Paying customers to take power

SUBHEAD: Utilities giving away power as wind and sun generated energy flood European grid.  

By Kari Lundgren on 30 September 2011 for Bloomberg News -  

Image above: Wind turbines operate on EDF Energies Nouvelles SA's 87-megawatt Salles-Curan wind farm in the department of l'Aveyron, France. From original article.

The 15 mile-per-hour winds that buffeted northern Germany on July 24 caused the nation’s 21,600 windmills to generate so much power that utilities such as EON AG and RWE AG had to pay consumers to take it off the grid. Rather than an anomaly, the event marked the 31st hour this year when power companies lost money on their electricity in the intraday market because of a torrent of supply from wind and solar parks. The phenomenon was unheard of five years ago. With Europe’s wind and solar farms set to triple by 2020, utilities investing in new coal and gas-fired power stations no longer face stable returns.

As more renewables come on line, a gas plant owned by RWE or EON that may cost $1 billion to build will be stopped more often from running at full capacity. It may only pay for itself on days like Jan. 31, when clouds and still weather pushed an hour of power on the same-day market above 162 ($220) euros a megawatt-hour after dusk, in peak demand time. “You’re looking at a future where on a sunny day in Germany, you’ll have negative prices,” Bloomberg New Energy Finance chief solar analyst Jenny Chase said about power rates in wholesale trading. “And a lot of the other markets are heading the same way.”

Europe’s biggest power markets give preference to renewable energy including forcing some utilities to use their fossil-fuel plants less. That cuts into profit, complicating investment decisions as the companies try to meet emission targets and replace older plants and networks that Citigroup Inc. estimates will cost them more than 900 billion euros by 2020.  

Profit Margins
Northern Europe’s renewable-energy goals call for about 200 gigawatts of solar and wind capacity by 2020, or almost a third of the current installed base, compared with about 70 gigawatts today, according to the Finnish energy consultant Poyry. Even by 2014, gross profit from burning coal in Germany may skid by as much as 41 percent, according to Barclays Plc. The gross margin at a coal power plant after deducting fuel and emission permit costs, the so-called clean dark spread, may “collapse” to as low at 3.50 euros a megawatt-hour, Barclays analysts including Peter Bisztyga said in a Sept. 1 report.

The spread was at 6.15 euros today, Bloomberg data show. Narrower margins mean it will take longer for companies to pay off building new gas- and coal-fired facilities. Those plants are needed. They can run around the clock, preventing blackouts when the sun sets or the wind dies as European power demand grows 5 percent through 2015 compared with 2010, according to Paris-based bank Societe Generale SA’s forecast.  

Squeezed Out
“The more intermittent technology like renewables, the more baseload generation will be squeezed out,” Volker Beckers, chief executive officer of RWE’s U.K. Npower unit, said in an interview at Bloomberg’s London bureau. Npower’s plants are largely coal- and gas-fired, or baseload, meaning they can run around the clock. Electricite de France SA is spending 6 billion euros on its new 1,650-megawatt nuclear reactor at Flamanville in Normandy.

Dong Energy A/S, Denmark’s biggest utility, inaugurated its first power station in the U.K. in February, an 824-megawatt combined-cycle gas turbine plant for 600 million pounds. Europe’s main utilities index has fallen 15 percent this year. RWE shares have retreated 44 percent since January and traded at 27.76 euros at 4:16 p.m. in Frankfurt. EON has slumped 28 percent since January and announced plans last month to cut 10 percent of its workforce and reduce dividends.  

 EON will miss its 2015 forecast by about 3 percent for earnings of 13.3 billion euros to 13.8 billion euros before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization if average power prices are 57.30 euros a megawatt-hour, below EON’s forecast of 60 to 62 euros, UniCredit analyst Lueder Schumacher said. At 58.50 euros, RWE’s recurring net income will be 2.2 billion euros in 2013, compared with the German utility’s forecast of 2.5 billion, he estimated. “Too much wind can depress power prices, but then there are times when very little wind is blowing,” Poyry Director Phil Hare said in a telephone interview. Based on weather patterns over the past 10 years, there’s a 72-hour period each year when a wind farm would produce less than 5 percent of its potential output, Hare said. “Some other plant has to be there, but the company has to make the return on its investment in just those 72 hours over 10 years.”  
 Hedging Power Output
Germany’s renewable energy boom will make hedging the power output for utilities’ coal and natural-gas plants “more and more difficult,” according to an executive at Edison Trading SpA speaking at a conference in London. The country’s renewable energy output may rise to 200 terawatt-hours in 2020 from 120 terawatt-hours last year, Andrea Siri, Edison’s head of continental power and origination, said yesterday, citing a regulatory forecast.

Solar plants in Germany generated as little as 23.8 megawatts at 7 a.m. Berlin time yesterday compared with 11,570 megawatts at 1:30 p.m., according to a European Energy Exchange AG’s website, tracking power capacity. A steady supply of 1,000 megawatts is enough for about 2 million homes in Germany. Power prices on the Epex Spot SE exchange in Paris that handles German and French supply vary hour-by-hour depending on how available capacity is. At times they can become negative when renewable energy peaks and there’s a surplus of power.  

Take Renewable Output
At such times, generators or the grid operator pay consumers to take their electricity if they aren’t able to reduce output or hedge it. Grid operators in Germany, Europe’s biggest power market, are also required to take renewable output if it is available, just as in Spain and France. The highest-ever hourly price in the combined German-French intraday market was 162.06 euros a megawatt-hour for delivery between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. in Germany on Jan. 31, while the lowest was minus 55.11 euros for 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Feb. 6, data from the exchange showed. The negative German prices on July 24 occurred on a day when winds averaged 15 mph in the northern state of Mecklenburg- Western Pomerania, home to many wind farms, Bloomberg weather data show. Germany’s same-day electricity price was below zero for nine hours on that windy day on July 24, with negative prices for a total of 31 hours so far in 2011, according to Epex data. France had 9 negative hours this year.  

Buffer the Volatility
 The joint French-German intraday market started last year and has so far helped to “buffer the volatility of prices,” Epex company spokesman Wolfram Vogel said by e-mail on Sept. 16. “The law in Germany is that renewables have priority, so utilities have the choice of turning plants down for a few hours or paying a negative price to someone in Germany or abroad,” EON spokesman Georg Oppermann said in a telephone interview. The company’s traders can protect EON against losses by watching weather patterns, he added. “The huge amount of renewable capacity due to be added to the grid will depress not just spreads but also the outright power price,”

UniCredit analyst Scott Phillips said. “This is clearly a negative predominantly for all thermal power plants, particularly coal.” Britain plans to install more than 8,000 offshore wind turbines by 2020 to get 15 percent of electricity from renewable sources. Germany installed 7.4 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity last year, the most of any nation, driving total capacity to 17,200 megawatts. Spain aims to get 20.8 percent of its total energy from marine energy, geothermal and offshore wind projects, as well as hydropower, by 2020.  

Negative Prices
German wind power capacity peaked at close to 12,000 megawatts on July 24, according to Meteogroup data, the last day of negative prices. Four days later, the most that the country’s wind parks generated was 315 megawatts. Photovoltaic and solar-thermal plants may meet most of the world’s demand for electricity by 2060 -- and half of all energy needs -- with wind, hydropower and biomass plants supplying much of the remaining generation, the International Energy Agency said in August. U.K. energy regulator Ofgem is considering paying generators to keep plants open as back-up suppliers, compensating them for down time. The so-called capacity payments, which also are being studied in Germany, are likely to favor gas over coal, as gas plants can be turned on and off faster, according to Phillips.  

