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George Orwell was an English radical who wrote some of the most important books of the 20th Century, including Homage to Catalonia, about his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, Animal Farm (see cartoon adaptation), an allegory to Stalinism, and the infamous totalitarian novel 1984 (see film adaptation).

Orwell was an acclaimed writer because he wrote in clear and efficient English. He gave us this 1946 article, “Politics and the English Language” on how to write effectively. Check this out before penning/keying your next masterpiece! [alex]

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus:

  1. What am I trying to say?
  2. What words will express it?
  3. What image or idiom will make it clearer?
  4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

And he will probably ask himself two more:

  1. Could I put it more shortly?
  2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.

[Orwell goes on to explain how English writing is deteriorating from clear, crisp words into vague and opaque phrase-mongering, citing specific examples of particularly bad writing from intellectuals and politicians.]

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties.

Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

Consider for instance Read the rest of this entry »

An excellent talk on the relation between mental health and capitalism/neoliberalism. This is worth watching all the way through if you can. Dr. Stephen Bezruchka discusses the pharmaceutical/psychiatric industry and the spiraling rates of anti-depressants and other drugs given out to adults and children. This medicating of America doesn’t seem to be curbing mental illness or mental disorders, which are more prevalent in the US today than ever before, or in any other countries.

He suggests a more “caring and sharing” society, focused especially on better childhood development and reducing the gap between rich and poor, would do much to help us heal our over-stressed and depressed nation. This is a great line of thought, as understanding psychological disorder within the context of political decision-making allows us to imagine strategies to overcome it. Human-made problems have human solutions.

shock“The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”

by Naomi Klein

2007 Metropolitan Books

I feel confident saying that The Shock Doctrine is one of the most important political non-fiction works of the last decade. This should be a high school textbook, or at least required reading in college. Naomi Klein applies her extensive vision and intellect to present us with a way of seeing our world that is extremely relevant and powerful: in the pursuit of enormous profits, those running the global economy intentionally exploit terrible catastrophes, or even create them, to take things for themselves that only shocked and traumatized populations would give up. This ambulance-chasing strategy of those in power is defined as the “shock doctrine,” and “disaster capitalism”, alternatively known as “neoliberalism” is the dominant social paradigm it has created.

Although there are flaws here, which I will mention, this book is both timely and well-written; Klein carries the reader through a story about grandiose topics like neoliberalism, torture, psychology, and international politics that is fundamentally readable.

The most important contribution made by this book in my view is the dismantling of the myth that capitalism’s global dominance is a function of democracy or destiny. This is the notion that with the defeat of the Soviet Union, all alternatives to “the free market” have naturally faded into history, presumably because capitalism is so irresistible. To the contrary, Naomi Klein provides numerous case studies to show us the exact opposite is true – the temporary triumph of global capitalism has been fertilized by the victims of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, wars, campaigns of torture, and economic calamity. In short, alternatives to capitalism have been shocked into submission wherever they’ve appeared.

This is no accident, it is part of a conscious crusade by market fundamentalists, those devoted to the pseudo-religious belief that “the market solves all.” Klein explains that the shock doctrine was developed (at least in part) by the patron saint of neoliberalism, free-market economist Milton Friedman. In his words, “only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” And he intended to provide those ideas. It was Friedman’s opus “Capitalism and Freedom” that proclaimed neoliberalism’s core edicts: deregulation, privatization and cutbacks to social services.

Since the 1970s, these teachings have been vigorously applied across the globe by the “holy trinity” of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Read the rest of this entry »


“You Call This a Democracy? Who Benefits, Who Pays, and Who Really Decides?”

by Paul Kivel

2004 Apex Press

Paul Kivel exposes the ruling class of the United States and how it operates in this short, easy-to-read book. With simple concepts and cute illustrations, a nuanced class analysis is presented in a very clear and accessible format.

If the education system was any good at all, “You Call This a Democracy?” would be one of the textbooks used in all high schools. It explains what the ruling class is (those with a family income above $373,000 and net financial wealth of at least $2 million), how it controls the government, media, and economy, and the negative effects we all suffer, such as poverty, wars, disease, pollution, over-working, stress, and meaningless, isolated lives. Kivel particularly does a great job exposing how the ruling class uses racism, sexism, homophobia and other social divisions to keep itself, a relatively small group of basically white Protestant men, in power. Making the connections between systems of oppression is one of the keys to the freedom of everybody, and this book helps move that analysis forward.

