Summary: A powerful metaphor, widely used, about this recession — the worst since the 1930’s — providing important insights.
… my father was a doctor in the Canadian Army in WWII, and served in the Italian campaign. He became greatly respected for his anaesthesia and pain management under battlefield surgery and rehabilitation conditions. (He was cited after war’s end for perhaps having performed more anaesthetics under such conditions than any other Canadian doctor.)
In discussing his experiences, he told me that he swiftly learned that the best — and frequently the only — reliable drug for the critically wounded was heroin. Soldiers who writhed in agony under other medications almost always responded to heroin. The problem wasn’t deciding whether to administer it: if morphine didn’t work fast, you didn’t waste time, you injected heroin.
The problem for the doctor came when the patient had begun to recover from surgery, and was receiving heroin. How quickly could the dosage be reduced and when would it be terminated? Although few soldiers were freed of heroin without experiencing pain and distress, it was necessary to take the drug away as rapidly as possible. Otherwise they would become addicts and their lives would be ruined — for soldiering and everything else.
… Zero interest rates are Financial Heroin.
This goes to the vital points, mostly misunderstood, about the massive fiscal and monetary stimulus governments have applied in response to this global recession. Government stimulus has several characteristics similar to heroin.
About government stimulus programs
(1) The miraculous curative properties commonly ascribed to government stimulus results from the brief duration of most recessions. They last a year or so, with government programs enacted in the middle — after the worst, after which signs of recovery soon appear. Sometimes the stimulus programs get enacted as the recession ends — or even during the early stages of the recovery.
(2) When the private sector has underlying problems so severe to prevent normal recovery — as in the Great Depression, Japan since 1989 — then the stimulus programs are seen in their true light — useful palliatives, not magic bullets.
(3) A recession provides a unique opportunity to take important public policy measures, such as tax changes, regulatory reforms, and construction of valuable infrastructure projects. The US has so far wasted this opportunity. Let’s hope the recession does not continue into 2010, and give us another opportunity for such things.
For most of the last few years, I have been labeled a perma-bear, that is someone who looks at the situation from a reflexively skeptical glass half-empty bias. One only need peruse our archives to get that impression. In fact, that is hardly the case. Over the past few months, as the evidence of a potential bottoming has grown stronger, I have moved away from the bearish view toward a more bullish stance. Yet, I do get the distinct impression that many commentators in the blogosphere do not share my renewed optimism. Their view is rather dark. Mind you, I am no out-and-out wild eyed bull. Nevertheless, I do think my increasingly upbeat views stand in contrast to most of what you read in the blogosphere about the economy, the market and the banking industry.
Why is that?
Here’s my take. Humans are naturally pre-conditioned to seek confirmatory evidence once they have made a conclusion. We spend a lot sorting out new information into a world view and we become attached to this view emotionally, so much so that contradictory evidence is viewed as a threat not only to our views, but an imminent threat to our person.
Drew Westen, a Professor of Psychology at Emory University did a fascinating study about this theme in 2006 regarding politics. Wikipedia sums up the study and conclusions as follows:
In January 2006 a group of scientists led by Westen announced at the annual Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference in Palm Springs, California the results of a study in which functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) showed that self-described Democrats and Republicans responded to negative remarks about their political candidate of choice in systematically biased ways.
Specifically, when Republican test subjects were shown self-contradictory quotes by George W. Bush and when Democratic test subjects were shown self-contradictory quotes by John Kerry, both groups tended to explain away the apparent contradictions in a manner biased to favor their candidate of choice. Similarly, areas of the brain responsible for reasoning (presumably the prefrontal cortex) did not respond during these conclusions while areas of the brain controlling emotions (presumably the amygdala and/or cingulate gyrus) showed increased activity as compared to the subject’s responses to politically neutral statements associated with politically neutral people (such as Tom Hanks).
Subjects were then presented with information that exonerated their candidate of choice. When this occurred, areas of the brain involved in reward processing (presumably the orbitofrontal cortex and/or striatum / nucleus accumbens) showed increased activity.
Dr. Westen said,
- None of the circuits involved in conscious reasoning were particularly engaged… Essentially, it appears as if partisans twirl the cognitive kaleidoscope until they get the conclusions they want… Everyone… may reason to emotionally biased judgments when they have a vested interest in how to interpret ‘the facts.’
The study was published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 18:11, pp. 1947–58, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
Even before being peer-reviewed and published, Michael Shermer used the presentation by Dr. Westen as the basis for his July 2006 Skeptic column in the magazine Scientific American.
In essence, political partisans with a well-developed political world view were confronted with data that did not fit their particular view. This created cognitive dissonance and mental stress (remember, the brain areas for reason were not activated here, emotions were at play). Their brains, rather than trying to resolve the conflict objectively, looked for ways to incorporate the new information into the previous pre-conceived view. When the subjects successfully accomplished this back flip, they were massively rewarded by the areas of the brain for pleasure.
In sum, our brains are NOT hard-wired for non-confirmatory evidence. We are not rewarded for seeking non-confirming data. Therefore, we generally seek confirmatory evidence after we have made any decision.
Think about this for a second. When you have bought a car, a house, quit a job, gotten a divorce, taken on a new job, what have you – did you sit around looking for ways to figure out why those decisions were wrong? Unless, you are a masochist or in need of some serious therapy, the answer is no. My reasoning is that there is no evolutionary benefit in one questioning decisions that have already been made. The problem, of course, is that this search for confirmatory evidence extends beyond decision-making to how we view the world and how we interpret data and I believe it makes for errors in investment decisions and forecasting. This problem is called the confirmation bias.
Wikipedia defines confirmation bias as follows:
In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias is a tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions and to avoid information and interpretations which contradict prior beliefs. It is a type of cognitive bias and represents an error of inductive inference, or as a form of selection bias toward confirmation of the hypothesis under study or disconfirmation of an alternative hypothesis.
Confirmation bias is of interest in the teaching of critical thinking, as the skill is misused if rigorous critical scrutiny is applied only to evidence challenging a preconceived idea but not to evidence supporting it.
So, to be clear, I am saying that we all are biased toward the pursuit of evidence that confirms what we already tend to believe. If that view is false, we are merely entrenching ourselves more in a false belief.
John Maynard Keynes once famously quipped, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?.” I applaud him for the sentiment. But, the fact is, it is easier said than done. As a result, every step along the way, I force myself to revisit my conclusions over and over again, specifically looking for non-confirming evidence. My post “Channeling my inner Larry Summers” was an example of that. But, quite frankly, I find the exercise very taxing mentally – emotionally draining, if you will. So I am sure that I am not always successful.
Well, the facts have changed. The U.S. economy, which I have characterized as in a depression with a small ’d,’ has clearly stopped declining as quickly as it once had done. The maximum rate of decline was December 2008 or January 2009. Now, the economy is still contracting, but at a slower rate. The question is: what now? The general view in the blogosphere is that this is a pause and we will resume our downward path once the true extent of the problems are made manifest. But, is that really true?
I would argue that it is not axiomatic that the structural problems in the U.S. portend a relapse into a deeper contraction. It is just as possible – actually rather likely in my view – that the U.S. economy, at a minimum, will leave recession within the next 6-9 months, if not sooner. For me, the question is two-fold:
I answer “yes” to both of these questions. And I hope to demonstrate why more fully in future posts.To date, I have summed up my view in a post called “The Fake Recovery.” One could actually accuse me of actually fitting the data into my already dark view of the structural problems in the U.S. economy. However, while this is not what you might term Abby Joseph Cohen optimism, I would say that this view is far enough away from the consensus or my 2008 worries of financial Armageddon that it does represent a more positive tone.
Meanwhile, much of the finance
blogosphere is still very much focused on the downside risk. Mind you,
I am still concerned about it (one reason you will see ‘doom and gloom’
posts at Credit Writedowns as well), but I am
much less concerned than I was just a few months ago. Count me as
a part-time member of the Green Shoots Brigade.
Galbraith is the son of renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith and Catherine (Kitty) Atwater Galbraith, and the brother of former diplomat and commentator Peter W. Galbraith. He earned his BA, magna cum laude, from Harvard in 1974 and Ph.D from Yale in 1981, both in economics. From 1974 to 1975, Galbraith studied as a Marshall Scholar at King's College, Cambridge.
