Category Archives: global inequality

The Importance of Alternative Media

Social critic Neil Postman contrasted the futures predicted in Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World in the foreword of his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in an Age of Show Business (1985). He wrote:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Neil Postman’s book had its origins at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where he was invited to join a panel discussing George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Postman said that our present situation was better predicted by Huxley’s Brave New World. Today, he maintained it is not fear that bars us from truth. Instead, truth is drowned in distractions and the pursuit of pleasure, by the public’s addiction to amusement.

Postman sees television as the modern equivalent of Huxley’s pleasure-inducing drug, Soma, and he maintains that television, as a medium, is intrinsically superficial and unable to discuss serious issues. Looking at television as it is today, one must agree with him.

The wealth and power of the establishment

The media are a battleground where reformers struggle for attention, but are defeated with great regularity by the wealth and power of the establishment. This is a tragedy because today there is an urgent need to make public opinion aware of the serious problems facing civilization, and the steps that are needed to solve these problems. The mass media could potentially be a great force for public education, but in general their role is not only unhelpful – it is often negative. War and conflict are blatantly advertised by television and newspapers.

Newspapers and war

There is a true story about the powerful newspaper owner William Randolph Hearst that illustrates the relationship between the mass media and the institution of war: When an explosion sank the American warship USS Maine in the harbor of Havana, Hearst anticipated (and desired) that the incident would lead to war between the United States and Spain. He therefore sent his best illustrator, Fredrick Remington, to Havana to produce drawings of the scene. After a few days in Havana, Remington cabled to Hearst, “All’s quiet here. There will be no war.” Hearst cabled back, “You supply the pictures. I’ll supply the war.” Hearst was true to his words. His newspapers inflamed American public opinion to such an extent that the Spanish-American War became inevitable. During the course of the war, Hearst sold many newspapers, and Remington many drawings. From this story one might almost conclude that newspapers thrive on war, while war thrives on newspapers.

Before the advent of widely-read newspapers, European wars tended to be fought by mercenary soldiers, recruited from the lowest ranks of society, and motivated by financial considerations. The emotions of the population were not aroused by such limited and decorous wars. However, the French Revolution and the power of newspapers changed this situation, and war became a total phenomenon that involved emotions. The media were able to mobilize on a huge scale the communal defense mechanism that Konrad Lorenz called “militant enthusiasm” – self-sacrifice for the defense of the tribe. It did not escape the notice of politicians that control of the media is the key to political power in the modern world. For example, Hitler was extremely conscious of the force of propaganda, and it became one of his favorite instruments for exerting power.

With the advent of radio and television, the influence of the mass media became still greater. Today, state-controlled or money-controlled newspapers, radio and television are widely used by the power elite to manipulate public opinion. This is true in most countries of the world, even in those that pride themselves on allowing freedom of speech. For example, during the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the official version of events was broadcast by CNN, and criticism of the invasion was almost absent from their transmissions

The mass media and our present crisis

Today we are faced with the task of creating a new global ethic in which loyalty to family, religion and nation will be supplemented by a higher loyalty to humanity as a whole. In case of conflicts, loyalty to humanity as a whole must take precedence. In addition, our present culture of violence must be replaced by a culture of peace. To achieve these essential goals, we urgently need the cooperation of the mass media.

The predicament of humanity today has been called “a race between education and catastrophe”. Human emotions have not changed much during the last 40,000 years. Human nature still contains an element of tribalism to which nationalistic politicians successfully appeal. The completely sovereign nation-state is still the basis of our global political system. The danger in this situation is due to the fact that modern science has given the human race incredibly destructive weapons. Because of these weapons, the tribal tendencies in human nature and the politically fragmented structure of our world have both become dangerous anachronisms.

We have to learn to think in a new way. Will we learn this in time to prevent disaster? When we consider the almost miraculous power of our modern electronic media, we can be optimistic. Cannot our marvelous global communication network be used to change anachronistic ways of thought and anachronistic social and political institutions in time, so that the system will not self-destruct as science and technology revolutionize our world? If they were properly used, our instantaneous global communications could give us hope.

The success of our species is built on cultural evolution, the central element of which is cooperation. Thus human nature has two sides, tribal emotions are present, but they are balanced by the human genius for cooperation. The case of Scandinavia – once war-torn, now cooperative – shows that education is able to bring out either the kind and cooperative side of human nature, or the xenophobic and violent side. Which of these shall it be? It is up to our educational systems to decide, and the mass media are an extremely important part of education. Hence the great responsibility that is now in the hands of the media.

How do the mass media fulfill this life-or-death responsibility? Do they give us insight? No, they give us pop music. Do they give us an understanding of the sweep of evolution and history? No, they give us sport. Do they give us an understanding of need for strengthening the United Nations, and the ways that it could be strengthened? No, they give us sit-coms and soap operas. Do they give us unbiased news? No, they give us news that has been edited to conform with the interests of the military-industrial complex and other powerful lobbies. Do they present us with the need for a just system of international law that acts on individuals? On the whole, the subject is neglected. Do they tell of the essentially genocidal nature of nuclear weapons, and the urgent need for their complete abolition? No, they give us programs about gardening and making food.

A consumer who subscribes to the “package” of broadcasts sold by a cable company can often search through all 100 or so channels without finding a single program that offers insight into the various problems that are facing the world today. What the viewer finds instead is a mixture of pro-establishment propaganda and entertainment. Meanwhile the neglected global problems are becoming progressively more severe. In general, the mass media behave as though their role is to prevent the peoples of the world from joining hands and working to change the world and to save it from thermonuclear and environmental catastrophes. The television viewer sits slumped in a chair, passive, isolated, disempowered and stupefied. The future of the world hangs in the balance, the fate of children and grandchildren hang in the balance, but the television viewer feels no impulse to work actively to change the world or to save it. The Roman emperors gave their people bread and circuses to numb them into political inactivity. The modern mass media seem to be playing a similar role.

Our duty to future generations

The future of human civilization is endangered both by the threat of thermonuclear war and by the threat of catastrophic climate change. It is not only humans that are threatened, but also the other organisms with which we share the gift of life. We must also consider the threat of a global famine of extremely large proportions, when the end of the fossil fuel era, combined with the effects of climate change, reduce our ability to support a growing global population.

We live at a critical moment of history. Our duty to future generations is clear: We must achieve a steady-state economic system. We must restore democracy in our own countries when it has been replaced by oligarchy. We must decrease economic inequality both between nations and within nations. We must break the power of corporate greed. We must leave fossil fuels in the ground. We must stabilize and ultimately reduce the global population. We must eliminate the institution of war; and we must develop new ethics to match our advanced technology, ethics in which narrow selfishness, short-sightedness and nationalism will be replaced by loyalty to humanity as a whole, combined with respect for nature.

Inaction is not an option. We have to act with courage and dedication, even if the odds are against success, because the stakes are so high.

The mass media could mobilize us to action, but they have failed in their duty.

Our educational systems could also wake us up and make us act, but they too have failed us. The battle to save the earth from human greed and folly has to be fought in the alternative media.

The alternative media, and all who work with them, deserve both our gratitude and our financial support. They alone can correct the distorted and incomplete picture of the world that we obtain from the mass media. They alone can show us the path to a future in which our children, grandchildren, and all future generations can survive.

Author’s Note:

• A book discussing the importance of alternative media can be freely downloaded and circulated from this address:

• More freely downloadable books and articles on other global problems can be found here.

A Global People’s Bailout for the Coming Crash

When the global financial crisis resurfaces, we the people will have to fill the vacuum in political leadership. It will call for a monumental mobilisation of citizens from below, focused on a single and unifying demand for a people’s bailout across the world.

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A full decade since the great crash of 2008, many progressive thinkers have recently reflected on the consequences of that fateful day when the investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed, foreshadowing the worst international financial crisis of the post-war period. What seems obvious to everyone is that lessons have not been learnt, the financial sector is now larger and more dominant than ever, and an even greater crisis is set to happen anytime soon. But the real question is when it strikes, what are the chances of achieving a bailout for ordinary people and the planet this time?

In the aftermath of the last global financial meltdown, there was a constant stream of analysis about its proximate causes. This centred on the bursting of the US housing bubble, fuelled in large part by reckless sub-prime lending and an under-regulated shadow banking system. Media commentaries fixated on the implosion of collateralised debt obligations, credit default swaps and other financial innovations—all evidence of the speculative greed and lax government oversight which led to the housing and credit booms.

The term ‘financialisation’ has become a buzzword to explain the factors which precipitated these events, referring to the vastly expanded role of financial markets in the operation of domestic and global economies. It is not only about the growth of big banks and hedge funds, but the radical transformation of our entire society that has taken place as a result of the increasing dominance of the financial sector with its short-termist, profitmaking logic.

The origins of the problem are rooted in the early 1970s, when the US government decided to end the fixed convertibility of dollars into gold, formally ending the Bretton Woods monetary system. It marked the beginning of a new regime of floating exchange rates, free trade in goods and the free movement of capital across borders. The sweeping reforms brought in under the Thatcher and Reagan governments accelerated a wave of deregulation and privatisation, with minimum protective barriers against the ‘self-regulating market’.

The agenda was pushed aggressively by most national governments in the Global North, while being imposed on many Southern countries through the International Monetary Fund and World Bank’s infamous ‘structural adjustment programmes’. A legion of books have examined the disastrous consequences of this market-led approach to monetary and fiscal policy, derisorily labelled the neoliberal Washington Consensus. As governments increasingly focused on maintaining low inflation and removing regulations on capital and corporations, the world of finance boomed—and the foundations were laid for a dramatic dénouement in 2008.

Missed opportunities

What’s extraordinary to recall about the immediate aftermath of the great crash is the temporary reversal of those policies that had dominated the previous two decades. At the G20 summit in April 2009 hosted by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, heads of state envisaged a return to Keynesian macroeconomic prescriptions, including a large-scale fiscal stimulus in both developed and developing countries. It appeared that the Washington Consensus had suddenly lost all legitimacy. The liberalised global financial system had clearly failed to provide for a net transfer of resources to the developing world, or prevent instability and recurrent crisis without effective state regulation and democratic public oversight.

Many civil society organisations saw the moment to call for fundamental reform of the Bretton Woods institutions, as well as a complete rethink of the role of the state in the economy. There was even talk of negotiating a new Bretton Woods agreement that re-regulates international capital flows, and supports policy diversity and multilateralism as a core principle (in direct contrast to the IMF’s discredited approach).

The United Nations played a staunch role in upholding such demands, particularly through a commission set up by the then-President of the UN General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann. Led by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, the ‘UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development’ proposed a number of sensible measures to protect the least privileged citizens from the effects of the crisis, while giving developing countries greater influence in reforming the global economy.

Around the same time, the UN Secretary-General endorsed a Global Green New Deal that could stimulate an economic recovery, combat poverty and avert dangerous climate change simultaneously. It envisioned a massive programme of direct public investments and other internationally-coordinated interventions, arguing that the time had come to transform the global economy for the greater benefit of people everywhere, including the millions living in poverty in developing and emerging industrial economies.

