Meeting Minutes from inSPIRe Social on April 11, 2009

We had our third social event of 2009 at Bill and Emily s home.  We had a good turnout with around 45 guests to hear our guest speaker John de Graaf.  Thanks so much to Bill and Emily for opening up their home! 

Our next meeting Our next social will be May 16th and will address the pros and cons of nuclear energy.  Details upcoming stay tuned!



IAN (Inspire Activist Network) IAN Board members Jule Sugarman and Carrie Bogner are leading efforts to develop a 2009 King County Platform and to host a town hall for 2009 candidates for King County Executive.  The first three announced candidates, Dow Constantine, Fred Jarrett and Larry Phillips have accepted invitations to participate.  TV anchorwoman Susan Hutchinson has just announced her candidacy, and has also been invited to participate.  Please send Carrie a note at and/or Jule at to volunteer to help with the town hall project. 

West Seattle Clothing Bank We filled a solid corner of Bill and Emily s living room with bags and boxes of donated clothing for the West Seattle Clothing Bank, run by the West Seattle Helpline.  The Clothing Bank is re-opening in three weeks and has been depleted of stock.  These donations were very much needed.  Many will help neighbors in need in their efforts to find work in this depressed economy.  Right now there are 40 families on the waiting list.  Thanks to all who participated.

West Seattle Helpline Executive Director Anna Fern joined us and made a special announcement regarding the West Seattle Helpline.  Anna discussed her clientele at the Helpline.  Many in our community are in need.  The recession has clearly hit home for many.  Besides it being a very difficult time to find work while many are losing their jobs, many are also having their hours cut, i.e., we also face extensive underemployment. 

The West Seattle Helpline provides financial assistance to those in need.  This assistance is provided on a limited basis.  The Helpline s limited budget does not allow continuous financial support for clients, but rather focuses on one-time grants to help families survive a particularly rough situation.  The Helpline receives funding from local businesses and individuals, and also from fund drives.  A key fund drive is upcoming on May 14, 2009, The Taste of West Seattle .  This will be held at The Hall at Fauntleroy, across from the Fauntleroy YMCA and a block above the Fauntleroy ferry dock, at 9131 California Ave SW, from 6PM to 8:30PM.  Tickets are $35 advance, $40 at the door.  There will be 15 18 West Seattle restaurants participating. 

The Helpline is also looking for volunteers to work two-hour shifts answering phones and returning calls to clients, helping them understand the Helpline and working to determine those most in need.  The Helpline receives 50 to 60 requests for financial assistance each week. 

Please visit for more information, and to purchase advance tickets to the Taste of West Seattle.


BENEFIT CONCERT to support the documentary Sweet Crude by former inSPIRe guest Sandy Cioffi.  In April 2008, Seattle-based filmmaker Sandy Cioffi and crew members Sean Porter, Tammi Sims and Cliff Worsham returned to the Niger Delta to finish the documentary Sweet Crude. While on their way to a shoot, they and their Nigerian guide Joel Bisina were picked up on the waterways by the Nigerian military. They were held in military prison and interrogated for a week. Thanks to a huge effort by many friends, family, organizations and elected officials who brought pressure on the Nigerian government, they were released. But their footage was confiscated for good.

The Playlist Singers: Karen Pernick, Jen Todd, Mel Watson, Erin McKeown, Karyn Schwartz, Zo Lewis, Jennifer Sutherland.  The Playlist Band: Jen Todd, Mel Watson, Erin McKeown, Pam Barger, Barbara Marino, Kate Wolf.  Date:  April 15, 2009.  Location:  The Triple Door, 216 Union Street, Seattle.  Two shows: 6:00pm and 9:00pm.  Ticket Information: Suggested donation: $30 - $1,000,

 Purchase online at or by phone at 206.838.4333.  For more information about Sweet Crude, visit


inSPIRe Book Club! We are now reading Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder for our next meeting, April 12th.(tonight!)  To join the book club and get on the list, just send an email to


Keynote Speaker:

Main discussion topic:  work/life balance, time, sustainability, vacations and the concept of Affluenza

Ultimately on a finite planet there is no way to achieve sustainability except by trading future gains in worker productivity for free time instead of stuff.  Americans work the longest hours in the industrial world, threatening their health, relationships and environment.  John de Graaf has been working for years to change that, as Executive Director of TAKE BACK YOUR TIME (  He hopes to make Washington State the first in the nation guaranteeing paid vacation time, a step toward reducing work and increasing free time that is the law in every other industrial country on earth.  In 2006, John was invited to consult with then-Senator Barack Obama on issues of work-life balance.  He is currently finishing a new film called WHAT'S THE ECONOMY FOR ANYWAY?   which offers a transformational approach to the American economy.

