CLIMATE CHANGE IS NOT THE ONLY “INCONVENIENT TRUTH”

11 10 2014

truthlies

(This is a slightly edited version of a blog post that first appeared in my candidate blog, “Holsinger for House.”  You can read the original here.)

Al Gore called his landmark presentation on climate change “An Inconvenient Truth.”  I think he chose the word “an” very purposefully,  He’s a smart guy, and he knows that climate change is not the only “inconvenient truth.”  There are many “inconvenient truths,”  subjects and realities that conventional American politics carefully avoids or glosses over.  Gore explored this in a subsequent book, “The Assault on Reason,” a volume that most Democrats seem to have chosen to ignore. I believe American politics would benefit from greater public awareness of and dialogue on these “inconvenient truths. ”  Here are some that come to my mind.  If you have any other ones you would like to nominate, feel free to comment!

GROWTH IS THE PROBLEM, NOT THE SOLUTION

Conventional politics is religiously dedicated to the proposition that fostering “economic growth” will solve all our problems, and that anything that halts or slows “economic growth” is a Bad Thing.  This theory has been most notoriously promulgated as “trickle-down economics,” AKA “Reaganomics,” but its practice is not confined to the GOP.  The fallacy of economic growth as a solution to our problems is that we live on a finite planet, with finite resources, and our dedication to “growth” is running up against the limits of those resources, whether we are talking about fossil fuels, phosphates, clean water, fish, other foodstuffs, arable land, oxygen, or anything else tangible.  If we use up all of these things, even over the next few hundred years, what will people (and  other animals) do to substitute for them in a thousand years? Ten thousand years?

The notion that “whatever increases the Gross National Product is good, “is gross.  Hurricane-caused damage increases the GNP.  Diseases that require expensive treatment increase the GNP; frequently, diseases are caused by other activities, such as environmental degradation, that increase the GNP.  Lots of things that increase the GNP make us less happy.  Happiness comes from a sane state of mind, not the possession of a mountain of toys.

“Economic growth” has tended to benefit those who are already wealthy more than those of us who are not.   That leads to another inconvenient truth, which is that

AMERICA IS AN OLIGARCHY

The wealthy and powerful, the people the Occupy! movement refers to as “The One Percent,” are the people who call the tune in this country. It doesn’t matter what is best for most people, whether it’s an open internet, a sane health care system, a decent neighbourhood, or a clean environment.  Our government will do what benefits the wealthy. Read the rest of this entry »





OBAMONSANTO AND OTHER INCONVENIENT TRUTHS

7 07 2012

A few months back, President Obama announced a three billion dollar  U.S. initiative “to help Africa feed itself, “which is a noble goal, but the devil was all over his details.  The first detail to note is that three billion dollars is a third of one percent of our country’s military budget.  About one day of our military spending to help the starving Africans.  Whoopee!

There were two major prongs to this plan. Two-thirds of the money,  (That’s about sixteen hours worth of military spending.)will be given to a European chemical company to build a fertilizer factory in Africa, which would use natural gas to create massive quantities of ammonium nitrate, which is a powerful explosive as well as a fertilizer.  (Remember the Oklahoma City Federal Building?  The first attempt on the World Trade Center?).  The second prong will introduce Monsatan’s GMO seeds to African farmers, “to increase their yields.”     This from the guy whose wife scored big publicity points by putting an organic vegetable garden at the White House.

Both these prongs are going to do a lot more harm than good.  The manufacture of ammonium nitrate fertilizer is an energy-intensive, CO2-producing process whose result is a bag of white crystals that, not unlike cocaine, provide a short-term boost, but, in the long-term, have a deleterious effect–in the case of ammonium nitrate, the impoverishment of the soil to which it is applied.  The high levels of ammonia in ammonium nitrate burn out soil micro-organisms, leading to depletion of organic matter and a decrease in the soil’s fertility and ability to hold water.  The short-term solution, as with cocaine, is to apply a bigger dose of white crystals.  Sooner or later, the excess nitrogen starts leaching into the water supply, which exacerbates the problem by polluting the water and making people sick.

.  Then, too, the fertilizer must be purchased, a financial demand that can have disastrous consequences for small farmers in the third world.  We’ll look more deeply at that soon.  For now, let’s just point out that placing  increased financial pressure on cash-strapped, subsistence farmers in the name of “improving their lives” is either cynical or naive.  Time and time again, there have been demonstration projects and studies showing that the best way to improve the lives of subsistence farmers and the communities they feed is to help them find ways to increase the “circularity” of their farming, by increasing their use of local, organic inputs such as plant, animal, and human waste, and by returning to non-mechanized farming methods that require more labor and less machinery and fossil fuels.  Neither the fact that we are running out of inexpensive ways to create those white crystals, nor the fact that producing the white crystals is destroying the soil and the atmosphere, seems to enter into the calculations of those who proclaim the superiority of white-crystal style farming–f’rinstance, President Obama, or Presidential wanna-be Romney.

The second prong of the fork with which our corporatocracy wishes to stick the people of Africa is the introduction of GMO seeds.  There’s two really bad things about GMO seeds.  The first is their toll on the humans who use them, and the second is the way their use destroys the land in which they are planted.  We have only to look to India to see what the President and his cronies are promising to deliver to Africa.  What we see in India is over 200,000 small farmers driven to suicide, often by the debts they incurred to buy GMO seeds and the chemical inputs necessary to grow them–not just the aforementioned fertilizer, but herbicides and pesticides that they lack the technology to apply “safely,” even in the manufacturer’s loose terms.   Third-world farmers have traditionally saved their own seed, but it is illegal to save the patented GMO seeds, and frequently impractical as well, for, if the seed is a hybrid, it will either fail to produce fertile seed,  or fail to produce a uniform variety–but you’re not supposed to even try planting them, because they’re patented.  Intellectual property rights must be respected, y’know!   So, when Obama talks about “helping” African farmers with chemical inputs, he’s talking about inducing a rash of debt-driven suicides.  Hey, that’ll clear the playing field and help solve the overpopulation problem, right?!  More on that perverse idea later.  Back to GMO crops.

Herbicide use itself is highly problematic.  Roundup, the go-to herbicide for GMO crops, is very nonspecific in its effects.  It kills soil microflora just as readily as it kills broadleaf weeds and grasses, and thus is highly detrimental to soil.  And, just as with ammonium nitrate, its production is energy-intensive and carbon-expensive.

