Greener Times

Promoting a sustainable society…one day at a time.

July 27 – August 2

Posted by Trey Smith on July 26, 2009

Greener Times for the Week of July 27 – August 2
Volume 4  No. 15
an e-publication for Greens anywhere and everywhere

Greener Times Collective: Maryrose Asher, Duff Badgley, Tom Herring and Trey Smith (Editor)

In This Week’s Issue
* Please Write a Letter to Improve Our Election System
* Not Everything in America Has to Make a Profit
* Thoughts By the Way: A Tight Little Island
* Our Climate Crisis: United Against Cap & Trade
* Un-Spinning the Spin: Labor Forms D.I.M.E. PAC
* This Week in History
* Pencil Shavings: Breathing While Black
* News You May Have Missed

Please Write a Letter to Improve Our Election System
by Joe Szwaja – President Ranked Choice Voting of Washington, 206-523-3278

We have a great opportunity to help promote Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) a.k.a. Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) the system that promotes broader voter choice, eliminates the “spoiler” effect and allows us to vote our hopes rather than our fears. As you know, RCV is already being used in Pierce County. With one simple email, you can help to get RCV considered as a voting system that we can use right here in King County!

Due to tremendous grass roots pressure, the King County Charter Review Commission voted last year to recommend that the King County Council study whether we should use RCV for county elections. The council agreed and charged the Citizens Election Oversight Committee (CEOC) with studying RCV and deciding whether to recommend placing it on the ballot.

The CEOC has agreed to hear testimony from myself and several other advocates of RCV at their August 12 meeting. It would strengthen our efforts with the CEOC if you would send an email to their staff person, Michael Alvine telling why you think RCV is a good idea. Mr. Alvine will then forward any emails you sent him to members of the CEOC. Use you own words, but here are a few good points (mentioning just 2 or 3 is fine).

* RCV is more democratic and representative than our current plurality system because it ensures that the winner is supported by a majority of voters. It encourages higher voter turnout and is a more precise measurement of voter preferences.

* RCV allows people to vote for their preferred candidates without the threat that by doing so they may help elect the candidates they support the least.

* RCV would save hundreds of thousands of dollars each election cycle by consolidating the low-turnout August primary into the high-turnout general election.

* RCV encourages more positive campaigns since voters’ #2 votes matter, so candidates generally don’t want to discourage potential voters by going negative.

* RCV has proven very popular around the country from Cambridge, Massachusetts where it has been used for decades, to Burlington, Vermont, to San Francisco, where it has earned high voter reviews since being instituted in 2005. In Pierce County it was supported by a clear majority of the voters when placed on the ballot in 2006. –

Once you have written your email (please do it right away) please let me know.

For more information on why Ranked Choice Voting is a great system, please check http://www.fairvote.org or http://www.rcv.org.

Not Everything in America Has to Make a Profit
by Bill Maher for the Huffington Post

How about this for a New Rule: Not everything in America has to make a profit. It used to be that there were some services and institutions so vital to our nation that they were exempt from market pressures. Some things we just didn’t do for money. The United States always defined capitalism, but it didn’t used to define us. But now it’s becoming all that we are.

Did you know, for example, that there was a time when being called a “war profiteer” was a bad thing? But now our war zones are dominated by private contractors and mercenaries who work for corporations. There are more private contractors in Iraq than American troops, and we pay them generous salaries to do jobs the troops used to do for themselves ­– like laundry. War is not supposed to turn a profit, but our wars have become boondoggles for weapons manufacturers and connected civilian contractors.

Prisons used to be a non-profit business, too. And for good reason –­ who the hell wants to own a prison? By definition you’re going to have trouble with the tenants. But now prisons are big business. A company called the Corrections Corporation of America is on the New York Stock Exchange, which is convenient since that’s where all the real crime is happening anyway. The CCA and similar corporations actually lobby Congress for stiffer sentencing laws so they can lock more people up and make more money. That’s why America has the world;s largest prison population ­– because actually rehabilitating people would have a negative impact on the bottom line.

Television news is another area that used to be roped off from the profit motive. When Walter Cronkite died last week, it was odd to see news anchor after news anchor talking about how much better the news coverage was back in Cronkite’s day. I thought, “Gee, if only you were in a position to do something about it.”

