Rachel's Democracy & Health News #877
"Environment, health, jobs and justice--Who gets to decide?"
Thursday, October 19, 2006..............Printer-friendly version
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^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Featured stories in this issue... Incinerators Are Making a Comeback (or Trying) Garbage incinerators are trying to make a comeback, claiming that garbage is a renewable resource, and that energy from garbage will free us from entanglements in the Middle East. None of it is true. Forces Join Behind Waste-based Energy The garbage industry has begun a major campaign to re-define garbage as a renewable resource. If garbage were a renewable resource and a renewable source of energy, then making more garbage and more incinerators would become your patriotic duty. Bogus. Corporate Campaign To Destroy the Internet When the internet first blossomed, I said to myself, "If I were a person committed to corporate power as a political philosophy, I would make it my first priority to get rid of the internet." And now that's exactly what's happening. --Peter Montague The Middle Class Needs To Fight Back Now "Political, business and academic elites are waging an outright war on working men and women and their families, and there is no chance the American middle class will survive this assault if the dominant forces unleashed over the past five years continue unchecked." We Can Save the World! The critical period for a fundamental social shift in is now compressed into a single lifetime. Without significant and widespread changes, our global system could collapse into chaos. But a wave of new thinking and the action it inspires offer us hope for a global breakthrough that would create a better world for ourselves and our children. Why Aren't We Shocked? We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that violence against females is more or less to be expected. :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #877, Oct. 19, 2006 [Printer-friendly version] INCINERATORS ARE MAKING A COMEBACK (OR TRYING) By Peter Montague Cheap waste disposal prevents us from making progress against pollution. So long as waste disposal remains cheap, corporations and governments have little incentive to recycle, re-use, compost, or avoid making waste in the first place. If disposal is cheap, there is no compelling reason to invest in green chemistry, clean production, alternative energy, green building, or cradle-to-cradle manufacturing. Cheap disposal = landfills and incinerators. Let's talk incinerators. Garbage incinerators are making a big comeback in the U.S. -- or trying to. The City of Los Angeles, California is thinking about building seven of them. There may be as many as 40 (or more) proposed incinerators of one kind or another in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the lower 48. All of them promise to take mixed municipal waste and heat it up to reduce the volume of garbage and extract small amounts of useful energy in the process. Heating mixed waste (garbage) creates toxic air emissions and the toxicant-containing residual -- whether ash or a rock-like "clinker" -- will be buried in the ground where it remains available forever, threatening groundwater. These new incinerators are never called "incinerators" -- they go by names like pyrolysis or gasification plants, or plasma arc melters, or simply "conversion" machines. But they all propose to heat mixed waste, extract some energy, and bury the leftovers in the ground. Rarely does anyone ask, "How much energy will it take to start from scratch and re-create all the goods destroyed by the incinerator?" No one asks because the answer reveals that incinerators are huge energy- wasters, not energy-savers. As Monica Wilson of GAIA says (quoting Paul Connett), "Even if you could make an incinerator safe, you couldn't make one sensible." Two things seem to be driving the incinerator resurgence: (a) the recent glimmer of recognition in Washington that dependence on oil is a bad for the planet and especially bad for the U.S.; and (b) a federal law that requires electric utilities to buy any electricity produced by incinerators. For political reasons, incinerators have always been attractive to some local officials. Take the proposal being pushed right now in St. Petersburg, Florida, where Cecil D. Davis IV is running for City Council. Mr. Davis is proposing to move 500 mostly-black families out of their homes in south Brooksville to replace them with an incinerator, which he promises will be built in record time if he gets elected. The up-front costs to taxpayers will be $500 million. Local governments rarely get a chance to play around with a huge sum like $500 million of other people's money. All the political insiders get to scoop off their own little slice of this huge pie -- lawyers, bankers, engineers, environmental consultants, construction firms, labor leaders, regulatory experts, realtors, lobbyists, and all manner of other hangers-on will get a change to snag their own tenth-of-a- percent and make a bundle. (A tenth of a percent of $500 million is $500 thousand.) Furthermore, all the money will be sloshing around during the short planning and construction phase. After the machine is built, and the profits have been taken, the builders and their friends can retire into the woodwork and disappear, leaving the taxpayers and future City Councils to deal with mounting problems for the next 30 years or more. And the problems are substantial. We searched a national database of newspapers for incinerator stories that were published during the first three weeks of October, 2006, and here are some of the problems being reported: ** In Akron, Ohio a company called Akron Thermal owes the city $5 million in unpaid sewer and water bills, $845,000 in unpaid rent, and $80,000 in unpaid franchise fees. Akron Thermal