Next big thing... Degrowth

SUBHEAD: This is not doom-and-gloom for society. It's only doom-and-gloom for the current unsustainable arrangement.

By Charles Hugh Smith on 6 April 2014 for Of Two Minds -
(http://charleshughsmith.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/and-next-big-thing-is-degrowth.html)


Image above: View of "Degrowth" sign on Dunsmuir Viaduct in Vancouver, BC, Canada. From (http://ecocollectivism.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/de-growth/).

The Grand Narrative of the past few centuries goes something like this:
  • from religious authority to secular authority, 
  • from agriculture to industrial, 
  • from rural to urban, 
  • from local to global, 
  • from periphery to center, 
  • from decentralized to centralized, 
  • from low-density energy to high-density energy (from wood to coal to oil), 
  • from industrial to communication technology, 
  • from gold to fiat currencies, 
  • from linear to non-linear (complex/fractal), 
  • from local scarcity and high cost to global abundance, 
  • from islands of prosperity to continents of prosperity, 
  • from cash to credit, 
  • from collateral to leverage,
  • from productive to consumerist and 
  • from sustainable to unsustainable.
Many of these linear trends are running out of oxygen or reversing. Rigid hierarchies are being disrupted by self-organizing systems, centralization is being disrupted by decentralization, lower density alternative energy is distributed rather than concentrated, commodity costs are rising globally due to demand outstripping supply and leveraged credit is destabilizing financial systems across the globe.

In the past few decades, the growth narrative has depended on "the Next Big Thing" --the new disruptive technology that drives wealth and job creation.

In the early 20th century, the next big things were plentiful, and they clustered around transport and communication: autos, highways, aircraft, radio, telephony and most recently the Internet.

The progress of technologies tends to track an S-Curve, with a slow gestation (experimentation that drives rapid evolution of innovations), a period of widespread adoption and technological leaps, and then a maturation phase in which advancements are refinements rather than leaps.

Air travel is a good example: the leap from open-cockpit aircraft of the 1910s to the long-distance comfort of the DC-3 in the 1930s was enormous, as was the leap from the prop-driven DC-3 to the greater capacity and speed of the 707 jet airliner.

But since the advent of the Boeing 727 in 1964 and the jumbo-jet 747 in 1969, very little about the passenger experience of flight has changed (or has changed for the worse): the envelope of speed is little changed, and efficiency has improved, but these are mostly invisible to the passengers.

My 1977 Honda Accord was extremely safe, reliable, powerful, efficient, comfortable, etc. Improvements in the past 37 years since have been modest in these fundamental technologies. (I actually prefer the smaller, older, less luxurious Accords.)

Once computers reached the Mac OS X/Windows XP level, improvements have been of marginal utility. The lack of blockbuster medications--and the skepticism regarding the efficacy and cost of existing blockbuster meds--raise the same question: maybe the low-hanging fruit of present technologies have all been picked.

What Happens After the Low-Hanging Fruit Has Been Picked? (April 2, 2014)

No More Industrial Revolutions, No More Growth? (December 27, 2012)

The costs of our lifestyle continue to rise, due to financialization, cartel/fiefdom skimming, higher energy costs, bureaucratic bloat and related systemic causes. At the same time, more of our collective consumption is being funded with debt, which is another way of saying that present consumption is being paid for with future income.

For the past two centuries, each Next Big Thing magically created more wealth and more jobs. The progression has been straightforward: production moves to lower-labor cost areas or is automated/mechanized, and labor moves to providing higher-value services.

What if we've run out of Next Big Things that generate more jobs? What if the next big thing is Degrowth, i.e. consuming less and doing more with less? This is a problem, as the Status Quo has optimized only one pathway: higher consumption, costs and debt.Any reduction in any of these three collapses the system.

TEDx Tokyo: The "De" Generation (8 minutes) (de-ownership, de-materialism, de-corporatism)

Degrowth, Anti-Consumerism and Peak Consumption (May 9, 2013)

The American Model of "Growth": Overbuilding and Poaching November 19, 2013

When Conventional Success Is No Longer Possible, Degrowth and the Black Market Beckon(February 7, 2014)

Labor-saving software/communication technology has chewed through much of production and is now feeding ravenously on the service sector. As costs inexorably rise, enterprise has only one real way to reduce costs: reduce labor. As a result, the current Big Thing--the world-wide web--is the first technology that is not creating more jobs than it eliminates.

Many smart people retain the faith that technology always creates more jobs than it destroys, but if we look at our daily lives, I see little evidence to support this faith. Thanks to technology, sole proprietors in information/design businesses can create the same output that took multiple people just 20 years ago.

