We are Hanno Beck, Lindy Davies, Fred Foldvary, Mike O'Mara, Jeff Smith, and assorted volunteers, all dedicated to bringing you the news and views that make a difference in our species struggle to win justice, prosperity, and eco-librium.
Can religion and politics mix? Should they? Everett W. Gross suggests that economic justice is the best basis for government.
by Everett W. Gross
One of my friends remarked that he wished he had time to read all of the books that I read. I had to answer that I don’t get to read nearly all of the books I need to read, and that I actually read little other than newspapers. Another criticized me on the ground that any book is only one person’s opinion. I had to answer that it is almost always possible, and often advisable to find a book of the opposing opinion.
But even the newspaper can be read with different perspectives by different people. And those different perspectives might have been derived from a few crucial influences that operated long ago.
Much is appearing in the papers about problems of mixing religion and politics. When I was in my mid-teens, an older person asked me if I was quite religious. I replied that since one’s religion is the total of one’s opinions, and since I could drum up an opinion about almost anything, then l would have to be considered quite religious. This answer did not please my questioner since she had a rather different idea of the meaning of the word. She tried to guide me to something which I picture as an old man sitting on a cloud manipulating my luck according to some rituals which I might observe at the proper times of the day or week. One of the names I have for that kind of belief is “rabbit’s foot religion.”
I suppose most of us can look back at something we said and wish we had said it better. But that answer to her is one I still have not thought of a way to improve on.
Some people fear mixing religion with politics and warn against it, arguing that our founding fathers warned against it. I assume they are talking about using the teachings of one of the rabbit’s foot religions to make arguments about selecting a candidate in an election. The founding fathers were talking about something quite different; they were simply taking the precaution of not picking out one of the established denominations to use as an Official Church, as custom has it in many countries.
Now in my old age, when someone asks me what my religion is, I consider it a hard question. I mostly have to answer that I haven’t named it yet. Identifying my church is easy, but it doesn’t really identify my religion. If I had to name my religion right now, I would say I am an economic pacifist, but not of the same thought package as some others who have used that name. My own meaning is that war is an economic phenomenon with economic causes. Many economic causes have their roots in customs which grow out of mass beliefs which become established in legislation.
People vote for candidates whose ideas sample mass opinion. Probably dominant in almost everyone’s opinion package is some explanation he holds about why his pocketbook is hurting. I would venture to say that it is impossible to keep those mass opinions from dominating both the churches’ teachings and the legislative processes.
Many of those mass opinions are nonsense, but most governments are based on them. And the economic results produce great material hardship. And war results.
War will not be abolished by changing human nature. Human nature already has every attribute needed to abolish war. Human nature is already capable of learning true rather than false causes of economic problems.
Genetic Modification — Bad Science, Untested — Will Your Children Be Guinea Pigs?
New Report Challenges Fundamentals of Genetic Engineering
If genetic modification is a sound idea, why do its proponents avoid genuine scientific study of the processes? If their products are popularly accepted as safe, why do they hire lobbyists? If they favor an open market, why do they seek corporate welfare handouts and other special privileges?
In fact, GM is not a scientifically sound idea, over 85% of those polled do not consider GM products safe, and GM corporations do not favor an open market.
Many nations have enacted considerable restrictions against GM foods until scientific investigations can be made. Children in the USA, however, have no such protection. Are American children less deserving of food safety?
A study released this week reveals a critical, long-overlooked flaw in the science behind the multi-billion dollar genetic engineering industry, raising serious questions about the safety of genetically engineered foods.
In a new review of scientific literature reported in the February issue of Harper’s Magazine, biologist Barry Commoner demonstrates that the bioengineering industry, which now accounts for 25-50 percent of the U.S. corn and soybean crop, relies on a 40-year-old theory that DNA genes are in total control of inheritance in all forms of life. According to this theory — the “central dogma” — the outcome of transferring a gene from one organism to another is always “specific, precise and predictable,” and therefore safe.
Taking issue with this view, Commoner summarizes a series of scientific reports that directly contradict the established theory. For example, last year the $3 billion Human Genome Project found there are too few human genes to account for the vast inherited differences between people and lower animals or plants, indicating that agents other than DNA must contribute to genetic complexity.
The central dogma claims a one-to-one correspondence between a gene’s chemical composition and the structure of the particular protein that engenders an inherited trait. But Dr. Commoner notes that under the influence of specialized proteins that carry out “alternative splicing,” a single gene can give rise to a variety of different proteins, resulting in more than a single inherited trait per gene. As a result, the gene’s effect on inheritance cannot be predicted simply from its chemical composition — frustrating one of the main purposes of both the Human Genome Project and biotechnology.
Commoner’s research sounds a public alarm concerning the processes by which agricultural biotechnology companies genetically modify food crops. Scientists simply assume the genes they insert into these plants always produce only the desired effect with no other impact on the plant’s genetics. However, recent studies show that the plant’s own genes can be disrupted in transgenic plants. Such outcomes are undetected because there is little or no governmental oversight of the industry. [The Progress Report interjects -- a second reason that such outcomes are undetected is that the genetic manipulation corporations simply have not conducted many scientific studies in the first place; instead, they hire lobbyists so as to win approval without scientific studies at all.]
“Genetically engineered crops represent a huge uncontrolled experiment whose outcome is inherently unpredictable,” Commoner concludes. “The results could be catastrophic.”
Dr. Commoner cites a number of recent scientific findings that have broken the DNA gene’s exclusive franchise on the molecular explanation of inheritance. He warns that “experimental data, shorn of dogmatic theories, point to the irreducible complexity of the living cell, which suggests that any artificially altered genetic system must sooner or later give rise to unintended, potentially disastrous consequences.”
Commoner charges that the old central dogma, a seductively simple explanation of heredity, has led most molecular geneticists to believe it was “too good not to be true.” As a result, the central dogma has been immune to the revisions called for by the growing array of contradictory data, allowing the biotechnology industry to unwittingly impose massive, scientifically unsound practices on agriculture.
“Dr. Commoner’s work challenges the legitimacy of the agricultural biotechnology industry,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Director of the Center on Food Safety. “For years, multibillion dollar biotech companies have been selling the American people and our government on the safety of their products. We now see their claims of safety are based on faulty assumptions that don’t hold up to rigorous scientific review.”
The study reported in Harper’s Magazine is the initial publication of a new initiative called “The Critical Genetics Project,” directed by Dr. Commoner in collaboration with molecular geneticist Dr. Andreas Athanasiou, at the Center for the Biology of Natural Systems, Queens College, City University of New York.
Does a free market demand secrecy, or scientific soundness? What level of food safety do you and your children deserve? Tell your views to The Progress Report!
World sets weather record: $138 billion Annual cost of disasters higher than entire ’80s
Violent weather has cost the world a record $138 billion this year, more money than was lost from weather-related disasters in all of the 1980s, and researchers in a study released yesterday blame human meddling for much of it.
Preliminary estimates by the Worldwatch Institute and Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurer, put total losses from storms, floods, droughts and fires for the first 11 months of this year 48 per cent higher than the previous one-year record of more than $93 billion in 1996.
This year’s damage was also far ahead of the $85 billion in losses for the entire decade of the 1980s. Even when adjusted for inflation, the 1980s losses, at $128 billion, still fall short of the first 11 months of this year.
In addition to the material losses, the disasters have killed an estimated 32,000 people and displaced 300 million – more than the combined populations of Canada and the United States – the report said.
The study is based on estimates from Worldwatch, an environmental research group, and Munich Re, the German-based reinsurer, which writes policies that protect insurance companies from the risk of massive claims that might put them out of business.
The report says a combination of deforestation and climate change has caused this year’s most severe disasters, among them Hurricane Mitch in Central America, the flooding of China’s Yangtze River and Bangladesh’s most extensive flood of the century.