also owes the state of Ohio $3.2 million in unpaid excise taxes, and it owes Summit County about $300,000 in unpaid public utility personal property tax. Akron Thermal no longer burns garbage because the plant suffered a serious explosion in 1984, killing 3 workers, when a New Jersey firm sent some illegal garbage to the plant. A decade a later, a scam to avoid paying plant fees resulted in the arrest of a dozen waste haulers and plant employees, costing the city $500,000. Now the plant burns wood chips and low-sulphur coal because local businesses are dependent on the steam from the plant for heat. ** In Passaic County, New Jersey a waste hauler is suing the local utility authority for $3.5 million it says the county owes. The County says the finances of its incinerator are so shakey it can't afford to pay its debts. This situation developed after the U.S. Supreme Court declared that New Jersey waste producers could ship their wastes out of county (indeed, out of state) instead of sending them to the expensive Passaic incinerator. This legal decision in 1997 threw the incinerator's business plan into a cocked hat. Anyone thinking about building an incinerator today should think twice -- changing laws and regulations can cause bankruptcy overnight. ** Biddeford, Maine has spent over two years negotiating with the Maine Energy Recovery Company, trying to settle lawsuits, disputes over tax abatements, and disagreements over the assessed value of the incinerator. Residents of Biddeford have complained about odors from the plant since it opened in 1987. Reportedly the new agreement between Biddeford and the incinerator operator imposes financial penalties on the city if it ever sues the incinerator operator, and opens the incinerator to a new class of waste -- construction and demolition debris. In other locales, construction and demolition debris is being recycled and re-used, not destroyed by incineration. Suits between incinerator companies and governments are common, so Biddeford may be getting itself into a weak position by agreeing to pay penalties if it ever has to sue. ** In Georgia, politics has raised its venal head in the state legislature, where the waste industry is lobbying to gut the state's sunshine laws. A Republican proposal would cloak local economic development decisions -- including the decision to build incinerators -- in secrecy until after the deal is done. Specifically, the proposed law "would allow unelected boards to provide incentives for to provide incentives for companies to build incinerators, waste disposal sites or other job-creating businesses without having to disclose them publicly until after the deal had been negotiated," according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. ** In Peekskill, New York the city tried to charge waste haulers a special fee for damage and pollution caused by 3000 trucks per year delivering garbage to the RESCO incinerator. The city claimed that the incinerator degraded city streets and dripped noxious pollution into the community from leaky, overfilled trucks. A judge struck down the Peekskill law as unconstitutional. ** The contribution of now-defunct incinerators to soil and water contamination is the subject of specific, multi-million dollar investigations in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Florida, California, and Ohio. And remember, this is just a review of news stories during a one-month period, October, 2006 (and the month isn't over yet). ** Federal oversight of incinerators is reportedly less than thorough -- even in the case of the most dangerous machines, those that burn hazardous wastes. After the Sierra Club and the American Bottom Conservancy sued to force EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] to enforce the law, U.S. EPA demanded that the Onyx Incinerator in Sauget, Illinois apply for a permit to operate. Onyx operated for years without a permit. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the incinerator had been fined repeatedly by state authorities for uncontrolled releases, accidents, and fires. ** In Texas, the incinerator industry has lobbied for the past three legislative sessions to try to get municipal garbage defined as a "renewable energy source." So far the effort has failed, but it is crystal clear that this redefinition is a main strategy of the garbage industry. Think about that. If garbage were defined as a "renewable energy resource," garbage incinerators would naturally become an official part of the nation's renewable energy strategy. This will be good for incinerator companies but bad for everyone else. Burning garbage wastes huge amounts of energy because everything destroyed in an incinerator must be re-created from scratch starting with the mining and logging of virgin materials, transportation, processing, more transportation, and manufacture -- all accompanied by massive pollution and waste. There can only be an endless supply of garbage if the U.S. maintains its wasteful lifestyle. When we get around to adopting a precautionary waste philosophy (zero waste), garbage will diminish dramatically. Incinerator companies that need garbage to feed their machines will oppose sensible solid waste policies by hook and by crook. We must therefore once again mount a serious campaign against them and their wasteful machines. ============== Our thanks to Monica Wilson and Annie Leonard of GAIA for recent informative interviews about the resurgence of incineration in the U.S. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Waste News, Oct. 9, 2006 [Printer-friendly version] FORCES JOIN BEHIND WASTE-BASED ENERGY By Joe Truini It's the birth of a new partnership, and a new term, to boot. Several waste industry groups, along with a professional and a governmental organization, have formed a loose coalition to promote recovering energy from waste, what they call waste-based energy. The coalition wants to educate lawmakers and the public that waste provides a vast amount of resources to generate energy and that there is a distinction among the various technologies, said Ted Michaels, president of the Integrated Waste Services Association, which represents the waste-to-energy industry. "To avoid some confusion, we wanted to make it clear that there was a whole universe of waste-based energy," he said. "Federal and state policy makers ought to look at developing a full range of incentives to encourage waste-based energy projects." Such projects not only include burning waste to create electricity, or waste-to-energy, but other means of converting waste to energy, such as capturing landfill gas. "The energy capacity available from solid waste is largely untapped," said John Skinner, executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America. Joining SWANA and the ISWA in the partnership are the National Solid Wastes Management Association, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. But the coalition's efforts simply distract from real waste management and energy-saving solutions such as waste prevention, reduction and recycling, said Monica Wilson of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. And pushing waste-to-energy and landfill gas projects under the umbrella of renewable energy takes away from other sources such wind and solar power, Wilson said. "It just sounds like an attempt to take advantage of America's growing concern over energy costs," she said. "I'd say these folks are trying to move us in the wrong direction." But waste-based energy not only provides reliable and affordable energy, it also can lessen the cost of waste management services for cities, said Tom Cochran, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The coalition has not developed an action plan but will work with Congress, federal agencies, state governments and private companies to promote waste-based energy. Its goal is to increase incentives and investment in the industry. "We are certainly interested in keeping our eyes open on the Hill for opportunities," Michaels said. "It's a matter of educating folks and letting them know that there is an awful lot of energy that can be tapped in the waste stream." The nation's 89 waste-to-energy plants have total power generation capacity of nearly 2,700 megawatts, about 20 percent of all renewable energy. Contact Waste News reporter Joe Truini at (330) 865-6166 or email@example.com Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: TomPaine.com, Oct. 16, 2006 [Printer-friendly version] AGAINST AN IMPERIAL INTERNET By Bill Moyers and Scott Fogdall Bill Moyers is host of "The Net At Risk," a documentary special airing Wednesday, October 18 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). Scott Fogdall is with Films Media Group. Visit www.pbs.org/moyers. It was said that all roads led to Rome. However exaggerated, the image is imprinted in our imagination, reminding us of the relentless ingenuity of the ancient Romans and their will to control an empire. For centuries Roman highways linked far-flung provinces with a centralized web of power. The might of the imperial legions was for naught without the means to transport them. The flow of trade -- the bloodstream of the empire's wealth -- also depended on the integrity of the roadways. And because Roman citizens could pass everywhere, more or less unfettered on their travels, ideas and cultural elements circulated with the same fluidity as commerce. Like the Romans, we Americans have used our technology to build a sprawling infrastructure of ports, railroads and interstates which serves the strength of our economy and the mobility of our society. Yet as significant as these have been, they pale beside the potential of the Internet. Almost overnight, it has made sending and receiving information easier than ever. It has opened a vast new marketplace of ideas, and it is transforming commerce and culture. It may also revitalize democracy. "Wait a minute!" you say. "You can't compare the Internet to the Roman empire. There's no electronic Caesar, no center, controlling how the World Wide Web is used." Right you are -- so far. The Internet is revolutionary because it is the most democratic of media. All you need to join the revolution is a computer and a connection. We don't just watch; we participate, collaborate and create. Unlike television, radio and cable, whose hirelings create content aimed at us for their own reasons, with the Internet every citizen is potentially a producer. The conversation of democracy belongs to us. That wide-open access is the founding principle of the Internet, but it may be slipping through our fingers. How ironic if it should pass irretrievably into history here, at the very dawn of the Internet Age. The Internet has become the foremost testing ground where the forces of innovation, corporate power, the public interest and government regulation converge. Already, the notion of a level playing field -- what's called network neutrality -- is under siege by powerful forces trying to tilt the field to their advantage. The Bush majority on the FCC has bowed to the interests of the big cable and telephone companies to strip away, or undo, the Internet's basic DNA of openness and non-discrimination. When some members of Congress set out to restore network neutrality, they were thwarted by the industry's high spending lobbyists. This happened according to the standard practices of a rented Congress -- with little public awareness and scarce attention from the press. There had been a similar blackout 10 years ago, when, in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress carved up our media landscape. They drove a dagger in the heart of radio, triggered a wave of consolidation that let the big media companies get bigger, and gave away to rich