Compton’s Cafeteria: Transsexual and Transgender People’s Stonewall

I spent the summer of ’66  working in the resorts of Lake George Village as a dishwasher and kitchen assistant.

Early that summer I discovered John Rechy’s book: City of Night.

City of Night gave me a road map to a parallel universe that existed within the straight world but which was largely invisible to the straight world. From that book I learned the skills I would need to survive in the pre-Stonewall world of gay men and queens.

The world Rechy wrote about in City of Night was already being superseded by the forces that were building towards the night in June 1969. The gay world was more visible than it had been in the mileau Rechy described in his book.

There had been small riots by gay and lesbian people in various places including Coopers Donuts in downtown Los Angeles and new organizations were taking the place of the original homophile organizations of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Gays and Lesbians in San Francisco already had active political organizations, filled with men and women who worked in the financial district and lived in various districts scattered through out San Francisco.

In August of 1966 there was a riot that centered around Compton Cafeteria on Turk Street in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. (See) RServen at Daily Kos  The Coffee and Donut Riots

It didn’t make the papers and wasn’t viewed as a major historical event in Gay and Lesbian history.

You see the transsexual and transgender people, the “queens” who rioted that summer were lumpen proles, welfare recipients, drug users and sex workers, only they weren’t called sex workers, they were called whores.

They were the lowest of the low, living at the time in an area that would include the meanest of the mean streets of San Francisco.

But like Stonewall what came of the riot was far more important than the riot itself.

Organizations were born and nurtured in the basement meeting rooms of  Cecil William’s Glide Memorial Church.  A liaison with the San Francisco Police Department was established and Police community Relations Officer Elliott Blackstone became someone we could trust to hear our complaints of police brutality and injustice.

Two different organizations grew out of the riots CATS run by Jerry and Louise Durkin and COG which became the Transsexual Counseling Service run at first by Kathy Grunier, Wendy Kohler and Mandy Taylor.

In November of 1966 Johns Hopkins became the first major university medical center in the US to announce having a sex reassignment surgery program.

Mean while in San Francisco the Center For Special Problems and Joel Fort’s Fort Help started dispensing hormones and counseling to the emerging transsexual community and those who later became the transgender community.

I first heard rumors regarding how transsexuals in San Francisco were becoming organized from a transkid, who was just emerging as a woman. I met her in Greenwich Village in the spring of 1967.

By the late fall of 1967 I was in the Haight Ashbury, learning the sad fiction of the Summer of Love in what had become a hell hole of drugs and violence.

Jim Driscoll was working as a night clerk in a residential hotel on Turk Street, a couple of blocks from Compton’s Cafeteria.  He documented one of those moments in history when things were changing.

The women who started the Transsexual Counseling Service were now running it under the auspices of the War on Poverty and had an office on Third St. and Mission.

The Haight was a terrifying place.  I lived with several activists including a young man named Morey, who I was deeply in love with. I mooned over him and was his constant companion, he was completely oblivious.

I came out in early 1969 and found my way to both the Center For Special Problems and the Transsexual Counseling Service, where I met sisters who had participated in those riots.

They were eager to put that period behind them, to move out of the ghetto and hopefully into a straight job and a middle class life.

The next year I met Gina and Parish, they had both been at the riot.  Gina claimed to be one of the instigators who threw a sugar dispenser at one of the cops.

Even though they were doing sex work they didn’t want to remain in the ghetto and talked about integrating into society beyond the barriers that had limited their lives.

By 1971 the original people who founded the Transsexual Counseling Service had left.  They had their SRS, the funding was being cut and they used their job skills to find other positions.

Jan Maxwell and I took over running the Center.  We secured a grant from Reed Erickson, a brother who operated the Erickson Educational Foundation.

We opened a store front office up Turk Street from Compton’s Cafeteria and across the street from the hotel where Jim Driscoll had written his thesis.

I had discovered that one of the bars Rechy had described in City of Night was still there and Compton’s was still there, the sign on the hotel was faded and they no long rented to TS/TG folks.

But Jan and I were seeing a different generation of transsexuals coming to our office for help.  Jim Dricoll had written about how the process of coming out separated the queens from the transsexuals and we saw very few queens.

It was the era of free clinic provided hormones and the era of gay liberation.  Everyone who took hormones claimed the label transsexual and those who didn’t take hormones chose to call themselves gay men who did drag.

