End of the Shale Bubble

SUBHEAD:  It’s quite possible that the bubble is large enough to cause a major financial panic when it soon bursts.

By John Michael Greer on 27 February 2013 for Archdruid Report -

Image above: A soup bubble needs only a gentle touch to burst. From (http://www.solarfeeds.com/shale-gas-the-next-bubble-to-burst/).
It’s been a little more than a year since I launched the present series of posts on the end of America’s global empire and the future of democracy in the wake of this nation’s imperial age. Over the next few posts I plan on wrapping that theme up and moving on. However traumatic the decline and fall of the American empire turns out to be, after all, it’s just one part of the broader trajectory that this blog seeks to explore, and other parts of that trajectory deserve discussion as well.

I’d planned to have this week’s post take last week’s discussion of voluntary associations further, and talk about some of the other roles that can be filled, in a time of economic contraction and social disarray, by groups of people using the toolkit of democratic process and traditional ways of managing group activities and assets. Still, that topic is going to have to wait another week, because one of the other dimensions of the broader trajectory just mentioned is moving rapidly toward crisis.

It’s hard to imagine that anybody in today’s America has escaped the flurry of enthusiastic media coverage of the fracking phenomenon. Still, that coverage has included so much misinformation that it’s probably a good idea to recap the basics here. 
Hydrofracturing—“fracking” in oil industry slang—is an old trick that has been used for decades to get oil and natural gas out of rock that isn’t porous enough for conventional methods to get at them. As oil and gas extraction techniques go, it’s fairly money-, energy- and resource-intensive, and so it didn’t see a great deal of use until fairly recently.

Then the price of oil climbed to the vicinity of $100 a barrel and stayed there. Soaring oil prices drove a tectonic shift in the US petroleum industry, making it economically feasible to drill for oil in deposits that weren’t worth the effort when prices were lower. One of those deposits was the Bakken shale, a sprawling formation of underground rock in the northern Great Plains, which was discovered back in the 1970s and sat neglected ever since due to low oil prices. 
To get any significant amount of oil out of the Bakken, you have to use fracking technology, since the shale isn’t porous enough to let go of its oil any other way. Once the rising price of crude oil made the Bakken a paying proposition, drilling crews headed that way and got to work, launching a lively boom.

Another thoroughly explored rock formation further east, the Marcellus shale, attracted attention from the drilling rigs for a different reason, or rather a different pair of reasons. The Marcellus contains no oil to speak of, but some parts of it have gas that is high in natural gas liquids—“wet gas” is the industry term for this—and since those liquids can replace petroleum in some applications, they can be sold at a much higher price than natural gas. 
Meanwhile, companies across the natural gas industry looked at the ongoing depletion of US coal reserves, and the likelihood of government mandates favoring natural gas over coal for power generation, and decided that these added up to a rosy future for natural gas prices. Several natural gas production firms thus started snapping up leases in the Marcellus country of Pennsylvania and neighboring states, and a second boom got under way.

As drilling in the Bakken and Marcellus shales took off, several other shale deposits, some containing oil and natural gas, others just natural gas, came in for the same sort of treatment. The result was a modest temporary increase in US petroleum production, and a more substantial but equally temporary increase in US natural gas production. It could never be anything more than temporary, for reasons hardwired into the way fracking technology works.

If you’ve ever shaken a can of soda pop good and hard and then opened it, you know something about fracking that countless column inches of media cheerleading on the subject have sedulously avoided. 
The technique is different, to be sure, but the effect of hydrofracturing on oil and gas trapped in shale is not unlike the effect of a hard shake on the carbon dioxide dissolved in soda pop: in both cases, you get a sudden rush toward the outlet, which releases most of what you’re going to get. Oil and gas production from fracked wells thus starts out high but suffers ferocious decline rates—up to 90% in the first year alone. 
Where a conventional, unfracked well can produce enough oil or gas to turn a profit for decades if it’s well managed, fracked wells in tight shales like the Bakken and Marcellus quite often stop becoming a significant source of oil or gas within a few years of drilling.

The obvious response to this problem is to drill more wells, and this accordingly happened. That isn’t a panacea, however. Oil and gas exploration is a highly sophisticated science, and oil and gas drilling companies can normally figure out the best sites for wells long before the drill bit hits the ground. Since they are in business to make money, they normally drill the best sites first. 
When that sensible habit intersects with the rapid production decline rates found in fracked wells, the result is a brutal form of economic arithmetic: as the best sites are drilled and the largest reserves drained, drilling companies have to drill more and more wells to keep the same amount of oil or gas flowing. Costs go up without increasing production, and unless prices rise, profits get hammered and companies start to go broke.

They start to go broke even more quickly if the price of the resource they’re extracting goes down as the costs of maintaining production go up. In the case of natural gas, that’s exactly what happened. Each natural gas production company drew up its projections of future prices on the assumption that ordinary trends in production would continue. 
 As company after company piled into shale gas, though, production soared, and the harsh economic downturn that followed the 2008 housing market crash kept plummeting natural gas prices from spurring increased use of the resource; so many people were so broke that even cheap natural gas was too expensive for any unnecessary use.

Up to that point, the fracking story followed a trajectory painfully familiar to anyone who knows their way around the economics of alternative energy. From the building of the first solar steam engines before the turn of the last century, through the boom-and-bust cycle of alternative energy sources in the late 1970s, right up to the ethanol plants that were launched with so much fanfare a decade ago and sold for scrap much more quietly a few years later, the pattern’s the same, a repeated rhythm of great expectations followed by shattered dreams. .

Here’s how it works. A media panic over the availability of some energy resource or other sparks frantic efforts to come up with a response that won’t require anybody to change their lifestyles or, heaven help us, conserve. 
Out of the flurry of available resources and technologies, one or two seize the attention of the media and, shortly thereafter, the imagination of the general public. Money pours into whatever the chosen solution happens to be, as investors convince themselves that there’s plenty of profit to be made backing a supposedly sure thing, and nobody takes the time to ask hard questions. 
In particular, investors tend to lose track of the fact that something can be technically feasible without being economically viable, and rosy estimates of projected cash flow and return on investment take the place of meaningful analysis.

Then come the first financial troubles, brushed aside by cheerleading “analysts” as teething troubles or the results of irrelevant factors certain to pass off in short order. The next round of bad news follows promptly, and then the one after that; the first investors begin to pull out; sooner or later, one of the hot companies that has become an icon in the new industry goes suddenly and messily bankrupt, and the rush for the exits begins. 
Barring government subsidies big enough to keep some shrunken form of the new industry stumbling along thereafter, that’s usually the end of the road for the former solution du jour, and decades can pass before investors are willing to put their money into the same resource or technology again.

That’s the way that the fracking story started, too. By the time it was well under way, though, a jarring new note had sounded: the most prestigious of the US mass media suddenly started parroting the most sanguine daydreams of the fracking industry. 
They insisted at the top of their lungs that the relatively modest increases in oil and gas production from fracked shales marked a revolutionary new era, in which the United States would inevitably regain the energy independence it last had in the 1950s, and prosperity would return for all—or at least for all who jumped aboard the new bandwagon as soon as possible. Happy days, we were told, were here again.

What made this barrage of propaganda all the more fascinating was the immense gaps that separated it from the realities on and under the ground in Pennsylvania and North Dakota. The drastic depletion rates from fracked wells rarely got a mention, and the estimates of how much oil and gas were to be found in the various shale deposits zoomed upwards with wild abandon. 
Nor did the frenzy stop there; blatant falsehoods were served up repeatedly by people who had every reason to know that they were false—I’m thinking here of the supposedly energy-literate pundits who insisted, repeatedly and loudly, that the Green River shale in the southwest was just like the Bakken and Marcellus shales, and would yield abundant oil and gas once it was fracked. 
The Green River shale, for those who haven’t been keeping score, contains no oil or gas at all; instead, it contains kerogen, a waxy hydrocarbon goo that would have turned into oil or gas if it had stayed deep underground for a few million years longer, and kerogen can’t be extracted by fracking—or, for that matter, by any other economically viable method.

Those who were paying attention to all the hoopla may have noticed that the vaporous claims being retailed by the mainstream media around the fracking boom resembled nothing so much as the equally insubstantial arguments most of the same media were serving up around the housing boom in the years immediately before the 2008 crash. The similarity isn’t accidental, either. The same thing happened in both cases: Wall Street got into the act.

