Will Sea Cucumbers save the Reefs?

SUBHEAD: The sea cucumber's feces may be key to saving coral reefs. By Stephen Messenger on 29 January 2012 for TreeHugger - (http://www.treehugger.com/ocean-conservation/sea-cucumber-poo-may-be-key-saving-coral-reefs.html) Image above: A Leopard sea cucumber or Eyed sea cucumber (Bohadschia argus), in Pulau Aur, West Malaysia. From (http://www.colours.dk/anders/diving/echinoderms/seacucumber/seacucumber.html).

With a name and shape more befitting of a salad-topping fruit than an ocean-faring animal, sea cucumbers are arguably one of the most striking species to roam the sea floor -- but their importance to the health of marine ecosystems is proving far more noteworthy than that unfortunate misnomer. According to researchers from the University of Sydney's One Tree Island station, tropical sea cucumber excrement could hold the key to saving the world's great coral reefs from the devastating effects of ocean acidification.

Sea cucumbers typically eat by scavenging the ocean floor for plankton or bits of other organic debris, and in so doing, they wind up swallowing and digesting a fair amount of sand. But, as it turns out, this process facilities a natural process that may be essential for preserving the health of coral by counteracting the pH level drops associated with ocean acidification.

"When they ingest sand, the natural digestive processes in the sea cucumber's gut increases the pH levels of the water on the reef where they defecate," professor Maria Byrne tells Sky News.

Additionally, another beneficial process takes place inside the gut of the humble sea cucumber -- the creation of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), a building block of coral reefs.

"To survive, coral reefs must accumulate CaCO3 at a rate greater than or equal to the CaCO3 that is eroded from the reef," said Prof Byrne. "The research at One Tree Island showed that in a healthy reef, dissolution of calcium carbonate sediment by sea cucumbers and other bioeroders appears to be an important component of the natural calcium carbonate turnover."

In light of ongoing threats to the world's coral reef ecosystems, particularly along Australia's Great Barrier Reef, from ocean acidification as a result of increased carbon emissions, the importance of sea cucumbers to maintaining a healthy balance will doubtlessly be explored further.


Report that blows up the Eurozone

SUBHEAD: The report will "merely" serve as the catalyst that blows up the powder keg. It may take a few months. By Ilargi on 28 January 2012 for the Automatic Earth - (http://theautomaticearth.blogspot.com/2012/01/report-that-will-blow-up-eurozone.html) Image above: Dutch politician Geert Wilders of the right wing PVV (Party for Freedom) in 2008. Note bleached hair. From (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/feb/24/a-flying-dutchman-in-pursuit-of-speech/). In Holland, where I'll be for a few more days, there's a "rogue" right-wing party named PVV (Party for Freedom). It has no cabinet ministers, but the minority moderate right-wing government needs its support to stay in the saddle. The PVV, like other European right-wingers, is, among many other things, against much of what the European Union stands for. It's certainly against the Euro, and the bailouts with Dutch taxpayer money of countries like Greece and Portugal. A few months ago, the PVV announced they had commissioned a report from British financial consultancy firm Lombard Street Research on the economic consequences of staying in the Eurozone versus returning to the guilder. That report is about to be published "within days". It will prove to be highly explosive material. And the PVV will do all it possibly can to make sure it receives a lot of media attention. It may tear down the incumbent government, which is a heavy advocate of all things Europe, and which will have to quit once the PVV support dies, but for that party that's not the no. 1 concern. And if and when Holland has a large scale discussion on the report and the issues it raises, Germany won't be able to ignore it and stay behind. And then, neither will France. Max Julius of Citywire.uk did a piece on the report, without mentioning it directly, 10 days ago:
Why Germans and Dutch will exit 'suicide pact' eurozone
Germany and the Netherlands are likely to quit the eurozone rather than swallow an indefinite number of 'unrequited transfers' to the union’s crisis-stricken nations, according to Charles Dumas, chief economist at Lombard Street Research. Speaking at an event in central London, he said that before joining the single currency, German incomes had stayed level but their purchasing power had increased as the Deutschmark appreciated. With the weaker euro, the economist said, they have seen 'tremendous' wage restraint, leading to huge growth in German firms’ market share but ‘no serious growth of the economy’ and a squeeze on disposable incomes. Meanwhile, consumption rose elsewhere in the eurozone, he said. 'So what you’re actually dealing with here... is a German population which has had a rotten deal – and that’s why they’re all so angry' noted Dumas, who is also chairman of the macroeconomic forecasting consultancy. Branding the monetary union a 'suicide pact', he continued: 'So what this exercise in uniting Europe has achieved is to divide Europe.' Dumas [noted that] the 'Club Med' nations needed about 5% of gross domestic product in annual debt refinancing 'more or less indefinitely'. This would amount to €150 billion a year, of which Germany would have to stump up just over €60 billion, France a little under €50 billion and €15 billion from the Netherlands, he said. And this would be on top of the shortfall in consumer spending, in addition to the fact that wages and consumption may have to be held down in the future, Dumas warned.
This morning, Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad cited Dumas as saying these numbers are "cautious estimates". They are valid only if Greece and Portugal would leave the Eurozone in 2012 - which Dumas expects will happen -. If they don't, the payments will be even higher. He predicts the costs of a return to the guilder will be much less than for instance the Dutch government's Central Planning Bureau claims, which warns of huge losses if Holland were to leave the Euro. Dumas: "It's just like in a religion: first they promise you heaven, and if that doesn't work out, they threaten you with hell."
The economist dismissed the notion that the region would be able to turn itself around so as to make such support from its 'core' unnecessary. Citing the example of the persisting transfers from west to east Germany, he pointed out: 'The ones that need the money to flow in carry on needing the money to flow in, or just stay poor.' Dumas also warned that austerity was only worsening Greece’s budget deficit, and that it was 'difficult to imagine' the deeply indebted state receiving the four quarterly batches of financing it is due this year. ‘It’s almost impossible to imagine people continuing to stump up the money, because they simply have not actually gone into this thing with the intention of unrequited transfers to Greece ad infinitum,’ he said as the country resumed talks with its creditors over a planned debt swap. Calling the one-off damage of splitting up the eurozone 'seriously exaggerated', Dumas warned that as the crisis deepens, he believes 'Germany and the Netherlands will actually realise that they had better call it a day and jump out.'
Sure, the Dutch government, and certainly the EU and the banking system, have formidable PR machineries at their disposal. We’ll see a lot of numbers being floated that contradict Lombard's report. And we'll have to wait a few days to see exactly what numbers Dumas et al. come up with. But the people of Germany and Holland are already very nervous about the fact that they face austerity and budget cuts while billions of euros are transferred to southern Europe. Up until now, the fear of economic disaster predicted in unison by government leaders have kept them quiet. Now that a reputable economic research firm flatly contradicts these predictions, and states that, instead, it's staying within the Eurozone that will be the far more costly option, the people will grow increasingly restless. Charles Dumas again, from Algemeen Dagblad:
"The Dutch people have lost thousands of euros in purchasing power per year since the currency was introduced."
Governments in Berlin and The Hague will have a lot of explaining to do. They have to do so against a backdrop of (near-)failing Greek debt swap talks, which will at the very least force them to admit that they have a lost tens of billions in taxpayer money to Club Med countries already. With a second Portugal bailout waiting in the wings. And lots of negative news on Italy and Spain. And more domestic budget cuts. They’ll realize that their governments have painted far too rosy pictures about the issues so far. And they’ll expect them to deliver more of the same. This is what we call a receding trust horizon. It's not the report alone, it's the entire combination of factors. The report will "merely" serve as the catalyst that blows up the powder keg. It may take a few months, but it will happen. The publicity hungry rogue PVV party that commissioned it, followed by anti-Eurozone voices elsewhere, will make sure of that. .

Eric Schneiderman - Hero or Goat?

SUBHEAD: Will the NY Attorney General, as co-chair of Obama task force, be able to prosecute the banksters? By Robert Kuttner on 29 January 2012 for Huffington Post - (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-kuttner/eric-schneiderman_b_1240453.html) Image above: Photo of NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. From (http://www.politickerny.com/2012/01/11/schneiderman-to-make-prescription-drug-abuse-top-legislative-priority/).

The activation of the administration's long dormant task force on criminal misconduct in the financial collapse, with New York's progressive attorney general Eric Schneiderman as co-chair, could be the most fateful political and economic development of the election year. There are still immense pitfalls ahead, as Wall Street allies inside the administration and on Wall Street itself try to reduce Schneiderman's role to that of symbolic fig leaf.

But President Obama has done something potentially momentous for which he deserves our praise, even if he himself does not fully grasp the implications. The significance of the shift is still in play, of course, and will be made clearer as events unfold over the next several weeks.

Some skeptics in the progressive community have raised questions both about the upside for Schneiderman and his motives. Given the administration's feeble record on prosecutions to date, the critics are right to flag the likelihood that people like Attorney General Eric Holder and SEC enforcement chief Robert Khazumi will try to sandbag Schneiderman. But my reporting suggests that they underestimate both the man and the dynamics that have been set loose.

The surprising move raises several questions.

First Big Question: Why did Obama, after letting the Treasury, Justice Department, and SEC sit on potential criminal prosecutions for three years, do this now?

