Thursday, July 31, 2008

Rising Oil Prices Swell Profits at Exxon and Shell


HOUSTON — Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, reported on Thursday its best quarterly profit in history, but investors sold off shares in morning trading after expecting even higher earnings because of soaring oil and natural gas prices.

Record earnings for the world’s largest publicly traded oil company have become almost as predictable as the surge of gasoline prices at the pump in recent years, and for the second quarter income rose 14 percent, to $11.68 billion.

It was the highest quarterly profit ever for any American company, as Exxon made nearly $90,000 a minute.

Such profits have made Exxon Mobil a target of politicians in recent years, propelling calls for windfall profits taxes to finance research and development for renewable fuels to replace oil.

continue to NYT

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Nothing to Eat

Published: July 27, 2008
NYT book review

Paul Roberts’s prophetic and well-received 2004 book, “The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World,” anticipated the current energy crisis. Now he’s moved on to what we put in our mouths. Roberts’s new book, “The End of Food,” which takes into account a vertiginous pile of recent developments — including the so-called tortilla riots of 2007, during which thousands took to the Mexico City streets to protest the rapidly rising cost of maize — may prove no less prescient.

[go to article]

contributed by TimV

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Greening colleges

Here's an interesting article on shifting preferences for college education towards sustainable institutions

posted by Alex

Gassing up with garbage

July 24, 2008
The Energy Challenge, NYTIMES

Gassing Up With Garbage

After years of false starts, a new industry selling motor fuel made from waste is getting a big push in the United States, with the first commercial sales possible within months.

Many companies have announced plans to build plants that would take in material like wood chips, garbage or crop waste and turn out motor fuels. About 28 small plants are in advanced planning, under construction or, in a handful of cases, already up and running in test mode.

For decades scientists have known it was possible to convert waste to fuel, but in an era of cheap oil, it made little sense. With oil now trading around $125 a barrel and gasoline above $4 a gallon, the potential economics of a waste-to-fuel industry have shifted radically, setting off a frenzy to be first to market.

“I think American innovation is going to come up with the solution,” said Prabhakar Nair, research chief for UOP, a company working on the problem.

Success is far from assured, however. Some of the latest announcements come from small companies whose dreams may be bigger than their bank accounts. They are counting on billions in taxpayer subsidies. Big technological hurdles remain, and even if they can be solved, no one is sure what unintended consequences will emerge or what it will really cost to produce this type of fuel.

“We desperately need it, and I personally think it’s not there yet,” said Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. “You have to look at starts with a grain of salt, especially starts where they say, ‘It’s around the corner, and by the way, can you pay half the bill?’ ”

Still, the incentive to make fuel from something, anything, besides oil and food is greater than ever. Moreover, the federal government is offering grants to help plants get off the ground and subsidies for one type of fuel of $1.01 a gallon, twice the subsidy it historically offered to ethanol made from corn.

Potential controls on global warming gases would heighten the appeal of these fuels, since many of them would add little new carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Tellingly, the type of companies placing bets on the field has started to expand. The earliest were small start-ups founded by people with more technological vision than business experience. Now some of the giants of global business, including Honeywell, Dupont, General Motors, Shell and BP, are taking stakes in the nascent industry.

The dream of making fuel from plants is almost as old as the internal combustion engine. Henry Ford himself was fascinated by the idea, and it re-emerges in periods of fuel scarcity and high prices. These days, advancing technology has made the notion more plausible.

Virtually any material containing hydrogen, carbon and oxygen could potentially be turned into motor fuel. That includes plastics, construction debris, forest and lawn trimmings, wood chips, wheat straw and many other types of agricultural waste.

The potential fuels include ethanol, which can be blended with gasoline, or other liquids that could displace gasoline or diesel entirely. Government studies suggest the country could potentially replace half its gasoline supply in this way — even more if cars became more efficient.

The government is pushing to get the industry off the ground. Legislation passed last year mandates the use of 36 billion gallons of biofuels a year by 2022, less than half of it from corn ethanol. Almost all the rest is supposed to come from nonfood sources, though the requirement could be waived if the industry faltered.

“One has to say upfront that what Congress has done is remarkable in its bravery,” said David Morris, vice president of the Institute for Local Self Reliance, a group in Minneapolis that advocates biofuels.

Much of the new money flowing into the field is coming from Silicon Valley, where the venture capitalists who gave the world the Internet revolution see an opportunity to do something similar with the fuel supply.

At Solazyme, a start-up in South San Francisco that hopes to commercialize a process for making fuel from algae, President Harrison F. Dillon said, “When we founded the company in 2003, we couldn’t find a venture capital firm that had heard of the concept of a biofuel.” Now he is backed by two such firms.

Venture capital investment in the first half of this year hit $612 million, up from $375 million in all of 2007, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters. Every few days brings another announcement. PFC Energy, a Washington consulting firm, counts projects worth perhaps $1.5 billion that will total more than 300 million gallons of capacity by 2011, if they all get built.

That is small in the scheme of American fuel demand, but it would presumably set the stage for substantial growth if those first projects prove that the economics can work.

One of the first companies to bring a plant online is KL Process Design Group, in Wyoming. With experience making corn ethanol plants, it has built a small plant meant to use pine wastes from a nearby national forest. The company is still testing its production line but hopes to begin commercial sales of ethanol late this year.

“We’re still learning and tweaking, and hoping for a little bit of capital infusion,” said Tom Slunecka, a vice president of the company.

Range Fuels, of Denver, is building a commercial-scale plant in Soperton, Ga., with help from the Energy Department. That plant will take pine chips and turn them into ethanol, with commercial sales expected by late 2009 or 2010.

Some companies want to use garbage. On Friday, a company called Fulcrum BioEnergy said it would start construction later this year on a $120 million plant at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center, in Storey County, Nev., to make 10.5 million gallons of ethanol a year from 90,000 tons of garbage. Operation would begin in early 2010.

In Montreal, another firm, Enerkem, plans to use arsenic-contaminated utility poles from the provincial electric company. On Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Regional Planning
Commission approved a plan by BlueFire Ethanol to build a $30 million garbage-to-ethanol plant on 10 acres next to a landfill in Lancaster, Calif.; construction will start soon, the company said.

A handful of small companies has long made a diesel replacement from waste oil, or sold kits to individuals to do the same. One company in Carthage, Mo., even turns turkey guts into fuel. The goal of the emerging waste-to-fuel industry is more elaborate, however: to take bulky, solid feedstocks and transform them into high-grade motor fuel.

History provides plenty of warning that it will not be easy. A company called Verenium in Lafayette, La., has cut ribbons three times in one locale since 1998 on plants that would supposedly make fuel from sugar cane waste, and has yet to sell a drop because of problems converting laboratory success into smooth, commercial-scale operation.

A bigger operation, Iogen, has been running a demonstration plant in Ottawa since 2004 that can turn wheat straw into ethanol. It was expected to build a plant in Idaho but has suspended work to focus attention on a plant in Saskatchewan. “It would be our view that there are substantial challenges in scaling up a big new biochemical process,” said Brian Foody, the president.

The Energy Department early last year picked six projects as most likely to succeed, and offered each of them tens of millions of dollars. Iogen’s Idaho project was among them; so was a plant in Kansas proposed by a Florida company, Alico, that has also been abandoned. Still, increasing interest from big companies — ones with a track record of solving technical problems — suggests that a waste-to-fuel industry may not remain out of reach forever.

