Friends of GEO

Podcast: What is Universal Basic Income — And How Would it Work?

Shareable - Commons - August 15, 2017 - 9:22pm

What if you were paid just for being alive? Just imagine — you are given a check every month for the rest of your life that's enough to cover all of your basic needs. You wouldn't be driving around in a Ferrari or eating avocado toast every day, but you'd be receiving enough to live relatively comfortably. And there's absolutely nothing you would have to do in order to receive it. How would that change your life? What would you do differently? Close your eyes and just try to picture that for a second.

Categories: Friends of GEO

Guerrilla Cartography Mapmakers Use Crowdsourcing to Create Stunning Atlases

Shareable - Commons - August 15, 2017 - 3:54pm

The California-based nonprofit group, Guerrilla Cartography, is set to publish its second collection of crowdsourced maps, called  "Water: An Atlas." The group's first atlas project, which was published in January of 2013, was geared at the global distribution of food. The project, "Food: An Atlas," explores the geography of food. It is vibrant and covers a number of topics, including "The World According to Chile Peppers" and "Food Insecurity and Indigenous Communities in Canada's North."

Categories: Friends of GEO

Federal Bank Regulator Drops A Bombshell As Corporate Media Snoozes

It's Our Economy - August 14, 2017 - 8:00am
Above Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg Graphic Provided by Thomas Hoenig, Vice Chair of the FDIC, to the Senate Banking Committee in his Letter of July 31, 2017 Last Monday, Thomas Hoenig, the Vice Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), sent a stunning letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Banking Committee. The letter contained information that should have become front page news at every business wire service and the leading business newspapers. But with the exception of Reuters, major corporate media like the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, the Business section of the New York Times and Washington Post ignored the bombshell story, according to our search at Google News. What the fearless Hoenig told the Senate Banking Committee was effectively this: the biggest Wall Street banks have been lying to the American people that overly stringent capital rules by their regulators are constraining their ability to lend to consumers and businesses. What’s really behind their inability to make more loans is the documented fact that the 10 largest banks in the country “will distribute, in aggregate, 99 percent of their net income on an annualized basis,” by paying out dividends to shareholders and buying back excessive amounts of their own stock. Hoenig writes that the banks are starving the U.S. economy through these practices and if “the 10 largest U.S. Bank Holding Companies were to retain a greater share of their earnings earmarked for dividends and share buybacks in 2017 they would be able to increase loans by more than $1 trillion, which is greater than 5 percent of annual U.S. GDP.” Backing up his assertions, Hoenig provided a chart showing payouts on a bank-by-bank basis. Highlighted in yellow on Hoenig’s chart is the fact that four of the big Wall Street banks are set to pay out more than 100 percent of earnings: Citigroup 127 percent; Bank of New York Mellon 108 percent; JPMorgan Chase 107 percent and Morgan Stanley 103 percent. What’s motivating this payout binge at the banks? Hoenig doesn’t offer an opinion in his letter but he does state that share buybacks represent 72 percent of the total payouts for the 10 largest bank holding companies. What share buybacks do for top management at these banks is to make the share price of their bank’s stock look far better than it otherwise would while making themselves rich on their stock options. If just the share buybacks (forgetting about the dividend