Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Transparency and Disclosure and Richie Havens

Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel economist, and former World Bank chief economist, former member of Council of Economic Advisers, was recognized for his work on the importance of information ("asymmetric information") on market functions.
 More simply put, for markets to work their magic, full information needs to be accessible to buyers. Failure to disclose information which could shift a purchaser's decision will cause markets to fail.

Last week we held a forum on campaign finance reform, and all panelists agreed on at least the basic premise that all financial contributions to campaigns should be disclosed. Some would also extend this to lobbying. Of course, with Citizens United and the development of SuperPACs and 'independent social welfare organizations' able to hide the donors, we don't have such a system in place for perhaps the most important place of power.

The Senate last week defeated another attempt to add transparency/disclosure to what we eat, by defeating an amendment that would have simply allowed states to require labeling of GMO foods, as most of Europe and the developed world already does. What are we hiding?

An article this week in Forbes, highlighting MSU's own Prof.Phil Howard's work on the Organic Industry shows how the food giants are taking over the small players and what we lose in the process.

I have some hope that someday I'll be able to shop at a retail outlet where it is transparent how well their lowest paid employee is compensated and what the ratio is to the highest paid employee. That would surely shape how I would use the market. This failure of transparency denotes a lack of trust and without it, we'll be stuck in this us/them dichotomy that separates us forever. Time for some sunshine, the true disinfectant.

Speaking of Sunshine, we lost a true troubadour recently when Richie Havens passed away at 72 last month from a heart attack. If you ever saw him live, his light shone bright through his music, his deep harmonic voice, and his huge heart connected to all good things. Two clips of his work below. May you be moved by his gift.

Let the sun shine! (1971)

and from there

Freedom (Live at Cannes Film Festival 2008 w/ Sean Penn)

Monday, May 27, 2013

more or better

On a finite planet, understanding  the meaning of "enough" is crucial to sustain life.A film I saw at a conference last June, "Growthbusters" (created in the Michael Moore style) and well worth watching, features a little clip from University of Colorado Prof. Emeritus of Physics, Al Bartlett, on the realities of steady growth and our ability to react to its impacts. Using growth of bacteria as an example, Bartlett depicts a frightening picture of human response to things they don't notice. The warning time available for responses to challenges of steady growth are striking.

My hunch is that 97% of the population is unaware of this growth/response window. I'm not prescient enough to know what might trigger changes that awaken people to recognize the deadly twin growth in CO2 and income inequality or which may happen first or which might cause the greatest unraveling amongst us. The 400 part per million atmospheric CO2 concentration announced earlier this month is accelerating despite many voices raised to warn against the folly.

This issue isn't even on the docket at the US Congress or administration. Instead we focus on a narrow form of measured growth at all costs. The American way - if you're not successful just add more - force, power, money, etc.. More is better.

But what if more isn't better? And more of what? And for whom? This week's Too Much newsletter

Too Much gives us a few snapshots, as it does every week, of the battle on the inequality front.

The National Association of Manufacturers, the corporate lobby group, has a new chair. NAM’s choice: the latest hero in executive circles, Doug Oberhelman, the CEO of Caterpillar. Oberhelman's tough-guy labor tactics — he shut down one plant when workers refused to swallow a 50 percent pay cut — have sent Caterpillar profits soaring. Oberhelman’s own pay has jumped to $22 million. Last year, a Caterpillar worker in Illinois who hadn’t received a wage hike in 10 years asked Oberhelman when he could expect one. The CEO told him that all paychecks at Caterpillar have to stay globally competitive. Oberhelman’s chief CEO rival, Kunio Noji of Japan’s Komatsu, took home $2.1 million in 2012 . . .


Stat of the Week
The typical U.S. CEO pulled in $9.7 million last year, the Associated Press reported last week, a 6.5 percent hike over the 2011 chief exec median. The typical U.S. worker last year took about $39,900, a 1.6 percent increase over 2011.

There are alternatives to the Thatcher-Reagan trickle down economics that have lead us to the brink of planetary climate change and unbelievable inequality.Two of the newest and best have been mentioned here recently - Molly Scott Cato's The Bioregional Economy 

 and Enough is Enough
Order the Book
 by Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill and James. And as I quoted Milton Friedman a few blogs back, we need to have these ideas ready for when the possibility arises that they could be implemented. Prof. Bartlett's eye-opening reminder of the lag-time in human response to the forces of growth should shake us from our slumber. How much time do we think we have?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Thoughts and Triggers

All other green campaigns become futile without tackling the economic system and its ideological defenders. Economics is only dismal because there are not enough of us making it our own. Read on and become empowered!

