Wednesday 30 November 2011

This is how things collapse

96 hours to the stone age: How quickly our connected lives crumble when the power goes out

By Jeffrey Belk, ICT168 Nov. 23, 2011, 5:00pm PT

We may be closer to Thanksgiving than Halloween, but I hope this piece scares you. A lot.

Today, we take for granted that we will have full Internet access and connectivity to the world 24/7/365 on our smartphones, tablets and notebooks. We expect to be able to check a sports score or connect with a loved one in 10 seconds or less.

However, we don’t really consider that our smartphones and wireless device are connected to cell sites and cell towers. Which in turn are connected to the wireless operator’s main switching facility. All that needs lots of power, which after a blackout is provided by backup systems. If and when those systems run out of juice, at about 96 hours, we have a big problem.

Consider this. On Thursday, September 8, 2011, an equipment failure in Arizona caused an electric utility cascade failure, leaving millions of people from the San Diego area in the dark. One moment, power was on for a several thousand square mile area. The next moment it was gone.

In August, Hurricane Irene temporarily took out 6,500 cell phone sites on the east coast. At the end of October, a freak snowstorm left millions without power in parts of the Eastern Seaboard. Although weather problems are challenging, at least there’s usually some prior notice so utilities and cell operators can prepare. And there are often pockets where power is still available. When power goes down everywhere simultaneously, instantaneously, like it did in San Diego, it makes you think.

By 96 hours after the power shuts down, power better be turned on again, our connectivity restored, or we’ll be in the Stone Age.

That worries me.

What happens when the lights go out

When the power goes down, cell service “gets shoddy.” That’s going to happen when everyone grabs their phones at the same time. It’s the wireless equivalent of everybody getting on the same roads at the same time. But when 3G systems get congested, the coverage area of cell sites can actually shrink, resulting in potentially bigger coverage holes in addition to capacity issues.

However, just like I took it for granted when I was a kid that the wireline networks would always work, the vast majority of folks think their wireless devices should keep on working when power goes down. For shorter outages, this has mostly been the case. Like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, the wireless operators keep the systems up.

Let’s look at what happens. There are three pieces to the puzzle:

. Our phones/devices

. The cell sites

. The operator’s central switching facility for a given geographic area

(There are actually a bunch more, but I’m going to keep it simple.)

Power for your phone and laptop should be easy. Phones have small batteries, and everybody should have spares, external battery packs, solar chargers, or a cheap crank charger (buy one online). It’s your fault if your phone runs out of juice. Remember, even though your handy laptop might still have power, your wi-fi will be toast, since your router/modem will be down.

The cell sites themselves are backed up. There are hundreds of thousands of cell sites across the country, and operators have put battery backup in many of them, especially sites they view as critical. Beyond battery backups, operators have the ability to attach generators to existing cell sites, or rapidly deploy COW’s (Cells on Wheels) or COLTS (Cells on Light Trucks) to augment coverage and capacity in times of a crisis, and they have done well to this point. When there is a natural disaster, there is often a staggering amount of effort behind the scenes to restore service.

The problem is that those backup batteries run of juice, and when that happens, that’s it for service in a given area or neighborhood.

That third piece that you don’t think about? Start thinking about it.

Earlier this year, I visited a central switching facility of one of the large wireless operators. It is responsible for the operation of hundreds of cell sites in a geographic area. The wireless voice and data traffic from the cell sites in the region are routed back to this location though various methods of transport.

The facility itself is about 40,000 square feet, and is a monument to sophisticated technology. Spotless, shining, largely empty, and highly automated, it felt a bit like an old Star Trek episode where the people were gone and the advanced technology kept running on its own.

One room is filled with rows of switching equipment, the only sound the whirring of cooling fans. Another area has rows and stacks of large batteries providing eight hours of primary backup power to the facility.

Another layer of redundant backup is located outside: a giant diesel generator, wisely placed on seismic mounts, with fuel to keep the facility going for another four days without resupply. Four days. 96 hours. Ever since my visit, that 96 hours figure kept on sticking in my mind. If the switching facility went down, our smartphones were 96 hours away from being stupid. No power, no connectivity. No connectivity, no smarts.

If and when the power goes down, there will be limited staff at the facility, and if there is damage, my guess is that technicians and spare parts for the sophisticated equipment won’t be on-site.And that’s assuming there aren’t other problems (i.e. earthquake) that further disrupt transport, or even worse, a bunch of bad guys who break into the facility and play ‘telecom baseball’ with a bunch of steel pipes and the equipment. Personally, I would have been a lot happier to see deeper physical security on site. Maybe even rabid security dogs roaming the empty halls.