“More and more, there’s a human fingerprint in natural disasters,in that we’re making them more frequent and more intense and we’re also . . . making them more destructive,” said Seth Dunn, research associate and climate change expert at the institute.
Dunn said that when hillsides are left bare, rainfall will rush across the land or into rivers without being slowed by trees and allowed to be absorbed by the soil, or to evaporate back into the atmosphere. This leads to floods and landslides that are strong enough to wipe out roads, farms and fisheries far downstream.
“In a sense, we’re turning up the faucets . . . and throwing away the sponges, like the forests and the wetlands,” said Dunn.
Another element that has contributed to this year’s losses is land speculation, which creates artificial land shortages and compels many people to settle on vulnerable flood plains and hillsides.
The most severe 1998 disasters listed in the report include Hurricane Mitch, the deadliest Atlantic storm in 200 years, which is believed to have caused more than 10,000 deaths in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador, and caused damage estimated at $6 billion in Honduras and $1.5 billion in Nicaragua.
The study said Mitch hit an ecologically vulnerable region. Central American nations have experienced some of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, losing some 2 per cent to 4 per cent of their remaining forest cover each year.
The costliest disaster of 1998, according to the report, was the flooding of the Yangtze River in the summer. It killed more than 3,000 people, dislocated about 230 million people and incurred more than $45 billion in losses.
The study said that while heavy summer rains are common in southern and central China, the Yangtze Basin in recent decades has lost 85 per cent of its forest cover to logging and agriculture, wetlands have been drained, and the river heavily dammed.
Bangladesh suffered its most extensive flood of the century in the summer. Two-thirds of the low-lying country located at the mouth of the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers was flooded for months, 30 million people were left temporarily homeless, and more than 15,000 kilometres of roads were heavily damaged. Damage estimates exceed $5 billion.
Logging upriver in the Himalayas of north India and Nepal exacerbated the disaster, as did the fact that the region’s rivers and flood plains have been filled with silt and constricted by development, the report said.
“Climate change and rising sea levels are projected to make Bangladesh even more vulnerable to flooding in the future,” said the study.
The study said governments are beginning to recognize the role of human activities in worsening natural disasters. It noted that China has banned logging in the upper Yangtze watershed, prohibited additional land reclamation projects in the river’s flood plain and earmarked $3 billion to reforest the watershed.
“Unless ravaged nations rebuild along a path of sustainable development that emphasizes restoring and maintaining healthy ecosystems, they risk even greater exposure to the devastation of unnatural disasters in the future,” said the report.
Reported by Grassroots News Network http://www.onr.com/user/gnn
Most folks, if asked, say they favor a free society, but they don’t know what freedom means. They vaguely favor being able to speak and move about freely, but when it comes to the crunch, they back off. They think that freedom means being able to do anything that they personally do not find displeasing. If they deem marijuana to be disagreeable, they think freedom excludes the legal right to grow and use marijuana. To them, freedom means, “you may do what you like as long as I think it’s OK.” But that is no freedom.
In his second inaugural address on January 20, 2005, President Bush declared, “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world… America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof.”
Echoing the words of the Bible, this declaration by President Bush is noble, grand, and beautiful. But has the U.S. federal government been true to this ideal? The test of freedom is when it is applied to situations that displease you. And here, the chiefs of government have shown that they do not understand freedom. Government officials know very little about freedom.
On January 15, 2005, the Associated Press reported that the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) had edited a scene in “Dirty War,” a move about a fictional terrorist attack on London. PBS edited out a scene showing the front side of a nude woman being scrubbed down after the “dirty bomb” attack. PBS will show the movie on February 23. A PBS senior programming executive said that PBS was editing out the nudity because the Federal Communications Commission is aggressively acting against “indecency” in television. The cable channel HBO will include the nude scene when it shows the movie starting January 24.
The U.S. federal government banned nudity in 2004 when it fined CBS $550,000 for briefly showing the exposure of part of Janet Jackson’s breast during the Super Bowl halftime performance. PBS is editing out nudity in other shows, such as in a documentary on Auschwitz, in which PBS blurred the image of a naked man about to enter a gas chamber, an image viewed unaltered when the program was broadcast in Europe.
Prior to the Bush presidency, there was no federal law against nudity, either in broadcasting or even physically by persons. The First Amendment is supposed to guarantee freedom of speech, including visual expression. Moreover, anti-nudity legislation is constitutionally part of the criminal code of the states and the ordinances of local government. But more and more criminal law has become unconstitutionally federalized as government in the USA gets increasingly centralized. The first federal ban on nudity on television was made by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell, with his huge fines for broadcasted “indecency.”
Chief Powell was in part responding to complaints by viewers. But true freedom is not decided by voting. If the law is based on what folks don’t like, then we have the rule of whim rather than the rule of liberty. True freedom means that all acts, and only those acts, which coercively and invasively harm others, are prohibited and penalized. Acts or situations which merely offend people, but do not destroy or steal their property, are not prohibited, even these are displeasing to a majority. Nudity is a prime example of something that may be offensive, but is not a harm.
The real reason for the federal nudity ban is political. The President is supported by religious conservatives, and he needs to provide these supporters with some benefit in return. Religious conservatives have been rewarded with the privilege of having their social conservativism enforced by law, contrary to true liberty. Religious conservatives either don’t understand freedom or else don’t agree with it, since they seek to impose their particular values on all society. But there is a deeper problem with religious conservativism, a big contradiction.
Christian fundamentalists believe that human beings were divinely created in the image of God. But many religious fundamentalists also believe that some parts of the human body are inherently indecent and evil. They therefore believe that, verily, verily, God is good, and, verily, God hath created the human body, but, since the body is, to them, evil, God created something indecent, yea even pornographic. These Christian fundamentalists must thus believe that God is a pornographer, since God created a body that is evil to view. This is a logical contradiction, since according to the Bible, after creating man, God said this was very good. Of course religious folks should be free to believe whatever illogic they wish, but the problem is that these religious conservatives seek to impose this logical contradiction on all society by force.
If most Americans wish to ban nudity, as well as banning drugs, gambling, and working without a government license or paying tribute to government, they should admit that they do not really favor freedom. So be it if peaceful and honest acts are to be prohibited and taxed, but don’t call it freedom or liberty. Be honest! Confess that you oppose freedom! Confess also that you are violating the Commandments, because you are stealing our liberty.
President Bush says he wants to free the world. He says he seeks to protect American liberty. But the actions of his FCC chief shows that the Bush administration does not understand freedom. When they ban medical marijuana, forcing suffering cancer victims to endure pain and death, it shows how little they know about freedom.
And you? What do you know about freedom? And what are you going to do about it?
Copyright 2005 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.What are your views? Share your opinion with The Progress Report!
Bush Seeks Tax Increase and in Congress, Corruption Crushes Priorities
While Bush proposes another $500 billion in baby taxes (called “deficit spending” by some), Congress finds itself unable to keep corruption out of its spending, even on protection from terrorism.
Here is a news update from Taxpayers for Common Sense. TCS is the best organization that monitors excessive government spending, corruption and corporate welfare.
Homeland Insecurity Spending
The President’s budget that will be introduced next month will be stuffed with losers. With the deficit swelling, the President and Congress both know that their choice is between tightening our belts now or leaving our children to swim in an ocean of red ink.
One agency that will escape any budget scrutiny will be the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The 22 agency, 180,000 person department spends about $32 billion a year and is generally considered politically untouchable. However, because of the agency’s critical mission, there is an urgent need to question the ways in which DHS money is being spent.
Should firefighters in Alaska get the same equipment as those in New York? Should the federal government try to equally protect 7,500 miles of border and 95,000 miles of coastline? With the federal government unable to finance every perceived anti-terrorism need, the experts say it is time for better prioritization.