So, to sum up, when we strip the facade from the President’s feel-good call to help foster agriculture in Africa, we find a plan that is likely to further impoverish the continent’s vast majority of smallholders, drive them from their land, and wreak havoc with the land’s ability to support plant life.  So, who does benefit from this kind of “help”?

One group that is helped by alienating traditional people from their land base is foreign investors, both private and national, who are increasingly looking to Africa as a place to grow food to export, rather than to feed the hungry close at hand.  China and other countries are making deals with debt-pressed, cash-starved governments, deals that involve the displacement of thousands of people from millions of acres in order to grow crops that will not feed Africans.

The other big beneficiary of Obama’s policy is the Monsanto Corporation.  It is relevant to note, at this point, the “revolving door” nature of Monsanto’s relationship with the government. At least 35 individuals, representing both of the US’s major political parties, have been both on Monsanto’s payroll and the government’s, albeit not at the same time, as far as we know.  We’re talking about some big fish here–Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Hillary Clinton both worked for Monsanto when they were private practice lawyers.  Searle Chemical Company-CEO Donald Rumsfeld  (remember him?) was paid a twelve million dollar bonus by Monsanto when it acquired Searle, giving Monsanto the right to produce the carcinogenic artificial sweetener aspartame  (“Nutrasweet”). after Rummy pulled strings to get it approved for human use, but that’s another story.

The Africa deal is not the only example of  Obama’s–and our whole government’s– apparent willingness to go to bat for Monsanto.    Attempts to pass laws allowing labeling of GMO foods, dairy products containing bovine growth hormones, and limiting the spread of GMO seeds have been shot down, and research suggesting that their widespread use might have serious negative effects has been suppressed., both in the current administration and the last several governments, no matter who was supposedly in charge.

Monsanto’s willingness to play with both major US political parties leads to another question.  Should we really blame Barack Obama for all this?  Or is he a genuinely well-intentioned guy, who thought he could make change happen by being elected President, but found, when he arrived, that his real role was to play spokesman for an unelected shadow government?  As Robert Anton Wilson put it, “was the new President shown a video of the Kennedy assassination from an angle he’d never seen it from before, and told ‘you’ve got a nice family.  Play along with us and nobody gets hurt.'”?  Perhaps.  A friend of mine who is an old smoking buddy of Al Gore’s tells me that Al told him in 1992 that Al and Bill knew the office they were running for was more ceremonial than executive, but they hoped to be able to make a slight difference in the direction of things.  We all know how that turned out.   (And remember, Gore had already written and become somewhat famous for  Earth in the Balance, which, along with Albert Bates’ Climate in Crisis was one of the first books to call popular attention to the mess we are tangled in now.)  Perhaps frustration with his figurehead status accounts for Gore’s lackluster run for President in 2000 and his subsequent flowering, at a convenient distance from politics.

So, maybe Barack Obama regrets his decision to become a kinder, gentler  face for the corporatocracy than Dick Cheney and that guy he was with, but we may never know, because, like Clinton and Gore before him, he fears for his safety and his family’s safety far too much to ever spill those beans.

But, whatever the unspeakable truth may be about Barack Obama’s motivations and intentions, the inconvenient truth is that the African policy for which he is at the very least serving as a charming mouthpiece is not a policy that will benefit Africa.  It is just another corporate iron hand in another velvet glove, grabbing for what’s left of the wealth of the continent that gave birth to us all, a corporate iron hand that doesn’t care who or what it crushes as long as it ends up with a fistful of dollars.  And that’s the inconvenient truth about the Obama administration’s “African initiative.”

music:  Terry Allen, “Big Ol’ White Boys





IN 2012, WHO WILL YOUR VOTING MACHINE VOTE FOR?

8 01 2012

As I said, getting the state of Tennessee to recognize the Green Party’s right to appear on the ballot as a party is only half the battle.  The other half involves how the votes will be cast and counted.

First, a little history.  The Cheney-Gore-Nader presidential contest in 2000 was widely perceived as having been tainted with electoral fraud that resulted in Cheney’s appointment to the Presidency by a Supreme Court largely handpicked by Ronald Reagan and his running mate’s father.  The electoral fraud most commonly suspected was not the old-fashioned, retail, the-cemeteries-arise-and-vote kind.  It was wholesale, two different ways.  The first was widespread purging of alleged felons from the voting rolls in Florida.  The key word here is “alleged.”  If you happened to have the same name as a felon, you were barred from voting, but, depending on the county you lived in and whether the list had your current address,  you might not find this out until you showed up to vote, leaving no time for an appeal.  Investigative reporter Greg Palast estimates that about 8,000 were wrongfully denied the right to vote in Florida.  Most of those on this Florida list were African-Americans, who went 9-1 for Big Al, who lost Florida (according to the Supreme Court, anyway) by just 537 votes.  The capper on this is that the “purge list,” with all its inaccuracies, was generated for the Republican-run state of Florida by a private data mining firm with close ties to the Republican Party.  So quit bashing Ralph Nader, all you Democrats–the Repubs stole this one with their own people.  If you just have to blame a fellow progressive for this screwup (which Gore compounded by refusing to contest it), blame John Hagelin, the Natural Law Party candidate, whose 2, 281 votes in Florida total more than Cheney’s alleged margin of victory.  Hagelin’s into Transcendental Meditation.  He can handle your scorn.

But I digress.  Besides wrongly disqualifying voters, there are two other easy ways to tilt the vote.  One is simply to put fewer voting machines in districts where you want fewer people to vote, because long lines will discourage some people.  This has been done with great success, most notably by Kenneth Blackwell in Ohio.  But the most sure-fire way to win an election you might lose on the up-and-up is to hack the voting machines.   This has been made much, much easier by America’s love affair with computers, because you can hack a computerized, touch-screen voting machine and leave no trace whatsoever.  This is not some crackpot theory.  Argonne National Laboratory, a division of the Department of Energy, did a little research and found that, for less than $30, they could build a remote control device that could hack into a computerized voting machine and change the results it recorded, and not leave any trace of the hack. Yes, I repeat myself, but this is very important.  Interestingly enough, these vulnerable machines are made by private corporations with close ties to the Republican Party.

