THE GREAT FRACKING FRAUD

4 12 2012

There’s a story making the rounds of the mainstream media these days, frequently trumpeted as “International Energy Agency says U.S. to overtake Saudis as  top oil producer.”  This may, technically, turn out to be true. But, as they say, “The devil is in the details,” and in this case, there’s definitely a Hell’s worth of details behind that headline that are all too frequently overlooked in this, our oil-based culture’s cargo cult moment.

“Cargo  cults,” to refresh your memory, were a religious movement that flourished briefly in the South Pacific after World War II.  The natives, who had been living a largely neolithic existence, saw that our troops came in, built an airstrip, and then airplanes landed, bringing all kinds of wondrous things, never before imagined, to the island, and the islanders.  Then,when the war was over, the mysterious strangers packed up and left, the airplanes no longer arrived bearing their magical cargoes,and the airstrips grew up in brush.  Some of the natives thought that, if they just rebuilt the airstrips, the planes would come again.  So they tried it, but it didn’t work, at least not directly, although the brief peak of our now-declining civilization has, in fact, brought the airplanes–bearing tourists, not soldiers, this time–back to many of those once-isolated tropical isles.

But no such temporary relief awaits us.  In fact, the granting of our wish for the oil age to continue bears such a horrific price tag that it’s a sad wonder that most people seem all too willing to buy it.  I’m going to examine the thorns of this “petroleum rose,” and, I hope, push the chorus of voices crying “DON’T TAKE THAT DEAL!!” to a volume level that just might save us from the fraudulent, Faustian  fracking bargain. Read the rest of this entry »





WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

10 09 2011

Here’s my response to that “Mid-Tennessee Progressive Strategy” group’s response to the Obama indictment.  I’ve added links, and changed it a little for greater clarity and because, when I took a little more time for fact-checking, I didn’t have all my details right–but this is substantially the same post.

As I was considering how to respond to the many comments my post elicited, I read the following quote from Susan Sontag in Yes!:

Acting on principle is, we’re told, a good in itself. But it is still a political act, in the sense that you’re not doing it for yourself. You don’t do it just to be in the right, or to appease your own conscience; much less because you are confident your action will achieve its aim. You resist as an act of solidarity. With communities of the principled and the disobedient: here, elsewhere. In the present. In the future…..

The likelihood that your acts of resistance cannot stop the injustice does not exempt you from acting.”

So, with that to set the tone, here is my response to the different objections that were raised to my bill of particulars against the strategy of aligning with Obama and the Democratic Party.

I cannot support him or the Democrat Party because they are war criminals. Obama has not only declined to prosecute any Cheney administration officials for war crimes, he has continued and actually expanded Cheney’s criminal policies. It should be obvious, at this point, that he went into the Presidential race knowing full well that he would be doing that, throwaway lines like “close Guantanamo” (which never happened) not withstanding. To vote for him, or anyone who, like Jim Cooper, continues to support war crimes and war criminals is to be complicit in those crimes, just like the “good Germans” of the last century. And, like Germany and Italy, America has become a fascist state, defined as one in which the government is run in collusion with, and for the benefit of, big business.

Of course, 21st century American fascism has learned a thing or two about how to be “kinder and gentler”–nobody’s getting sent to the gas chamber–but Gaza and Palestine, and the now-60-year old Palestinian refugee camps are the 21st century equivalent of concentration camps—and they are maintained with U.S. aid. And, likewise, this fascism is sure enough of its hold on power that it won’t send us to the camps just for making accusations like this. It’s much cheaper (and better PR) to simply ignore us, dismiss tax protests as “frivolous filings” to be dealt with administratively, and save the legal big guns for those who actually do things that throw a monkey wrench in the gears of power, like Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, or Tim DeChristopher.

As for the charge that I am not “dealing with the realities of America politics,” those “realities” are insanely out of touch with real-deal reality. The real-deal reality is that our government’s willful ignor-ance of the seriousness of climate change is a serious threat to the ability of this planet to continue to support higher life forms such as ourselves. The grim difference between the late 20th century’s bane, “Mutual Assured Destruction,” and our current situation is that, while Mutual Assured Destruction turned out to be a threat that never materialized (except to the extent that military expenditures stole from our ability to make the planet a better place for everyone), every day that we continue to extract and burn fossil fuels sinks us deeper into the tar pit of runaway climate change, while our “leaders” babble about “growth” and “job creation.” This kind of unconscious commitment to the idea that the way it’s been is the way it’s going to be is a planetary suicide pact, and, weak old man that I am, it makes me want to kick and scream and raise hell to wake people from the sleepwalk of politics as usual in America.

