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Conventional agriculture is a lot like conventional medicine (or conventional debt spending) -- it's not sustainable!
Much of the farming taking place today in Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas and Texas is entirely dependent on fossil water stored in the Ogallala Aquifer.
Never heard of the Ogallala Aquifer? Most people haven't. But if you eat food in North America, a significant portion of the food on your plate comes from farms that only exist because of water from the Ogallala.
The Ogallala Aquifer is running dry. It is not being "recharged." The plummeting water levels are already turning some former farm hubs into dust towns.
11102035D HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 557 Offered January 12, 2011 Prefiled January 5, 2011
Establishing a joint subcommittee to study whether the Commonwealth should adopt a currency to serve as an alternative to the currency distributed by the Federal Reserve System in the event of a major breakdown of the Federal Reserve System.
Report. ----------Patron-- Marshall, R.G. ----------Referred to Committee on Rules ----------
WHEREAS, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled in In re Rahrer, 140 U.S. 545, 554 (1891), that “the police power” of a State “is a power originally and always belonging to the States, not surrendered by them to the general government, nor directly restrained by the Constitution of the United States, and essentially exclusive”; and
WHEREAS, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled in Beer Company v. Massachusetts, 97 U.S. 25, 33 (1877), that the police power of the States “extend[s] to the protection of the lives, health, and property of the[ir] citizens, and to the preservation of good order”; and
WHEREAS, the protection of the lives, health, and property of Virginia’s citizens, and the preservation of good order in the Commonwealth, depend upon the maintenance of both an adequate system of governmental finance and a sound and robust private economy; and
WHEREAS, an adequate system of governmental finance and a sound and robust private economy cannot be maintained in the absence of a sound currency; and
WHEREAS, the present monetary and banking systems of the United States, centered around the Federal Reserve System, have come under ever-increasing strain during the last several years, and will be exposed to ever-increasing and predictably debilitating strain in the years to come; and
WHEREAS, many widely recognized experts predict the inevitable destruction of the Federal Reserve System’s currency through hyperinflation in the foreseeable future; and
WHEREAS, in the event of hyperinflation, depression, or other economic calamity related to the breakdown of the Federal Reserve System, for which the Commonwealth is not prepared, the Commonwealth’s governmental finances and Virginia’s private economy will be thrown into chaos, with gravely detrimental effects upon the lives, health, and property of Virginia’s citizens, and with consequences fatal to the preservation of good order throughout the Commonwealth; and
WHEREAS, Virginia can avoid or at least mitigate many of the economic, social, and political shocks to be expected to arise from hyperinflation, depression, or other economic calamity related to the breakdown of the Federal Reserve System only through the timely adoption of an alternative sound currency that the Commonwealth’s government and citizens may employ without delay in the event of the destruction of the Federal Reserve System’s currency; and
WHEREAS, “legal tender” denotes a currency that must be accepted in payment of a debt denominated in United States “dollars” if the parties have not stipulated that some alternative currency is to be used as their medium of payment or are not otherwise required to use such alternative currency; and
WHEREAS, the Federal Reserve System’s currency has been designated “legal tender” under color of Title 31, United States Code, Section 5103; and
WHEREAS, under Title 12, United States Code, § 411 and Title 31, United States Code, § 5118(b) and (c), the Federal Reserve System’s currency is not redeemable in gold or silver coin or the equivalent in bullion; and
WHEREAS, that the Federal Reserve System’s currency is not redeemable in gold or silver coin or the equivalent in bullion is being identified by more and more experts as a, if not the, major reason for the ever-increasing instability of the Federal Reserve System; and
WHEREAS, all gold and silver coins of the United States are designated “legal tender” under the aegis of Title 31, United States Code, §§ 5103 and 5112(h), and must be so designated perforce of Article I, Section 8, Clause 5 and Article I, Section 10, Clause 1 of the Constitution of the United States; and
WHEREAS, pursuant to Article I, Section 10, Clause 1 of and the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, each State must make gold and silver coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; and
WHEREAS, the Supreme Court of the United States in Lane County v. Oregon, 74 U.S. (7 Wallace) 71, 76-78 (1869), and Hagar v. Reclamation District No. 108, 111 U.S. 701, 706 (1884), has ruled that the States may adopt whatever currency they desire for the purposes of performing their sovereign governmental functions, even to the extent of adopting gold and silver coin for those purposes while refusing to employ a currency not redeemable in gold or silver coin that Congress has designated “legal tender”; and
WHEREAS, “the police power” being the primary sovereign governmental function of every State, under Lane County and Hagar every State may adopt its own currency, consisting of gold or silver, or both, whenever necessary and proper to facilitate exercises of that power in aid of the general welfare of the State and its citizens; and
WHEREAS, under the aegis of Title 31, United States Code, § 5118(d)(2), and perforce of Article I, Section 8, Clause 5 and Article I, Section 10, Clause 1 of, and the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to, the Constitution of the United States, Americans may employ whatever currency they choose to stipulate as the medium for payment of their private debts, including gold or silver, or both, to the exclusion of a currency not redeemable in gold or silver that Congress may have designated “legal tender”; and
WHEREAS, under the aegis of Title 31, United States Code, § 5118(d)(2), and perforce of Article I, Section 8, Clause 5 and Article I, Section 10, Clause 1 of, and the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to, the Constitution of the United States, the citizens of Virginia may choose to employ as the medium for payment of their private debts whatever alternative currency, consisting of gold or silver, or both, that the Commonwealth may adopt in the exercise of “the police power”; and
WHEREAS, in light of the possible instability of the Federal Reserve System, proposals for states and their citizens to adopt an alternative currency consisting of gold or silver, or both, are receiving increasing attention throughout the United States, as evidenced by bills that have been or are being introduced in the legislatures of the States of Georgia, Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, and South Carolina; and
WHEREAS, various systems of alternative currency employing gold or silver, or both, in the form of coin or its equivalent in bullion have already proved themselves in the free market, and could either be employed by the Commonwealth directly or be used as models for a new system created by the Commonwealth to meet Virginia’s unique needs; and
WHEREAS, the adoption of an alternative currency consisting of gold or silver, or both, would not destabilize the present monetary and banking systems, the Commonwealth’s governmental finances, or Virginia’s private economy, because it would not compel or commit the Commonwealth or her citizens to employ such alternative currency to the exclusion of the Federal Reserve System’s currency immediately, but would merely make the alternative currency available, and enable it to be used in competition with and preference to the Federal Reserve System’s currency, to the degree that the need for such use became apparent; and
WHEREAS, the United States Congress, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the Federal Reserve System have taken and are preparing to take no action to provide the United States with an alternative to the Federal Reserve System’s currency, in the likely event that the latter would be destroyed through hyperinflation; and
WHEREAS, because legislators in Virginia know or should know all of these facts; and because the General Assembly has the authority, the ability, and the duty to take timely action to deal with this situation without first seeking the approval of or assistance from Congress or any other state; and because the Constitution of Virginia provides, “That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people, that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them”—for these reasons, the citizens of the Commonwealth will properly conclude that the members of the General Assembly will be primarily responsible if the Commonwealth is found to be without an alternative currency when the Federal Reserve System’s currency collapses in hyperinflation, or some other related economic calamity supervenes; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED by the House of Delegates, the Senate concurring, That a joint subcommittee be appointed to study whether the Commonwealth should adopt a currency to serve as an alternative to the currency distributed by the Federal Reserve System in the event of a major breakdown of the Federal Reserve System.
