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 »





THE WAR THAT WON’T DIE—AND WHY

11 03 2012

On the campaign trail, candidate Barack Obama impressed a lot of people with his honesty for saying things like, “of course I inhaled–that’s the point, isn’t it?” and for promising to leave medical marijuana production and distribution alone in states that had created a legal framework for it.  For a couple of years, he and his government kept their word, but just recently things have taken a turn for the repressive again.

The change started when Obama confirmed Michelle Leonhart as head of the DEA.  Ms. Leonhart became acting DEA director during the Cheney administration, but this isn’t just about her political heritage.  It’s not just that she has never had one good thing to say about medical marijuana.  It’s about the integrity of her conduct.

Ms. Leonhart spent many years as a field agent for the DEA, and for much of that time she worked with a professional informant who was paid four million dollars for his services, even though eventually the DEA quit using him because he had the unfortunate habits of demonstrably lying about the people he was snitching on and neglecting to pay taxes on the money the DEA paid him.  But Michelle Leonhart stood by her man, replying to the question of whether it might be time for the DEA to drop  the stoolie,

“That would be a sad day for DEA, And a sad day for anybody in the law enforcement world. . . . He’s one in a million. ….In my career, I’ll probably never come across another (like him).”

And then there was the time when, in order to do DEA business in Colombia, she chartered a private plane, at a cost of $123,000, instead of using one of the DEA’s fleet of airplanes or even just buying a first-class airline ticket, which surely would have cost only about one-thousandth of what the plane rental cost her….money the U.S. government paid to a company that also happened to own an airplane that had just been seized by the Mexican army  for attempting to fly 5.5 tons of cocaine into the U.S.  That sure puts us in Schrödinger’s cat territory, doesn’t it?  There is a vast amount of unknown and possibly unknowable landscape out there, full of tantalizing tidbits like that seized airplane, the cocaine-Contra connection in the 80’s, and Secretary of State Clinton’s remark last year that we can’t legalize drugs “because there’s too much money in it.”  It’s certainly easier for spy services to finance “black ops” if there are expensive illegal drugs that can be smuggled for big, under the table profits–but that’s not what I’m going to talk about tonight.  The point is that, after all the ringing campaign rhetoric about “change,”  the Obama administration once again, as in the financial, agricultural, pharmaceutical,and military realms, to name just a few, kept our government in the hands of someone who was part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Since Obama reconfirmed Cheney’s appointee to the DEA, the federal government has undertaken a crackdown on the business aspects of large-scale medical marijuana, involving not just DEA busts of growers and dispensaries, but IRS rulings that make it virtually impossible for a medical marijuana business  to deal with a credit card company or bank, or pay taxes at a non-confiscatory level, to Department of Justice threats against state officials who help implement medical marijuana plans.

What’s going on here?  Why has the Obama administration made a U-turn on medical marijuana?

This is not something the Republicans are somehow making him do.  I find it hard to believe that Obama couldn’t stop this if he really wanted to.  The U.S. attorneys who are tearing up the medical marijuana business say it was their idea, but that they have “Obama’s blessing” to carry it out.   This is why I find the idea of voting for Barack Obama chillingly Orwellian. It’s one thing when a “tough on crime” Republican continues the “war on drugs” just like he said he would. It’s quite another when somebody who said “Of course I inhaled–that’s the point,isn’t it?” and campaigned on putting science ahead of politics in general–and not devoting a lot of federal resources to persecuting medical marijuana in places it was locally legal, in specific–turns his back on his campaign promises and destroys the lives of innocent people. It’s Orwellian to vote for somebody who is willing to do that to you, to “love Big Brother” so much that you vote for somebody who will bust you. Apparently, the Democrats have made a calculated decision that enough people love Big Brother, and find the Republican candidates sufficiently scary, that they will not care if the government is suppressing marijuana, as long as it’s allowing access to abortion and birth control, and not trying to turn the U.S. into a (fundamentalist) Christian nation with even less regulation of big business and environmental pollution than the Democrats’ feeble efforts.  I think it’s the birth control/abortion thing, mostly–get ’em by the short hairs, and their hearts and minds will follow.  From informal research I’ve done among Democrats, they are indeed all too willing to throw medical marijuana users under the bus to get their man re-elected.  “We’re all in this together, except that you potheads are disposable,” eh?

Once again, I digress….

