Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The 'Share the Scraps' Economy

Robert Reich was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration. He is an economist, who believes government and public policy should serve the broad interests of the American people.

Reich has become one of the most important voices opposing the sell out of our government to big corporations and the super rich.  This article focuses on the collapse of the middle class, driven by the loss of living wage jobs.   


Robert Reich: Why Work Is Turning Into a Nightmare

How would you like to live in an economy where robots do everything that can be predictably programmed in advance, and almost all profits go to the robots' owners?
Meanwhile, human beings do the work that's unpredictable - odd jobs, on-call projects, fetching and fixing, driving and delivering, tiny tasks needed at any and all hours - and patch together barely enough to live on.
Brace yourself. This is the economy we're now barreling toward.
They're Uber [3] drivers, Instacart [4] shoppers, and Airbnb [5] hosts. They include Taskrabbit [6] jobbers, Upcounsel [7]'s on-demand attorneys, and Healthtap [8]'s on-line doctors.
They're Mechanical Turks [9].
The euphemism is the "share" economy [10]. A more accurate term would be the "share-the-scraps" economy.
New software technologies are allowing almost any job to be divided up into discrete tasks that can be parceled out to workers when they're needed, with pay determined by demand for that particular job at that particular moment.
Customers and workers are matched online. Workers are rated on quality and reliability.
The big money goes to the corporations that own the software. The scraps go to the on-demand workers.
Consider Amazon's "Mechanical Turk." Amazon calls it "a marketplace for work that requires human intelligence [11]."
In reality, it's an Internet job board offering minimal pay for mindlessly-boring bite-sized chores. Computers can't do them because they require some minimal judgment, so human beings do them for peanuts -- say, writing a product description, for $3; or choosing the best of several photographs, for 30 cents; or deciphering handwriting, for 50 cents.
Amazon takes a healthy cut of every transaction.
This is the logical culmination of a process that began thirty years ago when corporations began turning over full-time jobs to temporary workers, independent contractors, free-lancers, and consultants.
It was a way to shift risks and uncertainties onto the workers - work that might entail more hours than planned for, or was more stressful than expected.
And a way to circumvent labor laws that set minimal standards for wages, hours, and working conditions. And that enabled employees to join together to bargain for better pay and benefits.
The new on-demand work shifts risks entirely onto workers, and eliminates minimal standards completely.
In effect, on-demand work is a reversion to the piece work of the nineteenth century - when workers had no power and no legal rights, took all the risks, and worked all hours for almost nothing.
Uber drivers [12] use their own cars, take out their own insurance, work as many hours as they want or can - and pay Uber a fat percent [13]. Worker safety? Social Security? Uber says it's not the employer so it's not responsible.
Amazon's Mechanical Turks work for pennies, literally. Minimum wage? Time-and-a half for overtime? Amazon says it just connects buyers and sellers so it's not responsible.
Defenders of on-demand work emphasize its flexibility. Workers can put in whatever time they want, work around their schedules, fill in the downtime in their calendars.
"People are monetizing their own downtime," says [14] Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University's business school.
But this argument confuses "downtime" with the time people normally reserve for the rest of their lives.
There are still only twenty-four hours in a day. When "downtime" is turned into work time, and that work time is unpredictable and low-paid, what happens to personal relationships? Family? One's own health?
Other proponents of on-demand work point to studies, such as one recently commissioned by Uber [15], showing Uber's on-demand workers to be "happy [15]."
But how many of them would be happier with a good-paying job offering regular hours?
An opportunity to make some extra bucks can seem mighty attractive in an economy whose median wage has been stagnant for thirty years and almost all of whose economic gains have been going to the top.
That doesn't make the opportunity a great deal. It only shows how bad a deal most working people have otherwise been getting.
Defenders also point out that as on-demand work continues to grow, on-demand workers are joining together in guild-like groups [16] to buy insurance and other benefits.
But, notably, they aren't using their bargaining power to get a larger share of the income they pull in, or steadier hours. That would be a union - something that Uber, Amazon, and other on-demand companies don't want.
Some economists laud on-demand work as a means of utilizing people moreefficiently [17].
But the biggest economic challenge we face isn't using people more efficiently. It's allocating work and the gains from work more decently.
On this measure, the share-the-scraps economy is hurtling us backwards.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Von Wong - Smokin' Ballet

Benjamin Von Wong is a very talented photo artist. His shoots are often
very large in ambition and execution. One of his primary subjects is the dance. 

