Keep an eye on that high phone bill you’ve got there..and the cable bill if you’ve got cable

If you were to be inexplicably transformed into a European, perhaps suddenly struck with the strange ability to speak German while munching a sausage in the beautiful city of Munich, or if you lost consciousness and awoke to find yourself sipping wine at a cafe in Paris like it’s nobody’s business, or if one moment you were fighting traffic on your commute home through one of any number of American cities, log-jammed during rush hour, and the next you were standing on a plain in Spain enjoying the rain, then you’d of course notice that the situation regarding your healthcare coverage was much improved; but once the shock of being morphed from an American to a European wore off, once you got used to the idea of better healthcare, and if you were a man and needed time to adjust to snug, form-fitting clothes, at that point you would likely notice something very significant about your cable bill or cell phone charges — they’d be lower. Read more

For the healing of the nations

Last year at about this time, I attended an Earth at Risk conference, a gathering of committed, aka “radical” activists and leftists that met in San Francisco. It was a two day event, and I was only able to attend the second day. That may have been for the better. When I arrived, the mood was very somber, and one of the early speakers acknowledged as much, making reference to the tone of the prior day — from what I gathered, it had been a heavy load of apocalyptic rhetoric, the end is near, with little or no hope. Read more

Changes

People often ask me about the culture shock that I must experience, travelling back and forth between places like remote McCarthy Alaska and Silicon Valley, the mega-bucks techie epicenter of the world. Well, I’m kind of used to it. After a while, it becomes familiar, I suppose the mind eventually realizes that there’s really no reason to freak out, just switch into that other way-of-being and roll with it. A friend of mine who has travelled a lot more than myself says that when she is travelling she will sometimes forget what city she is in. Like, for more than just a few seconds.

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Pope Francis: The Cry of the Earth

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Bill McKibben has written a short response to the Pope’s encyclical on climate change, the environment, and economics. For most of us, what the Pope says is more or less obviously true, but as McKibben notes, few people in power are willing to truly take it on. Here are a few of McKibben’s thoughts on the Pope:

“…he’s [the Pope] brought the full weight of the spiritual order to bear on the global threat posed by climate change, and in so doing joined its power with the scientific order. Stephen Jay Gould had the idea that these two spheres were “non-overlapping magisteria,” but in this case he appears to have been wrong. Pope Francis draws heavily on science—sections of the encyclical are very nearly wonky, with accurate and sensible discussions of everything from genetic modification to aquifer depletion—but he goes beyond science as well. Science by itself has proven empirically impotent to force action on this greatest of crises; now, at last, someone with authority is explaining precisely why it matters that we’re overheating the planet.

“It matters in the first place, says Francis, because of its effect on the poorest among us, which is to say on most of the population of the earth. The encyclical is saturated with concern for the most vulnerable—those who, often in underdeveloped countries, are breathing carcinogenic air, or are being forced from their land by spreading deserts and rampant agribusiness. This comes as no surprise, for concern—rhetorical and practical—for those at the bottom of the heap has been the hallmark of his papacy from the start. “A true ecological approach,” he writes, “always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”…..

“But the heart of the encyclical is less an account of environmental or social destruction than a remarkable attack on the way our world runs: on the “rapidification” of modern life, on the way that economic growth and technology trump all other concerns, on a culture that can waste billions of people. These are neither liberal nor conservative themes, and they are not new for popes: what is new is that the ecological crisis makes them inescapable. Continual economic and technological development may have long been isolating, deadening, spiritually unfulfilling—but it has swept all before it anyway, despite theological protest, because it has delivered the goods. But now, the rapidly rising temperature (and new data also released Thursday showed we’ve just lived through the hottest May since record-keeping began) gives the criticism bite. Our way of life literally doesn’t work. It’s breaking the planet. Given the severity of the situation, Francis writes, we can finally leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress. A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing, and limiting our power.…..”

Amen.

via Pope Francis: The Cry of the Earth by Bill McKibben | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books.

Liberty and Justice for All

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“A Wall Street bank accused of laundering money for drug cartels only had to pay a fine. Meanwhile, a man caught with a joint in his pocket had to spend 47 days in jail.” This kind of failure has a long history, though it seems to be getting much worse. The bank was fined – there are always fines – but because the crimes of the wealthy are just a matter of dollars and cents, then they can quantify their risks rather than having to fear any personal repercussions.

Pope Francis and a bit of good news

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Pope Francis will be issuing an edict on climate change. That’s great news in itself, but there’s more. Listen to this quote, as Pope Francis gets to the heart of the matter:

“An economic system centred n the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.

“The system continues unchaned, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands.

“The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness.”

Truth. Climate change is part of a much bigger issue, an economy that lacks moral accountability and spiritual grounding. The result is greed and destruction. This is why the environment is a religious issue. Pope Francis is right on.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/27/pope-francis-edict-climate-change-us-rightwing

What would MLK say about Ferguson?

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I have been intensely engaged in a few Facebook conversations regarding the Ferguson shooting of the unarmed black man, Michael Brown. All in all, the conversations tend to be productive. But many whites (and in some cases non whites) are quick to condemn the rioters. I hear comments to the effect, “Why can’t blacks just get over it?” With a black President, they say, we have proof that the playing field is equal. I posted a picture of Malcolm X, and I made the comment that “Those who are oppressed and denied justice have the right to take power and freedom by any means necessary.” It prompted a lot of tense comments, as you can imagine, most of which disagreed with me.

One person posted a lengthy quote from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “The Other America.” Turns out MLK wasn’t all that far away from Malcolm X.

I consider Martin Luther King, Jr. to be a fellow subversive mystic, in the Jesus tradition. He is also a figure that many mainstream white Americans admire. However, in his speech, “The Other America” (1968) King talked about the African-American riots of the late 1960s, and there are two things that might surprise most white people.