This is the cut line for Molly Scott Cato's blog, Gaian Economics. I'm reading her new book The Bioregional Economy currently and enjoying the depth of her analysis and insights. She has the following photo in a recent blog entry 

which which triggered the thought of an article in Deadline Detroit that featured somewhat different photos of a shipping container from my son, Noah's farm there(click on the link for the story and more photos).

Perhaps needless to say that we each connect thoughts and ideas differently. Just last night during dinner, my bride of nearly 34 years and buddy for nearly 45 and I were discussing plants still needing to go into the garden when I mentioned the gift of red cabbage plants we had received from a dear friend, how her brother makes some tangy sauerkraut but doesn't care for using red cabbage, but then her retrieval of a meal we had a few springs back at a lovely German restaurant in the Shenadoah Valley that served both green and red sauerkraut. How was that meal that we shared triggered in this discussion from her memory and not mine?

Ideas matter and they are important as my last blog that quoted Milton Friedman's take on that sentiment asserts. I've read two particularly powerful essays in the past week that I feel compelled to share. The first is a recent reconsideration from Rebecca Solnit, one of our country's most important writers, in which she reflects on what she was writing about hope a decade ago (it eventually made it into her book from 2005, Hope in the Dark). One of my favorite quotes is torn from those pages and is a slide for a presentation I'm giving later this morning -

I say all this to you because hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say this because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope. At the beginning of his massive 1930s treatise on hope, the German philosopher Ernst Bloch wrote, “The work of this emotion requires people who throw themselves actively into what is becoming, to which they themselves belong.” To hope is to give yourself to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable.

Her piece published  Monday at Tom Dispatch is entitled, What Comes After Hope

is astounding in its power, grace, and insight.

Yesterday, I visited Charles Eisenstein's website and read his most recent essay following on the heals of the Connecticut school shooting. Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, is as David Korten has suggested,"one of the up-and-coming great minds of our time."  His The Cycle of Terror is profound in its ability to turn an issue around and look at it from an entirely different orientation. This is clearly a gift Eisenstein has that Korten has acknowledged. To seriously consider Eisenstein's suggestion in this essay is something I'll be reflecting on for many days, weeks, months, years ahead, as I have with his work on economics. But reflection without action won't change much. What are the triggers to action? Must they be as Friedman and others have suggested, a crisis or disaster? I hope not.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Quoting Milton Friedman?

The regular reader of this blog will be surprised that I might quote Milton Friedman, but this one sets the stage for other threads to follow.

"Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable." Capitalism and Freedom, p.2 (cited in Rob Dietz and Dan O'Neill, Enough is Enough, 2013).

This follows serendipitously on comments made last night at forum we hosted on reforming campaign finance. Jocelyn Benson, interim dean at Wayne State Law School, and an expert on election law and her fellow panelists, Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, and Ken Sikkema, senior fellow with Public Sector Consultants and former Republican State Senate Majority leader agreed that change in campaign finance tends to come only after a crisis, or in their words, a 'scandal' like Watergate. So last night's forum explored some of those ideas across the political spectrum.

Ideas have power, as Friedman notes, but they aren't always ripe for the times. Possibilitator attempts to nurture ideas that might move us all closer to a better, more sustainable world. Last night's chief consensus point among the panelists was he need for total disclosure in funding any political activity. When one audience member framed the campaign finance conundrum as an 'arms race' some seemed less concerned about capping the flow of money.

My take is that indeed it is the hegemony of economics over everything else in our culture that is at the root of this and so many other problems, especially as the concentration of economic power slips into fewer and fewer hands. Benson highlighted how money controls who even becomes a candidate for office in an environment where money is so dominant a driver.

This hegemony is well summarized in this Robert F. Kennedy quote even before the Reagan-Thatcher-Friedman ideas took hold and have driven us to record levels of inequality while mortgaging the earth in the process.