Medical marijuana has a very high rate of public acceptance–it’s hardly a political red herring in most places, yet the  federal government continues to oppose it, continues to refuse to reschedule cannabis as a plant with medical uses, and continues to insist that it has no medical value, all the while awarding hundreds of patents for therapeutic components scientists have discovered in the plant. And maybe that’s a clue to why our corporate-friendly government is determined to keep this medicinal plant out of the hands of the people.

The approximately 200 patents that the government has granted are mostly for single ingredients of cannabis, which have been isolated, tested, and discovered to have analgesic, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, vasodilative,and various other beneficial effects.  Pretty disingenuous for the government to keep insisting the herb has “no therapeutic value,” when some of these patents date back to the late seventies.  The government’s been lying!  So, what else is new, eh?

There’s two things about this “single ingredient” approach to cannabis that I find of interest.  The first is that our pharmaceutical paradigm looks for single ingredients with demonstrable effects on certain symptoms, so that the single ingredient can be isolated or synthesized, patented, and sold for a good markup to pay for the research that went into developing it (which is, in a certain sense, reasonable), and also, of course, to inflate the exorbitant profits, salaries, bonuses, and dividends of the pharmaceutical companies.  When you look into it, you discover that that’s where most of the money actually goes–R&D accounts for only about one and a quarter percent of drug companies’ expenditures–while they reap twenty-five or even fifty percent profit from what they make and sell.  And you thought coke dealers were greedy?

The next thing about the “single ingredient” approach is that, once such a single ingredient has been patented, it is, under our current legal structure,  illegal to sell the substance either as a generic dietary supplement, or to sell a dietary supplement that contains the patented ingredient.   The first case is exemplified by pyradoxamine, a form of vitamin B6, which was taken off the market as a supplement because a pharmaceutical company patented it and is now selling it at a considerably higher price than the now-banned generic supplement, which can still be obtained, but only from outside the US.   In a similar vein, a nutritional supplement known as “red yeast rice” is the source for the discovery of statin drugs.  Since statins have now been patented, all “red yeast rice” supplements must have their statins chemically removed in order to be legally sold in the US.

The great irony here is that plenty of foods contain the now-patented form of vitamin B6, as well as “red yeast rice,” patented statins and all.  Another irony is that, even without its declared “active” ingredient, the other chemical components of Red Yeast Rice supplements do almost as good a job of reducing inflammation and cholesterol.  Something about the synergies of complex herbal substances–more on that in a little bit.

But…food cannot be advertised for its health benefits, saith the Food and Drug Administration, which has put cherry and walnut growers under court order so that they cannot promote the anti-inflammatory and other health effects of these natural foods, unless they are run through the FDA’s “new drug process,” which “takes an average of twelve years and 350 million dollars” before a drug is approved–and still manages to rubber stamp substances of dubious merit like Prozac as well as outright poison pills like Vioxx.  Oy, I’m digressing again.  Point being, nobody’s going to spend a third of a billion dollars to confirm the health benefits of unpatentable produce like cherries, or walnuts…or cannabis.  They’ll never make their money back.

And cannabis is even less worthwhile, from the financial standpoint, than cherries or walnuts, because it is so complex and has such a broad spectrum of positive effects.  The interaction of so many chemical constituents, in turn, produces, through synergies among these chemicals, an even broader spectrum of generally positive effects.  Thoroughly cataloging and quantifying every positive effect of ingesting cannabis would clearly cost a whole, whole lot more than a third of a billion dollars, and take much longer than twelve years–the research project has been going on, largely abroad, due to considerable government interference in the U.S., for about forty years now, and the end is nowhere in sight, it seems.  Marijuana is the gift that keeps on giving.  But it can’t be patented, any more than walnuts or tart cherries. The lack of research due to the lack of likely financial return means the government can, at least technically, continue to claim that marijuana has “no proven medical utility,” even though the reason that’s the case has more to do with the rules of the game of “proven medical utility” than with cannabis’ actual medical utility.

