A Scary Night on Long’s Peak

It was to be a classic day: the forecast was perfect for the time of year, August 22: calm, clear and warm. I was to lead a CMC rock climb up the North Ridge of Spearhead, and had formed a strong team. Kent Crites, a mountaineer of deep experience, was my co-leader, and Heather Pore was the sole participant, both strong climbers. Since Spearhead is about four mile hike in, and since Kent and I were a little older (in our fifties), we decided to hike in the night before and bivouac below the climb to have a fresh start in the morning. Heather, a mere 20 something, of course thought nothing of hiking in and climbing the same day, so she was to meet us the next morning.

Kent and I enjoyed a pleasurable and leisurely hike in the balmy weather. Rocky Mountain Park was in its full summer glory, as we drank in the majestic sights that make up Glacier Gorge: Mills Lake, MacHenry’s Peak, Spearhead, Chiefshead, Arrowhead, Pagoda Peak and, of course, the west face of Long’s Peak. This is certainly one of the most scenic valleys in the park, and the compact clustering of high quality rock routes makes it especially exciting to climbers. Arriving in the cirque below Spearhead, we chose a flat grassy area about mid-way up the slopes towards the start of our route. With such benign weather, we would be fine sleeping without a tent, bedding down under the starry sky. We cooked and ate our simple meals, enjoying quiet conversation as dusk deepened into twilight. We were alone in the cirque, and savored the immense silence.

All seemed well as I snuggled into my bag, glancing up at the first stars appearing in the inky sky. The dark rocky ramparts of the west face of Long’s were directly across the valley from us, the exact ridgeline hard to make out in the dark, as I tried to make out exactly where the Keyhole would be. All of a sudden, I noticed two tiny points of light moving slowly along, bobbing and winking; a few seconds of steady observation confirmed that they must be hikers returning along the Keyhole route, the most popular trail up Long’s. I called over to Kent, and he noticed them too. Those poor guys! It was past nine o’clock, but they looked like they would be through the Keyhole soon, and, I thought, at least they would then be past the most exposed and dangerous part of the route.

A few minutes later, this assumption of safe harbor for the hikers seemed to be going terribly wrong: instead of the two bobbing lights going up and over the ridge as they neared the Keyhole, they seemed to be going down the ridge, toward Black Lake! I spoke in alarm to Kent, who confirmed what I saw — but there was absolutely nothing we could do. Communication was impossible at that distance, and we couldn’t call anyone for help; nor was it advisable to leave our camp to try to reach them in such dangerous terrain. I knew what that face looked like in daylight: steep, large, loose boulders, even large blank sections of rock face; at night, even with headlamps, it would be a nightmare to negotiate. But down they went, first left, then right…at times the lights would disappear, and I could only think the worst. I half expected one or both of them to suddenly begin descending rapidly, indicating a fall. Slowly but surely, they kept up their hesitant, zig-zag descent. When they were about half-way down, Kent and I could both hear cries of help; still, there was nothing we could do, other than pray for their safety.

Somehow though, unbelievable as it seemed at the time, after about an hour and a half, they were nearing the lower third of the black wall across the valley. The lights began to veer more to the right, indicating horizontal traversing on more level ground; this was good. They were going to make it! As the lights changed direction, now heading more directly into the eastern rim of the valley floor, we could just make out their voices: animated, strong, exhuberant. I couldn’t make out the words, but I could pick up on what it meant: two young guys, probably inexperienced, but very excited to have survived a dangerous escapade in the mountains. Ah well! I thought, that’s good; now all they have to worry about is hiking all the way out Glacier Gorge, at night, with their car probably parked at the Long’s Peak trailhead — a mere triviality, having cheated death! Kent and I congratulated each other on not having to participate in a rescue, and turned back into our bags, finally able to go to sleep. We never heard anything about the pair again; just another scary night in RMNP…

–Rick Casey

The Growing Case for Local Banks

I read with interest an article in my local newspaper, The Denver Post, last Sunday, November 15, 2009, Too Big To Succeed? which was about how big banks are “too big to succeed” to help local businesses, and how we need to “revive the nation’s broken community banking system.” This was written by Henry Dubroff and John Huggins, who should both know the local business environment in Denver extremely well. Dubroff was formerly business editor of The Denver Post and the Denver Business Journal; he’s currently editor at the Pacific Coast Business Times. Huggins is an entrepreneur and investor who twice served as economic development director for the city and county of Denver.

