Image above: Limbourg Brothers "September" painted in 1416 ilustrating the grape harvest at the Chateau de Saumur. From http://www.sema-online.us/illuminatedimage_full.htm
Our anemic democracy will be replaced with a robust national police state. The elite will withdraw into heavily guarded gated communities where they will have access to security, goods and services that cannot be afforded by the rest of us. Tens of millions of people, brutally controlled, will live in perpetual poverty. This is the inevitable result of unchecked corporate capitalism. The stimulus and bailout plans are not about saving us. They are about saving them.
We can resist, which means street protests, disruptions of the system and demonstrations, or become serfs. We have been in a steady economic decline for decades. The Canadian political philosopher John Ralston Saul detailed this decline in his 1992 book “Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West.” David Cay Johnston exposed the mirage and rot of American capitalism in “Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill),” and David C. Korten, in “When Corporations Rule the World” and “Agenda for a New Economy,” laid out corporate malfeasance and abuse. But our universities and mass media, entranced by power and naively believing that global capitalism was an unstoppable force of nature, rarely asked the right questions or gave a prominent voice to those who did. Our elites hid their incompetence and loss of control behind an arrogant facade of specialized jargon and obscure economic theories
The lies employed to camouflage the economic decline are legion. President Ronald Reagan included 1.5 million U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine service personnel with the civilian work force to magically reduce the nation’s unemployment rate by 2 percent. President Bill Clinton decided that those who had given up looking for work, or those who wanted full-time jobs but could only find part-time employment, were no longer to be counted as unemployed. This trick disappeared some 5 million unemployed from the official unemployment rolls.
If you work more than 21 hours a week—most low-wage workers at places like Wal-Mart average 28 hours a week—you are counted as employed, although your real wages put you below the poverty line. Our actual unemployment rate, when you include those who have stopped looking for work and those who can only find part-time jobs, is not 8.5 percent but 15 percent. A sixth of the country is now effectively unemployed. And we are shedding jobs at a faster rate than in the months after the 1929 crash.
The consumer price index, used by the government to measure inflation, is meaningless. To keep the official inflation figures low the government has been substituting basic products it once measured to check for inflation with ones that do not rise very much in price. This sleight of hand has kept the cost-of-living increases tied to the CPI artificially low. The New York Times’ consumer reporter, W.P. Dunleavy, wrote that her groceries now cost $587 a month, up from $400 a year earlier. This is a 40 percent increase. California economist John Williams, who runs an organization called Shadow Statistics, contends that if Washington still used the CPI measurements applied back in the 1970s, inflation would be 10 percent.
The corporate state, and the political and intellectual class that served the corporate state, constructed a financial and political system based on illusions. Corporations engaged in pyramid lending that created fictitious assets. These fictitious assets became collateral for more bank lending. The elite skimmed off hundreds of millions in bonuses, commissions and salaries from this fictitious wealth.
Politicians, who dutifully served corporate interests rather than those of citizens, were showered with campaign contributions and given lucrative jobs when they left office. Universities, knowing it was not good business to challenge corporatism, muted any voices of conscience while they went begging for corporate donations and grants. Deceptive loans and credit card debt fueled the binges of a consumer society and hid falling wages and the loss of manufacturing jobs.
The Obama administration, rather than chart a new course, is intent on re-inflating the bubble. The trillions of dollars of government funds being spent to sustain these corrupt corporations could have renovated our economy. We could have saved tens of millions of Americans from poverty. The government could have, as consumer activist Ralph Nader has pointed out, started 10 new banks with $35 billion each and a 10-to-1 leverage to open credit markets. Vast, unimaginable sums are being placed into these dirty corporate hands without oversight. And they will use this money as they always have—to enrich themselves at our expense.
“You are going to see the biggest waste, fraud and abuse in American history,” Nader warned when I asked about the bailouts. “Not only is it wrongly directed, not only does it deal with the perpetrators instead of the people who were victimized, but they don’t have a delivery system of any honesty and efficiency. The Justice Department is overwhelmed. It doesn’t have a tenth of the prosecutors, the investigators, the auditors, the attorneys needed to deal with the previous corporate crime wave before the bailout started last September. It is especially unable to deal with the rapacious ravaging of this new money by these corporate recipients. You can see it already.