There was, after all, an inter-agency Financial Fraud Enforcement Group appointed in November 2009, and it contented itself with going after small and medium-sized fraudsters and settling mostly for slap-on-the-wrist civil fines, rather than getting to the bottom of the systemic crimes and bringing major cases.

The answer is in a harmonic convergence of three forces.

First, as illustrated by the larger themes of his recent State of the Union Address, Obama belatedly recognized an urgent political need for a more populist posture. What better bogeyman than Wall Street? Polls show that the single most damning factor that leaves voters skeptical about Obama's economic credibility is his coziness with the big banks. Pecking Paul Volcker on the cheek once a year just doesn't do it. Obama needed Schneiderman -- and not just as a symbol.

Second, the administration has fervently pushed, via HUD and the Treasury Department, for a soft settlement of the mortgage industry's failure to legally document the conversion of mortgages into securities and the systemic fraud in mortgage servicing that resulted. A series of court rulings have blocked foreclosures, because of such abuses as "robo-signing" of documents. Bankers, weaker state A.G., and the administration have been trying to close a deal where the banks are fined $20-25 billion, which goes for mortgage relief, in exchange for a general legal cleanup and protection from further liability. But this bad bargain was blocked by the steadfast opposition of the most important state attorneys general, notably the same Eric Schneiderman, plus California's Kamala Harris, Martha Coakley of Massachusetts and Beau Biden of Delaware. (Virtually all the trusts that hold securitized mortgages are created under the laws of New York or Delaware, so without Schneiderman and Biden, forget any deal.) In exchange for his cooperation with the administration on what is essentially a sideshow, Schneiderman held out for both a much tougher deal, and a major league prosecutorial task force.

Third, it has dawned on even relative conservative forces in Washington that the continuing mortgage crisis is a major economic drag on the recovery. With real estate values flat or continuing to decline, with homeowners out trillions of dollars of net worth, and tens of millions of mortgages still under water, the economy remains stuck in a deflationary cycle. The administration's small-bore relief programs, all of which are voluntary to the banks, have not done the job.

Surprisingly (and hopefully), the Federal Reserve -- of all institutions -- has been publicly pressing for more mortgage relief. This is crucial, since in the end game the Fed will be essential to a successful pivot from the leverage of criminal prosecutions to the remedy of much deeper mortgage relief -- if Schneiderman prevails. Pressure from the Fed to do more to fix the housing deflation will also serve as a political counterweight to those in the administration who hope Schneiderman will be just window dressing. More on that in a moment.

Next Big Question: Why did Schneiderman accept this appointment? Who is rolling whom?

Some critics on the left have argued that Schneiderman has all the authority he needs under New York State law (via the Martin Act that was also used by Eliot Spitzer in extracting a global settlement of conflicts of interest by the banks a decade ago). This critique has been all over such blogs as nakedcapitalism.com and firedoglake.com. The critics conclude that since the Obama administration has not been serious about criminal prosecutions thus far, it logically follows that Schneiderman has been co-opted into a process that will tie his hands. But the real dynamics are far more complex.

There are certainly those in the administration who hope to sit on Schneiderman. You can see this in the dueling press releases to date. For instance, Eric Holder, in his Friday statement, included the unhelpful comment that "behavior that is unethical or reckless may not necessarily be criminal." This is of course true, but why on earth make that point in the context of announcing a new task force that is supposed to signal new toughness? It suggests that Holder, if left in charge, would pursue the same weak prosecutorial policies of the past three years.

But Schneiderman turns out to have a lot of leverage. Although the outlines of a narrow deal on the legal problems of mortgage servicers have been leaked, Schneiderman has not yet signed off on the deal. As noted, he has already gotten major concessions. The deal will only address the relatively narrow (but outrageous) abuse of robo-signing, and nothing in it will provide release from criminal prosecutions. Other details are still being negotiated. It is likely that Schneiderman will not give his final assent until he receives assurances on who will really be in charge of these broader investigations and with what level of resources.

The other main reason Schneiderman joined: The New York A.G. may have plenty of legal authority, but what he does not have is sufficient ground troops. In a scandal like this one, where the frauds and criminal misrepresentations are buried in millions of documents, it takes very major investigative resources, of the sort that the FBI, the IRS, the SEC, and the force of postal inspectors have, and the New York A.G. simply doesn't. Something like a thousand Federal investigators and prosecutors brought crooks to justice in the savings and loan scandals of the late 1980s. Though the numbers of people attached to the task so far are small -- Holder has announced a total of 55 attorneys and investigators to be assigned to the new working group -- we will soon find out whether enough people will be assigned to confirm to Schneiderman that this is a serious effort.

If not, we can expect him and the other progressive AGs to walk. And that is Schneiderman's other main source of leverage. In the jockeying for control, you might think that the odds overwhelmingly favor the insiders like Holder and Khazumi. But a high-profile criminal investigation that fizzled, with Schneiderman walking away, would be a massive political setback to the White House, more massive even than alienating some Wall Street campaign donors.

It would take a lot of guts for a Democratic attorney general to walk away from a presidentially created process in an election year. But if Schneiderman and the other progressive A.G.s conclude they are being rolled, they will walk and then do the best they can with the resources they have.

Schneiderman's goal, as far as I can tell, is to serve both justice and macroeconomic recovery. With fresh federal investigative resources, he can threaten bankers with legal Armageddon. Then, in addition to sending the worst malefactors to prison, he can entertain a settlement not in the tens of billions but in the hundreds of billions -- sufficient to provide very major write-downs of mortgage principal owed. That, in turn, changes the dynamics of the housing crisis as a drag on the recovery, which not incidentally serves the administration's economic and political needs.

As all this sinks in, you can just imagine the editorial in the Wall Street Journal. Extortion! The feds are threatening to send bankers to the slam in order to extort hundreds of billions for mortgage deadbeats. But extortion compared to what? The systematic, illegal fraud in mortgage securitization cost innocent homeowners trillions and the economy tens of trillions. The taxpayers went directly on the line to the banks for nearly a trillion in the TARP bailouts, and the Fed risked its own balance sheets to the tune of trillions more. Several hundred billion dollars of mortgage relief is pretty modest by comparison.

Though President Obama finally sounded more in tune with the anxieties of the average American in his State of the Union Address, he missed a huge opportunity by failing to challenge the "deadbeat" narrative long ago. For the most part, it was illegal behavior by the banks, and not the occasional deliberately improvident home buyer, that caused this collapse. Now, finally, we may get a reckoning.

This administration does not speak with one voice. While some senior officials may wishfully view Schneiderman as a useful idiot, the career prosecutors who have been champing at the bit and some on the White House political team view him as a heaven-sent counterweight to men like Geithner and Holder.

In less than a week, the momentum has already shifted. Critics who were skeptical a few days ago, Matt Taibbi for instance, are now applauding. Bloggers who were questioning Schneiderman's bona fides in taking the job are now making lists of legal angles for him to pursue. As public expectations build for a serious investigation and prosecution, it becomes progressively harder for Wall Street's cronies in Washington to shackle Schneiderman.

last Big Question: Are plausible criminal prosecutions really possible?

Short answer: yes. But it will take serious effort and resources.

One of the most irritating phenomena of the past three years has been the whining by protectors of banks to the effect that it's hard to get convictions in cases of financial fraud. But when the government decides to act in concert and throw the book at bank illegality, the dynamics change.

There was criminal fraud in every stage of the daisy chain of sub-prime mortgages and the creation and sale of securities backed by them -- in the misrepresentation of the quality of the loans, in the packaging of loans into securities, in the fakery of what documents were actually in the trusts, and in the marketing of mortgage-backed securities to investors. Mortgage servicers, in their attempts to collect payments, levy penalty charges, and to foreclose, also committed fraud when they misrepresented their documentation and property rights. At every step of the way, there were layers of lies. These lies violate innumerable statutes that carry criminal penalties.

Mail Fraud While the statute of limitations has already run on some crimes, it is ten years in the case of mail fraud. The process of creating securities based on packages of high-risk mortgages that were misrepresented in trust documents, or the false notification of homeowners that they were delinquent, may have used Fedex some of the time, but it also relied on the U.S. Postal Service. The scale of manpower in the corps of postal inspectors and investigators, if deployed, gives Schneiderman resources simply not available to the New York A.G.

Securities Fraud The entire structure of the securities laws in the United States is based on disclosure of risks that are material to the decisions of investors. The willful misrepresentation of actual risks was the essence of the strategy that enriched bankers and other middlemen, and crashed the economy. Mortgage-backed securities sold to the public are covered by the securities laws, as are sales of shares in banks. Misrepresentations were rampant. It was this prosecutorial leverage that led to the (paltry) civil settlements with Goldman Sachs, Countrywide Mortgage, and other malefactors -- that were and still are vulnerable to criminal prosecutions.

Bank Fraud If the value of the underlying mortgages were misrepresented in official filings with bank regulators, that's bank fraud under the relevant banking statutes, which have long statutes of limitations that have not yet run. False accounting statements and false claims about internal controls are also a crime under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. If statements are sworn, that's also perjury.

