Archive for September, 2008

Bags packed for doomsday

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

– I’ve been on for sometime about New Zealand, as any long term reader of this Blog knows.   Indeed, my wife and I have secured resident visas for NZ as a sort of insurance policy.  

– This means that we now have the permanent right to live there, if we want to for the rest of our lives.  And, we may well do so when we’re ready to retire. 

– If the world begins to crumble as a result of the numerous threats that I an others have detailed, then moving there will certainly look like a good move.

– We’re not the only folks to think so.   I came across a reference to the article, below, on a friend’s Blog and I found it interesting reading, indeed.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Is the end really, finally nigh? And if it is, what are you going to do about it? John McCrone meets some South Islanders who are getting ready for the end of the world as we know it.

The ‘twin tsunamis’ of global warming and peak oil could spell TEOTWAWKI – the end of the world as we know it – and already, quietly, some people are getting prepared because they believe we are talking years rather than decades.

Helen, a petite 42-year-old Nelson housewife, is racing to build her own personal TEOTWAWKI lifeboat.

Earlier this year, she and her American husband cashed-up  to buy a 21ha farm in a remote, easily defensible, river valley backing onto the Arthur Range, north-west of Nelson.

The site ticks the right boxes. Way above sea level. Its own spring and stream. Enough winter sun. A good mix of growing areas. A sprinkling of neighbouring farms strung along the valley’s winding dirt-track road.

The digger was to arrive this week to carve out the platform for an adobe eco-house. A turbine in the stream will generate power. A composting toilet will deal with sewage.

Then there is the stuff that could really get her labelled as a crank (and why she would prefer to remain relatively anonymous, at least until she is completely set up). Back at her rented house in Nelson, Helen shows the growing collection of horse-drawn ploughs, wheat grinders, treadle sewing machines and other rusting relics of the pre-carbon era, she believes she will need the day the petrol pumps finally run dry.  here is the library of yellowing books from colonial times, telling how to make your own soap, spin candlewicks, care for clydesdale horses.


– research thanks to Brian C.

Record drop in the Dow today

Monday, September 29th, 2008

– I’m really surprised that anyone who calls themselves a Republican dares to even show their face out of doors after this mess.   ‘The party of Deregulation’, ‘the party of free markets’.   Yow, the party that finally destroyed the country be removing all the bars to greedy behavior.

– There are a couple of posts out there today that I want to reference.  They catch the flavor of where we are right now, in my opinion.

– First , here’s a bit from James Kunstler’s Cluster Fuck Nation Blog.  I always love his analysis and his ability to scathe the ground down to bedrock.

The big effort of Mr. Paulson and his working group has been to ram through legislation that at all costs avoids any attempt to place a reality-based value on this bad debt. He managed it by holding a gun to Congress’s collective head, telling them in plain English that a genuine “work-out” of these “toxic” investments would set in motion a fatal cascade of credit default swaps which would leave the entire banking landscape a smoldering wasteland — with the result that virtually every retirement account and pension fund would go up in a vapor, the Federal Reserve and the FDIC would melt away to twin piles of goo, scores of millions of lives would be ruined, and the USA would be left a basket case among nations, making us envy even the fate of Haiti and Zimbabwe. Talk like that might prompt a congress-person to do any fool thing.

– More of this…

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

– And then there’s what I might call “The school of the other shoe dropping“.  

– Oh, there have been many dire predictions and a lot of scoffing.    Followed, at some point later, by a glowing crater where the issue in question used to be.  

– Remember, just a few weeks ago the statements coming out of WaMu about how healthy they were and how there was no doubt that they could weather the storm?   Right.

– So here’s a story I’ve been watching for a week or more now.   Little murmurings about the slight (oh, really – just very small) possibility that the Hedge Funds might be the next part of the market to crater.  

– See what you think.  Here’s Kevin Drum, who is now with Mother Jones:

HEDGE FUND WATCH….The end of the third quarter is nearly upon us, and hedge fund managers are feeling nervous:

Even as Washington reached a tentative agreement on Sunday over what may become the largest financial bailout in American history, new worries were building inside the nearly $2 trillion world of hedge funds. After years of explosive growth, losses are mounting — and so are concerns that some investors will head for the exits.

….The big worry is that a spate of hurried sales could unleash a vicious circle within the hedge fund industry, with the sales leading to more losses, and those losses leading to more withdrawals, and so on. A big test will come on Tuesday, when many funds are scheduled to accept withdrawal requests for the end of the year.