From 1981 to 1982, Galbraith served on the staff of the Congress of the United States, eventually as Executive Director of the Joint Economic Committee. In 1985, he was a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution. He is currently a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and at the Department of Government, University of Texas at Austin.
Galbraith is the Chair of Economists for Peace and Security, formerly known as Economists Against the Arms Race and later Economists Allied for Arms Reduction (ECAAR), an international association of professional economists concerned with peace and security issues. He is also a Senior Scholar with the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College .Galbraith heads up the University of Texas Inequality Project (UTIP), which has been described by economic historian Lord Skidelsky as "pionering inequality measurement"  . UTIP is also noted for replacing the established Gini coefficient with the Theil index as the measurement of choice for comparing inequality between groups, regions and countries. 
In March 2008 Galbraith used the 25th Annual Milton Friedman Distinguished Lecture to launch a sweeping attack on the free market consensus, especially the monetarist version. He argued strongly that Keynesian economics offered a solution to the Financial crisis of 2007-2008 whereas monetarist polices would deepen the recession. Towards the end of 2008 policy makers around the world began acting in line with Galbraith’s recommendations, in what the Financial Times described as a "a stunning reversal of the orthodoxy of the past several decades".
Galbraith's books include Balancing Acts: Technology, Finance and the American Future (1989), Created Unequal: The Crisis in American Pay (1998), Inequality and Industrial Change: A Global View (2001) co-edited with Maureen Bemer, and The Predator State (2008).
He also contributes a column to The Texas Observer and writes regularly for The Nation, The American Prospect, Mother Jones, and The Progressive. His Op-Ed pieces have appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe and other newspapers.
Galbraith argues that modern America has fallen prey to a wealthy, government-controlling "predatory class":
Today, the signature of modern American capitalism is neither benign competition, nor class struggle, nor an inclusive middle-class utopia. Instead, predation has become the dominant feature — a system wherein the rich have come to feast on decaying systems built for the middle class. The predatory class is not the whole of the wealthy; it may be opposed by many others of similar wealth. But it is the defining feature, the leading force. And its agents are in full control of the government under which we live.—
Galbraith is also highly critical of the Bush administration's foreign policy apropos of the Iraq invasion:
There is a reason for the vulnerability of empires. To maintain one against opposition requires war — steady, unrelenting, unending war. And war is ruinous — from a legal, moral and economic point of view. It can ruin the losers, such as Napoleonic France, or Imperial Germany in 1918. And it can ruin the victors, as it did the British and the Soviets in the 20th century. Conversely, Germany and Japan recovered well from World War II, in part because they were spared reparations and did not have to waste national treasure on defense in the aftermath of defeat...The real economic cost of Bush's empire building is twofold: It diverts attention from pressing economic problems at home and it sets the United States on a long-term imperial path that is economically ruinous.—
He is also a merciless critic of his own profession:
Leading active members of today's economics profession, the generation presently in their 40s and 50s, have joined together into a kind of politburo for correct economic thinking. As a general rule — as one might expect from a gentleman's club — this has placed them on the wrong side of every important policy issue, and not just recently but for decades. They predict disaster where none occurs. They deny the possibility of events that then happen. They offer a "rape is like the weather" fatalism about an "inevitable" problem (pay inequality) that then starts to recede. They oppose the most basic, decent, and sensible reforms, while offering placebos instead. They are always surprised when something untoward (like a recession) actually occurs. And when finally they sense that some position cannot be sustained, they do not re-examine their ideas. Instead, they simply change the subject.—
In 2009 joined the project "Soldiers of Peace", a movie against all wars and for a global peace. 
FIFTY POSSIBLE WAYS TO
Second Edition, September, 2006
Americans are drowning in a sea of goods from excessive
commercialism. Can we confront and address this condition and do
so in a balanced manner, that is, one where we show the seriousness
of the situation and yet remain light-hearted? Yes, success is
possible provided we work together and perform meaningful actions
on a wide variety of fronts that are individually-directed,
community-oriented, and involve regionally, nationally and globally
concerted efforts. Our goal should include reaffirming our
American freedom and constitutional democracy, which have been
systematically threatened by the growing influence of multinational
Brevity. I'll keep this brief even though on other issues I do
speak at length. My thesis is that, if we expose the absurdity of
commercialism, we can dilute its impact and find imaginative
solutions that will work in the long run. If it weren't that crass
commercialism is global in scope and is enticing many in developing
countries, we would say the current commercial situation is
ludicrous. But the dead seriousness in which the Cato Institute,
the World Bank, Wall Street and Advertising Age take their world
mission only prods us the more to do the opposite. We're not being
frivolous; we just make light of ourselves for allowing such a
commercial system to spawn, thrive, and entrap us. Let's keep our
cool while we turn on the heat.
An Invitation for Comments. The following list of suggestions
is our current best endeavor, but it certainly can be improved
through insights and suggestions. It is one way to shake the
public from the addiction of consumer products. However, addicted
consumers have some creativity left, which, when coupled with a
light-hearted spirit, may confront this wretched system paralyzing
so many of us. It will take a united effort to topple the idols of
commercialism, preserve and enhance the environment, keep our
sanity, enter into solidarity with others throughout the world, and
enjoy this activity all the while.
Arrangement. We move from the individual action to the more
global ones without trying to say that one is more or less
important than another category. The order within sub-sections is
random and without any judgment as to relative importance of
individual entries. They are more or less arranged according to
when discovered. Choose from the selections those which you can
better perform with your own limited resources. We can't do
everything, but we can do some things well.
-- Al Fritsch, SJ
1. BOLSTER WILL POWER -- This first challenge is perhaps the most
difficult. It involves the overcoming of our addictions whether of a
chemical, consumer product, media, or other nature. As we gain self-
control we acquire self-confidence and an ability to use our creativity
to assist those around us whether near or far. We begin to understand
the situation and see ourselves as part of the problem whether by
commission or omission. If necessary, we can attend AA meeting or
other related group gatherings, and we can seek and find proper
spiritual direction from a balanced friend. We can't stand alone but
need assistance from a Power greater than ourselves. Armed with self-
knowledge and Divine assistance we are more able to confront the
crushing power of over-commercial interests. By ourselves we are weak;
with God's help we can overcome the seemingly insurmountable.
Experience: I give several retreats a year though not as many as
in the past. These retreatants plus my parishioners in two parishes
hear much about the need to enhance our will power.
2. DON'T BUY -- An important anti-commercial challenge is to
refrain from going out to acquire more things. However, we have got to
fight the sheer panic of commercial pressure. Plan before you shop and
refrain from impulse buying. Check at home to see what you already
have that you may have simply forgotten about having at home. This
planning strengthens the will power to refrain from acquiring. If
items are not needed, don't get them. Reuse, exchange, take what
another doesn't want, and be cautious about purchasing.
Experience: Post a shopping list and add to it when needs arise.
I suffer from the impulse to buy but find the list quite helpful. I
seek to refrain at least until prices come down. And I observe making
no commercial purchases on the day after Thanksgiving as well as not
purchasing on Sundays.
3. THROW BACK JUNK MAIL -- Conquering junk mail (a minor problem)
is a challenge showing us that we can become successful in major
difficulties. The amount of junk mail is overwhelming and depressing;
it creates a messy situation where it collects; it requires disposing;
and it contributes to the depletion of our threatened forests. This
challenge offers quick success. One plan involves collecting junk mail
for a month. Selecting the franked return envelope from the sending
group you dislike most and attach it to a box containing the month's
worth of junk mail. The cost will be several dollars for the original
sender, and it is almost a guarantee that one will not send it again to
you. Forget about clearinghouses which are meant to notify junk mail
senders. Our direct action works far better, and is a success.
Furthermore, postal workers play a valuable part in this vote of no-
confidence for junk mailers.
Experience: It's a pleasure to return junk mail. I have insisted
on the policy of never trade or sell a mailing list, for this is
confidential matter. Certainly there could be profit in trading the
list, but that would be going against the trust of supporters. I have
actually returned metal items to disliked senders in pre-9-11 days.
Today that becomes a problem for a tolerant postal worker who lets such
items through. Far better is focusing on paper products alone.
