Mar 3, 2011

Rajat Gupta and Goldman Sachs: SEC After Big Fish? | Rolling Stone Politics | Taibblog | Matt Taibbi on Politics and the Economy

I've been getting a lot of calls about the recent decision by the SEC to pursue insider trading charges against Rajat Gupta, a Goldman Sachs board member who was also the former head of McKinsey, one of the most important corporate consulting firms in the world.
It's been very interesting to watch the media reaction to this case. The spin, overwhelmingly, has been that this is proof that the SEC is more serious than ever. Business Week came out with an article whose headline blared, "The SEC Goes After Big Game." CNBC's take was "Rajat Gupta: Bigger than Madoff?" I'm sure by the time this news cycle ends, Rajat Gupta will be the single most important figure in the history of Wall Street.
There's no doubt that Gupta is a big fish and this is a good case. The evidence is remarkable and is eerily similar to the non-case that was non-made against Morgan Stanley chairman John Mack years ago. In that case, a hedgie named Art Samberg bought the hell out of a company called Heller Capital shortly after a call from Mack, who had just had a meeting with CSFB, Heller's investment banker, which was in a position to know that Heller was about the bought by GE.
In this case, Gupta, among other things, telephoned his buddy Raj Rajaratnam less than one minute -- literally -- after learning in a Goldman board meeting that Goldman was about to receive a $5 billion capital injection from Warren Buffet's Berkshire-Hathaway company in 2008. In September 2008, Gupta disconnected from a Board conference call, in which he learned about the Buffet deal, at 3:56 p.m. By 3:57, he was on the phone with Rajaratnam, who in turn waited less than a minute to buy 175,000 additional shares in Goldman.
It's great that the SEC is moving against a figure like Gupta. But I'll be a little disappointed if he's the top of the food chain here. If the Gupta/Hathaway case is the only one they make with regard to the rampant insider trading that went on during that critical bailout period, it won't be enough, unfortunately. How many of the executives and officials involved with the various rescues and bailouts made investment decisions based upon information they got during those negotiations?
My sense of what happened in 2008-2009 -- and many of the Wall Street people I talk to regularly say the same thing -- is that all the big banks were trading massively on inside information about bailouts, interest rate changes, and announcements about government programs like the PPIP and the TALF. In a way, the whole rearranging of the economy behind closed doors -- the backroom deals in which companies like Merrill and AIG and Bear and Washington Mutual and so on were wedded to buyers in taxpayer-aided shotgun weddings -- this was all one giant insider trade. Clearly there were individuals who knew about these deals and acted on them before the rest of the world's investors did. If you look at it like that, one lonely Rajat Gupta isn't going to cut it, I don't think.

Meet Stoyek | re:char

Stoyek Okumo is a small farmer in Bungoma County in Kenya’s Western District. Like the millions of other farmers in Western Kenya, Stoyek farms approximately one acre of land. He grows beans, maize and kale to provide food for his family, and generate a bit of income. Life for small farmers in Kenya is challenging. They rely on simple farming implements and must do everything by hand. Recently, climate change has caused delays in the onset of the rainy season, which these farmers depend on for survival.

However, Stoyek is different from many other small farmers– he has taken a risk and experimented with biochar. Three months ago Stoyek dedicated a portion of his farm to testing biochar in Kenyan soil. After one season of application, the results are stunning:

Stoyek’s maize grown in biochar and manure demonstrated a nearly 2X improvement in yield when compared to maize grown in Diammonium Phosphate (DAP), a common chemical fertilizer. In a region where poor harvests can mean famine, Stoyek’s results are incredibly encouraging and promising. In a few days Stoyek will plant maize for the long rain season. Now, nearly half of his farm has been amended with biochar. Over the coming months, Stoyek and many other local farmers will utilize re:char technology to produce additional biochar and green charcoal from their waste. As this work progresses, we will keep you updated.