A recent report from financial analyst Deborah Rogers, Shale and Wall Street (you can download a copy in PDF format here), offers a helpful glimpse into the three-ring speculative circus that sprang up around shale oil and shale gas during the last three years or so. 
Those of my readers who suffer from the delusion that Wall Street might have learned something from the disastrous end of the housing bubble are in for a disappointment: the same antics, executed with the same blissful disregard for basic honesty and probity, got trotted out again, with results that will be coming down hard on what’s left of the US economy in the months immediately ahead of us.

If you remember the housing bubble, you know what happened. Leases on undrilled shale fields were bundled and flipped on the basis of grotesquely inflated claims of their income potential; newly minted investment vehicles of more than Byzantine complexity.
VPPs, "volumetric production payments," are an example you’ll be hearing about quite a bit in a few months, once the court cases begin—were pushed on poorly informed investors and promptly began to crash and burn; as the price of natural gas dropped and fracking operations became more and more unprofitable, "pump and dump" operations talked up the prospects of next to worthless properties, which could then be unloaded on chumps before the bottom fell out. 
It’s an old story, if a tawdry one, and all the evidence suggests that it’s likely to finish running its usual course in the months immediately ahead.

There are at least two points worth making as that happens. The first is that we can expect more of the same in the years immediately ahead. Wall Street culture—not to mention the entire suite of economic expectations that guides the behavior of governments, businesses, and most individuals in today’s America—assumes that the close-to-zero return on investment that’s become standard in the last few years is a temporary anomaly, and that a good investment ought to bring in what used to be considered a good annual return: 4%, 6%, 8%, or more. 
What only a few thinkers on the fringes have grasped is that such returns are only normal in a growing economy, and we no longer have a growing economy.

Sustained economic growth, of the kind that went on from the beginning of the industrial revolution around 1700 to the peak of conventional oil production around 2005, is a rare anomaly in human history. It became a dominant historical force over the last three centuries because cheap abundant energy from fossil fuels could be brought into the economy at an ever-increasing rate, and it stopped because geological limits to fossil fuel extraction put further increases in energy consumption permanently out of reach. 
Now that fossil fuels are neither cheap nor abundant, and the quest for new energy sources vast and concentrated enough to replace them has repeatedly drawn a blank, we face several centuries of sustained economic contraction—which means that what until recently counted as the groundrules of economics have just been turned on their head.

You will not find many people on Wall Street capable of grasping this. The burden of an outdated but emotionally compelling economic orthodoxy, to say nothing of a corporate and class culture that accords economic growth the sort of unquestioned aura of goodness other cultures assign to their gods, make the end of growth and the coming of permanent economic decline unthinkable to the financial industry, or for that matter to the millions of people in the industrial world who rely on investments to pay their bills. 
There’s a strong temptation to assume that those 8% per annum returns must still be out there, and when something shows up that appears to embody that hope, plenty of people are willing to rush into it and leave the hard questions for later. Equally, of course, the gap thus opened between expectations and reality quickly becomes a happy hunting ground for scoundrels of every stripe.

Vigorous enforcement of the securities laws might be able to stop the resulting spiral into a permanent bubble-and-bust economy. For all the partisan bickering in Washington DC, though, a firm bipartisan consensus since the days of George W. Bush has placed even Wall Street’s most monumental acts of piracy above the reach of the law. The Bush and Obama administrations both went out of their way to turn a blind eye toward the housing bubble’s spectacular frauds, and there’s no reason to think Obama’s appointees in the Justice Department will get around to doing their jobs this time either. 
 Once the imminent shale bust comes and goes, in other words, it’s a safe bet that there will be more bubbles, each one propping up the otherwise dismal prospects of the financial industry for a little while, and then delivering another body blow to the economies of America and the world as it bursts.

This isn’t merely a problem for those who have investments, or those whose jobs depend in one way or another on the services the financial industry provides when it’s not too busy committing securities fraud to get around to it. The coming of a permanent bubble-and-bust economy puts a full stop at the end of any remaining prospect for even the most tentative national transition away from our current state of dependence on fossil fuels. 
Pick a project, any project, from so sensible a step as rebuilding the nation’s long-neglected railroads all the way to such pie-in-the-sky vaporware as solar power satellites, and it’s going to take plenty of investment capital. If it’s to be done on any scale, furthermore, we’re talking about a period of decades in which more capital every year will have to flow into the project.

The transition to a bubble-and-bust economy makes that impossible. Bubbles last for an average of three years or so, so even if the bubble-blowers on Wall Street happen by accident on some project that might actually help, it will hardly have time to get started before the bubble turns to bust, the people who invested in the project get burned, and the whole thing tumbles down into disillusionment and bankruptcy. 
If past experience is anything to go by, furthermore, most of the money thus raised will be diverted from useful purposes into the absurd bonuses and salaries bankers and brokers think society owes them for their services.

Over the longer run, a repeated drumbeat of failed investments and unpunished fraud puts the entire system of investment itself at risk. The trust that leads people to invest their assets, rather than hiding them in a hole in the ground, is a commons; like any commons, it can be destroyed by abuse; and since the federal government has abandoned its statutory duty to protect that commons by enforcing laws against securities fraud, a classic tragedy of the commons is the most likely outcome, wrecking the system by which our society directs surplus wealth toward productive uses and putting any collective response to the end of the fossil fuel age permanently out of reach.

All these are crucial issues. Still, there’s a second point of more immediate importance. I don’t think anybody knows exactly how big the shale bubble has become, but it’s been one of Wall Street’s few really large profit centers over the last three years. It’s quite possible that the bubble is large enough to cause a major financial panic when it bursts, and send the United States and the world down into yet another sharp economic downturn. 
As Yogi Berra famously pointed out, it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future; still, I don’t think it’s out of place to suggest that sensible preparations for hard times might be wise just now, and if any of my readers happen to have anything invested in the shale or financial industries, I’d encourage them to consider other options in the fairly near term.


Interview with Vandana Shiva

SUBHEAD: It's an occupation of Hawaii. GMO seeds and the militarization of food - and everything else. 

By Jon Letman on 27 2013 for ThruthOut -

Image above: Vandana Shiva addesses issue of GMOs in Hawaii. From (http://hawaiiindependent.net/story/freedom-is-our-future).

Indian physicist and philosopher, activist and ecofeminist pioneer Vandana Shiva talks with Truthout in Hawaii about GMO, the militarization of agriculture, the politics of occupation and the primacy of biodiversity.

Foot soldiers in the battle against corporate globalization and the privatization of commons like land and water have long been aware of Indian physicist and philosopher Dr. Vandana Shiva. An ecofeminist pioneer, today she is best known as an outspoken opponent of the GMOs (genetically modified organisms) being developed by transnational biotechnology and chemical corporations like Monsanto and Dow.

Shiva disputes the notion that patenting genes and controlling the world's seeds, and thus much of its food supply, will better serve humanity. Biotech companies claim their genetically engineered (GE) crops are able to withstand threats from insects, disease, and man-made pesticides and herbicides while making a serious contribution to feeding an increasingly hungry world.

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Such claims are straight-up fabrications - lies - according to Shiva. GMOs, she says, destroy the natural web of life, threaten biodiversity and the environment, and are a scourge for human health and society.

Raised by conservation-minded parents (her father was a forest conservator, her mother a farmer) in the foothills of the Himalayas, Shiva was at the heart of the original "tree hugger" Chipko movement.

After earning a Ph.D. in "hidden variables and non-locality in quantum theory," Shiva branched out from science and academia to environmental activism and helping small farmers in India and around the world save seeds - a practice that puts her in direct conflict with biotech giants who insist their GE seeds are protected by patents.

It was at a biotechnology conference at which Shiva had been invited to speak that a representative from the chemical firm Ciba-Geigy (which later merged with other companies to become biotech giant Syngenta) told her that its goal was to control health and food by the turn of the 21st century.

"That’s the day I decided I was going to start saving seeds," Shiva says.

Since then Shiva has founded Navdanya, a network of seed keepers and organic farmers that offers an alternative vision of a GMO-free future.

As an author, activist and advocate for the protection of human and earth rights, and a globally respected philosopher famous for articulating the nature of complex human, scientific, ecological and ethical issues, Shiva has received numerous awards including the 1993 Right Livelihood Award, also called the "alternate Nobel Prize."

In January, Shiva traveled from India to Hawaii at the invitation of Hawaii SEED, a coalition of grassroots groups that opposes GMOs and open-air testing conducted by "the big five" biotech firms (Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, Dupont Pioneer and BASF) for which Hawaii has proven fertile testing ground.

