Thinning The Soup

SUBHEAD: Trillions go to the pockets of wealthy investors while Americans thin the soup of their lives to pay.
By John Schettler on 28 March 2009 in The Writing Shop -
( Image above: A bowl of wonton soup.
[Editor's Note: This is a excerpt from the beginning of this article. Click on link above for full article.]
When times got hard during the last Great Depression the soup got thinner, but people still ate. Indeed, the whole concept of thinning the soup stands now as a metaphor for how we can come through these hard times to a new sense of ourselves—a new society. The image holds within it the necessity for frugality and simplicity, but also the importance of community. Soup is thinned so that it can feed more people, and perhaps each can contribute something to the brew, extending through the talents and abilities of all who come to sit at the table. And no matter how hard things got, people still ate. That last bit is essential to bolster our hope in times of crisis. The world isn’t ending, it’s changing.
This is what we have to do now to survive and carry on—we have to build new community with one another, gather in a harvest from each person, and thin the soup of our lives so that there will be enough for everyone, and all will be taken care of. It will not be anything like the old life we lived, where constant consumption on credit fed us a sense of false abundance. If we wanted something, we didn’t have to work or save for it. Instead we just swiped the plastic and used someone else’s money to buy it then and there. The operative energy of the Brave New World was to shorten, as much as possible, the interval between desire and fulfillment. All that is over now. We will rediscover patience, endurance.
There is a great deal of fear, anger and frustration out there now, because all the wealth investor wheeler dealers have staked out their place ahead of us in the soup line. The news is simply too bad to be ignored any longer. For many, those who have lost jobs, homes, retirement nest eggs, the “Great Recession” is very real indeed, not something they read or hear about in the news. It is ever more frustrating to hear about billions going to banks and insurance companies while you struggle to pay your bills, with no bailout in sight. But much of the news itself is often just a sideshow masking far graver circumstances that go unreported.
Take the media boil up over AIG bonus money as a good example—a red herring that masks the greater scandal that billions of taxpayer dollars have gone to pay off “counterparty” investor fat cats at big financial institutions. Counterpunch reported: “White House economist, Larry Summers, on whose watch as Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration financial deregulation got out of control, invoked the 'sanctity of contracts' in defense of the AIG bonuses.” This while labor union contracts were amended without a second thought to help big corporations cut costs. And let’s not forget the millions of credit cars contracts amended willy nilly by the banks, who raise interest at their whim, and even sell off the account in securities schemes without the borrower’s agreement. Sanctity of contracts?
Karl Denninger was on point with this incisive comment: “I love the whining about "contract law". Where were those complaining about this when AIG wrote CDS against no capital? Contract law calls that fraud folks—intentionally inducing someone into an agreement that you have no intention or ability to perform on. Further, we can do fraudulent concealment too, which is what the law calls it when you hide the fact that you're functionally insolvent for more than six months as it becomes apparent to you that you won't be able to perform, and while you know this, you draft "retention bonuses" for the very people that put your company in this position.”
The massive media coverage of the $165 million used for AIG bonus money was the biggest media distraction of the month. Not only did it ignore the issue of where all the bailout money has really gone, by the billions, it also served to mask what was one of the most significant Fed moves of the last century.
The Real News
Mike Larson, of Money & Markets reported: “Specifically, the Fed said this week that it will ramp up its purchases of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) from $500 billion to a whopping $1.25 TRILLION in the coming months. The Fed is also going to double its purchases of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Federal Home Loan Bank bonds to $200 billion from $100 billion. And for the icing on the cake …The Fed will buy as much as $300 billion in longer-term U.S. Treasury securities.” How does the Fed “buy” Treasury bonds? The answer is that it simply prints the money required. So the big news of the month was not that a handful of insiders made off with bonus money at AIG—it was that the Fed has begun the process of monetizing the massive US debt, and a loss of confidence in the dollar will soon follow. (In fact, the dollar took its worst plunge since 1985--see chart below.) There are only about $850 billion dollars currently in public circulation, most of that being held overseas, with about $250 billion circulating here in the US. Bernanke is about to thin the soup by about 33% when he prints $300 billion more!"
John P. Hussman, of Hussman Funds thinks the situation is even worse: “Last week, the Federal Reserve announced its intention to purchase a trillion dollars worth of Treasury debt by creating the little pieces of paper in your pocket that have 'Federal Reserve Note' inscribed at the top. In effect, the Fed intends to monetize the Treasury debt in an amount that exceeds the entire pre-2008 monetary base of the United States.”
Eric deCarbonnel, of the Market Skeptic goes one step further: “The Fed is planning moves that would more than double its balance-sheet assets by September to $4.5 trillion from $1.9 trillion. Whether expressing approval or concern over the Fed’s intentions, most commentators fail to understand the real magnitude of the projected expansion of the US monetary base.” He claims the Fed moves will amount to an increase in the dollar supply by a factor of 15. The effect will be a debasement of the currency and a fire sale on good US assets, all lost in an effort to free the banks from the consequences of their bad securities debts.
There is already rumbling in the ranks concerning the dollar. Countries have been trying to wean themselves from having to pay dollars for their oil contracts for years. Then Vladimir Putin called for an end to the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, and China has now seconded that motion. The UN is also recommending that the world ditch the dollar as a reserve currency. Something big is afoot. The April G20 meeting could be a harbinger of “change” that America may not like at all. Imagine a monopoly game where you’re the banker, and well ahead in the game, but the other players suddenly agree that there will be a new currency introduced, and a new central bank to govern transactions—a currency based on the collective wealth of their properties, and that all your cute stacks of colorful dollars are now virtually worthless. Get the picture? The folks that hold our debt are losing faith in the old greenback. The “full faith and credit” of the US government isn’t counting for much these days.
What’s odd about that chart is the huge slice of the pie held by... the Caribbean? These little island states have the collective GDP of a molehill, but they’ve been great places to stash dollars looted from the American public—wonderful little tax havens—now synonymous with the term “offshore bank.”
So look what happened to the dollar as soon as Bernanke announced his intention to buy $300-billion in Treasury Bonds, by simply printing the money required to make the purchase... an amount exceeding all dollars presently in circulation here in the US...
Yet mega news of this sort doesn’t even make it to the copy desks of our mainstream “press” these days, let alone reach the minds of the Average Joe and Soccer Mom struggling in the real economy. Real people count dollars in twenties and sometimes hundreds - not billions. The average person is too preoccupied with their own thinning soup to comprehend what is really going on, but the effects will be devastating when the currency debases in the months ahead.
Marketwatch reports: “The results of a bevy of surveys found a growing number of consumers are only a couple paychecks away from a household collapse even as many scramble to shore up savings. Rainy-day funds appear to be a distant memory as households burn cash to cover food and energy bills as well as mortgage and car payments.” These are the folks that provide all the bailout money the government is throwing into the pockets of the wealthy investor class. Then I see some petty financial adviser remarking that the supermarket chains may be 'good plays' as people will spend for food first when they are at the end of their rope. There’s something obscene about that—a class of beings out there, who consider all the rest of us to be 'sub-prime', is still gaming the system, like vultures looking to profit on the demise and hardship of others. The video headline read: “Put your money where the food is!” Well I’d like to tell you where you can stuff your friendly investment advice, and so would millions of others.
The one truth in that ad is this: things will cost a good deal more when Bernanke is through expanding the Fed balance sheet later this year. Putting your money where the food is may not be a bad idea right now. And by this I mean stockpiling food itself, not buying stock in market chains. If the dollar collapses the shelves will be empty in most markets in just a matter of days. The soup may be hard to find.
For so many in the 'real economy' the soup is already thin indeed. Over 50% of Americans have but a month in reserve if they lose a job. $40% say they still come up short each month even if they are working. 57% plan to spend less, but polls showed zero percent, no one, planned to spend more in the coming year. This statistic alone should put an end to any of this silly talk about a recovery starting this coming year. People aren’t just sitting on piles of cash and refusing to spend because they are worried about the future—they just don’t have the cash. Period. They can barely stretch one paycheck to the next—this while an executive at insurance giant AIG got paid an astounding $1-million per month as 'retention salary' so the company would not lose his 'expertise', the same expertise that saw the company lose over $60-billion in a single quarter due to the man’s failed credit default swap schemes. What a job! Where do I sign up?
James Galbraith of the Washington Monthly hit the essence of the so called “credit crisis”--not just a problem of banks refusing to lend, but a crisis at the household level that will not soon be cured: “Credit is a contract. It requires a borrower as well as a lender, a customer as well as a bank. And the borrower must meet two conditions. One is creditworthiness, meaning a secure income and, usually, a house with equity in it. Asset prices therefore matter. With a chronic oversupply of houses, prices fall, collateral disappears, and even if borrowers are willing they can't qualify for loans. The other requirement is a willingness to borrow.... In a slump, such optimism is scarce. Even if people have collateral, they want the security of cash. And it is precisely because they want cash that they will not deplete their reserves by plunking down a payment on a new car. The credit flow metaphor implies that people came flocking to the new-car showrooms last November and were turned away because there were no loans to be had. This is not true -- what happened was that people stopped coming in. And they stopped coming in because, suddenly, they felt poor.”
The sad fact is that our economy was running on free and easy credit. What we are seeing now is what the real economy always was beneath the plastic. This is what it’s like without all that home equity lending and credit card spending. This is reality—people only able to spend what they actually earn, and still coming up short each month on basic necessities. Yesterday’s economy was delusional. You can throw “discretionary spending” out the door in this environment. But like banks stuck with securities they can no longer sell, average people are stuck with recurring bills and high rents based on life styles from the boom times.
This is why all the new plans put forward by Geithner and Bernanke will not succeed. Quite simply, people are already so deep in debt that they cannot service the payments, and they certainly cannot take on more debt by borrowing to spend. This is fundamental. It was the argument I made years ago in my article “Perfect Storm,” back when everything was booming and houses were flipping like pancakes. I argued debt was unmanageable, on both a personal and national level, and it is this massive debt that we must now account for before this crisis will end. Holding it off balance sheet is just fiscal denial of reality. Transferring it to present and future generations of taxpayers with programs like the new Geithner bailout bonanza is just a very expensive way of buying time. Eventually the debt must be faced and eliminated. People without jobs, behind on payments, crushed with revolving credit card interest of 30% will simply NOT borrow to start a new spending spree in this country, nor will banks even contemplate lending to them, in spite of what Geithner, Bernanke and others may hope. The banks will take taxpayer funding to zero out their bad assets, but don’t hold your breath waiting for them to start the zero doc lending craze again. It’s over. It’s cash & carry now. People feel it, deep in their bones, and the old consumer craze is simply not coming back. And the cash may lose its value sooner than we think.
Peggy Noonan, of the Wall Street Journal wrote an excellent Op ed this month where she talked about the pervasive depression settling over the country: “People sense something slipping away, a world receding, not only an economic one but a world of old structures, old ways and assumptions.” She is simply noticing one of Dimitri Orlov’s sign posts on the road of collapse. Orlov stated that the collapse was as much psychological as anything else, as people are suddenly forced to change the way they think about the world. It was not the change they expected when they flocked to the Obama campaign by the millions, for change can be painful too.
Dimitri Orlov, who witnessed the collapse of the Soviet economy, provides us with some incisive observations on how things change: “Each stage of collapse also corresponds to a certain set of beliefs in the status quo, that is about to go by the wayside… First faith in business as usual is lost. Risk can no longer be assessed and financial assets can no longer be guaranteed. Financial institutions become insolvent and access to capital is lost. Next faith that the market shall provide is lost. Commodities are hoarded. Import and retail chains break down. Widespread shortages of survival necessities become the norm.” Then as all the programs and bailouts fail to reverse the decline, the crisis becomes political as people lose faith in government and fall back on their own thinning resources. It is only when they begin to lose faith in each other that the real danger comes, for Society cannot hold together if this becomes 'every man for himself'.
In the meantime, gun sales are up, and ammunition selling out faster than Apple iPhones. Want some 9mm ammo these days? Good luck finding it. And that is another sad fact about what the fear and uncertainty has done to people. Anyone moved to buy a gun and stock up on ammo is really scared. It’s an admission of that loss of faith in the entire structure of our community and society is becoming as thin as the soup—crossing a psychological line Orlov says we must hold at all costs.
The Economist, has a special 'Economic Intelligence Unit' that just released a special report of what they see coming. The title was 'Manning the Barricades', and if that doesn’t get your attention, have a look at the table of contents! Their worst case scenario is about a dollar crash that leads to political and social instability across the world, particularly in the formerly “emerging” and now “submerging” markets.
[Editors note: Here is the link to the Economist report with a pdf warning.]
I’ve been writing about the crisis we are now involved with for over a decade now, ever since I first published 'Big Brother in the Brave New World' in 1998. That article talked about the vast social engineering of our society, and how Huxley seemed to triumph over Orwell in the way Western society was ordered. But behind the mind-numbing advertising, the endless flow of credit that fueled ever growing sales, I also argued that Orwell’s Big Brother was still alive and well. He was just wearing a kinder face, influencing by enticement instead of compulsion.
Yet under Bush and Cheney, we saw a return to the use of fear as a means of forcing public policy. The most powerful nation on earth was supposedly beset by “enemies who wished us harm.” America was afraid of a rag-tag band of Arab terrorists, with a leader on kidney dialysis, hiding out in the Hundu Kush.
The so call 'threat' posed by this boogie man prompted us to abandon the Geneva Conventions; abolish Habeus Corpus and Possee Comitatus; set up military tribunals to circumvent the courts; ignore the FISA laws; initiate programs of 'rendition' and torture; set up massive surveillance operations aimed at our own citizens; build detention facilities all over the US; establish 'NORTHCOM' and a 'Department of Homeland Security'; assign special brigades of the Army for deployment on US soil; contemplate things like 'Real ID'; a system of digital 'papers' we would all have to carry; not to mention the aggressive wars launched all over the Middle East. And while all that was distracting the media and public, the real terrorists on Wall Street were quietly levering up to bankrupt the nation, with no motive greater than simple greed.
As Bush and Cheney prepared to depart, the all out looting of the public treasury began, by the trillions. It continues unabated. If you ever saw the popular HBO series 'Rome' think of Pompey fleeing Rome with a wagon full of gold, and how the bullion was suddenly 'lost'. What we have witnessed in the last six months is nothing less than a grand heist, and no one quite knows how the trillions of lost dollars will ever be recovered again--or who they all were paid to.
I’ve been making this argument for years, that the war on terror was nothing more than a misguided distraction, a charade, while the real threat to the nation wore three piece suits in the boardrooms of our banks and investment firms, in the trading pits and hedge funds that gambled so recklessly with our future.