The joint subcommittee shall consist of eight legislative members who shall be appointed as follows: five members of the House of Delegates to be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Delegates in accordance with the principles of proportional representation contained in the Rules of the House of Delegates and three members of the Senate to be appointed by the Senate Committee on Rules. The joint subcommittee shall elect a chairman and vice-chairman from among its membership.
In conducting its study, the joint subcommittee shall call or hear from such witnesses and take such other evidence as it deems appropriate and shall consider recommendations for legislation, with respect to the need, means, and schedule for establishing such an alternative currency.
Administrative staff support shall be provided by the Office of the Clerk of the House of Delegates. Legal, research, policy analysis, and other services as requested by the joint subcommittee shall be provided by the Division of Legislative Services. Technical assistance shall be provided by the Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Bureau of Financial Institutions of the State Corporation Commission. All other agencies of the Commonwealth shall provide assistance to the joint subcommittee for this study, upon request.
The joint subcommittee shall be limited to six meetings for the 2011 interim, and the direct costs of this study shall not exceed $12,000 without approval as set out in this resolution. Approval for unbudgeted nonmember-related expenses shall require the written authorization of the chairman of the joint subcommittee and the respective Clerk. If a companion joint resolution of the other chamber is agreed to, written authorization of both Clerks shall be required.
No recommendation of the joint subcommittee shall be adopted if a majority of the House members or a majority of the Senate members appointed to the joint subcommittee (i) vote against the recommendation and (ii) vote for the recommendation to fail notwithstanding the majority vote of the joint subcommittee.
The joint subcommittee shall complete its meetings by November 30, 2011, and the chairman shall submit to the Division of Legislative Automated Systems an executive summary of its findings and recommendations no later than the first day of the 2012 Regular Session of the General Assembly. The executive summary shall state that the joint subcommittee intends to submit to the General Assembly and the Governor a report of its findings and recommendations for publication as a House or Senate document and shall specify the date by which the report shall be submitted. The executive summary and the report shall be submitted as provided in the procedures of the Division of Legislative Automated Systems for the processing of legislative documents and reports, and shall be posted on the General Assembly’s website.
Implementation of this resolution is subject to subsequent approval and certification by the Joint Rules Committee. The Committee may approve or disapprove expenditures for this study, extend or delay the period for the conduct of the study, or authorize additional meetings during the 2011 interim.
By Mikhail Kasyanov, Vladimir Milov, Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Ryzhkov, Edmonton Journal February 23, 2011
This year started quite symbolically in Russia. In the last days of 2010, government authorities decided to demonstrate their power and their intolerance for being challenged: The verdict issued at the farcical trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev had no relation to jurisprudence; leading opposition figures were detained for as many as 15 days on purely political grounds.
These heavy-handed actions set a peculiar stage for President Dmitry Medvedev's address at the World Economic Forum. Nevertheless, the intelligent and well-informed audience in Davos enthusiastically applauded his nice words about Russia's economic modernization and dynamic democratic development. International business leaders seem to accept his complaints that few Russians understand his great plans for the country's future, which greedy oligarchs and corrupt officials from the 1990s prevent him from undertaking.
It is obvious that Russia's economy and political system desperately need comprehensive modernization. But authorities' increasingly oppressive activities are following a different course.
Contrary to the wishful thinking many in Russia and abroad expressed when Medvedev took office -by de facto appointment -in 2008, his presidency has demonstrated no signs that his pro-democracy rhetoric might turn into real action. In fact, the opposite is true. This period was marked by increasingly restricted and falsified elections; war against Georgia; eased constraints on the use of armed forces abroad; the torture and death in custody of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer for the policeraided investment fund Hermitage Capital; police lawlessness and corruption; and continued oppression of political opponents and dissent. European energy consumers have experienced supply cutoffs, just one form of Russia's open pressure on its neighbours. Blatant hooliganism of pro-Kremlin youth organizations is promoted.
Medvedev has invested himself personally in this plethora of misdeeds. Together with his mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, he is directly responsible for numerous human-rights violations and further degradation of the political atmosphere in this country. He no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt. The question was asked at Davos in 2000 who Putin really is. It should be clear now to everyone who Putin and Medvedev are.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in several months, and the presidential election is due next year. But officials' authoritarian actions late last year suggest that future elections will not be better than previous ones -with winners appointed well in advance of the voting, a homunculus opposition pretending to fight while real opposition candidates are not allowed to run, election commissions producing the required results, and western short-term monitors confirming that on election day all but a few minor things were OK.
The Russian power tandem has indicated that they will soon decide which of them would become the next president for the newly established six-year term or even two consecutive terms. Nobody is asking the opinion of the Russian people, who are to go, zombie-like, to polling stations to create the appropriate TV picture. This is how democracy is understood by Russia's ruling group.
In fact, were Russian authorities left to their own devices, this country's "elections" wouldn't be any better than the recent performance in Belarus. And should that happen, Russia will lose its last chance for a peaceful return to the normal track of democratic development.
What can be done? We urge western leaders to discontinue their kisses-and-hugs "Realpolitik," which has failed, and to stop flirting with Russian rulers -behaviour that has not brought any benefits to the West and produces in Russia an impression that Putin's system is a decent one, like any other in the democratic world.
This is not just about choosing better keynote speakers for major international events. It means western leaders must stop closing their eyes to Russian leaders' clear noncompliance with international obligations, especially concerning free and fair elections and basic human rights. It means the West should cease greeting Russian rulers as equals, providing them with legitimacy they clearly do not merit. It means the West should start exposing corrupt practices by the Russian establishment, whose ability to find havens for stolen funds and leave Russia for comfortable lives in western nations is one of the regime's pillars of stability. It means western nations should introduce targeted sanctions against the officials directly abusing the rights of their compatriots.
