viernes, 2 de julio de 2010

Cómo organizar un sindicato agrario horizontal exitoso

June 30, 2010

A Message From Below

Going Horizontal at the US Social Forum


If one political concept dominated the proceedings of the US Social Forum, it was horizontalism. Organizers mentioned it in relation to media access, workshops panelists offered it as an alternative to top-down NGOs and political parties and participants already engaged in politics employed it as a measurement of their own groups’ internal functioning. To some, horizontalism represented more of an abstract democratic sense informed by anarchist sentiments. For others, it meant thinking through power relations that operate inside the new structures they sought to set up – frequently things like cooperatives, community supported agriculture or community gardens. Kandace Vallejo an organizer with the Student Farmworker Alliance (SFA) offered a more concrete definition.

Vallejo spoke as part of the panel I helped to organize for the Socialist Party USA at the Social Forum. SFA is an ally organization to the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization that represents farm workers throughout the state of Florida. Vallejo spoke about CIW’s remarkable string of victories at a moment when nearly all of organized labor seems to be in deep retreat. Multinational food giants such as Taco Bell, McDonalds and WholeFoods have all yielded to the demands of this organization.

Vallejo presented these successful campaigns as a part of a larger process of trial and error. At first, workers in the region did what workers everywhere do – prepare to fight their bosses. This meant organizing against the growers. However, CIW soon realized that multinational food corporations held growers hostage by their demands for cheap produce. In response, the focus shifted to these companies and, in the process, the CIW needed to call on external ally organizations to assist the organizing. High-profile campaigns ensued as picket lines were thrown up in front of Taco Bell and other food chain stores throughout the country.

How could the CIW maintain this broad network of allies and still keep the focus on the workplace struggles? The driving force behind these campaigns, Vallejo related, are the workers themselves. The initial organizing was quite challenging since workers came from radically different historical traditions in Haiti, Central America and Mexico. Eventually, after struggling together, the workers devised a three-prong system for organizing – popular education, the identification and development of leaders and mass mobilizations.

Vallejo described the manner in which popular education played a critical role in mobilizing both the workers and the surrounding community. By employing graphic art and a low power radio station, CIW is able to reach a beyond the worksite and enter into the everyday lives of people in the region. Organizers employ the notion of “accompaniment” to express their desire to march with the community not over its head or not in an attempt to force changes that they see as desirable, but the community does not.

However, the internal workings of the CIW express the clearest ethic of horizontalism. Vallejo spoke about the yearly assemblies of CIW members in which major decisions about campaigns and the election of representatives take place. Further, elected leaders are held to a similar position as that of workers themselves as no salary exceeds three times the average worker and staff must spend ¼ of the season working in the fields. Such measures are meant to prevent the formation of elitism amongst officials and are a far cry from the way a typical trade union operates. CIW members work side-by-side with their representatives thereby placing real limits on vertical hierarchies within the worker's movement. This type of organization also allows the campaigns to flow from the bottom up as ally organizations express solidarity with real organizing conducted by the farm workers themselves.

The next test for the CIW and its allies will come as they continue a campaign that targets the Trader Joe’s chain. Once again a corporation that markets a sense of sustainability to its consumers has proved to be resistant when farm workers come knocking. And so, again, the CIW will roll out its networks of allies in order to employ mass mobilization as a tactic to lessen exploitation and defend the base level organizing underway in Florida.

The CIW was not the only organization advertising its horizontal structures. Many other workshops offered the argument that transforming a society based on hierarchy would require a grassroots democratic response. Such a response aims at simultaneously challenging the non-profit and NGO sector and the political party formations that rest on vanguardist or hierarchical assumptions.

So, as the latest version of the US Social Forum draws to a close, a message from below is beginning to materialize – the self-organization, self-reliance and self-determination that horizontalism allows will be a fundamental part of any attempt at social transformation in the US. Exploitative vertical institutions such as multinational corporations beware.

Billy Wharton is a writer and activist whose articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the NYC Indypendent, Spectrezine and the Monthly Review Zine. He can be reached at

El fin del primer mundo: el desmantelamiento del Estado de bienestar

Weekend Edition
June 25 - 27, 2010

EU Today, US Tomorrow

Europe's Fiscal Dystopia: the "New Austerity" Road


Europe is committing fiscal suicide – and will have little trouble finding allies at this weekend’s G-20 meetings in Toronto. Despite the deepening Great Recession threatening to bring on outright depression, European Central Bank (ECB) president Jean-Claude Trichet and prime ministers from Britain’s David Cameron to Greece’s George Papandreou (president of the Socialist International) and Canada’s host, Conservative Premier Stephen Harper, are calling for cutbacks in public spending.

The United States is playing an ambiguous role. The Obama Administration is all for slashing Social Security and pensions, euphemized as “balancing the budget.” Wall Street is demanding “realistic” write-downs of state and local pensions in keeping with the “ability to pay” (that is, to pay without taxing real estate, finance or the upper income brackets). These local pensions have been left unfunded so that communities can cut real estate taxes, enabling site-rental values to be pledged to the banks of interest. Without a debt write-down (by mortgage bankers or bondholders), there is no way that any mathematical model can come up with a means of paying these pensions. To enable workers to live “freely” after their working days are over would require either (1) that bondholders not be paid (“unthinkable”) or (2) that property taxes be raised, forcing even more homes into negative equity and leading to even more walkaways and bank losses on their junk mortgages. Given the fact that the banks are writing national economic policy these days, it doesn’t look good for people expecting a leisure society to materialize any time soon.

The problem for U.S. officials is that Europe’s sudden passion for slashing public pensions and other social spending will shrink European economies, slowing U.S. export growth. U.S. officials are urging Europe not to wage its fiscal war against labor quite yet. Best to coordinate with the United States after a modicum of recovery.

Saturday and Sunday will see the six-month mark in a carefully orchestrated financial war against the “real” economy. The buildup began here in the United States. On February 18, President Obama stacked his White House Deficit Commission (formally the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform) with the same brand of neoliberal ideologues who comprised the notorious 1982 Greenspan Commission on Social Security “reform.”