Benjamin Von Wong's webpage is 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


This is a new video production, that focuses on Earth citizenship. It features many astronauts that have served aboard the International Space Station, or as astronauts on the now retired, space shuttle.

Paul Hawken, one of my most influential teachers, is an executive producer on the Planetary video. For decades, Hawken has been a noble agitator, working to build critical mass in activism to serve the one home we must all share, planet Earth. 

Planetary is a very powerful video entertainment. It confronts every person with the obligation he or she has to nurture and protect the Earth.  It shows us the pathway we must all follow if we are to transcend the unprecedented tangle of global scale social, economic, and environmental challenges that threaten life on every continent.

Here is a link to a very compelling trailer for Planetary...

Saturday, March 7, 2015

My Visit to Solarworld

Solarworld, one of the world’s leading producers of commercial and residential solar PV panels is located just a few miles west on Highway 26 in Hillsboro. The business of producing solar panels that generate electricity is booming.   There are several reasons the solar PV business is so good these days. The biggest factor is the urgent need to end our dependence on coal and oil for energy. Our addiction to dirty fossil fuels has put us on a collision course with climate change.  Weather extremes driven by human induced atmospheric warming are already here. Anybody noticed how warm it’s been in the first few months of 2015 in Oregon? What happened to the endless rain we normally experience in the winter months?  The short answer is elevated sea surface temperatures caused by human induced atmospheric heating. 

The other factor favoring wind and solar PV is the amazing drop in cost.  Solar and wind are already economically competitive to the long entrenched, dirty forms of energy on which we have long been dependent.  Nobody is investing in new coal, oil, or nuclear infrastructure these days, because it just doesn’t make financial sense.  

Kevin Keene, Regional Sales Manager for Solarworld, gave me a tour of the company’s plant in Hillsboro, Oregon, a few miles from my home.

Solarworld Plant, Hillsboro, Oregon
Solarworld manufactures photovoltaic panels that are made up of silicon-based PV wafers linked together in 38” X 66” sealed panels. The panels are 17% percent efficient at converting solar photons from the sun into electricity. Each panel is able to generate about 280 watts of electric power. In commercial and residential applications, the panels are coupled together to achieve the power level desired. A typical rooftop residential system would link 12 panels to deliver about 3500 kWh of energy, enough to meet at least half of a typical American home’s energy needs.

Kevin from Solarworld showed me the Hillsboro plant’s main manufacturing facility.  We took an elevator to the second floor and found ourselves in an open office that spans the length of the plant, with large windows overlooking the production line.

It’s no wonder the cost of PV panels is dropping precipitously. The entire production process is automated, with robots handling virtually every task.  The cavernous production space is filled with machines linked by conveyors that move each unit from one assembly step to the next. I only saw a handful of people working in the assembly area. Most of them were inspectors, tasked with conducting a rigorous round of testing to confirm that each panel produced meets Solarworld’s very high standards.

The assembly line operates 24 hours a day, with only a fraction of a percent of the new PV panels rejected because of defects or substandard performance.  Solarworld’s current production line, operating at maximum output, puts out 360 Mw annually.   The company is adding a new production line in an adjacent building that will increase capacity by nearly 50 percent. 

The clean energy revolution is clearly underway, and Solarworld is a big part of it. Their technology is second to none in quality and performance, and very competitive in cost.  

I don’t have any financial incentive or otherwise to endorse Solarworld. I just think it’s a very good company, with great technology, with a business model that works in the new, clean energy marketplace.  I expect to have solar PV on my roof in the near future. Very likely the panels will be made by Solarworld,  a ‘Made in America’ success story.

Check out this video…

Here is the link to Solarworld’s webpage…

Friday, March 6, 2015

WAAAM and Me

So, a few years ago, I visited the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum in Hood River, Oregon.  I was  a pilot in my younger days.  Aviation has always been a personal passion. I love to fly.

Anyway, I took some nice images while I was there for a monthly Summer event they call, Second Saturday.  I recently reprocessed a couple of the images from my WAAAM visit.  I have pasted them in below.

