Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Urban Farming Guys

Epic story of about 20 families that uprooted from suburbia and made their homes for good in one of the most blighted neighborhoods in the U.S. Lykins Neighborhood 64127 Inner City KCMO to invest thier lives into the youth and poor. We've seen it all, yet together as Lykins Neighborhood we believe there is hope. And the game is changing, Crime is dropping! 21% over the last 2 years and the adventure continues to unfold. Follow the story at Featuring Aquaponics, Neighborhood Transformation, Permaculture, Urban Farming and lots of fun taking back the neighborhood. Come join the conversation on Facebook : and the Blog at
... (more info)

Instant Aquaculture: Quick and Dirty (but where do the fish come from?)
Tags: Duckweed, Vortex Filter, Vermaculture, Amonia/Nitrogen Cycle.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Jermy Rifkin's new Book

From HuffingtonPost Green:

Rampant unemployment, rising food prices, a collapsed housing market, ballooning debt -- to Jeremy Rifkin, the American economist and president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, these are not simply symptoms of a temporary economic malaise. Rather, they are signs that the current world order -- long infused with and defined by fossil fuels -- is collapsing around us.

In its place, decentralized systems of advanced, clean-energy production and digital power distribution are already starting to rise, Rifkin suggests, and they will reorder not just the way we turn on our lights, but how whole economies -- indeed, whole societies -- operate. Why? In a nutshell, Rifkin argues that as the ability to tap, generate and distribute power shifts from the exclusive province of governments and lease-holding corporations toward individual actors and communities armed increasingly with solar panels and wind turbines and smart grids, so too will bedrock relationships between producer and consumer, the government and the governed, be forever changed.

In such a world of democratized energy, cooperation trumps control, and the drive toward productivity is replaced by a quest for sustainability.

Rifkin's new book, the The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power Is Transforming Energy, the Economy, and the World.

What Obama is lacking is a narrative. We are left with a collection of pilot projects and siloed programs, none of which connects with the others to tell a compelling story of a new economic vision for the world. We’re strapped with a lot of dead-end initiatives, wasting billions of dollars of taxpayer money with nothing to show for it. If President Obama clearly understood the underlying dynamics of the five-pillar infrastructure of the next great industrial revolution and how the parts connect, he might have been able to sell the American public on a comprehensive economic plan for the country’s future.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Who’s Building the Do-It-Ourselves Economy?

From Truthout

Sunday 18 September 2011

by: Sarah van Gelder and Doug Pibel, YES! Magazine | News Analysis

Kelly Wiedemer, an information technology operations analyst who said she was told she would be a "hard sell" because she had been out of work for more than six months, at her mother's home in Westminster, Colo., July 18, 2011. A recent review of job postings on popular sites revealed hundreds that said employers would consider, or at least "strongly prefer," only people currently employed or just recently laid off. (Photo: Kevin Moloney / The New York Times)
Corbyn Hightower was doing everything right. She worked long hours selling natural skin care products, flying between cities to meet customers, staying in posh hotels. She pulled down a salary that provided her family of five with a comfortable home in a planned community, a Honda SUV, health insurance, and regular shopping trips for the best natural foods, clothes, shoes, and toys.
Then the recession hit.
Her commissions dried up, and the layoff soon followed. Life for Corbyn, her stay-at-home husband, and three children changed quickly.
First the family moved to a low-rent house down the street from a homeless shelter. They dropped cable TV, Wi-Fi, gym membership, and most of the shopping. Giving up health insurance was the most difficult step—it seemed to Corbyn that she was failing to provide for her young daughters. Giving up the car was nearly as difficult.
As our economy goes through tectonic shifts, this sort of adaptation is becoming the new normal. Security for our families will increasingly depend on rebuilding our local and regional economies and on our own adaptability and skills at working together. At the same time, we need government to work on behalf of struggling families and to make the investments that create jobs now and opportunities for coming generations. That will require popular movements of ordinary people, willing to push back against powerful moneyed interests.

Where Are the Jobs?