Feed-In Tariffs
Subsidized power rates called feed-in tariffs, a proposed carbon floor price in Britain and other measures favoring renewable projects will lead to a shift in the “merit order” of plants across Europe, he said. Power from renewable projects will be the first to be used, followed by gas-fired power plants, which release less carbon-dioxide than coal stations. “Margins are going to get worse over the next few years but as the value of the plant for backup starts getting interest, it becomes an issue of what they’re worth, not what they cost,” Hare said.


KIUC/FFP Outreach Con Job

SUBHEAD: Meetings to build understanding on how these projects will be permitted and be constructed.

By Vanessa Van Voorhis on 29 September 2011 for Garden Island -  

Image above: Presentation of "Enron: The Play" at the Royal Court Theatre. From (  

Free Flow Power is preparing for its first round of community outreach meetings on its proposed hydroelectric projects for Garden Isle waterways on behalf of Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative.
“Our goal is to be able to work our way around the island and get as many people as possible,” FFP Project Development VP Jason Hines told KIUC’s Board of Directors on Tuesday.

The first meetings will be with select community groups, followed by “extensive” community outreach meetings for the public, he said. The dates of the meeting are yet to be determined.

“In our opinion, things are moving according to plan. A lot has been going on over the last two months, really much of it in direct response to the board and staff’s wishes for more expansive outreach,” Hines said.

“We’ve been talking with a lot of agencies, talking with a lot of people on the ground, landowners, and discussing the projects and the sites and learning what we can about their concerns and how to reflect that in the project layout and project design,” he said.

In late 2010 and earlier this year, FFP filed preliminary permit applications with FERC to develop hydropower facilities on six Kaua‘i waterways. To date, FERC has approved four of the six applications: 6.6-megawatt Wailua River Hydroelectric Project (Clean River Power 15); 3.5-MW Hanalei River Hydroelectric Project (Kahawai Power 1); 6.6-MW Makaweli River Hydroelectric Project (Kahawai Power 2); and 2-MW Wailua Reservoir Water Power Project (Kahawai Power 5).
Applications are still pending for the 1.5-MW Kekaha Waimea Water Power Project (Kahawai Power 4) and the 7.7-MW Kitano Water Power Project (Clean River Power 16).

Some of the projects have been changed slightly, Hines said, and some more significantly. He said FFP is learning about opportunities to integrate the projects with agriculture and existing infrastructure.

“Looks like some of the projects may be a little smaller than originally conceived, and the details of that will be sorted out over the next month or so,” Hines said, adding a goal is to present a first-recommended or first-proposed project layout designs in late October or early November.

“Hopefully, we’ll have the first version of a proposal that KIUC can bring to the public and discuss at that point in time,” he said. “It will be a starting point for an additional round of feedback, shaping the project. That’ll be the first point in which there will be some drawings and a written description responsive to the feedback we get.”

KIUC Board member Ben Sullivan suggested that a schedule of meetings be presented to the public as soon possible.

“You need to inform the public of the meeting dates and times and provide a description of the meeting and include key issues, so people know what to expect going in,” Sullivan said.

“Primarily, it’s going to be an opportunity for people to ask questions, give responses, comments,” FFP Project Specialist Dawn Huff said.

Sullivan also asked that FFP provide a timeline for the projects over the next two to three years “so people know where they stand.”

“That’s a little difficult to do until we get more clear with the state agencies,” Huff said. “I think we can get to that, but we’re not quite there yet.”

Hines said, “Along the way, we’ll try to lay out what the intended schedule is. As the process unfolds, it becomes more clear.”

Meanwhile, FFP will be hosting a workshop today in Honolulu with numerous state agencies to discuss federal processes, including those of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and how it will tie into state permitting requirements.

The meeting is “to build some understanding on how theses projects will be permitted and what will be needed to move them forward to construction,” Hines said.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: KIUC's Smoke Filled Room 6/18/11 .

Major Dam Projects Halted

SUBHEAD: There is hope for Kauai - Major dam projects halted in Brazil and Burma.  

By Stephen Messinger on 29 September 2011 for Treehugger -  

Image above: Indigenous Amazon indians protest Belo Monte Dam. From (

Since the 1970s, when plans were first conceived to build a massive hydroelectric dam along the Xingu river in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, the forces of development have had to contest with unyielding voices of protest -- and it seems, for the time being, the latter has the upper hand.

Recently, counter to the aspirations of Brazilian government officials, a judge has ruled that construction on the Belo Monte dam must be halted, echoing the environmental concerns held by those in opposition to what would be the third largest facility of its type in the world -- in one of the most ecologically important regions on the planet.

After decades of being locked up in litigation, namely from the thousands of indigenous community members who stand to be displaced by it, construction on the dam at Belo Monte was ultimately given the green-light earlier this year. Since then, protests have been redoubled, gaining international support from conservationists throughout the world. And it's no wonder, considering the facility's potentially massive footprint.

Once completed, the 11,000-megawatt dam would flood around 122 thousand acres of pristine Amazon rainforest that's currently home to some 50 thousand mostly indigenous residents. Supporters of the project say the facility would provide enough energy to power 23 million homes and lead to an economic boon in the region.

But despite the political will to see the project through, numerous court challenges continue to offer hope to protesters -- the latest concerns the legality of diverting the Xingu river. This week, Judge Carlos Castro Martins ruled that construction must halt. A report from the BBC outlines the basis of his objections:
Judge Martins barred the Norte Energia company behind the project from "building a port, using explosives, installing dikes, building canals and any other infrastructure work that would interfere with the natural flow of the Xingu river, thereby affecting local fish stocks".
He said the building of canals and dikes could have negative repercussions for river communities living off small-scale fishing.
Protesters are hailing the halting of construction as a victory for their cause, albiet a modest one. The organization spearheading the project, backed by the high-ranking Brazilian officials, says they are already planning to appeal the ruling.

Chinese backed dam halted in Burma with secret US influence  
Image above: Political cartoon of Burmese military dictator collecting money by impoverishing his people selling off electricity and water to China and Thailand. From (  

By Matthew McDermott on 30 September 2011 for TreeHugger -  

One day after Brazil's hotly protested Belo Monte dam is halted by court order, another massive hydropower project is halted, on the other side of the world and by a government not exactly renowned for conservation.

In a letter read out in parliament, Burma's president announced the the suspending of construction of the Chinese-backed Myitsone dam on the northern part of the Irrawaddy River.

Perhaps more remarkable, considering the historic lack of public representation in government in Burma, is that it a public campaign played a significant role in stopping the 500 foot high dam, which was due to be completed in 2019 and would've created a 300 square mile reservoir.

The Myitsone dam would've been 3.6 GW in size, with the majority of the electricity generated going to China. Thousands of people would've been displaced by the construction of the dam.
An environmental assessment, commissioned by the governments of Burma and China found,
The fragmentation of the Irrawaddy river by a series of dams will have serious social and environmental problems not only upstream of dams but also far downstream in the coastal area. There is no need for such a big dam to be constructed at the confluence of the Irrawaddy river. (The Guardian)
While certainly a victory for the people of Burma and for environmental conservation, The Guardian also reports on a very interesting twist in the road leading to the decision to stop construction.

According to diplomatic cables, newly released by Wikileaks, the US government, via its embassy in Burma, was funding some of the civil society groups opposing Myitsone.

While not specifically stated in the cables, it wouldn't be surprising if the US support for these groups opposing the dam had at least as much to do with the fact that China would be the main beneficiary of the electricity from it, as it had to do with support of democracy in Burma or (still less) environmental conservation.

See also:
Inhabitat: Belo Monte Dam gets Go-Ahead 6/1/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Giant Brazil Dam Blocked 3/1/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Brazil Approves Giant Dam 1/30/11



SUBHEAD: Upping the stakes by failing to see what's happening all around us... industrialization.  