John de Graaf is often a guest lecturer on college campuses.  John is the co-author of the best-selling AFFLUENZA: THE ALL-CONSUMING EPIDEMIC.  He also wrote the first chapter ( Childhood Affluenza ) of the American Academy of Pediatrics seminal book on childhood, ABOUT CHILDREN (2004).  His articles have been published in dozens of magazines.  In 2005, he was the World Food Day George McGovern lecturer at the FAO in Rome. 

John has worked with KCTS-TV, the Seattle PBS affiliate, for 26 years, as an independent producer of television documentaries. More than 15 of his programs have been broadcast in Prime Time nationally on PBS.  He is the recipient of more than 100 regional, national and international awards for film-making, including three Emmy awards.  He produced the popular PBS specials, RUNNING OUT OF TIME, an examination of overwork and time pressure in America, and AFFLUENZA, a humorous critique of American consumerism.  His other PBS specials include FOR EARTH S SAKE: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DAVID BROWER; VISIBLE TARGET; A PERSONAL MATTER: GORDON HIRABAYASHI VS. THE UNITED STATES; BEYOND ORGANIC; ESCAPE FROM AFFLUENZA; SILENT KILLER: THE UNFINISHED CAMPAIGN AGAINST HUNGER; BUYER, BE FAIR: THE PROMISE OF PRODUCT CERTIFICATION; and THE MOTHERHOOD MANIFESTO, which Senator (and now President) Obama introduced when it premiered at the US Senate in 2006.

John began his career as a community organizer, working on anti-Vietnam war issues.  From here John moved into filmmaking, and then to public speaking.  Through all the years of his activism, John is currently feeling optimistic for the first time in a very long time.  In the past, if one was an advocate for environmental protection or for social justice, they would quickly be asked sure, but what will be the impact on the economy?   This attacked has historically worked well to blunt movements on conservation and justice.  John stresses that when we are asked this question, we need to respond with our own questions of what s the economy for, anyway?  

John gave a talk three years ago to a group of economists in Massachusetts.  The event was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.  The economists were very excited by what John had to say and through the Rockefeller Foundation worked to get John funding to continue his work in this area, and to produce his new film What s the Economy for Anyway?   John has taught classes and Evergreen Collage and the University of Washington on this subject too.  The film was completed on a shoestring, and is approximately 50 minutes in length.  John then showed us the first 20 minutes of the film. 

A quick review of the film:  funny, very enlightening and totally spot on!  Broken into multiple chapters, the film details how America and Americans have gotten off course with our priorities and how our behaviors do not support our key values, including family, friends, health and happiness.  The US ranks amazingly low in key quality of life metrics, such as health, happiness and individual financial security.  The wealth gap between the rich and the poor in America has dramatically widened in the last 50 years, and with this widening our individual health and happiness have deteriorated.  In the past 30 years the spread between the earnings of CEOs and the average worker have moved from 40X to 400X.  The top 1% of Americans earn as much as the bottom 50%.  The examples of wealth disparity go on and on.  In a very visual and humorous way, John s film details many of the areas in which our society has gone wrong, and shows us the negative consequences on us personally.

The film is not yet out for mass viewing.  Its world premiere was at the Seattle Green Festival on Saturday March 28, 2009.  The film will be available for viewing soon, and John encourages all to hold house parties for viewing and discussion.


Q It seems like America is on a mission to lock everyone up .  Doesn t imprisonment actually lead to greater crime in the community?

A This is a true consequence.  Studies show that more lock-ups lead to more crime.  When Reagan took office in 1981 America had 300,000 prisoners.  Today we have 2,300,000, 40% of which are locked up for drug related offences.  In Japan, as an example, they handle prisoners very differently and with a much better outcome.  But in America incarceration has become big business. 


The Reagan economics theme of supply-side economics promised a trickle-down effect, I.E., if we promote policies to let the rich make and keep more money, the benefits will trickle-down to us masses with the smart investments of the rich providing us jobs.  This concept turned out to be a total falsehood.  Instead of a trickle-down effect, what resulted with massive tax cuts for the wealthy and other Reaganomics initiatives was a gush-up , I.E., the gushing upwards of wealth in America to those at the top echelon.  The current financial crisis provides us with an opportunity to change this. 