General Motors has invested an undisclosed sum in two companies, Coskata, of Warrenville, Ill., and Macoma, of Lebanon, N.H., that aim to turn crop wastes into ethanol.

DuPont, one of the world’s largest chemical companies, has joined forces with a company called Genencor, announcing plans to commercialize a process for making ethanol from the nonedible parts of corn and sugar cane. They plan to invest $140 million over three years.

In making their announcement, the companies estimated the worldwide market for fuels made by methods like theirs would eventually reach $75 billion, dwarfing the scale of today’s biofuels produced from food crops like corn and sugar cane.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Suburbs, subprime, and oil

First off- thank you D for sharing this space with me, it'll be fun!

There is an excellent article in The Atlantic this month that connects the housing slump with the future of cities, energy, and suburbs. Take a look here. I think that this scenario is not necessarily inevitable, but we do know (can't recall where I read the story on this research right now) that when inner city poor are moved willy nilly into the suburbs, without adequate help, the crime and social problems seem to follow.

posted by Alex

Don’t Drink the Nuclear Kool-Aid

Don’t Drink the Nuclear Kool-Aid

by Amy Goodman

While the presidential candidates trade barbs and accuse each other of flip-flopping, they
agree with President Bush on their enthusiastic support for nuclear power.

Sen. John McCain has called for 100 new nuclear power plants. Sen. Barack Obama, in a July 2007 Democratic candidate debate, answered a pro-nuclear power audience member, “I actually think that we should explore nuclear power as part of the energy mix.” Among Obama’s top contributors are executives of Exelon Corp., a leading nuclear power operator in the nation. Just this week, Exelon released a new plan, called “Exelon 2020: A Low-Carbon Roadmap.” The nuclear power industry sees global warming as a golden opportunity to sell its insanely expensive and dangerous power plants.

But nuclear power is not a solution to climate change — rather, it causes problems. Amory Lovins is the co-founder and chief scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado. He makes simple, powerful points against nuclear: “The nuclear revival that we often hear about is not actually happening. It is a very carefully fabricated illusion … there are no buyers. Wall Street is not putting a penny of private capital into the industry, despite 100-plus percent subsidies.” He adds:
“Basically, we can have as many nuclear plants as Congress can force the taxpayers to pay for. But you won’t get any in a market economy.”

Even if nuclear power were economically viable, Lovins continues, “the first issue to come up for me would be the spread of nuclear weapons, which it greatly facilitates. If you look at places like Iran and North Korea … how do you think they’re doing it? Iran claims to be making electricity vital to its development. … The technology, materials, equipment, skills are applicable to both. … The president is absolutely right in identifying the spread of nuclear weapons as the gravest threat to our security, so it’s really puzzling to me that he’s trying to accelerate that spread every way he can think of. … It’s just an awful idea unless you’re really interested in making bombs. He’s
really triggered a new Mideast arms race by trying to push nuclear power within the region.”

Along with proliferation, there are terrorist threats to existing nuclear reactors, like Entergy’s controversial Indian Point nuclear plant just 24 miles north of New York City. Lovins calls these “about as fat a terrorist target as you can imagine. It is not necessary to fly a plane into a nuclear plant or storm a plant and take over a control room in order to cause that material to be largely released. You can often do it from outside the site boundary with things the terrorists would have readily available.”

Then there is the waste: “It stays dangerous for a very long time. So you have to put it someplace that stays away from people and life and water for a very long time … millions of years, most likely. … So far, all the places we’ve looked turned out to be geologically unsuitable, including Yucca Mountain.” Testifying at a congressional hearing this week, Energy Department official Edward Sproat said the price of a nuclear dump in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain has climbed to $90 billion. Slated to go online a decade ago, its opening is now projected for the year 2020. And even that’s optimistic. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, wants to block nuclear waste from passing through Utah entirely, and most Nevadans oppose the Yucca waste plan.

The presidential candidates are wrong on nuclear power. Wind, solar and microgeneration (generating electricity and heat at the same time, in smaller plants), on the other hand, are taking off globally, gaining billions of dollars in private investments. Lovins summarizes: “One of the big reasons we have an oil problem and a climate problem today is we spent our money on the wrong stuff. If we had spent it on efficiency and renewables, those problems would’ve gone away, and we would’ve made trillions of dollars’ profit on the deal because it’s so much cheaper to save energy than to supply it.”

The answer is blowing in the wind.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 700 stations in North America. © 2008 Amy Goodman

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sahara to power Europe, but who will power Africa?

Very interesting story on PRI about powering Europe with photovoltaic systems in the Sahara because the sun is obviously more consistent (in terms of day-hours and sunny days) and powerful (better angle of incidence). They say all they need is a solar farm the size of Wales...about 0.3% of the Sahara.

There is a telling "what about Africa's power" question raised by the Guardian correspondent... check out the here.

The UK's daily mail had more to say...

This is the kind of optimism we should both embrace and be cautious about at the same time. A nice idea, but who is benefiting?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Africa’s Women Last and Least in Food Crisis

Africa’s Women Last and Least in Food Crisis
by Kevin Sullivan

0720 04 1OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso -
After she woke in the dark to sweep city streets, after she walked an
hour to buy less than $2 worth of food, after she cooked for two hours
in the searing noon heat, Fanta Lingani served her family’s only meal
of the day.

First she set out a bowl of corn mush, seasoned with tree leaves,
dried fish and wood ashes, for the 11 smallest children, who tore into
it with bare hands.

Then she set out a bowl for her husband. Then two bowls for a dozen
older children. Then finally, after everyone else had finished, a bowl
for herself. She always eats last.

A year ago, before food prices nearly doubled, Lingani would have
had three meals a day of meat, rice and vegetables. Now two mouthfuls
of bland mush would have to do her until tomorrow.

Rubbing her red-rimmed eyes, chewing lightly on a twig she picked
off the ground, Lingani gave the last of her food to the children.

“I’m not hungry,” she said.

Mealtime conspires against women
In poor West African nations such as Burkina Faso, mealtime conspires
against women. They grow the food, fetch the water, shop at the market
and cook the meals. But when it comes time to eat, men and children eat
first, and women eat last and least.

Soaring prices for food and fuel have pushed more than 130 million
poor people across vast swaths of Africa, Asia and Latin America deeper
into poverty in the past year, according to the U.N. World Food
Program. But while millions of men and children are also hungrier,
women are the hungriest and skinniest. Aid workers call malnutrition
among women one of the most notable hidden consequences of the food

“It’s a cultural thing,” said Hervé Kone, director of a group that
promotes development, social justice and human rights in Burkina Faso.
“When the kids are hungry, they go to their mother, not their father.
And when there is less food, women are the first to eat less.”

A recent study by the aid group Catholic Relief Services found that
many people in Burkina Faso are now spending 75 percent or more of
their income on food, leaving little for other basic needs.

Pregnant women and young mothers are forgoing medical care. More
women are turning to prostitution to pay for food. And more families
are pulling children — especially girls — out of school, unable to
afford fees and clothes.

But perhaps the most pervasive effect of the growing global crisis
is the ache in the stomachs of millions of poor women such as Fanta

Sweeping for pennies
Lingani, who sleeps on a concrete floor, began one recent day at 4 a.m.
and dressed quietly in the dark. All around her, children slept on the
cracked floor under a tin roof, common conditions in a country that
ranks 176th out of 177 on the U.N. Human Development Index.

