Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Arundhati Roy on India´s Globalization Problems

Unfortunately, India is in as much trouble as the rest of the world, despite Gandhi´s amazing presence there historically.  It´s worth a visit to the Right Livelihood Award to check out some of the excellent activist efforts that have been going on there. 


Arundhati Roy: Is India on a Totalitarian Path?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 09:09 By Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh, Democracy Now! | Video Interview

2014 0416royArundhati Roy's trenchant analysis of the destructive impact of global neoliberalism on India is availble directly from Truthout by clicking here. Capitalism: A Ghost Story is a passionate, detailed journey through the injustices of systemic inequality.
As voting begins in India in the largest elections the world has ever seen, we spend the hour with Indian novelist and essayist Arundhati Roy. Nearly 815 million Indians are eligible to vote, and results will be issued in May. One of India’s most famous authors - and one of its fiercest critics - Roy is out with a new book, Capitalism: A Ghost Story, which dives into India’s transforming political landscape and makes the case that globalized capitalism has intensified the wealth divide, racism, and environmental degradation. "This new election is going to be [about] who the corporates choose," Roy says, "[about] who is not going to blink about deploying the Indian army against the poorest people in this country, and pushing them out to give over those lands, those rivers, those mountains, to the major mining corporations." Roy won the Booker Prize in 1997 for her novel, The God of Small Things. Her other books include An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire and Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers.
AMY GOODMAN: Voting has begun in India in the largest election the world has ever seen. About 815 million Indians are eligible to vote over the next five weeks. The number of voters in India is more than two-and-a-half times the entire population of the United States. The election will take place in nine phases at over 900,000 polling stations across India. Results will be known on May 16th.
Pre-election polls indicate Narendra Modi will likely become India’s next prime minister. Modi is the leader of the BJP, a Hindu nationalist party. He serves—he served as the chief minister of Gujarat, where one of India’s worst anti-Muslim riots occurred in 2002 that left at least a thousand people dead. After the bloodshed, the U.S. State Department revoked Modi’s visa, saying it could not grant a visa to any foreign government official who, quote, "was responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom." Modi has never apologized for or explained his actions at the time of the riots.
Modi’s main challenger to become prime minister is Rahul Gandhi of the ruling Congress party. Gandhi is heir to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that’s governed India for much of its post-independence history.
Several smaller regional parties and the new anti-corruption Common Man Party are also in the running. If no single party wins a clear majority, the smaller parties could play a crucial role in forming a coalition government.
Well, today we spend the hour with one of India’s most famous authors and one of its fiercest critics, Arundhati Roy. In 1997, Roy won the Booker Prize for her novel, The God of Small Things. Since then, she has focused on nonfiction. Her books include An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers and Walking with the Comrades. Her latest book is titled Capitalism: A Ghost Story. Nermeen Shaikh and I recently sat down with Arundhati Roy when she was in New York. We began by asking about her new book and the changes that have taken place in India since it opened its economy in the early ’90s.
ARUNDHATI ROY: What we’re always told is that, you know, there’s going to be a trickle-down revolution. You know, that kind of opening up of the economy that happened in the early '90s was going to lead to an inflow of foreign capital, and eventually the poor would benefit. So, you know, being a novelist, I started out by standing outside this 27-story building that belonged to Mukesh Ambani, with its ballrooms and its six floors of parking and 900 servants and helipads and so on. And it had this 27-story-high vertical lawn, and bits of the grass had sort of fallen off in squares. And so, I said, "Well, trickle down hasn't worked, but gush up has," because after the opening up of the economy, we are in a situation where, you know, 100 of India’s wealthiest people own—their combined wealth is 25 percent of the GDP, whereas more than 80 percent of its population lives on less than half a dollar a day. And the levels of malnutrition, the levels of hunger, the amount of food intake, all these—all these, you know, while India is shown as a quickly growing economy, though, of course, that has slowed down now dramatically, but at its peak, what happened was that this new—these new economic policies created a big middle class, which, given the population of India, gave the impression of—it was a universe of its own, with, you know, the ability to consume cars and air conditioners and mobile phones and all of that. And that huge middle class came at a cost of a much larger underclass, which was just away from the arc lights, you know, which wasn’t—which wasn’t even being looked at, millions of people being displaced, pushed off their lands either by big development project or just by land which had ceased to be productive. You had—I mean, we have had 250,000 farmers committing suicide, which, if you even try to talk about, let’s say, on the Indian television channels, you actually get insulted, you know, because it—
NERMEEN SHAIKH: I mean, that’s an extraordinary figure. It’s a quarter of a million farmers who have killed themselves.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Yeah, and let me say that that figure doesn’t include the fact that, you know, if it’s a woman who kills herself, she’s not considered a farmer, or now they’ll start saying, "Oh, it wasn’t suicide. Oh, it was depression. It was this. It was that." You know?
AMY GOODMAN: But why are they killing themselves?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Because they are caught in a debt trap, you know, because what happens is that the entire—the entire face of agriculture has changed. So people start growing cash crops, you know, crops which are market-friendly, which need a lot of input. You know, they need pesticides. They need borewells. They need all kinds of chemicals. And then the crop fails, or the cost of the—that they get for their product doesn’t match the amount of money they have to put into it. And also you have situations like in the Punjab, where—which was called the "rice bowl of India." Punjab never used to grow rice earlier, but now—
AMY GOODMAN: In the north of India.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Yes, in the north. And it’s supposed to be India’s richest agricultural state. But there you have so many farmer suicides now, land going saline. The, you know, people, ironically, the way they commit suicide is by drinking the pesticide, you know, which they need to—and apart from the fact that the debt, the illness that is being caused by all of this, in Punjab, you have a train called the Cancer Express, you know, where people just coming in droves to be treated for illness and—you know, and—
AMY GOODMAN: And the train is called the Cancer Express?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Yes, it’s called the Cancer Express. And—
AMY GOODMAN: Because of the pesticide that they’re exposed to?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Yeah, and they are. And this is the richest state in India, you know—I mean agriculturally the richest. And there’s a crisis there—never mind in places like, you know, towards the west, Maharashtra and Vidarbha, where, you know, farmers are killing themselves almost every day.
AMY GOODMAN: I was wondering if you could read from Capitalism: A Ghost Story.
ARUNDHATI ROY: So, "In India, the 300 million of us who belong to the new, post-IMF 'reforms' middle class—the market—live side by side with the spirits of the nether world, the poltergeists of dead rivers, dry wells, bald mountains and denuded forests; the ghosts of 250,000 debt-ridden farmers who have killed themselves, and the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed to make way for us. And who survive on less than half a dollar, which is 20 Indian rupees, a day.
“Mukesh Ambani is personally worth $20 billion. He holds a majority controlling share in Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), a company with a market capitalization of $47 billion and global business interests that include petrochemicals, oil, natural gas, polyester fibre, Special Economic Zones, fresh food retail, high schools, life sciences research and stem cell storage services. RIL recently bought 95 per cent shares in Infotel, a TV consortium that controls 27 TV news and entertainment channels in almost every regional language.
RIL is one of a handful of corporations that run India. Some of the others are the Tatas, Jindals, Vedanta, Mittals, Infosys, Essar. Their race for growth has spilled across Europe, Central Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their nets are cast wide; they are visible and invisible, over-ground as well as underground. The Tatas, for example, run more than 100 companies in 80 countries. They are one of India’s oldest and largest private sector power companies. They own mines, gas fields, steel plants, telephone, cable TV and broadband networks, and they run whole townships. They manufacture cars and trucks, and own the Taj Hotel chain, Jaguar, Land Rover, Daewoo, Tetley Tea, a publishing company, a chain of bookstores, a major brand of iodized salt and the cosmetics giant Lakme—which I think they’ve sold now. Their advertising tagline could easily be: You Can’t Live Without Us.
"According to the rules of the Gush-Up Gospel, the more you have, the more you can have."....

