Adam Harju dies in Cambodia

SOURCE: Koohan Paik (
SUBHEAD: Adam Harjou, former managing editor of the Garden Island News, is found dead in Cambodia street.  

[IB Publisher's note: Warning. A graphic photo of Adam Harju laying dead in the street in Cambodia is at the bottom of this article. Do not scroll to the bottom of this post if you wish to avoid it. Although our home page contained a warning about the image, those linking directly to this page may not have been aware of the warning. We apologize for having published the image at the top of this article when it was first posted.]

Image above: Adam in happier days on Kauai.

By Juan Wilson on 30 April 2010 for Island Breath -

Adam Harju was found dead in the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia in front of an apartment building he lived in at Street 118. He apparently suffered a massive head trauma. There have been rumors that it was not a suicide, as was officially reported. Some have suggested that he may have not been alive when he went through a fifth floor window, and even thought his criticism of the Cambodian government could have been a factor.

 Others point to evidence it may have been a tragic accident. For more details on the subject the following are blog posts that first reported his death in: "Khmer 440: Cambodia From The Inside" (

Posted: Tue Apr 27, 2010 8:15 pm Post subject: foreigner died on st136? - anyone know? I heard a rumour that last night an american man fell from a building on st136, and died at the scene. can anybody confirm?

Posted: Tue Apr 27, 2010 8:32 pm Post subject: Reply with quote It was 118 and supposedly it wasn't an accident.

Posted: Tue Apr 27, 2010 8:40 pm Post subject: Reply with quote From what I've heard, he's a (perhaps former) writer for the Cambodia Daily (CD).

Posted: Tue Apr 27, 2010 8:45 pm Post subject: Reply with quote Was it suicide? Boy, the place really is turning into Pattaya. There aren't any good places to jump from on St. 118 are there? Most of the buildings in that area are no more than four stories tall. Was it a homicide?

Posted: Tue Apr 27, 2010 9:44 pm Post subject: Reply with quote From what I can understand.. The headline says it was suicide. (som-lup kloo-un). But I might be wrong. My Khmer reading isn't very good. Not easy to see from the picture where on st.118 it is either. As usual it's not in the English speaking news blogs/papers. (Yet..)

Posted: Tue Apr 27, 2010 9:57 pm Post subject:
Quote: (from Adam Harjou's blog:) unedited now - Journal - The going gets weird ... we are professionals The newspaper that I now work for — The Cambodia Daily — is a remarkably astounding place. ... Adam Harju html -
From a former CDer, RIP Adam.

Posted: Tue Apr 27, 2010 10:03 pm Post subject: Reply with quote
Quote: (from Adam Harjou's blog:) I have been apartment hunting and getting settled in. I am happily ensconced on Street 118 two blocks from the Mekong River in a fifth floor apartment in Phnom Penh. I can see the great river from the hammock strung on my veranda.
Looks like he lived in Street 118. Sadly enough it seems it could have been a suicide. R.I.P. Mr. Harju. (His brother confirms his passing away on the blog.)

Posted: Tue Apr 27, 2010 11:13 pm Post subject: Reply with quote Yeah. This happened mid yesterday and we didn't put it on here because we heard conflicting stories of the guy's demise and we didn't want to rush into the story and get it wrong.
The one inescapable fact is that he went out of a window of a small three story building in the old town and hit the deck dead. Apparently his body sat there for 5 hours before it was taken away. If anybody is interested, the side angle is that some folks (maybe CSI fans) believe that he was dead before he went out of the window.

Tue Apr 27, 2010 11:29 pm Post subject: Reply with quote Reading his blog it does seem like he was a tormented soul- I guess its the countries tragic history that attracts such types. He also wrote some stuff critical of the goverment so that should stoke the conspiracy flames.

PostPosted: Wed Apr 28, 2010 10:20 am Post subject: Reply with quote Quote: There goes KiR's "losing the plot" theory. This guy had a day job that presumably required him to be up in the morning. Yet still a sad ending. I don't think he did have a day job anymore. Therefore, my thesis still stands.
Those of us with gainful employment that requires us to be in bed for before midnight and up again not long after dawn, drastically reduce our chances of going sketchy in the tropics.

PostPosted: Wed Apr 28, 2010 7:56 pm Post subject: Reply with quote my khmer girlfriend says the article states he had been drinking heavily and then jumped hence the suicide headline but perhaps he was drunk and fell, no suicide note seems to have been left.

SUBHEAD: Below is an enry to Adam's blog postings in Unedited Now  

Cambodia Redux
By Adam Harju on 6 April 2010 in Unedited Now - 

Anyone who has hung on this long to this blog is a true friend. I started it over a year ago when I left Kauai for Cambodia after a fucked up divorce. Personal issues got in the way in Cambodia and I returned to the states to get over them.

But I have exorcised that mental baggage and am again making a go of it in this steamy corner of the world. Nothing terribly exciting to report yet as I have been apartment hunting and getting settled in. I am happily ensconced on Street 118 two blocks from the Mekong River in a fifth floor apartment in Phnom Penh.

I can see the great river from the hammock strung on my veranda. Old friends are filtering back into my life and I am increasingly realizing I made a wise choice. I scared the shit out of my family though when I announced my departure, but if they would come visit me would realize their fears are silly.

I plan a writing and photo trip to Rattanakirri, the Three Corners region and Preah Vihear. I have an interpretor who will work for me for free because when I left before I sold him my $450 moto for $150 and gave him my phone and furniture. The bastard owes me and he knows it... free labor.

All I have to do is pay his bus ticket and lodging. In this corner of the world that amounts to nothing. So I promise here shortly updated photos and more interesting posts. If you have hung on this long, I think you can wait a little more.

Image above: The Body of Adam Harjou lies for five hours in front of Street 118 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. From (

Sadly, that is not true. We won't ever read those posts or see those photos. Goodnight Adam.


Warning Shots

SUBHEAD: Better days lie ahead for those of us who desire to see the living planet make a comeback.

By Guy McPherson on 29 April 2010 in Nature Bats Last - 

Image above: Writer Ernest "Poppa" Hemingway with water buffalo he shot. He once said - “The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.” Later he shot himself. From (

How many do you need?
I still keep hearing, “If things get bad, I’ll move to ….” And then fill in the blank with your favorite fantasy or nightmare, including these and many more:
“My sister-in-law’s property in Kansas”
“The wilderness”
“A central America country”
“Southern Europe”
“Che coast”
First, let’s consider how “bad” things have to get. The first significant warning shot came in the 1970s, when people in the industrialized world felt the impacts of the U.S. losing its status as the world’s swing producer of crude oil. We were visited by expensive gasoline and long lines at the pumps, simultaneous inflation and economic contraction, a president who encouraged conservation, and many other consequences of relying heavily on crude oil for economic growth.

More recently, we’ve witnessed a housing crash, bank failures, oil priced at nearly $150/bbl, near-collapse of the industrial economy, sovereign debt crises throughout the industrialized world, and hundreds of other symptoms of passing the world oil peak.

If you keep your eyes closed, you’re going to run off the road. This society has already driven into a ditch, but you are not required to join the crash. Again, then: How many warning shots do you need?
We could spend a lot of time pointing out the lunacy of all the safe havens listed above.

Moving in with the in-laws? Have you even asked? Isn’t there a reason you don’t live with them already? Have you discussed economic collapse with them, or do you continue to ignore the most important topic in the history of western civilization, opting instead for polite conversation?
"How ’bout them Red Sox? Nice weather we’ve been having, doncha think?"
Stop me if I’ve mentioned this one before: If you keep your eyes closed, you’re going to run off the road.

And Mexico? Do you speak Spanish? Fluently? Do you think you’ll be welcome there, gringo? Do you think continuing our history of occupation is a good idea, even at the personal level? Again, as before, why don’t you live there already, if it’s such a great place to be?

The wilderness? Really? Without a grocery store?

And so on, down the list of ludicrous options.

Here’s a thought: How about starting to prepare for a world without ready access to cheap fossil fuels? That would entail securing a personal supply of water and food for you and your family. For the rest of your life, and theirs. If that’s simply too daunting a task for your lizard-like brain, you can take the route pursued by about half the people to whom I speak:
“I’ll save a bullet for myself.”
Really? Evolution suggests otherwise. I foresee a lot of my “friends” showing up at the mud hut, unprepared and unrepentant, but too consumed with personal survival to take the promised Hemingway out. A friend in need...

Better days lie ahead for those of us who desire to see the living planet make a comeback. But if you believe life is not worth living in the absence of empire — in the absence of our unrelenting intent and ability to destroy every non-industrial culture and non-human species — why wait?

Why not take the Hemingway out now, while you still can get a decent imperial funeral?


No, We Can't Have It All

SUBHEAD: We can have civilization with "progress" and history, or we can have sustainability.