Eric Sorensen: Haiti's Future Hinges on New Ideas, Sustainable Agriculture and the Rural Environment

The many challenges that face Haiti and its people have been chronicled over the last year in newspapers and on television, in blog posts and radio reports. Haiti has been portrayed as a land devastated by a crippling mix of political instability, economic stagnation, and natural disaster. Its subtitle that's repeated in nearly every news report in the media -- "the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere" -- rings even truer now than it did during the first days of 2011. But after all the devastation wrought upon Haiti over the last year (decades, really), a country that was once the "Pearl of the Caribbean" stands at a crossroads of opportunity: continue its stagnation, or show the world the power of Haitian ingenuity and the promise of a sustainable global future.

Since the quake, billions of dollars have been pledged to the relief effort (important nuance: pledged) and Haiti, which has long been dubbed "a republic of NGOs," has experienced an influx of even more foreign aid organizations. Relief efforts -- which are absolutely essential -- are ongoing in Port-au-Prince's tent cities and the ramshackle camps that have sprouted along the shadeless hillsides outside the capital. However, over a year into the post-quake relief effort, too little foreign aid money has actually been delivered and too little attention is being paid to areas outside the quake's radius of destruction. Given the overcrowding in Port-au-Prince, and the almost complete lack of any growth industry in the city, the rebuilding of Haiti must be heavily focused on sustainable rural development. Economic revitalization efforts should be aimed at the environmentally devastated countryside to protect and rebuild the environment, and provide jobs that will discourage migration to city slums. And it is crucial that aid money be steered toward projects that clearly contribute to an environmentally sustainable future for Haiti.

Haiti's tragic history of mismanagement and strife has had resulted in a poverty rate that climbs over 80 percent, while the land is over 98 percent deforested and the topsoil washes away to the sea. But Haiti's dismal industry and infrastructure might now be capitalized upon, if the monies that foreign governments and regular working Americans pledged are spent to put Haitians to work in jobs that exist in harmony with their struggling natural environment. In a country whose status quo has been ineffectual for so long, people are eager and willing to embrace new ideas that go beyond making baseballs. I've seen how adaptable the Haitian people are, and how hopeful they are for a future economy that might value the act of preserving the environment to grow food over its destruction for fuel.

With the goal of sustainable agricultural development and job creation, in 2010 I co-founded a nonprofit called Carbon Roots International, which works with farmers in a remote valley in the Haitian highlands called La Coupe. We introduced biochar and other sustainable farming methods to help subsistence farmers increase their food harvest, revitalize their soils, stop deforestation, and combat climate change.

Although those goals might sound like the stuff of fantasy, biochar has the potential to achieve huge improvements through modest means, using a little modern engineering paired with ancient practices.

Biochar is essentially sustainably produced charcoal that is used as a soil amendment. Small-scale charcoal production has come at huge environmental costs in Haiti--there are virtually no forests left in the entire country. The widespread deforestation has had a domino effect: floods are more common, most of the topsoil and nutrients have been washed away, the local climate has become hotter, and food production has cratered. Biochar presents a new and exciting way to sustainably rebuild Haiti, starting with the rural areas and food production. For a country starved for trees and not able to feed itself these are essential building blocks, upon which a national green economy might be formed.

In Haiti, Carbon Roots International enables farmers to turn agricultural leftovers into charcoal, and then educates them about the benefits of adding it to their soils. When charcoal made from crop leftovers is put in the ground, some amazing things happen: crop yields rise, soil fertility increases, water retention improves so less irrigation is needed, and carbon is sequestered in the ground. Ancient Amazonian peoples knew this -- they were practicing biochar farming hundreds, even thousands, of years ago.

Incredibly, this process is carbon negative, meaning we can actually remove carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere by enabling Haitian farmers to grow more food and rejuvenate their environment. If done on a large scale, across the developing world, biochar could help feed the hungry and provide income for many poor farmers, and help to significantly mitigate global warming. We at Carbon Roots International see great potential in this approach to development, and we're not alone.

There are many organizations in Haiti that are finding new and creative ways to help rebuild a country in dire need of new and creative ideas. They are building composting toilets to use human waste in urban gardens, or developing clean energy stores that provide green products at local rates. We are all small organizations that are thinking big, envisioning a future Haiti that is economically and environmentally sustainable, and trying new approaches that foresee an economy that looks beyond the garment industry, or the tourism industry, or, yes, the baseball industry.