After addressing audiences at the University of Hawaii and for the opening day of the Hawaii state legislature's 2013 session, Shiva traveled to the island of Kauai, where she spoke before some 1,800 people on the same day as the 120th anniversary of the US military overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. Asked later if she thought the timing was coincidental, she said, "I think it’s coincidental in the human scale but not in the cosmic scale. The universe," she said, "conspires in its own way to make things meet at the right moment."

Anti GMO demonstration in Hawaii. (Photo: Kai Markell) The day after her talk, I caught up with Dr. Shiva on Kauai's north shore, not far from Hawaii's most productive taro fields. With the backdrop of a powerful winter swell rolling into Hanalei Bay, we talked about Hawaii's role as a testing site for both GMO crops and the military. We also discussed Hawaii's relationship with Asia, the increasing ferocity of storms and other violence, and the largely unspoken connection between GE crops, climate change, militarism and what she calls "a war against the earth." Excerpts from the interview follow.

Jon Letman for Truthout: The Hawaiian Islands are one of the most heavily militarized places on the planet. They're also an epicenter for GMOs. Can you talk about the connection between military and GMO testing in these islands?

Dr. Vandana Shiva: War and agriculture came together when the chemicals that were produced for chemical warfare lost their markets in war, and the industry organized itself to sell those chemicals as agrochemicals. Then, when gene splicing was worked out as a technique in public systems, the corporations realized here was something that would work wonderfully for them. Not only would they get to sell more chemicals, but now, by genetically modifying seed, they could for the first time say, "We are creators and inventors of plants," and redefine seed as an invention covered by patents and therefore collect rents and royalty. If every farmer, every year has to buy seed - which is the main reason for pushing GMOS - it's huge profits.

The techniques themselves are militarized, come from war, including the fact that the only way you can move a gene that doesn't belong to an organism and you have to cross the species barrier - which can't be crossed by reproduction - you can only do it by using a gene gun, which is war at the genetic level, or infecting a plant with cancer, which is biological warfare. So the war mentality is at the heart of the technology.

And then the industry that grew powerful and rich through wars (Monsanto and Dow Chemical both manufactured Agent Orange) is its final step of the militarized mindset, the militarized world coming together, is that imposing these toxins, the GMOs - an agriculture that nobody wants, food that nobody wants - can only go the next step by an absolute militarized society, where police states are created to police farmers.

Jon Letman (L):
So military testing and GMO testing in Hawaii is . . .

Vandan Shiva (VS): 
. . . is a continuum. It’s a continuum in terms of the personalities involved; it’s a continuum in the world view involved; and it’s a continuum in the implications.

In Hawaii, what vulnerabilities, unknown or under-known, do you think the biotech companies and military have?

I think the first vulnerability the seed companies and military have is they've violated every natural law. I became a physicist because I really believe the laws of nature are how we should live. The laws of nature I studied were the laws of quantum theory; the laws of ecology are laws of nature. Every violation of the laws of nature is a violation.

Therefore the more we can point this out, the more people realize this is illegal from the perspective of nature, it's illegal from the measure of people. I really do believe the vulnerability comes from the fact that the [GMO] industry and the military have set their own rules as if there was no higher law. That is their vulnerability.

Geographically, culturally, historically, Hawaii shares much with other Pacific islands, and yet it's very different because it is governed as an American state. What do you think Hawaii has to teach other island nations, and what can and should it learn from them?

I think the most important thing Hawaii has to teach other island states is how, when the master takes over - the military is here; GMOs are here - how that is an occupation. And anytime anyone is told "We’ll bring you money; we'll bring you employment," when they bring you death and destruction; the intensity of the GMO seed production, as well as the intensity of the militarization of Hawaii, can teach.

Now, they can't make up what's the new empire, and they keep saying, "Oh, the center is shifting to Asia." And they keep talking about an Asia that is doing all the dirty work for the old empire. All the pollution, all the destruction of workers' rights, all the pollution of the rivers, the killing of our farmers. That's not Asia. Asia is diverse; it's pluralistic, and when you describe the Polynesian islands, it's a continuum from Asia. Christ, Buddha, Sikhism, every religion of the world started in Asia, but we butchered up Asia and said "it’s Middle East, Southeast, Far East, Indochina, South Asia . . ."

In this continuity from Asia to Polynesia to Hawaii is the other way of thinking about ourselves everywhere, including in Hawaii - that we are an interrelated part of a beautiful planet which organizes herself, and that is the Gaia theory.

I think these militarized borders and militarized takeovers, those who have practiced it for the last century think it's going to be the way of the next century. It's not going to be the way of the next century. The way of the next century has to be making peace with the earth.

Hawaii is so biologically rich, and we have so many rare plants. How can preserving Hawaii's native plants - the native biodiversity - how can that help ensure a healthier, more diverse agricultural crop community?

We were repeatedly told diversity is a luxury - industrial monoculture, chemically fed and now genetically modified - is the way we get our food. Nothing could be a bigger lie. When food becomes a commodity, it goes where profits can be made, and if there are more profits in biofuel, that's where it will go. If there are more profits in animal feed, that's where it will go. So we have to reclaim our sources of food and our sources of food are biodiversity. The work I've done over the last 25 years with protecting biodiversity shows that the more intensive the biodiversity, the more food you’ll have and the less you have to hurt the earth.

There are no wars between the domesticated biodiversity and a wild biodiversity. If I grow a native plant as my food, I am encouraging native species to weave the web of life. There are that many butterflies; there are that many bees. There is that much more pollen available. And we’ve done studies that show that native rices support so many more species than the chemically-fed rice, where all soil organisms, all pollinators, all beneficial insects are killed.

Those chemicals that were designed to kill human beings and are designed to kill certain pests end up killing beneficial insects, destroying the web of pest-predator balances which then creates more insect pest attacks. You spray more; you get emergence of resistance, and you are on a chemical treadmill.

The harm of pesticides doesn't stay on farms alone. The highest ocean pollution is coming from fertilizer runoff creating dead zones. All of those pesticides being sprayed on the seed farms of Monsanto and Syngenta and BASF are running down and killing the fish life because nature is integrated at every level - plant, insect, soils, marine.

Can you clarify the connection between climate change and GMOs?

GMOs are part of the package of industrial agriculture that is chemically intensive, loaded with toxins, loaded with pesticides. Now if you do an analysis of fossil fuel use, whether it is fossil fuel use for the making of chemical fertilizer or the fossil fuel used in transporting food - 90 percent of the food of the Hawaiian islands comes from outside -and then shipping these toxic GM seeds thousands of miles away, we are talking about 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions coming from an industrial model of farming.

In our work we have seen two things. One, the more biodiverse any system is, the more it can survive a drought, a flood, unseasonal rain, cyclones - so diversity is a cushion in times of climate change. But not just any old diversity, native diversity even more. Why does native diversity exist where it is? Because over millions of years it had the capacity to adapt. It had the capacity to change with change.

I have watched farms using green revolution methods fail 100 percent with one drought. I have watched after the tsunami and the cyclones and the salt water came, only local species that were salt tolerant were able to bounce back. So native species are vital for climate adaptation, a connection that still needs to be made in a serious way.

Around the world we see horrific violence by people against one another. Every week we seem to reach a new low. My question is simple: What is wrong with people today?

I don’t think it's people who are the source of these cycles of violence. They're caught in them. It isn't that violence hasn't existed before our times - it has. But it was always localized. I think the violence in our times is global in scope - because the military and the economy are now globally organized, and they feed on each other, and the military has become the last economy.

Those wars in Iraq and Iran are not just wars; they are not just wars. They are about control over resources. They are about giving contracts. They are about opening up Iraq to the GMO seeds of Monsanto. There was an Iraqi Order 81 that [L. Paul] Bremer passed making it illegal for Iraqi farmers, who are the heart of the source of agriculture, the Mesopotamian Civilization: They could not use and save their own seeds. And in the big seed freedom report we have prepared - and anyone can download it from the Navdanya website - we have a contribution by a journalist who found out that Abu Ghraib, the jail from which all the scandals came, used to be the seed bank of Iraq, and Abu Ghraib the name came from one of their most precious wheat varieties. Now, a changing of a name that was a wheat variety, a place that held the biodiversity heritage of a civilization into a jail for torture, that mutation is what we must understand to understand the deepening violence.

We have had a gang rape of a girl in Delhi, which has hit the news all over and protests haven’t died. I am asking myself why is it getting more and more frequent and why is it becoming more brutal? It's a bit like climate change - it's not that we haven't had storms before, but the Katrinas and the Sandys are new in terms of their impact. We have had drought before, but the drought that is wiping out such a large bit of the corn and soy supply of the US and killing the animals is a new intensity. And it's that intensity and scale that is changing.