How did we get to an economy in which millions are struggling?
Officially, the “Great Recession” ended in the second quarter of 2009. For some people, the recovery is well under way. Corporate profits are at or above pre-recession levels, and the CEOs of the 200 biggest corporations averaged over $10 million in compensation in 2010—a 23 percent increase over 2009.
But for most Americans, there’s no recovery, and some are confronting homelessness and hunger. Twenty-five million are unemployed, under-employed, or have given up looking for work. Forty-five percent of unemployed people have been without a job for more than 27 weeks, the highest percentage since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping track in 1948. There’s a growing army of “99ers,” people who have been unemployed for more than 99 weeks and have exhausted all unemployment benefits.
Fifty-three percent of Americans say jobs and the economy are the most important issues facing the country; just 7 percent say the deficit is the most important. Yet budget cuts and austerity have replaced job creation in the national dialogue.
American workers have become expendable to many of the corporations that run the economy; NAFTA and other trade laws opened the floodgates of outsourcing to low-wage countries. Many of the jobs that can’t be outsourced are being eliminated, or hours, pay, and benefits are being cut.
As corporations amass greater power, wealth, and influence, they successfully lobby for tax breaks and federal subsidies and set the national policy agenda. As long as the giveaways continue, along with massive military spending, governments have to cut education, public services, and infrastructure investments—and the jobs that go with these public benefits.

Real Solutions

Leaders in both parties tell us growth is what’s needed, but the evidence suggests growth alone won’t help most Americans. GDP has grown steadily and is now back to pre-recession levels.
But since the official end of the recession, virtually all of the new income—92 percent as of the first quarter of 2011—has gone to corporate profits, according to a May report by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. None of the increased GDP has gone to boost wages and salaries.
More importantly, since World War II, growth has been built on cheap energy—particularly petroleum—and low-cost dumping of the effluents of a wasteful global economy. Now the easy-to-pump oil is nearly used up, and the cost of extracting petroleum is rising. At the same time, we’ve used up the Earth’s capacity to absorb climate-changing gases and other forms of pollution. Changes in the delicate balance of atmospheric gases are already disrupting the climate, and extreme weather events are happening with increasing frequency. Growth has failed to yield prosperity, and the planet cannot bear more of it.
So how do we create an economy that provides dignified livelihoods to all who are willing to work, without undermining the natural systems we, and our children, rely on?
A real solution requires a vision that is both humble in terms of the material wealth we can expect and ambitious about the fairness, mutual support, and quality of life we can build.
Here is a three-part plan for building real prosperity in an age of limits:

1. Local Economies, Local Ecosystems

The corporate economy has failed to offer economic security to most Americans and has undermined the environment and the living standards of people around the world. Strong local and regional economies are the way to a sustainable and resilient recovery. Small businesses actually create more jobs and innovation than big corporations. And entrepreneurs with long-term stakes in their local environment and economy have both the means and the motivation to protect them. There are many simple ways individuals and communities can support the transition to local economies.
Buy local. By buying goods and services locally and regionally, we keep money circulating in the Main Street economy, where new jobs are most likely to be created. Shop at a big box store, and the money goes to corporate headquarters almost immediately. Buy local food and your money stays home. We can also generate energy locally. Farmers are earning extra income by installing windmills. In Cleveland, a university and the city government are contracting to buy the electricity generated by solar panels a worker-owned co-op installs on their buildings (see page 26). Investment in weatherization immediately creates local jobs while reducing energy payments that leave the community. State and local governments, too, can strengthen their economies, and ultimately their tax bases, by buying as locally as possible. Substitute local for “imported,” and you create local jobs built on the solid foundation of local demand.
Bank local, too. Capital is the life-blood of enterprise. When banks are located in the community, they come to know local businesses and what sorts of loans are likely to work. When banks hold the loans, rather than sell them, they have an incentive to make wise loans. Credit unions, community-rooted banks, and state banks (see page 46) invest in the local economy, instead of siphoning off our bank deposits to use for global speculation.
Start with strengths. Under the old economic development strategy, communities compete with each other for jobs by offering corporations ever greater tax breaks and concessions on health and safety regulations and union rights. This race-to-the-bottom strategy may yield occasional wins, but it’s a long-term loser. A more successful strategy is to build economies from the grassroots up, starting with existing assets. For some communities, their primary asset might be a vibrant local arts scene (see page 29). For others, it’s a natural resource, like forests or farmland. Or it might be a hospital, university, high-tech enterprise, or other “anchor institution” that isn’t going away (see page 26).
Start by finding ways to turn these assets into sustainable livelihoods. An unused building could provide a place for start-up farmers to try vertical farming, for example. Then look for ways to link these core enterprises to local customers, vendors, a skilled labor pool, and so on. 
Use wasted resources. Instead of demolishing and landfilling obsolete buildings, local entrepreneurs are creating jobs by disassembling them and selling components. Other common wastes: used clothes and books and repairable appliances. Unharvested fruit trees. Church kitchens that sit empty most of the week but could be health department certified for food processing start-ups. Methane from landfills, which could heat homes instead of the climate. Front yards that could be farmed. Each wasted resource could be transfomed into a job.
Do it cooperatively. Well-paid workers are a community asset, and even more so when they own their workplaces. Cooperative work arrangements are available not just to well-educated entrepreneurs. Home health care workers, house cleaners, grocery store clerks, and laundry workers have all become worker-owners of successful cooperatives. These workers tend to spend their paychecks, and with a steady family income they are more able to contribute to the well-being of their community. And, since they share in the profits of their enterprise, they develop a nest egg they can use for buying a home, educating their children, and helping relatives through difficult times.
Allow communities to control their resources. Community-controlled forests are more likely to be sustainably managed than corporate-controlled ones; sustainable agriculture is more labor-intensive but less polluting. Sustainable and fair practices create jobs that last while boosting local resilience.
Keep ownership human. When owners are workers, customers, or the community at large, an enterprise can operate in accordance with multiple values, such as human well-being, the good of future generations, and ecological health. Corporate owners are constrained by law to put profits first.

