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Economics For the 99%: This Is What Food and Shelter For All Looks Like

April 21, 2014

STEVE RUSHTON
Occupy.com/News Report
Published: Sunday 20 April 2014
A recent U.K. Parliamentary report highlights that 15 million tons of food is wasted in Britain every year. Indicative of a broader problem, the same report tells how the European union wastes 89 million tons while rich countries dispose of nearly the same amount that all of sub-Saharan Africa is able to grow.
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“Economics of the majority begins with the most fundamental premise: resources lie idle and economics has the task of explaining that idleness, then proposing public policies to end the waste of human skill and productive wealth,” John Weeks asserts in the conclusion to his recently published book, Economics of the 1%: How Mainstream Economics Serves the Rich, Obscures Reality and Distorts Policy. His approach comprehensively undermines neoclassical economics, which he terms “fakeconomics” – a pseudo-science based on false assumptions, which hold that markets are efficient and resources are never wasted.

In his sharp final section, Weeks alludes to an incomplete project for the 21st century: economics for the 99%. To explore this, specific necessities of life deserve further focus – especially as society continues to waste resources that could alleviate poverty and stop unnecessary deaths. Among the critical points, shelter and food are two human requirements that have hit headlines recently in Britain for being wasted and rotting beyond use.

Free Market Capitalism and the Scale of Food Waste

A recent U.K. Parliamentary report highlights that 15 million tons of food is wasted in Britain every year. Indicative of a broader problem, the same report tells how the European union wastes 89 million tons while rich countries dispose of nearly the same amount that all of sub-Saharan Africa is able to grow.

The United Nations Environment Program suggests a third of all food globally goes to waste. Globally, more than one in 10 people suffer hunger, meaning the scale of free markets’ food waste is not only causing poverty – it actually kills. A disaster whose largest impact is felt on the majority world, it is nonetheless more and more affecting the minority world as inequality spirals. For instance, in Britain, the food crisis has led to church leaders speaking out on continuing austerity policies.

Why is so Much Food Wasted?

 

Reading different mainstream news reactions to the report, blame has been apportioned in part to the supermarkets for selling consumers food they do not need with buy-one-get-one-free offers, and for penalizing growers for undersupplying them; this encourages oversupply. Culpability is also pointed at the food industry itself, which spends billions each year persuading people “what food should look like” so that only aesthetically pleasing food reaches the shelves. 

Legally Enforcing Waste

Anyone who has ever gone “skipping,” or “dumpster diving,” knows that shops regularly throw out masses of perfectly edible food. For some, this is solely a source of nourishment; for others it is an ethical decision to choose “freeganism”. By stopping so much food heading to landfill, you not only leave more for everyone else – but from a climate perspective, you’re helping prevent more methane from rotting food becoming greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet this ecological and socially beneficial solution is criminalized. Locks and chains “protect” the garbage on our streets. There have even been recent cases of police arresting those who want to use the idle produce. In an instance three years ago, it even led to criminal convictions for theft.

A food waste solution based on freegan principles involves shops giving away food to charity feeding projects. A successful example is the Hare Krishna project Food For All. Using donated food, Food For All feeds over 1,000 people per day across London, including homeless people and students. The food combines with other work that aims to empower homeless people, providing opportunities such as music lessons and volunteering opportunities.

But schemes like these are also under attack from UK authorities. Earlier this year, it took a high court ruling to overturn a decision to ban a soup kitchen from the London borough of Waltham Forest Council. That is why, for an economics of the 99%, we need to understand efficiency as not dumping food – rather than making maximum profits on beautifully shaped cucumbers.

Assets or Homes? Empty Buildings in the Free Market

The inefficiency of the market that wastes food echoes in Britain’s empty buildings. In the UK, 870,000 potential homes lie idle with a further 420,000 potential homes in abandoned commercial buildings that could be converted to housing. The owners, of course, have homes that are called investments. Recent revelations show that a third of mansions lay empty in the second most expensive street in Britain.

Its billion-pound plus properties have been shown to be rotting to decay for years, some for decades. These idle resources contribute greatly to Britain’s housing crisis, where not enough affordable homes are available, leading to a sharp increases in homelessness particularly in the capital.

More broadly across society, the reduction in used homes allows higher prices to be charged for potential first time buyers and those who are renting. But the inflating housing bubble also endangers the economy: the latest IMF report tells how Britain’s recovery is based largely on the housing sector, which has been supported by government incentives like mortgage subsidies that have largely been used to buy expensive homes, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Those buying houses as assets include foreign investors, attracted to put money into housing which is seen as a lucrative investment because of the weak taxation on foreign-owned UK property. The Economist reports London house prices rose 11% last year. The same article shows what Weeks might define as fakeconomics anti-logic: The Economist celebrates that the investment is good for the property market despite that it will adversely affect the majority. It propels the fakeconomics myth: that markets benefit people.

There are many measures the government could take to stop homes being used as idle assets. These include a progressive tax on houses or second homes, a mansion tax or a land value tax. Within all these taxes, there is plenty of scope to progressively tax the richest to reduce the inequality in access to housing.