What was of interest to me is how their call for local, community oriented banking coincides exactly with similar recommendations I reading about several years ago (2006, 2007) in the works of David Korten and Michael Shuman. Both these authors have been decrying the disastrous effects of global capitalism on local economies for years, and I was thankful to them as my first discovery of authors who were able to validate and give shape to the vague but nagging feeling of dismay I’d had about the direction of local, and international, economic development for some time. At times, this led to bouts of profound emotional nausea, since there seemed no chance of escape from these global financial forces that were slowly but surely grinding the life and joy out local communities the world over by making them ever more dependent on multinational banks and chain stores.

So it was with no small amount of enjoyment to read how Dubroff and Huggins were bluntly stating that the “big banks” (national banks and financial institutions like Chase, Wells Fargo, CIT and the like) are simply ignoring the financing needs of small to medium sized companies at the local level. Because of their own misguided greed for short term profit and obscene executive paychecks, their failed balance sheets have sucked up the trillions of taxpayer bailouts with little or none of it passing through them to serve as loans to local banks, much less local companies — all without the least evidence of shame or contrition on their part.

But what to do? Rather than try to change these behemouths, it seems more sensible, say Dubroff and Huggins, to start over with new local banks that do listen and respond to the needs of local businesses; in other words, “to bring back community-savings intstitutions that would harken back to the ‘building and loan’ of the past-World War II era.” They then go on to briefly describe how this smaller, more locally-oriented banks would work, and their advantages over larger banks. However, their description any detail on how such a transition might get started was disappointing. The only quote from Dr. Sung Won Sohn, former chief economist at Wells Fargo, stated “…he thinks it would be essential for any new community banks to have ‘enough products and economies of scale’ to attractive to investors.”

Huh? Why these authors chose to use a quote from a high level employee of one the very institutions that helped cause our current mess is confusing, to say the least; and Dr. Sohn’s statement insinuates that such local banks would end up beholden to some vague, larger investment source…perhaps the very same larger banks we would like to rid ourselves of?

A clearer statement of how to the slavish relationship to larger banks is not hard to find. (In fact, I suspect this story has been told many times, ever since big banks have been oppressing communities.):

Every existing business support program needs to be reviewed and recast in community-friendly terms. Here are some goals policymakers might keep in mind: Make publicly supported incubators and one-stop small business shops off-limits to TINA. [Explanation of TINA below.] Use public money for educating entrepreneurs, whether through adult-ed classes or full-blown MBA programs, to emphasize LOIS [Explanation of LOIS below.] entrepreneurs. Fund studies that focus on the needs of LOIS businesses — on indicators, assets, leakages, entrepreneurship, finance, policy reform — and take advantage of a whole new generation of economists eager to do this kind of research. (Shuman, 2006, 168)

To explain TINA and LOIS: TINA means ‘There Is No Alternative’ and LOIS means ‘Local Ownership and Import Substitution’. Both terms…

An even more powerful case for why local banks are needed comes from David Korten, who has a 12 point litany of urgent supplications of what to do here:

1. Redirect the focus of economic policy from growing phantom wealth to growing real wealth
2. Recover Wall Street’s unearned profits, and assess fees and fines to make Wall Street theft and gambling unprofitable.
3. Implement full-cost market pricing.
4. Reclaim the corporate charter.
5. Restores national economic sovereignty.
6. Rebuild communities with a goal of achieving local self-reliance in meeting basic needs.
7. Implement policies that create a strong bias in favor of human-scale businesses owned by local stakeholders.
8. Facilitate and fund stakeholder buyouts to democratize ownership.
9. Use tax and income policies to favor the equitable distribution of wealth and income.
10. Revise intellectual property rules to facilitate the free sharing of information and technology.
11. Restructure financial services to serve Main Street.
12. Transfer to the federal governement the responsibility for issuing money.
(Korten, 2009, 122)


Korten, David C., Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009.

