Archive for February, 2013

Nuclear Expert: “The Melted Core Cracked The Containment Vessel … There Really Is No Containment” At Fukushima Reactors

February 28, 2013

Posted on February 27, 2013 by WashingtonsBlog

Nuclear Cores and Spent Fuel Pools Have Both Lost Containment

Steven Starr – Director of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at the University of Missouri/Senior Scientist at Physicians for Social Responsibility – said:

The Japanese basically lied about what happened with the reactors for months. They said they were trying to prevent a meltdown, when in fact they knew within the first couple of days Reactors 1, 2, and 3 at Fukushima Daiichi had melted down, and they actually melted through the steel containment vessels.

So there was a worst case scenario that they were trying to hide, they even knew that at that time enormous amounts of radiation were released over Japan and some of it even went over Tokyo […]

The melted core cracked the containment vessel, there really is no containment. So as soon as they pump the water in it leaks out again.


Asahi Shimbum notes that the location of Fukushima melted fuel is unknown. It could be ‘scattered’ in piping, vessels … “we’ve yet to identify all hotspots” around plant.

While the Japanese government tried to cover up the lack of containment with “mission accomplished” type announcements of “cold shutdown“, the loss of containment has been known for years.

For example, AP wrote in December 2011:

The nuclear fuel moved as it melted, so its condition and locations are little known.

AP noted a couple of days later:

The complex still faces numerous concerns, triggering criticism that the announcement of “cold shutdown conditions” is based on a political decision rather than science. Nobody knows exactly where and how the melted fuel ended up in each reactor ….

We noted last year:

If the reactors are “cold”, it may be because most of the hot radioactive fuel has leaked out.


The New York Times pointed out last month:

A former nuclear engineer with three decades of experience at a major engineering firm … who has worked at all three nuclear power complexes operated by Tokyo Electric [said] “If the fuel is still inside the reactor core, that’s one thing” …. But if the fuel has been dispersed more widely, then we are far from any stable shutdown.”

Indeed, if the center of the reactors are in fact relatively “cold”, it may be because most of the hot radioactive fuel has leaked out of the containment vessels and escaped into areas where it can do damage to the environment.

After drilling a hole in the containment vessel of Fukushima reactor 2, Tepco cannot find the fuel. As AP notes:

The steam-blurred photos taken by remote control Thursday found none of the reactor’s melted fuel ….

The photos also showed inner wall of the container heavily deteriorated after 10 months of exposure to high temperature and humidity, Matsumoto said.

TEPCO workers inserted the endoscope — an industrial version of the kind of endoscope doctors use — through a hole in the beaker-shaped container at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant’s No. 2 reactor ….

New video of the inside of the torus room in Fukushima reactor 1 shows piles of sediment:


As nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen pointed out last year:

Tokyo Electric ran a probe into the basement of Unit 1. This is not inside the containment, this is outside the containment. On the top of the water surface they found lethal radiation, 1000 rem an hour.

But then they put the probe down into the water and what’s even worse is the bottom, the sediment on the bottom, was thousand of times hotter than that. And what that indicates is that fuel, nuclear fuel, has left the containment, as particles, and settled out on the bottom outside the containment. So, I think that’s a pretty clear indication that the containment was breached. It just makes decommissioning these plants… it was going too be hard already, but this information makes it worse.

Loss of containment of nuclear fuel also exists within the spent fuel pools at Fukushima.

For example, Chris Harris, former licensed Senior Reactor Operator and engineer says of new video released by Tepco showing extensive damage and debris in Fukushima spent fuel pool 3:


Plenty of heavy steel beams and refueling equipment that must be cleared out of the way in order to see how badly damaged each fuel assembly is.

There is little doubt that failed fuel exists, which is highly radioactive.

Asahi Shimbum notes:

The water [inside Fuel Pool 4] was muddy and brown.

The Fukushima fuel pools continue to be one of the main threats to Japan, the United States … and all of humanity.

And the Fukushima accident is presently causing higher and higher levels of contaminationhundreds of miles away … and is still contaminating wildlife thousands of miles away.  

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We’re All Guinea Pigs

February 28, 2013

Published on Wednesday, February 27, 2013 by OtherWords

I don’t want to expose the most precious people in my life to an endocrine disruptor.

by Jill Richardson

A few years ago, my world changed when I began dating a single dad whose youngest child was a toddler. Bonding with and loving his two kids has been the single most enriching and rewarding — and sometimes frustrating and exhausting — experience of my life.

During the three years we lived together, I became a de-facto stepmother. Parents, you know how it is with 3-year-olds. The name of the game is “choice.” Either you yield some control and decision-making power or they’ll assert themselves in ways you might find inconvenient.

As we introduced the little one in my life to normal routines like brushing her teeth, washing her hands, and going to bed at a reasonable hour, we tried to make it fun.

“Do you want to use the bubbly soap or the fruity soap?” we’d ask her. “Do you want to wear SpongeBob or princess jammies?” This was a much more successful strategy than simply commanding her to go to bed.

Around the same time, I began reporting on some very scary chemical news. One by one, I’d discover the dangers of this toxic chemical or that one. I carefully eliminated these chemicals from my own life, replacing them with affordable and effective alternatives.

Out went Herbal Essences, and in came Dr. Bronner’s castile soap. And who needs a chemical cocktail labeled “aloe” when they can easily keep an aloe plant in the front yard or their windowsill to take care of sunburns?

But occasionally, out of curiosity, I’d pick up Miss Toddler’s bubbly soap or princess pajamas to read the ingredients label. Lo and behold, the kid products — which should be the safest things in the house — were often the most toxic.

One offending ingredient in the soaps and toothpaste marketed for tots is triclosan. It’s common in anti-bacterial soaps aimed at the grownup market too — as well as facial cleanser, shave gel, lip gloss, deodorant, and even dog shampoo.

Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor, which means it can confuse the signals your body receives from hormones. It’s found in three-fourths of the liquid soap Americans use. (Another endocrine disrupting chemical, triclocarban, lurks in deodorant bar soaps.)

In studies, antibacterial soaps are no more effective in preventing disease than plain old soap and water. However, they are possibly quite good at increasing your risk of cancer.

After it goes down the drain, triclosan gets released into our waterways in treated wastewater. Then it breaks down into cancer-causing dioxins. I don’t want to expose the most precious people in my life to an endocrine disruptor, nor do I want to leave them a planet laced with dioxins.

Keeping your kids safe and healthy shouldn’t be this hard. It’s challenging enough to get them to eat their vegetables and brush their teeth without also worrying whether every single berry-flavored product on the market might give them cancer some day.

Do you assume that the products on the market are safe simply because they are sold in stores?

A new report by the World Health Organization may help change your mind about that.

The report targets endocrine disruptors, chemicals like triclosan that mimic hormones in our bodies. Citing a global increase in health problems such as low sperm count, genital malformations, neurobehavioral disorders, endocrine related cancers, and diabetes, the report calls for action to protect ourselves, our kids, and our wildlife.

Although there are 800 known or suspected endocrine disrupting chemicals, only a small fraction have been tested. “The vast majority of chemicals in current consumer use have not been tested at all,” the report says.

I believe that we should keep our kids safe from these chemicals. And our grown-ups too.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
Jill Richardson

Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author ofRecipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.