But maybe they aren’t. Because unlike in Cronkite’s day, today’s news has to make a profit like all the other divisions in a media conglomerate. That’s why it wasn’t surprising to see the CBS Evening News broadcast live from the Staples Center for two nights this month, just in case Michael Jackson came back to life and sold Iran nuclear weapons. In Uncle Walter’s time, the news division was a loss leader. Making money was the job of The Beverly Hillbillies. And now that we have reporters moving to Alaska to hang out with the Palin family, the news is The Beverly Hillbillies.

And finally, there’s health care. It wasn’t that long ago that when a kid broke his leg playing stickball, his parents took him to the local Catholic hospital, the nun put a thermometer in his mouth, the doctor slapped some plaster on his ankle and you were done. The bill was $1.50, plus you got to keep the thermometer.

But like everything else that’s good and noble in life, some Wall Street wizard decided that hospitals could be big business, so now they’re run by some bean counters in a corporate plaza in Charlotte. In the U.S. today, three giant for-profit conglomerates own close to 600 hospitals and other health care facilities. They’re not hospitals anymore; they’re Jiffy Lubes with bedpans. America’s largest hospital chain, HCA, was founded by the family of Bill Frist, who perfectly represents the Republican attitude toward health care: it’s not a right, it’s a racket. The more people who get sick and need medicine, the higher their profit margins. Which is why they’re always pushing the Jell-O.

Because medicine is now for-profit we have things like “recision,” where insurance companies hire people to figure out ways to deny you coverage when you get sick, even though you’ve been paying into your plan for years.

When did the profit motive become the only reason to do anything? When did that become the new patriotism? Ask not what you could do for your country, ask what’s in it for Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

If conservatives get to call universal health care “socialized medicine,” I get to call private health care “soulless vampires making money off human pain.” The problem with President Obama’s health care plan isn’t socialism, it’s capitalism.

And if medicine is for profit, and war, and the news, and the penal system, my question is: what’s wrong with firemen? Why don’t they charge? They must be commies. Oh my God! That explains the red trucks!

Thoughts By the Way: A Tight Little Island
Tom Herring is a Community Council member on Vashon Island. Catch more of Tom’s thoughts on his blog.

In 1949 a Scottish film named Whisky Galore was renamed Tight Little Island for US release. It traced the flow of whiskey from a shipwreck into various nooks and cavities of an island of acculturated scavengers. “Tight” is a US idiom perhaps derived from “having tied one on”. Vashon is tight in the more literal sense of obsession with detail and control, sometimes shortened to anal retentive. For on Vashon there is no war, no genocide, banks do not fail, there are no jails packed with black people for profit, there is no torture, and there’s no need to address social concerns over such matters as the commute, health care, food supply, or drug use by our youth. What? No, I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about our Community Council, the local arm of the King County Council. I’m talking about its obsession with sticking to “local issues”. And, no, it does not try to control motions from the floor. It just controls motions being administered.

Here’s the ulterior motive in trashing my home town: until a quorum of communities such as Vashon find a communal voice of outrage at what is happening to America, there will be no improvement in America’s government. With a surprised whimper, we will otherwise slide into the third world. In trying to counter the argument that we should stick to matters we can affect, not waste time on matters we cannot affect, I have been trying for years to point out that not acting for the national good is hurting local good. America is an organism. No part can survive if the whole is diseased.

Health care is much in the news these weeks, and it is health care that pushed my button. In spite of the national struggle between the David of the Kuciniches and the Goliath of the Insurers, and in spite of a spectacular parade by Vashon’s Backbone Movement, Single Payer Vashon, and the local Greens, our Community Council board has refused to put single payer on the agenda. Furthermore, a proposal for an innovative funding of single payer for Vashon has been ignored. Most of the blame falls not on the board itself but on the arrangement. Whereas Vashon’s unique situation as the last major Puget Sound island unsullied by a bridge makes a degree of self-government a clear need, Vashon is instead tacked up on the County’s bulletin board as an Unincorporated Area. The County’s huge DDES, translation, permit department, is letting the island tend toward mansions, and is not encouraging local involvement in development. We go along, and resolutely duck issues key to our survival of fallout from national decay. This mindset on our part, coupled with remote governance by the County, is what curtails any attempt by the Council to effect a degree of self-government. Health care is a prominent, clear cut, example.

A check on my calendar for weather and manmade, make that manwomanmade, fallout reveals around four years for the ocean currents to become El Loco, three years for the US economy to disappear, and two years for our meddling in Asia to start world war three. I am not going to head for the hills. I am staying put and doing what I can to prepare my children and grandchildren for the inevitable.

