Sunday, May 15, 2016

Epiconomics 102 : The Sunlight Economy

"It is green capitalism, we admit, but the gene expression for capitalism must and will change."

The adoption of The Paris Agreement by 195 countries on December 12, 2015 marks the end of the era of fossil fuels. There is no way to meet the targets laid out in this agreement without keeping 90 percent or more of remaining coal, oil and gas in the ground. The final text still has some serious gaps, and the timetable will have to speed up, but the treaty draws a red line on atmospheric CO2 we cannot cross. As science, economics and law come into alignment, a solar-powered economy is barrelling at us with unstoppable force.

Nafeez Ahmed, a former Guardian writer who now blogs the System Shift column for VICE’s Motherboard recently pondered the Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI) problem with renewables and came up with something that might form the basis for smoothing the transition.

First, you have to get a sense of the scale of the driving force behind this change. Ahmed observed that since the crash in oil prices (underlying causes here) and the Paris Agreement, more than 65% of the world’s oil companies have declared bankruptcy. The Economist puts the default at $2.5 trillion. The real number is probably much higher. Following Paris, Goldman Sachs surveyed over $1 trillion in stranded assets out in the fracking fields that will never be booked. Carbon Tracker puts the likely cash that will be thrown down bad wells by the still standing 35% of fossil industry dinosaurs — and never-to-be recouped — at $2.2 trillion.

In our book, The Paris Agreement, we described why the fossil shakeout is likely to liberate huge cashflows into renewable energy, but with one giant caveat. There is significantly lower net energy (EROEI) in renewables than the fossils provided in their heyday. That augurs economic contraction no matter how you slice it.

Degrowth is already happening. Carbon Tracker identified Peabody Coal as one of those energy giants unable to pass a 2C stress test. Peabody scoffed. Six months later, Peabody went bankrupt.  There are now more solar installers than coal miners in the US and the gap widens each month.

Mark Harrington, an oil industry consultant, tells his clients now the cascading debt defaults will shake the global economy by late 2016 or early 2017 and could make the 2007-8 financial crash look like a cakewalk. Utilities are the new housing bubble.

The EROEI on Texas Spindletops was 100 to 1. The net energy produced from Canadian tar sands or Bakkan shale is less than you can get from green firewood, maybe 3 to 1. Oil rig count in the Bakkan as of this morning: zero. Lost investment exploring and drilling there? billions.

Nafeez Ahmed says:
The imperative to transition away from fossil fuels is, therefore, both geophysical and environmental. On the one hand, by mid-century, fossil fuels and nuclear power will become obsolete as a viable source of energy due to their increasingly high costs and low quality. On the other, even before then, to maintain what scientists describe as a ‘safe operating space’ for human survival, we cannot permit the planet to warm a further 2C without risking disastrous climate impacts.

Staying below 2C, the study finds, will require renewable energy to supply more than 50 percent of total global energy by 2028, “a 37-fold increase in the annual rate of supplying renewable energy in only 13 years.”

Let us leave aside the 2C discussion for now. Two degrees is in the bank and 5 degrees is what we have a slim chance of averting, assuming we can muster the collective will to plant enough trees, make soil, and stop dumping carbon into the atmosphere. Whether 4 degrees, which is likely to be reached by about mid-century, give or take 10 years, is survivable by mammals such as ourselves remains an open question. The odds do not favor our collectively recognizing the risk in time, all of us must acknowledge.

Those odds get even longer once President Trump, taking advice from the Koch brothers, Dick Cheney and Mitch "Black Lungs Matter" McConnell, appoints an Energy Task Force sometime in the first hundred days. Within a few months, Congress will attempt to bend energy economics around their political gravity well. They will superincentivize coal, nuclear and fracked gas and raise even more impossible hurdles for solar power, responsible biomass waste conversion and energy efficiency. Chances then of humans surviving another century: nil.

Trump's tweet has now been retweeted 27,761 times.

Last year the G7 set the goal of decarbonization by end of century, which, like Trump, is a formula for Near Term Human Extinction. At the Paris gathering 195 countries agreed to bounce the date to 2050, with a proviso that it could even accelerate more if needed. More will be needed.

The Bright Shining Hope

Analysts like Stanford’s Tony Seba say that solar power has doubled every year for the last 20 years and costs of photovoltaic power have dropped 22% with each doubling. If you believe these numbers, eight more doublings — by 2030 — and solar power will provide 100% of the world’s electricity at a fraction of today’s prices with significant reductions of carbon emissions. But there is a hitch.

The EROEI of solar power is not improving as quickly as the price. Energy efficiency, especially the embodied energy of components like turbine towers and rooftop arrays and the mined minerals for crystal manufacture, is substantially less than the concentrated caloric punch of oil and coal. Fossil sunlight is to sunlight as crack cocaine is to coca leaves.

And a decarbonated SMART is not your daddy’s muscle car.

That is not to say a civil society living on sunlight can’t still be very nice, and nicer, in fact, than the dirtier industrial civilization, especially if you only have a generation or two left before you go extinct to enjoy it.

All of this revolution could be accomplished, and paid for, simply by a small epigenetic hack in the DNA of central banks. They need to express the gene that prints money. As Ellen Brown explains:
"The combination of fiat money and Globalization creates a unique moment in history where the governments of the developed economies can print money on an aggressive scale without causing inflation. They should take advantage of this once-in-history opportunity . . . ."

Don't panic, and it might be a good idea to follow Ford Prefect's example of carrying a towel, in the unlikely event that the planet is suddenly demolished by a Vogon constructor fleet to make way for a hyperspace bypass.

Despite the paucity of intelligence in the throne room of the Empire, there is, however, a faint glimmer of light coming from a corner of the dungeon, should we peer farther. Ahmed latches on to Eric Toensmeier’s new book, The Carbon Farming Solution, that quotes a Rodale Institute study:
Simply put, recent data from farming systems and pasture trials around the globe show that we could sequester more than 100 percent of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term ‘regenerative organic agriculture’… These practices work to maximize carbon fixation while minimizing the loss of that carbon once returned to the soil, reversing the greenhouse effect.
As we described in our books, The Biochar Solution and The Paris Agreement, it is possible to unleash the healing powers of the natural world -- not by tampering further but by discerning and moving with its flows the way indigenious peoples did for eons -- that doesn't just halt climate change but restores it to the pre-industrial. By using a permaculture cascade — regenerative cropping to food, feed and fiber; to protein and probiotic extracts (from waste byproducts); to biofuels (from waste byproducts); to biochar and biofertilizers (from waste byproducts); to probiotic animal supplements and industrial applications like fuel cells (from biochar) — bioeconomics can transform a dying planet into a garden world. But, again, there is a hitch.

