Images from the Great Depression: Seems Like Just Yesterday

Reprinted from Common Dreams (March 25, 2012) by permission of author.

By Paul Buchheit

In March of 1936 U.S. photographer Dorothea Lange, on her way to San Francisco after searching the countryside for Depression-era photos, passed a sign saying “Pea Picker’s Camp” in Nipomo, California. Thinking little of it, she drove on. But a few miles down the road she changed her mind and turned back. Her first encounter in the camp was with a widowed 32-year-old Oklahoma mother of seven who had driven to California looking for work. Now, after a storm had wiped out the crop, and after she had sold the tires from her car to buy food, she sat under a makeshift tent with her children, unprepared for the days ahead of them. She looked a lot older than 32.

Days later a San Francisco News article reported: “Ragged, Hungry, Broke, Harvest Workers Live in Squalor.” Shocked Californians immediately began sending food, and the family of “migrant mother” Florence Thompson found refuge in a government shelter.

Millions of Americans today are like the woman in that 76-year-old black and white photo: desperate and determined but dignified individuals who want a job rather than a handout. But the present keeps fading into the past. The National Poverty Center recently reported that extreme poverty in America has doubled since the 1990s. 1.5 million people live on less than two dollars a day. Many more Americans — up to half the population — are considered “low income” by the Census Bureau.

Just like in the Depression years, people are losing their homes, or they’re losing the wealth that was in their homes. Foreclosures now account for almost a quarter of all residential sales. American families owe $700 billion more than their homes are worth.

Just like in the Depression years, people are without work, or they can’t find decent jobs. Unemployment figures don’t show the millions of underemployed and the millions who have stopped looking for work. Incredibly, wages over the last decade have increased more slowly than during the ten years of the Great Depression.

Other comparisons between then and now are equally striking. Inequality has returned to the modern-day high set in 1928. The middle class is rapidly losing its consuming power. Congress is making the same mistake that led to the “Roosevelt Recession” of 1937, focusing on budget-cutting rather than job growth.

Conservatives insist that the poor can’t become dependent on government. That’s fine, if they have job opportunities. Education is said to be the key. But state education cuts for 2012 are $12.7 billion, federal education cuts of 8% are anticipated beginning in 2013, and the total amount of student loans has reached $1 trillion.

The rational solutions include ending the Bush tax cuts, implementing the Buffett Rule, and imposing a small financial transaction tax.

Then wage a war, as we did in the 1940s, but this time against oil, by building wind turbines and solar panels and a smart grid for alternative energy transmission. That would create millions of jobs, and take us far away from a time we’d like to forget.

And it would put America back in the hands of middle-class workers instead of financial executives whose only goal is to get rich. It might even create a new class of folk hero. For a while in the 1930s “Pretty Boy” Floyd was a hero for taking money from the bankers responsible for foreclosures. He’d still be popular if he were around today.


Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

Irony: Citizens United May Be Helping Democrats in Short Term

The now infamous Citizens United vs. FEC  decision, thought by many to be the worst Supreme Court decision since Dred Scott, has worried progressives because of the tsunami of corporate money it is expected to unleash into our electoral system. It was thought that the flood of cash would disproportionately favor the Republican Party, the traditionally corporate party (although both parties are now well and truly in the thrall of corporate money).

Whatever the reality is behind those fears, it is ironic that in this year at least, the ready access to big sugar-daddy donors and amped-up Super PACs has kept both Gingrich and Santorum viable much longer than they would have been in former elections. The big donors have kept the GOP clown car running on a full tank of gas, with no end in sight.

One of the effects of this circus has been to push all GOP candidates, including the presumptive front-runner Romney, more and more into the arms of the extreme right-wing fringe of the party, competing by supporting losing policies that appeal to that fringe — the war on women, “self-deportation” of paperless  immigrants and other anti-Latino policies,  etc.

As Robert Reich says:

A party of birthers, creationists, theocrats, climate-change deniers, nativists, gay-bashers, anti-abortionists, media paranoids, anti-intellectuals, and out-of-touch country clubbers cannot govern America.

It’s hard to see how any GOP candidate this year can be elected with the stink of fringe extremism clinging to him.