4. VOTE -- The challenge in our complacent democratic society is to
get the people out to vote. First we have to resolve to do it
ourselves, especially in local and off-year elections when turnout is
light. Major differences occur among politicians that are often hard
to determine and that requires some attention to campaigns -- an
increasingly hard task due to the sophistication and escalating price
of 21st century publicity and promotion. None of these are perfect and
so we must attempt to choose the better one among a slate of
candidates. It is not enough to resolve to vote; let's encourage
others to get out and vote as well. If we vote intelligently, changes
may occur, or at least have a better chance to occur. We begin to take
our democracy more seriously.
Experience: Voting is very important both in Appalachia and
throughout our country and world. I have always attempted to vote even
when I know the vote is a mere protest against a sure winner. The
right to vote is too precious to take lightly.
5. MAKE YOUR VIEWS KNOWN -- The challenge is not to hold it in; we
are psychologically more healthy if we try to say what is on our mind.
Commercialism has a grasp on people in all walks of life. Infants are
being taught from the first TV viewing; youngsters are targeted with
placement of favorite cereals at the bottom of supermarket shelves;
teens are caught up in MTV and in fashion purchases. Adults have their
toys in the form of expensive speed boats, off-road vehicles, and
sports cars and vans. Let's speak up amid the commercial noise and let
our word be placed properly. Say what you think at parties or at the
dinner table about the dangers of over-commercialism to our national
moral fabric; lobby a favorite bill or write or phone your
congresspersons about pertinent legislation; encourage others to create
their missives and to participate as well; send letters to the editor
or e-mails to the media. All of our opinions are important.
Experience: Resolve to make your views known at least once every
three months in some manner. That is my individual goal and I attempt
to keep it. However, on some issues we may have to become far more
intensely engaged during a shorter period of time.
6. PUBLISH ON THE INTERNET -- The challenge is to expand individual
communications to publication and the Internet -- the citizen's
publishing house. We soon realize that mass commercialism means that
publishing firms target celebrity and sensationalism as part of
dumbing-down people. Those with meaningful things to say are often
drowned out and denied a voice through the selectivity of the
publishing and electronic media. In such circumstances it is hard to
remain enthusiastic. The Internet's access to a broader audience is a
promising device, for it has not succumbed yet to corporate or
governmental interests. Writers, who are frozen out of large
publishing firms, have a new outlet for public discourse. Search
engines can find your issue quite quickly. We only need recall the
late 18th century early American historic struggle for a free press
waged by Ben Franklin's grandson and others in the Philadelphia Aurora,
and other non-Federalist newspapers. Remember that the infamous Alien
and Sedition Laws threatened and nearly overcame the constitutional
freedom of the press. Let's champion free access to the Internet.
Experience: This website <www.earthhealing.info> has enough
materials to keep most visitors busy. If they need more, we have links
to many other valuable sites. We currently have a visiting rate of
about one and a half million visits per year and hope to expand this in
the coming year through interspersing more pertinent photographs among
the Daily Reflections.
7. JOIN PUBLIC INTEREST GROUPS -- The challenge is to work together
on local environmental problems with public interest groups. The
larger groups with few exceptions have six-figured salaried directors
and a temptation to take over local issues and group achievements.
Often local groups are more in touch with issues, have better contacts
with decision makers, know how to engage others in work or celebration,
and can muster local support more easily. However, some national
groups are worthy of support as well. One is well worth mentioning,
Public Citizen, which does an excellent job. This Washington-based
group offers a host of actions worth considering, and the group invites
readers to participate through letter-writing, signing, supporting, and
lobbying. We are often reminded that the public interest can easily be
damaged by the immense power of special commercial interests. A lack
of public interest opens the door to totalitarian repression by a
fearful government. Terrorists are becoming modern Paul Reveres by
throwing monkey wrenches at an ever more vulnerable complex technical
system. A fragile democracy can best be preserved by making sure the
marginalized have a voice in civic affairs so they don't resort to
Experience: As a member of Public Citizen, I can vouch for how
dedicated and consistent both the president, Joan Claybrook, and the
founder, Ralph Nader, have been throughout the past three decades.
Visit their website and find out for yourself <www.citizen.org>, or
send in a donation by letter to 1600 20th Street, N.W., Washington, DC
8. ORGANIZE A YARD SALE -- We are challenged to do more than
individual acts that are hidden and personal like voting and returning
junk mail. We can go public and reduce throwaways through bringing
ecologically sound commerce to our front yards and local parking lots.
A yard sale is a public statement that we want to trade with others and
to share unwanted or surplus materials with those looking for a
bargain. Here is an opportunity to hone in on social skills, offer a
place to trade stories, and participate in social life, as well as
reducing one's inventory of furnishings, fixtures, clothes, books and
what is sometimes classified as "junk." We can become lean by being
cheerful, not mean. We might even dissuade others from engaging in a
favorite modern sport -- malling, or strolling through mall stores in
search of bargain. A yard sale is low-pressure commercialism and may
even involve giving items to those who are financially hard pressed.
Some people want frequent wardrobe changes in order to remain
fashionably dressed. Often they discard usable garments and then feel
guilty and take them to second-hand stores or yard sales.
Experience: I believe in the value of yard sales more than the
fact I frequent them. That is partly because I may end up buying what
I don't need. When someone has a shopping list and takes that to a
yard sale, that is salutary; to simply perform a miniature malling
exercise is not. However, I did organize an end of academic year yard
sale at Marquette University during my sabbatical stay in 1998 as an
ecological project by the students.
9. SHOW BUMPER STICKERS -- Answer the challenge of the current
closing of access to the air waves from public use. Think of doing
this in places of maximum public display, namely, on bumper stickers.
This may be done positively by adding good stickers to vehicles --
those promoting the public interest on a wide range of social justice
and environmental issues. Some of us do not like to clutter up our
vehicles, because a multitude of stickers make reading more difficult.
Only select stickers say it well and are brief and clear. "If you read
this you are too d----- close" is short but gets to the point quite
well. The negative sticker (a "don't" to be placed over a "do") has
some value provided you don't get caught putting them on in the ball
park before or after the game has started. Sometimes a cute sticker
just fits the vehicle even when it is not yours. But be careful with
your generosity for it may not be appreciated.
Experience: I find that thinking up good bumper stickers is a
mental exercise when on road trips or when having spare time. Getting
someone to print or distribute these gems is a far harder task. People
would rather put them on small items (books or suitcases). The one I
put on in 2003 just before the Iraq invasion was torn off along with a
vandalizing threat that made me see how much these can be political and
10. CREATE ANTI-COMMERCIALS -- The challenge is to make a
caricature of familiar television or radio commercials. This can be
done in school and scouting skits, in conversation, and in special
writings. Be aware that commercial interests may take this seriously
and even threaten to sue. The local fireside is an ideal place to
purge ourselves of the pervasive influence of commercials. Through the
game process we help generate a low credibility for things which richly
deserves the gutter -- most high pressure, loud, gaudy, addictive
advertisements. Today the credibility of most ads has sunk to low
levels, but the very young, the gullible, the new immigrant seeking to
assimilate American culture, and the mentally less fortunate are all
prime targets for the advertising world. So are the rest of us in our
more relaxed moments. Exposing idols through anti-commercials can be
fun and serve a very useful prophetic purpose. Turn the tables on the
commercial interests and tie up their lines and e-mail with your own
Experience: I answer the phone to credit card and phone peddlers
by goofy and odd-ball responses. Don't you know credit cards are
sinful? We hope such responses generate conversation among the sending
groups who must have a boring life at the phones. And the list of
actual comments is growing to where one could have a one-act skit of
11. USE RENEWABLE ENERGY -- The challenge facing Americans is to
wean ourselves away from the umbilical cord of the large utility
companies. This can be partly or totally done through such solar or
wind applications as solar photovoltaics and electricity produced by
wind turbines, through solar hot water heating, space heating, food
cooking, food drying, solar greenhouses and water pumping systems.
While the movement from non-renewables (coal, gas and oil) to renewable
energy sources cannot be done in a day, still some applications can be
more easily installed than others. Begin with solar food ovens or
solar photovoltaic path lights. Advance to installing solar hot water
systems, which can replace a high portion of domestic non-space heating
and cooling energy.
