Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Influencing Behavior: A Thought Experiment


Source / Sungazing on Facebook

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

If This Doesn't Make You Wonder About Humanity


Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto has created a beautiful, undeniably scary time-lapse map of the 2053 nuclear explosions which have taken place between 1945 and 1998, beginning with the Manhattan Project's "Trinity" test near Los Alamos and concluding with Pakistan's nuclear tests in May of 1998. This leaves out North Korea's two alleged nuclear tests in this past decade (the legitimacy of both of which is not 100% clear).

Source / YouTube

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Uygur: Drone Strikes - Amorphous, Free-Reigning Policy

Source / YouTube

Thanks to Juan Cole / Fluxed Up World

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Our "Unbiased" Amerikkkan Free Press

The Washington Post: is it telling the whole story?

Analysis: How Washington Post strips casualties from covert drone data
By Chris Woods / November 1, 2012

Alongside the Washington Post’s latest blockbuster reports on the Obama administration’s drone kill list is a new graphic, depicting US covert strikes since 2002.

Based on studies by monitoring organisations, the graphic lists hundreds of US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, in what the paper says will be a regularly updated project. Also detailed are ‘the names of prominent militant leaders killed in individual strikes,’ the paper says.

But there the information stops.

All other casualty information has been stripped from the Washington Post’s data. There is no reference to the numbers reported killed in each strike. No names or numbers are put to the civilians killed.

In short, the paper has removed much of the information that is most valuable for assessing the effectiveness of the US drone campaign.

As a series of emails between the Washington Post and the Bureau reveals, the decision to strip out pertinent casualty data was an editorial one, and was part of broader ‘reservations and concerns’ at the paper concerning casualty counts.

An examination of the Post’s reporting indicates the paper frequently omits credible reports of civilian deaths in US covert drone strikes.

So concerned was the Bureau at the Washington Post’s intention to strip away casualty information that it has refused permission for the paper to use its work in such a significantly amended form.

‘No casualty counts’ The graphics editor of the Washington Post first approached the Bureau directly on September 18 asking to make use of the Bureau’s full dataset, having initially tried to obtain the information indirectly via the Guardian.


The Bureau allows full and free access to its data under a Creative Commons licence. In recent weeks, both the Guardian in the UK and Al Akhbar in Lebanon have used its data to map drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.

In a series of emails with senior Bureau staff, the Washington Post graphics editor noted that ‘TBIJ indeed does have the most accurate and comprehensive public representation of drone strikes.’

Nevertheless the Post’s plan was to aggregate data from the Bureau, the New America Foundation and the Long War Journal ‘in a way that will not highlight casualty counts’.

In response the Bureau noted that while drone casualty counts are a challenge, ‘who dies, and in what numbers, are the most critical questions that the data can address’.

The Bureau went on to ask: ‘Are you aiming to name militant leaders killed, for example, or only to map the locations of each strike/ frequencies? If the former, there is surely also a necessity to name all civilians recorded killed. If you only map events, how does a user distinguish between a strike that kills no one and an event that kills 80?’

In response, the graphics editor wrote on September 24: ‘I’ve spoken to editors and reporters on our foreign desk on Friday. Due to the same reservations and concerns about the casualty counts that I mentioned previously, we will not be showing casualty counts.’

The Bureau’s managing editor Iain Overton expressed concern about the Washington Post using Bureau data in such an altered form. The Post’s published graphic only employs New America Foundation and Long War Journal material – and all casualty counts have been removed.

Wider problem The Washington Post’s wider coverage of drone strikes shows a reluctance to address civilian deaths, with credible reports often omitted.

There are issues around the recording of casualties from US drone strikes – civilian or otherwise – given the reporting challenges they present. Critics argue there is too much incentive for individuals to exaggerate claims of civilian deaths for propaganda purposes.

That does not explain why reported civilian casualties continue to decline steeply in Pakistan and elsewhere. Nor does it explain why casualty counts by the Bureau and others appear close to the US government’s own overall estimates of the numbers killed.

Claims of civilian deaths in Pakistan are generally uncommon, and significant information is often known about the victims. Of 41 CIA drone strikes between January and October, civilian deaths were confidently reported on four occasions. There are indications of possible civilian deaths in a further nine strikes.

By stripping away the casualty data I’m not sure what’s left. They have also introduced their own bias into the recording, by selectively choosing which information to retain’ - Elizabeth Minor, Oxford Research Group
The identities of civilian victims are known for three of the four attacks. On August 18 the wife of militant Ahsan Aziz died. Three days later a 13-year-old boy and relative of militant leader Badruddin Haqqani was reported killed. And on October 24 the wife of schoolteacher Reshmeen Khan died as she walked in a field adjacent to a drone strike Only for an incident in May in which worshippers in a mosque were reported killed are there no biographical details in any of the reporting.

While the Washington Post frequently notes the deaths of senior militants, no mention of reported civilian casualties was made by the Post for three of the four 2012 cases cited above. Only for the October 24 event did the Post run an agency report stating that a woman had probably been killed.

The deaths of 11 civilians in an alleged US drone strike in Yemen on September 2 was also not reported by the paper, it seems.

In response to a recent complaint about its coverage of non-combatant deaths, the Washington Post insisted that it is ‘committed to documenting the deaths of civilians, as our coverage broadly shows.’

‘Dangerous editorial cut-off’ Just down the road from the Washington Post’s headquarters, experts gathered in the city on October 22 for the release of the largest-ever study into the recording of casualties in conflicts.

Funded by the Swiss government and the US Institute of Peace, the Oxford Research Group report examined casualty recording by more than 40 organisations (including the Bureau) across the world. It concluded that ‘useful documentation of deaths from conflict can be done even during intense conflict, and in repressive and dangerous environments.’

Elizabeth Minor, the report’s author, expressed surprise that the Washington Post would remove what she says is the most important information being collected, no matter how incomplete.

‘By stripping away the casualty data I’m not sure what’s left. They have also introduced their own bias into the recording, by selectively choosing which information to retain,’ Minor told the Bureau.

‘A better approach might be for the Post to publish all available information, transparently sourced, and so allow the reader to make up his or her mind as to its validity.’

The decision by the Washington Post to strip away casualty figures from its data – and to downplay civilian deaths – appears at heart a political call. As the Bureau’s managing editor Iain Overton notes, ‘We would be very happy to work in collaboration with the paper on its coverage of drone warfare.

‘However, we believe that to give a full and comprehensive view of the current situation in Pakistan and beyond, it’s incumbent on journalists to include credible casualty reports. To ignore this area simply because the information is imperfect or awkward is a dangerous editorial cut-off.’

Source / Bureau of Investigative Journalism

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Friday, October 26, 2012

The 1%: As Much As They Already Have, and They Still Want More


Bernie Sanders Calls Out CEO Tax Dodgers over Deficit, Hypocrisy

'The last thing we need to do is listen to these deficit increasing CEOs'

By Common Dreams staff / October 25, 2012

Senator Bernie Sanders called out a group of the top US CEOs Thursday in a new report revealing top corporate tax dodgers in the US and urged those dodgers to 'look in the mirror' for the causes of America's ballooning deficit. The report followed a joint statement issued Thursday morning by the top 80 US CEOs, pleading to Congress for a deficit reduction plan that would include cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and a decrease in taxes "for the top 2%."

