Friday, February 21, 2014

Government Worker Salaries- Teachers or CEOs?

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

    Wednesday, February 12, 2014

    Beyond Money: Time Banks

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

    Published on Monday, February 10, 2014 by Common Dreams

    In Cracks of Capitalism, Time Banks on the Rise

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

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

    Sunday, February 9, 2014

    Solidarity Economics, Occupy, and Climate

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

    Published on Friday, February 7, 2014 by The Nation

    From Occupy to Climate Justice

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

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


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

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

    Tuesday, February 4, 2014

    Energy Utility Alternatives in France and Spain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Monday, February 3, 2014

    German Cities Turn Tide on Energy

    Some great things are happening in Germany now.  The longtime renewable energy advances there based on grid supply payment Feed-In Tariffs and neighborhood partnerships/co-operatives (die Buergerwindparken) have also been paced by such efforts as Schoenau's small city energy co-operative agency that went national.  Now see what big city Hamburg has gone and done.....

    ....Re-communalization, not privatization

    The Hamburg-based civil society-led alliance “Our Hamburg – Our Grid” reminded citizens of a German federal law stipulating that municipal authorities invite bids from new companies, including communities, who wish to run the local grid once the contract term of 20 years ends. This alliance not only reminded citizens but actually called for action and campaigned for years for the buyback of the energy grid in the city.
    And success: 50.9% of the population voted to re-communalize electricity, gas and district heating networks which are currently in the hands of multinational energy companies Vattenfall and Eon.
    The motivation for Hamburg citizens? That energy supply is a basic public service that should not serve profit motives. They concluded that Vattenfall and Eon – the current grid operators – don’t act in the best interest of the people and are delaying Germany’s shift to renewable energy.
    After the decision last Sunday, the Hamburg Senate and Parliament are required to implement the electoral mandate. They must ask Vattenfall and Eon for approval to increase the city’s share from the current 25.1% to 100%. If the companies oppose the sale – as is expected – the city must establish a municipal utility and express their interest by mid-January 2014 to operate the energy grid.

    Hamburg is not alone

    Other initiatives similar to the one in Hamburg have stepped forward, e.g. in Berlin where the referendum takes place this November. Indeed, since 2007 there have been about 170 municipalities which bought back the grid from private companies. Cities that have chosen to not privatize - like Frankfurt and Munich –are now showing that it’s worth keeping energy supply in municipal hands. Both major German cities have a 100% renewable energy target.
    Generally, we are seeing a re-municipalization trend across Germany as the idea that private is superior to state has not lived up to its promises.
    This marks a clear reversal to the neoliberal policies of the 1990s, when large numbers of German municipalities sold their public services to large corporations as money was needed to prop up city budgets. The result was that consumer power prices increased by 68% compared to 1998, forcing Germans to pay more for their power than any other nation in the European Union except Cyprus and Denmark according to EU data.

    Giving the power to the people

    Hamburg’s Social Democrat Mayor Olaf Scholz opposed a 100% buyback, arguing that this would overburden the city and not necessarily lead to cheaper energy prices. However, Sunday evening he stated: “People are voting for decisions on matters of substance, and in this matter the people have decided differently than the Senate and Parliament. The Senate will now take the will of the citizens into account and not let the referendum go into space.”
    Referendums like this give the steering wheel for government to the people. It literally hands over power to the people. It leads us to the heart of democracy: empowering citizens by enabling them to exercise control over their own lives and act together to change the direction they are going in. Citizens in Hamburg reminded their elected politicians to act on behalf of the voters and be accountable for their decisions – essentially, that they are representatives of the public and not of private companies. Participation, then, is understood in its true sense: citizen empowerment instead of passive consultation or unilateral information.

    People drive the energy transition in Germany

    This understanding of community participation has been key in the German energy transition. More than 50% of total investments in renewable energy come from private individuals and farmers. 650 energy cooperatives have become drivers for renewable energy projects across the country....."

    Here's a link to a recent survey of new energy co-operatives in Germany:$FILE/Study%20results%20survey%202013.pdf

    Superbowl Sustainability

    It's not Germany's 70% plus recycling, but it is something and it is prominent.....

    Super Bowl will be coldest, could also be greenest

    DAVID PORTE, Associated Press
    Updated 1:23 pm, Sunday, January 26, 2014
    • Workers install a studio for ESPN in Herald Square, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, in New York. A dozen blocks of Broadway, in the heart of Manhattan, will close to traffic for four days so the NFL can host a Super Bowl festival. The NFL's championship game between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks is Sunday, Feb. 3 in East Rutherford, N.J. Photo: Mark Lennihan, AP / AP
      Workers install a studio for ESPN in Herald Square, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, in New York. A dozen blocks of Broadway, in the heart of Manhattan, will close to traffic for four days so the NFL can host a Super Bowl festival. The NFL's championship game between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks is Sunday, Feb. 3 in East Rutherford, N.J. Photo: Mark Lennihan, AP

