Published May 19, 2013 in TomDispatch. By Rebecca Solnit
Ten years ago, my part of the world was full of valiant opposition to the new wars being launched far away and at home — and of despair. And like despairing people everywhere, whether in a personal depression or a political tailspin, these activists believed the future would look more or less like the present. If there was nothing else they were confident about, at least they were confident about that. Ten years ago, as a contrarian and a person who prefers not to see others suffer, I tried to undermine despair with the case for hope.
A decade later, the present is still contaminated by the crimes of that era, but so much has changed. Not necessarily for the better — a decade ago, most spoke of climate change as a distant problem, and then it caught up with us in 10,000 ways. But not entirely for the worse either — the vigorous climate movement we needed arose in that decade and is growing now. If there is one thing we can draw from where we are now and where we were then, it’s that the unimaginable is ordinary, and the way forward is almost never a straight path you can glance down, but a labyrinth of surprises, gifts, and afflictions you prepare for by accepting your blind spots as well as your intuitions.
The despairing of May 2003 were convinced of one true thing, that we had not stopped the invasion of Iraq, but they extrapolated from that a series of false assumptions about our failures and our powerlessness across time and space. They assumed — like the neoconservatives themselves — that those neocons would be atop the world for a long time to come. Instead, the neocon and neoliberal ideologies have been widely reviled and renounced around the world; the Republicans’ demographic hemorrhage has weakened them in this country; the failures of their wars are evident to everyone; and though they still grasp fearsome power, everything has indeed changed. Everything changes: there lies most of our hope and some of our fear.
Published May 13, 2013 by Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Written by David Morris.
For 225 years the U.S. Post Office has been the most admired and ubiquitous manifestation of government. From 1789 until the 1960s, the Cabinet level agency saw its mission not only to deliver the mail but to aggressively defend the public good. In the late 19th century when oligopolistic mail order delivery companies abused their rural customers the Post Office launched parcel post. The competition quickly forced private companies to reduce their exorbitant prices and dramatically improve the quality of their service. In the early 20th century, when bank collapses resulted in depositors losing their life saving the Post Office created postal banks that for half a century provide security and attractive interest rates to millions of small depositors.
In 1970 Congress stripped the post office of its cabinet status and stopped providing public funding. The new quasi public corporation was urged to adopt a more business like attitude. Its name, the U.S. Postal Service, reflected a circumscribed mission statement. No longer was it to be a tool to check the predations of the private sector. Its sole mission would be to deliver the mail.
The USPS used its new flexibility and ability to borrow to dramatically increase productivity. By the 1990s, despite the elimination of a public subsidy that in 1970 had accounted for 25 percent of its total budget the USPS was generating a consistent profit. But to USPS management the mandate to operate in a more businesslike manner was viewed as a mandate to operate more like a private business, improving its internal balance sheet at the cost of weakening the balance sheet of the communities it served. Again and again Congress had to step in to prevent USPS management from pursuing actions that would have inflicted harm on the nation: stopping closing Saturday delivery, closing rural post offices willy-nilly.
In 2006, in an accounting maneuver I’ve discussed in more detail elsewhere Congress forced the USPS to pay $5.5 billion a year to do what no other public agency or private corporation does — prepay 100 percent of its future health insurance costs. As the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) later observed, these payments quickly “transformed what would have been considerable profits into significant losses.” Today the USPS deficit has reached $20 billion. Headlines constantly use the word “bankruptcy”, conveying the message that the post office is an antiquated institution doomed to irrelevancy in the age of the internet, but 80 percent of this huge deficit has been caused not by a decline in first class mail but by this human contrived financial burden.
The debt may be contrived, but its impact is real. USPS management is cutting its “deficit” by eviscerating the institutional commons it oversees. By closing rural post offices the USPS is delinking the institution from the community. By closing half of its processing centers, the post office is eliminating local overnight delivery of the mail, a severe burden on weekly newspapers and undermining another sense of geographic community. In 2012 the USPS announced that first class mail delivery would take at least one more day. USPS is selling off dozens of magnificent buildings constructed during the New Deal that have served as testaments to a time when the very design of public buildings was seen as part of the commons. Tens of thousands of workers with the most experience have taken early retirement, resulting in an increasingly less knowledgeable and lower paid workforce
Today, at the local post office, three clerks have become two, and if you visit during the lunch hour there might only be one. A five minute wait can become a 15 minute wait or longer. Unaware of what is behind the cutbacks, those on the line now grumble about the incompetence of “government.”