The pro-financial, anti-labor and anti-government restructurings since 1980 have given the word “reform” a bad name. The commission is headed by former Republican Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson (who explained derisively that Social Security is for the “lesser people”) and Clinton neoliberal ErskineBowles, who led the fight for the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. Also on the committee are bluedog Democrat Max Baucus of Montana (the pro-Wall Street Finance Committee chairman). The result is an Obama anti-change dream: bipartisan advocacy for balanced budgets, which means in practice to stop running budget deficits – the deficits that Keynes explained were necessary to fuel economic recovery by providing liquidity and purchasing power.

A balanced budget in an economic downturn means shrinkage for the private sector. Coming as the Western economies move into a debt deflation, the policy means shrinking markets for goods and services – all to support banking claims on the “real” economy.

The exercise in managing public perceptions to imagine that all this is a good thing was escalated in April with the manufactured Greek crisis. Newspapers throughout the world breathlessly discovered that Greece was not taxing the wealthy classes. They joined in a chorus to demand that workers be taxed more to make up for the tax shift off wealth. It was their version of the Obama Plan (that is, old-time Rubinomics).

On June 3, the World Bank reiterated the New Austerity doctrine, as if it were a new discovery: The way to prosperity is via austerity. “Rich counties can help developing economies grow faster by rapidly cutting government spending or raising taxes.” The New Fiscal Conservatism aims to corral all countries to scale back social spending in order to “stabilize” economies by a balanced budget. This is to be achieved by impoverishing labor, slashing wages, reducing social spending and rolling back the clock to the good old class war as it flourished before the Progressive Era.

The rationale is the discredited “crowding out” theory:

Budget deficits mean more borrowing, which bids up interest rates. Lower interest rates are supposed to help countries – or would, if borrowing was for productive capital formation. But this is not how financial markets operate in today’s world. Lower interest rates simply make it cheaper and easier for corporate raiders or speculators to capitalize a given flow of earnings at a higher multiple, loading the economy down with even more debt!

Alan Greenspan parroted the World Bank announcement almost word for word in a June 18 Wall Street Journal op-ed. Running deficits is supposed to increase interest rates. It looks like the stage is being set for a big interest-rate jump – and corresponding stock and bond market crash as the “suckers’ rally” comes to an abrupt end in months to come.

The idea is to create an artificial financial crisis, to come in and “save” it by imposing on Europe and North America a “Greek-style” cutbacks in social security and pensions. For the United States, state and local pensions in particular are to be cut back by “emergency” measures to “free” government budgets.

All this is an inversion of the social philosophy that most voters hold. This is the political problem inherent in the neoliberal worldview. It is diametrically opposed to the original liberalism of Adam Smith and his successors. The idea of a free market in the 19th century was one free from predatory rentier financial and property claims. Today, an Ayn-Rand-style “free market” is a market free for predators. The world is being treated to a travesty of liberalism and free markets.

This shows the usual ignorance of how interest rates are really set – a blind spot which is a precondition for being approved for the post of central banker these days. Ignored is the fact that central banks determine interest rates by creating credit. Under the ECB rules, central banks cannot do this. Yet that is precisely what central banks were created to do. European governments are obliged to borrow from commercial banks.

This financial stranglehold threatens either to break up Europe or to plunge it into the same kind of poverty that the EU is imposing on the Baltics. Latvia is the prime example. Despite a plunge of over 20 per cent in its GDP, its central bankers are running a budget surplus, in the hope of lowering wage rates. Public-sector wages have been driven down by over 30 per cent, and the government expresses the hope for yet further cuts – spreading to the private sector. Spending on hospitals, ambulance care and schooling has been drastically cut back.

What is missing from this argument? The cost of labor can be lowered by a classical restoration of progressive taxes and a tax shift back onto property – land and rentier income. Instead, the cost of living is to be raised, by shifting the tax burden further onto labor and off real estate and finance. The idea is for the economic surplus to be pledged for debt service.

In England, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has described a “euro mutiny” against regressive fiscal policy. But it is more than that. Beyond merely shrinking the economy, the neoliberal aim is to change the shape of the trajectory along which Western civilization has been moving for the past two centuries. It is nothing less than to roll back Social Security and pensions for labor, health care, education and other public spending, to dismantle the social welfare state, the Progressive Era and even classical liberalism.

So we are witnessing a policy long in the planning, now being unleashed in a full-court press. The rentier interests, the vested interests that a century of Progressive Era, New Deal and kindred reforms sought to subordinate to the economy at large, are fighting back. And they are in control, with their own representatives in power – ironically, as Social Democrats and Labor party leaders, from President Obama here to President Papandreou in Greece and President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in Spain.

Having bided their time for the past few years the global predatory class is now making its move to “free” economies from the social philosophy long thought to have been irreversibly built into the economic system: Social Security and old-age pensions so that labor didn’t have to be paid higher wages to save for its own retirement; public education and health care to raise labor productivity; basic infrastructure spending to lower the costs of doing business; anti-monopoly price regulation to prevent prices from rising above the necessary costs of production; and central banking to stabilize economies by monetizing government deficits rather than forcing the economy to rely on commercial bank credit under conditions where property and income are collateralized to pay the interest-bearing debts, culminating in forfeitures as the logical culmination of the Miracle of Compound Interest.

This is the Junk Economics that financial lobbyists are trying to sell to voters: “Prosperity requires austerity.” “An independent central bank is the hallmark of democracy.” “Governments are just like families: they have to balance the budget.” “It is all the result of aging populations, not debt overload.” These are the oxymorons to which the world will be treated during the coming week in Toronto.

It is the rhetoric of fiscal and financial class war. The problem is that there is not enough economic surplus available to pay the financial sector on its bad loans while also paying pensions and social security. Something has to give. The commission is to provide a cover story for a revived Rubinomics, this time aimed not at the former Soviet Union but here at home. Its aim is to scale back Social Security while reviving George Bush’s aborted privatization plan to send FICA paycheck withholding into the stock market – that is, into the hands of money managers to stick into an array of junk financial packages designed to skim off labor’s savings.