“Everybody’s watching for redemptions,” said James McKee, director of hedge fund research at Callan Associates, a consulting firm in San Francisco. “And there could be a cascading effect, where redemptions cause other redemptions.”

The article says optimistically that “No one expects a wholesale flight from hedge funds.” But no one ever does, do they?

– To the original…

– Yep.  I don’t think we’ve seen the end of this yet.   And I say that after the worst one-day drop the Dow has ever seen.

– I wonder what the odds are of the Republicans getting the White House again?   One would hope that the odds are slim after this fiasco.  But then this country seems to be populated with a very large number of mostly clueless people who disdain intellectualism, science, reason, and common sense.  So, who knows?

Silence over suffering is deafening

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

We often read stories of India’s economic miracle, its IT revolution and its Bollywood culture. We’re keen to do business with India, and Indian migrants are regarded as highly skilled and hard-working.

Australia is even considering selling uranium to India, presuming its status as the world’s biggest democracy makes its nuclear programme less dangerous than that of Iran or Pakistan.

But what about human rights? We so often implement double standards when determining how human rights might affect our international relations.

The experiences of India’s religious minorities have generally been ignored by Western Governments and commentators.

India’s majority faith is Hinduism, an inherently pacifist and tolerant religion. Notwithstanding the caste system, Hindu societies have traditionally practised liturgical and doctrinal pluralism.

Yet indigenous Indian faiths also include Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism. Indian independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi, a deeply religious man, borrowed freely from all Indian religious traditions.

Gandhi’s vision was of a truly civilised and democratic India which zealously protected its minorities. He fought not only the British Raj but also communal extremists who incited bloodshed between religious communities. His assassination occurred at the hands of extremists of his own Hindu faith. In recent decades, these forces have re-emerged in mainstream Indian politics.


The methane time bomb

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Arctic scientists discover new global warming threat as melting permafrost releases millions of tons of a gas 20 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

The first evidence that millions of tons of a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere from beneath the Arctic seabed has been discovered by scientists.

The Independent has been passed details of preliminary findings suggesting that massive deposits of sub-sea methane are bubbling to the surface as the Arctic region becomes warmer and its ice retreats.

Underground stores of methane are important because scientists believe their sudden release has in the past been responsible for rapid increases in global temperatures, dramatic changes to the climate, and even the mass extinction of species. Scientists aboard a research ship that has sailed the entire length of Russia’s northern coast have discovered intense concentrations of methane – sometimes at up to 100 times background levels – over several areas covering thousands of square miles of the Siberian continental shelf.

In the past few days, the researchers have seen areas of sea foaming with gas bubbling up through “methane chimneys” rising from the sea floor. They believe that the sub-sea layer of permafrost, which has acted like a “lid” to prevent the gas from escaping, has melted away to allow methane to rise from underground deposits formed before the last ice age.


– None of this is new.  But, it is getting closer.

– See: , , , , and

Long-term Global Food Crisis Looms: Experts Urge Immediate Action

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Declining agricultural productivity and continued growing demand have brought the world food situation to a crossroads. Failure to act now through a wholesale reinvestment in agriculture—including research into improved technologies, infrastructure development, and training and education of agricultural scientists and trainers—could lead to a long-term crisis that makes the price spikes of 2008 seem a mere blip.

This stark warning, in line with calls from organizations such as the World Bank, the World Food Program, and Asian Development Bank (ADB), was issued by members of the Board of Trustees (BOT) of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) following their meeting on 16-19 September at Institute headquarters in Los Baños, Philippines.

The global community needs to remember two key things,” said BOT Chair Elizabeth Woods. “First, that growth in agricultural productivity is the only way to ensure that people have access to enough affordable food. Second, that achieving this is a long-term effort. A year or two of extra funding for agricultural research is not enough. To ensure that improved technologies flow from the research and development pipeline, a sustained re-investment in agriculture is crucial.”


Political Views Affect Firms’ Corporate Social Responsibility, Study Finds

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

A new study in The Financial Review establishes a relationship between political beliefs of corporate stakeholders and the corporate social responsibility (CSR) of their firms. Companies with a high CSR rating tend to be located in Democratic states, while companies with a low CSR rating tend to be located in Republican states.

Amir Rubin of Simon Fraser University analyzed the 2004 presidential election results of communities in which corporate headquarters are located. The results from the election provide relevant data to analyze the correlation between political views of individual communities and the CSR ratings of firms located in those communities.

