Exiles on Main Street

SUBHEAD: Internet replaces Main Street - banks, pharmacies, post offices as well as camera, book and record stores.  

By Alan Greenblatt on 6 January 2012 for NPR - 

Image above: John Timmons, owner of Ear X-tacy in Louisville closed his record shop after 26 years. From original article.
Open any children's book with a scene set downtown and you'll see a picture of basically the same row of shops. There's a bookstore, a pharmacy, a florist, a post office and a bank, and maybe a bakery where the kids can hope for a free cookie.

Nearly all those businesses are under threat from the Internet.

There's nothing new about this. Bookstores have been going under for a couple of decades now. But reports that former corporate giant Eastman Kodak will seek bankruptcy protection serve as a reminder that a multitude of products and just about every kind of transaction is now available digitally.

Kodak's fall was accompanied by news that 60-year-old camera stores and record stores open longer than 30 years were going out of business as well, all citing pressure from the Internet.

There's no doubt that the mix of shops and services that make up the spines of commercial strips and strip malls all across America will continue to change. The question now is what type of Main Street business will come under threat next.

"There are fewer and fewer services that a bank branch does, right up to getting the loans, that can't be done completely online," says Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. "I'm surprised there haven't been more bank branch closures."

First Bookstores, Now Books
Over the years, I've picked up lots of bargains at stores going out of business because of Internet-based competition, such as Borders and Tower Records.

In the case of stores that sell CDs — and, increasingly, books — it's not just the business model of a physical store that's becoming obsolete, but the actual products themselves.

"People are not only buying books and CDs online, but what they're buying online is a digital file," Thompson says.

That's why I was shocked, when I moved to the St. Louis area a couple of years ago, to find myself living in a suburb that still had not one but two record stores.

One of them, Webster Records, specializes in music that appeals to an older crowd, such as classical and Dixieland jazz. The store keeps short hours and there's rarely much foot traffic. It does much of its business selling to collectors by mail order.

But the store couldn't compete on price or wealth of offerings with the likes of Amazon. Webster Records announced Thursday it would shut its doors at the end of this month, after 58 years in business.

I Can Get It For You Wholesale
For Webster Records store manager Jim Lovins, this is not a new experience. For years, he sold stereo and home theater equipment at a store called Hi-Fi Fo-Fum.

That shop, which had been around for decades, closed its doors last year. It was impossible to compete with Internet retailers, Lovins says, because they don't have to shoulder costs such as commissions or heating and air-conditioning display areas.

People might not be able to check out the sound they'll get from speakers they're buying online. On the other hand, they're able to read dozens or hundreds of consumer reviews of each product and, if they don't have to pay for shipping or restocking fees, take little risk auditioning equipment at home.

Losing Expertise
Not just sales of goods but also plenty of services are migrating online. Some people still don't trust online banking and are nervous about the idea of depositing checks by taking pictures of them with their phones.

But their numbers are diminishing. And no business, it seems, has succeeded for long in pressing the case that the expertise or customer care it provides outweighs the convenience and cost savings of an equivalent Internet service.

Because of the paramount importance of health, pharmacies are hoping customers will continue to rely on the kind of face-to-face help a well-trained human being can offer about matters such as interactions between drugs.

"There's a variety of counseling components that a retail pharmacist provides," says Chrissy Kopple, spokeswoman for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. "There really isn't a replacement for that interaction on the Internet."

That may be true. But it's the same kind of argument that independent booksellers used to make about how well they knew books and their own customers' tastes.

All of the major retail pharmacists recognize the lure of the Internet themselves. Each now offers its own Web-based prescription-filling service, potentially undercutting its primary business — just as Kodak did by inventing, but failing to prosper from, digital photography.

Not Getting Rid Of Stuff
With the passage of a Maine law in 2009, every state now allows pharmacists to give flu shots. As yet, there's no app for that.

So it's possible that companies that provide services will withstand the Internet onslaught longer than stores that sell goods.

With more and more light media — books and music, photographs and movies and correspondence — going all-digital, however, there will inevitably be fewer storefronts devoted to such interests.
But if downtowns are emptying themselves of certain types of goods, does that mean we'll end up with less stuff at home?

Probably not. Digital is not next to cleanliness. I know plenty of people who sleep next to two phones, a tablet computer and a remote — or three — for the TV.

My friend Breeze Carlile is a professional organizer in Oakland, Calif., helping people get their houses in order, in part, by thinning their possessions. They may have e-readers but they continue to hold onto books, she says — and, often, the boxes they came in.

According to the Self Storage Association, nearly 10 percent of all U.S. households currently rent a storage unit — an increase of nearly two-thirds over the past 15 years.

"My clients have phones and digital cameras to take pictures, and they still print out the photos and never get them into albums," Breeze says. "Nope, people do not have less stuff."


Nuclear power falls behind

SUBHEAD: Renewable energy now provides more electricity in USA than nuclear power plants. By Matthew McDermott on 6 January 2012 for TreeHugger - (http://www.treehugger.com/renewable-energy/renewable-energy-now-provides-u-s-more-power-than-nuclear.html) Image above: View from downstream of Glen Canyon Dam. From original article.

The latest figures from the Energy Information Agency are out on US sources of energy through September 30th, 2011, with some impressive gains for renewable energy. Through the first nine months of the year renewables produced just under 12% of US energy—an increase of just over one percent from 2010—while nuclear power produced about 10.6%.

Renewable energy as a whole grew 14.4% in 2011 compared to the previous year. As of the end of September, hydropower produced 4.35% of US power, biomass 3.15%, biofuels 2.57%, wind power 1.45%. Geothermal and solar power both came in at under 1% (0.29% and 0.15% respectively).

The increase over nuclear is certainly noteworthy, and headline worthy, but more than anything it still shows how far we have to go in developing a society powered by non-polluting energy sources—as well as giving some important context when considering statements about the growth of renewable energy year-over-year made by industry trade associations. Yes, there's been some strong growth lately, and yes the solar power industry is doing far better than some pundits would have you believe, but wow, we've got a long road ahead.


Taking a Hike

SUBHEAD: I don’t know where I’ll be when collapse is complete, and I don’t much care, because I’m afraid to move and afraid to stay.  

By Guy McPherson on 4 January 2012 for Nature Bats Last - 

Image above: "Life After People" building collapse is witnessed by no one. From (http://www.destructoid.com/your-enslaved-primer-go-watch-life-after-people-184711.phtml).
I’ve long accepted the words of Hunter S. Thompson in The Proud Highway: “We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and — in spite of True Romance magazines — we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely — at least, not all the time — but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.”

I appreciate Gonzo’s anthropocentric perspective on humanity, but he was late to the party of loneliness. Early American conservationist and philosopher Aldo Leopold pointed out in his final book (published in 1949, after Leopold’s untimely death), “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.”