Ben Sullivan wins KIUC election

SUBHEAD: Breaking News - KIUC announces election results SOURCE: Brad Parsons, By Staff on 28 March 2009 for the Garden Island - The Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative announced Saturday afternoon that Ben Sullivan, Steve M. Rapozo and Stewart “Stu” Burley have been elected to KIUC’s Board of Directors. These three new directors will each serve for a 3-year term ending in March 2012. The official results of the 2009 Board of Directors Election are as follows: Sullivan, Ben 3,652 22.49% Rapozo, Steve M. 2,874 17.70% Burley, Stewart “Stu” 2,354 14.50% Oda, Dane K. 2,131 13.12% Paler, Raymond W. 2,031 12.51% Georgi, JoAnne 1,967 12.11% Chung, Milton K. 1,223 7.53% KIUC received 6,679 qualified ballots in this election. While there were three available director slots to fill, not all voters chose to exercise all three votes on their ballot; therefore, the number of votes may not equal the total number of ballots received. The KIUC Management with the assistance of the Omaha-based Election Consulting Services, Inc., announced the official tally this evening. The newly-elected board members will be inaugurated on Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. in the KIUC Main Conference room, located at 4463 Pahe‘e Street in Lihu‘e. Following the inauguration, the board will hold its regularly-scheduled meeting of the Board of Directors at 1:30 p.m. The KIUC Board of Directors consists of nine (9) elected representatives from the KIUC membership. The board governs the business affairs of KIUC and is involved in the utility’s direction and greater courses of action rather than the day-to-day utility operations. For full coverage of the election results, see the Sunday edition of The Garden Island.

