Newsletter December 2010
This edition will be less a travel report and more an expression of my thoughts about the deepening multi-dimensional crisis — what you might consider to be a cautionary tale or “Jeremiad.”
I’m in Phuket, Thailand right now. I came here because it was the cheapest way to get from Europe to Southeast Asia (via Air Berlin). I’m staying in Karon Beach at a very nice inn that is just a short walk to the beach. It’s very modern and clean with good Wi-Fi internet access and cable TV. It’s cheap by US standards but not sustainable for me long-term. At $27 per night (it went up to $33 on Dec 1), it’s more than twice what I’m accustomed to paying in this part of the world, but then this is a beach resort. I’m surprised to find the Russian nouveau riche swarming all over the place. Many of the Thai restaurants even have Russian language menus for them. I had a conversation the other evening with a couple middle-aged Russian women who told me that there’s a direct flight from Moscow to Phuket.
A Working Vacation
A working vacation, that’s the way I live my life. Some people may view this with envy, imagining me sipping pińa coladas while basking around the pool at the Best Western Hotel. That’s not the way it’s done when you need to live on a social security pension. Mostly I stay in guest houses or hostels that cost around $10 a night (mostly clean and decent places, but I’ve had a few interesting experiences). Sometimes I splurge for a few days when the situation requires it, like now in Phuket where I have need of more comfortable and convenient lodgings in order to complete some major writing projects. Then, I may need to spring for $30 a day or more (still way less than a Motel 6 in the US). Food is the other major expense. Even in expensive touristy Phuket, I typically spend no more than 4 or 5 dollars for dinner, and less for breakfast. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s how to live frugally. I do what I need to in order to keep my monthly expenditures, on average, at a level that is equal to my modest income.
The International Commons Conference which I attended in Berlin a few weeks ago was very interesting and productive. I had the opportunity to give a 6 minute presentation in plenary session, alerting people to the overlooked aspect of the commons, which is the “credit commons.” You can see it at the official conference website, http://www.boell.de/economysocial/economy/economy-commons-10451.html. Just scroll down a bit more than half way until you see my name, then click on it. As a result of that, I had the opportunity to give a longer presentation to a smaller group during a workshop on the second day. I expect my slide show will be posted soon along with reports on other workshops at http://p2pfoundation.net/Berlin_Commons_Conference/Workshops. That site is still developing since not all of the reports are in yet. You can find additional information at the conference wiki, http://p2pfoundation.net/Berlin_Commons_Conference).
As it turned out, I made a couple important contacts and new friends at the conference who invited me to go to Vienna. I ended up spending 10 days there meeting with various people and discussing mutual interests and projects. I also had the opportunity to explore the city and get a taste of Viennese living, which happens largely in the many cafes and restaurants, much of it outdoors, even in the chilly November air. From what I’ve seen, Austrians and Germans in general enjoy a high quality of life. My European tour was capped with a very pleasant week-long visit with long-time friends at their home in Bavaria. There’s been talk of possible collaboration on projects and conferences, so it seems like another visit to Europe may be shaping up for next year.
$7 Gasoline is here
Well, maybe not in the USA (yet), but certainly here in Europe (Germany and Austria). Whenever I travel, I make note of the price of motor fuel. The going rate in both Germany and Austria was about Euro 1.40 per liter. One gallon equals about 3.79 liters so the cost in Euros of a gallon of gas is 5.31 Euros. At the then prevailing exchange rate $1.38, that works out to $7.32 per gallon. What is the current price in the US? When I left Tucson it was about $2.55.
Preparing for the Long Emergency
Now for the bad/good news.
Americans get a very narrow and biased view of the world from their mainstream media. They would do well to consult some foreign sources to see what the rest of the world thinks, not only about us, but about the important issues of the day. I get to see some of those on TV when I travel—RT, CCTV, DW, etc., but mostly I get my news via the internet. There is plenty available if you look for it. The Asia Times (http://www.atimes.com/) and Der Spiegel (http://www.spiegel.de/international/) are worth reading. The latter recently published a cover article titled, A Superpower in Decline: Is the American Dream Over? You can read it in English at http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,726447,00.html. With that said, here’s an exception to the rule. I’m no big fan of Thomas Friedman, but his New York Times article, From WikiChina, is worth reading. He describes the idiocy of American politics from an imagined Chinese perspective.
Heaven bless Julian Assange and WikiLeaks for letting the light shine into the dark corners of political intrigue. That’s what journalism is supposed to be about. All the fuss reminds me of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, Woodward and Bernstein on Watergate, and Jack Anderson squealing on any number of political scoundrels.
The continuing economic depression and the futility of government policies to “get the economy growing again” should cause us all to think long and hard about our way of living. There will be no “getting back to normal.” We have reached the limits to growth and the end of an era. It’s time for a thorough reorganization of virtually all of our systems and institutions. (I’ve written about all this on my blogs (see links below)). How do we even begin to do that? I highly recommend that you read and digest Michael Brownlee’s article, The Evolution Of Transition In The U.S (http://www.countercurrents.org/brownlee301110.htm), keeping in mind that there is one crucial element missing. While Brownlee acknowledges the Economic Crisis as a dimension of the global mega-crisis, he neglects to mention “the elephant in the living room,” which is compound interest that drives the debt-money system, which drives economic expansion, which causes environmental, economic, social, and political dislocations. While the availability of cheap fossil fuels has enabled the growth of industrial civilization, it is usury that has driven it.
Every community should be preparing for emergency situations, hopefully with the involvement of local authorities, but not limited to their typically narrow vision of emergency preparedness. These efforts need to be citizen led. We need to cover short-term, transitory problems that may confront us, but most importantly, we must prepare for the drastically changing conditions in climate, economy, and every other aspect of life that are imminent. Communities need to become more self-reliant in food, energy, and other necessities of life. We should be investing our resources, not in Wall Street, but in Main Street, in local enterprises that will make our communities more secure and sustainable. This will require us to take sharing, cooperation, and organizing to new levels never before contemplated, and to tune-in to that “small, still voice” that, minute-to-minute, gives us our direction.
Quantitative Easing, it sounds like something you might do over the toilet. Indeed, that’s an apt comparison, because that‘s exactly where the US dollar is headed. In this further example of newspeak the authorities are hoping we will not notice what’s really going on. The monetization of government debt by central banks is counterfeiting, pure and simple, though they do it under color of law. Inflating the money supply enables governments to run budget deficits continually. They take real value out of the economy and put empty dollars into it, thus debasing the currency, which leads to higher prices, so you and I end up paying for it. Inflation is among the most regressive of taxes and hits the savers of the middle class the hardest by reducing the purchasing power of their savings. The government is literally stealing your savings.
The Far East
One more thing; before you jump to conclusions about who’s to blame for the Korean dust-up, and get stampeded into supporting another war against a sovereign nation, you should read this background article in The Progressive by Matthew Rothschild: Keeping Perspective on North Korea, (http://www.progressive.org/wx112710.html).
That seems like quite enough to chew on for now, so I’ll leave it at that.
Best wishes to all for a Happy, Healthy, and Holy Holiday season,
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