You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2009.

One of Philadelphia’s larger newspapers puts Paul Glover, local currency and mutual aid-based health care advocate, on its cover story. As always, Paul makes wise and witty proposals to help us solve our economic and ecological woes, and now people are finally listening!

My favorite solution: “Neighborhood watch instead of neighborhood watch TV.” [alex]

Prepare for the Best

A guide to surviving — and thriving in — Philadelphia’s new green future.

Published: Jan 28, 2009

The Dark Season closes around Philadelphia. Wolves howl, “Tough times coming!” Young professionals with good jobs study budget cuts, watch stocks flail. Career bureaucrats are laid off; college students wonder who’s hiring. Old-timers remember when Philadelphia staggered through the terrible Depression years without jobs or dollars, while crime and hunger rose. Some districts here never escaped that Depression — they’re still choosing between heating and eating.

As usual, the future will be different. Philadelphia’s responses to global warming and market cooling, high fuel and food prices, health unsurance, mortgages, student debt and war will decide whether our future here becomes vastly better or vastly worse. Whether we’re the Next Great City or Next Great Medieval Village. Imagine Philadelphia with one-tenth the oil and natural gas.

But to hell with tragedy. Let’s quit dreading news. Take the Rocky road. There are Philadelphia solutions for every Philadelphia problem.

Imagine instead that, 20 years from now, Philadelphia’s green economy enables everyone to work a few hours creatively daily, then relax with family and friends to enjoy top-quality local, healthy food. To enjoy clean low-cost warm housing, clean and safe transport, high-quality handcrafted clothes and household goods. To enjoy creating and playing together, growing up and growing old in supportive neighborhoods where everyone is valuable. And to do this while replenishing rather than depleting the planet. Pretty wild, right?

Entirely realistic. Not a pipe dream. And more practical than cynical. The tools, skills and wealth exist.

Mayor Michael Nutter foresees we’ll become the “Greenest City in the United States.” So it’s common-sensible to ask, “What are the tools of such a future?” “What jobs will be created?” “Who has the money?” “Where are the leaders?” “How will Philadelphia look?” “What can we learn from other cities?”

Some of the proposals sketched here can be easily ridiculed, because they disturb comfortable work habits, ancient traditions and sacred hierarchies. Yet they open more doors than are closing. They help us get ready for the green economy, and get there first. Big changes are coming so we might as well enjoy the ride. You have good ideas, too — bring ’em on.

From “Yes We Can” to “Now We Do”

As President Barack Obama says, “Change comes not from the top down, but from the bottom up.” Philadelphia’s chronic miseries suggest that primary dependence on legislators, regulators, police, prisons, bankers and industry won’t save us. They’re essential partners, but the people who will best help us are us. Read the rest of this entry »

A massive wave of layoffs was announced yesterday by 12 major US corporations, including Caterpillar, General Motors, Home Depot, Sprint Nextel and Pfizer. Microsoft also announced its first-ever mass layoffs of 5,000 workers. Overall, more than 75,000 jobs are being cut from the workforce after Unemployment levels were reported as 7.2% in December, the highest level in over 16 years, with no end to the bleeding in sight.

As more and more workers fill the unemployment rolls, it’s time to ask: where will future jobs come from?  While government and corporate bigshots plan yet another “economic stimulus” and bailout of the banks, what long-term jobs can we realistically create right now?

Lots of answers present themselves if we look through the lens of peak oil, and start replacing our oil-based economy with a people-based economy. Instead of relying on greenhouse gas-producing fossil fuels, we can tap into the power of human labor, which happens to be our greatest renewable resource.

Certainly there is a need to employ millions to weatherize homes and build and install solar panels and wind turbines (which Obama may address), but there is also a huge need to re-tool Detroit automakers to STOP producing gas-guzzling individual cars, and start making buses, trains and other forms of public transit. Bicycles are also desperately needed, so we need workers to build them and more to repair them too.

We also need lots more doctors and nurses if we make health care universally available, and social workers and therapists to help deal with the psychological trauma our population has suffered from militarism and soulless consumerism.  Since many of these jobs require education and training, we need to hire lots more teachers, and we also need education to be a lot more affordable to so more people can access these kinds of careers.

