Hello and welcome to the first edition of Armchair Activist! We’re all just getting used to publishing a magazine and we hope you like our inaugural issue, on the next 3 pages. We’d like to thank Agenda for giving us a home. It’s definitely a rare and selfless editor that shelters a young magazine. We hope to do the same someday.
Armchair Activist was started with the idea that there was something missing from the progressive magazine scene. Most magazines are wonderful at telling us what is wrong with the world and identifying our problems. Some even take on an activist slant and tell us what activists are doing in D.C., New York, or San Francisco. That’s great, but that’s over 500 miles from where I’ve ever lived. Also, there seems to be an overwhelming amount of criticism but few solutions. Everyone, even apolitical people, tend to know that there are big problems with our world and can detail quite a few of them. Few people, even activists, can describe specifically what we do want a just world to look like and how to get there from here.
So, Armchair Activist (A2) was created to help fill the void. Articles will explain what is going on, then what YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT in a short amount of time. There will be a regular column called "What do we want?!" that will look for good ideas on what we think our world and our community should look like. Also, all of our focus will be local. That does not mean that we will cover only local issues, but will link broader issues back home. When there’s an article about global warming or the Middle East it will be written by someone from Washtenaw County and will link these issues with community groups (which you are encouraged to join) working around town. The idea is to use journalism less like a partisan observer/commentator and more like an organizing tool. Once we work all the bugs out, the magazine should be an interactive medium. Kind of like a crossword puzzle, but (hopefully) a little more meaningful.
Life is not all problems and solutions so there will also be speckles of culture and humor throughout the magazine as it grows.
Again, we are still in the planning stages and there is much to be done. Hope you enjoy the magazine.
PS If you are interested in writing for Armchair Activist, please call 994-7460 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This month’s contributors:
HOW can changing a light bulb help the environment? There’s a new bulb that lasts ten times as long and uses 25% of the electricity. Regular incandescent light bulbs use only 10% of their energy for light, wasting the rest producing heat. Using this bulb prevents the emission of 10 pounds of sulfur dioxide, a primary cause of acid rain. It also prevents over 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from entering the atmosphere.
It also saves you money. Even motel chains, Wal-Mart, and other corporations who only see green in the bottom line are making the switch in their buildings because it is significantly cheaper. Installing this bulb will save you $25-$50 by the time it burns out. How? By using 1/4 the electricity and lasting 10 times longer.
Whether for environmental reasons and for economic reasons, compact fluorescents make sense.
Why haven’t environmentalists championed these? Unlike lobbying and petitions, these have a direct and definite impact. Part of the reason is the stigma of institutional fluorescents. Most CF bulbs are adjusted to provide the same light quality as regular light bulbs, so you just need to read the label. The problem, then, is education and communication. Another reason is price. CF bulbs cost between $10 and $20. The cost of replacing disposable incandescents is spread out over time, as are the electricity and environmental costs. In total cost, the first two years of a CF bulb are more expensive than regular bulbs. But the last 3 or more are free.
Energy efficiency in your home will help not only the environment but also your pocketbook. The design is becoming quite advanced and leapfrogging what was previously thought possible. There is a house in Alaska that only has to be heated 4 days out of the year. Its building cost was the same of any normal house. Members of The Rocky Mountain Institute in snowy Colorado have harvested bananas in their office for over 20 years.
With rising energy costs, both financially and environmentally, now is the time to invest in CF light bulbs and energy efficiency.
LET’S TRASH JUNK MAIL
Every year the average American receives 5 pounds of junk mail. Credit card companies send out nearly 5 billion applications annually. Besides the unnecessary damage done to our nation’s natural resources, including forests and the flooding of our landfills, there is another less measurable effect: encouraging unnecessary spending.
So 5 pounds of magazines, catalogues, credit card applications, marketing schemes, worthless junk and Ed McMahon make the journey to our mailbox every year. A lot of it goes directly into the trash unopened. On top of this, you as a taxpayer subsidize many of the sales pitches, to the tune of about $350 million annually.
Here are some simple, direct, and effective things you can do to clean up your Earth and clean out your mailbox.
