 1 year lease agreement. The nub of this matter is that Fannie’s ninth straight quarterly loss of $19.8 billion is just the tip of the ice berg—a convenient metaphor, for the rest of the “losses” remain unacknowledged, a massive frozen hulk of bad debt, well “underwater” and hidden with accounting tricks and scams like the new Deed for Lease program. The idea is to postpone the inevitable reckoning with bad debt as long as possible. Ilargi of the Automatic Earth has it so right: “Extend and pretend, the economic version of don’t ask don't tell, rules the day.” Interviewer Dylan Ratigan asked Professor Black if the present round of bailouts and backstops wasn’t just a legalized gambling casino on Wall Street. Black responded: “We not only legalized it, we backstopped it. If you win, it all goes to you, (the banker); if you lose, it all goes to the taxpayers, and the American people. That is insane.” Equally insane is the idea that trillions in derivatives and securities “swaps” still remain hidden and unregulated to this day. The banks simply do not want to give up their basic game of protecting profits by passing on the losses to someone else, which is exactly what securities and insurance swaps were designed to do. Imagine getting a huge phone bill this month, with massive charges, but no accounting or listing of what numbers were called, how long the call was, etc. You just get the bill and an order to pay up or disconnect. That’s the deal the banking system offered the government last fall when Paulson screamed collapse and martial law in the closed rooms of congressional offices. We got the bill, with no real accounting of how big the losses were, the parties involved—just the bill. It was simply assumed that the party who would pay was you. The investors walk, continue the game, roll out big bonus and salary increases. You get the bill. The Obama administrations has been sad failure. It has really done nothing to bring these losses out into the light of day, force the banks to acknowledge them, and pass them on to the people who should have taken the hit—the investor-shareholders, not the public. This is no surprise, as Obama’s chief economic advisers, Summers and Rubin, were largely responsible for leading the fight to repeal Glass-Steagall, a Depression era bill that prevented banks from trading in securities and making the raft of other shady “investments” that have all gone bust. So you see, the real power in this game, Summers, Rubin, Geithner, Bernanke, and the legions of ex-Goldman Sachs employees in key government positions, are all busy making sure that the great game the financial system concocted continues. It’s amazing that after over twenty trillion in bailouts, loans, guarantees, backstops and Fed programs, we still have no transparency, no regulation, no accountability, and therefore no hope of ever resolving this mess. This was not the change I, and millions of Americans, voted for. Ratigan’s solution? “1. Inject transparency, primarily to bring almost $600 trillion of crooked insurance scams to the forefront. Force almost all swaps onto exchanges, not just the 20% as current proposed reform does. 2. Demand capital to back Wall Street's gambling. 3. Enact a tax-code to encourage long-term investment and discourage short-term profit. Fortunes should not be made in minutes but over years through the creation of value to society. 4. Break up the Too Big To Fail banking institutions. Start with Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan. Right Now.” And an astute reader commented further: “5) Reinstate Glass-Steagall. The 1999 repeal should be undone. 6) Outlaw Credit Default Swaps. Banks buy them, then push the target companies into bankruptcy, and cash in. Jobs lost, companies dead. 7) Close Fannie & Freddie. 8) Outlaw securitization that passes on the repayment obligation to others.” To this I might add: 9) Fire Rubin, Summers, Geithner and Bernanke, and purge the government of lifetime Goldman Sachs Fraternity members. Now. 10) The next time there’s a big urge for a $15 billion bailout, send me the check I’ll help thousands and thousands of people with that money. Send it to Fannie and it vanishes into the black hole of bogus accounting. All along the solution to this crisis has been before us, plain to see. The problem has not been what to do, but having the will to oppose the financial power centers that have stolidly resisted change and regulation, and who still continue to gamble away billions to this day, passing the losses on to future generations of American taxpayers. Meanwhile, back on Main Street, the unemployment rate “officially” topped 10%. This number excludes all “discouraged workers” who haven’t looked for work in recent months…millions. It also excludes all people whose benefits have run out…millions more. The real number of unemployed, that is people who want to work, but cannot find jobs, is now over 20%. The BLS 10% figure is just another game of pretend. But three things cannot be hidden, goes a simple Zen saying: the sun, the moon, and the truth. The truth is that 1 of ever 5 potential workers in this country are now unemployed. And a silent rage is building up with each new headline where a bloated, insolvent financial institution requests another truckload or two of free money in nice even billions. No money for health care, however. Just a debate for the cameras and good old time partisan politics. Fannie needs another $15 billion? No problemo! The silent rage has an ugly way of manifesting itself. Yahoo news reported on Nov 6: “ORLANDO, Fla. – A gunman opened fire Friday in the offices of an engineering firm where he was let go more than two years ago, authorities said, killing one person and injuring five others…Asked by a reporter outside the police station why he did it, he replied: "Because they left me to rot." So there’s a cost, in real human terms, for every job lost. A lost job can take away a person’s self respect, sense of worth, dignity. A nation where so much ammo has been bought in recent months that it’s hard to find can become a dangerous place very quickly. As unemployment benefits run dry, hopelessness spreads, one must ask how many others are out there in the darkness, with a grudge and a gun? Don’t worry, I’m not one of them. I still have a job because I created it myself twenty years ago. .