A year ago, Lingani might have started a small fire to boil herself a cup of weak coffee. But even that is now too expensive.

Such sacrifices led to food riots in February in Ouagadougou, the
capital, and towns across the country. Hundreds of people were arrested
after they set fires and smashed government buildings to protest rising
prices. But for Lingani, the struggle is quieter, and harder by the
day, and it starts before the sun comes up.

Lingani, who said she is about 50, walked across the dirt courtyard
past the two-room hut where her husband was sleeping in his own double
bed, with a thick mattress. The dirt street outside was muddy and
steamy from an overnight rain shower.

After a half-hour walk on the black-dark streets, she reported for
work and pulled on the long green smock of the Green Brigade, a city
program that pays poor women the equivalent of about $1.20 a day to
sweep streets two mornings a week.

Lingani picked up a pair of small straw brooms and pushed a
wheelbarrow onto a wide, deserted avenue. In the orange haze of
streetlights, she bent over at the waist, so far that her bottom was
higher than her head, and started pushing red dust into little piles.

The “shssssh shssssh” of her sweeping was the only sound, except for
the crowing of a few roosters and occasional laughter from men at an
all-night bar down the road.

She worked a section of road about 150 yards long, while a dozen
others in the all-female brigade swept along. A tanker truck sped down
the street, kicking up a cloud of dust into her face and blowing away
her little piles. She coughed, pulled her pink head scarf across her
face and swept the same dust all over again.

Lingani swept until the sun came up, pushing her piles onto a small
metal dish, then dumping them into a wheelbarrow and finally into a
pothole on an unpaved side street.

By 7 a.m., she’d finished her section. But she had to wait an hour
for a male supervisor to show up and check her work. In two weeks, she
would get her monthly pay of less than $10.

‘The job of women’
Lingani walked a half hour back to her house, where her huge family was
starting to stir. She took off her smock and picked up a green plastic
basket about the size of a shoebox.

Market time. She and one of her two “co-wives,” Asseta Zagre, do the
shopping on alternate days. Their husband’s other wife, the senior of
the three, is nearly blind and can’t do chores anymore.

Polygamy is common in much of Africa. In this household, the
patriarch is Hamado Zorome, 68, a retired police officer whose pension
is the family’s main income — but he doesn’t tell his wives how much he

The pension of a mid-level civil servant is probably modest in
Burkina Faso, where the United Nations says nearly 72 percent of the
country’s 15 million people live on less than $2 a day.

Zorome also collects a “tip” of 60 cents from each of his two
working wives when they get their monthly pay, which he uses to buy the
kola nuts he likes to chew.

Lingani and Zagre, who also sweeps streets, said Zorome doles out
small amounts of money for them to buy staples such as cornmeal. But
the bulk of the family’s meals are paid for out of the wives’ sweeping

As she prepared to leave for the market, Lingani kept bending over
and rubbing her ankles and feet. She said they hurt from sweeping for
so long. She has never weighed herself, but she said she can feel a
significant loss in her weight and strength in the past year.

Last month’s sweeping money was already gone. So she went to her
husband, who handed her about $2.50 for groceries. He told her to spend
no more than about 75 cents and save the rest for another day.

“Women are born with this job” of feeding the family, Lingani said,
as she walked around puddles and past goats tied to trees. “The man has
to have his share. And we have to make sure the kids have their share.
So we eat less.”

Lingani said none of the older boys in the family has a steady job,
since work is hard to come by in this poor city. So, she said, the boys
mostly spend their days doing odd jobs or playing soccer. What little
money they earn they tend to spend on food and beer for themselves.

“A man can never sit at home. They are always out somewhere,” Lingani said. “They don’t do anything. They don’t help.”

Lingani walked past small stands where women were selling fruit or
water, assisted by small girls. A few men sold bags or charcoal, but
most were sitting in the shade and talking.

“Men and women should fight together for the children,” Lingani
said. “But if the men won’t do that, the women have to fight alone.”

Zorome, Lingani’s husband, said that men don’t help with shopping
and cooking because “that is the job of women.” Like many men
interviewed here, he said African culture clearly defines roles for
men, who work outside the house, and women, who manage children and

He said that men are willing to work but that jobs are scarce. He
would prefer it if his wives didn’t have to sweep streets, but “life is
much more expensive now.”

“Last year, we could eat well, but now, forget it,” he said. “My
sons don’t work, so it’s up to me to feed 25 people. That’s why the
women sweep. We don’t have anything, so they have to work. That’s life.”

Ugly math
On her way to the market, Lingani explained the ugly math: A year ago,
she could feed her entire family a nutritious meal of meat and
vegetables and peanut sauce for about 75 cents. But now the family gets
much lower-quality food for twice the price.

She said the cost of six pounds of cornmeal has risen from 75 cents
to $1.50. A kilogram — 2.2 pounds — of rice cost 60 cents last year and
costs a little more than $1 now. Other basics such as salt and cooking
oil have also doubled in price.

Fuel costs have more than doubled for trucks that haul food to landlocked Burkina Faso, helping keep food prices high.

Beef or goat meat is now so expensive — about $1.20 for a tiny
portion — that the family has given up meat completely, eating cheap
dried fish instead. Rather than seasoning their sauces with vegetables
and peanuts, they now use the tough leaves of baobab trees, the gnarly
giants that flourish here in the dry lands south of the Sahara.

To soften the sour taste of the leaves, Lingani mixes in potash, a
paste made by boiling down water strained through ashes from wood fires.

“In the past, our money would last the whole month. We might even
have some left over,” Lingani said. “But now as soon as it arrives, we
spend it.”

Dinner happens only if there is a bit of food left over from lunch. Even then, she said, there is rarely enough left for women.

“When the children ask for food, we have to give it to them,” she said. “We’re mothers.”

Never enough
“Are you sure you don’t want more?” the vegetable vendor asked Lingani. “Is that enough for your family?”

Lingani, standing in a crowded neighborhood market, had just asked the woman for 30 cents worth of baobab leaves.

“No, it’s fine,” Lingani said, handing over a few coins.

The vendor shrugged and stashed the coins under a burlap sack of
tomatoes covered with a beard of small flies. She handed Lingani back
some change, which she counted carefully.

At the next stall, Lingani bought four small onions. As she turned
to leave, the seller tossed in a fifth with an understanding smile.
Lingani caught her eye and thanked her.

Moving through the churning mass of people, Lingani bought a bag of
dried fish, a small plastic bag of salt, two small cubes of beef
bouillon and a bag of potash, the paste made from ashes.

In 10 minutes, her shopping was done. She had spent double her budget of 75 cents.

After the half-hour walk home, with the temperature already above
90, Lingani and Zagre started plucking the baobab she bought at the
market, saving the leaves and throwing away the thick stems.

For an hour, the two women methodically pounded the rough leaves in
a wooden bowl, then dumped them into a pot boiling over a wood fire.
Then Lingani added the dried fish and some of the ash flavoring.

“Of course we would prefer something else,” she said. “But it’s the
cheapest thing we can buy, and we can afford enough to feed everybody.”

Two hours after she started cooking, Lingani scooped out six bowls
of flavorless food. The first was for Zorome, delivered to his hut. He
ate it alone, then said he felt as though he needed a nap.

Others were set aside to be shared by the children.

The last bowl, slightly larger than Zorome’s, was to be shared by 10
people: Lingani, Zagre and eight small grandchildren. Lingani took two
bites before letting five hungry toddlers finish her food.

