Bill Totten's Weblog

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Another Way

Each of us can promote sustainability and justice at multiple levels. But there is no single simple thing to do, because the set of problems we're addressing just isn't simple. Click around our site to get started on the individual level and contact groups listed on our site to get involved at the city, state and national level. These organizations are involved in diverse campaigns to address the problems and to promote solutions. It is by joining together that we can create the momentum for real change. So click around, reach out, get involved, have fun.

Ten Little and Big Things You Can Do

1. Power down!

A great deal of the resources we use and the waste we create is in the energy we consume. Look for opportunities in your life to significantly reduce energy use: drive less, fly less, turn off lights, buy local seasonal food (food takes energy to grow, package, store and transport), wear a sweater instead of turning up the heat, use a clothesline instead of a dryer, vacation closer to home, buy used or borrow things before buying new, recycle. All these things save energy and save you money. And, if you can switch to alternative energy by supporting a company that sells green energy to the grid or by installing solar panels on your home, bravo!

2. Waste less.

Per capita waste production in the US just keeps growing. There are hundreds of opportunities each day to nurture a Zero Waste culture in your home, school, workplace, church, community. This takes developing new habits which soon become second nature. Use both sides of the paper, carry your own mugs and shopping bags, get printer cartridges refilled instead of replaced, compost food scraps, avoid bottled water and other over packaged products, upgrade computers rather than buying new ones, repair and mend rather than replace ... the list is endless! The more we visibly engage in re-use over wasting, the more we cultivate a new cultural norm, or actually, reclaim an old one!

3. Talk to everyone about these issues.

At school, your neighbors, in line at the supermarket, on the bus ... A student once asked Cesar Chavez how he organized. He said, "First, I talk to one person. Then I talk to another person." "No", said the student, "how do you organize?" Chavez answered, "First I talk to one person. Then I talk to another person." You get the point. Talking about these issues raises awareness, builds community and can inspire others to action.

4. Make Your Voice Heard.

Write letters to the editor and submit articles to local press. In the last two years, and especially with Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize, the media has been forced to write about Climate Change. As individuals, we can influence the media to better represent other important issues as well. Letters to the editor are a great way to help newspaper readers make connections they might not make without your help. Also local papers are often willing to print book and film reviews, interviews and articles by community members. Let's get the issues we care about in the news.

5. DeTox your body, DeTox your home, and DeTox the Economy.

Many of today's consumer products - from children's pajamas to lipstick - contain toxic chemical additives that simply aren't necessary. Research online - for example, - before you buy to be sure you're not inadvertently introducing toxics into your home and body. Then tell your friends about toxics in consumer products. Together, ask the businesses why they're using toxic chemicals without any warning labels. And ask your elected officials why they are permitting this practice. The European Union has adopted strong policies that require toxics to be removed from many products. So, while our electronic gadgets and cosmetics have toxics in them, people in Europe can buy the same things toxics-free. Let's demand the same thing here. Getting the toxics out of production at the source is the best way to ensure they don't get into any home and body.

6. Unplug (the TV and internet) and Plug In (the community).

The average person in the US watches television over four hours a day. Four hours per day filled with messages about stuff we should buy. That is four hours a day that could be spent with family, friends and in our community. On-line activism is a good start, but spending time in face-to-face civic or community activities strengthens the community and many studies show that a stronger community is a source of social and logistical support, greater security and happiness. A strong community is also critical to having a strong, active democracy.

7. Park your car and walk ... and when necessary MARCH!

Car-centric land use policies and life styles lead to more greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel extraction, conversion of agricultural and wildlands to roads and parking lots. Driving less and walking more is good for the climate, the planet, your health, and your wallet. But sometimes we don't have an option to leave the car home because of inadequate bike lanes or public transportation options. Then, we may need to march, to join with others to demand sustainable transportation options. Throughout US history, peaceful non-violent marches have played a powerful role in raising awareness about issues, mobilizing people, and sending messages to decision makers.

8. Change your lightbulbs ... and then, change your paradigm.

Changing lightbulbs is quick and easy. Energy efficient lightbulbs use 75% less energy and last ten times longer than conventional ones. That's a no-brainer. But changing lightbulbs is just tinkering at the margins of a fundamentally flawed system unless we also change our paradigm. A paradigm is a collection of assumptions, concepts, beliefs, and values that together make up a community's way of viewing reality. Our current paradigm dictates that more stuff is better, that infinite economic growth is desirable and possible, and that pollution is the price of progress. To really turn things around, we need to nurture a different paradigm based on the values of sustainability, justice, health, and community.

9. Recycle your trash ... and, recycle your elected officials.

Recycling saves energy and reduces both waste and the pressure to harvest and mine new stuff. Unfortunately, many cities still don't have adequate recycling systems in place. In that case you can usually find some recycling options in the phone book to start recycling while you're pressuring your local government to support recycling city-wide. Also, many products - for example, most electronics - are designed not to be recycled or contain toxics so recycling is hazardous. In these cases, we need to lobby government to prohibit toxics in consumer products and to enact Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws, as is happening in Europe. EPR is a policy which holds producers responsible for the entire lifecycle of their products, so that electronics company who use toxics in their products, have to take them back. That is a great incentive for them to get the toxics out!

10. Buy Green, Buy Fair, Buy Local, Buy Used, and most importantly, Buy Less.

Shopping is not the solution to the environmental problems we currently face because the real changes we need just aren't for sale in even the greenest shop. But, when we do shop, we should ensure our dollars support businesses that protect the environment and worker rights. Look beyond vague claims on packages like "all natural" to find hard facts. Is it organic? Is it free of super-toxic PVC plastic? When you can, buy local products from local stores, which keeps more of our hard earned money in the community. Buying used items keeps them out of the trash and avoids the upstream waste created during extraction and production. But, buying less may be the best option of all. Less pollution. Less Waste. Less time working to pay for the stuff. Sometimes, less really is more.

Recommended Reading

Want to learn even more? Click here to see The Story of Stuff's full list of recommended reading:

Bill Totten

Interesting Test

Bill Totten

Bill Gates $10 Billion Vaccine Scam

by Thomas C Mountain (February 22 2010)

The "richest man in the world", Microsoft's Bill Gates, recently announced that he was making a $10 billion donation towards finding vaccines to prevent some of the worlds worst diseases.

Malaria is the number one killer in Africa. From what I'm hearing about $1 billion of Bill Gates' donation/tax write-off is for research to find a vaccine to prevent malaria.

The African country of Eritrea, where I live, has reduced malaria mortality by 85% in the last seven years. How? By using basic public health methods. By distributing pesticide treated mosquito nets and organizing the pesticide retreatment every three months of mosquito nets. By habitat eradication. And by community medical clinics for immediate treatment.

Malaria is a parasite based disease noted for its variety and quick development of resistance to medication. Any "vaccine", if even a billion dollars is able to produce such, would have a limited lifetime and new, patented medications would have to be bought by Africa's poor every few years.

So "donating" a billion dollars to develop a malaria "vaccine" could turn into tens of billions of dollars in drug sales in Africa alone, and Bill Gates, through his drug company investments, will quietly pocket more African blood money.

All the while a very successful malaria mortality reduction program is operating, effective, safe, and affordable, in Eritrea.

Why isn't this being publicized internationally? Could it be that such a program is not going to put billions into the pockets of the drug lords of western finance?

Bill Gates and other assorted financial terrorists through their control of the western media and "aid" organizations are suppressing implementation of a successful malaria mortality program while investing in a malaria drug addiction for Africa's people.

These financial terrorists are perfectly willing to see millions die in Africa while they search for their next highly profitable "wonder drug" to cure malaria, all the while deliberately ignoring, worse, engineering a white out/cover up of what could prevent millions of deaths, let alone uncounted suffering.

And HIV/AIDS, Africa's Number Two killer? Bill Gates is said to be providing over a billion dollars for research into developing an AIDS vaccine. AIDS, a virus based disease, has already shown to have varieties and to have developed resistance to the medications developed to treat it. Like the flu vaccine, a new AIDS vaccine would most likely have to be developed every few years to combat the latest strain of the AIDS virus, another gold mine of new, patented medications for sale to Africa's sick.