The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit or our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion  to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. (1968)

One wonders this morning if the horrific tornadoes that struck Oklahoma yesterday could be the 'crisis' necessary to awaken the skeptics about the alarms climate scientists have been warning us about for far too long without any action. Keeping ideas alive is important work. They just might come in handy some day. Hopefully before its too late.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Good LIfe and Back to the books

The books keep jumping out at me. But one we took with us on our Peruvian adventure was really a collection of blogs from UM professor of psychology, Chris Peterson.

Book Cover    Pursuing the Good Life  is a collection of short takes from his blog The Good Life hosted at the Psychology Today website. Peterson, from the 'positive psychology' school reflects on what makes us tick and how and why 'positive.
psychology' is useful in pursuing a good life. The book rearranges the blogs in an order that allows us to follow his approach. As blog entries each is short, usually somewhat humorous but very poignant and worth reflecting on. Ellen and I both enjoyed it and now we may occasionally peek at this blog site to see what's going on between his ears.

Another bog I visit occasionally is Gaian Economics by British economist Molly Scott Cato. As it turns out her new book was on the new book shelf yesterday and of course, I picked it up and read the intro earlier this morning.
 The Bioregional Economy is Cato's view of what a sustainable economy could look like. Her writing is crisp, erudite, and to the point. One wonders if writing blogs helps writers improve their overall writing. I'm sure I'll be sharing tidbits from this one over the next few weeks. if you want to buy this one at a discount she has arranged a discount from the publisher after her chagrin at how they priced the book(her contracting publisher Earthscan was consumed by giant Taylor and Francis during the writing of the book). The bibliography itself is rich with other delicious possibilities!

I also stumbled on another interesting tome yesterday from  a New Zealand environmental educator that addresses a growing interest for me - the nature of citizenship and empowerment on a finite planet. Children, citizenship, and environment : nurturing a democratic imagination in a changing world by Bronwyn Hayward tackles the limits of current environmental education emphasis and argues for a reconceptualization and orientation that is built on empowerment.

This ties well with the book mentioned in yesterday's blog on empowerment and possibility. This intersection of possibility, complexity, empowerment, justice, nature, scale, conviviality holds some power over me at the moment. As I explore how all this moves together towards a more sustainable future I'll be trying to articulate how we might be energized and responsive to it.

Film at 11:00

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What is Possible?

When I launched this blog under it's current name, Possibilitator, it was with the sentiment that for change to happen the thought of possibility must precede and therefore stimulate the action. This approach evolved out of list I began in the mid-1990's originally called Tlinkster, that evolved to Mindfulness in 2004. All of the postings have been triggered by thoughts that emerge from discussions, reflections, readings, and other experiences that have stimulated some new 'possibility', at least as recognized by this limited mind.

I remain convinced that ideas have power and in fact they EMPOWER us to move beyond where we are. The flip side of this equation is that without ideas, we are constrained to seeing the world as Margaret Thatcher famously proclaimed - "There is No Alternative". The hope implicit in this blog is that, perhaps - just perhaps, some linkages I share might feed some emergent possibility in others that might otherwise lie dormant. In an essay i read earlier this morning from Ken Worpole in Richer Futures: Fashioning a New Politics, he argues that ideas emerge from the margins and are generally a response to the shortcomings of the dominant systems. My hunch is he is correct.

Our world grows increasing complex, so much so that our limited brains can't drink it all in. We use education to train our minds to reduce the whole to parts (disciplines) to try and get a better grasp of the details. But through that process we become less able to see and experience the whole.

I stumbled last week into several books that are opening up new windows from which to view all this. The first is a book co-authored by a grandfather-father-grandson team of development professionals - Empowerment on an unstable planet : from seeds of human energy to the scale of global change

Book Cover For the encyclopedia I have been working on the author who was supposed to complete the essay on "empowerment" defaulted and we needed to find another suitable replacement. Thus identifying this recent work by the Taylors.The Taylor's are the primary force behind the SEED -SCALE approach to development, that believes that sustainable development must be place specific, built predominantly on social capital and human energy, and nurtured with some outside assistance where available. At the core of their change model is the idea of ASPIRATIONS.

We do so much too dampen ASPIRATIONS that as we get older it seems to be more difficult to move beyond the status quo. We don't begin life that way, but we are often told that the 'real world' demands we constrain our aspirations, that we diminish our view of what's possible. If anything our collective fate is tied to how well we can cast off this yoke and awaken the creative possibilities to adapt and design resilient approaches to a quickly changing world.

For who's to say what's possible or not.