Thursday, December 18, 2014

From Lifeboat Ethics to Global Consciousness

By Greg Guma

For more than half a century humanity has been learning the lesson that "everything is connected." The realization of physical limits to human and material growth, the impact of development and pollution on ecological systems and the atmosphere, the integration of economic systems – no matter what ideology or religion dominates – and the tragic consequences of massive mal-distribution of resources make it obvious that the planet is one organism. 
     But many proposed solutions to such problems aim to "minimize" the losses rather than acknowledge the responsibilities of interdependence. When faced with famines in under-developed nations, Philip Handler, President of the National Academy of Sciences in the 1970s, publicly proposed that we "give them up as hopeless." Assistance that would "barely manage to keep people alive and hungry" could only lead to tragedy later, he advised.
     Although not often voiced so clearly, expressions of "lifeboat ethics" have become more common as humanity grapples with the harsh realities of spaceship earth. Garrett Harden, who coined the term, also provided the basic argument for its implementation.
     "We are all the descendants of thieves," he wrote, "and the world's resources are inequitably distributed. But we must begin the journey to tomorrow from the point where we are today. We cannot remake the past. We cannot safely divide the wealth equitably among all peoples so long as people reproduce at different rates. To do so would guarantee that our grandchildren, and everyone else's grandchildren would have only a ruined world to inhabit."

The Trilateral Commission's EC meets with President Ford in 1974;
to Ford's immediate left, David Rockefeller and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

     Until an effective world government is established, Harden argued, a harsh ethic is unavoidable. And the first step? Control of reproduction. To ensure compliance, Paul Erhlich linked population to food in his controversial book The Population Bomb. "We may have to announce," he wrote, "that we will no longer ship food to countries unwilling or unable to bring their population increases under control." Other schemes since then have involved exchanges of needed technology and resources in return for commitments to limit reproduction.
     The thing is, green plants form the basis of food chains, and it takes more green plant production to support citizens of developed countries. In 1980 North Americans used about six times the green plant production of the average Indian. India has begun to catch up since then, but the math remains pretty simple: 500 million more people in developed countries will use up the same amount of green plants as up to three billion in underdeveloped countries.
     Advocating population control in less developed regions without radically changing habits of consumption in highly industrialized countries wouldn't just be unfair. It would be futile.
     Such considerations have nevertheless failed to deter various open conspiracies to create world order from pursuing their grandiose plans. Beginning in the 1970s two of the most prominent were the Trilateral Commission, representing the "new breed" of corporate internationalists, and the Club of Rome. The Commission, which played a prominent role during the Carter presidency and re-emerged in Age of Obama, generated a series of policy proposals based on global power sharing between three poles of economic power – the US, Western Europe, and Asia. According to Samuel Huntington, a prominent trilateral theorist, limits would have to be placed on political democracy, a goal that would require lower public expectations and greater executive power.
     The Club of Rome returned to Plato's ethical aristocracy as a model for its solution to world crises. According to founder Aurelio Peccei, politicians and businessmen are too nearsighted to take a long view of global management. What is needed instead, he argued, is the "civilized traditions of a ruling class," implemented by technocrats, diplomats and government officials, "men of influence" able to see the shape of a post-industrial world. At least he was candid.
     In the early 1990s, President George H.W. Bush inadvertently helped stimulate public discussion about global management by calling for a "new world order." The term was an unfortunate translation of the Nazi call for "Nie Ordnung," which had set the tone for German expansionism. As the US was staging Gulf War I — then the largest military campaign since World War II – Bush promised that, once Iraq was defeated, the world could turn its attention to peaceful approaches, world law and human rights. But even his "points of light" version of world order depended on a military stick, and it was really just a soft-sell of "one superpower order."
     Some theorists and thinkers suggest that the US can no longer impose its will by economic means, that it is evolving into a mercenary state, underwritten and restrained by economic partners and overseers. If so, the next world order could be an updated version of the Trilateral or Kissinger vision. All such variations serve the interests of political and economic elites, while compressing the individual into the mass.
     Whether power is centered in one superpower or shared by several, it amounts to the same thing: a global State, increasing its domain and mechanizing more aspects of life as it reduces individual sovereignty.
     One slender hope is the slow birth of a new global consciousness, a shift in thinking already underway. The Gaia theory, which grew out of research on the geophysiology of the planet, suggests an alternative, non-mechanistic vision of what it means to be part of a living whole. According to James Lovelock, who was instrumental in developing the idea, the evolution of the material environment and various organisms are part of a single and indivisible process. If that is so, a major task ahead is to recognize, as Elisabet Sahtouris put it, that we are "a body of humanity embedded in, and with much to learn from, our living parent planet, which is all we have to sustain us."
     Or, as William Thompson explained in Passages About Earth, we have reached the end of the line for industrial society. Looking over the edge of history, we are discovering that "it's a spiral and that we have turned and are now facing back in the direction of cosmic mythology." Our old maps "take on a new meaning as they warn us, Here be dragons," he warned. "Ecstasy or economics, madness or sanity, mysticism or science: where ancient dragons live modern categories die."