Eritrea has reduced HIV/AIDS infection rates by forty percent, according to Physicians for Peace, and is the only country in Africa to reduce HIV/AIDS. How? By using public health education promoting condom use everywhere in the country. Over a billion for a "vaccine" that may never work while an effective program that can reduce HIV/AIDS infection by forty percent, safely and affordably can be immediately implemented?

Remember, western billionaires didn't get that way by being out to really help anyone. Millions die in Africa as the western drug lords and their financial terrorist stock holders reap their billions in blood money. All the while real heroes in the Eritrean public health service struggle to save peoples lives.

So don't believe that Bill Gates is up to any good when he donates $10 billion to vaccine research, just the opposite. And don't forget that as far at the USA is concerned in Africa, no good deed goes unpunished, and once again Eritrea is subject to UN Security Council Sanctions.


Thomas C Mountain lives in Asmara, Eritrea, is an independent journalist and in a previous life was the Publisher of the Ambedkar Journal and a founding member of the Phoolan Devi International Defense Committee.

Bill Totten

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Hottest Decade

by Saul Landau (February 19 2010)

The decade ending in 2009 was the warmest on record, new surface temperature figures released Thursday by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration show ... 2009 was the second warmest year since 1880, when modern temperature measurement began. The warmest year was 2005. The other hottest recorded years have all occurred since 1998, NASA said.

Global temperatures varied because of changes in ocean heating and cooling cycles. 'When we average temperature over five or ten years to minimize that variability', said Dr James E Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, one of the world's leading climatologists, 'we find global warming is continuing unabated'.

-- John M Broder New York Times (January 21 2020)

In the documentary, The Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore - remember him? - warned that greenhouse gasses and other sources of hydro carbons would increase, and threaten future planetary life. After issuing this filmic challenge, Gore advised citizens to recycle and buy gas-efficient cars.

Inconvenient? How about shutting down most of the factories belching smoke around the world, which contribute little to global health? Or abandoning the high rise office buildings that require heating and cooling 24/7?

Traffic jams have become ever more inconvenient. How about doing away with them by closing auto and truck plants in China, Brazil, India as well as those in the West and Japan? How about thinking of exhaust pipes as shotguns loaded with deadly vapors and aimed at the common atmosphere?

Convenient American suburbia with individual family dwellings, involves daily commuting, two car or more garages and fireplaces! How comfy! What would Hollywood, TV and advertisers do without these "happy" people to use as models to sell entertainment products, all of which require pollution as part of their production process? Think how inconvenient life would become if we had no more McDonald's, Burger King, Carl's Junior or any fast food chains! Instead, think of no more farting (methane) cows bunched together like four-legged sardines in open air pens. Oops, I'm getting nauseated.

The foundations and routines of modern industrial life - the context for the fabled American dream - assume perpetual consumption; more and technologically improved commodities as symbols of prosperity and even identity. The United States has exported this "dream" throughout much of the world in its films and TV programs. But these "entertainment" products don't contain warning signs, similar to those on cigarette packages: this product will cause serious environmental damage; future generations will suffer from an unsustainable environment.

Most political leaders face a challenge they refuse to acknowledge: To gain control of runaway climate change - alongside of melting ice sheets releasing more hydro carbon gasses. To accomplish this Herculean task, they must abandon convenience, the unchallenged assumptions that place the corporation as means and ends of policies.

When the now-retired Fidel Castro reflected on this situation or Bolivia's President Evo Morales spoke about it, the New York Times and equivalents in the major capitals give scant or no coverage. Not convenient material? Castro said (author's interview) last September that the greatest crime of the right wing exiles "was the theft of the 2000 election because it set back the environmental movement by ten years". He referred to votes cast by non US citizens in Miami and to intimidation by goon squads who threatened vote counters in certain south Florida precincts.

After recovering from his failed presidential bid, Gore, using his access to mass media, delivered a first alarm message. Last December, German Chancellor Angela Merkel flayed doubters of global warming. She said: In our knowledge, however, there has never been so rapid an increase in temperatures as predicted by science today. Previously, she noted, "plants and animals had the opportunity to adapt to changes over thousands of years. Not anymore." She expressed concern over people in coastal areas who "are most vulnerable to global warming with rapidly rising sea levels". She pleaded for "a sensible use of valuable and limited resources such as natural gas and oil". She reminded the public that "in 2050, nine billion people will live on the earth. It won't work without conservative use of resources." (December 16 2009 Bild am Sonntag)

President Obama's State of the Union speech to Congress avoided truly inconvenient truths. Their voters (consumers not citizens) might not want to curtail production and consumption, the twin life bloods of the world's economies. Instead, Obama boasted of how he and Congress bailed out the job - and pollution - producing auto industries. It's convenient to piously refer to "green technology", but the least gas guzzling vehicles still emit polluting compounds.

In 2009, the powerful convened in Copenhagen to demonstrate pathetic if not criminal timidity. Only the demonstrators showed they understood the stakes; few of their concerns reached front pages or lead TV stories. Rather, headlines emphasized violence and chaos - appeal to consumers' base tastes. Who wants to face the "inconvenient" challenge humans face about their future on the planet? Hey, this Sunday it's Super Bowl time and we can put aside those trivial concerns about resources and climate and root for our team!


Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. His films on dvd are available from Counterpunch published his A Bush and Botox World (2007).

Bill Totten

Thirty Million People Wonder

How Bad For The Environment Can Throwing Away One Plastic Bottle Be?

Science & Technology

The Onion (January 19 2010)

Washington - Wishing to dispose of the empty plastic container, and failing to spot a recycling bin nearby, an estimated thirty million Americans asked themselves Monday how bad throwing away a single bottle of water could really be.

"It's fine, it's fine", thought Maine native Sheila Hodge, echoing the exact sentiments of Chicago-area resident Phillip Ragowski, recent Florida transplant Margaret Lowery, and Kansas City business owner Brian McMillan, as they tossed the polyethylene terephthalate object into an awaiting trash can. "It's just one bottle. And I'm usually pretty good about this sort of thing."

"Not a big deal", continued roughly one-tenth of the nation's population.

According to the inner monologue of millions upon millions of citizens, while not necessarily ideal, throwing away one empty bottle probably wouldn't make that much of a difference, and could even be forgiven, considering how long they had been carrying it around with them, the time that could be saved by just tossing it out right here, and the fact that they had bicycled to work once last July.

In addition, pretty much the entire states of Missouri and New Mexico calmly reassured themselves Monday that they definitely knew better than to do something like this, but admitted that hey, nobody is perfect, and at least they weren't still using those horrible aerosol cans, or just throwing garbage directly on the ground.

All agreed that disposing of what would eventually amount to fifty tons of thermoplastic polymer resin wasn't the end of the world.

"It's not like I don't care, because I do, and most of the time I don't even buy bottled water", thought Missouri school teacher Heather Delamere, the 450,000th caring and progressive individual to have done so that morning, and the 850,000th to have purchased the environmentally damaging vessel due to being thirsty, in a huge rush, and away from home. "It's really not worth beating myself up over".

"What's one little bottle in the grand scheme of things, you know?" added each and every single one of them.

Monday's plastic-bottle-related dilemma wasn't the only environmental quandary facing millions of citizens across the country. An estimated twenty million men and women wondered how wasteful leaving a single lightbulb on all night really was, while more than forty million Americans asked themselves if anyone would actually notice if they just turned up the heat a few degrees instead of walking all the way downstairs and getting another blanket.

Likewise, had they not been so tired, and busy, and stressed, citizens making up the equivalent of three major metropolitan areas told reporters that they probably wouldn't have driven their minivans down to the corner store.

"Relax", thousands upon thousands of Americans quietly whispered to themselves as they tossed two articles of clothing into an empty washing machine and turned it on. "What are you so worried about?"