Collapse - The Documentary

SUBHEAD: Our ''economic crisis'' is more than a bad patch; it's the finally visible symptom of a greater underlying instability. image above: Still frame of Michael Ruppert from trailer of movie Collapse. To view trailer on Youtube click on link [Publisher's note: For details about showing of film (and more) visit] By Owen Gleiberman on 4 November 2009 in Entertainment Weekly -,,20317537,00.html

You'd be hard-pressed to find a movie that channels the anxieties of our time with the power and terror of the documentary Collapse. For 82 riveting minutes, Michael Ruppert, a former Los Angeles cop who became a rogue investigative reporter and author, sits in what looks like a brick bunker and talks about where he thinks the United States is now headed. It's not a pretty picture, but it is not a naive one either. The grippingly articulate Ruppert is like Noam Chomsky as a wry pundit of doom.

In 2006, he predicted the current economic crisis, and his startlingly detailed foresight seizes your attention. So you'd better believe that you're sitting up and listening when he starts to talk about ''peak oil'' — i.e., the likelihood that most of the planet's oil reserves have already been eaten up.

According to Ruppert, the ''economic crisis'' is more than a bad patch; it's the finally visible symptom of a greater underlying instability. And what's coming? A society, he says, that will have to re-imagine how it lives if it wants to survive.

Collapse was directed by Chris Smith (The Yes Men), who interviewed Ruppert for 14 hours and does a superb job of editing his words into a dramatic cautionary monologue. You may want to dispute Ruppert, but more than that you'll want to hear him, because what he says — right or wrong, prophecy or paranoia — takes up residence in your mind.

video above: Trailer of Collapse on Wall Street Journal (with ads) From

Diego Garcia - Another stolen island

SUBHEAD: Stealing a nation... to use as a strategic island for U.S. military. Sound familiar?

 By David Vine on 4 April 2008 in -

Image above: One of two major U.S. military airports at Diego Garcia in Indian Ocean. From

"Diego Garcia: The Other Guantánamo" The following video is the story of Diego Garcia. It follows the development of the military strategy called the "Strategic Islands" policy. There are a few other islands in the world that fall within this framework.

The video is worth watching: On the small, remote island of Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean halfway between Africa and Indonesia, the United States has one of the most secretive military bases in the world.

From its position almost 10,000 miles closer to the Persian Gulf than the east coast of the United States, this huge U.S. air and naval base has been a major, if little known, launch pad for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the past year, the Bush administration has made improvements that point toward its use in a possible attack on Iran.

The administration recently admitted what it had long denied and what journalists, human rights investigators, and others had long suspected: The island has also been part of the CIA's secret "rendition" program for captured terrorist suspects.

While few know about the base on Diego Garcia – it has long been off-limits to all non-military personnel – even fewer know how it came into being. To create the base, the United States, with the help of Great Britain, exiled all the indigenous people of Diego Garcia and the surrounding Chagos Archipelago. 

Between 1968 and 1973, U.S. and U.K. officials forcibly removed around 2,000 people, called Chagossians, 1,200 miles away to islands in the western Indian Ocean. Left on the docks of Mauritius and the Seychelles with no resettlement assistance, the Chagossians, whose ancestry in Chagos dated to the 18th century, have grown deeply impoverished in exile. 

Diego Garcia has become another Guantánamo in more ways than one: The product of years of deception and lies, a far more secretive detention facility than the Cuban prison, the cause of immense suffering and pain for an entire people, Diego Garcia has become mark of shame for the United States that must be repaired. 

Iage above: Former resident of Diego Garcia after expulsion. From video "Stealing a Nation".

