John M. Laforge
Liberals & Dictators
Health Care Bargaining
2010 & Beyond
CFR & Obama
Laurence h. Shoup
Nicolas J.S. Davies
Robinson's Latin America
Zaps - 01-10
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Thinking Outside the Box
An interview with Helena Norberg-Hodge
Helena Norberg-Hodge is a native of Sweden, a leading critic of conventional notions of growth and development, and the recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize. She is also the founder and director of the International Society for Ecology and Culture and the author of Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh.
BARSAMIAN: The existing economic model of globalized capitalism is reeling, but there is really no alternative that we can turn to and say, "Okay, tried that, didn't work. Let's try this."
NORBERG-HODGE: I disagree. I think there is a systemic alternative that is being discovered and actually developed at the grassroots. But this alternative, which is a systemic shift toward localizing economic activity instead of globalizing it, has received almost no air time. It's a sort of invisible growth, but it's happening nevertheless. Fundamentally, what that shift is about is recognizing that this global economic system has its roots from 500 years ago, when elites in the UK and Europe started sending people across the world to gather wealth for themselves.
Structurally, they were destroying more self-reliant, localized economies where people were meeting their own needs and producing a range of things for home and regional needs. Trade was in the hands of smaller communities and groups exchanging with each other. When they were forced into the mines or onto giant cotton, sugar, coffee, and tea plantations, there was a shift towards not only an economy that was very exploitative and unjust, but also ecologically unstable because monocultural production inherently works against the diversity of the natural world. Diversified production in localized economic systems works with nature.
You don't think advocating localization opens you up to claims that it's quaint and romantic, but not realistic?
It's a tragedy that often people can't conceive of smaller-scale units—particularly in places like America. In Europe it's a little bit different. In Europe you have a fabric of smaller towns, smaller farms, more localized economies. But there, too, the corporate pressure has shifted everything in the wrong direction. We have to do what we can to get people to see that many small can be more efficient and more productive than one big. If you take the number of McDonald's restaurants around the U.S. and imagine what they would be like if, instead of being owned by a giant corporation, they were family-owned in that locale. Why couldn't that work? Why is that unrealistic? So many people who have had the experience of going into a family-owned restaurant know how much more delightful it is, how much higher the quality is.
I remember hearing José Bové, the farmer in France who was one of the resistors to the World Trade Organization, using the term McDominacion, the French term for McDonaldizing the world.
It's similar to another term being used, Coca-Colonization. This large-scale production and consumption controlled by giant corporations means enforcing bigger and bigger monocultural production on the land. The only block between improvement and what we have today is what's in our heads. There is a huge amount of propaganda against the notion that more localized, diverse food systems can feed the world.
But the so-called efficiency of modern economics creates unemployment. To deprive people of the opportunity to work and to shove them into giant slums is probably the major human rights issue today.
The ideal farm is an Old MacDonald's farm, where you have a range of animals as well as grains and vegetables. What you get are cycles of production and reproduction that are completely self-sustaining. In order to really make them productive, we need more labor on the land. If we labor is freed up to do the really important work that's needed, we would be able to reduce our ecological footprint while simultaneously increasing employment and productivity. This is a magical formula.
The local food movement is growing around the world. You have CSAs (community-supported agriculture) in many parts of the world. But in the long run, we need local shops and local permanent structures where food and even processed food can be produced and sold to local communities.
In this process we're finding that on the farm, as farmers shift away from producing for the corporate long-distance market, they are increasing the diversity on their land. I was talking to a farmer in Australia and he was saying basically he felt like a serf, serving anonymous bosses that were always demanding more and more of the same thing in a standard size, which, of course, goes against nature. You don't produce exactly the same size bananas or apples if you work with nature. He said that, after only two years of selling in a farmers' market, his work has become enjoyable and he is having contact and exchange with the consumers. He's gone from 2 products to 20 in just a couple of years. This is a typical story. If people could both imagine and, ideally, take the time to visit some farms, I think we could see a really powerful movement for policy change in this regard.
There is an attendant crisis in the U.S. of contamination. There have been tomato scares, spinach scares, beef has been recalled. Does that go on in Australia as well?
Absolutely. We know from our research that the long distances inherent in this corporate globalized system mean that food poisoning has escalated dramatically. You have food that's been prepackaged in plastic and then reheated in microwave ovens. This way of preserving food is a disaster, and it's known to increase the bacterial activity.
