9 12 2007

HR 1955 recently passed the House of Representatives by a pretty emphatic 404-6 vote. This overwhelmingly approved act, entitled ” the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007,” was introduced by Jane Harman, a California Democrat who, like her more famous counterpart Nancy Pelosi, is not the kind of radical new-ager that you might think of when you think California Democrat. Jane is a big fan of the Rand Corporation, which calls itself ”a non-profit institution that addresses the challenges facing the public and private sectors around the world.”

That sounds innocuous, or even positive, enough, right? Umm….guess who calls the shots at Rand….Don Rumsfeld, Scooter Libby, and Condi Rice have been involved, and Reagan’s former Secretary of Defense, Frank Carlucci, is currently on the board. Most other board members are people you probably haven’t heard of, because they find it easier to operate out of the limelight, but they are generals and bank presidents and the former publisher of the Wall Street Journal. These are the people who are running the world and intend to keep on doing so, come hell or high water—and, come to think of it, “hell and high water” is a pretty good four-word description of global warming. So, that’s who Jane Harman is flacking for. There’s speculation that HR 1955 was flat-out written by Rand. It wouldn’t be the first time, I’m sure.

This act, according to its preamble, is designed ”To prevent homegrown terrorism, and for other purposes.” The bill establishes a National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism. This comission is enjoined to travel around the country, holding hearings and deposing witnesses, for six months to a year, and then propose legislation to address the threat of possible “radicalization” of people legally residing in the US. Democrat Harman has set up the ten-member comission so that its makeup will be predominantly Republican, with four Republican congressmembers, four Democrats, one member appointed by the homeland security Reichsfuhrer, and one by the Uberfuhrer himself.

Just what is “violent radicalization,” you might ask…well, Ms. Harman, or the Rand gang, define it thus: “the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence . . ..” And the bill is aimed at “homegrown terrorism,” which it defines as “the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born [or] raised . . . within the United States . . . to intimidate or coerce the United States, the civilian population . . . or any segment thereof . . . .” Well gee, that sounds like a good thing to do, and certainly Ms. Harman sounds noble enough when she talks about it, sayingOur plan must be to intervene before a person crosses that line separating radical views from violent behavior, to understand the forces at work on the individual and the community, to create an environment that discourages disillusionment and alienation, that instills in young people a sense of belonging and faith in the future.”

You may have noticed a pattern starting to emerge: “the planned or threatened use of force”…hmm, could they have gone after the Repugs who disrupted the Flordia recount with this? Not likely….Gandhi called his tactics ”truth force,” which is a literal tranlation of ”satyagraha.” Putting several thousand people on the Capitol steps and refusing to move could very easily be defined as “force or intimidation” in today’s hyper-paranoid legal climate. On a different tack, most of the Muslims who have been persecuted for ”terrorism” in America since 9-11 were led on by government agents who introduced the idea of employing violence into the groups they formed or joined.

Next piece of pattern: Jane wants ” to intervene before a person crosses that line separating radical views from violent behavior.” In other words, the government is going to suss out peoples’ intentions and prosecute them for that. If I want to waterboard everybody from Mr. Bush on down who says that waterboarding isn’t torture, and then ask them if they’ve changed their minds, am I going to be the subject of a government ”intervention”?

Well, as usual, I’m digressing, but going after people for what the government thinks they’re about to do, especially a government as divorced from reality as this one, sounds pretty repressive to me, especially in light of some of Rand’s other, recent work, in which they said that anti-globalist, anti-corporatist activists (like me and the Green Party and, I hope, you) “challenge the intrinsic qualities of capitalism, charging that in the insatiable quest for growth and profit, the philosophy is serving to destroy the world’s ecology, indigenous cultures, and individual welfare.” Well, they got that right. That’s what we say, and that’s what they’re doing. In this particular study, Rand goes on to claim that we “exist in much the same operational environment as al Qaida.” What the bleep does that mean? Ain’t no Green Party of Waziristan that I ever heard of! Well, they’re crazy. Just because they’re right about some things doesn’t mean they’re right about others.

And I think the next thing they say in their report either proves that they’re paranoid, or that we’re doing a better job than we think. They say that we pose “a clear threat to private-sector corporate interests, especially large multinational business.” Well, gee, I guess that’s a compliment. Sometimes I despair over how ineffective me and my small band of friends seem to be on a daily basis, but the Rand Corporation is taking us seriously! And so, apparently, are the Feds.

