PAINTING OURSELVES INTO A CORNER

3 04 2016

American democracy has been functionally describable as “a two-party system” for most of our country’s history. There have been “third parties,” but they have rarely been successful at breaking into the mainstream. One exception is the Republican Party, which took advantage of the collapse of the former “second party,” the Whigs, to  become the other major party besides the Democrats, in the election of 1856, running bearded, long-haired John C. Fremont for President.

JCFrémont

John C. Fremont, the first Republican Presidential candidate–a long-haired guy with a beard.

They didn’t win that election, but went on to win in 1860 with Abe Lincoln, and kept that string going for most of the next seventy-two years, until Roosevelt routed Hoover in 1932.

Meanwhile, other parties kept hoping to do what the Republicans had done. The Populists and Socialists never got much traction; the Progressive Party, championed by Theodore Roosevelt and later Robert LaFollette, came closest. The Progressives were actually a spinoff from the Republicans, and succeeded in diverting enough Republican votes to allow the election of Woodrow Wilson, who first kept us out of, and then got us into, World War I. Hey, it was a good excuse for arresting radicals and labor organizers. It’s kind of amusing, in light of the current political landscape, to think of the Republicans as the progressive part of our political spectrum, but that is how they started out–taking the radical position that slavery should be limited and, ultimately, eradicated. I am sure that, when they endorsed this idea in 1856, they had no idea how soon it would come to pass. That should serve as an inspiration to all of us. Thank you, Republicans!

So, what has being a two-party system meant for the form and direction of politics in this country? Read the rest of this entry »





EDWARD SNOWDEN AND THE FARM

6 05 2014

deception_p48

(note: I have continued my research into this topic and published two other articles on the subject,  which you can find here and here. The second is the most complete. Also, this post was updated 1-15-16.)

I recently read one of Glenn Greenwald’s articles on Edward Snowden’s leaks.  The story was called “How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations.”  When I saw the diagram above, from a classified power point presentation created by NSA’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group, or JTRIG, I immediately thought of my old home, The Farm (an intentional community), because that diagram, to me, illustrated the dynamics that brought us together, and the dynamics that pulled us apart.  But this power point presentation wasn’t just about the natural history of groups.  It was about how to manipulate a group in order to destroy it.  The “Old Farm” existed in the days before the internet, but the tactics JTRIG recommended would work for any organization, not just virtual ones.

In the article, Greenwald said

Critically, the “targets” for this deceit and reputation-destruction extend far beyond the customary roster of normal spycraft: hostile nations and their leaders, military agencies, and intelligence services. In fact, the discussion of many of these techniques occurs in the context of using them in lieu of “traditional law enforcement” against people suspected (but not charged or convicted) of ordinary crimes or, more broadly still, “hacktivism”, meaning those who use online protest activity for political ends.

The title page of one of these documents reflects the agency’s own awareness that it is “pushing the boundaries” by using “cyber offensive” techniques against people who have nothing to do with terrorism or national security threats,….

….Whatever else is true, no government should be able to engage in these tactics: what justification is there for having government agencies target people – who have been charged with no crime – for reputation-destruction, infiltrate online political communities, and develop techniques for manipulating online discourse? But to allow those actions with no public knowledge or accountability is particularly unjustifiable.

Discovering that this strategy was encoded in the NSA’s playbook reminded me of a time, thirty years ago, when I first intuited that there might have been more to the Old Farm’s demise than met the eye. (“The Old Farm” is a term used by current and former residents of the community to refer to its earlier, communal phase.) Read the rest of this entry »





“REALISM” AND JILL STEIN

9 09 2012

Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala are running the strongest Green Presidential campaign  the party has yet seen.  While Ralph Nader, it’s true, had greater name recognition, Ralph’s personal style is not very “green.”  He is very much a my-way-or-the highway kind of guy, which sharply diverges from the Green value of grassroots democracy.  Stein and Honkala have incorporated Green values into their campaign organizing, generating an enthusiasm that has enabled them to raise sums of (noncorporate!) money far beyond what the Party has been able to summon up in previous elections, qualifying the Green Party for Federal matching funds, and even breaking into TV advertising.

Modern media maven that I am, I put  Jill’s pitches on my Facebook page, where, sure enough, one of them generated some pushback.   A long time friend, whom I appreciate for his thoughtful approach to life, wrote:

“Your protest and donation vote will accomplish what?…..If there’s no one who you like who can win, why not give your dough to some person who is starving or has a life threatening issue or something like that….don’t you think it would have more direct impact….everyone can spin an exciting story if they don’t have to execute the vision….the only difference between a hallucination and an inspiration is the execution.”

To which I replied:

“Why not give your dough to some person who is starving”?  Because I’d rather get ahead of the game and end the conditions that allow people to go hungry.  “….or has a life threatening issue”…..the Republican and Democrat programs are life threatening, endangering all life on the planet for the sake of short-term corporate profit.  Greens have “executed our vision” in numerous governments around the world, generally with positive and popular effects.

As Michael Lerner said, “Realism has been defined by the powerful and the media they control to mean any policy that does not significantly challenge the current distribution of power and wealth. So I say, “Don’t be realistic.” The God revealed to the Jewish people is a God that makes it possible to overcome systems of power and domination, starting with the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. All people, who are created in God’s image, can aspire to transcend the constant voices from outside and from inside our own heads that insist we accommodate ourselves to the existing reality rather than change it.”

So, friend, why are you such an apologist for the sorry state of the status quo?

I could also have thrown in Dom Helder Camara’s well-known bon mot, “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.”  Or, in this post-communist era, “they tell me I’m being ‘unrealistic’.”

Let’s talk about this “be realistic” thing a little.  Read the rest of this entry »





MEDDLING IN THE AFFAIRS OF DRAGONS

9 09 2012

People are starting to notice that the weather is getting weird.  It’s drier than it’s ever been, it’s wetter than it’s ever been, it’s hotter than it’s ever been, and here and there it’s still getting colder than it’s ever been, or at least snowing, more than it ever has.  I’ll explain that in a moment.

The most ominous changes are taking place where few of us witness them–in the Arctic Ocean and the thinly inhabited, long-frozen lands surrounding it.  This year, the Arctic ice shelf has shrunk more than it ever has before, even before it reaches its maximum shrinkage point in mid-September.  The dark, open Arctic Ocean is absorbing more heat than it has in millenia, warming the Arctic still further.  Just a few years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change thought the Arctic might be ice-free in the summer by the end of this century.  Now it’s looking more like that historic event will happen by the end of this decade.