This won't be simple. Such measures would be vehemently opposed by Putin's team, by the growing clientele for the state-owned Gazprom-Rosneft, and by some businesses that prefer smooth, if murky, dealings with Russian authorities. But the stakes require nothing less.
As leaders of the united Russian democratic opposition, we urge the West to stop undermining our cause and compromising the very principles western society is based upon. We are sure that we can achieve our goals through freedom and normal democratic process -provided we get these restored in our country.
The writers are co-chairs of the People's Freedom Party in Russia. Washington Post
BEIJING (Reuters) - The Chinese government faces a turbulent time of domestic unrest and challenges from "hostile Western forces" that it will fight with more sophisticated controls, a Communist Party law-and-order official said.
Chen Jiping, deputy secretary general of the Communist Party's Political and Legal Affairs Committee, gave the toughly worded warning in this week's issue of Outlook Weekly, and blamed Western democratic countries for fomenting unrest.
He did not mention the protests that have rocked authoritarian governments in the Middle East, and his words reflect the Communist Party's own homegrown fears.
But the uprisings that deposed Egypt's long-time president Hosni Mubarak and are now threatening Libya's strongman Muammar Gaddafi are likely to reinforce the views of Chinese security officials like Chen.
"The schemes of some hostile Western forces attempting to Western and split us are intensifying, and they are waving the banner of defending rights to meddle in domestic conflicts and maliciously create all kinds of incidents," Chen told the magazine, which is published by the official Xinhua news agency.
"Mass incidents continue at a high rate," Chen said, using the Party euphemism for protests, riots, strikes and mass petitions.
"Our country is in a period of magnified conflicts within the populace, high crime rates and complex struggle against foes, and these features are most unlikely to change any time soon," he said. The magazine reached subscribers Tuesday.
To counter such worries, Chinese leaders have promoted more of the stringent security steps that they brandished over the weekend, when police snuffed out feeble attempts to emulate the "Jasmine Revolution" street protests that have bloomed across the Middle East.
Chen said the government was honing policies to defuse and smother unrest and crime. Those policies include more monitoring of citizens to nip threats in the bud.
"That will include comprehensive roll-out of a social stability risk assessment system that covers major projects and policies that have a direct bearing on public interests," he said.
"Before decisions are made, there'll be a double assessment -- of their economic outcome and risks to social stability."
The Party Political and Legal Affairs Committee that Chen helps run oversees the courts, police and prosecutors. Chen is also a senior official of an office that develops and enforces anti-crime and domestic security policies.
The Communist Party already spends heavily on domestic security, and experts have said that budget now rivals spending on the military, crimping outlays for welfare.
Even most dissidents and other critics of China's one-party rule see scant prospect of serious challenges to it soon. Police regularly detain or confine dissidents at sensitive times.
In 2007, China had more than 80,000 "mass incidents," up from more than 60,000 in 2006, according to sociologists at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. More up to date estimates are not available, but some experts think improved welfare and the abolition of a hated tax on farmers have reduced the number. (Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Robert Birsel)
Quote of the week: (hat tip to Democracy Watch in Ukraine at htt://www.peoplefirst.org.ua )
"For the first time in human history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive... The resulting global political activism is generating a surge in the quest for personal dignity, cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world painfully scarred by memories of centuries-long alien colonial or imperial domination... [The] major world powers, new and old, also face a novel reality: while the lethality of their military might be greater than ever, their capacity to impose control over the politically awakened masses of the world is at a historic low. To put it bluntly: in earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today, it is infinitely easier to kill one million people than to control one million people."
Former U.S. National Security Advisor
Co-Founder of the Trilateral Commission
Member, Board of Trustees, Center for Strategic and International Studies
For U.K. Banks, a Calamity Is Born by David Enrich
LONDON—U.K. bank regulators are launching a new type of "stress test" that forces banks to consider unlikely but potentially disastrous scenarios like a flu pandemic or disruptions to the country's food-supply chain.
Scenarios U.K. banks are evaluating under new FSA 'stress tests'
It is a far cry from the comparatively quaint variables, bursting property bubbles and economic downturns, that regulators traditionally have used to gauge banks' financial health.
The latest exercise, which the U.K.'s Financial Services Authority instructed banks to start conducting in mid-December, is dubbed a "reverse stress test." It requires banks to identify potentially fatal events and then to work backward to find ways to revamp their businesses so they would be better prepared to withstand such shocks.
After being caught flat-footed by the financial crisis that nearly toppled two of the U.K.'s largest banks, the FSA sees the tests as part of prudent contingency planning. The agency last year told banks that the exercise is designed to spur them to "explore more fully the vulnerabilities of their current and future business plans."
Bankers call it the latest example of regulatory overkill. Executives protest that they are wasting countless hours dreaming up outlandish doomsday scenarios.
The chief executive of a major U.K. bank said the tests are predicated on "a massive confluence [of] absurd scenarios" in which executives passively watch events unfold rather than trying to stabilize the situation.
Bankers are especially worried that the process could result in them being forced to hold more capital. The FSA said in a planning document that the tests "may result indirectly in changes to the levels of capital held by firms" if the exercise "identifies business model vulnerabilities that have not previously been considered."
An FSA spokeswoman defended the exercise. "It might seem outlandish to them, but the point is that it pushes the business model to the point it collapses," the spokeswoman said. She said the banks also should be evaluating relatively mundane situations like what they would do in the event of a major internal fraud.
The U.K. arms of foreign banks, including U.S. investment banks, also are subject to the tests, although they face a more gradual timetable than British lenders for conducting the exams. One Wall Street bank's London unit is likely to look at how it would fare in a global liquidity crisis, said a person familiar with the matter.
Meanwhile, the man likely to be Ireland's next prime minister said the government should wait until a round of stress tests on the country's banks has been completed before recapitalizing them.
In an interview Thursday, Enda Kenny said it would be "prudent and realistic" to wait "to see if there is another black hole in the banks" before they receive any new capital injections.
Under the terms of the roughly €67 billion ($92 billion) bailout it negotiated for Ireland late last year, the government had been due to inject up to €10 billion into Bank of Ireland, Allied Irish Banks and EBS Building Society by the end of this month.
But the departing finance minister, Brian Lenihan, postponed the plan Wednesday until after the election, scheduled for Feb. 25, effectively leaving the decision to the next government.
In the U.K., the griping about the reverse stress tests comes as bankers mount a counteroffensive against what they perceive as overzealous U.K. regulation, especially when it comes to the amounts of capital and funding they are required to keep on hand.
Barclays PLC Chairman Marcus Agius complained in a letter last month to Treasury chief George Osborne that the situation is "resulting in a nonlevel playing field." Mr. Agius, writing in his capacity as chairman of the British Bankers' Association, attached an eight-page report listing examples, including the reverse stress tests, that said the FSA is outpacing other regulators and international rules.