When you study almost any production in this global food system, you end up feeling that you can't eat it. Strawberries get sprayed with 26 different types of pesticides. The mercury in fish is a huge threat. Fish farming is responsible for poisoning the life in the sea to such an extent that, exactly as with the industrial farming on land, it kills everything around it.
I can understand the localization applicability in the global South where the growing season is much longer. What about the North where the growing season is very short?
It's remarkable how much can grow and how the growing season can be expanded with smaller-scale greenhouses. You can extend the growing season from 4 months a year to 11 months and do it in a very healthy and sustainable way. We introduced solar greenhouses in Ladakh [India] and now you can have fresh greens in the middle of winter. Because you can start seedlings earlier, you can have tomatoes and artichokes, asparagus, virtually everything you can imagine.
Almost everywhere I go in the world, even in the industrialized world, people have a memory of how there used to be orchards of the most delicious fruits and berries, black currants, raspberries, and strawberries. That wealth of a diversified production, incredible richness, could still be re-established. You can make fruit leathers, just drying the fruit and preserving it, which will preserve a lot of vitamin content.
It seems in order to achieve the outcome that you've been outlining we need a kind of decolonization of the mind.
We now have a centralized, top-down system that is essentially rewriting histories. We have a propaganda system that extends into our schoolbooks, even the kindergarten books that are being produced, scientific research, media. Almost every access that we have to information is being shaped by for-profit, corporate interests. Many scientists who are now enlisted in what has become industrial scientific production of food have no idea of the end result: dead, colored, irradiated food that has no nutritional value. So the inability to see the impact of what we do is one of the biggest tragedies of this system.
In villages in the Third World, people have the opportunity to build a house from local materials, to produce food from the land, and, through community relationships, to have a very rich culture. But in the communities that are among the richest in that way, for instance, Bhutan and Ladakh, these countries, on paper, will be described as the poorest of the poor.
And going in and giving someone a loan and getting them to produce fashion clothes for an elite, even if they're only earning a dollar a day, will look like progress, because we've become totally illiterate about understanding what constitutes real wealth.
Ladakh, although part of the Tibetan plateau, is part of India politically. You've been tracing Ladakh's evolution since you first went there in 1975. What can people learn from Ladakh?
In a way, the most important lesson is that rebuilding the community fabric is a prerequisite for a healthier and happier society and for healthier and happier individuals. As it turns out, it's also a recipe for healthier and happier economies that are truly sustainable, because they're adapted to the living world and to diversity.
We all want to be seen, recognized, heard, connected to one another. The tragedy of the modern economy is that it has succeeded in separating us from one another. It's doing that in a multitude of ways. One of them is that the modern media presents children with completely unrealistic role models. They're comparing themselves to these one-dimensional images of perfection. This is having this enormous effect in the global South. In places like America the demand from young children for plastic surgery is skyrocketing. The self-rejection and self-hatred is translating into bulimia, anorexia, drug abuse, antidepressants. In most industrialized countries now there is talk of an epidemic of depression. In the UK in 2008, 36 million prescriptions for antidepressants were made out. That's in a country of 60 million people.
Tell me about your film, The Economics of Happiness, and the International Society for Ecology and Culture.
The International Society for Ecology and Culture (isec.org.uk) is my NGO. We are unusual because we've been working internationally for about 30 years. We have small offices and branches in France, Germany, the U.S., Australia, and Ladakh. We are working with other groups, especially in Thailand, Korea, and Japan. Our main focus is to try to raise awareness about how we can shift from this globalizing path to localizing one.
We developed something called a local food toolkit, which was a way of helping to train local food activists. We have had programs where we sponsor reality tours to the North so they can see that this life is not what it looks like in the media, that there are serious environmental and social crises.
Equally, we have a program where foreigners come and live in a village in Ladakh for a month in the summer and we do workshops on these issues. That's also been very effective for training activists in the West. We also put together about 20 years ago a curriculum that we call the Roots of Change that examines what's happened over the last 500 years at this fundamental level, again, of the globalizing versus the localizing path.
The film lays out these arguments in an hour-long documentary. We've tried to show it from a global point of view. We have voices from every continent, and we hope that it will be a useful tool for communities around the world.
David Barsamian is the founder and director of Alternative Radio. He is the author of numerous books with Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Tariq Ali, and Edward Said. His latest books are What We Say Goes and Targeting Iran.
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AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
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MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
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MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
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FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
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HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.