Squatting derelict buildings, like skipping waste food, is one citizen-led solution that immediately utilizes these rotting resources while often providing the homeless a form of shelter, as well as independent community and organizing spaces. Similar to skipping, the UK government has cracked down on the practice; in 2012, it repealed squatters’ rights to recycle residential buildings.

In a report on the impact of the criminalization of squatting in commercial buildings, the campaign group SQUASH presented evidence showing the law to be “undemocratic, unjust, unnecessary and unaffordable.”

Since, there have been moves from other Minsters of Parliament to criminalize all squatting. Interestingly these MPs emerge clearly in the pay of luxury housing developers and property magnets – superrich people who have an interest in keeping buildings empty so as to drive up prices.

Squatting, like skipping, leads toward an economic policy that makes housing for the 99% affordable. Just as society could be directed not to waste food, it makes sense for there to be a maximum time that a property may lay idle before it is given to those in need.

ABOUT STEVE RUSHTON

As well as being involved with Occupy, Steve is currently writing a PhD criticising Neoliberalism from an indigenous perspective. From Southampton, Steve has also provided legal support to Dan Ashman as part of the OccupyLSX legal case—for which judgement will be delivered sometime after Jan. 11.

 
   

This Company has a Four Day Work, Pays Its Workers Full Salary, and Is Supersuccessful Successful

April 20, 2014

BRYCE COVERT
Think Progress/News Investigation
Published: Saturday 19 April 2014
While it’s hard to quantify, Ryan Carson, owner of Treehouse, an online education company that teaches people about technology, believes his company benefits from better output and morale.
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The 70 people who work at Treehouse, an online education company that teaches people about technology, only work four days a week at the same full salary as other tech workers. Yet the company’s revenue has grown 120 percent, it generates more than $10 million a year in sales, and it responds to more than 70,000 customers, according to a post in Quartz by CEO Ryan Carson.

Carson has been working four-day weeks since 2006, when he founded his first company with his wife, he told ThinkProgress. He quit his job to start it, only to find that they both put in seven days a week. “I remember distinctly my wife and I were on the couch one evening,” he recalled, “and she said something like, ‘What are we doing? I thought that starting a company means you have more time and more control, but it seems like we have less time and less control and we’re more stressed out.’” They decided to cut back by not working Fridays, and after they hired their first employee, “we decided to officially enact [a four-day week] and we never looked back.”

Carson has since started three other companies at which he’s instituted this rule, Treehouse being the latest. While it’s hard to quantify, he believes his company benefits from better output and morale. “The quality of the work, I believe, is higher,” he said. “Thirty-two hours of higher quality work is better than 40 hours of lower quality work.” The impact on his employees’ outlook is also “massive,” he said. “I find I just can’t wait to get back to work” after the weekend, and he suspects the same is true for others. On Mondays, “everyone’s invigorated and excited.” He recounted a time when a developer told him that his hope was to work at the company for 20 years. In the Quartz article, he noted that a team member gets recruitment emails from Facebook, but that his response is always, “Do you work a four-day week yet?” 

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And recruiting people in the first place is also easier thanks to the shorter week. “We regularly have new employees choose Treehouse over Facebook, Twitter and other top-tier tech companies,” he writes. And the company is able to still pull in high sales and even $13 million in venture capital thanks to instituting higher efficiency, by, for example, strictly limiting the use of email.

Carson believes plenty of other companies could follow his example. “We have 70,000 customers, and I think if we can do it… couldn’t more people do that?” he said. Some businesses will still need to be open on Fridays, but he suggests “rolling employment,” where some people work Monday through Thursday while others work Tuesday through Friday. “Is it possible for everybody? No,” he concedes. “But I bet some huge percentage of companies can do it that just aren’t.”

There are some drawbacks. Not working on Friday, he said, means no day of slowdown before the weekend. “It’s kind of like 100 miles per hour until Thursday at 6 p.m.” And he acknowledges that less work may get done with one day off.

But there is some social science to back up the practice of limiting how much people put in at work each week. Research has found that putting in long hours, or more than 60 hours a week, produces a small productivity boost at first. But after three or four weeks of working at that level, it will actually declineOther studies have similarly found that long hours produce a short term bump but have negative ramifications over the long run. Thisplays out on the global stage: countries where workers put in less time tend to be the most productive. For example, Greek workers put in 2,000 hours a year, on average, while German workers put in about 1,400, yet German productivity is about 70 percent higher.

The dominant work culture in the United States is one of overwork, though. We rank at number 11 out of 33 developed countries in how many hours we work each week. For professionals, nearly everyone is working more than 50 hours a week and nearly half are putting in more than 65.

Carson isn’t the only one experimenting with shorter hours. Municipal workers in Sweden’s second-largest city will soon work six-hour days to see whether it boosts efficiency and reduces costs if they need fewer sick days. Six of the ten most competitive countries, including Germany, have banned working more than 48 hours a week.

