Sep 10, 2011

The Upside-Down Republican View of Power | Blog for Iowa

September 10, 2011 | Author Dave Bradley

Most Americans think that the power structure of the government and the country is pretty much what is described in the Constitution. The people are the sovereign, the final deciders. Through their votes they choose the President as the head of the government, the chief enforcer of laws. Congress making laws and holding the purse strings. The Supreme Court as the interpreter of laws and the Constitution. State governments are generally below the national government, although not in every instance. Below that are the various local governments. Below that are those who are governed which includes corporations and individuals.

This is what has been traditionally taught in school and seems to be what best lines up with the intention of the constitution. This model also lines up with what the Democratic Party practices generally.

But in practice the Republican Party seems to have an upside-down view of this structure. While they will mouth the platitudes of ‘people are the final say’ in practice their power structure begins with corporations and those with money at the top. That is to say, the real power in the Republican Party belongs to those who have money. They do not exercise this power generally out in the open. Were they to do so would probably cause an open revolt by the citizenry. No, much better to work behind the scenes and direct others to actually do the deeds desired by those directing things. Nor can they be seen to actually be taking an active part in directing activities. Think of a drug kingpin or the old time bootleggers. While there was a structure at top that directed activities, it was nearly impossible to actually connect the kingpin with the crimes. There was a layer or two between the real power and the actual deeds.

So between the top where directions come from and the politicians who actually do the deeds are a layer of go-betweens. They still have more power than the directed politicians, but are definitely at the beholding of those with the money. This role is ably filled by a variety of groups. I will take a shot here at naming the ones I think are the most recognizable. Therefore this list may not be complete.

First are the lobbyists. While many groups have lobbyists including such groups as environmentalist and educators, the lobbyists employed by the rich and the corporate world play a bit of a different role. They are able to deliver the oil that the machinery of elections run on – money – in the form of campaign contributions. That is provided that they get what they want. They deliver the money and the message from above.

Also among the go-betweens are the media, which is almost totally corporate owned in this country. The media in the Republican set-up creates a friendly environment for the rich to pass their message down to the peons. The people are the low rung for Republicans, and are to be used only for the purpose of pretending there is support among the masses for policies that actually hurt them. The other purpose of the media is to convey to politicians what acceptable stances are for them to convey to the masses.

Also in this layer are the religionists – those who tie the message from the rich to the supposed desire of God. The religionists can stir up the religious masses and pass the party line down to them. Using an afterlife as leverage, they control a rather rabid group of followers. Because they can produce votes and protesters, they have the ear of politicians and are often used to convey the message from above to the politicians.

Finally is the group known as ALEC. This is one that the rich are involved with themselves. Given that the rich are publicity shy, it is not surprising that we have only recently learned of this groups shenanigans. Working shoulder to shoulder with politicians, the rich can let the politician know then and there just what is acceptable.

The third layer of power in the Republican Party is the politicians themselves. Note that while our constitution gives the President and Congress powers, in the Republican Party, they are beholden to wealth. Why? Because our current election forces candidates to raise huge amounts of money which will come mostly from the wealthy. Republicans would never get elected on their ideas alone. Honestly, how many would vote for a party that wants to end Social Security and Medicare if they weren’t conditioned by advertisements and a captive media plus perhaps their own clergy to believe ending SS and Medicare were a good idea? Therefore, the politicians must “play ball,” or submit to the moneyed class.

The next to the bottom group is those who own real small businesses and farmers. Much like the bottom group, the workers, this group is used mainly as fodder to fight the battles of the rich. With small business owners, the rich can claim some parallel purpose for their policies, even though most of the policies that the rich espouse usually end up hurting the small businessman and farmer. Anyone ever hear of someone losing a business or a farm because of tight money?

Finally the very lowest group is workers and the poor of all stripes. It is amazing that any worker would ever vote for a Republican considering the scorn that is openly shown by that party for them. Yet vote for them they do. Most of this can be attributed, I believe, to the constant bombardment of one-sided propaganda by the media and the help of the religionists instilling the fear of God into workers and the poor. This year the Republicans have made an actual show of how little they think of workers – especially union workers – and the poor. Yet you can bet some will continue to vote for Republican

/       MEDIA        \
/              ALEC             \
/             WORKERS, OTHERS                         \

Sep 7, 2011

Bio-Char with David Yarrow | Biochar Discussion List Web Site

Bio-char with David Yarrow from mediasanctuary on Vimeo.

Great explanation of biochar and how it works in the soil... Monte

Ed's biochar tech - Stove types and how to get them

Ed Revill, organic farmer, engineer, 
and biochar stove designer, 
is one, smart, cool dude...!!!
Well worth watching and learning 
his extensive knowledge 
of sustainable living, carbon sequestering, 
economics of post carbon world...
Brilliant man...!!!

Ed Revill gives the low-down on biochar-producing stoves and how they can be harnessed to convert chemical energy stored in wood into useful heat and nutrient retaining, "carbon negative" charcoal known as biochar.

Ed Revill talks about his new hybrid rocket stove which creates biochar using twin chambers: one for high-oxygen combustion and one for low-oxygen pyrolysis. He also discusses how he envisions it being used.

Continued discussion of the hybrid rocket stove at Small Is... Festival 2011. Smokeless operation and TLUD design also mentioned

Ed Revill moves on from the technical aspects of his hybrid rocket stove to a broader discussion of the potential of the technology: for climate change mitigation, increased soil productivity and nutrient retention, and the survival of homo sapiens. Also criticises George Monbiot's article on biochar (6:10) and how to experiment yourself with biochar production and use.

Discussion of biochar in general terms. What is it useful for? Which biochar production techniques are not sustainable? How could it impact vegetable yields? Are there better uses of charcoal than outdoor barbecues? Ed Revill, organic farmer and biochar stove designer, explains his views.

In this final video Ed summarises his thoughts on biochar production through custom-built hybrid rocket stoves. Want to build one? Some prerequisites of production are mentioned. There's also a typology of rocket stoves toward the end of this video.

Sep 6, 2011

Stop bashing government workers

By Katrina vanden Heuvel

Two thousand and eleven has been one of the toughest years for public workers that I can remember. Every month until this past one, the private sector has added jobs, and every month the public sector has lost them. The August employment report shows that the public sector got hit hard again — losing 17,000 jobs. In states across the country, public workers aren’t just being laid off; they’re being made into economic scapegoats. These workers deserve to be treated fairly any time. But in the wake of Hurricane Irene, as we watched teams of federal, state and local government workers tirelessly saving lives, and on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, they deserve much better.

The last decade has been marked by both peril and possibility, and in all of it there has been no shortage of American heroes. Many, if not the vast majority, worked for the government — as firefighters and police, as teachers and rescue workers. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, men and women proudly wore hats and shirts labeled “FDNY” and “NYPD.” When we wept for our nation, it was the bravery of the first responders that reminded us of our national character. There was a newfound respect for public service and a heartening change in how Americans viewed their government. Fire and police departments, and organizations such as the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, saw a surge in applicants. We didn’t just want to believe in those workers. We wanted to be them.

In the 10 years since, those and other public workers haven’t been any less heroic or any less essential. But they have been significantly less appreciated, even demonized. “There are a lot of government employees that need to go find a real job,”Rep. Paul Broun (Ga.), a Tea Party favorite, snorted in June. For too many on the right, a government worker isn’t a worker at all.