The Hungry Tide: Sea Level Rise Could Spark Largest Migration of Displaced People in History

February 28, 2013

Published on Wednesday, February 27, 2013 by The Hungry Tide

A personal story about a pacific nation on the front line of climate change

Ecowatch writes:

This Saturday March 2 is the Warrior Day of Action when Pacific Islanders on the frontline of climate change will mobilize to send a message to the world that they will fight to protect their land, their existence and their identity from rising tides.

To support their efforts for climate justice, Specialty Studios is offering the award-winning film The Hungry Tide free for viewing and sharing through March 3. The Australian-produced 53-minute documentary personalizes the plight of the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, which is already being inundated by rising seas and could become the world’s first climate-induced migration of an entire nation.

Watch the full movie here.

Watch the trailer below:

Film Synopsis:

The central Pacific nation of Kiribati is one of the countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change. Sea level rise and increasing salinity are threatening the lives of 105,000 people spread over 33 atolls in this remote corner of the Pacific. It’s the same ocean, which for generations has sustained the country that is now the source of its destruction.

Maria Tiimon, originally from Kiribati, now lives in Sydney, where she works for an NGO raising awareness of climate change issues in the Pacific to schools and community groups. Her spiritual home however is the small Kiribati atoll of Beru. This is where her father lives, a proud village elder, whom Maria idolizes.

The family relies a lot on Maria to help them out financially, as does her brother and his 8 kids living on the overcrowded main atoll of Tarawa. Maria has to balance these many pressures with her important work of taking her sinking nation’s message to the world.

Maria travels to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (COP15) as a member of an NGO delegation. In a dramatic week, low-lying Island States led by Kiribati’s smaller neighbour Tuvalu, push for a new legally binding treaty. The treaty requires all nations – not only the west, but also the emerging economies of India and China, to agree on carbon emission reductions to keep global temperature from rising above 1.5C. However evidence emerges of pressure applied by Australian officials on the Pacific nations to withdraw their bid and it ends up being scuttled.

Meanwhile back in Kiribati stormy weather has caused major damage. Part of a seawall protecting an entire community has been swept away. The President, the urbane Anote Tong, is acutely aware of these problems, but his government doesn’t have the resources to fix them. Relocation, he believes, is inevitable. He doesn’t want his people to become climate change refugees, but people who move ‘with dignity’. Tong wants his young people to go overseas, learn new skills and put down roots – in preparation for a mass migration. As it so happens, the first guest workers have just arrived in Australia and Maria has the task of monitoring their progress. Although theyearn 3 times what their President earns back in Kiribati, life is not as rosy as it first appears. They are isolated and cut off from the local community.

Suddenly, Maria personal life interrupts her advocacy work. She finds out her father is very sick so she must leave for Kiribati immediately. However there is a bright cloud on the horizon: Maria ‘s been developing a relationship via the Internet with Chif-ang, a young policeman whom she met a year earlier in Tarawa. Following tradition Maria takes him to Beru to meet her father. Before long, her work takes her to Germany and then to Cancun for the next Climate Change Conference. (COP16). Maria’s presentations show that she’s developed a lot of poise and confidence in the 12 months since she addressed groups of school kids back in Sydney.

While Maria’s life unfolds, the situation in Kiribati slowly deteriorates. Funds pledged at Copenhagen to assist poorer and vulnerable countries to adapt to climate change haven’t materialized. Seawalls are still crumbling and whole villages are demanding that the government move them. Maria accompanies a delegation to Kiribati led by Australian indigenous leader Pat Dodson. Dodson meets the President who admits he doesn’t know what to tell his people anymore. It seems now that relocation is the only option. “We have to assume the worst”, Tong tells the delegation.

The latest prognosis for climate change appears grim. Pledges made by industrialized countries at the Copenhagen and Cancun Climate Change Conferences to cut carbon emissions have fallen far short of their targets. Scientists currently predict temperature increases of between 3 and 6 degrees, and sea level rises of well over a metre, by the turn of the century. Only decisive global action will save Kiribati and its culture from disappearing.

© 2011 Tom Zubrycki

How Do You Steal a Dream?

February 27, 2013
Article image
Greg Palast
Greg Palast/op-ed
Published: Wednesday 27 February 2013
When every American is protected by the Voting Rights Act review of voting changes, then all of us may be secure that our votes will not be nullified by politicians abusing the voting system to seize office through tactics racist in effect, if not intent.

Sign the petition to Defend Martin Luther King’s Dream Act – here.

Jim Crow is alive and well — and he has mounted a new attack on the law Martin Luther King dreamed of: the Voting Rights Act.

Today, February 27, the Supreme Court will hear a suit brought by Shelby County, Alabama, which challenges the right of the Department of Justice to review changes in voting procedure. Example: Attempts to cut the number of early voting days, to expunge “illegal alien” voters without any evidence, refusing Spanish-language ballots, have been blocked by the Department of Justice and courts because they have stopped Black and Hispanic citizens casting ballots.
Sixteen states are subject to this “pre-clearance” law, every one with a history of Jim Crow rules such as “literacy” tests — Blacks had to recite the Constitution, Whites “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Dixie moans it’s been picked on unfairly, but the “pre-clearance” states, chosen by an arithmetic formula, include all or parts of the “Confederate states” of California, Arizona, Alaska and New York.

All those above the Mason-Dixon line are on the civil-rights hot-water roster because of a history of hostility to Hispanic citizens. In 2006, for example, the Republican Secretary of State of California rejected 42% of voter registration forms because the names were “unusual” and difficult to type into records! The names, like Chávez and Muhammad, were only “unusual” for Republicans.

New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg is happy to pre-clear his city’s changes with the Justice Department and has told that to the Court. But once again, as Dr. King said in his Dream speech, in Alabama, the “Governor has his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification” — to nullify the 15th Amendment’s right to vote and to interpose himself between federal law and the enforcement of this basic American right. 

And the Southland? In 2000, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris purged tens of thousands of African-Americans from voter rolls, labeling them “felons” when their only crime was VWB: Voting While Black. All — every one — were innocent. And again, in 2012, Florida Governor Rick Scott targeted 180,000 voters, mostly Latinos, as illegal “alien” voters. The Governor, when challenged by the Justice Department, cut the “alien” list to 198 but in the end, could only produce evidence against one.
If it were not for Section 5, the pre-clearance law, the purges, gerrymandering and other racially bent trickery rampant in Florida, Arizona (with its profiling and harassment of Hispanic voters) and Alaska with its bias against Native Americans would be so much worse. Without review — and the threat of review — Americans would once again lose the rights that the Constitution promises, won with the blood of our Fathers.

At the same time, we cannot ignore the Jim Crow and José Crow tactics that create long lines of voters of color in Ohio and other states.


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Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan signed massive expansions of the Voting Rights Act, tripling its reach. It is time to extend the law’s protections again — to Ohio, to Wisconsin, to everyone. 

When every American is protected by the Voting Rights Act review of voting changes, then all of us may be secure that our votes will not be nullified by politicians abusing the voting system to seize office through tactics racist in effect, if not intent.

A half century ago this year, Dr. Martin Luther King shared his dream with America:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’

“We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

King’s dream is the American Dream — which no Court should take away. It is a mighty stream which must touch all citizens in every state.