ABOUT BRYCE COVERT

Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

April 9, 2014

3,000 rally against Abe’s collective self-defense plan

3,000 rally against Abe's collective self-defense plan Japanese author Kenzaburo OeAFP

TOKYO —

Some 3,000 people rallied Tuesday in a Tokyo park against government plans to soften Japan’s constitutional commitment to pacifism and give its military a more active role.

The protest came after a national opinion poll showed growing public opposition to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to bolster his nation’s military.

He has argued that Japan needs to reinterpret its postwar pacifist constitution to permit “collective defense”—coming to the aid of an ally under attack.

That is not allowed under current readings of Article 9 of the U.S.-imposed document, which says Japan forever renounces the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

Previous governments have held that this means Japan’s military may only open fire if fired upon, even if that entails leaving US counterparts in danger on the same battlefield.

“By exercising the collective self-defense, Japan will directly participate in a war,” Nobel Literature laureate Kenzaburo Oe told the rally.

“I’m afraid that Japan’s spirit is approaching the most dangerous stage over the past 100 years,” Oe said before the demonstrators were due to march in central Tokyo.

The liberal Asahi Shimbun reported that a poll of more than 2,000 adults nationwide showed 63% oppose the concept of collective defense.

That was up from 56% last year and more than double the 29% who support the idea.

The percentage of those against revising Article 9 rose to 64% from 52%, the paper said in the poll published Monday.

Abe’s drive to strengthen the military provokes disquiet in China and on the Korean peninsula, where memories linger of Tokyo’s brutal expansionism last century.

However, his position is welcomed in Washington, where there have long been calls for Japan to pull its own weight in a very one-sided security alliance.

Unease in Japan about China’s increasing assertiveness, and specifically its strident claims to disputed islands in the East China Sea, has helped bolster Abe’s push to enhance the role of the military.

© 2014 AFP

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Comment: The event planner said 5,000 people gathered to demand no destruction of the Peace Constitution.

This Danish Island Powered by Renewables Is Creating Followers Worldwide

April 8, 2014

Jona Schmidt hansen
Occupy.com/News Analysis
Published: Monday 7 April 2014
Initiatives have involved the local population and private investors in helping Samso realize its green, clean energy potential
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At first glance, the small Danish island of Samso doesn’t look like a place that would attract international fame. With less than 4,000 inhabitants living on under 115 square kilometers of land, it’s not exactly a geopolitical player. But a visit to Samso reveals an island with outsized ambitions for moving into a clean energy future – and others around the world is starting to take notice.

Here, wind turbines are aligned in straight rows in the ocean that surrounds the island. Solar panels dot the roofs of houses and farms everywhere, as well as parks. Initiatives have involved the local population and private investors in helping Samso realize its green, clean energy potential – and since 2005 it has been producing more electricity than it consumes, all from the sun and wind.

At the same time, Samso gets more than 70 percent of its heating power from biomass, solar and high-efficient heating pumps that extract heat from the air. Wood chips, hay and other non-fossil fuel sources employed in central heating systems and energy efficient renovations have drastically reduced fossil fuel use across the island.

Meanwhile, other innovative projects like the extraction of natural gas from manure and garbage dumps have strengthened the island’s green credentials.

How It Happened

It all started in 1997 when Samso won a state-financed competition to be “Denmark’s Renewable Island.” That spark led to the evolution of a project that quickly involved both private and public actors. In the years since, more private investments combined with state and municipal funding have driven the island’s transformation.

And it hasn’t been only the environmental, feel-good carrot that made this renewable movement a success; basic economic motives also played a key role getting islanders to participate. Many are shareholders in the wind turbines and central heating systems. And many have installed their own wood chips boilers, household windmills, heat pumps and solar panels.

The economic and environmental benefits couldn’t be clearer as people on Samso are both saving on their power bill and profiting from the shares they holding in the clean energy enterprises. Go figure: as oil prices have risen, the whole experiment has turned into a great investment for the island and its residents.

Smart Investors Create a Smart FutureOne local who saw economic potential in the project early on was Jørgen Tranberg. Tranberg has invested almost $1.2 million purchasing shares in ocean wind turbines. He fully owns a 1MW land-based wind turbine and owns half the shares in another 2.5MW land-based wind turbine.

“You don’t invest that much for fun,” he explains. “Before this project, when you invested in a few stocks, it was mainly for the sake of soft values. But when you invest in this size, it is another matter.”

“When I just moved to the island, I was standing on the top of a hill and thought about how windy this place is. Then came the wind turbine projects, and I believed that it could give a reasonable surplus.”

It’s not all about the money, of course. Tranberg is well aware of the more climate-friendly, environmental future he is helping promote with renewable energy.

“When the wind turbines were introduced, no one was interested in CO2 emissions. But most people have now recognized that the temperature is rising – except those who buy houses right on the edge of the sea,” Tranberg says.

Another inhabitant, Bo Agerskov, is participating on a smaller and more private level. He has his own wood chip boiler and solar panels. For Agerskov, economic interest was an important reason, but not the only one, for investing in renewable power.

