Don't Miss Out

Subscribe to OCA's News & Alerts.

How to Build a Transformative Movement--Before We Go Over the Cliff

Featured stories in this issue...

A Few Ideas About Building a Movement
This is the talk Peter Montague gave June 10 at the national precaution conference in Baltimore. The original PowerPoint slides can be found here. The slides were accompanied by a longer printed handout and a list of potential allies that we could join with to develop a movement for precaution and prevention.

Getting to Prevention and Precaution: Building a Movement
This is the printed handout that accompanied Peter Montague's PowerPoint talk, "A Few Ideas about Building a Movement," June 10 at the national conference in precaution in Baltimore. This handout was accompanied by a list of potential allies that we could join with to develop a social movement for prevention and precaution.

U.S. Government Says Global Greenhouse Gas Production Is Soaring Global carbon dioxide production, a main cause of global warming, is projected to grow at 2.3% per year, which would double annual production every 29 years. Toasty weather -- and toasted planet -- just ahead.

The Coming Political Revolution
William Greider says, "Momentous change is approaching in American politics. Conceivably, the turning point has already arrived, too indistinct to recognize. We are witnessing the demise of the reigning economic ideology. A deep shift of this kind is a very rare event, one that comes along only every thirty or forty years. Economic disorders accumulate that the orthodoxy cannot answer and may even have caused. Eventually, the ideological presumptions are discredited by real-world contradictions."

14th Protecting Mother Earth Conference
Every year the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) holds its "Protecting Mother Earth" conference and indigenous people from across the continent arrive, camp out, and spend a few days discussing topics of interest to us all. You don't have to be an indigenous person to attend -- all people of good will are welcome. This is one not to miss, if you can help it. Come to Cass Lake, Minnesota July 6-9.


From: Environmental Research Foundation, Jun. 10, 2006


By Peter Montague

The problem

** What we've got on our hands is a system that CANNOT prevent harm

** Skip Spitzer of Root Action describes it as a "structure of

Confronting the structure of harm demands that we THINK BIG

Corporations are pervasive, powerful entities compelled to

(a) seek narrow self-interest

(b) produce economic concentration

(c) externalize social and environmental harms

(d) create perpetual growth.

The mass media, public relations, science, education, and the culture
of consumption and wealth reflect and reinforce the structure of harm.

The structure of harm is projected internationally by economic,
military, political and cultural means.

Intolerance, patriarchy, white privilege, and white supremacy feed
upon, and are fed by, the corporate system

The government supports the structure of harm by protecting corporate
interests because of

(a) corporate influence ($), and

(b) the need for economic growth

Together all these factors produce, support and maintain the structure
of harm.

2. But times are ripening for deep change

** The end of cheap oil is here, or soon will be

** Global warming and water shortages are real

** Ecological limits are real (no place left to throw stuff "away",
for example)

** Many families are living with major insecurity (wages stagnant,
good jobs disappearing, health costs soaring, the children's future

** More and more, people are living with chronic illnesses

** The social safety net is being shredded

** The corporate system is beset by multiple crises and this is
creating opportunities for thinking about new ways of living and being
in the world

** The world is getting primed for a precautionary approach, a new way
of thinking and being (a "new" way that is really ancient, as Oren
Lyons reminded us yesterday)

3. Building a movement

** History tells us that deep change is possible; every system can be
challenged and changed. But it requires a social movement to make it

What is a movement?

A social movement is a joining of campaigns, associations, organi-
zations, and coalitions that share a common vision and overall goals,
symbols, and information, plus a tremendous sense of solidarity

** We've got what it takes

** We outnumber our adversaries at least 2 to 1 and often by far more

** All our adversaries have going for them is "divide and rule."

** Therefore, to alter the structure of harm, we need to get together
and stay together

** If our adversaries fail to divide us, the game is over for them

Successful movements engage the major sectors of society -- workers,
women, students, youth, intellectuals and others sharing a common set
of grievances

The grievances we share are:

(a) the social and environmental harms needlessly and stupidly created
by the structure of harm and

(b) the denial of opportunity to choose other paths by democratic

A successful movement to modify the structure of harm will be multi-
issue, international, diverse and demo-cratically inclusive, aiming
for class, race, and gender justice, and environmental, economic, and
social sustainability

** A successful movement to alter the structure of harm will seek
fundamental change.

** "Greening" the structure of harm will not alter the structure
(though it may still be desirable).

This raises an important issue that every movement faces:

Reform or Transform?

** Do we stick with short-term winnable goals, or do we aim to
transform the structure of harm?

** One answer is, We can aim to do both at the same time.

** We can reframe our local issues so they reveal the nature of the
system that gave rise to them.

Finding Allies

** Many of us work on "environmental health," but people working on
dozens of other issues are using, or could use, a preventive approach.

** All of them (and more) could be allied in a movement

(See the list of potential allies.)