corporations -- for free -- public airwaves worth billions. This time, they couldn't keep secret what they were doing. Word got around that without public participation these changes could lead to unsettling phenomenon -- the rise of digital empires that limit, or even destroy, the capabilities of small Internet users. Organizations across the political spectrum -- from the Christian Coalition to MoveOn.org -- rallied in protest, flooding Congress with more than a million letters and petitions to restore network neutrality. Enough politicians have responded to keep the outcome in play. At the core this is a struggle about the role and dimensions of human freedom and free speech. But it is also a contemporary clash of a centuries-old debate over free-market economics and governmental regulation, one that finds Adam Smith invoked both by advocates for government action to protect the average online wayfarer and by opponents of any regulation at all. In The Wealth of Nations, Smith argued that only the unfettered dealings of merchants and customers could ensure economic prosperity. But he also warned against the formation of monopolies -- mighty behemoths that face little or no competition. Our history brims with his legacy. Consider the explosion of industry and the reign of the robber barons during the first Gilded Age in the last decades of the 19th century. Settlements and cities began to fill the continent, spirited by a crucial technological advance: the railroad. As railroad companies sprang up, they merged into monopolies. Merchants and farmers were often charged outlandish freight prices -- until the 1870s, when the Granger Laws and other forms of public regulation provided some protection to customers. At about the same time, chemist Samuel Andrews -- inventor of a new method for refining oil into kerosene -- partnered with John D. Rockefeller to create the Standard Oil Company. By century's end Standard Oil had forged a monopoly, controlling a network of pipelines and railways that spanned the country. Competition became practically impossible as the mammoth company manipulated prices and crushed rival after hapless rival. Only with the passage of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1890 did the public have hope of recourse against the overwhelming might of concentrated economic and political power. But, less than a century later a relative handful of large companies would assemble monopolies over broadcasting, newspapers, cable and even the operating system of computers, and their rule would go essentially unchallenged by the U.S. government. Now we have an Internet infrastructure that is rapidly evolving, in more ways than one. As often occurred on Rome's ancient highways, cyber-sojourners could soon find themselves paying up in order to travel freely. Our new digital monopolists want to use their new power to reverse the way the Internet now works for us: allowing those with the largest bankrolls to route their content on fast lanes, while placing others in a congested thoroughfare. If they succeed in taking a medium that has an essential democratic nature and monetizing every aspect of it, America will divide further between the rich and poor and between those who have access to knowledge and those who do not. The companies point out that there have been few Internet neutrality violations. Don't mess with something that's been working for everyone, they say; don't add safeguards when none have so far been needed. But the emerging generation, which will inherit the results of this Washington battle, gets it. Writing in The Yale Daily News, Dariush Nothaft, a college junior, after hearing with respect the industry's case, argues that: Nevertheless, the Internet's power as a social force counters these arguments....A non-neutral Internet would discourage competition, thereby costing consumers money and diminishing the benefits of lower subscription prices for Internet access. More importantly, people today pay for Internet access with the understanding that they are accessing a wide, level field of sites where only their preferences will guide them. Non-neutrality changes the very essence of the Internet, thereby making the product provided to users less valuable. So the Internet is reaching a crucial crossroads in its astonishing evolution. Will we shape it to enlarge democracy in the digital era? Will we assure that commerce is not its only contribution to the American experience? The monopolists tell us not to worry: They will take care of us, and see to it that the public interest is honored and democracy served by this most remarkable of technologies. They said the same thing about radio. And about television. And about cable. Will future historians speak of an Internet Golden Age that ended when the 21st century began? Copyright 2006 TomPaine.com Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: CNN.com, Oct. 18, 2006 [Printer-friendly version] MIDDLE CLASS NEEDS TO FIGHT BACK NOW By Lou Dobbs NEW YORK (CNN) -- I don't know about you, but I can't take seriously anyone who takes either the Republican Party or Democratic Party seriously -- in part because neither party takes you and me seriously; in part because both are bought and paid for by corporate America and special interests. And neither party gives a damn about the middle class. Our country's middle class is not just collateral damage in what has become all-out class warfare. Political, business and academic elites are waging an outright war on working men and women and their families, and there is no chance the American middle class will survive this assault if the dominant forces unleashed over the past five years continue unchecked. They've accomplished this through large campaign contributions, armies of lobbyists that have swamped Washington, and control of political and economic think tanks and media. Lobbyists, in fact, are