Clearing the air in Cancun

SUBHEAD: We need to get politicians to change their minds because we can’t change the laws of physics.

Image above: Logo for the current climate summit meeting in Mexico.

By Richard Levangie on 29 November 2010 for Triple Pundit - (http://www.triplepundit.com/2010/11/clearing-air-cancun-climate-summit/comment-page-1/)

As COP-16 begins in Cancun, Mexico, world leaders need to understand that global warming isn’t only about carbon dioxide. In a world that is stepping close to a steep and dangerous precipice, doing more to reduce non-CO2 climate change contributors such as methane, black carbon soot, tropospheric ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) might help head global warming off at the pass, according to Professors Veerabhadran Ramanathan of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and David G. Victor at the University of California, San Diego.

In a commentary in The New York Times, the authors argue that adopting a new perspective could transform the debate at a United Nations climate change conference even though it’s beginning with exceedingly low expectations. Most analysts believe that little of substance will be forthcoming because current negotiating positions among the big players — the U.S., Europe, India and China — are moving further apart.

But climate scientists and policy analysts like Ramanathan and Victor are offering a way to solve the diplomatic impasse.

“The opportunity to make progress arises from the fact that global warming is caused by two separate types of pollution,” write Ramanathan and Victor. “One is the long-term buildup of carbon dioxide, which can remain in the atmosphere for centuries. Diplomacy has understandably focused on this problem because, without deep cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, there can be no permanent solution to warming.

“The carbon dioxide problem is hard to fix, however, because it comes mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, which is so essential to modern life and commerce. It will take decades and trillions of dollars to convert all the world’s fossil-fuel-based energy systems to cleaner systems like nuclear, solar and wind power. In the meantime, a fast-action plan is needed.”

Many climate scientists believe that HFCs, a potent greenhouse gas that was developed to replace ozone-depleting CFCs, are already covered by existing treaties like the Montreal Protocol, and those treaties could be could be leveraged to cut HFC emissions dramatically.

Similarly, black carbon is a huge pollution problem in the developing world — and it has been responsible for about 50 percent of the warming we’ve seen in the Arctic. The good news is it can be reduced sharply and simply by providing relatively inexpensive solar-power stoves and diesel particulate engine filters to people living in the world’s poorest regions. Even better, such a step wouldn’t not only slow global warming; it will also greatly improve the local air quality and health of people living in cities and countries where poverty is rife. More than 1.9 million deaths are attributed to black soot every year.

Methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times as potent as CO2, commonly enters the atmosphere as emissions from coal mines, livestock waste, landfills, and rice paddies. By implementing a few simple changes, it’s possible to cut methane emissions by more than 40 percent. It would start with replacing corroded natural gas pipelines, implementing better cultivation techniques for rice, and collecting waste methane from landfills and using it to generate energy, among other things.

None of these individual solutions will stop global warming, but they would buy us a few decades so that we can get our act together. Deploying clean technologies like wind, solar, nuclear, and geothermal will take time, and it will take money.

Since our leaders can’t agree on the big issues, perhaps focusing on smaller steps, with a much quicker payoff, will create the goodwill now that will allow for a comprehensive climate treaty in the future.

We need to get politicians to change their minds because we can’t change the laws of physics.

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Black Friday Blues

SUBHEAD: Unruly shoppers in big-box discount stores cheat, steal, stampede and injure people.

Image above: Young mob stampedes into Wal-Mart store. From ScrapeTV.com. See below.

By Staff on 29 November 2010 for Cable News Network - (http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2010/11/26/thefts-stampedes-make-black-friday-blue-for-some)

Three women in West Palm Beach, Florida, say $1,000 worth of Best Buy merchandise was stolen from their car Friday morning within minutes of being purchased, according to CNN affiliate WPBF.

The women were the first people at Best Buy after camping out since Wednesday night.

After they made their purchases, they put them in the car and went to JC Penney. A few minutes later, they returned, and the goods were gone.

"I mean, we've been camping since Wednesday," a tearful Shereece Francis told WPBF. "Just cruel, just wicked."

The women weren't the only ones to experience Black Friday car troubles.

At least 10 shoppers in St. Louis, Missouri, left Best Buy to find that their cars had been towed, CNN affiliate KSDK reports.

The customers had parked in a lot adjacent to Best Buy belonging to a T-Mobile store. They told KSDK there were no signs saying parking was for T-Mobile customers only, just a small, upside down sign from "Bulldog Towing" warning about abandoned or illegally parked cars.

Now, those customers are out $335.

"We're going to have to return our gifts that we bought on Black Friday just to get the car from tow," said Lavorn Ford, who had purchased a Playstation 3 for his son. "It's frustrating because you get up early in the morning to get your kids stuff for Christmas and then this stuff happens. "

A T-Mobile store manager said the store needed the parking lot when it opened at 7 a.m.

"Our lot was full by 4 and then again by 6, so we would have opened up our business and not had any spots," store manager Brian Fisher said.

It seems that some people will go to extreme lengths in the name of their children. A Wisconsin woman who cut in front of a long line of Black Friday shoppers was arrested, police say, after she allegedly threatened to shoot those she moved ahead of.

"I just wanted to get my daughter the toy that she wanted for Christmas, which probably won't be there when I go today," Lanessa L. Lattimore, 21, told CNN.

Lattimore attempted to cut in front of a line of "several hundred shoppers" at a Toys R Us store in Madison, Wisconsin, on Thursday, according to a police report. Lattimore admitted there had been a confrontation in the line but disputed the details.

"Everybody was cutting in line. But there was one girl who was threatening me, so I told her that I'd shoot her," Lattimore told CNN. "I'm not a violent person, but police charged me with disorderly conduct."

Several eager shoppers were trampled Friday morning as they surged through Target store doors in North Buffalo, New York.

CNN affiliate WIVB had a camera inside the Target and captured the drama. People at the front of the line were pushed to the floor when doors opened. The commotion and screams drew additional store staff to sort the crowd out.

"It went from controlled to a mob in less than five minutes," shopper Rich Mathewson told WIVB. "And then it just got nasty."

Several people had cut into the line, angering the crowd, Mathewson said.

Unruly Wal-Mart shoppers in Sacramento, California, prompted an evacuation of the store, affiliate KTXL reported.

Just after the store opened its doors at 5 a.m., customers became pushy and unruly.

Sacramento Sheriff's officers were called in to help clear the store and everyone was ordered to leave their carts in the store and exit. Once everyone outside calmed down, shoppers were allowed back in to finish their shopping, according to KTXL.


Near Death Shopping

SUBHEAD: Wal-Mart narrowly avoids more Black Friday deaths.

By William AShfordon 29 November 2010 for Scrape TV - (http://scrapetv.com/News/News%20Pages/Business/pages-3/Wa-Mart-narrowly-avoids-more-Black-Friday-deaths)

Last year’s Black Friday was one to remember for Wal-Mart officials, though not in terms on killer sales. It was that day that a worker at a Long Island location was trampled to death by shoppers seeking deep discounts. That tragedy prompted many changes in the company’s Black Friday policies including starting sales earlier in the week and extending beyond the single Friday. Those actions apparently had a great effect on Friday with no deaths reported from around the chain, though there were a few close calls.

The closest call was an incident in Seattle where a worker was repeatedly bumped by patrons who nearly crashed through the doors looking for inexpensive perfume and children’s clothing. The incident left the worker, 22 year-old Heather Carter, with several bruises on her left arm but alive. Still, Wal-Mart officials are not happy with the performance and will seek to improve security procedures so that next year no employees will be bumped or touched in any way.

“We are overjoyed that no one was killed this year. That incident last year cast a serious pall over the shopping festivities and made for a very messy cleanup which our people are simply not equipped to handle. Luckily no one suffered that fate this year but we are disturbed to learn that some people were still involved in contact with one another, no matter how incidental it might have been.

We will look into these incidents to ensure that such things will not occur again in the future as we cannot tolerate even the slightest possibility of more deaths in Wal-Mart stores,” said a spokesperson for the company. “We are pleased with the new security procedures in place and as always we will continue to review them for the benefit and safety of all employees and shoppers. The type of incident that occurred last year is not something we wish to repeat and we will make every effort to ensure that such things do not happen in Wal-Mart stores.”

Wal-Mart rival Target was not so lucky with at least ten people taken to hospital throughout the country, one seriously injured after a stack of discount potato chips collapsed, pinning him underneath.

“Incidents like what happened last year are not often spoken about but happen far more frequently than many people would believe. Everyday people are hit, bumped into, or otherwise assaulted at Wal-Mart’s all across the world. Most aren’t killed of course but injury can sometimes be worse. Ultimately the company realizes that they have to put an end to those kinds of incidents if for no other reason than to avoid bad press,” said Scrape TV Business analyst Ken Green. “The real concern is that as big as Wal-Mart is that an escalating death toll will eventually affect stock prices. Even the biggest companies in the world can’t keep killing employees and not have it impact the bottom line so I imagine they will be extra sensitive to any incidents.”

Office Depot stores across the country saw four deaths on Black Friday but no one seemed particularly concerned.

“By positioning themselves as being totally intolerant of death, Wal-Mart could set a new standard for all big box stores. People being trampled is an all too common occurrence in today’s America and as the unemployment rate continues to soar that’s only likely to get worse. Of course that would help solved the employment issue,” continued Green. “By taking such a firm stance though, Wal-Mart has buffeted themselves against any future actions by individuals or stock holders in case someone else does get mauled to death again.”

The Seattle worker who suffered the arm injury is reportedly resting comfortably.

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The Pantry is Bare

SUBHEAD: Middle-class families who have lost income are now cutting back on buying food. Image above: Near entry charity pantry shelf. From original article. By Arthur Delaney on 29 November 2010 for Huffington Post - (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/29/food-banks-bracing-for-en_n_789198.html) Food banks across the country are watching for the end of federally-funded extended unemployment insurance.