Ahmed says:
According to a 2011 report by the National Academy of Sciences, the scientific consensus shows conservatively that for every degree of warming, we will see the following impacts: 5-15 percent reductions in crop yields; 3-10 percent increases in rainfall in some regions contributing to flooding; 5-10 percent decreases in stream-flow in some river basins, including the Arkansas and the Rio Grande, contributing to scarcity of potable water; 200-400 percent increases in the area burned by wildfire in the US; 15 percent decreases in annual average Arctic sea ice, with 25 percent decreases in the yearly minimum extent in September.

The challenge climate change poses to bioeconomics is where epigenetic agents come in. There is a permaculture army waiting in the wings. We have been training and drilling for 30 years. Cue marching entrance, stage left, with George M. Cohan’s arrangement of Yankee Doodle Dandy.

This will require more than Busby Berkeley. First, as we described here last week, we will need a change of the command switches that express civilization’s genes. This is unlikely to come from Hillary Clinton, central banks, the G7 or the International Monetary Fund — just witness the debacle at Doha in April.  It will more likely arise spontaneously from the grass roots, led by regenerative farmers, treehuggers and degrarians, but funded — massively — by institutional investors in search of safe havens from petrocollapse and failing confidence in a stale, counterproductive paradigm.

It is green capitalism, we admit, but the gene expression for capitalism must and will change.

"If you think about it, economic growth could happen through dematerialization," says Jack Buffington, a researcher at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and author of Progress, Technology and Seven Billion People: A Solution to Save Capitalism and The Recycling Myth: Disruptive Innovation to Improve the Environment.
"Think about all the different things your smart phone can do that 20 years ago you had a computer, you had a telephone. you had an alarm clock.... So, I think there is a way to transform things through the use of materials to dematerialize while at the same time leading to economic growth. Even if you tried to stop innovation you won't. What we have to push for is a model that between the environment and the economy is complementary, so we achieve goals of improving people's lives at the same time as improving the environment."
A bioeconomy is coming. Fast. There are demonstrations of it, large and small, popping up all over the world. The DNA for the global financial marketplace — our social customs for nations, currency systems and trade — has not changed. What is being transformed is the histone that occupies the space between the helices and flips the switches to turn expressions on and off. Who are the radical free agent proteins that are moving in to transform the histone?

You are.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Epiconomics 101: Our Fiscal Genome

"Vital public services like health care, education, transportation and communication should be free."

In the May 2d New Yorker, Siddhartha Mukherjee wrote an ode to his mother and aunt, identical twins, taking the opportunity to dig into the roles of nature and nurture in shaping our lives, Going a step farther, he brought in one of our favorite topics here, epigenetics, or the ability of the same DNA strand to issue different instructions depending on external stimuli.

Last year, in our discussion of quantum entanglement, we observed how little of what we call our own bodies is actually our own DNA. More than 95 percent belongs to our unique, personal, coevolving microbiome that not only helps us breathe, digest, and heal illness, but influences our patterns of thought and intentions.

Mukherjee chronicled the gross result of this conspiracy, describing how two brothers, separated by geographic and economic continents, might be brought to tears by the same Chopin nocturne, as if responding to some subtle, common chord struck by their genomes, or perhaps by their epigenomes, and how two sisters — separated long before the development of language — had invented the same word to describe the way they scrunched up their noses: “squidging.”

Mukherjee overlooked the closely entangled microbial web of alien presences, but we’d observe that although these twins may have placed distance and culture between themselves, they had been together long enough to have nearly identical microbiomes from gestation, birth and infancy.

Nucleosome crystal structure at 2.8 angstrom resolution showing a disk-like shape. DNA helices at edge, histones and free proteins in center. The worm-like structures are RNA messengers.

Mukherjee writes:
It is a testament to the unsettling beauty of the genome that it can make the real world stick. Hindu philosophers have long described the experience of “being” as a web—jaal. Genes form the threads of the web; the detritus that adheres to it transforms every web into a singular being. An organism’s individuality, then, is suspended between genome and epigenome. We call the miracle of this suspension “fate.” We call our responses to it “choice.” We call one such unique variant of one such organism a “self.”
In his visits with various scientists Mukherjee probed the complex connections of the histones that occupy the empty spaces within the double helix and seem to possess a mysterious power to trigger or silence gene expressions. What he seems to overlook is the role of non-human microbiological agents in making these sorts of choices for their hosts. Indeed, his description of a histone begs comparison to other life forms:
In 1996, Allis and his research group deepened this theory with a seminal discovery. “We became interested in the process of histone modification,” he said. “What is the signal that changes the structure of the histone so that DNA can be packed into such radically different states? We finally found a protein that makes a specific chemical change in the histone, possibly forcing the DNA coil to open. And when we studied the properties of this protein it became quite clear that it was also changing the activity of genes.” The coils of DNA seemed to open and close in response to histone modifications—inhaling, exhaling, inhaling, like life.
These protein systems, overlaying information on the genome, interacted with one another, reinforcing or attenuating their signals. Together, they generated the bewildering intricacy necessary for a cell to build a constellation of other cells out of the same genes, and for the cells to add “memories” to their genomes and transmit these memories to their progeny.

While we were pondering these things, bicycling through a Spring rainstorm one morning, we tuned our mobile cyberamphibian prosthesis to Michael Hudson’s interview on Extraenvironmentalist #91. Hudson described how debt deflation is imposing austerity on the U.S. and European economies, siphoning wealth and income to the financial center while impoverishing the periphery. Its the theme of his latest book, Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy.

Crossing two hot wires in our rain soaked brain, the comparison between economic theory and genetics wafted a blue smoke that trailed out from under our bike helmet.

The system itself — the DNA code — is monetary policy, trade rules, labor, capital assets and other components of what we call “the economy.” The histones are the central banks and the FED that set the policies epigenetically by turning switches on or off. The wild cards are those alien protein agents that seem to bring about changes in the histones. A century ago those might have included J. D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan. Then came Henry Wallace and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Today they would include Jaime Dimon (Morgan Chase), Lloyd Blankfein (Goldman Sachs), Christine Lagarde (IMF), and Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.