By Derrick Jensen on 29 Spetember 2011 for Orion Magazine - 

Image above: Detail of "The Music Lesson" 1662 by Jan Vermeer. High civilization long before electricity. From (
One of the (many) ways this culture is killing the planet is through a lack of imagination. I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, and especially in light of three pretty typical responses I’ve read, each one showing less imagination than the one before.
The first comes from global warming activist George Monbiot, who, just ten days after the earthquake and tsunami, wrote in the Guardian,
“As a result of the disaster at Fukushima, I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology.
His position was that the catastrophe—the mass release of highly toxic radiation—was caused not by the routine production and concentration of highly radioactive materials, but rather by a natural disaster combined with “a legacy of poor design and corner-cutting.” If the capitalists can just design this monstrous process better, he seems to believe, they can continue to produce and concentrate highly radioactive materials without causing more accidents. Similar arguments were made after Oak Ridge, Windscale, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl.

You’d think by now we’d all know better. And you’d think it wouldn’t take a lot of imagination to see how routinely performing an action as stupendously dangerous as the intentional concentration of highly toxic and radioactive materials would render their eventual catastrophic release not so much an accident as an inevitability, with the question of if quickly giving way to the questions of when, how often, and how bad.

The second comment I read came from someone who did not have George Monbiot’s advantage of living half a world away from the smoldering radioactive mess. In late March, an official with the Japanese nuclear regulatory agency told the Wall Street Journal that Japan is not reconsidering nuclear energy in the wake of Fukushima, because;
“Japan couldn’t go forward without nuclear power in order to meet its demand for energy today.”
He said that a significant reduction in nuclear power would result in blackouts, then added,

“I don’t think anyone could imagine life without electricity.”
There’s nothing surprising about his response. Most exploiters cannot imagine life without the benefits of their exploitation, and, perhaps more importantly, cannot imagine that anyone else could imagine going through life being any less exploitative than they are.

Many slave owners cannot imagine life without slave labor. Many pimps cannot imagine life without prostituting women. Many abusers cannot imagine life without those they routinely abuse. And many addicts cannot imagine life without their addictions, whether to heroin, crack, television, the internet, entitlement, power, economic growth, technological escalation, electricity, or industrial civilization.
The failure of imagination at work here is stunning. Humans have lived without industrially generated electricity for nearly all of our existence. In fact we thrived on every continent except Antarctica without it. And for nearly all those years the majority of humans lived sustainably and comfortably. And let’s not forget the many traditional indigenous peoples (plus another almost 2 billion people) who are living without electricity today. The Japanese official is so lacking in imagination that he can’t even imagine that they exist.

George Monbiot, in his Guardian article, asks some important questions about living without industrial electricity:

“How do we drive our textile mills, brick kilns, blast furnaces and electric railways—not to mention advanced industrial processes? Rooftop solar panels?”
But he reaches an illogical conclusion:

“The moment you consider the demands of the whole economy is the moment at which you fall out of love with local energy production.”
Actually, no. The moment you consider the demands of the whole economy is the moment you fall out of love with the whole economy, an economy that is systematically exploitative and destructive, an economy that is killing the planet.

It is insane to favor textile mills, brick kilns, blast furnaces, electric railways, and advanced industrial processes over a living planet. Our ability to imagine is so impoverished that we cannot even imagine what is happening right in front of our faces.

Why is it unimaginable, unthinkable, or absurd to talk about getting rid of electricity, but it is not unimaginable, unthinkable, and absurd to think about extirpating great apes, great cats, salmon, passenger pigeons, Eskimo curlews, short-nosed sea snakes, coral reef communities? And why is it just as accepted to allow the extinction of indigenous humans who are also inevitable victims of this way of life (many of whom live with little or no electricity)? This failure of imagination is not only insane, it is profoundly immoral.
  • Imagine for a moment that we weren’t suffering from this lack of imagination.

  • Imagine a public official saying not that he cannot imagine living without electricity, but that he cannot imagine living with it, that what he can’t imagine living without are polar bears, the mother swimming hundreds of miles next to her child, and, when the child tires, hundreds of miles more with the cub on her back.
  • Imagine if this public official, or rather, imagine if we all were to say that we cannot imagine living without rockhopper penguins (as I write this, the largest nesting grounds of endangered rockhoppers is threatened by an oil spill).
  • Imagine if we were to say we cannot imagine living without the heart-stopping flutters and swoops and dives of bats, and we cannot imagine living without hearing frog song in spring. 
  • Imagine if we were to say that we cannot live without the solemn grace of newts, and the cheerful flight of bumblebees (some areas of China are so polluted that all pollinators are dead, which means all flowering plants are effectively dead, which means hundreds of millions of years of evolution have been destroyed).
  • Imagine if it were not this destructive culture—and its textile mills, brick kilns, electric railways, and advanced industrial processes—that we could not imagine living without, but rather the real, physical world.
  •  Imagine if we were to say that we cannot live without the solemn grace of newts, and the cheerful flight of bumblebees (some areas of China are so polluted that all pollinators are dead, which means all flowering plants are effectively dead, which means hundreds of millions of years of evolution have been destroyed).
How would we act, and react, differently if we not only said these things but meant them? How would we act, and react, differently if we were not insane? And I mean that in the deepest sense, of being out of touch with physical reality. How can it be so difficult to understand that humans can survive (and have survived) quite well without an industrial economy, but an industrial economy—and in fact any economy—cannot survive without a living planet?

The truth is, the Japanese official and anybody else who states that they cannot imagine living without electricity had better start, because the industrial generation of electricity is simply not sustainable—whether it’s coal or hydropower or even large-scale solar and wind power—which means someday, and likely someday soon, people will be not only imagining living without electricity, but actually living without it, along with the more than 2 billion already doing so.
About this prospect, a hapa (half Hawaiian) man recently said to me:
“A lot of us are just biding our time, waiting to go back to the old ways. Can’t be more than a few decades at the latest. We did okay out here without microwave popcorn and weedwhackers and Jet Skis.”
Which leads me to the third article I read, titled “What Are You Willing to Sacrifice to Give Up Nuclear Energy?” In it, the author talks, as did the Japanese official, as did George Monbiot, about the importance of cheap energy to the industrial economy. But he’s got it all wrong.

The real question is: what are you willing to sacrifice to allow the continuation of nuclear energy? And more broadly: what are you willing to sacrifice to allow the continuation of this industrialized way of life?

Given that industrial-scale electricity is unsustainable, and that a lot of people and other species are dying because of it, another question worth asking is:
"What will be left of the world when the electricity goes off?"
I can’t speak for you, but I’d rather be living on a planet that is healthier and more capable of sustaining life, rather than one that resembles the restricted area around Fukushima.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Interview with Derrick Jensen 1/25/11
 Ea O Ka Aina: Time to Stop Pretending 4/27/11

Sex and the Single Drone

SUBHEAD: The CIA, already deeply invested in drone operations, is simply pushing ever harder to expand their targets.  

By Tom Englehart on 29 September 2011 for Tom's Dispatch -  

Image above: Illustration of the MQ-9 Reaper drone in flight with the Grim Reaper. From (
In the world of weaponry, they are the sexiest things around. Others countries are desperate to have them. Almost anyone who writes about them becomes a groupie. Reporters exploring their onrushing future swoon at their potentially wondrous techno-talents. They are, of course, the pilotless drones, our grimly named Predators and Reapers.

As CIA Director, Leon Panetta called them “the only game in town.” As Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates pushed hard to up their numbers and increase their funding drastically. The U.S. Air Force is already training more personnel to become drone “pilots” than to pilot actual planes. You don’t need it in skywriting to know that, as icons of American-style war, they are clearly in our future -- and they’re even heading for the homeland as police departments clamor for them.