Tax Fraud The entire process of securitization of bogus mortgages used tax-exempt conduits known as REMICs (The details are mind-numbing, but masochists are invited to Google the word REMIC). The sums were huge. The point is that if the packaging of mortgages was fraudulent and the IRS cracked down, everyone from bankers to individual trustees would be on the hook for hundreds of billions in back taxes and tax penalties. Faced with this kind of nightmare and the hit to their stock price while investigations proceeded, bankers would be inclined to settle.

Simply the fact of bringing serious criminal cases puts the fear of God into bankers and their lawyers.

Big Question Number Four: What signs should we be looking for to indicate success or failure?

For starters, will Schneiderman be operationally as well as nominally in charge? Will he get the investigative resources that he needs? Will Eric Holder stop being so defensive about his own record and give Schneiderman his full backing? Will President Obama stay focused on the infighting and support Schneiderman?

What back channel efforts will be used to blunt or block this initiative? You can just imagine the shudder that went though the ranks of the biggest banks, which have gotten off just about scot-free, when this task force was announced. They could now face massive fines, much reduced paydays, and even prison time. A progressive prosecutor like Schneiderman, wielding federal investigative resources, was their worst nightmare.

The banksters, of course, have close friends in high places. Jack Lew, President Obama's new chief of staff, was a protégé of Citibank's Robert Rubin. Lew served as Rubin's chief of staff at the Treasury Department in the mid-1990s, and then followed Rubin to Citi. Without the longtime patronage of Rubin, Obama's chief economic adviser Gene Sperling would be just another bright career policy-wonk. Sperling, in fairness, has tried to do the right thing within the very narrow confines of the Administration's mortgage relief policy to date. But this will be a whole new test of his judgment, principles, and ultimate loyalties.

Wall Street is also a principal funder of President Obama's re-election campaign. With the administration divided on whether this task force should be real or sham, the president will need to decisively conclude that economic recovery and his own credibility with the voters is more important than protecting his banker friends.

What about the timing? Subpoenas have already been issued, indictments are possible within months or even weeks, but the task force will have to go on overdrive to get a settlement this year that includes enough mortgage relief to make a near-term difference to housing markets and the macro-economic picture. Justice delayed is justice denied, and with the clock running on both the recovery and various statutes of limitations, that old saw was never truer.

A very encouraging sign would be the early exit of one Timothy Geithner. Secretary Geithner recently told a reporter that he would not be staying around for a second term. But if Geithner stays in office and is a decisive policy voice between now and November, Obama may not get that second term. Whether or not the president fully appreciates it, the new emphasis on prosecuting financial fraud is more than anything else a repudiation of Geithner and his policies. So why keep Geithner around to undermine the task force's work?

Last Big Question: What is the end game?

Bankers have escaped prosecution, and housing has stayed in a deep hole, in large part because of a disastrous decision that Geithner made in early 2009 -- the policy of extend and pretend. Rather than cleaning out and breaking up big banks, Geithner claimed that "market confidence" required the Treasury to collude in the fiction that all was well. It was just a temporary problem of liquidity.

Propping up the banks and their balance sheets, in turn, precluded serious relief of the mortgage crisis, since a write-down of mortgage debt would require banks to acknowledge real losses.

In some ways, a successful prosecutorial initiative returns us to the debates of early 2009: if cleaning up the mortgage mess requires banks to take a big hit to their balance sheets, how then do we proceed with a restructuring of the banks?

Since markets have already acknowledged reality by driving down the value of the banks' share prices, a settlement with much larger penalties, principal write downs, and even some prison sentences would actually be good for the banking industry because it would provide a fresh start with honest books. We could get beyond the "Japan" phase of this crisis, where the Fed has to keep pumping in trillions of dollars to disguise the real weakness of the economy and the banking industry.

It's helpful that the Fed recognizes the perilous effect of the mortgage collapse on the recovery, since Fed intervention will be central to restructuring and recapitalizing the banking industry after the task force brings bankers to justice.

Political junkies are fixated on the dance macabre of Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. But I could argue that the Mitt and Newt show is only the second most fateful election-year spectacle. More important is the question of whether Eric Schneiderman will be able to do his work.

Schneiderman has taken a stunning gamble. He may get the full cooperation that he needs, he may not. But one thing should already be clear. This is not a man who has been co-opted. He is nobody's window dressing.


Jive Talkin

SUBHEAD: America just wants to hear another story about its own wonderfulness before mass self delusion completely fails. By James Kunstler on 30 January 2012 for Kunstler.com - (http://kunstler.com/blog/2012/01/jive-talkin.html) Image above: Mashup by Juan Wilson of Obama State of the Union Speach from (http://www.sodahead.com) and (http://www.ibtimes.com). Well, he had to get up there and say something. In this particular winter of our discontent, the wispiest nostrums and baldest lies will do. America is not interested in reality. America is a nine-hundred pound man imprisoned in a fetid trailer bedroom begging for one more case of Little Debbie Cocoa Cremes before the front-end-loader bashes through the wall to haul him to intensive care. America just wants to hear another story about its own wonderfulness before that happens. America's soul is so lost that it has disappeared into the same cosmic wilderness that MF Global's client accounts were last seen entering.
Mr. Obama keeps telling nationwide audiences that "we have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years." That is just not true. If he believes it then he is either 1) getting treasonously bad advice from dishonest advisors or 2) not reading reports issued by his own agencies or 3) just making shit up. This was the same week, by the way, when the US Department of Energy dropped its estimate for the Marcellus shale gas play by 66 percent, while the estimate for all US shale basins went down 42 percent. The shale gas industry is another Ponzi bubble that is about to founder on a scarcity of investment capital. Just watch.
The "energy independence" trope is a lie, too. At least in the sense that Mr. Obama means - that we can run the suburban clusterfuck and all its accessories by other means than fossil fuels. He just says it because it makes voters feel better. By the time they find out it was just a story, he won't need their votes anymore. Meanwhile, we'll do nothing to prepare for a different way of life, and so, necessarily, the result will be an obscene scramble for power and resources that will leave a lot of people dead.
The topper for me, though, was the President's cheeky announcement that he'd ordered the Department of Justice to form a "special unit" to investigate mortgage fraud and other lethal irregularities in the banking sector. The fact that his congressional audience did not bust out laughing shows what a convocation of craven and perfidious cat's paws they are. Note to readers: the DOJ has a long-established criminal division fully empowered to prosecute all the familiar scams of our time from NINJA lending to the robo-signing of titles to MERS mortgage mischief, to the bundling and sales of booby-trapped CDOs - up to and including whatever Jon Corzine thought he was doing at MF Global.
Notice how lame the major newspapers and cable news networks were in responding to Mr. Obama's impudent japery. None of them, including The New York Times, bothered to ask Attorney General Eric Holder what he's been up to along these lines for the past three years. It is really hard to account for the stupendous incompetence of the news media in recent years. Of course, I'm allergic to conspiracy theories and the only explanation that adds up for me is the diminishing returns of technology. Among other untruths we've embraced collectively is the idea that computer-distributed information amounts to knowledge and understanding, tending toward judgment. Apparently, it's only made our society much dumber and more irresponsible. After all, none of the supposed media watchdogs even asked The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, or CNN and a hundred other outlets why they didn't interview the Attorney General of the United States and ask him why he has not been taking care of the business now assigned to this special unit.
Not included in the State of the Union message was any reference to the provision in the recently signed National Defense Authorization Act that allows the US government to suspend due process of law and use the military to arrest and indefinitely detain US citizens on vague and opportunistic charges of "suspicion" You will remember a month ago when Mr. Obama signed the law and issued a "signing statement" that said his administration would not carry out these specific provisions. Did anyone notice that it is an impeachable offense for the president to state his opposition to enforcing the law? In which case, why isn't there a bill of impeachment making its way through Congress right now?
I've had enough of Obama, though I voted for him in 2008. I won't vote for him again. But I'm not altogether confident that any of us will be voting for anyone in the fall of 2012. Too many systems we depend on are spinning out of control. I suppose we will continue feeding ourselves a diet of lies and evasions until circumstances become so extreme that language itself loses all relevance and only real action will answer. I believe that moment is approaching in the yet-to-be-acted-out political uproars of the spring and summer. In the meantime, American leadership is bankrupt. Just accept the fact that America has no legitimate leadership. The vacuum is total and we know how nature feels about a vacuum.

