Be Part of

Newest Reader: Publisher’s Note

The ideas you’ll read about in this issue demonstrate that small, individual actions, when made community wide, bring about an improvement of economic security that we could never accomplish without each other.

In 2012, The Reader Magazine began a community-wide campaign called The Declaration of Local Independence. It is a way to mobilize folks in our community to make a small shift in their consumer behavior which when made together, produces as many as 8,900 jobs, $480 million spent at locally-owned businesses and and an extra $7,200 in everyone’s wallet who receives The Reader, every year.

Studies from across the US back up these projections, including work you’ll find at the American Independent Business Association, and a joint study by Civic Economics and American Express OPEN. A growing body of evidence proves the impact we have on our own finances and our community through spending at support of our locally- owned businesses is much greater than most assume.

Still, I know what you’re thinking. There is no way $40 million a month or $480 million annually could ever be spent locally through any kind of campaign.

So let’s see. You and the 390,000 other people who are mailed The Reader Magazine spend $7.65 billion annually or $637 million a month. According to the US Census, 33% of our household spending is on housing and utilities, leaving 67% for everything else. Conservatively assuming only 1/3rd of the $637 million spent each month can be purchased from locally-owned businesses still amounts to $212 million. Could a well-organized campaign insure 20% more of that figure is actually spent at locally-owned businesses?  You can see why at www.readernation.org/shift.

If you don’t own a locally-owned business there is still a huge upside for you from this spending shifting to locally-owned businesses. The studies cited suggest that the strongest communities are those with the highest percentage of jobs in businesses that are locally owned. Local ownership in businesses pumps up the multiplier effect of every local dollar spent, which increases local income, wealth, jobs, taxes, charitable contributions, economic development, tourism, and entrepreneurship.

In fact, the $480 million being spent at locally-owned businesses will mean more money recirculating in the community, which has the predictable effect of more money for you and me, to the tune of about $7,200 a year.
If these scenarios still seem impossible to imagine, to get a deeper sense of how communities either diminish or flourish as a result of a community’s spending at locally-owned businesses you’ll find facts to back up these assertions in this issue, notably Thom Hartman’s The Entrepreneurial Revolution. The article shows a dangerous, historical trend in which we are losing political relevancy because we are losing economic power.

Through The Reader Magazine’s Declaration of Local Independence campaign more money won’t just be spent here, more will recirculate here: amongst individuals, families, credit unions, and businesses.  The campaign will also empower us to curb the flow of money out of our community and into the bank accounts of lobbyists, major corporations, and major banks, which today are the eventual beneficiaries of our purchases at the largest retailers and national service providers.

Finally, by working together through a community-wide campaign we will create a shared vision even better than what I’ve describe here, because it will come from the collective potential and ideas of the community, the potential to create that is within each of us.

To learn more about The Reader Magazine’s Declaration of Local Independence Campaign and how you can play a part in it, see www.readernation.org/shift. Sign the pledge to shift at least $20 a month in spending to locally- owned businesses at www.localindependence.com.

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Propublica: The Best Reporting on California’s Drought

This year may be the driest in California in half a millennium. These reports explore how the drought is affecting agriculture, business and living conditions in the nation’s most populous state.

After a decade of relatively little rain, California is facing its third year of debilitating drought, and 2014 may be the driest in 500 years. The drought has placed a $44.7-billion-a-year agriculture industry, drinking water for millions of people, and some 204 cities located in high-risk fire zones in jeopardy. In January, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency and in July the California Department of Public Health said at least eight communities could run out of drinking water without state action. The State Water Project also shut off its supply to major urban and agricultural water districts for the first time in its history.

California is the nation’s largest state economy and agricultural producer, and so the state’s well-being affects the entire country. ProPublica has rounded up some of the best reporting on California’s drought, from fallowed farms to “zombie” water projects.

San Jose Mercury News, June 2014 Snowmelt’s path shows impact from Sierra to Pacific

It’s impossible to understand the extent of California’s water crisis without understanding where most of it comes from: snowfall in the Sierra Nevada mountains, which tower east of the state’s central agricultural valley and western coastline. Sierra snowmelt accounts for one-third of California’s water supply, but it is unpredictable. And with snowpack this year at a mere 40 percent of average, shortages are affecting drinking water supplies and hydroelectric power generation, impacting critical fish habitat, and harming industries from agriculture to tourism to chemical manufacturing. This comprehensive mountain-to-sea explainer lays bare the consequences of the drought.

San Jose Mercury News, June 2014 Few farmers immune to impact of epic California drought

Agriculture is the biggest consumer of water in California, and arguably the hardest hit by the drought; this $44 billion industry is set to lose between $2 billion and $7.5 billion this year. As a result the state’s big farms – many of which have faced water shut-offs — are looking to billions of dollars in aid, new groundwater wells that will draw down aquifers, or creative financial plans to buy and sell water rights to ease their pain. They are also hiring fewer farmworkers, meaning some 20,000 people may go without work.