** Instead of expecting them to join US, we can join THEM

** Each of our groups could appoint an ambassador whose job it is to
search out new allies

To broaden our appeal, we can include the 3 environments in all our

1. The natural environment (air, water)

2. The built environment (sprawl, highways, brownfields)

3. The all-important social environment (low income, social exclusion,
insecurity, stress, sexism, racism)

We can help build a prevention and precaution movement by developing
state or regional groups ("larger than local") to help with
organizing, training, leadership development, and getting hold of

Stable communities require a "precautionary economics" that aims to
prevent job loss by developing local businesses that are rooted in
communities. We can hook up with groups that are focused on local
economic revitalization to create jobs and stabilize communities.

4. Developing a common vision and agenda

As Yogi Berra once said, "If you don't know where you're going, you
might not get there."

The structure of harm rests on the assumption of perpetual growth in
material production, which is impossible on a finite planet.

So something new is needed. What will it look like and feel like?

The whole system is set up to convince us that "There is No
Alternative" (TINA)

But we can describe many alterna-tives that already exist in the U.S.
now. (For examples, see Alperovitz, America Beyond Capitalism.)

Eventually we can develop a foundational economic/political agenda
that systematically addresses the underlying issues of corporate
power, an economic system that requires perpetual growth, and a
hollowed-out democracy.

As our friends at smartMeme remind us,

We can develop a story-based strategy for changing the culture, with
sympathetic characters that personalize issues, engage people's
values, foreshadow the future, and help people see themselves working
and living in a new world.

A precautionary goal

** From 1765 to 1865 activists in England and the U.S. made slavery
repugnant and unthinkable

** WE can make it repugnant and unthinkable to make decisions without
asking, "How little harm can we do?"

Return to Table of Contents


From: Environmental Research Foundation, Jun. 10, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


By Peter Montague

A. Prevention vs. precaution: definitions

First, let's clear up a definition: precaution and prevention. To me,
prevention and precaution are usually not worth distinguishing, one
from the other. Precaution is preventive action in the face of
uncertainty. Taking action to avoid trouble and prevent harm is the
main idea. In the face of uncertainty, we call it precautionary

B. The structure of harm: the systemic problem we face

What we've got on our hands is a system that cannot prevent harm

(Thanks to Skip Spitzer of Root Action for naming and describing
"the structure of harm." Skip's original paper can be found here and
in Rachel's News #817 and #818.)

1. Corporations are pervasive, powerful actors compelled to pursue
narrow self-interest within an economic system that forces economic
concentration, creates socially and environmentally harmful models of
production, and requires perpetual growth (which is impossible to
sustain on a finite planet).

2. Those charged with public policy are compelled by corporate
influences and the primacy of economic growth to safeguard corporate

3. Mass media, public relations, science, education and the dominant
consumption- and wealth-oriented culture reflect and reinforce the
corporate system.

4. Patriarchy, racism and intolerance are sources of harm that feed,
and are fed by, the corporate system.

5. Corporate interests are projected internationally by economic,
military, political and cultural activities and by a trade and
investment framework (e.g., the WTO) that has undermined the ability
of governments to control corporate behavior.

However, all is not lost.

C. Conditions for deep change already exist and are ripening

** The end of cheap oil is here, or soon will be

** Global warming is upon us.

** Water shortages are worsening in the U.S. and globally.

** Rising inequality divides the top 2% from the rest of us..

** The rising cost of medical care and the high cost of medical
insurance weigh on the minds of most people.

** The promise of secure retirement is fading for many aging boomers
(which of course affects their children).

** The social safety net created after the Great Depression is being
shredded bit by bit year after year.

** Families and indeed the nation are deeply in debt.

** Widespread insecurity afflicts large portions of the populace (good
jobs disappearing, debt rising, the children's future uncertain). For
many, the system no longer delivers the goods.

** A serious time crunch has beset many families.

** Some ecological limits have appeared on the horizon (no place left
to throw away toxics; cost of some critical resources rising, etc.).

** On a finite planet, endless growth in material production is
impossible, so the modern economy, which requires perpetual growth,
must sooner or later give way to something else.

** And so on and so on... This list could be readily extended.

The response to these realities is accelerating now, and this
conference is part of it: the gathering of steam for a broad, popular
social movement aimed at preventing problems, not merely "managing"

The structure of harm is not an impregnable monolith. It is held
together by outmoded myths, misinformation, unexamined assumptions,
bailing wire and chewing gum. History tells us that every system can
be challenged and changed. It just takes a social movement determined
to make it happen.

D. Building a movement

What is a movement?

A social movement is a joining of campaigns, associations,
organizations and coalitions that share a common vision and overall
goals, symbols, stories, songs, and information, plus a tremendous
sense of solidarity.