Russ in Redding: The Human Face of The End of Work (September 2, 2011)

America's Social Recession: Five Years and Counting (August 28, 2013)

The Ten Best Employers To Work For (Peak Employment) (March 28, 2013)

The Python That Ate Your Job (December 11, 2013)

In my view, the Status Quo has no Plan B, not just from habit and the desire of those in power to retain power; we collectively have a failure of imagination. We cannot imagine a world that consumes less, generates fewer conventional jobs and reduces debt rather than creates more debt. The only strategy left in a systemic failure of imagination is to do more of what has failed spectacularly.

Why the Status Quo Is Doomed (June 27, 2013)

A Degrowth economy is not only entirely feasible in my view, it is the only way forward. The low-hanging fruit of Next Big Things have been picked, and wearable computing (Google glasses, etc.) is simply not a global growth engine. Robotic vehicles will eradicate millions of jobs without creating any more jobs at all; manufacturing self-driving cars will add very little labor to the manufacturing process.

Wages are no longer an adequate means of distributing the surplus of an economy. But this is not doom-and-gloom for society--it is only doom-and-gloom for the current unsustainable arrangement (Plan A). Plan B is actually a better plan, though few are able to see that yet.


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Forward Guidance

SUBHEAD: The result of this guidance continues to be the mis-pricing of everything, especially the cost of money.

By James Kunstler on 7 April 2014 for Kunstler.com -
(http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/forward-guidance-2/)


Image above: Illustration of Janet Yellen at the wheel by Craig Stephens. From (http://www.scmp.com/business/economy/article/1330339/janet-yellen-set-be-us-federal-reserve-chief-driven-woman).

Guess what? There is none. Rather, the Federal Reserve practice of Delphically divulging its intentions ought to be understood as the master pretense of US economic life — the delusion that wise persons are actually in control of anything. 

The result of this guidance continues to be the mis-pricing of everything, especially the cost of money as represented in the operations of debt, and hence the value of everything denominated in money.

The interventions of our central bank have really been aimed at one objective: to compensate for the contraction of real wealth in an economy that replaced purposeful activity with Kardashian studies and tattoo art.  Purposeful economic activity provides surpluses that allow for the repayment of debt. 

Kardashian study and tattoo art lead to entropic entrapment, aka, a death spiral of culture and economy. That’s where we are at. The debt is now eating us alive, and the central bank trick of piling on additional debt to mask the failure of repaying old debt is losing  its palliative punch.

One big problem with the Fed’s policies is that the mis-pricing of everything ends up being expressed in the very statistics (GDP, unemployment, inflation) that are used to justify further interventions that produce ever deeper perversities. That is, the Fed distorts prices, which distort statistics used to make policy, which prompt the fed to ramp up policies that further distort prices, a dangerous recursive dynamic. 

Since prices are the basic information for running an economy, we end up in a situation where nothing really adds up. The antidote to that has been pervasive accounting fraud — the covering-up of mis-pricing, pretending that things add up when they don’t.

The poster child for that, of course, is the US government, the operations of which are so saturated in falsity that the inspectors general in every branch and agency might as well just fling linguini against the wall to arrive at whatever conditional reality suits their bosses. 

The pretense extends to the largest financial institutions including the TBTF banks (their vaults stuffed with the detritus of epic swindles), to the giant pension funds, which were among the chief victims of the swindling, to the corporations dedicated to producing this-and-that, whose cost structures are so fatally impaired by all the aforesaid mis-pricing and accounting fraud, that they must resort to massive stock share buy-backs to maintain the illusion of being going concerns, to the millions of ordinary households running on maxed-out plastic.

These perversities have been in force for five years now, and “folks” — to use our president’s fond locution for the diabetic masses — are beginning to get nervous about the five-year duration of the so-called bull market. 

This refers to the stock markets collectively, which have generally only gone up since 2009 in an economic environment that can only be called unconvincing. The word “bubble” is heard more and more in casual chatter. Events like Friday’s tanking of the NASDAQ put people in mind of the ominous Four Horsemen.

One thing we really do know, as good old Herb Stein put it, is that things go on until they can’t, and then they don’t. Sighs of relief were heaved all last week when it appeared that the Obama / Kerry response to doings in Ukraine amounted, more-or-less, to a policy that might be called “Oh… nevermind.” 

Personally, I’m relieved that our leaders decided not to start World War Three over that, since in the aftermath there might be no human historians left on planet earth to record our monumental stupidity for the cosmic annals — something for our successors, the sentient cockroaches, to meditate on. But a certain nagging emptiness remains in that void of initiative. 

The spring zephyrs are finally caressing the tender hills and vales of upstate New York. Something is in that wind. I think I scent revolution.