True Unemployment Rate at Depression Level (19.9%) and Rising

This article by Daniel Amerman (rated as a “must read” by Yves Smith in her Naked Capitalism blog today) examines in excruciating detail the government’s manipulation of unemployment statistics to make the rate look lower than it actually is, to make it appear to be falling when it is actually rising:

When we look at broad measures of jobs and population, then the beginning of 2012 was one of the worst months in US history, with a total of 2.3 million people losing jobs or leaving the workforce in a single month. Yet, the official unemployment rate showed a decline from 8.5% to 8.3% in January – and was such cheering news that it set off a stock rally.

How can there be such a stark contrast between the cheerful surface and an underlying reality that is getting worse?

The true unemployment picture is hidden by essentially splitting jobless Americans up and putting them inside one of three different “boxes”: the official unemployment box, the full unemployment box, and the most obscure box, the workforce participation rate box.

… a detailed look at the government’s own data base shows that about 9 million people without jobs have been removed from the labor force simply by the government defining them as not being in the labor force anymore. Indeed – effectively all of the decreases in unemployment rate percentages since 2009 have come not from new jobs, but through reducing the workforce participation rate so that millions of jobless people are removed from the labor force by definition.

When we pierce through this statistical smoke and mirrors and factor back in those 9 million jobless whom the government has defined out of existence, then the true unemployment rate is 19.9% and rising, and not 8.3% and falling.

CLICK FOR FULL ARTICLE

Evolution — The Greatest Show on Earth

Another beautiful Symphony of Science video by John Boswell (3 minutes and 21 seconds).

Fearful of Agenda 21, an alleged U.N. plot, activists derail land-use planning

Published in High Country News (hcn.org) February 6, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

By Jonathan Thompson

In November, La Plata County Commissioner Kellie Hotter called local land-use planning “a blood sport.” She wasn’t kidding. Since last spring, as this southwestern Colorado county considered a new comprehensive land-use plan, carnage has piled up. By mid-December, casualties included a fired planning commissioner, a resigned county planning director and the plan itself — a 400-page document that took two years, $750,000 and 137 public meetings to produce.

Even planning veterans in the rural West — where it’s not uncommon for mind-numbing meetings to erupt into verbal fisticuffs — were shocked by the bloodshed in La Plata County. But perhaps most surprising was who emerged the untarnished victors: Activists who believe that smart growth, clustered development, smart meters and even bike paths are all part of a nefarious United Nations plot to rob citizens of their liberties.

They may sound like folks on the fringe. But they are increasingly influential — and they’ve sabotaged planning efforts nationwide.

The movement’s ideology isn’t new: resentment of government interference and vigilant defense of private-property rights, especially when environmental initiatives are involved. What is new is the alleged villain: Agenda 21, a two-decades-old U.N. document that encourages sustainable development worldwide. The Agenda is being foisted, opponents claim, on often-unsuspecting local governments by ICLEI, a nonprofit that offers planning tools, greenhouse gas inventory software and technical support to some 550 government members in the U.S.

The result? “Government will control how hot your shower may be, how much air conditioning or heat you may use,” writes Tom DeWeese of the American Policy Center, an intellectual parent of the end-Agenda 21, or Agender, movement. “The policy of Agenda 21 comes in many names, such as Sustainable Development, Smart Growth, historic preservation … and comprehensive planning.”

La Plata County might not seem like a yeasty environment for fermenting right-wing movements. It’s voted mostly Democratic in major elections for at least 10 years. The population center is Durango, a college town with a disproportionate number of professional cyclists, lawyers and raft guides, not to mention a fabulous bike path. But remnants of the older West remain, most notably some 3,000 oil and gas wells. A far-right faction also still festers. When Colorado’s GOP was fractured by extremist and moderate infighting in 2006, the struggle was centered here.

Planning has always been contentious, and the county commission expected some controversy when, in 2009, it charged its staff and a team of consultants with developing a community-driven vision for the county’s growth over the next 20 years. The plan would contain no actual regulations, but it would provide a critical road map for rewriting the county’s land-use code.

A diverse, 17-member working group was formed to represent the community, and the public was encouraged to attend meetings. From the beginning, a vocal minority suspicious of government interference was present. At one early meeting, after a consultant spoke about preserving agriculture, possibly through zoning, sheep-rancher J. Paul Brown said: “If you’re looking for a fight, keep that crap up!”  Such sentiments were incorporated into the draft plan.