Experience: Setting up the Appalachia-Science in the Public
Interest (ASPI) physical facilities involved using renewable energy for
space heating (wood fuel and solar gain). The Mount Vernon office uses
solar energy collected in the adjacent solar greenhouse to give about
40% of the space heating in winter, and solar arrays add electricity
through a net metering program and to run the ventilation system. See
ASPI Technical Papers 4, Solar Greenhouses; 9, Breadbox Solar Water
Heaters; 6, Solar Food Dryer; 1, Solar Box Cooker; and 49, Solar
12. BUILD A CISTERN -- The challenge facing people experiencing
severe droughts is to design, encourage and use appropriate
technologies, which are independent of community water supplies. We
can save water by catching runoff from roofs during rainy seasons. The
traditional centralized utility structure allows for ease of control as
opposed to multiple cisterns, wells and other individual water sources,
which are less capable of being monitored. Consider reducing your
dependence on distant water sources by building a cistern, which can be
ample storage, sturdy, and free from exterior contamination through a
special sealing process. This collected water can be used for house
and garden plants and, through proper safeguards, as potable water.
The rainwater quality is generally far superior to chlorinated
Experience: The ASPI cisterns, which we designed and built, have
furnished plentiful supplies of water even during the periodic
droughts. There is a finite amount of water in a cistern, but the
limited supply can withstand sizeable droughts through proper domestic
water conservation measures. If the utilities fail and the municipal
water pumps stop, the trusty cisterns are always there. See ASPI
Technical Paper 3, Cisterns.
13. CONSIDER LOCALLY BUILT DRY COMPOSTING TOILETS -- The
challenge is to popularize well-built and well-maintained dry
composting toilets (CT). Unfortunately, some CTs that have too small
a capacity have been built in the very difficult arena of public places
(parks, playgrounds, etc.). These receive sporadic heavy use that can
easily overload the system. Individualized homesteads have better
controls over these composting devices. The CT can easily be built at
low cost; it is easy to maintain and can be maintained so as to avoid
an unpleasant odor; it saves half of the domestic water used in the
average home; it furnishes a rich humus material in a very short time
which can be used to fertilize trees and flowers (and edible vegetable
plants with proper precautions). Locally built systems allow
construction money to remain and be circulated in poorer communities.
Experience: ASPI has installed three commercial dry composting
toilets and has designed and built five others. Likewise the
associated greywater effluent from three residences are connected to
artificial wetlands. See ASPI Technical Paper 2, Compost Toilets; 30,
Artificial or Constructed Wetlands; and 41, Humanure.
14. EAT LOWER ON THE FOOD CHAIN -- The ongoing challenge is to be
watchful of one's diet and eat foods which require less resources to
produce: vegetables instead of meat; chicken and fish instead of pork
and beef; eggs from free-ranging chickens rather than corporate farm-
produced eggs; whole grains instead of bakery prepared products; bulk
foods rather than individually packaged items; dried foods rather than
frozen ones; and locally and seasonally produced items rather than
those produced in distant places. The non-renewable resource (how much
oil, gas, nuclear, or coal it takes to produce, process, and ship)
contained in a particular food item varies immensely. It often takes
as much to produce the bottle as the contents or the TV food tray
package as the served food. Eat less fast food and return the litter
to the parking lot of the fast food logo. Buy less packaged food and
more bulk produce such as whole grains, lentils, cabbage, and dried
Experience: We find that gardening can furnish a sizeable portion
of fresh vegetables and herbs throughout the growing season, and even
beyond, with careful use of seasonal protective materials such as cold
15. TURN BLACKTOP INTO GARDEN -- The challenge is to turn urban
areas or recreation space into productive gardens. Raised beds allow
for intensive gardening and the foliage overlapping walkways during the
summer productive season. These raised beds should be organic (no
commercial chemical pesticides or fertilizers) and yielding high
quality crops that can be consumed right at home. Interplanting with
flowers add color, protect from certain pests, and attract bees,
butterflies and curious neighbors. Domestic gardens can be quite
artistic with the mosaic changing by the week. If properly done,
domestic gardening enhances spiritual well-being, adds to personal
enjoyment, affords physical exercise, offers a social opportunity, and
furnishes a steady supply of nutritious food without the transportation
and preservation costs associated with distant commercial produce.
Experience: While directing the ASPI operation, we turned a
portion of a paved parking lot next to the Mount Vernon office into a
productive garden yielding over 1,400 pounds of vegetables on the one-
twentieth of an acre of raised bed plots for a number of years. See
ASPI Technical Paper 46, Backyard Gardens: The Last Frontier.
16. SHARE ALTERNATIVE GIFTS -- The challenge is to give gifts that
reflect more of ourselves and less from a commercial outlet. Items
produced or services performed by individuals have far more meaning to
the one receiving the gift, e.g., home-baked goods, picked berries,
visits on regular occasions, yard work for the elderly, donations to a
worthy cause in the name of someone, and dedicated poetry to or offered
prayers for an special person. Christmas have been turned into a
materialistic orgy with mountains of once-used wrappings and a large
array of expensive items, some of which have little or no use. The
economic forces attempt to get people to start shopping for gifts at
Thanksgiving or even before.
Children should be encouraged to become involved in gift sharing.
They should be encouraged to share unused (or even favorite) toys or to
donate one to a more needy child when they receive one for themselves.
Otherwise they can soon become quite selfish gift receivers bent on
acquiring more and more. Adults need to share as well underused items
such as garden tools or devices used but once a year (kraut cutter,
wine press, or chain saw) with others in one's immediate neighborhood.
Experience: The ASPI Simple Lifestyle Calendar encourages others
to give volunteer time to worthy causes in Appalachia. This has also
encouraged through our Daily Reflections and homilies near the end of
the year and the gift-giving holidays.
17. BUILD YOUR OWN HOUSE -- Challenges can be humorous but, if you
start house-building for the first time, there are intermingled tears
of joy and sadness. Some general pointers on simple living methods
that will keep housing costs low and use less resources: keep
construction plans as simple as possible; build the most essential
portions of the building first and plan to construct additions over the
next one or two decades, rather than all at once; use native building
materials where possible (don't build a straw bale house if you don't
have a source of local straw or it is too humid); look for recycled
building or what are called deconstruction materials from structures
being torn down; don't design fashionable tall ceilings or high attic
space, if you plan to heat or cool the entire house; and keep home
construction away from mortgage hounds by doing the task yourself.
Additional pointers include keeping as many mature and healthy trees
for shade or wind barriers as possible, positioning the building for
maximum solar gain in summer; protect the windward sides as much as
possible by earth or vegetation; and go at least partly underground in
a portion of the house to reduce heating and cooling costs.
Experience: When growing up my dad and our family built about a
dozen houses, one each summer. While directing ASPI I have helped
design and build five dwellings using native materials and including
cisterns and compost toilets: a two-story solar frame house; a
cordwood log building; a cordwood covered mobile home; a frame one-
story traditional building from native materials; and a semi-
underground apartment with accompanying yurt as bedroom. See ASPI
Technical Papers 5, Cordwood Buildings; 8, The Yurt: An Excellent Low-
cost House; and 40, ASPI Solar House.
18. TAKE AN ALTERNATIVE VACATION -- The challenge is to find
vacation time that satisfies us and yet does not require costly travel,
motels, and the vast outlays to the tourist industry. So many consumer
havens like Disneyland near Orlando, Florida, or the strip malls and
trinket stores of Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg, Tennessee become traps to
take money and return a limited change of scenery and entertainments
that could be substituted at far less expense and time. Traveling on
the byways or house-sitting for a relative can be a change of location
and pace and yet allow for a limited amount of activity that is
relaxing. Enjoyed vacations means changes of pace, different patterns
of life, new places, and new ventures.
Vacation alternatives to long hours of travel could involve: doing
service for others such as building Habitat for Humanity housing;
taking time off to learn a hobby; furthering one's education by
attending an Elderhostel class; allowing home care givers to take a
vacation; or house-sitting for others. Also consider an alternative
vacation through virtual travel, i.e., getting a travel tape and plug
into the VCR, settling back with popcorn and having an evening or
longer entertainment; no trips to the doctor to get required shots, no
passport photos, no waiting when dogged tired for buses or taxis and no
need to leave home.