I think we need to ask today why are people who live peacefully side by side, killing each other? Why did the Arab Spring become the Arab Nightmare? I think there are a number of causes. That first trigger of the Arab Spring was a young man who wasn’t able to sell vegetables. Now, if you push people to such a corner there are only two things they can do: either rebel to change it and say I will get justice; I will have work, whether I am a Shia or Sunni, and we will stand side by side and we will sell vegetables. I will have work whether I am a Hindu or Muslim, and we will work together, or the system that has hijacked a Democracy and turned representative Democracy into "of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations," must win its votes on basis of divide: "You know the real threat is the immigrant; the real threat are those Christians; the real threat are those Hindus," and you create a ground for insecurity and hatred of a volatile nature.

There is actually a huge economy in selling arms and dividing people, and it needs people fighting each other.

I remember Syria before the way it's gone. There was a year of drought, and I'm just saying if those farmers had been given the kind of seeds that could survive the drought, they'd have been doing farming. They were displaced; they were angry; they were protesting. Before you knew it, they became sectarian protests; before you knew it, different sides started to arm, and American arms are everywhere.

So I think it’s all of these convergences that are brutalizing, particularly the men, who are now just finding one place to find an identity: how to be the more vicious killer. We won't be able to reclaim our humanity through narrow identities. We can only reclaim it through a very broad universal human identity and even broader earth identity. That's why I talk of Earth Democracy.

The challenge is really reclaiming our humanity to be able to live in peace with each other.

• Jon Letman is a freelance journalist on Kauai. He writes about politics, culture and conservation. Follow him on Twitter@jonletman.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Bringing the anti-GMO Message 1/19/13
Ea O Ka Aina: Interview with Dr. Shiva on GMO 7/21/12


Movies on Hawaiian culture

SUBHEAD: Free movie showings of "Strong Voices, Passionate Hearts" and "Noho Hewa" Friday, March 8th Kapaa Library at 6:30pm.

By Ray Catania on 26 February 2013 for Island Breath - 

Image above: From ().

"Strong Voices, Passionate Hearts"
Kauai Community Youth speak out against Governor Abercrombie's PLDC (Public Land Development Corporation) at the Mayor's office.

"Noho Hewa"
How US Military and Corporations like Walmart destroy Kanaka Maoli sacred sites. Discussion to follow movies.

There will also be a Photo Display of Wailua Beach erosion and shoreline destruction caused by the Mayor's Bike Path.

 Friday, March 8th, 6:30pm to 9:30pm

Kapaa Public Library
1464 Kuhio Hwy
Kapaa, HI 96746

For more information, call Ray Catania, 634-2737
or James Alalem at 635-0835

"Strong Voices and Passionate Hearts" is about Kauai's youth speaking out against the Public Land Development Corporation at the Mayor's office.  Also a photo display of the Wailua Beach desecration by the bike path will also be shared. 

"Noho Hewa" received the Hawaii International Film Festival's highest award in the documentary film category, the Halekulani Golden Orchid award for Best Documentary. Noho Hewa connects the military occupation of Hawaii to the fraudulence of statehood, the Akaka Bill, homelessness, desecration and more. Featured interviews: Haunani-Kay Trask, Kaleikoa Kaeo, Noenoe Silva, Keanu Sai, J Kehaulani, Kauanui and others. For more information about the film, go to the Noho Hewa website, http://www.nohohewa.com/

 Noho Hewa film review from Big Island Weekly 
Ethnic cleansing isn't just something that they do physically to people, it's something that happens in the mind." This was said by Haunani-Kay Trask in an onscreen interview in the documentary "Noho Hewa." Haunani goes on to say that ethnic cleansing establishes within a people's mind-set that "You have no place to live. You do not have a home, so you do not exist." 

This manao (thought) is what Anne Keala Kelly is trying to capture in her first feature length documentary, "Noho Hewa." Jan. 17 marked the 116th anniversary of the overthrow and continued occupation of the Kingdom of Hawai'i. 

"Noho Hewa: The Wrongful Occupation of Hawai'i" inspires and educates its audience on the struggles facing modern Hawaiians. It was presented in its unfinished version at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo Performing Arts Center on Jan. 17 as part of the University of Hawai'i at Hilo Ho'olaulea. 

According to Kelly, the film connects the military occupation of Hawai'i to the fraudulence of statehood, the Akaka Bill, homelessness, desecration and more. It includes onscreen interviews with Trask, Kaleikoa Kaeo, Noenoe Silva, Keanu Sai, J. Kehaulani Kauanui and others. It has taken Kelly five and a half years so far to get the film to its present state. She said: "If I get funding, I can finish it in a couple of months. If I don't, well, I don't even want to talk about it. 

I would need about a little more than $15,000 to finish the project." Kelly is putting a time limit on completing the film. She would like to finish the project by spring. "I can't do it anymore. This is a Gorilla movie, and so far I have worked for free. I need to take care of myself and move on to a project that will pay," she said. 

When asked why she had started the project Kelly replied, "As a journalist these are the same issues I saw coming up over and over again for Hawaiians." According to Kelly, a Gorilla documentary is usually a short project for public access programming, where she would only have a week, no money, nothing but a camera and some tape. "So I'm going to try and go for it, and try and get some manao and put it out, project it out, so that people get into the politics of things and get activated." Kelly said she could set up onscreen interviews and ask the interviewees a set of questions. 

The rest, according to Kelly, was kind of blind. She said, "I never knew what was going to happen -- I just was going after it with a camera, and it was never planned, always improvised. I wouldn't have done it if I didn't have the journalism background. After years of reporting I knew who might say what. So then, I would maybe shadow so and so, because he might do this. It's all fresh and it's all raw, not planned." She started off working with just a few activists focusing mostly on the Striker Brigade. Two years into that project, she realized, "I was never going to be able to finish that film. 

There were lots of reasons, political mainly, so I had to just move on and find a way to pull the same issues into one space." Kelly grew up around the Hawaiian movement. She said, "I was 12-years-old the first time I heard the word sovereignty. I remember how I felt the first time I heard the word. I felt it strong in me. I didn't even know what sovereignty meant." Viewers had strong reactions to the film. 

A citizen from the Czech Republic had a hard time holding back tears as the film ended. She was filled with sorrow after seeing what has become of a peaceful, friendly culture. During Q & A the Czech citizen spoke of how her own homeland is facing similar military occupational issues. She said the film inspired her to help her own homeland conquer its battles. 

An Alaskan Native, also inspired by the film, asked Kelly where to go to get more information so that he could share it with his friends. He wanted to help "spread the word." Kelly hopes that after seeing the film the audiences just take the time to do something, anything. "I hope that people take the time to consider the many things that are crushing Hawaiians from the spiritual to the physical to the physiological to the economics to the cultural. 

Our people are inundated from every direction. I hope Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians go away knowing that this is a terrible hewa (wrong) in multiple ways but also come out on the other end and know that they are supposed to do something to help, 

At least not make it worse with their opala or bad behavior, at least not make it worse for us, cause we Hawaiians have to really talk to each other and figure out how do we try to move together in a direction that's going to reverse the trend of these things you see in the film." "Noho Hewa" is the winner of the 2008 Hawai'i International Film Festival and Halekulani Golden Orchid Award for best Documentary. 

 "Noho Hewa" was not the only vehicle for education on Jan. 17. Simultaneous to Kelly's first showing of the film, Big Island residents were holding signs once again at the Borders parking lot in Hilo to let the public know that it is not OK to take any more from the Hawaiians, as so much has already been taken from them. The controversy covered in "Noho Hewa" has reached the youth of the Big Island. They are, as Hawaiian activist Skippy Ioane would say, "agitated and activated." They are taking a stand for the Hewa that has been done to their people. Keli'i Ioane, a 16-year-old junior at Kamehameha Schools Hawai'i Campus, son of activist Skippy Ioane, feels that it is his kuleana (responsibility) to do something about the Hewa. 

When Keli'i was asked why he was holding signs he said: "I believe that Ceded Lands belong to Hawaiians and not the people of Hawai'i. I feel that the lack of resources available to Hawaiians is all too evident in Hawai'i. 

I'm holding signs to fight the further loss of our inheritance, also to make people aware. I believe it's very important for the youth to be out here, because if we get started now we might be more successful than the previous generations."

Wailua arrest Aftermath

SUBHEAD: We were arrested for trying to protect the Mahuapu'uone Heiau where they're building the bikepath.

