WHEN THE CENTER CANNOT HOLD

7 03 2015

A couple of weeks ago, I was commenting in a discussion thread on Facebook that had started with a local, politically active friend bemoaning the abysmally low turnout in the last election.  Here in Tennessee, only 29.1 percent of the electorate bothered to show up at the polls, the second lowest turnout in the country.  This enabled the sixteen percent of Tennessee voters who actually support banning abortion and income taxes, and who approve of the mean-spirited program of the Republican Party, to feel as if they had swept like a mighty tide over the state.

Well, I pointed out, the Democrat Party hasn’t really put up much of a fight.  Their leadership is inextricably tied to the national DP leadership, which is, truth be told, “progressive” only in its rhetoric, and then only when it needs to attempt to motivate “progressives” to vote for Democrats.  The progressive rhetoric, which is never truly radical, certainly not anti-corporate, and absolutely never questions capitalism, is quickly cast aside once the election’s over, and, if they win, the Dems go back to being the same old imperialist, corporatist, center-right party they’ve always been.  So, I said to the folks in the thread, why don’t all you progressives come over to the Green Party?

stein_chanceResponse? He was shocked, absolutely shocked.  “When Greens run, Democrats lose,” wrote my friend.  Another commenter chimed in, “Nader cost Gore the 2000 election.  Look what that got us.”

It was late at night, I was feeling ill, and I was short on temper and brains. “You guys have drunk too much Democrat kool-aid,” I fumed, and quit the group in disgust.  It didn’t take me long to regret my grumpiness and haste, but they declined to let me back in the group. I had had a chance to unmask some of my friends’ illusions, and I had blown it.  What I am telling you today is for my own benefit as well as for the benefit of the many people who would have echoed their words, reminding me to be patient with those who have fallen for the Big Lie about Nader, and the many other big lies that, er, underlie our sociopolitical fabric. Read the rest of this entry »

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A NATION OF (ILLEGAL) IMMIGRANTS

24 11 2012

music:  Buffy Ste. Marie, “Universal Soldier

Two weeks ago, I was talking to you on “Veterans’ Day,” and, uncharacteristically, one might think, had nothing to say about it.  Truth be told, it’s one of my least favorite national holidays.  Kill people you don’t know because your own private voice in your head tells you to, and you’re a psychopath.  Kill people you don’t know because the government’s voice in your head tells you to, and you’re a hero.  I fail to see a significant difference.  No matter why you kill other people, or aid and abet their murder even if you’re not the one pulling the trigger or pushing the button, it scars your soul, or your psyche, if you’d prefer a more concrete way of thinking about it.  Or, how about this:  killing people, for any reason, wounds the murderer.

Not that I blame “our troops.”  Those who end up herded into the military, whether out of a misplaced sense of duty or a psychopathic desire to kill people they don’t know, or simply because it’s one of the few places that offers a steady paycheck and halfway decent benefits any more, are, as the old song went, “more to be pitied than censured.”  Certainly, these veterans deserve all the help we can give them–far more than is available today, since our current frame of reference in regard to American former child soldiers (No matter what the law says, 18- and 19-year olds are, in many ways, still children.) makes no recognition of the enormity of what happens to the minds of those who kill for their country.  Society pays a huge price, in the form of an epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder, millions conditioned into a very undemocratic attitude of blind obedience to authority, and denial.

And those are only the psycho-spiritual costs of our militaristic approach to the world.  There’s also the huge waste of material resources, as our limited supplies of  all the things that make a complex technical civilization possible on this small planet are, essentially, raked into a pile and burned in the process of warfare.

But denial is what I want to focus on tonight, denial of another sort.  Read the rest of this entry »





MILLION DOLLAR BLOCKS

28 10 2012

One of the dirty open secrets about “the land of the free” is that, here in America, we have more people in our prison system than any other country in the world.  Here’s the numbers:  as of 2010, there were 2,267,000 people behind bars in America, with 4,934,000 additional Americans on probation and parole.  Fourteen million Americans are “former felons,” who will be handicapped for the rest of their lives with difficulties in being hired or receiving government assistance such as grants or loans for schooling, not to mention the shackles on their minds that all too often  from a stint in prison.