Experience: I try to couple vacations with speaking engagements
or assessments at distant places..
19. AVOID CREDIT CARDS -- The challenge is to resist the ever
present temptation to accept and get involved in the credit card world.
Some testify that by paying promptly the system could work in your
favor beyond the seeming convenience of not having to deal with cash.
In fact, so many now carry credit cards that few could be robbed for
much cash. However, I once found a folder of 20 some cards lost by a
jogger in DC. When I called he was extremely hurt by his loss and was
relieved to hear they were found and not used by the finder. Maybe you
like credit card convenience, the free periods of credit, and the
ability to easily purchase things. Remember, you are beholden to the
banking establishment and could owe your soul to them through rash
excessive purchases. What about other members of family or community
who do not share your abstemious ways? They contribute to the multi-
trillion dollar consumer indebtedness load. Be credit cardless and
create a scene if cash is not accepted.
Experience: I avoid all the temptations to accept an inviting
institutional or individual credit card. It gets harder to do each
year and is now impossible for convenient on-line purchases.
20. CHOOSE GREEN RECREATION -- There is a challenge when it comes
to fulfilling our need for exercise and relaxation to either do things
that require motors or those without. These expensive activities are
highly promoted by the recreation industry and are considered the macho
thing to do for recreation. Motorized forms of recreation (dune-
buggies, motorboats, off-road vehicles, airplanes and snowmobiles or
accompanying sports such as sky-diving and water-skiing) use much non-
renewable energy to operate motors. These devices are generally noisy,
costly, polluting, and dangerous as well. In the same amount of quality
leisure time one could hike, bike, jog, camp, bird watch, read or
Green recreation is no joke; it takes less resources and
equipment; it can be just as pleasurable, healthy and wholesome. Some
forms of green recreation may work best with costly gear but these
generally are single purchases that last a long time. Even sightseeing
by the disabled (using motor vehicles) can be considered a wholesome
and green form of recreation. Spectator sports may or may not take
resources depending on your choice of place to watch (TV or a distant
recreation park). Remember, the goal should be to stay active and
Experience: Like other environmentally conscious individuals,
many of us seek to do only green recreation sports, namely, walking,
jogging, camping, hiking -- and gardening.
21. PRESERVE ONE'S HEALTH -- Health care is our most expensive
bill and our greatest worry. Preserving health is more a question of
don'ts -- don't smoke, don't eat too much, don't become a couch
potato, don't forget proper sleep, and don't let worries bother you.
Even with good health measures we do need medical advice and help. We
need to be cautious about television pharmaceutical messages of cures
and miracle drugs that may do more harm than good. Some physicians
become pill pushers and some patients don't have enough stamina to
endure all those chemicals medicines they are encouraged to take. Who
knows what happens when a number of these chemicals are taken
simultaneously? Advertisements and pressured sales inflate drug
companies profits, while African AIDS sufferers can't afford
treatments. Think less commercial medicines and more alternatives,
namely, herbal therapy, relaxation and meditation, and vitamin and
mineral therapy. Read Drug-Free Healing: Breakthrough Remedies for
Healing Yourself Naturally by the editors of Prevention.
Experience: Several of us founded the Appalachian Ginseng
Foundation, which encourages the growth of a major herbal medicine.
I have grown comfrey (exterior use), garlic (colds), aloe vera (minor
burns), jewelweed (scrapes), echinacea (flu), and pokeweed (rheumatism)
-- I take one fresh or frozen pokeberry each day.
22. REDUCE PAPER USE -- Challenge the use of paper, especially
that derived from wood pulp, which is obtained from overly harvested
forests. While wood pulp-derived toilet paper use is not challenged,
some practices can include:
* cutting use of bathroom and kitchen paper towels through use of
cloth towels and air blowers which take less resources;
* using permanent dishes, cups and glasses in place of paper (and
styrofoam) picnic supplies and personalized mugs;
* recycling office and especially copy paper when possible. Many
grant agencies allow and even encourage use of two sides in submitting
* reuse envelops in sending mailings when feasible;
* refraining from buying note pads through use of backs of junk
mail and other blank paper materials;
* carrying along tote bags for purchases (I find this difficult);
* curbing newsprint use by sharing papers, buying specialized
publications in place of entire newspapers, using the Internet, radio
or television for news (even though not perfect substitutes); and
* recycling newsprint through mulching and plant cover, insulation,
wood fire tinder, gift wrapping, and pressed fuel logs.
Experience: We encourage the reuse of envelops and the use the
back blank side of old manuscripts obtained from a local indexing
editor for draft copies. I have bought less newspapers and obtained
more news over the Internet and radio and thus saved newsprint. Weekly
newspapers, magazines and periodicals are exchanged; office paper is
recycled. Also check again the section on Junk Mail -- a major paper
user in our society.
This, sir, is the language of democracy -- that a majority of the
community have a right to alter government when found to be oppressive
.... How different from the sentiments of freemen, that a contemptible
minority can prevent the good of the majority. --Patrick Henry of Virginia
23. PLANT TREES -- A major challenge facing our planet is to
preserve forestlands. Some hesitate to say "plant trees," which seems
be a cop-out to more active endeavors. Yet planting trees, especially
as a community project, is needed today. Some calls for tree planting
may be excuses for cutting down many other trees. However, replanting
is a sign of hope, a start at healing the Earth, a necessary
conservation measure that takes some effort and public commitment.
When planting, we realize the trees perilous journey to maturity even
long after we are gone. We confront our own mortality; we place trust
in a better world with these added trees; we recognize trees as sources
of nuts, fruit, fuel wood, shade from the summer sun, protection from
wind and soil erosion, privacy and noise barriers, and moisture-
retaining and micro-climatic mitigation instruments. Tree planting can
become a special celebration and an opportunity to socialize.
Experience: While assisting at Good Shepherd's in Frankfort, we
developed a project where every one of the approximately 300 students
at the school planted a tree in the spring. In 2005-6, the parish at
Ravenna planted a mini-orchard on the church grounds with memorial
plaques for those who passed on. Additional tree-related efforts
involve getting people to sprout and plant American chestnut as part of
our Appalachian reforestation project.
24. COMPOST -- The challenge is to return organic matter that is
considered kitchen wastes (except meat scraps) and yard wastes (small
brush, weeds, grass clippings, etc.) to a compost bin or a compost box
under the kitchen sink. With friendly bacteria, some earthworms, and
proper air and moisture, the work can be done efficiently and well.
The end product is rich dark humus, which can be returned to flower
beds or garden plots. A backyard bin could be protected from rodents
if that proves a problem. Cover the composting materials with dirt at
all times to keep out pests. The process is simple and, if you wish
more, see the ASPI Technical Paper 11, Composting for Gardens.
Experience: All current kitchen and yard wastes are being
composted in a bin in my backyard. Efforts are being made to expand
the use of this excellent natural recycling technique to others.
25. REUSE OR RECYCLE -- The challenge is to refrain from buying
unless necessary. When something is purchased, it should be used to
the degree possible or recirculated through yard sales and giveaways --
provided it's no excuse for more purchases. Recycle what is left. For
instance, a soft drink with much of the material resource found in the
container and not the contents, becomes a problem. Some states find
bottle deposits add to keeping the place cleaner when people return
container for refunds. However, larger profits have come with the more
centralized bottlers shipping to remote places and stamping the need
for consumer responsibility to recycle on the label. Thus originates
the commercial effort to promote recycling instead of returning
containers. Recycling is obviously more convenient for the producer
even though it takes resources to collect and make new containers.
While composting is participation in a natural process, recycling
metals, paper, plastics and rubber as useable consumer products is not.
Returning containers and other reusable materials to the system for
reuse is better ecological practice. However, recycling (for
production of another item) by way of efficient, sustainable and
accessible recycling centers is the next best thing in our consumer
Experience: We are privileges in our local town for it has a
multi-sort recycling pick-up system (newsprint and paper, cardboard,
metal, glass, and plastic) with additional specifics for drop off at
the local recycling center.