My friend Gina who started out claiming to be transsexual returned to living as a man.

Street wisdom became: “The surgery determines who is really transsexual and who is really a queen.”

It was never that simple but street wisdom is rarely given to nuance.

Elliott Blackstone remained a constant, a supporter who was too often paternalistic and too often clueless but nonetheless stood by us.

When Jan and I left the center it was called the National Transsexual Counseling Unit.  We got the grant continued and handed it over to a friend Leslie St Clair, who ran it for a year letting the project fall by the wayside after her tenure and the grant ran out.

I moved to Los Angeles where I photographically documented a group of trans-sex workers who were similar to the people of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot.

Even that scene was a fleeting moment.

More than a dozen years ago Susan Stryker approached me to work on a documentary project that came to be known as Screaming Queens:  The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria.

It was released in 2005 and made the rounds of the festivals.

Most of what I knew of the riot was second, perhaps even third hand.  The people who had actually been there were scattered to the winds.  It was a history lacking even in artifacts, almost mythical.

So fleeting that it could only have occurred at that time and place yet so pivotal.

Jan and I were so different from the founders of the Transsexual Counseling Service. Our coming out the year of Stonewall and post-Summer of Love gave us a different perspective.

Our lives and the lives of the people who came through the doors of our Center were less defined by the ghetto than the lives of our sisters a mere six years earlier had been.

Everyone I knew who was involved with the various incarnations of the Transsexual Counseling Service/National Transsexual Counseling Unit has either died or disappeared leaving me to tell the story.

My opinion of the film Screaming Queens is that it lacks focus.  People realized too late that something important happened and couldn’t locate the original participants.

For all that it is still an important documentary.

My friend, Kelli Busey at Planet Transgender pointed out a problem last Saturday.

Frameline Stop Holding The Screaming Queens Hostage

Frameline, the distributor of this documentary is demanding $200 for a copy.

I was given a copy only when I complained that I hadn’t seen it and now lived in a place where it was unlikely to be shown.

This is pretty damn unconscionable considering how those of us who were interview were paid a tiny honorarium for our participation.  The documentary was made on a shoestring budget.

It was shown at all the LGBT Film festivals and on PBS

A reasonable price for this documentary would be the standard $20.00.  It doesn’t even merit the pricing of a Criterion film.

Addendum:  Kelli was mistaken and this film is available on Amazon for sale or rental.

Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria

Transsexual and transgender people are often ignorant of any of our history prior to Stonewall.  They may know of Christine Jorgensen but often know very little else about even the recent past of between forty and fifty years ago.

I have a PDF copy of Jim Driscoll’s article regarding the period just after the Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria.

Write me @ and I will send you an attachment of the PDF.

Republican party platform draft supports African countries which persecute gays

From Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters:

By Alvin McEwen
Monday, August 27, 2012

Reposted with permission

According to Think Progress, in a draft of its platform, the Republican party is taking a stand on the point of the persecution of gays on the African continent.

But it’s for the countries persecuting gays:

Recently, the Republican National Convention accidentally leaked a draft of the party’s foreign policy platform. The subsection on foreign aid contained a rather peculiar criticism of President Obama’s policy in the area:

The effectiveness of our foreign aid has been limited by the cultural agenda of the current Administration, attempting to impose on foreign countries, especially the peoples of Africa, legalized abortion and the homosexual rights agenda. At the same time, faith-based groups — the sector that has had the best track record in promoting lasting development — have been excluded from grants because they will not conform to the administration’s social agenda. We will reverse this tragic course, encourage more involvement by the most effective aid organizations, and trust developing peoples to build their future from the ground up.

Think Progress points out the truth of the matter:

 . . . while it’s true that the Obama campaign has worked to protect gay rights internationally, foreign aid dollars aren’t going to marriage equality campaigns — U.S. money is being used to finance legal and journalistic efforts to protect LGBT Africans from being murdered or jailed for their sexual orientation, a point the President made clear in an official memo on the topic:

I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world — whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation…Agencies engaged abroad are directed to strengthen existing efforts to effectively combat the criminalization by foreign governments of LGBT status or conduct and to expand efforts to combat discrimination, homophobia, and intolerance on the basis of LGBT status or conduct.

Think Progress is also quick to the point out that the claim that the Obama Administration imposing “legalized abortion” is wrong.