The report Top Corporate Tax Dodgers (pdf) outlines individual CEO income and tax information, exploring the vast amounts of tax avoidance from the members of the group who today urged congress to avoid the 'fiscal cliff' budget, through their telling new plan.

Sanders reveals how many of the CEOs who issued the statement have evaded at least $34.5 billion in taxes through more than 600 subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens since 2008. Roughly a dozen of their companies did not pay federal income taxes at all in recent years and some received an additional $6.4 billion in tax refunds from the IRS since 2008. Many of the companies were among those who received the $2.5 trillion from the Federal Reserve following the banking industry induced financial crisis.

In addition, many of those companies are responsible for vast amounts of unemployment, due to the practice of employment outsourcing to foreign countries.

All of these actions, Sanders argues, are direct causes of the American deficit. The hypocrisy in the CEOs' "lecture to the American people" is stifling.

Sanders elaborated today:

There really is no shame. The Wall Street leaders whose recklessness and illegal behavior caused this terrible recession are now lecturing the American people on the need for courage to deal with the nation’s finances and deficit crisis. Before telling us why we should cut Social Security, Medicare and other vitally important programs, these CEOs might want to take a hard look at their responsibility for causing the deficit and this terrible recession. Our Wall Street friends might also want to show some courage of their own by suggesting that the wealthiest people in this country, like them, start paying their fair share of taxes. They might work to end the outrageous corporate loopholes, tax havens and outsourcing provisions that their lobbyists have littered throughout the tax code – contributing greatly to our deficit.
Source / Common Dreams

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Our Problems Are a Result of Our Collective Failure to Share

Proposing a Vision of a New Earth
By Rajesh Makwana / October 25, 2012

The following article is based on a presentation by Share The World’s Resources for the World Public Forum ‘Dialogue of Civilisations’ 10th Anniversary Conference, Rhodes, October 2012:

The earth’s ecological problems stem largely from our collective failure to share. That might seem like an overly simplistic statement, but it is now increasingly evident that only by sharing the world’s resources more equitably and sustainably will we be able to address both the ecological and social crisis we face as a global community.

The principle of sharing has always formed the basis of social relationships in societies across the world. We all know from personal experience that sharing is central to family and community life, and the importance of sharing is also a key component of many of the world’s religions.

Moreover, it is becoming apparent through a growing body of anthropological and biological evidence that human beings are naturally predisposed to cooperate and share in order to improve our collective wellbeing and maximise our chances of survival.

In fact, sharing is far more prevalent in society than people often realise. In a recent report, we identified the many emerging and existing forms of what is being popularly termed the ‘sharing economy’. This includes collaborative consumption, knowledge sharing websites like Wikipedia, and many other forms of cooperative and peer2peer enterprises. Although not commonly recognised as such, systems of social welfare can also be considered one of the most advanced forms of economic sharing ever established in the modern world.

Given the importance of the principle of sharing in human life, it is logical to assume that it should play an important role in the way we organise economies and manage the world’s resources. But this is not the case. Instead, we have created an economic system based on ideologies that are entirely opposed to the principle of sharing.

For decades, mainstream economists and policymakers have based their decision-making on a distorted understanding of what it means to be human: that people are selfish, acquisitive, individualistic and competitive by nature – the concept of homo economicus. These notions are still used to justify the exaggerated role that market forces play in organising societies.

As we know, neoliberal ideology continues to dominate policymaking across the world - characterised by the privatisation of public assets and the shared ‘commons’, the deregulation and liberalisation of markets, the endless pursuit of economic growth and the overconsumption of natural resources.

The consequences of our failure to share

As a result of failing to put the principle of sharing at the centre of policymaking, we now face a multitude of environmental crises, from climate change and pollution to deforestation and peak energy – the list is long.

Underpinning these multiple ecological crises is the failure of governments to achieve a balance between consumption levels and the Earth’s life-supporting capacity. As the WWF have painstakingly demonstrated, humanity currently consumes 50 percent more natural resources than the earth can sustainably produce, which means we already require the equivalent of one and a half planets to support our consumption levels.

This calculation doesn’t even take into account the massive growth in consumption that is widely predicted to take place over coming decades, in which the global ‘middle class’ is expected to grow from under 2 billion consumers today to nearly 5 billion by 2030. Clearly, the ecological consequences of increased consumption across the world will be severe. According to research by the Stockholm Resilience Centre, humanity has already transgressed three out of nine key planetary boundaries – climate change, biological diversity as well as nitrogen and phosphorous cycles.

But our failure to share resources has also resulted in severe social consequences which cannot be divorced from any discussion about the environment. Ecological chaos, poverty and inequality are related outcomes of an ill-managed world system, and they require simultaneous attention – a fact embodied in the contemporary dialogue on sustainable development.

There are massive differences in the consumption patterns and carbon emissions of people living in rich and poor countries. A small proportion of the world’s population – around 20 percent – consumes the vast majority of the world’s resources. According to Oxfam, excessive consumption by the wealthiest 10 percent of the world’s population poses the biggest threat to the environment today.

At the same time, the poorest 20 percent of the world’s population do not have access to the basic resources they need to survive. Around a billion people are officially classified as hungry, and almost half of the developing world population is trying to survive on less than $2 a day. Statistics from the World Health Organisation reveal that over 40,000 people die every single day from a lack of access to those resources that many of us take for granted. This is perhaps the starkest illustration of the human impact of our failure to share.

Overcoming the barriers to progress

Given the urgency of the ecological and social situation, why are we still failing to manage the world’s resources in a more equitable and sustainable way?

Every year, numerous international conferences and negotiations take place, but the international community has not managed to implement binding limits on CO2 emissions. We have failed to curb unsustainable patterns of resource consumption. And we have by no means succeeded in ending poverty or paving the way for more sustainable development.

In the meanwhile, endless reports are published that recommend a sensible path for reforming the global economy, but are not taken seriously by policymakers. Nothing seems to change. Humanity is at an impasse; we seem unable to overcome the vested interests and structural barriers to progress that we face.

For too long, governments have put profit and growth before the welfare of all people and the sustainability of the biosphere. Public policy under the influence of neoliberalism has created a world economy that is structurally dependent upon unsustainable levels of production and consumption for its continued success. Overcoming the vested interests that continue to block progress on restructuring the world economy has long been regarded by campaigners as the most significant challenge of the 21st century.

Given the scale of the task ahead and the extensive international negotiations these reforms would involve, it is impossible at this stage to put forward a blueprint of the specific policies and actions governments need to take.

But in order to inspire public support for transformative change, it is imperative that we outline a bold vision of how and why these reforms should be based firmly on the principle of sharing. Sharing the world’s resources equitably and sustainably is arguably the most pragmatic way of simultaneously addressing both the ecological and social crises we face.

Envisioning a global sharing economy

Two basic elements remain fundamental to the proper functioning of a ‘global sharing economy’. The first element is for the international community to recognise that natural resources form part of our shared commons, and should therefore be held in trust for the benefit of all. This important reconceptualization would enable humanity to move away from today’s private and state ownership models, and towards a new form of resource management based on non-ownership and trusteeship.