The arctic’s warming is a strong driver for our freakier weather.  The one characteristic that unites all the different modes–rain, drought, heat, cold–is that they are moving much more slowly than we are used to seeing weather move.  Tropical Storm Beryl lingered for days over Florida.  Hurricane Isaac inched its way through Louisiana and up the Mississippi Valley. Super-hot temperatures roasted the Western and Central U.S. for weeks without relief.

The driver, or lack of one, in all these cases is the diminishing temperature difference between the Arctic and the rest of the planet.  Here’s how George Monbiot describes this new weather pattern:

The north polar jet stream is an air current several hundred kilometres wide, travelling eastwards around the hemisphere. It functions as a barrier, separating the cold, wet weather to the north from the warmer, drier weather to the south. Many of the variations in our weather are caused by great travelling meanders – or Rossby waves – in the jet stream.

Arctic heating,… both slows the Rossby waves and makes them steeper and wider. Instead of moving on rapidly, the weather gets stuck. Regions to the south of the stalled meander wait for weeks or months for rain; regions to the north (or underneath it) wait for weeks or months for a break from the rain. Instead of a benign succession of sunshine and showers, we get droughts or floods. During the winter a slow, steep meander can connect us directly to the polar weather, dragging severe ice and snow far to the south of its usual range. This mechanism goes a long way towards explaining the shift to sustained – and therefore extreme – weather patterns around the northern hemisphere.

And how are our governments and the businesses that drive them responding to this alarm bell?  They are treating the retreat of the ice as if it were the opening of a treasure trove, and rushing in after the quantities of fish and fossil fuels that now lie exposed for exploitation.  Their only concern seems to be how many fish they can catch before oil spills decimate the piscene population.  They seem heedless of, the possibility of waking the fire-breathing dragon who guards this hoard.

For not all the fossil fuels coming to the surface in the Arctic are under human control. as Albert Bates reports.   As the North Polar region of our planet warms and melts, enormous quantities of methane are starting to seep to the surface, and the amount of methane entering the atmosphere is, apparently, snowballing, so to speak.  A decade ago, the typical methane seep was perhaps a few meters across; now areas as big as a kilometer in diameter are commonplace, both on land and at sea.  The average methane level of the Arctic atmosphere is the highest it has been in 400,000 years.  Four hundred thousand years ago is about when humans first started making our own fires.  This is not exactly a digression–we may be about to ignite much, much bigger fires. 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





U.S. GOVERNMENT DROWNED IN BATHTUB!

13 08 2011

Nashville’s municipal elections are over, and to nobody’s surprise, there were few surprises.  All incumbents save one were handily re-elected,including Jason Holleman,  and the measure to obstruct sale of the Fairgrounds to a private developer was passed by a truly impressive margin.  There will be five runoff elections in September, with participation likely to be even lower than the 20% turnout for this election.  May I point out that instant runoff voting,” a system in which people get to indicate a second choice as well as a first, ends the expense and bother of delayed runoff elections?  Just sayin’, as they say.

The one incumbent who failed to make the cut was Anna Page, a fairgrounds privatization advocate whose district just happens to include the fairgrounds.  She lost by twelve votes to Tony Tenpenny, who opposed redeveloping the fairgrounds but is, alas, a political conservative.  It’s funny how people can be in touch with reality in some ways, and out of touch in others–and I’m sure there are people who say that about me–or worse.  But….losing by only twelve votes.  Think about that.  I’m sure Ms. Page is.

I actually voted against the Fairgrounds amendment, but only because it seemed to require that auto racing continue at the Fairgrounds. I view automobile racing as one of the many modern equivalents of gladiator sports, as well as a prodigious waste of precious fossil fuels and a nasty source of pollution, so, while I was in sympathy with the overall aim of the preservationists, I couldn’t see voting for something that dumb.  But I don’t mind a bit that the measure passed.  The will of the people–to keep public property public–prevailed, at least in this case.

Nationally, we were not so lucky.  In spite of overwhelming popular sentiment for higher taxes on both wealthy corporations and wealthy real people, and growing questions about the wisdom of massive military spending, the debt ceiling deal our so-called government agreed to is a complete reverse-Robin Hood measure that shifts even more of this country’s dwindling wealth from the poor and middle class to the obscenely wealthy.

Grover Norquist is famous for saying he wants to “shrink the government down to the point where we can drown it in the bathtub.”  Well, folks, that’s what happened, and we didn’t even have to elect a Republican President to do it.  Mr. Hope and Change wrung his hands and tsk-tsked, but ultimately did nothing to stop it, like an abused wife who doesn’t like it when her husband beats the kids, but isn’t going to call the police on him.  After all, he says he’s sorry and gives the kids candy, doesn’t he?

In fact, you might be excused for thinking that Obama, deep down, wouldn’t mind getting rid of that pesky kid known as “government spending for the public good.”  Not so long ago, he appointed a commission to review Social Security and Medicare, and even his supporters complained that it seemed strangely stacked against our country’s already tattered social safety net.

But, before we get into the messy details, let’s back up and remember that Democrats and Republicans unquestioningly raised the debt ceiling for the Cheney/Bush junta seven times during the eight years of the junta’s rule, nearly doubling US debt–which stood at just under $6 trillion when Bill Clinton left office, and had ballooned to $11.3T by the time Cheney left office.  And did the Republicans insist on “fiscal responsibility” in exchange for those raises?

No.  Cheney cut taxes (mostly on the wealthy) twice, floated an unfunded, enormously expensive subsidy to the prescription drug industry disguised as a way to help Medicare recipients buy the drugs they are told they need, and burned nearly a trillion dollars in the bonfires called Iraq and Afghanistan, fires that the Obama administration has cheerfully continued to feed with our tax dollars and loans from the Chinese.

The Nobel Committee must be wondering if they can revoke a Nobel Peace Prize.

I digress–like every other real solution to America’s problems, ending our spending on foreign military adventures is “off the table.”

Back to the debt ceiling/budget cuts question–the point is, that it was completely disingenuous, if not outright hypocritical, of the Republicans to suddenly stand up for “fiscal responsibility” around the issue of raising the debt ceiling.  It has never been tied to budget cuts before–and we’re talking 74 raises in the debt ceiling since 1962–that’s quite a precedent, so it’s no wonder  many of Obama’s liberal supporters were flabbergasted when he failed to challenge the Republicans on this, and instead played right into their hands.  You start to suspect he’s secretly one of them.

