06 September 2009

Reimagining Society Project

Last Sunday I spent a wonderful afternoon with my friend Greg Wilpert (head of the Venezuela Analysis web page) and Michael Albert (founder of Znet). They were finishing a frustrating week waiting for an interview with President Chavez that never happened. But during our two-hour conversation in their hotel lobey, Michael invited me to contribute an essay to his REIMAGINING SOCIETY PROJECT. I believe you will recognize some of the names of the other participants at http://www.zcommunications.org/resoc/participants

Actually very few people are discussing positive alternatives to global capitalism. I submitted an essay called "A New Social Paradigm Based On Spiritual Values" which you can see at: http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/22509

Two other Proutists now have essays up on this project: Michael Towsey's "The Science and Ethics of Cooperation" is at http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/22528 and Sohail Inayatullah's "P.R. Sarkar's Vision Of The Future" at http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/22516

04 September 2009

Volunteers at Andanças Festival, Portugal

Andanças 2009 - Restaurante Microvita from Ananda Marga Portugal on Vimeo.

At the beginning of August I spent a week doing volunteer work at the Andanças folk dance festival in Portugal. I believe this slide show of photos demonstrates how professional was the project, how inspired the team was and how happy the customers were with our food and service.

I felt the organization was superb. The design and construction of the kitchen and serving area was very efficient, and the teamwork, led by the leaders, worked very well. They fed tasty nutritious food to about 3,000 people each day -- that's a lot of food! And a sign at the front explained that everyone working there was a volunteer, contributing their time and hard work to benefit social service projects around the world. Of course we can always improve, and the success is in large part due to the contribution of everyone in trying to find better ways to serve.

I had a fairly minor role, teaching yoga and meditation class each afternoon to over 100 participants and helping in the bookstall, where we sold 1000 euros of books,

Finally I would like to express to everyone that it was a privilege and an honor to serve together with the talented and dedicated team of Ananda Marga volunteers at Andanças 2009.

30 July 2009

Report from the 2009 PROUT Global Convention in Denmark

This Global Prout Convention, held July 20-27 2009, was commemorative of the 50th anniversary of P.R. Sarkar's first introduction of Prout. From 27 countries and every continent, 240 participants came (including 42 Wholetimers). Attendees came from as far away as Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Australia, New Zealand, and large contingents came from Portugal and Syria. The proceedings can now be downloaded from http://www.proutworld.org/proceedings/

Planning this event began nearly a year before. Ole Brekke (Vishvashanti) and his family led other Danish Proutists in organizing the infrastructure. He sent more than 200 individual sponsor letters to help participants from economically undeveloped countries get visas to attend.

The venue was beautiful Ananda Gaorii Master Unit in the countryside, one hour from Copenhagen, with lawns and gardens, apple trees and wild cherries. Dada Ambareshvarananda coordinated renovations which were done by Dada Rudranath, Pavan, Ashutosh (Brazil), Pam'kaj (Australia) and Dominic (Poland). Improvements to the kitchen, dining and accommodation facilities, painting, remodeling and cleaning went on for months, transforming the site so it can host large events.

In the lead-up, there was widespread speculation as to the value and even the legitimacy of the convention, which generated a heightened sense of anticipation and exceedingly high attendance.

Travelers who had to stay overnight in Copenhagen also enjoyed a greatly enhanced Global Prout Office, which is almost unrecognizable after renovations supervised by Kamal. Designated cars made many dozens of trips to the local train station to provide free pickups and drop-offs throughout the convention. On arrival, each person received a 40-page souvenir booklet with Prout Action News, thought-provoking strategy articles, workshop topics and job openings in Prout projects.

In keeping with Prout's emphasis on cooperatives, all participants volunteered to join working co-ops that managed different operations of the convention including program, child care, meal preparation, cleaning, etc. The system worked exceedingly well and helped to make everyone feel that they were directly contributing to the success of the program. Despite the pressure of numbers – more than double the expected attendance – the cooperatives were able to make everyone feel alright.