They are relatively cheap. When they “hunt,” no one dies (at least on our side). They are capable of roaming the world. Someday, they will land on the decks of aircraft carriers or, tiny as hummingbirds, drop onto a windowsill, maybe even yours, or in their hundreds, the size of bees, swarm to targets and, if all goes well, coordinate their actions using the artificial intelligence version of “hive minds.”

“The drone,” writes Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service, “has increasingly become the [Obama] administration's 'weapon of choice' in its efforts to subdue al-Qaeda and its affiliates.” In hundreds of attacks over the last years in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, they have killed thousands, including al-Qaeda figures, Taliban militants, and civilians. They have played a significant and growing role in the skies over Afghanistan. They are now loosing their missiles ever more often over Yemen, sometimes over Libya, and less often over Somalia. Their bases are spreading. No one in Congress will be able to resist them. They are defining the new world of war for the twenty-first century -- and many of the humans who theoretically command and control them can hardly keep up.
Reach for Your Dictionaries
On September 15th, the New York Times front-paged a piece by the estimable Charlie Savage, based on leaks from inside the administration. It was headlined “At White House, Weighing Limits of Terror Fight,” and started this way:
“The Obama administration’s legal team is split over how much latitude the United States has to kill Islamist militants in Yemen and Somalia, a question that could define the limits of the war against al-Qaeda and its allies, according to administration and Congressional officials.”
Lawyers for the Pentagon and the State Department, Savage reported, were debating whether, outside of hot-war zones, the Obama administration could call in the drones (as well as special operations forces) not just to go after top al-Qaeda figures planning attacks on the United States, but al-Qaeda’s foot soldiers (and vaguely allied groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and al-Shabab in Somalia).

That those lawyers are arguing fiercely over such a matter is certainly a curiosity. As presented, the issue behind their disagreement is how to square modern realities with outmoded rules of war written for another age (which also, by the way, had its terrorists). And yet such debates, front-paged or not, fierce or not, will one day undoubtedly be seen as analogous to supposed ancient clerical arguments over just how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. In fact, their import lies mainly in the fascinating pattern they reveal about the way forces that could care less about questions of legality are driving developments in American-style war.

After all, this fierce “argument” about what constraints should be applied to modern robotic war was first played out in the air over Pakistan’s tribal borderlands. There, the CIA’s drone air campaign began with small numbers of missions targeting a few highly placed al-Qaeda leaders (not terribly successfully). Rather than declare its latest wonder weapons a failure, however, the CIA, already deeply invested in drone operations, simply pushed ever harder to expand the targeting to play to the technological strengths of the planes.

In 2007, CIA director Michael Hayden began lobbying the White House for “permission to carry out strikes against houses or cars merely on the basis of behavior that matched a ‘pattern of life’ associated with al-Qaeda or other groups.” And next thing you knew, they were moving from a few attempted targeted assassinations toward a larger air war of annihilation against types and “behaviors.”

Here’s another curiosity. The day after Charlie Savage’s piece appeared in the Times, the president’s top advisor on counterterror operations, John O. Brennan, gave a speech at a conference at Harvard Law School on “Strengthening our Security by Adhering to our Values and Laws,” and seemed to settle the “debate,” part of which he defined this way:
“Others in the international community -- including some of our closest allies and partners -- take a different view of the geographic scope of the conflict, limiting it only to the ‘hot’ battlefields. As such, they argue that, outside of these two active theatres, the United States can only act in self-defense against al-Qaeda when they are planning, engaging in, or threatening an armed attack against U.S. interests if it amounts to an ‘imminent’ threat.”
He then added this little twist: “Practically speaking, then, the question turns principally on how you define ‘imminence.’”

If there’s one thing we should have learned from the Bush years, it was this: when government officials reach for their dictionaries, duck!

Then, the crucial word at stake was “torture,” and faced with it -- and what top administration officials actually wanted done in the world -- Justice Department lawyers quite literally reached for their dictionaries. In their infamous torture memos, they so pretzled, abused, and redefined the word “torture” that, by the time they were through, whether acts of torture even occurred was left to the torturer, to what had he had in mind when he was “interrogating” someone. (“[I]f a defendant [interrogator] has a good faith belief that his actions will not result in prolonged mental harm, he lacks the mental state necessary for his actions to constitute torture.”)

As a result, “torture” was essentially drummed out of the dictionary (except when committed by heinous evil doers in places like Iran) and “enhanced interrogation techniques” welcomed into our world. The Bush administration and the CIA then proceeded to fill the “black sites” they set up from Poland to Thailand and the torture chambers of chummy regimes like Mubarak’s Egypt and Gaddafi’s Libya with “terror suspects,” and then tortured away with impunity.

Now, it seems, the Obama crowd is reaching for its dictionaries, which means that it’s undoubtedly time to duck again. As befits a more intellectual crowd, we’re no longer talking about relatively simple words like “torture” whose meaning everyone knows (or at least once knew). If “imminence” is now the standard for when robotic war is really war, don’t you yearn for the good old days when the White House focused on “what the meaning of the word 'is' is,” and all that was at stake was presidential sex, not presidential killing?

When legalisms take center stage in a situation like this, think of magicians. Their skill is to focus your attention on the space where nothing that matters is happening -- the wrong hand, the wrong face, the wrong part of the stage -- while they perform their “magic” elsewhere. Similarly, pay attention to the law right now and you’re likely to miss the plot line of our world.

It’s true that, at the moment, articles are pouring out focused on how to define the limits of future drone warfare. My advice: skip the law, skip the definitions, skip the arguments, and focus your attention on the drones and the people developing them instead.

Put another way, in the last decade, there was only one definition that truly mattered. From it everything else followed: the almost instantaneous post-9/11 insistence that we were “at war,” and not even in a specific war or set of wars, but in an all-encompassing one that, within two weeks of the collapse of the World Trade Center, President Bush was already calling “the war on terror.” That single demonic definition of our state of existence rose to mind so quickly that no lawyers were needed and no one had to reach for a dictionary.

Addressing a joint session of Congress, the president typically said: "Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there." And that open-endedness was soon codified in an official name that told all: “the Global War on Terror,” or GWOT. (For all we know, the phrase itself was the invention of a speechwriter mainlining into the zeitgeist.) Suddenly, “sovereignty” had next to no meaning (if you weren’t a superpower); the U.S. was ready to take out after terrorists in up to 80 countries; and the planet, by definition, had become a global free-fire zone.

By the end of September 2001, as the invasion of Afghanistan was being prepared, it was already a carte-blanche world and, as it happened, pilotless surveillance drones were there, lurking in the shadows, waiting for a moment like this, yearning (you might say) to be weaponized.

Image above: Predator pilot and senser operator, locating simulated targets during a training at Creech Air Force Base, NV. From (

If GWOT preceded much thought of drones, it paved the way for their crash weaponization, development, and deployment. It was no mistake that, a bare two weeks after 9/11, a prescient Noah Shachtman (who would go on to found the Danger Room website at Wired) led off a piece for that magazine this way: “Unmanned, almost disposable spy planes are being groomed for a major role in the coming conflict against terrorism, defense analysts say."

Talk about “imminence” or “constraints” all you want, but as long as we are “at war,” not just in Afghanistan or Iraq, but on a world scale with something known as “terror,” there will never be any limits, other than self-imposed ones.

And it remains so today, even though the Obama administration has long avoided the term “Global War on Terror.” As Brennan made utterly clear in his speech, President Obama considers us “at war” anywhere that al-Qaeda, its minions, wannabes, or simply groups of irregulars we don’t much care for may be located. Given this mentality, there is little reason to believe that, on September 11, 2021, we won’t still be “at war.”

