Friends of GEO

Possibilities For Economic Evolution: Trade

It's Our Economy - September 24, 2017 - 4:00pm
This presentation is one of three presented August 29, 2017, on “Debating Free Trade.” Opposing perspectives in the debate were offered by Pat Coony supporting “Free Trade“ and Cliff DuRand opposing it. NOTE: Join our action October 11, 2017 in Washington, DC to protest the NAFTA re-negotiations. Respond to and share the Facebook Page. Like a global vampire that drains the blood of one victim after another, so too does the neo-liberal economic system. Under the misleading name of “free trade,” it drains the world of all resources vital to the life of the planet, including the value of human life. Proponents of “free trade” publicly base the validity of this model on “trickle down economics,” what’s good for corporations is good for everyone and eventually, their success will filter down to the workers. History refutes their theory as self aggrandizing propaganda. The very structure of this economic system must change radically. Some people will say that the competitive, aggressive capitalist marketplace is merely a reflection of man’s true nature and a necessary element in moving innovation and history forward. But many contemporary scientists are finding evidence to the contrary. As distinguished biologist Lynn Margulis put it, “Life did not take over the world by combat but by networking.” In direct contrast to the “selfish gene” rationalization of laissez-faire capitalism, the recognition that cooperative networking is an essential part of sustainable ecosystems and can inspire new ways to structure technology and social organization for human flourishing. The Harvard mathematician and biologist Martin Nowak writes, “cooperation is the chief architect of evolution.” The dominant assumptions about human nature are not self-evident truths; however, the money-based system constructed by capitalism encourages and rewards these traits over other traditional, community-oriented values, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy about the nature of human behavior. Trade—just like money, profits, and growth—has been viewed as an end in and of itself. Trade is, however, not the goal. It is simply a tool that we can use to further our universal goals of improving human rights, justice, sustainability, and democracy. I was asked to consider what a model of world fair trade might look like. My research revealed a common core of values among many if not most progressive organizations. The principles that were frequently shared were: An economic model that has a democratic foundation. From workplace to the largest of global institutional forms, individual participation must be encouraged and incorporated. Every trade system must be structured to lift the quality of life for everyone. A radical redistribution of wealth is critical. The health of the environment must play a central part of any trade model. Immediate repair and long term sustainability are essential. All trade agreements must respect human and labor rights. Gender gaps, historically disadvantaged groups and indigenous rights need to be respected. Recognize that Humans are just one piece in the delicate web of life. Where do we begin in this somewhat utopian exercise given the current convergence of a cascade of crisis events? How do we frame this project to maximize its potential? It’s not unreasonable to look toward the many emerging forms taking root in local communities around the world that are nurturing new socio/economic relationships. Cooperatives, esop’s, community councils, local social economy experiments; are all examples of localized attempts at building Solidarity within the current economic system. But how can these local structures be ramped up to form a self sustaining/supportive network? The Cleveland Model, where an interlocking network of cooperatives and local institutional clients is one example. Advancing this approach to a larger regional scale is a worthy goal. Transition Towns Network, an organization that promotes a complete sustainable community program focuses on: social cohesiveness, emotional support for avoiding activist burnout and economic justice. Their principles include: respect of resource limits promote inclusivity and social justice adopt subsidiarity (self-organization and decision making at the appropriate level) pay attention to balance – head, heart and hands Acknowledge being part of an experimental, learning network freely share ideas and power collaborate and look for synergies – The Transition approach is to work together as a community(not just in times of crisis) foster positive visioning and creativity –Primary focus is not on being against things, but on developing and promoting positive possibilities. The Economy for the Common Good (ECG) is a coherent economic model and supposedly is being practiced in hundreds of businesses, universities, municipalities, and local chapters across Europe and South America. It purports to represent an alternative to both capitalism and communism. It emerges out of a holistic worldview and is based on a “sovereign democracy” that is transitioning toward a system that serves the common good. The Democracy Collaborative, part of the Next System Project, held a conference in 2016 on “Taking Employee Ownership to Scale”. Some of the positive points they highlighted included: Strong support for employee and horizontal ownership among millennials and a history of cooperativism in the African American community Simply providing equitable living wage work is no longer enough. The immediacy of climate catastrophe and the emergence of a robotic and AI oriented economy need to be incorporated into any longterm plan. Mankind’s relationships to nature and work will be changed radically. Additionally, consumerism as the driving force of the world economy must be greatly curtailed. These will all be tough issues to gain public support on, most especially in so called advanced economies. Next question: Once you’ve scaled up this new economy nationally, is it sustainable in a single country, or will it need international development and support? Neoliberal trade creates a strong tendency toward a race to the bottom of; wages, environmental regulation, and labor practices. It pits workers, communities and countries against each other. True justice and cooperation are foundational to a global fair trade model. Some ideas might include; a global fair trade value policy, that promotes trade among like-minded countries and downgrades trade with countries that retain the more exploitative models. Picture an EU collective with a sustainable economic structure. Short of that, an international support network...
Categories: Friends of GEO, SE News