This, more than anything, comes from a broadening acceptance that government can do no good. Anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist infamously called for government to be made so small that it could be drowned in a bathtub. But even within the far-right fringes, it used to be the case that government, though small, was supposed to serve essential functions. Chief among them: Providing security to its citizens, doing for the people what no private corporation could.

There was a time, for example, that disaster relief money was a foregone conclusion. And yet here we are, in the wake of a hurricane that has devastated parts of New York and Vermont, being told by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) that disaster aid can come only after spending cuts. As Paul Krugman rightly notes, “In effect, Mr. Cantor and his allies are threatening to take hurricane victims hostage, using their suffering as a bargaining chip.”

It used to be the case that the Federal Aviation Administration could count on Congress to fund it and that it wouldn’t be held hostage to political posturing. Not anymore. We spent two weeks with furloughed FAA workers because Republicans refused to approve funding for their work. This month, that same story is playing out, only for workers on federal highway projects.

When it is convenient, government and government workers are praised, as in the case of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who lauded FEMA workers as “very responsive” in preparing for Hurricane Irene. When it isn’t, they are attacked, as in the case of the same Gov. Christie, who spent most of his career bashing government workers, and whose signature achievement has been to slash benefits for public-sector unions.

It’s hard to imagine what government would be like in the face of crisis were the Tea Party in control of more than just the House of Representatives. Would it have defunded the National Weather Service, making it impossible to know where the hurricane would hit and who would need to flee from harm’s way? Would it have defunded the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as one of their heroes, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), has called for, and instead opted to “be like 1900,” as he described it? If the Tea Party had its way, might there have been too few first responders on 9/11?

Government isn’t just about first responders, of course. When our public school teachers are constantly asked to do more with less, when they work to prepare the next generation for an uncertain economic future, they deserve our deepest gratitude. When regulators prevent corporations from spilling chemicals and oil and waste into our rivers and oceans, we should sing their praises. When bureaucrats at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau stand up to the big banks, we should stand alongside them.

There’s no question that, in any number of ways, government lets us down. Our leaders have too often stacked government against the interests of working people in favor of corporate elites. But was it overpaid and undertaxed CEOs who saved flood victims or rushed into the towers? Our impulse should not be to renounce government; it should be to recapture and restore it.

It is time for the era of despised government to end.

Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of the Nation magazine, writes a weekly online column for The Post.

Katrina vanden Heuvel - GO GIRL!!! Working with hundreds of dedicated government works for 33 years I know she is right and those who say otherwise are full of BS...  Monte

Confessions of a GOP Operative Who Left "the Cult": 3 Things Everyone Must Know About the Lunatic-Filled Republican Party | Tea Party and the Right

Former GOPer: "If you think Paul Ryan and his Ayn Rand-worshipping colleagues aren't after your Social Security and Medicare, I am here to disabuse you of your naiveté."

September 5, 2011

Barbara Stanwyck: "We're both rotten!"

Fred MacMurray: "Yeah - only you're a little more rotten." -"Double Indemnity" (1944)

Those lines of dialogue from a classic film noir sum up the state of the two political parties in contemporary America. Both parties are rotten - how could they not be, given the complete infestation of the political system by corporate money on a scale that now requires a presidential candidate to raise upwards of a billion dollars to be competitive in the general election? Both parties are captives to corporate loot. The main reason the Democrats' health care bill will be a budget buster once it fully phases in is the Democrats' rank capitulation to corporate interests - no single-payer system, in order to mollify the insurers; and no negotiation of drug prices, a craven surrender to Big Pharma.

But both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP.

To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.

It was this cast of characters and the pernicious ideas they represent that impelled me to end a nearly 30-year career as a professional staff member on Capitol Hill. A couple of months ago, I retired; but I could see as early as last November that the Republican Party would use the debt limit vote, an otherwise routine legislative procedure that has been used 87 times since the end of World War II, in order to concoct an entirely artificial fiscal crisis. Then, they would use that fiscal crisis to get what they wanted, by literally holding the US and global economies as hostages.

The debt ceiling extension is not the only example of this sort of political terrorism. Republicans were willing to lay off 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees, 70,000 private construction workers and let FAA safety inspectors work without pay, in fact, forcing them to pay for their own work-related travel - how prudent is that? - in order to strong arm some union-busting provisions into the FAA reauthorization.

Everyone knows that in a hostage situation, the reckless and amoral actor has the negotiating upper hand over the cautious and responsible actor because the latter is actually concerned about the life of the hostage, while the former does not care. This fact, which ought to be obvious, has nevertheless caused confusion among the professional pundit class, which is mostly still stuck in the Bob Dole era in terms of its orientation. For instance, Ezra Klein wrote of his puzzlement over the fact that while House Republicans essentially won the debt ceiling fight, enough of them were sufficiently dissatisfied that they might still scuttle the deal. Of course they might - the attitude of many freshman Republicans to national default was "bring it on!"

It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe. This trend has several implications, none of them pleasant.

In his "Manual of Parliamentary Practice," Thomas Jefferson wrote that it is less important that every rule and custom of a legislature be absolutely justifiable in a theoretical sense, than that they should be generally acknowledged and honored by all parties. These include unwritten rules, customs and courtesies that lubricate the legislative machinery and keep governance a relatively civilized procedure. The US Senate has more complex procedural rules than any other legislative body in the world; many of these rules are contradictory, and on any given day, the Senate parliamentarian may issue a ruling that contradicts earlier rulings on analogous cases.

The only thing that can keep the Senate functioning is collegiality and good faith. During periods of political consensus, for instance, the World War II and early post-war eras, the Senate was a "high functioning" institution: filibusters were rare and the body was legislatively productive. Now, one can no more picture the current Senate producing the original Medicare Act than the old Supreme Soviet having legislated the Bill of Rights.

Far from being a rarity, virtually every bill, every nominee for Senate confirmation and every routine procedural motion is now subject to a Republican filibuster. Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that Washington is gridlocked: legislating has now become war minus the shooting, something one could have observed 80 years ago in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic. As Hannah Arendt observed, a disciplined minority of totalitarians can use the instruments of democratic government to undermine democracy itself.

John P. Judis sums up the modern GOP this way:

"Over the last four decades, the Republican Party has transformed from a loyal opposition into an insurrectionary party that flouts the law when it is in the majority and threatens disorder when it is the minority. It is the party of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but also of the government shutdown in 1995 and the impeachment trial of 1999. If there is an earlier American precedent for today's Republican Party, it is the antebellum Southern Democrats of John Calhoun who threatened to nullify, or disregard, federal legislation they objected to and who later led the fight to secede from the union over slavery."

A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters' confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that "they are all crooks," and that "government is no good," further leading them to think, "a plague on both your houses" and "the parties are like two kids in a school yard." This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s - a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn ("Government is the problem," declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).

The media are also complicit in this phenomenon. Ever since the bifurcation of electronic media into a more or less respectable "hard news" segment and a rabidly ideological talk radio and cable TV political propaganda arm, the "respectable" media have been terrified of any criticism for perceived bias. Hence, they hew to the practice of false evenhandedness. Paul Krugman has skewered this tactic as being the "centrist cop-out." "I joked long ago," he says, "that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read 'Views Differ on Shape of Planet.'"

Inside-the-Beltway wise guy Chris Cillizza merely proves Krugman right in his Washington Post analysis of "winners and losers" in the debt ceiling impasse. He wrote that the institution of Congress was a big loser in the fracas, which is, of course, correct, but then he opined: "Lawmakers - bless their hearts - seem entirely unaware of just how bad they looked during this fight and will almost certainly spend the next few weeks (or months) congratulating themselves on their tremendous magnanimity." Note how the pundit's ironic deprecation falls like the rain on the just and unjust alike, on those who precipitated the needless crisis and those who despaired of it. He seems oblivious that one side - or a sizable faction of one side - has deliberately attempted to damage the reputation of Congress to achieve its political objectives.