Look at his record.  He didn’t prosecute anybody on Wall Street for the crash–in fact, the Wall Street firms that triggered the crash are among his strongest supporters, and their executives became his closest advisers.  By contrast,  when the Savings and Loan bubble burst twenty years ago, thousands of bankers went to jail, over a financial peccadillo that was a fraction the size of the 2008 mess–$160 billion for the S&L’s,  $7.7 trillion for the subprime bubble.  Do the math–the 2008 crash was 48 times bigger than the S&L crash, and nobody went to jail.   Can’t say the bankers didn’t learn a thing or two in twenty years!  To cap it off, not only did Obama continue Bush’s policy of bailouts for the Wall Street firms who milked the economy, his program to help individuals who were losing their homes because they had been suckered into unrepayable mortgages turned out to be a useless piece of window dressing.

There’s the war crimes issue.  Obama not only took a pass on prosecuting Bush officials for atrocities they were clearly responsible for under international law, he continued and expanded those policies, including the assassination of American citizens who might be terrorists–but only ones who are out of the country, so far, so far as we know-.  What part of “innocent until proven guilty” and “right to a fair trial” does our government not understand?

When Bradley Manning tried to blow the whistle on our government’s criminal behavior, the Obama administration just put him in jail and tortured him.   Trial?  Manana.  What part of “a right to a speedy trial” does our government not understand?   And of course, Manning is only one of many who have been persecuted by this “hope and change” guy for the thoughtcrime of hoping to change questionable government behavior.

But it’s not like Obama has changed.  In one of his first Senate speeches, on the question of whether to investigate voting irregularities in Ohio that cost John Kerry the election, Obama asserted that he believed Bush had won the election fair and square and there was no need for the Senate to look into the matter, thus stiffing the Congressional Black Caucus.  That should have been enough to sink him right there, but no……

Obama wasted no time in putting GMO-pusher Monsatan–excuse me, Monsanto–in charge of the nation’s food supply by appointing Monsanto shill Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture.  Again, a totally Republican move–let the corporations run the government–“what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”  Right.  But gee, Michelle has an organic garden at the White House–say it again, boys and girls:  “Window dressing.”

Our increasingly erratic climate is another crucial issue on which Obama’s approach has been to continue Republican policy, but with a kinder, gentler spin.  In spite of the Deepwater Horizon mess, his administration has approved the even more dangerous step of offshore drilling north of Alaska. In spite of Fukushima (not to mention Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island!), he remains committed to serious expansion of nuclear power.  After acting like he was going to slow down coal mining, which every responsible environmental scientist agrees needs to happen to keep the planet from going completely haywire, his administration has kept on approving mountain top removal mining, just like Bush (and Clinton) before him.  At Copenhagen, according to Albert Bates, who was there, Obama sabotaged the possibility of a real agreement and spun it like he had accomplished something.  This stands in sharp contrast to the Cheney-Bush approach, of course–they just sneered and hoisted the bird.  Some people loved it and some people hated it–but you know, the same is true of the public’s reaction to Obama–it’s just that the demographics of the lovers and haters has flipped.

It’s ironic–Obama is giving the Republicans everything they want, but can’t get when they’re in power.  Well, OK, abortion is still relatively legal and they said they weren’t going to defend the Defense of (Heterosexual-exclusive) Marriage Act–but ultimately, that’s just more window-dressing–and besides, they’re deporting  an Australian man who’s legally married to another man and citing DOMA as the reason.  Oh gee, they’ve declared that health insurance has to cover women’s’ birth control?  Great, if you can afford insurance–and, by the way, another subsidy for the pill-pushers.

Let’s take a music break–here’s a little James McMurtry for ya…a song called “God Bless America.”

So, the Republicans are on a roll.  They’re going to make sure that we don’t levy any taxes on wealthy Americans, whom they have renamed “job creators,” even though these so-called “job creators” haven’t created any jobs to speak of, lately, and in fact have been abolishing every American job they can possibly outsource for the last twenty-five years.  Rich people are “job creators”?  Can you say “big lie,” boys and girls?  How about “doublespeak”?

And reducing the debt by reducing taxes is another kind of double speak–the rate at which the government taxes the wealthy and big corporations has effectively declined by two-thirds over the last fifty years. Instead of raising money from taxation, the government generates income by selling treasury bonds, often to the rich people it used to tax.  This has the effect of reversing the cash flow–instead of corporate/high earner taxes going to help fund government operations, taxes from the middle class go to pay off the government’s debt to the wealthy.  In other words,cutting taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans drives the government deeper into debt–debt that will have to be paid off by the middle class, under the tax regime that has been imposed on us.

The Republicans have made it clear, and the Obama administration has pretty much agreed, that cuts to the military portion of our budget–which is about half of it–are off the table.  But, somehow, in spite of the fact that it’s supposed to be funded independently of the main part of the government’s budget, Social Security is on the table.  Services offered by Medicare and Medicaid are likely to be cut–without any attempt to limit the profits of the pharmaceutical and illness care industries, even though that’s a major factor in increased medical costs.  The Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Education, and all Health and Human Services programs will likely be given a serious trimming.  Bottom line:  if you’re poor or middle class, and need help, there’s going to be a lot less help available–medically, educationally, and environmentally.

I have often been, and continue to be, sharply critical of the conduct of many of these government agencies.  They tend to be corporate-friendly, heavy-handed, and resistant to radical innovation–but they need to be reformed, not abolished or hamstrung.  Simply shutting them down will result in a tidal wave of corporate abuse of the environment, shoddy treatment of American citizens–the latest food contamination news is that Cargill has had to recall 36 million pounds of ground turkey, while the FDA was busy sending in armed storm troopers to arrest the head of a small raw-food co-op whose products hadn’t made anyone sick.  In a better world, it would be the head of Cargill who was getting perp-walked, and those who wish to produce or drink raw milk would be free to do so without fear of arrest.  And, of course, in an even better world, there would be no Cargill and we would all live within a few miles of a producing dairy cow and some free-range turkeys.  But we’re not there yet.  I hope I live to see the day!

That last paragraph reminds me of one of my pet peeves–the fact that Americans are far more often referred to as “consumers” than as “citizens.”  We need to change that meme.  “Consumers” implies a level of passivity–a “consumer” brings to mind the image of an overgrown baby suckling at a corporate bottle.  (Corporate persons do not have teats, after all!) and periodically needing to have its poop taken care of.  “Citizens,” on the other hand, participate actively in civic life, take care of their own poop and take care not to take any poop from the government OR private industry.  I would have a lot less problem with the Tea Party if they were as hard on corporations as they are on the government.  But, at this point, the Tea Party is a puppet of corporations who want to use populist outrage to smash the only thing standing in the way of corporate domination of America.  Barack Obama, alas, is not enough of a David to stand up to this Goliath.