A precedent for sharing natural resources is already well established. An existing principle in international law known as the ‘common heritage of humankind’ enables certain cultural and natural resources to be protected from exploitation - from both the state and private sector - by holding them in trust for future generations. This principle is an important feature in a number of international treaties that have taken shape under the auspices of the United Nations.

There are of course many options available for how such a trust could be organised on a global level to incorporate the full range of renewable and non-renewable resources, including fossil fuels. For example, a number of proposals already exist such as those outlined by James Quilligan, Peter Barnes, or Peter Brown and Geoffrey Garver in their book ‘Right Relationship’, among others.

Essentially, a Global Commons Trust would embody the principle of sharing on a global scale, and it would enable the international community to take collective responsibility for managing the world’s resources.

With resources held in trust for all, it would be much easier to implement the second element required to establish a global sharing economy, which is to equalise global consumption levels so that all human beings can flourish within ecological limits. To achieve this, over-consuming countries need to significantly reduce their resource use, while developing countries must be able to increase theirs until a convergence in global per capita consumption levels is eventually reached.

The real challenge is reducing consumption levels in industrialised nations, and many proposals already exist for how to achieve this. For example, it is clear that resource management would need to be at the forefront of policymaking, and consumption-led economic growth can no longer be the goal of government policy. Much would also need to be done to dismantle the culture of consumerism; and investment must shift to building and sustaining a low-carbon infrastructure.

With both of these key elements in place (trusteeship of shared resources and reduced global consumption), natural resources would be accessible to people in all countries, consumed within planetary limits and preserved for future generations.

The key to change is the rise of the people

But how will these changes happen? Regardless of the specific policies employed, the world still lacks a broad-based acceptance of the need for planetary reconstruction. Without a global movement of ordinary people that share a collective vision of change, it will remain impossible to overcome the influence of neoliberal ideology and the vested interests mentioned above.

However, the historic events of 2011 provided concrete evidence of the potential power of a united ‘people’s voice’. The world witnessed millions of people in diverse countries declaring their needs and highlighting issues of social and economic inequality, greed, financial corruption and the undue influence of corporations on government.

The Arab Spring demonstrated the awesome power of a focussed and directed public opinion. And in city squares across the developed world, Occupy, the Indignados and a host of other people’s movements focused the world’s media on the plight of the ‘99%’ and gained widespread public support in the process.

The rapid spread of these mass demonstrations reflects a growing recognition of humanity’s innate unity and propensity to share, and they pay testimony to the combined power of engaged citizens. But if public opinion is to make transformative change a reality, a crucial next step is to adopt a common and inclusive platform for change on a global scale. In other words, we need a planetary Tahrir Square.

[Rajesh Makwana is the executive director of Share The World's Resources, (STWR), a London-based NGO campaigning for essential resources - such as land, energy, water and the atmosphere - to be shared internationally and sustainably in order to secure basic human needs. He can be contacted at rajesh@stwr.org.]

Source / Common Dreams

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Paying Attention to the Things That Actually Matter

Photo: Harsha KR. / Flickr.

A Critical Mass for Real Food
By Anim Steel / August 24, 2012

The old logic of the slave plantation is still the logic of our industrial food system, 500 years in the making. There’s a new way of thinking taking off.

Imagine that you are in room. It’s about 30 by 30 feet. The floor is stone, and the walls and ceiling are a mix of stone and cement. They are a little damp, which you can smell but you can’t quite see. It’s pitch black except for the light that comes in from a low, arched doorway in whose frame is silhouetted an iron gate. When your eyes adjust to the darkness, you can see a narrow stretch of beach and the blue and gray of the ocean beyond.

This, a doorway in West Africa's Elmina Fort, is a Door of No Return. It is the last part of Africa you would touch if you were a slave being led from the dungeon to a waiting ship.

I stood in front of this door a few years ago while visiting my family in Ghana. It is a place of sorrow and suffering. Countless human beings passed by this spot on their way to either a wretched death at sea or a life of bondage in the New World. They had been snatched up near their villages in slave raids; ripped from their families and everything they knew; shackled to others by the neck for a long march to coast; and thrown in a crowded, reeking dungeon for what might have been months until the next ship arrived. That was just the start of the journey.

This door represents many things. As human beings, it represents our capacity for cruelty—as well as resilience. Many of the descendants of those who went through it not only survived, but went on to build the "New World" itself. They paved the way for every opportunity I have had in the United States, and I believe their story makes us all stronger.

But this door also represents a beginning—the beginning of our modern food system.

If, back in the 18th century, you could see all the way across the Atlantic, you would find an unbroken line of plantations that stretched from Buenos Aires to Baltimore. Down this entire line, slaves harvested sugar for British tea, rice for the West Indian consumption, and cotton for the textile mills of New England. These were vast monocrops that broke the body and ruined the soil—but made money for planters and big companies that traded the goods.

Here, you see the logic of the modern industrial food system in its rawest form—a logic of prioritizing profit over human and environmental welfare. A lot has changed in the 400 years since the Elmina Fort was built, but this principle has not gone away. The logic of the plantation is the logic of today’s industrial food system.

In this system, it is in the interest of the middleman—large companies that dominate the processing and distribution of food—to squeeze farmers and externalize costs. The industrial model may work for some things, but it's time to admit that it doesn’t work for food. It doesn’t work for Lucas, a tomato-picker in Florida, who toils from dawn to dusk without protection or health care and still cannot escape poverty. It’s not good for the farmers in Illinois who have nearly been bullied out of existence by Monsanto. It's not good for teenagers in Brooklyn who, when asked how many of them have diabetes or know someone with diabetes, raise every hand in the room. And it’s certainly not good for the 99 percent of us who are left holding the bag of rising health care costs.

It doesn’t work for anyone who wants—and needs—real food: food that nourishes the earth, communities, and individuals, both eaters and producers.

If the logic of the industrial system is based on profit, the logic of real food is founded on respect and balance. Real food isn't opposed to profit, but it is opposed to profits that aren't shared fairly with those who work the hardest to feed us. The Door of No Return represents what’s we’re up against: a global industrial food economy 500 years in the making that exploits both people and land.

But there is also a second door: a wooden door on a busy London street below a hand-painted sign that reads “print shop.” You’d probably miss it if you were just passing by. If you were standing outside of it in one morning in 1787, you might have seen 12 men, mostly Quakers, go inside for a meeting.

That meeting sparked the beginning of the British Anti-Slavery Society, and the very first citizens' campaign of its kind. Its members ran petitions, lobbied parliament, and staged book tours, pioneering many of the social movement tactics we still use today. When those men walked through that door, the whole world economy was built on slave labor.

In 10 years, this group of 12 swelled to hundreds of thousands. And in just a few decades, it did the unthinkable: It ended the slave trade throughout the British Empire.

To imagine a world without slavery then would be like imagining a world without oil today—and who would be crazy enough to propose that?

And yet in one generation, it came to pass. Those activists had no knowledge of the future, but they did have their conviction of what was right and what was wrong.

This second door represents something that could be cliché if it weren’t demonstrably, factually true: that a small group of committed people can, in fact, change the world.

This is the spirit that sparked the Real Food Challenge: a project that re-imagines a cafeteria tray as a tool for social change. It's just one face of a larger movement that is pressing for a just and sustainable food economy.

In 2006, I started to meet college students who were active on their campuses. They were pushing for local food and asking for fair trade coffee and organic produce. A group of us from all around the country, from Brown University to UC Santa Cruz, started talking and realized that we might accomplish more if we joined forces.