By Derrick Jensen on 23 April 2010 in Common Dreams -
An Excerpt from 'Endgame, Vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization'  

Image above: Cover art for video game "Sid Meier's Civilization IV- Warlords". From (  

We all face choices. We can have ice caps and polar bears, or we can have automobiles. We can have dams or we can have salmon. We can have irrigated wine from Mendocino and Sonoma counties, or we can have the Russian and Eel Rivers. We can have oil from beneath the oceans, or we can have whales. We can have cardboard boxes or we can have living forests.

We can have computers and cancer clusters from the manufacture of those computers, or we can have neither. We can have electricity and a world devastated by mining, or we can have neither (and don't give me any nonsense about solar: you'll need copper for wiring, silicon for photovoltaics, metals and plastics for appliances, which need to be manufactured and then transported to your home, and so on. Even solar electrical energy can never be sustainable because electricity and all its accoutrements require an industrial infrastructure).

We can have fruits, vegetables, and coffee brought to the U.S. from Latin America, or we can have at least somewhat intact human and nonhuman communities throughout that region. (I don't think I need to remind readers that, to take one not atypical example among far too many, the democratically elected Arbenz government in Guatemala was overthrown by the United States to support the United Fruit Company, now Chiquita, leading to thirty years of U.S.-backed dictatorships and death squads.

Also, a few years ago I asked a member of the revolutionary tupacamaristas what they wanted for the people of Peru, and he said something that cuts to the heart of the current discussion [and to the heart of every struggle that has ever taken place against civilization]: "We need to produce and distribute our own food. We already know how to do that. We merely need to be allowed to do so."

We can have international trade, inevitably and by definition as well as by function dominated by distant and huge economic/governmental entities which do not (and cannot) act in the best interest of communities, or we can have local control of local economies, which cannot happen so long as cities require the importation (read: theft) of resources from ever-greater distances.

We can have civilization -- too often called the highest form of social organization -- that spreads (I would say metastasizes) to all parts of the globe, or we can have a multiplicity of autonomous cultures each uniquely adapted to the land from which it springs. We can have cities and all they imply, or we can have a livable planet. We can have "progress" and history, or we can have sustainability. We can have civilization, or we can have at least the possibility of a way of life not based on the violent theft of resources.

This is in no way abstract. It is physical. In a finite world, the forced and routine importation of resources is unsustainable. Duh.

Show me how car culture can coexist with wild nature, and more specifically, show me how anthropogenic global warming can coexist with ice caps and polar bears. And any fixes such as solar electric cars would present problems at least equally severe. For example, the electricity still needs to be generated, batteries are extraordinarily toxic, and in any case, driving is not the main way a car pollutes: far more pollution is emitted through its manufacture than through its exhaust pipe. We can perform the same exercise for any product of industrial civilization.

We can't have it all. The belief that we can is one of the things that has driven us to this awful place. If insanity could be defined as having lost functional connection with physical reality, to believe we can have it all -- to believe we can simultaneously dismantle a world and live on it; to believe we can perpetually use more energy than arrives from the sun; to believe we can take more than the world gives willingly; to believe a finite world can support infinite growth,much less infinite economic growth, where economic growth consists of converting ever larger numbers of living beings to dead objects (industrial production, at core, is the conversion of the living -- trees or mountains -- into the dead -- two-by-fours and beer cans) -- is grotesquely insane.

This insanity manifests partly as a potent disrespect for limits and for justice. It manifests in the pretension that neither limits nor justice exist. To pretend that civilization can exist without destroying its own landbase and the landbases and cultures of others is to be entirely ignorant of history, biology, thermodynamics, morality, and self-preservation. And it is to have paid absolutely no attention to the past six thousand years.

One of the reasons we fail to perceive all of this is that we -- the civilized -- have been inculcated to believe that belongings are more important than belonging, and that relationships are based on dominance -- violence and exploitation. Having come to believe that, and having come to believe the acquisition of material possessions is good (or even more abstractly, that the accumulation of money is good) and in fact the primary goal of life, we then have come to perceive ourselves as the primary beneficiaries of all of this insanity and injustice.

Right now I'm sitting in front of a space heater, and all other things being equal, I'd rather my toes were toasty than otherwise. But all other things aren't equal, and destroying runs of salmon by constructing dams for hydropower is a really stupid (and immoral) way to warm my feet. It's an extraordinarily bad trade.

And it's not just space heaters. No amount of comforts or elegancies, what that nineteenth-century slave owner called the characteristics of civilization, are worth killing the planet. What's more, even if we do perceive it in our best interest to take these comforts or elegancies at the expense of the enslavement, impoverishment, or murder of others and their landbases, we have no right to do so. And no amount of rationalization nor overwhelming force -- not even "full-spectrum domination" -- will suffice to give us that right.

Yet we have been systematically taught to ignore these trade-offs, to pretend if we don't see them (even when they're right in front of our faces) they do not exist. Yesterday, I received this email:
"We all face the future unsure if our own grandchildren will know what a tree is or ever taste salmon or even know what a clean glass of water tastes like. It is crucial, especially for those of us who see the world as a living being, to remember.
I've realized that outside of radical activist circles and certain indigenous peoples, the majority has completely forgotten about the passenger pigeon, completely forgotten about salmon so abundant you could fish with baskets. I've met many people who think if we could just stop destroying the planet right now, that we'll be left with a beautiful world. It makes me wonder if the same type of people would say the same thing in the future even if they had to put on a protective suit in order to go outside and see the one tree left standing in their town.
Would they also have forgotten?
Would it still be a part of mainstream consciousness that there used to be whole forests teeming with life?
I think you and I agree that as long as this culture continues with its preferred methods of perception, then it would not be widely known to the majority. I used to think environmental activists would at least get to say, ‘I told you so' to everyone else once civilization finally succeeded in creating a wasteland, but now I'm not convinced that anyone will even remember.
Perhaps the worst nightmare visions of activists a few hundred years ago match exactly the world we have outside our windows today, yet nobody is saying, ‘I told you so.'"

I think he's right. I've long had a nightmare/fantasy of standing on a desolate plain with a CEO or politician or capitalist journalist, shaking him by the shoulders and shouting, "Don't you see? Don't you see it was all a waste?" But after ruminating on this fellow's email, the nightmare has gotten even worse. Now I no longer have even the extraordinarily hollow satisfaction of seeing recognition of a massive mistake on this other's face. Now he merely looks at me, his eyes flashing a combination of arrogance, hatred, and willful incomprehension, and says, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

And he isn't even entirely lying.

Except of course to himself..

Hawaii DU Plan Useless

SUBHEAD: Nuclear Regulatory Commission to US Army - DU monitoring plan in Hawaii won't work.

By Alan D. McNarie on 28 April 2010 in Big Island Weelky -
Image above: US Army training at Pohakuloa Training area on Big Island has employed DU munitions. From original article.

The U.S. Army's plan to monitor the air over Pohakuloa Training Area for depleted uranium has drawn sharp criticism from some Native Hawaiians, environmentalists, activists and independent experts. Now the Army has gotten an admonishment from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

 "We have concluded that the Plan will provide inconclusive results for the U.S. Army as to the potential impact of the dispersal of depleted uranium (DU) while the Pohakuloa Training Area is being utilized for aerial bombardment or other training exercises," wrote Rebecca Tadesse, Chief of the NRC's Materials Decommissioning Branch, in a recent letter to Lt. General Rick Lynch, who heads the Army's Installation Management Command.

Tadesse and her staff reached that conclusion after reviewing the draft plan proposed by the Army and ORISE, the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, which would conduct the monitoring for aerial DU contamination at Pohakuloa and at various other locations around the island.

The NRC experts concluded that the plan was inadequate in several areas: the number of air samples planned was "insufficient," optimum locations for monitoring needed to be determined and established, and "Continuous monitoring should be performed during the testing and also prior to and following testing to determine background conditions," so that the army would have a basis for comparison with any high readings.

The letter also noted that the army proposed to conduct its air monitoring specifically during live firing exercises -- even though the Army had told the NRC that it would not "use high explosives and bombs in areas where DU is present." "If that is true, why would there be an expectation that DU might be dispersed during such training exercises?" Tadesse asked.

The Army's handling of the DU issue at Pohakuloa is also drawing fire from some independent experts, including retired army doctor Lorrin Pang, Los Alamos National Laboratory consultant Dr. Marshall Bland, and Dr. Michael Reimer, a retired geologist with a background in radiation monitoring. And Sierra Club researcher Cory Harden has used recently released Army documents to challenge the Army's own estimates of how much DU may have been released into the environment at Pohakuloa.

 "The NRC review seems to vindicate Dr. Pang and myself for claiming that the monitoring was insufficient," Reimer told BIW. According to the NRC's Greg Pukin, his agency doesn't generally have jurisdiction over weapons, but does have authority over DU and other radionuclides.