(c) Copyright 2010 Onion Inc. All rights reserved

Bill Totten

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Civilizational Tipping Point

by Lester R Brown (August 12 2009)

In recent years there has been a growing concern over thresholds or tipping points in nature. For example, scientists worry about when the shrinking population of an endangered species will fall to a point from which it cannot recover. Marine biologists are concerned about the point where overfishing will trigger the collapse of a fishery.

We know there were social tipping points in earlier civilizations, points at which they were overwhelmed by the forces threatening them. For instance, at some point the irrigation-related salt buildup in their soil overwhelmed the capacity of the Sumerians to deal with it. With the Mayans, there came a time when the effects of cutting too many trees and the associated loss of topsoil were simply more than they could manage.

The social tipping points that lead to decline and collapse when societies are overwhelmed by a single threat or by simultaneous multiple threats are not always easily anticipated. As a general matter, more economically advanced countries can deal with new threats more effectively than developing countries can. For example, while governments of industrial countries have been able to hold HIV infection rates among adults under one percent, many developing-country governments have failed to do so and are now struggling with much higher infection rates. This is most evident in some southern African countries, where up to twenty percent or more of adults are infected.

A similar situation exists with population growth. While populations in nearly all industrial countries except the United States have stopped growing, rapid growth continues in nearly all the countries of Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent. Nearly all of the eighty million people being added to world population each year are born in countries where natural support systems are already deteriorating in the face of excessive population pressure, in the countries least able to support them. In these countries, the risk of state failure is growing.

Some issues seem to exceed even the management skills of the more advanced countries, however. When countries first detected falling underground water tables, it was logical to expect that governments in affected countries would quickly raise water use efficiency and stabilize population in order to stabilize aquifers. Unfortunately, not one country - industrial or developing - has done so. Two failing states where overpumping water and security-threatening water shortages loom large are Pakistan and Yemen.

Although the need to cut carbon emissions has been evident for some time, not one country has succeeded in becoming carbon-neutral. Thus far this has proved too difficult politically for even the most technologically advanced societies. Could rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere prove to be as unmanageable for our early twenty-first century civilization as rising salt levels in the soil were for the Sumerians in 4000 BC?

Another potentially severe stress on governments is the coming decline in oil production. Although world oil production has exceeded new oil discoveries by a wide margin for more than twenty years, only Sweden and Iceland actually have anything that remotely resembles a plan to effectively cope with a shrinking supply of oil.

This is not an exhaustive inventory of unresolved problems, but it does give a sense of how their number is growing as we fail to solve existing problems even as new ones are being added to the list. Analytically, the challenge is to assess the effects of mounting stresses on the global system. These stresses are perhaps most evident in their effect on food security, which was the weak point of many earlier civilizations that collapsed.

Several converging trends are making it difficult for the world's farmers to keep up with the growth in food demand. Prominent among these are falling water tables, the growing conversion of cropland to nonfarm uses, and more extreme climate events, including crop-withering heat waves, droughts, and floods. As the stresses from these unresolved problems accumulate, weaker governments are beginning to break down.

Compounding these problems, the United States, the world's breadbasket, has dramatically increased the share of its grain harvest going to fuel ethanol—from fifteen percent of the 2005 crop to more than 25 percent of the 2008 crop. This ill-conceived US effort to reduce its oil insecurity helped drive world grain prices to all-time highs by mid-2008, creating unprecedented world food insecurity.

The risk is that these accumulating problems and their consequences will overwhelm more and more governments, leading to widespread state failure and eventually the failure of civilization. The countries that top the list of failing states are not particularly surprising. They include, for example, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Chad, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Haiti. And the list grows longer each year, raising a disturbing question: How many failing states will it take before civilization itself fails? No one knows the answer, but it is a question we must ask.

We are in a race between tipping points in nature and our political systems. Can we phase out coal-fired power plants before the melting of the Greenland ice sheet becomes irreversible? Can we gather the political will to halt deforestation in the Amazon before its growing vulnerability to fire takes it to the point of no return? Can we help countries stabilize population before they become failing states?

We have the technologies to restore the earth's natural support systems, to eradicate poverty, to stabilize population, and to restructure the world energy economy and stabilize climate. The challenge now is to build the political will to do so. Saving civilization is not a spectator sport. Each of us has a leading role to play.


Adapted from Chapter One, "Entering a New World", in Lester R Brown, Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (New York: W W Norton & Company, 2008), available for free downloading and purchase at

Bill Totten

No Banker Left Behind

by Robert Scheer

Truthdig (February 23 2010)

They do have a license to steal. There is no other way to read Tuesday's report from the New York state comptroller that bonuses for Wall Street financiers rose seventeen percent to $20.3 billion in 2009. Of course that is less than the $32.9 billion for bonus rewards back in 2007, when those hotshots could still pretend that they were running sound businesses.

The economy is anything but sound, but you would hardly know that from looking at the balance sheets of the big investment banks. The broker-dealer firms on Wall Street made a record profit, estimated at greater than $55 billion by the comptroller, and the only thing holding back even more grotesque bonuses was concern over criticism from a public that was hardly doing as well.

The enormous rewards last year come not from their having righted the ship of finance by lowering the rate of mortgage foreclosures for ordinary folks, one of four who are now "underwater" on their loans. Consumer confidence this month is the lowest in 27 years, and unemployment is expected to hover near ten percent for the next two years. No, they get bonuses because the Federal Reserve, backed by the Treasury, bought the toxic mortgage securitization packages that Wall Street banks were left holding. They, and they alone, were made whole.

The way the scam worked is that the Treasury deposited taxpayer dollars with the Federal Reserve, which in turn purchased a whopping $1.25 trillion in toxic mortgages. That's the figure after the Treasury on Tuesday committed to depositing $200 billion more with the Fed to increase spending on this program - one that was ostensibly designed to increase credit availability to small businesses and others but has hardly accomplished that goal. Credit is still very tight because the big financiers have used the low-cost cash they received from those charitable government programs to solidify their own positions through acquisitions and the like.

Call it the "no banker left behind" program. While this plan didn't keep people in their homes, it did wonders for Wall Street profits. To be accurate, it's mostly the big bankers who reaped the rewards, for, as the FDIC reported Tuesday, the list of smaller banks throughout the country faced with default is growing longer. The big financial conglomerates, which have come to be covered by the FDIC under questionable circumstances, benefit from that arrangement, but they are hardly the ones hurting. The victims are primarily the smaller traditional banks that played by the rules but were overwhelmed after the housing market became dreadfully corrupted.

The number of banks on the FDIC's "problem list" soared from 252 at the end of 2008 to 702 last month, and the government's fund to insure depositors fell to minus $20.9 billion. The source of the problems for those banks is the sorry state of the housing market, with the number of loans that are more than three months overdue at the highest level in the 26 years that such records have been collected. Those hurting are mostly smaller banks, which are paying for the havoc in the housing market that the Wall Street giants created with their collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and credit default swaps (CDSs). Those mysterious financial innovations meant turning the housing market into a grand casino using people's homes as chips, with the Wall Street crowd holding all the high cards.

Yet when the crash occurred, it was not those who designed and sold the toxic packages that suffered but rather the individual homeowners whose mortgages had been put into play. They and the smaller banks were still playing by the old rules, which meant that houses were presumed to be worth the money loaned on them. But there was no such disadvantage for the brokers, who would convert those mortgages into stock bundles. They had succeeded in getting the US Congress, at the end of 2000, to exempt those CDOs and CDSs from any regulation.

This debacle was the accomplishment of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, pushed through Congress during the last years of the Clinton administration by former Goldman Sachs honcho and onetime Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and his protege and successor, Lawrence Summers, now the top economic adviser in the Obama White House. The intent was, in Summers' words, to provide "legal certainty" for those CDO investment gimmicks, meaning no regulator could look to see what was inside the packages. We still don't know, although we taxpayers now are on the hook for 1.25 trillion dollars' worth of them.

Can't say it didn't work out for the folks at Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, where total average compensation was up last year by 31 percent. How did you make out?


A Progressive Journal of News and Opinion. Editor, Robert Scheer. Publisher, Zuade Kaufman.