So Obama is hypocritical in warning Europe not to go too far too fast to shrink its economy and squeeze out a rising army of the unemployed. His idea at home is to do the same thing. The strategy is to panic voters about the federal debt – panic them enough to oppose spending on the social programs designed to help them. The fiscal crisis is being blamed on demographic mathematics of an aging population – not on the exponentially soaring debt overhead, junk loans and massive financial fraud that the government is bailing out.

What really is causing the financial and fiscal squeeze, of course, is the fact that that government funding is now needed to compensate the financial sector for what promises to be year after year of losses as loans go bad in economies that are all loaned up and sinking into negative equity.

When politicians let the financial sector run the show, their natural preference is to turn the economy into a grab bag. And they usually come out ahead. That’s what the words “foreclosure,” “forfeiture” and “liquidate” mean – along with “sound money,” “business confidence” and the usual consequences, “debt deflation” and “debt peonage.”

Somebody must take a loss on the economy’s bad loans – and bankers want the economy to take the loss, to “save the financial system.” From the financial sector’s vantage point, the economy is to be managed to preserve bank liquidity, rather than the financial system run to serve the economy. Government social spending (on everything apart from bank bailouts and financial subsidies), disposable personal income are to be cut back to keep the debt overhead from being written down. Corporate cash flow is to be used to pay creditors, not employ more labor and make long-term capital investment.

The economy is to be sacrificed to subsidize the fantasy that debts can be paid, if only banks can be “made whole” to begin lending again – that is, to resume loading the economy down with even more debt, causing yet more intrusive debt deflation.

This is not the familiar old 19th-century class war of industrial employers against labor, although that is part of what is happening. It is above all a war of the financial sector against the “real” economy: industry as well as labor.

The underlying reality is indeed that pensions cannot be paid – at least, not paid out of financial gains. For the past fifty years the Western economies have indulged the fantasy of paying retirees out of purely financial gains (M-M’ as Marxists would put it), not out of an expanding economy (M-C-M’, employing labor to produce more output). The myth was that finance would take the form of productive loans to increase capital formation and hiring. The reality is that finance takes the form of debt – and gambling. Its gains were therefore made from the economy at large. They were extractive, not productive. Wealth at the rentier top of the economic pyramid shrank the base below. So something has to give. The question is, what form will the “give” take? And who will do the giving – and be the recipients?

The Greek government has been unwilling to tax the rich. So labor must make up the fiscal gap, by permitting its socialist government to cut back pensions, health care, education and other social spending – all to bail out the financial sector from an exponential growth that is impossible to realize in practice. The economy is being sacrificed to an impossible dream. Yet instead of blaming the problem on the exponential growth in bank claims that cannot be paid, bank lobbyists – and the G-20 politicians dependent on their campaign funding – are promoting the myth that the problem is demographic: an aging population expecting Social Security and employer pensions. Instead of paying these, governments are being told to use their taxing and credit-creating power to bail out the financial sector’s claims for payment.

Latvia has been held out as the poster child for what the EU is recommending for Greece and the other southern EU countries in trouble: Slashing public spending on education and health has reduced public-sector wages by 30 per cent, and they are still falling. Property prices have fallen by 70 percent – and homeowners and their extended family of co-signers are liable for the negative equity, plunging them into a life of debt peonage if they do not take the hint and emigrate.

The bizarre pretense for government budget cutbacks in the face of a post-bubble economic downturn is that the supposed aim is to rebuild “confidence.” It is as if fiscal self-destruction can instill confidence rather than prompting investors to flee the euro. The logic seems to be the familiar old class war, rolling back the clock to the hard-line tax philosophy of a bygone era – rolling back Social Security and public pensions, rolling back public spending on education and other basic needs, and above all, increasing unemployment to drive down wage levels. This was made explicit by Latvia’s central bank – which EU central bankers hold up as a “model” of economic shrinkage for other countries to follow.

It is a self-destructive logic. Exacerbating the economic downturn will reduce tax revenues, making budget deficits even worse in a declining spiral. Latvia’s experience shows that the response to economic shrinkage is emigration of skilled labor and capital flight. Europe’s policy of planned economic shrinkage in fact controverts the prime assumption of political and economic textbooks: the axiom that voters act in their self-interest, and that economies choose to grow, not to destroy themselves. Today, European democracies – and even the Social Democratic, Socialist and labour Parties – are running for office on a fiscal and financial policy platform that opposes the interests of most voters, and even industry.

The explanation, of course, is that today’s economic planning is not being done by elected representatives. Planning authority has been relinquished to the hands of “independent” central banks, which in turn act as the lobbyists for commercial banks selling their product – debt. From the central bank’s vantage point, the “economic problem” is how to keep commercial banks and other financial institutions solvent in a post-bubble economy. How can they get paid for debts that are beyond the ability of many people to pay, in an environment of rising defaults?

The answer is that creditors can get paid only at the economy’s expense. The remaining economic surplus must go to them, not to capital investment, employment or social spending.

This is the problem with the financial view. It is short-term – and predatory. Given a choice between operating the banks to promote the economy, or running the economy to benefit the banks, bankers always will choose the latter alternative. And so will the politicians they support.

Governments need huge sums to bail out the banks from their bad loans. But they cannot borrow more, because of the debt squeeze. So the bad-debt loss must be passed onto labor and industry. The cover story is that government bailouts will permit the banks to start lending again, to reflate the Bubble Economy’s Ponzi-borrowing. But there is already too much negative equity and there is no leeway left to restart the bubble. Economies are all “loaned up.” Real estate rents, corporate cash flow and public taxing power cannot support further borrowing – no matter how wealth the government gives to banks. Asset prices have plunged into negative equity territory. Debt deflation is shrinking markets, corporate profits and cash flow. The Miracle of Compound Interest dynamic has culminated in defaults, reflecting the inability of debtors to sustain the exponential rise in carrying charges that “financial solvency” requires.

If the financial sector can be rescued only by cutting back social spending on Social Security, health care and education, bolstered by more privatization sell-offs, is it worth the price? To sacrifice the economy in this way would violate most peoples’ social values of equity and fairness rooted deep in Enlightenment philosophy.