Shuman, Michael H., The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses are Beating the Global Competition, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2006.

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight

I’m currently reading this eloquent book by Thom Hartman. Published in 1998, it is highly relevant, as it simply and lucidly paints the global environmental catastrophes we have collectively created. It is also truly informative; I’ll be posting excerpts here from time to time.

(p 47) So trees, as it turns out, are the major source of recycled oxygen for the atmosphere. They are our planet’s lungs. … A fully grown pine or hardwood tree has a leaf surface area that can run from a quarter-acre to over three acres, depending on the species. Rainforest trees have leaf surface areas that run as high as forty acres per tree. [My note: that’s the equivalent surface area of a forty acre lake!] … A rainforest tree will draw three million [emphasis added] gallons of water up through its roots and release it into the atmosphere as water vapor during its lifetime. While it may seem this would deplete the soil of water, actually the reverse is true: trees draw water into the soil, the first step in a complex cycle which prevents land from becoming desert…

(p 49) The total amount of rainforest left on the planet [My note: in 1998] is about the size of the continental United States, and, every year, as area the size of Florida is cut down and permanently destroyed…

Which side is NPR on?

A comment I made on NPR’s website, the day after a particularly upsetting report about the lack of consumer savings in America….

I completely agree with the previous comment by Lawrence Jones, and am insulted that NPR would make this statement:”For nearly two years, the U.S. economy has been struggling with a recession brought on by excessive borrowing, both for home mortgages and consumer purchases.” What planet are you guys living on? This current recession, the worst since the Great Depression, and which remains to be seen if it exceeds it in severity, was absolutely caused by Wall Street, particularly its inner sanctum of the most powerful investment banks, starting with Goldman Sachs. Insinuating that the blame lies with a lack of consumer savings is not just grossly unfair, factually wrong and morally depraved, it puts NPR on the side of the hated Wall Street villains who have inflicted this pain and hell upon millions of American households that have lost their homes. Which side are you on NPR??!!
November 17, 2009

Letter to Charlie Rose, news commentator

Mr Rose,

I am watching your interview tonight with Ken Rogoff. While I appreciate his expertise as an economist, he is disappointing to hear for his lack of insight to our current situation. Nonetheless, I will certainly investigate his latest book for his perspective on past financial crises. However, he seems to only offer the same old tired saw: we must grow our way out of this crisis.

I wish to suggest this a failed economic paradigm. With 6.8 billion people on the planet, and projected to reach 9 billion within a generation, when are the mainstream economists going to wake up and smell the coffee? Unlimited economic growth by all is no longer viable. What will take its place?

In a nutshell: ecological economics. You should check it out, as I predict it will be the economics of the 21st century, if we survive as a species. I know I’m just an unimportant, unknown voice, but I have followed economic trends closely all my adult life, teach environmental economics at a local community college, and get incredibly frustrated by hearing such a lack on ideas in the mainstream media — particularly when it’s on more progressive shows such as your’s.

Honestly, Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! gets economic commentators who are better at speaking the truth — such as John Perkins whom she had on just this morning. His new book Hookwinked looks to be much more insightful and honest about the brutish reality of our harsh economic system.

However, if you would like to have a truly original, fresh and honest economic perspective on your show — from a man who has seen the future, who is not trapped in old paradigms of the past and speaks from a lifetime of experience in American economic dealings — you cannot do better than David Korten. If you have not heard of him, you should — before it is too late, and the Great Unraveling has irreversibly begun.

— Rick Casey