As an example, Alaska apparently has $2 million in homeland security funds it doesn’t know how to spend. When the state proposed buying a jet with the money, the Department of Homeland Security said no, but rather than rescind the dough, they gave Alaska a mulligan and told them to come up with another option.
Congress is treating homeland security in general, and getting funds to the most vulnerable cities in particular, as if it were just another pork-barrel transportation bill. That’s why Alaska got three times the amount per resident than New York did — clearly a problem, unless the general consensus is that Anchorage is at higher risk for terror attacks than New York.
Pennsylvania got a paltry $5.50 per capita in federal counterterrorism funding in 2003. By comparison, Wyoming got $35.03, thanks to rural-state members in Congress, who have blocked attempts to come up with a more reasonable formula for spreading security dollars around.
In addition to the distribution inequity, many states are spending their funds on frivolous items. In Virginia, a small volunteer fire department spent $350,000 on a custom-made fire boat. The Northern Marianas Islands, an archipelago of 69,000 people situated 3,000 miles west of Hawaii, has received $11.2 million in federal homeland security grants since June 2002. Warren County, Michigan spent $6,700 on traffic cones, signs, and barricades.
Clearly, homeland security spending needs more scrutiny. The 9/11 commission recognized as much, noting in their report that, “Homeland security assistance should be based strictly on an assessment of risks and vulnerabilities Congress should not use this money as a pork barrel.”
Congress tried to fix the problem with its Urban Area Security Initiative, which identified seven cities deemed most vulnerable to terrorism. Unfortunately, the list swiftly grew to 51 cities, thanks to a Congressional penchant for pork, and the grease was spread to everyone rather than the priority regions where the threat of terrorism is most urgent.
And that effort didn’t get to the root of problem: a homeland security funding structure that guarantees a minimum dollar amount to every state, regardless of risk. That immediately locks up 40 percent of state homeland security dollars.
Congress needs to recognize that security needs aren’t equal across the nation. Eash state doesn’t face the same risks, so they shouldn’t get equivalent funding. Congress is notorious for bringing home the bacon, but if we waste precious homeland defense dollars, we all may fry.
For more information, contact Keith Ashdown at (202)-546-8500 ext. 110 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org TCS is at www.taxpayer.net
Polls Show More U.S. Citizens Want Peace, Not Bush’s Wars
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A Shaky Media Taboo — Withdrawal from Iraq
by Norman Solomon January, 2005
The latest polls show that most Americans are critical of the war in Iraq. But the option of swiftly withdrawing all U.S. troops from that country gets little media attention.
So far this year, many news outlets have lapsed into conjecture on what George W. Bush has in mind for the Iraq war. At the end of a recent lengthy editorial, the New York Times noted that “there’s speculation about whether President Bush intends to use the arrival of a new elected government [in Baghdad] as an occasion to declare victory and begin pulling out American troops.”
Right now, that kind of speculation amounts to a smokescreen for a war-crazed administration. Its evident intention is for large numbers of U.S. troops to stay in Iraq for a long time.
Predictably, as Seymour Hersh reports in the Jan. 24 edition of the New Yorker, “Bush’s re-election is regarded within the administration as evidence of America’s support for his decision to go to war. It has reaffirmed the position of the neoconservatives in the Pentagon’s civilian leadership who advocated the invasion.” According to one of Hersh’s sources, Donald Rumsfeld told the Joint Chiefs of Staff after the Nov. 2 election that “America was committed to staying in Iraq and that there would be no second-guessing.”
Recent opinion polls show that most of the U.S. public has a negative view of the war — but Americans seem to be all over the map about what to do now.
“Support for the war in Iraq has continued to erode, but most Americans still are inclined to give the Bush administration some time to try to stabilize the country before it withdraws U.S. troops,” the Los Angeles Times reported the day before Bush’s re-inauguration. The paper’s new national poll “found that the percentage of Americans who believed the situation in Iraq was ‘worth going to war over’ had sunk to a new low of 39 percent.” In the poll, 47 percent of Americans “said they would like to see most of the troops out within a year,” while 49 percent “say they could support a longer deployment.”
Politically, as a practical matter, Bush can maintain plenty of leverage to keep escalating the war in Iraq. We should remember that the Vietnam War went on for years longer while public-opinion data showed that most Americans thought it was wrong.
Now — at the outset of Bush’s second term — strong advocacy for immediate withdrawal should become part of the national debate.
Sixteen members of the U.S. House of Representatives launched an initiative in that direction on Jan. 12 with a letter to President Bush urging him “to take immediate steps to begin the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.” Led by Rep. Lynn Woolsey of California, the signers contended: “It has become clear that the existence of more than 130,000 American troops stationed on Iraqi soil is infuriating to the Iraqi people — especially because Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction and did not have a connection to the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, or to the al Qaeda terrorist organization. Indeed, the very presence of Americans in Iraq is a rallying point for dissatisfied people in the Arab world.”
Few media outlets beyond California did any substantive reporting on the letter. But it could turn out to be an initial step on a long journey for efforts to achieve a congressional cutoff of funds for the Iraq war. Such efforts can only be successful if immense grassroots pressure develops to compel members of Congress to take action.
Rep. Woolsey is set to take another step by introducing a resolution in the House of Representatives calling for U.S. troops to come home from Iraq as soon as logistically possible. Her office told me on Jan. 19 that Woolsey’s resolution — still in draft form and not yet circulated to House members — is scheduled to be introduced in late January.
If left up to newsroom editors and mainstream pundits, the Woolsey resolution will scarcely cause a ripple in the national media pond. But the resolution could do much more than sink like a stone. It has the potential to serve as a catalyst for nationwide debate.
Whether that happens will depend on grassroots activists around the country. The Woolsey resolution could have historic impact if they take up the challenge and effectively demand that congressional representatives get behind it.
At a time when the media terrain is so bleak and the media-framed debates are so narrow, the possibility remains to create historic news and not just consume it.
Norman Solomon is co-author, with Reese Erlich, of “Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You.” His next book, “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death,” will be published in early summer by Wiley. Solomon’s columns and other writings can be found at www.normansolomon.com.
Bush Foreign Policy — Unprecedented, Unjustified, Unsuccessful
U.S. Foreign Policy: Question All Assumptions
The Bush administration continues to kill women and children — and U.S. soldiers — in pursuit of a foreign policy that makes no sense to scholars or observers. Americans deserve far better. Meanwhile, here are some details.
Post-World War II U.S. foreign policy, including that of the Bush administration, has been based on certain assumptions about the nature of the world. Unfortunately, most of those assumptions are suspect.
The most notable assumption is that if the U.S. government (USG) does not dominate the globe militarily and ensure security through wanton armed interventions, the world will fall apart. Yet the USG did not even exist for the vast majority of recorded history and the world got along just fine using what scholars call a balance of power among great powers. In fact, often times the USG has invaded other countries and removed their governments for no good reasonfor example, the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989 and the recent invasion of Iraq. Other times, the USG has used the CIA to remove a foreign countrys more democratic government and replace it with a less democratic one that was friendlier to U.S. interestsfor example, in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954 and Chile in 1973.
Apparently President Bushwho, according to Time magazine, reads only books that reinforce his prejudicesloved a recent book that argues that U.S. hegemony has deep roots in American history. That statement would be true if one inserts the words post-World War II before the words American history. For most of U.S. history, the United States did not seek hegemony over other countries and pursued a policy of deliberate independence from most overseas disputes.
Such examples of recent aggressive U.S. behavior should cast doubt on a couple of other assumptions held by the U.S. policy elite and general public. The first is that democracies are more peaceful than more authoritarian governments. Scholars have shown that no empirical support exists for this proposition. In fact, newly minted democracies go to war at greater frequency than more autocratic states. The second is that democracies dont go to war with each otherthe democratic peace theory. Although the validity of this theory is disputed among scholars, opponents of the theory convincingly argue that even if wars among democracies are rare throughout history, democracies are also rare. But examples of wars between democracies do existfor example, the Boer war at the turn of the twentieth century, World War I, and the American Civil War.