A movement involves the major segments of society -- workers, women's
groups, students, youth, intellectuals and others recognizing and
sharing a common set of grievances, often the absence of democratic
participation in decisions. A movement gives rise to cooperative and
coordinated action.

A successful movement to change the "structure of harm," to allow a
prevention philosophy to flourish, will be multi-issue, international,
diverse and democratically inclusive, aiming for class, race and
gender justice, environmental and economic sustainability, and
fundamental change. "Greening" the structure of harm will not change
the structure, though it may still be worth doing, especially if it
can be done in a way that reveals the structure and serves some larger
strategic goal. (See Reform vs. Transform, item #11, below.)

Barriers and opportunities for building a movement

#1 Divide and rule is all our adversaries have going for them

We outnumber them at least 2 to 1 and often by far more than that. To
win, we have to get together and stay together.

We have not always paid close attention to the ways in which our
adversaries divide us and keep us divided. We could benefit by
studying this reality because "divide and rule" is our adversaries'
only CRUCIAL strategy. If they fail to divide us, the game is over for

#2 We apply prevention narrowly to "chemicals and health" problems,
often not reaching out to people working on other issues who are using
prevention, or where prevention could help (see partial list at the
end of this handout)

We could apply precautionary/preventive thinking to the problems our
potential allies are working on (see partial list at the end of this

Instead of asking people to join US, we can join THEM.

We can make stronger connections and deeper alliances

Deeper alliances require acts of mutual support that may go beyond a
group's specific mission or agenda. Can your group examine and restate
its mission to make deeper solidarity a more explicit goal?

We can hook up with networks that are doing stuff that is
precautionary/preventive but not naming it -- and we can help them
name it

We can hook up with groups that are NOT taking a prevention approach
and help them develop such an approach

Any group that has the capacity to do so could designate an ambassador
whose job is to explore alliances with other groups.

#3 TINA -- There is No Alternative

The whole system is set up to convince everyone that There is No
Alternative. (When was the last time for saw a realistic alternative
to our destructive modern lifeways portrayed on TV?) As a result, most
people can't imagine that another world is possible and that many of
the troubles afflicting our communities could be prevented, not merely
tolerated and "managed."

We can help people imagine alternative ways of living and being.

As Patrick Reinsborough of smartMeme wrote in Rachel's News #809
"Even though people might realize they are on the Titanic and the
iceberg is just ahead, they still need to see the lifeboat in order to
jump ship."

We can describe alternatives ways of living in a better world, create
a new story in which people can see themselves working and living in a
different way.

#4 The infrastructure for a precaution/prevention movement could be

Prevention is a different way of thinking -- it guides us to search
for root causes, not superficialities.

Building any movement requires an infrastructure -- state-level or
regional-level organizations that can promote communication, offer
technical assistance, and provide a way to discuss organizing,
leadership, training, strategy, tactics, alliances, actions. Because
prevention is a different way of thinking, we especially need such an
infrastructure now.

#5 We can develop a common vision and agenda.

Our adversaries know exactly what they want and they are ruthless
about going after it. We should not be ruthless, but we definitely
need a vision and goals. As Yogi Berra once said, "If you don't know
where you're going, you might not get there." A movement needs a
vision and goals, so we can know whether we're getting there.

To be more specific, we lack a foundational economic/political agenda
that systematically addresses the underlying issues of corporate power
and lack of ingenuity, and our hollowed-out democracy. Much of our
prevention/precaution work has focused on government, leaving the
principal actor, the publicly-traded corporation, largely untouched.
We can change this. We don't have to develop this agenda overnight but
sooner or later, to modify the structure of harm, we will need such an
agenda to guide our work.

#6 We've said "No" to stuff for so long that we've got to remember how
to say "Yes."

Precaution and prevention give us all something to be FOR and many
opportunities to say Yes.

#7 Participatory democracy takes practice

We could promote democracy in the workplace (support everyone's right
to form and join a union, and to run unions democratically; we could
also promote worker-owned enterprises and producer coops [as a
starting point for discussion, see David Schweickart, After
Capitalism]), in schools (youth activism), through promoting
ownership of enterprises, through participatory budgeting processes in
communities, and through local civic engagement.

But we can also acknowledge that democracy requires time to
participate, time to think about what is right and what we want. This
means our agenda will include ways to give people more free time in
their lives, especially women. (See Gar Alperovitz, America Beyond
Capitalism, for example.)

#8 We have left it to our adversaries to create jobs, which is the
main source of whatever power they hold.

Not all of us need to become expert at local economic development, but
we could make it a priority to form alliances with people that do this
critical work. There are at least two kinds of groups we could make
alliances with:

** those creating early warning systems to learn when firms are in
trouble or their owners are aging, so they can intervene to keep the
firms healthy and stable

** those developing a precautionary economics: To withstand the "gales
of creative destruction" brought on by globalization, communities need
locally-rooted businesses that will stay put. Groups working on such
ideas include the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies
(BALLE), Coop America, the American Independent Business Alliance
(AMIBA), and others.