The corporations haven’t lent it. They have used some of it for acquisitions or to preserve their bonuses or their dividends. As long as they know they are not going to jail, and they don’t see many newspaper reports about their colleagues going to jail, they don’t care. It is total impunity. If they quit, they quit with a golden parachute. Even [General Motors CEO Rick] Wagoner is taking away $21 million.”
There are a handful of former executives who have conceded that the bailouts are a waste. American International Group Inc.‘s former chairman, Maurice R. Greenberg, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday that the effort to prop up the firm with $170 billion has “failed.” He said the company should be restructured. AIG, he said, would have been better off filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection instead of seeking government help.
“These are signs of hyper decay,” Nader said from his office in Washington. “You spend this kind of money and do not know if it will work.”
“Bankrupt corporate capitalism is on its way to bankrupting the socialism that is trying to save it,” Nader added. “That is the end stage. If they no longer have socialism to save them then we are into feudalism. We are into private police, gated communities and serfs with a 21st century nomenclature.”
We will not be able to raise another 3 or 4 trillion dollars, especially with our commitments now totaling some $12 trillion, to fix the mess. It was only a couple of months ago that our expenditures totaled $9 trillion.
And it was not long ago that such profligate government spending was unthinkable. There was an $800 billion limit placed on the Federal Reserve a year ago. The economic stimulus and the bailouts will not bring back our casino capitalism. And as the meltdown shows no signs of abating, and the bailouts show no sign of working, the recklessness and desperation of our capitalist overlords have increased. The cost, to the working and middle class, is becoming unsustainable.
The Fed reported in March that households lost $5.1 trillion, or 9 percent, of their wealth in the last three months of 2008, the most ever in a single quarter in the 57-year history of record keeping by the central bank. For the full year, household wealth dropped $11.1 trillion, or about 18 percent. These figures did not record the decline of investments in the stock market, which has probably erased trillions more in the country’s collective net worth.
The bullet to our head, inevitable if we do not radically alter course, will be sudden. We have been borrowing at the rate of more than $2 billion a day over the last 10 years, and at some point it has to stop. The moment China, the oil-rich states and other international investors stop buying treasury bonds the dollar will become junk. Inflation will rocket upward.
We will become Weimar Germany. A furious and sustained backlash by a betrayed and angry populace, one unprepared intellectually and psychologically for collapse, will sweep aside the Democrats and most of the Republicans. A cabal of proto-fascist misfits, from Christian demagogues to simpletons like Sarah Palin to loudmouth talk show hosts, who we naively dismiss as buffoons, will find a following with promises of revenge and moral renewal.
The elites, the ones with their Harvard Business School degrees and expensive vocabularies, will retreat into their sheltered enclaves of privilege and comfort. We will be left bereft and abandoned outside the gates.
[Editor’s Note: This is a version of an address delivered before the High Country Local Food Summit on March 26, in Boone, N.C., organized by Appalachian State University’s Sustainable Development Department. The High Country is a three-county region in the mountains of western North Carolina.]
By Tom Philpott on 3 April 2009 in Grist Magazine http://preview.beta.grist.org/article/2009-toward-a-less-efficient-and-more-robust
Image above: produce at a farmer’s market in North Carolina. Courtesy RICHIR on Flickr.
I’ve been asked to talk about how to create a robust, diversified food system here in the High Country.
Now the High Country is a largely rural area, constructed around a relatively small town called Boone. But I’m going to start by doing something odd. I’m going to quote someone who’s probably the most famous urban theorist of our time: Jane Jacobs, who died in 2006. Don’t worry, I will circle back to what an urban theorist’s work has to do with our situation here in rural north Carolina.
In her great book, The Economy of Cities, Jacobs praised what she called the “valuable inefficiencies and impracticalities of cities.” To illustrate her point, she invited readers to consider two examples from Victorian England: Manchester and Birmingham—or as she put it, “Efficient Manchester,” and “Inefficient Birmingham.”
A 19th century marvel and widely hailed as the “city of the future,” Manchester represented a break from the past. What Manchester did that was so new and different was simple—it specialized. The city threw its lot with one industry—textiles. Jacobs refers to the “stunning efficiency of its textile mills.” By the 1840s, the textile industry dominated the city entirely, Jacob tells us. The industry was brutally competitive; less efficient producers got swallowed up by larger, more streamlined players.