This constant drizzle of "there the two parties go again!" stories out of the news bureaus, combined with the hazy confusion of low-information voters, means that the long-term Republican strategy of undermining confidence in our democratic institutions has reaped electoral dividends. The United States has nearly the lowest voter participation among Western democracies; this, again, is a consequence of the decline of trust in government institutions - if government is a racket and both parties are the same, why vote? And if the uninvolved middle declines to vote, it increases the electoral clout of a minority that is constantly being whipped into a lather by three hours daily of Rush Limbaugh or Fox News. There were only 44 million Republican voters in the 2010 mid-term elections, but they effectively canceled the political results of the election of President Obama by 69 million voters.

This tactic of inducing public distrust of government is not only cynical, it is schizophrenic. For people who profess to revere the Constitution, it is strange that they so caustically denigrate the very federal government that is the material expression of the principles embodied in that document. This is not to say that there is not some theoretical limit to the size or intrusiveness of government; I would be the first to say there are such limits, both fiscal and Constitutional. But most Republican officeholders seem strangely uninterested in the effective repeal of Fourth Amendment protections by the Patriot Act, the weakening of habeas corpus and self-incrimination protections in the public hysteria following 9/11 or the unpalatable fact that the United States has the largest incarcerated population of any country on earth. If anything, they would probably opt for more incarcerated persons, as imprisonment is a profit center for the prison privatization industry, which is itself a growth center for political contributions to these same politicians.[1] Instead, they prefer to rail against those government programs that actually help people. And when a program is too popular to attack directly, like Medicare or Social Security, they prefer to undermine it by feigning an agonized concern about the deficit. That concern, as we shall see, is largely fictitious.

Undermining Americans' belief in their own institutions of self-government remains a prime GOP electoral strategy. But if this technique falls short of producing Karl Rove's dream of 30 years of unchallengeable one-party rule (as all such techniques always fall short of achieving the angry and embittered true believer's New Jerusalem), there are other even less savory techniques upon which to fall back. Ever since Republicans captured the majority in a number of state legislatures last November, they have systematically attempted to make it more difficult to vote: by onerous voter ID requirements (in Wisconsin, Republicans have legislated photo IDs while simultaneously shutting Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in Democratic constituencies while at the same time lengthening the hours of operation of DMV offices in GOP constituencies); by narrowing registration periods; and by residency requirements that may disenfranchise university students.

This legislative assault is moving in a diametrically opposed direction to 200 years of American history, when the arrow of progress pointed toward more political participation by more citizens. Republicans are among the most shrill in self-righteously lecturing other countries about the wonders of democracy; exporting democracy (albeit at the barrel of a gun) to the Middle East was a signature policy of the Bush administration. But domestically, they don't want those peoplevoting.

You can probably guess who those people are. Above all, anyone not likely to vote Republican. As Sarah Palin would imply, the people who are not Real Americans. Racial minorities. Immigrants. Muslims. Gays. Intellectuals. Basically, anyone who doesn't look, think, or talk like the GOP base. This must account, at least to some degree, for their extraordinarily vitriolic hatred of President Obama. I have joked in the past that the main administration policy that Republicans object to is Obama's policy of being black.[2] Among the GOP base, there is constant harping about somebody else, some "other," who is deliberately, assiduously and with malice aforethought subverting the Good, the True and the Beautiful: Subversives. Commies. Socialists. Ragheads. Secular humanists. Blacks. Fags. Feminazis. The list may change with the political needs of the moment, but they always seem to need a scapegoat to hate and fear.

It is not clear to me how many GOP officeholders believe this reactionary and paranoid claptrap. I would bet that most do not. But they cynically feed the worst instincts of their fearful and angry low-information political base with a nod and a wink. During the disgraceful circus of the "birther" issue, Republican politicians subtly stoked the fires of paranoia by being suggestively equivocal - "I take the president at his word" - while never unambiguously slapping down the myth. John Huntsman was the first major GOP figure forthrightly to refute the birther calumny - albeit after release of the birth certificate.

I do not mean to place too much emphasis on racial animus in the GOP. While it surely exists, it is also a fact that Republicans think that no Democratic president could conceivably be legitimate. Republicans also regarded Bill Clinton as somehow, in some manner, twice fraudulently elected (well do I remember the elaborate conspiracy theories that Republicans traded among themselves). Had it been Hillary Clinton, rather than Barack Obama, who had been elected in 2008, I am certain we would now be hearing, in lieu of the birther myths, conspiracy theories about Vince Foster's alleged murder.

The reader may think that I am attributing Svengali-like powers to GOP operatives able to manipulate a zombie base to do their bidding. It is more complicated than that. Historical circumstances produced the raw material: the deindustrialization and financialization of America since about 1970 has spawned an increasingly downscale white middle class - without job security (or even without jobs), with pensions and health benefits evaporating and with their principal asset deflating in the collapse of the housing bubble. Their fears are not imaginary; their standard of living is shrinking.

What do the Democrats offer these people? Essentially nothing. Democratic Leadership Council-style "centrist" Democrats were among the biggest promoters of disastrous trade deals in the 1990s that outsourced jobs abroad: NAFTA, World Trade Organization, permanent most-favored-nation status for China. At the same time, the identity politics/lifestyle wing of the Democratic Party was seen as a too illegal immigrant-friendly by downscaled and outsourced whites.[3]

While Democrats temporized, or even dismissed the fears of the white working class as racist or nativist, Republicans went to work. To be sure, the business wing of the Republican Party consists of the most energetic outsourcers, wage cutters and hirers of sub-minimum wage immigrant labor to be found anywhere on the globe. But the faux-populist wing of the party, knowing the mental compartmentalization that occurs in most low-information voters, played on the fears of that same white working class to focus their anger on scapegoats that do no damage to corporations' bottom lines: instead of raising the minimum wage, let's build a wall on the Southern border (then hire a defense contractor to incompetently manage it). Instead of predatory bankers, it's evil Muslims. Or evil gays. Or evil abortionists.

How do they manage to do this? Because Democrats ceded the field. Above all, they do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? - can anyone even remember it? No wonder the pejorative "Obamacare" won out. Contrast that with the Republicans' Patriot Act. You're a patriot, aren't you? Does anyone at the GED level have a clue what a Stimulus Bill is supposed to be? Why didn't the White House call it the Jobs Bill and keep pounding on that theme?

You know that Social Security and Medicare are in jeopardy when even Democrats refer to them as entitlements. "Entitlement" has a negative sound in colloquial English: somebody who is "entitled" selfishly claims something he doesn't really deserve. Why not call them "earned benefits," which is what they are because we all contribute payroll taxes to fund them? That would never occur to the Democrats. Republicans don't make that mistake; they are relentlessly on message: it is never the "estate tax," it is the "death tax." Heaven forbid that the Walton family should give up one penny of its $86-billion fortune. All of that lucre is necessary to ensure that unions be kept out of Wal-Mart, that women employees not be promoted and that politicians be kept on a short leash.