Government By Goldman

It's Our Economy - September 24, 2017 - 3:00pm
Above photo: National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin (R) take questions about tax cuts and reform during a briefing at the White House on April 26, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Gary Cohn Is Giving Goldman Sachs Everything It Ever Wanted From the Trump Administration. Steve Bannon was in the room the day Donald Trump first fell for Gary Cohn. So were Reince Priebus, Jared Kushner, and Trump’s pick for secretary of Treasury, Steve Mnuchin. It was the end of November, three weeks after Trump’s improbable victory, and Cohn, then still the president of Goldman Sachs, was at Trump Tower presumably at the invitation of Kushner, with whom he was friendly. Cohn was there to offer his views about jobs and the economy. But, like the man he was there to meet, he was at heart a salesman. On the campaign trail, Trump had spoken often about the importance of investing in infrastructure. Yet the president-elect had apparently failed to appreciate that the government would need to come up with hundreds of billions of dollars to fund his plans. Cohn, brash and bold, wired to attack any moneymaking opportunity, pitched a fix that would put Wall Street firms at the center: Private-industry partners could help infrastructure get fixed, saving the federal government from going deeper into debt. The way the moment was captured by the New York Times, among other publications, Trump was dumbfounded. “Is this true?” he asked. Was a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan likely to increase the deficit by a trillion dollars? Confronted by nodding heads, an unhappy president-elect said, “Why did I have to wait to have this guy tell me?” Within two weeks, the transition team announced that Cohn would take over as director of the president’s National Economic Council. Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn arrives for a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York, Nov. 29, 2016. Bryan R. Smith/AFP/Getty Images 1: GOLDMAN ALWAYS WINS Goldman Sachs had been a favorite cudgel for candidate Trump — the symbol of a government that favors Wall Street over its citizenry. Trump proclaimed that Hillary Clinton was in the firm’s pockets, as was Ted Cruz. It was Goldman Sachs that Trump singled out when he railed against a system rigged in favor of the global elite — one that “robbed our working class, stripped our country of wealth, and put money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.” Cohn, as president and chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs, had been at the heart of it all. Aggressive and relentless, a former aluminum siding salesman and commodities broker with a nose for making money, Cohn had turned Goldman’s sleepy home loan unit into what a Senate staffer called “one of the largest mortgage trading desks in the world.” There, he aggressively pushed his sales team to sell mortgage-backed securities to unaware investors even as he watched over “the big short,” Goldman’s decision to bet billions of dollars that the market would collapse. Now Cohn would be coordinating economic policy for the populist president. The conflicts between the two men were striking. Cohn ran a giant investment bank with offices in financial capitals around the globe, one deeply committed to a world with few economic borders. Trump’s nationalist campaign contradicted everything Goldman Sachs and its top executives represented on the global stage. Trump raged against “offshoring” by American companies during the 2016 campaign. He even threatened “retribution,”­ a 35 percent tariff on any goods imported into the United States by a company that had moved jobs overseas. But Cohn laid out Goldman’s very different view of offshoring at an investor conference in Naples, Florida, in November. There, Cohn explained unapologetically that Goldman had offshored its back-office staff, including payroll and IT, to Bangalore, India, now home to the firm’s largest office outside New York City: “We hire people there because they work for cents on the dollar versus what people work for in the United States.” Candidate Trump promised to create millions of new jobs, vowing to be “the greatest jobs president that God ever created.” Cohn, as Goldman Sachs’s president and COO, oversaw the firm’s mergers and acquisitions business that had, over the previous three years, led to the loss of at least 22,000 U.S. jobs, according to a study by two advocacy groups. Early in his candidacy, Trump described as “disgusting” Pfizer’s decision to buy a smaller Irish competitor in order to execute a “corporate inversion,” a maneuver in which a U.S. company moves its headquarters overseas to reduce its tax burden. The Pfizer deal ultimately fell through. But in 2016, in the heat of the campaign, Goldman advised on a megadeal that saw Johnson Controls, a Fortune 500 company based in Milwaukee, buy the Ireland-based Tyco International with the same goal. A few months later, with Goldman’s help, Johnson Controls had executed its inversion. With Cohn’s appointment, Trump now had three Goldman Sachs alums in top positions inside his administration: Steve Bannon, who was a vice president at Goldman when he left the firm in 1990, as chief strategist, and Steve Mnuchin, who had spent 17 years at Goldman, as Treasury secretary. And there were more to come. A few weeks later, another Goldman partner, Dina Powell, joined the White House as a senior counselor for economic initiatives. Goldman was a longtime client of Jay Clayton, Trump’s choice to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission; Clayton had represented Goldman after the 2008 financial crisis, and his wife Gretchen worked there as a wealth management adviser. And there was the brief, colorful tenure of Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director: Scaramucci had been a vice president at Goldman Sachs before leaving to co-found his own investment company. Even before Scaramucci, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., had joked that enough Goldman alum were working for the Trump administration to open a branch office in the White House. “There was a devastating financial crisis just over eight years ago,” Warren said. “Goldman Sachs was at the heart...
Categories: Friends of GEO, SE News