The new testing process highlights the lengths to which regulators are going to guard against a repeat of the global financial crisis, in which a confluence of events crippled banks around the world and sent many economies into recession.
In November 2008, the FSA pioneered the use of stress tests to determine how much more capital banks would need to weather a variety of unpleasant but plausible economic environments. The U.S. adopted that model in 2009 to help ease its banking crisis.
The European Union last year conducted stress tests of 91 banks, but they were widely panned for giving passing marks to almost all banks, including some that subsequently required taxpayer bailouts.
European officials now are negotiating the variables they will use in a second round of tests this spring. Those variables include factors such as economic growth rates and real-estate values.
Those exams are tame compared with the reverse stress tests getting under way at U.K. banks and other financial institutions.
In those, bank executives are supposed to run simulations of a series of scenarios and then take steps to fortify their companies to withstand such crises. Such steps could include drawing up new contingency plans, restructuring business lines or beefing up cash reserves.
The FSA doesn't dictate the terms of the exams, leaving it up to banks to choose the catastrophes that they prepare for. But those situations are subject to FSA vetting and, in at least some recent cases, agency officials have told executives they aren't looking at sufficiently severe events, according to people familiar with the matter. The FSA has insisted those banks take into account more-extreme possibilities.
The banks appear to be "having difficulty thinking of something that will satisfy the regulators," said Irving Henry, a director at the British Bankers' Association who specializes in regulatory issues.
As a result, bankers are evaluating some seemingly far-fetched possibilities, according to people involved in the process.
For example, they are calculating what would happen if a swine-flu pandemic wiped out most of their employees, contemplating questions regarding how the bank continues to operate and even who would restock cash machines.
Another scenario posed involves the potential for a Latin American coup that would knock out the bank's local operations, potentially trapping large sums of money thousands of miles away.
And at least one bank was asked to asses the impact of a full-fledged trade war between the U.S. and China.
Some scenarios are easier to imagine. Last spring, an Icelandic volcano erupted, sending a big ash cloud floating over the U.K. and other parts of Western Europe. What if a future eruption prevented air travel for months rather than weeks?
The banks maintain that they would be doing this type of contingency planning without prodding from the FSA. Having regulators looking over their shoulders, demanding clear-cut answers and the completion of hundreds of spreadsheets, is simply making the process more cumbersome, bank officials said. It is "risk planning gone mad," one bank executive said.
Prophets of doom: The secret of soothsaying 02 February 2011 by Mark Buchanan New Scientist Magazine issue 2797.
From seizures to plagues, we may have found a universal early warning system that tells us when we're headed for disaster
OF ALL the tragic protagonists of the Trojan wars, Cassandra cuts the loneliest figure. The soothsaying daughter of the king of Troy, she saw the warning signs that foretold the downfall of her city. But she was fated not to be believed - and all her knowledge could not prevent the impending catastrophe.
Fast-forward a few thousand years, and disaster looms ever larger on our horizons. Climate change, ecosystem crunches, market crashes: stability seems a fragile and transitory state, threatening at any point to tip into uncertainty and chaos.
What we wouldn't give for a way to see the future and head off disasters. "There are so many massive changes that are really important for people - the collapse of fisheries, water supply problems, desertification or species invasions - but we are typically surprised when these changes come," says ecologist Steven Carpenter of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. "Early warnings could save a lot of money and a lot of human suffering."
Carpenter is at the centre of developments that could legitimise soothsaying with solid science. As we get to grips with the dynamics of complex systems with many moving, interacting parts, from the ecosystems that Carpenter studies to financial markets and the human brain, we are beginning to see subtle similarities in how they work, and in particular how they signal stress in the lead-up to a meltdown. Look hard enough and the same precursory signals of catastrophe seem to crop up all over the place. Might they allow us to leap over Cassandra's shadow - to foretell disaster, but also act to avoid it?
The conventional view is that "tipping points" in complex systems are fundamentally unpredictable. Imagine a smouldering pile of sticks. They might smoke for a while and eventually die out, or they might suddenly kindle and burst into flames. Without knowing every detail of the pile of twigs and their surroundings - the exact arrangement of the pile, the temperature and humidity of the environment and so on - it is impossible to tell when, if at all, a flare up might occur.
Something bugging Carpenter's first inkling that this might not be the whole story came one night seven years ago on the Caribbean island of Tobago. He and some fellow ecologists were relaxing in a bar after a conference session, and talk turned to a computer program one of the party had written to simulate outbreaks of spruce budworm. Every few decades, numbers of this conifer-munching insect explode, bringing devastating defoliation to North American forests. But there seemed to be an irritating bug in the program itself: just before an outbreak, the virtual budworm populations showed puzzling, jagged fluctuations in their numbers.
That intrigued Buz Brock, an economist colleague of Carpenter's at Wisconsin who was also present that evening. He had been working at the mathematical interfaces of economics and ecology for two decades, and he grabbed some paper and started scribbling equations. Two hours on, he had what looked like an answer to the budworm mystery - and a hint of a bigger discovery, too.
What he had jotted down were some calculations from bifurcation theory, the branch of applied mathematics used to characterise how a system's internal dynamics change, often abruptly, in response to mainly gradual changes around it. The budworm issue led him to see a new wrinkle in the equations. It seemed that the slow slide of a system into a new, potentially unstable state would first be reflected in subtle changes in the natural patterns of variability of the system, long before any tipping point was reached.
With budworms, it is easy to see why this might be the case. In the short term, the population of the insect would vary up and down, but natural feedbacks would act to keep it close to some fixed value. More budworms, for example, would mean more tasty meals for birds, who might shift their attentions from other food sources, pushing down budworm numbers once more.
In the longer term, however, gradual changes in outside conditions could bring more subtle effects into play. For example, over many years the foliage harbouring the budworms would grow thicker as trees grew and matured, making it progressively more difficult for birds to find the grubs. That gradual change, outwardly almost imperceptible, would first make itself known in how a budworm population fluctuated: each time the number of grubs was higher than average, it would take longer to sink back to its equilibrium value. Eventually, the long-term increase in foliage density, coupled with a natural short-term rise in the bug population, would be enough to render the birds' foraging strategy ineffective. Budworm numbers would start increasing exponentially and the system would tip abruptly into a radically different state, with catastrophic consequences for the forest.
