The national conversation about wasteful welfare for highly profitable dirty energy corporations has gone from the dramatic statement by the Chief Economist of the International Energy Agency that fossil fuel subsidies are one of the biggest impediments to global economic recovery (“the appendicitis of the global energy system which needs to be removed for a healthy, sustainable development future”), to a speech by Solar Energy Industries Association President Rhone Resch (in which he called the fossil fuel industry “grotesquely oversubsidized”), to a call by President Obama to cut oil company welfare by $4 billion. Not to be outdone, House Democrats are now calling for a $40 billion cut.
Dirty energy welfare defenders have, predictably, responded with ridiculous, Palin-esque denials of reality, but the voter demands that wasteful spending be cut begs the question: just how much of our tax money is going to ExxonMobil, Massey, etc.? With the new deficit hawks in Congress going after insignificant items like bottled water expenses, you’d think they’d want to know the size of the really wasteful stuff, right?
The Post-Recession Economy and the Fight for Public Water in the United States
Confronted with daunting budget shortfalls following the recent economic downturn, various cities and towns across the country have considered cashing out their water utilities to generate revenue. But rather than ease fiscal pressures, the sale or lease of water assets would likely further weaken a locality’s long-term financial health and saddle consumers with debt.
Food & Water Watch reviewed 200 prospective and completed sales and concessions over the last two decades and uncovered five aspects of this new trend in water privatization:
As of October 2010, at least 39 communities were publicly weighing the possibility of selling or leasing their water infrastructure. That’s more than five times as many systems as were sold or leased in a typical year over the last two decades.
Many cities and towns explored sales and long-term concessions of their water and sewer systems since 2008. There were five times as many prospective deals in 2010 as there were completed transactions in a typical year over the previous two decades.
Prospective privatizations, if actualized, would affect an unprecedented number of people. The typical water system put forward for privatization in 2010 served around 45 times more people than the average system sold over the last two decades.
Budget constraints drove the surge in potential privatization deals. Previously, the need for expensive improvements to water infrastructure was the main factor in a municipality’s decision to sell or lease its water system. Since 2008, several cities have considered privatizing well-maintained water systems to shore up weak budgets.
Possible sales and concessions were clustered around the Rust Belt. Although the surge in interest was a nationwide phenomenon, prospective deals were concentrated in the Rust Belt, where cities were hit particularly hard by the recession.
Strong public opposition hindered privatization. Public resistance thwarted at least 17 possible sales and concessions from 2008 to 2010 and seemed likely to block many more prospective deals. In fact, despite new attention on the idea, the number of sales and concessions completed each year remained small.
Problems with Sales and Concessions
They saddle consumers with debt. The funding that a city receives by selling or leasing its water system is effectively an expensive loan that a water company will recover from consumers through water bills. A Food & Water Watch analysis estimated that the typical interest rate on this loan would be 11 percent. This is 56 percent more expensive than public financing through a typical municipal revenue bond.
They result in high water rates. A review of the 10 largest sales and concessions surveyed in this report found that water rates increased on average by 15 percent a year after privatization.
Many communities have saved money with public operation. Public operation of water and sewer services averaged 21 percent cheaper than private operation, based on a Food & Water Watch review of 18 local governments that stopped contracting and brought water systems in-house.
Sales and concessions of water systems are not a smart recovery plan for distressed local governments. Public officials should pursue more responsible courses of action and avoid such quick fixes that jeopardize long-term financial well being.
Instead of cashing out water assets, governments need to invest in their water systems. The country needs a dedicated source of federal funding to help renovate our water infrastructure.
Bees are mysteriously dying across the country, and it’s putting our entire food system in danger.
The death of bees is catastrophic. Bees don’t just make honey; they are responsible for pollinating a full third of our food supply. These tiny creatures are vital to life on earth - if we let them die we are looking at a world without fruit, vegetables, cotton, nuts and oils. Our entire food chain is in peril, and it is up to us to do something about it.
It’s become clear that small group of pesticides is at the root of the death of bees. We need to get the EPA to ban these poisons to save our food and bring back our bees.
We are partnering with the great film *Vanishing of the Bees* to protest this dangerous pesticide. *Sign our petition to the EPA and its director Lisa Jackson to ban these bee-killing pesticides now, and watch a short video to learn more.
Rony Charles, a rice grower and member of the Agricultural Producer Cooperative of Verrettes, said, "Instead of foreigners sending us food, they should give us the chance to do our own agriculture so it can survive."