We realized that colleges and universities in this country spend over $5 billion each year to feed their students. What if we could shift how that money was being spent? Instead of lining the pockets of the biggest and worst food companies, why not support smaller farms and socially responsible business? Why not invest in a real food economy?

We thought that shift might actually be possible because students are paying customers of their schools. But it would depend on strong leadership from students themselves.

A Real Food Commitment

Alex Sligar grew up in rural Washington State. When he was a kid, his father lost his farm and ended up working in a nearby feedlot. Alex’s brothers both went into the military and served bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan. Alex was on the same track until he got inspired to serve his country in a different way—by joining the food movement. As a junior at Eastern Washington University, he started a campaign to buy more regional food for his campus so that hard-working people, like his dad, could continue to work the land with dignity.

Alex was joined by another student named Mohamud Omar. Mohamud came from Somalia and had never considered himself an activist. But now, while famine ravaged his home country and his family faced obstacles to health and food access in the United States, Mohamud came to recognize food access as "the most important issue in my life right now.”

Together, Alex and Mohamud and their teammates have called for transparency in purchasing at their university, and have gained access to the cafeteria’s records. Now they are urging the president to sign a "Real Food Commitment" that would dedicate at least 20 percent of the school's food budget to local, organic, and fair trade purchases.

In three years, the Real Food Challenge has built a network of 5,000 students like Alex and Mohamud at more than 350 schools. Students supported by the Real Food Challenge have won $45 million of real food purchasing commitments—including a commitment by the entire University of California system. We’re estimating that in 10 years, $45 million could become $1 billion of real food commitments—and that we could set a precedent for other kinds of institutions.

It’s about more than dollars. It’s about the change that is happening on the ground. It’s about Alan, an apple farmer in Rhode Island who got a contract from Brown University. He was able to stay in business and is now selling apples to elementary schools as well. It’s about Eliza, a hog farmer in North Carolina, which is ground zero for factory-farmed pigs. Unlike the factory farms around her, where the animals are confined in tight cages over lagoons of their own excrement, Eliza's pigs run free on their pasture. Students at UNC got the school to start buying her pork. She’s now selling to five other institutions in the area. Eliza and Alan and farmers like them are the backbone of the real food economy to come.

This may be one of the fastest ways to catalyze change in the food system. Using existing budgets, we can strike at multiple roots of the problem. Where demand is fragmented, we can organize it. Where there is too little clarity, we can create transparency and accountability. Where policy is stalled, we can foster new leadership.

It’s a different kind of activism. Instead of voting with one dollar, we’re voting with a billion. Instead of a boycott, we’re mounting a “pro-cott,” strategically investing in the kind of food system that will advance social, economic, and environmental justice.

If we succeed, we will see a profound transformation in the way our food is produced and consumed. Vacant lots will become vibrant gardens. Family farms and food traditions will thrive. Hard work will be fairly rewarded. Our climate and planet will sustain us. All people will have access to food that is nourishing.

I think food is an incredible thing. I can’t think of anything else that connects us more intimately to each other and the earth, not to mention our health and our heritage.

Archimedes said : Give me a lever long enough, and a place to stand, and I can move the world. Real food is that lever. Let’s take a stand.

This article was adapted from a speech delivered to the 2011 Bioneers conference.

[Anim Steel is director of national programs and co-founder of The Food Project (TFP). Prior to his work with TFP, Anim was a consultant with Economic Development Assistance Consortium. He was a 1997 Coro Fellow in Public Affairs, is 2010 Hunt Prime Movers Fellow, and was recently selected for an Echoing Green Social Entrepreneurship.]

Source / Yes! Magazine

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It's Not About Stuff Anymore: Time to Rethink


Source / Nation of Change

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The New Company Store

The New Company Store: The Final Step in the Corporate Takeover of America
By John Atcheson / July 18, 2012

Well, here we are, slouching toward another national garage sale in which corporations bid on and buy candidates the way futures traders bid on commodities – or as our founders used to call it: an election.

As we go to the polls, it might be wise to remember the song Sixteen Tons. Here’s a few lines to refresh your memory:
Another Day Older and Deeper in Debt; and

St. Peter don’t you call me ‘cause I can’t come. I owe my soul to the Company Store.
The original version of the song was written by an ex-coal miner named George Davis and recorded on his album, When Kentucky Had No Union Men.

It is a song about the truck system, and debt bondage. Under this economic model, workers lived in houses owned by the company, shopped in stores owned by the company, and got paid in scrip minted by the company. And no matter how hard they worked, they remained indebted to the company.

The truck system survived in the US until the early 20th Century. This kind of abuse existed because government allowed it to. Then as now, wealth was highly concentrated and government was in the pocket of the plutocrats.

It came to an end with the passage of The National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933.

Since then, the US government and labor moved together to level the playing field for workers. The result was a steady increase in prosperity shared by all Americans.

That is, until about thirty years ago, when Reagan launched what has been a sustained assault on government.

Thanks to thirty years of Republican policies and Democratic complicity, we’re in the process of reopening the company store, only as with all things 21st Century, it’s a national chain.

Today, we shop with credit cards owned by “the company,” live in houses financed by “the company” – often owing more than the value of the home – and get our news and information from sources controlled by "the company." In short, the company store is back in business.

While Republicans and Tea partiers are all aflutter over government debt, Americans owe some $11.4 trillion in consumer debt. Talk about indentured. Seventy five per cent of us are held hostage to debt.

This spring student loan debt passed $1 trillion, and the average student now owes $25,000 upon graduating, And Congress passed a law making it almost impossible for students to escape this debt through bankruptcy. Right now, it’s far easier for a corporation to default on hundreds of millions of dollars in retirement and health benefits than it is for a student to escape a few thousand in student loan debt.

Congratulations, Grad, and welcome to the company store. Oh, but you corporations and fat cats? No worries. It’s business as usual – your McMansion is protected; you can still screw your employees with impunity.

So how did this happen? How did we once again become enslaved to a system which does not represent our interests; a system which benefits the 1% at our expense?

Well, not surprisingly, corporations and plutocrats used the tools of marketing to conduct a silent takeover of the country, imposing a tyranny far more severe than the imaginary government tyranny Tea-Partiers rail against.

They systematically “branded” the forces that were capable of constraining them while rebranding the very things that worked to enslave so many of us in times past.

Using repetition, metaphors and other figures of speech that form the basis of advertising, corporations and their conservative cronies – the real modern day Madmen – made people believe up was down and right was left. And because they were unopposed by the corporate owned media and the Democratic Party, they succeeded.

Government was branded as the problem, not the solution.

The private sector got branded as the solution, not the problem.

The same private sector that set up the company stores in the 18th and 19th Centuries until the government and unions put a stop to it.

“Liberal” became an epithet – something politicians ran screaming from, and something the people identified as evil, ineffective, elitist … even though, on an issue-by-issue basis, most Americans hold progressive views.

Socialism is now equivalent to Satan worship, and anything but wild, unconstrained capitalism has been branded as socialism – or gasp – even communism. Thus, regulations preventing the Company Store, or the rape of the Earth are seen as infringements on our freedom even though they apply mostly to corporate abuse. Plutocrats must get together at their secret meetings and howl with laughter at the rubes who screw themselves because they’re worried about their freedom, which -- thanks to the evisceration of government -- is now essentially the freedom to be exploited.