“I” can’t do a whole lot about this, but “we” can. Vaclav Havel started out as a lonely dissident, and was ground under the heel of the Soviet empire—but he persisted, and eventually enough people came around to his point of view that the whole sorry reality of “Communist” totalitarianism crumbled–not through confrontation, but by decay from within, as an overwhelming majority withdrew their consent from the system. You can bet that he got plenty of well-intentioned advice along the way about how he needed to be more realistic and accept “Communist” domination! Something similar has to happen here. There are two ways the two-party duopoly could come undone: either an East-bloc-style revolution of belief, or the total collapse of America as we’ve known it. As a guy who would like to die peacefully of old age, I would much prefer the former, but, as it stands, I’m deeply concerned that we’re heading for the latter.

As it stands, “progressives” (a term whose definition is a whole other subject) in the Democratic Party are in the position of a woman who stays with her abusive husband, hoping she can change him. As with individual cases, that’s unlikely to happen, especially as long as he (the corporate-oriented Democratic Party, in this case) thinks he can take your support for granted, no matter what he does, because you view him as your only option. Here’s the reality: he’s too addicted to corporate money to ever listen to “progressives” again, and it’s been that way for at least 30 years. There have been some truly noble “progressive Democrats” like Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, and Cynthia McKinney, but they have been seriously mistreated by the mainstream of the Democratic Party.  Well, OK, Barbara Lee has not been harassed by her own party–she pulls 85% of the vote without even trying.  It’s pretty hard to harass somebody who’s that popular at home.

Cynthia McKinney had the good sense to jump to the Green Party, which could really take off if all the people who “hold their nose and vote for Democrats” screwed up their courage instead of holding their noses, and walked out on the Democrats instead of voting for the stinkers. One commenter said he thought the American electorate was trending rightward. I disagree. My understanding of the results of the 2010 election is not that a whole lot more people voted Republican, but that a whole lot fewer people voted Democrat, due to feeling burned by the party’s failure to deliver on their expectations of it. I am also aware of repeated polling that shows that Americans overall are much more “progressive” than the choices that are allowed in our corporate-run political system, and that the” Tea Party” is, when all is said and done, a minority voice. The fact that 50-60% of potential voters don’t vote in most of our elections means that the “Republican majority” is really only about 20-25% of the electorate, and tells me that there is enormous potential for a new political movement in this country that will actually listen to–and speak for–the real concerns of real people. The Green Party was created to do just that.  We do not take corporate money. Those of us who have been keeping it going in this state for the last ten years would love to be supplanted by “progressives” who got disgruntled with the major parties and came on over. In Canada, the New Democrats, who were a “third party” for years, have now supplanted the Liberals as the country’s main opposition party. Change can happen, but only if enough people are willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Oh, and “scary Perry”? The blustering bully from Texas and the smooth-talking con-man from Chicago are working for the same masters. Choosing between them amounts to, do you want to be railroaded by the good cop (Obama) or by the bad cop (Perry, Bachman, etc.)? My response is, I haven’t done anything wrong. They have, and I’m not giving them my power. Obama’s a war criminal, Perry’s a murderer who aspires to be a war criminal. The proper response to people like them is to step away, not to try and reform them or work with their political supporters in hopes of creating substantive social change. It ain’t gonna happen, any more than the Mafia is going to become a model civic organization if we reach out to it and try to work to change it.

There are those who say that it’s too late for politics, that the only thing left to do is duck and cover and create our own community survival networks.  To me, that’s a worst-case scenario–not so far out as to be ignored, but not yet inevitable.  I believe it is still possible for the people of this country to wake up, shake off the whores who pass for politicians, and take this country back, and that’s what keeps me, as Susan Sontag put it, “acting on principle.”  Whether it has wider results or not, it’s the only way I can live with myself.