payouts) were retained by the banks instead of being paid out, the banks could “increase small business loans by three quarters of a trillion dollars or mortgage loans by almost one and a half trillion dollars.” Hoenig also urged in his letter that there be a “substantive public debate” on what the biggest banks are doing with their capital rather than allowing this “critical” issue to be “discussed in sound bites.” Most corporate media responded to this appeal by ignoring Hoenig’s letter altogether. How 10 U.S. mega banks developed such a stranglehold on the U.S. financial system that they are in a position to starve the U.S. economy of $1 trillion in loans was explained in detail by Hoenig in a speech he delivered at the Conference on Systemic Risk and Organization of the Financial System at Chapman University in Orange, California on May 12. Hoenig stated: “Following Gramm-Leach-Bliley [legislation in 1999], commercial and investment banks began a series of significant mergers that affected the combined industries in a profound way. “Investment banks originally were formed as partnerships, where owners were liable for all of the firm’s debts. When the New York Stock Exchange relaxed its rules to permit joint stock corporate ownership in 1970, over time it became an attractive opportunity for the investment banking industry to grow and expand its business model. Investment banks that converted to public companies altered the incentives of owners and management, increasing appetite for risk and leveraging balance sheets. The further effect of combining insured commercial banks and investment banks under Gramm-Leach-Bliley magnified these outcomes. In the end, there was a profound change in industry culture that further changed the competitive dynamics among firms. As universal banks formed and matured, and with increasing support from the expanding safety net, the largest banks were increasingly drawn away from relationship banking and lending and toward the higher risk-return model of the broker-dealer-investment bank focused on trading and other fee-based income. “Of course a pivotal force of change was the financial crisis of 2008 itself, out of which came more than new legislation. The effect of the crisis on the U.S. economy, the numerous bank failures, and the government’s response in addressing those failures dramatizes accelerated industry consolidation and altered its structure and direction in ways that will have lasting effects. JPMorgan Chase acquired Bear Stearns with government assistance, and subsequently acquired Washington Mutual after it failed. Wells Fargo acquired Wachovia. The government injected capital into Citibank, thus bailing it out. Bank of America purchased Countrywide and Merrill Lynch, and later also received extraordinary government assistance. After the failure of Lehman Brothers, regulators allowed two remaining investment banking firms, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, to become bank holding companies, providing them explicit access to the federal safety net. In short, the crisis and government’s reaction to it quickly and dramatically changed the composition and structure of the U.S. financial system. “The crisis altered the industry’s structure in other ways as well.  Between 2008 and 2014, there were 507 bank failures and 1,576 private mergers, mostly among community banks; and practically no chartering activity. Among regional and community banks, this trend toward consolidation continues nearly a decade after the crisis.” In summary, while the reckless Wall Street banks brought on the crises, the Federal Reserve rewarded them in the midst of it by allowing the biggest banks to gobble up other banks, thus becoming a greater future threat to the nation in terms of controlling deposits and lending as well as presenting unfathomable levels of risk going forward. This is a critical issue...
Categories: Friends of GEO, SE News