Exhibit A? “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.” Or take this gem: “Don’t steal from Medicare to Support Socialized Medicine.”

The result of this massive con? Income mobility in the United States has all but stalled, especially in States with Republican governors. Income disparity, on the other hand has exploded and the top 10% of Americans now control 75% of the wealth. The United States now ranks behind such luminary examples of shared prosperity as Cameroon and Iraq, according to the CIA.

So now, as corporations impose an economic tyranny not seen since the 19th and early 20th Century, many Americans are chasing ghosts ginned up by the corporations and their conservative political madmen.

Welcome to the New Company Store, now opening at a location near you.

[John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.]

Source / Common Dreams

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

We Demand

Self-Evident Truths: A no-nonsense declaration
By Derrick Jensen / Published in the July/August 2012 issue of Orion

THERE ISN’T A CHANCE in hell that something like the original Wilderness Act could be passed today. Environmentalists today are too much on the defensive. Sure, there have been green platforms and policy papers, but nothing I’ve read matches the urgency of this moment. So I decided to draft a declaration. It goes like this:

We, the citizens of the United States of America, hold these truths to be self-evident: that a rapid decline in living conditions is taking place all around us; that compromise is no longer an adequate way forward (and perhaps never was); that more drastic measures must be taken immediately in order to preserve a livable planet. From these beliefs springs the following list of demands:

We demand that the United States Constitution be rewritten to explicitly prohibit the privatization of profits and the externalization of costs by the wealthy, and to immediately grant both human and nonhuman communities full legal and moral rights. Corporations should no longer be considered persons under the law. Limited liability corporations must be immediately stripped of their limited liability protection. Those whose economic activities cause great harm—including great harm to the real, physical world—should be punished. Environmental Crimes Tribunals must be immediately put in place to try those who have significantly harmed the real, physical world. These tribunals should have the force of law and should be expected to impose punishment commensurate with the harm caused to the public and to the planet.

We demand the immediate, explicit, and legally binding recognition that perpetual growth is incompatible with life on a finite planet. Economic growth must stop, and economies must begin to contract. We demand acknowledgment that if we don’t begin this contraction voluntarily, it will take place against our will, and will cause untold misery.

We demand that overconsumption and overpopulation be addressed through bold and serious measures, but not by approaches that are racist, colonialist, or misogynist. Right now, more than 50 percent of the children who are born into this world are unwanted. We demand that all children be wanted. The single most effective strategy for making certain that all children are wanted is the liberation of women. Therefore we demand that women be given absolute economic, sexual, and reproductive freedom, and that all forms of reproductive control become freely available to all.

There is consensus among the scientific community that in order to prevent catastrophic climate change beyond what the industrial economy has already set in motion, net carbon emissions must be reduced by 80 percent as soon as possible. Because we wish to continue to live on a habitable planet, we demand a carbon reduction of 20 percent of current emissions per year over the next four years.

Dwayne Andreas, former CEO of Archer Daniels Midland, has said, “There isn’t one grain of anything in the world that is sold in a free market. Not one! The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians.” He’s right. Capitalism is based almost entirely on subsidies. For example, commercial fishing fleets worldwide receive more in subsidies than the entire value of their catch. Timber corporations, oil corporations, banks—all would collapse immediately without massive government subsidies and bailouts. Therefore, we demand that the United States government stop subsidizing environmentally and socially destructive activities, and shift those same subsidies into activities that restore biotic communities and that promote local self-sufficiency and vibrant local economies.

We demand an immediate and permanent halt to all extractive and destructive activities: fracking, mountaintop removal, tar sands production, nuclear power, and offshore drilling chief among them. The list of activities to be halted must also include the manufacture of photovoltaic panels, windmills, hybrid cars, and so on. We must find nondestructive ways of becoming a sustainable society.

We demand an immediate end to monocrop agriculture, one of the most destructive activities humans have ever perpetrated. All remaining native forests must be immediately and completely protected. We demand an end to clearcutting, “leave tree,” “seed tree,” “shelter tree,” and all other “even-aged management” techniques, no matter what they are called, and no matter what rationales are put forward by the timber industry and the government to justify them. Likewise, we demand that all remaining prairies and wetlands be permanently protected.

Further, we demand that all damaged lands be restored, from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters. Because soil is the basis of terrestrial life, no activities should be allowed that destroy topsoil. All properties over sixty acres must have soil surveys performed every ten years, and if they have suffered any decrease in health or depth of topsoil, the lands shall be confiscated and ownership transferred to those who will build up soil.

We demand that no activities that draw down aquifers be allowed, and that all polluted or compromised rivers and wetlands be restored. There are more than 2 million dams in the United States, more than 60,000 dams over thirteen feet tall and more than 70,000 dams over six and a half feet tall. If we removed one of these 70,000 dams each day, it would take 200 years to get rid of them all. Salmon don’t have that much time. Sturgeon don’t have that much time. Therefore, we demand that no more dams be built, and we demand the removal of five dams per day over the next forty years, beginning one year from today.

We demand that the United States make an annual survey of all endangered species to ascertain if they are increasing in number and range, and if they are not, we demand that steps be taken to make sure that they do. The U.S. government must be charged with the task of doing whatever is necessary to make sure that there are more migratory songbirds every year than the year before, that there are more native fish every year than the year before, more native reptiles and amphibians.

The United States must immediately withdraw from NAFTA, DR-CAFTA, and other so-called free trade agreements, because these agreements cause immeasurable and irreparable harm to working people, local economies. Likewise, we demand that the United States remove all support for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, because these organizations promote and support vast infrastructure projects such as highways, dams, thermal power projects, and mines that disrupt or destroy entire biomes and dispossess and immiserate hundreds of thousands of people (in India alone, 50 million people have been displaced by large “development” projects).

From this day forward, the only conditions under which the United States of America should go to war is by a direct vote of more than 50 percent of U.S. citizens. Furthermore, we demand immediate closure of all U.S. military bases on foreign soil. All U.S. military personnel should be brought home within two years. The U.S. military budget must be reduced by 20 percent per year, until it reaches 20 percent of its current size. This will provide the “peace dividend” politicians promised us back when the Soviet Union collapsed, will balance the U.S. budget, and will more than pay for all necessary domestic programs, starting with biome repair and including food, shelter, and medical care for all.

In addition to the aforementioned, we demand that the U.S. government itself undergo a significant transformation in recognition of the fact that it can only be of, by, and for the people if it is concurrently of, by, and for the earth. And no, the fact that the animals and plants and natural communities don’t speak English is not a valid excuse for failing to provide for their well-being.

Once these demands have been met, we will come up with more, and then more, until we are living in a sane, just, and sustainable culture. We believe that such a culture is our birthright, both as human beings with inalienable rights and as animals who love our home. We have not forgotten that the Declaration of Independence states that when a government becomes destructive of our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.

Source / Orion Magazine

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Climate Change: It's Real and It's Here Now

An eerie glow as the Waldo Canyon wildfire burns in Colorado.
(U.S. Air Force Photo/ Mike Kaplan)

Sizzling Heat, Storms, Wildfires: 'This Is Just the Beginning'
By Common Dreams staff / July 3, 2012

"This is just the beginning," warns Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at the Weather Underground, of what life with the impacts of climate change will look like. His message follows a week in which 2000 heat records were matched or broken and the month of June in which over 3200 heat records were matched or broken.

