News Roundup (2), June 2015
This is the second of three installments of a news roundup for the first half of this year, and it looks at solutions for a fractured (broken) world. The first installment dealt with solutions for a fragmented (divided) world, and the 3rd installment will look at a fractious (unruly) world.
Headlines from around the world indicate that the global economy is broken, largely because of faulty political systems.
- Most of us take modern living for granted, thanks to society’s sprawling infrastructure of cellphone and WiFi networks, Internet, roads and bridges, electric grids, water lines…. We don’t think about the hundreds of millions of people living outside the grid. One in seven people in the world don’t have electricity. (Read more… ) One in nine people don’t even have access to safe drinking water. (Read more… )
- There are nearly 60 million homeless refugees in the world today, more than ever before… mostly in the Middle East and Africa… mostly the result of overpopulation and war. (Read more… )
Can widespread deprivation be solved by competing nations and mulitinational corporations in today’s free market?… or will a solution require a strong world government that can sustain healthy economic conditions for all of humanity? Considering the fact that our savage side flourishes during competition, I suspect the latter.
Bankrolling and bankruptcy. The world economic meltdown of 2007-08 was caused largely by big banks behaving like reckless teens… driving wildly… chasing more fun, more excitement, more-more-more… and ultimately crashing the car. (Read more… )
Most governments in America and Europe, then, reacted like rich, worried parents. They assured the media and the public that their delinquent financial institutions meant well but suffered a lapse in judgement. Banks will be banks. (Read more… )
Consequences for the banks turned out to be minimal, and the results were predictable: the delinquent banks behaved nicely for a while… then the recklessness continued… and escalated… so that there’s growing talk of an even bigger economic collapse coming soon… maybe by year’s end. (Read more here… and here… )
Banking and finance are back in the news this year, as Greece, Puerto Rico, and a growing list of other countries (Ukraine, China…) teeter on the brink of default. (Read more… )
- The big banks of the world are getting more corrupt. In May, four of the world’s biggest banks admitted guilt in fixing the price of currencies on the foreign exchange market… felony charges for which they agreed to pay roughly $5.6 billion in fines.(Read more… )
- And it’s the big banks… not governments… not multinational corporations… not religions… but the big banks that really run the show when it comes to global finance. The International Monetary Fund (which is run by the big banks) strong-arm struggling nations like Greece (which sides with its people against the big banks) and Ukraine (which sides with the big banks against its people). It makes sense that big banks (hence the IMF) are more inclined to support struggling governments that side with the banks. (Read more… )
Little country, big solution. Iceland was among the hardest-hit countries during the 2008 global collapse, but today is among the few countries to emerge with a solid economy… because it doled out appropriate punishment to the wayward banks and has further plans to make things right.
- At the height of the crisis, Iceland made the stunning decision to let its banks go broke, while other governments in America and Europe were pouring billions of tax dollars into the banks to bail them out. Iceland also prosecuted bankers as criminals, while governments in the US and Europe fined the banks but left their chief executives unpunished. (Read more… )
- Iceland plans to prevent future bank failures… essentially by taking away the car keys. The government is considering a revolutionary measure… preventing commercial banks from creating money… and turning that responsibility over to the country’s central bank. The proposal would be a complete turnaround for modern finance. (Read more… )
The main problem with international finance today, in my view, is that it’s based on capitalist economics. For one thing, it encourages a free market for competing banks and competing nations… and whenever there’s competition, it’s always the savage side of human nature that prevails. The World Bank and IMF are tools of the big banks, and have no world vision that takes the poor into account. (Read more… )
For another thing (and this is a more congenital problem), the value of everything is measured in money, which is a symbol… and symbols are always susceptible to manipulation and false readings. I don’t think it’s possible to solve the world’s economic problems until we measure the value of things by their substance… that is, the actual matter and energy involved in the relationship between people, products, and resources. (Read more… )
The dying work ethic… a problem or a solution? The traditional “work-ethic” economic model, in which everyone’s paid to work, everyone consumes, and everyone prospers, is broken. There simply aren’t enough jobs to go around. Job shortage is a growing reality in modern society that probably can’t be fixed. Instead, social systems will have to be rebuilt around the new reality.
Small engineering teams today can generate products that serve hundreds of millions of consumers. With smartphones, laptop computers, and apps, we’re evolving quickly toward an “iEverything” box, a sort-of Alladin’s lamp… your wish is my command. Before long our smart boxes will control a growing infrastructure that can perform most of the work in homes, schools, and businesses… everything from climate control to folding the laundry to teaching children to managing corporate inventory.