Results show that firms with high CSR ratings are more likely to be located in states with Democratic majorities, and firms with low CSR ratings are more likely to be located in states with Republican majorities.

Corporate executives tend to reside near a firm’s headquarters. It seems logical that corporate decision makers would align their policies with the views of their stakeholders in order to reduce conflict and create value for the firm.

“The study provides evidence that is consistent with political views playing a role in corporate decision making,” Rubin concludes. “Even though political views affect corporate decisions, they represent an important part of the drive to maximize firm value.”

To the original…

Political views ‘all in the mind’

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

Scientists studying voters in the US say our political views may be an integral part of our physical makeup.

Their research, published in the journal Science, indicates that people who are sensitive to fear or threat are likely to support a right wing agenda.

Those who perceived less danger in a series of images and sounds were more inclined to support liberal policies.

The authors believe their findings may help to explain why voters’ minds are so hard to change.

In the study, conducted in Nebraska, 46 volunteers were first asked about their political views on issues ranging from foreign aid and the Iraq war to capital punishment and patriotism.

Those with strong opinions were invited to take part in the second part of the experiment, which involved recording their physiological responses to a series of images and sounds.

The images included pictures of a frightened man with a large spider on his face and an open wound with maggots in it. The subjects were also startled with loud noises on occasion.

Conducting experiments

By measuring the electrical conductance of the volunteers’ skin and their blink responses, the scientists were able to work out the degree of fear they were experiencing – how sensitive they were to the images and sounds.

They found that subjects who were more easily startled tended to have political views that would be classified as more right wing, being more in favour of capital punishment and higher defence spending, but opposed to abortion rights.


Republican Government Announces New Socialist Corporate Bailout

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

– An excellent and sharp edged bit of writing from The Sietch Blog:

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

Thats right, the unthinkable (if you are a free market republican) has happened. The REPUBLICANS after years of steadily chopping away regulation after regulation seem to be super surprised that in a market that has no laws, or rules, or even guide lines….crazy greed induced meltdown has occurred. Let me be the first to say…DUH!

It doesn’t take a mental giant to realize that people will get away with what they can. Because the Bush administration has been so lax in it’s oversight of financial markets (I will lump in the republican congress that went along with him for most of the last 8 years, and even sprinkle a little blame on the Democrats who have only been in power for the last 2) that the fox left to guard the hen house has long since eaten all the chickens.

Here is a two minute history lesson. After the great depression, FDR and a bunch of other “liberals” put into place a bunch of laws to make it impossible for the banking world, and the finacial markets to get too cozy. As soon as the gavel struck on the supreme courts desk giving Bush the win in 2000 those rules began to be attacked (to be fair Regan and Bush 1 did their best to kill as many of them as they could as well). 8 years later, we have no rules, and an economic shit storm.

So in essence, every single splinter of the conservative plank has fallen apart. Economically, ecologically, diplomatically, constitutionally, socially, every single thing they stand for has been proven WRONG by the events on the ground.

More… (and well worth reading)

Food prices ‘help tip 75 million into hunger’

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Rising food prices are partly to blame for adding 75 million more people to the ranks of the world’s hungry in 2007 and lifting the global figure to roughly 925 million, the UN’s food agency says.

Jacques Diouf, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), presented the figure to Italy’s parliament ahead of the release of an official report on Thursday.

The latest data further distances the international community from reaching UN Millennium Development Goals that include halving hunger and poverty by 2015.

Diouf estimated that 850 million people were hungry before the 2007-2008 spike in food prices, which sparked widespread protests and even riots in the most affected nations.

The FAO hosted a food crisis summit in Rome in June to discuss ways to combat high food prices, blamed on poor harvests, high oil costs, biofuels and rising demand for basic staple crops, especially from fast-growing Asian countries.


How Financial Madness Overtook Wall Street

Friday, September 19th, 2008

– This is a great read from Time Magazine – highly recommended.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

If you’re having a little trouble coping with what seems to be the complete unraveling of the world’s financial system, you needn’t feel bad about yourself. It’s horribly confusing, not to say terrifying; even people like us, with a combined 65 years of writing about business, have never seen anything like what’s going on. Some of the smartest, savviest people we know — like the folks running the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board — find themselves reacting to problems rather than getting ahead of them. It’s terra incognita, a place no one expected to visit.


-research thanks to John P.