Dada Krtashivananda gave one of the opening speeches as well as an inspiring workshop on spirituality. He reminded everyone of the great legacy of Dada Tadbhavananda who built Ananda Gaorii Master Unit. Dada Vandanananda gave the news of India along with Prout activist representatives from the Vidharba, Utkal and Koushal samajas. Informative presentations were given by the staff of the Prout Research Institute of Venezuela, Gurukula University, Prout College and the successful Prout cooperative café of Iceland. Community development work based on Prout was highlighted in Maharlika (Philippines), Ghana and Haiti. Jaya from Denmark explained about the plight of marginalized workers.

Proutists from all groups and affiliations were present, both young and old. The diversity of participants from throughout Europe and the world and the process of meeting old friends and making new ones created a wonderful family feeling. Blissful kiirtan and deep meditation balanced the burning desire to change the world with the need to be spiritually centered and calm.

Whereas previous Prout conventions usually focused on lectures and classes, this program was generated from the bottom up. “Open Space Technology” allowed everyone to first express their personal interests, and then form groups to discuss how to practically promote Prout to the public. For example, how to present Prout to Western secular audiences, how to utilize social networking tools for this (blogs, wikis, twitter, etc.), how to design exciting Prout training courses, how to use the tremendous opportunity of the global financial crisis, country-wide strategies, Samaj and block level planning, frequently asked questions, Prout in the arts and education, effective websites, and much more. A dozen specific email lists were set up so that groups can continue their efforts and monitor developments from home. Most participants made personal commitments.

Some of the workshops included Ideation, Public Speaking by Dada Pranakrsnananda, Block Level Planning by Ravi, Use of Art in Social Change by Vishvashanti and Jaya, Personal Development by Dada Lokeshananda and Prout's Policy on Drug Abuse by Omkarnath.

The cultural programs each night were amazing, with professional artists like Phil Marriott, Dada Nabhaniilananda and Sukhadev, Vasudeva, Dada Vedaprajinananda, Malinii and Susmita and Didi Ananda Ragamaya. There were also more informal presentations, with songs in different languages.

In the global strategy workshop, we collectively chose to focus this year on the following goals:

1.Modernize Prout website with activist corner to attract young people.
2.Reactivate the Global Times magazine in electronic version.
3.Create exciting Prout training courses in order to create many more Prout activists.
4.Define simple Prout slogans for the public in different languages.
5.Create a powerful Prout response to the global financial crisis.
6.Develop and implement strategies for generating income for Prout.
7.Develop and implement an internal global Prout communication strategy: newsletter, email list, and collecting and spreading good news of Prout activities.
8.Create a system to follow-up all the targets and resolutions made here.
9.Hold yearly Prout conventions here in Ananda Gaorii Master Unit, Denmark. The next one is scheduled for July 20-25, 2010. The next Global Prout Convention is scheduled for Venezuela in early 2011.
10.Further improve our facilities and accommodations here so that even Proutists blissfully enjoy this wonderful place. Please return and bring your friends.

Please contact us if you would like to help with any of these projects. The heart of the convention, all the proceedings, resolutions and valuable resources, will be available within a few days at www.proutworld.org/convention09.

To improve future events, the organizing committee invited feedback through an evaluation questionnaire. 80% of respondents said the spirit of the convention was excellent. Critique included: need to further venue upgrade to overcome the stresses of so many people living together and to reduce meal preparation time; improve communication about program details and changes; too many good workshops and programs running simultaneously. (Organizers are confident most critique received can be acted upon for next year - apart from reducing the number of good program choices!)

In the closing ceremony, two slogans won a popular vote of approval:
“Exploiters look out,
here comes Prout!”

“Without a doubt,
it's time for Prout!”

No convention or conference can change the world. However the dynamism, synergy and inspiration made every participant feel empowered with new ideas and effective tools to make Prout a reality in their local place, as part of a global movement. Together, nothing is impossible.

16 April 2009

"Revolution, Local Economy and Spirituality" Social Forum Plenary Speech

I spoke at the Lower Hudson Valley Social Forum Keynote Panal on March 28th, 2009, in the White Plains High School near New York City. It was a magical moment with organizer Nada Khader, executive director of WESPAC Foundation, the leading force in Westchester County for peace and justice work for over three decades. The first two speakers were Freida Jacques of the Onondaga Nation and Monica Walker, Diversity Officer for Guilford County Schools, North Carolina and CORE trainer with The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond spoke on institutionalized racism.