Our Climate Crisis: United Against Cap & Trade
Duff Badgley is the leader of the One Earth Climate Action Group and was a candidate for Governor as a Green in 2008. He can be reached at 206-283-0621.

Every creature on Earth is threatened by cap-and-trade legislation now working its way through the U.S. Congress. Time is short. Join our campaign to resist now.

Jim Hansen has personally endorsed our United Against Cap-and-Trade campaign. Jim is the world’s pre-eminent climate scientist. He is the director of NASA’s Goddard Space Institute. He was the first to testify before Congress about global warming in 1988. He is one of our few climate scientists whom Bush could not fire or shut up.

Jim says, “Cap-and-Trade is the Temple of Doom”.

He says cap-and-trade is a “subterfuge designed to allow business-as-usual to continue, under a pretense of action…”It’s just greenwash. I would rather the forthcoming Copenhagen climate talks fail than we agree to a bad deal.”

We salute Jim’s recent direct action in West Virginia when he and others blocked an entrance to a mountaintop removal site. He was arrested for his bold efforts to salvage our Livable Planet.

Larry Lohmann, an American living in the U.K., is another of our scholarly opponents of cap-and-trade. Larry is the author of an excellent book Carbon Trading: A Critical Conversation on Climate Change, Privatization and Power.

Here’s what Larry sent me this week about the current impact of American carbon trading—not even law: “Waxman-Markey is already triggering a land grab in central Africa …”

As an alternative to cap-and-trade, we promote no-escape caps plus bold, progressive carbon taxes with low-income exemptions and a 100% dividend for many individuals.

We are inspired by the Occupation Project of 2006. Created by Medea Benjamin and Code Pink, it was a national campaign to resist the War in Iraq. Its chief tactic: occupying local and national offices of federal legislators who continued to vote for war funding. Some occupiers chose to be arrested. Some did not. It was a powerful campaign stretching coast-to-coast. It garnered national press attention and the attention of many U.S. senators and representatives.

Occupying senate offices now, we think, will make maximum impact in the little time we have to resist federal cap-and-trade. It will open doors and promote dialogue—and maybe change votes. We plan to couple office occupying with street rallies and signature gathering.

While our strategy of occupying senatorial offices is one focus, it need not be the only one. We want and need your ideas about how to craft the campaign in your area.

Remember, Congress will be in recess most of August. Many senators will be back home where they may be vulnerable.

Time is crucial.

As you know, the House has already passed Waxman/Markey. The Senate will take up its cap-and-trade version in October. Obama has promised to sign cap-and-trade legislation. We need to target 100 senators. More than 100 of you are receiving this message. If each of us “adopts” a senator to lobby/protest/sit-in, we can create a powerful presence. The outcome in the Senate is not a sure thing for the cap-and-trade advocates. If we can swing a few votes, we could make a huge difference!

Paraphrasing Jim Hansen, a bad climate deal is much worse than no deal, at all. If we try later to build on a ‘subterfuge’, we still have a subterfuge.

We must act now. Please consider joining as an organizer in your area. If the U.S. adopts cap-and-trade, all Earthly creatures are in peril.

Let us hear from you.

Please forward this to your listserves.

Thanks.

Un-Spinning the Spin: Labor Forms D.I.M.E. PAC
Maryrose Asher is a former Chair of the Green Party of Washington State and a tireless activist of many causes.

In a long overdue move, organized labor has decided not to “blindly” support Democrats running for office. Two weeks ago, the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC) issued its report on the “unfriendly labor climate” here in the state and launched its new strategy in evaluating candidates: the DIME (Don’t Invest in More Excuses) PAC.

From the WSLC website:

During the 2009 session, it became clear that organized labor can no longer rely on party leadership to advance a progressive agenda for working families. That was clear in 2009, but it has happened many times before as well. That’s why it’s so important that unions more strategically target their campaign contributions and their grassroots political education efforts.

In the past, the WSLC and many of our affiliates have made significant contributions to caucus campaign committees and to incumbent legislators who were not facing serious election challenges. Those campaign contributions are eventually used by caucus leadership to fund activities that benefit individual legislators who then turn around and work against the interest of our members in Olympia. This needs to change. We need to make sure that only those legislators who are willing to stand up for working families receive our financial support.

The WSLC has created the Don’t Invest In More Excuses PAC—or DIME PAC for short—as a way for unions to target campaign contributions more strategically. Although it’s up to the rank-and-file members and elected officers of individual unions to decide how to make their political contributions, the WSLC urges affiliates to consider contributing to DIME PAC rather than to political party funds. All contributing affiliates will decide how best to target DIME PAC contributions and expenditures for the 2010 elections.

