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Daily Digest 7/19 - Facts Needed on Malaysian Plane Shoot-Down, White House Opens Door To Atlantic Oil Exploration

Chris Martenson - July 19, 2014 - 08:03
  • With Grief on Top of Grief, Malaysians Are Tested on Flight 370’s Lessons
  • The Netherlands, a Nation in Mourning but Mindful of Ties to Russia 
  • Facts Needed on Malaysian Plane Shoot-Down
  • Gold Daily and Silver Weekly Charts - Sleepwalking To a Wipeout
  • Part-Time Schedules, Full-Time Headaches
  • Faulty red light cameras produced thousands of bogus traffic tickets
  • White House Opens Door to Exploring Atlantic for Oil
  • Obama opens East Coast to oil search, sonic cannons

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Categories: Economics

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Community Currency Magazine - July 19, 2014 - 03:33

Grass roots software provider Community Forge goes from 0-100 in six years | Matslats -...
Swiss nonprofit Community Forge was founded in the aftermath of the 2008 banking implosion. The first mission statement was about giving communities the tools they needed, most especially the monetary tools, to become more independent and resilient. Tim Anderson, from the LETS in Geneva, had teamed…
Categories: Economics

Growth vs. Prosperity: Crash Course Chapter 5

Chris Martenson - July 18, 2014 - 17:52

Chapter 5 of the Crash Course is now publicly available and ready for watching below.

It challenges the conventional thinking that "economic growth" is the same thing as "prosperity". It isn't. And increasingly, we're being forced to trade one off for the other. As global surplus resources dwindle, we need to ask ourselves: Which of these do we value more?

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Categories: Economics

Raising Pigs

Chris Martenson - July 18, 2014 - 13:04

I’m sure you saw the title of this article and immediately thought, “I already live with a few.”

However, whether you’re a self-reliant homesteader or just want to cut away from your food budget, raising pigs (of the porcine variety) is a great way to become more self-reliant and sufficient. If you raise your own meat in any scenario, you will have more control over how it is raised and fed, and you can make sure that it is essentially raised organically (whether or not you apply for organic certification). Raising your own meat is less expensive than purchasing meat that is not factory-farmed.

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Categories: Economics

Why Target Stopped Asking Job Applicants If They've Been Convicted of a Crime

Kissy Mason and her son call on Target to change its hiring practices at the company's corporate headquarters in May 2012. Photo courtesy of TakeAction Minnesota.

Kissy Mason understands the importance of second chances. As she grew up in Minneapolis in the '80s and '90s, she watched her family members move in and out of prison and saw the discrimination they faced as a result.

“People in my family were being locked up, and then they were locked out of a right to live, a right to employment,” she said.

Unemployment is a huge barrier to the success of ex-offenders outside prison walls.

Mason decided early on that she wouldn't follow in their footsteps and end up in the prison system. After moving around Minnesota, she returned to Minneapolis to earn her associate's degree in criminal justice. But in 2006, a domestic argument got out of control and led to a conviction. Mason was offered probation—but her record was no longer clean.

Because of a background check that brought up the incident, she no longer qualified for low-income, or Section 8, housing and struggled to find employment. “At that time,” she said, “I had three children, and I was trying to provide for them.”

“Sometimes people bar you from jobs forever because of one incident, and I don’t think that’s fair,” Mason said. “People should be given another chance. It shouldn’t be one time and you’re out.”

Creating a fairer job market

Mason’s story is not unique. Nearly 70 percent of those released from prison in the United States will be arrested again within three years of release. Unemployment is a huge barrier to their success outside prison walls.

“Many return to their communities with no more skills and resources than when they were arrested and incarcerated,” says Victoria Law, author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women. “For many, during their incarceration technology has changed so much that the skills that they do have might be obsolete.”

But Mason didn’t accept the situation as it was. Instead, she became involved with a campaign to reduce the employment discrimination faced by former offenders through policies that prevent employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal record, at least in the early phases of the process.

It’s an idea that’s catching on: Legislation of this type has been passed in one form or another in more than 60 counties, cities, and states, according to the National Employment Law Project—and that number is growing.