This is an excerpt from Prisoners of the Real: An Odyssey. Greg Guma's second novel, Dons of Time, was published in October 2013 by Fomite Press.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Partners, Standards and Climate Change: Burlington's Winding Road

As Bernie Sanders flirted with the possibility of running for president in 2012, residents of Burlington, the city where he made his first electoral breakthrough, questioned the approach he and a local successor were taking to military contractor Lockheed Martin. Mayor Bob Kiss had signed an agreement with Lockheed for a local partnership to work on climate change, while Sanders arranged for Sandia Labs, a Lockheed subsidiary, to open an energy research lab at the university.

Then suddenly, on Sept. 2, 2011, the defense contractor backed out of the deal signed with Kiss in an e-mail message to the Burlington Free Press. Why the change? A few weeks earlier, after months of local debate, Burlington’s City Council had voted in favor of community standards for proposed climate-change partnerships, prompted by the agreement Kiss had signed. The resolution called for standards which, if followed, could limit or exclude working agreements with weapons manufacturers and polluters.

Rob Fuller, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin, said in a statement, "While several projects showed promise initially and we have learned a tremendous amount from each other, we were unable to develop a mutually beneficial implementation plan. Therefore Lockheed Martin has decided to conclude the current collaboration."

It read a bit like a Dear John, and a silent nod to public pressure. Dozens of residents had testified during public meetings, all but a few opposing the deal. Kiss nevertheless called the standards "bad public policy” and a “restrictive and regressive approach.” In a veto message, he said the policy may even have contributed to Lockheed’s decision to pull out of the Burlington agreement.

A Progressive recruited to run for mayor in 2006, Kiss found support for his opposition to community standards from Republicans and Democrats on the council, including future mayoral candidate Kurt Wright, who questioned whether such standards represented local opinion. In the end, the vote was  8-6, more than a majority but not enough to override the mayor's veto. The question of setting standards or criteria for public-private partnerships remains open.

Since then, greenhouse gas emissions have increased in Burlington by around 7 percent.  Emissions traceable to city government activity rose 15 percent in three years, while the community’s emissions went up 6 percent. The city's official goal is a 20 percent decrease overall by 2020.

Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas. Local emissions from that source increased by almost 25 percent between 2007 and 2010. Of total community emissions about half come from transportation. Thus, a reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by residents and commuters would have the biggest impact on meeting the city's emissions reduction target.

Burlington’s City Council formed a Climate Protection Task Force more than 15 years ago. A resolution passed in 1998 proposed to reduce emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels. An 18-month process subsequently led to the city’s first Climate Action Plan, adopted in May 2000.

A 2007 inventory showed that Burlington generated 397,272.4 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). Based on that, local goals were set -- a 20 percent reduction by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. This would require an annual 2 percent decrease. Unfortunately, the "action" since then has been in the opposite direction.