To find out more about Carbon Roots International and get involved, check out:

Warren Buffett - Mid-America - His Utility Company is #1 Wind Power Company in USA

siemens wind turbine photo

Buffett Quietly Became King of Wind Power

Warren Buffett has been in the news a lot lately for all kinds of things, but the media has mostly overlooked the fact that the uber-investor is also making big green moves. While T. Boone Pickens has been screaming about wind power from the rooftops, Buffett, through his MidAmerican utility (which he owns via his Berkshire Hathaway holding company), has been making big investments in wind power, enough to become the #1 utility in the U.S. when it comes to wind.

Buffett wrote in his annual shareholder letter:

MidAmerican will have 2,909 megawatts of wind generation in operation by the end of 2011, more than any other regulated electric utility in the country. The total amount that MidAmerican has invested or committed to wind is a staggering $5.4 billion. We can make this sort of investment because MidAmerican retains all of its earnings, unlike other utilities that generally pay out most of what they earn.

In 2010, the U.S. had about 40,000 MW of installed wind power capacity, according to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Iowa, where MidAmerican has most of its installations, comes second only after Texas for wind power.

Long-Term Energy Thinking

Buffett makes a good financial point: Most utilities could make much bigger investments in clean energy if they retained more of their earnings instead of paying them out as dividends. In the short term, this might reduce their stock prices a big (as investors are chasing dividends), but in the long-term, it'll make them much better prepared to face a low-carbon future.

Organic Biochar Development » The GIBBR project

GIBBR project (Gas Ignition Biochar Batch Reactor)

This is an open source style of project. Please read the warning at the bottom of this page. If you have any issue with this design or claim ownership, contact me directly by comment below.

Project overview: I wanted to develop a safe(ish) way to produce Biochar in a vessel around the size of a 44 gallon drum, it needed to be mobile so I could wheel it into place, it needed to be able to produce enough Biochar for my 2000m2 permaculture food forest, I wanted a system which would not spark and produce any smoke because of our long dry seasons and fire bans, it needed to accept logs, branches and chunky feed stock. It was to use LPG gas for ignition. Feedstock has to have a low moisture content, fresh green waste is not suitable for this style of system as I have discovered.

Development of this system has come about from a lot of trial and error, cutting the system up and rebuilding, I’m always open to positive feedback and suggestions and I’m sure a lot of refinement will continue into the future. If your serious about developing a GIBBR style system feel free to message me.

Note: the photos in the plan are slightly different, the reaction chamber exhaust pipe should travel down next to the reaction chamber reducing wood smoke condensation.

The syn-gas produced by the system vents directly inside the powerburner flames, the reason for this is to vaporise all early stage smoke, as this early stage smoke has quite a high moisture content and is not very flammable, once the exothermic reaction occurs the LPG gas burners can be shut down as the produced syn-gases are highly flammable and the system will fuel itself until finished.

Please read this warning: This system runs super hot (650+ degrees Celsius), it produces extremely flammable gases, touching any mental part of the machine when running or for hours after operation will burn skin, all exhaust gases are toxic so operation outside is important. Blocking or jamming the exhaust pipe out of the reaction chamber will cause the system to possibility explode, killing or burning anyone near by. The reaction chamber should be at normal atmosphere with a slight increase in pressure when the system goes exothermic. Much care and respect needs to be taken around this system, children should never ever be allowed near the system when running. The ground around the system should be clear as grass will catch fire from radiant heat produced. Never put sealed containers inside the running reactor. Always wear thick leather gloves, safety glasses, with all skin and hair covered. Once the system has gone exothermic it is extremely difficult and dangerous to try and stop. You need to stay with the system during operation and access to a water hose to dampen the ground is important. I accept NO responsibility for any damage you or your system creates. This system is not suitable for small backyards sorry, try looking up ‘biochar gasifier stove’. Check with your council and maybe just let your local fire department know what you’re up too.

