Signs of Life :: Small Stories About Big Change

:: Community Banks Provide Safe Haven in Economic Storm
Also ...
Call for a Corporate Minimum Tax

:: Climate Direct Action Wins Support
Also ...
IPCC says World Carbon Emissions Worsen
:: States Hold First Carbon Auction
Also ...
China's Green Long March


:: Iraqis Organize for Peaceful Elections
Also ...
Peace Activists Support Gaza

:: Bolivia Constitution Reform Likely
Also ...
Indigenous Success for Land Protection


Photo courtesy World Development Forum.


A U.K. Climate Camp participant wears a Gordon Brown mask and gestures to show that the Prime Minister is ignoring climate change. The Camp protested Kingsnorth coal power station, which appears on the horizon.

Climate Camps: More stories and photos from the 2008 UK Climate Camp.




Community Banks Provide Safe Haven in Economic Storm

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Community Banks posters
“Community Banks may not be “too big to fail,” but they are too important to be ignored!”

As the financial crisis continues, many people are turning away from the large corporate banks that have been targeted for government capital injection and bailout—and placing their money in community banks. In an informal survey released September 22, 36 percent of Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) members reported an increase in deposits.
Of the roughly 8,500 bank charters in the United States, 8,000 are held by community banks, which tend to be locally managed, cover relatively small geographical areas, and have under $1 billion in capital.

“The overwhelming message is that community banks didn’t have anything to do with the mess on Wall Street,” said Steve Verdier, senior vice president and director of congressional affairs at ICBA. “We made commonsense loans that people could pay back. The last thing that community bankers want to do is make a loan that is bad for the bank, the people, and the community.”

Community banks were attracting a growing number of customers even before the crash. ICBA reports that over the last three quarters, outstanding mortgage loans at community banks grew at an average of over 2 percent per quarter, compared to negligible growth for the industry overall. In the second quarter of 2008, the growth of commercial and industrial loans at community banks was nearly three times that of the overall industry, at around 3 percent.

As corporate banks continue to look shaky, community banks are an increasingly appealing option. In addition to providing FDIC deposit insurance, offered by all U.S. banks, community banks foster economic security for their entire communities because deposits are kept local.

“We know who we are lending to. We know the local economy. We know the house we’re lending on. If someone gets into trouble, we work with them,” says Jim Brown, president of Bank of Bennington in Vermont. With $250 million in capital and deposits up 20 percent over 2007, The Bank of Bennington is coming off the best year in its 91-year history, Brown reports.

—Anne Moore Odell is a freelance writer based in Brattleboro, VT.




Call for Corporate Minimum Tax

A new report by the Government Accountability Office finds that nearly two-thirds of U.S. companies paid no corporate income taxes for at least one year between 1998 and 2005.

In October, both the Institute for Policy Studies and an editorial in The Boston Globe cited the GAO study, calling on Congress to enact a corporate minimum tax. They projected $60 billion in revenue from the tax, which they said could be used to stimulate the real economy.




Climate Direct Action Wins Support

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As warnings about the potentially disastrous effects of climate change become even more severe, direct action tactics and civil disobedience have received acknowledgment and legitimacy from some unusual sources. On September 10, a British court ruled that it was warranted for six Greenpeace activists to deface property in order to prevent the much greater damage that will result from global warming.

Police arrested the activists after they began painting a chimney at the Kingsnorth coal power plant in Kent with a message urging Prime Minister Gordon Brown to phase out the aging plant, and not replace it with a new one.

NASA climate scientist James Hansen testified on behalf of the activists. “The court was told that some of the property in immediate need of protection [from climate change] included parts of Kent at risk from rising sea levels,” Hansen said.

Nobel laureate and former Vice President Al Gore has also recently voiced support for more radical means to oppose climate change. Gore told the Clinton Global Initiative in September that “we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration.”