This sort of "critical slowing down" in the response to natural perturbations was just the thing to explain the mysterious fluctuations in the virtual budworm populations (see diagram). It was not a new idea; something similar had been spotted in systems from atoms emitting laser light to patterns of neural activity in squid brains. But Brock was the first to suggest that it might be a consistent early warning sign of events to come. "That's when we started wondering if Buz hadn't hit on something much bigger," says Carpenter. If critical slowing down could be used to predict tipping points in budworm populations, why not also in other systems where these slowing downs occur? "The more excited we got, the more we also wondered, are we kidding ourselves?" says Carpenter.
If they were, they weren't the only ones. Around the same time, climatologists Hermann Held, Thomas Kleinen and Gerhard Petschel-Held at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany were noting something similar. They were modelling how additional fresh water, for example from melting ice caps, would alter the flow of the ocean currents that carry energy and dissolved materials around the globe. As meltwater increases, this normally highly predictable flow starts to become less regular in time and space, before eventually, at much higher meltwater influx, ceasing altogether (Ocean Dynamics, vol 53, p 53).
Such effects are not just confined to computer models. In 2006, Chih-hao Hsieh, then at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, and his colleagues reviewed a 50-year database of fish larvae populations. Leaving overall declines aside, they found that the variability in species exploited by commercial fishing - which are more prone to devastating crashes - matched the changes predicted by theory, even when those populations had not yet been so overfished as to collapse (Nature, vol 443, p 859).
Vasilis Dakos and Marten Scheffer of the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands and their colleagues, meanwhile, were looking into eight cases of abrupt changes in Earth's past climate. These ranged from the transition from a balmy tropical state to a colder climate with ice caps 34 million years ago to an event 5000 years ago when the north African landscape switched abruptly from a savannah dotted with lakes to desert. In each case, the researchers identified a sudden increase in the autocorrelation of the temperature record in the time leading up to the transition. Autocorrelation is a mathematical sign of critical slowing: it reflects the predictability of a time series, or how closely its behaviour correlates with what it did in the recent past. As a system approaches a tipping point and its responses to natural perturbations grow slower, that autocorrelation grows larger (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol 105, p 14308).
Induced collapse What could be the final proof of a pervasive predictive effect came last September. Ecologists John Drake of the University of Georgia in Athens and Blaine Griffen of the University of South Carolina in Columbia induced populations of zooplankton to crash by slowly reducing the food available to some of them. In those populations destined for extinction, the predicted signs of critical slowing in their fluctuations showed up as much as eight generations before extinction (Nature, vol 467, p 456).
"This is a real landmark," says Scheffer, who was not involved in the research. "It reveals theoretically predicted signals in a real biological system in a controlled experiment."
So can we use this to our advantage? Perhaps. Scheffer and others readily admit that moving from occasional laboratory success to consistent practical application will be far from easy.
One problem is how to deal with the possibility of false predictions - something that previous experience has shown to be a tough nut to crack (see "All in the mind"). Changing tack in areas such as climate change and biodiversity to avoid assumed tipping points can incur huge costs, so policy makers will demand total confidence that when an early warning sign comes it means they must act. And even if we can guarantee total confidence in the predictions, will we be able to spot the warning signals far enough in advance to make a difference?
To find out, Carpenter, Brock and ecologist Reinette Biggs of Stockholm University in Sweden developed a computer model of a fishing ground in which they varied fishing and shoreline development policies and watched for their effects on the virtual fish stocks. Shoreline development can have a profound effect on fish numbers by depriving fish of natural habitats and increasing harmful run-offs. But once developed, a shore is not easy to undevelop, at least quickly. In this case, the warning signs of critical slowing and increased autocorrelation did indeed show up, but too late for any change in development policy to feed through and avert a collapse. "If you wait for clear evidence of negative environmental impacts, you may well be too late to do anything about it," says Brock.
In the case of simple overfishing, however, the outcome was more positive. If policies such as fishing moratoriums were implemented immediately after an early warning was received, the collapse of fish populations could be prevented. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol 106, p 826). This suggests that with the right high-precision data to hand we can recognise and avert impending catastrophes. "With the rapid growth in high-frequency environmental monitoring equipment, this may be more possible in the future," says Biggs.
The same possibilities and caveats apply to the largest complex system where advance, undeniable warning of impending disaster would be very useful: the global climate. In a recent review, Tim Lenton of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, alongside Scheffer and others, has listed the threats most likely to cause major shifts in Earth's climate, such as the melting of the polar ice caps. Any kind of concrete early warning would be valuable, says Lenton, and better data is the key to spotting them.
Even if we were to see incontrovertible signs in time, that does not necessarily mean we will be able to agree on the right actions, says John McNeill, an ecological historian at Georgetown University in Washington DC. "Unless we know those things in convincing detail and with near-unanimity, human collective-action problems bedevil effective action," he says.
Our understanding of tipping points and the warnings we receive of their approach is undoubtedly improving in leaps and bounds. But predicting whether we can use that to sharpen up our act may be the hardest call of all.
All in the mind One area where tipping points have a long history is in medicine, especially in studies of that most complex of systems, the human brain. As long ago as the 1970s, researchers at the McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Company in West Huntington Beach, California, built a pocket-sized EEG device that used a statistical analysis of patterns in the brain's electrical activity to give early warning of epileptic seizures - the point where the normal patterns of neuronal firing give way to excessive or synchronous activity, with incapacitating effects.
Their aim was to give people with epilepsy sufficient warning of an attack that they could cease or avoid dangerous activities - driving a car, for example, or crossing the road. Ultimately, the plan was to develop an implant that could deliver electric shocks or a drug infusion to head off a seizure.
In a small study limited to five people, their technique accurately predicted about 90 per cent of the seizures tens of seconds to minutes before they came. But it also frequently predicted seizures that never came. That risked causing unwarranted alarm and could have subjected someone to unnecessary treatments. Since then, decades of effort have gone into developing more specific ways to foresee seizures that might overcome this problem by looking at more complex features of the patterns of electrical activity within the brain. Success has been limited.
In fact, proving any kind of practical predictive ability to be more successful than random guessing isn't as easy as you might expect. When it comes to blind studies of the effectiveness of different algorithms for predicting seizures, for example, there is still no clearly accepted definition of what actually constitutes the onset of a seizure. "The idea seems simple enough," says Brian Litt of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. "You make a prediction, and then within some predetermined period a seizure either occurs or does not. But in practice you face difficult questions like 'Did a seizure really occur?'."
Financial whirl Might financial markets also give consistent warning of their collapse? That possibility awakes intense interest given the profits to be made by any financial whizz kid who can see the future.
So far, the science is ambiguous. Economist John Geanakoplos of the University of Yale, working with physicists Doyne Farmer of the Santa Fe Institute and Stefan Thurner of the Medical University of Vienna, has studied a model of competition between hedge funds, which try to attract investors by earning higher returns than their competitors. They found that this competition can drive the market past a tipping point, triggering a sudden, self-amplifying spiral of losses. Long before that collapse occurs, however, the researchers observed ever more skittish flows of money in and out of the funds.