The good ol’ USA is way out in front of the number two imprisoner of human beings–Russia.  The US incarceration rate in 2009 was 743 per hundred thousand, fifty percent ahead of the Russians and Rwandans, both of which clock in at around 560 per hundred thou.  By contrast, only 71 out of every hundred thousand Norwegians is imprisoned.  In Holland, where legal marijuana sales should , according to the DEA, have precipitated a massive crime wave, the incarceration rate is 94 per thousand…hey, maybe they’re just too stoned to bother arresting people….or too high to go out and commit crimes?  And, when Republicans say they don’t want America to be like Europe, is this what they’re talking about?  Is this really a field in which we want America to be “number one”?

Ooh, but aren’t we keeping hordes of violent criminals off the streets?

No, not really.  About eight percent of the roughly two hundred thousand people in federal prison are there for violent crimes.  That’s about sixteen thousand people.  About half the roughly 1.3 million people in state prisons are in for violent crimes–that’s about 650,000 people.  And approximately a fifth of the three-quarter million individuals in local jails are there for violent crimes–that’s about a hundred and fifty thousand people.  When you add it all up, that’s slightly over a third of all prisoners locked up for violent crimes, about 816,000 out of roughly 2.25 million, with two-thirds of those in jail, about one and a half million people, locked up for non-violent, frequently “victimless,” crimes, at a cost to taxpayers–that’s you and  me–of around thirty-six billion dollars a year.

What’s a “victimless” crime?  About half of all federal prisoners are jailed for drug convictions of one kind or another–that’s a hundred thousand people.  A fifth of state prisoners have committed drug crimes–that’s about a quarter million people.  Statistics aren’t available for local jails, but that leaves us with a third of a million of the million and a half people in state and federal penitentiaries locked up for “drugs.” Read the rest of this entry »





DROP YOUR GUN AND STEP AWAY FROM THE CAR

13 10 2012

I heard quite an earful from some of my readers and listeners about last month’s post “Meddling in the Affairs of Dragons.”

“Give us something positive,” my friends told me, and they were kind enough to point out to me that various Green Party policy wonks in the United States and Canada have written detailed, well-documented “energy descent plans,” showing how the “(over) developed world”  (that’s us) can step back from the brink of planetary suicide on which we are, in fact, currently teetering.  The Green Party of Canada ends the “Averting Climate Catastrophe” section of their platform with the following quote from Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

“We are risking the ability of the human race to survive.”

The IPCC, as you may be aware, has consistently underestimated the rate of climate change–that is, reality has almost always moved faster than their projections.  So, if they think we are “risking the ability of the human race to survive,” we must, indeed, be in peril.

The best way to extricate ourselves from this peril could be summed up in a chestnut from crime movies–we’re at the point where the police tell a cornered suspect, “Drop your gun and step away from the car.”  Yep, it’s our military spending and our car culture that have us in deep doo doo. What follows is largely borrowed from the Green Party of  New York’s platform , with input from “Vision Green,” a highly detailed energy descent plan put together by the Green Party of Canada–thanks, fellow Greens, for doing so much of my homework for me! Read the rest of this entry »





DOUBLE STANDARDS

14 11 2010

If you’re wondering what kind of roadblocks our government is willing to throw in the way of local food, consider what’s happened to Morningland Dairy.

For thirty years, Morningland, a farm in Missouri, has made and sold raw  milk-based cow and goat cheese.  During this thirty-year stretch,no Morningland customer has complained about any illness related to contaminated cheese.

That’s not good enough for the US Food and Drug Administration, which is committed to the proposition that raw milk dairy products are inherently dangerous.  To the FDA, our right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” does not include the right to eat what we please.

Here’s the apparent chain of events.  In late June,  Los Angeles police, under orders from the District Attorney, conducted a guns-drawn raid on Rawsome Foods, a members-only co-op that specializes in…well, raw foods, from nuts to vegetables to meat and…dairy.  The dairy was what the cops were after.  They confiscated the co-op’s stock of raw dairy products.  After letting them sit around for a while, possibly unrefrigerated, the government tested Morningland’s cheese and found that…wow, it was contaminated.  That led them to contact Missouri authorities, who ordered that Morningland destroy the 50,000 pounds of cheese it had in inventory–and no, they didn’t need to do no steenking tests on the cheesee–the mere fact that it was made from raw milk was proof that it was contaminated, in the authorities’ eyes.

Destroying the cheese, worth a quarter of a million dollars, would have destroyed the farm.  Owners Joseph and Denise Dixon decided to fight back.

Here’s blogger Dorreen Hannes’ description of the next stage of the so-called “legal process”:

On September 24th, the Milk Board verbally ordered Morningland to destroy their product. Morningland asked that this order be put in writing. One week later the order was hand delivered to General Manager/owner, Joseph Dixon. The order states that in three business days the Milk Board would contact them with when and how the cheese was to be destroyed.