Wells Fargo’s Lyin’ Cheatin’ Ways: Banking With A Sociopathic Institution

It's Our Economy - August 14, 2017 - 7:00am
Above Photo: From …And How To Let Go Are you facing serial cheating, abuse, lies, ongoing stress about money, issues of fidelity, questions about your future and are at a loss as to where to turn? Do you often feel angry, taken advantage of, less than, a voiceless victim? Did you put your trust and your nest egg, your faith and your money on someone or something that took you for all you’re worth, jilted your faith in the institution and robbed you blind? Deep down, do you think you may be going steady with a good looking grifter? I hate to tell you this, but you may be banking with a sociopath. That’s right. That harmless tall handsome stone wall that promises you the world, smiles at you shamelessly through bulletproof glass and marble floors, black suits and lollipops, is a sociopathic lover out to take all that you hold dear. All that you’ve put your faith, and money, into. This is not fifty shades of gray. It is now clearly black and white. Do you still bank with Wells Fargo? Can we talk? Maybe you have a thing for bad boys? Fast talking flashy – “Here’s a new credit card, baby,” Scaramucci-style pinky ring? Maybe you have low self esteem issues, looking for a paternal ideal of what it means to be rich, to be safe, to have your nest egg all wrapped up for a bright and comfortable future. Maybe, just maybe there’s still time to save yourself and what’s left of your self worth. I’m gonna give it to you straight: Wells Fargo is the banking equivalent of the Menendez Brothers. I know you know, but what have you done to help yourself out of this kind of relationship? Some people have a thing for danger, a high tolerance for risk. Some even reap rewards for being a victim. Many hold the notion that size matters while others are innocent and naive to the ways of sophisticated criminals. As astute as we may think we are, with where we invest our time and money, we have a lot on our plates in life just trying to keep up with all that’s running around our brains, the news, the economy, the climate, the robotic take over of our bright futures, that sparkling dress in the window….the vacation we never get to take. Most of us grew up thinking we would have a home like our parents, a regular job that hopefully we liked or could tolerate, a car or two, 2.5 children and a dog in the yard. Let’s throw in a tire swing out back, a toothy braces-covered smile and white sheets on the line just for ambiance. Feeling safe yet? Something happened in the late 1970s and 80s that shifted and the “American Dream” started to rot slowly from the basement paneled mold on up. The institutions we put our faith in as steady and unshakeable began to shift their attention away from safety and reliability and got a wandering eye toward Vegas-style philandering, shimmering lights, spinning wheels, fatter dividends and the big short as opposed to the long slow steady-as-she-goes building of a wholesome relationship. Let’s look at the cold hard facts of what we have witnessed and been a party to over the last decade in our relationship with Wells Fargo. Yes, you have to claim personal, financial and ethical responsibility as well if you are to heal and move on. If you didn’t have trust issues before, you will now. Now you’re damaged goods, simply by association. As painful as it is, the first step to healing is to take a cold hard look at the issues that led us down this path – issues we face now that the harm has been done – and figure out what we can do to move on with our lives. Cue the song, “You’re no Good.” Let’s begin our intervention, shall we? Let me explain; just hear me out and try to have an open mind as I pull down the screen and elongate my pointer stick for you. Hit the lights. RECENT SUMMARY OF WELLS FARGO The bad boy ways of this financial institution that you were banking on, and with, include but are not limited to: Over 800,000 people with force-placed car insurance at inflated rates. Illegal repossession of active military service members’ cars and homes. $185 million so far in “settlement” money paid for the fake account scandals that will harm people’s consumer credit for years to come. $12 million and counting in violations of fair credit reporting. Violations in the False Claims Act and Securities Act of 1933. Trust fraud, negligence, illegal kickbacks to mortgage brokers for referrals on title insurance. Blackballing appraisers that didn’t inflate values. Millions of phony accounts, forged signatures and credit cards illegally opened in customers’ names. Forged mortgage documents by hired temps, discrimination against minorities, predatory lending, unpaid overtime to employees. Firing of employees who reported fraud regarding the fake accounts. Excessive ATM and overdraft fees. False denials for loan modifications, negligence and harm to mortgage customers inducing them to default on their mortgages. Violations in TILA and RESPA (Truth in Lending Act and Real Estate Procedures). False affidavits, conspiracy, wrongful foreclosures, selling properties that Wells did not have the note or right to sell. Violations of the Fair Debt Practices Act. Lying and cheating to Wells investors. Insider trading on stock, unfair business practices, kicking puppies, and more. I could go on but I don’t want you to hate yourself. Consider this a wake-up call for your future well being. Do you want someone you care about being treated this way? Do you want your kids to have relationships like this? It’s for your own good and that vision board of a happy ending. I know it’s heartbreaking. It’s hard to change, to let go and move on, even from something that hurts us. It’s a sad and rude awakening to...
Categories: Friends of GEO, SE News

Britain Spent ‘Twice As Much On Overseas Fossil Fuels As Renewables’