Contemporaries were impressed. For boosters, Manchester’s textile industry represented the triumph of the industrial revolution, the vindication of the power division of labor and specialization. As for detractors, a German writer named Karl Marx witnessed Manchester’s boom period and loathed the inequality he saw—a few wealthy mill owners and the thousands of impoverished mill workers. He also deplored the dehumanization of labor—the need to force humans to behave repetitive-motion machines. But like the boosters, Marx saw Manchester as a portent of the cities of the future—places that consolidate economic activity into a single industry, and then produce a single kind of product with terrible efficiency.
Now, a little ways to the south of Manchester lies a city called Birmingham. By the mid-19th century, Birmingham looked mired in the past. No one gaped at its “terrible efficiency.” Birmingham had a few relatively large industries, Jacob writes, but nothing to compare with Manchester’s textile behemoth. What really made Birmingham’s economy tick were its small operations. Jacobs tells us that “most of Birmingham’s manufacturing was carried out in small organizations employing no more than a dozen workman; many had fewer.”
There was a competitive spirit in Birmingham, but also plenty of cooperation. “A lot of these little organizations,” writes Jacob, “did bits and pieces of work for other little organizations.” In other words, they worked together; they formed networks, loose informal cooperatives.
And unlike in Manchester, there wasn’t a lot of big fish swallowing little fish. Birmingham’s little organizations “were not rationally or efficiently consolidated,” Jacobs writes. “There was a lot of waste of motion, duplication that could certainly have certainly been eliminated by consolidation.” In fact, organizations were more likely to spawn new organizations then to swallow old ones. “Able workman were forever breaking off from their employers … and setting up shop for themselves, compounding the fragmentation of work,” Jacobs adds.
She says few people took time to comment on Birmingham’s economy—and those who did were puzzled that it worked at all. Observers scratched their heads about why the people of Birmingham weren’t striving to imitate the emerging textile barons to the north.
Jacobs didn’t mention, but I will, a key difference between the two cities: Manchester geared its economy outward; it sought to maximize trade, to import what it didn’t produce, and export what it did produce, which was textiles. It strove to be the textile supplier to the British Empire and beyond. Meanwhile, humble Birmingham was mainly taking care of its own needs, turning to outside trade only at the margins.
Of course, as you’ve probably guessed, things turned out quite a bit differently than most 19th century observers predicted. Efficient Manchester turned out to be a bust. In short, people in other places—namely, in Britain’s colony on the Indian subcontinent—learned how to churn out textiles more cheaply. The city’s textile industry peaked quickly, and then entered a long and slow phase of decline. Manchester was built not for the future, but rather for obsolescence.
Meanwhile, inefficient Birmingham thrived. “Its fragmented and inefficient little industries kept adding new work, and splitting off new organizations, some of which are very large but still outweighed in total employment and production by the many small ones,” Jacobs writes. She adds that by the middle of the 20th century, “only two cities in England remain[ed] vigorous and prosperous. One is London. The other is Birmingham.”
Now, there are many lessons and analogies we can draw from this tale of two cities. One obvious analogy from our own time is Detroit. That one-time city of the future threw its lot with the automobile. Today, Detroit is hollowed out and economically depressed. Ironically, its greatest physical asset is not its rusted and shuttered car factories, but rather the prime prairie soil it stands on top of.
While Detroit’s car industry lurches to oblivion, its community gardens thrive. Citizens are claiming abandoned land and using it to grow food and a time when cash is short. Pondering the city’s budding urban farms, the writer Rebecca Solnit recently went so far as to declare Detroit a kind of city of the future. She writes: “Detroit may be the shining example we can look to-the post-industrial green city that was once the steel-gray capital of Fordist manufacturing.” [Harper’s]
What I really want to talk about, though, is our own economy here in the High Country. Since moving here five years ago, I’ve seen our economy specialize in three separate but related industries—construction, tourism, and real estate. We’ve allowed box-like condos to line our ridge tops so tourists can gaze at Grandfather Mountain. We’ve cleared productive forest stands from mountaintops to plunk down second-home McMansions with “360 degree views.”