That is the political problem: How can bankers persuade voters to approve this under a democratic system? It is necessary to orchestrate and manage their perceptions. Their poverty must be portrayed as desirable – as a step toward future prosperity.

A half-century of failed IMF austerity plans imposed on hapless Third World debtors should have dispelled forever the idea that the way to prosperity is via austerity. The ground has been paved for this attitude by a generation of purging the academic curriculum of knowledge that there ever was an alternative economic philosophy to that sponsored by the rentier Counter-Enlightenment. Classical value and price theory reflected John Locke’s labor theory of property: A person’s wealth should be what he or she creates with their own labor and enterprise, not by insider dealing or special privilege.

This is why I say that Europe is dying. If its trajectory is not changed, the EU must succumb to a financial coup d’êtat rolling back the past three centuries of Enlightenment social philosophy. The question is whether a break-up is now the only way to recover its social democratic ideals from the banks that have taken over its central planning organs.

Michael Hudson is a former Wall Street economist and now a Distinguished Research Professor at University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC), and president of the Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends (ISLET). He is the author of many books, including Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (new ed., Pluto Press, 2002) and Trade, Development and Foreign Debt: A History of Theories of Polarization v. Convergence in the World Economy. He can be reached via his website,

Un mundo sin dinero: una alternativa viable anárquica

Weekend Edition
June 25 - 27, 2010

Local Exhange Trading Systems

What If the Greeks Did This?


Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for the reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally”

-- John Maynard Keynes

This is an attempt to think outside the box, because any sorts of thinking inside the box on Greece and countries in similar situations hasn't led to anything and will not either. But if the reader knows about some unconventional proposal that I may have overlooked, point me to it!
Here follows my proposal - comments are welcome:

An alliance of large grass roots organisation (typically: unions) sets up a cooperative bank-like operation ("BLO"). Probably it should formally be an association requiring membership to participate (more on this below). This BLO issues "value points" (an arbitrarily chosen term, from now on abbreviated "VP's" -- it could be called "units", "work units", "credits", "coupons", whatever -- but should for legal reasons not be called "money" or "Drachmas"). Technically, the BLO is just a national office with computer capacity and a few employees. There are no branches. A member gets a VP "account" with the BLO. To use the account the member needs a mobile phone subscription. When opening an account, (s)he is automatically offered credit up to a standard amount of VP's from the BLO. Such a "start loan" has the purpose of enabling the person to start transacting with others. It is primarily meant as a medium of exchange, and not as a store of value. It is interest-free, but there is a very small membership fee per account, which is only to cover the expenses of the BLO office and computer/network costs. This fee must be paid in Euros/regular money. The VP loan has limited duration, a few months. When the loan expires, the borrower has the right to an automatically renewed loan, but the maximum amount allowed may have been adjusted somewhat up or down in relation to the last loan received. More on this below.

Technological progress makes this possible

What is to be proposed here is a national and extremely efficient version of a LETS (Local Exchange Trading System), or a local currency system. These are basically barter schemes but strongly improved by using a local medium of exchange. Members gain points by supplying goods or services to other members. Such points gained are in the next round used to buy goods or services from other participants. The big advantage is that this enables economic activities locally which would else not have taken place due to lack of a regular medium of exchange (i.e. money). A LETS system has traditionally been managed by some trusted person(s) keeping tally of everyones' points account on a computer. This is done when reports of exchanges are received. Such a system is only manageable when it is confined to some local community. Another factor limiting the geographical and population scope of such schemes is that participants need to know which other agents (persons, firms) are also in the scheme, and what sort of services or goods they offer.

A local currency system does a similar job as a LETS scheme. In that case one may have circulating paper currency resembling regular money, something that eliminates the need for account updates with each transaction, but which may be legally difficult to uphold due to the state's monopoly on money issuance.

A LETS-like scheme must do the following:

* account for transactions (or run a local monetary system)

* give participants an easy and fast way to find other agents in the system and what they offer (or demand).

Today, with most people having mobile phones, and also access to the Internet (whether at home, work or elsewhere), both challenges may be elegantly and cheaply met, and "the local community" may be expanded to encompass a country. Reporting of transactions is done via mobile phone/SMS and automatically received and accounted for on a server. And a web site data base (possibly on the same server), updated by participants and having a Google-like search system, will enable participants to advertise themselves or to easily find sellers and and buyers anywhere of the relevant goods or services.

Gradual increase in transactions

Mobile phone transactions with other BLO members may be implemented through one of the technically proven schemes already in operation in some developing countries. There are no physical/paper VP's in circulation. People and firms offering goods and services will gradually - as the scheme gets more popular - decide to accept a certain share of VP's as payment, while the rest must still be in Euros. Such a share is decided freely and individually by the seller, and may also be adjusted at any time with circumstances. The same holds for wages: employers and employees may as the scheme gets widely accepted, agree on a certain share of wages being paid in VP's, a share that may be re-negotiated as things develop.

Pure fiat money

The VP's are pure fiat money. They do not have any property giving it an intrinsic value like money issued by a central bank, which has indisputable value by being the sole currency that may be used to pay taxes (as per the "modern money" or "Chartalist" view). People or firms will therefore accept VP's in payment only if they believe that a sufficient amount of other people/firms will accept them. This outcome is probable however, since today's only alternative for the Greeks (and other nations in a similar situation) of too low and further shrinking income in Euros over many years, is much worse.

Building confidence

Such a scheme has dynamics which may be unstable both ways: confidence building more confidence, or decreasing confidence leading to hyperinflation and collapse. One should ensure a basic and initial level of confidence by the BLO being launched and run by (a) large, national and well established organisation(s). Second, and most important, by controlling the amount of VP's in circulation, based on observing the average acceptance of VP's as a share of payment together with Euros, it should be possible to uphold the needed amount of confidence in the system. The amount in circulation may be limited by renewing loans with a lower amount when earlier loans expire. Then the borrower will have to accept a reduction of the amount in his/hers account. To avoid runaway inflation in VP's, one should probably start the process by issuing a restricted amount (see below), and then letting the aggregate amount grow (or in between shrink) based on the observed impact. Note that the existence of VP's only as electronic entities on a computer (no physical "currency"), combined with the fact that the initial issued loan has not in any way been "earned" by the account holder, allows the scheme to freely regulate the amount of VP's in circulation upwards or even downwards, by adjusting all accounts with the same amount. This is a new and potent macroeconomic control instrument that is not available in a regular monetary system.