These policies are known by the phrase “ban the box,” coined in 2003 by All of Us or None, an organization founded by formerly incarcerated people who faced barriers to employment. The “box” refers to the little square on job applications that potential employees are asked to check if they’ve ever been convicted of a felony.

“Ban the box” policies aim to remove this question from job applications.

Law sees “ban the box” policies as a necessary step in improving the outlook for ex-offenders. “For initial employment applications to include a box asking about felony convictions is yet another hurdle for a person to surmount to be able to survive post-prison,” she said.

In most cases, “ban the box” policies do not stop potential employers from conducting criminal background checks, but instead delay the process until an employer has had the opportunity to get to know the employee's qualifications first, usually through at least one face-to-face interview.

Infographic courtesy of the National Employment Law Project.

An uphill battle won

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed a statewide “Ban the Box” bill into law on Jan. 1, 2014. That day was a triumph for TakeAction Minnesota, the network of unions and progressive groups who led the movement to develop and pass the legislation.

“Giving them a chance to reintegrate into communities and support families is going to be part and parcel of reducing incarceration rates.”

TakeAction members knew they faced an uphill battle. Minnesota’s majority-Republican legislature wasn’t a natural ally of legislation that benefited former prisoners, and the state had one of the largest gaps in employment rates between whites and other races in the country. The group decided to split its attention between pushing for new legislation and pressuring corporations to adopt fairer hiring standards on their own.

As a major employer based in Minnesota, Target was the obvious choice. TakeAction members began calling on Target executives to adopt fairer hiring practices back in 2012 and held rallies at the company’s headquarters, but failed to receive the response they hoped for.

The group had better luck after it partnered with 150 formerly incarcerated people who had applied for seasonal positions at Target in 2012. Not surprisingly, none of them were hired—but the rejections were tangible proof of the discrimination that former offenders faced as they applied to jobs.

With the help of TakeAction Minnesota, 10 of the rejected applicants would later file complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Kandace Montgomery, an organizer with TakeAction, credits the mounting pressure on Target and the subsequent attention from the press as key factors in the passage of Minnesota's "ban the box" law.

The high volume of job applicants with records also served as the opening for a conversation between activists and executives at Target, who in October 2013 agreed to “ban the box” in all Target stores nationwide.

Not just about jobs

Making it easier for formerly incarcerated people to find work isn’t the only expected benefit of “ban the box” legislation. Supporters also believe that these policies will help bring down the United States’ incarceration rate—which is the highest in the world—and make neighborhoods safer as well.

”Giving them a chance to reintegrate into communities and support families is going to be part and parcel of reducing incarceration rates,” said Madeline Neighly, a staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project. As she puts it, it’s about being “smart on crime” instead of “tough on crime.”

“We’re creating safer communities not through locking up community members but by giving them opportunities and second chances,” she said, adding that positive press about the policies is leading to a broader conversation on what it means to have a criminal record.

It’s an impressive achievement for supporters of “ban the box” legislation. Yet back in Minnesota, Mason points out that these polices alone won’t eliminate the barriers faced by formerly incarcerated people.

Ex-offenders still deal with driver’s licensing restrictions, prejudice after the job interview has been completed, and, in some states, limited voting rights. Furthermore, the background checking process needs to be reviewed—Kissy says her own conviction was pulled up even after it had been expunged.

There’s still a long way to go, Mason says, but “ban the box” is a good first step.

Nur Lalji wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media project that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Nur is a contributor to YES! based in the Seattle area. Follow her on Twitter at @nuralizal.

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Categories: Economics

Off the Cuff: The Fed Is Very, Very Scared

Chris Martenson - July 18, 2014 - 11:16
  • The Fed's Nightmare
    • Bedlam will ensure if/when the market loses confidence
  • Age of Anomalies
    • Fed-induced market distortions are shaking that confidence
  • Pump & Pray
    • Does the Fed have any better game plan?
  • Central Planning Fault Lines
    • Rifts among allies are increasing the risks

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Categories: Economics

California Passes Bill to Legalize Complementary Currencies

Shareable Magazine - July 18, 2014 - 10:34

Top image credit:  Authored by Chris Tittle

Categories: Economics

8 Unexpected Uses for a Mountain House Pouch

Chris Martenson - July 18, 2014 - 08:19

A few interesting ideas on how to reuse / re-purpose a mylar food pouch for survival and efficient use of waste packaging.