Let’s count down the 96-hour clock

So imagine power goes down one morning. No notice, it is just out. For the first few hours, we bitch that our wireless Internet connection is slow, or that we get network busy tones for some of the calls we want to make. Through our phones, tablets and other connected devices, we get news and updates from our local municipality along the lines of: “hang in there, we are sorting it out.” If we are not stuck at work or in a traffic jam, we make our way home to our dark houses.

24-48 hours: Enter the information abyss. The next morning, many of us will not have cell service. Operators will get portable generators to key sites — but not all sites. After 48 hours, more of us are disconnected.

So how do we find out what’s happening? Our TVs and cable modems don’t work — no power! Battery-powered radio? If you are one of the rare people who owns one, you’ll still have a problem. Radio stations are increasingly high tech, and guess what, most stations were off the air during the September San Diego blackout.

48-72 hours: Your wallet is empty and so is your fridge. How will you handle even simple purchases without power, communications or cash? As we increasingly transact via credit cards, online and even cell phones, cash has become much less prevalent. If the ATMs are down, and you don’t have enough emergency cash on hand, what do you do?

Already, it seems that for a broad range of demographics, especially those under 25, cash is already dead. Or, if there are emergency radio broadcasts and the broadcasts says that emergency help is located at a certain park in a certain city, what good is that information to a GPS reliant person who never learned to read a map and doesn’t own any maps?

72-96 hours: No gas, no water. Now what? Cars have run out of gas. The roads are so clogged, they’re non-functional. Public safety will be dealing with all of these issues — with a degraded communications infrastructure. And are the pumps from your local water facility still running?  Remember, all of the sewage and water plants are increasingly automated. I don’t know about you, but I will be cranky by that point.

Acts of humans will be worse than the proverbial “acts of God.” But wait. We’ve been discussing natural disasters and equipment failures. In another scenario, what if some bad guys launched a cyber attack on the utility grids? Kind of like what “may” have happened in Brazil in 2005 and 2007 (though the government attributed it to “soot on wires”). I’m not a data security guy, but in looking up articles on utility vulnerability, I stumbled upon the Grey Goose Report which is scarier than anything I’ve written.

The key to preventing this is keeping the power on or at least getting back up as soon as possible. On a more positive note, I visited the SDG&E (San Diego Gas and Electric) Emergency Operations Center earlier this year. They had this stuff thought out, worked out, and implemented. They maintain redundant disaster centers, redundant public and private communications systems, and an entire company dedicated to stopping the power outage clock as quickly as possible. 

However, stuff happens.

This is a serious threat, and we need to take it seriously

As I’ve thought about our reliance on pervasive connectivity over the last year, I’ve spoken with C-level executives from both the tech side and the utility side. They get it. But they have businesses to run, customers to serve, business targets to achieve to keep their jobs.

It is critical to recognize that the pace of our reliance on pervasive connectivity via our wireless devices is rapidly outstripping our ability to deal with the absence of those services. We need to recognize the extent that our wireless infrastructure is increasingly core to our personal, family, and societal existence. For now, it is a fragile core.

So, the next time the lights go out, look at the clock on your smartphone. Or start your stopwatch application to measure how long the power stays out. And hope the stopwatch doesn’t get to 96 hours.

Jeff Belk is Managing Director of ICT168 Capital, LLC, investing and working with wireless firms globally. He spent almost 14 years at Qualcomm, in roles including SVP, Global Marketing, and SVP, Strategy and Market Development. Belk is guilty by association as he helped make this smartphone and mobile broadband stuff happen in the first place while at Qualcomm and predicted the demise of WiMax six years ago. He really hopes he is wrong here.

Fukushima guilty of world's worst sea contamination

A new report shows the Fukushima disaster is responsible for the world's worst nuclear sea contamination.

During the peak of Chernobyl, the Black Sea was registering 1,000 becquerels per cubic meter of water - at Fukushima's peak, it was 100,000 becquerels.

Scientists first believed the ocean would dilute it, but Al Jazeera has learned that dangerous concentrations of radioactive caesium remain.

Al Jazeera's Steve Chao reports from Fukushima, Japan.