The first image, I rendered purposely as a poster.  I just sent it to the Managing Director of the WAAAM Museum. I offered to donate the use of it to the museum for printing as a poster they could sell in their gift shop.

I've only had one opportunity to fly in an open cockpit biplane.   WAAAM has a slew of them, many still flying.   It's what you call, intoxicating for an airplane buff like me. 

The link for the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum is

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Blizzard of 2008

Portland, Oregon had a record blizzard in December, 2008.  Well over 20" of snow in some places. I went out in the middle it with a camera. At the Beaverton Transit Center, I took the image below. I recently added some new technique to my photo processing, and I applied it this this image, which wasn't particularly interesting in its original form.   Hard to believe it started out as a photo.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Bigger Than Science, Bigger Than Religion

Here we have an author trying to bridge a huge cultural chasm - the gulf between science and religion.  This kind of dialogue is sorely needed.

The Earth we depend on is caught up in an unprecedented storm of global scale challenges.  Science provides a window on our planet's natural systems, increasingly stressed by human demands, but too many Americans are in denial.

The tug of war between religion and scientific dogma is extremely destructive. For the sake of our children and generations yet to come, we have to make this right.

The essay below appeared in Yes Magazine, a wonderful resource for life-affirming, progressive inspiration.


Bigger Than Science, Bigger Than Religion

Sunday, 01 March 2015 10:34 By Richard Schiffman, YES! Magazine | Op-Ed

 We're closer to environmental disaster than ever before. We need a new story for our relationship with the Earth, one that goes beyond science and religion.

The world as we know it is slipping away. At the current rate of destruction, tropical rainforest could be gone within as little as 40 years. The seas are being overfished to the point of exhaustion, and coral reefs are dying from ocean acidification. Biologists say that we are currently at the start of the largest mass extinction event since the disappearance of the dinosaurs. As greenhouse gases increasingly accumulate in the atmosphere, temperatures are likely to rise faster than our current ecological and agricultural systems can adapt.

It is no secret that the Earth is in trouble and that we humans are to blame. Just knowing these grim facts, however, won’t get us very far. We have to transform this knowledge into a deep passion to change course. But passion does not come primarily from the head; it is a product of the heart. And the heart is not aroused by the bare facts alone. It needs stories that weave those facts into a moving and meaningful narrative.

We need a powerful new story that we are a part of nature and not separate from it. We need a story that properly situates humans in the world—neither above it by virtue of our superior intellect, nor dwarfed by the universe into cosmic insignificance. We are equal partners with all that exists, co-creators with trees and galaxies and the microorganisms in our own gut, in a materially and spiritually evolving universe.

This was the breathtaking vision of the late Father Thomas Berry. Berry taught that humanity is presently at a critical decision point. Either we develop a more heart-full relationship with the Earth that sustains us, or we destroy ourselves and life on the planet. I interviewed the white-maned theologian (he preferred the term “geologian,” by which he meant “student of the Earth”) in 1997 at the Riverdale Center of Religious Research on the Hudson River north of New York City. Berry spoke slowly and with the hint of a southern drawl, revealing his North Carolina upbringing.

“I say that my generation has been autistic,” he told me. “An autistic child is locked into themselves, they cannot get out and the outer world cannot get in. They cannot receive affection, cannot give affection. And this is, I think, a very appropriate way of identifying this generation in its relationship to the natural world.

“We have no feeling for the natural world. We’d as soon cut down our most beautiful tree, the most beautiful forest in the world. We cut it down for what? For timber, for board feet. We don’t see the tree, we only see it in terms of its commercial value.”

It is no accident that we have come to our current crisis, according to Berry. Rather, it is the natural consequence of certain core cultural beliefs that comprise what Berry called “the Old Story.” At the heart of the Old Story is the idea that we humans are set apart from nature and here to conquer it. Berry cited the teaching in Genesis that humans should “subdue the Earth … and have dominion over every living thing.”

But if religion provided the outline for the story, science wrote it large—developing a mind-boggling mastery of the natural world. Indeed, science over time became the new religion, said Berry, an idolatrous worship of our own human prowess. Like true believers, many today are convinced that, however bad things might seem, science and technology will eventually solve all of our problems and fulfill all of our needs.