Kauai Farm Housing Crisis

SUBHEAD: We face a food and housing crisis that county government is about to make worse. By Hope Kallie on 28 March 2009 in Island Breath - ( Aloha Kakahiaka - The Moloa`a hui lands are in an uproar. Farmers are freaking out. The County is beginning inspections on Wednesday April 1 - Friday April 3rd. Farmers are moving out of their tents. I don't know how much was a reaction of the past few articles in the paper about Moloa`a farmers where folks mentioned their alternative living situations or if the inspection was planned. I don't think the county has a clue how many folks are living in the hui lands. It's such a huge can complex problem. I just know alot of food is coming out of there now and we can't afford to loose that especially right now. The hui folks are talking of putting in one shower/bathroom camping complex and exploring alternatives. Any suggestions? Mahalo for any input. Hope

[Editor's Note: Below is a reprint of Island Breath: TGI #16 Kaui Land Use Plan 11/1/07 with our agland land use proposed from a presentation at the Eco-Roundtable Sustainability Conference in 2007. The last paragraph pertaining to planning future housing "Without the Grid" is the beginning of an answer to Hope's question. See also Island Breath: TGI #5: Mauka and Makai 5/8/07 and Island Breath: TGI #7 The Village 6/7/07 for more on our sugestions for Kauai agland planning].

image above: Detail of map from Kauai Sustainability Land Use Plan by Juan Wilson. Click to see all Kauai.

by Juan Wilson on 4 November 2007 in the Garden Island News & Island Breath Kauai Sustainability Land Use Plan On October 12th and 13th Kauai Community College hosted the LEGS (Locally Engaging Global Solutions) Sustainability Conference. It was sponsored by Apollo Kauai, and other progressive, environmental groups on Kauai. The conference included speakers, documentary films and panel discussions. I participated as a panelist under the subject of Land Use. This article will summarize what we might do on Kauai to achieve sustainable land use. An important part of the LEGS concept was keeping the movement going forward after the conference ended. Featured speakers were asked to provide handout material that could be the basis of continued efforts on specific subjects like energy, food production and transportation. One aspect of the LEGS continuity will be built into the upcoming Eco Roundtable Quarterly Meeting sponsored by Please attend this meeting if you are interested in the issue of sustainability on Kauai. It is scheduled for November 13th, at 5:30pm at the Peace and Freedom Convention Center in Lihue. For more information contact Keone Kealoha at 808-828-0685 or email A Definition of Sustainability It is probably a good idea to begin with a definition of "sustainability". In preparing for the LEGS Conference I worked on my own definition. Sustainability is: Using unrenewable resources no faster than they are recycled. Using renewable resources no faster than they are produced. Maintaining the health and biodiversity of the earth’s ecosystems. Maintaining the art and knowledge of human cultures. In general it is the idea of living within the means of our environment's resources, but more than that it means doing so while providing an enjoyable quality of life. Sustainability is not, however, a technique for the continuation of the status quo. That last bit is an important part of the responsibility we have going forward. The idea that going Green today means substituting a Prius for a Hummer and switching over to photovoltaics from the KIUC grid. That is maintainability, not sustainability. Going "green", as the corporations are envisioning it, won't cut it. More profound life changes are imminent. Resource Scarcity is Coming Crude oil is hovering at $95 a barrel. Ethanol, rather than solving the energy problem will simply make food much more expensive. There seems little doubt that with a falling dollar and the housing bubble burst on the mainland, energy and distribution systems will be greatly taxed. Here, on an outer island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we will soon begin to feel the pinch on our "non negotiable" life-style. Sustainability here will have to focus on providing our own food, water and shelter. Because we import 90% of our food, we will have to increase food production by ten times to meet the needs of our current population. At the LEGS Conference Dr. Adam Asquith, a biologist, made a presentation that concluded that our island, with a great deal of effort, will barely be able to feed itself. It is clear that any significant population growth, accompanied by loss of food producing acreage, will not be sustainable. Environmental and population collapse will be likely. Current Land Use Plan Hawaii has four land use categories used throughout the state. They are: Conservation, Agriculture, Rural and Urban. On Kauai they break down like this: Conservation: is 55% percent of the island and includes mostly the higher center portion of the island. This area was generally too steep or too remote or too dry for agricultural use. Agriculture: is 40% the area of the island and includes all the areas that are relatively level and could be irrigated. Much of that was pineapple or sugarcane plantation once. Urban: is 4% of the island and represents the commercial centers, company towns and independent villages scattered around the island. They have been part of sprawl and strip development recently. Rural: is .5% of the island. It is the smallest category and is found generally in the lowland valleys where the Hawaiians once thrived. Water diversion from the valleys had much to do with unraveling that rural lifestyle in favor of the plantations. It is interesting that the Kauai General Plan focuses on the importance of maintaining a "Rural" lifestyle while so little of it remains (about 1/200th of Kauai). What people might mean by "rural" are the foothills of unutilized Agriculture fields framed by the distant mountains of Conservation forest. It is still a pretty sight, even to tourists caught in bumper to bumper traffic. But that vista is threatened. The large property owners that inherited plantation lands cannot make money growing sugarcane. Companies like Grove Farms and Alexander & Baldwin are itching to convert their thousands of acres into suburban development. What might save our agland as "rural"? Making it truly rural. Proposed Land Use Plan My presentation to the LEGS Conference was to change the Land Use Map for Kauai. Urban and Conservation areas would not be changed. The Agriculture land use designation would be subdivided into two redefined land uses, Forest and Rural. Forest Land Use It would be, like Conservation Land, non residential. Forest Land would primarily be covered with trees, shrubs and grasses. Forest Land would be low maintenance, used primarily to rehabilitate damaged ecosystems while yielding useful resources. Trees that grow easily and fix nitrogen could be encouraged to hold and rebuild topsoil.

Crop trees and grasses would be harvested at a replacement rate. That could include kiawe, jute and hemp in the short run. As the soil becomes more productive and water is retained other species including koa and sandalwood could be grown. Forest land would be a buffer from more invasive human activity near Conservation Land. Forest Land could also connect and reinforce Conservation land that has become isolated or threatened. About half of the currently designated Agriculture land would be converted to Forest. These would be areas adjacent to existing Conservation areas and generally on the upper foothills of agland. Slowing water runoff from Forest Land would be an engineering challenge, but prove invaluable in retaining soil and making lower food production areas more productive. New Rural Land Use The other half of the Agriculture Land area would be designated Rural, but a slightly redefined Rural. New Rural Land would be the source of food for the island. Large scale monoculture crops like corn will not be able to feed us in the future. That technology requires too much fuel, fertilizer and pesticides (all crude oil derivatives). Rural Land would be dedicated to small-scale organic permaculture farming, the only healthy and sustainable option for the land and people of Kauai. Rural Land would allow farmers to live where they farm. It would allow for subdividing current Agricultural Land. The challenge is to permit such uses and avoid paving over our agland with more suburbs. Protecting Food Production Rural Land could be protected with several tools. I will mention two here. The first is Productivity Assessment. This tool would be unnecessary if our population was not so large and our island so small. But here we are. Java and Bali practice approximately what we would call permaculture. They are on rich volcanic soils and have pretty reliable rainfall. These locations support 250 people per square kilometer. That‘s about one person per acre of land. There are 81,000 acres of Rural Land in this proposal. Given the variation of productivity on that land, it is actually doubtful we could support our current population levels even if Rural Land was used to grow our food using organic permaculture techniques.