Greek default playing with fire

SUBHEAD: Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann says Greek default would be worse than many estimate. By Christine Harper on 28 January 2012 for Bloomberg News - (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-28/ackermann-says-greek-default-would-be-playing-with-fire-1-.html) Image above: Michael Oreskes, Senior Managing Editor of the Associated Press, left, asks a question to Josef Ackermann at World Economic Forum. From (http://newshopper.sulekha.com/michael-oreskes-josef-ackermann_photo_1144284.htm). The economic and political consequences of Greece defaulting instead of reaching a voluntary debt-restructuring deal are being underestimated, Deutsche Bank AG Chief Executive Officer Josef Ackermann said. “Default risk is much higher than what people normally take into account,” Ackermann said today in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “You see already that some markets are nervous about certain countries,” he said. “That is playing with fire if you think that a default will have no impact.” As Greece’s creditors continue negotiations with the country’s government as well as the International Monetary Fund, European Union, and European Central Bank over the terms of a restructuring, some investors and financiers are downplaying the consequences of a default. JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon said this week that it would not be a “disaster,” Dow Jones reported, citing an interview with CNBC. “They are underestimating the collateral damages and they are underestimating the risk of contagion,” Ackermann, 63, said today. “If we have a default in the euro zone going forward, this will reduce somewhat the trust and confidence in the euro system and so, in that sense, we should do everything also from a historic and political perspective to prevent a default.” Market participants remain sceptical that Greece will be able to make a 14.5 billion-euro ($19.2 billion) bond payment in March. In a Bloomberg Global Poll of 1,209 investors released this week, 93 percent of respondents said they expect Greece to default. Single Negotiator Such a failure would damage direct investments that banks and companies have made in Greece while also hitting the firms because of their exposure to its broader economy, Ackermann said today. The fallout would affect a claim of about 100 billion euros that the European Central Bank payment system has against the Greek central bank, he said. Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest lender, has 874.7 million euros of total debt exposure to Greece, according to figures released by the European Banking Authority in London in December. The bank at that time had sold 4.42 billion euros of credit-default swap protection on Greece and had purchased 4.32 billion euros of CDS protection, the data showed. Ackermann is immersed in the Greek debt negotiations as chairman of the Institute of International Finance, which represents banks, fund managers and other private-sector Greek creditors in the debt-restructuring talks. He said today that he wants policy makers at the table, including the IMF, EU, ECB and Greek government, to appoint a single negotiator to ease the process. Soros, Babacan “We have a team now in Athens negotiating, or ready to negotiate, and we need someone from the public sector who has the authority to close the deal,” Ackermann said. “The gap is narrowing. We are still not quite there where the IMF and especially Germany would like to be, but we are making good progress.” Billionaire investor George Soros told Bloomberg Television yesterday that Greece remains the region’s weakest link. “If Greece defaults it should not be the end of the world,” Soros said. “But the rest of Europe needs to be sufficiently ring-fenced, and not enough has been done.” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan also warned against the dangers of allowing a country to default. Turkey is not a member of the European Union or the euro area. “Once that door is open for defaults, it is possible and likely other countries could go through that door,” Babacan said today in Davos. “It’s time to show a serious demonstration of solidarity, but make sure countries don’t default.” .

Never been so scared!

SUBHEAD: At World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, fear of global contagion dominates discussions.  

By Peter S. Goodman on 28 January 2012 for Huffington Post -  

Image above: Donald Tsang, Hong Kong's chief executive, left, sits with Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), center, and George Osborne, U.K. chancellor of the exchequer, during a session on Jan. 28, 2012 at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.

They came, they feasted on smoked sturgeon and black truffle risotto, drank liquor paid for by global banks, endured dozens of security checks, and tried not to fall down in the snow. They talked about the perilous state of the global economy and the future of capitalism. Then, they headed back to their home countries -- many in chauffeured limousines, some by private jet.

But as the people who run much of the planet wrapped up the annual festival of influence known as the World Economic Forum on Saturday, any sense of achievement was hard to discern. The participants arrived amid elevated unemployment in many economies, worries about government budget deficits, and fears that contagion from a financial crisis in Europe could infect the rest of the world. They went home with all of these worries intact, and perhaps reinforced.

Nouriel Roubini, the economist who -- not for nothing -- is known as "Doctor Doom," noted that world leaders are divided on a great array of crucial issues, from arguments over trade imbalances and currency valuations to the threats posed by Iran and North Korea and the challenge of climate change.

"On all these issues that require international coordination, there is no agreement," he said during a Saturday morning panel. "It's a world of chaos that can lead to potential conflicts." European officials confronted a palpable sense of impatience and resentment from their counterparts, drawing accusations that they have imperiled the fate of the globe by repeatedly failing to prop up ailing member states.

In private conversations here this week, senior officials from the United States, Europe and Asia expressed a mixture of resignation and alarm that Greece may yet default on its government debts, despite several efforts by eurozone members to cobble together a credible rescue. Some warned that such an outcome could spook investors into pulling funds out of larger economies such as Italy and Spain, raising the prospect of defaults in those countries. A few suggested this could eventually trigger the breakup of the eurozone and the end of its shared currency, an event that could produce panic rivaling that seen after the investment banking giant Lehman Brothers collapsed more than three years ago.

In a riveting address here on Saturday, Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang recalled his place at the epicenter of the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, and the experience of the 2008 global credit pullback, asserting that the current situation is worse. He said:
"I've never been as scared as now about the world, what is happening in Europe."
Hong Kong faces little direct exposure to potential defaults on European government bonds, Tsang added, but the global financial system is now so interconnected that this confers no protection. He wondered aloud about the health of financial institutions that trade with Hong Kong's banks and the potential for trouble rippling out from the eurozone.
"We do not know how deep this hole will be when the whole thing implodes on us. Nobody is immune."

Tsang merely voiced publicly -- if stridently -- the same perspectives expressed privately in recent days by his counterparts on multiple continents. He urged European leaders to demonstrate a sense of responsibility as global citizens, accusing them of putting the world's economy at risk by failing marshal a plausibly large rescue fund. He contrast this with Hong Kong's own brush with crisis more than a decade ago.

"We were very much left to ourselves, and we overcame it," Tsang said. "In Europe now, you need decisive action, you need overkill. You need to inspire confidence. That confidence must come in the decisive action of government, working together. And do it quickly."

But conversations here this week only underscored the sense that Europe is politically incapable of acting in unison. Though the eurozone shares a common currency, it is comprised of 17 different countries with often-sharp differences over policy -- not to mention history, tradition, culture and language.

Many experts have called for the issuance of Euro bonds by the European Central Bank and backed by the credit of member countries as the most powerful way to demonstrate the community's resolve toward supporting troubled members. Germany has consistently opposed such proposals, unwilling to direct its prodigious savings at saving members it views as profligate -- not least, Greece.

"You spend money you don't have on the bills of others, and that's the wrong incentive in a functioning market economy," German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said earlier in the week, shooting down a question about Euro bonds. "At the end, you have to pay your bills. If you spend at the risk of others, it's a strong temptation. Everyone will fail on this temptation. That would be the wrong method in fighting the causes of the current crisis."

Among policymakers and investors alike, the sense has taken hold that a pair of European rescue funds -- collectively holding perhaps $1 trillion in lending capacity -- are insufficient to assuage the market's fears. Bailing out Spain and Italy could absorb four times that sum, according to Roubini.

Many European officials are hoping to receive an expanded assist from the International Monetary Fund, a once unthinkable prospect for an institution traditionally employed to support developing countries facing crises.

The fund's managing director, Christine Lagarde, has been seeking to drum up a fresh $500 billion to attack the crisis, using Davos as an elaborate fundraising platform.

"The IMF is a tool, but we need to have a toolkit," Lagarde told forum participants Saturday morning, later holding up her purse as a prop. "I'm here with my little bag to actually collect a bit of money."

But that request has received a cool reception from major fund shareholders. The United States, the IMF's largest contributor, has signaled unwillingness to allow more fund finances to flow to Europe until the eurozone deploys its own resources toward an aggressive rescue. Japan's economic policy minister Matohisa Furukawa echoed that position on Saturday.

"Speaking of the role of the IMF, I think that the most important thing is Europe itself make utmost efforts," he said. "Then, IMF can support the European countries."

Underlying the debate over whether and how Europe can erect an effective firewall are deeper doubts about the continent's ability to grow. As many states address budget deficits, they are cutting spending and pressuring labor to accept lower wages -- measures that sap their economies of spending power. Slow growth itself tightens financial straits by reducing government revenues, prompting investors to take their money elsewhere, which raises borrowing costs.

"The eurozone is going to be in recession this year," said Robert Shiller, the Yale economist who warned of both the technology and housing bubbles in the United States. "The U.S. may not. The world may not. It's not going to be a great year, though."

The one source of cheerier conversation here this week has been the relatively strong growth in so-called emerging markets, such as China, India, Brazil and Turkey. But these economies have been slowing in recent months. Now, concerns about Europe's problems are amplifying concerns.

A weak Europe translates into fewer orders for goods from developing countries. As European banks seek to bolster their balance sheets, they are pulling funds out of developing economies and bringing them home -- a trend that could prevent even healthy firms in fast-growing markets from getting their hands on cash needed to expand and hire, further crimping growth.

"You're going to see a credit contraction as the banks pull back," World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned.

All of which means that as the masters of finance and heads of government filter out of this ski resort in the Swiss Alps, the anxiety gnawing at the global economy continues unchecked. The damage could run beyond an economic slowdown, further undermining public faith in the institutions that now govern modern life.

For decades, as crises have assailed developing countries from Indonesia to Argentina, the powers-that-be in the United States and Europe have counseled orthodox advice: Get your fiscal house in order; live within your means; act decisively and resolutely. Yet now that crisis is hitting the wealthy world, leaders are avoiding the hardest decisions and hoping to muddle through -- all while exporting their afflictions to multiple shores.

"This has got to have effects on influence, perceptions of power in the world that are going to be quite significant for years to come," Zoellick said. "Whatever we see come out over the course of this year and the next year, the world is never going to go back to the way it was.".

Hawaii law to spy on web users

SOURCE: Ken Taylor (taylork021@hawaii.rr.com)
SUBHEAD: Hawaii law may allow tracking of all of a users website visits for up to two years.  