A world of wounds because an ecologist can see what we’re doing to the living planet. Alone because so few people give a damn. Awakening to life means awakening to all parts of life, including the realization and acceptance of our own mortality. But dying pales in comparison to the insults we are visiting on Earth.

Hovering in full view from my window is one minor example of the world’s wounds. It’s the story of how the (North American) West was lost. It begins when silver and gold are discovered in the area, at which point the mining company buys all the nearby water rights and the associated land (considerable water is needed to extract ore from rock). As with all states in the western U.S., the state constitution declares that water must be used in an agriculturally productive capacity. So the mining company, interested only in getting the water to the mine, leases the land to a cattle company.

Thus is the local river emptied into two irrigation ditches to grow feed for livestock. The water not consumed by pasture (and then cows) is captured a few miles downstream in an ugly reservoir designed specifically for the purpose. The the water is then pumped a couple thousand feet uphill and a few tens of miles horizontally, across a major mountain range to the site of the ore. In summary, the single most destructive force in the history of the West (livestock) is subsidized by a disinterested citizenry and the entirety of nature in the name of financial profit for the second-most destructive force in the history of the West (mining).

This arrangement is but a minor example of the system known as civilization, but it reveals the “gold mine” of two industries, cattle and mining: the owners get the gold and the rest of us get the shaft. With these industries, as with civilization, the goal is to transfer financial wealth from the poor to the wealthy. Destroying every aspect of the living planet is merely collateral damage, as there’s a lot of money in planetary destruction. By the way, the specific strategy in this local area is working as brilliantly as the general approach of civilization. We’ve never visited so much horror on the living planet, and we’ve never cared less about it.

If I seem morose, it’s because I’m growing tired of my tireless crusade. I suspect regular readers are, too. As much as I’ve tried to infuse humor and optimism into my writing, the news is no longer so damned funny or optimistic.

Although I’ve rarely looked to others for my own happiness, I’ve equally rarely looked to others for consolation or support. But it’s time for me to step away and trust others to take on the impossible tasks we face. I’m inviting others to take up the torch as I assume a role that is more witness than warrior.

I’m not dead yet, but I need to breathe. I’ve been trying to be everything possible to everybody, and it’s not working. Not for me, not for the people I know, and certainly not for the living planet. My optimism about our ability to save the living planet and thus habitat for humans on Earth is waning, and no wonder. Consider this article, which echoes my thoughts and writings from the last decade: “Abrupt climate change will feel like a comet impacting earth. We’re going to discover a different planet. Another earth. One we won’t like anymore. One not worth living on.” And, as usual, climate-change models underestimate the damage we’re doing. Or consider this list of the doom we brought to Earth in the last year alone, which illustrates how profoundly screwed we are and, simultaneously, how little the citizens of this country care what we’ve done and what we’re doing.

I invite others to step forward, particularly from generations other than mine. My generation has put our entire species behind the biggest 8-Ball in history. Even if future generations — few though they may be — fail catastrophically, they’ll still do a better job than we did. How could they not? After all, my generation has failed, and it continues to fail to a degree not previously dreamed possible in planetary history. We fucked the future without offering so much as a kiss.

I’ll continue to post now and then, notably when I’m particularly irritated or ecstatic, or when I’m scheduled to deliver a presentation. I’ll continue to speak to anybody who’ll listen and a lot of people who won’t, as long as a venue is available. And I’ll gladly entertain guest essays, especially from people younger or more hopeful than me. My days of writing frequently for this space are nearing an end, in part because I’ve little left to say on the central issues we face. What I have left to say comes from my heart, not my data-addled brain, as can be detected in my recent writing. I’ll still contribute a data-driven monthly column for Transition Voice (this month’s piece is here).

I’ve explained the moral imperative behind terminating the industrial economy through the lenses of human-population overshoot, climate chaos, environmental destruction, and collapse of the industrial economy. I’ve repeatedly explained that it’s possible and even desirable to live outside the absurdity of the main stream. I’ve demonstrated how to do so, with cooperation as a key ingredient. I’ve opened this space to myriad voices, including those with which I don’t agree. In short, my work here is nearing its end.

I’ve not decided where I’ll be in the coming weeks and months. But I’ve got books to read and hikes to take. I’ve got beautiful places to go and beautiful people to see, before the places are destroyed and the people are gone. And I’ve got a lot of mourning yet to do.

I don’t know where I’ll be when collapse is complete, and I don’t much care, because I’m afraid to move and I’m afraid to stay. Working with others, I’ve helped build an impressively durable set of living arrangements at the mud hut. We have six sources of water, we grow a huge amount of the food we eat, the house is off-grid and astonishing, and the human community is remarkable. So, like the civilized, industrialized human being I am, I’m afraid of change, fearful to cash in my chips. But I’m afraid to stay, too. The thought of continuing to stare, alone, at the world of wounds, causes the terror to rise in me. Afraid to let go of nature’s bounty, as if it’s mine to hold. Afraid what I’m missing by holding onto comfort.

Catch-22, anybody?

If you want to keep up with the news that escapes the mainstream media, I encourage a daily visit to Counter Currents, Rice Farmer, End of Empire News, Zero Hedge, and Business Insider (no, really). Each of these websites gives too little space to the living planet, and the latter two focus on finances to the virtual exclusion of relevant issues beyond collapse of the industrial economy. In other words, they reflect this insane culture to only a slightly less degree than more mainstream websites.


Cargo Tricycles

SUBHEAD: Business on a trike. A man with a 12v blender makes cups of shaved ice with sweet corn or coconut.

 By Albert on 4 January 2012 for Club Orlov - 

Image above: A tricycle pushcart serving crepes in From original article.
"Even in backward mining communities, as late as the sixteenth century more than half the recorded days were holidays; while for Europe as a whole, the total number of holidays, including Sunday, came to 189, a number even greater than those enjoyed by Imperial Rome. Nothing more clearly indicates a surplus of food and human energy, if not material goods. Modern labor-saving devices have as yet done no better."
- Lewis Mumford, Myth of the Machine, 1967.
In rural México, the number of holidays competes with the number of workdays to see which will find more space on the calendar. Not that the people don’t work, mind you, just that they like to keep hours at any given task as brief as possible, to maintain perspective. As in most agricultural regions of the world, diversity and entrepreneurship is ingrained. When times are especially tight, this instinct goes into overdrive. I have been wintering in a small Mayan fishing village that is part of a natural reserve and like most villages in México it is laid out on a New England-style town grid. There were no ancient Roman master planners or 1950’s city engineers that surveyed these grids.

Nearly all were spontaneous extensions from a single spine road that sent off perpendicular ribs at regular intervals, and those sent off cross-lanes at approximately the same intervals—usually 6 or 8 homes on a side—that created the matrix. Grids like these, as the Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese and Romans understood, enhance the interactions amongst people and encourage a free flow of products, services and information. Living on one such street, all of them unpaved here, I have noticed a discernible uptick in the number and variety of pushcarts.