Gene Logsdon: Roundup Ready Alfalfa — Monsanto’s Big Goof?

by Gene Logsdon

I don’t know how to jigger genes around to make biotech alfalfa or anything else, but I do know a thing or two about making alfalfa hay. Whether Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa is harmful to health or not I don’t know either and wonder if anyone does for sure. But the majority of scientists, after much study, have pronounced RR alfalfa safe to feed and to eat. I have to assume (I guess) that most of the people involved sincerely believe that their findings are reliable and that they are not being paid off by Monsanto to fudge the results. Maybe I’m wrong about that too, but in the long run, who can you trust if not the conclusions of science, imperfect as they often are.
I think RR alfalfa is a big mistake for another reason. Weeds are rarely a problem in alfalfa cut for hay, so who needs the stuff. Alfalfa seed is expensive enough as it is. If biotech alfalfa seed goes up horrendously in price like biotech seed corn has, who would want to buy it?
If I had a dime for every bale of alfalfa I’ve handled, I’d have a very nice nest egg in the bank right now not drawing any interest. Before farming went to the corn, soybeans, and Florida rotation where I live, weeds were not nearly as problematical as they are now. The rotation then was corn, oats/wheat, and two or more years of hay. If the hay was alfalfa, it meant that for those years it was cut three times a summer, sometimes four. A good stand of alfalfa over four years of regularly cutting quashed almost all weed growth very effectively.
Sometimes in the first year that a field is seeded to alfalfa, weeds can be problematical but the alfalfa will grow right along with them if growing conditions are normal. The stand might look bad for a little while, but after the first cutting for hay, the alfalfa will spring back faster than the weeds. After the second cutting, the alfalfa grows back strongly again and the weeds diminish. By the second year’s second cutting, weeds are mostly gone. I just watched my brother-in-law’s field down the road go through this transformation over the past four years. The alfalfa looked so weedy at first that we cringed every time another farmer ventured past to see the mess, but now it looks magnificent and ought to last two more years anyway. And another thing: during the time that weeds might be bad in this situation, with multiple cuttings all summer they will be mostly in a good vegetative state when cut and make good nutritional feed too.
So why RR alfalfa? As far as I can figure, the commercial alfalfa seed growers in the West must have a weed problem because when harvesting for seed, they are not cutting their alfalfa so frequently. Seems to me the money they save by not growing seed the old way they will spend buying the new biotech seed. Then if the weeds grow immune to herbicides anyway, like they have already started to do, who has gained?
Organic growers have a good way to solve the problem of biotech alfalfa contaminating their hay crop. Switch to red or white clovers. I did thirty years ago because on my heavy clay soils, alfalfa doesn’t grow as well as red clover. Also red clover does not frost-heave as badly as alfalfa and is immune to the alfalfa weevil which is a problem here. Red clovers and some whites are fairly easy to sow by frost seeding, certainly better than alfalfa, which alone was reason enough for me to switch. And we can grow our own red clover seed in the humid eastern half of the country, not true of alfalfa. If half the haymakers quit growing alfalfa, even though it produces more tonnage if you spend the money to fertilize it heavily, the commercial seed growers would be the ones to suffer. Of course, I suppose if we all go that route, Monsanto will rush in to save us with an RR red clover. I wonder if agribusiness will eventually RR everything in nature and charge us a fee to gather hickory nuts.
Read the original article on The Contrary Farmer.
holyshitGene Logsdon is the author of, most recently, Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind.

Vissesonce: Turning Wood

Vissesonce: The entire visual essence of an object including it's surface and it's depth. A beautiful way to demonstrate the art of turning, and to appreciate the grains of wood which serve as the turners canvas.

Mar 2, 2011

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

This is the text of the Commencement address by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, delivered on June 12, 2005. I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories. The first story is about connecting the dots. I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out? It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college. And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting. It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example: Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later. Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. My second story is about love and loss. I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating. I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over. I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life. During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together. I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle. My third story is about death. When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes. I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now. This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept: No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions. Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. Thank you all very much.

Revolution of the Middle... and The Pursuit of Happiness is now on-line

For those of you who want to better understand the economics behind
our current food system (which is part of a larger extraction
economy), listening to or reading John Ikerd will provide much
satisfying food for thought.

Download files to play or save on your computer or mp3 player...