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Entomb Fukushima Daiichi now

SUBHEAD: Abe must act now to seal Fukushima reactors, before it's too late. Complacency is putting the world at risk.

By Julian Gresser, Ernst Frankel, Jerome Cohen on 6 April 2014 for South China Morning Post -
(http://www.scmp.com/comment/article/1464566/abe-must-act-now-seal-fukushima-reactors-its-too-late)


Image above: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (red hat) is briefed about tanks containing radioactive water. From original article.

Dear Prime Minister Abe, the Fukushima crisis is getting worse. Yet you have an option at your disposal to resolve it. But first you must begin by challenging a chain of untested and dangerous assumptions that have lulled you and your administration into apparent complacency.

The key assumption, the root of all the others, is that you still have a safe window of time, at least two or three more years, and possibly longer, to deal with Fukushima's four damaged nuclear reactors. Indeed, you have assured the Olympic Committee that the situation at Fukushima is under control and will remain so, certainly until after the Games in Tokyo scheduled for 2020, although your government has recently estimated it may take another 30 years for the radioactive contamination emanating from Fukushima to be abated.

What if this assessment is unrealistically optimistic? What if the safe window of time is less than a year? What if the very concept of a safe window is inappropriate for Fukushima? The fact is, we really don't know what might happen.

According to the Tokyo Electric Power Company's published engineering reports, the most severely damaged reactors (one to four) are only secure to the level of a magnitude 7.9 earthquake. But the mega earthquake that caused the greatest damage at Fukushima was measured at magnitude 9.0.

What will happen at reactors one to four when the next earthquake of 7.9 magnitude or greater strikes? Or what if the cumulative effects of a series of smaller earthquakes exceed this threshold? In order to compromise any or all the reactors at Fukushima, the next earthquake, tsunami or volcanic eruption need not even occur within Japan.

The crucial question is: how secure is the facility against any number of dark scenarios?

There is a high probability that, if a quake of magnitude 7.9 or above, or some other serious event, strikes Fukushima, a "criticality" will occur. The least dangerous would be the local release of strontium-90, caesium 134/137, or nano-plutonium. Far more dangerous would be an explosion, or a series of explosions - a chain reaction, engulfing reactors one to four - that would spew this contamination over much broader areas of helpless populations. Three previous explosions have released radioactive material over Fukushima and Tokyo.

The next criticality may be far more serious. If you look at a three-dimensional topographical map, you will see that greater Tokyo virtually touches Fukushima. But no one is immune. The jet stream will transport airborne contamination to the United States and other parts of the world. In 2005, the US National Academy of Sciences reported that there were no safe dosages of strontium-90, caesium 134/137, nano-plutonium or other long-lived radioactive isotopes, and the risks to human health increase cumulatively with continuing exposure.

Some Russian scientists estimate that 985,000 people died, mainly of cancer, as a result of the Chernobyl accident. Fukushima may be far more dangerous because the risks are continuing, and the situation is dynamically degrading and unstable. Moreover, unlike Three Mile Island or even Chernobyl, the formidable problems of access to reactors one to three make accurate assessment of the true extent of the damage, hence the level of risk and vulnerability, extremely challenging.

We urge that you commission a 30-day independent assessment by a multidisciplinary international team of experts on the feasibility of entombment of reactors one to four, addressing the following specific scenario among others:

Use helicopters mounted with telescopic nozzles, and, after reinforcing the spent fuel pool in the target reactor, spray it with special lighter-than-water concrete, dissolved in water solution; let the pool harden, along with the remainder of the facility, which is also sprayed until it becomes impervious to radiation or explosion. The independent commission should advise which reactor is the best initial candidate.

The special materials are currently being used in construction in Israel, the US, and other countries and can easily be made available in Japan, if they are not already in use.

Hundreds of tonnes of material will probably be required for each nuclear reactor, and preliminary estimates suggest that each operation should cost well under US$10 million. Reactors one to four can probably be entombed within six months.

This plan obviously requires you to recognise that reactors one to four are probably not salvageable. Entomb them. Then commission pilot studies for improving earthquake prediction and early warning and monitoring systems at any nuclear plants you can responsibly contemplate operating.

• Julian Gresser is chairman of Alliances for Discovery. Ernst G. Frankel is emeritus professor of ocean engineering at MIT. Jerome A. Cohen is co-director of the US-Asia Law Institute at NYU Law School. Dick Wullaert also contributed to the article.

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Mentats Wanted - Will Train

SUBHEAD: Dear reader, I’d like to offer you an exercise as the very first step in your mentat training. 