The anti-commons strategy is clear. Reduce the post office’s presence in thousands of communities. Reduce the number of personal interactions with one’s letter carrier. Reduce service. Remove the post office from our everyday lives sufficiently so we will acquiesce to its conversion to a private service supplied by profit making firms.
With both political parties demanding the evisceration of the post office, an extraordinary albeit inchoate grassroots movement has arisen to defend this most public of all public institutions. In 2011 the USPS announced it was going to close 3400 local post offices in the next year but the resulting outcry led Congress later that year to impose a 12-month moratorium. When the moratorium ended USPS management retreated from its decision to make rapid wholesale closures although it continues to stealthily shutter many local offices via a number of backdoor maneuvers.
In early 2013 the USPS announced it would stop delivering first class mail on Saturdays, although tellingly it would continue to deliver bulk mail (i.e. junk mail). The resulting uproar led Congress to prohibit such a development.
The post office remains a world-class institution and a remarkable bargain. It still delivers almost 25 percent of the world’s mail. A first class letter in the United States cost 20-75 percent less than in countries with a fraction of our geographic area, such as Austria, Germany, Norway, Italy and Great Britain.
But the privatization wolves are circling. They have openly declared their desire to privatize virtually all parts of the post office. Except its last mile delivery infrastructure, which no private company wants to duplicate. Which is the private sector’s acknowledgement that the post office’s universal infrastructure could give it immense leverage if it were allowed to truly compete. Which may be why the 2006 law that has forced the post office near bankruptcy also hobbled its ability to generate new revenue. The law explicitly banned it from offering a product that would “create an unfair or otherwise inappropriate competitive advantage for the Postal Service …”
When Internet shopping took off, the delivery of packages to individual households should have resulted in a dramatic increase in USPS business. But most parcel shipments were generated by large organizations and the USPS was forbidden by law from lowering prices to get more business.
The post office, first and foremost, creates a commons in every community. It is remarkable and infuriating that when the USPS does a cost benefit analysis to decide whether to shutter a local post office it is not required to take into account the cost to the local community! It does not have to take into account the increased out of pocket costs for people who have to travel longer distances, often on dangerous roads in the winter. The only cost benefit analysis that did bring these community costs into the equation, done by students at the University of Wisconsin, concluded that the out of pocket costs to the community almost always exceed the internal savings to the post office.
The unquantifiable benefits of the post office to a community are equally ignored. In rural areas, the post office may be the only remaining community-gathering place, a place to meet one’s neighbors and share truly local news. In a nation where more than one in five votes are cast by mail and in some states mail ballots have to be received by the close of polls, closing post offices can significantly burden some groups.
Closing post offices and delaying the delivery of mail places a significant burden on the most vulnerable of us for example, delivery of prescription drugs. In a number of communities the postman and woman who usually know everyone on their route watch out for the elderly. If the mail is not picked up the letter carrier knocks on the door and if there is no answer notifies the police.
Tragically, the post office no longer has a visible national champion. USPS management is increasingly acting like the management of a private firm. The media echoes the conservative meme that the post office deficit is an inexorable result of technological advances. Grassroots effort have managed to stave off execution, but the post office is dying from a thousand cuts even as a new generation comes of age who wonders what the fuss is all about.
(Photo by NJ Tech Teacher under a Creative Commons license from flickr.com)
Related: Postoffice Plots Its Own Demise.
Posted by Gypsy Chief
Published May 1, 2013 in The Raw Story. Written by Eric W. Dolan.
The United States has failed to take action to mitigate climate change thanks in part to the large number of religious Americans who believe the world has a set expiration date.
Research by David C. Barker of the University of Pittsburgh and David H. Bearce of the University of Colorado uncovered that belief in the biblical end-times was a motivating factor behind resistance to curbing climate change.
“[T]he fact that such an overwhelming percentage of Republican citizens profess a belief in the Second Coming (76 percent in 2006, according to our sample) suggests that governmental attempts to curb greenhouse emissions would encounter stiff resistance even if every Democrat in the country wanted to curb them,” Barker and Bearce wrote in their study, which will be published in the June issue of Political Science Quarterly.
The study, based on data from the 2007 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, uncovered that belief in the “Second Coming” of Jesus reduced the probability of strongly supporting government action on climate change by 12 percent when controlling for a number of demographic and cultural factors. When the effects of party affiliation, political ideology, and media distrust were removed from the analysis, the belief in the “Second Coming” increased this effect by almost 20 percent.
