The Post-American Future

SUBHEAD:Tthe end of America’s empire—traumatic as it may well be, and not only for Americans—is simply one more roadbump.

By John Michael Greer on 7 November 2012 for Archdruid Report -
(http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-post-american-future_7.html)


Image above: President Obama meeting young military officers at West Point, surrounded by Secret Service detail.  From (http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/an_imperial_president_in_a_post-american_world).

One of the things I’ve learned repeatedly over six and a half years of writing Archdruid Report posts is that it’s a waste of time to try to predict which posts will appeal to my readers and which ones won’t. Last month’s narrative is a case in point. My original plan was to devote one post to a very brief scenario of American imperial collapse. By the time I got the thing written, even after a great deal of trimming, it was the size of five regular posts; I decided to run it anyway over five weeks, since it did a good job of illustrating the themes I’ve been developing since February of this year, but I figured that it would be just another ordinary month for the blog.

Somehow that didn’t happen. Last month, The Archdruid Report had the second highest page view count of any month in its history; the first episode in the narrative is this blog’s most-viewed page ever, and the others are climbing rapidly to comparable positions. It’s interesting to reflect on the reasons why that happened, but I suspect that the most significant of those reasons is also the simplest: the narrative that I sketched out presented the decline and fall of the United States not as the end of the world, nor as an excuse for yet another wearily unthrilling Tom Clancyesque thriller, but as an ordinary historical event.

I’d like to expand on that a little, because—as regular readers of this blog already know—history is the primary resource I use to guide what’s posted on this blog. The core hypothesis shaping my view of the future is the proposal that our time differs from the past only in the way that one past era differs from another.

 The notion that the present epoch is utterly unique in history, popular as that is, fails to convince me, and the habit of using that notion as an excuse to project an assortment of utopian and apocalyptic fantasies on the inkblot patterns of the future strikes me as frankly delusional. It makes more sense, I think, to recognize that imperial overstretch is imperial overstretch no matter what technologies the empire in question happens to use, and that trying to make sense of the future on the basis of historical parallels is a more useful strategy than insisting that the future must conform to our desires, our fears, or both at once.

Thus I’d like to walk through some of the historical events I used as models for the trajectory of decline and fall in “How It Could Happen,” and talk a little about why those models are relevant.

The overall scenario of failed military adventurism leading to a crisis of legitimacy and the collapse of a government? That was modeled on the Falklands War of 1982, though I could have used any number of other examples. In the case of the Falklands crisis, the government of Argentina, facing a rising spiral of economic and political problems, gambled that it could improve its situation by seizing a set of bleak little islands in the south Atlantic, then as now owned by Britain and claimed by Argentina, on the assumption that Britain would be neither willing nor able to mount an effective military response. It was a disastrous miscalculation; by the time the smoke cleared, Britain had retaken the islands by main force, the Argentine military had suffered a humiliating defeat, and the crisis of legitimacy that followed promptly toppled the Argentine government.

It’s worth noting that if the war had gone the other way—say, if Argentina had been armed with a hundred Exocet antiship missiles, rather than the five they had, and sent most of the British fleet to the bottom—Margaret Thatcher’s government would likely have fallen in short order. The difference, of course, is that the transfer of power in Britain would have followed the normal rules of British politics; there would have been a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons, somebody else would have moved into No. 10 Downing Street, and that would have been that. In Argentina, things were not so simple, because there was no straightforward way to get rid of an incompetent leadership and its policies without taking down an entire system of government and replacing it with something else.

One of the points of the narrative, in turn, is that the United States just now is a great deal closer to the Argentine situation than to the British one. Here in America, we’ve just spent a year seeing which of two interrchangeable candidates will take the presidential oath of office this coming January.

Those of my readers who are Republicans, and downcast by Obama’s victory last night, should take heart; the policies we’ll see for the next four years will be exactly the same as the ones that we would have had if your candidate had won, and now you have the freedom to criticize them, while the Democrats have to put up with another four years of pretending that the man they helped put into office isn’t betraying every principle they claim their party stands for.

The blustering and violent pursuit of the same failed foreign policy, the eager pursuit of national bankruptcy in the name of global security, the tacit refusal to prosecute even the most egregious financial crimes, the whittling away of civil liberties, the gargantuan giveaways to corrupt but influential industries, and the rest of it: the whole package that’s been welded in place since the days of George W. Bush was guaranteed to continue whoever won.

Previous posts here have discussed the reasons why the policymaking machinery of the US government has jammed up, leaving this particular set of failed policies to play over and over again like a broken record. Sooner or later that process will end, if only because a government that fails often enough goes out of existence sooner or later. The scenario I traced out in the narrative suggests one way in which the jam could be broken; there are plenty of others, but most of them involve the end, in one way or another, of the particular form of constitutional government we have in America today.

Let’s move on. The constitutional convention that spun out of control, and suddenly made the unthinkable a political fact? That was based on the opening act of the French Revolution. The conflict between the states and the federal government in the narrative was a deliberate echo of the conflict between the French aristocracy and the king in the years before 1789. The aristocracy, struggling to reclaim its lost privileges, managed to pressure Louis XVI into calling the Estates-General, the rarely summoned national parliament of France, which had very nearly the same powers as an American constitutional convention.

Once the delegates met, the crisis of legitimacy that had been been building in France for decades exploded; attempts to keep the meeting focused on its official purpose—solving the nation’s budget crisis—were overwhelmed by events, and over the weeks that followed, a system of government that had endured for centuries came apart forever.

The rush toward extremism on the part of the American people in the months before the constitutional convention? That was the United States of America before, during, and immediately after the 1860 presidential election. It took not much more than a year for secession in most Southern states, and violent opposition to slavery and disunion in most Northern ones, to make their respective transitions from minority ideologies to popular causes for which hundreds of thousands of people would fight and die.

“The story of 1860,” wrote historian Bruce Catton in The Coming Fury, “is the story of a great nation, marching to the wild music of bands, with flaring torches and with banners and with enthusiastic shouts, moving down a steep place into the sea.” (Catton’s book, by the way, should be required reading for all those convinced that the American political process is incapable of drastic change; for that matter, it’s one heck of a good read, and the two subsequent volumes, Terrible Swift Sword and Never Call Retreat, are just as good.)

The dissolution of the United States via a never-used provision of the Constitution? That was inspired by the fall of the Soviet Union. On paper, each of the republics that made up the Soviet Union had the right to secede from the union at any time. In practice—well, would you have wanted to try doing that when Stalin was in office? Under Gorbachev, though, Boris Yeltsin could and did invoke that clause of the Soviet constitution without risking sudden removal from office via a pistol shot and an unmarked grave, and a Soviet system that was already in crisis came apart in days.

The failure of the military and of intelligence agencies to stop the collapse of the government by force? That was based on events across most of the Eastern Bloc right after the Berlin Wall came down. The Warsaw Pact nations each had, in theory, more than enough soldiers and secret police to prop up a troubled government by rounding up protesters and shooting them, say, or doing the other things that embattled governments routinely do to their people.

 In practice, the final crisis of each regime saw military personnel standing aside or actively siding with the insurgents, and left commanders looking nervously at their own troops, uncomfortably aware that ordering them to attack civilians could quickly lead to civil war or, on a more personal level, to a bullet in the back of the head or a hand grenade tossed into a conference room, courtesy of their own soldiers.

More generally, that’s the great weakness of every government. The notion that the leaders of a nation exercise power is a convenient but misleading shorthand for a much more complex process, in which power is actually wielded by thousands of ordinary soldiers, police officers, minor officials, and the like, in obedience to dictates that come cascading down the chain of command through any number of intermediaries.

If anything happens to the willingness of those thousands to follow orders, or to the ability or willingness of the chain of command to function, the apparent power of the leadership can evaporate like frost on a sunny morning. Whenever a government collapses, if it’s not simply thrown out by some other nation’s invading troops, that’s far more often than not the way that it goes.

Some of my readers will doubtless be objecting by this point that it would have been just as possible for me to put together a different set of historical analogies and tell a different story of the way that America’s global empire, and America itself, went to pieces. That’s exactly the point I hoped to make. The narrative presented in October’s posts, as I explained at the time, is not my idea of the way that the American empire will fall; it’s simply an account of one way that the American empire could fall, and its details were chosen to outline some of the most serious fault lines running through that empire and the society that the empire supports.

Of course the end of America’s global empire could happen in some other way. The utter failure of the political process might bring about a collapse of constitutional government at the hands of some charismatic demagogue or other; we could see a sustained insurgency break out in any of half a dozen parts of the country, shredding the economy and forcing the government to bring the troops home from overseas; a military failure of the sort I’ve outlined, instead of triggering the rush to dissolution, could usher in a long era of national retrenchment and reassessment, in which America’s once-traditional isolationism reasserts itself and George Washington’s advice about avoiding foreign entanglements once again becomes the centerpiece of the nation’s policy.