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Categories: Economics

Daily Digest 7/18 - Greece Seen Needing Third Bailout, How A Supermarket Prevented Food Waste

Chris Martenson - July 18, 2014 - 07:19
  • FedEx Faces U.S. Criminal Charges Over Online Pharmacies
  • Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless
  • James Turk & John Rubino: How to prepare for the breaking of the monetary system
  • The Human Price of Neocon Havoc
  • New York state proposes sweeping Bitcoin regulations—and they’re strict
  • Funding War: U.S. Companies Disclose Conflict Mineral Use
  • Greece Seen Needing Third Bailout as Bonds Insufficient
  • This Supermarket Came Up With A Brilliant Way To Keep Food From Going To Waste

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Categories: Economics

These Young People Are Pioneering Appalachia's Post-Coal Economy

Joe Solomon is a campaigner with Energy Action Coalition.

Highlander Center staff and Appalachian Transition Fellows don helmets in preparation for a trip into a mine at the Coal Mine Museum in Benham, Ky. Photo by Catherine Moore.

In the Hunger Games novels, heroine Katniss Everdeen comes from a coal mining region known as District 12. Her people are poor and looked down upon, but they’re also resourceful and know how to work together. In the end, it’s those skills that allow Katniss and her friend Peeta to win the games against better-trained rivals from the wealthy capital.

You could say Appalachia needs an army of real-life Katnisses—and, luckily, it’s found them.

The books are fiction, but many readers believe District 12 is set in a futuristic version of Appalachia’s real-life coal country. And, these days, the real Appalachia needs all the resourcefulness and cooperation it can get.

The coal industry, which in many counties has dominated the economy for more than a century, is not providing the jobs it used to. Coal reserves are dwindling, mechanization has made it easier to pay fewer workers to extract more coal, and there’s new competition from cheap natural gas. In Boone County, W. Va, for example, about 40 percent of coal jobs have disappeared since the end of 2011, according to research firm SNL Financial. And the same trend is going on across the region.

Breaking the Grip of the Fossil Fuel Economy: If It Can Happen in Appalachia, It Can Happen Anywhere

You could say Appalachia needs an army of real-life Katnisses—and, luckily, it’s found them. The Highlander Center, a a training center for social movements with deep roots in the South, just launched its "Appalachian Transition Fellowship"—a program to mentor and support 14 young Appalachians as they work on economic development projects throughout the region. Their goal is to accelerate the creation of a diverse economy by working on projects that create jobs and livelihoods in the wake of coal's decline.

Through this fellowship, Highlander’s fellows will spend a full year working on economic transition projects in Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, and North Carolina.

I recently had a chance to meet the Appalachian Transition Fellows as they took a kick-off tour through the region. We talked about how they got interested in economic transition and what their fellowships will look like. Here’s what a few of them had to say.

Photo by Catherine Moore / Flickr.

Name: Willa Johnson
Age: 28
Hometown: McRoberts, Kentucky

In the 6th grade, Willa was shopping for school supplies with her mom when an artificial pond broke down near her house. It had been full of waste water left over from processing coal, and it sent a four-foot polluted wave down her mountain hollow. Everything but Willa’s double-wide mobile home was wiped away, including her family’s pool and much of their yard.

She wants to work on the growth and evolution of Appalachia—not on fighting King Coal.

By the time she was 16 years old, the mold was so bad that her family had to move. They couldn’t sell the house, either. It was uninhabitable.

By her early twenties, Willa thought she could help by fighting the coal companies that had caused disasters like the one she remembered from her childhood.

So she became a community organizer, but the work didn’t go as expected. Willa’s father was a coal truck driver. So was her brother. They didn’t like what she was doing, and they weren’t shy about saying so.

Once, when Willa was doing voter outreach at a festival, a neighbor said Willa was a disappointment to her father—and that he had told her so. Another time, at a family barbecue, an in-law accused Willa of “taking away jobs.” Willa responded that her work was about protecting water and community. Then Willa’s own brother ripped into Willa’s stance against coal.