Near the front gate, half a dozen of the children sat in a circle,
playing a game. They had built a play fire out of pieces of bark. On
top of it they had placed a little plastic cup, overflowing with street
garbage: onion skins and bits of rotting leaves.

They were pretending to cook.

“We’re cooking rice with meat!” said a beaming Ousmane, 6, the head chef.

His father, Zorome, watched the game and laughed. He was asked if he
would eat again today. Yes, he said, Lingani would make him a little
rice or porridge for dinner that night.

Nearby, his daughters and granddaughters heard him and exploded.
“What are you talking about?” they said. “Why are you saying that? We
have no food.”

Zorome smiled sadly and admitted his lie.

“When we have food one day, we have to tighten our belt the next,”
he said. “But it is very hard for a man to admit when things are not

Lingani was still sitting next to her empty food bowl. She had
stopped the children from finishing one last lump of corn mush, about
the size of her fist.

“The small children will be crying in a couple of hours, so we have
to save it,” she said. Her voice was small and soft, and she didn’t
look up from the red dirt. She said she felt “very sad.”

“I’m thinking too much,” she said.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ending the ethanol gold rush and beginning the biofuels deathwatch

The market says corn ethanol is no good, so it must be so.

Graphic: Estimated breakeven corn price for Iowa ethanol plants.

There was a very good story on NPR about ethanol and the significant drops in investment due too venture capital drying up, and how the credit crunch is making the construction of these plants hard to finance. Turns out that even corn ethanol is linked up with the banking crisis.

Also, check out Biofuels deathwatch... a fantastic resource from

The costs of constructing those plants should be counted in the balance sheet against biofuels!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bush Lifts Drilling Moratorium, Prodding Congress

What else would they do with all that money but give it to KBR and Halliburton to build deeper and more expensive platforms?

I say we make sure that offshore drilling and Exxon Valdez are never kept out of the same paragraph. They are in fact part of the same exact issue, and people should be reminded of that. Has anyone seen the stories connected in the media? I am going to try to find time to put this into an op-ed.

July 14, 2008

Bush Lifts Drilling Moratorium, Prodding Congress

WASHINGTON — President Bush intends to lift a presidential moratorium on drilling for oil and natural gas on the Outer Continental Shelf, the White House said on Monday, hoping to prod Congress to act to clear the way for exploration along the country’s coastline in response to soaring energy prices.

Mr. Bush will announce the lifting of an executive order, which was first issued by his father in 1990 and was renewed by Bill Clinton, on Monday afternoon in the Rose Garden of the White House, according to Mr. Bush’s press secretary, Dana M. Perino.

By itself, the move will have little impact, because Congress enacted a moratorium in 1982 that remains in place. But the step underscores the rising political pressure to address high oil and
gasoline prices in the middle of an election year.

Mr. Bush telegraphed his intention during his weekly radio address on Saturday, seeking to put the onus on Democrats who have opposed offshore drilling because of environmental concerns.

“One of the factors driving up high gas prices is that many of our oil deposits here in the United States have been put off-limits for exploration and production,” he said then. “Past efforts to meet the demand for oil by expanding domestic resources have been repeatedly rejected by Democrats in Congress.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

speaking of oysters...

A Warning From the Sea
Oyster ’seeds’ are dying as Pacific Coast waters grow warmer.

by Kenneth R. Weiss
QUILCENE, WASH. – For decades, the unwritten motto at shellfish hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest was “Better oysters through science.”0713 01 1

Scientists mated the heartiest, fastest-growing stock to produce
plumper, sweeter oysters for slurping raw on the half-shell or frying up to dip in tangy sauces.

They probed the genetic code to select for the most desirable traits of the Pacific oyster, an import from Japan that now weighs in, pound for pound, as the No. 1 aquacultured crop in the world: 4.5 million tons a year (shells included) valued at $3 billion.

They even bred out sexual organs that at certain times of the year
can take up more than a third of an oyster’s body weight and give it a
soft, mushy texture.

With selective breeding and genetic fingerprinting, they were on
their way to developing a super oyster resistant to summer mortality,
keeping one step ahead of a warmer, more polluted planet. Or so they

Suddenly, oyster research bogged down as a riotous bloom of bacteria
went on a West Coast killing spree, wiping out billions of oyster

The outbreak first shut down an oyster brood stock program run by
Oregon State University in Newport, Ore., in 2005. “All we saw was our
larvae were dying,” said fisheries professor Chris Langdon, “and we
couldn’t put our finger on why.”

Then the microscopic culprit overran commercial hatcheries in
Washington and Oregon, crippling production over the last couple of
years and causing a shortage of oyster “seed” needed to replant
tideland farms from Southern California to Canada.

“It’s pretty scary,” said Sue Cudd, owner of Whiskey Creek Shellfish
Hatchery in Netarts, Ore. The hatchery, she said, has been drowning in
costs and failing to produce sufficient oyster larvae for West Coast
shellfish farmers. “We almost decided to close, and people panicked. I
realized if I go out of business, I take a lot of people with me.”

Science has identified the culprit, a strain of bacteria called Vibrio tubiashii, which is harmless to humans but fatal to baby oysters. It attacks them in their vulnerable, free-swimming larval stage before they settle to the seafloor, latch onto rocks or other oysters and grow thick shells.

The Vibrio blooms appear to be linked to warmer waters in estuaries and the oxygen-starved “dead zones” that have showed up this decade off the coast of Oregon and Washington, researchers said.

These low-oxygen waters correlate with stronger winds coming from a warming planet.

Scientists note that Vibrio tubiashii has an advantage over
other microscopic life in the sea. This bacterium thrives in
oxygen-starved dead zones, feasting on decaying plant and animal matter littering the seafloor. And when brought to the surface with water welling up from the deep, it can switch survival strategies to flourish in warm, well-oxygenated waters.

Researchers were not surprised to find this type of bacteria in
seawater but were stunned that it had become so dominant over other
microbes: It was nearly a pure concentration of this one bacteria, one
that happens to be deadly to oyster larvae.

“It seems to be logical that the dead zone is playing a role,” said
Ralph Elston, who runs a veterinary medical practice in Sequim, Wash.,
that offers advice to shellfish farmers. “It’s the perfect bacterial
setup, and we get these explosive blooms along the coast.”

Edmund Jones removed a pinch of brown silt and smeared it across a
glass slide. Tanks of seawater gurgled in the background. A salty tang
hung in the moist air.

Jones, who manages Taylor Shellfish Farms’ hatchery here on Dabob
Bay, fiddled with a knob, bringing into focus a dozen or more 9-day-old oyster larvae.

He pointed out a few healthy ones, dark round discs scuttling
around, propelled by hair-like cilia. Most didn’t move at all. Light
shined through them, revealing empty insides. They hadn’t been feeding. If they weren’t dead already, they were dying.

“When your job is to grow larvae and you see that on the screen,”
Jones said, “it’s extremely frustrating to see. Unfortunately, what
this tells me is we’ll probably be dumping that tank tomorrow.”

That meant jettisoning 30 million larvae.

Failures of this kind have become so regular that Taylor’s hatchery
is producing less than a quarter of its capacity, far short of what is
needed to reseed its oyster beds or to sell to other shellfish farmers
looking to do the same.