As that system evolves, fewer workers will be needed. (Read more… )
Although this emerging scenario indicates that the old economy is broken, it heralds a new, better world with a new, vibrant economy that brings life on Earth a step closer to paradise… that spiritual Summerland at the Fourth Level where people shape their surroundings with their desires and intentions. (Read more here… then scroll down to the numbered stages… 1, 2, 3, 4… and read Stage 4, which is the place in spirit where the nobler of us humans will awaken after we die. Me? I’m pretty much resigned to awakening at Level 3… being too immersed in Earth’s dramas to go straight to Level 4… but, boy, am I digressing….)
This evolving reality here on Earth will have to accommodate a growing number of people who no longer have to work at traditional jobs (because traditional jobs are quickly disappearing) but who can still share in the fruits of human ingenuity. Today, on Earth, that would probably translate to:
- The vitality ratio, which keeps resource needs in line with resource availability…
- A basic income program, which provides every adult citizen with a survival stipend— enough money to get by month to month…
- A reasonable tax program that supports basic income and other spending programs run by governments… and
- Unanimous awareness that everyone serves society in some capacity… if not with a paying job then with some form of volunteer work.
- A strong world government that can sustain order among competing nations and corporations.
So, this current situation of a shrinking job market, while viewed as a problem according to the traditional “work-ethic” model, really promises to be a solution if we can reshape our societies accordingly in the future.
Declining population, another solution dressed as a problem. The fertility rate in Europe is falling, meaning that population is either shrinking or (in the case of liberal immigration policies) growing very slowly. (Read more… ) A declining fertility rate is viewed as a problem by nearly all economists today, who believe that it presents obstacles to full employment, economic growth, social cohesion, and other measures of a healthy society. (Read more... )
I think the opposite is probably true. Given humanity’s inherent passion to breed, a declining population is usually a clear sign of a healthy society. The true measure of economic vitality is not unbridled growth (as growth economists today would have us believe), but rather the correlation between a society’s resource needs and the resources available to satisfy those needs. Growing population means growing needs… and that is an economic warning light. Again, that’s according to the principles of the “vitality ratio.”
So, there are plenty of world problems… and plenty of world solutions.
Broken in America. Closer to home… here in the States, politics and economics are breaking down deep within the infrastructure of society.
- Corruption is becoming rampant in government. Senior employees in the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission spend up to 8 hours a day surfing pornography. Agents at the National Security Agency pass around in-home sex videos they’ve collected while spying on the American public. While investigating bitcoin, agents with the Drug Enforcement Agency and Secret Service stole more than $1 million worth of bitcoin…. (Read more… )
- America today has more jails than colleges. Whether modern Americans are behaving much more badly than their predecessors (which I doubt), or whether private prisons pressure cops and judges to incarcerate more minor offenders for the sake of profit (which I suspect), it’s obvious that many young people who should be in school are instead wasting away—socially, intellectually, and morally—in jail. (Read more… )
- Suicide is soaring as the economy declines. Many people can’t bare the humiliation and hopelessness that can come from poverty, especially if they’ve been accustomed to more. (Read more… )
- More Americans are being pulled into poverty. This year wealth and child poverty both have climbed 60 percent. (Read more… )
- The richest 1 percent of Americans own more than the bottom 90 percent. (Read more… )
- Rich Americans are gaining more and more control over American politics. (Read more… )
- The rich are using their political muscle to tax the poor rather than themselves. (Read more… )
- Through their politics, the rich humiliate the poor. (Read more… )
- The current unemployment rate of 5.6 percent is misleading. That optimistic number is the product of spin doctors—that is, experts who make lies sound like truths. The real unemployment numbers are much worse than advertised. (Read more… )
- The main stock market indexes, the Dow Jones average and the S&P 500, are also lies… the product of spin doctors. (Read more… )
Solutions for Society
Housing the homeless is cheaper than letting them roam. Some 750,000 Americans are homeless, and some 84,000 of them are “chronically homeless”… that is, they live on the streets for more than a year and struggle with mental illness, disease, injury, and addiction. The time they spend in jails and hospitals costs society around $40,000 per homeless person per year… or $3 billion annually. It would be cheaper to provide them with sturdy community housing. (Read more… )
Placing addicts in community heals addiction; putting them in jail doesn’t. There’s good evidence that the “war on drugs” is based on false data… on the notion that addiction is nearly impossible to overcome. The false data comes from studies of rats (and of humans) in isolation. When they’re alone, addicts really do prefer their drugs over just about anything. New studies, though, are turning that notion of addiction’s hopelessness on its head. When placed in community—whether in a pleasant “rat park” in the lab, or in healthy human society—addicted rats, or people, soon lose interest in the drugs. They prefer clean water and healthy foods. In recent years, Portugal has cut its addiction problems in half simply by reconnecting addicts with society. Read more… )
Regulating the flow of information. A well-regulated flow of information is important to the health of a living system. That seems to be a guiding principle of any integrated living system… be it the human body with its nervous system… or (less perceptibly and not as well understood) a flock of blackbirds or a school of fish that change direction instantly in unison.