This wasn’t the first time that nations were called upon to enact a full-scale reordering of global priorities in response to financial turmoil. At the onset of the ‘third world’ debt crisis in 1980, an Independent Commission on International Development Issues convened by the former West German Chancellor, Willy Brandt, also proposed far-reaching emergency measures to reform the global economic system and effectively bail out the world’s poor.

Yet the Brandt Commission proposals were widely ignored by Western governments at the time, which marked the rise of the neoliberal counterrevolution in macroeconomic policy—and all the conditions that led to financial breakdown three decades later. Then once again, governments responded in precisely the opposite direction for bringing about a sustainable economic recovery based on principles of equity, justice, sharing and human rights.

A world falling apart

We are all familiar with the course of action taken from 2008-9: colossal bank bailouts enacted (without public consultation) that favoured creditors, not debtors, despite using taxpayer money. Quantitative easing (QE) programmes that have pumped trillions of dollars into the global financial system, unleashing a fresh wave of speculative investment and further widening income and wealth gaps. And the perceived blame for the crisis deflected towards excessive public spending, leading to fiscal austerity measures being rolled out across most countries—a ‘decade of adjustment’ that is projected to affect nearly 80 percent of the global population by 2020.

To be sure, the ensuing policy responses across Europe were often compared to structural adjustment programmes imposed on developing countries in the 1980s and 1990s, when repayments to creditors of commercial banks similarly took precedence over measures to ensure social and economic recovery. The same pattern has repeated in every crisis-hit region, where the poorest in society pay the price through extreme austerity and the privatisation of public assets and services, despite being the least to blame for causing the crisis in the first place.

After ten years of these policies a new billionaire is created every second day, banks are still paying out billions of dollars in bonuses each year, and the top 1% of the world population are far wealthier than before the crisis happened. At the same time, global income inequality has returned to 1820 levels, and indicators suggest progress is now reversing on the prevention of extreme poverty and multiple forms of malnutrition.

Indeed the United Nations continues to face the worst humanitarian situation since the second world war, in large part due to conflict-driven crises that are rooted in the economic fallout of the 2008 crash—most dramatically in Syria, Libya, and Yemen. Countries of both the Global North and South remain in the grip of a record upsurge of forced human displacement, to which governments are predictably failing to respond to in the direction of cooperative burden sharing through agreements and institutions at the international level.

Not to mention the rise of fascism and divisive populism that is escalating in almost every society, often as a misguided response to pervasive inequality and a widespread sense of unfairness among ordinary workers. It is surely reasonable to suggest that all these trends would not be deteriorating if the community of nations had seized the opportunity a decade ago, and acted in accordance with calls for a just transition to a more equitable world order.

The worst is yet to come

We now live in a strange era of political limbo. Neoclassical economics may have failed to predict the great crash or provide answers for a sustained recovery, yet it still retains its hold on conventional academic thought. Neoliberalism may also be discredited as the dominant political and economic paradigm, yet mainstream institutions like the IMF and OECD still embrace the fundamentals of free market orthodoxy and countenance no meaningful alternative. Consequently, the new regulatory initiatives agreed at the global level are largely voluntary and inadequate, and governments have done little to counter the power of oligopolistic banks or prevent reckless speculative behaviour.

Banks may be relatively safer and possess a bigger crisis toolkit, but the risk has moved to the largely unregulated shadow banking system which has massively increased in size, growing from $28 trillion in 2010 to $45 trillion in 2018. Even major banks like JP Morgan are forewarning an imminent crisis, which may be caused by a digital ‘flash crash’ in which high frequency investments (measuring trades in millionths of a second) lead to a sudden downfall of global stock markets.

Another probable cause is the precipitous rise in global debt, which has soared from $142 to $250 trillion since 2008, three times the combined income of every nation. Global markets are running on easy money and credit, leading to a debt build-up which economists from across the political spectrum agree cannot last indefinitely without catastrophic results. The problem is most acute in emerging and developing economies, where short-term capital flowed in response to low interest rates and QE policies in the West. As the US and other rich countries begin to steadily raise interest rates again, there is a risk of a mass exodus of capital from emerging markets that could trigger a renewed debt crisis in the world’s poorest countries.

Of most concern is China, however, whose credit-fuelled expansion in the post-crash years has led to massive over-investment and national debt. With an overheating real-estate sector, volatile stock market and uncontrolled shadow banking system, it is a prime candidate to be the site for the next financial implosion.

However it originates, all the evidence suggests that an economic collapse could be far worse this time around. The ‘too-big-to-fail’ problem remains critical, with the biggest US banks owning more deposits, assets and cash than ever before. And with interest rates at historic lows for many G-10 central banks while the QE taps are still turned on, both developed and developing countries have less policy and fiscal space to respond to another shock.

Above all, China and the US are not in a position to take the same decisive central bank action that helped avert a world depression in 2008. And then there are all the contemporary political factors that mitigate against a coordinated international response—the retreat from multilateralism, the disintegration of established geopolitical structures and relationships, the fragmentation and polarisation of political systems throughout the world.

After two years of a US presidency that recklessly scraps global agreements and instigates trade wars, it is hard to imagine a repeat of the G20 gathering in 2009 when assembled leaders pledged never to go down the road of protectionist tariff policies again, fearing a return to the dire economic conditions that led to a world war in the 1930s. The domestic policies of the Trump administration are also especially perturbing, considering its current push for greater deregulation of the financial sector—rolling back the Dodd-Frank and consumer protection acts, increasing the speed of the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington, D.C., and more.

Mobilising from below

None of this is a reason to despair or lose hope. The great crash has opened up a new awareness and energy for a better society that brings finance under popular control, as a servant to the public and no longer its master. Many different movements and campaigns have sprung up in the post-crash years that focus on addressing the problems wrought by financialisation, which more and more people realise is the underlying source of most of the world’s interlinking crises. All of these developments are hugely important, although the true test of this rising political consciousness will come when the next crash happens.

After the worldwide bank bailouts of 2008-9—estimated in excess of $29 trillion by the US Federal Reserve alone—it is no longer possible to argue that governments cannot afford to provide for the basic necessities of everyone. Just a fraction of that sum would be enough to end income poverty for the 10% of the global population who live on less than $1.90 a day. Not to mention the trillions of dollars, euros, pounds and yen that have been directly pumped into financial markets by central banks of the major developed economies, constituting a regressive form of distribution in favour of the already wealthy that could have been converted into some form of ‘quantitative easing for the people’.

A reversal of government priorities on this scale is clearly not going to be led by the political class. They have already missed the opportunity, and are largely beholden to vested interests that are unduly concerned with short-term profit maximisation, not the rebuilding of the public realm or the universal provision of essential goods and services. The great crash and its aftermath was a global phenomenon that called for a cooperative global response, yet the necessary vision from within the ranks of our governments was woefully lacking. If the financial crisis resurfaces in a different and severer manifestation, we the people will have to fill the vacuum in political leadership. It will call for a monumental mobilisation of citizens from below, focused on a single and unifying demand for a people’s bailout across the world.

Much inspiration can be drawn from the popular uprisings throughout 2011 and 2012, although the Arab Spring and Occupy movements were unable to sustain the momentum for change without a clear agenda that is truly international in scope, and attentive to the needs of the world’s majority poor. That is why we should coalesce our voices around Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims the right of everyone to the minimal requirements for a dignified life—adequate food, housing, medical care, access to social services and financial security.

Through ceaseless demonstrations in all countries that continue day and night, a united call for implementing Article 25 worldwide may finally impel governments to cooperate at the highest level, and rewrite the rules of the international economic system on the basis of shared mutual interests. In the wake of a breakdown of the entire international financial and economic order, such a grassroots mobilisation of numberless people may be the last chance we have of resurrecting long-forgotten proposals in the UN archives, as notably embodied in the aforementioned Brandt Report or Stiglitz Commission.

The case of Iceland is widely remembered as an example of how a people’s bailout can be achieved, following the ‘Pots and Pans Revolution’ that swept the country in 2009—the largest protests in the country’s history to date. As a result of the public’s demands, a new coalition government was able to buck all trends by avoiding austerity measures, actively intervening in capital markets and strengthening social programs for the less privileged. The results were remarkable for Iceland’s economic recovery, which was achieved without forcing society as a whole to pay for the blunders of corrupt banks. But it still wasn’t enough to prevent the old establishment political parties from eventually returning to power, and resuming their support for the same neoliberal policies that generated the crisis.

So what must happen if another systemic banking collapse occurs of even greater magnitude, not only in Iceland but in every country of the world? That is the moment when we’ll need a global Pots and Pans Revolution that is replicated by citizens of all nationalities and political persuasions, on and on until the entire planet is engulfed in a wave of peaceful demonstrations with a common cause. It will require a huge resurgence of the goodwill and staying power that once animated Occupy encampments, although this time focused on a more inclusive and universal demand for implementing Article 25 and sharing the world’s resources.

It may seem far-fetched to presume such an unprecedented awakening of a disillusioned populace, as if we can expect a visionary leader of Christ-like stature to point out the path towards resurrecting the UN’s founding ideals of “better standards of life for everyone in the world”. Unfortunately, nothing less may suffice in this age of economic chaos and confusion, so let us all be prepared for the climactic events about to take place.

Priorities of the Time: Peace

For as long as anyone can remember violence and conflict have been part of daily life: humanity appears incapable of living peacefully together. There are the brutal cries of war, the vile acts of terror, homicides, rapes and assaults of all kinds. People everywhere long for an end to such conflicts, and are crying out for peace and understanding, to live in a just world free from fear.

Creating a world at peace not only demands putting an end to all forms of armed brutality, it also entails building peace within communities, in the workplace, educational institutions and the home, in the natural environment and, most importantly, it requires the inculcation of harmony within all of us. Each of these areas of living are interconnected, the prevailing condition in each affecting the stability and atmosphere of the other.

The task before us is to identify and change the prevailing divisive modes of living for inclusive ways that facilitate peace and cultivate tolerance. Peace itself is part of our essential nature: when the conditions of conflict are removed, peace between groups and within individuals arises naturally.

We are Society

Society is not an abstraction; it is a reflection of the consciousness of the individuals that make up any given community. As such, the responsibility for the nature of a town, city, school, office, country, region, etc., rests largely with those who live within its boundaries. I say “largely” because the corporate and state bodies that fashion the structures and promote the ideals of the day bear a large part of the responsibility. Specific values and conclusions are daily poured into the minds of everyone, virtually from birth, conditioning the consciousness and behavior of people around the world; the media (including the internet), institutionalized education and organized religion being the main outlets for such propaganda.

Variations on the nature of such conditioning are determined by circumstances of birth and background: the religious, political, socio-economic belief systems, the values of the family, the region and/or the country. All ism’s are inhibiting and divisive, and as the Dalai Lama says in A Human Approach to World Peace, when they are adopted people lose “sight of the basic humanity that binds us all together as a single human family.” Freedom of thought and independent creative thinking is denied, conformity expected. And can there be peace when the mind is imprisoned within the confines of a doctrine, no matter how lofty?

Whilst it is true that a symbiotic relationship exists between society and the individual, fundamentally the external world in which we live is a reflection of the internal life of humanity. Violent, disharmonious societies are the external manifestation of the inner turmoil, discontent and fear that many people feel.