In 2009 Burlington used American Recovery Act funds to hire Spring Hill Solutions, a clean energy consulting firm, to prioritize more than 200 “mitigation actions” generated by a community process. The resulting plan was supposed to be a framework for measuring and reducing greenhouse emissions and other climate change impacts. There is no evidence that idea has been implemented.

According to the plan, three approaches offer the greatest potential for both carbon reductions and cost savings:

- Requiring any new commercial construction to follow performance guidelines that reduce energy use by at least 20 percent

- The Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, which provides property owners with help making energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements

-- Reducing the number of miles driven by residents by combining trips, telecommuting, carpooling and using alternatives to the automobile

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Campus Lost: Burlington College & the Church

Anatomy of an Untimely Sale

UPDATE: Exclusive Radio Interview with the new BC President

Outside BC's main building
In spring 2011, when Burlington College gathered to honor the 34 members of its graduating class at a new campus, then-President Jane Sanders acknowledged that the only man who could have brokered such a land deal with the Roman Catholic Diocese was real estate mogul Antonio Pomerleau.

A prominent local Catholic, Pomerleau had been a prime target of Bernie Sanders’ attacks when he first became Burlington mayor. But at the graduation ceremonies decades later, Jane Sanders revised that assessment. "He understands relationships," she said, "not just ‘who you know,’ but an understanding that leads to a reputation, and to trust.”

Due to more than two dozen lawsuits, the Catholic Diocese was in a spot, on the hook for $17.65 million in settlements. The property initially went on the market for $12.5 million. Although the $10 million asking price was presented as a bargain, not everyone was impressed. According to Erick Hoekstra, a local developer, the city may have overvalued the property. Even if 200 housing units were someday built on the land -- not far from the Farrell plan -- a more realistic price was probably $5 million to $7 million.

The school's leaders evidently hoped that better facilities, more majors and a larger land base would make BC dramatically more attractive to students -- and their parents. But the solution was also a marked departure from the school’s original intent – academic freedom, self-designed studies and community involvement rather than a traditional "bricks and mortar" emphasis.

Almost immediately, the $10 million purchase, along with a commitment to more than $3 million in renovations, put the college under serious financial, management and academic pressure.

Four years and three presidents later, serious questions remain.  For example, why did the board believe that Sanders' enrollment goal -- 500 students within five years -- was reasonable? It was double the highest figure in the school’s history. For decades, enrollment fluctuated between 100 and 250. To double enrollment in five years, it would have to increase by 12 percent or more every year, way beyond the national average or the school’s track record.

Prior to the purchase enrollment was actually on the decline. Between 2001 and 2008, it dropped by about 40 percent, down to 156. It has risen since, again reaching somewhere around 200 students. But there is dispute about the figures --for example, how many are full-time. -- and no sign of a surge ahead. With the loss of all but about 7 acres out of 33, building enrollment becomes more challenging.

Yet, with new leadership and a concerted effort by local stakeholders, this valuable institution may yet continue to serve as an affordable education alternative -- a community-based college, and incorporate its original mission in a vision for the future -- a college that is more than its walls, for free-spirited, engaged, sometimes "non-traditional" students.

For more on BC's past and present:
Radiator Interview

Monday, December 8, 2014

DONS OF TIME: Make the Jump, Buy the Book

"A fast-paced sci-fi thriller featuring 
time travel to Victorian England."

Sept. 27, 2013
Greg Guma’s latest novel stars Tonio Wolfe, who discovers that his company, TELPORT, can use “Remote Viewing” to open wormholes to the past. After his co-workers Danny and Angel let him use the technology to search for Jack the Ripper, Tonio travels to Victorian England and tracks the killer while falling in love with radical leader Annie Besant. Meanwhile, Tonio tries to keep the knowledge of Remote Viewing from his father, ruthless Serbian mob boss Shelley, who owns and wants to exploit TELPORT for commercial use. 