And that gets us back to–what can we do about the orgy of destruction that the Republicans and their Democrat enablers have unleashed on the country?  One thing we can do is to challenge it, every step of the way–politically, legally, and by where we spend our money and how we spend our time.

Politically, there has been a noticeable uptick in interest in the Green Party, as the illusion of difference between Democrats and Republicans becomes plainer to more people.  Legally, the situation is somewhat daunting, due to Democratic complicity in the Republicans’ appointment of outright fascists to the courts and the Republicans’ unhesitating blockage of any even slightly-liberal-leaning Democrats to those positions, but some legal redress of grievances is still possible.

We need to remember the example of Vaclav Havel, who started out as a beatnik-hippie poet, courageously defending his right to own Velvet Underground records and publish weird poetry against the Monolithic, All-Powerful, Communist State, and, who, over the course of twenty years, sparked a revolutionary change in the outlook of the people of the former Communist bloc that ultimately toppled a once-monolithic, all-powerful state.  If they could do it, so can we.

At the personal level, the level of our own time and our own money, it’s important to cultivate skills of self-reliance, to simplify our lives, and help our friends do the same.  Everybody has different innate talents and developed skills, and, just as “it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a couple of hundred real, live, fully-present people to make a village.  That looks to me like where we’re headed.  I’m not sure how we’ll get there.  But that’s what makes life interesting, isn’t it?

music:  Velvet Underground, “White Light/White Heat”





THE MYTH–AND THE REALITY–OF “RECOVERY”

19 06 2011

Our government continues to cheerlead for “recovery.”  No, not twelve-step recovery, which would be wonderful, but the kind of recovery an alcoholic has when he is over his last binge and is cruising for the right  opportunity to start the next one.

The administration, and its “loyal opposition” agree that Americans need to start spending money on consumer goods again, need to start buying houses again.  Uh…what is wrong with this picture?

Well, to begin with, all the so-called “economic growth” of the last thirty years has been fueled by debt.  “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go,” runs the old joke, but now there’s a problem–there’s no work to go to, for an increasing number of people, and, with the housing market in the toilet, people can no longer borrow against their home equity for spending money.  Besides, more and more people are coming to the realization that they already have more useless junk than they know what to do with.  It’s not for nothing that the you-store-it biz has mushroomed right along with consumer debt, which peaked at about 2.5 trillion dollars as the economy maxed out in 2008, but is still well above the two trillion mark.  If you’ve got more stuff than you can fit in your home, what do you need more stuff for?

The other big hope for being able to renew our societal binge, er, “recovery,” is “increased housing starts.”   I have news for you.  “Increased housing starts” is the moral equivalent of “another line of cocaine” or “another fifth of whiskey” or “another pack of cigarettes.”  It may help our country feel better in the short-term, but in the long-term, it’s a renewed commitment to stumbling down the road to ruin.   Building more houses would likely mean urbanizing more rural land, which would require our financially shaky cities to somehow raise more money to build more infrastructure, and would definitely mean cutting down more trees to make more lumber, using more oil to make more asphalt shingles and more vinyl siding,  burning more oil to build more roads and more power lines and more fossil-fuel powered electric generating capacity–all the things we don’t need to be doing more of if we intend to reduce our species’ carbon footprint and keep the only life-supporting planet we know of habitable.

And, of course, there’s the little practical consideration that there are already  18.4 million houses sitting empty in America– three-quarters of them for rent, for sale, foreclosed, or simply abandoned.  The other quarter are “second homes” where the wealthy go for their vacations.   it’s still a lot of inventory–over five vacant dwellings for every homeless man, woman and child in the country–but, I digress..  The housing market is swamped,  credit is still tight, and home prices are still in free fall, so building subdivisions on spec like we did in the good ol’ days is a financially indefensible move.  Sometimes our state religion of radical fundamentalist materialist economics does make sense. Sometimes, but not often, and certainly not in a timely fashion.  We should have figured this out sixty or seventy years ago.  We wouldn’t be in nearly the mess we’re in now if we had…but, again, I digress.

Back to our topic–OK, next, let’s not talk about military spending—hey, neither the Democrats nor Republicans will, in any meaningful way–they know who’s got ’em by the short hairs.  Believe you me, our political duopoly will pull the plug on every social and environmental program they can  slash before they cut military spending, even though that’s what’s really driving this country into bankruptcy.

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” boys and girls!

So, as I said, when our government talks about “recovery,” what they really mean is “another binge.”  What would a genuine, 12-step style recovery be, on a national level?

Let’s look at the “twelve step program” and see what we can figure out.

  • Step 1We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable
  • Step 2Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
  • Step 3Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God
  • Step 4Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves

Hmm….don’t see much of this happening.  Most of the people who are even willing to talk about God or “a power greater than ourselves” seem to believe He (most emphatically He, in their cases) is somehow on our side and wants us to binge.

The “Transition” movement is the best place to find a collection of people who have at least begun to realize that “Western Civilization” as we have known it all our lives is an unsustainable 200-year fossil-fuel fueled binge that is about to be over, whether we like it or not, whether we are ready to quit or not, and that our future options range from gracefully continuing the best elements of human culture in much more materially sparse conditions, at best, to being grumpy, sociopathic, fascistic, impoverished “dry drunks” somewhere in the middle, to complete extinction of all higher life forms on the planet due to unbridled human hubris, at worst.

It is interesting to note that those champions of “God wants us to keep on binging,” the Tea Partiers, have lately turned their sights on the Transition movement.   It’s hard to predict what will come of that collision.  The Transition movement genuinely embodies the Tea Party’s ostensible ideals of local control, self-empowerment, neighborhood interdependence, and participatory democracy, while the corporate-controlled Tea Party uses these ideals as a cover for a movement that seeks to rationalize complete personal and corporate self-indulgence and a shocking neglect of the effect such behavior will have on future generations–these people talk about “right to life” and “protecting the unborn”?  They have some nerve!   Once again, I digress…

Meanwhile, it seems to me that a lot of people in the Transition movement–and “a lot” is a very relative term, since in my opinion there are far too few people in it overall–anyway, a lot of Transitioners haven’t grasped the importance of the spiritual dimension of Transition.  They see it as a technological, social, political problem, not as an addiction that we in the movement are, as individual egos, fairly powerless to combat in ourselves, let alone others, until we align with a deeper, more pervasive and universal energy and intelligence (which IS how I understand the word “God,”at least in this context), and create, in ourselves, a “turning about in the deepest seat of consciousness” that alters “who” we are, and how we express our identities, values, and goals.  Intellect alone simply cannot do this.