Copyright (c) 2010 Truthdig, LLC. All rights reserved.

Bill Totten

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Economic Elite Have Engineered an Extraordinary Coup

Threatening the Very Existence of the Middle Class

The economic elite have robbed us all. The amount of suffering in the United States of America is literally a crime against humanity.

by David DeGraw, Amped Status

AlterNet (February 15 2010)

"The American oligarchy spares no pains in promoting the belief that it does not exist, but the success of its disappearing act depends on equally strenuous efforts on the part of an American public anxious to believe in egalitarian fictions and unwilling to see what is hidden in plain sight."
-- Michael Lind, To Have and to Have Not

We all have very strong differences of opinion on many issues. However, like our founding fathers before us, we must put aside our differences and unite to fight a common enemy.

It has now become evident to a critical mass that the Republican and Democratic parties, along with all three branches of our government, have been bought off by a well-organized Economic Elite who are tactically destroying our way of life. The harsh truth is that 99 percent of the U.S. population no longer has political representation. The U.S. economy, government and tax system is now blatantly rigged against us.

Current statistical societal indicators clearly demonstrate that a strategic attack has been launched and an analysis of current governmental policies prove that conditions for 99 percent of Americans will continue to deteriorate. The Economic Elite have engineered a financial coup and have brought war to our doorstep...and make no mistake, they have launched a war to eliminate the U.S. middle class.

To those who feel I am using extreme rhetoric, I ask you to please take a few minutes of your time to hear me out and research the evidence put forth. The facts are there for the unprejudiced, rational and reasoned mind to absorb. It is the unfortunate reality of our current crisis.

Unless we all unite and organize on common ground, our very way of life and the ideals that our country was founded upon will continue to unravel.

Before exposing exactly who the Economic Elite are, and discussing common sense ways in which we can defeat them, let's take a look at how much damage they have already caused.

Casualties of Economic Terrorism, Surveying the Damage

The devastating numbers across-the-board on the economic front are staggering. I'll go through some of them here, many we have already become all too familiar with. We hear some of these numbers all the time, so much so that it appears as if we have already begun "to normalize the unthinkable." You may be sick of hearing them, but behind each number is an enormous amount of individual suffering, American lives and families who are struggling worse than they ever have.

America is the richest nation in history, yet we now have the highest poverty rate in the industrialized world with an unprecedented amount of Americans living in dire straights and over 50 million citizens already living in poverty.

The government has come up with clever ways to downplay all of these numbers, but we have over 50 million people who need to use food stamps to eat, and a stunning 50 percent of U.S. children will use food stamps to eat at some point in their childhoods. Approximately 20,000 people are added to this total every day. In 2009, one out of five U.S. households didn't have enough money to buy food. In households with children, this number rose to 24 percent, as the hunger rate among U.S. citizens has now reached an all-time high.

We also currently have over 50 million U.S. citizens without health care. 1.4 million Americans filed for bankruptcy in 2009, a 32 percent increase from 2008. As bankruptcies continue to skyrocket, medical bankruptcies are responsible for over 60 percent of them, and over 75 percent of the medical bankruptcies filed are from people who have health care insurance. We have the most expensive health care system in the world, we are forced to pay twice as much as other countries and the overall care we get in return ranks 37th in the world.

In total, Americans have lost $5 trillion from their pensions and savings since the economic crisis began and $13 trillion in the value of their homes. During the first full year of the crisis, workers between the age of 55 - 60, who have worked for 20 - 29 years, have lost an average of 25 percent off their 401k. "Personal debt has risen from 65 percent of income in 1980 to 125 percent today." Over five million U.S. families have already lost their homes, in total 13 million U.S. families are expected to lose their home by 2014, with 25 percent of current mortgages underwater. Deutsche Bank has an even grimmer prediction: "The percentage of 'underwater' loans may rise to 48 percent, or 25 million homes." Every day 10,000 U.S. homes enter foreclosure. Statistics show that an increasing number of these people are not finding shelter elsewhere, there are now over 3 million homeless Americans, the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population is single parents with children.

One place more and more Americans are finding a home is in prison. With a prison population of 2.3 million people, we now have more people incarcerated than any other nation in the world -- the per capita statistics are 700 per 100,000 citizens. In comparison, China has 110 per 100,000, France has 80 per 100,000, Saudi Arabia has 45 per 100,000. The prison industry is thriving and expecting major growth over the next few years. A recent report from the Hartford Advocate titled "Incarceration Nation" revealed that "a new prison opens every week somewhere in America."

Mass Unemployment

The government unemployment rate is deceptive on several levels. It doesn't count people who are "involuntary part-time workers," meaning workers who are working part-time but want to find full-time work. It also doesn't count "discouraged workers," meaning long-term unemployed people who have lost hope and don't consistently look for work. As time goes by, more and more people stop consistently looking for work and are discounted from the unemployment figure. For instance, in January, 1.1 million workers were eliminated from the unemployment total because they were "officially" labeled discouraged workers. So instead of the number rising, we will hear deceptive reports about unemployment leveling off.

On top of this, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently discovered that 824,000 job losses were never accounted for due to a "modeling error" in their data. Even in their initial January data there appears to be a huge understating, with the newest report saying the economy lost 20,000 jobs. TrimTabs employment analysis, which has consistently provided more accurate data, "estimated that the U.S. economy shed 104,000 jobs in January."

When you factor in all these uncounted workers -- "involuntary part-time" and "discouraged workers" -- the unemployment rate rises from 9.7 percent to over 20 percent. In total, we now have over 30 million U.S. citizens who are unemployed or underemployed. The rarely cited "employment-participation" rate, which reveals the percentage of the population that is currently in the workforce, has now fallen to 64 percent.

Even based on the "official" unemployment rate, just to get back to the unemployment level of 4.6 percent that we had in 2007, we need to create over 10 million new jobs, and most every serious economist will tell you that these jobs are not coming back. In fact, we are still consistently shedding jobs, on just one day, January 27, several companies announced new cuts of more than 60,000 jobs.

Due to the length of this crisis already, millions of Americans are reaching a point where the unemployment benefits they have been living on are coming to an end. More workers have already been out of work longer than at any point since statistics have been recorded, with over six million now unemployed for over six months. A record 20 million Americans qualified for unemployment insurance benefits last year, causing 27 states to run out of funds, with seven more also expected to go into the red within the next few months. In total, 40 state programs are expected to go broke.

Most economists believe the unemployment rate will remain high for the foreseeable future. What will happen when we have millions of laid-off workers without any unemployment benefits to save them?

Working More for Less

The millions struggling to find work are just part of the story. Due to the fact that we now have a record high six people for every one job opening, companies have been able to further increase the workload on their remaining employees. They have been able to increase the amount of hours Americans are working, reduce wages and drastically cut back on benefits. Even though Americans were already the most productive workers in the world before the economic crisis, in the third quarter of 2009, average worker productivity increased by an annualized rate of 9.5 percent, at the same time unit labor cost decreased by 5.2 percent. This has led to record profits for many companies. Of the 220 companies in the S&P 500 who have reported fourth-quarter results thus far, 78 percent of them had "better-than-expected profits" with earnings 17 percent above expectations, "the highest for any quarter since Thomson Reuters began tracking data."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national median wage was only $32,390 per year in 2008, and median household income fell by 3.6 percent while the unemployment rate was 5.8 percent. With the unemployment rate now at 10 percent, median income has been falling at a 5 percent rate and is expected to continue its decline. Not surprisingly, Americans' job satisfaction level is now at an all-time low.

There are also a growing number of employed people who, despite having a job, are still living in poverty. There are at least 15 million workers who now fall into this rapidly growing category. $32,390 a year is not going to get you far in today's economy, and half of the country is making less than that. This is why many Americans are now forced to work two jobs to provide for their family to hopefully make ends meet.

A Crime Against Humanity

The mainstream news media will numb us to this horrifying reality by endlessly talking about the latest numbers, but they never piece them together to show you the whole devastating picture, and they rarely show you all the immense individual suffering behind them. This is how they "normalize the unthinkable" and make us become passive in the face of such a high causality count.