By Declan McCullagh on 26 January 2012 for C-Net - 

Image above: John Mizuno (dressed as gangster?) speaks before Hawaiian legislature. From (http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/hsemaj/mizuno_john.html).

Hawaii's legislature is weighing an unprecedented proposal to curb the privacy of Aloha State residents: requiring Internet providers to keep track of every Web site their customers visit.

Its House of Representatives has scheduled a hearing this morning on a new bill (PDF) requiring the creation of virtual dossiers on state residents. The measure, H.B. 2288, says "Internet destination history information" and "subscriber's information" such as name and address must be saved for two years.

H.B. 2288, which was introduced Friday, says the dossiers must include a list of Internet Protocol addresses and domain names visited. Democratic Rep. John Mizuno of Oahu is the lead sponsor; Mizuno also introduced H.B. 2287, a computer crime bill, at the same time last week.
Mizuno, wants to require virtual dossiers to be compiled on state residents: two years' worth of their Internet browsing.

Last summer, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) managed to persuade a divided committee in the U.S. House of Representatives to approve his data retention proposal, which doesn't go nearly as far as Hawaii's. (Smith, currently Hollywood's favorite Republican, has become better known as the author of the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA.)

Democrat Jill Tokuda, the Hawaii Senate's majority whip, who introduced a companion bill, S.B. 2530, in the Senate, told CNET that her legislation was intended to address concerns raised by Rep. Kymberly Pine, the first Republican elected to her Oahu district since statehood and the House minority floor leader.

"I was asked to introduce the Senate companions on these Internet security related bills by Representative Kymberly Marcos Pine after her own personal experience in this area," Tokuda said. "I would defer to her on the origins of these bills as she has done the research and outreach, and been the main champion of this effort."

Pine, who did not immediately respond to queries, has been targeted by a disgruntled Web designer, Eric Ryan, who launched KymPineIsACrook.com and claims she owes him money, according to an article last summer in the Hawaii Reporter. Her e-mail account was also reportedly hacked around the same time. The article said Pine would advocate for "tougher cyber laws at the Hawaii State Capitol" as a result.

"We must do everything we can to protect the people of Hawaii from these attacks and give prosecutors the tools to ensure justice is served for victims," Pine said at the time.

Whatever its sponsors' motivations, the bill isn't exactly being welcomed by Hawaiian Internet companies.

"This bill represents a radical violation of privacy and opens the door to rampant Fourth Amendment violations," says Daniel Leuck, chief executive of Honolulu-based software design boutique Ikayzo, who submitted testimony opposing the bill. He adds: "Even forcing telephone companies to record everyone's conversations, which is unthinkable, would be less of an intrusion."

Mizuno's proposal currently specifies no privacy protections, such as placing restrictions on what Internet providers can do with this information (like selling user profiles to advertisers) or requiring that police obtain a court order before perusing the virtual dossiers of Hawaiian citizens. Also absent are security requirements such as mandating the use of encryption.

Because the wording is so broad and applies to any company that "provides access to the Internet," Mizuno's legislation could sweep in far more than AT&T, Verizon, and Hawaii's local Internet providers. It could also impose sweeping new requirements on coffee shops, bookstores, and hotels frequented by the over 6 million tourists who visit the islands each year.

"H.B. 2288 raises all of the traditional concerns associated with data retention, and then some," Kate Dean, head of the U.S. Internet Service Provider Association in Washington, D.C., which counts Verizon and AT&T as members, told CNET. "And this may be the broadest mandate we've seen."

Even the Justice Department has only lobbied the U.S. Congress to record Internet Protocol addresses assigned to individuals--users' origin IP address, in other words. It hasn't publicly demanded that companies record the destination IP addresses as well.

In Washington, D.C., the fight over data retention requirements has been simmering since the Justice Department pushed the topic in 2005, a development that was first reported by CNET. Proposals publicly surfaced in the U.S. Congress the following year, and President Bush's attorney general, Alberto Gonzales said it's an issue that "must be addressed." So, eventually, did FBI director Robert Mueller.

Backing away from web spy law

By Declan McCullagh on 26 January 2012 for C-Net -  

Image above: Graphic depicting Kym Pine as a criminal is what initiated proposed spy law. From (http://www.kympineisacrook.com/)
A Hawaii politician who proposed requiring Internet providers to record every Web site their customers visit is now backing away from the controversial legislation.

Rep. Kymberly Pine, an Oahu Republican and the House minority floor leader, told CNET this evening that her intention was to protect "victims of crime," not compile virtual dossiers on every resident of--or visitor to--the Aloha State who uses the Internet.

"We do not want to know where everyone goes on the Internet," Pine said. "That's not our interest. We just want the ability for law enforcement to be able to capture the activities of crime."

Pine acknowledged that civil libertarians and industry representatives have leveled severe criticism of the unprecedented legislation, which even the U.S. Justice Department did not propose when calling for new data retention laws last year. A Hawaii House of Representatives committee met this morning to consider the bill (PDF), which was tabled.

The bill, H.B. 2288, will likely now be revised, Pine said. The idea of compiling dossiers "was a little broad," said Pine, who became interested in the topic after becoming the subject of a political attack Web site last year. "And we deserved what we heard at the committee hearing."

What the House Committee on Economic Revitalization and Business heard from opponents today was that the bill was anti-business and fraught with civil rights issues.

Laurie Temple, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, wrote a letter (PDF) calling H.B. 2288 a "direct assault on bedrock privacy principles." Instead of keeping more and more records about users, good privacy practices require deleting data that's no longer needed, the ACLU said.

NetChoice, a trade association in Washington, D.C., that counts eBay, Facebook, and Yahoo as members, sent a letter (PDF) warning that H.B. 2288's data collection requirements "could be misused in lawsuits."

And the U.S. Internet Service Provider Association warned in its own letter (PDF) that H.B. 2288 would be incredibly expensive to comply with. "Narrower" national requirements would cost much more than $500 million in just short-term compliance costs, the letter said, and Hawaii's legislation is broader.

On the other side was the city of Honolulu. Christopher Van Marter, the city's senior deputy prosecuting attorney, wrote a letter (PDF) to the committee saying H.B. 2288 was perfectly reasonable: "We recognize that some smaller service providers may not currently retain records of a customer's internet history. However, many of the larger service providers do keep and maintain such content."

Last summer, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) persuaded a divided committee in the U.S. House of Representatives to approve his data retention proposal, which doesn't go nearly as far as Hawaii's. (Smith, currently Hollywood's favorite Republican, has become better known as the author of the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA.)

Even though H.B. 2288 was just introduced last Friday, it's already being savaged by members of the Hawaiian Internet community, some of whom showed up at today's hearing.

"This bill represents a radical violation of privacy and opens the door to rampant Fourth Amendment violations," says Daniel Leuck, chief executive of Honolulu-based software design boutique Ikayzo, who submitted testimony opposing the bill. He adds: "Even forcing telephone companies to record everyone's conversations, which is unthinkable, would be less of an intrusion."

For her part, Pine told CNET:
  • H.B. 2288 wasn't primarily based on her own experience of being subjected to a political attack site. "It's really all the victims that have come forward after this," she said. And crimes "relating to child pedophiles and things like that."
  • Hawaiians should not be alarmed by how broad the bill is, because there's time to fix it. "Sometimes things are drafted by our legislative drafting office, and it was brought to us, and we talk about it in committee and agree on changes." The Hawaiian phrase for it, she said, is ho'oponopono.
  • Internet providers and prosecutors have only a short time to reach a deal. "We asked the two sides to get together, and they have a month to discuss it and present to us what they'll be happy with," she said.
The lead sponsor of H.B. 2288 in the House is Democratic Rep. John Mizuno of Oahu; Mizuno also introduced H.B. 2287, a computer crime bill, at the same time last week. Democrat Jill Tokuda, the Hawaii Senate's majority whip, has introduced a companion bill, S.B. 2530.

Pine was targeted by a disgruntled former contractor, Eric Ryan, who launched KymPineIsACrook.com and claims she owes him money, according to an article last summer in the Hawaii Reporter.

The article said Pine would advocate for "tougher cyber laws at the Hawaii State Capitol" as a result, and Tokuda says Pine's "own personal experience in this area" was instructive. (Ryan told CNET that Pine is "the biggest cyber-criminal in Hawaii," and Pine says "I'll be taking him to court very soon.")

H.B. 2288 currently specifies no privacy protections, such as placing restrictions on what Internet providers can do with this information (like selling user profiles to advertisers) or requiring that police obtain a court order before perusing the virtual dossiers of Hawaiian citizens. Also absent are security requirements such as mandating the use of encryption.

After today's public outcry, in an echo of the SOPA and Protect IP experience last week, even some sponsors are backing away from their own legislation. "Rep. Lee is a co-sponsor but not a primary introducer," a spokesman for Democratic Rep. Marilyn Lee said today. "Primary introducers are strong supporters. Co-sponsors may generally agree with the proposal but may not be fully comfortable with the legislation."

Even the Justice Department has only lobbied the U.S. Congress to record Internet Protocol addresses assigned to individuals--users' origin IP address, in other words. It hasn't publicly demanded that companies record the destination IP addresses as well.