Interference with US Volkswagen Plant Union Vote

The VW plant employee vote on creating a UAW union branch is a great illustration of the state of the US political economy today, and the existence of an anti-democratic oligarchy and plutocracy. 


A Primer on the Antiunion Campaign at Volkswagen

Monday, 14 April 2014 12:02 By John Logan, Truthout | Op-Ed

The Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., Jan. 28, 2014. (Photo: Tami Chappell / The New York Times) The Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., Jan. 28, 2014. (Photo: Tami Chappell / The New York Times)
Given the dizzying array of antiunion forces that were involved in the campaign to undermine workers' choice to form a union at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, a who's who of who did what in the dirty tricks campaign may come in handy.
On April 9, the United Auto Workers (UAW) subpoenaed Republican Sen. Bob Corker, Governor Bill Haslam and 18 other state officials to appear at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB hearing into third-party intervention in the union election at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Given the dizzying array of antiunion forces that were involved in the campaign to undermine workers' choice, it's easy to lose track of who did what.
The anti-UAW campaign at Volkswagen had everything: a senator deliberately misleading workers; a governor offering Volkswagen hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars - but only if the union lost - senior state politicians openly making threats of financial retribution; Republican staffers secretly coordinating the anti-UAW campaign with notorious union busters; shadowy organizations with links to the nation's leading right-wing activists; an Ayn Rand-inspired anti-union consultant; and AstroTurf organizations that purported to be groups of rank-and-file workers. And this is only what we know so far.
Here's a quick primer to the main actors in the campaign to subvert workers' choice:
Competitive Enterprise Institute: A shadowy libertarian organization with links to the Koch Brothers and right-wing foundations. CEI's involvement was primarily through right-wing activist Matt Patterson, who later went on to spearhead the antiunion campaign with the Center for Worker Freedom.
Center for Worker Freedom: A special project of Grover Norquist's American for Tax Reform. CWF Director Matt Patterson spent a year in Chattanooga spreading misinformation. After the election, he boasted that his strategy of involving workers' families and the community had caused "strife."
Bob Corker: Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) twice told workers he had been given assurances that Volkswagen would expand production at Chattanooga if they voted against the union. It wasn't true. Never before has a senator misused his position to interfere in a union election at a private company in this way.
Jim Gray: Antiunion consultant Gray heads a South Carolina firm that has a "primary focus on union avoidance." After attending an anti-UAW planning meeting, Gray stated, "I'm just here to help out." It appears that Gray helped arrange the production of the antiunion campaign videos.
Bill Haslam: Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam offered Volkswagen $300 million in subsidies, but only if the UAW lost. Written at top of the confidential document was the following caveat: "The incentives described below are subject to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee."
Peter List: A notorious antiunion consultant, List is the founder and CEO of Kulture Labor Relations. According to a profile in Fortune magazine, List is "a firm believer in Ayn Rand's philosophy of radical individualism" who "opposes all state efforts to regulate labor relations." In a 2007 organizing campaign, NLRB member Dennis Walsh wrote that in his effort to "persuade" workers, List had engaged in "patently unlawful" activities.
National Right to Work Committee Legal Defense Fund: The organization claimed that it only provided free legal support for antiunion workers, but the UAW has alleged that a NRTW lawyer was also involved in coordinating the antiunion campaign.
Maury Nicely: A Chattanooga antiunion lawyer who fronted Southern Momentum, Inc., Nicely told Reuters that his group had raised over $100,000 from antiunion businesses and individuals. Despite purporting to represent ordinary Volkswagen workers, none of SMI's funding came from workers, and few Volkswagen workers had any direct involvement with it.
Projections, Inc.: One of the country's leading "union avoidance" firms, Projections created three antiunion videos for SMI, which were shown at public meetings, put on SMI's "" website and given to workers on flash drives so they could watch them with their families. The videos implied that workers job security would be threatened if they voted for the union.
Robin Smith: Chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party, Smith compared the UAW to an "infestation" of "Ichneumon wasp larvae." When the NAACP expressed support for an investigation into Haslam's secret offer, Smith tweeted: "@NAACP supports @UAW at @VW in Chattanooga. Those allies tell the tale." As indicated by her comments, the Tennessee GOP establishment intervened in the election in a disgraceful manner.
Southern Momentum, Inc.: SMI was the one antiunion group that claimed to represent ordinary Volkswagen workers. In reality, it was another AstroTurf organization, headed by antiunion lawyer Maury Nicely, funded by antiunion businesses, and which hired expensive external union avoidance professionals.
Bo Watson: State Senator Watson and other senior state politicians threatened to block financial incentives for the company - which the workers understood would threaten their job security - if workers voted for the UAW. The day before workers started voting, Watson stated at a press conference that, "members of the Tennessee Senate will not view unionization as in the best interest of Tennessee," and that lawmakers would "have a difficult time convincing our citizens to support any Volkswagen incentive package."
Todd Womack: Corker's chief of staff was in direct contact with Tennessee politicians - including members of the Governor's cabinet - and union avoidance groups about anti-UAW messaging. Womack sent an email concerning the three Projections anti-UAW videos. Recipients of his message included Grey, List, and the heads of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce and Tennessee Manufacturers Association.
The Volkswagen election showed the extraordinary lengths to which Republican lawmakers and antiunion organizations are prepared to go to subvert workers' right to choose a union. Whatever the eventual outcome at Chattanooga, they must never get away with these dirty tricks again.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission

John Logan

John Logan is a professor and director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University.

Interestingly enough, VW was OK about unions, thanks to the urging of their pre-existing unions in Germany, and didn't oppose this vote at all. In fact, they tacitly approved of it. VW wants Workers Councils in the US like they use in Germany, a structure that is properly illegal in this country without the presence of a Union. It makes for a more efficient operation of production, not to mention happier workers.
The Republican politicians opposed it for ideological reasons and as part of a wider allegiance to plutocratic special interests.
If the company was truly enlightened, they'd walk away and go to somewhere like Detroiit, set up the plant with a Union presence. But I don't expect this to happen--they've put a lot into investigating this site. But it'd send a great message to the Republicans.

Agreed. Ultimately, a non-profit needs to create a certification for automobiles that parallels Fair Trade for imported agricultural products (which has emphasized co-ops, and just advanced to living wages for hired labor). Jobs For Justice, for example. Without visibility, much leverage for worker justice is lost. FSC for forests is another example. Need that market visibility for consumer choice and consciousness....

Monday, April 7, 2014

Uruguay and Chavez

I'd heard about the legalization of marijuana in Uruguay, but my wife heard a little more on the radio recently here in Brazil.  So I then found these two pieces.  I finished reading Bart Jones' bio of Hugo Chavez some weeks ago, and really liked it.  It gives great details on all sorts of aspects of his life and times, including the economic oligarchy's hyper-antagonism supported or lead by US Intelligence in the form of the National Endowment for Democracy and US AID.  In the Overview below, I would edit it to include after his "autocratic streak" that Chavez has channeled (it) to benefit the people, which accounts for......