It starts to look like no coincidence that the Republican co-sponsor of this bill, Dave Reichert, was Sheriff of King’s County, Washington—that’s Seattle—during the 1999 World Trade Organization demnstrations there.

Just as the ”war on drugs” has used cocaine, heroin, and, more recently, amphetamines as stalking horses for its real purpose—to suppress and demonize the use of marijuana and the stronger psychedelics, so this bill uses the threat of Islamic terrorists to go after anti-corporatist, anti-globalization activists, who are pretty universally opposed to harming other human beings, even rich and obnoxious ones. When we talk about ”shocking the bourgeoisie,” we mean psychologically, not with tasers! And really, we’re more interested in seducing people away from their self-destructive ideas, which is more productive than putting them on the defensive, anyway.

It should come as no surprise that the real danger of violence in the US comes from the far right. William Krar was arrested and imprisoned for possession of nearly half a million rounds of ammunition, more than 60 pipe bombs, machine guns, silencers and remote-controlled bombs disguised as briefcases. He also had two pounds of cyanide and pamphlets on how to make chemical weapons, as well as anti-Semitic, anti-black and anti-government books. He was discovered only when a package of forged ID papers and gun permits that he also produced was delivered to the wrong address. For this, he is serving 11 years in prison. Mr. Krar’s case has received almost no publicity.

By contrast, let’s look at Tre Arrow, an environmental activist in Oregon, who was implicated in the arson of $200,000 worth of dump trucks. First, we need to note that there is no direct evidence linking him to this arson. The three individuals who were convicted for the arson gave his name in order to avoid 30-year prison sentences, and Arrow is currently imprisoned in Canada, fighting extradition. As “mastermind” of the plot, the government will likely want to put him away for at least 30 years. Moreover, this case was widely publicized by the Justice Department and the media, unlike Mr. Krar’s.

Now, you could argue that mere possession of illegal firearms and bombs is not the same as actually using them, but to me there’s a big difference between blowing up three dump trucks in the middle of the night when nobody’s around and being caught with lethal weapons and literature that indicates you’re not averse to using them, and that big difference is inversely represented in the sentences handed down or threatened in these two “domestic terrorism” cases. I think this tells us exactly what the government has in mind, and I don’t like it, because it seems like it’s aimed at me and my friends, and aimed at suppressing our vision of a better world—non-corporate, non-hierarchical, and locally self-sufficient.

And sure, this bill has to go through the Senate, which sometimes acts as a brake on the crazier ideas of the House, but it’s going to Joe Lieberman’s Homeland Security Committee, and we all know where Joe stands. And it’s probably unconstitutional, but our current Supreme Court is so expedient about enforcing the fascist agenda that I’m sure they would give it a pass. So look out, people, here comes something big, stupid, red, white, blue, and Democratic all over.

Jackson Browne, Lives in the Balance


14 10 2007


A reader of my blog last month asked me some serious questions, so I’m going to take this opportunity to respond to them. To refresh your memory, I had spoken about my admiration for Ken Jakes’ “no money from Political Action Comittees” stance, and dismay with Lonnell Matthews for taking advantage of so many of the offers that Ken had turned down. I also had voiced my support for Karl Dean.

Here’s what a reader said about these issues:

“I guess I’m somewhat confused about a lot of things said in this post. First of all, the PAC money mentioned as coming to Candidate Lonell Matthews Jr. all comes from local groups within Nashville. School teachers, plumbers, pipefitters, government employees etc. It’s not like he was supported by AT&T, Colt Arms, Blue Cross etc. We’re talking working people who get together to promote a little justice in our local society by supporting like-minded people.

And as regards Karl Dean, I’m stunned that you have chosen a millionaire Belle Meade lawyer whose huge personal fortune comes from strip mining in West Virginia and Wyoming. I’m speechless.”

and here’s my initial reply:

“One of the major sources of political bankroll in Nashville is the business community, specifically big players like Gaylord, who, according to Ken Jakes (who as far as I can tell has no reason to lie about this) use their influence to circumvent zoning and environmental laws. So, when he accepted money from the Nashville Business Council, Lonnell WAS accepting money from big corporate players.