Foreword and Introduction - A Revolution of the Middle
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The Great Recession is not simply the consequence of a crisis of confidence; we are facing a crisis of sustainability. We simply can’t continue doing what we have been doing. We can’t sustain economic growth rates of the past 200-year. Those growth rates were only possible because of cheap fossil energy and the days of cheap oil, natural gas, and coal are over. In addition we haven’t made the investments in research and education necessary to sustain the productivity of our workforce. Our economy no longer functions for the good of the American people. It serves the interests of corporate managers and investors instead. We have the power restore sustainability to the U.S. economy, but we won’t do it until more people understand that we have lost control of their society. American economy is not suffering from a lack of confidence but instead a lack of sustainability.

Chapter 1. A Crisis of Confidence?
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The current U.S. economy is not really capitalist. In many respects, it’s a betrayal of capitalism. The so called competitive free markets of today are not the capitalist markets envisioned by classical economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo. The current U.S. government is not democratic, as least not democratic in the sense envisioned in our founding documents. It does not ensure equal access to those things to which we all have equal rights. It is preoccupied with the pursuit wealth for the few rather than the pursuit of happiness for the many. To regain and sustain our economy and our society, we must return to the classical roots of capitalism and democracy. A capitalist economy must function within physical limits of nature and the social bounds of equity and justice, if it is to function sustainably.

Chapter 2. A Society Held Hostage
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As the founding documents of the United States clearly state the purpose of government is to ensure the unalienable rights of all, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Capitalism is about the pursuit of wealth. Democracy is about the pursuit of happiness. Nothing is more fundamental to democracy than equity and justice for all, and a capitalist economy will ensure neither. Economic incentives are inadequate to ensure the long run investments in nature and society necessary for sustainability. Government is the only means of restraining economic extraction and exploitation of nature and society. However, the only just power of the government to ensure sustainability must be derived from a consensus of the governed. 

Chapter 3. Keeping the American Promise
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As the founding documents of the United States clearly state the purpose of government is to ensure the unalienable rights of all, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Capitalism is about the pursuit of wealth. Democracy is about the pursuit of happiness. Nothing is more fundamental to democracy than equity and justice for all, and a capitalist economy will ensure neither. Economic incentives are inadequate to ensure the long run investments in nature and society necessary for sustainability. Government is the only means of restraining economic extraction and exploitation of nature and society. However, the only just power of the government to ensure sustainability must be derived from a consensus of the governed.

Chapter 4. A New Way of Thinking
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Sustainability is the defining question of the 21st century. How can we meet the needs of the present without compromising the future? To answer this question we must see the world differently; we must develop a new worldview. We must see the world as a dynamic, self-renewing, regenerative living system, of which we humans are but a part. Once we change our understanding of how the world works and our place within it, it will change virtually every aspect of our lives. Our personal relationships within families and communities and our impersonal relationships within nations and global society will all be different. The trends of the past will be reversed. Both our society and economy will become more diverse, dispersed, and decentralized.  A sustainable economy must function in harmony with nature and society.

Chapter 5. A New Way of Life
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The change we need will not come easy. The status quo will be defended by powerful economic and political interests. First, we must find the courage to change our way of life. We must abandon the relentless quest for economic growth and return to the pursuit of happiness. Beyond some modest level of income or wealth, happiness is determined much more by the quality of our relationships and our sense of purpose and meaning in life than by any amount of additional income or wealth. We must reclaim the American Dream. The American Dream was never meant to be about the pursuit of wealth, but instead the pursuit of happiness. We must be willing to challenge the conventional wisdom of today’s scientific thinking that denies the existence of purpose in life. When we live out our unique purpose in life, we make the greatest contribution we possibly can make and receive the greatest possible rewards; we will find happiness.

Chapter 6. Returning to Truth
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There are no formulas or recipes for sustainability. The living world doesn’t function by precise laws. However, living things do function by basic principles that are just as true as any law of physics or chemistry. The principles of natural ecosystems include holism, diversity, and interdependence. A healthy natural ecosystem is something more than the sum of its diverse parts. The principles of human relationship are just as valid as any other law of nature. Healthy relationships must be built upon a foundation of trust and kindness. To sustain positive relationships in families, communities, and societies we must find the courage to be trusting and kind. The principles of economic are the basic principles of individual behavior. We matter as individuals as well as members of society. We must respect the economic principles of scarcity, efficiency, and sovereignty if we are to meet our individual needs. 

