Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Liberation Theology - The Stuff of Real Revolutions

By reversing recent progress in civil rights enforcement, the Blowhard administration's budget runs counter to one of the fundamental ideals of the Green Party. The Green Party's Ten Key Values places Social Justice And Equal Opportunity second only to grass-roots democracy:
As a matter of right, all persons must have the opportunity to benefit equally from the resources afforded us by society and the environment. We must consciously confront in ourselves, our organizations, and society at large, any discrimination by race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, nationality, religion, or physical or mental ability that denies fair treatment and equal justice under the law.

To confront is to stand up to another, to "meet (someone) face to face with hostile or argumentative intent." Confrontation places the parties on the verge of (but doesn't necessarily provoke) physical conflict. The intent can be hostile or merely argumentative. My advice is try to keep it argumentative. On a train in Portland this week, it cost two people their lives when they confronted and provoked an unruly white supremacist.

Before confronting others, the Ten Key Values tells us that we need to confront our own prejudices. Furthermore, before we take on society at large, we need to be willing to challenge our own family members and associates over any discrimination. Confronting society at large before attending to these more familiar relationships would be hypocritical. After all, upsetting a stranger, though their attitude toward certain groups may stink, is easier to live with (or die from) than upsetting an associate or family member in similar need of correction.

Personal confrontation is one thing, but taking on an institution, either from within or without, requires many more resources. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a huge movement against long-standing racist policies and norms. The campaign consumed, and ultimately cost him, his life. It was admiration for another Martin Luther that inspired King's father, also a preacher, to adopt the name for himself.

Martin Luther was not only an outstanding clergyman, but also a defender of his countrymen against the oppressions of the Holy Roman Empire and the Vatican. The Reformation was not a theological dispute divorced from secular concerns. In An Open Letter to The Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate, 1520, the celebrated monk wrote:
I believe that Germany now gives much more to the pope at Rome than it gave in former times to the emperors. Indeed, some estimate that every year more than three hundred thousand gulden find their way from Germany to Rome, quite uselessly and fruitlessly; we get nothing for it but scorn and contempt. And yet we wonder that princes, nobles, cities, endowments, land and people are impoverished! We should rather wonder that we still have anything to eat! Since we here come to the heart of the matter, we will pause a little...
The letter goes on to call for separating the German church from the church in Rome. Will Durant apprises the letter by noting, "Luther now planted his standard of revolt not in theological deserts, but in the rich soil of the German national spirit.  Wherever Protestantism won, nationalism carried the flag." Without the support of popular opinion in favor of reformation, Luther would have been burned at the stake and remembered as just another religious extremist.

Both of these movements, the Reformation and civil rights, were righteous causes with massive active support by those whose lives had been degraded. Both were led by virtuous men who persisted in making non-violence a core value of their movements. They were not hellraisers, but icons of social justice under the mantle of divine appointment. No preacher in America today stands out as a challenger to our creeping fascism, but does not the Christian world have such a leader today in Rome who could inspire and enable a needed revolution? This new social justice revolution may not begin in America, but, like the Reformation, it could sweep over the whole continent.
Photo by Gary A.K.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Fugger Factor

Five hundred years ago, as the Reformation was brewing in Germany, the Fugger family soared to
Jakob Fugger „the Rich" (1459–1525), by Albrecht Dürer
Source :The Yorck Project {PD-US-no notice}
heights of wealth never before attained by captains of industry. Though the Fuggers strove to monopolize all of their markets, other capitalists caught on to the possibilities and managed to join the conspicuous ranks of the aristocracy. On the brink of Europe's most sweeping cultural change in centuries, the wealth of the upper class brought about what Will Durant called "the greatest economic disparities as Europe had not known since the millionaires and slaves of Imperial Rome."

In commemoration of this quincentennial, I would like to offer a new metric for recognizing the potential for disparities in economic wealth to bring about radical societal disruption; introducing "the Fugger factor." I'll leave it to folks like Thomas Piketty to quantify this metric, but suffice it to say that today's Fugger factor in the U.S. is as high as it's been since the Great Depression to the point that today's richest 0.1 percent of U.S. households now own about as much as the poorest 90 percent of the country combined.

Only the most blindly loyal of his followers hold to the promise that Blowhard's proposed budget will ultimately benefit the poor. According to Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman, if we again follow the trickle down fallacies of the Reagan years, "...inequality could really reach extreme and totally unprecedented levels in the years ahead."