The Army has applied to the NRC for a permit to possess DU at Pohakuloa -- a permit that, if granted, could allow the recently discovered remains of depleted uranium spotter rounds from the Army's cold-war-era Davy Crockett nuclear howitzer on site at the training area -- spotter rounds whose presence in Hawaii the army had denied until a citizen's group unearthed an e-mail about their discovery in 2006.

A group of local residents, including Harden, antiwar activist Jim Albertini, and native Hawaiian activist Isaac Harp had filed a challenge to the Army's application on the grounds that its monitoring and clean-up plans were inadequate, but were recently denied standing by the NRC. Harp has appealed that denial.

Both Pang and Reimer testified as experts on April 14 at an NRC phone conference to consider Harp's complaint. In addition to noting Tadesse's criticisms, Reimer observed that the 5-micron filters that the army planned to use to capture possible DU particles for monitoring were a bit on the coarse side.

"Five-micron size [particles] would fall out within a mile," he said. "Smaller sizes may be carried by the wind." He recommended .45-micron filters. Pang also challenged the army's general credibility by citing a number of former army statements about DU that Pang said simply weren't true.

"The Army stated to the Deptartment of Health Environmental Chief that inhaled DU (from exploding weaponry) was not a worry since DU is heavier than air and would not become airborne, therefore not inhaled," he noted, for example.

He testified that Army consultants, when discussing the amount of DU needed to produce radiation readings reported by civilian monitors at Pohakuloa, had held out their hands to indicate chunks the size of basketballs. Pang also claims that an Army study setting human safety thresholds for DU inhalation was scientifically flawed.

"That study has been widely, publicly debunked by the scientific community," he said. "The Army investigators did not count effects like tumors (both malignant and benign) in the exposed group."

 "The kind of air monitoring that the Army is using, they'll never find it," commented Harden at the conference call. Harden also challenged an Army estimate that about 700 Davy Crocket spotter rounds may have been fired at Pohakuloa. "To back up their claim they quoted from a report, which I only managed to obtained after ten months of repeated requests," testified Harden.

Their quote for the lower number does not match my copy of the report.... For soldiers to follow training manual requirements of that time, about 2,000 spotting rounds would have been needed at Pohakuloa. Now the Army didn't find 2,000 spotting rounds recently at Pohakuloa Training Area, only four fragments. They speculate that range clearance may have been done, but offer no evidence to support this theory."

 Based on the discrepancies, the Army's critics argued that the NRC simply couldn't trust what the Army said about DU in Hawaii - nor could the public. "Since we can't rely on the military to shine their light on the hazards its left behind, we need help from NRC," Hardin concluded.

 See also:
Island Breath: Superferry, Stryker Brigade & DU 11/1/06
Island Breath: DU detected at Big Island Gun Range 5/1/07
Island Breath: Army Confirms DU at Pohakuloa 8/21/07


Sierra Club's failed vision

SUBHEAD: The Sierra Club is the quintessential “Liberals in Volvos with bumper stickers” imagining that reforming the system will fix inconvenient crises.

Image above: Detail of ad for Neuton battery powered lawn mowers, a current advertiser in Sierra Magazine. All that plastic, battery chemistry, and power grid wattage to keep the suburban lawn looking like a putting green. From (

By Jan Lundberg on 13 April 2010 in Culture Change - 

[IB Editor's note: This article was reorganized for publication on IslandBreath. It begins with the April 1st press release by the Sierra Club concerning the recently adopted federal fuel economy standards.]
"The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation today finalized important new combined global warming emissions and fuel economy standards for autos for the years 2012-2016. The new standards will bring fuel economy to 35.5 miles per gallon and carbon dioxide emissions will be reduced to 250 grams per mile. The efficiency gains in the autos sold under these standards will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil. This is the first time the Clean Air Act has been used to directly tackle global warming emissions and is also the first significant increase in fuel economy standards since the original 1975 CAFE standards.

These standards are a grand slam: billions of dollars in consumer savings at the pump, a huge reduction in oil use, significant cuts in pollution, and they will help a more sustainable domestic auto industry thrive. Sierra Club pushed hard to pass the California law that set the stage for these standards, our members pushed for the California standards to be adopted in more than a dozen other states across the country, and we defended them all the way to the Supreme Court. The ambitious standards being finalized today were made possible by these years of hard work and we are delighted to see them become the law of the land.
"Today's new national standards are the result of state leadership and the leadership of President Obama and his cabinet, including EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. Driving vehicle standards forward to 35.5 miles per gallon in 2016 is a result of President Obama's work to bring together automakers, state leaders, environmentalists, and labor unions to secure a win for the nation.
"The new tailpipe standards, promulgated under the Clean Air Act, demonstrate the Act's power to spur innovation, fuel economic growth, protect our air, make America more energy independent, and fight global warming. Instead of using this and other important tools in the Clean Air Act to accelerate our transition to a clean energy future, some in Congress want to slam on the brakes and actually shift the country into reverse by gutting the Clean Air Act. We cannot allow this happen. It would be bad for the environment, bad for the economy, and bad for America. The only people it would be good for are Big Oil, big polluters, and America's enemies overseas who continue to profit from our dangerous dependence on oil."

Sierra Club press release by Exec Director Michael Brune (

It is a testimony to the failure of the environmental movement that it offers, as an alternative to ecocide, the continued support of the automobile industry and "clean cars."

This pseudo-environmental stance is almost identical to the Obama administration's myopia about continuing industrial pollution at full tilt for the sake of "jobs" and stability for its friends on Wall Street. However, the state of affairs -- driving off the ecological cliff for maximum petrocollapse -- is also the failure of grassroots activism and the pro-bicycle/pro walking movements.

It's not fair to criticize all of them, when some have made honesty and sacrifice part of their daily work to spread the word -- via conferences, magazines, websites, and direct action such as Critical Mass Bike Rides. Yet if there is something more we can do for greater effectiveness to combat car domination and the paving over (or tarmacking) the arable land, we need to get down to it.

Advocating that we publicly boycott petroleum and never buy a new car will help. The pace of climate change tells us there's no time to wait for some techno-solution or a better President. Reading the pro-car cheerleading of Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director, I can't help but be reminded of his predecessor Carl Pope: pied by grassroots environmental activists disappointed about his compromises regarding ancient forests.

Who else did the Biotic Baking Brigade pie? Milton Friedman, Bill Gates, and Charles Hurwitz (Maxxam Corp.), getting just and tasty deserts. I don't know if I've ever seen a more pathetic pseudo-environmental pose: statements by Brune -- "help a more sustainable domestic auto industry thrive" and "fuel economic growth" -- show that ecological ignorance and disassociation from reality are alive and well.

The Sierra Club has thus firmly established itself as a dangerous factor in environmental politics, if it hadn't done so lately. Incrementalism on behalf of a broken system is irresponsible and unacknowledged by the reformist-participant because of the urge to accomplish something, anything.

Seizing some middle ground, however, is a disservice to Mother Earth. The Sierra Club thus pretends that human and animal slaughter on the roads from vehicle impacts don't exist, and that minor exhaust reductions at a time of out-of-control global warming are the right approach. Peak oil?

The Club evidently never heard of it, or chooses to not understand its basics. Did the Club get the message from us on their current campaign? Yes, the propagandist originally reaching thousands of members from the Membership Services dept, Ann Mesnikoff heard from a few of us on the Global Warming Crisis Council Listserve. She did not respond, but in a bureaucracy, that's to be expected. After her shock she must have dutifully passed along the strange reactions of non-car-loving activists!

The Sierra Club is the quintessential “Liberals in Volvos with bumper stickers” imagining that reforming the system will fix inconvenient crises. I don’t mean to minimize good work, especially by Sierra Club chapters. But all through the 1990s the Club would not join our Alliance for a Paving Moratorium because they thought that their anti-sprawl campaign could somehow be effective when more roads were allowed to be built or widened!

And if the Club ever opposed a road project, the “solution” was to have the roadway plan relocated so as not to damage a sensitive ecosystem quite so much (as if a nearby ecosystem could be sacrificed instead). What can you expect from an organization that publishes Sierra, a magazine that has had, for decades, full page ads from Honda and Toyota? That’s money in the pockets of nonprofit staffers who probably have cars too (and refrigerators, TVs, computers, etc., all of which trash the Earth when an overpopulated society is participating in consumerism).

We probably waste our time with these inquiries. In my experience the response is polite and gently defensive, as if the good an organization does makes any deficiencies insignificant. The idea of 200,000,000 cars replaced in this country by slightly more efficient technology is the height of hypocritical idiocy, both on ecological grounds and from a peak oil standpoint.

