Saturday, February 18, 2012

Day two of the Camden Conference

Nicholas Burns talked about the following things:
The 4 categories of power:
1) Political Power
2) Military Power
3) Smart Power, also known as soft power.
(our ideals and values are the major components of soft power)
4) Economic Power.
-This one is the most important of the four powers. The state of the US economy is currently a drag on our economic power

Governor Pete Du Pont used the following quotes I found to be inspiring and interesting:

"No government can be all things to all people, nor can it be or will it be."
"American's are ready for the new class warfare. The battle lines are drawn for these times"

He believes that cost of post-secondary school is too high, but also that the government should not get involved with issues of pricing college education.

He also said that China's growing middle class is good for production in the USA.

Clyde Prestowitz spoke on:
Agrees that economic power is the most important.
Explained why some major companies are building factories in China. China provides major incentives for US companies to come and bring jobs there, as well as severe disincentives to not do so -- veiled or unspoken threats to exclude us from their markets. They may also force US companies to provide intellectual capital as part of the deal, or simply steal it.

Amory Lovin said the following:
"What if energy could do our work without doing our undoing."
"We must leave oil before it leaves us."

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson:
"We have militarized the decision making process"
That, just as less than one percent are millionaires, less then one percent of the US population serve in our armed forces and are put in harm's way. Many of these people come either from small towns or the inner city.

Captain Wayne Porter and Colonel Mark Mykleby explained the origin and inspiration for the "Y Article":

That we live in an ecological system.
We live in an open system but we as humans view it as a closed system.
That they want the US citizenry to become more active and to fulfill the moral obligation put forth by the preamble of the Constitution.
These are 3 key action items they recommend:
1) Education
2) Security as well as broader definition like free of diseases and negative thoughts.
3) Renewable resources:
Food systems and agriculture.
Water conservation
Sustainable energy

Some impressive speakers and a personal vindication

The one full day of the Conference is now over and I can provide a brief personal report: The speakers were all excellent, but I for one was especially impressed with Clyde Prestowitz, Amory Lovins, and the "Mr Y" authors Colonel Mykleby and Captain Porter.

It's rare in conference-going that a whole day of speakers are all so good.

My particular favorites were Mykleby and Porter. This is part bias or even baggage from my own background -- I left the British military during in 1985 in protest at much the same kind of paleo, unsustainable thinking their "strategic narrative" moves so forcefully away from, albeit then from Margaret Thatcher and her government of the day.

For right or wrong at the time, influenced by the writings of Schumacher and Porritt, among others, I felt that Thatcher's acceptance of American nuclear-tipped cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe (making Britain ground zero in what seemed like a war Reagan wanted to start with the Soviets), and her brutal suppressions of the Greenham Common Peace Camp women and the miner's union, were terrible ecological mistakes. I wrote a long and probably tedious attack on the workings of the British version of the military industrial complex, the ecological fallacies of the Thatcherites, and so on, and went through a longer and yet more tedious legal case to get out.

At the time I won my honorable discharge (at a Queen's Regulation Tribunal) and kept my pension. I was one of a small handful of QR 67 discharge-ees during the Greenham Common/1984 miner's strike era. I became quite radicalized for a time, and committed to the environmental movement, first in Scotland and then America. With my discharge I was able to emigrate and get an education in sustainability, concluding eventually with the PhD and the appointment at Unity College.

But the loss of my first career, which I loved, especially the rescue work in the RAFMRS, and the sense of loss of my old comrades, always sat uneasily with me. As consolation and out of a sense of duty and because I love the work, I maintained my service to SAR efforts, as well as social contact with my old mates from the RAFMRS. But Myckleby and Porter's work brings this difficult time of my life full circle in a different way. Here is a timely and honorable acceptance, from within the highest reaches of the US military, of all the human ecological and sustainability theory my life has been about during and since my discharge. No longer am I the wild-eyed radical. My point of view has become mainstream and even respectable.

It's a personal vindication of sorts, or at least a re-circling and re-acceptance.

It wasn't the only one. The re-circling and re-acceptance that mattered most to me was the visit to Unity College in 2009 of my old friend Heavy Whalley, who had been the team leader on the Lockerbie Air Disaster just a short while after I left the service, and had just retired as a Warrant Officer and one of the most senior and experienced NCOs in the entire British rescue system. Heavy and I were able to talk at length and reconcile our two disparate lives since my discharge, and come to terms each in his own way with my departure those many years earlier, as well as the various burdens and stresses we both had separately carried since then. I was deeply gratified to hear him tell me how well he thought of my previous protest. We were, and are still, old comrades.