Why is membership necessary?

As already mentioned, the BLO should be organised as an association requiring membership. Then the VP's are not a state-controlled medium of exchange like Euros, but a device for members to exchange goods and labour between them. Hopefully this will make it difficult for the state to ban such a system, something it will possibly or even probably want to do.

There is a further good argument for membership requirement: One should avoid giving the well-to-do a free lunch in the form of an automatic BLO loan, on top of the ample buying power they possess in Euros. They should as a rule only be allowed to open an account, but not have access to an automatically given and renewed VP loan. The BLO should be targeted towards the less well-off in society. This may be achieved by having two grades of membership. Level 1 is open to all (including firms): you get an account but no initial loan. Level 2 (call it "core" membership) additionally qualifies for the loan. Core membership should only be given to people already belonging to one or more of the organisations behind the BLO (unions and similar popular organisations, for instance farmers'), and to the unemployed. And it should be automatically given, to give the scheme a flying start.

One could modify the rules somewhat by allowing level 2 membership for persons that do not initially qualify, but who are recommended by a core member. But it is probably wise to start the process carefully by only giving automatic loans to core members, and later relax the rules in a controlled manner, based on how things develop. Account holders that default on their loans above some defined level of transgression may be excluded as members of the system, and their accounts discontinued.

Credit above the automatic amount?

In an initial period, the system should be simple and only have the purpose of enabling transactions between agents that lack a medium of exchange. If the scheme exhibits strong growth and widening acceptance, the possibility of extending larger VP loans to applicants may be considered. But this would demand a dramatic increase in the staff and organisation complexity of the BLO because loan applicants have to be vetted and collateral has to be posted.

Political resistance

On may expect that such a scheme will be opposed by the state and derided by the economic establishment, including most media pundits. But criticism in itself is not a fundamental obstacle. A bigger danger is whether the scheme may be banned based on the country's laws, like the Austrian state did in 1933 against the succesful local currency in the town of Wörgl. Hopefully, organising the scheme as an association with transactions only being available to members and no money-like paper VP's in circulation, will prevent such an outcome.

Another and perhaps more surprising source of resistance may be the leadership in some of the mass organisations whose members would benefit from such a scheme. Many such leaders are anchored in a marxist/communist/left socialist tradition. The proposal may easily be seen by some of these as a "petty bourgeouis" invention of the "green" "alternative" type, only giving the masses "illusions" and "leading them astray in the struggle against capitalism and for socialism".

Better than the only and bleak alternative

By the proposed scheme it should be possible to activate a large underused potential that Greece (and other Eurozone countries) has, unemployed or underemployed people. It will also primarily stimulate domestic production, since VP's may not be used to pay for imports. Enabling unemployed or underemployed people to work for each other and (increasingly) to exchange goods and services with the rest of society, will - with immediate effects - ameliorate the dramatic and persistent decrease in living standards for most people, which is the bleak and only future (lasting many years) that the powers that be and most pundits are able to come up with.

(Note however: possibly the best solution would have been to revert to a national currency combined with partial foreign currency debt forgiveness, as argued by some dissident voices. But this seems to be politically totally out of the question for those in power. Therefore the above "VP" proposal.)

Trond Andressen is a lecturer in the Department of Engineering Cybernetics at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. He can be reached at:

Posible desarrollo catastrófico de la fuga de petróleo en el Golfo de México

Editors' note for first-time visitors: What follows is a comment from a The Oil Drum reader. To read what The Oil Drum staff members are saying about the Deepwater Horizon Spill, please visit the front page. (Were the US government and BP more forthcoming with information and details, the situation would not be giving rise to so much speculation about what is actually going on in the Gulf. This should be run more like Mission Control at NASA than an exclusive country club function--it is a public matter--transparency, now!)

OK let's get real about the GOM oil flow. There doesn't really seem to be much info on TOD that furthers more complete understanding of what's really happening in the GOM.
As you have probably seen and maybe feel yourselves, there are several things that do not appear to make sense regarding the actions of attack against the well. Don't feel bad, there is much that doesn't make sense even to professionals unless you take into account some important variables that we are not being told about. There seems to me to be a reluctance to face what cannot be termed anything less than grim circumstances in my opinion. There certainly is a reluctance to inform us regular people and all we have really gotten is a few dots here and there...

First of all...set aside all your thoughts of plugging the well and stopping it from blowing out oil using any method from the top down. Plugs, big valves to just shut it off, pinching the pipe closed, installing a new bop or lmrp, shooting any epoxy in it, top kills with mud etc etc etc....forget that, it won't be's done and over. In fact actually opening up the well at the subsea source and allowing it to gush more is not only exactly what has happened, it was probably necessary, or so they think anyway.

So you have to ask WHY? Why make it worse?...there really can only be one answer and that answer does not bode well for all of us. It's really an inescapable conclusion at this point, unless you want to believe that every Oil and Gas professional involved suddenly just forgot everything they know or woke up one morning and drank a few big cups of stupid and got assigned to directing the response to this catastrophe. Nothing makes sense unless you take this into account, but after you will see the "sense" behind what has happened and what is happening. That conclusion is this:

The well bore structure is compromised "Down hole".

That is something which is a "Worst nightmare" conclusion to reach. While many have been saying this for some time as with any complex disaster of this proportion many have "said" a lot of things with no real sound reasons or evidence for jumping to such conclusions, well this time it appears that they may have jumped into the right place...

This was probably our best and only chance to kill this well from the top down. This "kill mud" is a tried and true method of killing wells and usually has a very good chance of success. The depth of this well presented some logistical challenges, but it really should not of presented any functional obstructions. The pumping capacity was there and it would have worked, should have worked, but it didn't.