It's Our Economy - August 14, 2017 - 7:00am
Above Photo: A vendor weighs coal for a customer in Lucknow, India. The country has been one of the top five beneficiaries of UK energy support this decade. Photograph: Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP Nearly half of £6.1bn energy spending in developing countries from 2010-14 went on oil, coal and gas-fired schemes, data shows The UK has spent more than twice as much overseas support on fossil fuels projects as on renewable ones so far this decade, according to research commissioned by the Catholic aid agency Cafod. The Overseas Development Institute, which analysed the figures, found that 46% of Britain’s £6.1bn energy spending in developing countries between 2010 and 2014 went on oil, coal and gas-fired schemes, compared with 22% for renewable energy projects. Overall, fossil fuel support increased by nearly £1bn this decade compared with the previous five years, with a staggering 99.4% of UK export finance support directed towards “dirty” energy investments. Cafod called on the government to clarify how it would bring public support for overseas projects into line with climate commitments under the Paris agreement. Dr Sarah Wykes, Cafod’s lead energy analyst, said: “To tackle climate change we have to leave fossil fuels in the ground and switch rapidly to renewable sources of energy. “Yet the UK carrying on a business as usual spending pattern overseas in recent years suggests a huge inconsistency in policy and a missed opportunity to promote greater investment in renewable technologies, as the Department for International Development (DfID) has tried to do through its spending.” While UK export finance uses public funds to bolster British exports, DfID’s energy spending – 32% of which went to renewables compared with 22% for fossil fuels – is intended as overseas aid The top five beneficiaries of UK energy support this decade were Brazil, Vietnam, Turkey, India and the Russian Federation, according to the ODI figures. Of the money earmarked for fossil fuels, oil and gas received a total of 87% of UK funds, with 9% going to coal. “It doesn’t make sense for there to still be any public money going into fossil fuels overseas, whether that’s through aid money, loans or export finance to support British companies operating overseas,” Wykes said. Aid agencies see support for small-scale solar and wind projects as vital for connecting poor communities in remote areas to electricity grids. But only 8% of British aid spending aimed to improve energy access for the poor, Cafod said, despite the UK having signed up to a UN sustainable goal of ensuring universal energy access for all by 2030. Twenty-nine per cent of UK energy aid in 2010-14 went to investments using fossil fuels and renewables, or where the energy source could not be identified. One per cent was spent on nuclear power and 2% on energy efficiency.
Categories: Friends of GEO, SE News