Without community stability and basic economic security for families
and individuals, neither liberty nor justice is possible.

#9 We sometimes allow our adversaries to define us and of course they
do their best to make us look silly, stupid, extremist, and out of
touch with the lives of real people.

It will be important for us to define ourselves.

#10 We can make sure to include all three environments in our thinking
about any problem:

** the natural environment (water, air, trees, etc.)

** the built environment (sprawl, asbestos, chemicals-and-health)

** and the all-important social environment (low income, disrespect,
social exclusion, pyramids of status, stress, sexism, racism, the
sense that life is out of control...)

By not considering all three environments, we miss huge opportunities
to build our movement.

#11 A central question facing any movement: Reform or transform?

Do we stick with short-term winnable goals, or do we aim for grand,
transformative change?

One answer is, We can aim to do both at the same time.

We can reframe our local issues so they reveal the nature of the
system that gave rise to them. Skip Spitzer of Root Action calls this
systemic reframing: "Systemic reframing places big picture issues in
plain view, raising public consciousness, identifying connections and
suggesting goals and requirements for long-term change."

As Skip says, We can set goals determined not simply by asking the
question "What do we want our campaign to change?" We can ask the
broader question, "What larger systemic changes do we want to achieve
toward which our campaign will move us?" In this way, near-term,
winnable goals can be developed that are important in their own right
and serve as a foundation for or step to broader change.

#12 As smartMeme reminds us, we can develop story-based strategies for
changing the culture with sympathetic characters that personalize
issues, engage people's values, foreshadow the future and help people
see themselves living and working in a new world.

#13 Our work is based on ethics and can be expressed that way

Our work is fundamentally ethical, and we can express it that way.

1) preventing harm and suffering;

2) seeking justice;

3) protecting the life support system for this and future generations.

We all want to take action to avoid trouble and prevent harm so we
naturally search for the root causes of harm, to know what we are
trying to prevent. This leads us to the structure of harm.

We are all responsible for the consequences of our actions, which
means we think about the consequences of our actions BEFORE we act. We
look before we leap, and after we act we continue to pay attention,
alert for signs of trouble, ready to change direction or reverse
course if need be.

We now know that technologies have great potential for good but also
great potential for harm, so we make choices deliberately and
carefully to help our communities avoid trouble down the road.

We seek justice for communities, which means we try to avoid piling
new burdens on communities already living with more than their fair
share of trouble.

We recognize that waste is a glaring sign of inefficiency and design
failure, so we aim to avoid all waste, with zero waste the goal.

So that's my 2 cents, folks. Let's roll up our sleeves are think
together about, "How can we build this movement?"

What are YOUR IDEAS?

Return to Table of Contents


From: Reuters, Jun. 20, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


Much of world's growth will take place in Asia, although U.S. will
still use the most; OPEC needed to meet bulk of demand, EIA says.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- World oil demand should soar from this year's
almost 86 million barrels per day to 118 million bpd by 2030, even
though higher fuel prices will cut back some petroleum usage, the U.S.
government's top energy forecasting agency predicted Tuesday.

Much of the growth in global oil consumption over the next quarter
century will come from the non-industrialized nations in Asia, where
the strong economies of China and India will gobble up more barrels,
according to the Energy Information Administration, the statistical
arm of the Department of Energy.

"Much of the world's incremental oil demand is projected for use in
the transportation sector, where there are few competitive
alternatives to petroleum," EIA said in its annual long-term
international energy supply and demand forecast.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will provide a large
chunk of the additional oil supplies that will be needed to meet
demand in 2030, the EIA said.

However, the agency said OPEC's total share of global supply will fall
from 39.7 percent (34 million bpd) of this year's world oil demand to
38.4 percent (45.3 million bpd) of global oil demand in 2030.

While worldwide oil consumption rises, expected high crude prices will
reduce demand by some 8 million bpd more than forecast last year in
2025 to 111 million bpd, EIA said. This year's forecast has
projections out to 2030 for the first time.

Oil production from non-OPEC countries in West Africa and the Caspian
Sea region is forecast to increase sharply and grab a larger share of
the global oil market over the next 25 years.

Oil output is expected to decline in Norway, Europe's largest
producer, from a peak of 3.6 million bpd this year to 2.5 million bpd
in 2030.

Despite President Bush's call for the United States to end its
addiction to oil, Americans will use more crude and retain the title
of the world's biggest energy consumers.

U.S. oil demand is forecast to jump from 20.8 million bpd this year to
27.6 million bpd in 2030, still accounting for about one out of every
four barrels of crude consumed each day in the world.

The EIA's long-term forecast to 2030 also predicted:

- Global natural gas consumption will jump from 95 trillion cubic feet
in 2003 to 182 trillion cubic feet.