The shortage of oyster seed, or “spat,” will have its greatest
effect in several years, when oyster beds left fallow would otherwise
be ready for harvest. That may set the stage for shortages and economic upheaval in the West Coast’s $110-million-a-year shellfish industry, said Bill Dewey, a division manager at Taylor Shellfish.

“We don’t have the seed to replace these crops you see here,” Dewey
said, standing on a Samish Bay tidal flat in hip-waders, watching a
work crew fill baskets with 4- and 5-year-old oysters.

Shellfish growers, Dewey said, often provide “the first indication
that there’s a problem out there, because the animals we are farming
are telling us that.”

What the dead larvae are saying is that something is wrong with
coastal waters, he said. “Whether it’s climate change” or something
else, he said, “it’s likely something that man has done to our
environment that is creating this problem for us.”

Alan Trimble, a researcher at the University of Washington, has
noticed similar problems in the wild. Sampling seawater in Willapa Bay, Wash., he found that the oyster and clam larvae had disappeared in the last two years from waters where bacteria counts had been high.

Hatchery operators inadvertently pump in the bacteria along with
seawater they use to bathe their infant oysters and grow the green
algae used to feed larvae. The microbes even drift in on the sea
breeze, launched into the air by bubbles bursting at the ocean’s

The shutdown of Oregon State’s experimental hatchery prompted
university officials to develop a multistage filtering system that
blasts seawater with ultraviolet light to kill bacteria, skims the
harmful bacteria’s lingering toxins and then reinoculates the cleaned
water with a healthful balance of microbes.

The Whiskey Creek Hatchery has adopted the same filtering system,
which helped revive half of its larvae production. The hatchery run by
Taylor Shellfish, the largest grower in the country, is experimenting
with similar techniques to get its production going again.

Growers have sought the help of university researchers and asked Congress for emergency funds to look for solutions.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which funds the Molluscan
Broodstock Program at Oregon State’s hatchery, is exploring microbial

Gary Richards, a USDA researcher at the University of Delaware, has
been screening seawater samples to find a virus, or bacteriophage, that would seek out and destroy Vibrio tubiashii. Marine bacteria
often have such natural enemies. An intervention, such as releasing the right “phage,” as they are called, could avoid “an ecological disaster of monumental proportions,” Richards wrote in an e-mail to scientists and hatchery managers.

As filter feeders, shellfish clean seawater of excess algae and
nutrients, maintaining healthy coastal waters. When oysters disappear,
as they did in the Chesapeake Bay, an estuary’s water can turn murky
and foul.

“With the loss of oysters, the water in the Chesapeake became more
turbid, restricting light penetration to plants and sea life, and the
higher nutrient levels made algal blooms more common,” Richards wrote.
“The West Coast needs to avoid this at all cost.”

So scientists like Donal T. Manahan and Dennis Hedgecock at USC,
among others, have spent decades hovering over bubbling tanks of
oysters to improve on nature. They’ve been selecting stocks with more
productive pedigrees that offer the double benefit of cleaning coastal
waters and multiplying the bounty of this gastronomic treat.

“Our hybrids do better than wild oysters,” producing two to three
times more oyster meat per acre of shellfish beds, Hedgecock said. Yet
as the bacterial outbreak reminded them, the first step of any
successful breeding program is to make sure oysters don’t die.

The episode has moved disease resistance to the top of the list of
characteristics researchers want to tease out of the mollusk’s genetic
code, said Langdon, from Oregon State’s hatchery.

“We need to find those oysters that are most resistant to this
bacterium,” he said. “This whole problem has created a new target for
the selective-breeding program.”

Copyright 2008 Los Angeles Times

oil propaganda: "the oysters never had it so good"

a little sunday morning humor...

History Of Oil Propaganda

Friday, July 11, 2008

Innovation Fuels Solar Power Drive

Innovation Fuels Solar Power Drive
Rising Fuel Prices, New Technology Help Make Such Generation Feasible

by Carolyn Y. Johnson

BOSTON - Solar power, which has
been the next big thing on the energy horizon for decades, may finally
be reaching a tipping point.0711 04

Long considered far too expensive to be a viable power source, solar
energy is now benefiting from technological innovation, environmental
concerns and the ever-rising cost of fossil fuels.

In the latest discovery, an MIT team yesterday announced it had
developed a new way to concentrate solar beams, potentially reducing
the cost of solar panels.

But such advances, still far from becoming commercial products, are
only a small part of the forces finally making solar look feasible.
Unlike in the early 1980s, when cheap energy prices helped derail Jimmy
Carter’s ambitions for solar power, today’s technology is getting close
to being cost-competitive with other forms of energy.

“We’re not in a hype cycle,” said Nathan Lewis, a chemistry
professor at the California Institute of Technology. “There’s a lot of
innovation we’re seeing now, regulations guaranteeing a market
expanding for the next decade. . . . If you go to Silicon Valley and
around Route 128, everyone and their brother who used to make computer
chips are now trying to make thin-film solar cells.”

In Massachusetts, the Patrick administration’s Commonwealth Solar
rebate program, implemented in January, is part of a push to increase
the amount of solar energy used from 4 megawatts to 250 megawatts over
the next decade. (By comparison, the Pilgrim nuclear plant has a
generating capacity of nearly 700 megawatts.) A novel program included
in the state’s new energy bill would allow utilities to own solar
panels for the first time.

Solar power has also benefited from competition and from scale, as
more companies begin to get into the business. Evergreen Solar Inc.,
for example, will bring part of its new solar manufacturing plant in
Devens online this month. Lux Research Inc., which follows emerging
technologies, has predicted that the solar industry will grow at nearly
30 percent a year, to reach $71 billion by 2012.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has made investigation of
solar power a priority, with a number of solar-specific initiatives,
including the $10 million Solar Revolution Project this spring, the
Eni-MIT Solar Frontiers Center established this month, and the
MIT-Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems earlier this year.

“Tremendous progress has been made, much higher technical
performance, for much lower cost,” said John Deutch, an MIT Institute
professor who knows something about solar’s troubled trajectory.

Deutch recalls standing in the White House Rose Garden when he
worked for the Department of Energy in 1979, and laying out to
reporters the goal of filling one-fifth of America’s energy needs with
solar power by 2000. Instead, he has watched, over the past three
decades, as the portion of energy created by solar has remained at less
than 1 percent.

Still, he says, today’s situation “is not at all comparable to 1979.”

Lewis said it is not clear whether solar technology will become
mainstream through incremental improvements or whether it will take a
transformative new technology.

Still, one thing people underestimate, he said, is the scale of the
problem, which includes not just the cost of the technology, but the
challenge to manufacture and deploy new energy infrastructure. Imagine,
for starters, having to add solar panels to thousands of rooftops every
day for a decade. Because of the massive size of the energy
marketplace, solar energy will not replace significant amounts of
fossil fuels in the near future. But that also presents a huge
opportunity for any company that gets solar right.

Jonathan Mapel, an author of the new MIT study in the Journal of
Science, is cofounding Covalent Solar, a company that hopes to take
advantage of that by developing cheaper, more efficient solar panels.

“The question is, can you make a better solar panel that you can put
on somebody’s roof?” Mapel said. “The two things that matter are: You
want more power output, and you want to pay less for it.”

The work by Mapel and others could potentially do both, by using a
simple trick that makes more efficient use of sunlight and uses fewer
costly solar cells.

