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.
A new sharing economy is emerging—but how does it fit within our legal system? Time for a whole new field of cooperation law.
by Janelle Orsi
What do you call a lawyer who helps people share, cooperate, barter, foster local economies, and build sustainable communities?
That sounds like the beginning of a lawyer joke, but actually, it’s the beginning of a new field of law practice. Very soon, every community will need a specialist in this yet-to-be-named area: Community transactional law? Sustainable economies law? Cooperation law?
Personally, I tend to call it sharing law. We need sharing lawyers to help people like Lynne:
Lynne lives in an urban cohousing community and shares ownership of a car with two neighbors. Every day, she fluidly shares, borrows, and lends (rather than owns) many household goods, tools, electronics, and other items.
She is a member of a cooperative grocery, through which she receives significant discounts in exchange for putting in a few monthly work hours. She grows vegetables on an empty lot and sometimes sells the veggies to neighbors.
She has a successful rooftop landscaping business, which she launched using 20 microloans and investments from friends and family. She often barters, doing odd jobs in exchange for goods and services.
She also owns a 5 percent share of a hot springs retreat center outside of town, which she acquired through sweat equity.
With the help of sharing, cooperation, and collaboration, Lynne has managed to craft an affordable, comfortable lifestyle, put her skills to use, do varied and self-directed work, and live/work in a supportive community. She has “financed” property ownership and launched a thriving business off of the traditional financial and banking grid.
The collapse of the talks at Copenhagen took away all momentum for change and the lobbyists are back in control. So what next?
An iceberg melts in Kulusuk Bay, eastern Greenland. Photograph: John Mcconnico/AP
The closer it comes, the worse it looks. The best outcome anyone now expects from December's climate summit in Mexico is that some delegates might stay awake during the meetings. When talks fail once, as they did in Copenhagen, governments lose interest. They don't want to be associated with failure, they don't want to pour time and energy into a broken process. Nine years after the world trade negotiations moved to Mexico after failing in Qatar, they remain in diplomatic limbo. Nothing in the preparations for the climate talks suggests any other outcome.
A meeting in China at the beginning of October is supposed to clear the way for Cancún. The hosts have already made it clear that it's going nowhere: there are, a top Chinese climate change official explains, still "huge differences between developed and developing countries". Everyone blames everyone else for the failure at Copenhagen. Everyone insists that everyone else should move.
But nobody cares enough to make a fight of it. The disagreements are simultaneously entrenched and muted. The doctor's certificate has not been issued; perhaps, to save face, it never will be. But the harsh reality we have to grasp is that the process is dead.
Human growth has strained the Earth's resources, but as Johan Rockstrom reminds us, our advances also give us the science to recognize this and change behavior. His research has found nine "planetary boundaries" that can guide us in protecting our planet's many overlapping ecosystems.
The Center just added seven more ewes to its breeding population, which now stands at sixteen sheep. Here's a picture of the recent additions:
While we're at it, we came across some pictures of rams at the Dempsey Perkins farm. Our ram, Papa, is a Perkins bred ram and he looks just like them:
Lastly, the Center had two sets of twins born this past June, consisting of three rams and a ewe. Other ewes are pregnant with either Fall or Winter lambs. We do not separate our rams from the ewes so they can breed at any time.
by: Jill Richardson
Fri Jun 18, 2010 at 21:01:35 PM PDT
The USDA has come out with a new proposed rule and - based on the reaction it has gotten thus far - it's a big fucking deal. In a good way. Here's how the AP described the new rule:
The rules would place the sharpest limits on meat companies since the Great Depression, drastically lowering the bar that farmers and ranchers must meet to sue companies whom they accuse of demanding unfairly low prices.
The rules would dictate how meatpackers buy cattle on the open market, and prohibit them from showing preference to big feedlots rather than buying from small producers.
They would also limit the control chicken companies have over the farmers who raise birds for them. The companies couldn't require farmers to take on debt to invest in chicken houses, for example, unless farmers were guaranteed to recoup 80 percent of the cost.
The law would also make it easier to file suits under the Depression-era Packers and Stockyards Act by stating that farmers don't need to prove industrywide anticompetitive behavior to file a lawsuit under the act.
Sen. Feingold, a longtime champion for fair competition in agriculture, has already come out praising this rule in a statement I've included below. South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson praised the rule as well, as did R-CALF USA. You can see the USDA's press release about this here and the actual rule itself here.
While Goldman Sachs agreed to pay $550 million to resolve a civil fraud lawsuit filed by the SEC, Goldman has not been held accountable for many of its other questionable investment practices. A new article in Harper’s Magazine examines the role Goldman played in the food crisis of 2008 when the ranks of the world’s hungry increased by 250 million. We speak to Harper’s contributing editor Frederick Kaufman.