Uruguay's president José Mujica: no palace, no motorcade, no frills

In the week that Uruguay legalises cannabis, the 78-year-old explains why he rejects the 'world's poorest president' label
José Mujica plans adoptions to teach children farming
José Mujica
José Mujica, the Uruguayan president, at his house in Montevideo. Photograph: Mario Goldman/AFP/Getty Images
If anyone could claim to be leading by example in an age of austerity, it is José Mujica, Uruguay's president, who has forsworn a state palace in favour of a farmhouse, donates the vast bulk of his salary to social projects, flies economy class and drives an old Volkswagen Beetle.
But the former guerrilla fighter is clearly disgruntled by those who tag him "the world's poorest president" and – much as he would like others to adopt a more sober lifestyle – the 78-year-old has been in politics long enough to recognise the folly of claiming to be a model for anyone.
"If I asked people to live as I live, they would kill me," Mujica said during an interview in his small but cosy one-bedroom home set amid chrysanthemum fields outside Montevideo.
The president is a former member of the Tupamaros guerrilla group, which was notorious in the early 1970s for bank robberies, kidnappings and distributing stolen food and money among the poor. He was shot by police six times and spent 14 years in a military prison, much of it in dungeon-like conditions.
Since becoming leader of Uruguay in 2010, however, he has won plaudits worldwide for living within his means, decrying excessive consumption and pushing ahead with policies on same-sex marriage, abortion and cannabis legalisation that have reaffirmed Uruguay as the most socially liberal country in Latin America.
Praise has rolled in from all sides of the political spectrum. Mujica may be the only leftwing leader on the planet to win the favour of the Daily Mail, which lauded him as a trustworthy and charismatic figurehead in an article headlined: "Finally, A politician who DOESN'T fiddle his expenses."
But the man who is best known as Pepe says those who consider him poor fail to understand the meaning of wealth. "I'm not the poorest president. The poorest is the one who needs a lot to live," he said. "My lifestyle is a consequence of my wounds. I'm the son of my history. There have been years when I would have been happy just to have a mattress."
He shares the home with his wife, Lucía Topolansky, a leading member of Congress who has also served as acting president.
As I near the home of Uruguay's first couple, the only security detail is two guards parked on the approach road, and Mujica's three-legged dog, Manuela.
Mujica cuts an impressively unpolished figure. Wearing lived-in clothes and well-used footwear, the bushy-browed farmer who strolls out from the porch resembles an elderly Bilbo Baggins emerging from his Hobbit hole to scold an intrusive neighbour.
In conversation, he exudes a mix of warmth and cantankerousness, idealism about humanity's potential and a weariness with the modern world – at least outside the eminently sensible shire in which he lives.
He is proud of his homeland – one of the safest and least corrupt in the region – and describes Uruguay as "an island of refugees in a world of crazy people".
The country is proud of its social traditions. The government sets prices for essential commodities such as milk and provides free computers and education for every child.
Key energy and telecommunications industries are nationalised. Under Mujica's predecessor, Uruguay led the world in moves to restrict tobacco consumption. Earlier this week, it passed the world's most sweeping marijuana regulation law, which will give the state a major role in the legal production, distribution and sale of the drug.
Such actions have won praise and – along with progressive policies on abortion and gay marriage – strengthened Uruguay's reputation as a liberal country. But Mujica is almost as reluctant to accept this tag as he is to agree with the "poorest president" label.
"My country is not particularly open. These measures are logical," he said. "With marijuana, this is not about being more liberal. We want to take users away from clandestine dealers. But we will also restrict their right to smoke if they exceed sensible amounts of consumption. It is like alcohol. If you drink a bottle of whisky a day, then you should be treated as a sick person."
Uruguay's options to improve society are limited, he believes, by the power of global capital.
"I'm just sick of the way things are. We're in an age in which we can't live without accepting the logic of the market," he said. "Contemporary politics is all about short-term pragmatism. We have abandoned religion and philosophy … What we have left is the automatisation of doing what the market tells us."
The president lives within his means and promotes the use of renewable energy and recycling in his government's policies. At the United Nations' Rio+20 conference on sustainable development last year, he railed against the "blind obsession" to achieve growth through greater consumption. But, with Uruguay's economy ticking along at a growth rate of more than 3%, Mujica – somewhat grudgingly, it seems – accepts he must deliver material expansion. "I'm president. I'm fighting for more work and more investment because people ask for more and more," he said. "I am trying to expand consumption but to diminish unnecessary consumption … I'm opposed to waste – of energy, or resources, or time. We need to build things that last. That's an ideal, but it may not be realistic because we live in an age of accumulation."
Asked for a solution to this contradiction, the president admits he doesn't have the answers, but the former Marxist said the search for a solution must be political. "We can almost recycle everything now. If we lived within our means – by being prudent – the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should be moving in that direction," he said. "But we think as people and countries, not as a species."
Mujica and his wife chat fondly about meetings with Che Guevara, and the president guesses he is probably the last leader in power to have met Mao Zedong, but he has mixed feelings about the recent revolts and protests in Brazil, Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere. "The world will always need revolution. That doesn't mean shooting and violence. A revolution is when you change your thinking. Confucianism and Christianity were both revolutionary," he said.
But he is cynical about demonstrations organised by social networks that quickly dissolve before they have a capacity to build anything lasting. "The protesters will probably finish up working for multinationals and dying of modern diseases. I hope that I am wrong about that."

Life history
Shot, arrested, jailed and elected

1969 Active in the Tupamaros revolutionary group, which earned a reputation as the "Robin Hood guerrillas" by robbing delivery trucks and banks and distributing the food and money among the poor.
1970 Arrested for the first of four times. Mujica escapes Punta Carretas prison in a daring jailbreak. Shot and wounded numerous times in conflicts with security forces.