By John Michael Greer on 2 aoril 2014 for Archdruid Report -
(http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2014/04/mentats-wanted-will-train.html)


Image above: Screen shot of Harkonnen Mentat from video game Dune 2000. From ().

The theme of last week’s post here on The Archdruid Report—the strategy of preserving or reviving technologies for the deindustrial future now, before the accelerating curve of decline makes that task more difficult than it already is—can be applied very broadly indeed. Just now, courtesy of the final blowoff of the age of cheap energy, we have relatively easy access to plenty of information about what worked in the past; some other resources are already becoming harder to get, but there’s still time and opportunity to accomplish a great deal.

I’ll be talking about some of the possibilities as we proceed, and with any luck, other people will get to work on projects of their own that I haven’t even thought of. This week, though, I want to take Gustav Erikson’s logic in a direction that probably would have made the old sea dog scratch his head in puzzlement, and talk about how a certain set of mostly forgotten techniques could be put back into use right now to meet a serious unmet need in contemporary American society.

The unmet need I have in mind is unusually visible just now, courtesy of the recent crisis in the Ukraine. I don’t propose to get into the whys and wherefores of that crisis just now, except to note that since the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the small nations of eastern Europe have been grist between the spinning millstones of Russia and whichever great power dominates western Europe.

It’s not a comfortable place to be; Timothy Snyder’s terse description of 20th century eastern Europe as “bloodlands” could be applied with equal force to any set of small nations squeezed between empires, and it would take quite a bit of unjustified faith in human goodness to think that the horrors of the last century have been safely consigned to the past.

The issue I want to discuss, rather, has to do with the feckless American response to that crisis. Though I’m not greatly interested in joining the chorus of American antigovernment activists fawning around Vladimir Putin’s feet these days, it’s fair to say that he won this one.

Russia’s actions caught the United States and EU off balance, secured the Russian navy’s access to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, and boosted Putin’s already substantial popularity at home. By contrast, Obama came across as amateurish and, worse, weak. 

When Obama announced that the US retaliation would consist of feeble sanctions against a few Russian banks and second-string politicians, the world rolled its eyes, and the Russian Duma passed a resolution scornfully requesting Obama to apply those same sanctions to every one of its members.

As the crisis built, there was a great deal of talk in the media about Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas, and the substantial influence over European politics that Russia has as a result of that unpalatable fact.

It’s a major issue, and unlikely to go away any time soon; around a third of the natural gas that keeps Europeans from shivering in the dark each winter comes from Russian gas fields, and the Russian government has made no bones about the fact that it could just as well sell that gas to somebody to Russia’s south or east instead.

It was in this context that American politicians and pundits started insisting at the top of their lungs that the United States had a secret weapon against the Sov—er, Russian threat: exports of abundant natural gas from America, which would replace Russian gas in Europe’s stoves, furnaces, and power plants.

As Richard Heinberg pointed out trenchantly a few days back in a typically spot-on essay, there’s only one small problem with this cozy picture: the United States has no spare natural gas to export.  It’s a net importer of natural gas, as it typically burns over a hundred billion more cubic feet of gas each month than it produces domestically.  What’s more, even according to the traditionally rose-colored forecasts issued by the EIA, it’ll be 2020 at the earliest before the United States has any natural gas to spare for Europe’s needs.

Those forecasts, by the way, blithely assume that the spike in gas production driven by the recent fracking bubble will just keep on levitating upwards for the foreseeable future; if this reminds you of the rhetoric surrounding tech stocks in the runup to 2000, housing prices in the runup to 2008, or equivalent phenomena in the history of any other speculative swindle you care to name, let’s just say you’re not alone.

According to those forecasts that start from the annoying fact that the laws of physics and geology do actually apply to us, on the other hand, the fracking boom will be well into bust territory by 2020, and those promised torrents of natural gas that will allegedly free Europe from Russian influence will therefore never materialize at all.

At the moment, furthermore, boasting about America’s alleged surplus of natural gas for export is particularly out of place, because US natural gas inventories currently in storage are less than half their five-year average level for this time of year, having dropped precipitously since December. Since all this is public information, we can be quite confident that the Russians are aware of it, and this may well explain some of the air of amused contempt with which Putin and his allies have responded to American attempts to rattle a saber that isn’t there.

Any of the politicians and pundits who participated in that futile exercise could have found out the problems with their claim in maybe two minutes of internet time.  Any of the reporters and editors who printed those claims at face value could have done the same thing.

I suppose it’s possible that the whole thing was a breathtakingly cynical exercise of Goebbels’ “Big Lie” principle, intended to keep Americans from noticing that the Obama’s people armed themselves with popguns for a shootout at the OK Corral.

I find this hard to believe, though, because the same kind of thinking—or, more precisely, nonthinking—is so common in America these days.