26. PROMOTE LOCAL SELF-INSURANCE -- Insurance coverage is always
challenging. Billions of dollars are siphoned from across America to
insurance companies and only a portion is ever returned. Why are not
all of us like the Amish and insure ourselves as community? If a barn
or house burns, let's commit ourselves to helping the victims rebuild.
Thus community dependence and good will becomes the best and cheapest
insurance. This works when communities are living simply (do not want
a larger place than what was destroyed), when the community is
cohesive, and when the disaster is not so widespread as to cripple an
entire area through hurricane or disastrous flood. For times of
extensive damage, another coverage strategy is possible -- self-
insuring but underwritten by broader communities of other self-insured.
To our knowledge, extensive networks of the self-insured do not yet
exist. Federal assistance generally works in very specific cases and
most often when there's existing traditional insurance. Self-insurance
counters what could be America's largest gambling racket and is a ready
candidate for Federal protective measures.
Experience: Self-insurance is difficult but can be achieved by
some group such as our Jesuit health plan. A question many of us must
raise is the high cost of home insurance that is rising in part due to
coverage for expensive homes in hurricane prone areas. Why must we pay
for their foolishness?
27. SUPPORT SMALL FARMS AND COMMUNITY SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE --
Challenge the welfare system, which allows corporate farms to flourish
and smaller family farms to flounder and fall one by one. This
condition is in part due to subsidies going to the larger farms, which
can obtain money more easily than can the smaller farms. The costs of
farming has escalated to such a degree that the larger feedlots and
plantations have a cost efficiency when considering machinery and
pesticide expenses. Small farmers are bothered when urbanization
contests their way of life (complaints of manure smells and machinery
operations); unchecked land development and highway building takes away
the cohesive farming community one farm at a time. Radical stances
have been tried. Some small-farm support has resulting in attending
forced farm sales (by banks) and blocking outside purchasers of the
land. Encourage bankrupted farm families to stay put as long as
possible and organize communities and groups to back such stands.
Small farm health should be strengthened before such events by
encouraging profitable a variety of small farm alternative crops such
as fresh herbs, mushrooms, certain flowers and bulbs, seeds, locally
grown fruits, vegetables and fish. Champion community supported
agriculture where possible.
Experience: Many with whom I am associated support the cultivation
of organic vegetables. A community herb growing association meets here
at the parish each month and good growing information is shared.
28. EXPOSE ILLEGAL BILLBOARDS -- The challenge is always to reduce
visual pollution due to advertisements, especially on billboards. All
the while, we see the need to furnish basic information to travellers
for restaurants, motels and fuel stations. The Interstate system uses
service signs before each intersection. This is certainly preferable
to large random signs blanketing the approaches to interstate exits,
towns, and cities. In the past some have taken it on themselves to cut
down forbidden signs or doctor such signs with anti-commercial
graffiti. It ends as one illegal act to demonstrate against another
and more commercially acceptable illegal act. If you must pretty up
illegal signs, do so with creative imagination at the proper place.
Far better is to get the illegal signs removed through pressure to
Federal, state, county or municipal transportation agencies.
Experience: The property I managed at ASPI is barely within sight
of one of America's busiest highways (Interstate 75), but the board of
directors has resisted the temptation to put up billboards that could
be seen by thousands.
29. STOP COMMERCIAL GAMBLING -- Let's give a challenge to those
whose only exercise is coming to a casino and operating a one-arm
bandit. Gambling is a touchy subject. Many like it; some of us hate
it; a large group of those in between find some special gambling
occasions enjoyable. We all get nervous about the big money behind
some of the gambling operations. These places can be very highly
commercial, and simply requiring the posting of odds of winning is not
sufficient to curb gambling. The addicts and their families suffer;
the community where the gambling joints are located is destabilized
when bad elements take over. We need to resist the gambling economy at
the individual, community, and national level as important. Surveys
show that poor folks gamble higher percentages of their limited income.
The best argument against expanded gambling is that such activities,
always fall heavier on the lower income folks; a better alternative to
shunting proceeds to the government is to levy taxes on the rich.
Experience: Some of us try to avoid gambling and even discourage
the practice of giving unclaimed Kentucky winnings to non-profits
engaged in low-income home construction projects. Gambling is not a
healthy practice and is fostered by commercial interests.
30. DISCOURAGE HUNTING FOR PURE SPORT -- Some hunters no longer
conduct themselves in a traditional sportsman manner. It seems that
for them the kill is the important thing. A challenge to bear hunters
who work in packs and use two-way radios to track and trap bears or
other large game is to disrupt their radio frequencies in areas where
and when the animals are being sought. This can prove to be quite
successful, though it does leave activistic bear protectors vulnerable
to angry people with guns.
Experience: I have never promoted hunting purely as a sport.
However, excessive wildlife (partly encouraged by the state hunting
interests) has resulted in immense damage to vegetation, especially by
so-called wild turkeys and by deer. Some of this excess is thinned by
coyotes but other measures may be necessary -- and we do distribute
venison for the local poor -- and I eat some of this myself.
31. CURB NOISE POLLUTION -- Advertisements are often produced
louder than the rest of the television and radio programs. Surface
traffic, jackhammers, chainsaws, airplanes and office equipment all add
up to a numbing, roaring jumble that produces stress and harms our
hearing. We could address excessive noise in a number of ways:
individually, by putting sound-proofing and fabric hangings to dampen
the exterior noises from disturbing us; in the household, by cutting
down on times or places where noise is traditionally made; in the
neighborhood, by pressing for local noise ordinances, and at the
national level, by championing less noisy road surface materials (as
required in parts of Europe), or reducing the level of motor noise on
airplanes, motor surface vehicles or boats.
Experience: I am planning to write a book on Silence and Sound
with Arthur Purcell of the Los Angeles-based Resource Policy Institute
-- but it is slow going due to our other books and commitments. He
will cover noise pollution and I am developing another fifty ways to
reduce stress and reestablish a quiet environment.
32. FIND THE POOR IN YOUR COMMUNITY -- Network, a national Catholic
social justice lobby, deplores the fact that 35 million Americans have
lived in poverty during this past decade of unparalleled prosperity.
One quarter of children in this country under six lack life's basic
necessities. All of us should become all the more concerned because
individual (not corporate) welfare rolls have declined 4.6 million
people (38%) since welfare reform legislation was enacted in August,
1996. Still people are caught in the web of poverty and quite a few
women and children go to soup kitchens and ask for food handouts. Find
out who is going hungry in your county and help keep tabs on school
children who are on breakfast programs -- especially during winter
months on snow days when schools are closed. Most likely these
students will go hungry. Develop food packets of nutritious materials
that can be easily distributed during these times of emergency. Make
potential hunger situations known to legislators and county and state
Experience: The parish where I reside has an outreach program
with the poor who need food and other necessities. My other parish
cooperates with a community-wide ecumenical program to aid the needy in
Powell county, Kentucky. We still have people needing food especially
towards the end of each month.
33. FOREST PROTECTION -- The challenge in an age of assault on our
forests is to save our trees and forestlands. A forest is a community
of which trees are part. Thus opposition to clear-cutting, which
compacts the forest floor with heavy machinery, rests on solid
ecological and scientific grounds even though some scientists for hire
would object to this. Opposition to forest destruction in the past has
been through legal actions, educational programs and such practices as
spiking trees and trails. Effectiveness rests on the story, the
actors, the publicity and the end results. Greater efforts are now
being made to get the forest landholders to grow virtually wild ginseng
with an understanding that in so doing they make the forest more
valuable than just as a producer of timber.
Experience: Over time, I have been associated with a variety of
groups that have attempted non-violent, educational, and other forest
defense techniques, always advocating the least violent means to effect
meaningful change. Our book, Eco-Tourism in Appalachia: Marketing the
Mountains, lists a variety of recreational activities such as sight-
seeing that enhance forestland value through tourism and non-resource
34. LOCAL MONEY: A NEW ECONOMIC ORDER -- Creating a new economic
order is a challenge that we find quite difficult. Different
communities, especially academic ones, have tried to organize
alternative money systems to the current American money system. The
problem is much the same as faced by a small nation that is not self-
sufficient and requires medicine and basics from outside the
boundaries. The local money system would work if the local community
produces all its basic needs and is truly self-sufficient. While
services like cutting hair or fixing vehicles can work reasonably well,
furnishing non-renewable fuel from an exterior source will not. The
alternative money system works for services but not materials or for
health and educational services outside the local area. In other
words, economic alternative Americans for the most part would have to
straddle two economic systems in order to survive. Only thoroughly
self-sufficient communities could make local alternative money systems
work -- and these are rare.