The transcript of my talk:

I grew up in this country, and when I went to college I had a poster on my wall. Che Guevarra, the great revolutionary, said, "At the risk of sounding ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by feelings of love." I thought, that's what I want to be. I want to be a revolutionary guided by love.

Thirty-five years ago I learned yoga and meditation as a hobby. You know, reduce stress. It transformed my life. I didn't think I could feel so much strength and so much energy and so much passion and so much compassion. It inspired me to dedicate my life to humanity, and that's what this color orange that I wear means, that my life is dedicated to humanity. Many people confuse me with my twin brother from the Congo, Dada Gunamaya, who is also a monk and also dedicated to humanity. You'll notice the resemblance [laughter].

We try to teach revolution. We live in very interesting times right now. Starting about one year ago, there's an economic meltdown, that hasn't stopped. Every two months more than a million North Americans are losing their jobs. Trillions and trillions of dollars of "wealth" are disappearing every day. Financial institutions that are "too big to fail" are requesting the government to suddenly save them. But the government's not saving small business people, or small farmers or small houseowners, they're saving the big banks.

Always the most boring part of the news has been the business news. They like it that way. They don't want you to care about the economics, they use esoteric language so you can't understand what's going on. But it affects every single one of us every day. So they're saying, a little help and it'll be business as usual.

We say no. We're not interested in business as usual. We're not interested in oppression as usual or exploitation as usual, repression as usual. No thank you. We want a fundamental transformation of our world, which is usally called revolution.

What kind of world do we want? I was in Brazil for the first, second and third world social forums. A phenomenal experience. Twenty thousand the first time, seventy thousand people the second time, over a hundred thousand the third and fourth and fifth times. I was in Caracas for th sixth one, and I've been in social forums in Finland and UK and all over the world. And every one of them have the same theme: another world is possible. Well that shared dream, that we can have a better world than we have today, we can give a better world to our kids than this horrible mess that we've got today, gives us a question as well. What kind of world do we want?

You have the right to ask us questions, I also have the right to ask you questions. So what kind of world do you want? Can I hear some responses please?

Without toxins...
Sharing of cultures...
Human rights are guaranteed...
Multiple distribution of wealth, wealth for everybody...
Without exploitation, slavery, racism, sexism...
Where jobs are not outsourced, where everybody who wants a job has a job, a basic human right...
Where you can vote for your boss, choose your boss or be your own boss...
Human needs are primary...
Tolerance and respect...
Housing for everyone...
Stop people from teaching hatred, teach love to everybody...
Time's up, sorry.

I give talks like this in six continents of the world. Always the responses in Poland and Philippines and India and China are always the same. People want a world without injustice, poverty, hunger, sharing the world, with environmental protection for everybody. This is a basic human right. It's such a simple thing when we have the technology. You know to give everyone a house, an education, food, clothing and medical care who doesn't have it would be really expensive. It would cost about 15 percent of the annual budget for arms and military in the world. This is not rocket technology we're talking about to give everybody a house, a place to sleep at night. We can do that. The basic fundamental right that everybody needs is food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care.

So what would a local economy instead of a global economy look like? Instead of outsourcing everything, you make cooperatives. Cooperatives are are cooperatively owned. Make every region as self-reliant as possible.

Prout stands for the Progressive Utilization Theory. It's a model, it's principles that can be applied holistically by any people who like them. It's not anything to be imposed on anybody. But we desperately need alternatives. Noam Chomsky wrote the preface for my book, "After Capitalism", and he said that "Prout's cooperative model... sharing the resources of the planet for the welfare of everyone, deserves our serious consideration."

I think from kindergarten to post-graduate, in schools at every level, kids should be asked, "What kind of world do you want?" It's such a basic question, to question the world we have and to question the world we want.