Solar cells are made from different materials that each operate most
efficiently when using light from a narrow band of wavelengths. By
filtering the light through a pane of glass coated with dye, Mapel and
his colleagues have been able to direct some light to solar cells that
can use it most efficiently. Those cells are placed on the edge of the
pane, requiring far fewer solar cells than if they were placed along
the surface as on conventional panels.

The remaining light passes through the pane and, if placed on a conventional solar panel, can be converted to electricity.

The researchers found that their setup increased the efficiency of
traditional panels by about 20 percent, but they believe that with a
little more tweaking, they can boost that to 50 percent.

Allen Barnett, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at
the University of Delaware, said that beyond such basic research to
improve efficiency, the industry has already reached a turning point
and is set to shift the way people use energy.

“The parallel is microelectronics,” Barnett said. “Microelectronics
started out in big universities, now they are in laptops, cellphones,
microelectronic chips all over your home. People think of solar as
replacing a coal-fired power plant; it’s really different. . . . It is
a new way to use electricity and use energy.”

© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Real Solutions to the Global Food Crisis

A Women’s Declaration to the G8: Support Real Solutions to the Global Food Crisis



Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda (Japan)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Canada)
President Nicolas Sarkozy (France)
Chancellor Angela Merkel (Germany)
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (Italy)
President Dmitry Medvedev (Russia)
Prime Minister Gordon Brown (United Kingdom)
President George Bush (United States)

This year, the world’s eight richest governments (the G8) meet
against the backdrop of a global food crisis. With prices for all major
food commodities at a 50-year-high, world leaders are discussing
pervasive “food shortages” that threaten to destabilize dozens of
countries. But worsening hunger is the result of cost inflation, not
any absolute food shortage. In fact, the world produces more food than the global population can consume.

The root cause of the food crisis is not scarcity, but the failed
economic policies long championed by the G8, namely, trade
liberalization and industrial agriculture. These policies, which treat
food as a commodity rather than a human right, have induced chaotic
climate change, oil dependency, and the depletion of the Earth’s land
and water resources as well as today’s food crisis.

Yet, in the search for solutions, the G8 is considering expanded
support for the very measures that caused this web of problems. Calls
for more tariff reductions, biofuel plantations, genetically modified
crops, and wider use of petroleum-based fertilizers and chemical
pesticides are at the forefront of discussions in Japan.

These measures cannot resolve the global food crisis. They may, however, further boost this year’s record profits for agricultural corporations. There are viable solutions to the food
crisis, but they will not emerge from a narrow pursuit of the financial
interests of multinational corporations.

For nearly 30 years, the G8 has insisted that corporations replace
governments in shaping and implementing national agriculture policies
in the world’s poorest countries. This demand has not maximized
efficiency or reduced poverty, as promised. In fact, it has ushered in a sharp rise in hunger and malnutrition. As the World Bank itself acknowledged in its 2008 World Development Report, the private sector has failed as a substitute for government when it comes to agriculture.

In fact, corporations have no legal duty to reduce poverty or fight
world hunger. Governments, including the G8-and not the private
sector-are the ones mandated to resolve the global food crisis. The international human rights framework,
which governments are obligated to uphold, is the starting point for a
global New Deal on agriculture. In particular, the human rights of
small farmers-the majority of whom are women-and rural and Indigenous
Peoples must be protected in order to meet the twin challenges of
feeding people and protecting the planet.

As women’s human rights advocates working with communities on the
front-lines of the global food crisis, we call on the G8 to promote a
worldwide shift from industrial to sustainable agriculture and to enact
the economic policies needed to support this transition.

The Imperative of Sustainable Agriculture

In April 2008, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology (IAASTD) released an independent, four-year study
conducted by over 400 experts. The study was co-sponsored by the World
Bank and multiple agencies of the United Nations and endorsed by over
60 governments. It confirms that large-scale, chemical-intensive
agriculture is a major contributor to pollution, climate change,
deforestation, social inequity, and the destruction of diversity, both
biological and cultural. The study urges a fundamental overhaul of
agricultural policy towards sustainable farming, including small-scale
and organic agriculture.

The IAASTD report follows numerous other credible studies
demonstrating that small-holder organic farms can produce enough food
for the global population and avoid the environmental destruction
associated with industrial agriculture.

We emphasize that support for small farmers must include a focus on
women, who produce most of the world’s food. Indeed, in much of Africa,
where the food crisis is at its worst, women grow and process 80
percent of all food.

However, the capacity of these farmers is badly undermined by laws
and customs that discriminate against women. In many countries, women
who grow the food that sustains the majority of the population are not
even recognized as farmers. They are denied the right to own land and
excluded from government programs that facilitate access to credit,
seeds, tools, and training.

We call on the G8 to:

  • Recognize gender discrimination as a threat to global food security;
  • Uphold the rights of agricultural workers under the International Labor Organization’s Conventions;
  • Support national policies that provide small-scale farmers with
    access to land, seeds, water, credit and other inputs and that uphold
    the rights of farmers to make informed decisions about land use and
    food production.

The Imperative of Sustainable Economic Policies

A global New Deal on agriculture requires not only different modes
of farming, but a new policy environment for food production and
agricultural trade. National policies, including investment, funding,
and research, as well as international trade rules, must be redirected
in support of small farmers and sustainable agriculture. Towards that
end, the G8 should:

1. End Food Dependency

The G8, through the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, has
required developing countries to reduce support to small farmers, cut
investment in food production, slash tariffs that protected domestic
agriculture, dismantle the marketing boards that once stabilized food
prices, and shift land use from food production to export agriculture.

Developing countries were forced to accept these demands as
conditions for loans needed to repay their debts to the financial
institutions, development banks, and governments of the North. Yet, it
is the G8 itself which is largely responsible for the debt crisis,
brought on by massive lending to illegitimate regimes and decades of
costly, ill-conceived development projects.

The economic policies demanded by the G8 have destroyed the
livelihoods of small farmers in the Global South, leaving millions of
people at the mercy of international commodity markets to be able to
buy food. The shift from food to cash crops has meant that women, who
are responsible for growing food, have lost access to valuable farm
land. As a result, rural families have lost a main source of food and

Economic policies driven by the G8 eventually transformed
food-producing countries in the Global South into net food importers.
In the 1960’s, developing countries enjoyed an agricultural trade
surplus of US $7 billion a year. Today, almost three out of four developing countries are net food importers, although they have the capacity to feed themselves.

We call on the G8 to:

  • Move beyond the partial commitment it made to debt cancellation at
    the 2005 G8 summit in Scotland and enact immediate and unconditional
    debt cancellation for all developing countries;
  • Allow governments to determine their own agricultural policies in consultation with citizens;
  • Institute international mechanisms for market stabilization that
    protect the livelihoods of farmers and guarantee affordable food for
    all people;
  • Endorse the call of Jacques Diouf, Secretary General of the United
    Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, for developing countries to
    be enabled to achieve food self-sufficiency.

2. Change Trade Rules

Trade rules demanded by the G8 and administered by the World Trade
Organization have bankrupted millions of farmers in poor countries,
undermined the role of women in agriculture, and contributed to the
current food crisis.

The World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Agriculture forbids
governments in the Global South from providing farmers with subsidies
or low-cost seeds and other inputs. These farmers have been turned into
a “market” for international agribusiness companies selling seeds,
pesticides and fertilizers.

Women, who are traditionally responsible for conserving, exchanging,
and breeding agricultural seeds, are threatened by the WTO’s Trade
Related Intellectual Property Rights agreement. By granting patents to
corporations, the WTO transfers ownership of seeds-the basis of all
agriculture-from women farmers to multinational corporations.