It’s indicative that my post here two weeks ago brought in a bumper crop of the same kind of illogic. My post took on the popular habit of using the mantra “it’s different this time” to insist that the past has nothing to teach us about the present and the future.

Every event, I pointed out, has some features that set it apart from others, and other features that it shares in common with others; pay attention to the common features and you can observe the repeating patterns, which can then be adjusted to take differences into account. 

Fixate on the differences and deny the common features, though, and you have no way to test your beliefs—which is great if you want to defend your beliefs against reasonable criticism, but not so useful if you want to make accurate predictions about where we’re headed.

Did the critics of this post—and there were quite a few of them—challenge this argument, or even address it? Not in any of the peak oil websites I visited.

What happened instead was that commenters brandished whatever claims about the future are dearest to their hearts and then said, in so many words, “It’s different this time”—as though that somehow answered me. It was quite an impressive example of sheer incantation, the sort of thing we saw not that long ago when Sarah Palin fans were trying to conjure crude oil into America’s depleted oilfields by chanting “Drill, baby, drill” over and over again.

I honestly felt as though I’d somehow dozed off at the computer and slipped into a dream in which I was addressing an audience of sheep, who responded by bleating “But it’s different this ti-i-i-i-ime” in perfect unison.

A different mantra sung to the same bleat, so to speak, seems to have been behind the politicians and pundits, and all that nonexistent natural gas they thought was just waiting to be exported to Europe. The thoughtstopping phrase here is “America has abundant reserves of natural gas.”

It will doubtless occur to many of my readers that this statement is true, at least for certain values of that nicely vague term “abundant,” just as it’s true that every historical event differs in at least some way from everything that’s happened in the past, and that an accelerated program of drilling can (and in fact did) increase US petroleum production by a

That is to say, a remarkably large number of Americans, including the leaders of our country and the movers and shakers of our public opinion, are so inept at the elementary skills of thinking that they can’t tell the difference between mouthing a platitude and having a clue.

I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does. For decades now, American public life has been dominated by thoughtstoppers of this kind—short, emotionally charged declarative sentences, some of them trivial, some of them incoherent, none of them relevant and all of them offered up as sound bites by politicians, pundits, and ordinary Americans alike, as though they meant something and proved something.

The redoubtable H.L. Mencken, writing at a time when such things were not quite as universal in the American mass mind than they have become since then, called them “credos.”  It was an inspired borrowing from the Latin credo, “I believe,” but its relevance extends far beyond the religious sphere.  

 Just as plenty of believing Americans in Mencken’s time liked to affirm their fervent faith in the doctrines of whatever church they attended without having the vaguest idea of what those doctrines actually meant, a far vaster number of Americans these days—religious, irreligious, antireligious, or concerned with nothing more supernatural than the apparent capacity of Lady Gaga’s endowments to defy the laws of gravity—gladly affirm any number of catchphrases about which they seem never to have entertained a single original thought.

Those of my readers who have tried to talk about the future with their family and friends will be particularly familiar with the way this works; I’ve thought more than once of providing my readers with Bingo cards marked with the credos most commonly used to silence discussions of our future—“they’ll think of something,” “technology can solve any problem,” “the world’s going to end soon anyway,” “it’s different this time,” and so on—with some kind of prize for whoever fills theirs up first.

The prevalence of credos, though, is only the most visible end of a culture of acquired stupidity that I’ve discussed here in previous posts, and Erik Lindberg has recently anatomized in a crisp and thoughtful blog post. That habit of cultivated idiocy is a major contributor to the crisis of our age, but a crisis is always an opportunity, and with that in mind, I’d like to propose that it’s time for some of us, at least, to borrow a business model from the future, and start getting prepared for future job openings as mentats.

In Frank Herbert’s iconic SF novel Dune, as many of my readers will be aware, a revolt against computer technology centuries before the story opened led to a galaxywide ban on thinking machines—“Thou shalt not make a machine in the image of a human mind”—and a corresponding focus on developing human capacities instead of replacing them with hardware.

The mentats were among the results: human beings trained from childhood to absorb, integrate, and synthesize information. Think of them as the opposite end of human potential from the sort of credo-muttering couch potatoes who seem to make up so much of the American population these days:  ask a mentat if it really is different this time, and after he’s spent thirty seconds or so reviewing the entire published literature on the subject, he’ll give you a crisp first-approximation analysis explaining what’s different, what’s similar, which elements of each category are relevant to the situation, and what your best course of action would be in response.
Now of course the training programs needed to get mentats to this level of function haven’t been invented yet, but the point still stands: people who know how to think, even at a less blinding pace than Herbert’s fictional characters manage, are going to be far better equipped to deal with a troubled future than those who haven’t. 