But, as I said, single elements of the plant can be teased out and patented.  Some fear that this will make growing one’s own marijuana even more illegal than it is already, because growing the plant might be declared a violation of somebody’s patent.  This has not happened, however, with foods containing vitamin B6 or red yeast rice–they are simply forbidden from making health claims about themselves, even though those claims would be valid.  And, with marijuana, the National Institute of Health has declared that THC is “toxic,” so they have a good reason to permit companies like Kannalife Science to market drugs derived from marijuana, and yet keep the plant illegal.  After all, the only “positive,” non-psychoactive effects of THC are antiproliferative–it keeps cancer cells from growing–and antispasmodic, both effects that also arise from the non-psychoactive CBD spectrum of cannabis chemistry.  While spokespeople associated with Kannalife insist they are supportive of full legalization of marijuana, the company is carving a market niche based on the government’s refusal to recognize medical use of the plant per se.

To summarize:  it looks to me like the government is suppressing the use of herbal marijuana as a medicine because it would be lower-cost competition for pharmaceutical drugs that could be patented and sold by pharmaceutical companies who have carefully removed the psychoactive, or, as the government prefers, “toxic” elements of the plant.  This is a real 1984-style bending of the word “toxic,” since there have been no reported  human deaths from “marijuana overdose,” ever.

Music break: Peter Tosh, “Legalize It”

That song from Peter Tosh reminds me of his tragic early death.  He was murdered because marijuana did not get legalized.  Reflecting on his death brings up another aspect of drug prohibition that I haven’t got time to do more than mention–how the high price of black-market drugs cuts through impoverished communities like a double-edged sword, offering the tantalizing possibility of escaping a life of grinding poverty on one hand, and snuffing out often innocent lives in bursts of greed-fueled violence on the other.  The deep challenge here is that our corporate capitalist system, with its twin drives to monetize everything and yet employ as few people as possible, creates increasing numbers of “disposable” people, who have no role to serve in our increasingly streamlined economy.   There’s a whole industry built around keeping them repressed, rather than empowering them. Never mind that it’s far more expensive to incarcerate people than it is to educate them! Theoretically, these millions of impoverished Americans–a group whose ranks now increasingly include the former middle class–could be set to taking care of themselves–growing their own food, providing themselves with clothing, education, medical care, tools, and shelter as humans have always done, mostly with only a minimal connection to “money.”  Such a simple, obvious solution, however, falls outside the bounds of the corporate capitalist paradigm, and would require a collapse–or a revolution–to be instituted.

This brings me around to another couple of aspects of the war on drugs, the political ones, and I’d like to thank my frenemies in the Democrat party for bringing them to my attention.  One was the charge that marijuana prohibition is somehow not “a real issue.”  The other is, as my correspondent put it, “those poor folks who choose to break laws and then whine about the consequences.”

I’m going to address the second objection first–that, since cannabis use is against the law, we have no right to complain about the consequences when we are caught breaking the law–or, as they say in jail, “if you can’t take the time, don’t do the crime.”

Humans have been using marijuana for about as far back in our history/prehistory as anthropologists can trace. Everywhere the plant will grow, which is just about everywhere, it has been appreciated for its nutritive, fiber, medicinal, and psychoactive/spiritual qualities.  It has not been problematic for any society that used it. It was not problematic in America in the 1930’s when it was first outlawed, in a campaign soaked in racial discrimination against Mexicans and African-Americans, fueled by frustrated alcohol prohibitionists who had just lost that battle and were looking for something else to campaign against.  So…marijuana prohibition comes from the same social conservatives who are against abortion, birth control, and social programs of about any kind that are not church-sponsored.  It is one of the foundation stones of the Evangelical, conservative Christian drive to turn their moral strictures into our country’s laws–a vital precedent that helps establish their right to tighten the screws. I have a very difficult time understanding how anyone who considers themselves “progressive” could support our country’s reactionary drug laws.

And let’s not forget that the main objection to the imposition of marijuana prohibition in the 30’s came from the AMA, who recommended “tincture of cannabis” for a wide variety of problems, a usefulness that has only been expanded by recent research.

And then there’s the reason cannabis affects us in the first place–our nervous system has receptors for cannabis’ chemical content because we make most of the same substances within our own bodies, and they are essential to normal functioning.  Our ingenious scientists tried making a drug that would block the effects of marijuana, and found that blocking the body’s ability to produce and assimilate cannabinoids had serious consequences, serious enough to prevent approval of the cannabinoid-blocking drug.  We are not happy campers without our cannabinoids, nossir.

So…marijuana use…thousands of years….marijuana prohibition–75 years, more or less, and totally ineffective at its stated goal.  Marijuana use is about as natural a human activity as sex, music, or dancing, all of which have been the subject of laws intended to stop or severely restrict them, none of which have been particularly effective. Except that….