These model predictions seem to fit closely with the actual behaviour observed before a real-world disastrous event in August 2007 known as the "quant meltdown". But in general, reliable evidence for early warnings in financial systems is scant. Where money is at stake, any successful method of prediction would quickly invalidate its own forecasts, as investors change their strategies to avoid its predictions.
Mark Buchanan is a freelance writer based in the UK
Conflict between the authorities and entrepreneurs in Ukraine may lead to another revolution
Source: DEMOCRACY WATCH Issue 2: Tuesday 8th Feb 2011
After giving protestants' demands token consideration the Ukrainian authorities adopted a new version of Tax Code which demonstrates a somewhat nonchalant attitude towards the interests of entrepreneurs. Thus, the government led by the Party of Regions chose to safeguard the interests of business heavyweights and mark small and medium sized businesses as a primary source of taxation, without considering the hostile environment menacing the SME sector. One of the provisions of the new Tax Code provides the tax administration with the right to freeze any ?offender?s? bank accounts but fails to present a procedure for unblocking such accounts.
The administrative pressure on entrepreneurs participating in the protests at the end of 2010 was indicative of an aggressive attitude among the authorities. In Kyiv and other regions of Ukraine there have been reports of the authorities purposefully shutting down the trade places of those entrepreneurs who participated in protests. Substantial increases in the number of inspections and interrogations by the militia have become common indicators of pressure.
Thus the population engaged in small and medium sized business - the bulk of the middle class and a fundamental of civil society in Europe - has begun to mobilise itself. As a result, fresh protest actions against the government have already been planned for February 2011. The schedule of demonstrations was recently confirmed by Igor Gurnyak, head of the Coordination Council of the Assembly of non-governmental organisations of small and medium-sized businesses in Ukraine. New protests will voice such demands as the cancellation of the new Tax Code, resignations from the Cabinet of Ministers, pre-term elections for the Verkhovna Rada and the cancellation of a new Labour Code that jeopardises the social security of hired workers. The ongoing battle between entrepreneurs and the policy of the Party of Regions demonstrates a shift away from the typical apathetic population, as segments of the population band together to protect their rights. If the government proves incapable of accommodating the demands of its people, instability in the socio-political and economic fields may get significantly worse before the end of the year.
What is interesting about the recent public out cries in Tunisia Jordan, Yemen and Egypt is that these revolts are characterised by cries for democracy, jobs, lower food prices, an end to corruption and political reform. This public reaction to social injustice has not been by a radicalised few but by the middle class and ordinary people who simply want a better standard of living. Recent national research carried by the People First Foundation has found that the average middle and working class Ukrainian family?s primary concerns are: jobs, food prices, education, medical care, corruption, representation in government and the rule of law. Successive governments have ignored job creation, in fact now we see the opposite as the tax police, enforcing the new tax code, force thousands of small and medium sized enterprises to the wall. Food prices continue to rise not simply because of world pricing but also because of the cartels that have been allowed to develop unopposed in the food and food supply industry. Education and healthcare bare the brunt of budget cuts. Corruption is costing the country literally billions in illegal offshore transactions, VAT scams and over pricing, democracy is under direct attack and the majority of Ukrainians now believe that justice is a tradable commodity.
The parallels between the social conditions in North Africa and Ukraine are uncannily similar particularly with the authoritarian clamp down and the middle class tax revolt. The only difference being that in Ukraine the opposition is even less likely to solve the problems as they are cast from the same die. The authorities had better rethink their policies lest Ukrainians learn from the North African and Middle Eastern examples and follow suite.
Late January, Timothy Snyder - a Yale University history professor - packed auditoria and lecture halls at St Vladimir Institute in Toronto and the University of Toronto and spoke to an evenly distributed crowd from the Ukrainian, Polish and Jewish communities about his recent book, Bloodlands: EuropeBetween Hitler and Stalin.
Kudos’ to the organizers.
Prof. Snyder starts his lecture with the shocking finding that 17 million people were killed between 1933 and World War II, with a concentration of 14 million in the “bloodlands” - Ukraine, Poland and Belarus. Both Hitler and Stalin viewed Ukraine as a strategic asset; an eastern pastoral paradise, which Hitler even called “the Garden of Eden”. Nazi Germany was not self-sufficient in food. Hitler’s plan for the destruction of the Soviet Union would bring Ukraine’s breadbasket under German control, making Germany unassailable. Equally for Stalin, mastery of Ukraine was a precondition and proof of the triumph of his version of socialism. Germany concluded that Ukraine was “agriculturally and industrially the most important part of the Soviet Union.” After all, it produced 90% of all the food. According to Germany’s long term colonial plan, the western Soviet Union would become an agrarian colony dominated by Germans. This required the murder, displacement, assimilation or enslavement of 40 million people. Hitler believed that Germany would secure Ukrainian food and Caucasian oil in a matter of weeks after the invasion of the Soviet Union. When the War dragged on and the Soviet Union didn’t collapse, Jews in Ukraine were blamed for the Nazi failure and the Nazi extermination process started.
I had the chance to ask Prof. Snyder a question after his talk. What lessons can we learn from your book about preventing a similar deliberate, policy-triggered famine today, since historians are fond of saying that history is important to study so that we don’t repeat past mistakes? Without missing a beat, Snyder referred to his recent article in The New Republic on October 28, 2010, which was called: TheComing Age of Slaughter: Will Global Warming Unleash Genocide?
The recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland had food security as the main topic. While the figure of 17 million deaths in the “bloodlands” is hard to comprehend, today, over 50 times that number, or 925 million people mostly in Africa and South Asia are at risk of famine and starvation, says the UN.
One troubling scenario involves China, the most populous country on earth that has just half of the world average of fertile cropland per capita and one quarter the world average of potable water per capita. China has bought every hectare of available arable farmland in Africa and is exporting food back to feed hungry Chinese, who are suffering from the worst persistent droughts in six decades in the northern wheat-growing provinces. These exports have led to food shortages, price spikes and famine in some African countries. To add to their troubles, much of China’s potable water comes from Himalayan glaciers, which are now melting and shrinking. (see my b;og post Melting Himalayan glaciers & weather extremes caused by Indian & Chinese pollution, soot (carbon black) and not CO2)
To solve its food and water scarcity problem, it is quite plausible the China could soon invade Siberian Russia to secure precious water and cropland, becoming the next geopolitical conflict hotspot. This will become even more acute because in just 6 short years, China plans to build the largest mega city on the planet with a population of 43 million and they all have to eat and drink.