And as for the 1,000,000 animals smashed to death on U.S. roads every day by clunker and Prius alike — John Muir would not approve for one minute. David Brower did not either, which is one indication of why he was previously sacked as too aggressive for defending Mother Earth.

Image above: From the homepage of, an offer to win a jet trip to Hawaii for pledging money and becoming an Eco Hero. From ( .

World Conference in Bolivia

SUBHEAD: What is unsaid is that because climate change is out of control, getting rid of capitalism may be too late.

By Jan Lundberg on 18 April 2010 in Culture Change - 

Image above: Evo Morales, President of Bolivia. From (  

At the People's World Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, the consistent message is ecological, indigenous, communitarian and anti-corporate. The great majority of speakers sound radical and have the support of the thousands of attendees. The message is welcome at the top, in the person of Evo Morales, the indigenous Aymara former farmer and union organizer who is Bolivia's president.

Two glaring omissions at the conference seem to be the issues of cars and proliferation of technology. These are either considered extremely hard to tackle, or just a byproduct of capitalist excess – as if these problems will take care of themselves in a socialist, people-centered economy. Bolivia is plagued by cars and trucks, while bicycling is quite rare.

 If bikes were maximized here, this would be good technology that empowers many at low cost. Instead, motor vehicles, including many buses, are totally dominant and in need of tune-ups.

One urban professional asked me with hope whether electric vehicles were advancing in the U.S. (I had to disillusion him and explain why it won't happen on a huge scale.) An overt embrace of technology as opposed to simple, natural living was in the form of a telephone corporation's ad slogan prominent at the stadium where Morales spoke: “Technology for a Better Life.”

An unresolved issue seems to be Bolivia's petroleum development. Hydrocarbon industries were nationalized in 2006, and applauding it is tempting.

However, does Mother Earth care who owns and controls the extracted fossil fuels that change the climate? Bolivia fully intends to explore and exploit the anti-capitalist petroleum. For what, more fuel for motor vehicles? Agricultural chemicals? Plastic production? We shall see how the contradictory sentiments and temptations are translated into policy.

The president of the nationalized petroleum industries told me he believes the world peak of oil extraction is “Not yet. 2012 or 2014.” Carlos Villegas Quiroga's job is to somehow fit the maximization of oil and gas exploration and exploitation into a Mother Earth ethic.

But with global Peak Oil here or around the corner, and climate change accelerating, Bolivia may not have much time to obtain prosperity. One does not see corporate logos such as Exxon, Chevron, Shell or BP; rather, the small logo of YPFB: Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos.

There are many aspiring consumers in Bolivia who could see incomes rise and government services better funded, but not if a petrocollapse scenario takes the wind out of the sails of world oil demand. President Evo Morales entertained and inspired the conference crowd on April 20 in a coliseum by holding up plastic products for display, pointing out that they contaminate the environment and don't biodegrade [see photos].

He compared a plastic poncho and plate to natural products such as a clay cup and plate. He took a beautiful traditionally woven poncho of wool and showed how no water could pass through it -- a military officer seated behind him helped hold the poncho and pour water on it. He then held the plastic poncho and said “Nothing goes through (no pasa nada) but it contaminates.”

As I told the Los Tiempos reporter, with this global media act he has become the leading world figure opposing plastic pollution. I later gave the President the award winning documentary “Our Synthetic Sea” about plastics in the ocean and our bodies – in the Spanish version as well, “Mar Sintetico.”

An attaché accepted it, as Morales was busy listening to a speech by his fiery vice president Álvaro García Linera, while sitting next to the Hollywood actress in Pocahontas. Morales' statements came at the inauguration of the conference where on his way he inspected hundreds of troops, after the crowd of thousands were treated to numerous musical acts offering traditional sounds and lyrics of resistance and solidarity.

World representatives from five continents also warmed up the crowd who had the blazing sun as well. Morales is at home with being the most ecological of heads of state because of his indigenous background. Pachamama, or Mother Earth, is a deity or spiritual concept as strong as the Catholic Church's ideas that coexist. Pachamama tells us that “you can't sell the land.

Harmony with nature, human rights, defense of Mother Earth and of water and biodiversity” are compatible with a “communitarian, socialist system.” He started his talk by saying that people struggle for life and equality, but the capitalist system pays most people in the world $2 a day. He said, “capitalism is synonymous with annihilation of people and the planet.”

Morales is not a typical leftist leader looking to divide differently the pie being consumed. He praised indigenous plants such as coca and manzanilla (camomile), and touted quinoa as the best food in the world. He compared these to transgenic and chemically-grown crops “which can be eaten but can't nourish.” He criticized hormone-laced chicken and Coca Cola -- “Better to drink our corn beverages.”

 After his demonstration of indigenous and campesino practices of making biodegradable clay plates, and winning this press-credentialed activist's heart with his educational and fun attack on plastics, he wound up his talk by distinguishing once again that "the capitalist system invents wars when capitalists can't sell arms."

He spoke of the right to water -- he and the city of Cochabamba near the conference site are famous for kicking out the predatory Bechtel Corp. as the privatized water utility. What's more, "the right to water means not having chemicals in it." Why? As he said, "these rights extend to all plants and animals and Mother Earth."

 Morales has the world's attention as almost no other head of state does, after the disappointment of Copenhagen and the way financial bandits have shown their basic immunity to mild reformists such as Barack Obama. Morales reached out to them in any case, writing a few days ago: “The 192 governments at the United Nations have also been invited to attend and challenged to hear the voices of civil society and together to develop joint proposals that cannot be ignored by governments subordinated to transnational capitalist economic powers.”

As far as Culture Change can tell, the matter of overpopulation is not being addressed, although it is possibly being mentioned on Panels at the Conference. Bolivians are generally close to the land, with excellent production from small-scale farming and gardening.

An executive with the nationalized petroleum industry informed me that 80% of Bolivians are not dependent on petroleum, so only 20% of the population will be in danger from the loss of supplies due to peak oil's effects. I pointed out to him that about 99% of USAnians are seriously dependent on the stuff.

As with parts of the U.S., Bolivia's long-term water supply problems (due to melting glaciers) does not bode well for growing population or maintaining it (Bolivia has almost ten million people and rising). No doubt many at the Conference believe population size is not nearly as threatening as capitalism. A Politically and Ideologically Energized Conference Most of the speeches have been rich in political passion while light on hard information.

The position of the government which organized the conference, and the position of speakers and most attendees, is that “The principal cause of climate change is capitalism” -- written on a sign outside a grassroots-activist workshop.

While it's true that the world needs action and not a mono-diet of just more information, the statements made at the podium in Tiquipaya (the university town of the Conference outside Cochabamba) have been light on specifics for saving Mother Earth. Evo Morales has been the exception, such as with his suggestions on natural foods and materials -- and rejecting plastic and Coca Cola. How far can the global climate justice movement get by fighting capitalism?

There is strong logic in attacking an unfair system that corrupts governance and divides people into competing workers. The failure of the Copenhagen U.N. climate meeting in December was definitely related to corporate business interests pulling puppet strings of politicians. But can a social movement do such things as turn around overpopulation and make collapse survivable for everyone?

Most of us looking at the vulnerabilities of the dominant system and the state of the ecosystem believe not. At this conference there is no evidence of awareness of petrocollapse or collapse by any other name.

There is fear of climate change and anger at capitalism and all its ills (consumerism, loss of community, ecocide). What is unsaid is that because climate change is out of control, getting rid of capitalism may be too late. Abolishing capitalism at midnight around the world would leave us with about the same climate-crisis challenge. Fortunately, Evo Morales advocates one more practice: massive planting of native trees.

As climate author Albert Bates has told me, in a matter of months the excess carbon in the atmosphere can be removed if everyone in the world planted trees daily. An exception to the Conference's mainstay of criticizing capitalism and upholding nature and indigenous rights is some of the workshops. I am scheduled to perform a bit of my eco-music for a workshop on the bicycle's role in upending capitalism.

The workshop's organizers are doing something about the low use of bicycles especially in dangerous urban areas; the countryside enjoys more bike use. The nation is of course mountainous, but the car domination of the metro area of Cochabamba, which has a million people, has no justification.


The Costs of Complexity

SUBHEAD: Collapse can be an adaptive response to a rising spiral of crisis that can be ended in no other way.

By John Michael Greer on 28 April 2010 in The Archdruid Report - (
Image above: Computer generated model expressing an element of mathematical complexity. From (  

 It’s a bit ironic, given the events now in the headlines, that I started last week’s post by commenting that it had been an interesting week for connoisseurs of decline and fall; it might have been better to say “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” About the time the volcanic ash from Iceland began settling out of Europe’s airspace, to begin with, another black cloud began to rise from the lava vents of Wall Street, caused by the spontaneous combustion of whatever might have been left of Goldman Sachs’ reputation for fiscal probity.