"We are bracing for it," said Vicki Escarra, CEO of Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief charity, in an interview with HuffPost. Escarra said that Feeding America's 200 member food banks across the country feed nearly six million people every week.

"I can assure you, if these unemployment insurance benefits are not reinstated we'll see these numbers go way up," Escarra said.

Two federal programs -- Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Extended Benefits, which together provide up to 73 weeks of jobless aid on top of 26 weeks of state aid -- are set to begin to expire this week because Congress has not reauthorized them. According to the Labor Department, two million long-term unemployed will be dropped from the programs by the end of December if Congress does not act.

Congress allowed benefits to lapse twice for a brief time earlier this year, and once for a long time, when 2.5 million had their benefits interrupted for nearly two months over the summer. The path forward for reauthorizing the benefits is unclear, but Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Sunday that he wants the benefits preserved as part of a deal to reauthorize the also-expiring Bush-era tax cuts.

The Congressional Budget Office recently reported that extended unemployment benefits prevented record poverty in 2009 and were used mostly by middle-class Americans. Households with total income more than twice the poverty threshold received 70 percent of the $120 billion the federal government spent on unemployment benefits last year. Part of the reason is that the benefits themselves push families into higher-income groups.

A study released by Feeding America this year found that of the 37 million people served by its member food banks, 70 percent came from households with incomes below the poverty line. The study found that 5.7 million people received emergency food assistance in 2009, a 27 percent increase from 2006.

Anti-hunger advocates worry that the end of extended unemployment will result in more hungry people. The Sarasota Herald Tribune reported last week that social service experts in Florida "expect a spike in families needing food" if Congress drops the benefits. The Columbus Dispatch reported that Ohio pantry operators "expect demand to continue to rise as more jobless workers exhaust unemployment benefits." The Patriot-News reported similar concerns popping up in Pennsylvania.

Escarra said Feeding America did not have data showing whether or not demand surged at food pantries during the lapse in benefits this summer, but said there would be an informal study this winter.

"Middle-class families who have lost homes, who have lost jobs, who have any kind of illness... They don't today have any disposable income," Escarra said. "The only area they can really give is around food, which is why we're seeing such an increase in mothers and dads going without meals and making sure their children have food, because they've got to pay rent, they have to pay transportation. There's no giving on that. They'll cut back on food every time."

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"QE Explained" Analysis

SUBHEAD: Viral video "Quantitative Easing Explained" has been criticized and defended.

By Richard Alford on 29 November 2010 for Naked Capitalism - 
(http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2010/11/richard-alford-%E2%80%9Cquantitative-easing-explained%E2%80%9D-and-its-critics.html)


 
Image above: Still frame from "Quantitative Easing Explained." See below.  
 
The YouTube video “Quantitative Easing Explained” has surpassed 2.9 million views. The video is both entertaining and unremittingly critical of the Fed. In defense of the Fed, numerous economists, bloggers and mainstream media pundits have pointed out errors in the video. In doing so, the critics have missed the forest for the trees.

While there are errors and oversimplifications in the video, it has resonated with the public because: a) it tapped into widely held perceptions about the Fed and b) the video deftly treated troublesome aspects of Fed policy with comedic license.

In fact, the defensiveness of the critics of the video has only served to convince many skeptics of QE2 that its proponents are unwilling to or incapable of seeing the troublesome dimensions attached the bailout packages and the decision to go forward with QE2. The critics of the video and the Fed itself also appear unaware of how much the stature of the Fed has suffered as a result of the financial crisis, the recession, and the bailouts. It behooves the Fed and its defenders to move past narrow definitional/legalistic responses and address the underlying concerns of many citizens and market participants.

Two examples of criticisms of the video that miss the forest for the trees are the responses to:
1. The assertion in the video that engaging in QE2 equates to printing money, and

2. The suggestion in the video that the Fed should buy Treasuries directly from the Treasury. The Fed does not print money. It never has. 
Furthermore, the reserves that had been created as a result of QE are not included in the monetary aggregates. On the other hand, the Fed has by expanding its balance sheet contributed to inflation in the past and reserves are part of both the monetary base and “high-powered money”. However, the import of the video does not turn on whether or not QE2 will create money or reserves. QE2 is presented as part of a long litany of Fed policy mistakes.

Some of the mistakes are mentioned explicitly in the video, i.e., the Fed’s contribution to the housing bubble and its failure to appreciate the magnitude of the subprime crisis. Viewers will also have in mind the Fed’s failure to carry out its bank regulatory and supervisory responsibilities. Equating QE2 with printing money and policies of “banana republics and failed economic systems” is a short-hand humorous way of invoking the laundry list of costly failures in the minds of the viewers. Arguing a definitional point, reserves are not money, and ignoring policy failures misses the point.

While the critics correctly point out that the Fed is prohibited by law from buying new issues directly from the Treasury, they again missed the point. Main Street is deeply troubled by the Fed’s decision to play roles heretofore filled by the fiscal authorities and the bankruptcy courts. The video is a general protest against the role the Fed has played in transferring wealth from savers and taxpayers to Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms. The Fed is seen as picking winners and losers: Wall Street is seen as the winner and savers and the taxpayers are seen as the losers.

The video’s criticism of the Fed’s links to Goldman is also a protest against TARP, the Fed’s role in the de facto nationalization of AIG, the fall in interest income accruing to households, the revolving-door network whereby the regulators and the regulated play musical chairs with more than enough chairs, and so on. The American people care deeply about fairness, but the Fed is perceived to care more about the health of Wall Street than fairness. Instead of addressing the underlying issue of fairness and the efficiency of the bailouts, the Fed defenders focus on a narrow legal prohibition.

The video is popular and effective because it is not a detailed-footnoted-rigorous academic exercise. It humorously plays on what a substantial fraction of the audience already perceive to be true. It takes swipes at what many viewers see as an institution that is charged with promoting economic welfare yet they see it both detrimentally affecting their lives as well being arrogant and well insulated from accountability.

The Fed dismissed its critics while the housing bubble grew. It did so to its own detriment as well as to the detriment of the real economy and the financial sector. Those who defend of the Fed against the criticisms in this video may win every definitional battle, but they will lose the war for the hearts, minds and confidence of the American people. If the Fed and its supporters want to win the war, they must address the larger concerns:
1. Admit past mistakes (not because confession is good for the soul, but because the Fed can then assert it has learned from past mistakes and less likely to made mistakes in the future);

2. Explain fully the necessity of the financial interventions (For example, the majority of American believe that the AIG’s problems were limited to AIGFP and that AIG posed no systemic risk.);

3. Explain fully the reasoning behind the path chosen (TARP and interest rate subsidies) versus nationalization of failing financial institutions;

4. Explain the continued adherence to the economic and policy frameworks that failed to produce sustainable full employment and price stability and are seen by many as having contributed to financial instability and economic unsustainabilities which resulted in the financial crisis and the recession. 

Maybe then the American people will respond better when the Fed says “trust me” in response to questions about a timely unwind of QE.

• The author, Richard Alford, is a former economist at the New York Federal Reserve.


Video above: "Quantitative Easing Explained." From (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTUY16CkS-k)

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America - The Grim Truth

SUBHEAD: The USA has the worst quality of life in the developed world—by a wide margin.

By Dmitry Orlov on 24 November 2010 in Club Orlov - 
(http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/2010/11/americathe-grim-truth.html)



 
Image above: The 2004 Rose Bowl Parade featuring an Uncle Sam float. From (http://www.galenfrysinger.com/music,_music.htm).  

[Dmitry Orlov note: I was planning to write something a bit like this, but found that someone has done some of my work for me. Please give it a read, while I concentrate on the part of the topic that interests me the most: "What's Keeping You Here?". Judging from a lot of the comments, many people seem to think that the rest of the planet might not offer any good places for American former middle class persons to continue to pretend that they are successful. I don't find this particularly relevant; the life of a refugee is rarely comfortable. Some people even think that the US military is somehow going to be helpful moving forward, (by stealing other countries' oil, I suppose). I can't think of an occasion when it was helpful, being incapable of victory and a huge waste of resources. Apparently, to stay in the US is to stay in denial; perhaps that is what it takes to make the continuous psychological trauma of living in this country bearable. The one encouraging sign is that this condition is curable: not a single expat has voiced anything but complete and enthusiastic agreement with this article.]  

Americans, I have some bad news for you: You have the worst quality of life in the developed world—by a wide margin. If you had any idea of how people really lived in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many parts of Asia, you’d be rioting in the streets calling for a better life.

In fact, the average Australian or Singaporean taxi driver has a much better standard of living than the typical American white-collar worker. I know this because I am an American, and I escaped from the prison you call home. I have lived all around the world, in wealthy countries and poor ones, and there is only one country I would never consider living in again: The United States of America. The mere thought of it fills me with dread.

Consider this: you are the only people in the developed world without a single-payer health system. Everyone in Western Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore and New Zealand has a single-payer system.

If they get sick, they can devote all their energies to getting well. If you get sick, you have to battle two things at once: your illness and the fear of financial ruin. Millions of Americans go bankrupt every year due to medical bills, and tens of thousands die each year because they have no insurance or insufficient insurance.

And don’t believe for a second that rot about America having the world’s best medical care or the shortest waiting lists: I’ve been to hospitals in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Singapore, and Thailand, and every one was better than the “good” hospital I used to go to back home. The waits were shorter, the facilities more comfortable, and the doctors just as good. This is ironic, because you need a good health system more than anyone else in the world. Why? Because your lifestyle is almost designed to make you sick.