“[I]t stands to reason that most nonbelievers would support preserving the Earth for future generations, but that end-times believers would rationally perceive such efforts to be ultimately futile, and hence ill-advised,” Barker and Bearce explained.
That very sentiment has been expressed by federal legislators. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) said in 2010 that he opposed action on climate change because “the Earth will end only when God declares it to be over.” He is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy.
Though the two researchers cautioned their study was not intended to predict future policy outcomes, they said their study suggested it was unlikely the United States would take action on climate change while so many Americans, particularly Republicans, believed in the coming end-times.
“That is, because of institutions such as the Electoral College, the winner-take-all representation mechanism, and the Senate filibuster, as well as the geographic distribution of partisanship to modern partisan polarization, minority interests often successfully block majority preferences,” Barker and Bearce wrote. “Thus, even if the median voter supports policies designed to slow global warming, legislation to effect such change could find itself dead on arrival if the median Republican voter strongly resists public policy environmentalism at least in part because of end-times beliefs.”
Posted by Gypsy Chief
Published on April 25, 2013 in The Organic Prepper (Canada). Written by Daisy Luther.
One group after another is denouncing the genetically modified poison on grocery store shelves, adding to the chorus of voices demanding real untainted food.
Natural Food Certifiers has announced today that any food product that contains GMOs is no longer eligible to be certified as kosher under their “Apple K” kosher certification program. A press release stated:
“NFC was very proud to introduce the first “Natural Only” kosher supervision,” said NFC Director Rabbi Reuven Flamer. “It’s a logical application of our principle, ‘Start Naturally. Stay that Way.’ Therefore, the Natural Apple K cannot be placed on a product that contains GMOs,” Flamer explained.
“While according to the strict letter of Kosher food law a GMO food ingredient is not prohibited, in our view it is not natural. Additionally, there is a Torah (religious)-based law to ‘guard your health’. GMOs are the number-one growing concern among health-conscious consumers and for businesses in the natural and organic food market, as well as in the conventional food industry,” said Rabbi Flamer.
“Recent studies show that GMOs may cause various kinds of health problems from digestive disturbances to food allergies, and that GMOs require more herbicides, which is really the opposite reason why GMOs were touted to be so environmentally helpful in the first place,” Rabbi Flamer added. “For all of the many reasons that GMOs raise a red flag, consumers simply don’t want them in their foods, and our clients want to accommodate their customers.”
Over the next 12 months, the company will phase out the certification of any product that contains GMO ingredients, and will no longer accept applications for certification of products that contain GMOs.
NFC has numerous natural food certification programs, including USDA Organic certification, Kosher
certification (under the “Apple K” label), Vegan certification, and Gluten Guard, a gluten-free assurance program.
Each product submitted by a manufacturer for approval is carefully analyzed. The press release explains the process for all of the certification categories. ”The process may include, but is not limited to, a request and review of the ingredient deck including country of origin and certificate of analysis, product testing, as well as inspection of manufacturing facilities.”
Whether or not your faith requires you to follow the Kosher food laws, this news should be celebrated by anyone who hopes to see the demise of Monsanto and the products created by their mad scientists. While countries across the world are banning GMOs, the wheels are moving slowly in North America to even have GMOs labeled so that consumers can make an informed decision. To have a large demographic refuse to allow genetically modified material in their food is yet another volley against the corruption that is evident in the unholy alliance of the FDA and Monsanto.
Gypsy Chief is happy to republish this information because it is an important, timely story. Republication does not imply endorsement of the author’s political conclusions.
Related: Learn more about GMOs and Kosher ….
Related: Learn More About Monsanto ….
Posted by Gypsy Chief
This is part of a longer article by Claudia Rowe for Yes! Magazine.See Claudia’s article From Housing to Health Care, 7 Co-ops That Are Changing Our Economy.
Mobile homes provide a source of long-term, low-income housing but, vulnerable to rate increases or eviction, it’s hardly stable. Last year, in Duvall, Wash., 24 mobile-home dwellers joined to create a cooperative and purchase their trailer park. Final price: $1.18 million. That sounds pretty steep, but Ben Guss, a facilitator with the Northwest Cooperative Development Center, linked the residents to funding through ROC USA Capital, which has made loans to 125 such communities across the country. For the Duvall project, ROC partnered with the Washington State Housing Finance Commission, and now for $475 a month—just $15 more than they were paying before—each member of the newly-named Duvall Riverside Village Co-op is an owner. “It’s great to change from having Damocles’ Sword in the air that you know can fall,” said Stewart Davidson, who lives there and serves as board president. “When I pass, my wife can live here and not be worried about having a knock on the door with someone saying, ‘Here’s your notice, you’re out.’”