By Ray Catania & James Alalem on 26 February 2013 in Island Breath -

Image above: Photo of the Ahuena Heiau at dawn, in Kailua Kona on the Big Island.  It was reconstructed by King Kamehameha the Great between 1812-1813, and is on the register of National Historic Landmarks as one of the most important of Hawaii's historic sites. From (http://www.robynbuntin.com/ItemDetail.aspx?ProductID=2140).

Our peacefull action on Wailua Beach on February 6, 2013 to prtect the sacredness of this shoreline, and specifically the Mahuapu'uone Heiau, resulted in our arrest and being charged with "obstructing government operations".

We were told by both Kaikor management and the KPD officers this was being done for our safety, in which we responded, "what about the safety of this sacred site and the protection of the Hawaiian culture which benefits everyone?"

We hold nothing against the construction crews of Kaikor, Petersen and Pacific Concrete.  Some of them express to us they understood the erosion that could hapen and the sacredness of the beach and the heiau area.

Kaikor workers told us, especially as being local people from Kauai, that they didn't want to wreck the ahu or altar and that someone else would have to deal with it.

They showed us nothing but real aloha and no harsh words or gestures were exchanged between us.  As working people ourselves, we understand where they are coming from and they are just trying to support their families.

The arresting KPD officers and those that booked and fingerprinted us in the station, also showed us the same respect.  For this we thank them as well.

Mayor Carvalho stated in a news release after our arrests that he was "very dismayed".  Actually, the Mayor and his closest bike path supporters like Tom Noyes, Tim Bynum and Doug Haigh should be very embarrassed for the desecration that they have unleashed on our precious Wailua Beach.

For more information about this issue, contact:
James Alalem
PO Box 510107, Kealia
Ray Catania
4215 Kole Place, Puhi


Trails and Tribulations

SUBHEAD: The location of the fence is subject to approval by the DLNR to ensure public access to and along the lateral coastal trail.

By Richard Spacer on 25 February 2013 Hawaii Reporter -

Image above: Photo of illegal cattle fence with barbwire blocking access to Lepeuli Beach. From original article.

For centuries Native Hawaiians in the ahupua'a of Lepeuli, on the windward or Koolau side of Kauai, have lived their lives, fished and grew taro from the streams there as noted by early missionarys and sailors. They walked from their settlements in Lepeuli to other Kauai ahupua'a along the ala loa trail, a lateral, coastal trail that runs along near the sea.

Long before the idea of the H-1 in Honolulu, or Kuhio Highway on Kauai, Hawaiians of old used THEIR highway system, the trails, to get from A to B. They were public infrastructure, no less so than any street or highway today.

The Hawaiian cultural concepts of sharing and general lack of private ownership was no threat to these trails being open and accessible. Not so today.

The arrival of Captain Cook and the cataclysmic transformation of society in Hawaii that followed, squelched not only traditional cultural practices like speaking their Hawaiian language, dancing the hula, and surfing, but public access.

The introduction of the European and American concept of private property to Hawaii, especially when Kamehameha III initiated private land ownership to Hawaiians in 1848 and to all comers in 1850, was intended in principle to economically empower the local population. That, in fact, it has greatly benefited non-Hawaiian interests was no small reason Queen Lili' uokalani, in the last year of her legislature in 1892, passed the Highways Act. It is incorporated now as Hawaii Revised Statutes 264-1, in other words, the law of the land today.

This brilliant, forward thinking act is used today, but not often enough, as a powerful tool to acquire public trail access.

Fast forward to 2009 at Lepeuli, Kauai where a cattle rancher named Bruce Laymon applies for state and county permits for his beef cattle ranch company called Paradise Ranch. Laymon, beneficiary of a highly questionable Hawaii sweetheart deal system known as "after-the- fact" permitting, applied for these permits after the public informed land regulators that he was clearing brush mauka of the public beach there without a permit. The beach, commonly known as Larsen's Beach, is a healthy breeding ground to federally endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals and green sea turtles. Above, Laysan Albatross fly in winter.

The beach never really gets busy, 20 people all day is typical. Two dangerous rip currents, cuts in the reef by old streams, which are now intermittant, have taken at least 13 lives there. The reef offshore is pristine, and fishing is a favorite pastime. The property to which Laymon has an exclusive lease is 541 acres in size owned by Waioli Corporation, a non-profit public charity. It was purchased by Abner Wilcox, a missionary teacher, from Kamehameha III in 1850.

Laymon has an air of entitlement to the property. In March of 2010, while clearing vegetation with a brush hog in violation of his permit, Laymon told beachgoers he was going to run the f-----g haoles out of there.

How is someone going to RUN the public off a public beach? That is invasion of privacy, harrassment, and terroristic threatening. Those are all crimes for which the perpetrator can and should be arrested. It is also hate speech, stating he will run out an entire class of persons based on their race. A complaint was made to the FBI, the Kauai Police, and the former Kauai Prosecuting Attorney. No arrests were made.

When Laymon applied for his after-the-fact permits, he denied the existence of the animals named above, and denied archaeology was on the property. Community members noticed an archaeological feature at the northwest end of the beach and reported it to the State Historic Preservation Division of DLNR. Nancy McMahon, at the time the Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, replied that it was the site of three human burials. There are three burials on the property, but they are at the opposite end a half mile from the archaeology.

The exact location of the burials is unknown, except that McMahon said they were re-interred mauka of where they were discovered, which would put them inside an area where cattle were planned to graze. Dr. David Burney of the National Tropical Botanical Institute on Kauai, identified the feature as likely the foundation of a structure, radiocarbon dated from just before the arrival of Europeans.

Laymon's permit applications also denied any Native Hawaiians lived on, or had claims to the property since 1850, when Abner Wilcox purchased it. A letter of Abner Wilcox on file with the Kauai Historical Society from 1864 states.. .."the natives have the good of the land." meaning it did not bother Abner if they lived there. Later maps into the 1930's show multiple kuleana lots in Lepeuli.

Lepeuli had a Hawaiian school and church, establishment of which was part of the deal for Abner Wilcox to receive the land. An 1850 survey map at the State Archives shows the school and church location. The residents of Lepeuli studied and prayed at that school and church well into the Twentieth Century. Generations of Hawaiians are buried in the grave yard there. The 1963 John Wayne movie Donovan's Reef depicts the old school and church.

The most contentious part of Laymon's permit applications was his intent to fence off the lateral, coastal trail at Lepeuli, that many believe is an ancient, historic, ala loa trail. This trail runs from ahupua'a to ahupua'a parallel to the shore. It is clearly depicted on 1833 and 1878 Registered Maps on file with the State Surveyor. Laymon, his attorney, and landowner Waioli Corporation dismiss the existence of the trail on their property.

Laymon's state Conservation District Use Permit allowed him to fence 110 feet mauka of the shoreline, inside the state Conservation District regulated by DLNR. The State of Hawaii claims a trail in fee simple in Lepeuli and this is stated in letters from 2000, 2011, and 2012. The 2012 letter is from the Attorney General to the Kauai Na Ala Hele Trail Advisory Council. It states that there is a trail in Lepeuli the State owns, but the State does not know exactly where it is, and they are not going to do anything about the trail.

The State Historic Preservation Division of DLNR asked to enter the property to survey where the trail was, and landowner Waioli Corporation denied permission. That is why the State says they don't know the location of the trail, but everyone else does. Native Hawaiian sworn declarations are on file stating they or their family members walked the trail to fish and gather limu.

Likewise, Patricia Hanwright in the adjoining ahupua'a of Kaakaaniu, denied permission to enter. Hanwright is united with Waioli Corporation in the position there is no trail on the properties.

Since the State still claims the trail it owns, and the Highways Act says such trails are forever public, one would think raising this objection to the land regulators would end the matter. Perhaps on the mainland, but alas, there is no Highways Act on the mainland.

When notice of the state permit application was published, a wide cross section of the public opposed the permit. The Sierra Club, Surfrider, various Kauai huis and individuals all wrote opposing it. No public hearing was scheduled, despite this being a commercial operation (a beef cattle ranch) with widespread community interest, two criteria for a public hearing. Gary Hooser of Kauai, at the time Senate Majority Leader, even offered his personal assistance to provide transportation to Kauai for Honolulu DLNR staff for a site visit. This was rebuffed.

Laura Thielen, DLNR chairperson at the time, approved the departmental permit. Kauai resident and Native Hawaiian Linda Sproat petitioned for a Contested Case hearing with the Board of Land and Natural Resources. She was represented by Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation attorney David Kimo Frankel. Non-Hawaiian opponents of the permit were represented by attorney Colin Yost.