the arms dealers in the war on the middle class, brokering money, influence and information between their clients our elected officials. Yet in my entire career, I've literally never heard anyone in Congress argue that lobbyists are bad for America. In 1968 there were only 63 lobbyists in Washington. Today, there are more than 34,000, and lobbyists now outnumber our elected representatives and their staffs by a 2-to-1 margin. According to the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity, from 1998 through 2004, lobbyists spent nearly $12 billion to not only influence legislation, but in many cases to write the language of the laws and regulations. Individual firms, corporations and national organizations spent a record $2.14 billion on lobbying members of Congress and 220 other federal agencies in 2004, according to PoliticalMoneyLine. That's nearly $6 million a day spent to influence our leaders. We really do have the best government money can buy. But as I discuss in my new book, "War on the Middle Class," what if we all resolved that we would not permit either the Republicans or Democrats to waste their time and ours with wedge issues? Both parties love to excite their bases by focusing on wedge issues like gay marriage, the pledge of allegiance, school prayer, judicial appointments, gun control, stem cell research and welfare reform. Each of these wedge issues is important in varying degrees to large numbers of us, but none of them rises to the level of urgency or the requirement of immediate change in public policy. These issues are raised by both political parties to distract and divert public attention from the profound issues -- like educating our youth, economic inequality and the war against radical Islamic terrorists -- that affect our daily lives and the American way of life. Imagine the consternation in Washington if both parties had to contend with a national electorate whose political affiliation had dramatically changed within a matter of weeks or months. In both Republican and Democratic administrations, Congress has passed and sustained billions of dollars in royalty payments and subsidies to big oil companies; pushed through a corporate-written, consumer- crippling bankruptcy law; embraced the death of the estate tax; approved every free trade deal brought to a vote; and supported illegal immigration for the sake of cheap labor. The party strategists and savants are telling us that fewer Americans will turn out to the polls than ever before, disgusted by a disgraced former congressman. But we don't have to wait for the midterm elections to begin to engage in our new political life. There's something all of us could do that would have an immediate impact and send a powerful message to both corporation-dominated political parties and to our elected officials in Washington. Our so- called representatives in both parties have been working against the interests of the middle class for so long that they take our votes for granted, or they take advantage of the fact that a sizable number of us don't vote at all. So what if a majority of us decided once and for all to walk into our town and city halls all over the country and change our party affiliation from Republican or Democrat to independent? What if that sizable number of us who don't vote at all decided to register as independents? For the first time in decades, working middle-class Americans might just get the attention of our elected officials in Washington. Our middle class has suffered in silence for far too long, and it cannot afford to suffer or be silent much longer. Hardworking Americans have not spoken out about their increasingly marginalized role in this society, and as a consequence they've all but lost their voice. Without that strong, clear and vibrant voice, all the major decisions about America and our future will be made by the elites of government, big business and the dominant special interests. Those elites treasure your silence, as it enables them to claim America's future for their own. I sincerely hope that we will find the resolve to face these challenges to our way of life, and we do so soon. George Bernard Shaw said, "It is dangerous to be sincere unless you are also stupid." I'm stupid enough to be absolutely sincere in the hope that middle- class America will awake soon and take action. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: Ode Magazine, Sept. 1, 2006 [Printer-friendly version] WE CAN SAVE THE WORLD! Humanity faces a choice between collapsing into chaos and evolving into a sustainable, ethical global community. There's never been a more powerful moment in all history to make a difference in the world. By Ervin Laszlo A Chinese proverb warns, "If we do not change direction, we are likely to end up exactly where we are headed." Applied to humanity today, this would be disastrous. Without a change in direction, we are on the way to a world of increasing political conflict and war; accelerating climate change and pollution; food, water and energy shortages. We also run the risk of mega-disasters caused by nuclear accidents and global warming. Albert Einstein told us we cannot solve the major problems we face at the same level of thinking that created them. He was right. Yet we continue trying to fight terrorism, poverty, environmental degradation, even obesity and other "sicknesses of civilization" with exactly the means and methods that produced the problems in the first place. A look at history, however, shows that fundamental shifts in societies have happened at key points throughout our past. Look at the unprecedented appearance of major civilizations in the Andes, Mexico, Egypt, China, India and the Euphrates valley. Consider the rise of democracy in ancient Athens and the emergence and spread of the Renaissance in medieval Europe. But there is one difference today. In the past, there was time