The business of War

The loudest, ugliest form of violence is war, the machinery of which is a huge global industry greatly valued by the corporate state. It is a business ostensibly like any other, the difference being its products are intended to kill people and destroy everything in their path.

Like all businesses, weapons manufacturers operate to generate profits: wars are big business for arms companies, and therefore highly profitable, desirable even. International arms sales (dominated by America, with 34% of the total) according to the BBC “is now worth about $100bn.” By contrast, to end world hunger, which currently crushes the lives of around a billion people globally, would cost a mere $30 billion per year. And we wonder why there is no peace – how can there be peace when such gross injustice and inhumanity persist?

Profit, whether financial remuneration, status or power, is the principle motivating force within the working methodology of the global economic system. It is an unjust model that promotes a range of divisive, therefore violent values, including selfishness, competition and ambition. It thrives on and continually engenders dissatisfaction, and can there be peace when there is discontent?

Enormous wealth and power for a handful of men flow from the Ideology of Consumerism, leading to unprecedented levels of inequality in income/wealth, influence, education, health care, employment opportunities, access to culture and freedom to travel. Inequality is a fundamental form of social injustice: peace will never be realized where social injustice exists. Nor can peace be known when hunger, poverty, and exploitation, flowing from (financial) vulnerability, stalk the land destroying the lives of millions throughout the world.

Removing the obstacles to peace

Extreme inequality is a vile stain on our common humanity; inequality between the hideously wealthy, who have everything but want more, and the desperately poor, who have nothing, can barely feed themselves and live lives stunted by suffering; inequality between the economically secure and habitually complacent, and those who work until they drop yet can barely pay the rent. The hierarchy of injustice is crude at the extremes, variable in the middle and toxic throughout. It feeds anger and resentment and crushes peace.

Together with a ‘dog-eat-dog’ mentality, global inequality fuels insecurity and fear, both psychological and physical, leading to tension, anxiety and depression. It fosters bitterness, crushes hope and strengthens false notions of superiority and inferiority. This in turn reinforces the prevailing fear and a strengthening spiral of suspicion, intolerance and unease is set in motion, thereby denying the quiet manifestation of peace.

The realization of peace is inextricably related to the introduction of a new socio-economic order based on values altogether different from the existing model. A socially just system that reduces inequality, encourages cooperation instead of competition, and facilitates equal access to well designed accommodation, good quality health care and stimulating education. Where social justice exists trust develops, relationships evolve, peace comes into being.

At the heart of any alternative system should be the inculcation of the Principle of Sharing; sharing not only of the food, water, land and other natural resources, but of knowledge, skills and opportunities. Sharing encourages cooperation between people from different backgrounds, allowing understanding and tolerance to grow. Tolerance of those who look different, pray and think differently, and understanding that humanity is one, that the human condition is universal no matter one’s circumstances or worldview. That we share one home, which we are all responsible for, and that in every corner of the world men, women and children want the same things: to live in peace free from fear, to build a decent life for themselves and their families and to be happy.

When we share, we acknowledge our common need, our shared humanity and our universal rights. Through sharing, a more equitable world can evolve; sharing, together with cooperation, tolerance and understanding are key elements of the time, and when expressed individually and collectivelyallow for peace to naturally come into being. Complementary to such Principles of Goodness, forgiveness and the absence of retaliation or retribution are essential in establishing peace. As is well documented, punishment without rehabilitation and compassion is a recipe for despondency, more violence and further acts of crime. Such actions have dogged humanity since records began, as has war, and while there have been tremendous advances in technology, medicine and science, the consciousness of humanity seems to have changed very little, we remain violent, selfish and fearful. As the Dalai Lama puts it, “there is no doubt about the increase in our material progress and technology, but somehow this is not sufficient as we have not yet succeeded in bringing about peace and happiness or in overcoming suffering…the basic human problems remain.”

The overcoming of these ‘basic problems’ and the realization of peace both flow from the same root: the recognition of mankind’s essential unity, and the cultivation of a sense of “universal responsibility”. Fragmentation and dishonesty of mind must be resolved, fear and desire understood. The current modes of living inflame these negative tendencies and make what already appears difficult, even more so. Discontent and desire are constantly agitated, social and national divisions inflamed, and an atmosphere of insecurity created. At the same time a reductive image of happiness and security is portrayed through mainstream films, TV and other media outlets. It is a hollow construct based on pleasure, the fulfillment of emotionally rooted desires and material satisfactions, none of which will ever create lasting happiness or inner peace. Peace does not lie inside walls of division, whether formed of concrete or constructed out of some ideological doctrine, but, like lasting happiness, reveals itself when there is total freedom from desire.

Tenth Anniversary Of Financial Collapse, Preparing For The Next Crash

Jail Bankers Not Protesters, Occupy Wall Street, 2011 (Photo by Stan Honda for AFP-Getty Images)

Ten years ago, there was panic in Washington, DC, New York City and financial centers around the world as the United States was in the midst of an economic collapse. The crash became the focus of the presidential campaign between Barack Obama and John McCain and was followed by protests that created a popular movement, which continues to this day.

Banks: Bailed Out; The People: Sold Out

On the campaign trail, in March 2008, Obama blamed mismanagement of the economy on both Democrats and Republicans for rewarding financial manipulation rather than economic productivity. He called for funds to protect homeowners from foreclosure and to stabilize local governments and urged a 21st Century regulation of the financial system. John McCain opposed federal intervention, saying the country should not bail out banks or homeowners who knowingly took financial risks.

By September 2008, McCain and Obama met with President George W. Bush and together they called for a $700 billion bailout of the banks, not the people. Obama and McCain issued a joint statement that called the bank bailout plan “flawed,” but said, “the effort to protect the American economy must not fail.” Obama expressed “outrage” at the “crisis,” which was “a direct result of the greed and irresponsibility that has dominated Washington and Wall Street for years.”

By October 2008, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), or bank bailout, had recapitalized the banks, the Treasury had stabilized money market mutual funds and the FDIC had guaranteed the bank debts. The Federal Reserve began flowing money to banks, which would ultimately total almost twice the $16 trillion claimed in a federal audit. Researchers at the University of Missouri found that the Federal Reserve gave over $29 trillion to the banks.

This did not stop the loss of nine million jobs, more than four million foreclosures and the deep reduction in wealth among the poor, working and middle classes. A complete banking collapse was averted, but a deep recession for most people was not.

The New Yorker described the 2008 crash as years in the making, writing:

…the crisis took years to emerge. It was caused by reckless lending practices, Wall Street greed, outright fraud, lax government oversight in the George W. Bush years, and deregulation of the financial sector in the Bill Clinton years. The deepest source, going back decades, was rising inequality. In good times and bad, no matter which party held power, the squeezed middle class sank ever further into debt.

Before his inauguration, Obama proposed an economic stimulus plan, but, as Paul Krugman wrote:

Obama’s prescription doesn’t live up to his diagnosis. The economic plan he’s offering isn’t as strong as his language about the economic threat.

In the end, the stimulus was even smaller than what Obama proposed. Economist Dean Baker explained that it may have created 2 million jobs, but we needed 12 million. It was $300 billion in 2009, about the same in 2010, and the remaining $100 billion followed over several years — too small to offset the $1.4 trillion in annual lost spending.

New York Magazine reports the stimulus was “a spending stimulus bigger, by some measures than the entire New Deal.” But unlike the New Deal, which benefited people at the bottom and built a foundation for a long-term economy, the bi-partisan post-2008 stimulus bailed out Wall Street and left Main Street behind.

Wall Street executives were not prosecuted even though the financial crisis was in large part caused by their fraud. Bankers were given fines costing dimes on the dollar without being required to admit guilt or having their cases referred for prosecution. The fines were paid by shareholders, not the perpetrators.

Protest near Union Square in New York, April, 2010. Popular Resistance.

Still at Risk

Many of the root causes of the crisis remain today, making another economic downturn or collapse possible. The New Yorker reports that little has changed since 2008, with Wall Street banks returning to risky behavior and the inadequate regulation of Dodd-Frank being weakened. Big finance is more concentrated and dominant than it was before the crash. Inequality and debt have expanded, and despite the capital class getting wealthier in a record stock market with corporate profits soaring, real wages are stuck at pre-crisis levels.

People are economically insecure in the US and live with growing despair, as measured by reports on well-being. The Federal Reserve reported in 2017 that “two in five Americans don’t have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency expense.” Further, “more than one in five said they weren’t able to pay the current month’s bills in full, and more than one in four said they skipped necessary medical care last year because they couldn’t afford it.”

Positive Money writes:

Ten years on, big banks are still behaving in reckless, unfair and neglectful ways. The structural problems with our money and banking system still haven’t been fixed. And many experts fear that if we don’t change things soon, we’re going to sleepwalk into another crash.

William Cohen, a former mergers and acquisitions banker on Wall Street, writes that the fundamentals of US economy are still flawed. The Economist describes the current situation: “The patient is in remission, not cured.”

From Occupy Washington DC at Freedom Plaza

The Response Of the Popular Movement

Larry Eliott wrote in the Guardian: “Capitalism’s near-death experience with the banking crisis was a golden opportunity for progressives.” But the movement in the United States was not yet in a position to take advantage of it.

There were immediate protests. Democratic Party-aligned groups such as USAction, True Majority and others organized nationwide actions. Over 1,000 people demonstrated on Wall Street and phones in Congress were ringing wildly. While there was opposition to the bailout, there was a lack of national consensus over what to do.

Protests continued to grow. In late 2009, a “Move Your Money” campaign was started that urged people to take their money out of the big banks and put it in community banks and credit unions. The most visible anti-establishment rage in response to the bailout arose later in the Tea Party and Occupy movements. Both groups shared a consensus that we live in a rigged economy created by a corrupt political establishment. It was evident that the US is an oligarchy, which serves the interests of the wealthy while ignoring the necessities of the people.

The anti-establishment consensus continues to grow and showed itself in the 2016 presidential campaigns of Senator Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. They were two sides of the same coin of populist anger that defeated Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. Across the political spectrum, there is a political crisis with both mainstream, Wall Street-funded political parties being unpopular but staying in power due to a calcified political system that protects the duopoly of Democrats and Republicans.

Occupy Wall Street 2011

Preparing for the Next Collapse

When the next financial crisis arrives, the movement is in a much stronger position to take advantage of the opportunity for significant changes that benefit people over Wall Street. The Occupy movement and other efforts since then have changed the national dialogue so that more people are aware of wealth inequality, the corruption of big banks and the failure of the political elites to represent the people’s interests.

There is also greater awareness of alternatives to the current economy. The Public Banking movement has grown significantly since 2008. Banks that need to be bailed out could be transformed into public banks that serve the people and are democratically controlled. And there are multiple platforms, including our People’s Agenda, that outline alternative solutions.

We also know the government can afford almost $30 trillion to bail out the banks. One sixth of this could provide a $12,000 annual basic income, which would cost $3.8 trillion annually, doubling Social Security payments to $22,000 annually, which would cost $662 billion, a $10,000 bonus for all US public school teachers, which would cost $11 billion, free college for all high school graduates, which would cost $318 billion, and universal preschool, which would cost $38 billion. National improved Medicare for all would actually save the nation trillions of dollars over a decade. We can afford to provide for the necessities of the people.