Here they are called tricyclos. In other places—Denmark or Holland, for instance—modern pushcarts are “cargo cycles.” They can take different forms but the most common is what is known in the bike world as tadpole or front-load trike—2 wheels in front and 1 wheel in the back.

These are ideal for food vendors or pedicabs which require frequent interactions with the scene on the street. A world leader in trike evolution is Christiania, the 800-member urban ecovillage in Copenhagen. Their company, began in 1976 as a small cottage industry to support the alternative community. Today Christianabikes is transnational in reach and constantly improving its designs. For long-hauls, it has low-slung cargo bikes. For vendors like those in Mexico, it has a simple tadpole design that can be customized to meet virtually any use.

What we see in Mexico are mostly Chinese-made clones of Christiania’s original design, or Mexican fabrications of the Chinese fabrications tacked together in local welding shops. Creations like these, which date back a century or more, should be acknowledged to be ‘open source’ by now. What struck me is that I cannot recall a time in the past decade that I have been observing these vendors when there were more of them. Call it a sign of the times, but every few hours another passes by the front of my house, shouting out what he or she is selling. In the morning its newspapers and fresh, hand-made tortillas.

Around lunchtime is it fresh garden vegetables, epizote, bread and other kinds of unprepared food. There might be a tricycle for fruits and juices, another for tomatoes, onions and peppers, another for potatoes, beans and rice. By late afternoons they may pass by with fresh sweetbreads, steaming hot tamales, or corn on the cob.

A man with his tricycle grinding stone offers to sharpen machetes, knives, scissors, shovels, or any other sharp objects. A man with a blender (12V but it could as easily be pedal-powered) makes cups of shaved ice with sweet corn or coconut. You can buy a tricycle brand-new, assembled, already painted in taxi colors of orange and white, and be ready to take a fare straight from hardware store to wherever they are going. The price of a new Chinese-built trike is 3200 pesos, about US$229.32 at today’s rates. The board that goes across the bars for a seat was salvaged from the trash at no cost, but perhaps some cushioned fabric is sewn over to help you through the potholes.

Typically a fare pays 20 pesos ($1.43) for up to a 10-block ride. I asked a tortilla vendor who plies a regular daily afternoon route how much he sells in an average day. “100 kilos” is what he said. His corn tortillas sell for a 3-peso mark-up over the tortilla factory (and there are three of them within a 5-block radius). So if he sells 100 kg, he makes 300 pesos per day, enough to pay for the tricycle in just under 11 days. Perhaps his wife has a masa roller and automated oven at home and he makes his own tortillas and the margin is even better.

 Stopping by the largest of the tortilla factories in town — a one-room addition to a family home, which now employs three women from outside the family to turn corn meal masa into machine-stamped tortillas — I inquired how many tortillas they make in a typical day. “Ocho o nueve,” she said, meaning eight or nine metric tons — 8000 to 9000 kilos — and remember, this is just one of three within a short distance, and many people prefer to make their own at home.

The entrepreneurial drive explores for available niches and fills them. Many of these factories supply restaurants and grocery stores. Retail home sales pass through bulk buyers at the tortilleria, like my local trike man, who do just fine with the small margin people are willing to pay for the convenience of not walking around the corner. I noticed that my man sometimes gets lucky and lands a really big sale, however. Maybe someone is throwing a big party (and this happens often) and needs 20 kg. Or a tendajón finds itself short on a holiday weekend and buys 50 kg. His route is pretty small, just a few blocks, but if his son could run his trike in the mornings, or a second trike in the afternoon when he is making his rounds, perhaps he could extend his family’s range and double their earnings.

Then again, as I’ve seen, he’s not interested in that, preferring to live quite adequately on 300 pesos per day ($21.50) in a town where the average unskilled worker makes even less than that. Or perhaps he has another job already and is just enlarging the family’s income by putting in a few extra hours while schmoozing with his neighbors. For me, I’d rather save 3 pesos and ride my bike a couple blocks to the tortilleria, but that’s mainly because, being a writer, I need excuses to force myself out of my chair. As times have become tougher for average people, I’ve also noticed more homes along my bike route opening their front rooms to make tendejóns or comidas economicas.

A comida economica provides a home-cooked meal with table service, giving the buyer a plate of whatever the family is making that day. A tendejón is an informal home store. It might have home-grown pigs, chickens or eggs for sale, or garden produce. It shares the same root word, tener (to have), as the more formal store or mini-mart (tienda), but whether for legal reasons or just wanting to keep it more neighborly, a tendejón is an unpredictable collection of wares in someone’s living room, next to their Christmas tree and fluorescent blinking statute of the Virgin of Guadelupe. Between the tendejón and the tienda lie the more formal abarrotes, or package stores, which usually sell cold beer, insect repellent and junk food.

These are usually under a residence or in an adjoining building to the family’s principal dwelling. There are one or more abarrotes, tendejóns and tiendas on nearly every block. Tricyclos are a common sight in much of Yucatán Peninsula, as they are in Asia, Africa, South America and other parts of the two-thirds world. In the United States you mention a tricycle and people think of Monty Python or Laugh-In. In the global south they are multifunctional and ubiquitous. You see them as fishermen’s friends, beach-roving gear-buckets for surfers, portable crepe parlors, bellhop cabin service, and the poor man’s moving van.

 Low-tech Magazine, an on-line compendium, describes many novel uses for pedal power, from archival scans of Sears Catalog pages circa 1892 to a modern recumbent cargo quads. Corn grinding, water pumping and sewer-system cleaning are all potentially portable, pedal-powered services. These are niches that will likely be explored in the South far sooner than when people in North finally decide to come down off of their high horses and get a third wheel.

Cargo Bikes Deliver Food

SUBHEAD: City Harvest tricycles delivers food and helps the hungry in New York City.

By Barbara Kessler on 12 September 2008 for Green Right Now -

Image above: A City Harvest enclosed cargo trike in NYC. From original article.

It’s not just for hearty commuters and weekend racers anymore. With the energy pinch on, people are finding more uses for two- or three-wheeling, whether it’s puttering to school or the grocery. Even businesses are finding ways that bikes can solve problems.

Take City Harvest in New York City. The food rescue agency collects leftovers and unwanted produce from farmer’s markets, restaurants and groceries, and delivers it to various agencies and soup kitchens serving the poor and displaced. Since it opened as the first food rescue organization (in 1982), City Harvest has grown and grown, and today it operates 17 refrigerated trucks that collect food all over the city.

Make that 17 trucks sitting and idling in a whole lot of traffic, particularly the portion of the fleet that serves Midtown Manhattan, a free world mecca of idling and traffic congestion. Meanwhile, many of City Harvest’s donor vendors, who give their leftover sandwiches, donuts and salads at the end of the day would sometimes have to wait for those trucks to get to their store by closing time. It could be touch-and-go.