The report goes on to say that unions cannot compete with the donations from large corporation donors, however they have provided the people power for grassroots efforts of candidates. The grassroots election activities of its Labor Neighbor program will now focus on helping to elect those fighting for working families and “not just to build political majorities.”

In addition to the monies raised through DIME and grassroots volunteers, the WSLC is actively identifying potential candidates to run for office “at every level of government” and will provide candidate training through the WSLC’s Labor Candidate School.

This is a major change from the past when unions would raise money and give it directly to the Democratic Party, letting the Party leadership decide how it should be spent.

Below is a joint statement by Dave Schmitz, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21, and Larry Brown, legislative and political director of the Aerospace Machinists Local 751 as quoted in an article in The Olympian, “Labor forms ‘Don’t Invest in More Excuses’ PAC” (July 17, 2009):

UFCW 21 and the Machinist Union are strong believers in the recently announced change in how we in the labor movement in our state will act in future elections. The DIME PAC is a way for unions to be able to control how and where our political contributions are spent. Up until now we have often given money to the Democratic Party’s various political funds, and then the Party leadership has determined who gets it or how it should be spent. It has proven to be a failed model.

Why do we feel a need to change the way we operate? Because our Democratic leaders are serially putting corporate profits ahead of our state’s workers and a healthy economy. On the campaign trail, Democratic leaders conveyed that workers and their unions built the middle class. During the legislative session, these same leaders delivered on the agenda of wealthy corporations. We are not naïve about the political arena and well aware that you win some and lose some. But this recent legislative session was categorically different. The economy and budget crisis, while used as an excuse by leaders to the contrary, was an opportunity for policy changes to support workers not further erode their position in the economy.

One stark example helps tell the story. We received a commitment from Democratic leaders that they would support the Worker Privacy Act, the number one priority of our unions and the Washington State Labor Council. Less then two days before cut-off, the bill was suspended from action by the Democratic leadership. The excuse given was an accusation that an email sent by a union leader was potentially illegal and the bill could no longer be considered under that cloud. Within a week the State Patrol deemed the leadership claims had no merit. Meanwhile the AP revealed internal communication between Boeing and the Governor’s office about the need to kill the bill and how it would pass without her personal engagement. The smear created by this political theater was both intentional and reprehensible. And subsequent meetings with Democratic elected leaders have provided little reassurance that we can count on leadership really standing up for working families. Now, in the last week, some Democratic leaders implied that unions should accept a no strike clause with Boeing, adding fuel to this fire. Why did not one of these politicians say Boeing’s no strike demand was outrageous and that companies are equally responsible for strikes? Why did not one of these politicians say loudly the right to strike is a fundamental, field-leveling right in a democracy? Why did not one of these politicians point to Boeing’s failed outsourcing model as the main culprit for their business problems? We need legislation and rights that level the playing field for workers and provide for good family wage jobs, the foundation of any strong community. President Obama understands this fundamental fact; our state’s elected leaders would be wise to follow his lead.

Unfortunately, this “unfriendly labor climate” is not limited to just Washington state. I came across this comment under the title, “When Does Obama Admin Start Enforcing Age Discrimination and Other Employment Laws?”

This weekend I was hearing about yet another Silicon Valley-based outfit that has purged everyone over 50 to cut insurance costs. To add insult to injury everyone had to sign an agreement not to file a complaint about age discrimination, or not receive any severance pay. When you are in shock from being laid off and losing your income, you sign it.

This practice of culling older employees is common here, as is the requirement to sign such waivers of rights in order to receive severance. Also common is the startup that refuses to hire people over a “certain age.” But such practices are not limited to startups. Many well-known names in the computer industry are known to refuse to hire older people. (“Older” in Silicon Valley can mean over 35.) Others are known to push people out as soon as they start showing signs of wisdom and experience.

I suspect this is largely because there has been no enforcement of employment rules since Bush was elected put in office. But now we have an administration that is supposed to be enforcing such laws again. When do they start?

This Week in History
This Week in History, published by Carl Bunin and edited by Al Frank, is a collection designed to help us appreciate the fact that we are part of a rich history advocating peace and social justice. While the entries often focus on large and dramatic events there are so many smaller things done everyday to promote peace and justice. Find more info at http://www.peacebuttons.info/E-News/thisweek.htm.