Niki Okuk on Cooperative Economics in African-American Communities

Shareable - Commons - September 20, 2017 - 5:17pm

In her engrossing TED Talk, business owner Niki Okuk explores three key themes: racism, economic oppression, and privilege, and how they relate to cooperate economics. Okuk, who runs tire recycling company Rco Tires, shares her personal story of starting the business, but puts it in larger, historical context. "So a lot of people ask, 'How did Rco come to be,'" Okuk says. "And I have to be really honest.

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The Myths Of Recovery: Why American Households Aren’t Better Off

It's Our Economy - September 20, 2017 - 11:00am
Above Photo: Workers pack and ship customer orders at the 750,000-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center on August 1, 2017 in Romeoville, Illinois. The stagnation of real incomes from 1999 through today is structural, not cyclical Off the top, the figures published by the U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday are encouraging: • Median household income rose to $59,039, the second straight gain; • The percentage of people in poverty fell to 12.7%, returning to around pre-recession levels; • The supplementary poverty measure also fell, to 13.9%; • The percentage of people without health insurance coverage fell to 8.8%. The excitement of some analysts reporting these as a major breakthrough along the trend is understandable, as notionally, 2016 U.S. median household income has finally surpassed the previous peak, recorded in 1999. Back then, median household income (adjusted for official inflation) stood at $58,665 and at the end of 2016 it registered $59,039. Opinion: It turns out that Obama got a bum rap on the economy As this chart clearly illustrates, notionally, we are in the “new historical peak” territory. Alas, notional is not the same as tangible. And here are the reason why the tangible matters probably more than the notional: 1) Consider the following simple timing observation: real incomes took 17 years to recover from the 2000-2012 collapse. And the Great Recession, officially, accounted for only $4,031 in total decline of the total peak-to-trough drop of $5,334. Which puts things into a different framework altogether: the stagnation of real incomes from 1999 through today is structural, not cyclical. The “good news” are really of little consolation for people who endured almost two decades of zero growth in real incomes: their life-cycle incomes, pensions, wealth are permanently damaged and cannot be repaired within their lifetimes. 2) The Census Bureau data shows that bulk of the gains in real income in 2016 has been down to one factor: higher employment. In other words, hours worked rose, but wages did not. American median householders are working harder at more jobs to earn an increase in wages. Which would be OK, were it not down to the fact that working harder means higher expenditure on income-related necessities, such as commuting costs, child-care costs, costs for caring for the dependents, etc. In other words, to earn that extra income, households today have to spend more money than they did back in the 1990s. Now, I don’t know about you, but for my household, if we have to spend more money to earn more money, I would be looking at net increases from that spending, not gross. Census Bureau does not adjust for this. There is an added caveat to this: caring for children and dependents has become excruciatingly more expensive