Perhaps Melania will read the President to sleep with passages from one of the books Pope Francis gave him during this week's visit. Laudato si contains some surprisingly germane passages on economic justice, to wit:
...we should be particularly indignant at the enormous inequalities in our midst, whereby we continue to tolerate some considering themselves more worthy than others. We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, would destroy the planet. In practice, we continue to tolerate that some consider themselves more human than others, as if they had been born with greater rights.
In their platform that advocates giving every citizen a livable income, the Green Party points out how these disparities should be viewed as a governmental problem:
The growing inequities in income and wealth between rich and poor; unprecedented discrepancies in salary and benefits between corporate top executives and line workers; loss of the "American dream" by the young and middle-class—each is a symptom of decisions made by policy-makers far removed from the concerns of ordinary workers trying to keep up.
Pope Francis takes this same view on down to other elites besides government, also pointing out the effect of urban blight, and adding a cautionary note for us green folk.
Indeed, when all is said and done, [the poor] frequently remain at the bottom of the pile. This is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world’s population. This lack of physical contact and encounter, encouraged at times by the disintegration of our cities, can lead to a numbing of conscience and to tendentious analyses which neglect parts of reality. At times this attitude exists side by side with a “green” rhetoric. Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
While the Reformation brought about a power realignment away from the church in Rome, this time it looks like the Pope is leading the charge for those who no longer care to go along with all this Fuggery.

 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

It Takes a Pillage

The preliminary version of the Department of Education's budget proposal looks like they took the Green Party platform on education and came up with ways to do everything the opposite.

Hogwarts by Steve Tannock

Green Party Position Blowhard Budget
The Green Party supports equal access to high-quality education, and sharp increases in financial aid for college students. The Blowhard administration supports unequal access to high-quality education by promoting private schools, and sharp decreases in financial aid for college students.
The Green Party is strongly opposed to the dissolution of public schools and the privatization of education. We believe that the best educational experience is guaranteed by the democratic empowerment of organized students, their parents and communities along with organized teachers. While advocating local control, DeVos proposes to use federal dollars to entice districts to adopt school-choice policies, adding new investment in alternatives to public schools.
We must stop disinvestment in education and instead put it at the top of our social and economic agenda. Effective schools have sufficient resources. Too many of our teachers are overworked, underpaid, and starved of key materials. We also must be more generous to our schools so that our children will learn what generosity is, and know enough to be able to be generous to us in return. The Blowhard administration administration plans to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives.
We also call attention to the results of a quarter century of corporate funding from the likes of the Bradley and Wal-Mart Family Foundations and a decade of No Child Left Behind — a vast, well-endowed and lucrative sector which seeks to dismantle, privatize, or militarize public education and destroy teachers unions. Regimes of high-stakes standardized testing and the wholesale diversion of resources away from public schools are provoking crises for which the bipartisan corporate consensus recommends school closings, dissolution of entire school districts and replacement by unaccountable, profit-based charter schools. The Green Party is unalterably opposed to the dissolution of public schools and the privatization of education. The Bradley Foundation awarded a William F. Buckley prize to the Devoses last November. The Walton Family and Walmart Foundations have contributed large sums to Devos's school choice PAC.
Provide free college tuition to all qualified students at public universities and vocational schools. It's time to forgive all student and parent loans taken out to finance post-secondary and vocational education. Blowhard's proposal would have undergraduate loan recipients pay up to 12.5 percent of their income for 15 years before it could be forgiven.
Oppose the administration of public schools by private, for-profit entities. Charter schools are the darlings of the Blowhard education department. The budget includes $400 million to expand charter schools and vouchers for private schools and another $1 billion to push public schools to adopt choice-friendly policies.
Increase funding for after-school and daycare programs. The proposal eliminates $1.2 billion for after-school programs and a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college.
Promote a diverse set of educational opportunities, including bi-lingual education, continuing education, job retraining, distance learning, mentoring and apprenticeship programs. The Blowhard budget dedicates no money to a fund ($400 million in 2017) for student support and academic enrichment.
Give K-12 classroom teachers professional status and salaries commensurate with advanced education, training and responsibility. Cut $2.1 billion for teacher training and class-size reduction.
Teach non-violent conflict resolution and humane education at all levels of education. Anti-bullying support would be cut.
Make student loans available to all college students, with forgiveness for graduates who choose public service occupations. The budget proposal eliminates a program to forgive loans of those who  pursue careers as social workers, teachers, public defenders or doctors in rural areas.
Expand arts education and physical education opportunities at school. The proposal cuts a $27 million arts education program, $12 million for Special Olympics education programs, and support for physical education.
Oppose efforts to restrict the teaching of scientific in-formation and the portrayal of religious belief as fact. Vouchers for parachioal schools would be greatly expanded