Here in America, somebody is arrested for a marijuana-related “offense” every 19 seconds–on average, of course. In large part because of this,  “the land of the free” has the highest incarceration rate in the world. 1.6 million people were arrested for various drug offences last year, nearly half of them for simple marijuana possession, a “crime” that stays on their records and spoils the rest of their lives for doing something that is no more harmful, and probably less so, than drinking beer. More American males of color are in jail, mostly on drug-related charges, than were enslaved at the height of slavery in this country in 1850.

Marijuana is all very well, you might say, but what about cocaine, crack, meth, ice?  They’ve increasingly taken the place of marijuana, haven’t they?

It is my opinion that if marijuana were cheap and legal, nobody would be much interested in ingesting toxic substances for thrills–with all due respect to the traditional role of coca in South American culture.

The “War on (some) Drugs” preceded “terrorism” as an excuse for erosion of civil liberties and the expansion of the snooper state, and has continued and escalated in spite of the fact that every blue-ribbon panel and Presidential commission that has investigated the situation has recommended legalizing marijuana. It has cost us, the taxpayers, nearly a trillion dollars since the “War on Some Drugs” was declared  30 years ago, and, as I said, accomplished nothing for that trillion but given the US the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world. ( I know, next to 1.5 trillion for the bank bailout over four years  or 4.4 trillion for our wars in the Middle East in ten years, one lousy trillion over thirty years is small change!).

Does all that make it real enough for you? I could go on…..

What I have just said is largely a quote from the Democrat-dominated e-list where I had criticised the Obama administration for its drug policy reversal, and “I could go on”  got the following response, as referred to previously:

respondent: Yes, please go on about those poor folks who choose to break laws and then whine about the consequences. Let’s also hear about pay disparity, jobs, health care, child abuse, climate change, living wages, senior care, the economy, war…

And I replied:

Does the fact that our government chooses to spend a trillion on something as “trivial” as the War on Some Drugs while substantially ignoring all the issues you mention (and that are important to me, too) mean anything to you? Does the fact that people of color are far more likely to be arrested and incarcerated for drugs than white folks, even though use rates are about the same, mean anything to you? Does the fact that every rational scientific judicial, and economic inquiry into this situation has said there is no good reason for these laws, and yet they continue, mean anything to you?

Would you say, “please go on about those poor folks who choose to break laws and then whine about the consequences” about those who are arrested protesting other unjust laws, like the Jim Crow laws that used to prevail in this state? (later addition:  What about people who put their bodies on the line to stop mountaintop removal, coal-burning power plants, or predatory logging?  Or predatory lending?  Do you sneer at the Occupy movement when they are arrested and raise a fuss about it?)  Or the folks who chose to ignore the anti-undocumented immigrant laws that make it a crime to be a good Samaritan if you see another human being in distress? Or do you think that it’s your duty to obey the law, whether it’s just or unjust?

….Obama has had little to say, let alone do, about the assault on Planned Parenthood, etc. or the anti-union measures that caused the massive demonstrations in Wisconsin and elsewhere. His program for distressed bankers has been far more effective than his program for distressed mortgage holders, he hasn’t done anything serious about the financial pressure on our school system (although for me, the purpose and results of our school system are a subject in themselves). It looks to me like he’s declared war on the 1st amendment with all the prosecutions of whistle blowers and peace/anti-corporate activists his administration has pursued, not to mention his assault on the 4th Amendment and his continued countenancing of war crimes around the world, plus his refusal to prosecute anybody in the Cheney administration for initiating the war crime policies he has continued. What kind of “hope” do you have for “change” from this guy? Chump change?

The questioner exercised her option not to respond to those admittedly somewhat rhetorical questions.  Elsewhere in the discussion, I added…

If three women were denied access to health care services every minute of every day, or three people per minute were being arrested for admitting their sexual orientation, if three kids were being abused by an adult or seriously bullied by their peers every minute, if three people were being evicted from their homes every minute or violently assaulted on the street and kidnapped by thugs, it would be considered a big problem–so why isn’t three people a minute being assaulted and essentially kidnapped by the police for the crime-that-every-study-says-shouldn’t-be-a-crime, marijuana use, why isn’t that considered a serious social problem in this country?  And why should we give the Democrats a pass for making this situation worse instead of better, especially when they promised to make it better, thus garnering the vote of pretty nearly every marijuana user in the country who is not a confirmed Green or Libertarian?