It is pretty clear from most indicators that since at least 2008, and likely much earlier, our economic DNA has been instructed to express a cancer. As Gail Tyerberg observes:
Both energy and debt have characteristics that are close to “magic” with respect to the growth of the economy. Economic growth can only take place when growing debt (or a very close substitute, such as company stock) is available to enable the use of energy products.
Back in the era of cheap energy less debt was required. In our era of expensive energy, gigantic and growing debt is required. But you can only build debt on itself up to the point where confidence in repayment by those who are owed the money falters. After that, watch out. No debt, no energy. No energy, no economy.

Greg Mannarino of Traders Choice says:
Let’s just look at the stock market… there’s no possible way at this time that these multiples can be justified with regard to what’s occurring here with the price action of the overall market… meanwhile, the market continues to rise. … Nothing is real. I can’t stress this enough… and we’re going to continue to see more fakery… and manipulation and twisting of this entire system… We now exist in an environment where the financial system as a whole has been flipped upside down just to make it function… and that’s very scary. … We’ve never seen anything like this in the history of the world… The Federal Reserve has never been in a situation like this… we are completely in uncharted territory where the world’s central banks have gone negative interest rates… it’s all an illusion to keep the stock market booming.

… Every single asset now… I don’t care what asset… you want to look at currency, debt, housing, metals, the stock market… pick an asset… there’s no price discovery mechanism behind it whatsoever… it’s all fake… it’s all being distorted. … The system is built upon on one premise and that is confidence that it will work… if that confidence is rattled the whole thing will implode… our policy makers are well aware of this… there is collusion between central banks and their respective governments… and it will not stop until it implodes… and what I mean by implode is, correct to fair value.”

It’s created a population boom… a population boom has risen in tandem with the debt. It’s incredible. So, when the debt bubble bursts we’re going to get a correction in population. It’s a mathematical certainty. Millions upon millions of people are going to die on a world-wide scale when the debt bubble bursts. And I’m saying when not if… … When resources become more and more scarce we’re going to see countries at war with each other. People will be scrambling… in a worst case scenario… doing everything that they can to survive… to provide for their family and for themselves. There’s no way out of it.”
Jason Heppenstall, who lives in Cornwall, England, writes in the 22billionenergyslaves blog:
Aside from the police and the shops closing, public toilets are closed virtually all of the time, and the Post Office too is soon to close down, having been privatised and now asset stripped. The council is being forced to raise its taxation rates by 4% this year to cover the shortfall caused by spiraling costs and diminished funding from central government. Clinics and charities are being squeezed out of existence and the local council tried (and failed) to privatise the town’s midsummer festival.

My wife works in the care sector. The stories I get to hear will make you never want to be dependent on the state in your old age. If you can’t rely on your kids to look after you in your dotage it might be wise to keep a bottle of whisky and a revolver in your bottom drawer. Or maybe you'd rather die of thirst lying in your own mess because the 19-year-old unqualified carer who works for minimum wage is too busy checking Facebook on her phone to hear you pressing the emergency button by the bed.

Former US Budget Czar David Stockman wrote this week:
Owing to the recency bias that dominates mainstream news and commentary, the massive expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet depicted above goes unnoted and unremarked, as if it were always part of the financial landscape. In fact, however, it is something radically new under the sun; it’s the footprint of a monetary fraud breathtaking in its magnitude.

In essence, during the last 15 years the Fed has gifted the US economy with a $4 trillion free lunch. Uncle Sam bought $4 trillion worth of weapons, highways, government salaries and contractual services but did not pay for them by extracting an equal amount of financing from taxes or tapping the private savings pool, and thereby “crowding out” other investments.

This is not Al Gore. It is Elon Musk, a beneficiary of govt largess
Instead, Uncle Sam “bridge financed” these expenditures on real goods and services by issuing US treasury bonds on a interim basis to clear his checking account. But these expenses were then permanently funded by fiat credits conjured from thin air by the Fed when it did the “takeout” financing. Central bank purchase of government bonds in this manner is otherwise and cosmetically known as “quantitative easing” (QE), but it’s fraud all the same.

In essence, Uncle Sam has gotten $4 trillion of “something for nothing” during the last 16 years, while the Washington politicians and policy apparatchiks were happy to pretend that the “independent” Fed was doing god’s work of catalyzing, coaxing and stimulating more jobs and growth out of the US economy.

What the Fed was actually doing was falsifying and inflating the price of financial assets. As Michael Hudson points out, the prime error is placing the financial sector in the same column as honest labor or capital contributions. Finance is actually a drain on those things. It is a withdrawal from productivity, not a contributor to GDP.

Stockman agrees:
But financial engineering does not add to GDP or increase primary spending; it results in the re-pricing of existing financial assets. That is, it gooses stock prices higher, makes executive stock options more valuable and confers endless windfalls on the fast money speculators who work the financial casinos.

Last month, Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank president, became the first central banker to take seriously the idea of helicopter money – the direct distribution of newly created money from the central bank to eurozone residents.

Germany’s leaders have reacted furiously and are now subjecting Draghi to nationalistic personal attacks. Less visibly, Italy has also led a quiet rebellion against the pre-Keynesian economics of the German government and the European commission. In EU councils and again at this month’s IMF meeting in Washington, DC, Pier Carlo Padoan, Italy’s finance minister, presented the case for fiscal stimulus more strongly and coherently than any other EU leader. More important, Padoan has started to implement fiscal stimulus by cutting taxes and maintaining public spending plans, in defiance of German and EU commission demands to tighten his budget. As a result, consumer and business confidence in Italy have rebounded to the highest level in 15 years, credit conditions have improved, and Italy is the only G7 country expected by the IMF to grow faster in 2016 than 2015 (albeit still at an inadequate 1% rate).
The Automatic Earth

With England jumping ship and Germany saying nicht to every reform proposal, the EU is headed for a disaster but Italy seems to be able to still think outside the box. To us this suggests the potential for alien-led histone modification in the DNA of modern finance.

Heppenstall says:
The irony of being called anti-European is that I am ardently pro-European. I’ve lived in four different EU countries, travelled all over and am married to an Italian Dane. Europe, to me, is the most diverse place in the world and has an amazing spread of history and culture. My ideal life would involve spending several months each year travelling around Europe in a camper van and getting to know it in an even more intimate manner. The EU is not Europe; it’s an abstract concept masking a faceless undemocratic organisation that funnels wealth from one place to another and keeps its modesty intact behind a fig leaf of supposed liberalism.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We could still have a Europe united around some core values other than money and power and capitalism. How about a Europe focused on an emerging eco-consciousness? Or what about remaking it as a loose cooperative of bioregions? Or perhaps, at the very least, we could all agree on a shared constitution founded on liberty, equality and fraternity. Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has suggested something along those lines, setting up a pan-European umbrella group called DiEM25 that aims to shake things up ‘gently, compassionately but firmly.’ Perhaps there could be more debate about what kind of Europe would be better suited to weathering the coming financial, ecological and energy shocks without causing so much collateral damage to both itself and other nations.