Let’s start with your diet: Much of the beef you eat has been exposed to fecal matter in processing.
Your chicken is contaminated with salmonella. Your stock animals and poultry are pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics. In most other countries, the government would act to protect consumers from this sort of thing; in the United States, the government is bought off by industry to prevent any effective regulations or inspections.

In a few years, the majority of all the produce for sale in the United States will be from genetically modified crops, thanks to the cozy relationship between Monsanto Corporation and the United States government. Worse still, due to the vast quantities of high-fructose corn syrup Americans consume, fully one-third of children born in the United States today will be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives.

Of course, it’s not just the food that’s killing you, it’s the drugs. If you show any sign of life when you’re young, they’ll put you on Ritalin.

Then, when you get old enough to take a good look around, you’ll get depressed, so they’ll give you Prozac. If you’re a man, this will render you chemically impotent, so you’ll need Viagra to get it up. Meanwhile, your steady diet of trans-fat-laden food is guaranteed to give you high cholesterol, so you’ll get a prescription for Lipitor.

Finally, at the end of the day, you’ll lay awake at night worrying about losing your health plan, so you’ll need Lunesta to go to sleep. With a diet guaranteed to make you sick and a health system designed to make sure you stay that way, what you really need is a long vacation somewhere. Unfortunately, you probably can’t take one.

I’ll let you in on little secret: if you go to the beaches of Thailand, the mountains of Nepal, or the coral reefs of Australia, you’ll probably be the only American in sight. And you’ll be surrounded crowds of happy Germans, French, Italians, Israelis, Scandinavians and wealthy Asians. Why? Because they’re paid well enough to afford to visit these places AND they can take vacations long enough to do so.

Even if you could scrape together enough money to go to one of these incredible places, by the time you recovered from your jetlag, it would time to get on a plane and rush back to your job. If you think I’m making this up, check the stats on average annual vacation days by country:
  • Finland: 44
  • Italy: 42
  • France: 39
  • Germany: 35
  • United Kingdom: 25
  • Japan: 18
  • America: 12
The fact is, they work you like dogs in the United States. This should come as no surprise: the United States never got away from the plantation/sweat shop labor model and any real labor movement was brutally suppressed. Unless you happen to be a member of the ownership class, your options are pretty much limited to barely surviving on service-sector wages or playing musical chairs for a spot in a cubicle (a spot that will be outsourced to India next week anyway).

The very best you can hope for is to get a professional degree and then milk the system for a slice of the middle-class pie. And even those who claw their way into the middle class are but one illness or job loss away from poverty. Your jobs aren’t secure. Your company has no loyalty to you. They’ll play you off against your coworkers for as long as it suits them, then they’ll get rid of you.

 Of course, you don’t have any choice in the matter: the system is designed this way. In most countries in the developed world, higher education is either free or heavily subsidized; in the United States, a university degree can set you back over US$100,000.

Thus, you enter the working world with a crushing debt. Forget about taking a year off to travel the world and find yourself – you’ve got to start working or watch your credit rating plummet. If you’re “lucky,” you might even land a job good enough to qualify you for a home loan. And then you’ll spend half your working life just paying the interest on the loan – welcome to the world of American debt slavery.

America has the illusion of great wealth because there’s a lot of “stuff” around, but who really owns it? In real terms, the average American is poorer than the poorest ghetto dweller in Manila, because at least they have no debts. If they want to pack up and leave, they can; if you want to leave, you can’t, because you’ve got debts to pay. All this begs the question: Why would anyone put up with this?

Ask any American and you’ll get the same answer: because America is the freest country on earth. If you believe this, I’ve got some more bad news for you: America is actually among the least free countries on earth. Your piss is tested, your emails and phone calls are monitored, your medical records are gathered, and you are never more than one stray comment away from writhing on the ground with two Taser prongs in your ass. And that’s just physical freedom.

Mentally, you are truly imprisoned. You don’t even know the degree to which you are tormented by fears of medical bankruptcy, job loss, homelessness and violent crime because you’ve never lived in a country where there is no need to worry about such things. But it goes much deeper than mere surveillance and anxiety. The fact is, you are not free because your country has been taken over and occupied by another government. Fully 70% of your tax dollars go to the Pentagon, and the Pentagon is the real government of the United States. Y

ou are required under pain of death to pay taxes to this occupying government. If you’re from the less fortunate classes, you are also required to serve and die in their endless wars, or send your sons and daughters to do so. You have no choice in the matter: there is a socioeconomic draft system in the United States that provides a steady stream of cannon fodder for the military.

If you call a life of surveillance, anxiety and ceaseless toil in the service of a government you didn’t elect “freedom,” then you and I have a very different idea of what that word means. If there was some chance that the country could be changed, there might be reason for hope.

But can you honestly look around and conclude that anything is going to change? Where would the change come from? The people? Take a good look at your compatriots: the working class in the United States has been brutally propagandized by jackals like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.

 Members of the working class have been taught to lick the boots of their masters and then bend over for another kick in the ass. They’ve got these people so well trained that they’ll take up arms against the other half of the working class as soon as their masters give the word. If the people cannot make a change, how about the media? Not a chance. From Fox News to the New York Times, the mass media in the United States is nothing but the public relations wing of the corporatocracy, primarily the military industrial complex.

At least the citizens of the former Soviet Union knew that their news was bullshit. In America, you grow up thinking you’ve got a free media, which makes the propaganda doubly effective. If you don’t think American media is mere corporate propaganda, ask yourself the following question: have you ever heard a major American news outlet suggest that the country could fund a single-payer health system by cutting military spending? If change can’t come from the people or the media, the only other potential source of change would be the politicians.

Unfortunately, the American political process is among the most corrupt in the world. In every country on earth, one expects politicians to take bribes from the rich. But this generally happens in secret, behind the closed doors of their elite clubs. In the United States, this sort of political corruption is done in broad daylight, as part of legal, accepted, standard operating procedure. In the United States, they merely call these bribes campaign donations, political action committees and lobbyists.

One can no more expect the politicians to change this system than one can expect a man to take an axe and chop his own legs out from underneath him. No, the United States of America is not going to change for the better. The only change will be for the worse. And when I say worse, I mean much worse. As we speak, the economic system that sustained the country during the post-war years is collapsing.

The United States maxed out its “credit card” sometime in 2008 and now its lenders, starting with China, are in the process of laying the foundations for a new monetary system to replace the Anglo-American “petro-dollar” system. As soon as there is a viable alternative to the US dollar, the greenback will sink like a stone.

While the United States was running up crushing levels of debt, it was also busy shipping its manufacturing jobs and white-collar jobs overseas, and letting its infrastructure fall to pieces. Meanwhile, Asian and European countries were investing in education, infrastructure and raw materials.

Even if the United States tried to rebuild a real economy (as opposed to a service/financial economy) do think American workers would ever be able to compete with the workers of China or Europe? Have you ever seen a Japanese or German factory? Have you ever met a Singaporean or Chinese worker?

There are only two possible futures facing the United States, and neither one is pretty. The best case is a slow but orderly decline – essentially a continuation of what’s been happening for the last two decades. Wages will drop, unemployment will rise, Medicare and Social Security benefits will be slashed, the currency will decline in value, and the disparity of wealth will spiral out of control until the United States starts to resemble Mexico or the Philippines – tiny islands of wealth surrounded by great poverty (the country is already halfway there).

 Equally likely is a sudden collapse, perhaps brought about by a rapid flight from the US dollar by creditor nations like China, Japan, Korea and the OPEC nations.

A related possibility would be a default by the United States government on its vast debt. One look at the financial balance sheet of the US government should convince you how likely this is: governmental spending is skyrocketing and tax receipts are plummeting – something has to give. If either of these scenarios plays out, the resulting depression will make the present recession look like a walk in the park.

Whether the collapse is gradual or gut-wrenchingly sudden, the results will be chaos, civil strife and fascism. Let’s face it: the United States is like the former Yugoslavia – a collection of mutually antagonistic cultures united in name only.

You’ve got your own version of the Taliban: right-wing Christian fundamentalists who actively loathe the idea of secular Constitutional government. You’ve got a vast intellectual underclass that has spent the last few decades soaking up Fox News and talk radio propaganda, eager to blame the collapse on Democrats, gays and immigrants.

You’ve got a ruthless ownership class that will use all the means at its disposal to protect its wealth from the starving masses. On top of all that you’ve got vast factory farms, sprawling suburbs and a truck-based shipping system, all of it entirely dependent on oil that is about to become completely unaffordable. And you’ve got guns. Lots of guns.

In short: the United States is about to become a very unwholesome place to be. Right now, the government is building fences and walls along its northern and southern borders. Right now, the government is working on a national ID system (soon to be fitted with biometric features). Right now, the government is building a surveillance state so extensive that they will be able to follow your every move, online, in the street and across borders. If you think this is just to protect you from “terrorists,” then you’re sadly mistaken.

Once the shit really hits the fan, do you really think you’ll just be able to jump into the old station wagon, drive across the Canadian border and spend the rest of your days fishing and drinking Molson? No, the government is going to lock the place down. They don’t want their tax base escaping. They don’t want their “recruits” escaping. They don’t want YOU escaping. I am not writing this to scare you. I write this to you as a friend.

If you are able to read and understand what I’ve written here, then you are a member of a small minority in the United States. You are a minority in a country that has no place for you. So what should you do? You should leave the United States of America. If you’re young, you’ve got plenty of choices: you can teach English in the Middle East, Asia or Europe. Or you can go to university or graduate school abroad and start building skills that will qualify you for a work visa.

If you’ve already got some real work skills, you can apply to emigrate to any number of countries as a skilled immigrant. If you are older and you’ve got some savings, you can retire to a place like Costa Rica or the Philippines. If you can’t qualify for a work, student or retirement visa, don’t let that stop you – travel on a tourist visa to a country that appeals to you and talk to the expats you meet there. Whatever you do, go speak to an immigration lawyer as soon as you can.