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Think of the Super Bowl and you think of excess: Big money, big parties, big crowds and an even bigger mess left behind when the circus leaves town.
    Well, at least the messy part is getting smaller. Beginning in the 1990s, the National Football League has sought to gradually reduce the footprint left behind by the Big Game, and the league is taking steps to make the Feb. 2 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium the most environmentally friendly yet, from planting trees to offset carbon emissions to composting food waste to using biodiesel to power generators.
    "We try and stay ahead of the curve," said Jack Groh, a consultant who directs the NFL's environmental programs. "We try and push the envelope every year."
    Most of the attention focused on this year's Super Bowl is, understandably, on the challenges of holding it outdoors in the Northeast for the first time. Another, less-celebrated first: MetLife Stadium will compost food waste on game day, the first time that's happened at a Super Bowl.
    It's not new for the stadium. Dave Duernberger, MetLife Stadium's vice president of facilities, said the stadium produced 195 tons of food waste for composting last year, up from 153 tons the year before. Duernberger expects about seven or eight tons to be generated during the Super Bowl, which will go into a giant compactor and then be trucked to a local facility for processing. The end product can be used for landscaping.
    Another innovation is the use of biodiesel fuel processed from waste cooking oil. According to Groh, a biodiesel mix will be used in generators that will power Super Bowl Boulevard, the 13-block party on Broadway that will feature entertainment and a giant toboggan slide, as well as generators that are augmenting the power supply on the MetLife Stadium grounds.
    The head of Public Service Electric & Gas, the utility that provides power to the complex, has estimated that it will take about 18 megawatts of electricity to power the entire complex for the game, or what would be needed to power 12,000 homes. Of that, PSE&G president Ralph LaRossa said as much as six megawatts could be provided by the generators.
    Greening the Super Bowl has been a passion project for Groh, who started out as a journalist before forming an environmental communications firm with his wife. He did his first work for the NFL at the 1994 Super Bowl in Atlanta, at a time when the simple recycling of plastic bottles and cans at stadiums was a significant step forward. He continuously seeks out new ways to wring as much value out of things that normally would be discarded.
    For example, in the weeks leading up to this year's Super Bowl, the NFL sponsored e-waste recycling events in New York and New Jersey that collected 9,000 pounds of old phones, computers and other gadgets, according to Verizon, which partnered in the program. Tens of thousands of trees have been planted in the metropolitan area to offset carbon emissions created by the game, Groh said.
    After the game, the league will donate several miles of fabric signage to nonprofits or other groups for repurposing. In New Orleans, Groh said, local designers took the fabric and used it to make purses, dresses, shower curtains, beanbag chairs, tote bags and wallets.
    "Our primary objective is to see that it doesn't go to a landfill," he said.
    The efforts have drawn a thumbs-up from the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, whose president, Jeff Tittel, called the programs "good for the environment and good for the NFL's image."
    "The NFL is doing a better job reducing greenhouse gases and offsetting carbon than the state of New Jersey is," said Tittel, a consistent critic of Gov. Chris Christie's environmental policies. "That's the irony, they understand climate change better than our governor does."

    Sunday, February 2, 2014

    Oppressed and Oppressors-Freire Style

    Paulo Freire developed an interesting body of work on the "pedagogy of the oppressed," a way to view people in terms of their economic relation to a system with problems of inequalities.  Michael Johnson applied his knowledge of Freire to a recent work by Joseph Natoli.

    Transforming Our Dark Affinities
    "....(Joseph Natoli) seems to see this condemning disposition as having "no moral divide, but only a moral monism." I see it as a major moral dualism involving an "us" that is good and a "them" that is bad. The "clarity of a moral dualism" would lead to the "oppressed" turning against and condemning the "oppressors." Well, who among us is not moved in some way by that "wanting it all?" Natoli suggests that is the case of the 80 percent of us in the lower economic groupings. If there is anything needing condemning, it is the core values and beliefs that have the vast majority of us "wanting it all," not those of us caught in the cultural conundrum he so beautifully describes.

    Getting Beyond Moral Dualisms

    I believe, on the other hand, that to work our way out of our "unconscious common core," we need a new kind of dialectical space, not a moral dualism. I think Paulo Freire can point us toward it. In The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire sees that the core dynamic of oppression is dialectical. It is a dance between oppressed and oppressor that cannot happen without each playing out their role to the music of our "unconscious common core." He argues passionately that for oppressed people to liberate themselves from their oppression, they have to confront a radical choice: to become an oppressor or to start becoming more fully human:
    The struggle for humanization … to have meaning, the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity … become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both. [44]
    So for Freire - at least as I read him - the only real alternative to oppression - that is, to the "unconscious common core," is what he calls "re-humanization" - love and compassion - along with a clear-eyed understanding of the external oppressive dynamics.
    This re-humanization is a process of transforming the "unconscious common core" to create alternatives to the winner-loser mentality that is embedded in the cultural marrow of our being. Freire also warns:
    … Almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors or "sub-oppressors." The very structure of their thought has been conditioned by the contradictions of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped. [45]
    Maybe, I am misconstruing what Natoli means by "moral dualism." He may be calling for what Freire is referring to here:
    To surmount the situation of oppression, people must first critically recognize its causes, so that through transforming action they can create a new situation, one which makes possible the pursuit of a fuller humanity. [47]
    Certainly" Losers" must see how they are "being had" by their sharing a particular cultural mentality with "Winners." But they also must see how they are trapped into this mentality by their own agency, their choosing the "wanting it all" beliefs and values...."