All this has been well known, among those who are not totally absorbed in reality TV, anyway, for over a decade, now.  Here in Tennessee, in 2006, a group of citizens formalized their concern for the integrity of our elections by forming a group called Gathering To Save Our Democracy, to lobby for verifiable, recountable balloting in the state.  While a DRE, as computerized voting machines are referred to, can produce a printed tape showing the votes cast on it as it recorded them, there is no way to tell whether the vote recorded by the machine was the vote intended by the voter.  This is not a theoretical problem.  To give just one example, in 2004 DRE’s in New Mexico recorded a vote for Cheney when a voter pressed the “straight Republican ticket” button, but failed to record a vote for Kerry when a voter pushed the ‘straight Democratic ticket” button.  This happened almost exclusively in Latino and other low-income districts that were likely to vote Democrat.  Kerry lost the state by about 6,000 votes.  There were a reported 21,000 ballots in New Mexico on which there was no recorded Presidential vote.  Do the math!  The situation in Ohio was similar, but Kerry decided not to dispute the election, to the great disappointment of millions.

So, here in Tennessee, a group of citizens lobbied the state legislature to switch the state to some form of verifiable balloting, in which there would be a permanent record of the voter’s original intent.  Optical scan machines, the kind used to grade standard tests, were one option; hand counting was another .  Due to these citizen activists’ efforts, the state passed the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act in 2008, by a wide, bipartisan margin, with just one little compromise.  The Republican asked that implementation of the bill be delayed until the 2010 election, due to the “difficulty and expense” of switching over.  This was baloney, but the Democrats bought it, over the protests of the activists, who knew that the Republicans were, to be impolitic, lying.  Other states had made the switch in the amount of time remaining before the election, Federal money was available to pay for the transition, and it was, in fact, cheaper, faster, and simpler than using the DRE’s,   Cheaper- optical scan equipment requires only one computer per precinct, to count the ballots, which have been filled out by hand.  Old-fashioned hand-counted ballots don’t take any computer at all.  Faster–much less instruction necessary, and many more private spaces for filling out a ballot can be set up, compared to the number of computerized voting machines that can be provided at each precinct.  Simpler–as I said, little or no instruction is needed in filling out a ballot with a number two pencil.

If this is true, why did both Democrat and Republican Secretaries of State resist the change?  A two word answer:  Lobbying money.  The company invites state and county election commissioners to fancy dinners, where they are exposed to entertaining lectures on the superiority of the computerized product.  A bond is created.  Money may change hands.  While these are not elective offices, the commissioners have friends in politics whose fortunes they would like to help advance, after all.  Just another example of how decisions in this country are made not according to what makes sense, but according to what makes money for the powerful.

Once the bill was passed, with its delay in place, the 2008 election was a big surprise for Democrats, who lost heavily all over the state.  Was this a rigged election, or simply a sharp, racially-motivated right turn on the part of Tennessee voters?  It’s hard to tell–impossible, in fact, because hacking DREs leaves no traces.  The art in throwing an election is in not making it too obvious.  You don’t rig it so your guy wins 99-1; you rig it so he wins 50.1-49.9.  But first you purge the voter rolls of anyone who has something like the same name as a purported felon–if the person turns out to have merely committed a misdemeanor, or isn’t even the right person, hey, it’s their problem to prove their innocence. This is America, after all!  Then you shorten early voting  hours, which makes it a little harder for working people to vote, and then you pass a law requiring that all voters show a photo ID, which gets rid of some older, low-income voters, as well as some college students, (since you’ll accept a gun license but not a college ID as valid).  All these groups are more likely to vote for  Democrats.  Then you only have to tweak the election results a little, here and there, to throw the election.  I live in a majority black, and, obviously, heavily Democratic district.  I am reasonably certain that anybody throwing an election wouldn’t mess with our precinct, because a Republican triumph here would be hard to believe.  On the other hand, they might shave just a few votes here, and more elsewhere, where the outcome might be more up for grabs.

Back to our time line.  The newly Republican state legislature attempted to repeal the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, but failed by one vote–that of Republican Tim Burchett, of Knoxville, who distinguished himself by being an outspoken advocate of open, honest elections.  For his principled stand, Burchett was kicked upstairs in 2010, elected to the post of Mayor of Knoxville,  With him out of the way, the legislature repealed the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, lying through their teeth as they claimed that this was done solely because the state didn’t have the money to make the switch.  The Federal money, which was all that was required, was still sitting there, unspent.  State government firmly in hand, the Repubs have drawn up a redistricting plan that is just about guaranteed to preserve their hold on power, short of large sections of the voting public waking up to the rude, uncomfortable truth.

The situation here in Tennessee is one that, if Obama and Eric Holder had even one cojone between them, the DOJ would be all over.  But they don’t, and so I’m not looking for the guys in the white hats to come riding over the horizon any time soon.

My little rant may have raised a couple of questions for you.  You might wonder why a Green like me is being so solicitous of the welfare of our state’s Democrats. And you might wonder what, exactly, this has to do with our lawsuit, the one about recognizing Green Party candidates’ Constitutional right to have our party affiliation listed on the ballot.

I’ll answer that one first.  I am concerned that, since our elections are apparently being jiggered by the GOP, they will welcome the Green Party’s official ballot slot as a great place to dump votes they have taken away from Democrats and at the same time create strife between Greens and Democrats who perceive that we are taking “their” votes.  Even if the elections were squeaky-clean, of course, some Democrats would be squawking about this, but, if they really care about electoral choice, there are ways, such as instant runoff voting, to have elections in which voters can express their second choice in the event that their first choice doesn’t make it into the top two.

So, first question second.  Why do I, a Green,  care so much about the Democrats getting screwed over?  I could get all Martin Niemoller on you and say “First they came for the Democrats,” but it’s not really that dramatic.  While the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act is a milestone in our empire’s attempt to legitimize its war crimes, I think our government’s power will fade out long before they get around to disappearing the likes of you and me.  It’s much cheaper  and easier to just ignore us.

No, I defend Democrats, especially “rank-and-file” Democrats, because, as individuals, I like them.  Hey, I used to be one myself.  I not only like them, I am like them. They mostly mean well, unlike Republicans, who tend to be sociopaths.