Sex Offender Lurking In Restaurants
In July 2000 an important sexual harassment case came before the Michigan Supreme Court. Robyn Chambers, an employee of Trettco, Inc., a food service company based in Southfield, Michigan and operating food services for many restaurants throughout the state, filed sexual harassment charges against her supervisor, Paul Wolshon. What is so remarkable about this case is that, first of all, it set the standard for other sexual harassment cases in Michigan, for the judges ruled that subsequent cases are to be reviewed in light of the Michigan Civil Rights’ Act, rather than with respect to federal law regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. Chambers v. Trettco is also important because it emphasizes the responsibility of the employer company for its employees. Because Wolshon’s actions were deemed inappropriate, his employer, Trettco, was found guilty of allowing such behavior to occur.
Gruesome Injuries From Illegally Concealed Weapon
In November, the Court of Appeals of Michigan rejected Chrysler’s appeal of an earlier lawsuit in which Chrysler was found guilty of exposing its workers to asbestos and other highly dangerous chemicals. The Court’s decision in this case upheld an earlier ruling that Chrysler’s belief that the corporation is not responsible for making employees aware of the presence of asbestos is indeed false. The Court emphasized the fact that Alston’s emphysema, pneumoconiosis, and diabetes mellitus were the fault of Alston’s employer, Chrsyler, Detroit, and that Chrysler must be responsible for paying for treatment of Alston’s medical bills.
Group Runs Away After Offing Old Man
Earlier this month a Michigan court found the Oakwood Group, a collection of automobile supply companies based in Dearborn, guilty of age discrimination. Ernest Timko began employment with the company at the age of seventy-one and was fired five months later under the guise of poor workmanship. Mr. Timko subsequently took his former employers to court, after which the Oakwood Group retaliated by claiming that Mr. Timko did not file suit immediately following termination of employment and therefore had no case. The Michigan Court of Appeals, however, found that Mr. Timko did file the case in time and had ample reason to believe that he was being fired because of his age rather than his abilities.
Look. I know what you are thinking. When I heard that another new coffee shop was opening in Ann Arbor, I was a bit skeptical that it could offer me anything additional or different than the 25 other coffee shops downtown. And when Café Verde opened in the place of the Gypsy Café, I was immediately bummed that a café would try to take the place of the Gypsy. For all the cultural happenings that occurred on the back stage (from the Hip Hop poetry slams, to music, and other open events), how could I bring myself to be a traitor and drink coffee in an establishment that I assumed would be a sad replacement?
Well, although they are going to make a kitchen out of the former performance stage (I guess those sort of things don’t make any money) the Café Verde is worth the trip out there and definitely deserves Armchair Activist readers’ patronage.
Café Verde is located on the corner of Fourth and Catherine. It’s a convenient location to grab a snack if you are shopping at the Kerrytown mall or Farmer’s Market or the People’s Food Co-op (which also owns Café Verde).
It still has the warm atmosphere and artsy feel that the Gypsy had. The art on the wall and the light music in the background make it a good place for conversation, studying, or a game of chess. In addition to the usual coffee drinks, they have an assortment of fresh bagels, muffins and other baked goods delivered daily. And as I mentioned, they are installing a kitchen in the back in order for them to offer an even larger variety of fresh baked goods.
Now look, the coffee is a little bit pricier than most of the coffee shops in Ann Arbor. But, I would suggest that the number one perk of going to Café Verde is the slightly more expensive coffee.
Café Verde serves Fair Trade coffee from Equal Exchange. Equal Exchange is a worker-run co-op that ensures that small farmers get a reasonable return for their coffee. This is different than what happens with most coffee, where the small farmer often gets a much lower price than the market price of his/her coffee. Under normal conditions, middlemen that transport and refine the coffee make a large profit. The commodity market for coffee is extremely volatile, and the cheapest prices can leave the small farmer in poverty. Under Fair Trade standards, the farmer is guaranteed a price that will provide enough to live on, if not more.
Equal Exchange coffee is also grown under organic standards. So, drinking coffee at Café Verde is one small way of drinking your way to an ecological and economically sustainable world. Check it out, and support a great local establishment.