Tax justice and social justice in Uruguay

....From an expenditures perspective, the last two left-wing governments have focused on correcting inequality and ensuring the realization of rights, increasing expenditures from 20 to 25%. According to the Directorate General for Taxation, unlike what happened in the 90s, since 2003 Uruguay is growing economically, and since the new tax reform was introduced in 2007, inequality has been reduced and is now at its lowest in the last 30 years.
The DGI Director said, "A society can only guarantee long-term growth if it distributes the fruits of its prosperity in an appropriate manner among all citizens and members. But it can only ensure the conditions for redistribution and for improving equity and social cohesion through securing significant growth rates during a prolonged period". In terms of income, the challenge Ferreri raises is to move ahead in progressivity increasing the weight of direct taxes, not only on earned personal income but also on income capital and business revenues. In terms of expenditures, the challenge is to address issues like innovation, education and developing infrastructure skills. According to this high-ranking officer, this requires encouraging private sector investments to be able to allocate public expenditure towards eliminating inequity.
Minister Eduardo Brenta presented key advances in terms of employment and social security. Firstly, he highlighted legal reforms including the laws on collective bargaining, protection for union organizing, domestic work, 8-hours of work for rural workers and outsourcing. Then, he referred to the improvements in employment, unemployment and salary indicators for Uruguay. The country has reached its highest employment rate in history, with unemployment staying at about 5%, below what is known as the structural unemployment rate, which means that sectors that were formerly excluded from the labor market are now included. The Minister also presented the positive evolution of the real wages (a 40% increase since 2002) and the national minimum wage (that will have grown 108% during the current administration, from 5,000 to 10,000 Uruguayan Pesos). Brenta considered that this situation refutes a paradigm: "Reality has shown that we have managed to grow and at the same time distribute wealth through a set of policies", including tax and labor policies.
However, women and youth still face challenges in entering the labor market and are over-represented in informal employment. The Minister mentioned a series of laws that the government will promote to improve these groups' inclusion in the labor market, including prolonging maternity and paternity leave, creating parental leave and a youth employment law. He also highlighted the need to create a National Care System that "we will probably be able to consolidate in the next term". The Minister sees this as a strategic national goal: "We must not only build equality but also ground that equality in a sustainable economic model (...) because the resources available in Uruguay still lie with women and youth. The country can not afford these resources to not play a significant role in the development process".
Researcher Florencia Amábile presented the findings from the research studies conducted by the Economy Department of the Social Sciences Faculty at Universidad de la Republica, whose goal was to analyze the redistribution effect of household taxes and the social expenditures (2009).   The conclusions presented by Amábile show that in terms of inequality, Uruguay is the second country that has reduced the Gini Index the most, but drops to the fourth place in effectiveness. In relation to poverty, Uruguay is placed first both in reduction and in effectiveness. Combining taxes and transfers, "Uruguay has managed very well to combat poverty in terms of effectiveness of its expenditures, but its performance in terms of inequality has not been equally good", said Amábile. In terms of reducing inequality and poverty, even though in-kind transfers for health and education are important, effective spending is achieved through direct transferences (non-contributory pensions :disability and old age pensions, family allowances and other BPS - Social Welfare Bank - subsidies). She highlighted that the households receiving non-contributory pensions are usually childless and with fewer members -.
Even though the international comparison shows that poverty rates have been lowered and social expenditure has contributed to it, poverty has not been eradicated. Only 5% of the poor are not getting any direct transfer. This shows that the persistence of poverty does not appear to be related to lack of coverage or to the per capita value of the transfers. Amábile thinks that policies need to be more focalized and there is also a need to consider if other interventions are required.


Ruling elites in Venezuela, the United States and Europe, and even Hugo Chávez himself though for different reasons, have been eager to have the world view him as the heir to Fidel Castro. But the truth about this increasingly influential world leader is more complex, and more interesting.. The Chávez that emerges from Bart Jones’ carefully researched and documented biography is neither a plaster saint nor a revolutionary tyrant. He has an undeniably autocratic streak, and yet has been freely and fairly re-elected to his nations presidency three times with astonishing margins of victory. He is a master politician and an inspired improviser, a Bolivarian nationalist and an unashamed socialist. His policies have brought him into conflict with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and major oil companies. They have also provided a model for new governments and social movements in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Argentina. When in September 2006 he declared at the United Nations that ‘the devil came here yesterday … the President of the United States’, it was clear that he was taking on challenging the most powerful nation on earth, in conscious imitation of the Liberator, Simon Bolivar.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Government Worker Salaries- Teachers or CEOs?

  • Privatization has made the government's highest paid employees a little richer than the Rethuglicans favorite bugbear, say, teachers.
    New Report Exposes America's Highest Paid Government Workers Thursday, 20 February 2014 09:38 By Staff, PR Watch | Press Release
    Stacks of Cash.(Photo: steve lyon / Flickr)Madison, Wisconsin - The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) released a new report, "EXPOSED: America's Highest Paid Government Workers."
    The report shows that, contrary to misinformation spread by some politicians and pundits, America’s highest paid "government" workers are not your local teachers, nurses, or sanitation workers. Rather, they are corporate executives who sign lucrative contracts to take over public services and then pay themselves and other executives eye-popping salaries.
    This report by CMD highlights just six of these "government" workers who, between them, raked in more than $100 million from taxpayers in personal compensation during the past few years alone.
    "Given these astronomical salaries, and evidence of higher prices, poor service, and at times outright malfeasance, taxpayers have every right to be concerned about how their outsourced dollars are spent," said Lisa Graves, Executive Director of CMD.
    These top executives include:
    • George Zoley, America’s highest paid "corrections officer" and CEO of private prison giant GEO Group. Zoley made $22 million in compensation between 2008 and 2012. CMD estimates that GEO Group makes 86 percent of its revenue from the taxpayers. GEO Group writes language into private prison contracts that forces taxpayers to keep prisons full or else pay for empty beds. GEO Group has faced hundreds of lawsuits over prisoner deaths, assaults, excessive force, and more, which have led to secret court settlements.
    • David Steiner, president and CEO of Waste Management, is America’s highest paid "sanitation worker." Steiner made a whopping $45 million in compensation from 2006 to 2012. Waste Management's makes about 50 percent of its revenue from U.S. taxpayers, says Goldman Sachs.
    • Ron Packard of K12 Inc. is America’s highest paid "teacher." Packard made more than $19 million in compensation between 2009 and 2013, despite the alarming fact that only 28 percent of K12 Inc. cyber schools met state standards in 2010-2011, compared to 52 percent of public schools. CMD estimates that K12 Inc. makes 86 percent of its revenue from the taxpayers....

    Wednesday, February 12, 2014

    Beyond Money: Time Banks

    Time Banks have been creeping into my awareness over the years.  Maybe Ithaca, New York is the first project I recall hearing about.  PBS did a documentary "Fixing the Future" which included a segment about time banks. 