Disclaimer:  what follows is strictly a metaphor.  Nobody on the Mid-Tennessee Progressive Strategies Facebook list needs to feel the least bit uneasy about my intentions there, OK?

To me, Democrats are kind of like certain fascinating and delightful women I have known, who always seemed to end up giving it to some jerk who didn’t appreciate them and made their lives miserable, rather than to me, who would have respected and appreciated them. Jerks like, back in the old days, Richard Daley, or, more recently, the likes of Steny Hoyer, Rahm Emmanuel, Joe Biden, and Max Baucus. Were those women a bit dysfunctional for the kind of love lives they manifested?   Yes, but that didn’t subtract from their lovable humanity.  Am I a bit dysfunctional, hungering for the attention of those whom I do not psycho-emotionally trigger?  Probably. But people, whether they are abused women or rank and file Democrats, sometimes grow and evolve, get to the place where they see through the games and conditioning they have always accepted, DTMFA (Dump the Mother Fucker Already) and move on.  Is that my prediction for 2012?  Do I think the ranks of the Green Party will swell with masses of disaffected Democrats?  I’m not getting my hopes up, but, in the words of Shakespeare,  “‘Tis a consumation devoutly to be wished.”

music:  Drive-By-Truckers, “Wife Beater





THE CONTINUING COUP

9 07 2011

I want to take a few minutes to honor the late Joe Bageant, who passed out of this world back in March.  Joe was a longtime editor and writer, but only recently came to what prominence he has (or had) through two books:  the recent Rainbow Pie, a memoir which describes how he became a “radical redneck,” and “Deer Hunting With Jesus:  Dispatches From America’s Class War,” a title which, I think, speaks for itself, in a koanish kind of way.

If you’re not familiar with Joe, here’s a couple of quotes that will give you an idea:

“I always say that if Obama was delivered to the White House with Jesus Christ, a five-piece band and six gilded seraphim holding up his f-ing balls he still won’t be able to do anything because the country’s broke and Congress is bought and sold.”

Just for the record, he wrote that when The Socialist Review asked his opinion of Obama’s election.  And “f-ing” is a polite contraction of the word he really used.  The next quote comes from “Deer Hunting With Jesus”:

“Republican or Democrat, this nation’s affluent urban and suburban classes understand their bread is buttered on the corporate side. The primary difference between the two parties is that the Republicans pretty much admit that they grasp and even endorse some of the nastiest facts of life in America. Republicans honestly tell the world: “Listen in on my phone calls, piss-test me until I’m blind, kill and eat all of my neighbors right in front of my eyes, but show me the money! Let me escape with every cent I can kick out of the suckers, the taxpayers, and anybody else I can get a headlock on, legally or otherwise.” Democrats, in contrast, seem content to catalog the GOP’s outrages against the Republic, showing proper indignation while laughing at episodes of The Daily Show. But they stand behind the American brand: imperialism. They “support our troops,” though you will be hard put to find any of them who have served alongside them or who would send one of their own kids off to lose an eye or an arm in Iraq. They play the imperial game, maintain their credit ratings, and plan to keep the beach house and the retirement investments if it means sacrificing every damned Lynndie England in West Virginia.”

To sum it up:  Republicans may be sociopaths, but Democrats are their enablers.  What a choice we have in politics!  And that brings me to my next subject, the continuing coup here in America, including validation of Joe’s prophetic abilities–there was recently a well-documented incident in which a male Republican government official all but put a female Democrat elected official in a headlock–which, once more sums up the whole situation in one messy image.  More on that later.

One of the more prominent arenas in which the struggle between the psychopaths and their enablers is playing out is the various state and national budget battles that are taking place.  Let’s look at Minnesota as an example.  It may well be a harbinger of things to come for all of us.

The government of Minnesota is currently shut down, because Republicans won’t agree to raise taxes for the wealthiest Minnesotans, arguing that a tax increase on the wealthy hurts everyone.

Now, I have just castigated Democrats for being enablers to their Republican sociopath counterparts,  but credit where credit is due:  Minnesota’s Democratic Governor Mark Dayton laid out his logic in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

The Minnesota Department of Revenue reports that, as a percentage of income, the wealthiest 10 percent of our citizens pay only three-fourths as much in state and local taxes as do the rest of Minnesotans. The richest 1 percent, who on average make over $1.2 million a year, pay only two-thirds as much.

If they all paid the same percentage of their incomes as everyone else, there would be an additional $4 billion in revenues for the next biennium. That would eliminate two-thirds of our state’s next budget deficit.

It would allow us to begin to restore our commitment to education. To serve our senior citizens. To lower property taxes.

Earlier in the article, Dayton pointed out that property taxes have doubled in Minnesota in the last decade–while Republican Tim “no new taxes” Pawlenty was governor.  Property taxes can be very regressive–just because you own land or a house doesn’t mean you have a lot of income, y’know?  Somehow, Republicans don’t seem to have a problem with that tax increase.  Or maybe, it’s “if we didn’t have to support all these socialistic public schools, we could cut property taxes.”  Some school districts in Minnesota have cut back to four-day weeks due to lack of funding.  I’m not that crazy about public schools, myself, for a whole host of reasons I don’t have time to go into now–but on the positive side, they can be one of the glues that hold communities together.

The Minnesota Republicans’ stonewalling on tax increases for the richest one  percent of Minnesotans harks back to one of the highlights of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, when George Bush said:

This is an impressive crowd: the haves, and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite, I call you my base.

And that’s just what Republicans all over the country are doing:  working to make the richest richer and to hell with the rest of us.   In Spain, everybody knows that “Republicans” is just a polite word for “fascists.”  I’d say I wish that awareness would catch on here, but I think there are too many people who don’t care what the opposition calls them as long as they have the most toys.  And so the class war drags on, and the selfish wealthy are winning.

Republicans can collect a political majority for two reasons:  one–a lot of Americans are gullible and mis-educated enough to believe that, even though they’re not rich, they could get rich and it would make them happy; and two–Republicans believe that because they are right it is OK to bend the rules and cheat like hell.  We see this in Republican efforts all over the country to limit voter turnout through increasingly restrictive voter ID laws, voter  caging,  and creative redistricting.