for new thinking to evolve over generations or even centuries. This is no longer the case. The critical period for a fundamental social shift in is now compressed into a single lifetime. Without significant and widespread changes, our global system could collapse into chaos. But a wave of new thinking and the action it inspires offer us hope for a global breakthrough that would create a better world for ourselves and our children. Let me offer one example of how such a breakthrough might look: Faced with growing problems and shared threats, citizens across the planet pull together to form associations and networks to pursue their dreams of peace and environmental sustainability. Business leaders and entrepreneurs recognize the importance of these aspirations and respond with new goods and services that help make them a reality. Soon, global news and entertainment media commit themselves to chronicling emerging social and cultural innovations. On the Internet and through other grassroots communication networks, people everywhere begin exploring new visions of the natural world, the global community and human existence itself. Out of all this comes a new culture of solidarity and social responsibility across the planet. Public support mounts for government policies that institute social and ecological repairs. Money is diverted from the military and defence industries to the needs of people. New measures are implemented to develop sustainable energy, transportation, industrial, technological and agricultural systems. Huge numbers of people around the world get better access to food, jobs, and education. As a result of these developments, international mistrust, ethnic conflict, racial oppression, economic inequity, and gender inequality give way to new traditions of mutual respect. Rather than breaking down in conflict and war, humanity breaks through to a sustainable world of self-reliant but co-operating communities, enterprises, countries and regions. At this point in our history, human beings have accumulated unprecedented power -- hence responsibility -- to decide our destiny. Although the prospect of global breakdown stares us in the face, it is by no means inevitable. We also have the unprecedented option of choosing a brighter tomorrow. Nothing prevents us from shifting our evolutionary path toward a peaceful and sustainable civilization -- nothing except our own patterns of thinking and action. The leaders now in power and the mainstream society they represent have not yet glimpsed a different future for our civilization. Yet many other people are inspired by visions of a global breakthrough that are already emerging at the creative frontiers of our society. Societies are seldom culturally monolithic in their thinking. This is especially true in eras of innovation and ferment. Those periods spawn a large number of subcultures, or alternative cultures, that spring up alongside the prevailing power structure. This is what we see happening today, with some of these alternative cultures devoting themselves to imaginatively rethinking the priorities, values, and behaviours of society, giving particular attention to how we can improve environmental sustainability and human ethics. This sort of fundamental reassessment of how we live, even if overlooked or ignored by those in power, can spark rapid and revolutionary change. While barely visible in the major media, a number of grassroots movements, from global justice to holistic health to spiritual exploration, are already blazing the trail away from the usual assumptions of mainstream culture. Even the people involved with these movements underestimate their own numbers, in part because most of them go about their business without trying to convert others and because they lack social and political cohesion. Yet the more serious and sincere of these alternative cultures show promise as catalysts of a social breakthrough. Unlike many subcultures and sects, these people do not relish taking antisocial stances or want to hide away from everyone else. Rather, they are quietly but profoundly engaged in the world, as they challenge accepted beliefs and pursue new avenues of personal and social commitment. The people drawn to these sometimes-diffuse movements are united by the aspiration to live a more simple, healthy, whole and ethical life. They are appalled by what they see as the heartless impersonality and mindless destructiveness of contemporary society. The Institute of Noetic Sciences, founded in California by Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell to explore the potential for expanding human consciousness, has documented the following changes in values and behaviour among some of these subcultures now emerging in the United States: * A shift from competition to partnership * A shift from greed to caring * A shift from feelings of scarcity to feelings of sufficiency * A shift from reliance on outer sources of "authority" to inner sources of "knowing" * A shift from viewing the world as mechanistic system to viewing it as a living system * And, perhaps most significant of all, a shift from separation to wholeness -- a fresh recognition of the interconnectedness of all aspects of life and reality. Such a significant redirection of values among a growing number of people merits serious consideration. Yet mainstream society and media often dismiss these developments as "New Age," not bothering to differentiate between the sincere, positive people in alternative cultures and others more inclined to the narcissism, naivete or hucksterism. To dismiss everyone in these alternative cultures as cult members or "flakes" is to throw out the baby with the bathwater. No new chapter in human civilization will ever emerge if we just sit around with our hands in our laps waiting for a holistic convergence that will foster a new way of thinking. A critical mass of people in society must stand up to make it happen. That means you and me, and many others around the planet. And now is the time to get started. Following are some decisive things you and I can do right now, on a personal and a social basis, to promote the shift toward peaceful and sustainable civilization. 