Corporate Tax Dodging

SUBHEAD: More than 25 of America's major corporations pay their CEO's more than companies pay in federal taxes.  

By Sarah Anderson on 31 August 2011 for Institute for Policy Studies -  
(http://www.ips-dc.org/reports/executive_excess_2011_the_massive_ceo_rewards_for_tax_dodging)


Image above: Negative 15.8% Tax Rate not low enough for General Electric. It asks for amnesty. From (http://www.ctj.org/taxjusticedigest/archive/2011/07/negative_158_tax_rate_not_low.php).


Guns don't kill people, the old saw goes. People do.

By the same token, corporations don't dodge taxes. People do. The people who run corporations. And these people — America's CEOs — are reaping awesomely lavish rewards for the tax dodging they have their corporations do.

In fact, corporate tax dodging has gone so out of control that 25 major U.S. corporations last year paid their chief executives more than they paid Uncle Sam in federal income taxes.

This year's Institute for Policy Studies Executive Excess report, our 18th annual, explores the intersection between CEO pay and aggressive corporate tax dodging.

We researched the 100 U.S. corporations that shelled out the most last year in CEO compensation. At 25 of these corporate giants, we found, the bill for chief executive compensation actually ran higher than the company's entire federal corporate income tax bill.

Corporate outlays for CEO compensation — despite the lingering Great Recession — are rising. Employment levels have barely rebounded from their recessionary lows. Top executive pay levels, by contrast, have rebounded nearly all the way back from their pre-recession levels.

This contrast shows up starkly in the 2010 ratio between average worker and average CEO compensation. In 2009, we calculate, major corporate CEOs took home 263 times the pay of America's average workers. Last year, this gap leaped to 325-to-1.

Among the nation's top firms, the S&P 500, CEO pay last year averaged $10,762,304, up 27.8 percent over 2009. Average worker pay in 2010? That finished up at $33,121, up just 3.3 percent over the year before.

What are America's CEOs doing to deserve their latest bountiful rewards? We have no evidence that CEOs are fashioning, with their executive leadership, more effective and efficient enterprises. On the other hand, ample evidence suggests that CEOs and their corporations are expending considerably more energy on avoiding taxes than perhaps ever before — at a time when the federal government desperately needs more revenue to maintain basic services for the American people. This disinvestment also undermines the infrastructure and services that small and large businesses also depend upon.

Investigative journalists and tax research organizations have been documenting how U.S.-based global companies are aggressively shearing — and even totally eliminating — their federal income tax obligations. This past March, for instance, The New York Times traced the steps General Electric has taken to avoid U.S. corporate taxes for the last five years. Citizens for Tax Justice, as part of a forthcoming study on tax avoidance among the Fortune 500, has identified 12 corporations that have paid an effective rate of negative 1.5 percent on $171 billion in profits.
 
How do corporations avoid taxes?
In our analysis of companies that last year paid their CEOs more than Uncle Sam, the companies' low tax bills — or large refunds — could not be explained by low profit rates. A large majority of the 25 companies on our list reported high profits in 2010. The low IRS bills these companies faced reflected tax avoidance pure and simple.

Our 25 hyperactive tax-dodging corporations employed a variety of avoidance techniques. Not all of these techniques are nefarious. Some corporate tax breaks can have redeeming social value. Incentives that encourage our economic transition to a green energy economy offer one example of these beneficial breaks. But such incentives as these play only a minor role. The lion's share of tax breaks reward corporate behaviors — from "offshoring" to accelerated depreciation — that are of questionable value to society, especially over the long term.

Ironically, and tellingly, corporations can even lower their tax bills by overcompensating their executives. The higher CEO paychecks soar, the more corporations can deduct off their taxes.

No tax-dodging strategy over recent years has filled U.S. corporate coffers more rapidly than the offshoring of corporate activity to tax havens in low- or no-tax jurisdictions. Eighteen of the 25 firms highlighted in this study operate subsidiaries in offshore tax haven jurisdictions. The firms, all combined, had 556 tax haven subsidiaries last year.

Tax havens are costing the federal treasury, by one estimate, $100 billion a year. These havens are speeding the transfer of wealth out of local communities and the global south into the bank accounts of the planet's wealthiest and most powerful. Tax havens, or more accurately "secrecy jurisdictions," can also facilitate criminal activity, from drug money laundering to the financing of terrorist networks.

How do tax havens work? One common corporate accounting technique, "transfer pricing," helps corporations shift profits offshore. Technology and drug companies regularly open shell companies — in tax havens — that hold their intellectual property rights. They then charge their U.S.-based operations inflated amounts for the use of these rights. These inflated costs get deducted off U.S. taxes. The overseas tax haven profits go un- or lightly taxed. Adding insult to injury, a coalition of corporate tax dodgers is now asking Congress to reward their tax avoidance with a deeply discounted five percent tax rate if they bring these funds back home where many of them started.

This offshore tax gaming has spawned a massive global tax avoidance industry, with teams of lawyers and accountants who add nothing to market efficiency or product development. This "shadow" banking industry played a key role in the 2008 financial crisis. The "shadow" system's reckless financial maneuvering operated through layers of opaque offshore tax havens. The two biggest bank recipients of U.S. taxpayer bailouts — Citigroup and Bank of America — both just happen to be tax haven-happy. Citigroup operates 427 subsidiaries in tax havens, the Bank of America 115.

Accounting games like "transfer pricing" have sent the corporate share of federal revenues plummeting. In 1945, U.S. corporate income taxes added up to 35 percent of all federal government revenue. This year, corporate income taxes will make up just 9 percent of federal receipts. In 1952, the year Republican President Dwight Eisenhower was elected, the effective income tax rate for corporations was 52.8 percent. Last year it was just 10.5 percent.
 
Proposals to rein in tax dodging and excessive pay
Tax-dodging corporations argue they are breaking no laws. They are just, the argument goes, operating "under the rules that Congress has established." They are indeed. But massive corporate outlays for lobbying and campaign contributions shape those rules. The 25 firms highlighted in this study spent a combined total of more than $150 million on lobbying and campaign contributions last year.

All the companies highlighted in this report benefit enormously from their institutional presence in the United States. They utilize our taxpayer-funded infrastructure for transportation. They tap into government-sponsored research and subsidies for technological innovation. They expect the U.S. law enforcement and judicial systems to protect their intellectual and physical property. And they rely on the U.S. military to defend their assets abroad.

U.S. corporations also benefit from the public education of their workforces. In fact, 16 of the 25 CEOs included in this study received at least a portion of their post-secondary education in taxpayer-supported public universities. Yet these same corporations remain content to let others pay the bills.

We have, in short, a corporate tax system today that works for top executives — and no one else.

In this year's edition of our Executive Pay Reform Scorecard, we highlight the many efforts underway to change the rules that are contributing to executive pay excess. These include efforts to rigorously implement the executive pay provisions in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, as well as more far-reaching proposals that would use tax and procurement policies to discourage runaway pay.

Read the full report, Executive Excess 2011: The Massive CEO Rewards for Tax Dodging.
Take Action!
Sign a petition to Congress demanding the passage of the Stop Corporate Tax Haven Abuse Act.