After submission of the legal briefs, Paradise Ranch surrendered their state permit, rather than endure a public Contested Case hearing, a move the Board of Land and Natural Resources called "unprecedented".

Shortly afterward, Laymon stated again his desire to fence off the lateral, coastal trail. He said he did not need a state permit as he still had a county permit. However, one of his county permit conditions states the lateral, coastal trail must be kept open.

Image above: Reproduction of detail of Paradise Ranch SMA Permit. Click on image to see original permit signed by Planning Director Ian Costa.

Note Condition 6: "...to ensure public access to and along the lateral coastal trail."

Since Laymon could not work any longer inside the state Conservation District, having surrendered his state permit, his fencing would have to be 300 feet from the shore, not 110 feet. This is because at Lepeuli the state Conservation District extends to 300 feet mauka of the shore. This boundary is set by the State Land Use Commission.

A major failing of the activists was focusing almost all attention on the state permit process, while ignoring the county permit, which is still valid today. When Les Milnes of Kauai County's Planning Department was asked how long it is valid, he answered "forever". This, despite it saying two years on the permit itself.

In May 2011 Laymon installed fencing across the lateral, coastal trail in violation of the county SMA permit. A public trail that was open for hundreds of years was suddenly closed. The state and county failed to protect the public trust and allowed private entities to take over public property that belongs to all the residents and taxpayers. How do public servants we all pay allow this to happen?

In June 2011 I appeared before the Kauai County Planning Commission where a petition I submitted was heard. I submitted a petition for An Order to Show Cause and requested the commission find Laymon in violation of the condition of his county SMA permit that forbade closing of the trail and order the fencing removed and impose fines. A memo from DLNR Chairperson William Aila was received the day before by the commission and planning department stating that the State can claim roads and trails in land-courted property.

In fencing the trail, Laymon was relying on a 2009 memo from Doris Moana Rowland, a DLNR abstractor, that said since the landowner registered the Lepeuli property in the Land Court back in 1943, the State could not today claim a pedestrian access. William Aila stated Ms. Rowland's memo did not represent the position of DLNR regarding roads and trails in Registered Land. The June 2011 memo was signed by Aila and two Deputy Attorneys General. Aila also noted DLNR approval for the fence location was not given, a condition of the county SMA permit. Upon advice of Michael Dahilig, current Kauai County Planing Director, my petition was indefinitely deferred.

At about the same time the State Land Use Commission issued a Boundary Interpretation for Lepeuli. This document was created by utilizing the map submitted by Paradise Ranch to Kauai County Planning and DLNR. The LUC drew on it their belief of where the boundary between the state Conservation District and state Agricultural District is.

Why is that important? Because Laymon, with the backing of Les Milnes in the Kauai County Planning Department, stated the May 2011 fencing is legal, as it is totally inside the state Agricultural District, and OUT of the state Conservation District, where Laymon no longer has permission to work. Of course, Milnes is ignoring the county SMA permit condition saying the trail cannot be blocked.

Laymon's surveyor, Alan Hiranaka, depicted the lateral, coastal trail, and the fencing that blocks it, entirely outside the state Conservation District. Community members with GPS devices disagree, opining that part of the fence is clearly inside the state Conservation District, and all of it that blocks the trail. The LUC feels the same way, their line is considerably more mauka of where Hiranaka placed the line. According to the LUC, the lateral, coastal trail is entirely inside the state Conservation District.

When the attorney for Waioli Corporation, Don Wilson, learned the Boundary Interpretation was issued, he rhetorically asked if it was accompanied by a current shoreline certification survey. It was not, as the Boundary Interpretation was requested by the Kauai Sierra Club, not the landowner, and the landowner did not have any such survey done, nor would they. The Land Use Commission rescinded the interpretation. The rules for shoreline certification surveys state only the landowner or authorized representative can request a shoreline certification survey.

All of this drama could have been avoided had the planning director at the time, Ian Costa, required Paradise Ranch to obtain such a survey as part of their county SMA permit application. He waived the requirement. Coastal parcels for which permits are applied for normally require a shoreline certification survey to determine setback. When the LUC Boundary Interpretation was sent to DLNR's Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands, and they were asked if they were convinced Laymon's fence constituted a violation inside the state Conservation District, Kimberly Mills, a staff planner in that office, replied "not yet".

During the summer of 2012 several sections of the fence came down, allowing access again. Beachgoers used the lateral, coastal trail as they always did. Toddlers, mothers with baby carriages, the elderly, bike riders, even someone on crutches. For months there was no response from Laymon.

On December 1, 2012 Laymon re-built the fence, this time extending it dramatically to enclose a two acre area the Kauai Planning department permitted as a "Seabird Protection Area". Thomas Kai'akapu of the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife office in Lihue provided consultation. The same planning department that said the lateral, coastal trail could not be blocked in the SMA permit valid "forever", now grants permission for fencing that blocks the trail in not one, but two places!

Of course, the only purpose of the fencing is to keep people off the trail. The seabird protection area is the latest scam to propagate this desire of Laymon and his landlord.

On December 1, 2012 while Laymon was re-building the fence, the Kauai Police Department had three officers there, in an apparent show of solidarity with Laymon. They arrested a 68 year old homeless camper named James Decker aka "Catman"on Waioli property.

Beachgoers leaving Larsen's Beach the afternoon of December 1 noticed multiple pick up trucks in the cattle pasture with guys standing on the beds with long-armed guns (rifles or shotguns) in view of the beach access road. One beachgoer spoke with one of the guys who showed him a dead pig he said he just killed. So this show of guns to hunt pigs on the same day Laymon re-builds the fence is a coincidence?

One "hunter" was even parked on the county beach access road with his weapon clearly visible. This apparently was a show of force meant to say "This is mine, public keep out!" Instead of stopping Laymon from violating his SMA permit a for second time, the Kauai Police stood by making sure no one interfered.

They also did nothing about all the guns in plain view of the public. The public did not feel safe using this public property resource, the beach. I filed a complaint with the Kauai Police Commission regarding the KPD actions of December 1. The commission ruled that my complaint that the KPD stood by while a violation took place was unfounded.

I am actively interviewing surveyors and attorneys for resolving this issue in the interest of the public. If you would like to help with your professional services, please contact me, Richard Spacer, at rspacer@yahoo.com


Pandora's Lunchbox

SUBHEAD: A book by Melanie Warner shows that processed foods are even scarier than you thought.

Interview by Andy Bellatti on 26 February for Grist Magazine -

Image above: Hungry-Man Salisbury Steak frozen meal Ranked 1,671 out of 1,677 Frozen Meals by From (http://www.ocmodshop.com/nerd-fitness-how-to-eat-healthier-when-youre-online/).

You’ve heard of pink slime. You know trans fats are cardiovascular atrocities. You’re well aware that store-bought orange juice is essentially a scam. But, no matter how great of a processed-food sleuth you are, chances are you’ve never set food inside a processing plant to see how many of these products are actually made.

Writer Melanie Warner, whose new exposé-on-the-world-of-processed-foods book, Pandora’s Lunchbox, is out this week, spent the past year and a half doing exactly that. In her quest to explore the murky and convoluted world of soybean oil, milk protein concentrates (a key ingredient in processed cheese), and petroleum-based artificial dyes, she spoke to food scientists, uncovered disturbing regulatory loopholes in food law, and learned just how little we know about many of the food products on supermarket shelves.

After reading Pandora’s Lunchbox, I sent Melanie some burning questions via email. Here is what she had to say:

Q. The term “processed food” is ubiquitous these days. The food industry has attempted to co-opt it by claiming canned beans, baby carrots, and frozen vegetables are “processed foods.” Can you help explain why a Pop-Tart is years away from a “processed food” like hummus?

A. You have to ask yourself, could I make a Pop-Tart or Hot Pocket at home, with all those same ingredients listed on the package? How would you even go about procuring distilled monoglycerides and BHT, for instance?

Yet it is possible to make your own black beans at home by soaking and then cooking them. You could even attempt a rudimentary canning operation to preserve them. You can also make hummus by grinding chickpeas with a few other ingredients like lemon juice. The “processing” these foods go through is minimal and not disfiguring.

Q. Many people are put at ease when government agencies and the food industry state that controversial substances are “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS). Why is this not as comforting as it sounds?

A. The GRAS process, as it’s known, is one of self-regulation. If a food-ingredient company wants to introduce a new additive, they — not the FDA — hire some experts or a consulting firm to make the determination about whether this new ingredient is safe. Sometimes you’ll hear that company X has been awarded “GRAS status” for its new ingredient, but the FDA doesn’t award anything. The agency merely has the option to review what companies tell them.