2. Redefining Middle-Class

Building the local and regional economy will create real prosperity and keep the benefits circulating among ordinary people. But we are approaching the end of an era of cheap energy and seemingly limitless growth. To live within our means, we’ll need to produce and consume less stuff. That may mean less paid work available, at least in some sectors of the economy, so it makes sense to share those jobs and work fewer hours.
Many Americans work too much and are starved for downtime. A shorter workweek could benefit them while opening new jobs for the unemployed. Productivity increases when workers aren’t overstretched. Profits now going to the wealthiest could be distributed to workers so they could afford to work fewer hours and have more time for the rest of life.
Working less also means we have more time to do things for ourselves.
After Corbyn Hightower lost her corporate position, her husband started working at a low-wage job. The family saves money by fixing things that break and making things themselves. Corbyn is refurbishing an old dollhouse with her preschoolers. They spend hours together on this creative project.
Community exchanges transform the Hightowers’ experience from a lonely and scary adventure into a way of life Corbyn has come to appreciate. She shares the harvest from her pear, apple, and orange trees with her neighbors and gives some fruit to a nearby homeless shelter. Her neighbors share with her their apricots, lemons, peaches, plums, blackberries, and cherries.
Learning new DIY skills and building relationships with friends and neighbors builds greater self-reliance and offers opportunities to develop multiple facets of ourselves.
And frequent exchanges among neighbors help reweave a community fabric that has been badly frayed by overstressed lives. Once you get the tools to repair your bicycle, you can fix other people’s bikes or teach them how. When you’re canning jam, it’s easy to make some extra for gifts and exchanges.
All this means we can live with less money, so we can afford to spend less time at a job, which also becomes less central as a source of identity. And these rich networks and practical skills enhance our resilience as we face an uncertain future.

3. A Movement to Rebuild the Dream

We are still a wealthy country. We could use our tax dollars to put Americans to work replacing obsolete energy, water, transportation, and waste systems with infrastructure that can serve us in the resource-constrained times ahead.
We could invest in universal health coverage, which offers people the security to risk launching new businesses and helps make shorter workweeks more feasible. We could fully fund education and job training.
We could save money by cutting the bloated military budget, oversized prison populations, and the drug war. And we’d have the money if everyone—including the wealthiest Americans and large corporations—paid taxes at the rates they paid during the Clinton administration.
To get these sorts of changes, we need the American government to work for all of us, not just for corporations.
Powerful moneyed interests won’t willingly give back the power that has allowed them to acquire most of America’s wealth. We need strong people’s movements to get government to work for ordinary Americans. That’s the way American workers won the 8-hour day, women secured the right to vote, and African Americans ended segregation.
Enlightened politicians may cooperate with these movements, but few will lead them. We the people—through unions, community associations, advocacy groups, and local political groups—will have to set our own agenda and insist that government respond. The Movement to Rebuild the American Dream (see page 48), which is bringing together groups ranging from to AFSCME, offers a promising path toward that end.