- Coal use will grow at an average annual rate of 2.5 percent.

- High oil prices will raise concerns about the security of energy
supplies and will increase nuclear power generating capacity.

- Carbon dioxide emissions linked to global warming will rise from 25
billion tons in 2003 to 43.7 billion tons. Non-industrialized nations
will account for 75 percent of the increase in emissions by 2030.

- Renewables, like solar and wind power, will meet 9.1 percent of U.S.
energy demand in 2030, almost double from 5.7 percent in 2003.

Copyright 2006 Reuters

Return to Table of Contents


From: Alternet, Jun. 19, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


The era of corporate welfare and trickle-down economics championed by
Republicans for 25 years is over. It's up to us to think of what will
replace it.

By William Greider, The Nation

Momentous change is approaching in American politics. Conceivably, the
turning point has already arrived, too indistinct to recognize. We are
witnessing the demise of the reigning economic ideology. A deep shift
of this kind is a very rare event, one that comes along only every
thirty or forty years. Economic disorders accumulate that the
orthodoxy cannot answer and may even have caused. Eventually, the
ideological presumptions are discredited by real-world contradictions.

The last time this happened was in the 1970s, when economic liberalism
foundered and collapsed. Ossified intellectually, unable to adjust to
changed circumstances, the liberal order did not know how to deal with
economic consequences like inflationary stagnation. As the long
postwar prosperity lost its energy, so did liberal politics.

Something similar is happening now to the Republicans. Their problem
is the underperforming economy, which must borrow to stay afloat and,
roughly speaking, lifts only half the boats. The conservative order --
inspired two generations ago by Milton Friedman and Friedrich von
Hayek and brought to power by Republican ascendancy -- pushed
government aside so business and capital would be free to generate
more lasting prosperity. But their utopian promise was not fulfilled.
Instead, the right's principal product, one can say, was economic

The breakdown won't necessarily produce an immediate shift in power.
When the bottom fell out of liberal doctrine thirty years ago, what
first unfolded was confusion and political paralysis, then an awkward
retreat by the Democrats until they were finally displaced by the
aggressive new conservatives under Ronald Reagan. But it does mean
that Republicans have lost the political cohesion to advance their
more extreme measures (privatizing Social Security, freeing capital
entirely of taxation).

More to the point, the way is now open for alternative thinking: the
new ideas that can lead to a new governing order. These ideas must be
grounded in a determination to give people back their future. The
strange paradox of our times is that despite America's fabulous
wealth, most people's lives are shadowed by economic anxieties and
real confinements, the wounds that market ideology has imposed. They
fear that much worse is ahead for their children. Reform must re-
establish this fundamental principle: The economy exists to support
society and people, not the other way around. Only government can
liberate them from the harsh rule of the marketplace, the demands
imposed by capital and corporations that stunt or stymie the full
pursuit of life and liberty in this complex industrial society. This
very wealthy country has the capacity to insure that all citizens,
regardless of status or skills, have the essential needs to pursue
secure, self-directed lives. This starts with the right to health,
work, livable incomes and open-ended education, and to participate
meaningfully in the decisions that govern their lives. The marketplace
has no interest in providing these. It is actively destroying them.

A coherent alternative agenda that will fulfill these principles does
not yet exist. Nor will a liberal-progressive program emerge
miraculously if the Democratic Party should somehow regain power in
the next few years, since many Democrats in Congress have internalized
the market ideology and collaborate with the right. But elements of
that alternative agenda are already ripe for discussion. Before we
explore some of them, however, we should examine the economics of why
the right failed.

The economic engine is running on empty. It looks robust only if you
ignore the underlying conditions. Household savings were negative last
year for the first time since 1933; that is, families kept up by
spending more than they earned and by borrowing to do so. The national
economy, encompassing private-sector business and government as well
as households, also had negative savings in the fall quarter of 2005,
despite bountiful corporate profits.

The household accounting reflects a common reality: Wage incomes,
adjusted for inflation, are stagnant or falling. The weekly wage for
92 million people in nonsupervisory jobs (82 percent of the private-
sector workforce) has declined for three consecutive years, largely
because total working hours shrank across the economy. Even per capita
income -- a broader measure that includes the billionaires -- declined
for four years in a row under Bush. One in six manufacturing jobs has
been lost since 2000 (39 percent in communications equipment, 37
percent in semiconductors). These losses are explained as free-market
"efficiencies" but mainly represent the global relocation of American

The cumulative effect is an economy that doesn't produce enough to pay
for what it wants and needs. The conservative order, notwithstanding
its proclaimed values, makes up the difference by borrowing. In five
years, Bush has added $2.5 trillion to the federal debt with more to
come (thanks to his regressive tax cutting, deficit spending, the war
in Iraq and the subpar economy). In the same five years, the national
economy as a whole took on even more debt -- $2.9 trillion -- to pay
for the ever-swelling trade deficits. The creditors are our trading
partners, led by China and Japan. The collective indebtedness is
growing much faster than the nation's collective income -- always an
ominous sign for a debtor. George W. Bush may wind up as history's
goat because he had the bad luck to inherit the effects of 25 years of
rightward governance (including Bill Clinton's tenure). Government
shifted tax burdens downward, favored military spending over
productive domestic investment, encouraged multinationals to disperse
jobs and production overseas and embraced the Federal Reserve's hard-
money monetary policy, which suppressed working-class wages. Fortunes
were shifted upward, fabulously.