1) The unemployment rate among African-Americans is actually higher today — around 11% — than the statistics that King quotes in his speech in 1968 — 8.8%.

2) While reaffirming his personal commitment to nonviolence, King does not come forward with an outright condemnation of the rioters.

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Finally, A Simple Plan That Can Reverse Inequality and Save America’s Sinking Middle-Class | Alternet

There are more alternatives to the status quo than most people realize. There are many ideas percolating out there, aiming to bring more equality and opportunity to average folks. One such idea is to use common wealth (wealth that belongs to all of us) and spread it around to all people rather than funneling it straight up to the wealthy aristocrats. Thomas Paine advocated for something like this, and here in Alaska, we have one such form of “pre-distribution” of income at work. The Permanent Dividend Fund is universally valued and appreciated.

“There’s nothing in this that would run counter to conservative principles and the notion of property rights. There’s no tax increases. There’s no increase in government bureaucracy. There’s no redistribution…I prefer to think of what this system would be as a kind of predistribution. In other words, the government isn’t taking money from anybody, but it’s assuring that income is distributed more fairly in the first place.” – Peter Barnes via Finally, A Simple Plan That Can Reverse Inequality and Save America’s Sinking Middle-Class | Alternet. Barnes has a new book out, With Liberty and Dividends for All.

The best of capitalism is over for rich countries | The Guardian

Populations with access to technology and a sense of their human rights will not accept inequality

“…Now imagine the world of the central scenario: Los Angeles and Detroit look like Manila – abject slums alongside guarded skyscrapers; the UK workforce is a mixture of old white people and newly arrived young migrants; the middle-income job has all but disappeared. If born in 2014, then by 2060 you are either a 45-year-old barrister or a 45-year-old barista. There will be not much in-between. Capitalism will be in its fourth decade of stagnation and then – if we’ve done nothing about carbon emissions – the really serious impacts of climate change are starting to kick in…”

The best of capitalism is over for rich countries – and for the poor ones it will be over by 2060 | Paul Mason | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Free markets: a grain of truth

Back from Africa. Here in Alaska. So far. So good. So great, in fact.

The job is great. I am in a new place, working as the office manager for a small, independently owned business. The town of McCarthy. Year round population: 22.

I’ve been doing a bit of research for the purpose of doing a bit of writing for the purpose of a six day writers workshop here in McCarthy. The workshop promises to be promising, with some talented folks collaborating to lead the dance. So I’m trying to pull together some good pieces. They will, I hope eventually wind up in the book I’m writing.
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My view from Doha

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Initially when I purchased my cheap ticket via Orbitz, I was worried about having to spend almost 48 hours in transit, the bulk of the wait being a 16 hour layover in Qatar. As luck would have it, my long layover qualified me for a stay at a hotel, with transportation and meals provided. Lucky me. This is the view from my room. Doha, Qatar is filthy rich, off of fossil fuels, of course, and they are currently modernizing and diversifying their economy, resulting in an economic boom and grand building projects such as the one just outside my hotel room. Surrounded by desert, the parabolic warning about “building castles in the sand” comes to mind. But Doha is merely a metaphor for the situation of all humanity right now. We have overextended ourselves to the point where our earth cannot support us. Still, we keep building, using the wealth of a resource that is running low.

Libertarian Left: Free-market anti-capitalism, the unknown ideal

There are many alternatives to our current form of capitalism. The Libertarian Left is one very important theory of social and economic organization. If you find yourself dissatisfied with mainstream politics and the major political parties, you owe it to yourself to investigate different ways of viewing the world.

As for myself, in particular, I have no hard-core allegiance to any particular theory. At this point, I think we simply need more people to start to investigate the alternatives. While many of the average middle-class citizens are cynical of mainstream politics, they nonetheless either end up getting caught up in conventional political debate or just check out of the process all together. What seems critical to me, at this point, is to bring to people’s attention the many alternative ways of viewing social and economic organization. With all of the intelligent ideas out there, with all of the challenges to capitalism, I believe with my whole heart that things really and truly don’t have to be the way they are. A better world is more possible and feasible than most of us can dare to believe.

 

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How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God

I am an American who has spent six months in Africa. The contrast between the wealth of the two nations is striking, to say the least. Theologically, many American Christians view American prosperity as a blessing of God bestowed upon the United States because her citizens have worked so hard and have honored God. Is this the case? Or has American wealth come at the cost of oppressing and exploiting others: stealing Native lands, enslaving Africans, killing off Natives who resisted displacement, paying immigrant laborers virtually nothing, importing goods from abusive and oppressive sweatshops, and being environmentally destructive and irresponsible?
The answer to the question is important. Jesus, for example, viewed his world as being dominated by the oppressive Roman Empire. Those who had wealth gained it at the expense of others. (The Romans, however, saw things differently. Their gods were on their side and the Emperor was a manifestation of God, the Son of God.) In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is recorded as stating, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Why so hard on the rich?

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You’re not as busy as you say you are | Slate

Several years ago, I made a conscious decision to break away (as much as possible) from the American consumer culture. I felt like a cog in the machine, and I knew that the machine of our disposable culture doesn’t give a damn about anyone’s personal, subjective individuality. It’s brutal, but we are only valued to the extent that we are productive. It’s spiritually depressing.

I was intrigued to read this article in Slate about how so many of us actually value and exaggerate our busyness. This is one of those articles that surprised me at first, but on deeper reflection, it makes sense. In a culture where we are valued for our production capabilities, it is little wonder that we exaggerate how busy we are. This exaggeration is so complete that we even fool ourselves and stress out over being busier than we really are.

 

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