Berry acknowledged that this naive belief in science served a useful purpose during the formative era when we were still building the modern world and becoming aware of our immense power to transform things.

Like adolescents staking out their own place in the world, we asserted our independence from nature and the greater family of life. But over time, this self-assertion became unbalanced, pushing the Earth to the brink of environmental cataclysm. The time has come to leave this adolescent stage behind, said Berry, and develop a new, mature relationship with the Earth and its inhabitants.

We’ll need to approach this crucial transition on many different fronts. Scientific research has too frequently become the willing handmaiden of what Berry called “the extractive economy,” an economic system that treats our fellow creatures as objects to be exploited rather than as living beings with their own awareness and rights. Moreover, technology, in Berry’s view, potentially separates us from intimacy with life. We flee into “cyberspace”— spending more time on smart phones, iPods, and video games than communing with the real world.

Science and technology are not the problem. Our misuse of them is. Berry said that science needs to acknowledge that the universe is not a random assemblage of dead matter and empty space, but is alive, intelligent, and continually evolving. And it needs to recognize that not only is the world alive, it is alive in us. “We bear the universe in our beings,” Berry reflected, “as the universe bears us in its being.” In Berry’s view, our human lives are no accident. We are the eyes, the minds, and the hearts that the cosmos is evolving so that it can come to know itself ever more perfectly through us.

It’s a view that has been winning some surprising adherents. Several years ago, I had dinner with Edgar Mitchell, one of only a dozen humans who have walked upon the lunar surface. Mitchell, the descendant of New Mexico pioneers and an aeronautical engineer by training, spoke precisely and almost clinically—until he related an experience that happened on his way back to Earth during the Apollo 14 mission. At that point, his voice brightened with awe.

“I was gazing out of the window, at the Earth, moon, sun, and star-studded blackness of space in turn as our capsule slowly rotated,” he said. “Gradually, I was flooded with the ecstatic awareness that I was a part of what I was observing. Every molecule in my body was birthed in a star hanging in space. I became aware that everything that exists is part of one intricately interconnected whole.”

The Overview Effect

In a recent phone chat, Mitchell called this realization “the Overview Effect,” and he said that virtually all of the moon astronauts experienced it during their flights. In his case, it changed the direction of his life: “I realized that the story of ourselves as told by our scientific cosmology and our religion was incomplete and likely flawed. I saw that the Newtonian idea of separate, independent, discrete things in the universe wasn’t a fully accurate description.”

In pursuit of a holistic understanding, Mitchell founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) to explore the nature of human consciousness. The question of consciousness might seem remote from issues like climate change. But it is central to the question of how we treat the world. At the core of our abuse of nature is the belief that we humans are essentially islands unto ourselves, alienated from the world beyond our skins. A little god locked within the gated community of his or her own skull won’t feel much responsibility for what goes on outside.

“The classical scientific approach says that observation and consciousness are completely independent of the way the world works,” IONS Chief Scientist Dean Radin told me. But physics has known for decades that mind and matter are not as separable as we once supposed. Radin cites as an example Heisenberg’s discovery that the act of observation changes the phenomenon that is being observed.

Moreover, quantum physics has shown that subatomic particles that are separated in space are nevertheless responsive to one another in ways that are not yet fully understood. We are discovering that there is “some underlying form of connection in which literally everything is connected to everything else all of the time,” asserts Radin. “The universe is less a collection of objects than a web of interrelationships.”

As we come to grasp how inextricably embedded in this vast web of cosmic life we are, Radin hopes that humans will be persuaded to move beyond the idea of ourselves as masters and the world as slave to embrace an equal and mutually beneficial partnership.

Another prophet of a new scientific paradigm is renowned Harvard biologist Edward (E.O.) Wilson. Wilson is best known for his biophilia hypothesis, which says there is an instinctive emotional bond between humans and other life forms. Evolution has fostered in us the drive to love and care for other living beings, Wilson says, as a way to promote the survival not just of our own kind but of life as a whole.

Darwin’s theory of natural selection is invoked to argue that we humans are conditioned by nature to struggle tooth and nail for access to limited resources. But Wilson contends that evolution does not just promote violent competition but also favors the development of compassion and cooperation—traits that serve the interests of the group as a whole.