Yet during that time, with little exception, there was no mention of climate change during weather broadcasts in which viewers were told to expect little relief from steamy temperatures.

Speaking on Democracy Now! on Tuesday, Masters said, "I think it’s important for the public to hear that what we’re seeing now is the future. We’re going to be seeing a lot more weather like this, a lot more impacts like we’re seeing from this series of heatwaves, fires and storms. And we better prepare for it. We better educate people what’s going on, give the best science that’s out there on what climate change is doing and where it’s likely to head. I think we’re missing a big opportunity here—or our TV meteorologists are—to educate and tell the population what is likely to happen. This is just the beginning, this kind of summer weather we’re having."

Like Masters, scientist and former TV host Bill Nye, "The Science Guy," connected the dots of extreme weather and climate change on The Ed Show on Monday. "The last 16 years have been the hottest ever, and so this is consistent with models of climate change. The big hurricanes are consistent with models of climate change. The big storms. The dehydration of the forest in Colorado and the forest fires are consistent with models of climate change."

"This is a chance for us all to pull together and address climate change," said Nye.

Last week, even before record heat and storms struck much of the nation this weekend, several scientists confirmed -- this is what we've been telling you would happen with climate change.

"This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level," said Jonathan Overpeck, professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona. "The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms and wildfire. This is certainly what I and many other climate scientists have been warning about."

His comments echo climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer. “What we’re seeing is a window into what global warming really looks like,” said Oppenheimer, referring to raging wildfires in the US west, in a press briefing on Thursday. "It looks like heat, it looks like fires, it looks like this kind of environmental disaster... This provides vivid images of what we can expect to see more of in the future."

Source / Common Dreams

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Why Can't the US Follow in Germany's Footsteps?

Solarpark Lieberose, a Solar Power Plant in Germany.

In Race against Carbon Catastrophe, Solar Power is Making Strides
By Juan Cole / May 28, 2012

The world probably needs to get back to 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere if truly radical climate change is to be avoided. But we are going in the wrong direction fast. In April, the Mauna Loa observatory measured CO2 in the atmosphere at about 396 parts per million, the highest recorded since records began being kept. The level was up nearly 3 ppm in a single year, itself an unusual statistic. Before the Industrial Revolution, at the time of the American Revolution, the level was 280 ppm. The Founding Fathers would already not recognize America’s balmy climate if they traveled in time to the present.

There are responsible and irresponsible players in this crisis. The Chinese are the most irresponsible in having the highest level of CO2 emissions, though they are actively trying to bring those down. Arguably the most irresponsible of all is the United States, with the second largest amount of CO2 emissions but doing very little about it (and our big corporations, including Big Media, are trying to exercise on us a Goebbels-like Big Lie that we needn’t do anything).

Then there are responsible countries, like Germany and Portugal, who are investing in renewables in a big way.

On last Friday afternoon, because of clear skies and good weather, Germany was at one point producing 22 gigawatts of solar power, a new record. Today (Monday) is a holiday in Germany, and electricity needs will be only a third of normal. So, for a couple hours this afternoon, all Germany’s electrical power needs will be supplied by renewable energy. That must be a first for an industrialized, G8 country.

Germany has defied the predictions of those who said that mothballing its nuclear plants would cause it to produce more CO2. Its carbon dioxide production was down 2% in the past year. It replaced 60% of its formerly nuclear-generated electricity production with renewables, and became 5% more efficient in using energy.

Germany’s achievement is owing in part to the influence in the 1990s of the Green Party on energy policy in that country. But soon investing in solar energy will no longer be high-minded, it will just be economic common sense. By 2017, even if you don’t count all the damage hydrocarbons do to the atmosphere, solar power will reach grid parity with them. That is, it will be economically competitive to put in a solar plant instead of a coal one. (In some areas of the US, solar grid parity will be reached in 2014). Of course if you factor in the health and climate damage caused by CO2 and other dirty emissions, solar is already much cheaper than hydrocarbons.

Japanese firms, with the Fukushima nuclear disaster/tsunami in mind, are going into solar energy in a big way. Kyocera is planning the world’s largest solar power farm in the south of the country, which will generate 70 megawatts. If Japanese technical innovation and scientific ingenuity is turned, as it seems like to be, to renewable energy, they may well rejuvenate their lagging economy and become a big player in the burgeoning solar and wind turbine markets. The Japanese public has turned against nuclear pretty decisively, as have most companies there. They have lost a lot of trust in their government and in the Tepco firm that managed Fukushima.

The Indian government is likewise planning to put in a fresh 10 gigawatts of solar energy production by 2017.

There are daily new technological breakthroughs both in wind turbines and solar cells that will make them more efficient and more competitive over time. The world is on the right track. It is just a day late and a dollar short. The US and China aren’t accomplishing what Germany is. Not to mention the rest of the world. We can’t get back to 350 ppm at this rate. We are going toward 450 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, which climate scientists such as James Hansen now warn is probably catastrophic for the earth and for human beings.

Source / Informed Comment

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

'Faster Than We Thought': A Tipping Point in Which Our Actions May Not Matter

Photo by Ian McAllister (source).

'Faster Than We Thought': An Epitaph for Planet Earth By John Atcheson / May 23, 2012

Sometime later this Century, a writer will sit down and attempt to document how his or her grandparents’ generation could have all but ignored the greatest disaster humanity has ever faced.

It won’t be a pleasant world she lives in. Cities and countries will be locked in an expensive battle with rapidly rising seas; but after spending trillions of dollars, most of the world’s ports will have been abandoned anyway.

Up to seventy percent of the planet’s species will be wiped out. Gone. Vanished. Kaput. Songbirds will no longer serenade us. Butterflies will no longer dazzle us. The boreal forests – the largest belt of green in the world – will be gone.

Brutal heat waves will be the norm. Off-the-chart hurricanes and storms will be the rule. Deserts will have expanded. Haboobs, giant black blizzards of dust will sweep across vast portions of the US’s high plains and the southwest. The Amazon rainforest will be a shrunken, wizened remnant of a once vast source of life.

The once bountiful seas will be acidic crypts in which jellyfish and other primitive forms spread in vast sheets across the surface, covering the rotting hulks of the fish we used to eat.

Agricultural productivity will collapse, famine will be widespread.

Money for anything other than preventing catastrophe will be scarce.

By 2050, as many as a billion climate refugees will roam the Earth, spreading unrest, poverty, disease and misery. By the century’s end? Who knows?

As she pieces together this saga, she’ll encounter the usual suspects.

The army of paid politicians who
carried the water of the fossil fuel plutocrats.

A press that, for the most part, failed to cover the most important story in history, and put “balance” above accuracy, context, facts, and reality when they did.

Economists, who used bizarre abstractions like discounting the future to make it seem like saving the world wasn’t cost-effective.

Environmentalists, who were loath to speak the truth because they didn’t want to be accused of spreading “doom and gloom.”

Scientists who mumbled warnings under their breath until it was too late because they thought warnings were somehow unseemly.