The era produced a great ideological irony: Starting with Reagan, the
right repeatedly finessed its contradictions with debt -- the borrow-
and-spend "sin" they once assigned to liberalism. In 1981, Reagan's
first year as President, the federal debt surpassed $1 trillion for
the first time ever. Twenty-five years later, despite fiscal restraint
under Clinton, the federal debt has surpassed $8 trillion.

The Republicans now find themselves in a corner with no good choices.
If Bush withdrew the stimulus of federal deficits, economic growth
would collapse. The sensible course would require a massive shift in
priorities -- moving money and benefits from the wealthy few to the
struggling many -- but that is ideological heresy and would double-
cross the GOP's monied patrons. Bush could confront the huge trade
deficits by imposing unilateral limits on imports, but that is also a
humiliating heresy he won't touch. So conservatives are likely to
muddle on, hoping the economy will somehow work itself out of its
weaknesses. Progressives should get busy now developing alternative
ideas for the major shift that must inevitably follow.

For life and liberty

You wouldn't know it from reading the newspapers, but substantial and
often overwhelming majorities of Americans have repeatedly endorsed
governing concepts that conventional politicians dismiss as radical or
unrealistic: Universal healthcare. A job for everyone who wants to
work, guaranteed by the government. Secure retirements. Stronger
enforcement of environmental laws. Stronger defenses against
encroaching corporate power. Union protection for workers against
exploitative employers. The list goes on. These widely endorsed goals
assume an activist government that nurtures people and society first,
ahead of corporations and capital. Imagine a political agenda that
sets out to give the people what they say they want. The heart of the
problem is the deterioration of work and wages. There are many other
elements damaging the pursuit of life and liberty; but as old-school
liberals always understood, if wages and working conditions are not
moving in the right direction, you won't accomplish much toward
healing other social injuries and disorders. What follows is a short
list of provocative ideas meant to stimulate imaginations.

Repair wages:

This should start with government acting as the "employer of last
resort" and involves a large and permanent program of federally
financed jobs, open to anyone ready and willing to work and closely
integrated with skill training and education. For most workers, the
public jobs would be temporary, a safe harbor until opportunities
improve in private employment. What might the people do? Any work that
helps address the vast inventory of unmet public needs -- a broad
program of public investment that rebuilds neighborhoods, reclaims
ruined ecosystems or restores production. Local citizens and
governments would choose the priorities, not Washington.

The most dramatic benefits would obviously accrue to the poor --
injecting jobs with reliable (and legal) cash incomes into desolate
urban and rural communities, a financial platform to stimulate private
enterprise and redevelopment. Young people could hold part-time public
jobs, conditioned on staying in school, and bring cash home to the
family, while getting hands-on experience and productive skills--a
powerful alternative to dead-end lives. The federal job guarantee
would also bolster the broad working class: a new safety net for the
people displaced by recessions, offshoring or corporate downsizing.
Wages could be scaled upward for the public jobs, based on the skill
levels involved, and the displaced industrial workers would have
access to retraining.

Above all, a permanent program of public employment, properly
conceived, would boost wages. It would mop up surplus labor (about two
times larger than official unemployment) and create a new wage floor,
generating upward pressure in the labor market. In a more bountiful
era, this might seem unnecessary, even inflationary. But today's
economy has things upside down: It proliferates the low-wage service
jobs that cannot sustain families, while it gradually eliminates the
high-wage manufacturing jobs that provide middle-class incomes. Public
jobs, together with a sustained campaign to raise the minimum wage and
other measures, would gradually shift the flow of rewards in the other

Employers will not like this, obviously, and will argue that rising
wages are bad for the economy -- higher prices, lower profits. But is
that really so? The steady deterioration of working-class wages over
the past thirty years did not produce a healthier economy. Someone
should ask working people whether they would choose cheaper prices at
Wal-Mart or better incomes for themselves. The current labor market
does indeed benefit the more affluent Americans who have been enriched
by what happened to the price of labor. Now it is time to reverse the
flow and heal the wounded -- that is, restore a balanced prosperity.