Giving domestic agriculture the chance to survive would address four critical needs:
* Creating employment for a Haiti’s rural majority, estimated at 60 percent to 80 percent of the population;
* Allowing rural people to stay on their land. This is both their right and an effective way to keep Port-au-Prince from becoming even more perilously overcrowded;
* Addressing an ongoing food crisis. Today, even with imports, more than 2.4 million people out of a population of 9 million are estimated to be food-insecure. Acute malnutrition among children under the age 5 is 9 percent, and chronic undernutrition for that age group is 24 percent. Peasant groups are convinced that, with the necessary investment, Haiti could produce at least 80 percent of its food consumption needs;
* Promoting a post-earthquake redevelopment plan that serves the needs of the majority, unlike the one currently promoted by the US and UN, which is based on the growth of sweatshops.
To attain these goals, Haitian groups of small farmers (or peasants, as they call themselves) are challenging a decades-long pattern of conflict and competition, a trend which the Duvalier dictators actively fostered in order to sustain their fierce control. Groups are uniting into coalitions and beginning to work together, thereby building political might to shore up domestic agriculture. They are advancing their agenda collectively through negotiations with the Ministry of Agriculture, national pressure, international policy advocacy and the creation of a common cause with other farmer movements and allies elsewhere.
These farmers, like their counterparts the world over, are focused principally on building food sovereignty. They are on the frontlines of a clash between two development models: food sovereignty and neoliberalism.
Food sovereignty is the right of a people to define their own food and agricultural systems, premised on growing domestically for domestic consumption. It is based on other social and economic rights, too: the right to food, the right of rural peoples to produce and the right to land.
Food sovereignty promotes small-scale agriculture, government management of food imports, protection of native seeds and large-scale redistribution of land with land tenure protections for small farmers. It calls for the democratic participation of the population in shaping trade policies and for development programs which protect domestic production, especially by small growers.
* Ultra-small house built on land the size of a parking space
* Fuyuhito Moriya lives in the house with his mother
* Costing $500,000, home reflects the high price of land in Tokyo
(CNN) -- Fuyuhito Moriya is 39 and still lives with his mother, but in circumstances you would call a tad unusual.
Moriya, an unmarried man, and his mother, Yoko, live in a house that's built on 30 square meters, that's the same as the size of a parking space for one car.
They live in what's called an ultra-small house, a genre of single family homes bred of Japan's economic stagnation and brought to life by architectural ingenuity.
Moriya wasn't sure that the land, which was originally sold as a parking space for a car, would be big enough for a single family home. But when he started doing research into ultra-small homes, he began to realize it might work.
"My imagination was that it should be doable to build the rooms virtually on top of each other instead of side by side," says Moriya. "So I thought that it might be possible, but I wasn't really sure if it's actually possible."
Standing in his home, which is about the size of an American walk-in closet, Moriya triumphantly says it's not just possible, it's livable.
Tuesday 09 November 2010
by: Mike Ludwig, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis
A delegation of politicians and community activists gathered on August 7 in La Leonesa, a small farm town in Argentina, to hear Dr. Andres Carrasco speak about a study linking a popular herbicide to birth defects in Argentina's agricultural areas.
But the presentation never happened. A mob of about 100 people attacked the delegation before they could reach the local school where the talk was to be held.
Dr. Carrasco and a colleague locked themselves in a car as the mob yelled threats and beat on the vehicle for two hours. One delegate was hit in the spine and has since suffered lower-body paralysis. Another person was treated for blows to the head. A former provincial human rights official was hit in the face and knocked unconscious.
Witnesses said the angry crowd had ties to local officials and agribusiness bosses, and police made little effort to stop the violence, according to human rights group Amnesty International.
Carrasco is a lead embryologist at the University of Buenos Aires Medical School and the Argentinean national research council. His study, first released in 2009 and published in the United States this past summer, shows that glyphosate-based herbicides like Monsanto's popular Roundup formula caused deformations in chicken embryos that resembled the kind of birth defects being reported in areas like La Leonesa, where big agribusinesses depend on glyphosate to treat genetically engineered crops.
by Emily Loftis, Mother Jones Online
Posted on October 16, 2010, Printed on October 22, 2010
By choice, Mark Boyle basically doesn't have a cent—or, more accurately, a pence—to his name. Boyle lives in rural England in a trailer he spotted on Freecycle.org. He feeds himself by growing everything from barley to potatoes, foraging wild edibles like berries and nettles, and occasionally dumpster-diving for luxuries like margarine and bread. He cooks with a wood stove fashioned from large restaurant olive cans; brushes his teeth with his own mixture of cuttlefish bones and fennel seed; and makes paper and ink from mushrooms. He barters labor for rent, Internet service, and whatever else he can't find, grow, or make.