Perhaps the largest gains in the job sector can be achieved by shifting food production away from mega-scale agribusinesses and fossil-fuel intensive monoculture and factory farms, towards community-based, local, organic, family farming and free-range livestock raising.  By breaking up the huge corporate farms into family-size and community-size plots, we can repopulate rural America (and stop suburban sprawl), produce better, healthier food, respect animal rights, and create millions of new landowners.  Simultaneously we can follow the example of Cuba and turn our blighted inner-cities into gardens, by utilizing permaculture and organic community-run agriculture, which would reduce crime and poverty in our decaying urban areas, bring quality food to places currently plagued by malnutrition, and create millions upon millions of rewarding and meaningful jobs.

How will we finance it?  Simple.  Disassemble the huge financial firms and multinational corporate banks whose greed caused this economic crisis and create thousands of local banks and credit unions, run by people in the community (even more jobs!)  Taxing the rich would help a lot too, and we can cut tons of wasteful government spending on things like the wars in the Middle East, excessive prisons, and nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.  The money is right there, we just need to redirect it to things that actually help people instead of killing them.

This of course requires a revolutionary change in the economic and political structure of the United States, which means average people like you and me having control over the decisions affecting our lives, instead of remaining at the whim of wealthy elites who in the current crisis have shown themselves unable to run a lemonade stand, let alone the global economy.


Deluge of layoffs hits U.S. economy

January 27, 2009

Los Angeles Times

By Jerry Hirsch and Maura Reynolds


Scott Olson, Getty Images
A worker walks between Caterpillar earth-moving equipment at a road construction site near Joliet, Ill. The company has announced that it will cut nearly 20,000 jobs as the recession reduces demand for its products.

Companies including Home Depot, Caterpillar, Pfizer and Sprint plan to cut nearly 60,000 jobs, adding urgency to the need to agree on a stimulus plan.

U.S. companies slashed nearly 60,000 jobs Monday, adding impetus to the Obama administration’s efforts to reach agreement on a plan to pump $825 billion into the economy over a two-year period.

But it’s unclear whether even that massive influx of funding and tax cuts would be enough to get companies hiring again in the near term.

The cuts by firms including Caterpillar, General Motors, Texas Instruments, Home Depot, Sprint Nextel and Pfizer brought the total of jobs shed so far this month to 187,550, more than November or December and well over double the number of January 2008, according to employment firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

Analysts believe that Obama’s strategy of pouring money into state and local governments could prevent layoffs and furloughs of public sector employees, including teachers, police officers and other government workers.

Economists have estimated that the plan will protect or create 3 million to 4 million jobs in the next two years.

But the U.S. economy lost 2.6 million jobs last year and could lose 2 million more during the first half of this year. Read the rest of this entry »

Interesting to see how second-tier nations are facing such dramatic upheaval, it seems the crisis is being somewhat deflected from the United States and other centers of global capitalism.  In the long run of course, the US is LEAST prepared to deal with the energy shortage, and will crash hardest.  For now though, the coronation of our new fresh president has kept the myth of American exceptionalism alive, at least for a little longer. [alex]

Riots in Iceland, Latvia and Bulgaria are a Sign of Things to Come

Our third global political column explores the start of an age of rebellion over the financial crisis – beginning in Iceland

by Roger Boyes

The Times Online (of London)

January 21, 2009

Icelanders all but stormed their Parliament last night. It was the first session of the chamber after what might appear to be an unusually long Christmas break.

Ordinary islanders were determined to vent their fury at the way that the political class had allowed the country to slip towards bankruptcy. The building was splattered with paint and yoghurt, the crowd yelled and banged pans, fired rockets at the windows and lit a bonfire in front of the main door. Riot police moved in.


Icelanders vented their fury at the political class's handling of the financial crisis by staging angry protests in Reykjavik

Now in the grand sweep of the current crisis, a riot on a piece of volcanic rock in the north Atlantic may not seem to add up to much. But it is a sign of things to come: a new age of rebellion.

The financial meltdown has become part of the real economy and is now beginning to shape real politics. More and more citizens on the edge of the global crisis are taking to the streets. Bulgaria has been gripped this month by its worst riots since 1997 when street power helped to topple a Socialist government. Now Socialists are at the helm again and are having to fend off popular protests about government incompetence and corruption.