East Bay Express, February 2014  California’s Thirsty Almonds

The drought crisis faced by California farmers is in the spotlight, but less understood is how many of those farmers use the precious water they say they so desperately need. This lengthy exploration of California’s almond industry shows how farmers have invested in a crop that uses more water than almost any other, but which is largely for export and considered a luxury, not a staple. As a result, millions of tons of other crops will be fallowed and lost as water is allocated to keep almond trees alive, potentially bringing food shortages and higher prices to consumers.

Marketplace, July 2014 California farms pumping water to make up for drought

California farmers are making up for drought-induced cuts in their usual water supply by drilling groundwater wells to mine more and more from aquifers beneath the state. The problem is that overpumping dramatically depletes a resource that was once reserved for emergencies, and literally causes the ground to sink across much of the central part of the San Joaquin Valley. California – unlike most of its neighboring water-stressed states – has no oversight and no restrictions on groundwater usage, something the state legislature is now looking to fix.

Bloomberg, March 2014 Can Water Under the Mojave Desert Help Quench California?

Farmers aren’t the only ones turning to groundwater to quench modern demands. A company called Cadiz has been trying since 2008 to tap an aquifer beneath the Mojave Desert and sell the water in the Los Angeles area. The company has been mired in controversy and permitting for years, but the drought combined with the prospect of building a 43-mile pipeline to pump 16.3 billion gallons of water towards Los Angeles each year has kept Cadiz stock on the rise. In May, California courts rejected environmental concerns and cleared the way for the project to continue. Plans like these, because they tend to come back to life only in the midst of a drought, sometimes get coined “zombie” projects.

The Atlantic, February 2014 American Aqueduct: The Great California Water Saga

California’s water comes from two giant, expensive, plumbing systems running hundreds of miles almost the full length of the state. Few systems are more complicated and intertwined with critical environmental habitat, which is why California Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to build a $25 billion pumping station to move more water to Southern California and bypass one of the country’s most important waterways has drawn such a fight. The current canal and pump systems arguably drive the state economy and use 5 percent of all California electricity in the process. But their infrastructure is overworked and crumbling. Levees lining the Sacramento River are 50 years old and could collapse in an earthquake. New tunnels might replace some of those antiquated systems, but locals fear they will be used to drain the delta instead of protect it, as the project claims. This Atlantic long-read attempts to untangle what is undeniably one of the most important – and difficult to understand – political battles affecting California’s water.

Associated Press, May 2014 California’s flawed water system can’t track usage

In the West, rights to water were doled out to the first people who settled and claimed it, and those who staked that claim before 1914 are considered so senior in California that their water cannot be curtailed even as the rest of the state grapples with drought. This Associated Press analysis finds that California officials can’t account for how much water nearly 4,000 of those senior water rights holders use – including some of the largest companies and cities in the state – even while they try to assess the state’s total water supply and shut off water to junior rights holders.

Aljazeera America, February 2014 Drought threatens California Wildlife

Life depends on water, and so it should be no surprise that birds, fish and animals important to a thriving ecosystem are also threatened by California’s drought as habitats shrink, breeding grounds are destroyed, parasites and disease spread, and food supplies dwindle. Native fish are especially at risk; 80 percent face extinction by 2100. The news is bad for the environment, and maybe even tougher for politics, since one of the biggest environmental fights in California in decades has been over how to reserve enough water to protect the natural flow of waters into the ocean and keep river deltas full enough to support fish.

Climate Central, August 2013 Yosemite Fire Example of How Droughts Amplify Wildfires

Last summer’s massive Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park was the third-largest wildfire in California history, and stands as just one example of the destructive threat dry times pose to forests and fields. In 2013, an estimated 67,980 acres in California burned. That’s nearly double the five-year average, and firefighters are bracing for worse this year. Research has shown that the number of long-term, large-scale wildfires has significantly increased since the mid-1980s, and correlate with years of above-average temperatures and small snowpack, such as the last three. In fact, the top eight largest wildfires since 1960 have all occurred since 2000.

By Claire Kelloway of ProPublica (www.propublica.org)

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Publisher’s Note: Reader Magazine

What happens when we look past our differences to what unites us?  Sometimes nothing happens, sometimes a great deal happens.  Sometimes it is work that gets done.  Problems get solved.

The author of this issue’s cover story says, “Many good people want to believe in a framework, a set of abiding and directing values that make sense to them.  But these frameworks and opinions can end up harming more than helping, as they become so “governing” they prevent a person from testing [their belief systems] in real debate and alliances. The next step is knee-jerk prejudgment and ostracism of others who wear different political labels.  No meetings over lunch.  No reading of each other’s [stuff].  Just speak the slogans to the convinced.”