The Great Deleveraging

Crisis in Europe Tightens Credit Across the Globe

CNBC, 29 November, 2011
Europe’s worsening sovereign debt crisis has spread beyond its banks and the spillover now threatens businesses on the Continent and around the world.

From global airlines and shipping giants to small manufacturers, all kinds of companies are feeling the strain as European banks pull back on lending in an effort to hoard capital and shore up their balance sheets.

The result is a credit squeeze for companies from Berlin to Beijing, edging the world economy toward another slump.

The deteriorating situation in the euro zone prompted the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on Monday to project that the United States economy would grow at a 2 percent rate next year, down from a forecast of 3.1 percent growth in May. It also lowered its economic outlook for Europe and the rest of the world, and a credit contraction could exacerbate the slowdown.

In addition, Moody’s Investors Service, the credit-rating agency, on Monday raised the possibility of mass downgrades of European government debt if a forceful resolution to the escalating crisis was not found.

Investors have begun to treat Europe’s big banks as the weak link in the global financial chain because of their huge holdings of bonds issued by debt-laden governments like Italy and Spain.

American money market funds have been closing the spigot of money they lend to European banks, forcing them to tighten lending standards and, in some cases, even withdraw financing from longtime customers. To make matters worse, European institutions are simultaneously under pressure from their regulators to hold more capital for each dollar they lend, prompting many banks to reduce their portfolio of loans. Analysts say Europe’s banks could shed up to 3 trillion euros of loans over the next few years, equal to about 10 percent of their total assets.

“If your largest banks aren’t able to provide credit, it hinders economic development and contributes to a recession  ,” said Alex Roever, a fixed-income research analyst at JPMorgan Chase.

Air France, for example, typically relied on French banks like BNP Paribas and Société Générale to help it finance about 15 percent of what it spends to purchase airplanes. Now those banks are retreating from making airline loans to save capital.

As an alternative, Air France officials say that they started developing closer ties with Chinese and Japanese banks, which have not faced the same pressure as their euro zone counterparts, to help pick up the slack.

Executives of Emirates Airlines, based in Dubai, are turning to the Islamic financing system, as well as to lenders in emerging markets, to help pay for its new fleet as some of the European banks shut off lending. Emirates has ordered 243 aircraft, worth more than $84 billion, from Airbus, Boeing [BA  65.26    0.27  (+0.42%)   ] and other aerospace companies.

“We were kind of planning for finance from the European banks,” Tim Clark, president of Emirates, told Reuters. “It’s just a bit difficult now.”

A failure to secure financing could quickly add up to lost jobs in the United States, Latin America and elsewhere.

The airplane maker Boeing recently warned that a European pullback could affect its business next year. With some European banks out of the picture, “this leaves a difference that must be made up by other sources if airplane deliveries across the industry, already set to increase in 2012, are to occur as planned,” said John Kvasnosky, a spokesman for the company.

Embraer, a Brazilian aerospace company, tempered its growth expectations despite having a pickup in commercial and business jet sales in the third quarter.

“This whole situation in Europe again has stalled this recovery process,” said Frederico Curado, chief executive of Embraer, in a conference call with investors in early November. “The way we see the world going forward is of a moderate growth.”

It remains to be seen, though, whether even moderate growth can be achieved. Moody’s cautioned that there was an increased chance that more than one country in the euro zone could default. In spite of that warning, investors put their fears aside and sent stocks up Monday by nearly 3 percent in New York.

Investors remain hesitant about government bond offerings, though. A tepid auction in Germany last week was particularly unnerving since its economy has long been seen as Europe’s financial bulwark. In Italy, weak demand for bonds pushed yields back above the critical 7 percent threshold, a level that has prompted other government borrowers to seek bailouts

Higher interest rates on government debt quickly translate into higher borrowing costs for European banks, and in turn, for local companies and consumers in need of loans. Meanwhile, those banks’ own costs are also rising because the dollars they need to lend are in short supply.

So the banks are tightening their lending standards, squeezing businesses like airlines, shipping companies and exporters of oil, steel and food staples —

“The strains and stress are increasing,” said Dirk Schumacher, a senior European economist at Goldman Sachs. “Funding conditions for corporations will get tougher going forward.”

One sign of this strain is that European lenders are quietly withdrawing from big infrastructure projects, like power plants and water developments, especially in the Middle East. Just this month, the $10 billion Barzan gas project in Qatar secured financing from 31 lenders, but three of the biggest French banks — BNP Paribas, Société Générale and Natixis — were notably absent.