Further research is needed but preliminary investigations indicate that of these 81,000, there may be less than 10,000 acres that are actually productive, high yield soils. These are mostly river bottom areas where pre-contact Polynesians did the majority of their agriculture. This relatively small amount of rich soil will become increasingly viewed by the members of our island community as a strategic security asset. Structures here will be small and devoted almost exclusively to the enhancement of food productivity. Parking lots? Driveways? Hotels? Sprawl. Not gonna happen. Productivity Assessment Today, to protect and maintain our communities, our county government is very careful to attend to its prime source of income - property taxes. We carefully assess land and buildings. We keep account of ownership and taxes due. We insist on building permits and infrastructure improvements, with an eye on protecting the "golden goose". A great deal of effort must go into this accounting for the commonwealth of the community. I suggest the same effort be made to keep food growing areas productive. All properties should be assessed for soil richness, topographical slope, wind, water access, and sunlight. Food production values should be assigned to each acre of Rural Land. In the future, I suggest, we focus on the food productivity of Rural Land with the same effort we now attend to the monetary value of property. If you want to live in a place in the country, you'll have to do some food growing, soil building or animal rearing. Planning Without "The Grid" The second tool I'll mention to protect Rural Land is not delivering "The Grid" to every lot in every neighborhood. By "Grid" I mean the roads, private utility lines, county water and sewage system that support our suburban lifestyle. In today's eighth-acre subdivisions the "public" right-of-way are at least 20% of the land. They are expensive and will not be a useful investment in the future. I foresee, in the not too distant future, that energy production and recycling would be provided in local neighborhoods. Rural living would be in walking-riding-biking communities with a few short axle alternative vehicles on winding narrow lanes that lead to the nearest village. This would be a more pleasant and relaxed community, like old Hawaii. The suburbia of today would not work on this Rural Land. If you wanted to be where the action is (or don't want to tend the land), you can always move into town.

A Farm for the Future

SUBHEAD: BBC Covers Peak Oil: A Farm for the Future, is now available on Google.  

By Chris Vernon on 20 February 2009 in The Oil Drum

Image above: Still from title sequence of film "A Farm For The Future" on Google.

Most would agree the subject of peak oil has not received the mainstream media coverage its importance warrants. On Friday the BBC will be broadcasting an excellent peak oil documentary; it focuses on farming. Presenter and co-producer Rebecca Hosking explores the importance of oil in farming and the potential impact of peak oil.

The film has a passionate narrative centred on Rebecca’s small family farm in South West England; can she make her farm fit for the future? The subject mater is top notch. Colin Campbell and Richard Heinberg contribute, permaculture, forest gardens, gardening vs farming, biofuels, biodiversity, industrial farming and no-till farming are all covered. It seems certain that present methods cannot go on feeding Britain as they are highly dependent on fossil-fuel. The film concentrates on the necessity to find a new way to feed the nation.

Above all, the presentation comes from the heart. It is sure to capture the imagination of many people who, not least due to the deepening recession, are primed for new ideas like never before. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this film is that it exists at all. Within the BBC, the Natural History Unit is one of the most conservative. The producers of 'A Farm for the Future' had a tremendous struggle getting this film made. BBC executives were not keen; the big global travellers even called the film "messed up propaganda".

However two years after I met with co-producer Tim Green at the inception of the film; it does now exist. The hope is that with the Natural History Unit producing a film with peak oil at its heart, the gates are now open to all the other departments such as News at Ten, Panorama, Horizon etc. to cover peak oil.

There is knowledge and understanding of peak oil within the BBC but also nervousness about reporting. Rebecca and Tim would like to thank the community here at The Oil Drum for providing much of the information needed to make this possible.

The "Shock Doctrine" here now!