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GOP Speed Dating

SUBHEAD: A romantic guide to the Republican suitors of the 2012 presidential race. By Margaret Carlson on 30 August 2011 for Bloomberg News - (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-08-31/a-romantic-guide-to-2012-republican-suitors-margaret-carlson.html) Image above: GOP Candidates at the first debate of 2012 race. From (http://www.deadline.com/tag/2012-gop-presidential-candidates). The Republican Party has been speed dating, racing through presidential prospects like a Hollywood starlet working her way through leading men. The fickleness suggests a party that doesn’t know whether its Tea Party heart or its establishment head should prevail in 2012. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was next in line, which is usually the right place to be in a Republican nomination contest. He checks some important boxes -- successful businessman, former governor -- and his conversion to conservative positions occurred far enough in the past that the phrase “flip-flop” no longer shows up in every story about him. He’s against health-care reform, though still dogged by the fact that he once was for it. Trouble is, the base just can’t fall in love with the guy. To many evangelicals, the Mormon Romney belongs to a religious cult. To others, he’s a stiff -- and his open collar and un- gelled hair, newly responsive to the wind, don’t camouflage that fact. Romney has the demeanor of someone for whom every date is the first, occasioning stilted conversation and a desire to please. Eager to fit in, he’ll impulsively call your father “Dad” way before it’s appropriate. No Passing Fancy The party’s reluctance to embrace its putative front-runner has provided plenty of opportunity for political infatuation. The latest heartthrob is Texas Governor Rick Perry. A week after entering the race, Perry shot to a 29-to-17 lead over Romney in the Gallup Poll. Perry’s being treated by George Will, William Kristol and other prominent conservatives as if he’s more than a passing fancy. Yet evidence from the past six months suggests that Republican love burns brightly and fades quickly. There was that spring fling with Donald Trump, for example. After he riled a crowd of conservative activists in Washington in February, the Manhattan huckster with an ego the size of the Taj Mahal (Las Vegas version) was eagerly embraced by the Republican base. Trump required more flip-flops than Romney to win them over -- suddenly finding God and guns while forsaking abortion rights and President Barack Obama, whose American birth he came to doubt publicly. By April, Trump was in first place in a Public Policy Polling survey, clocking in at 26 percent to Romney’s 15 percent. Trump was a distant memory by the time Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann burst on the scene. While Sarah Palin played hard to get, Bachmann jumped into the race with both heels, winning plaudits for her performance at a New Hampshire debate. Feisty, pretty, happy to let the U.S. default on its debt, she climbed from 6 percent to 14 percent in a month. By Aug. 13, the party activists who flock to the Iowa Straw Poll were sufficiently in love to give Bachmann a winning 29 percent of the vote in a eight-candidate field, knocking out Bachmann’s home-state competition, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Bachmann Upstaged Now Bachmann looks like a summer romance. Yesterday’s sweetheart can barely turn a Republican head, even with a promise of $2-per-gallon gasoline. At the Black Hawk County Republican dinner, held in Bachmann’s birthplace, Waterloo, Iowa, on Aug. 14, Perry upstaged her. While Bachmann was cocooned outside in a rock-star bus, her staff was inside adjusting the lighting to suit her cable-TV standards. Perry, meanwhile, worked every table, hugged every woman, slapped every back. After that, he still found time to clean his plate and her clock. Perry out-Bachmanned Bachmann. He’s so big, so craggy, so Texas; he doesn’t just like guns, he packs heat. (He reportedly killed a coyote while jogging, though the details are sketchy.) If Bachmann plays to the base, Perry channels it. He wouldn’t just vote against raising the debt ceiling, as she did. He threatens bodily harm to Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and calls him “almost treasonous.” He is as radical as Bachmann, calling climate change a “hoax” and Social Security a “Ponzi scheme.” When he calls the nation’s capital a “seedy place,” he manages to sound folksy. Not Morman Is Perry another one-night stand? He’s a step closer to what the party needs -- a candidate who can excite the base (which powered the Republican win in the 2010 midterm election) without scaring the horses. His mix of executive experience, pro-business absolutism and public Christianity (translation: he’s not a Mormon) has mostly quieted Republican pleas for a white knight. An Associated Press-GfK poll released last week found that about two-thirds of Republicans and Republican- leaning independents are now pleased with the party’s presidential field, compared with just half in June. There are aspects of Perry’s record that don’t rock the Republican base. He’s insufficiently agitated by homosexuality and, having built his career in a state that is more than one- third Hispanic, he’s downright soft on immigration. Romney fired an Anglo shot across Perry’s bow last week, pointing out that as Massachusetts governor he had vetoed legislation allowing children of illegal immigrants to attend college at in-state tuition rates. Perry had supported similar legislation in Texas. As for the so-called Texas jobs miracle, Romney boasts that he has actually created jobs, unlike some unnamed competitor who has just “watched” them being created. For the rougher stuff, including Perry openly rewarding his campaign donors with state appointments and contracts, Romney’s probably hoping Bachmann will do the dirty work. Romney would be grateful for a bruising fight between Perry and Bachmann, as long as the Texas governor doesn’t make a tidy lunch of Romney after polishing off Bachmann for breakfast. Romney’s best hope is that the dashing cowboy proves himself too conservative for the party to bet on in the general election. In that case, Republicans will have to tear themselves away from the one they love, and settle for the one who can win. .

Giuliani 911 NY PD FD Fraud

SUBHEAD: MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell condemns Rudy Giuliani as an incompetent fraud. By Jack Merkinson on 31 August 2011 for Huffingto Post - (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/31/lawrence-odonnell-giuliani_n_943184.html) Image above: Lawrence O'Donnell criticizing Rudolph Giuliani on MSNBC. From original article.

Lawrence O'Donnell condemned Rudy Giuliani on his Tuesday show, calling the former New York mayor an "ego-driven" "fraud" and saying that his actions made 9/11 worse than it could have been.

O'Donnell was reacting to an interview Giuliani gave to the Associated Press in which he said that 9/11 was "so far beyond what we'd contemplated."

"it certainly was beyond anything Rudy Giuliani had contemplated," O'Donnell began. He accused Giuliani of making "the worst tactical decision in the history of the city of New York" by ordering the city's emergency command center to be placed in the World Trade Center over the objections of police and other officials.

O'Donnell said Giuliani had made this decision because the Twin Towers were closer to the City Hall press corps, and so would provide him with more photo opportunities. He also vehemently criticized the faulty fire department radios which failed to alert hundreds of firefighters that the towers were collapsing.

"Despite the painful truth of these details, which show Rudy Giuliani to have been an ego-driven incompetent in dealing with the threat of terrorism in New York City ... most of the media will continue to portray him as one of the heroes of 9/11," O'Donnell concluded. "Know this: there is no more fraudulent public image in our politics."

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Recession Forever

SUBHEAD: The New Normal is that long-term unemployed losing hold on middle class and American Dream. By Peter S. Goodman on 31 August 2011 for Huffington Post - (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/31/long-term-unemployed-middle-class_n_942734.html) Image above: Marginal trailer park with heavy security. From (http://www.thenetwerk.com/entertainment/2010/01/05/trailer-park-tuesday).

If anyone in America could plausibly claim immunity to the unemployment crisis, Joe Sangataldo figured to be the guy. He earned his wages at a county social services center in southern New Jersey, where he helped jobless welfare recipients try to find work. In a nation beset by relentless decline, here was a rare growth industry, one with staying power.

But last fall, confronted with what it portrayed as an otherwise-unbridgeable budget gap, Cumberland County laid off Sangataldo along with six of his co-workers. A career civil servant with a college degree, he suddenly found himself part of the very mass of people he had previously been paid to assist.

"I went from serving the people affected by the recession to being part of the recession," Sangataldo said. "I had to sit there and tell these people, "Well, I won't be here next week. They’re laying people off.' And they're like, 'Well, if they're laying you off, where's the hope for me?'"

Among economists and policymakers, the conversation with greatest currency today centers on fears of a double-dip recession -- whether we are in one, or on the verge. Two years after the official end of the downturn known as the Great Recession, economic growth is again weak, housing prices are still falling and manufacturing is retrenching. But among people like Sangataldo -- the 6.2 million million Americans who have been officially without work for six months and longer -- such talk sounds like an esoteric exercise, one with little connection to daily life.

In many such households, the conversation has changed little in recent years, centering on more basic questions: How do you pay bills without a paycheck? When does unemployment insurance run out? How many rejections can you endure on a job search before you give up?

"In my south Jersey experience," Sangataldo said, "it's been a recession forever."

That perspective speaks to what may be the greatest loss imposed by the recent years of economic downturn in the United States -- as paychecks have been traded for unemployment checks, homeownership has yielded foreclosure and upward mobility has given way to a resigned struggle to avoid slipping into poverty -- a loss of faith in the durability of American middle class life.

"American workers share a grim outlook on the future of the U.S. economy, regardless of their employment status, age or income level," concluded a survey of more than 800 workers interviewed last year by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. Some 56 percent of those surveyed said the economy had "undergone a fundamental and lasting change," according to the survey.

In the months since that survey, sources of gloom have only been amplified. A widely-watched gauge of consumer confidence this week dropped to its lowest level since the spring of 2009, when the economy was gripped by recession using any conventional definition.