Except when they don’t. In a glaring regulatory loophole that dates back to 1958, the GRAS system also happens to be voluntary. It’s perfectly legal for companies to keep the FDA in the dark about new additives, and consequently there are some 1,000 ingredients the FDA has no knowledge of whatsoever, according to an estimate done by the Pew Research Center.

So although the FDA seeks to reassure us they are keeping a close watch over our food, the job of rigorously regulating thousands of food additives is simply too big for an underfunded agency. Brominated vegetable oil, for instance, the subject of a well-circulated petition by a 15-year-old in Alabama, was flagged for further study in the ’70s, testing that was never done. And BHA, a “probable carcinogen” according to the Department of Health and Human Services, is still allowed in food.

Q. The food industry has often reacted to nutritional concerns by fortifying nutrients into their products. What did you glean from your research about the way these synthetic vitamins are created, and how are they different from the nutrients intrinsically found in foods?

A. Many of the vitamins we consume, whether in supplements or a box of cereal, come from China. They are produced in enormous factories scattered throughout the eastern half of the country, and these factories account for at least half of all global vitamin production.

Sometimes it’s assumed that vitamin C comes from maybe an orange or vitamin A from a carrot, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Vitamin C starts with a corn ingredient and then undergoes a complex, multi-step bacterial and chemical process. Vitamin A comes from acetylene gas, a chemical derived from petroleum refining.

The most obvious way a nutrient made in Shenyang differs from one engineered by Mother Nature is that nature’s vitamins always come packaged with all sorts of other helpful stuff, like fiber, additional nutrients and antioxidants. And this synergy may be the key to vitamins really helping us stay healthy.

Q. You investigated how soybean oil is made. Can you explain why calling it “natural” is a complete misnomer?

A. It’s not easy getting mass quantities of edible oil from soybeans, which are small, brittle beans containing less than 20 percent oil. First you have to drench them with hexane, a toxic chemical solvent that is known to cause nerve damage in humans.

The hexane percolates through the soybeans several times and is then removed from the oil (any residues that remain are small.) After that you have to treat the oil with sodium hydroxide and phosphoric acid, then bleach it with a filter, and deodorize it under heat and an intense vacuum. Then often the oil is hydrogenated or interesterified, allowing it to be more stable for frying or other high-heat conditions. Calling any of this “natural” is a farce.

Not to mention the fact that 93 percent of all soybeans are genetically modified, a technology most people think doesn’t deserve to go anywhere near the word “natural.”

Q. On the topic of dairy, milk protein concentrates are a rather controversial ingredient many people are unaware of. What does the inclusion of milk protein concentrate in a food product say about it?

A. It says that the manufacturer is trying to cut corners and save money, which is understandable since all large publicly traded corporations are constantly under enormous pressure to cut costs. Milk protein concentrate can help replace the cheese that goes into boxed macaroni and cheese or the milk in processed cheese slices. If you see milk protein concentrate in your Greek yogurt it means the manufacturer has skipped the expensive step of straining the yogurt and has added milk protein concentrate, or MPC, to boost the protein levels (they’ve probably also added in some type of starch to thicken the yogurt).

Milk, regardless of what you think of its nutritional merits, is a real food. MPC is not.

Q. What is your answer to those who think “better-for-you” processed foods (such as fiber-enhanced protein bars and Omega-3 fortified cookies) are “a baby step” towards better health for Americans?

A. One word: Snackwells. In the early ’90s, at the zenith of low-fat mania, Kraft introduced these “healthier” cookies. They had only 55 calories per cookie and much of the fat had been taken out (and replaced by emulsifiers, starches, and gums). Eager for a hall pass on guilt, cookie lovers went nuts, buying up multiple packages and probably eating more than they would have otherwise, erasing any calorie reduction advantage. It’s a case that illustrates how “healthier” processed foods often don’t promote health; they just end up confusing people.

All these refurbished, less bad products only keep us tethered to a merry-go-round of inferior choices. The answer is making real food the foundation of our diets.

Andy Bellatti, MS, RD is a Las Vegas-based nutritionist with a plant-based, whole foods focus. He often writes about food politics, deceptive Big Food marketing, and issues of sustainability, animal welfare, and social justice in our food system.


Deficit Reduction = Recession

SUBHEAD: America will be thrust back into recession, but we can soften the landing with appropriate deficit spending.

By Richard Heinberg on 26 February 2013 for Post Carbon Institute -

Image above: Cartoon by Nate Beeler. The Great Recession is Dead... Long Live the Great Recession! From (http://www.dispatch.com/content/sections/opinion/beeler-cartoons/index.html)(http://animecornerstore.blogspot.com/2010/09/great-recession-is-dead-long-live-great.html).

The math is not difficult. The US has an annual GDP of $14 trillion, and the nation’s current $1 trillion in annual deficit spending is seven percent of its GDP. Growth in GDP has recently been running at about two percent annually (though in the last quarter of 2012 the economy actually contracted slightly). The relationship between deficit spending and GDP growth may not be exactly 1:1 but it’s probably quite close.

The conclusion is therefore inescapable: doing away with a substantial portion of deficit spending would reduce GDP by a roughly corresponding amount, almost certainly causing the economy to tip over into recession.

Now, nobody in Washington is openly calling for a recession. So why are so many politicians adamantly demanding deficit reduction? It’s because they see accumulating US government debt spiraling to unsustainable levels.

Many politicians also believe that the main actual function of government is to stand in the way of private enterprise. Assuming that’s true, it follows that by downsizing government these politicians will succeed in opening space for the private sector to flourish. Whittle! Cut! Slash!—it’s all good.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the private sector shows no signs of being ready to pick up the slack. Indeed, US economic growth has been stagnating for decades now. Economist Robert Gordon’s research conclusively demonstrates that the lion’s share of historic GDP growth occurred in the mid-20th century and was driven by cheap oil and electrification.

Since 1970, globalization and an explosion in information technologies have produced comparatively minor economic expansion by comparison, at least in the OECD countries. We kept faux-growth alive largely through borrowing—by an unprecedented accumulation of household, corporate, and government debt.

Spending borrowed money on bigger cars and new iPhones kept the consumer economy ostensibly healthy; meanwhile, making and managing the ensuing mountain of debt fattened the financial industry to the point that Wall Street now calls the shots on Main Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, and just about every other thoroughfare in America.

Since the US housing bubble burst in 2007-2008, households have stopped taking on increasing amounts of debt; that has left government deficit spending—and one more ephemeral Wall Street bubble, this one based on hyping stock shares in companies specializing in shale gas and tight oil fracking—as the final props holding up the growth facade.

The implication of Gordon’s work is that real growth is pretty much over and done with no matter what we do at this point. I made the same observation in my 2011 book The End of Growth: expensive oil, too much debt, and rising environmental impacts (especially climate change) mean the growth party is over.

Yet no one in Washington is planning for a post-growth economy, even as Congress giddily kicks loose the last backstop against recession. This experiment has already been tried elsewhere, most recently in Greece, Spain, and Ireland; in each instance, dramatic cuts in deficit spending led to plummeting economic activity.

But what are the alternatives? There is a relatively small group of economists and politicians (think Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, and Bernie Sanders) who understand the obvious link between deficit cuts and recession and are calling for more government deficit spending as a way of jump-starting the economy.

If Gordon is right, that tactic won’t actually accomplish much. The eventual result will be inflation and an international backlash against the dollar. It would be, at most, a time-buying measure.

The best way forward would be, yes, to continue deficit spending, with the Federal Reserve buying up most new Treasury debt and rebating the interest to the government (as it has been doing with its QE programs) . . . but—crucially—to shift that spending toward supporting a transition to a post-growth economy.
  • Downsize the financial industry with re-regulation and a tax on financial transactions. 
  • Organize a massive debt jubilee. 
  • Provide incentives for the development of local cooperative enterprises geared toward import substitution. 
  • Create make-work programs building low-energy public transit, constructing renewable energy infrastructure, and insulating homes. 
  • Train a generation of young ecologically savvy farmers and provide them with the land and tools they’ll need to succeed.
That’s a fantasy future based on a realistic assessment of the present. Its likelihood of realization is small. What we’re likely to get instead is a hard-edged future following inexorably from the economic delusions of the left and right.

The political situation in Washington is such that—whether it’s the “sequester” or a compromise work-around—substantial near-term deficit reduction is more or less inevitable.