Chapter 7. Reestablishing Integrity
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A sustainable economy and society must be built on a foundation of ecological, social, and economic integrity. Integrity is a matter of wholeness, completeness, and internal consistency. To ensure sustainability, the ecological principles of holism, diversity, and interdependence must also permeate our society and economy. The social principles of trust, kindness, and courage must be reflected in our economic relationships and our relationships with nature. We must respect the economic principles of scarcity, efficiency, and sovereignty in formulating and implementing social and ecological policies. Finally, sustainability ultimately is a matter of ethics and morality. What are our responsibilities for the well-being of other people or for the future of humanity? The answers to these questions can be found only in the most basic of all principles – in faith, hope, and love. 

Chapter 8. Reclaiming Democracy
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It will take a revolution for the American people to reclaim their society and our economy. Like the American Revolution of 1776, this revolution will be won only people who willing to commit their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the cause. The political process must move beyond the art of compromise to reestablish a consensus among the governed. Government must return to its most basic function of ensuring equal access to those things to which we all have equal rights. This will result in government that is much smaller than today but a government with very different priorities than today’s government. It will require a new consensus regarding what we should expect from our government and what we should do for ourselves. The new revolution will not come from the political Left or Right. It must be a Revolution of the Middle.

Chapter 9. Restoring Consent
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Restoring the new consensus among Americans will not be easy, but it certainly doable. The U.S. Constitution was written with the expectation that it would periodically be changed or amended.  Our failure to amend the Constitution to address emerging issues has led to many questionable interpretations of the Constitution by the Supreme Court. None of these is more threatening to the sustainability of our society and economy than the Court rulings granting of personhood to corporations. To find the consensus necessary to respond to concerns from both the political Left and Right, we will need to break free of previous Court rulings and return to our founding documents. Among the rights necessary to ensure sustainability are the right to economic sovereignty, the right to a healthy environment, and the rights of future generations equal the rights of those today.

Chapter 10. Renewing Prosperity
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The economic growth rates of industrial era are not sustainable. However, we can have continuing prosperity without unsustainable economic growth. The earth provides more than enough renewable solar energy to meet the basic needs of global society both today and in the future. Once the basic causes of overpopulation are addressed, global population can be stabilized as sustainable levels. There will be enough for all to be prosperous in terms of overall quality of life, just not enough for everyone to have everything they might want.  There will be no limit to human progress if we can find the wisdom to abandon our unsustainable pursuit of ever greater wealth and return to the pursuit of happiness. And best of all, we don’t have to wait for the rest of the world to change to find contentment and happiness in our own lives. When we live with purpose, we are doing our part, which is all we can do and need to do, to help make the world a better place. Having done all we can do, we can just let go, and be happy.

Postscript - Rethinking Reality
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This book reflects my truth. I call it my truth because I believe what I have written in this book in internally consistent. We can never be certain that we have found the truth, but we know truth can never be in conflict with truth. What I have written also reflects a concept of reality that is consistent with what we see in the world around us. I believe reality exists as potentials. The same reality has the potential to be seen quite differently by different people. Our individual experiences of reality are unique, but the different experiences of reality among individuals are always consistent with same set of potentials – the same reality. By sharing our various perspectives, we gain greater insights into true nature of reality. That is what I have attempted to do in this book by sharing my truth.

Mar 1, 2011

Biofuel boom could follow oil price spike

Damian Blog : Miscanthus giganteus  grown for biofuelMiscanthus giganteus is a tall grass grown on European farms as a biofuel, such as this crop in rural Northamptonshire. Photograph: Alamy

The production of biofuels, good thing or not, will be decided by the setting of targets in the big western energy markets, right? Wrong, said bio-energy expert Jeremy Woods, at Imperial College, when I spoke to him yesterday.

He thinks biofuel production could pass a tipping point and start to rocket as rising oil prices make the plant-derived fuel cheaper in many developing countries around the world.