SUBHEAD: Comparing the U.S. to Russia and Argentina
By Glenn Greenwald on 26 March 2009 in Salon - Image above: Detail of book cover for "Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klein Desmond Lachman -- the former chief strategist for emerging markets at Salomon Smith Barney and a long-time official with the IMF (no raving socialist he) -- argues today that the most apt comparison for the U.S. now is not Japan's "lost decade," but rather, "that the United States is coming to resemble Argentina, Russia and other so-called emerging markets, both in what led us to the crisis, and in how we're trying to fix it." He begins by recounting an IMF trip to Yeltsin-era Russia:
I still recall the shock I felt at a meeting in Russia's dingy Ministry of Finance, where I finally realized how a handful of young oligarchs were bringing Russia's economy to ruin in the pursuit of their own selfish interests, despite the supposed brilliance of Anatoly Chubais, Russia's economic czar at the time.
He then describes the numerous similarities between the U.S. today and those corrupt, collapsing nations he studied in the past:
The parallels between U.S. policymaking and what we see in emerging markets are clearest in how we've mishandled the banking crisis. We delude ourselves that our banks face liquidity problems, rather than deeper solvency problems, and we try to fix it all on the cheap just like any run-of-the-mill emerging market economy would try to do. And after years of lecturing Asian and Latin American leaders about the importance of consistency and transparency in sorting out financial crises, we fail on both counts: . . . . In visits to Asian capitals during the region's financial crisis in the late 1990s, I often heard Asian reformers such as Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew or Japan's Eisuke Sakakibara complain about how the incestuous relationship between governments and large Asian corporate conglomerates stymied real economic change. How fortunate, I thought then, that the United States was not similarly plagued by crony capitalism! However, watching Goldman Sachs's seeming lock on high-level U.S. Treasury jobs as well as the way that Republicans and Democrats alike tiptoed around reforming Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae -- among the largest campaign contributors to Congress -- made me wonder if the differences between the United States and the Asian economies were only a matter of degree. . . . In the twilight of my career, when I am hopefully wiser than before, I have come to regret how the IMF and the U.S. Treasury all too often lectured leaders in emerging markets on how to "get their house in order" -- without the slightest thought that the United States might fare no better when facing a major economic crisis. . . . If we insist on improvising and not facing our real problems, we might soon lose our status as a country to be emulated and join the ranks of those nations we have patronized for so long.
Does anyone really doubt any more that the predominant characteristic of our political culture is "the incestuous relationship between governments and large [] corporate conglomerates"? Yet another former Goldman Sachs official and long-time derivatives advocate who played a major role in the repeal of key banking regulations, Gary Gesner, is now poised to become Obama's chief of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, the body charged with regulating commodities and financial futures. The sleazy, central role Goldman Sachs has played in the events of the last six months -- from their current CEO's still-unexplained presence with Paulson (its former Chairman) and Geithner (protegé of its other former Chairman, Robert Rubin) as the AIG bailout was designed to the massive government windfalls that firm has received (including from that very AIG bailout) -- is merely illustrative of how our Government has long functioned and continues to. Yves Smith last night noted the rather extraordinary (though unsurprising) development that the very institutions that played such a critical role in the crisis -- Citibank and Bank of America -- are now using TARP funds they received not to extend more loans (the ostensible purpose of the bailout), but rather, to buy up more and more of the very distressed assets that Geithner insists they need to be relieved of, because they now know that, under Geithner's plan, they will be able to sell them at a substantial profit courtesy of public funds (i.e, the Government will buy those crippled assets at well above their current market price). As Smith puts it: "So not only are they seeking to extract far more than was intended even with the already generous subsidies embodied in this program, but this activity is also speculating with taxpayer money. . . .Welcome to yet more looting." Despite the limitless gorging on public funds by the very oligarchs (government owners) who caused the financial crisis in the first place, the predominant sentiment from our establishment media now is that Obama needs to force ordinary Americans to "sacrifice more." Back in 2006, Jonathan Schwarz wrote this very prescient post predicting that the U.S. would soon adopt the type of so-called "structural adjustments" which, through the IMF, we repeatedly forced upon other heavily indebted, defaulting nations: whereby we would demand that they pursue solutions that further enriched their economic elites while massively cutting the social spending that provided the barest of safety nets to their ordinary citizens. As Schwarz put it yesterday in citing highly revealing comments by Tim Geithner at a CFR conference this week:
There's been a common phenomenon in the third world over the past three decades or so. A country's financial sector, in collaboration with the larger financial world, would create some type of gigantic economic fuck up. The IMF would then (in collaboration with the local financial elites) step in and provide loans in return for what was called "structural adjustment." Structural adjustment involved getting rid of any kind of social spending that made life bearable for everyone else. In other words, the country's financial elites would use the catastrophes they'd created themselves in order to do what they'd always wanted to but couldn't get away with in normal times. They took the profit, and then imposed all the costs on everyone else.
Isn't that exactly what is now happening here? When I first heard Chuck Todd questioning Obama at Tuesday's Press Conference about why Obama wasn't demanding "sacrifice" from ordinary Americans -- as though the massive loss of jobs, homes, retirement security and financial opportunities isn't sufficient "sacrifice" -- I mistakenly attributed Todd's question to the standard vapid ignorance and insularity of our media stars. I assumed that Todd was just mimicking a question he heard about 9/11 and decided to repeat it seven years later without realizing what a complete nonsequitur it is when applied to the financial crisis. But there was actually a more pernicious aspect to his question. He was basically demanding of Obama: shouldn't you be telling those dirty masses that they can't have health care and education improvements and that they're also going to have to give up their Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits (while Citibank and BoA use taxpayer money to buy up distressed assets that they will then sell at a huge profit, also to the taxpayer under the Geithner plan)? Among our coddled elites, anger at the oligarchs who pillaged and who continue to pillage is misplaced, irresponsible and dangerous populist rage that must be stigmatized and suppressed. Instead, what is needed -- as Digby and DougJ noted weeks ago would be the prevailing message from our media class -- is a further reduction in the standard of living for average Americans in the name of "fiscal responsibility" to ensure that the subsidies to our oligarchical class -- the ones who enriched themselves for the last decade (and who own our media outlets) -- can continue (and that is, more or less, what Lachman advocates today as the necessary solution). The key dynamic underlying all of this -- the linchpin that allows it all to happen and, historically, the primary hallmark of a deeply broken nation -- is the total elimination of the rule of law for the ruling class, with a simultaneous intensification of the law as a weapon against the citizenry. Does anyone expect there to be any widespread prosecutions for those most responsible for the looting, systematic fraud and grand-scale theft of the last decade? Identically, as more and more evidence emerges of the vast war crimes of the prior administration, the failure to enforce the law and our legal obligations against our nation's most powerful becomes even more transparent. As law professor Jonathan Turley put it on Rachel Maddow's show Monday night:
The president refuses to allow the investigation of war crimes. And we just found out the international Red Cross, also the definitive body on torture, found that this was a real torture program. And yet, the president is having a debate with the guy [Cheney] over whether it was good policy. . . . It is just as bad to prevent the investigation and prosecution of a war crime as its commission because you become part of it. There‘s no question about a war crime here. . . . You know, some people say, what do you need, a film? We actually had films of us torturing people. So this would be the shortest investigation in history. You have Bush officials who have said that we tortured people. We have interrogators who have said we tortured people. The Red Cross has said it. A host of international organizations have said it. . . . He should be appointing a special prosecutor. There is no question about that. This is the most well-defined and publicly known crime I have seen in my lifetime. There is no debate about it. There is no ambiguity. It is well known.
Contrast these desperate efforts to avoid any criminal accountability at all for the country's most powerful lawbreakers with the merciless application of criminal law to ordinary Americans. As Brown University Glenn Loury recently wrote:
Simply put, we have become a nation of jailers and, arguably, racist jailers at that. The past four decades have witnessed a truly historic expansion, and transformation, of penal institutions in the United States — at every level of government, and in all regions of the country. We have, by any measure, become a vastly more punitive society. Measured in constant dollars and taking account of all levels of government, spending on corrections and law enforcement in the United States has more than quadrupled over the last quarter century. As a result, the American prison system has grown into a leviathan unmatched in human history. Here, as in other areas of social policy, the United States is a stark international outlier, sitting at the most rightward end of the political spectrum: We imprison at a far higher rate than the other industrial democracies — higher, indeed, than either Russia or China, and vastly higher than any of the countries of Western Europe. . . . With approximately one twentieth of the world’s population, America had nearly one fourth of the world’s inmates.
The treatment in our justice system of ordinary citizens ("a nation of jailers") and our elites (immunity from lawbreaking) could not be more disparate. We have (and are continuing to solidify) exactly the state of affairs that political science literature and the American government itself have long self-righteously warned other countries is the prime enabler for tyrannical rot: a two-tiered system of justice which exempts the country's elites from accountability. I've previously cited this 1998 essay in Foreign Affairs entitled "The Rule of Law Revival," by Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, because it so perfectly expresses long-standing Western lectures to the "developing world" about the need for a robust rule of law for a nation's ruling elite class: LEGAL BEDROCK THE RULE of law can be defined as a system in which the laws are public knowledge, are clear in meaning, and apply equally to everyone. They enshrine and uphold the political and civil liberties that have gained status as universal human rights over the last half-century. . . . Perhaps most important, the government is embedded in a comprehensive legal framework, its officials accept that the law will be applied to their own conduct, and the government seeks to be law-abiding. . . . The primary obstacles to such reform are not technical or financial, but political and human. Rule-of-law reform will succeed only if it gets at the fundamental problem of leaders who refuse to be ruled by the law. Respect for the law will not easily take root in systems rife with corruption and cynicism, since entrenched elites cede their traditional impunity and vested interests only under great pressure. It should be fairly significant when someone like Lachman -- who spent his career at Salomon and the IMF -- warns that the U.S. has now adopted the worst and most decadent attributes that drove and defined the era of collapse in Russia, Argentina and similar places. As he says, this is true not only "in what led us to the crisis" but also "in how we're trying to fix it." There is fundamental corruption in our political system that has led to all of this, and that corruption, in so many ways, is now being exacerbated and fortified rather than uprooted. UPDATE: Salon's Andrew Leonard has a very good analysis of the significance (or lack thereof) of Geithner's call for new regulatory oversight over the financial industry. UPDATE II: In a superb article just published in The Atlantic, former IMF Chief Economist and current MIT Professor Simon Johnson makes a very similar argument, using his IMF experience with failing economies to document numerous similarities between the U.S. and other collapsing nations. He notes specifically "that the finance industry has effectively captured our government—a state of affairs that more typically describes emerging markets, and is at the center of many emerging-market crises." The article should be read in full, but a couple of excepts are here:
Typically, these countries are in a desperate economic situation for one simple reason—the powerful elites within them overreached in good times and took too many risks. Emerging-market governments and their private-sector allies commonly form a tight-knit—and, most of the time, genteel—oligarchy, running the country rather like a profit-seeking company in which they are the controlling shareholders. When a country like Indonesia or South Korea or Russia grows, so do the ambitions of its captains of industry. As masters of their mini-universe, these people make some investments that clearly benefit the broader economy, but they also start making bigger and riskier bets. They reckon—correctly, in most cases—that their political connections will allow them to push onto the government any substantial problems that arise. . . . The downward spiral that follows is remarkably steep. Enormous companies teeter on the brink of default, and the local banks that have lent to them collapse. Yesterday’s “public-private partnerships” are relabeled “crony capitalism.” . . . The government, in its race to stop the bleeding, will typically need to wipe out some of the national champions—now hemorrhaging cash—and usually restructure a banking system that’s gone badly out of balance. It will, in other words, need to squeeze at least some of its oligarchs. Squeezing the oligarchs, though, is seldom the strategy of choice among emerging-market governments. Quite the contrary: at the outset of the crisis, the oligarchs are usually among the first to get extra help from the government, such as preferential access to foreign currency, or maybe a nice tax break, or—here’s a classic Kremlin bailout technique—the assumption of private debt obligations by the government. Under duress, generosity toward old friends takes many innovative forms. Meanwhile, needing to squeeze someone, most emerging-market governments look first to ordinary working folk—at least until the riots grow too large. . . . In its depth and suddenness, the U.S. economic and financial crisis is shockingly reminiscent of moments we have recently seen in emerging markets (and only in emerging markets): South Korea (1997), Malaysia (1998), Russia and Argentina (time and again). . . .But there’s a deeper and more disturbing similarity: elite business interests—financiers, in the case of the U.S.—played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive. The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them.
It's rather difficult to dismiss as fringe hysteria the observations of those most familiar with what took place in other financial crises around the world. Related to Johnson's observation that "needing to squeeze someone, most emerging-market governments look first to ordinary working folk," here is The Washington Post's Paul Kane today explaining what the U.S. must do to solve its deficit and debt problems: Even if you were to curb a bunch of Obama's most ambitious programs, you're still looking at trillions and trillions of dollars in debt. The real fiscal answer is entitlement reform -- that's code word, everyone, for slashing Medicare benefits and raising the retirement age/payout time for Social Security recipients. So our political class cheers on treasury-draining wars, allows financial elites to rob and pillage, witnesses huge transfers of wealth to the richest, and then when the whole thing explodes, the "real fiscal answer" is for ordinary Americans to have their Medicare benefits "slashed" and Social Security benefits reduced.