Until that happens we’ll just have to stand back and watch the fireworks. Big institutions like the EU are like skyscrapers; they don’t come crashing down to the ground without taking out plenty of other nearby buildings and the EU is like the leaning tower of Pisa on steroids.  Big things are an artifact of the age of oil – the future is necessarily smaller and more local. The best course of action is to stop arguing over whether it is best to be stood on top of the creaking tower it or beside it, and simply get the hell out of the way before it goes over. 

Draghi’s Italy, it should be recalled, was the country whose Supreme Court last month ruled that Roman Ostriakov, a young homeless man who had bought a bag of breadsticks from a supermarket but had slipped a wurstel – a small sausage – and cheese into his pocket, had acted out of an immediate need by stealing a minimal amount of food, and therefore had not committed a crime. Carlo Rienzi, president of Codacons, an environmental and consumer rights group, told Il Mesaggero, “In recent years the economic crisis has increased dramatically the number of citizens, especially the elderly, forced to steal in supermarkets to be able to make ends meet.” La Stampa said that, for supreme court judges, the right to survive still trumped property rights, a fact that would be considered “blasphemy in America.”
Michael Hudson

Hudson is another epigenetic secret agent. He advocates a debt jubilee similar to what Truman pushed on Europe after World War II, creating the “German Economic Miracle.” In Hudson’s view, the quickest route to reform would be shifting from taxing honest labor to taxing unearned income and capital gains; from burdening the shrinking middle class to shrinking the rentier class. Vital public services like health care, education, transportation and communication should be free.

Ellen Brown, who has been beating the drum for public banks from her Web of Debt page and books, notes that the Bank of North Dakota, the nation’s only state-owned depository bank, was more profitable last year than J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, and that was after the fracked gas bubble burst. She urges local governments everywhere to bypass the Fed and the vulture banking system and create their own public banks.
Ellen Brown

North Dakota has led the way in demonstrating how a state can jump-start a flagging economy by keeping its revenues in its own state-owned bank, using them to generate credit for the state and its citizens, bypassing the tourniquet on the free flow of credit imposed by private out-of-state banks. California and other states could do the same. They could create jobs, restore home ownership, rebuild infrastructure and generally stimulate their economies, while generating hefty dividends for the state, without increasing debt levels or risking public funds – and without costing taxpayers a dime.

The ability of these foreign antagonists to infect the global economy with a new narrative is a relatively recent phenomenon. The false narrative embedded by Bretton Woods and the Chicago School are not that thoroughly ensconced that they can’t be evicted. There is no reason why the inane policies of economic astrologers could not be quickly reversed by protein protagonists with simple but compelling histological reforms, such as basing the future on a bioeconomy that sequesters carbon and runs on sunlight.

Next week: Epiconomics 102: The Sunlight Economy 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Legacy

"I am feeling pain for you, Mr. President. We didn’t use to have drone strikes on outdoor restaurants in countries we are not at war with."

  Last night was the annual White House Correspondent’s Dinner, the eighth and final #WHCD for @POTUS Barack Obama. While it is ostensibly a celebrity roast of the sitting president, it is almost always kept very tame. Host Larry Wilmore had a few awkward moments of silence and boos when he quipped:
"And I have to admit it’s not easy to follow the president, man. You got some jokes. Mr. President. The president’s funny. Stay in your lane, man. You don’t see me going around president-ing all the time, right? I don’t go around passing health care, and signing executive orders pardoning turkeys … not closing Guantanamo. Oh wait, maybe I did do that.
"But I have to say, it’s great, it looks like you’re really enjoying your last year of the presidency. Saw you hanging out with NBA players like Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors. That was cool. That was cool, yeah. You know it kinda makes sense, too, because both of you like raining down bombs on people from long distances, right? What? Am I wrong? Speaking of drones, how is Wolf Blitzer still on television?"
Back on June 15, 2015, Marc Maron welcomed President Barack Obama to his L.A. garage for an appearance on the number one rated podcast, WTF. What ensued was an hour-long conversation about college, fitting in, race relations, gun control, raising kids in the White House, and, obviously the reason the President would appear on a podcast with a name like WTF -- the Obama legacy. Just like a Correspondent’s Dinner, the jibes were G-rated.

We wondered what could have been.

Marc: Thank you for this honor and I would like to get right to the heart of it. Okay? You are here because you are worried about your legacy, right? I mean, nobody comes to my garage — a President of the United States doesn’t come to my garage — unless you are pretty desperately worried.

POTUS: (laughs) I’ll let other people worry about these things, seriously. There is nothing I can really do about that, so why bother trying? People will judge me, and that comes with the job.

Marc: But lets get right down to it, they will judge you not on the things you got right but where you blew it, right? As Shakespeare said, The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones. Where do you think you blew it?

Tented entrance to Marc's garage
POTUS: Well, I don’t disagree with you. I look at many recent presidents whom I consider to have done a better job than I have but who are vilified, often for the wrong reasons. I came to office at a particularly difficult time when the Republican Party was struggling to find an identity, and in their internal squabbles, made me the scapegoat, which put me in a difficult position. I could have handled that better, perhaps. But when I take an unemployment rate of 10 percent down to 5.5 percent, when I drive the uninsured rate to the lowest it's ever been, when I restore people's 401(k)s, when I make sure that we're doubling clean energy, and we are reducing our carbon footprint, and high school graduations are the highest they've ever been, and college attendance is the highest it's ever been, and LGBT rights have been recognized and solidified in ways that we couldn't even imagine ten years ago – when I look at those things, I can say that in terms of not just managing the government, but moving the country forward, we've had a lot more hits than misses. We've made a difference in people's lives. And that is ultimately what you're looking for.

Marc: But didn’t you invite Boehner over for beers? That is not really what I am talking about, with all due respect Mr. President. I mean — you tortured some folks.

POTUS: I think the line is “We tortured some folks,” and I was speaking in the past tense.

