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Showing posts from 2017

Czar Gazing

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Democracy, as a way to govern nation-states, is on the decline. With the help of Russia, politically four centuries behind the West, the U.S. could be headed for czarist rule. The Russian word czar comes from "caesar" and was the title first assumed by Ivan the Awesome (or the more popular pejorative, "the Terrible").

If our political regression stays in step with our fall back through the growth of civilization to agrarianism, we could see an autocrat in power in a decade or so. Czar Barron has a certain ring to it.
Czar Donald sounds cartoonish, but since we don't execute traitors anymore, Junior may be first in line to inherit the throne after the patriarch croaks. He might want to change that to "The Don" to give it more of a fear factor and to divert attention from the history of his ascent at the behest of Russian propagandists. Oh, wait... the Don is a Russian river.

Aww. Who cares what people think? Junior might be found guilty of conspiring …

Pulling Threads

Reading Joe Scarborough's opinion column today about Blowhard's base sticking through thick and thin, and then finding an analysis of personalist rule that well describes how this is becoming more commonplace in authoritarian states, I went back through the lead-in summaries on Amy Siskind's weekly authoritarianism tracker to tease out the threads that have emerged as themes under our dictator-in-the-making.
This consolidated chronology, in which themes are identified by color, is a value add to the presentation on Medium which doesn't tell you much until you click on a given week. If you start at the bottom of this post, you can track the train wreck from inauguration day to this month. Go to Amy's Medium page to drill down into the gory details, or Aaron Dietz' tableau tool, if you have the geek chops for it. I hope you find my exercise in curation to be enlightening.

September 23, 2017
As Mueller zeroes in on Manafort and Flynn, almost every Trump campaigner …

America's Approaching Storm

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Most people think that fascism is a political concept that emerged in 20th century Europe, but the first use of that label in a political context appeared five centuries ago when Gustavus Eriksson (popularly known as Vasa, from the Latin fascis, meaning "bundle") unified Swedish rebel mobs to overthrow their Danish colonial overlords.  The image evoked is that of a bundle of straight sticks held tightly together, thereby forming an unbreakable pole.

Today's use of the word "fascist" carries the same meaning, modernized by recent historical occurrence under Mussolini and his ilk. Fascism places unity above everything else, including individual liberty. It demands a mindset of ruthless efficiency, leading to acts of inhumane expediency. It is extremely undemocratic, i.e. tending to totalitarianism, relying on conformity at all levels of society. The most obvious example of a fascist government today is North Korea.

North Korea's fascism can be understood by t…

The Long War Ahead

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Old Blowhard may say he doesn't subscribe to theories of climate change, but he sure is prepping like a true believer. Following the widespread disaster caused by Hurricane Harvey, his most substantive response was to re-establish the 1033 Program that allows local law enforcement access to excess military equipment. Four million internally displaced, dripping, and dispossessed persons must look pretty scary to a man who only loves a crowd when they are cheering for him. Unfortunately for him, the extra military gear probably won't be on hand in time for other states to guard the elites in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.


How unwittingly we drift into totalitarianism. Instead of taking a more humane counterinsurgency approach, our military-industrial complex overproduced lethal weapons and profuse national security apparati in a panicked reaction against Islamic terrorism. We are left with so many military "goods" that we can't help but put them to some use - eve…

How Budgets Get Balanced in a Crisis

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Civil asset forfeiture is nothing new (we've had it in some form since the colonial days), but it is now more likely with Jeff Sessions in charge of Justice. The colonials had the practice handed down to them from the royals of England, with the starkest example being the replenishment of Henry VIII's coffers from church assets by Thomas Cromwell beginning in 1536. After collecting a litany of accusations through "visitors" sent to look into the foibles of England's 600 monasteries and 130 nunneries, Cromwell brought his "Black Book" before a kangaroo Parliament, which agreed to shut down these politically wayward establishments and turn their assets over to the crown. The precedent made it easier for the guilds to be similarly plundered less than a decade later.

"Civil asset forfeiture" is the euphemistic description of the government seizing personal property, often before guilt can be determined by trial. There have been cases where police …

Five Centuries Ago: Henry VIII. Today: Donald the Deplorable.

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The Maryland Renaissance Festival begins this month and, if you think a 500 year reset is too far from present reality, then you haven't kept up on your English history. While reading through Will Durant's agonizing rendition of how the West was spun, The Story of Civilization: The Reformation, the reign of Henry VIII of England takes the pathos prize, so far. The calamitous king had so much in common with America's current head of state that the parallels kept popping into my consciousness while mourning over every page. The Renaissance Festival may have had no intention of shining a light on our current political fiasco when it selected a storyline that brings the old ogre and his court back in the flesh, but let's hope the audience doesn't miss the irony.

Historians recognized the pattern much earlier than I, and published those observations in Newsweek, Foreign Policy, and The Economist, as well as this e-zine and another, Pajiba. In case you missed those, let …

Hiatus

Thanks for checking on my latest meanderings. I'm currently meandering around the country with my wife and dog. The posts should resume after we return, which may be soon.

