Thursday, August 18, 2011

Living Local: A Table of Contents

Globablization is destroying our planet, our health, our humanity, and our connection to all three.

Western society, as we know it, cannot last. It is designed to be consumed and thrown to the refuse. Since this is inevitable, we should choose another path - a way that will last, a way that will not burn out. This would be a resetting of society so that fewer resources are used, so that those resources would be readily reused and current resources would be restored. So that our earth would be nurtured rather than destroyed.

from: EcoSalon

And how would we do this? By living locally and organically. By being in true community.

By living locally and communally, we can fix much of what is wrong with most of our problems: poverty and unemployment, wealth inequity, energy resources, food shortages and disparity of healthy food, water shortages and privatization, toxicity and waste, violence, health and medical attention, homelessness, and so on.

For the next month and beyond, I'd like to open a discussion of what that could look like. An outlining of a vision that I've heard glimpses and whispers of for the last several years, that others have experimented with, that still others are deeply theorizing about. But I would just like to open a dialogue with those who are tired of the system playing as the system and maybe ignite some hearts and minds.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pot Call Chief

I informed my readers yesterday that I grew up in a gang-banging neighborhood. This particular neighborhood, Humboldt Park, was notorious for its gang-banging culture. Most high-poverty areas around the city had a couple gangs vying for turf, or if it was within a high-density poverty area (such as the projects) maybe factions within a certain gang (each building within Cabrini Green was administered by a different tribe within the Gangster Disciples gang). My neighborhood had about a dozen or so gangs, always at war or uneasy peace with each other.

They fought for pride, for turf, for money to be made from selling illicit drugs. On my block the Spanish Cobras were selling weed. They were hanging out on our front porch, though we hardly knew any of them. There was little chance to get to know them. The cops would come by weekly, pick them up and scatter them, and then the replacements would come in. The next stage of low-paid, low-skilled cog-workers in a big ol' machine. (They were also on the verge of hanging on for dear life - but they weren't aware of it at the time.) It seemed like every time I walked home from school, some newbie on the corner was asking me if I wanted Bo (mary jane).

Me, I never tried it. Never liked any forms of drugs. Haven't had my first drink until I turned 30 and just about finished my first (hell-ish) year of school. Never been drunk; rarely had two beers in a day, and usually only drink once a week. That's how much I hate drugs. I really wanted to burn down much of my town in high school because I saw what drugs were doing to my neighborhood and alcohol (a legal drug with far worse repercussions) was doing to my dad.

So, I - an Evangelical Christian, furthermore - say this with a lot of thought put into it. We need to decriminalize marijuana and rethink our approach to other drugs (here I'm thinking specifically of heroin and heroin treatment).

I don't think - unlike Ron Paulian libertarians and other smoke-infested conservatives - that it will be an economic engine for the US, nor that it'll free minorities from the lingering effects of racism.

In fact, the same systemic racism that is imprisoning more black men now than were slaves at the high point of US slavery will still be in effect - it just won't be as devastating.

I've been thinking about this recently in response to the altpaper Chicago Reader's series of articles on decriminalization and racial disparity. From the first, The Grass Gap:

Marijuana is illegal. Yet studies show—and come on, everybody knows—that it's widely used by all racial groups. By and large, however, black people are disproportionately getting busted for it.

The ratio of black to white arrests for marijuana possession in Chicago is 15 to 1, according to a Reader analysis of police and court data. And by the time the cases make their way through the court system, the gap widens even further: the ratio among those who plead or are found guilty is 40 to 1.

Here's another way to look at it: almost nine of every ten people who end up guilty of possessing marijuana in Chicago—86 percent, to be precise—are black men.

The racial gap has become so glaring that Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle says something has to change, if only because taxpayers can't afford to continue arresting, detaining, and prosecuting low-level marijuana offenders. In an interview last week, Preckwinkle, for the first time, said what no other high-ranking local official has dared: "I think we should decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, that's for sure."

"You fit the description." My friends joke about this, but that's because it's how we face the ugly realities of injustice sometimes.

"Got pulled over for a DWB."

That may decrease. It won't end. There will be other excuses. Broken windows, after all... (Which is the theory the current mayor says he believes in. That cracking down on the littlest signs of a broken system will prevent crime. That's, of course, bass-ackwards.) But it will help.

The second article is here and the third here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

We Like Black Nerds

I never really fit into any group that I was around. I was a tall, lanky, freckle-faced white dude with a Puerto Rican grandmother in a predominately Puerto Rican and black neighborhood. And I couldn't speak a lingua of Spanish. I liked comic books and weird alternative rock music while my neighbors were into (though I'm not sure how much they liked) gang-banging and surviving.

Yet, I had friends throughout school. And, more importantly to me, I was able to pass through all the different cliques and hang with them for short periods of time - but I never really fit in.

That's what being a nerd is about. Not fitting in.

Even if you're going to a high school full of other intellectual nerds, but you still don't necessarily fit in (though, thank goodness, you're not necessarily picked on or bullied... excessively), then you're definitely a nerd.

A nerd is those of us who like things that other people surrounding us don't care for - crime novels, comic books, sci-fi movies, music from other cultures, role-playing, obscure music, blogs, games, out-of-fashion clothes - and who have a certain affinity and familiarity with one or more of the above, and are at least a bit socially awkward. That's the essence of being a nerd.

And that's okay.

It gets better.

Honestly, nobody really cares about that after high school, unless your work environment or social circle is a lot like high school. But one thing we do care for is black nerds. By "we" I mean, of course, "White People". As in, "Stuff White People Like." Which is, honestly, a small portion of most white folk; it's those of us who got our degrees in the social sciences, who listen to public radio, who are not just urbanized but cosmopolitan (or at least that's how we like to think of ourselves), who shop at Whole Foods and wrestle over fair trade jeans.