It didn't work, but it did create evidence of what is really happening. First of all the method used in this particular top kill made no sense, did not follow the standard operating procedure used to kill many other wells and in fact for the most part was completely contrary to the procedure which would have given it any real chance of working.

When a well is "Killed" using this method heavy drill fluid "Mud" is pumped at high volume and pressure into a leaking well. The leaks are "behind" the point of access where the mud is fired in, in this case the "choke and Kill lines" which are at the very bottom of the BOP (Blow Out Preventer) The heavy fluid gathers in the "behind" portion of the leaking well assembly, while some will leak out, it very quickly overtakes the flow of oil and only the heavier mud will leak out. Once that "solid" flow of mud is established at the leak "behind" the well, the mud pumps increase pressure and begin to overtake the pressure of the oil deposit. The mud is established in a solid column that is driven downward by the now stronger pumps. The heavy mud will create a solid column that is so heavy that the oil deposit can no longer push it up, shut off the pumps...the well is can no longer flow.

Usually this will happen fairly quickly, in fact for it to work at must happen quickly. There is no "trickle some mud in" because that is not how a top kill works. The flowing oil will just flush out the trickle and a solid column will never be established. Yet what we were told was "It will take days to know whether it
worked"...."Top kill might take 48 hours to complete"...the only way it could take days is if BP intended to do some "test fires" to test integrity of the entire system. The actual "kill" can only take hours by nature because it must happen fairly rapidly. It also increases strain on the "behind" portion and in this instance we all know that what remained was fragile at best.

Early that afternoon we saw a massive flow burst out of the riser "plume" area. This was the first test fire of high pressure mud injection. Later on same day we saw a greatly increased flow out of the kink leaks, this was mostly mud at that time as the kill mud is tanish color due to the high amount of Barite which is added to it to weight it and Barite is a white powder.

We later learned the pumping was shut down at midnight, we weren't told about that until almost 16 hours later, but by then...I'm sure BP had learned the worst. The mud they were pumping in was not only leaking out the "behind" was leaking out of someplace forward...and since they were not even near being able to pump mud into the deposit itself, because the well would be dead long before...and the oil was still coming up, there could only be one conclusion...the wells casings were ruptured and it was leaking "down hole"

They tried the "Junk shot"...the "bridging materials" which also failed and likely made things worse in regards to the ruptured well casings.

"Despite successfully pumping a total of over 30,000 barrels of heavy mud, in three attempts at rates of up to
80 barrels a minute, and deploying a wide range of different bridging materials, the operation did not overcome the flow from the well."

80 Barrels per minute is over 200,000 gallons per hour, over 115,000 barrels per day...did we seen an increase over and above what was already leaking out of 115k bpd?....we did would have been a massive increase in order of multiples and this did not happen.

"The whole purpose is to get the kill mud down,” said Wells. “We'll have 50,000 barrels of mud on hand to kill this well. It's far more than necessary, but we always like to have backup."

Try finding THAT quote's been's a cached copy of a quote...,%E2%80%9D+said+Wells.+%E2%80%9CWe'll+have+50,000+barrels+of+mud+on+hand+to+kill+this+well.+It's+far+more+than+necessary,+but+we+always+like+to+have+backup.%E2%80%9D&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

"The "top kill" effort, launched Wednesday afternoon by industry and government engineers, had pumped enough drilling fluid to block oil and gas spewing from the well, Allen said. The pressure from the well was very low, he said, but persisting."

"Allen said one ship that was pumping fluid into the well had run out of the fluid, or "mud," and that a second ship was on the way. He said he was encouraged by the progress."

Later we found out that Allen had no idea what was really going on and had been "Unavailable all day"

So what we had was BP running out of 50,000 barrels of mud in a very short period of time. An amount far and above what they deemed necessary to kill the well. Shutting down pumping 16 hours before telling anyone, including the president. We were never really given a clear reason why "Top Kill" failed, just that it couldn't overcome the well.

There is only one article anywhere that says anything else about it at this time of writing...and it's a relatively obscure article from the wall street journal "online" citing an unnamed source.

"WASHINGTON—BP PLC has concluded that its "top-kill" attempt last week to seal its broken well in the Gulf of
Mexico may have failed due to a malfunctioning disk inside the well about 1,000 feet below the ocean floor.

The disk, part of the subsea safety infrastructure, may have ruptured during the surge of oil and gas up the well on April 20 that led to the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig, BP officials said. The rig sank two days later, triggering a leak that has since become the worst in U.S. history.

The broken disk may have prevented the heavy drilling mud injected into the well last week from getting far enough down the well to overcome the pressure from the escaping oil and gas, people familiar with BP's findings said. They said much of the drilling mud may also have escaped from the well into the rock formation outside the wellbore.

As a result, BP wasn't able to get sufficient pressure to keep the oil and gas at bay. If they had been able to build up sufficient pressure, the company had hoped to pump in cement and seal off the well. The effort was deemed a failure on Saturday.

BP started the top-kill effort Wednesday afternoon, shooting heavy drilling fluids into the broken valve known as a blowout preventer. The mud was driven by a 30,000 horsepower pump installed on a ship at the surface. But it was clear from the start that a lot of the "kill mud" was leaking out instead of going down into the well."

There are some inconsistencies with this article.
There are no "Disks" or "Subsea safety structure" 1,000 feet below the sea floor, all that is there is well bore. There is nothing that can allow the mud or oil to "escape" into the rock formation outside the well bore except the well, because it is the only thing there.

All the actions and few tid bits of information all lead to one inescapable conclusion. The well pipes below the sea floor are broken and leaking. Now you have some real data of how BP's actions are evidence of that, as well as some murky statement from "BP officials" confirming the same.

I took some time to go into a bit of detail concerning the failure of Top Kill because this was a significant event. To those of us outside the real inside loop, yet still fairly knowledgeable, it was a major confirmation of what many feared. That the system below the sea floor has serious failures of varying magnitude in the complicated chain, and it is breaking down and it will continue to.

What does this mean?