Video: When Giants Fall

SUBHEAD: A broad move away from American-style free-market capitalism.
By Michael Panzner on 25 March 2009 in Financial Armageddon
For those who are interested, below is the video (in four parts) of my February 25th presentation on When Giants Fall at the New York Public Library's Science, Industry and Business Library.
When Giants Fall - NYPL Presentation
Part 1 of 4 ( Part 2 of 4 ( Part 3 of 4 ( Part 4 of 4 ( Review: When Giants Fall
By Carolyn Baker on 22 March 2009 in Speaking Truth to Power
For many Americans, the years ahead will be nothing short of a modern Dark Ages, where each day brings forth fresh anxieties, unfamiliar risks, and a deep sense of foreboding. ~Michael Panzner~
We've heard of the economist, Nouriel Roubini, aka "Dr. Doom", and readers of Truth to Power are quite familiar with James Howard Kunstler and Dmitry Orlov, but Michael Panzner serves up a recipe that contains the carefully blended ingredients of all three. In fact, we might call his latest masterpiece, When Giants Fall, "Dr. Doom meets ‘World Made By Hand' and ‘Re-Inventing Collapse' with ‘Long Emergency'(Kunstler) and ‘Long Descent' (John Michael Greer) waiting in the wings." I have remained a fan of his website, Financial Armageddon, and his book by the same title since the publication of it in 2008, but since that time, in following Panzner's writings, I've observed a fine-tuned incisiveness and a deepened resolve to deliver to his readers the harsh realities of the collapse of empire and the economic ramifications of that. While he does not leave us without options in the face of the decline, he sugar-coats nothing and just this past week carried on his site a number of chilling scenes of collapse in recent photos taken across the country.
While the styles of collapse-aware writers such as Kunstler, Orlov, Greer, Astyk, Heinberg, and myself are perhaps more socio-cultural, Panzner writes in economic terms that economists or those versed in the discipline can readily appreciate. If we had any doubt about the fiscal statistics on which our forecasts are based, Panzner puts them to rest with his carefully-researched data.
He begins "Giants" with the reality that has become ubiquitous in the current economic collapse: Financial nirvana is now history. "Spend. Borrow. Repeat" is over because as a result of the "mistakes and excesses of the past" the financial chickens are coming home to roost with the disappearance of fuel, food, water, and all the other lubricants of the machinery of empire. The author emphasizes that these are not merely creating little bumps in the road for the titans of globalization but that "taken together, these various developments constitute a clear and present danger to the economic well being of every American, especially those who have been conditioned to believe that life can only get better in the future." (xxi)
While briefly tracing the economic history of how we arrived where we are, he examines the myriad hostilities that are likely to erupt in a resource-depleted, economically scaled-down world, China and Russia being two 800-pound gorillas, along with less obvious hot spot nations in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. What is fundamental, he drives home to us, is the waning influence and eventual irrelevance of the United States in the global economic landscape. He points to our disastrous campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, our ghastly dependence on the kindness of foreigners to purchase our debt, and the near total reversal of globalization now in process in the current economic meltdown. Crime, politics, and economics intersect to undermine the stability of international relations everywhere.
So what does it actually mean that the U.S. no longer "rules the global roost"? It means that eventually China and other American rivals could someday use their vast holdings of U.S. debt "as a geopolitical weapon, despite the great harm that would also cause to the attacker's own economy." (68) It also means, as Panzner points out, that "...oil and gas-producing companies, international commodity traders, and emerging-nation governments...dictate the rules of the game in global energy markets." Simply put, "what takes place on a day-to-day basis [in the United States] is increasingly in others' hands." (69)
And the ultimate consequences?
...with myriad imbalances already starting to unwind and economic conditions likely to be further undermined by geopolitical uncertainty, resource constraints, and the specter of growing divisiveness, the groundwork seems laid for a broad move away from American-style free-market capitalism. (71)
If there was any doubt about this, the global credit meltdown beginning in 2007, now having snowballed into global economic cataclysm, has put that doubt to rest and turned yet another prophet, namely Michael Panzner, into a historian.
One issue I wish the author had expanded upon is climate change and its inevitable ramifications in terms of climate refugees. The issue of tighter borders and the control of the flow of people and goods is frequently mentioned, but in the light of those realities, one wonders how nations will address the mass migrations of populations as a result of climate-induced droughts, famine, pandemics, and natural disasters. If as he states, and I agree, "Immigrants and foreigners will become scapegoats for domestic ills", we could legitimately infer an increase in violence issuing from mass shifts in population around the world.
In a chapter entitled "Local Is The New Global," the author argues, with solid evidence, the reversal of globalization and why issues must now be addressed "with a shift toward regionalization and localization of economic activity and investment flows." This may evolve quite naturally as myriad divisions globally erupt and reinforce the return to what is local and familiar.
Related to this trend, Panzner mentions a couple of secessionist movements in the United States but opines that "To be sure, many of these efforts will fizzle out or remain firmly on the fringe." To this I must respond: Don't be too certain about that. A strong secessionist movement abounds here in the state of Vermont, viewed by some as a conscious step that Vermonters must take to extricate themselves from the federal government, but viewed by other Vermonters as wise preparation for the very divisiveness explained by Panzner or simply imposed on the region by climate chaos, natural disasters, or dramatic changes in geography engendered by either of those.
In the spirit of the Transition Town movement and other voices of the Long Emergency, the author underscores the opportunity that is inherent for citizens, businesses, and communities in the collapse of empire. What will be required for the success of those opportunities, however, is the capacity to think outside the box. Whereas there are areas of the world that might actually offer the promise of investment opportunities-countries such as Canada, Brazil, New Zealand, Thailand, and Vietnam, investment for the average American is more likely to be a local affair as local economies are born and struggle to survive. Although Panzer does not dwell on the alternative or underground economy, there is likely to be plenty of opportunity to invest in it in ever-ingenious and unconventional ways.
In any event, Panzner argues that where one actually chooses to live is crucial, and in the last chapter of When Giants Fall, he discusses the probable demographics of collapse, that is, the likelihood that smaller cities, especially those situated by rails or rivers, will offer better opportunities for jobs and income, but that those places might become socio-culturally intolerable for all the reasons the author has outlined earlier in the book, as stress, paranoia, and societal breakdown exacerbate. The employment landscape of a Long Emergency world is almost certain to be one of many part-time, as opposed to full-time, jobs--a world of getting one's hands dirty, going into business making and selling necessary items, and drastic lifestyle changes.
Budgets of state and local governments will evaporate in some cases almost overnight, and safety nets and what people have assumed are "essential" services will disappear. Family, social, and community relationships will become far more important, and much of this may be based on the need for safety and security.
The last chapters of "Giants" reads like "World Made By Hand" or Richard Heinberg's "Letter from the Future". I must say that little in its contents is actually new to me. What makes the book remarkably arresting is that a twenty-five year veteran of the global stock, bond, and currency markets-a faculty member at the New York Institute of Finance, is forecasting the collapse of empire and the daunting challenges, not exclusively economic, of a post-industrial world. In this moment, we are witnessing the rapid decline of that world in the form of an unprecedented global financial meltdown, and in his conclusion, Panzner quotes from Barton Biggs who aptly names it an "episode of great wealth destruction."
When Giants Fall analyzes the collapse of empire from the economist's perspective and offers a crucial complement to future scenarios presented by experts on energy depletion and climate change. Your Long Emergency library will not be complete without it, particularly as you encounter those influenced by the Pollyanna economists who assure us that in a few years, "everything will return to normal". Like other analysts of collapse, Panzner argues that "normal" is the worst thing to which we could return and that every aspect of our thinking and behavior in relation to the earth community must be radically transformed.