The principal motivation for the incipient takeover of K-12 education by private entities is the (often delusional) hope by parents to give their children a better education than those in public schools. In the process, a lot of identification with one's community is lost by both the children and the parents. By encouraging this trend, the Blowhard administration exploits parental concern in order to divide communities and weaken local politics. It all plays into the nationalistic agenda of these fascist elites who seek to subjugate the working class in the same way they fight the efforts of labor unions and other local groups to organize and make common cause.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Sonny, Don't Blow Up the Kids!

In my previous post, I referred to rising U.S. food prices and included a link to the latest monthly data as evidence. Critical readers may have questioned whether that supported the idea that we are seeing food price outpace inflation over any significant period of time, rather than just the latest month. You may research it yourself or take my word for it, but I took the PPI data from the BLS pages and compared the cumulative food price rise to core inflation over the 7+ years of data given and determined that food prices have, indeed, risen faster than inflation by 0.2 percent - not enough to even notice, but my statement stands. I could have researched CPI data and come up with slightly different results, but since my initial reference was based on producer prices, PPI should be adequate for this discussion.

The global picture is much more stark. Using data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, it is easy to see from this graph that, since around 2000, food prices have risen faster than inflation by around 25% ! The yellow line factors inflation in and shows that the world has undergone a reversal from decreasing real food prices in the last part of the 20th century to increasing food prices in this century. The gyrations of the past decade very likely correlate to oil price swings.


The near-term effect of more costly food will be a gradual shift to cheaper food, with resultant effects on health. The Blowhard administration is ahead of the curve in cultivating a taste among the less privileged for cheap eats. Early this month they rolled back federal requirements for schools to limit sodium and include more whole grains in their meals. The disingenuous argument from Sonny Perdue that kids won't eat the healthier foods ignores the matter of kids being more malleable than adults, so, compared to other groups, kids are the best candidates for healthy meals. More importantly, experts tell us that "eating behaviors established in childhood lay the foundation for eating habits throughout life, and of course for health."

The Green Party cares about our children possibly more than any other political party. While fighting hard to preserve an external environment where future generations can hope to survive and thrive after us elders have departed, Greens also want to give those children a healthy internal start. In their platform, the Green Party calls for more regulation of school meals:
Provide healthy school meals that are rich in vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber, and offer plant-based vegetarian options. Support Farm-to-School programs that provide food from local family farms and educational opportunities. 
Ban the sale of soda pop and junk food in schools. Junk food is defined as food or beverages that are relatively high in saturated or trans fat, added sugars or salt, and relatively low in vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber.
So it costs a little more. Soon, probably a lot more. Good nutrition now will give our kids the strong bodies they need to handle a future with physical demands far greater than in the days of ubiquitous fossil-fueled assistants.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Apocollapse Now

I may have missed it, but in my twelve years as a cost analyst for the Department of Defense, including the highest level of certification from the Defense Acquisition University, I never once heard of Baumol's Cost Disease. Nonetheless, the late William Baumol was famous for his discovery of how the cost of services rises implacably while the cost of goods decline. Cost analysts could be spared much consternation through this principle, but it also clarifies the situation for the man on the street.

When you look at the declining productivity gains over the past few decades, much of the slowdown can be attributed to this "disease," wherein more and more employment has shifted away from manufacturing and into services. Manufacturing processes are more easily automated than most service jobs, so the shift to large-scale, centralized manufacturing has improved efficiencies and profits in that sector.

From Albert Bates at The Great Change
I have built my projection of our economic future on the concepts in The Limits to Growth, which, at this point in our catabolic collapse would begin to exhibit a remission of the cost disease, i.e. as we retrace the stages of our rise to the information age, we will revert to more manufacturing employment, albeit on a more local, less automated level. This regression will make the price of goods rise at a rate comparable to the price of services.