He calls this radical new idea “group selection.” Groups of altruistically inclined individuals have an evolutionary advantage over groups that are composed of members pursuing only their own survival needs. This collective advantage, he argues, has helped to promote powerful social bonds and cooperative behaviors in species as diverse as ants, geese, elk, and human beings.

In championing the evolutionary importance of love and cooperation in the flourishing of life, Wilson is not just revolutionizing biology. He is also venturing into territory usually occupied by religion. But, like Berry, Wilson argues that we need a story that cuts across traditional boundaries between fields to present a new, integral vision. “Science and religion are two of the most potent forces on Earth,” Wilson asserts, “and they should come together to save the Creation.”

A thousand-year worldview

At its heart, the new story that Wilson and Berry advocate is actually a very old one. Indigenous spiritual traditions taught that all beings are our relatives long before the science of ecology “discovered” the seamless web of life that binds humans to other creatures. “The world is alive, everything has spirit, has standing, has the right to be recognized,” proclaims Anishinaabe activist and former Green Party candidate for vice president Winona LaDuke.

“One of our fundamental teachings is that in all our actions we consider the impact it will have on seven generations,” LaDuke told an audience at the University of Ottawa in 2012. “Think about what it would mean to have a worldview that could last a thousand years, instead of the current corporate mindset that can’t see beyond the next quarterly earnings statement.”

When LaDuke speaks of Native values, people sometimes ask her what relevance these have for us today. She answers that the respect for the sacredness of nature that inspired people to live in harmony with their environment for millennia is not a relic of the past. It is a roadmap for living lightly on the Earth that we desperately need in a time of climate change.

This ethic has spread beyond the reservation into religiously inspired communities, like Genesis Farm, founded by the Dominican Sisters of Caldwell, New Jersey. Set on ancestral Lenape lands amidst wooded hills and wetlands and within view of the Delaware Water Gap, Genesis has served for the last quarter century as an environmental learning center and working biodynamic farm grounded in Berry’s vision.

I spoke to the community’s founder Sister Miriam MacGillis, a friend and student of Berry, in a room studded with satellite images of the farm and its bioregion. MacGillis told me that she underwent decades of struggle trying to reconcile Berry’s 13-billion-year vision of an evolutionary cosmos with the ultimately incompatible biblical teachings that “creation is finished: Humans were made, history began, there was the fall, and history will end with the apocalypse.” She says, “The pictures I had of God were too small, too parochial, too much a reflection of the ways humans think. We made God in our image!”

Taking the long view fundamentally transforms the basis for environmental action, says MacGillis: “We need to realize that we are the universe in the form of the human. We are not just on Earth to do good ecological things. That is where the religious perspective takes us with the stewardship model—take care of it; it’s holy because God made it. That hasn’t worked real well … The idea of stewardship is too small, it’s too human-centered, like we can do that. It’s really the opposite. Earth is taking total care of us.”

Genesis Farm has propagated these ideas through its Earth Literacy training, which has now spread to many places throughout the world. Their work is a small part of a larger greening of religion, says Yale religious scholar Mary Evelyn Tucker, co-creator with Brian Swimme of Journey of the Universe, an exhilarating trek through time and space portraying an evolutionary universe.

Tucker expects that the upcoming encyclical on climate change and the environment that Pope Francis will issue in early 2015 will be “a game changer” for Catholics. She adds that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has also been outspoken, labeling crimes against the natural world “a sin.” The Dalai Lama, for his part, has been speaking about the importance of safeguarding the environment based on Buddhism’s sense of the profound interdependence of all life. China has recently enshrined in its constitution the need for a new ecological civilization rooted in Confucian values, which preach the harmony between humans, Earth, and Heaven.

“All civilizations have drawn on the wisdom traditions that have gotten people through death, tragedy, destruction, immense despair,” says Tucker, adding that we are currently in a perilous rite of passage. “We will need all of the world’s religions to help as well as a shared sense of an evolutionary story to get us through this.”

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Richard Schiffman is the author of two biographies as well as a journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Salon, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The Huffington Post, and on NPR and Monitor Radio.