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]

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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