However, I am struck by how the Republican party is standing up for the perpetrators of anti-gay persecution. In speaking against the Obama Administration on this, the GOP is giving tacit support the wholesale persecution of gays in African countries such as Uganda, Nigeria, and South Africa. The video below features how lesbians in that country are victims of an awful practice called “corrective rape.”

Whether you believe homosexuality is a sin or not, I think we should all agree that those who call themselves Christians should not lend any support – no matter how large or how small – to this mess.

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Open Letter To Dana Milbank, Anti-Gay Hate Group Enabler

From The New Civil Rights Movement:

by Scott Rose
on August 27, 2012

Reposted with Permission

On August 16, 2012, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank published an article in which he despicably alleged that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is as bad for calling the Family Research Council (FRC) an anti-gay hate group as the Family Research Council is for spreading the hateful lies and incitements that got it classified as an anti-gay hate group.

Milbank, furthermore, put his full faith and credit as a Washington Post columnist behind the following statement from the anti-gay-rights National Organization For Marriage:

“The National Organization for Marriage,” Milbank said, “which opposes gay marriage, is right to say that the attack ‘is the clearest sign we’ve seen that labeling pro-marriage groups as ‘hateful’ must end’.’ (Bolding added).

NOM as well as the Family Research Council have been using Milbank’s advertisement for them all across the land as “proof” that they are not anti-gay hate groups.

TNCRM’s Scott Rose writes this Open Letter to Dana Milbank:

Mr. Milbank:

You wrote your column – Hateful Speech on Hate Groups – in apparent ignorance of the National Organization for Marriage’s incitements to anti-gay violence.

NOM sponsored an anti-gay hate rally where its chosen speakers yelled through megaphones that homosexuals are “worthy to death.”

The NOM-sponsored anti-gay hate rally in that video took place on May, 2011 in New York City.

Since that date, there have been umpteen crimes of anti-LGBT violence in New York City, across American and beyond.

I’ll give you just one example for now, though.

Kardin Ulysse as an eighth grade student in 2012 was subjected to a pattern of anti-gay criminal harassment and attacks in his public NYC school, attacks which school administration did not do enough to stop.

On the last anti-gay attack he suffered, Kardin was blinded in one eye by an attacker who yelled “Fucking faggot!” at him.

Mr. Milbank — I challenge you to look Kardin Ulysse in his one remaining eye, and to tell him that the National Organization for Marriage — whose speakers say that homosexuals are “worthy to death” — is correct when it says that “labeling pro-marriage groups as ‘hateful’ must end.”

When are you going to do that Mr. Milbank?


When are you going to look Kardin Ulysse in his one remaining eye, and tell him that even though his attackers yelled “Fucking faggot!” at him when they blinded him in one eye, you think that the National Organization for Marriage — (which sponsors anti-gay hate rallies where its speakers say that homosexuals are “worthy to death“) — is correct when it says that “labeling pro-marriage groups as ‘hateful’ must end”?

On the off chance that you would ever renounce your arrogance and ignorance in publishing the column you did, I want to propose a television show scenario during which you will be able to look Kardin Ulysse in his one remaining eye.

I’m sure that Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper and/or some other well-known figure would agree to broadcasting this scenario.

First, viewers will see the video of the National Organization for Marriage anti-gay hate rally where a NOM speaker yelled through a megaphone that homosexuals are “worthy to death.”

Then, the program host will ask NOM founder and mastermind Robert George — who also is on the board of the Family Research Council, and who wrote the anti-gay-rights NOM pledge signed by Mitt Romney — why nobody from NOM ever apologized for NOM’s anti-gay “worthy to death” rally, despite all the calls for an apology.

Next, both Robert P. George and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins can explain why they campaign so hard against the inclusion of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity and expression” as protected classes in school anti-bullying policies.

After those two anti-gay hate group leaders explain why LGBT students shouldn’t be properly protected in schools, you will look Kardin Uylsse in his one remaining eye, and tell him that you think NOM is correct when it says that ”labeling pro-marriage groups as ‘hateful’ must end” — even though NOM sponsors anti-gay hate rallies where its speakers yell through megaphones that homosexuals are “worthy to death.”

How about it Mr. Milbank?

New York City-based novelist and freelance writer Scott Rose’s LGBT-interest by-line has appeared on,, The New York Blade,, Girlfriends and in numerous additional venues. Among his other interests are the arts, boating and yachting, wine and food, travel, poker and dogs. His “Mr. David Cooper’s Happy Suicide” is about a New York City advertising executive assigned to a condom account.