So pay no attention to the legalisms. Put away those dictionaries. Ignore the “debates” between the White House and Congress, or State and Defense. Otherwise you’ll miss the predatory magic.
Beyond Words
Within days after the news about the “debate” over the limits on global war was leaked to the Times, unnamed government officials were leaking away to the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal on an allied subject of interest. Both papers broke the news that, as Craig Whitlock and Greg Miller of the Post put it, the U.S. military and the CIA were creating “a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen.”

A new base, it seems, is being constructed in Ethiopia, another somewhere in the vicinity of Yemen (possibly in Saudi Arabia), and a third reopened on the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean -- all clearly intended for the escalating drone wars in Yemen and Somalia, and perhaps drone wars to come elsewhere in eastern or northern Africa.

These preparations are meant to deal not just with Washington’s present preoccupations, but with its future fears and phantasms. In this way, they fit well with the now decade-old war on terror’s campaign against will-o-the-wisps. Julian Barnes of the Wall Street Journal, for example, quotes an unnamed “senior U.S. official” as saying: "We do not know enough about the leaders of the al-Qaeda affiliates in Africa. Is there a guy out there saying, 'I am the future of al-Qaeda'? Who is the next Osama bin Laden?” We don’t yet know, but wherever he is, our drones will be ready for him.

All of this, in turn, fits well with the Pentagon’s “legal” position, mentioned by the Times’ Savage, of “trying to maintain maximum theoretical flexibility.” It’s a kind of Field-of-Dreams argument: if you build them, they will come.

It’s simple enough. The machines (and their creators and supporters in the military-industrial complex) are decades ahead of the government officials who theoretically direct and oversee them. “A Future for Drones: Automated Killing,” an enthusiastic article that appeared in the Post the very same week as that paper’s base-expansion piece, caught the spirit of the moment. In it, Peter Finn reported on the way three pilotless drones over Fort Benning, Georgia, worked together to identify a target without human guidance. It may, he wrote, “presage the future of the American way of war: a day when drones hunt, identify, and kill the enemy based on calculations made by software, not decisions made by humans. Imagine aerial ‘Terminators,’ minus beefcake and time travel.”

In a New York Review of Books piece with a similarly admiring edge (and who wouldn’t admire such staggering technological advances), Christian Caryl writes:
“Researchers are now testing UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] that mimic hummingbirds or seagulls; one model under development can fit on a pencil eraser. There is much speculation about linking small drones or robots together into ‘swarms’ -- clouds or crowds of machines that would share their intelligence, like a hive mind, and have the capability to converge instantly on identified targets. This might seem like science fiction, but it is probably not that far away.”
Admittedly, drones still can’t have sex. Not yet anyway. And they can’t choose which humans they are sent to kill. Not so far. But sex and the single drone aside, all of this and more may, in the coming decades, become -- if you don’t mind my using the word -- imminent. It may be the reality in the skies over all our heads.

It’s true that the machines of war the Obama administration is now rushing headlong to deploy cannot yet operate themselves, but they are already -- in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words -- “in the saddle, and ride mankind.” Their “desire” to be deployed and used is driving policy in Washington -- and increasingly elsewhere as well. Think of this as the Drone Imperative.

If you want to fight over definitions, there’s only one worth fighting over: not the phrase “the Global War on Terror,” which the Obama administration tossed aside to no effect whatsoever, but the concept behind it. Once the idea took hold that the United States was, and had no choice but to be, in a state of permanent global war, the game was afoot. From then on, the planet was -- conceptually speaking -- a free-fire zone, and even before robotic weaponry developed to its present level, it was already a drone-eat-drone world to the horizon.

As long as global war remains the essence of “foreign policy,” the drones -- and the military-industrial companies and lobbying groups behind them, as well as the military and CIA careers being built on them -- will prove expansive. They will go where, and as far as, the technology takes them.

In reality, it’s not the drones, but our leaders who are remarkably constrained. Out of permanent war and terrorism, they have built a house with no doors and no exits. It’s easy enough to imagine them as beleaguered masters of the universe atop the globe’s military superpower, but in terms of what they can actually do, it would be more practical to think of them as so many drones, piloted by others. In truth, our present leaders, or rather managers, are small people operating on autopilot in a big-machine world.

As they definitionally twitch and turn, we can just begin to glimpse -- like an old-fashioned photo developing in a tray of chemicals -- the outlines of a new form of American imperial war emerging before our eyes. It involves guarding the empire on the cheap, as well as on the sly, via the CIA, which has, in recent years, developed into a full-scale, drone-heavy paramilitary outfit, via a growing secret army of special operations forces that has been incubating inside the military these last years, and of course via those missile- and bomb-armed robotic assassins of the sky.

The appeal is obvious: the cost (in U.S. lives) is low; in the case of the drones, nonexistent. There is no need for large counterinsurgency armies of occupation of the sort that have bogged down on the mainland of the Greater Middle East these last years.

In an increasingly cash-strapped and anxious Washington, it must look like a literal godsend. How could it go wrong?

Of course, that’s a thought you can only hang onto as long as you’re looking down on a planet filled with potential targets scurrying below you. The minute you look up, the minute you leave your joystick and screen behind and begin to imagine yourself on the ground, it’s obvious how things could go so very, very wrong -- how, in fact, in Pakistan, to take but one example, they are going so very, very wrong.

Just think about the last time you went to a Terminator film: Who did you identify with? John and Sarah Connor, or the implacable Terminators chasing them? And you don’t need artificial intelligence to grasp why in a nanosecond.

In a country now struggling simply to guarantee help to its own citizens struck by natural disasters, Washington is preparing distinctly unnatural disasters in the imperium. In this way, both at home and abroad, the American dream is turning into the American scream.

So when we build those bases on that global field of screams, when we send our armadas of drones out to kill, don’t be surprised if the rest of the world doesn’t see us as the good guys or the heroes, but as terminators. It’s not the best way to make friends and influence people, but once your mindset is permanent war, that’s no longer a priority. It’s a scream, and there’s nothing funny about it.
• Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), will be published in November.

[Note on further reading: A small bow to four websites I particularly rely on when gathering information for pieces like this one: the invaluable, the War in Context website with its sharp-eyed editor Paul Woodward, Juan Cole’s Informed Comment blog (a daily must-read), and Noah Shachtman’s Danger Room website, which no one interested in military affairs should miss.]


Fukushima Abandoned

SUBHEAD: Fukushima desolation is the worst since Nagasaki as residents flee their city.  

By Yuriy Humber, Yuji Okada, Stuart Biggs on 27 September 2011 for Bloomberg -  

Image above: An abandoned road in Fukushima province is becoming overgrown by weeds. From original article.

Beyond the police roadblocks that mark the no-go zone around Japan’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant, six-foot tall weeds invade rice paddies and vines gone wild strangle road signs along empty streets.

Takako Harada, 80, returned to an evacuated area of Iitate village to retrieve her car. Beside her house is an empty cattle pen, the 100 cows slaughtered on government order after radiation from the March 11 atomic disaster saturated the area, forcing 160,000 people to move away and leaving some places uninhabitable for two decades or more.

“Older folks want to return, but the young worry about radiation,” said Harada, whose family ran the farm for 40 years. “I want to farm, but will we be able to sell anything?”

What’s emerging in Japan six months since the nuclear meltdown at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant is a radioactive zone bigger than that left by the 1945 atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While nature reclaims the 20 kilometer (12 mile) no-go zone, Fukushima’s $3.2 billion-a-year farm industry is being devastated and tourists that hiked the prefecture’s mountains and surfed off its beaches have all but vanished.