Grains are becoming scarce not just in Africa and China but around the world too, due to climate change, after floods in the Prairies in Canada, droughts in America, floods in Australia and Pakistan and last summer’s fires in Russia. Over 30 countries are now at risk of food shortages and famine including Tunisia, Egypt and Albania (totally ignored by the mass media in the West), whose government regimes are crumbling after massive street protests.
After recent trade talks, China along with Egypt, Libya and the United Arab Emirates are secretly eyeing the Ukrainian breadbasket, just like Hitler and Stalin did seven decades ago, not just for imports of grains, but to buy or lease land directly to ship crops back to feed their hungry people. A land grab resembling Chinese tactics in Africa-that could sideline the Ukrainian farmer, and potentially, lead to famine down the road.
While Ukraine is self-sufficient in grain production and exports today – it’s number ten in the world in grain exports, but its food exports total only 0.9 percent of GDP. So far, Ukraine has exported 5.9 million tonnes of grain since the beginning of this marketing year - July 2010. But, it won't take much to turn Ukraine into a net food importer from a grain exporter.
It’s plausible that the current Ukrainian regime-the Party of Regions, desperate for revenues, will arrange secret loans-for-land swaps. Watchdog groups in Ukraine should monitor for changes in the constitution, land privatization and visa-free travel of Chinese farm labourers, which would benefit China and others and threaten Ukraine’s food security.
Here's my preliminary list of early warning signals that point to the decay and collapse of both Russia and Ukraine.
(N.B. I'm not anti-Russian or anti-Ukrainian, I actually feel quite sorry for most Russian and Ukrainian people, who have to struggle under the current oppressive regimes. I sincerely hope this scenario doesn't pan out, because many ordinary people are not prepared and will suffer again like they did in the late 1980's, but the odds of it not happening are against it --wd)
[N.B....Back in the 1970's and 80's,Cybernetic experts using system dynamics modeling in Kyiv and Moscow, predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union by 1990 plus or minus one or two years-not a popular notion at the time, but key people did pay heed. Two years before the collapse of the FSU, Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs started to move their wealth off-shore in 1988-89. These predictions were spot on.
Similar systems dynamics modeling shows that Putinism in Russian and president Yanukowych regime in Ukraine will suffer a similar fate as did the former Soviet Union--Walter Derzko]
According to many Soviet expats that I talk to, similar conditions and circumstances that we see today, also existed before the collapse of the Soviet Union exactly 20 years ago (ie in 1989 and 2001).
UPDATE: ....[..]...People in Russia & Ukraine are encouraged to be bribe-takers by the "system" that stretches back to Soviet days. Bribes compensate low pay. It’s a control mechanism. Corruption is tolerated by the state, until that person steps out of line and then the authorities have evidence in hand to charge you…the higher ups and inner circle of Medvedev, Putin and Yanukowych never get charged…just look at the evidence....(well unless you fall out of favour like Berezowsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other Russian oligarchs).(Russia and Ukraine)
2) Theft of state property and funds via selective privatization (to your inner circle of friends) and crony capitalism. (Russia and Ukraine)
9) Tacit government support of contraband, narcotics and human trafficking ie 7Km Market in Odessa, Ukraine. (Russia and Ukraine)
10) Demographic collapse. (Russia)
UPDATE: Russia is in civilizational decline, new nations emerge-Siberians see themselves as separate nation from Russia http://bit.ly/lSzxZm
11) Weakened military control at the periphery of the empire. (Russia)
12) Conflicts on the periphery.
UPDATE ie Extremist calls increasingly common in blogs, social networks - Russian police; RIA Novosti > Feb 1, 2011 (Russia)
Russian paper fears conscripting postgraduate students could trigger Russian brain drain Vedomosti website, Moscow, in Russian 12 May 2011 (Russia)
Russia is in civilizational decline, new nations emerge-Siberians see themselves as separate nation from Russia http://bit.ly/lSzxZm (Russia)
13) Army can't afford to pay utilities or conscript salaries, hunger strikes over wages (Russia)
14) Government worker salaries withheld. (Russia and Ukraine)
15) Lack of independent police and widespread corruption. (Russia and Ukraine)
16) Lawlessness, police focus on extremists and political opposition instead of bandits who run free.
UPDATE: ie Russian police said putting social, political activists under surveillance in Yezhednevnyy Zhurnal website, Moscow, in Russian 2 Jun 2009; Extremist calls increasingly common in blogs, social networks - Russian police in RIA Novosti, Feb 1, 2011; Crackdown on dissenters, not corruption, seen as Russian police's priority> [Article by Aleksandr Podrabinek: "The Main Enemy for Starters"] in Yezhednevnyy Zhurnal website, Moscow, in Russian 9 Jun 10 (Russia and Ukraine)
17) Lack of independent judiciary (pocket book justice where verdict can be bought directly or drawn out/extended) and corruption. (Russia and Ukraine)
UPDATE: "The legislature and the judiciary have stopped executing their functions. The government is de-facto non-existent in Ukraine. All the decisions are made in the presidential administration. The last bulwark that we have is fair elections. But there is a threat that the current authorities will deprive the Ukrainian people of this right," said Tymoshenko in Brussels. --Ukrainians may be deprived of right for fair elections - former premier ; Ukrayinska Pravda OnlineThursday,March 24, 2011
UPDATE: Russian court refuses to order arrest of prosecutor in illegal gambling case Moscow, 8 June 2011: Moscow's Basmannyy court has refused to order the arrest of the prosecutor of Ozery in Moscow Region, Anatoliy Drog, who is suspected of "protecting" illegal casinos in Moscow Region. Moreover, the court studied confessions from Drog's driver, Ruslan Tankiyev, who said he personally handed over the money received by Ozery's prosecutor as a bribe.
18) Dictates from above to; pressure on parliament, the police, tax enforcers, the judiciary and the interior ministry staff. (Russia and Ukraine)
UPDATE: The press secretary of Moscow's Khamovnicheskiy Court, Natalya Vasilyeva, maintains that pressure is being exerted on her boss, judge Viktor Danilkin. Earlier, she said that the verdict in the second Yukos trial was not Danilkin's independent decision. (Source: REN TV, Moscow, in Russian 1630 25 Feb 11);
"The legislature and the judiciary have stopped executing their functions. The government is de-facto non-existent in Ukraine. All the decisions are made in the presidential administration. The last bulwark that we have is fair elections. But there is a threat that the current authorities will deprive the Ukrainian people of this right," said Tymoshenko in Brussels. --Ukrainians may be deprived of right for fair elections - former premier ; Ukrayinska Pravda OnlineThursday,March 24, 2011
19) Illegal Use of Administrative resources. (Russia and Ukraine)
20) Cyber attack, info wars, online provocateurs to protect the status quo, false flag terrorist operations for excuse to declare marshal law.