“These guys are usually very active and this is a material sign that European lenders are holding back,” said Khalid Howladar, an analyst at Moody’s.

Large shipping companies are finding fewer lenders, too. Only a few years ago, Europe’s biggest banks were clamoring to supply credit at very attractive terms. Now, as freight rates collapse amid a global slowdown, those banks are tightening their purse strings. Frontline Ltd., an oil tanker giant in financial straits, said last week that it had lined up financing for only two of the seven vessels it planned to build.

The economic fallout from a global decline in shipbuilding affects not only the workers at the dry docks but also hundreds of businesses that supply parts and raw material to the industry. In Germany, for example, more than 5,000 people have lost their jobs in major ports like Hamburg, Kiel and Rostock, according to a local trade group.

Smaller companies are also struggling to secure credit. In Ireland, a survey by the local Small and Medium Enterprises Association found that 58 percent of companies that had approached banks for loans were turned down.

“We have many, many businesses that are viable, but the banks are not lending to them in the short term,” said Mark Fielding, its chief executive.

In Eastern Europe, where Western European banks have retrenched, leaders are sounding alarms. Traian Basescu, president of Romania, accused Austrian regulators of “choking the Romanian economy” after they ordered banks to limit lending outside its borders.

In Hungary, new construction for shopping centers and other commercial developments has come to a halt. Nora Demeter, an architect in Budapest, said her 20-member firm had already laid off a handful of employees and was likely to make further cuts. “The chance of getting a major project off the ground in this country is virtually over,” Ms. Demeter said. She added that “2012 is looking even bleaker.”

Even companies as far away as China are being hurt by Europe’s economic slowdown. Jacky Xu, the sales manager of the Yongkang Wanyu Industry and Trade Company in eastern China, said European orders for its scooters, skateboards and other children’s toys were down 20 to 30 percent this fall from a year ago. Several months ago, his company stopped accepting letters of credit from Greek banks, forcing Greek retailers to put down cash deposits of around 30 percent for new orders — a move that will worsen the decline.

“There are fewer people coming by from Europe,” he said.

This story originally appeared in The New York Times

Rockets fired from Lebanon hit Israel: army

News Daily, 28 November, 2011

JERUSALEM, Nov. 28, 2011 (Reuters)
Several rockets fired from Lebanon hit northern Israel on Tuesday, and the Jewish state returned fire across the border in response, military officials said.

Two buildings in the western Galilee area were damaged, Israeli media said, but there were no reported casualties. Residents said they heard two explosions and that houses shook.

An Israeli military spokesman said the rockets were the first fired since 2009 across a border where a 34-day war was fought in 2006 between Israel and Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas based in Lebanon.

"Several rockets hit the western Galilee. The Israeli army considers the incident severe and is targeting origins of fire," said a statement from the military spokesman's office.
The Ynet news Web site said residents saw plumes of smoke where the rockets struck.

The Israeli-Lebanese border has been largely quiet in recent years, though some have worried about a possible spillover of tensions from a months-old revolt in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad and from a stiffening of Western sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

Events in Iran

Comments by Mike Ruppert

Few who were alive then will forget when in 1979, Iranian students overran the U.S. embassy in Tehran. They took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days, coincidentally on Ronald Reagan's inauguration day in 1981. That incident ended the Presidency of Jimmy Carter and I am one of many investigators who believe that a back-door deal was arranged between Reagan and G.H.W. Bush on the one hand, and the Ayatollah Khomeini on the other, to see to it that the hostages were held in captivity until after the Presidential election.

In addition the Iranian hostage crisis led to one of the biggest tragedies in U.S. military history at a place called Desert One.

I was deeply involved with Iran then because the CIA operative who had tried to recruit me into the drug trade was an American woman raised in California with a niece of the Shah of Iran. Through her I had been introduced to Prince Shahriar, son of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Shahriar was assassinated in Paris in 1979. The U.S. covert operatives of the era were directly connected to drug smuggling and the covert operation that ended my career. Their names may be familiar; Secord, Armitage, Abrams, North...

This is chillingly reminiscent of what happened in November 1979. The CNN story is unclear but it appears that British embassy staff were taken into custody and it is not known if they are still being held. From my position, this is absolutely connected to recent military activity in and around Syria. Iran has thrown the gauntlet and I strongly suspect that the Genie of war has left the bottle. Not a little war, a very big one.