Fossil Fuel Subsidies Are A Staggering $5 Tn Per Year

It's Our Economy - August 12, 2017 - 2:00pm
Above Photo: In this photo taken on November 19, 2015, smoke belches from a coal-fired power station near Datong, in China’s northern Shanxi province. Photograph: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images A new study finds 6.5% of global GDP goes to subsidizing dirty fossil fuels Fossil fuels have two major problems that paint a dim picture for their future energy dominance. These problems are inter-related but still should be discussed separately. First, they cause climate change. We know that, we’ve known it for decades, and we know that continued use of fossil fuels will cause enormous worldwide economic and social consequences. Second, fossil fuels are expensive. Much of their costs are hidden, however, as subsidies. If people knew how large their subsidies were, there would be a backlash against them from so-called financial conservatives. A study was just published in the journal World Development that quantifies the amount of subsidies directed toward fossil fuels globally, and the results are shocking. The authors work at the IMF and are well-skilled to quantify the subsidies discussed in the paper. Let’s give the final numbers and then back up to dig into the details. The subsidies were $4.9 tn in 2013 and they rose to $5.3 tn just two years later. According to the authors, these subsidies are important because first, they promote fossil fuel use which damages the environment. Second, these are fiscally costly. Third, the subsidies discourage investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy that compete with the subsidized fossil fuels. Finally, subsidies are very inefficient means to support low-income households. With these truths made plain, why haven’t subsidies been eliminated? The answer to that is a bit complicated. Part of the answer to this question is that people do not fully appreciate the costs of fossil fuels to the rest of us. Often we think of them as all gain with no pain. So what is a subsidy anyway? Well, that too isn’t black and white. Typically, people on the street think of a subsidy as a direct financial cost that result in consumers paying a price that is below the opportunity cost of the product (fossil fuel in this case). However, as pointed out by the authors, a more correct view of the costs would encompass: not only supply costs but also (most importantly) environmental costs like global warming and deaths from air pollution and taxes applied to consumer goods in general.  The authors argue, persuasively, that this broader view of subsidies is the correct view because they “reflect the gap between consumer prices and economically efficient prices.” Without getting too deep into the weeds, the authors discuss both consumer subsidies (when the price paid by a consumer is below a benchmark price) and producer subsidies (when producers receive direct or indirect support which increases their profitability). The authors then quantify what benefits would be achieved if the fossil fuel subsidies were reformed. Interested readers are directed to the paper for further details, but the results are what surprised me. Pre-tax (the narrow view of subsidies) subsidies amount to 0.7% of global GDP in 2011 and 2013. But the more appropriate definition of subsidies is much larger (8 times larger than the pre-tax subsidies). We are talking enormous values of 5.8% of global GDP in 2011, rising to 6.5% in 2013. The authors also broke the results down by fossil fuel type and usage (coal, petroleum, natural gas, electricity). It is not clear to me how the authors separated the various fuel sources out of electrical generation; however, the results show that petroleum and coal receive much larger subsidies compared to their counterpart fuels. The authors organized results by geographical region and found that the top three subsidizers of fossil fuels are China, USA, and Russia, respectively. The European Union is a bit less than half of the entire US subsidy. Other notable countries and regions are discussed. There are two key takeaway messages. First, fossil fuel subsidies are enormous and they are costs that we all pay, in one form or another. Second, the subsidies persist in part because we don’t fully appreciate their size. These two facts, taken together, further strengthen the case to be made for clean and renewable energy. Clean energy sources do not suffer from the environmental costs that plague fossil fuels. I asked one of the authors, Dr. Coady, why their work is important. He told me: A key motivation for the paper was to increase awareness among policy makers and the public of the large subsidies that arise from pricing fossil fuels below their true social costs—this broader definition of subsidies accounts for the many negative side effects associated with the consumption of these fuels. By estimating these costs on a global scale, we hope to stimulate an informed policy debate and provide renewed impetus for policy reforms to reap the large potential benefits from more efficient pricing of fossil fuels in terms of improved public finances, improved population health and lower carbon emissions. As a climate scientist, I focus almost exclusively on the scientific questions related to climate change. But equally important are the economic issues that, when dealt with, will usher in a new era of energy.
Categories: Friends of GEO, SE News