    Published on Monday, February 10, 2014 by Common Dreams

    In Cracks of Capitalism, Time Banks on the Rise

    'If there was ever a time that this makes sense, it would be now'

    - Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer
    Photo via Flickr / Julian Stallabrass/ Creative Commons LicenseFollowing the 2008 economic crash, the need for innovative approaches to the economy has only grown larger. One such answer to that problem has been a strong resurgence in the use of "time banks," a service for service exchange that skips the middle man of financial currency while building community in the process, according to a special report published by Al Jazeera America Sunday.
    Time banks are organizations where individuals come together to offer services, traditionally within their immediate community. In return for providing a service, individuals earn "time credits" based on hours donated, which can be redeemed from any other service provider in the system. The exchange of money is avoided all together and each service is treated equally.
    Since the crash, over 300 time banks have popped up around the United States alone, "located everywhere from Appalachia to Oakland and run by institutions ranging from art galleries to retirement centers to hospitals," Al Jazeera reports.
    “There’s a lot of unemployed folks and a lot of need, and if there was ever a time that this makes sense, it would be now,” Edgar Cahn, a 78-year-old former staffer in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and the founder of time banking, told Al Jazeera.
    And in the digital age, time banking has been simplified and streamlined, enabling the idea and its implementation to be spread more easily around the world.
    One such successful web-based time bank is the over 10,000-member Time Republik started by friends from Lugano, Switzerland. "One can look for someone to give oboe lessons over Skype or a neighbor to offer a ride to the airport," Al Jazeera reports.
    Read the rest of the Al Jazeera report here.

    Sunday, February 9, 2014

    Solidarity Economics, Occupy, and Climate

    This piece follows some nice pieces of activist logic, discussing climate justice with reference first to Dave Graeber, the anthropologist and important contributor to Occupy.  Then, the author Stephenson mentions two younger activists, one of whom is involved in some dynamic economic justice campaigns which include solidarity economics.

    Published on Friday, February 7, 2014 by The Nation

    From Occupy to Climate Justice

    There’s a growing effort to merge economic-justice and climate activism. Call it climate democracy.