Marc: But all due respect Mr. President. I meant you tortured some folks. They are still being tortured. The CIA is torturing them at surrogate black sites in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Some of those are probably American citizens. You have people still being tortured in Guantánamo because the various human rights commissions have looked at that place and how it is being run and called it torture. You have a former Gitmo prosecutor, going public and calling it “a severe threat to the reputation of the military justice system and even a fraud on the American people.” You have another former prosecutor there calling the process rigged. We know that there are innocent people there. You have released a few of them, but there are still a lot more that if they had their cases tried in court they would be let go. And they are being tortured with isolation and sleep deprivation and force feeding and bags over their heads.

If you aren’t getting these in your NSA morning briefings, you should listen to Brandon Neely speak about his experiences as a guard at Guantánamo.

POTUS: I think you have to be more careful about taking your news from the Internet, Marc (laughs).

Marc: Okay. That’s fair. What about the Uyghurs? You joked about them. Bush had 22 of them sent to Gitmo in 2002 after they were turned in by the Taliban, unarmed, in East Turkestan. They weren’t fighting the US. They liked the US. They were trying to flee the Chinese who were occupying their country and they were on their way to Turkey. The Uyghurs are as oppressed as the Tibetans, but they don't receive as much recognition because they don’t have a spokesman like the Dalai Lama.

POTUS: And like the Tibetians, or the Taiwanese, we are walking a delicate line. We have to consider our interests with respect to the Chinese, and a host of diplomatic relations there from nuclear disarmament to currency exchange rates to global climate change.

Marc: In 2005 it was determined they were not enemy combatants. They sued in US District Court and when the case was about to come up, Bush had the 5 named plaintiffs transferred to Albania. The other 17 were transferred to Isolation in Camp Six — shackled to the floor, 22 hours per day in cells with no natural light. Hot in the summer, cold in the winter.

Their case went to the US Supreme Court and the court ruled the Executive Branch lacked the Constitutional authority to detain them. Congress then revoked habeas corpus so they were knocked out of court and could not enforce the ruling. Great Britain offered them asylum but Bush wouldn’t send them. Munich, which has the largest population of Uyghurs outside China, invited them, but Bush wouldn’t release them.

POTUS: This was all the previous administration….

Marc: So then you get into office, and they were still there. Still in Guantánamo. Kiyemba v. Obama? Does that ring a bell? The Bush government acknowledged as early as 2003 that the Uyghurs were improperly detained and eligible for release. You held them until 2013.

POTUS: In all fairness, Marc, that was a political football, with a court case pending that tied my hands.

Marc: Seriously? The guy you appointed at the State Department to find countries to send them to said he couldn’t get anyone because the guys you appointed over at the Justice Department made them out to be so dangerous that they shouldn’t even be able to use habeas corpus to have their cases tried. And what did you do? You joked about them. Seriously, Mr. President, I have done some pretty lame standup, but the Correspondents’ Dinner joke about the Uyghurs, who were being tortured in Gitmo, would even have been in poor taste for me.

Why didn’t you just offer them jobs in the White House? They could have been gardeners or janitors. They didn’t have to come into the Residence. They could have mopped the floors in the West Wing.

POTUS: Admittedly, not my finest hour. But in all honesty, Marc, you and I can both agree Guantánamo continues to impose significant costs on the American people. It took a while, but we finally got greater flexibility to transfer Guantánamo detainees abroad, and I look forward to closing the facility before I leave office.

Marc: Right. What about Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki?

POTUS: That is quite a mouthful Marc. Are you studying Pashtun?

Marc: Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki was a 16-year old US citizen, with no connection to terrorism. He was in Yemen searching for his father, Anwar al-Awlaki, a dual Yemeni-American citizen who worked as Islamic Lecturer in the Arabian Peninsula.

You decided, in your weekly targets meeting, to kill Anwar al-Awlaki with an armed CIA drone because the CIA didn’t like what he was saying in his lectures. Al-Awlaki was killed by us, America, in a country with which we are not at war. He was a lecturer. He was killed by his own government for speaking the truth as he saw it. He had constitutional rights that you, a professor of constitutional law, chose to ignore. Then, when his son went looking for him, two weeks later, Bang! You droned the son too.

POTUS: I cannot speak to matters of national security as you no doubt are aware. The Department of Defense has issued a statement that the boy was killed by accident, collateral damage in a strike against an Al Qaeda bombmaker.

Marc: He was sitting in an outdoor restaurant!

POTUS: (silence)

Marc: Do you see what I am getting at here? Do you understand the pain I feel in asking you? I am feeling pain for you, Mr. President. We didn’t use to have drone strikes on outdoor restaurants in countries we are not at war with. Even Bush didn’t do that.

POTUS: I was talking to somebody the other day about why I actually think I’m a better president and would be a better candidate if I were running again than I ever have been. And it’s sort of like an athlete—you might slow down a little bit, you might not jump as high as you used to, but I know what I’m doing and I’m fearless.

Marc: For real. You’re not pretending to be fearless.

POTUS: Right, you’re not pretending to be fearless. And when you get to that point?

Marc: Freedom.

POTUS: And also part of that fearlessness is because you’ve screwed up enough times that you know that—

Marc: It’s all happened.

POTUS: It’s all happened. I’ve been through this, I’ve screwed up, I’ve been in the barrel tumbling down Niagara Falls, and I emerged, and I lived. And that’s such a liberating feeling. It’s one of the benefits of age. It almost compensates for the fact I can’t play basketball anymore.

Marc: How do you define terror? We are in a War On Terror that is supposed to last my lifetime. What is terror? Is being afraid to go outdoors terror? Is being afraid to sit in an outdoor restaurant in a country not at war terror? Isn’t that what happened last November in Paris? Isn’t that what terror is — keeping people in a constant state of fear; terrorized? Who is doing that? Aren’t you doing that inside America as well as in places like Yemen and Pakistan too? You don’t have to go through the lines at the airport and take off your shoes and have your toothpaste confiscated so maybe you don’t know. Do you imagine there are not consequences when you do that for a long time? Don’t you foresee some really pissed off people?

Ten years shackled to the floor in Gitmo while known to be innocent. I’d be a little pissed off.

POTUS: It is a dangerous world out there, Marc. But look. We ended two wars. I always said from the start that there really are people out there who would have no compunction about just blowing up an entire neighborhood of Americans – innocent men, women and children – for ideological reasons. We have to deal with that. That then means that we do have to be able to identify those networks. We do have to, when we can find those folks, try to prevent them from doing what they're doing. And so, for the last seven years what I've tried to do is to build up a defense posture that is consistent with our values and due process, build up an intelligence system that is consistent with our civil liberties.