Without “pre-clearance,” the Voting Rights Act is an empty promise — with purged, blocked and intimidated voters having to protest after an election to the very officials elected by the vote thievery that put them in office.

If this Supreme Court removes “pre-clearance” Section 5 on the grounds that it does not apply to every state, then the solution is simple and just: apply pre-clearance to every state.  Every American deserves a review by Justice of laws which tell us who can vote — and who can’t.

As King admonished us, we must not be satisfied when we see Black folk, a half century after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, stand in line for six hours to vote whether in Miami or in Cleveland.

We petition the Court and Congress to let freedom ring.

Sign the petition to Defend Martin Luther King’s Dream Act – here.


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Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, “Armed Madhouse” (Penguin Paperback 2007). When Palast, an investigator of corporate fraud and racketeering, turned his skills to journalism, he was quickly recognized as, “The most important investigative reporter of our time” [Tribune Magazine] in Britain, where his first reports appeared on BBC television and in theGuardian newspapers.

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In Battling Monsanto’s Greed, Tenacity Matters

February 27, 2013
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Jim Hightower
Published: Wednesday 27 February 2013
While Big Money “won” the election, the brand-name corporations lost the hearts and minds of their own customers, for they exposed themselves as greedheads going to extremes to deny people’s right to know what they’re putting into their own bodies—and into their children’s bodies.

Remember the 1950s horror movie “The Bad Seed”? Any remake should cast Monsanto in the title role, because whenever something scary is being done to our food, you can usually find Monsanto lurking in the shadows.

During the past two decades, this biotech behemoth has used its political connectionsto obtain a monopolistic grip on the creation, sale and proliferation of Frankenseeds — the seeds of corn, cotton, soybeans and other crops that have had genetically modified organisms spliced into their natural DNA structure by corporate lab techs.

Why insert risky, inadequately tested genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into our food supply? To produce crops that can survive heavier doses of toxic pesticides — specifically, the Roundup brand of pesticides marketed by Monsanto. The corporation gets more profit; we get more pesticides. Plus, a new manmade health and environmental risk.

That’s enough to make a truly horrific movie about bad seed, but Monsanto has added to the horror by almost sadistically exerting its monopoly muscle to squeeze another unwitting victim: farmers. Yes, Monsanto’s own customers!


Having patented the GMO technology, the corporation asserts that when the plants grow in a farmer’s field and subsequently produce their own seeds, those second-generation seeds do not belong to the farmer, but are Monsanto’s private property. Farmers are prohibited by Monsanto contracts from gathering and later planting the seeds produced by their own land. 


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Thus, the seed-saving ethic that has sustained agriculture all around the world for centuries has been decreed illegal to benefit Monsanto — and the profiteering giant prowls the country to find and sue any of its own customers who dare practice the sensible art of seed saving. The bully has 75 staffers and a $10 million-a-year budget dedicated to monitoring, investigating, prosecuting and intimidating small farmers, even if some second-generation GMO seeds inadvertently crop up in their fields. 

This is a case of one deep-pocketed, multibillion-dollar corporation perverting patent law in order to monopolize the sale of seeds, gouge thousands of farmers, and endanger both human health and the environment.

What a deal!

But Monsanto doesn’t win them all, and sometimes it actually loses when it appears to have won.

This happened last November in the monumental food-labeling fight embodied in California’s Proposition 37. This citizens’ initiative would’ve required food marketers to tell consumers if any of their products contain ingredients with genetically manipulated DNA. Monsanto, by far the biggest manipulator, saw this simple, straightforward right-to-know proposal as a direct threat to the huge profit it reaps from selling its GMO seeds. So it revved up a campaign to kill Prop 37, not only pumping millions of its own dollars into its anti-consumer effort, but also getting a hoard of such huge processors and retailers as ConAgra, PepsiCo, Unilever and Wal-Mart to pump in many millions more.

Using their piles of political cash, deceptive advertising and outright lies, the corporate Goliaths squeaked out a narrow victory over a scrappy coalition of consumers, environmentalists, organic producers and others.

But while Big Money “won” the election, the brand-name corporations lost the hearts and minds of their own customers, for they exposed themselves as greedheads going to extremes to deny people’s right to know what they’re putting into their own bodies — and into their children’s bodies. That’s not a winning proposition over the long haul, no matter how much political money they throw at it.

Moreover, far from feeling defeated, the pro-labeling coalition was energized by having flushed out of hiding the big-name brands that are secretly putting GMO contaminants in our food supply. Having awakened public consciousness, the grass-roots coalition has since flummoxed the genetic manipulators by not going away. Instead, it has already expanded the political fight for honesty and food purity into Connecticut, Missouri, New Mexico, Vermont, Washington state and elsewhere.

In a remarkable development, the strength of the issue and tenacity of the coalition has pushed a couple of dozen major food peddlers — including PepsiCo and Wal-Mart — to rethink whose side they’re on. And, to Monsanto’s horror, they have begun talking to coalition members about supporting a national labeling law. To keep up and help push, go to

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National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be – consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.

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The Revolving Door Spins from Sea to Shining Sea

February 27, 2013
Bill Moyers and Michael Winship
Bill Moyers/op-ed
Published: Wednesday 27 February 2013
Yes, we’ve talked about the revolving door until we’re red or blue in the face (the door is bipartisan and spins across party lines), but this mantra bears its own perpetual repetition, a powerful reason for our distrust of the people who make and enforce our laws and regulations.

To those who would argue that the notion of a perpetual motion machine is impossible, we give you the revolving door — that ever-spinning entrance and exit between public service in government and the hugely profitable private sector. It never stops.

Yes, we’ve talked about the revolving door until we’re red or blue in the face (the door is bipartisan and spins across party lines) but this mantra bears its own perpetual repetition, a powerful reason for our distrust of the people who make and enforce our laws and regulations.

Jesse Eisinger, writing at The New York Timesreports that on January 25, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid announced the appointment of Cathy Koch as his chief advisor on tax and economic policy. According to the Times, “The news release lists Ms. Koch’s admirable and formidable experience in the public sector. ‘Prior to joining Senator Reid’s office,’ the release says, ‘Koch served as tax chief at the Senate Finance Committee.’”

But, Eisinger notes, the press statement fails to mention Ms. Koch’s actual last job — as a registered lobbyist for GE. “Yes, General Electric,” he writes, “the company that paid almost no taxes in 2010. Just as the tax reform debate is heating up, Mr. Reid has put in place a person who is extraordinarily positioned to torpedo any tax reform that might draw a dollar out of GE — and, by extension, any big corporation.”

One other example cited in the Times article: Julie Williams, chief counsel for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency — “and a major friend of the banks for years” — has been forced out of the OCC by its new boss and is joining Promontory Financial Group, “a classic Washington creature that is a private sector mirror image of a regulatory body.”

Promontory plays both sides of the field, helping financial companies hack their way through the bogs of regulation while simultaneously “helping” the OCC review said regulations — like the just abandoned Independent Foreclosure Review that essentially let the banks hire outside “experts” to decide who had been victimized by the banks’ abuse of mortgages. Result: not a dime to affected homeowners but $1.5 billion in consulting fees to Promontory and other companies like it. 