After that incident, Willa and her brother didn’t speak for a year and a half.

She burned out, left town, and had nothing to do with organizing for the next two years. Now she wants back in, but she wants to work on the growth and evolution of Appalachia—not on fighting King Coal.

Willa’s fellowship will be in North Carolina, where she will help local textile mill operators connect to a growing marketplace that wants more environmentally friendly and fair trade fabrics.


Photo by Catherine Moore / Flickr.

Name: Joshua Outsey
Age: 28
Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama

Joshua tells me about growing up young and black in Birmingham. If you wanted to “build power”— to grow a strong enough network to protect your friends and family—the most direct path was to join a gang. Josh took a step down this path, but got a wake-up call at age 18, when a gang orientation took a turn for the worse and shots were fired.

Joshua moved to Knoxville and started hanging out with a group called Tribe One, an after-school program designed to give young black men a refuge from gang activities. It was there that he met his mentor, Stan Johnson, who taught him about other ways to build power. By coming up with a plan to organize a community, for example, a person could achieve a more lasting form of power.

At age 22, Joshua joined up with Johnson to co-found a group called Socially Equal Energy Efficient Development, or SEEED, a group that makes green jobs available to low-income people in Knoxville, Tenn. Josh helped organize neighborhood clean up days, "empowerment hour" workshops, and a door-to-door listening project to build support for home insulations.

"I started my own gang," Josh tells me.

Joshua is starting a year-long fellowship with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. He'll be working with the city of Benham, Ky., to insulate homes and make home heating more affordable.


Photo by Catherine Moore / Flickr.

Name: Kendall Bilbrey
Age: 22
Hometown: Wytheville, Virginia

Kendall's parents grew up in a company-owned Virginia mill town called Fries, and money was always a problem. They pushed hard work, a good education, and getting out of the mountains. Kendall obliged, went to Washington, D.C., and attended George Mason University—finishing in two and a half years.

"People line up for internships with Smithsonian programs, but they weren't lining up for Appalachia.”

Summer of junior year, a friend invited Kendall to attend a summer retreat organized by the STAY Project. Founded in 2008, STAY is a youth-led group designed to build a community of young people from central Appalachia who care about each other and the region. Kendall, who was also coming to terms with being queer at the time, reported feeling more at home with the people at STAY than with the queer community in D.C.

After graduating college, Kendall nabbed a research internship with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, which involved traveling to China to study red pandas for five months. After returning to Virginia, Kendall took pause to reflect: "People line up for internships with Smithsonian programs, but they weren't lining up for Appalachia.”

Starting in June, Kendall will begin a fellowship with the Alliance for Appalachia, doing research and legwork to inform a potential federal campaign to unlock more resources for economic transition.


Photo by Catherine Moore / Flickr.

Name: Joey Aloi
Age: 30
Hometown: Buckhannon, West Virginia

Joey spent his high school years doing flood relief work in McDowell County, W. Va. It’s not that it rains more there than in other counties, he says—it’s just that the rain doesn’t have anything to stick to. The deforested landscape of surface mines sent the water rolling down the hollers, overpowering the creeks and destroying houses.

Joey tells me that after a day of throwing out people's mud-soaked belongings and knocking down walls, he’d wipe out his nose, and his “boogers would be covered in coal dust.” As he grew increasingly aware of the connection between mining and flooding, he wanted to find a different way of thinking about the land and how we use it.

Joey started by studying philosophy at Warren Wilson University, with a concentration in environmental ethics. He then enrolled in the Ph.D. program in philosophy at the University of North Texas in Denton. He says that most of his fellow students are still there, writing their dissertations in the library or teaching undergraduates.

But Joey recently returned to West Virginia, where he will work on his dissertation in the evenings. During the day, he’ll be working with the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation in Charleston, W. Va., connecting local farmers with the city’s hospitals, which serve more than 2.5 million meals a year.


Photo by Catherine Moore / Flickr.

Name: Carol Ann Davey
Age: 26
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio

Carol went to high school in Cheshire, Ohio—a tiny town in the southeastern corner of the state, shadowed by the two huge smokestacks of a coal-fired power plant.

All the kids grew up being told the coal plant was “where they made the clouds.”