Posted by Gypsy Chief
Sign petition at: http://cispaisback.org
Under the guise of cyber-security, CISPA (the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act) is a bill that would grant corporations the power to share our emails, Facebook messages, and other sensitive online data with the government – all without a warrant. CISPA would kill online privacy as we know it – nullifying the laws that require big corporations to keep our information private from government agencies like the National Security Agency.
Those corporations wouldn’t have to notify you that they have done this and you wouldn’t be able to take legal action against them if they made a mistake when sharing your information. While strong information security is critical to privacy and civil liberties, CISPA does almost nothing to prevent this. All it does is give the government access to your information.
We beat CISPA last year when hundreds of thousands of Americans signed online petitions to let lawmakers know that our online privacy rights are not negotiable. But this bill is back and politicians who want the government to be able to read your emails and see what you purchase online are hoping you won’t speak out this time. Together we can beat CISPA again!
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) has passed the U.S. House and is winging its way to the Senate, but not without a fight.
It was the dream of many that the controversial CISPA bill, having fallen before, would lie undisturbed in its grave after being uncerimoniously booted into the box by the enraged online community. However, now having passed the U.S. House with 288-127 in favor, the legislation has numerous privacy advocates and rights groups in uproar.
CISPA allows firms and agencies from the private sector to acquire and search sensitive data relating to U.S. citizens. Blanketed under the guise of using such sharing — without court-ordered warrants — in order to combat cybercrime, data including heath records, banking and online activity could be shared without anonymization.
Other factors to consider are that tech giants including Twitter, Facebook and Google would not be able to protect your privacy, as no legal reprisal could be mounted against such data sharing, and U.S. intelligence agencies would be able to hand over classified information to groups without security clearance.
A number of groups and firms have publicly criticized the bill, including digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Mozilla. Over 800,000 people have signed a petition in an attempt to stop CISPA getting as far as it already has in the U.S. government’s law process.
Today, a number of websites have agreed to block themselves voluntarily. A list of websites joining the protest include hacker and Anonymous-based sites, as well as a bunch of Tumblr accounts. Hundreds are joining, but the list is still woefully short of prestigous names and services that would secure at least a passing glance by those with the power to stop the bill going through.
A Stop CISPA group on Facebook has been formed, and hashtags #CISPABlackout and #StopCISPA have trended at various times [yesterday] morning. It’ll be interesting to see if the trends continue to gain traction as the day progresses, but the difference between this and the last ‘blackout’ is profound.
While a number of well-known websites chose to block themselves in protest to SOPA, 28 large tech companies backed the CISPA bill from the start — IBM and Intel among the bill’s fans. When the threat of the Stop Online Piracy Act surfaced, Wikipedia and Reddit blacked out for a day on February 18. Google chose not to completely censor its search results, but did publicly acknowledge its support of the cause, and highlighted the issue on its home page, something that would have brought the bill to light for hundreds of thousands of online users in a single day.
Especially important was when those hunting on Wikipedia for a quick answer to a question found that they could not use the resource.
As ZDNet’s Violet Blue writes, when the CISPA bill first came to light, it was spun to keep it as far away as possible from the blackouts, outrage and public protests that the SOPA legislation fueled. The media was misinformed, legislation wording was vague, tech companies supported it — perhaps wondering how they could capitalize on all that data, just seeing dollar signs — and those paying lip-service attempted to sway attention not to the particulars of the bill itself, but on how cybercrime stemming from other countries had to be stopped.
President Obama talked about how cybercrime was more of a threat than terrorism, and a back-and-forth between the U.S. and China resulted in pointed fingers about which nation was more of a cybercrime menace. If we consider the right to privacy and data protection more important than government whims, perhaps the question is answered in the former.
Bill advocates didn’t want another SOPA outrage on their hands, and they may have succeeded. A “Stop CISPA” blackout may gain traction across social media today, but reaction to the bill simply hasn’t resulted in the same levels of fury that SOPA did — although in its own way, it is just as much of a threat to citizen rights as the Stop Online Piracy Act. In addition, without public backing by the few large tech names that provide everyday services we rely upon, such as Wikipedia and Google, the bill simply does not gain the exposure that it needs.