"Once oil is over $70 a barrel, conventional and new generation biofuels become cost competitive, certainly with tar sands and shale, and with oil from much of the Middle East and Brazil's new offshore fields," he says. "When oil and biofuels are competitive, we are into a different world."

Even more striking is his suggestion that this biofuel boom is most likely to happen in those developing countries that have fast growing populations and food needs. That's because those countries, including many African nations, are particularly vulnerable to high oil costs, for both transport and farming.

But Woods is not an opponent of biofuels. "Bioenergy done well is absolutely needed," he told me, at a Royal Society event titled Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. He believes projects that work with smallholders and ensure benefits are kept within the country can produce biofuels responsibly. "Delivering investment in this way may be the only way to raise yields," he adds.

However, there are risks too, he says, and these are greater if demand drives the production of large volumes in a short period of time. In that scenario, foreign companies or governments would secure vast tracts of land and export all the fuel and profits. That will exacerbate existing problems in the host country, he says, and could lead to people being driven off the land. "The harder you pull the lever [of biofuel production], the more likely you are to get competition between fuel and food.

Also yesterday, an unexpected benefit of some biofuel production was revealed in a scientific paper - they can cool the local area by as much a 2C.

The modelling study, by Matei Georgescu at Arizona State University and colleagues, indicated that replacing conventional crops such as wheat and maize with perennial grasses used for biofuel production cut temperatures.

Georgescu says he is not advocating a widespread switch, but that this cooling phenomenon should be taken into account when making decisions about biofuels. "It dawned on me that some mechanisms were not being accounted for in this topic which has implications for millions of people," he told me.

The cooling happens for two reasons. First, the grasses - switchgrass or miscanthus - cover the ground for more of the year, preventing the sun heating the ground. Second, and more important, the plants transpire more, i.e. they evaporate more water into the atmosphere.

All this is unlikely to persuade some that biofuels can be green. Keith Taylor, the Green Party MEP for South East England said on Monday: "Although biofuels come from plants they are not a 'green' solution. Growing, transporting and burning biofuels has devastating effects on people and the environment both in the UK and around the world."

Keith added: "Relying on biofuels to solve our energy crisis simply dumps the problem on developing countries. What we need is more efficient use of energy and committed investment in clean renewables like wind, solar and tidal power."

We'll be following the biofuel story closely in the future, so feel free to let me know what you think we should be looking at in the comments below.

Wisconson PROTESTS


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Matt Taibbi: "Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail?" (Complete Interview)

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Feb 28, 2011

Can biochar help you realize more value from manure?


Dairy basics - Manure
Written by Jed ‘Red’ Garner

When we look at the future of dairy manure management with the proper perspective, we see manure as an extremely valuable resource.

For many dairymen now, manure is just waste with serious handling and waste management expenses – a liability on the balance sheet. What would it take to move manure into the asset column?

Many paths have been traveled attempting to make money out of manure, ranging from low-tech paths like spreading it on fields raw, to more intensive methods of composting, all the way to high-tech, automated anaerobic digesters for the production of energy. There are many rusting tanks and empty lagoons attesting to their results.

A 2,000-year-old process has recently been adapted as a possible solution to concerns in the dairy industry. Biochar is one of the products from the process of converting biomass (forest/municipal waste, manure, crop residue, etc.) into a carbon-rich soil amendment.

The best-known biochar is the Terra Preta (dark earth) that has been a part of agriculture for more than 2,000 years in the Amazon Basin.

Biochar is produced in specifically designed bioenergy systems that heat biomass either through pyrolysis (no oxygen) or gasification (reduced oxygen). These systems can capture the liquids, solids and gases for beneficial use.

Each element of the process can be optimized to convert what was once a costly waste stream to several value-added products – the solids as biochar, and the gases to fuel the system and produce extra power.

From pyrolysis, the liquids can range from wood vinegar to bio-oil, depending upon the process. Each technology has its benefits.

After “manure happens” at a dairy, it is conveyed to a solids separator, and then dried thermally with excess heat from the gasification or pyrolysis system.

The dried material can be directly charred or further processed to produce pyroligneous acids similar to wood vinegar before the remaining solids are charred.

In the charring process the manure is heated and the resultant gases are directed to the production of heat to sustain the process.