Marc: I know. I get it. You are stuck between Iraq and a hard place. I guess what I am saying is that if you want to know how you will be remembered, this is how you will be remembered. It won’t be for Obamacare or climate change. Your record on torture and terror-killing from the skies has been abysmal. You have droned wedding parties and hospitals. It is a standard riff for standup comics. You are deep in torture “to the point of obstruction, concealment, and ultimate complicity” and that’s not me saying that, that’s Wells Dixon, the senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

You never held Bush officials accountable for what happened. You are still holding back the Senate report on torture.  You had Secretary of State Kerry call Feinstein and tell her to delay the report’s release. Your administration itself has transferred prisoners into facilities run by governments where torture is used — a violation of the UN Convention Against Torture — even though our allies have stopped sending prisoners there, you still do.

You issued an executive order taking control of torture out of the CIA and giving it to the White House lawyers, but you didn’t ban it. You still allow prolonged isolation, sleep and sensory deprivation and intimidating or humiliating practices. Your order specifically did not ban extraordinary rendition or prohibit CIA random and arbitrary secret detention. That was no accident, come on. Although we can’t say for sure that nobody’s been flown off to countries such as Egypt and tortured under your orders, as they were under Bush and Clinton, CIA captives have been transferred to facilities run by the Afghan security forces where we know torture takes place. And lets be serious. That is why you are sending them there.

If they survive and sue you, your guys have repeatedly invoked state-secrets privilege to stop them from having a fair day in court. Without any deterrent of civil or criminal prosecution, future presidents might feel they can bring back waterboarding, or hanging people from the ceiling.  That’s your legacy, Mr. President.

POTUS: This interview is over (muffled mic noise).

Sunday, April 24, 2016


"The Irish Water crisis, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, offshore tax-avoidance havens, the collapse of ecosystems, Occupy Hong Kong, Australian greedy banks, and the rise of Donald Trump link to a single bad gene in our political DNA."

It is the political silly season, although these days it never seems to be otherwise. Delma Rouseff, Brazil’s heroic anti-establishment, anti-corruption President, has been impeached by the lower house on (dubious) charges of corruption, but the former, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called it more accurately a "coup d’état.”

Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned after it was revealed he owned an offshore company with his wife to channel millions of kroner. British Prime Minister David Cameron admitted he owned shares in a Bahamas-based trust up until 2010. In Malta, protesters demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat for the same tax-avoidance activities.

Scores of countries will hold national elections in 2016. In January, Portugal elected Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, former leader of the Social Democratic Party and supported by the Social Democratic Party and the CDS – People's Party. Portugal, which rationalized recreational drug policy in 2001, tilted left.

Ireland, which has a gender neutral election law, requiring any election to be supported by at least 30% male and 30% female voters, in February elected a right-leaning Dáil Éireann (parliament). Sadly the coalition is still too fractious to choose a Taoiseach (prime minister)

In 2013 Ireland consolidated separate county and local water authorities into a single national utility, which proceeded to install meters everywhere and raise rates. In 2014 and 2015 local protests blocked meter installers. Four percent of Ireland's population showed up at one demonstration in Dublin. Irish Water is a wedge between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, so no prime minister for Ireland.

Legislative elections for 450 Duma seats will be held in Russia on 18 September. Polls April 10th give Dmitry Medvedev’s conservative United Russia 46%, Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s right-wing anti-communist Liberal Democratic Party 11%, Gennady Zyuganov’s left-wing Communist Party 9%, A Just Russia People's Freedom Party 5% and the remainder to 10 other parties, including the Greens led by Oleg Mitvol.

In Peru, the first round on April 10th narrowed the field to Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, of the Popular Force party, and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski candidate of the Peruvians for Change party. Fujimori has a healthy lead and the second round of voting comes June 5th. Peru is interesting if for no other reason than the names of its political parties (as translated): 
Popular Force
Peruvians for Change
Broad Front
Alliance for Progress
Popular Alliance
Popular Action
Direct Democracy
Possible Peru
Hope Front
Order Party
Developing Peru
Everybody for Peru

These names seem like something you might read on post-its on the wall of the “creatives” room in an ad agency.

In Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said last November: "I would say around September–October is when you should expect the next election to be.” However, when parties predictably deadlocked over bills to reinstate the Australian Building and Construction Commission, a bone of contention for the opposition Labor Party, Turnbull this week announced he would dissolve Parliament on May 3 and call for new elections July 2. Turnbull himself is well known to Australians and his party the clear frontrunner. But lately he has been losing ground to Labor leader Bill Shorten in the polls. Labor needs to win 21 seats to take power, a swing of 4.3%. BBC reports:
“Mr Turnbull will attempt to paint Mr Shorten as a union lackey who cannot manage the economy; Mr Shorten will say Mr Turnbull is an out-of-touch protector of greedy banks leading a divided party that stands for nothing.”

The Philippines just concluded its presidential debate cycle and is headed to national elections May 9th. At the top of the ballot is the election for successor to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III. The leading candidate is the current VP Jejomar Binay. His opponents include Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago (People's Reform Party) who is suffering from stage 4 lung cancer. Called "the Iron Lady of Asia,” she was the widely expected winner of the 1992 Philippine Presidential Elections, but lost after an inexplicably unscheduled power outage during the counting of votes. The Supreme Court of the Philippines recently declared optical scanner counting devices “corrupt” and forced precincts to return to hand counts.

Santiago announced her candidacy for president in the launch of her book, Stupid is Forever, on October 13, 2015.

Other candidates include Rodrigo “Courage and Compassion” Duterte (PDP–Laban), Grace "Government with a Heart” Poe (Independent) and Mar "Continue the Straight Path” Roxas (Liberal).

While the People’s Republic of China will not be holding national elections this year, what is brewing at the grass roots in Hong Kong is QI — quite interesting.  Wikipedia reports:
The emergence of new political groups led by young activists is set to shake up the political landscape of Hong Kong. Hong Kong Indigenous, a pro-independence localist group, faired well in the February New Territories East by-election by receiving more than 66,000 votes, coming third after pan-democratic Civic Party and pro-Beijing DAB, gaining about 15 percent of the total votes. A day after the election, localist groups including Wong Yuk-man's Proletariat Political Institute, Wong Yeung-tat's Civic Passion and Chin Wan's Hong Kong Resurgence Order announced a plan to field candidates in all five geographical constituencies.