It was not always thus. It would have been hard to find an uneducated farmer during the depression of the 1890s who did not have a very accurate idea about exactly which economic interests were shafting him. An unemployed worker in a breadline in 1932 would have felt little gratitude to the Rockefellers or the Mellons. But that is not the case in the present economic crisis. After a riot of unbridled greed such as the world has not seen since the conquistadors' looting expeditions and after an unprecedented broad and rapid transfer of wealth upward by Wall Street and its corporate satellites, where is the popular anger directed, at least as depicted in the media? At "Washington spending" - which has increased primarily to provide unemployment compensation, food stamps and Medicaid to those economically damaged by the previous decade's corporate saturnalia. Or the popular rage is harmlessly diverted against pseudo-issues: death panels, birtherism, gay marriage, abortion, and so on, none of which stands to dent the corporate bottom line in the slightest.

Thus far, I have concentrated on Republican tactics, rather than Republican beliefs, but the tactics themselves are important indicators of an absolutist, authoritarian mindset that is increasingly hostile to the democratic values of reason, compromise and conciliation. Rather, this mindset seeks polarizing division (Karl Rove has been very explicit that this is his principal campaign strategy), conflict and the crushing of opposition.

As for what they really believe, the Republican Party of 2011 believes in three principal tenets I have laid out below. The rest of their platform one may safely dismiss as window dressing:

1. The GOP cares solely and exclusively about its rich contributors. The party has built a whole catechism on the protection and further enrichment of America's plutocracy. Their caterwauling about deficit and debt is so much eyewash to con the public. Whatever else President Obama has accomplished (and many of his purported accomplishments are highly suspect), his $4-trillion deficit reduction package did perform the useful service of smoking out Republican hypocrisy. The GOP refused, because it could not abide so much as a one-tenth of one percent increase on the tax rates of the Walton family or the Koch brothers, much less a repeal of the carried interest rule that permits billionaire hedge fund managers to pay income tax at a lower effective rate than cops or nurses. Republicans finally settled on a deal that had far less deficit reduction - and even less spending reduction! - than Obama's offer, because of their iron resolution to protect at all costs our society's overclass.

Republicans have attempted to camouflage their amorous solicitude for billionaires with a fog of misleading rhetoric. John Boehner is fond of saying, "we won't raise anyone's taxes," as if the take-home pay of an Olive Garden waitress were inextricably bound up with whether Warren Buffett pays his capital gains as ordinary income or at a lower rate. Another chestnut is that millionaires and billionaires are "job creators." US corporations have just had their most profitable quarters in history; Apple, for one, is sitting on $76 billion in cash, more than the GDP of most countries. So, where are the jobs?

Another smokescreen is the "small business" meme, since standing up for Mom's and Pop's corner store is politically more attractive than to be seen shilling for a megacorporation. Raising taxes on the wealthy will kill small business' ability to hire; that is the GOP dirge every time Bernie Sanders or some Democrat offers an amendment to increase taxes on incomes above $1 million. But the number of small businesses that have a net annual income over a million dollars is de minimis, if not by definition impossible (as they would no longer be small businesses). And as data from the Center for Economic and Policy Research have shown, small businesses account for only 7.2 percent of total US employment, a significantly smaller share of total employment than in most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.

Likewise, Republicans have assiduously spread the myth that Americans are conspicuously overtaxed. But compared to other OECD countries, the effective rates of US taxation are among the lowest. In particular, they point to the top corporate income rate of 35 percent as being confiscatory Bolshevism. But again, the effective rate is much lower. Did GE pay 35 percent on 2010 profits of $14 billion? No, it paid zero.

When pressed, Republicans make up misleading statistics to "prove" that the America's fiscal burden is being borne by the rich and the rest of us are just freeloaders who don't appreciate that fact. "Half of Americans don't pay taxes" is a perennial meme. But what they leave out is that that statement refers to federal income taxes. There are millions of people who don't pay income taxes, but do contribute payroll taxes - among the most regressive forms of taxation. But according to GOP fiscal theology, payroll taxes don't count. Somehow, they have convinced themselves that since payroll taxes go into trust funds, they're not real taxes. Likewise, state and local sales taxes apparently don't count, although their effect on a poor person buying necessities like foodstuffs is far more regressive than on a millionaire.

All of these half truths and outright lies have seeped into popular culture via the corporate-owned business press. Just listen to CNBC for a few hours and you will hear most of them in one form or another. More important politically, Republicans' myths about taxation have been internalized by millions of economically downscale "values voters," who may have been attracted to the GOP for other reasons (which I will explain later), but who now accept this misinformation as dogma.

And when misinformation isn't enough to sustain popular support for the GOP's agenda, concealment is needed. One fairly innocuous provision in the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill requires public companies to make a more transparent disclosure of CEO compensation, including bonuses. Note that it would not limit the compensation, only require full disclosure. Republicans are hell-bent on repealing this provision. Of course; it would not serve Wall Street interests if the public took an unhealthy interest in the disparity of their own incomes as against that of a bank CEO. As Spencer Bachus, the Republican chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, says, "In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks."

2. They worship at the altar of Mars. While the me-too Democrats have set a horrible example of keeping up with the Joneses with respect to waging wars, they can never match GOP stalwarts such as John McCain or Lindsey Graham in their sheer, libidinous enthusiasm for invading other countries. McCain wanted to mix it up with Russia - a nuclear-armed state - during the latter's conflict with Georgia in 2008 (remember? - "we are all Georgians now," a slogan that did not, fortunately, catch on), while Graham has been persistently agitating for attacks on Iran and intervention in Syria. And these are not fringe elements of the party; they are the leading "defense experts," who always get tapped for the Sunday talk shows. About a month before Republicans began holding a gun to the head of the credit markets to get trillions of dollars of cuts, these same Republicans passed a defense appropriations bill that increased spending by $17 billion over the prior year's defense appropriation. To borrow Chris Hedges' formulation, war is the force that gives meaning to their lives.

A cynic might conclude that this militaristic enthusiasm is no more complicated than the fact that Pentagon contractors spread a lot of bribery money around Capitol Hill. That is true, but there is more to it than that. It is not necessarily even the fact that members of Congress feel they are protecting constituents' jobs. The wildly uneven concentration of defense contracts and military bases nationally means that some areas, like Washington, DC, and San Diego, are heavily dependent on Department of Defense (DOD) spending. But there are many more areas of the country whose net balance is negative: the citizenry pays more in taxes to support the Pentagon than it receives back in local contracts.

And the economic justification for Pentagon spending is even more fallacious when one considers that the $700 billion annual DOD budget creates comparatively few jobs. The days of Rosie the Riveter are long gone; most weapons projects now require very little touch labor. Instead, a disproportionate share is siphoned off into high-cost research and development (from which the civilian economy benefits little); exorbitant management expenditures, overhead and out-and-out padding; and, of course, the money that flows back into the coffers of political campaigns. A million dollars appropriated for highway construction would create two to three times as many jobs as a million dollars appropriated for Pentagon weapons procurement, so the jobs argument is ultimately specious.

Take away the cash nexus and there still remains a psychological predisposition toward war and militarism on the part of the GOP. This undoubtedly arises from a neurotic need to demonstrate toughness and dovetails perfectly with the belligerent tough-guy pose one constantly hears on right-wing talk radio. Militarism springs from the same psychological deficit that requires an endless series of enemies, both foreign and domestic.

The results of the last decade of unbridled militarism and the Democrats' cowardly refusal to reverse it[4], have been disastrous both strategically and fiscally. It has made the United States less prosperous, less secure and less free. Unfortunately, the militarism and the promiscuous intervention it gives rise to are only likely to abate when the Treasury is exhausted, just as it happened to the Dutch Republic and the British Empire.