We can look to Iceland for an example of how to handle the next crisis. In 2008, they jailed the bankers, let the banks fail without taking on their debt and put controls in place to protect the economy. They recovered more quickly than other countries and with less pain.

How did they do it? In part, through protest. They held sustained and noisy protests, banging pots and pans outside their parliament building for five months. The number of people participating in the protests grew over time. They created democratized platforms for gathering public input and sharing information widely. And they created new political parties, the Pirate Party and the Best Party, which offered agendas informed by that popular input.

So, when the next crash comes. Let’s put forward a People’s Agenda. Let’s be like Iceland and mobilize for policies that put people first. Collectively, we have the power to overcome the political elites and their donor class.

The Incredible Weight of Not Being

If I Don’t Feel It, The Problem Doesn’t Exist

You know we are cooked when the middling middle class, with educations from Duke, USC, Vanderbilt, Princeton, Columbia, and gobs of money in the bank, and an east coast upbringing, now California dreaming, are astonished that there are actually homeless veterans.

This is the state of the lobotomized America, one country that is a mix of Disneyland, Zombie-land, Filthy First Families, War Economics, General Anxiety Disorder gone rampant, and, well, everything one can imagine the White Race (sic) has become under the crystal meth bubble of money, debt, TV, Netflix, Cowboys and Indians Entertainment, and a population in a dervish of debt spiral while the hooked-brained Point Zero Zero Zero One Percent has us as slaves.

On the surface, everything looks fine in America when zipping down the streets of LA, Seattle, Phoenix, Atlanta, if one wants to believe normality is that baseline of gutters full of 7-11 hot dog wrappers, millions of miles of strip malls with attendant boarded up storefronts, smoke-pot-booze-armament-nickel and dime shops, concrete, tar, 300,000,000 cars pushing and pulling people to precarious jobs and off-the-clock mortgaged lives, and the endless serpents of 18-wheelers crisscrossing America with the goods of depravity, obsolescence, and despair.

It’s a blitzkrieg of sound bites, biting hatred toward anyone different than that narrow creepy species of white people with kids and two homes depicted on TV. The white race, even though it is shrinking, is like a plague. It takes only a few microbes to disease a pond with cholera, and it only takes a few whites in a board room or in a bureaucracy or corporation to turn the air to putrid, disease-causing sickness, where punishment is measured in how much the few can take from the many.

So I go back to the astonishment of friends and relatives on the West Coast, Southern Cal: How can there be homeless veterans . . . as if the only veterans in the minds of these upper middle class are four-star triple-dipping multimillionaire generals, or Ollie North types selling their filthy Christo-Zio murderous brand of America to FOX, the NRA and some glass church on the hill making profits from private prison hell.

We are talking about 50 K veterans homeless, hundreds of thousands basically screwed because of the enormous disabilities for which the time spent “serving” has exacted as the second and third level of punishment this sadistic system of indoctrinating people into believing they are doing anything for the country (not) in the form of pushing around dirt, cranking wrenches, tooling around in this disgusting excess of overpriced dangerous polluting equipment that literally takes food out of the mouths of babes and grannies.

Then the millions of veterans hobbling around with herniated discs, diabetes, dead knees, metal hips, PTSD, rotting teeth, a thousand varieties of internal injuries, diseases and maladies. And we pay dearly in this structural violent land of Bernie Sanders’ pet F-35 project, or McCain’s aircraft carriers, or Filthy Trump’s “we make the best stuff, the very best guns and missiles and killer jets and bombs in the whole world, the best . . .” and untold bio-chem-putridity created by the US Armed Forces.

I attempt to tell these la-la land folk that even one base, Camp Lejeune, killed thousands of military and civilians from 30 years of contaminated water exposure that was covered up by those big brass officers, generals and retired triple-dipper civil servants.  They guffaw, and then eyes glaze over when I repeat there are 130 other US-based military compounds that are toxic dumps.

Brother can you spare a dime is sister can you spare a tooth extraction

This is the lead up into my work, daily the stories and the crises, the onion peeled back, multiple bizarre incidents in the veterans’ lives. Bombarded with not only propaganda, but shock waves, chemicals, murder teams like the Phoenix Program or MK-Ultra or DARPA, you name it, the things these many times economically-drafted people have endured would rip the souls from most of the middling ones, the flag wavers and cocktail umbrella twirling Republicans and Democrats.

The filthy Trumps and Don’s entourage and millions upon millions of Kool-Aid drinkers, believers, deplorables, oh, they are, whether they are calling themselves stock brokers or sausage makers, when you lick the shoes of this sort of filthy fellow, we know we have slipped in our insanity – from all these other bastions like Ike, Truman, Nixon, Bush, Ford, Bush, Clinton, Obama, Carter, hell, these are cutouts of the two parties for which they flip billions and billions of shekels in the name of the corporate Satans.

Here I am, in the richest country in the world (ha, ha) in the weirdest town in the USA, Portland, Oregon, where the influx of money from California has turned this into a winter and summer playground for the 20 Percent with thousands of homeless in tents along freeway off-ramps, kids with heroin track lines intertwined with tattoos selling trinkets, thousands of people in drug recovery programs, and an army of civil servants and social services personnel making shitty livings off of some really shitty shitty situations.

We have this Pacific Northwest billionaire and millionaire club, the Boeings and Alaska Airlines and Intels and Nikes and Amazons and thousands of companies that give shit about the near homeless, the houseless, the struggling ones their own shitty companies hire on to do the heavy labor and mindless digital shuffling required in this usury and punishment world of the Goldman Sachs prostitutes.

I can rail on and on, but the reality is, punks like me could change the world, with just the right marketing, connections, exposures, moments of epiphany, conversations with the right person at the right time at the right place, etc.

Think 20- or thirty-acre venues, in the forests around Mount Adams and Mount Hood, anywhere in this PNW, where we could, with the right funding, get tiny homes built with sweat equity, around communal all-purpose rooms-kitchens-gathering points. Homes with toilets (compostable), solar arrays, and gardens circling this mix, and then, well, hundreds upon hundreds of these with tens of thousands of people, mixed races, mixed ideas, mixed ages, supporting each other. Ebenezer Howard comes to mind, oh those Garden Cities, but with a 21st century punch. School buses, ready for the crusher, retrofitted for homes, that is, college kids and high schoolers and Pk8 working to learn the tricks of working with hands, design, construction, art, engineering, food growing, and social services.

This organic concentric circle of tiny homes, cabins, containers, school buses, like a giant sunflower, with other circles and rings of gardens, livestock pens, work arenas, amphitheaters.

It could be done in five years. Land is plentiful. We have these creeps at Google wanting self-driving vans, buses, so get their billionaire butts involved – shuttles for those veterans and non-veterans getting to hospitals, or, better yet, do the Stan Brock (Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom sidekick) thing of Remote Area Medical and have docs, dentists, PAs, shrinks, gerontologists, child social workers, holistic healers, naturopaths, et al. I can give the links below, but the stories and solutions have already been written, for sure, and if it takes these thieves like Musk-Tesla and Bezos and Buffet and Walton and Gates and the countless gluttons, war profiteers, the scabs of humanity – industrial military-finance-education-ag-energy-legal-IT-prison-insurance-retail complex – to fund it, voluntarily, or with a Eugene Debs reality, then so be it.

Here’s the segue into one example of a veteran at the place where I work who could be the Johnny Appleseed or Pied Piper of this project, going to the captains of industry, the colonels of Wall Street and the generals of filthy rich wealth with a dervish of a man like me showing the plans and crunching the numbers.

Who’s Giving this Guy Right Out of a Quadruple Hollywood Script the Time of Day?

I will call him Stephen. He’s in the homeless shelter a second time. The first time, man, a few years ago, he was here, with a lot of sobriety under his belt, but, he ended up at a 7-11, loaned out some money to a friend, and then bam, the friend offered to pay back the loan with crystal meth. Stephen, living in our shelter, which is family and sober based, jumped out the window to not embarrass himself or put the program at risk.

From 1977 to ’82, 82nd Airborne. He did the radical macho stuff, in the Army, and he tells me that he always wanted to be in the military, since age 10. Northern California roots, athlete, family with military history – Army, Navy, Marines. He worked in a trailer factory in high school, and other outfits.

The drinking started in the Army. Guys back from Vietnam as company leaders, with plethora of drug abuse, drinking, and hell, the Army barracks had beer machines installed next to cots. The 82nd Airborne then, Stephen says, was called “The Jumping Junkies.”

He bounced around after military, working at Bank of America, married and divorced. Biker clubs (gangs) and things got hard when his son was murdered by the mother’s (his ex) boyfriend. That’s when the anger set in, and the drugs, but he ended up being a number one supervisor for construction sites building Wal-marts and the other box stores. Six figures, and, he ended up owning his own company, 12 acre plot of land and home he paid cash for. He moved up to even higher pay doing supervision of hospital construction and refab sites, in California, and earthquake mitigation.

A functional cocaine-speed-methamphetamine abuser with a lot of anger but more compassion. Prison terms for selling, a few property crimes, no violence.

He counts homelessness in years, living in storm drains, living out of dumpsters, and even told me about waking up many times with a piece of drop cloth covering him and snow packed on top of that.

He looks like a cross between Tommy Lee Jones and Scott Glenn. He talked of turning 60 in September. He’s strong, and counts his lucky stars his body held up.

Now, he makes $3000 a month, and that’s from his service connected disabilities. He is on his road to 23 months sober, and before he came back to our shelter, he was 31 days living in the forest parks around Portland that are such a draw for those same Californians who think there is no way in hell a veteran can be homeless.

Stephen’s got all the elements in this day and age of flash in the pan so-called business leaders. He has the biographical narrative that shows how some people can go from here to there back to there, hit rock bottom a few times, almost bite the dust, get criminally involved, let the drugs be the monkey on the back, and, then, bam, the spirit takes him.

He goes to Narcotics Anonymous, is a member of a local church, takes other vets belongings to their new digs, and he’s shooting for community college in the fall for an AAS degree in alcohol and chemical dependency, and he wants the BA, and more.

A tailored shirt to display his buff frame, short-sleeved to show the tattoos, and boots and new jeans and a briefcase, and, rolled up site plans for these garden villages, and the right knock-knock-knock to Bill and Melinda, or Oprah, or, whomever.

The problem in America, though, as Stephen and I talk, are the doors – which doors, how to get to those doors, and in many cases the rich and powerful hide behind a house of mirrors with all sorts of false doors. Too many middlemen and middlewomen, too many great pretenders, too many self-absorbed so-called community leaders and heads of non-profits.

You Go to Jail to Get Mental and Addiction Help!@?#

Hell, head clerk at the prison, completion of a robust program in Portland, Bridges to Change, volunteering, peer support training, volunteering at the labor force office helping recently released prisoners with resumes and finding housing for the bottom of the barrel ex-cons – those charged and time served for sexual offenses.