As a result, America will be thrust back into an economic situation reminiscent of early 2009.

Recession 2013: it’s a mathematical near-certainty.


Floral Telecommunication

SUBHEAD:  Bees can see visible and ultraviolet light,  and now we know they can also detect electric fields.

By Adam Cole on 22 February 2013 for NPR News -

Image above: Painting of Red Clover Meadow Fairy in Flower Fairies Of The Countryside by Cicely Mary Barker, 1889. From (http://www.etsy.com/listing/82749851/red-clover-meadow-fairy-flower-fairies).

Flowers are nature's ad men. They'll do anything to attract the attention of the pollinators that help them reproduce. That means spending precious energy on bright pigments, enticing fragrances and dazzling patterns.

Now, scientists have found another element that contributes to flowers' brand: their distinct electric field.

Flowers tailor their displays toward the sensory capabilities of their pollinators. Bees can see visible and ultraviolet light, they have precise olfactory receptors, and now we know they can also detect electric fields.

Anne Leonard, who studies bees at the University of Nevada, says our understanding of pollinator-flower communication has been expanding for decades.

"Flowers do a lot of things you might not expect," Leonard says. "We observe they have these distinct bright, beautiful colors, patterns, scents."

But we don't often stop to consider that this incredible display is all an attempt to attract bees and other pollinators. These displays don't just consist of things humans notice. There are also patterns in the ultraviolet spectrum, petal temperatures and textures and shapes.

"We've found that by producing these combinations of sensory stimuli, the plant basically makes its flowers easier for the bee to learn and remember," Leonard says.

That means the bee can forage more efficiently, and flowers are more likely to be pollinated.

"This is a magnificent interaction where you have an animal and a plant, and they both want this to go as well as possible," says Gregory Sutton of the University of Bristol in the U.K. "The flowers are trying to make themselves look as different as possible. This is to establish the flower's brand."

Sutton and a team of researchers led by Daniel Robert have just uncovered a whole new layer to flower brands.

"We found that flowers can use electric fields," Sutton says.

That's right — electric fields. It turns out flowers have a slight negative charge relative to the air around them. Bumblebees have a charge, too.

"When bees are flying through the air, just the friction of the air and the friction of the body parts on one another causes the bee to become positively charged," Sutton says.

It's like shuffling across a carpet in wool socks. When a positively charged bee lands on a flower, the negatively charged pollen grains naturally stick to it. The Bristol team wondered if bees were aware of this electrostatic interaction.

So, they designed an experiment — one described in this week's Science magazine. The researchers built a small arena full of fake flowers. Each flower was simple — a stalk with a small steel dish at the top. Half of the "flowers" held delicious sugar water. The other half held quinine, a substance that bees find bitter and disgusting.

When bumblebees explored this false flower patch, they moved around randomly. They chose to land on sweet flowers just about as often as bitter flowers.

But when the sweet flowers carried a small charge, the bees learned pretty quickly to choose the charged flowers. And when the electric charge was removed? They went back to their random foraging.

The bees had recognized the electric field, and had learned to use it to find sweet flowers. But that's not all.

"In the seconds just before the bee lands, there is electrical activity in the plant," Sutton says.

The plant's electric field is changed by the proximity of that positively charged bee. And once the bee leaves, the field stays changed for 100 seconds or so. That's long enough for the altered field to serve as a warning for the next bee that buzzes by. She won't stop to investigate a flower that's already been visited..

No Gaurantees

SUBHEAD: Being a forager or horticulturalist is not a promise we humans won't drive our environment into extinction - but it better than what we're doing.

By Vera Bravado on 22 February 2013 for Leaving Babylon -

Image above: Koru rocks in Maori landscape in the Hamilton Gardens, Hamilton, New Zealand.From (http://www.flickriver.com/photos/jayveeare/5332053003/).

Our human forebears everywhere did not just passively gather food and basketry materials but actively tended the plant and animal populations on which they relied. There was no clear-cut distinctions between hunter-gatherers and the more “advanced” agricultural peoples of the ancient world. Moreover, California Indians had likely completed the initial steps in the long process of domesticating wild species…
– Kat Anderson, Tending the Wild
In Agriculture: villain or boon companion, I argued that we sapiens have been cultivators since time immemorial, that a combination of foraging and cultivation is a sensible, durable way of life that has served us well, and that the “origin of agriculture” really is the intensification of cultivation that becomes visible in the archeological record.

I have since been stymied in my quest for clearer understanding by the ongoing insistence of some folks to paint agricultural cultivation into a corner as a disastrous turn for humans and the root of our present troubles. They point to foraging and horticulture as modes of food production that avoid the damage agriculture has brought about. I wanted to test this claim.

It became quickly apparent to me that one does not need agriculture to intensify and produce an increasing surplus. For example, the rich salmon-and-candlefish-based economy of the Kwakiutl provided plenty of surplus to support elites and even to motivate slavery. Foragers are said to live in harmony with their environment, to keep their populations low and their hierarchies flat (if any). Unfortunately, it ain’t necessarily so.

There are compelling data showing that the Australian aborigines wreaked continent-wide devastation with their use of fire on a highly vulnerable landscape, degrading the vegetation, causing massive runoff and loss of soil during monsoons, and eventually precipitating a change in climate for the worse.

While in North America the native tribes may have had but little to do with megafauna extinction, not so in Australia. The human-precipitated change of vegetation deprived the largest and most specialized browsers of adequate food, and they began to disappear not long after the arrival of humans, some 45,000 years ago, along with their marsupial predators. That should hardly be surprising, as the same story repeated many millennia later with the colonization of Far Oceania.

For example, in New Zealand. the South Island Maori, former horticulturists who returned to foraging as more suited to that environment, slaughtered the moas and other vulnerable creatures in an orgy of gluttony, only to turn on each other when protein ran low. The populations of both aborigines and Maori fluctuated according to food availability. Some of the tribes lived in hierarchical societies.

It has also been claimed that horticulturists for the most part remain egalitarian and lack despots, armies, and centralized control hierarchies, and have built-in constraints against large populations and the hoarding of surplus. Nothing could be further from the truth. There have been, indeed, some horticulturists who remained egalitarian, chose to limit their population when it was getting out of hand, and whose gardens and edible forests leave the soil and ecosystem in a good shape. The small island of Tikopia comes to mind.

But they seem no more common than those horticulturists (such as Easter Islanders and many others) who pillaged their new island home, wiping out much of the native flora and fauna, permanently degrading the living environment. The horticulturists who settled Far Oceania were generally rigidly ranked peoples whose chiefs extracted a goodly portion of the harvest, waged wars on neighbors, built fancy tombs and megaliths, and occasionally came close to a state formation. The puzzle of intensification cannot be sidestepped by a reference to a golden age of horticulture.

Still, it bears stressing that many — perhaps most? — ancient forager/cultivator societies coexisted very well with their landbase.

For example, the Moriori, cousins of the Maori, also switched to settled foraging on Chatham Islands, and were such careful stewards of their environment that seal colonies flourished within a stone’s throw from their villages. They lived notably egalitarian lives and carefully controlled their population. Until they were wiped out by the Maori, they were an impressive example of cool temperate region people living in close symbiosis with their ecosystem.

The illuminating and well-researched book Tending the Wild documents various Indian tribes who were also, by and large, careful stewards of their coastal California homelands. “They were able to harvest the foods and basketry and construction materials they needed each year while conserving — and sometimes increasing — the plant populations from which these came. The rich knowledge of how nature works and how to judiciously harvest and steward its plants and animals without destroying them was hard-earned; it was the product of keen observation, patience, experimentation, and long-term relationships with plants and animals.”

Living among a similarly abundant natural environment as the Kwakiutl further north, they did not succumb to ongoing intensification, and continued to share any accumulated seasonal surpluses. Why did Kwakiutl intensify, while their close neighbors to the south, the Coastal Yurok, did not?

I conclude that neither the foraging nor horticultural modes of food production are by themselves a guarantee against ongoing intensification and the eventual damage it brings.

There is a streak of persistent idealization of the forager and simple horticulturist among primitivists and other uncivilization-minded people. Slavery might be reframed as “captivity,” environmental damage rationalized, potlatches celebrated as evidence for gift-economies rather than economic warfare, and discussion shut off. Surely it’s not necessary to ostracize people who point out the facts on the ground, and a need for a rethink?

After all, egalitarian forager/cultivators do show us that this particular mode of existence — so successful and durable during most of our species’ history — functioned mostly within the ‘Law of limits’ that allows ecosystems to thrive.