Music:  Richard Thompson, “Borrowed Time





THE CHICKENS COME HOME TO ROOST

13 06 2010

The Gulf Coast oil blowout is a tragedy of epic proportions.  Greed, ignorance, and foolish pride all came together, mounted on the backs of BP executives, government officials, and all us just plain folks who are socked in to our various petroleum habits, and now the ugly reality of our oil addiction is smeared across the clean white beaches,fertile green marshes, and shining blue sea of our country’s southern coast, like AIDS-related boils on the face of a once-attractive junkie.  It’s sad.  It’s sickening.  It is a horribly cruel fate for billions of innocent birds, fish, mammals and plants.  “Tarred and feathered” has a whole new, even uglier, meaning.  It is a wretched legacy for future generations, trampling on the rights of the unborn of all species.

But it is also only fair, and about time we Americans had our noses rubbed in the kind of devastation we have long been willing to visit on other, mostly dark-skinned people so that we can keep mainlining our petroleum fix.  The chickens have come home to roost.

The native people of northern Canada, the Amazon, and Nigeria know exactly what I am talking about.  In all of these areas, the multinational oil companies have squatted on pristine land and taken a massive, oil-soaked dump, fouling ecosystems integral to the way of life of tribes who have been living in harmony with nature far longer than the brief trajectory of our petroleum-fired, so-called “civilization.”

In northern Canada, BP and many other oil companies are busily strip mining 54,000 square miles of “tar sand,” permanently polluting three or four gallons of water for every gallon of oil produced.  It will take decades or possibly centuries for the slow-growing sub-Arctic forest to re-establish itself on the old strip mine sites (if it does so at all), leaving gaping holes in one of the planet’s major carbon sinks at a time when we need to sequester all the carbon we can stash.  And speaking of carbon,  the process of destroying the forest,  then heating the oil sands to separate out the oil,  releases  massive amounts of carbon dioxide….well, gosh, if there’s global warming, those boreal forests will grow back faster, won’t they?

Yes, the future is a very serious concern for tar sand oil extraction.  The water that is used in the process, polluted with solvent  chemicals and heavy metals, becomes toxic waste and is then “stored” in “settling ponds“–where it takes centuries to settle.  Even now, with all our technical capabilities, seepage from these ponds is fouling the Athabaska River, the region’s main source of water.   So far, the area directly polluted by this oil extraction effort is somewhat smaller than the Gulf blowout, which has closed 64,000 square miles of the Gulf to fishing due to likely contamination.    But we have no assurance that our technical civilization will maintain itself long enough to guard these poisonous ponds, which are highly attractive to migrating birds,  until they are thoroughly neutralized. Toxins like mercury and benzene are already seeping into the water table and spreading down the Athabaska and will in the long run poison vast tracts of the Canadian Arctic as they work their way into the MacKenzie River and, ultimately, the Arctic Ocean.  Since the ponds are not actually in the ground but above ground, surrounded by man-made dikes, a breach is almost inevitable.  That’s one hundred and eighty-seven billion gallons of toxic sludge hanging over our heads, four thousand seven hundred times more poisonous goo than has vomited out of the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico so far.

Sure, polluted water is not as horrific a problem as raw crude oil or nuclear waste, but we are still placing a poisonous burden on generations yet unborn so we can live in comfort and have amenities that will be unavailable to them, because we snorted up all the resources and left them a mess that they will likely lack the technology to clean up.

OK, let’s leave the deadly ponds of northern Alberta and travel to a warmer clime–the western Amazon basin, “the lungs of the planet,” one of the last places on earth where the ecosystem has not been completely perverted by our extractive civilization.

Hey, we’re working on it.  Everybody knows about the speed with which Brazilians are raping the eastern, northern, and central Amazon, but less attention has been paid to the far western end, which was long protected by the steep slopes and inhospitable climate of the Andes Mountains.  But there’s oil there, so the junkies are after it.

Peru’s government initially offered 70% of its Amazon territory to oil and gas companies, without consulting the people who live there.  This provoked a massive protest, and Peru’s Congress repealed many of President Alan Garcia’s expropriations, which included areas already promised as wildlife and tribal reserves, but the pressure continues.  Like junkies, like zombies intent on eating the living, oil addicts are nothing but an appetite on legs, with a brain dedicated to finding ways to satisfy that appetite–which, in a cruel but righteous cosmic joke, can never be satisfied.