So, to summarize…the question of why marijuana continues to be illegal boils down, it seems to me, to two things:

At a theoretical level, it boils down to a reductionist medical paradigm that values profits and the small picture, as in the suppression of  symptoms in a fee-for-service model,  much more than it values keeping people healthy so they don’t need to pay fees for services, and that is not cognitively equipped to appreciate broad-spectrum practices, such as a sane lifestyle and diet, which might include the use of marijuana, that provide a variety of benefits that are difficult to catalogue in a “this causes that” kind of way.

The second theoretical problem is that our societal paradigm is repressive.  The presumption is that if you don’t discipline people from without, they won’t discipline themselves from within, and all hell will break loose.   Since this is, in fact, likely to happen among people who have always been subject to external, repressive discipline, our repressors (or oppressors, if you will) interpret any wild behavior that occurs when discipline is relaxed as a reason to clamp back down, rather than a reason to teach people to take responsibility for themselves.  Besides, they like being the dominators in a dominator culture.  You don’t like that?  Too bad!  Go find your own planet!

The way these theoretical considerations play out in our culture is that our corporate-oriented government, obviously aware of the many beneficial effects of marijuana, prefers to see cannabis exploited by pharmaceutical companies rather than grown directly by those who need it, especially because of:

Reason two, the government feels it has a vested interest in making sure that people don’t get high.  It leads to creative, independent thinking and questioning of authority.  To quote that notoriously under-achieving marijuana user, Carl Sagan, marijuana can provide “…the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.”  Just for the record, Dr. Sagan, who began using marijuana in his mid-twenties and continued to find value in it for the rest of his life, said that in 1969, calling for the swift legalization of marijuana use.  Over forty years later, we’re still waiting to inhale legally.

“Serenity, insight, sensitivity and fellowship” are just the feelings and emotions our corporatocracy doesn’t want us to have. That’s why hippies are the most persecuted ethnic group in America.

Hippies are an ethnic group?  The Democrats had a hard time with that claim.  Hey, what part of “counterculture” don’t you understand?  A “culture” is an “ethnic group”!  But, since we are not formally recognized as an ethnic group, it’s OK to profile and arrest us, test our body chemistry to see if we’re members of this ethnic group, and then discriminate against us if we are.  It’s OK to encourage our children to report our ethnic behavior to the authorities so we can be arrested for it….the government is doing everything it can to marginalize us. We have our customs and traditions, although they have been severely disrupted by decades of persecution, but in a way the government is right to do what it does, because we are, in our own gentle way, a major threat to the dominator culture.

Disclaimer:  not all Green Party members are hippies, and not all hippies are involved with the Green Party!

And yes, my Democrat frenemies, you’re right– my fellow Greens, my fellow hippies, and I have picked a tough row to hoe. But we could no more be “good Americans” than we could have been “good Germans.”

The corporate, dominator culture wants us to be good sheep, who will go where they drive us and not complain if we are shorn or slaughtered for our corporate shepherds’ benefit.  That’s why the Democrats continually promise, and continually fail to deliver, more liberal drug laws. That’s why I’m a Green–to create a real choice in the country and a real choice on the ballot. Massive, sudden changes in the political landscape happen as the result of many individual decisions. The Republicans came out of nowhere in the summer of 1860 and left the Whig Party high, dry, and discarded in the dustbin of history.  Millions of Russians and Eastern Europeans individually quit believing in the apparently monolithic power of their governments, and the governments and the whole paradigm of their economic system crumbled. IT CAN HAPPEN HERE. In fact, it looks to me like we’re gonna be way up poop creek without a paddle if it doesn’t.

music:  Richard and Mimi Farina, “Age of Confusion





HOW CAN WE CREATE A BETTER WORLD….if we can’t even get along with each other?

15 10 2011

Last Saturday,I was invited to speak, on behalf of the Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council, on the topic of “How can we create a better world.”  Here’s the text of the invitation:

Still being planned. Educate people against corporatism and militarism. This will be held at the Belmont United Methodist Church. WE NEED VOLUNTEERS! If you want to be a speaker on any related topic, or create and staff a literature booth on any topic that is related even indirectly, or help in any other way, contact J. H.  (note: NOT Jason Holleman!)