Yet according to Time, President Bush is also enamored with the Natan Sharanskys book The Case for Democracy, which argues that security of the world depends on using any means necessary to support democracy. Even if democracies ultimately went to war less than more authoritarian nations and if they never went to war with each otherdubious propositionsthe costs of all of the wars needed to convert autocratic countries to democracies would be too high. In addition to expending much blood and treasure, all U.S. wars have eroded civil liberties at home. Even if the USG could militarily convert all of the nations of the world to real democracies (most democracies in the developing world are fake)and the record here is not goodthe United States could very well endanger its own democracy.
The last assumptiongiven to us by the president but eagerly embraced by the interventionist foreign policy eliteis that al Qaeda is attacking the United States because of its freedoms. The Defense Science Board, made up of high-powered consultants to the Department of Defense, recently issued a report debunking this notion and accurately noting that al Qaeda attacks the United States because it hates U.S. interventionism in the Islamic world. However, the U.S. National Intelligence Councila consensus of the U.S. intelligence agenciesapparently still doesnt get it. The council recently released a forecast for the next 15 years predicting that the Iraq war and other conflicts will create a professional class of terrorists for whom political violence will become an end in itself. The council also predicted that al Qaeda will be replaced with more diffuse Islamist extremist groups that will oppose globalization in Islamic societies and argued that a new U.S. counterterrorism strategy should promote education and political and economic development in the Islamic world, in addition to using military power.
Unfortunately, the council buys into all the myths about why al Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups attack the United States. Although their killing of innocent civilians is reprehensible, such groups are excessively demonized by implying that they kill people merely for fun. It is possible to vehemently disagree with the methods of these groups without assuming that they have no motives for what they do other than their bloodthirstiness. In a somewhat contradictory vein, the report seems to argue that these groups are attacking the United States because they oppose globalization or because they have arisen from societies that are uneducated, poor and democratically challenged. These are all self-serving conclusions designed to mask the real reason that al Qaeda and like groups attack the United States.
Osama bin Laden has been very clear about why he targets the United States. Time and again, he has listed specific items related to U.S. intervention in the affairs of the Islamic worldespecially the USGs propping up of corrupt regimes in Arab nations. Bin Ladens heinous deliberate attacks on civilians should not be condoned, but he does have a motive beyond merely getting a thrill out of killing.
All of this leads to the inescapable conclusion that the USG runs a Tarzan foreign policythat is, Me good, you bad. The USGs propaganda machine excessively demonizes the motives of anyone or any country that takes actions the United States does not like and asserts that U.S. motives are only idealistic and pristine. No one in the Islamic worldor in the entire world, for that matterbelieves the latter. The USGs propagandistic hoo-ha is really meant for the American public, the only party that has been bamboozled into believing it. Why doesnt the public ask its government to explain why Saddam Husseins unnecessary invasion of Kuwait was bad and President Bushs unnecessary invasion of Iraq was good? Also, why dont they ask if killing innocent civilians, even as collateral damage, in an unnecessary and aggressive invasion is any better than deliberately targeting them as bin Laden does?
These are politically incorrect questions, but the American people should start asking them of their government. Instead, by accepting questionable assumptions on the part of its government, the American people are allowing it to unnecessarily turn the greatest nation on earth into an international rogue state.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute in Oakland, California, and author of the books The Empire Has No Clothes, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.
Pro-USA Corporations Embarrassed as Sri Lanka Bans GM Foods
Genetically Modified Foods Banned as Unsafe
Most countries concerned about the safety of their citizens have required that genetically modified foods be labelled — the USA does not offer this protection. Now Sri Lanka has raised the stakes by banning GM foods outright. This new level of safety has angered corporate monopolists and their government hirelings in the USA. Here are some excerpts from recent news reports on this topic.
Soya beans and all products that contain its derivatives including soya milk, soy sauce and soya flour are banned as of May 1 under the Health Ministry’s decision to ban all Genetically Modified Foods (GMF) in the country, Health and Indigenous Minister John Seneviratne said. Foods must be certified as GM-free before they will be allowed.
The Minister said several other imported food items produced using this technology will also be banned until produced without GM ingredients. This includes imported tomatoes and tomato based food products (ketchup, sauce, puree), corn (maize), corn flour (maize flour), cheese, potatoes and products containing potatoes, bakers and brewers yeast, beet sugar, microbiological starter cultures used in foods (like yoghurt cultures).
Weyland Beeghly, the agricultural counsellor for India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, admitted “There is a view in some circles that this is a very risky technology and that the US is testing it on the poor populations of developing countries.”
The new law introduced by the health ministry bans all imports of raw and processed food in 21 categories if they have been genetically modified.
“If the importer cannot get the certificate because the food is GM, then he has to change the source of his product,” Ceylon Chamber of Commerce spokesman Stanley Jayawardena said.
Opposition to these foods is growing among scientists and consumers and it is also predicted that irreparable harm could be caused to the environment and traditional agriculture due to the introduction of untested genes.
Children should not be subjected to risky, untested foods. We applaud Sri Lanka’s scientific move. What’s your view on all this? Share your opinions with others at The Progress Report!
Everett W. Gross sheds light on some errors that the mainstream wimpmedia fail to dissolve.
by Everett W. Gross
Every newspaper carries articles which reinforce major errors of belief about the economy and how it should work and why it is not working that way and who should do something about it and what that something is. Those major errors of mass belief seriously interfere with electing to public office people who know how to solve the problems they are sent there to solve.
Those major errors often appear in articles and letters by persons considered wise or at least educated. See if you can recognize some of the myths that guide our public policies and that act against the solutions of our problems.
MYTH – Our exports are good for our economy and imports are bad.
FACT – The opposite is true. If we could import all we want without ever exporting, we could be much richer than we are. If we could export all we want. to, and never import anything, we would become poor rapidly. Exporting serves no useful function at all except to make importation possible.
MYTH – Imports of goods from a foreign country cause unemployment and other hardships here.
FACT – That is false. Other causes such as our own reverse system of taxes and subsidies are much more than enough to cause all of our own unemployment.
MYTH – High interest rates are bad; low interest rates are good for the economy.
FACT – That is an ancient myth that should have been killed a long time ago by sensible economics teaching, but was dug up and dusted off by Keynes during the Great Depression. It is based on another myth, that borrowing and spending is nicer than saving and lending. You would be a lot better off if more people could be in business without borrowing at. all.
MYTH – High land prices are good and low land prices are bad.
FACT – Changes in land prices give an illusion of being good or bad if you notice only the part of the people for whom they appear to be good or bad. Land prices rise when the bidders expect the rest of the economy to improve. Then the resulting high land prices tend to stifle that very improvement by increasing the. difficulty of starting a new business. I speak here of all land and not just farm land. In fact, farm land, being cheaper than town land, is much less the guilty element.
MYTH – The farm problem is causing the rest of the economy to suffer.
FACT – That may have a smidgin of truth at a very local level. But actually the rest of the economy broke down first and the market for farm products collapsed, while still not offering farmers any alternate jobs to fall back upon when farming failed. Companies which sell supplies to farmers do not exist in large enough numbers to compete with each other at prices more favorable to farmers.
MYTH – All high taxes are bad and therefore all taxes should be low.
FACT – Not true. We need to learn the nature of the different factors of production. Taxes on property improvements should be held as low as possible, while bare lots should be taxed high enough to make bare lot speculation completely unprofitable.
And one final FACT – This is only a brief list and handled in the briefest form. My own personal library has several books dealing with each of the above topics.
To bust harmful myths, also see these classics by Fred Foldvary –
Here is an interesting editorial that appeared in the London Guardian.