The WTO has allowed wealthy countries to subsidize corporate farming
by $1 billion a day. The subsidies enable companies based in the Global
North to sell food internationally at a price below the cost of
production. Recently, British International Development Secretary
Douglas Alexander estimated that subsidies to Northern agribusiness
cost farmers in the Global South $100 billion a year in lost income because small farmers cannot compete with the subsidized cost of imported food.

We call on the G8 to:

  • Recognize that food is first and foremost a human right and only secondarily a tradable commodity;
  • Support a process for an international Convention to replace the
    WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture. Such a Convention must uphold the full
    range of human rights standards and should implement the concept of
    food sovereignty, whereby communities control their own food systems;
  • Respect the rights of small farmers to save and exchange seeds between communities and internationally;
  • Initiate a conversion of national agricultural subsidies from
    support for agribusiness to incentives for sustainable farming,
    including small-scale and organic farms.

These demands reflect the rights and priorities of the world’s food
producers, in particular, rural women, who are directly responsible for
feeding most of the world’s people.

Central to our policy proposals is the understanding that global
challenges regarding food, climate change and natural resource
depletion are interrelated and must be resolved together. Policies that
seek to solve one aspect of the problem by deepening another will only
worsen the crisis as a whole. We see this dynamic in the US and
European Union decision to subsidize the conversion of food crops into
biofuels: the move to address energy demands at the expense of food
needs has greatly exacerbated the current food crisis.

We urge the G8 to ground integrated solutions to the food crisis in
the framework of human rights. That framework, rather than further
pursuit of corporate profits, has the strongest potential to yield
policies that can resolve the global food crisis in tandem with the
other urgent issues of climate change and development being addressed
by the G8.


Vivian Stromberg

Rose Cunningham
Wangki Tangni Women’s Center

Adriana Gonzalez

Sandra Gonzalez Maldonado
Comité de Trabajadoras de la Maquila Bárcenas; Women Workers’ Committee

Anne Sosin
KOFAVIV - Komisyon Fanm Viktim pou Viktim; The Commission of Women Victims for Victims

slave labor in the USA

Pennies a Bucket Don’t End Slavery for Florida Pickers

by Pierre Tristam

Reggie Brown was upset. As executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, he was before a U.S. Senate committee in April to dispute charges of slavery and human trafficking leveled at tomato growers by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, what Brown called “a purported labor organization.” There’s nothing “purported” about the South Florida-based organization ( other than the status of its mostly Latino, Haitian, and Mayan Indian
membership of migrants. Their employers often don’t consider them quite human. More like purported human beings.

They pay them accordingly. Assuming the picker gets work during the
morning auction where growers pick their field hands for the day (the
same cattle-auction method showed on Edward Murrow’s “Harvest of Shame”
documentary 48 years ago), the picker, until recently, was making 45
cents per 32-lb bucket of tomatoes. The rate was little changed from
what it was 30 years ago. Taking inflation into account, the wage was
75 percent lower than in 1978. To make Florida’s minimum wage of $6.79
an hour, the picker would have had to pick and haul 15 32-lb buckets in
an hour, or 480 pounds. To make $50 for the day, he’d have to pick and
haul 111 buckets, or 3,550 pounds of tomatoes. That’s 1.77 tons.

It took two years and mediation by the Carter Center to convince
McDonald’s in 2007 to pay pickers 1 penny more per pound. It took
another year to convince Burger King to do the same (that agreement was
reached in late May), after Burger King had hired spies to infiltrate a
student organization backing the pickers. Burger King said the extra
penny will cost the company an extra $300,000 a year. One of the three
equity firms that control most of Burger King’s stock is Godlman Sachs
Capital Partners. That company’s CEO is Lloyd C. Blankfein. His total
compensation in 2007, according to the Securities and Exchange
Commission, was $70.3 million, or about $300,000 a day in a 235-day
work-year. In other words, giving the 10,000 tomato pickers in Florida
their first raise in 30 years works out to the equivalent of a single
day’s compensation for just one CEO in Burger King’s shareholder
food-chain. And they’re calling that a victory for the tomato pickers.
Don’t count on it.

Before the raise, the typical Florida tomato farmworker earned from
$10,000 to $12,500 a year, right around poverty-line territory, or what
Brown termed even then “competitive wages” in his Senate testimony. But
wait. The cost of the trip to and from work is deducted from the
picker’s paycheck. So is the cost of food and housing. Debts add up
quickly. Contractors love indebted workers. It indentures them. For
those undocumented workers who got to the United States by paying a
smuggling fee, they have that debt to pay off, too. “We used to own our
slaves,” one Florida farmer told Murrow in 1960. “Now we just rent
them.” Nothing has changed.

The raise may improve matters slightly. But not if the Florida
Tomato Growers Exchange, which controls 90 percent of the state’s
tomato picking market, has its way. McDonald’s buys barely 1.5 percent
of Florida’s tomato crop, Burger King a bit more. Brown in his Senate
testimony fretted about the legal problems of differentiating between
tomatoes picked for those companies and tomatoes picked for other
buyers: “The critical fact is that no one can identify which worker
should receive an additional payment, nor can the correct payment be
calculated.” Of course it can. The Growers Exchange can be the agent
that sets the higher 77 cent-per-bucket rate (let alone the more just
$1-a-bucket rate) regardless of who’s buying the product. But “given
the fact that the growers are not mandated to participate in the
extra-penny program,” Brown concluded, “and based on the facts as we
know them, it would not be rational, reasonable or in the best interest
of the growers to join the program.” Translation to pickers: Human
rights have nothing to do with the bottom line, so good luck getting
your higher wages.

Still, Reggie Brown was upset. “It is outrageous to have slavery
happening in Florida or in any other state. However, charges that
tomato growers have enslaved workers are false and defamatory,” he
said. “On numerous occasions, we have asked for any evidence that would
substantiate these allegations against growers of Florida tomatoes and
have received none.” He’s right about growers. But growers hire crew
chiefs and bosses to insulate themselves from lawbreaking beneath their
own nose. In two cases in 1999, 10 individuals in Florida were
sentenced to prison for enslaving farmworkers — including the
enslavement of women and girls in brothels. In August 2001, a Fort
Pierce crew leader was sentenced to four years in prison on enslavement
charges. Last year a farm labor boss in East Palatka got 30 years in
prison for scamming homeless people into working for him (with booze
and crack) and indebting them.

On Jan. 17, the Justice Department announced the indictment of six
Immokalee contractors: “According to the 17-count indictment, Cesar
Navarrete and Geovanni Navarrete beat, threatened, restrained and
locked workers in trucks to force them to work for them as agricultural
laborers. The defendants underpaid the workers and imposed escalating
debts on them, threatening physical harm if workers left their
employment before their debts had been repaid.” When it comes to
Florida’s farmworkers, you wouldn’t know that 2007 marked the 200th
anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. Raise or no raise.

Pierre Tristam is a News-Journal editorial writer. Reach him at or through his personal Web site at

© 2008 The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Framing and values: Is Obama's shift to the right a good move?

The Mind and the Obama Magic

by George Lakoff

Barack Obama should not be moving toward right-wing views on issues — even with nuanced escape clauses. Arianna Huffington, Paul Krugman and the NY Times Editorial Page all agree, for various reasons. I agree as well, for many of the same reasons, as well as important reasons that go beyond even excellent political commentary. My reasons have to do with results in the cognitive and brain sciences, as discussed in my recent book, The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st Century Politics with an 18th Century Brain.