As Carol was growing up, the owner of the plant, American Electric Power, was forced in a legal settlement to buy out every house in Cheshire because of sulphurous gas clouds and acid rain that had rendered the place uninhabitable. Over time, the people moved out and the company bulldozed their houses. She remembers riding the bus to school in the morning and seeing the city vanish block by block.

All the kids grew up being told the coal plant was “where they made the clouds.” No one seemed to want to dig any deeper into why this was happening. Carol, though, felt a creeping dread. She went to Kentucky for her undergraduate degree and then to Ireland to get her masters—but is committed to return to the region and give back.

So she’ll return to Athens, Ohio—the closest city to what’s left of Cheshire—for a fellowship with the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks, where she’ll help local businesses develop more sustainable practices.


Photo by Catherine Moore / Flickr.

Name: Mae Humiston
Age: 23
Hometown: Fairfield, Virginia

When Mae was in middle school, she suffered from some serious bullying. Mae didn’t want her younger brother to see the same fate, and reasoned that if she “become the most successful person in Rockbridge, Virginia,” the kids wouldn’t mess with him. She set her sights on a high-powered career in international relations, and earned a scholarship to Tufts University.

Mae’s first class on international relations made her miserable. Her work with the school’s student garden, however, was sheer pleasure. From there, she expanded to working with small farms in the Boston and Washington, D.C. metro areas. After college, she got a job with a CSA farm, where she was on the edge of a promotion to crew manager.

Soon she noticed all of her crew's farmers were getting “parsnip burn”: a nasty rash that comes from handling the plants without gloves. Mae tried to get her manager to pay attention, but instead he told her she was “too weak for the job.” The experience led to her current interest in farm workers’ rights.

Mae's fellowship will be with the Community Farm Alliance in Hazard, Ky., where she’ll help farmers get their produce to low-income communities.


Photo by Photo by Joe Solomon / Flickr.

Name: Catherine Moore
Age: 32
Hometown: Charleston, West Virginia

Catherine always had affection for her home state of West Virginia. When she was in college in Cambridge, Mass., she says, she hung a huge satellite map of the state on her wall.

“I am struck by the sheer potential for radical self-definition that this moment holds.”

She always assumed she’d return, but maybe in her 40s—someday far off in the future. But it came sooner. While working on her Ph.D. in Richmond, Va., Catherine took a dive into local history. It made the pain of being cut off and disconnected from her own place even sharper, she says.

Catherine is now home, living in the New River Gorge of the southern part of the state, where the roots of her family tree crisscross the land. It’s a tree that includes slave owners and coal barons, and part of the reason Catherine says she needs to be here is her desire to research and come to terms with these stories.

Catherine tells me about how locals mourn what’s been lost in West Virginia: the tens of thousands of coal jobs, the countless once-vibrant towns. But within the loss is an opportunity.

“Most of all, I am struck by the sheer potential for radical self-definition that this moment holds,” she says. It’s “the chance to write our own story, to find our own words for who we are and who we want to become.”

Catherine will spend her fellowship working on the “What’s Next, West Virginia?” project—a year of listening events around the state designed to help residents have a conversation about their vision for a new economic future and to help them act on it together.

Joe Solomon wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Joe is an organizer with the youth-focused environmental justice group Energy Action Coalition, and lives in Charleston, W. Va. Follow him on Twitter at @engagejoe.

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Categories: Economics

Tails Offers Complete Anonymity on a Stick

Shareable Magazine - July 17, 2014 - 10:29

Whether you are a journalist, activist, or whistlblower, you might be interested in using Tails for completely private messaging on the web.

Categories: Economics

Daily Digest 7/17 - The "Recovery" In One Chart, Stay Away From Almond Milk

Chris Martenson - July 17, 2014 - 08:35
  • The Recovery™ In One Chart
  • 17 Ways Driverless Cars Could Change America
  • Obama Likely to Seek Additional Time for Nuclear Negotiations With Iran
  • Outlook for Gold, Stocks, Economy by Incrementum’s Advisory Board
  • Environmentalists Denounce Repeal of Australia’s Carbon Tax
  • Lay Off the Almond Milk, You Ignorant Hipsters
  • Using Nanotubes To Make Cheaper, Cleaner Hydrogen Fuel
  • The Largest Landfill On Earth: Plastic Garbage In The Oceans?