I chose a relatively untraumatic option, in large part because so many people seem to find it impossible to remember that plenty of large, heavily armed nation-states down through the years have collapsed in one way or another without dissolving into civil war or assaulting the rest of the planet; still, there’s no guarantee that this will be the way that things work out. There are many options as we approach the post-American future.

The one thing that isn’t an option at this point, I would argue, is a continuation of American global dominance for more than a short time to come. Like the British empire a century ago, the American empire is visibly cracking at the seams as the costs of maintaining a global imperial presence soar and the profits of the imperial wealth pump slump. Funds the nation can no longer afford to spend are being poured into military technologies that presuppose a way of war that’s rapidly approaching its pull date, while rising powers less burdened by the legacies of the past circle around, waiting for the first signs of weakness.

Which of those rising powers will turn out to be the next generation of global hegemons is a good question; China certainly seems like the most likely candidate just now, but then Germany looked like the most likely candidate for Britain’s replacement in 1912, and we know what happened thereafter.

What does a post-American future look like? To begin with, here in America, it’s a future in which the vast majority of us will be much less wealthy than we are today. The American standard of living has been propped up since 1945 by the systemic imbalances that gave a quarter of the world’s energy resources and a third of its raw materials and industrial product to the five per cent of humanity that lives in the United States. Everything we consider normal in American life today is a function of that flow of imperial tribute, and as that goes away, most of what we consider normal in American life is going to change. The economic troubles that have been ongoing since 2008 are the foreshocks of that seismic shift, which will see most American incomes drop to Third World levels.

Those of my readers who are incensed by the extreme disparity in wealth between the rich and the rest in this country should remember that most of that disparity consists of paper wealth, much of it of very questionable value. Trillions of dollars worth of dubious derivatives, asset-backed securities backed by wholly insecure assets, loans that will never be paid back, and equally hallucinatory stores of wealth currently pad the notional net worth of America’s rich; in any imaginable post-American future, all that will be reassessed at its real value, which in most cases amounts to zero.

 Just as the Great Depression saw huge income and net worth disparities in American society drop like a rock as vast amounts of paper wealth turned into mere paper, the Greater Depression that will follow the end of American empire will almost certainly see the same phenomenon on an even larger scale. One moral to this story is that any of my readers who have their wealth tied up in paper assets of any kind might be wise to think, hard, about how long they want to leave it there.

Outside the United States, circumstances will no doubt vary. Those nations that have linked their welfare or their survival too closely to American empire will be dragged down in their turn; those who align themselves with one or another contender for America’s replacement will rise or fall with their choice, while those that have the good sense to step back into neutrality until the smoke clears, and then make arrangements with the new hegemon, will doubtless do well. I suspect, though, that Japan and western Europe in particular will be in for a rough awakening.

 For decades now, they’ve reaped the benefits of having their national defense backstopped by gargantuan US defense budgets, and the end of that cozy arrangement will force them to choose between spending a great deal more money on their own militaries, accepting a new overlord who may be a good deal less congenial than the one they have now, or accepting a position of extreme vulnerability in an epoch where that may turn out to be an exceptionally risky thing to do.

Still, all these concerns are secondary to the most crucial factor, which is that the post-American future will still have to deal with the head-on collision between a global economic system that requires perpetual growth, on the one hand, and hard planetary limits on the other. The end of America’s empire does not mean the end of industrial civilization; nor, for that matter, will it solve the twin problems sketched out decades ago in the prescient and thus profoundly unfashionable pages of The Limits to Growth: the exhaustion of necessary but nonrenewable resources, particularly fossil fuels, and the buildup in the biosphere of ecologically and economically damaging pollutants, particularly carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Those forces are still the dominant fact of our time, and the end of America’s empire—traumatic as it may well be, and not only for Americans—is simply one more roadbump along the route of the Long Descent.




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Hurricane Sandy was Climate Change

SUBHEAD: The storm rode in as the Fourth Horseman of the Climate Apocalypse. Ignore that message at your peril.

By Rebecca Solnit on 6 November 2012 for TomDispatch -
(http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175613/tomgram%3A_rebecca_solnit%2C_the_name_of_the_hurricane_is_climate_change/)


Image above: A woman dresses as "Death", one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, during a Greenpeace demonstration in Parliament Square in Copenhagen, 14 December, 2009. Note large balloon representing the volume size of one ton of CO2 gas.  From (http://islamizationwatch.blogspot.com/2009/12/climate-debate-heats-up-in-copenhagen.html).

The first horseman was named al-Qaeda in Manhattan, and it came as a message on September 11, 2001: that our meddling in the Middle East had sown rage and funded madness. We had meddled because of imperial ambition and because of oil, the black gold that fueled most of our machines and our largest corporations and too many of our politicians. The second horseman came not quite four years later. It was named Katrina, and this one too delivered a warning.

Katrina’s message was that we needed to face the dangers we had turned our back on when the country became obsessed with terrorism: failing infrastructure, institutional rot, racial divides, and poverty. And larger than any of these was the climate -- the heating oceans breeding stronger storms, melting the ice and raising the sea level, breaking the patterns of the weather we had always had into sharp shards: burning and dying forests, floods, droughts, heat waves in January, freak blizzards, sudden oscillations, acidifying oceans.


The third horseman came in October of 2008: it was named Wall Street, and when that horseman stumbled and collapsed, we were reminded that it had always been a predator, and all that had changed was the scale -- of deregulation, of greed, of recklessness, of amorality about homes and lives being casually trashed to profit the already wealthy. And the fourth horseman has arrived on schedule.

We called it Sandy, and it came to tell us we should have listened harder when the first, second, and third disasters showed up. This storm’s name shouldn’t be Sandy -- though that means we’ve run through the alphabet all the way up to S this hurricane season, way past brutal Isaac in August -- it should be Climate Change.  If each catastrophe came with a message, then this one’s was that global warming’s here, that the old rules don’t apply, and that not doing anything about it for the past 30 years is going to prove far, far more expensive than doing something would have been.

That is, expensive for us, for human beings, for life on Earth, if not for the carbon profiteers, the ones who are, in a way, tied to all four of these apocalyptic visitors. A reasonable estimate I heard of the cost of this disaster was $30 billion, just a tiny bit more than Chevron’s profits last year (though it might go as high as $50 billion). Except that it’s coming out of the empty wallets of single mothers in Hoboken, New Jersey, and the pensions of the elderly, and the taxes of the rest of us. Disasters cost most of us terribly, in our hearts, in our hopes for the future, and in our ability to lead a decent life. They cost some corporations as well, while leading to ever-greater profits for others.

Disasters Are Born Political
It was in no small part for the benefit of the weapons-makers and oil producers that we propped up dictators and built military bases and earned the resentment of the Muslim world. It was for the benefit of oil and other carbon producers that we did nothing about climate change, and they actively toiled to prevent any such action.

If you wanted, you could even add a fifth horseman, a fifth disaster to our list, the blowout of the BP well in the Gulf of Mexico in the spring of 2010; cost-cutting on equipment ended 11 lives and contaminated a region dense with wildlife and fishing families and hundreds of thousands of others. It was as horrendous as the other four, but it took fewer lives directly and it should have but didn't produce political change.

Each of the other catastrophes has redirected American politics and policy in profound ways. 9/11 brought us close to dictatorship, until Katrina corrected course by discrediting the Bush administration and putting poverty and racism, if not climate change, back on the agenda. Wall Street's implosion was the 2008 October Surprise that made Americans leave Republican presidential candidate John McCain's no-change campaign in the dust -- and that, three years later, prompted the birth of Occupy Wall Street.

The Wall Street collapse did a lot for Barack Obama, too, and just in time another October surprise has made Romney look venal, clueless, and irrelevant. Disaster has been good to Obama -- Katrina’s reminder about race may have laid the groundwork for his presidential bid, and the financial implosion in the middle of the presidential campaign, as well as John McCain’s disastrous response to it, may have won him the last election.

The storm that broke the media narrative of an ascending Romney gave Obama the nonpartisan moment of solidarity he always longed for -- including the loving arms of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. But it’s not about the president; it’s about the other seven billion of us and the rest of the Earth’s creatures, from plankton to pikas.

Hope in the Storm
Sandy did what no activist could have done adequately: put climate change back on the agenda, made the argument for reasonably large government, and reminded us of the colossal failures of the Bush administration seven years ago. (Michael “heckuva job” Brown, FEMA's astonishingly incompetent director under George W. Bush, even popped up to underscore just how far we've come.)

