5 Overlooked Stories (CSM)
2. TARP is Cheap
3. Common School Standards
4. Rise of Natural Gas
5. Twilight of the Desktop
20 Hopeful Stories (YES! Magazine)
1. Climate Crisis Response Takes a New Direction
2. Wikileaks Lifts the Veil
3. Momentum is Building for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons
4. Resilience is the New Watchword
5. Health Care—Still in Play
6. Corporate Power Challenged
7. A local economy movement is taking off
8. Cooperatives Make a Comeback.
9. A Turn Away from Homophobia
10. Social Movements Still Our Best Hope
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We are inundated with news every day, much of it trivial, depressing, or reaffirming the status quo story in which we are immersed.
And now we are in that season when media pundits and news outlets try to summarize the news of the old year.
I’ve seen a number of these journalistic highlight pieces. I want to share two I find particularly useful and interesting. The first is from Sarah van Gelder, editor of YES! Magazine, who offers her list of the ten most hopeful stories in what has been a very strange year, indeed. The second, from The Christian Science Monitor, offers five major “overlooked” stories — stories that also happen to jolt our thinking (which is perhaps why they were “overlooked” in the first place).
To these two lists I want to add one more hopeful, overlooked story that I see as an emerging trend: A rising spirit of citizens coming together outside of the partisan battle to find common sense solutions to local problems and national policies. For years the “dialogue and deliberation” and “transpartisan” movements have been gathering steam and coming together. Last year the populist Tea Party exploded into the political battleground and was promptly hijacked by the Republican Party and various extreme ideologues. In progressive reaction, the Coffee Party suddenly appeared this year and is now creatively re-visioning itself into an increasingly sophisticated transpartisan role grounded in the deliberation of diverse citizens. Also we see the rise of NoLabels, which urges citizens to support transpartisan efforts by their leaders — a message easily interpreted as an effort to co-opt the emerging grassroots transpersonal energy to sustain top-down power arrangements (as happened with the Tea Party). Although these efforts are extremely diverse, they together constitute a major new trend, a profound disturbance of politics-as-usual. We can’t predict where it will land, but I suspect it might qualify in hindsight as a significant overlooked story. And if we support the transpartisan citizen-based aspects of it, it will turn out to be an extremely hopeful story, as well.
In the meantime, here’s some other nourishing food for thought as we enter 2011.
10 Most Hopeful Stories of 2010
Sarah van Gelder, YES! Magazine
There was plenty of disappointment and hardship this year. But the year also brought opportunities for transformation
It was a tough year. The economy continued its so-called jobless recovery with Wall Street anticipating another year of record bonuses while most Americans struggle to get work and hold on to their homes. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continued, and spilled over into Pakistan and Yemen, and more American soldiers died by suicide than fighting in Afghanistan. And it was a year of big disasters, some of them indicators of the growing climate crisis.
World leaders, under the sway of powerful corporations and banks, have been unable to confront our most pressing challenges, and one crisis follows another.
Nonetheless, events from 2010 also contain the seeds of transformation. None of the following stories is enough on its own to change the momentum. But if we the people build and strengthen social movements, each of of these stories points to a piece of the solution.
1. Climate Crisis Response Takes a New Direction. After the failure of Copenhagen, Bolivia hosted a gathering of indigenous people, climate activists, and grassroots leaders from the global South—those left out of the UN-sponsored talks. Their solution to the climate crisis is based on a new recognition of the rights of Mother Earth. Gone are notions of trading the right to pollute (which gives a whole new meaning to the term “toxic assets”). Instead, life has rights, and we can learn ways to live a good life that doesn’t require degrading our home.
The official climate agreement that came out of Cancún was weak and disappointing, although it did represent a continued commitment to work to address the challenge. But the peoples’ mobilizations, and the solutions born in Cochabamba, continue to energize thousands.
Meanwhile, Californians voted to uphold their ambitious climate law, despite millions spent by oil companies to rescind the measure in November’s election. And cities—Seattle, for one—are moving ahead with their own plans to reduce, and even zero-out, their climate emissions.
2. Wikileaks Lifts the Veil. The release of secret documents by Wikileaks has lifted the veil on U.S. government actions around the world. While the insights themselves don’t change anything, they do offer grist for a national dialogue on our role in the world—especially at a time when our federal budget crisis may require scaling back on our hundreds of foreign military bases, our protracted overseas wars, and our budget-busting weapons programs. Likewise, the traumas inflicted on civilian populations and on our own military are spurring fresh thinking. We now have data points for a bracing, reality-based conversation on the future of war—the kind of conversation that makes democracy a living reality.