The industrial world has been conducting what amounts to a decades-long experiment to see whether computers can make human beings more intelligent, and the answer at this point is a pretty firm no. In particular, computers tend to empower decision makers without making them noticeably smarter, and the result by and large is that today’s leaders are able to make bad decisions more easily and efficiently than ever before.

That is to say, machines can crunch data, but it takes a mind to turn data into information, and a well-trained and well-informed mind to refine information into wisdom.
What makes a revival of the skills of thinking particularly tempting just now is that the bar is set so low. If you know how to follow an argument from its premises to its conclusion, recognize a dozen or so of the most common logical fallacies, and check the credentials of a purported fact, you’ve just left most Americans—including the leaders of our country and the movers and shakers of our public opinon—way back behind you in the dust.

To that basic grounding in how to think, add a good general knowledge of history and culture and a few branches of useful knowledge in which you’ve put some systematic study, and you’re so far ahead of the pack that you might as well hang out your shingle as a mentat right away.
Now of course it may be a while before there’s a job market for mentats—in the post-Roman world, it took several centuries for those people who preserved the considerable intellectual toolkit of the classical world to find a profitable economic niche, and that required them to deck themselves out in tall hats with moons and stars on them.

In the interval before the market for wizards opens up again, though, there are solid advantages to be gained by the sort of job training I’ve outlined, unfolding from the fact that having mental skills that go beyond muttering credos makes it possible to make accurate predictions about the future that are considerably more accurate than the ones guiding most Americans today.
This has immediate practical value in all sorts of common, everyday situations these days. When all the people you know are rushing to sink every dollar they have in the speculative swindle du jour, for example, you’ll quickly recognize the obvious signs of a bubble in the offing, walk away, and keep your shirt while everyone else is losing theirs.

When someone tries to tell you that you needn’t worry about energy costs or shortages because the latest piece of energy vaporware will surely solve all our problems, you’ll be prepared to ignore him and go ahead with insulating your attic, and when someone else insists that the Earth is sure to be vaporized any day now by whatever apocalypse happens to be fashionable that week, you’ll be equally prepared to ignore him and go ahead with digging the new garden bed.

When the leaders of your country claim that an imaginary natural gas surplus slated to arrive six years from now will surely make Putin blink today, for that matter, you’ll draw the logical conclusion, and get ready for the economic and political impacts of another body blow to what’s left of America’s faltering global power and reputation.

It may also occur to you—indeed, it may have done so already—that the handwaving about countering Russia is merely an excuse for building the infrastructure needed to export American natural gas to higher-paying global markets, which will send domestic gas prices soaring to stratospheric levels in the years ahead; this recognition might well inspire you to put a few extra inches of insulation up there in the attic, and get a backup heat source that doesn’t depend either on gas or on gas-fired grid electricity, so those soaring prices don’t have the chance to clobber you.
If these far from inconsiderable benefits tempt you, dear reader, I’d like to offer you an exercise as the very first step in your mentat training. 

The exercise is this: the next time you catch someone (or, better yet, yourself) uttering a familiar thoughtstopper about the future—“It’s different this time,” “They’ll think of something,” “There are no limits to what human beings can achieve,” “The United States has an abundant supply of natural gas,” or any of the other entries in the long and weary list of contemporary American credos—stop right there and think about it.

Is the statement true? Is it relevant? Does it address the point under discussion?  Does the evidence that supports it, if any does, outweigh the evidence against it? Does it mean what the speaker thinks it means? Does it mean anything at all?
There’s much more involved than this in learning how to think, of course, and down the road I propose to write a series of posts on the subject, using as raw material for exercises more of the popular idiocies behind which America tries to hide from the future. I would encourage all the readers of this blog to give this exercise a try, though.

In an age of accelerating decline, the habit of letting arbitrary catchphrases replace actual thinking is a luxury that nobody can really afford, and those who cling to such things too tightly can expect to be blindsided by a future that has no interest in playing along with even the most fashionable credos.

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Big Island independent energy

SOURCE: Ed Wagner (ed.j.wagner@gmail.com)
SUBHEAD: Parker Ranch is fed up with Hawaii electrical monopoly and is taking the bull by the horns.

Press Release on 2 April 2014 by Parker Ranch Incorporated -
(http://parkerranch.com/parker-ranch-launches-paniolo-power-company/)


Image above: From Parker Ranch cattle range near Waimea, Big Island. Note the lack of trees and native ground cover on these hillsdes once forested. Also note that this press release never mentions wind, solar PV or "alternative energy". Be wary. Image from Parker Ranch website.