As far as Karl Dean goes, the question is not where his money comes from, which he has little control over, since it’s his wife’s inheritance, but what he’s going to do with it. And no, he’s certainly not perfect, but my call is that he’s less imperfect than Bob Clement.

To me, there’s an underlying issue here, the populist/progressive divide, and questions like why so many politicians who start out somewhat progressive but mainly populist end up being demagogues like Huey Long. I plan to write on this topic for my show next month.

Thanks for caring enough to say something” So, here we go.

Now, here’s the thing: all of the other candidates I supported were taking PAC money and I had no problem with that. Jerry Maynard had loads of endorsements, including the Nashville Business Coalition. Megan Barry, the “ethics candidate,” accepted endorsements, although most of hers were from genuine grassroots groups such as the Sierra Club, the Tennessee Equality Council, and the Nashville Neighborhood Defence Council. But she did accept the endorsement of the Greater Nashville Hotel and Lodging Association….must have been a fluke.

And, among Lonnel Matthews’ endorsements from the firefighters, the Democrats, and the police, all of which fall into my correspondent’s characterization of “working people,” was…the Nashville Business Coalition! Hmm…the NBC doesn’t maintain a website, although it apparently meets regularly and endorses candidates and ideas…this mysterious entity may be linked to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, and may include Gaylord, HCA, and all the other big players that Ken Jakes was so concerned about, but I’m going to have to keep researching to find out, it seems.

As far as the Green Party thing about not taking PAC money, it starts to look like a question of how you define “PAC.” I had always thought of PACs as big spenders at the state or national level, not the local Service Employees International Union or gay rights advocates. To run a competitve citywide race in a big city like Nashville takes money, and so Jerry Maynard and Megan Barry took money from organizations they felt comfortable with. I can’t fault them for that.

The race between Ken Jakes and Lonnell Matthews, on the other hand, drew on a voting pool of less than ten thousand voters, in a district designed to elect a black candidate. Considerably fewer than half the eligible voters turned out, which gave white candiate Ken Jakes a fighting chance. When you look at the lopsided precinct-by-precinct results, you can see that the votes were cast largely along racial lines, and that it would have taken a lot for Lonnell to lose. So Ken’s totals probably wouldn’t have been improved by endorsements, but he got to look noble by declining to seek any. Lonnell probably increased his margin of victory a little with the advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts he made for the runoff, but it’s significant to note that his vote total for the runoff amounts to his votes in the first round plus the votes for William Mason, the other major black campaigner in the first round.

As for the Dean-Clement race, I have yet to meet Karl Dean, but all of my friends who met him were impressed with the fact that he does not come across like a stereotypical politician. “He’s a mensch,” one of my Jewish friends commented. He’s been involved in Metro government long enough that I’m sure he’s got some dirty laundry, but hey, don’t we all? We need people in power who are not typical, people who are not habitually committed to the status quo, and I think Karl Dean is as good as we’re going to get for now, so I voted for him. If he screws up badly, I won’t vote for him again.

Now, about those “wider issues,” that question of why populists become demagogues…let’s start with a bit of evidence that will seem almost too good to be true to some, and totally obnoxious to others. It’s a study done at UCLA, which seems to show that people who are politiically “liberal” use more of their brains than those who are politically conservative. This greater brain usage allows them to tolerate ambiguity and change their minds more easily, opening them to charges like “flip-flopper.” Sound familiar?

What does that have to do with populists and demagogues? OK, we’ve tended to conflate populists with progressives in this country, because the system, in spite of a lot of fancy ideals, is mostly weighted against the people, so it’s progressive to be an advocate for the common people. But there are two different kinds of being “for the common people.” There’s being for the people because it’s the fair thing to do, and then there’s being for the people because you want to get what’s rightfully yours, by god, and screw them all if that’s what it takes for you and yours to get your due. If that’s the kind of populist you are, then once you have “your rightful due,” you will do whatever it takes to defend it, whether that’s fair to everyone else or not—the “my country, right or wrong” approach. This is about a hundred and eighty degrees from the truly progressive, “the right thing, whether it means my country is wrong or not” attitude, and I think it starts to explain why a “liberal” and a conservative can look at the same facts and come up with such different interpretations, and that’s why some populists have the potential to turn into demagogues.