    .... It’s an odd thing, really. In certain precincts of the left, especially across a broad spectrum of what could be called the economic left, our (by which I mean humanity’s) accelerating trajectory toward the climate cliff is little more popular as a topic than it is on the right. In fact, possibly less so. (Plenty of right-wingers love to talk about climate change, if only to deny its grim and urgent scientific reality. On the left, to say nothing of the center, denial takes different forms.)
    Sometimes, though, the prospect of climate catastrophe shows up unexpectedly, awkwardly, as a kind of non sequitur—or the return of the repressed.
    "I don’t know anyone who has all the answers, but I do know a few people who are at least asking the right kinds of questions, starting the necessary conversations and actually working to connect climate and economic-justice organizing across the country."
    I was reminded of this not long ago when I came to a showstopping passage deep in the final chapter of anarchist anthropologist David Graeber’s The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement, his interpretive account of the Occupy Wall Street uprising, in which he played a role not only as a core OWS organizer but as a kind of house intellectual (his magnum opus, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, happened to come out in the summer of 2011). Midway through a brief discourse on the nature of labor, he pauses to reflect, as though it has just occurred to him: “At the moment, probably the most pressing need is simply to slow down the engines of productivity.” Why? Because “if you consider the overall state of the world,” there are “two insoluble problems” we seem to face: “On the one hand, we have witnessed an endless series of global debt crises…to the point where the overall burden of debt…is obviously unsustainable. On the other we have an ecological crisis, a galloping process of climate change that is threatening to throw the entire planet into drought, floods, chaos, starvation, and war.”
    These two problems may appear unrelated, Graeber tells us, but “ultimately they are the same.” That’s because debt is nothing if not “the promise of future productivity.” Therefore, “human beings are promising each other to produce an even greater volume of goods and services in the future than they are creating now. But even current levels are clearly unsustainable. They are precisely what’s destroying the planet, at an ever-increasing pace.”
    Talk about burying the lead. Graeber’s solution—“a planetary debt cancellation” and a “mass reduction in working hours: a four-hour day, perhaps, or a guaranteed five-month vacation”—may sound far-fetched, but at least he acknowledges the “galloping” climate crisis and what’s at stake in it, and proposes something commensurate (if somewhat detached from the central challenge of leaving fossil fuels in the ground). That’s more than can be said for most others on the left side of the spectrum, where climate change is too often completely absent from economic and political analysis.
    It’s unclear what explains this reticence about the existential threat facing humanity, beginning with the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet—unless it’s that the implications of climate science, when you really begin to grasp them, are simply too radical, even for radicals.
    Two years ago, the International Energy Agency reported that corporations and governments must shift decisively away from new long-term investments in fossil-fuel infrastructure—such as Keystone XL and any number of other projects—within five years, meaning by 2017, in order to avoid “locking in” decades of carbon emissions that will guarantee warming the planet, within this century, far more than 2°C above the preindustrial average, the internationally agreed-upon red line. But on December 3, the eminent climate scientist James Hansen, recently retired as head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and seventeen co-authors released a study in the journal PLOS ONE confirming that the United Nations–approved 2°C ceiling has no real basis in science, only politics, and would itself set in motion “disastrous consequences” beyond humanity’s control.
    Instead, according to Hansen and his co-authors, we should do everything we can to stay as close as possible to a ceiling of 1°C. Given that we’ve already warmed about 0.8°C in the past 100 years (with still more “baked in” as a result of the climate system’s lag time), you would be correct in concluding that the time frame in which to act is vanishingly short—and that the scale of action required is epically large. On our current trajectory, with global emissions still rising, we’re headed to at least 4°C this century. Even to have a shot at the 2°C goal, global emissions must peak by, say, 2020, and then plummet to near zero by mid-century. That may appear unlikely, but as Hansen et al. write, “There is still opportunity for humanity to exercise free will.”
    Anyone who is committed to the hard work of bringing deep structural change to our economic, social and political systems—the kind of change that requires a long-term strategy of organizing and movement-building—is now faced with scientific facts so immediate and so dire as to render a life’s work seemingly futile. The question, then, becomes how to escape that paralyzing sense of futility, and how to accelerate the sort of grassroots democratic mobilization we need if we’re to salvage any hope of a just and stable society.
    A lot of people I know in the climate movement think the left, and the economic left in particular—pretty much the entire spectrum from mainstream liberals to Occupy radicals—has not yet taken on board the scale and urgency of the climate crisis. Not really. Not the full, stark set of facts. At the same time, mainstream climate advocates, wanting to broaden the climate movement, are told that they have too often been tone-deaf on issues of economic justice and inequality. How to reconcile these? How to merge the fights for economic justice and climate action with the kind of good faith and urgency required to build a real climate-justice movement?
    I don’t know anyone who has all the answers, but I do know a few people who are at least asking the right kinds of questions, starting the necessary conversations and actually working to connect climate and economic-justice organizing across the country. As it happens, more than a few of them were engaged in Occupy. (David Graeber should be proud.) They point to a convergence of movements for economic democracy and climate justice, and show us what a trajectory from Occupy to something new—call it climate democracy—might look like.
    Equally important, they’re acting with the kind of urgency, and commitment to civil resistance, that the crisis demands. They know there can be no climate justice without economic justice, but they also know there won’t be any economic justice—any justice at all—without facing up to our climate reality, simultaneously slashing emissions and building resilience. They know the “climate” part of “climate justice” cannot be an afterthought, some optional add-on to please “environmentalists.” Because this shit is real. And the game is far from over. No matter what happens in terms of climate policy in the next few years—and the prospects are not pretty—current and future generations have to live through what’s coming.
    * * *
    Rachel Plattus was speaking to a roomful of college students and recent grads at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, where they’d gathered for a weekend in late October along with some 8,000 other young activists at Power Shift, the biannual national convergence of the youth climate movement. Rachel is the 26-year-old director of youth and student organizing for the New Economy Coalition, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. By her side was 35-year-old Farhad Ebrahimi, who serves on the NEC board and who founded and runs the Boston-based Chorus Foundation, which supports grassroots climate and environmental-justice organizing in communities around the country.
    I know Rachel and Farhad from the Boston-area climate movement, and I was tagging along with them and their colleagues at Power Shift. It was strange to see the two of them in front of a room at a high-tech convention center; in the past year I’ve been more apt to see them in church basements and community-organizing spaces, leading nonviolent direct-action trainings, or on the streets leading protests against tar sands pipelines and coal-fired power plants.
    “I met Farhad at Occupy Boston,” Rachel told the hundred or so young people who’d come to hear about the intersection of climate and economic justice (a strong showing, given the dozens of concurrent breakout sessions offered at Power Shift). “We spent a lot of time there a couple years ago, and it was a transformative experience for a lot of us.”
    Two important things came out of her Occupy experience, Rachel explained. First, she and several friends who had been “radicalized on climate issues,” including Farhad and her NEC colleague Eli Feghali (who was also in the room), decided to form an organizing collective “to do resistance work around climate justice.” At the same time, she began thinking seriously about the central question raised by Occupy but never really answered: “If you’re so angry at this system, if all the people here have been wronged by the system, what are you proposing that we do instead?” While she and her friends wanted to keep organizing resistance, she said, “I found myself looking for a way to have an answer to ‘What do you want instead?’” She dove into the worker-ownership movement in Boston and tried unsuccessfully to start a worker co-op with some friends.
    “We have to be willing to tell the truth about what the dangers of climate change are and how we balance immediate economic survival with longer-term survival. We have to be willing to be honest about those things. But we also have to recognize when we’re building power toward addressing the climate crisis—even if people aren’t calling it the climate-justice movement.” —Rachel Plattus
    It was around this time, in late 2011 and early 2012, that she started talking with Bob Massie, a longtime social-justice and environmental activist, ordained Episcopal priest with a doctorate from Harvard Business School and, among other things, the initiator of the Investor Network on Climate Risk. Massie had recently been hired to head the New Economics Institute, which merged early last year with the New Economy Network to form the NEC. Rachel began to realize, she told her Power Shift listeners, that the kind of work going on in the “new economy” or “solidarity economy” movement—with things like cooperatives and worker-owned businesses, community-development financial institutions, community land trusts, local agriculture and community-owned renewable energy, as well as efforts to reconceive corporations and redefine economic growth—is challenging the dominant and unsustainable corporate capitalist system. And not simply rejecting that system, she emphasizes, but “creating new economic institutions that are democratic and participatory, decentralized to appropriate scale so that decisions are made at the most local level that makes sense and, rather than only prioritizing one thing—the maximization of profit—prioritizing people, place and planet.” ....