The gold rush for genes
It must be stopped: they belong to us
Human genes should not be the subject of patents. Processes and applications that arise from their discovery yes: but the genes themselves, never. And if the law – in Britain or Europe – is capable of being interpreted otherwise then the law must be changed. In a civilised world it should not be necessary even to have a discussion about this: but it is both necessary and urgent because of the imperialistic way some American biology companies are trying to claim the products of evolution.
The latest is the Salt Lake City corporation, Myriad Genetics, which claims to have “patented” two genes for breast-cancer screening (BRCA and BRCA2) and is moving in on the European market to exploit what they hope will be a monopoly position. A European directive on patents, to be incorporated in British law in the summer, is ambiguous on the topic. In this instance, Myriad’s claims are themselves in dispute because of the pioneering work done in this country by Cambridge’s prestigious Sanger Institute and the Institute of Cancer Research (which claims that it discovered one of the genes first).
Either way it should not be patentable and especially not by privately owned corporations which often come on to the scene late in the day after the huge cost of basic research has been done by publicly funded institutes like Sanger, which put their discoveries into the public domain for free. This is altruism, but it also makes business sense because all the pharmaceutical and biotech companies can then have access to all of the research. If they then devise processes using those gene sequences to make themselves lots of money, that is fine. It can take a decade and hundreds of millions of pounds to bring one of these discoveries to market and most are abandoned long before they get that far.
Corporations rightly require profits proportionate to the big risks they take. No one argues with that. But it does not mean they can rush in at the last minute and patent the rights to the basic ingredients of human life. It is like a company joining a gold rush after all the research and mining has been done to snap up all the nuggets lying around.
Who owns the blueprints of life is one of the most important issues to be faced during a century expected to witness an explosion of activity in biotech industries. The ground rules of this revolution must be established hard and fast: and now.
And what do you say? Tell your opinion to The Progress Report!
Amidst all the news about the aid to repair the damage from the tsunami, a small kingdom by the Indian Ocean has been utterly ignored. It’s time to rectify this and let you know the good news about how this kingdom recovered swiftly from a previous earthquake. It is the kingdom of Chkianguk (pronounced ch-kyan-GUK). The kingdom is so little noticed that even Google can’t find it, but its amazingly speedy recovery has very important lessons for people who would rather not be unemployed, hungry, destitute, and homeless.
An economist by the name of Eleutheria Hermes happened to be on vacation in Chkianguk when the earthquake struck. Since Chkianguk was impoverished and undeveloped prior to the disaster, and little outside aid came in, the king of Chkianguk was desperate. He asked Hermes for advice on what to do, and since the king was the absolute ruler, he didn’t have to worry about political opposition. Professor Hermes advised the following policy, which was immediately adopted.
Chkianguk owed $1 billion to the World Bank and IMF. The king decreed that Chkianguk was repudiating this debt. This was no mere suspension of interest payments. The king said the debt was now null and void. The justification for cancelling the debt was that the IMF and World Bank had given him misleading, economically damaging advice, according to Hermes, and this bad advice had put Chkianguk ever deeper in debt. The interest Chkianguk was paying would now go to reconstruction.
Secondly, the king decreed that all taxes in Chkianguk were now immediately abolished. Dr. Hermes had explained that taxes hurt production and would impede reconstruction. “Chkianguk is now the first country on earth to be totally tax free!” declared the king. “Hosanna!” exclaimed the people, which in Chkiangukese means “hurray!”
But where to get revenue for government? Following the advice of Hermes, the king established neighborhood associations in each provincial and city district. Landowners who wished to could join the association. In exchange for monthly assessments or dues, they would obtain security protection and access to the courts. The associations would finance the local streets, park, fire protection, and schools, or these could be provided by private enterprise. The assessments would be based on the site values of each property, excluding the value of any buildings.
Those landowners who did not wish to join the associations would receive no services, including security protection. They would be outside the law, and the government would issue lists of landowners where were not members. If a thief entered and stole or destroyed his property or injured him, that would not be a concern of the government. If the nonmember was a landlord, his tenants would also not have protection. The association would also put up a barrier so that a garage at the site would not have automobile access to the street.
The neighborhood association boards elected representatives to the provincial legislatures, and these legislatures sent representatives to a national parliament. But it was not an anything-goes democracy. The king enacted a constitution which had these permanent statements:
1) Every citizen of Chkianguk is individually and equally sovereign, and government shall have no power over any peaceful citizen other than that voluntarily delegated by that citizen. 2) There shall be no prohibition on any act which does not coercively harm others with the use of force or fraud. Mere offenses not involving invasions shall not be construed as harm. 3) There shall be no taxation of labor, trade, exchange, or produced wealth. 4) The rent from natural resources shall be distributed reasonably equally to all citizens.
The king held a national vote on the new constitution, and 96 percent voted in favor. According to the constitution, the site-value assessments were divided into two categories. The first would be what Hermes called “civic rental.” This was the rental value of sites due to the goods and services provided by private enterprise and the associations and governments. These rentals would go directly to the providers. The second category was “natural rent,” and that would be paid to the parliament, which would distribute it to all citizens in equal payments, implementing the fourth principle.
The king also asked Hermes about what to do about the national currency. The kingdom’s money unit was the chkiang, which had become terribly inflated. Dollars, euros, and yen also circulated in the underground economy. Upon the advice of Hermes, the king’s post office issued “eternal stamps” that would always be valid for first-class postage. The stamps had no denomination. They were sold for the current postage rate, 1,250,000,000 chkiangs to mail a letter. Many Chkiangukians bought the stamps as a hedge against inflation, since they would always have value for postage.
People then started to use the eternal stamps as money. Entrepreneurs sold small plastic holders for the stamps. The king then decreed a new currency, the Chkianguky Post, which was equal in value to one eternal stamp. The Chkianguky Post quickly replaced the old inflated chkiangs. Then, following the advice of professor Hermes, the king decreed that no more Posts would be issued, and henceforth, the private banks would issue money.
Many new banks were established. They issued private bank notes denominated in Posts and convertible into eternal stamps or the government’s Chkianguky Posts. If a bank issued more of its notes than the public wanted to accept, the notes would be returned for redemption, which prevented the inflation of the Posts. But people were suspicious of notes from little-known banks, so soon only the notes from a few well-known banks with good reputations circulated, and the other banks mostly used those notes as currency.
With sound money and no taxes on wages, profits, or sales, and no trade barriers, many new enterprises were started. Most Chkiangukians joined a neighborhood association, since those who did not join suffered from theft and assault. Landowners had to pay an assessment regardless of how they used their land, so they quickly put it to best productive use. Investment poured in from abroad, since without taxes the return on enterprise was higher, although foreigners did not buy land, since after paying assessments there would be little gain from just land.
Rather than going to purchase expensive land, loans went to pay for capital goods — buildings and machines — and for hiring and training labor. The schools were either private or provided by the neighborhood associations. With no taxes on labor and a share of the rent, folks found that they could afford education, medical services, housing, and food.
When Eleutheria Hermes departed, they Chkiangukians held a big festival for him. Hermes then returned to his home in Nirvanaville in the province of Mercury in the land officially known as Hydrargyrum (HG for short). But the Chkiangukians learned that, strangely, the world did not welcome their swift recovery. The chiefs of the United States, European Union, Japan,Russia, China, and India issued a joint statement deploring the public finance and banking privacy of Chkianguk. The exclaimed that it was an unfair tax haven, in violation of international attempts at tax equalization. “We will not tolerate unfair tax competition!” declared joint statement.
Chkianguk was expelled from the United Nations and the World Trade Organization. After the king died, there were calls to change the constitution and be like the other countries, but there was a problem, because the people had adopted the four principles, which could not be changed. But they found that despite the disapproval from the governments of other countries, private enterprise continued to flourish, invest and trade, and they were much better off not being restricted by the global tax cartel.