It must be. Because I know it's not just me who is fascinated with black nerds.

We like Chris Rock. Though, as one of my best friends pointed out this week, no black people find him funny. He went to all-white schools.

We listen to Larry Wilmore semi-scarily lecture Jon Stewart about what black people are like and what they like. But he's a complete nerd.

We watch Spike Lee movies, and we may give him some credit when he speaks. But we're never quite sure. Again, nerd. Glasses, lanky, the whole bit.

Cornel West and Tavis Smiley are also complete nerds - but I love them. Even though a new Facebook friend called them sell-outs (not because they're nerds. But because they regularly diss President Obama in the hopes, she believes and it seems justified, to sell books).

And then there's Hannibal Buress. Whom I adore.

And he's from Chicago's South Side. But he couldn't make it in the South Side of Chicago. He had to travel up to our North Side, with the white audiences who appreciate slower comedy styles. And - let it be said - black nerds.

My most recent thoughts on all things black and nerdy was prompted by this post by Honoree Fanone Jeffers and a day spent in awe of Buress, the Awkward Black Girl webisodes, and, to a lesser extent, Donald Glover.

Of course, the black nerd is more than just some link between us white tote-bagging, shared-transit, This American Life-listening nerds and the black populace (Exotic Other). It's not that they connect with us white nerds because they're somehow less black. But rather, we connect with them because we see us in them - someone who's been rejected by their peers, who was denied an identification, but who has turned to (either as a result or as a causation factor) books and obscure pop culture references for escape and comfort and belonging.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Are Capitalism and Democracy Compatible?

Image courtesy of SFWeekly
This is part one of a series on local sustainability.

Capitalism is an economic system that is, by definition, run and controlled by the few.

Not too long ago, businessmen (such as Henry Ford) and most economic theorists (Keynes and his followers) understood that this system could become bloated, unworkable, and cannibalistic if it wasn't controlled to some extent by other factors, such as living wages and governmental oversight. Over the last thirty years, though, there's been a systematic undermining of those protections (or, limitations, according to the dismantlers). Wealth disparity is at an odds, and the US - through recession and bull and bear markets and this Great Recession - no longer has a fair economy.

When few people hold most of resources - most of the jobs, most of the money, most of the land in the land - those few people run the country. They control the use of resources. They control the options for well-paying, living-wage jobs. The opportunities to eat well and with comfort. The ability to be housed. To be insured against calamity or disease. The ease and access to transport.

When those few people run the country, the fate of the rest of the country rests not on the strength of the country as a whole, but on those few people. It is no longer a democracy. It is an plutarchy - control by the few wealthy for the purpose and benefit of the few wealthy.

And the hope of salvaging the country is lost when the elected and governing powers are also given to the elites. Thanks in part to rulings such as Citizens United and loopholes such as Super PACs (both were corporations and individuals are allowed to put as much money to use for whatever political purpose they choose with close to no oversight), those with the most money are now given unrestricted power to publicize the very politicians that they handpick, and therefore have unprecedented access to those politicians. When the electoral process is largely a popularity contest, the one with the most publicity wins - not the best or the most effective official, but the one with name recognition.

Even prior to CU, the big firms (whether they be agriculture or financial or oil-based) were already writing their own rules within Washington. But now, the American people have been locked out of not just the Republican base (despite the claims of the Tea Party-led pols), but the so-called Party of the People, the Democrats.

Why? Because a few people (and corporations) have access to nearly uncountable funds. Funds that we are told are used for job creation and research and development and are, therefore, untouchable. The more money they make, we are told again and again by (vocally by one party, but the message is reinforced through mainstream media and the "other" party's actions and legislation), the better chance we have to end this recession and enter into another period of unparalleled prosperity.

But that will not happen. The previous period of unparalleled prosperity neglected about a third of the US population - who couldn't even afford basic medical insurance, who lacked food security, who spent over half their income on simple rent alone, who wouldn't be able to afford their children without the basic governmental aid that is right now - yet again - being threatened.

And there is very little room for new job creation - but plenty of job loss. The old jobs of manufacturing are gone - to other countries whose infrastructures are purposefully being wrecked in order to provide cheaper workers. And the jobs of the service economy are also quickly leaving.

Capitalism needs for a few people - a fraction of a fraction of the population - to amass enough wealth and therefore make the important decisions of what should be funded - capitalism thrives on the fact that a few people are good with oddly abstract concepts like "wealth creation" and "economic growth." In order to continue in their positions of economic power, those same individuals need to make decisions to keep the growth going and the accumulated capital back to themselves. And they have full power within the legislative, executive, and judicial branches to continue this for as long as they would like.

It all sounds like a scam to me. And perhaps it is. The most complex, perpetual pyramid scheme ever.

And maybe that's why citizens are disengaged from politics and from business success. Maybe that's why we're all checking Facebook and playing Mafia Wars all day long. What else is left for us? No job is secure. And despite the protests of a good friend last night, no industry is safe.

The one-third working poor minority is growing, and more and more Americans are becoming either unemployed or underemployed - as well as those who are not even counted anymore and those who are feeding their families on minimum wages.

The ideal situation is to share the wealth, for all to have a say in how the businesses of running the country and smaller businesses are run - but in a way that is protective of all. If the ownership of a business, for instance, were equally shared (instead of the disproportion that we see in the case of stockholders), the owners of that business would all have equal say in how the business was run. Likewise, they would all want that business to run well, for they all have equal stake in the success of that business.

Their work would be more meaningful to their own success.

Next, if none of the industries are safe, what is there left to share?