This experiment in currency-free living started in 2008 after Boyle, an Irishman who worked in the organic food industry, saw Gandhi and was inspired by the Indian nationalist's legendary asceticism. Boyle's experience became the basis for his book, Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living, which has just been released in the states. By the end of his year without dough, he'd decided that the life he'd gained by shedding currency was worth continuing. When I recently spoke with Boyle, he was making plans to buy land with the royalties from the book—his only cash transaction in the last two years—to start a moneyless community. He talked about the insights that drove him to make his new lifestyle more permanent.
Emily Loftis: It seems pretty ironic that you were a student of economics and now you're moneyless.
Mark Boyle: You're right, it's a bit ironic. But I think it's wrong to think of economics as money. The actual word itself actually revolves around meeting one's needs. Money is one way of meeting our needs, but it's only one way. I think I couldn't do what I do today without studying economics, because you need to understand the system first—how it currently works—in order to change it.
The Hudson Valley Seed Library and its founders Ken Greene, seated (with the dog, Kale), and Doug Muller.
By JOY Y. WANG
Published: October 6, 2010
AS a child, Peg Lotvin used to watch her father, Hank, head out into his garden every fall on a mission. After setting aside part of the bean harvest for his neighbor Flossy, who was reputed to make the best baked beans in all of Ghent, in New York’s Hudson Valley, he would select the largest, heartiest beans from the crop and put them up to plant the next year.
More than 60 years later, Ms. Lotvin, the former director of the town library in Gardiner, N.Y., and others throughout the Northeast are still growing Hank’s X-tra Special Baking Bean. The preservation and propagation of the ghost-white bean have occurred thanks in part to a former colleague of Ms. Lotvin’s at the Gardiner Library named Ken Greene, who founded a group called the Hudson Valley Seed Library three years ago.
In structuring the venture, which aims to be a center for regional heirloom seeds, Mr. Greene chose the library model he knew well: the members of his group receive seeds each spring and then are encouraged to “return” the seeds from the mature plants in the fall.
If America’s present system of political economy were performing well, there would be little need to question it or seek fundamental change. But that is not the case. Asked what the key goals of economic life should be, many would reply, “to enhance social well-being while sustaining democratic prospects and environmental quality.” Judged by this standard, today’s political economy is failing. It is a failure that reaches many spheres of national life—economic, social, political, and environmental. Indeed, America can be said to be in crisis in each of these four areas.
The economic crisis of the Great Recession brought on by Wall Street financial excesses has stripped tens of millions of middle class Americans of their jobs, homes, and retirement assets and plunged many into poverty and despair.
A social crisis of extreme and growing inequality has been unraveling America’s social fabric for several decades. A tiny minority has experienced soaring incomes and accumulated grand fortunes, while wages for working people have stagnated despite rising productivity gains and poverty has risen to a near 30-year high. Social mobility has declined, record numbers of people lack health insurance, schools are failing, prison populations are swelling, employment security is a thing of the past, and American workers put in more hours than workers in other high-income countries.
An environmental crisis, driven by excessive human consumption and waste and a spate of terrible technologies, is disrupting Earth’s climate, reducing Earth’s capacity to support life, and creating large-scale human displacement that further fuels social breakdown.
And a political crisis is reflected in governmental paralysis and a democracy that is weak, shallow, and corrupted—the best democracy that money can buy.
The case for fundamental change is underscored especially by the urgency of environmental conditions.1 Here is one measure of that problem: All that human societies have to do to destroy the planet’s climate and biota and leave a ruined world to future generations is to keep doing exactly what is being done today, with no growth in the human population or the world economy. Just continue to release greenhouse gases at current rates, just continue to impoverish ecosystems and release toxic chemicals at current rates, and the world in the latter part of this century won’t be fit to live in. But, of course, human activities are not holding at current levels—they are accelerating dramatically. It took all of history to build the $7 trillion world economy of 1950; recently, economic activity has grown by that amount every decade. At typical rates of growth, the world economy will now double in size in less than 20 years. We are thus facing the possibility of an enormous increase in environmental deterioration, just when we need to move strongly in the opposite direction.