It’s a fascinating turn of events, not least because Goldman Sachs has been remarkably cozy with the last two presidential administrations here in the US. Still, that didn’t keep the SEC from filing fraud charges against the firm, and it didn’t prevent the publication of a flurry of highly damaging emails in which Goldman Sachs executives boasted about selling made-to-fail securities to widows and orphans – yes, that last phrase actually got used – and then taking out short contracts on those same securities, so that Goldman Sachs profited when the securities did what they were designed to do, and lost money.

For all the world like Casablanca’s Captain Renault, Congress is shocked, shocked to find that Goldman Sachs is making money at its customers’ expense; the interesting question is whether this fine imitation of outrage is simply the sort of ritual theater governments use so often these days as a substitute for constructive action, or whether serious power shifts are under way.

 My guess, for what it’s worth, is the latter. Despite cheerleading and doctored statistics from within the Beltway, the US economy is in deep and deepening trouble; foreclosures continue to climb, commercial real estate and second mortgages are shaping up to be the next big shocks, and the rolling collapse of state and local government finances shows no sign of slowing down.

 The Goldman Sachs flacks who moved into power with the Obama administration promised to fix things; they have pretty clearly failed; and as the neoconservatives learned not long ago, intolerance for failure is very nearly the only thing on which the squabbling factions of the American political class can agree.

 Meanwhile, another plume of smoke has been rising from Europe. Greece has had its credit rating cut to junk-bond levels; Portugal and Spain have suffered downgrades, and even rock-solid Germany has had trouble selling its bonds, as investors price in the economic burdens of bailing out countries that lack the political will to keep their expenditures in line with their national income.

If the response to this crisis is bungled badly enough, it’s not impossible that the survival of the Euro may be at risk; it’s still open to question whether a single currency will work without a single government to back and manage it, and the handwaving and bickering that has been the order of business in European capitals as the crisis has unfolded does not particularly inspire confidence.

Speaking of plumes of smoke, of course, calls to mind the third unfolding disaster of the last week, the wreck of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which according to an announcement today is currently spewing around five thousand barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico.

The US Coast Guard has announced that it plans to light the spreading oil slick on fire, in the hope that enough of it will burn up to save the $2 billion a year Louisiana seafood industry from disaster. Partisans of the “Drill, Baby, Drill!” approach to energy security take note: there are good practical and economic reasons why most of the US coast has long been off limits to oil drilling, and getting oil out of deposits nearly a mile underwater, and a good deal further than that under sea-bottom sediments, is not as foolproof a procedure as politicians and talk show hosts would like you to think.

 These three smoke plumes, interestingly enough, have a factor in common, and it’s the theme I want to discuss in this week’s post – not least because a great many of the crises we’re likely to face as the age of cheap abundant energy comes to an end also share that factor. All three of them resulted when people in a situation of high complexity tried to solve the problems of that situation by adding on an additional layer of complexity.

 Goldman Sachs, to begin with, has been in the business of making complex problems more complex for a very long time. One of the chapters of John Kenneth Galbraith’s excellent The Great Crash 1929, a book which ought to be required reading for all those people who think they understand the stock market, is titled “In Goldman, Sachs We Trust”; it’s an account of the preposterous investment vehicles (it does violence to the English language to call them “securities”) that Goldman Sachs floated in the 1929 stock market bubble.

Very little has changed since then, either. In 1929, Goldman Sachs sold shares of investment trusts that speculated in shares of other investment trusts; in 2009, they sold tranches of CDOs composed of tranches of other CDOs, and in both cases they served mostly as a means by which a lot of people lost a lot of money while Goldman Sachs did quite well.

You may be wondering why anybody would put their hard-earned money into an investment vehicle that consisted of a collection of bets that other investment vehicles would make money off yet a third set of investment vehicles. In 1929, the answer was raw greed, whipped up to monumental intensity by a very widespread attack of the delusion that brokers want to make you rich.

In 2009, the answer was more complex. For more than twenty years, beginning in the wake of the 1987 Wall Street crash, the financial agencies of the US government had been struggling to keep what was left of the American economy from imploding. One of the main tools used in this struggle was rock-bottom interest rates, which were brought into play whenever one speculative bubble popped and which then, with clockwork regularity, fed the new speculative bubble that followed.

One of the many problems set in motion by this strategy was that all the ordinary sources of investment income were reduced to paying chump change. Gone were the halcyon days when every bank in the United States paid 5.25% per annum on savings accounts by federal law. (It somehow seems to have escaped the attention of most economic historians that the end of that era coincided very precisely with the point at which most Americans stopped putting their money into savings accounts.)

As the Fed repeatedly bounced interest rates off the floor to jumpstart an increasingly reluctant economy, every person and institution dependent on investment income found themselves facing a sharp decrease in income.

The simple solution would have been to accept the austerity that this entailed, but for obvious reasons this was not popular; it’s worth remembering that “simple” is rarely the same thing as “easy.” The alternative was to respond to this complex set of circumstances by adding another layer of complexity, and Goldman Sachs was ready to help them do so.

Complicated, risky investment strategies that promised high returns became the order of the day. In their eagerness to make more than chump change, a great many people thus became chumps. The situation in Greece, and a great many other southern European countries, was similar. The same habits of economic manipulation that made the US economy so complex over the last two decades were just as popular in Europe, with the added complexity of a single currency far too rigidly structured to deal with the economic vagaries of more than a dozen fractious nation-states with different economic policies.

Add in the speculative boom in real estate that went bust in 2008, which flooded southern Europe with money and then took it all back with interest, and you have a very complex situation, one in which all the usual options were foreclosed by EU economic policy. There were several simple solutions, such as ditching the Euro and allowing a new Greek currency to find its market value, but once again, “simple” is not the same thing as “easy.”

 The government of Greece responded to these complexities instead by adding another layer of complexity. It hired Goldman Sachs – no, I’m not making this up – to create a set of complicated investment vehicles that made the Greek national debt look smaller than it was, in order to get by the more onerous limits of EU economic policy. These vehicles proceeded to crash and burn in the grand style, and took the Greek economy with them.

Similar vehicles were sold by quite a number of brokerages – Goldman Sachs was far from the only player here – to national, provincial, and municipal governments all over Europe, and to state and local governments in the US as well, and yes, they’ve been blowing up right and left; I don’t think vehicles so flammable have been seen in such numbers since the Ford Pinto was recalled.

As far as I know, Goldman Sachs had nothing to do with the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform. Still, the entire strategy of pursuing petroleum production in deep waters is an attempt to solve a hideously complex problem – the problem of Peak Oil – by adding on another layer of complexity.

There’s a simple response to Peak Oil, of course; it consists of using less petroleum, making do with less energy per capita, and learning to live within our means. Once again, though, “simple” doesn’t mean “easy,” any more than it means “enjoyable” or “politically acceptable.” The result is that we’re pursuing oil wherever we can find it, no matter how complex or risky the prospect might be.

Deepwater drilling is one example. It’s complicated stuff, far more expensive and demanding than the methods used to extract oil that happens to be conveniently located under dry land, and when the standard problems faced by oilmen everywhere crop up, responding to those problems involves a whole new world of complexity and risk.

One of those standard problems is the risk of a blowout: a sudden surge of crude oil and natural gas that can come bursting up through a well at any point between the moment it’s first drilled and the moment the relatively sturdy structure that handles production is in place.

That’s almost certainly what happened to Deepwater Horizon. It’s a common enough event in drilling for oil, and it’s dangerous even when it happens on dry land and there’s someplace for the drilling crew to run.

When the well begins almost a mile underwater, though, there’s the additional problem that nobody has the tools to handle a deepwater blowout if the underwater valves meant to shut it off at the wellhead should fail. That’s also happened to Deepwater Horizon, and if the current efforts to trigger the valves via robot submersibles don’t succeed – and they’ve shown no sign of succeeding so far – the only option left to the BP response crews is to jerry-rig techniques designed for shallow waters and hope they can be made to work 5000 feet under the sea.

In the meantime, five thousand barrels a day of crude oil fountain out into the Gulf from the crumpled pipe. In all three of these cases, the decision to add an additional layer of complexity to an already complex problem was an attempt to maintain business as usual, while the simpler option that was refused would have required the decision makers to abandon business as usual and accept a degree of austerity and limitation very few people find congenial these days. That’s not inherent in the relationship between complexity and simplicity, but it does tend to be a very common feature of the way that relationship works out in practice just now.

We have an extraordinarily complex society; for some three centuries, attempts to manage problems by increasing complexity have paid off more often than not, which is why we have such a complex society; and this has led to the kind of superstition discussed in last week’s post – the unthinking assumption that what worked in the past will continue to work in the present and the future.

As Joseph Tainter has pointed out in his useful book The Collapse of Complex Societies, though, increases in complexity are subject to the same law of diminishing returns as anything else, and sooner or later a society that responds to every challenge by adding a new layer of complexity will reach the point that adding more complexity causes more problems than it solves. Several observations concerning Tainter’s insight are worth making here.