The IPCC and their infrequent and out-of-date on date-of-issue reports, an organization that, by design, was intended to slow-walk the science and muddle it with misguided neoclassical economic incantations.

But the one thing that will stand out as she attempts to figure out how our generation allowed the entire world to sleep walk into Armageddon will be the annual cavalcade of research and headlines saying “XXX is happening far faster than predicted.”

XXX could be anything related to global warming: the melting of ice sheets or the speed of sea level rise or the rate of warming or the extinction of species or the shift of seasons or the expansion of deserts and the advent of climate refugees and the increase in famine, or the frequency and intensity of draughts and storms – you name it, and there is nearly an annual updating of the rate and pace at which climate-related catastrophe stalks us.

For example, consider sea level rise. In the 2007 IPCC report, projections called for oceans to increase by about 18 millimeters by the end of the century, mostly from thermal expansion. Papers coming out in 2007 showed this projection to be obsolete before the ink dried on the report. This year, there is growing consensus that the West Antarctic ice sheet is melting much faster than expected, and projections for future sea level increases of 3 meters or more seem to be a plausible forecast – 166 times as great as the IPCC projections made just 5 years ago.

Back to our future historian. She may well ask how it was we didn’t just step back, spot this trend, and recalibrate how we forecasted future effects of climate change.

Good question.

One answer may be found in our DNA. Growing evidence suggesting our brains aren't wired to handle future threats. We may be hardwired to deal with the present proximate, not the future probable.

If she’s diligent, she’ll also stumble on the effect of positive feedback mechanisms – what scientists refer to as amplifying feedbacks.

I wrote about the granddaddy of all these – methane releases from the Arctic -- in 2004, in the Baltimore Sun, in an article entitled Ticking Time Bomb.

A little more than a year later, the feedback had begun, as I outlined in another article, Hotter, Faster, Worser.

Fast forward to today. Scientists now believe that a sudden 50Gt methane release from the Arctic is possible – even probable. This would be equivalent to 40 times the amount of all GHGs released in 2009.

Again, the phrase faster than we thought rings out.

There are at least 12 other major feedbacks which could accelerate global warming beyond even our faster than we thought forecasts.

Our intrepid future historian may discover one other disturbing fact explaining our inaction. All our models assumed we’d reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. Even our worst case scenarios estimated peak atmospheric concentrations of about 750 parts per million based on the conviction that we’d act. But we are now on course for over 900 ppm by century’s end, and we are approaching a tipping point in which our actions may not matter.

[John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.]

Source / Common Dreams

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Let's Make Money and Credit a Public Utility


The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Quiet Drama in Philadelphia
By Ellen Brown May 20, 2012

“You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised. . . .
The revolution will be live.”


--From the 1970 hit song by Gil Scott-Heron
Last week, the city of Philadelphia's school system announced that it expects to close 40 public schools next year, and 64 schools by 2017. The school district expects to lose 40% of its current enrollment, and thousands of experienced, qualified teachers.

But corporate media in other cities made no mention of these massive school closings -- nor of those in Chicago, Atlanta, or New York City. Even in the Philadelphia media, the voices of the parents, students and teachers who will suffer were omitted from most accounts.

It’s all about balancing the budgets of cities that have lost revenues from the economic downturn. Supposedly, there is simply no money for the luxury of providing an education for the people.

Where will those children find an education? Where will the teachers find work? Almost certainly in an explosion of private sector “charter schools,” where the quality of education -- from the curriculum to books to the food served at lunch -- will be sacrificed to the lowest bidder, and teachers’ salaries and benefits will be sacrificed to the profits of the new private owners, who will also eat up many millions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies.

Why does there always seem to be enough money for military expansion, prisons, bank bailouts and tax cuts for the wealthy, but not enough for education—or for jobs, housing, healthcare, or old age pensions? These are not “welfare” but are part of the social contract for which we pay taxes and make social security payments.

In an article reprinted on Truthout on May 10th titled “Why Isn't Closing 40 Philadelphia Public Schools National News?,” Bruce Dixon posed this answer:
The city has a lot of poor and black children. Our ruling classes don't want to invest in educating these young people, preferring instead to track into lifetimes of insecure, low-wage labor and/or prison. Our elites don't need a populace educated in critical thinking. So low-cost holding tanks that deliver standardized lessons and tests, via computer if possible, operated by profit-making "educational entrepreneurs" are the way to go.
“Lifetimes of insecure, low-wage labor or prison”—this is very close to the “indentured servitude” that was abolished along with slavery by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1865. The freed slaves are being recaptured by debt, beginning with the debt of school loans, followed by credit card debt, mortgage debt, and healthcare costs.

As was cynically observed in a document called the Hazard Circular, allegedly circulated by British banking interests among their American banking counterparts in July 1862:
[S]lavery is but the owning of labor and carries with it the care of the laborers, while the European plan, led by England, is that capital shall control labor by controlling wages. This can be done by controlling the money. The great debt that capitalists will see to it is made out of the war, must be used as a means to control the volume of money. . . . It will not do to allow the greenback, as it is called, to circulate as money any length of time, as we cannot control that. [Quoted in Charles Lindburgh, Banking and Currency and the Money Trust (Washington D.C.: National Capital Press, 1913), page 102.]
The quotation may be apocryphal, but it graphically conveys the fate of our burgeoning indentured class. It also suggests the way out: we must recapture the control of our money and banking systems, including the issuance of debt-free money (“greenbacks”) by the government.

Meanwhile, in Other Unreported News . . .

That alternative vision was put before a conference in Philadelphia in late April that drew delegates from all over the United States. The theme of the first Public Banking in America conference, held at the Quaker Friends Center on April 28-29th, was that to fix the economy, we first need to take back the “money power”—the power to create currency and credit.

Led by keynote speakers Gar Alperovitz and Hazel Henderson and highlighted in an electric speech by twelve-year-old Victoria Grant, the conference was all about solutions. As summarized by OpEdNews editor Josh Mitteldorf:
There were two visions expressed . . . . The first is the very practical idea that states and cities around America could be rescued from insolvency if they had their own banks, instead of relying on commercial banks to borrow money through bonds. Tax-exempt bond issues supply money to states and municipal governments typically at 5 or 6% interest, while banks these days are able to borrow from the Fed at 1/4% per year.

The second vision is . . . the radically-subversive idea that the system we have for introducing money into the economy is a boon for the banks, but perhaps a major drag on our economy. Perhaps a simple, direct system of money creation by the Treasury Dept instead of the Fed would put an end to cycles of recession, and create a foundation for long-term prosperity.

Banking is a huge leech on our economy. 40% of every dollar we spend on goods and services -- 40% of all that we create and all we consume -- is siphoned off the top as bank interest in one form or another. (Calculations of Margrit Kennedy) The US Government is in the absurd position of paying interest to a private bank for every dollar that is put into circulation. The Federal Reserve system has privatized the power to create money, which, according to the Constitution, ought to belong to Congress alone. Presently, interest on the national debt costs the Federal government $500 billion in 2011, and (because of structural deficit spending) it is the fastest-growing portion of the Federal budget.
Five hundred billion dollars could be saved annually just by refinancing the federal debt through our own central bank, interest-free. This is not an off-the-wall idea but has actually been done, very successfully. Among other instances, it was done in Canada from 1939 to 1974, as was detailed by the youngest and oldest speakers at the conference, 12-year-old Victoria Grant and former defense minister Paul Hellyer, founder of the Canadian Action Party. Another Canadian at the conference, Toronto Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, has proposed that the Toronto city council could improve its finances by forming its own bank.