Maybe Sandy will also remind us that terrorism was among the least common, if most dramatic, of the dangers we faced then and face now. Though rollercoasters in the surf and cities under water have their own drama -- and so does seawater rushing into the pit at Ground Zero.

Clearly, the game has changed. New York City’s billionaire mayor, when not endorsing police brutality against Wall Street’s Occupiers, has been a huge supporter of work on climate change.  He gave the Sierra Club $50 million to fight coal last year and late last week in Sandy’s wake came out with a tepid endorsement of Obama as the candidate who might do something on the climate. Last week as well, his magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, ran a cover that could’ve run anytime in the past few decades (but didn’t) with the headline: “It’s global warming, stupid.”

There are two things you can hope for after Sandy. The first is that every person stranded without power, running water, open grocery stores, access to transportation, an intact home, and maybe income (if work isn’t reachable or a job has been suspended) is able to return to normal as soon as possible. Or more than that in some cases, because the storm has also brought to light how many people were barely getting by before.  (After all, we also use the word “underwater” for people drowning in debt and houses worth less than what’s owed on their mortgages.) The second is that the fires and the water and the wind this time put climate change where it belongs, in the center of our most pressing issues.

We Have Power! How Disasters Unfold
A stranger sent me a widely circulated photograph of a front gate in Hoboken with a power strip and extension cord and a little note that reads, “We have power! Please feel free to charge your phone.” We have power, and volunteers are putting it to work in ways that count. In many disasters, government and big bureaucratic relief organizations take time to get it together or they allocate aid in less than ideal ways. The most crucial early work is often done by those on the ground, by the neighbors, by civil society -- and word, as last week ended, was that the government wasn’t always doing it adequately.

Hurricane Sandy seems to be typical in this regard. Occupy Wall Street and 350.org got together to create Occupy Sandy and are already doing splendid relief work, including for those in the flooded housing projects in Red Hook, Brooklyn. My friend Marina Sitrin, a scholar and Occupy organizer, wrote late last week:

“Amazing and inspiring work by community and Occupy folks! Hot nutritious meals for many hundreds. Supplies that people need, like diapers, baby wipes, flashlights etc., all organized. Also saw the first (meaning first set up in NYC -- only tonight) scary FEMA site a few blocks away. Militarized and policed entrance, to an area fenced in with 15-foot fences, where one gets a sort of military/astronaut ration with explanations of how to use in English that I did not understand. Plus Skittles?”

Occupy, declared dead by the mainstream media six weeks ago, is shining in this mess. Kindness, solidarity, mutual aid of this kind can ameliorate a catastrophe, but it can’t prevent one, and this isn’t the kind of power it takes to pump out drowned subway stations or rebuild railroad lines or get the lights back on. There is a role for government in disaster, and for mobilizing all available forces in forestalling our march toward a planet that could look like the New Jersey shore all the time.

When Occupy first began, all those tents, medical clinics, and community kitchens in the encampments reminded me of the aftermath of an earthquake.  The occupiers looked like disaster survivors -- and in a sense they were, though the disaster they had survived was called the economy and its impacts are usually remarkably invisible. Sandy is also an economic disaster: unlimited release of carbon into the atmosphere is very expensive and will get more so.

The increasingly turbulent, disaster-prone planet we’re on is our beautiful old Earth with the temperature raised almost one degree celsius. It’s going to get hotter than that, though we can still make a difference in how hot it gets. Right now, locally, in the soaked places, we need people to aid the stranded, the homeless, and the hungry. Globally we need to uncouple government from the Big Energy corporations, and ensure that most of the carbon energy left on the planet stays where it belongs: underground.

After the Status Quo
Disasters often unfold a little like revolutions. They create a tremendous rupture with the past. Today has nothing much in common with yesterday -- in how the system works or doesn’t, in what people have in common, in how they see their priorities and possibilities. The people in power are often most interested in returning to yesterday, because the status quo was working for them -- though Mayor Bloomberg is to be commended for taking the storm as a wake-up call to do more about climate change. For the rest of us, after such a disaster, sometimes the status quo doesn’t look so good.

Disasters often produce real political change, not always for the better (and not always for the worse). I called four of the last five big calamities in this country the four horsemen of the apocalypse because directly or otherwise they caused so much suffering, because they brought us closer to the brink, and because they changed our national direction. Disaster has now become our national policy: we invite it in and it directs us, for better and worse.

As the horsemen trample over all the things we love most, it becomes impossible to distinguish natural disaster from man-made calamity: maybe the point is that there is no difference anymore. But there’s another point: that we can prevent the worst of the impact in all sorts of ways, from evacuation plans to carbon emissions reductions to economic justice, and that it’s all tied up together.
I wish Sandy hadn’t happened. But it did, and there have been and will be more disasters like this. I hope that radical change arises from it. The climate has already changed. May we change to meet the challenges.

• Rebecca Solnit wrote about disasters and civil society in A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster and in many reports for TomDispatch and other websites



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Obama to win booby prize

SUBHEAD: Obama doesn't have to worry about NOT getting a second term; he should instead worry about getting it.

By Raul Ilargi Meijer on 2 November 2012 for the Automatic Earth -
(http://theautomaticearth.com/Finance/europe-makes-obama-look-good-but-thats-not-the-whole-story.html)


Image above: President Obama accepting Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. From (http://www.theblaze.com/stories/obamas-nobel-peace-prize-win-leads-to-formal-investigation-of-award/).

If it hadn't been in the pocket yet, Sandy cast Obama’s victory in stone (unless he really screws up Staten Island, perhaps, or Diebold goes nuts). Not that he really needed it anymore, the economic numbers are simply not bad enough. Or perhaps we should say the public perception of the numbers isn't bad enough. It's not for America to go against a long running historical trend that says incumbents with relatively good numbers get re-elected, no matter how much further the country been plunging down the absurd-theater scale from bi-partisan to bi-polar in the past 4 years. Or 8, 12, 20 - take your pick.

All those close neck and neck polls you read and hear about only seem to serve the purpose of the political establishment and the media, both of which stand to profit greatly in credibility and in monetary terms. They create the illusion that the system functions, and get people to spend billions in ads. The last thing anybody wants you to think is that it's decided way before election day.

Until recently it looked as if perhaps Friday's BLS Employment Report could make a difference for the election, but it won't. Too late in the game. A Greek or Spanish default, followed by an impending dissolution of the EU could have done it, but the union will stay together till Tuesday, though perhaps only narrowly.

It’s a bit of a surprise that Obama never pointed to what's happening in Europe to make himself look good. Because it does. Maybe it's because his campaign team feel that not enough Americans could find Europe on a map even at gunpoint.

A major issue in the US election campaign has been Obama's salvation of the auto industry. And Romney resisting the policies that prevented the industry from collapsing. At the time, at least; he's mostly trying to deny it today. And draws the ire of the industry itself by suggesting Obama killed 15,000 or so Detroit jobs to ship them to China.

Not only will this get Obama a lot of votes in the US, it also makes him look "all the more better" when we look at what is going on with Europe's carmakers. GM, Ford and Chrysler are doing very well, thank you, compared to Europe's auto industry. And what problems they do have -mind you, at the moment - largely come from their European affiliates.

In a few choice words: Europe's car industry is a godawful mess. Many European countries have their own car industries, and they are often associated with all kinds of separate patriotic ideals. That has led to a huge slowdown in restructuring measures, though there was a huge overcapacity in production even in the good years. As sales have fallen 10-20-30% just in the past year (Holland came in at -38% yesterday), depending on what country you look at, panic mode sets in.

The last thing French President Hollande needs is for his "own" carmakers to close down factories and throw thousands of workers out on the street. But even Hollande can't stop the plunge in sales, and continued overproduction will only serve the exacerbate the situation. So the president sees himself forced to eat his words and the foot in his mouth, and throw out a paradox: the French government provides Peugeot Citroen with a $7 billion bank guarantee (subject to EU approval), while at the same time the company announces the closure of a factory near Paris that will cost thousands of French workers their jobs.

Hollande is scared to death of the proverbial French protests, but he also knows this is just the start. Rock and a hard place indeed. The reality is that more than half of Peugeot Citroen's sales market is/was in southern Europe, and the firm's shares are down more than 60% since the beginning of the year.

And then on top of that S&P downgraded the major French banks; poor monsieur President doesn't know where to look first anymore. He's thinking about if only his predecessor Sarkozy had taken the necessary measures when he could. But for Sarkozy, like for Hollande now, there was far too much political and patriotic capital at stake, and he was fighting to get re-elected at the time. Though he can't be too unhappy that the downfall he refused to face now comes in Hollande's watch.