 First, the diminishing returns of complexity apply to specifics as well as generalities, and for statistical reasons, the specifics will usually show up first. A society that has overloaded itself with complexity will tend to heap up more complexity in some areas of life than others, and one or more of these areas may well tip over into dysfunction sooner than others. Thus a society that is hammered by repeated crises of the same kind, and tries to solve them with layers of additional complexity that consistently seem to make the problem worse, may be at risk of tipping over into a wider dysfunction of which the visible crises are merely symptomatic.

Second, if a society has driven itself past the point of negative returns on complexity, and continues to try to add complexity to solve the resulting problems, it risks establishing a disastrous feedback loop in which its attempts to solve its problems become the major source of its problems. This can also apply to specifics as well as generalities, and show up first in particular aspects of a society’s collective life.

Third, one of the ironies faced by a society that has reached the point of negative returns on complexity as a means of problem-solving is that thereafter, the only way it can solve its problems is by not solving its problems. Any attempt to impose additional complexity will simply make matters worse, while allowing some particularly problematic heap of complexity to crash and burn may just reduce the complexity of the whole system to a point at which something constructive can actually be done. In the extreme case, where an entire society has pushed itself past the point of negative returns on complexity, collapse can be an adaptive response to a rising spiral of crisis that can be ended in no other way.

Finally, all these considerations apply just as much to the level of the individual, family, and community as they do to civilizations as whole systems, and it’s possible to use simplification on the level of the individual, family, and community to counter at least some of the consequences of complexity run amok. We’ll talk more about how that might work next week.


Drilling for all that's left

SUBHEAD: The deeper that technology allows us to drill below the ocean floor, the greater the risk that we will see more and more of these disasters.

By Jeff Rubin on 28 April 2010 in Globe and Mail -

Image above: An East Texas offshore rig is consumed in flames after a blowout. From (  

America’s dream of greater energy independence is rapidly turning into an ecological nightmare. Instead of filling empty gas tanks, BP’s Deepwater Horizon well miles offshore is oozing thousands of barrels a day of oil, already covering an area over 1,900 square miles in the food-rich waters of the Gulf of Mexico. With no way of shutting off the valve, which is now buried 1,900 metres below the sea, a $2-billion seafood industry is threatened, not to mention the billions more in damage to coastal real estate values and the potential devastation to wetlands and the wildlife they contain if the growing slick washes ashore.

Most forms of unconventional oil and gas (including, by the way, shale gas) are invariably very hard on the environment. Although tar sands production draws most of the world’s criticism, we are quickly discovering that deep-water wells and the pressure surges they engender run the risk of wreaking even greater ecological and environmental devastation.

And the deeper that technology allows us to drill below the ocean floor, the greater the risk that we will see more and more of these disasters. If this week has shown us the pressure surge of wells a mile below the ocean floor, what are the prospects of our standing up to those we’ll encounter in newly discovered Gulf of Mexico fields like BP’s Tiber one, six miles below the ocean floor?

Of course, devastating leaks haven’t been the only thing to thwart America’s efforts to boost its oil production in the Gulf. Five years ago, Hurricane Katrina and the other Category 3 to 5 storms that hit the region devastated its oil industry. Instead of doubling production levels, as once confidently forecast by the U.S. Department of Energy, production got hammered. In fact, it’s only very recently returned to pre-Katrina levels, only now to face an entirely different setback.

Why is this so potentially devastating to America’s oil future? The Gulf of Mexico was the only area of the country where there was any reasonable hope of expanding domestic supply. Production in the lower 48 states peaked in the early 1970s, as predicted by the American geophysicist King Hubbert back in 1956.

And despite the enthusiasm of the “Drill, Baby, Drill!” lobby to do more in Alaska, that state’s oil production has been depleting even faster than in the rest of the country. As a result, a country that once produced ten million barrels a day is now barely able to produce half that amount.

If you’re wondering why we’re risking catastrophic environmental consequences by drilling wells miles below the ocean floor, the answer is simple enough. It’s the same answer to the question of why we’re pouring billions of dollars into the tar sands.

It’s all that’s left.

Wake the President

SUBHEAD: The financial markets have taken a long hard look at the world's fiscal realities and don't like them.

By Simon Johnson on 28 April 2010 in Baseline Scenario -

Image above: Photo of sign outside the headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany. From CNBC.

Most days we can coast along, confident that tomorrow will be much like yesterday. On a very few days we need to look hard at the news headlines, click through to read the whole story, and then completely change a large chunk of how we thought the world worked. Today is such a day. Everything you knew or thought you believed about the European economy – and the eurozone, which lies at its heart – was just ripped up by financial markets and thrown out of the proverbial window.

While you slept, there was a fundamental repricing of risk in financial markets around Europe – we’ll see shortly about the rest of the world. You may see this called a “panic” and the term conveys the emotions involved, but do not be misled – this is not a flash in a pan; financial markets have taken a long hard view at the fiscal and banking realities in Europe.

 They have also looked long and hard into the eyes – and, they think, the souls – of politicians and policymakers, including in Washington this weekend. The conclusion: large parts of Europe are no longer “investment grade” – they are more like “emerging markets”, meaning higher yield, more risky, and in the descriptive if overly evocative term: “junk”.

 This is not now about Greece (with 2 year yields reported around 20 percent today) or Portugal (up 7 basis points) or even Spain (2 year yields up 27 basis points; wake up please) or even Italy (up 6 basis points). This is no longer about an IMF package for Greece or even ring fencing other weaker eurozone economies.

This is about the fundamental structure of the eurozone, about the ability and willingness of the international community to restructure government debt in an orderly manner, about the need for currency depreciation within (or across) the eurozone. It is presumably also about shared fiscal authority within the eurozone – i.e., who will support whom and on what basis? It is also, crucially, about stabilizing the macroeconomic situation without resorting to more unconditional bailouts.

Bankers are pounding tables all across Europe, demanding that governments buy out their position – or bring in the IMF to do the same. We again find ourselves approaching the point when the financial sector will scream: rescue us all or face global economic collapse.

The White House did not see this coming – and the Treasury’s attention was elsewhere. The idea that we can leave this to the Europeans to sort out is an idea of yesterday. Today is very different and much more scary. President Obama is wide awake and working hard. Someone please tell him what is really going on.


Gulf of Mexico Oil Disaster

SUBHEAD: Oil producers and operators fought off new safety rules before offshore rig explosion. Image above: Slide in Powerpoint presentation of Offshore Operations Committee asking "What do Hurricanes and new offshore platform rules have in common?". From HuffPo article. By Marcus Baram on 27 April 2010 in The Huffington Post - (

As families mourn the 11 workers thrown overboard in the worst oil rig disaster in decades and as the resulting spill continues to spread through the Gulf of Mexico, new questions are being raised about the training of the drill operators and about the oil company's commitment to safety.

Deepwater Horizon, the giant technically-advanced rig which exploded on April 20 and sank two days later, is leaking an estimated 42,000 gallons per day through a pipe about 5,000 feet below the surface. The spill has spread across 1,800 square miles -- an area larger than Rhode Island -- according to satellite images, oozing its way toward the Louisiana coast and posing a threat to wildlife, including a sperm whale spotted in the oil sheen.

The massive $600 million rig, which holds the record for boring the deepest oil and gas well in the world -- at 35,050 feet - had passed three recent federal inspections, the most recent on April 1, 2010, since it moved to its current location in January. The cause of the explosion has not been determined.

Yet relatives of workers who are presumed dead claim that the oil behemoth BP and rig owner TransOcean violated "numerous statutes and regulations" issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Coast Guard, according to a lawsuit filed by Natalie Roshto, whose husband Shane, a deck floor hand, was thrown overboard by the force of the explosion and whose body has not yet been located.

Both companies failed to provide a competent crew, failed to properly supervise its employees and failed to provide Rushto with a safe place to work, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The lawsuit also names oil-services giant Halliburton as a defendant, claiming that the company "prior to the explosion, was engaged in cementing operations of the well and well cap and, upon information and belief, improperly and negligently performed these duties, which was a cause of the explosion."

BP and TransOcean have also aggressively opposed new safety regulations proposed last year by the Mineral Management Services (MMS), a federal agency that oversees offshore drilling -- which were prompted by a study that found many accidents in the industry.

There were 41 deaths and 302 injuries out of 1,443 incidents from 2001 to 2007, according to the study conducted by the Minerals and Management Service of the Interior Department. In addition, the agency issued 150 reports over incidents of non-compliant production and drilling operations and determined there was "no discernible improvement by industry over the past 7 years."