And get this: as Julie Williams exits OCC for Promontory, she will be succeeded as chief counsel by Amy Friend, former chief counsel of the Senate Banking Committee but currently a managing director at — wait for it — Promontory!

It’s a wonder all of Washington doesn’t lie prostrate in the streets, overcome by vertigo from all the spinning back and forth. But while we’re at it, remember that this whirling frenzy isn’t limited to the federal government. There are revolving doors installed at the exits and entrances of every state capitol in the country. The temptation for officeholders to seek greener pastures in lobbying can be even greater in statehouses where salaries are small and legislative sessions infrequent.


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A quick search of newspapers around the country reveals how pernicious the problem is. On February 22, the Los Angeles Times reported “the abrupt resignation” of State Senator Michael J. Rubio to take a government affairs job with Chevron: “As chairman of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, Rubio was leading the charge to make California’s environmental laws more business-friendly and has introduced bills during his two years in office that affect the oil industry in his Central Valley district.” 

recent editorial in the Raleigh News & Observer points out that since the last session of the legislature there, Republican Harold Brubaker, former speaker of the North Carolina House; and Republican Richard Stevens, a ten-year veteran of the state senate, have become registered lobbyists: “Both men became experts in state spending by heading budget committees in their respective chambers… Top legislators-turned-hired-guns advising lawmakers sounds like an opening for well-funded interests to buy influence.”

Florida, that inflamed big toe of American politics, is one of the worst offenders, even as the state debates a sweeping ethics reform bill that keeps in place a current law that prevents departing members from lobbying the legislature for a two-year “cooling off” period — but postpones for two years a similar ban on doing business with the governor and state agencies. Over the last two decades, the state has increasingly contracted government work — currently valued at $50 billion — to outside vendors.

Earlier this month, Mary Ellen Klas of The Miami Herald wrote, “The infusion of state cash into private and nonprofit industries has spawned a cottage industry of lobbyists who help vendors manage the labyrinth of rules and build relationships with executive agency officers and staff so they can steer contracts to their clients.”

“There are now more people registered to lobby the governor, the Cabinet and their agencies — 4,925 — than there are registered to lobby the 160-member legislature — 3,235.” Dozens of them are former legislators and staff members “as well as former utility regulators, agency secretaries, division heads and other employees.”

Former Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon retired last November and has set up a lobbying shop just a block from the state capitol in Tallahassee. And former Senate President Mike Haridopolos, now a lobbyist, “used his influence to get lawmakers to insert millions into the budget at the final stage of the budget process to pay for a state law enforcement radio system the agencies didn’t ask for, a juvenile justice contract that agency didn’t seek and the extension of a contract to expand broadband service in rural areas.”

You get the picture. In 15 states, according to the progressive Center for Public Integrity, “there aren’t any laws preventing legislators from resigning one day and registering as lobbyists the next…In the most egregious cases, legislators or regulators have written laws or set policy that helps a business or industry with whom they have been negotiating for a job once they leave office.” What’s more, in many of the 35 states that do have restrictions, “the rules are riddled with loopholes, narrowly written or loosely enforced.”

Which is why Glenn Harlan Reynolds, law professor, libertarian and head honcho of the political blog Instapundit, may be on to something. In a column for USA Today last month, he suggested, “…Let’s involve the most effective behavior-control machinery in America: The Internal Revenue Code.”

“In short, I propose putting 50 percent surtax — or maybe it should be 75 percent, I’m open to discussion — on the post-government earnings of government officials. So if you work at a cabinet level job and make $196,700 a year, and you leave for a job that pays a million a year, you’ll pay 50 percent of the difference — just over $400,000 — to the Treasury right off the top. So as not to be greedy, we’ll limit it to your first five years of post-government earnings; after that, you’ll just pay whatever standard income tax applies.”

The conservative Boston Herald endorsed the idea, comparing an ex-legislator or official’s connections and knowledge to intangible capitol and Reynolds’ scheme to a capital gains tax.

Imagine — conservatives and libertarians making a favorable comparison to the capital gains tax! This and that Russian meteor may be signs of the apocalypse. Just gives you an idea of how deeply awful and anti-democratic the revolving door is, no matter which side you’re on. That’s why it has to be slowed down if not completely stopped — and why we’ll keep talking about it.

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France Unveils Measures to Decrease Energy Use

February 27, 2013
From: Edouard Stenger, Clean TechiesMore from this Affiliate
Published February 26, 2013 01:00 PM

The Sarkozy government wanted to require shops and offices to turn off their unnecessary lights at nights. This will be effective as of July 1, 2013.

All nonresidential buildings will be required to shut off their lights an hour after the last worker leaves or by 1 a.m. each morning. Lights can be turned on again until 7 a.m. or just before they open. Similarly, the lights on building facades will have to be turned off.

In a country famous for its many tourist attractions and whose capital city is known as La Ville Lumière — the city of lights — 41 zones and cities will be exempted. In Paris, many places including the Rue de Rivoli, the Place des Vosges and the Avenue des Champs Elysées won’t be concerned by these measures.

The famous Eiffel tower is already turned off every night after two AM.

250,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide won’t be emitted each year thanks to this simple measure which will save the equivalent of the electricity consumption of 750,000 French households.

The relatively low amount of avoided carbon dioxide emissions can be explained by the fact that French electricity is to date 85 percent low carbon: 75 percent nuclear and more than ten percent renewable energy (mostly hydro).

This will save up to 2 terawatt hours according to the calculations of the French ADEME (French Environment and Energy Management Agency).

As the Environment Minister, Delphine Batho, told the New York Times, this is also a public health issue as “Artificial lighting can damage sleep patterns (”�) and also cause significant disruptions on ecosystems by changing communication between species, migrations, reproduction cycles or even the prey-predator relationships.”

While these energy savings represents only 0.4 percent of the total electricity consumed in France, this is only a necessary first step. Let’s hope many more will occur rapidly.

To conclude, this should be widespread all around the world as simple steps can have huge consequences.

A previous study has shown that turning off all the computers at the end of work days in only three countries — Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States — could save a massive $4.4 billion per year.

See more at Clean Techies.

Paris image via Shutterstock (Editorial credit: Shchipkova Elena)

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Comment: They should save not only energy, but also life by shutting down nuke plants for all for tens of thousands of years to come.

Rice Paddies and Fish Farming, Perfect Together!

February 27, 2013
From: Naimul Haq, SciDevNetMore from this Affiliate
Published February 27, 2013 05:59 AM

By combining aquaculture with wet paddy farming in its coastal areas Bangladesh can meet food security and climate change issues, says a new report.

The approach promises more nutritious food, without causing environmental damage, and has the potential for a ‘blue-green revolution’ on Bangladesh’s existing crop areas extending to about 10.14 million hectares and an additional 2.83 million hectares that remain waterlogged for about 4—6 months.

“The carrying capacities of these additional lands and waters, when fully utilised, can increase food production and economic growth,” says Nesar Ahmed, author of the report published online last month (28 January) in Ocean & Coastal Management.

Ahmed, a researcher in fisheries management at the Bangladesh Agricultural University, Mymensingh, told SciDev.Net that there was a “vital link between prawn and shrimp farming in coastal Bangladesh and a ‘green economy’ that addresses the current environmental and economic crisis.”