It means they will never cap the gusher after the wellhead. They cannot...the more they try and restrict the oil gushing out the bop?...the more it will transfer to the leaks below. Just like a leaky garden hose with a nozzle on it. When you open up the nozzle? doesn't leak so bad, you close the nozzle? leaks real bad,
same dynamics. It is why they sawed the riser off...or tried to anyway...but they clipped it off, to relieve pressure on the leaks "down hole". I'm sure there was a bit of panic time after they crimp/pinched off the large riser pipe and the Diamond wire saw got stuck and failed...because that crimp diverted pressure and flow to the rupture down below.

Contrary to what most of us would think as logical to stop the oil mess, actually opening up the gushing well and making it gush more became direction BP took after confirming that there was a leak. In fact if you note their actions, that should become clear. They have shifted from stopping or restricting the gusher to opening it up and catching it. This only makes sense if they want to relieve pressure at the leak hidden down below the seabed.....and that sort of leak is one of the most dangerous and potentially damaging kind of leak there could be. It is also inaccessible which compounds our problems. There is no way to stop that leak from above, all they can do is relieve the pressure on it and the only way to do that right now is to open up the nozzle above and gush more oil into the gulf and hopefully catch it, which they have done, they just neglected to tell us why, gee thanks.

A down hole leak is dangerous and damaging for several reasons.
There will be erosion throughout the entire beat up, beat on and beat down remainder of the "system" including that inaccessible leak. The same erosion I spoke about in the first post is still present and has never stopped, cannot be stopped, is impossible to stop and will always be present in and acting on anything that is left which has crude oil "Product" rushing through it. There are abrasives still present, swirling flow will create hot spots of wear and this erosion is relentless and will always be present until eventually it wears away enough material to break it's way out. It will slowly eat the bop away especially at the now pinched off riser head and it will flow more and more. Perhaps BP can outrun or keep up with that out flow with various suckage methods for a period of time, but eventually the well will win that race, just how long that race will be? one really knows....However now?...there are other problems that a down hole leak will and must produce that will compound this already bad situation.

This down hole leak will undermine the foundation of the seabed in and around the well area. It also weakens the only thing holding up the massive Blow Out Preventer's immense bulk of 450 tons. In fact?...we are beginning to the results of the well's total integrity beginning to fail due to the undermining being caused by the leaking well bore.

The first layer of the sea floor in the gulf is mostly lose material of sand and silt. It doesn't hold up anything and isn't meant to, what holds the entire subsea system of the Bop in place is the well itself. The very large steel connectors of the initial well head "spud" stabbed in to the sea floor. The Bop literally sits on top of the pipe and never touches the sea bed, it wouldn't do anything in way of support if it did. After several tens of feet the seabed does begin to support the well connection laterally (side to side) you couldn't put a 450 ton piece of machinery on top of a 100' tall pipe "in the air" and subject it to the side loads caused by the ocean currents and expect it not to bend over...unless that pipe was very much larger than the machine itself, which you all can see it is not. The well's piping in comparison is actually very much smaller than the Blow Out Preventer and strong as it may be, it relies on some support from the seabed to function and not literally fall over...and it is now showing signs of doing just that....falling over.

If you have been watching the live feed cams you may have noticed that some of the ROVs are using an inclinometer...and inclinometer is an instrument that measures "Incline" or tilt. The BOP is not supposed to be tilting...and after the riser clip off operation it has begun to...

This is not the only problem that occurs due to erosion of the outer area of the well casings. The way a well casing assembly functions it that it is an assembly of different sized "tubes" that decrease in size as they go down. These tubes have a connection to each other that is not unlike a click or snap together locking action. After a certain length is assembled they are cemented around the ouside to the earth that the more rough drill hole is bored through in the well making process. A very well put together and simply explained process of "How to drill a deep water oil well" is available here:

The well bore casings rely on the support that is created by the cementing phase of well construction. Just like if you have many hands holding a pipe up you could put some weight on the top and the many hands could hold the pipe and the weight on top easily...but if there were no hands gripping and holding the pipe?...all the weight must be held up by the pipe alone. The series of connections between the sections of casings are not designed to hold up the immense weight of the BOP without all the "hands" that the cementing provides and they will eventually buckle and fail when stressed beyond their design limits.

These are clear and present dangers to the battered subsea safety structure (bop and lmrp) which is the only loose cork on this well we have left. The immediate (first 1,000 feet) of well structure that remains is now also undoubtedly compromised. bad as that is? is far from the only possible problems with this very problematic well. There were ongoing troubles with the entire process during the drilling of this well. There were also many comprises made by BP IMO which may have resulted in an overall weakened structure of the entire well system all the way to the bottom plug which is over 12,000 feet deep. Problems with the cementing procedure which was done by Haliburton and was deemed as “was against our best practices.” by a Haliburton employee on April 1st weeks before the well blew out. There is much more and I won't go into detail right now concerning the lower end of the well and the troubles encountered during the whole creation of this well and earlier "Well control" situations that were revieled in various internal BP e-mails. I will add several links to those documents and quotes from them below and for now, address the issues concerning the upper portion of the well and the region of the sea floor.

What is likely to happen now?

Well...none of what is likely to happen is good, in's about as bad as it gets. I am convinced the erosion and compromising of the entire system is accelerating and attacking more key structural areas of the well, the blow out preventer and surrounding strata holding it all up and together. This is evidenced by the tilt of the blow out preventer and the erosion which has exposed the well head connection. What eventually will happen is that the blow out preventer will literally tip over if they do not run supports to it as the currents push on it. I suspect they will run those supports as cables tied to anchors very soon, if they don't, they are inviting disaster that much sooner.

Eventually even that will be futile as the well casings cannot support the weight of the massive system above with out the cement bond to the earth and that bond is being eroded away. When enough is eroded away the casings will buckle and the BOP will collapse the well. If and when you begin to see oil and gas coming up around the well area from under the BOP? or the area around the well head connection and casing sinking more and more rapidly? won't be too long after that the entire system fails. BP must be aware of this, they are mapping the sea floor sonically and that is not a mere exercise. Our Gov't must be well aware too, they just are not telling us.