I keep being told I am where I am at – precarious, job to job, old now, on the far edge of power – because I piss people off, because I call a spade a spade, and that I can’t accept baby steps and the power of the offensives this white supremacist country sets forth upon the land. True.

nicevillage

The mantel is Stephen’s, and I might just be an idea generator, a big bag of hot air blowing ideas and criticisms and theoretical platitudes so far out of sync with the language of punishment and dog-kill-dog capitalism, that I am in la-la land.

So, this is how Stephen got sober the last time, two years ago – he jumped out the window his shared bedroom of the shelter, wandered for a few hours, and then, exactly 48 hours later, he went into a Subway, grabbed a milk from the fridge, plopped it on the counter, and told the attendant, “This is a robbery. Call the police.”

Stephen proceeded to put the milk back, and, waited for the cops. Attempted robbery, and a rap sheet, so two years inside a minimum-security penitentiary taking every available class in cognitive behavioral therapy and anger management and addiction recovery.

He’s the guy that could manage these garden villages, training any number of people how to lead, how to design and implement the building and construction and maintenance of the villages. One village at a time, times 5 or 20.

While these fat-cats invest in parasitic capitalism, investing in yachts and gold faucets to their penthouses. While these thugs with billions crusade across the land to smear us, the working class, attack us, those with a collectivism that would outperform any of their deceptive tricks to triple bookkeeping and felonious investments and punishment spread across the seas in their transnational capital crypto-currency Mafioso.

Brother, can you spare a million people? Sister, can you spare a few million young people from the endless toil of the fulfillment centers (sic) and kill-your-self-slowly Gig Economy.

The Three Magnets from Garden Cities of Tomorrow, 1902

Howard’s socialist vision of garden cities tied to the people and cultural implications of these thriving communities over the spatial holism of the cities/towns: Article.

The Veterans Community Project (VCP) is on a mission to eliminate Veteran homelessness by providing transitional-housing and enabling access to exceptional 360-degree service solutions. Focusing first on the Greater-Kansas City area, VCP aspires to use Kansas City as the blueprint for achieving similar successes in cities across the United States. VCP has a long-term goal of eliminating Veteran homelessness nationwide.

For many years, it has been tough to find a way to house the homeless. More than 3.5 million people experience homelessness in the United States each year, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Shortages of low-income housing continue to be a major challenge. For every 100 households of renters in the United States that earn “extremely low income” (30 percent of the median or less), there are only 30 affordable apartments available, according to a 2013 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.  Source: Yes! Magazine.

Remote Area Medical (RAM) is a major nonprofit provider of mobile medical clinics. Our mission is to prevent pain and alleviate suffering by providing free, quality healthcare to those in need. We do this by delivering free dental, vision, and medical services to underserved and uninsured individuals. RAM’s Corps of more than 120,000 Humanitarian Volunteers–licensed dental, vision, medical, and veterinary professionals–have treated more than 740,000 people and 67,000 animals, delivering $120 million worth of free health care services.

Image result for ebenezer howard

The Incredible Weight of Not Being

If I Don’t Feel It, The Problem Doesn’t Exist

You know we are cooked when the middling middle class, with educations from Duke, USC, Vanderbilt, Princeton, Columbia, and gobs of money in the bank, and an east coast upbringing, now California dreaming, are astonished that there are actually homeless veterans.

This is the state of the lobotomized America, one country that is a mix of Disneyland, Zombie-land, Filthy First Families, War Economics, General Anxiety Disorder gone rampant, and, well, everything one can imagine the White Race (sic) has become under the crystal meth bubble of money, debt, TV, Netflix, Cowboys and Indians Entertainment, and a population in a dervish of debt spiral while the hooked-brained Point Zero Zero Zero One Percent has us as slaves.

On the surface, everything looks fine in America when zipping down the streets of LA, Seattle, Phoenix, Atlanta, if one wants to believe normality is that baseline of gutters full of 7-11 hot dog wrappers, millions of miles of strip malls with attendant boarded up storefronts, smoke-pot-booze-armament-nickel and dime shops, concrete, tar, 300,000,000 cars pushing and pulling people to precarious jobs and off-the-clock mortgaged lives, and the endless serpents of 18-wheelers crisscrossing America with the goods of depravity, obsolescence, and despair.

It’s a blitzkrieg of sound bites, biting hatred toward anyone different than that narrow creepy species of white people with kids and two homes depicted on TV. The white race, even though it is shrinking, is like a plague. It takes only a few microbes to disease a pond with cholera, and it only takes a few whites in a board room or in a bureaucracy or corporation to turn the air to putrid, disease-causing sickness, where punishment is measured in how much the few can take from the many.

So I go back to the astonishment of friends and relatives on the West Coast, Southern Cal: How can there be homeless veterans . . . as if the only veterans in the minds of these upper middle class are four-star triple-dipping multimillionaire generals, or Ollie North types selling their filthy Christo-Zio murderous brand of America to FOX, the NRA and some glass church on the hill making profits from private prison hell.

We are talking about 50 K veterans homeless, hundreds of thousands basically screwed because of the enormous disabilities for which the time spent “serving” has exacted as the second and third level of punishment this sadistic system of indoctrinating people into believing they are doing anything for the country (not) in the form of pushing around dirt, cranking wrenches, tooling around in this disgusting excess of overpriced dangerous polluting equipment that literally takes food out of the mouths of babes and grannies.

Then the millions of veterans hobbling around with herniated discs, diabetes, dead knees, metal hips, PTSD, rotting teeth, a thousand varieties of internal injuries, diseases and maladies. And we pay dearly in this structural violent land of Bernie Sanders’ pet F-35 project, or McCain’s aircraft carriers, or Filthy Trump’s “we make the best stuff, the very best guns and missiles and killer jets and bombs in the whole world, the best . . .” and untold bio-chem-putridity created by the US Armed Forces.

I attempt to tell these la-la land folk that even one base, Camp Lejeune, killed thousands of military and civilians from 30 years of contaminated water exposure that was covered up by those big brass officers, generals and retired triple-dipper civil servants.  They guffaw, and then eyes glaze over when I repeat there are 130 other US-based military compounds that are toxic dumps.

Brother can you spare a dime is sister can you spare a tooth extraction

This is the lead up into my work, daily the stories and the crises, the onion peeled back, multiple bizarre incidents in the veterans’ lives. Bombarded with not only propaganda, but shock waves, chemicals, murder teams like the Phoenix Program or MK-Ultra or DARPA, you name it, the things these many times economically-drafted people have endured would rip the souls from most of the middling ones, the flag wavers and cocktail umbrella twirling Republicans and Democrats.

The filthy Trumps and Don’s entourage and millions upon millions of Kool-Aid drinkers, believers, deplorables, oh, they are, whether they are calling themselves stock brokers or sausage makers, when you lick the shoes of this sort of filthy fellow, we know we have slipped in our insanity – from all these other bastions like Ike, Truman, Nixon, Bush, Ford, Bush, Clinton, Obama, Carter, hell, these are cutouts of the two parties for which they flip billions and billions of shekels in the name of the corporate Satans.

Here I am, in the richest country in the world (ha, ha) in the weirdest town in the USA, Portland, Oregon, where the influx of money from California has turned this into a winter and summer playground for the 20 Percent with thousands of homeless in tents along freeway off-ramps, kids with heroin track lines intertwined with tattoos selling trinkets, thousands of people in drug recovery programs, and an army of civil servants and social services personnel making shitty livings off of some really shitty shitty situations.

We have this Pacific Northwest billionaire and millionaire club, the Boeings and Alaska Airlines and Intels and Nikes and Amazons and thousands of companies that give shit about the near homeless, the houseless, the struggling ones their own shitty companies hire on to do the heavy labor and mindless digital shuffling required in this usury and punishment world of the Goldman Sachs prostitutes.

I can rail on and on, but the reality is, punks like me could change the world, with just the right marketing, connections, exposures, moments of epiphany, conversations with the right person at the right time at the right place, etc.

Think 20- or thirty-acre venues, in the forests around Mount Adams and Mount Hood, anywhere in this PNW, where we could, with the right funding, get tiny homes built with sweat equity, around communal all-purpose rooms-kitchens-gathering points. Homes with toilets (compostable), solar arrays, and gardens circling this mix, and then, well, hundreds upon hundreds of these with tens of thousands of people, mixed races, mixed ideas, mixed ages, supporting each other. Ebenezer Howard comes to mind, oh those Garden Cities, but with a 21st century punch. School buses, ready for the crusher, retrofitted for homes, that is, college kids and high schoolers and Pk8 working to learn the tricks of working with hands, design, construction, art, engineering, food growing, and social services.

This organic concentric circle of tiny homes, cabins, containers, school buses, like a giant sunflower, with other circles and rings of gardens, livestock pens, work arenas, amphitheaters.

It could be done in five years. Land is plentiful. We have these creeps at Google wanting self-driving vans, buses, so get their billionaire butts involved – shuttles for those veterans and non-veterans getting to hospitals, or, better yet, do the Stan Brock (Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom sidekick) thing of Remote Area Medical and have docs, dentists, PAs, shrinks, gerontologists, child social workers, holistic healers, naturopaths, et al. I can give the links below, but the stories and solutions have already been written, for sure, and if it takes these thieves like Musk-Tesla and Bezos and Buffet and Walton and Gates and the countless gluttons, war profiteers, the scabs of humanity – industrial military-finance-education-ag-energy-legal-IT-prison-insurance-retail complex – to fund it, voluntarily, or with a Eugene Debs reality, then so be it.

Here’s the segue into one example of a veteran at the place where I work who could be the Johnny Appleseed or Pied Piper of this project, going to the captains of industry, the colonels of Wall Street and the generals of filthy rich wealth with a dervish of a man like me showing the plans and crunching the numbers.

Who’s Giving this Guy Right Out of a Quadruple Hollywood Script the Time of Day?

I will call him Stephen. He’s in the homeless shelter a second time. The first time, man, a few years ago, he was here, with a lot of sobriety under his belt, but, he ended up at a 7-11, loaned out some money to a friend, and then bam, the friend offered to pay back the loan with crystal meth. Stephen, living in our shelter, which is family and sober based, jumped out the window to not embarrass himself or put the program at risk.

From 1977 to ’82, 82nd Airborne. He did the radical macho stuff, in the Army, and he tells me that he always wanted to be in the military, since age 10. Northern California roots, athlete, family with military history – Army, Navy, Marines. He worked in a trailer factory in high school, and other outfits.

The drinking started in the Army. Guys back from Vietnam as company leaders, with plethora of drug abuse, drinking, and hell, the Army barracks had beer machines installed next to cots. The 82nd Airborne then, Stephen says, was called “The Jumping Junkies.”

He bounced around after military, working at Bank of America, married and divorced. Biker clubs (gangs) and things got hard when his son was murdered by the mother’s (his ex) boyfriend. That’s when the anger set in, and the drugs, but he ended up being a number one supervisor for construction sites building Wal-marts and the other box stores. Six figures, and, he ended up owning his own company, 12 acre plot of land and home he paid cash for. He moved up to even higher pay doing supervision of hospital construction and refab sites, in California, and earthquake mitigation.