So, a lot less Bible-banging and a lot more internal inquiry are what is called for.  Next?

Step 4– A searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”

Whew….I could write a book!

Let’s start with A fairly well-known statistic:  that the US, which is 5% of the world’s population, consumes 25% of its resources.  Now, follow me while I do a little math with you.   The richest 20% of Americans actually consume 85% of that 25%, meaning that 1% of the world’s population, the richest Americans, are consuming about 21% of the world’s resources, while those of us in the bottom 80% of the US wealth profile, who constitute 4% of the world’s population, are consuming…about 4% of the world’s resources.

In other words, those who are taking five times their fair share of the world’s resources are leading the charge to cut social services, environmental protections, and limits on the ability of the wealthy to unscrupulously become even wealthier, all the while chanting the mantra of “job creation”–I guess that means so they’ll hire more servants if we’re willing to work for a pittance?  In addition to opposing any kind of income redistribution, many wealthy, conservative Americans are also fighting tooth and nail to prevent action on climate change.  They are determined to hang on to their unfair share, and believe they have the resources to pull through whatever the future may bring, and to hell with the rest of us.  “Class warfare”?  You bet!

The pity of it is, that even though most of us are technically not consuming more than our fair share of the economic pie, there is more pie being served now than will be available in the future, as we run up against one resource depletion after another.  Peak oil is just the tip of the iceberg.   Think peak coal, peak uranium, peak phosphorus, peak water,  not to mention peak money, which means that all those cool high-tech solutions to the world’s environmental problems will be increasingly difficult to finance.  World wealth, at least in material terms, has nowhere to go but down.  Going with that flow would be much easier than fighting it, but American President after American President has proclaimed more or less what Barack Obama reiterated in his inaugural address:

“We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense.”

Sorry, folks, this is not “a change I can believe in.”  It’s not a change, and it’s certainly not “a searching and fearless moral inventory” of our American self.

And then there’s the way we have secured that unfair share for the American elite.  The US government maintains somewhere between 700 and a thousand military bases overseas, depending on how you count them.  The US accounts for over 40% of world military spending all by itself, and has intervened militarily in the affairs of other countries over a hundred and thirty times in the last century or so, to keep oil and other things flowing “our” way.

We recently had the bizarre spectacle of outgoing U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates calling for other countries to increase their military spending.  To continue with our 12-step analogy, this is like a mean drunk saying he’s being mean because nobody else has the nerve and somebody has to do it, and that everybody he knows would be better off if they were meaner and drank more, yadda yadda.  Military spending is the problem, not the solution.   If we weren’t so hellbent on military protection, we could fix the planet up nice enough so that nobody would have anything to fight over, and it would be cheaper than maintaining standing armies.

So much for “a fearless moral inventory.”

Wow, eight steps to go–let’s take a musical break.

Greg Brown:  “Poor Backslider

OK, next in the 12 steps:

  • Step 5Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
  • Step 6Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
  • Step 7Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings

Gee….I’m not sure if the distance between this  and our country/most of its inhabitants is best measured in miles, astronomical units, or light years.  Still, it happened to Paul on the road to Damascus (although, from my point of view as an amateur Bible scholar, his was a less than complete transformation that has warped the Christian Church ever since–but again, I digress).

Now, once upon a time, one of America’s leading psychologists started doing research into how to produce “aha” moments in people–those critical junctures in our growth when we have the openness and insight to go through “admitting the exact nature of our wrongs,”  feel “ready to have those defects removed by a power greater than ourselves,” and “ask to have those defects removed.”  The researcher found a system that seemed to work pretty reliably, and one of his associates shared it with “Bill Wilson,” the founder of the 12-step program, who tried it out and emphatically agreed with him.

Our government’s response to this research was to demonize and jail the principal researchers and do everything it could to suppress the research and make sure it was never applied to large numbers of people, an effort that has been strongly resisted by those aware of the society-changing potential of this research, but that has, at least at this point in time, ended in a victory for the government and the unstable, unsustainable status quo.  Can you say “United States of Denial,” boys and girls?

The researcher, in case you’re unfamiliar with this bit of American history, was Timothy Leary, his associate was Aldous Huxley, and the technique, of course, was conscious reprogramming through the use of psychedelics, which the government has spared no effort to suppress.  It’s not for nothing that the DEA’s in-house publication is called “The Microgram.”  There’s plenty of coke, speed, and narcotics around, but good luck finding psychedelics–that’s been their only real victory in the “war on some drugs.”

So, somehow, without the kind of chemical assistance that was available from the 60’s through the 90’s, , a whole lot of Americans, enough to be an effective political force, are going to have to realize–as in, “have it become part of their reality”–that this country, its society  and its economy, are on the wrong track, and, as the next 4 steps declare,

  • Step 8Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all
  • Step 9Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
  • Step 10Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
  • Step 11Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out
  • Step 12Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs

OK,”Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all

Wow, that’s quite a list–from the inhabitants of the Maldives, whose home is being overwhelmed by the ocean because of our carbon emissions, to the working people of Mexico and the U.S., whose livelihoods have been destroyed by so-called “Free Trade” treaties like NAFTA, to the people of China, who live in virtual slavery to produce cheap consumer goods for us, to the whole web of life in the Amazonian and African rain forests, which are being torn asunder to put beef on the fancy tropical wood  tables of white people, to our depopulated and acidified oceans–and on, and on, including ourselves, who have been spiritually impoverished by our predilection for short-term material wealth and comfort at the expense of the long-term health of the planet and all its inhabitants, from the simplest microbe to the wisest and most complex first people, who lived for eons in harmony with the planet we are now on the brink of destroying.

“Making amends”–just what would that entail?

Where to begin?  I’m going to have to free-associate, so what you are about to hear/read is in no particular order.

We need to stop mining and burning coal.  Tomorrow.  Yesterday, even, if that were possible.

We need to quit all the operations that turn tar into oil.  I love you, Hugo Chavez, but you are doing good things with bad money.  Stephen Harper, I think you’re a creep, you deserve a trial and a chance to prove you are not a corrupt, selfish sonovagun who should be stripped of your wealth, and whose supporters should be stripped of their wealth, and driven from the halls of power with bull whips.  Well, maybe cream pies.  Shaving cream pies.