“It was a combination of environment and economy – and high oil prices. My wood chip boiler can also be connected to a wind turbine,“ Agerskov explains, and “with one of those, I can get 100 percent self-supplying with renewable energy.“

“It is a goal I would like to reach,“ he adds, because “renewable energy has always interested me. If you follow what is going on in the world around you, it automatically becomes interesting.“

International Attention – And a Leader In the Green Mountain State

The success of Samso is by no means a secret. It has quickly become a destination for green tourism, bringing added business to the island. Commercial and political delegations from the U.S., China, Japan and other countries have also visited – and brought ideas and inspiration home with them as they attempt to green their own economies on the Danish model.

One such place is Montpelier, the capital of Vermont, where a wood-fueled central heating system for the city – designed on the Samso model – is just six months away from completion. Montpelier’s declared goal is to become a “net-zero” fossil fuel consumer by 2030, producing all the energy it needs from renewable sources.

If things go as planned, more electric vehicles, solar power arrays and efficient heating pumps will be an established part of the city´s landscape – an ambition supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, which has awarded the project $8 million in funding with more investment planned in the future.

“Deploying technologies in our cities and towns will have economic and environmental benefits for all Vermonters,” said Montpelier’s utility chief, Mary Powell. “It makes perfect sense that Vermont would be the state where we can successfully make our capital net zero.”

New Goals

Back on Samso, the newest set of plans involves supplying the island with 100 percent heating from renewable – and altogether eliminating fossil fuel use for transportation both on the island itself, and in the boats used to get to and from it.

Today, some of the cars and tractors here already run on electricity, and increasingly on bio fuel – a product people want to produce more of, by figuring out the best kinds of plants for energy extraction. Around the clock, it seems, technicians, engineers, innovators – and regular islanders, concerned about the costs both to themselves and to the climate – are seeking ways to make the world outside their doorstep a greener, cleaner place.

For more information about Samso see this general site. Find out here about the Energy Academy – the top source of renewable energy knowledge on the island. And read here for more on Montpelier’s renewable city project.

The Prospects for Survival

April 2, 2014
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Noam Chomsky
NationofChange/Op-ed
Published: Wednesday 2 April 2014
The dimming prospects for human survival.

(This is Part II of an article adapted from a lecture by Noam Chomsky on Feb. 28, sponsored by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in Santa Barbara, Calif.)

The previous article explored how security is a high priority for government planners: security, that is, for state power and its primary constituency, concentrated private power – all of which entails that official policy must be protected from public scrutiny.

In these terms, government actions fall in place as quite rational, including the rationality of collective suicide. Even instant destruction by nuclear weapons has never ranked high among the concerns of state authorities.

To cite an example from the late Cold War: In November 1983 the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization launched a military exercise designed to probe Russian air defenses, simulating air and naval attacks and even a nuclear alert.

These actions were undertaken at a very tense moment. Pershing II strategic missiles were being deployed in Europe. President Reagan, fresh from the “Evil Empire” speech, had announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, dubbed “Star Wars,” which the Russians understood to be effectively a first-strike weapon – a standard interpretation of missile defense on all sides.

Naturally these actions caused great alarm in Russia, which, unlike the U.S., was quite vulnerable and had repeatedly been invaded.

Newly released archives reveal that the danger was even more severe than historians had previously assumed. The NATO exercise “almost became a prelude to a preventative (Russian) nuclear strike,” according to an account last year by Dmitry Adamsky in the Journal of Strategic Studies .

Nor was this the only close call. In September 1983, Russia’s early-warning systems registered an incoming missile strike from the United States and sent the highest-level alert. The Soviet military protocol was to retaliate with a nuclear attack of its own.

The Soviet officer on duty, Stanislav Petrov, intuiting a false alarm, decided not to report the warnings to his superiors. Thanks to his dereliction of duty, we’re alive to talk about the incident.

Security of the population was no more a high priority for Reagan planners than for their predecessors. Such heedlessness continues to the present, even putting aside the numerous near-catastrophic accidents, reviewed in a chilling new book, “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety,” by Eric Schlosser.

 

It’s hard to contest the conclusion of the last commander of the Strategic Air Command, Gen . Lee Butler, that humanity has so far survived the nuclear age “by some combination of skill, luck and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.” 

The government’s regular, easy acceptance of threats to survival is almost too extraordinary to capture in words.

In 1995, well after the Soviet Union had collapsed, the U.S. Strategic Command, or Stratcom, which is in charge of nuclear weapons, published a study, “Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence.”

A central conclusion is that the U.S. must maintain the right of a nuclear first strike, even against non-nuclear states. Furthermore, nuclear weapons must always be available, because they “cast a shadow over any crisis or conflict.”

 

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Thus nuclear weapons are always used, just as you use a gun if you aim it but don’t fire when robbing a store – a point that Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, has repeatedly stressed. 

Stratcom goes on to advise that “planners should not be too rational about determining … what an adversary values,” all of which must be targeted. “[I]t hurts to portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool-headed. . That the U.S. may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked should be a part of the national persona we project to all adversaries.”

It is “beneficial [for our strategic posture] that some elements may appear to be potentially‘out of control’” – and thus posing a constant threat of nuclear attack.