The changes coming to manufacturing also apply to farming, since our farming is almost all conducted on factory farms nowadays. The graph that tells the story of the world's predicament has appeared here before, but looking at the details of when peaks occur in food production, then other industrial output, and finally services per capita shows the order in which we should expect to see prices rise. Even now, we are seeing the price of food rise faster than inflation. Those rising prices, first in food and then other manufacturing, will attract more entrants into the production sectors. Entrepreneurs start locally. Most of those new businesses will not easily scale as they will struggle with the same growth limiting forces that gave them an underserved niche in which to launch their business.

A retrenchment from globalism will drive much of this return to small scale. The current administration's overt and inadvertent dismantling of trade and foreign relations will facilitate this retrenchment. In that respect, their steps and missteps will aid the transition to localism. There is a difference, however, between localism and nationalism. Old Blowhard promotes the latter, but has no interest in the former. Additional steps must be taken with respect to commerce that will foster localism in order to keep employment up and pollution down as we revisit industrialism and later descend into agrarianism.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Everything is Fine

Wages are up and unemployment down in the latest monthly figures for the U.S. economy. Everything is fine...except that the rise in employment probably doesn't make up for the drop in productivity, which is caused, at least in part, by the sour mood of national politics. At least the economy keeps humming along... which is actually the problem.

Photo by Steve Fuerst (CC BY-ND 2.0)
We cannot continue to pursue growth in a fossil fueled economy. It's a dead end - at the edge of a cliff - dropping off into the raging sea which is pounding at the cliff and threatening its collapse. Old Blowhard is opening up the throttle of free enterprise and disconnecting the governor. At this speed, our runaway engine won't be able to avoid sending us off the cliff. We need to back down on the throttle and steer in a new direction. A renewable economy would steer us away from the cliff, though that is a course Old Blowhard has clearly abandoned with his appointment of Daniel Simmons to head the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).

"EERE" sparks notions of an eerie silence that would pervade our surroundings in the absence of blaring internal combustion engines. It's as if we fear that before these engines enslaved us a century ago our forebears lived a medieval existence. Ironically, however, it is not EERE which would take us back a millennium, but our neglect of transitioning to renewable technologies.

The catabolic collapse that the world is currently encountering is not predestined to reverse all of civilization's progress (though it may). Renewable technologies enable civilization to retain the benefits of the industrial revolution while abandoning its initial, unsustainable devices. The more we invest now in renewables, the less we will be forced into further difficulty as the collapse proceeds.

The Count of Mar-a-Largo would be pleased enough to live a sumptuous life above the fray of neo-medieval peasants struggling for their survival, but we don't have to accept such an extreme reversal. We need to rid our government of bad apples like him and institute a Green New Deal that will bring measured progress to our times along with blessed quiet to our communities.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

NAFTA Sucks

The best thing that I got out of the Climate March in D.C. on Saturday was meeting someone with a similar background who is also a permaculturalist. Even if they fail to catch the attention of politicians, protest marches and rallies serve to build community and solidarity around ideas and solutions. More protests followed the next day and again the next with a focus on the rights of workers. Seems the honeymoon hasn't led to a very happy marriage.

The May Day protests included a large contingent of immigrant rights advocates who have their own particular difficulties under a hostile administration in addition to being able to earn a decent living. New entrants to the U.S. workforce, immigrant or not, have had to struggle with stagnant or declining wages since 2000. Yet, worker productivity has continued to climb year after year, although the rate of increase has halved to less than 1% per year over the past decade.

Old Blowhard thinks that people are hungry for jobs, but the economy is nearly at full employment. People aren't job hungry, they are hungry for a decent living, or just plain hungry. The anger Blowhard has stirred up over Mexico stealing American jobs is a diversion from the issue of reduced wages and worker rights, driven, in part, by much weaker labor laws in Mexico. NAFTA is a bad deal for U.S. workers, but not only because of the jobs it sends to Mexico. It has led to lower wages and impoverishment in both places.  Not that the U.S. follows high standards for labor, either. We are among the least subscribed to the International Labor Organization's conventions and standards among the organization's 185 members.

In view of U.S. establishment's arrogance with respect to the ILO, the Green Party platform on labor is not at all overreaching. But don't expect any improvement under Labor Secretary Acosta. All stick and no carrot is not working so well when you look the anemic U.S. productivity gains. Yet, when you consider how Mexico abuses its workforce while making great productivity gains, it shows that a corrupt and irresponsible government can effectively enslave its workers while enriching the elites.

I hope workers of all stripes forged more solidarity in their marches this past week. Perhaps in the near future, the many movements will converge and we will be able march the fascists out of government.
by Germán Largo Urrea

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