Experience: This is the most theoretical of all the challenges
and remains a problem for me because many economic alternative systems
have not proved too practical. We have to remain open to such
possibilities even though educational and health costs are a hurdle
that must be overcome.
35. ENCOURAGE RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS -- The challenge is to inspire
the very institutions whose goal is spiritual inspiration. Why not?
All need encouragement and that includes the churches and other
religious institutions. Let's target them because they could be such
worthwhile models to oppose the over-commercialism and materialism of
our American culture. Churches are visible, open, morally committed,
and supposedly authentically prophetic. They can ill afford to be
silent when their members are persuaded by the civic religion of
commercialism. Should good church administration be defined through
profitable investments and unquestioning conformity to the current
economic system? Are even so-called socially responsible investments
mere cover-ups for becoming party to the system itself? Is the
prophetic witness of churches and church leaders toned down for fear of
raising the discomfort level of affluent people? Raise such questions
in an encouraging fashion.
Experience: Paul Gallimore at Long Branch Environmental Education
Center and I have performed over 200 environmental resource assessments
over the past quarter century and the majority are for religious
institutions (churches, cathedrals, motherhouses, senior citizen
facilities, colleges, and youth camps). Many of our recommendations
seek to strengthen the prophetic voice of the community being assessed
-- and quite a number have become model places in their neighborhoods.
36. CONFRONT COMMERCIALISM IN PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS -- The challenge
is to return the public school to being a forum of free expression and
sound instruction for our American youth. And the added challenge is
to return public institutions into being truly public and not the
private domains of a privileged few. For instance, why should the
taxpaying public have to support unneeded new sports arenas which are
now equipped with luxury seating for the super-rich? Why are
commercials found in the public schools (12,000 of these schools have
subscribed to Channel 1 -- the advertising educational channel as of
this writing)? Why is there a Coca Cola/Pepsi commercial war directed
to school boards across the nation over which vendor has a right in set
up machines in the particular facilities? Why should one who wears a
pepsi shirt be sent home on Coca Cola appreciation days? These turf
wars, while yielding some money to school board coffers, are also
giving the wrong choice of products to students who are the principal
victims of these commercial wars. Soft drinks are quite popular and
often replace milk needed to reduce calcium deficiencies. Parents,
teachers, students, and the general public should take up this battle.
It is ironic that those who rave most about taking God out of schools
are often silent about the godless materialism (crass commercialism)
now found in many school systems. Help preserve the "public" in public
schools, museums, libraries, and sports arenas.
Experience: We in Kentucky are proud of this state taking a
national leadership role in combating junk food promotion in schools.
The state received the highest mark by a 2006 report by the Center for
Science in the Public Interest, Suite 300, 1875 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20009-5728.
37. DEMAND CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM -- Our democratic heritage
challenges us to take back our democracy which is threatened by the
escalating cost of electoral campaigns. Poll after poll shows that
the majority of us want campaign finance reform. Powerful lobby and
special interest groups have inordinate influence on candidates for
public office, mainly because of the high costs of campaigning and the
purchase of critical media time. The cost of running for public office
spirals into the millions and even tens of millions of dollars and is
gradually cutting out worthy potential officeholders who lack the
finesse to capture large sums of money. The qualifications move away
from the public interest and to persons who have access to personal or
special interest funding. Gradually this is becoming a game for the
super wealthy or those associated with such persons or corporations.
Why should not campaigning be done on free public service time? The
reason is that a major promotion of candidates comes through television
watching. The public debate should be open in its location, air time,
and subsequent public discussion. We should no longer tolerate "soft
money," which is not donated to specific candidates (spending caps of
$1,000 are imposed), but to the political parties. Let's help save the
threatened democratic process.
Experience: Support finance reform through support of Public
Citizen (mentioned elsewhere). Also consider supporting Common Cause,
1250 Connecticut Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20036 Web Site: <www.
38. CHALLENGE THE U.S. MILITARY BUDGET -- We Americans are all
challenged to be honest with ourselves. Why is so much being spent on
an American military budget (over four hundred billion dollars
annually) when we engage in hopeless Middle East conflicts and a
supposed War on Terrorism? The answer rests in the basic insecurity of
materialism, for those who have more are more afraid of losing what
they have. An affluent nation on top of the world can get in this fix.
Did not the Roman Empire have the largest military expenditures in its
last century (fifth AD)-- though it did have challengers from the
outside? Congress enjoys pork barreling military money for their
respective districts and thus fight any closure of wasteful unneeded
military bases in their respective districts. Challenge congresspersons
in DC or at some state occasion. Become responsible taxpayers and turn
war-making into peace-keeping.
Experience: While organizations may be forbidden to lobby, we
individual citizens are encouraged to do so. Letter-writing and
meetings with congress personnel can be effective in at least
reconsidering aspects of the ever growing military budget.
39. REGULATE LARGE CORPORATIONS AND BANKS -- The current climate of
deregulation of banks, media companies and others has assumed that
competition can be preserved with fewer groups. From that way of
thinking bigger is better and smaller is ugly. Corner grocery stores,
clothiers and local banks are disappearing. Mere competition does not
define all services of the local small establishments, and it is this
flavor of the hometown and small community that is disappearing at a
rapid pace. We need to return to a national strict regulatory policy
that hampered the excesses of the 19th century and to do so very soon
before more small businesses are lost. The focus of attention on the
rapid growth of Walmart in the 21st century may lead to some
regulations regarding hiring practices and worker insurance coverage.
Experience: I enjoy purchasing materials from the local hardware
store and garden supplies from the local greenhouse, even when at
greater cost per item. The guarantee of quality and the story that
goes with sales is so very important. We strive to promote local
merchants and banking establishments.
40. MAKE PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS (PSA's) -- Americans are
challenged to reassert public ownership of the airwaves. Over the past
eight decades the American electronic media has gradually taken over
the air waves, which are part of our commons. This has reduced the use
of air waves by the citizenry to fewer restricted areas. In so doing
the control by the electronic media has infringed upon our basic right
to free expression as guaranteed by the Constitution. See RICH MEDIA
POOR DEMOCRACY by Robert W. McChesney. A strong case can be made that
available public service broadcasting and televising has become
increasingly restricted. The best and sometimes the only viewing and
listening times are cooped by paid commercials. Even children's
programs are filled with commercials, a practice which is forbidden in
Sweden where the controlling agencies understand the harm of
commercials to the young mind. It is time we reassert our demand for
public interest programming and for controls on current commercial
content and timing.
Experience: Some of the very early public interest work in the
1970s included PSAs for radio. These cost little to develop and put on
the air. However, with time this faded partly because PSAs were
relegated to times of low audience.
We are free today, substantially, but the day will come when our
republic will come to impossibility because its wealth will be
concentrated in the hands of a few. When that day comes, then we must
rely on the wisdom of the best elements in the country to readjust the
laws of the nation to the changed conditions. --James Madison
41. STOP CORPORATE WELFARE -- The challenge is to confront the last
and largest form of welfare (the dirtiest word in American Politics) as
Mother Jones Magazine notes, namely, corporate welfare. In 1998
Federal government aid to these corporations amounted to $167 billion -
- nearly five times the amount that trickled down in welfare to the
poor and their children. Why should corporations have such benefits?
Why should they be regarded as persons, somewhat coequal with the human
person? Corporations do not have inherent rights, but rather the
corporation is the creature of the state. Corporations are not
mentioned or protected within the Constitution, but became over time an
entity, which can take on an international status as powerful as many
smaller nations. Is there time left to return corporate controls to
the people through Federal laws and regulations? Those politicians
beholden to corporate interests appear unable to apply controls to the
real welfare chiselers.
Experience: I have tried to introduce this theme in certain
seminars, writings, and talks throughout the years. This is most
recently true in the September contribution to Eco-Spirituality
throughout the Seasons.