I also teach yoga and meditation because I believe that through meditation, peace of mind, silence can be attained. Meditation is in every culture of the world, it doesn't cost anything to try it. You can find that inner strength, that inner peace, you can find the spiritual base that is fundamental to all of us here. We are one human family. Everybody is brothers and sisters here. We have to save the plants and animals, who are also our brothers and sisters on this planet. And we have to build a better world. We can do it, it's absolutely necessary.

One small example, in Illinois, Chuck Paprocki has three acres of land and is providing fruits and vegetables to 100 families. He's part of a task force set up a year ago to try to help family farms. But during the last year suddenly this task force, "Local Food, Farms and Jobs" (www.foodfarmsjobs.org) created a report that was published three weeks ago. It states that in the state of Illinois, $45 billion was spent on food every year, and 98 percent of that was purchasing food from out of state. Environmentally this is a disaster, food is traveling 1,500 miles on average to get to your plate. They said, if we just gave 20 percent of all the food that our schools and hospitals serve every day to locally-grown food, it would create thousands of jobs in the state, it would keep money in the state, it would make much more healthy and nutritious food for everybody. I think every state should follow this example, and now it's passing the legislation there, where Democrats and Republicans both approve it.

I think everyone should follow the example of the Obama family: plant an organic vegetable garden in your backyard or on your rooftop or on your window sill. Everybody should do that. What a wonderful example. And we can live in a more holistic, in a better and healthier way, creating in effect a true human society for the first time in history. What an incredible, beautiful world that would be.

I would like to conclude by saying that one teaching of yoga and meditation is that every one of you has a potential, physical, mental and spiritual much more than you can possibly imagine. Become that potential. Become that pioneer. Let us work together, today and for the rest of our lives, to build a better world. To make a world for our children, for humanity, for everyone. Thank you very much.

11 March 2009

Sea Change Radio interview

By following this link you can hear an interview with me on the excellent Sea Change Radio program about Prout: http://www.cchange.net/2009/01/28/after-capitalism-prout-as-a-sustainable-democratic-economic-model/

07 March 2009

3-week tour of NE USA

My cell phone in USA (from March 15-April 7): (646) 812-7447

14-17 March, New York City (contact 1-718-898-1603)

19-21 March, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Forum on the Solidarity Economy, "Building Another World" www.populareconomics.org/ussen/?q=node/99 (contact: 1-413-585-0763). I am giving workshops on "Another Life is Possible: Cooperatives in Venezuela and PROUT Economics" Fri, 3-4:30pm and "BioPsychology of Cooperation", Sat. 1-2:30pm,

22 March, Rockville, MD 10:00am – 12:30pm – "Establishing PROUT on the Planet" workshop, AM Center, 2505 Lindley Terrace, Rockville, MD 20850, www.proutaction.org (Contact 571-232-5470) Prout Direct Action Network www.proutaction.org

23 - 24 March: Blacksburg, VA (contact 1-540-552-6910)

25 March, Asheville, NC, Prama Institute, 310 Panhandle Road, Marshall, NC 28753, (828) 649-9408 www.pramainstitute.org

26 March, Blacksburg, VA (contact 1-540-552-6910)

27-28 March, White Plains, NY Lower Hudson Valley Social Forum http://lhvsocialforum.org/ Panel speaker on "The Way Forward: Indigenous Wisdom, Racial Justice and an Alternative Economic Model" at 9:30am, and workshops "Solidarity economy and the worker cooperative movement in Venezuela" in the afternoon (contact 914-843-0874)

29-31 March, Boothbay Harbor, Maine (contact: 207-633-1042)

1-2 April Warren, Vermont (contact: 802-583-2204)

3 April travel

4 April Durham, NC (contact: 919-382-9483)

5 April Raleigh, NC, Cooperative Games workshop 1-3:30pm, Unity Church of the Triangle, 118 S. Person St., Raleigh, NC 27601, (919)832-8324 www.unitytriangle.org.