Behind each of these numbers, is a tremendous amount of misery; the physical toll is only outdone by the severe psychological toll. Anyone who has had to put off medical care, or who couldn't get medical care for one of their family members due to financial circumstances, can tell you about the psychological toll that is on top of the physical suffering. Anyone who has felt the stress of wondering how they were going to get their child's next meal or their own, or the stress of not knowing how they are going to pay the mortgage, rent, electricity or heat bill, let alone the car payment, gas, phone, cable or Internet bill.

There are now well over 150 million Americans who feel stress over these things on a consistent basis. Over 60 percent of Americans now live paycheck to paycheck.

These are all basic things every person should be able to easily afford in a technologically advanced society such as ours. The reason we struggle with these things is because the Economic Elite have robbed us all. This amount of suffering in the United States of America is literally a crime against humanity.


This is Part One of David DeGraw's report, "The Economic Elite vs People of the USA". AlterNet will run Part Two in the coming days..

Read more of David DeGraw's work on Amped Status:

Bill Totten

Joe Stack and Likely Coming Attractions

by Carolyn Baker (February 21 2010)

It may be a time of crisis, but it doesn't have to be a time of catastrophe. It's in times of crisis that human beings are often most creative and ingenious and that they pull together most effectively to solve their problems.
-- Thomas Homer-Dixon {1}, author of The Upside of Down (2006)

Most of us have heard it by now-software engineer torches his own house then crashes his private plane into an IRS office in Austin, Texas on February 18 2010. Most descriptions of the event were careful not to call the event an act of domestic terrorism, but rather asked: Was Joe Stack a terrorist or a lone nut? And most mainstream media reports pointed out that Stack was not a Tea-Partier, but some progressive media accused him of behaving like one. Wrong questions, wrong answers. Once again, mainstream media reveals it pathetic depth-perception deficit.

As Rich Benjamin of Alternet notes {2}, Joe Stack's "suicide screed chafes and exposes a raw wound this country does not know what to do with". Bingo.

In the same week as Stack's rampage, an Ohio man so enraged about his home being foreclosed upon, even though he owes far less on it than it's worth, bulldozed the house so that the bank would not be able to repossess it. Not unlike Stack, Terry Hoskins {3} was trying to cope with business debts as well as a lawsuit, and vehemently demonstrated his rage toward banks for all the world to see.

It doesn't take Patrick Jane, The Mentalist {4} or Allison DuBois, The Medium {5}, to grasp that these eruptions of vitriolic rage are most likely, previews of massive civil unrest worldwide, as individuals and families awaken to the current ghastly global transfer of wealth, so brilliantly exposed in David DeGraw's "The Economic Elite Have Engineered An Extraordinary Coup" {6} - a wealth transfer of mindboggling proportions that has left the middle class impoverished and writhing in despair. But this particular side of the Toxic Triangle - economic meltdown, along with the other two sides, climate chaos, and planetary energy depletion, signals that the human species has entered, not a long and painful recession, but nothing less than a tipping point in its own evolutionary odyssey.

And now, millions of human beings who for at least a decade have been unwilling to look deeply at how their world works, find themselves depressed, enraged, paralyzed, and terrified at best and suicidal and homicidal at worst. Since before the turn of the twentieth century, many courageous researchers who were willing to look deeper gave us extraordinary "maps" of who was running the world and what the consequences of that reality would be - individuals like Mike Ruppert, Richard Heinberg, Dmitry Orlov, Peter Dale Scott, Colin Campbell, Dale Allen Pfeiffer, Cynthia McKinney, Sibel Edmonds, and many more. They produced volumes of research related to the Triple Crisis, Toxic Triangle which for the most part, fell on deaf ears.

The corporate capitalist system had forced on American families a lifestyle that left them too busy and too strapped with debt - and of course, too hypnotically entranced with the proverbial "American dream", to read the signals that were becoming more ominous by the day. Besides, in the pubescent ecstasy of the earning/spending/debt party, who wants to be annoyed with downers like becoming an adult and comprehending the facts and their consequences?

And so, those who were too busy, ambitious, hard-working, conscientious, dedicated, and of course, let us not forget, patriotic, have within the past two years been blindsided by that which they refused to acknowledge - and worse, they who have called the mapmakers and their supporters, such as myself, "whack jobs, wing nuts, conspiracy theorists, fearmongers, and pessimists" now find themselves bewildered, flabbergasted, dumbfounded, and horrified.

Tragically, it's the result of being uninformed and unprepared, and when the excrement hits the circular air mechanism, it results for the unprepared in becoming unplugged - like Joe Stack and Terry Hoskins.

But Terry and Joe are only two cases in point. Apparently, the United States government (not Patrick Jane or Allison DuBois) is anticipating many more such incidents. In December, 2008, the Phoenix Business Journal reported in a story entitled "Arizona Police Say They Are Prepared As War College Warns Military Must Prep For Unrest; IMF Warns of Economic Riots" {7}that "a new report by the US Army War College talks about the possibility of Pentagon resources and troops being used should the economic crisis lead to civil unrest, such as protests against businesses and government or runs on beleaguered banks". Concurrently, Military.Com {8} cited another part of the report which stated that "Widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities ... to defend basic domestic order and human security, likewise in the case of 'unforeseen economic collapse', 'pervasive public health emergencies', and 'catastrophic natural and human disasters', among other possible crises".

Fortunately, many individuals and families have awoken to the reality that what our species is confronting is nothing less than the total collapse of industrial civilization and the end of the world as we have known it. They are coming to understand that the collapse is a process, not an event, and that some aspects of it will be slow and grinding, while other aspects will be sudden, catastrophic, and traumatic. And very importantly, they are becoming prepared.

But how does one "prepare", and what is preparation anyway?

In my experience, there are three aspects. The first concerns individual and family self-sufficiency which relates to things like learning to grow one's own food, learning to store and preserve food, understanding and utilizing permaculture {9} design principles in all aspects of life; deeply evaluating one's living situation and assessing where the most sustainable living venue might be; completely extricating oneself from the debt/credit system; learning natural, holistic healing techniques and wild, edible plant foraging skills. These are only a few of the most basic forms of logistical preparation.

And please note, this is not about becoming a camo-clad survivalist with years of food and water stored underground and protected by an arsenal of weapons. In fact, the reality of our predicament is that the lone survivalist cum "apocalypse man" {10} is precariously at risk because survival demands cooperation and coordination.

Therefore, the second aspect of preparation relates to neighborhood and community cooperation, and I believe that the Transition Handbook {11} and Transition movement {12} worldwide offer the most practical, sensible, and feasible model for creating local resilience and self-sufficiency. Those who are skeptical of community preparation often argue that a burgeoning police state will not allow such communities to exist let alone thrive. What they tend to overlook are the realities of energy depletion and economic unraveling which are likely to seriously curtail the functioning of all levels of law enforcement worldwide.

Finally, but in my opinion, most fundamental, is emotional and spiritual preparation for the unprecedented changes which have already begun and which will continue and intensify for many decades to come. It is perhaps the best hedge against becoming "unplugged" in the face of mindboggling chaos and transition. For this reason I published in 2009 Sacred Demise: Walking The Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization's Collapse {13} - a poetic manual of emotional and spiritual preparation for navigating the daunting challenges of our uncertain future.

Although I do not condone Joe Stack's violent attack on the Austin IRS office, I find that his articulate suicide letter {14} contains many grains of truth, as well as a tragic exposé of his lack of comprehension of the larger transition that inundated his life with an overwhelming number of smaller ones. Myriad forms of preparation are no guarantee of survival or well being in the face of the end of the world as we have known it, but they may allow us unimaginable opportunities for personal and community transformation.

In addition to the Transition Handbook, I strongly recommend the Post-Peak Living {15} website and its online "Uncrash Course", as well as my upcoming course in April 2010 on "Navigating The Coming Chaos". For further information on the latter course, please contact me at

No one needs to be either unprepared or unplugged. But the time to address both issues is now.

