USEFUL UNION BLURBS
UNITE! is leading the fight against sweatshops and for fairness for laundry workers in Michigan and elsewhere. Three- to six-month organizing internship opportunities are available in the Midwest. If you are interested call UNITE! at (312) 738-6159.
The Organizing Institute
Interested in working for economic justice? The AFL-CIO Organizing Institute is looking for committed activists to train for a career in labor organizing. Contact the OI at (734) 480-4377.
WHAT DO WE WANT?!
Many magazines and activists know most everything that’s wrong, down to the darkest depressing detail. We’ve done good work figuring out where we don’t want to go and what we don’t want society to look like. We haven’t does as good a job creating a vision for what we do want our neighborhood and planet to look like. Without positive goals, the only plan is a defensive and losing one.
This column works to find common ground for common sense solutions to problems around the world and around town.
Named after a Nobel winning economist, the Tobin tax is a small (0.1-0.5%) sales tax on currency exchange. It discourages people from betting one country’s currency against another. Currency speculators would be affected whereas people heading for a night in Windsor probably wouldn’t even notice it. It is a tax on Wall Street and not Main Street.
Assorted acronyms such as the WTO, IMF, NAFTA, GATT and other neoliberal institutions currently supercede all nations’ sovereignty by making any environmental law that hurts a company’s profits considered an illegal barrier to trade. Currency speculators make all nations’ currency unstable by moving well over $1 trillion (that’s will a ‘t’) across borders daily. 90% of all currency exchanges are speculative, that is, they are not investments in companies but gambling on exchange rates. Countries have little control over their own money if currency speculators suddenly decide to jump ship. The Tobin tax "would limit the damage from excessive exchange rate volatility (i.e. the recent crises in Asia, Russia, and Brazil)" experts from the Center for Environmental Economic Development say.
Implementing a Tobin tax in concert with the democratization of our financial institutions would give nations more control over what type of economy they want. It would also generate estimated revenues of well over 100 billion dollars. This revenue could be used to alleviate some of the world’s most pressing social problems. The United Nations estimates it would take $40 billion dollars to end poverty worldwide. A Tobin tax can kill two birds with one stone by curbing unproductive currency speculation as well as collecting money that could provide for everyone in the world access to something the market has not, basic social services.
People that argue against the Tobin tax object that it is counterproductive and will not deter speculation, and they take issue with the practicality of enforcement and what is to be done with that money. We’ll take these one at a time.
The first objection is that creating any barrier to trade will reduce the "efficiency" of the market. This assumes that the market is a natural phenomenon and is only disturbed when people interfere with its natural functions. In reality, everything financial is a human creation and operates under certain sets of rules. The question is who determines these rules. If speculative capital accounts for 90% of the currency transactions and frequently causes harm to several national economies (as it does), then it should be reduced or deterred.
The second objection is that the Tobin tax will not deter speculative capital. It is true that using a Tobin tax alone will not curb harmful currency speculators. If other reforms in financial institutions, democratizing international financial institutions such as the World Trade Organization, and a Tobin tax are used together, they should be able to curb excessive volatility. This argument is like saying a piece of a jigsaw puzzle does not show the whole picture.
Another objection is that the tax is not enforceable. This operates under the assumption that currency speculators will break established laws and that there will be no consequences for this action. Imagine using this logic on a tax you often pay like the sales or payroll tax! If there is the will to make the law, there will be the will to enforce it.
The final objection concerns what to do with the money. The governments of rich nations will want to keep the money for themselves. A compromise to make with this powerful stakeholder could be to earmark some of the money for international development and the majority for host nations. Advocates in the U.S. could then work to use these funds to cut and eventually eliminate the payroll tax, a large tax for all working people.
So where are we now? In 1999 Canada’s Parliament passed a resolution in support of a Tobin tax. The European Union was 4 votes away from passing a similar piece of legislation. Our country, the most dominant player, has a bill that is not yet assigned to committee. Congressman DeFazio and Senator Wellstone sponsor the bill. Educating your friends and legislators in Washington will help create an economy based on fairness and justice.
Signed Elements ©