Last spring, an ambitious vision emerged to rein in sprawl, encourage bicycling and public transportation, protect agriculture and promote sustainability. Respect for private-property rights and conventional energy development were also emphasized, and the draft was sent to the planning commission, an appointed body that in Colorado has the final say on county comprehensive plans. “There wasn’t a word in that plan that wasn’t vetted by the working group,” says Charlie Deans, the lead consultant.

But around the same time, the Agender movement was slithering out of the political primordial soup. Since as early as 2003, a few far-right commentators such as DeWeese had banged the Agenda 21 drum, but few listened. Then, in 2009, DeWeese took his ideas to the Tea Party, and its branches began adopting the Agender platform. “It was a slow acceleration,” says Don Knapp, an ICLEI spokesman who has tracked the movement.

During the 2010 mid-term campaign, Dan Maes, a doomed Republican and Tea Party Colorado gubernatorial candidate, announced that Denver’s bike-sharing program was part of a U.N. plot — probably the first high-profile mention of Agenda 21. In a debate for Colorado House District 59, La Plata County’s J. Paul Brown declared that Obama had a secret army and that the U.N. is “going to control our land and our guns.” Gleeful Democrats assumed the rhetoric would kill Brown’s chances for a seat long held by moderates. They were wrong: Brown won.

Also in 2010, Rosa Koire started the Post-Sustainability Institute, which campaigns against Agenda 21 and “communitarianism.” Despite the fact that she’s a registered Democrat who looks fresh from auditions for a Gloria Steinem bio-pic, Koire, a Bay Area real-estate appraiser, has become a Tea Party YouTube hero and Agender leader. Then, last June, Glenn Beck did a 14-minute anti-Agenda 21 monologue on Fox News.

“It really picked up steam after that,” says Knapp. Last month, Koire and dozens of fellow Agenders packed a planning meeting in Marin County, Calif., shouting anti-planning slogans. Agenders in Benton County, Ore., went after a plan to protect river corridors. One told the Corvallis Gazette-Times: “Riparian, sustainability — it’s the words that give ’em away. Their goal is to take over the world by taking over the water, the land and the food.” Last fall, Newt Gingrich vowed to cut funding for “any kind of activity for United Nations Agenda 21” if elected president.  And at least 16 communities have ended their ICLEI membership in protest.

In La Plata County, by late July the anti-planning crowd started referencing Agenda 21 in their public comments. County planner Erick Aune had never even heard of it. So he attended an “evening of Agenda 21 education” hosted by the Four Corners Liberty Restoration group, where the featured speaker masterfully laid out a 200-year conspiracy culminating in the comprehensive plan. By the end of that month, more than 100 people had signed a petition against it, saying it was “based on emotional feel-good ideas that are designed for social engineering and social equity that trample our rights as free people.”

In December, after whittling the plan down to about 40 pages and snuffing out an entire chapter on sustainable development, the La Plata County planning commission unanimously voted to scrap it altogether. Aune resigned a day later.

The reasons the planning commissioners gave were somewhat vague. The plan was too values-based; it didn’t reflect the will of the community. But there’s little doubt that the Agenders influenced the process. “I’m for planning, but I’m not for the ideological, political, social engineering that went into this document,” commissioner Steven Kallaher said in December. Earlier, of community concerns, he said, “Someone who owns hundreds of acres in the county doesn’t want someone living in the city who rides a solar-powered bicycle to tell them what to do.”

“The (Agenders) group was very organized and very focused and very intent on delivering a consistent message,” says Aune. “They wanted (the comprehensive plan) to go away because it represents government and control to them.”

The movement’s meteoric rise is probably due to the fact that it’s just the most recent incarnation of an age-old ideology. “Local debates about property rights have been around for decades,” says Knapp. “What’s new is this idea that it has to do with the United Nations or the imposition of some outside force … that there’s this tyranny at play.

“(It’s) motivated a lot of people to get involved in local politics,” he says. “It’s a really good scare story. It’s big on fear, it’s big on fiction, and it’s short on fact.”


Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News and a 2011-2012 Ted Scripps Fellow in Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder.