City Harvest, searching for a way to get to the food faster and more efficiently began eyeing bikes. They’re used to courier documents and small packages all over NYC. Maybe they could address the efficiency issue and also reduce their carbon footprint by increasing their foot power?

The group found a way when they contracted with Revolution Rickshaws, which fitted three three-wheel bikes with cargo compartments that could carry up to 500 pounds of food, said Jennifer McLean, vice president of operations for City Harvest.

Instead of big trucks slogging away, “the biker is able to jet over there and not get stuck in traffic,” Ms. McLean said. “It’s constant pedal and pick up and pedal and pick up.”

Of course, the group had to hire fit drivers for the new cargo bikes (they had to pass physicals), and the bike food pickups are restricted to more than 20 but less than 50 pounds. But once three bikes were on the road, City Harvest was able to reassign some trucks to routes in the boroughs, making that end of the operation more efficient as well.

So far everyone’s happy with the new arrangement, which has cut waiting times, gas costs, carbon emissions and traffic frustrations, Ms. McLean said. The newly hired bikers, all former bicycle couriers, have been muttering a bit about the adjustment to the three-wheel machines, she said, but they’re generally in a great mood at the end of the day because they get thumbs up all day long from those who see they’re on a mission.

Now if only the need for that mission weren’t so great. The group expects to distribute about 23 million pounds of food this year, turning it quickly to poverty agencies so that the leftovers are used within a day or two.

Spiraling food and fuel prices are putting higher demand on those serving the poor, and bringing new clients, some of whom are looking for their first ever free meal or a grocery bag of food.
“We’re seeing people emailing us,” Ms. McLean recounted, (they’re saying) ‘I have a college degree, I have a wife and kids, I need food’.”

Three Wheeled Wonders
SUBHEAD: There are plenty of alternatives out there. Look at the evolution of the rickshaw.

By Juan Wilson on 27 June 2008 for Island Breath - 

 Image above: A motor Tricycle rickshaw sedan by Qinai Motor Limited

Throughout India, China and much of Asia there has been a tradition of human powered vehicles generally called rickshaws, that evolved from foot power to pedal power.

Image above: A hand tinted photo of human poowed rickshaw from 1886. See Wikipedia for more.

 Image above: a modern variant of pedalled side-mounted bicycle on rickshaw frame.

In recent decades have employed piston power. The motorbike now has been attached to the rickshaw more and more sophisticated vehicles. There have been several niches of vehicle need served by this technology including the sedan (see above), the van, the pickup truck, etc.

Image above: A motor Tricycle pickup rickshaw by Qinai Motor Limited

The vehicles illustrated above are the product of an Indian manufacturer, Qinai Motors Limited, a company with less than 500 employees. Their vehicles are aerodynamic and designed to satisfy a more "western" aesthetic than some other manufacturers like Dee India Overseas.

Detailed Product Description Engine type: 1-cylinder, 4-stroke, water-cooled Displacement (ml) : 198. Transmission Way: Axle Transmission: 4 Forward and 1 Reverse Dimension (mm) : 2850*1350*1660 (9.3 long x 4.5 wide x 5.5 feet high) Bore*Stroke (mm) : 64*63 Roted Net Power [kw / (r / min) ]: 10. 3 / 8000 (14hp @ 8000rpm) Maximum Net Torque [Nm / (r / min) ]: 13 / 7000 Idle Speed (RPM) : 1500 Lubrication type: pressure spray Fuel tank capacity (L) : 12 (3 gallons) Fuel efficiency (L / 100km) : <3. 5 (> 67mpg) Start method: electric Ignition: CDI Clutch Method: pedal operation and Adjusting Braking distance / initial speed30km / h: <=6. 5m Minimun turning diameter (m) : 6.0 (20 ft) Brake. (F / R) : disk / drum Net Weight (KG) : 400 (880 lbs) Front Suspension: Hydraulic Spring Rear Suspension: Complete / Hydraulic Spring Ground cleance (mm) : 170 Tire: 5. 00-10 Wheel base (mm) : 1150 Axle Base9mm) : 1850 Maximum Load (KG) : 500 (6 persons) Max Speed: >60 kmh (37 mph) We are the company that specialized in selling motorcycles, scooter, three wheeler (motor tricycle, auto rickshaw) , E-bikes, ATV, and different type of trucks. What is more we have the electric vehicles now and they are really very popular. We have our own factory and it is the leading manufacture which enjoys high reputation in these fields.

Electric rickshaws are available too. Along with the golf-cart I suspect that small will be beautiful and standard on the American road sooner than most think. Some pedalled ecterically assisted rickshaws are being marketed towards westerners that look much like the rickshaws of the past. Welcome to the future.  
 Image above: electrically assisted rickshaw with solar panel by Bluebird Electric Rickshaw

Se also:
Ea O Ka Aina: The Chinese Wheelbarrow 1/4/12

US pushes Iran towards war

SUBHEAD: The US hard-line policy is tipping Iran towards belligerence. It would seem that is our goal. By Vali Nasr on 4 January 2012 for Bloomberg News - (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-05/hard-line-u-s-policy-tips-iran-toward-belligerence-vali-nasr.html) Image above: Iranian military personnel participate in Velayat-90 war game near Strait of Hormuz. From (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45817249/ns/world_news-strait_of_hormuz?q=Strait%20of%20Hormuz).

The latest warning by Iran, that a U.S. aircraft carrier that recently transited through the Strait of Hormuz should not do so again, is a sign to the West that should be well-observed. It tells us the regime in Tehran is ready for a fight.

Tensions between Iran and the U.S. are so high, a conflagration could be tripped off without either country intending it. This latest spiral of hostility began after the U.S. and its European allies responded to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report on Iran’s nuclear activities by imposing and threatening additional, tougher sanctions. New U.S. measures may drastically cut Iran’s oil revenue.

That, in turn, may threaten the Iranian regime’s hold on power. Predictably, then, the ruling clerics are responding with shows of strength to boost solidarity at home. And they can be counted on to accelerate Iran’s nuclear program, which they see as a deterrent to foreign intervention.

To escape this self-defeating outcome, the Western powers should imagine how the situation looks from Tehran.

In recent months, Iranian protesters have brazenly attacked the U.K. Embassy in Tehran. Iran has claimed to have downed a U.S. drone, put on 10-day war games simulating attacks on U.S. ships, and threatened to push oil prices to $250 a barrel and to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which about 20 percent of all oil trade passes.

Changed Stance

This defiance marks a change. Until recently, Iran had absorbed economic pressure from abroad. It had remained silent in the face of covert operations aimed at slowing the progress of its nuclear program, brushing off the destructive Stuxnet computer worm, apparently a joint U.S.-Israeli project. But the government has been embarrassed and unnerved by multiple assassinations of its scientists and by suspicious explosions at its military facilities. One blast killed the general charged with developing Iran’s missile program. The attacks have shaken the country’s security forces.