3. Momentum is Building for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons. The ratification of the START Treaty is an important step in the right direction. And the National Council of Churches, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and others from across the political spectrum have joined UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in calling for an even more ambitious goal: the end of nuclear weapons.
4. Resilience is the New Watchword. As familiar sources of security erode, people are rebuilding their communities to be green and resilient. Detroit, a city abandoned by industry and many of its former residents, now has over 1,000 community gardens, a six-block-long public market with some 250 independent vendors, and a growing support network among small businesses. Around the country, faith groups and others are forming Common Security Clubs to help members weather the recession and consider more life-sustaining economic models. Communities are becoming Transition Towns as a means to prepare for breakdowns in society that may result from any combination of the triple crises of climate change, an end to cheap fossil fuels, and an economy on the skids.
5. Health Care—Still in Play. The passage of the Obama health care package seemed to lock us into a reform package that maintains the expensive and bureaucratic role of private insurance and props up the mega-profits of the pharmaceuticals industry. But the story is not over. The decision by U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson to strike down the individual mandate in the health care reform may begin unraveling the new health care system.
As insurance premiums continue their steep climb, some are advocating expansion of Medicare to cover more people—or everyone. Thom Hartmann points out this could be done with a simple majority vote in Congress—expanding Medicare to everyone was what its founders had in mind in the first place, he says.
Vermont is exploring instituting a statewide single-payer healthcare system. The United States may wind up following Canada’s path to universal coverage, which began when the province of Saskatchewan made the switch to single-payer health care, and the rest of Canada, seeing the many benefits, followed suit.
6. Corporate Power Challenged. Small businesses are distancing themselves from the Chamber of Commerce, which promotes the interests of mega-corporations over Main Street businesses. And there are more direct confrontations to corporate power. The citizens of Pittsburgh, Penn., passed a law prohibiting natural gas “fracking,” and declaring that the rights of people and nature supersede the rights of corporations. Other towns and cities are adopting similar laws. The biggest challenge will be undoing the damage of the Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to wealthy special interests to spend what they like on elections. Groups around the country are gearing up to take on the issue, with a constitutional amendment just one of the potential fixes.
7. A local economy movement is taking off as it becomes clear that the corporate economy is a net drain on our well-being, the environment, communities, and even jobs. A “Move Your Money” campaign inspired thousands to close their accounts with predatory big banks, and instead, to open accounts at credit unions and locally owned banks. Schools, hospitals, local retailers, and families are increasingly demanding local food. Farmers markets are spreading. Independent, local stores have huge cachet as people look local for a sense of community. And the experience of one state with a budget surplus and very low unemployment is capturing the imagination of other states—North Dakota’s state bank is creating a buzz.
8. Cooperatives Make a Comeback. A new model for local, just, and green job creation is gaining national attention. Leaders in Cleveland, Ohio, created worker-owned cooperatives with some of the strongest, local institutions (a hospital and university) promising to be their customers. The result: formerly low-income workers now own shares in their workplace and earn family-supporting wages. They can plan for their families’ futures, knowing that their jobs can be counted on not to flee the country. The model is spreading, and people now talk about how to bring “the Cleveland model” to their cities.
9. A Turn Away from Homophobia. The revoking of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is just the most dramatic sign that the country has turned away from homophobia. A widespread anti-bullying campaign sparked by the suicide of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi led to an “It Gets Better” campaign with videos created by celebrities and others.
10. Social Movements Still Our Best Hope. Thousands gathered in Detroit in June for the second US Social Forum, an event that galvanized grassroots social movements from across the United States. In Toronto, the meeting of the G20 was greeted by thousands of protesters, many of whom were subjected to police beatings and gassing. The Cancún climate talks brought caravans of farmer/activists and global justice activists as well as greens to press for a meaningful response to the climate crisis. Social movements are alive and well, even though they are disparaged or ignored by the corporate media, which choose to instead shower attention on the well-funded Tea Party. And movement leaders are connecting the dots between Wall Street’s plunder, growing poverty, and the climate crisis, and setting priorities instead for people and the planet.
The turbulence of our lives is increasing, spurred by the crises in the economy and the environment, growing inequality and debt, military overreach, deferred peacetime investments, and species extinctions. Turbulent times are also times when rigid belief systems and institutions are shaken, and change is more possible. Not automatic, and definitely not easy, but possible. The question of our time is how we use these openings to work for a better world for all life.