over the years, since 1999. Inflation figures reflect that, but the real income deflator takes the average/median basket of consumers in calculating inflation adjustment. However, households gaining new additional jobs are not average/median households to begin with — and most certainly not in 2016, when labor markets were tight. In other words, the median household today is more impacted by higher inflation costs pertaining to necessary non-discretionary expenditures than the median household in 1999. Without adjusting for this, notional Census Bureau figures misstate (to the upside) current income gains. 3) In 1999, the Census Bureau data on household incomes used a different methodology than it does today. The methodology changed in 2013, at which point in time, the Census Bureau estimated that 2013 median income was about $1,700 higher based on new methodology than under pre-2013 methodology. Since then, we had no updates on this adjustment, so the gap could have actually increased. Tuesday’s numbers show that median household income at the end of 2016 was only $374 higher than in 1999. In other words, it was most likely around $1,330 or so lower, not higher, under the pre-2013 methodology. Taking a very simplistic (most likely inaccurate, but somewhat indicative) adjustment for 2013-pre-post differences in methodologies, the current 2016 reading is roughly 1.6% lower than the 2007 local peak, and roughly 2.3% lower than the 1999-2000 level. 4) Costs and taxes do matter, but they do not figure in the Census Bureau statistic. Quite frankly, it is idiotic to assume that gross median income matters to anyone. What matters is after-tax income net of the cost of necessities required to earn that income. Now, consider a simple fact: in 1999, a majority of jobs in the U.S. were normal working-hours contracts. Today, a huge number are zero-hours and gig-economy jobs. The former implied regular and often subsidized demand for transport, childcare, food associated with work etc. The latter implies irregular (including peak hours) transport, childcare, food and other services demand. The former was cheaper. The latter is costlier. To earn the same dollar in traditional employment is not the same as to earn a dollar in the gig economy. Worse, taxes are asymmetric across two types of jobs too. The gig economy adds to this problem yet another dimension. Many gig-economy earners (e.g. Uber drivers, delivery & messenger services workers, or AirBnB hosts) use income to purchase assets they use in generating income. These are not reflected in the Census Bureau earnings, as the official figures do not net out cost of employment. 5) Finally, related to the above, there is higher degree of volatility in job-related earnings today than in 1999. And there are longer duration of unemployment spells in today’s economy than in the 1990s. Which means that the risk-adjusted dollar earned today requires more unadjusted dollars earned than in 1999. Guess what: Census Bureau statistics show not-risk-adjusted earnings. You might think of this as an academic argument, but we routinely accept (require) risk-adjusted returns in analyzing investment prospects. Why do we ignore tangible risk costs in labor income? The key point here is that any direct comparison between 1999 and 2016 in terms of median incomes is problematic at best. It is problematic in technical terms (methodological changes and CPI deflator changes), and it is problematic in incidence...
Categories: Friends of GEO, SE News