As I have been writing for a long time, if Iran is attacked, all bets are off... everywhere. China will instantly take Iran's side, as will (most likely) Russia. Iran will most certainly turn loose all of its covert operations in Saudi Arabia. Oil prices will skyrocket. Or, as I have feared for so long, we will all become radioactive dust.

Stay close to home now. Double check your emergency supplies... and pray. -- MCR

Britain pulls embassy staff out of Iran - sources

Britain has evacuated all its diplomatic staff from Iran, Western diplomatic sources told Reuters on Wednesday, a day after protesters stormed and ransacked its embassy and a residential compound.

30 November,2011

Britain said it was outraged by the attacks and warned of "serious consequences." The U.N. Security Council condemned the attacks "in the strongest terms." U.S. President Barack Obama called on Iran to hold those responsible to account.

No comment was immediately available from the British government on the reported withdrawal of embassy staff from Iran.

On Tuesday, Iranian protesters stormed two British diplomatic compounds in Tehran, smashing windows, torching a car and burning the British flag in protest against new sanctions imposed by London.

The attacks occurred at a time of rising diplomatic tension between Iran and Western nations, which last week imposed fresh sanctions over Tehran's nuclear programme that they believe is aimed at achieving the capability of making an atomic bomb.

Iran, the world's fifth biggest oil exporter, says it wants nuclear plants only for the generation of electricity.

The embassy storming was also a sign of deepening political infighting within Iran's ruling hardline elites, with the conservative-led parliament attempting to force the hand of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and expel the British ambassador.

"Radicals in Iran and in the West are always in favour of crisis ... Such radical hardliners in Iran will use the crisis to unite people and also to blame the crisis for the fading economy," said political analyst Hasan Sedghi.

Several dozen protesters broke away from a crowd of a few hundred outside the main British embassy compound in Tehran, scaled the gates, broke the locks and went inside.

Protesters pulled down the British flag, burned it and put up the Iranian flag, Iranian news agencies and news pictures showed. Inside, the demonstrators smashed windows of office and residential quarters and set a car ablaze, news pictures showed.

One took a framed picture of Queen Elizabeth, state TV showed. Others carried the royal crest out through the embassy gate as police stood by, pictures carried by the semi-official Fars news agency showed.

All embassy personnel were accounted for, a British diplomat told Reuters in Washington, saying Britain did not believe that any sensitive materials had been seized.

Demonstrators waved flags symbolising martyrdom and held aloft portraits of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who has the final say on matters of state in Iran.

Another group of protesters broke into a second British compound at Qolhak in north Tehran, the IRNA state news agency said. Once the embassy's summer quarters, the sprawling, tree-lined compound is now used to house diplomatic staff.

An Iranian report said six British embassy staff had been briefly held by the protesters. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the situation had been "confusing" and that he would not have called them "hostages."

"Police freed the six people working for the British embassy in Qolhak garden," Iran's Fars news agency said.

A German school next to the Qolhak compound was also damaged, the German government said.


Police appeared to have cleared the demonstrators in front of the main embassy compound, but later clashed with protesters and fired tear gas to try to disperse them, Fars said. Protesters nevertheless entered the compound a second time, before once again leaving, it said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron chaired a meeting of the government crisis committee to discuss the attacks, which he said were "outrageous and indefensible."

"The failure of the Iranian government to defend British staff and property was a disgrace," he said in a statement.

"The Iranian government must recognise that there will be serious consequences for failing to protect our staff. We will consider what these measures should be in the coming days."

The United States, alongside the European Union and many of its member states also strongly condemned the attacks.

There have been regular protests outside the British embassy over the years since the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah, but never have any been so violent.

The attacks and hostage-taking were a reminder of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran carried out by radical students who held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The United States cut diplomatic ties with Iran after the hostage-taking.

Comments from RT

Mark Almond, a visiting professor of international relations from Bilkent University in Turkey, believes that the attack on the UK embassy is more of a “symbolic incident” than a repetition of the hostage crisis on 1979.

The British embassy staff seemed to be expecting this and escaped through the back door,” he said.

Almond says that the real question is whether this situation will be used to raise tensions and whether “Iran’s nuclear projects are going to be attacked by the West, by the United States and its allies, either directly with military forces, or indirectly using some kind of cyber warfare.

Almond added that situation is dangerous because many Iranians believe “that the West is engaged in sabotage and a terrorist plot against them.