In the immediate term, economists are focused on this Friday, when the latest monthly snapshot of the nation's job market will be released by the Labor Department, adding data to the debate over whether the unemployment rate -- 9.1 percent as of July -- is on its way down or, as many economists fear, could remain elevated for months or even years.

But whatever the data reveals -- whether the Labor Department counts a surprisingly large number of jobs or affirms a largely dismal picture seen in recent months -- economists are anticipating no alteration to the deeper trends in the American economy: a long-term stagnation of wages and a rapid erosion of working opportunities.

As recently as the middle of 2007, 63 percent of the working age population was employed, according to Labor Department data. As of July, that percentage had sunk to 58.1 percent. That swing -- a drop of nearly five percentage points in the so-called employment-to-population ratio over the course of about four years -- is the steepest such decline since the government began keeping track in 1948.

The only period that comes close was between early 1980 and late 1983, when the employment-to-population ratio fell by nearly three points, from 60 percent to about 57 percent. But that era, which featured a double-dip recession, coincided with the Federal Reserve's decision to lift interest rates sharply to choke off inflation, a step that crimps economic activity. Two years later, in early 1985, employment was back to 60 percent.

This time, the Fed has interest rates at near zero in an aggressive bid to catalyze economic growth, and still hiring is lean. Many economists view this as a deeply entrenched dynamic. Employers are reluctant to add payroll costs, cognizant that many consumers are too anxious and indebted to spend, thereby depriving the economy of the wages that might break the cycle. The result is a self-perpetuating cycle of diminishing fortunes.

Sangataldo, 53, stands as a reluctant representative of this trend.

The son of union workers, his father was a World War II veteran who painted traffic markers on streets for the city of Vineland, N.J., and his mother sewed clothing. They never made much money in his memory -- "We were nothing like the doctors' kids," he said -- but neither did they lack the basic pieces of middle class life.

"We had everything," Sangataldo said, recalling vacations to the Poconos and the Jersey Shore with his two brothers. His parents paid off the mortgage on the sprawling ranch house they bought with the savings from their jobs, and they always had two cars in their driveway. When Sangataldo graduated from high school in 1976, his father handed him the keys to his old Chevy sedan.

Neither of his parents made it past the eighth grade, Sangataldo said, but he secured Pell Grants to complete his studies in human resources at nearby Rowan University. He used that degree as a launching pad for a career helping welfare recipients and people with disabilities enter the workforce.

His earnings were always modest, beginning at $10 an hour as a trainee, climbing to $13 an hour as an employment director at a job training agency in Camden, and then to $14 an hour at a similar position in Philadelphia. His last job, with Cumberland County, paid about $19 an hour, he said.

His sense of confidence in the stability of that job stemmed directly from the instability that defined the lives of the clients coming to see him in droves. Before he was laid off, he was responsible for 300 case files -- mostly single people drawing $140 a month in welfare benefits, plus food stamps. They were required to see him to keep their cash assistance flowing.

They entered a lobby in a county one-stop center, stepping into a crush of people lined up to apply for unemployment insurance. They took a seat at his grey cubicle, described their latest job applications and complained about the infrequency of their interviews. He advised them on how to proceed, directing some to complete GED programs; arranging for others to train to become truck drivers or nurse's aides. He knew that most would be lucky to even secure jobs at big box retailers that paid so little -- the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour -- that they would likely qualify for food stamps.

"I'd be honest and tell people the odds were not good, but if you give up and stop looking, you get nothing," Sangataldo said. "They need a base of support to keep their enthusiasm up. If people become complacent, it's even worse. They just crawl up in a hole and die."

What he did not realize was that soon he would enter that crush of people lining up for unemployment insurance. He would need words of encouragement to avoid succumbing to despair.

In the year since he lost his job, Sangataldo has applied for 20 or so government jobs in his field, without landing one. He has applied for two dozen jobs in whatever seems likely to generate a paycheck -- part-time work at a restaurant, manager positions at the International House of Pancakes and jobs at Denny's. On the rare occasion that he hears back at all, the message buried in the pro forma rejections seems clear, he said.

"I make too much," he said. "I'm too old. They want someone young, dumb and willing to work for nothing. I can't lie about having a bachelor's degree."

In surrounding Cumberland County, the unemployment rate now reaches 13.5 percent -- the sort of fact that can sap a person's desire to go out and look.

"I don't know where there's an economy that can support me," he said. "I don't buy any gas. I don't go anywhere."

Sangataldo lives with his mother and his brother, in the same house where he was reared. His mother is 91 now and suffering from kidney problems. He wonders what will happen if, as seems likely, she needs to be transferred to a nursing home. He is not sure how he will hang on to the house with only his unemployment check and his brother's wages from a restaurant job -- the job he took after being laid off as a car salesman.

Sangataldo's life now amounts to a crash course in a contemporary version of home economics: how to sustain yourself on a $407 per week unemployment check in place of a $600 paycheck. How to rely on coupons and the bargain bin of the local grocery store.

He imagines the consequences if his unemployment check runs out at the end the of year -- the outcome unless Congress extends emergency benefits -- and he is not sure how he will respond.

These are the thoughts never far from his mind as he sits in the house his parents bought through a lifetime of work and contemplates what his own life will be without the chance to work. He watches the news obsessively, absorbing talk of the debt crisis and elections.

He hears about the latest cuts to state and city budgets and he struggles to find the logic. So many people need help, and helping people is what he does, yet the system would rather hand him an unemployment check and have him stay home, where he can help no one -- not even himself -- rather than give him a paycheck and let him try to put people on the path to better days.

"I should be working on the solution to this," he said. "It's very frustrating."

And lately he hears the press chattering incessantly about the jobs program supposedly emanating from Washington, words that seem woefully late, he said.

"What do you do with all these people around here?" he asked. "Six months from now, they are going to be living in tents. And talking is nothing. Sooner or later, you're going to need some action."

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Theater-states & the Long Count

SUBHEAD: One reason the Maya survived is that they kept very strong ties to the natural world and their farming roots.

By Albert Bates on 28 August 2011 for Peak Surfer - 
 (http://peaksurfer.blogspot.com/2011/08/theater-states-and-long-count.html)

 
Image above: Artisits recreation of Mayan city state. From original article.

"We tend to characterize every civilization in terms of 'preclassic, classic, and postclassic', but we might do better to think of it as 'stable and expanding',” 'unstable', and 'shrinking and reconsolidating'. Preclassic Maya agriculture was exceedingly diverse, with agroforestry, household garden plots, rotational field crops, chinampas and aquaponic systems, and perhaps also novel farming techniques we have yet to learn about. So was the postclassic."

Here in the Mexican colonial city of Mérida, the Society for Ecological Restoration is having its Fourth World Conference. We find that a useful title, because in common parlance the Fourth World represents the indigenous peoples — those who have, so far, survived colonial genocide. Cities like this one were the military and cultural spaceport from which attacks by futuristic alien occupiers against ‘primitive’ populations were launched. — The Conquistadors’ final campaign against the Itza Maya island capital of Tayasal, near Tikal, was launched from here in 1696. As the vine and mildew-covered grand colonades with flaking plaster attest, this is also the way the spoils of war travelled their way back to Europe.
Understanding how the Maya survived and are still populous in this part of the world, speaking the same ancient languages, carries some important lessons for both ecological restorationists and collapseologists.

One reason the Maya survived, of course, is that they kept very strong ties to the natural world, never drifting very far from their farming roots and shamanic religions. Another is that even when engaged in urban professions and lifestyles, Mayan descendants are in a comfort zone that is bolstered by strong family ties and a 3000-year history, much of it involving city living.

The collapse of the Classic period, around 900 CE, is an active academic field, with many conflicting theories and a mountain of literature. While traveling here we absorbed the writings of Arthur Demarest, of Vanderbilt University, and his narrative easily lends itself for comparison to our current global situation.*

One of the terms Demarest uses to describe the Classic Maya period is a “theater-state.” The ruling elite, known as the K’uhul Ajaw, or Holy Lords, were relatively hands-off with respect to economics, social welfare and trade but devoted lots of resources to legitimizing their political and religious authority through monumental architecture, art, pageant, sports spectacles and warfare. This resource misallocation – taking away from the real needs of the populace, especially in times of stress – led to swelling of the elite class, enormous diversions to unproductive types of labor, depredations from unnecessary wars, resentment from disenfranchised youth who were relegated to mere javelin–fodder, and, of course, ecological decay — as previously elegant eco-agriculture microsystems (using 400-500 species of plants) were consolidated into monocultures and overproduced.
Sound familiar?