Montana Quadruples Solar Energy Capacity In One Year

It's Our Economy - September 19, 2017 - 12:00pm
Above Photo: U.S. Department of Energy The state quadrupled its solar energy production over the past year, according to an announcement by Lt. Gov Mike Cooney on Friday. Montana was producing 6.6 megawatts of installed capacity a year ago. The governor’s office released an energy plan, Montana Energy Future, with a goal to double solar capacity by 2025. Now the state has an installed capacity of 26 megawatts. “It’s an incredible honor to announce Montana has not only doubled our solar production much earlier than expected, we’ve quadrupled it in a single year,” he said. Cooney said the state hopes to continue increasing solar production, which creates jobs and promotes energy independence. “Done right, we can drive economic growth while sparking new clean technology,” he said. There are 373,807 solar jobs as of 2016 in the United States. The solar industry employs more people than coal, natural gas, wind or nuclear sources. The announcement was made at the Lewis and Clark Library in Helena, which installed a 50kW rooftop solar array earlier this year. John Finn, library director, said adding the solar array, which was accomplished with funds from a host of donors, is about providing an opportunity for the community to learn about solar energy. The panels are visible and attract attention on purpose, he said. The cost savings are an added benefit and have saved the library $3,000 since April. Finn said the library is in the process of planning small solar projects at the library’s branches in Lincoln and Augusta. The Montana Renewable Energy Association presented the Bullock administration with a clean energy leadership award. “I know growth of an industry takes vision,” Henry Dykema, president of MREA, said of the administration’s work on promoting solar. The announcement was ahead of the 7th annual Montana Clean Energy Fair, which starts at 9 a.m. Saturday in Pioneer Park. In addition to a 5k Sun Run, exhibits by clean energy businesses in the state will provide people with an opportunity to learn more about solar. There will be workshops on solar and wind, an electric car show and activities for kids. Admission to the fair is free.    
Categories: Friends of GEO, SE News

Cost Of U.S. Solar Drops 75% In Six Years, Ahead Of Federal Goal

It's Our Economy - September 19, 2017 - 11:00am
Above Photo: A 250-MW solar project on the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians Moapa Indian River Reservation in southern Nevada. It is the first utility-scale solar project on tribal land in the U.S. FIRST SOLAR/DOE The Trump administration has announced that a federal goal to slash the cost of utility-scale solar energy to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour by 2020 has been met early. The goal, set by the Obama administration in 2011 and known as the SunShot Initiative, represents a 75 percent reduction in the cost of U.S. solar in just six years. It makes solar energy-cost competitive with electricity generated by fossil fuels. The Department of Energy attributed achieving the goal so quickly to the rapidly declining cost of solar hardware, such as photovoltaic panels and mounts. And it said it will next focus its efforts on addressing “solar energy’s critical challenges of grid reliability, resilience, and storage,” according to a press release. The DOE also announced $82 million in new funding for solar research, particularly for research into “concentrating solar” — which uses mirrors to direct sunlight to generate thermal energy — and into improved grid technology. It set a new goal to reduce the cost of solar even further: 3 cents per kilowatt-hour by 2030. The new funding and focus on solar energy seems to counter President Trump’s energy strategy. The White House proposed cutting Energy Department funding for solar research by 71 percent, to $70 million, in its 2018 budget request, according to Bloomberg News.
Categories: Friends of GEO, SE News

After The Hurricane, Solar Kept Florida Homes And A City’s Traffic Lights Running