But to hear Mykleby and Porter state out loud and to such applause that sustainability should be the primary end of American and western strategy, well, that was a different kind of vindication.

After all these years.

The "Y Article" speech

Half an hour ago, the greatest speech I have ever heard, ended at the 25th Camden Conference. Captain Wayne Porter (USN) and Colonel Mark Mykleby (USMC-Retired) wrote what is known as the "Y Article" back in the summer of 2010. As mentioned before in this blog, the Y Article was written in an effort to make the American people think about how we live. The article sparked discussion across the country and did what it was designed to do, it made people think about how we live.

Both Captain Porter and Colonel Mykleby spoke at the Camden Conference about the Y Article and some of the beliefs they hold. The both of them started working together when they were tasked by the former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to write a National Grand Strategy. In their pursuit of that they discovered that there were things we had to change in America, that we needed to change some of our priorities and refocus them.

The number 1 priority that they saw that needed to be changed was education and our commitment (or lack there of) to the educational system in the U.S. The 2nd priority they saw that needed to be changed was our definition of security. The 3rd priority they saw that needed to be changed was our development and access to renewable ideas, not just in terms of energy but also in terms of food and water.

They also talked about the idea of sustainability and how it needs to be the cornerstone of our country ideals. We need that refocus onto sustainability. They stated that the cause of the 21st century is the sustainability cause, but in order to do that we need to be citizens of the U.S. rather than those who just "pay rent".

I won't summarize the entire speech for you on this blog, but I did want to point out what I thought were some of the most important topics discussed by those two men. I will state it again though, the speech that Captain Porter and Colonel Mykleby (retired) gave on the "Y Article" was the BEST I have ever heard. They are speaking the Unity language and that language will continue to become more important as time goes on and will become center stage before we know it. That is why our education from Unity College becomes more important every day.

Prestowitz vs. duPont

The debate between Clyde Prestowitz and Governor du Pont should be an interesting test of their views on government "catalysis" in the economy. Prestowitz is hyping Chinese government industrial support policies and beginning to argue that we have to follow suit, while du Pont argued that US government involvement in the economy should be reduced.

Q and A should be interesting!

(Live at the Camden Conference)

Detroit and decline-ism

One key idea at this years conference is American decline-ism. Earlier I gave some of my own views.

An interesting case in point is the Detroit recovery. Here's this morning's Guardian on the added stress the Romney campaign is receiving from Michigan voters.

One thing I didn't know: The Economist argued against the auto industry bail-out, but was willing to apologize when it succeeded.

I'm not sure how reasonable thinking people can, on the one hand, be worried about the rise of China, with its very large amounts of public intervention in the economy, and on the other argue that the US can survive the 21st Century without an economically active government.

It makes no sense.

Eric Li (below), somewhat annoyingly, argued that we should give up our weak, messy democratic ideals and instead adopt the Chinese authoritarianism. My initial retort was, if the Chinese system is so cool, why do so many Chinese come here to get and education and work? Freedom to think and play with ideas is key to innovation. The Chinese will be a awesome nation when they embrace that same messy but creative freedom. But they're not there yet, indeed, until they allow freedom of religion and association for, for instance, the Tibetans, they're nowhere near.

Thankfully, Li's Chinese dog will never hunt in the US, for the simple reason we've been too messy and creative, democratically speaking, for too long. And it's a good thing.

But I do think we could take a leaf or two out of the Chinese book when it comes to government involvement in shaping and encouraging an otherwise capitalist economy.

Indeed, as long as we're in what Governor Richardson last night termed a "strategic competition" with China, we might be foolish not to.

He also explained that he thought the government was a key "catalyst" in the economy, and hinted that after some recent confusion during the "Great Recession", the Democratic party in the US was beginning to realize that it needed to become the party of government-private partnership; a new focus and indeed, a new primary economic ideology and identity.

That seems to be the lesson of Detroit, especially after the announcement of GM's record seven billion dollar profit last year.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Key Note Speaker (William "bill" Richardson)

"How humans can live more equability"- William Richardson
I found this quote very interesting and wanted to see how others felt about this.