Frederick Kaufman, contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine. Author of the piece The Food Bubble: How Wall Street Starved Millions and Got Away With It from the July issue of the magazine.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue with Goldman Sachs.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, while Goldman Sachs agreed Thursday to pay $550 million to resolve a civil fraud lawsuit filed by the SEC, Goldman has not been held accountable for many of its other questionable investment practices. A new article in Harper’s Magazine examines the role Goldman played in the food crisis of 2008, when the ranks of the world’s hungry increased by 250 million. The article is titled "The Food Bubble: How Wall Street Starved Millions and Got Away With It."
AMY GOODMAN: The author of the article, Frederick Kaufman, joins us now. He’s a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine.
Well, explain. We’re talking about Goldman Sachs today, this—they call it a landmark settlement, but they made more after-hours in trading last night than they will have to pay. So let’s look at Goldman Sachs and its record overall.
FREDERICK KAUFMAN: Yeah, this is really—it’s really outrageous. And on a certain level, this reform bill is really a sham, because it does not cover, in any way, shape or form, what Goldman Sachs—and really, let’s be honest here, it wasn’t just Goldman; it was Goldman, and it was Bear, and it was AIG, and it was Lehman, it was Deutsche, it was all across the board, JPMorgan Chase—what these banks were able to do in commodity markets, really which reached its peak from 2005 to 2008, in what is now known as the food bubble. And as Juan points out, this is unconscionable what happened, in the sense that their speculation and their restructuring of these commodity markets pushed 250 million new people into food insecurity and starving, and brought the world total up to over a billion people. This is the most abysmal total in the history of the world.
The Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI) just published an exhaustive review of data about why people choose where they live. It’s interesting to me because I’ve long thought that decision makers get obsessed with very narrow concerns—like the cost of housing—when they consider policies that encourage people to choose dense, compact communities over living in more sprawling single family neighborhoods. It turns out, based on their review, that when faced with the option to choose, most people would prefer living in a dense neighborhood.
Our exploration of alternative definitions of affordable housing was an effort to open up other considerations besides per unit price and monthly income when making housing policy. Not too surprisingly, VTPI found that when making choices for housing, it comes down to trade-offs between many different benefits—not just price—and increasingly people are choosing compact communities and smaller housing formats over the standard single family home.
The review found that, in study after study, when people are asked “would you like to live in a large house, with a big yard in a city with the world’s best schools” the answer is invariably an enthusiastic “yes!” But when people are presented with various trade-offs between the ideal vision of single-family bliss and living in a compact community—commute time, proximity to amenities likes bookstores, bars, and transit—respondents often find themselves choosing the compact community.
The Deepwater Horizon disaster is not just an industrial accident – it is a violent wound inflicted on the Earth itself. In this special report from the Gulf coast, a leading author and activist shows how it lays bare the hubris at the heart of capitalism
by Naomi Klein
The Guardian (U.K.)
'Obama cannot order pelicans not to die (no matter whose ass he kicks). And no amount of money – not BP’s $20bn, not $100bn – can replace a culture that’s lost its roots.’ Photograph: Lee Celano/Reuters
Everyone gathered for the town hall meeting had been repeatedly instructed to show civility to the gentlemen from BP and the federal government. These fine folks had made time in their busy schedules to come to a high school gymnasium on a Tuesday night in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, one of many coastal communities where brown poison was slithering through the marshes, part of what has come to be described as the largest environmental disaster in US history.
"Speak to others the way you would want to be spoken to," the chair of the meeting pleaded one last time before opening the floor for questions.
And for a while the crowd, mostly made up of fishing families, showed remarkable restraint.
They listened patiently to Larry Thomas, a genial BP public relations flack, as he told them that he was committed to "doing better" to process their claims for lost revenue – then passed all the details off to a markedly less friendly subcontractor. They heard out the suit from the Environmental Protection Agency as he informed them that, contrary to what they have read about the lack of testing and the product being banned in Britain, the chemical dispersant being sprayed on the oil in massive quantities was really perfectly safe.
But patience started running out by the third time Ed Stanton, a coast guard captain, took to the podium to reassure them that "the coast guard intends to make sure that BP cleans it up".
"Put it in writing!" someone shouted out. By now the air conditioning had shut itself off and the coolers of Budweiser were running low. A shrimper named Matt O'Brien approached the mic. "We don't need to hear this anymore," he declared, hands on hips. It didn't matter what assurances they were offered because, he explained, "we just don't trust you guys!" And with that, such a loud cheer rose up from the floor you'd have thought the Oilers (the unfortunately named school football team) had scored a touchdown.
The showdown was cathartic, if nothing else. For weeks residents had been subjected to a barrage of pep talks and extravagant promises coming from Washington, Houston and London. Every time they turned on their TVs, there was the BP boss, Tony Hayward, offering his solemn word that he would "make it right". Or else it was President Barack Obama expressing his absolute confidence that his administration would "leave the Gulf coast in better shape than it was before", that he was "making sure" it "comes back even stronger than it was before this crisis".