Throughout the creation of this Reader Magazine I have kept on my desktop two deeply disturbing and heart-breaking photographs.  I have gone back to them over and over again.  Studied them. If you have studied World War II, you may have seen one or both of these images.  The one image is a contrast of darkness and light: a beautiful Summer day and terrifying, slightly blurry, hurried action, a soldier on a field, firing a rifle at point blank range at a young mother holding a very young child. Visible in the image is a family which is frantically digging their own graves. I have kept this image on my desktop during the writing of this issue to remind me of the seriousness of politics.  It is politics, that which creates how a society is structured, how its rules come to be and what those rules are, that had a hand in what transpired on that field that day and why that mother and child were killed. And what happened that day happened literally millions of times to others within a single decade.

Given what is riding on politics, what is riding on how our society is structured, that it affects the rules of our society, we all need to gain a better understanding of it and with relish, strive to get it right.  Perhaps it is the loss of remembrance of what politics truly endeavors to do which is part of the problem.  I would like to think that most of us would do everything in our power to be the one— if we could— to save that mother and child that day.  If we had the power to save them would we?  The image is a frozen instant which mirrors what we know has happened in other scenarios, at other times.  And at times, the degree of things going wrong has been mind-numbing.

So perhaps the question really comes down to what will we do now with the freedom we have, and the advantages we have?  Will we hope that things never get that way?  Will we take it upon ourselves to mix with people with different ideologies from us— different value systems— so that we are never those people who think that the best solution with respect to our enemies is their elimination?  Can we do more than that?  And if so, what is it?  What does it take to lift ourselves to a higher plane of consciousness, and what may we gain from it?  A better understanding of ourselves?  What keeps us from caring?  Perhaps it is in someway fitting to remember the mother and child who were lost that day.  There was no sense in it, just as there is no sense or rectitude in things that will happen today.  And we are here, now.  And there is much we can do.

 

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Reader Magazine Joins The B-Corp Movement!

We chose to become a B Corp to help build a community of like-minded businesses as well as to be able to benefit from the work B-Lab has done in social, economic and environmental impact metrics, and applying these to our Company’s existing impact metrics.  We also firmly believe in the power of third-party evaluations and accountability that can help us stay true to what we have set out to achieve.  Read more

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Publisher’s Note: A Plan For Moving $15 Trillion to Main Street

By Chris Theodore

I tend to believe most of us know we have to make sure we live in a society without huge differences between rich and poor.  We feel it in our bones that power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely and as the gap widens between rich and poor we move to living in a society in which power wielded by some is absolute. That isn’t any kind of a place to live in– where inequality is trending upward and unfortunately largely through our inaction, that’s where we live.

What can we do?  This Reader begins to answer that question with ideas by Michael Shuman and Carne Ross, the latter of whom says, “It is ordinary people, not great men, who make history.  The individual, and not government, is in fact the most powerful agent of change.”

You don’t have to look very far to see institutions you can make history with.

Locally-owned businesses provide a community with a measure of economic power, self-sufficiency, and unique character.  For decades, small, locally-owned businesses have not only served as an economic engine for the entire country, producing most of its GDP, they were a moral, democratizing force direct from Main Street America, which kept a needed check on corporate power in America.  Today, locally-owned businesses struggle despite the enormous benefits they provide.  Why?

“Even though roughly 50% the jobs and [GDP] in the economy come from local small business, almost all our investment dollars go into big corporations on Wall Street”, says Michael Shuman.

How much is that?  Liquid assets held by U.S. households and non-profits in the form of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, life insurance and pension funds totaled $30 trillion in 2010.  Not even 1 percent touch US small businesses.

“Were local businesses uncompetitive, unprofitable, and obsolete for the U.S. economy, this gap would be understandable. But as we will see, local businesses are actually more profitable than larger corporations”, says Shuman.

What’s stopping the flow of money that– if markets were efficient– would flow to U.S. small businesses?  Certainly part of the problem are six dominant media companies, News Corp, CBS, Time Warner, Comcast, Viacom and Disney, which have each fought tooth and nail to repeal legislation designed to keep control of media from falling into too few hands.

Why isn’t there sustained reporting from any of these media companies which control 90% of American information– on why small businesses and entrepreneurs produce half the nation’s GDP and jobs but do not receive even 1% of the available investment dollars from U.S. citizens?

Can you imagine a greater disservice to you and 70 million Americans who are the owners or employees of America’s 27 million small businesses than for these six media companies to fail to inform the US population of this?

In this Reader Magazine, we make it clear how by investing money in our favorite, close-to-home, locally-owned businesses we can take a huge, inspiring step to change something that probably keeps us up at night– which is the uneven playing field 98% of Americans find themselves on.

Carne Ross writes, “We have been silenced by the pervasive belief that there is no better system, when in fact our democracy has been hijacked by those with the largest profits. We have been intimidated by the bullying repetition that the status quo represents the summit of human progress to date, when in its inequality, its carelessness for our planet and its inhumanity to our fellow humans, in many ways it represents the worst. Our silence permits this outrage to continue, and profound injustice to be perpetuated. And it is this silence that must now be broken, through a thousand acts of construction to build a better world, a thousand acts that declare that there is a much, much better way of organizing and deciding our lives together. Though peaceful, these are revolutionary acts.”