A small but growing movement has also begun organizing “climate camps,” which teach direct action and organizing tactics in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Germany, New Zealand, and Canada. The weeklong events culminate in a direct action targeting a source of carbon emissions. The U.K. climate camp in August, attended by 1,500 people, also made an attempt to shut down the Kingsnorth power station.

—Noah Grant

Climate Camps: More stories and photos from the 2008 UK Climate Camp.



IPCC Warns Carbon Emissions Worsen

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Scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say world carbon emissions are worse than previously thought, greater than the worst-case scenario the group predicted in 2007.

World carbon dioxide output rose 3 percent from 2006 to 2007. Although several developed countries reduced their emissions, U.S. carbon output rose, while China was responsible for more than half of the worldwide increase.

If current trends continue through 2100, “you’d have to be luckier than hell for [the outcome] just to be bad, as opposed to catastrophic,” says Stanford University climate scientist Stephen Schneider.



Salil Shetty, director of the U.N. Millennium Campaign

“We will not stop mobilizing … until the Millennium Development Goals are achieved for the poorest people in the world.”

Salil Shetty, director of the U.N. Millennium Campaign, on a global day of action against poverty that drew 116 million people in more than 100 countries. The Millennium Development goals aim to halve poverty by 2015.





States Hold First Carbon Auction

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Policymakers and environmental groups across the country are keenly watching the progress of the nation’s first mandatory carbon cap-and-trade program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which held its first carbon auction in September. Ten Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states are participating in RGGI, considered a possible test case for federal legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The auction is step one in a market-based strategy that will ratchet down carbon emissions by 10 percent over 10 years. All power plants in participating states must buy permits to emit carbon. Those who reduce their emissions will be able to save by purchasing fewer permits. Gradually, states will lower the total amount of allowable emissions sold in each auction.

The initiative also allows other groups to purchase permits: The Adirondack Council, an environmental organization, bought 1,000 credits for about $3,000. The $38.5 million raised in this auction will be spent on investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency and assistance to consumers struggling to afford electricity costs.

Meanwhile, seven Western states, along with British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec, have drafted the nation’s farthest-reaching cap-and-trade plan to date. If approved by the state and provincial governments, the plan would reduce carbon from all major sources—including electricity, industry, transportation, and fuel use—by 15 percent by 2020.

California, arguably the nation’s leading state on climate change, has already granted its Air Resources Board the authority to begin instituting the program, and has also recently passed a landmark bill that will fight climate change by providing financial incentives to local governments to reduce urban sprawl, cut back car travel and encourage public transit use.

To avert disastrous climate change, states across the U.S. will need deeper reductions than provided by such initiatives, but many environmentalists and policymakers believe these programs are important first steps

— Madeline Ostrander



The Green Long March

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This summer, more than 5,000 youth and students participated in relay teams on China’s Green Long March—a 2,008-kilometer trek through 26 provinces. The event’s name is intended to stir up patriotism and evokes the 1934 Long March by the Red Army, which led up to the Chinese Revolution.

The youth march highlighted issues like carbon footprints, conservation, and green business. The march received some corporate sponsorship and was organized with the permission of the Chinese government.

Green Long March: Video of Chinese youth on the march.



Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

“We should withdraw from almost all of the [occupied Palestinian] territories, including in East Jerusalem and in the Golan Heights.”

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Ehud Olmert, outgoing Israeli prime minister, in an interview with Israel’s largest newspaper.





Iraqis Organize for Peaceful Elections

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A LaOnf activist holds a poster for this year’s week of nonviolence in Iraq.
A LaOnf activist holds a poster for the week of nonviolence in Iraq.

Iraqi Week of Nonviolence: See photos from this year’s events.

More than 100 citizen groups in all 18 Iraqi provinces participated in a mid-October week of activities aimed at reducing violence in the January 2009 provincial elections. A coalition called La’Onf (“No to Violence” in Arabic) led the Week of Nonviolence.