A functional cocaine-speed-methamphetamine abuser with a lot of anger but more compassion. Prison terms for selling, a few property crimes, no violence.

He counts homelessness in years, living in storm drains, living out of dumpsters, and even told me about waking up many times with a piece of drop cloth covering him and snow packed on top of that.

He looks like a cross between Tommy Lee Jones and Scott Glenn. He talked of turning 60 in September. He’s strong, and counts his lucky stars his body held up.

Now, he makes $3000 a month, and that’s from his service connected disabilities. He is on his road to 23 months sober, and before he came back to our shelter, he was 31 days living in the forest parks around Portland that are such a draw for those same Californians who think there is no way in hell a veteran can be homeless.

Stephen’s got all the elements in this day and age of flash in the pan so-called business leaders. He has the biographical narrative that shows how some people can go from here to there back to there, hit rock bottom a few times, almost bite the dust, get criminally involved, let the drugs be the monkey on the back, and, then, bam, the spirit takes him.

He goes to Narcotics Anonymous, is a member of a local church, takes other vets belongings to their new digs, and he’s shooting for community college in the fall for an AAS degree in alcohol and chemical dependency, and he wants the BA, and more.

A tailored shirt to display his buff frame, short-sleeved to show the tattoos, and boots and new jeans and a briefcase, and, rolled up site plans for these garden villages, and the right knock-knock-knock to Bill and Melinda, or Oprah, or, whomever.

The problem in America, though, as Stephen and I talk, are the doors – which doors, how to get to those doors, and in many cases the rich and powerful hide behind a house of mirrors with all sorts of false doors. Too many middlemen and middlewomen, too many great pretenders, too many self-absorbed so-called community leaders and heads of non-profits.

You Go to Jail to Get Mental and Addiction Help!@?#

Hell, head clerk at the prison, completion of a robust program in Portland, Bridges to Change, volunteering, peer support training, volunteering at the labor force office helping recently released prisoners with resumes and finding housing for the bottom of the barrel ex-cons – those charged and time served for sexual offenses.

I keep being told I am where I am at – precarious, job to job, old now, on the far edge of power – because I piss people off, because I call a spade a spade, and that I can’t accept baby steps and the power of the offensives this white supremacist country sets forth upon the land. True.

nicevillage

The mantel is Stephen’s, and I might just be an idea generator, a big bag of hot air blowing ideas and criticisms and theoretical platitudes so far out of sync with the language of punishment and dog-kill-dog capitalism, that I am in la-la land.

So, this is how Stephen got sober the last time, two years ago – he jumped out the window his shared bedroom of the shelter, wandered for a few hours, and then, exactly 48 hours later, he went into a Subway, grabbed a milk from the fridge, plopped it on the counter, and told the attendant, “This is a robbery. Call the police.”

Stephen proceeded to put the milk back, and, waited for the cops. Attempted robbery, and a rap sheet, so two years inside a minimum-security penitentiary taking every available class in cognitive behavioral therapy and anger management and addiction recovery.

He’s the guy that could manage these garden villages, training any number of people how to lead, how to design and implement the building and construction and maintenance of the villages. One village at a time, times 5 or 20.

While these fat-cats invest in parasitic capitalism, investing in yachts and gold faucets to their penthouses. While these thugs with billions crusade across the land to smear us, the working class, attack us, those with a collectivism that would outperform any of their deceptive tricks to triple bookkeeping and felonious investments and punishment spread across the seas in their transnational capital crypto-currency Mafioso.

Brother, can you spare a million people? Sister, can you spare a few million young people from the endless toil of the fulfillment centers (sic) and kill-your-self-slowly Gig Economy.

The Three Magnets from Garden Cities of Tomorrow, 1902

Howard’s socialist vision of garden cities tied to the people and cultural implications of these thriving communities over the spatial holism of the cities/towns: Article.

The Veterans Community Project (VCP) is on a mission to eliminate Veteran homelessness by providing transitional-housing and enabling access to exceptional 360-degree service solutions. Focusing first on the Greater-Kansas City area, VCP aspires to use Kansas City as the blueprint for achieving similar successes in cities across the United States. VCP has a long-term goal of eliminating Veteran homelessness nationwide.

For many years, it has been tough to find a way to house the homeless. More than 3.5 million people experience homelessness in the United States each year, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Shortages of low-income housing continue to be a major challenge. For every 100 households of renters in the United States that earn “extremely low income” (30 percent of the median or less), there are only 30 affordable apartments available, according to a 2013 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.  Source: Yes! Magazine.

Remote Area Medical (RAM) is a major nonprofit provider of mobile medical clinics. Our mission is to prevent pain and alleviate suffering by providing free, quality healthcare to those in need. We do this by delivering free dental, vision, and medical services to underserved and uninsured individuals. RAM’s Corps of more than 120,000 Humanitarian Volunteers–licensed dental, vision, medical, and veterinary professionals–have treated more than 740,000 people and 67,000 animals, delivering $120 million worth of free health care services.

Image result for ebenezer howard

Urban Madness: Inequality and the Right to the City

The weekend edition of the Financial Times dated April 7/8 featured a story in the House and Home section under the title ‘Barcelona hits the Brakes.’ The story describes the negative effect of last October’s Catalan independence referendum on Barcelona’s real estate market. The Times cites data from the Spanish property website Idealista. During the summer of 2017 (Q3 2017) properties in the city gained an impressive 018 percent compared to the previous year. In Q4 2017, in the midst of uncertainty stemming from the referendum, the prices fell 1.2 percent, with the sharpest drop taking place in the priciest neighborhoods.

The most interesting nugget of the story reads like this:

Foreign buyers’ sensitivity to Catalonia’s uncertainty political situation bode ill for the city’s property market in the mid-term since they form an increasing share of the market. Years of steady appreciation has meant that much of the city’s stock has become too expensive for locals. Salaries have been stagnant says Encinar (founder of Idealista). ‘Today, when you ask local agents about business, they talk to you about ‘investors’ rather than ‘clients.’

Meanwhile in February the British Columbia Finance Minister Carole James announced measures targeting foreign buyers and speculators. Foreigners now have to pay a 20 percent tax on top of the listing value (up from 15 percent), and a levy on property speculators will be introduced later this year. Starting this fall foreign and domestic investors who don’t pay income tax in the province where the property is will pay a speculator tax of 0.5 percent of the property’s assessed value in 2018 and 2 percent thereafter. The government also vowed to crack down on the condo pre-sale market and beneficial ownership to ensure that property flippers, offshore trusts and hidden investors are paying taxes on gains.

The flashpoint for the legislation is Vancouver where foreign, particularly wealthy Chinese capital, has been driving double digit gains in property value. Media accounts report that Vancouver casinos and real estate have in recent years become vehicles for laundering proceeds for Asian high rollers and drug dealers with ties to the fentanyl trade. There were also two seasons of the very corny reality TV show Ultra Rich Asian Girls which followed the exploits of daughters of wealthy Chinese families as they shopped and partied around the city. With Chinese capital flowing housing prices in Vancouver have skyrocketed-in 2016 CBC reported that price of a single family home shot up 30 percent in one year to an average of $1.4 million even as the city claims that over the past decade the housing stock has grown by 12 percent and the population by only 9 percent. Toronto and Montreal appear to be on the cusp of similar transformations.

This kind of thing is happening in cities all over the world. In Lisbon a flood of foreign investment and financial deregulation has in the city center up 30 percent over the past two years. Yet the average monthly wage in Lisbon is about €850. Over in London research conducted for mayor Sadiq Khan revealed foreign investors are buying up thousands of homes suitable for first-time buyers. Of the 28,000 new homes built between 2014 and 2016 3600 were scooped up by foreign buyers with the majority from Singapore and Hong Kong followed by Malaysia and China. Last year it was revealed that an entire new 81 unit complex in Southwark (on the site of the former Heygate council estate) was bought by foreign investors while the same was true for 87 percent of Baltimore Wharf, a development on the Isle of Dogs where apartments started at £400,000. Accounts of Russian oligarchs living the high life have filled the press, at one point in 2016 campaigners connected to Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny organized London’s first ever ‘kleptocracy’ tour. Charles Moore, a former editor of the Telegraph, said a few years ago that London’s property market has become ‘a form of legalized international money laundering.’

In New York, early numbers from the latest Census Bureau’s Housing and Vacancy survey show unoccupied apartments ballooned by 35 percent in the three years since the last survey. Over 100,000 units are occupied temporarily or seasonally (74,945), basically meaning investments and vacation pads for the wealthy, or for unexplained reasons (27,000), no doubt a good number of the latter fit the former description.

According to data compiled by the firm PropertyShark, cited in the June 2014 New York magazine article titled ‘Stash Pad’, since 2008 about 30 percent of condo sales in large-scale Manhattan developments have been to purchasers who either listed an overseas address or bought through limited-liability corporations (a method favored by wealthy international buyers). The marketing firm Corcoran Sunshine, which specializes in luxury buildings, estimates that 35 percent of its sales since 2013 have been to international buyers, half from Asia, with the remainder about evenly split among the rest of the world. Data from the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey revealed 57 percent of apartments in the three block stretch from East 56th Street to East 59th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue, are vacant at least ten months a year. From East 59th Street to East 63rd Street the vacancy rate is almost 50 percent.  Stretching it out further the Bureau estimates that 30 percent of all apartments in the entire quadrant from East 49th to East 70th Streets are vacant at least ten months a year. This coincides with New York’s homeless population reaching an all-time high.

It is difficult to conceive a more absurd reflection of global inequality than the building of cities specifically for elite investors at a time when urban homelessness is spiraling. Indeed global inequality has reached absurd levels. According to Oxfam’s report An Economy for the 99%, since 2015 the world’s 1 percent has owned more wealth than the rest of the planet. The richest eight men own the same amount as the poorest half and over the next 20 years 500 people will hand to their heirs over $2.1 trillion- a sum larger than the GDP of India. While global development is slowly narrowing inequality between countries, inequality is rising within countries everywhere. The World Inequality Report 2018 reports the share of income going to the top 10 percent has increased somewhat in Europe, remained high in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East and has exploded in the United States, Russia, and Asia.

The city-as-investment dynamic is also a logical consequence of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism, defined as an economic system of liberated markets, free trade, deregulation, privatization, and the withdrawal of the state, emerged from the economic stagnation of the early 1970s. Neoliberalism hasn’t been good at producing productive profits as the rate of profit has remained low. U.S. productivity growth is at its lowest level since the 1800s.However, if production is producing profits at a reduced rate where are capitalists to go to increase wealth? Get the state to cut your taxes. Break unions and freeze wages. Invent and expand creative financial assets. Buy back your company’s stocks. Build and invest in urban properties.

Since the mid-1980s corporations have become by far the most important buyers of their own stock. The dirty fact is that money cannot be made as fast by actually investing in production, meaning new plants, equipment, workers, etc., as it can by pumping up stock prices. The price-earnings (P/E ratio) measures a company’s current share (i.e. stock) price relative to its per share earnings. Since the mid-1930s the median P/E ratio for the Standard & Poor 500 stock index is 17. It currently stands at about 25. Another metric is the CAPE index, ‘cyclically adjusted price-earnings’. It measures real earnings per share over a 10 year period and corrects for inflation. The historic median is 16. Currently it is at just almost 33.