Deregulate labor:

The destruction of worker rights (the right to organize a union,
established by the 1935 National Labor Relations Act) is a great
failure of regulatory government and a critical factor in the
deterioration of wages and working conditions. Union density has
declined to 8 percent of the private-sector workforce, yet a poll last
year found that 53 percent of workers would like to be represented by
a union -- if they could. The gap between aspirations and reality is
maintained by systematic and often illegal corporate tactics that
block workers from exercising their rights.

One answer might be to eliminate the National Labor Relations Board --
free the workers of regulation. Federal law and regulators are quite
lame in policing the corporate illegalities, but workers and unions
are prohibited by law from using effective tactics like secondary
boycotts, sit-down strikes occupying workplaces and mass
mobilizations. A newly enacted labor law would be grounded in
constitutional rights -- free speech, freedom of assembly, the
Thirteenth Amendment prohibiting involuntary servitude -- rather than
politically vulnerable regulatory law.

Rethinking labor rights is another opportunity to build bridges across
class differences by creating a broader set of rights that apply to
all employees, regardless of union status. That would involve basic
protections against managerial abuses, and also new rights of self-
expression and the right to participate in decision-making within the
firm. The best companies already do this, because they know the free
flow of information among employees stimulates innovation and
efficiency reforms. Labor law effectively inhibits unionized workers
from even meeting with nonunion colleagues without the boss's consent.

Ultimately, labor-law reform should encourage an economy of worker
ownership in which employees share responsibility for the firm with
management and share more equitably in the returns. The top-down
corporate structure is a major source of inequality. Does anyone
imagine that employees, if they had a voice, would ratify the
scandalous executive pay for CEOs?

Tax corporate behavior:

Major corporations used to be part of the liberal social contract.
They were the institutional partners that distributed health
insurance, pensions, labor guarantees and other progressive benefits
to workers and communities (reimbursed by federal tax deductions). But
during the last generation, companies have resigned from this role,
turning on their employees and extracting "profit" by expropriating
the value that belonged to their workers: wages, pensions, healthcare
benefits and good working conditions.

Government has to step in and fill the void to avert social calamity.
The old arrangement helped build the middle class, but it was never as
good as it sounded. Roughly half the country was left out. Moreover,
the voluntary nature gave managements the power to set the terms --
and the freedom to break promises -- which were challenged only by

Universal health insurance is the most pressing imperative because
health costs continue to soar as the burden is shifted to employees.
Pensions may become a larger crisis in the long run. The right's t25-
year experiment with individual pension accounts has failed, leaving
even middle-class workers unprepared for retirement. Instead of
tinkering with the failed concept, reformers should create an entirely
new national pension: universal, mandatory savings under government
supervision that, alongside Social Security, will insure comfortable
retirement for all. One model is the pension plan already enjoyed by
federal employees and members of Congress.

Companies need to pay, meanwhile, for their antisocial behavior. They
collect hundreds of billions in tax breaks and subsidies, yet abuse
society in return -- degrading the environment and communities,
ignoring the national interest, offloading their obligations.
Corporate taxation has declined since the 1960s from more than 20
percent of federal revenue to less than 10 percent. Despite their
profitability, scores of major corporations pay zero taxes (some even
collect refunds). One plausible remedy is to refashion the corporate
income tax as an important new mechanism for enforcing corporate
obligations to society. Imagine a reformed tax code that clears away
all the corrupted loopholes and sets the basic corporate tax rate
higher, at around 45 percent.

Corporations would then be able to reduce their tax liability --
perhaps by 15 points or more -- by demonstrating that their
performance adheres to higher social standards. Does the company, for
instance, increase wages for workers in step with its rising
productivity, as economists assume, or does it pocket the money for
the insiders and shareholders? A positive record could knock several
points off the tax rate. Does the company have an egregious history of
trashing environmental laws or fraudulent dealings in financial
markets? It would be ineligible for reductions. If the company is
increasing its American workforce, augmenting pensions and healthcare,
encouraging democratic relations with employees, it could be rewarded
at tax time. This leverage would penalize bad behavior at the bottom
line and reinforce the tattered regulatory laws. The performance
ratings would be public -- a "market signal" that tells investors and
consumers which companies are the white hats and which are the rogues.

Develop an industrial policy for essential needs:

Economic deregulation produced real economic gains, like stimulating
technological innovation, but it also fed inequality in sly ways. The
deregulated system raised costs for the least affluent, while larger
business customers were able to bargain for lower prices. Financial
deregulation (enacted by Democrats in 1980) legalized usurious lending
and created a large pool of families (now around 12 million) who can't
afford a bank account and who get ripped off by predatory lenders.
Deregulation of electric utilities led to Enron and the price-rigging
scandals. That sector, meanwhile, notoriously ignores its culpability
for producing global warming.

The point is, some consumer goods are too essential to be left to the
profit-seeking enthusiasms -- and reckless disruptions -- of private
enterprise. People need them to live and are thus always prey to
exploitation. Family finances will benefit and so will the environment
if government selectively re-regulates industrial sectors producing
for essential needs: banking and finance, energy, elements of
transportation and telecommunications, for starters.