That’s what happened here in Tennessee when the legislature went Republican for the first time since Reconstruction, a hundred and fifty years ago–and not only did they restrict the hours and days for early voting and require people to produce a photo ID to vote, they rescinded the previous legislature’s bipartisan mandate to switch to  a recountable voting system.  We vote on computers in this state, and there is no way to tell whether they are accurately recording voter preferences, but there are plenty of ways to hack the machines so that they inaccurately record those preferences–undetectably.

And what else are the Republicans doing with the power they are seizing from all-too-often clueless Democrats?

They seem to be doing their best to turn America into the kind of country George Orwell envisioned in “1984”:  a small, well-off, well guarded elite, a slightly larger class of desperate wannabes, and a vast, disempowered, ignorant sea of proles, kept in their place by Fundamentalist Christian Shari’a, in our case, rather than Orwell’s “love of Big Brother.”

The nature of this repression is brought to light in a recent Guardian/ Alternet story focused on a fifteen-year old Mississippi girl who is facing a life sentence for having a miscarriage.  Yes, you heard/read that right.  Her case, however, is only the tip of the misogynist iceberg:  Thirty-eight states have passed or are considering “fetal homicide” laws, which are billed as a protection against assaults on pregnant women–but in South Carolina, where such a law has actually been passed, only one man has even been charged, while three hundred pregnant women have been prosecuted, mostly for having had miscarriages and testing positive for illegal drugs, even though there is no scientifically demonstrable link between drug use and miscarriage.  Other states’ “fetal endangerment” laws  have resulted in pregnant women being charged with child abuse and sent to prison simply for testing positive for marijuana.   Is the mother or the prosecutor engaging in “reckless endangerment” here?  Is it not truly Orwellian when we criminalize body chemistry rather than behavior?

But the bullying isn’t just at the relatively impersonal, prosecutorial level.  In at least one case, in Wisconsin, there has allegedly been one-on-one physical abuse.  Newly elected Republican Supreme Court Justice David Prosser allegedly grabbed fellow Justice Ann Bradley, a Democrat, by the neck after she asked him to leave her office for referring to the Democrat Chief Justice of the Court, Shirley Abrahamson, as “a total bitch,”  and threatening to “destroy her.”  Is this not the language of abuse?   What is this abusive man doing on the Wisconsin Supreme Court?  Elected, no less?  This is a sad reflection on our country.

So, seeing the Republican and Democrat Parties as locked into abuser/enabler roles is not just a metaphor.  American politics are dangerously dysfunctional, and, short of the Green Party pulling off an electoral miracle in the next few cycles, likely to become even dumber and more deadlocked as we drift into the future.  The coup that was launched with the Supreme Court’s selection of Cheney and Bush as winners of the 2000 election will continue.   Republicans may succeed in their battle for complete control of the ship of state.  Congress can pass resolutions declaring that the roar of the waterfall ahead is merely a figment of Al Gore’s imagination, and continue to focus the power of the government on oppressing the people rather than saving the planet, but the reality is that the current is only going to get swifter, and the roar is only going to get louder, and sooner or later the American ship of state will lurch over the waterfall at the end of oil and empire, and crash onto the rocks below, dashing all the Republifascists’ control fantasies in the process.  They can’t say they weren’t warned.

music:  Grateful Dead, “Throwing Stones





IT TAKES THE LACK OF A VILLAGE TO RAISE A JARED LOUGHNER

12 02 2011

Well, I suppose I owe Sarah Palin and Bill O’Reilly and all those guys an apology.  When I first heard the news about Jared Loughner’s shooting spree, it seemed natural to blame the hysterical gaggle of right-wing rabble-rousers who have come to dominate our national discourse.  So, sorry, guys, for my knee-jerk reaction.  Jared is not one of yours.  In fact, it seems to me he could just as easily have shot John McCain.

After all, when you get beyond the blustering rhetoric,  tea partiers and neo-liberal Democrats are both part of the problem, not part of the solution, and I think Jared Loughner’s perception of the problem–the meaninglessness and irrelevance of government–was, in some ways, 20-20.  It’s his solution that was deeply flawed.  His “logic” was pretty schizophrenic, and violence? Violence, like mainstream politics, is part of the problem and not part of the solution.  But nobody was close enough to Jared to convince him of either the flaws in his logic or the futility of violence.

Several fingers have been pointed in the search for the answer to how this young man came to shoot 18 people.  Some say it means Arizona’s gun laws are too loose.  Some say it means the “mental health safety net” is stretched too thin.  And some say the fact that he smoked marijuana means that we need to tighten up our drug laws.  I think all of these miss the point.

Tighter gun laws?  As long as firearms are being manufactured, there will be a market for them.  If it becomes more difficult to buy guns legally, there will be a bigger black market, and they will be even more out of control than they are now.  Look at the war on drugs, for an example.

“Better mental health care” is another non-solution.  Mental health care in America has become largely a way for the pharmaceutical companies to sell more drugs and make more profits.  Judging by the record, hese pharmaceuticals don’t seem to be very effective in keeping people from going on shooting sprees, nor have so-called “mental health professionals” been able to spot those with the potential to run amok.

Jared’s use of marijuana, likewise, is no reason to tighten up marijuana laws.  After all, President Obama, ex-President Clinton, Al Gore, Newt Gingrich, and Clarence Thomas all used marijuana when they were more or less Jared’s age.  If marijuana helped make Jared what he is, it also helped make them what they are–for better or for worse.

But the mental health and marijuana issues do intertwine to point to how Jared Loughner ended up going off the deep end.

Jared and his entire generation are staring into the void.  There is no imaginable decent future for them, and many, many of them are painfully aware of that.  The American dream of a house in the suburbs, a plethora of consumer goods and high-end vacations, and a no-sweat job that pays the bills is increasingly hollow and unattainable.  The college education our youth are urged into as “preparation for life” is a debt trap, which cannot even be shed by bankruptcy.   Politicians, including Gabrielle Giffords, do not address this; they spout meaningless platitudes and dodge the real issues.  Jared is not alone in noticing this, by any means.

So, how does this relate to mental health and marijuana?

Several ways.  First, unless Jared was growing his own, he was getting his marijuana from a dealer.  If you are engaged in the illegal business of selling marijuana, in order to protect your own ass, you need to make sure that all your customers are sane and responsible enough that they will not get you in trouble.  Clearly, whoever was selling herb to Jared Loughner was being far too “whatever” about his customers.