Who today "proudly" presides over a 30% drop in mortgage loans, plans to raise various taxes and lower employer contributions to payroll taxes and pensions, and, oh mon dieu, scratch the sacred 35-hour work week.

2013 will be, for Hollande, the year of protests. He'll need to keep the people satisfied on the one hand and, as if that's not hard enough, on the other hand and at the same time keep the international debt markets at bay. The markets will tend to punish him for every inch he gives the workers and vice versa. Tell me again, why would anyone want a job like that? A job he only got in the first place because he promised the people none of that ugly stuff would happen in the first place ....

The other main French carmaker, Renault, is doing a "bit less bad" than Peugeot, primarily because it has larger stakes in international markets. But with Renault's profit per vehicle but a fraction of what for instance Audi, BMW and Daimler make per unit, something perhaps in the order of 10%, it's not hard to see where this leads. And Daimler too, even with its much better margins, has announced profit warnings.

Europe stands to lose tens of thousands of car industry jobs in the near future. The US does not. Perhaps at a later stage it will, but for now Obama has saved a lot of people from getting pink slips.
Beyond the car industry, European leaders don't look so hot either. British PM David Cameron is set for a fight with his own party over the UK contributions to the EU budget. He wants to freeze it, they want a substantial cut. The EU itself wants more money from its members. German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces a similar battle at home.

Greek PM Antonio Samaras has a very hard time getting the latest troika "reforms" accepted by his party and governing coalition, and serious questions are being asked about the constitutionality of for instance the pension cuts involved. The Lagarde List may hasten his downfall. Protests in Portugal are becoming increasingly desperate and violent, and pose a growing threat to PM Pedro Passos Coelho's grip on power. Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy will need to come up with more austerity, and them some more, over the next year, and at some point he will be booted out.

Mario Monti's days in Italy are numbered. Holland's new and old PM Mark Rutte fights his own party over proposed steep rises in healthcare premiums. Wherever you look in Europe, deepening trouble lies ahead. This week's PMI numbers are once again terrible.

In almost every nook and cranny and at every step of the way, in Europe, political chaos looms just around the corner. And the troika just keeps on pushing its demands down people's throats. By this time next year, at the very least not many present leaders will still be in the saddle. If they don't go voluntarily, they will be forced out.

Watching Obama's leadership, or the way it was displayed if you will, in the ongoing aftermath of Sandy, the strength of which was underlined by Governor Christie and Mayor Bloomberg's reactions, I got to wonder which European leader would be capable of a similar feat if called upon. Couldn't come up with one, really. Merkel, perhaps. But only perhaps. The rest would be woefully out of their league.

Imagine Obama, in a pre-1776 setting but in the present US political climate, calling for closer ties among separate red and blue states, like a banking union, fiscal union etc., that would take away far-reaching powers from the separate states and hand them to Washington and Wall Street. That - absurd - image probably better explains the impossibility of what the IMF and EU leaders and incumbent politicians seek to accomplish today than any other can. Just as it best explains the proclivity for broad unrest, blood and war on the old continent.

When you compare the US and the EU at this point in time (and this point only), it's all too obvious who's doing better. Europe makes Obama look good. But that's not the whole story. Europe will also break Obama's career in his second term. It's not just in President Hollande's case that you may need to wonder why anyone would want that job.

All the plans to save Greece, Spain et al and keep them in the eurozone are still based on growth recovery prospects which are in turn based on entirely unrealistic assumptions. And every single turn of the way those assumptions have to be recalibrated downwards. Which always leads to more austerity demands, more cuts. And at some point that will no longer work. You can't cut beyond the bone. And obviously you can't grow an economy with 25% unemployment or with over 50% of your young people out of work.

The eurozone is about to fall to pieces. That will shake the global financial world to its core, including the US. There are estimates for countries that leave the currency union to see their GDP fall as much 40-50% in the first year. It's today all but certain that Greece needs a debt restructuring in which the EU and ECB will be forced to write off substantial parts of their holdings. For the incumbent politicians in the richer core countries that's about the last thing they want to explain back home. If only because they know full well that there's much more of that in the offing.

Europe should focus on a painless as can be transition to a situation in which the hardest hit countries can leave the eurozone and still remain friends. But it's still double or nothing all the way for the leadership, an increasingly dangerous kind of blindness. The longer they delay accepting this, the more devastating the explosion will become. And not just in Europe. It will expose the facade, the mirage that the world economy has become, where keeping up appearances has become possible only through mobster accounting standards and grand theft auto from coming generations.

When the eurozone explodes, so will the rest of the world economy. Including the US. Obama doesn't have to worry about NOT getting a second term; he should instead worry about getting it, and about what's going to happen on his watch in the next four years. If he lasts in office that long.



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End the Imperial Presidency

SUBHEAD: Unfortunately neither of today's candidate has expressed any interest in limiting the powers of the Imperial Presidency.

By Charles Hugh Smith on 6 November 2012 for Of Two Minds -
(http://www.oftwominds.com/blognov12/imperial-presidency11-12.html)


Image above: Bush wearing newly designed "presidential" brown military jacket. From (http://citysqwirl.blogspot.com/2006/09/lost.html).

What we need is not a new president but a new presidency. There are few practical limits on presidential power. This is a key dynamic in the failed presidencies of G.W. Bush and Barack Obama.
If you're not familiar with the term The Imperial Presidency, here is an introduction:
Through various means, Presidents subsequently acquired powers beyond the limits of the Constitution. The daily accountability of the President to the Congress, the courts, the press and the people has been replaced by an accountability of once each four years during an election. These changes have occurred slowly over the centuries so that that which appears normal differs greatly from what was the original state of America.
 Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. popularized the term with his book The Imperial Presidency (Kindle edition), originally issued in 1973 but updated in 2004 to include a discussion of the G.W. Bush presidency. Schlesinger summarized the "World War II and beyond" expansion of presidential powers thusly:
“The weight of messianic globalism was indeed proving too much for the American Constitution. If this policy were vital to American survival, then a way would have to be found to make it constitutional; perhaps the Constitution itself would have to be revised. In fact, the policy of indiscriminate global intervention, far from strengthening American security, seemed rather to weaken it by involving the United States in remote, costly and mysterious wars, fought in ways that shamed the nation before the world. When the grandiose policy did not promote national security and could not succeed in its own terms, would it not be better to pursue policies that did not deform and disable the Constitution?"
In general, the Constitution grants the Executive Branch few outright powers. The president is given extraordinary powers in wartime as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and he is given broad leeway to pursue foreign policy. Presidents have long "mixed and matched" the two, sending U.S. troops and Naval forces to intervene in other nations to suit U.S. policy objectives.

President Lincoln exceeded constitutionally granted powers during the Civil War but claimed the integrity of the nation was higher priority than obeying the Constitution.

The expansion of "war powers" to times when war had not been declared by Congress began in earnest with President Franklin Roosevelt, who invoked "emergency powers" before war was declared in December, 1941.

After World War II, presidents engaged the nation in full-blown wars in Korea and Vietnam without Congressional declarations of war. A "green light" of congressional approval for whatever actions the president deems necessary was put in place after the Watergate scandal. Events since then (such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003) have revealed how far an Imperial President could go with broadly granted war powers, "presidential immunity," "signing statements" (declaring which congressionally approved statutes he would ignore or refuse to enforce) and the increasingly popular "executive orders" which enable everything from imprisoning entire ethnic populations (E.O. 9066) to claiming extra-legal powers over the entire U.S. economy.

Presidents before G.W. Bush and Obama managed to perform their duties with a handful of Executive Orders--five per term seemed about average. President Bush issued 160 in his first term while President Obama has so far issued 139. Both of our most recent presidents also made heavy use of Executive privileges such as "signing statements" and other "work-arounds" to feeble limits on presidential powers: Obama’s Executive Orders (factcheck.org).

Imperial Presidency 101 - Unitary Executive Theory and the Imperial Presidency

Candidates Agree: Imperial Presidency Is A-OK
The implicit claim by defenders of essentially unlimited presidential power is that these broad powers are needed to run the American Empire. No Establishment figure would dare openly state that the U.S. operates a military, diplomatic, financial and commercial Empire, but that is nonetheless the case being made to justify the Imperial Presidency: an Empire requires an Imperial President with broad powers to act not just in the domestic economy and society but anywhere in the world.

What we need is not a new president but a new presidency. Unfortunately neither candidate has expressed any interest in limiting the powers of the Imperial Presidency. If the history of the past two (failed) presidencies is any guide, Imperial powers will only expand as crises offer new opportunities for extra-legal power grabs.




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We need to electrify transportation


SUBHEAD: An oil executive once observed that burning oil for energy is like burning Picassos for heat.