6 April Human Kindness Foundation Prison-Ashram Project, (contact: 919-383-5160)

7 April New York City (contact 1-718-898-1603)

8 April fly back to Caracas, Venezuela

The Economy of China: "The Socialist Syndicate"

The Economy of the People’s Republic of China: “The Socialist Syndicate”

By Dr. Szu-chien Hsu (“Cidatma”), Ph.D., University of Columbia, New York. Assistant Research Fellow
at the Institute of Political Science at Academia Sinica (IPSAS), Taiwan. Areas of Specialization:
Comparative politics, international relations
, People's Republic of China. (Complete CV: http://www.ipsas.sinica.edu.tw/image/users/17/2.pdf

as told to Dada Maheshvarananda

The Communist Party state is the nucleus and the coordinator of the economy. The Party leaders have a very strong political will. They believe in nationalism, Communism, historical materialism and material power. These are the only powers they trust. Collectively they say they want to develop "general national power". However having many faces or “soft power”, a cultural image which they promote, is only a phase of material power.

The Party is very centralized, yet because the country is so vast and the population of over 1.3 billion people, some parts of the machine are out of control. The brain does not always know what the fingers are doing. This is a chronic problem, an internal dilemma. It is also a problem of quality, because agriculture and industry are produced by local, revenue-seeking enterprises.

There are presently 42 billionaires in China, according to Forbes Magazine, each one with an estimated wealth of from 1 to 7.4 billion dollars. There is tremendous energy in the economy, the world's fourth largest with a 6-fold increase of gross domestic product since 1978. The economy functions almost like a decentralized multinational corporation, or a “socialist syndicate”. Yet the Chinese capitalists have developed in a significantly different environment than have other capitalists.

During the last two years there was debate within the Communist Party asking how the very rich people got their wealth, from where did they get their “first barrel of gold”. The investigation revealed that in every case the origin of their wealth came from the Party.

Two years after the death of Mao Zedung in 1976, Premier Deng Xiaoping convinced the Party leaders to initiate market-oriented reforms in the economy. When everyone was poor, no one was motivated to work hard. So the Party leaders decided to allow some people to get rich while still maintaining rigid political control. Once a few got rich, their wealth quickly accumulated, creating a socialist market economy. The economy has fluctuating prices, but is socialist controlled. Their wealth originated from three waves of “rent-seeking”, meaning those with power have access to various resources and can charge rent for them.

The first wave of rent-seeking was the “double price track”. All businesses were originally state-owned, and each used to produce certain items. For example, a state-owned company produced watches. The Party set their production quota at say 100,000 per year, and allocated them coal, steel and other raw materials they needed to produce this. Because prices were fixed, the company paid very low prices for those raw materials. When economic reforms were implemented, the company was informed that as long as they continue produce to produce 100,000 watches per year, they could do whatever they wanted to become more efficient.

First the company manager asked to produce more watches, in order to get more raw materials. The extra raw materials he then sold on the open market for a much higher price. So the company earned enormous profits by the difference between the state-controlled prices and the fluctuating market prices for raw materials.

State-owned enterprises also no longer had to produce their quotas themselves. Instead they could go to the countryside, where 800 million people live and labor is very cheap, and contract others to produce for them. There is a large wealth disparity between the coastal regions and the remainder of the country. Many civilian companies started competing for these contracts. With the free market and free prices businesses, became more efficient, and production prices fell.

The second wave of rent-seeking was in the privatization of inefficient state-owned companies. Who did the Party sell them to? In many cases, they were sold to the managers themselves!

First the manager would ask or bribe the local government inspectors to under value it. Then they went to the local government-owned bank and applied for a business loan to expand. Then the manager would buy the under-valued company from the government with the loan money, so without spending any money, it became the manager’s. After that they were free to fire workers, making the company more efficient and profitable. They also bargained with local government officials how much taxes they have to pay. In all of these transactions with local officials, corruption was possible. All this made the economy livelier.

The third wave of rent-seeking was in competition between different privately-owned enterprises. Some fail, some succeed, the government doesn't care. The most precious, scarce resource in China is land, especially in the city or suburbs. There are two kinds of government-owned land: nation-owned, and collective owned. Nation-owned means the national government owns it. Collective-owned means, for example, 1000 villagers have house-hold ownership of land. City land is owned by the nation. But when a city wants to expand its territory by buying adjacent collective-owned rural land, the city government doesn’t bargain with the people, it just negotiates with the Party chief in the village. This system is rife with corruption. Old houses in the cities get torn down. Who develops this new land? Government-owned companies do.