Bill Totten

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Great Reskilling (2)

Posted by Jason Bradford (April 01 2009)

This is a guest post by Michael Foley (user Greenuprising) who is another academic-turned-farmer. This post makes a nice follow-up to Nate's What Do We Tell Our Children? essay {1}. Perhaps we don't have to say a whole lot if our actions align with newly emerging realities. Want a sense of purpose? Want to belong and feel valuable in your social sphere? Reskilling might make a whole lot of sense. What do you think?

Reskilling for an Age of Energy Descent

Transition Towns founder Rob Hopkins {2} calls the educational work we need to be doing over the next couple of decades "the Great Reskilling", acquiring and re-acquiring the skills we will need to manage the energy transition we face. I've already written a bit about the organizational skills we will need on the local level {3}. Here I want to offer some thoughts about the sorts of practical skills adults and children alike could start learning now to cope with a world of drastically reduced and altered energy sources.

We're not talking here about turning back the clock in all respects. We come at the prospects of a generalized powerdown with a lot of technological advances that may make the transition smoother. Granted, photovoltaics entail a lot of embodied energy and currently draw on raw materials we can't continue sustainably to withdraw from the earth, to take just one example. Nor could we hope to replace the energy currently derived from fossil fuels from photovoltaics, wind power, small-scale hydro power, solar hot water, biomass, hydrogen fuel cells, wave energy, et cetera. That's part of the problem. But we can employ some or all of these technologies as part of a transition; and we need people who know them well and keep up with advances.

The same is true in transportation. We have lots of options for individual and mass transit that didn't exist a hundred years ago. Electric bicycles and scooters have reached a high level of sophistication, as have the batteries that run them. Light rail (okay, we had light rail a hundred years ago) is an important option for inter- and intra-urban transport that already has a small industry behind and some good examples on the ground. Plug-in electric vehicles, especially buses and mini-buses, have to be part of any transition. So we need more (transportation) bicycle builders and repair people. (I emphasize transportation, because most of the bicycle skills around today are for sport biking, which bears the same relation to our future needs as the military-industrial complex does to civilian technology development - yeah, maybe it has contributed to advances, but the cost just in misdirected energy has been enormous.) And we need rail specialists and electric vehicle people and people to figure out how to configure roads so everybody can safely bicycle without wearing funny clothes.

Some Skills for All

But there are also daily living skills that will become more important as cheap energy fades from view - or suddenly disappears. Growing food is one of those closest to my heart and experience. We've already seen a two-year jump in seed sales for home gardens. Books on how to do it appear with increasing frequence, from my glance at the listings. And for good reason. Growing your own food takes some doing, especially if you plan to do it on a really suitable scale. It can be done on a surprisingly small patch of ground, but it takes attention and technique. And getting started takes hard work. The good news is that more and more schools are incorporating kitchen gardens into the school environment and the curriculum. The bad news is that most of this effort is directed toward "giving children a sense of where their food comes from", not toward training future farmers and gardeners. The best and biggest school gardening programs can have difficulty attracting students, for reasons I'll explore below.

Kids are also learning to cook, as are their parents, though progress is slow considering the continued profitability of the fast foods industry. Beyond cooking, we also need to preserve food for those lean times. Jason Bradford has described a couple of options for maintaining an adequate food supply in a powereddown future. Storing basic grains {4} and low-energy canning and preserving {5} are old skills with sometimes new techniques that we will need to learn.

Powerdown means energy conservation. It also means we'll have to wean ourselves from our throw-away culture, starting with the food front. Already many countries and localities have banned plastic bags. What do we use for packaging? How do we make it? You can buy fancy "green bags" for keeping fresh vegetables, but anyone with minimal sewing skills can make muslins bags that serve just as well - which is not just as well as plastic, in most instances; learning to shop frequently, or depend upon the garden more, is also an important new skill for most of us. We might also learn to cook more at one time. M F K Fisher's The Art of Eating {6} starts with her World War Two ear book, How to Cook a Wolf {7}, where she talks about strategies for cooking a week's meals with minimal uses of (rationed) energy by cooking one-pot dinners, sharing oven space among several dishes, and other tricks.

For the really ambitious on the food front, there are all those old animal husbandry skills. They haven't changed much, though we know more about disease today than a hundred years ago. What we've lost with the new knowledge are the old skills at handling disease. Today we rely on the vet to vaccinate, dose with pharmaceuticals, or put down out animals; but the old skills are still useful and still used, especially among those who raise large animals. One of the main obstacles to raising animals for food is the regulatory system. While you can still keep chickens, and even goats, in many cities in the United States, in other places, even semi-rural ones, planners trained at urban universities have written codes that make such "unsanitary" practices illegal. In most places, it's also illegal to sell fresh (so-call "raw") milk, or extremely costly to set up the procedures for doing so legally, making it difficult for a family to dispose of the three to eight gallons of milk daily that a dairy cow produces.

But how about those sewing skills? I can remember my grandmother darning socks for my father and her daughter's seven children. Who darns anymore? A recent intern on our little farm was a professional costume designer, who spent her spare time knitting socks with amazing patterns and getting started on a bikini. None of the knitters I know has advanced much beyond the winter cap. We've started, at least, to turn old bedsheets and scraps of clothing into rags to replace paper towels and store-bought shop rags. But making clothing at home? Who has the time? As the Depression deepens, it's clear, more and more people do. But as long as Wal-Mart has access to Chinese factories, incentives may be short.

And then there are all those steel blades that make our life so easy. Most of us are in the habit of tossing out a knife when it dulls, or giving it a perfunctory run on the steel strop that comes with every kitchen knife set. And many knives, especially the serrated ones, simply can't be sharpened with any ease. Sharpening is a lost art, but one that can be easily learned. And once you've gotten used to it, all sorts of tools become fair game, from chisels (brittle and requiring heavy-duty grinding once they chip) to lawn mower blades. Last year I bought a hand-forged scythe {8} to keep our yard and orchards trim. It requires regular sharpening and occasional peening, banging out with hammer; but it's a wonderful tool, and the sharpening is just part of the ryhthm of the work.

Some of what I cut turned out to be medicinal herbs, which my wife is now anxious to cultivate. Most of us, it turns out, already self-medicate. We don't trust doctors, or the pharmaceutical companies, often for very good reasons, and we're in searching of better answers. We tend to look for them, like everything else, off the shelf. A better answer might be to learn to identify and grow your own and prepare them to suit your needs. It's not hard, and it's not rocket science, despite a sophisticated industry dedicated to extracting the "active ingredient", and just that ingredient, from herbs in an effort to give a veneer of science (and expense) to what has always been a folk art. If you're willing to trust that the folk art works (as reliably as the medical art works, at any rate), herbal medicine may be a skill you need to cultivate.

Then there are basic mechanical and carpentry skills. I learned a good deal from my father when I was a kid, but I succeeded, in a mostly academic life, in handing down few of these skills to my children. What a shame. We'll need to build for ourselves a good deal more in a powereddown world, I suspect, and do more of our own repairs. I'm in the middle of building a shack for one of my younger daughters, and I've sharpened those old skills considerably in the process, using hand tools as much as possible. The skill saw certainly came in handy, as did a portable drill occasionally; and I may yet regret that I don't have a table saw. But the whole process is one of learning when and where to expend what sorts of energy.

The Great Unskilling: Why It May Be Hard to Stop Saving Labor

The bottom line is that we need to engage in a serious effort at reskilling, not just ourselves but our children and our society as a whole. We'll also need to promote some serious changes in attitude, because two centuries of cheap energy have led to expectations that don't bode well for powerdown. Chief of these is the expectation that "labor-saving devices" will make for a better and brighter future. That, together with the myth of the unending drudgery of traditional work, militate against any mass embrace of the Great Reskilling.