“Aquaculture enhances soil fertility from fish waste discharge and contributes to pest control as several fish varieties feed on insects that harm crops,” Hoq said.

Rice fish farming in China image credit Greenpeace.

Read more at ENN Affiliate, SciDevNet.

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Comment: Ai-gamo (ducks) are good rice paddy friends to weed and feed. Many kinds of fish, birds, insects, etc. can thrive there and water channels, if without herbicides and pestcides.

Our Food System Is in Crisis Due to Technology Run Amok and Monopolizing Corporations

February 27, 2013

Tuesday, 26 February 2013 10:51By Wenonah Hauter, The New Press | Book Excerpt

022313-8Wenonah Hauter. (Photo: Abby Greenwalt)You may have seen the excellent documentary “Food, Inc.” about the increasing consolidation of the farm and food industies into the hands of a few megacorporations.

“Foodopoly,” by Wenonah Hauter, is a compelling new book that explores the implications of this trend that threatens the integrity of our food supply – and its deleterious impact on family farms.

Monsanto, with its patented seeds and toxic herbicides, may be perceived as the evil empire when it comes to food, but it is just the tip of the iceberg, as Hauter details.

If we are what we eat, then we have much to worry about, Hauter persuasively details.

Support Truthout’s mission. “Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America,” (hardcover edition) is yours with a minimum donation to Truthout of $35 (which includes shipping and handling) or a monthly donation of $15. Click here.

The following excerpt is the introduction to “Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America,”

In 1963 my dad bought a ramshackle farm with rich but extremely rocky soil in the rural Bull Run Mountains of Virginia, forty miles southwest of Washington, D.C. Today it is on the verge of suburbia.

He grew up in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, rode the rails, and eventually, in his late fifties, found his way “back to the land.” So we moved to what was then a very rural landscape – a place culturally a world away from the nation’s capital and physically linked only indirectly by two-lane roads. Our old farmhouse, with a mile-long rutted driveway accessible only by four-wheel drive, was off another dirt road and had no electricity or plumbing. Eventually my dad did manage to get the local rural electricity co-op to put in poles and hook up power, but he never did get around to installing indoor plumbing.

He was an unusual man – a religious iconoclast and an organic gardener at a time when few people knew the term. He was considered a crank and a hobby farmer, if you can call it that, growing a few vegetables and keeping bees. His wild-blossom honey was the only vaguely successful part of his farming venture. My dad, who died in 1991 at the age of eighty-one, would be shocked now to see both his farm and the massive development around it.

Today the hundred acres of mostly wooded land is bordered by a mega-mansion subdivision on one side and an expensive “gated community” a mile away as the crow flies. Thousands of town houses and new subdivisions have cropped up where once there were fields dotted with cows. This has brought on the box stores, including Walmart and fast-food joints – blights on the once bucolic rural landscape. A major highway, I-66, recently engineered to be either six or eight lanes depending on the location, means we can zip into the nation’s capital during the rare times that commuters are not clogging the road.

Since 1997, my husband has run the farm as a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, feeding five hundred families each season with subscription vegetables grown using organic practices. It’s a successful family business that suits my activist husband, who taught high school and college and worked for public interest organizations, but who really prefers the challenge of farming without chemicals. It works financially, because we own the land outright, and because we live near a major metropolitan area where urban and suburban residents are seeking greater authenticity in the food they eat. They want their children to see where food comes from and to learn that chickens enjoy living together in a pasture. We often joke that for most people the CSA is more about having a farm to visit than the vegetables.

As a healthy-food advocate, I feel privileged to have grown up a rural person and to have had the real-life experience of pulling weeds, squishing potato bugs, canning vegetables, gutting a chicken, baking bread, and chopping wood for the cookstove. As a teenager I felt deprived, but as an adult I am grateful to know where food comes from and how much work it takes to produce it. My family is also extremely lucky that my dad bought almost worthless land in the 1960s that today is located near a major metropolitan area populated by a largely affluent and educated population. But most farmers, or people aspiring to be farmers, aren’t so lucky. Fortunately, farmers’ markets and similar venues help capture the excitement and nostalgia for farming, and for a simpler and healthier lifestyle, and they are delightful for the customers and can be profitable for farmers.

But despite my firsthand knowledge of and appreciation for the immense benefits of CSAs and farmers’ markets, they are only a small part of the fix for our dysfunctional food system. Food hubs, which aggregate and distribute local food, are beneficial for participating farmers and the purchasing food establishment. But, so far, they must be subsidized by nonprofits or local governments because they are not self-sustaining. We must delve deeper into the history of the food system to have the knowledge to fix it. I decided to write this book because understanding the heartbreaking story of how we got here is not only fascinating but necessary for creating the road map for changing the way we eat.

The food system is in a crisis because of the way that food is produced and the consolidation and organization of the industry itself. Solving it means we must move beyond the focus on consumer choice to examine the corporate, scientific, industrial, and political structures that support an unhealthy system. Combating this is going to take more than personal choice and voting with our forks – it’s going to take old-fashioned political activism. This book aims to show what the problem is and why we must do much more than create food hubs or find more opportunities for farmers to sell directly to consumers. We must address head-on the “foodopoly” – the handful of corporations that control our food system from seeds to dinner plates.

While the rhetoric in our nation is all about competition and the free market, public policy is geared toward enabling a small cabal of companies to control every aspect of our food system. Today, twenty food corporations produce most of the food eaten by Americans, even organic brands. Four large chains, including Walmart, control more than half of all grocery store sales. One company dominates the organic grocery industry, and one distribution company has a stranglehold on getting organic products into communities around the country.

Further, science has been allowed to run amok; the biotechnology industry has become so powerful that it can literally buy public policy. Scientists have been allowed to move forward without adequate regulation, and they are now manipulating the genomes of all living things – microorganisms, seeds, fish, and animals. This has enabled corporations to gain control over the basic building blocks of life, threatening the integrity of our global genetic commons and our collective food security. Biotechnology has moved into the world of science fiction, as scientists actually seek to create life-forms and commercialize them. Reining in and regulating the biotechnology industry is critical to reforming the dysfunctional food system.

These structural flaws are often overlooked by the good-food movement, which focuses on creating an alternative model from the ground up that will eventually overtake the dysfunctional system. However, this approach raises the question: for whom and how many? A look at the most recent statistics on local food illustrates this point. A November 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, using 2008 data (the most recent available), found: “Despite increased production and consumer interest, locally grown food accounts for a small segment of U.S. agriculture. For local foods production to continue to grow, marketing channels and supply chain infrastructure must deepen.”

The study found that levels of direct marketing to consumers are highest in the Northeast, on the West Coast, and in a few isolated urban areas outside these regions. Direct marketing of local foods to consumers at farmers’ markets and CSAs, along with local food sales to grocery stores and restaurants, generated $4.8 billion in sales in 2008. This figure is infinitesimal in comparison to the $1,229 trillion in overall sales from grocery stores, convenience stores, food service companies, and restaurants.