3. Give me that old time religion. Pandering to fundamentalism is a full-time vocation in the GOP. Beginning in the 1970s, religious cranks ceased simply to be a minor public nuisance in this country and grew into the major element of the Republican rank and file. Pat Robertson's strong showing in the 1988 Iowa Caucus signaled the gradual merger of politics and religion in the party. The results are all around us: if the American people poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on questions of evolution versus creationism, scriptural inerrancy, the existence of angels and demons, and so forth, that result is due to the rise of the religious right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary or quaint beliefs. Also around us is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science; it is this group that defines "low-information voter" - or, perhaps, "misinformation voter."

The Constitution to the contrary notwithstanding, there is now a de facto religious test for the presidency: major candidates are encouraged (or coerced) to "share their feelings" about their "faith" in a revelatory speech; or, some televangelist like Rick Warren dragoons the candidates (as he did with Obama and McCain in 2008) to debate the finer points of Christology, with Warren himself, of course, as the arbiter. Politicized religion is also the sheet anchor of the culture wars. But how did the whole toxic stew of GOP beliefs - economic royalism, militarism and culture wars cum fundamentalism - come completely to displace an erstwhile civilized Eisenhower Republicanism?

It is my view that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism (which is a subset of the decline of rational problem solving in America) may have been the key ingredient of the takeover of the Republican Party. For politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes - at least in the minds of followers - all three of the GOP's main tenets.

Televangelists have long espoused the health-and-wealth/name-it-and-claim it gospel. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God's favor. If not, too bad! But don't forget to tithe in any case. This rationale may explain why some economically downscale whites defend the prerogatives of billionaires.

The GOP's fascination with war is also connected with the fundamentalist mindset. The Old Testament abounds in tales of slaughter - God ordering the killing of the Midianite male infants and enslavement of the balance of the population, the divinely-inspired genocide of the Canaanites, the slaying of various miscreants with the jawbone of an ass - and since American religious fundamentalist seem to prefer the Old Testament to the New (particularly that portion of the New Testament known as the Sermon on the Mount), it is but a short step to approving war as a divinely inspired mission. This sort of thinking has led, inexorably, to such phenomena as Jerry Falwell once writing that God is Pro-War.

It is the apocalyptic frame of reference of fundamentalists, their belief in an imminent Armageddon, that psychologically conditions them to steer this country into conflict, not only on foreign fields (some evangelicals thought Saddam was the Antichrist and therefore a suitable target for cruise missiles), but also in the realm of domestic political controversy. It is hardly surprising that the most adamant proponent of the view that there was no debt ceiling problem was Michele Bachmann, the darling of the fundamentalist right. What does it matter, anyway, if the country defaults? - we shall presently abide in the bosom of the Lord.

Some liberal writers have opined that the different socio-economic perspectives separating the "business" wing of the GOP and the religious right make it an unstable coalition that could crack. I am not so sure. There is no fundamental disagreement on which direction the two factions want to take the country, merely how far in that direction they want to take it. The plutocrats would drag us back to the Gilded Age, the theocrats to the Salem witch trials. In any case, those consummate plutocrats, the Koch brothers, are pumping large sums of money into Michele Bachman's presidential campaign, so one ought not make too much of a potential plutocrat-theocrat split.

Thus, the modern GOP; it hardly seems conceivable that a Republican could have written the following:

"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid." (That was President Eisenhower, writing to his brother Edgar in 1954.)

It is this broad and ever-widening gulf between the traditional Republicanism of an Eisenhower and the quasi-totalitarian cult of a Michele Bachmann that impelled my departure from Capitol Hill. It is not in my pragmatic nature to make a heroic gesture of self-immolation, or to make lurid revelations of personal martyrdom in the manner of David Brock. And I will leave a more detailed dissection of failed Republican economic policies to my fellow apostate Bruce Bartlett.

I left because I was appalled at the headlong rush of Republicans, like Gadarene swine, to embrace policies that are deeply damaging to this country's future; and contemptuous of the feckless, craven incompetence of Democrats in their half-hearted attempts to stop them. And, in truth, I left as an act of rational self-interest. Having gutted private-sector pensions and health benefits as a result of their embrace of outsourcing, union busting and "shareholder value," the GOP now thinks it is only fair that public-sector workers give up their pensions and benefits, too. Hence the intensification of the GOP's decades-long campaign of scorn against government workers. Under the circumstances, it is simply safer to be a current retiree rather than a prospective one.

If you think Paul Ryan and his Ayn Rand-worshipping colleagues aren't after your Social Security and Medicare, I am here to disabuse you of your naiveté.[5] They will move heaven and earth to force through tax cuts that will so starve the government of revenue that they will be "forced" to make "hard choices" - and that doesn't mean repealing those very same tax cuts, it means cutting the benefits for which you worked.

During the week that this piece was written, the debt ceiling fiasco reached its conclusion. The economy was already weak, but the GOP's disgraceful game of chicken roiled the markets even further. Foreigners could hardly believe it: Americans' own crazy political actions were destabilizing the safe-haven status of the dollar. Accordingly, during that same week, over one trillion dollars worth of assets evaporated on financial markets. Russia and China have stepped up their advocating that the dollar be replaced as the global reserve currency - a move as consequential and disastrous for US interests as any that can be imagined.

If Republicans have perfected a new form of politics that is successful electorally at the same time that it unleashes major policy disasters, it means twilight both for the democratic process and America's status as the world's leading power.


[1] I am not exaggerating for effect. A law passed in 2010 by the Arizona legislature mandating arrest and incarceration of suspected illegal aliens was actually drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative business front group that drafts "model" legislation on behalf of its corporate sponsors. The draft legislation in question was written for the private prison lobby, which sensed a growth opportunity in imprisoning more people.

[2] I am not a supporter of Obama and object to a number of his foreign and domestic policies. But when he took office amid the greatest financial collapse in 80 years, I wanted him to succeed, so that the country I served did not fail. But already in 2009, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, declared that his greatest legislative priority was - jobs for Americans? Rescuing the financial system? Solving the housing collapse? - no, none of those things. His top priority was to ensure that Obama should be a one-term president. Evidently Senator McConnell hates Obama more than he loves his country. Note that the mainstream media have lately been hailing McConnell as "the adult in the room," presumably because he is less visibly unstable than the Tea Party freshmen

[3] This is not a venue for immigrant bashing. It remains a fact that outsourcing jobs overseas, while insourcing sub-minimum wage immigrant labor, will exert downward pressure on US wages. The consequence will be popular anger, and failure to address that anger will result in a downward wage spiral and a breech of the social compact, not to mention a rise in nativism and other reactionary impulses. It does no good to claim that these economic consequences are an inevitable result of globalization; Germany has somehow managed to maintain a high-wage economy and a vigorous industrial base.

[4] The cowardice is not merely political. During the past ten years, I have observed that Democrats are actually growing afraid of Republicans. In a quirky and flawed, but insightful, little book, "Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred," John Lukacs concludes that the left fears, the right hates.

[5] The GOP cult of Ayn Rand is both revealing and mystifying. On the one hand, Rand's tough guy, every-man-for-himself posturing is a natural fit because it puts a philosophical gloss on the latent sociopathy so prevalent among the hard right. On the other, Rand exclaimed at every opportunity that she was a militant atheist who felt nothing but contempt for Christianity. Apparently, the ignorance of most fundamentalist "values voters" means that GOP candidates who enthuse over Rand at the same time they thump their Bibles never have to explain this stark contradiction. And I imagine a Democratic officeholder would have a harder time explaining why he named his offspring "Marx" than a GOP incumbent would in rationalizing naming his kid "Rand."