    Michael Johnson

    Michael Johnson is an editor with Grassroots Economic Organizing and co-author of a book on regional co-operative economic development, forthcoming from Levellers Press. He is also a co-founder of SolidarityNYC and the Ganas Community.

    Frank Thornton
    This piece focuses too exclusively on the minds of Americans. Most of "the oppressed" do not live in this country and do not share the cartoon-like "moral dualism" that afflicts almost everyone here. Being victims of imperialism does not mean the world's masses, as tings now stand, speak with one voice or are free from dangerous illusions, but neither do they follow the thought-patterns described in this piece.
    Another way to talk about American "moral dualism" is to focus on the vulgar dialectic of transcendance that infects American discourse. This thoroughly secularized "spiritual" paradigm for the most part recoils in horror from materialism and requires all human beings to posit political virtue as the product of a private spiritual or quasi-spiritual struggle for personal superiority.
    Whether one's example is Mother Teresa, Thoreau, Gandhi, John Galt, Tom
    Brokaw, or John Wayne, the obtuseness resulting from this pervading narrative is probably the main instrument in reducing the left in this country to powerlessness.
    It prevents the 99% from arriving at a realistic appraisal of the class struggle that stands in the way of optimizing the lifespan of our species.
    Moreover the debate about human intrinsic goodness versus that "sense of sin" that every young professor of literature invokes in his seductions of students, is irrelevant to the realities of political action and social life. Hawthorne and Melville vs. Emerson and Thoreau is a historical sideshow, not the main event.
    Morality, whether "dualist" or otherwise, is first of all simply a rationalization for all the cruelties to which most individuals have historically submitted in the name of large-scale society, and secondarily a condition that humanity aspires tp create, rather than a precondition for society.


    That the "masses" may have more than one voice is certain, since individuality is a biological condition. However, the psychological condition of people in response to shared socioeconomic circumstances has a limited range of options, say, in Guadalajara where NAFTA put a lot of Mexican people to work in low wage conditions, or in China. China perhaps shows a more hopeful side, since one writer in Nat Geo cites about 100,000 protests there per year. Yet, the basic dynamic pointed out by Marx holds- Employer-employee. Scholars talk of a "corporate-consumer culture" because most people have stopped being artisans making their own shoes, metalwork, and clothes as small businesspeople, and instead depend on corporations in the industrialized system. Read Marx-Engels Manifesto, Ivan Illich on Tools for Conviviality, and Richard Robbins Culture and the Problems of Capitalism for starters. As for "obtuseness," the model makes a difference. John Wayne represented the dominant, imperialistic system, while Gandhi challenged it with a profound and holistic authenticity. Produce and protest with a spiritual basis was most of his message. As for literary education, I agree in part. However, it is not principally the literature, it is the INTERPRETATION of those works. Heard of Marxist theory? I prefer more modern approaches, Gandhian, for example, or American economist David Ellerman or Sociologist Joyce Rothschild. Or Cornell West, for that matter. Thus Moby Dick has racial symbolism, but can be given modern interpretation in light of fishing co-operatives and Greenpeace's efforts to achieve ecologically-based moratoriums. Mark RegoM

    Michael, nice to see your writing here! I know you from I think your reference to personal and cultural transformation to reconstitute our "common core" using Freire's ideas is interesting and important. An example that I've delved into a bit recently is the Mondragon industrial Co-op Corp. They are no government co-op offshoot. They were founded in Franco's Fascist Spain, a child of Hitler-Mussolini military assistance. Padre Arizmendiarrieta, a young Basque journalist who survived the war against Franco's forces, started a more public and grassroots polytechnical institute in his town. He taught the sociology of grassroots democracy, and five graduates became engineers who started the first Mondragon factory. Arizmendi's teaching lead them to want to create a co-operative firm, which they did with his help. They grew and diversified to become what they are today, a dynamic network of co-operatives which includes a co-op university. In Brazil, the MST have grown from the original inspiration of Joao Pedro Stedile who got his masters in Mexico and came back understanding the legalities of squatter occupation for farmland. They now utilize Freire's teachings as they have expanded all over Brazil, starting settlements and then co-operatives. They have started their own co-op association. MST even has a project to teach the settlements to build their own micro wind turbines.
    In the US, I owe some credit to the Food Co-ops in New York City for contributing strongly to the transformation of my activist vision. Organic Valley farms shows that a similar vision occurred there recently, since they only began in the 1980s. Going from oppressed to socially responsible and liberated isn't necessarily easy, but like most things, it's about making the necessary effort that then makes it much easier to understand. William Greider, Marjorie kelly, and Nadeau and Thompson have written some decent books on the subject, for example.