The Chkiangukians are puzzled as to why other countries have not followed their fine example. It’s not the first time such a model has been ignored. Few know of the success of the German colony of Tsingtao [Qingdao] [1898-1914.]
Here was a place that demonstrated in practice that public revenue only from land rent would stimulate rapid growth, yet the chiefs of other countries ignore it and deplore it. It is a puzzle of the ages. If you can explain it, I’d like to know the answer.
Copyright 2005 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.What are your views? Share your opinion with The Progress Report!
Will the “Polluter Pays Principle” become law in Europe? The EU is receiving public comments on this exciting plan until July 1. Here are a few excerpts from a recent Reuters report on the subject.
The European Commission has endorsed plans to force firms and individuals who pollute the environment to be legally liable for the cost of the damage they have caused.
“We have now laid the foundations for an environmental liability regime for Europe. Polluters will effectively be held responsible for environmental damage they cause,” EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said in a statement.
The plan is aimed at reducing the frequency of environmental accidents such as the recent oil spill in France, the Commission said. However, environmental groups were disappointed the document was not more ambitious, blasting it as “completely toothless and vague”.
Although individual EU countries have liability regimes which cover damage to people and goods and contaminated sites, the issue of damage to nature has been avoided, the Commission said.
The proposals are designed to sweep away the notion that society as a whole must bear the cost of man-made environmental disasters and would force polluters to pay “for the effective restoration of the damage”.
Public interest groups would be legally authorised “to step into the shoes” of public authorities which refused to enforce the directive. It would not be retroactive.
Ever wonder WHY the Polluter Pays Principle sounds so good?
In their first statement in 19 years focusing exclusively on opposing the death penalty, the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops have issued a call to “all people of good will, and especially Catholics,” to work to end capital punishment.
The statement reflects a growing concern about capital punishment among the bishops, as well as the continuing impact of Pope John Paul II’s denunciation of the death penalty during his pastoral visit to St. Louis in January.
Roger Cardinal Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, said in a telephone interview that the Pope’s words helped prompt the statement, written by the bishops’ 55-member Administrative Board, which represents the National Conference of Catholic Bishops between the group’s twice-yearly meetings.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is expose the myth that we as a society gain something through the death penalty,” said the Cardinal, who is chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Policy.
Polls suggest a majority of Americans, and a majority of Catholics among them, support the death penalty. But twice in the last 14 months, calls by prominent religious figures to spare a convict from execution have touched off wide debates over the uses of capital punishment.
In February 1998, the conservative so-called religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, along with others, unsuccessfully urged Texas officials to spare the life of Karla Faye Tucker, a murderer who had become a born-again Christian in prison. But more dramatic was Pope John Paul’s successful appeal to Gov. Mel Carnahan of Missouri to show mercy to Darrell J. Meese, a murderer who was to have been executed two weeks after the Pope’s visit.
On Jan. 28, the morning after the Pope spoke to the Governor at an interfaith service in St. Louis, Carnahan, a Democrat who had approved 26 previous executions, commuted Meese’s sentence to life without parole. The Governor said the decision meant no change in his support for capital punishment.
But the Pope’s actions inspired the bishops.
In March, as Massachusetts legislators considered a bill to allow capital punishment, Bernard Cardinal Law, the Archbishop of Boston, and the bishops of the state’s three other dioceses issued a toughly worded response that although murder must be punished, the death penalty “must be rejected as unworthy of us as a civilized people.”
As a national body, the bishops have opposed the death penalty for three decades. In 1980 they said that while it would be “morally unsatisfactory and socially destructive” for criminals not to be punished, the death penalty was unjustified.
In yesterday’s statement, the bishops said they were concerned about the size of the nation’s death row population and the increasing pace of executions as condemned prisoners exhaust their appeals.
“Throughout the states, more than 3,500 prisoners await their deaths,” the bishops wrote. “These numbers are deeply troubling. The pace of executions is numbing. The discovery of people on death row who are innocent is frightening.” The bishops said they also hoped to convince people that capital punishment “is often applied unfairly and in racially biased ways.”
Cardinal Mahony said the bishops’ statement represented a long-term recognition in Catholic moral theology that society’s ability to protect itself from crime had become so effective that capital punishment was unnecessary.
That view, he said, was made clear in Pope John Paul’s encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” in 1995, in which the Pontiff said cases in which a government would need to apply the death penalty were “practically nonexistent.” In St. Louis, the Pope preached that modern society “has the means of protecting itself” without denying prison inmates a chance to reform.
Speaking of the bishops, Cardinal Mahony said, “As disciples of Christ and the Gospel, we have always said we have never overcome violence by inflicting violence,” adding, “If you want any example, just look at Kosovo.”
The Cardinal said the bishops remained concerned about the victims of crime. The statement urged Catholics to support the families of crime victims “as they struggle to overcome their terrible loss and find some sense of peace.”
The bishops’ statement drew praise from Jim Wallis, an evangelical Protestant who is a central figure in Call to Renewal, an antipoverty movement among urban evangelicals and Catholics.
Wallis, editor in chief of the religious magazine Sojourners, said the statement would have an impact among moderate evangelicals, some of whom, he added, have been re-thinking the death penalty since Ms. Tucker’s execution.
How does religion influence your views on killing? Tell The Progress Report!
Despite our fondness for individual freedom, increasing numbers of us are being frustrated and thwarted from lack of security in the necessities that are basic to sustain life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In the USA, one out of four children under age six is now being reared in poverty. For some time now it has taken two full-time workers to sustain the modest middle class standard of living that could be procured by just one full-time worker twenty years earlier. The failure of wages to keep up makes the cost of housing and other necessities a greater burden each year.
Gains in automation and production, advances in education and training, all have been nullified by the steadily increasing cost of what what no one has ever manufactured — land and natural resources. Our treatment of the earth as a manufactured market commodity, just like a car or television, is the basic flaw in our economic ground rules. Treating the earth as simply a capital line item is the root cause of the ever-widening gap between those who have so much and those who have so little.
The earth itself is the bottom line. The land is the source of all life and wealth. To survive, we must have somehwere to stand and to rest. But this absolute necessity for our very existence is nowhere guaranteed in our constitutional laws. Our Bill of Rights did not proclaim the human right to the earth. The failure to found democracy on the fundamental human right to the earth is the crack in the Liberty Bell.
One of the greatest wastes of natural and social resources is that of poorly utilized urban land sites upon which sit boarded-up buildings, while inner city homelessness increases everywhere. In Philadelphia today there are an estimated 27,000 abandoned properties — and at least 24.000 homeless people. What is preventing people from access to these land sites?
Of the 127 million people working in the United States, 38 million work part time, and 35 million have full-time work that doesn’t pay enough to support a family. Then there are the actual unemployed, who number 7.4 million as well as another 7 million who are discouraged, forcibly retired or working as temps. Nineteen million people work in retail and earn less than $10.000 per year, usually without any health or retirement benefits. For the majority of workers, real wages are no higher today than they were in 1973.
The United States has now surpassed the former Soviet Union in the proportion of its population in prison. Over 5 million men are incarcerated, waiting for trial, on probation, or on parole. We have become so inured to criminality that rural counties call prison construction “economic development.” Between 1990-94 the prison industry grew at an annual rate of 34%.
Ah of these problems — homelessness, unemployment, boarded-up buildings, deteriorating neighborhoods, increased incarceration — are outcomes of the most fundamental flaw in democratic institutions. The human right to the earth has been denied.
The fundamental human right which we now need to affirm is this:
THE EARTH IS THE BIRTHRIGHT OF ALL PEOPLE. There are two practical ways that we can democratize land rights. One is fundamental tax reform. Shifting taxes off of labor would increase purchasing capacity; eliminating taxes on buildings would encourage construction and maintenance. What to tax instead? Slgnificantly increasing the tax rate on land value discourages land speculation and gives a strong stimulus for land sites to be put to good use for housing and other productive needs. Natural resource taxes function as user fees and ensure fair and efficient use of God’s gift to all.