I can't find much in this article I don't agree with... It is about time for big changes... !!!  Monte

Sep 5, 2011

Carbon-Sequestering Agriculture

Climate change is already making our planet less inhabitable, with droughts, floods, and severe weather events on the rise. Stabilizing the climate is perhaps the central challenge for humanity in the early decades of this century. Globally, a massive switch to regenerative practices, perennial crops, and regional self-reliance are essential to sequester carbon and reduce emissions. The organic farming and gardening community is already on the forefront of these efforts, but much more is required. Regenerative agriculture is a multipurpose strategy, addressing soil building, regional self-reliance and food sovereignty, perennial farming systems development, climate justice, and productive conservation. As farmers, gardeners, food system organizers, and citizens, it is time for us to reorganize agriculture to address the climate crisis.

Check out video clips below from my keynote address on “Stabilizing the Climate with Perennial and Regenerative Agriculture” at the Northeast Organic Farming Association summer conference August 2011.

And don’t miss the 2012 Carbon Farming Course where speakers including Wes Jackson, Dave Jacke, Elaine Ingham, Darren Doherty, Joel Salatin, and more (including me) will address profitable farm strategies that sequester carbon.

The following article was originally printed in the May 2011 issue of the Permaculture Activist. You can also download the pdf of the original article as it appeared in the Activist: Stabilizing the Climate with “Permanent Agriculture”

Stabilizing the Climate with “Permanent Agriculture”

Trees are one of our most powerful tools to pull carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil for long-term storage. This is why reforestation and protecting intact forests are such important parts of plans to address climate change. Conventional climate change science tells us that the planet’s capacity for reforestation is limited, however, by the need to preserve land for agriculture

But movements like agroforestry and permaculture show us that farming and trees are not mutually exclusive. From tree crops to contour strips of nitrogen fixing trees between bands of annual crops, there is a wealth of techniques that can give us the best of both worlds. These techniques, should a global effort get behind their implementation on a large scale, could have a major impact on climate change. They also would have numerous other benefits to the planet and its people.

A century ago, writer-farmers like J. Russell Smith coined the term “permanent agriculture” to describe food forestry and other farming practices that combated a key issue of their day – erosion and degradation of farmland. From Smith and his compatriots we in permaculture have taken the name of our movement, though our movement has grown to encompass much more than food forestry. Today these visionary ideas are more essential than ever, to address an environmental crisis on a scale Smith and his contemporaries could not have imagined.


Trees are fundamentally more efficient than annual crops, with greater net primary productivity. They are larger, leaf out earlier, and start the growing season ready to grow in contrast to annual crops. There is a bigger carbon “pie” to be divided among wood, soil carbon, and food for people than annuals can provide. What can science tell us about the carbon sequestering capacity of permanent agriculture strategies like agroforestry, silvopasture, and food forestry?

Intuitively it makes sense that forest-like agriculture will sequester carbon somewhat like a “real” forest. Broadly speaking this appears to be the case. In their excellent 2004 review of the subject (“Carbon sequestration: An underexploited environmental benefit of agroforestry systems,” in Agroforestry Systems 61:281-295), P.K. Nair and Francesca Montagnini state that generally agroforestry systems sequester somewhat less carbon than forests, though still much more than most annual systems (many of which are net releasers of soil carbon to the atmosphere, and they cause emissions as a result of heavy fossil fuel use). I should note that most agroforestry systems integrate functional trees like nitrogen fixing legumes with annual crops, and proper food forestry with mostly perennial crops could come much closer to the amounts of carbon sequestered in “proper” forests.

The amounts sequestered vary hugely, depending on several variables:
Rainfall: humid climates sequester more than dry ones
Climate: temperate climates sequester more than tropical ones
Species: sequestration varies by species, with some standouts like mesquite
Management: layout and management practices have a huge impact
Design: polycultures sequester more carbon than monocultures in some studies

Allowing for these factors, Nair and Montagnini report estimates of the world carbon storage potential of agroforestry ranging from 9 to 228 tons of carbon/hectare under different circumstances – tremendous variation. They report an estimate of current sequestration by agroforestry at 1 million tons/year. Their document estimates the amount of land that could be converted to agroforestry practices as roughly 585 million to 1.2 billion hectares (the U.S. including Alaska is 770 million hectares). Even at a fairly conservative 25 ton/hectare average, that would sequester 14-20 billion tons – over its lifetime as much as 10% of the total 200 billion tons many experts estimate needs to be removed from the atmosphere even if we stop emissions tomorrow.

Sounds great – but that is a staggering amount of land. It works out to roughly 5-10% of the world’s land (excluding Antarctica), or a whopping 40-80% of currently used arable land.

Permanent agriculture doesn’t just sequester carbon. It is also a fantastic way to restore degraded land to productivity. Much of the carbon we are pulling from the air becomes organic matter, the foundation of productive agricultural soils. The Global Assessment of Human-Induced Soil Degradation (concluded in 1990) found that vast amounts of the planetary surface have been degraded by human activity, through erosion of sloping land, desertification, salinization, and nutrient depletion.

Perennial farming systems are particularly suited to stabilizing slopes and preventing erosion on hillside farms. Roughly 45% of the world’s farmland is classed as sloping at an 8% angle or higher – regeneration of this quantity of farmland with permanent agriculture would sequester 16.8 billion tons of carbon (at 25t/ha).

About 135 million hectares of farmland have an unbelievable 30% slope or greater. I have seen miles of corn growing on mountainsides far steeper than this in Guatemala. These lands are severely eroding and completely unsuitable for annual crops without extensive terracing, living contour hedgerows, or (preferably) replacement with tree crops. If a targeted international project began just focusing on these most vulnerable agricultural areas, 9% of total world farmland, we could (at 25 t/ha, towards the low end of agroforestry’s potential) still sequester 3.3 billion tons of carbon – equal to a third of all human-caused carbon emissions released annually.

PHOTO: Don Victoriano and Doña Corina of the community of El Matasano in Chiquimula, Guatemala using an A-frame level to mark contours for living terraces. In the background are steep mountainsides covered in cornfields. Photo courtesy Ripple of Hope.

Of course perennial agriculture is only one element to incorporate in a larger effort to slow global warming. Reducing fossil fuel use, converting to clean energy sources, and reevaluating everything from transportation to economic policy are all necessary. But the carbon-sequestering capacity of food forestry and allied systems could and should be a major component of humanity’s efforts to prevent runaway climate change.

So what exactly are the practices that have such great potential to stabilize the climate? The elements of perennial farming systems include perennial crop systems, perennial-annual integration strategies like agroforestry, and livestock-perennial combinations.


This suite of practices, which I am collectively calling perennial farming systems, represents some of the best of today’s “permanent agriculture” practices. These strategies improve the productive capacity of the soil over time, leading us to call them “regenerative agriculture.” While permaculture did not invent these practices, we have worked hard to integrate, refine, and adopt them around the world.

Perennial Crops

The first major category of carbon-sequestering permanent agriculture is perennial crop systems. These crops offer multiple benefits: once established they are no-till, require minimal fossil fuel inputs, and offer long-lived productivity. Systems using these crops include traditional orchards, multi-layer food forests and forest gardens, and herbaceous perennial farming from asparagus and globe artichokes to perennial grain polycultures. While some perennial fruit and nut crops are well known, perennial vegetables are still a fairly new concept for much of the world, and perennial staple crops providing our daily carbohydrates and protein are sadly a rarity. I have been researching the many fascinating perennial staple crops of the world and am preparing an article on them for the fall Permaculture Activist. Though getting people to adopt new foods can be challenging, these crops allow us to eat directly from carbon-sequestering plants.