Not much in this document pertains to the obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to make “good faith” efforts to eliminate the nuclear-weapon scourge from the earth. What resounds, rather, is an adaptation of Hilaire Belloc’s famous 1898 couplet about the Maxim gun:

Whatever happens we have got,

The Atom Bomb and they have not.

Plans for the future are hardly promising. In December the Congressional Budget Office reported that the U.S. nuclear arsenal will cost $355 billion over the next decade. In January the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies estimated that the U.S. would spend $1 trillion on the nuclear arsenal in the next 30 years.

And of course the United States is not alone in the arms race. As Butler observed, it is a near miracle that we have escaped destruction so far. The longer we tempt fate, the less likely it is that we can hope for divine intervention to perpetuate the miracle.

In the case of nuclear weapons, at least we know in principle how to overcome the threat of apocalypse: Eliminate them.

But another dire peril casts its shadow over any contemplation of the future – environmental disaster. It’s not clear that there even is an escape, though the longer we delay, the more severe the threat becomes – and not in the distant future. The commitment of governments to the security of their populations is therefore clearly exhibited by how they address this issue.

Today the United States is crowing about “100 years of energy independence” as the country becomes “the Saudi Arabia of the next century” – very likely the final century of human civilization if current policies persist.

One might even take a speech of President Obama’s two years ago in the oil town of Cushing, Okla., to be an eloquent death-knell for the species.

He proclaimed with pride, to ample applause, that “Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That’s important to know. Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.”

The applause also reveals something about government commitment to security. Industry profits are sure to be secured as “producing more oil and gas here at home” will continue to be “a critical part” of energy strategy, as the president promised.

The corporate sector is carrying out major propaganda campaigns to convince the public that climate change, if happening at all, does not result from human activity. These efforts are aimed at overcoming the excessive rationality of the public, which continues to be concerned about the threats that scientists overwhelmingly regard as near-certain and ominous.

To put it bluntly, in the moral calculus of today’s capitalism, a bigger bonus tomorrow outweighs the fate of one’s grandchildren.

What are the prospects for survival then? They are not bright. But the achievements of those who have struggled for centuries for greater freedom and justice leave a legacy that can be taken up and carried forward – and must be, and soon, if hopes for decent survival are to be sustained. And nothing can tell us more eloquently what kind of creatures we are.

Noam Chomsky’s most recent book is “Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire. Interviews with David Barsamian.” Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

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ABOUT NOAM CHOMSKY

Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, and activist. He is an Institute Professor and pressor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Techonology. Chomsky is well known in the academic and scientific communities as one of the fathers of modern linguistics, and a major figure of analytic philosophy. Chomsky is the author of more than 150 books and has received worldwide attention for his views.

March 26, 2014
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The New Tribalism and

the Decline of the Nation State

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We are witnessing a reversion to tribalism around the world, away from nation states. The same pattern can be seen even in America — especially in American politics.

Before the rise of the nation-state, between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, the world was mostly tribal. Tribes were united by language, religion, blood, and belief. They feared other tribes and often warred against them. Kings and emperors imposed temporary truces, at most.

But in the past 300 years, the idea of nationhood took root in most of the world. Members of tribes started to become citizens, viewing themselves as a single people with patriotic sentiments and duties toward their homeland. Although nationalism never fully supplanted tribalism in some former colonial territories, the transition from tribe to nation was mostly completed by the mid-twentieth century.

Over the last several decades, though, technology has whittled away the underpinnings of the nation state. National economies have become so intertwined that economic security depends less on national armies than on financial transactions around the world. Global corporations play nations off against each other to get the best deals on taxes and regulations.

News and images move so easily across borders that attitudes and aspirations are no longer especially national. Cyber-weapons, no longer the exclusive province of national governments, can originate in a hacker’s garage.

Nations are becoming less relevant in a world where everyone and everything is inter-connected. The connections that matter most are again becoming more personal. Religious beliefs and affiliations, the nuances of one’s own language and culture, the daily realities of class, and the extensions of one’s family and its values — all are providing people with ever greater senses of identity.

The nation state, meanwhile, is coming apart. A single Europe — which seemed within reach a few years ago — is now succumbing to the centrifugal forces of its different languages and cultures. The Soviet Union is gone, replaced by nations split along tribal lines. Vladimir Putin can’t easily annex the whole of Ukraine, only the Russian-speaking part. The Balkans have been Balkanized.

Separatist movements have broken out all over — Czechs separating from Slovaks; Kurds wanting to separate from Iraq, Syria, and Turkey; even the Scots seeking separation from England.

The turmoil now consuming much of the Middle East stems less from democratic movements trying to topple dictatorships than from ancient tribal conflicts between the two major denominations of Isam — Sunni and Shia.

And what about America? The world’s “melting pot” is changing color. Between the 2000 and 2010 census, the share of the U.S. population calling itself white dropped from 69 to 64 percent, and more than half of the nation’s population growth came from Hispanics.

It’s also becoming more divided by economic class. Increasingly, the rich seem to inhabit a different country than the rest.

But America’s new tribalism can be seen most distinctly in its politics. Nowadays the members of one tribe (calling themselves liberals, progressives, and Democrats) hold sharply different views and values than the members of the other (conservatives, Tea Partiers, and Republicans).