Creating a Base, Expelling a People
The Chagossians' ancestors first settled the previously uninhabited Chagos Archipelago in the late 18th century when their ancestors were brought from Africa and India as enslaved and indentured laborers to build and work on coconut plantations run by Franco-Mauritians. 
Over nearly two centuries, this diverse group developed into a distinct, emancipated society and a people known initially as the Ilois – the Islanders. While far from luxurious, their life by the mid-20th century was secure, generally free of want, and featured universal employment and numerous social benefits, including regular if small salaries, land, free housing, education, pensions, burial services, and basic health care in islands described by many as "idyllic." 

That is until the late 1950s, when U.S. military officials identified Diego Garcia as a perfect location for a base. In many ways, the original idea for Diego Garcia presaged the "lily pad" basing strategy of today: Facing a wave of decolonization, national security officials worried about rising local opposition to overseas U.S. bases and the threat of eviction posed by local governments. 

At the same time, officials increasingly wanted to introduce U.S. military forces into the Indian Ocean as a way to exert control over the Middle East and surrounding areas of the decolonizing world. Their solution was what the U.S. Navy called the "Strategic Island Concept," a plan to identify small strategically located islands with small local populations that the United States or its western allies could acquire as future base sites and that would be insulated from any local threats. 

Quickly Diego Garcia emerged as a prime target for acquisition given its relative proximity to potential conflict zones from the Persian Gulf to southern Africa and southern Asia, space for harboring an armada of ships and an airstrip, and a small, little known population whose removal would generate little attention. 

In 1960, the U.S. Navy began secret conversations with the British Government about Diego Garcia. Over the next several years, U.S. officials secured British agreement to turn the island into a military colony, called the British Indian Ocean Territory, and, as classified documents show, to provide "exclusive control" of Diego Garcia "without local inhabitants." 

The two governments finalized the deal with a 1966 "exchange of notes" that in key respects resembles the recent "declaration of principles" on the future U.S. military presence in Iraq signed by the Bush administration and the Iraqi cabinet: it effectively created a treaty but circumvented all congressional and parliamentary oversight. Separate secret agreements provided for $14 million in undisclosed U.S. payments to allow Britain to create the territory and to take those "administrative measures" necessary to deport the Chagossians. 

Those "administrative measures" meant that beginning in 1968, islanders leaving Chagos for vacations or medical treatment on the island of Mauritius were barred from returning to their homes and marooned 1,200 miles away. British officials next began restricting supplies to the islands, and by the turn of the decade more Chagossians were leaving as food and medicines dwindled. 

In cooperation with U.S. officials, the British meanwhile designed a public relations plan aimed at, as one official put it, "maintaining the fiction" that the Chagossians were transient contract workers rather than people with roots in Chagos for five generations or more. 

In 1971, the U.S. Navy began construction on Diego Garcia and ordered the British to complete the removals. First, U.K. agents and U.S. soldiers on Diego Garcia herded up the Chagossians' pet dogs and gassed and burned them in front of their traumatized owners. Then, British agents forced the people to board overcrowded cargo ships and left them on the docks in Mauritius and the Seychelles. 

Upon arrival, the Chagossians received no resettlement assistance and soon found themselves living in what a 1975 Washington Post article called "abject poverty." Numbering around 5,000 today and still in exile, most remain deeply impoverished.

Wars for Oil and Global Dominance
While the Chagossians were being exiled, the Pentagon sold Diego Garcia to Congress as an "austere" communications facility. As its planners had always envisioned, however, it soon expanded dramatically. It was pressed into service almost immediately as a base for reconnaissance planes in the 1973 Israeli-Arab war. In the years that followed, the base played a central role in the first large-scale thrust of U.S. military strength into the Middle East. 

After the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Presidents Carter and Reagan developed a "Rapid Deployment Force" (RDF) at bases in the region to respond to any future threats to U.S. and western oil supplies. As a main hub for the RDF, Diego Garcia saw the "most dramatic build-up of any location since the Vietnam War."
Subsequently, the RDF transformed into the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which came to lead three wars in Iraq and Afghanistan directly related to securing U.S. and global oil supplies and maintaining the regional and global dominance of the United States. Diego Garcia played a critical role in each war. During the first Gulf War, Diego Garcia sent 18 prepositioned ships from its lagoon loaded with weaponry and supplies to outfit thousands of marines massing in Saudi Arabia while serving as a launch pad for long-range bombers attacking Iraqi forces. 

After the 1991 war, the military began transforming the island into one of a handful of major "forward operating bases" as part of a shift of U.S. forces eastward away from European bases. The dream for many in the military became the ability to strike any location on the planet from Barksdale Air Base in Louisiana, Guam in the Pacific, or Diego Garcia. 