William Richardson spoke on what he believed will be the three most important issues in years to come in the USA. The first is immigration both legal and illegal immigration. How will we deal with it as well as what can we do? The second major issue is education exceptionally when it comes to education of immigrates children. The third major issue was climate change which also included energy usage. He spoke on how we need to move from fossil fuels to more renewable energy, and that we need to create green jobs. He sees natural gas the bridge between oil and renewable energy.

I also wanted to share with you what William Richardson said "were the key skills to be a leader in the 21st century."

1) Be bold and confident
2)Get a good education. Like if you want to be involved politics you should invest in a law degree.
3) Good morals. The way he explained it was to stick to your guns.

China's political model superior?

A new op-ed by Eric Li in the NYT suggests so.

Apparently, the current situation should be sufficient to enduce us to throw out the democratic ideal baby with the bathwater of some of our current pols.

Why then, do all those Chinese prefer to live and study in the US?

Curious, that.

I tend to think that until the Chinese finally allow their own democratic and "earthy" culture to flourish, they'll be relegated to copying American industrial ideas and sending their graduate students over here for an education.

Is Chomsky correct on American decline?

Radical historian Noam Chomsky has been serializing a long article in the Guardian on what he sees as the decline of US influence and power, particularly in foreign affairs.

As an un-naturalized Briton who's lived in the US for nearly thirty years, I think I have a fairly unique perspective on this kind of thinking. After all, I grew up amidst the decline and fall of the British Empire. Indeed, during my seven years military service, and in the decade or so of my teens, it was within the wreckage of a hundred small colonies that our small wars were fought: Aden, Northern Ireland, the Falklands, Belize.

Since then, the US has been forced to intervene in a dozen of what were once British colonies or clients: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and Pakistan being merely the most expensive examples.

Am I now witnessing firsthand a similar Kipling-esque "recessional" for the American Empire?

I don't think so. Certainly not in my lifetime.

Although there are newer empires arising, and new alliances, America still predominates and will for decades to come. This is still the only country with reliable ability to project power, economic, political and military, around the globe. The Chinese might be able to, for instance, win development contracts in Mozambique (primarily by bribing officials and cutting corners), or Indian corporations might lease or buy land for farming in Ethiopia (again -- successful primarily through corrupt practices, as a recent BBC film shows), but these are as much signs of weakness as they are of strength. The US, in comparison, is agriculturally self-sufficient.

The Chinese are still just learning to use their one aircraft carrier, bought from the Russians before it was scrapped. For comparison, the US has eleven, with two under construction, and they all run like clockwork. It will take the Chinese a decade, or two, to even begin to approach this level of technological supremacy in naval aviation. Who knows what new developments will have ensued by the time they begin to master these complex systems. I could imagine a small American drone in a year or ten years time, perhaps even under development now, that could render that carrier as obsolete as naval aviation once rendered the battleship.

The Europeans, one contender to share the power vacuum, are not only sadly under-prepared for a global role, but -- through following the false flag of austerity through the recent crisis -- are now unlikely to recover economically for at least five more years. And the US economy, thanks to the weakest Keynesian efforts that Congress was willing to support, is recovering without those development contracts.

Even within the current ferment of US politics, as pathetic and ridiculous and even shameful as some of the recent events have been in Congress or the Republican primary, I just don't see the hard evidence that the US is not still constantly remaking itself internally and externally in a way that post-war Britain never could. The reason I live in America and not Britain is primarily because the class barriers in the British system prevented me from moving on with my life and remaking myself. Millions of new Americans every year do much the same, bringing ideas and intelligence and the immigrant's work ethic from all over the globe. With so much new blood, and so many new ideas, I can't imagine an America that stands as still as Britain did in the 1970s.

Chomsky is suffering from wishful thinking. He wants US power and influence to decline so badly that he's willing to overlook compelling data and concrete evidence to the contrary. His distrust of capitalism and American conservatism is too great. Locked in an out-dated sixties paradigm of anti-US radicalism, he can't see the forest for the trees.

US influence and power will still be with us long after the shoddy buildings the Chinese are putting up in African cities have begun to fall apart. And by making alliances with democracies in Europe, Africa, South America, South Asia and Australasia, US idealism might easily influence the world's progress for decades after that, especially if, as seems likely, the dialectic of US politics moves away from economic neo-liberalism, and towards an active role for government in the economy, pace the recent GM recovery.

The question is, what will we do with all this influence and power? Especially in the face of climate change? Will the US be a force that helps unite humanity to face this threat, that lives up to its aspirations and ideals? Or will the US succumb to the politics of pure-self interest?