1. Let go of old beliefs that no longer make sense Here are good places to start: * Nature is inexhaustible. * The world operates like a giant mechanism. * Life is a struggle and only the fittest survive. * The market is the only means of distributing wealth and benefits. * The more you earn and consume the more successful and happy you are. 2. Think globally, act morally In a healthy, high-functioning society, everyone shares a common morality. But what is moral in one culture may be unacceptable in another. This is a cause of much international tension and conflict today. As countries grow more interdependent, economically and socially, the urgent need surfaces for a morality that can be accepted by all humans, wherever they live. What would such a morality look like? Traditionally, setting the norms of morality was the task of the religions. Today the dominance of science and economics has reduced the power of religious doctrines in many nations to regulate human behaviour. The attempts of Marx, Lenin, and Mao to replace religion with their own moral precepts have failed. That leaves liberalism (in the classic sense of free-market economics and elections) as the most widely espoused morality in the world today. The essence of "liberal" morality is "live and let live": people are not to be prevented from pursuing self-interest as long as they observe the rules of civilized society. But with the growing problems the world faces today, there are serious risks involved in classical liberalism's insistence that everyone may do as they please so long as they don't break any laws. The rich and the powerful consume a disproportionate share of the resources to which the poor, too, have a legitimate claim. Rich and poor alike inflict irreversible damage on the environment that all people must share. Rather than "live and let live," we need a universal morality better adapted to the conditions in which humanity finds itself. One inspiration might be Gandhi's message, "Live more simply, so others can simply live." That advice is even more urgent today than it was in Gandhi's day. It is also easier for us to do. Today it's widely recognized that living simply is not a form of punishment or sacrifice. On the contrary, simple living is a sensible choice that offers us greater personal well-being and a deeper sense of meaning in life. The survival of humanity is intimately tied to nurturing a sense of solidarity and co- operation in the global community, as well as a respect for the integrity of nature. 3. Dream -- and take your dreams seriously In 1968, when Senator Robert Kennedy ran for president of the U.S., he said, "Some men see things as they are and say, why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?" To imagine what you want for the world is not foolish nor a waste of time. Today, as we face the choice between a global breakdown or breakthrough, dreams are more important than ever before. 4. Evolve your consciousness Expanding your own sense of consciousness can be a powerful tool in bringing critical changes to the world. How? In a heightened "decision window" time such as ours, even small shifts can influence the course of civilization. As anthropologist Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." One way to do it that may surprise you is by entering a so-called altered state of consciousness that is typical of deep meditation and intense prayer. This allows you to experience a profound oneness with the natural world and other people. whether they are next door, in distant parts of the world, or part of generations yet to come -- and realize that the fate of nature and people is not separate from your own fate. Not everybody, of course, is drawn to deep prayer or meditation. Fortunately, other paths lead to the same place. Another route is to get in touch with our bodies. We use our bodies as we use our cars or computers, giving them commands to take us where we want to go and do what we want to have done. We live in our heads. We can break free of that cerebral imprisonment with yoga, tai chi, qi gong, Ayurvedic exercises, as well as simple breathing techniques or deep relaxation. Even a daily walk can help. The stresses and strains of existence also have an impact on our emotional lives. Negative feelings such as anger, hate, fear, anxiety, suspicion, jealousy, contempt and indifference dominate the tenor of modern existence. Negative experiences generate negative attitudes that create further negative experiences. This cycle must be broken. Take stock of your feelings and make a conscious effort to transform negative emotions. It is not easy to replace hate with love, suspicion with trust, contempt with respect, jealousy with appreciation and anxiety with self-assurance, yet it can be done. All the religions and spiritual traditions of the world offer ways to do it. Or try secular techniques, such as therapy or support groups, that allow you to share your fears and hopes. Positive emotions can be generated by opening ourselves to experiences of nature, beholding the beauty of a sunset or making time to relax and play with our friends and family. Addressing a joint session of the U.S. Congress in February of 1990, Vaclav Havel, then the president of Czechoslovakia, said, "Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better... and the catastrophe toward which this world is headed -- the ecological, social, demographic or general breakdown of civilization -- will be unavoidable." Havel did not mean to discourage us with pessimism, but challenge us to re-examine our thinking and evolve our