Morningland dared to publish a written objection to committing suicide, a rebuttal and proposed remedy. They rebutted many of the stated “facts” in the 10-page order, Destroy Orders: Morningland Dairy. The Morningland Dairy then offered a reasonable, logical, scientifically sound remedy to destruction on the afternoon of October 6th.

The next morning, they were served with a restraining order and preliminary injunction by the Attorney General’s office of Missouri. They were to be in court the very next day. In sum, they were ordered to destroy their wealth on Friday, asked for logic and justice on Wednesday, notified they were being sued on Thursday and ordered to be in court on Friday.

At 4:50pm on Thursday, the Attorney General’s office called and canceled court because one or two of their witnesses couldn’t attend. Never mind that a family run dairy and cheese plant with 9 families making a living through it should mount a legal defense against destruction in one day. It’s another raid using Gestapo legal tactics that fit the MO of the FDA and their minions….or sub agents, if you prefer.

Around the end of the month,the FDA told them:

…. Morningland Dairy’s cheese poses “an acute, life-threatening hazard to health”, and the Missouri Milk Board sent a letter to Morningland Dairy, stating that “No administrative regulations allow the appeal of the State Milk Board’s administrative order…”

But, since that blast, things may have shifted.  just last week, Morningland and the state of Missouri finally came to an agreement to test the cheese (which has been kept in cold storage all this time, at no small cost) and determine the appropriate course of action from there.  Hooray for somebody in state government being reasonable.

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: regulations banning raw dairy products are based in the old paradigm, in which producers are trying to get away with cutting every possible corner and must be held accountable so they do not poison consumers.  Morningland operates under the new paradigm, in which producers are responsible to their customers to provide the best product possible.  Morningland and its customers are fully aware of the potential dangers of contaminated raw milk, and are, in the totally selfish interest of self-protection, vitally interested in producing the cleanest product they can possibly come up with.  Not only does Morningland keep an extraordinarily high level of cleanliness in their operations, they have routinely tested their products for contamination.–and yes, they routinely come up clean.

If you would like to send some financial support to Morningland to help them through this struggle, you can “sponsor” a cheese at http://uncheeseparty.wordpress.com/uncheese-party-how-to-sponsor-an-uncheese/

Full disclosure:  I sent ’em twenty bucks.

The double standards operating in this case are mind-blowing.  Exhibit one: Wright County Farms is the corporate entity that was responsible for releasing salmonella-tainted eggs that sickened hundreds of people last summer.  They are repeat violators, but the fines that have been levied against them have always been a slap on the wrist.  The government is not trying to drive the company out of business.

“Too big to fail,” I guess.

We can also look at the tobacco industry, which produces a product that is poisonous and addictive, and has killed millions of people all over the world.  R.J. Reynolds is still in business.  The government has not shown up, guns at the ready, to confiscate their product, nor have their executives been perp-walked into waiting police cars.  (OK, that didn’t happen to the Dixons, either, but you know what I mean.)

On a more positive note, we can also look at Europe, where raw milk, and raw milk cheese, are not only an accepted part of the food scene, but a bright, shining star in it.  Can  you say, “Camembert, Brie, and Roquefort,” boys and girls? They’re all raw milk cheeses!

What we are looking at here is just another facet of the fact that the US government has become the enforcement arm of big business, and big business does not like the idea of the country’s food system relocalizing.  On the other hand, as the evolution of Morningland’s legal standoff shows, there are individuals in the government who are capable of appreciating and encouraging the local food movement.  Communism was monolithic until it crumbled–and no, I’m not happy about the non-“Communist” repression that has taken its place in all too many locations, but the fact is that “Communism” fell apart because the individuals who had supported it withdrew their support.  Anything can happen.

Music:  Bruce Cockburn:  “Anything Can Happen”





THE FRENCH DISCONNECTION

8 05 2007

As the Bush presidency continues to crumble, it is perhaps ironic that good news for conservatives comes from France, the land they have spent so much time maligning–”freedom fries,” anyone? In an apparently clean election, in which a near-record 85% of the voters participated, the French chose Nicholas Sarkozy as their new president, rejecting Segolene Royal’s bid to become the first female president of France, and the first socialist in twelve years.