In the city of Suzhou, the Singapore government was interested and bought a piece of land to the east of the city to start a joint-venture project in 1994, called the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park (CS-SIP). The Singapore government owned a majority share, about 65%, and 35% by the local government. Singapore invested a lot in building infrastructure, internet, high tech access, roads and warehouses. But almost simultaneously the local government started a second industrial park, Suzhou New District (SND) on the other side of the city, and sold the lots to companies at much cheaper rates. So almost no company was buying lots in the Singapore-owned park.

After incurring almost US$90 million losses over five years, Singapore lowered its stake to 35 percent, raising the city government’s stake to 65 percent, and reducing the Singaporean share from a planned 70 sq. km. to just 8 sq. km. The manager of the competing SND became the new manager of the this project, and immediately everything changed. The city re-divided the park, so that factory lots were sold very cheaply around the periphery, while the center of the park was left undeveloped. Companies then moved there from the other park. Once the park was full of factories, the central area became very valuable and apartments were built there, which can be sold for much more than factory land. One year after Singapore lowered its share, the park made its first profit of $3.8 million.

In this example, one can see that the local government is trying to make profit from every layer of revenue they can get. Party leaders start with nothing, but they have total power over land and zoning. Nobody else in this world can relocate people like China can. The government can construct a subway in only one year. People in China who suffer have no voice. Those who benefit are multinational corporations.

So China attracts more and more international investment and gains access to the international market. China bargains for technology transfer.

The cost of land is free to the government. Labor is still very cheap, because labor unions are not allowed to organize. Strikes take place on a small scale, but each time they only ask for more money, nothing more. Workers come from the rural area, and they need money to send home to their families. So they are easy to manage. City people do services.

Rural people are very hard working, getting up at 4am to sell in the markets, for example. People travel and switch jobs.

Everyone in China has a household registration. In the countryside, this entitles you to a piece of land. You can always return to your own land and feed yourself. It might be less than 1 “mu” per person (a mu is a Chinese measurement of land that equals 650 square meters). So a small field and a house, that your one child will inherit. The “One-child Policy” is very strictly enforced in the countryside. If a family has a girl, to get a second child, they need to move to a city, where there are more job opportunities. But if they don't return to their village, they will lose their entitlement to their household registration. Usually every Chinese New Year they return to their village, and often they bring other people back with them to the city.

If you were not born in a city there is a price to pay to obtain city household registration, after which their children will be entitled to go to the city schools. Rural people who have moved to the city but don’t yet have household registration there set up their own unofficial “black” schools. Crimes are often blamed on rural workers, who are sometimes called "peasants", a very derogatory term. But often it is the city boys who do crime.

In China there is no health insurance or welfare system. Hospitals tend to charge very high fees. The cost and quality of treatment differs from city to city, depending on whether the local government has financial capability.

The huge poor population is a key source of wealth. In China, people say there is a "fourth world", that is easy to exploit.

It is a great honor to buy your membership into the Party. Getting opportunities from Party bosses, paying them. This corruption continuing.

The Party can decide to bankrupt you or execute you tomorrow. They control the courts, the media, everything. If injustice is done to you, who will you tell your story to? One businessman, Lai Changxing, fled to Canada in 1999 with his wife and children. He made a fortune by smuggling in the late 1990s. China is trying to extradite him. He knows too much. He operated a prostitution house and filmed officials visiting prostitutes. He also sold intelligence. He even did business with the People’s Liberation Army, using their naval ships to smuggle oil. Another 14 people who were involved in the smuggling operation have been executed. (More than 90 percent of the total executions in the world take place in China.) In February 2009 the Canadian Government granted Lai a work permit.

So the very rich are very scared. They can influence people as long as the Party allows them to do it. The rich capitalists have wealth and can influence and bribe officials, but as long as the government controls everything, they can never have their own voice. When one becomes too rich, the "red eye illness" can come, i.e. jealousy.

From the perspective of P.R. Sarkar’s Social Cycle, the ksattriyan military leaders are still firmly in charge in China. They have allowed capitalist vaeshyans to develop the economy and to gain significant wealth, but not to control the society.