The novel tracks the growth of Tonio’s political consciousness, from apathetic Mafia scion to committed opponent of institutional injustice, thanks to the influence of Annie and Tonio’s college friend Harry, a member of Occupy Wall Street. The scenes in Victorian England have an impressive amount of historical detail and include conversations among historical figures such as the playwright George Bernard Shaw and populist leader Ignatius Donnelly. Many of the novel’s subplots knit together, with Tonio’s quest to discover the true identity of Jack the Ripper mirroring his relationship with his father and his discovery of repressed memories from childhood. 

While the novel raises questions about government surveillance, it disappointingly doesn’t follow up on the implications, with the government acting as a sort of deus ex machina to help Tonio. Still, fans of historical fiction and sci-fi should enjoy this novel. It’s not deep, but it’s well-researched and entertaining, and even readers familiar with the Victorian era will learn about some interesting characters along the way.

Well-constructed, action-flooded sci-fi set in a realistic historical world.

& Fomite Press *

From the mouths of Dons

Peter Lynch, DoD/DARCAP –  "Everything we know is open to revision."

Annie Besant – "What we need is a movement of love and self-sacrifice, inspiring us to give rather than take."

Athena Metsova Wolfe – "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

Helena Blavatrsky – "What writes history is the power of ideas. And every moment offers the potential to write something new."

Ignatius Donnelly – "There is a battle underway in the world, between intelligence and concentrated ignorance."

Danny Webster, TELPORT inventor, on obeying Time Commandments – "Things tend to get worse when you screw around with the past."

George Bernard Shaw to Tonio Wolfe – “Humanity has a dark side, a shadow self, an impulse toward destruction and evil."

Gianni Wolfe – ”God may not play dice with the universe, but if he won't roll somebody better step up.”

Truthsquad Collective – "We've done the digging; the next step is up to you. Nothing is inevitable."

Tonio Wolfe – “I don’t know all the details. I’m more like the canary in the coalmine or a chimp in some capsule shot into space.”

Find out their secrets and more....

"Wherever you look there you are"

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Re-Imagining Burlington: Mayoral Election Update

Nine Reasons to Replace the Mayor
(order subject to change)

9. Fair Wages -- It's been mostly empty promises on enforcing a livable wage. And discussion of a higher local miminum wage? Forget it. Mayor Weinberger didn't even object to exempting business outlets at the airport from the city’s livable-wage ordinance.

8. F-35s - Weinberger has actively supported basing the F-35 fighter bomber at the city-owned airport from the start. It’s an environmental assault that will make some people’s homes unlivable.

7. Marijuana Legalization -- He has remained silent and non-committal, even after voters said yes overwhelmingly to a nonbinding referendum to regulate and tax pot sales.

6. Police Conduct -- He refused to encourage an independent review of police conduct after the rubber-round shooting of protesters and has ignored complaints about profiling and the use of force.

5. Privatization - On the Moran Plant and Burlington Telecom, Weinberger has refused to pledge that public assets will remain publicly owned.

4. Gun Control -- There has been no effective follow-up on a city council resolution calling for a Burlington ban on assault rifles and high-capacity ammo clips.

3. Fiscal Stability -- The Stability Bonds that the mayor pushed through may turn out to be a poor deal. Taxpayers will pay big in the short term on the promise of paying less down the road.

2. Democracy and Participation -- One-party rule can be dangerous. It gives the mayor a rubber stamp for whatever he wants. In the past Burlington has been known as a place with three strong parties where political issues were discussed openly. But debate has been recently sidetracked on climate change, redevelopment and neighborhood concerns. We need more democracy, not less.

1. Priorities -- Too many residents struggle to find and keep affordable housing and jobs that pay a livable wage, but the mayor's top priority appears to be commercial development. He wants to give the city an extreme makeover. But that does make some sense. He's a developer, after all, and business interests have a strong voice in his administration. As a result, deals are being fast-tracked without meaningful public input. 

Now it's your turn...