A basic question Demarest probes is why, in so many areas, Mayan leaders did not respond with effective corrective measures for the stresses generated by internal and external pressures they could not have failed to notice. We generally think of complex societies as problem-solving organizations, in which elaborate chains of central command and control “wire” a nation to meet its goals. Yet beginning around the Eighth Century, the Holy Lords were apparently out to lunch.

Demarest thinks the problem was structural. Since the elites of the most classic Maya kingdoms did not farm or manage production of goods, the “real” economy was decentralized to local community or family. The role of the Holy Lords was to manage a “false” economy that was derivative, its only marginal utility being that it gave their Kingdoms some sort of patriotic zeal or sense of exceptionalism. When these derivatives eventually began to unravel, the Holy Lords, like mechanics with a limited set of wrenches, did what they knew best — they intensified ritual activities, built taller and more ornate temples and expensive stages, props, and costumes, and scheduled more performance rituals, wars, and feasting. Contrary to earlier results, however, these measures only prolonged or intensified the problems, led to further disenchantment, which eventually brought about whatever cataclysm dethroned them.

Successive rounds of quantitative easing had diminishing returns. The “real” economy was suffering a century-long drought punctuated by severe droughts in CE 810, 860 and 910. The “false” economy tottered from a hefty reality dose.

Today the theater state is shown in high definition and 3-D, and it resembles in its own way the grand Berlin pageants of Albert Speer as much as the scenes from Apocalypto. Mad-Men have refined the manufacture of consent, to use Chomsky's phrase, to a fine science, and as in Classic Maya times, military recruitment is viewed as a fortunate outlet for the unemployed. Recruiters have never had it so easy. And the recent riots in London are a reminder of what can happen when a country brings its boys home too soon.

However, a “classic” period, signifying the peak of empire and also a peak in energy, productivity, and population in most cases, is never sustainable, because it is inherently unbalanced.
Demarest’s insight here is that we tend to characterize every civilization in terms of “preclassic, classic, and postclassic,” but we might do better to think of it as “stable and expanding,” “unstable,” and “shrinking and reconsolidating.” Preclassic Maya agriculture was exceedingly diverse, with agroforestry, household garden plots, rotational field crops, chinampas and aquaponic systems, and perhaps also novel farming techniques we have yet to learn about. So was the postclassic. We have only just recently begun to appreciate that the “slash and burn” found in many parts of the tropics was once a highly productive and ecologically sustainable biochar amendment system when practiced in the ancient ways.

The Mayan preclassic food system was only marginally regional. While trade and tribute brought in salt, chocolate, hardwoods, hard stone, luxuries, textiles, and non-perishable goods, transportation of corn or other staples was largely prohibitive from an energy efficiency standpoint. Moving corn on the back of a man 25 km requires the consumption of 16% of the caloric value of the load. Transport from 100 km would have cost a third of the load in expended caloric energy. Demarest wrote, “Such high transport costs might have been maintained by a few Mayan cities at their peak, but more generally Mayan subsistence economies and markets were probably based on an area of about 20 to 30 km — a day of travel from the major center and its periodic markets.”

Joseph Tainter’s famous 1988 analysis of civilizational collapses argues that what generally occurs when a civilization over-extends is not a complete disappearance but a rapid decline in complexity. Axiomatically, it can be said that the instability experienced at the peak of a culture is a function of over-complexity.

While this might be true of the Maya in some ways, in other respects that analysis fails to satisfy. While the theater state of the Holy Lords reached a peak complexity and then declined, a different type of state followed that increased in complexity over what had existed in the classic period. The end of the theater state led to the cessation of monumental architecture and the disappearance of high status exotic goods and ornaments, but good riddance.

At the same time, although at different times and speeds in different regions, there was a flowering and transformation to the new order. Extensive ecological, archaeological, and settlement pattern studies have found a resurgence of complex agricultural regimes that were well adapted to population levels with no indications of nutritional stress. When the curtains were drawn on the theater state, the health and welfare of the people improved. With the loss of simple monoculture and central authority and the diffusion of complex microfarming diversity and decentralized councils, the new order recaptured stability.

What followed in the postclassic period were a diffusion of distinctive new variants of the classic culture, with strange costumes, long hairstyles, experimentation with new legitimating ideologies, and unusual features in buildings, sculpture and ceramics (e.g.: ubiquitous serpents, brightly colored murals, and the psychedelic temple complex of Tulum).

The Maya that flourish in the Guatemalan highlands and Yucatán today are as populous and even more vigorous economically than they were in the classic theater state, but they do not generate anything like the art and architecture of their predecessors from 1000 years ago. They don’t need to.
Demarest observed, “For at least 6000 years, the hallmarks of the Western tradition have been linear concepts of time, monocultural agricultural systems, overproduction and exchange of surplus in full-market economies, technology-driven development, a long history of attempts to separate religious and political authority, and judgmental Gods concerned with individual, personal moral conduct.

As we learn from the Maya, none of these traits is universal, none of them was characteristic of classic Maya civilization, and none of them is critical to the fluorescence of high civilization.”
For the restoration ecologists here in Mérida, there is much to be seen and learned. The pre- and postclassic system of mimicking the diversity and dispersion of the forest allowed the Maya to maintain populations in the millions in the Yucatán for over 1500 years without destroying a rich but fragile tropical environment and biodiversity. They are still here —still engaged in that work. That offers hope for us all.

* Ancient Maya: the rise and fall of the rainforest civilization by Arthur Demarest, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
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Court affirms right to film cops

SUBHEAD: The First Circuit ruled that the officers are not protected from being recorded while performing duties. By Larry Geller on 27 August 2011 for Disappeared News - (http://www.disappearednews.com/2011/08/first-circuit-affirms-constitutional.html) Image above: Damon Tucker was brutalyl arrested for filming cops on Big Island. Here he is confronted by officer and filmed by Big Island Video News. See article below.
“The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles. Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting “the free discussion of governmental affairs.”
Big Island blogger Damon Tucker’s recent run-in with camera-shy cops has brought the national issue of whether ordinary citizens may photograph police in action right home to Hawaii.

But shouldn’t the police be aware of and follow the law? Police, in fact, are not great law-abiders themselves, it turns out. There are numerous incidents of police misconduct, improper arrests, lying, assaults, and more that can be uncovered in a few moment’s googling. Among them are several recent high-profile cases where either journalists or ordinary citizens were nabbed for doing nothing more than taking cellphone pictures of police on the public streets.

Citizen videos have proven crucial in cases such as the San Francisco BART police shooting of Oscar Grant on a train platform.

Tucker posted pictures of injuries he said he received as a result of alleged brutality at the hands of the Big Island police. Not only was he arrested, but his equipment was confiscated.

The article is at First Circuit Panel Says There’s a Clear Constitutional Right To Openly Record Cops.(The Agitator, 8/26/2011). I’ve included the ruling below for reader convenience. Of course, Hawaii is in the 9th Circuit, but the case is still significant, if not binding.

From the ruling, the incident resembled so many others around the country:

As he was walking past the Boston Common on the evening of October 1, 2007, Simon Glik caught sight of three police officers -- the individual defendants here -- arresting a young man. Glik heard another bystander say something to the effect of, "You are hurting him, stop." Concerned that the officers were employing excessive force to effect the arrest, Glik stopped roughly ten feet away and began recording video footage of the arrest on his cell phone.

After placing the suspect in handcuffs, one of the officers turned to Glik and said, "I think you have taken enough pictures." Glik replied, "I am recording this. I saw you punch him." An officer1 then approached Glik and asked if Glik's cell phone recorded audio. When Glik affirmed that he was recording audio, the officer placed him in handcuffs, arresting him for, inter alia, unlawful audio recording in violation of Massachusetts's wiretap statute. Glik was taken to the South Boston police station. In the course of booking, the police confiscated Glik's cell phone and a computer flash drive and held them as evidence.