Each tribe has contrasting ideas about rights and freedoms (for liberals, reproductive rights and equal marriage rights; for conservatives, the right to own a gun and do what you want with your property). 

Each has its own totems (social insurance versus smaller government) and taboos (cutting entitlements or raising taxes). Each, its own demons (the Tea Party and Ted Cruz; the Affordable Care Act and Barack Obama); its own version of truth (one believes in climate change and evolution; the other doesn’t); and its own media that confirm its beliefs.

The tribes even look different. One is becoming blacker, browner, and more feminine. The other, whiter and more male. (Only 2 percent of Mitt Romney’s voters were African-American, for example.)

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http://robertreich.org/

Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, “Inequality for All,” to be released September 27. He blogs at http://www.robertreich.org.
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Mayans Win Huge Battle to Ban GMO Soy Crops

March 23, 2014

Chris Sarich
Natural Society/News Report
Published: Saturday 22 March 2014
After two years of litigation, and arguing that the planting of GM soybeans was in direct opposition of traditional beekeeping practices, AND that it was in violation of their right to a healthy environment, the Mayans won their case.
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Mayans of the Campeche Region have just won a two-year legal battle to get rid of Monsanto and their GMO soybeans (suicide beans). Following the ban of GM maize in Mexico, this ancient and agriculturally savvy culture has won a major battle against biotech monopolies around the globe.

The Second District Court ruled in favor of three Mayan communities from the Hopelchén township who dared to take on the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock , Rural Development, Fisheries and Food ( Sagarpa) and the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources ( SEMARNAT).

 

This means that Saragapa now must make a concerted effort to be sure that no GM soybeans are planted throughout Pachen and Cancabchen communities in Hopelchén. Just two years ago, the same agency allowed Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready GMO soybeans to be planted in the region – infecting more than 253,000 hectares with suicide seeds that cause human infertility and poison the environment. 

Seven states were under Monsanto’s reign – free then to plant their GM seeds wherever they liked within those borders, including the municipalities of: Campeche, Hopelchén , Tenabo , Calkiní , Escárcega, Carmen and Palisade.

In just a few of these places, the authorities were angry that the government had given Monsanto authorization, and they decided to fight the ruling. Campeche beekeepers were especially upset since this would affect bee-keeping negatively in the region. They called Monsanto’s influence, ‘pollution of production,’ resulting in loss of income and closing of markets for many bee keepers with international contracts.

After two years of litigation, and arguing that the planting of GM soybeans was in direct opposition of traditional beekeeping practices, AND that it was in violation of their right to a healthy environment – pointing out that increased use of herbicides and deforestation were both outcomes of GM planting – the Mayans won their case. These small indigenous communities have taken on the multi-billion-dollar biotech and Big Ag companies and won. They are an example to us all.

Scientists find mechanism to reset body clock

March 21, 2014

Date:
March 20, 2014
Source:
University of Manchester
Summary:
Researchers have discovered a new mechanism that governs how body clocks react to changes in the environment. The discovery could provide a solution for alleviating the detrimental effects of chronic shift work and jet-lag.

Researchers have discovered a new mechanism that governs how body clocks react to changes in the environment.
Credit: © Comugnero Silvana / Fotolia

Researchers from The University of Manchester have discovered a new mechanism that governs how body clocks react to changes in the environment.

And the discovery, which is being published inCurrent Biology, could provide a solution for alleviating the detrimental effects of chronic shift work and jet-lag.

The team’s findings reveal that the enzyme casein kinase 1epsilon (CK1epsilon) controls how easily the body’s clockwork can be adjusted or reset by environmental cues such as light and temperature.

Internal biological timers (circadian clocks) are found in almost every species on the planet. In mammals including humans, circadian clocks are found in most cells and tissues of the body, and orchestrate daily rhythms in our physiology, including our sleep/wake patterns and metabolism.

Dr David Bechtold, who led The University of Manchester’s research team, said: “At the heart of these clocks are a complex set of molecules whose interaction provides robust and precise 24 hour timing. Importantly, our clocks are kept in synchrony with the environment by being responsive to light and dark information.”

This work, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, was undertaken by a team from The University of Manchester in collaboration with scientists from Pfizer led by Dr Travis Wager.

The research identifies a new mechanism through which our clocks respond to these light inputs. During the study, mice lacking CK1epsilon, a component of the clock, were able to shift to a new light-dark environment (much like the experience in shift work or long-haul air travel) much faster than normal.

The research team went on to show that drugs that inhibit CK1epsilon were able to speed up shift responses of normal mice, and critically, that faster adaption to the new environment minimised metabolic disturbances caused by the time shift.

Dr Bechtold said: “We already know that modern society poses many challenges to our health and wellbeing — things that are viewed as commonplace, such as shift-work, sleep deprivation, and jet lag disrupt our body’s clocks. It is now becoming clear that clock disruption is increasing the incidence and severity of diseases including obesity and diabetes.