Following the September 2001 attacks on the United States, the base has assumed even more importance in the eyes of military officials. Within weeks of September 11, the Pentagon added 2,000 Air Force personnel at a new 30-acre housing facility called "Camp Justice." In the 2001 war, B-1, B-2, and B-52 bomber flights originating on Diego Garcia dropped more ordnance on Afghanistan than any other units. 

Leading up to the invasion of Iraq, weaponry and supplies prepositioned in the lagoon were again among the first to arrive at staging areas near Iraq's borders. The once-secret 2002 "Downing Street" memorandum showed that U.S. war planners considered basing access on Diego Garcia "critical" to the invasion. Bombers from the island ultimately helped launch the Bush administration's tragic war that has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of U.S. troops.

In early 2007, as the Bush administration was upping the tenor of its rhetoric against Iran and threatening another invasion, the Defense Department awarded a $31.9 million contract to build a new submarine base on the island. The subs can launch Tomahawk cruise missiles and ferry Navy SEALs for amphibious missions behind enemy lines. Around the same time, the military began shipping extra fuel supplies to Diego Garcia for possible wartime use. 

Long off limits to reporters, the Red Cross, and all other international observers and far more secretive than Guantánamo Bay, many long suspected the island was a clandestine CIA "black site" for high-profile detainees. Journalist Stephen Grey's 2006 book Ghost Plane documented the presence on the island of a CIA-chartered plane used for rendition flights. On two occasions former U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey publicly named Diego Garcia as a detention facility. A Council of Europe report named the atoll, along with those in Poland and Romania, as a secret prison. 

For more than six years U.S. and U.K. officials adamantly denied the allegations. This February, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced to Parliament: "Contrary to earlier explicit assurances that Diego Garcia has not been used for rendition flights, recent U.S. investigations have now revealed two occasions, both in 2002, when this had in fact occurred." A representative for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Rice called Miliband to express regret over the "administrative error." 

The State Department's chief legal adviser said CIA officials were "as confident as they can be" that no other detainees had been held on the island, and CIA Director Michael Hayden continues to deny the existence of a CIA prison on the island. Within days, UN special investigator Manfred Novak announced new evidence that others had been imprisoned on the island. Many suspect the United States may hold detainees on secret prison ships in Diego Garcia's lagoon or elsewhere in the waters of Chagos.

Resistance and Remedy
Since their expulsion, the Chagossians have protested in the streets, petitioned, and held hunger strikes to regain the right to return to their homeland and win proper compensation for their expulsion. In recent years, they have taken the U.S. and U.K. governments as well as former U.S. government officials and military contractors to court over their claims. 

To date, U.S. courts have found no wrongdoing on the part of the government, its officials, or contractors for what one judge described as the "improper misplacement of the plaintiffs." The government has consistently denied all responsibility for the Chagossians. 

In Britain, by contrast, the islanders have won three major victories over the British government. Three times – in 2000, 2006, and 2007 – the High Court in London has ruled the islanders' expulsion illegal under U.K. law. In June, the people will head to the House of Lords, Britain's highest court, for the government's final appeal over the right to return. Another victory could finally open the way for a return to Chagos. 

With support for the Chagossians' struggle growing in both the United States and Britain at the same time that revelations about a secret CIA prison are spreading, the United States must finally act to remedy the damage done by another Guantánamo damaging too many lives and undermining its international legitimacy. 

The United States must allow the Chagossians to return and assist Britain in paying them proper compensation; the United States must close the detention facilities and open Diego Garcia to international investigators; the United States must end the painful irony that is a base the military calls the "Footprint of Freedom."

Video above: "Stealing a Nation" the story of U.S. acquisition of Diago Garcia as strategic base in Indian Ocean. From  