The First Circuit ruled that the officers are not protected by qualified immunity. That may be significant in Tucker’s case as well, depending on what kind of legal action he may choose to take.

Video above: ACLU film on recording police brutality. From (http://youtu.be/lhd5_6DHV5s).
Hawaii Blogger arrested for filming cops By Stephanie Salazar on 10 August 2011 for Big Island Video News - (http://www.bigislandvideonews.com/2011/08/10/video-hawaii-blogger-filming-with-iphone-arrested-by-police) Big Island blogger Damon Tucker made statewide news headlines this week, claiming police brutality on the streets of his hometown Pahoa.

Tucker says he was arrested and roughed up by police Friday night in the old Puna village on Hawaii Island. He says it happened because he did not stop filming an incident from across the street when police told him to.

Police have confirmed that they were investigating an assault complaint at a Pahoa nightclub at the time.

Standing in the very spot where he says he filmed from on Friday night, Tucker details the moment he claims he was thrown to the ground and detained by police. Police arrested and charged Tucker for obstructing government operations, which Assistant Police Chief Henry Tavares says “is basically interfering with a police officer while they are trying to do their job.”

We met up with the visibly shaken Tucker in Pahoa on Tuesday, the day after newspapers and TV stations began to run the story. Tucker also posted these images on his blog, damontucker.com, illustrating what he says were the result of being “brutalized”.

Tucker said his camera and his iPhone were confiscated by police, and that his iPhone was run over. He has not seen the two items since.

Big Island Video News first ran into Damon Tucker shortly after we began publishing video on the internet in the summer of 2008. He was already operating the damontucker.comblog, which has offered a thorough – and at times controversial – documentation of life in Puna and beyond.

Tucker has always shied away from the term “journalist” often saying he is only a “guy with a blog” … and apparently its a popular one; within hours of the incident, the internet was buzzing with the news of Tucker’s version of events, sparking interest and support from first amendment defenders from across the country.

Just before we met with Tucker in the parking lot of Luquin’s, he was informed by police that he was to be served with another document. A nervous Tucker asked Barbara Lively, the legislative assistant to councilman Fred Blas, to be present as Tucker met with local law enforcement.

Tucker asked us to stress that police requested to meet after Tucker had already agreed to meet Big Islang Video News at the location.

Our camera rolled on the tense moment, and we kept rolling until the document was officially delivered to Tucker. As uneventful as the exchange may have been, it still left Tucker nerve-racked.

Police later confirmed that the paperwork merely contained a corrected case number.

In a statement given to media, assistant Chief Tavares said that “The Hawaii Police Department recognizes the media and the public have every right to photograph police activity in a public place from a safe distance.” But because the incident is under active investigation, the police can not make any additional statements about the incident.

Meanwhile, Tucker is pursuing his legal options, saying that its hard, now, to even drive by a police car in his own town.

Tucker’s case will be before district court on Sept. 8 at 1:30 p.m. in Hilo.

[Editors note: see original article for video of a followup confrontation of police with Tucker.] See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Police block public access 7/8/10 .

US promoting GMOs Worldwide

SOURCE: Brad Parsons (mauibrad@hotmail.com)
SUBHEAD: New WikiLeaks cables show US diplomats promote genetically engineered crops. Worldwide.

By Mike Ludwig on 25 August 2011 for TruthOut,org - 
(http://www.truth-out.org/new-wikileaks-cables-show-us-diplomats-promote-genetically-engineered-crops-worldwide/1314303978)


Image above: Monsanto's Roundup production facility in Antwerp, Belgium. From (http://hsimonis.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/production-planning-and-scheduling-for-monsanto).


Dozens of United States diplomatic cables released in the latest WikiLeaks dump on Wednesday reveal new details of the US effort to push foreign governments to approve genetically engineered (GE) crops and promote the worldwide interests of agribusiness giants like Monsanto and DuPont.

The cables further confirm previous Truthout reports on the diplomatic pressure the US has put on Spain and France, two countries with powerful anti-GE crop movements, to speed up their biotech approval process and quell anti-GE sentiment within the European Union (EU).

Several cables describe "biotechnology outreach programs" in countries across the globe, including African, Asian and South American countries where Western biotech agriculture had yet to gain a foothold. In some cables (such as this 2010 cable from Morocco) US diplomats ask the State Department for funds to send US biotech experts and trade industry representatives to target countries for discussions with high-profile politicians and agricultural officials.

Truthout recently reported on front groups supported by the US government, philanthropic foundations and companies like Monsanto that are working to introduce pro-biotechnology policy initiatives and GE crops in developing African countries, and several cables released this week confirm that American diplomats have promoted biotech agriculture to countries like Tunisia, South Africa and Mozambique.

Cables detail US efforts to influence the biotech policies of developed countries such as Egypt and Turkey, but France continues to stand out as a high-profile target.

In a 2007 cable, the US embassy in Paris reported on a meeting among US diplomats and representatives from Monsanto, DuPont and Dow-Agro-sciences. The companies were concerned about a movement of French farmers, who were vandalizing GE crop farms at the time, and suggested diplomatic angles for speeding up EU approvals of GE Crops.

In 2008 cable describing a "rancorous" debate within the French Parliament over proposed biotech legislation, Craig Stapleton, the former US ambassador to France under the Bush administration, included an update on MON-810, a Monsanto corn variety banned in France.

Stapleton wrote that French officials "expect retaliation via the World Trade Organization" for upholding the ban on MON-810 and stalling the French GE crop approval process. "There is nothing to be gained in France from delaying retaliation," Stapleton wrote.

Tough regulations and bans on GE crops can deal hefty blows to US exports. About 94 percent of soybeans, 72 percent of corn and 73 percent of the cotton grown in the US now use GE-tolerate herbicides like Monsanto's Roundup, according to the US Agriculture Department.

A 2007 cable, for example, reports that the French ban on MON-810 could cost the US $30 million to $50 million in exports.
In a 2007 cable obtained by Truthout in January, Stapleton threatened "moving to retaliate" against France for banning MON-810. Several other European countries, including Germany, Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria, have also placed bans on MON-810 in recent years. MON-810 is engineered to excrete the Bt toxin, which kills some insect pests.
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Katrina in New England

SUBHEAD: The convergence of climate change, energy scarcity, and failure of capital are more than the sum of their parts.

 By James Kunstler on 29 August 2011 for Kunstler.com -
  (http://kunstler.com/blog/2011/08/katrina-in-vermont.html)

 
Image above: Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette looks at a collapsed bridge on Route 9 in Woodford, Vt. on Aug. 28, 2011. From (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-08-29/vermont-s-covered-bridges-lost-as-irene-brings-worst-flooding-in-75-years.html).

The same creeping nausea that followed the CNN 'all clear' sign in New Orleans six years ago happened again yesterday. Anderson Cooper seemed a little peeved that the lights didn't go out in Manhattan, but then the remnants of Hurricane Irene stomped up the Hudson Valley and stalled a while and commenced to rip apart the Catskills, the eastern Adirondacks, the Mohawk and upper Hudson valleys, and then almost all of Vermont, not to mention New Hampshire and western Massachusetts, and I can't even tell you much about whatever's going on in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland this morning. Connecticut, Long Island, and Rhode Island are in there somewhere, and surely there's more than a few things out of place in North Carolina.

This is nowhere near Katrina's death toll of over 1800 souls, but the damage to scores of towns, businesses, houses, and basic civic armature is going to be very impressive as the news filters in later this week and the disaster is still very much ongoing Monday, even with the sun shining bright. Towns all over Vermont and New Hampshire are still drowning. The Hudson River is still on the rise. The Mohawk River is at a 500-year flood stage and is about to wipe the old city center of Schenectady, New York, off the map. Bridges, dams, and roads are gone over a region at least as big as the Gulf Coast splatter-trail of Katrina.
That story is still developing. A lot of people will not be able to get around for a long, long time, especially in Vermont and New Hampshire, where the rugged terrain only allows for a few major roads that go anywhere. Even the bridges that were not entirely washed away may have to be inspected before people are allowed to drive over them, and some of these bridges may be structurally shot even if they look superficially okay. There are a lot of them. If you live in a flat state, you may have no idea.
The next story is going to be the realization that there's no money to put it all back together the way it was. The states don't have the money. The federal government is obviously broke, and an awful lot of the individual households and businesses will turn out to not have any insurance coverage for this kind of disaster where it was water, not wind, that destroyed the property. I don't know what the score is insurance-wise along the mid-Atlantic beachfront towns - but remember, insurance companies were among the biggest dupes of the Big Bank mortgage-backed securities racket, and when the new claims are toted up they may find themselves in a bail-out line.
This is a warning to America that the converging catastrophes of climate change, energy scarcities, and failures of capital formation add up to more than the sum of their parts in their power to drive a complex society into a ditch - no matter what a moron like Rick Perry might say. But, of course, political ramifications will follow. There will be a lot of pissed-off people in the Northeast USA. Maybe they'll even start giving the grievance-bloated folk of Dixieland some competition in the politics of the bitter harvest.