The ruling clerics are also worried about the impact of economic sanctions, which have greatly reduced Iran’s access to global financial markets, created shortages of imported items, and increased inflation and unemployment. The rial has fallen to its lowest point against the dollar, and capital is fleeing the country at an alarming rate. The government has been forced to scrap numerous infrastructure projects, especially in the oil- and-gas sector.

These hardships have caused popular discontent. The next set of sanctions may bring street protests. Iran’s rulers fear a repeat of the demonstrations of 2009. They now see the U.S. policy on Iran -- of toughening sanctions and also, at the United Nations, addressing Iran’s human-rights record and support for terrorism -- as one aimed at regime change.

That makes attaining nuclear weapons of critical importance to the clerics. Without such weapons, Iran could face the Libya scenario: economic pressure causing political unrest that invites intervention by foreign powers that feel safe enough to interfere in the affairs of a non-nuclear-armed state. The more sanctions threaten Iran’s internal stability, the more likely the ruling regime will be to pursue nuclear deterrence and to confront the West to win the time Iran needs to reach that goal.

It wasn’t preordained that Iran would opt for battle. For much of the past year, its leaders have debated how best to deal with Western pressure. The alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, which U.S. officials uncovered in October and blamed on Iran, suggests a faction has been making the case for direct confrontation with the West. But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had hoped the September release of two Americans, hikers arrested by Iranian authorities and charged as spies, would shield Iran from further pressure and even create a diplomatic opening with the U.S. on the eve of his trip to the UN. Instead, Ahmadinejad went home empty-handed.

Serious Concerns Articulated

Subsequent events seem to have settled the policy debate in Tehran. They included the accusations by the U.S. in the Washington plot; a UN report critical of Iran’s record on human rights; the IAEA report articulating “serious concerns” about a possible Iranian nuclear-weapons program; and the ensuing fresh sanctions.

By a remarkable unanimous vote, the U.S. Senate passed a bill imposing sanctions on foreign financial institutions engaged in oil-related transactions with Iran’s central bank, which would greatly hinder that country’s ability to sell its oil. Reluctant to go that far, President Barack Obama opposed the bill and instead signed a slightly amended measure that gave the U.S. administration six months to enforce the sanctions if it judges they could cause oil prices to soar. Iran has interpreted sanctions that hurt its oil exports, which account for about half of government revenue, as acts of war. If there are new, mysterious attacks on Iranian scientists or military facilities, the climate for conflict will be that much hotter.

Obama administration officials think Iran is weak and isolated. They focus on the country’s shambolic economy, its faltering relations with Europe, and the effect the Arab Spring has had in turning public opinion in the Middle East against Iran.

But Iran’s rulers have a different outlook. Here’s what they see: The U.S. and Europe are economically weak and extremely vulnerable to high oil prices. China and Russia have broken with the U.S. and Europe over Iran. The U.S. is hastily leaving Iraq and abandoning the war in Afghanistan. U.S. relations with Pakistan are unraveling.

Iran’s rulers believe the new Middle East is a greater strategic challenge to the U.S. than to Iran. For the U.S., the region will be far less pliable under rising Islamists than it was under secular dictators. As those Islamists take control of governments from Morocco to Egypt, new opportunities arise for Tehran to forge diplomatic and economic ties.

Consequently, the Iranian regime thinks it can counter international pressure on its nuclear activities long enough to get to a point of no return on a weapons program.

Rather than discourage this aggressive Iranian position, U.S. policy is encouraging it, making a dangerous military confrontation more likely. There are no easy options for dealing with Iran, but not persisting in a failing strategy is a good place to start.

Video above: Aaron Hawkins demonstrates that Council on Foreign Affairs ready to attack Iran. From (http://www.waitingforthestorm.com/wwiii-countdown-cfr-declares-time-to-attack-iran-scg-news-12-27-11). .

Climate Change coverage collapses

SUBHEAD: Climate change dropped even further from the world's headlines and newscasts in 2011. By Douglas Fischer on 3 January 2012 for The Daily Climate - - (http://wwwp.dailyclimate.org/tdc-newsroom/2012/01/climate-coverage-2011) Image above: NOAA's VORTEX2 field command vehicle in vicinity of thunderstorm in Colorado, June, 2009. From (http://www.flickr.com/photos/noaaphotolib/). Weird weather, Australia's carbon tax and Solyndra fracas weren't enough to stem a decline that started in 2009.

Media coverage of climate change continued to tumble in 2011, declining roughly 20 percent from 2010's levels and nearly 42 percent from 2009's peak, according to analysis of DailyClimate.org's archive of global media.

If you thought last year was the year that media coverage collapsed, the headline this year would be 'What coverage???'
- Robert Brulle, Drexel University

The declining coverage came amid bouts of extreme weather across the globe – historic wildfires in Arizona, drought in Texas, famine in the Horn of Africa – and flashes of political frenzy. Australia's approval of a carbon tax, the U.S. presidential election, a Congressional inquiry into the failed solar startup Solyndra all generated significant coverage within the mainstream press, but it was not enough to stem the larger trend.

19,000 stories in 2011

Last year at least 7,140 journalists and opinion writers published some 19,000 stories on climate change, compared to more than 11,100 reporters who filed 32,400 stories in 2009, according to DailyClimate.org.

The decline was seen across almost all benchmarks measured by the news service: 20 percent fewer reporters covered the issue in 2011 than in 2010, 20 percent fewer outlets published stories, and the most prolific reporters on the climate change beat published 20 percent fewer stories.

Particularly noticeable was the silence from the nation's editorial boards: In 2009, newspapers published 1,229 editorials on the topic. Last year, they published less than 580 – half as many, according to DailyClimate.org's archives.

DailyClimate.org is a foundation-funded news service that covers climate change. The website's data extend reliably to mid-2007. The nonprofit news service offers a daily aggregation of global "mainstream" from center-left to center-right. The aggregation is meant to provide a broad sampling of the day's coverage, not a comprehensive list.


Broadcast down, too

Other media analysts back up the findings.

The Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, which has tracked media coverage of climate change since 2000, finds a similar slide in five major U.S. newspapers during 2011.

Drexel's Brulle has been watching TV coverage on climate change since the late 1980s. The three network news stations broadcast 14 climate change stories with a total air time of 32.5 minutes in 2011, he said, down from 32 stories and 90.5 minutes in 2010 and well below the 2007 peak of 147 segments totaling 386 minutes. "It's an enormous drop," he added.

Despite the downward media trend, public opinion saw a slight uptick on the issue. Last month Pew Research Center reported a "modest increase" over the past two years in the percentage of Americans who say there is solid evidence of global warming. And 38 percent of those polled said they considered global warming a "very serious" problem, up from 32 percent last year but below the 43 percent to 45 percent who said so from 2006 through 2008.