By Kurt Cobb on 4 November 2012 for Resource Insights - 
  (http://www.resourceinsights.blogspot.com/2012/11/burning-picassos-for-heat-why-we-need.html)


Image above: Paint of "Three Musicians" by Pablo Picaso, 1921. Put to fire in a mashup by Juan Wilson.

An oil executive once observed that burning oil for energy is like burning Picassos for heat. Oil is extraordinarily valuable as the basis for so many products we use every day that the thought of simply burning it ought to be unthinkable. So versatile are oil molecules that they can be transformed into substances that serve as clothing, medicines, building materials, carpet, skin care products, sporting goods, agricultural chemicals, perfumes, and myriad other products.

Increasingly, when we make oil-based products for homes and businesses, we are finding ways to reuse those products or recycle the materials they are made from (think: recyclable plastics). But, burning oil is always a one-time, irreversible act that leaves nothing of value behind and produces greenhouse gases and pollutants that harm us. And yet, because oil remains the most cost-effective and widely available source of liquid fuels, we are hooked on it for transportation with little prospect of substitutes on the scale we would require--unless we consider electricity.

It is worth remembering that electricity was a strong contender for powering automobiles at the beginning of the last century and that it ran the trolleys of the era (and still runs many today). Electricity was actually preferred over gasoline for powering cars at the time, especially cars that were used exclusively for local trips. Battery exchange was already available as a quick way to "charge" a car. But improvements in the internal combustion engine and the increasing availability and affordability of gasoline led to the extinction of the electric car no later than the 1930s.

More recently, despite all the hand waving about marginal gains in U.S. oil production, we have been experiencing a plateau in worldwide oil production since 2005. Ongoing tightness in oil supplies has led to high prices for gasoline and diesel, and so the world is turning once again to electricity to power transportation. Of course, many hybrid gas-electric vehicles are already in use, and some all-electric vehicles are now being produced for the mass market. But in a world increasingly faced with energy constraints and climate change, continuing to rely on the automobile as the main source of transportation may be a poor policy choice.

First, astute observers will note that electric vehicles of whatever kind are actually powered primarily by fossil fuels. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration two-thirds of all electric power worldwide is generated using fossil fuels. That means coal and natural gas are being burned to produce the lion's share of electricity. Some oil is still used, especially in countries that export it and so have cheap supplies available to them.

To reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions, we would have to burn less overall fossil fuel. Only one-third of the heat energy produced in a typical fossil-fueled power plant actually gets turned into electricity. The rest is expelled as waste heat which is why we see huge volumes of steam coming from cooling towers wherever fossil-fueled generating plants operate. Were it not for the fact that renewable energy can be employed to make electricity, electric-powered vehicles on a mass scale would provide little advantage when it comes to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. These vehicles would, however, still reduce dependence on petroleum.

There are two obvious moves that would substantially reduce our reliance on fossil-fuel produced electricity. One already mentioned would be vastly expanding renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and hydroelectric. Naturally, there are the problems of load-balancing and storage related to intermittent power sources such as wind and solar. These problems would have to be overcome in the long term in order to allow the electrification of transportation based primarily on renewable energy.

But, there are plausible paths to such an outcome, especially if overall reductions in energy use are part of the path, something I'll discuss below. Naturally, nuclear generated electricity can also be used to power vehicles. But I am doubtful that in the post-Fukushima era, nuclear power will be a viable option for increasing nonfossil fuel-based electricity production, both for political and technical reasons.

A second move that would reduce our reliance on fossil-fuel based electricity would be a vast expansion of our mass transit systems. Done properly, this expansion would reduce overall energy use in transportation by moving people from energy-intensive automobiles into more efficient mass transit. An overall reduction in energy use is important because, for many reasons, it is unlikely that renewable energy production will be able to match the huge quantities of energy we currently get from fossil fuels. The expansion of mass transit would need to be executed in a way that would make such systems so ubiquitous, convenient and inviting that people would prefer them over cars as many do in major American and European cities.

Much of the mass transit infrastructure can run on electricity and already does including electric-powered subways, commuter trains, buses and trams. To that infrastructure we would need to add electric-powered, high-speed passenger rail service between major cities. That's already in place in Europe and Japan. In the United States such a high-speed rail system would reduce the need for short-haul air travel and thus reduce jet fuel use. And, we'd want to expand and electrify freight traffic over rails, something that would lessen the need for long-haul trucking. Even in trucking, hybrid trucks are starting to appear in commercial fleets, something that can further reduce use of diesel and gasoline.

Of course, some modes of transport are not going to be amenable to electric power. Electric-powered planes are not impossible, but would probably not be able to carry much weight given the current state of battery technology. Ocean-going freighters will likely continue to need liquid fuels, though sails are starting to appear on some to reduce fuel use.

On land we will almost certainly need some liquid fuels for four categories of vehicles: rural transport, farm machinery, heavy equipment and emergency vehicles. It probably isn't cost-effective to string wires in rural areas for local transportation because population densities are too low. Some people are working on electric farm machinery charged using solar cells.

But, the work needs to progress further before it can be widely adopted. For some farm tasks, liquid-fueled engines may continue to be the most practical approach for a long time to come. Where construction and mining take place away from sources of electricity, heavy equipment will have to operate using liquid fuels. Emergency vehicles could use electricity, but would have to have liquid-fuel capabilities in case the electricity is unavailable.

In the United States 71 percent of the petroleum products consumed are used in transportation. If the country were able to run its transportation system entirely without oil, the United States would not only cease to import oil, but would have significant surplus oil production. Of course, such a change could only take place over many years. But the advantages to such a transition are so numerous that we should not dismiss it as too difficult or costly.

Only 5 percent of all oil is used to produce petrochemicals--chemicals which form the basis for the almost miraculous materials and substances that we now take for granted. By ceasing to burn the bulk of our oil to move goods and people, we could sustain the production of these products for a very long time. And, properly formulated, many could be recycled almost indefinitely. That seems like a much better use of an energy source that doubles as the "renaissance man" of the chemical industry.

When you add in the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution; an end to oil imports for the United States and possibly many other countries adopting the same strategy; and the financial boost of keeping funds previously spent on imports at home, it's hard to see why electrifying transportation would not be a good idea--so long as it is done with any eye toward increasing renewable energy production while reducing overall energy consumption in the transportation sector.

•Kurt Cobb is an author, speaker, and columnist focusing on energy and the environment. He is a regular contributor to the Energy Voices section of The Christian Science Monitor and author of the peak-oil-themed novel Prelude. In addition, he writes columns for the Paris-based science news site Scitizen, and his work has been featured on Energy Bulletin, The Oil Drum, OilPrice.com, Econ Matters, Peak Oil Review, 321energy, Common Dreams, Le Monde Diplomatique and many other sites. He maintains a blog called Resource Insights and can be contacted at kurtcobb2001@yahoo.com.

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COINTELPRO 101 - Free movie

SUBHEAD: Free movie on history of American political repression at Kapaa Library, Friday, 11/16.

By Ray Catania on 4 November 2012 for Island Breath -
(http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2012/11/cointelpro-101-free-movie.html)


Image above: Detail of poster for movie COINTELPRO 101. From (http://agitpropfilmfest.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/cointelpro/).

WHAT:
The Kauai Alliance for Peace and Justice will sponsor a free showing of the movie Cointelpro 101.  The movie details how peace and freedom activists and movements of the 60's and 70's were infiltrated, framed, destroyed and killed by the FBI.  A discussion to follow the movie will discuss how this relates to the Patriot Act today, and even affects the progressive environmentalist movement.

COINTELPRO, the secret FBI project to infiltrate and disrupt domestic organizations thought to be “subversive,” targeted many African-American, Native-American, and other movements for self-determination by people of color in the U.S.. Between 1956 and 1971, the FBI conducted more than 2,000 COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) operations. For more information on this movie, go to http://www.freedomarchives.org/Cointelpro.html  

WHERE:
Kapaa Library, Kuhio Highway

WHEN:
 Friday, November 16th, 6:30 - 9:00 pm.

CONTACT:
Ray Catania, 634-2737


Video above: A short trailer for  "COINTELPRO 101". From (http://youtu.be/EmDA-7EdaO0).

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The Tides of Events

SUBHEAD: Once this dreadful election is over we will once again be forced to reckon with epochal forces at hand.

By James Kunstler on 5 November 2012 for Kunstler.com -
(http://kunstler.com/blog/2012/11/the-tides-of-event.html)


Image above: Mitt Romney and the Republican con game. From (http://downwithtyranny.blogspot.com/2012/07/has-romney-already-blown-trustworthy.html).