As old tobacco farms shut down because of low prices, gated “communities” sprouted up in their place—swallowing farmland while often preserving the word “farm” in their names. Today, according to Watauga County economic development sources, about half of properties in the county are absentee homes; a third of new building permits relate to seasonal housing.
No doubt, this flurry of activity has brought thousands of jobs to our area. Construction has been a massive employer, as have the restaurants, hotels, and country clubs that cater to the second-homers and vacationers. Many of my friends—including excellent artists, musicians, and farmers who contribute mightily to our community—supplement their incomes by working in construction and tourism-related trades.
But just like Efficient Manchester, the High Country is learning that booms that rely on external forces can quickly lead to busts. It turns out that engine for growth in our area was fueled by a gusher of speculative cash, essentially funny money—a gusher that has now run dry.
The U.S. government is now preparing to use your tax dollars to coax hundreds of billions of real estate-related “toxic assets” off of bank balance sheets; that effort may or may not stabilize teetering megabanks like Citigroup and Bank of America, and it may or may not bail out the investors who took home billions in profit from those deals in the first place. But what the government’s program most certainly won’t do is restore the flow of easy money that has been clearing ridgelines and mountaintops for second homes—and employing a huge swath of our population.
Happily, I’ve also witnessed another economic trend since I moved here—the gradual, steady build out of alternative food networks. I’m thinking about institutions like the Watauga County Farmers market, which started decades ago but has experienced rapid growth in recent years; New River Organic Growers, a cooperative of small farmers that band together to market their produce to restaurants that care about quality and want to buy local.
And then there’s Maverick Farms, which I helped start, which started the High Country’s first CSA in 2005. This year, with a grant from the NC Rural Center, Maverick is rolling out High Country CSA, a multi-farm effort designed to open the CSA model to more consumers and more farmers. We’re partnering with New River Organic Growers for the effort; small-scale farmers learn the hard way that cooperation, both among farmers and with the broader community, are key to survival.
These efforts, while growing fast, remain micro-scale. The great bulk of the High Country’s food supply comes from the outside, dominated by a few supermarket chains and Wal-Mart. There’s not a slaughterhouse in our area that can legally process meat from local farms for sale, but we do have a McDonald’s, a Burger King, and a Wendy’s—all highly efficient operations. These large companies dominate our food supply. They create some low-skill, low-wage jobs, but they carry most of the food dollars we spend off the mountain, to distant shareholders.
But what if much more of our food dollars stayed within the community—and got cycled through organizations like New River Organic Growers and the Watauga and Ashe County Farmers markets? Here’s a rule of thumb: Communities spend about $1,000 per person on food. About 83,000 people live in our three-county area full time. That means we’re spending something like $83 million every year on food. And that doesn’t even count the money that tourists and second homers spend eating. The great bulk of that money drains out of the community and into the pockets of the people who own Wal-Mart and McDonald’s and Lowes Foods.
Now imagine we had a locally owned slaughterhouse that could process the pastured cows that so many people grow here—and now send off to feedlots in Kansas to fatten on corn. If you can access a nearby slaughterhouse, you make a lot more money selling grass-fed beef to your neighbors than selling cows to the meat industry; wouldn’t that draw more folks in?
And imagine a locally owned dairy processing plant, that could give a decent price to our few remaining dairy farmers. Given the popularity of real milk from grass-fed cows, wouldn’t that be a booming market—and draw more new dairy farmers in? And imagine a community-owned food co-op that could sell all of this stuff at a central place, and maybe a farmer-owned restaurant that could give community members the freshest food possible, while giving farmers a cut of the value that gets added to their produce?
Suddenly, we’d start looking less like Efficient Manchester, relying on outside forces for our economic well-being, and more like Inefficient Birmingham, with a set of thriving, interlocking, highly creative crafts based around food. And we’d eat a lot better, too.
And think how much more robust our economy would be. At a certain point, people stop thinking they need a second home. But they don’t typically decide to stop eating. Because of the natural beauty of our area, we’ll always draw tourists. A vibrant, accessible, delicious local food economy could be a new calling card—and a way to get tourist dollars flowing broadly through the economy, and not siphoned off to a few resorts and lodges.