Find out exactly how to get on a path that will lead to permanent residence and eventually citizenship in the country of your choice. You will not be alone. There are millions of Americans just like me living outside the United States. Living lives much more fulfilling, peaceful, free and abundant than we ever could have attained back home.

Some of us happened upon these lives by accident – we tried a year abroad and found that we liked it – others made a conscious decision to pack up and leave for good. You’ll find us in Canada, all over Europe, in many parts of Asia, in Australia and New Zealand, and in most other countries of the globe. Do we miss our friends and family? Yes. Do we occasionally miss aspects of our former country? Yes.

Do we plan on ever living again in the United States? Never. And those of us with permanent residence or citizenship can sponsor family members from back home for long-term visas in our adopted countries.

 In closing, I want to remind you of something: unless you are an American Indian or a descendant of slaves, at some point your ancestors chose to leave their homeland in search of a better life. They weren’t traitors and they weren’t bad people, they just wanted a better life for themselves and their families. Isn’t it time that you continue their journey?

 .

Evolution of U.S. Transition

SUBHEAD: Transition US is about healing and regenerating community here in America.

By Michael Brownlee on 26 November 2010 in Transition Times -
(http://transition-times.com/blog/2010/11/26/the-evolution-of-transition-in-the-u-s) 




Image above: Trathen Heckman, Transition US board member and gardener chews the scenery. From (http://www.freestonefermentationfestival.com/schedule). 

The Backstory
The emergence of the Transition movement in the last four years or so is one of the most hopeful signs in the early 21st century, and Transition may yet turn out to be one of the fastest-growing, most inspiring, and most significant social change movements we have ever seen.

For those of us who had already been working towards relocalization for some years, the community-wide Transition process that Rob Hopkins and his fellow pioneers began developing in Totnes in 2006 was the very first sign of a clear and replicable pathway to community resilience and self-reliance in the face of the converging global crises of fossil fuel depletion, global warming, and economic collapse.

In Boulder County, we had well understood the urgent need for relocalization since we began in mid-2005. Inspired by Julian Darley’s Post Carbon Institute, then located in Vancouver, we joined the Relocalization Network early on, and did our best to follow the principles and guidelines that flowed from Post Carbon Institute’s Richard Heinberg and the early “Post Carbon Outposts,” most notably in Willits, California. The tag line in those early days was, “Reduce consumption, produce locally.” Some took that as a kind of tough love. This early movement was focused on an understanding of the Peak Oil crisis, and was driven by people who Darley called “the walking worried.”

That primitive relocalization movement grew surprisingly rapidly. At its peak, probably early 2007, there were reportedly some 200 such Post Carbon Outposts in a dozen nations or so, and founder Julian Darley predicted in an interview I did for HopeDance Magazine in July 2006 that the network would continue to grow exponentially. But it didn’t happen. And at the moment Darley was saying this, it was already beginning to collapse. Groups were disbanding, giving up. The Relocalization Network turned out to be unsustainable, partly (perhaps) because it lacked precisely the kind of replicable process for relocalization that Transition provides.

This experience has perhaps provided me a healthy skepticism. But I think it needs to be said that the Relocalization Network was very effective in raising awareness of the implications of the coming calamity that we call Peak Oil.

It also gave us in Boulder County a profound experience of confusion, frustration, disappointment, and sometimes even despair—for while we understood that relocalization urgently needed to happen in our community (and in every other community, of course), we were painfully aware that we certainly didn’t know what we were doing or how to do it. And to our dismay we discovered that no one else knew how to do it either!

As in all relocalization efforts, we had been trying our best to discover the ways to prepare our communities for a crisis that was just over the horizon and had not yet quite arrived, and attempting to do this without being seen as alarmists, doom-and-gloomers, or inciters of fear and anxiety.

Meanwhile, we were watching what was happening in the UK. The earliest indication that something new was brewing came with the Kinsale (Ireland) Energy Descent Action Plan, produced in 2005 by a group of Permaculture students, led by Rob Hopkins, which was ultimately adopted by the town council of Kinsale. But it was essentially a student project.

In 2006, we heard that Hopkins had moved to Totnes, England, where he was prototyping a community-wide process to achieve local resilience and self-reliance. It seemed ambitious, but possible. We eagerly awaited news.

The forthcoming news was very encouraging. A robust, seemingly viral movement was soon underway, and we soon learned that Rob Hopkins was writing The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependence to Local Resilience to help fuel the movement.

Shortly after it was published, in early 2008, I hurriedly read The Transition Handbook on a plane to the UK, on my way to see for myself if the burgeoning Transitioning movement really lived up to the glowing reports we had been reading on the Internet. I had to know if it was actually working, and to somehow gauge whether the movement could possibly be sustainable.

My first stop was Dundee, Scotland, to take the two-day Training for Transition with Sophy Banks and Naresh Giangrande, two of the co-founders of Transition Town Totnes. I’ll just say that my experience there was entirely unexpected. Somehow Transition just landed in me, in my heart, and I saw that Transition was a living, breathing being. Transition was alive—and alive in me!

Afterwards, I made the long train-trek down to England to make my pilgrimage to the birthplace of the movement, Totnes. And there I was able to spend some time with founder Rob Hopkins and Ben Brangwyn, who headed up the Transition Network. I got to see the movement “on the ground,” not only in Totnes but in several communities in England. I saw that Transition had become a household word in the UK, and that the movement was indeed spreading virally. It looked like this was going to work!

I came back to the states deeply inspired, carrying the fire of Transition, determined to ignite this nation.

Amazingly, both Hopkins and Brangwyn candidly admitted to me that while considering Transition in the U.S., they felt it was too daunting a task. This country seemed unimaginably large to them, and too difficult to deal with. They had figured they would just forget about the U.S.! So there were no plans to bring Transition to the U.S., but I knew it was essential.

On May 1, 2008, our relocalization organization in Boulder County became the first officially recognized Transition Initiative in North America (number 53 in the world, the 5th outside the U.K.), and in September of that year Lynette Marie Hanthorn and I (she’s the co-founder of our organization) held the first Training for Transition, with 61 people participating. That spawned 20-some local initiatives in Colorado, five of which became officially recognized (so far). That spurred us, perhaps a bit prematurely, to become Transition Colorado, the first statewide Transition Hub.

As certified Transition Trainers, Lynette Marie and I have trained hundreds of people all over the country in the Transition process, and have conducted numerous Transition Clinics both online and in person.

I also became part of the original “initiating group” that sought to develop Transition U.S., which was formally birthed in January 2009 with the support of Post Carbon Institute, and served on its board of directors until April of this year.

And of course, through all this we’ve greatly expanded our Transition efforts in Boulder County, primarily focusing on catalyzing something of a revolution in local food and farming. Lately, we’re in the process of launching a Local Food and Farming Enterprise Investment Fund, which has already been seeded by an extraordinary commitment of capital.

Context for Transition
Enough for backstory. What I want to address here is the evolution of the Transition movement, particularly in this nation, and to reflect on where it’s gotten to and where it’s headed.

There are three principal themes I’d like to consider. First of all, the context for Transition (or at least our understanding of it) has changed dramatically since the model was first articulated. In other words, we have a much more sharply defined sense of what we need to be preparing our communities for.

Secondly, the Transition model first emerged from a culture very different from ours. And I think we’ve already seen indications that just transplanting the UK approach to Transition here may not work very well. We will need a uniquely American approach to Transition, and that is just beginning to take shape—but I think it will require that we once again declare our independence from England, and establish our interdependence.

Thirdly, Transition itself is in transition. Transition is a self-organizing, emergent, “open source” movement that is evolving in sometimes unexpected ways (perhaps always in unexpected ways). And this, to me, demonstrates one of the great strengths and resiliencies of the movement, that it is flexible enough to adapt locally and evolve globally. What’s beginning to emerge in the movement, particularly around what we could call the Inner Transition, is of special significance—and it’s here that I would like to go a little deeper, suggesting an approach to Transition that is both uniquely American and that can perhaps breathe new life into the movement here.

To begin, let’s look at the current state of the context for Transition, the reasons why Transition is so needed, so urgent—in other words, what we are preparing our communities for. I’ll try to talk about these things in a very succinct, bottom-line manner, without building the arguments or citing the data—which are now abundantly available.

Peak Oil

First, it’s become quite clear that we must quickly prepare our communities for sharp fluctuations in fossil fuel prices and a general decline in fossil fuel availability. This will plunge our national and local economies into chaos, for they are built on fundamentally wrong (and profoundly unsustainable) premises. In the next few years, give or take, it’s likely that we will all finally come to understand that Peak Oil is upon us.

The hope that we’ll be able to maintain our current way of life by substituting renewable energy for fossil fuels is wildly unrealistic and perhaps even dangerous. We now know that renewable substitutes will not come on line quickly enough or at large enough scale to be able to maintain our current way of life. We’re going to be facing a future with far less energy available to us. So this is not just Peak Oil, but Peak Energy! This is a reality we’re going to have to come to terms with, and we need to allow this to really sink in to our consciousness. It will change everything, and much sooner than we care to think about.

It’s unavoidable that we will be going through a wrenching energy transition—likely beginning in the next couple of years—which will change profoundly how we live, where we live, and even who lives. This tells us that we simply can’t adequately prepare our communities with new technology alone, or with incremental decreases in energy consumption. We will need to live very differently—and we will have to hurry.

Climate Change/Global Warming
The second thing we need to talk about is that climate change/ global warming is already upon us, and here we are woefully unprepared. Sadly, recent data from the United Nations Environment Programme reveals that we’re unavoidably on track for at least a 6.3-degree Fahrenheit temperature rise globally by the end of the century—even if all governments meet all their most optimistic targets (which is highly unlikely). And this could happen even by mid-century. This will change the face of the planet radically, and the trajectory of human population.