The basic approach is restoring a franchise relationship in which
firms accept government-imposed obligations in exchange for limited
competition and an assurance of moderate profits. Market space can be
preserved for smaller, innovative firms. New rules can avoid the
inflexibilities of the old system. But the notion that corporations
have a right to annex common public assets and turn them into
profitable commodities has to be stopped. Companies are buying the
water. What's next -- selling us clean air?

A prime candidate for essential-needs regulation is the drug industry.
Among its many outrages, the drug companies ride free on the expensive
basic research financed by government, then convert it into private,
overpriced products -- paying nothing at all back to the original
financiers, the taxpayers. If citizens ever understood this scam, they
would be angry enough to demand a nationalized drug industry. At the
very least, citizens are entitled to reasonable pricing and a share of
the profits from the medicine they paid to create.

Re-regulation of commerce also requires some rules accepted as
everyday practice in business. When government hands out public money
to a company, it should demand an enforceable contract: written
agreement from the corporate recipient about what the public gets in
return and the right to recover the money if the agreement isn't
fulfilled. When government puts up public capital for a private
development as tax breaks or infrastructure, it should get equity in
return. If businesses don't like these terms, they don't have to take
the public's money.

These ideas and others can gain political traction if reformers
reclaim the language of freedom. It starts with a liberating message
for people: The failure lies in the system, not yourselves. When the
conservative order stripped away government protections for society,
control was handed over to another master -- the marketplace -- that
is even more remote from accountability and far less sympathetic to
the human condition. That old order is collapsing. Now life and
liberty can be restored. Government helps by creating the proper
foundations. People will do the rest for themselves.

William Greider is the author of, most recently, "The Soul of
Capitalism" (Simon & Schuster).

Return to Table of Contents


From: Indigenous Environmental Network, Jun. 16, 2006
[Printer-friendly version]


July 6-9, 2006
Veterans Memorial (Pow-Wow and Camp) Grounds
Cass Lake, Minnesota

Held within the territories of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe

Plenary Sessions on: Water, Toxics & Environmental Health, Energy &
Climate Justice, Sacred Sites

Workshops and Trainings on:

-Models of Tribal Cleanup of Contaminated & Superfund Sites

-Affects of Mercury Poisoning and Policy Solutions

-Toxic Body Burdens: Effects of Dioxin and other Bio-accumulative

-Waste Gasification: An Incinerator in Disguise

-Coal Bed Methane, Coal Mining and Coal Fired Power Plant Technology

-Reform of the 1872 Mining Law: Native Strategy on Mining

-Oil Drilling, Oil Refineries and Petro-Politics

-Climate Justice: Global Warming and Climate Change

-Renewable Clean Energy: Community-Based Wind and Solar Projects

-Water Privatization, Water Trading and Commodification

-Red River Water Supply Project: A Regional Tribal Issue

-Traditional Knowledge in Forest Management

-Sacred & Historical Sites Protection

-Protection of Rice, Traditional Foods and Medicines from Bio-Piracy
and Genetic Modification and Engineering

-Straw Bale Building Construction


Native Youth Activities and Leadership Workshops

This is an outdoor camping conference. Camping areas available. Nearby
motel available within walking distance (Palace Casino & Hotel

Meals provided each day -- bring utensils, cups and plates. Shower
facilities nearby. Child care. Airplane link in nearby Bemidji with a
major hub in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Four hours driving either from
Minneapolis/St. Paul or Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Donations welcome
at the entrance area.

Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe 4th of July Traditional Pow-Wow, July 1-4,
2006, Veterans Memorial Grounds -- Come early, camp and Pow-Wow!

A Sacred Fire will guide the conference. Sweatlodge ceremonies will be

Anishinaabeg Water Ceremony and Teachings on Water will be conducted.
Bring samples of water from your homeland.

Limited travel scholarships available for U.S. and Canadian Native
community-based groups working on environmental justice issues.

For More Info:

IEN Bemidji Office
Tel: (218) 751-4967

Hotel accommodations at: Leech Lake Palace Casino & Hotel:

A 80 room hotel next to the pow-wow grounds.

Accommodations in the Bemidji area: http://www.visitbe

The conference site is 16 miles from the town of Bemidji. No shuttles
will be arranged.

Rental cars in Bemidji: Enterprise, Hertz, National/Alamo

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
  Rachel's Democracy & Health News is published as often as
  necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the

  Peter Montague -
  Tim Montague   -

  To start your own free Email subscription to Rachel's Democracy
  & Health News send a blank Email to:

  In response, you will receive an Email asking you to confirm that
  you want to subscribe.

Environmental Research Foundation
P.O. Box 160, New Brunswick, N.J. 08903