Mesquite trees are a fascinating example. These nitrogen-fixing trees are highly drought-resistant, with roots a remarkable 450 feet deep. Mesquite pods are edible and nutritionally comparable to wheat. However, mesquite trees can produce as much or more food per acre than wheat or other annual staple crops. Mesquite species are native to arid regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, and are under development as a new perennial staple crop. They can sequester up to eight tons of carbon per hectare annually on good soils as a monoculture. Though they are most productive with decent rainfall, mesquites can crop on as little as 4” of rainfall annually! Check out Desert Harvesters’ brand new Eat Mesquite!, a fantastic cookbook with lots of information about this important but neglected crop.

Other Perennial Crops

Perennials provide much more than food. Most material human needs can be met by some form of perennial plant. Fuels are a great example, from coppiced nitrogen fixing firewood to castor oil biodiesel and milkweed gasoline. Timber and construction materials are a major perennial product, with bamboos as a standout plant family providing long-term harvests in perennial systems. Other products include plastics, fibers, herbicides, medicines, mushroom substrates, crafts, and on and on.

Perennial Crop Polycultures

Of course we are not advocating massive monocultures of any of these perennial crops. Vast corporate oil palm monocultures are a perfect example of what can go wrong when promising ideas like perennial crops and biofuels are filtered through the corporate mindset. Rainforests on carbon-banking peat soils are being cleared for oil palm plantations on a massive scale, in the name of “green” biofuels, at a net loss of carbon to the atmosphere. That’s not the win-win we are looking for.

The best examples of perennial crop systems include progressive practices like intercropping, multistoried production with shade crops below a productive canopy, and incorporation of robust nitrogen-fixing components. There are fine examples of these elegant farming systems to be found around the world, I hope to profile some in future articles for the Permaculture Activist.

Perennial-Annual Integration

There are many working models for combining annual and perennial elements. Most involve alternating annual and perennial strips on contour or keyline, with the perennial elements primarily serving functions of slope stabilization and coppiced nitrogen fixation. Sample systems include alley cropping and contour hedgerows. Annuals in these systems can also provide some foods we are more accustomed to, and high-protein crops like beans that can be difficult to provide perennially in most climates.

Annuals can also provide yields while waiting for trees to mature in establishing perennial systems. A final example for use in mixed terrain is production of perennials on slopes with complementary production of annuals on flat land.

My current favorite example of annual-perennial integration is “evergreen agriculture.” This system is a refinement of long-lived indigenous agroforestry practices in semi-arid regions of Africa. Well-mulched annual crops like grains and beans are grown under widely-spaced apple ring acacia trees (Faidherbia albida). The trees fix nitrogen and stabilize soil, with the unique characteristic that they leaf out in the dry season (when crops are not grown below) and drop their leaves to provide sun for productive annual understory crops in the rainy season.

Livestock-perennial integration

Livestock help solve many problems in perennial farming systems. For one, they are much more willing to try new perennial food plants than humans, and convert them into already familiar foods like meat, milk, and eggs. They also circumvent the allergy concerns of some tree nut protein sources. Properly integrated, they can provide benefits and reduce management labor. These contributions include soil fertility, pest control, harvesting, mowing, weeding, and site preparation. Particularly at larger scales of operation, livestock become a substitute for labor and fossil fuel-powered machinery.

Rotational grazing on pasture is a well-developed perennial farming system. Pasture is a perennial polyculture and a remarkable carbon sequestering practice when managed intensively. High yields and soil improvement go hand-in-hand. Though this article is primarily about food forestry, it is worth noting that rotational grazing is also a fine sequesterer of carbon. Imagine the impact if the U.S. took all the land we use to grow annual grain for confinement livestock feed and converted it to rotationally grazed pasture.

Fodder banks are another strategy, useful on small scales and becoming popular in the tropics. These simple coppiced plantings of woody leaf crops are cut and carried to livestock in paddocks or pens. They enable more efficient use of space, collection of manure, and prevention of livestock damage to crops, particularly vulnerable establishing trees.

Silvopasture is the grazing of livestock under trees, typically timber trees, to provide a yield while waiting for timber yields. This practice can be used under many kinds of trees, and can range from cattle under coconuts (common in the Pacific) to weeder geese under complex food forests. Silvopasture is one of the few agroforestry practices being implemented on a commercial scale in the U.S., particularly in the Southeast.

Masting fodder trees are a fascinating but underdeveloped livestock system. This model, as popularized by J. Russell Smith in Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture back in 1927, involves trees on pasture as in silvopasture. The difference is the trees produce crops of seeds, pods, fruits, or nuts, which are dropped into the pasture and consumed as fodder by livestock. These systems are very productive and include long-established models like the Portuguese cork-pork dehesa forests – still active today and getting a high premium for acorn-fed pork.

It should be added that ruminant livestock (including sheep, cattle, and goats) produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas. It appears that as part of smart management (such as rotational grazing), the carbon they can help agroecosystems sequester outweighs their methane output. This factor is increased when we consider the fossil fuel-powered machinery they can substitute for, for example in replacing mowed tree crop understory with rotationally grazed pasture.

Fully integrated systems

All these systems can of course be combined, and perhaps are at their best when combined strategically to meet human needs. Permaculture design (and other design systems) can unify productive elements with supporting practices like living fences, green corrals, windbreaks, rainwater harvesting, aquaculture, and green structures. Permaculture farmers like Jerome Osentowski, Sepp Holtzer, and Darrel Frey have shown us some examples of what this looks like in cold climates.

Badgersett “Woody Agriculture”

Phil Rutter of Badgersett Research Corporation (formerly Badgersett Research Farm) began investigating perennial farming systems for carbon sequestration in the early 1980s. He developed a vision of woody agriculture, defined as “the intensive production of agricultural staple commodities from highly domesticated woody perennial plants.” Badgersett’s work in the last three decades has focused on developing “neohybrid” hazel and chestnut strains, for production in coppiced systems on 5-10 year rotations. Rutter envisions hazel and chestnut replacing corn and soybeans, transforming Iowa into a vast food forest.

The Badgersett model is fascinating, and, while still under development, offers tremendous promise. Their ingenious breeding work has resulted in chestnuts with nine nuts per burr instead of the usual three. Their nursery has supplied a network of growers with hundreds of acres coming into production.

Badgersett is also investigating incorporation of livestock into their systems to clean up drops, control pests, and keep the grass mowed between tree rows. Their tree breeding selects for comprehensive pest and disease resistance. Thanks to their groundbreaking work we are decades closer to permanent agriculture for cold climates.

PHOTO: Carbon-sequestering permanent agriculture: experimental rows at Badgersett with (from left) neohybrid chestnut, hazel, hickory (with pawpaw seedlings in tree tubes below), and more neohybrid hazel.


Unlike expensive geoengineering approaches to slowing climate change, regenerative perennial agriculture is remarkable in addressing many of the challenges facing humanity today while sequestering carbon. Were humanity to prioritize this strategy to stabilize our climate, we would reap many other benefits and help address challenges from erosion to food sovereignty.

Carbon Impacts

Sequestering carbon is not the only climate impact of permanent agriculture. Perennial agriculture practices require less fossil fuel inputs, both from mechanization and from chemical fertilizers. Implementation of food forestry around the world could reduce fossil fuel use in transport dramatically by increasing local production.