A couple of things became very clear out of the muddle in Copenhagen last December and in the subsequent embarrassing spectacle in our own Congress. First, the scientific consensus is that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are already having a devastating impact on the ecosphere that supports all life, and this will get very much worse in the future. Secondly, we see now that our governments are simply not going to be able to rise to the occasion in time to mitigate the impacts.

In his recent book, Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change, Australia’s Clive Hamilton suggests that “We will be powerless to stop the jump to a new climate on Earth, one much less sympathetic to life. The kind of climate that has allowed civilization to flourish will be gone and humans will enter a long struggle just to survive.” This means a very profound shift for human existence, one that we have hardly begun to accept.

So this is not merely climate change we’re talking about, but climate disruption, and it may ultimately give our species the equivalent of a “near death experience.” We know that those who have had near-death experiences or life-threatening illnesses are often transformed, so that they see their previous lives as empty and self-centered. So if we survive as a species, perhaps we will be likewise humbled, and devote the rest of our days to service.

Economic Decline/Collapse
The third area we must talk about is the economy, and this is precisely the arena that the founders of the Transition movement in Totnes have been so skittish about taking on as part of the context for Transition—until very recently, thanks to American Chris Martenson and Canadian Nicole Foss (who writes under the name “Stoneleigh”). Here, we need to know that economic decline will soon accelerate to inevitable collapse. There will be no long-term economic recovery. The underpinnings of modern human society (and the global economy) as we have known it are fundamentally unsustainable, and they are beginning to unravel before our eyes.

This is partly because the entire globalized economy is based on the U.S. dollar, which is based on cheap oil. And now the whole system is beginning to come apart.

When you hear predictions of economic recovery, just remember that those economists and politicians who are making these predictions are the very same ones who were predicting not so long ago that there was virtually zero chance that we could slip into an economic recession—and we now understand they were saying this at a time when we were already at least a year into recession.

We need to recognize these rosy predictions for what they are, and prepare for the end of economic growth as we have known it.

In our lifetime, we will most likely experience roller-coaster periods of global recession followed by weak and partial recoveries; this will ultimately give way to grinding, long-term global depression. In the process, many of the institutions on which we have come to rely as anchors for certainty and normalcy and sanity will surely fail, some of them slowly, some of them suddenly and spectacularly. It will be a chaotic time for the next several decades, and the chaos will prevail long after most of us have left this planet.

Over the last few years I’ve noticed that we tend to think of fossil fuel depletion, climate change, and economic decline as three separate global crises. But of course they are all deeply interrelated. When we say this, it seems so obvious. But we’re just beginning to wake up to this reality: Our growth economy is based on cheap fossil fuels, and burning fossil fuels is obviously dramatically altering our climate. Therefore, economic growth as we have known it cannot and will not continue. Our Industrial Growth Society cannot and will not continue.

This is what James Howard Kunstler has called The Long Emergency. And this is really what we are preparing ourselves and our communities for.

Clearly, we are entering into a prolonged period of profound change, an era of “unintended consequences.” The changes that are coming our way will profoundly alter not only how we live, but even how we conceive of ourselves, how we think about the world, and how we see the future. And not only will we have to learn to cope with severe disruption to our conception of ourselves and the world, but we will also need to forge a new vision of the world that we can live by. Where will that vision come from?

The larger context for the Transition movement, of course, is that all communities are in transition, whether we realize it or not, whether there is a formal Transition Initiative present or not—and so are all cultures, all nations, and all institutions. We are in a transition as a species, even as a planet in a larger Universe. Of course the outcome of this great Transition is profoundly uncertain and unpredictable, perhaps even unknowable. But this is what we’re all preparing for.

Awareness-Raising
We will need to tell and retell the story of how we got into this predicament. It would be the story of the rise of the Industrial Growth Society, and how it has deeply wounded every single human living today, and how it has devastated the entire biosphere. It would be the story of how we’re learning that the Industrial Growth Society—in the form of economic globalization—is the culprit that has been pushing us to the brink of The Long Emergency, the brink of economic collapse, even the brink of civilization’s collapse.

It is this deeply dysfunctional mindset—insane, really—from which we must all learn to decolonize, recover and heal. That’s a process that’s going to take a while. But it won’t happen at all unless there are those of us who are holding that possibility, holding the space for healing and regeneration.

One of the key roles of Transition that sets it apart from other efforts is a commitment to continually raise awareness about our collective predicament. We’re sometimes criticized for this. I find it very helpful that Gus Speth recounts that in The Death of Environmentalism the authors remind us that Martin Luther King, Jr., did not proclaim, “I have a nightmare.” Speth’s incisive reply to them is that “King did not need to say it—his people were living a nightmare. They needed a dream. But we, I fear, are living a dream. We need to be reminded of the nightmare ahead. Here is the truth as I see it: we will never do the things that are needed unless we know the full extent of our predicament.”

I believe that our Transition initiatives need to be dedicated to informing our communities about the full extent of our predicament, and that we must not shrink from this task.

Towards an American Transition
There are now 77 officially-recognized Transition Initiatives in the U.S., along with 17 in Canada (and none in Mexico). But this is a nation of some 300 million people. Canada has about 35 million.

The UK claims 170 officially-recognized Initiatives, with a population of just over 60 million. Granted, the movement in the UK has been ongoing for a couple of years longer than in the U.S., but the rate of adoption does seem noticeably slower here. To approach a similar level, we’d need to somehow get to nearly 400 official Initiatives over the next 18 months. That would be truly extraordinary growth, and I’d really like to see that happen.

Sadly, however, the rate of adoption in the U.S. seems to be slowing. Transition is hardly a household word in this country, and mainstream media have given the movement scant attention. What’s happening here?

I don’t know if ever there will emerge a coherent and robust and truly viral Transition movement in this nation. I do know that we need it urgently. But today the movement here seems to me to be somewhat fragmented. Surely there are very inspiring and important things going on in a number of communities—as in Sandpoint, Idaho—and truly I’m grateful for all of that. But in several other communities, the effort for relocalization has already essentially stalled. For many, it just seems too difficult, too big a challenge.

But we need Transition to work here, especially in this nation—because the U.S. is ground zero for The Long Emergency. We are the world’s largest user of fossil fuels. With less than five percent of the world’s population, we burn about 25 percent of the world’s oil (two-thirds of which we have to import). We are also the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for at least 25 percent of the total. Some would have us believe that China is the biggest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, but this ignores the fact that much of what China produces is for consumption in the U.S. In fact, one-third of the world’s industrial products come to the U.S.

We are the world’s most significant contributor to fossil fuel depletion, and environmental degradation, and global warming. And now, with the entire globalized economy based on the U.S. dollar, which is based on an abundant supply of cheap oil, we are also the world’s greatest contributor to economic decline—which is likely to soon become economic collapse, or at least long-term economic depression.

Make no mistake, the U.S. is the belly of the beast. Given this situation, it’s hardly surprising that it’s very challenging to get Transition to catch fire here. There may be no other nation on the planet where denial and greed are more deeply rooted.

I appreciate the assessments of David Orr at Oberlin College, who observes, “Conventional wisdom maintains that we are slowly recovering from a recalcitrant recession. As we are now entering at least the third year of real economic contraction, continue to reel from the predations and corruption in a financial sector the federal government treats as sacrosanct, are in the sixth year of a plateau in worldwide oil extraction, and climate change is essentially unmitigated, it should be obvious that American society is arrantly unsustainable—ecologically, fiscally, economically, politically, and ethically… We’ve got a whole culture locked in the first stage of Abraham Maslow’s five stages of human development: infantile self-gratification.”

But we have a unique history and heritage here in the U.S., and in many ways a painful legacy, and all this needs to deeply inform our approach to Transition.

Geologian Thomas Berry helps us to understand our particular predicament here:
When we came to this continent, we saw ourselves as a people with the most sublime spiritual insights… as the most intellectual people of the world… as people with the most human political traditions of the world, with our democratic political commitment; as a people, through our technologies, most able to deal with the daily needs of the world for food, clothing, and shelter. Now, after four centuries we find the North American continent toxic in its air, its water, and its land and gravely diminished in the variety and abundance of its living forms. We must ask ourselves what happened?
The answer is simply that we have lost our awareness that the human community exists only as a component of the larger Earth community. Instead of an intimate presence on an abundant continent that could inspire our minds and imaginations while providing for our practical needs, we became a predator people on an innocent continent.
The North American continent will never again be what it once was. The manner in which we have devastated the continent has never before occurred… It is clear that there will be little development of life here in the future if we do not protect and foster the living forms of this continent. To do this, a change must occur deep in our souls. We need our technologies, but this is beyond technology. Our technologies have betrayed us.
What we are learning is that what has gotten us into our collective predicament is a deep disconnection from the natural world, from life itself. And this separation between humans and the earth and the fundamental processes of life is nowhere more dramatic or more devastating than right here in the U.S.

“You and I are not people who live in communion with the earth,” says Chellis Glendinning. “We exist instead dislocated from our roots by the psychological, philosophical, and technological constructions of our civilization, and this alienation leads to our suffering: massive suffering for each and every one of us, and mass suffering throughout our society.”

As Americans, we will need to come to own all of this, to allow it to sink deep into our conscious awareness, and to learn to heal from it together.

Transition in Transition
In his Cheerful Disclaimer, Rob Hopkins candidly and humbly admits that Transition is a massive social experiment and we really don’t know if it will work. Well, with the stakes as high as they are, I think we need to explore finding the ways to help ensure that it will work, especially here in the U.S.

I want to be very clear here. I do think the Transition model or process is a revolutionary development, one of the most important we’ve seen to date. But we should recognize that Transition itself is now undergoing radical change, one that is most especially needed in the U.S.