Oil shock from credit crunch

SUBHEAD: We don't need to wait for oil demand to come back before we have a supply crunch.
By Christopher Johnson on 26 March 2009 in Reuters
Image above: Oil burning party of homeless furnace...
The global financial crisis and collapse in the oil market have stalled vital investment in oil exploration and production and are likely soon to lead to a sharp spike in prices, an energy consultant and financier says.
Matt Simmons, founder of Houston-based investment bank Simmons & Co, argues the underlying rate of decline of the world's aging oilfields is as much as 20 percent a year and only high levels of investment can reduce that to single digits. With credit tight and oil prices almost $100 a barrel below their highs last year, oil companies are unable to sustain previous levels of spending and the result is falling production, he said in an interview on Thursday.
"We are three, six, maybe nine months away from a price shock. We are not talking about three to five years away -- it will be much sooner," Simmons told Reuters in London.
"These prices now are dangerously low. The lower prices fall, the less oil will be produced and the greater the chance of an oil spike," he said.
Oil prices hit record highs of almost $150 per barrel last July but have tumbled since then as the global economic downturn has cut energy consumption by consumers and companies alike.
Prices have rallied from lows below $35 a barrel in December to above $50 but remain well below what many oil companies and producing countries say they need to invest in new production.
Simmons is a proponent of the "peak oil" theory, and has argued for years that world oil output is in irreversible decline because oil industry infrastructure is getting too old.
He says the cost of rebuilding the oil industry is colossal -- "closer to $100 trillion than $50 trillion" over decades: "The industry's asset base is beyond it's original design life."
TWILIGHT IN THE DESERT Simmons' 2005 best-seller "Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy," argued oil output from the Middle East's biggest supplier was reaching an apex and would soon decline, ending forever the era of cheap oil.
Saudi Arabian oil company Aramco and many other analysts strongly disagreed with that thesis, saying Simmons exaggerated the rate of decline of older oilfields.
Cambridge Energy Research Associates last year put the rate of decline of the world's oilfields at just 4-5 percent a year.
But Simmons' concerns over the impact of the credit crisis and the dramatic fall in oil prices are shared by many other, more conservative bodies, including the International Energy Agency (IEA), which advises 28 industrialized nations.
IEA Deputy Executive Director Richard Jones warned the oil market this week that so far as much as 2 million barrels per day (bpd) of new upstream capacity due to come on stream had been deferred for now due to lack of funds and low oil prices.
The IEA is also worried recent cuts in oil production by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in an attempt to bolster prices have left oil inventories dangerously low, leaving little room for maneuver when oil demand recovers.
Simmons says many OPEC oil producers will find it difficult to bring output back to previous levels once prices recover.
"When you have an old oilfield whose flow is being maintained by extremely high levels of investment and you reduce production, you rarely if ever get back to where it was."
Because of this and natural declines in output, oil use may not need to rise much before production fails to meet demand.
"Unless oil demand falls by 10 or 15 percent per annum, which it is not going to do, then we don't need to wait for oil demand to come back before we have a supply crunch," he said.
"Within a few months, we are going to realize our visible inventories are really tight -- squeaky tight -- and what would really be inconvenient is to see a recovery in the economy."
He sees oil prices eventually exceeding last year's high:
"Sooner or later we will burst through that like a hot knife through butter."