As industrialization proceeded, small producers of all kinds were forced into "jobs" that allowed little time for the everyday tasks of providing for oneself, and into urban environments where the resources for doing so were very scarce. At the same time, consumers were increasingly recruited to enjoy ready-made products and home appliances that ended time-consuming processes of home cooking, manufacture and upkeep. Services were professionalized so that householders could count on professional plumbers and electricians, builders and gardeners, to do work that used to be done by everyone. In the 1920s advertising was devised to save American manufacturing from a crisis of overproduction by encouraging ever-growing consumption of such goods and services. (The other vehicle for sales was a foreign policy dedicated to opening and keeping opening foreign markets for American goods and buyers - a policy choice whose direct descendants are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

One result was the Great Unskilling, when homemakers forgot how to cook and sew and keep a garden - see Betty Friedan's classic account, The Feminine Mystique {9} - and their husbands forgot how to build and repair and raise crops. Another, more insidious, was the discovery of "leisure". The advertisers led us to believe that leisure was a product of modern ingenuity. In fact, most peasants over the millenia have enjoyed more leisure time than late twentieth-century Americans tied to the daily grind of the job, fifty miserable weeks a year. What modern ingenuity gave us was time on our hands, and marketers and others quickly moved to fill it up with something called "entertainment" Who could wish it otherwise? After eight or ten hours on the job and a serious commute to and fro, many people just want to "veg out" in front of the tube, not tend the garden, cook a meal from scratch, mend clothes, or build a new chicken coop. Who has the time? Let's watch TV! The TV industry has been glad to accommodate with endless choices and endless spots for advertisers.

Along with the Great Unskilling came a growing aversion to physical labor. That - if you were unlucky in school - was for the job, not for home. For those who felt restless, or concerned about their weight, or worried about their health, the market produced a growing array of expensive hobbies and exercise regimes. God forbid we should put what energy we had left after work to use providing for our own needs. We had professionals to do that, even professionals dedicated to tending to our needs for physical exertion.

Perhaps worst off are the children. In place of jobs, we subject them to school, perhaps the worst job yet. There they have to please the boss - multiple bosses by the time they reach high school - who sets them progressively more difficult, arbitrary tasks and judges their worth on their performance. At the end of five or six hours of this, they are sent home with "homework", usually even more arbitrary than the tasks set during school hours. Parents not only go along with this but often demand more homework, on the supposition that the harder the kids work themselves as ten or sixteen year olds, the better their hopes of what is called a good job in later life. Traditionalists may require "chores" on top of all this, and many parents worry that they are not demanding enough in this regard.

Is it any wonder that young people come away from this experience with a profound aversion to work and a dedication to entertainment that is rival to none but that of professional entertainers themselves? The real wonder is that so many of them - though not as many as in the benighted past - acquire a taste for making music themselves, a last gasp of creative self-assertion that seems to have wide societal sanction and is even encouraged, at local levels at least, by the entertainment industry. Most, however, would prefer chatting with friends on the internet or watching old sitcoms packaged by Netflix to tending to their pets, never mind cleaning the house, mending a shirt, or fetching salad from the garden. Who can blame them? Deprived of any contact with real life, driven to spend hours on meaningless tasks on the promise that this will prepare them to undertake equally meaningless tasks the rest of their lives, they are naturally drawn to the life of leisure that the entertainment world promises them if only they can wrest some time from their homework and their parents.

The myth of drudgery, of course, isn't entirely a myth. Even today in most households cleaning the bathroom is a reminder of the unpleasant and time-consuming tasks that go with providing for oneself. Keeping a garden starts with making a garden, often back-breaking work, especially if you're starting, god forbid, with a lawn. Then there's keeping up with the weeds, and the bugs, and the watering. Having animals means cleaning up after animals, feeding them on a regular schedule, and looking after their deaths and births. There are all sorts of joys in this work, as people who undertake it quickly find, but there's also lots of work.

But that's the point, isn't it? If we want to (or will have to) provide more for ourselves, we'll have to learn to work. If the Great Reskilling is to take place before we really need it, and not under duress, we'll have to do a lot of re-education, of ourselves and our fellow adults, our children, and our schools.

The good news is that there is a lot of enthusiasm out there for reskilling. Our intern was one of a series of "WWOOFers", mostly young people attracted to our place and several thousand others around the globe through World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming. They bring energy (human energy, that is) to our little farm and learn some of those skills in return. We should be looking for such exchanges wherever we can find them. And older folks are learning new skills around the country and willingly sharing them. So there's hope yet and maybe a plan of action: share your skills, take a workshop, organize a reskilling course in your community.











Bill Totten

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rehearsals for a Civil War

Clusterfuck Nation

by James Howard Kunstler

Comment on current events by the author of
The Long Emergency
(2005) (February 22 2010)

Amid the general incoherence of the Tea Party rebels and the failure of progressives to recognize the structural changes underway in a peak oil world, lies a deadly swamp of paradox where all parties may drown in the quicksand of their own muddled intentions.

The Tea Party appeals to the swelling numbers of the new former middle class angry at the sudden vanishing of their accustomed perqs and entitlements to a predictably comfortable suburban existence. They're mad at the government and hot for "liberty". But how do they propose to maintain the hyper-complexities of suburban life without taxes to pay for fixing the countless roads their lives depend on or to run the gold-plated central school districts that seem to exist solely to provide Friday night football? As for liberty, a handful of despotic corporations from McDonalds to WalMart have been granted the liberty to destroy the Tea-bagger's bodies and the economic fabric of their communities - and they seem to want more of that kind of liberty, based on the recent decision of a "conservative" majority on the Supreme Court allowing corporations to buy elections. The Tea-baggers also apparently crave the liberty to push other people around, especially on questions of abortion and religion. That's an interesting kind of freedom.

As more and more of them lose jobs and incomes, will they resent their government-issued extended unemployment benefits? I doubt that you'll see them burning their own checks in big public demonstrations the way the Vietnam War protesters burned their draft cards. And of course this also goes for the retiree Tea-baggers who show up at their Tea Parties to inveigh against the government - except the agency that prints their social security checks, or the other one that pays for their liver transplants (while forty-million unretired, un-insured Americans under sixty-five get slammed with extortionary hospital bills for twenty-thousand dollar routine appendectomies that end up bankrupting them).

Meanwhile, the progressives led by President Obama are doing everything possible to deny the deep tectonic changes thundering through our economic arrangements. They have embarked on a campaign to sustain the unsustainable that will only aggravate and accelerate the more destructive effects of the historic changes underway. For instance, the financial crisis is nature's way of telling us that banking occupies too much space in our economy - especially the "creative" kind of banking which thrives on innovations in fraud and swindles. Yet the progressives are shoveling the nation's accumulated savings (and way beyond that to earnings not yet saved) into a handful of gigantic banks whose employees live in a separate universe of luxury, and the bail-outs only guarantee more financial mischief based on efforts to get something for nothing - in the absence of an economy that turns capital investment into things of value.

Faced with the multiple threats of peak oil, the progressives are pounding billions into the automobile makers and shoveling tons of stimulus money into highway improvement projects, while the railroads we will desperately need in the future continue to be starved to death, and no effort is made to promote walkable communities - including a federally-led reform of our insane zoning laws which mandate a suburban development outcome in every corner of the country.

Faced with the hangover of a housing bubble, the president's team has insidiously nationalized the racket and is doing everything possible to keep housing prices unrealistically inflated, so that nobody still lucky enough to have a median income can afford the median price of a house. Meanwhile, the agencies used to facilitate this accounting shell game - Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae, et al - are choking on worthless mortgage contracts and generating ever more new toxic mortgage paper.

Then, there is the question of our military adventures half a world away in Afghanistan and Iraq, where both parties are unwilling to face the basic conundrum of what happens when our troops leave those places. Even if we stamp out the current Taliban leadership there are countless avid up and comers burning to take their places, and numberless mountain valleys for them to hide in. Al Qaeda, of course, exists mainly as an international computer network. Good luck stamping that out. And if it's oil we're after in Iraq, there are three main possibilities after the last US soldier packs out: one is the unlikely possibility that a competent Iraqi national oil company decides to dole out drilling licenses to "preferred" companies (don't hold your breath Exxon-Mobil); another is that Iraq cracks up into smaller ethnic units lacking the capital or coherence to get their oil out of the ground; and a third is that neighboring Iran comes to control the major oil-producing region around Basra. So, what's it all about, Alfie? - besides squandering a trillion dollars we don't really have.