In which case, I don't think there's much hope for humanity.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Nuclear, National Security and Media

So, as a writing major, I am very interested in the role media plays in both foreign and domestic policy. As you all probably know, things like twitter and facebook played a key role in the reporting of Syrian revolution, among other things. So, here is an article about how something like twitter could help locate nuclear warheads from NPR.

The next two articles deal mostly with National Security. The first, from NPR again, discusses the cuts to the military budget. The U.S. has one of the largest military's in the world, which is partnered with the largest military spending in the world. So now that the U.S. is out of Iraq and finishing up business in Afghanistan, do we need all of the military power? Terrorism hasn't been a problem since 2001; should we still worry about it? The second article is about the Tar sands and National Security. It's from Grist, which is an online publication that is sort of like Mother Jones; they may be a little sarcastic or loose with their writing, but they are pretty credible (in case you were worried about it being a silly liberal hoohah source, its not). So, what should be thought about while reading these two articles: Is the U.S. our own worst enemy, when it comes to energy and National Security? If we produce energy, do we sever ties and allies with the rest of the world? Are we just endangering ourselves or is our military power intimidating enough to keep competing countries off our back?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Iran Nuclear Program

The Iran Nuclear program, or at least the development of it, is a little scary. I have been following the Iran situation for the past few months. I think the topic of the Iran Nuclear program, or the development of it, fits well with the topics we will be covering this weekend.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Obama Budget for 2013

This article gives a good description of Obama's 2013 budget. I think it works well with the "Y Article" that was posted previously on the Blog. The "Y Article" lines out really well what the U.S. believes is important with the budget they post and follow. The Washington Post article I posted here gives a good description of the 2013 Obama Budget.

KIOBEL v. ROYAL DUTCH PETROLEUM CO PLC (The future of corporations power in the US)

Basically this case explains that corporations are liable as juridical persons under domestic law does not mean that they are liable under international law (and, therefore, under the ATS). If it is found that the they are liable under international law then it may be the start to overturn the Supreme Court decision Citizens United. This case law is sort of long but very interesting and is very important for the future of the United States.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Industrial decline?

This is an interesting article from a British-Indian thinker on the changing face of industrialism.

And my own response, written a few months ago.



Friday, February 10, 2012

Open-source innovation: the new Carnegie system

A hundred years ago and more, one of the key players in British and North American technological supremacy was the workingman's educational institute. These early open-source systems for self-improvement allowed thousands if not hundreds of thousands of innovators to jump what was then a huge class barrier to college education.

The Carnegie system of libraries and reading rooms was one such organization in America. In Britain and the Commonwealth countries, private non-profit Workingmens' Institutes and reading rooms dominated, and served an identical purpose. An example is the Oakdale Institute, now in the Museum of Welsh Life near Cardiff.

When I was a kid, my self-taught engineer godfather gave me an encyclopedia from this early era -- the "Harmsworth Self Educator." This was the same set he'd been given as a kid in the 1910s -- about five shelf-feet of massive grey volumes, full of engineering know-how and technical data.

They were out-of-date by then, but I appreciated them all the same. Today we have Wikipedia and Google, and I use them just as hungrily each day. And, I just discovered, the full text of the "Harmsworth Self Educator" is now available online.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

I think we are mistaken when we tell the story of industrial development as a sequence of "big names:" the Watts, Edisons, Alexander Graham Bells, Henry Fords and so on. These were important people, don't get me wrong. But each of these engineering greats used dozens, if not hundreds, of design employees, many of whom would be self-taught in or by these early open source educational resources.

The skills and ideas developed in these organizations were put to use in the design workshops operated by what was then a massive system of small fabrication workshops in every major industrial city. If your design needed a special part, the chances that it could be made in a city like Birmingham or Pittsburgh were close to 100%.

Today's innovator needs access to technological information in much the same way. The Internet largely serves that purpose, and as someone who repairs his own vehicles, builds his own buildings, and occasionally makes his own prototypes (primarily in anemometrical systems), I've learned how to use a Google search to track down just about anything, from a special component, to a design element, to something as mundane as an elusive trouble code for a family vehicle.

But if I can't make a component myself in either my own or the college's workshop, I need to hire a fabricator.

(It turns out that in Unity, Maine, the best equipped fabrication shop is run by an Amish wind power engineer, but that's another story.)

If I lived in San Fransisco, I could turn to Techshop, a public workshop for do-it-yourself-ers, innovators, and entrepreneurs.