According to the USDA, only 5 percent of the farms selling into the local food marketplace are large farms (with over $250,000 in annual sales), but these large farms provided 93 percent of the “local foods” in supermarkets and restaurants. Eighty-one percent of farms selling local food are small, with under $50,000 in annual sales, and 14 percent of farms selling local foods are medium-sized, with $50,000 to $250,000 in sales. The small and mediumsized farms sell nearly three quarters of the direct-to-consumer local foods (both CSAs and farmers’ markets) but only 7 percent of the local foods in supermarkets and restaurants. Although the 5,300 large farms averaged $772,000 in local food sales, small farms sold only $7,800 and medium-sized farms sold only $70,000 local foods on average.

Of special significance is the finding that over half of all farms that sell locally are located near metropolitan counties, compared to only a third of all U.S. farms. This illustrates the difficulty that farmers who grow corn, soy, wheat, and other feed or cereal grains for commodity markets have in converting their farming operations to direct sales to consumers. These farmers sell crops that re-enter the food system as a component of another food – as a sweetener, an oil, a starch, or as feed for animals. The lack of a local market, a distribution network, or in many cases the infrastructure needed to harvest, aggregate, or process local foods is also a tremendous hindrance to creating an alternative food system.

Look at a map of the large agricultural middle of this nation to understand that the few remaining farmers who grow the millions of acres of corn and soybeans, fencerow to fencerow, do not live where they can sell directly to the consumer. Most farmers don’t have nearby affluent urban areas to which to market their crops. They can’t switch from commodities to vegetables and fruit even if they had a market, because they have invested in the equipment needed to plant and harvest corn and soy, not lettuce, broccoli, or tomatoes.

Overly simplistic solutions are often put forward by some leaders in the good-food movement that take the focus away from the root causes of the food crisis – deregulation, consolidation, and control of the food supply by a few powerful companies. One of the most prevalent policy solutions put forward as a fix for the dysfunctional system is the elimination of farm subsidies. This silver bullet prescription implies that a few greedy farmers have engineered a farm policy that allows them to live high off the hog on government payments, while small farms languish with no support. Proponents of this response say that if we remove these misapplied subsidies to these few large farms, the system will right itself.

Unfortunately, the good-food movement has been taken in by an oversimplified and distorted analysis of farm data. It is based on a misinterpretation of misleading U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics that greatly exaggerate the number of full-time family farm operations. A close look at the USDA’s Census of Agriculture shows that one third of the 2.2 million entities counted as farms by the agency have sales of under $1,000 and almost two thirds earn under $10,000 a year. These small business ventures are counted even though they are far from being full-time farming operations. In most cases these are rural residences, not farms, and the owners are retired or have significant off-farm income. They have a part-time agriculture-based business as part of their rural lifestyle – anything from having a vineyard to growing flowers or mushrooms.

Counting these small ventures as farms not only skews the statistics on the number of farms in the United States; it also makes it appear that only a small percentage receive government payments. In reality, we have under a million full-time farms left, and almost all of them, small and large, receive government subsidies. This is not to say that the subsidy system is good policy. Rather that it is a symptom of a broken food production system, not the cause of the problems. If we penalize farmers for policies that the powerful grain traders, food processors, and meat industry have lobbied for, we will never create a sustainable food system. We need midsize farming operations to survive and to be transitioned into a sustainable food system.

Midsize family farmers have an average income of $19,277 – a figure that includes a government subsidy. The cost of seeds, fertilizers, fuel, and other inputs is continuing to rise as these industries become more monopolized. Most farmers are scratching by, trying to hold on to their land and eke out a living. We are losing these farms at a rapid rate, resulting in the consolidation of smaller farms into huge corporate-run industrial operations with full-time managers and contract labor. Telling these farmers that all they have to do once the subsidies are taken away is grow vegetables for the local farmers’ market is not a real solution for them or their communities. Rural communities are seeing the wealth and the profit from agriculture sucked into the bottom lines of the largest food corporations in the world.

Economically viable farms are the lifeblood of rural areas. Their earnings generate an economic multiplier effect when supplies are bought locally, and the money stays within the community. The loss of nearly 1.4 million cattle, hog, and dairy farms over the past thirty years has drained not only the economic base from America’s rural communities, but their vitality. These areas have become impoverished and abandoned, and the only hopes for jobs are from extractive industries such as hydraulic fracturing or from building and staffing prisons.

Something is fundamentally amiss in a society that does not value or cherish authentic food that is grown full time on appropriate-size family farms. The benefits of farmers – rather than corporate managers – tending crops and the land are many. Fred Kirschenmann, a North Dakota farmer and a

leader in the sustainable agriculture movement, along with his colleagues at the Agriculture in the Middle project write extensively on this point and poignantly outline the benefits of these vulnerable midsize farms in today’s economic landscape. They fall between the large, vertically operated commodity operations and the small-scale ones that sell directly to consumers. Farms in the middle also provide wildlife habitats, open spaces, diverse landscapes, soils that hold rainwater for aquifers, perennials that reduce greenhouse gases by removing carbon from the atmosphere, and crop and pastureland that reduce erosion and flooding.

These are the farms that could be changed to provide sustainably grown organic food for the long term. Many are located in the Midwest and South, where there is no large population to buy directly from them, but they have the capacity to produce food for the majority of Americans – if given a chance.

Changing farm policy to provide that chance is key to preventing our nation’s rural areas from becoming industrial sites and to truly remaking the food system for all Americans. We must address the major structural problems that have created the dysfunction – from the failure to enforce antitrust laws and regulate genetically modified food to the manipulation of nutrition standards and the marketing of junk food to children. We need to move beyond stereotypes and simplistic solutions if we are to build a movement that is broad-based enough to drive policy changes.

Most people are several generations away from the experience of producing their own food. This leads to many misconceptions – from over-romanticizing its hard, backbreaking work to the dismissal of farmers as greedy, ignorant, and selfish “welfare queens.” Understanding the difficult challenges they face is critical to developing the policy solutions necessary for saving family farms and moving into a sustainable future. We need to develop a rural economic development plan that enables farmers to make a living while at the same time providing healthy, affordable food choices for all Americans.

We have the opportunity, before it is too late, to change the course of our food system’s development away from factory farms and laboratories and toward a system that is ecologically and economically sound. We can challenge the monopoly control by fighting for the reinstatement of antitrust laws and enforcement of them. We have the land and the human capacity to grow real food – healthy food – but it will take a wholesale effort that includes restructuring how food is grown, sold, and distributed. It means organizing a movement to hold our policy makers accountable, so that food and farm policy is transformed and environmental, health, and safety laws are obeyed.

It will require a massive grassroots mobilization to challenge the multi-national corporations that profit from holding consumers and farmers hostage and, more important, to hold our elected officials accountable for the policies that are making us sick and fat. We must comprehend the complexity of the problem to advocate for the solutions. We cannot shop our way out of this mess. The local-food movement is uplifting and inspiring and represents positive steps in the right direction. But now it’s time for us to marshal our forces and do more than vote with our forks. Changing our food system is a political act.

We must build the political power to do so. It is a matter of survival.

Copyright © 2012 by Wenonah Hauter. This excerpt originally appeared in Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America, published by The New Press Reprinted here with permission.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.


Wenonah Hauter is the Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. She has worked extensively on food, water, energy, and environmental issues at the national, state and local level. Hauter is experienced in developing policy positions and legislative strategies, she is also a skilled and accomplished organizer, having lobbied and developed grassroots field strategy and action plans. She has an M.S. in Applied Anthropology from the University of Maryland.