The important thing to acknowledge here is that Transition is evolving very quickly—based both on what has been experienced in communities all over the world, and on what is seeking to emerge in and through this movement. You could say that Transition is in transition! And perhaps the most visible sign of this evolution is a radical reframing of the Transition model by Rob Hopkins himself.

To his credit, Rob Hopkins was horrified to see that his early attempts to articulate a Transition process became a sort of catechism for emerging Transition Initiatives, so he is now in the early stages of a valiant attempt to sweep away the rapidly-forming accretions of tradition—how is it possible for a movement to establish “traditions” in a scant four years?—and to replace them with a re-conception of Transition as something called “a pattern language,” following the example of famed architect Christopher Alexander.

Shortly before the international Transition Network conference in England in June, Rob sent out this message, which took many by surprise:
In the interests of promoting non-attachment to ideas and enshrining the principle that none of us really know what we are doing, as encapsulated in the ‘Cheerful Disclaimer’, for the Transition Handbook 2.0, I am taking the original Transition model and throwing it up in the air, using ‘A Pattern Language’ as a way of re-communicating and reshaping it.
With some excitement, we had learned early this year that Rob was heading in this direction. And now we see he is slowly writing the Transition Handbook 2.0, pattern by pattern, on his blog, inviting input and feedback. It’s a very ambitious and creative project. Not everyone is happy about this reframing, however, including some of Alexander’s long-time students—but it’s on its way nonetheless.

What is the meaning of all this? What is emerging in the Transition movement? And what is all this about Pattern Language?

I can only point to this in the briefest way here, but let me give you a few thoughts from Christopher Alexander himself that give us a clue to this very rich understanding. Just let this wash over you—like poetry:
The specific patterns out of which a community is made may be alive or dead. To the extent they are alive, they let our inner forces loose, and set us free; but when they are dead, they keep us locked in inner conflict.
The more living patterns there are in a place, the more it comes to life as an entirety, the more it glows, the more it has that self-maintaining fire which is the quality without a name.
And when a community has this fire, then it becomes a part of nature. Like ocean waves, or blades of grass, its parts are governed by the endless play of repetition and variety created in the presence of the fact that all things pass. This is the quality itself—the quality that cannot be named.
To work our way towards a shared and living language once again, we must first learn how to discover patterns which are deep, and capable of generating life.
We may then gradually improve these patterns which we share, by testing them against experience: we can determine, very simply, whether these patterns make our communities live, or not, by recognizing how they make us feel…
So, pattern language is about discovering the inherent patterns that bring aliveness, wholeness and healing to our communities. This is potentially an extremely potent development for the Transition movement, for underlying the Transition process is the healing impulse. In fact, it’s the same impulse that’s underlying Permaculture.

It’s been hard for us to find the ways to talk about this. But just at the moment we’re exploring a deeper integration between the principles of Permaculture and Transition, we’re discovering just how extraordinary Alexander’s contribution really is. Here’s an excerpt, adapted from A New Theory of Urban Design:
Let us consider what kind of process might be needed to let a community become gradually whole.
In nature, the inner laws which make a growing whole are, of course, profound and intricate…
What happens in the community, happens to us. If the process fails to produce wholeness, we suffer right away. So, somehow, we must overcome our ignorance, and learn to understand the community as a product of a huge network of processes, and learn just what features might make the cooperation of these processes produce a whole.
We must therefore learn to understand the laws which produce wholeness in the community…
The process is a single process because it has only one aim: quite simply, to produce wholeness, everywhere…


Now all this may seem rather mystical, even spiritual. Well, perhaps it is. We eventually discover that what Alexander is pointing to is that wholeness and connectedness and aliveness and sacredness and holiness are all one seamless unfolding evolutionary process.

In the UK, this bold re-conception is being delivered under the banner of “Assembling Transition” and Hopkins has taken to call the patterns he has identified as “Transition Ingredients”—as if Transition is some sort of recipe to follow, a kind of cake we can just cook up! Unwittingly, Hopkins may be condemning Transition to the same kind of fate that has befallen a mechanistic view of Nature and the Universe.

Language matters here. It’s not trivial. Brian Swimme laughs at earlier scientists who imagined that the Universe had somehow been assembled from parts—and imagined that the human had no integral connection with the process. As I delve deeper into all this, I find myself suspecting that Rob may be ignoring the deeper aspects of Christopher Alexander’s work.

Emergence of Deep Transition
One of the core principles of Permaculture has to do with valuing what’s happening at the edges of a system. As David Holmgren says, “The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.”

For the last two years, we’ve been exploring some of these edges at Genesis Farm in Northwest New Jersey, where—after thirty years as a center for the study of Earth Literacy and “The Great Work” of Thomas Berry—Sister Miriam MacGillis has opened the door to a profound exploration of how to help foster the Transition movement in this land, how to regain within it with the sense of sacred energy revealed through the story of the emergence of the Universe itself and the evolution of our own Earth, and how to cultivate a truly bioregional context for reinventing and relocalizing our way into the future (in other words, becoming native to our place).

At Genesis Farm, in a rich and deeply supportive environment, working with Miriam MacGillis, Seanna Ashburn (another Transition Trainer), and others, we’ve held dialogues, presentations, and an ongoing series of two- and three-day workshops for Transition leaders.

Out of this exploration, several key themes have emerged:

Seriousness and urgency. First, there is a growing and indisputable recognition that our collective predicament is far more serious and more urgent than many of us had been willing to actively contemplate. This is being increasingly reflected in the larger Transition movement, sometimes to the apparent dismay of its founders. Part of the discomfort, of course, is the unavoidable recognition that, as John Michael Greer tells us, the situation we face is not a problem that can be solved, but a predicament of our own making to which we must now quickly adapt. It’s very important to name our predicament, and to name and express how it’s impacting us, what we are feeling about all this.

And with this comes the realization that while the long-term Energy Descent Action Planning process is essential in our communities, we must also quickly develop short-term plans to respond to likely near-term events—things like breakdowns in food or fuel supply chains, or a sudden collapse of the stock market, or a weather catastrophe, or even a widespread health crisis. Richard Heinberg has been pleading for this kind of emergency planning for years now as a core part of every resilience program. Few in this country have listened, and now time is very short.
Emergence. Second, we’re beginning to learn about Emergence—or what Christopher Alexander calls “Unfolding,” the evolutionary process by which the universe itself self-organizes, finding profound and practical lessons in how to catalyze Transition in our communities. We’re in the process of learning about what is emerging in the Transition movement itself. In our communities, we’re learning about what it is that’s wanting to emerge there, far beyond our hopes and fears and desires. And in ourselves, we’re discovering what it is that’s wanting to emerge in us—and through us.

Self-organization. Third, in a closely-related way, we’re also beginning to learn the meaning of “self-organization,” which is actually a core principle of Transition, though little discussed. We’re discovering that catalyzing self-organization of a community around relocalization or Transition is entirely different from community organizing!

Permaculture principles and ethics. We’re also beginning to understand how essential the principles and ethics of Permaculture are to the Transition process. These have not been translated very explicitly into the Transition literature, and yet they are fundamental to Transition. This translation will become increasingly important over time, because Permaculture is based on a very deep understanding of how life works.

New Cosmology/Universe Story. We’re also diving deep into the story of the evolution of the Universe, of the Earth, and of life itself. As Thomas Berry explains, this New Cosmology “explores the contemporary, scientific story of the origin, nature and function of the Universe from its beginning, through its galactic phase, its supernova events, the shaping of the solar system, Earth, life, human life and self-reflective consciousness as a single, unbroken series of events.” It’s often framed in terms of “Earth Literacy,” because we humans are so illiterate about the place where we live and how we got here. But the New Cosmology is helping us to recover our sense of the sacredness of life itself, and our fundamental connectedness with the processes that make life possible.

When people hear the word “cosmology” they sometimes automatically think that it’s somehow religious. But in reality it’s based on a very deep understanding of science, the story of the evolution of the Universe. And, surprisingly, it brings us to a profound sense of the sacredness of life.

This perspective is even embedded in the Preamble to the Earth Charter, which says: “We are part of a vast, evolving universe. Earth, our home, is alive with a unique community of life.” This is not a mere metaphor.

In an interview with Derrick Jensen, Creation Spirituality’s Matthew Fox says, “I maintain that the best, most profound mystical literature today is coming out of science. The new creation story is that everything—each of us—is mystery. What we’re finding is that the smallest part of the atom is mystery. It’s dancing. And then of course the macrocosm is a mystery. In the previous scientific worldview, mystery was ‘just what we don’t know yet. We’ll solve it.’ It’s not that way. Death is not something you solve. Love is not something you solve. A broken heart is not something you solve. It’s something you experience. It’s Moses on the mountain. Moses had his experience with the burning bush. We’re learning that every bush is a burning bush, burning with photons and photosynthesis and this amazing cosmic process that was invented a few billion years ago, a process that goes back to the original fireball.” This perspective is deeply enlivening!

Pattern Language. As an important adjunct to the New Cosmology, we’re beginning to discover the importance of the patterns of evolution itself—and patterns of wholeness and healing. That’s certainly possible with Rob Hopkin’s infusion of Christopher Alexander’s extraordinary work into the Transition process. We’ll see. What’s happening at Genesis Farm is we’re finding that our understanding of how Transition works and how real community works are being radically reshaped by our understanding of how the Universe itself evolves, how life evolves and how life works.
Inner Transition/Heart & Soul. Finally, we’re beginning to appreciate the centrality of Inner Transition, what is frequently called “Heart & Soul” work in the Transition movement, a recognition that Transition in the outer world cannot occur without an Inner Transition. Holding the space for this—including the psychology of change; the whole broad field of ecopsychology; dealing with grief, anger and despair; and Joanna Macy’s “Work that Reconnects”—is to me one of the most refreshing and endearing aspects of the Transition movement. This may turn out to be a more powerful attractor to the movement than the issues of peak oil, climate change, and economic decline!