Our recent economic history details how living wage jobs have left America, especially manufacturing jobs.  In their place has been a huge rise in jobs in the financial sector.  Financial sector jobs have increased from 15% of the economy in 1980 to 41% by the beginning of 2009.  This is mainly due to the gutting of regulations in this area.  An example of this is with Credit Default Swaps, or CDSs.  CDSs are effectively gambling.  In 2001 former Texas Senator Phil Gramm responded to attempts to regulate the CDS market with a Congressional bill effectively making it illegal to regulate them.  This was passed without even a vote!  The CDS market over the next seven years grew to $60 TRILLION dollars, and is a key reason for our current credit crisis, frozen credit and financial bailouts.  The financial executive and professionals that made a fortune in this business were bailed out by us, the US taxpayer. 

As time goes by, with advancements, worker productivity improves.  This effectively means that we can get the same amount of production out in less time.  The next question is ok, so what do we now do with this extra time?   In America, as opposed to most of the rest of the developed world, we choose to work more vs taking this saved time off.  As an example, in America we typically work 350 hours more per year than a European.  Europeans chose to use productivity gains for more free time.  The US is one of the only countries that don t mandate employees receive paid sick leave, vacation and family leave. 

As a result, people are always short on time.  This leads to unhealthy lifestyles, such as eating fast food, etc.  The issue of time needs to be a core issue on the Progressive agenda.  One of the most important issues that Progressives need to work on is to turn around the norm in our American economy where we currently willingly trade our time so we can work to earn money to buy stuff.  Our society is now driven by the desire for stuff, and producing and using stuff depletes our finite resources and creates pollution.  The average European today consumes at a rate that would require a full two plant earths to support everyone in the world living this way.  But in America we take this to a much higher level.  Americans consume at a rate requiring FIVE plant earths.  Clearly this cannot be sustained, and as the developing world continues to improve their own productivity and strive to match our rich American lifestyles , our planet falls into crisis.  Our consumption habits cannot be sustained.  John recommends the book Plunder and Blunder by Dean Baker regarding this subject.

John suggests the government should provide companies tax credits for providing workers more time off.  In time, Americans can get use to the idea of working less.  John s efforts towards making paid vacations a requirement in America are a symbolic effort to focus attention on this critical defect in our American society.  He will be soon meeting with a Congressman from Florida who wants to draft legislation to this effect.

Please visit John s website to learn more, and to view John s clever and funny materials.


Q Isn t most of what we believe we need really from advertising trying to create artificial needs?

A Yes it is.  Especially with ads directed at children.  Advertisers view children as consumers in training , and view parents as gatekeepers that must be overcome.  Many ads work to show parents as looking dumb.  They frequently try to incorporate the nag-factor , I.E., research shows that it typically takes a child nagging their parents 7 to 9 times before breaking the parents down and buying the child what he/she wants.  Ads to children have gone up 150X (wow!) since 1980. 


Q Didn t we also work excessively long hours during WWII?

A Sure we did.  But reductions in work hours came with the New Deal in the 1960s.  Plus back in the 1950s and 1960s tax rates on the wealthy were much, much higher.  The top rate under Eisenhower was 90%.  Kennedy lowered this to a still high 70%.  Reagan lowered this down to 35%.  Ironically, back in 1965 a Senate committee wrote a report predicting the average American would only be working 14 to 22 hours per week in the future.  But in the mid-1970s, the trend changed.  A 1974 editorial stated Americans need to do with less so that big business can do more!   Reagan went to work to make this happen.  His administration s view was that there was a distemper of democracy, I.E., that people want too much, and that needed to be stopped, through effective deregulation, etc.


Q What does mandatory paid vacation look like?

A It could look similar to what we see today in the European Union.  In the EU, a worker gets 4 weeks vacation after their first year.  In countries like Denmark this increases up to 6 weeks.  Collective bargaining by powerful unions flows the results of their efforts down to all workers, even those that are non-union. 


Studies repeatedly show that Americans are most happy on weekends and on vacation.  We need a safety net in our society plus a more secure economy, so that we can afford to take more time off and focus on those things repeatedly proven to be at the core of our personal happiness:  family, friends and health. 

On August 10 to 12 there will be a national vacation summit at Seattle University. 

John de Graaf encourages us all to contact him at to continue this discussion. 

We then watched the rest of John s new film.  It is well worth the time and will make for a fun social event to view with your friends and family.  Contact John to learn how to soon obtain a copy.


As always, many, many questions were asked but not recorded.  Sorry!


Many thanks to our host and our speakers!


See you at the next inSPIRe meeting!


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Anna Fern unpacking inSPIRe's donations to the clothing bank




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