It seemed to me that the Green Party was a natural to participate in this event, so I invited another Green Party member in town to get together a table for the event–but then we got the word back, that because the Green Party is a political organization, and this is being put on by two 501(c)3 organizations, they couldn’t have any political organizations represented. This seemed pretty bizarre to me, and I decided that I would bring Green Party material to the teach-in and mention the exclusion of the Green Party in my remarks.  Here’s what I said:

Good afternoon!  I’m here on behalf of the Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council, an organization which has been encouraging people to think local, non-corporate, low-tech, and sustainable for the last twenty-eight years. We are loosely affiliated with the North American Bioregional Congress, which holds hemisphere-wide gatherings every few years. The most recent one was actually here in Tennessee.

But, before I go into our long and honorable history, and our continued relevance today, I want to speak up on behalf of an organization that was disinvited from this gathering–yes, told not to come–The Green Party.  We ( I say ‘we” because I am a member of the Green Party of Tennessee) were told that we are “a political organization” and that inviting us to this teach-in would violate the not-for-profit, charitable/educational status of both Belmont Church and the Peace and Justice Center.  I have also been told by the organizers that  they excluded a half-dozen Democratic Party tablers on the same grounds.  Now,  a half-dozen representatives from one of the parties that is generally held to be the cause of all this mess seems a bit much, but I think it would have been “fair and balanced” to allow one Democrat table and one Green Party table.   Republicans?  Maybe they could run a dunking tank–” See if you can dump Bill Ketron in the cold, cold water–3 throws for only two dollars!”

But seriously, as I understand the IRS’s rules, not allowing the Green Party–and the Democrats– to participate in this teach-in is a misunderstanding of IRS guidelines, which state:

“…the law prohibits political campaign activity by charities and churches by defining a 501(c)(3) organization as one “which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

There is no impending election (unless you’re a Republican Presidential candidate). The Green Party’s representative at this gathering would not be a “candidate for public office,” –nor, considering the current political climate in Tennessee, would the Democrats be likely to produce a candidate, either–or at least, not a viable one.

The IRS’s guidelines further state:

The presentation of public forums or debates is a recognized method of educating the public. … (nonprofit organization formed to conduct public forums at which lectures and debates on social, political, and international matters are presented qualifies for exemption from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3)). Providing a forum for candidates is not, in and of itself, prohibited political activity. Candidates may also appear or speak at organization events in a non-candidate capacity.

My understanding of what that means is that there is no legal reason why The Peace and Justice Center cannot have a representative of the Green Party at this teach-in, and a Democrat too.  But it seems to me that, if we are going to talk about how we can create a better world, it would be important to have the Green Party in on the discussion since it, unlike the Democrats and Republicans, is not in thrall to our corporatocracy.  If electoral politics have a role in our future–and sometimes i wonder how long that will continue to be the case–the Green Party has a very important role in this movement, and needs to be included.  Just for openers, the Green Party does not accept corporate contributions, period.  While we are best known for our national candidates, we has had the most success in local races, which brings us back to the Green Party’s bioregional roots.  The Green Party in the United States, and here in Tennessee, was started by bioregional activists who wanted to bring bioregionalism’s local, ecological focus into the political arena.

OK, enough about the Green Party–back to the Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council.  Nearly thirty years ago, when the Bioregional movement first took shape, peak oil and financial, political, and ecological breakdown were barely a whisper on the horizon, but when I look at what we were envisioning, it seems that perhaps we were intuiting a future in which human social organization would once again be highly decentralized and limited by how far a person could walk or drive a horse cart in a day.  Our message then, as now, is to dig in where you are, to get to know not just the people in your neighborhood, but the natural world you inhabit as well, and to base your decision-making not on short-term gain for human beings, but on the long-term benefits for the whole ecology.

“Know your watershed,” we have urged–know where your water comes from and where it goes, and make your watershed the basis of your political awareness. We view watersheds as embedded in “bioregions,” areas unified not just by proximity but by biotic community–similar forests, rocks, wild animals,  and weather.  Now, nearly thirty years on, this way of viewing the world seems more important than ever.  As global warming and other modes of increased human interference with the environment bring vast, unintended, and nearly unimaginable changes, more than  ever we need to cultivate a deep awareness of our local environment.  The odds are increasing on the likelihood that our watersheds, and not the global market economy, will be what provides us with food, shelter, medicine, household goods, and a social life in the future.  We had better learn the skills we will need to do this well, while we still have the leisure to do so.  A graceful future is still possible.  While it’s true that mere lifestyle changes aren’t enough to induce the transformation the world needs, without lifestyle changes the transformation won’t happen, either.  We need to pursue both the personal and the political.