The poll was conducted in mid-November among 2,001 adults. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

Brulle is not surprised to that public opinion on climate change has taken a similar dive as the reporting on the topic over the past two years. He says;

"People take their cues about what's important from what shows up in the headline of the newspaper. It doesn't matter really what (the articles) say."

Australia's coverage jumps

There were some exceptions to the downward trends in media coverage.

In Australia, debate over a carbon tax generated kept the issue in the news throughout the summer. The Australia Broadcasting Corp. published 60 percent more climate stories in 2011 than it did in 2010, while the Sydney Morning Herald saw a 21 percent jump.

Extreme weather was also increasingly linked to climate change. Hurricane Irene delivered a rare punch to the East Coast, reviving the debate about hurricanes and global warming. Of the 19,000 stories published in 2011, almost a quarter – reported on climate impacts. The 4,250 stories covering the consequences of climate change-represent a 10 percent increase from last year's coverage.

But in almost every other category, the numbers were down.

Byline count

Major world outlets gave the issue less ink and air time in 2011 than in 2010: The BBC, for instance, produced some 326 pieces on climate-related issues last year, down 30 percent from 2010. The New York Times found room for 953 stories and blog posts, against 1,116 in 2010 and 1,408 in 2009. Reuters, perennially the most prolific outlet for climate news, was again the top source in 2011. But while Reuters published 1,235 stories in 2011 – more than three per day – its output was down 27 percent from last year.

The pool of most-productive climate reporters – those writing at least 30 stories a year, or about a story every 12 days – also dropped. Last year just 55 reporters cleared the bar, against 66 in 2010 and 86 in 2009.

Byline counts are an imprecise – and flawed – way to measure a journalist's productivity. A ground-breaking investigation often requires weeks or even months of research and reporting. And many journalists post news on blogs, a format DailyClimate.org aggregates sporadically.

But those 55 reporters accounted for 2,903 stories last year – 15 percent of the total. Fiona Harvey of the Guardian led the pack, with 132 stories. Andrew Revkin, who runs the DotEarth blog on the New York Times website, was second with 118 posts. New York Times energy and environment reporter Matthew L. Wald was third with 96 stories and posts.

Below is a list of the most prolific reporters in DailyClimate.org's archives, with affiliation, number of stories published in 2011, and a link to their year's work in the archives of DailyClimate.org and its sister publication, EHN.org.

Reporter Affiliation 2011 stories
Fiona Harvey Guardian 132
Andrew Revkin New York Times 118
Matthew L. Wald New York Times 96
Richard Black BBC 92
Darren Samuelsohn Politico 92
Nina Chestney Reuters 87
Bryan Walsh Time Magazine 84
Lenore Taylor Sydney Morning Herald 79
Alister Doyle Reuters 76
Ariel Schwartz Fast Company 76
Damian Carrington Guardian 75
John Vidal Guardian 72
Mike De Souza Postmedia News 68
Louise Gray London Daily Telegraph 63
Jeremy Hance Mongabay.com 63
John M. Broder New York Times 59
Juliet Eilperin Washington Post 59
Adam Morton Sydney Morning Herald 58
David Fogarty Reuters 57
Maria Gallucci Inside Climate News 56
Suzanne Goldenberg Guardian 56
Thomas Content Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 54
Gerard Wynn Reuters 54
Timothy Gardner Reuters 53
David Biello Scientific American 52
Bruce Gellerman Living on Earth 47
Alyson Kenward ClimateCentral.org 46
Evan Lehmann E&E News 46
Ben Cubby Sydney Morning Herald 44
Andrew Restuccia Washington Hill 44
Ben Geman Washington Hill 42
Justin Gillis New York Times 40
Elizabeth McGowan Inside Climate News 40
Lauren Morello E&E News 40
Felicity Barringer New York Times 38
Sid Maher Australian 38
David R. Baker San Francisco Chronicle 36
Pilita Clark Financial Times 34
John Collins Rudolf New York Times 34
Michael Marshall New Scientist 34
Arthur Max Associated Press 34
Marlowe Hood Agence France Press 33
Neela Banerjee Los Angeles Times 32
Pete Harrison Reuters 32
Tiffany Hsu Los Angeles Times 32
Fred Pearce Freelance 32
Deborah Zabarenko Reuters 32
Phillip Coorey Sydney Morning Herald 31
Saqib Rahim E&E News 31
Tom Arup Sydney Morning Herald 30
Jean Chemnick E&E News 30
Andrew Freedman ClimateCentral.org 30
Lisa Friedman E&E News 30
Darren Goode Politico 30
Margot Roosevelt Los Angeles Times 30

Waiting for the Great Pumpkin

SUBHEAD: Most predictions for 2012 are flawed. More likely each of the difficulties we had in 2011 will get a little worse.  

By John Michael Greer on 4 January 2012 for Archdruid Report - (http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/01/waiting-for-great-pumpkin.html)

Image above: Snoopy and Linus waiting for the arrival of the gift giving Great Pumpkin. From (http://www.myfreewallpapers.net/cartoons/pages/snoopy-waiting-for-the-great-pumpkin.shtml).

With the coming of the new year, predictions of what’s in store during the next twelve months are showing up here and there in the peak oil blogosphere: a feature of the season, really, as reliable as the icicles that hang from the roof’s edge outside the window of my study. Like the icicles, they’re enticing to look at; like the icicles, equally, a great many of them are guaranteed to drop to the ground and shatter at some point in the months to come.

That’s all the more remarkable in that, by and large, the peak oil community has been pretty much spot on when it comes to the general shape of the future. Five or ten years ago, it bears remembering, nobody else was predicting the sustained oil prices on the far side of $100 a barrel and the global economic gridlock that have become fixtures of the contemporary scene; the peak oil scene had that one nailed.

A healthy skepticism toward whatever the current speculative bubble happens to be—tech stocks back in the days when the peak oil blogosphere was first getting under way, real estate in the runup to the 2008 crash, shale gas and shale oil now—has also been a common feature in the peak oil scene throughout its history, even when almost everyone else was cheering along the bubble du jour as the wave of the future. Why, then, all the annual predictions that misfire—and in particular, why the same annual predictions that have misfired for years in a row?

Why, for example, the relentless annual round of claims that the coming year will finally see a sudden and total economic collapse? That one’s been made time and again, often by the same bloggers, and the fact that each year goes by without anything of the kind happening somehow never manages to affect the next year’s confident insistence that this time around the wolves really, truly are about to eat all the sheep.

It would be funny, really, except that pointing out the long string of failed predictions has become a standard rhetorical trick in the arsenal of those—either madmen or economists, to use Kenneth Boulding’s useful taxonomy—who want to insist on the possibility of limitless growth on a finite planet. Now of course it’s only fair to point out that there are at least as many predictions on the other side of the picture that are still being recycled this year after an equivalent track record of failures.