It all sounded great. But for people whose livelihoods put them in intimate contact with the delicate chemistry of the wetlands, it also sounded completely ridiculous, painfully so. Once the oil coats the base of the marsh grass, as it had already done just a few miles from here, no miracle machine or chemical concoction could safely get it out. You can skim oil off the surface of open water, and you can rake it off a sandy beach, but an oiled marsh just sits there, slowly dying. The larvae of countless species for which the marsh is a spawning ground – shrimp, crab, oysters and fin fish – will be poisoned.
It was already happening. Earlier that day, I travelled through nearby marshes in a shallow water boat. Fish were jumping in waters encircled by white boom, the strips of thick cotton and mesh BP is using to soak up the oil. The circle of fouled material seemed to be tightening around the fish like a noose. Nearby, a red-winged blackbird perched atop a 2 metre (7ft) blade of oil-contaminated marsh grass. Death was creeping up the cane; the small bird may as well have been standing on a lit stick of dynamite.
And then there is the grass itself, or the Roseau cane, as the tall sharp blades are called. If oil seeps deeply enough into the marsh, it will not only kill the grass above ground but also the roots. Those roots are what hold the marsh together, keeping bright green land from collapsing into the Mississippi River delta and the Gulf of Mexico. So not only do places like Plaquemines Parish stand to lose their fisheries, but also much of the physical barrier that lessens the intensity of fierce storms like hurricane Katrina. Which could mean losing everything.
How long will it take for an ecosystem this ravaged to be "restored and made whole" as Obama's interior secretary has pledged to do? It's not at all clear that such a thing is remotely possible, at least not in a time frame we can easily wrap our heads around. The Alaskan fisheries have yet to fully recover from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and some species of fish never returned. Government scientists now estimate that as much as a Valdez-worth of oil may be entering the Gulf coastal waters every four days. An even worse prognosis emerges from the 1991 Gulf war spill, when an estimated 11m barrels of oil were dumped into the Persian Gulf – the largest spill ever. That oil entered the marshland and stayed there, burrowing deeper and deeper thanks to holes dug by crabs. It's not a perfect comparison, since so little clean-up was done, but according to a study conducted 12 years after the disaster, nearly 90% of the impacted muddy salt marshes and mangroves were still profoundly damaged.
We do know this. Far from being "made whole," the Gulf coast, more than likely, will be diminished. Its rich waters and crowded skies will be less alive than they are today. The physical space many communities occupy on the map will also shrink, thanks to erosion.
And the coast's legendary culture will contract and wither. The fishing families up and down the coast do not just gather food, after all. They hold up an intricate network that includes family tradition, cuisine, music, art and endangered languages – much like the roots of grass holding up the land in the marsh. Without fishing, these unique cultures lose their root system, the very ground on which they stand. (BP, for its part, is well aware of the limits of recovery. The company's Gulf of Mexico regional oil spill response plan specifically instructs officials not to make "promises that property, ecology, or anything else will be restored to normal". Which is no doubt why its officials consistently favour folksy terms like "make it right".)
If Katrina pulled back the curtain on the reality of racism in America, the BP disaster pulls back the curtain on something far more hidden: how little control even the most ingenious among us have over the awesome, intricately interconnected natural forces with which we so casually meddle. BP cannot plug the hole in the Earth that it made. Obama cannot order fish species to survive, or brown pelicans not to go extinct (no matter whose ass he kicks). No amount of money – not BP's recently pledged $20bn (£13.5bn), not $100bn – can replace a culture that has lost its roots. And while our politicians and corporate leaders have yet to come to terms with these humbling truths, the people whose air, water and livelihoods have been contaminated are losing their illusions fast.
"Everything is dying," a woman said as the town hall meeting was finally coming to a close. "How can you honestly tell us that our Gulf is resilient and will bounce back? Because not one of you up here has a hint as to what is going to happen to our Gulf. You sit up here with a straight face and act like you know when you don't know."
This Gulf coast crisis is about many things – corruption, deregulation, the addiction to fossil fuels. But underneath it all, it's about this: our culture's excruciatingly dangerous claim to have such complete understanding and command over nature that we can radically manipulate and re-engineer it with minimal risk to the natural systems that sustain us. But as the BP disaster has revealed, nature is always more unpredictable than the most sophisticated mathematical and geological models imagine. During Thursday's congressional testimony, Hayward said: "The best minds and the deepest expertise are being brought to bear" on the crisis, and that, "with the possible exception of the space programme in the 1960s, it is difficult to imagine the gathering of a larger, more technically proficient team in one place in peacetime." And yet, in the face of what the geologist Jill Schneiderman has described as "Pandora's well", they are like the men at the front of that gymnasium: they act like they know, but they don't know.
April 12, 2013 - Hart's Mill - a forming ecovillage located in Efland, NC - is having a workday followed by an evening potluck on Saturday, April 20th starting at 1pm. People interested in learning more about the ecovillage and meeting some of its members are encouraged to attend. For more information and RSVP please contact Hart's Mill directly.