Among many highlights, Iraqis in Sadr City and Al-Anbar province held conferences to encourage women to vote. Youth in Salahuddin played soccer in uniforms that bore the slogan, “Nonviolence is Our Choice.” In Babil, children performed an operetta about how Iraqis can face violence and find unity. The al-Iraqiyah media outlet and members of the Islamic Union of Iraqi Students and Youth gathered with other civic groups at a peace festival. La’Onf participants also appeared on Arabic radio, television, and satellite broadcasts.

“Within the polarized and dangerous political environment of Iraq … if you speak about resistance you are accused of supporting terrorists … but if you speak about nonviolence you are accused of supporting the occupation,” says Ismaeel Dawood, a La’Onf founder. La’Onf is working to create a third way in which “nonviolence is a tool to resist occupation, terrorism, and corruption.”

— Kristin Carlsen.


Peace Activists Support Gaza

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Nearly 50 peace activists from more than a dozen countries sailed two wooden boats carrying basic medical supplies from Cyprus to the Gaza Strip in an effort to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza and express solidarity with Palestinians living there.

“We are out to show that the people of Gaza have human rights … Israel completely blocks them from travel. And right now, [Israel is] trying to starve and humiliate an entire people,” said Huwaida Arraf, cofounder of the International Solidarity Movement, who sailed on the boat Liberty.



Activists celebrate on a wooden boat sailing from Cyprus to the Gaza strip to protest the Israeli blockade of Gaza and show support for Palestinians living there. Photo courtesy
Photo courtesy

Activists celebrate on a wooden boat sailing from Cyprus to the Gaza strip to protest the Israeli blockade of Gaza and show support for Palestinians living there.






Bolivia Constitution Reform Likely

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Bolivian President Evo Morales. Photo courtesy La Frontera Dos
Bolivian President Evo Morales leads tens of thousands of his supporters on October 20 into El Alto on their way to La Paz demanding lawmakers approve a referendum on a new constitution.
Photo courtesy La Frontera Dos

Bolivia is poised to pass a new constitution aimed at providing indigenous autonomy, land reform, and popular control of natural resources. The proposed constitution comes out of decades of campaigning by social movements among Bolivia’s impoverished and indigenous people. It has garnered fierce opposition from the nation’s wealthier elites and become one of the most divisive issues in Morales’ presidency.

In August, after winning support from 67 percent of voters in a recall referendum, Morales sought to jump-start a long-stalled national vote on the new constitution, which was drafted by his backers more than a year ago. That move provoked a violent reaction by Morales’ opponents in two of the nation’s eastern states, including the September massacre in Pando of more than 30 peasant supporters of the president, and the torching and sacking of public buildings by Morales adversaries in Santa Cruz.

Amid charges of U.S. interference, the September conflicts led Bolivia to expel Washington’s ambassador. The Bush administration retaliated by expelling Bolivia’s ambassador and moving to eliminate Bolivian participation in an Andean trade pact, which could cost the country 20,000 jobs.

In mid-October, Morales backers returned to the streets, and 100,000 marched to the national capital in La Paz to surround the congress. Under pressure both from protesters and other South American governments, Morales and the opposition reached a compromise allowing a revised constitution to be put to a national vote next January.

After Morales’ August victory, it seems likely the proposed constitution will win the simple majority required for enactment. Once passed, it will set up a new round of presidential elections at the end of 2009, a vote Morales is favored to win.

— Jim Shultz is executive director of the Democracy Center in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and coauthor of Dignity and Defiance: Stories from Bolivia’s Challenge to Globalization.



Indigenous Succeed in Protecting Land

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After more than 10 days of protests throughout the Peruvian Amazon, indigenous groups scored a major win: Peru’s Congress repealed two presidential decrees that had lowered government requirements on land sales, making it easier for large energy companies to seize indigenous land. An estimated 14,000 indigenous people participated in the protests by blockading a river, intercepting boats belonging to a gas company, and shutting down an oil pipeline.

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