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Categories: Economics

Daily Digest 7/17 - The "Recovery" In One Chart, Stay Away From Almond Milk

Chris Martenson - July 17, 2014 - 08:34
  • The Recovery™ In One Chart
  • 17 Ways Driverless Cars Could Change America
  • Obama Likely to Seek Additional Time for Nuclear Negotiations With Iran
  • Outlook for Gold, Stocks, Economy by Incrementum’s Advisory Board
  • Environmentalists Denounce Repeal of Australia’s Carbon Tax
  • Lay Off the Almond Milk, You Ignorant Hipsters
  • Using Nanotubes To Make Cheaper, Cleaner Hydrogen Fuel
  • The Largest Landfill On Earth: Plastic Garbage In The Oceans?

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Categories: Economics

BikeSurf: Open Source Bikesharing Powered by Community

Shareable Magazine - July 17, 2014 - 01:46

The intersection between bike culture and the sharing economy is fertile ground for projects - such as the Berlin-birthed, now worldwide, BikeSurf.

BikeSurf, a donation-based bikesharing program built on “karma, trust, and community,” fosters communication, encourages shared resources, and builds community -- all while offering travelers low-cost options for bicycle rentals.

Categories: Economics

The Electrical Grid May Well Be The Next War's Battlefield

Chris Martenson - July 16, 2014 - 20:38

We talk a lot about Peak Cheap Oil as the Achilles' heel of the exponential monetary model, but the real threat to the quality of our daily lives would be a sustained loss of electrical power. Anything over a week without power for any modern nation would be a serious problem. 

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Categories: Economics

Reducing Your Risk To A Grid-Down Event

Chris Martenson - July 16, 2014 - 20:38
Executive Summary
  • The most likely forms of cyber attack the national grid is vulnerable to
  • The evidence that shows malicious attacks on the US grid have been attempted multiple times
  • The low level of integrity in the current grid's defenses
  • A checklist of backup systems at the home level every concerned citizen should work to have in place

If you have not yet read Part 1: The Electrical Grid May Well Be The Next War's Battlefield available free to all readers, please click here to read it first.

Cyber Attacks, Hacking, and Malware

The other main threat we should concern ourselves with centers on the highly automated nature of the electricity grid combined with the human propensity for mischief. As with everything these days, computer-controlled devices are at the heart of the entire electrical generation and distribution system.

Again from the same Peak Prosperity member quoted earlier:

Combine this with the known vulnerabilities of the SCADA [Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition] systems controlling the power grid and you have the recipe for a real coordinated and manufactured disaster.

US researchers have identified 25 zero-day vulnerabilities in industrial control SCADA software from 20 suppliers that are used to control critical infrastructure systems. Attackers could exploit some of these vulnerabilities to gain control of electrical power and water systems, according to

Nine of these potential exploits have so far been reported to the suppliers concerned and the US Department of Homeland Security.

In theory, an intruder could exploit the vulnerabilities simply by breaching the wireless radio network over which the communication passes to the server.

Unlike the "heartbleed" zero-day bug that could be more or less addressed by software server patches, the SCADA systems are hardware boxes sitting out in the field. It's quite possible they are not upgradeable, or they were made by companies no longer in business, or whose programmers no longer support the system any more. "Uh, you want me to come up with a patch for THAT old system? Really? The guy who knew that code retired 10 years ago. I'm not even sure we have the source code anymore - or if it compiles - or if our build system can even compile for that CPU-type. And then we have to test it. We don't have any of those boxes to test it on anymore. And once tested, how exactly do we deploy this patch?"

If you've ever worked in a software organization, you'll know what I'm talking about.

No need to launch any supersonic missiles. If the US power grid is down, the US Navy won't be projecting power anywhere, since we'll be so busy trying to keep our people alive (and/or deploying what forces we have available into our own cities to prevent all those people who can't use their EBT cards anymore from tearing the place apart) to worry about what Russia is doing in their own backyard.

So - yes, asymmetric warfare. A coordinated cyber-assault supported with a kinetic attack on a select group of substations will...