There a couple criticisms I could make about the book, first that it doesn’t inspire enough hope or provide much of a systematic solution to the problem that it systematically critiques. And secondly that the book can be cumbersome to read because of a fair amount of repetition coupled with too many general statements about segments of the population. To a certain extent, this was unavoidable in a book of this nature, but I could have used more examples of particular corporations, politicians, and businesspeople and their ilk, even though the examples given in the book are all great.

Definitely check this out if you want to have any idea about the country you’re living in, and how you and your family and everyone you care about are being screwed over by the super-wealthy elite. The path to a democratic future starts when we become informed.

Grace Lee Boggs is a prominent long-time veteran of civil rights and other movements for justice.  An Asian-American woman, now in her 80s, she is active in building urban agriculture systems for the community of Detroit.  Their efforts to create a sustainable local economy out of a postindustrial urban shell are an example for all urban American cities. [alex]

Detroit: City of Hope
Building a sustainable economy out of the ashes of industry.

By Grace Lee Boggs

Originally published by In These Times

February 17, 2009.

Photographer: Fabrizio Costantini/Bloomberg News. Hazel Williams picks green tomatoes at an Urban Farm off Linwood Avenue in Detroit, on Sept. 22, 2008. Photo by Fabrizio Costantini / Bloomberg.

Photographer: Fabrizio Costantini/Bloomberg News. Hazel Williams picks green tomatoes at an Urban Farm off Linwood Avenue in Detroit, on Sept. 22, 2008. Photo by Fabrizio Costantini / Bloomberg.

Detroit is a city of Hope rather than a city of Despair. The thousands of vacant lots and abandoned houses not only provide the space to begin anew but also the incentive to create innovative ways of making our living—ways that nurture our productive, cooperative and caring selves.

The media and pundits keep repeating that today’s economic meltdown is the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. But in the ’30s, the United States was an overproducing industrial giant, not today’s casino economy.

In the last few decades, once-productive Americans have been transformed into consumers, using more and more of the resources of the earth to foster ways of living that are unsustainable and unsatisfying. This way of life has created suburbs that destroy farmland, wetlands and the natural world, as well as pollute the environment.

The new economy also requires a huge military apparatus to secure global resources and to consume materials for itself, at the same time providing enormous riches for arms merchants and for our otherwise failing auto, air and ship-building sectors.

Instead of trying to resurrect or reform a system whose endless pursuit of economic growth has created a nation of material abundance and spiritual poverty—and instead of hoping for a new FDR to save capitalism with New Deal-like programs—we need to build a new kind of economy from the ground up.

That is what I have learned from 55 years of living and struggling in Detroit, the city that was once the national and international symbol of the miracle of industrialization and is now the national and international symbol of the devastation of deindustrialization.

When I arrived in Detroit in 1953, the population was 2 million, the majority white. Today, it is less than 900,000, majority black. Back then, racism was blatant and overt. Many bars, restaurants and hotels refused service to blacks. Blacks could buy homes in inner city neighborhoods but could not rent apartments in buildings right next door to these homes.

Meanwhile, freeways were enabling white flight to the suburbs, and technology was replacing human beings with robots.

In 1973, we elected our first black mayor, Coleman Young. Young was a gifted politician who was able to eliminate the most egregious examples of racism, especially in the police and fire departments and City Hall. But he was unable to imagine a post-industrial society. So, for 14 years, he tried in vain to woo industrial jobs back to Detroit.

In 1988, toward the end of his fourth term, Young decided that the factories weren’t coming back and that Detroit’s salvation depended on casino gambling, which he said would create 50,000 jobs.

To defeat his proposal, we organized Detroiters Uniting, a coalition of community groups, blue-collar, white-collar and cultural workers, clergy, political leaders and professionals.

Our concern was with how our city had been disintegrating socially, economically, politically, morally and ethically. We were convinced that we could not depend upon one industry or one large corporation to provide us with jobs. It was now up to us—the citizens of Detroit—to create meaningful jobs and income for all citizens.

We needed a new kind of city where citizens take responsibility for their decisions instead of leaving them to politicians or the marketplace.

Greening the Motor City
Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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 »

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