Mitt Romney's sickening insincerity was on full view Sunday night as CNN served up both candidates complete finish-line pitches to the Ohio crowds thought to hold the fate of the election in their fickle sway. Romney has consistently proved one thing over the whole, long, nauseating course of his campaign: that he will say anything to get a vote, no matter how hollow, fatuous, craven, or at odds with reality the utterance is.

Last night he went on about how the USA would become "energy independent" when he opens all federal lands to oil drilling. This plays on some lamebrain notion that there are vast fields of easy-to-get oil sitting out under the Wyoming hardpan waiting to be tapped. Surely Mitt know better.. or does he? The reality is that these lands fell into federal ownership largely because they had so little value in the first place. If there was another Spindletop lurking under the sagebrush you can be sure it would have been found long before now, so Mr. Romney is just preying on the public's wishful ignorance (or his own) when he says these things.

Which gets to the larger issue of what the "drill drill drill" mantra really means: namely, that Mitt Romney has no idea where history is taking us. The public may be very nervous about how they will pay for gasoline needed to live in the suburban matrix, but the reality of the situation is that the suburban matrix is the problem and doing everything and anything we can to prop it up is going to destroy the nation.
Mr. Romney is oblivious to this reality and so you can be sure that his mysterious "plan" for leadership is an empty promise. A reality-based plan, for instance, would be the rapid rebuilding and electrification of the regular railroad system, both as an economic development measure and a national security issue, along with the spirited promotion of walkable neighborhoods and the rebuilding of our small towns and small cities. But Mitt is "a car man," as he likes to say.

President Obama was on display, too, a little later making dubious claims about his accomplishments and distinctions. (Jon Corzine is still at large.) There's no evidence that he understands the true nature of the implacable economic contraction underway and how it will change everything about how we live on this continent. But I think there is a better chance that he could get a clue in the next four years than is the case for Mr. Romney. Also, I don't trust Mr. Romney to deal intelligently with foreign nations, while the specter of yet another arch-conservative idiot on the Supreme Court of the type that would rule affirmative on something like the Citizens United case gives me the vapors... so I have to pull the lever for Mr. Obama.

Finally, I just don't like Mitt Romney. He's the over-eager twerp in the classroom with his arm always sticking up. He's the missionary bozo in a necktie ringing your doorbell to sell a fairy-tale cult religion dreamed up in the 1820s by another over-eager con artist. He's obviously using the national stage to work out his father issues (George Romney ran for president in 1968, blundering his way out of the race early on).

He shamelessly panders to the worst elements of his own party - the ignorant, militaristic, punitive-minded Nascar evangelicals - and dissembles so automatically that there is nothing left of whatever core beliefs he might have theoretically developed earlier in his career. He's too chicken to engage with the realities of climate change, so visibly on display this season. He's spoiling to rumble with China, apparently oblivious to the fact that China's leader-in-waiting, Xi Jingping, is an army brat. I pray at my little alter of ecumenical totems that the tides of history will sweep Mitt Romney out to the seas of retirement from public life, where he can enjoy his Medicare entitlements secure in the guarantee that he will not be hassled over any pre-existing conditions.

Speaking of tides, we are now a week past the awful depredations of Hurricane Sandy and a lot of people are yet sitting in the cold and dark. The story is still developing - in a way similar to Hurricane Katrina - in the sense that the ordeals of individual suffering and loss are slow to emerge from the chaos of the moment into public awareness. For instance, it took weeks after Katrina for many property owners to learn that the loss of their house was attributed to "flooding," which is generally not covered in home insurance policies.

There are still vast neighborhoods, such as Long Beach, Long Island, where the issue hasn't even come up yet, at least not in the news media. When it does, it will be much bigger deal politically than was the case in Biloxi, Mississippi, or the 9th Ward of New Orleans, where people were more accustomed to the cruel boot of authority, not to mention the frequent tantrums of a subtropical ocean.

I don't know how Sandy will affect the electoral results in New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, but even if polling places can be set up in ruined, blacked-out districts one would think the eligible voters have a lot more urgent matters on their minds.

Anyway, once this dreadful election is over the floodgates of events will open up and we will once again be forced to reckon especially with the epochal forces that seek to shatter the financial system. Sandy was a kind of preview of coming attractions for a different sort of wreckage to come.

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Cargo Electric Bikes

SUBHEAD: A broad review of varieties for electrically assisted cargo bicycles available in America.

By Staff in 21 June 2012 for Electric Bike -
(http://www.electricbike.com/cargo/)


Image above: A big rig Bullet electric cargo bike with high capacity trailer. From original article.

[IB Publisher's note: This is a detailed article with more links and images than are in this partial post. If you are interested in this subject. read the original article here.]

One genre of bike that fits the electric bike utility nicely is the cargo bike. Because of the nature of a cargo bike there is a lot of space to hide batteries, controllers and wiring and still have plenty of left over space for a baby or two.

For an electric biker, the extra few pounds that a cargo bike frame weighs is of no serious significance or consequence , especially given the extra capacity for battery stowage. Basically, with a cargo bike you will be able to toss into the bags as much lithium battery as you’re able to shake your  credit card at , with storage space and weight capacity finally being a non-issue! Once a cargo bike is rolling they are designed to handle well even when weighted down.  Your only issue with the heavy cargo bike will be when it comes to parking.

A cargo bike is one of the best frame choices for an electric bike because of its capability to hold many pounds of battery. Not only that, but your imagination can run wild on everything else that they can carry.  How about 300 bananas for mammas frozen daiquiri corner stand?  What about styrofoam bricks for your brothers foam house? Owning a cargo electric bike can be like owning a truck…but be careful…pretty soon everyone will want a favor or a pick up. It’s like owning a truck.

Cargo Electric Bikes, the Pros
  1. Unlike a pedal cargo bike, an electric cargo bike is not slow, and can go as fast as you set it up to go.
  2. Tons of Battery storage. Need high volts for hill climbing (72V+), and also lots of Ah for long range? with a cargo bike, you can easily have both.
  3. Tons of cargo capacity, You can actually use it to get stuff from the store.
  4. Ability to take passengers.
  5. Kids love riding on Cargo Bikes.
  6. Easy to go stealth and hide the electrics behind cargo bags.
  7. Since you are a cargo bike you have a good excuse to be electric…acceptance among other bikers.
  8. Not a hot ticket for bike thieves.
  9. Long wheelbase and fat tire capability are good for high speed, even if you don’t care about cargo.
  10. Sturdy non-suspension front forks, and the even weight distribution make them ideal candidates for simple front wheel drive hubs.
Cargo Electric Bike Cons
  1. Hard to store, you need a space big enough to roll your big and heavy cargo bike into (biggest drawback).
  2. Because they are not in mass production, they tend to be expensive.
  3. Not practical for riding  off road.
  4. Front suspension forks do not work well on cargo electric bikes because of its front heavy weight balance.
  5. Can be unwieldy and not as fun to ride as shorter wheel base ride.
  6. You have no excuse not to help your friend move.
If you live in suburbia, are blessed with  a big garage,  use your bike mostly on the street, plan to carry loads with your E-bike, have kids…a cargo ebike might be the perfect solution for you. Cargo electric bikes are a fun and healthy way to tote your children around. Imagine the joy your child will feel riding in the open air compared to riding home in a car…these are days your child will always remember and maybe he/she will grow up and be part of the healthy biking culture.

3 Styles of
Electric Cargo Bikes
There are 3 basic styles of turnkey electric cargo bikes:

1. Trailers
2. Long Tails
3. Long-johns

Its worth weighing the pros and cons of all 3 of these styles.


Image above: Mid drive electric bike with large cargo trailer. From original article.

1. Trailers

A  trailer can instantly transform your rig  into a cargo electric bike.  Trailers have been used by E-bikers who want to transport extra battery, kids, camping gear, and even dogs. People have biked across the country on regular mountain bikes towing trailers with all their food, camping gear, and especially lots of battery.
 Trailer Pros
  • Affordable
  • Can carry up to 100lbs
  • Once you easily and quickly detach, you have a regular ebike once again
Trailer Cons
  • Trailers make your electric bike not handle like a bike anymore.
  • Trailers are very unwieldy and hard to park
  • Trailers can be hard to navigate narrow passageways or single tracks
  • Can only carry up to 100lbs saf


Image above: A front wheel drive long tail electric cargo bike by Big Surly . From original article.

2. Longtails
The most popular form of cargo electric bike, there are many versions of this available.
Longtail pros
  • Can carry up to 400 pounds.
  • handling is still like a regular Ebike…feels solid.
  • Many options available for conversion.
  • Is the best vale for the money.
  • Can maneuver in narrow passageways and even single track.
Longtail cons
  • Can not carry the massive weight and volume a long John can.
  • Big and bulky to park.
A high-quality highly-recommended cargo longtail for electric conversion is the Surly Big Dummy. The one below has an extra set of handlebars so an adult passenger can ride on the back.  This is what we recommend for a long tail if you can afford it.  The other 2 options we recommend  is the very affordable Yuba Mundo  and the Kona Ute pictured later in the story.