Now, Sarkozy is not your typical American conservative—he’s in favor of legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples, ending homelessness by building more low-income housing, and wants to integrate the country’s large Muslim minority (Islam is now the second-largest religion in France) by instituting an affirmative action program. And he has already chided the the Bush junta for its refusal to take global warming seriously. But that’s about where the good news ends.

Like American conservatives, “Sarko l’Americain,” as he is called in some quarters, looks back to the pivotal years of the late sixties and wants to roll back the changes that happened then. In case you’ve forgotten, that happened here in America in 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected. And, in case you’ve forgotten, the countercultural movement in France in 1968 was far more widespread and focused than its American equivalent. We had a Love-In in San Francisco; they went to Paris , put up barricades, and invited the working class to join them—and, unlike American “hard hats,” two-thirds of the French working class joined the general strike and nearly threw out President DeGaulle, who ultimately resigned a year later when Constitutional changes he advocated were rejected in a nationwide referendum. But, I digress…and it wasn’t even to be funny.

Although the May ’68 uprising fizzled out in the short term, in the long term it changed the dynamics of social discourse in France and, ultimately, the rest of Europe, leading to a common assumption that it is the job of government to take good care of its citizens. This is why European countries have national health care systems, (and high-quality social welfare systems in general), good public transportation, shorter workweeks with higher productivity than the US, government-mandated long vacations and family leave time, and a standard of living similar to America’s, that only uses about half the energy.

Sarkozy is not going to be able to change all that, any more than Bush could privatize Social Security, but it is his stated belief that French workers need to cut back on their standard of living in order to remain competitive, and now he has the initiative. This is not good, especially since it isn’t true, any more than wage/benefit cutbacks and social service safety net erosion have been necessary for American workers to “remain competitive”–it’s not about “remaining competitive,” it’s about putting more money in the pockets of the already wealthy, and yes, Sarko wants to cut estate and inheritance taxes.

So, how does a guy who wants to make life worse for the majority of his countrymen manage to get himself elected? Besides cheating, like the Bush junta did? The answer is the same combination of four-letter words Karl Rove has taken extreme advantage of: PLAY THE FEAR CARD. Sarkozy rose to fame and notoriety when his derogatory remarks about unemployed Muslim youth and his strong-arm police tactics helped trigger the Paris riots of 2005. Nothin’ like fear of brown-skinned furriners to galvanize the electorate!

Unfortunately, this is not just posturing on Sarkozy’s part. In an interview with philosopher Michel Onfray, Sarkozy revealed that he believes that criminal/deviant tendencies (such as pedophilia, suicide, and drug use) are genetic, not culturally learned, a belief that flies in the face of mainstream psychology but marches in goose step with Nazism and France’s perennial far-right bogey man, Jean Marie LePen, whose thunder Sarkozy effectively stole. What this means, in practical terms, is that there can be no correction, only punishment—and this seems to be a widely-applied view of Sarkozy’s. He does not take criticism well, and has reputedly used his connections with France’s conservative media barons to derail the careers of journalists who have disagreed with him. He has also been criticized for using police power to violate the civil rights of political protesters. He wants to test three-year-olds for “behavioral disorders,” and, presumably, medicate them if “necessary.” His election does not bode well for the future of open society in France. Oh, and did I mention he wants to increase France’s reliance on nuclear power? Yeah, you figured as much.

He also benefited from weak opposition. Segolene Royal, the Socialist candidate, talked about fostering a more nurturing government, but ran to the right, joining Sarkozy in advocating ratification of the European Constitution, which the French public has rejected by popular vote, and in calling for crackdowns on crime and tightening immigration standards, although she did advocate retention of taxes on the rich and a higher minimum wage. Many French voters said they liked her platform more but voted for Sarkozy anyway, because he seemed like a better leader. It doesn’t take much analytical ability to see a certain sexist bias operating here.

There are two responses to change. You can either accept it and open up to it, or close down and reject it. In either case, change will happen, but the open option is the smarter one in the long run. In the face of massive global social, political, ecological , and economic changes, France has chosen by a narrow margin to shut down and fight. There’s still a little time left to change your minds, guys….