The Do-It-Ourselves Economy

Corbyn’s family has not had it easy since they slipped into poverty. They sold their SUV to cover rent and other necessities, and Corbyn blogs about the challenges of biking in the rain and in the blistering heat of the Sacramento area. But she also celebrates getting in shape, saving money, and the discoveries she and her children make when they travel at a slower pace.
Her 12-year-old tells Corbyn she loves her life. Who wouldn’t want chickens in the backyard, long bike rides with the family, and picking apples to take to the homeless shelter?
Corbyn has come to appreciate special moments: “Yesterday we feasted on the first truly awesome strawberries of this spring, red all the way through, without the slightly-too-tart tang of previous early-season pints. We tried to savor them, to make them last, to appreciate each strawberry for how it’s slightly different from the rest. The way the sparkling flavor and the seeds make it taste almost carbonated. ...
“I think we have to reinvent ‘poor.’ Most everyone in my life is enduring new poverty. … It’s an unfamiliar and scary leap. … And if it turns out that some of these changes feel good, well, then it’s a win-win. The Great Recession is a watershed time for my generation, possibly the era that will live on to define us.”
Many of us have stories like Corbyn’s from our family histories or maybe from right now—stories of hard work, stubborn resilience, and neighbors helping neighbors. Stories of people waking up each day doing what had to be done for the children.
Our descendants need those qualities from us—not acquiescence to powerful interests or passive acceptance of a no-longer-tenable status quo. Our descendants need us to be as radical and as tenacious as our ancestors were.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Combating Ignorance

From Truthout: On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, it is tempting to want to linger on the part about ''being right,'' but it's more important to focus on why ''it didn't matter'' because we are still right, and it still doesn't matter. And It is going to get worse.

Others spoke out and organized, but offered no framework for understanding the invasions - liberal Democrats who prefer less brutal methods of empire maintenance or simply reject wars started by Republican presidents; isolationists, including some Republicans, who think that reducing military adventures will preserve US affluence; and folks who identify as pacifist and reject any war.

So, we are right, and we are a failed movement. As someone who has participated in these organizing and education efforts, I have been part of the failure. I know that I could have done more, taken more risks, pressed harder - but I don't know if that would have made a significant difference. I don't know whether there was a winning strategy leftists could have employed, or whether historical forces doomed our efforts from the start. Whatever the case, we failed, and it's sensible to try to learn from that failure.
Manipulated Ignorance: Knowing Incorrectly
Some of that ignorance is the result of the conscious efforts to divert and deceive people. The sophisticated techniques to shape public attitudes developed by the public relations and advertising industries are used effectively by corporations and politicians, with the independent news media - consciously or unconsciously - often serving an important transmission function. Much of this is designed to make sure people don't know things, to create or deepen ignorance.
This ignorance matters.
With each misperception, support for the war increases, and in a society where basic facts can be so slickly and easily repackaged by power - where black is white and up is down - then there is no possibility of meaningful debate in the mainstream political culture.
Willed Ignorance: Not Knowing

As distressing as this manipulated ignorance can be, it is the willed ignorance of so much of the population that is most troubling. This ignorance is willed, the product of people making a choice to not know so they don't have to face the moral and political implications of knowing.

There seem to be two routine ways to ensure this not knowing.

One is to avoid exposure to any in-depth information and analysis, even though one has the resources and time to find and evaluate the material - keep your head down and don't look at what's happening. We can call this a deliberate diversion from a disturbing world.

The other strategy, employed by those who are too curious simply to ignore the world around them, is to bemoan the lack of trustworthy news sources, or express confusion over the mutually exclusive accounts of the world that circulate, or note the maddening level of complexity in a globalized world - whatever the reason, there are so many impediments that to actually know anything is impossible. We can call this a feigned frustration with a complex world.
Implications of Ignorance
My experience tells me there are conservatives and liberals in each of these ignorance camps, manipulated and willed.