For the U.S. this has caused inequality to explode. The World Inequality Report 2018 breaks down American income growth by selected percentile from 1980-2014. Income for the bottom 20 percent of the population grew by a mere 4 percent over that period. The bottom 50 percent grew at only 21 percent, less than 1 percent a year. The top 10 percent grew 113 percent, the top 1 percent grew 194 percent, the top .001 by 423 percent, the top .0001 by 616 percent.

As the planet grows more unequal it grows more urban. For the first time in history the world’s urban population outnumbers the rural population. Cities have absorbed about two-thirds of global population growth since 1950. In 1950 there were 86 cities in the world with more than one million inhabitants. As of 2016 there were 512 such cities, by 2030 there will be an estimated 662. Urbanization spans a vast gulf from the very wealthy neighborhoods of ‘International’ cities such as Shanghai, London, and New York to teeming slums all over the global South. Around one billion people, or roughly 1 in 8 people worldwide, live in slums. In this period cities have emerged as a key part of capital accumulation, absorbing surplus capital and labor. Gentrification has transformed from a local process, even an exception to urban disinvestment, to the pillar of global urban planning.

This inevitably makes the Right to the City movement of paramount importance to the International Left. The struggle against gentrification in London and San Francisco is easily linked to the struggle against displacement, and for basic human needs, in the pueblo jovens of Lima and favelas of Rio de Janairo. At bottom is the right for people to exist in space and time. This goes far beyond just an individual right to the resources a city contains. Since the process of urban change is a collective one, thus is the right to the city. Geographer David Harvey was surely correct when he wrote that ‘the question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from the question of what kind of people we want to be, what kinds of social relations we seek, what relations to nature we cherish, what style of daily life we desire, what kinds of technologies we deem appropriate, what aesthetic values we hold.’

This never will be easy.  As inequality deepens and urbanization expands, state militarization grows with it. Stephen Graham, in his important book Cities Under Siege: The New Military Humanism, shows boomerang effect of the War on Terror on policing in Western cities. Drones are now involved in crime patrol. Security Zones, based on efforts to build Green Zones in Baghdad, are prominent in big cities. Temporary Security Zones are set up around sports events and political conventions. Since the 1990s over $5 billion worth of surplus military equipment has been transferred to police departments across the country.  During the Obama years, before limits were put in place which have since been rescinded by the Trump administration, police departments received tens of thousands of machine guns, thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment, along with hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft. The number of SWAT teams has skyrocketed since the 1980s. Originally established to deal with hostage situations and heavily armed criminals, SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times a year, mainly for drug searches (well glamorized by the CBS show S.W.A.T.). There was a glimpse of these possible confrontations with social movements during the protests against police brutality in Ferguson in 2014. There is no reason to expect these trends will cease and every reason to think they will expand.

Such is the specter that justice movements may have to confront in the future. Still, future social revolutions will be in cities or nowhere.

Inequality Social Dysfunction and Misery

Year on year the economic divisions and sub-divisions in the world deepen, and the associated social ills increase: The rich, comfortable, and the very extremely rich keep getting richer, and the rest, well, whilst some may be raised up out of crippling poverty into relative poverty, the majority of people continue to live under a blanket of economic insecurity and largely remain where they are.

Straddling the global ladder of economic and social division sit the Multi-Billionaires (there are now 2,208 billionaires), 42 of whom (down from 61 in 2016), according to a recent report by Oxfam, own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of humanity combined. Together with their lesser cohorts this coterie of Trillionaires sucked up “eighty-two percent of the wealth generated [in the world] last year…while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth.”

The defining challenge of our time

Income and wealth inequality is not simply a monetary issue, it is a complex social crisis that supports and strengthens notions of superiority and inferiority, and was described by President Barak Obama in 2013 as “the defining challenge of our time.”

Today’s obscene levels of inequality are the result of the Neo-Liberal economic system. This extreme form of capitalism took hold first in America and Britain in the early 1980s when Reagan and Thatcher ruled, workers’ rights were trampled on, ‘society’ was a dirty word and community responsibility was abandoned to selfishness and greed. With the aid of the World Bank and the IMF, Neoliberalism swiftly spread throughout the world, polluting life in every city, town and village with its divisive, cruel ideology. Commercialization and competition are key principles and have infiltrated every area of contemporary life; everything and everyone is seen as a commodity, and the size of ones bank account determines the level of health care, education and housing available, as well as one’s access to culture and freedom to travel.

Social injustice is inherent in the system, as is inequality, which is itself a major form of injustice. Inequality strengthens deep-seated social imbalances based on class and social standing, and in a world where everything is classified, commercialized and priced; i.e., attributed value, external wealth and position have become the common criteria for determining the internal worth of a human being. Comparison and imitation follow, individuality is perverted and fear fostered; fear of inadequacy, fear of failure, fear of not being loved, because not ‘deserving’ love, not being able to ‘afford’ love. Resentment, anger and self-loathing are fed, leading to a range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and drug and alcohol addiction.

Happiness and inequality

The impact of financial inequality on the health and well being of society has been extensively studied by Richard Wilkinson; British co-author of Spirit Level, Professor Emeritus of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham. In order to establish national levels of inequality Wilkinson and his team used a benchmark based on how much richer the top 20% is to the bottom 20%: Japan and Scandinavia (Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark) came out most equal, and now, Slovenia and the Czech Republic have moved towards this group. Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Britain, Portugal and USA were found to have the greatest levels of inequality, and by some margin. Recent data suggests that Russia, South Africa and Turkey should now be added to the most unequal pile. Germany, Spain and Switzerland sit somewhere in the middle.

Data relating to a range of social issues was examined: The most unequal countries were found to have lower life expectancy than more equal societies, higher infant mortality, many more homicides, larger prison populations (by 10-15 times), applied longer sentences; had higher teenage pregnancies, lower mathematic/literacy levels, more obesity, less social mobility, and, according to The World Value Survey, a great deal less trust. In more equal countries, like Sweden and Norway, around 65% of people trust others, whereas in unequal societies like America a mere 15% admitted to trusting their fellow citizens.

In all areas, countries with high levels of inequality did worse, in many cases much worse, than more equal nations. Mental health, for example, (figures from the World Health Organization): In Japan around 8% of the population suffers from some form of mental health issue, compared to 30% in America. Children are considerably healthier in more equal countries – based on UNICEF’s Index of Child Well-Being – and feel a good deal happier. Wilkinson concludes, “What we’re looking at is general social dysfunction related to inequality. It’s not just one or two things that go wrong, it’s most things.”

Look to Scandinavia

If one of the primary purposes of any socio-economic system is to create environments in which human beings can grow and live happily together, then the nations suffering under the shadow of inequality need to learn from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, which are not just the least unequal, they are also the happiest countries in the world. Throughout Scandinavia public services – education (which is probably the best in the world), health care and housing, are valued, and taxes levied in order to fund them properly; there are greater levels of social justice, this allows for trust to develop, and where there is trust relationships flower. The extremes of staggering wealth and stifling poverty don’t exist as they do in the more unequal parts of the world; social mobility is greater and the dream of betterment more realistic, as Richard Wilkinson says, “if Americans want to live the ‘American dream’ they should go and live in Denmark.”

The first duty of government is to protect the people; this involves not only dealing with terrorism and the like, but requires the development of socio-economic policies that contribute to the creation of a healthy harmonious environment. By supporting extreme inequality (which has been shown to fuel a range of social issues) governments in the more unequal countries are totally failing in this fundamental duty. Politicians, who in many cases rely on big business and wealthy benefactors for their funding, are either blind to, or negligent of, the inherent faults of the current system, and the unhealthy, negative way of life it supports.

The case for fundamental change in the economic order, and a shift away from the destructive values it promotes is becoming irrefutable; however, change occurs only gradually and resistance is great. In the meantime, governments (particularly in the most unequal states) need to acknowledge the connection between the dysfunction and disease within society and their socio-economic methodology, which is literally making people ill, as well and poisoning the natural world. They need to invest properly in public services, address wage differences, ban bonuses, introduce progressive tax reform, and, unlike America and France which are taking retrograde steps by designing tax codes which will fuel inequality, look to the Scandinavian countries and learn from their example.

For too long socio-economic systems have been designed and maintained to cater to the desires and interests of a privileged few, while the majority live inhibited lives under the shadow of financial uncertainty. For harmonious societies to evolve this long-standing injustice needs to be addressed and a degree of balance found. This requires that those whose table is full to overflowing share some of their bounty, so that all may have enough, not excess, enough.

As a wise man has said, “The rich must give up what they want, so that the poor can have what they need.” What the rich and comfortable must give up is greed (another car, another house, more designer clothes, etc.), what the rest need is freedom from economic insecurity and the fear of destitution, freedom from exploitation and dependency; secure, comfortable, and well-designed accommodation, and access to good education, health care and culture. Such essential needs are the rights of all; when made manifest they go a long way towards establishing social justice, and where there is social justice, functional, compassionate communities do evolve, conflict is reduced and collective harmony is cultivated.

When Things Fall Apart: A Graduation Message for a Dark Age

When the rivers and air are polluted, when families and nations are at war, when homeless wanderers fill the highways, these are the traditional signs of a dark age.

— Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, September 26, 2000

Those coming of age today will face some of the greatest obstacles ever encountered by young people.

They will find themselves overtaxed, burdened with excessive college debt, and struggling to find worthwhile employment in a debt-ridden economy on the brink of implosion. Their privacy will be eviscerated by the surveillance state. They will be the subjects of a military empire constantly waging war against shadowy enemies and government agents armed to the teeth ready and able to lock down the country at a moment’s notice.

As such, they will find themselves forced to march in lockstep with a government that no longer exists to serve the people but which demands they be obedient slaves or suffer the consequences.

It’s a dismal prospect, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, we who should have known better failed to guard against such a future.

Worse, we neglected to maintain our freedoms or provide our young people with the tools necessary to survive, let alone succeed, in the impersonal jungle that is modern America.

We brought them into homes fractured by divorce, distracted by mindless entertainment, and obsessed with the pursuit of materialism. We institutionalized them in daycares and afterschool programs, substituting time with teachers and childcare workers for parental involvement. We turned them into test-takers instead of thinkers and automatons instead of activists.

We allowed them to languish in schools which not only look like prisons but function like prisons, as well—where conformity is the rule and freedom is the exception. We made them easy prey for our corporate overlords, while instilling in them the values of a celebrity-obsessed, technology-driven culture devoid of any true spirituality. And we taught them to believe that the pursuit of their own personal happiness trumped all other virtues, including any empathy whatsoever for their fellow human beings.

No, we haven’t done this generation any favors.

Based on the current political climate, things could very well get much worse before they ever take a turn for the better. Here are a few pieces of advice that will hopefully help those coming of age today survive the perils of the journey that awaits:

Be an individual. For all of its claims to champion the individual, American culture advocates a stark conformity which, as John F. Kennedy warned, is “the jailer of freedom, and the enemy of growth.” Worry less about fitting in with the rest of the world and instead, as Henry David Thoreau urged, become “a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.”