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Anti-gay pastor Grant Storms convicted of masturbating in New Orleans park

From The New York Daily News:

The Rev. Grant Storms, a fiery anti-gay New Orleans preacher, has been convicted of masturbating in a public park in 2011, telling authorities that the sex act was a ‘thrill’ and a ‘fantasy.’

Friday, August 24, 2012,

Rev. Grant Storms was convicted in Louisiana for masturbating in a public park last year. Storms was well known for holding anti-gay protests during New Orleans annual Southern Decadence festival.

An anti-gay pastor in New Orleans was convicted of masturbating in a public park last year, telling authorities in his confession that the sex act was a “thrill” and a “fantasy.”

Grant Storms, who gained notoriety by leading a raucous march against homosexuals during New Orleans’ annual gay-oriented Southern Decadence festival, was found guilty of obscenity on Wednesday for the Feb. 25, 2011, incident.

Complete story at:

Salvatore Cordileone DUI: San Francisco Archbishop-Elect Arrested For Driving Under The Influence

From Huffington Post:


SAN DIEGO — The Roman Catholic archbishop-elect of San Francisco was arrested for investigation of driving under the influence, San Diego police said Monday.

The Rev. Salvatore Cordileone, a vigorous supporter of California’s same-sex marriage ban, was taken into custody after being stopped early Saturday at a police checkpoint near the San Diego State University campus, said Detective Gary Hassen, a police spokesman. He declined to comment on whether Cordileone took a sobriety test or reveal his blood-alcohol content.

The stop was made at 12:26 a.m. on the outskirts of the campus, a residential area of modest houses, apartment buildings and restaurants where college students mix with the general population.

Cordileone was booked into San Diego County jail two hours after being stopped and then released at 11:59 a.m. Saturday on $2,500 bond, sheriff’s records show. He was ordered to appear in court Oct. 9.

The San Diego city attorney’s office, which prosecutes misdemeanor DUI offenses, said it had not received a report on the arrest.

Continue reading at:

See Also:

Archbishop Known As ‘Father of Prop 8′ In Drunk Driving Arrest Scandal

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Prop. 8 donor and Anti-gay activist accused of being serial molester of young boys

From San Diego Gay and Lesbian News:

Ken Williams – SDGLN Editor in Chief
August 27th, 2012

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – An anti-gay activist and Proposition 8 donor is scheduled to appear in San Bernardino Superior Court on Tuesday, Aug. 28, on charges that he molested young boys.

Bail was set at $2.5 million in the case, because the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department believes that the suspect has been a serial molester for decades and is asking for victims to come forward.

Caleb Douglas Hesse, 52, was arrested on Aug. 15 by authorities in the town of Yucca Valley, according to the Sheriff’s Department. He is accused of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14.

Hesse is being held in the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga.

A first-grade teacher at Friendly Hills Elementary School in Joshua Tree, Hesse is also a longtime youth volunteer with the Evangelical Free Church of Yucca Valley. The church is part of a denomination that is known to be anti-gay and against marriage equality.

The Sheriff’s Department told in Palm Springs that Hesse may have molested boys since the early 1980s when he began volunteering with his Evangelical church. Investigators said that some of the victims today could be in their 30s and 40s. Anyone who is a victim or may have additional information about these molestations are asked to contact Detective Kirby at 909-387-3615.

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Tea Party Rally Emcee: ‘Sometimes You Have to Treat These Liberals Like Dogs’ and Stemberger: Only the Christian Right can Save America

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Breaking: Prop 8 Case Closed — Will California Same-Sex Couples Be Allowed To Marry?

From The New Civil Rights Movement:

by David Badash
on August 27, 2012

Proposition 8 case has been ordered closed by federal Judge James Ware, after almost four years, countless millions of dollars and countless hours from both sides. The question — still unclear — is if same-sex couples may once again marry in the Golden State.

But no one should get too excited yet — there’s a good chance the ruling may be appealed and the Supreme Court petitioned to take the extremely famous, if not infamous, case.

Marriage Equality USA weighed on on today’s news, stating via Twitter, “In fact, stay is likely not lifted per the original court order which noted it would continue until SCOTUS final disposition.” In other words, we haven’t seen the last of Prop 8, and in all likelihood, the Supreme Court will decide to take up the case.