So, we were right, but in this political culture it doesn't matter. The anti-empire movement hasn't been defeated by a superior argument that does a better job of explaining the world, nor has it been suppressed through the large-scale violence and coercion that has destroyed movements in other times and places (though in the contemporary United States such violence is used selectively and is always available should things get out of hand). Instead, this critique has been rendered irrelevant by power interests that work to create ignorance, and a citizenry that hides in ignorance.

To be clear: I am not arguing that the problem is that ''people are stupid.'' Yes, people often are stupid. I am often stupid. I say and do stupid things on a regular basis, and so does everyone else - that's part of being human. But also part of being human in a democratic political system is accepting the benefits and burdens of participation, and participation requires that we strive to not be stupid about politics. Democracy works only if we care enough to know about the world.
Avoiding Arrogance
I also recognize that I could be wrong on basic aspects of that analysis, and that even if I'm right, I should constantly be looping back to question my assumptions, collect new data, listen to counterarguments, and recalibrate strategy based on this process. Life is a balance of asserting what we believe with confidence and remembering how wrong we can be. With that caution, I return to where I started:

The Living World
In addition to the crimes committed by the powerful against the powerless, we face even greater threats in the human assault on the living world.

We face multiple, cascading ecological crises - groundwater depletion, topsoil loss, chemical contamination, increased toxicity in our own bodies, the number and size of ''dead zones'' in the oceans, accelerating extinction of species and reduction of biodiversity. And don't forget global warming/climate change/climate disruption/global weirding.
High-energy/high-technology societies pose a serious threat to the ability of the ecosphere to sustain human life as we know it. Grasping that reality is a challenge, and coping with the implications is an even greater challenge. We likely have a chance to stave off the most catastrophic consequences if we act dramatically and quickly. If we continue to drag our feet, it's ''game over.''
Whether people's ignorance about this is manipulated or willed - whether we deny climate change and pretend no change is necessary, or accept it but refuse to support those changes - the result is the same: game over. To date, the movements advocating these necessary changes have not been defeated by a superior argument nor suppressed through the large-scale violence and coercion. Instead, these movements have been marginalized by power interests that work to create ignorance, and a citizenry that hides in ignorance.

What can save us? My honest answer is, ''probably nothing.'' But that answer doesn't keep me from working in projects to promote social justice and ecological sustainability. I pursue that work without a guarantee of success, without illusions about my own ability to devise a winning strategy, without certainty that I know it all. But I'm pretty sure I'm right in my basic framework.

I'm also pretty sure that I can't argue people into accepting that framework, no matter how compelling a case I can present. The key to attracting more people to radical political positions is not to adopt the manipulative tactics of the powerful or to pretend we aren't facing such overwhelming challenges. Instead, I believe we have to think about how to create spaces for people to experience the solidarity that bolsters our courage to explore new ideas and to take risks to challenge power.
In Austin, Texas, people with varied interests in social justice and ecological sustainability have joined forces to create one such space in a community center with offices, meeting space, and gardens. The core organizers of ''5604 Manor'' ( share a radical politics, but a radical badge isn't required for entry. The work going on there is focused not only on immediate political objectives, but also on creating resilient communities that can face the challenges ahead. The project may fail, but even in failure we will advance radical politics in this one place.

Our task is to create as many of those places as we can. In those places, we are right and it will matter.
An edited version of this talk will be presented at the Third Coast Activist Resource Center 9/11 anniversary event at 5604 Manor in Austin, Texas, September 11, 2011.
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Friday, September 9, 2011

The Warning: San Diego Blackout

Yesterday, 5-Million Electric Customers in San Diego, Orange & Riverside Counties, plus parts of Arizona and Mexico were suddenly plunged into darkness for 12 hours. Anyone else see a problem with Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) providing Centralized Electricity? If every building was upgraded and made efficient, then DISTRIBUTED RENEWABLE energy was rolled out in each neighborhood, we would never build another publicly funded carbon-power-plant, we would have no shortage of high paying jobs, and we would have no more black-outs.