We need to cut our oil production way back–say, assume that known reserves that can be accessed without undue ecological stress need to last about five hundred to a thousand years, cut production to that level, and prioritize oil use accordingly.

We need to quit “fracking” for natural gas.  If it escapes from the ground without much assistance, that’s wonderful, but, as with oil, we need to cut back on production to make sure it lasts.  Besides, clean water will get you through times of no natural gas much better than natural gas will get you through times of no clean water. Fracking is a way to create hell on earth–have fun drinking your flammable water!

This obviously means massive changes in the way we in the First World live our lives.  That’s OK, there’s nothing on TV anyway, it’s more fun to entertain yourself and your friends than it is to stand in awe of the latest pop star or unreality show., and doing the genuine physical labor involved in basic human activities is better for you than trying to make time to go to the gym or jog.

We need to do a combination of disbanding and redirecting our military personnel and expenditures so that the troops are doing positive things, like assisting in environmental remediation efforts around the world.  Such money as we can genuinely afford to spend without borrowing from the Saudis and Chinese should likewise be invested in environmental remediation.  Believe me, the investment will pay off like no other.

We need to plant a lot of trees, and otherwise reorient ourselves towards basic, local agriculture and commerce.  I’m going to talk about this a more in the next segment of the show, a review of Albert Bates’ new book, “The Biochar Solution,”  so I will skip over it lightly for now.  Let’s get back to the attitude stuff.  It’s more basic than the technique, because without a change in attitude, the technique is useless.

We need to “Continue… to take personal inventory and when we (are) wrong promptly admit.. it”  because old habits die hard…they like to find new ways to express themselves.  As His Holiness the Dalai Lama has observed, change is rarely a sudden, sharp turn–it’s more like a curve on a railroad track, where you barely seem to be changing direction at any given time, but after a while you realize you are going North instead of South.  That is a good thing.  We don’t need to “go South” any further than we have already gone.

That’s not an excuse for foot-dragging, though.  It’s vitally important that we start walking the walk and talking the talk as soon as we possibly can, never mind if OUR mind is thinking the thought.  The mind is a drunken monkey–you just have to not believe everything you think.

“What’s with all this woo-woo about prayer and meditation and conscious contact with ‘God’ and “praying to know God’s will” and ‘spiritual awakening’?  I thought this show was about politics, and here you are getting all New-Agey on me.  Whassup?”

The Green Party is, at its very best, a party of those who have had a “spiritual awakening” and felt called to translate it into politics. We went up on the mountain and experienced something almost unspeakably profound, and part of that exsperience was a directive to come down off the mountain and into the world, without forgetting what we had seen, and live our vision in the world.

As I have detailed before, our party’s lineage springs from environmental and social movements, such as bioregionalism, the anti-nuclear movement, and the movement for participatory democracy, all of which, ultimately, had their genesis in the spiritual awakening that Messrs. Huxley and Leary attempted to bring about, and that has been so thoroughly distorted and stifled by our government and its supportive corporatocracy ever since  They need ants, not self-realized, autonomous individuals who look within for direction rather than submit unquestioningly to authority.  We are not talking about going to the mega-church and having a wealthy, oily voiced pastor tell us what the Koch brothers want us to think and live and how they want us to vote.  We are more along Quaker lines in this movement, calling for everyone to contact the highest wisdom they can find in their own hearts, and then join with others who do the same, and conduct a truly free, unprejudiced inquiry into what the highest truth and wisest course of action might be  There is no workable solution that can be imposed on the unwilling by a slim majority.  Daunting as this challenge may seem, I believe it’s possible.  The alternatives are unthinkable.

music:  Roseanne Cash, “I Want a Cure





FIRST, A COUPLE OF QUICKIES….

7 05 2011

First, I am pleased to report to you that North America has elected its first Green Party candidate to national office.  Elizabeth May, head of the Green Party of Canada, won election to a parliamentary seat in British Columbia, in a watershed election that also saw the New Democratic Party of Canada supplant the Liberal Party as the country’s chief opposition party.  The NDP is nowhere near as radical as the Greens, but it’s overall good news nonetheless, like having the Feingold/Kucinich wing of the Democratic Party separate out and beat the Democratic Leadership Council corporate whores who threw Ralph Nader under the bus and have been running the Democratic Party–into the ground–since Jimmy Carter’s day.  It’s worth noting that the first time she ran for federal office, Ms. May received just 272 votes. Goes to show, you can get there from here.

The bad news in this election is that Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, which considers global warming and attempts to curb it “a socialist plot” has gained a working majority of seats in the Canadian Parliament for the first time and will thus have a free hand to destroy the environment and social fabric of Canada for the next four years.  Good news is, it will give Ms. May–and the NDP–plenty of material for stirring speeches.  Good luck to our northern neighbors–looks like you may need it!

Also, Friday night I found myself once again joining a group of my fellow barbarians in a sumptuous Roman villa, far out in the country, this one not a hunting lodge but a repurposed McMansion, now the headquarters of a nascent community calling itself “The Temple of Wisdom, Truth and Fun.”    Unlike last month’s Beltane/full moon blowout, the occasion was not a wild celebration of the rites of Spring, but a somewhat solemn convocation to view Albert Bates‘ new presentation on the subject of “Coolenomics”–how to change our economy’s priorities so that cooling the planet down makes more sense to more people than our present course, which, if left unchecked, could turn Eaarth into an overheated, lifeless sister planet of Venus.  The presentation, based on Albert’s new book “The Biochar Solution,” is definitely in the same league as Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth.”

Albert will next be making his presentation in Mallorca, in the Mediterranean, reputedly to a group of financial heavy hitters–who, let’s face it, are the people who need to be convinced to do something, because they’re the ones with the ways and means.  I don’t have time to go more fully into Albert’s vision this month  but I will be reading the book and giving you a full report on it in the near future–hopefully next month.

music:  Julian Cope, “Western Front, 1992 CE”





PLEASANTLY SURPRISED

7 11 2009

I was an early booster of  CBCX, the tenth Continental Bioregional Congress, which took place about a month ago down on the Farm in Summertown, Tennessee, but when my health fell apart, I dropped out of the planning process for the event.  Health, however, wasn’t my only reason for quitting.  As part of my effort to get involved with the larger bioregional movement on  this continent, I had joined the bioregional e-list, and one of my posts about the upcoming continental Congress prompted this response:

“How can you expect that a bunch of people who are dedicated to ‘living locally and lightly’ will find the time and resources to peel off at peak harvest time and cross the continent for a meeting about being local?”