The March earthquake and tsunami that caused the nuclear crisis and left almost 20,000 people dead or missing may cost 17 trillion yen ($223 billion), hindering recovery of the world’s third-largest economy from two decades of stagnation.
Compensation Costs
A government panel investigating Tokyo Electric’s finances estimated the cost of compensation to people affected by the nuclear disaster will exceed 4 trillion yen, Kyodo News reported today, without saying how it got the information. The stock fell 6.2 percent to 243 yen, the lowest since June 13.

The bulk of radioactive contamination cuts a 5 kilometer to 10 kilometer-wide swath of land running as far as 30 kilometers northwest of the nuclear plant, surveys of radiation hotspots by Japan’s science ministry show. The government extended evacuations beyond the 20-kilometer zone in April to cover this corridor, which includes parts of Iitate village.

No formal evacuation zone was set up in Hiroshima after an atomic bomb was dropped on the city on Aug. 6, 1945, though as the city rebuilt relatively few people lived within 1 kilometer of the blast epicenter, according to the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Museum. Food shortages forced a partial evacuation of the city in the summer of 1946.
Chernobyl Explosion
On April 26, 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl reactor hurled 180 metric tons of nuclear fuel into the atmosphere, creating the world’s first exclusion zone of 30 kilometers around a nuclear plant. A quarter of a century later, the zone is still classed as uninhabitable. About 300 residents have returned despite government restrictions.

The government last week said some restrictions may be lifted in outlying areas of the evacuation zone in Fukushima, which translates from Japanese as “Lucky Isle.” Residents seeking answers on which areas are safe complain of mixed messages.

“There are no simple solutions,” Timothy Mousseau, a professor of biological sciences at the University of South Carolina, said. Deciding whether life should go on in radiation tainted areas is a “question of acceptable risks and trade offs.”

To Mousseau, one thing is clear.
“There will be consequences for some of the people who are exposed to levels that are being reported from the Fukushima prefecture,” Mousseau said by e-mail from Chernobyl, where he is studying radiation effects.

Japan abandoned any ambition to develop atomic weapons after the 1945 bombings. Two decades later, the nation embraced nuclear power to rebuild the economy after the war in the absence of domestic oil and gas supplies.

Tokyo Electric’s decision in the 1960s to name its atomic plant Fukushima Dai-Ichi has today associated a prefecture of about 2 million people that’s almost half the size of Belgium with radiation contamination. In contrast, Chernobyl is the name of a small town near the namesake plant in what today is Ukraine.

The entire prefecture has been stained because of the link, according to Governor Yuhei Sato.

“At Fukushima airport you don’t see Chinese and Korean visitors like before because of negative associations,” he said.
The fear of radiation was prevalent after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and it stigmatized the survivors, known as hibakusha, or people exposed to radiation. Many hibakusha concealed their past for fear of discrimination that would prevent them finding work or marriage partners, according to the Japan Confederation of A-and H-bomb Sufferers Organization.

Some people believed A-bomb survivors could emit radiation and others feared radiation caused genetic mutations, said Evan Douple, Associate Chief of Research at the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Hiroshima.

An examination of more than 77,000 first-generation children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings found no evidence of mutations, he said.

While radiation readings are lower in Fukushima than Hiroshima, Abel Gonzales, the vice-chair of the International Commission on Radiological Protection, said similar prejudices may emerge.

“Stigma. I have the feeling that in Fukushima this will be a very big problem,” Gonzales said in a symposium held in Fukushima City on the six-month anniversary of the disaster.
Some children that fled Fukushima are finding out what Gonzales means.

Fukushima schoolchildren were being bullied at their new school in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo for “carrying radiation,” the Sankei newspaper reported in April, citing complaints made to education authorities. An 11-year-old Fukushima boy was hospitalized in Niigata prefecture after being bullied at his new school, Kyodo News reported April 23.

Produce from Fukushima’s rich soil is also being shunned. Peaches, the prefecture’s biggest agricultural product after rice, have halved in price this year. Beef shipments from the prefecture were temporarily suspended and contamination concerns stopped the town of Minami Soma from planting rice, according to local authorities.
Fallow Land

Some land around the Fukushima reactors will lie fallow for two decades or more before radiation levels fall below Japan’s criteria for evacuation, the government said Aug. 26.

Radiation risks in the 20 kilometer zone forced the evacuation of about 8 percent, or 160,000, of some 2 million people who live in Fukushima. Almost 56,000 were sent to areas outside Fukushima, prefecture spokesman Masato Abe said by phone. More than 8,000 left on their own accord because of radiation fears, Abe said.

Inside the evacuation areas, levels of radiation higher than the government’s criteria for evacuation have been recorded at 89 of 210 monitoring posts. At 24 of the sites, the reading was higher than the level at which the International Atomic Energy Agency says increases the risk of cancer.

Japan Atomic Energy Institute researcher Toshimitsu Homma used Science Ministry data to compare the geographic scale of the contamination in Fukushima with Chernobyl.

He estimates the no-go zone in Fukushima will cover 132 square kilometers, surrounded by a permanent monitoring area of 264 square kilometers, assuming Japan follows the criteria set by the Soviet Union in 1986.

The two areas combined equal about half the size of the five boroughs that comprise New York City. In the case of Chernobyl, the two zones cover a land mass 25 times greater, according to Homma’s figures.

Intermittent Information

While scientists knew back in March that radiation contamination would create an uninhabitable zone in Fukushima, information to the public has come intermittently, said Hiroaki Koide, a nuclear physics scientist at Kyoto University.

“Many people in Fukushima have to face the reality that they cannot go back to their homes for decades,” Koide said.

Masaki Otsuka said it may be worse than that.

“I don’t think I can ever go back to my house, because it was just 4 kilometers from the Dai-Ichi reactors,” the 51-year- old pipe welder said in an interview at an evacuation center in Azuma, Fukushima city, where he has lived for six months.

People’s distrust of politicians and scientists, as well as conflicting commentary, makes it harder for residents to decide whether to stay or leave, said Michiaki Kai, a professor in environmental health science at Oita University of Nursing and Health Sciences.

Official Contradictions
Similar circumstances affected residents near Chernobyl and those close to the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in the U.S. in 1979.

“Contradiction in some official statements, and the appearance of non-scientifically based ‘expert’ voices, confused and added stress to the local populations in each case,” said Evelyn Bromet, distinguished professor in the department of psychiatry at Stony Brook State University of New York.

“Lies got told, contradictions got told. In the end it’s easier to believe nobody,” Bromet said in an interview, citing mental health studies she did on people in the areas.

What radiation hasn’t ruined, the earthquake and tsunami devastated. Fukushima prefecture welcomed 56 million domestic and overseas visitors in 2009, equal to 44 percent of Japan’s population.
Surfing Canceled
The coastal town of Minami Soma this year canceled its annual qualifying stage for the world surfing championship, part of a waterfront that lured 84,000 beachgoers in July and August last year, said Hiroshi Tadano, head of the town’s economic division. This year, nobody visited the beaches in the two months.

“Most of the beaches are destroyed,” Tadano said. “And of course, radiation played its part.”

The area’s biggest festival, Soma Noma Oi, a re-enactment of samurai battles, attracted 200,000 visitors last year. This year 37,000 came. Of the 300 horses typically used in the event, 100 were drowned in the tsunami and another 100 were evacuated due to radiation, Tajino said.

Minami Soma resident Miyaguchi, 54, lost his home and parents in the tsunami. He quit his job at Tokyo Electric, leaving him unemployed and housed in an evacuation center.

Still, he has no plans to move away. “Most people who wanted to move away have done so, but I can’t live in big cities like Tokyo,” he said, declining to give his first name.

The future of Fukushima is in the hands of residents like Miyaguchi and Harada who say they want to stay and work to reclaim their land from disaster.

A giant banner in the playground of the closed Haramachi elementary school in Minami Soma makes that a promise: “To all of you wherever you are, we say we won’t give up.”