The dealer’s responsibility to vouch for his customers’ state of mind is about the only shred of the wisdom tradition that is still attached to marijuana culture in this country.

You’re probably wondering what I mean by talking about “wisdom tradition” with reference to marijuana.  Here it is:  in cultures in which cannabis is historically embedded, marijuana use occurs in certain contexts.  In India, for example, many people only use cannabis when they are visiting their spiritual teacher, to make their minds more open to his influence.  However it is used, a tradition of thought, belief, and certain standards of behavior is passed on along with the chillum or hookah.

That is not the case in America.  Due to our restrictive, punitive drug laws and attitudes, parents and children hide their marijuana use from each other, and the wisdom chain is broken.  If Jared Loughner had lived in a culture with a better understanding of the proper use of marijuana, he would have been more likely to sort out his saner thoughts from his crazier ones, and learned not to believe everything he thinks, through the simple mechanism of long, marijuana-inspired talks with not just his peers, but his parents and other elders.

Of course, if he were in a saner culture, he wouldn’t share with most of his contemporaries the uncomfortable feeling of having nothing to grow up for.  It took the lack of a village to raise a Jared Loughner–and thousands more just like him, who have yet to bring themselves to our attention.

music: Tom Robinson, “End of the Rainbow” (written by Richard Thompson)





“TRANSITION NASHVILLE”–ORGANIZING FROM THE GROUND UP

11 12 2010

 

As Margaret Mead famously said,

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

The potluck didn’t happen due to the weather…a bit ironic to have a “transition” potluck cancelled because of extreme weather, eh?

This coming Monday, December 13, there will be a gathering of thoughtful, committed citizens, and you, dear reader, are invited.  The event will be a potluck dinner, so bring a dish or drink that is, or could be, grown or raised here in middle Tennessee.  Please note:  while I am a vegetarian, this is not necessarily a “vegetarian” event.  Cheese, eggs, turkey, beef, venison–if it’s your thing and it’s at least theoretically local, bring it.  Sorry, no pineapples, avocados, or tuna casseroles!  Catfish?  Of course!  Me, I’m bringing a bean dish.  I’ve seen truckloads of Tennessee-grown beans, and I ain’t just talking soy.

The dinner will take place from 6:30 pm until 9:00 pm at West Nashville United Methodist Church (4710 Charlotte Avenue), at the corner of 48th Avenue North and Charlotte Avenue.  Parking is across the street in front of Richland Library. Enter the Fellowship Hall next to McDonalds.  (McDonald’s! Oh, the irony!)

For more details, check out Transition Nashville’s meetup.com site, or the Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council’s meetup.com site.

Nashville is a big city, and I think that ultimately it will take a great many neighborhood transition councils to really change the way we do things around here, but I’m not gonna hold my breath waiting for a mass movement.  I’m just gonna do my best to get something started, and trust that we will inspire people who are more talented at community organizing and politicking than I am–and, believe me, that’s not a high bar to set–to take this idea and run with it.

As far as I can tell, one of my gifts, such as it is, seems to be an ability to grasp and communicate the big picture–so what follows is the big picture, past and future, of the transition movement.  To the extent that I can translate that into specific examples, I’ll give you those as well.

It was twenty years ago today, you could say, that Tennessee’s two prize Alberts, Bates and Gore, first struck up the band on the subject of human-caused climate change and imminent resource depletion. Bates’ book, Climate in Crisis, published in 1990 with a forward by Gore, attracted notice mostly in the counterculture, although Gore did give a copy of it to every member of Congress.  (It would be interesting to know how many actually read it!)  Gore’s book, Earth in the Balance, which came out a couple of years later, became the first book by a US Senator since John Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage to make the New York York Times Bestseller list.

Unfortunately, Gore’s early effort, like his follow-up, An Inconvenient Truth, failed to inspire a working majority of either the politicians or the people of America to get up and dance to his tune. The reasons for that are legion, but the bottom line is this: due to our collective failure to sufficiently change our ways, we are beginning to feel the effects of climate change, not to mention resource depletion, AKA “Peak Oil,”and for the rest of our lives, we will have to deal with an increasingly erratic but overall warmer climate, while at the same time  the financial and material options available to us to cope with this change will  narrow and diminish. Climate scientists have published reams of statistics and “big picture” predictions. What I am going to explore here is what that may mean for our daily lives.

Let’s start in the garden. It’s a good place to start, because we’re probably all going to be spending a lot more time there in the future.  Our winters are overall going to be milder, but with the ice off the Arctic Ocean, there will be an increased possibility of heavy snow and extreme cold waves. At first glance, it may seem counterintuitive that a warmer Arctic will make our winters colder, but here’s the reason:  open water evaporates more readily than ice, and so, if the Arctic Ocean isn’t frozen, it will generate stronger storms that will push further south and east.  We’re seeing that now in the cold weather that is striking here, as well as northern Europe.  Last summer, we were all hot and dry.  Russia’s wheat crop burned in the fields, remember?  First time ever.

Here in Tennessee, we are on the boundary between the “polar continental” climate region, where weather is driven by  that Arctic pattern I was just talking about,  and the Gulf region, where the weather is sub-tropical, generated by evaporation from the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, Pacific,and the South Atlantic Oceans.  As the planet heats up, they, too, are evaporating more, and all the water that goes up, comes down, in the form of tropical storms and hurricanes. Being on this boundary makes our weather in Tennessee especially difficult to predict, according to a NOAA meteorologist I once met.

This much is for certain: we can expect our summers to be hotter, with more erratic rainfall, and our winters, too, will be milder, but with more erratic cold snaps, like the one we’re currently riding out.  Hotter summers may shut down some traditional summer garden crops like tomatoes and peppers, which won’t set fruit if it’s too hot. We may find ourselves planting these as spring and fall crops. More tropical species like okra, black eyed peas, and sweet potatoes should continue to thrive. Did you know that sweet potato leaves can be cooked and eaten?  Overall warmer winters will make it easier to keep cool weather crops like spinach, kale, collards, and the many delicious types of oriental greens through the winter, especially with the aid of simple cold frames and hoop houses.