Something similar happened in Ecuador, where Chevron struck a deal with the country’s neo-liberal government back in the 90′s and then took advantage of lax regulation and oversight to make a total mess.  Many rivers, water tables, and vast tracts of land were polluted by oil spills, drilling pollution, and a demand for “civilized amenities” such as alcohol, cocaine, prostitutes, and consumer goods.  This and other transgressions sparked enough outrage that the Ecuadorians voted out the plutocrats  who had been running the country for their personal benefit and installed Rafael Correa, a small-s socialist in the Hugo Chavez mode, who has thrown out Chevron, nationalized the oil infrastructure they left behind, and is working to guard the environment and make sure that whatever wealth the country has is much more equitably distributed than it traditionally has been.  Unfortunately, this does nothing to pull the fangs of the oil demon out of the Amazon, and the pollution continues.  Like, eighteen billion gallons of toxic waste loose in “the lungs of the planet,” compared to a mere thirty-eight million gallons of oil (so far) leaked into the gulf of Mexico.  Hey, some junkies sell their blood for a fix.  We’re selling our lungs.

These struggles barely penetrate America’s consciousness.  We hear of actress Q’orianka Kilcher’s arrest at the White House, protesting while Barak Obama hails Alan Garcia’s program of exploitation, red-baiting, and racism in Peru  as “an extraordinary economic success story.”  (That says more about Obama than most people want to hear.)  When activists who own stock in Chevron (so they can have access to stockholders’ meetings to protest Chevron’s policies) are denied access to the stockholders’ meeting and arrested, it briefly makes the news. Mostly, though, we Americans keep nodding on, zoned out on our petroleum buzz.  Out of sight, out of mind, y’know?

This brings us to Nigeria, which provides the US with 40% of our crude oil.  A study group that included a number of fairly conservative members–from the World Wildlife Federation to the Nigerian government–concluded that at least forty-six million gallons of oil, far more than what the Gulf blowout has leaked so far, have been spilled in the Niger delta in the last fifty years, not out at sea, but in and around villages and landscape where people are trying to live by fishing, farming, and hunting.  Imagine our deep water blowout occurring onshore.  Wouldn’t that raise an even worse fuss than what we’ve seen already?

But Nigerians are poor, dark-skinned people far away.  It is easy to ignore their complaints about Chevron’s lax environmental standards; anyway,  Chevron for its part claims that much of the leakage in Nigeria comes from sabotage and people tapping into the oil pipelines to steal oil.  I have two thoughts about that.  The first is that if the wealth generated from Nigeria’s oil were being shared more equitably, there would be a lot less robbery and resentment.  The other thought is that, just as nobody cared what the Palestinians thought about pushing them aside and relocating many of the world’s Jews to Palestine, nobody asked the Niger delta natives if they wanted to have their way of life totally disrupted by big oil, and that, in both cases, resentment is a completely understandable reaction to our high-handed treatment of indigenous people–in Palestine, Nigeria, or, gosh, the good ol’ USA.  We have oppressed and impoverished all of these people in pretty much the same way, but who cares if they live in misery, as long as we get our fix?

These examples are just the “big three” of oil-related nastiness.  I haven’t mentioned how Chevron props up the autocratic regime in Burma and looks the other way while native people are not only dispossessed to make room for oil and other infrastructure projects but enslaved to build those projects.  Chevron piously claims it “….continues to support the calls for a peaceful resolution to the issues facing Myanmar in a manner that respects human rights,” but reports from inside the country tell a different story.

Closer to home, but still far away and affecting mostly dark-skinned people and dumb animals, we have oil exploitation in Alaska, where broken pipelines have contaminated the tundra, while plans to begin deep water drilling in the Arctic Ocean are still  proceeding.  Wouldn’t an Arctic Ocean oil blowout in midwinter be fun to contain?

Meth labs are notorious for producing toxic waste, but all the meth labs in the world put together would not pollute the area we have fouled in the course of cooking up our oil fix.  It’s not a mess somewhere else any more, it’s a mess on our south coast, polluting American waters and shores and destroying American livelihoods.  Our oil-soaked chickens have come home to roost.

The meaning of this would be obvious if we were not so oil-addled.  This does not mean that we need to make sure we are using clean needles–excuse me, that we need better safety standards and more reliable technology to get the oil we think we need.  This means that we need to kick our habit before it kills us, and admit that it was never OK for those dark-skinned people over the horizon to die for our sins.  Now the Gulf of Mexico is dying for our sins, and we had better wake up from our nod and repent–not before it’s too late, because it is already too late. The age of oil is over.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “The Party’s Over





BROKENHAGEN

9 01 2010

It looks like the climate conference in Copenhagen produced good news and bad news.