Buzzfeed, in an update, notes:

“The couples, however, will have to wait on the Supreme Court to be able to marry.”

“The order comes despite the fact that proponents of Proposition 8 have requested the Supreme Court to review the case because, Judge James Ware wrote today, all requests to stay the judgment in the case have been denied,” Buzzfeed reports. “The proponents made no request of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court to stay the case pending resolution by the Supreme Court.”

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Joe Biden Praises LGBT Community’s ‘Courage’ During Provincetown Visit

From Huffington Post:


Vice President Joe Biden hailed the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community as “freeing the soul of the American people” during his weekend visit to Provincetown, Mass.

Not surprisingly, LGBT issues were the focus of Biden’s fundraising campaign speech at Pilgrim Monument and Museum in Provincetown, which is internationally known for its gay residents and vacationers, Politico reports.

“Many of you have advanced civil rights at great expense,” Biden said, according to Cape Cod Times‘ Jason Cook. “If I had to use one adjective to describe this community it’d be courage. You have summoned the courage to speak out, to come out. We owe you.” Biden also noted that the LGBT community’s efforts also advanced the “civil rights of every straight American.”

He called the 2012 election a race between the “starkest contrasted candidates in recent memory,” before praising Obama as being “determined to change the trajectory of this country,” according to the publication.

Biden’s wife Jill also noted, “The road to equality is long.”

Continue reading at:

Vaginas Protest Republican Convention

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She’s Just an Easy-Bake Oven: How the GOP and the Anti-Choice Movement See Women

From RH Reality Check:

by Amanda Marcotte, RH Reality Check
August 26, 2012

The good news about the Rep. Todd Akin situation is that it genuinely seems to have raised the public’s awareness of how much the anti-choice movement is rooted not in some love of fetal life, but in a profound misogyny that focuses heavily on fear of female sexuality. Akin’s ready assumption that women frequently lie about rape to cover up their sexual adventures was a perfect example of the demonized view of female sexual liberty driving the anti-choice movement, one that has very little relation to how women actually act in the world. But the exposure of the ugly, misogynist heart of the anti-choice movement might come at a price: Other dehumanizing, ugly attitudes towards women expressed by anti-choicers might seem more moderate by comparison.

For instance, Rep. Paul Ryan, now a nominee for Vice President, has a long history of using incredibly dehumanizing language towards women and speaking of women as if they non-sentient beings, while seemingly imbuing even fertilized eggs with the sentience he won’t grant women. Even though he’s no doubt been strongly coached to try to at least mimic compassion for women, the notion that women have internal lives and experiences that matter just doesn’t seem to factor into his discussion of reproductive rights. Instead, he just falls back on talking about women as if they’re nothing but flesh-bound ovens to cook male heirs. Which, naturally, led to the same kind of minimization of rape that Akin is accused of engaging in.

During an interview with WJHL this week, Ryan was asked his view about Rep. Todd Akin, who recently asserted that women could not get pregnant from “legitimate rape.”

“Specifically where you stand when it comes to rape, and when it comes to the issue of should it be legal for a woman to be able to get an abortion if she’s raped?” WJHL reporter Josh Smith wondered.

“I’m very proud of my pro-life record, and I’ve always adopted the idea that, the position that the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life,” Ryan explained. “But let’s remember, I’m joining the Romney-Ryan ticket. And the president makes policy.”

Continue reading at:

See Also:

Pennsylvania GOP Senate Candidate: Getting Pregnant From Rape Is ‘Similar’ To Having A Baby Out Of Wedlock

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How the Right Is Creating Voter Vigilantes While Many Actual Cases of Voter Fraud are Committed by White Republicans

From Truth Out:

By Brentin Mock
Monday, 27 August 2012

Irregularities is not a common term in the True the Vote vocab. Usually, it’s just called fraud. Seeing that the wording change has brought confusion to some of his audience’s faces, Ouren offers an explanation. “I use the word ‘irregularities’ because we don’t know if people did it intentionally or if they just didn’t know better.” That kind of logic isn’t normal for the group either, so he immediately adds, “So for those people who say voter and election fraud doesn’t exist, I’ve got 806 answers to that. It absolutely does in one election.”