In Latvia – where growth has been in double-digit figures for years – anger is bubbling over at official mismanagement. GDP is expected to contract by 5 per cent this year; salaries will be cut; unemployment will rise. Last week, in a country where demonstrators usually just sing and then go home, 10,000 people besieged parliament.

Iceland, Bulgaria, Latvia: these are not natural protest cultures. Something is going amiss.

The LSE economist Robert Wade – addressing a protest meeting in Reykjavik’s cinema – recently warned that the world was approaching a new tipping point. Starting from March-May 2009, we can expect large-scale civil unrest, he said. “It will be caused by the rise of general awareness throughout Europe, America and Asia that hundreds of millions of people in rich and poor countries are experiencing rapidly falling consumption standards; that the crisis is getting worse not better; and that it has escaped the control of public authorities, national and international.”

Ukraine could be the next to go. The gas pricing deal agreed with Moscow could propel the country towards a serious financial crisis. Russia, too, is looking wobbly. A riot in Vladivostok may have been an omen for things to come. What will happen when the wider economic crisis translates into higher food prices? Or if Gazprom has no choice but to increase domestic gas prices?

Governments have so far managed to deflect attention from their role in the crash, their slipshod monitoring, by declaring themselves to be indispensible to the solution. This may save the skins of politicians in wealthier countries who can credibly and expensively try to prop up banks and sickly industries. But it does not work in countries that are heavily indebted, with bloated and exposed financial sectors. There, the irate crowds are already beginning to demand: why hasn’t a single politician resigned? What has happened to ministerial responsibility? Who will investigate government failure?

Good questions, it seems to me, in these unquiet times.

willtochange“The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love”

by bell hooks

2004 Washington Square Press

bell hooks defines this project as an attempt to love men enough to understand how patriarchy affects them, and understand how their pain can help them transform and challenge patriarchy. For me it was a profound experience reading this because it touched on so many aspects of my life as a male, from childhood, to school, to sex and relationships, to friendships, etc. It allowed me to see old memories in new ways, and understand that my feelings of pain, confusion and shame were a result of the violent circumstances that I was subjected to growing up in this culture.

In the past I had “understood” patriarchy as something that primarily only affected women, and saw my job mostly as limiting the damage done to the women in my life and organizing. bell hooks pushed me to look inside myself first and foremost and see how this system has terrorized me personally, and how challenging patriarchy is necessary for my own liberation, as well as the liberation of all men, and everybody.

What struck me most significantly was the idea that patriarchy is all the time enforced by violence, and that men are taught through violence to reject their emotions and become cold-blooded and distant, which allows them to commit violence on others.

“Violence is boyhood socialization. The way we ‘turn boys into men’ is through injury… We take them away from their feelings, from sensitivity to others. The very phrase ‘be a man’ means suck it up and keep going. Disconnection is not fallout from traditional masculinity. Disconnection is masculinity.”

I could think of hundreds or thousands of times that I’ve felt this threat of violence keeping me within the shallow emotionless world of patriarchal masculinity. Most often it looks like jokes, put-downs, humiliation, scorn, and exclusion, but violence is at the heart of the matter. In fact, middle school and high school in retrospect look like a 7 year-long gauntlet of violent social training.

Learning to express the pain I’ve felt without shame, and wield my anger not against myself (or others) but against patriarchal society, isn’t something that can change overnight. But bell hooks’ wisdom has opened up new possibilities for me and for all men, and it’s up to us to take the initiative, educate ourselves, get in touch with our own emotions, our own human-ness and connection to others in a non-dominating way, and work together in love and resistance. We don’t just owe it to women, trans and genderqueer folks, we owe it to ourselves.

“Communities of resistance should be places where people can return to themselves more easily, where the conditions are such that they can heal themselves and recover their wholeness.” – Thich Nhat Hanh, The Raft is Not the Shore

My friend and long-time labor and peak oil activist Jerry Silberman exposes the faults with the so called “Green Stimulus” act that is being put through Congress at the behest of our president-elect, to be coronated Tuesday.   The trouble is that any “recovery” for capitalism will simply mean more destruction and poverty to recover from.  Capitalism is not sick, it’s the sickness.  We don’t need to heal it, we need to kill it in order to be healed.  Let alone the fact that there simply isn’t any more energy or resources to fuel previous levels of economic growth.  Pumping more dollars into this dead-end economy is like beating on a dead horse.  Sorry folks, show’s over.  We need a new direction, towards an economy where human life and the planet itself are worth more than just money. [alex]

Obama, Recovery, and the Green Economy

by Jerry Silberman

It is worth everyone’s time to take a look at the House draft stimulus plan and think about it from a perspective of peak energy and global warming. There is much that is admirable in the act, but there are larger problems with its failure to go in new directions. Understanding its unspoken premises is helpful.