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Categories: Economics

Welcome to the Spanish Town Where People Come Before Profit

This article originally appeared at

A modified photograph of a mural in Marinaleda by Rocío Garcia Montes / Flickr.

In the south of Spain, the street is the collective living room. Vibrant sidewalk cafes are interspersed between configurations of two to five lawn chairs where neighbors come together to chat over the day’s events late into the night. In mid-June the weather peaks well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the smells of fresh seafood waft from kitchens and restaurants as the seasonably late dining hour approaches.

Marinaleda boasts a modest but steady local employment picture, in which most people have at least some work and those that don’t have a strong safety net to fall back on.

The scene is archetypally Spanish, particularly for the Andalusian region to the country’s south, where life is lived more in public than in private, when given half a chance.

Specifically, this imagery above describes the town of Marinaleda, which would be indistinguishable from its local counterparts in the Sierra Sur mountain range, were it not for a few tell-tale signs. Maybe it’s the street names (Ernesto Che Guevara, Solidarity and Salvador Allende Plaza, to name a few); maybe it’s the graffiti (hand-drawn hammers and sickles sit happily alongside circle As, oblivious to the differences the two ideologies have shared, even in the country’s recent past); maybe it’s the two-story-high portrait of Che emblazoned on the outer wall of the sports stadium.

Marinaleda has been called Spain’s “communist utopia,” though the local variation bears little resemblance to the Soviet model. Classifications aside, this is a town whose social fabric has been woven from very different economic threads than the rest of the country since the fall of the Franco dictatorship in the mid 1970s. A cooperatively owned olive oil factory, houses built by and for the community, and a famous looting of a large-scale supermarket, led by the town’s charismatic mayor, in which proceeds were donated to food banks, are amongst the steps that have helped position Marinaleda as a beacon of hope.

As the Spanish economy continues its post-2008 nosedive, unemployment sits at 26 percent nationally, according to the International Business Times , while over half of young people can’t find work. Meanwhile, Marinaleda boasts a modest but steady local employment picture, in which most people have at least some work and those that don’t have a strong safety net to fall back on.

But beyond its cash economy, Marinaleda has a currency rarely found beyond small-scale activist groups or indigenous communities fighting destructive development projects: the currency of direct action. Rather than rely exclusively on cash to get things done, Marinaleños have put their collective blood, sweat, and tears into creating a range of alternative systems in their corner of the world.

When money hasn’t been readily available—the lack of it is probably the only consistent feature since the community set out on its current path—Marinaleños have turned to one another to do what needs doing. At times that has meant collectively occupying land owned by the Andalusian aristocracy and putting it to work for the town. At others it has simply meant sharing the burden of litter collection.

While still operating with some degree of central authority, the local council has devolved power into the hands of those it serves. General assemblies are convened on a regular basis so that townspeople can be involved in decisions that affect their lives. The assemblies also create spaces where people can come together to organize what the community needs through collective action.

Even minor crimes are collectively addressed via the assembly, as the town has no police or judicial system since the last local cop retired.

“The best thing they have here in Marinaleda, and you can’t find this in other places, is the [general] assembly,” says long-term civil servant for the Marinaleda council, Manuel Gutierrez Daneri. “The assembly is a place for people to discuss problems and to find the solutions,” he continues, pointing out that even minor crimes are collectively addressed via the assembly, as the town has no police or judicial system since the last local cop retired.

In his time as mayor, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo has managed to leverage considerable financial support from the state government, a feat which Gutierrez Daneri attributes to the town’s track record for direct action. “If you go ahead with all of the people behind you, that is very powerful,” he says.

As a result, the small town boasts extensive sports facilities and a beautifully maintained botanical garden, as well as a range of more basic necessities. “For a little village like this, with no more than 2,700 people, we have a lot of facilities,” says Gutierrez Daneri.

British ex-pat Chris Burke has lived in Marinaleda for several years, and he explains that access to the public swimming pool only costs €3 for the entire summer. Burke recounts Mayor Sánchez Gordillo saying to him, “The whole idea of the place being somewhere good to live is that anyone can afford to enjoy themselves.” Burke says he believes that projects operated at a financial loss are essential to utopia.