City of Grass Valley Imposes Final Application Deadline on Emgold

Press Release
By Citizens Looking At Impacts of Mining (CLAIM-GV)
claim@claim-gv.org
March 15, 2012

On Thursday, March 13, Grass Valley City Council set a final 180-day time limit for Emgold to come up with the required deposits for their flagship project, the Idaho-Maryland Mine and Ceramics Factory. If Emgold fails to deposit approximately $440,000 within 180 days, the project application will be closed.

Emgold had previously requested a 60-90 day extension by the City Council on Nov 8, 2011, citing a lack of funds and difficult market conditions. But at Thursday’s meeting Emgold CEO David Watkinson reported that no progress had been made and still more time was needed. Further delays are complicating staffing for the city and may require new contracts to be negotiated. The City made the concession of granting more time, but this time chose to set a firm limit on further extensions. The initial deposit is required for staffing and independent consultants. Emgold will need another $3-4 million to complete the permitting process. If the permit is granted, revenue generating production would take an additional 3-4 years.

As per financial reports on September 30, 2011, Emgold had a working capital deficit of $695,764 and an accumulated deficit of $49,327,646. CEO David Watkinson has a salary of $185,000/yr. According to a recent statement by Emgold, the stock offerings in late 2011 were specifically to be used for projects other than the Idaho-Maryland Mine and Factory and for general administration and salaries. No explanation was provided as to why the stock offerings were directed elsewhere.

Emgold is a Canadian “Junior Mining” corporation and has never operated a mine or tile factory. If Emgold has failed to get funding to date, the 180 days may also be a challenge. According to Peter Koven writing for the Financial Post last week (March 6, 2012), the outlook for Junior Mining Companies is very poor: “For juniors that don’t have a good story or a competitive advantage to raise cash, experts warned that the financing road could remain tough for a very long time.”

The City first accepted the application for the project in 2005. The last public hearing on the project was in January 2009, when the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) was reviewed by the Planning Department and the public submitted comments. The DEIR was subsequently deemed inadequate. Due to concerns about truck traffic, air pollution, noise, cyanide processing, water pollution, dust, threats to local wells, and other impacts, significant opposition to the project has emerged. Since then the project has undergone minor revisions and been resubmitted. On November 8, 2011, the Grass Valley City Council approved contracts for hiring new consultants to start the process again and prepare a new Draft EIR. The process will take at least a year.


Citizens Looking At Impacts of Mining (CLAIM-GV) is a Grass Valley non-profit whose mission is to protect the community’s natural environment, public health and safety, and economic sustainability relative to mine re-openings and/or developments. CLAIM-GV’s many volunteers focus on gathering the relevant information, analyzing it, and making it available to the public.

Random Thoughts on Optimism vs Pessimism

By Don Pelton

There’s an interesting philosophical aspect to the issue of optimism vs pessimism that’s worth more study and more comment. Here are a few random thoughts.

Both optimism and pessimism are bets on the future, and therefore subject to all sorts of contingencies including bad judgment, misinformation (noise in the communication), disinformation (getting “snowed”), guile, wishful thinking, acts of God, intention and will, efforts to persuade, and so on.

Among these contingencies the most interesting to me at the moment is the self-fulfilling nature of those contrary optimistic and pessimistic bets (hinted at in my list above with the items “intention and will” and “efforts to persuade”).

In other words …

The very act of being pessimistic or optimistic may itself affect the outcome

If this is true — and I believe it is — zealous, relentless optimism (or conversely zealous, relentless pessimism) becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy which can win the day. (The “assumption of inevitability” often noted in George W. Bush’s political campaigns may be a Machiavellian version of this phenomenon on the optimistic side).

In other words, optimism and pessimism are each more than mere predictions or guesses about the future.

They are your active contribution to the creation of that future, for which you must forever take responsibility.

As such, your pessimism or your optimism is more than a mere brick in the structure — the vast building — that becomes the future for us all. Your pessimism or your optimism is your contribution to the blueprint — the plan, the shape — of that building.

One of the obstacles to our recognition of this contribution is our skepticism about the power of collective action, the idea that our own small act added to the aggregate of all the small acts of others has any weight or influence at all.

But think of voting. I’m suggesting that optimism and pessimism are effective collective acts in somewhat the same sense (and on somewhat the same scale) that voting is an effective collective act. Optimism and pessimism are each a vote for the imagined outcome.