Thanks to everyone who has provided advice, support and feedback about my possible run for Burlington mayor. From people like Ann Taylor, whose civil disobedience on the bike path was a poignant wake up call, and Matt Cropp, whose insights on neighborhoods helped clarify how a challenge on the issues could work, to passionate protesters, artists, students, teachers, parents, and many others turning out these days for marches and meetings, I've learned much and renewed my hope for the future. In person, on the phone, and through dozens of online chats, public and private, I've heard about promising ideas, determined efforts, and needed initiatives -- sometimes in the face of limited resources or looming deadlines.

Despite the current pressure for "speedy" action on a variety of public-private partnerships and plans -- to rebuild the "town center" mall, gentrify south end studio spaces, bring condos and a hotel to the shore of the waterfront, develop most of the land around Burlington College, privatize Burlington Telecom, and sell Farrington's Mobil Home Park for commercial development, to mention the obvious -- real public input and time to consider all options should be more than a formality, especially when the stakes are so high. Before rushing to sell or redevelop, inclusive alternatives and long-term impacts need to be more seriously considered. We can't over-build our way out of problems. We must make the time to explore possibilities that create positive outcomes for all residents.

That said, I haven't attracted sufficient support to build a successful independent campaign at this time. Although many people urged me to run, others want just a Progressive Party candidate or have different, non-electoral priorities. After weighing everything, I've decided to take no further steps to become an Independent candidate. My work with community groups and projects will, of course, continue. I'll also speak up -- about local issues like housing, affordability and gentrification, global problems like economic inequality, racial injustice and climate change, the lessons of history and the choices ahead.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Re-Imagining Burlington: on the air, on the record

Here is a post-Thanksgiving phone interview on Burlington and the mayoral race: 30 minutes on the air -- political parties, Progressive mistakes, Mayor Weinberger's priorities, redevelopment choices, affordability, climate change, keeping BT as a public utility, and protecting open government at a time of rapid change. Aired 11/28, 11:30 a.m. on The Howie Rose Variety Show, WOMM-FM, 105.9 in Burlington and live streaming. Upcoming events include: "What about Burlington?" Strategy Group meeting on Tuesday, 12/2, 7 p.m.; Burlington Telecom's Cable Advisory Council (CAC) meets on Wednesday, 12/3, 5 p.m, followed by an NPA Steering Committee 12/3, 7 p.m.; the Progressive Party Caucus is scheduled for Sunday, 12/7.

Statement on the future of Burlington Telecom, presented at the 11/17 City Council meeting: Good evening. I've lived in Burlington for about 40 years and am currently a member of the BT Cable Advisory Council. The plan for BT to become an enterprise with a commission sounds like common sense. But in my view, as it stands the current proposal for sale would reduce, not enhance, the prospects for recouping most of the $17 million spent to date. In fact, Burlington could end up with very little --  no public stake or influence and about the same amount of money as the current managers.

What will the city get? No more that 25 percent of what has been invested, it appears, probably much less. To get all of the money back BT would have to be sold again for something like $70 million, which is, let's say, unlikely.

In short, the current plan won't help the city recoup most of its investment -- unless there are clear criteria for a future owner or partner. Otherwise, a public asset with great potential for future growth will become totally private.

I think we can improve on the current proposal. How? By establishing ownership standards and putting more administration support behind what is already in motion -- the development of a non-profit entity to buy BT. Not only is this the way to insure long term local control, it's also more likely to help repay the city.... Because a non-profit or a coop can use future revenues to pay back Burlington rather than generating profits for an outside owner.

What's not being stressed is that BT's financial picture has improved substantially in recent years. In September, for example, its revenues were $637,000, with a surplus of $74,000 before the debt payment. And let's not forget why this network was created in the first place -- for long term economic development and to create real competition and choice.

This is still a very young asset -- less than a decade old. In its first 30 years of operation, the Burlington airport received about $100 million in transfers from the general fund.* As infrastructure, BT is just as important today and, if we hold onto it, it can provide long term benefits, better service and more choices for businesses and thousands of residents - but only if we look beyond short-term relief, resist the push to privatize, and preserve this invaluable public asset for future generations.