From occupation to cooperation

In 1979, Sánchez Gordillo was first elected as the town’s mayor. He led an extensive campaign to change Marinaleda’s course, which began with hunger strikes and occupying underutilized land.

Manuel Martin Fernandez has been involved in “la lucha” (the fight) since the beginning. He explains how through the general assembly process the community decided something had to be done to stem the flow of migration from the town. They began a weeks-long occupation of a nearby reservoir to convince the regional government to allocate them enough water to irrigate a tract of land.

After this proved successful, they then went on to occupy 1,200 hectares of the newly irrigated land, which at that time was owned by an aristocratic family. In 1991, the plot of land was officially expropriated and turned over for local use. “It took 12 years to obtain the land,” Martin Fernandez explains, calling their victory “a conquest.”

Photo of Marinaleda's mayor and others having a meeting by Comisión de Audiovisuales Acampada Zaragoza / Flickr.

Today, extensive fields of olives, artichokes, beans, and peppers form the backbone of the local cash economy. The land is collectively managed by the cooperative El Humoso and a canning facility has been set up on the edge of town. “Our aim was not to create profits but jobs,” Sánchez Gordillo told British author Dan Hancox, explaining why the town chose to prioritize labor-intensive crops to create more employment for local people.

Like most agricultural employment, whether in the fields or the factory, work in Marinaleda is both seasonal and varied from year to year. But unlike many small agricultural towns, Marinaleda shares the work among those who need it.

Dolores Valderrama Martin has lived in Marinaleda her entire life and she has worked at the Humoso canning factory for the past 14 years. From the upstairs office she explains that if 200 people are looking for work, but they only need 40 workers, they will bring everyone together.

“We gather all of these people who are directly affected,” she says. “We make groups of 30 to 40 people and each group works for two days.”

While the cooperative is formed of nine separate entities, Valderrama Martin says they collectively decide on important issues like the allocation of work. They may even take the issue to a general assembly for wider input from the town. But, she cautions, “When there is no work they are unemployed, like anywhere else.”

Most of the town decries the relative lack of work, but the wider social security net built on the principles of direct action and mutual aid have meant that unlike other parts of the country, two months’ wages can go a long way to keeping you afloat for the year. At the core of this is the town’s approach to housing, which offers one of the clearest examples of how collective effort can fill the void left by a stagnant cash economy.

The houses that community built

When many young people think about making their first foray into the housing market, money is inevitably the biggest obstacle. State of the economy aside, a down payment is always a sizeable sum, even in relatively tame markets, and is increasingly unattainable for what has been described as “the jilted generation.”

While capitalism frames our relationships as a series of self-interested economic transactions, Marinaleda relies on a model of mutual aid.

But through a maverick decision spearheaded by Mayor Sánchez Gordillo, housing has been partly removed from the free market in Marinaleda using a combination of state housing subsidies for building materials, free labor for construction, and land given by the town. Community members come together with architectural plans provided by the council to build a block of houses, with no sense in advance of which home will belong to which family.

The houses—some 350 units in total, with 20 new builds underway at the time of our visit—become part of a housing cooperative. Needless to say, when citizens are only left paying €15 per month for mortgages, this has a massive impact on work requirements.

The direct action economy

While capitalism frames our relationships as a series of self-interested economic transactions, Marinaleda relies on a model of mutual aid, as locals work together to meet shared needs, with far less money circulating. While it can be easy to forget, money is simply a way of facilitating action, which creates an incentive for people to do tasks that they otherwise may not have any interest in doing.

Direct action, on the other hand, is rooted in common interests and explores the practicalities of what needs doing, based on who is there to do it. Direct action eliminates the consumer-provider divide, making cash an unnecessary intermediary in getting things done, as those who want something done, and those doing it become one-in-the-same.

While Marinaleda has its flaws, it reminds us that alternative economic models are not only possible, they already exist. A striking piece of graffiti on Marinaleda’s main road depicts a dream-catcher, super-imposed with a hammer and sickle. The accompanying message implores us, ‘Catch your dreams – utopia is possible.’

Liam Barrington-Bush and Jen Wilton wrote this article for, where it originally appeared. Liam tweets as @hackofalltrades and Jen as @guerillagrrl.

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