Learn your rights. We’re losing our freedoms for one simple reason: most of us don’t know anything about our freedoms. At a minimum, anyone who has graduated from high school, let alone college, should know the Bill of Rights backwards and forwards. However, the average young person, let alone citizen, has very little knowledge of their rights for the simple reason that the schools no longer teach them. So grab a copy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and study them at home. And when the time comes, stand up for your rights before it’s too late.

Speak truth to power. Don’t be naive about those in positions of authority. As James Madison, who wrote our Bill of Rights, observed, “All men having power ought to be distrusted.” We must learn the lessons of history. People in power, more often than not, abuse that power. To maintain our freedoms, this will mean challenging government officials whenever they exceed the bounds of their office.

Resist all things that numb you. Don’t measure your worth by what you own or earn. Likewise, don’t become mindless consumers unaware of the world around you. Resist all things that numb you, put you to sleep or help you “cope” with so-called reality. Those who establish the rules and laws that govern society’s actions desire compliant subjects. However, as George Orwell warned, “Until they become conscious, they will never rebel, and until after they rebelled, they cannot become conscious.” It is these conscious individuals who change the world for the better.

Don’t let technology turn you into zombies. Technology anesthetizes us to the all-too-real tragedies that surround us. Techno-gadgets are merely distractions from what’s really going on in America and around the world. As a result, we’ve begun mimicking the inhuman technology that surrounds us and have lost our humanity. We’ve become sleepwalkers. If you’re going to make a difference in the world, you’re going to have to pull the earbuds out, turn off the cell phones and spend much less time viewing screens.

Help others. We all have a calling in life. And I believe it boils down to one thing: You are here on this planet to help other people. In fact, none of us can exist very long without help from others. If we’re going to see any positive change for freedom, then we must change our view of what it means to be human and regain a sense of what it means to love and help one another. That will mean gaining the courage to stand up for the oppressed.

Give voice to moral outrage. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” There is no shortage of issues on which to take a stand. For instance, on any given night, over half a million people in the U.S. are homeless, and half of them are elderly. There are 46 million Americans living at or below the poverty line, and 16 million children living in households without adequate access to food. Congress creates, on average, more than 50 new criminal laws each year. With more than 2 million Americans in prison, and close to 7 million adults in correctional care, the United States has the largest prison population in the world. At least 2.7 million children in the United States have at least one parent in prison. At least 400 to 500 innocent people are killed by police officers every year. Americans are now eight times more likely to die in a police confrontation than they are to be killed by a terrorist. On an average day in America, over 100 Americans have their homes raided by SWAT teams. It costs the American taxpayer $52.6 billion every year to be spied on by the government intelligence agencies tasked with surveillance, data collection, counterintelligence and covert activities. All the while, since 9/11, the U.S. has spent more than $1.6 trillion to wage wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and police the rest of the world. This is an egregious affront to anyone who believes in freedom.

Cultivate spirituality, reject materialism and put people first. When the things that matter most have been subordinated to materialism, we have lost our moral compass. We must change our values to reflect something more meaningful than technology, materialism and politics. Standing at the pulpit of the Riverside Church in New York City in April 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. urged his listeners:

[W]e as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motive and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

Pitch in and do your part to make the world a better place. Don’t rely on someone else to do the heavy lifting for you. Don’t wait around for someone else to fix what ails you, your community or nation. As Gandhi urged: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Say no to war. Addressing the graduates at Binghampton Central High School in 1968, at a time when the country was waging war “on different fields, on different levels, and with different weapons,” Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling declared:

Too many wars are fought almost as if by rote. Too many wars are fought out of sloganry, out of battle hymns, out of aged, musty appeals to patriotism that went out with knighthood and moats. Love your country because it is eminently worthy of your affection. Respect it because it deserves your respect. Be loyal to it because it cannot survive without your loyalty. But do not accept the shedding of blood as a natural function or a prescribed way of history—even if history points this up by its repetition. That men die for causes does not necessarily sanctify that cause. And that men are maimed and torn to pieces every fifteen and twenty years does not immortalize or deify the act of war… find another means that does not come with the killing of your fellow-man.

Finally, prepare yourselves for what lies ahead. The demons of our age—some of whom disguise themselves as politicians—delight in fomenting violence, sowing distrust and prejudice, and persuading the public to support tyranny disguised as patriotism. Overcoming the evils of our age will require more than intellect and activism. It will require decency, morality, goodness, truth and toughness. As Serling concluded in his remarks to the graduating class of 1968:

Toughness is the singular quality most required of you… we have left you a world far more botched than the one that was left to us… Part of your challenge is to seek out truth, to come up with a point of view not dictated to you by anyone, be he a congressman, even a minister… Are you tough enough to take the divisiveness of this land of ours, the fact that everything is polarized, black and white, this or that, absolutely right or absolutely wrong. This is one of the challenges. Be prepared to seek out the middle ground … that wondrous and very difficult-to-find Valhalla where man can look to both sides and see the errant truths that exist on both sides. If you must swing left or you must swing right—respect the other side. Honor the motives that come from the other side. Argue, debate, rebut—but don’t close those wondrous minds of yours to opposition. In their eyes, you’re the opposition. And ultimately … ultimately—you end divisiveness by compromise. And so long as men walk and breathe—there must be compromise…

Are you tough enough to face one of the uglier stains upon the fabric of our democracy—prejudice? It’s the basic root of most evil. It’s a part of the sickness of man. And it’s a part of man’s admission, his constant sick admission, that to exist he must find a scapegoat. To explain away his own deficiencies—he must try to find someone who he believes more deficient… Make your judgment of your fellow-man on what he says and what he believes and the way he acts. Be tough enough, please, to live with prejudice and give battle to it. It warps, it poisons, it distorts and it is self-destructive. It has fallout worse than a bomb … and worst of all it cheapens and demeans anyone who permits himself the luxury of hating.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the only way we’ll ever achieve change in this country is for the American people to finally say “enough is enough” and fight for the things that truly matter.

It doesn’t matter how old you are or what your political ideology is. If you have something to say, speak up. Get active, and if need be, pick up a picket sign and get in the streets. And when civil liberties are violated, don’t remain silent about it.

Wake up, stand up, and make your activism count for something more than politics.

The Shame of Injustice

Poverty is the greatest cause of death and illness globally; it strangles the lives of billions of people, denying the expression of innate potential, condemning men, women and children to live stunted uncreative lives of interminable suffering and drudgery.

Whilst the numbers living in extreme poverty (the World Bank calculates this to be living on $1.90 a day) has decreased, over half of the world’s 7.5 billion population are somehow surviving on less than $5 a day (the cost of a designer coffee in developed countries). Hundreds of millions of others live in a condition of relative poverty or economic insecurity, anxiety and worry their constant companion. The majority of the World’s poorest people live in developing countries, India, Sub-Saharan Africa and rural China predominantly, but tens of millions are pushed into the shadows in industrialized nations.  America, for example, has an estimated 44 million people, or 13% of the population, living in ‘official’ poverty. Wherever the poor are found they live on the margins of society, are exploited and disregarded.

Walking hand-in-hand with poverty is the crime of extreme inequality. Obscene levels of wealth is concentrated in the hands of a smaller and smaller number of trillionaires whilst the poor are forced to beg for the crumbs that fall from their burgeoning tables.

Poverty results from and is itself a form of injustice; so too is poor education, inadequate health care, homelessness and sub-standard accommodation. Like freedom, justice is a human right and within that triumph of common sense, the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, is enshrined as such. But our world is dominated by attitudes and modes of living that deny justice and prohibit freedom. It is unjust that billions of people live in squalor; it is unjust that the quality of a child’s education is dependent upon the size of its parent’s bank account; it is unjust that access to health care in many countries is determined by one’s ability to pay for it. The collective shame of injustice must be cleansed from our world and trust inculcated.

Like many of our problems the key to creating a just society lies in the encouragement of sharing. In various areas of life, sharing is beginning to fashion the way things are done: data sharing within all forms of government and between agencies and allies is common practice, United Nations agencies readily share statistics and education tools, cooperate with aid organizations, as well as sharing research material relating to global issues – climate change, for example. The worldwide web allows sharing on an unprecedented scale and has given billions of people access to information and ideas in a way that was impossible in the pre-internet age.

Whilst sharing initiatives are increasingly common, it is yet to be adopted as the primary economic and social principle. However, the ‘sharing economy’ of which we hear so much these days is a hint of things to come. A leading example of this new movement is the groundbreaking ‘Sharing City’ project set up in 2012 in Seoul, South Korea. The scheme has four main objectives: Reduce the use of municipal resources, create new jobs, build communities and cut pollution. There are a range of initiatives taking place in the city, including sharing unused parking spaces, leasing empty rooms, exchanging children’s clothing, and even meals; sharing bookshelves and internet access and letting citizens use idle spaces in public or government-owned facilities. As a result of these schemes, Forbes reports that, “a different culture is emerging, thanks to the support of the government, that has been proactively engaged with the public by providing the city’s resources such as unused public spaces and related data to its citizens, and providing support to sharing economy business models.”

On the whole the businesses grouped together under the sharing economy banner are functioning within the traditional capitalist system. Despite this distortion, it shows that the concept of sharing is increasingly influencing thinking and beginning to permeate human affairs: this augurs well for the future.

Sharing engenders trust

Injustice must be eradicated from our world, and the principal means of doing this is through sharing. When one shares, trust is engendered, divisions are dismantled, unity is cultivated and justice beings to flower. Sharing is the most efficient way to meet collective need, it is the common-sense approach to many of our problems, social and environmental; it is an expression of love, which is the unifying force of nature.

Without universal justice, disharmony will continue and peace will remain a fantasy. Injustice poisons the social fabric, pollutes the collective atmosphere and creates fermenting resentment, which fuels conflict. It is fed by complacency, which is the principal vice of the privileged, the smug and the comfortable; they have little or no idea of the intense suffering that billions of people are living under, and, fearing that their position of influence and control may be wretched from them, they cling to all that they hold dear – power and wealth.

Everything that causes injustice must be uprooted, within the structures under which we live, but also, and perhaps more importantly, within the consciousness of the individual. The destructive nature of conditioned ideals that encourage injustice must be recognized and rejected, and ways of living based on justice and social responsibility cultivated. At the same time, and flowing from this shift in attitudes, which in many people is well under way, socio-economic structures rooted in sharing are desperately needed to deal with systemic injustice.

The injustice of inequality has reached abhorrent levels, not simply wealth and income inequality, but inequality of opportunity, inequality of access to health care and good quality education, housing and culture. Such inequalities feed injustice and stoke division, leading to conflict. They are inevitable under Neo-Liberalism, and unless we reject this outdated and unjust way of organizing the global economy, inequality will continue to grow year on year. The promise of social mobility as a means of addressing or reducing injustice is mere propaganda; within the current system there is virtually no such thing; if you’re born into poverty or relative poverty, the chances are you will remain there.

The answer to injustice and social division is not to be found buried in the crumbs of the comfortable, it lies in adopting radically new ideas; concepts of sharing that are woven into the fabric of human nature and need now to be applied in a pragmatic manner to solve the global problem of injustice.