“We are not genetically pre-disposed to quickly adapt to shift-work or long-haul flights, and as so our bodies’ clocks are built to resist such rapid changes. Unfortunately, we must deal with these issues today, and there is very clear evidence that disruption of our body clocks has real and negative consequences for our health.”

He continues: “As this work progresses in clinical terms, we may be able to enhance the clock’s ability to deal with shift work, and importantly understand how maladaptation of the clock contributes to diseases such as diabetes and chronic inflammation.”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of ManchesterNote: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Violetta Pilorz, Peter S. Cunningham, Anthony Jackson, Alexander C. West, Travis T. Wager, Andrew S.I. Loudon, David A. Bechtold. A Novel Mechanism Controlling Resetting Speed of the Circadian Clock to Environmental StimuliCurrent Biology, 2014 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.02.027

Cite This Page:

University of Manchester. “Scientists find mechanism to reset body clock.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140320121904.htm>.

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WIPP officials admit new release of Plutonium and Americium — More expected in future — Nearly double levels seen after February leak — 61 DPM on March 11 vs. 36 DPM in February

March 21, 2014

AP, Mar. 19, 2014: New air sampling data from southeastern New Mexico’s troubled nuclear waste dump indicates there has been another small radiation release. [...] they believe the contamination is from previous deposits on the inner surface of exhaust ductwork. [...] Officials say occasional low-level releases are anticipated, but they should be well within safe limits.

Las Cruces Sun, Mar. 18, 2014 (emphasis added): DOE: Another radiation release reported at WIPP [...] Samples collected from the ventilation exhaust recorded 61 disintegrations per minute of americium. DPM measures the amount of radioactive contamination from alpha and beta rays in an area. [...] The DOE believes the most recent contamination was residual radioactive particles that were trapped in the ventilation system from the initial radiation leak. [...] The DOE said it anticipates additional low-level releases on occasion, but officials expect radiation in the environment will remain at safe levels. New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn said the state was briefed of the news Tuesday morning and thinks there is nothing to worry about at this time. “The level they detected is low and we don’t believe there was any risk to public health or the environment but we need to investigate more,” he said. [...] Department of Energy officials were not available for comment.

Albuquerque Journal, Mar. 19, 2014: One air sample collected March 11 from the ventilation exhaust showed increased levels of americium [...] In a statement, WIPP called the release “expected, given the amount of contamination captured by the WIPP ventilation system during the February 14 radiation release event.” Engineers say the contamination comes from previous deposits inside the exhaust ducts, WIPP reported. [...] WIPP said it doesn’t expect the release to impact the health of workers, the public or the environment.

KVIA News, Mar. 18, 2014: “This is expected given the amount of contamination captured by the WIPP ventilation system during the February 14 radiation release event,” WIPP’s March 18 statement reads.

Las Cruces Sun, Mar. 18, 2014: Increased radiation in Carlsbad not related to WIPP incidents — Radiation levels appear to be on the rise in Carlsbad and around the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. Air monitoring results since last month’s radiation leak appear to show the amount of radiation trending upward near Carlsbad, but Department of Energy officials say there is no proof it is related to the leak.  A DOE air monitor stationed on Carlsbad’s eastern border, near the Bureau of Land Management office on Greene Street, has shown an uptick of radiation from 1.6 disintegrations per minute (DPM) on Feb. 18, to 7.1 DPM as recently as March 4. [...] The initial radiation leak registered at 36 DPM at the WIPP site [...]

See also: Radiation level doubles at location far from WIPP leak; Carlsbad monitor jumps around 40% — Residents plead for more info, concerns over safety (MAP)

Published: March 19th, 2014 at 2:33 pm ET
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March 19th, 2014 | Category: Audio/Video ClipsUSWIPP