Trade Unions say no to Austerity With Actions Across Europe 30 November

On Wednesday 30 November, public sector workers will protest austerity measures in more than 25 European countries, following a call for action by the European Federation of Public Service Unions. Actions will include strikes, demonstrations and public marches.

29 November, 2011

In Britain, unions are planning the largest strike since 1926 - to oppose changes to public sector workers' pensions. In Portugal, trade unions will demonstrate as the parliament votes on new austerity measures. In France and Bulgaria, there will be national demonstrations. Belgian trade unions will protest outside Greek and UK embassies in solidarity with Greek and British unions on 30 November, followed by a national demonstration on 2 December. Greek trade unions will hold a general strike on 1 December. The list covers most of Europe's countries 

The European Commission adopted its Second Annual Growth Survey on 23 November, which continues its mantra about public administrations reforms on purely economic terms without looking at how to develop quality public services that are so badly needed in these times of economic crisis (read EPSU's response ). Public sector unions expect a focus on investment and growth to address high unemployment and rising poverty.

For this reason, from Scotland to Greece and from Portugal to Poland, workers will be saying "Enough is enough!" on 30 November.

"Europe needs to make a credible stand on sustainable development, fair taxation, investment in public services, more equality and less poverty," says EPSU General Secretary Carola Fischbach-Pyttel.

EPSU has sent a letter to the Commission's President ( ) demanding a financial transactions tax be instituted in Europe, as a first step towards achieving a global FTT. EPSU argues for tax justice based on progressive taxation systems.

Europe's public service unions also stand up for the right to collective bargaining and the autonomy of unions and employers. The EC and European Central Bank must stop their interference in industrial relations and collective bargaining.

"This European day of action is the beginning of a process to give European people a real sense of unity; the current policies in Europe will destroy all we have fought for in the last decades. We say no to coordinated austerity madness and yes to a social and democratic Europe," concludes Fischbach-Pyttel.

Greek transition towns

Modern Greeks Return To Ancient System Of Barter


It's Sunday in Volos, a fishing village nestled in a large bay in central Greece, and fishermen display their daily catch, which this day includes codfish, sardines and octopus.

Prices have been slashed, but customers are few.

Fisherman Christos Xegandakis laughs bitterly. He says business is so bad, it's time to start swapping goods.

"Give me two kilos of potatoes, and I give you a kilo of fish," he says. "Why not?

Indeed, many in debt-ridden Greece — where radical austerity measures have led to soaring unemployment, business closures and a credit crunch — are doing just that: turning to a simpler form of commerce, bartering.

And in Volos, a barter system is also fostering a new sense of community.

Seeking Self-Sufficiency

In Greek mythology, Jason set sail from Volos in search of the Golden Fleece. More recently, the town of 100,000 people was one of the country's most industrialized.

But the recession hit its cement and steel factories hard, and now unemployment there tops 20 percent — higher than the national average.

A local veterinarian's office and shop serves as an informal community center. In this time of crisis, Volos residents come not only for their pets but also to exchange advice and information.

Teacher Alexandra Tsabouris firmly believes in self-sufficiency, as her parents did during World War II.

"If you have a garden, if you cultivate things, if you reduce your needs, if you don't have needs anymore, only in this way," she says.

Liana Papanaum, who lost her job as a secretary, has chosen a more communal approach to make ends meet.

"For example, I have a young couple near me, they have two small children. So I say, 'Could you please do the ironing for me, and I will teach English to your ... children?' " she says.

Growth In Barter Network

Volos is also one of several Greek towns with a more formal type of barter network, which uses a currency called Local Alternative Unit, or TEM in Greek. One TEM is equal in value to one euro.

People sign up for free on the barter network's website, where they can post ads on what they can offer or what they want. Members exchange goods and services — for example, English and computer lessons, baby-sitting and plumbing repairs, medical visits and car-pooling — amassing TEM credit into an online account.

Some shops also accept TEMs, in the form of vouchers that function like checks.

Optician Klita Dimitriadis explains how it works. On a pair of 100-euro glasses, she'll take 30 percent in the alternative currency. She needs the 70 euros, she explains, in order to pay her employees, taxes and rent.

Dimitriadis then spends her TEMs at a monthly open-air farmers market, or in exchange for other services.

Over the past year, TEM members in Volos have grown from a few dozen to more than 500, and the movement has attracted Athens' attention. In September, parliament passed a law giving barter networks nonprofit status.