    Two Americas to Aleph Null
    Your post illustrates my point rather than refuting it.
    We are talking about US middle class political observers segregating environmentalism from politics from economics. I said that it is individualism that causes this, as well as the biased and arrogant view of the people who are segregating these. .
    Promoting a program of "doing without" clearly does not take into account the economic reality for over 99% of the people in the world, who are a;ready "doing without" to an extreme degree.
    It does not take into account political reality, since it does not address power and is not even relevant to most people. It is relevant to those close to power, and to those supporting and defending power and taking the benefits they get from that for granted.
    You accuse me of a "dogmatic aversion to anything resembling an individual choice," when in fact it is you who dogmatically insists on the individual choice approach.
    In order to make decisions people do need to band together, but for the purpose of gaining power.
    Middle class people in the US always leave out class - who controls the means of production and who does not - and the ongoing transfer of wealth, and power - who has power and who does not. Why is that? Is it a coincidence that the more people benefit from the current arrangements the more likely they are to do that? How can you address the environmental crisis while leaving politics and economics out of the mix?
    Socialism does not guarantee environmental protection and restoration. Socialism makes that possible. Capitalism, and its associated ideologies of idealism and individualism, make it impossible.
    You say that if a lot of people make the same personal choice, then it is a mass movement and its not individualism. You are tying yourself in knots to defend US style individualism. How about if we all make a personal choice to stop trying to effect social, political, and economic change - and stop environmental destruction - by the personal choice route, and instead band together politically to tackle the issues of power and economics - collectively?

    BackFromMars to Two Americas
    By "socialism makes (environmental protection and restoration) possible" I would have to understand it as "a non-authoritarian, non-idealized, existing, and functional socialism," of which we see elements in the history of wind turbine development in Denmark and Germany, then transplanted to the UK, and beginning to appear elsewhere. Protest, artisan mechanics, grassroots lobbying, wind co-operatives all make the Danish invention of this RE tech inspiring. "Capitalism", similarly, shouldn't be reified. Wind co-operatives and partnerships, and the social democratic European corporations they made possible like Vestas and Wobben are not the same as most US transnationals. The threat of US neoliberalism to other practices, prominently like European social capitalism, is real because of this difference. The US, as pathetic as things are, does have social enterprise efforts like Massachusetts' Co-op Power and others. "Socialism" and green social democratic capitalism can be differentiated from conventional Marxist theoretical language which is ultimately analytical, and only potentially normative. Real world accomplishments are powerful demonstrations of normative concepts, and demonstrate how individualism and collaborative interactions can and often must underlie any collective process. See David Ellerman's labor theory of property, William Greider's The Soul of Capitalism for an introduction.

    Tuesday, February 4, 2014

    Energy Utility Alternatives in France and Spain

    France and Spain have not made much news from renewable energy co-operatives.  France has one renewable energy co-operative, apparently, and finally it has come to my attention and now, the audience here.  I made a pretty good effort, with no French and before I knew much about Google translator, and didn't find anything in 2009 or so.  However, thanks to the Eurosolar Prizes, here it is!
          Spain had some few, and I had found a reference to one or two, but renewable energy there has been advanced by corporations and municipalities.  However, in 2010, something new appeared in Spain which the Eurosolar Prize has recognized.  They say the first energy co-op, but it must be the first RENEWABLE energy co-op.

    Enercoop France was founded in 2005. It is the only supplier of entirely renewable energy-based power in France today. Rooted in the tradition of the cooperative model it unites both producers and consumers of green electricity with currently 10,000 members, 16,000 customers and over 80 producers as economic agents.

    High social, ethical and ecological values are at the core of the co-operative’s work. Among its principal demands are decentralizing generation, reducing consumption and returning decision-making powers to the regions. So every citizen can play an active role in the transformation of the energy system. ....

    Som Energia ('We are energy') is the first energy cooperative in Spain, in Catalonia founded by 150 citizens in 2010. In only two years this number grew by an astonishing 2500 % to the nearly 4,000 members Som Energia has today.

    Most private citizens cannot afford to realize wind, hydro or solar projects. Som Energia offers the possibility to act together in supporting the concept of renewable energy supply drawn from regional sources. The non-profit organization started out with purchasing local green energy from existing sources, so members can buy affordable electricity. Meanwhile, Som Energia has built its own solar power installations and pursues new renewable production projects. The first citizen-owned 500 kW biogas plant in Spain is under construction. The goal is to produce enough electricity to meet 100% of the members' consumption....

    Crevillent, a town of 25,100 people, has the biggest electricity distribution co-operative amongst the 16 Valencia regions.4 The co-operative was founded in 1925 to provide the energy for the mechanization of the traditional textile industry. In 1993, after many years of juridical dispute with the incumbent utility, its territory and capacity was defined. Seven years later, its grid consisted of 65 km of medium-voltage and 175 km of low-voltage lines and 85 transformer centres while the electricity sold reached more than 51 TWh. The co-operative understood that diversification was vital for its future. Thus, distribution businesses were expanded and subsidized technologies were used for power generation. Soon, mini-hydro capacity reached 3.6 MW and in 1998, a 10 MW cogeneration plant was installed in collaboration with the local textile-dyeing co-operative industry Lanatin. The Lanatin plant consumes between 100% and 80% of the heat and 10% of the electricity produced, and the rest is sold to the neighbouring utility.

    and another in Valencia:
    ...El día 2 de Agosto de 1.923, D. José Alpera cede y traspasa los derechos y obligaciones que se derivan del contrato con la S.A. “El Volta”, y todas las redes y transformadores, a D. Marcelino Gimeno Mocholí, en nombre y representación de doscientos veinticinco propietarios, por un importe total de dieciocho mil pesetas.....