A corollary question is, what about people who are, as has been said of our new vice mayor, “progressive but not populist?” I think this is a viewpoint that rejects “right or wrong” populism but doesn’t fully articulate “for the good of everyone” populism, because the holder of the viewpoint has judged, rightly or wrongly, that the electorate is not ready for such a bold step. And, when you look at the people we elect on a national level, I’m sorry to say I think they’re justified in their pessimism.

music: Mothers of Invention, Hungry Freaks

how I became “Brother Martin”

13 07 2007

Long ago, in a galaxy far away, I was a simple fruit farmer, a member of an intentional community called “The Farm.” I was a much simpler fruit farmer than most, since I didn’t own the land, didn’t buy my farm supplies with my own money, and grew the fruit to share with the other members of my community rather than for sale. Pretty much all the money in the community was handled through a central office, with budget decisions made by a board of the different interests in the community–farmers, construction workers, health workers, school teachers, etc.

Our income, while impressive in total–hundreds of thousands of dollars a year–averaged out to about a dollar a day per person, but the dollars were only a small percentage of our wealth. We provided each other/ourselves with food, medical care, housing, transportation, school for our children, and a host of other things at no cost. It was not paradise. We were dirt poor by any standard, but we had our freedom.

One of the things we eventually came up with was our own community TV station–not broadcast (tho we had a low-power broadcast pirate FM station) but distributed through the community via cable. We used it for internal communication–such as telling the community the Farming Crew’s plans, often via humorous skits. In one of those skits, I “became” Brother Martin, holding a revival in The First Church of Farming.

The community started experiencing social and financial difficulties in the early eighties. Socially, our kids started becoming television-influenced teenagers who wanted things that couldn’t be had on a dollar a day, and many of my generation fell prey to the same neuroses that had bedeviled our parents when we were teenagers, causing general dissatisfaction with our standard of living and the same generation gap that we, as young parents, had sworn we would never create. Financially, we fell prey to the general worsening of the economy that occurred as the seventies faded into the eighties, plus which we were saddled with serious debts due to overly speculative vegetable and field crop farming ventures, serious medical bills incurred by a few community members, and the failure of a local bank that had been very friendly to us. There was increasing debate in the community about whether to continue our communal experiement. I argued strongly against abandoning it, and would appear on the community TV station as “Brother Martin,” railing humorously against changing the community’s nature and calling for a revival of our “old time religion.” My viewpoint did not prevail, and the commune turned into a community in which “all for one and one for all” was replaced with “every man for himself.” I stuck it out for seven years, trying to run the apple orchard as a business and hoping things would change, but by 1990 it was obvious that I wasn’t going to make a living from the apple trees and the community was not going to de-gentrify itself, and I left, a bitter exile from a country that no longer existed. There was no place I could go that felt like home, and home didn’t feel like home any more either.

As the twentieth century staggered to a close, I was working in the produce department of a health food store in Nashville, Tennessee, and starting to get more serious about singing the songs I had occasionally been writing and playing on the pianos that seemed to materialize wherever I went. Out of the blue, an old friend and sympathizer from my days on The Farm started working at the store, too, and she hailed me as “Brother Martin,” the first time anybody had reminded me of my religious sobriquet in many years. I started using it as a musical nom de plume, and then as I became more involved in the internet, it just seemed natural to use it other places as well. I still base my politics on what I consider spiritual principles, such as

Treat other people the way you want to be treated.

We’re all in this together.

We are not separate from each other. (nearly the same as preceding statement, but profoundly different, as well)

“Howsoever ye treat the least of Mine, is how ye treat Me.”

It’s very serioius, but don’t take it too seriously.

so “Brother Martin,” with its strong religious overtones (tho I am neither Protestant nor Catholic, but Buddhist) seems like a good handle. Any questions?



here”s where you can find my humble attempts at music:


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and on Reverbnation


5 04 2007

There’s a new book out, written by Mark Lynas, a British scientist. The book is called “Six Degrees,” and it’s not about separation from Kevin Bacon. It’s about the six degrees that can separate us from the world we’ve always known—the six degrees of global warming that will likely come to pass by the end of this century, if we keep up with business as usual, or even business-slightly-modified-because-of-global-warming. There is a great deal of lip service being paid to global warming these days. This book expounds in agonizing detail the dangers of lip service.

We want to stop global warming—but the US and China are pushing ahead with plans to build hundreds of coal-burning power plants, with only pie-in-the-sky promises of carbon sequestration.