Interestingly, at least in tropical regions, the most powerful climate impact of agroforestry is not in the carbon sequestered on-farm (which is significant), but in the reduction of pressure on wild trees and forests. Because agroforestry provides fuelwood and reduces or eliminates the need for shifting cultivation, every hectare of agroforestry prevents the deforestation of 2.5-10 hectares of wild forest. (Nair & Montagnini 2004).

Improving Soils and Slopes

Perennial farming systems have dramatic powers to stabilize eroding farmland, especially sloping lands. Practices like using nitrogen fixing perennials, keyline plowing, and intenstive livestock rotation have fantastic soil building abilities. Plantings of useful trees can protect coastlines from damage caused by increased storm activity.

Benefits to Water

On the farm scale, trees and perennials can dramatically improve rainwater infiltration and groundwater recharge. At both the farm and regional scale, permanent agriculture can break the flood-drought cycle by soaking up and slowly releasing water like a sponge, providing a longer season of moderate water flow in streams and rivers downstream. Erosion control and slope stabilization means less siltation and nutrient runoff in streams, having effects from local waters to offshore coral reefs. Finally, at the regional scale large plantings of trees transpire sufficient water to create rainclouds, allowing rain to fall further inland and fight drought and desertification.

Ecosystem Benefits

Food forests provide many of the same ecosystem services that “natural” forests do. In addition to the water, soil, and climate benefits mentioned above, they can serve as critical habitat for many kinds of life, and their diversity is much higher than annual agriculture. Regenerative practices can heal degraded land and bring it back to biological productivity and health.

Perhaps most interesting is that permanent agriculture not only fights climate change, but it is also resilient in the face of the increased intensity and frequency of droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events. Trees and perennials typically have stronger and deeper root systems than annuals and can survive and continue to yield in conditions that would ruin many annual crops. Polycultures provide a form of insurance against crop failure due to pests, disease, or weather by having multiple backups of additional crops, so that each year there is always a yield of one kind or another.

Microclimate Impacts

On the farm scale, shade can be essential for livestock and certain crops, particularly in the tropics. We owe coffee, vanilla, chocolate, ginseng, wasabi, ramps, and many other important products to the shady canopies they grow beneath. Trees in particular are also important for filtering air pollution and particulates, and help create a protected and nourishing microclimate in most places they are planted.

Improving Agroecosystem Productivity

Many perennial farming practices are already in common use due to their positive effect on yields. In many parts of the world windbreaks, living fences, and living trellises are standard farming practices. Agroforestry frequently incorporates nitrogen fixing plants, and growing plants for compost and mulching purposes is common in many sustainable agricultural systems. But all of these practices could be much more widely spread.

Biochar, a farm-made charcoal soil amendment, is a practice with tremendous carbon sequestering potential and a great soil builder. It is currently controversial due to concern over its being used as a large scale monoculture and taking land away from food production in the developing world, much as has happened with corn-based biofuels. It appears to me that as an integrated farm practice, not as a vast monoculture, biochar can have a positive effect on farm productivity while sequestering substantial carbon without impacting food security. Any of these perennial farming systems, if practiced by large corporations in vast plantations, can lose carbon efficiency as well as potentially causing negative social and ecological impacts.

A Vast Array of Products

Permanent agriculture can produce most of our material needs. Foods, biofuels, construction materials, fiber products, plant-based plastics, medicine, ceremonial plants, and more can all be produced. Some perennials can continue to yield for hundreds of years once established.

Socio-Economic Benefits

The human benefits of regenerative agriculture are another reason it is so much more desirable than geoengineering projects like pumping sulfur into the atmosphere or liquidized carbon back into empty oil wells. A global investment in perennial farming systems addresses climate justice by sending funds from the developed countries who have caused most of global warming to the developing countries who did the least to cause it but are, perversely, most effected by it. This body of practices can also address food security, particularly by providing resilient crops that can survive droughts and extreme weather events.

Beyond nutrition, transforming degraded land to tree-based farming provides income and regenerative enterprise opportunities to rural people, and could help drive a return to the land for rural people who moved to cities in search of income. Permaculture works best with large numbers of people on small parcels of land, and some research seems to indicate that carbon sequestration is actually higher on small, intensively managed parcels. Thus rural economic revitalization may be another impact of regenerative carbon-sequestering agriculture.

Fossil fuels used in transportation of agricultural goods today are a major source of global warming pollution, so fighting climate change means relocalization of agriculture on a massive scale, whether perennial crops are grown or not. Food sovereignty takes the notions of local food and food security and unites them with broader human rights concerns. The food sovereignty platform includes the right to food and land to grow it on, regional self-sufficiency, prioritizing nutrition and natural resources over international trade, and peaceful democratic control rather than corporate dominance of the food system. Broadscale implementation of perennial farming systems would support food sovereignty by providing a regenerative farming toolkit for community self-determination. A permanent agriculture movement can serve as an ally to food sovereignty against the multinational interests whose drive for short-terms profit is the cause of so many social and ecological problems. I also see permanent agriculture as greatly supporting the development of communities of prosperous smallholders around the world. I like to call this key element of perennial food sovereignty “tree-based Jeffersonian democracy.”

Once established, perennial farming systems require less labor and inputs than annual agriculture. In this light, food forests can be a tool for movements for democracy, nutrition, and human rights. Steering climate change funds and efforts in the direction of regenerative, permanent agriculture can thus help improve the quality of life of people around the world.


Obviously converting land use on such a scale would be a massive undertaking perhaps unprecedented in history. It would also have to take place on an extremely tight timeline as well – probably a few decades at most. But addressing climate change requires us to rethink every aspect of our civilization, and agriculture is no exception.

Food forestry has always been a great idea, but in this time of climate crisis it has become an essential one. For many years permaculturists have focused on our own backyards and farms. While that has been critical for developing our ideas, its carbon sequestration impact is barely noticeable on the global scale. Permanent agriculture needs to be spread much, much more widely to have a significant impact. To prevent runaway climate change we need to change our civilization’s infrastructure – and we need to be engaged in our food systems to make that transformation happen.

My emphasis on perennial farming systems is not to discount the many other important contributions that permaculture has made and can make to address climate change. Everything we do, and everything that the transition and climate change movements are doing, is critical to finding a solution. No single strategy is sufficient to do what is required. But large scale conversion of degraded land to regenerative perennial agriculture is a project that we can put forward to the broader climate change movements, and get the world’s resources behind. What a great way for the world to get to know us better – through this strategy that so beautifully expresses our ethics and principles.

We need as well to be honest about what is and isn’t known about permanent agriculture, particularly in cold climates. Let’s target more of our experimentation on replicable models that can be applied at farm-scale in our own regions and beyond. And what better way to demonstrate permanent agriculture than developing regenerative enterprises that allow us to prosper while charting a new course for agriculture.

It seems to me that this is a critical moment in history for permaculture. Terraforming the planet into a perennial food-producing paradise may be the only way to avert climate disaster. Let’s step up as a movement and show the world what we have to offer. Eric Toensmeier is the author of Perennial Vegetables and co-author with Dave Jacke of Edible Forest Gardens. His writing and teaching is currently largely focused on regenerative agriculture for climate stabilization. His writings, videos, and upcoming workshop schedule can be viewed at Eric will address commercial scale food forestry and other regenerative farming practices as part of the upcoming Carbon Farming course in 2012:

Thanks to Craig Hepworth and Ethan Roland for their help in developing this article.