 Oddly, the Siamese twin states of Vermont and New Hampshire are political polar opposites. Vermont, the land of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, and other squooshy culture tropes from the attic of Hippiedom, is about as Left-progressive as it gets. New Hampshire's license plate says, "Live Free or Die," and that same draconian mood defines the state's politics: hard Right. It's like a few counties of Georgia shook loose and drifted north somehow. My guess is that the political rage will be about equal on both fronts, as folks are left stranded, or homeless, or without a going business they thought they had only a day or so ago. And my further guess is that their mood will afford some insight into the extreme impotence, incompetence, and mendacity of both major political parties. As I've said before in this space, think of these times as not unlike the convulsive 1850s, preceding the worst crisis of our history.
Apart from the fact that the hurricane season is just gearing up, and that a procession of tropical storm blobs has commenced to pour out of West Africa, there is that other alternate universe of storms, brushfires, and fiascos called the fnancial system, which everybody sort of forgot about over the weekend. Well, it's ba-a-a-ck this morning, too, and the financial weather was deteriorating sharply last time I looked. You can stick a fork in the Euro Zone. Bank of America is panhandling for spare change like a dying wino as it whirls around the drain. Nobody knows what the shadow bets on all this action is, but you can bet on one thing for sure: the counterparties can't pay.
Oh, by the way, anybody remember that we had an earthquake here in the Northeast a few days before Irene rumbled in? Probably not, unless part of your building fell off. God's wrath, some might say, as we beat our path to a world made by hand.
[Editor's note: The Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant is an aging facility scheduled to close in 2012, but was not damaged or knocked off line during hurricane Irene. see (http://www.democracynow.org/2011/8/29/we_are_still_under_siege_vermont)]

See also:
 Ea O Ka Aina: Warning on Virginia Nuclear Plant 8/26/11 .

Kauai loses Kipu Falls

SUBHEAD: Administration bumbling and risk management misdirection take another beautiful spot away from public.

 By Andy Parx on 25 August 2011 for Parx News Network - 
(http://parxnewsdaily.blogspot.com/2011/08/parkyakarkus.html)


 
Image above: From View from top of Kipu Falls in Puhi with a crowd of visitors. From (http://angiemattwedding.com/beach.htm).

 It was only a matter of time and everyone knew it. So when the land gluttons Grove Farm announced they were putting up a gate and no trespassing signs at Kipu Falls after countless deaths over the decades- deaths of both locals and tourists, press reports notwithstanding- it wasn't unexpected. But what was, if not surprising at least gut-grabbing, was the fact that they had offered to turn the area over to the county for a park and the county turned them down due to "liability" according to at least half a dozen press reports.

What- or more to the point "who"- the words "the county" refers to isn't stated but one can only assume it was the administration of Mayor Bernard Carvalho who, without letting anyone know, gave up the chance to obtain an incredible asset for the people of Kaua`i. What's more it really isn't the administration's decision to make. The county charter makes it plain that the acquisition of property comes under the purview of the county council which apparently was not even asked since any communication would have had to have been placed on the council's agenda for any discussion to have taken place. Instead, as is typical of Carvalho's administration, the decision was made behind closed doors with no input from the public. "Liability" has been the cry of past administrations in rejecting donations of property.

The second access to Kaupea (Secret) beach was turned down by the Kusaka administration citing liability, although rumor has it that Carvalho has told people that he's working on getting it "donated" to the county. That's fifteen years of no access to the second beach there which often becomes inaccessible from the current county access during the winter. Liability can and should be able to be minimized and even eliminated, if we assume we actually have people with half a brain in the Parks and Recreation Department who can properly determine signage and other safety measures. Liability is related not to the inherent, natural dangers of an area but to the degree of negligence of the owner in the unique situation that is cited in a lawsuit.

The recent determination that the state was libel for the deaths of the tourist who fell off Wailua falls was not simply because the area is state property but because the signage was so poorly designed and placed that it apparently directed the woman off the cliff. What Carvalho is essentially saying is that there's no one in his administration competent enough to minimize the liability inherent in owning Kipu Falls.

 It's hard to say which is worse; the county turning down the potential gift of one of the most beautiful and popular spots on the island and one that attracts thousands of tourists every year or that they did it secretly without even asking the body that actually has the power to make that determination... much less asking the taxpayers and citizens who would have to bear any burden of any potential liability. It's not too late for this outrage to be overturned. If you're as pissed off as we are, contact your council at councilmembers@kauai.gov and tell them that you want them to at least look into if not accept Grove Farms offer to turn Kipu Falls over to the county.

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Rick Perry's unsanswered prayers

SUBHEAD: “I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God, and say - God: You’re going to have to fix this.” By Timothy Egan on 11 August 2011 for the New York Times - (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/11/rick-perrys-unanswered-prayers) Image above: Rick Perry prays with the faithful at Reliant Studium in Houston, Texas on 8/6/11 at massive evangelical gathering. From (http://www.ongo.com/v/1553824/-1/C2CC47E650EB78C3/perry-to-evangelicals-im-one-of-you).

A few months ago, with Texas aflame from more than 8,000 wildfires brought on by extreme drought, a man who hopes to be the next president took pen in hand and went to work:

“Now, therefore, I, Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, under the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Texas, do hereby proclaim the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas.”

Then the governor prayed, publicly and often. Alas, a rainless spring was followed by a rainless summer. July was the hottest month in recorded Texas history. Day after pitiless day, from Amarillo to Laredo, from Toadsuck to Twitty, folks were greeted by a hot, white bowl overhead, triple-digit temperatures, and a slow death on the land.

In the four months since Perry’s request for divine intervention, his state has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Nearly all of Texas is now in “extreme or exceptional” drought, as classified by federal meteorologists, the worst in Texas history.

Lakes have disappeared. Creeks are phantoms, the caked bottoms littered with rotting, dead fish. Farmers cannot coax a kernel of grain from ground that looks like the skin of an aging elephant.

Is this Rick Perry’s fault, a slap to a man who doesn’t believe that humans can alter the earth’s climate — God messin’ with Texas? No, of course not. God is too busy with the upcoming Cowboys football season and solving the problems that Tony Romo has reading a blitz.

But Perry’s tendency to use prayer as public policy demonstrates, in the midst of a truly painful, wide-ranging and potentially catastrophic crisis in the nation’s second most-populous state, how he would govern if he became president. Perry said in a speech in May, explaining how some of the nation’s most serious problems could be solved.

“I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God, and say, ‘God: You’re going to have to fix this,’”

That was a warm-up of sorts for his prayer-fest, 30,000 evangelicals in Houston’s Reliant Stadium on Saturday, August 6th, 2011.

[Editor's note: It was Perry's idea and was financed by the American Fam­ily As­sociation, a Tupelo, Miss.- based group that opposes abortion and gay rights and be­lieves that the First Amend­ment freedom of re­ligion applies only to Chris­tians.].

From this gathering came a very specific prayer for economic recovery. On the following Monday, the first day God could do anything about it, Wall Street suffered its worst one-day collapse since the 2008 crisis. The Dow sunk by 635 points.

Prayer can be meditative, healing, and humbling. It can also be magical thinking. Given how Perry has said he would govern by outsourcing to the supernatural, it’s worth asking if God is ignoring him.