July 27, 1954: The democratically elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, after receiving 65% of the vote, was overthrown by CIA-paid and -trained mercenaries. There followed a series of military dictatorships that waged a genocidal war against the indigenous Mayan Indians and against political opponents into the ‘90s. Nearly 200,000 citizens died over the nearly four decades of civil war.

July 30, 1492: The same month Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain for his “expedition of discovery to the Indies” [actually the Western Hemisphere], was the deadline for all “Jews and Jewesses of our kingdoms to depart and never to return . . .” lest they be executed. Under the influence of Fr. Tomas de Torquemada, the leader of the Spanish Inquisition, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella had ordered the expulsion of the entire Jewish community of 200,000 from Spain within four months. Spain’s Muslims, or Moors, were forced out as well within ten years.

August 2, 1964: The U.S.S. Maddox, a destroyer conducting intelligence operations along North Vietnam’s coast, reported it had been attacked by some of the North’s torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. The day before, the North had been attacked by the South Vietnamese Navy and the Laotian Air Force under U.S. direction.

Pencil Shavings: Breathing While Black
Pencil Shavings appears in this space most weeks and solely represents the opinions of the publisher. If you’d like to read more of Trey’s ruminations, visit The Rambling Taoist.

By now, I’m sure that most people in America have heard about the sorry circumstances of Henry Louis Gates Jr. being arrested in his own home for ostensibly breaking into it (the actual charge was for disorderly conduct)! It seems a neighbor became suspicious when two black men — Harvard History Professor Gates and his driver — tried in vainly to jimmy open the cantankerous lock on Gates’ front door. She must have thought that Negroes, in a predominantly white neighbor, must add up to sure trouble, so she called the police!

Mind you, this episode didn’t occur in the wee hours of the morning. It happened around noon. Gates was returning from a trip to China and, being tired, he wanted to go in his house and relax. But the witness didn’t know any of this information because she didn’t ask! She simply did what any “upstanding” white American would do when confronted with two blacks that, to her, looked completely out of place. Call the cavalry!

When our current president won his historic race for the White House, newspapers and the internet buzzed that a different kind of race was becoming a thing of the past. By golly, we were moving in to a new period when a person would be judged by their character, not the color of their skin! Race issues would now become passe.

As this incident and thousands more across the country show, things haven’t changed all that much. While the media has focused on the actions of the police officer, I’ve seen very little discussion about the stereotyped attitude that led a white woman to call police in the first place. For one thing, IF she does, in fact, live in his neighborhood, how could she not know that one of the men on the front porch trying to get the door open was the home’s owner? Could it be we whites too often focus on the dark skin and not an individual’s face?

For years, white America has talked in hushed tones about racial profiling and the ubiquitous “driving while black”. It’s time we quit all the damn whispering to recognize the problem is often far worse than what we let on to and, if we’re going to eradicate this disease, it has to begin with us.

News You May Have Missed

Antibiotic-Resistant Salmonella Burgers, with a Side of Flame Retardants
In Colorado, 14 people have fallen ill from hamburger meat tainted with antibiotic-resistant salmonella, the Boulder newspaper Daily Camera reports…It’s Meat Wagon tradition to convert such abstract-seeming figures into what we like to call Quarter Pounder Equivalents. According to our proprietary computer models, King Soopers has officially released enough suspect beef for McDonald’s to crank out approximately 1.86 million Quarter Pounders. In addition to Colorado, the tainted meat has been distributed to retail outlets in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. That’s our food system—concentrating pathogens and sending them far and wide…

Rich Have Highest Wealth, Lowest Taxes Since 1929
Here’s a truism: The wealthiest 1 percent have never had it so good. According to government figures, 1 percenters’ share of America’s total income is the highest it’s been since 1929, and their tax rates are the lowest they’ve faced in two decades. Through bonuses, many 1 percenters will profit from the $23 trillion in bailout largesse the Treasury Department now says could be headed to financial firms. And most of them benefit from IRS decisions to reduce millionaire audits and collect zero taxes from the majority of major corporations…

Israeli Arabs Feel the Squeeze
Not all is well in the Promised Land. Despite Israel’s Basic Law, which declares that all citizens are equal, Israeli Arabs say some Israelis are more equal than others. There is plenty of evidence that the Arabs do not enjoy the same rights as Jews. They say they are being squeezed into enclaves in the north of the country, where resources are scarce and development is limited…

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