I brushed it off at the time, but the remark planted a seed that kept growing in me…it sounded uncomfortably close to the old joke about how most people would prefer a lecture about enlightenment (or salvation, depending on your religion) to the real thing.

Then, as Summer began to cool into Fall, I volunteered for not one but two weeks away from our homestead, yes, right at the peak of “harvest season.”  Interesting, I thought, but noted that my excursion to a Buddhist retreat center in upstate New York  deepened relationships I already had going rather than launching me into new ones.  It also served to renew my relationship with my  spiritual practice, which is, after all, the wellspring of my politics.  To me, that seemed like a much more literally radical (as in, “to the root”) step.   Besides, I had our winter’s firewood supply pretty much in hand, and my wife had our garden under control, so I didn’t feel like I was leaving anything critical swinging in the autumn breeze.

After returning home, settling in a bit, and hearing of my local bioregional buddies’ enjoyable and stimulating experiences at the event, I decided to go check it out for myself, just in time to catch the final day.

I arrived at lunchtime, and felt immediately at home with the hundred-plus crowd of mostly new but somehow familiar faces.  It reminded me of the time in the early eighties when, for the first time since 1970, I ventured out of the woods to a Grateful Dead concert, and discovered that not only was I not the last freaky hippie in the world, I was not even very freaky compared to a lot of people.  Well, the magical kingdom of Shakedown Street has been swept away by the black-throated winds of DEA persecution and economic insecurity, but those of us with a deeper perspective on the planet have found other, subtler venues in which to meet, and CBCX was definitely one of them.

After lunch, I toured The Farm Ecovillage with the extraordinarily informative, insightful, and humorous Mr. Albert Bates and a goodly crowd of bioregionalists, commiserating and laughing with him about some of the simple, straightforward, common-sense things that Tennessee’s now-statewide building codes will not permit, and receiving a good brush-up session on alternative building techniques involving bamboo, straw, and earth, which I look forward to applying here at home.

Did I ever tell you that I consider myself an artist whose canvas is the land I live on?

Twilight found me sitting in a darkening room with eight other Congresspeople (I guess that’s what to call us!), reflecting on ecological despair.  All of us shared our experiences of starting back in the 60’s and 70’s with a great deal of optimism about what needed to be done and how simple it would be to accomplish it, and how, to one degree or another, all of us had found our faith in human sanity sorely tested by the venality of the political process, the  easy manipulability of the American body politic, the weakening resolve, changing priorities, and psycho-emotional hangups of ourselves and those whom we supposed were our best friends, and the interpersonal conflicts and chasms resulting therefrom.

Solutions?  Or at least coping strategies?  It seemed to boil down to the story of the Zen monk who fell over a cliff and found himself hanging on to one little sapling that was gradually pulling loose from the precipice as he clung to it.  Growing next to the sapling was a wild strawberry; he plucked it and ate it, finding that it was the best wild strawberry he had ever eaten, and in that moment attained enlightenment.

Yeah, we’re all in that situation, and would be whether the world was going to hell in a hand basket or not, but it seems especially pertinent to remember to enjoy what you can, when you can.  I believe it was Edward Abbey who suggested that those of us who are trying to save the natural world spend half our available time saving it and the other half savoring it, so we don’t lose touch with what’s really important in life.

After eating dinner with the ever-more familiar crowd, I attended an early evening session on Transition Towns, and was glad to see several of my fellow conspirators from Nashville there, soaking up ideas that in most cases are coming from and being applied to much smaller places.  Smaller political units, whether you’re talking about the state of Vermont or the city of Hohenwald, Tennessee, are much easier to deal with than cities the size of Nashville–where, according to one city council member, you pretty much have to be a millionaire to become mayor.  The odds are not good when you’re dealing with millionaires.  It’s much easier for a millionaire to be part of the problem than to be part of the solution, as Jesus pointed out two thousand years ago.

I think we need to apply the transition town model to Nashville a lot more aggressively than has been done so far.   Mayor Dean’s “Green Ribbon Commission” came up with a lot of window dressing.  There’s a “Sustainable Tennessee” movement that is a bit more down to earth, but all reports I have heard from them indicate that they do  a lot of wishful thinking along the lines that we will be able to maintain something like “business as usual” into the indefinite future.  Local food is a good beginning, but we also need to figure out how to  provide ourselves with something to cook it on, something to cook it in, and something to cook it with. An LEED-certified service economy just isn’t going to cut it.

I think we need to figure out where our shovels, shoe leather, and saw blades are going to come from, because none of these items are being produced in Tennessee any more, and it’s hard to have a civilization without them–not to mention paper, pens, and ink.  We have built a massive, highly specialized culture that is dependent on a steady supply of fuel and raw materials that shows every sign of drying up.  The sooner we begin to prepare for this transition, the easier it will be, for the simple reason that there will be fewer resources available the longer we wait.

I know, I always say that.  You want to know more about the Bioregional Congress.   Hey, there may or may not be another one–I have the sense that we are about to all be very, very busy on a very local level.

There were dozens of possible conversations awaiting me, but  I had had enough thinking and rational discourse for one day.  It had been a good day, and I was glad to discover that my concerns had been unfounded.  I unpacked my drum and saxophone, joined a group of old and new friends around a bonfire, opened up, and channeled ecstatic energy into the world for a couple of hours.   That’s what the revolution is for, right?

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “The Great Correction





FIELD GUIDES TO THE APOCALYPSE

12 04 2009

Over the past several months, I have read three books on the same subject–what to do when the trucks stop running and the big box stores close down.  I guess you could call this reading diet “cramming for finals.”  In order of increasing complexity,the three are Terry Kok’s Sustainable Life Beyond the Big Lie (Emergency Remedial Edition), Peak Oil Survival (Preparation for Life After Gridcrash) by Aric McBay, and Albert Bates’ Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook, subtitled “Recipes for Changing Times.”

It so happens that I know two of these three authors personally, and can vouch for their bonafides.  Aric McBay, the third, lives in Canada and our paths have not, to my knowledge, crossed, but he is coauthoring a book with Derrick Jensen and that’s a good recommendation in my book–which is, as yet, unpublished, in part because I think it’s a whole lot more important for me to actually do things than it is to write about them.  The word is out there–we hardly need any more inspiring communicators, we need boots on the ground.  In fact, my wife wishes I spent less time at my infernal computer and more time doing things, and sometimes I think she’s got a point.  But I digress….