In Washington, D.C., the fight over data retention requirements has been simmering since the Justice Department pushed the topic in 2005, a development that was first reported by CNET. Proposals publicly surfaced in the U.S. Congress the following year, and President Bush's attorney general, Alberto Gonzales said it's an issue that "must be addressed." So, eventually, did FBI director Robert Mueller.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: CIA mining social networks 1/22/12
Ea O Ka Aina: DOD creates cyber sock puppets 3/17/11

Protesting Monsanto on Maui

SOURCE: Brad Parsons (mauibrad@hotmail.com) SUBHEAD: Maui group holds week of protest against GMOs crops near Monsanto office in Kihei. Police claim trespass. By Wendy Osher on 23 January 2012 for Maui Now - (http://mauinow.com/2012/01/23/monsanto-responds-as-maui-occupy-group-launches-demonstration) Image above: Maui activists demonstrate against Monsanto GMO products. Photos by Madeline Ziecker. For more see (http://mauinow.com/2011/10/17/photos-maui-activists-call-for-gmo-labeling)

A week of Occupy Wall Street Maui events kick off today with the establishment of an encampment near the Monsanto offices in Kihei.

A series of marches, rallies and vigils are planned throughout the week as the group expresses their concerns over herbicide use, production of GMO products, and arguments of impacts on small farmers.

An event flyer makes claims of food supply control, government manipulation and environmental poisons.

Monsanto Hawaii Community Affairs Director, Paul Koehler responded to the planned demonstrations saying that while the company respects everyone’s right to voice their opinion, he said, “It’s unfortunate that a number of misleading and factually incorrect statements about Monsanto and genetically engineered crops continue to circulate.”

He said the company recognizes that the topics can be complex and reiterated the company’s commitment to transparency and dialogue.

“We’re happy to have an open, respectful discussion with anyone genuinely interested in learning more about who we are and what we do,” he said.

The week of events planned by Occupy Wall Street Maui and posted on the occupymaui.com website include:

  • Monday, January 23, 2012: a roundup-themed garden highlighting concerns over herbicide use.
  • Tuesday, January 24, 2012: a march is planned past Monsanto crops along the Piilani Highway in South Maui.
  • Wednesday, January 25, 2012: a rally in Kahului is planned to spread information on the effects of GMO products.
  • Thursday, January 26, 2012: a march is planned in Wailuku to protest Monsanto and claims of the company’s influence in government.
  • Friday, January 27, 2012: An Occupy with Aloha event is planned at the University of Hawaii Maui College.
  • Saturday, January 28, 2012: Plans to Occupy local farmers markets and fruit stands, and gathering for a day of teach-ins, music, and organic food is planned.
  • Sunday, January 29, 2012: A dusk vigil will be held for small farmers at the occupation site fronting Monsanto on Maui.

Koehler said Monsanto Hawaii is working with the Police Department to ensure safety of all during the planned Occupy events. “Our number one concern,” he said, “is for the safety of everyone involved, including that of drivers passing by on the highway, pedestrians, our employees and the demonstrators.”

ACLU confronts Maui PD on free speech By Wendy Osher on 23 January 2012 for Maui Now - (http://mauinow.com/2012/01/27/aclu-confronts-county-regarding-occupy-maui-monsanto-protest) Image above: Maui activists demonstrate along Piilani Highway in Kihei under supervision of Maui PD.. Photos by Madeline Ziecker.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii filed a complaint letter with the County of Maui this week citing concerns over First Amendment rights of protesters demonstrating near the Monsanto facility along the Pi’ilani Highway in Kihei.

Members of the Occupy Wall Street Maui group began the week-long protest on Monday to expresses their concerns over herbicide use, production of GMO products, and impacts on small farmers.

When the protest started, Monsanto officials found fault with claims against the company, but acknowledged the right for individuals to express their opinion.

The ACLU letter, dated on Tuesday, January 24, 2012, alleges OWSM members were threatened with trespass and instructed to leave the site after sunset because of safety concerns.

In the ACLU letter, the foundation states, “there is evidence to suggest that the county is singling out the Occupy protesters for harassment based on the content of their speech.”

The ACLU letter states that “vague safety concerns” were used “in justifying statements that protesters must leave at night.” It further states that, “No government official has given any basis for the statement that the safety of the protesters, the drivers, or the general public is at risk.”

A response letter from Deputy Corporation Counsel Moana M. Lutey states, “It is my understanding that the protestors leave of their own volition and not as a result of any threats by the MPD. In fact, it would make sense to leave at nightfall because the two protest areas are not well lit at night.”

OWSM protester, Brady Townsend said members of the group spent months planning the event. He said, “We researched it thoroughly, and got permits for our marches, but were told after a long run-around we did not need one for the site itself as it is on public property.”

OWSM members say they had planned to maintain a visible presence on the site 24 hours a day for the week; however, when rented portable sanitary facilities arrived, they say Maui police officers “turned them away.”

Officials from the County Department of the Corporation Counsel said, “In terms of the portable toilet permit, this cannot be construed as an act of harassment by MPD. If a permit was denied, I do not know who would have denied it,” stated Lutey in the Jan. 25, 2012 response letter to the ACLU.

Lutey further stated, “There is no provision in the County Code for the issuance of a portable toilet permit. As a result, no county agency could have denied the permit.”

The group released two videos saying police actions contradict the county’s position. The videos are posted on the OWSM Facebook page at: http://tinyurl.com/MPD-Kihei1, and http://tinyurl.com/MPD-Kihei2.

Corporation Counsel states that none of the protesters have been arrested, cited, or threatened with arrest or citation for protesting at Monsanto. “Instead, the protesters have simply been asked to comply with the same rules that apply to sign wavers (i.e. maintaining a certain distance from intersections for traffic safety, do not stand in the middle of a divided highway, etc.),” Lutey stated.

A request for comment from Monsanto was granted with the following statement from the company’s Community Affairs Director, Paul Koehler, who said, “This is a legal and safety matter outside of our purview, so we respectfully defer to county and state authorities.”

The OWSM group has plans to continue the demonstration as planned through Sunday, January 29, 2012, concluding with a dusk vigil. It is unclear if the event will run into the evening.


GMOs Uber Alles

SUBHEAD: Is there any hope for a non-genetically modified future in anywhere in this world?  

By Mat McDermott on 28 January 2012 for TreeHugger - 

\Image above: GMO canola (rapeseed) cultivation in New South Wales, Australia. From original article. For commentary see also (http://www.flickr.com/photos/26085795@N02/6193178809/).
In the past few days a number of interesting articles have been circulating, all discussing genetically modified crops and starkly different versions of the future of food. One one hand we have the state of affairs in the US. On the other we have the future Bill Gates would like to manifest in Africa, all in the supremely laudable goal of reducing poverty and hunger, which looks an awful like the current situation in America.

It's not a pretty picture, for people, for farmers, for the planet.

First, in an excellent and frankly a bit depressing article for Mother Jones, Tom Philpott says that agriculture in the US is at a crossroads.

We (in the form of the USDA) say yes to Dow Chemical and Monsanto and their "herbicide-drenched" version of intensive agriculture. Or, if introduction of a new GM corn variety designed to be resistant to herbicide-resistant weeds can be stopped, "farming in the US heartland can be pushed toward a model based on biodiversity over monocropping, farmer skill in place of brute chemicals, and health food instead of industrial commodities.

This new GM corn variety is a joint project between Dow and Monsanto, containing resistance to different varieties of herbicide. It's hoped it will overcome this resistance by dousing crops with two different herbicides, each targeting weeds that are resistant to the other, and the corn being resistant to both. I specifically use the word 'hope' because the hope of Dow and Monsanto is that they will be able to stay one step ahead of the superweeds they hope don't develop, as plants develop resistance to high doses of herbicide.

I'll leave it to Philpott and his eloquent exposition of why, ultimately, this hope is likely to result in hopelessness. So read it all at the link above.

Second, Environmental Health News highlights the failed hope of GM crop developers: That these proprietary crops will stay where they are planted and not somehow spread beyond the fields they are planted.

Such spread has been documented for a while, but this latest is some pretty stark detail:
Throughout North Dakota, little yellow flowers dot thousands of miles of roadsides. These canola plants, found along most major trucking routes, look harmless. But they are fueling a controversy: They prove that large numbers of genetically modified plants have escaped from farm fields and are now growing wild. About 80 percent of canola growing along roadsides in North Dakota contains genes that have been modified to make the plants resistant to common weed-killers.
I'll state it again: 80% of canola growing along North Dakota roadways actually contains genetically modified genes. Eighty percent. It was hoped this wouldn't happen.

That's a snapshot of where we are in the US. And it's where Bill Gates hopes Africa will head, bringing us to the third point.

We've covered the Gates vision of African agriculture before, so suffice it to say that Gates, invested in Monsanto, supports a high-tech vision of agriculture, rather than the low-tech, affordable, diverse, climate-resistant, and just-as-productive vision supported explicitly by food activists, and less-vocally but essentially by the UN as well.

Gates told the AP (in the latter's summation), that "he finds it ironic that most people who oppose genetic engineering in plant breeding live in rich nations that he believes are responsible for global climate change that will lead to more starvation and malnutrition for the poor. Resistance to new technology is 'again hurting the people who nothing to do with climate change happening,' Gates said."