As a result, the agency proposed taking a more proactive stance by requiring operators to have their safety program audited at least once every three years -- previously, the industry's self-managed safety program was voluntary for operators. The agency estimated that the proposed rule, which has yet to take effect, would cost operators about $4.59 million in startup costs and $8 million in annual recurring costs.

The industry has launched a coordinated campaign to attack those regulations, with over 100 letters objecting to the regulations -- in a September 14, 2009 letter to MMS, BP vice president for Gulf of Mexico production, Richard Morrison, wrote that "we are not supportive of the extensive, prescriptive regulations as proposed in this rule," arguing that the voluntary programs "have been and continue to be very successful," along with a list of very specific objections to the wording of the proposed regulations.

The next day, the American Petroleum Institute and the Offshore Operators Committee, in a joint letter to MMS, emphasized their preference for voluntary programs with "enough flexibility to suit the corporate culture of each company." Both trade groups also claimed that the industry's safety and environmental record has improved, citing MMS data to show that the number of lost workdays fell "from a 3.39 rate in 1996 to 0.64 in 2008, a reduction of over 80%."

The Offshore Operators Committee also submitted to MMS a September 2, 2009 PowerPoint presentation asking in bold letters, "What Do HURRICANES and New Rules Have in Common?" against a backdrop of hurricane activity in the Gulf of Mexico. On the next page, the answer appears: "Both are disruptive to Operations And are costly to Recover From".

Image above: The answer - "Both are disruptive to operations and are costly to recover from."

The presentation also included the following statements:

"We are disappointed...

• MMS fails to understand that as operators, we can place expectations on contractors, but we cannot do the planning for them. • MMS adds a lot of prescriptive record keeping and documentation that does nothing to keep people safe".

In addition, TransOcean accountant George Frazer, without identifying his affiliation with the company, submitted a public comment on the proposed regulations stating, "I strongly disagree that a mandated program as proposed is needed," arguing that the proposed action "is a major paperwork-intensive, rulemaking that will significantly impact our business, both operationally and financially," calling it an "unnecessary burden."

"It does appear to be have been an orchestrated effort among most of major oil companies and drilling operators," says Defenders of Wildlife senior policy adviser Richard Charter.

"This event has called attention to fact that there is a long-standing safety problem in offshore industry," he says, noting that he gets phone calls from whistleblowers working on rigs who complain about the work conditions and the environmental damage caused by such operations."

Brian Beckom, a personal-injury attorney who has sued TransOcean several times on behalf of workers, says that "the industry preaches safety, that's what comes out of their corporate mouths, but I know for a fact that is not always the way things go," though he concedes that the company is better than most in the industry, especially some of the smaller "fly-by-night operators". With newer expensive rigs -- BP was paying $500,000 a day to use Deepwater Horizon -- Beckom says "there is tremendous pressure to put production first" and safety issues fall by the wayside.

Industry officials seem to be aware of safety concerns -- in the minutes of a July 2009 meeting of the Health Safety Environment Committee of the International Association of Drilling Contractors trade group, one section is titled, "Stuck on the Plateau." At the meeting, members discussed the difficulty of lowering the number of safety incidents, how to "rock over from the incident plateau" especially in light of a shrinking workforce.

In the current case, the spill's damage has been exacerbated by the depth of the drilling, causing the oil to spread across a wider area and impeding clean-up efforts. On Monday morning, response teams failed to seal off the wellhead with a remote vehicle about a mile under the surface of the water -- an effort akin to "putting a lid on a peanut jar from thousands of feet away," explains Charter.

That threatens to make the spill the most damaging since the Exxon Valdez accident off the coast of Alaska in 1989. It is already the worst oil rig disaster since a blowout on the Union Oil platform off the coast of California in 1969 -- the public outrage over that 11-day oil spill helped spawn the modern environmental movement.

BP and TransOcean did not return calls for comment. Halliburton could not be reached for comment on Monday night.

Click here for the proposed rule from the Interior Department's MMS.

Click here for the letter from BP objecting to the proposed rule.


Spill Baby Spill

SUBHEAD: Coast Guard considers lighting oil spill on fire today. Burn Baby Burn. 

By Holbrook Mohr & Cain Burdeau on 28 April 2010 for AP - 

Image above: Satellite picture shows the oil spill as a silvery region near the U.S. Gulf Coast, courtesy MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA. From ( 

Efforts to close a well spewing oil in the Gulf of Mexico are failing so the Coast Guard is considering lighting the mess on fire.

Crews have been unable to stop thousands of barrels of oil from fouling gulf waters since an April 20 explosion sank the Deepwater Horizon, which was drilling 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. Eleven workers are missing and presumed dead, and the cause of the blast has not been determined.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said the controlled burns would be done during the day far from shore. Crews would make sure marine life and people were protected and that work on other oil rigs would not be interrupted.

The burning could start as early as Wednesday afternoon, but whether it will work is unclear.

Ed Overton, a professor emeritus of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University, questioned the method.

"It can be effective in calm water, not much wind, in a protected area," he said. "When you're out in the middle of the ocean, with wave actions and currents pushing you around, it's not easy."

He has another concern: The oil samples from the spill he's looked at shows it to be a sticky substance similar to roofing tar.

"I'm not super optimistic. This is tarry crude that lies down in the water," he said. "But it's something that has got to be tried."

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, birds and mammals are more likely to escape a burning area of the ocean than escape from an oil slick. The agency said birds might be disoriented by the plumes of smoke, but they would be at much greater risk from exposure to oil in the water.

A similar burn off the coast of Newfoundland in 1993 eliminated 50 to 99 percent of captured oil. However, burning the oil also creates air pollution, and the effect on marine life is unclear.

Crews from the Texas General Land Office Oil Spill Prevention and Response Program are bringing in equipment to help corral the oil and burn the slick.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said burning surface oil is one of the best ways to deal with so large a slick.

The last time crews with the agency used fire booms to burn oil was a 1995 spill on the San Jacinto River, Patterson said.

"When you burn it, the plume from the fire is the biggest environmental concern, but this far out to sea it will not be as big of a problem," Patterson said.

Oil from the Deepwater Horizon is not expected to reach the coast until late in the week, if at all. But longer-term forecasts show the winds and ocean currents veering toward the coast. The glistening sheen of sweet crude is forming long reddish-orange ribbons of oil that, if they wash up on shore, could cover birds, white sand beaches and marsh grasses.

"As the days progress, the (oil) plume will migrate north, northeast," said Gregory W. Stone, an oceanographer and head of the Coastal Studies Institute at Louisiana State University. "That plume will push onshore."

Hotel owners, fishermen and restaurateurs are keeping anxious watch.

Louis Skrmetta, 54, runs a company called Ship Island Excursions that takes tourists to the Gulf Islands National Seashore, where white-sand beaches and green water create an idyllic landscape.

"This is the worst possible thing that could happen to the Mississippi Gulf Coast," he said. "It will wipe out the oyster industry. Shrimping wouldn't recover for years. It would kill family tourism. That's our livelihood."

The last major spill in the Gulf was in June 1979, when an offshore drilling rig in Mexican waters - the Ixtoc I - blew up, releasing 140 million gallons. It took until March 1980 to cap the well, and the oil contaminated U.S. waters and Texas shores.

As of Tuesday, the spill was about 20 miles offshore, south of Venice, La. It covered an expanding area about 48 miles long and 80 miles wide, but with uneven borders, making it difficult to calculate its area in square miles.

"I understand there's got to be industry, but it's so sad for our kids. We don't have a lot of beaches left," Bonnie Bethel, 66, said as she watched her grandchildren splash in the water on a Mississippi beach. "Can you imagine these poor birds in oil?"

Thousands of birds such as egrets and brown pelicans are nesting on barrier islands close to the rig's wreckage. If the oil gets to them, rescuers would need to reach their remote islands, wash them down and release them back into the wild.

Michael Ziccardi, director of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network affiliated with the University of California at Davis, said he is standing by to clean up Gulf Coast birds.

"Just about any petroleum can cause problems for birds because they lose their waterproofing, and that's what keeps them dry and warm," Ziccardi said. "It's a really difficult time, and we're close to the peak of migration."

The spill also threatens billions of fish eggs and larvae coating the Gulf's surface this time of year.

If the well cannot be closed, almost 100,000 barrels of oil, or 4.2 million gallons, could spill into the Gulf before crews can drill a relief well to alleviate the pressure. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez, the worst oil spill in U.S. history, leaked 11 million gallons into Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989.

BP said Tuesday that it planned to begin drilling a relief well to redirect the leaking oil in a $100 million effort to take the pressure off the blown-out well.

The company said it would begin the drilling by Thursday even if crews can shut off oil leaking from the pipe 5,000 feet underground. Robot subs have tried to activate a shut-off device, but so far that has not worked.

Louisiana-based BP spokesman Neil Chapman said 49 vessels - oil skimmers, tugboats barges and special recovery boats that separate oil from water - are working to round up oil.