Thomas Paine urged this approach to tax policy when he said: “Men did not make the earth … It is the value of the improvement only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property … Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds.”
Pennsylvania has been pioneering this reform and currently more than l8 cities, boroughs and school districts have shifted their tax base in this direction. Mayor Stephen Reed of Harrisburg has stated that “a land value taxation system … is an important incentive for the highest and best use of land.” Over 90 percent of the property owners in the City of Harrisburg pay less with this approach to local taxation. In 1982 there were more than 4200 vacant structures in this city of 53,000 residents. Today there are fewer than 500 vacant structures! Between 1982 and 1993 there were more than 4,700 local jobs created. Harrisburg, formerly the second most distressed city in the United States, now is one of the highest quality of life cities on a number of economic indicators, and has won numerous awards recognizing this.
Clearly, this simple tax reform would also work wonders in the City of Philadelphia. It should be fully implemented as soon as possible.
The second way to secure democratic rights to the earth is this: Land could be made available to individuals and groups who wish to live in ecologically sustainable villages and farms. Community land trusts can hold title to such lands while the buildings and other improvements can be privately owned. With land access, involuntary unemployment would be ended since the right to use land is the essential prerequisite to the right to work. Money available through non-profit grants and government transfer payments can be used as revolving funds for micro-loans for the purchase of building materials for the new ecovillages.
If you are in agreement with one or both of these proposals, please tell people and help make it happen. You can link up with the Earth Rights movement by contacting:
Earth Rights Institute, P.O. Box 328, Scotland, PA 17251. Phone: 717-264-0957 Email: email@example.com Henry Geoge School, 413 South 10th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147. Phone: 215-922-4278 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Pennsylvania Fair Tax Coalition, 631 Melwood Ave., Pittsbugh, PA 15213. Phone: 412-621-3499 Email: email@example.com School of Living. 432 Leaman Rd., Cochranville, PA 19330. Phone: 610-593-6988
The following sources were useful in preparing this article: David Zucchino, Myth of the Welfare Queen. New York, Scribner, 1997, pp. 207-8. “Social Waste” by Paul Hawken in Mother Jones, March/April 1997, p. 46. “The profit of the earth is for all.” Ecclesiastes 5:9
The land, the earth God gave to man for his home, sustenance, and support should never be the possession of any man, corporation, society, or unfriendly government any more than the air or water, if as much. An individual, company, or enterprise should hold no more than is required for their home and sustenance. All that is not used should be held for the free use of every family to make homesteads, and to hold them as long as they are so occupied.” - Abraham Lincoln
“We need to revise our economic thinking to give full value to our natural resources. Reducing income taxes while increasing resource prices will stimulate employment and environmental restoration.” - Paul Hawken, ‘Natural Capitalism.’ Mother Jones magazine, March/Aprll 1997.
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Opposing Private Enterprise — World Bank Throwing Thousands Out of Honest Jobs
Dhaka’s Rickshaws Under Threat: Part of the World Bank’s War on the Poor
Is the World Bank completely stupid? Let’s see.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” — Nope, the World Bank never heard of that idea.
“Private enterprise is good.” — Nope, not that one either.
“Do not create more pollution needlessly.” — Nope, missed that one too.
This rather angry report comes from the World Carfree Network.
In Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, most journeys are made on foot, and bicycle rickshaws are the main form of vehicular transport. Rickshaws are an efficient, non-polluting way to move around, and for many people without other job skills, pedalling a rickshaw is the only option other than begging or crime. It is estimated that five million people in Bangladesh are dependent on the income of rickshaw pullers for their survival.
While rickshaws, or bicycle taxis, have been introduced successfully in Western cities such as New York and Berlin, the World Bank has shown nothing but hostility towards rickshaws in Dhaka. Although rickshaws are currently the dominant mode of vehicular transport in Dhaka, the World Bank would rather forcibly impose reliance on automobiles, withough regard for the specific situation in Bangladesh. The World Bank is trying to create an artificial increase in mass motorization, fossil fuel dependence, traffic jams, dirty air, and accelerated climate change.
Under pressure from the World Bank, the City of Dhaka government announced that starting December 17,2004, it plans to ban rickshaws and non-motorized transport from an important road in Dhaka – Mirpur Road from Russell Square to Azimpur. This is part of the World Bank-funded Dhaka Urban Transport Project, which has run since 1999 and is now coming to a close. But this initial ban is just one part of a much larger World Bank plan that would eliminate rickshaws from all eight major roads (120 km) in this city of ten million people.
Pushing rickshaws off the main roads would allow motor vehicles to become the dominant mode of vehicular transport in the city. At the same time, the World Bank is pressuring the Bangladeshi government to pass a law absolving it in advance from all legal liability for any harm that results from its policies.
Private Enterprise versus Government Interference
Increasing artificial limitations on rickshaws in Dhaka are causing untold hardship to the poorest and most vulnerable segments of society, reducing the mobility of the middle class (particularly women, children, and the elderly), and contributing to air pollution and dependency. Meanwhile, those roads that have already completely banned non-motorised transport are still badly affected by traffic jams, which rickshaws had falsely been charged with causing.
World Carfree Network, concerned organisations in Bangladesh and around the world, and Dhaka’s many rickshaw unions are all working to save the rickshaws. If the most vulnerable members of the population are to lose their employment and go hungry, it will not happen without opposition — but banning rickshaws and building highways while people face starvation is nothing short of a war on the poor. Shame on the World Bank and its funders.
a way to redirect all the money we spend on the nature we use – trillions of dollars annually. We can’t pay the Creator of sites and resources and are mistaken to pay their owners this biggest stream in our economy. Instead, as owners we should pay our neighbors for respecting our claims to land. Owners could pay in land dues to the public treasury, a la Sydney Australia’s land tax, and residents could get back a “rent” dividend, a la Alaska’s oil dividend. We’d pay for owning sites, resources, EM spectrum, or emitting pollutants into the ecosphere, then get a fair share of the recovered revenue. The economy would finally have a thermostat, the dividend. When it’s small, people would work more; when it’s big, they’d work less. Sharing Earth’s worth, we could jettison counterproductive taxes and addictive subsidies. Prices would become precise; things like sprawl, sprayed food, gasoline engines, coal-burning plants would no longer seem cheap; things like compact towns, organic foods, fuel cells, and solar powers would become affordable. Getting shares, people could spend their expanded leisure socializing, making art, enjoying nature, or just chilling. Economies let us produce wealth efficiently; geonomics lets us share it fairly.
an answer for Jonathan of the Green Party (Nov 7): “What does ‘share our surplus’ mean?”
Our surplus is the values that society generates synergistically. It’s the money we spend on the nature we use: on land sites, natural resources, EM spectrum, ecosystem services (assimilating pollutants). It’s also the money we pay to holders of government-granted privileges like corporate charters. We could share it by paying for the nature we use and privileges we hold to the public treasury then getting back a fair share of the recovered revenue. Used to be, owners did owe rent (“own” and “owe” used to be one word). And presently, some lucky residents do get back periodic dividends: Alaska’s oil dividend and Aspen Colorado’s housing assistance. Doing that, instead of subsidizing bads while taxing goods, is the essence of geonomics.
Jonathan: “Is local currency what you mean?”