Google is “watching the process closely,” but has taken no official stance on the bill. Sadly, industry group Technet — with members including Google and Facebook — supports CISPA. As much as we may rally together and scream about the bill, without these kinds of names to bring it all together and wield power that goes beyond our Twitter rants and rages to inform others, we’re fighting a lost battle.
As the bill moves into Congress, perhaps it’s already out of our hands, and nothing can be done except hope that President Obama makes good on his threat to refuse to sign the bill if it passes his desk.
Posted by Gypsy Chief
Campaign For America’s Future Blog published April 19, 2013. Written by Bill Scher.
Yesterday, Sen. Marco Rubio was questioned on-air by a perplexed Rush Limbaugh about the bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill. The tone was gentle, but the gulf between the two was so wide, it may mark the beginning of a fundamental rift that will break the Republican Party in two, and render it extinct.
Throughout the interview Rubio kept trying to explain the merits of policy, while Rush complained about the politics. His first “question” was really a statement: “I’m having trouble seeing how this benefits Republicans.”
Later he fretted, “so many people are scared to death, Senator, that the Republican Party is committing suicide, that we’re going to end up legalizing nine million automatic Democrat voters.”
But Rush and Rubio don’t have a mere tactical disagreement. They have diametrically opposed worldviews regarding the meaning of the growing Latino electorate.
Rubio took pains to say his motivation is “to solve this problem” and not “political reasons.” But as Rush’s obsession with the political implications wore him down, Rubio offered that Republicans must find a way to connect with Latinos: “every political movement — conservatism included — depends on the ability to convince people that do not agree with you now to agree with you in the future.”
Rush, however, argued that for Republicans to pursue the Latino vote inherently means sacrificing conservative anti-government principles:
… I see polling data again that suggests that 70% of the Hispanic population in the country believes that government is the primary source of prosperity. I don’t, therefore, understand this contention that Hispanics are conservatives-in-waiting …
… We seem to be wanting to reach out to Hispanics. Once we do everything we do to reach out to Hispanics, how can we ever reform welfare? How can we reform anything that we might want to change if it’s the product of reaching out to Hispanics, giving them what we think they want in order to get their votes, when they’re already gonna vote Democrat?
Rush, of course, has an incredibly simplistic and bigoted understanding of the Latino vote. He says later, “They are being supported. They are able to live sufficiently well enough that getting a job is not that important, not nearly as important. It’s a cultural thing that’s happening here.”
But there is some grain of truth to the notion that Republicans can’t connect with many Latino voters (or any other non-right-wing voters) with being able to offer a vision of government that is not nihilistic. Most folks want a government that does something, not Bush-style government that stands on the sidelines until the economy implodes.
And in fact, the official Republican Party 2012 “autopsy” recognizes this, arguing that “we must make sure that the government works for those truly in need, helping them so they can quickly get back on their feet,” and quoting a committee member saying, “There are some people who need the government.”
Rush and his ilk are vehemently against any such recalibration of conservatism. Now Rush is declaring that immigration reform is synonymous with it.
Yet the Republican Party leadership is squarely with Rubio, understanding that they have to shed their anti-immigrant stigma if they are ever to become a majority party again.
Team Rubio can swear and up and down immigration reform does not mean an abandonment of conservative principles. But Rush wasn’t buying it.
Which leaves me with this question: will the anti-immigrant backlash be strong enough to propel a credible 2016 president candidate (in other words, not Tom Tancredo) to challenge Rubio and the pro-immigrant GOP establishment?
And if so, will that create a fracture that cannot be healed?
However,[in 1852] the Whig party was in poor shape. It was badly divided into factions and needed a leader. Fillmore could have filled that role, but he was exhausted. He had let it be known he was not a candidate, but by the summer of 1852, he agreed to be one for the sake of party unity. Daniel Webster was running (he would die in October), and so was Winfield Scott, the latter being the choice of the anti-slavery Seward faction of the party. Simply put, there was no candidate who would satisfy the whole party. At the convention, Fillmore and Webster supporters held the lead through dozens of ballots, but Fillmore written instructions that his candidacy was to be withdrawn when the moment was right. It didn’t happen, and Winfield Scott got the nomination on the 53rd ballot.
Although Southerners didn’t have anything per-say against the general, he was too cozy with Seward, which, according to the politics of the day, was a figurative kiss of death. It meant Scott was unelectable in the South.
The party fractured permanently, and the Whig candidate carried only four states against the Democrats’ unity candidate, Franklin Pierce.
The Whigs never again ran a national campaign, and disappeared forever after the 1856 election.
Posted by Gypsy Chief