What the Act does propose is funding deferred maintenance on existing infrastructure and social programs ignored during the Bush years, and clearly many of these upgrades are needed. A look at transportation funding, however, finds 3x as much, $30 billion, for highways compared to $10 billion for transit. Symmetrically, airports get three times as much as Amtrak, although the admitted backlog need is highest for Amtrak. The underlying assumption is that we will not, and should not move away from the primacy of the private automobile. This is underscored by the huge proportion of research and science funding devoted toward developing electric cars. Missing is the arithmetic of energy consumption not only in cars but in an automotive based land use pattern, and an understanding of the realistic potential for renewable electricity.

Speaking of energy, the press release does not define renewables, but we know that “second generation” agrifuels are high on the list, and Obama is pushing for increased ethanol, despite the rapidly growing global consensus that any generation of agrifuels is a disaster on several levels. The logic is very simple – since these fuels at best have a dramatically lower net energy than fossil fuels, and growing them will accelerate the destruction of fertile land, because all the nutrients are removed, not to mention the natural ecosystems destroyed, they cannot meet the need.

While half a billion is allocated for cleaning up nuclear waste, that doesn’t come close to what is needed to secure the nuclear waste we have already produced, let alone more. By continued to fund the chimera of fusion power, among other points, the report underscores what it says, in fact very directly “the next great discovery” is needed to bail us out. This is a classic example of expecting to solve problems using the same ways of thinking which created them. What is really being pursued, or hoped for, is a perpetual motion machine. Its not there.

$7.8 billion is allocated for military projects. While most of this is for hospitals and veterans facilities, and not directly for weapons, it is still war spending, hidden elsewhere in the budget, when it should come from the Pentagon budget, which is still 50 cents of every tax dollar. Read the rest of this entry »

After two weeks of protests and “rebellion” in the streets of Oakland, CA, police have arrested Johannes Mehserle, the BART transit cop who shot and killed unarmed Oscar Grant on an Oakland train platform New Year’s Day. This is significant because this is perhaps the first time a California policeman has faced murder charges for killing someone while on duty.

Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old black man who was killed while lying flat on his stomach unarmed and restrained, has become a symbol for the racism and brutality that are endemic of police forces after his death was captured on video and circulated on Youtube.

This music video tribute by Jasiri X explains the story of Oscar Grant, but does contain somewhat graphic images of the shooting.

Follow the story at the website of Oakland activist Davey D,

Here is a news article about the arrest.

— Several well-placed sources are telling KTVU news that a warrant was issued for former BART officer Johannes Mehserle and that the officer is now in police custody.

Mehserle was the officer involved in the New Year’s Day fatal shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant on the platform of the Fruitvale BART station.

KTVU sources say Mehserle was some distance from the Bay Area when he was taken into custody and won’t arrive at the jail Tuesday night. Published reports indicate the BART police officer was arrested in Nevada. Read the rest of this entry »

Third and possibly last in the holiday movie series, Cry Freedom features Denzel Washington as Steve Biko, Black South African revolutionary during the 60s-70s. The movie criticizes the Apartheid system which restricted Blacks from moving around their country and having decent jobs and education, as well as giving the privileged race the ability to kill indiscriminately, very similar to the current situation in Occupied Palestine.
(This is just the first segment of the movie, make sure to click the Up-Arrow button to watch the rest!)

Jobs with Justice and the Institute for Policy Studies recently released a comic book that explains the current economic crisis.  It provides a decent explanation of the crisis of capitalism without using that language, and it does mention peak oil, but does not in any meaningful way explore the effect the energy crisis has had on the economy already.  Regardless it’s a pretty amusing and cute piece of radical literature. [alex]

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