We want to save the polar bears and the Arctic and Antarctic icecaps—but hundreds of millions of Chinese, Indians, and Americans believe they are entitled to own private automobiles. You can build a fuel-efficient car, but you can’t build it in a carbon neutral factory, or drive it on carbon-neutral roads, and the physical layout of the private car economy is not carbon-neutral.

We are concerned for the hungry hundreds of millions—soon to be billions—in Africa, South America, and Asia, but we want to eat our globally sourced diets, our meats and our out-of-season fruits and vegetables, we want to run our cars on ethanol and biodiesel that take food out of the mouths of those people and destroy the jungles that are the lungs of the Earth.

One degree of global warming, Lynas tells us, is inevitable. We know from history and palaeoclimatology (the study of prehistoric climates) what this is going to do. It will turn the central United States, breadbasket of the world, into a desert similar to the dustbowl conditions of the thirties, only a little worse. So much for midwestern ethanol, eh? But the dustbowl of the thirties was a relatively local phenomenon. This time the great midwestern desert will be part of a world-wide weather pattern, which will create drought over most of the equatorial third of the world’s land areas—including the Amazon and the Congo. Icemelt in the Arctic, where an area the size of Alaska already no longer freezes in the winter, and the Antarctic will accelerate, raising sea level by a meter or so, which, coupled with the likelihood of more intense hurricanes, will imperil many Pacific and Caribbean islands, as well as low-lying coastal areas such as Bangladesh, northern Europe, the southeastern U.S., and the Sacramento delta area of California. This is pretty much inevitable.

We could hold the line there, if we can make serious changes in the way we live. Serious energy conservation. No more coal-fired power plants. In fact, NO coal-fired power plants. Major cutbacks in private automobiles and air travel, a new breed of sailing ships for international trade. The way we live our lives here in America has a lot to do with this, because, even though we are only 6% of the world’s population, we consume a disproportionate share of its resources. Our demand for private cars, hot coffee, and cold orange juice puts a knife to the throats of peasants all over the world, even as it stimulates imitators all over the world. The planet has strained to support three hundred million Americans living in relative luxury. Billions of Chinese and Indians demanding our level of luxury will break this planet beyond fixing.

If we do not hold the line at one degree of warming, the heat waves that recently baked Europe and the central US will become common, which will start a dangerous feedback loop into motion: instead of absorbing CO2, the overheated earth will start releasing it. This has already begun to happen on a limited scale; more heat=more CO2 release. It’s a simple equation, but a geometric progression. The Himalayan glaciers, the world’s third largest ice mass, will melt, leaving nuclear-armed Pakistan, China, and India dry, hungry, and sinking into chaos. A similar situation, thankfully without the nuclear factor, will wither Africa and South America. Outside the human, political arena, climate destabilization on this order could lead to the extinction of about a third of all currently living species.

Lynas estimates that, in order to avoid this scenario, we will need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% in the next ten years. Al Gore, in his testimony before Congress, suggested taking forty years to cut emissions 90%, a much gentler curve than Lynas says we need. Mr. Gore’s proposals are regarded as noble, but politically unrealistic.

If that is the case, if humanity is unable to rise to the bar of restraining itself in order to survive, then things will get terrifyingly out of hand. The warming oceans will acidify to a degree that will destroy the phytoplankton that are the basis of the planetary food chain. Droughts, punctuated by unimaginably powerful storms, will intensify, killing hundreds of millions of people and sending the remainder on the march to anywhere that’s still green. The polar meltdown will also intensify, creating more and more coastal havoc as the oceans rise, possibly as fast as three feet every twenty years, a rate that has occurred before. But this time, the warming is happening faster than it ever has, so the meltdown/searise may occur at an even more catastrophic pace. Melting permafrost will become a major contributor to greenhouse gas levels, pushing the planet towards a now inevitable six degree temperature rise.

At six degrees, the methane hydrate deposits on the sea floor become destabilized and rise to the surface, occasioning explosions that will dwarf even the most ferocious nuclear weapons, while clouds of hydrogen sulfide follow in their wake, scouring life from much of the planet’s surface and destroying the ozone layer, subjecting anything that avoids suffocation to slow death from skin cancer.

So, those are the consequences of taking more time to study the problem. Those are the consequences of business as usual. Fill ‘er up? Want fries with that?

music: Persuasions, “Ship of Fools”

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