[Sourcee's note: Well, it looks like someone else is fed up with the HECO-MECO-HELCO monopoly and is taking the bull by the horns to do something about it.]

Parker Ranch has launched a new subsidiary, Paniolo Power Company LLC, Neil “Dutch” Kuyper, CEO of Parker Ranch, Inc., announced today.

“The preliminary results from our energy team, led by Siemens, tell us there is the real opportunity to attract capital to invest in our community grid concept,” Kuyper said.

Parker Ranch hired a consortium led by Siemens to evaluate the merits of a community-based energy solution for Greater Waimea and Kohala as well as prepare a utility-grade integrated resource plan.

Hawaii Island electric rates from Hawaii Electric Light Co. (HELCO) are consistently more than 37 cents a kilowatt-hour, and often well over 40 cents, despite nearly half of the island’s electricity being generated from renewable sources. The national average for electricity rates last year was 12.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

“We think that the residents and businesses of the Big Island could be better served by a series of community solutions with regional level distributed generation focusing on our plentiful renewable resources,” said Kuyper.

“Because our island is so large, it is in a sense a few islands within the island.  Waimea is 55 miles from Kona and 60 miles from Hilo.  A combination of several regional solutions for the various parts of the island seems to make logical sense.”

Kuyper said that Paniolo Power has begun discussions with potential operating and capital partners to manage and fund the effort.  “We are pleased and excited about the inquiries that we have received in recent months to co-invest in our concept.  My background lends itself to raise capital for these kinds of investments,” said Kuyper.

Parker Ranch will present the preliminary findings on its Integrated Resource Plan study to the Waimea Community Association Thursday, April 3, 5:15 p.m. in the Waimea School Cafeteria.

About Parker Ranch
Parker Ranch was established in 1847 and remains one of the largest and oldest cattle ranches in the United States.  In 1992, it was left in a charitable trust following the death of sixth generation Parker descendant, Richard Palmer Kaleioku Smart, for the benefit of charitable organizations located in the Waimea community on Hawaii Island.

The beneficiaries are North Hawaii Community Hospital, Hawaii Preparatory Academy, Parker School and the Richard Smart Fund of the Hawaii Community Foundation.

Parker Ranch continues cattle ranching and is proactively leveraging its and the trust’s resources to support the trust’s beneficiaries, achieve a secure energy future, expand the sustainability of local food systems, and facilitate the general betterment of the Waimea area.


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Student finds radioactive seaweed

SUBHEAD: High-school student’s science project finds high radiation levels in grocery-store seafood.

By Robson Fletcher on 25 March 2014 for Metro news -
(http://metronews.ca/news/calgary/982233/alberta-students-science-project-finds-high-radiation-levels-in-grocery-store-seafood)


Image above: Grande Prairie high-school student Bronwyn Delacruz with her award-winning science project, titled, ‘Is Radioactive Contamination Reaching Store Bought Edible Seaweed?’ From original article.

[IB Publisher's note: If governments, universities and individual scientists won't do it the kids will have to themselves.]

Alberta high-school student Bronwyn Delacruz loves sushi, but became concerned last summer after learning how little food inspection actually takes place on some of its key ingredients.

The Grade 10 student from Grande Prairie said she was shocked to discover that, in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) stopped testing imported foods for radiation in 2012.

So, she decided to carry out her own tests.

Armed with a $600 Geiger counter bought by her dad, Delacruz studied a variety of seafoods – particularly seaweeds – as part of an award-winning science project that she will take to a national fair next month
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“Some of the kelp that I found was higher than what the International Atomic Energy Agency sets as radioactive contamination, which is 1,450 counts over a 10-minute period,” she said. “Some of my samples came up as 1,700 or 1,800.”

Delacruz said the samples that “lit up” the most were products from China that she bought in local grocery stores.

Her results caught the attention of judges at the Peace River Regional Science Fair, who moved her project along to the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Windsor, Ont., in May.

Delacruz also hopes to catch the attention of lawmakers in Ottawa with a petition urging the federal government to do more radiation testing on food.

The CFIA states online that it “continues to monitor events in Japan” but has no immediate plans to resume regular radiation testing, noting “Japanese controls on the sale of contaminated product remain intact.”

The agency did extensive testing on a variety of foods for a year and a half after the nuclear disaster in Japan but found no cause for concern at that time.

“More than 200 food samples were tested and all were found to be below Health Canada’s actionable levels for radioactivity,” the CFIA states in a February 2014 posting on its website. “As such, enhanced import controls have been lifted and no additional testing is planned.”

See also:
Scientists not panicking after Fukushima radiation found in B.C. soil


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US democracy is now a sham

SUBHEAD: America is far down the road to becoming a full-blown Corporate Police State.