Since it’s the shortest, I’ll tell you about Terry Kok’ and his Sustainable Life” pamphlet first.  Terry is a rowdy, ragin’ agin’ Pagan, and a founder of the Lothlorien Community in Southern Indiana.  Terry and the community have parted ways, a story I don’t know enough about to tell or judge, but Terry has started over on a hilltop in southern Indiana, where he and his partner live in a partially completed “Closed Ecological Life Support System”–Terry is concerned that the coming planetary changes may include temporary loss of a breathable atmosphere.  Terry also hosts a Yahoo group called “Andorprojex,” which deals in great detail with many post-collapse survival questions, and his pamphlet is, in many ways, an invitation to join his e-group.  I have been an active member of it in the past, and it’s an informative list, but since most of the same territory is covered by our local Cumberland-Green River Bioregional elist, I’ve backed out of Terry’s and concentrated on getting closer with the folks at hand.  If you don’t know of a local group in your area, or if you have more time to be on the internet than I do, I recommend hooking up with Terry and his merry band.

In only twenty small pages, Terry gives concise introductions to energy efficiency and production, sustainable shelter, gardening, health care, ecovillages, and rousing yourself and others out of civilization’s trance and into action.  In closing, he leaves us with these words:

We, the people, need to care for one another, pool resources for mutual aid and support, and become sustainable–or mark civilization up as another failed experiment in the forgotten history of the world.  We cannot afford to mess around this time.  The changes are real.  So must be our responses.  Consider yourself forewarned & forearmed….

The pamphlet is available through the Faerie Hill website, http://faeriehillfarm.com, at the bottom of the “home energy” page.

Aric McBay’s volume, while still relatively slim at just over a hundred pages, is packed with useful instructions and how-to diagrams that you will be glad to have on hand when the ‘net goes down.  He includes plenty of basic information on how to catch, store, and purify water, how to keep food cool when your refrigerator doesn’t work any more, how to build rocket stoves, and much more.  (No, rocket stoves don’t burn rocket fuel–they’re an extremely efficient wood-burning cookstove design!  They are being disseminated widely in Africa to try and turn back deforestation there).  The book concludes with a checklist of useful tools and materials to have on hand just in case….  There is little philosophy or background material in the book, once you get past the fifteen pages of introduction that outline our current predicament.  Deeper background is available on his website, www.inthewake.org; I found the interview with Chellis Glendenning particularly worth reading.

The only criticism I have of McBay’s book is that it’s a little too dry–it reads like a post-apocalyptic boy scout manual. That is not the case with Albert Bates’ newest book, which is like a long, rambling conversation with a gifted, witty polymath–which is exactly what Albert is.  He has recently revised the Post-Petroleum Guide, renaming it The Financial Collapse Survival Guide and Cookbook , but it‘s only available on Kindle, and I don’t have a “kindle’–nor, frankly, do I plan on getting one. with all due respect to my high-tech friend.  Books will be readable long after we lose the ability to recharge, let alone make batteries.  Making paper?  We’ve been doing that for about five hundred years. Somebody ought to be able to figure it out.

Collapse is already taking its toll on Albert’s publishing plans–if I remember the story correctly, a Spanish-language print edition of the Financial Collapse version was scotched because the publisher first couldn’t get credit to print it, and then went belly-up anyway.

OK, enough about the author, what about the book?

Well, for a book about how to survive the end of civilization as we know it, it’s pretty upbeat.  From the recipes, we can gather that Albert expects that we will still have such amenities as flour, cooking oil, salt, sugar, and peanut butter, for example.  Something like most of these substances can be produced at home given enough garden space and a couple of smooth stones, but let us not forget that salt was, until recently, a rare and precious commodity, and that sugar, likewise, was considered more a medicine than an everyday sweetener.  Many of the spices his recipes call for will, likewise, revert to being rare commodities brought by sail from the Indies (or, in the case of cocoa, Central America, unless it is submerged and dessicated by the further progress of global warming).

The chapters are expressed as steps to be taken.  Some are pretty broad:  “Rebuild Civilization,” or “Utopia By Morning,” which examine our flawed present and our best-outcome potential futures.  Others are more hands-on:  “Save Your Water” and “Begin Storing Food”are two examples.

In his chapter on saving water, Albert includes informative, relevant sidebars on water privatization and ancient Meso-American water storage techniques (that are still relevant today), and a bit more detail on water purification, but you’ll have to read Aric McBay’s book to find out anything about water filtration.  Albert does refer us to other books for details on this subject, but this information is buried in the text.  Such practical references, as well as the great quotes with which the Survival Guide is liberally peppered, cry out for a bibliography, but alas, there is none.

Overall, however, I score Albert’s book very highly for its vision and comprehensiveness, especially his willingness to deal with what will be the real substance of successful post-collapse community:  our ability to not just get along with each other, but to work together to maintain a saner, more grounded society.  A quote:

…Too many people want to start ecovillages rather than join existing ones.  Is it that they think the existing ones don’t have the  same values they do?  Are they worried that their design sketches might not be appreciated?…..I don’t think that it is a matter of mismatched values.  I think it is about ego.

People who are unwilling to set aside the supremacy of their own preconceptions and listen to, and maybe even try out, the ideas of others are unlikely to adjust well to the life of any small and intimate community.  Sustainable community is not about dominance.  It is about listening.  And after everyone has listened to everyone else, usually the best choice emerges on its own merit….

Every group has conflicts, and they aren’t even a bad thing.  Conflicts show that people care enough to be invested and to go for what they want….People in conflict can sometimes behave unscrupulously, using coercion and threats, intimidation, economic leverage, emotional abuse, gender or other privilege, minimizing, belittling, distorting, denying, or blaming to get their way.  In isolation, shielded from consequences, they can come to believe these methods are the most effective.

The problem with letting individuals get away with outrageous conduct is the that it lowers the level of discussion; people end up listening to an exchange of taunts between bullies instead of a reasoned exploration of solutions to real problems…..This is as true at the UN or in any government as it isin your family, workplace, or personal relationships.

As a solution, Bates points to the success of Marshall Rosenberg and others with a technique called “Non-violent Communication, which emphasizes clear, non-critical expression of one’s feelings, empathic listening, clear, non-demanding expression of one’s needs, and an ability/willingness to hear what others need, even when it is wrapped in several layers of neurosis.  I might add that this takes patience and some courage to employ, but I can’t think of a better alternative, whether we are dealing with grumpy neighbors or the financial establishment.  At this point in time, we have everything to gain, and everything to lose.   In another couple of centuries, either these books and others like them will be enshrined like the U.S. Constitution, or they will be forgotten along with most of the rest of human history.  It’s up to us.  Now.

music:  DJragon, “Green Magic Spell, Brighter Days








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