As Sophy Banks in Totnes reminds us, “Part of the human condition is an experience of inner woundedness or brokenness. We want to be whole again, and some part of us knows how to do that. We yearn for wholeness and integration.” And her partner, Naresh Giangrande, says, “Transition work is a manifestation of the healing impulse. We’re making a plea to bring love into Transition.” These things are not often openly stated in the Transition movement, but they are being uttered in Heart & Soul groups that are meeting even in the most unexpected places.

It’s a long and intense process, but we’re beginning to see (and communicate) how the New Cosmology, the Universe Story, Permaculture, Heart & Soul, and Christopher Alexander’s work are very closely related—and how they’re just beginning to land together in the Transition movement. What this means, to me, is that we’re finally beginning to understand Transition itself as an evolutionary process, one of the most intriguing and promising processes to emerge on this planet! And it’s all absolutely integral with the 13.7 billion year process of the unfolding of the Universe—which of course is a continuing emergent unfolding.

In short, at Genesis Farm we’re beginning to catalyze the infusion into Transition of new perspectives and leading-edge processes that are absolutely necessary in order for Transition to be ultimately successful. The emergence of these new perspectives is encouraging and inspiring. To me, these are all signs that Transition is working.

Towards Deep Transition
Alastair McIntosh gives us some wonderful context for all this in his book, Hell and High Water, where he writes about climate change (but he could just as well be speaking of our total predicament). He says, “To mitigate climate change—and even to adapt to its consequences—without losing our humanity, there needs to be a radical reactivation of our inner lives.”

He continues, “Inner climate affects outer climate because inner hubris drives outer hubris in a spiral of mindless economic frenzy.” That’s very powerful!

“I perversely hold out hope for humanity,” he says, “not in spite of global warming, but precisely because it confronts us with a wake-up call to consciousness. Answering that call of the wild to the wild within us all invites outer action matched by inner transformation.”

And that’s part of what we’ve been attempting to cultivate at Genesis Farm. We’re exploring these things out of a deep and urgent sense that these perspectives, these tools and processes will be absolutely essential for Transition leaders as we move into a very uncertain future.

We’re finding that this perspective about the inner work is fundamental to Transition, and opens the door to what we’ve begun calling Deep Transition.

While these things may not be a “traditional” part of the Transition orientation, Deep Transition represents an opening where breakthrough understandings and processes can readily emerge and make significant contributions. After all, since no one anywhere has yet successfully relocalized a community, it is quite likely that approaches both ancient and new will be needed.

As David Orr says, industrial civilization destroys communities. And at its core, Transition is about healing and regenerating community. This is deep and profound work, and it is the very epicenter of the Transition process, even though we haven’t talked about it publicly very much—yet.

This is what Alistair McIntosh calls the Cycle of Belonging—where we help one another to re-member what has been dismembered, to re-vision how things could alternatively be, and then organize to re-claim what is needed to regenerate and heal community. This Cycle of Belonging offers meaning and direction in generating the responsibility necessary for community regeneration and healing.

But in the long run, I feel our Transition efforts may not be sustainable or resilient or self-reliant unless we place the Sacred at the very core of our work and at the center of all our activities.

For Transition is not a movement for bringing about change. Change is coming, with us or without us, whether we want it or not—profound change. Transition is a movement for preparing our communities for the changes that are coming. And our preparation is likely to crumble unless we are able to connect with and cultivate the aliveness, the wholeness, the healing, and the sacredness that underlies the Transition process.

Buried deep in the Transition literature, there is a reference to core principles that should guide the practice of Permaculture and presumably Transition itself. These are not discussed at any great length, but perhaps we can sense that they are fundamental:
  • A sustainable human presence on the planet must align its systems with how life works.
  • As long as our human culture is based on unsustainable assumptions, those systems will fail.
  • A reinvention of a sustainable human culture must be in alignment with the rest of life.
  • The laws of life can be seen and experienced in the natural world and many indigenous cultures.
There is aliveness here, and great wisdom. I propose these as foundational principles for Deep Transition.

I remember Christopher Alexander saying that aliveness and wholeness begin with something small. If it’s authentic, truly alive, it spreads or unfolds—often in mysterious ways. It’s eerily contagious, and uncontrollable. This is not something to be “organized.” Instead, it grows—organically. This is as true for a community as it is for an organism.

The challenge for those of us involved in Transition is to be able to see such pockets of aliveness and wholeness in our communities, and to support them, to protect them, to lovingly shine the light of day on them, to cultivate them, to catalyze their replication—and then to see what’s possible and needed next. This is how communities are healed and ultimately made whole.

We’re learning that none of us can make Transition happen in our communities. But we can surely be a catalyst for this emergence. All it takes is seeing what is possible, and beginning right where we are.

I’d like to close with an authentically American perspective, from the late Floyd Red Crow Westerman, speaking from the Native American tradition:
Time evolves and comes to a place where it renews again. There is first a purification time, and then there is renewal time. We are getting very close to this time now.
We were told that we would see America come and go. And in a sense, America is dying—from within—because we forgot the instructions of how to live on Earth. Everything is coming to a time when prophecy and man’s inability to live on Earth in a spiritual way will come to a crossroad of great problems.
It’s our belief that if you’re not spiritually connected to the Earth and understand the spiritual reality of how to live on Earth, it’s likely you will not make it.
I think that’s true for each one of us, for this nation, and for the Transition movement itself. We need to regain and reclaim the sense, as Red Crow proclaims, that everything is spiritual, that this planet, this Universe, this continent, and this movement are all about the Sacred. Perhaps this is ultimately the only thing that will truly ignite the Transition movement in America, and the only thing that will enable this land and its people to fulfill our common destiny.
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Porno-Scanner X-Ray Danger

SUBHEAD: Review of the TSA X-ray backscatter body scanner safety report: hide your kids, hide your wife.

By Jason Bell on 22 November 2010 in My Helical Tryst - 
(http://myhelicaltryst.blogspot.com/2010/11/tsa-x-ray-backscatter-body-scanner.html)



 [IB Editor's note: We were informed, by Garrett Spaulding, on 5/4/12 that the blog that this article originally was linked to has been removed by its author. Garrett has written a thoughtful piece on the subject here (http://www.travelinsurance.org/tsas-body-scanner-technology-health-risks/)]
 
I am a biochemist working in the field of biophysics. Specifically, the lab I work in (as well as many others) has spent the better part of the last decade working on the molecular mechanism of how mutations in the breast cancer susceptibility gene, BRCA2, result in cancer.

The result of that work is that we now better understand that people who have a deficient BRCA2 gene are hypersensitive to DNA damage, which can be caused by a number of factors including: UV exposure, oxidative stress, improper chromosomal replication and segregation, and radiation exposure. The image below shows what happens to a chromosome of a normal cell when it is exposed to radiation. It most cases, this damage is repaired; however, at high doses or when there is a genetic defect, the cells either die or become cancerous.
Quite some time ago, I posted a short educational video that describes how BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations cause cancer. In short, when a person who has a mutation in one of these genes is exposed to environmental factors that cause DNA damage, they simply don't repair the damage with the same efficiency as the general population.

Over the course of their lifetime, the incremental exposures to relative small and seemingly safe doses of ionizing radiation (which is everything from UV light to X-rays to gamma radiation) statistically accumulate damage (or the effects of damage and improper repair) until the probability of developing cancer becomes almost certain.

This is because BRCA1 and BRCA2 are both part of a molecular process that is very similar to the spell-check on your word processor (in oncology parlance, these genes are known as caretakers of the genome for this specific reason). When these genes don't work, mutations accumulate faster and eventually results in cancer. Its because of my interest in this aspect of cancer biology that I felt compelled to review the safety reports released on the TSA website here.

However, my interest is not only professional, but also personal. My grandmother died of breast cancer in 2005 after being in remission for 20+ years. While she was never tested for either BRCA1 or BRCA2, her family history indicates that there is a strong probability of one of these mutations running in my family. Including my grandmother, at least four of her siblings developed cancer: two died of breast cancer, one developed a rare form of leukemia and another died of skin cancer. All of her female siblings had cancer, and its noteworthy that her mother died of a very young age (maybe 30's or early 40's) of an unknown (to me) cause.

 For these reasons, I fear that inadequate safety evaluation of these machines could unduly expose my family (and myself) to levels of radiation that might be harmful should this high familial cancer rate in fact be hereditary. Last spring, a group of scientists at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) including John Sedat Ph.D., David Agard Ph.D., Robert Stroud, Ph.D. and Marc Shuman, M.D. sent a letter of concern to the TSA regarding the implementation of their 'Advanced Imaging Technology', or body scanners as a routine method of security screening in US airports. Of specific concern is the scanner that uses X-ray back-scattering. In the letter they raise some interesting points, which I've quoted below:
  • "Our overriding concern is the extent to which the safety of this scanning device has been adequately demonstrated. This can only be determined by a meeting of an impartial panel of experts that would include medical physicists and radiation biologists at which all of the available relevant data is reviewed."
  • "The X-ray dose from these devices has often been compared in the media to the cosmic ray exposure inherent to airplane travel or that of a chest X-ray. However, this comparison is very misleading: both the air travel cosmic ray exposure and chest X-rays have much higher X-ray energies and the health consequences are appropriately understood in terms of the whole body volume dose. In contrast, these new airport scanners are largely depositing their energy into the skin and immediately adjacent tissue, and since this is such a small fraction of body weight/vol, possibly by one to two orders of magnitude, the real dose to the skin is now high."
  • "In addition, it appears that real independent safety data do not exist."
  • "There is good reason to believe that these scanners will increase the risk of cancer to children and other vulnerable populations. We are unanimous in believing that the potential health consequences need to be rigorously studied before these scanners are adopted."
In order to really understand these concerns, I think its important to consider the type of radiation used in these scanners, which the TSA has described as 'soft' and 'safe'. First, we need to clarify the definition of 'soft' vs 'hard' X-rays. 