Five Indigenous Farming Practices Enhancing Food Security

It's Our Economy - August 11, 2017 - 9:00am
Above Photo: From On the 2017 International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the United Nations is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The Declaration, formally adopted in 2007, is an international human rights instrument that sets a standard for the protection of indigenous rights. UNDRIP addresses the most significant issues affecting indigenous peoples regarding their civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights. It recognizes a range of fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples including their right to self-determination, spirituality, language, lands, territories, resources, and free, prior, and informed consent. Over the centuries, indigenous peoples have provided a series of ecological and cultural services to humankind. The preservation of traditional forms of farming knowledge and practices help maintain biodiversity, enhance food security, and protect the world’s natural resources. There are approximately 370 million indigenous peoples in the world occupying or using up to 22 percent of the global land area, which is home to 80 percent of the world’s biological diversity. The Declaration affirms that indigenous peoples have the right to own and develop their land and resources and to follow their own traditional ways of growing food. To celebrate the 10th Anniversary of UNDRIP, Food Tank is highlighting five indigenous farming practices that have helped shape sustainable farming systems and practices all over the world. 1. Agroforestry Agroforestry involves the deliberate maintenance and planting of trees to develop a microclimate that protects crops against extremes. Blending agricultural with forestry techniques, this farming system helps to control temperature, sunlight exposure, and susceptibility to wind, hail, and rain. This system provides a diversified range of products such as food, fodder, firewood, timber, and medicine while improving soil quality, reducing erosion, and storing carbon. NGOs Green Hope Fund and Forestever initiated the Sustainable Indigenous Orchards Project in 2010 to fight deforestation and help improve the living and health conditions of Amazonian indigenous communities. Working with indigenous leaders across seven communities, the project works to diversify agricultural production, secure food security, and maintain and protect local biodiversity through agroforestry methods. The Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) is dedicated to research and graduate education in sustainable agriculture and natural resource conservation throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. CATIE”s agroforestry research projects work to translate scientific findings into practices that small producers can apply on their farms to improve the production of ecosystem services and diversify crop production. The Ghana Permaculture Institute has established several community tree nurseries to produce large numbers of trees that support reforestation and agroforestry farming projects. Working to support community-based sustainability, the institute provides education to small farmers on agroforestry techniques and planting combinations of fast-growing beneficial tree species. 2. Crop Rotations The principles of crop rotation have been successfully used for thousands of years in agriculture and are still used today. Crop rotation is the practice of growing different crops on the same land so that no bed or plot sees the same crop in successive seasons. It is a practice designed to preserve the productive capacity of the soil, minimize pests and diseases, reduce chemical use, and manage nutrient requirements, all of which help to maximize yield. The practice of crop rotation builds better soil structure and increases the ability to store carbon on farms. The Center for Integral Small Farmer Development in the Mixteca (CEDICAM) works primarily in the Mixteca region of Mexico, a region categorized by its high level of environmental degradation and desertification. CEDICAM’s work supports the subsistence farmer population to integrate sustainable agricultural techniques and enhance local food security. CEDICAM’s sustainable agriculture project utilizes crop rotations with polycultures to successfully increase crop yields, soil fertility, and reduce pest problems. The Soils, Food and Healthy Communities (SFHC) organization is a participatory, farmer-led organization which uses local indigenous knowledge and agroecological methods to improve food security and nutrition in Malawi. Their Malawi Farmer-to-Farmer Agroecology project (MAFFA) uses farmer-to-farmer teaching about agroecological farming methods—such as crop rotations—to improve food security, nutrition, and soils of 6,000 farming households in central and northern Malawi. Founded by world-renowned scientist and environmentalist Dr. Vandana Shiva, Navdanya is an NGO based in India that is actively involved in the rejuvenation of indigenous knowledge and culture through organic farming. Navdanya’s biodiversity-based organic farming methods help small farmers build living soils through providing locally adaptable cropping practices, including mixed cropping and crop rotations. 3. Mixed-/Inter-cropping  Mixed cropping, also known as intercropping, is a system of cropping in which farmers sow more than two crops at the same time. By planting multiple crops, farmers can maximize land use while reducing the risks associated with single crop failure. Intercropping creates biodiversity, which attracts a variety of beneficial and predatory insects to minimize pests and can also increase soil organic matter, fumigate the soil, and suppress weed growth. Located in India, NGO Agragamee established the Wadi-Tribal Development Project to strengthen agrarian livelihoods and increase food and nutritional security. “Wadi” in Gujarati means a small orchard covering one acre. Two or more agricultural crops are strategically selected for intercropping with fruit trees in the Wadi model to minimize climatic and biological risks and provide a diverse range of nutritional food to local communities. Timor-Leste NGO Resilient Agriculture and Economy through Biodiversity in Action (REBIA) works with men, women, and youth to promote a biodiversity-based agriculture model that increases food production, reduces environmental degradation, and improves economic opportunities. In conjunction with USC Canada, REBIA is working to increase the diversity of crops at the household and community level by providing a variety of vegetable crop seeds for home gardens. The Traditional Native American Farmers Association (TNAFA) holds an annual Indigenous Sustainable Food Systems Design Course (ISFSDC), providing training in ecological design, natural farming, and earth restoration. ISFSDC is a holistic indigenous approach based on traditional knowledge and practices that utilizes permaculture principles such as mixed cropping. 4. Polyculture Polyculture systems involve growing many plants of different species in the same area, often in a way that imitates nature. By increasing plant biodiversity, polyculture systems promote diet diversity in local communities, are more adaptable to climate variability and extreme weather events, and are more resilient to pests and diseases. Polycultures are integral to permaculture systems and design and provide many advantages such as better soil quality, less soil...
Categories: Friends of GEO, SE News
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