March 11, 2014

UCLA astronomers discover star racing around black hole at center of our galaxy

Discovery crucial to revealing fabric of space and time around black hole

By Stuart Wolpert October 04, 2012
Keck telescopes

Keck telescopes observe the center of our galaxy
UCLA astronomers report the discovery of a remarkable star that orbits the enormous black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy in a blistering 11-and-a-half years — the shortest known orbit of any star near this black hole.
The star, known as S0-102, may help astronomers discover whether Albert Einstein was right in his fundamental prediction of how black holes warp space and time, said research co-author Andrea Ghez, leader of the discovery team and a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy who holds the Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Chair in Astrophysics.
The research is published Oct. 5 in the journal Science.
Before this discovery, astronomers knew of only one star with a very short orbit near the black hole: S0-2, which Ghez used to call her “favorite star” and whose orbit is 16 years. (The “S” is for Sagittarius, the constellation containing the galactic center and the black hole).
“I’m extremely pleased to find two stars that orbit our galaxy’s supermassive black hole in much less than a human lifetime,” said Ghez, who studies 3,000 stars that orbit the black hole, and has been studying S0-2 since 1995. Most of the stars have orbits of 60 years or longer, she said.
“It is the tango of S0-102 and S0-2 that will reveal the true geometry of space and time near a black hole for the first time,” Ghez said. “This measurement cannot be done with one star alone.”
Black holes, which form out of the collapse of matter, have such high density that nothing can escape their gravitational pull, not even light. They cannot be seen directly, but their influence on nearby stars is visible and provides a signature, said Ghez, a 2008 MacArthur Fellow.
Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicts that mass distorts space and time and therefore not only slows down the flow of time but also stretches or shrinks distances.
“Today, Einstein is in every iPhone, because the GPS system would not work without his theory,” said Leo Meyer, a researcher in Ghez’s team and lead author of the study. “What we want to find out is, would your phone also work so close to a black hole? The newly discovered star puts us in a position to answer that question in the future.”
“The fact that we can find stars that are so close to the black hole is phenomenal,” said Ghez, who also directs the UCLA Galactic Center Group. “Now it’s a whole new ballgame, in terms of the kinds of experiments we can do to understand how black holes grow over time, the role supermassive black holes play in the center of galaxies, and whether Einstein’s theory of general relativity is valid near a black hole, where this theory has never been tested before. It’s exciting to now have a means to open up this window.
“This should not be a neighborhood where stars feel particularly welcome,” she added. “But surprisingly, it seems that black holes are not as hostile to stars as was previously speculated.”
Over the past 17 years, Ghez and colleagues have used the W.M. Keck Observatory, which sits atop Hawaii’s dormant Mauna Kea volcano, to image the galactic center at the highest angular resolution possible. They use a powerful technology, which Ghez helped to pioneer, called adaptive optics to correct the distorting effects of the Earth’s atmosphere in real time. With adaptive optics at the Keck Observatory, Ghez and her colleagues have revealed many surprises about the environments surrounding supermassive black holes, discovering, for example, young stars where none were expected and seeing a lack of old stars where many were anticipated.
“The Keck Observatory has been the leader in adaptive optics for more than a decade and has enabled us to achieve tremendous progress in correcting the distorting effects of the Earth’s atmosphere with high–angular resolution imaging,” Ghez said. “It’s really exciting to have access to the world’s largest and best telescope. It is why I came to UCLA and why I stay at UCLA.”
In the same way that planets orbit around the sun, S0-102 and S0-2 are each in an elliptical orbit around the galaxy’s central black hole. The planetary motion in our solar system was the ultimate test for Newton’s gravitational theory 300 years ago; the motion of S0-102 and S0-2, Ghez said, will be the ultimate test for Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which describes gravity as a consequence of the curvature of space and time.
“The exciting thing about seeing stars go through their complete orbit is not only that you can prove that a black hole exists but you have the first opportunity to test fundamental physics using the motions of these stars,” Ghez said. “Showing that it goes around in an ellipse provides the mass of the supermassive black hole, but if we can improve the precision of the measurements, we can see deviations from a perfect ellipse — which is the signature of general relativity.”
As the stars come to their closest approach, their motion will be affected by the curvature of spacetime, and the light traveling from the stars to us will be distorted, Ghez said.
S0-2, which is 15 times brighter than S0-102, will go through its closest approach to the black hole in 2018.
The deviation from a perfect ellipse is very small and requires extremely precise measurements. Over the last 15 years, Ghez and her colleagues have dramatically improved their ability to make these measurements.
Co-authors on the research include Mark Morris, a professor of physics and astronomy at UCLA, and Eric Becklin, UCLA professor emeritus of physics and astronomy.
Ghez’s research
In 1998, Ghez answered one of astronomy’s most important questions, showing that a monstrous black hole resides at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, some 26,000 light-years away from Earth, with a mass approximately 4 million times that of the sun. The question had been a subject of raging debate among astronomers for more than a quarter of a century.
In 2000, she and colleagues reported that for the first time, astronomers had seen stars accelerate around the supermassive black hole. Their research demonstrated that three stars had accelerated by more than 250,000 mph a year as they orbited the black hole. The speed of S0-102 and S0-2 should also accelerate by more than 250,000 mph at their closest approach, Ghez said.
In 2003, Ghez reported that the case for the Milky Way’s black holehad been strengthened substantially and that all of the proposed alternatives could be excluded. In 2005, she and her colleagues took the first clear picture of the center of the Milky Way, including the area surrounding the black hole, using laser guide star adaptive optics technology at the Keck Observatory.
“The pivotal research by Ghez’s UCLA group using the Keck Observatory has evolved from proving that a supermassive black hole exists in the center of our galaxy to testing the very fundamentals of physics,” said Taft Armandroff, director of the W.M. Keck Observatory. “This is truly an exciting time in astronomy.”
Ghez’s research program currently receives its primary funding from the National Science Foundation, the Keck Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Family Foundation, with additional funding from the Preston Family Endowed Graduate Fellowship in Astrophysics (supported by Howard and Astrid Preston), the Janet Marott Student Travel Awards, and the Gordon Binder Post-doctoral Fellowship. Significant funding was also provided by the Packard Foundation for early stages of this work.
Ghez is the first woman to receive the prestigious Crafoord Prizefrom the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which she was awarded this May.
UCLA is California’s largest university, with an enrollment of more than 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university’s 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer 337 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Six alumni and five faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize.
For more news, visit the UCLA Newsroom and follow us onTwitter.

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