Sarah van Gelder is co-founder and executive editor of YES! Magazine, a national, independent media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions for a just and sustainable world. Sarah is executive editor of YES!
(I tweeted the story below and added: “Lets put transpartisan politics like Coffee Party on 2011’s list!”)
Top 5 Overlooked Stories of 2010
Sunday 26 December 2010[
by: Mark Clayton, Ron Scherer, Amanda Paulson and Chris Gaylord
The Christian Science Monitor | Report
History, it seems, will remember 2010 in the United States as the year of health-care reform, the Gulf oil spill, and the tea party movement. But the most widely covered stories are clearly not the only events that could shape the future of the nation.
Here we note five overlooked stories of 2010 – developments that might have received some press coverage but perhaps not as much as they should have, given the impact they could have on various aspects of American life in the years ahead.
Computer viruses that steal identities are nothing new. But 2010 introduced the world to something potentially far more dangerous: Stuxnet.
Stuxnet is the world’s first publicly known cybersuperweapon – a computer program that is able to cross the digital divide and destroy a real-world target. In the case of Stuxnet, that target seems to have been Iranian nuclear facilities. But future variants could be used to hammer US critical infrastructure, too, the Congressional Research Service warned this month.
Discovered in June by a Belarus antivirus company and later revealed as a cyberweapon by a German researcher, Stuxnet was designed to control and destroy industrial control systems. It could be activated merely by plugging a thumb drive loaded with the malware into the target computer system.
Many experts worry that a “son of Stuxnet” clone could make an appearance in 2011. “My greatest fear is that we are running out of time to learn our lessons,” Michael Assante, an industrial control systems security expert, told a congressional hearing on Stuxnet in November. “Stuxnet … may very well serve as a blueprint for similar but new attacks on control system technology.”
Stuxnet required a team of experts working clandestinely for months or more to build it – and cost millions of dollars to produce and test. Only a few nations – Israel, the US, China, France, or Britain – could create it, many say. Now a rich terrorist could buy a Stuxnet variant.
The original Stuxnet was a cyber “guided missile” that unleashed its digital warhead only under very specific conditions (believed by a number of experts to be part of Iran’s nuclear plant designs). The son of Stuxnet might not be so selective. If retooled slightly, a Stuxnet clone could be made to detonate and damage a wide swath of critical infrastructure facilities – water, power, energy, and transportation facilities, for instance.
It “threatens to cause harm to many activities deemed critical to the basic functioning of modern society,” the Congressional Research Service reported Dec. 9.
“Depending on the severity of the attack, the interconnected nature of the affected critical infrastructure facilities, and government preparation and response plans, entities and individuals relying on these facilities could be without life sustaining or comforting services for a long period of time,” the study’s summary states. “The resulting damage to the nation’s critical infrastructure could threaten many aspects of life, including the government’s ability to safeguard national security interests.”
2. TARP is Cheap
In the fall of 2008, as the US financial system teetered on the precipice of collapse, the Bush administration announced it would inject $250 billion directly into the banking system.
Called the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the program quickly swelled to $700 billion, with Uncle Sam owning large chunks of many of the major US financial institutions, the auto industry, and AIG (a giant insurance company).
TARP was instantly unpopular, the butt of jokes on late-night television and reviled by both political parties as a bailout for fat-cat Wall Street executives. There were predictions of huge losses, which would come out of the pockets of taxpayers.
That is not how it has actually turned out.
In a report at the end of November, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the losses to the taxpayer will be $25 billion, mostly from investments in the auto sector and AIG.
“TARP was probably one of the most successful financial crisis cushioning programs ever executed,” says Brian Bethune, chief financial economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Mass. “It is astounding the costs came down that low.”
Some of the banks, such as Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, quickly paid back the loans with interest. In an October opinion article in the Washington Post, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Uncle Sam had received $200 billion, plus a profit of $28 billion. Since then, billions more have piled in, the government has reduced its stake in General Motors to 33 percent, and AIG has announced a plan to pay back all the money it borrowed.
Even some of the fiscal hawks now see TARP as a successful effort. Retiring Sen. Judd Gregg (R) of New Hampshire, interviewed on MSNBC, called the program “the most significant thing that’s happened in the last five to 10 years.” He added, “I think the program worked the way it was supposed [to].”
The TARP program does not include the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Mr. Geithner has estimated their losses as less than 1 percent of gross domestic product, or $150 billion.