Homeland security? Neither party is serious about defending the borders or limiting immigration, and anyway there are "soft" targets beyond counting all over the USA and small arms galore available to get the job done. Three guys with automatic rifles set loose in the Mall of America would be enough to push the retail sector over the edge into oblivion, taking with it the commercial real estate market and all the banks involved in financing it - in short, destroying the tattered remains of the so-called "consumer economy".

My own guess about where this all leads is in the direction of more anger and incoherence by all parties involved - which will itself generate yet more anger in a spiraling centrifugal feedback loop that could eventually tear this nation apart. It will be instructive to see how some of these forces play out in the Health Care Reform "summit" that President Obama has called for this week. The Republicans will be rope-a-doped into the uncomfortable position of trying to explain why they have no ideas whatsoever about fixing the hopelessly cruel and unjust medical system that everybody except government employees suffers under. The Democrats will be juked into the equally unhappy position of explaining how a bankrupt US Treasury pays for a more equitable system - and the insurance companies will sit smirkingly on the sidelines watching both parties fail to address the necessary severe disciplining of the insurance racket.

In the background of even these momentous deliberations, the foundations of capital creak and shatter, the stock market infarcts and the bond market fibrillates, and all the accounting tricks ever dreamed of in the fantasies of Harvard MBAs and MIT math PhDs, and all the newly-evolved species of grifters and shysters who pull the levers of the system will not avail to hold back our inexorable journey into new circumstances that will really determine the outcome of these predicaments.

Bill Totten

The Great Reskilling (1)

by Daniel Pargman

Life After Oil (January 17 2010)

Rob Hopkins {1} has founded and popularaized the Transition Town movement {2}. One of his ideas is The Great Reskilling. The basic idea is simple - the twin challenges of peak oil and climate change mean that society will change fundamentally, and this will in turn force each one of us to acquire new knowledge and skills. These "new" skills are often old skills; knowledge of how to do things in a world of drastically reduced access to energy, and incidentally leading to a much lower environmental impact. They include old craft skills, resource management and farming - knowledge that was alive and widely distributed in society only two generations ago {3}:

"Re-learning the skills that our grandparents took for granted, such as how to use hand tools, how to build our own structures, how to mend and make clothing, how to make our own medicine, how to forage, grow, preserve and store our food".

To some extent, The Great Reskilling is about turning the clock back. Not for dogmatic reasons ("technology is evil") or for romantic reasons ("everything was better in ye olde times"), but because the required direction of action - given coming (energy) resource scarcity and climate change concerns - is so obvious. And it is thus better to start acting now, rather than to wait until we have no other choice than to learn everything all at once. However, we should of course hold on to any and every technology that we can possible manage to maintain. From this perspective, it is clear that cars are not a sustainable transportation technology, and that resources for transporting people (in cities) already today should focus on rail traffic and bicycles, rather than wasting resources on building brand new roads.

A good text about the kinds of knowledge {4} we all need to acquire outlines a long list which includes cultivation and storage of (part of) your own food, husbandry, sewing, carpentry, basic mechanical skills and much more. One could add many more things to such a list, for example basic medical knowledge. However, ultimately you end up with a long list of things which - until now - we have not had to concern ourselves with, because it has been so easy to go to the supermarket to buy our food, to buy a cheap (and fashionable) shirt if we get tired of the old one, and to buy a new tool as soon as the old on breaks (or we can't find it).

The problem with such a list is that it might feel overwhelming for an individual to get started. Indeed, you must have a strong will to take the first, and second, and the tenth step, when it is so easy to throw-away-and-buy-a-new, when there are so many "must-haves" and when popular culture distract us and steals our time. But reskilling is not just about the skills you need, but also about how to acquire them. Hopkins writes about "reskilling events" and the benefits of organizing or participting in such activities. Reskilling events:

- Teach people new (old) skills

- Bring people together, helping them to build networks

- Give strength and convey a sense of "can do it myself" (as opposed to powerlessness)

- Create links between the generations when old skills are being taught to the young (or middle-aged)

- may result in physical manifestations which act as "advertisement" for the newly acquired knowledge

Hopkins' guess is that these events will initially be short courses, and that the ambition and the length of the courses may increase over time. Of course, many people could participate in these events/courses without having any deeper thoughts about potential/future needs for the knowledge they acquire - they just do it simply because they think it is fun and because they want to immerse themselves and learn something new. From these observations, I will make a detour to the ecovillage-to-be that I am involved in and then return to the topic of reskilling.

Since the beginning of May 2009, I am one of six co-owners of a farm with 22 hectares of land in Sörmland (just south-west of Stockholm). Much has happened since then and more will happen in the future. There are one hundred issues on various levels to discuss, decide on and implement (who fixes a broadband connection and who copies the keys, how do we keep track of which co-owner has been spending how much money on what and how much of which plants we should grow where, what policy should we have regarding land use et cetera.)

One thing we did during the summer was to arrange courses. These courses were about things we wanted to learn, and they were all in line with the push to reskill ourselves. Our thought was that if we have our own farm and want to learn practical skills, then why not carry out activities in the form of courses at the farm where others are also welcome to participate? We decided to organize three courses on our farm last summer. They were all open to the public and as it so happened, they all turned out to be successful:

- Building with natural materials (including clay, rammed earth, strawbales et cetera)

- Permaculture Design

- Local Economic Regeneration

Here are brief summaries of the courses, from the most practical to the most theoretical:

"Building with natural materials" was about building with natural and locally occurring materials (clay, sand, straw, sawdust, cow dung). The course was practical, offering a hands-on experience of different building techniques. The goal of this three-days course was for the participants to build something concrete, but even more important, to learn about and try a variety of building techniques.

"Permaculture Design" was about creating/designing ecosystems for human benefit. The idea is not complicated, but the term permaculture (permanent agriculture) is most likely unfamiliar to most people. In permaculture, natural ecosystems are the model, and the goal is to "design" new ecosystems so that they produce food and other goods that are of benefit for humans. The basic ideas are well summarized here:

"Imagine a natural forest. At the top is a roof of tree crowns, beneath it small trees, large and small shrubs, herbs and land covering plants, as well as plants that primarily exist below ground level and climbing plants that occupy all levels. The production of organic material is surprisingly high in comparison with, for example, a wheat field, which consists of a single layer of about half a meter. Imagine what an abundance this forest would contain if it consisted of edible plants! It would greatly surpass the yield of the wheat field!"

[I don't have the original text {5}, this is a translation back to English from the Swedish edition]

Unlike the other two courses, "Local Economic Regeneration" was a theoretical course. The premise was that current economic theories have brought the capitalist economic system to the brink of a systemic collapse. As we pass peak oil, the period of cheap energy {6} will end. Less energy means reduced production and the end of globalization and long transports. The trend will be towards local (regional, national) production of goods and services {7}.

Based on this, how can we create local economic regeneration in an economy beyond growth? What should we switch to, and how? What can you produce that is profitable both today and after the coming changes? How can you initiate, finance and be a successful entrepreneur even if it becomes increasingly difficult to show a bank how you will be able to repay your loans (because of economic turbulence and questioning of old economic "truths")?

This brings the text back to where it started - to the ideas underlying the Transition Town Movement and the Great Reskilling. We, in our ecovillage-to-be, feel that we have done some of our share by arranging courses, and feel confident about continuing to organize other courses in the future (in fact, we organized another course two months ago, I might come back to that later). And there are many suggestions for new course topics: food conservation, building a root cellar, building houses with timber and stone, foraging for edible plants and herbs, brewing beer, beekeeping, aquaculture and so on. The list could easily become very long since there are lots of things that we would like to know more about.

Today, people participate in courses like these because they find them interesting and fun. Tomorrow, the kind of practical knowledge such courses provide may become a hard currency. As a bonus, you meet interesting people and extend you social network when you attend these courses!










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Bill Totten