Image above: Long-John styke electric cargo bike by Joe Bike with front, mid and rear cargo space. From original article.
3. Long-Johns
The massive version of a cargo bike. These bikes have a long nose and hold the cargo in front of the rider. This is good for parents who want to keep an eye on their children, and for carrying large volume or a heavy weight. If you have a place to park this machine, and you have the extra cash, this could make a magnificent ride. Also you could base a business on it.
Long-John Pros
  • Can carry over 600lbs easily.
  • Real attention getter…sharpest looking of all cargo bikes
  • Awesome visibility of load or children riding right in front of your eyes.
  • Romantic date machine for taking out the ladies…a magic carpet ride.
  • So unusual looking that car traffic notices you more than on a regular E-bike.
  • Good weight balance so ideal for front drive motor.
Long-John Cons
  • Expensive…just the bike is going to cost you over $2K.
  • Heavy…these are the heaviest of the cargo E-bike styles.
  • Does not ride like a bike…these things are unweidly
  • They take a heck of a lot of room to park.


Image above: An Urban Arrow "from the ground up" electric cargo bike for small passengers. From original article.

Purpose Built
“Purpose built” means the cargo electric bike was built from the ground up with the plan of it being electric. Even with regular electric bikes this is a feat that very few companies have bothered with (see our list of 10 here).

 In the category of Electric cargo bikes I know of only one purpose-built bike, the beautiful, practical, and uber expensive: Urban Arrow. This is not a simple hub motor but a purpose-built mid drive.


Image above: the Juiced Rider electric bike is a brilliant 20 inch bike with a low step through and huge ah battery and 500 watt geared hub motor and disc brakes. From (http://www.juicedriders.com/).

Semi Purpose Built
Many manufacturers of cargo electric bikes are converting their regular electric bikes by building into the frame a way to mount the battery pack so that the rider has his panniers all clear for maximum cargo. All the below bikes come turn key ready to roll, and all contain the battery built into the rear rack. Extra battery can be piled into the panniers for extra long rides.

My favorite turn key cargo e-bike, the Juiced Rider electric bike is designed by an Olympic High Jumper, a brilliant 20 inch bike with a low step through and huge ah battery and 500 watt geared hub motor and disc brakes.


Image above:Trek mountain bike with custom modified frame and electric conversion. From original article.

Conversion Bikes
Some non-electric bikes can be converted. This is making a electric cargo bike the cheap and easy way. If you are on a budget this is the way to go.

Simply a hub motor (front or rear), a controller strapped somewhere on the frame, and  the battery in the panniers. Conversion bikes are not too difficult and can be done as cheaply or as expensively as you want them. The pictured frame above is an Xtra Cycle, a kit that converts a regular mountain bike into a cargo bike.

Another option is to start with a cargo bike to begin with, and then just add the motor and panniers. This is easy and can be a bit more expensive but does not require a “donor bike”. This is an easy bike for anyone to build, and the benefit of building yourself, is you can install your own flair…or your own whatever you have laying around the house.


Video above: Promotional film for cargo bikes. From (http://youtu.be/2Yy3kXIaKp8).

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: European Cargo Bikes 9/24/12
Island Breath: Three Wheeled Wonders 6/27/08
Island Breath: Kauai Police Patrols 6/7/08
Island Breath: Bikes on Kauai 11/16/05


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Seed Saving Workshop

SUBHEAD: Get hands-on experience in the methods you need to successfully grow, harvest, save, and share your own garden seed.

By Patti Valentine on 3 November 2012 for Regenerations Botanical Garden -
(http://ribg.org/regenerations_botanical_garden/Home.html)


Image above:Detail of aanouncment for Seed Saving Workshop. Click to enlarge for whole poster,

WHAT:
Seed Saving Workshop

WHEN:
Sunday, November 11th from 3:00-6:00pm

WHERE:
The Children of the Land Center
next to Papaya’s Natural Food
Waipouli Shopping Center
4-831 Kuhio Highway in Kapaa.

INFO:
Call Patti at (808) 652-0433

Regenerations Botanical Garden is offering their Seed Saving Workshop on Sunday, November 11 from 3-6 pm at the Kauai Community Seed Bank & Library, located in The Children of the Land Center next to Papaya’s Natural Foods in the Waipouli Shopping Center (4-831 Kuhio Highway) in Kapaa.

Get hands-on experience in the methods you need to successfully grow, harvest, save, and share your own garden seed.

Topics include: the importance of saving seed; how to choose seeds worth saving; seed purity and isolation; genetic diversity; cleaning, drying and storing; community seed banks.

Suggested donation $5-10
Gardening books and Seed Saving Kits will be available.


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There's no ER for Eaarth

SUBHEAD: You can begin the healing, but what’s the right thing to do when restoring our little patches of Earth?

By Barath Raghavan on 2 November 2012 for Contraposition -
(http://contraposition.org/blog/2012/10/31/theres-no-emergency-room-for-a-planet/)


Image above: Erik Bendl rolling giant globe across US in honor of diabetic mother. From (http://news2.onlinenigeria.com/index.php?news=70305).

"There is no emergency room available for the planet Earth." 
 (The quote from Rep. Ed Markey, who I’d never heard of before, speaking today about the need for political action on climate change.)

The metaphors in that statement really hit home for me: most of us living in wealthy nations know, somewhere deep-down, that if something bad happens to us that there’ll be something and/or someone to take care of us—not just a long-term safety net, though there’s that to a greater or lesser extent in various nations, but a short-term safety net. An emergency room is the most fundamental of these.

I of course have my preferred policy (the clean energy dividend), but almost any action is good at this point. But what action, and by whom? Large-scale political action is ultimately needed, but there’s a certain paralysis that’s taken over as a result of national and international dysfunction on climate action.

So that brings me back to what I remember reading about as a kid in the 1980s—how someday soon we’d have space expeditions to visit and then to terraform Mars and other planets for human settlement. Not knowing better, I thought it’d happen, but it seems pretty unlikely at this point.

But the thing I’ve never understood is why there hasn’t been a similar sentiment about terraforming Earth. Maybe it’s that it’s literally too grounded and prosaic. It’s not one big dream for humankind. It’s a thousand thousand thousand little dreams for individual humans and the animals and plants and fungi that surround them.

terraform |ˈterəˌfôrm| verb [ trans. ]
(esp. in science fiction) transform (a planet) so as to resemble the earth, esp. so that it can support human life.
Wouldn’t it be strange if now that we live on Eaarth, as Bill McKibben aptly puts it, we need to terraform our new planet so as to resemble Earth?

My dream is for each of us, and our friends and family and local communities, to restore some little patch of Earth that is dear to us, and if not dear to us, then at least near to us. That restoration might look like trying to help return it to the state it was in before it was razed for paving or construction or mining a (few) hundred years ago.

But since it’s hard to know what it was like once, and since we have to accept that at this point we’re changing the planet in massive ways, improving the biodiversity and true sustainability of the local ecosystem is more important in my mind than returning it to some past state that can’t ever be recovered.

What such restoration will look like will vary depending on the local climate, the local ecosystem, the local community, and of course the people doing the restoration. I’m not even sure restoration is the right term for it. But what I do know is that not only is it gratifying work, but also that it provides an opportunity to build a connection with the land where one lives.

Recently I’ve been trying to do this in small ways. There’s quite a bit of dead, compact soil filled with construction debris and trash between the sidewalk and the curb next to the apartment where I live. Getting a shovel to go into it more than a centimeter required chiseling at it like it was rock. So my first goal was to restore the soil, and to do that I dug several small holes and planted comfrey (roots) in them a few months ago.

Along with the comfrey I scattered local wildflower seeds and clover seeds (to eventually help fix nitrogen). It’s been a bit of a challenge getting the seeds to grow, though they are now, but the comfrey really took to it and has been doing well. The next step, probably in the Spring, will be to plant oak saplings I’m going to be growing over the Winter. And maybe some fruit trees as well, though I’m not sure which yet.

What’s the difference between massive geoengineering efforts, such as the recent effort to seed the ocean in an attempt to trigger a plankton bloom and sequester carbon, and smaller-scale efforts? And what’s the right thing to do when restoring our little patches of Earth? Should only natives be planted? Food-bearing trees? Some mix? Should more diversity of plants be introduced than naturally exist in the region?

 I’m not sure that there’s a good answer to these questions, but that’s no barrier to doing something anyway.