If every building, starting with the oldest, were retrofitted for energy efficiency and then adapted with renewable energy generation to make it energy neutral, we could employ all the out of work construction contractors, and create a new, educated energy workforce.

We can change this economy, we can change the way we live, and the way we burn our resources to pay for it. When I travel the wealthy communities of San Diego I look to the roof-tops and see solar arrays, the wealthy know what is coming. Look at UCSD and the Private Universities around San Diego, they have used government incentives and private money to build out tons of renewable energy infrastructure, they know what is coming. Look at the homes of the Executive Board of SDG&E and SEMPRA Energy, their mansions all have Photovoltaic Solar Panels, they know what is coming.

The San Diego Blackout is a warning, telling us just how fragile our economy, nay our lives, actually are. Imagine if it had lasted 48 hours ... all your food would have spoiled. Imagine 72 hours, you wouldn't be able to charge your cell phone, or answer emails. Imagine 100 hours, you dog would have died due to heat exhaustion without air conditioning. Do you have kids? Imagine.

The wealthy among us are secure, they already have renewable energy, and batteries. Many of the rich have multiple homes, with back-up water supplies, and home gardens to provide food. I can't stress how the potential for unrest scares them. If last night's black-out had lasted a day or two, their would have been looting, riots, fires, and we don't have the police, the communications, the power to stop such social reactions. There are too many people living day-to-day, without jobs, without hope or a future. And this is the USA. What happens when the 3-Million People in Tia Juana realize that we have no power?

Because a single worker in Arizona tripped a switch, San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station (SONGS) shut down 2200-MegaWatts of capacity. We didn't even have traffic signals. What happens when we have the earthquake, the tidal wave, the fires, and the floods? Did you note that all the stores were closed yesterday? Did you have enough gas, food, water? When you have no power, you have no stores, no jobs, no communications. What happens when they call out the national guard and military to 'control' our population because we have no electricity?

We stand on the edge of a precipice, our leaders have failed to educate us to the dangers, and are afraid of the back-lash and panic if they do. The public is unwilling to make the difficult decisions, to pay the tax, to re-establish our economy, because they are used to cushy, wasteful practices and fear the hard work necessary to pay for our mistakes. The solutions we need are available, the technology exists to solve all our problems, if we are unified, if we work together and invest in our communities. Will that ever happen? Or, will we choose to continue to compete, to fight over the ruins of our former lives?

Did you listen to the radio yesterday, could you? Only one local station adapted to the power outage. AT&T and most of the Telecoms and Wireless communications stayed up, but they too need power. Did you have enough ice to keep your perishable food? Did you have batteries and flash-lights? How fun was it without air conditioning or TV? It was only 12 hours.

I want a Sustainable Future, now you know the danger, and you know what it is possible. Your choice, pay now or pay later.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Solar Bankruptcy

Bloomberg and HuffingtonPost both report that a major California Solar Company is filing Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

 "Solyndra, a Silicon Valley solar energy firm, subsidized to the tune of $500 million and held as a 'gleaming example of green technology,' announced bankruptcy yesterday. 1,100 employees fired."
In May, 2010, President Obama visited Solyndra and told an audience of employees that the "incredible, cutting-edge solar panels" being manufactured there were "testament to American ingenuity and dynamism and the fact that we continue to have the best universities in the world, the best technology in the world, and most importantly the best workers in the world."

Solyndra Inc., a maker of solar modules that received a $535 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Energy Department, suspended operations and plans to file for bankruptcy, saying it couldn’t compete with larger rivals.

Solyndra produces cylindrical panels that convert sunlight into electricity using copper-indium-gallium-diselenide thin- film technology. Standard solar panels are flat. “Manufacturing and assembly costs associated with a Solyndra module aren’t particularly scalable,” Krop said.

Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, reiterated that. Recent bankruptcies of U.S. solar companies are a warning and “we should be doing everything possible to ensure the United States does not cede the renewable energy market to China and other countries,” he said in an e-mailed statement.
SpectraWatt Inc., a solar company backed by units of Intel Corp. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., filed for bankruptcy protection Aug. 19, and Evergreen Solar Inc. did so Aug. 15.