On 10 April 2016. six post-Occupy organisations, Youngspiration, East Kowloon Community, Tin Shui Wai New Force, Cheung Sha Wan Community Establishment Power, Tsz Wan Shan Constructive Power and Tuen Mun Community, political groups formed after the Umbrella Revolution, formed an electoral alliance planned to field candidates in four of the five geographical constituencies with the agenda to put forward a referendum on Hong Kong's self-determination. Hong Kong Indigenous and another new pro-independence Hong Kong National Party also stated that they will run in the upcoming election.

On the same day on 10 April 2016, the student leaders in the Umbrella Revolution, Joshua Wong, Oscar Lai and Agnes Chow of Scholarism and Nathan Law of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) also formed a new party Demosisto which was inspired by Taiwan's New Power Party which was formed by the Sunflower Movement leaders and fared well in the 2016 Taiwanese legislative election. The new party calls for referendum on Hong Kong's future after 2047 when the One Country, Two Systems is supposed to expire. The party aimed at fielding candidates in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon East, facing competitions from other new political groups while posing challenge to the traditional pan-democracy camp.

Finally, turning to the USA: With Bernie Sanders’ inability to unset the Hillary Clinton base in New York (Manhattan 66% - 33%; Westchester County 67% - 32%) on Tuesday, it looks more and more like a Clinton victory at the convention is a lead pipe cinch. Who knows? She might even have the team to out-Diebold the Trump machine. In Brooklyn, tens of thousands of voters discovered too late that they were ineligible to vote. The New York City Elections Board confirmed that more than 125,000 Brooklyn voters had been scrubbed from the voter rolls and the NY Attorney General's office is on the case. Clinton can now win less than half of the remaining primaries and still gain the required number of delegates.

Can she throw some kind of a aikido move on the Trump steamroller? We don’t yet know who controls the machines, but it is a pretty good bet it ain’t the Donald.

This past week George Monbiot penned one of the best essays of his career, although it was actually a teaser for his new book, How Did We Get into This Mess? published by Verso for £12.99.

In naming Neoliberalism as the root of all our problems, Monbiot linked the Irish Water crisis, the slow collapse of public health and education, rigged Philippine elections, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, offshore tax-avoidance havens, the collapse of ecosystems, Occupy Hong Kong, Australian greedy banks, and the rise of Donald Trump to a single bad gene in our political DNA.

Monbiot writes:
Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.

When George W. Bush attributed the rise of Islamic jihadis to “they hate our freedom,” what he was doing was reinforcing the neoliberal meme. As Monbiot puts it:
Freedom from trade unions and collective bargaining means the freedom to suppress wages. Freedom from regulation means the freedom to poison rivers, endanger workers, charge iniquitous rates of interest and design exotic financial instruments. Freedom from tax means freedom from the distribution of wealth that lifts people out of poverty.
Hillary Clinton likes to tell audiences that because of the Affordable Care Act, "We now have driven costs down to the lowest they've been in 50 years.” Actually, health spending in the United States is higher than it's ever been, so the statement on its face is inaccurate. The U.S. spends more per capita than every other country in the OECD; and twice as much per capita as the system in France, with considerably worse average outcomes.

Monbiot writes:
The privatisation or marketisation of public services such as energy, water, trains, health, education, roads and prisons has enabled corporations to set up tollbooths in front of essential assets and charge rent, either to citizens or to government, for their use. Rent is another term for unearned income.

Unearned income is what buys elections, and not just in the United States.

What the history of both Keynesianism and neoliberalism show is that it’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed. And that is what none of the elections in 2016 seem to be doing.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Eating Trees

"The Far-East traditional pharmacopeia is filled with remedies made from humble saprophytes on the forest floor."

Toko Hosoya, 8 Bored Mushroom People, Solo Exhibition
Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What We Can Do  was not our first book — it was our fourth — but it was the first time our publisher at The Farm, the Book Publishing Company, asked us along on their annual junket to one of the world’s most lavish trade shows.

The venue for the American Booksellers Association that year was Las Vegas, and we traveled in the company of several other Farm authors, including Stephen Gaskin, who was actually there as part of an Electric Kool-Aid reunion outing, with Random House fronting the tab for a picture-perfect replica of Further, the Merry Prankster bus. (In November 2005 the original 1964 Further was dragged out of the swamp with a tractor and now resides in a warehouse at Kesey's farm in Oregon, alongside the 1990 Further).

Bill Walton
That 1990 weekend was the first time in more than 20 years that Stephen had dropped acid, and as far as we know also the last time. He found himself in a bar crawl on the Vegas Strip with Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary, Grateful Dead’s Robert Hunter and Mickey Hart, basketball legend Bill Walton, Hunter S. Thompson, John Perry Barlow and High Times editor Steven Hager and when the tablets passed around, in a disco called The Shark Club, he did not abstain. We recall him taking us to the Wee Kirk of The Heather, where, straight from the Marine Corps and the Korean Conflict, “Spider” Gaskin had celebrated his first marriage, a short lived affair that lasted only one night.
That was before he met and married the cactus and mushroom abuelas in ceremonies before a fire in Mexico.

It was in Las Vegas that 1990 weekend that we first met Bob Harris, proprietor of Mushroompeople. Bob was a serious mycologist and scholar, a former professor at Evergreen State College, where, in the early 70’s, he guided a bright student named Paul Stamets towards a career in research that would make him famous. Paul bought Bob’s small mail order spore business but Bob decided to keep his lab equipment so he could grow shiitake spawn. Bob and his partner, Jennifer Snyder, traveled to Japan where they tracked down the best available strains and then for many years produced the finest shiitake spawn for sale in North America.


By 1990 Harris was ready to move on. He was doing well with other enterprises, thinking of moving to Hawaii, and wanted to sell Mushroompeople. When he approached us in Las Vegas, he asked whether such a business might do well at The Farm. Personally, at that time, we were having a bit of a personal crisis. Spending the better part of a decade writing the Climate book had unseated our faith in the future. Our practice of public interest appellate law, as celebrated as we had become, was paling in comparison to the big picture. We had high blood pressure, our marriage was unraveling, we did not get to see our children much, and life was taking on a diminishing quality. We were even experimenting with antidepressants, although that didn’t last long.

So we said okay.

Mushroompeople moved to The Farm in 1991. We gradually wrapped up our caseload of atomic veterans, Native American religious liberty claims, toxic waste dumps, the MX missile deployment and the rest, and shuttered the Natural Rights Center.  We refitted The Farm’s recycling center, formerly our potato, apple and onion barn, into a distribution office, lab and laying yard, and printed colorful catalogs with little mushroom characters modeled on Gary Trudeau’s talking cigarettes from Doonesbury.