Galloping with blinders on

SUBHEAD: Why are we galloping straight ahead, even if the road leads straight off a cliff?
By John Michael Greer on 25 March 2009 in The Archduid Report Making sense of history as it happens is a bit like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without any idea of the picture the puzzle will show. A blue piece with an edge, a speckled one with an odd bulge on one side, and hundreds of others sit on the table and taunt the imagination. Most solutions come together a piece at a time; still, it sometimes happens that two or more pieces from different parts of the puzzle can reveal a pattern that allows some large portion of the puzzle to be assembled in a few minutes. A moment a little like that happened earlier this week, when two seemingly unrelated news squibs showed up in my inbox. The first was an article about a small company in New Zealand, EcoInnovation Ltd., that builds micro-hydro systems – for those of my readers who don’t speak appropriate tech fluently, this means a hydroelectric system meant to generate power from very modest amounts of running water. Less popular than wind and solar, mostly because sun and wind are more widely distributed than streams, micro-hydro has nonetheless had a presence in the alternative energy scene since the Seventies. What sets the EcoInnovation systems apart from others, though, is that the generators used in them are salvaged washing machine motors. image above: The diving horse at the Hanlan's Point Amusement Park, Toronto, Canada. I’m not sure how many people realize that an electric motor and an electric generator are the same thing, a device for turning electricity and rotary motion into one another: take an electric motor and make something else spin the shaft, and it becomes a generator. This is what the people at EcoInnovation did. It’s not exactly a new idea; a book in my collection of Seventies appropriate-tech manuals, Cloudburst, provides plans for a micro-hydro plant built of salvaged parts along similar lines. Still, this sort of salvage-based manufacture of micro-hydro systems is an excellent way to minimize resource inputs for the production of clean, locally produced electricity – something that has been on many people’s minds of late, and for good reason – and so far, aside from this one small company, it’s been almost completely neglected. The second news story was a puff piece about the latest efforts to make a reactor that will sustain nuclear fusion for more than a few milliseconds. Unlike micro-hydro, nuclear fusion will be familiar to all my readers, whether the words make them think of thermonuclear warheads, the long litany of past attempts to build a working fusion reactor, or the sole functioning fusion reactor in this solar system – the one that rises in the east every morning. The news story trotted out the usual rhetoric about limitless clean energy, and repeated the ritual assurance that given adequate funding, fusion reactors will solve the energy crisis in another few decades. The fact that they were saying the same thing in the 1950s somehow failed to make it into the story. Nor did the reporter mention just how many billions of dollars have been spent over the last sixty-odd years chasing the fusion dream. Nearly all of it has pursued a single broad approach to fusion reactor design. The science books of my childhood had brightly colored pictures showing exactly that design: heavy hydrogen, heated to superhot temperatures, would be squeezed by powerful magnetic fields until the nuclei fused, releasing heat that would produce steam to drive turbines. With a variety of modifications and refinements, that’s still the basic model behind most of today’s fusion-reactor projects. Yet fusion power remains a daydream; despite vast sums in research grants and government subsidies every year, the fusion power research community has never managed anything more than brief and self-terminating bursts of fusion, releasing rather less energy than they took to produce. Leading physicists in the field have admitted that it’s quite possible that commercial fusion power is unattainable using the current model, and the net energy from so energy- and resource-intensive an energy source shows every sign of being far into negative numbers; still, the money flows in. Note the contrast in these two news items. One details a simple, efficient, and readily available energy source, using proven technology, with wide applicability – every spot that used to run a water wheel in the 19th century, if it hasn’t been flooded by a dam since then, is a micro-hydro site, and there are plenty of surplus electric motors around – to provide renewable energy for the difficult years ahead. The other story details the fantastically costly pursuit of what is arguably a failed model of fusion power generation, one that has yet to put a single watt into the power grid, and may well never do so. Care to guess which one of these approaches will receive billions of dollars of additional funding and the attention of major research teams next year, and which one will remain in the hands of a small entrepreneurial firm and its customer base? This contrast offers a glimpse at one of the key factors in the collapse of complex human systems. It’s a commonplace of history that institutions of all kinds – governments, businesses, religious organizations, whole civilizations, and more – get locked into strategies that, at least in hindsight, can be seen as hopelessly self-defeating, and stay the course all the way down to collapse. No doubt archeologists of the future, hacking their way with machetes through a post-global-warming jungle to reach the lost city of Flint, Michigan, will wonder why CEOs shackled their companies’ survival to rapidly depleting fossil fuels, instead of pursuing electric cars and alternatives to the automobile, and then compounded their folly by setting up lending agencies that became hopelessly entangled in the delusional economics of what may still, even in that distant time, be remembered as the largest financial bubble in human history. Standing amid the overgrown ruins of some ancient assembly line, they will surely ask themselves: why did nobody see the obvious consequences? Arnold Toynbee, whose monumental work on the rise and fall of civilizations has been discussed in these essays several times, offered a useful way of thinking about this dysfunction. He argued that civilizations rise under the leadership of a creative minority, who are able to offer a vision of human destiny and possibility strong enough to overcome the inertia of tradition and launch a new phase of social integration. As long as the creative minority continues to come up with successful responses to the challenges and curve balls the world throws at every human society, the society they lead continues to expand. Sooner or later, though, the creative minority becomes so deeply committed to some particular set of solutions that it keeps on trying to apply those solutions, whether or not they actually fit the challenges. At that point the creative minority degenerates into a dominant minority, ruling its society by increasingly blatant coercion rather than inspiring it with the force of its ideas. Unsolved problems pile up as failed responses are repeated on an ever more lavish scale, and the death spiral of decline and fall begins. It’s a pity that Toynbee didn’t live long enough to see the current economic debacle, as there has rarely been a better example of the phenomenon he outlined. Consider the way that nobody in American political life has anything to offer in the face of economic crisis but more attempts to reinflate a bubble like the ones that popped in 1987, 2002, and 2008. All sides are declaiming about economic growth, at a time when further economic growth in the current sense of that phrase is the last thing America needs. A sane strategy would seek economic contraction instead – a massive downsizing of the banking and finance sector until our annual production of debt has some relationship to our annual production of goods and nonfinancial services; a steady decrease in energy use across the board until US energy use per capita equals that of Europe, about a third of the present US level; the systematic rebuilding of American manufacturing and agriculture protected by trade barriers, which would require Americans to pay prices reflecting American wages for their consumer goods; and so forth. Conventional wisdom insists that any such program would be rejected by the American people. I’m not at all sure that that’s true; many people in the working class, I suspect, would be quite willing to accept higher prices for consumer goods in exchange for a return of manufacturing jobs and a sustained drop in housing costs. Still, nothing of the kind will be proposed at any level where the necessary decisions could be made, because such a program flies in the face of the set of economic solutions that Americans from the middle class on up want to apply – even though those “solutions,” which amount to flooding imaginary wealth into a broken system, have themselves become a major cause of the crises shaking our economy to its core. One of the telltale signs that a creative minority has become a dominant minority is that failure no longer carries any penalty. Consider what happened to executives and middle management in the last quarter century or so when their actions, as so often happened, drove their companies into the ground. The number of them who had trouble finding new jobs was vanishingly small; members of a well-networked class that generally takes care of its own, they were shielded from the consequences of their own incompetence. Even those who openly looted failing companies rarely suffered any penalty, since this has long been standard practice in American corporate life; the cult of the bonus and the plundering of business assets to line the pockets of executives reaches far beyond the handful of financial firms where it has recently become infamous. In much the same way, three generations of physicists have been able to count on lavish grant money for research pursuing a failed model of fusion power, and the fact that none of this immense investment has brought the world noticeably closer to working fusion power plants has done nothing to slow the torrent of government largesse. Meanwhile surplus washing machine motors, and a thousand other useful resources and practicable responses, pile up unregarded. And that, dear reader, is why I tend to roll my eyes when people insist, as they often do, that the world’s industrial societies will surely get themselves out of the peak oil trap once they devote resources and intellectual effort to constructive responses to the problem. In theory, they might still be able to do so; in practice, this won’t happen, because devoting resources and intellectual effort to constructive responses is precisely the missing piece that can’t be supplied. When failure is no longer penalized, and losing strategies are the only options admitted to discussion, changing course becomes the least likely possibility; the tighter the blinkers, the more likely that the horse will keep on galloping straight ahead, even if the road leads straight off a cliff. This is one reason why it seems crucial to me to suggest that any real response to the crisis of industrial society has to begin with individuals, families, and local communities, where constructive change might actually be possible; and to argue against imposing any grand strategy or one-size-fits-all plan on the ventures that result. It’s worth noting that some places have good sites for micro-hydro installations and plenty of spare washing machine motors, but others do not; equally, any other solution you care to name is likely to be well suited to some contexts and very poorly suited to others. It’s in dealing with these differences – in grappling with the messy, local, everyday details of life in a contracting economy and a deindustrializing society, with blinders off and a pace slowed to the point that the surroundings become more than a blur – that effective responses are most likely to emerge.

Collecting your rainwater

SUBHEAD: Marin group helps residents harvest rainwater for conservation, irrigation.
SOURCE: Ken Taylor,
By Mark Prado on 23 March 2009 in the Marin Independent Journal 
This summer, Forest Knolls resident John Lerch will use recently collected rainwater stored in three large cisterns to irrigate his vegetable garden.

His irrigation setup is among 18 rooftop "stormwater harvesting systems" established with the help of a $60,000 Marin Community Foundation grant to a San Geronimo group that is demonstrating ways to conserve water, help fish and recharge groundwater.

image above: Raintainer, a 200 gallon rain catchment barrel that can be used to store rainwater for garden irrigation.

"It's been working great," said Lerch, who has collected 3,300 gallons of water to feed his artichokes, tomatoes and other plants. "All three tanks are full. I'll use the water through a garden hose I can attach, and gravity makes the water flow."

The systems are simple. Rainwater falls on a standard roof, where it is funneled into a downspout. But instead of spilling onto the ground or ending up in a stormwater pipe, water is diverted and stored in a cistern and then can then be used to water gardens.

"It's a very simple system," said Paola Bouley, conservation program director at the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network, which is heading the project. "People are hungry for this."

By storing rainwater for irrigation, water from county reservoirs is saved. In Marin, 33 percent of water demand during the summer is used for landscaping. The county also has a water deficit, which means a dry year would require rationing.

The cistern systems also keep water from rushing off hard services and into creeks. That type of runoff carries sediment that can harm local fish populations, including endangered coho salmon. Marin's coho population is at a 15-year low this year.

"Roofs, parking lots, all these impervious surfaces that we have around our homes and business have a direct impact on the streams where the fish are and bring consequences for their survival," Bouley said.

image above: Roof water collection technique feeds into rain barrel.

It does not take long for cisterns to fill. A typical home collects 600 gallons of water from a 1,000-square-foot roof after an inch of rain has fallen. The cisterns are equipped with a valve that releases water as it becomes full.

SPAWN encourages users to create a swail that forms a "rain garden." As water collects, the water drains through the soil into the natural aquifer, recharging creeks.

A 200-gallon resin cistern costs about $220; a 300-gallon model costs about $300, and Bouley said a simple 1,500-gallon system can be installed for less than $1,000. SPAWN officials say they hope to get another grant to set up more systems.

"We have two very large cisterns and a smaller one that collects 2,300 gallons of water," said Julie Vogt, San Geronimo Valley resident. "It's all rainwater that helps to grow plants. It works very well."

The water goes to native plants on Vogt's property - the plants that are being grown by SPAWN, which paid for the cisterns.

Vogt also created a rainwater garden that resembles a creek system, complete with fake salmon. It is fed by water that comes off the roof.

"We used to have a green lawn here. Now it holds water that seeps back into the earth naturally," she said. "It feels like you are doing the right thing.

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