I have a confession to make:  i don’t feel like I’m doing a very good job of getting connected with  my own neighbors.  My wife and I don’t seem to have a lot in common with them culturally, or counterculturally, and so we doubt that we would be very effective organizers. We don’t sit easy with that, and are looking for ways to cross the cultural divide without having to act like we are something we are not, or acting like we are not something we are..  We’re open to suggestions.

There’s another aspect of our experience in the Cumberland-Green River Bioregional Council that I can’t stress too much, and that’s the long-term relationship aspect.

In its earlier years, the Council was a kind of “Tennessee, North Alabama, and South-Central Kentucky Federation of Hippies, Anarchists, and Activists,” and in many ways, it still is.  Back then, however, our quarterly convocations at members’ country farms and communities were great tribal gatherings, with a hundred or more–sometimes many more– adults and children camping out, sharing practical knowledge during the day, and then having delightfully wild parties that, for some at least, lasted until dawn, and beyond.  We sang, played guitars and an assortment of other instruments, drummed, danced, and interacted deeply with each other.  Those of us who are still involved from those early days are bonded in ways that are rare and precious in the alienated culture in which we are all now enmeshed.

But not all of our early companions are still with us, and  I don’t mean because they have already died, although that is a seemingly inescapable part of life.  With deep interaction comes not only the possibility of deep bonding, but the possibility of deep wounding.  We have lost people from the Council due to betrayal, divorce, and disappointment, to name just a few of the separating circumstances.–not to mention the occasional participant who became so obnoxious when the energy was up that few others wanted to keep including them in our activities.  What led to this dispersal, to a certain extent, in my opinion, is that we lacked a common psycho-spiritual technology that might have enabled us to be more sensitive to each other, to listen to each other better, to let go of our own neuroses–you can’t make anybody else let go of theirs, all you can do is try to set a good example–to give each other the love and attention, not to mention the appropriate treatment, that might have kept our ranks strong and united. There are ways for groups of people to do that with each other, ways with names like  Nonviolent Communication, Active Listening, Empathic Listening, Mindful Listening.  I can’t say a lot about these, because I don’t practice any of them in a formal sense myself, but I like to think I’ve benefited from what exposure I’ve had to them, as well as other practices I have been involved in.

In summation, it’s easy to be in solidarity with people for a few weeks or months of struggle.  The tricky part is keeping the bonds of affection alive through years of changes,.  Sooner or later, we will show each other our worst, in spite of our best intentions . Can we keep looking each other in the eye through that?  The changes I see happening in the mid to long-term future are going to shrink the world each of us inhabits.  At some point, the internet will go down, and we will lose all our “Facebook Friends,” except for the ones who are actually part of our daily lives. To build a graceful future, we will need to really be friends with each other, and not withdraw from each other forever at the first sign of anger, selfishness, or foolishness.  It’s certainly not always easy; but I have seen the alternative, and it doesn’t work very well. The bioregional movement provides a coherent vision of a sane future, but it takes more than ideals to keep a movement together.  It takes the work of consistently caring about and connecting with other people.  That, in the end, is what will make or break our revolution.

That’s what I said, to an audience of about a dozen people, in a room whose acoustics were awful.  I’m not sure how much my audience actually heard.  One young woman apparently misheard my message and used up most of our discussion time accusing me of being a Luddite.  I’m not a Luddite–I love technology, I’m even dependent on it in more ways than I’d like to be, because I’m not sure how much longer we are going to be able to maintain this amazing, magical web of complexity.

The strongest energy at the teach-in came from the mostly young people who were there in association with Occupy Nashville.  Their main meeting at the teach in was held in the same acoustically-impaired room I had talked in, so I stayed there and, with some difficulty, observed the way they took care of business.  I was impressed–they seemed much more organized and balanced than the wild, passionate SDS meetings I remember from the 60’s.  It’s reassuring to have a sense that the younger generation is, in some ways, an improvement on the older one.  Here’s a music break, and then I’ll talk more about the “Occupy” movement.

music:  Steve Earle, “Amerika v.6.0″








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