County trying to "Nixon" tapes

SUBHEAD: “It just really smells bad that we don’t have this audio available for the public,” Bieber said, calling the situation “highly suspicious” and “a shame.” image above: President Nixon pointing to the transcripts of White House tapes in April 1974. He announced that he would make them public rather than offer the the tapes themselves. From [Editor's note: Kauai's 'Napoleon' Out of Control - The article below states "When Bieber attempted to testify before the council, he was cut off by County Attorney Castillo, who warned him that proceeding with his testimony would be in violation of the County Code and County Charter." This isn't the first time this sort of pre-emptive misuse of perceived authority has happened before Council. Bieber does not represent any private interest, Sec. 20.02D DOES NOT apply. It's time for the Mayor to step in and correct this behavior by the County Arrorney.] By Michael Levine on 6 November 2009 in the Garden Island - A request from the county Office of Boards and Commissions to destroy audio recordings of meetings after they are transcribed into minutes and approved was withdrawn Wednesday, but could return to the Kaua‘i County Council’s agenda. Office of Boards and Commissions Administrator John Isobe sent his original request to the council on Oct. 12. His withdrawal request was received at 10:35 a.m. Wednesday, just minutes before the body was set to act on the communication during its regular meeting. “This request was merely intended as a ‘house-keeping’ matter to allow our office to dispose of stored audio cassette recordings from past board and commission meetings, some of which date back to calendar year 2003,” Isobe wrote in the Wednesday letter to Council Chair Bill “Kaipo” Asing and fellow members. “However, it has recently come to my attention that there may be questions and/or concerns associated with this request,” he wrote. “For this reason, I would like the opportunity to better understand the various concerns that others may have regarding the disposal of previously transcribed audio recordings so we may be able to satisfactorily resolve this matter in the best interest of the public.” County Board of Ethics member Rolf Bieber is among those with concerns. In written testimony to County Attorney Al Castillo and the council, Bieber wrote that “due to pending board issues, current and potential litigation, I respectfully request you advise against the destruction of these records.” “In particular, understanding that the Board of Ethics has approved summary minutes (non-verbatim) for intents and purposes the verbatim records will be needed in the future in the case of litigation,” Bieber wrote. “It is premature at this time to destroy any Board of Ethics records.” When Bieber attempted to testify before the council, he was cut off by Castillo, who warned him that proceeding with his testimony would be in violation of the County Code and County Charter. Asked during a recess which provisions specifically Bieber was in danger of violating, Castillo said Charter Section 20.02D, part of the Code of Ethics that seeks to regulate conflicts of interest by prohibiting county officers and employees from appearing “in behalf of private interests before any county board, commission or agency.” Bieber has spent much of his year on the Board of Ethics pushing for tighter adherence to this section, often butting heads with Castillo and his deputies, who have described 20.02D as “ambiguous” and said it should not be read in a vacuum because it could lead to “absurd results.” Bieber said following the meeting Wednesday that Castillo’s interruption was “bad lawyering.” “I think that my first amendment free speech rights have been infringed upon,” Bieber said Thursday. “That’s unacceptable. My whole goal was to get the council to defer this thing because I wanted to save these public records.” Isobe said in an e-mail that most boards and commissions are indeed supplied with summary minutes and he believes the Planning Commission and County Council are the only county agencies that have verbatim, or word-for-word, minutes. “We consider the ‘approved’ minutes as the ‘official’ record of the meeting and have copies on file,” Isobe said in the e-mail. He added that during his tenure in the Office of Boards and Commissions, there have been “very minimal requests” for audio recordings, and those that have been received have primarily come from Bieber and The Garden Island. Bieber said later Wednesday that he has requested from the Office of Boards and Commissions the raw audio from the Oct. 15 Board of Ethics meeting at which Deputy County Attorney Mona Clark took a step toward defining “private interest” as it pertains to Section 20.02D. “What I heard her say was that private interest is any organization other than a government organization,” Bieber said, adding that re-listening to the meeting for clarity is the “No. 1 priority” of his request, which has not yet been met. He said he has been told the audio is not available. He said Clark’s definition was “surprising” and a “revelation” because “private interest” has not yet been defined by the Office of the County Attorney. Castillo said Wednesday afternoon that he, Clark and Deputy County Attorney Mauna Kea Trask have spoken many times about that definition, and Castillo stood behind the definition included in Trask’s legal opinion provided to the board in September that was subsequently released to the public. Trask wrote that a private interest “would include those interests that do not involve the general welfare of the public and do not warrant recognition and protection, and in which the public as a whole does not have a stake.” Bieber said Clark further said 501(c)3 tax-exempt organizations are indeed private interests, which flies in the face of a proposed declaratory order from Ethics Board Vice Chair Mark Hubbard, who is “trying to carve out a niche” for 501(c)3s because he serves on the Kaua‘i Planning and Action Alliance, Bieber said. “It just really smells bad that we don’t have this audio available for the public,” Bieber said, calling the situation “highly suspicious” and “a shame.” Isobe said the focus of the original request — which was made three days before the October Board of Ethics meeting and asked for permission to erase all stored analog as well as digital audio recordings — “was purely an operational storage issue.” Isobe said he would consider any concerns raised in his future decision making. see also: Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai Backroon Dealings 7/27/09 Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai's Napoleonic Advisor 8/23/09 Ea O Ka Aina: Kauai County Attorney Rampant 9/5/09