A Biochar Breakout Opportunity

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Relatively speaking, Scott Pruitt supports efforts to clean up toxic waste in our land. He only wants to cut the superfund budget by $330 million, which is a 30% cut, as opposed to the 34% cut for the EPA overall. To show even more support, he wants to be briefed regularly on the 10 worst superfund sites. The other 1,300 sites are not going to receive as much attention. At the same time, under Pruitt's budget proposal, the states will have 45% less federal grant money to rely on for some of their clean-up efforts.

Since money is tight for these projects, the EPA and PRP's (Potentially Responsible Parties, but let's just call them "perps") should be happy to know that there is a lower cost method available to remediate heavy metal contamination in soils. Heavy metals are elements of high density (> 5 g/cc) and include Cd, Cu, Hg, Ni, Pb, and Zn. These metals are often left in the soil after manufacturing, mining, and disposal operations have moved on and can al…

The Mid-Atlantic's Coming Green Revolution

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In establishing the Healthy Soils Program, Maryland has begun to officially view soil in terms of biological populations, organic content, structure and water-holding capacity, and carbon sequestration. Everybody wants healthy soil, but for the past 70 years, conventional agriculturalists have been satisfied merely with healthy crops. Food for those crops has been supplied by chemicals known to help them grow. The soil fell into neglect, and in the process, we lost a lot of carbon from the soil and released a lot of nitrous oxide through chemical production. The Healthy Soils Program, then, is a way to recover from this unforeseen consequence of the Green Revolution by reducing the severity of our recent interventions in soil fertility.

In promoting healthy soils, Dr. Sara Via brings out a few principles farmers and gardeners should follow. I have annotated them here with my comments for gardeners:

Rotate crops - some crops, e.g. tomatoes, should be rotated over 3 or more yearsLimit so…

First Things First

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Last night, I was fortunate to hear Dr. Sara Via, a University of Maryland biologist, give her talk on "Ecology of the Soil" to my county's Master Gardeners. She recommended a 2016 paper from Nature entitled Climate-Smart Soils. One of the gems in this paper is the decision tree it offers for the coolest things to do with agricultural land, depending on its nature and condition. It says that marginal lands should be planted in perennials, and histosols (soils containing high organic matter, i.e. former bogs) should be restored to wetlands. Aside from those cases, the paper proffers a hierarchy of various measures that can be taken to improve soil health, such as cover cropping and no-till. The final measure in the hierarchy - adding soil amendments, such as biochar - is not based on the soil condition, but on the availability of the amendment - the more, the merrier (though 2" of compost per year may be a good upper bound).

This decision tree clarifies matters great…

Carbon Nation

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It is fortunate that Project Drawdown left CO2 capture and storage (CCS) out of their solution set, because the IPCC left us with a mixed bag by including it as a key element among their recommended approaches*. Environmentally-minded organizations such as the Post-Carbon Institute (PCI) are all too happy to explain that CCS doesn't pencil out when you consider such fixed costs as a network of pipelines in the U.S. equal to that of the entire oil industry. As implied by their name, however, the Post-Carbon Institute discounts the value of all of the extra tight oil that might be recovered and burned by enhanced oil recovery using all the captured CO2. Considering how polluting coal and other industrial combustion processes can be, it makes sense if you can exchange the CO2 output for a more clean-burning petroleum product, but the extra pipelines and other CCS components required really does cause it to look like CCS would be a net economic loss (until oil prices rise). The fact t…

Drawing Down - 3rd World Style

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If  you are the independent type, third world solutions, otherwise known as appropriate technology, can be pretty great. The Drawdown project sees the biggest benefit of small methane generating anaerobic digesters in parts of the world where wood fired cookstoves are commonplace. Distributed digesters in the Drawdown model are fed livestock manure exclusively. Paul Hawkins' group estimates that 36.5% of manure in Asia is currently being run through small digesters and that we can bring that percentage up to 52.6% for all regions of the world where agriculture is dominated by small farms. For the rest of the world, they estimate much greater savings through the use of industrial sized anaerobic digesters. Yet, in marketing their product to the first world, HomeBiogas claims, even without displacing a cookstove, that their food scrap fed digester will save as much GHG emissions as if you stopped driving a car. In my case, it would also save on electricity to run cooking appliances …

Loosening the Grip of the Grid

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One of the distinctions made by zero waste advocates is that incineration of waste to reduce landfill use exacerbates pollution. Waste industry apologists credit Maryland Governor Larry Hogan's decision to withdraw limits on landfill expansion as an effort to avoid shifting the burden to incinerators.

That might be a defensible position if Maryland's landfill gas emissions were well controlled and not the highest human-caused source of methane in the state. Fortunately, the U.S. Appeals Court rode to the rescue in their recent ruling against the EPA's delay tactics on oil and gas well methane emissions. Since the EPA has also postponed the implementation of new landfill gas emissions requirements, expect that the court will also find that decision to be unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious. More landfills will then be required to incorporate gas collection and control systems. This should serve to pressure states to become more waste conscious.