That "most people" who oppose GM crops live in rich nations is a dubious assumption at best. In fact, some of the most vocal critics of GM crops come from the Global South.

GM Watch has just gone into more detail on this point, that people in developing nations want genetically modified crops.
In 1998, African scientists at a United Nations conference strongly objected to Monsanto’s promotional GE campaign that used photos of starving African children under the headline "Let the Harvest Begin." The scientists, who represented many of the nations affected by poverty and hunger, said gene technologies would undermine the nations’ capacities to feed themselves by destroying established diversity, local knowledge and sustainable agricultural systems.
Developing nations also object to seed patents, which give biotech firms the power to criminalize the age-old practice of seed-saving as "patent infringement." Thousands of U.S. farmers have been forced to pay Monsanto tens of millions of dollars in damages for the "crime" of saving seed. Loss of the right to save seed through the introduction of patented GE crops could prove disastrous for the 1.4 billion farmers in developing nations who depend on farm-saved seed.
My hope in all this is that both Africa and the United States steer a different course than the one advocated by Gates, Monsanto, Dow, and their ilk. I give Gates the benefit of the doubt in regards to motivation. His desire to reduce poverty, hunger, disease is no doubt genuine. But, like his absurd statements on climate change and renewable energy, his focus on high-tech agriculture, and technological development in general—when clearly a less high-tech approach would be just as or even more effective—is just delusional. It's understandable, given Gates' background, but it's still delusional.

Part of that delusion is not realizing that for opposition to GM crops often doesn't stem from opposition to new technology at all. It's most often opposition to this specific technology, as well as genuine concern about corporate control of food through that technology..

Superferry U-Turn?

SOURCE: Dick Mayer (dickmayer@earthlink.net) SUBHEAD: The Navy has obtained the two Superferrys. One of them will be headed back to the Pacific. By Robert McCabe on 27 January 2012 for the Virgibian-Pilot - (http://hamptonroads.com/2012/01/superferries-parked-norfolk-now-belong-navy) Image above: U-Turn? No, the Alakai circles during sea trails after crossing Pacific to Hawaii in 2007. From (http://archives.starbulletin.com/2007/04/11/business/story02.html). The two Hawaiian superferries docked at Lamberts Point now belong to the Navy. The U.S. Department of Transportation transferred the vessels to the Navy on Jan. 20, through an interagency agreement, Lt. Cmdr. Alana Garas, a Navy spokeswoman, said in an email. Congress gave the Navy the OK late last year to spend up to $35 million to acquire the ferries - the Alakai and the Huakai - from the Maritime Administration, part of the Department of Transportation. The Navy gave the administration $35 million as part of the deal, a spokeswoman for the agency confirmed Wednesday, adding that the transaction technically was not a sale. Built to move cars and people among the islands of Hawaii, the ferries can cruise at 35 knots. Between 320 and 340 feet long, they each could carry 836 passengers and 282 cars. The Navy used the Huakai in relief efforts after the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010. Congressional approval for the funding, included in a provision in the Defense Authorization Act of 2012, stated that the ferries would become Defense Department sealift vessels. Merchant mariners employed by a private company under contract to the Navy's Military Sealift Command are aboard each vessel, the Navy said. The ferries will remain at Lamberts Point until they can be moved into shipyards for conversion for Defense Department use, Meghan Patrick, a spokeswoman with the Sealift Command, said in an email. The ferries will eventually be renamed by the Secretary of the Navy, Patrick said. One of the ferries is headed for the Pacific. The Navy had been interested in the ferries since July 2009, after a bankruptcy judge ruled that their owner - Hawaii Superferry Inc. - could abandon them to lenders owed nearly $159 million. The Maritime Administration, which guaranteed the loans, moved them to Norfolk, where it bought the vessels at an auction on Sept. 30, 2010, on the steps of Norfolk's federal courthouse. In June, the Maritime Administration put the two vessels up for sale on an "as is, where is" basis. See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Superferry vessels go to Navy 12/23/11 .

Entrix tricks of the trade

SUBHEAD: Firm implicated in Keystone XL pipeline conflict of interest does PR for Big Oil in the Amazon.  

By David Hill on 27 January 2012 for TruthOut.org - 

Image above: The north Peruvian pipeline, transporting oil from deep in the Amazon to Peru's Pacific Coast. From original article (http://news.mongabay.com/2010/1121-hance_peru_oil.html).

The Keystone XL pipeline isn't the only controversial oil project that consultancy Cardno ENTRIX, caught up in a conflict-of-interest scandal over the pipeline's potential environmental impact, has been involved with.

Last year, I was having lunch in Buena Vista on the River Arabela, one of the remotest villages in the Peruvian Amazon. Upriver from there, various companies are exploring for or hoping to extract oil, and my host, a mestizo man who had only recently moved to the village, was listing some of those involved: Perenco, Repsol-YPF, ConocoPhillips and ... ENTRIX.

ENTRIX, which was acquired in June 2010 by Cardno Limited, has been working for Repsol-YPF in a huge region in northern Peru known by the country's oil industry as "Lot 39." According to Peru's state news agency, Repsol-YPF's Chairman Antonio Brufau recently met the Peruvian President Ollanta Humala to discuss the company's operations in that region.

ENTRIX's involvement in "Lot 39" has been confirmed by company representatives in its Peru office. One of those representatives is Roberto Leguia, who previously spent years as a Repsol-YPF employee.

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'ENTRIX has been working for Repsol in Lot 39 since 2009," Leguia informed me, "providing comprehensive logistical services regarding community relations."

But this region, one of the most biodiverse in South America, is home to indigenous people who have no regular contact with the "outside world." These people, the "pueblos autonomos" or "no contactados," as they're sometimes called, could be decimated by any form of contact with outsiders.

Is Cardno ENTRIX aware of that?

Or that one of Peru's leading indigenous organizations, AIDESEP, has appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to pressure Peru's government to ban companies from working in the area?

Or that more than 50 NGOs, including Survival International, Amazon Watch and Save America's Forests, have written to the companies urging them to withdraw?

Or that ConocoPhillips, Repsol-YPF's partner in "Lot 39." announced at its annual general meeting in May last year that it would withdraw, a move hailed by Amazon Watch as "a decision for isolated people's rights"?

The Director of Cardno ENTRIX's Latin American operations, Edgar Uribe, did not respond to any of these questions.
See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: US backed Keystone XL EIS Conflict 10/7/11