With pyrolysis, any excess gases can be condensed to produce bio-oil or utilized in some other function.

In gasification they are combusted to produce heat that can be used for process heat, steam or power. The nutrient-rich charred manure is biochar.

However, not all biochars are created equal. The different feedstocks and methods of producing biochar can significantly alter its beneficial properties. Depending on the process, the pH can range very low to very high.

Care must be taken to match the characteristics of the soil with the right biochar so as to not be counterproductive.

The benefits of biochar can be remarkable. Not only do we improve the soil by retaining valuable elements, this very act reduces leaching and runoff of nutrients and makes a substantial reduction in gases that are said to be plaguing the environment (methane, CO2, and nitrous oxides).

Biochar also increases soil tilth, porosity, moisture retention capacity, CEC, soil biology and fertilizer efficiency. This is not an exhaustive list, but provides some very good indications of biochar’s intrinsic value.

On top of that, the fine-grained, highly porous char is a persistent, stable form of soil organic carbon. This means that both the carbon structures and its benefits last for hundreds to thousands of years. This will benefit the asset column for a long time to come.

Even directly applying biochar to the soil can provide some of its benefits almost immediately. Yet there is a more valuable process of “priming” the biochar so that it is able to take much greater advantage of current dairy waste streams.

The first step in the biochar “priming” process works similarly to the activated charcoal in a water filter. Instead of removing undesirables from tap water, it is used to filter valuable nutrients and particulates from dairy lagoon effluent.

The biochar is also colonized by beneficial microbes from the lagoon. The biochar and effluent slurry, enriched with nutrients and microbial populations, is then incorporated back into the manure stream during composting and replaced with fresh biochar.

Priming and then composting the enriched biochar with the manure reaps additional benefits by enhancing microbial activity and reducing the normal loss of nitrogen during the decomposition process.

Utilizing the biochar this way effectively converts an already powerful soil amendment into a biologically active media that is pre-loaded with concentrated nutrients and microbial populations.

When this “primed” biochar compost is land-applied, the needed nutrients and microbials continue a synergistic benefit that could otherwise take years to fully manifest in the soil, had it not been further developed.

Business leaders, scientists, politicians, environmentalists, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs are uniting in their belief that biochar truly is the future of manure management.

It is important to keep in mind that many valuable uses have been found for biochar, yet the biochar industry is very much in its infancy.

Although very fertile, char-rich soils were described long ago, the vast majority of research pertaining to biochar has occurred in the past 10 to 15 years.

Most biochar now available is wood-sourced, as only a handful of proven technologies can produce it consistently and fewer still can handle the throughput of various manures.

Due to the infancy of the biochar industry, while large-scale biochar equipment does exist, it isn’t sitting on a showroom floor just waiting to be installed. It is best to work with an experienced reputable company who can determine the best system design to maximize the needs of your operation.

Biochar demand far outstrips the supply, which is another supporting illustration of the infancy of the biochar industry. This lack of availability has produced a fair amount of frustration among researchers and consumers alike.

As a result, many researchers have had to build their own small charring units just to produce enough specific material so they could conduct the needed research.

Dr. Collins, a USDA soil scientist, stated that he has successfully demonstrated a model of using dairy manure to produce biochar, but has been unable to find a pyrolysis unit that can process enough material to allow widespread field application.

What does this mean for our dairies and manure management? The framework of the future and our part in it are still to be determined.

While each step has been proven individually in certain scenarios, the concepts discussed here are still in the formative stages and are being shaped by the needs of industry. We are the ones defining those needs and with every decision we make, we are choosing the architecture of our future.

Will we choose to continue “handling” manure as a waste product and incurring the associated expenses? Or will we adjust our vision to begin seeing the many benefits naturally contained in one of dairy’s valuable resources?

I guess it boils down to just one simple question: Will we make it a reality, that is, will we choose to realize more value in manure to benefit the environment and our bottom line? PD

For more information visit:



For industry-specific links and system manufacturers:


References omitted due to space but are available upon request to

Garner has been working with biochar and studying its potential impact for the dairy industry for two years. He has previous experience providing quality assurance and testing for a large composting operation.