The question becomes, how do we get there? I know from hard experience that profit margins on farming tend to be relatively low. There’s no way one farmer, or even a group of farmers, can make the investments we need to bolster our food economy. This is a community-scale opportunity that requires community-scale efforts. That means farmers, consumers, elected officials, and landowners working together to harness our assets and overcome our obstacles as a food community. And that is a process that can gain force today.
By Sam Kornell on 03 April 2009 in Miller-McCune
Image above: Application of elastomeric roof coating. From http://www.renovatemyspace.com/roofs/?p=13
Island Breath: Black is the New Green 2/28/09
Island Breath: Yellow is the New Green 2/27/09
(W)e have no authority to decide questions of Hawaiian law or to provide redress for past wrongs except as provided for by federal law. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Hawaii is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.Seems like another typical case of American blind justice and the judges were going to look at the 27 8x10 color glossy photographs with the circles and arrows on the back that purportedly showed state ownership the lands stolen from kanaka maoli lands. The SCOTUS just sent the whole matter back to the SCOHI to re-write their opinion without mentioning the 1993 “Apology Law”. The decision wasn’t based on their stilted and selectively amnesic recitation of the Amerikan view of the thrift-based “ownership” of the “crown lands”. It was solely based on the use of federal law by the SCOHI. Most people expected this would happen after the oral arguments. Even most of us who asked what part of the apology’s “confession” made the illegal theft legal didn’t expect true justice from a court that has always endorsed the genocidal underpinnings of Amerika. Still it was nice to see a rap on the knuckles for both Governor Linda Lingle’s corrupt shyster mouthpiece Attorney General Mark Bennett and the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) who thought they were going to get some kind of definitive ruling answering the question of who ‘owns’ the land. Even we momentarily expected the worst, especially after, as the SCOTUS said,
even respondent OHA has now abandoned its argument, made below, that "Congress . . . enacted the Apology Resolution and thus . . . change[d]" the Admission Act.But as any SCOTUS watcher knows the prime directive of the Roberts Court is, to paraphrase him, to not make any decision it doesn’t have to make and push it all down the road as long as possible. What may be the best part of the decision is that it exposes OHA for what it is - nothing more than a cog in the genocidal state and federal machine. When push came to shove, during the hearing, OHA showed it’s true stripes, basically begging the justices to spare their life, saying they agreed with Bennett et al, on state ownership of the land... because without state ownership, as a creature of the state they would have and be nothing at all. Dropping all 30 years of pretense in claiming that they represented the kanaka maoli in any way shape or form, their duplicitous “please have pity on your humble servant oh wise, wonderful and benevolent court” plea was a disgusting show of bureaucratic self - preservation even if it meant the betrayal of their charges. There’s little doubt that the SCOTHI will go back and purge their opinion of the apology law references and replace them with state law. The process for doing that is contained in the OHA brief in opposition filed in the case. But then what? Is kicking the can further down the road a strategy that will do anything but allow the thieves to consolidate power behind the now official concept of Amerikan Justice that says that land can owned after being stolen... fair and square? Certainly this is nothing new in US jurisprudence. Ask any descendent of mainland natives who thought they had rights to their land rights, many with better paperwork than na kanaka have. Some may think that for now it is a bullet dodged none the less for those who have any hope of maintaining a land base for the reestablishment sovereignty over these islands. All we can say is don’t count on it being anything beyond, to cite another cliché, the calm before the storm. For those who haven’t seen it, here’s the SCOTUS decision
When a state supreme court incorrectly bases a decision on federal law, the court’s decision improperly prevents the citizens of the State from addressing the issue in question through the processes provided by the State’s constitution. Here, the State Supreme Court incorrectly held that Congress, by adopting the Apology Resolution, took away from the citizens of Hawaii the authority to resolve an issue that is of great importance to the people of the State. Respondents defend that decision by arguing that they have both state-law property rights in the land in question and “broader moral and political claims for compensation for the wrongs of the past.” Brief for Respondents 18. But we have no authority to decide questions of Hawaiian law or to provide redress for past wrongs except as provided for by federal law. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Hawaii is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion. It is so ordered.See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Supreme Court decides Hawaii Case 3/31/09 .