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Deep thought - Mar 25

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Is this the Birth of a Nation?

Melissa Harris-Lacewell, The Nation
In response to the imminent passage of health care reform protesters spat on Representative Emmanuel Cleaver. They hurled homophobic obscenities at Representative Barney Frank. They shouted racial slurs at Representative John Lewis.
Democratic leadership responded by marching to the Capitol in a scene that looked more like a 1960s demonstration than a morning commute for the majority party.

The attacks on black and gay members of Congress immediately mobilized lefty mainstream media. On Monday night both Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow drew parallels between the health care battle and the civil rights movement. I like, respect, and appear frequently on both programs, but I think both have missed the mark in their racial analysis.

Crafting a metaphor that connects the civil rights movement and the bigoted language of this weekend's protesters is seductive. It seems so obvious given that Representative John Lewis plays a critical role in both. A young Lewis was severely beaten 45 years ago when he tried to lead a group of brave citizens across the Edmund Pettus bridge in an effort to secure voting rights for black Americans.

This weekend he graciously rebuffed his detractors in a perfect example of nonviolent, direct resistance. Representative Lewis said he harbored no ill will against those who called him names and insisted that we are all citizens of this nation and that we must learn to live peacefully and respectfully together. It was the kind of response that makes Lewis a hero to many.
(22 March 2010)




'Even War Is Good for Economic Growth'

Noreena Hertz, spiegel
Economist and globalization critic Noreena Hertz was already warning about overpowerful banks, unfettered greed and unregulated markets way back in 2001. Speaking to SPIEGEL ONLINE, she explains the limits of focusing on GDP and why capitalism is at a turning point.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Dr. Hertz, one is constantly reading about how much a country's economy has grown or shrunk. Why is gross domestic product (GDP) taken so seriously?

Noreena Hertz: It's easy to measure and shows how one nation performs in comparison to another. Every country, therefore, measures its economic success by its GDP. Only Bhutan is an exception.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: According to the constitution of Bhutan, the people should not become richer every year, but happier. The little Asian kingdom wants to achieve this with a socially equitable society and better protection of the environment. Is this a better approach?

Hertz: Definitely. GDP only measures a small part of economic success. Some really important aspects are ignored. Take sustainability, for example. It's absurd that a country can have high growth rates because it has a lot of polluting industry. The quality of the air, health, progress made by women, child care and social cohesion -- these are all important economic factors. GDP does not show how innovative an economy is. Nor does it show if the products being produced will be successful in the long run or will be out of fashion tomorrow. But, up to now, there has not been a substitute for GDP.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Experts say that growth is important for creating wealth.

Hertz: This has never been proven. The economy of a country can grow enormously, and the majority of the population remain poor. Russia is an example. The country has huge growth rates, but only few people benefit from this. For more than 25 years, the gap between the richest and the poorest has been increasing. There is absolutely no correlation between an equitable society and GDP growth. The reasons why a country's economy grows can also be very negative. Wars are good for growth, for example. So are natural disasters. Haiti will have high growth rates because, after the earthquake, everything has to be rebuilt...
(24 March 2010)




Is It Time for a Green Tea Party?

Woody Tasch, Huffington Post
The idea of a Green Tea Party is awfully seductive.

What civility-craving, green-of-center soul wouldn't want to create something to counter the Tea Party's name calling and negativity? Is the Coffee Party the answer? (Evidently, it has over 170,000 fans on Facebook in a few weeks.) A Green Tea Party? (Turns out this name was used last year but didn't seem to go very far. I wouldn't be surprised to see it come into play again.)

Yet, however it's spun, rhetoric of the Tea or Coffee or Green Tea kind doesn't seem to completely hit the mark. It doesn't satisfy. It doesn't nourish. It's the political equivalent of empty calories and junk food, leaving us hungry for the real work of fixing our country, healing our cultural wounds, mending our broken financial system.

We all share an abiding frustration at the dysfunctions of Wall Street and Washington. We are deeply frustrated at the damage caused by money that is too fast, investment banks that are too big and government programs that are too complex. But the mark we are trying to hit isn't in Washington or on Wall Street. It's much closer to home. It's right here, in our own backyards, in our communities. That's why David Brooks wrote last week that both the welfare state and the market state are models that have failed.

So after we're finished with all the Partying and the protest politics, all the harangues against government that is bogged down and markets that have gone haywire, let's get down to work.

The new direction in which we must head can be called many things: relocalization, rebalancing, rebuilding, revitalizing, restoration and preservation, redevelopment, job creation, retooling, decentralization. This will take many shapes. I would suggest as one of the cornerstones of this rebuilding process the following goal: a million investors investing 1% of their assets in local food systems.

Investing in local food systems as a remedy for our cultural and political ills? Yes.
The first decade of the 21st century has already been labeled a lost decade, a decade of financial bubbles and terrorism, wars and deficits and a disastrous decline in political civility. Nothing is better suited to the course correction at hand than local food systems. Of all the things that need fixing in this country, none is more immediately fixable or better positioned to effect lasting cultural and economic healing than local food systems.

That's why when Change.org ran its competition for the Top Ten Ideas For Change in America earlier this month, two of the winners were farmland preservation and school gardens. That's why Food Inc. was nominated for an Academy Award. That's why Michael Pollan's books are bestsellers. That's why Slow Food has 100,000 members around the world. That's why farmers markets and community supported agriculture are enjoying such an upswing. That's why Buy Local campaigns and chapters of the Business Alliance for Local, Living Economies are springing up all over the country. That's why Slow Money (of which I am the founder) was cited by Business Week reporter John Tozzi as "one of the big ideas for 2010."...
(23 March 2010)




The Broken Society

David Brooks, The New York Times
The United States is becoming a broken society. The public has contempt for the political class. Public debt is piling up at an astonishing and unrelenting pace. Middle-class wages have lagged. Unemployment will remain high. It will take years to fully recover from the financial crisis.

This confluence of crises has produced a surge in vehement libertarianism. People are disgusted with Washington. The Tea Party movement rallies against big government, big business and the ruling class in general. Even beyond their ranks, there is a corrosive cynicism about public action.

But there is another way to respond to these problems that is more communitarian and less libertarian. This alternative has been explored most fully by the British writer Phillip Blond.

He grew up in working-class Liverpool. “I lived in the city when it was being eviscerated,” he told The New Statesman. “It was a beautiful city, one of the few in Britain to have a genuinely indigenous culture. And that whole way of life was destroyed.” Industry died. Political power was centralized in London.

Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations. First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations.

Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.

The two revolutions talked the language of individual freedom, but they perversely ended up creating greater centralization. They created an atomized, segmented society and then the state had to come in and attempt to repair the damage...
(18 March 2010)
suggested by EB reader John Mann, who writes:
David Brooks in this column is summarizing and referring us to two articles by Phillip Blond, one in the 28 February 2010 issue of PROSPECT and the other in ResPublica at The Civic State.

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