All of these things lead to only one place, a fully wide open well bore directly to the oil deposit...after that, it goes into the realm of "the worst things you can think of" The well may come completely apart as the inner liners fail. There is still a very long drill string in the well, that could literally come flying I said...all the worst things you can think of are a possibility, but the very least damaging outcome as bad as it is, is that we are stuck with a wide open gusher blowing out 150,000 barrels a day of raw oil or more. There isn't any "cap dome" or any other suck fixer device on earth that exists or could be built that will stop it from gushing out and doing more and more damage to the gulf. While at the same time also doing more damage to the well, making the chance of halting it with a kill from the bottom up less and less likely to work, which as it stands now? the only real chance we have left to stop it all.

It's a race now...a race to drill the relief wells and take our last chance at killing this monster before the whole weakened, wore out, blown out, leaking and failing system gives up it's last gasp in a horrific crescendo.

We are not even 2 months into it, barely half way by even optimistic estimates. The damage done by the leaked oil now is virtually immeasurable already and it will not get better, it can only get worse. No matter how much they can collect, there will still be thousands and thousands of gallons leaking out every minute, every hour of every day. We have 2 months left before the relief wells are even near in position and set up to take a kill shot and that is being optimistic as I said.

Over the next 2 months the mechanical situation also cannot improve, it can only get worse, getting better is an impossibility. While they may make some gains on collecting the leaked oil, the structural situation cannot heal itself. It will continue to erode and flow out more oil and eventually the inevitable collapse which cannot be stopped will happen. It is only a simple matter of who can "get there first" or the well.

We can only hope the race against that eventuality is one we can win, but my assessment I am sad to say is that we will not.

The system will collapse or fail substantially before we reach the finish line ahead of the well and the worst is yet to come.

Sorry to bring you that news, I know it is grim, but that is the way I see it....I sincerely hope I am wrong.

We need to prepare for the possibility of this blow out sending more oil into the gulf per week then what we already have now, because that is what a collapse of the system will cause. All the collection efforts that have captured oil will be erased in short order. The magnitude of this disaster will increase exponentially by the time we can do anything to halt it and our odds of actually even being able to halt it will go down.

The magnitude and impact of this disaster will eclipse anything we have known in our life times if the worst or even near worst happens...

We are seeing the puny forces of man vs the awesome forces of nature.
We are going to need some luck and a lot of effort to win...
and if nature decides we ought to lose, we will....

Reference materials:

On April 1, a job log written by a Halliburton employee, Marvin Volek, warns that BP’s use of cement “was
against our best practices.”

An April 18 internal Halliburton memorandum indicates that Halliburton again warned BP about its practices,
this time saying that a “severe” gas flow problem would occur if the casings were not centered more carefully.

Around that same time, a BP document shows, company officials chose a type of casing with a greater risk of

Mark Hafle, the BP drilling engineer who wrote plans for well casings and cement seals on the Deepwater
Horizon's well, testified that the well had lost thousands of barrels of mud at the bottom. But he said models
run onshore showed alterations to the cement program would resolve the issues, and when asked if a cement
failure allowed the well to "flow" gas and oil, he wouldn't capitulate.

Hafle said he made several changes to casing designs in the last few days before the well blew, including the
addition of the two casing liners that weren't part of the original well design because of problems where the
earthen sides of the well were "ballooning." He also worked with Halliburton engineers to design a plan for
sealing the well casings with cement.

graphic of fail
Casing joint

Kill may take until Christmas

BP Used Riskier Method to Seal Well Before Blast

BP memo test results

Investigation results

The information from BP identifies several new warning signs of problems. According to BP there were three flow
indicators from the well before the explosion.

BP, what we know

What could have happened

1. Before or during the cement job, an influx of hydrocarbon enters the wellbore.
2. Influx is circulated during cement job to wellhead and BOP.
3. 9-7/8” casing hanger packoff set and positively tested to 6500 psi.
4. After 16.5 hours waiting on cement, a negative test performed on wellbore below BOP.
(~ 1400 psi differential pressure on 9-7/8” casing hanger packoff and ~ 2350 psi on
double valve float collar)
5. Packoff leaks allowing hydrocarbon to enter wellbore below BOP. 1400 psi shut in
pressure observed on drill pipe (no flow or pressure observed on kill line)
6. Hydrocarbon below BOP is unknowingly circulated to surface while finishing displacing
the riser.
7. As hydrocarbon rises to surface, gas break out of solution further reduces hydrostatic
pressure in well. Well begin to flow, BOPs and Emergency Disconnect System (EDS)
activated but failed.
8. Packoff continues to leak allowing further influx from bottom.

T/A daily log 4-20

Cement plug 12,150 ft SCMT logging tool
SCMT (Slim Cement Mapping Tool)
Schlumberger Partial CBL done.

Schlum CBL tools

Major concerns, well control, bop test.

Energy & commerce links to docs.

well head on sea floor

Well head on deck of ship

BP's youtube propoganda page, a lot of rarely seen vids here....FWIW

I used to cover the energy business (oil, gas and alternative) here in Texas, and the few experts in the oil field -- including geologists, chemists, etc. -- able or willing to even speak of this BP event told me early on that it is likely the entire reserve will bleed out. Unfortunately none of them could say with any certainty just how much oil is in the reserve in question because, for one thing, the oil industry and secrecy have always been synonymous. According to BP data from about five years ago, there are four separate reservoirs containing a total of 2.5 billion barrels (barrels not gallons). One of the reservoirs has 1.5 billion barrels. I saw an earlier post here quoting an Anadarko Petroleum report which set the total amount at 2.3 billion barrels. One New York Times article put it at 2 billion barrels.

If the BP data correctly or honestly identified four separate reservoirs then a bleed-out might gush less than 2 to 2.5 billion barrels unless the walls -- as it were -- fracture or partially collapse. I am hearing the same dark rumors which suggest fracturing and a complete bleed-out are already underway. Rumors also suggest a massive collapse of the Gulf floor itself is in the making. They are just rumors but it is time for geologists or related experts to end their deafening silence and speak to these possibilities.

All oilmen lie about everything. The stories one hears about the extent to which they will protect themselves are all understatements. BP employees are already taking The Fifth before grand juries, and attorneys are laying a path for company executives to make a run for it.