Our fruit tree menu may have to change somewhat. We are already near the southern boundary for successful apple growing, but pears, especially the oriental types, should continue to do well in Tennessee. Peaches, which bloom early, are likely to be even more chancy as our later winter/early spring weather becomes more erratic. Late freezes could be a problem for all perennial fruit crops. On the plus side, rabbiteye blueberries, which are native to north Florida, should continue to thrive, and if winter temperatures start to consistently stay above the 10 degree Fahrenheit mark, we will be able to add local  figs, oriental persimmons, jujubes, and pomegranates to our diet.  Yum!

More erratic weather patterns will not just be a hardship for local gardeners, however. As we saw in Russia and Pakistan last summer, entire countries may see their agriculture burned out or washed away. Here in America, we have not yet begun to feel the strain of food shortage, but I think that home gardeners would be wise to expand their production from “just” vegetables to staple crops—lots of winter squash, white and sweet potatoes, beans, and even grains. Field corn is fairly easy to grow, harvest, and grind. Diversifying your gardening efforts is probably the best way to insure that, whatever the weather, your garden will provide you with something to eat.

OK, that’s kind of “the good news.”  Let’s factor in a couple of other likelihoods:  a much-diminished economy, and increasing scarcity of oil-related products, which includes everything from gasoline to electronic devices to plastics and pharmaceuticals.

Our economy in this country is largely funded by money we borrow from China and the oil Sheikdoms of the Middle East.  They loan us money so we can keep buying oil and manufactured goods from them, but they are growing increasingly uncomfortable with this arrangement, and we may wake up one morning to find they have decided to quit financing the American way of life and world domination.  As I commented last month, even mainstream, middle-of-the road politicians like our Governor, Phil Bredesen, recognize this, although Bredesen and his interviewer didn’t explore its full significance.  Here’s my short take on it:

It all revolves around one simple statistic. We Americans, about 5% of the world’s population, consume about 25% of the world’s resources. That’s five times our fair share, and we are buying it on credit.  When we can no longer get that credit, the result will be an “adjustment”–a more equitable distribution of resources.  To be blunt,we will probably be (barely!) able to afford only our 5% fair share of the world’s resources.That’s an 80% reduction in the average American standard of living. If those to whom we owe money push hard to collect on our debts to them and take possession of chunks of our infrastructure, real estate, and remaining resources in lieu of cash payment, we will have even less.  For the wealthy few, it will not be so onerous, but for most of us it will be pretty severe, albeit hard to imagine from this side of the “adjustment.”

“The American Way of Life” will be over.  It has been sacrosanct, declared non-negotiable by every President since Ronald Reagan booted Jimmy Carter out for the cardinal sin of proposing to negotiate it.  (“The moral equivalent of war,” as Mr. Carter said.)  Oops….We have all but lost the war to maintain American hegemony.  It’s too late for negotiation, and it turns out the only alternative is unconditional surrender.

“Welcome to the third world, America!”

Ah, hubris…..must be time for a music break.

music:  Steve Earle, “Ashes to Ashes”

Okay, enough with the current situation already.  Looking in my crystal ball, what kind of future do I see?

I see that we are going to have to learn to get along better with each other, because we are likely to be living in larger groups and tighter quarters.  With less income and higher costs to heat and light houses, people will increasingly move in with friends and family because their only other option is homelessness. As Robert Frost wrote,

Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.”

We will have to re-learn co-operation, and not just to grow our gardens and feed our faces.  We will need to co-operate to create or obtain the goods we need for our every-day lives, because we won’t be able to buy Chinese goods from big-box stores any more.  We will need to co-operate to educate our children and each other–because a whole lot of us are going to have to learn a broad spectrum of new/old skills, the house-holding and homesteading skills we lost when our cultural norm became going out and working for money and buying things instead of staying home and making do.  And we will need to co-operate to take care of the ill and elderly, because hospitals  and “assisted living,” along with most other medical care, will be out of reach of all but the very wealthy.

The good news is, more of us will be born at home, and more of us will die at home, and more of us will attain the maturity that comes from familiarity with birth and death.  The bad news is, more of us will die earlier, from conditions that, currently, are rarely fatal.

We’re not going to have–and indeed, are already in the process of losing–universal access to private cars and the fuel, whether gasoline or electricity, to run them.  Cities and states will increasingly lose the ability to maintain public transportation, highways, sewers, water and gas lines, and police forces.   Warm weather and drought may curtail power plant operations–both nuclear and conventional electric generating stations require plenty of cool water to operate, and if they can’t get it,  your electric stove, your air conditioner, your lights, and your computer will become increasingly unreliable. My lights, computer, and electric stove and water heater won’t work either.  This troubles my sleep.

As I write these words, our government is watering down the value of our currency.  They call it “quantitative easing.”  This is just one of the things that is alienating the countries we borrow money from. If the U.S.’s credit rating and currency value drop much further, other countries will be able to outbid us for oil.   If our economy loses access to the level of oil we are dependent on, America will come undone so fast it will take your breath away.   Walking and bicycling will be increasingly important modes of transportation, but, to paraphrase Gary Snyder,  the most appropriate thing for most of us will be staying home as much as possible, making do with what’s at hand and enjoying the company of our house-mates and neighbors.

Have some more blueberries!

Boy, that neighbor kid sure can play the guitar!  He’s right proud of that guitar of his–weeded the woodworker’s garden all summer to pay it off.

First step in staying warm next winter–sharpen up the ax and the crosscut saw.

I’m gonna take this bundle of rags to the paper maker.  Sure am glad we’ve got a neighborhood mule to tote ’em for us.

Internet? Telephones?  The U.S. mail?  I remember when we used to  have those!  Man, we was living high on the hog in those days!

A pound of sugar?  Wow, how’d you come up with that?

I hope I haven’t scared you half to death with this little rant, but it should be nothing new to my regular listeners and readers.  “Transition” people are, understandably, a bit skittish about disclosing what it is we are transitioning into.  It was Chellis Glendinning who wrote about needing a twelve-step program to break peoples’ addiction to consumer culture.  One of the basic maxims of the twelve-step approach is “one day at a time,” and in this essay I have perhaps violated that precept.

Some may question what this kind of “doomerism”  has to do with politics in general or the Green Party in specific.  Here’s my response:

The Republicans and Democrats are completely unwilling to face these issues.  Somebody’s got to point out that not just the Emperor, but the Empire, has no clothes, and that dirty but necessary job has fallen by default to the Green Party.  Although we are still pretty much locked out of national or even state politics, we are slowly increasing our influence at the local level, which is where a great deal of what actually needs to happen to facilitate transition gets decided.