Developed China

SUBHEAD: China's per capita emissions now same as Italy's, may overtake US by 2017.  

By Matthew McDermott on 28 September 2011 for TreeHugger -  

Image above: Urban street traffic now typical in China. From original article.

 China became the largest national carbon emitter in 2007, overtaking the US. Last summer China also became the world's largest consumer of energy. Currently its per capita carbon footprint (6.8 tons) is roughly similar to that of Italy and greater than those of France--meaning that on an average basis, acknowledging significant differences based on income, people in China consume resources and use energy to a similar degree as a low-emitting developed nation.

Now, starkly, a new report from the European Commission Joint Research Centre projects, based on current emission trends, that China's per capita emissions could overtake or match those of the United States by 2017--which, incorporating recent declines, stand at about 16.9 tons per person.

China No Longer a Developing Nation
Yale e360 notes, "Some conservationists now contend that, based on its CO2 emissions, China should be treated as a developed nation in future climate change talks."

That's a reasonable, if without a doubt politically unpalatable, position. Something which I noted last July, commenting on a report that China's carbon emissions were at 6.1 tons per person and even more applicable today:
What it comes down to and these latest stats cement, is that in international negotiations, particularly when it comes to climate change and committing to carbon emission reductions, China can no longer call itself a developing nation and fall back on that stance to justify not committing to more stringent measures. It more rightly stands beside France and other EU nations with relatively low per capita emissions (think Sweden, Switzerland) than it does with its neighbors in Southeast and South Asia, still less so with virtually any nation in Africa.


Kukuiula Ghost Town

SUBHEAD: How a development on Kauai, planned for rich people, became a ghost town.

 By Shawn Langois on 27 September 2011 for Market Watch - 

Image above: The clubhouse at Kukui’ula, an ocean-view golf course and residential real-estate development on Kauai, Hawaii. From original article.

Ambling into the warm embrace of Kukui’ula’s clubhouse on Kauai’s pristine south shore is to catch a fleeting glimpse into how the other half lives.

Or, more accurately, the other 0.1%. But with the global economy in turmoil and real-estate wounds still festering across the country, there’s trouble in paradise. “We broke ground on the club in 2008 and a month later, Lehman Brothers went down,” said Brent Herrington, Kukui’ula president. “There was a moment there where it felt like the world was going to end,” he said. “But we came together as a partnership and decided to push ahead.” Without a doubt, the expansive 1,000-acre development cutting a vast swath of land across Poipu is mesmerizing. A golf course with sweeping ocean views, a world-class spa, a cascade of pools, a stunning $100-million clubhouse. The ice cubes even match the drink order. What the customer wants, the customer gets.

The draw was compelling enough to attract New Orleans Saints quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees to the club’s early membership ranks. His locker is prominently displayed inside the men’s locker room. The staff quips, “Would you like to use Mr. Brees’s bench?” Then why does the resort feel like a vacant city-scape scene out of a zombie flick? While every corner of the property is equipped for a good time, there’s hardly anyone there to enjoy it. At least for now.  

One sale in a year-and-a-half
“I’m still a big believer in the property, and the people that bought for their own use are very happy,” said Becky Supon, Pacific Ocean Properties real-estate agent and former saleswoman at Kukui’ula. “The ones looking to flip for profit, of course, aren’t happy.” Supon said she currently has eight listings from clients trying to unload their property. One customer who bought during the initial sales phase for $1 million just sold his piece of land for about $550,000. “It’s one of the most unique and beautiful developments in all of Hawaii,” Supon added. “But it’s just tough to market it right now and banks aren’t really loaning on second homes.”

It’s not that Alexander & Baldwin (NYSE:ALEX) , who first began zoning the project some 25 years ago, and partner DMB Associates, a renowned golf-community developer from Arizona, aren’t offering up a stellar product. They are. But the market for these kinds of things has been treacherous. All the palm trees and Lomi Lomi massages in the archipelago can’t change that. “The most recent down cycle was one of the worst we’ve seen in Hawaii,” said Honolulu-based real-estate analyst Ricky Cassiday. “Sales have since recovered somewhat, and we are two years out from the bottom, but it is still anemic by historical standards.”

 Recognizing the futility in pushing sales during times as ugly as the past few years, the developers behind Kukui’ula decided to circle the wagons and stop spending on marketing. Of course, while it appears to have been the right move, it also kept a lid on demand. Only one piece of land has sold in the past year-and-a-half after 80 “founder” lots were sold in 2006 for a total of $110 million. Eventually, the project plans to offer a series of price points. On the low end, condos will be available for under $1 million. On the high end, Herrington said he sees custom homes upwards of $20 million.

Cassiday points out that some of Kukui’ula’s best lots have yet to be marketed, which will come in handy when things pick up. “They can pull the ace from the hole any time they want. And at this point, everyone else is dying off,” he said, referring to several other projects in the Islands that have stalled or been halted altogether. “Kukui’ula has enough invested to be the last one standing, and that’s a good thing,” Cassiday said. “A&B and DMB have spent a ton of money here, but the value won’t go away — entitled land in a great place with high barriers to entry is good, especially long-term.”  

Riding out the cycles
Currently, cottages are being rolled out in the $2-million-plus range along with home sites costing between $1 million to $3 million. Then there’s the monthly club dues of $1,000, a required part of any purchase. With almost 90,000 acres, Alexander & Baldwin is one of Hawaii’s biggest landowners, and has been for more than a century. From its legacy sugar-cane business to its Matson Navigation shipping subsidiary, there’s much more to the company than real-estate development. But that doesn’t minimize the importance of Kukui’ula in the grand scheme of things at A&B. The company has already laid out $225 million in cash for its part of the joint venture.

To put that in perspective, A&B posted total revenue of $488.2 million in the most recent quarter, while profit dipped from a year ago to $18.7 million. “Kukui’ula is a significant investment for A&B ... one that we believe will generate tremendous long-term value,” said Chris Benjamin, president of A&B Properties. “The market is recovering, and we have an irreplaceable asset that will perform extremely well in the years ahead as there is no comparable new project in Hawaii, and we do not believe there will a comparable project in the foreseeable future.” Benjamin described Kukui’ula as a “long-life-cycle project,” comparing it to the company’s highly -successful Wailea resort in Maui, which was developed in the 1970s and 1980s. “What’s important is being able to ride through the cycles,” he added. “The project has no debt, and A&B has the ability to sustain the project and benefit greatly in the up cycles.”

Herrington, an employee from the DMB side of the venture, has helped turn some of company’s other high-profile projects into winners, and is quick to point out the overall reception during a recent marketing push has been positive. Yet buyers haven’t responded with open checkbooks. Why? The reasons are clear: It’s a hefty luxury expense during a relentless global downturn that has shown few signs of abating.

 Not budging on pricing
 Larry Leight, who sold his high-end Oliver Peoples sunglasses business to Luxottica Group’s (NYSE:LUX) Oakley subsidiary in 2006, owns a vacation home just down the road from Kukui’ula and has been wooed as a potential member. Watch video on Oliver Peoples.

 Impressed as he is, Leight is having a difficult time justifying that kind of financial commitment right now. “You just can’t find luxury at this level anywhere else, especially in a setting like this. Still, I don’t think we’ve seen the bottom in the market yet,” Leight said. “The current economic condition makes it difficult to purchase such a luxury today, though interest rates and pricing are getting better,” he added. “It might take a while, but I think the project will be a big success.” Pricing, however, is one thing on which Herrington and the top brass plan to stand firm. “We believe the market recovery is still two or three years out, and it could be even longer than that.