Waste consciousness shoul…

Drawdown - Guidance for Policymakers

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In The Humanure Handbook, Joseph Jenkins assails our habit of wasting things.
We have kitchen “waste,” garden “waste,” agricultural “waste,” human “waste,” municipal “waste,” “biowaste,” and on and on. Yet, our long-term survival requires us to learn to live in harmony with our host planet. This also requires that we understand natural cycles and incorporate them into our day to day lives. In essence, this means that we humans must attempt to eliminate waste altogether.  In Don DeLillo's novel, Underworld, the waste underlying modern life resurfaces throughout the tale. The advocates at eco-cycle Solutions are all about solving the waste problem. They and the folks at Trash-Free Maryland were surely disappointed when Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced an end to Maryland's Plan to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Nearly All Waste Generated in Maryland by 2040.

Stepping away from waste reduction is a mistake. We can benefit both economically and environmentally by improving indust…

Save up to $100K through this Eco-lifestyle Adjustment

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Slums constitute the living arrangement for one-fourth of today's world population. In the least developed countries, those living in slums exceed three-fourths of the population. Any urban area can descend quickly into slumdom when water and sewerage stop functioning. This can happen in any urban environment where the electric supply is lost for a week or where general mayhem prevails. Take Yemen, for instance. Facing a crisis of war, famine, and social collapse, 14 million people there lack access to safe drinking water or sanitation. The conditions are ripe for outbreaks of disease, which is currently appearing in the form of the most massive cholera epidemic this century
Cholera is spread by ingestion of Vibrio cholerae, which lives in the water where infected people have released sewage. If not quickly and properly treated, it can cause death in 50 to 60% of those infected. Currently, the number of cases in Yemen is 200,000 carriers of the bacteria. In the 2008 - 2009 Zimba…

You Can't Be Green Enough These Days

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Helpful as their contributions are, the efforts of most established agricultural literacy organizations do not extend to encouraging young people to take up farming. Aside from the Future Farmers of America (which I've always seen as geared to keeping the kids down on the farm) and 4-H, organizations like National Agriculture in the Classroom and the American Farm Bureau Foundation seem to be geared toward PR for agribusiness. The mission of FoodCorps is somewhat better because it involves children in gardening and appreciating healthy, fresh food that they help to grow.

Though all those organizations raise agricultural literacy, none of their programs will prepare the next generation of adults for what they are about to face. For that, permaculture education must be emphasized. Big Ag will go away with deindustrialization. Folks are going to have to know how to provide for themselves without relying on lengthy, automated supply chains.

Since the public school system does not appe…

Apprenticeship - a Short-Lived Remedy for a Dead End Economy

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Old Blowhard doubled the federal dollars to administer the apprenticeship advocacy program run by the Department of Labor. Secretary Acosta said the redoubled effort, "helps states expand apprenticeship, an evidence-based approach to preparing workers for jobs." A model program is found in South Carolina, yet Germany's program is the sine qua non that appears currently out of reach for the U.S.

In promoting apprenticeship, the Blowhard administration and the Green Party are agreed:

The Green Party views learning as a lifelong and life-affirming process to which all people should have access. We cannot state more forcefully our belief that in learning, and openness to learning, we find the foundation of our Platform...e.Promote a diverse set of educational opportunities, including bilingual education, continuing education, job retraining, distance learning, mentoring and apprenticeship programs. However, the budget cuts from other workforce development programs leave me w…

The Road to Reparations

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In the process of getting to know the Green Party, sooner or later you realize that we favor African Americans to the point of calling for reparations for over 200 years of discrimination. This is ultimately what it will take to heal race relations in our country, but rather than diving headfirst into what would quickly become a major bone of contention, we should practice the art of the possible by going for a series of small wins. Black women have it particularly hard, as detailed in a report put out this week by The National Domestic Workers Alliance. One of their priority recommendations is:
Policymakers and workforce development leaders should adopt strategies to promote gender and racial/ethnic equity in access to higher-paid career training opportunities. Workforce development programs that recruit and train Black women in specific skills can help them gain access to career ladders and upward mobility and can reduce their concentration in lower-paying jobs. The Green Party pri…

Giving Back

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Andrés Manuel López Obrador is planning to pay salaries to housewives in Mexico. After yesterday's election, in which his leftist party narrowly lost a key race, his prospects of next year becoming president of his country are still strong. The race for governor in Mexico State was so close that the results are being contested. Regardless of who won, López Obrador's chances of winning the Presidency in 2018 are gaining momentum.

Mexico is not seen as having much influence compared to economic behemoths like the U.S., however ideas can penetrate walls and a socialist revolution in Mexico could catch on among the disenfranchised classes in neighboring countries. The idea of paying people in some way for their time and labor spent in fulfilling socially beneficial roles is, in fact, already included in the Green Party key values.
6. Community-Based Economics We support redesigning our work structures to encourage employee ownership and workplace democracy. We support developing new…