The flow of information in society is a miraculous thing to behold, thanks to computers, smart phones, and the digital networks that connect them (Internet, cable, cellular, and WiFi).
The question of well-regulated information today, then, is at the heart of what we Americans call “net neutrality.” Should the flow of information among computers on the Internet and among smart phones in cellular networks be controlled by the competing carriers (Comcast, Time Warner, T-Mobile, Sprint…), or should the flow of information be regulated by an overseeing body such as the FCC?
Well, given what we know of noble-savage human nature and the tendency of our savage side to prevail in competition, a regulating body is vital. In February the FCC proposed “the strongest open Internet protection” ever… cause for optimism!
In recent years the carriers have gotten in the habit of assessing information that is or is not in their own best interests, and then adjusting the flow of information accordingly… speeding up, slowing down, and blocking the flow of information… depending on its content. The new FCC ruling makes that kind of “prioritization” illegal. (Read more… )
That’s a huge step toward sensible regulation here in the States. It takes into account the information needs of schools, the poor, and others who are typically ignored when the competing providers run the show.
Whether or not that FCC ruling will evolve into sensible, long-term Internet regulation here in the States is still in question, though. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is a former lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry, and it took a lot of pressure from protesters and from President Obama himself for Wheeler to turn his back on those wealthy providers who used to pay him… and who probably played a big part in getting him that chairmanship. Republican politicians, who side with the competing providers, are seething at the new ruling… so the long-term control of broadcast information—like much of that information itself—is still up in the air.
After dinosaurs and their lush surroundings started dying and decaying 65 million years ago, all of that rich, organic dead stuff simmered and stewed, slowly forming vast underground deposits of energy-laden coal and oil.
Now, over the past century we’ve extracted and burned most of those ancient fossil fuels… essentially taking millions of years of built-up energy and burning it in the course of a hundred years… so is it any wonder that global warming today has completely broken the climate? (Read more… )
- The Arctic is melting much faster than feared. (Read more… )
- Seas are rising much faster than expected. (Read more… )
- 2014 was the hottest year ever recorded. (Read more… )
- Mega-droughts are becoming the new normal. (Read more… )
- Sao Paolo, the fourth-largest city in the world, is going dry. (Read more… )
- The seas are heating up, and ocean life is facing a mass extinction. (Read more… )
- Honeybees are dying out. (Read more… )
- Most of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming come from 90 companies. (Read more… )
- The Koch brothers and the WalMart heirs have united to prevent the spread of solar panels. (Read more… )
- You’d think that extracting all the petroleum from the Earth’s crust would be like running the car without oil, resulting in dry tectonic plates and massive earthquakes… but such is not the case. (Read more… ) Even so, fracking (pumping high-pressure toxins into oil shale to release the last pockets of gas and oil) has indeed been causing lots of earthquakes here in the States. (Read more… )
However you cut it, the world is in for some tough times as the climate goes crazy. (Read more… )
Solutions for the Climate
- To help overcome the world’s water shortage, engineers in the UK have developed a new irrigation system that extracts pure water vapor from saltwater… using a special kind of plastic called Dutyion. (Read more… )
- Engineers in California have found a way to capture precious rainwater before it streams off rooftops and into the sewers. They propose building cities to act like sponges. (Read more… )
- Fracking is losing its luster and phasing out. (Read more… )
- Costa Rica met all of its energy needs from renewable energies during the first quarter of this year. (Read more… )
- Spain got half of its electricity from renewables in March. (Read more… )
- Engineers in Portland, Oregon, have found a way to generate electricity within its water pipes. (Read more… )
- Giant wind turbines with their massive, potentially destructive blades could soon be replaced by recently invented bladeless wind turbines that look like large straws that vibrate like guitar strings in the wind. (Read more… )
- Solar power will be the cheapest energy source within 10 years… (Read more… ) and wind power is close on it heals. (Read more… )
- France requires rooftop solar on new commercial buildings… (Read more… ) while Japan is building huge solar islands on reservoirs. (Read more… )
- Off-shore wind turbines are providing more and more energy in Denmark, throughout Europe, in New England, and even aboard some new Norwegian cargo ships.
- The biggest electric car market has been developing in China (Read more… ), as Japan develops and implements new, energy-efficient cars. (Read more here… and here… )
- In forging global agreements on climate protection, the United Nations is starting to turn its back on the US Congress, which is run largely by wealthy special interests whose oil profits are jeopardized by such agreements. (Read more… also here…
- Finally, not so much a solution as an unexpected upside to global warming, secrets long buried under the icecaps are being revealed as the poles melt. (Read more… )
All of these developments, amazing though they are, will barely put a dent in the climate changes that are quickly destabilizing our planet, especially when they are in contention with the vocal deniers of climate change like those in the US Congress.
Significant, long-lasting solutions will not be able to reverse global warming until a strong world government is in place to ensure that sound planetary policies can be instituted and sustained.