Nobody anticipated a downturn as deep and sustained as this one, but we’re prepared to be here,” Herrington said. “We are not going to have a fire sale. This is the last grand-scale luxury development in Hawaii in our lifetime. Maybe forever.” He preaches patience. And that seems to be just fine with those whose fortunes are linked to the project’s long-term success. Mick McGuire, a former analyst at hedge fund giant Pershing Square, is a believer. He now runs the Marcato Capital Management fund, which holds 551,881 shares of A&B while Pershing owns some 3.5 million shares, according to a recent SEC filing.

It doesn’t hurt that Alexander & Baldwin’s stock has rallied 7% in the past year to outpace a volatile stock market. It’s easier to be patient when shareholders are complacent and believe in the project. “It’s a wonderful property in one of the best and last remaining locations on one of the most beautiful Hawaiian islands and those unique characteristics translate into significant value,” McGuire said, adding that he sees “enormous development potential.” For now, much is riding on that potential because the reality is still brutal.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: End of Kauai's Economy 7/7/10
Island Breath: Kauai Lagoons - annuls of false advertising 3/18/08
Island Breath: Koloa Landing Scam Development 6/28/07
Island Breath: Koloa Area Development Moratorium 7/23/06
Island Breath: Slow Chaotic Development 5/10/06
Island Breath: Poipu to be buried in development 8 1/05
Island Breath: Kukui`ula to have negative impact on Southside 1/13/04


Goldman Sachs rules the World

SUBHEAD: Goldman Sachs rules the world and the Euro zone is poised to crash, according to trader Alessio Rastani.  

By Staff on 26 September 2011 for Huffington Post - 

Image above: Cover of book "Power and Money: How Goldman Sachs came to rule the world" by William D. Cohan. From (

"This is not a time right now for wishful thinking that governments are going to sort things out," trader Alessio Rastani said on an interview with BBC on Monday morning. "The governments don't rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world."

The statement came towards the end of an almost three and a half minute interview in which Rastani warned viewers to "get prepared" for the inevitable: "The savings of millions of people are going to vanish" in less than a year, he said.

"This economic crisis is like a cancer, if you just wait and wait thinking this will go away, just like a cancer it's going to grow and it's going to be too late," he continued.'

Fear over the fragility of the European economy has become pronounced in recent weeks. Prompted in part by concerns that the region could enter recession and affect the global economy, stocks composing the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered their worst week since 2008 last week, according to Reuters.

In spite of statements like Rastani's, Euro policymakers continue to press ahead with possible reforms. Currently, they are working to bolster their 440 billion-euro rescue fund, after being criticized by leaders from both China and the U.S. for letting Greece's debt crisis already wreak havoc on global stocks, according to Reuters.

But the crash will be good news for traders, Rastani told the stunned BBC anchors.

"For most traders we don't really care about having a fixed economy, having a fixed situation, our job is to make money from it," he said. "Personally, I've been dreaming of this moment for three years. I go to bed every night and I dream of another recession."

Rastani said traders aren't the only ones who can benefit from the crisis.
"When the market crashes... if you know what to do, if you have the right plan set up, you can make a lot of money from this."
Video above: Alessio Rastani speaks to BBC about world economy. From (

Facebook CIA Connection

SUBHEAD: The CIA's invention of Facebook has saved the government millions of dollars.  

By Staff on 26 September 2011 for the Onion News Network -  

Image above: Brooke Alvarez at the FactZone newsdesk. From (
As the host of FactZone, Brooke Alvarez is one of the world's most recognizable news figures. Growing up in Russia, Brooke dreamed of being famous and powerful. She emigrated to U.S., erased all trace of her Russian accent within three weeks, and began her systematic ascent to the top of the news industry. The details of this rapid climb through the various lesser networks to end up at the Onion News Network was the subject of "The Devil Incarnate" a book refuted by Brooke as "the pathetic scrawlings of a bitter and jealous acne-scarred half-reporter."

A prolific Twitter user, Brooke tweets 20 to 40 times a day, often while her guests are talking. She's appeared as herself in more than a dozen motion pictures although there is some debate whether she understood that the words on her teleprompter were fictional and where they would eventually appear. Brooke owns five corgi dogs, her favorite food is kale, and she is married to author Thomas Pynchon.

Brooke is active in charity work, having formed a foundation to teach newscaster dialect to young urban teens. She's politically motivated as well, publicly campaigning against wind farms whenever her schedule allows.

While the media has made much of her long-standing feuds with both Wolf Blitzer and Yo Yo Ma, Brooke insists she is easy to get along with as long as everyone understands their place.

Brooke stays healthy and happy by swimming 20 miles each day in the resistance pool in her office.

Video above: Social networking sites used by Sate Department and CIA. From (


Try Wait

SUBHEAD: The state's solution is to wait until it is an actual emergency and give the finger to due process and transparency.

 By Andy Parx on 22 September 2011 for Parx News Daily - (

Image above: View east from the old lifeguard tower location on Kekaha Beach... or what was once a beach. Photo by Juan Wilson 9/11/11.

 [IB Editor's Note: Since last February the beach between Kekaha Community Center and the Ditch One relocated lifeguard stand has disappeared. In places it seems 200 feet of sand has been swept away by the ocean. The ocean is now crashing against rocks ten feet away and ten feet below the Kaumualii Highway. A single winter storm could breach the road. If they had not moved the lifeguard tower it would be gone already. Scarey it was so quick.]
The kvetch-fest over Governor Neil Abercrombie's "emergency" declarations- and the fact that he failed to tell anyone about one of them for months- suspending environmental and planning laws to clear ordinance from the beaches and oceans and nene from the Kaua`i Airport area would be deafening if it weren't for the paywall blocking the state's "newspaper of record," making it an unproductive endeavor to link to columnist Dave Shapiro’s traditional harangue or, surprisingly, Cynthia Oi's tome on the subject.

But while some debate whether these are in fact emergencies under state law, another "emergency" proclamation by his Governorship has got to be the slowest developing crisis in history showing that if you wait until the molehill becomes a mountain you can create a pressing matter of epic proportions out of anything.

The fact that a stretch of the highway near Lumahai has been falling into the ocean is no surprise to anyone who has driven the stretch in the past decade. But Abercrombie's "emergency declaration" on September 7 would make you believe that rather than it being a result of glacial-paced erosion, some menehune came in last month with pickaxes and chopped away at the coastline all in one night. The fact is that the declaration is the result of almost a decade of trying to get the state to get its act together.

We can remember current State Senator Ron Kouchi as Kaua`i County Council Chair- that would place it before 2003- grilling then County Engineer Cesar Portugal about what was thought to be the imminent loss of the northbound lane of the state highway. What should be a state problem has since been a subject of concern for every council and county engineer ever since. While the county has been making temporary fixes, the state has dragged its feet in moving the highway 40 feet inland- the current "emergency" solution which was first proposed 10 years ago.

But that would have taken due process, pubic hearings and most importantly environmental impact statements, certified shoreline determinations and, quite probably, a plan to be approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, as we heard in council testimony over the years. But noooo. The state's solution is to wait until it is an actual emergency and give the finger to due process, public hearings, transparency and, most importantly, any thoughtful review of the fact that if this section is falling into the ocean, what's next?

That might raise the nasty problem of why we're putting things like bike paths- and even new homes under the county's new process for granting exemption from what had been widely acknowledged to be the strongest shoreline protection law in the country- 10 feet away from the shoreline in an age when climate change could well remove that 10 feet in as many years. Is this the future of how the state's environmental and shoreline protection laws will be handled when the ocean come in to stay? Wait long enough to suspend them?


Image above: Juan Wilson and view east from the old lifeguard tower location on Kekaha Beach on a cloudy day. We were over a 100 feet from the Kaumualii Highway. Photo by Linda Pascatore 2/8/11.