Hope springs eternal—or rather, as I suggested in last week’s post, the facile optimism of the privileged that masquerades as hope in too much of contemporary culture springs infernal—in the minds of the many bloggers who expect some shiny new technological gimmick to overturn the laws of thermodynamics and give us a glossy new future straight out of The Jetsons.

The technological savior du jour, to be sure, changes even faster than the bubble du jour; we’ve seen ethanol, big wind turbines, and now shale gas touted as game-changing developments; neither ethanol nor wind turbines changed much of anything, of course, but when shale gas lands in the same category—as it will—there will be another candidate for the role.

For that matter, those who insist that petroleum can’t run out because we want it so badly have had just as dubious a record, if not more so. I’ve reminded my readers several times already about Daniel Yergin’s 2004 prediction that new petroleum discoveries would keep the price of crude oil at a plateau of $38 a barrel, and he’s far from the only pundit who’s made claims that absurd and still had the media fawning at his feet.

More generally, have you noticed that every couple of years, we get to hear some new claim that a vast new oil discovery somewhere is about to solve the world’s energy troubles? They’re as regular as clockwork or, these days, as speculative bubbles; the actual results, once the hype gives way to the business end of a drilling bit, range from modest to none at all; still, none of that slows down the missionaries of the religion of limitless petroleum.

 It’s all uncomfortably reminiscent of the Peanuts character Linus, with his enduring faith that this year, despite all previous disconfirmations, the Great Pumpkin really will show up with candy for all on Halloween. Still, as I look back over the last dozen years or so, I notice a feature common to the predictions I’m discussing that Linus’ lonely vigil in the pumpkin patch doesn’t share.

Is it just me, or do my readers also catch the note of increasing desperation in a good many of the latest round of familiar predictions? On the cornucopian side of the picture, certainly, that note is hard to miss. One measure of this is the extent to which the most remarkable evasions of fact have been finding their way into the media of late when the subject of US energy production comes up.

The example I’m thinking of just now is the claim, recycled by any number of supposedly serious pundits in the last few months, that the United States has become a net exporter of petroleum. As it happens this is—well, let’s be polite and call it an inaccuracy; a less courteous though arguably more accurate phrase would be "bald-faced lie." The US last year imported around two-thirds of the crude oil it used, just as it did the year before, and exported very little crude oil.

Follow the footnotes, though, and they lead in interesting directions. What has happened over the last few years, in fact, is that the US has become a net exporter of refined petroleum products. For many years before then, along with the vast floods of crude oil shipped in from abroad to feed domestic refineries, the United States imported a modest amount of petroleum products that had been refined overseas, and shipped a smaller amount of its own refineries’ products to other countries.

As the current depression has tightened its grip on the country, though, consumption of gasoline and other petroleum products has dropped by more than ten per cent, and US refineries have found it profitable to sell more of their products overseas as the domestic market contracted.

The total shift is not that large, and since what’s driving it is the ongoing contraction of the US economy, it might be better treated as a warning sign than a reason for fatuous misstatements. Still, beyond the misinformation and disinformation, fatuous and otherwise, there’s a common thread running through all the various predictions I’m discussing here, and it’s a thread worth tracing.

All of them—the claims that a crash is imminent, or that a technological breakthrough is imminent, or that an abundant new source of fossil fuels is imminent, or what have you—are at bottom claims that the troubled situation in which the industrial world currently finds itself can’t continue in anything like its present form. I’d like to offer instead the counterintuitive suggestion that it can, and most likely will. What that would mean in practice can best be judged by thinking back a year or two, to the early days of 2011.

The year that had just ended was a troubled time, with political turmoil, economic crises, a larger than usual number of natural disasters, and a pervasive (and in many cases quite accurate) sense on the part of many people that life was getting tougher and the solutions being offered by politicians weren’t solving much of anything.

Once we got past the annual flurry of predictions about game-changing events of one kind or another, what actually happened? The game didn’t change at all. Instead, each of the difficulties I’ve just noted got a little worse.

There was more political turmoil; the economic crises became somewhat more frequent and more severe; the number of natural disasters went up again—there were, as I recall, 32 weather-related disasters causing more than US$1 billion each in damages, which is a new record—and across the industrial world, people’s faith in their government’s capacity to do much of anything declined further.

That’s what happened in 2011. I’d like to suggest that when we take a backwards look in the early days of 2013, we will most likely see that that’s what happened in 2012, too: a slow worsening across a wide range of trends, punctuated by localized crises and regional disasters.

I’d like to predict, in fact, that when we take that backward look, the US dollar and the Euro will both still exist and be accepted as legal tender, though the Eurozone may have shed a couple of countries who probably shouldn’t have joined it in the first place; that stock markets around the world will have had another volatile year, but will still be trading.

Here in the US, whoever is unlucky enough to win the 2012 presidential election will be in the middle of an ordinary transition to a new term of office; the new Congress will be gearing up for another two years of partisan gridlock; gas stations will still have gas for sale and grocery stores will be stocked with groceries; and most Americans will be making the annual transition between coping with their New Year’s hangovers and failing to live up to their New Year’s resolutions, just as though it was any other year.

That is to say, nothing much will have changed, if by the word "change" you mean exclusively the kind of dramatic break with the existing pattern of things that so many people are predicting just now. From any other perspective, plenty will have changed.

Official US statistics will no doubt insist that the unemployment rate has gone down—do you ever get the feeling that when the Soviet Union collapsed, the people who used to churn out all those preposterous propaganda claims for their government got hired by ours? I do—but the number of people out of work in the United States will likely set another all-time record; the number of people in severe economic trouble will have gone up another good-sized notch, and public health clinics will probably be seeing the first wave of malnutrition-caused illness in children.

 If you happen to have spent the year in one of the areas unfortunate enough to get hit by the hard edge of the increasingly unstable weather, you may have had to spend a week or two in an emergency shelter while the flood waters receded or the wreckage got hauled away, and you might even notice that less and less gets rebuilt every year. Unless that happens, though, or unless you happen to pay close attention to the things that don’t usually make the evening news, you may well look back in the first days of 2013 and think that business as usual is still ongoing.

You’d be right, too, so long as you recognize that there’s been a stealthy change in what business as usual now means. Until the peak of world conventional petroleum production arrived in 2005, by and large, business as usual meant the continuation of economic growth. Since then, by and large, it has meant the continuation of economic decline. And the repeated predictions that the situation can’t go on?

I’ve come to think that what motivates such predictions, and gives them their present popularity, is the growing sense of apprehension that it can go on—that the troubles currently pressing in on the industrial world could just keep on getting worse, day after day, year after year, for decades to come, following the same gradual curve that the industrial world followed in the days of its growth, but in reverse: descending into impoverishment and relocalization along some broad equivalent of the same bumpy course that brought the ascent to prosperity and global integration back in the day.

When you think about it—and in the back of their minds, I suspect, most people have thought about it—that’s really a terrifying prospect. What makes it most unnerving is that it’s not simply a matter of, say, having your standard of living ratchet down by five per cent every year, though there will be a fair amount of that. It’s far more a matter of never knowing when your number’s going to come up and land you out of work, out of money and out on the street, next to the others who landed there before you.