consciousness. If we do so, the brave but small movement seeking a more holistic, peaceful and sustainable civilization could turn into a powerful force that washes away the old mindset that's ruled the world for too long. We can change the world and leave our children with a better place to live. Adapted with kind permission from Ervin Laszlo's new book, The Chaos Point: The World at the Crossroads (Hampton Roads, 2006, ISBN 1571744851) Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: From: New York Times, Oct. 16, 2006 [Printer-friendly version] WHY AREN'T WE SHOCKED? By Bob Herbert "Who needs a brain when you have these?" -- message on an Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt for young women In the recent shootings at an Amish schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania and a large public high school in Colorado, the killers went out of their way to separate the girls from the boys, and then deliberately attacked only the girls. Ten girls were shot and five killed at the Amish school. One girl was killed and a number of others were molested in the Colorado attack. In the widespread coverage that followed these crimes, very little was made of the fact that only girls were targeted. Imagine if a gunman had gone into a school, separated the kids up on the basis of race or religion, and then shot only the black kids. Or only the white kids. Or only the Jews. There would have been thunderous outrage. The country would have first recoiled in horror, and then mobilized in an effort to eradicate that kind of murderous bigotry. There would have been calls for action and reflection. And the attack would have been seen for what it really was: a hate crime. None of that occurred because these were just girls, and we have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that violence against females is more or less to be expected. Stories about the rape, murder and mutilation of women and girls are staples of the news, as familiar to us as weather forecasts. The startling aspect of the Pennsylvania attack was that this terrible thing happened at a school in Amish country, not that it happened to girls. The disrespectful, degrading, contemptuous treatment of women is so pervasive and so mainstream that it has just about lost its ability to shock. Guys at sporting events and other public venues have shown no qualms about raising an insistent chant to nearby women to show their breasts. An ad for a major long-distance telephone carrier shows three apparently naked women holding a billing statement from a competitor. The text asks, "When was the last time you got screwed?" An ad for Clinique moisturizing lotion shows a woman's face with the lotion spattered across it to simulate the climactic shot of a porn video. We have a problem. Staggering amounts of violence are unleashed on women every day, and there is no escaping the fact that in the most sensational stories, large segments of the population are titillated by that violence. We've been watching the sexualized image of the murdered 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey for 10 years. JonBenet is dead. Her mother is dead. And we're still watching the video of this poor child prancing in lipstick and high heels. What have we learned since then? That there's big money to be made from thongs, spandex tops and sexy makeovers for little girls. In a misogynistic culture, it's never too early to drill into the minds of girls that what really matters is their appearance and their ability to please men sexually. A girl or woman is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so in the U.S. The number of seriously battered wives and girlfriends is far beyond the ability of any agency to count. We're all implicated in this carnage because the relentless violence against women and girls is linked at its core to the wider society's casual willingness to dehumanize women and girls, to see them first and foremost as sexual vessels -- objects -- and never, ever as the equals of men. "Once you dehumanize somebody, everything is possible," said Taina Bien-Aime, executive director of the women's advocacy group Equality Now. That was never clearer than in some of the extreme forms of pornography that have spread like nuclear waste across mainstream America. Forget the embarrassed, inhibited raincoat crowd of the old days. Now Mr. Solid Citizen can come home, log on to this $7 billion mega-industry and get his kicks watching real women being beaten and sexually assaulted on Web sites with names like "Ravished Bride" and "Rough Sex -- Where Whores Get Owned." Then, of course, there's gangsta rap, and the video games where the players themselves get to maul and molest women, the rise of pimp culture (the Academy Award-winning song this year was "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp"), and on and on. You're deluded if you think this is all about fun and games. It's all part of a devastating continuum of misogyny that at its farthest extreme touches down in places like the one-room Amish schoolhouse in normally quiet Nickel Mines, Pa. Return to Table of Contents :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment & Health News) highlights the connections between issues that are often considered separately or not at all. The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy, intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and therefore ruled by the few. In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who gets to decide?" And, "How do the few control the many, and what might be done about it?" As you come across stories that might help people connect the dots, please Email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rachel's Democracy & Health News is published as often as necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject. 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