Food for Revolution

By Harold James, Project Syndicate | Op-Ed

Food Sovereignty: Think Globally, Eat Locally

By Beverly Bell, Tory Field, Other Worlds | Report

Food and Land at the Service of People: an Interview With Peter Rosset

By Beverly Bell, Tory Field, Other Worlds | Interview


Twelve Reasons Why Globalization is a Huge Problem

February 27, 2013

Posted on February 22, 2013by 

Globalization seems to be looked on as an unmitigated “good” by economists. Unfortunately, economists seem to be guided by their badly flawed models; they miss  real-world problems. In particular, they miss the point that the world is finite. We don’t have infinite resources, or unlimited ability to handle excess pollution. So we are setting up a “solution” that is at best temporary.

Economists also tend to look at results too narrowly–from the point of view of abusiness that can expand, or a worker who has plenty of money, even though these users are not typical. In real life, the business are facing increased competition, and the worker may be laid off because of greater competition.

The following is a list of reasons why globalization is not living up to what was promised,  and is, in fact, a very major problem.

1. Globalization uses up finite resources more quickly.  As an example, China joined the world trade organization in December 2001. In 2002, its coal use began rising rapidly (Figure 1, below).

Figure 1. China's energy consumption by source, based on BP's Statistical Review of World Energy data.

Figure 1. China’s energy consumption by source, based on BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy data.

In fact, there is also a huge increase in world coal consumption (Figure 2, below). India’s consumption is increasing as well, but from a smaller base.

Figure 2. World coal consumption based on BP's 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy

Figure 2. World coal consumption based on BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy

2. Globalization increases world carbon dioxide emissions. If the world burns its coal more quickly, and does not cut back on other fossil fuel use, carbon dioxide emissions increase. Figure 3 shows how carbon dioxide emissions have increased, relative to what might have been expected, based on the trend line for the years prior to when the Kyoto protocol was adopted in 1997.

Figure 3. Actual world carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, as shown in BP's 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy. Fitted line is expected trend in emissions, based on actual trend in emissions from 1987-1997, equal to about 1.0% per year.

Figure 3. Actual world carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, as shown in BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy. Fitted line is expected trend in emissions, based on actual trend in emissions from 1987-1997, equal to about 1.0% per year.

3. Globalization makes it virtually impossible for regulators in one country to foresee the worldwide implications of their actions. Actions which would seem to reduce emissions for an individual country may indirectly encourage world trade, ramp up manufacturing in coal-producing areas, and increase emissions over all. See my post Climate Change: Why Standard Fixes Don’t Work.

4. Globalization acts to increase world oil prices.

Figure 4. World oil supply and price, both based on BP's 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy data. Updates to 2012$ added based on EIA price and supply data and BLS CPI urban.

Figure 4. World oil supply and price, both based on BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy data. Updates to 2012$ added based on EIA price and supply data and BLS CPI urban.

The world has undergone two sets of oil price spikes. The first one, in the 1973 to 1983 period, occurred after US oil supply began to decline in 1970 (Figure 4, above and Figure 5 below).

Figure 5. US crude oil production, based on EIA data. 2012 data estimated based on partial year data. Tight oil split is author's estimate based on state distribution of oil supply increases.

Figure 5. US crude oil production, based on EIA data. 2012 data estimated based on partial year data. Tight oil split is author’s estimate based on state distribution of oil supply increases.

After 1983, it was possible to bring oil prices back to the $30 to $40 barrel range (in 2012$), compared to the $20 barrel price (in 2012$) available prior to 1970. This was partly done partly by ramping up oil production in the North Sea, Alaska and Mexico (sources which were already known), and partly by reducing consumption. The reduction in consumption was accomplished by cutting back oil use for electricity, and by encouraging the use of more fuel-efficient cars.

Now, since 2005, we have high oil prices back, but we have a much worse problem. The reason the problem is worse now is partly because oil supply is not growing very much, due to limits we are reaching, and partly because demand is exploding due to globalization.

If we look at world oil supply, it is virtually flat. The United States and Canada together provide the slight increase in world oil supply that has occurred since 2005. Otherwise, supply has been flat since 2005 (Figure 6, below).  What looks like a huge increase in US oil production in 2012 in Figure 5 looks much less impressive, when viewed in the context of world oil production in Figure 6.

Figure 6. World crude oil production based on EIA data. *2012 estimated based on data through October.

Figure 6. World crude oil production based on EIA data. *2012 estimated based on data through October.

Part of our problem now is that with globalization, world oil demand is rising very rapidly. Chinese buyers purchased more cars in 2012 than did European buyers. Rapidly rising world demand, together with oil supply which is barely rising, pushes world prices upward. This time, there also is no possibility of a dip in world oil demand of the type that occurred in the early 1980s. Even if the West drops its oil consumption greatly, the East has sufficient pent-up demand that it will make use of any oil that is made available to the market.

Adding to our problem is the fact that we have already extracted most of the inexpensive to extract oil because the “easy” (and cheap) to extract oil was extracted first. Because of this, oil prices cannot decrease very much, without world supply dropping off. Instead, because of diminishing returns, needed price keeps ratcheting upward. The new “tight” oil that is acting to increase US supply is an example ofexpensive to produce oil–it can’t bring needed price relief.

5. Globalization transfers consumption of limited oil supply from developed countries to developing countries. If world oil supply isn’t growing by very much, and demand is growing rapidly in developing countries, oil to meet this rising demand must come from somewhere. The way this transfer takes place is through the mechanism of high oil prices. High oil prices are particularly a problem for major oil importing countries, such as the United States, many European countries, and Japan. Because oil is used in growing food and for commuting, a rise in oil price tends to lead to a cutback in discretionary spending, recession, and lower oil use in these countries. See my academic article, “Oil Supply Limits and the Continuing Financial Crisis,” available here or here.

Figure 7. World oil consumption in million metric tons, divided among three areas of the world.

Figure 7. World oil consumption in million metric tons, divided among three areas of the world. (FSU is Former Soviet Union.)

Developing countries are better able to use higher-priced oil than developed countries.  In some cases (particularly in oil-producing countries) subsidies play a role. In addition, the shift of manufacturing to less developed countries increases the number of workers who can afford a motorcycle or car. Job loss plays a role in the loss of oil consumption from developed countries–see my post, Why is US Oil Consumption Lower? Better Gasoline Mileage? The real issue isn’t better mileage; one major issue is loss of jobs.

6. Globalization transfers jobs from developed countries to less developed countries. Globalization levels the playing field, in a way that makes it hard for developed countries to compete. A country with a lower cost structure (lower wages and benefits for workers, more inexpensive coal in its energy mix, and more lenient rules on pollution) is able to out-compete a typical OECD country. In the United States, the percentage of US citizen with jobs started dropping about the time China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.

Figure 8. US Number Employed / Population, where US Number Employed is Total Non_Farm Workers from Current Employment Statistics of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Population is US Resident Population from the US Census.  2012 is partial year estimate.

Figure 8. US Number Employed / Population, where US Number Employed is Total Non_Farm Workers from Current Employment Statistics of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Population is US Resident Population from the US Census. 2012 is partial year estimate.