Substitution For The Welfare State

The Volos municipality also actively encourages the TEM network. Mayor Panos Skotiniotis says initiatives like these are particularly valuable at a time when the economic crisis is dismantling so many social benefits.

"This is a substitution for the welfare state, and that is why this municipality is encouraging it and wants it to grow," he says.

The municipality has printed leaflets explaining the barter system and has promoted panel discussions.

Christos Papaioannou — one of the TEM network's founders — says the worse the crisis becomes, the more people feel confused and at a loss.

"When they lose their jobs, the whole world collapses, they have to believe in themselves, not in the power of money and their employer," he says.

And more and more people are joining the network, Papaioannou says, because it offers a sense of community and self-respect.

“The homeland is part of the battleground”

Rand Paul: Having More Than 7 Days Of Food Makes You A Suspected Terrorist
From Judge Napotitano of Fox News  and Rand Paul

Japan to set up emergency gas power stations in 60 parks across Tokyo

Dozens of large-scale gas power stations are to be set up in "disaster management parks" across Tokyo to provide electricity for the capital in emergencies.

28 November, 2011

Tokyo Metropolitan Government is planning to set up 60 large-scale gas power stations in emergency parks across the city to ensure sufficient energy supplies for public facilities in times of crisis.

The initiative was prompted by the serious power shortages which faced residents, businesses and public facilities in Tokyo in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis earlier this year.

In addition to housing large-scale gas power stations, the new disaster management parks are also expected to be home to emergency shelters and operate as bases for the delivery and collection of relief supplies.

The government's decision to depend on gas supplies in an emergency was due to resilience proven by middle-pressure gas pipes in previous major earthquakes including the most recent disaster.

"From next fiscal year from April we are planning to conduct a feasibility study and will decide then in which parks in Tokyo we will set up gas power stations," a spokesman for the urban energy promotion department of Tokyo Metropolitan Government's Environment Bureau told the Telegraph.

"We want to use low carbon dioxide emission generators for this project. We will examine the type of generator in the feasibility study.

"Tokyo Gas Co also told us that large scale gas pipes would not be destroyed in large earthquakes and gas supplies would not be stopped in such a situation.

The Fukushima nuclear crisis triggered by the March 11 disaster caused severe disruption to the capital, with rolling blackouts, train suspensions and energy shortages causing extensive limitations to business production and daily life.

Positive Money

'Bankers create money out of NOTHING'

Cut the benefits to bankers out, not the things we care about!

The Bank of Ideas

For news of Occupy London Stock Exchange and the Bank of Ideas GO HERE

Article on debt

 Unleashing The Future: Advancing Prosperity Through Debt Forgiveness (Part 1)

by Zeus Yiamouyiannis, contributor to Of Two Minds

28 November, 2011


My last article on debt forgiveness, Endgame: When Debt is Fraud, Debt Forgiveness is the Last and Only Remedy must have struck quite a chord in discussions of the future of the economy. It was re-posted on scores of websites and received over 20,000 reads on Zero Hedge. It also resulted in a reference on the Max Keiser Report and a subsequent interview with Max Keiser. This led in turn to a popularization of a term I used, “fake assets,” to denote the true nature of “toxic assets”.

The good news is that people are talking, attempting to assess the situation in real terms, and looking for an alternative to the broken system. The bad news is that this discussion has not been turned very much toward practical directions. The main contention in my original article on debt forgiveness and subsequent interview was simply that ignoring the mathematics of debt (where debt grows exponentially and real growth is limited), especially when magnified by tens, if not hundreds, of trillions of dollars of additional fraudulent debt, is a dangerous fantasy that worsens insolvency and accelerates collapse. “Extend and pretend” cannot provide an answer but can only amplify current destructive trends and delay serious preparation of an alternative.

This series outlines some of the alternatives to the current impasse.

Principles and issues in debt forgiveness administration:

Before embarking on a mission to address the standoff between people who cannot pay their debts and international economies that have been running on massive debts for the last three decades, one must do a reality check and establish sane observations and principles.

1) Debt that cannot (vs. “will not”) be practically paid is not a debt in its classical sense. It’s a default. 

Whether or not people want to recognize this reality is another issue. We recognize that a law that cannot be enforced is not really a law in any practical sense, so why are we dragging our feet with debt? Greece cannot pay its debt by any rational formula. It is already in default. Extending and pretending does not materially change this fact, it only delays recognition of the stark, enduring reality.