Of course, I am speaking only of one quality of optimism and pessimism, a quality which may emerge as powerful or recede as inconsequential in any particular case.

Understanding all this may allow us to see ourselves more as agents of change than we normally believe possible.

We may be more influential agents of change — for good or for ill — than we usually imagine.

So beware, if you take an optimistic stance, or a pessimistic stance … beware and consider carefully what responsibility you yourself may have for the outcome.

Consider to what extent your pessimism or your optimism reflects your own subconscious desire for that outcome. (This is more than a little paradoxical, since the very word, “pessimism,” carries the connotation of a fear of — or aversion to — the predicted outcome. The paradox may (?) be resolved by understanding the conflict between the conscious and the unconscious. The unconscious has an agenda of its own, not always obvious to the conscious mind).

There’s a phenomenon long known to psychologists, the tendency to manifest what you imagine, regardless of whether the image that seizes you provokes fear or desire.

It’s the proverbial case of the driver so obsessed with avoiding the oncoming telephone poll that he crashes into it.

I once so worried about tripping on some stairs leading up to a stage where I was about to speak before an audience of hundreds that I tripped and fell on the stairs when my name was called.

The tendency for what is imagined to manifest in reality is one of those mainstays of the New Age movement (mixed up with a lot of other sentimental nonsense that also characterized that movement).

Consider whether you are ready to take responsibility for what you predict (whether desired or feared).

And consider how your understanding of that responsibility should guide your actions.

Maybe this too is what is meant by “in dreams begin responsibilities.”

cc: ActiveWorkingMentalFile

In a Surprise Move, Grass Valley City Council Sets Hard Deadline for Emgold

In a surprise move this evening, the Grass Valley City Council went well beyond what was strictly required of them and took action on a formally non-action agenda item, by imposing a “final” and hard deadline of six months for Emgold to secure financing to complete the Draft Environmental Impact Report on its Idaho-Maryland Mine Project.

Council members made it clear that there will be no more extensions, and that the application will be deemed dead if Emgold fails to secure financing by the six-month deadline. Technically, the project could then be restarted from the beginning with a new application, but it’s anyone’s guess whether that is even likely. Since Emgold has used all its recent fundraising to finance its efforts on projects in Nevada, my guess is that this hard deadline may signal the end of Emgold’s long quest to re-open the Idaho-Maryland Mine in Grass Valley.

Most public commenters urged the council to impose a hard deadline, and — in the end – it seemed that the council heard and responded to their arguments.

When Emgold CEO Dave Watkinson suggested to the council that the city was sometimes the obstacle to progress, councilmember Lisa Swarthout quickly reminded him that the subject this evening was Emgold and not the city. This seemed like an ominous reproach.

I had hoped to post the video of the IMM discussion this evening, but it appears that NCTV may have dropped the ball and not broadcast it (I scheduled it, but got only a black screen for a recording). If it turns up on Granicus, I may be able to capture it and post it here.

My strong impression is that the Grass Valley City Council may be getting a bit impatient with Emgold’s endless stalling and delays.

Stay tuned for further developments.

How to Stop the Corporate Erosion of Our Democracy

Here’s a short video (8+ minutes) explaining why 85% of Americans (regardless of political party) believe corporations have too much power, and what we can do about it.

Democracy May Be Coming to a Town Near You

John Nichols, writing in the (Madison, Wisconsin) Cap Times, calls the recent Move-to-Amend resolutions passed by 64 Vermont towns “a clarion call for renewal of democracy.”

Soon enough, we’ll have a chance to push this issue here in Nevada County.

Nichols explains:

Inspired by the success of the Vermont initiative, the Democracy Is for People Campaign is now launching the Resolutions Week project, which will encourage communities across the country to follow Vermont’s lead. The goal is to get as many local pro-amendment resolutions as possible passed in the second week of June. “Already,” organizers say, “more than 500 Public Citizen activists in 300 cities and towns have signed up to help pass resolutions in their towns.”

Public Citizen is coordinating the Resolutions Week campaign with national groups, such as the Communications Workers of America, U.S. PIRG, the Main Street Alliance, the Move to Amend coalition and People for the American Way, as well as state-based partners.

Stay tuned …

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