The TSA has been stating that the X-rays used in the back scatter machines use 'soft' X-rays, which are defined as radiation between 0.12-12 keV (or kilo electron volts) and are generally stopped, or absorbed, by soft tissue or low density matter. 'Hard' X-rays are between 12-128 keV and are absorbed by dense matter like bone. According to the TSA safety documents, AIT uses an 50 keV source that emits a broad spectra (see adjacent graph from here).


Essentially, this means that the X-ray source used in the Rapiscan system is the same as those used for mammograms and some dental X-rays, and uses BOTH 'soft' and 'hard' X-rays.

Its very disturbing that the TSA has been misleading on this point. Here is the real catch: the softer the X-ray, the more its absorbed by the body, and the higher the biologically relevant dose! This means, that this radiation is potentially worse than an a higher energy medical chest X-ray. With that being said, because the scanners have both a radiation source AND a detector in the front AND back of the person in the scanner, it is actually possible for the hardware to conduct a classic, through-the-body X-ray.

The TSA claims that the machines are not currently being used in that way; however, based on the limited engineering schematics released in the safety documents, they could be certainly be easily reconfigured to do so by altering the aluminum-plate (or equivalent) filter or by changing the software. So the hardware has the capability to output quite high doses of radiation, however a biological dose is a function of the time of exposure as well as the proximity to the source and the power of the power of the source.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine which zones in the scanner are 'hottest' because that information is masked in the document. An excerpt of the safety evaluation from Johns Hopkins is shown below to give you sense of how much other information is being withheld. Ultimately my point is this: even though the dose may actually be low, these machines are capable of much higher radiation output through device failure or both unauthorized or authorized reconfiguration of either hardware or software.

Which brings me to how the scanner works. Essentially, it appears that an X-ray beam is rastered across the body, which highlights the importance of one of the specific concerns raised by the UCSF scientists... what happens if the machine fails, or gets stuck, during a raster. How much radiation would a person's eye, hand, testicle, stomach, etc be exposed to during such a failure.

What is the failure rate of these machines?
What is the failure rate in an operational environment?
Who services the machine? What is the decay rate of the filter?
What is the decay rate of the shielding material?
What is the variability in the power of the X-ray source during the manufacturing process?

This last question may seem trivial; however, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory noted significant differences in their test models, which were supposed to be precisely up to spec.

It's also interesting to note that the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory criticized other reports from NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) and a group called Medical and Health Physics Consulting for testing the machine while one of the two X-ray sources was disabled (citations at the bottom of the page). These questions have not been answered to any satisfaction and the UCSF scientists, all esteemed in their fields and members of the National Academy of Sciences have been dismissed based on a couple of reports seemingly hastily put together by mid-level government lab technicians.

The documents that I have reviewed thus far either have NO AUTHOR CREDITS or are NOT authored by anyone with either a Ph.D. or a M.D., raising serious concerns of the extent of the expertise of the individuals and organizations evaluating these machines. Yet, the FDA and TSA continue to dismiss some of the most talented scientists in the country...

With respect to errors in the safety reports and/or misleading information about them, the statement that one scan is equivalent to 2-3 minutes of your flight is VERY misleading. Most cosmic radiation is composed of high energy particles that passes right through our body, the plane and even most of the earth itself without being absorbed or even detected. The spectrum that is dangerous is known as ionizing radiation and most of that is absorbed by the hull of the airplane. So relating non-absorbing cosmic radiation to tissue absorbing man-made radiation is simply misleading and wrong.

Furthermore, when making this comparison, the TSA and FDA are calculating that the dose is absorbed throughout the body. According the simulations performed by NIST, the relative absorption of the radiation is ~20-35-fold higher in the skin, breast, testes and thymus than the brain, or 7-12-fold higher than bone marrow. So a total body dose is misleading, because there is differential absorption in some tissues.

Of particular concern is radiation exposure to the testes, which could result in infertility or birth defects, and breasts for women who might carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. Even more alarming is that because the radiation energy is the same for all adults, children or infants, the relative absorbed dose is twice as high for small children and infants because they have a smaller body mass (both total and tissue specific) to distribute the dose. Alarmingly, the radiation dose to an infant's testes and skeleton is 60-fold higher than the absorbed dose to an adult brain!

There also appears to be unit conversion error in the Appendix of the report, which was recently cited by the FDA in response to the UCSF scientist's letter of concern, which might mean that the relative skin dose is 1000-fold higher than the report indicates (pg Appendix B, pg ii, units of microSv are used in an example calculation, when it appears that units of milliSv should have been used).

I attempted to contact the author, Frank Cerra, to query whether this was a computational mistake or an unexplained conversion; however, none of his web-published email addresses are valid and there was no answer by phone. I cannot rule out that a conversion factor was used that was not described in the methods, and would welcome confirmation or rebuttal of this observation.

Finally, I would like to comment on the safety of the TSA officers (TSO) who will be operating these machines, and will be constant 'bystanders' with respect to the radiation exposure. The range of exposure estimates is a function of where an officer stands during their duty, what percentage of that duty is spent in the same location and how often the machine is running. A TSO could be exposed to as much as 86-1408 mrem per year (assuming 8 hours per day, 40 hours a week, 50 weeks per year and between 30-100% duty and 25-100% occupancy, as defined by the Johns Hopkins report), which is between 86%-1410% of the safe exposure of 100 mrem.

At the high end, if for example a TSO is standing at the entrance of the scanner when it is running at maximum capacity, then that officer could hit their radiation exposure limit in as few as 20 working days (assuming an 8 hour shift). While we may not be very happy with our TSOs at the moment as the face of these policies, we need to keep in mind that they really should be wearing radiation badges in order to know their specific exposure (especially for those officers who may also have to receive radiation exposure for medical reasons).

As far as I'm concerned, the jury is still out on whether these machines are safe or even could be made safe for this application. Until then, I suggest keeping your family out of these machines and as vile as it is, either submit to a physical search or just don't fly. Safety reports that should be considered invalid due to the fact that one of the two X-ray sources was disabled during testing:
  1. Medical and Health Physics Consulting, Radiation Report on Rapiscan Systems Secure 1000 (March 21, 2006).
  2. Medical and Health Physics Consulting, Radiation Report on Rapiscan Systems Secure 1000 (June 5, 2008).
  3. Medical and Health Physics Consulting, Supplement to Report dated June 5, 2008 (October 28, 2008).
  4. National Institute of Standards and Technology Assessment of Radiation Safety and Compliance with ANSI N43.17-2002 Rapiscan Dual Secure 1000 Personnel Scanner (July 9, 2008).
UPDATE Just to clarify, I am not a radiation biologist, radiologist, health physicist, etc... my expertise is actually in single molecule biophysics and the biochemistry of DNA repair. This article is simply my review of the safety reports published by the TSA on their website, and not the result of any independent evaluation or experimentation. Also, all views and comments are my opinion (professional and unprofessional) and are not endorsed or representative of the University of California or any affiliated departments or colleges.

Jason Bell, "a molecular biologist and biophysicist... a Ph.D. candidate in Steve Kowalczykowski's lab at UC Davis," has posted a detailed critique of the research on the safety of airport backscatter radiation scanners. His specialty is the "molecular mechanism of how mutations in the breast cancer susceptibility gene, BRCA2, result in cancer," and he's posted a detailed, lay-friendly explanation of the scientific concerns expressed by the UCSF team that believes that they are unsafe for use.
Which brings me to how the scanner works. Essentially, it appears that an X-ray beam is rastered across the body, which highlights the importance of one of the specific concerns raised by the UCSF scientists... what happens if the machine fails, or gets stuck, during a raster. How much radiation would a person's eye, hand, testicle, stomach, etc be exposed to during such a failure.
What is the failure rate of these machines?
|What is the failure rate in an operational environment?

Who services the machine?

What is the decay rate of the filter?

What is the decay rate of the shielding material?

What is the variability in the power of the X-ray source during the manufacturing process?
This last question may seem trivial; however, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory noted significant differences in their test models, which were supposed to be precisely up to spec. Its also interesting to note that the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory criticized other reports from NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) and a group called Medical and Health Physics Consulting for testing the machine while one of the two X-ray sources was disabled (citations at the bottom of the page).
These questions have not been answered to any satisfaction and the UCSF scientists, all esteemed in their fields and members of the National Academy of Sciences have been dismissed based on a couple of reports seemingly hastily put together by mid-level government lab technicians.
The documents that I have reviewed thus far either have NO AUTHOR CREDITS or are NOT authored by anyone with either a Ph.D. or a M.D., raising serious concerns of the extent of the expertise of the individuals and organizations evaluating these machines. Yet, the FDA and TSA continue to dismiss some of the most talented scientists in the country...
Furthermore, when making this comparison, the TSA and FDA are calculating that the dose is absorbed throughout the body. According the simulations performed by NIST, the relative absorption of the radiation is ~20-35-fold higher in the skin, breast, testes and thymus than the brain, or 7-12-fold higher than bone marrow. So a total body dose is misleading, because there is differential absorption in some tissues.
Of particular concern is radiation exposure to the testes, which could result in infertility or birth defects, and breasts for women who might carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. Even more alarming is that because the radiation energy is the same for all adults, children or infants, the relative absorbed dose is twice as high for small children and infants because they have a smaller body mass (both total and tissue specific) to distribute the dose. Alarmingly, the radiation dose to an infant's testes and skeleton is 60-fold higher than the absorbed dose to an adult brain!