It's Our Economy - September 19, 2017 - 10:00am
Above Photo: Florida, for all its solar potential, is still in the nascent stages of what could become a solar boom. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images By using energy storage with solar panels, some homeowners were able to go off-grid, showing how distributed power could speed future storm recovery. Just after midnight on Sept. 11, Eugenio Pereira awoke to the sound of tropical-storm-force winds slamming his Gainesville, Florida, home. Hurricane Irma had arrived. At 1:45 a.m., the power flickered out, and he was in total darkness. Unlike large swaths of Florida that were facing days if not weeks without electricity, Pereira knew he would have power when the sun rose. He had installed rooftop solar panels two weeks before the storm, along with an inverter that allows him to use power from the solar panels without being connected to the grid. The next morning, he plugged an extension cord into the inverter, flipped it on, and let his 7-kilowatt rooftop solar array do the rest. He was able to use his appliances and his Wi-Fi, so he could continue his work as a home-based IT consultant while the neighborhood waited for grid power to came back on. “We didn’t have sun at all the day after the hurricane, but even with clouds, it was enough,” he said. Hurricane Irma cut the power to about 6.7 million customers across Florida, as well as hundreds of thousands in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. Only about two-thirds of those in Florida had power back by Thursday, and Florida Power & Light said the outages could last weeks in some areas. It’s a scene that plays out every time a major hurricane hits. But this time, homeowners like Pereira, some businesses, and even cities were able to take advantage of the Sunshine State’s solar power while the grid was down. Most rooftop solar arrays are connected to the grid, so when the public power is off, the rooftop solar power can’t be accessed—unless the customer has a stand-alone inverter, like Pereira does, or a battery storage system like the Tesla Powerwall. Local solar contractors and companies have been using the hurricane-induced power outages this week to experiment with these technologies to run their homes and businesses off-grid. In Jacksonville—where the storm surge reached record levels—Pete Wilking, president of A1A Solar Contracting, said he’s been using his home rooftop solar and battery storage system the entire time since the storm. About 95 percent of his customers are grid-tied because it’s the cheapest option, but he said some have batteries that they are using at full capacity now that it’s sunny. “Events like Irma have made people aware of how dependent we are on electricity,” Wilking said. Cities have also been putting off-grid solar power systems to work. Coral Springs, just northwest of Fort Lauderdale, used solar-powered traffic lights while its grid power was down. During the worst part of the storm—when 300,000 people had lost power in Broward County—Coral Springs placed 13 lights in major thoroughfares throughout the city. Two small batteries sit beneath a solar panel that powers the light, which is placed on the ground at an intersection, said Derek Fernandes, traffic officer for Coral Springs. The batteries are used at night so the lights stay on. “We were able to cover the major arteries in the city that didn’t have power,” Fernandes said. “One has been running since Monday, and we haven’t had to replace it.” Opportunity to Redesign the Grid for Resilience Solar advocates say that now—as the state rebuilds thousands of miles of damaged power infrastructure—is the perfect time for Florida to rethink grid resilience and bringing in renewable energy. Alissa Jean Schafer, solar communications and policy manager for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, had just returned to the Fort Lauderdale area after evacuating with her family to Atlanta and was already having conversations with people in her community about the potential for distributed solar. “If we’re going to be taking steps toward resiliency, and people are still living in South Florida, [we have to] look at how to create a more resilient grid between having distributed resources like rooftop solar as opposed to only have power coming from one source, like natural gas,” she said. Solar can also help run microgrids that are able to continue providing power to a local area when the main grid is damaged elsewhere. “Microgrids could potentially make it easier to bring small communities back on quicker,” Schafer said. “The more spread out, the more resilient you’re able to be,” she said. “Those issues really come to a head when we see something go wrong.” Solar Support Is Growing, Despite Politics Florida, for all its solar potential, is still in the nascent stages of what could become a solar boom. Utilities are beginning to expand their renewable energy footprint: Florida Power & Light has announced plans for eight new solar plants across the state, and last month, Duke Energy canceled a nuclear project and said it will instead spend $6 billion building solar farms, installing electric vehicle charging stations, and improving the electric grid. There is also a grassroots movement growing: last year, voters passed an amendment that extends a tax break for residents who have installed solar or equipment for other renewable energy. They also rejected a utility-backed solar amendment that would have raised fees and kept out companies wanting to compete with utilities to sell solar. In recent months, solar cooperatives, which allow a community to buy solar together and save money, have also become a popular way to access rooftop solar; there are now nine in the state. South Miami recently approved an ordinance that would require solar installations on all new homes and requires solar installations for any renovations that expand a home by more than 75 percent or replace more than 75 percent of the existing roof. Last month, St. Petersburg city officials proposed a similar ordinance. Orlando’s sustainability officials have also expressed interest in advancing solar initiatives in the coming months. The city set its own renewable energy standard in...
Categories: Friends of GEO, SE News

A Toolkit for Establishing a Great Lakes Commons

Shareable - Commons - September 18, 2017 - 2:59pm

The Great Lakes Commons is a regional grassroots initiative advocating for the freshwater chain of lakes in the upper Midwest and Mideast parts of the U.S. and Canada. As part of that mission, the group has released a new toolkit designed to help communities and residents protect the lakes, which its members view as a public, natural resource. The kit is a mix of traditional advocacy tools, policy statements, historical documents, and educational tools.

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