In Washington, meanwhile, the Obama administration launched a full investigation of the explosion, promising every available resource.

The New Secessionists

SUBHEAD: The corporate state is rapidly cannibalizing the nation and pushing the planet toward irrevocable crisis.

By Chris Hedges on 26 April 2010 in Truthdig -

Image above: Detail of 1776 English map of revolutionary New England showing the boundaries of British provinces and colonies. From (  

Acts of rebellion which promote moral and political change must be nonviolent. And one of the most potent nonviolent alternatives in the country, which defies the corporate state and calls for an end to imperial wars, is the secessionist movement bubbling up in some two dozen states including Vermont, Texas, Alaska and Hawaii. These movements do not always embrace liberal values. Most of the groups in the South champion a “neo-Confederacy” and are often exclusively male and white.

Secessionists, who call for statewide referendums to secede, do not advocate the use of force. It is unclear, however, if some will turn to force if the federal structure ever denies them independence. These groups at least grasp that the old divisions between liberals and conservatives are obsolete and meaningless. They understand that corporations have carried out a coup d’état. They recognize that our permanent war economy and costly and futile imperial wars are unsustainable and they demand that we take popular action to prevent citizens from being further impoverished and robbed by Wall Street speculators and corporations.
“The defining characteristic of the Second Vermont Republic is that there are two enemies, the United States government and Corporate America.”
Thomas Naylor, who founded Vermont’s secessionist movement, told me when I reached him by phone at his home 10 miles south of Burlington.
“One owns the other one. We are not like the tea party. The underlying premise of the Tea Party movement is that the system is fixable.”
As reported by Christopher Ketcham in a recent issue of GOOD magazine, Naylor points to the nation’s decline, noting that the United States stands near the bottom among industrialized countries “in voter turnout, last in health care, last in education, highest in homicide rates, mortality, STDs among juveniles, youth pregnancy, abortion, and divorce...”

The nation, he says grimly, has trillions in deficits it can never repay, is beset by staggering income disparities, has destroyed its manufacturing base and is the planet’s most egregious polluter and greediest consumer of fossil fuels. With some 40 million Americans living in poverty, tens of millions more in a category called “near poverty” and a permanent underclass trapped by a real unemployment rate of 17 percent, there is ample tinder for internal combustion.

If we do not undertake a dramatic reversal soon, he asserts, the country and the global environment will implode with catastrophic consequences. The secessionist movement is gaining ground in several states, especially Texas, where elected officials increasingly have to contend with secessionist sentiments. “Our membership has grown tremendously since the bailouts, since the tail end of the Bush administration,” said Daniel Miller, the leader of the Texas Nationalist Movement, when I spoke with him by telephone from his home in the small town of Nederland, Texas. “There is a feeling in Texas that we are being spent into oblivion. We are operating as the cash cow for the states that cannot manage their budgets. With this Congress,

Texas has been squarely in their cross hairs, from cap and trade to the alien transfer and exit program. So many legislative pieces coming down the pike are offensive to people here in Texas. The sentiment for independence here is very high.

The sentiment inside the Legislature and state capital is one of guarded optimism. There are scores of folks within state government who are supportive of what we are doing, although there is a need to see the public support in a more tangible way. This is why we launched our Let Texas Decide petition drive. We intend to deliver over a million signatures on the opening day of the [state legislative] session on Jan. 11, 2011.”

Miller, like Naylor, expects many in the Tea Party to migrate to secessionist movements once they realize that they cannot alter the structure or power of the corporate state through electoral politics. Polls in Texas show the secessionists have support from about 35 percent of the state’s population, and Vermont is not far behind.

Naylor, who taught economics at Duke University for 30 years, is, along with Kirkpatrick Sale and Donald Livingston, one of the intellectual godfathers of the secessionist movement. His writing can be found on The Second Vermont Republic website, on the website Secession News and in postings on the Middlebury Institute website. Naylor first proposed secession in his 1997 book “Downsizing the USA.”

He comes out of the “small is beautiful” movement, as does Sale. Naylor lives with his wife in the Vermont village of Charlotte. The Second Vermont Republic arose from the statewide anti-war protests in 2003. It embraces a left-wing populism that makes it unique among the national movements, which usually veer more toward Ron Paul libertarianism.

The Vermont movement, like the Texas and Alaska movements, is well organized. It has a bimonthly newspaper called The Vermont Commons, which champions sustainable agriculture and energy supplies based on wind and water, and calls for locally owned banks which will open lines of credit to their communities. Dennis Steele, who is campaigning for governor as a secessionist, runs Radio Free Vermont, which gives a venue to Vermont musicians and groups as well as being a voice of the movement.

Vermont, like Texas, was an independent republic, but on March 4, 1791, voted to enter the union. Supporters of the Second Vermont Republic commemorate the anniversary by holding a mock funeral procession through the state capital, Montpelier, with a casket marked “Vermont.”

Secessionist candidates in Vermont are currently running for governor, lieutenant governor, eight Senate seats and two House seats. “The movement, at its core, is anti-authoritarian,” said Sale, who works closely with Naylor and spoke with me from his home in Charleston, S.C. “It includes those who are libertarians and those who are on the anarchic community side. In traditional terms these people are left and right, but they have come very close together in their anti-authoritarianism.

Left and right no longer have meaning.” The movement correctly views the corporate state as a force that has so corrupted the economy, as well as the electoral and judicial process, that it cannot be defeated through traditional routes. It also knows that the corporate state, which looks at the natural world and human beings as commodities to be exploited until exhaustion or collapse occurs, is rapidly cannibalizing the nation and pushing the planet toward irrevocable crisis.

And it argues that the corporate state can be dismantled only through radical forms of nonviolent revolt and the dissolution of the United States. As an act of revolt it has many attributes. “The only way we will ever stop these wars is when we stop paying for them,” Naylor told me. “Vermont contributes about $1.5 billion to the Pentagon’s budget. Do we want to keep supporting these wars? If not, let’s pull out. We have two objectives. The first is returning Vermont to its status as an independent republic.

The second is the peaceful dissolution of the empire. I see these as being mutually complementary.” “The U.S. government has lost its moral authority,” he went on. “It is corrupt to the core. It is owned, operated and controlled by Wall Street and Corporate America. Its foreign policy is controlled by the Israeli lobby. It is unsustainable economically, socially, morally, militarily and environmentally. It is ungovernable and therefore unfixable.

The question is, do you go down with the Titanic or do you seek other options?” The leaders of the movement concede that sentiment still outstrips organization. There has not been a large proliferation of new groups, and a few old groups have folded because of a lack of leadership and support. But they insist that an increasing number of Americans are receptive to their ideas. “The number of groups has not grown as I hoped it would when I started having congresses,” said Sale, who addresses groups around the country.

“But the number of people, of individuals, of websites and the number of libertarians who have come around has grown leaps and bounds. Many of those who were disappointed by the treatment of Ron Paul have come to the conclusion that they cannot have a Libertarian Party or a libertarian Republican.

They are beginning to talk about secession.” “Secessionists have to be very careful not to be militaristic,” Sale warned. “This cannot be won by the gun. You can be emphatic in your secessionism, but it won’t happen by carrying guns.

I don’t know what the Tea party People think they are going to accomplish with guns. I guess it is a statement against the federal government and the fear that Obama is about to have gun control. It appears to be an assertion of individual rights. But the Tea Party people have not yet understood how they are going to get their view across.

They still believe they can elect people, either Republicans or declared conservatives, to office in Washington and have an effect, as if you can escape the culture of Washington and the characteristics of government that has only gotten bigger and will only continue to get bigger. Electing people to the House and Senate is not going to change the characteristics of the system.”

The most pressing problem is that the movement harbors within its ranks Southern secessionists who wrap themselves in the Confederate flag, begin their meetings singing Dixie and celebrate the slave culture of the antebellum South. Secessionist groups such as the Southern National Congress and the more radical League of the South, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a “racist hate group,” openly embrace a return to uncontested white, male power. And this aspect of the movement deeply disturbs leaders such as Naylor, Sale and Miller.

What all these movements grasp, however, is that the American Empire is over. It cannot be sustained. They understand that we must disengage peacefully, learn to speak with a new humility and live with a new simplicity, or see an economic collapse that could trigger a perverted Christian fascism, a ruthless police state and internecine violence. “There are three or four possible scenarios that will bring down the empire,” Naylor said. “One possibility is a war with Iran.

Another will see the Chinese pull the plug on Treasury bills. Even if these do not happen, the infrastructure of the country is decaying. This is a slower process. And they do not have the economy fixed. It is smoke and mirrors. This is why the price of gold is so high. The economy and the inability to stop the wars will alone be enough to bring us down. There is no escape now from our imperial overstretch.”