 See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Genesis in Reverse 4/23/10
Ea O Ka Aina: "Eaarth" by Bill McKibben 4/6/10

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Avoiding Climate Change Defeatism

SUBHEAD: We have no choice but to spend the rest of our lives in a warming climate, but we still have a choice about how much the climate will warm.

By Kevin Drum on 31 October 2012 for Early Warning -
(http://earlywarn.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/avoiding-defeatism-on-climate-change.html)


Image above: Water, water everywhere: An aerial view of flooding on the bay side of Seaside, New Jersey, after Sandy hit. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2225112/Superstorm-Sandy-Death-toll-hits-FIFTY-damage-set-50BILLION.html).

Kevin Drum sounds a little bit down in the mouth:
If you were teaching a graduate seminar in public policy and challenged your students to come up with the most difficult possible problem to solve, they'd come up with something very much like climate change. It's slow-acting. It's essentially invisible. It's expensive to address. It has a huge number of very rich special interests arrayed against doing anything about it. It requires international action that pits rich countries against poor ones. And it has a lot of momentum: you have to take action now, before its effects are serious, because today's greenhouse gases will cause climate change tomorrow no matter what we do in thirty years.

I have to confess that I find myself feeling the same way Andy does more and more often these days. It's really hard to envision any way that we're going to seriously cut back on greenhouse gas emissions until the effects of climate change become obvious, and by then it will be too late. I recognize how defeatist this is, and perhaps the proliferation of extreme weather events like Sandy will help turn the tide. But it hasn't so far, and given the unlikelihood of large-scale global action on climate change, adaptation seems more appealing all the time. For the same reason, so does continued research into geoengineering as a last-resort backup plan.
I don't think this is really quite the right way of thinking about the problem with it's all-or-nothing, either-or quality.  I'd like to suggest some other ways of framing the issue that are helpful to me in staying motivated to take action.  As a starting point, let's look at a few emissions scenarios and temperature projections:



These aren't the latest and greatest, but the exact details don't matter to understand the overall shape of the problem. The charts run from 1900 to 2100 - so the present is roughly in the middle.  At the top are three paths for CO2 - growing from its pre-industrial value of about 280ppm through values up over 800ppm in the case of the A2 scenario, and stabilizing in the mid 500s by century end in the case of B1.  Note that we are currently up to about 394ppm (seasonally adjusted) and still climbing fast.

You can imagine better scenarios, but bear with me a minute.  The three scenarios above at least represent a huge range in how well humanity responds to the problem.  If you now look at the resulting temperature projections in the lower panel, two things become evident: 1) there's almost no difference at all in the temperature path in the next few decades based on emissions trajectory, and 2) by century end, it makes a really big difference in the total temperature change.

So, firstly, it seems to me that we have no choice at all but to do quite a bit of adaptation.  There's already been enough climate change to make a noticeable difference in the weather - bigger, nastier heat-waves and droughts, more precipitation extremes, etc.  Given that we've got a bit less than a degree Celsius of temperature rise so far, we can be confident we are going to get at least another degree pretty much regardless of what we do.  There seems very little doubt that that's going to be enough to finish melting the north pole in summer, cause some pretty profound changes in northern hemisphere weather, greatly increase droughts and downpours, etc.  Sea level is going to rise, and the rate of rise is going to accelerate.

So, coastal communities all over the world are going to have to look at what happened to New Orleans a few years back, or what just happened to Manhattan, and realize that the odds of those kinds of events are just going to get higher and higher as we steadily add more and more inches to the sea level and more degrees to the ocean surface temperature with the passing decades.  No responsible community can afford not to plan for that and put in place the levees and sea walls and pumps and plans that are implied.

Similarly, farmers and agricultural suppliers and financiers are going to have to adapt to a world in which the weather is wilder and thus crop yields in any given location are less certain and more work needs to be done to bring forth the necessary total harvest to feed the world's growing population.  Some places are going to have to be abandoned, and others are going to have to be opened up to agriculture.

At the same time, it's also very important to recognize that an end-of-the-century state of 2oC-and-stabilizing is going to be a completely different thing than 4oC-and-accelerating.  The former is going to be bad, but the latter is going to be well on the way to hell:
Number of days annually over 100oF in the recent past, and under high emissions in 2080-2099 according to p90 of Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States

So to say "we must adapt to some climate change" is not at all to imply "so we might as well give up the struggle".  There are still huge differences between the end states that are realistically available to us as a society.
It can be discouraging to think, "political change is infeasible right now and anyway will take decades to make much difference".  While it's true that comprehensive political change is infeasible right now (at least in the US) I argue that it's unlikely to stay true.  People may not be as quick as we'd like to respond to serious threats, but I don't have so little faith in humanity as to think that they are capable of almost literally turning the planet into something closely approximating hell in the summer.

By the point - which is coming sometime this century - when we are having massive scorching droughts left and right and food prices are seriously volatile and keeping the body politic from rioting is a major pre-occupation - I'm confident that climate denial will be over and we'll be making all serious efforts to control our carbon emissions and first stabilize the CO2 concentration and then actually lower it.
So I don't really have any doubt that we are eventually going to rein in our fossil fuel use.  The question is about when, not if.
Look at the problem from the other end: what is it going to take to get society to carbon neutral, whenever we finally achieve it?  Well, in a way it's very simple: there are going to be a few billion households, and a few billion vehicles, and a few hundred million companies and organizations, and each one is individually going to have to be rendered carbon neutral.  So there's a whole bunch of mostly rather boring infrastructure projects that have to be undertaken at the level of individual households and institutions to make this happen.  At the level of the individual household it's about:
  • energy audits, insulation, limiting air infiltration, efficient windows.
  • buying commercial renewable power.
  • installing solar panels, or wind where applicable.
  • replacing fossil fuel powered heating systems and water heaters with minsplit or geothermal heat pumps. 
At the individual transportation level it's about
  • buying and using an electric vehicle, or a hybrid/plugin as an intermediate step, and/or
  • locating in a place where it's possible to walk/bike/public transport instead of driving
At the level of businesses it's about
  • buying commercial renewable power
  • installing solar, etc, where applicable
  • making facilities as energy-efficient as possible
  • transitioning towards use of biofuels where there's really no alternative to liquid fuels
  • transitioning towards use of vido-conferencing to limit use of air travel.
At the level of utilities it's going to be about building a global grid to average out the volatility of renewable energy sources.
Some of these things will be greatly benefitted by technological improvements (eg I think there's a lot of room to make video-conferencing cheaper/better and we clearly need to drive down the cost of electric cars and continue to lower the cost of solar/wind).  Better batteries and better utility storage options will be very helpful.  There's an awful lot for inventors and entrepreneurs to be getting busy on.
However, there's also an awful lot of low hanging fruit that is perfectly possible to do today.  
For example, it's entirely possible for a sufficiently motivated homeowner with decent credit to become carbon neutral today along the above lines.  It doesn't even have to cost that much - almost all the upfront costs can be financed via the cashflow savings in future fuel use.  There are a bunch of people who've done it already.  There are more of us (including me) who are in the middle of the process.  You, the reader, could be one of them if you so choose.
And this leads into my final point on motivation.  As individuals, we don't have any control over how long society as a whole will take to transition to carbon neutrality.  What we do have control over is our personal moral culpability for the situation.  I believe that we'll all be carbon neutral in the end, but we have the choice to be early adopters or late adopters: leaders, followers, or those finally dragged in by the police, kicking and screaming. This is true at the level of households, and it's doubly true for business and organization leaders who have the potential to make decisions that influence far more carbon emissions.
And of course, for public intellectuals like Kevin, there is a tremendous amount of work to be done to lower the barrier to public action.  There are scientific papers and studies to be read and explained to the public, bad journalism to be authoritatively contradicted, action measures to be evaluated and promoted, green businesses to be invested in, laws and regulations to be commented on, pseudo-scandals to be denounced, coal plants to be opposed.  It's true that there isn't going to be some big sweeping cap-and-trade plan in the US this year or next.

But that doesn't mean that there aren't hundreds of lesser measures that help or hinder - feed-in tariffs, on-bill recovery financing, fuel economy standards, renewable portfolio standards, blocking approvals for coal export terminals or tar-sands pipelines, the wind farm down the road.
There's plenty of work to be done.  And to the extent that we can succeed in lowering the costs and increasing the penetration of alternatives, and in raising the costs of fossil fuels, we move forward the day when more comprehensive legislation is possible.  Again, make no error, since climate change is real and is very serious, that day is coming regardless.  But human choices can make it sooner or make it later, and we each are responsible for what we choose to do to that end.  We have no choice but to spend the rest of our lives in a warming climate.  We do individually have a choice how much we do about that fact.

And, collectively, we still have a choice about how much the climate will warm.

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