The bad news was that, as the final weeks, months, or years (nobody knows!) tick down before we have passed over enough “tipping points” to fall into climate chaos, the governments of the world were unable to agree about how to stop, slow, end, or reverse the process.  It’s not that we don’t know what  to do, it’s that there is no way to make those who are doing most of  the damage–the government/industrial complexes of the US, China, India, Canada, and Russia–there is no way to make them–or is it us?– stop. Everybody agreed to keep talking,  but the climate time bomb is still ticking, and we have no idea when it’s going to go off or how much damage it will do.

The good news is that the governments and big businesses of the world were unable to come to the agreement that some had hoped to ratify–an agreement that was more of a mutual suicide pact than something that would actually have curbed, or even helped the world adjust to, global climate change.

It kind of reminds me of the old anti-gun law bumper sticker that read “Ill give up my guns when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.”

But this isn’t about just about guns, it’s about the whole growth-oriented worldwide consumer economy.  The upper classes and their hypnotized minions in the bourgeoisie and what’s left of the working class (Wow, I sound like an old-time commie, don’t I!?), all those under the spell of eternal growth, either don’t care how many people have to die for them to keep enjoying their high standard of living, or at best think there is some technological breakthrough just over the horizon that will make it work.  I have a feeling they are very, very mistaken.

As I understand it, here’s how the breakdown happened:

The Chinese see themselves, probably correctly, as the next great superpower, and are unwilling to let anything stand in their way.  China’s  leaders  also know that they need to keep their economy moving, or they will have hundreds of millions of very unhappy people chewing on their asses.  Are they aware of the fact that their growth plan will melt the Himalayan ice cap and leave them (and India) without an adequate water supply?  Probably.  Are they planning to  negotiate for, or maybe just seize,  far eastern Russia’s copious water resources?  Probably.  Do they figure that India and the rest of south Asia, who are dependent on the glacier-fed Mekong, Irawaddy, Bhramaputra, Ganges, and Indus Rivers, but do not have easy access to Siberia, will thus be made more dependent on China and thus increase China’s world hegemony?   Probably.

Will things work out according to their plans?   Don’t bet on it.  According to one witness, it was the Chinese who insisted that the commitment to an 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050, as well as any other concrete targets,  be dropped.  China will not be immune to the disastrous consequences of this power play.

The US government and its major industrial corporations (who are not nearly as separate as they want us to believe) are still trying to be number one.  The US came to the conference with a “commitment” to goals that would protect its own financial interests but not the little people of the world, which seems to be the typical strategy of the Obama administration.  Hillary Clinton’s offer to create a fund to help countries deal with climate change was so hedged with conditions that it amounted to blackmail.  Fortunately, the US position in the world is slipping so fast that few countries are likely to take the bait.  Meanwhile, however, the back room, lowest-common denominator “accord” that Obama negotiated with the Chinese did more to trash the UN, the possibility of controlling carbon emissions,  and America’s standing in the world than all the fussing the Bush Junta and their bulldog John Bolton  ever dreamed of.

So where does that leave us?  On our own.  The big boys are too involved with preserving their own asses and assets to think about or care for us.   .  It’s time to learn to power down, to transition into the post-affluence, post-petroleum, climate-altered twenty-first century,   We need to learn to live  locally, to be both self reliant and interdependent.  We need to learn how to keep working with old friends and how to make new ones.  There’s already a group gathering here in Nashville to do this–in fact, there probably need to be several–it’s a big city.

I can tell you about two upcoming events that will address this need for local organization.  The first is this coming Tuesday, January 12th, at the Celebrity Scientology Center, 1130 8th Avenue South, at 7:30 PM.  Albert Bates, who attended the Copenhagen meeting, will be talking about where we go from here.  Albert combines brilliant, innovative insight with a great sense of humor, and I think this meeting will be very inspirational and should not be missed.  This event is free.

But, if that’s a little short-notice for you, save Saturday, January 30th, when local activist Susan Shann, who is working to birth the “Transition Nashville” movement, will talk at the Cumberland-Green River Basin Bioregional Council’s winter meeting.   She’s not as funny as Albert, but she sings better.  Susan will presenting between 1:30 and 3PM at Brookemeade Congregational Church, at 700 Bresslyn Road, and there will be other events and workshops as well.  Check out the whole schedule at http://www.meetup.com/Cumberland-Green-River-Bioregional-Council/ .  This event is also free.

Hope to see you there!

music:  The Grateful Dead, “Throwing Stones








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