Saturday, May 21, 2016

You Too Can Have a Bigger Graph


We confess to occasionally indulging in the optimistic whimsy that if we humans would only recover the common sense to let nature be nature, and maybe help her out by planting a few trees, the climate crisis would be over quite quickly. Then in a darker rebound, we despair that indeed we are really a very dumb species and probably will be doing creation a favor by going extinct, and moreover, let’s hope we do it soon enough so that fewer other species will be harmed in the process.

Do we need to be reminded by more Doomer Porn? The greatest impediment to Earth’s ecological recovery is not her ability to heal. Our planet still has that, even at this late date. The greatest impediment is human cultural and cognitive inertia.

In our naivete, we used to think that humans might stand a chance at culture change, but the more we learn about neurobiology, the more it seems we sapiens are locked into a primate brain that is determined to retain more reptilian instincts and reject anything sounding vaguely angelic.

Lately, credible scientific research tells us that a lack of information is not the problem. No amount of public opinion mustering will matter, so trying to educate is a lost cause.
What could change the equation? Don’t really know that yet. We are pinning hopes on raising on permaculture army, but who can say? Hang on for the ride. The best is yet to come.

Here are more than 40 visual images of what is transpiring in the real world, outside our cultural filters. Beyond this point, as Robert Scribbler said, "We're gonna need a bigger graph."
















“There is a possibility that this gradual global warming could lead to a relatively abrupt slowing of the ocean’s thermohaline conveyor, which could lead to harsher winter weather conditions, sharply reduced soil moisture, and more intense winds in certain regions that currently provide a significant fraction of the world’s food production. With inadequate preparation, the result could be a significant drop in the human carrying capacity of the Earth’s environment.”
Climate Institute 2003 Report







“Many of the most memorable and devastating storms in eastern North America and western Europe, popularly known as superstorms, have been winter cyclonic storms, though sometimes occurring in late fall or early spring, that generate near-hurricane force winds and often large amounts of snowfall. Continued warming of low latitude oceans in coming decades will provide more water vapor to strengthen such storms. If this tropical warming is combined with a cooler North Atlantic Ocean from AMOC slowdown and an increase in midlatitude eddy energy, we can anticipate more severe baroclinic storms.”
- Hansen et al. 2015, Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2C global warming could be dangerous.






“Doubling times of 10, 20 or 40 years yield multi-meter sea level rise in about 50, 100 or 200 years. Recent ice melt doubling times  are  near  the  lower  end  of  the  10–40-year  range,  but the record is too short to confirm the nature of the response.”
- Hansen et al. 2015, Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2C global warming could be dangerous.





“Many of the most memorable and devastating storms in eastern North America and western Europe, popularly known as superstorms, have been winter cyclonic storms, though sometimes occurring in late fall or early spring, that generate near-hurricane force winds and often large amounts of snowfall. Continued warming of low latitude oceans in coming decades will provide more water vapor to strengthen such storms. If this tropical warming is combined with a cooler North Atlantic Ocean from AMOC slowdown and an increase in midlatitude eddy energy, we can anticipate more severe baroclinic storms.”
- Hansen et al. 2015, Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations that 2C global warming could be dangerous.





We show that long-term fluctuations of war frequency and population changes followed the cycles of temperature change. Further analyses show that cooling impeded agricultural production, which brought about a series of serious social problems, including price inflation, then successively war outbreak, famine, and population decline.
- Zhang, et al, 2007. Global climate change, war, and population decline in recent human history





Hand in hand with the skimpy ice cover, temperatures across the Arctic have been extraordinarily warm for midwinter. Just before New Year’s, a slug of mild air pushed temperatures above freezing to within 200 miles of the North Pole. That warm pulse quickly dissipated, but it was followed by a series of intense North Atlantic cyclones that sent very mild air poleward, in tandem with a strongly negative Arctic Oscillation during the first three weeks of the month.
- Jeff Masters, Wunderground

The normal climate of North America in 2095 under business as usual warming (i.e. no Paris agreement) according to a 2015 NASA study. The darkest areas have soil moisture comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl:


In the 1993 blockbuster movie "Jurassic Park," a sleazy scientist played by Jeff Goldblum quips that "life finds a way." For real biologists, climate change is like a massive, unplanned experiment, one that may be too fast and strange for some species to survive it.
- Colorado Bob

Solomon et al., 2011. Warming World: Impacts by Degree, based on the National Research Council report, Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millennia






 [I]f indeed Sivaram (Foreign Affairs) and Revkin (The New York Times) are joining all the nations of the world in acknowledging that 1.5°C is the preferred target for humanity, then we are in a “hair on fire” moment.
- Joe Romm, Climate Progress
 

Increased temperatures from global warming are decreasing rain and snowfall and are increasing evaporation in the Colorado River watershed. This is reducing runoff into the reservoirs. The team predicts the water storage in Lakes Mead and Powell has a 50 percent chance of becoming exhausted by 2021 if climate change reduces runoff as predicted and if water consumption continues at current levels. This scenario would have dire consequences for the American Southwest.
- American Museum of Natural History Science Updates





The world is just not prepared to handle large scale abrupt changes, most of us never learned to grow our own foods, we just go to the supermarket and pick whatever we want from the refrigerator. Unless we learn to accelerate our efforts to keep pace with the system change required to stop all the developments, we risk that parts of the world become uninhabitable, and turmoil which could even lead to nuclear war. 
The growth of our civilization reached a threshold, which will test our species capabilities, especially our intelligence in regards to how we manage future states of our environment. We can either try to stay in the realm of ecosystem boundaries (basically as far as possible back to a planet with around 280 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere), or we can keep acting situational and experimenting with the Earth’s climate.
The majority of us is still using the same old technologies, and thinking which caused the climate crisis in the first place.
- Chris Machens, ClimateState, based in Berlin.






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. reasonandscience.heavenforum.org

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).
 

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