Though Perry will not officially announce his candidacy until Saturday, he loomed large over the Republican debate Thursday night. With their denial of climate change, basic budget math, and the indisputable fact that most of the nation’s gains have gone overwhelmingly to a wealthy few in the last decade, the candidates form a Crazy Eight caucus. You could power a hay ride on their nutty ideas.

After the worst week of his presidency (and the weakest Oval Office speech since Gerald Ford unveiled buttons to whip inflation), the best thing Barack Obama has going for him is this Republican field. He still beats all of them in most polling match-ups.

Perry is supposed to be the savior. When he joins the campaign in the next few days, expect him to show off his boots; they are emblazoned with the slogan dating to the 1835 Texas Revolution: “Come and Take It.” He once explained the logo this way: “Come and take it — that’s what it’s all about.” This is not a man one would expect to show humility in prayer.

Perry revels in a muscular brand of ignorance (Rush Limbaugh is a personal hero), one that extends to the ever-fascinating history of the Lone Star State. Twice in the last two years he’s broached the subject of Texas seceding from the union.

“When we came into the nation in 1845 we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation,” says Perry in a 2009 video that has just surfaced. “And one of the deals was, we can leave any time we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.”

He can dream all he wants about the good old days when Texas left the nation to fight for the slave-holding states of the breakaway confederacy. But the law will not get him there. There is no such language in the Texas or United States’ constitutions allowing Texas to unilaterally “leave any time we want.”

But Texas is special. By many measures, it is the nation’s most polluted state. Dirty air and water do not seem to bother Perry. He is, however, extremely perturbed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement of laws designed to clean the world around him. In a recent interview, he wished for the president to pray away the E.P.A.

To Jews, Muslims, non-believers and even many Christians, the Biblical bully that is Rick Perry must sound downright menacing, particularly when he gets into religious absolutism. “As a nation, we must call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles,” he said last week.

As a lone citizen, he’s free to advocate Jesus-driven public policy imperatives. But coming from someone who wants to govern this great mess of a country with all its beliefs, Perry’s language is an insult to the founding principles of the republic. Substitute Allah or a Hindu God for Jesus and see how that polls.

Perry is from Paint Creek, an unincorporated hamlet in the infinity of the northwest Texas plains. I’ve been there. In wet years, it’s pretty, the birds clacking on Lake Stamford, the cotton high. This year, it’s another sad moonscape in the Lone Star State.

Over the last 15 years, taxpayers have shelled out $232 million in farm subsidies to Haskell County, which includes Paint Creek — a handout to more than 2,500 recipients, better than one out every three residents. God may not always be reliable, but in Perry’s home county, the federal government certainly is.

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US tiptoes to Theocracy

SUBHEAD: America is in turmoil and Republicans offer the radical Theocracy of Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. By Bob Burnett on 27 August 2011 for Huffington Post - (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-burnett/tiptoeing-towards-theocra_b_937750.html) Image above:Painting "The Crusaders" by Mark Bryan (1999). From (http://www.artofmarkbryan.com/the_crusaders.html).

In difficult times, nations sometimes embrace extreme solutions. In 1494 Florence became a Christian Republic and Savonarola commenced his inquisition. Now America is in turmoil and Republicans offer a radical vision -- Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. Is the US sliding towards Theocracy?

In 1494, Florence, Italy, was in economic and social turmoil. Catholic Priest Girolamo Savonarola declared Florence a Christian Republic and formed a Theocracy. Claiming to receive direction from God, Savonarola preached about the Last Days, and sparked a moral "purification" campaign. Homosexuals and liberal thinkers were killed, thousands of books were burned, and gangs ravaged Florence looking for indications of moral laxity, resulting in the notorious Bonfire of the Vanities.

In 2011, America is in economic and social turmoil and Republicans offer the solution of Theocracy. It's been tried here before. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was a Puritan Theocracy -- in 1660 Quaker Mary Dyer was hanged on Boston Common for advocating her religion. Until the nineteenth century, several states had official Christian churches. Nonetheless, the separation of church and state seems a solid legal principle -- "free exercise" of religion is in the First Amendment of the US Constitution (the notion of "separation" came from an 1802 Thomas Jefferson letter).

Recently, Republicans and Democrats have argued about the notion of the US as a "Christian Nation." In 2007 John McCain stated, "The Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation." Yet in 2009, Barack Obama remarked, "One of the great strengths of the United States is... we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values."

Now Republican presidential candidates Michele Bachman and Rick Perry actively advocate Theocracy. They believe the US was founded as a Christian nation and disdain the notion of separation of church and state.

Bachman and Perry are proponents of radical Christian fundamentalism, Dominionism. Dominionists believe the US should be a Christian nation; their version of Christianity should be the state religion; and Biblical law - the Ten Commandments -- should be the foundation of the US legal system. (They also believe that God gave humans "dominion" over all life on earth.) Writing in the New Yorker, journalist Ryan Lizza examined Michele Bachman's radical views: "Bachmann said in 2004 that being gay is 'personal enslavement,' and that, if same-sex marriage were legalized, 'little children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal and natural and that perhaps they should try it.'" "She believes that evolution is a theory that has 'never been proven.'" Bachmann is anti-abortion and believes Christianity should be taught in public schools.

Rick Perry has similar beliefs. Writing in The Texas Observer, journalist Forrest Wilder described Governor Perry. He's allied with the "New Apostolic Reformation" wing of Pentecostalism and believes he's a modern-day prophet directed by God to purify the US by becoming President.

Why have Republicans turned to such extreme candidates? It's consistent with a disturbing change in their base. The most recent Pew Research Report on US politics described: "the emergence of a single bloc of across-the-board conservatives. The long-standing divide between economic, pro-business conservatives and social conservatives has blurred. Today, Staunch Conservatives take extremely conservative positions on nearly all issues -- on the size and role of government, on economics, foreign policy, social issues and moral concerns. Most agree with the Tea Party and even more very strongly disapprove of Barack Obama's job performance."

While only 11 percent of registered voters, staunch conservatives are angry, energized, and well funded. They're united by a dislike for government, a belief in state's rights, and disdain for President Obama. Staunch conservatives are white, conservative Christians, advocates of unfettered corporate capitalism, who see Obama as black, Muslim, and a socialist. Staunch conservatives share many ideas that fueled the Confederacy. Not surprisingly, Dominionists seek to redefine the civil war as a conflict between "a Christian Nation," the South, and barbarians led by the Northern elite.

In difficult times, nations sometimes embrace extreme solutions. Now America is in turmoil and Republicans offer the radical Theocracy of Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry.

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Warning on Virginia nuclear plant

SOURCE: Brad Parsons (mauibrad@hotmail.com)
SUBHEAD: North Anna nuclear plant was knocked off grid during aftermath of 5.9 earthquake on 23 August. Some cooling trouble may have ensued after back up generators kicked in.  

[IB Publisher's note: Eight inches have fallen on parts of Virginia as of 4pm EST. It may be a blessing for the nuclear plant operated by Dominion Energy in North Anna, Virginia... if that's all that happened. The article and video below demonstrate how unsafe nuclear power is with an ever fragile power grid - in the age of Post Peak & Climate Change - meet in a natural disaster.]  

By Ms. X on 26 August 2011 for Pissin' on the Roses -  
(http://pissinontheroses.blogspot.com/2011/08/alert-for-families-downwind-and.html)


Image above: Still image from WTVR.com CBS video, purportedly demonstrating the recent drop in water level on North Anna dammed lake. From original POTRblog post below.

Below is another video by POTRblog with a detailed analysis of the Lake Anna nuclear plant's dropping lake levels; decay heat steam discharges; earthquake design limits; and the key indicators that one should evacuate the immediate crisis zone before Hurricane Irene arrives. New information, most of which is foggy, indicates a new vector for cooling loss at the North Anna Nuclear plant. Working on the presumption that positive information does not remain foggy, wise risk mitigation would indicate that further vigilance and preparation is required by those that might be affected by a radiological release.

Delving through the fog of officially UN-clarified data, the risks are as follows.