2) Debt based in fraudulent lending is also not true debt in any meaningful sense, since the loan along with its obligations originated from something (private fiat) that had no valid authority or exchange value to begin with

Much of the current worldwide debt simply stems from lending based in fraud numbering in the hundreds of trillions of dollars by institutions who did not have adequate collateral (i.e. held insufficient capital reserves, engaged in mark-to-fantasy accounting of their assets, assigned real value to fake assets like credit default swaps, etc.). A lending body cannot give effectively nothing to someone (claiming it is something) and legitimately expect to get something real back.

3) When debt systems are flooded with fraudulent currencies and claims, it is not true that someone, either the borrower or lender, will have to pay the “false value”-backed debt.

You are not legally allowed to profit from crime nor legally obligated to support crime. This precludes the payment of many of the debts currently in circulation. In committing wide-scale control fraud, major financial institutions have broken laws. The laws they have broken are enforceable; they just have yet to be enforced.

However, even with successful prosecution, bankruptcy proceedings, and nationalization/receivership of offending institutions, we are left with a practical problem: Real currency has been mixed with fake currency, real debt with fake debt. Chains of title and claims to property have been so forged, electronically registered, diced up, and distorted as to make it difficult to sort valid ownership from invalid. When real money has been high-jacked and “disappeared” as with Bernie Madoff, what can be done to address this? These will be points of discussion later in this article series.

4) The mathematics of debt, even without fraud, would require periodic forgiveness or at least abatement. There must be ways for debts to be adjusted to contingencies

Economies, like families, go through good and bad times. Debt obligations are constructed as if there are only good times. Basically, the only way to pay off a debt is to outrun it in a time of relative stability. Even in eras of surplus, debt takes a big bite out productive effort, but it quickly becomes consuming as one gets behind in payments and as more and more of the fruits of effort must go to servicing debt.

At that point, loans become chains that tie people to mediocre jobs and underwater houses and no longer engines of mobile growth. Debt forgiveness recognizes this contingency and facilitates liberty, productivity, and global quality of life as the more salient indicators of vital economies. Policies and contracts ultimately must be in the interests of people’s well-being for them to be legitimate. Conversely, when debt is ring-fenced from contingency as with student loans, it will be become inherently corrupt and unjust.

5) In any rearrangement of the debt system, productivity and stakeholdership should be rewarded and parasitism should be punished

It’s easy to forget that people used to go to a banking agent to get a loan to grow their net financial worth through productive enterprise. In such a relationship the bank gained a stake in your success, not your misfortune. If we are serious about rewarding well-applied effort, then it would make sense to peg debt and debt obligations to the productivity growth curve of an enterprise or domestic product. Lending institutions, then, would essentially buy a longer term stake in the success of enterprises it funds, exert a due diligence proportional to its interest, and both benefit from and share the burden of inevitable rises and falls in growth.
In the housing-bubble debacle the incentives were exactly opposite. Irresponsibility was rewarded precisely because banks could sell off fraudulently documented loans as quickly as they could be signed. In late capitalism, bank support for productivity has been converted into support for exploitation and victimization, using repayment shortfalls to repossess assets from borrowers even though the bank loans were drawn from “money” backed by counterfeit assets. That has to be reversed—real money for real enterprise backed by real assets.

6) Things go down and not always up. “New era” rhetoric where financial gravity is suspended is a dangerous delusion. 

When we realize this simple fact and combine it with rewarding productivity and stakeholdership, we realize that our revenues and values will fluctuate dependent upon demand, environmental limits, and a host of other factors, some within our control and some not. Fighting this empirical fact, on the other hand, creates damaging and unsustainable living. Why not tie notions of prosperity and economic organization to optimizing our productivity, by identifying and working within the changing conditions, not distorting those conditions by taking on debt-credit to be paid by later generations?

7) The living shall not be beholden to the dead

When an individual person dies with debts, what can be collected from their remaining assets is collected and the rest is written off. Yet the opposite occurs with generational debt. Irresponsible borrowing by past generations is foisted on succeeding generations. The sins of the forefathers are preserved with interest to gouge the quality of life of younger people who neither decided upon nor benefited from irresponsible borrowing.

Certainly, we now see scorched-earth class warfare of the 1% against everyone else, but we are ignoring an even more profound unintended warfare by an entire generation of post-WWII world citizens against the wellness and interests of its own children. How could such a destructive myopia so thoroughly pervade society and bring us this critical historical inflection point? 

This will be examined in the next part.

Here is the interview with Max Keiser