7. Globalization transfers investment spending from developed countries to less developed countries. If an investor has a chance to choose between a country with a competitive advantage and a country with a competitive disadvantage, which will the investor choose? A shift in investment shouldn’t be too surprising.

In the US, domestic investment was fairly steady as a percentage of National Income until the mid-1980s (Figure 9). In recent years, it has dropped off and is now close to consumption of assets (similar to depreciation, but includes other removal from service). The assets in question include all types of capital assets, including government-owned assets (schools, roads), business owned assets (factories, stores), and individual homes. A similar pattern applies to business investment viewed separately.

Figure 9. United States domestic investment compared to consumption of assets, as percentage of National Income. Based on US Bureau of Economic Analysis data.

Figure 9. United States domestic investment compared to consumption of assets, as percentage of National Income. Based on US Bureau of Economic Analysis data from Table 5.1, Savings and Investment by Sector.

Part of the shift in the balance between investment and consumption of assets is rising consumption of assets. This would include early retirement of factories, among other things.

Even very low interest rates in recent years have not brought US investment back to earlier levels.

8. With the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, globalization leads to huge US balance of trade deficits and other imbalances. 

Figure 10. US Balance on Current Account, based on data of US Bureau of Economic Analysis. Amounts in 2012$ calculated based on US CPI-Urban of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Figure 10. US Balance on Current Account, based on data of US Bureau of Economic Analysis. Amounts in 2012$ calculated based on US CPI-Urban of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

With increased globalization and the rising price of oil since 2002, the US trade deficit has soared (Figure 10). Adding together amounts from Figure 10, the cumulative US deficit for the period 1980 through 2011 is $8.6 trillion. By the end of 2012, the cumulative deficit since 1980 is probably a little over 9 trillion.

A major reason for the large US trade deficit is the fact that the US dollar is the world’s “reserve currency.” While the mechanism is too complicated to explain here, the result is that the US can run deficits year after year, and the rest of the world will take their surpluses, and use it to buy US debt. With this arrangement, the rest of the world funds the United States’ continued overspending. It is fairly clear the system was not put together with the thought that it would work in a fully globalized world–it simply leads to too great an advantage for the United States relative to other countries. Erik Townsend recently wrote an article called Why Peak Oil Threatens the International Monetary System, in which he talks about the possibility of high oil prices bringing an end to the current arrangement.

At this point, high oil prices together with globalization have led to huge US deficit spending since 2008. This has occurred partly because a smaller portion of the population is working (and thus paying taxes), and partly because US spending for unemployment benefits and stimulus has risen. The result is a mismatch between government income and spending (Figure 11, below).

Figure 11. Receipts and Expenditures for all US government entities combined (including state and local) based on BEA data. 2012 estimated based on partial year data.

Figure 11. Receipts and Expenditures for all US government entities combined (including state and local) based on BEA data. 2012 estimated based on partial year data.

Thanks to the mismatch described in the last paragraph, the federal deficit in recent years has been far greater than the balance of payment deficit. As a result, some other source of funding for the additional US debt has been needed, in addition to what is provided by the reserve currency arrangement. The Federal Reserve has been using Quantitative Easing to buy up federal debt since late 2008. This has provided a buyer for additional debt and also keeps US interest rates low (hoping to attract some investment back to the US, and keeping US debt payments affordable). The current situation is unsustainable, however. Continued overspending and printing money to pay debt is not a long-term solution to huge imbalances among countries and lack of cheap oil–situations that do not “go away” by themselves.

9. Globalization tends to move taxation away from corporations, and onto individual citizens. Corporations have the ability to move to locations where the tax rate is lowest. Individual citizens have much less ability to make such a change. Also, with today’s lack of jobs, each community competes with other communities with respect to how many tax breaks it can give to prospective employers. When we look at the breakdown of US tax receipts (federal, state, and local combined) this is what we find:

Figure 12. Source of US Government revenue, by year, based on US Bureau of Economic Analysis Data.

Figure 12. Source of US Government revenue, by year, based on US Bureau of Economic Analysis Data.

The only portion that is entirely from corporations is corporate income taxes, shown in red. This has clearly shrunk by more than half. Part of the green layer (excise, sales, and property tax) is also from corporations, since truckers also pay excise tax on fuel they purchase, and businesses usually pay property taxes. It is clear, though, that the portion of revenue coming from personal income taxes and Social Security and Medicare funding (blue) has been rising.

I showed  that high oil prices seem to lead to depressed US wages in my post, The Connection of Depressed Wages to High Oil Prices and Limits to Growth. If wages are low at the same time that wage-earners are being asked to shoulder an increasing share of rising government costs,  this creates a mismatch that wage-earners are not really able to handle.

10. Globalization sets up a currency “race to the bottom,” with each country trying to get an export advantage by dropping the value of its currency.

Because of the competitive nature of the world economy, each country needs to sell its goods and services at as low a price as possible. This can be done in various ways–pay its workers lower wages; allow more pollution; use cheaper more polluting fuels; or debase the currency by Quantitative Easing (also known as “printing money,”) in the hope that this will produce inflation and lower the value of the currency relative to other currencies.

There is no way this race to the bottom can end well. Prices of imports become very high in a debased currency–this becomes a problem. In addition, the supply of money is increasingly out of balance with real goods and services. This produces asset bubbles, such as artificially high stock market prices, and artificially high bond prices (because the interest rates on bonds are so low). These assets bubbles lead to investment crashes. Also, if the printing ever stops (and perhaps even if it doesn’t), interest rates will rise, greatly raising cost to governments, corporations, and individual citizens.

11. Globalization encourages dependence on other countries for essential goods and services. With globalization, goods can often be obtained cheaply from elsewhere. A country may come to believe that there is no point in producing its own food or clothing. It becomes easy to depend on imports and specialize in something like financial services or high-priced medical care–services that are not as oil-dependent.

As long as the system stays together, this arrangement works, more or less. However, if the built-in instabilities in the system become too great, and the system stops working, there is suddenly a very large problem. Even if the dependence is not on food, but is instead on computers and replacement parts for machinery, there can still be a big problem if imports are interrupted.

12. Globalization ties countries together, so that if one country collapses, the collapse is likely to ripple through the system, pulling many other countries with it.

History includes many examples of civilizations that started from a small base, gradually grew to over-utilize their resource base, and then collapsed. We are now dealing with a world situation which is not too different. The big difference this time is that a large number of countries is involved, and these countries are increasingly interdependent. In my post 2013: Beginning of Long-Term Recession, I showed that there are significant parallels between financial dislocations now happening in the United States and the types of changes which happened in other societies, prior to collapse.  My analysis was based on  the model of collapse developed in the bookSecular Cycles by Peter Turchin and Sergey Nefedov.

It is not just the United States that is in perilous financial condition. Many European countries and Japan are in similarly poor condition. The failure of one country has the potential to pull many others down, and with it much of the system. The only countries that remain safe are the ones that have not grown to depend on globalization–which is probably not many today–perhaps landlocked countries of Africa.

In the past, when one area collapsed, there was less interdependence. When one area collapsed, it was possible to let cropland “rest” and deforested areas regrow. With regeneration, and perhaps new technology, it was possible for a new civilization to grow in the same area later. If we are dealing with a world-wide collapse, it will be much more difficult to follow this model.

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About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues – oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. The financial system is also likely to be affected.

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