3. Common School Standards
In the US, it has always been an accepted fact that if a student moves from Georgia to Minnesota – or from any state to any other state – she can expect a potentially major shift in the way she is taught, what she is taught, and how she is tested on what she knows.
In 2010, the US took a significant step toward changing that situation: It created common, rigorous standards that are on track to be adopted by 44 states and the District of Columbia.
These standards are intended to influence curricula, teacher training, and textbooks, and spur the creation of better, more sophisticated tests. By most accounts, these standards are good ones, and go a long way toward addressing the oft-cited US problem of teaching that is “a mile wide and an inch deep.”
This is the first time in US history that states seem serious about having one set of universal standards – something that’s commonplace in most countries, but has always been anathema to the decentralized American education system.
“Big, modern countries in a flattening, shrinking world don’t have separate academic expectations for kids living in different portions of their country,” says Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a longtime advocate for common standards. “We also have a mobile population of people that are as likely to live in Portland, Ore., as Portland, Maine.”
Though overshadowed by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top education grants and education reform battles in cities like Washington, common standards could be a key step toward meaningful reforms to improve US education, advocates say.
Mr. Finn, who was among those pleasantly surprised by the overall excellence of the standards, acknowledges that creating and adopting them is only about “10 percent” of what ultimately needs to take place.
“But if you don’t have a destination for your journey that’s worth getting to,” he adds, “why start driving?”
4. Rise of Natural Gas
The dramatic rise in the amount of retrievable natural gas in the United States could recast the nation’s energy profile.
Natural gas is threatening the dominance of coal and undercutting nascent efforts not only to resuscitate nuclear energy but also to establish renewable energy as a viable and economic alternative.
The vast expansion of US natural-gas reserves is due in large measure to the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing of shale deposits, which critics say contaminates ground water. Natural-gas prices have fallen more than 40 percent in two years, settling below $4 per thousand cubic feet, the US Energy Information Administration reported in September.
As a result, utilities are unfurling plans to build new gas-fired turbine plants nationwide – and others are shelving plans for renewable energy projects and nuclear projects.
Wind power, in particular, has had a hard time competing with electricity produced by burning cheap natural gas. Wind-turbine generating capacity soared through 2009, making the US the largest market for power. Wind power was cheap enough to sell itself on the open energy markets of the Northeast and West Coast, where it competed with natural gas-fired generators and nuclear energy generators.
Now flip that picture, says Matt Kaplan, a senior analyst with IHS Emerging Energy Research in Cambridge, Mass. The first half of 2010 saw a 70 percent drop in new wind-power installations.
Fossil fuels such as coal are on the chopping block, too. “A large-scale switch from coal to natural gas in the US has become possible largely thanks to the major increase in supply from unconventional shale gas,” according to a Deutsche Bank analysis last month. “Increasing supply is causing a long term fall in the price of natural gas, making it a far more economic fuel than in the past.”
5. Twilight of the Desktop
Largely lost in the scramble for Android smart phones and Apple’s iPad tablet is mounting evidence that the desktop computer – long the staple of personal computing – is becoming obsolete.
Two years ago, desktops made up nearly half of all PC sales, according to Forrester Research. They’ve now skidded to one-third, and will likely slump to one-fifth in the next three years, when they’ll be outsold by tablet computers – a category that didn’t even exist in Forrester’s report until the iPad arrived last spring.
Leading the charge away from table-bound PCs is Apple chief executive Steve Jobs, who offered a controversial metaphor at a tech conference in June:
“When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks, because that’s what you needed on the farm,” he said. “But as vehicles started to be used in the urban centers, cars got more popular…. PCs are going to be like trucks. They’re still going to be around. They’re still going to have a lot of value. But they’re going to be used by 1 out of X people.” (Mr. Jobs includes Macs in this atrophying category.)
The “cars,” or maybe even mopeds, of the future will be mobile, he argues. And already, software is changing to match this new dynamic.
In December, Google started publicly testing Chrome OS, a laptop operating system that tosses out many of the fundamental ideas behind a desktop PC. Bye-bye hard disks, installed applications, and lumbering start-up times. Hello online storage, Web apps, and immediate access to a browser.
Similarly, the proliferation of online app stores on phones and even televisions shows a thirst for inexpensive, single-purpose programs. Of course, there will always be a need for Photoshop and databases – powerhouse software with countless menus and taxing hardware requirements. But, the thinking goes, such workmanlike applications will run best on “trucks.”
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