UPDATE: ie Extremist calls increasingly common in blogs, social networks - Russian police; RIA Novosti > Feb 1, 2011 (Russia and Ukraine)
21) Political opposition and critics branded as extremists and terrorists. Journalist critics murdered (Russia and Ukraine)
22) Intelligence arms of government -FSB (formerly KGB) and SBU growing in power.
UPDATE: ie Editorial says Russian security service protects regime, not people or state > Gazeta.ru April 10 2010 (Russia and Ukraine)
23) Growth of religion as a political weapon ie Moscow Patriach Kirill, Russki Mir and the Compatriots Abroad progarm run by the FSB etc.
UPDATE: ie [Russian prosecutors uncover food price-fixing in several regions from RIA Novosti News Agency 4 Oct 2010; Azarov: There are lobbying groups in Ukraine who want food price rises Interfax : Ukraine General Newswire. Kiev: Mar 1, 2011; Ukrainian president urges regional governor to prevent bread shortage in Lviv; Unian, March 15 2011.] (Russia and Ukraine)
26) Commodity price fixing, specualtion.
UPDATE ie. Antitrust agency could fine fuel traders up to UAH 1b, says energy ministerAnonymous. Interfax : Ukraine General Newswire. Kiev: Mar 14, 2011; Ukrainian president urges regional governor to prevent bread shortage in Lviv; Unian, March 15 2011 (Russia and Ukraine)
27) Low (below $100 per barrel) or reversal of oil / gas and commodity prices that are /will bankrupt the government again. (Last year Russia said it needs oil at $100 per barrel for the next 5 year just to break even-now even that price may not be enoough. At $85 a barrel, Russia is going broke-- just like the straw that broke the camel's back in 1989 and 1991)
28) Behind the scenes support to oligarchs and big business, ignoring general public and small and medium business (ie [..] "small business, squeezed between the public-hygiene inspectorate demanding bribes and rattled banks, where money is left hanging, can only smile at this." [...] ) (Russia and Ukraine)
29) Uncontrolled Sovereign wealth fund spending, government going broke, no reserves. (Russia)
30) Rising Russian nationalism and provoked ethnic tensions. (Russia)
31) Potential Tax revolt 2011. (Russia and Ukraine)
32) Protests demos and possibly a national strike 2011. (Russia and Ukraine)
33) Deceptions and provocations, (Tabachnyk and Demjanjuk in the case of Ukraine. etc) (Ukraine and Russia)
34) Endless empty promises and no action, or reforms or new governance business models. (Russia and Ukraine)
35) Imbalances, paradoxes and contractions (ie Putin's $B dollar palace vs. poverty rates; oligarchs avoid taxes by off shoring profits vs. tax squeeze on SMB, Russia plans to upgrade its Navy/Black Sea fleet but it can't afford the basics- hoses, fire trucks and pumps to fight forest fires in the summer of 2010; Police and Interior Ministry told to concentrate on dissenters, not bandits, rapists, thieves, and corruption; Russian Official puts [future] Russia's arms exports portfolio at 30bn dollars (10 bn dollars in 2011), yet there is no money for social basics http://www.unian.net/ukr/news/news-419648.html etc
Nearly nine million of Ukraine's 14 million pensioners live on $120 a month, while as many as a third of Ukrainians are mired in abject poverty. All of this is happening in a nation that is one the world’s top exporters of steel, ore, grain, chemicals and arms (Russia & Ukraine)
38) Wild unrealistic growth expectations based on debt financing (Russia & Ukraine)
UPDATE: i.e. Ukraine’s reliance on foreign loans has raised its public debt to $54 billion, even as the government still hopes to tap up to $12.1 billion more in loans from the International Monetary Fund.
UPDATE: Why did the Soviet Union Collapse? (lessons for Russia today)
According to Yegor Gaidar, who was the acting prime minister of Russia, minister of economy, and first deputy prime minister between 1991 and 1994.
"The timeline of the collapse of the Soviet Union can be traced to September 13, 1985. On this date, Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the minister of oil of Saudi Arabia, declared that the monarchy had decided to alter its oil policy radically. The Saudis stopped protecting oil prices, and Saudi Arabia quickly regained its share in the world market. During the next six months, oil production in Saudi Arabia increased fourfold, while oil prices collapsed by approximately the same amount in real terms.
As a result, the Soviet Union lost approximately $20 billion per year, money without which the country simply could not survive. The Soviet leadership was confronted with a difficult decision on how to adjust. There were three options--or a combination of three options--available to the Soviet leadership.
First, dissolve the Eastern European empire and effectively stop barter trade in oil and gas with the Socialist bloc countries, and start charging hard currency for the hydrocarbons. This choice, however, involved convincing the Soviet leadership in 1985 to negate completely the results of World War II. In reality, the leader who proposed this idea at the CPSU Central Committee meeting at that time risked losing his position as general secretary.
Second, drastically reduce Soviet food imports by $20 billion, the amount the Soviet Union lost when oil prices collapsed. But in practical terms, this option meant the introduction of food rationing at rates similar to those used during World War II. The Soviet leadership understood the consequences: the Soviet system would not survive for even one month. This idea was never seriously discussed.
Third, implement radical cuts in the military-industrial complex. With this option, however, the Soviet leadership risked serious conflict with regional and industrial elites, since a large number of Soviet cities depended solely on the military-industrial complex. This choice was also never seriously considered.
Unable to realize any of the above solutions, the Soviet leadership decided to adopt a policy of effectively disregarding the problem in hopes that it would somehow wither away. Instead of implementing actual reforms, the Soviet Union started to borrow money from abroad while its international credit rating was still strong. It borrowed heavily from 1985 to 1988, but in 1989 the Soviet economy stalled completely...
The money was suddenly gone. The Soviet Union tried to create a consortium of 300 banks to provide a large loan for the Soviet Union in 1989, but was informed that only five of them would participate and, as a result, the loan would be twenty times smaller than needed. The Soviet Union then received a final warning from the Deutsche Bank and from its international partners that the funds would never come from commercial sources. Instead, if the Soviet Union urgently needed the money, it would have to start negotiations directly with Western governments about so-called politically motivated credits.
In 1985 the idea that the Soviet Union would begin bargaining for money in exchange for political concessions would have sounded absolutely preposterous to the Soviet leadership. In 1989 it became a reality, and Gorbachev understood the need for at least $100 billion from the West to prop up the oil-dependent Soviet economy.