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, Material Man





EARTH TO ROAST

25 07 2005

I heard something the other night that I thought was one of those crazy hippie rumors, so I tracked it down on the net and found this story. It’s almost three years old, but the information in it is still current, and it comes from a highly reputable source: England’s Manchester Guardian. The Guardian is not, I repeat, not a tabloid, but this really is their headline:

Sun’s rays to roast Earth as poles flip

Robin McKie, science editor
Sunday November 10, 2002
The Observer

Earth’s magnetic field – the force that protects us from deadly radiation bursts from outer space – is weakening dramatically.
Scientists have discovered that its strength has dropped precipitously over the past two centuries and could disappear over the next 1,000 years.
The effects could be catastrophic. Powerful radiation bursts, which normally never touch the atmosphere, would heat up its upper layers, triggering climatic disruption. Navigation and communication satellites, Earth’s eyes and ears, would be destroyed and migrating animals left unable to navigate.
‘Earth’s magnetic field has disappeared many times before – as a prelude to our magnetic poles flipping over, when north becomes south and vice versa,’ said Dr Alan Thomson of the British Geological Survey in Edinburgh.
‘Reversals happen every 250,000 years or so, and as there has not been one for almost a million years, we are due one soon.’
For more than 100 years, scientists have noted the strength of Earth’s magnetic field has been declining, but have disagreed about interpretations. Some said its drop was a precursor to reversal, others argued it merely indicated some temporary variation in field strength has been occurring.
But now Gauthier Hulot of the Paris Geophysical Institute has discovered Earth’s magnetic field seems to be disappearing most alarmingly near the poles, a clear sign that a flip may soon take place.
Using satellite measurements of field variations over the past 20 years, Hulot plotted the currents of molten iron that generate Earth’s magnetism deep underground and spotted huge whorls near the poles.
Hulot believes these vortices rotate in a direction that reinforces a reverse magnetic field, and as they grow and proliferate these eddies will weaken the dominant field: the first steps toward a new polarity, he says.
And as Scientific American reports this week, this interpretation has now been backed up by computer simulation studies.
How long a reversal might last is a matter of scientific controversy, however. Records of past events, embedded in iron minerals in ancient lava beds, show some can last for thousands of years – during which time the planet will have been exposed to batterings from solar radiation. On the other hand, other researchers say some flips may have lasted only a few weeks.
Exactly what will happen when Earth’s magnetic field disappears prior to its re-emergence in a reversed orientation is also difficult to assess. Compasses would point to the wrong pole – a minor inconvenience. More importantly, low-orbiting satellites would be exposed to electromagnetic batterings, wrecking them.
In addition, many species of migrating animals and birds – from swallows to wildebeests – rely on innate abilities to track Earth’s magnetic field. Their fates are impossible to gauge.
As to humans, our greatest risk would come from intense solar radiation bursts. Normally these are contained by the planet’s magnetic field in space. However, if it disappears, particle storms will start to batter the atmosphere.
‘These solar particles can have profound effects,’ said Dr Paul Murdin, of the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge. ‘On Mars, when its magnetic field failed permanently billions of years ago, it led to its atmosphere being boiled off. On Earth, it will heat up the upper atmosphere and send ripples round the world with enormous, unpredictable effects on the climate.’
It is unlikely that humans could do much. Burrowing thousands of miles into solid rock to set things right would stretch the technological prowess of our descendants to bursting point, though such limitations do not worry film scriptwriters. Paramount’s latest sci-fi thriller, The Core – directed by Englishman Jon Amiel, and starring Hilary Swank and Aaron Eckhart – depicts a world beset by just such a polar reversal, with radiation sweeping the planet.
The solution, according to the film, to be released next year, involves scientists drilling into Earth’s mantle to set off a nuclear blast that will halt the reversal.
Given that temperatures at such depths rival those of the Sun’s surface, such a task would seem impossible – except, of course, in Hollywood.

That’s the Guardian’s report, and I think it is a bit light on details. The last such reversal was a million years ago, which means that our Homo erectus ancestors managed to survive it without burrowing deep into the earth. It must have been a bitch for them to lose cell phone service, tv, and satellite radio , though.

So far, none of the magnetic field reversals that have taken place have wiped out all life on this planet—I mean, as far as we can tell, we’re alive, and not just the hallucinations of our dying hominid ancestors, right?–but a more recent issue of the Guardian carried news of a disaster that is actually happening—southern Europe is in the grip of a Saharan drought. It is replete with irony—in Spain, citrus orchards are dying for lack of water while international consortiums build vast retirement cities for northern Europeans on the Mediterranian coast, each one replete with its own golf course—and, the article points out, a golf course in an arid climate uses enough water to supply ten thousand people with all their personal needs for a year. Too bad about the oranges…let ’em eat golf balls,
and may this remind us that the Europeans are no saner than we are, just differently crazy. Let’s hope we all go sane together, and soon.








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