Editor: It’s not. Community currency is a good reform, but every good reform pushes up site values. That makes land an even more tempting object of speculation. Now, any good will eventually do bad by widening the income gap – until you share land values.
an economic policy based on the earth’s natural patterns. Eco-systems self-regulate by using feedback loops to keep balance. Can economies do likewise? Why don’t they now produce efficiently and distribute fairly? The answers lie in the money we spend on the earth we use. To attain people/planet harmony, that financial flow from sites and resources must visit each of us. Our agent, government, must collect this natural rent via fees and disburse the collected revenue via dividends. And, it must forgo taxes on homes and earnings, and quit subsidies of either the needy or the greedy. As our steward, government must also collect Ecology Security Deposits, require Restoration Insurance, and auction off the occasional Emissions Permit. And that’s about it – were nature our model.
a way to connect the dots. Making the cyber rounds is “The Cavernous Divide” by Scott Klinger, from AlterNet (posted March 21): “As the number of billionaires in the world expands, so does the number of those in poverty.” Duh. The yawning income gap is not news. Nearly every issue of our quarterly digest carries a similar quote. Yet the connection was worked out long ago by one of America’s greatest thinkers, Henry George, who labeled his masterpiece, Progress and Poverty. Techno- and socio-advances always enrich few and impoverish many. Yet progress also pushes up location values – the geonomic insight (is Silicon Valley cheaper now or more expensive?). Instead of taxing income, sales, or buildings, society could collect those values of sites, resources, EM spectrum, and ecosystem services via fees and dues, which would lower the income ceiling, and instead of lavishing corporate welfare, pay out the recovered revenue via dividends, which would jack up the income floor. Dots connected.
of interest to Dave Lakhani, President Bold Approach (Mar 8) and Matt Ozga (Jan 29): “I write for the Washington Square News, the student run newspaper out of New York University. Geonomics seems like it has great significance, especially in this area. When was geonomics developed, and by whom?”
About 1982 I began. Two years later, Chilean Dr Manfred Max-Neef offered the term geonomics for Earth-friendly economics. In the mid-80s, a millionaire founded a Geonomics Institute on Middlebury College campus in Vermont re global trade. In the 1990s, CNBC cablecast a show, Geonomics, on world trade as it benefits world traders. My version of geonomics draws heavily from the American Henry George who wrote Progress & Poverty (1879) and won the mayoralty of New York but was denied his victory by Tammany Hall (1886). He in turn got lots from Brits David Ricardo, Adam Smith, and the French physiocrats of the 1700s. My version differs by focusing not on taxation but on the flow of rents for sites, resources, sinks, and government-granted privileges. Forgoing these trillions, we instead tax and subsidize, making waste cheap and sustainability expensive. To quit distorting price, replace taxes with “land dues” and replace subsidies with a Citizens Dividend.
Matt: “This idea of sharing rents sounds, if not explicitly socialist, at least at odds with some capitalist values (only the strong survive & prosper, etc). Is it fair to say that geonomics has some basis in socialist theory?”
A closer descriptor would be Christian. Beyond ethics into praxis, Alaska shares oil rent with residents, and they’re more libertarian than socialist. While individuals provide labor and capital, no one provides land while society generates its value. Rent is not private property but public property. Sharing Rent is predistribution, sharing it before an elite or state has a chance to get and misspend it, like a public REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) paying dividends to its stakeholders – a perfectly capitalist model. What we should leave untaxed are our sales, salaries, and structures, things we do produce.
a neologism for sharing “rent” or “social surplus” – the money we spend on the nature we use. When we buy land, such as the land beneath a home, we typically pay the wrong person – the homeowner. Instead, since land cost us nothing to make and is the common heritage of us all, rather than pay the owner, we should pay ourselves, our neighbors, our community. That is, we should all pay land dues to the public treasury, then our government would pay us land dividends from this collected revenue. It’s similar to the Alaska oil dividend, almost $2,000 last year. Indeed, the annual rental value of land, oil, all other natural resources, including the broadcast spectrum and other government-granted permits such as corporate charters, totals several trillion dollars each year. It’s so much that some could be spent on basic social services, the rest parceled out as a dividend, as Tom Paine suggested, and taxes (except any on natural rents) could be abolished, as Thomas Jefferson suggested. Were we sharing Earth by sharing her worth, territorial disputes would be fewer, less intense, and more resolvable.
close to the policy of the Garden Cities in England. Founded by Ebenezer Howard over a century ago, residents own the land in common and run the town as a business. Letchworth, the oldest of the model towns, serves residents grandly from bucketfuls of collected land rent (as does the Canadian Province of Alberta from oil royalty). A geonomic town would pay the rent to residents, letting them freely choose personalized services, and also ax taxes. Both geonomics and Howard were inspired by American proto-geonomist Henry George. The movement launched by Howard today in the UK advances the shift of taxes from buildings to locations. A recent report from the Town and Country Planning Association proposes this Property Tax Shift and their journal published research in the potential of land value taxation by Tony Vickers (Vol. 69, Part 5, 2000). (Thanks to James Robertson)
a new field of study offered in place of economics, as astronomy replaced astrology and chemistry replaced alchemy. Conventional economics, in which GNP can do well while people suffer, is a bit too superstitious for my renaissance upbringing. If I’m to propitiate unseen forces, it won’t be inflation or “the market”; let it be theEgyptian cat goddess. At least then we’d have fewer rats. Meanwhile, believing in reason leads to a new policy, also christened geonomics. That’s the proposal to share (a kind of management, the “nomics” part) the worth of Mother Earth (the “geo” part). If our economies are to work right, people need to see prices that tell the truth. Now taxes and subsidies distort prices, tricking people into squandering the planet. Using land dues and rent dividends instead lets prices be precise, guiding people to get more from less and thereby shrink their workweek. More free time ought to make us happy enough to evolve beyond economics, except when nostalgic for superstition.
a scientific look at how we divvy up the work and the wealth, how some of us end up with too much or too little effort or reward. That’s partly due to Ricardo’s Law of Rent, showing how wasteful use of Earth cuts wages. And it’s partly due to how a society’s elite runs government around like water boys, dishing out subsidies and tax breaks. While geonomists look political reality right in the eye, without blinking, conventional economists flinch. When Paul Volcker, ex-chief of the Federal Reserve, moved on to a cushy professorship at Princeton cum book contract, the crush of deadlines bore down. So Volcker asked a junior associate to help with the book. The guy refused, explaining that giving serious consideration to policy would ruin his academic career. The ex-Fed chief couldn’t believe it and asked the department chair if truly that were the case. That head honcho pondered the question then replied no, not if he only does it once. And economics was AKA political economy!
the study of the money we spend on the nature we use. When we pay that money to private owners, we reward both speculation and over-extraction. Robert Kiyosaki’s bestseller, Rich Dad’s Prophecy, says, “One of the reasons McDonald’s is such a rich company is not because it sells a lot of burgers but because it owns the land at some of the best intersections in the world. The main reason Kim and I invest in such properties is to own the land at the corner of the intersection. (p 200) My real estate advisor states that the rich either made their money in real estate or hold their money in real estate.” (p 141, via Greg Young) When government recovers the rents for natural advantages for everyone, it can save citizens millions. Ben Sevack, Montreal steel manufacturer, tells us (August 12) that Alberta, by leasing oil & gas fields, recovers enough revenue to be the only province in Canada to get by without a sales tax and to levy a flat provincial income tax. While running for re-election, provincial Premier Ralph Klein proposes to abolish their income tax and promises to eliminate medical insurance premiums and use resource revenue to pay for all medical expense for seniors. After all this planned tax-cutting and greater expense, they still expect a large budget surplus. Even places without oil and gas have high site values in their downtowns, and high values in their utility franchises. Recover the values of locations and privileges, displace the harmful taxes on sales, salaries, and structures, then use the revenue to fund basic government and pay residents a dividend, and you have geonomics in action.
Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much higher consideration.
To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself.
You can observe a lot by just watching.
I would no more teach children military training than teach them arson, robbery, or assassination.
Eugene V. Debs
Fortune favors the audacious.
When a man wants to murder a tiger he calls it sport; when a tiger wants to murder him he calls it ferocity.
George Bernard Shaw
I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.