One of the things that Bob Harris said that sealed the deal was that shiitake could make our hypertension go away. One gram per day, a small dried mushroom, was enough to balance our  blood pressure. If it was too high it would bring it down. If it was too low it would bring it up. We don’t think, in retrospect, that was really true, but it definitely captured our imagination. Anyway our depression went away.

These kinds of mushrooms as winter crops are not a new thing, and an enterprising farmer with a few acres of forest can turn a six-figure income on a few hours of work per week. During the Sung Dynasty (960-1127) Chinese researcher Wu Sang Kwuang first reported shiitake mushrooms fruit when logs are “soaked and striked.” In 1904 the Japanese agronomist Shozaburo Miura published studies of a technique for inoculating logs with cultured mycelium. After that the business was off and running.

Shittake, and other gourmet forest mushrooms from China, Korea and Japan, have medicinal as well as nutritive properties. Both shiitake and reishi produce interleukin-2 in the blood, and that has known abilities to reduce inflammation and tumors and boost immune response. The Far-East traditional pharmacopeia is filled with remedies made from humble saprophytes on the forest floor.


Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus) a.k.a. Pom-pom, Shaggy Tooth, Goat’s Beard contains polysaccharides and polypeptides which tend to enhance immune function. Cooked, it is used to treat indigestion and gastritis. Researchers have found it has a significant inhibitory effect on sarcoma 180 in white mice. In China, the mycelium is commonly taken in pill form to cure ulcers and cancers of the digestive tract. It is usually dried for storage, then softened in water, cut into thin slices and added to stir-fry dishes, soups, rice, etc. In China, the water decoction is drunk twice daily, added to millet wine, for treatment of ulcers, cancers, and general debility.


Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotis var.; e.g. Pleurotus ostreatus, P. sajor-caju, P. florida, P. sapidus, P. flabellatus, P. eryngii) are rich in Vitamin C and B complex and the protein content varies between 1.6 to 2.5 percent. It has most of the mineral salts required by the human body.  The niacin content is about ten times higher than any other vegetables. The folic acid present in oyster mushrooms helps to cure anemia. It is suitable for people with hyper-tension, obesity and diabetes due to its low sodium to potassium ratio, starch, fat and calorific value. Alkaline ash and high fibre content makes it suitable for consumption for those having hyperacidity and constipation. A polycyclic aromatic compound pleurotin has been isolated from P. griseus which possess antibiotic properties.

Coral Mushroom

It grows naturally in the temperate and tropical forests on dead and decaying wooden logs or sometimes on dying trunks of deciduous or coniferous woods. It may also grow on decaying organic matter, cardboard and newspaper, and various agro-wastes or forest wastes without composting. Last year we described a visit to a microenterprise in England that gathered the daily coffee grounds from all the local cafes and turned them into home oyster kits.
Oyster mushrooms require a temperature of 20°C to 30°C, both for its vegetative growth (spawn run) and reproductive phase, i.e. for formation of fruit bodies. The suitable cultivation period at high altitude - 1100-1500 meters above mean sea level – is March to October, mid altitude - 600-1100 meters above mean sea level – is February to May & September to November and at Low altitude - Below 600 meters above mean sea level – is October to March.


Hereabouts in May and June we will look for Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius) a fruity, flavorful delicacy containing all 8 essential amino acids in good proportion. The sporophore also contains Vitamin A. In China it is used to improve eyesight, reduce dry skin, and relieve certain infectious respiratory illnesses.


We are also blessed in Tennessee with a local variety of Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum). Reishi is the prince of the Chinese pharmacopeia, known variously as “the 10,000-year mushroom,” the “Sacred Mushroom,” “the Herb of Spiritual Potency,” and the “Lingzhi” (Emporer’s Chi). Japanese researchers have named the anti-allergic compounds discovered in reishi as various forms of "ganoderic acid." Ganoderic acid B and C lower high blood pressure. Ganoderic acid C is an active immune booster and scavenges free radicals, notably the superoxides in red cells. Ganoderic R and S are anti-toxicants that work in the liver. A very potent mushroom.


We can also find Maitake (Grifola frondosa), the “dancing mushroom” of known around here as Hen-of-the-Woods, Ram's Head or Sheep's Head. In Japan, the Maitake can grow to more than 50 pounds (20 kg). Maitake is one of the major culinary mushrooms used in Japan, often being a key ingredient in nabemono or cooked by itself in foil with butter. The sclerotia from which hen of the woods arises have been used in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine to enhance the immune system. Researchers have also indicated that whole maitake has the ability to regulate blood pressure, glucose, insulin, and both serum and liver lipids, such as cholesterol, triglycerides, and phospholipids, and may also be useful for weight loss. Maitake is rich in minerals (such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium), various vitamins (B2, D2 and niacin), fibers and amino acids. Experiments with human cancer patients, have shown Maitake can stimulate immune system cells, reduce blood sugar and shrink tumors.

Shiitake, maitake and oysters are probably the easiest mushrooms to grow in North America, if you have a forest. If grown in a natural outdoor setting, sunshine and water are usually the only supplements. This produces superior quality mushrooms.

This time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, when the days are warm and the nights are cool, shiitake mushrooms emerge from the bark of decaying logs, expand in the rains, and then pull back from freezing, only to expand again when the sun comes up. They retreat from the dark and advance to the sun, like daffodils or spiderwort. This creates a crack and scarring effect on their caps, radial spokes of white lines that the Chinese call “dong-ho” and the Japanese “donko,” from the character for “many petaled flower.”


Donko is the highest grade of shiitake (“shii” - oak; “take” - fungus), a cut above Koshin (middle grade, with curled edges and white flecks) and Koko (low grade, flat brown pancake). The mushroom is rich in flavor and packed with antioxidants and healing compounds. It is second only to truffles in the number of flavonoid sensors triggered in your nose and tongue.


The Farm no longer produces shiitake for the green grocer market, although we sometimes take inoculated logs to Saturday market days and many households have their own logs in production close to the kitchen. Some here also grow oysters, lion’s mane, reishi and maitake, as well as foraging for chanterelles, chicken-of-the-woods, and coral mushrooms in season.

Frank Michael
We passed the mail order business of Mushroompeople to our neighbor and close friend, Frank Michael, when we began the Ecovillage Training Center as a full-time operation. With Frank’s pluck and perseverance, the business is having its best year ever. Apparently more people are learning about growing a forest shade crop that can turn the lignin and cellulose of a hardwood log into a complete protein, with all essential amino acids in better balance than bacon and for a lot less work than meat, milk or eggs.




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