Myth of the Machine

SUBHEAD: The freedom represented by the car moving down the open road is a pathetic illusion. By John Michael Greer on 25 January 2012 for Archdruid Report - (http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2012/01/myth-of-machine.html) Image above: A slot-car heads down the long and lonely road. From (http://www.slotforum.com/forums/blog/ferrari1950/index.php). The strategy discussed in last week’s post—that of walking away from energy-intensive lifestyles before the waning of the age of abundant energy brings them grinding to a halt—is a viable response to the crisis of our age, but it’s also a great way to poke a stick at some of the most deeply entrenched of the modern world’s dysfunctional habits of thinking. Suggest it in public, for example, and you’ll very quickly learn why all that talk about saving the planet has turned out to be empty air: everyone’s quite willing to watch someone else make sacrifices for the good of the biosphere, but ask them to make sacrifices themselves and you’ll see just how far their love of the planet extends. In honor of the ongoing failure of global climate talks, let’s call the resulting dance the Copenhagen cha-cha—one step forward, three steps back, run in a circle making squawking noises, and then point the finger of blame at somebody else on the dance floor. Over the years to come, you can expect to see that number done on a scale that would make the ghost of Busby Berkeley turn green with envy. Yet there’s more going on here than simple hypocrisy. To make sense of the reasons why so many people who know perfectly well that their own lifestyles are dragging the world to ruin still can’t bear the thought of living any other way, it’s going to be necessary to explore some of the murkiest crawlspaces of the modern mind. We can start, once again, with the automobile. I suggested last week that the private auto is simply one way to get people and light cargoes from one place to another. Strictly speaking, that’s true, but it’s true in much the same sense that sex is simply one way to distribute the adult population among the supply of available bedrooms. Especially but not only in America, the car has been loaded down with so much in the way of powerful cultural fantasies and emotional drives that it’s almost impossible to talk about it in purely practical terms. I dislike cars, and not just on principle—chalk it up, maybe, to a family habit of long pointless Sunday drives with the smoke from my father’s cheap cigarettes pooling like a miasma in the back seat—and I’ve never owned one, or had a driver’s license. I’ve still felt, while catching a ride with friends to some Druid gathering or the like, the lure of the open highway that plays so huge a role in America’s collective psyche. That’s a major theme in our national character that I suspect many people elsewhere in the world simply don’t get. The vast majority of white Americans are descended from people who turned their backs on the static ways of the Old World to chase the dream of a better life on the other side of the ocean, and that pattern of seeking a new life elsewhere has repeated far more often than not with each generation. One of the many factors that make white Americans so clueless about nonwhite Americans, in turn, is that that experience isn’t shared with the other peoples of this nation. For us, that first journey beyond limitations has always defined the American experience, but for African-Americans, their encounter with this continent was a bitter exile into bondage; for the Hispanic population this side of the Rio Grande, the defining experience was dispossession—white Americans like to forget that the southwestern quarter of our country used to be the northern half of Mexico, before we stole it from them at gunpoint—and for the first inhabitants of this continent, it was not merely dispossession but very nearly annihilation. A road leading into the far distance means something very different to the descendants of pioneers on the Oregon Trail than it does to the descendants of those who survived the Trail of Tears. Still, even among white Americans, the dream of freedom somewhere on the far side of the horizon could at least theoretically have expressed itself in many different ways. It so happens that nowadays, at least, it almost always expresses itself through the automobile. This is why Americans cling to their cars with such frantic intensity, and why Republican politicians—always a better barometer of the American mass psyche than their Democrat rivals—so reflexively treat any alternative to the private car as a threat to America’s freedom. On any rational level, of course, that’s the most vacuous sort of hogwash, but on a nonrational level—on the level of collective passions and mass fantasies where most human motivation takes shape—it’s a potent reality. If freedom consists of being able to turn the key, put the pedal to the metal, and go zooming off to a new life somewhere else, a future of buses and trains lumbering along fixed routes with somebody else driving is a future where freedom no longer exists, and a future in which nothing speeds along on wheels—in which life plods along at a walking pace—doesn’t bear thinking about at all. The cultural processes that condensed the experience of a people into the dream of a perpetual quest to catch the receding horizon, and then bound that dream into a talisman perched on four rubber tires, are hard to discuss in any meaningful way without using words like "spell" and "enchantment." Part of the magic involved, to be sure, was the work of the sorcerers of Madison Avenue, who flogged the dream into a bloody pulp in order to sell yet another round of otherwise uninteresting products, but there’s more than that to the misplaced concreteness that confuses freedom with a machine. Glance over at a different technology and the same misplaced concreteness appears in even sharper relief. The technology I have in mind here is television. I don’t own one of those, either; I grew up watching TV, of course, like everyone else in my generation, but got heartily bored with it in my teen years and haven’t had one in the house in my adult life. Mention this to most Americans, though, and the reaction you’ll get is considerably more violent than the one you get if you admit that you don’t use a car. There’s a defensive quality to it, the sort of brittle edge you only get when the mere fact that you don’t share somebody’s habit flicks them on the raw. If you’ve ever walked past a suburban neighborhood at night when some much-ballyhooed show was on, and seen the blue light flickering in perfect sync in the windows of house after house, you might have caught some sense of the reason why. If the automobile is America’s talisman of freedom, the television is its talisman of community, of participation in a world of shared activities and shared meanings. Notice how often casual talk in a social setting veers at once in the direction of something that was on the television, or how hard it is to find a tavern these days that doesn’t have half a dozen big television screens blaring inanities from all sides. We stare at the screens, because that makes it easier not to notice the world around us, or each other. For most Americans, television has come to represent the experience of collective participation, and yet the flickering lights in the suburban windows serve as a reminder that few activities are more solitary or more isolating. In precisely the same way, the freedom represented by the car moving down the open road is a pathetic illusion. From the immense government programs that build and maintain those open roads, through the gargantuan corporate systems that produce the cars, to the sprawling global network of oilfields, pipelines, refineries, and the rest of the colossal system that transforms fossil hydrocarbons into the gas that keeps the car going, there are few human activities on Earth that depend more completely on the vast and faceless bureaucracies that most Americans think they despise. Isolation packaged as participation, dependence packaged as freedom: there’s much to be learned here about the power of thaumaturgy to twist the meanings of things—but I want to go one step further here. Americans by and large accept an extraordinary degree of dependence on a machine—the automobile—in order to invest that machine with the feelings and dreams that cluster around the concept of freedom. We accept an extraordinary degree of dependence on another machine—the television—in order to give that machine the emotional charge that other societies give to participation in collective meanings and activities. Sort through any of the narratives that play a central role in contemporary American culture, and you’ll find a machine at the center of each one. Thus it’s absolutely predictable that when Americans try to think about finding some way out from between the narrowing walls closing in on our future, nearly everything they come up has some kind of machine at its heart. A solar panel, a wind turbine, an electric car, a thorium reactor, a supercomputer, a flying saucer or a nuclear bomb, take your pick, but it’s got to be based on a machine. A good many years ago, Lewis Mumford wrote two hefty volumes under the joint title The Myth of the Machine. It’s vintage Mumford and thus by definition well worth reading, but it’s also very much a work of its time, a well-aimed blast against the superlative technological efficiency and utter ethical failure of America’s pursuit of the Vietnam war. Since I first read it, I’ve wished that Mumford could have found time to pursue the promise of the title in a good deal more depth. There is indeed a myth of the machine in the strict sense of that much-abused word "myth," and I’ve come to see the extraordinary fixation on that myth as one of the major barriers in the way of a viable response to the crisis of our time. Let’s start with the basics. What is a machine? There are plenty of ways to answer that deceptively simple question, but I’m going to propose a provocative one. It requires a bit of background, though, and so I’m going to have to approach it in a slightly roundabout way. As human beings our experiences fall into two broad categories. One of these comprises what we might as well call the outer world—the world we experience in the form of sensations perceived by the five senses. The other comprises what we might correspondingly call the inner world—the world we experience in the form of thoughts and feelings perceived directly by the mind. Those two worlds overlap in the body, which we can explore as a sensory object but which we can also perceive directly as a locus of thoughts and feelings. Outside that overlap, for each of us, those two worlds are distinct; we can’t perceive our own personality, for example, as a sensory object, or experience directly what’s going on in the inner lives of the other beings we encounter. Developmental psychologists noticed a long time ago that the process of growing up involves a curious double movement in the way each of us experiences these two worlds. It takes the infant a great deal of time and exploration to figure out the difference between the inner and outer worlds and sort out what belongs on which side of the boundary. It then takes the child quite a bit more time and experience to realize that both worlds exist on both sides of the boundary—that he or she is an object in the outer world of others as well as the subject of the inner life of his or her own, and that others have their own inner lives. Arriving at this realization is one of the core things that’s meant by the word "maturity," and entire worlds of human experience are closed to those who refuse it. Everything we do as mature human beings thus falls along a continuum between what philosopher Martin Buber called "I-It" and "I-Thou" relationships—less obscurely, between those interactions in which the individual can simply deal with other things as objects, and those in which he or she must deal with other beings as subjects with their own inner lives and their own capacities for interpretation and choice. Getting stuck in the sort of useless binary that treats the spectrum as a total opposition and labels its ends "evil" and "good" respectively is as useless a move as it is inevitably popular, since the universe of human experience embraces the whole spectrum, and it’s entirely possible to fall into absurdity in either direction—on the one hand, for example, by treating other human beings as objects, and getting blindsided by their responses to that sort of treatment; on the other, by convincing yourself that you can ignore the laws of nature by applying to the cosmos the sort of means that induce changes in the behavior of a human subject. The cosmos may well be a subject—there’s a long and by no means unsophisticated philosophical tradition of seeing it in such terms—but the chance that it will respond favorably to your wheedling are no better than your chances of responding to the desires of any one of the dust mites living on your skin at this moment. A machine, though, can never be a subject. Machines imitate the actions of persons, but they have no subjectivity, no inner world; they’re always and only objects, and so the only relationship you can have with them is an I-It relationship. That wouldn’t be a problem, except for the torrent of cheap abundant energy that transformed the world of human experience over the last three centuries. The breakthroughs that set that torrent in motion were precisely methods of using fossil carbon of various kinds to power machines. Before then, power consisted almost entirely in the ability to express the will of the individual through I-Thou relationships—the human relationship of monarch to subject, general to soldier, lord to vassal, and the like were quite simply what power meant. With the coming of the industrial age, that equation changed. Power exerted through a machine is defined purely by I-It relationships, and that’s become the modern definition of power. I suspect that, as much as greatly improved technologies of killing, had a great deal to do with the extraordinary scale of mass murder in the 19th and 20th centuries. Tamerlane may have had his soldiers exterminate the whole population of a city now and then, but the methodical annihilation of entire peoples by national governments as an ordinary element of peacetime policy was, if not new, then at least unusual in the scale and the casualness with which it has been applied. That’s a very specific effect; there are many broader ones. One of those is the democratization, at least in the industrial world, of the experience of domination. A modern American climbing into the driver’s seat of a large SUV has more sheer physical energy under his direct control than your average Southern plantation owner had before the Civil War. Talk of "energy slaves" isn’t simply a metaphor; the one difference between power exerted by dominating machines and power exerted by dominating human slaves is again that the machines don’t have an inner life; they won’t slack off when the overseer isn’t looking, head north on the Underground Railroad, or join Nat Turner’s rebellion and cut your throat some fine Virginia night. So the role played by machines in the modern industrial world, in large part, is as the primary focus for the very common human craving for power. The fact that the appearance of power is purchased at the cost of total dependence simply makes the irony that much richer; people nowadays cling to their autos and their televisions all the harder because they know perfectly well that the sensation of power as the engine roars is an illusion, and that a community that goes away when you change the channel doesn’t actually meet their needs for participation. Take a hard look at any other technology that has a central role in contemporary culture, and you’ll find the same nexus between an illusion of power, a reality of dependence—and a large and increasing cost. How that nexus might be unraveled in the twilight of the industrial age will be the subject of next week’s post. .