But you don’t have to sign up for the Green Party to join the Transition movement, which, among other things, involves a transition out of politics as we have always known it–along with the rest of the familiar, if deeply alienated, reality that we have become, however comfortably or uncomfortably, accustomed to.

One day at a time.  Today, all you “thoughtful, committed citizens” who can make it are invited to a potluck dinner.  That potluck dinner is Monday, December 13, at West Nashville United Methodist Church (4710 Charlotte Avenue), at the corner of 48th Avenue North and Charlotte Avenue.  Parking is across the street in front of Richland Library. Enter the Fellowship Hall next to McDonalds.   (Mc Donald’s–remember them?  They used to be everywhere.)

For more details, check out Transition Nashville’s meetup.com site, or the Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council’s meetup.com site.

If you can’t make our potluck, maybe you can get together with your friends and neighbors and start your own ball rolling.  That would be great.  It’s gonna take a lot of balls to pull off a smooth transition.  (Ladies, please don’t let my little joke put you off!)  There’s a lot of insight, skill, and vision in this city, and sharing them only increases their power.  It’s been twenty years since Al and Albert first raised a warning..  It’s time to let it grow.

music: The Beatles, “Sgt.Pepper>A Little Help From My Friends”





BEYOND PINE TREES AND CARBON TRADING

6 11 2008

Some of you may be aware of my involvement with The Green Living Journal, a quarterly publication that has, in the last year, created a niche for itself here in middle Tennessee.  I write articles for it (as I am a bit lazy, many of them have had their origins in stories I write for this show) and also edit stories that others have written.  I am the son of an English teacher and a newspaper reporter/editor/journalism professor, and this Pear (my peculiar middle name, my mother’s surname) has not fallen far from the family tree.

I don’t see every article before publication, though, and so one story in the most recent issue of the Journal really took me by surprise.  It was written by John Fenderson, who is “the Environmental Affairs/Public Outreach Coordinator for the Tennessee Division of Forestry,” according to the author blurb accompanying the article, which gave as his further bona fides that he has worked with GreenPeace, the Nature Conservancy, and the U.S. Forest Service.  Now, there is no question in my mind that Mr. Fenderson sincerely believes in what he wrote, or that he sincerely desires a greener, less polluted planet, but to me his article was an example of the kind of well-intentioned but overly limited thinking that will not get us out of the mess we have gotten ourselves into.

The article advocated a “cap and trade” system of carbon dioxide abatement, and pointed to “managed forests” as having the greatest potential for carbon sequestration.  The next page, which appeared to be a reprinted handout from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Division, made abundantly clear what the previous page had only hinted at:  “managed forests” are pine plantations, “managed” to produce “wood products”–pine lumber, chips, and pulp.  People, there is so much wrong with this picture that I hardly know where to begin.

Let’s start with a look at “cap and trade” as a system for limiting carbon emissions.  Mr. Fenderson uses this example:

“The federal government determines that there are too many people who are overweight (a public health problem) and imposes a mandatory limit of …..let’s say 175 pounds.  Therefore people who weigh 200 pounds are allowed to continue to weigh that much as long as they buy credits worth 25 lbs. which can be purchased from those who weigh less than 175 lbs. (e.g. if you weigh 150 lbs. you have 25 credits to sell).  The increased demand for these credits on an exchange,  due to a great number of people being overweight, increases the price of these credits.  At some point the individuals who are over the weight limit figure out that they can save money by changing some of their behaviors and coming into or closer to compliance.”

There a number of places where this analogy goes off the rails.  First of all, being overweight is a poor comparison because someone else’s weight problem does not directly affect my wellbeing, while an excess of carbon in the atmosphere does.  Moreover, what if the price of being fat got so low, or the short-term wealth to be derived from it got so high, that people preferred to buy credits and stay fat?

That is what has happened in Europe, where the “price” of carbon has tanked, making it relatively cheap for polluters to heat up the planet at the expense of future generations.  Fenders cites the Chicago Carbon Exchange as a good example in this country, but CCX‘s value has been questioned by a number of environmental groups. Many of the activities it accepts as payable carbon offsets are either things people would be doing anyway, such as landfills that burn off methane or big farmers who use herbicides and huge tractors to engage in no-till cultivation of genetically modified crops, or things of dubious utility in reducing CO2 output–such as paying landfills that burn off methane (when they could use it for cogeneration) or supporting big farmers who use herbicides and huge tractors…well, you get the picture.

Another weakness of carbon trading is that it is another market in which the wealthy trade money and become wealthier, unlike the solution preferred by many of the best minds who have studied the question, including Al Gore: a carbon tax on the big industries who produce it, balanced by tax reductions for individuals.  This is politically impossible in this country for just that reason:  it taxes the rich and benefits the rest of us.  Socialism, I believe Mr. McCain would call it.  Obama has not stuck his neck out that far, and I bet he won’t.

Thinking of forests as tree farms for producing lumber and paper is another faulty premise.  This connects directly to the housing and consumer goods bubble that has just burst, which hooks back to the faulty meta-premise that infinite growth is the only acceptable economic paradigm.  We are on a finite planet and there are limits, and we have surpassed them.  We are now beginning to pay the price.

Natural hardwood forests, not pine plantations, are the best carbon sinks, and bring the added benefits of greater biodiversity and water retention.  All the energy involved in big-scale commercial wood harvesting and processing, plus the years between harvest and the next generation of large trees, eat into the efficiency of pine plantations as carbon sinks.  And, as the demand for lumber and cardboard decreases, even the short-term economic benefits of pine plantations melt away.

Much of middle Tennessee has already been denuded and impoverished by the pine plantation mentality.  It’s time to recognize a broader reality than short-term gain and do what we can to recreate the lush, semitropical hardwood forest that was here when we got here, including reintroducing the American Chestnut.  Such a forest, now existing only in scattered, deer-ravaged remnants, will provide a rich repository of food, water, air, and raw materials to our descendants for many generations to come.  That’s the path to a steady-state planet.

music:  Bruce Cockburn, “If a Tree Falls in the Forest”








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