Risk 1:  
The decay heat steam venting is dropping lake levels at potentially ONE MILLION GALLONS PER MINUTE. Lake levels are already dropping and obviously this cooling mechanism cannot continue indefinitely. Note the freshly dropped lake levels in this photo. To resolve this issue the plant must restart electrical generation post haste. Apparently North Anna Nuclear is aware the need for speed in restarting generation, BUT they claim they are hurrying because they want to lower their customers electrical bills. "Because the nuclear plants are the lowest-cost source of generation for our customers, we're making all efforts to return the units to service as soon as possible,"  

RISK 2:
Despite claims to the contrary, it is exceedingly plausible that the earthquake design limits were exceeded. This probability decreases the likelihood that the plant will restart safely and quickly. It also increases the likelihood of a single point failure in the decay heat steam cooling leading to a radiological escape. All of which increase the magnitude of RISK1 above. A North Anna spokesman has stated on television that the plant was designed for a 6.2 earthquake and that they were "ready for this". To the contrary, because of the shallow nature of the quake, the probability is that ground motion and acceleration exceeded the design limit of the plant (but remained within the ultimate limit). It is disturbing that a North Anna representative would declare the plant safe based on a general Qualitative measure such as a 5.8 earthquake being less than a 6.2 earthquake, as opposed to a specific Quantitative measures such as ground motion and acceleration of this quake versus the specific engineering limits for those values. Had the seismographs not been removed from the plant because of budget cuts, some of the fog regarding this issue would be clear-able.  

RISK 3:
Another Emergency has been declared at North Anna as a result of the 8/25/11 after shock; Event Number: 47196. The report states that "There was no radiological release". However, that statement is contradicted by reports that "No release of radioactive material occurred beyond the minor releases associated with normal station operations" One has to ask what exactly are normal releases when the plant is operating in an emergency mode, do they mean no more than expected under this type of emergency? The fog of Risk3 aside, given that the probability the plant exceeded its design limit from the initial quake, further aftershocks increase the potential of surpassing the ultimate limit of the plant.  

Mitigating factor:
A mitigating factor for all of these risks is that the quake did not cause massive infrastructure disruption, hence the logistic response capability appears not to be affected. See video below for a detailed analysis of the Lake Anna nuclear plant's dropping lake levels; decay heat steam discharges; earthquake design limits; and the key indicators that one should evacuate the immediate crisis zone before Hurricane Irene arrives.


Video above: Explanation of risk to North Anna Power plant in Virginia. Posted at (http://pissinontheroses.blogspot.com/2011/08/urgent-north-anna-nuclear-hurricane.html

Also at (http://youtu.be/0GbxV7gOiwA)

See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Time for a Cold Shutdown 6/17/11 .

GMO's can't feed the World

SOURCE: Ken Taylor (taylork021@hawaii.rr.com) SUBHEAD: Regardless of the fulminating of industry flacks in the New York Times, GMO's are a failed technology. By Anna Lappe on 19 August 2011 for Civil Eats - (http://civileats.com/2011/08/19/why-gmos-won%E2%80%99t-feed-the-world-despite-what-you-read-in-the-new-york-times) Image above: Protest aimed at forcing labeling of food containing GMO products. From (http://www.cornichon.org/2011/05/food-glorious-food-part-two.html).

With all due respect, Nina Federoff’s "Engineering Food for All" New York Times op-ed piece on 8/18/11 reads like it was written two decades ago when the jury was still out about the potential of the biotech industry to reduce hunger, increase nutritional quality in foods, and decrease agriculture’s reliance on toxic chemicals and other expensive inputs that most of the world’s farmers can’t afford.

With more than 15 years of commercialized GMOs behind us, we know not to believe these promises any longer.

Around the world, from the Government Office of Science in the UK to the National Research Council in the United States, to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, there is consensus: in order to address the roots of hunger today and build a food system that will feed the future, we must invest in “sustainable intensification”—not expensive GMO technology that threatens biodiversity and locks us into dependence on fossil fuels, fossil water, and agrochemicals. And that’s never proven its superiority, even in yields.

By definition, sustainable intensification means producing abundant food while reducing agriculture’s negative impacts on the environment. Water pollution from pesticide run-off, soil degradation from synthetic fertilizer use, are just two examples of the cost of industrial agriculture. (And, mind you, nearly all of the GMO crops planted today rely on synthetic fertilizer and pesticides.)

Sustainable farming has many other co-benefits as well, including improving the natural environment by increasing soil carbon content, protecting watersheds and biodiversity, and decreasing the human health risks from exposures to toxic chemicals. In its policymaker’s guide to sustainable intensification, the FAO states clearly that the “present paradigm” in agriculture–of which Federoff’s beloved GMOs play a starring role–“cannot meet the challenges of the new millennium.”

So while we hear from GMO proponents about the wonders of these crops, the proof is in the fields. Says the FAO: sustainable practices have helped to “reduce crops’ water needs by 30 percent and the energy costs of production by up to 60 percent.” In one of the largest studies [pdf] of ecological farming in 57 countries, researchers found an average yield increase of 80 percent. In East African countries, yields shot up 128 percent.

What about the specific claims that GMOs confer much-desired benefits: nutritional improvements, drought-resilience, or fewer pesticides?

A much-touted effort in Kenya to develop a genetically-engineered virus-resistant sweet potato failed after 10 years, millions of dollars, and countless hours of effort. Not only did it fail, but researchers in Uganda [pdf] have developed varieties of sweet potatoes resistant to the same virus and with greater levels of beta carotene (Vitamin A)—not with genetic engineering’s tinkering, but with conventional breeding.

Federoff boasts that GMOs reduce pesticide usage, but an analysis of 13 years of commercialized GMOs in the United States actually found a dramatic increase in the volume of herbicides used on these crops that swamped the relatively small reduction in insecticide use attributable to GMO corn and cotton during that same period. On the other hand, an FAO ecological farming program in six countries in West Africa helped farmers reduce chemical pesticide use as much as 92 percent, while increasing their net value of production by as much as 61 percent.

Perhaps most gravely, Federoff’s message that GMOs are the key to addressing our planet’s food needs ignores the political and economic context of agricultural interventions.

What’s unique to sustainable interventions is that they build farmer and community capacity, they strengthen social networks. “Social capital”—as development wonks would say—is created. In a study of sustainable farming projects involving 10 million farmers across the African continent, researchers found that adopting sustainable intensification techniques not only upped production significantly, but more importantly increased the overall wealth of farming communities, encouraged women’s participation and education, and built strong social bonds that have helped these communities strengthen their economies and continue to learn, develop, and adapt their farming practices.

In a world rocked with volatile markets, a volatile climate, and diminishing natural resources, we need to turn our attention to investing in the proven sustainable intensification techniques that create resilient communities not to the still-hollow promises of GMO promoters.

See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Court win for Monanto GMO beets 3/6/11 .

Solar cheaper than Kerosene

SUBHEAD: Not only is kerosene more expensive, but solar is affordable and getting more popular in 3rd World.  

By Sami Grover on 26 August 2011 for TreeHugger - 
  (http://www.treehugger.com/files/2011/08/solar-cheaper-kerosene.php)

 
Image above: Villagers in Wada, India, light kerosene lamp. From (http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/24539).
 
We know that solar can be a lifesaver in rural Africa, replacing dirty, polluting and potentially dangerous kerosene lamps. We've also seen how solar lanterns can create economic opportunities for micro-entrepreneurship. Still, it's good to read a blog post by Yotam Ariel over at Renewale Energy World on how solar is becoming cheaper than kerosene lamps for many off-grid poor communities. It's particularly encouraging to see that the boom in solar products is being driven not just by charitable purchases anymore, but by communities themselves as they recognize the superior performance and economic benefits of clean energy:

Unlike the past decade, which saw solar solutions purchased mainly by international donors, it is now the locals who are increasingly opening their wallets to make the switch from their traditional energy means. That is because solar products prices in recent years have declined to become cheaper than kerosene and batteries.

In Cambodia, for example, villagers can buy a solar lantern at US$25 and use it for two years without any extra costs, where their previous spending on kerosene for lighting was about $2.5 per month, or $30 per year. In Kenya a solar kit that provides bright light or powers a radio or cell phone costs under $30 at retail stores. By switching to this kit Kenyans can save $120 per year on kerosene lighting, radio batteries and cell phone recharging fees.
Barriers remain, including distribution, access to up-front capital, and gender inequality issues. But the future is looking decidedly sunny for solar in the Global South.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: China says PV to beat Coal 8/19/11

  
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