How much of the popular sport of blaming the poor for their poverty, I wonder, and how much of the current pseudoconservative fad of insisting that the poor aren’t actually poor, comes from people who are desperately trying to convince themselves that their jobs are irreplaceable, their retirement funds secure, and the sudden dizzying fall into the ranks of the impoverished can’t possibly happen to them? If the downward arc of business as usual in an age of decline is what we’re facing, though, that sort of tortured logic is a pretty fair guarantee of final failure.

The only way out of the trap, as I’ve argued here rather more than once, is to accept a steep cut in your standard of living before it becomes necessary, as a deliberate choice, and to use the resources freed up by that choice to get rid of any debts you have, get settled in a location that has a fair chance of keeping a viable degree of community life going, and get the tools and learn the skills that you will need to manage a decent life in an age of spiraling decline. To those who cling to the idea that they can maintain their present lifestyles, admittedly, it’s hard to think of any advice less welcome, but the universe is in no way obligated to give us the future we want—even if what we want is a sudden blow that will spare us the harder experience of the Long Descent.


Montana rebukes US Supreme Court

SUBHEAD: Montana state supreme court says Citizens United not welcome there. By Sam Ferguson on 4 January 2012 for Truthout.org - (http://www.truth-out.org/montana-state-supreme-court-citizens-united-not-welcome-here/1325688926) Image above: Movie poster for "Walmart - The High Cost of Low Price". From (http://watchdocumentary.tv/wal-mart-the-high-cost-of-low-price-documentary/).

In a rebuke to the United States Supreme Court, the Supreme Court of Montana has held that Citizens United does not apply to Montana campaign finance law.

Last Friday, the Montana Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a 1912 voter initiative - the Corrupt Practices Act - that prohibits corporations from making contributions to or expenditures on behalf of state political candidates and political parties. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that a similar federal prohibition was unconstitutional, prompting a wave of bills and court rulings that erased prohibitions on corporate and union political expenditures around the country.

"For over 100 years, Montana has had an electoral system that preserves the integrity of the political process, encourages full participation and safeguards against corruption," state Attorney General Steve Bullock said in a statement after the ruling, adding, "the [Montana] Supreme Court's decision upholds that system and is truly a victory for all Montanans."

ALSO SEE: David Cobb - 'Citizens United' Doesn't Fly in Big Sky State (Video)

The Montana Court cited the state's "unique" history, culture and economy in justifying the decision not to follow Citizens United.

"With the infusion of unlimited corporate money in support of or opposition to a targeted candidate," wrote Chief Justice Mike McGrath, in a 5-2 decision, "the average citizen candidate would be unable to compete against the corporate-sponsored candidate, and Montana citizens, who for over 100 years have made their modest election contributions meaningfully count would be effectively shut out of the process."

Under the First Amendment, limits on speech are justified only if the government can demonstrate a "compelling" interest for the limitation. The Montana high court ruled that the state had several compelling interests: preventing the corrupting influence of large political expenditures; guarding against Montana's susceptibility to corruption because of its low-cost, grass roots political culture; and stemming the threat posed by out-of-state economic interests that have a financial stake in Montana's agriculture and resource-extraction based economy.

But in Citizens United, Justice Anthony Kennedy held that the government may "not deprive the public of the right and privilege to determine for itself what speech and speakers are worthy of consideration." In other words, the government may not quiet the voice of some speakers in an effort to boost the voice of others. The Supreme Court also held that there is no compelling interest in limiting so-called "independent expenditures," because such limitations do not prevent corruption.

UCLA law Professor Eugene Volokh wrote on his influential legal blog, The Volokh Conspiracy, that "the disagreement with Citizens United is so striking that it is likely that the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case and will reverse the Montana Supreme Court's decision."

Previously, a lower court in Montana ruled the state's law limiting campaign spending unconstitutional, saying, "Citizens United is unequivocal: the government may not prohibit independent and indirect corporate expenditures on political speech."

Montana's Corrupt Practices Act

Montana's 1912 initiative was adopted in response to considerable corruption in the state government, according to the opinion. Around the turn of the century, the so-called "Copper Kings," powerful mining barons, ruled Montana through campaign spending and bribery. One such baron, William A. Clark, was elected to the United States Senate in 1899 after buying votes in the Montana Legislature. He was unseated and the scandal helped lead to the passage of the 17th Amendment, which requires the direct election of senators.

Before the adoption of the Corrupt Practices Act, "the State of Montana and its government were operating under a mere shell of legal authority," said the court in Friday's majority opinion, "and the real social and political power was wielded by powerful corporate managers to further their own business interests."

The court reasoned that the interest in protecting against the corrupting influence of money on the political system remains meaningful 100 years after Montana voters adopted the Corrupt Practices Act. "Does a State have to repeal or invalidate its murder prohibition if the homicide rate declines? We think not. Issues of corporate influence, sparse population, dependence upon agriculture and extractive resource development, location as a transportation corridor and low campaign costs make Montana especially vulnerable to continued efforts of corporate control to the detriment of democracy and the republican form of government."

Justice James Nelson wrote in dissent that "[t]he language of Citizens United ... is remarkably sweeping and leaves virtually no conceivable basis for muzzling or otherwise restricting corporate political speech in the form of independent expenditures.... As much as I would like to rule in favor of the State, I cannot in good faith do so."

Montana First Court to Challenge Supreme Court on Citizens United Ruling

The Montana Supreme Court is the only state court so far to uphold a ban on corporate political expenditures in the wake of Citizens United. The Colorado Supreme Court held its own corporate expenditure ban unconstitutional in March 2010. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 11 states have also repealed bans on corporate expenditures, and administrative agencies in five states have declared corporate political expenditure bans unconstitutional.

States may still ban direct corporate contributions to candidates or expenditures coordinated with candidates.

The three plaintiffs who sued to roll back Montana's election law limiting campaign contributions are a sole-proprietor painting business, an influential Montana gun-rights organization and an out-of-state advocacy group. The advocacy group, Western Tradition Partnership, has renamed itself American Tradition Partnership (ATP). According to its web site, ATP is "dedicated to fighting environmental extremism and promoting responsible development and management of land, water and natural resources."

"The Montana Supreme Court, through this decision, has shown contempt for the overriding law of the land and has thumbed its nose at the United States Supreme Court, which has specifically held that the State of Montana has no interest in prohibiting people who associate together from speaking," said ATP Executive Director Donald Ferguson.

John Bonifaz, director of Free Speech for People, a group dedicated to overturning Citizens United, said in a statement that the ruling sets up "the first test case for the US Supreme Court to revisit its Citizens United Decision, a decision which poses a direct and serious threat to our democracy."

The plaintiffs have until March 29 to seek review by the United States Supreme Court.