By Ray on 1 April 2014 for Club Orlov  -
(http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/2014/04/in-us-democracy-is-now-sham.html)


Image above: Illustration of illustration of police state by Dran. From original article.

The founding principle for this new form of government which emerged in the 18th century, was that the Common Man was the ultimate source of power. Citizen legislators would enact the laws and shape the nation’s destiny. But instead, our republic is now strong-armed by professional politicians.

The two dominant concerns of these careerists are to STAY in power and to do the bidding of those who ENABLE them to stay in power. Anyone who doubts this statement might try explaining why campaign finance reform and term limits are perennially “off the table.” Actually, that is an understatement - they aren’t even in the building.

It is bad enough that the President, Congress and the Courts serve the interests of a minority that is so tiny that it is almost microscopic. What is even worse, is WHO that elite constituency is. It is exclusively THE BIGS: Big banks, Big corporations, Big agriculture, Big energy, Big pharmaceuticals, Big health care, Big high tech and the BIGGEST of them all - the military-industrial complex.

The “Vox Populi” – voice of the people is now as quaint and outmoded as telephone booths on street-corners. Even when there is a massive outpouring of disapproval for a policy - such as the enormous public outcry against Iraq Invasion 2 – the will of the people is disregarded. Instead, the “leaders” kiss the sterns of their financial backers. Ten million irate citizens cannot offset a single Halliburton.

But not only has genuine democracy vaporized, its putrid carcass is used against the ordinary person for whom it was initially conceived. Our demagogues give stirring speeches applauding our inalienable rights and the freedoms that our constitution protects.

 But at the same time, they barely whimper when a whistle blower reveals that the surveillance grid that is monitoring our behavior is beyond the wildest imaginings of Orwell or Huxley. And when the head of the Department of Omnipresent Surveillance admits that he lied to Congress, he is not prosecuted for perjury. Amazingly, he doesn’t even lose his job.

When the President signs the NDAA act which allows for “indefinite detention” of citizens without formal charges or without the right to a lawyer, it should be utterly clear that the boot of Soft-Core Tyranny is now on our neck. And that unchecked and almost unnoticed power continues to grow at an obscene pace.

Examples of this are the militarization of small town police departments, the unending malignant growth of the Department of Homeland Security and the cessation of Posse Comitatus which keeps the military from being used as a domestic police force.

But even though our career politicians only represent the rich and the powerful, and even though they abet the steady erosion of our constitutionally ordained rights, it is even worse! That’s because despite making a mockery of democracy at home, they trumpet its virtues abroad. This is shameful Hypocrisy with a capital H.

What they are really trying to spread is not Democracy but Predatory Capitalism. They want to expand the sphere of influence of their financial backers who want greater market share in more and more markets. They do this through subtle intrusion via the IMF and the World Bank. Concurrent with this, they embrace the most corrupt and brutal local politicians they can find.

The saying “He may be a genocidal dictator, but he’s OUR genocidal dictator” is not a punch-line in a joke. It is standard operating procedure for U.S. foreign policy. If this kinder, gentler approach fails, then the next steps are assassination or invasion. So the spreading of democracy leaves death, mutilation and destruction in its wake.

So, in conclusion, it appears to me that America is no longer a world-wide exemplar of how to sculpt a civilized society. Instead, it is far down the road to becoming a full-blown Corporate Police State. It has fallen so tragically, that it is now just a self-deluded leper strutting about the global stage - unaware that the theater has already emptied.

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HCC money scandal

SOURCE: Marieta Carino (marietak@hawaii.edu)
SUBHEAD: There are great irregularities with the financial records of the student fees. 

By Marieta Carino on 1 April 2014 for Island Breath -
(http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2014/04/hcc-money-scandal.html)


Image above: Sign at entrance to Hawaii Community College in Hilo. From (http://hawaii.hawaii.edu/digital-media-arts/).

Three Student Council officers, at the Hawaii Community College in Hilo, have been removed from office - two successive treasurers and the Student Government President - for requesting receipts and financial records of student fee receipts and expenditures .

They have requested a full audit of the student fee accounts from the administration and the Board of Regents, so far without success.

Also the college is charging the following per-semester student fees
  • News Publication $19
  • Recreation $7
  • Campus Center $5
These are all non-existent facilities or services.

There are great irregularities with the financial records of the student fees. Previous and present council have been asking for more than three years, for financial information and it has not been forthcoming.

For more information please contact:

Marieta Carino at 808-960-5129
Student Activities Board Treasurer

Eric Aranug at 808-854-3828
Student Government President

David Canning at 808-482-0425
Former Student Government Treasurer,
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