Now that would be cool. If I had all the time in the world, I'd like nothing better than to make my own turbine and solar PV panels mostly from scratch, and fit them to this old Maine farmhouse.

That's my idea of fun.

It doesn't matter where I live, if what I want is to learn to write code and make computer applications. I could use Noisebridge, an online and open-source network for computer engineers.

I wonder how many of our conference goers will have heard of these kinds of organizations, or thought about how vital they might be to the future of western and American technology.

And I wonder how many of them see the need for open source, decentralized, and non-commercial systems for disseminating this information.

Competitivity in US finance for renewables

The UK's pioneering wind farm off the Cumbrian coast at Walney opens today. This is a significant milestone in energy history.

Here in Maine we'd like to have a scheme ten times the size by the end of the next decade, but haven't put a single turbine in the water yet?

Why? How can a tiny little outfit like Britain out-perform the US in developing this crucial new industry?

Three reasons:

1) Climate denialism: Despite the leadership shown in the Mr Y article below, the House of Representatives remains dominated by denier sentiment. Even last year's catastrophic sequence of extreme weather events failed to shake this situation loose.

2) Technology: Maine's turbines will have to float. Britain's are fixed in shallow sea bed. Developing this new technology is costly and will take time.

3) Financial ignorance: Turbine farms, especially those sited in reliable wind, can pay a solid rate of return suitable for long term, conservative investors such as pension funds and family trusts. And, once a wind farm is built, the capital costs, which are over 90 percent of total costs, are locked in, and so the price of energy is then made inflation proof for years to come. But thus far this economic reality hasn't sunk in. There are large numbers of middle class and upper middle class investors in the US who will pass up these opportunities because either they or the brokers they employ don't understand the technology and the market.

Some of the world's largest pension funds invested in the Walney scheme.

Go figure.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

U.S. Education.

As Swiss cognitive psychologist, Jean Piaget, once proclaimed: "The principal goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done."

For the United States to remain globally competitive in the 21st century, education must become a focus of conversation. Once a predominantly industrial based economy, the U.S. has shifted towards a service based economy. What does this mean? Continually changing marketplaces, highly dependent on information and innovation, drive economic growth. But, the U.S. is not an island until itself. Emerging nations world-wide are also seeking to grow their economies by investing in educational systems that promote skilled citizens. Therefore, it is imperative that we examine our own educational system - overhauling it as necessary - in order to create a workforce that is prepared to compete on an increasingly complex world stage.

We need educational opportunities that support the development of critical thinking and creative problem solving. We need to develop citizens that can identify problems, work through possible solutions, and make educated decisions in multiple disciplines. We need calculated risk-takers. More connected then ever, we need workers who can communicate and collaborate with a keen, global awareness.

Even though the United States leads the world in educating its people, it is falling behind foreign competitors in the subject areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). As part of President Obama's "Educate to Innovate" campaign, he launched the non-profit (CEO-led) "Change the Equation" with the hopes of improving the quality of STEM education nationally. Two years later, in his 2012 State of the Union Address, Obama said:

"I hear from many business leaders who want to hire in the United States but can't find workers with the right skills. Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job. Think about that - openings at a time when millions of Americans are looking for work. That's inexcusable."

Even with the best laid intentions, there seems to be some apparent disconnect. Where, then, is our system flawed? This isn't just a government problem. Though, more government investment could be of value. We need to engage in public discourse as business owners, teachers, parents, and concerned citizens. We must demand more from our educational system, and frankly, more from our students. The development of strong leaders is key. If education is the foundation, than knowledge and innovation is the springboard to remain competitive in the 21st century.

Even though it was written in 2009, this article defines the goals of STEM education while discussing implementation challenges. An interesting read...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Land grabs as "solutions" to future food security.

Published in the Jan/Feb edition of the UNTE Reader, Terry J. Allen, provides a comprehensive look at current land grabbing practices - answering who? why? and, how?

Monday, February 6, 2012

A perspective on global power shift.

After serving as a Royal Marine and an United Kingdom intelligence officer in the MI6, Paddy Ashdown then became a member of Parliament. Later, he served as the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina. In this TEDxTalk, Ashdown asserts that we are amidst both vertical and horizontal power shifts globally. He uses the law of ecology, "everything is connected," to further support the idea that while moving towards a multipolar system, the interconnectivity of governing bodies is not only necessarily but crucial. What do you think?