NOT THE REVOLUTION WE HAD IN MIND…SO FAR

13 09 2015

I came of age in the 1960’s.  I was brought up Jewish, in a synagogue whose Rabbi was an enthusiastic supporter of the civil rights movement, travelled to the South on several occasions in solidarity with Rev. Martin Luther King, and asked probing questions about segregation and racism in our home community, Dayton, Ohio.  While this dismayed some members of the congregation, it was fine with my mother, and we used to go to “interfaith retreats” where we would spend the weekend mixing it up with people–mostly Christian, many African-American–who were similarly interested in a cross-cultural experience.  I joined a local civil rights group, the Dayton Alliance for Racial Equality, and did door-to-door canvassing for them in Dayton’s African-American ghetto, as we freely called it.  This was not a neighborhood of towering, run-down tenements.  Homes were mostly single-family, mostly small, and often a little threadbare.  In those days–the early to mid sixties–somebody was usually home during the day.  There was no air conditioning, so I often found myself knocking on a screen door as I looked through it  into the family’s living room.  I had been brought up comfortably middle-class, but through this exposure I began to understand poverty.

The people I worked with, or, rather, for, were in their 20’s and 30’s, and pretty much all African-American. DARE was a small group, with a half-dozen to a dozen regular members, which, I learned in the course of writing this, did not excuse us from FBI surveillance.  We all had a tremendous admiration for Rev. Martin Luther King, whom we humorously but reverentially referred to as “Maximum Leader.” I lost touch with DARE when I graduated from high school and went off to college, and I’ve often wondered if they followed Rev. King’s lead through his final year, marked by his famous speech at Riverside Church in New York, where he took his crusade for civil rights to a whole new dimension, saying:

….the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” [applause] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see than an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

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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





WEINER ROAST

19 06 2011

We all know more than we wanted to about Anthony Weiner, who is no longer a member of the House of Representatives.   What most of us don’t know is who took him down, and what he was about to do when when the Republican spin machine steamrolled him.

Weiner was hot on the trail of fascist Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who, sometimes through the medium of his wife, has apparently been taking a lot of money from people who are involved in cases before the Court.  in other words, big-time conflicts of interest that ought to get him kicked off the court, destroying the court’s right-wing extremist majority.

Oh, and let’s not forget what Republicans forgave Thomas for in order to get him on the Court–can you say, “Anita Hill did too know what she was talking about,” boys and girls?

So Weiner was about to bust Thomas when Andrew Breitbart unrolled the “twitter scandal.”  Breitbart, I hope you recall, is the guy who carefully edited videos of ACORN, Planned Parenthood, Shirley Sherrod, an NPR executive, and several other people to make it look like they were saying things that they were not.  Somehow, the media still take this guy seriously.  I don’t.

It’s worth remembering that, when Eliot Spitzer was taken down in a similar scandal, he was about to bust Wall Street wide open for the behavior that led to the 2008 financial crash.  If he had not fallen victim to that scandal, the country might be in far better shape today than it is, and some prominent Wall Street execs would be some jailbird’s bitch instead of White House advisors.

In a way, I think it’s a shame that these guys’ short legs tripped up their careers.  In another way, I think this country is far too Puritanical–especially since, as Rachel Maddow has observed, it seems to be a lot easier for Republicans to get away with shenanigans than is for Democrats.  I only hope that, in a few years, we will not discover that if only the investigation Weiner was pushing had gone forward, we would be in some massive judicial train wreck similar to the financial meltdown.

Well, enough about sex addiction.  Let’s talk about something far worse and more widespread–our addiction to the American way of life.





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

12 02 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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








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