42. ENERGY EFFICIENT VEHICLES -- Throughout the last quarter
century, the Federal Government has attempted to cut fuel consumption
by requiring that the total population of new cars (not all individual
ones) meet average fuel consumption goals. This was being achieved
until recent increases in popularity of sports vehicles, which were
outside the anticipated scheduled categories. Suddenly fuel efficiency
leveled off and then began to decline. It would seem that after so
much engineering and work on the internal combustion engine that fuel
efficiency would steadily improve. Part of this problem is due to the
current economic prosperity with relatively low fuel prices until quite
recently. But until 2006 the total number of inefficient new vehicles
grows and that exacerbates the problem. More efficient vehicles mean
less air pollution, reduced global warming, and even reduced ozone
depletion. It is time to improve energy efficiency through tighter
Federal regulations and to accelerate the production of cleaner
vehicles for the driving public.
Experience: ASPI has always strived to drive fuel-efficient
vehicles, especially through the ASPI solar electric car; this is a
model for others in the region to take a lead and curb the gas guzzlers
that do not seem to lose popularity fast enough.
43. COMPREHENSIVE HEALTH INSURANCE -- The challenge is the best
health plan at the lowest cost to the most Americans. Some question
whether all people are entitled to such health insurance. Today, some
44 million Americans (many of these the lower income working poor and
their families) are virtually frozen out of health care systems. The
debate will be expanded in the coming years where the emphasize will be
on lower cost coverage, on controls of HMO practices, on preventative
medicine, on long-term care for the elderly, and on high risk patients
with large health costs. The issues are somewhat complex and some
politicians are finding that escalating health costs must be addressed.
Experience: With more and more un- or underinsured it is becoming
necessary that we take this matter beyond what individuals at do at a
local level. This is a national issue and demands our concerted
political effort so that the tens of millions of uninsured will have
decent health coverage. That is certainly an important current social
44. PROMOTE ALTERNATIVES TO PRISONS -- Many of America's exploding
prison population do not need to be incarcerated. In fact, these one-
and-a-quarter million Federal prisoners become the laborers at
virtually no wages. The system involves manufacturing cheap prison
products which enrich private businesses working hand-in-glove with the
Federal and state prisons. It is America's gulag. Instead of this
prison economy, the non-violent convicts ought to be paroled and
allowed to live in their home towns under proper surveillance. If a
parole is broken, the prisoner returns to the institution. Savings for
those who comply with the requirements could be as high as $20,000 per
person per year, and the surplus money saved could be allocated to
crime and drug prevention programs. Furnishing prison supplies and
buildings is a "growth" industry and part of the crass commercialism
involved with incarceration. But this is hardly a way to build and
maintain a healthy domestic economy.
Experience: Eastern Kentucky is fraught with Federal prisons, a
growth industry. In my work at these places it becomes evident that a
great number of folks need not be here at all. The cost of imprisoning
these people is staggering. We support reducing prison populations,
especially with the non-violent offenders. We champion the cause of
prisoners and try to help them prepare for reintroduction into the non-
45. RAISE THE MINIMUM WAGE -- The challenging condition of the
working poor in a land of immense wealth is always before our eyes.
The working poor must pay relatively high rental fees and food bills;
they often cannot afford health insurance. The gap between the rich
and the poor continues to rise even in times of the most robust
national economy. A number of states have raised minimum rates in
recent years but, as of this writing, the federal government has not
succeeded in raising the rate that has been stuck well below six
dollars an hour for the past two decades. The working poor find it
increasingly difficult to meet basic needs of rent, food, health, and
education. Raising the minimum wages is one way to begin to equalize
the wealth and expand the national well-being especially since many of
those who suffer from low rates have little political voice.
Experience: During my administration at ASPI we always paid more
than minimum wages, and this is all the more important today when
people can't quite make it on less than six dollars an hour.
46. CONTINUE TO CELEBRATE A JUBILEE -- This was first written
before turning of the calendar for the 21st century and thus focused on
a Jubilee year in the biblical sense -- a time for freeing existing
debts and sharing again the commons with all the people. Many economic
debts result from oppressive regimes under the encouragement of western
governments. The affected inhabitants had little participation in the
growth of the debt and yet repayment to wealthy governments and banks
requires denying them their basic medicine and food. Nations like the
Democratic Republic of the Congo under Mobutu Sese Seko witnessed
massive funds transfer (even billions of dollars) to Swiss banks. Some
say that if the banks are to relinquish such money that came from
Holocaust victims surely the same principles should apply to looting of
the resources of developing nations. The basic justices has been
recognized to some extent and the seventeen poorest nations have had
their debts eliminated, but what about the next tier of nations?
Experience: What has begun as a forgiveness by richer nations and
agencies must continue and thus we need to insist that the year of
Jubilee is right now for the poorer indebted nations.
47. THINK GLOBAL POOR -- A challenge is to present a viable
alternative to confront the global commercial interests -- multi-
national corporations, NAFTA and the International Monetary Fund --
where power and money go hand-in-hand. Do we need to globalize the
world economy when certain players hold all the cards (and money), and
others are at their mercy? Should 25,000 American cotton farmers have
their crops lavishly subsidized while millions of African and other
small cotton growers languish? Or, is it better to have decentralized
economies which are more locally-controlled, people-oriented, and
community-based? The two choices are quite different, though media
popularity and big government favors the global approach. However
ecological health and ultimate viability favors a decentralized
approach such as that espoused by the late appropriate technician --
E.F. Schumacher and the Society that bears his name. Write to E.F.
Schumacher Society 140 Jug End Road, Great Barrington, MA 01230
Experience: We feel close to EFS, my distant cousin, and seek to
promote decentralization. However, some global controls are necessary
such as involves international controls on widespread pollutants.
These global problems cannot be handled adequately at the local level;
they need more widespread support.
48. SUPPORT UNITED NATION'S EFFORTS -- The challenge facing
affluent nations is the Lazarus Effect (named for a New Testament
parable of the rich man who knew the beggar Lazarus by name but did not
reduce his misery). Do we as a people know Niger and Haiti by name --
but do so little to help them? The agency that seeks to address such
problems as destitution in a world of plenty is the United Nations,
which was born in San Francisco and has its main offices in New York
City. It deserves our American support and dues payments. It
undertakes many health, education, Food for Peace, and peace-keeping
efforts which cost money. It takes $15 to immunize a child for life
from the six killer diseases (measles, polio, tuberculosis, tetanus,
whooping cough and diphtheria) but still over two million children die
annually from these. About a quarter of child deaths are due to
diarrheal diseases which could be remedied by just seven cents per
packet. Supporting the United Nations is supporting the poorest of the
poor. UN Children's Fund 333 East 38th St. New York, NY 10016
Experience: Our October issue of Eco-Spirituality through the
Seasons on this website is a strong endorsement of UN efforts on many
49. COMMUNICATE WITH FOLKS WORKING IN THE THIRD WORLD -- One of
the glories of the Internet is its ability to transmit messages to
people in distant lands conveniently, rapidly, and at low cost.
Communication is the bond that holds a world together. Without it we
soon become isolated from others; with it we are blessed with the good
word and cheer of people in distant places. These folks challenge us
to break away from ourselves and expand our vision to other peoples,
problems and legitimate needs. Thus the encouragement is mutual, for
we need to know, and to realize our own place in the vast world of
needs. Contact the Tapori Children's Network, Fourth World Movement,
7600 Willow Hill Dr., Landover, MD 20785. (301) 336-9489
Experience: We are in communication with people in an average of 80 countries
through this website. Our e-mails from them are always most welcome.
50. SUPPORT LOW-INCOME VENTURES -- The final challenge is to
recognize the need to support small business ventures in foreign lands,
which are geared for launching people into entrepreneurial enterprises.
Many need just a little money to get things rolling and are sincere and
willing to pay back over time. Venture capitalism, as it is termed,
strives to make small sums of money available to those seeking to built
their own small local businesses. If you desire to make such loans
make contact through your church with overseas mission personnel who
may guide you to persons of greatest need and how funds are used.
Loans persons should consider forgiving interest payments and rotate
the basic funding to new starting enterprises in these foreign lands.
Experience: I strive to donate as much as I can afford to groups
in Central America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East who work with
low-income groups. Please distribute your support carefully.