But before I get into the details, it is important to get a sense of why Obama might be “moving to the Right.” There are at least two possibilities. The first is for political expediency. The second is to reassure voters that he is a responsible leader, not a crazy radical. Let’s start with the first possibility — expediency, the one assumed by most observers.

The Political Expediency Argument

The usual political wisdom is (1) voters vote on the basis of positions on issues, (2) there is a left-to-right spectrum of voters defined by positions on issues, (3) most voters are in the “center.” Polls are constructed to appear consistent with this tripartite hypothesis. The Dick Morris strategy, based on this hypothesis, says: if a Democrat moves the Right, he will get more votes because he will “take away” the other side’s issues. If Obama and his advisors believe this, then the more they more to the Right, the bigger their win should be. But all three hypotheses are false, and so is the conclusion based on it.

First, voters mostly vote not on the details of positions on issues, but on five aspects of what might be called “character,” as Richard Wirthlin discovered in the 1980 Reagan campaign. (pdf) They are Values (What are the ethical principles that form the basis of your politics?); Authenticity (Do you say what you believe?); Communication (Do you connect with voters and inspire them?); Judgment; Trust; and Identity (If you share voters’ values, connect with them, tell them the truth effectively while inspiring trust, then they will identify with you — and they will voter for you. Positions on issues matter when they come to stand symbolically for values. Reagan and George W. Bush understood this. Carter, Mondale, Gore, and Kerry did not. And in the primaries. Hillary Clinton did not get it (she focused on policy, while Obama and McCain focused more on character, on who he was).

Values, authenticity, communication, judgment, and trust are not irrational reasons for voting for a president, even over positions on specific issues. The reason is that situations change, and what you rationally wind up depending on are just those virtues.

Obama introduced himself to the primary voters not as a policy wonk, but as a person of character, who announced his values, said what he believed (no pussyfooting), communicated beautifully and powerfully, and gave examples of his good judgment–he was someone you could trust and identify with. That was a major part of the Obama magic. If Obama even appears to adopt Right-wing views for the sake of getting more votes, he will appear to be giving up on his values, renouncing his authenticity and believability, clouding his judgment, and raising questions about whether he can be trusted. The Obama magic will be in danger of fading.

Let us now turn to the second reason. There are two major modes of thought in American politics — conservative and progressive, what I’ve called “strict” and “nurturant.” We all grow up with brains exposed to both and capable of using both, but usually in different areas of life. Some people are conservative on foreign policy and progressive on domestic policy, or conservative on economic issues and progressive on social issues–or the reverse. There is no left-to-right linear spectrum; all kinds of combinations occur. I’ve called such folks “biconceptuals.” Brainwise, they show a common situation called “mutual inhibition,” where two modes of thought are possible but the activation of one inhibits the other. The more you activate a conservative mode of thought, the more you inhibit the progressive mode of thought — and the more likely it is that the conservative mode of thought will spread to other issues.

Interestingly, many people who call themselves “conservatives” actually think like progressives on a range of issue areas. For example, many “conservatives” love the land as much as any environmentalist; want to live in communities where people care about each other, that is, have social not just individual responsibility; live progressive business principles of honesty, care for their employees, and care for the public; and have progressive religious values: helping the poor, caring for the sick, being good stewards of the God’s creation, turning the other cheek. One view of “bipartisanship” for progressives is finding self-described conservatives and independents who have such progressive values and working with them on that basis. That’s what Obama did when he went to Rick Warren’s megachurch and it is his strategy in Project Joshua. Note that this is the opposite of the form of bipartisanship that involves really adopting right-wing values, or even appearing to. What this bipartisan strategy does, from the brain’s viewpoint, is to activate the progressive mode of thought in the brains of conservatives, and thus tends to inhibit conservative thought.

But the form of bipartisanship that involves adopting, or appearing to adopt, right-wing views has the opposite effect. It strengthens conservative thought in the brains on those biconceptuals and weakens progressive thought. In short, it actually helps conservatives. Rather than “taking arguments away from them” it strengthens their basic values and hence all their arguments. It give conservatives more reason, not less, for voting for conservatives.

If Obama adopts, or appears to adopt, right-wing positions, he may still win, since McCain is such a weak candidate. But it will hurt Democrats running for office all up and down the ticket, since it will strengthen general conservative positions on all issues and hence work in the favor of conservative candidates.

As has often been said, if you are a conservative, why vote for the progressive spouting conservative views when you can vote for a real conservative?

In short, if Obama adopts, or appears to adopt, right-wing views, he will not only hurt himself, but also hurt other Democrats.

The Responsibility Position

Suppose that Obama’s motivation is not political expediency, but rather an attempt to counter both right-wing and centrist stereotypes of progressives as being irresponsible.

Adopting, or appearing to adopt, right-wing positions is not going to work, and will only hurt, for reasons given above. What is the alternative?

In The Audacity of Hope, Obama portrays what I would call progressive ideals as simply American ideals, and he continued that account throughout the primary campaign. I think it is a correct account. And I think it is the key to uniting the country without adopting right-wing views. From this perspective, responsibility and the strength and judgment to act responsibly works with empathy (caring about other people) to define the basic American ideals: freedom, fairness, equality, opportunity, and so on. One can speak from this perspective of “full responsibility” both social and individual as central to the American vision, and they say what it means to be both responsible and committed to American ideals in each issue area. Moving to right-wing views, and abandoning American ideals, is never necessary to win.

A Final Word on Nuanced Escape Clauses

When Obama ran for Senator in Illinois he had to at least appear to support Illinois industries — coal, ethanol, and nuclear energy. He has used nuanced escape clauses, such as if it turns out to be economically feasible, while aware that sequestered coal, corn ethanol, and nuclear could not be economically feasible. Is this good politics? It may have been for a new senator, but it is not for a president. The reason again is that doing so activates a conservative mode of thought and inhibits a progressive mode of thought, making the move to real alternative energy that much harder.

Positions like this depend on a deep mistake about policy. There are two aspects to policy: cognitive and material. Material policy is about the nuts and bolts, how things are to work in the world. Cognitive policy is about what the public has to have in its brain/mind in order to fully support the right material policies. Coal, nuclear energy, and ethanol are policy disasters, and even giving them phony support with nuanced escape clauses hurts the possibility of real energy reform, but it activates, and hence strengthens, the conservative modes of thought that lie behind those proposals.

Can You Avoid Attacks?

No. No matter how many right-wing views you move toward, you will be viciously attacked as too liberal, as influenced by radicals, as inexperienced, as unpatriotic, as all words and no content. Stick to your core values. Be yourself. Voters will respect you.

Why Understanding the Political Mind Matters

Politics looks different from the perspective of the cognitive and brain sciences. That is why I have written The Political Mind. Your arguments change when you start with how the brain and mind really work.

From the brain’s perspective, the pragmatic arguments and moral arguments converge: Don’t adopt right-wing positions for the sake of political expediency (that will backfire) or to demonstrate responsibility (that too will backfire). The best way to be expedient is to be authentic, stick to your core values, show and discuss responsibility, and thus garner trust. That is how to lead our nation, and to do so responsibly and toward fulfillment of its ideals.

George Lakoff is the author of The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 20th Century American Politics with an 18th Century Brain. He is Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley.

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