Ouren and Americans for Prosperity gathered these recruits in Boca Raton in July to instruct them on how they could become “empowered” vessels for True the Vote’s poll watcher program. True the Vote is most widely known for its advocacy of restrictive photo voter ID laws. But while that might garner headlines, the group’s real focus is on policing the act of voting itself. As Ouren declared during the group’s national summit in April, and repeated again in Boca Raton, his recruits’ job is chiefly to make voters feel like they’re “driving and seeing the police following you.” He aims to recruit 1 million poll watchers around the country.

That’s an ambitious goal, and it’s easy to conclude Ouren’s eyes are bigger than his organizing stomach. But when you consider all of the eyes in True the Vote’s rapidly growing network, the goal may not be so far-fetched.

True the Vote’s emergence wasn’t an isolated event. Its rapid rise occurred in harmony with hundreds of other Tea Party groups across the nation, dozens of which exist in Texas alone and many of which have been “empowered” by True the Vote for “election integrity” kibitzing. It has plugged itself into an existing infrastructure of influential far-right organizations hellbent on criminalizing abortion, banishing gun control, repealing the Affordable Care Act—and now, on intimidating would-be voters.

Continue reading at:

From Op-Ed News:

Report: Wife of WI GOP Legislator and Photo ID Restrictions Advocate, Committed Voter Fraud

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“Promises” – Obama for America

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Commons: Alternatives To Markets And States

From Counter Currents:

By Derek Wall
27 August, 2012

Capitalism has failed. Leaving the care of society to the market has led to massive inequality, climate chaos and financial crisis. The system is indeed one of zombie economics, the doctrine is dead but the beast still walks amongst us. It reminds me of the cartoons where Bugs Bunny runs over the edge of the cliff but, not noticing that he has done so, continues to march on air until realization strikes and the silly rabbit plummets to the ground.

However while capitalism is in crisis, alternatives are not obvious to all. The binary choice has been market versus state. If you have more market you have less state or vice versa. State provision of goods and services seems innately problematic. A central plan reduces choice, fails to promote creativity and may be vastly inefficient. When markets fail, neoliberals can point to the failures of a soviet style economy to justify the continuation of a system of supply and demand.

There are number of objections that can be made to this. Fredriedrich Hayek argued, seemingly convincingly, that planners would lack the information necessary for effective planning. Yet markets increasingly provide perverse signals and transmit false information. Think of the way that marketisation has led to commodification of services such as education and housing. Markets lead to speculation and speculation leads to catastrophe. Planning is problematic and imperfect, but marketisation gradually infects an economy with chaos.

Planning can be made democratic by measures such participatory budgeting. Likewise the National Health Service is an excellent example of state planned economic activity that works, although to work better the pharmaceutical companies that make medicine so expensive and the corporations that spend £ms marketing junk food would need tackling.

However what is emerging fast is the alternative of a commons based economy. Peer to peer, social sharing, collaborative consumption, commons, economic democracy are all terms that cover economic activity that moves beyond the market and the state, based on cooperation and harnessing human creativity.

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Food shortages could force world into vegetarianism, warn scientists

From The Guardian UK:

Water scarcity’s effect on food production means radical steps will be needed to feed population expected to reach 9bn by 2050

, environment editor, Sunday 26 August 2012

Leading water scientists have issued one of the sternest warnings yet about global food supplies, saying that the world’s population may have to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet over the next 40 years to avoid catastrophic shortages.

Humans derive about 20% of their protein from animal-based products now, but this may need to drop to just 5% to feed the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive by 2050, according to research by some of the world’s leading water scientists.

“There will not be enough water available on current croplands to produce food for the expected 9 billion population in 2050 if we follow current trends and changes towards diets common in western nations,” the report by Malik Falkenmark and colleagues at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) said.

“There will be just enough water if the proportion of animal-based foods is limited to 5% of total calories and considerable regional water deficits can be met by a … reliable system of food trade.”

Dire warnings of water scarcity limiting food production come as Oxfam and the UN prepare for a possible second global food crisis in five years. Prices for staples such as corn and wheat have risen nearly 50% on international markets since June, triggered by severe droughts in the US and Russia, and weak monsoon rains in Asia. More than 18 million people are already facing serious food shortages across the Sahel.

Oxfam has forecast that the price spike will have a devastating impact in developing countries that rely heavily on food imports, including parts of Latin America, North Africa and the Middle East. Food shortages in 2008 led to civil unrest in 28 countries.

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