The direct solution to the economic crisis, urged by veteran money reformer Bill Still, would be for the federal government to simply create the money it needs, as the American colonists did by printing paper scrip and Abraham Lincoln did by printing greenbacks.

But cities and states don’t need to wait for a deadlocked federal Congress to act. As Wong-Tam has proposed for Toronto, they can divest their public revenues from the too-big-to-fail banks and put them in their own publicly-owned banks. These banks could then do what all banks do: leverage capital, backed by deposits, into money in the form of bank credit.

This newly-created bank money would then be available for the use of the local government interest-free (since the government would own the bank and would get the interest back as dividends). Among other possibilities, the money could be used to restore the schools. This would not be an expenditure but an investment, as illustrated by the G.I. Bill, which provided education and low-interest loans for returning servicemen after World War II. Economists have determined that for every 1944 dollar invested in the G.I. Bill, the country received approximately $7 in return, through increased economic productivity, consumer spending, and tax revenues.

Legislation for public banks has now been introduced in 18 U.S. states, on the model of the highly successful Bank of North Dakota (BND). Elaborated on at the Public Banking conference by Ed Sather and Rozanne Junker, the BND is currently the country’s only state-owned bank and has been a major factor in allowing the state to escape the recent credit crisis. North Dakota is the only state to boast a significant budget surplus every year since the economic downturn of 2008.

Ellen Brown noted that 40% of banks globally are also publicly-owned. These are largely in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), which also escaped the credit crisis, largely because their public banks did not rely on derivatives and, unlike private banks, lent counter-cyclically to cushion their economies from the downturn.

Conference speaker Samuel Giles proposed that even public universities could set up their own banks, which could then leverage university monies for the university’s own use, rather than giving those assets away to Wall Street to be speculated with and lent back at much higher interest rates.

Innovative Solutions for Pennsylvania

Speakers Michael Sauvante and Mike Krauss noted that efforts are underway in several Pennsylvania and Ohio municipalities to create public banks. One possibility is for public banks to take an aggressive role in ending the foreclosure crisis by acquiring abandoned and foreclosed homes by eminent domain. These homes could be added to the asset base of the bank, which could extend credit to restore them and then sell or rent them at reasonable rates.

Krauss noted that Philadelphia already has a strong effort underway to create a “land bank”—a bank to acquire, rehabilitate and create productive uses for the city's more than 40,000 vacant properties—and legislation (HB 1682) has been introduced in the state legislature to enable this effort. But the land bank proposed is not designed to function as a depository bank that leverages funds into credit. Rather, it would simply work with appropriated funds or bond revenue. This is a positive step toward addressing a real need, but it could be enhanced by turning the land bank into a public bank—a chartered bank having the power to create money as credit on its books.

The efforts for developing public banks in Pennsylvania are being led by the Pennsylvania Project, which was a co-sponsor of the Philadelphia conference and is supported in its work by the Public Banking Institute and the Center for State Innovation. The Pennsylvania Project is creating partnerships with other Pennsylvania public policy organizations to introduce legislation for a state Bank of Pennsylvania in 2013, after elections are held and a strong foundation of support has been laid.

Revolution Without Bloodshed or War

We live under a tyranny today that is just as intolerable and unjust as that in 1776, but violent revolution is no longer an option. Our oppressors own the military and the media, and their FEMA camps are waiting for us.

If change is to come, it must be peaceful and legal, beginning with a revolution in the minds and hearts of the people. The message of the Public Banking in America Conference was that we can throw off the yoke of the financial elite by making money and credit a public utility; and the most feasible place to start is at the local level, with publicly-owned banks.

For videos of some of the speakers, click here. More to come. The Victoria Grant video has gone viral, approaching half a million hits, including copies.

[Ellen Brown developed her research skills as an attorney practicing civil litigation in Los Angeles. In Web of Debt, her latest of eleven books, she turns those skills to an analysis of the Federal Reserve and “the money trust.” She shows how this private cartel has usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. She is president of the Public Banking Institute, and has websites at WebofDebt.com and EllenBrown.com.]

Source / Common Dreams

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

How Do You Feel Being a Part of the Impoverished, Delusional Society?


The United States: An Impoverished, Delusional Society
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford / May 16, 2012

When Europeans resist corporate austerity measures, they are struggling to avoid “being forced to live like most Americans, at the total mercy of the rich.” The U.S. safety net hardly exists. The “American way of life” is a state of profound insecurity and social disconnectedness.
“Europe is headed for deep turmoil because Europeans have something to defend.”
Thanks to the U.S. corporate media’s great skills of obfuscation, omission and just plain lying, Americans are quite confused about the political and financial crisis in Europe, and what it means on this side of the Atlantic. People in the United States harbor vague fears that the social turmoil they see playing out in European elections and on the streets may come here. This scares them, which is almost funny, in a very sad way, since what European working people are struggling to avoid is being forced to live like most Americans, at the total mercy of the rich.

Europeans are righteously upset because they have something quite precious to lose: a social safety net that provides levels of security that Americans have never experienced, and that many cannot even imagine. Since most overworked or underemployed Americans don’t know how Europeans actually live, they find it difficult to understand what all the fuss is about. U.S. corporate media fill in the vast blanks in American consciousness with slanders against Europe – the relatively comfortable French and the devastated Greeks, alike – branding them all lazy slackers who don’t want to work hard or pay their bills. America’s damn near nonexistent social welfare structure is packaged as a virtue, while the sights and sounds of European protest are made to seem ominous, dangerous, selfish.

Most Americans of modest means don’t travel to countries where the people live better than they do, or are so oblivious that they don’t notice the deep social service networks that underlie these societies. Americans cannot understand, for example, that higher educational achievement is so often tied to strong national compacts among citizens and fundamental notions of social equality – these qualities being absent in American life. CNN is quick to cite figures on European unemployment, but tells its U.S. audience virtually nothing about the social safety net that makes unemployment in Europe a very different experience than being without a job in the United States.
“America’s damn near nonexistent social welfare structure is packaged as a virtue.”
A young relative of mine happened to graduate with a professional degree just in time for the 2008 meltdown, which wiped out all the new jobs in his profession. He sought work in France, being fluent in the language, and found it a far more welcoming society than his own. More than half of his rent was subsidized, because the French believe that people younger than 26 should have a chance to begin independent lives without undue burdens. My young Black American relative rode public transportation for half fare, as did his young French peers. While working, he considered getting another professional degree, which would have cost him less than $2,000 a year at a fairly prestigious French school. And he was a foreigner! A French student who had already paid into the health care system, could study for a year for less than $1,000.

My young relative eventually came home – because…well, this is home. It is a materially rich country, but one that is socially impoverished and, frankly, too ignorant to know it. Europe is headed for deep turmoil because Europeans have something to defend. They’ll fight to keep a decent social welfare net. The Americans don’t even know what a minimally just society looks like or feels like. We’ll have to create that society through struggle, and almost from scratch.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

Source / The Greanville Post

Fluxed Up World

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Thousand Words Department


Source / Topeka Capitol Journal

Fluxed Up World

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